On Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown_Girl_Dreaming-200If you are a regular reader of this blog or you landed here searching for information about Brown Girl Dreaming, I probably don’t need to explain to you how stories can change lives.  Maybe you are a reader who has long been drawn to the power of story.  Maybe you’re a parent looking for books to instill that appreciation in your kids.  Or maybe you’re a librarian who has made connecting people with books into a career.  Whatever the case, I think you know what stories can do.

Brown Girl Dreaming was a story I had to read twice to really appreciate.  The first time I flew through the pages looking for familiar elements that I so rarely see in books.  You see, I spent my childhood learning the days of the week by their religious obligation, standing quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance, and sitting out of school holiday celebrations just like Jacqueline Woodson did.  Like other minority experiences, it is one that is not often reflected in books, especially books for kids.

For readers who have never had the experience, let me tell you how it feels to read a book about a person who shares something that sets you apart from most people: it is thrilling. I tore through Brown Girl Dreaming looking for what we shared.  There was much we didn’t share–Woodson is African-American and grew up in the 1960s; I am Caucasian and grew up in the 1980s–but so many of her words and feelings might have been mine when it referenced our shared childhood religion.

In the world of children’s books, we have been talking a lot about the need for books to reflect the diverse experiences, cultures, ethnicities, abilities, etc. of young readers.  I have always believed that, but Brown Girl Dreaming made me feel it.

My second time through the book was slower.  I wanted to read it again to see what others who don’t share my religious background were seeing.  In that reading, I saw an exquisite coming-of-age memoir that was about so much more than religion.  It was about the power of stories to shape who we are. Woodson wrote about the stories her family told, the stories she read, and the stories she wrote as a child, and how they all became part of her.  She concludes her memoir by describing herself as a person who believes in many things, who carries many worlds inside of her because of those experiences of listening, reading, and observing the stories around her.

If there is one idea I can share with others, it is the one expressed in the final poem: “When there are many worlds, love can wrap itself around you, say, Don’t cry.”  Seek many worlds for yourself.  Listen, read, observe.

Links of interest:

 

Looking closely for science

eurekabookYou probably don’t think about science when you’re poring over a Where’s Waldo? book, but in the upcoming book Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist, Chad Orzel spends a whole chapter connecting seek-and-find books like Where’s Waldo? to science.  He talks about patterns and whatnot, but for kids, it’s about looking closely and observing details, which is just the beginning of thinking like a scientist.  Even if it doesn’t seem like it.

mrtweedsgooddeedsI was thinking about that as my daughter and I pored over a different seek-and-find book recently.  I chose Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds for the good deeds part of the story, but in the end it was the opportunity for looking closely that was the real strength of the book.  The spreads are full of details, and they were just challenging enough for my six-year-old to keep her attention without being too easy.  Once she got to the higher numbers, we found it was hard to remember which of the objects we’d already found, so we laid the book flat to use coins to mark our finds.  We recommend it for those looking to spend some time with something quirky, practice their observation skills, and get closer to their inner scientist. ;)

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Read more about Mr Tweed’s Good Deeds on Brain Pickings or read more about how observation relates to science in this post.

 

Disclosure: I received a review copy of Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds from the publisher.

 

 

Kids Voting Minneapolis

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I spent Election Day afternoon handing out kids’ ballots and I Voted stickers to the kids at my polling place.  It was pretty quiet, but the kids who did cast ballots in the Kids Voting Minneapolis mock election seemed so proud to be voting just like their parents that I couldn’t help but be glad I was there.

According to Kids Voting Minneapolis, about 50% of young people grow up in non-voting households like I did.  I didn’t vote at all until I was in my late twenties, and, as someone who is new to voting, I can tell you that it is intimidating to vote for the first time.  That is exactly why I wanted to volunteer with Kids Voting.  The goal of the organization is to de-mystify the process for kids in an effort to foster an engaged electorate when they grow up.  I believe in this wholeheartedly.

It is important to me that my daughter knows that we are a voting household.  We pay attention to politics, and we participate in elections.  She is growing up in a household in which politics are frequently discussed and debated.  Even so, I realized this year that she had never accompanied us to the polling place.  We’d always voted while she was at school or otherwise occupied as a matter of convenience.  That changed this year.  All three of us cast ballots together this year, and I hope that this is a new tradition will continue for a long time.

voteI also took the opportunity to share more about the election process with my six-year-old with the book Vote! by Eileen Christelow, which I was delighted to learn was actually inspired by Minnesota’s high voter turnout and early voter education!  It is a fun picture book that follows a small town mayoral race from the dog’s eye view.  It covers a lot of information, and it would be perfect for a second or third grade classroom.  For fourth and fifth grade classrooms, try America Votes by Linda Granfield, which even mentions the Kids Voting organization along with the note that “Statistics show that the Kids Voting program actually increases parent voter turnout by nearly five percent.”

Increasing voter turnout? Getting to see the pride of participation?  Encouraging a new generation of civic involvement? These are all great reasons to make volunteering with Kids Voting Minneapolis an Election Day tradition as well.

Let’s talk about sex ed

“Books are the easiest way to get the conversation rolling in a low-stress environment.” –Lindsey Hoskins, sex educator

I say this (or things like it) all the time, and I love to hear other people start saying it too.  Sometimes I worry that the Children’s Book Person in me makes me see every problem as one that can be solved by books.  That (probably) isn’t true, but I do think that books are really important for talking about the stuff that’s difficult to talk about.  It’s a lot easier to bring up a behavior issue or other circumstance when you can frame the conversation around a character in a book rather than the child in question. Finger pointing and spotlight shining usually do more harm than good, and there is no conversation in which both parent and child want to avoid pointing and spotlights more than the Sex Talk, which arguably shouldn’t be just one talk anyway.  And that’s where books come in.

All this stems from the new episode of Pratfalls of Parentinga fantastic podcast I’ve recommended before–in which Lindsey Hoskins shares her expertise as a sex educator/parent.  It is a great conversation for parents curious about how to approach sex stuff with kids.  She recommended Robie Harris‘ books about sex ed for kids: It’s So Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal.  Both are frank but age-appropriate guides to where babies come from, etc.  They have become classics, and must-haves for parents who want to open a healthy dialog with their kids about sex and puberty.

If you’re looking for a cute way to talk about where babies come from, try The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall, in which several possibilities are explored as people try to answer the little boy’s question.  The answers just end up confusing him though.  Babies come from eggs?  Babies come from seeds?  He does get the whole answer eventually.  It’s a book about where babies come from that might actually be described as charming.  Who would have thought?  Here’s a trailer to get an idea of the cuteness:

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Another book I’d add to the list of titles to consider for families with young kids is not about sex ed at all.  Miles is the Boss of his Body is about personal safety and empowerment.  It is important for kids to know that they can and should set boundaries  and speak up if they don’t want to be tickled, pinched, or hugged.  There is even a discussion guide to go along with it for teachers or parents who want to bring this subject up but don’t really know what to say about it.

You can learn more from Ms. Hoskins or one of the other educators at her clinic in the Parents as Sexuality Educators class offered by Family Tree Clinic.  I had the opportunity to attend one through my church last year, and I highly recommend it.

Note: This is not a sponsored post.  It’s just my opinion! :)

Kindness in Chalk

You could still see the messages written three different languages chalked on the sidewalk in front of my daughter’s school earlier this week from the October 10th Kindness in Chalk event. The words were faded then, but they still have me hope.

I couldn’t watch this video without getting a little teary. I know I’m kind of a sucker for this kindness stuff, but give it a chance. :)

Words matter, and small kindnesses matter. I really believe that, and I believe that we need to take this message beyond Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.  As always, I’m planning to spread the idea with books.

smallestStart with some picture books:

  • The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts – In this picture book, Sally notices everything, and she ends up making a big difference.
  • Because of You by B.G. Hennessy – A picture book to share the idea that every person can make a difference.
  • Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – Start talking about paying it forward with kids in this picture book.

You might also wish to check out the Year of Minnesota Nice blog–not to mention the Be Nice Box–for more ideas to spread kindness in your community.

 

Highlights from the Twin Cities Book Festival

It had been a few years since I had been to the Twin Cities Book Festival.  Once it moved to St. Paul, I let the distance (and my non-driving status) keep me home.  This year, I’m back behind the wheel of a car, so I thought I’d check out what I’d been missing.

I found a bigger and better book festival in the new location with something to interest book lovers of all ages.  I brought my six-year-old daughter, so we spent most of our time in the Children’s Pavilion.  From the moment we arrived, we were swept into the fun.  It started with meeting Bad Kitty, playing Moo! the game, and playing Legos.  From there it was one story, performance, or science demo after another.

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The highlight for me was Lauren Stringer.  I have loved her illustrations for a long time, and a book she wrote and illustrated, Winter is the Warmest Season, is one of my favorite winter picture books.  Her latest book is Deer Dancer written by Mary Lyn Ray, and she turned the reading into a performance with a ballerina as the deer.  It really brought the book alive, and the kids in the audience loved to see the dancer up close.  Stringer also shared a bit about her illustration process by showing the journal/sketchbook she created as she worked on the book.  I loved that she advised readers to take note of the end pages.  They are there to set the mood of the book, she said.  In Deer Dancer the end pages should give you the sense of entering the forest.

IMG_0526.JPGIf I had to guess, I think my daughter would say her highlight was the Kitchen Pantry Science Lab.  I mean, there was a paper bag volcano, cornstarch goblin goo, and several other really cool experiments.  It was messy and full of surprises for the kids.  What more could you ask for?  Well, the book, I suppose.  My daughter declared we just had to buy the Kitchen Science Lab for Kids.  We can’t wait to get a copy and try some of the experiments at home.

I could go on.  It was a great day, full of great bookish fun.  You can see some of my pictures on my photo blog, but I highly recommend that you make sure to attend next year.  I know I will.

 

 

Speaking of chickens…

chickoOver on my photo blog, I shared three picture books with silly birds last week.  This week I happened upon another great silly chicken story that I have to share: Chick-o-Saurus Rex by Lenore Jennewein and Daniel Jennewein.  It is about a Little Chick who discovers his family connection to the great dinosaur.  Fun and educational! ;)

Here’s a trailer:

 

And here’s the author talking about the book (with a funny joke at the end).

 

Putting stories together

BookUnknownAmericans-400“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.  They make one story become the only story.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

As I watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, The Danger of the Single Story, I could not help but think of a book I had just read, The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.  This novel shares many stories.  They are all from Latin American immigrants, and they tell different stories of why and how they came to the United States.  Perhaps we think we know the immigrant story.  Perhaps this book is an opportunity to create a more complete view, to move beyond a stereotype.

Add in The Burgess Boys, Vaclav and Lena, and Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea for an even wider view.

What books opened your mind to a world beyond stereotypes?

 

If you like… Laura Ingalls Wilder (Part 2)

Since Laura Ingalls Wilder has been in the news recently for the upcoming publication of her not-for-kids autobiography, I thought I would revisit her story for reader’s advisory purposes. Here are a few more books that kids (or adults who read children’s books) who like the Little House books might also like:

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  • Little Author in the Big Woods by Yona McDonough is a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder for kids ages 8-12.  There are crafts, games, and other information about the time period included.  It’s a great book for fans of the series.
  • Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill tells the story of a little girl in 1920’s Alaska.  The episodic chapters are full of details that make life in the mining town during the gold rush come alive.  The main character is only five years old, but the book is aimed at 9-12 year olds.
  • What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren takes place during the Great Depression when a family leaves the city for a farm in Wisconsin.  There is no electricity or indoor plumbing, so even though it is set in more modern times than the Little House books, it isn’t so different from the pioneer days.  It is one of my favorite middle grade novels of 2014, so I highly recommend it!

See my my previous Little House reader’s advisory post here. Or check out this episode of Stuff You Missed in History Class all about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The difference a prosthetic can make

I am well aware that if I had been born in a different time or place my life would not be what it is.  I might point to my eyeglasses and reference my very poor unassisted vision as one way my life would have been quite different if I’d been born a few hundred years ago.  But I think that my prosthetic arm is the more obvious tie to the modern era that I rely on regularly.

I might argue that I can’t go without my glasses for more than a few minutes, and I can go without my fake arm for days if necessary, but the truth is that I don’t want to go without either.  There are plenty of one armed people who don’t use prosthetics– and most insurance companies will consider them cosmetic–but I can’t imagine my life without mine.

IMG_0140.JPGI wish I had a cool story like the girl in A Time to Dance who was able to live her dream of pursuing a career in dance even after losing her foot because of her prosthetic leg.  Yes, it’s fiction (teen fiction, to be specific), but there’s a real precedent there.  For Veda in the story, it is obvious how having a prosthetic leg changed her life.  It opened her to opportunities that were otherwise closed.  Sometimes I can forget that that’s possible.

My prosthesis is neither here nor there in my dreams, which revolve around books, libraries, and writing.  My story is nowhere near as dramatic as the usual inspirational novel.  And the truth is that if I’d never had a prosthetic arm, my life may very well be basically the same.

I have no idea what I would do with my hair without my prosthetic arm, but I’m sure I would have figured out something.

The real story is this: I have had my prosthetic arm since before I can remember.  It has always been a part of me.  I am not sure how much it has changed my life to have had it.  It simply is my life.  I could probably live without it if I had to, but I really don’t want to.  It does make my life much easier, and I definitely need it to put my hair in a pony tail.

My story isn’t an inspirational novel.  My story is set in a world where I haven’t had to consider “Ugly Laws” or other limitations.  I live after the Americans with Disabilities Act made accommodations available to those who needed them, and I’ve never need any anyway.  I was able to pursue whatever career I wanted, and I never had to worry if I would be barred from anything because of what I lacked.

I am very grateful that I live here and now. But even in the here and now, prosthetics are prohibitively expensive for many.

When I read stories like A Time to Dance, I am reminded of how powerful access to prosthetics can be, how it can truly change people’s lives.  I’ll never know how my life would be different without my prosthetic arm, if at all, but I am extremely grateful that my parents made it happen for me.  I would love to give someone else a chance to experience what prosthetics can do.  Perhaps it will be integral to their dream.  Or maybe it will be integral to their sense of identity.  Either way, I think it’s a worthy cause.

Consider a donation to the charity that made my prosthetic arms possible: Shriner’s Hospital for Children Twin Cities.  Or explore other options for limb deficient people who find that their insurance does not cover prosthetic devices or their repair such as Limbs for Life.

 

Note: This is not a sponsored post, and the book was a library copy.