Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
By Russ Wyatt
Those of us who have teenagers or pre-teens know that raising adolescents comes with a host of unique challenges. While some of these challenges are merely annoying, such as arguing about curfew or a teenager’s refusal to clean up his or her room, others have much more serious implications. Driving, in particular, is a big step for both teenagers and their parents, who can now add worrying about their child’s safety while on the road to their list of cares.
This concern is not without merit. The statistics along with my personal observations practicing car accident law have shown me that young drivers are responsible for a disproportionately high number of accidents. Although accidents happen every day, preparing your teen for the rigors and responsibility of driving before they actually get behind the wheel can go a long way towards keeping your child safe.
Obtaining a Driver’s License
Teen drivers commit more traffic citations and are hurt at a higher rate than any other age group, trends that are largely attributed to a lack of driving experience and participation in high risk behavior. For these reasons, teen drivers are only allowed to obtain a license after completing certain steps, including:
Risk Factors in Car Accidents
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of car accidents is higher among teenagers between 16 and 19 years old than among any other age group. In fact, research reveals that teenage drivers who fall within this age bracket are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than drivers over the age of 20.
Most car accidents caused by teen drivers can be linked to a lack of experience, which makes it much more likely that they will:
Although it is not possible to guarantee that your teen driver will not be injured in an accident, there are steps that you can take to help reduce his or her chances of being involved in a collision. For instance, spending time helping your child practice has been proven to significantly improve a teen’s driving skills. This type of training requires active participation from an adult guardian who should:
Many parents also find it helpful to enter into a teen driving contract with their children, which clearly states the consequences for breaking certain rules. A good contract will address safety and good driving skills, as well as:
Teen drivers are at a much higher risk than other age groups of being involved in an accident. While this may leave us anxious about the safety of our children, the reality is that the best way to help reduce their chances of being injured in a collision is to take an active role in teaching them not only the skills required when driving, but also the dangers that they may face.
Russell Wyatt is a Sacramento personal injury attorney whose firm The Wyatt Law Corporation, specializes in helping people who have been injured in a car accident. The firm is composed of a family of attorneys: brothers Russ and Peter Wyatt and father Raymond Wyatt. The Wyatts handle cases throughout Northern California.
Searching for your next memorable family vacation destination, sans airfare? You might not think Mendocino Coast, with its quaint bed-and-breakfasts and cozy white-tablecloth restaurants, is a kid-friendly destination, but if you look a little deeper, there is a bounty of family-friendly activities, restaurants and lodging to make it a memorable, world-class vacation.
Mendocino beckons with rugged beaches and breathtaking sunsets at any time of year, but spring, fall and winter are especially wonderful times. Long weekends during these times are a treat, with clear skies, no fog and no crowds. Summer is also nice, but it is traditionally the busiest and most crowded time of the year, and what is normally a three-hour drive north of the Bay Area can become a long and arduous march. When you have the littles in the car, that can make for a long day.
Little River Inn is a welcome and family-friendly respite after the drive. Fifth-generation owners Cally and Marc Dym, who are parents of younger kids, have magically set up this historic inn to be both a romantic getaway sans kids as well as a comfortable place for families and their four-legged companions. The staff is very friendly and welcoming. The grounds are beautifully maintained. And there is lots of room for the kids to work off some of their extra energy while the adults relax on the ocean-view deck, which accompanies each of the 65 rooms, with a lovely glass of Mendocino sauvignon blanc before heading down to dinner.
At first, for parents of active and boisterous kids, the cozy romantic dining room setting with white tablecloths can be a little disconcerting. But the dining room quickly filled up and we soon blended in with the rest of the patrons and the low hum of the dinner crowd. The waitstaff is terrific and was very accommodating to our needs. The extensive kids menu was a dream for our picky little eaters!
For the adults, the restaurant at Little River Inn does not disappoint. Owner/chef Marc Dym provides a perfect synergy between locally sourced delicacies and world-class preparation methods. As parents, we were able to enjoy a relaxed and elegant dinner and dessert because the kids were able to go back to our room when they were ready. The staff is so accommodating. There is even a special separate dining room where you can dine with your family and pooch and still get the full experience.
Other features of the Little River Inn include a full spa, golf course and tennis courts. It’s a terrific option for meetings and family reunions. www.LittleRiverInn.com
What to Do With the Kids in Mendocino?
There are far more options in this area than one might expect. We focused on activities that our 8-year-old and 11-year-old would be interested in. Here’s what we recommend:
The Skunk Train
(Fort Bragg and Willets)
One of the most popular attractions in the area for families is a ride on the Skunk Train, named for the old smelly historic trains. Today’s trains do not have this issue. There are two ride options: a one-hour scenic round-trip ride along the Pudding Creek Estuary, with views of wildlife, beautiful forests and several trains bridges that cross Pudding Creek, or a four-hour round trip on the Northspur Flyer out of Willits for the true train enthusiast. Trains are kid- and dog-friendly and offer a snack bar.
Mendocino Coast Model Railroad (Fort Bragg)
Hold on to your Skunk Train ticket. This will give you free access to the amazing G-scale model railroad just steps away from the Skunk Trains. Volunteers open this setup to the public when the Skunk Train is running. The layout of the model train railway depicts what the logging railroad might have looked like around 1925–1940. My children were fascinated with the inner workings, bridges, crossovers and buildings at this model. The volunteers who run the trains were very happy to discuss their work and educate the kids on the purpose and history of the logging trains.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (Fort Bragg)
One of the few botanical gardens that is situated oceanfront, this botanical garden is a must-see. With over 47 acres of botanical bliss, a beautiful stroll to the ocean’s edge for whale watching and birding, and a plethora of beautiful garden sculptures, kids, adults and dogs alike will enjoy this vast and open space. Follow the Fairy Trail to discover fairy dwellings and other surprises. Stroller friendly. www.gardenbythesea.org
Sea Glass Museum
Thousands of sea-glass shards, collected globally, are organized according to color, age and type. It’s history through beachcombing. Plan on about a 30-minute stay. www.GlassBeachJewelry.com
After visiting the Sea Glass Museum, head down the road to Glass Beach. Glass Beach, the site of a city dumpsite in the early 1900s, is rich with sea glass that was created by waves slowly pounding the trash over the years. Over the years many tourists have taken the glass, so the beach is not as bountiful as it was in prior years, but it still is worth a short visit. Best time to visit is low tide and after a storm. www.fortbragg.com/glass-beach/
CV Starr Aquatic Center
Located in Fort Bragg, this aquatic center has a water park with a lazy river, a waterslide (must be 48” tall to ride) and fountains to play in. On weekends from 1-4pm there is a kids beach swim available.
The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
On Point Cabrillo Drive off Highway One between Mendocino and Fort Bragg. Explore this working aid to navigation. There is a half-mile downhill walk to get to the station (uphill on the way back), which is home to the original Chance Brothers classic third order Fresnel lens. Hike on the waterfront trails with chances to see whales, seals and dolphins, and visit the museum. Overnight accommodations are available. Dogs are welcomed on leash.
B. Bryan Preserve
Located in Point Arena, this is Africa on the Mendocino Coast. This private preserve for endangered African hoof animals hosts two-hour Jeep tours on weekends. Reservations required. Better for older children. bbryanpreserve.com
Van Damme State Beach
Located at Little River right on Highway One, this beach is a safe and shallow cove with gentle wave breaks. On windy or colder days head to the protected northern end of the beach. At low tide the tide pools at the south end are worth checking out.
This beach is located on Point Cabrillo Drive off Highway One. It is fairly well protected from wind, and the sand is soft. The large beach makes it easy to keep little ones away from the waves and is good for rock- and tide pooling during low tide.
Big River Beach
Located just north of the bridge in Mendocino, this is the most popular beach, with lots of activity, surfing, volleyball, etc. The river side is often warmer. Just be careful of potentially strong currents.
The Haul at Big River
Go past the beach parking lot and you will find a flat, straight, easy walk into the redwoods. Stroller friendly.
You will find Pygmy Forest 3 miles up Little River Airport Road. There is a wooden walkway with educational signage about Pygmy Forest. The walkway is good for little legs and strollers.
Jug Handle State Preserve
Just north of Casper on Highway One you will find one of the best examples of an ecological staircase in the Western Hemisphere. This is a great educational science hike for older kids. Be sure to pick up the guide in the parking lot, which explains everything.
More in Mendocino
Mendocino Headlands State Park: 347 acres of raw seashore surrounding Mendocino Village, studded with rugged surf and rocky protuberances and two beaches, Big River Beach and Portuguese Beach. www.Parks.Ca.gov
Russian Gulch State Park: Rugged Russian Gulch Creek Canyon is a woodsy wonderland, complete with a towering waterfall cascading down to a beach that is safe for swimming, fishing and tide pooling. www.Parks.Ca.gov
Kelley House Museum: Built in 1861 and set amid Victorian-style gardens, this historic former home of a successful Mendocino businessman is now headquarters for regional history. www.KelleyHouseMuseum.org
Kwan Tai Temple: This authentic Taoist shrine has been in continuous use since it was built by a Chinese laborer who arrived in a junk during the gold rush. www.KwanTaiTemple.org
By Erika Mailman
We all say we want to get the kids off their screens and into nature more, so I’m resolving to pack a picnic lunch and spend a few hours on the water. There are many options for boating with kids on the bay—or on lakes if the big waves and possibility of sharks scare you. (You did know Tiburon means shark in Spanish, right?)
LAKE MERRITT BOATING CENTER
Oakland’s spent many resources on improving Lake Merritt. It sparkles with cleaner water and a beautiful walking loop around its three-mile perimeter. Besides boating, your younger kids will enjoy the vintage amusement park on its shores, Children’s Fairyland. For boating, check in at the Lake Merritt Boating Center (it’s cash only, so visit the ATM first). You can rent pretty much any kind of boat, from a rowboat to a kayak to a pontoon, and sailboats for more experienced sailors; all are $15-18 an hour plus deposit. You can even book time on a Chinese dragon boat as long as you also hire one of center’s instructors, running about $90 an hour all-included.
Once you’re on the water, you’ll see glorious buildings like the Kaiser Center, the courthouse and the Scottish Rite temple, the beautiful old homes peppering the hillside, plus the more modern skyscrapers. Not far from the boating center is a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary, and you’ll see many coots, herons and pelicans.
568 Bellevue Ave., Oakland; For hours and fees: http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/opr/s/boating/OAK029815
STOW LAKE, GOLDEN GATE PARK, SAN FRANCISCO
This lovely historic lake lets you rent paddleboats, rowboats and even motorized boats—powered by electricity so they run silently. The boats are all American-made and are billed as “the most non-tipping, self-bailing, unsinkable boats.” (Isn’t that what they said about the Titanic? I digress). The boats run $22-37 per hour depending on type. There’s much to see as you paddle around: a charming stone bridge, a Chinese pagoda and a waterfall. There’s a café right on the lake for treats afterward.
50 Stow Lake Drive, San Francisco
For hours and fees: http://stowlakeboathouse.com/boats/
For kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on the open water, check out SeaTrek rentals. Paddleboards look (for some, like me) intimidating but are actually not that hard to stand up on. The boards are wider and much more stable than they look from shore. You’ll receive a quick orientation to make sure you’re comfortable before you set out.
At this spot, you’ll see marine wildlife, harbor seals, spectacular views of San Francisco, Alcatraz and the north bay, and even some floating homes in Richardson Bay. A single kayak runs $25/hour while a double is $40/hour. The paddleboards are $25/hour or $50/hour for the Monster paddleboard which holds several people and is proclaimed on the website as a “hoot.”
2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito https://www.seatrek.com/rentals/
LAKE CHABOT, CASTRO VALLEY
We camped here once, and I’ve always wanted to return and go out on the water. This is a pristine and beautiful lake. You can rent rowboats, kayaks, pedal boats, electric motor boats and electric pontoons, ranging from $23/hour for the wee craft to $80/hour for the patio pontoon that holds up to eight people. Budding fishers can also rent rod and reel for a flat $8. If you’d like another adult on the scene, you can do a guided 2.5-hour kayak tour for adults at $45 and children six years and up at $25. These tours include information about the lake’s history dating to the 1700s and its connection to Anthony Chabot, who helped devise the ill-fated hydraulic mining and was known as the “Water King.” You can get a box lunch from Stan’s Coffee on the lake for $10 to take on the tour. The lake itself is 315 acres in a sort of loose W shape: much to oar through!
Note: Swimming is never permitted at this lake because it is a backup drinking water supply source. At the time of this writing, all contact with water is warned against because of toxic algae blooms. Make sure children are old enough to understand not to dip their hands into the water while boating.
17936 Lake Chabot Rd., Castro Valley http://www.lakechabotrecreation.com/
Wherever you choose to go, please check the safety rules at each site. Some places charge for lifejackets while others include them in the rental fee. You’ll want to make sure your family has a game plan in place for what to do in case someone falls into the drink. Hopefully, your kids have already taken swimming lessons and are strong swimmers. The water is a wonderful, welcoming place so long as you treat it with respect.
I’ve only listed a handful of boating options here; a little web research will yield many more. Enjoy your time on the water!
By Tony Hicks
Adults love—and I mean love—griping about their kids and their darned overuse of texttweetyfacetagram on their phones, which are now legally mandated to be surgically connected to the hand of the child’s choice by the time they turn five years old.
Or at least that’s how we old people see it. It’s the modern equivalent of our parents’ and grandparents’ stories of walking 12 miles to school in the snow, uphill ... both ways.
But I’ve got some news for you: It’s not such a bad thing at all.
I mean, at the risk of being tossed from the CPU (Curmudgeonly Parents Union), I say there are some serious benefits to technology when one must parent from a distance.
When my first wife and I divorced, my now 16-year-old daughter was four. And trying to explain, while dealing with her emotions, was easily the worst part of the whole deal.
Guilt, love, obligation, history ... all were factors in my determination to keep my relationship with her alive and well.
But, ironically enough, our relationship got better pretty easily. The same went for my connection with her older sister. I don’t know if it was my doing, good luck, plain old circumstance or the money I was slipping them on the side to be nice to me.
But it wasn’t easy, especially with the younger one. This was 2006, when there was that internet thing they still talk about, and cell phones fifty times the size they are now, and the beginnings of social media (poor MySpace—whatever happened to Tom, the guy who was everyone’s first friend?).
But four year olds were different then. They still played with real toys. They weren’t submitting resumes to NASA before they could dress themselves.
We still used something called a (not “smart” or “I”) telephone, on which we’d push numbers and a live human being would appear on the other end of the line. Then we’d talk. Like, with our voices and everything.
So, being that I was trying to be the world’s greatest father while in the middle of a divorce, I would call my poor kid ... every night. Here she is, four, five, six years old, and she’s got this guy on the horn who can’t think of more than to ask her what her stuffed animals had for breakfast.
Have you ever tried talking to a little kid on the phone on a consistent basis? It’s God-awful. They’re watching TV, or eating crackers, or pulling the dog’s left ear, and they just can’t care about much you have to say.
A dozen years later, I’m going through a similar situation, and thank God—well, that’s not exactly how I should put it, because it’s no fun whatsoever—we now have texting. So when I feel guilty I’m no longer seeing my 9-year-old enough, we text. Short and concise conversations that can be continued at one’s leisure. No awkward pauses. No sadness over why the child would rather smear food on the cat than talk to daddy.
Texting has become a miracle to single parents. It prompts kids to communicate with us. This is a biggie. I don’t think I used any word with more than a single syllable to my parents between the ages of 13 and 18. And the awkwardness of actual, real human verbal interaction is virtually eliminated. Well, as much as is realistically possible. With multisyllable words, even.
Tony Hicks is a newswpaper columnist and the father of four daughters.
By Susan Solomen Yen
This is the story of John and Mary, whose names are not John and Mary.
John and Mary met and married more than twenty years ago. During their early days as a couple, they traveled extensively, attended graduate school and eventually settled in Silicon Valley where both pursued careers that required high intensity and dedication. After close to a decade together they had a son. When that child was six years old, the bonds of matrimony started to fray. Although they continued to share a home for five more years, it was more as roommates than husband and wife. Eventually Mary moved out and after two years of living separately, John and Mary got a divorce. However, they still remain friends—or is it, friendly?
John and Mary talk or text several times a day. They attend their son’s school functions together. They socialize with their common friends and they have not given up family vacations. They do not speak openly about the divorce, and many of their acquaintances are unaware of this change in their marital status.
Best Friends Forever
When I was in high school, divorce was rare in my hometown. Although it seemed odd at the time, the one couple that did end their marriage came to sports events to cheer on their daughters. When they both remarried, the foursome showed up together and really seemed to enjoy each other’s company. It is highly unlikely that my ex-husband and I could socialize together. I’m not even sure we could be in the same room at the same time!
Divorced couples are supposed to be antagonists, not associates. Shouldn’t there be animosity instead of goodwill? Is it a sign of maturity that an ex-husband and ex-wife can be friends? “Ex-spouses may become good friends after some time has passed and they have healed from the loss of the relationship and the family’s reorganization,” says Diana Blank, LCSW, a divorce and separation specialist at Parents Place in San Mateo.
But how does the child interpret the cordial relationship? Does he think Mom and Dad will get back together because they get along so well? “Younger children often maintain a reunification fantasy,” responds Diana, who teaches a workshop called Parenting Young Children through Separation/Divorce and leads a single-parent support group that meets quarterly. “It is important that parents not feed into this fantasy, but rather help the child accept the family’s new reality.”
Shortly after their divorce was finalized, John and Mary took their son on a European vacation. Although they booked separate rooms, they spent all of their time together. They had fun and created some wonderful lasting memories, but did they also sow seeds of a potential reunion? “A family vacation could be a healing experience for a child if there is a clear message that the parents are not getting back together,” explains Diana. “The couple should be far along enough in their post-divorce adjustment process before they plan the trip, though.”
Diana says it can be confusing for kids if the parents don’t talk openly about why they’re traveling together: “They need to discuss the reality of their continued divorce status. If the child is still struggling to accept the divorce, it might be best to postpone the trip.”
Many of John and Mary’s mutual friends are the parents of their son’s friends. This social circle has remained supportive of all and no one appears to be lining up behind either. This seems remarkable to me but actually benefits the children of divorce. As Diana suggests, “It is often very stabilizing for children to maintain the same social connections.”
And it isn’t a bad thing for kids to spend time with other divorced families. This may normalize a somewhat abnormal situation. I am surprised at how many of my own children’s friends come from divorced households. They recognize this as a 21st-century fact of life—not every child grows up with two parents under the same roof.
Making New Matches
Neither John nor Mary is dating. In fact, with work commitments and managing the busy life of an adolescent, making new matches is not a consideration. But when that day comes, Diana recommends they not bring this new adult into their son’s life too soon. “It is highly recommended that parents not introduce their children to dating partners until the relationship is considered solid, a long-term commitment,” she says.
It takes time for exes to move past the pain of the dissolution of their marriage. “Each parent needs to keep working on adjusting to the divorce and a new life,” says Diana. “That can involve many changes and sometimes multiple losses before a friendship can be forged, maintained, and enjoyed.”
Diana encourages divorced parents to work at being friends: “Children can benefit significantly from having cooperative co-parents who get along well and make good parenting decisions together.”
And that’s exactly what John and Mary are doing.
Susan Solomon Yem is singleminded about raising her five children to adulthood. She’d like to hear your stories about single parenting. Contact her at email@example.com
By Aaron Crowe
The parental refrain “Do what I say and not what I do” isn’t a wise one in many respects, but especially when it comes to financial talks with your kids.
Parents lead by example, and if you’re racking up credit card debt you can’t afford, then you may be teaching them bad money habits.
Such oxymoronic advice can be confusing. The 2017 Parents, Kids & Money survey conducted by T. Rowe Price found that 48% of respondents have a credit card balance of $5,000 or more. Those parents are more likely than those who don’t to have kids who:
• Spend money as soon as they get it—58% vs. 44%.
• Expect parents to buy them whatever they want—65% vs. 57%.
• Say parents confuse them when talking about money—67% vs. 51%.
• Say what parents say about money is different from what they hear in school—65% vs. 53%.
Credit before car
How to get around all of that? Get your child a credit card, of course. It’s not as implausible as it sounds.
By working to lower debt and having continuing, honest discussions with their children about how to best use credit, parents can help their children start on the path to having good credit and being smart with money years before they have a driver’s license.
The first difficult hurdle to get over is a reluctance to discuss financial matters with your kids. The T. Rowe Price survey found that 69% of parents have some reluctance to discussing money with their kids. Parents who have more than $5,000 in credit card debt are more likely than those who don’t to be reluctant, 35% to 21%, the survey found.
A piggy bank isn’t the only way kids deal with money. While most have a savings account (55%), 31% have an online or gaming account, 20% have a checking account and 18% have a credit card, according to the survey.
Who pays the credit card bill? Fifty-seven percent said they do as parents, and 41% said their kid pays the credit card bill.
How to start giving a kid a credit card
There are a few ways to get your children started as credit card users. One is to add them as an authorized user on your credit card.
This will put their name on a credit card that they can use but for which you’ll still responsible for paying as the primary cardholder. Their debt becomes your debt, and any penalties for late payments will hurt the parents’ credit score.
To get your child their own credit card, parents will likely be asked to cosign because their children don’t have full-time jobs. This will also leave the parents liable for the bill.
If that seems like too big of a step for both of you, then get them a prepaid debit card that they fund and use like a credit card. It can only be used up to the amount put on the card, so no debt is incurred.
The BusyKid Visa prepaid spend card lets kids spend their allowance in stores. The card has a $5 annual fee and is issued in the parent’s name, but it also has the child’s name on it. Parents can add money to the debit card by charging with their credit card.
What to teach kids about credit
There are many ways to teach kids about money beyond setting a good example. Long before you give them a debit or credit card, you can show them what the inside of a bank looks like, take them shopping with a budget in mind, discuss the cost of college, figure out how much tip to leave at a restaurant or how much sales tax will be charged, and discuss why you can’t take a bigger vacation this summer.
Their teenage years are probably the best time to learn about credit. Before that, they should get a good foundation in money education by earning an allowance, having the freedom to spend their own money, and borrow money from you a few times to see how loans work.
Long before the credit card issuers send your kids applications in the mail to apply for new credit, here are some things to teach your children about credit cards:
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist who specializes in personal finance topics. Follow him on Twitter @AaronCrowe or at his website, AaronCrowe.net. He also writes about his family’s finances at CashSmarter.com.
By Tony Hicks
My 16-year-old daughter, who is obviously smarter and much better-looking than yours, has made a pretty big life decision about which I have mixed feelings.
Of course, her possessing the combined determination (hardheadedness) of both her parents – times about 20 – at no time did I believe for one millisecond I could talk her out of it.
Nevertheless, I tried telling her testing out of high school after two years was a bad idea.
Maybe she wanted to one-up her cousin, whose big brain allowed her to skip a grade. Maybe she’d heard about my friend’s 18-year-old daughter, who was so brainy she just decided to skip high school altogether and start college at 14.
My kid is competitive, I’ll give her that.
My daughter, whom I will call Olivia (because that’s her name), goes to school in Placerville. I don’t know if that played into her decision or not, as all I know about Placerville is that they have a lot of fast-food joints and used to hang people there. They may still, which I could see factoring heavily into the equation.
She has friends, likes to go out and do things that don’t always excite me, and usually gets good grades. I know she wasn’t thrilled with her school this year and has been looking long and hard at the future.
Well … I like to think so, anyway.
Looking long and hard at the future when I was 16 usually went no further than pondering very seriously how my underage friends and I would obtain our weekend beer haul. I was a real intellectual back then. So I can’t complain too much.
Then she went out and got a job right after taking the test. Which probably means, at this point in my career, she’ll be working more than me.
I didn’t get it at first, but until my mid-20s, my scholastic focus was fun. As in lots of fun. Scads of fun. Way, way, way too much fun.
I loved high school, even if I barely graduated. One may have something to do with the other. I had a big group of buddies, girlfriends, proms, rallies, grad night, etc. They practically had to drag me out of the place after senior year.
Actually, they did have to drag me out. It was kind of embarrassing.
Olivia thinks about things like college, which when I was in high school was just a word plastered across John Belushi’s shirt in “Animal House.”
She has a plan that involves community college (dads with my income strongly love the idea of getting all those pesky general education units out of the way at a reduced rate). She wants to work for a year (great!), save some dough for school (even better!), and tromp off to join her sister and cousin as a Santa Cruz beach girl.
A Santa Cruz beach girl who better do her homework.
Tony Hicks is a newswpaper columnist and the father of four daughters.
By Mary Ann Scheuer
We all like doing the things we have fun with. Psychoanalysts might call this the “Pleasure Principle,” but I call it common sense. So how do we help our kids discover the fun in reading?
At the Bay Area Book Festival, I sat down with three local authors to talk about how humor hooks readers. Megan McDonald writes the Judy Moody and Stink books, bringing shenanigans and hijinks, along with real -life struggles, to every chapter. Travis Nichols combines word play, comic book panels and crisp, clever capers into punchy picture books like “Betty’s Burgled Bakery.” LeUyen Pham illustrates the “Princess in Black” series with Shannon Hale.
Travis and LeUyen both started drawing from a very early age, using pictures to tell stories. Drawing was really important to both of them as they tried to find their place in the world. Uyen talked about how she was very shy and realized that her classmates really liked the drawings she could do. She even started selling her drawings of popular movie characters to classmates!
I especially loved how Megan talked about the humor in Judy Moody stemming from how readers can relate to Judy. In the very beginning of “Judy Moody Was in a Mood” readers know just how awful it is to be in a bad mood and so we can relate to how Judy’s feeling. But we can also laugh at how grumpy Judy gets. So while we’re empathizing with her, we’re also laughing at ourselves in a safe and gentle way.
A large part of humor is in the timing. With picture books, illustrators really work at using the page turn to create tension and set up the punchline. They also really play with kids’ expectations and then turn the tables. We had a blast listening to some of the kids’ jokes!
I also loved how they all agreed on the importance of pictures in creating the humor that hooks kids. LeUyen emphasized how reading the pictures and seeing the funny setups there were just as important as reading the words. That’s a really important message to share with young kids who are struggling with decoding. They bring so much to the story by figuring out what’s happening in the pictures!
Travis talked about how his newest book, “Betty’s Burgled Bakery,” started from a failure. He was struggling with the follow up to “Fowl Play,” trying to focus the story on idioms, when it came to him how alliteration might be funnier and easier for kids to get. This makes me think about the way LeUyen described incorporating her mistakes in artwork. She really likes doing artwork by hand and not just the computer, because the mistakes make her more creative and bring even more out of her drawings.
Favorite Funny Books
Especially for developing readers (ages 6-10)
• “The Bear Who Wasn’t There,” by LeUyen Pham
• “Betty’s Burgled Bakery,” by Travis Nichols
• “The Book With No Pictures,” by B.J. Novak
• “Disgusting Critters” series, by Elise Grave
• “Fowl Play,” by Travis Nichols
• “Guess Again!” by Mac Barnett
• “Niño Wrestles the World,” by Yuyi Morales
• “The Bad Guys,” by Aaron Blabey
• “Bad Kitty Gets a Bath,” by Nick Bruel
• “Dory Fantasmagory,” by Abby Hanlon
• “Charlie & Mouse,” by Laurel Snyder
• “Judy Moody Was in a Mood,” by Megan McDonald
• “Princess in Black,” by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham
• “Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid,” by Megan McDonald
• “Unicorn Rescue Society,” by Adam Gidwitz
• “Astronaut Academy,” by Dave Roman
• “Babymouse,” by Jennifer Holm
• “Bird & Squirrel,” by James Burks
• “Dog Man,” by Dav Pilkey
• “Dragon Beware!” by Jorge Aguirre
• “Hilo,” by Judd Winick
• “Phoebe & Her Unicorn,” by Dana Simpson
• “Real Friends,” by Shannon Hale
Mary Ann Scheuer is a teacher librarian. Find more books Mary Ann recommends sharing with children at her blog, Great Kid Books, http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com.
By Haley Reen
Somehow, Angel Island is the lesser-known stepsister to Alcatraz, although it is larger, vastly more beautiful, and with a more important historical background. Take the ferry there from Tiburon or San Francisco’s Pier 41, a half-hour trip through one of the world’s most photographed bays.
Upon arrival on the island, you can visit the Immigration Station which was in use from 1910 to 1940. It’s hard to believe this 750-acre island was once the main immigration station for the west coast, our own version of Ellis Island. The site provides an important opportunity to talk to kids about racism. Immigrants from Japan and China faced discrimination on the island. Expecting a quick examination aboard ship and entrance into San Francisco, many were ferried to Angel Island and detained for weeks or even months until being allowed to officially enter the United States. Some were deported back to their point of origin. As many as 175,000 Chinese and 65,000 Japanese were held in unpleasant barracks during the thirty years of operation, while immigrants of European countries were permitted instant entry. These policies were a holdover from the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
This sobering history contrasts with the incredible beauty of the island and its views. Bring your own bike or rent one on the island. It will take about an hour to bike around the island (several hills are steep). You can also take a wheelchair accessible tram, which is open-air, seats 50 maximum and has recorded narration in five different languages.
Brave and well-balanced? Take a six-mile guided Segway tour.
If you choose to stay longer, there are 11 campsites on the island, hiking or biking distance from the ferry.
Pack a picnic or eat at the Angel Island Café, with outdoor seating and often live music at the cantina. This is no hot dogs and chicken nuggets eatery; adults can have a $14 cubano with their glass of wine. But no fear: there is a child’s menu with a $9 cheese pizza and other options. You can preorder a box lunch for pickup as you get off the ferry.
The island’s history includes more than just the immigration station. A Cold War Nike Missile site was installed and almost immediately decommissioned, the island contains a Civil War artillery battery, it served as a transit station for soldiers of the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II, and WWII prisoners of war were even held here. It was also a quarantine station when San Francisco had its Bubonic Plague scare in the early 1890s.
And of course, the first Miwok inhabitants enjoyed the island for thousands of years, coming from what is now Marin County in tule canoes. They fished and hunted on the island and set up temporary shelters made of branches covered by tule mats. According to the Angel Island Conservancy, “Several middens (refuse piles) have produced bones, shell money from clams, abalone jewelry, skins, snail shell beads, mortar and pestles, wreckage from ships, and redwood driftwood from crematoriums. Obsidian points used in arrows were common.” This website contains a lot of fantastic information about Miwok life in the area, including a brief 1579 description of the Miwoks from a passenger aboard the Sir Francis Drake: http://angelisland.org/history/miwok-history/
Whether rooted in history or reveling in the stellar vistas buffeted by bay winds, your visit will be a memorable part of summer vacation.
Visit http://angelisland.org for all the information on how to get to the island (you can also use a private boat) and what to do when there. The immigration station is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.