on reading, love, and hunger

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Every meal around here these days includes books propped up on the table.

I spent my entire childhood, it seems, with my head in a book. Stacks of them toppled beside my bed, the top one waiting to be grabbed and then devoured. Every room, in every house we lived in, had books — in shelves, on the floor, in the bathroom. I often think of the moment in A Child’s Christmas in Wales when there has been a small fire in a home, and the firemen rush in with their hoses and ruin the place. Everyone looks in shock, then stops to listen to the eccentric aunt who emerges from her room. She surveys the scene — the wet furniture, the smoldering chair — then says, “Would anyone like something to read?”

This feels familiar to me.

And so, it’s not much of a surprise — and quite the delight — to find that Lu has her nose perpetually in a book.

About a month ago, she and I were doing some shopping on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing interesting, just cleaning supplies and some chalkboard paint for a cupboard. As we walked through the hardware store, she said to me, “Mama, they have kitchen supplies on that aisle. We should go there.” I looked at her, looked up at the sign above the aisle that said “kitchenware,” and asked her how she knew that.

“I read that word,” she told me.

Now understand, she hasn’t been reading out loud to me. At all. In fact, it’s the opposite. She has resisted reading with us, not wanting to sound out her letters or be told how to notice the clues of how words work. Danny and I both stepped back on that awhile ago. It’s her space and there’s absolutely no point in pushing a child to perform at a certain expected pace. They all learn in their own time. We continued to read dozens and dozens of books a day together. I could hear her playing with language as she made up stories and told us jokes. She has known all of her ABCs since she was 14 months old. And she always had a book in her hand. What did it matter when she read out loud for us?

So I was surprised to see her point out the word kitchen.  I asked her once again. “How did you know they have kitchen stuff here?”

“I read the word,” she said. “See, Mama? It says kitchen up there.”

Astonished, I guided her down the aisle and pointed out words on boxes and packages. “Lu, what does that word say?”

“Food.”

“How about that one?”

“Boost.”

How about this one?”

“Stockpot.”

Stockpot? She went from refusing to work on phonics to reading compound words with no prompting? Dazed, I pointed out word after word as she and I walked down the aisle together. She delighted in astounding me. “Dog, cat, clean, ice cream, pizza, drive, detergent.”

At detergent, I stopped. Detergent. Everything grew a little blurry with the tears. She was reading to me. My daughter was reading to me.

“Lu, when did you learn to read?”

Immediately, she answered, “Mama, I’ve been reading since I was three. I just wanted to keep it to myself.”

I stood up and took a long breath. I remembered the day we were driving to the photoshoot for Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, two years ago, and Lu shouted out from her car seat, “Mama, they have color there.” Confused, I turned around and saw her pointing out the COLOR sign at a hair salon. Danny and I long ago lost the ability to spell out words. “Do we have any P A S T A for her lunch?” I said last year across the kitchen.

Lu smiled wide. “Yes please. Pasta for lunch!”

And her preschool teacher told us last year that a couple of times, Lu read three or four words in a row to her, then stopped herself, aware that someone else was noticing.

So she has been reading. And it’s one of the best pleasures of my life to see her at the breakfast table, reading Nikki McClure’s wonderful book, To Market, to Market, chanting the words quietly, and stopping to talk to us about kale.

Every evening, now, before we start the bedtime routine, the three of us sit in the living room, with a book each, and read silently for 20 minutes, together. I probably don’t need to say it, but this is my favorite time of the day, by far.

We thought we’d share with you some of what we have been reading and loving.

Lucy

Lu absolutely adores the Ivy and Bean books. They’re a modern Betsy-Tacy series —— and she has been loving Betsy-Tacy too —— with two inseparable girl friends who cause a little mischief and solve problems intrepidly. I love reading these books to her because they’re funny. (Lu loves funny too.) And for a girl whose highest compliment is that someone is spunky, these books work perfectly.

Most Sundays, Lu and I go to our local library together. (Dad gets some football time. Friday mornings, I get time for a weightlifting session at the gym and Lu gets a date with her dad.) We peruse books, and she runs up to me, excited, when she finds the copy of Tiny Pie, again. I think we’ve checked out this book every single time we’ve returned it. Lu loves the illustrations and the sweet, quiet message that even the smallest hands can make something good. Also, there’s pie.

After we go to the library, and I lug our bags full of books to the car, we go to the tea shop to share a pot of ginger-roiboos tea. (Lu’s choice.) We sit together and read every book we checked out from the library. But some weeks, we have a special treat and walk next door to our local bookstore. They have a wonderful children’s section, with used books priced at $3 a piece. Even with bags full of library books, we usually buy one or two. Lu’s favorite one lately is Bigmama’s, a beautifully illustrated tale of a man’s memory of spending every summer at his grandmother’s house in Florida. The life he shows is the best of childhood — running through green grass in bare feet, time alone to explore the fishing hole, small adventures everywhere. The first time I read it to Lu, she looked up at me and said, “Again, Mama. Again!” She has said this every time we’ve read it.

She also loves a charming new book called A Gluten-Free Birthday for Me!. Even though Lu seems to be able to eat gluten (so far), she loves the story of a girl who has a gluten-free birthday cake and makes a little friend happy when he finds he can eat the cake too. It’s good gluten-free reading for your gluten-free kid.

Danny

The day The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook arrived in our home, Danny didn’t talk much to us. He couldn’t stop gawking at the photographs and imagining the recipes on our plate. We both adore that restaurant, and it’s not just because Danny cooked there when he lived in New York. This is fresh food elevated to art. But the book is still approachable. I love that Chef Michael Anthony insisted that this be a book for home cooks, not just coffee table art. We both adore this one. I think. Danny still hasn’t let me touch it much.

The only reason that Danny put down The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook is because Hank Shaw’s new cookbook, Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild arrived. This book is gorgeous and meant for people who aren’t afraid to cook. We get complaints sometimes from people who say, “Why do your books have such weird meat in them? I only eat chicken.” The irony is that we don’t post that many meat recipes here. That’s going to change soon, especially when we start making dishes from Hank’s book. I love his unabashed love for duck, one of my favorite meats. Danny read me something about duck fat and maple syrup drippings from the book and we haven’t stopped talking about it since. And I’m also looking forward to learning more about how to cook with goose, under Hank’s tutelage.

Shauna

I’ve been on a real fiction tear lately, after a time of straying away from it. In the 1990s, the voice in nearly every novel published was so self-aggrandizing and and the plots subservient to that voice that I put them down. And then I had a child and most of my reading had to happen in quick glimpses. This past year, I have been luxuriating in fiction again. My latest love is Beautiful Ruins, an impossibly beautiful novel that feels like a puzzle and a movie and a place to fall into language. Oh, I was crushed when it was done.

I shouldn’t recommend The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel yet. I haven’t finished it, since I just picked it up from the library yesterday on my Sunday trip with Lu. But I started reading it at 10 pm last night and could not stop reading. 80 pages flew by with such ease that I was actually angry I had to turn out the light to sleep. Why am I even writing now? I should be reading this book.

“Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible.”

— from The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

 

And finally, some pieces that have resonated for us lately.

You may know that Time magazine did a Gods of Food issue, outlining all the most important people in food in the United States. And not listing any women chefs. Poppycock. That’s so silly I’m not even going to discuss it. (Also, who calls an issue like that Gods of Food? Ridiculous.) I’m just going to point you toward this piece on the effect of Alice Waters on the world.

I saw this piece on an invisible bike helmet floating around Facebook and didn’t want to look. It seemed like a gimmick. It turns out to be beautiful.

Have you seen A Mighty Girl? This is one of my favorite sites for Lu. It calls itself “..the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls.” I really need to buy this shirt for Lu.

I love this Subway Signs Experiment, the kind of random kindness (or just silliness) that makes hard days better.

Our friend John from Food Wishes did a great video on farinata. Make it today!

Our friends Nicole and Mark have created a video series called How Does It Grow that should already exist. They’re showing folks how all the ingredients we take for granted are planted, grown, transported, and make it into your store. We adore them and this project. Please do support their Kickstarter.

Laurie Anderson’s piece on the loss of her love, Lou Reed, is a devastating and gorgeous evocation of long love. It has also a remarkable accounting of his passing, one of the most moving I have ever read.

Finally, we love Sesame Street around here. Once again, they lead the way with this segment on kids who are hungry. Did you know that 1 out of 4 children in this country is not sure where his or her meal is coming from? This makes me so angry that I have a hard time typing these words. This is far more important than anything else I have written here. How can we let kids go hungry in this country? Or have a school system that throws out a kid’s breakfast in front of him because he’s 30 cents short? Ay god, people. What have we done? What do we do?

I’m grateful that we have enough money to put food on our table, next to the books. We do everything we can to help others but it’s not enough. What a strange world, where we decide our food doesn’t look quite good enough to impress our blog readers, while kids go hungry.

My only hope is that my little reader, and all your little readers, use their compassionate hearts to bring us real change. Let’s teach them how.

26 comments on “on reading, love, and hunger

  1. cari

    You are lucky — gluten f ‘ed up my ability to read. It has gotten better over the years but I rarely pick up a book anymore as it is just too arduous. What a delight to have Lu so engaged in books.

  2. JudyB

    What a great column! So proud of your little girl Lu and her reading abilities. When we spend time together with our very young children reading, it is one of the best things we can do for them. Also proud that my daughter and son in law have from very early on (from a few months old) incorporated reading a book in to their two year olds bedtime routine, besides reading at other times through the day. My own memory—or two–pulling in to the mall parking lot, and our daughter about age three saying “J C Penny!” as we parked at that store. Then, her first grade teacher calling after our daughter told her she could read. Teacher doubted it, handed our daughter a piece of newspaper, and she read it! Those little minds are like sponges, just ready to soak up knowledge at so early an age. Appreciate your words about hunger, also…hope many will support efforts to feed the hungry, whether local pantries or national organizations.

  3. Esther

    Beautiful post. My Sigal, who turned 5 in October, is completed hooked on the Ivy and Bean books. They are her first chapter books, and I’m delighted when she keeps asking for one more chapter. As the mama who has tremendous difficulty putting down a book once I’ve started, I just love that my daughter feels the same way.

  4. Angela

    Our daughters are the same age — Lu is just a month younger than Juliana. In some ways, I feel like we know you both (and Danny, too!) I love reading your posts. You remind me of how important it is to stop and smell the beautiful roses that motherhood and childhood are together. Thank you for your beautiful words.

  5. Jen

    Lu’s situation feels familiar to me, too. I too was an only child and an early reader (about 3, maybe a bit earlier). I always, always had a book and would read anything that wasn’t sealed shut. In fact, if my mom needed to take me along on a boring errand, she stopped at the bookstore first to ensure that I would be quiet and happy while she did her thing. Some of those books and the characters in them became like friends, and remain so today.

    Thanks for the heads up on the Mighty Girl website. I have an 8-month-old niece/goddaughter, and these are exactly the sorts of gifts I’d like to give to her.

  6. Elise

    I was reading on my Kindle last night while my girls (nearly 4) were playing around me. One of them came over and asked what I was doing and I told her I was reading. She looked puzzled and said “but I don’ t hear you saying the words” and I realized that she has only ever had us read to her. Our lives are so chaotic that any reading beyond story books and cereal boxes happens out of their sight. It’s also amazing to me that she (the sole extrovert in our family) sees reading as a fundamentally social and vocal activity. Such perspective these little ones bring us.

  7. MizDahlia

    I love this. What joy to watch your child (or be that child) who reads voraciously, hungrily, who grows into an adult knowing the written word is magic. Go, Lu!

  8. Cindy

    WONDERFUL!!! Fantastic I can’t be more happy for you. I love to read, and I too had my head in a book all my childhood. Dad likes to say I read my way around Europe, laying in the back seat with Bobbsey Twins or Nancy Drew.
    My son was much like Lucy, he one day at a young age, read a billboard, what!!!!
    Now my grandson and grandaugther ( both his children), well Thomas no thanks I am too busy, he is getting better, But Eva who just turned t2 has a great vocabulary and loves her books. Gets up in the morning with a book a doll and used to be a diaper under her arm, ready for her day. She knows Nana brings books. Our library has fill a bag for a buck! so yes I am often on my way there with books. So thankful that they love to read.…

    Read Lily it is magical!

  9. Liz

    First of all, I adore this post. The passion and compassion in your heart absolutely fly off the screen. Lu and Danny are lucky to have you.

    Secondly, I was one of those kids who hated–positively HATED–reading. I either had to endure a fight with my parents or be bribed to read. I learned to read very quickly, but I was a very social kid and reading just didn’t seem like fun. Lo and behold, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on a family vacation when I was seventeen, and it was so engrossing that I made my dad stop at a bookstore so I could pick up Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I’m happy to say that I’ve never stopped reading since. I even got my undergraduate degree in English (emphasis in creative writing and Shakespearean literature)! I have a MFA in screenwriting that I haven’t really gotten to use yet, but it does keep me reading, always looking for inspiration. I am so grateful for whatever possessed me to pick up Harry Potter. It doesn’t matter when you start reading, just that you do. I am so proud of Lu, and so proud of you and Danny for encouraging her.

    I am starting Beautiful Ruins today thanks to my boyfriend, who loved it. I was so excited to see you post about it that I texted him at work! He says that if you are looking for suggestions, you might like The Goldfinch by Donna Tart.

  10. Melissa "Melicious" Joulwan

    This — “Mama, I’ve been reading since I was three. I just wanted to keep it to myself.” — made me gasp with delight. And someone must be chopping onions in my kitchen. There is no other explanation for the stinging in my eyes (and the lump in my throat).

    Just beautiful. Thanks, Shauna.

  11. DamselflyDiary

    I like to read but I don’t love to read. I didn’t have a lot of access to books as a kid and I honestly don’t remember my parents ever reading to me. I am not saying they didn’t ever, it just wasn’t a part of our daily lives. Today reading is uncomfortable for me (holding a book or Kindle, sitting for stretches of time, etc.) But when I get sucked into a good book, I can hardly put it down. So, thanks for the recommendation for “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” — I have added it to my Amazon wish list.

    And by the way, I kind of like it when your photos aren’t “perfect” because it shows me that when my food comes out looking like yours it is okay!

  12. Ginny

    When we came home from the library every Saturday, I would sit in the car and read, knowing that when I went in there would be chores to do. It can get really hot in a car when you live on the Gulf Coast and it’s July! Sometimes I would escape up to the roof or up to the attic to read. With 4 brothers and sisters it was difficult to find a space where I wouldn’t be interrupted.

  13. sonrie

    Her comment on reading made me gasp with joy — how sweet and innocent. I recall trips to the library every other week as a child, teenager, through college, and still now as an adult, I still read voraciously. Thanks for the recommendations.

  14. Ann Beechey

    How absolutely thrilling Shauna! To be able to read , and to love reading, is a key to so many places and people and LIFE. She is a little trick, your daughter — a strong little girl to establish and nourish her reading self in privacy. May she continue to thrill and surprise you!

  15. Sirena

    So inspirational! I am a huge reader and love cooking at home. The presence of our seven month old son in our lives has meant you have to get realllllly crafty about time management (still facing serious issues there!) and reading baby books etc.… becomes so much more interesting, but I’m still squeezing in reading and home cooked meals for us here at home. Every day is a challenge I am thrilled to be here for and get to witness as we navigate our crazy lives and mamas like you help inspire me!!

  16. Wendy

    Another beautiful post! What a unique girl you have, to keep her reading for herself for a while. Reading was always a gift/escape/world for me and was for my daughter as well. My older sister was a very special children’s librarian and always knew just the right books for my daughter at just the right time. They shared that very special bond of book lovers. Sadly, my sister died quite suddenly almost 6 years ago at too young an age, while my daughter was in middle school. More recently, my daughter was going through her book collection to donate and share some of her younger books with others and found little post-its from my sister on many that she’d given her, with little tidbits of info about the book or why she thought she’d like it. My daughter saved all the notes, even when she passed the books along, and we had a good cry together.

  17. Laura C

    Shauna, your post made me laugh so hard, my son was just like Lu — and now at 11 it is hard to find sufficient volume of appropriate material to keep his book habit satisfied. Given I was worried he would have dyslexia with my family history, I find it highly amusing. The great news is that there are SO many better books out for kids these days that you will really enjoy the next few years. YAY Lu!

  18. Nina

    I believe Miss Prothero’s exact words are, “Would you like anything to read?” — it’s a favourite Christmas book in my family too! You might enjoy a film that I’m half way through watching this week, ‘Sleep Furiously’ by Gideon Koppel; it’s a (maybe too arty, I haven’t decided yet) series of glimpses of life in a small Welsh village. How sweet and funny about Lucy’s secret reading! Do you know Tove Jansson’s Moomins?

  19. Diana

    I, the most avid reader I know, love this post! I reserved the second book you mentioned. It sounds fascinating. Also, my second graders and I just love Donald Crews! Shortcut is a great book too, mostly for the pictures and sounds. My kids also love Ivy and Bean!

    Diana (Lucy’s birthday twin)

  20. Karla

    Your post brought happy tears to my eyes. Knowing that your child cracks the code of reading and unlocking all that comes with it surpasses most other landmark moments of development. Thanks for sharing all you did today. Your food for thought is at least as valuable as your food to cook.

  21. molly

    i have a thousand things to say about this post, i love it so. but not the time to type it all out.
    so: detergent?! really, lu?! detergent?!!!! god, i love this girl :)
    read on, you three, read on.
    xo,
    molly

    ps: age of miracles; the fault in our stars; flight behavior. just saying.

  22. Jen

    Would it be possible to send Lu books? My daughter would love to share some of her younger childhood favorites.

  23. Muguette G

    I have been reading your blog for about six months now, I love it. Thank you for being honest, for telling it like it is, and for sharing your family. In my family, we eat everything (my husband is half French), and he always tells me “A recipe is not a science project, it is just a guide”. So, I try some of your recipes, change ingredients and quantities, sometimes I am successful, sometimes I am not. But guess what? I am experimenting, learning, enjoying it, and sharing with my family and friends. Thanks!!!

  24. Trisha

    Very lovely post for sure. I am glad that you are able to enjoy activities like this with your family, even during a meal. It is truly heart-warming.

  25. SJ

    Thank you for sharing what you’re reading! Would love to see a list of books that are Lucy’s favorites…looking for books for my niece and very unsure of where to start!