Tag Archives: Ivy and Bean

Verry scary and daownright duh

Since finishing Harry, we’ve whizzed through Annie Barrows’ latest Ivy and Bean, What’s the Big Idea?, in which the girls tackle global warming by throwing ice cubes into the sky while jumping on a trampoline. Bean’s big sister nasty Nancy points out that “The sun is stronger than a billion ice cubes. And besides, making ice cubes uses up energy. Duh.”

(By the way, lately we’ve been discussing whether or not “duh” is a good thing to say, and what it actually means, and so on. I think it means “You’re stupid,” and that it should never be used. N, who utters the word on occasion, thinks it depends on one’s tone, and that it could well mean, “Uh, I think you should have thought a little bit harder, don’t you?” I suggested we do a survey, and began to ask people, but since everyone I’ve asked agrees with me, N’s enthusiasm for the survey has dwindled. Still, if you want to chime in on “What does duh mean and should you say it?” please do!)

A great image from graphicsfairy.blogspot.com

After our Ivy and Bean fix, we devoured the frightening Coraline, Neil Gaiman’s story about a girl who discovers in the flat next door an “other mother” and an “other father” who claim her for their own. They have black button eyes and want to give her black button eyes too. The gleaming needle and the thread sit on the counter beside the buttons, waiting to be stitched in. The other mother’s so-called love for Coraline is chilling — really the scariest thing in the book — because it is both empty and smothering. Coraline can have whatever she wants with the other mother forever. “The world will be built new for you every morning.” But she knows better, and frantically tries to escape.

“I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really.”

The first night we read this book was scary for N. She didn’t mention her fear while we read, but as I tucked her in, she asked, with the covers pulled up to her nose, “Is there really such a thing as an ‘other mother’ and an ‘other father’?” And I assured her no, there was not, and that we could close that book up and read another if she liked. “No,” she said firmly. “I want to read it right to the end and then never read it again.” And so we did. Coraline got to safety, and we escaped to the world of Mary Poppins, full of dancing red cows, talking dogs, floating uncles, and raspberry jam cakes. I promised to read the PL Travers book a few posts back, when I wrote about the movie, and now we are halfway through, and enjoying the enigmatic Mary immensely.

I found some beautiful old photographs the other day, stashed away in the closet. My husband used these images in an installation years ago, and says that some are family and some are not, but he isn’t really sure which. In the pile I came across two of mother and child with book. If these are relatives of N’s, who are they? What are they reading? Why did they choose to have their photographs taken with book in hand?

I should ask N herself. I’m sure she would have an answer. She’s always said she can sneak around in the past — that she’s spied on her grandmother back there, “but she didn’t recognize me because she was just a little girl, and I hadn’t been born yet.” It works the other way too. In this time zone, she sometimes sees people who died before she was born.

I was telling her once that it was sad Daddy’s dad died before N and I could meet him. And she said, “Oh, I’ve met him. I’ve seen Grandpa Peter’s ghost. He isn’t scary at all.”

Another gift from the graphics fairy

Lately she’s been clacking away on his old typewriter, brought for our amusement by her grandma. It had been sitting unused in her study for years, and it occurred to me that N would enjoy the immediacy of putting her printed words on paper — actually seeing them printed as she typed. She first tried it out with her friend A, and together they wrote a story about a poor girl named Katara who had to make everything she owned. “She had to get newspapers from the garbage and she had no parents.” A wrote the Katara bits, and N wrote the Emma bits. “Emma was verry rich,” she typed, and A, a year-and-a-half wiser and peeking over her shoulder, said “Very just has one r.” N said “No it doesn’t, it has two.” At which point I spoke up and said that A was right, but that I could see why N would add an extra r to very, to make it more — well — verry.

I’ve been thinking a lot about spelling. My latest novel, And Me Among Them, is soon to be published in the U.S., and I’ve been busy doing a final proofread of the American editor’s changes. It’s too bad about all the lost u’s, the a that has fallen out of anaesthetic, and the o utterly gone from manoeuver. (Which reminds me that I just bought James Thurber’s The Wonderful O, and cannot wait to dip into it with N.) N’s French spelling is excellent, since she’s tested on new words once a week. But her English spelling is much more interesting! In another Emma story, this time created with friend T, she wrote:

Her mother cald her daown for breacfast time. Emma comme daown! So she went daown to the cichan.

To me it has an Old English flavour, an excess that I absolutely love, and that I should probably be correcting more than I do. But I’m sure it will sort itself out. She reads on her own more often now, and over my shoulder too, and if she sees words often enough they seem to imprint themselves on her memory.


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The harry scaries

At long last, we’ve found ourselves in the magnificent world of Harry Potter, with its moving photographs, talking hats, invisibility cloaks, nearly headless ghosts, flying cars, magic-less muggles, and wizards. We’re on book two, and N is addicted. She pays close attention to the fine details — notice above how she’s drawn patches on Ron’s clothes to illustrate that the Weasleys don’t have much money; and how Harry’s scar forms a lightning shape on his forehead. Hermione, ever studious, holds a pencil and paper.

We whipped through the first book in record time, and then watched the movie. N, following the advice of her auntie, who traveled the Potter road with her son years ago, viewed many scenes through the holes of an afghan, as if that barrier could protect her from the likes of  Severus Snape, Argus Filch, or the evil Lord Voldemort, who lurks who knows where — maybe everywhere. Her auntie, alongside us for the show, was as excited as we were, partly because it’s such a good story, I think, but also because of the memories she has of moving through the Potter series with her son, who’s off to college this fall.

This is something I’ve noticed when I mention these books to parents with children of a certain age: they absolutely glow when they recall reading them with their kids. One friend recently wrote that her daughters were a perfect age for Harry Potter when the first book appeared.

“Since the books usually came out in June or July, we would take them up to the cottage with us and I can remember reading aloud for hours during long summer afternoons and evenings, none of us wanting to stop the wonder and excitement of the story or the warm relaxed feeling of connection as the three of us sat cuddled together…. Reading and long lazy summers, and my girls. My version of heaven.”

As a writer, I have mixed feelings about phenomenal sensations like Harry Potter. The books are really good, but it’s frustrating to see how such successes put everything else in shadow. Wikipedia states that, “The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, became the fastest selling book in history, moving 11 million units in the first twenty-four hours of release.” Those sorts of crazes rub me the wrong way — not just for books, but for Cabbage Patch Dolls and Silly Bandz. But nonetheless, here I find myself, a Muggle, totally absorbed in this magical world.

The books are especially intense for N. I have to regularly remind her that “He’s probably going to be okay. There are five more books, after all, and he’s in all of them.” Still, when reading, we have to follow up with a chaser of Ivy and Bean or Clarice — “to take the Harry Scaries away.” I understand the books get increasingly dark as the series goes along, so I’m not sure how quickly we’ll move through them. Just last night, we had to stop reading altogether because, along with Harry, Hermione, and Ron, we were rushing past flaming torches down a Hogwarts corridor and we came upon Argus Filch’s cat Mrs Norris hanging by her tail, “stiff as a board, her eyes wide and shining.” An ominous message had been scrawled on the wall: “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.”

It was too much for N; she needed a break. As we closed Harry and opened Clarice, she whispered, “Good thing Harry doesn’t die. Because there are five more books, right?”

Yet it’s obvious we’ve entered a different phase, and though from a writer’s point of view the stories we read are becoming increasingly complex and exciting, from a mother’s point of view, the transition is bittersweet.

Recently we were visiting my mom, and on the first night we settled in with Harry to read another chapter. We laid in the bed facing the dresser, which held all the things it has always held: a tiny candle; a silhouette picture of me from Disneyland; three sets of children’s books each contained in boxes.

These are the stories we’ve always read at Grandma’s house — AA Milne, Beatrix Potter, and Mother Goose; fairy tales and abridged versions of Dorothy and Alice. There’s something about boxed sets that N loves. I suppose they feel like little gifts; the stories themselves are elevated, somehow, by this special presentation.

Just as I opened Harry Potter, N interrupted me and said “Wait!”

She jumped out of bed, rushed to the dresser, and grabbed one of the book sets, easing a book free. She opened to a random page, held the book to her face and breathed in.

“Mmmm,” she said. “I love these books. Smelling them gives me old memories.”

How wonderful to know that at seven, she already has a cache of memories about reading. It reminds me of Rosemary Wells saying, “Reading to your little one is just like putting gold coins in the bank. It will pay you back tenfold.”


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Ivy and Bean

In creating this online diary of the books N and I read together, I have often blogged about old treasures like The Secret Garden and The House at Pooh Corner. But some of our favourites are quite new. Annie BarrowsIvy and Bean books make N laugh as hard as she did reading Pippi Longstocking, which is saying a lot. Sometimes the illustrations, by Sophie Blackall, can do it all on their own — showing Bean in the strange contortions her body forms when she tries to sit still reading.

A warning! This series will teach your little one how to narrow her eyes to convey boredom. It will also teach her about potent potions and breaking world records by sticking spoons to your face or singing loud enough to (almost) break glass and digging for fossils in honour of Mary Anning and finding only chicken bones and using worms to cast magic spells that (should) make mean big sisters dance forever. As a little sister, as well as a mom, I love these books.

The series begins when Ivy moves into Bean’s street, Pancake Court, and the girls’ moms urge their daughters to play together. But Bean is completely uninterested in Ivy, because Ivy sits across the way on her porch with her nose in a book, and Bean is convinced books are boring. Just looking at Ivy, with her hairband and her dresses and her buckle shoes, makes wild Bean yawn. Bean is barefoot and tom-boyish and always on the go. She itches to play evil practical jokes on her pre-teen sister Nancy — the one who narrows her eyes at every ridiculous thing Bean does.

Much to Bean’s surprise, Ivy turns out to be interesting, with her linty-but-star-studded bathrobe and her gold-stick wand and her bedroom portioned by chalk marks on the floor. All the books she devours have filled her head with fabulous ideas, and she’s been waiting for someone like Bean to come along to set her imagination loose on the world.

Reading through, I am often reminded of N’s “playdates” with A, a friend who lives up the street — their favourite activity is making potions with anything and everything they can find. Old coffee grinds, bits of orange peel, years-old condiments from the fridge, egg shells, spices, herbs and maybe food colouring for a special treat. They like to spy, too, with magnifying glass and notebook, and they can sometimes be heard speaking in a secret language. The last time A visited, I found the big old Raggedy Ann doll I’d passed down to N stuffed in the closet with about fifty barrettes clipped tight to her red yarn hair — some form of barrette torture, I was told.

I didn’t make the connection until today that Annie Barrows of Ivy-Bean fame is also Annie Barrows of Guernsey-Peel fame. The epistolary novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was begun by her aunt, Mary Ann Shaffer, but when her health began to decline, she asked her niece Annie to help her finish the book. Of course it went on to become a great success. Having collaborated with my sister on The Occupied Garden, the story intrigues me.


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