We are braced for boys.

There will be boys. Fifteen of them. No, sixteen. They will descend tomorrow as the rain pours and pours and pours outside. It will be raining boys.

My original plan, as these eight and nine year old hoodlums celebrate my son’s transition from eight to nine, was to have them outside the entire time. Capture the flag. Pin the nose on the zombie. Running races. What have you. Now, instead, we will be doing a scavenger hunt in the rain, and maybe tag, and then there will be different stations indoors. Legos in the basement. Learn-t0-play-poker-with-buttons in the dining room. Risk in the living room. Duct tape creation station in the attic.

Pray for me, my friends. Pray that barricades hold the huns at bay. Pray for keen minds and sharp wits and cat-like reflexes. And pray that the weatherman is wrong and we really can be outside, because good god. I don’t know if my house is engineered to withstand that kind of level of Crazy.

(And oh! My baby boy! How can he be turning nine? In only a few days. Nine!)

My Eight-Year-Old Son on Junot Díaz: a transcription.

Sometimes, my kids will throw bits of the world at me – tiny nuggets of information hoarded and hidden for later, possibly aggressive, use. They are like squirrels gathering acorns for the sole purpose of hurling it at my head when I least expect it. For example, here’s a conversation, in its entirety, that I had with my son this weekend.

LEO: Mom. Is Junot Díaz a writer?

ME: (stares for a long time at my son, trying to figure out how the hell he knows who Junot Díaz is) Um. Yes?

LEO: Okay. (balls up hands into little triumphant fists) I knew it!

ME: Why the sudden interest in Junot Díaz?

LEO: Do you know him?

ME: Who?

LEO: Junot Díaz.

ME: No.

LEO: (looking truly sorry) Oh. That’s too bad.

And then he left the room. And I was mystified.

Five minutes later.

LEO: Did Junot Díaz write This Is How You Lose Her?

ME: Leo.

LEO: What?

ME: How do you know who Junot Díaz even is?

LEO: (a long-suffering expression) Everyone knows who Junot Díaz is. Gosh, mom.

(Five minutes later)

LEO: Mom. Who’s your favorite writer?

ME: No idea, honey. A lot of writers are my favorite writer.

LEO: Is Junot Díaz your favorite writer?

ME: (I am absolutely going nuts at this point) What is up with your recent Junot Diaz obsession?

LEO: (ignoring me) Junot Díaz is my favorite writer. I think he should be your favorite writer too. I think you should write like Junot Díaz and then you can be more famous.

ME: Hmmm. How do you mean.

LEO: On the first page of This Is How You Lose Her, there are three swear words. Three, mom. Real swears. In a book. A real book. 

ME: Who taught you to read, anyway? No more reading.

LEO: (ignoring me again) If you write like Junot Díaz, then you’ll probably get way more famous. Swears, mom. Real swears. In a book. I didn’t know it was allowed. And if you are more famous then I can have an Ipad.

ME: I see. Cogent arguments, my son. I’ll take them under advisement. And remind me to lock up the books.

LEO: You can’t lock up books mom. They’re escape artists. Everyone knows that.

Later, I was cleaning up his room and I found my copy of The Stand under the pile of hard-worn shorts and tee-shirts and socks. And The Arsonist’s Guide To Writer’s Homes in New England.

LEO: Mom. What does Arsonist mean?

ME: Someone who arranges flowers for a living.

LEO: Are you sure?

ME: It comes from the latin word arse, which means delicate flower.

LEO: I don’t think that’s right. Are you tricking me?

ME: Go to your room.

If the house catches on fire, I have only myself to blame. And also my son. Obviously, I instantly rid my house of any hint of Chuck Palahnuik from my house. And Clockwork Orange has to go. Mr. Burgess and Mr. Zola as well. And everything Russian. I can’t tell if my son is transfixed by grownuppy books because he wants to be like his parents, or if he is actually up to something.

What am I saying? This is Leo. He is clearly up to something. I must now plan for a book-free household. It is clearly my only option.

If I have more children, I am for sure not teaching them to read. And that’s final.


A friendly note to the gentleman who nearly killed me today. (Caution: Contains swearing.)

Dear Sir,

I can only assume that the text message that you were avidly sending was far more important than safely transporting yourself from point A to point B. (Where were you coming from, and where were you going? Home to work, and back again? Are there people that will miss you in either place? Are there people who would reject you if you had, as you nearly did, become a murderer?)

I am the woman in the red minivan – the Very Nice Mom – that you nearly murdered today. There were four kids in the car as well – Nice Children, all.

Look. You can’t pretend that you weren’t texting. You were. I know you were. I can see it a mile off. I can see the telltale swerve, the lack of spacial awareness, the sudden loss of speed control. I can tell by the ghastly pallor thrown upon your face by the tiny but powerful screen’s ghoulish glow. And really, that’s a blessing. Because I was ready for you.

Had I not been – had I not been prepared to employ my well-trained Jedi Mom Car Tricks (there are special schools. every mom in a minivan is well versed in how to turn their cars into physics-defying, futuristic bits of magic. But perhaps you knew this. Perhaps this is why you didn’t care to be safe.) – you surely would have slammed your sedan into the side of my car, sending me off the bridge. It nearly happened. Here is who you might have killed.

1. A Very Nice Mom. She bakes cookies and cooks excellent soup and welcomes strangers into her home and makes them feel welcome. She tells jokes and writes books and loves her neighbors and is loved in return.

2. Four Very Nice Kids. These kids, of course, both outnumber and outweigh the Very Nice Mom. They are precious – both to me, and to the world. And they should be precious to you. These kids are the ones who may restart your stopped heart on the operating table someday. Or invent the drug that restores your granddaughter’s sight. Or write the book that makes you believe in God again. Or marry your nephew. Or spoon soup into your withered lips during your last, waning days of life. But you don’t care about that. Your text, apparently, was far more important.

Look. I get it that you’re afraid – afraid of loneliness, afraid of inadequacy, afraid of irrelevancy. I understand your fears. There should be another fear at play though. Fear of assholery. Because make no mistake: you are a fucking asshole. I do hope that’s clear.

You went careening from one side of the freeway to the other as you went flying out of the cloverleaf entrance. You did not look. You did not care. You nearly killed us, but I was faster, smarter, and more nimble. Yay, me. What you did, sir, can only be classified as a dick move. And I hate you for it.

Look, you are not alone. There are other assholes. Hell, I counted eight on my drive home. But make no mistake. IF YOU TEXT AND DRIVE YOU ARE A FUCKING ASSHOLE. And if you harm another person while texting and driving, you are a fucking asshole forever. And I fear this is in the cards for you, sir. I mean, Dick.

Fuck you.



Dear Elementary School Reading Teachers and Librarians – I need your help

We interrupt my unbelievably lackadaisical posting habits of late to send out a sincere and desperate plea to teachers and librarians who have used, or are using, or are familiar with the SRA Reading Mastery curriculum by McGraw-Hill. My son’s school switched over to it last year, and it has been extremely rough around these here parts. He went from reading novels on his own (Dahl, Gaiman, Rowling, Sachar) to coming home from school saying “I’m too stupid to read”.

And then my head exploded.

Now, as his mother, it is easy for me to blame the curriculum – and maybe to do so is valid. The problem, however, may not be the curriculum itself, but rather an ill-defined and poorly-execcuted interpretation of that curriculum in this particular school – one that could absolutely be remedied by additional teacher training and alternate strategies. I know from my teaching days that it takes a while to work out the kinks in a curriculum, and I have TONS OF COMPASSION for the dedicated teachers laboring in the fields, trying to make it work.


No child should come home saying things like that. And I will not have it. Not in my house. Not with my child.

What I would like to know from any of you who can help me is this:

  • What are your thoughts about this program? What works? What doesn’t?
  • What are the strategies you use in your building for kids who get stuck? In our experience, Leo became so demoralized that he was forced to repeat the same lesson over and over because he wasn’t able to get it at 100% accuracy – for a month. This seems crazy to me. And he wasn’t alone. What do you do for your kids to keep that from happening?
  • I know the program focuses on fluency as the sole indicator of good reading. What additional strategies do you use to supplement – to make sure that your kids are also demonstrating the other indicators of good reading – inference, analysis, criticism, intertextual connections, reasoning, etc.?
  • From what I understand, this program is really expensive. Is it worth it?
  • My main criticism of this curriculum is that it seems utterly devoid of joy. What are you doing in your classroom to build joyful readers?

If you are not a teacher or librarian, but know someone who is, please send this on. I’m really trying to gather as many perspectives as I can in anticipation of a meeting I have with the Administration, as well as several conversations that I will be having with different members of the Board. Also, if this curriculum has been used in your child’s school, I’d love to hear your perspective as a parent.

Thank you all so much, and I promise to resume my random posts about random stuff very soon.

Much love,

Kelly Barnhill