The Stories Behind the News

As I type, I have Minnesota Public Radio News playing in the background.  We usually have MPR News playing at home or in the car. And we often find ourselves discussing what we’ve heard throughout the day or read on other news outlets at dinner.  My husband and I make time for debates and for the recent political party conventions, and we talk about them and about the issues they raise.  A lot. In front of our eight-year-old daughter.*

Sometimes it’s easy to think that she probably isn’t paying attention to the radio or to the conversations we are having about politics or issues, but every once in a while, she’ll interject a question or a comment that brings us back into the smaller world of our dining room table and forces us to consider how to explain issues related to race and police brutality, terrorism and refugees, or other difficult topics to a privileged eight-year-old kid. Honestly, I don’t always want to explain any of these things to her. There is a part of me that wants to turn off the radio and keep our discussions fixed on sunshine and lollipops until after our daughter’s bedtime.

In reality, I know that keeping her disconnected from the world won’t do her anymore favors than overwhelming her with information will, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to find the appropriate balance. While my advice is probably just repeating what I’ve read or heard from others, here’s what has worked for me: Find out what your child already knows before you start explaining something. It turned out that my daughter already knew a great deal on the subject of refugees from classroom discussions at school last year, so when the subject was in the news again, she wanted to join our dinner time discussion with her own thoughts and opinions.

journeyFor parents or teachers who want to give age-appropriate context to words like “migrant” and “refugee,” I recommend The Journey by Francesca Sanna. This picture book is about an unnamed child and her family whose lives are disrupted by war. It is a powerful look at the refugee experience that came from author/illustrator Francesca Sanna’s desire to capture the stories of the people behind the news, which is important for helping kids understand and empathize. Sanna’s book doesn’t shy away from the darkness, but it still offers some sense of hope. It’s a book that will linger in your mind, as Julie Danielson put it in this Kirkus feature, and I think that’s true for both child and the adult readers.

When I read it with my daughter, we talked about the power of stories and imagination as it is portrayed in the book. We discussed the open-ended conclusion of the book and shared ideas about where a family might find safety if they needed it. No matter what you’ve gleaned from news stories about immigrants and refugees, The Journey will deepen what you know. I know it did for us.


*Within reason, of course. Here is a guide from PBS Parents about kids and the news that gives some good advice.

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.

Friday Finds: Picture Book Month, Great Local Music & More


  • Tickets for the MN Music 4 Kids CD Release Party are now on sale!  Details about the show are here.  Proceeds benefit Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.  Good cause. Good music.
In other news:
  • It’s Picture Book Month!  All month long, book bloggers will be talking about why picture books matter, myself included.  Check out my Picture Book Preschool posts featuring civil engineering, maps, and science.  Watch for more like this next week.
  • Perhaps most importantly, an excerpt of John Green’s upcoming novel The Fault in Our Stars is now available on  This is worth checking out.  Preorder the book while you’re at it.  Trust me.
For more interesting stuff, find me on Facebook, and Twitter.

Friday Finds: New M83, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jose Saramago, and more

Now Available:

  • M83 has a new album out: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.  Popstache says: “If M83 (aka Anthony Gonzalez) hadn’t deliberately put together his forthcoming double album, slowly fusing styles and influences from his past efforts while carefully experimenting in newfound territory, it might have perfectly scored Spike Jonze’s fantasy film, Where The Wild Things Are.”
  • Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, has a new book out as of this week: The Marriage Plot.  I am number 432 on the library waiting list.  I  will blog about it someday.
  • Jose Saramago’s distinctive style doesn’t suit everyone, but his newest novel certainly has an interesting setting.  Cain re-imagines the Bible story of Cain and Abel.
  • I blogged about Girls Don’t Fly a few weeks ago in a Secular Thursday post.  It is available as of this week for your reading pleasure.
Local Love:
In the News:
For more interesting items, find me on Google ReaderFacebook, and Twitter.
Disclosure: Links above may be affiliate links.

Friday Finds: Dessa, Feist, Dawkins, etc.

Music Finds:

  • Dessa‘s new album Castor, The Twin released this week.  I have yet to hear it myself, but I am excited.
  • Feist also has a new album out: Metals.
Book Find:
  • Richard Dawkins’ new book, The Magic of Reality, was released this week.  I have been waiting for this one for a while.  I think it will be amazing.  Here’s a video to whet your appetite:
Family Find:
For more interesting items, find me on Google Reader, Facebook, and Twitter.
Disclosure: Links above may be affiliate links.

Weekend in Tweets: Three crazy days

  • HighTV plays a family friendly show. Or how we all learned to appreciate babysitters even more than we already do. – 10 Apr
  • AdviceToWriters retweeted by readermaid – The act of #writing is an act of optimism. You would not take the trouble to do it if you felt that it didn’t matter. EDWARD ALBEE – 10 Apr
  • chenx064 retweeted by readermaid – Interesting portmanteau word: adultescence. Its meaning is obvious on sight. So is its relevance to society today. – 10 Apr
  • megan_gamble retweeted by readermaid – An hour after first hearing about the fire on Lyndale via FB, only news I can find is still on Twitter. New media, FTW. – 19 hours ago
  • gimme_noise retweeted by readermaid – Our report on the Lyndale Ave fire that threatened Treehouse Records and the Bulldog in Uptown last night: – 12 hours ago
  • I seriously need to get to the library tomorrow. I’ve had no reading material all weekend. At least nothing I feel like reading. #toopicky – 37 minutes ago
Back to work tomorrow!  Don’t miss a tweet: Follow me