I love our mom/kid book club. This weekend was our smallest meeting yet, since one of the boys and his mom couldn’t make it, but we got to discuss one of my all time favorite books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. If you’ve never read it, go find it. It’s fun for little kids even if they don’t understand much of it, perfect for upper elementary kids who will learn a lot, and frankly, it always leaves me inspired. Every time I read that book I get excited about the idea of doing everything, even math problems. (And trust me, I’m not normally a fan of math problems, so that’s some effective writing.)
For anyone not familiar with the book, basically it’s about a boy named Milo who wastes his time and finds nothing interesting until he comes home from school one day to discover a mysterious tollbooth in his room. He travels through the tollbooth into a strange new world where he finds companions and embarks on a mission to rescue a pair of princesses. The whole book is designed around clever word play with the larger goal of making learning exciting. Milo visits Dictionopolis (the land of words), and Digitopolis (the land of numbers), and many unexpected places in between. The princesses he’s trying to rescue are Rhyme and Reason, who have been banished into the Mountains of Ignorance, and nothing has gone well in the land since they left.
The kids all asked great questions about the book: What was your favorite place in it? Was it all in Milo’s imagination or not? Which demon was the scariest? And one girl made a big list of all the expressions she didn’t understand which turned out to be a lot of fun to explain, such as “Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” and “Make hay while the sun shines.”
The funny part about hosting book club, though, is that I end up reading the book with a different sort of attention. When you have to come up with a snack and a craft related to the book, any mention of food becomes important. There is a character in the book who passes around a box of sugar coated punctuation marks at one point, and Aden and I looked at each other and said, “Hey! Snack!” We made ours out of chocolate shortbread. Periods and commas were the easiest, Aden did the exclamation points, and I reshaped dough cut from a ‘5’ cookie cutter that we happened to have into question marks.
The other obvious snack was the half-baked ideas served at a Dictionopolis banquet. Those were pastries with phrases written on them like “The World is Flat” (which, as the book says, people swallowed for years). I picked up some long doughnuts with white icing on them from our local bakery and let the kids write their own words on them. In Dictionopolis people must think about what they say because they have to eat their words.
My kids had other elaborate ideas for food, like subtraction stew and all the letters of the alphabet made from different foods starting with each of those letters, but there’s a limit.
For the craft we decided to make rocks to chip apart. In the book people get numbers by mining for them. They also tend to find jewels as they dig, but those just get tossed onto a big pile. So I went to Home Depot and asked someone there what the worst and weakest plaster-like compound was that they carry, because encasing numbers inside plaster of Paris could take the kids forever to chip out. I was directed toward some drywall compound that sets in five minutes and that worked great. Aden and I mixed some up in disposable cups and added in handfuls of fake jewels and a few plastic numbers (which we found in the clock-making section of a craft store), and then the next morning cut away the cups.
It was more of a destructive craft than a constructive one, but the kids enjoyed it. And the funny thing was since they were intent on finding the few numbers hidden in their rocks they wound up dismissively tossing the little jewels off to the side as they chiseled away, just the way the characters in the book did.
Ian took Mona and Quinn off to Bug Day at the local nature center during Aden’s book club, but we saved them a couple of Digitopolis rocks:
I’m glad our book club is still running. It’s hard to make time for ongoing events like that, but it makes me so happy to see my daughter and her friends excited about books. Aden’s not an avid reader the way I was at her age, but the book club creates such a positive association with reading and books in general that I think it helps.
It’s so good, in fact, we’ve decided to start a book club for Mona now. She’s been worming her way into the last few meetings with Aden’s group, much to Aden’s chagrin, so I asked Mona if we should invite some of her own friends over to talk about books and she was thrilled. She’s already decided on “How to Train Your Dragon” for our first read so I need to start talking with some other parents soon. I love Mona’s enthusiasm.
Now if I can just find a book club for ME. I don’t even need a craft and a snack! I just miss serious reading and discussions. I’ve been making myself find time to just sit quietly and read again like I did before I had children and I’m glad I have. Because there is no other satisfaction quite like that of a good book. I’m glad my kids are learning that, too.