What about sharks?

Everyone is afraid of sharks, right? They are fearsome creatures who come out of nowhere to attack when you’re swimming and having fun. Aren’t they? Perhaps there is more to it than that.

When we were in Boston a few months ago, we visited the New England Aquarium and caught a showing of Great White Shark 3D in the IMAX theater. The movie used suspenseful music and beautiful shots to explore the fear of sharks that is deeply ingrained in our culture while making it clear that sharks are in danger from humans far more than we are in danger from them.

My daughter was entranced by the film. First it was the 3D effects that caught her attention since it was her first 3D movie, but by the end, she had clearly invested in the shark’s plight. The call to action to protect sharks that ended the film earned a soft but firm “yeah” from her, which surprised me.

It’s been a few months since then, but I finally got my hands on a copy of If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams to share with her to reinforce and deepen the idea that sharks are important to the ecosystem—and to us. Imagine if the ocean became unlivable because plankton grew out of control because fish and pinnipeds disappeared because sharks disappeared. We are all connected. That’s the point here, and it is made in a way that even kids younger than my nine-year-old will be able to grasp. The scientific vocabulary and kid-friendly tips for helping protect sharks are just bonuses in an already powerful picture book.

I’m still afraid of sharks. I can’t imagine cage diving in shark infested waters, much less free diving in those places as was depicted in the film. But fear doesn’t negate the connection between us, which seems like an important idea to explore with kids whether we are talking about nature or other aspects of our world.

Great White Sharks 3D trailer:

If Sharks Disappeared trailer:

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Exploring Japan

A few years ago, my daughter and I spent a summer exploring the world. Well, not literally. Our family travel budget isn’t nearly large enough to accommodate a world tour. But we felt like world explorers as we read each book in the Dodsworth series by Tim Egan that followed the title character from New York to London, Paris, and Tokyo. For each book, we would seek out as much of the location we could experience from afar as we could.  It may seem silly, but we had a great time armchair traveling to all of these places. Thanks to our imaginary trip to Paris, chocolate croissants have become a favorite treat in our family.

Recently we took our first non-imaginary mother-daughter trip to visit family in Boston, and we were delighted to discover an opportunity to explore a faraway place while we were there thanks to the Boston Children’s Museum. Amid the usual children’s museum exhibits in which kids can play, build, and create is a unique exhibit that allows museum visitors a special glimpse of life on the other side of the world: The Japanese House.

The house, which was a gift to the city of Boston from sister-city Kyoto, is a traditional live-work space from the textile district of Kyoto. We learned that very few of these houses still exist in Kyoto.  In fact, a 2012 National Geographic article featured Kyoto as one of “9 Places to See Before They Slip Away” citing this architectural style as a highlight of Kyoto that is losing ground to modernization. We may never get to Kyoto ourselves, so I really appreciated that this house was preserved and shared this way. For those who are far from both Kyoto and Boston, you can armchair travel via a virtual tour or this video.

My daughter left the exhibit with all sorts of questions about what life is like in Japan now compared to the lifestyle preserved in the exhibit, so when we got back to Minneapolis, we found ourselves poring over books from our local library about children’s lives in Japan and watching this video.

Our favorite book we found was My Awesome Japan Adventure, which is a fictional travel diary about a boy spending four months in Japan. I liked it because it modeled the idea of a travel diary while sharing all sorts of information about Japanese culture. My nine-year-old liked it for the cartoon style, the humorous tone, and the spread that included origami instructions. Either way, it was a winner. ;)

Wherever we end up on our next mother-daughter trip, I hope to find hidden gems and surprises like the Japanese House exhibit there too. Perhaps we’ll keep our own travel diaries as we move from imaginary adventures to real ones out in the world. We may not always be able to go far, but we can always keep a sense of adventure with us.

Finding Mother Goose

 

“Mother Goose was a real person?!” my nine-year-old asked in confusion as we walked along the Freedom Trail in Boston last weekend.  Our tour guides (my brother and sister-in-law) had pointed out some of the famous people buried in the Granary Cemetery, including John Hancock, Ben Franklin’s parents, and Mother Goose.

I admit I hadn’t given much thought to whether Mother Goose was a real person or not despite having written an old blog post about the value of nursery rhymes. I figured that her identity, if known at all, was probably lost to history. It turns out that I was right. The woman buried in Boston was probably not the woman behind the rhymes, but legend has it that Mary (or Elizabeth) Goose enthralled the children in her community (including sixteen of her own) with stories and poems which were eventually published. Is this true? I have no idea, but I like the story.

Whoever she may have been, Mother Goose has endured as an almost ubiquitous part of childhood in the English-speaking world for hundreds of years.  Among the loads of picture books that offer the rhythm and rhyme that our little language learners need, Mother Goose’s rhymes have stayed in print. Perhaps it’s adult nostalgia that drives the demand? Perhaps there’s something universal about the poems or the time period they represent?

Whatever the reason, there are many, many editions from which to choose for your little ones. I happen to like Mary Engelbreit’s version for the way Mother Goose’s poems are described in the introduction written by children’s literature historian Leonard S. Marcus: “Her words are both merry and wise. Mother Goose rhymes meet children at eye level with their colorful characters, disarming honesty, and playful feeling for life.”

Of course, I think we can agree that some of the rhymes could use an update like the one that Jane Cabrera gives to “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” In Cabrera’s version, the Old Woman is resourceful and capable as she cares for her many children by solving problems, fixing stuff, and working hard.  A brief author’s note shares Cabrera’s desire to celebrate mothers with a version that showed a mom who could take care of her family “despite being very out-numbered!” That’s a sentiment I can get behind.

May 1st is the day Mother Goose is celebrated in schools and libraries around the country. Even if you think you’ve outgrown her poems or you think they aren’t relevant to modern life, take a moment on that day to explore the legend of the person behind the poems and select one of the many editions of her work to share with a child. Let the bouncy rhythm and the silly rhymes remind you that “childish” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Sometimes it’s just right.

Monday Morning Music with Catbath

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This past Saturday morning, I woke up with a bit of a cold, and my plans for the day looked much less enticing than they had the day before when I promised to take my  daughter to see her favorite local band play an all ages show in the middle of the day. I tried to convince her that a movie marathon of her choice was just as good for the chilly Saturday, but her disappointed eyes ate at my mom-guilt enough that I took some cold medicine and off we went to Indeed Brewing for the Hullabaloo.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned Catbath on this blog before. My husband recommended the band to me after he caught their set at Cause Spirits & Soundbar, which has been closed for a while now. “Trust me,” he said, “This is going to be your new favorite band.” He was right, of course. Though now he probably laments introducing me to them given my habit of listening to my favorite records over and over again. If it were possible to wear out a CD, we would have worn out our copy of It’s Bathtime a long time ago.

Somewhere along the way, our eight-year-old daughter started singing along with the Catbath songs I played in the car or at home while we went about our business. Then she started requesting Catbath when I let her pick the music.  Recently she talked about how Catbath is her favorite band at Sharing Time in her third grade classroom. She was genuinely surprised that none of her classmates had heard of them.  I never set out to raise a hipster child, but somehow it seems to have happened. ;)

In any case, she loved the show. It beat a movie marathon any day.

In Words and Pictures

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While it was Young Adult Literature that drew me to the world of children’s book initially, once I started exploring picture books, I fell in love with picture book illustration as an art. I loved the variety, the experimentation, and the visual storytelling evident in the picture books I saw. I can’t claim to be an expert on artistic styles or media, but I know what I like, and after over ten years in the kidlit world, I have a pretty good idea of what works with kids, critics, or both.

The In Words and Pictures exhibit at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design is an opportunity to see a small window into the picture book world to get a sense of what is possible when it comes to picture book illustration. The exhibit includes Debra Frasier’s cut paper collages from A Fabulous State Fair Alphabet, Betsy Bowen’s wood block prints from Antler, Bear, Canoe, and a variety of other artistic styles. But the really interesting part, for kidlit fanatics like myself or kids who are curious about the story behind the books, are the notes and sketches paired with the art that give a sense of the process.

What better way to show kids that the process is messy than to show them the way a rough sketch goes through so many iterations before it becomes the book they know and love?

winterithewarmestI must admit, I was particularly captivated by Lauren Stringer’s paintings from Winter is the Warmest Season, which has long been one of my favorite wintery picture books.  But all the artists and books in the exhibit—from veterans of the field like Nancy Carlson to some that were new to me—taken together offer a fascinating look at the different paths that these stories take from idea to publication and all the twists and turns in between.

If you can get there in the next few days, I highly recommend In Words and Pictures to families. Even those who aren’t usually drawn to art exhibits may find that the opportunity to see where your favorite books come from or discover a new favorite is the real pull here. While you’re there, have a seat in the cozy reading nook and grab a book to read. Whether you are a book lover or an art appreciator, it’s well worth the visit.

Diversity at AWP15

awpIt’s about listening and humility.

At the AWP conference this past Saturday, I made it a point to attend as many discussions about diversity as I could.  The conference is aimed at writers not librarians–I only dream of calling myself a writer–but I found the perspective quite valuable.  I attended panels that featured writers of color discussing their work and their experiences in the publishing world, and the conversations kept coming back to listening and humility.

Can you write outside of your own experiences, including those of race, culture, and gender?  Sure.  But be aware of the complexity there.  Be aware of the history and the stereotypes that exist. Do your research, but–perhaps most importantly–beware of research.  Facts are good, but they only take you so far.  Facts read from books or gleaned from acquaintances don’t tell the whole story of a race or culture.  Facts don’t get at the intricacies of humor and language.  In her panel Navigating the Waters of Authentic Voice in YA Native Fiction Debbie Reese, who writes the fantastic blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, cautioned that even primary sources about American Indians can be problematic.  She urged non-Native writers to focus on being allies rather than being voices for Native people.

WNDB_ButtonIn the Race in YA Lit panel, writers from various cultural backgrounds shared their experiences with micro-aggressions, self silencing, and burn-out at always having to educate people about privilege and race issues.  There was some frustration in the conversation, but there was also optimism.  A lot of optimism actually.  Just the fact that we were having that conversation about race at a major conference means something.  The fact that #weneeddiversebooks wasn’t just a hashtag fad means something.

“Allies are important,” moderator Swati Avasthi (author of Chasing Shadows) said as she noted that the audience was mostly white. But there were cautions in this session too.  Avasthi said, “If you’re trying to do your research, do it with humility. Don’t go in and speak first.” Varian Johnson (author of The Great Greene Heist) offered this consideration: “Are you writing to exploit or enrich? Are you writing to expand the conversation or because you heard diversity is trendy?”

I spend a lot of time on this blog asking people to listen to me or explaining what people aren’t getting about my experience.  My day at AWP was a really valuable chance to stop talking and listen.  I don’t remember who said it, but this sentiment got a lot of nods: We are all on this journey.  No one has all the answers.  Let’s do what we can to keep this conversation going rather than shutting it down.

In the spirit of enriching the conversation, I offer these links:

Zoo Animal’s Return

Zoo Animal may have taken the last year and a half away from the spotlight, but Holly Hansen’s minimalist, poetic style has remained among my most-played music choices as it has for the last several years.  I was thrilled to hear that Zoo Animal was playing shows again, and even more excited to learn that it was going to be an early show with another local favorite, Fort Wilson Riot, opening.

 We were there with our seven-year-old in tow.  She was the one in the pirate costume.  I love it when we have opportunities to share our love of music with our daughter, even if it did mean that my view of Zoo Animal’s set left something to be desired.  Even from a distance, it was a powerful performance.

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Later this month, you can hear Zoo Animal get Loud at the Library in St. Paul.  I love it when my favorite musicians play at my favorite places.  :)

  • Read more about Zoo Animal on this blog here and here or see my photos of the show here.
  • Listen to their latest releases here.
  • Watch a documentary about Holly Hansen and her songwriting here.

My Day at School

I spent most of Monday in what felt like a sea of first graders.  I was at my daughter’s school for Parent Involvement Day, and as usual there were questions everywhere I turned.  I don’t exactly blend in.

In the lunch line, a little girl asked me if I was a pirate.  The look in her eyes and the tone of her voice told me she meant it nicely.  “I’m not,” I said with a smile. “But it looks like it, doesn’t it?  My hook is even cooler than a pirate’s though.  It opens up!”  She seemed suitably impressed.

Later one of the boys and I discussed some potential additions to my prosthetic arm after I’d explained to him how it worked.  He thought extendo-arm feature would be cool.  Super strength too.  I told him I hoped he would be the one to invent a prosthetic arm with super strength when he grew up.  He looked thoughtful as he said, “Yeah, I probably will.”

But it wasn’t all adorable. How is one supposed to respond to the child who repeatedly says, “You are scary.”? I still don’t know.  It would have been different if this child had seemed afraid, but he only seemed interested in drawing negative attention to me. There are only so many ways I can think of to say “I know I look different, but I’m really just like you.”  And some people won’t hear that message no matter how I say it.

wonder

The good news is that I’m not the only one saying it.

When I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I wanted every kid I knew to read it.  It said what I’d been trying to say for years.  Auggie says in the book: “The only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one sees me that way.”  If you haven’t read it yet, give it a chance.  It may be message-driven (or what some have called “guidance counselor fiction“), but it’s a message to which I feel a strong connection.

jacobseyepatchI have mentioned Jacob’s Eye Patch on this blog before, but it bears mentioning again.  It is a great picture book for talking about differences.  I highly recommend it–and the activity kit–for it’s realistic look at curiosity and questions.  We always tell our kids not to mention anyone’s difference or ask any potentially embarrassing questions, but Jacob offers a “green light” to people who have questions about his eye patch.

My philosophy: When you can’t blend in, you might as well take questions.  It isn’t always comfortable.  But, as I often assure nervous parents whose children are about to ask me anything, I have heard it all, and I swear I’m not as scary as I look.

Walking on air

walkingonair“I don’t get it.  We’re just walking on floor.” My daughter’s initial reaction to the “Walking on Air” installation at the Walker Art Center last Saturday was quite literal.  I heard another little girl nearby echo the sentiment as we stood inside a hot air balloon being inflated by fans.

I looked around the room. “I don’t know. It doesn’t look like a regular room with a regular floor.  What does it look like to you?”  I suggested a new perspective, and a world opened up. In that moment, we were sliding on a rainbow right into a hot air balloon.  We jumped and jumped to get the balloon to fly, and when we needed to land, we had to be calm and slow.  We waltzed around the colorful cavern and practiced yoga poses until we landed safely.  It was quite an adventure.

I have to admit, it’s the sort of adventure I don’t have very often.  I believe in the importance of imaginative play, but I don’t usually want to participate.  I will do almost anything else first.  I will read a story, do a craft, or play a game–no matter how boring to me–with my daughter before pretending with her.  Frankly, it’s one of those guilty parenting confessions that I hesitate to admit because I do feel kind of terrible about my distaste for pretending. I am probably not going to suddenly change and become the sort of parent who plays house as a first choice, but I am grateful for the reminder that it doesn’t take much for a magical worlds to appear around you.  Really–the kid usually does most of the work. artis

Thank you to the Walker for creating a space for us to play.  We also enjoyed the exploration of what art is and isn’t in “The  Time Wanderers.”  We were inspired to continue talking about the idea with the book Art is… by Bob Raczka.  Because finding books to explore interesting ideas is something I can definitely say I am good at as a parent. ;)

It was a great day. You can see more photos from the day at the Walker on my photo blog and on the Walker’s blog.

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.