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:

 

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.

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.

 

On the week’s events

SecretHum_cover_FINALIt has been a long and difficult week for many people.  My news feed for the past week has been full of difficult topics–stuff that we don’t often want to talk about.  Mental illness, suicide, race relations, violence.  A lot of people seem to be feeling raw and angry over these things.  I don’t blame them.  Parts of me are raw and angry too.

This week I read The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer.  It is a middle grade novel about a girl who is in her own difficult spot.  After years of living a here-and-there life with her mother, Grace is grieving her mother’s loss and trying to figure out where she belongs now.  It is a lovely story about grief and identity that made me tear up several times. Mostly I felt like the novel was about hope.

Whenever Grace had to start at a new school after yet another move, her mother would tell her, “You can do this.  You are brave, and you are loved.”  I want to repeat those words to so many people right now.

You are brave.

You are loved.

I can’t change the world with those words, but perhaps if we keep talking and keep changing our own small worlds, things will get better.

My Summer Wonders

We ushered in our summer with a busy weekend that was full of sun.  After several days (weeks?) of rain, it was much needed sunshine–at least, it was much needed by me.

IMG_2009IMG_2012 IMG_2014We celebrated the solstice on Friday evening at our Unitarian-Univeralist church, caught a puppet show on Saturday morning at the library (highly recommend catching one of the many performances of Molly and the Magic Boot this summer; my daughter is still singing the “hootenanny” song–though perhaps that’s not a selling point. . .), and joined ten thousand other music fans for Rock the Garden on Saturday night.

While Matt and Kim stole the show for me (even though I was not previously familiar with them), Best Coast deserves a mention for singing “Why would you live anywhere else?”  Of course, they were referencing California, but on the first day of a Minnesota summer, there is no better place to be.  Why would you live anywhere else right now?

Our summer has just begun, of course.  In the weeks to come we will be camping, swimming, grilling, and more.  What will your summer bring?

If you need some inspiration, try a picture book: Summer Wonders by Bob Raczka is a good place to start. It celebrates summer with simplicity and ice pops.  What more could you want?

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Perhaps at the end of the summer we will be able to make our own book of wonders.

Choose to Act

For many people, May 1st is a day of prayer.  For a growing number of others, it is a day of reason.  Sometimes it seems that no two groups of people are further apart than these.  But no matter our preference for prayer or reason on May 1st, we can agree that action is needed to make our world a better place.  The Week of Action (April 24-29) is designed to bring people together to celebrate our ability to make a difference in the here and now.

I plan to engage in small acts of kindness for the next six days.  I was inspired by a book, of course.  There’s always a book in my plans somewhere.  The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz is a feel-good novel about the power of good deeds.  Maybe the idea sounds cheesy to you.  But to me, it sounds do-able.  It might not seem like you’re saving the world when you’re planting flowers in someone’s yard or leaving small gifts for your neighbors, but you are saving little tiny pieces of the world with every action.

 

Hopefully this is just the beginning of my own personal sense of action.  Let’s all choose to act.

Sharing the Love of Books

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There was a time when I had a whole roomful of books.  Shelves lined every wall, and they were packed with books.  I looked at my bookshelves, and I saw success.  It was what I thought I always wanted.  What book lover wouldn’t?

It took a while, but eventually I realized something.  Or perhaps something shifted for me.  I’m not sure.  In any case, I realized that I don’t get much from having books.  I do get lots of pleasure or happiness or fulfillment from sharing them, so I decided to share more than I kept.  I guess I’m more of a librarian at heart than I thought I was.  :)

My home is no longer a repository for books.  It’s a way station.  They may stay here for a bit, but then they are passed along to a friend or left in a Little Free Library.  Now when I look at my bookshelves (not a roomful anymore–just one bookcase in the dining room), I see possibilities.  I see connections.

Today I was an official World Book Night giver.  I pledged to give away a stack of books to light or non-readers along with thousands of others across the country who want to “spread the love of reading person to person.”  It was neat to see people’s skepticism (free? where’s the catch?) melt away as they realized that this was just a book for the love of it.

There’s nothing like an evening of giving away books to remind you that life is pretty great.  If you have the opportunity to be a World Book Night Giver next year, I highly recommend the experience.

Links to Listen to

The office has been quiet over the holidays, and I have been catching up on my podcast listening. Here are a few that I thought worth sharing, along with some books that popped to mind as I listened:

  • 20140105-115326.jpgRadiolab’s latest short episode The Times They are a-Changin’ looks at the Earth’s journey around the sun and reminds us that nothing is as constant as we think it is.  I was reminded of the picture book by Debra Frasier that I recently read with my daughter A Birthday Cake is No Ordinary Cake, which is about how each birthday is another trip around the sun.  Millions of years ago, the trip just took a little longer.
  • The Stuff You Missed in History Class episode about Edward Jenner, the father of vaccines, was fascinating. Among other things, the show mentioned the difficulty of getting the small pox vaccine from Europe to the New World, and the ethically ambiguous way that the task was eventually accomplished, which was a part of the novel Saving the World by Julia Alvarez.
  • 20140105-115146.jpgLexicon Valley looks at the way kids begin to use language in Learning to Say No.  Parents, in particular, are likely to appreciate the opportunity to see what’s behind this pesky little word. To go along with that, Claudia Rueda has a sweet picture book simple titled No that as Booklist said in its review gets “right to the heart of a child’s inner life.”

If you, like me, are staying inside this weekend due to unbearably cold temperatures, these podcasts might be just the thing to ease the boredom.  I hope everyone stays warm and safe.  Happy listening and reading! :)

What does winter sound like?

If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have looked for the answer in a picture book.  It seems like a picture book sort of question, doesn’t it?

photo (1)“Snow came singing a silent song,” writes Lynne Rae Perkins in Snow Music.  In this book, winter is quiet after a snow fall, but there is a whole symphony of sounds if you listen for them.  Cars, trucks, and animals all sound different in the winter.  There’s a beauty in the whispers of snowfall and the loud scrapes of trucks clearing the way.  There’s a beauty in the differences.

For the past several weeks, I have had a different answer to the question.  I have had Haley Bonar’s new EP Wntr Snds on repeat, and these six songs are spare and intimate in a way that creates just the warmth that we need in a cold, cold Minnesota winter.  “Like Ice and Cold” is my personal favorite.  In this song, winter sounds like change, like hope.  Maybe it isn’t so different from Snow Music.

If you need a little encouragement to see what winter can offer during this sub-zero week, try one of these and listen closely.

Find Snow Music at your local library or indie bookstore. Or get more wintery picture book suggestions here.

Zinefest 2013 Recap

Yesterday was a long day.  I was up early for last minute stapling, and then I was off to spend my day asking where people were from.  Last year I asked people at the Zinefest to share a book they had read recently.  This year I tied my question in to my new zine, Whereverland, which explores my here-and-there roots, with a new question: Where are you from?

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For many, it was a straightforward question.  They wrote their answers with confidence.  Others shared several answers.  “I’m not from only one place,” a woman said almost apologetically as she wrote the names of three different cities.  By the end of the day, I had collected many, many places.  Some came with tidbits of trivia: Did you know that Waseca, WI is the home of Cool Whip?  I did not.  Some were from far away (three from China, two from Germany, one from Australia), but most were from Minneapolis or very close.  I loved the neighborhood pride that popped up occasionally.  Powderhorn, Northeast, Bryn Mawr, and Uptown are all represented at least once.

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As for me, I like to say that I’m from Minnesota, but you can read more about that in Whereverland. :)