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: Kid Picks

Kid PicksI spend a lot of time on this blog talking about children’s books that I like, which are not always the ones that kids are most drawn to.  I tend to like (and have something to say about) books that are more serious or on Big Important Topics.  But children’s books are not all serious or factual.  There are plenty of “just for fun” books.  I just don’t often have a whole post worth of stuff to say about those. ;)

So I thought I would let my focus group of one (my seven-year-old daughter) share some books that she liked and what she liked about them.

Here goes:

No Dogs Allowed (Series: Ready, Set, Dogs!) by Stephanie Calmenson – Best friends, dogs, and cute adventures all come together in this chapter book aimed at 2nd/3rd graders.  What my daughter liked about it: Girls transforming into dogs.  The whole concept made for interesting conversation and really seemed to capture her imagination.

Welcome to Normal (Series: The Quirks) by Erin Soderberg – Everybody is quirky, but nobody is quite like the Quirk family.  They all have a “quirk” that makes them special and makes it hard to fit in.  What my daughter liked about it: The quirks.  Who wouldn’t want to imagine having some sort of special power?

Jelly Bean (Series: Shelter Pet Squad) by Cynthia Lord – This is a heartwarming story about a girl who loves animals and wants to make a difference.  It is worth noting here that this is an early chapter book by an award-winning author.  That’s unusual–and pretty awesome! What my daughter liked about it: Jelly Bean is sooo cute!

annikarizI guess the take-away here is that a book about cute animals or some kind of special ability is really the way to go for my kid.  ;)

While I’m on the subject, I’d like to give a special shout out to Annika Riz, Math Whiz by Claudia Mills. Thanks to that book, my daughter has gotten really excited about math and puzzles, especially sudoku.  We are looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Izzy Barr, Running Star.  I hope it has a similar inspirational effect! :)

What are your kids (or students) reading?

 

Raising a feminist?

Somewhere in my social media feed a link titled 18 Ways to Make Sure Your Child’s a Feminist caught my eye.  Of course I clicked.  And found myself nodding in agreement at the suggestions (Lead by example, challenge stereotypes, watch your language, etc) most of which are things I’m doing or trying to do.  The one that stood out to me, though, was number 15:

“15. Teach them about inspiring women who’ve changed the world. It wouldn’t be the same without Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, or Anne Frank, now would it?”

radamericanomenNow there are a lot of great biographies of women who have changed the world.  If you’re looking for a particular woman’s story, I’d be happy to recommend one to you.   But if you just want to share the idea that there are a lot of different women who have changed the world in a lot of different ways, I recommend Rad American Women A-Z.  Not only does this book share one page profiles of women like education activist Jovita Idar, artist Maya Lin, and journalist Nellie Bly among many others, but it also encourages young people to be rad in their own way.  What more could you ask for?

For me, the book was a mix of names and accomplishments I knew with more than a few that were new to me.  As I turned the pages, I found myself happily surprised by the inclusion of musicians and artists along with activists and scientists.  Soon, my seven-year-old daughter was peeking over my shoulder.  The bright colors and bold text grabbed her curiosity, and she started asking questions about the women on the pages.  Almost none of the names were familiar to her.

It occurred to me then that I need to be more intentional in making sure she sees what women have done (and are doing) to make a difference in our world.  This book is exactly what I need to get started.

 

radamerican

 

 

Thank you to City Lights Publishing for the review copy of this book.

Head Lice are not cute

headliceThe louse on the cover of Elise Gravel’s book is cute and friendly, but I can assure you from personal experience that head lice are not cute when you are picking them off your child’s head.  Not cute at all.  My feelings about that first awful little louse plucked from my child’s head were anything but friendly.

My thoughts went to laundry and combing and poison shampoos.  It was more than a little overwhelming. As the louse in Gravel’s book says, “I might be small, but to your parents, I’m scarier than a lion.”  So true.  There are various ways to deal with those horrible parasites, but we chose to call in the professionals.

At the Minnesota Lice Lady office, a whole team of ladies walk freaked out parents through the whole lousy business with patience and kindness.  They let us repeatedly ask for reassurance to their matter-of-fact statements.  Are you sure we don’t have to wash the bedding and quarantine the stuffed animals?  Are you sure we don’t have to comb every night for two weeks?  You are really offering a 60 day guarantee?  They did all the work, and we just watched and learned.  We learned enough the know that Gravel’s book, while adorable, perpetuates the myth that lice live in the environment and can be spread through sharing hats or clothes.  Check out the more Myths & Facts on the MN Lice Lady web site.

Now that I have had enough distance from the whole episode to think rationally about it, I can say that I highly recommend Minnesota Lice Lady if you ever find yourself in that unfortunate situation.  I even recommend Head Lice by Elise Gravel (despite the misconception noted above) because after all we’ve been through with those terrible little bugs, it is kind of funny to think of them as cute and friendly.  Gravel has a whole series of cute books about Disgusting Creatures that kids will probably love.

Note: This is not a sponsored post.  I genuinely appreciated MN Lice Lady’s services.  The book was a library book.

It’s Okay to Ask

its-ok-to-ask-thumbAsking is better than staring at me.  Asking is better than avoiding me.  Asking is better than making up something about me that isn’t true.  I have been saying these things for years–mostly assuring embarrassed parents that it’s okay that their child asked me about my prosthetic arm–but now I’m not alone.  In addition to the fantastic Jacob’s Eye Patch, now there is It’s Okay to Ask from Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.  Two picture books and me all saying the same message will surely convince people, right? ;)

On MPR News, Tom Weber spoke with a Gillette doctor and a young patient about the book and their experiences talking about disabilities, and he expressed surprise that it was okay to ask about someone’s disability.  “Has that really been the thing we said about how we should interact?” he asked more than once.  The guests assured him that questions aren’t necessarily rude.  It’s the intent behind the questions that is either friendly or rude.  I found myself nodding along at what the guests were saying over and over again.

Here’s what I know about questions:

  • “What’s wrong with you?” is probably not the best question, but even if your child does ask it that way, it’s okay.  It’s a teachable moment.  Encourage them to rephrase it without making them feel bad for being curious.
  • Questions are better than assumptions, and the best questions assume the least.  “How did you lose your arm?” for example assumes I lost an arm, which I did not, but I understand that it isn’t always easy to come up with the best phrasing on the spot.  Don’t stress about the best way to put it.  It’s usually pretty clear when someone means a question nicely.
  • Equipment makes questions easier.  I get way more questions when I am wearing my prosthetic arm than when I go without it.  It seems people are usually more comfortable asking about a piece of technology than they are about a physical difference.

I offered more points to consider in this post on The Blogunteer back in 2012.  In that post, I said:

“It’s okay to be curious. That is probably the most important thing I want to tell people.  The key is how you express your curiosity.”
That is still true.  Questions are okay.  Even poorly worded questions are okay.  The important thing is that we move past staring at or avoiding people with disabilities or physical differences.  I’d rather have to answer an impolite question than always be Other.  As in the book It’s Okay to Ask, once we get past our differences, we can get to what we have in common.
Have a question about my limb difference or prosthetic arm?  See Fake Arm 101 for answers to some common questions or send me an email with some question I haven’t covered yet: fakearm101@gmail.com.

 

Thursday 3: Limb Difference Awareness Month

April is a busy month for awareness.  Autism, Sexual Assault, and Poetry are probably the most well known, but I would like to acknowledge Limb Loss/Difference Awareness Month for obvious reasons.

I am pleased to report that there are a growing number of books for young readers that feature characters with limb differences. Here are three books for young readers that I recommend for understanding what it’s like to lose a limb or be born with a limb difference.

LimbDifference

Dangerous by Shannon Hale is a science fiction novel about fighting aliens that features a heroine who was born with one arm.  She is awesome.  Read more of my thoughts about it here.

Red Butterfly by A. L. Sonnichsen is a middle grade verse novel I referenced in this post.  The main character in the story was born with only two fingers on one hand.

One-Handed Catch by M.J. Auch is about a boy who loses his hand in an accident.  I reviewed it more thoroughly here.

These books are great choices for middle schoolers.  I offer more great books that I think can be used to open up discussions about differences in this article in Book Links Magazine from 2011: Just Like You–Helping Young People Understand Disabilities Through Books.

Talking to the moon

On Saturday March 28, 2015, we will have an opportunity to talk to the moon.

From 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. people everywhere are encouraged to turn off their lights in recognition of Earth Hour.  For those of us who live in the city, there are too many lights to fully appreciate the night sky.  Earth Hour is a chance to do just that–to really see and appreciate the night.

redknitcapgirlAfter participating in Earth Hour while living in New York City, artist Naoko Stoop turned her experience into a beautiful, fable-like picture book.  Red Knit Cap Girl caught my attention with the lovely illustrations, but the opening line was what really stuck with me: “In the forest, there is time to wonder about everything.”  In this book, Red Knit Cap Girl wonders about the moon.  How would you talk to the moon?  Would you throw it a party?

It is a simple story with curiosity at its core.  It is a favorite of mine, and I hope you will give it a chance.  Perhaps you will even find yourself talking to the moon on a dark night this weekend.

More about Red Knit Cap Girl & Earth Hour: