Friday, April 3, 2020

March Favorites: Ramona, Desert Island Adventurers, and Dollhouse Remodelers

Welp... I did say that I hoped I got a lot more reading done in March...

I didn't actually want more time to hang out at home and read to come at the price of a global pandemic, I hope you understand. I'm pretty sure that Will's the only person in our family whose sanity is not hanging on by a thread at this point, honestly.

But yeah... I got a lot of reading done in March!

Surprisingly, this was my favorite non-fiction book of the month:

Ken Jennings' main claim to fame is his Jeopardy win (he also sometimes Tweets ugly things about people, apparently, so great job there, Genius), but this book is a surprisingly interesting ethnography of maps. It's an anecdotal history of why maps were created, how they're used, how and why they interest people, and how they affect and reflect the ways that our brains work. It got me thinking a lot about spatial reasoning and how overlooked its importance often is in our contemporary society. On the one hand, many kids now don't tend to go out to play and explore vast swathes of neighborhoods like they often used to, unsupervised, but on the other hand, my two can find their way around their little Minecraft world, and the last time I picked up the controller to try a game with a 3D world (it was a Zelda game belonging to a baby cousin, and I was SUPER excited because I LOVE ZELDA), I couldn't even parse what I was looking at. I just kept walking Link into the side of a mountain, confused, while my cousin laughed at me. And then I felt nauseated.

Tl;dr: spatial reasoning is very important for brains. Visual puzzles, wayfinding, outdoor exploration, and mapreading make us smarter!

I got another Aubrey/Maturin book read in March--

--but alas, even with all of this time at home to read, I only got that one Aubrey/Maturin book read. I'd sort of figured that the public library would close due to the pandemic, but I didn't quite have the jump on it, so Will and I weren't able to run in and hoard every book before it did close, indefinitely. And they closed their online holds requests, so I can't even tell them the books that I really want them to get for me when they do re-open. AND they also closed their book drops, so Will and I are collecting a HUGE stack of returns on our front hallway counter.

First-world problems, amiright? We're all healthy and safe, able to shelter in place, the children's schooling hasn't been disrupted, and we have a huge home library and over a hundred library books already checked out that we can read. Also internet access.


What I did get from the library in time, however, and read avidly, and love even more than I remember loving them as a young child, are these Ramona books:

I loved Ramona when I was a little kid, and I'm sure that I re-read her multiple times in high school, during long shifts working as a page in my public library's children's department on those weeknights after the town's kids were all in bed but the library didn't close for another hour. But I don't think that I loved her as much as I loved her this time, re-reading her at 40+ years old, raising two daughters of my own. Ramona has such big feelings! And as a parent, I think that I am outraged on her behalf for every little injustice in her world even more than I was outraged for her when I was her own age! When I was a kid, I was all, "Yep, teachers are mean. Parents are unfair. Sucks when people won't let you read." But now, I'm all, "Why on EARTH would that teacher praise one child's wise old owl craft and not the others?!? How DARE their father mock his children for wanting him to quit smoking!!! Can those parents seriously not find another place to park their child every single day after school other than with that babysitter who doesn't like them and also has a four-year-old that Ramona has to entertain the whole time she's there? All she wants to do is READ, goddamnit! Let the child READ!!!"

I also think I'd forgotten about how much economic class plays into the background. Ramona's parents begin the series as parents who aren't college graduates, although they seem to be well-enough off. They're a one-salary family who are able to own a home, and there are depictions of little luxuries that let you know that they've got some spending room in their budget. But when they need a major home renovation, Ramona's mother also gains paid employment, and Ramona has to submit to an unenthusiastic neighborhood babysitter and has less unstructured play time and fewer extracurricular enriching experiences. And then her dad loses his job, and gets a new one as a grocery store check-out clerk, and Ramona's life becomes more unpredictable, with her father working unusual hours and not home on typical vacation days, and their budget becomes so constrained that at times Ramona borders on food insecurity. She's stressed by adult worries that trickle down to her, and she doesn't always have a safe outlet for her big emotions, and sometimes she's the brunt of someone else's anxiety coming out. It's a LOT for a little kid!

And yet this is, or parts of it are, the normal day-to-day reality for lots of kids, and so even when there are upheavals, Ramona's life reads as normal. She goes about her business, has her own adventures, only semi-aware of what the adults are doing in the background to keep things going. There's a scene in a beauty school where they've gone for Beezus to spend her own money on a haircut, and a stylist wants to cut Ramona's hair, too. Ramona is savvy enough about her family's economic realities to automatically refuse, and she even repeats a phrase that she's undoubtedly heard repeatedly--"We're scrimping and saving to make ends meet." But it's clear that she doesn't really know what she's parroting so much as know that's what you say when something costs money. And in the background, we can clearly see her mother debating the question: haircuts cost money, and she can cut Ramona's hair herself. But free time is also precious, and working full-time, caring for the kids solo while her husband works odd evening and weekend hours, cooking all their meals from scratch from cheap groceries, doesn't leave her with much of it. If she paid for a haircut, she'd have a little more time on her hands, but would she then have to work harder to figure out where that money is going to come from and how to save it somewhere else?

We don't see all that, of course, because we're following Ramona, who's VERY intent on this brand-new haircut experience and how awesome she feels about herself afterwards, and we're thrilled that she, too, got a rare treat, but we do see later that Beezus and her mother are sitting down together learning how to do fancy haircuts at home, and as far as we know they never go to another hair salon.

These books have layers, y'all. They are VERY much worth an adult re-read.

Here's what else I read in March!

The pandemic stay-at-home order has affected Will's reading very different than it's affected mine, the poor kid. Will relies on a regular influx of new books to read; even though we own hundreds of books, she rarely re-reads a book. That's the main reason why our home library isn't hundreds of books larger, and why I never give my reading obsessed-kid books as a present. Will has read through the three or so days' worth of library books that she had on hand when the library closed, and has reluctantly re-read some titles from our home library, but mostly she's at loose ends.

It was fun to see Will rediscover this old favorite, though!

She was SO into Dinotopia a full decade ago! This series was one of the first books that she devoured after her reading ability really exploded and left her as a fully literate five-year-old--you know how many books there are that are appropriate for a fully literate five-year-old?!?

A lot fewer than the books that are NOT appropriate for a fully literate five-year-old, I'll tell you that!

Here are Will's other March favorites:

Will claims to have loved The Swiss Family Robinson, but I sat near her as she zoomed through it one Saturday morning out on our back deck in the sunshine, and while Matt and I read the newspaper, did the crossword, and ate breakfast burritos, and Syd hung out near us with the less neurotic of her two cats, Will regaled us with absurdity after absurdity from the book ("OMG all those animals do not all live on that island together!!! Oh, please, you're going to pretend to be a boy just because you're embarrassed you don't have a skirt?!?). The kid riding the ostrich apparently doesn't even rate in the top twenty of most absurd events in the book!

Here's everything else Will read in March!

My favorite podcast in March is a podcast that I didn't know was a podcast! I normally listen to All Songs Considered on the radio, but it's way more convenient as a podcast. Their New Music Friday episode has now become my time to deep clean the kitchen, then I can move onto the rest of the house while listening to whatever was my favorite from the episode--this week, it's this album!

Our YouTube time was only slightly curtailed by the absolutely blissful two weeks that I spent enjoying a free Disney+ trial. I had no plans to actually buy Disney+ (we are scrimping and saving to make ends meet!), so I watched the SNOT out of it for two full weeks! I discovered along the way that I can basically just happily stream Moana as background noise--that's how much I love it. Also Tangled. The only shows I'd really wanted to make a point to watch were The Mandalorian, which was AWESOME and I actually probably will buy a month of Disney+ just to watch the next season when it comes out, and Avatar, so Will would know what we're looking at if we end up going to Animal Kingdom during our upcoming October Florida adventure. But somehow we ended up not actually finishing Avatar... it's awfully dated now, don't you think? Nobody had much patience with the White Savior shtick running through it, and I do NOT blame them, sigh.

But really, there's rarely need to pay for a streaming service when YouTube exists!

The other day, I was reminiscing (as I often do) about the absolutely fantastic birthday party that I had at McDonald's when I was a little kid, and I randomly wondered if McDonald's still hosts birthday parties. Reader, it DOES! But as I was Googling this, I accidentally got onto the website for McDonald's in New Zealand, and THEN I became obsessed with McDonald's regional menu offerings.

Thank goodness there's a YouTube video for that!

Syd got me into watching this woman's fashion design videos, and she is EPIC:

She and I also tried to go down a rabbit hole of watching dollhouse makeover videos, but we're frustrated because we hate most of them. We love this series, though:

And that's what I looked at in March when I wasn't curled up in an anxiety ball on my bathroom floor! What are YOU looking at when you're not in anxiety ball form?

Six Months Ago: Girl Scout Senior Programming Robots Badge Step 2: Build a Robot Arm from Girl Scout Cookie Cases
One Year Ago: March Favorites: Dragons and Dollhouses and What My High School Sex Ed Class Didn't Teach Me
Two Years Ago: Sightseeing in Nashville: Science, History, and Doughnuts!
Three Years Ago: A Girl Scout Pilgrimage to the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace
Four Years Ago: Homeschool STEAM: Whole-Body Pendulum Painting on an Aerial Hammock
Five Years Ago: 2015 Spring Ice Show: Momma's Little Gangsta
Six Years Ago: Bookshelves (and, Inadvertently, a Long Rant about Educational Equity)
Seven Years Ago: Embroidery Spools and Satire
Eight Years Ago: Kitten Portraits
Nine Years Ago: I Love My New Open Toe Walking Foot
Ten Years Ago: Tulips in the Window
Eleven Years Ago: Two Very Different Schools of Thought
Twelve Years Ago: Let There Be Light

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