With wild weather descending on the East Coast, it might be a good time to stock up on candles and battery-powered camping lanterns, and gather some good books for reading with the family.
First, though, a little extra preparedness isn’t a bad idea. If you’ve got kids, there’s a helpful handout called the “Parents’ Guide for Helping Children in the Wake of Disaster” that addresses the kinds of questions and concerns and (often unexpressed) fears children feel during scary events. One hint: limit TV exposure to coverage of the event; that can whip even stoic adults into major anxiety, so imagine what it can do to sensitive kids, who don’t have much breadth of life experience weathering natural disasters. If you have young children, you might also want to check out the Sesame Street episode where Big Bird and Gordon get ready for a hurricane in the neighborhood.
And now, on to the reading! About 15 years ago, when an ice storm hit Vermont, the power in our town was out for seven days. Josie and I put on ice cleats and dragged sleds of firewood up to our nearest neighbor, who was at home with four young kids, her husband stranded out of town on business. We cooked on our outdoor grill, heated water for bathing on top of our soapstone woodstove, and read by candlelight. Although it was a major pain in the neck to lose power, Vermont is a better place for that than many areas; most people have wood-burning stoves or fireplaces for heat sources, are used to keeping extra supplies on hand, and neighbors are great about checking in on one another, especially elderly folks.
People complained most about not being able to use their computers, but the outages ‘forced’ an unaccustomed together time for families. Gathered together in the afternoons and evenings, they played card games, read books aloud to the whole family, sang along to guitar or piano — old-fashioned, Waltons-y kinds of entertainment long abandoned in the computer age. And when the lights came back a week later, kids cried. We heard this from so many parents, surprised by how much their kids wanted to spend time with them, and frankly astonished at how much their children loved being unplugged. They felt the peacefulness of their homes, so quiet without the electric hum of appliances and computers in every room, and the slowed pace of the days. They loved the soft light of candles. They drank in the sense of increased community. (Small towns in Vermont are not weak on community, mind you, so this was especially remarkable.) And they loved loved loved being read to. Here was a perfect excuse for teenagers to allow themselves to settle back and listen to stories they might ordinarily dismiss, books they’d loved in younger years that make for great all-ages family reading.
Here are some of the books we find customers gravitating toward during times natural or national disaster. These never seem to go out of style; they are comfort food in book form, both light and deep, and draw in members from the entire range of the age spectrum.
The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and others in the series by Judy Blume
Swallows and Amazons and subsequent titles by Arthur Ransome
The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series by Betty MacDonald
The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald
A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears by Jules Feiffer
The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
The Squire’s Tale and others in the series by Gerald Morris
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois
And a Flying Pig favorite many don’t know about: The Old Man Mad About Drawing by François Place.
So in the next few days, hunker down and cozy up. May you and your loved ones and your pets weather the storm with the evidence of damage being candle stubs burned low by late-night reading, preferably together. Stay safe, everyone.