Punky Brewster was my hero

punkytv

Here are five reasons that the eight year-old me loved Punky Brewster:

  • She could take care of herself. When the show began, she was living in an empty apartment on her own. She got what she needed, and she was making it.  On her own terms. She was living the dream.
  • Punky didn’t let anything get her down or anyone tell her what to do.  She never seemed afraid of anything. When you’re eight years-old, it doesn’t get better than that.
  • She dreamed big.  Punky’s dreams of being an astronaut were eye-opening to me.  The eight year-old me didn’t even know that was an option.
  • She made up her own name.  As eight, I hadn’t yet discovered a reason to be dissatisfied with my given name–I didn’t decide that Mindy was too juvenile for me until I was ten–but it was still beyond awesome to see a kid create her own name with pride.
  • punkyFor all Punky’s wild fashion choices, big dreams, and unusual family situation, she still lived a life I could imagine.  I grew up in a world where people lived in apartments and worried about rents going up just like Punky and her neighbors. I didn’t often see that world on television, and while I didn’t think too much about that back then, I definitely noticed it.

Unfortunately the show doesn’t quite stand the test of time.  Upon recent viewing of a few episodes, I have to agree with this article that Punky wasn’t the feminist ideal I thought I remembered.  There is an option, though, for those of us who loved the idea of Punky and want to introduce that nostalgic version of Punky to our kids. Joelle Sellner has turned Punky into a graphic novel with a few updates and changes that are enough to turn Punky and her story into one of empowerment.

I’m glad Punky’s back, and I’m really glad she’s better than ever.

How to take a road trip

arewethereyetiWe have just returned from our second road trip of the summer, and I offer you these bits of experience for any future car travel you might undertake, especially with a child.

  • The right music is key to a good road trip.  You want crowd pleasers and sing alongs for the ultimate road trip soundtrack.  The day we left happened to be a beautiful, sunny day.  Naturally, we listened to The Cure and Depeche Mode for the sing-along portion of the trip.  Later we threw in some Schoolhouse Rock for our daughter–well, maybe for us too. ;)
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to include an educational activity.  This is pretty much my motto in life for both myself and my daughter, and in this case I made a Road Trip Scavenger hunt that my daughter mostly just doodled all over.  Hey, I tried.
  • Stop to appreciate your current location when you can.  We were in a bit of a time crunch on this trip, so there were minimal stops.  We did, however, have lunch in Champaign-Urbana on our way home, which was really cool.  I hadn’t been back to my alma mater in years, and it was a neat, nostalgic side adventure.
  • If anyone in your party is prone to car sickness, stick with audio books.  On this trip, we listened to the first Harry Potter book.  My husband and daughter hadn’t read it yet or seen the movie, and it was fun to see them experience the beginning of the story for the first time.
  • For those little travelers who can read in the car, share Are We There, Yeti? by Ashlyn Anstee for a comical school bus trip that will charm readers and maybe make them forget they are stuck in a car for hours at a time.  It publishes later this month, but here is a preview:

 

Thursday 3: Dads in Picture Books

“Dads are so in,” Elissa Cedarleaf Dahl said in the latest episode of Pratfalls of Parenting.  I laughed when I heard that, but I think it’s true.  At least when it comes to picture books. Prove it, you say?  Here are a few new picture books that come to mind:

dads

 

Dad’s First Day by Mike Wohnoutka is about a little boy’s first day of school.  The little boy is completely ready for school, but the dad isn’t quite there yet.  This is exactly how I felt when my daughter started preschool.  Very cute story for parents, especially dads.

Ask Me by Bernard Waber follows a father and daughter as they walk and talk on a fall day.  The little girl’s loquacious inquisitiveness will be familiar to many parents, and the lovely art by one of my favorite illustrators adds to the sweet father-daughter story.

Tad and Dad by David Ezra Stein is a bedtime book about a little tadpole and his very patient dad who just wants to sleep.  We’ve all been there, right?

Want more? Try these links:

 

How to ask a question

Questions are a big part of my life.  Not only am I a librarian, a career that has a particular focus on helping people answer questions, but also I’m a person with a visible physical difference–not to mention the assistive device I wear.  I live with curiosity, and I’ve decided to encourage it.

its-ok-to-ask-thumbIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, this isn’t news.  I’ve talked a lot about the questions people ask and the way that I answer them.  Here are just a few posts on the topic:

  • It’s Okay to Ask – Features a new picture book that encourages young kids to feel comfortable asking about disabilities and see beyond them.
  • My Day at School – Reflections on not being able to blend in when I visit my daughter’s classroom for the day.
  • Storytime Reflections – I was a special guest at a storytime at a public library, and I got some great questions from the kids and parents in the audience.

I have gotten questions of all sorts.  Some quite rude, most just hesitant and awkward.  I answer them all as best I can.  Not long ago, though, a little girl asked me about my prosthetic arm in the nicest way possible, and I just had to share.  She said, “I like your arm.  Can you tell me about it?”

It doesn’t get better than that. :)

Start with a book

I have been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be an ally to people of color or other marginalized groups.  I’ve been seeking out commentary about what someone like me can do to make the world a better place for everyone.  I don’t have all the answers, but I would like to amplify the words of children’s author/poet Nikki Grimes.  She writes:

“Instead of looking the other way while hatred takes root in young hearts and minds, why not try this: Plant the seeds of empathy. Teach the young to feel the heartbeats of races and cultures other than their own. Replace any possible fear of the unknown, with knowledge of the knowable. Teach them the ways in which we humans are more alike than we are different. Teach them that the most important common denominator is the human heart. Start with a book.

Give young readers books by and about peoples labeled ‘other.’ I’m not talking about one or two books, here and there. I’m talking about spreading diverse books throughout the curriculum, beginning in elementary grades, and continuing through to high school. Why? Because racism is systemic and teaching empathy, teaching diversity, needs to be systemic, too.”

I agree wholeheartedly.  Perhaps one of these books will be a good place for you to start:

marketstreet_bg onefamily iamtheworld

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, One Family by George Shannon, and I am the World by Charles R. Smith.

But don’t stop there.  Keep reading diverse stories and talking about them with kids.  We will change the world one story at a time.

Read More:

Speaking of wishes…

wishDandelions are not the only way to make a wish.  Some people wish with kites or feathers.  Candles or weasels. Yes, weasels.  Roseanne Greenfield Thong shares wish traditions from around the world in her picture book Wish. Some will be familiar–like the little boy with the dandelion on the cover of Something Extraordinary–and others will be new to young readers.  But there is something enchanting about all the different ways to make a wish.

Middle grade novels are the real place to find wishes, it seems.

dreamerSome are magical like Dreamer, Wisher, Liar by Charise Mericle Harper, which featured a jar of wishes written on paper that transported Ash to when the wishes were made.  This sweet middle grade novel about friendship, mothers & daughters, and secrets.  I’ve actually mentioned it on this blog before in a post about mother-daughter connections.

waitingforunicornsOthers are searching for magic. Like Waiting for Unicorns by Beth Hautala, which is about grief and healing.  After her mother’s death, Talia wishes she could say goodbye to her one last time, and she latches on to the idea of wishing on a unicorn like in a story her mother once told her.  The writing is beautiful, and the story is sad but hopeful.

wishgirlThen there are the wishes that we make come true.  In Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin, Annie tells Peter that she is a “wish girl,” and he thinks she means magic.  Really, she is a Make-a-Wish girl because she is very sick. The story, however, is not without its own magic as Peter and Annie bond over sharing their wishes.

We wish for all sorts of reasons and in all sorts of ways.  Some of our wishes come true and some don’t.  In the end, I think that all of these books share the idea that what is important is connecting with people–friends, family, community.  The next time you blow out birthday candles or drop coins into a fountain, think about these stories and the people you love most.

Something Extraordinary

something-extraordinaryThere is something extraordinary about a wish. A wish can set your imagination free and open up possibilities.  Sometimes those wishes even come true, though perhaps they’ve always been true.  Perhaps what is happening around us is as wonderful as all the things we can imagine.

That is what I took away from Ben Clanton‘s new picture book, Something Extraordinary.  I have to admit to a particular weakness for picture books that encourage readers to slow down, observe the world closely, and appreciate it, and this book certainly falls into that category.

But I also love the idea that wishes do come true, and that our world is more vivid when we take the time to notice what is happening around us.

Read more about the book:

 

Everyone’s Favorite Beatle

Blackbird-Fly-200x300“I wondered who his favorite Beatle was. Probably Paul.  Grown-ups always seemed to like Paul the best.” — Apple Yengko in Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

Apple’s favorite Beatle is George, but “Blackbird” written by Paul is her favorite song.  Maybe because she would like to fly away from her life in which she isn’t pretty enough or American enough for the girls at school.  Whatever the reason, it’s worth a listen now no matter who your favorite Beatle happens to be.

I have admitted my pop culture ignorance on this blog before, but I’ll share it again for those who missed it: I would not have recognized a Beatles song until I was in my twenties.  But I have since become a big fan.  As Apple says, “Once you listen to the Beatles, you can’t go back.” I’m not sure I have a favorite Beatle, but I do think most of my favorite Beatles songs are on the Blackbird Fly playlist.

If you have ever felt like music just might save your life, Blackbird Fly is for you.  Share this book with middle schoolers who appreciate realistic stories about fitting in and making friends.  If Apple’s enthusiasm for the music doesn’t make Beatles fans out of the kids who read this book, I don’t know what will.

Thursday 3: The Near-Future in YA Fiction

NearFuture

 

The Hunger Games and Divergent offer a couple of possible futures for humanity, but they are set in well established futures that are removed from our world by an indeterminate number of years.  What about the near future?

In these three books, teens take on a world that’s kind of like ours but with a “what if?” at the center of the story.

What if an extreme religion took over?  In Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle, it doesn’t take long for the Church of America to become ubiquitous.  Vivian isn’t a believer in the predicted Rapture, but when her parents (and a lot of other people) disappear, she is determined to find out what happened.

What if a bank took over when the economy went really bad? That’s what happens in Hit by Delilah Dawson.  Too much debt? You just might become an indentured servant of Valor National Bank.

What if you could choose to forget? More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera is the least futuristic of any of these books, but the marketing material for this book sets it in a “near-future summer in the Bronx.”  In this future, there is a way to erase memories, and Aaron thinks that might be a way for him to forget a part of himself he doesn’t want to acknowledge.

Can you think of any others to add to this list?

A Doll Like Me

dollslikemeI don’t think I would have appreciated a “doll like me” when I was young enough to play with dolls, but I still wish I had had one.

I occasionally saw toys that attempted to represent kids with differences on display at clinics.  There were dolls with hearing aids, stuffed animals wearing braces, and others.  I never saw any with a limb deficiency or a prosthesis like mine, and I was glad because I was mortified at the thought of my parents getting me a disability doll.

I’m not sure I gave it much thought at the time.  I was an introspective kid, but when it came to the toys I liked, I mostly went by feeling.  My feeling was pretty strong that I didn’t want anything “special.” I knew that I felt just like other kids.  I felt totally normal, and so I felt I should have the same toys from the same stores  as other kids.  Not special ordered through a clinic.

I didn’t want to talk about my arm or answer questions about it. Like most kids, I wanted to talk about the things I loved, the things made me me.  My physical difference felt like a distraction from the me I was inside.  Why would I want a toy that emphasized it?

I still understand those feelings, but I’ve thought a lot more about it in the years since I stopped playing with dolls.  I’ve considered issues of representation and identity as they relate to the media kids are consuming and the toys that kids are playing with on a much deeper level than I did when I was eight.  I’ve thought about what it means to have one’s identity erased from public view, and I’ve felt the thrill–yes, I do mean to use that strong of a word–of seeing a usually invisible part of myself represented in the media. Not to mention, I’ve had enough people say “That’s weird” when I say that I was born without an arm to know how important being visible really is.

It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to blend in or erase parts of myself to be considered normal.  I just had to move past the obstacle.  I’ve said before: sometimes talking about things makes them less of an issue.  That certainly has been the case for me.

It is because of my childhood feeling of wanting to avoid being special that I am excited about Toys Like Me.  I felt normal, and I wanted normal toys.  So let’s normalize me.  Let’s normalize all sorts of different bodies and experiences for our kids.  Makies, a company that makes customizable dolls, is taking suggestions.  What do you want to see?  Let them know.

Perhaps if I’d had a doll like me when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have spent so long trying to be invisible.