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November 25, 2020

The Seasons of My Life

Back in the Day

I have outgrown picture books…again.

Which I feel nervous even writing. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, and all that jazz, and I have learned through my interest in kids’ books over the last eleven years that those who create these books can be a bit sensitive about their work, about its relegation to the world of childish things. Wonderful children’s literature appeals to readers of all ages, and readers who restrict themselves to a certain age group (or genre, etc.) are missing out. All of this is true.

But it’s nothing not-nice that I’m trying to say here. Instead, it’s a matter of practicality. That for a long time, picture books were my primary way of engaging with my children and this opened up whole worlds to me, and some of those worlds seemed as real as the one I walk around in every day—but time makes you bolder and children get older, and I’m getting older too?

We still read them sometimes. Iris is only seven and we have so many great books on our shelves that all of us enjoy, books we can recite by heart. There are picture books in our library I’ll never be able to part with, and yet—we’re reading them less and less. I used to blog about picture books weekly, but now I hardly do. Everybody in our family is firmly into chapter books now, books we read on our own and the ones we read together. Picture books don’t have the same integral place in our daily life that they once did.

And none of this is remarkable. Children outgrow a lot of things, and families do too. We used to go on road trips listening to the same CD on repeat, this song with a barking dog in the chorus, because Iris cried in the car otherwise, and we don’t do that anymore. I used to get a big kick out of reading Go Dog Go in ridiculous accents, but these days the dog party is over.

But I feel a little bit disloyal, admitting to giving up on my allegiance to picture books. Or rather, moving on from it—although the new frontier, for me, is middle grade and also graphic novels, and I’m getting the same pleasure from relating to Harriet through some of the novels she’s reading as I once did when we used to examine the illustrations in Allan and Janet Ahlberg’s Peepo together, her gummy baby fingers pointing out the dog in the corner that shouldn’t be there. But I’m also trying to give her space to develop her own relationship with books and reading, one that has nothing to do with me.

And this is what happens, of course, the way things come and go. And how when they go, new things grow up in their place, which I keep reminding myself of in these moments of unprecedented change and upheaval. As businesses shut down in my neighbourhood and city and it’s enough to drive one to despair sometimes, the extent of the loss, all of it so overwhelming and hard. But even harder is trying to hold on to it all.

(And remember: a blog needs space to grow and room to wander!)

It’s okay to grow. It’s okay to change. It’s okay to change again, is what I’m thinking, and for the thing that used to define you so much and mean everything to become a spot of the horizon. And those things we loved will always be a part of who we are, because of the way that we wouldn’t have become ourselves without them.

September 17, 2019

Waffles, Waffles, Waffles

A baking pan heaped with waffles. Photograph.

One of the things I am most proud of and amazed at having accomplished in my life is a Baby Book for my second-born child. I was never going to be a perfect mother, and being a second child definitely would inevitably suck in all kinds of ways (secondhand snowsuits, no one appreciating the miraculousness of things like you knowing how to roll over, and basically not being bathed for two years) but at least she was going to have a Baby Book, a record of those precious blurry days. Though it was less of a burden for me to assemble than it might have been for other mothers of two—her elder sister was all the way to four by then, and I also spent the first three months of her life on co-parenting duty instead of struggling alone because my husband had taken parental leave, which meant time for naps, and books, and writing down all the things that we’d never remember.

When Iris was two, I added a whole page of notes to the Baby Book, though she was not a baby anymore. But it seemed like there were more things worth remembering then, once she was able to speak, and her remarkable personality had formed. “Things Iris Says,” was how I’d titled this page, along with the date, and I turned to this page just the other day when Iris had brought her Baby Book down from the shelf (and how glad I am that she has a Baby Book, that I bothered to put the effort in. Both my children are so fascinated with their baby selves, and will look at all records of their early periods in a way that’s inexhaustible).

“Things Iris Says,” I read aloud, excited to see what forgotten treasures might emerge from this time capsule, but then. Oh. Almost everything that Iris said when she was two had basically found its way into our family vernacular, and it’s how we all talk all the time now. (Perhaps when I say “we all,” I just mean me.) “Atcheam,” for ice-cream, and “fuff-eye” instead of “butterfly.” And “ra-see-see-wah” for rice krispie square. But then Iris is a little bit like this, in our family as well as in her own peer group. Totally weird, completely absurd, and at first, we’re like, “What are you doing?” And then it doesn’t take long before we’re doing it too.

But really, I want to talk about Teen Titans and waffles. Not that I have actually ever watched Teen Titans Go, but it’s Iris’s favourite show, and somehow without me ever having actually watched it, it’s seeped into my DNA, and I think it’s also the inspiration behind what became our family’s new year’s resolution for 2019, which was Get a Waffle Maker. Part of our pattern of Keep the Stakes Low to Avoid Disappointment. If you package up all your dreaming in the hopes of picking up a secondhand waffle maker from Value Village for $6, things are probably going to work out fine.

Get a Waffle Maker became our family dream because there is a song from Teen Titans Go about waffles—like most things about Teen Titans Go, it’s catchy and also extremely annoying. I am also very impressionable, particularly when it comes to glutinous goods, and so eventually, I had waffles on the brain, perpetually. We got our waffle maker sometime in January, which means our annual goal was achieved, and as a family we could just sit back and relax and be delighted by having accomplished what we set out to do. And make waffles every Sunday.

The waffle maker has been a game changer. I used to make pancakes every Sunday, and they were good, but lots of work, and also results would vary. But now the waffle maker does all the work for me, in way less time, and all I need to do is pour the batter in and then read the newspaper and drink my tea while waiting for the light to turn green—so simple. I am partial to Smitten Kitchen’s Buttermilk Waffle recipe. I am also partial to adding poppyseeds and millet to everything. Waffles, waffles, waffles, indeed. I love them, their taste, and neat geometry, and how leftovers could be turned into cream cheese jam sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunches, and all the places where our children’s preoccupations take us.

Even if just to the appliance section at the secondhand store. Hooray for being goal-oriented.

June 7, 2018

but it’s your existence I love you for…

“… but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.” —Marilyn Robinson, Gilead

My children turned nine and five in the least week and a half, which is exciting, because this is the only year in which their ages accord with the title of a 1980 feminist film starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda. And as they get older, it becomes harder (and less necessary, it seems) to encapsulate their respective beings in a blog post—but also it gets easier to to find joy and wonder in everything they do (except the annoying things, which is no small percentage of the total, but still). They are two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and they fill our home with light, song, and messiness, they each tend to blow my mind at least three times daily, and it is the greatest privilege of my life to get to live with them and watch them grow. And yes, I will miss them—and their crumbs—very much when they’re gone. But we’ve got a while until then…

June 4, 2017

Iris is Four

The most remarkable thing about Iris turning four (tomorrow!) is that she will be the same age that Harriet was when Iris was born. A crazy milestone, first that we’ve never had a four-year-old without a newborn, so this is a new kind of unencumbrance. And also how strange it is that we thought Harriet was so old at the age of four, whereas Iris will forever be the baby, never mind all the incredible things she does—writing her letters, knowing her numbers, drawing pictures, making up songs, and all kinds of other things her sister didn’t do at the same age. When Harriet went to kindergarten, I recall being mildly troubled because she never drew, never mind all the crayons and paper we had around the house, and how she was only interesting in using her scissors to cut the paper into little tiny pieces, and I wondered if she was drawing delayed…all of which is to say that I have always been a bit neurotic. But still, Iris will head off to kindergarten with all kinds of skills already and she’s going to learn more. We’re currently reading Ramona The Pest in order to get kindergarten-going top-of-mind and she keeps waiting for the moment when she’ll finally learn to read and write, and I’ve got a feeling that for Iris it’s not so long in coming.

These little check-ins with the people my children are are more precious than I ever realize when I write them, which I only ever realize when I go back and read them, like this one from last March. Harriet is fairly familiar, but Iris has been eleveneen people since then. And so it’s useful to sit down and note the particulars of this moment, of Iris at four. Iris, who gets a bad rap as our family mischief maker (and I have a distinct memory of cleaning crayon off the wall this morning) but who might deserve more credit than we give her—her teacher has wonderful things to say about her as a student, a leader, and a friend. She is well-liked by her classmates and they fight over who gets to sit next to her at snack time, which is good because at our house that’s kind of the booby prize. But see, I’m doing it again. Iris is notorious. She has the most curious facial expressions, and verbal expressions. She is the opposite of sugar and spice and all things nice, although she can be really nice. She gives incredible hugs and is not so big that she doesn’t like sitting on people. At Harriet’s swim class she sits on my lap and I hold her, smelling her hair, reading a magazine together, and I’m thinking it’s not going to be much longer before I never hold anybody like this again.

She loves pink and purple, and Taylor Swift. She likes to dance and do whatever her sister is doing, although she always wants to play the  game longer than anyone else does. She sleeps in her own bed now, in the room she shares with her sister and on the best mornings we come downstairs and hear them in there talking together. She talks about poo all the time, so much so that it’s not remotely funny, but she’s amusing herself. She likes hotdogs, but not the bun, and spaghetti, but not the sauce, and pizza, but only disassembled, plain dough and a pile of grated cheese. She can make games out of anything—a pile of pebbles, some pencils, Thomas the Tank Engine Trains and the game is always that one is the daddy, the other is the mommy, and the third pebble/pencil/tank engine is the baby. She can sing the alphabet, but only up to TUV and then she skips the rest. Recently she’s been telling us all over and again how boy tigers have hair and girl tigers have no hair, we don’t feel the need to correct her, re. manes and lions. She likes to make presents for Harriet. She’s partial to walking around the house muttering “for god’s sake,” apropos of nothing. She likes to help with baking, and she really is helpful. She climbs up on everything, and it’s kind of terrifying, so we close our eyes and/or look the other way. She’s the most physically coordinated member of our family, although that’s not saying much. But still. We love her. She’s awesome. Our funny looking baby who spent her early days resembling a dinosaur, and now she’s living proof that all of us and she herself have come a long long way.

December 1, 2016

Swimming Lessons: Addendum

img_20161014_145046Full disclosure necessitates I update you on how things have proceeded since I read about exiting Guardian Swim and the beginning of my new career reading on the poolside. I thought I was being so clever this time, not keeping my child in Guardian Swim until she was five, which was what happened last time. Never again was I going to have my school-age child in the same swimming class as an infant, and so Iris was enrolled in Sea Turtle. This time we were going to do it right, and it was so right, for the first two lessons, at least. Iris is part mermaid and was happily floating on her back, and she had the most excellent swimming instructor in the entire history of our life in recreational programs…and then, for absolutely no reason, when we arrived at class for Week 3, Iris refused to get into the pool. And there we’ve been ever since, Iris screaming whenever forced to come into contact with the water, turning her body into a plank or a noodle, whichever would prove most inconvenient. And when you’re a parent who’s been expecting to spent 30 minutes reading poolside, the prospect of a screaming kid refusing to enter the pool is most frustrating. There was swearing.

Last week was the second last class, and there was finally progress. Iris got in the pool, but in order for this to happen I had to be crouching at the pool’s edge, basically sitting in a puddle and being splashed whenever anyone practiced kicking. There was no reading.

All of which is to say that this underlines my growing suspicion that there is really no way to do parenthood right. No matter how you swing things, they’re probably always going to be a bit annoying.

June 5, 2016

Iris is Three

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Our baby is three, which means she isn’t a baby. It’s her first time having a birthday where she’s aware of the occasion. “Is it my birthday?” she kept asking. “Right now?” We’re well tuned to birthdays at the moment because Harriet’s was just ten days ago, and it makes me think of the year that Iris turned one and one of her first words turned out to be “happy” because for about a month, it seemed like we sang Happy Birthday to You to someone every second day or so. But now she is three, and strings words together like beads on a string, and she’s got her own stories to tell—about her friends at school, and who pushed who, and who cried because there were raisins in the muffin at snack. She’s got her own little world that’s hers alone, and so staunchly belongs to it, and to herself, and she is quite unaware that this hasn’t always been the case. She knows that we were nothing before her. (“Thank you for coming to live with us,” I like to tell her, and I mean it.) As I was typing the preceding sentence, we heard Iris upstairs muttering to herself and then a thump as she climbed out of her crib and landed on the floor, the worst kind of thud shortly followed by the wailing, and this is what she’s like, reaching beyond her limits, trying to do it all herself, brave enough to jump, to climb. A human whirligig, and she’s fierce and maddening and rude and impetuous and she’ll bite you if you’re her sister, but we love her. We can’t help it. We fall for her charms, because she’s funny and smart and more stubborn than all of us put together, and we can’t stop trying to fathom her, even after it seems there is really no point. The way she ends conversations by saying, “See you next Monday!” and saying, “Pooks,” or when she scampers over, breathes in your ear, and whispers, “I burpted.” We like to joke that she’d be excellent on twitter, because she’s very good at outrage, always screaming at somebody. She likes to read the comic books her sister loves, never mind that she can’t read the words yet. At the moment, all she eats is cereal for breakfast and bagels and cream cheese of lunch, which is annoying but better than nothing. She loves Taylor Swift and singing, “Dancing on my own, has a very very mo,” which aren’t the right lyrics, I don’t think, but she isn’t bothered. Much of the time she is very very good, but when she is bad she is horrid. She used to have a charming three-tiered toy cake stand, until she smashed it in a rage, and that is Iris. Who is also excellent at baking—when she “helps” she actually does. She is much beloved by Harriet’s classmates and is quite accustomed to be being made a fuss of. She likes to dance, and play with her dolls, and draw pictures, and play whatever game her sister happens to be playing—though she can outplay her sister for hours these days, much to her frustration. Iris is kind and loving, and has a good time with her friends at school. When people are sad, she tries to comfort them. She can walk so far without slowing down. She can “read” Go Dog Go and the Elephant and Piggie books. She is fearless, full of fire, and we can learn a lot from her. If she doesn’t kill us first.

March 13, 2016

We did it.

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“WE DID IT. WE FUCKING MADE IT. AND LOOK AT HOW AMAZING THESE GIRLS ARE? LOOK AT HOW MIRACULOUS AND INTERESTING AND SMART AND FUNNY AND WILD AND BRILLIANT THESE BABES BE!? AND SOME DAYS ARE REALLY FUCKING HARD. AND SOME DAYS ARE REALLY FUCKING BEAUTIFUL. AND ALL OF THE DAYS… EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM ARE WORTH IT. THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN WORTH IT.” —Rebecca Woolf, Girl’s Gone Child

I never had twins (thank goodness; one baby at a time absolutely pushed me to my limits) but the post from which I quote above really resonated with me. Iris turns two-and-three-quarters next month, which means her third birthday’s on the horizon, and we’ve recently given up diapers, some days we don’t need a nap, she (usually) behaves perfectly well in a restaurant, and today we all went out for afternoon tea. For no occasion, and yet it seems like all the occasions—my novel is finished and gone into copyedits; Stuart (hopefully!) becomes Canadian next week; it’s March Break; how doesn’t like celebrating return from a tropical locale with a lavish lunch. And because Iris is finally old enough to partake. We’re about to leave the baby years behind us, and I can’t think of a better reason to celebrate than that, the future unfolding as it should.

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We never could have dreamed up Iris—she’s a full fledged mould breaker, hilarious, mischievous, irascible, loving, kind, silly and always paying attention. If you ask her anything, she’ll answer you: “Pooks.” We don’t know what pooks is, the definition ever-shifting, whatever is convenient to hang it on. She loves her sister, reading Go Dog Go and talking about nipples. She likes exclaiming, “Goodness gracious,” when she’s not saying, “Pooks.” She knows more about immigration than most two-year-olds: “Daddy’s going to be a Canadian,” she says. “I’m a Canadian already.” She is a favourite pet of Harriet’s classmates and happily ensconced in a class of her own at playschool, where she plays in drama, paints pictures, learns songs and stories. Her favourite thing is singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. She still likes to climb up onto the table and jump up and down. If she’s hungry, she can be trusted to go fetch a snack, no matter how (seemingly) unattainable that snack might be. She likes reading picture books and gets annoyed when we read books without pictures, goes and throws toys on the floor to get our attention. When she does something wrong, most of the time she is willing to say sorry, but always follows up her apology by asking, “And you say, ‘It okay, Iris,’ okay?”

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Harriet will very soon be six-and-three-quarters, which was the age I was at when I discovered there was such a thing as fractions. She will forever to us seem old and wise, just as Iris is forever little, and part of the pleasure I take in the prospect of Iris’s third year was all the fun we had the summer that Harriet was that age, when all at once the days were longer and the world was bigger and we could do almost anything. But she was so little then, I realize now, particularly compared to where she is today. She is bright and articulate and forthright and ambitious, and imagines that she can make anything at all. When she grows up, she wants to be a scientist or a rock star, although she’s leaning toward the former. She loves Taylor Swift, and dancing, and identifies as a feminist. Yesterday we were at Value Village sorting through t-shirts, and I held up one that said, “Girls Rock.” “Okay,” she said. “I mean, it’s what I believe.” She is strong and brave and loves heroic tales of awesome girls. Though she also loves Archie Comics and Betty and Veronica, so she contains multitudes. She’s nuts about the Amulet series, the Narnia books (when girls are in the story), is still more partial to graphic novels than novels proper, and is determined to invent a series of feminist superheroes who do not necessarily fight for justice in their underpants.

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We went shopping yesterday, because what better way to mark the explosion of crocuses across the street than buying shoes for our children’s ever growing feet. It was our biannual expedition to the world of commerce, with purchases of nightgowns too and suburban dinner at chain restaurant (with Jello for dessert!), always a big occasion—we get to drive in a car and everything. Plus a stop at Value Village for amazing clothes for growing girls, which was really an excuse to go on a mug-hunt, but the pickings were slim in the kitchenware dept. Alas. We got what we went for though, and I will never cease to be grateful that we can afford shoes for our children—rain-boots, sneakers and sandals too, which is a small bundle. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to struggle for that, but nor can I imagine how we got here after all—to be grown people who buy small children tiny new shoes year after year, though they become less tiny with every season.

January 5, 2016

Lottie: Empowering Girls from Outer Space

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We discovered Lottie Dolls over a year ago, and their premise intrigued me. A proper alternative to Barbie, designed to empower girls and their play. I wrote about them here (and check out the pictures! Iris was still a baby! Harriet was so little). It could have been a one-time thing, but I return to Lotties because now it’s my girls who are crazy about them. They’re the one toy, along with Legos, that gets returned to again and again, and they play with them together, which I love so much. We have five or six of them, and received more for Christmas, along with two new Lottie outfits, including the Superhero Lottie suit shown above, which has proven very popular—this is the one Lottie who never gets her clothes changed. When Harriet and Iris received Christmas money from their grandfather last week, they knew what they wanted to buy with it—more Lotties. And so we’re currently awaiting Rockabilly Lottie and Spring Celebration Ballet Lottie in the mail, expected delivery scheduled for tomorrow. Everybody is very excited.

Though we’ve also got our eye on Stargazer Lottie, who was sold out from Indigo.ca when we made our order last week. (Darn!). Like all the Lottie dolls, she’s designed around what she can do and be rather than how she looks (although admittedly, once they’re indoctrinated into Harriet’s play, the Lottie dolls also take on peculiar new identities…) I was so interested to read this post about how Stargazer Lottie was designed in consultation with an astronomer, and even more thrilled to learn that a Stargazer Lottie doll was currently in space with British astronaut Tim Peake on the International Space Station.

And most remarkable? That none of this would have happened at all without a six-year-old girl from Comox, British Columbia, who helped dream up the Stargazer Lottie doll. I showed the video below to Harriet who had her mind blown, and then went to put on her own dress with a space print and proceeded to have her head in the stars for the rest of the day, totally inspired.

November 4, 2015

Butterflies

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As much as I cherish the feeling of my children’s hands in mine, I do so love watching them race ahead of me down the sidewalk. I love their freedom, speed, their unfettered exuberance, the possibility that their feet might indeed sprout wings. Their sense of entitlement that this world, this city, is open to them. And I like trusting too that they’ll know to stop at the corner. Every time.

IMG_20151031_165340 (1)But there was something remarkable about watching them fly down the sidewalk on Saturday, Halloween, butterfly wings billowing out behind them, colourful spans. The most low-maintenence costumes in our family history of Halloweens—we had one pair of wings already, and borrowed the other from our cousin. We made antennae out of pipe-cleaners, styrofoam balls, and headbands. Ordinary clothes beneath. I was terrified that all this would backfire the night before and Harriet would decide that what she really wanted to be was a fiery glittery invisible incandescent humdingermabobber. Or Elsa. But she didn’t. And whatever Harriet wanted to be, Iris wanted to be too.

Butterflies are special to us. We can trace this back to ancient times, when Iris was a small baby and was given a dress with a butterfly print that was designed to become a shirt as baby grew. As Iris is small, it’s possible she’ll be wearing it forever. She loves it, and calls it her fuff-eye shirt, and now we all call butterflies fuff-eyes because  this is what happens when you live with a two-year-old. And obviously, we like to read about them also.

We love love love Julie Worsted’s How To, which has a real butterfly or two, but also has a girl in fuff-eye wings on the “how to go fast” page. (From experience, I can say that wings are an excellent suggestion.)

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Then there is Elly McKay’s Butterfly Park, about gardens and community, and mostly about McKay’s exquisite illustrations, which my children get lost in.

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It’s also been a pleasure to revisit Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, a book we bought in July when gardening fever was at its height.

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Autumn seemed a long way off then, so we’re re-reading it now with entirely new eyes—even if the butterflies are gone.

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And butterflies always have been more than a little bit fleeting, haven’t they? Inherently ephemeral.

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One of my favourite butterfly books is Bye Bye Butterflies, by our friend Andrew Larsen, which came out just before Harriet started preschool. And I’ve always linked the story to our own experience, in two ways. One, that this was a book about a kid going to school for the very first and beginning to make his way in the world—it was amazing to be on the cusp of that. And also that Charlie’s adventure caring for the butterflies was analogous to our own lives as parents. That these amazing, ever-changing creatures are only with us for a very short time before they find their wings and fly away—an achievement that makes us “a little happy and a little sad all at once.” Which is true.

But, yes, how joyful is watching them soar.

September 22, 2015

The Day the Crayons Came Home

The Day the Crayons Came Home

True confession: I don’t love The Day the Crayons Came Home, by Drew Daywelt and Oliver Jeffers, quite as much as I loved its predecessor, The Day the Crayons Quit. The premise is the same but it’s just not as fresh. However my children are quite nuts for the book, and during the first few days after we bought it, Harriet insisted on taking it to bed every night. So when I heard about Small Print TO’s Crayon Creator’s Club event this weekend, I knew we had to be there.

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And so on Saturday morning, we headed down to The Lillian Smith Library (which is the most special twenty-year-old building in the universe) and my children posed with the enormous crayons adorning the entrance. We were able to buy a copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon (can you believe we didn’t have it yet) and listened to the story, before the children were let loose to do some purple crayon-ing of their own. (We also learned that Harold actually grew up to be a graffiti artist, ala Bansky.)

After that, we reassembled for The Day the Crayons Came Home, which is about Duncan’s crayons that have been lost, abandoned or broken over the years—left behind on holidays, stuck between couch cushions, puked up by the dog. In the end [SPOILER ALERT] Duncan welcomes his colouring implements home by building them a crayon fort that meets all their special needs now that they’re in altered states. And then each of the children got to work constructing a crayon fort of her or his own.

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Next up: the door prize. Guess who was quite thrilled to win a crayon that is taller than she is? (And she doesn’t mind in the slightest that it doesn’t actually colour. If it were made of wax, it would have been even to carry home than it already was.)

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All in all, it was a most rewarding morning at one of our favourite places. We posed out by one of the gryphons for posterity.

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And speaking of Lillian H. Smith and crayons, I’m quite excited about the All the Libraries colouring book by Daniel Rotsztain, coming next month from Dundurn Press, featuring drawings of every single Toronto Public Library Branch for your colouring pleasure. You can learn more about the project and see some drawings here.

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