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.
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?