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When To Give A Kid A Book: The Only Parenting Advice I Will Ever Give You

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This will probably work best if it is a kid that belongs to you in some official capacity; you will need to begin a campaign of supervised book-giving at an early age, and it’s most easily managed if you’re able to do so while under the same roof. This should result in a pretty good person. If it doesn’t, give me a call and we can discuss where you went wrong.

furfamilyAge Three — The Little Fur Family.Every child should have a little furry book. Be sure to get the version with the soft, furry cover; that’s very important. It is a perfect book and you can sleep with it right next to your head, if you are small enough, which a three-year-old ought to be.

Age Four — Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?This book will be very helpful if your child grows up to be an anxious person or suffer from sleep paralysis or becomes the kind of person who has to watch Netflix on a laptop balanced on their stomach until they are gently and deliriously lulled into passing out rather than falling asleep. There are so many reasons not to want to fall asleep.


Age Five — Betsy-Tacy and Catwings.Catwings because it is never too early to introduce a child to the works of Ursula K. Leguin, who I did not realize wrote Catwings until yesterday. It is about shifting for yourself and avoiding owls, which are two life lessons worth learning at any age. Betsy-Tacybecause they are charming and Midwestern and about best friends and will eventually instill within said child the love for tolerance, the Edwardian era, emotional restraint and Episcopalianism that is necessary for a semester abroad at Oxford. (It will also prepare them to loveMaurice, E.M. Forster’s greatest novel, in exactly fifteen years.)

fairyAge Six — The Blue Fairy Book.The other colors can come in whatever order you prefer, but The Blue Fairy Book must come first.They’re going to read Anne Sexton someday, there is nothing you can do to prevent it, but you might as well give them something solid to come back to once they tire tires themselves out. You might as well throw in Kipling’sJust So Stories while you’re at it, although this may instill in her a degree of affectation so monstrous that she refers to her first love interest as “The Best Beloved” for absolutelyyears. But that isn’t Kipling’s fault. Plenty of other things are Kipling’s fault, but you can get to those later when you think she’s ready to talk aboutGunga Din critically.

greekAge Seven — Bulfinch’s Mythology.You should already have started them on the big, gorgeous D’aulaire’s illustrated version, but they’re ready for the real thing now. You can rage against the canon all you like on your own time, but it’s got to be Bulfinch and it’s got to be now, and you’ve got to pay just as much attention to the boring Charlemagne cycle as you do to the transformation of Daphne.

cain abelAge Eight — The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Illustrated Bible (Nestor Redondo versiononly, please). Moreau because you have to build a person up to Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson; you can’t just spring them on a body at fourteen and expect to leave a whole and sane person in your wake. The Illustrated Bible because I don’t care what kind of whacked-out UU church you’ve got your kid attending thrice a solstice or whatever, if they can’t recite the basic plot elements of the tale of Job or find the throbbing poignancy of Leah’s discovery in the unlit tent before they reach double digits, you’ve got yourself a worthless kid. (No, your kid is great.) But if your kid reads East of Eden without having gone through the Book of Genesis at least forty times first, their souls will never fully heal

Plus drawings are just cool.

flyAge Nine — The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales.I told you already. Drawings are amazing. And you need to make sure they remain at least a little convinced that human beings are capable of flight under the right circumstances until they reach puberty.

Age Ten –Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Get this in before they have to read To Kill A Mockingbird freshman year. Ask Jaya if you don’t believe me.

Age Eleven — The Wonderful Flight To The Mushroom Planet. There is no science fiction like 1950s-era science fiction for children. Make sure the child reads this, and he or she will be a completely appropriate degree of odd for the rest of his or her life. May be replaced withThe Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles if your kid’s a little bit of a wuss. Anything written about space travel shortly before space travel actually became possible will do, however. The important thing is to keep it weird. Not “tapes her ears into elvish points for the entirety of sophomore year” weird, but one or two tiers below. Think “nourishes a healthy appreciation for the works of Jules Verne,” not “regularly attends steampunk conventions.”

jeevesAge Twelve — Jeeves. Jeeves. Twelve is the perfect age for Jeeves. No older, no younger, no matter how precocious you believe this particular child to be. Twelve is just the right age to imprint on Wodehouse, and you always start Wodehouse with Jeeves. Psmith is for fourteen. Mr. Mulliner and Lord Emsworth can wait until college. Twelve is for Jeeves. Start withThe Inimitable Jeeves. Make sure you get one with the cover featured to the right, because some of the Jeeves covers areterrible.

You will be tempted to begin with Right Ho, Jeeves! Jeeves! because of the Market Snodsbury prize-giving speech, but this is an error. Do not fall into it. Start withThe Inimitable Jeeves, and the rest will follow. Do not buy her aJeeves omnibus; the spine is too thick and makes it impossible to read in the shower.

Twelve is also an appropriate age to instill in her a deep inner conviction that no matter how strong her appreciation for the collected works of Wodehouse, she must never refer to him as “The Master.” If she does, all is lost. You have created an unlovable pedant.

This is also a good age to get her started on the Berdichever, if her understanding of Heschel is good. But she must love Heschel before she is ready for the Berdichever. If you cannot bring her to love Heschel, you must begin again from scratch. Start with Rumi, maybe.

ivanhoeAge Thirteen — Ivanhoe and The Once and Future King. Do not worry about flingingAnne of Green GablesorA Wrinkle In Timeat her; by this age she will have absorbed them by osmosis. She may also at this point have absorbed in passing a smutty book. This can be easily countered by the administering of at least one entry in the X-Wing series of the Star Wars Expanded Universe canon.The Once and Future King should be easy enough, but persist in profferingIvanhoeuntil they accept.Ivanhoe will counteract all the petty, countless indignities of being thirteen.

tam linAge Fourteen — Good Omens and Tam Lin.In order to understand Good Omens,she will need to be at least passingly familiar with the works of G.K. Chesterton (if you don’t understand the dedication, you’re not ready for the rest of the book). JustOrthodoxy is fine if you don’t have time forThe Man Who Was Thursday. If she has the ‘we have sinned and grown old, but our Father is younger than we‘ part memorized, she may be permitted to skip the works of C.S. Lewis entirely.

Good Omens is mandatory if one hopes to develop in the child a sense of humor. The fact that it will never — never — successfully be made into a movie will teach her a sense of whimsy and resignation not unbecoming to a young person.Tam Lin may be omitted if she displays a tendency to want to read the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley.

castleAge Fifteen — Shirley Jackson. It is imperative she not be allowed to read any Jane Austen at this point. Do not allow even the name of Jane Austen to be breathed in the walls of your home. Stop all the clocks, strike out any mention of her works in the newspapers and periodicals that cross your threshold. Should she discover Austen now, she will be lost to you forever. Shirley Jackson and Shirley Jackson alone can save her at this age.We Have Always Lived in the Castleis best — preferably if she can stumble upon it by herself in a used bookstore on a summer afternoon, since this will be the last year she doesn’t have to get a summer job — butThe Lottery will do fine. Shirley Jackson before Dorothy Parker, remember.

Now it is too late for you to influence any of her reading choices; now you have lost her. Hope for the best and wait for her to call you in a few years. If you have laid the appropriate groundwork, the call will come sooner rather than later, and you will find her surprisingly pleasant to talk to.*

*Not a guarantee

Read more When To Give A Kid A Book: The Only Parenting Advice I Will Ever Give You at The Toast.

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3768 days ago
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It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

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This week Victor took me to a shop to find a lamp for the bedroom but they were all too expensive. Like, they had an $8,000 crystal chandelier in the shape of a leaping, life-sized, cavorting pony. True story. I wanted to take a picture but Victor thought it would be too weird for me to say, “Hey, can I take a picture of your shiny pony?” so instead I stayed quiet until about 10 seconds later when I saw an enormous bear’s head on the wall and I screamed ,”HOLY SHIT THERE’S A BEAR” and then I think probably Victor realized that he just can’t take me out in public in general.

Several clerks (and shoppers) looked up in a rather annoyed way, which is sort of rude because 1) if there really was a bear in the shop they would probably be grateful for my warning and 2) THERE REALLY WAS A BEAR IN THE STORE. Victor pointed out that it was just the head of a bear, but I countered that the head was technically the most dangerous part of the bear and then he argued that bear paws are just as painful, but I pointed out that no part of the bear is deadly if his head has come off, and then we just agreed to disagree because we were attracting more attention.

Then a salesman came over and I was all, “HOW MUCH IS IT FOR THE BEAR?” but I was trying not to sound too eager because even though the head was dusty and mostly shoved behind a vent it was still pretty bad-ass and I didn’t want to let them know that I was too interested because that’s how they get you. The saleman looked confused for a second and then laughed awkwardly, and then said “Oh. You’re serious” and was like, “I am deadly serious, sir” and he said he’d ask his manager.

The manager came over to make sure that I wasn’t just fucking with him and I said, “Before we go any further, I just want to point out that this bear is literally75% off. I mean, unless you have the body of the headless bear in the back, in which case I might be interested in purchasing it too” and then he wandered off in a bit of a daze. Victor shook his head and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, but in his defense it’s possible it was because he was looking at the pony chandelier because that shit was fucking dazzling. Then the salesman came back saying, “We would be so…so thrilled to let you have it for $75″ and I shouted “SOLD!” and then I was a little offended on Beartrums behalf because why were they so happy to get rid of him? Clearly I was saving him from people who did not appreciate him and probably didn’t even realize his name was Beartrum.This was a damn rescue. Plus, when they got climbed up on the ladder to get him down I realized that Beartrum’s head was three times the size of a normal bears and the whole thing was made of fiberglass and fake fur so no one even had to die to make him, unless it was a lot of stuffed animals from a scarlet fever ward, which would explain why they were in such a hurry to get rid of him. Then they really quickly wrapped him up because I think they just wanted us to leave. This is exactly why I often get really good service and also why I recommend not taking your medication during days when you have to buy a car or a bedroom set.

Victor drug the giant box of bear to the car while muttering that I was unstable, and I agreed with him, but I don’t think you have to be crazy to realize that paying 2 bucks per pound of bad-ass bear is a goddamn bargain. I tried to go online to find a similar bear head to prove that I’d made a fantastic buy, but when I searched “Big Bear Head” it gave me a San Diego craigslist ad entitled “Big Bear needs some quick head now” and then I just decided to never go on the internet again.

I got Beartrum Higglebottom home (“Beartrum” was just a given and I think “Higglebottom” is nice because it sort of implies that his non-existent bottom had once been wiggly and positive) and I decided to take some of those fancy unwrapping picture sets like you see on sophisticated techy blogs, but when I downloaded the first one I noticed that Ferris Mewler was doing something weird in the back.

I don't... Wait. Is he doing yoga? Is that the Sun Salutation?

And so then I was like “Enhance….Enhance….Enhance” until finally it was big enough that I could see that Ferris was hiding his head in his genitals. Or something. I’m not sure. All I know is that he’s way more flexible than I am and he seems to be showing off. Victor says he’s probably just hiding his head in shame so that other neighborhood cats won’t recognize him on my blog and make fun of him. I can’t but help to think that this is not going to help his case:

You're only hurting yourself, Ferris.

Then I opened the box a little more and you could see Beartrum’s enormous smile, as if he was saying, “YOU ARE MY VERY BEST FRIEND EVER AND NOTHING WILL EVER TEAR US APART.”

That bear was totally fucking right.

Then I asked Victor to walk around holding Beartrum up at various places in my office so that I could figure out the best place to hang him, but I was actually just taking pictures of Victor wearing a bear and then he heard me giggling and was all “WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?ARE YOU RECORDING THIS?

I totally was.

Then he put Beartrum down and walked away muttering under his breath. I figured I needed to even the score for the sake of my marriage so I yelled at Victor to come to the front yard and when he got there I was wearing Beartrum’s face and singing “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” in a deep, creepy, slow-motion voice on the yard.

It's like if a bear was doing dub-step. In a dress. On the yard.

That’s when Hailey’s school bus pulled up and I waved at her, and the bus driver seemed sort of disturbed, but probably only because I looked so realistic that she wasn’t sure if it was safe to leave Hailey there with me. Victor agreed, but not for actual bear-related reasons. Hailey, however, on the other hand, thought Beartrum was totally bad-ass, and that’s when I decided that from now on I’d only hang out with eight-year-olds, because they still understand the whimsical joy of silliness, and they’re too young to call the authorities on you.

Victor, on the other hand, demanded that I get in the house and stop waving at our neighbors because “WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO THINK?” and I immediately dismissed him, but then I thought, “Oh my God, they probably think we’re furries.” Then I started to explain what a furry was to Victor and he was like, “STOP TALKING ALREADY” because apparently education is not important to him.

Then Victor told me to put Beartrum away, but I told him I needed a few days to figure out where he fit best.

There were more options than you'd expect.

Victor: NO. Just…no.

me:But he looks so happy.And it’s the guest bedroom so it’s hardly ever used and when we have family spend the night they’ll have company. I tucked him in like a burrito baby. LOOK HOW HAPPY HE LOOKS.

Victor: Try again.

I attempted another option:


me: Rowr-rowr-rowr.

Victor: What?



me: He likes to wander at night. I think he might have narcolepsy.

I briefly considered poking his head through the hedges just to freak people out, but Victor said I couldn’t because I might cause an accident because people weren’t prepared for that much awesomeness. (He didn’t say that last part out loud, but I’m pretty sure it was implied.)

In the end, I left Beartrum on the floor of my office until I find the perfect spot. The cats fucking love him.

"Maybe if we cover his eyes he can't eat us."

The good news though is that I think I’ve finally found my new profile pic.

Everyone wins.

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3921 days ago
And it doesn't get much better than a bear taxidermied into a teddy bear.
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10 public comments
3911 days ago
I'm a little late to this story, but better late than never
San Diego, CA, USA
3921 days ago
she is my hero...so awesome!
3921 days ago
3921 days ago
OMG stifling giggles at my desk so hard it hurts. (It was the Teddy Bear's Picnic thing that did me in)
Greater Bostonia
3921 days ago
I have a friend who could totally be this person... except her name isn't Jenny and she's not this person. This story is hilarious though!
3922 days ago
"I don’t think you have to be crazy to realize that paying 2 bucks per pound of bad-ass bear is a goddamn bargain" LOL!
Waterloo, Canada
3922 days ago
Bear head? Bear head!
Pittsburgh, PA
3922 days ago
this is hilarious.
Duluth, MN
3922 days ago
Bear heads
3922 days ago
Beartrum. Of course his name is Beartrum Higglebottom. What else could it be?
Overland Park, KS