The Cat Who Came for Christmas

Mowgli

I was loading my car to head to my parents’ house for Christmas. I opened my door, and in walked a black and white kitten. He looked at me, he looked around, he went to the bedroom and hopped onto my comforter to take a nap. He was dirty and severely malnourished, but he was home. I belonged to him from that point on.

He traveled with me that day. By evening we thought we’d lost him. We called and called, searched and searched, but could find him nowhere. We hadn’t seen him go outside. Still, it seemed likely he had. A large family at Christmas-time means doors constantly swinging open and shut. And even a malnourished kitten that had just come in from the outside would probably prefer to go back out, we thought.

The next morning, sitting in the living room, talking about what we would be cooking that day, my mother and I heard a noise. It was the sound of the kitten climbing out of the Christmas tree. He had to sleep somewhere safe, and that was the only tree he could find in the house.

That was in 1999. Thanks for 10 years of bossing me, Mowgli. You’re the best. I know this has been a hard year with many trips to the vet and many aggravating battles of will over medicines, fluids, bland foods. Bear with me on that. It’s just the way I’m coping with the idea that we don’t have much more time. You’re still the best lizard catcher in town.

Been Down So Long

My Facebook feed has had an odd serendipity today, yielding a wonderful article about what the Saints mean to New Orleans and a report that places Mississippi in the top ten happiest states in the country. In my mind, the two go hand in hand.

We been down so long, it looks like up to us. We’re practiced in making the best of our circumstances, and when you know how to eat peas and cornbread or beans and rice for every meal without ever thinking about what you can’t afford to go with it, life’s not so bad. It’s easy to be happy.

During the Great Depression, there were people in Mississippi who reported not really seeing much change. They were already poor. They were already living hand to mouth. They didn’t have far to fall.

For years, we’ve made celebrations when we had nothing, cheered the Saints when they were losing.

What are the two biggest cities in Mississippi? New Orleans and Memphis, the punch line says. In South Mississippi, New Orleans is our city. It was our city long before it was America’s city. And in a city where the same bands play for funerals and parades, we know all about celebrating through times of trouble.

That’s why the Saints in a winning season is such a big deal that even the poets are watching the games. We were going to party for the Saints come hell or high water. We hardly know what to do with the excess of excitement when we actually have reason to celebrate. Katrina’s destruction of the Dome and the horrors that took place there might add to the poignancy of happy faces cheering the home team in rebuilding New Orleans, but around here we would have been this worked up over a Saints winning season even if Katrina had never happened.

After Katrina, I remember reading an article–sorry I don’t remember who wrote it or where I saw it now–in which the reporter said upon touring the Mississippi Gulf Coast, “What these people need is a football game.” A distraction. Something to cheer for and feel good about no matter how dismal reality might be.

Well, yeah. Look at how big football is in the South. Look at how many Southern states have made the happiest states list. Those happiest states are also going to show up as having lower incomes, higher rates of illiteracy, higher rates of teen pregnancy, obesity, STDs, and heart disease. Who would guess this is where the happiness is?

Football. Mardi Gras. Gospel music. Parades. Beauty pageants. Festivals for every variety of tomato, pecan, or muscadine ever imagined.

What you need is football, you say. What you need is a home team to cheer for. Look at us. We’ve been down so long we don’t care. What do you think we’ve been doing all these years?

Lost and Found

Monday morning I found a twenty dollar bill in my jacket pocket that I thought I’d lost.  I was happy I found it.  I gave my money toward an office Christmas present for our office housekeeper, and I bought a Coke Zero for the outrageous price of $1.60.  If I hadn’t found it, I would have gone to the ATM for the gift money, and it would have been okay.  I might not have bought the Coke.  Not because I couldn’t but because I would have been annoyed just at the idea of losing money.

There have been times in my life when losing a twenty would have meant I couldn’t do laundry or go to the grocery store. There have been times when twenty was enough to make my life different for a few days or even a week.

You can buy enough to eat for a week for $5 if you need to.  Rice, beans, macaroni…those things still come cheap.  You can make them in a crock pot that barely uses any electricity and eat from them for days.  It’s good for you to try.

We’re getting pay cuts next semester we were told on Monday.  Me and all of my school.  The amount is more than twenty dollars and less than everything I had to spend on groceries.

In the South, when we don’t know what else to do we eat, and we tell stories.  Sometimes when you tell a story, you don’t even know if it’s true until the person you are telling it about owns up to it, and then you still have to wonder if you both just believed it because it sounded good at the time.

And so we sit, we eat the cake bought to cheer us up, and we tell our stories of how we’ll handle this.  We’ll eat Ramen noodles.  We’ll go Christmas shopping at the Dollar General.  Certainly, we’ll cut out trips.  We’ll cut out the extra work we were doing for the job that is cutting our pay.  We’ll take on extra paying jobs if we can get them.  We’ll take the cat off the Science Diet.  We’ll quit going out to eat so much.  We’ll email our Christmas cards.  We’ll buy the crayons with which to draw our sorrows at the Salvation Army.  We’ll put the contents of our garages on Ebay.  We’ll grocery shop out of the laundry change jar.  We go on and on just talking sense and nonsense.

We are perturbed, disturbed, disheartened.  We pretend not to be when we look ourselves in the mirror with accusatory tones and say, “Don’t think so much of yourself.  It’s okay.  You have a job.  You’re being selfish to care so much about a few hundred dollars a month.”

It doesn’t help to lecture ourselves.  Like it doesn’t help at a funeral home to say things like everything works out for the best. The hit might be financial, but the blow is emotional.

We have lives outside the job.  We flirt with other interests.  We know who we are when we aren’t there.  And still the job is who we are when we are there.  We take it with us most everywhere we go.  The job is us, and the job has hurt our feelings.  It doesn’t matter if it can’t help it.  The job that has hurt our feelings is still a bad emotional investment right now.  If it were a person, and we could afford separate houses, we’d be spending some time apart right now.  We don’t trust each other.  We walk carefully around each other.  We could see a therapist about this together, but the job doesn’t want to hear what we have to say.

And so we go our separate ways for Christmas–sullen, nervous, counting every penny whether we really need to or not.  Parts of us are grateful to have everything we do have, but it doesn’t help right now to say that to the parts of us that just aren’t speaking to each other yet.

Elizabeth Cottage: A Place out of Time

I grew up cash poor and opportunity rich.  Maybe you won’t even know what I mean unless you too grew up in this way.  Some people are born poor without anything to offset the mental and physical impact of deprivation.  Others, like me, grow up with all they really need to thrive despite never having much in the way of money or possessions.  This is the way of teachers’ and preachers’ children, who never fear starvation or homelessness, who never go without educational advantages, but who at the same time don’t have a whole lot in the way of toys, clothes, or even arcade change.

This is what I can say about myself, but I didn’t know it was true until after we left Elizabeth Cottage.  Something about the combination of childhood itself, a large family, and life in the middle of a college campus insulated me from worry or awareness of problems outside my own day-to-day existence.  Later I would notice and care about disparities in my lifestyle and those of my friends.  At 12 and 14 I cared.  At 7 I didn’t know there were any disparities.

Part of this I owe to the fact that not only were both my parents working by the time I was old enough to have any awareness of possessions, but my older brothers and sisters were as well.  They worked part-time on newspaper routes, baby-sitting jobs, at a drug store a couple of blocks away.  They brought candy and trinkets home with them.  None of it was ever much, but between them all, I always had something new to call my own.

When you’re the youngest of six, you’re everyone’s baby.  This will become a bothersome fact well before the age of 40, but it’s not so bad at 4.

I think of this, of the buffers I had between me and the world, and I wonder if my memories are incorrect.  Proust would say they are necessarily incorrect no matter who I am.  Memory itself is unreliable at best.  I know this even as I write something like this, something like my last post about growing up in Elizabeth Cottage.

Physics teaches us that we cannot observe an event from multiple perspectives at once.  The more certainty we have on one angle, the less certainty we can apply to others.

This is true.  We can’t even tell the story of an event from multiple perspectives at once.  I have no real desire to try.

I remember a house where I was happy.  I remember watching Yogi Bear while someone went outside to turn the antenna.  I remember faking illness to stay home on Sunday nights for Wild Kingdom and The Wonderful World of Disney.  I remember a dog named Booger and male cat named Thomasina.  I remember learning how to polish silver and putting together puzzle maps of the United States.  I remember people passing the Reader’s Digest around and everyone reading a joke from it out loud.  I remember painting fire hydrants red, white, and blue in anticipation of the nation’s bicentennial.  I remember my brothers working on a car they called White Lightening and driving me to school with anything from Led Zeppelin to Emmylou Harris playing on the radio.

What I don’t remember are the dark edges and undercurrents of my world.  Vietnam was going on, and it was on my TV every day, but it didn’t touch my child’s world.  Later the images I saw from birth on the evening news would haunt me.  They didn’t mean anything to me then.  I didn’t really know that they were real.

The town around us, the state and country around us, was divided over racial issues, but I didn’t know anything about that either.  Some of the politicians I remember hearing speak as a child were segregationists.  I only learned about that from school books later.  Some of the men who were part of the church that supported the school were active members of the Ku Klux Klan when I knew them, but I didn’t know that then.

Later someone told me that the church withdrew its support over the admission of black students to the college, that my father had taken a stand to accept black students.  I didn’t know that then.  I remember that there were black students on the college campus, but I didn’t know at the time that the world around me was at war over their presence any more than I knew that this same world was at war over my integrated elementary school.  I could tell this story with my parents cast as heroes of civil rights.  Then I could back up and tell it again from an angle where they aren’t so blameless.  The truth is somewhere in the combination of versions.

They were people struggling to get by like everyone struggles to get by.

I know only what they told me and what they didn’t.  They didn’t tell me that the world didn’t get along all that well.  They let me be a child.  They gave me stamps to mail letters to my grandmother and scissors to cut pictures out of magazines to glue onto construction paper.  They didn’t give me fear of my neighbors, and when people asked my mother in front of me how many black children she had in her classroom, she said, “I don’t know.  They’re all purple to me.”

That was in the early 70s.  You’d think that by now Mississippi would be different enough so that people would no longer ask such questions.  Still, I don’t know if I’ve had a year of teaching when someone didn’t ask how many black students I had.  I’ve never known the answer.

Elizabeth Cottage, this childhood of mine, it was a place of out its own time, but it gave me those good years of learning hope, trust, faith in my own imagination.  The world might have its troubles, but that’s okay.  In here, in this safe zone of my life, we’re all purple, and we’re all good.

Elizabeth Cottage: A Sense of Place

Elizabeth Cottage

Meet Elizabeth Cottage, the house I think of as home when asked where home is.  I lived in six houses and a dorm room from birth to age 18, but this one was mine up to age 9.  It looked about like it does in this picture then, though I believe the ramp was added after we left.   It was a good house to be a  kid in.  There was a staircase from which to send Slinkies slinking.  You could also swing yo-yos from the top of the stairs.  And because there was a little window over the dining room door, you could crouch on the staircase to spy on formal dinners taking place with grownups only.

It was a place to foster imaginations.  It had an attic, a basement, a closet under the stairs–everything a child needs to imagine the stories her older siblings tell her about monsters lurking and so forth might be true.

From the small balcony, which I imagined existed because every family had to have a place for their Scarlet to go out and wave to her beaus, you could hit nearly anyone coming to the door with a water balloon.  If you were short enough, no one ever noticed you were up there.

Upstairs were four bedrooms and a bathroom.  This would make for a definite bathroom shortage by today’s standards, and it was the root of many a sisterly fight.  Four bedrooms and six children meant only two people at a time got a room to themselves. Most of the time, I think those two were Cindy and James, though I was young, and it’s possible the others remember our arrangements differently.  But to my memory, it went like this:  Keith and Larry shared.  Cindy had her own room.  I shared with Judy sometimes, had a bed in the sewing room next to my parents’ room sometimes, and took over James’s room sometimes.  James had the corner room next to the bathroom.  It had built in shelves, and he made it look like a school room with a desk and a small chalkboard where he tried and failed to teach me math.

When James got fed up with me trying to claim his room, he created another room in the hallway.  Everything about a house was built bigger in 1913, including the hallway.  In this one, James put a screen up and made a room out of the end of the hall.  You had to walk over his typewriter and telescope if you wanted to go out to the balcony to toss water balloons at unsuspecting visitors.  If it was dark out, you would probably just drag the telescope with you to the balcony.  As a kid who lived on a balcony with a telescope, maybe he had little choice but to later go for a degree in physics.

Downstairs were a living room for company, a study for family, a dining room for company, a kitchen for family, and another bedroom and bathroom, as well as a place for a freezer and a washer and dryer, and a small room that was sometimes for sewing and sometimes for a child to sleep in.

In the study, there were book cases lining the walls and a roll top desk with plenty of pigeon holes to explore.  This was where the couch my mother didn’t care so much about was kept.  We lived on it, dogs lived on it, cousins slept on it when they came to stay.  From there, we watched the news every night, all of us gathered round for images of Vietnam and protest.

The ceilings were high enough in that house that every other house felt claustrophobic to me.  It took months to learn to sleep at night when we moved away.

Elizabeth Cottage was in the middle of a college campus that sat in the middle of town.  From there, I could walk to the elementary school and the public library.  Woolworths with its soda fountain tempted like Pied Piper from our very front door.  In 1972, a child of five could wander about in a place like that with no one really worrying.  Everyone knew who I was.  The village and the family German Shepherd had an eye out, and that gave me freedom to explore and play and make my own way with a sense of autonomy that I never have outgrown.

Only when I crossed busy streets alone did anyone worry, and then someone always brought me home.

From our house, you could walk to the public library without having to cross a street at all.  This made a reader and a writer of me.  I finished summer challenge lists quickly and explored the library for more and more books fit for a girl like me.

From our house, you could walk to class.  Take your pick of the first grade or college.  It’s a family joke that I went to college before I went to kindergarten.  They say that’s why I never left college, why I teach in one now.  It’s the only place I feel at home.  It’s true that I went to college classes from the time I could walk around on my own.  My brother James and I both did.  We’d take notebooks and pencils and just walk right in and take a seat.  I don’t think we made too much fuss.  I don’t remember anyone ever asking us to leave, though I’m sure they must have sometimes. I don’t know what we learned.  If we learned anything, I suppose it was to love the sounds of learning.

Because we weren’t enrolled, we could pick and choose when to go to class.  Sometimes we didn’t actually go in.  We spied on learning from the outside.  There was a small ledge that went around the edge of the classroom building, nothing more than a foothold, but it was enough for a child to scale the edge of the building for the purpose of hanging onto windows and peering in.  With no air conditioning at the time, windows were often open.  I can only imagine how many classes our small heads disrupted by bouncing up and down in the corner.

Things happened at Elizabeth Cottage.  People came and went.  We met the world there.  Mayors, governors, people running for office stopped in.  Missionaries, students from everywhere, people with educations from other states and other countries sat and talked in that house.  My brother and I listened, and we saw the world as a different and bigger place than we might have if we’d lived only a block or two away in a house that was not the center of so many comings and goings.

But ultimately Elizabeth Cottage was a family home.  Our 1913 house had a kitchen full of 1950s formica.  Remember that speckled stuff?  You know you do.  One room over, just through a swinging door, visitors were served on linen tablecloths.  My mother set out crystal salt cellars for them.  But in the kitchen where the kids ate, we had grocery store patterns, cups that came out of oatmeal boxes or came filled with grape jelly.  The refrigerator put out a steady flow of heat at the bottom, and I spread my pink blanket in front of it to take naps.

My brothers slid down the banister and put their sports trophies on the mantel.  In my brothers’ room there was an eight track player.  In my sister’s room, there were hot rollers.  I carried my Barbie by her hair around the house, and I believed Keith when he told me there were bodies under the house.  I don’t know why he said it, but I didn’t go down there by myself for any reason.  Ever.

On the sidewalk in front of Elizabeth Cottage, I made mud and sawdust pies.  I made friends with people of all ages.  I watched students hanging out, laughing.  I listened to them play guitar.

From our house, you could walk to flea markets and political rallies.  They were held on the campus.

From our house, I walked to the movie theater where I saw The Sound of Music with Judy and King Kong with Larry.

I walked to Mary Jane Lampton Auditorium where I saw plays and classical concerts.  I stood on the stage when the auditorium was empty and acted out my own plays.  I explored the balcony of the auditorium and fiddled with the lighting.

In our backyard was the college gym.  I could swim by the time I could walk, though I never had a lesson and never could swim with anything like style or grace.

Next door was the college cafeteria.  I was shocked when someone told me that my parents had to pay for it if I ate there.  I thought I could, and I did, just go through and get a tray whenever they served something I liked.  If my mother served something I liked was well, all the better.  I’d eat twice.  I never paid for it.  I never knew why anyone would want to keep track or tell what I ate.

Christmases we filled the house up with craft projects, making ornaments and presents.  Summers we filled it up with cousins and friends.  Whatever kids were in the house at the end of the day, my mother bathed and put to bed.  Sometimes she forgot which ones she was supposed to send home, and their parents would come looking for them after they were already tucked into a bunk bed somewhere.

I haven’t lived in Elizabeth Cottage for more than 30 years.  I’ve lost track of the number of places I’ve lived since then.  My family never owned this house.  We were there because my father worked there.  But if you ask me to draw a picture of my home, this is the one I’ll draw.

Today Elizabeth Cottage sits in the middle of the Mississippi School for the Arts.  It’s in terrible shape, and it’s been a terrible feeling to watch it fade away.  This week I learned that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History allocated money for its restoration.  Thank you, MDAH.  You’re preserving a house rich in history on a campus devoted to the best of Mississippi’s talented youth.  They deserve to see that history at its best.

You’re also preserving my childhood.  That might not mean much to the state, but it means everything to me.

Participate if you can't orchestrate (teachers)

Participate even if you could orchestrate. Participating in classroom activities means you are experiencing issues and trials along with your students. It means you’re experimenting with them and feeling the joy and pride with them when problems are overcome. Participate, participate, participate.

I don’t remember who said this because I’m not the best note-taker when I’m tired, and I didn’t know names at NWP, but someone at the National Writing Project conference did say that the way to bring more digital and more creative assignments into the classroom is for the teacher to come to the projects as a participant, as a learner and experimenter along with the students.

That’s such a Writing Project mentality, which is why it works for me.

In his book Multiliteracies for a Digital Age, Stuart Selber mentions that one of the biggest deterrents to digital literacies is teacher training. That’s true. It’s also true that one of the biggest reasons more teachers don’t do more to just work with what resources and what training they have is lack of confidence.

If you’re used to being the voice of authority in the room, it’s tough to let your ignorance show. But you’ve got to let go of that if you want to move forward. Accept that mistakes will happen, and just sit down with your students to figure out how to make technology work for you. They’ll teach you a lot, and in doing so, they’ll learn more than they would have if you’d done all the “educating.”

As I heard at the CFTTC conference last spring, we all have to “begin to begin” keeping up with the times. If there’s something you’ve seen another class do, and you wish your own students could accomplish the same, just go for it. Assign it whether you fully understand it or not. You’ve got the whole semester to figure it out with your students.

**Cross-posted to Teacherly Tech.

Teachers as Life Changers

I hate smarmy tributes to teachers as life changers. You know the ones where people say they would have been out on the streets if not for Mrs. So-and-So. I know that teachers do have that kind of influence sometimes, but most of the job is about conquering the little battles, and I just find too much praise a little…too much.

Not that I didn’t have those teachers myself. I did. Not that I’m above waxing sentimental to tell you about it. I’m not. In fact, all of this is just a build up to the fact that I want to talk about Charles Moorman, the teacher who really did change my life.

The class was on Chaucer. I thought the man teaching it was as old as Canterbury. He had my attention from the first minute he walked in the room, though, and said, “Let’s close the door so the Christians won’t hear.” Much to my disappointment, he never said anything the Christians might have objected to. After a lifetime of being behind closed doors with the Christians, I would have been happy for a few hours a week of hearing things they didn’t know. Maybe the Christians I grew up with didn’t know a whole lot about the Miller’s Tale or whatnot, but how shocked could they really be that this is what we talked about in a class on Chaucer?

That was hardly even the point. He talked like that to get attention, and he got it. We heard what he said after he made us laugh. And when he passed out poems every week, we read them. At least I did.

The class was on Chaucer, but once a week we got a packet of contemporary poetry from Dr. Moorman. Copied. Collated. Stapled. There I met Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Theodore Rhoetke, Frank O’Hara, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Denise Levertov, Anne Sexton, Wendy Cope, and many others. There I fell in love with poetry.

I was an English major, but I had never really read any 20th century poetry before. I loved it. I loved it more than Chaucer, and that was considerable. I went on from Dr. Moorman’s to do a master’s thesis on Philip Larkin, a poet I’d never heard of until those weekly packets. From there, I went to a PhD program where I switched over to creative writing with a concentration in poetry.

I can only guess how my life might have been different if I’d never taken the Chaucer class that studied contemporary poets.

The Flip: It's What's for Christmas

If you have kids, parents, teachers, grandparents, or people in general on your Christmas list that you love enough to spend $150 or more on, The Flip cam is the thing this year.

YouTube tells us, “People are watching hundreds of millions of videos a day on YouTube and uploading hundreds of thousands of videos daily. In fact, every minute, 20 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.”

YouTube and other video sharing sites have grown at a phenomenal rate this year, putting us firmly in the realm of “everyone is doing it.”

At Digital Is and Youth Voices I heard about elementary schools that require all of their students to do video projects for school. We’re talking fourth, fifth, sixth graders here. If we want to keep up with the fifth graders, we’ve got to get on the stick cam.

The good news is, though, that to children these cameras are just fun. They are also fun for adults if those adults happen to be filming children or child-like behavior. And if you are an adult who isn’t sure what to do with one, all you need is to put one in the hands of a child. Natural curiosity and creativity will take over. Great and wonderful things will happen.

I’m here to tell you today that video sharing and video production as school and work related activity is now so ubiquitous as to be a basic necessary literacy in our world. You need to know and your young people need to know the process of taking video, transferring it to a computer and uploading it to a social sharing site.

That process starts with having the camera in hand. The Flip is a good one because it is so easy. One button records it all, and the camera contains within itself both the USB connection for the computer and the software necessary for transferring and processing the video.

Alternatives to The Flip in the same stick style include The Sony Webbie, The Kodak Zx1, and the Creative Vado Pocket Video Cam. As my mother would say, “It’s six to one, half a dozen to the other,” but if you want to read reviews before purchasing, try CNET.

These aren’t cameras for professional videography. They are cameras for everyday use by everyday people. I think they have the most potential to inspire us to actually follow through on making video just because that’s all they do and they do it so easily. If you want to put your money into something that offers other features as well, however, just buy a regular old point and shoot digital camera. Most of them come with video capabilities now, and YouTube makes sharing easy no matter what path you take to get there.

**Yes, I have written about this before. This post is just a Christmas bonus for those of you looking for something to buy me or someone else you love.

**Cross-Posted to Teacherly Tech.

The Voices Inside My Head Don't Have to Breathe

I do. I have to breathe. When I stand in front of a group of people to read poetry, I have to breathe. I wish I wrote with my own need to breathe in mind. That would make it so much easier to stand up and say my poems out loud. My friend tells me that I should read slower because people need more time to process what they are hearing. I’m sure that’s true. But when I hear myself think it is with fluidity and rapidity, with a kind of musicality that could only be interrupted by sticking places to breathe into it.

Next time I write a poem I’m going to write breath marks into it as if I were writing a piece for the flute. Then I’m going to practice reading it with breaths in the predetermined spots.

That’s all. That’s all I want to say. I promised I would blog every day during December. I’ve just come from a reading of poems during which all I could think about was how much I needed to breathe. I’m sure I need more time on the treadmill and some new asthma medicine, but I also need to convince the voice I hear inside me when I write that it would have to breathe if it said that many words in a row out loud.

Let them read Captain Underpants

As an act of blogging, I’m cheating today by posting something I wrote last week. Click here to read my column that appeared today in the Hattiesburg American.

Or just keep reading. Here’s the column:

Give a fun reading gift

LATELY I’VE BEEN reading a comic book about quantum mechanics, mainly to annoy my brother who has a degree in physics by talking about his field as if I think I know something.

It’s all a great game, but the thing is I’m really learning about physics this way. Trust me. I wouldn’t have learned it any other way. I certainly didn’t learn it in school.

Unfortunately, schools are very good at sucking the fun out of all sorts of learning. Mississippi must be especially good at making learning tedious since we consistently fall at the bottom in reading, math, and science.

We only have Third World countries to thank for making us look better.

If you want to do something about this, give a kid a comic book for Christmas. There’s plenty of evidence to show that comics really do improve literacy, and what’s more they make kids want to read.

I’m basically a kid myself, so I tested the theory on myself by reading a book my nephew liked when he was younger: “Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets.” Funny stuff. And it sneaks in lessons on irony, word play, logic, and consequences for wrong-doing. Plus, both I and my nephew were motivated to read.

As a friend recently pointed out, “Mary Poppins had a point. A spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down.”

Though perhaps we should ask ourselves why we’ve turned reading into medicine for kids. Why can’t we just let it be candy until they are a little older and already know how to read for fun?

Another great book, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” covers this issue when Greg’s mother tries to start a Reading is Fun Club for neighborhood kids. Greg has a bad feeling that she’s going to make them read classics like the ones at school in which either a kid or an animal is bound to die by the end. She picks “Charlotte’s Web.”

I’m all for reading the classics, but Shakespeare wrote comedies too, yet it’s always the tragedies that show up in school books. And if Shakespeare is hard for you to understand, maybe you should check out the Classics Illustrated graphic version of Hamlet.

Give the kids a break. Give them something fun to read this holiday season.