Once a year we drag out our large box of unique book reports that my daughters began compiling over a decade ago. Why would we revisit a crate full of elementary- and middle-school book reports so often? Because they aren’t chicken-scratch-filled, wide-ruled papers exuding uninteresting details of easy-reader books that no one will ever read again. They’re origami ocean creatures, Shrinky Dink Anne Shirleys, mini Sculpey clay cakes that announce “Eat Me,” and many other handmade Christmas ornaments reminiscent of characters, scenes, and our favorite quotes from classic books we’ve read together over the years.
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Now that it was time to take down our leaf-filled Thankful Tree, we were eager to make the trek to unearth our Reading Tree… the trek into the belly of the barn’s attic. It was dim and cold, and the smell of hay made my nose itch. I tripped over a few field hockey sticks, stubbed my boot on a steel bucket, and rammed my head into a low, hand-hewn beam before we finally found what we were looking for: an artificial tree and an unassuming black plastic storage box, with a gray lid labeled “Reading Tree” in elementary-school penmanship. (I should explain, this is not our “real” tree. We will go to pick that out in a few days, and that one will smell of evergreen and take “center stage” in our home. But the Reading Tree is our family’s first step into Christmas each year–starting with one little corner and branching out from there.)
I lugged the tree, in the tattered cardboard box, down the back, narrow stairs, careful to navigate around the sports equipment this time. I unbent and assembled the pathetic, thin, plastic sapling. (I found the woeful excuse for a tree on clearance for a few dollars a decade ago. I like that it’s sparse and thin and fits in any nook where I want to squeeze it.) The girls pulled out boxes labeled “Island of the Blue Dolphin,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Where the Red Fern Grows,” and more.
My now-adult and teen daughters sat cross legged on the floor and spilled over their childhood creations and talked of the characters they fell in love with when dolls, and bikes, and painted rocks were their whole world.
There were hand-sewn Karana and Ramo dolls, simple raffia “kelp,” and Shrinky Dink flamingos.
Hand-cut speech bubbles filled with vocab the girls learned when reading Greek myths started alighting on branches before I even had the plastic green arms unfolded.
Construction paper hearts with clumsy writing itemizing favorite quotes from Alice in Wonderland perched on limbs, and my 12-year-old talked of how she might design Johnny Tremain and Bronze Bow ornaments before next year while she wrapped a playing-card-and-fishing-wire garland around the twinkling lights and green plastic branches.
Truth is, a decade worth of four daughters’ unique book reports would require a much larger, fatter tree to house them all, so every year’s Reading Tree is a little different, showcasing only a portion of all the unique book reports they’ve enjoyed making over the years.
Admiring this year’s Reading Tree, I remember many long hours so many years ago when little hands fashioned these ornaments and I wondered then if the afternoons were wasted on activities so “non-academic.” But the elementary grammar pages have never left our attic since they were boxed away and sent there, and we certainly never pour over the tomes of math papers with exuberance still today. No, not many elementary-school activities or middle-school reports can inspire the kind of conversations that filled our home last night, plus not many would look so pretty. Yes, there are a few BHAGs–or on-going (maybe never-ending) projects, like Our Backyard Book and our Reading Tree, that I will always know are indeed the products of time very well spent.
What are some of your cherished family projects that you’re spending time on these days?
This Post Has 6 Comments
mistie10 Dec 2015
Wow! I have never heard or even thought of tying in a themed tree with all the lovely, heart-felt creations from the books we love/or even didn’t. They enjoy hands-on creating so much, especially around the books we read. (We made a “borrowers house” earlier in the year and the kids had the best time and were so creative!) My kids would love this and I know I would cherish it for years to come. Thank you for sharing this!!
Michelle10 Dec 2015
You’re very welcome, Misite. I love that instead of getting boxed away, like so many other school projects, these “book report ornaments” get revisited every year, reminding them, again and again, of great literature that they’ve enjoyed. (It’s like a little “Language Arts review quiz” every year. 🙂 )
Tina at Mommynificent10 Dec 2015
I absolutely love this idea!!! Thank you so much for sharing this!
Michelle10 Dec 2015
You’re welcome, Tina. It takes a few years to really get it rolling, but it is so worth the effort!
Heather10 Dec 2015
I too love this idea. I love it so much, that I would love to have some more details about how you instructed your kids to create such things when they finished a book. Did they write a report and then create some sort of ornament? Are the ornaments themed around characters or anything? Did you give the kids free reign?
Michelle22 Dec 2015
Yes, and no, and all of the above… Our Reading Tree is literally the product of 7 or 8 year’s worth of ideas that materialized from 4 daughters. While most of the ornaments centered around a very specific book we were reading during a specific season, others were random ideas certain daughters had after reading specific books, both independently and with mom. For some books, we have a large shoe-box full of ornaments all about one book, and each girl contributed each “style” of ornament (such as an origami animal from Island of the Blue Dolphin or heart cut outs where they each wrote favorite quotes from Alice in Wonderland as we were reading it, or where Mom wrote the quote and toddler hands colored the other side). Other ornaments came about after brainstorming (hmmm, how could we make an ornament of a carved tree?) or doing a little internet surfing with a daughter. Like, for instance, when one knew she wanted to make an ornament of the gold cup trophy in Where the Red Fern Grows. Not once, with any of these ornaments, did anyone complete a written book report. My thought was to keep these particular book reports light, easy, hands-on, and appealing. We did, as a collective effort, sometimes make full-page descriptions of the types of ornaments we made to go with particular books and prop the pages at the base of our tree, so visitors could search for each type of ornament among the branches. For us, the joy of these “reports” was the excitement the idea of making ornaments generated when we started a new family read.