Not all picture books are bright and happy. Kids have a wide range of emotions and experiences, and there are books for all of them. Or pretty much all of them, in any case. There are picture books about being sad, and there are picture books about things that will make you sad.
This post isn’t about those books. This post is about picture books that I am pretty sure are not meant to make anyone sad. I might be an outlier in finding these books sad. You’ll have to read them yourself and be the judge of the subjective sad level contained in these volumes.
My Dad Used to Be Cool by Keith Negley
Here is a book about a dad who used to have punk hair and play in a band before he became a dad. Not that he’s a dad, his hair is short and he doesn’t have time for the music. The reviews of this book all seem to find this sweet –praising the depiction of the sacrifices parents make—but when I read it, I am reminded of the way our culture seems to require parents (especially moms, but also dads as in this book) to give up their identities and hobbies when they have kids. Love music? Try Raffi. Counterculture style? Not gonna work. It makes me sad, honestly. I know not everyone conforms. There are some punk parents out there doing their own thing, and there are parents who play music or indulge in other passion projects. But those are the minority. Most people are like the dad in this book. We used to be someone; Now we’re someone’s parent. So I guess it’s relatable content, but it’s sad relatable content, in my opinion.
Days with Dad by Nari Hong
This is a book I really wanted to love. There are so few picture books that show disabilities at all, much less a disabled parent, that I wanted to be able to recommend this one widely since it features a dad who is a wheelchair user with his daughter. Unfortunately, the book is one long string of apologies from the dad for all the things he cannot do. The semi-autobiographical text is meant to be feel-good though, because the little girl replies with a positive bit after every apology. Can’t ice skate? No problem, you can lace up my skates for me. Over and over again. I see the attempt at optimism, and I raise you with this: Why did we need a picture book version of internalized ableism? Yeah, I get that probably a lot of disabled folks feel like they are a burden or a disappointment to their loved ones on occasion, but that is a sad thing about our culture. That’s not a “cheer up, pal” kind of thing. That’s an actually really sucky thing that many of us, myself included, fight within ourselves because our culture tells us we’re less than we should be. That’s not uplifting to me, folks. It’s sad.
I feel bad that both of these books are dad books. Stay tuned for a future post sharing dad books that don’t make me sad.
If there is one thing I want to tell people, it’s this: it’s okay to ask.
I was so happy when Gillette Children’s Hospital published a book with that title a few years ago, and I’ve since shared it at storytime a couple of times with good results. Most recently, I read it in the context of friendship stories. “Sometimes our friends are different from us,” I said before I opened the book, “and it’s okay to talk about what makes us different and the same.” A simple message for the storytime crowd.
But for those of you who are looking for something with a bit more content with the same message, I might recommend Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor. Yes, that Sonia Sotomayor. It turns out she agrees with me. The things that make us different don’t have to be hushed up or hidden. We can celebrate our differences even as we come together as friends. The book features children with various disabilities and differences talking about themselves while the illustrations by Rafael López (one of my absolute favorite illustrators, I might note) show children planting a community garden together. It’s bright, beautiful, and positive. There is so much to love here.
I want everyone to read books like these with their kids. Let’s talk about who we are—all the parts of out identities. Let’s ask questions of the people in our world to get to know their experiences.
Let’s also ask questions of this book itself. Why doesn’t Just Ask! use the word “disability”? To me, it feels like by using a euphemism like “differently abled” the book is talking around the identities of the people it features, which is seemingly the opposite of the book’s intent. I don’t believe that disabled is a bad word, and I would argue that there’s no reason to avoid using it. It’s complicated, I know. Identity can be complicated, but it’s worth asking the question here.
See this post from The Conscious Kid for their thoughts.
Ultimately, recommended with caution.
Last time I posted about books that were not getting enough love at the library, I featured cats. This time: a seal. There’s something about animal books, I guess. There are a lot of them, and maybe a few lovely little stories get overlooked. Well, here’s a delightful animal story to share with young readers.
Mister Cleghorn’s Seal has an old-fashioned look to it. Maybe that’s why it has been sitting on the library shelf for so long with no check outs. But I might point out that sometimes a good old-fashioned story is just right.
The story begins with Mr. Cleghorn’s first day of retirement, which is an unusual way for a children’s book to begin. He’s lonely and he doesn’t know what to do with himself without his work, so he decides to take a vacation to a seaside town. That’s where the seal comes in. The young seal is on his own as well, and Mr. Cleghorn decides to take it home and bring it to the zoo in the city. I love the line after he declares his intentions:
“He was as surprised as everyone else after he had said it, but when he examined the words he decided that he meant them.”
Of course, it’s not easy to care for a wild animal and all sorts of comical problems arise with a happy ending for everyone. It’s a sweet story that would make a great read aloud for a family with kids of multiple ages. At less than 100 pages long, it won’t even take very long to read.
I found this book shelved with the nonfiction picture books at my library. Next to books offering information about weather for preschoolers and young children. This 100+ page volume stood out as different from the sea of 32 page picture books. At a glance, I thought perhaps it might be misshelved. Looking further into the book, I thought perhaps there was no section for this book in my library. No one place it belonged.
It is not quite a picture book, but it contains illustrations on each spread. It is not full of facts about weather so much as it is an invitation to observe and experience the weather as it happens. To reflect and consider. There are more questions in this book than there are facts.
It is not a book that is only for children, by any means. I often say that picture books are for everyone. My fifth grade daughter is probably sick of me reminding her that you never grow out of picture books. This is a book that proves the point. Hand this book to anyone of any age and let them savor the art and the text. It is sure to speak to readers of a far greater variety of ages than will discover it in the nonfiction picture book bins at the library, which is why I share it with you today. Don’t miss this one. Don’t let it sit in the bin and eventually be weeded from your local library. It is far too lovely for that fate.
There was a time when most Mondays meant music on this blog, but as my posts have slowed down, music has all but disappeared here. I’m still listening to old favorites and discovering new music. Just not writing about it very often.
A few weeks ago I came upon, Sunday Mornings with Reina, a YouTube series by local singer-songwriter Reina del Cid, and I was charmed. Perhaps it is the warm, folksy vibe of the videos or maybe it is the wall of books and literary references in the background that drew me in. Whatever the reason, I am hooked. If I may say so, this series of videos makes a great soundtrack to a quiet Sunday morning. Start here:
Enjoy. And stay tuned for more music posts from me. :)
Someone was always handing out zines at rock shows back in the ’90s. I always took whatever people were handing out because I was too shy to do otherwise back then. I amassed a small collection of zines this way. Some were among the most wonderful things I’d ever read; some weren’t to my taste. It didn’t matter. I was in love with zines regardless.
In a world before blogs and social media, zines were my introduction to the idea that we can all be writers, artists, and publishers. We all have stories or ideas to share–and the power to share them. Perhaps that’s old news to young people now. They are growing up with all sorts of tools for sharing from the usual social networks to video and more. But, for me, a world opened up with zines as a way to read and share ideas that didn’t have a place in traditional media and that didn’t have to be perfect to be out there.
So when an opportunity to review the latest edition of Stolen Sharpie Revolution by Alex Wrekk came up, I jumped at it. This DIY book, in its 5th edition now, has been around for over ten years as a guide to all things zine related from basic how-to to the next level stuff like setting up zine events. It is a starting place for those new to zines, an idea generator for those looking to try something new, and a general ode to the creative exchange in whatever form it takes. I, of course, loved it.
It’s a small book with a lot of information–and a lot more information online–from the practical (fair use and copyright) to the fascinating (make your own paper) with an emphasis on the DIY spirit. It’s not perfect, but no zine ever is. A few typos only add to the general “work in progress” feel to it. Do you need a how-to about zines before you make one? No, not at all. But if you are curious about what zinesters like Alex Wrekk and her contributors think you might want to know as you are getting into zines, Stolen Sharpie Revolution is a must read.
I hope it inspires you to share your ideas, art, or story. I know it has reinvigorated my desire to be a part of zine culture.
And there’s a giveaway! Alex is giving away 5 print copies of Stolen Sharpie Revolution + a Custom Stolen Sharpie with each one.
Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway
“In the Bible, the end of the world went on for a whole book. But the real and of the world, Aiden knew, would never be more than a paragraph or two. The real end of the world would just be small things piled up.” —Son of Fortune by Victoria McKernan
YA lit has explored all sorts of ways the world might end or change drastically in various post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels that have been popular in recent years. The book I quote above isn’t about the end of the world at all, but I thought the quote was interesting since I’ve read several teen novels this year, including a few that will publish in the year ahead) that take on the Biblical end of the world in various ways. The trendwatcher in me has been taking note of these:
- This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready explores the rapture and religious fundamentalism. I liked the story and the suspense, and I think that the message that religious extremism should be avoided will certainly resonate with a lot of young readers looking for a middle ground.
- Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle has a more satirical edge to it that I liked. It’s basically a road trip novel with social commentary thrown in for good measure. Not to mention a post-apocalyptic style world. (Pubs January 2015)
- No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss turns this trend on its head. This book takes place after the predicted End did not happen. The family who banked their future on the prophecy is now homeless and navigating the challenges of the same old world. (Pubs March 2015)
- Eden West by Pete Hautman is less about the actual end of the world and more about how it feels to live with the End hanging over you. As someone raised in a non-mainstream religion with a similar focus on an End that could happen at any moment, I related to the story of being torn between the present and the possible future. (Pubs April 2015)
I admit that my religious history might have me seeking out books like this out of personal interest, but it feels like a trend to me. Or maybe it’s just the usual interest in non-mainstream religion (See also: Like No Other by Una LaMarche and Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock) that has always been a part of teen fiction. Either way, I’m watching it.
See my previous discussions of trends in teen fiction here and here.
One of the most common questions I am asked regarding my prosthetic arm is some variation of the following: “Why don’t you have one of those cool robot hands I saw on TV?”
My standard answer is to talk about how prosthetics are expensive and often not covered by insurance. This explanation usually makes sense to people, but I can’t help but feel that I’m letting them down. After all, the basic design for my prosthesis was developed in 1812. The materials have changed for the better; they are lighter and cheaper. But I still look like I belong on a pirate ship with my body-powered, hook-shaped prosthesis.
I bring this up now because we are in the middle of Disability History Month (at least we would be if we were in the UK), and it seemed like a good time to link to this article from How Stuff Works: How Prosthetic Limbs Work. It is a fantastic article that covers a lot of the points I usually make, like how expensive this stuff is, how they haven’t changed that much, and how they don’t last a lifetime. People don’t usually think about these things. They just think about the cool documentary they watched about the cutting edge stuff. A kid might think of a book they read like Amazing Feats of Biological Engineering, which makes it seem like bionics are more here and now than they are.* Or they think: We live in the twenty-first century; Robot arms should be a reality by now.
It does seem like we’re getting closer to that reality. 3-d printing offers some really interesting options for prosthetics, and organizations like E-Nable are trying to connect people who could benefit from the technology to the people who know how to use it. I am excited to see where this will lead. Perhaps sometime soon my old pirate arm will be a thing of the past.
Until then, it would be cool to see a documentary or read a book about the prosthetic devices that people are actually using right now. Even if they do seem like they are from another era.
More questions about my prosthetic arm answered here.
* Nothing against the book. It’s actually pretty cool to see prosthetics addressed at all, and if it encourages kids to think about this kind of technology, I’m all for it.
I meant to post something about gratitude during the week of Thanksgiving, but the days were full of holiday preparations to the point that I had no time to spare on putting such words together. Now that I have a moment, let me express a surprising bit of gratitude: I am thankful for my mornings.
No one in my family is a morning person, least of all me, so any positive feeling at that time of day is outside of my usual. But things have shifted with the beginning of this school year. After years of getting up super early to take the bus to work well before my daughter woke for school, I have traded in my bus pass for a set of car keys.
My mornings are no longer a frenzied rush to make my bus. They are comparatively slower and much happier. They have become my most treasured moments with my daughter. We talk about our dreams and plans over breakfast, and sometimes we even have time to share a story or two. By the time I send her off to school and leave for work, I am smiling. I can’t help it.
One of my favorite morning moments was from a story we read one day before school. The book was The Best Time of Day by Eileen Spinelli, and my daughter shared her own best, which was not far off from my own. She had a dreamy/happy voice when she said how much she loved mornings–at school. Her favorite time of day is that moment when she first gets to school. “There are kids and teachers talking and laughing. The piano is playing, and everyone is saying hi to each other and rushing around. I just love it so much.”
These are the moments I don’t want to miss. It’s the stuff of happiness, right? Watching this little girl experience the world as her own individual while sharing so much of who she is with her father and me makes me happy. I’m grateful for moments like this.
Happiness is complicated though, especially when it comes to our kids. Parenting is not all sunshine and lollipops. You don’t need me to tell you that, I’m sure. I probably didn’t need a whole book telling me that over and over in different ways, but I still read All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior. And somehow, I even loved it. For all the bleak stories and statistics in the book that threatened to be pretty depressing, it was all so fascinating. She chronicles how the word “parent” turned into a verb, how kids went from being “economically worthless to emotionally priceless,” and how happiness plays a role in all of this stuff in a shifting world where there is no script for any of us.
In the absence of a script, it’s just love. It’s just little moments where we read stories and talk about our favorite things. It’s the days when we can’t help but smile.
Read or watch more:
A few days ago a Facebook friend of mine posted the question “Why do you go to the State Fair?”
Some said that they go for the food. Others said it’s the rides. I like those things, but for me the Minnesota State Fair isn’t about food or rides. It’s the energy of the fair that gets me, that makes a trip to the fair a priority every year. I love that we’re all there to celebrate the talented people, hard work, and creativity of our state. Some say it’s too crowded or too expensive, but it’s worth it to me to battle the crowds and pay the money to soak up that feeling of celebratory pride in the efforts of fellow Minnesotans and to explore the best of our great state.
I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
More photos from our day at the fair here
Past State Fair adventures: