October Notes: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, Cultural Apprenticeship, and Witch Hunts

Rebecca Pitts Newsletter October 2017

I'm not sure when my daughter, age 5, will begin to read. It's almost beside the point. We read together as much as we can. I pick books I like. She usually picks books about her favorite television show and, in full disclosure, there are lots of books about Disney princesses. Occasionally she asks me to read something I adore — something that is about nature or our world, something that is lyrically brilliant, or (gasp) something that demonstrates a theme or idea like empathy or stories about children from places that are different from where we live. I try to hide my enthusiasm and be chill, inside I'm all like, yesssss. She works fastidiously at her studio desk, asking which letters comprise Hamburger or Skeleton. She "writes" lists — pictures and symbols stand-in for words on shopping lists, daily appointment books, and weekly calendars. She is into reading without being a reader. Her ability to read on her own is almost beside the point because it will happen. It's just a matter of when. But what I won't do is this: stifle her love of story time and books because I am hyper-focused on whether or not she can sound out the letters to read "I sat on the mat."

Daniel Pennac's Rights of the Reader is one of my favorite books of 2017. It changed the way I think about reading with my kids:

“Our children start out as good readers and will remain so if the adults around them nourish their enthusiasm instead of trying to prove themselves. If we stimulate their desire to learn before making them recite out loud; if we support them in their efforts instead of trying to catch them out; if we give up whole evenings instead of trying to save time; if we make the present come alive without threatening them with the future; if we refuse to turn a pleasure into a chore but nurture it instead. If we do all this, we ourselves will rediscover the pleasure of giving freely — because all cultural apprenticeship is free.

For those of you who loathe parenting books, I dare you to give this one a try. It's short. It's not complicated or ridiculously out of reach. It's common sense. (And do let me know what you think.)

Reads for Growns

The Beinecke at Yale acquires the Judy Blume archiveJanet Malcolm on Rachel MaddowHow to raise a surrealist. Bana al-Abed: From a Syrian war zone to New York City. Rebecca Solnit's #metoo unearths this Sylvia Plath gem: "I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night." (Plath would have been 85 last week.) Speaking of gems, Yes, This is a Witch-Hunt from Lindy West. Michelle Obama selects her official portraitist, Amy Sherald.


17 new authors of color write for kids. A Mighty Girl's list of books for talking with young children about their bodies and body safety, via my friend Ali. A Bob Dylan picture book biography: When Bob Met WoodyZoo Day by Anne Rockwell for my two year-old and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier for my five year-old. Social and emotional learning through literature — booklists from the Bank Street School. You can't teach kids empathy, but these picture books inspire it. I love a good post-modern process vs. product show: a new J.K. Rowling exhibit goes behind-the-scenes of the publication of Harry Potter and includes this amazing synopsis, included in her initial query letters. (It's coming to New York in the spring!)

Podcasts, Mostly

I loved this podcast — The Power of No on Dear Sugars. (Spoiler: Oprah Winfrey says no to Stevie Wonder.) Over the years, I've listened to the Coffee Break language series. I've done some French lessons and am now brushing up on my Italian. My two year-old is even getting in on the fun, saying "ciao ciao" and counting to ten in Italian! Which led me down the rabbit-hole of language podcasts for kids. (I couldn't really find any, but did discover The Italian Experiment — classic children's stories are read in Italian by a native speaker.)


The Standups. Stranger Things is queued-up but I haven't started yet. (Have you?) Richard Serra at Dia BeaconThe news, unfortunately.


I'm doing a bit of market research on non-fiction historical biographies for kids. Do you have a fave title in this category? Let me know! I'd love to add it to my running list.