One Thing & Another

Notes From My Journal: Say “Cheese”!

Why do we feel obliged to smile when being photographed? It often gives the wrong impression – that we were happy when perhaps we were not.

Sorting through old photos of the family today, it looks like we’ve always been ecstatic. Here are photos of the boys during that year we’d all rather forget. Judging by their smiles, you’d think everything was about as good as good can be.

“Look here. I want to take a photo of you in front of the cathedral. Smile!”

We smile, thinking, “Oh no! I look so fat in this sweater!”

It’s interesting…

Have you ever noticed that photographs from the 19th century generally depict people with stern to downright grim facial expressions?

What’s that about?

One might conclude from looking at them that people then were generally less happy than people are today. But I don’t think that’s true. Life might have been a bit tougher – but a tough life isn’t necessarily a sad life. I lived in Chad for two years – where life is really hard – and the people there were pretty jolly.

So I don’t get it. Why do we feel compelled to smile?


Today’s Word: reify (verb)

To reify (REE-uh-fye) is to make an idea or abstraction concrete. As used by technical writer Evgeny Morozov: “I want to prevent us reifying ‘the Internet’ as something to be preserved like some people want to preserve the American Constitution as it was written.”


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

How to Teach Your Kids to Be Hungry, Smart Readers

“Have you read Siddhartha,” the gray-haired man asked the teenager sitting next to him on the flight from New York to West Palm Beach.

“I don’t read,” the boy said.


“Reading is for old people.”

It may be true that we are moving into a brave new world where most of our learning and even our experiences will be digitally created. And it is certainly true that at least some of the skills children will need to succeed in this new future will be different than those we needed in the past.

But if I were a young parent today, I’d still want my children to know how to read. And by that I don’t mean basic literacy. I’m talking about how to read well and wisely.

In my lifetime, the importance of reading was never questioned. But in recent years, some people, like the boy quoted above, have come to see reading as unnecessary.

But so far at least, the evidence supports the primacy of skillful reading as a tool for success.

One large study I came across followed more than 17,000 people in England, Scotland, and Wales from 1958 to 2008. Lead researchers Timothy Bates and Stuart Richie concluded that those that read well at or around age seven earned, on average, considerably higher incomes. They had better-paid and higher-status jobs, and lived in more expensive, higher-status neighborhoods.

Another study, conducted by Ross Finnie and Richard Mueller at the University of Ottawa, showed that the most important factor in determining whether kids went to college was their grade-school reading scores. These scores, they said, were “by far the best predictor of post-secondary attendance, even pre-empting other socio-economic factors – even pre-empting other socio-economic factors.”

And another study, this one at the University of Maryland, found that engaged readers from homes with few material advantages routinely outperformed less engaged readers from the most advantaged environments.

“Reading can overcome traditional barriers to reading achievement, including gender, parental education, and income, the authors of the study said. “It is the key to economic and social power, regardless of socio-economic class. “

Not surprisingly, what children read is as important as how efficiently they read.

Increasingly challenging texts (standard protocol for virtually all reading programs) provided for greater performance in academic, business, and social arenas and more financial success in life.

Interestingly, although non-fiction literature worked well in predicting future achievement, fiction was as good in most cases and better than non-fiction reading in others.

Recent studies in neuroscience show us that the same regions of the brain that are activated during a real event are activated while reading about it in a story. One of those studies, from York University, concluded that narratives in novels offer a unique opportunity to engage in what is called “theory of mind.”

Keith Oatley, writing in Scientific American, reported that when children are reading fiction, their brain activity stimulates intelligence, character development, and judgment. “Children that read a lot of fiction are better at understanding other people, empathizing with them, and seeing the world from multiple points of view. Literature allows not just learning about emotions but experiencing them. It is a form of practice for real life,” Oatley said.

If all this doesn’t convince you that reading is linked to success in life, I could point you to dozens of additional studies.

I was always hopeful that my boys would become serious readers – and so happy when they began reading seriously at about age 13.

K and I did the usual things that are suggested to get kids into reading.  When they were very young, we read to them. When they were able to read themselves, we encouraged them and provided them with a constant stream of books meant for kids their age. And we not only gave them the books we thought they should be reading, we allowed them to read just about anything that engaged them. (So long as it wasn’t absolutely and clearly damaging.)

I was surprised when number-one son, at age 7 or 8, took a liking to books targeted to girls. I have to say it unnerved me at first. But I reasoned that if there was nothing negative in the content of those books, it made little sense to deprive him of them. For about a year, he must have devoured every Nancy-Drew type book in the library. He then moved to the dungeons and dragons genre and read those books with gusto. (And with the skill that he’d acquired by reading the “girly” books.)

When number-two and number-three sons came along, I was prepared to feed them a wide variety of books until I hit on a subject that grabbed their interest. Then it was just a matter of watching them become addicted to reading and waiting for their taste in books to naturally mature.

Some Recommended Books for Kids

Ages 2, and 3

* Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

* Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker

* Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

* Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak


Ages 4 and 5

* The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

* The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

* Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

* Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss


Ages 5 and 6

* The Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne

* Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

* Stuart Little by EB White

* Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

* Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

* The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper


Ages 7 and 8

* A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

* Charlotte’s Web by EB White

* Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

* The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

* The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

* Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery


Ages 9 and 10

* The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

* Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

* Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce

* The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

* Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

* The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Ages 10 and 11

* Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

* I Am Malala (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai & Patricia McCormick

* My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

* Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

* Matilda by Roald Dahl

* The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


Ages 12 and 13

* Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

* Wonder by RJ Palacio

* The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

* The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

* The Outsiders by SE Hinton

* To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee



* The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

* The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

* Animal Farm by George Orwell

* Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

* I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

* Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens


Look at This…