In the Footsteps of Claudia and Jamie

Fromthemixedup

Twelve-year-old Claudia Kincaid is fed up with her family, so she enlists her little brother Jamie to run away with her to the Metropolitan Musuem of Art in New York where the two sleep in one of the beds on display, bathe in the museum’s fountain, and uncover an art mystery involving a Michelangelo sculpture. That’s the plot of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg, one of my favorite childhood books and now one of my daughter’s favorites, too.

On our recent trip to NYC, we made a point to get to the Met to follow in Claudia and Jamie’s footsteps. There’s not much need for arm-twisting to get our kids to go to museums, but the fact that we were visiting a place from a book just added a layer to the experience. In addition to all the specific rooms and areas we wanted to visit, we looked for Claudia and Jamie places. Could this be the fountain where they took a bath?

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When conversation about or interest in the art waned, we could always revert back to talking about the book.We were nearly at the end before we found the bed we imagined they must have slept in (in the book).

We were even able to tie in some interest in another book: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Bailett, another art history mystery that was inspired by From the Mixed Up Files. The Met has five Vermeers, the largest number in any collection. Since both the kids had listened to Chasing Vermeer in the audio book version, it made seeing the paintings more meaningful and they even remembered obscure facts about Vermeer that I couldn’t have told you.

I wrote about traveling to “literary locations” with kids in the this piece in Bootsnall and of course in 101 Places. Any ideas for others?

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Go Big or Go Home

I ‘m excited to have my first guest blogger! Traci Suppa of Go Big or Go Home shares my affinity the superlative places and very big things that I put on my 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! list. She’s got a fantastic blog following her families travels to visit said places, a few of which she recounts here- Enjoy!

High and Low and Away We Go!

I have a strange affection for quirky roadside attractions. The bigger, the better. My unfortunate family falls victim to the road trips I organize seeking sites claiming to be the “biggest,” “largest,” or “tallest” in the state, country, and even the world. Over time, they have come to enjoy, or at least tolerate, these fun outings full of great photo ops.

Generally, and expectedly, most of the sites we’ve seen are offbeat, and lowbrow. A few standouts, however, do earn marks in the highbrow category for their educational or spiritual character. On both extremes, these are the places which have really captivated my 10-year old son and 3-year old daughter.

The Largest Buddha in the Western Hemisphere, Carmel, NY

The largest Buddha statue in the western hemisphere rests in situ at the tranquil Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, a mere 20 minutes from our house.The monastery, belonging to the Buddhist Association of the United States, is a collection of seven Asian-style buildings seemingly out of place in this New York suburb, but lovely nonetheless.

Our mother-son adventure began by following a stone path lined with statues of Buddha’s chubby, bald disciples up to the Great Buddha Hall. We removed our shoes, entered, looked up, and gaped. At 37-feet tall, the “Great Buddha Vairocana” sits serenely in lotus pose, commanding the silent respect of the 10,000 small Buddha statues encircling him. Filled with brilliant daylight, the spacious hall provides an unobstructed, pillar-free view — an architectural homage to the Tang Dynasty.
We availed ourselves of the free literature in the back of the room, and left a small donation. My son was thrilled with his colorful Chinese bookmarks, and even took a small book about Buddhism so he could learn more about it.

World’s Largest Light Bulb, Edison, NJ

A monumental replica of Thomas Edison’s first practical incandescent bulb, the world’s largest light bulb is nearly 14 feet of Pyrex glass segments. It sits on top of the 117-foot concrete Memorial Tower at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park, and was built in 1937 by former Edison employees. While you’re here, devote 30-60 minutes to visiting the adjoining museum, where you can see historic photographs, early light bulbs and other inventions, and even listen one of Edison’s phonographs.
Edison’s laboratory was located on this tract of land from 1879-1884, before he moved to a more well-known site in West Orange, NJ. Still in his 20’s and relatively unknown during his time here, Edison was already churning out patents at the unbelievable pace of a sheer genius. Besides the phonograph and the light bulb, he came up with 400 other patents.
History museums can be hit-or-miss with kids, but this site delivered an accessible and engaging experience. The highlight? When our guide played an antique phonograph just for us. Even my pre-schooler stood still long enough to listen to the scratchy melody. Getting that little first-hand taste of history was well worth the trip.

Traci L. Suppa has a strange compulsion for roadside attractions. She drags her small-town family to see the world’s largest things, and blogs about it at Go BIG or GO Home. http://GoBIGorGoHomeblog.com

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Wishing Trees

The Wishing Tree of Argyll, Scotland

Mr. Big and I were talking about wishes today and he was feeling a little disappointed (hearing a three-year-old say “wishes don’t come true” is about the saddest thing you’ve ever heard). It’s hard when you are wishing for full-sized pet sharks or real dinosaurs and you don’t get them–I guess it can really shake your faith.

All that talk about wishes reminded me of a story I read last year about “wishing trees” in Hong Kong where write their wishes on paper tags and hang them on the tree’s limbs. There’s a similar tradition in several Asian countries and in the British Isles and Ireland, people drive coins into wishing trees to leave their wishes.

Close up, surface of English wishing tree

Yoko Ono's Wish Tree Project

As part of her “Imagine Peace” project, Yoko Ono also has a traveling “wish tree” which can now be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and will continue to travel around the country.

Because of the ephemeral nature of paper (and wishes), there don’t seem to be that many permanent wising trees to visit in North America, but I did find this one in Ontario. Much easier to find are shoe trees–more on that subject later!

A temporary wishing tree at the Glastonbury Festival in England

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The Perseids are Coming!

Photo: by Johnny Westlake for NASA

There are very few things in life that are worth waking sleeping children for. A really cheap plane ticket is one. The perseids meteor showers are another. We’re just days away from peak perseid viewing, which experts say happens after midnight and before dawn this Thursday, August 12. If the skies are clear where you are, astronomers are predicting a great show this year since Thursday will be a moonless night. Expect 60 to 100 shooting stars per hour!

So where can you see perseids? You might try a dark sky preserve–a place that’s intentionally protected from light pollution in order to help astronomers (amateurs and pros alike) better view the night sky. A couple of notable dark sky preserves include the Lake Hudson area in Michigan, the Elk Island National Park in Alberta, and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve and Wildcat Mountain State Park in Wisconsin.

But don’t fear. If you don’t live near one of these places, just drive a good ways out of your town/city (if you can) and look toward the northeast. During the peak, you should be able to see a shooting star every couple of minutes. And if you live in the city and can’t get away, just get to the darkest spot you can!

Elqui Domos, an "astro lodge" in Chile

On my trip-of-a-lifetime wanderlist, I’d love to go to this ‘astro lodge‘  in Chile. Its web site says that its only one of seven “astronomical hotels” in the world. Each of the seven “rooms” are actually furnished geodesic domes and the hotel offers nighttime hoseback riding and astronomical tours all focused on taking in the area’s “sky wealth.” I’m not sure if that’s just Spanish translation issue or just a poetic turn of phrase, but it sounds beautiful!

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Remembering Sadako

Sadako Peace Park in Seattle

August 6 marks the 65th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb. On that day, two-year-old Sadako Sasaki and her family survived, but 10 years later she was diagnosed with terminal leukemia due to exposure to radiation. In her final months, Sadako folded origami paper cranes with the goal of reaching 1,000 (there was a Japanese legend that if you reached 1,000, your wish would be granted). Sadako’s wish: world peace.

Sadako never reached that goal: she died at age 12 in 1955. But after her death, her school friends carried on with her quest, and eventually were able to raise support to build a peace memorial in her honor in Hiroshima.

Senzaburu: chains of paper cranes

Today, children from around the world send folded paper cranes to the memorial and to members of the 1000 Crane Club at Hiroshima International School. The club members place them at the memorial. There’s also a Sadako Peace Park in Seattle. Communities all over have created parks and “gardens for peace” (click here and here for a map and list). I was excited to see that a group in Atlanta [my hometown] a group put together a downloadable map of all the peace gardens and monuments in town: you can download the Atlanta Peace Trails map here).

A member of the 1000 Crane Club placing chains of cranes at the Hirocshima Children's Peace Memorial

I don’t know if we’ll ever get to visit one of Sadako’s parks, but last year we decided to make a peace garden of our own in the backyard. A peace garden could include anything, but I always liked the symbolism of the peace pole, so we made one. You can find instructions on making your own peace pole here, as well as templates with “may peace prevail” written in a dozen languages.


Sadako and the Paper Cranes is an great book to introduce kids to Sadako’s story. It’s really inspiring for them to know that kids can have an impact. The World Peace Prayer Society also has a web site with stories from around the world about people, instructions about doing a peace pole project, and a link to the Peace Pals project for kids.

So, today we’ll make some paper cranes (instructions here) and remember Sadako and her do what we can to make her wish come true.

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One World, Two Books, Two Charlottes


I love discovering what others are doing to encourage in kids a sense of wonder at and responsibility toward our planet. Two friends (both named Charlotte!) have recently come out with two very different books which do just that in unique and wonderful ways.

Charlotte Blessing’s New Old Shoes (Pleasant Street, 2009) is a sweet, but powerful picture book (ages 3 to 9) told from the point of view of a pair of bright red Keds. Think modern-day, global Velveteen Rabbit: the shoes go from brand new and loved to discarded and heaped with literally tons of other cast-off shoes from the US that are shipped to Africa. The shoes find new children there to share adventures with until they reach the end of their utility and an unexpected happy ending.

Blessing got the inspiration for the story while browsing the mitumba markets (secondhand clothing markets) in Kenya to shop for clothes for her growing kids (she lived there and in Tanzania for over a decade running a study abroad program). The family now lives in Colorado.

New Old Shoes opens kids’ eyes, getting them to think about reusing, recycling, and the conditions of kids in other countries in a really positive and beautiful way. There’s also information in the back about how to donate shoes to a great group called Soles4Souls.

For older kids (ages 7 to 11), Charlotte Purein’s Avatars of Gaia promotes environmental awareness through a rollicking adventure story that takes an intrepid team of kids on a quest to save the planet from the evil King Littermoore. Avatars of Gaia manages to recreate in a book those video game conventions that kids love: there’s a sense of urgency and purpose, an imminent threat from toxic gooz emanating from the king’s Hazard Hollow and the mutant Deformo Frogs that live there. The characters are well drawn and great funny names like Free Bird and Kinkajou, and the manga-style drawings help bring to life the amazing creatures that inhabit the avatars’ world: the Munchimonster, Sneezer Wheaters, Princess L’Muriel (a human who morphed into a butterfly) and the Babushka Tree, among others.

Purein, aka Professor Heart (anagram for Earth) used to work in the film industry, and the book has all the action, adventure, and fun of an episode of Bakugan, but with a much more important message.

Two books, two Charlottes, two ways to open kids minds and eyes.

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The 101st Place Giveaway!


In honor of reaching by 1000th page view, I’m having my first contest! In 101 Place You Gotta See Before You’re 12!, the 101st entry is “a really cool place you discover all on your own.”

Send us your family’s really cool place that you discovered all on your own and our team of judges (Ms. M and friends) will pick the one they think is the coolest.

The winner gets the whole 101 series, signed, sealed, and delivered!

To enter, just send a comment with a description of or a link to the cool place you discovered! We’ll announce the winner on Saturday!

UPDATE: Thanks to all the entries in our first contest! We’ll do another one next month. We’re big fans of sea turtles around here, so Shauna’s entry won us over. Please check back for more book giveaways!

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