Category Archives: books

One more thing for when I run the world

I’m just sitting here watching the little running-man figure that represents my husband on the handy live-tracking feature cruise his way to 40k and beyond in the Boston Marathon. Because he is All That And A Bag of Chips, so he is.

You might think if I really loved and supported him we’d all be there waving banners and shouting ourselves hoarse, but we’ve done that before and to be honest, big marathons aren’t great to support at because there are so many people you might easily miss the one you came for and then you’ve dragged two children all over a strange city for not much and everyone’s grumpy and too hot/wet/cold/hungry. I blogged about it before, if you want to know how it goes.

But I’m here to complain about something else. If you’re American (and you haven’t read my rant about Harry Potter), it might come as news to you that books published in the US that were originally written and published in the UK or Ireland or pretty much any other English-speaking country are always re-edited for US publication. That’s why you pretty much never see “colour” or “realise” or “jewellery” or “pyjamas” in print, and might not even know for a long time that they’re legitimate spellings in other parts of the world. But it’s worse than that: they don’t just change the spellings. They change the words too. They “fix” the words so that the American audience isn’t confused by trousers or footpaths or bin men or woolly jumpers.

They might even want to change “all that and a bag of chips” up there to a bag of french fries. I don’t know if they’d bother to ask me about it.

I’ve always been aware that there was such a thing as a US edition, because I was the sort of child who would read every word, including the boilerplate text on the second page where they tell you where and when it was published and which imprint it is and sometimes even what font was used. I noticed that all my books contained a copyright notice that began “Except in the United States of America…” and some blatantly stated “This edition not for sale in the United States of America.” If you’d never seen that, you wouldn’t even know there were separate editions at all – and US books do not have a similar line implying that they’re not for UK (etc.) audiences.

But I do think they’ve stepped it up recently, as some of my friends have suggested when I get annoyed on Facebook about changes made to books that just sound ridiculous. I’m reading a Marian Keyes (Last Chance Saloon – I already own it in Dublin) that I picked up at the thrift store. It’s not my only US edition Marian Keyes, because my collection is large and garnered from both Here and There, but this one has had some really painfully out-of-place changes made to it. The characters are Irish, living in London. In the first couple of chapters I’ve already come across references to the “garbage collector”, the “closet” and “liquor store”: none of these ring true, to say the least. Even if it’s the narrator’s voice rather than a direct statement, the characters would not be thinking about anything in these terms and the result for this reader is about as distracting as the CLANG of a dropped anvil.

If you’re wondering, a garbage collector is a bin man, a closet is a cupboard or a press, and a liquor store is an off-licence. It’s true that the average American might not immediately understand those terms, but then they have two options: they can ignore it and just keep reading, or they can go and find out. With the entire Internet at most readers’ disposal, that’s not much of a demand. And if publishers didn’t keep pandering to the US readers by making these changes, they might already have encountered them in other books.

Last night in bed I found the most egregious thing to date: there’s a crude joke (look away now if easily offended) about someone being nicknamed Flora because “she spreads easily”. (Flora is a brand of margarine.) Now, I know that’s what it must have said originally, but the copy I’m reading had “she opens easily”. Maybe the person who made these changes didn’t know what it meant; maybe they did but they thought that making it look like a flower reference would be a clever way to keep the joke but make it accessible with minimal changes to the wording; I don’t care. It’s wrong! It’s a liberty too far.

When I am in charge of the world, such books will have minimal changes made and a glossary or footnotes added to explain unfamiliar terms, if deemed necessary, without distracting the reader or changing the author’s voice. That’s all.

(He finished the marathon, by the way. Way to go, B the B.)

50 Shades of Judgement

I’m going to do something risky here. I’m going to have opinions on a book I haven’t read and a film I’m not going to see, which is primarily concerned with stuff I’m not into. But bear with me because there’s a point I really want to make.

I honestly will not judge anyone for reading 50 Shades of Grey. Just for curiosity value, for titillation, for fun, whatever. It’s nice to read good writing, but if you’re enjoying whatever it is, hey, it’s just words on a page. I’m not going to claim it’s all Nabokov and Joyce on my bookshelf.

Same goes for seeing the movie. I don’t care if you go to see it. I like seeing attractive people doing sexy stuff as much as the next girl. Or boy.

But here’s the thing. It’s such a mass event now that a lot of people are going to be reading about or seeing things that they haven’t really ever considered before. Suddenly everyone’s talking about BDSM without even knowing, quite possibly, exactly what that stands for. Did you know that it’s an amalgam standing for all of “bondage and dominance, sado-masochism, and dominance and submission”? I didn’t know that either, till about two days ago.

There’s another reason why people in Ireland may suddenly have become more familiar than they ever wanted to be with these terms, and I want to tell my American readers about it because the timing is ironic. While teddybears with handcuffs are being advertised all over my Facebook page, there’s a court case going on in Dublin involving the murder of a vulnerable woman (allegedly!) by a man who (seemingly!) has admitted (in text messages that have not, I suppose, yet been proven categorically to come from him) that his major turn-on would be stabbing a woman during sex. Whatever the exact details, and I don’t want to be sued and I’m not a lawyer, it’s pretty clear that this woman was looking for love in all the wrong places.

Here’s the thing, though. We’ve known for a long time that Ana’s relationship with Christian is not healthy. But the flip side is that the real BDSM community is going to suffer from all this ignorance. Now, people who didn’t even know what it was before are under the impression that BDSM is all about cruelty, exploitation, intimidation, and unhealthy relationships. Again, not something I know a lot about from personal experience, but from what I’ve read this is exactly what BDSM is not supposed to be. It’s about ultimate trust and respect, on both sides. It’s about being comfortable with your sexuality, whatever that may be. It’s about give and take.

BDSM is not about abuse. 50 Shades is about abuse. Sometimes people get the wrong idea and then often something terrible happens. Please don’t let the way 50 Shades is suddenly all mainstream lead to spreading the wrong idea even further.

That’s really all I wanted you to take home from this. Thanks for reading.

Raiding my childhood bookshelf again

Do you remember these books?

Stories for 8 Year Olds and Stories for Nine Year Olds

This photo might give you shivers of nostalgia only if you’re in Ireland or the UK (or Commonwealth, I suppose) because these are not American editions, and because I don’t know whether these books were ever published in the US.

They were first published in 1971 and these two copies are 1981 editions. A quick look at Amazon.co.uk tells me that these books are out of print now, though I don’t know how long that’s been the case. I’m really happy I kept them, even if the glue of the binding is coming unstuck all over the place, because they are really wonderful collections of stories.

I got them both when I was 7, and I remember being very proud that I was reading stories that were ostensibly for children as much as two years older than me. I very helpfully put a micro review over each story title, to help some reader who was not me decide what to choose. Thus:

"Brilliantley Brilliant" over The White Seal and "Boring" over The Lumber Room

I know the left-hand one is out of focus, but the daylight’s gone now so I can’t retake it.

I’m reading them to Mabel, who is only six, and is still enjoying them quite well. I skip the boring ones, but never “The Lumber Room”, because, having met it again since then for my Inter Cert, it’s one of my favourites. I was happy to find that Kipling was still as good as I remembered, and we both enjoyed the classic “Rikki Tikki Tavi” too. I’m hoping Dash will like several of them just as much, but right now his father has him embroiled in some more of Dirk Gently’s misadventures.

I never paid much attention to who had written the stories, and in the 8-Year-Olds book the authors’ names only appear in the table of contents, not under the titles in the body text – so it was a surprise to me to find that one of my favourites, a delightfully whimsical fairytale called “The Magic Wishbone”, was by Charles Dickens, one of my less favourite writers. Another, “All You’ve Ever Wanted”, was by Joan Aiken, who I’ve only recently discovered.

So, you probably can’t go out and buy a copy to read to your own kids, but if you happen to come across one, snap it up. And if not, just be happy that my stubborn refusal to get rid of all my favourite childhood reading material is turning out so well for me.

A short rant about Harry Potter

One of the very important things I had to bring back from Ireland this time was my own copies of the Harry Potter books, volumes one to five inclusive. (The other two were already here.) We’d started reading them to the kids last year, but to do so I had picked up the first three books cheaply in the thrift store here.

The problem with that, of course, being that they’re the US editions.

I have a beef with there being such a thing as a US edition of anything. Or a UK edition, for that matter; but, and maybe I’m kidding myself here, but I don’t think so, I can’t help thinking that the amendments made to UK books to change them to the US editions go deeper than the other way around.

So it was with a great sense of satisfaction and smugness that I went through the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – sorry, that’s The Sorcerer’s Stone in the US, because heaven forfend the US publishers might credit readers with a little intelligence, apparently – and see exactly what changes were made. Here’s a little list I made.

Original (UK) vs. US edition

  • Philosopher’s stone – Sorcerer’s stone
  • dustbin – trash can
  • shan’t – won’t
  • sherbet lemons  – lemon drops
  • motorbike – motorcycle
  • bobble hats – bonnets
  • jumper with bobbles – sweater with puff balls
  • got – gotten
  • cooker – stove
  • Sellotape – Scotch tape
  • video recorder – VCR
  • comprehensive – public school
  • letter box – mail slot
  • post – mail (but the editor missed one!)
  • holiday – vacation
  • roundabout – carousel
  • food mixer – food processor
  • toilet – bathroom
  • rucksack – backpack
  • hoover – vacuum
  • crumpets – English muffins

(but not [luggage] trolley to cart, oddly enough, which I would have thought a very obvious one)

Now. Really. What a waste of time and a pandering to the US psyche and a dismissal of everyone else that all is. Why not just change the location to suburban New Jersey and be done with it? I mean, if the reader understands that this book is set in the UK, why not let the characters talk like Brits? As soon as Hermione says “gotten”, you can tell that something’s very rotten in the state of Hogwarts. Ron’s mother knitted woolly jumpers, not sweaters, for Christmas; and why on earth would anyone not understand what a motorbike is? Not to mention the fact that the changes aren’t even consistent – sometimes “sweets” become “candy” but other times not.

I want to know if they change the vocabulary in Pride and Prejudice for American readers too. Wuthering Heights? Or The Secret Garden, if we’re just talking about children’s books? If not, what a shuddering shock American students are in for when they have to decipher those tomes, since they’ve had everything handed to them on a plate whenever they read more modern British books.

Growing up in Ireland is not exactly the same as growing up in England, but nobody made any changes to all the British-authored books I grew up devouring. I learned what comprehensive schools were from the context (not in Harry Potter; well before that), because we don’t really have them in Ireland; the same goes for O levels and A levels and GCSEs. I’ve never eaten a sherbet lemon, but I would probably imagine it pretty easily, just as well as I could imagine a lemon drop, for that matter.

Looking in the other direction, my copy of The Outsiders was not a US edition, but I puzzled over the mention of a girl’s bangs for a long time, because we called that a fringe. I figured out that it was something to do with her hair, and the world must have kept turning because I managed to read the book anyway. Similarly with Amy March’s jar of pickled limes in Little Women. I was barely familiar with limes, never mind pickles of any nature, but I coped admirably in spite of it. (I still have very little concept of how you would go about pickling a lime, or why you would want to try.)

Massive generalization alert, but here goes anyway: people all over the world have a greater understanding of daily life in the US than the US does of other countries. People all over the world see US movies and television shows, for the most part not dubbed into their own languages but only with subtitles if necessary. And I’m pretty sure when we read American books they’ve been much more minimally dealt with than everything going in the other direction.

Far be it from me to take a good job from some editor’s hands, but turning UK books into US books (and vice versa) is totally unnecessary. At best it’s busywork, and at worst it’s contributing to the dumbing down of American society.

But (she said as she finally climbed down off her high horse) at least now I can read my children the right versions of Harry Potter without second-guessing every awkward-sounding phrase. It turns out there just are some of those anyway.

US and UK copies of Harry Potter first book

With bonus Star Wars cup because I didn’t bother to crop this.

Pandora’s Potter

I thought it might be nice to start Harry Potter with Dash this summer, maybe even with both kids. I had visions of us cosily (that is, coolly) curled up reading of an afternoon while the sun beat down outside. But Dash was surprisingly against it. He’d heard B and me discussing it, probably, and talking about how the later books are pretty scary; or maybe he’d just decided to be ornery and that he wouldn’t like it just because we thought he would.

A week or so ago, B was away at a conference and I needed some sort of bedtime carrot. I announced that I was going to start reading the first book. Mabel was interested, even though Dash said he wasn’t, so I sat on her bed and started in on the description of Privet Drive.

Dash was brushing his teeth, just about within earshot. By the time he’d finished up in the bathroom he’d changed his mind, and came in to listen to the rest.

But then.

Then it turned out I’d opened a Pandora’s box. You’d think I’d have known. I did know; I just chose to forget. When Dash gets into something, he’s like a dog with a bone. He won’t leave it alone. He wants to know what will happen. He wants to hear the next chapter. He can’t deal with a cliffhanger. But then it keeps him awake at night … And he’s started campaigning to watch the films, of course. I’d like us to spend some more time just with the books first, so that they have their own mental images well cemented before the movie version imprints over them.

A few times I’ve said “If you want to find out what happens so badly, read it yourself,” and yesterday he did sit down and plough through a couple of paragraphs. But it takes him FOREVER. The words aren’t hard, but he says the print is too small (even wearing his glasses) and he has terrible difficulty reading things like the stylized all-caps of the chapter titles. I’m wondering if I should look for a “large print” version in the library, or download one onto the Kindle that I can change the size on. Hmmm….

Boy reading

That’s not HP, actually. This photo is for general effect only.

I tried to keep both kids at the same place in the books, but once B came home again that went out the window. Now B and Dash are streaking ahead on book two, and Mabel and I are proceeding at a more measured pace near the end of book one. Dash keeps bugging me to read him another chapter (which, just sometimes, is good leverage) and asking me questions like “Do Harry and Ron ever get expelled from Hogwarts?” Much as I hate giving away the story, I accept that sometimes he needs an answer so that he can relax and stop worrying.

I know there are recordings. I know I could borrow a book on tape from the library or download it from Amazon or whatever. But half – maybe all – the fun of introducing your child to a book you’ve enjoyed is reading it to them; even when that child then does their best to squeeze all the joy back out of it by bugging you to read until you’re hoarse.

I tend to read in my own voice with little distinctions for anyone except Hagrid, but B gives everyone a different accent, which is (a) very impressive and (b) far too much like hard work for me to even attempt. He only has about three accents, mind you – dodgy Scottish (McGonagall, mild Hagrid), dodgy Cockney (Ron, Fred and George, possibly Neville), and dodgy French (not yet, but wait till he gets to the fourth book). Also “extra-Irish”, for Seamus Finnegan, and some sort of basic “English” for everyone else, with varying tones from Dumbledore (deep) to Ginny (high pitched), whiny (Hermione) and Alan Rickman (Snape, obvs).

I don’t know how far we’ll go with this – I suspect the third book might be a lot for Dash to take and he might want to stop before, during or after it and metaphorically put the series in the freezer for a while. Whatever happens, I have a feeling it’s going to become one of our defining memories of the summer.

Little house, big woods

Mabel is just at that point where some nights she’ll enjoy a chapter book, but other times she wants to stick to something old and familiar with lots of pictures. We read the first two Narnia books and got stuck on the third; we read Charlie but she got bored with the Great Glass Elevator. I follow her lead for bedtime reading. There’s plenty of time to get to the good stuff.

Last week in the thrift store I happened to briefly browse the books, wondering if I could pick up the first Harry Potter to have on the shelf for Dash, whenever we deem him ready or he decides to read it himself (I own them all, in hardback, of course, but it seems volumes 1-5 are in Dublin just now). I didn’t find it, but I did spot a copy of Little House in the Big Woods. I checked the inside to make sure it was the first of the series, and then I bought it.

I remember Little House on the Prairie very well. One of the strongest TV memories of my childhood is the way the little girls ran and rolled down the hill in the opening credits; I’m pretty sure I spent years scrutinizing them and deciding which one was the same size as I was at that particular moment. I remember Pa Ingalls with his fine head of hair, and the girls’ petticoats, and mean Nancy with her blue dress and her preposterous golden ringlets. (Those characters set the stage for my interpretation of the Anne books, I realise now, even though the landscape must have been vastly different. The clothes might have been roughly right.)

However, I’ve never read the books. They didn’t seem to be Irish staples the way they are here, though I know some, maybe many, people there will have read them. I don’t think they were on the bookshelves when I was spending my book tokens or browsing the library, because I’m sure I would have picked them up. Maybe they were under biography rather than fiction, where I would not have looked.

So Mabel and I are just about to finish this first of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and I must say it’s been an education. Mabel likes it because the little girl is five, like her, and has a doll, like her. But she listens intently to the long descriptions of a life I can only begin to imagine, and examines the pictures, and takes it all in even as I’m trying hard to understand what particular part of pioneer life is being described now. We’ve learned about slaughtering pigs, and how to make sausages, and how to make straw hats, and that you have to kill a calf for the rennet to make cheese, and tonight we learned about the threshing machine that literally harnessed eight horses for the “horsepower.” At least, I learned that. I think Mabel may have dropped off before I got to that bit.

I almost feel as if reading this should have been a requirement of my naturalization ceremony. It’s given me an appreciation and understanding of life for the country’s earlier inhabitants that was a total blank slate for me before. And of course, this is a very happy memoir that barely scratches the surface of what things were really like; I know the books get harder and darker, and I don’t think we’ll be rushing headlong through the rest of the series as soon as we’re done with this one.

For one thing, I think I want to pre-screen them for myself.

Our copy of Little House in the Big Woods

Eager reader

Yesterday we went to a bookstore (and not to Columbia Mall, where we might easily have thought of going, but that’s another blog post entirely) because B had finished reading the last of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books to Dash (with appropriate substitutions/omissions for the mildly rude bits) and needed something new for bedtime. New toys are a Christmas-and-birthday (and star chart and dentist) thing, but new books can happen just because, sometimes.

For his own reading, Dash has been working his way through the Magic Treehouse books, which seem to be just the right level and just exciting enough for his abilities and his tastes. (They’re all in the library.) He’s only on book 7 and with number 52 in the series due out in May I think they’ll keep him going for a long time; but on the other hand if something else were to pique his interest I was happy to buy that for him.

So we found two books of a series called The A to Z Mysteries that looked intriguing, and I got him a National Geographic Kids book about butterflies too. I bought Mabel a Frozen easy reader so she can look at pictures of her beloved Anna and Elsa to her heart’s delight, and maybe sound out some words, because she can do that now, a little. And we bought The Mysterious Benedict Society for bedtime reading. It’s nice and long and won prizes and I think I’ve heard of it, so I hope it turns out to be appropriate, since I know that’s a bit of a shot in the dark.

Then we went to have coffee and share a giant chocolate chip cookie. Dash and Mabel were comparing the pictures on their little cartons of vanilla/chocolate milk. I suggested that Dash read what it said on the back, because there was some kid-oriented information about cows, or milk, or something. He glanced at it, and gave up instantly.

“Mom,” he said, “I just got THREE BOOKS.” The implication being that if I was expecting him to read all those words at some future date, he certainly wasn’t going to exert himself by reading the back of a milk carton now.

I was a little disheartened. If it’s that hard to read the back of the milk, I thought, how hard must it be? How much of an effort must he be making every evening when he sits down to read his chapter? What’s it like to look at words and not just instantly understand what they say?

This morning he sat down with his current Magic Treehouse and polished off the last three chapters, just like that.

I should lay off worrying, I think.

 

Grandad’s bedtime stories

My late father-in-law used to tell bedtime stories to his children. And rather than have to think up something new every time, he had some stock characters and some particular scenarios that would be told over and over again. And because he was that sort of person, at some point he typed them up.

Sadly, he died when his first grandchild was only a few months old, and before I had even met my husband. But the stories have persisted. About ten years ago my sisters-in-law put the stories together in several sets of photocopied pages illustrated by that same first grandchild and held them together with comb binding. It was a lovely thing to have and as my children have grown older they’ve loved their grandfather’s special stories.

But the typed pages were getting was so old that some of the words were practically illegible, and the binding was starting to fall apart. I decided it was time for a third iteration, and went looking for some technology to help me.

A little Googling brought me to Blurb.com, which will print hard- or soft-cover books for you, as many or as few as you want, with lots of photos or none at all. It’s a step up from making a photo book in Shutterfly (as I have done several times), and it seemed to be the only option out there for something that was mostly text, which was what I needed.

So I spent a few evenings in November typing out the thirteen stories, and several more frustrating nights trying to typeset it to my satisfaction. You download the Blurb program and work on your own computer rather than saving things online, but even so I had trouble with the application and lost my work many times, which was pretty frustrating. I can’t honestly give it a five-star review for this reason, but on the other hand I didn’t try calling the customer service, so maybe I shouldn’t blame them. There might have been a simple fix I didn’t know about.

Anyway, I wanted them to be done in time for Christmas, so I didn’t spend quite as much time as I should have making sure it was all perfect. I chose a colour for the cover, uploaded some photos, and sent the whole thing to Blurb with my order for one book for each branch of the family. And a couple of weeks later I was the happy recipient of five nicely made hardback books of stories that, in spite of a total lack of any design talent on my part, are immeasurably precious to my husband and his siblings.

I love that we can do this. Flying cars are all very well, but being able to make a book from the comfort of my sofa and send it to my family is really wonderful. I love that my children can read their grandfather’s words and continue to hand down this little piece of family history. Blurb ships to all over the world, so if you want to do something similar, it might be worth a shot.

                                     

This is not a review of Blurb, as such. I just thought it was such a nice thing, and I was so pleased with it (inevitable crazy-making typos notwithstanding), that I wanted to show you what I had made. I paid for my books just like everyone else.

Booking it

I know the calendar says it’s seven days from Christmas to New Year’s, but it doesn’t feel that way. Those last few days of the year slip away in a blur of mince pies and gingerbread and brunch and late lunch and no-point-making-a-proper-dinner again today, and before you know it everyone’s posting reviews of the year about-to-be-ended and resolutions for the next and we’re all only raring to tear down the decorations and see the lovely white walls and feel clean and unsullied and eat a lot of broccoli; but first I’d better finish up these cookies and there’s all that cheesecake still to go and you may as well have a glass of wine while it’s here.

Last year, everyone annoyed me by listing the books they had read in 2012, and I was mostly annoyed because I had hardly read any, and had no record of them, and had never heard of all these books other people were reading. So, of course, I decided to keep my own list this year.

I didn’t keep it online on LibraryThing or GoodReads or even in a draft post or a Word document. I kept it in the notebook where I keep my lists, under the small notebook for shopping lists, on top of whatever other sheets of paper I happen to have shoved into that corner of the kitchen for “safekeeping.” And I kept it safe all year and even remembered to add to it as time went on.

Handwritten list

Here it is, complete with Mabel-addendum at the bottom of the page. I read 23 books in 2013. It’s not many, but it may be more than I’ve read any year since 2006. (Dash is 7. You do the math.) Much as my in-theatre movie viewing dropped dramatically after April of that year, so did my book consumption. But there’s hope for both: I have been to the cinema three times this Christmas break. (Twice for Frozen and once for Catching Fire.)

And this is the transcript, in chronological order:

Ian McEwan: Sweet Tooth
Sara Gruen: Water for Elephants
Rumer Godden: The Greengage Summer
AM Homes: May We Be Forgiven
Emma McEvoy: The Inbetween People
Philip Pullman: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass
F Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
Dorothy L Sayers: Strong Poison, Have His Carcass, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon
Connie Willis: Blackout, All Clear
Marian Keyes: The Mystery of Mercy Close
Dick Francis: Flying Finish, Break In
Marian Keyes: Anybody Out There
Eoin Colfer: Artemis Fowl
Melissa Ford: Life From Scratch, Measure of Love
Susan Cooper: The Boggart

To make this more interesting (for me), I expressed my thoughts on this reading in pie charts. Because pie improves everything.

Pie chart: 13 out of 23 were books I'd read before

The main thing to note is how many of these books were not new to my eyes. In fact, this is a pretty high percentage of first-time reads for me; normally I retreat into authors I know and love for much more of the year. I feel I branched out this year.

The branching out was in part due to last year’s Christmas presents – some of the early books in the year featured in the pile o’ books we brought back from Dublin last January –

Three of the books were by people I know

… and also because I am apparently at the age where people I actually know in real life have written books. I went to school with Emma McEvoy, and met Melissa Ford at BlogHer. (She writes a great blog too.)

Six of them would fall into the teen/junior fiction category

I like teen fiction, or even tween fiction. I’m looking for things Dash might enjoy soon, or in a while, so I picked up the first two Artemis Fowl books at a sale and have just started the second. I took The Boggart out of the library when I saw it was a new(ish) Susan Cooper.

I’m not counting books I read with the children, though I have recently gone through all of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian with Mabel, as well as some book about rescue princesses. (Charlotte’s Web didn’t stick after the first few chapters.) We’re on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the moment, and that’s going well. In general, I read to her at bedtime and B does Dash. I probably should have kept a record of their books this year too, because it included The Hobbit and all of Narnia, as well as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, quite a lot of Dahl, and two Swallows and Amazons books.

What’s the best book you read this year? I have to put the two Connie Willis volumes (which make one story) at the top. I devoured it and look forward to reading it again. Maybe next, actually …

Siblings Without Rivalry

And here’s that post about the book.

I’m finally reading Siblings Without Rivalry, after two people mentioned it to me in the space of a few days and I decided it was A Sign. I know I should have read it years ago, possibly as soon as we had Mabel, but there you go, I didn’t.

It was written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, who wrote the laboriously titled but very helpful How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. You may remember me raving about one of its techniques last year when Dash was stuck in the terrible six-and-a-halfs. Siblings Without Rivalry takes much of the same material, but applies it specifically to situations that come up between siblings. It’s really quite eye-opening.

On Saturday morning I was reading it at the breakfast table as Dash and Mabel fought their way around the house, disagreeing over what or how to play, bugging each other, pinching and hitting and screaming and then laughing again. I called them over and asked Dash to read the title of my book. He spelled it out. They remembered what “siblings” meant, but I had to explain “rivalry.”

“I’m reading this so that I can figure out how to stop you two fighting,” I said. They were impressed that I had to read a book to discover such a thing. Dash grabbed the book and sat down at the other end of the table, opening it at the first page and starting to read.

“I’m going to find out what it tells you, so we can not do it,” he said, with an evil grin.

I was delighted to see him reading, so I did the washing up and left him to it.

Brother and sister

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Anyway, I thought I’d share my notes, since I have to bring the book back to the library soon. I recommend reading the whole thing to understand where the authors are coming from and see lots of examples of these techniques in action. The book also shows them in cartoon form, which makes it quick to read and easy to remember.

  • Siblings are essentially always in competition for their parents’ love/time/attention. As soon as you take sides in a dispute or punish one for hurting the other, you are building resentment and rivalry, and therefore making things worse.
  • When they complain about their sibs, you should verbalize how they’re feeling for them: “You sound furious.” “It makes you mad when he does that.” Acknowledge how they feel about each other.
  • Encourage them to express their feelings with words: “Tell him how you feel.” “Let him know how mad you are with words.”
  • Tell the other one why you’re listening to the one right now: e.g.,
    – Mabel, interrupting: I have to tell you this thing.
    – Me: I know you do, but right now I’m listening to Dash tell me about school. I know it’s important to him so I want to hear it. Then I can listen to what you need to tell me.
  • Treat them uniquely, not equally. They get the things they need when they need them; they don’t both get things at the same time just because. (I’m not sure that “because Mom went to Target and I was with her and I whined” counts as needing something, exactly.)
  • Don’t cast them into roles, and don’t let them do it to each other. Tell them how you want them to be:
    “I know that Dash is generous, so I’m sure he’ll give you a turn when he’s done with it.”
    Or, better, “I know you’re both smart, so you can work out a solution to this.”
    Then leave the room so that they don’t act up for your benefit.
  • Never compare, even favourably. It reinforces perceived roles and encourages resentment between sibs. When one comes tattling about the other, say “I don’t want to hear about him right now. Tell me about you.”
  • Encourage teamwork rather than pitting them against one another. So “Let’s see if you can work together to tidy up before the timer goes off” rather than “Who can pick up all the toys first?” I am so guilty of saying this. You know why? Because it works! (But it’s bad. Bad Mommy.)
  • When they’re fighting and it’s escalating, state the problem and tell them you expect them to work it out. No tolerance for hurting. If one is in danger, separate them.
  • If they can’t work it out, sit down and make a list with both of them, the way we did for one with How to Talk so Kids Will Listen.
I think I need to print this list out and tape it to my fridge.