Tagged Books and Literature

Imperfect Girls Make Perfect Role Models

Credit…Camila Rosa

Imperfect Girls Make Perfect Role Models

People who are “works in progress” can be more inspiring than the preordained successes of powerhouse figures.

Credit…Camila Rosa

Katty KayClaire Shipman and

  • Feb. 23, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Female role models, you might say, are having a moment.

Powerful female heads of state across the globe are out-leading their male counterparts in handling the pandemic. This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to an all-female team. In the United States, there is at last a female vice president, tough, powerful — and also the first Black and Indian woman to hold that office. The women’s soccer team isn’t just winning World Cups and widespread adoration but is also waging a public, uphill battle for equal pay. Women are making their way into what had seemed a permanent men’s club: the elite special operations ranks of the armed forces. Oh, and how about the youth poet who mesmerized the Inaugural audience and then moved on to the Super Bowl?

While we are still far from gender parity, it’s an incredible moment for girls, who, facing pandemic limitations, may be especially eager for glimmers of motivation and hope.

Role models inspire by showing us what is actually possible. Research supports that it works: These trailblazers not only help us imagine where we might go, they also help us map out the path to get there. Role models have also been shown to have a bigger impact on women and underrepresented communities — people who’ve not easily achieved their goals. Now that they see more women in the world of science (teachers, pioneering researchers or even their own peers), girls today are more likely, when asked to draw a scientist, to draw a woman than they were in past decades. Even one role model can benefit a child, helping her perform better in school and maintain a positive mind-set.

But the notion of “good role models” needs an update, especially when it comes to girls, or the steady stream of gleaming snapshots of achievement they see can actually lead to self-doubt. In addition to role models, our extensive work on girls and confidence has found that what girls could really use are “work in progress” models.

While representation is important, it’s not enough to point to the mere existence of these powerhouse women, shards of the broken glass ceiling in their wakes on their seemingly smooth trajectory to the top, and then expect inspiration to simply flow.

“Even the idea of a role model can be immediately intimidating,” said Rachel Simmons, the author ofEnough As She Is,” and a consultant on raising emotionally healthy girls. “They seem designed to display outcomes like trophies.”

We were struck when one of our daughters, recently reading what was supposed to be an uplifting blurb about a teenage scientist’s pedigree, moaned, “Look at what she invented at 15! What have I done? Way to make me feel like a loser!”

Girls want to please, judge themselves harshly and suffer from rampant perfectionism. They need to see the screw-ups and failures and struggles in their role models, as well as heavy doses of perseverance. Anything that smacks of a trajectory preordained and success effortlessly attained can deflate instead of inspire, playing into girls’ worst flawed thinking patterns.

Phyllis Fagell, a middle school counselor, parenting columnist, and author of “Middle School Matters,” explains, “What you don’t want to do is layer another set of unrealistic expectations on girls. Ideally the portrayal is realistic and attainable.” Ms. Simmons agrees: “Young people need to see, especially these days, if they take a wrong turn, or are hit by an act of God, it’s not only OK, it could turn out even better.”

In our new book “Living the Confidence Code,” we looked for role models whose stories would really resonate with other girls. We highlighted not traditionally “accomplished” or celebrated girls, but those who had also stumbled, shown perseverance and were open about it.

Yekaba Abimbola, in Ethiopia, promised for marriage at 12, was candid about the conflict between her deep desire to please her family, indeed her whole community, and her passion for her independence. She fought against the conventions of her culture, stopping her arranged marriage and winning the right to continue her education.

Ciara-Beth Griffin, an Irish teen on the autism spectrum, struggled to develop an app for other neurodiverse kids. Voicing a theme we heard over and over, she told us, “You get taken over by ‘What if I fail? What will other people think?’ And the nasty perfectionist voice in your head …” Yet she, and all these girls, managed to find an infinite variety of ways to silence that voice and say, as Ciara-Beth puts it, “Knock it off!” and do what they set out to do.

What really works to make someone a role model? Think story and struggle — multidimensional women, with revealing flaws and failure, along with compelling, bumpy narratives.

We’ve put together some essential tips for increasing role-model wattage for parents, educators and all girl allies.

Tell a story

Storytelling as an exceptional teaching tool is well-documented. When we’re engaged in a narrative, our brains connect the information more deeply, making predictions and gaining perspectives that last. And girls hunger for the connections they find in a narrative. “Girls need to look under the hood, to see the process they went through,” Ms. Simmons said. “That’s what really hooks someone — it’s not who you are now, but how you got there and what you weathered.”

Details, details

Have a robust family discussion about a specific role model, suggested the child psychologist Bonnie Zucker, author of “Anxiety-Free Kids.”

“Say: What’s her life story? What was essential about it?” she suggested. “That allows a real connection, and that’s key. Think: What’s the idea of that person, not just the more one-dimensional image of change or achievement she represents.”

Values speak

Ms. Fagell said that a multilayered story also allows girls to understand they don’t have to share interests with role models. Those details offer a broader spectrum of relatable characteristics.

“It’s essential,” she said, “to focus on characteristics, traits and values, not simply achievement. That way the girls can share the values or admire the journey of an athlete, for example, and find something in common, even without the same skills or interests.”

Ordinary is extraordinary

Helping girls to see the extraordinary in the seemingly mundane, Dr. Zucker explained, is also a powerful antidote to unrealistic expectations. “Everyday heroes, who don’t get noticed, have special impact. Talk about the incredible values of a young girl who might be burdened with raising her siblings when her mother vanishes, for example. She might not have a splashy social media profile, but her bravery, her sacrifices, or her emotional labor, are, in fact, heroic.” Ms. Simmons suggested using role models as a jumping off point for discussions about: “What is the definition of success, anyway? Money? A purposeful life?”

We should, of course, collectively celebrate the notion of another first, of new ground broken. But a role-model makeover with some breadth and depth, story and struggle, will allow girls to find not only inspiration but also enough space and comfort to find themselves.

Katty Kay, Claire Shipman and JillEllyn Riley are the authors of “Living the Confidence Code.”

The Influence of a Perfect Teacher

Credit…Isabel Seliger

The Checkup

The Influence of a Perfect Teacher

Perhaps because I had a teacher who made reading aloud into ceremony, ritual and compelling drama, I grew up to find my cause in pediatricians’ promoting reading aloud at checkups.

Credit…Isabel Seliger

  • Feb. 15, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was published in 1964, so when my teacher read it aloud to my fourth-grade class, it was only a couple of years old. She had a good eye for a classic-to-be, did my fourth-grade teacher.

And she made a ceremony out of reading: She would light a special reading candle while she read us the day’s chapter, and then we would blow it out together, and she would say, “There go your wishes up in the smoke — may they all come true.”

Nowadays, I guess, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a candle in a classroom. I’m not even sure I should tell you about the magic pills: She had some jars of candies — red hots, I remember in particular, and M&M’s — that were labeled for different subjects, so that if you needed help with math, you could ask for a “math pill.” (Yes, I know, it wouldn’t be allowed now, between the worries about sugar and pill culture — but I do have to tell you, those math pills worked.)

As you can tell, in fourth grade, I had the perfect teacher. Her name was Miriam Marecek — and I am writing this because she died last October, after a long and difficult struggle with multiple sclerosis, but of course, I wish I had written it sooner, when she was still here to read it.

Actually, she became Dr. Miriam Marecek in the 1970s when she earned a doctorate in education, but in my mind, she was always Miss Marecek, because I had spent fourth grade in Miss Marecek’s class and it had changed my life.

I had lucked into what was probably the perfect school for me; my education had been jump-started during a year my family spent in rural India, in which I attended a convent school. By the time I was 6, the missionary nuns, by dint of rigorous pedagogy (and the fear of corporal punishment) managed to teach me the reading and writing and arithmetic that I would have learned in the first several grades of an American school.

When we returned from India, my parents sent me to the Agnes Russell School, a “lab” school associated with Teachers College at Columbia (my father taught at Barnard), where they were promised that I wouldn’t have to learn to read all over again; it was a “progressive” school and I would be able to go at my own rate.

I spent four very happy years in that school. I have pleasant memories of student teachers trying out all kinds of new educational techniques on us (hands up, everyone who learned math on Cuisenaire rods — and how about those SRA cards for reading?).

It was a small school and, as I remember it, full of faculty children whose educational trajectories had been interesting in one way or another; my mixture of convent education and familiarity with the Hindu deities whose ceremonies my anthropologist father had been studying in West Bengal fit right in with the intellectual odds and ends that my classmates had accumulated as they had trailed their parents from graduate school to research trip to junior faculty post.

We had a terrific school library where you could go read on the couch if you got your work done early, and a terrific school librarian, always ready with book recommendations. We also had classroom white rats who probably came our way via the college science labs, and big gallon jars in which we raised mealworms. But fourth grade was without question the best, because in fourth grade, as I said, I had the perfect teacher.

Miriam Marecek found me again, a couple of decades later; she read something that I had published and called me up. I know what I said when she asked if I remembered her, because I wrote a story about it at the time: “Miss Marecek! The reading candle! ‘A Wrinkle in Time!’ As I said, she had a good eye for a future classic.

Miriam Marecek was born in Prague, during the Second World War. She later wrote about her childhood in a memoir, “Escape From Prague.” Her mother was a debutante and an opera singer and later a teacher, and her father, she wrote, was a “journalist, scholar and diplomat” who was in danger as a dissident. In 1948, the U.S. ambassador helped the family get to the United States.

When I was in fourth grade, I don’t think I understood that teachers had past histories, or, indeed, that they would go on to live complicated and individual lives after I moved on to the next grade. It was only decades later — after that phone call — that I learned that Miss Marecek had gone on to graduate school, had become a professor of education, and that children’s literature was still her great love and her specialty.

I didn’t know how lucky I was, of course, to have a teacher who could choose such amazing books, and make reading aloud into ceremony, ritual and compelling drama, and I didn’t know I would grow up to find my cause in pediatrics working with Reach Out and Read, a national literacy organization through which doctors talk with parents at checkups about the importance of reading aloud and provide them with books. When I reconnected with that teacher, she became an early member of the advisory board, and helped choose the books.

I’d like to draw a moral here about teachers, and how young children take what their teachers have to offer with a kind of matter-of-fact greediness, without stopping to marvel at what is being transmitted, to wonder how the knowledge was acquired, or to examine the teacher’s own passions.

And given the times we’re living through, I’d like to say something in appreciation of all the teachers who are managing to convey their passions remotely this year, and maybe to mourn the days that children are missing in what would have been exciting or even magical classrooms. But really, all I want to say is, when you get lucky with a teacher, you really get lucky.

Miriam Marecek spent the rest of her life deeply engaged with children’s literature — teaching it to college students and graduate students in education, advising school districts on books and literacy, maintaining a website as the “Children’s Book Lady,” corresponding with authors and illustrators — in her memoir she reproduces communications from Maurice Sendak and Uri Shulevitz.

After that phone call, I learned that she lived not far from me, in a house filled (of course) with children’s books, in the town of Winchester. I never quite got over the feeling that it was a magical house, as it had been a magical classroom. She sent books to my children, and to my brother’s children. I met her own three children, and when her daughter eventually became a pediatrician, I felt a strong sense of pride and delight.

In the last part of her life, as multiple sclerosis gradually took her mobility, staying in that house became her cause. Thanks to her family and to devoted friends, she managed it, tended by a succession of remarkable caretakers, reading stories to her grandchildren in person and long-distance, and continuing to read and to think and to connect.

I’m so glad she found me, when I was a grown-up, so I got to know more of her story and spend more time with her. I miss her, and I wish I’d written this when she was still here to read it. But here’s to Miriam Marecek, and to teachers, and all that they can mean, and to everything good that a classroom can hold.

How to Pretend You’re in Cartagena Today

Restaurants around San Diego Plaza in Cartagena. At left is the School of Fine Arts of Cartagena, once a church and a monastery built in 1608.
Restaurants around San Diego Plaza in Cartagena. At left is the School of Fine Arts of Cartagena, once a church and a monastery built in 1608.Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

How to Pretend You’re in Cartagena Today

The Colombian port city, home to the trademark sounds and dances of the region, is so full of magic that it has inspired entire books by Gabriel García Márquez.

Restaurants around San Diego Plaza in Cartagena. At left is the School of Fine Arts of Cartagena, once a church and a monastery built in 1608.Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

Sebastian Modak

  • Jan. 5, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

On a clear day, from the 17th-century La Popa Convent on the crest of a 500-foot hill, the view of Cartagena can trigger mild vertigo. Slowly, using the skyline as your guidepost to the Colombian port city, you can begin to get your bearings. That improbable cluster of skyscrapers is Bocagrande, a neighborhood where beach resorts share space with gleaming office towers. Next in the panorama is the walled old city, where narrow alleyways connect colonial-era churches with brightly colored shops and restaurants. In between the two neighborhoods is another: Getsemani, unremarkable from afar but, on closer inspection, a veritable street art gallery exploding with creative energy.

Scenes from Cartagena, from left: the defensive walls surrounding the historic center; the lively restaurant scene in San Diego Plaza; and a tranquil sea view.
Scenes from Cartagena, from left: the defensive walls surrounding the historic center; the lively restaurant scene in San Diego Plaza; and a tranquil sea view.Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times (left and center); David Freid for The New York Times

From high up, it can be hard to tell, but this is a city so full of magic that it inspired entire books by the Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez; even after he settled in Mexico City, he continued to keep a house here. Maybe that’s because Cartagena’s magic leaves an indelible mark in your memory, even as it fuels your imagination. I still remember my first visit, over 20 years ago, as part of a bigger trip to my mother’s home country. In my mind’s eye, the blue of that sea under the bright Caribbean sun is bluer than anything I’ve seen since.

Cartagena has long been a top stop for international visitors to Colombia. The city managed to escape the worst of the country’s drug-related violence, though it continues to struggle with issues of police brutality and racial inequities.

People come to the city for glimpses of its history; it was once one of Spain’s most lucrative (and extractive) global outposts. But they end up falling in love with much more: the nightclubs that buzz until the early hours of the morning with musicians from across the region; the seafood and fried treats; and the less tangible ways it unlocks creativity. There will come a time when we can experience the city on the ground again, but in the meantime there are a few approaches to channeling the city’s magic from the comfort of home.

Driving by the fortress walls of Cartagena’s old city.Credit…Joaquin Sarmiento/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Get a taste of magical realism

According to the Cartagenera novelist Margarita García Robayo, it is impossible not to draw connections between her hometown and the books of Gabriel Gárcia Márquez, who died in 2014. “If you have read García Márquez, there is no way you can go to Cartagena and not hear all the alarm bells of recognition,” said Ms. García Robayo, whose collection “Fish Soup” includes explorations of life on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Many people don’t realize how influential the city of Cartagena, where Mr. Gárcia Márquez worked for a time as a journalist, was to his writing. Some of his most imaginative scenes — men with giant wings, blood that can move up staircases, ghosts more prone to conversing than haunting — seem less far-fetched when you have spent a day lost in the city’s sun-dappled, cobblestone streets. And reading his books will bring you right into those streets, magic and all. It is why the author said he was more concerned with truth than fantasy. “The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination,” Mr. García Márquez told The Paris Review in 1981. For something directly related to the city, start with one of the author’s most celebrated novels, “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Despite the fact that the city in the book is never named, you will find whispers of Cartagena throughout.

From left: a dancer in Plaza de Bolivar; the nightclub Cafe Havana that often features live salsa music; and drummers in the nearby town of San Basilio de Palenque.Credit…From left, Robert Caplin for The New York Times; David Freid for The New York Times; Kike Calvo/Associated Press

Get an education in champeta

“Cartagena is a city full of sound,” Ms. Gárcia Robayo told me. “The people speak in shouts, music blares at deafening volumes and always, always there is laughter in the background.” That’s a lot to recreate in your living room, but here’s where to start: champeta, the Afro-Colombian dance music that blares from picós, or brightly colored sound systems set up on street corners across the city. The lyrics are sung in Spanish and Palenquero, a Spanish-based Creole spoken in the nearby town of San Basilio de Palenque, the first free African settlement in the Americas. Melodies were originally derived from the dance music of South Africa, Congo and Ghana, which showed up on the docks of Cartagena and Barranquilla in the hands of West African sailors in the 1970s and ’80s. Once stigmatized and associated with delinquency — an outlook born from centuries of colonialism, racism and inequality — in recent years, champeta has begun to take its rightful place as the trademark sound of the Colombian Caribbean.

To feel like you are having a night out in Cartagena, put on the kind of songs you would hear at nightclubs like Bazurto Social Club or at pop-up picós away from the tourists, outside the walled city. Start with this tailor-made playlist, featuring some big names in champeta and related genres. If you are feeling particularly ambitious, try your hand at the accompanying champeta dance moves.

Take a virtual music tour

Of course, champeta isn’t the only style of music you will hear in Cartagena, so to get a fuller immersion into the sounds of Colombia that converge in the city’s streets sign up for a virtual tour. Impulse Travel, a Colombian tour agency that works with community organizations, is offering a virtual version of its “Sounds of Colombia” tour, condensing the 8-day trip into an hourlong virtual experience, which they are offering on-demand.

“We were lucky to have captured a lot of footage and high-quality audio recordings from the trips we had made in the past,” Rodrigo Atuesta, Impulse Travel’s chief executive told me. “So we put together a virtual experience to make people travel through the soundscape of this unique trip.” You might not be dancing at sunset to the sound of an accordion or watching craftspeople carve traditional flutes, but squint (and sip enough Dictador Rum as an accompaniment) and you might think you are.

Recipes from New York Times Cooking, from left: Colombian beef and potato empanadas, Colombian-style chicken, short rib; and potato stew and Colombian corn and cheese arepas.Credit…Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevic (left and far right); Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times (center)

Dance while you cook

Cartagena is among the best places in the country to try Colombian cuisine, a hearty and delicious fusion of African, Indigenous and Spanish culinary traditions. While there are a number of dishes over at New York Times Cooking to try, why not get cooking with the help of a local, to really feel like you are there? And, because we are talking about Cartagena here, this cooking class comes with music.

Foodies, a Colombian food tour company, is offering an online “Arepas and Dancing” experience, where guests will learn how to make arepas, a pancake-like delight made from corn, accompanied by a killer soundtrack. You will try your hand at arepa de huevo, a yellow arepa stuffed with egg and ground beef, and a white arepa with anise. In Cartagena, arepas de huevo (or empanadas de huevo, as they are sometimes confusingly called) are found everywhere across the city, including at the picós. So, to make you feel like you really are taking a break from the champeta blaring out of sound systems, Foodies has a playlist to accompany the whole process.

Palenqueras, Afro-Caribbean women from nearby San Basilio de Palenque, the first free African settlement in the Americas, sell fruit common to the region.Credit…David Freid for The New York Times

Finish off with something sweet

You have navigated the twists of Cartagena through the written word, danced to the stomach-churning bass of champeta music, and tried your hand at a local specialty. Now it is time to wind down with some dessert. Cocadas are little coconut-based treats found throughout Latin America. But for some of the best, you have to go to Cartagena and seek out the palenqueras, the Afro-Caribbean women from San Basilio de Palenque who have the confections down to an art.

AfroLatinx Travel, a tour company that focuses on Latin America’s African heritage, is offering an online cocada-making presentation with María Miranda, a Cartagena-based cocada master. Along with an introduction to a rich culinary heritage, Ms. Miranda’s class offers a reminder of our responsibilities as tourists, virtual or otherwise, the need for respect as visitors and the underlying trauma that permeates Cartagena’s history.

“In Cartagena, we often see these women in their brightly colored dresses and their products for sale,” the experience’s description reads. “However, do we see them beyond their colonial style dress and products for sale? These are real women. These Black women have fought to remain in spaces that have despised their presence. These women are not tourist attractions.”

A pedestrian walks along a street in the old walled city of Cartagena. In the background is the iconic Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

How are you going to channel the spirit of Cartagena in your home? Share your ideas in the comments.

To keep up with upcoming articles in this series, sign up for our At Home newsletter or follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. See more Around the World at Home guides here.

Things To Do At Home

Gaze at the Night Skies and Unwind With a Yoga Class

This week, learn about the history of vaccines, explore Mammoth Hot Springs or learn to code.

Credit…Ka Young Lee
  • Jan. 3, 2021, 1:00 a.m. ET

Here is a sampling of the week’s events and how to tune in (all times are Eastern). Note that events are subject to change after publication.


Start the first regular weekday of 2021 on a positive note (and perhaps even kick off a New Year’s resolution?) with New York Road Runners Virtual Yoga: Classic Flow class. This practice, led by the instructor June Li Lo, will focus on improving strength and flexibility; it’s intended particularly for runners but is open to all. Free, but you need to register ahead of time.

When 8 a.m. Eastern

Where nyrr.org/runcenter


As inoculation against the coronavirus gets underway, learn all about developments in vaccine technology during the National Museum of American History’s seminar “Pandemic Perspectives: Racing for Vaccines.” A panel of curators and historians will explore the history of vaccination, starting with the very first vaccine, for smallpox, administered in 1796. This event is free.

When 4 p.m. Eastern

Where americanhistory.si.edu/pandemic-perspectives


Hear the writer Robert Jones Jr. discuss his buzzed-about debut novel, “The Prophets,” with the author Alexander Chee at Loyalty Bookstore in Washington, D.C. “The Prophets” depicts the relationship between two enslaved gay men on a Deep South plantation; The Times recently named it a book to watch for in January. There’s a suggested minimum donation of $1; all proceeds go to Black Lives Matter D.C.

When 8 p.m. Eastern

Where loyaltybookstores.com/theprophets


Pull up a chair and listen to a reading from the poet Ross Gay, hosted by the Vermont Studio Center. Mr. Gay will read his latest book-length poem, “Be Holding,” an ode to the basketball player Julius Erving, which explores themes as varied as surveillance, state violence and personal histories of flight. This event is free.

When 7 p.m. Eastern

Where vermontstudiocenter.org/calendar/rossgay-featuredreading

Credit…Ka Young Lee

Round up the whole family and join the Franklin Institute for “Night Skies at Home,” an evening of stargazing with Derrick Pitts, the museum’s chief astronomer (alias: @coolastronomer). Learn how to recognize planets, stars, constellations and even the International Space Station — all with the naked eye. This event is free.

When 7:45 p.m. Eastern

Where facebook.com/thefranklininstitute


Explore Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park with a live, interactive tour from Virtual Trips. A local guide will talk about the natural history of the famous hot springs while taking viewers along for a walking tour. Participants will be able to ask questions about the park and send digital “postcards” to family and friends during the tour. Attendance is capped at 300, and while the event is free, tips are encouraged.

When 4 p.m. Eastern

Where virtualtrips.io/tours/mammoth-hot-springs-terraces


Introduce your kids to the basics of coding with a workshop from the London-based school Cypher Coders. During this 90-minute course, students will learn to build a shark-chase game in the programming language Scratch. Each class is limited to six students, but never fear: The organization offers this class (and other game-building seminars) most days and adds more as demand increases. Admission is $35.

When 1:30 p.m. Eastern

Where bit.ly/cypher-shark-game

Watch a recorded performance from the dance company A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham, as part of National Sawdust’s FERUS Festival. This new piece, choreographed by Mr. Abraham, a MacArthur Fellow, in collaboration with the performers Keerati Jinakunwiphat and Jae Neal from A.I.M., features music from the producer Jlin. It explores death, folklore and reincarnation. The performance is free and will be followed by a live talk with the artists.

When 6 p.m. Eastern

Where live.nationalsawdust.org/event/ferus-festival-kyle-abraham-a-i-m-and-jlin


Listen to the haunting sounds of Elastic Ambience, a 24-hour audio exhibit from the Orange County Museum of Art. In response to the way people’s sense of time has changed during 2020, beginning on Dec. 8, the artist and composer Julian Day released a new hour of looping audio every day for 24 days, to create a 24-hour aural clock. It now plays on a continuous loop, and is available to listen to anytime.

When Anytime

Where ocma.art/elastic-ambience

How to Pretend You’re in Quebec City Tonight

A toboggan slide runs along the promenade known as Dufferin Terrace toward the castlelike Fairmont le Château Frontenac in Québec City.
A toboggan slide runs along the promenade known as Dufferin Terrace toward the castlelike Fairmont le Château Frontenac in Québec City.Credit…Renaud Philippe for The New York Times

How to Pretend You’re in Quebec City Tonight

As the song goes, there’s no place like home for the holidays. Wherever you are, you can embrace the coziness of the season like Québécois do.

A toboggan slide runs along the promenade known as Dufferin Terrace toward the castlelike Fairmont le Château Frontenac in Québec City.Credit…Renaud Philippe for The New York Times

  • Dec. 22, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

When the snow falls and the wind howls, the people of Quebec City don’t hibernate. Rather, they bundle up and celebrate with one of the most picturesque winter carnivals in the world. Overlooking the St. Lawrence River, with cobblestone streets and quaint stone houses, Old Quebec looks like an enchanted snow globe village — especially at Christmastime. In fact, the historic district of this former French colony is a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks in part to it being the only city in North America to have preserved its ramparts.

From left; In Quebec City, winter pleasures include strolling the 400-year-old city's streets, views of the St.-Jean-Baptiste area and snow bathers with Bonhomme. the official representative of the Quebec Winter Carnival, earlier this year.
From left; In Quebec City, winter pleasures include strolling the 400-year-old city’s streets, views of the St.-Jean-Baptiste area and snow bathers with Bonhomme. the official representative of the Quebec Winter Carnival, earlier this year.Credit…From left, Christinne Muschi for The New York Times; Renaud Philippe for The New York Times; Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

If I were there I’d be taking in sweeping river views from the promenade known as Dufferin Terrace and the Fairmont le Château Frontenac, the castlelike hotel where Alfred Hitchcock filmed scenes for “I Confess.” In the evening, I’d stroll amid evergreens and twinkling string lights on the Rue Petit-Champlain and stop into Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, one of the oldest stone churches in North America. Hours would be spent ice skating, warming up at an outdoor fire pit and refueling with hearty fare like poutine and tourtière (meat pie) from beloved restaurants.

But as the song goes, there’s no place like home for the holidays. Wherever you happen to be, you can embrace the coziness of the season like Québécois do — with maple syrup-inspired recipes, craft beer, outdoor pursuits and good cheer — even if a single snowflake never falls.

Le Projet Spécialité Microbrasseries, a bar in Quebec City, is known for its craft ciders and beers.Credit…Renaud Philippe for The New York Times

Cook up comfort with meat and maple syrup

“Blast some cheesy Celine Dion song on your iPhone at earsplitting decibels, find a good recipe for poutine — that trouser-busting dish of French fries, Cheddar cheese curds and gravy — and, if you are in chillier climes, go outside and build a snowman,” advises Dan Bilefsky, the Canada correspondent for The Times. Born in Quebec, Mr. Bilefsky has written about the “cultural skirmish over who deserves credit” for poutine: Québécois — or the rest of Canada. Happily, all you have to decide is which poutine recipe to make. Try one from Saveur, CBC/Radio-Canada, or Chuck Hughes, the co-owner and executive chef of Montreal’s Garde Manger and Le Bremner.

From left, a classic poutine, tartine au sucre and tourtière.Credit…From left, Alexi Hobbs for The New York Times; Craig Lee for The New York Times; Gentl and Hyers for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Jerrie-Joy.

“Québécois culture is defined by a certain cowboy excess when it comes to food,” as Mr. Bilefsky put it in an email. Cook up comfort with a New York Times Cooking recipe for a savory tourtière, or one for maple-roasted rack of venison from the celebrated Canadian chef Martin Picard of Au Pied de Cochon (often credited with reimagining poutine with foie gras). Be inspired by First Nations cuisine with chef Martin Gagné’s venison carpaccio with cedar jelly and sea buckthorn jam. And turn to chefs David McMillan and Frédéric Morin, owners of the acclaimed Joe Beef in Montreal, for more recipes in “The Art of Living According to Joe Beef” cookbook.

For dessert, fill your kitchen with the scent of maple syrup pie. Though why stop there? Bake maple syrup-soaked doughnut holes or maple tarte tartin with sweet recipes from Mr. Picard, who also created Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack where the essential ingredient is — what else?— maple syrup.

Host your own winter carnival

Take part in some typical Quebec Winter Carnival activities from your hometown (though perhaps skip the local tradition of ax-throwing). Make snow sculptures and go sledding or snowshoeing. Not living in a winter wonderland? You can string up white fairy lights, sing “Au Royaume du Bonhomme Hiver” with Renée Martel (to the tune of “Winter Wonderland”), and savor the Carnival grog, a hot, usually alcoholic drink. A recipe to make some at home with maple syrup, cranberry juice, cinnamon, cloves and sweet grass is on the Quebec Winter Carnival website.

A view of the Château Frontenac.Credit…Alice Chiche/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Parlez français

On days it’s too cold to linger outdoors, learn or brush up on your French, the official language of government in Quebec (and a delicate subject in a majority French-speaking province surrounded by English speakers). Stick to your budget with “Want to Learn French? Italian? Russian? There’s No Time Like the Present” for language tools that are free or won’t break the bank.

Get cozy with a stack of detective novels

What better way to spend long winter nights than with intrigue and mystery set in a small Quebec hamlet? Light a fire, real or virtual, crack open one of Louise Penny’s best-selling detective novels and spend the evening with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec police force. In the most recent book, “All the Devils Are Here,” published this fall, the inspector heads to Paris. But the 15 books in the Gamache series that precede it are steeped in the culture and cuisine of Quebec (with the occasional murder), beginning with “Still Life.”

From left, still images from the films “Matthias and Maxime,” “And the Birds Rained Down” and “Antigone.”Credit…From left, Mubi; Films Outsiders; ACPAV

Spend movie night with directors from Quebec

Keep au courant with Canada’s Top Ten, the Toronto International Film Festival’s annual list of the country’s best films (10 features and 10 shorts). The 2019 selections include several from Quebec directors such as Louise Archambault, whose “And the Birds Rained Down” (“Il Pleuvait des Oiseaux”) is about older hermits living in the wild and a love that blossoms there; and Sophie Deraspe’s “Antigone,” a riff on Sophocles’ tragedy centered on an immigrant family in Montreal (it won best Canadian feature at the Toronto International Film Festival). Also on the list is “Matthias and Maxime” from the writer and director Xavier Dolan, the Cannes Film Festival regular who shared the Jury Prize in 2014 for his film “Mommy” with the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. (The 2020 list was recently posted online.)

Sing along with Celine Dion

For a road trip across Quebec in 2018, Mr. Bilefsky, the Times correspondent, made a playlist of songs that he felt embodied Québécois identity and would also provide an atmospheric soundtrack to the province’s landscapes. There was music from Samian, an Indigenous rapper who sings in French and Algonquin; Leonard Cohen; Éric Lapointe; Les Cowboys Fringants; the Dead Obies; and Arcade Fire. Obviously, Celine Dion, born in Charlemagne, Quebec, was on the list with “Destin.” After all, you haven’t really sung Celine until you’ve done so in French.

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, center, and Fresque des Québécois, right.Credit…Catherine Côté for The New York Times

Wander galleries from your living room

Step inside Quebec City’s art galleries like Galerie Perreault, where you can browse works by contemporary artists as well as Canadian masters. Or take a virtual tour of the gallery. Discover Canadian Inuit sculptures through the Galerie Art Inuit Brousseau’s Instagram account. And stroll around town with photos of public artworks from Quebec City Tourism. You won’t even need to pull on your snow boots.

How are you going to channel the spirit of Quebec City in your home? Share your ideas in the comments.

To keep up with upcoming articles in this series, sign up for our At Home newsletter or follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. See more Around the World at Home guides here.

Stephanie Rosenbloom, the author of “Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude” (Viking), has been writing travel, business and styles features for The Times for nearly two decades. Twitter: @Stephronyt. Instagram: @StephanieRosenbloom

How to Pretend You’re in Tokyo

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

A few years ago, I walked through Tokyo’s neon-lit streets for the first time, wide-eyed and jet-lagged. It only took three days to learn some of the city’s secrets. If you can’t find the perfect noodle shop for lunch, for example, look up and you will see another dozen options, filling the upper floors of what you thought were office buildings. Or that famous places — like Shibuya Crossing, the intersection you’ve seen in 100 timelapses — are famous for a reason, but there’s so much more to learn by picking a metro stop at random and going for a long walk.

This was supposed to be a big year for tourism for the city — already one of the world’s most visited — as it was set to host the now postponed Olympics and Paralympic Games. That, of course, did not happen.

With most of the world still confined to their homes, that Tokyo trip will have to wait for the millions of people who canceled flights and hotel bookings. In the meantime, there are ways to capture the spirit of a sometimes impenetrable, always fascinating, city. Perhaps, just for a night, these recommendations might even make you feel like you are there.

From left, the Asakusa Hoppy Street, commuters on the morning train, and a view of Tokyo from the Skytree.
From left, the Asakusa Hoppy Street, commuters on the morning train, and a view of Tokyo from the Skytree.Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times (left and center); Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

Hear the city

I first met Kazuto Okawa, who performs under the name LLLL, outside a convenience store in the quirky neighborhood of Koenji on my first night in Tokyo. He was sitting on a curb in a circle of friends, his face obscured by long, disheveled hair. Over the years since that first encounter, his music — a blend of sugary pop hooks and space-age soundscapes — has become synonymous with the city for me. If those conflicting feelings of disorientation and joy that hit every visitor to Tokyo could be translated to sound, this would be it.

When I asked Mr. Okawa what music best captures his home city, he directed me to the classics. The musician Keigo Oyamada, better known as Cornelius, is sometimes reductively called the “Japanese Beck” for the way he swoops between genres with ease. Every album is a journey, but for the most evocative of the city, Mr. Okawa suggests his 1995 album “69/96.” “It’s forever futuristic,” he said. “A perfect match to Tokyo.”

If Cornelius is too out there for you, Mr. Okawa recommends “Kazemachi Roman” by Tokyo folk rock pioneers Happy End: you may recognize a song from the soundtrack to that great tribute to Tokyo, “Lost in Translation.”

To begin understanding the phenomenon that is Tokyo’s J-pop scene, Mr. Okawa says to start with Sheena Ringo’s “Kabukicho no joou.” “It captures the dark side of the city,” he said. “And it happens to be one of the most popular J-pop songs of all time.” For the flip side of the same pop coin — perhaps it’s a more lively summer night you are trying to recreate — he recommends Taeko Ohnuki’s aptly titled “Sunshower.”

The lunch crowd at a Tokyo restaurant. Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times
From left, crisp nori chips with toasted sesame oil, spring chicken miso soup, and yakitori chicken with ginger, garlic and soy sauce.Credit…From left, Evan Sung for The New York Times; Romulo Yanes for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Vivian Lui; Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Cook at the dinner table

No trip to Tokyo is complete without a whole lot of eating. While it may be hard to accurately recreate a bona fide Tokyo bowl of ramen or plate of sushi, there is plenty that you can do from home.

Head to New York Times Cooking for a selection of quick and easy dishes, from yakitori (yes, you really can make it at home) to nori chips (perfect with a cold Japanese lager).

For something more involved, and seasonally appropriate, follow the lead of Motoko Rich, The Times’ Tokyo bureau chief. “With the weather getting cooler, it’s time to break out the butane burner for shabu shabu, a classic Japanese dinner that you can make and eat right at the table,” she said.

First, make a kombu dashi, a broth flavored with dried kelp, then take beef, tofu, vegetables and mushrooms and dip them into the bubbling liquid, making sure to swirl in the ingredients long enough that they cook through. “Although we can cook shabu shabu at home, it also reminds me of fancier mid-20th century-era restaurants in Tokyo, where the servers wear kimonos and carry regal platters to the tables.” Ms. Rich recommends this recipe from Just One Cookbook.

Nakano backstreets near Nakano Beer Kobo.Credit…Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

Expand your literary horizons

If you want to lose yourself in Tokyo by curling up with a good book, we have plenty of recommendations, whether it is a long work of fiction you are after or more snackable short stories. There is more — a lot more — than Haruki Murakami. Ms. Rich recommends “Breasts and Eggs” by Mieko Kawakami. “I love the way Kawakami references real and recognizable, but not exoticized, Tokyo locations,” she said. “You feel in the know, reading it, rather than as if you are being introduced to a precious Other World. It is Tokyo as it is lived in, not a film set.”

Fron left, scenes from “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories,” “Shoplifters,” and “Tokyo Drifter.”Credit…From left, Netflix; Magnolia Pictures; Nikkatsu

See the city on the screen

If an evening of TV and subtitles is what you are after, start with the binge-worthyMidnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” on Netflix. The show is about the customers who pass through a tiny counter-service restaurant that is only open from midnight to 6. At turns heartwarming, hilarious and melancholic, it is a moving portrait of Tokyo after dark. If the opening title sequence doesn’t make you feel good, check your pulse: it is ASMR for the soul.

When it comes to movies, as Mike Hale, a Times’ television critic, said, “Tokyo is simultaneously the most cosmopolitan and the most intensely local city you can imagine, and that’s a perfect combination for storytelling, as directors from Kurosawa to Kiarostami to Sofia Coppola have shown.”

Where to start then? You can’t skip Akira Kurosawa, the influential filmmaker whose career spanned almost six decades. Mr. Hale recommends “Stray Dog” (1949), shot in Tokyo in the aftermath of World War II. He describes it as “a walking tour of the city in sheer survival mode.” Next, try “Tokyo Drifter” (1966) by Seijun Suzuki. “Suzuki’s stylized yakuza story sets traditional themes of honor and corruption against a jazzy, jagged, surrealist distillation of the rapidly changing city,” he said. Finally, for something more contemporary, watch the Cannes Palm d’Or-winning “Shoplifters” (2018) by Hirokazu Kore-eda. In Mr. Hale’s view, the film, about a family of grifters, “shows both the glittering modern metropolis and the shadow world just beyond the neon.”

Morning commuters in Shibuya Crossing.Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

Get lost in the virtual world

While Japan’s most internationally famous video gaming figure may be an Italian plumber with a taste for mushrooms, there are also plenty of games more grounded in real-life Tokyo than Super Mario Bros. Brian Ashcraft, an Osaka-based senior writer at the gaming website Kotaku, recommends the expansive “Yakuza” series, which follows Kazuma Kiryu as he makes his name in the underworld. The Yakuza games are action-packed, but with dance battles, karaoke sessions and laugh-out-loud dialogue, they are also unabashedly silly. “This year has resulted in all events and trips to Tokyo being canned,” Mr. Ashcraft said. “The Yakuza games do a fantastic job of bringing parts of the city to life. These obsessive, digital recreations mimic the idea of Tokyo. For me, that’s good enough.”

How are you going to channel the spirit of Tokyo in your home? Share your ideas in the comments.

To keep up with upcoming stories in this series, sign up for our At Home newsletter or follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. See more Around the World at Home guides here.

Make a Poem From Newspaper

Imitation is the best kind of flattery. All creative people, whether they be writers, artists, dancers, singers or actors, know that. Think about the performers on a TV show like “The Voice,” who sometimes perform the song of a judge they are targeting. Sometimes, it is imitation that gets them on the team of their dreams. It is the same with poetry.

Once you decide to write a poem, it often feels as if you are on a quest for the perfect word, the perfect image, or the perfect idea. In many ways a poem is a treasure and the writing of a poem is a dangerous treasure hunt. You never know what you might happen upon once you start writing.

Let’s take a look at a kind of poem called the cento. Cento is a 16th-century Latin word, meaning “patchwork.” A cento is crafted from “stolen” or found sources. Each line in a cento is taken from a source and putting these lines together weaves them into a patchwork of lines.

Many people think of the cento as a sort of “collage-poem.” A collage is made by combining images, texts and textures of different mediums and sizes. Similarly, a cento is created by patching together many found lines to create a poem.

Of course, stealing is terrible and every artist must give credit where credit is due, so at the bottom of every cento is a note where the writer lists the names of his or her source texts in the order that they appear in the lines of the poem.

For your cento, you will be using the At Home section to create a poem of five to seven lines. Your lines can be phrases from articles, headlines, quotes or even photo captions. To cut and paste your cento, follow the steps below.

The hunt

Hunt, or skim through the paper for lines that speak to you. Maybe your eye will settle on a sentence that uses interesting language, like a vibrant verb or a compelling adjective; maybe you will find a sentence that includes a description of an image you admire, or maybe you will find a line that refers to something that resonates with you, like a mention of a season, a color or an emotion. Keep hunting for your treasured lines. You may already have a topic in mind, or your topic may come to you once you have your lines cut out and you really examine them.

Keep track

Though this poem will be your own creation, the lines are not. Take out a piece of paper, or you can use a laptop or phone and write each line down and then write down the author of the article that line came from. You will need this later.

Thieve (or Cut)

If you are working from the print newspaper, cut out the lines you have found and place them on a flat surface. Or copy them to a document on your phone.


Look at your individual lines and start playing around with their order, as you stretch them out like snippets of yarn on a table or floor. Could one line jump off another? If so, put that pair to the side. Keep finding connections. Imagine these stolen lines to be threads you are weaving together in meaning, image or emotion.


Once you have laid out your lines, think about how to put them together. If you are still deciding what your poem is about, perhaps focus on an emotion, a place or an image. Your topic is up to you. Let these borrowed words spark something creative inside you.

When you’re ready, decide what line you want to start with and what line you want to end with. Laying these lines out as a frame will get you motivated. Then, start laying out your other lines. If something seems wrong, move it around, or cut it. You may even want to look for another line to substitute for it.


Paste your lines on paper or on a document, and you have your cento. Make sure to carefully write out, or type your sources.

Congratulations. You have now written a cento with the generous help of others!

Sources for Leah Umansky’s cento, drawn from the Nov. 8 issue of At Home: At Home cover, Courtney Rubin, Anna Goldfarb, Tara Parker-Pope, Joseph Burns, Anna Goldfarb, Anna Goldfarb

Things To Do At Home

Here is a sampling of the week’s events and how to tune in (all times are Eastern). Note that events are subject to change after publication.


On the eve of World AIDS Day, join a free virtual screening of the short-film series “Transmissions,” followed by a panel discussion with the artists, produced by the nonprofit Visual AIDS and co-hosted by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The six films in the program, which will be available on the Visual AIDS site beginning Tuesday, examine the impact of the epidemic outside the United States, in countries including India and Uganda.

When 6 p.m.

Where visualaids.org/transmissions


Help the young aspiring spies in your family crack secret codes and encode their own secret messages using eight different formulas for invisible ink thanks to the free activities provided by the Spy Museum in Washington. Just be prepared: Top-secret missives may start appearing throughout your home.

When Anytime

Where spymuseum.org


Pop in for the 31st installment of “Sonic Gatherings,” a weekly performance of new and improvised material from the dancer Brandon Collwes and the composer John King, as well as a rotating cast of collaborators. The pair, both previously affiliated with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, were inspired in part by Mr. Cunningham’s site-specific “Events” — only this time, the “site” is Zoom; dancers frequently broadcast live from their homes. As a result, you’ll feel like you’re in on a joyous and intimate secret gathering.

When 6 p.m.

Where tiny.cc/SonicGathering

Join the comedian Wyatt Cenac for a lively evening of short readings that celebrate New York City: “Selected Shorts: New York Stories With Wyatt Cenac,” hosted by Symphony Space. Actors such as Matthew Broderick and Karen Pittman will read a selection of short stories, essays and poems by writers including Victor LaValle, Vinson Cunningham and Colum McCann. Tickets cost $15.

When 7:30 p.m.

Where symphonyspace.org/events


Listen to Paul Giamatti read Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” which Mr. Giamatti recorded while sheltering in place over the summer. Then tune in to a live conversation between Mr. Giamatti and the Melville biographer Andrew Delbanco, hosted by 92Y. Tickets cost $15.

When 7 p.m.

Where 92y.org/event/bartleby-the-scrivener


Take in a free streamed performance of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen by the Metropolitan Opera. Elina Garanca leads the cast as Carmen in this recording of a 2010 performance, alongside Roberto Alagna as Don José and Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Escamillo. This performance of the classic opera, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, is available to stream for free until 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

When 7:30 p.m.

Where metopera.org


Let your middle-schoolers embrace their inner Christian Dior or Rei Kawakubo through a virtual fashion workshop, “Fashion of the Future,” hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During the three-hour course, which ties into the Costume Institute’s new exhibit, “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” kids will learn to design garments for paper dolls through collage and drawing. A separate workshop for high schoolers begins at 2 p.m.

When 10 a.m.

Where metmuseum.org/events/whats-on

Credit…Luci Gutiérrez

Spread some joy this year with The New York Times Cookie Swap. Melissa Clark, a Times Food columnist, will demonstrate one of her delicious cookie recipes, as well as teach viewers the best way to pack cookies to ship out to friends and family. Ms. Clark, along with the cooking experts Dorie Greenspan, Sohla El-Waylly and Samantha Seneviratne, will answer baking questions submitted by viewers. R.S.V.P. to receive a link for the event.

When 11 a.m.

Where nytimes.com/interactive/2020/admin/live-events.html


Find some clarity (and hilarity) with improvised tarot readings hosted by the Tiny Cupboard performance venue and led by the comedian Brittany Brave. A panel of comedians and the psychic and astrologer Clarisse Monahan will read viewers’ tarot cards, to varying degrees of seriousness. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a minimum of $1; ticket-holders can pre-submit questions for a tarot reading by emailing improvisedtarot@gmail.com.

When 8 p.m.

Where eventbrite.com

Celebrate the genius of Billie Holiday with a tribute concert hosted by 92Y, featuring Veronica Swift, the Emmet Cohen Trio and the Grammy Award winners Catherine Russel and Tivon Pennicott. Tickets cost $15, and buyers will receive a link to a prerecorded performance at 3 p.m., which will be available to view until Dec. 9.

When 3 p.m.

Where 92y.org/event/billie-holiday-concert-celebration

The Merits of Reading Real Books to Your Children


Credit Getty Images

A new Harry Potter book and a new round of stories about midnight book release parties reminded me of the persistent power of words printed on a page to shape children’s lives.

How do we think about a distinct role for paper, for “book-books” in children’s lives? My own pediatric cause is literacy promotion for young children. I am the national medical director of the program Reach Out and Read, which follows a model of talking with the parents of babies, toddlers and preschoolers about the importance of reading aloud, and giving away a developmentally appropriate children’s book at every checkup.

We are talking about very young children here, and we begin by giving out board books which are designed to be chewed and drooled on by babies who are still exploring the world orally, or thrown down (repeatedly) off the high chair by young children who are just figuring out object permanence and experimenting with ways to train their parents to fetch and retrieve. But the most essential attribute of those board books, beyond their durability, is that they pull in the parent, not only to pick them up, but to ask and answer questions, name the pictures, make the animal noises.

I love book-books. I cannot imagine living in a house without them, or putting a child to bed in a room that doesn’t have shelves of books, some tattered and beloved, some new and waiting for their moment. It’s what I wanted for my own children, and what I want for my patients; I think it is part of what every child needs. There’s plenty that I read on the screen, from journal articles to breaking news, but I don’t want books to go away.

I would never argue that the child who loves to read is worse off because those “Harry Potter” chapters turn up on the screen of an ebook reader rather than in those matched sets of thick volumes that occupy my own children’s shelves. (Although I think there’s something wonderful about looking at the seven books of the series and remembering a midnight party in a bookstore or two, and sometimes coming home from high school or college and taking one — or all seven — to bed with you.)

But what about the younger children, the ones who are working to master spoken language while taking the early steps in their relationships with books and stories? There’s a lot of interest right now in pediatrics in figuring out how electronic media affect children’s brains and children’s learning styles and children’s habits.

In a 2014 review of studies on electronic storybooks, researchers outlined some of the ways that such stories could help young children learn, and some of the ways that they could hurt. They pointed out that especially for children with language delays, certain features of electronic books that reinforce the connection between image and word (for example, animated pictures) may help children integrate information, but that distracting features and games may cause “cognitive overload,” which gets in the way of learning. And they worried, of course, that screen time might displace parent-child time.

Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, is one of the authors of the coming American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on media use for children from birth to age 5. “Preschool children learn better when there’s an adult involved,” she said. “They learn better when there are not distracting digital elements, especially when those elements are not relevant to the story line or the learning purpose.”

In a small study published in February in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers looked at the interactions between parents and their children, ages 10 to 16 months, and found that when they were playing with electronic toys, both parents and children used fewer words or vocalizations than they did with traditional toys. And picture books evoked even more language than traditional toys.

Words and pictures can do many things for the reader’s brain, as we know from the long and glorious and even occasionally inglorious history of the printed word. They can take you into someone else’s life and someone else’s adventure, stir your blood in any number of ways, arouse your outrage, your empathy, your sense of humor, your sense of suspense. But your brain has to take those words and run with them, in all those different directions. Brain imaging has suggested that hearing stories evokes visual images in children’s brains, and more strongly if those children are accustomed to being read to.

And a parent can offer questions and interpretations that take the experience beyond bells and whistles. “A parent can ask, ‘Oh, remember that duck we saw at the pond?’,” Dr. Radesky said. “When a parent relates what’s on the page to the child’s experience, the child will have a richer understanding.”

Story time can also be good for the grown-ups. “Parents have said to me, ‘I need that 30 minutes of reading, it’s the only time my child snuggles with me,’ ” Dr. Radesky said. “We shouldn’t only think about what the child is getting from it.”

Part of what makes paper a brilliant technology may be, in fact, that it offers us so much and no more. A small child cannot tap the duck and elicit a quack; for that, the child needs to turn to a parent. And when you cannot tap the picture of the horse and watch it gallop across the page, you learn that your brain can make the horse move as fast as you want it to, just as later on it will show you the young wizards on their broomsticks, and perhaps even sneak you in among them.

Reading and being read to open unlimited stories; worlds can be described and created for you, right there on the page, or yes, on the screen, if that is where you do your later reading. But as those early paper books offer you those unlimited stories, the pictures will move if you imagine the movement; the duck will quack if you know how to work your parent. It’s all about pushing the right buttons.


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Read Books, Live Longer?


Credit Bryan Thomas for The New York Times

Reading books is tied to a longer life, according to a new report.

Researchers used data on 3,635 people over 50 participating in a larger health study who had answered questions about reading.

The scientists divided the sample into three groups: those who read no books, those who read books up to three and a half hours a week, and those who read books more than three and a half hours.

The study, in Social Science & Medicine, found that book readers tended to be female, college-educated and in higher income groups. So researchers controlled for those factors as well as age, race, self-reported health, depression, employment and marital status.

Compared with those who did not read books, those who read for up to three and a half hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow-up, and those who read more than that were 23 percent less likely to die. Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all.

They found a similar association among those who read newspapers and periodicals, but it was weaker.

“People who report as little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read,” said the senior author, Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale. “And the survival advantage remained after adjusting for wealth, education, cognitive ability and many other variables.”

Harry Potter’s a Dad: ‘Accio, Pacifier!’


Harry Potter fans wait for the release for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

Harry Potter fans wait for the release for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”Credit Yeong-Ung Yang for The New York Times

Our family is just home from the bookstore, with multiple copies of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in hand, gamely reading in a new format — the book is the script of the play by the same name, and thus a different reading experience from the seven novels that came before it.

There will be no spoilers here, but the very title makes clear that “The Cursed Child” is a story about parents and children in a way that the original series never was. Harry Potter is a father now, and one question this book will answer is how the Boy Who Lived — when his parents didn’t — handles that role.

As an orphan, Harry himself could operate free of the burden a parent’s fears, love and expectation can place on a person. Now, as a parent, he has to confront it.

For readers who started reading these books when the first one came out nearly 20 years ago and grew up with Harry and friends, the scenes that reveal the characters as adults are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Though the story has serious themes, the sheer fun of returning to the familiar magical world is a delight.

And there are certainly moments when real-life parents can fantasize about the possibility of a magical assist. Imagine being able to use a spell like “Accio Binky!” to return a dropped pacifier to the sleeping baby, or “Expelliarmus Mobilio!” to expel a mobile phone right out of a teenager’s hand.

Molly Brennan, a mother of two attending a book release party on Saturday night at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., suggested a spell called Behavioramus. “I would dodge it,” said her son, Logan Brown, 9. “I like my behavior how it is.”

Becky Middleton of Glen Ridge, N.J., who has four children ages 6, 9, 9 and 11, said her spell of choice would be volume control. Rob Fechner of Montclair, the father of two boys ages 7 and 10, asked for a spell “to pause time so I could get stuff done and take a nap.”

It’s giving nothing away to say that none of those abilities seem likely to make raising children any simpler for Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Ron. As Julia Miner, a mother of three who lives outside Washington, D.C., said Sunday, when she was up to page 70 of “The Cursed Child,” parenting teenagers has challenges no matter who you are. Magic has never helped much with relationships in the Harry Potter universe, and the fact that wizards face some of the same bitter limits that Muggles do has always been a part of the series’ appeal.

But for many parents and children in this universe, the books are conversation–starters that help connect us, engaging us in the same world. Now our conversations can go further.

In the comments or on Facebook, tell us what spell would help you most as a parent.

Reading Novels at Medical School


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Sitting in a classroom at Georgetown Medical School usually reserved for committee meetings, we begin by reading an Emily Dickinson poem about the isolating power of sadness:

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.

It’s a strange sight: me, a surgical resident, reading poetry to 30 medical students late on a Tuesday night. Some of us are in scrubs, others in jeans; there are no white coats. Over the past four years, as the leader of the group, this has become my routine.

The students are here after long days in class and on the wards because they have discovered that medical education is changing them in ways that are unsettling. I remember that uneasiness well. My own medical education began with anatomy lab. The first day with the cadaver was unnerving, but after the first week the radio was blaring as we methodically dissected the anonymous body before us.

Two years later, on my first clinical rotation, I discovered that it does not take long to acclimate to the cries of patients as I hurried past their rooms, eager not to fall behind in a setting where work must be done quickly and efficiently. This practiced detachment feels necessary, a form of emotional and physical self-preservation. But with little time to slow down, ignoring our own thoughts and feelings quickly hardens into a habit.

During my first year in medical school, I found myself gravitating toward my old comfort zone — literature. As an English major, I had grown accustomed to the company of books and was feeling their absence now that “Don Quixote” had been displaced by Netter’s “Atlas of Human Anatomy.” I could look to Netter for concrete answers, but I needed Cervantes to help me formulate questions I had trouble pinning down, like why it was so easy to ignore the dead (and later, living) bodies around me? Illustrated cross-sections of the brain did little to illuminate the workings of my own mind. I needed time and space for introspection. The solution came in the form of a book club that later became an official course.

At Georgetown, the goal of our new literature and medicine track is to foster habits of reflection over four years of medical school. On the surface, the assigned books have nothing to do with medicine. We read no patient narratives, doctors’ memoirs or stories about disease.

Today’s topic is Haruki Murakami’s novel “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage,” which tells the story of a depressed middle-aged Tokyoite’s attempt to retrace his past in order to understand how his life became so empty. We talk about the main character’s colorless perception of the world, and why his mind feels so inaccessible to us.

I receive an email from a student later that evening. He, an aspiring psychiatrist, tells me the story of a much-admired college mentor. “I heard last week that he committed suicide. I am still crushed,” he writes. “He was diagnosed with depression but seemed to be doing great.” If he so misjudged his teacher’s state of mind, he worries, how will he make it as a psychiatrist?

Earlier this year, we placed the ethics of animal testing under the magnifying glass of Karen Joy Fowler’s “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.” The novel is narrated by a woman whose “sibling,” we later discover, is a chimpanzee who was raised with her as part of a human-chimp experiment. We used the book to think through real-life examples like the Silver Spring Monkeys — a series of gruesome primate experiments that both galvanized American animal-rights groups and led to breakthrough scientific discoveries.

A third-year student talked about the three years he spent working with rhesus macaques. Research from his lab led to breakthrough discoveries about memory and behavior and contributed to therapies such as deep brain stimulation. “Doesn’t that answer the ethical questions?” he asked.

Another student talked about studies that she worked on for several years before starting medical school. “Have you heard of professional testers?” she asked the room. “People whose only source of income is volunteering for different studies, mostly college kids and immigrants? Shouldn’t we be talking about human research also?” For me, the discussion proved transformative. I walked into that class firmly supporting animal research and walked away still supporting research but no longer eating meat.

Our busy jobs on the hospital wards require precision and efficiency, but in literature class we can slow down and explore human lives and thoughts in a different, more complex way. The class is an anatomy lab of the mind. We examine cultural conventions and conflicting perspectives, and reflect on our own preconceived notions about life and work. Reading attentively and well, we hope, will become a sustaining part of our daily lives and practice.

As I’m walking out of the classroom at the end of the evening, a third-year student approaches me to tell me he’s been thinking more deeply about his experience of being an unrelated organ donor to his step-uncle, a man he barely knew. “It’s been on my mind since we read Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ last month,” he says. “I want to write about it. I don’t even know how I feel about it, and I need to figure it out.”

Daniel Marchalik, M.D., is a urologist in Washington and heads the literature and medicine track at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.