Tag Archive | Tomie de Paola

Stories without words


Bugaboo and I had a bit of a struggle yesterday morning over, of all things, sight words.  She was pretty adamant that she had forgotten all of the personal pronouns she’s been picking out of books since she was eighteen months old, and I was equally adamant that this was a required part of the day’s schoolwork.  After a couple of hours of tears and demands on her part, and redirections and seating changes on my part, we finally got through the list just in time for lunch.  I’m partly to blame for the problem; normally, I set the girls on their lessons while I’m making the morning phone calls (I check in with my mother and mother-in-law every morning, just to see how they’re doing and share the previous day’s funny grandkid stories), but yesterday, I opted to let them play during those conversations.  Oops.

The morning’s dispute ended up being a periodic topic of conversation throughout the rest of the day; I overheard Beanie admonishing her older sister, “You shouldn’t be ugly to Mommy like that.”  I chose not to bring it up, except during a quiet moment while Bugaboo and I were alone, reading a story together, when I asked her, “Honey, was it really worth all that?  We could have had an extra hour of stories and maybe even a craft this morning.”  She looked at me and sadly muttered, “No. I’d rather have the stories than a fight.  And I’d much rather do a craft.”

After dinner, the tribe settled in for a long storytime and a big bowl of popcorn.  One of the first books we read was Tomie de Paola’s The Knight and the Dragon.  Mr. Man received the book for Easter, and when I bought it, I had assumed it was a retelling of the St. George and the dragon story; since Mr. Man’s given name is, in fact, George, it seemed like a fun and appropriate gift for the big guy. I was surprised to discover that it is a far gentler tale, and I’d encourage you to read the review linked above.  At least half of the story is told solely through illustrations, and Bugaboo, Beanie, and even Mr. Man himself had a great time filling in the story in their own words.  At the end of the story, Bugaboo asked me, “Mommy, why did the knight and the dragon want to fight each other?”  I answered that they probably thought it was what they were supposed to do, since there are so many stories about knights fighting dragons, and even in the book, both parties found lots of books in their libraries about how to fight each other.   She replied, “I’m glad they decided not to fight.  I like that they opened a stand together instead.”

We read a lot more stories before we prayed, sang songs, and bundled the tiny people into their beds.  That particular story, however, kept coming back to me, because it reminded me of our morning struggle with the sight words.  Yes, Bugaboo needs to know her sight words; yes, she needs to learn to follow instructions; yes, she needs to learn that sometimes the tasks set before us are not our favorite things to do.  That said, my job is to encourage and teach, and perhaps, in simply giving her a list of words and telling her to read them to me, then digging in my heels as stubbornly as she dug in hers, I taught her a lesson in inflexibility instead of the personal pronouns.  There will, of course, be times where a certain thing has to be learned in a certain way; this morning’s vocabulary exercise wasn’t one of them, but because I insisted on making it so, it turned into a cause of strife.  In Ephesians 4, I’m reminded that my words should be uplifting and edifying.  Telling a little kid she’s being stubborn isn’t particularly edifying; it’s analogous to telling water it’s wet.

The lessons of the lesson were still on my mind this morning as I sat down to write, and it finally occurred to me why I couldn’t get the incident out of my head.  I pulled up the Bible in another tab, and looked up St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  Sure enough, there it was, right in the middle of chapter 3:  “Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged (Col 3:21).”

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that the kids and I have been studying the parable of the prodigal son.  This morning, I’m the prodigal mommy, as I have been before and, I’m certain, as I will be many more times.  By meeting stubbornness with stubbornness instead of a gentle turning, Bugaboo and I ended up as the knight and the dragon in Mr. de Paola’s excellent story — with one of our heads stuck in a rock and the other stuck high in a tree.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the means and talents to educate Your blessings individually, here in our home.  You have given me tools, knowledge, and wisdom, and have granted me every grace when I have asked it of you.  Please help me remember that each of Your blessings is a unique, small person, as You created no two of us alike, but all in Your image.  When I try to insist that one of Your blessings must learn a certain thing in a certain way, please remind me that even You had to speak in parables at times, so that Your people could understand You.  Thank You for the reminder from a friend that each of Your blessings has his or her own particular beauty, and that while part of the trust You have placed in me involves making sure they walk in Your ways, another part involves making sure they have an example of the love You give us, one they can see always before them.

Please, Lord, grant me the grace of knowing when to shut my mouth and let my actions speak. Thank You for little blessings who are quick to forgive, and please help me think quickly and speak slowly enough that I might minimize the number of words for which I need to be forgiven.  Please infuse all of our lessons with the joy that comes from having You as my supervising teacher.

Gershon Kingsley, eat your heart out


Yesterday seemed made for a certain Seussian feline, as the weather was entirely too cold and rainy for even my little tribe of stalwart mud fanatics to spend an appreciable amount of time outdoors.  Fortunately, we are blessed with an abundance of books and art supplies, and the makings of both chicken soup and spaghetti with meat sauce, both of which are foul-weather favorites around here.  Baby Guy followed his usual rainy day custom of taking his nap at ten in the morning and sleeping until sometime after two in the afternoon, while Mr. Man was permitted to opt out of his nap and join his sisters and I in our hour of quiet time after lunch.

Among the titles in our collection is this little gem from Tomie de Paola; it gives the history of popcorn, along with a host of fascinating popcorn facts, in the context of two brothers making popcorn on their stove.  This is yet another book I recommend highly.  At any rate, while we did not read The Popcorn Book today, the kids ate dinner at a sufficiently early hour to justify a snack during our evening Spider-Man social.  While Bugaboo, Beanie, and Mr. Man were busily putting toys back in boxes, bins, and cupboards, and Baby Guy was cheerfully crawling back and forth in pursuit of Smudgie’s wagging tail, I decided to make a quick batch of stove-top popcorn.

I’ve never actually made popcorn in a pan on the stove before, mind you, but I’d seen it done by older relatives over thirty years ago.  We always had popcorn machines as a child, then a microwave, and I’ve used a very noisy air popper for the last couple of years.  However, since we’ve read about the old-fashioned way, it seemed worthwhile to show the midget mob that the method of which they had read was, in fact, possible.  I heated the oil, melted a little real, unsalted butter (the kind that has cream as its sole ingredient) in a saucepan, then tossed a test kernel into the hot oil.

Thankfully, I managed to duck out of the way of the flying popcorn before it smacked me in the eye.

After I located the lid for the relevant pan, I poured in the rest of the kernels and gently shook the pan until a fluffy mass quietly billowed forth; half a cup of popcorn kernels yielded just enough popcorn to fill my handled mixing bowl.  By the time I sprinkled over a fingertip pinch of salt and tossed in the butter, our three oldest children had assembled on the living room couch and were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  I put Bugaboo in charge of the bowl, helping myself to a handful of warm popcorn while reminding her to keep hold of the handle.

If you know anyone who would like an air popper, he or she can have mine.  That’s the best popcorn I’ve ever eaten, and the tribe agrees.  After the tribe was abed, I made another batch to share with my husband, and we have added him to the list of old-school popcorn devotees.

From a stewardship perspective, there were exactly six unpopped kernels out of a half cup of corn, which meant significantly less waste than any other method I’ve used.  It’s fluffier and sweeter, too.  Once the tiny people had finished watching their show and demolishing the popcorn, I asked them what they thought the popcorn did in the pan.  Bugaboo and Beanie responded by gleefully jumping up and down and making popping noises; after a moment’s skeptical observation, Mr. Man decided to join in the fun, while Baby Guy watched, smiling and laughing at his siblings’ silliness.

In The Popcorn Book, Mr. de Paola mentions that early European settlers ate popped corn with cream for breakfast.  Bugaboo remembered this as she was helping herself to another handful, and asked if we could have that for breakfast tomorrow.  I replied that while we don’t have any cream, we have whole milk, which should work just as well.  I’d rather have them eat that than most breakfast cereals!  It will be a good opportunity to teach them about this gift the native Americans gave to the Europeans, and to talk about how food brings people of all backgrounds together.

For those mystified by the title of this post, this may be helpful (link will open in a new window).

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the simple gift of popcorn to share with Your blessings, with the laughter and happiness it brought.  Some of Your greatest miracles involved food and drink, from the wedding at Cana to the loaves and fishes; You remain with us in bread and wine at every Mass.  Please help me teach Your blessings that sharing a meal, or even a snack, brings us closer together, and to praise You always for the bounty You provide for us to eat.  Please remind us to share that bounty with our neighbors who are hungry, and help us teach the lesson of Your friend Martha, that preparing food can be a ministry if it is done in Your service.  As we prepare our meals today, Lord, remind us as you reminded Martha that the food is less important than the love it fuels our bodies to share, and let us serve in all ways with glad hearts.

Seek and you shall find


It was a raw and rainy day hereabouts, the sort of day that begs for big mugs of hot cocoa and lots and lots of stories.

Once the ladies had colored all the pictures they could stand, and everyone had a decent nap, we opted for an afternoon story marathon, which began before the boys were done snoozing.  I’ve mentioned before that reading is a favorite pastime at our house, and we have a formidable library of children’s books.  I’ve also noted that we read a wide variety of materials, and that we’ve been able to find Christ in whatever we read.  For today’s post, I’ll share the books we read and how we saw the Lord in each one.  For those who just want to know what books we read, I’ll begin with a gallery view.

For the books that are specifically about faith, I’ll assume you can figure out how Jesus was included, but if there’s one about which you would like specific information, please ask in the comments or in an email, and I’ll be happy to answer you.

We are huge Tomie de Paola fans around here.  Fin M’Coul is a retelling of an ancient Irish legend, and in it, the wife of the giant loves him enough to use all her wit and talent to save her husband from a horrible beating at the hands of a bully giant.  It’s sort of like Samson and Delilah, except in this case, Delilah saves Samson.  We found Jesus’s teaching to the Pharisees from Matthew 19 here, about how the Lord created male and female, and the two become one flesh forever.

This one is easy.  It begins with Psalm 139:14 — “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Yes.  Every new life is.

I’ve loved this book since I was tiny.  By reading it, we are reminded that while we may receive a mild rebuke for straying, the good shepherd always welcomes the lost member of his flock.

These are pretty self-explanatory!

My Big Book of Opposites reminds us that the Lord made all creatures, great and small.  It’s Time to Play gives a little lesson on stewardship, that we are to clean up the messes we make, and that even putting our toys away can be a happy task.

Brave Butterfly reminds us that we can do things we think are impossible if we have faith.  Peekaboo Fun reminds us that the Lord made every living and non-living thing, and He made them in an infinite number of shapes, sizes, and colors.

It’s Great to be an Engine reminds us that we are to make a joyful noise unto the Lord!

Jesus wanted the little children to come to Him, so we have special books to help bring them closer!

Can you tell these two have been well-loved?  The Belly Button Book reminds us that we all are born of women, as Jesus was, and Doggies reminds us that the Lord created some animals to be our friends, playmates, and protectors.

Pooh’s 1-2-3 reminds us that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, there He is, and that each of us has something we can share.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat calls to mind Noah and his ark, and, of course, Christ calling the fishermen.

Psalm 139 again!

While this book is more about snow and baking cookies, it’s also a good reminder that we share the fruits of our labors with our neighbors — and, of course, we give gifts to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

The wonders of Creation can be explored and investigated, but not always fully explained.  We thank the Lord for the mysteries he’s given us.

In the Fairy Berry Bake-Off, we learn that arrogance leads to unloving behavior, wastefulness, and destruction, but that we always have the opportunity to reconcile and be forgiven.  In Beck’s Bunny Secret, we learn that telling a lie leads to unhappiness and mistrust among friends, but, again, there is the opportunity for repentance and redemption.

The Strawberry Shortcake stories remind us of the value of friendship as defined in Sirach 6.

In the “Little Miss” books, we are reminded that He has given each of us particular talents, but that it sometimes takes us a while to figure out how to put those talents to their best use.

The Wind in the Willows reminds us that friends who lead us down the paths of wisdom are priceless, and that love sometimes means saying “no.”

In Bossy Bee, we remember that Jesus, the great leader and teacher, wasn’t rude or bossy, but gentle and humble.

The Foot Bookcalls to mind Christ washing the feet of His disciples.

We love Arch books.

If you have never read this book, go directly to your library or bookstore and get it.  Each of us has a gift to offer, and if we offer it freely and with love, even the most seemingly strange offering is pleasing to Him.  I have had this particular copy since I was five years old.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, we can see Your face anywhere we seek You.  Thank You for your constant presence, and help me teach Your blessings to recognize You and Your wisdom in books that don’t mention Your name.  Please grant us the wisdom to see Your triumph and grace in all things, that we may use every word we read, song we sing, and show we watch to draw nearer to you.