A Willow Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I saw them again! The lovely mother and daughter from my Cat in the Hat post the other day! We were on the bus again, heading downtown. This time, the mom was doing the reading.  Her daughter was curled up against her, listening intently.  Mom was reading The Wind in the Willows. Put a smile on my face that she had chosen a classic.

The bigger smile on my face came from watching and listening to the way the mom read the story — thinking out loud after she read certain lines so that her daughter could see the way she thought about what she was reading, pausing and asking her daughter to predict what might happen next, etc.  I love how invested the mom clearly is in her daughter’s literacy, how patiently she waited for her daughter’s answers and talked through them with her, how cute they looked snuggled up together on the bus seat, deep in their story, deep in that book.

They made my morning.  And I wonder what I’ll get to hear them read next time!

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“How I wish we had something to do.”

My bus was super crowded this morning, and I was squeezed in the center aisle, standing all the way downtown. So much for reading on my way to work. I didn’t even have room to maneuver my bag and get my headphones out so I could listen too some music.

Good thing. Left my ears open for some conversation:

“I have always been someone who knows what they want,” asserted forcefully by a beautiful girl who was maybe 17.  “I always say what I want.  I’m not confused.  I’m complex.”

“Listen,” from a stern-voiced woman to her 9- or 10-year-old son, “you want me to change colors right now?* No? Then sit still and keep quiet.”

“Driver, you were supposed to tell me when we got to Flatbush.

“I will.”

“You were supposed to tell me.  I asked when I got on.”

“I will tell you.”

“Driver –“

“We haven’t gotten there yet.”

“Thank you, driver.  I still need you to tell me when we get to Flatbush.”

And then the best of all:

Seated near me was a little girl who was focused quite intently on a book. She was tracing across the page with her index finger, going over each page at least twice before moving to the next. I couldn’t see what she was reading because it was down in her lap. She was maybe six years old, so I was pretty sure  she wasn’t working through War and Peace, but I was curious.

Then her mom leaned over and asked her to read aloud. “I like hearing how nicely you read,” she said.  (And yes, how much do I love her for saying that?)

The little girl smiled and squinched up her face, concentrating.  She turned the pages back to the beginning and started reading.  I couldn’t hear her at first, but after a few lines, she felt more comfortable.  She lifted her chin and read out, not loud but strong.  And then I heard it, knew what she was reading.

“How I wish we had something to do.”

I’d know that line anywhere: The Cat in the Hat!

“Too wet to go out, and too cold to play ball,
So we sat in the house. We did nothing at all.”

I edged a little closer so I could listen in.  The little girl was wearing a Jayne hat** with an adorable, extra large and puffy pom-pom.  Her skin was such a beautiful deep, dark brown.  Her voice was quiet, happy.  Her face was serious as she focused on the words.  She sat up straight, but her mom leaned in a little closer, almost snuggling against her shoulder.

I will admit, I’m only a lukewarm fan of the Cat.  I find him a bit creepy.  More than a bit.  (He shouldn’t be trusted, not one little bit.)  And he triggers that thing I tried to describe yesterday.  The Cat is all about things that are just not right.  Too much Cat and I think my head might explode!

“No, no!  Make that cat go away!
Tell that cat in the hat you do not want to play!
He should not be here! He should not be about!
He should not be here when your mother is out!”

Hmph.  Tell me that’s not right.  Don’t get me started on Thing 1 and Thing 2.

But my mistrust of the cat notwithstanding, I was utterly charmed by my bus ride reader.  And equally by her mother’s clear pleasure in listening to her baby display her new skill.  An excellent way to get my morning off and running.

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(“I saw her — your mother — your mother is here!”)

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*  I’ve never heard getting angry described in this way.  I kind of like it.  And I have to admit that, when I heard her say it, I really wanted to see her change colors.  That would have kept things lively on our commute!

**  Oh, that.  You know, a Jayne hat.  That was a Firefly reference.  The hat, as knit for and worn by Jayne: jayne_hat_4

Petal Pushers

Just spent a lovely, lovely evening with friends catching up, laughing, sharing a meal and discussing The Language of Flowers.

My friends and I (my book club), alternate month to month between fiction and nonfiction. A little something for everyone. And this month’s options were down to me. I gave the group a handful of titles to choose from, and — while I’ll admit that I was hoping Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe would win — I wanted to read all of the books I put up for the vote, so I was happy enough when Diffenbaugh’s book won.

I’d chosen not to read the more spoiler-y reviews, so I didn’t know what to expect, but the premise interested me: Victoria ages out of foster care … life ensues.

Language reads so easily, totally passed my “has it drawn me in” test by making me almost miss my stop on the subway and bus, and by having a number of moments that made me close the book because I couldn’t bear to see what Victoria would do next … and then open it again immediately because I couldn’t bear not knowing.  The characters feel real (mostly), and the writing is good.  I had problems with some of the choices the author made, some of the character inconsistencies that I found jarring.  I had problems with the ending — the “how” of it, not the “what.”

Maybe what moved me most of all in reading this book, is that it made me think of my grandmother, Mom.  I’ve written here at least once about the fact that she was a foster parent for decades.  Thinking about the way Victoria grew up, and thinking about the difference having a long-term foster home meant for many of the kids who came Mom’s way.  Thinking about the ones who thrived, and thinking about the ones who couldn’t stay, as much as they needed to.  Thinking about the one’s whose families stayed connected to them and came back for them, and thinking about the ones whose families couldn’t be those families.  Wondering what happened to the ones who didn’t stay in our family after leaving Mom’s house.

Victoria would never have been one of Mom’s kids — social services only brought her the brown babies — but page after page after page, I found myself wishing that she could have been.

Like Victoria, my grandmother had an amazing skill with plants.  I have no idea if she ever bothered to learn anything about the language of flowers, but she certainly knew how to grow just about anything.  She didn’t spend a lot of time on flowers — they were in the outdoor garden, but were more casual decoration, not for picking and gracing a dining table or night stand.  She grew vegetables and she grew non-flowering plants.  Her indoor garden was amazing, filling shelf after shelf after shelf in lush, many-hued leaves and fronds.

I don’t know anything about the language of flowers, either … I mean, I didn’t before I read the book.  I knew it existed, but I hadn’t ever thought about it.  Now, I’m itching to send coded messages through the seemingly casual combination of blossoms.  A year ago, I started buying myself flowers at the start of every weekend (thank you, Apartment Therapy, for making that a new habit!), and I love choosing them.  The man I buy from knows me now — what I like, my price range, how much I like to be surprised by something I haven’t seen before.  I wonder what he’d say if I asked him what each flower means. Perhaps it’s time to take our floral relationship to the next level.

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Sometimes, happiness is a comic book. (SOLSC 2)

When I was a kid, my aunt gave me a comic book about black history.  I love-love-loved it.  And — bonus! — I learned stuff from reading it.  But I was a kid.  I held onto the comic for years but eventually I just didn’t have it.  Did I lend it to someone and never get it back?  Did it get lost in one of my 400,000 moves?  It was just no longer in my possession.  And I didn’t lose sleep over it, but I was unhappy that that was true.

From time to time I’ve thought about it, and I’ve certainly wished I still had it, but what can you do about something like that? I’ve mentioned it to people, but no one had ever seen or heard of it.

And then last weekend it occurred to me to search for it online. I know: why had I never thought of that before? But I hadn’t. Clearly I wasn’t meant to think of it until my search would be able to bear fruit:

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It is as I remember it — Crispus Attucks and Deadwood Dick and Daniel Hale Williams — every story I was so happy to read about when I was a kid, every story that — with the single exception of Harriet Tubman — wasn’t included in any of the history books we studied in school.  (I’ll admit that I definitely didn’t remember “Negro Americans, the Early Years” as the title!  Maybe if I had, I’d have found it before last weekend.)  I purchased it immediately and it arrived on Thursday.  Now I’m searching for a front-opening shadow box to display it in!

Yeah, sometimes happiness really can be a comic book. And sometimes the internets really can be a force for good!

Check out the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers!

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Gifts from the Southern Wild

I’ve been chosen as a book-giver-outer for World Book Night!! I tried to get in on this action last year, but wasn’t selected.  I like the idea of World Book Night, like the idea of random people giving books to other random people, like the idea of sharing a love of books with other people in this very generous and gentle way.  I’ve registered to go pick up my books at a great little Brooklyn bookstore.  All I have to do now is decide how I’m going to give them away.  Some I will give to the youth services program at my job, maybe half.  The others … I don’t know.

My book for this evening of fabulousness is Jesmyn Ward’s wrenching, beautiful novel, Salvage the Bones:

salvage cover

Yes, my title is a reference to Beasts of the Southern Wild.  And yes, I know that these stories aren’t the same or even similar, really (although, in a few key ways …).  But I can’t help but think of them together … and can’t help but wish the writer of the film had been as adept with handling Hushpuppy’s story as Ward is at telling Esch’s story.  I was thrilled to find Bones on the list of choices.  I was amazed by this book.  Lovely, lovely writing.  I hope the people I give it to feel the same way.

I know my friend Mopsy will be giving out books.  Are any of you going to be book givers, too?

Please link up your slice of life story to this post today. As always, be sure to check out other bloggers’ writing by clicking through the links in the comment section of this post. If you’re dropping by to link up quickly today, then please come back later to read through others slicers’ posts.

You can find all the other slices on Two Writing Teachers!

And the 2013 Slice of Life Story Challenge starts next week!