From Kissing to. . .

Through the luck of the library hold list draw I went from reading an ARC of Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan to a library copy of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  I think I had tears in my eyes the entire time I read these books back to back.

twoboysTwo Boys Kissing a a teen novel about a couple of gay teens trying to win the world record for the longest kiss.  In the hands of David Levithan, one of my personal favorite YA writers, the story becomes about more than winning a record or about making a statement about gay rights.  He uses an unusual narrator to tell a larger story.  Our storyteller is an omniscient view from the collective voice of gay men who have passed.  They watch the characters being so open with their sexuality and speak of their experiences before being out was okay, before AIDS was a thing.  It was very powerful, and it is easily one of my favorite books of the year.

tellthewolvesimhomeThen I picked up Tell the Wolves I’m Home from the library.  I’d been waiting for the book for months, and it seemed serendipitous that it arrived in my hands when it did.  This book is set in the 1980′s, when AIDS was just beginning to be a thing.  June’s uncle whose relationship to the family is strained because he was gay has just died, and June is devastated.  She tries to understand the choices her family made.  But it’s hard to make sense of why we choose to cut off the ones we love the most when they make choices we don’t understand.

I was reminded of these words from the collective narrator of Two Boys Kissing (quoted from ARC):

“So many of us had to make our own families. So many of us had to pretend when we were home.  So many of us had to leave.  But every single one of us wishes we hadn’t had to.  Every single one of us wishes our family had acted like our family, that even when we found a new family, we hadn’t had to leave the other one behind.  Every single one of us would have loved to have been loved unconditionally by our parents.”

It’s gotten better for LGBT kids, I think.  I hope.  But I know that there are still some who have to deal with families who want nothing to do with them.  It breaks my heart to think about the people I know personally who are separated from their families for reasons like this.

Stories like these make me hug my daughter tightly and promise to love her no matter what.  I hope she knows that she can make different choices than the ones I made without fear of losing us.  We will always act like her family.

Find Two Boys Kissing at your library or buy it from an indie bookstore.  Then you’ll probably want to do the same for Tell the Wolves I’m Homelibrary or indie bookstore.

Want to be in a band?

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I came across Want to be in a Band? at work recently as I was going through some new picture books, and I paused.  It isn’t often you find a picture book that is one part memoir, one part instruction manual for the music industry.  And it’s illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators?!  Love.

I wasn’t familiar with Suzzy Roche of the family folk-band The Roches before this book.  I’ll add it to the list of trivia I have learned from my work in the book industry.  In any case, Ms. Roche reveals the secrets to successful musicianship. Here they are for anyone secretly harboring a desire for family folk band stardom: A lot of practice, a lot of shows, and not letting the critics get you down.  Most of all, it’s about love.  Love for the music and love for your sisters.  That’s the important thing, she says.

Maybe I liked the book because I have a thing for memoirs and picture book memoirs are so rare.  Or maybe it’s because I really do want to be in a band despite my ridiculous lack of musicality.  Actually, it’s probably because I’ve been listening to a lot of The Ericksons (a local sister band with a folk/rock sound) lately, and I can’t help but wonder if they sing at breakfast.  Because that’s what being in a family band is like, right?    Perhaps Roche spoiled the fantasy a little bit with her pragmatism, but next to Giselle Potter’s folk art style illustrations, I’ll allow it.

Whatever the reality, sisters can make some lovely music.  Here is “Where Do You Dwell?” for you to listen to while you imagine a life in which you practice a lot, play a lot of small shows, ignore the naysayers, and just love music.

Find Want to be in a Band? from your local library or support an independent bookstore. No affiliate stuff here.  Just trying to support my fellowbook people. :)

Also, you can name your price for The Ericksons music here.

Halloween Reflections

I know I’ve been accused of turning everything into a Learning Experience, and some people think that means sucking the fun out of everything.  I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that because I think we had a great Halloween, thank you very much.

We traipsed up and down the streets of our neighborhood with the “park friends” and their parents.  We had a dinosaur, a fairy princess, a ballerina and my little witch all excitedly carrying around their bags of candy and doing what they are rarely allowed to do: be out walking around after dark.

But that isn’t all there is to it.  Wait for it…. Halloween is also an opportunity to build social skills.  For the shy kids, this means meeting new people in a safe space.  For all kids, you can talk about (& model) the ways we are good neighbors–respecting property, being friendly, not littering, etc.   In our group, we also addressed not asking for more candy, not ringing a door bell more than once, and staying on the sidewalk.  We also discussed  whether it was polite to ask if there were treat alternatives for kids with food allergies.  We weren’t sure on that one.

It was a learning experience for us too.  Next year we may try to go with a smaller group.  I will definitely wear better walking shoes, and I’ll at least throw a witch’s hat on or something.  Everyone ought to get in the spirit of things, including me.  Even if I do suck the fun out of everything. :)

More about the Hidden Lessons of Halloween from Parent Further.

Creating a Play Space for Preschoolers (Guest Post)

This is a guest post by Jennifer Zimmerman about how she set up a Montessori and Waldorf inspired space for her kids to learn and play.

When my son Owen was approaching preschool age, we moved into a new home. This motivated me to really think about his new bedroom and how I wanted him to use it. I also  thought a lot about his future schooling and which educational philosophies would be a good match for his personality and needs. I looked into both Montessori and Waldorf education. I liked different things about both philosophies. I liked how Montessori encouraged self-help skills, independence and allowed the child to choose learning materials that fit their abilities and advance at their own pace. Yet, I also felt myself attracted to how Waldorf focused on the arts, encouraged pretend play and immersed children into a magical fantasy world. I favored Montessori for Owen, but I still wanted to incorporate a few things from Waldorf. I set out to create a fun and playful environment that had many opportunities for self-directed learning and exploration.

I loved the Montessori reading nooks, and so I created one by using a short and wide bookshelf to partition off a small area of his room. I hung a reading lamp on the wall and placed cozy pillows and stuffed animals near his rocking chair inside the nook. I placed his books on the bookshelf in easy reach so he could choose which ones to pull out and read. In this photo you can see his partitioned off nook. Just behind the shelf is where his cozy reading spot was:

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In another area of the room I hung a mirror close to the floor at my son’s level. The low hanging mirror is a common Montessori item, but this is also where some Waldorf influence came in. I hung some dress up clothes on hooks near the mirror, as well as some colorful play silks for pretend play. Play silks are an open ended toy which Waldorf really encourages.

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Open ended toys are toys that are gender neutral and do not have a specific purpose. Their purpose is up to the child to imagine. Play silks are square or rectangular pieces of real silk that usually have been dyed different colors. A play silk can be tied on the body as a skirt, a hat, a cape, wings, or a doll sling. They can be used as water, land, or sky with small toys, as a doll blanket, or simply waved around in the air during active play. Another example of an open ended toy is a push cart. The cart can be used by babies learning to walk, by toddlers transporting toys, as a stroller for dolls or stuffed animals, as a dump truck, or many other things according to what the child wants to imagine that day. Waldorf toys are quite spendy, so if you are on a budget like me then you must get creative about obtaining them. Waldorf-like toys can be purchased at thrift stores or homemade. There are many websites that give directions on how to make Waldorf toys if you are crafty. I bought the play silks as blanks for around five dollars each and then dyed them myself. I bought a push cart at Ikea for just under twenty dollars. This multipurpose toy, which can be used for many years, was well worth the price.

Next, I placed some Montessori-inspired educational materials on low shelves. These shelves should be short enough for children to reach, and wide enough to hold quite a few materials. The materials are objects and toys that allow children to practice life skills. Things like stringing beads and shape puzzles are placed in bowls or on trays on the shelves. There are many websites that show how to create these materials yourself. This concept melded very well with Waldorf’s idea of having natural objects around to be used as open ended play things. I found many real wood bowls and plates at thrift stores, some even shaped like tree leaves, and filled them with objects from nature such as pine cones, rocks, and nuts. Owen had a small table and chair that he could bring his materials over to play with them.

One area where Waldorf and Montessori are in complete agreement is the play kitchen. A play kitchen is a place that is ripe for pretend play for any preschooler, and also teaches important life skills to satisfy the Montessori side of things. Along with Owen’s play kitchen, we also found him a small play hutch made out of real wood at a thrift store. The hutch has real glass doors and contains real ceramic dishes, real metal pots and panscookware and silverware from Ikea. Learning to handle fragile items at a young age is an important aspect of Montessori education, and Waldorf stresses using natural materials for everything that comes into contact with the child. If a dish breaks, cleaning it up also becomes a learning experience that the child can be engaged in. They can use their child sized broom and dust pan to help clean it up.  Owen not only plays with real glass and ceramic kitchen items, he also eats and drinks from them. As a result, he learned about these materials early in life and is very careful with them. In fact, I accidentally break more dishes then he does.

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In Owen’s closet I placed a large shelf that holds his folded clothing. There is also a bar at his height with some of his clothes hung on it. This is another Montessori philosophy. Children are encouraged to choose their own clothing from a young age. Having the clothes out on shelves instead of stuffed into drawers makes it much easier for little hands to find what they need without making a big mess. Dressing oneself is another life skill that Montessori teaches. Waldorf encourages that clothing be made out of natural materials such as cotton or wool, and they discourage any commercial or fictional characters on clothing. This is one of those somewhat odd things about Waldorf (there are many!) but one that I personally try to live by.

ImageWhat we didn’t have room for in Owen’s room was an art station. Art, music and dancing are a very important part of a Waldorf education. We stored Owen’s art and music supplies in a tall shelf with bins. The art bin could easily be taken out and carried to the kitchen where Owen was encouraged to paint, color and draw. Owen preferred abstract paintings and I learned that if I gave him three complementary colors he would produce some pretty cool looking art work.

Owen is six years old now, and he has been joined by his little sister Isla who just turned 16 months. We just recently moved again and I now face the task of setting up a bedroom for each of them, and a small play area that they can play in together. Thanks to their  Montessori and Waldorf inspired toys, it is not hard to create a play room that a six-year old boy and 16-month old girl can play in together. They both love their play kitchen. While Owen ties play silks around his neck as capes, Isla uses them to wrap up her dolls. They both push their dolls and stuffed animals around in their cart, and Owen even gives Isla a ride in it every so often. They do art work together and Owen reads books to his little sister. Owen ended up attending a traditional school as he didn’t make it through the lottery system to gain entrance to the Montessori public school in our city. Waldorf was never an option for him, mostly because it is private and very expensive, but also because some aspects of their philosophy do not mesh with his personality or our personal beliefs. However, I think what we did take from both systems was very beneficial for him, and will also be beneficial for Isla as she grows.

Jennifer lives with her family in St. Paul, MN.  You can read more about Owen and Isla on her blog, Kinder Tales.

My Minnesota

Last spring my husband wrote about sharing an aspect of his childhood with our daughter when Porky’s closed. This past weekend, it was my turn to revisit my childhood with my family in tow as we followed the roads north for hunting season.

I am not a hunter.  I’ve never shot a gun or even went out to the deer stand to keep someone company.  For me, hunting season memories are about time off school, playing outside (wearing blaze orange) until it got too cold, then coming inside to warm up with hot chocolate and movies.  Of course, I was just a kid.  My family moved away from Minnesota when I was still young, and hunting season stopped having much meaning to me beyond the age of eight or nine.  I hadn’t even been back to my home town in northern Minnesota since I was a young teenager despite having moved back to the state almost eight years ago.

My Minnesota has shifted from childhood memories of the rural north to my everyday world of city buses, apartment buildings, and lots of people.  My Minnesota hums with excitement.  It is busy and active–full of life, people, and heart.  There are so many reasons to love my Minnesota.

As we drove north, it was hard not to look back anxiously.  It felt like we were leaving everything behind.  We passed through towns that seemed to be made up of one or two businesses and maybe twice as many houses.  My dad’s long dirt driveway twisted and turned through the trees before it opened up to the house.  As we sat around the kitchen table of my childhood home, my grandma commented at was a great location we had: “You can’t even see the road from here! Or the neighbors!”  I had noted this as well–not quite as positively.

Being back “home” meant old family pictures and convincing my kiddo that the little babies in the pictures were me or her uncle.  It meant watching out the window as my dad and my little one played outside (wearing blaze orange), and it meant curling up in front of a nature documentary with my honey after dinner.  It was just what I remembered.

It may be a bit quieter up there than I’m used to these days, but it’s no less full.  There’s always something to be done (even if it’s just remembering where you come from).  You can’t see your neighbors from your window, but they are sure to stop by.

I guess my Minnesota can stretch from here to there after all.

Halloween Beyond Candy

Costumed kids dancing at Calhoun Square HallowEve

I didn’t grow up celebrating Halloween, and I fully admit it: I didn’t get it.  Why would you take your kids out after dark to strangers’ homes to get candy?  I could not fathom why people would do this.  I guess it was something I had to experience to appreciate because I definitely get it now.  I enthusiastically wrapped up in a blanket to sit outside my apartment building with a giant bowl of candy yesterday evening to watch my neighborhood come alive.

It isn’t about candy or costumes.  It’s about community.  A Canadian mom offers 7 Reasons Why Your Kids Should Trick or Treat in Your Neighborhood.  For one:

“For parents of young children walking around the neighbourhood with their little trick-or-treaters, it’s a chance to meet other parents doing the same thing. It’s another chance to talk to your neighbours, share a laugh and help to turn a bunch of people who live in the same geographic location into a community.”

This year, we did it all.  We went to a library Halloween program, the local mall-o-treating event (pictured above), and up and down our block with the neighborhood kids.   I’m already excited to do it again next year.

 

In the Shadows…

Happy Halloween, everyone!  There is a lot going on this weekend–some great parties and concerts for grown-ups and fun events for families.  Check out Citypages Halloween for a pretty complete listing of what’s happening yet today and tomorrow.

As for us, we went to the library.  I hate to be predictable, but the Walker Branch of the Hennepin County Library held a shadow puppet program for kids yesterday during which we got to see lots of interesting puppets in the collection of local educator Shelley Itman.  The show, Hansel and Gretel, was pretty creepy without scaring the kids, and Ladybug was excited to make her own shadow puppet afterwards.

The library is also offering adults an opportunity to learn about shadow puppets in a “Library Lab” class about animation in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota.  Next Saturday, November 5th.  Register here.

I have long been fascinated with cut-paper illustrations in picture books.  Nikki McClure is a particular favorite illustrator of mine.  Her work in Mama, Is It Summer Yet? is lovely.  I blogged about reading it last spring.

But a recent TED Talk took me beyond the world of picture books to a place where cut-paper becomes art & storytelling in many different contexts–from the cape the artist wears as she walks on stage to permanent installations around the world.  This is well worth watching for those interested in what you can do with scissors and paper.

Oops!

Those of you who subscribe to Proper Noun Blog via email or feed reader may have received an unusual post this evening.  Sorry about that.

I had left my blog logged in on my husband’s computer, and he had some not-safe-for-work/kids thoughts on the Citypages Picked to Click 2011 he wanted to post on his blog.  The rest is history–unnoticed by most, possibly offensive to a few.

The way I see it: Mistakes like this are part of family life, which is a lot of what this blog is about.  So it kind of works, right?  ……right?

Where have we been?

“You know where you’re going if you know where you come from.”

Michele Norris was talking about her book, The Grace of Silence, with Kerri Miller on MPR with the words above.  She spoke of how her parents, who were among the first African-American families in their South Minneapolis neighborhood in the 1940′s, passed on their hopes and dreams to their children instead of their angst.  This sounds lovely, but it also meant that there was much that didn’t get discussed in Norris’ family.  Her memoir, which I have yet to read, explores the un-talked-about aspects of her family, the way race has played a role in her family’s story, and the way the way we talk about race is changing.  I am excited to read the book, and I hope to join in the conversation around the book that is going on as part of the One Minneapolis One Read program.

I wrote some time ago about how we can use books like Let’s Talk About Race to open a discussion about diversity with kids, and this photograph of a display at a Hennepin County Library Branch shows that there are many books that bring alive African-American history for kids, including Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson.

You might also use All the Way to America by Dan Yaccarino or Grandpa Green by Lane Smith to share family history stories, and don’t forget to share your own mini-autobiography on the Hennepin County Library’s web site.  Your life in 50 characters or less.

Share your story with the community, and share it with your children.  This is how we determine where we are going to go from here.  The stories of our parents and grandparents may not be easy to talk or write about, but one of my favorite writers, Jonathan Safran foer, who took on a fictionalized version of his family history in his book Everything is Illuminated, offered this advice:

“I was always writing from a position of loving my family so I knew I couldn’t betray them. The worst that could happen was that the execution of my writing wouldn’t be as good as my intentions. So if you have good intentions — to be forthright and honest — you can’t really fail.”

 

Disclosure: I am not affiliated with MPR, Hennepin County Library, or One Minneapolis One Read. I have not (yet) read Michele Norris’ book. Amazon links are affiliate links. I may earn a percentage of purchases made through those links.

Stories come alive at the MN Children’s Museum

When we walked into the Storyland exhibit at the MN Children’s Museum last Friday evening, my kiddo’s eyes went wide with delight.  The room–which, in all honesty, was smaller than I was expecting–was full of familiar scenes from the pages of children’s books, several of which we have read over and over again.  There, though, it was real.  And it was big.

The first scene to catch her attention was from Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  Not only is this one of our favorite books to read at home, but also, the huge letters and giant coconut tree are probably the most eye-catching part of the room.

That wasn’t the favorite, though.  She spent the most time in Peter Rabbit’s burrow, which surprised me since I don’t think she has read the story.  Ladybug could have spent the entire time just in that one place.

I can’t imagine she was thinking about sound awareness as she played with letters or about narrative as she put Peter Rabbit to sleep in his bed or made him a tasty pretend dinner.    To her, it was play.  To me, it was early literacy in action.

I am currently reading Mind in the Making: Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky.  One of those skills is communicating, which includes a lot of information about early literacy, but what has really interested me as I read the book (and I am only about half-way through) is how often storytelling and pretend play have come up as suggestions for cultivating other valuable skills.

The pretend play that Ladybug did in the Peter Rabbit part of the exhibit, for example, is a way to promote cognitive flexibility.  She had her thing going on as she pretended to be Peter’s mom, but other kids and parents were also at the exhibit.  They interrupted her narrative or changed it, and it was up to her to deal with these changes.  This skill isn’t necessarily one we think about often as we watch our kids play together, but when our children are adults a high level of cognitive flexibility will help them to adapt to change and understand other people’s perspectives.

Storyland is a great opportunity for both parents and children to see how books are more than just words on paper and literacy is more than just knowing how to read.  It is an opportunity for what Mind in the Making calls “extended discourse,” or taking the conversation beyond the obvious to ask questions about stories or connect stories to our own experiences.

We will definitely be going back to Storyland, since we are members of the MN Children’s Museum, and I think that reading the featured books that we hadn’t yet read will enhance the exhibit even more.

Disclosure: I was not in any way compensated for this post. We received a family membership to the Minnesota Children’s Museum as a gift from my mom.  Books referenced in this post are either personal or library copies.  Amazon links are affiliate links, which means I earn a percentage of any purchases made from the links.