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:

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.





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

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.


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.

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.

An unexpected gratitude

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.

Best Time of Day by Eileen SpinelliOne 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.

alljoyHappiness 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:

Friday Find: Brains On!

brainson“Wait! Pause it!”

We were listening to an episode of Brains On!, and my six year old could barely hold in her comments and questions.  I let her choose among the recent episodes, and she chose Is There Life on Other Planets? which opened with an excerpt from a science fiction story about aliens written by a kid, not too much older than my daughter.

“So this is a real story written by a real kid?” was her first question.  Then we had to go to the Brains On! web site to see the young author’s alien drawings.

Astrocat_001That was only the beginning  of the speculation and discussion that the episode sparked in her.  It wasn’t just the day we listened to it, either.  The ideas stuck with her enough to bring it up again and again.  We explored more about space in Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, which has a great spread with speculative aliens that my daughter loved.

We will definitely be listening to more of Brains On! And catching up on past episodes.  I love that it features kids asking real kid questions, and I am excited to explore more science with my daughter.

Since I am always thinking about books, I already have a few books in mind for some of the other episodes:

  • For Water, Water Everywhere we will check out Did a Dinosaur Drink this Water by Robert Wells and Let’s Drink Some Water by Ruth Walton.
  • The Soil–Can You Dig It episode fits well with A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial.
  • In How Do You Catch a Cold? there is talk of sneezes; Explore more in Sneeze! by Alexandra Siy.
  • If you listen to Is There Life on Other Planets? with kids a bit older than my six year old, you can direct them to The Alien Hunter’s Handbook by Mark Brake for more about what life is and how to find it.

Happy listening, reading, and exploring!

Interested in past Friday Finds posts? Click here

On the week’s events

SecretHum_cover_FINALIt has been a long and difficult week for many people.  My news feed for the past week has been full of difficult topics–stuff that we don’t often want to talk about.  Mental illness, suicide, race relations, violence.  A lot of people seem to be feeling raw and angry over these things.  I don’t blame them.  Parts of me are raw and angry too.

This week I read The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer.  It is a middle grade novel about a girl who is in her own difficult spot.  After years of living a here-and-there life with her mother, Grace is grieving her mother’s loss and trying to figure out where she belongs now.  It is a lovely story about grief and identity that made me tear up several times. Mostly I felt like the novel was about hope.

Whenever Grace had to start at a new school after yet another move, her mother would tell her, “You can do this.  You are brave, and you are loved.”  I want to repeat those words to so many people right now.

You are brave.

You are loved.

I can’t change the world with those words, but perhaps if we keep talking and keep changing our own small worlds, things will get better.

A weekend of solitude

Call me an introvert if you must–you wouldn’t be wrong–but I have to admit that there are few things better than a weekend to myself.  It’s been a busy couple of months (as evidenced by the lack of blog posts), and I was more than happy to spend a couple of days re-charging from all the goings on of late while my husband and daughter traveled for the weekend.

I decided to avoid planning too much, to just do whatever I felt like doing at the moment.  It felt like the height of luxury.  I highly recommend the experience if you have the opportunity.

My weekend consisted of books, art, and writing.  Here are some highlights:

  • 20140406-184336.jpgLive-tweeting my reading of Dangerous by Shannon Hale with the hashtag #dwoh (or Dangerous with one hand).  It is the only novel I recall reading with a main character with a congenital limb deficiency, and I couldn’t help but be excited about it.  Shannon Hale has some interesting things to say about why she chose to write a character who is differently abled, among other things, in this essay.
  • Exploring the meditative quality of writing with Karen Hering, author of Writing to Wake the Soul, at a Sacred Salon at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  The Sacred exhibit and the Salon were wonderfully inspiring, and I recommend both experiences to anyone interested in meditation or Buddhist ideas.  I’ve mentioned my interested in meditation here and here.
  • Turning up the volume on my latest musical obsession: Catbath.  What says spring more than opening the windows and playing the music a little bit louder?

How would you spend a weekend to yourself with no obligations?

More 2013 Favorites

Back in June, I posted a list of my favorite books of the year at that point.  Here are the books that made the list for the second half of the year.

  • Journey_by_Aaron_Becker1Wild by Emily Hughes – You can’t tame everything.  You might remember this book from this post. (Ages 4-8)
  • Journey by Aaron Becker – Beautiful wordless book.  The trailer gives a peek into the magic. (Ages 4-8)
  • Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden – A poem turned into a picture book that looks at changes with a gentle touch. (Ages 4-8)
  • The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt – Fun and different. (Ages 4-8)
  • Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo – Great mix of humor and heart.  This was my Book Pick in September. (Ages 8-12)
  • Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan – I love pretty much anything David Levithan does in books, and this one was particularly good.  I had more to say about it in this post. (Teen)
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – If I could only choose one book by this author, I’d choose Eleanor & Park for sure, but Fangirl is a close second.  (Teen/Adult)
  • A look inside What the Heart Knows by Joyce Sidman.

    A look inside What the Heart Knows by Joyce Sidman.

    What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings by Joyce Sidman – The subtitle of this book of poems threw me off a bit, but once I gave it a chance, I found a lovely tribute to the power of words.  (Teen/Adult)

  • Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart – I’m still dreaming of writing, and this book fueled the dream. (Adult)

The best book I read in 2013 was  an old favorite that I reread in anticipation of the movie version, which I still haven’t seen.  The Book Thief was just as good as I remembered it, and I highly recommend it if you have yet to read it.

What were your favorite reads of 2013?