Choosing Kind


wonderWhen I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I had no idea how popular it would become. Frankly, I was distracted by my disappointment that it hadn’t been published in time to include in my article about books that explore physical differences.  I blogged about for my employer twice (naming it a “promising bloom” here and mentioning the multiple narrator device here), and it’s come up this blog at least once that I remember.

Since then it has become a bit of a phenomenon.  There was award buzz, a hashtag, and a whole movement surrounding this book.  And it’s moving beyond kids: in the UK, there is an adult/all ages version of the book on shelves.  I’m happy whenever you get adults to consider young people’s point of view by getting them to read children’s books, but this book in particular, I’d like to push into the hands of the general public.  It is an opportunity to see out so many difference eyes, to see why people make the choices they do, and what the consequences of those choices might be.  The best way to get people to make kind choices is to share stories like this one.

If I haven’t convinced you to read it yet, perhaps the book’s trailer will do so:

Kindness is an all ages choice, and this book spans a wide range of ages, as I mentioned.  But for those with preschoolers or primary graders looking to explore kindness and empathy, try one of these:

  • homeforbirdFairy Goes A-Marketing – this is a picture book version of a poem about a fairy who sets her caged animals free or gives away she things to help others.
  • Say Hello – Explores the feeling of being left out and encourages kids to include everyone.
  • Jamaica’s Blue Marker – Jamaica doesn’t want to share her markers with Russell until she learns to look at why he acts so mean at school.
  • Each Kindness – A new girl starts at Chloe’s school, but she won’t play with her.  It is only after the new girl has moved again that Chloe realizes she could have been kinder to Maya.  
  • A Home for Bird – A little frog goes to great lengths to help a new friend find a home.

These books are great for starting discussions, but in all honesty, any story will do.  In the words of Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley:

“Reading fiction is and always was practice in empathy — learning to see the world through often quite alien perspectives, learning to understand how other people’s points of view reflect their experiences.”

Wonder stands out because it is the story of someone who is very different and it explores the choices we make when faced with difference, but I believe that fiction can create a kinder world if we let it.

Please, choose kind.

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Monday Morning Music with Deerhoof

In keeping with the recent theme of highlighting musical events that I have missed, I thought I would mention that Deerhoof recently played in Minneapolis.  Check out their latest, Breakup Song.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my introduction to Deerhoof came from a boo.  Rules to Rock By by Josh Farrar is a fun children’s book about a girl who is obsessed with the band Deerhoof.  She actually named her guitar Satomi after her favorite bassist.  She wants to play in a band herself, but it isn’t easy when you’re only twelve.  It’s a cute book that I recommend to tween girls who daydream about starting a band or obsess about their favorite indie rockers.

Or read about Satomi and the crew here.

Disclosure: links are affiliate links. A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

The Year of Protest Reading List

Back in October, Brain Pickings posted the Occupy Omnibus: From Philosophy to Art, 10 Essential Books on Protest with their choices to better understand protest “through the customary Brain Pickings lens of cross-disciplinary curiosity, spanning everything from psychology and philosophy to politics and government to art and music.”   Thoreau makes the list, of course, with Civil Disobedience, but it also includes books about protest music and street art.

That was October.  Since then Time Magazine named “The Protester” the Person of the Year, “Occupy” has been talked about as Word of the Year, and 2011 is being labelled the “Year of Protest” by many.

In light of all this, I want to add a couple of titles to the list that Brain Pickings started.  The post only includes one children’s book after all, and as good as Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-ins is, I might have included other titles before that one if I were making the list.

  • After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance by Anne Sibley O’Brien and Perry Edmond O’Brien – The mother-son author/illustrator team behind this book are not new to protests, but teens (who are the main audience for the book) might be.  They might not have heard of many of the people and causes profiled in the book, which includes the recently deceased Vaclav Havel among several others.  After Gandhi was published in 2009, and the concluding chapter, “The Future of Nonviolence,” would be a great way to open a discussion with young people about the protests of the past year and how they relate to the past.  Highly recommended to share with teens or for for time-pressed adults who want brief synopses of important revolutionaries.
  • Paths to Peace: People Who Changed the World by Jane Breskin Zalben – This book appeals to a similar but slightly younger audience than After Gandhi, and it may have a stronger impact to some young people as many of the profiles of peace-makers reference the childhood events that influenced the person to take on their particular cause.  Zalben’s illustrations are an important part of the book as well, and the Art Notes at the end of the book provide more details of why she chose the illustration elements she did for each individual, including for herself.  She writes that she found a meditative practice through knitting, and she included a swatch of her work on the title page to symbolize its place in her own peace journey.

There are so many more books for young people that highlight peaceful revolution that I couldn’t possibly do them all justice in this one post.  I will just mention, finally, that Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin was particularly powerful to me.  It is quite brief.  It is definitely for children, but I recommend that anyone interested in what “freedom” and “peace” mean give this story of a young boy in Communist Russia a chance.  As Peter Sis says, it is “an important book for all people living in free society.”  I must agree.

Thank you, hands

My little artist made her hand-shaped turkey last weekend.  I tried to emphasize a feeling of gratitude this Thanksgiving with the book All of Me: A Book of Thanks by Molly Bang.  It says,

“What great hands!

Thank you, hands.

for gripping

and throwing

and patting and holding.

And for hugging.”


Also, thanks for being turkey-shaped. :)

The Poetry of Science (Books for Secular Families)

The Tree That Time Build: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination is one of my favorite poetry collections for young people.  From the book:

“Both poets and scientists wonder at and about the world.  Out of that wonder, scientists devise experiments to see whether they can verify what they think might be true, while poets craft language to examine and communicate their insights.”

I must admit that I am more of a poet than a scientist, so the poems in this collection are the perfect way for me to connect with science in a way that reinforces the idea that wonder doesn’t go away with explanation.  The poems are organized thematically to cover our origins, dinosaurs, plants life, animals, insects, and genetics.  The accompanying CD  includes many of the poems being read by the poets.  The book & CD would make a great gift for a family with an interest in nature.  Perhaps pair it with a tree planted in their name or other gift from the Arbor Day Foundation store.

This book will be a family treasure and a classroom favorite.

See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.

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Books for Secular Families on TV

Back in June, I recorded a couple of episodes of Atheist Talk, which I blogged about here.  The episodes have been airing on local cable access channels, but they are now available online.

You can download the podcast of Children’s Books About Science to hear what I have to say about On the Day You Were Born, Turn it Loose, and others.

Or if you’re more interested in religious topics (from a secular perspective), download Children’s Books About Religion for conversation about books that explore religious beliefs and diversity, Bible stories, and more.

I’ve blogged about many of the books I talked about on the show, and many more I’ve discovered since then.  Visit my Secular Thursday page to see all the posts in my “Books for Secular Families” series.

Celebrating Farmers Markets

This week, August 7th through 13th, is Farmers Market Week.  Here are some things you might do to celebrate:

  • Visit a market in a different neighborhood.  I love my local market. It’s small, but it feels like “our” market.  But we always mean to get over to one of the larger markets in Minneapolis.  Perhaps this is the week.
  • Try something new.  I’m interested in trying one of the food vendors that frequent the markets locally, but it would also be fun to try to vegetable that we rarely choose.
  • Support local artisans.  There are several artisans at my local market that I plan to patronize before the season ends. (Lefthand Originals, I’m looking at you.)
  • Get the kids involved.  It wouldn’t be difficult to set up a farmers market scavenger hunt to keep the kids entertained while you do your shopping.
  • Read about it! I’d love to revisit To Market To Market by Nikki McClure with Ladybug.  It is a lovely book about a trip to a farmers market that talks about where the foods (and other items) come from and how they got to the market.  It is my favorite way to celebrate Farmers Market Week, but what else would you expect from a children’s book geek like me? :)   I’d also recommend the book to visual artists as Nikki McClure’s illustrations are very cool.  This video has more on her process:

Exploring our Origins (Books for Secular Families)

“You are older than the dinosaurs. Older than the earth.  Older than the sun and all the planets.  You are older than the stars. You are as old as the universe itself.”

These are the opening lines of Older Than the Stars by Karen Fox.  What better way to make the subject of cosmology kid-friendly than to start with a discussion of age.  When you’re a kid, “how old are you?” is an important question, and this book starts by turning this question into a mystery.

From those opening lines, the book continues  with a cumulative rhyme in the style of “This is the House That Jack Built” that is accessible even to my preschooler.  There are also fact-boxes with more straight-forward information about the science of the big bang and the formation of the earth on each spread, which makes the book appealing to kids up to second or third grade.  The illustrations match the text well.  They start off kind of chaotic and gradually they come to resemble things we recognize.  This book is my first-round pick for talking to kids about where we come from.  Here is a peek inside, courtesy of the author’s blog:

Some secular families may appreciate Born With a Bang by Jennifer Morgan, which covers similar information.  Some secular readers may not be totally comfortable with the first person narration, from the perspective of the universe, in this book.  For others, though, reading science like a story is what finally makes science “click” for them.

Looking for more curriculum connections to astronomy and cosmology?  School Library Journal has lots of great book suggestions in “Off We Go, Into the Wild Black Yonder.”

More book recommendations about religion and science on the For Secular Families page.

Exploring religious diversity from a secular perspective

Perhaps before children start asking questions about belief or spirituality, they start asking questions about people.  Kids notice differences, and it’s important that we, as parents, can listen and respond to our kids when they ask about these differences, including about the different religions in our communities.

Shelley Rotner has several books about diversity for young children, including one about religious diversity.  She writes in the introduction of Many Ways,

“This book is a modest attempt to help young children become aware of the diversity in spiritual traditions and of the similarities between their families and those whose faith-based traditions differ from their own.”

The focus is on the photographs in this book, and there is minimal text.  This may suit families who want to open a discussion based on the photographs while others may find the lack of details frustrating.  Nonetheless, the book is an opportunity to introduce several major religions to young children without overwhelming them.

Faith by Maya Ajmera is a very similar look at religion, though this book provides a bit more context with captions for the photographs as well as some back matter that discusses the elements of faith for older readers (including parents) who want more context.

The publishers description of the book puts it this way, “. . . Faith highlights the common threads that bring people together in reverence and joy.”  I think one of the more interesting opportunities with this book for secular families is to bring themselves into the book.  Ask your kids how we ‘come together in reverence and joy.’  Perhaps you talk about prayer or singing or one of the other aspects of faith pictured and come up with some things that your family does that are similar.  I’d love to see a secular family create their own version of this book with photographs of the ways they celebrate and care for their community or how they connect with something bigger than themselves.

A Unitarian Universalist pastor even wrote a sermon that incorporated Maya Ajmera’s take on faith, which he called  “Love is a Verb.”  Towards the end of the sermon, he lists the ways that Unitarians express their faith in the ways discussed in Faith.

Of course, we needn’t wait for a time when we can sit down with books to talk to our kids about our diverse world.  Look for opportunities to “toss tidbits of religious knowledge into your everyday conversations” as advised in Raising Freethinkers.  We can point out places of worship in our community and connect that with what our kids may know about the religion.  Really, it’s about talking.  And talking…. and talking.

More book recommendations on the For Secular Families page.

Behind the scenes of Atheist Talk

A few months ago, a friend asked me for book recommendations for her son.  She was looking for a way to explain various religions to her young son from a secular perspective.  I have to admit, I love helping people find the right books, but I was less than enthusiastic about her request.  Books about religion for kids that aren’t religious?  I wasn’t expecting much.  I did a search and sent a list of books, each one with a caveat.  Most books that touch on religions have mixed reviews from professional audiences and let’s not even get into the customer reviews on Amazon and other booksellers’ sites.  It’s hard to sort the good from the bad, and I was wondering if there even were any good to choose.  But even after I sent the list, I kept up my search.  There had to be something out there, right?

I’m glad I kept searching because it came in handy when I was invited to discuss books for secular families on Atheist Talk, a public access television program produced by Minnesota Atheists.  We discussed books about religion and books about science that would have particular appeal to families raising children without religion.  It was a bit last minute, so I wasn’t able to share everything I wanted to share because I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of the book that quickly.  But I’m happy with the discussion.  Here is a shot of me with my friend James Zimmerman, who invited me on the show:

I’d never been on TV before, and I must say that I was really nervous. It didn’t help that the crew informed me that there was no editing.  Any mistake I made, big or small, would be included in the final version of the show.  James was a great host, though.  He kept the conversation rolling with questions about the books and stories of his own family’s reading.  We got great feedback from the crew after we finished taping.  My family cheered me on from the control room.  My three year old actually managed to stay and watch for the whole taping, which was two thirty minute episodes.

I’ll post the link to the video when it’s available online.  Those in the Twin Cities area can watch for me on their public access stations.  Information about channels and showtimes is available here.  Stay tuned here, though, because I’ll be blogging about the books we talked about on the show and the ones we didn’t have time to include.

I also feel compelled to mention that the television program and the organization behind it are not about denigrating religion.  The Minnesota Atheists as an organization are committed to positive atheism:

“Minnesota Atheists is Minnesota’s oldest and largest atheist organization. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit, educational organization that seeks to promote the positive contributions of atheism to society and to maintain separation of state and church.”

The atheist community in Minnesota is a diverse group of secular individuals and families.  I’m happy that I was able to work with them, and I hope that they enjoy the books!