Looking beyond labels

goldendomes

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan is a beautiful book that provides a child’s eye view of Muslim culture.  The book has received several positive reviews and honors, but it still managed to spark a social media controversy when children’s book author and former educator Kate Messner recommended it to her Twitter followers.

The School Library Journal article about the incident quotes Messner as saying that the Twitter user who took issue with her recommendation, then using the handle “atheistactuary,” seemed to have “set up a search for  Islam, and made it their mission to seek out anyone that had something positive to say about the religion.”  Messner, for her part, maintained a diplomatic tone throughout the exchange.  She promoted diversity and openness in her original post, and she didn’t back down from that in a multi-day back and forth with this Twitter user who seemed intent on painting all Muslims as terrorists, misogynists, or otherwise dangerous.

I can’t be alone in thinking that this controversy shows why books like Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns are important.  We need to humanize people who are different if we want to raise kids who are willing to see beyond their own experiences to make the world a better place.  To see people as individuals rather than as a label full of our preconceived notions.

While I have made no secret of my non-belief–thus making me an atheist or agnostic depending on your definitions of the words–I do believe in people.  I prefer to wear “Humanist” over “atheist” most of the time since that puts people first.  It emphasizes values over beliefs, and that’s important to me.  The specifics of my beliefs about the universe are less important than my values of openness and diversity.

I suppose I am still glowing with a cooperative spirit after reading Chris Stedman’s Faitheist, which encourages non-religious people to get involved in interfaith activism.  It was hugely inspiring, and it has motivated to me to share this specific message: not all atheists are like the Twitter user in this incident.  Please don’t use this as a reason to add to the already strong prejudice against the non-religious.   We are people beyond our label just like Muslims, Christians, and others.  We are as committed to the common good as anyone else.

No matter what your religious affiliation (or none at all), do check out Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns as a way to open a conversation about another culture with young children.  The lush illustrations portray every day life in a Muslim family.  It builds understanding without preaching, and I recommend it highly.  Teen readers might find Growing Up Muslim by Sumbul Ali-Karamali or Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah provide a similar glimpse into Muslim culture.

Check out my For Secular Families page for more posts about children’s books related to religion to promote a people-first perspective in your family no matter what you believe.

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April Book Pick: The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure

Do you believe in fairies?  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did.  The man best known for creating the greatest fictional detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes, but he also wrote a book called The Coming of the Fairies.  Twin Cities writer Mary Losure came across The Coming of the Fairies book in a local independent book store and became intrigued with the story of the Cottingley Fairies featured in Doyle’s book.  Two young girls apparently photographed the fairies, and these photos were seen as proof of the existence of fairies by some.  A photograph is proof, right?  In the 1920’s, cameras were still a pretty new technology.  Not many people had the equipment to take a photo much less alter a negative to create a fake photo.  Still, it was hard for many people to believe.

fairyringThe Fairy Ring by Mary Losure explores the story behind the photographs.  It is a fascinating piece of narrative nonfiction that looks at how a hoax might begin very innocently and spiral out of control quickly.  It is written for kids (middle school age, primarily), but I recommend this book even beyond that audience.  After all, we live in a world of fake photos and fake news and hoaxes of every sort.  Sometimes the fakes are easy to spot.  But sometimes they are much more difficult.  It might seem impossible to kids that these photos were ever taken as proof of fairies, but we’ve probably all been taken in by some online hoax at some point.  This is a book that will have you thinking about proof and asking yourself: Would I have believed?

CottingleyFairies4

Mary Losure’s newest book, for which I am on a library waiting list, is called Wild Boy.  It was recently featured of the Daily Circuit.

Did you miss last month’s Book Pick?  Check it out: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links may benefit Proper Noun Blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

Choosing Kind

choosekind

wonderWhen I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I had no idea how popular it would become. Frankly, I was distracted by my disappointment that it hadn’t been published in time to include in my article about books that explore physical differences.  I blogged about for my employer twice (naming it a “promising bloom” here and mentioning the multiple narrator device here), and it’s come up this blog at least once that I remember.

Since then it has become a bit of a phenomenon.  There was award buzz, a hashtag, and a whole movement surrounding this book.  And it’s moving beyond kids: in the UK, there is an adult/all ages version of the book on shelves.  I’m happy whenever you get adults to consider young people’s point of view by getting them to read children’s books, but this book in particular, I’d like to push into the hands of the general public.  It is an opportunity to see out so many difference eyes, to see why people make the choices they do, and what the consequences of those choices might be.  The best way to get people to make kind choices is to share stories like this one.

If I haven’t convinced you to read it yet, perhaps the book’s trailer will do so:

Kindness is an all ages choice, and this book spans a wide range of ages, as I mentioned.  But for those with preschoolers or primary graders looking to explore kindness and empathy, try one of these:

  • homeforbirdFairy Goes A-Marketing – this is a picture book version of a poem about a fairy who sets her caged animals free or gives away she things to help others.
  • Say Hello – Explores the feeling of being left out and encourages kids to include everyone.
  • Jamaica’s Blue Marker – Jamaica doesn’t want to share her markers with Russell until she learns to look at why he acts so mean at school.
  • Each Kindness – A new girl starts at Chloe’s school, but she won’t play with her.  It is only after the new girl has moved again that Chloe realizes she could have been kinder to Maya.  
  • A Home for Bird – A little frog goes to great lengths to help a new friend find a home.

These books are great for starting discussions, but in all honesty, any story will do.  In the words of Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley:

“Reading fiction is and always was practice in empathy — learning to see the world through often quite alien perspectives, learning to understand how other people’s points of view reflect their experiences.”

Wonder stands out because it is the story of someone who is very different and it explores the choices we make when faced with difference, but I believe that fiction can create a kinder world if we let it.

Please, choose kind.

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Monday Morning Music with Deerhoof

In keeping with the recent theme of highlighting musical events that I have missed, I thought I would mention that Deerhoof recently played in Minneapolis.  Check out their latest, Breakup Song.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my introduction to Deerhoof came from a boo.  Rules to Rock By by Josh Farrar is a fun children’s book about a girl who is obsessed with the band Deerhoof.  She actually named her guitar Satomi after her favorite bassist.  She wants to play in a band herself, but it isn’t easy when you’re only twelve.  It’s a cute book that I recommend to tween girls who daydream about starting a band or obsess about their favorite indie rockers.

Or read about Satomi and the crew here.

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The Year of Protest Reading List

Back in October, Brain Pickings posted the Occupy Omnibus: From Philosophy to Art, 10 Essential Books on Protest with their choices to better understand protest “through the customary Brain Pickings lens of cross-disciplinary curiosity, spanning everything from psychology and philosophy to politics and government to art and music.”   Thoreau makes the list, of course, with Civil Disobedience, but it also includes books about protest music and street art.

That was October.  Since then Time Magazine named “The Protester” the Person of the Year, “Occupy” has been talked about as Word of the Year, and 2011 is being labelled the “Year of Protest” by many.

In light of all this, I want to add a couple of titles to the list that Brain Pickings started.  The post only includes one children’s book after all, and as good as Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-ins is, I might have included other titles before that one if I were making the list.

  • After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance by Anne Sibley O’Brien and Perry Edmond O’Brien – The mother-son author/illustrator team behind this book are not new to protests, but teens (who are the main audience for the book) might be.  They might not have heard of many of the people and causes profiled in the book, which includes the recently deceased Vaclav Havel among several others.  After Gandhi was published in 2009, and the concluding chapter, “The Future of Nonviolence,” would be a great way to open a discussion with young people about the protests of the past year and how they relate to the past.  Highly recommended to share with teens or for for time-pressed adults who want brief synopses of important revolutionaries.
  • Paths to Peace: People Who Changed the World by Jane Breskin Zalben – This book appeals to a similar but slightly younger audience than After Gandhi, and it may have a stronger impact to some young people as many of the profiles of peace-makers reference the childhood events that influenced the person to take on their particular cause.  Zalben’s illustrations are an important part of the book as well, and the Art Notes at the end of the book provide more details of why she chose the illustration elements she did for each individual, including for herself.  She writes that she found a meditative practice through knitting, and she included a swatch of her work on the title page to symbolize its place in her own peace journey.

There are so many more books for young people that highlight peaceful revolution that I couldn’t possibly do them all justice in this one post.  I will just mention, finally, that Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin was particularly powerful to me.  It is quite brief.  It is definitely for children, but I recommend that anyone interested in what “freedom” and “peace” mean give this story of a young boy in Communist Russia a chance.  As Peter Sis says, it is “an important book for all people living in free society.”  I must agree.

Thank you, hands

My little artist made her hand-shaped turkey last weekend.  I tried to emphasize a feeling of gratitude this Thanksgiving with the book All of Me: A Book of Thanks by Molly Bang.  It says,

“What great hands!

Thank you, hands.

for gripping

and throwing

and patting and holding.

And for hugging.”

 

Also, thanks for being turkey-shaped. :)

The Poetry of Science (Books for Secular Families)

The Tree That Time Build: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination is one of my favorite poetry collections for young people.  From the book:

“Both poets and scientists wonder at and about the world.  Out of that wonder, scientists devise experiments to see whether they can verify what they think might be true, while poets craft language to examine and communicate their insights.”

I must admit that I am more of a poet than a scientist, so the poems in this collection are the perfect way for me to connect with science in a way that reinforces the idea that wonder doesn’t go away with explanation.  The poems are organized thematically to cover our origins, dinosaurs, plants life, animals, insects, and genetics.  The accompanying CD  includes many of the poems being read by the poets.  The book & CD would make a great gift for a family with an interest in nature.  Perhaps pair it with a tree planted in their name or other gift from the Arbor Day Foundation store.

This book will be a family treasure and a classroom favorite.

See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.

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Books for Secular Families on TV

Back in June, I recorded a couple of episodes of Atheist Talk, which I blogged about here.  The episodes have been airing on local cable access channels, but they are now available online.

You can download the podcast of Children’s Books About Science to hear what I have to say about On the Day You Were Born, Turn it Loose, and others.

Or if you’re more interested in religious topics (from a secular perspective), download Children’s Books About Religion for conversation about books that explore religious beliefs and diversity, Bible stories, and more.

I’ve blogged about many of the books I talked about on the show, and many more I’ve discovered since then.  Visit my Secular Thursday page to see all the posts in my “Books for Secular Families” series.

Celebrating Farmers Markets

This week, August 7th through 13th, is Farmers Market Week.  Here are some things you might do to celebrate:

  • Visit a market in a different neighborhood.  I love my local market. It’s small, but it feels like “our” market.  But we always mean to get over to one of the larger markets in Minneapolis.  Perhaps this is the week.
  • Try something new.  I’m interested in trying one of the food vendors that frequent the markets locally, but it would also be fun to try to vegetable that we rarely choose.
  • Support local artisans.  There are several artisans at my local market that I plan to patronize before the season ends. (Lefthand Originals, I’m looking at you.)
  • Get the kids involved.  It wouldn’t be difficult to set up a farmers market scavenger hunt to keep the kids entertained while you do your shopping.
  • Read about it! I’d love to revisit To Market To Market by Nikki McClure with Ladybug.  It is a lovely book about a trip to a farmers market that talks about where the foods (and other items) come from and how they got to the market.  It is my favorite way to celebrate Farmers Market Week, but what else would you expect from a children’s book geek like me? :)   I’d also recommend the book to visual artists as Nikki McClure’s illustrations are very cool.  This video has more on her process:

Exploring our Origins (Books for Secular Families)

“You are older than the dinosaurs. Older than the earth.  Older than the sun and all the planets.  You are older than the stars. You are as old as the universe itself.”

These are the opening lines of Older Than the Stars by Karen Fox.  What better way to make the subject of cosmology kid-friendly than to start with a discussion of age.  When you’re a kid, “how old are you?” is an important question, and this book starts by turning this question into a mystery.

From those opening lines, the book continues  with a cumulative rhyme in the style of “This is the House That Jack Built” that is accessible even to my preschooler.  There are also fact-boxes with more straight-forward information about the science of the big bang and the formation of the earth on each spread, which makes the book appealing to kids up to second or third grade.  The illustrations match the text well.  They start off kind of chaotic and gradually they come to resemble things we recognize.  This book is my first-round pick for talking to kids about where we come from.  Here is a peek inside, courtesy of the author’s blog:

Some secular families may appreciate Born With a Bang by Jennifer Morgan, which covers similar information.  Some secular readers may not be totally comfortable with the first person narration, from the perspective of the universe, in this book.  For others, though, reading science like a story is what finally makes science “click” for them.

Looking for more curriculum connections to astronomy and cosmology?  School Library Journal has lots of great book suggestions in “Off We Go, Into the Wild Black Yonder.”

More book recommendations about religion and science on the For Secular Families page.