Monday, November 24, 2014

An early Christmas gift from me to you

It's that time of the year: time to start stressing out about buying Christmas presents. It's a wonderful time of anxiety and, as we near the actual holiday, panic. In my humble opinion, the Christmas season would be a lot more enjoyable if every person I knew had an Amazon wish list.

My child has made it somewhat easier on Santa this year by posting her wish list on the giant piece of tempered glass that serves as our write-erase board between the great room and the mudroom. Only she asks for things that either she will never get with her current father (a chicken, a puppy) or are unfortunately impossible for anyone, even Santa, to provide (world peace, the end of illness). There are a few gems on there that I'm sure Santa will bring.

In an attempt to help some of you, dear readers, I will share a Christmas gift idea for kids six and over.

Sometime in the last year, I stumbled across a website called The Rumpus. It's got a mix of articles, book reviews, advice columns, author interviews, and writing tips. I love it because it's quirky and unpredictable. While poking around on it one day, I discovered a program they offer called Letters for Kids. Twice a month, a children's book author drafts a letter aimed towards children, and the good people at The Rumpus make copies and mail them out to subscribers. The benefit here is two-fold: a.) kids get their very own mail (who doesn't remember being totally stoked to get your OWN mail when you were a kid?) and b.) kids get a peek into the minds and lives of actual authors.

It sounded like a great idea, but the site doesn't post any samples so I didn't really know what to expect. I read the reviews of a few subscribers (parents, and aunts) and they were glowing. Huh. Finally, a couple months ago, I pulled the trigger and signed up Zozo. I figured it was 58 bucks and if I didn't like the letters I just wouldn't give them to her.

Holy. Crap.

The first letter came and it was awesome. It was laid out like a well-drawn comic strip and outlined the author's creative process (which, for her, involves a shit-ton of coffee). The second one was more of a traditional letter, complete with a beautiful line drawing of original art from one of her books. It touched on morality in a fun, warm manner. (If a kid finds a twenty in the classroom and keeps it until the teacher announces another student lost it, then turns it in, did he really do the right thing? Wouldn't it have been better for the finder to turn it in as soon as he found it? One should always attempt to do the right thing right off the bat…) She received her third letter this weekend, from an author who lives in Springfield, Missouri, and learned all about the woman's eclectic collections, which sparked a discussion about our own collections. Each of these letters asks the reader questions to consider, and each author encourages the reader to write back with his or her own answers by providing a snail mail address. How cool is that?

Zoe has gotten only three, but she's already so excited about the program that every time I bring in the mail and show her an envelope with her name and The Rumpus return address logo, she screams and immediately drops whatever she's doing to rip open the envelope and read her latest letter. To be honest, I'm just as excited as she is.

I read the first letter with her, prepared at any moment to rip it from her hands if I saw something inappropriate. The Rumpus doesn't post samples, so it was a leap of faith to sign up for this. No one I knew had a subscription, and you can't always trust internet reviews. So I sat there, practically on top of her, speed-reading with a hand poised like the censor on a televised awards show. I had nothing to worry about. It was completely appropriate (hello, CHILDREN'S book author…duh) and delightful.

I helped her open the second envelope and then let her read it by herself. I helped her open the envelope because she cannot, even at the age of 9, open an envelope without shredding it. I always worry that she'll inadvertently shred whatever is stuffed into the envelope, so I taught her to use a letter opener with the second letter. She didn't care…she just wanted the damn thing open so she could read it. She read it, then brought it to me and I read it, and then we talked about it.

When the third letter arrived this weekend, as she was shredding the envelope (by that point in the day I was too tired to get up and fetch the letter opener, and too tired to even care) and headed towards her room, she said, "Mama? Want to come snuggle and read it with me?" Hell, yeah. This one was a typed letter but also had lots of handwritten notes in the margin. The author's writing is bold and a little sloppy, and Zozo is still learning to decipher script, so I offered to help her should she get stuck on any words. She did not ask for help, but I saw her scowling over the part where the author shows a photo of her vintage, plastic King Kong figurine complete with one hand gripping a one-armed, one-legged Faye Wray and so attempted to explain.

Anyway, for those of you with a literary bent and with kids in your life over the age of six (Ping, I'm looking at you), I highly recommend this program. Since the letters come twice a month, it feels like she's getting them all the time, but they are spaced just far enough that she has time to really look forward to the next one.

Once again, I'm emailing this post in, so I can't embed a link (they really ought to fix that), so I'll just post it here:

Enjoy! (And when you get the Award of Coolest Gift Giver Ever, just be sure to give me credit. And maybe the good people at The Rumpus who thought of this whole brilliant program and make it happen twice monthly.)


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