Just-right adventures

How old should a child be before he or she should be allowed to ride public transit by themselves?

I don’t have a good answer to that question, and I don’t know that one exists.  If you go by the discussion I heard on my drive to work this morning on MPR News, it certainly seems like the two sides (free range parents vs. helicopter parents) will never find common ground.  I fall somewhere in the middle, probably closer to helicopter than I might like to admit.

The truth is that I know more than a few adults who are afraid or extremely hesitant to ride public transit by themselves.  I feel like I am forever assuring people that the city bus seems scarier than it really is while they counter with stories that begin with “I heard…” and end with something terrible happening.  The idea of convincing parents that their children should ride a bus solo seems rather ludicrous in that context.

busrideJust a few hours after listening to experts and callers weigh in on the topic, I happened upon a picture book that provided another perspective.  In The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc, a little girl rides a bus by herself for the first time.  Her bus ride looks a little bit different from my usual bus rides.  Her world is populated by what appear to be scary animals.  Wolves and bears board the bus with her.  They seem intimidating, but in the end, they are friendly, or at least benign.  The girl’s solo trip is not without adventure, but it is a quiet sort of adventure.  It seems like a just-right adventure in this book.

It doesn’t answer any questions or set any guidelines for solo bus travel, but it does portray public transit as a gentle place full of community, much like Last Stop on Market Street did.  That is a message that I can firmly get behind.  I still have no idea when I will allow my daughter to ride public transit on her own, but I sincerely hope that she will feel comfortable doing so as an adult.  Until then, we’ll be off in search of just-right adventures of our own, in books and in life.  Some solo, some together.

Read More:

  • Lenore Skenazy’s writes about letting her nine-year-old ride the NYC subway alone (and the response she got after she wrote about it) in this essay.
  • The recent NPR story about free-range parenting.
  • A review of The Bus Ride from one of my favorite kidlit review blogs.
  • Peek inside a bit of The Bus Ride on the publisher’s web site.

How we tell our stories

redbutterflyI didn’t realize what Kara in Red Butterfly and  I had in common until I was twenty-five pages into the story when she describes her “one blunt hand” that she always keeps hidden in her sleeve.

I couldn’t help but think that when I finally write my own story, I hope it takes at least that long to get to describing my limb difference.  It may be the first thing that most people notice when they see me, but it doesn’t have to be the first part of my story or even the main part of my story.

It isn’t the main part of Kara’s story either.  Her story is about family and belonging and how messy and difficult those things can get.  I don’t have personal experience with Chinese culture or international adoption, so I can’t speak to those aspects of Kara’s story.  I can say that it was really nice to read about a limb difference that wasn’t a trauma, and I can happily report that Kara doesn’t struggle to do anything.  She rides a bike and does all sorts of other tasks that people would typically expect she couldn’t do.  Those things aren’t a big deal.

That, honestly, kind of warms my heart a little bit.

My story isn’t about trauma, and my only struggle is convincing people I’m not struggling.  It feels really good to see a middle grade novel that gets that.  I would recommend Red Butterfly to young readers (ages 10-12) who are interested in a thoughtful story written in lyrical verse.

More about me and my limb difference on Fake Arm 101.

Sunday morning bus rides

marketstreet_bgMost Sunday mornings, my daughter and I ride a city bus to church and back home again.  We have waited for the bus in the rain and in the falling snow.  We have shared smiles with many different drivers and riders as we all explored our great city via public transit.

So I was excited to share Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena with my daughter.  How many picture books have families riding a city bus?  Only a few that I know of.  And none do it with the magic that Matt de la Pena brings to a simple bus ride.  Last Stop on Market Street is a celebration of city living that I want to share with everyone–especially those who question my appreciation for public transit.

In the story, CJ and his grandmother are riding the bus after church.  CJ asks question after question–Why don’t they have a car? How come that man can’t see? Why do they have to go somewhere after church?–and his grandmother answers them all with kindness.  I couldn’t help but smile as I read the story, and at the end, when they arrive at a soup kitchen to serve food to hungry people, I was reminded to look for opportunities to see beauty in the world.

On a chilly morning like this one, I have to admit I was silently wishing we were a two car family, so we could drive to church and my husband could drive to work.  But I thought of CJ and his Nana.  I thought of all the little moments I’ve had with my daughter on our Sunday morning bus rides.  I thought about my city and my church.  I am grateful that my city has a pretty great transit service and that my church has so many opportunities to help people.  Perhaps one of these Sundays, we will catch a later bus home so we can join the group that packs meals for homeless MCTC students after the service.

You can see some illustrations and read more about the story behind the book in this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

 

 

Speaking of pirates…

While I am on the subject of pirates, which I referenced in this post, I’d like to bring up the only one-handed fictional character everyone knows: Captain Hook.  I spent most of my life really hating that guy.  You can imagine why.  It’s not easy having something so obvious in common with a terrible villain, especially as a kid.

I had to re-evaluate my anti-Captain Hook stance (a little) when my daughter started watching “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.”  In the show, Captain Hook is not only a villain but also a bumbling oaf.  It was hardly an improvement.  But as I watched, I noticed something.  He might have been a bad guy and a stupid guy, but he was never helpless because of his lack of an arm.  The show never, that I saw, had him struggling as a one-handed person.  He struggled with bad decisions and was defeated fair and square by the good pirates.  I’m still not crazy about the whole disability = villain trope, but at least it doesn’t equal helpless.  I think that’s a win.

In my new-found not-hatred for Captain Hook, I happened to read a couple of interesting books recently:

  • aliashookAlias Hook by Lisa Jensen is a re-imagining of the Peter Pan story.  In the book, Captain Hook isn’t the villain at all.  He’s a tragic hero who may be able to find a happy ending after all.  It’s part-historical novel, part-fairy tale fantasy, and an odd sort of coming-of-age novel.  There’s also a romance, which I appreciated.  How often do you see the person with the disability get the girl?  ;) It is far from my usual reading choice, but I rather enjoyed it.
  • hooksrevengeHook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz is a children’s novel for middle graders (roughly ages 10-12) that follows Captain Hook’s daughter as she takes command of the crew after her father has died.  It’s a fun adventure full of humor and action with a girl at the center.  Jocelyn Hook is a two-handed heroine, but the book has some funny references to the disabled pirate stereotype that made me laugh.

Maybe pirates aren’t so bad after all.  And maybe people with differences aren’t as helpless as people think either. :)

Princess Talk

princesspI am sick of talking about princesses.  I am sick of my daughter talking about how much she loves princesses, but I’m also sick of hearing and reading about parents hating princesses.  So when a review copy of The Princess Problem landed on my desk at work, I rolled my eyes and ignored it for a while.

Princesses aren’t going anywhere however, and neither was this book.  When I finally gave it a chance, I was pleasantly surprised.  The Princess Problem was more than a rant about how princesses are ruining our daughters.  It’s actually a guide to talking to our kids about the media they consume as it relates to princesses.  There are discussion questions for movies and ideas for healthy media consumption.  It’s a fantastic resource with a practical sensibility.  Find out more on the author’s web site.

While I’m on the topic of princesses, I want to recommend a couple of books that will appeal to both princess-loving kids and princess-hating parents:

  • The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale is an early chapter book about a princess who is secretly a superhero.  My six-year-old daughter was obsessed with this book for months, which is a pretty strong endorsement right there.  Definitely a fun pick for the kids who want to dress up in pretty clothes and do the rescuing.
  • Princess in Training by Tammy Sauer features a disappointing princess.  She’s not very princessy, but those non-princessy interests come in handy when a dragon sneaks in the castle.  This picture book is cute and fun.
  • Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider has enough pink sparkles on the cover to attract the princess loving kid, but the story isn’t really about princesses.  It’s about a girl and her doll and what happens when that doll is attacked by the family dog.

Parents and other people who interact with kids might also be interested in this post on Princess Shaming in which a librarian advises, “Find out what it is about the princess that makes your kid want to read about her and be her; find out what your kid thinks it means to play princess.”

Right on.  Instead of hating princesses, let’s think critically about them.

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:

milesistheboss

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! :)

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.