On Camp

 

DSC_1457Elijah is done with school in a few days; Remy has a couple of weeks left. Other than a week of Mummy Mania for Elijah, the summer is wide open for us.

Except for not. There will be swim lessons, piano lessons, bike rides, popsicle sucking, public transportation taking, museum exploring, trips to Richmond, our annual vacation to Cape Cod, visits from friends and family, and day trips to orchards.

Our days will be full and fun, but there is still a part of me that wishes my kids were going to experience summer camp the way I did.

I went to day camp from the time I was really little at Cat’s CAP at St.Catherine’s (my friend Google informed me that the camp has been renamed “Brilliant Summer Camp”). I absolutely loved it: the “courses” I took, the people I met, the independence I gained. It was such a mishmosh of activities and people that I went there year after year and then worked there for several years. Camp, though it was only for a month and a half each year, had a huge impact on me.

I still think fondly on some of the skills I learned at camp: how to knit, how to make vegetarian moussaka, how to choreograph a dance with a friend, how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to write a movie review, how to carve a totem pole with an exact-o knife along with a bunch of other 7 year olds (yes, really).

I met people who made their living as actors and dancers and a wide variety of other arts. Most of the adults I knew outside of camp were doctors or lawyers or professors or business people. There’s nothing wrong with those professions (I happen to love a good many people in each of those categories today), but meeting those diverse individuals at camp gave a certain validity to alternative career paths (one which, frankly, I think I knew from early on that I would be following).

I only talk to one or two of the people I went to camp with today. Most of them were summer friends who went to different schools or even lived in different cities during the school year. But I can still remember how Shelley introduced me to Tori Amos and how one of the dance instructors (whose name I can’t even recall) showed me how to do the lift from Dirty Dancing, transforming me from an awkward adolescent into a girl who could almost fly. Camp provided early and valuable life lessons: people float in and out of our lives, so enjoy the time you have got with them. With true friends, you can not see each other for months, even years, and then when you’re reunited, it’s as if no time ever passed.

There was such a magical, non-competitive innocence to camp in those days. It was way too early for computers and phones to impact us (or anyone really), so we talked and laid in the sun during lunch breaks, soaking up each other’s company. In the end, it didn’t matter than camp was only a few weeks, that not all of the friends returned each year, that so many of the courses we took had no direct bearing on our future lives but were merely an opportunity to explore. Actually, that was the point all along.

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Sleep away camp, now that was a whole different beast. And a story for a different day.

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Elijah at 7, and looking back

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He’s 7. Seven. I won’t bore you with how quickly time goes, even though it does. And I won’t complain about it the velocity with which my older child is growing-in bounding leaps mentally, physically, spiritually, every which way one could grow- because as fast as it is going (and man, it is heart-stoppingly quick), I will take it over the first few months of his life when time basically stood still.

Just-born Elijah. Look at how young Joe looks too!

Elijah was a “hard”, “difficult”, “fussy” baby. I knew, somewhere in the recesses of my sleep-deprived mind, that he wouldn’t always be non-verbal, non-mobile, the world’s worst sleeper, that he wouldn’t always want to be thisclose to me. But it didn’t make that first year any easier knowing that, and the beginnings of motherhood were basically nothing like I had hoped. There were tender moments of course, mostly while nursing. And as the months went on, and he giggled and began to love looking at books and rolling over and smiling that impish, irresistible grin, cracks of light pierced the darkness that I felt had descended over my life when he was born.

I never was diagnosed with post partum depression or anxiety (at the blessing of my ob, I took antidepressants for 2 nights then gave them because they left me unable to sleep despite the fact that I was, in every sense of the word, exhausted). But let me put it to you this way-my mental state during those first few months was not good, and I kept my head above water with the knowledge that time would indeed pass, even if then, the days felt unspeakably long.IMG_1110

I don’t think about that time that I wished away much anymore, definitely not every day, sometimes not for weeks. The feelings of inadequacy, the fear that held onto me for most of the early days of his life, the nagging sense that I had failed to make my baby happy bubble up now and then, usually when I am holding someone else’s baby and he or she is content or falls asleep easily in my arms. But those emotions are there, I think they’ll always be there, and in a way I have come to be thankful for them, because they keep me humble and because they make me appreciate the wonderful person Elijah has become.

When I was especially down, I tried to comfort myself with the idea that the qualities that were so frustrating at the time (his extremes in temperament, his determination to never fall asleep, his need for constant stimulation) would one day be admirable attributes: determination, passion for life, curiosity, an innate sensitivity and emotional awareness.

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He has all those things and so many more that I didn’t understand or couldn’t see he did: he is kind and thoughtful and helpful and tries so very hard to understand why people say and do certain things and how the world works.

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People say that becoming a parent is a leap of faith, and I didn’t really understand that before I became one (one of the dozens of things you can’t really understand until you have your own children). I had never had my faith tested in anything so close and personal before. I had to trust that the love and energy and attention and basically every ounce of my entire being that I was putting forth for this baby who I loved (but didn’t really like) would somehow make sense, would somehow be worth it.IMG_5995

Sometimes I mourn the idyllic early days of mothering an infant that I once imagined I would have. I didn’t get them, not with Elijah, nor with Remy, who I imagine was more capable of offering them, had she not been half a world away. But if I were to count my blessings (and I do, frequently), I know that even those early nearly impossible difficult days (and nights) strengthened our family and oddly forged a deep bond between all of us.

Somewhere between then and now, gradually and then in seemingly gargantuan advances, he became someone who I love to spend time with, who I actually want to hang out with, who loves to make me laugh, and who is brave and silly and curious and is always checking in on everyone to make sure they are “okay”.DSC_0781

He is almost up to my shoulders now, but he still loves to sit on my lap. He will read anything he can get his hands on (the other morning I came in to my bedroom and he was reading Beyond the Beautiful Forevers from my beside table!), but he still wants me to read to him every morning and every night and often in the middle of the day. He consistently beats me at chess, but he is careful to offer words of encouragement: “You had some really good strategy there, Mommy.”

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Seven years ago, I could not imagine being this grateful to witness the events, big and quotidian, in my children’s lives: writing their full names, crossing the monkey bars independently, riding their bikes, choosing kind words or actions at just the right time. Watching Elijah and Remy grow and develop and become their own people has been the joy of my life, and I do not take this time for granted, no matter how quickly it speeds past me.

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10 Kid-Friendly, Veg-Friendly Meals in West Philly for Under $10

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West Philly has about a bazillion places to eat, and many of them are friendly to vegetarians, vegans, people with a variety of dietary restrictions etc. Some members of our family eat fish, but most of our meals are plant-based. Luckily, finding great, kid-friendly restaurants close to home is easy. In no particular order, here are some of our favorite places to eat without even needing to jump into the car.

1. Honest Tom’s

Honest Tom’s is consistently delicious and fresh, and perfect for eating outside at the parklet. My favorite $10 meal? 2 sweet potato burritos from Honest Tom’s ($6.50) with a popsicle from Lil Pop Shop (usually coconut hibiscus) for dessert. Honest Tom’s black bean burritos (which run about $8) are belly bombs (in the best way)-you won’t even need dessert!

2. Manakeesh

My kids love manakeesh-their favorites are the egg and cheese and the nutella manakeesh (explain manakeesh). If you head over on $2 Tuesday, you can also grab a smoothie and the whole meal will still be less than 10 buckaroos. Joe and I also like the gluten-free platter, with hummus, babaganoush, falafel, and salad.

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3. Practically anything from a food truck

It’s pretty difficult to spend more than $10 at a food truck. My current faves: a gluten-free bagel from Schmear It (French-toast style), a giant fruit container from one of the fruit stands, or any of the yummy offerings from Magic Carpet.

4.Veggie side sampler from The Greek Lady

Oddly, I rarely ate from The Greek Lady when it was a food truck. As an undergrad, I usually ate ma po tofu from Kim’s or bella donna wrap from magic carpet. Anyways, the veggie side sample from the Greek Lady is an awesome deal for lunch or dinner, with a spanakopita (which gets donated to another family member as it’s not gluten-free), a little salad, and three of their yummy sides (such as spanakorizo, mushrooms, roasted potatoes, those yummy tomato-y green beans, etc). Their salads are also huge and totally delicious.

5. Hai Street Kitchen burrito

I am a sucker for rolled-up food, and Hai Street Kitchen fits the bill: it’s basically a giant Asian burrito. I like the salmon with brown rice and pickled red onions, pickled jicama, and green papaya salad, but there are all sorts of yummy fillings and toppings including a portobella mushroom (which I really wish wasn’t panko-crusted-gluten-free fail).

6. Mizu’s “smart lunch” special

Mizu’s smart lunch special is pretty awesome-16 pieces of a big variety of different types of sushi rolls, plus miso soup for less than $9.00. This is one of Elijah’s favorite lunch date spots-he keeps trying to top himself by ordering progressively more daring sushi rolls, but their selection of vegetarian ones is great.

7. Early bird specials with Asian flavor

Vientiane is my favorite restaurant in West Philly, and probably all of Philly, actually. I rarely order the same thing twice in a row, even though pretty much everything is so delicious-and I am never NOT in the mood for their naam salad. This cash-only BYOB has an early bird special that’s not to be missed-depending on what type of protein you order, you may go over $10, but it’s worth it. Thai Singha (in their new location) has a similar 3 course early bird special that is also quite delicious.

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8. Milkshake and fries

The Five dollar shake and an order of sweet potato fries at Hip City Veg is delish. An order of Shake Shack fries and a milkshake will set you back just about $10. I’m not advocating that this is actually a real meal, but sometimes, you (or ahem your children) just aren’t in the mood for anything else. For a slightly more well-rounded meal from HipCityVeg for 10 bucks, I often get the Caesar side salad and the sweet potato fries. Most of their burgers, salads, and sandwiches are under 10 dollars as well.

8. Rice noodle and rice bowls from Pho Cafe Saigon and Tampopo

When we want really, really fast food we come to Pho Saigon. It’s like they know what we are ordering even before we ordered it. My kids like the shrimp rice vermicelli bowl, I like the curry tofu and the rice flake roll with veggies. All under $10. We also often eat at Tampopo-either the bi bim bap, the rice bowl with veggies and tofu, or the jap chae with tofu.

10. Veggie combo from Abysinnia

Abysinna is conveniently located next to a semi-random Chinese place that my kids love (it has fake meat there). They prefer Han Dynasty, but that definitely doesn’t fit in the under $10 range (although their portions are very generous). So when they get Chinese or pizza from nearby, I usually order the veggie combo from Abyssinia. Unlike at Dahlak, another great Ethiopian restaurant in West Philly, you don’t really get a choice of your combo’s contents, but it is a filling and flavorful meal for 10 dollars. And it’s two blocks from my house, which is crucial.

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Nature break

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DSC_1260Flowers make me happy. I thought they might make you happy too. Carry on!

 

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2 Ingredient Chocolate Mousse and a Trip to the Zoo with Remy Roo

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This was not supposed to be a post about 2 ingredient chocolate mousse. I actually set out to make an ombre rose Mother’s Day cake as an Inhabitots post with 2 ingredient chocolate frosting. This is what my cake batter looked like before going in the oven:DSC_1217

I was definitely thinking, “Oh this whole ombre thing isn’t so hard; I should do it all the time. Lalala, I can’t wait to see how my pretty pink cakes turn out.” Well, this is how they turned out:DSC_1234WTH?? It’s like the heat of the oven ATE my all natural (very expensive) food coloring. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason WHY the cakes lost their color, but I don’t know it, because I only took chemistry in college because I had to in order to graduate, and I literally fell asleep in every single lecture I attended (which was not that many. It was a 9am class! I was a senior!). Ironically, Joe was a chem major, which just goes to show that opposites attract.

Needless to say, I had to scrap the Mother’s Day post, but I still felt like making something, so I made 2 ingredient chocolate mousse. I got the idea from another blog, although she uses almond milk, and I prefer the creamy lusciousness of straight up coconut milk. It’s so easy and awesome and rich and decadent. And versatile: just add a little more (a few Ttbsp) coconut milk than what I am recommending here and it makes a delicious frosting! I added some rosewater as well. You could add any flavor extract you like (mint would probably be really yummy)!
DSC_1219Here’s what you need:
10 oz chocolate chips (use dark and pretend like you are making the healthy choice!)
1 1/2 cups coconut milk

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Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler, swirling until smooth and melted through. While the chocolate is melting, prepare a large bowl with ice. The bowl needs to be big enough to fit the container with the melted chocolate. Add the coconut milk to the melted chocolate and swirl some more to mix. Place that bowl into the bowl filled with ice.DSC_1223Blend away using a handheld mixer. Beat until the mixture firms up and becomes creamy. It will firm up in the fridge as well, but you don’t want it to be too loose. I blended it for about 4 minutes until it looked like this:
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Scoop or spoon the mousse into individual containers, cover, and chill in the fridge for at least a few hours (but they’ll stay good for several days). Makes 8-10 delicious servings. Top with coconut whipped cream, candied flowers, coconut, chocolate shavings, cinnamon, etc. DSC_1233

And here’s a little glimpse into our most recent trip to the zoo.

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My favorite small mammal in front of the small mammal house.DSC_1204
I let Remy borrow a camera for this trip. She took approximately 1,000 photos. Here she is freaking out over a tiny cat of some sort. I know it’s probably a vicious beast that could tear our heads off, but it was so small and cute and looked just like a house cat.DSC_1209 2

One of the coolest exhibits at the zoo just opened: it’s called Junk Rethunk. The artists mostly work with recycled materials. This crocodile (or is it an alligator? I always forget the difference) is made out of gum. The artist’s statement reflected that the artist (some Italian dude) prefers working with warm gum, so apparently being a chewing gum artist is a real thing. Seriously, though, look at the freaking detail!

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I loved this guy too. The gorilla area is always amazing and kind of freaky to me. When they look you in the eyes, I just want to shout, “We share like 97% of the same DNA!!” DSC_1166

The flowers were blooming everywhere while we were there. So beautiful! It was a lovely day with a lovely girl. I swear, doing practically anything with Remy is so. much. fun. It is such a gift to be around someone who just lights up the world simply by traipsing through it. Now, go make some 2 ingredient chocolate mousse and have a lovely Mother’s Day!DSC_1187DSC_1163DSC_1170

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Spring Break 2015: The Cliff’s Notes Version

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Obviously, I’ve been a little lazy on the old bloggy blog lately. And that it unlikely to change. But here are some highlights from our recent Spring Break adventures:

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I headed to NYC on a Friday for some bridal shower/bachelorette action. We ate dinner at a yummy place in the West Village (Piadino) and then celebrated Miss Aliza at her friend’s totally gorgeous loft with one of the yummiest cakes ever (it was basically rose-flavored whipped cream and custardy goodness), Vosges chocolates, and some amazing, beautiful treats from the hostess’s sister, who owns a customized cookies/dipped berries/cake pops business. How cool are they??

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In the morning, we went to the Hudson Valley and stayed at a B & B in Cold Spring. What a cute little town with some really sweet stores including loads of places to buy antiques. It was a lovely, languid, relaxing weekend with some of Aliza’s besties.

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On Sunday morning, I went back to NYC to meet up with my little family. We ate a totally random and super delicious Greek place (Dafne’s? It’s the unassuming and super yummy place across from the Port Authority terminal), and then went to see Aladdin. Aladdin was such a great introduction to Broadway: super kid-friendly, visually stunning, much funnier than the movie version, etc. I feel so so very fortunate to be able to bear witness to so many of my children’s “firsts”. I remember going to see Starlight Express when I was around E’s age, and it was just awesome.

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We stayed in Times Square, which is something I have avoided like the plague my entire life, but with kids, it totally makes sense. Just looking out the window of our hotel was endlessly entertaining.

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It’s also close to the M & M store (Remy’s favorite part of the entire vacation) and the giant Toys R Us with the ferris wheel inside it (which Remy and Joe rode).

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The next morning we met Aliza and went to the much anticipated Museum of Natural History. Our kids have watched Night at the Museum a million times, and they were a little disappointed that the museum didn’t have EVERYTHING that was in the movie (and E was pretty bummed that they didn’t have any Egyptian stuff). They did like the African mammals and of course, the giant hanging whale, which is really cool.

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Per Auntie Lizie’s magical connections, we then went to the Met, which did, in fact, house LOTS of cool Egyptian artifacts, including sarcophagi, pottery, and more hieroglyphics than you can shake a stick at. After a much needed midday rest at Auntie Lizie and Rich’s apartment, we took the subway downtown to Chinatown in search of the perfect fan (on Remy’s wish list for months) and our favorite vegan dim sum. Below is Elijah’s fish market dance.

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Back in Philly, we hung out, went to the mini golf course at Franklin Square and over to Joe’s favorite place in Philly for kids-Smith Playground. I am pretty sure my kids would be here every day if Joe was the primary caregiver in our family 🙂 It was a nice, warm day (one of the first this “spring”) so people were out in droves.

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On Saturday, we went out the mountain to meet our new niece/cousin Baby Izzy! She is such a sweetheart and a super cozy, chill baby. Nana set up an Easter egg hunt as well as egg dyeing for the kids, both of which were big hits. Those lucky ducks had a second Easter egg hunt on Sunday with some more of out favorite relatives before we came back home and returned to the real world.

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First Grade Book Club

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Around this time last year I posted on Elijah’s favorite kindergarten reads. We’re long overdue for an update, so here’s a list of what we’ve been reading recently as well as Elijah’s own reviews.

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The World According to Humphrey

The first of this series was on a Barnes and Noble list of free book options if you handed in a form with a review of 10 books that your child had read over the summer. Anyways, there was a cute hamster on the cover, so that’s the book we picked. Elijah loved this series, and now has an obsession with hamsters and getting his own. Told from the point of view of a classroom hamster, the Humphrey books are charming while simultaneously handling more substantive issues. Humphrey observes family dynamics, peer relationships, and a variety of personalities in the classroom in a very approachable way to kids.

Elijah’s review: I think Humphrey is very helpful, and I think he is also very cute. I personally like all the names of the books, and I like the kids’ names, and also I just think the series is really cool.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda series

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and the other 6 books have literally dictated the course of Elijah’s year. He and some of his school buddies spent weeks and weeks folding origami, they played “origami yoda” during recess, started an origami club, etc. The series is actually about a group of middle-schoolers, but there are only a few instances (mostly dealing with language) that I felt were slightly inappropriate. Overall, we all really enjoyed the series and have read them in their entirety twice. The series is very creative; the storyline is told in “case files” as the kids, who are all underdogs/”nerds”/socially awkward to some extent, navigate middle school life: crushes, academics, Standards of Learning tests, standing up for what and who you believe in. One of the characters contributes illustrations to the case files, and some of them are laugh-out-loud funny. One of my favorite aspects of the series is that one of the main characters (the one who creates the first origami yoda and sets off the action of the story) is Dwight, a boy who is on the autism spectrum (although undiagnosed, just as author Tom Angelberger says he is). His character exhibits strange behaviors, says odd things, etc, yet he is so insightful and empathetic. The characters are well-developed, interesting, and we really enjoyed watching them grow. Plus, the books really motivated Elijah to try out origami.

Elijah’s review: I like the kids that have the origami puppets, and I personally like Origami Yoda and Dwight. I like Dwight because he is always getting into trouble, and he is really funny and he’s always folding things.

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 Ninja Meerkats

Not my favorite of Elijah’s book series, but I can only blame myself since I chose it (for Elijah’s love of karate/ninjas). The 8 books in the series follow a clan of (surprise) ninja-adept meerkats around the world as they attempt to stop the villain the Ringmaster. The books are pretty silly, but they move quickly and include some mediocre jokes and wordplay. We are on our third time going through the entire series (heaven help me).

Elijah’s review: I like the four ninjas a lot. I like when they go into battle with the Ringmaster. I think the Ringmaster’s clowns are really funny.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The size of this was slightly intimidating (500 plus pages), but it came highly recommended. Hugo is actually an incredibly fast read, both because the writer keeps the storyline moving at a good clip and also because numerous pages are illustrations. The illustrations aren’t designed, however, to complement the story; rather they move it along in a very appealing and visual way. I saw the movie several years ago, but I found the book even more touching.

Elijah’s review: I liked Hugo, and I like Georges Melies because, in the end, he became nice and rescued Hugo from being in prison for a while. I really liked the book because I liked the pictures, they were very beautiful. I also liked them because they were very old-fashioned and in black and white.

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Harry Potter

We started Harry Potter several months ago, and it was the classic case of too-much-parent-excitement build-up. Joe and I were basically begging him to let us read it to him. We dressed him as a golden snitch for his first Halloween, for crying out loud. He actually got super into it…until the end. We never finished the last few pages because Elijah was really disturbed by the fact that Harry had to stand up to Professor Quirrell/Voldemort by himself. He kept saying, “Maybe someone else, like one of his friends, could show up and be there with him. WHY isn’t anyone else with him?” (I’ll pass your notes along to Ms.Rowling, buddy). So we summarized what happened in the last two chapters, and he seemed satisfied, but book 2 is just chilling in his bookcase.

Elijah’s review: I like Harry a lot, and I was really surprised when I found out that he was really a wizard. I didn’t read the end.

Calvin and Hobbes

Joe literally owns every single Calvin and Hobbes book ever published. Elijah is sometimes reticent to read to us, and he will begrudgingly read the A-Z mystery books or other books he brings home in his backpack, but Joe and I do most of the reading for all of the above books (although Elijah liked to read a fair amount in the Origami Yoda Series). I recently decided to try having him read comics just to mix up the media a bit and offer another way of “looking” at reading. They are a fun way to get reading in, but they aren’t overwhelming (we often alternate reading frames or cells or whatever those things that divide up the comics are called). Some of the concepts are a little over Elijah’s head, but they are generally amusing to read, and they offer some challenging vocabulary words.

Elijah’s review: I like Calvin and Hobbes because Calvin is really funny, and Hobbes is always commenting about Calvin’s funny ideas.

Happy reading, y’all!

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