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Bookworm Sez: Book offers advice for mothers of high schoolers

“Don’t Push the Button!” written and illustrated by Bill Cotter

c.2013, Sourcebooks $16.99 / $19.99 Canada 32 pages

You never get to do anything fun.

Little kids get away with all kinds of behavior. Big kids get all the privileges. But you, at your age, you only hear “No” or “Don’t” or “You can’t.”

It’s enough to make a kid scream.

Don’t go outside without a coat. No playing in mud puddles. Don’t get dirty. You can’t touch anything. Don’t ask too many questions. No being loud. Don’t fight with your sister. You can’t forget your mittens. And, for sure, when you read the new book written and illustrated by Bill Cotter, “Don’t Push the Button!”

Open the covers of this book and you’ll be introduced to Larry.

Larry is a purple monster, but he’s not scary. Not at all; he’s friendly and fun and he wants you to come play with him inside this book. There’s just “one rule” you’ll need to follow: don’t push the button.

“Seriously,” says Larry. “Don’t even THINK about it.”

Oh, sure, it’s a nice button. It’s red and round and it’s just sitting there on the page, waiting for something to happen. It’s a plain old red button on the paper, right there all by itself. Sometimes, Larry wonders what would happen if you pushed it… but no! Don’t push the button!

Then again, what if nobody was around? What would you do with that button? Larry is pretty tempted to find out but he wants you to do the dirty work. He wants you to “give the button one little push.”

Uh oh. If you push the button, strange things happen to Larry. Now what? Push it again and even odder things happen. Push it “a bunch of times” and wow. Now you’ve really got a mess and Larry’s in big trouble. He’s no longer a purple monster.

But there’s a way out. Larry knows what to do. There are a few steps you’ll need to take to get things back to the way they were before. But only you can do it because, well, you were the one who pushed the button in the first place.

Just don’t do it again. Don’t push that button! (Okay. Maybe just once…)

Of course, you want your child to know that books are good and reading is fun – which is why you need “Don’t Push the Button!” in your house: this book is good fun.

Larry the Monster is adorable and every bit as curious as is your child. He’s like a paper playmate, daring kids to do the not-so-naughty thing he’s told them not to do. But author and illustrator Bill Cotter makes Larry – and the button – irresistible, and the interactive solution to what ultimately happens will make kids giggle.

Word-wise, there’s not much to this book. You could probably plow through it in about five minutes, but why would you? “Don’t Push the Button!” is a story that absolutely needs to be read with time on your hands and a sense of silliness. Again and again, that’s something kids will really want to do.

“The Goodbye Year” by Toni Piccinini

c.2013, Seal Press $16.00 / $18.95 Canada 251 pages

You’ve been thinking about what you’ll do with the room.

You’ll probably leave it as a bedroom, just in case. You might put a desk in there, maybe a bookcase, perhaps a table for crafts.

For sure, you’ll take down the posters.

You’ve been thinking about that room because it’ll be empty pretty soon. And in “The Goodbye Year” by Toni Piccinini, you’ll learn how to deal with the sad inevitability of your child’s going away to college.

Just before the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year, Toni Piccinini’s husband found her folding their daughter’s clothes and weeping. Page would soon be a senior in high school, and Piccinini realized that life was changing too fast.

It would be a year of “The Last Time.” The last time sharing “every seasonal moment… as a family.” Even friendships with other mothers were jeopardized: says Piccinini, “When our kids graduated in June, I wouldn’t see much of the women with whom I had spent most of the last two decades.”

Then, on a lark, Piccinini, who had once owned a restaurant with her husband, seized an offer to teach cooking classes. Close friends were the first to sign up; others eagerly joined them. Piccinini began to see the classes as Me Time, something enjoyable that didn’t have to do with the topic of kids, colleges, SATs, or grades.

And yet, Page’s senior year was bittersweet and worthy of pride. “Time flies,” says Piccinini, and everything becomes more precious but The Lasts are survivable – with the right attitude. “It’s all in how you choose to handle your child’s senior year…” she says. You can congratulate yourself for the great job you did in raising a decent human being, or you can “spin like a top with worry.” You can micromanage the final months of high school, or accept that “It’s her life” and that you have one, too.

And just think: next fall, when it’s time for College Move-In Day, you can toast yourself for “a job well done and to the beginning of a beautiful, adult relationship with that lovely human being who just happens to be your child.”

And then, “Get out of there fast.”

In my eyes, “The Goodbye Year” can’t seem to decide what kind of book it wants to be.

Author Toni Piccinini writes about her year as the mother of a high school senior, and the attendant worries. There’s plenty of off-topic biography here - both Piccinini’s and that of her mother - as well as scenes from life with Piccinini’s sons. We get gossipy sex-and-marriage tips, quips about aging, chirpy Mom-Power advice, and recipes followed by self-help-ish ideas.

I felt as though I’d dropped this book and it splattered. Everywhere.

Yes, there’s some good here and subtle advice for mothers of high school seniors but there’s a lot to plow through to find it. If you’ve got time for that, go ahead… but for the average busy mom, “The Goodbye Year” is a book you won’t want to say “hello” to.

(The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.)

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