Counting our Hanukkah Blessings

Every year we look forward to taking out our Hanukkah decorations and big box of books. As with any other subject, picture books are one of the best ways to learn about a holiday, so grow, and to share that knowledge with others. Each year I not only read Hanukkah books with my girls, but I also go into classrooms at their schools to share a holiday that so many of their friends have little to now knowledge of.

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For anyone who isn’t aware of the background story of Hanukkah, here is a quick overview. About 200 years B.C.E. in Jerusalem, the Jews were under the rule of the Greek-Syrians. King Antiochus III allowed the Jews to practice their own religion. His son, King Antiochus IV, proved less kind and demanded that the Jews bow down to the Greek gods. His soldiers desecrated the holy temple and killed hundreds of people. HOWEVER, one Jewish leader and his 5 sons stood up to the Syrians. When Judah the Maccabee (the hammer) took control after his father died, the small Jewish army beat the Syrians through guerilla warfare. They cleaned the temple, rebuilt the altar, and had a celebration to rededicate it. One thing they needed, was to have the 7 candle menorah that adorned the alter be lit. As the story goes, there was only enough oil to light the menorah for one night, but it miraculously lasted for 8 days, enough time to make more oil. For that reason, we celebrate the rededication of the temple with a holiday where we light candles for 8 days and eat lots of foods fried in oil.

While Hanukkah has been seen by many as the Jewish Christmas, it really is nothing of the sort. It is a holiday celebrating the miracle of the weak overcoming the mighty. It is a holiday celebrating being allowed to practice your own religion, even when it isn’t what everyone else does. It is a holiday to simply celebrate being Jewish. Traditionally there are no gifts involved, but that has evolved over time in America to children often receiving one small gift each night.

There are a wealth of awesome Hanukkah books out there. I have tried to write about them over the years as seen herehere, and here. I am always on the lookout for new books, plus we get a book every year from the PJ Library. Here are some of our newest finds.

golem-cover Most children are familiar with the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Jewish folklore has a similar character in the form of the Golem, which in Hebrew literally means lump. In The Golem’s Latkes, Eric A. Kimmel mixes the story of the golem and his inability to stop himself with the traditions of Hanukkah. Rabbi Judah, in the story, had created the Golem to help him. On the day before the first Hanukkah candle has to be lit, Rabbi Judah had too much to do and not enough time. He instructed his housemaid, Basha, of all that needed to be done and allowed her to use the golem, but to never leave him alone. Basha was impressed by all that the golem could do and began to take advantage of him so that she could go visit with friends. However, when she instructed him to make latkes, she stayed at a friend’s house for too long and latkes soon took over the house. Rabbi Judah finally puts an end to the latke making, but now had enough to feed all of Prague, so they invited everyone to come and celebrate. A fun book to get into the holiday spirit and one that receives a big thumbs up from my 9 year old.

emanual-coverOn first look, Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue doesn’t seem to feel like much of a Hanukkah story, but by the end, all I could say was, “wow.” The story is set in New Bedford, MA at a time before electricity. New Bedford was a big whaling port and was also the home of a group of secret Jews had emigrated from Portugal due to religious persecution. The story tells of young Emanuel whose father sells supplies to the whalers. Emanuel doesn’t want to be a merchant, he wants the adventure of going to sea, but his father warns him of how dangerous a life that is. To Emanuel, his father was always afraid. One thing they were afraid of was letting anyone know that they were Jewish, a hold-over from the persecution they faced in Portugal. So when Hanukkah comes, Emanuel’s father and the other Jews don’t put the menorah in the window as is customary, his father won’t even light the Hanukkah lights. By the seventh night of Hanukkah, Emanuel can take no more and stows away on a whaler’s ship, yearning to be free, and hoping that one day his father can learn to be free as well. The ship struggles in a great storm and has trouble finding its way home. But by a great miracle, they see lights from the shore. The even bigger miracle was that the lights came from menorahs glowing in the windows of every Jewish home “proclaiming the last night of Hanukkah.” Emanuel’s father had realized that it was not good to be ruled by fear and instead wanted to embrace his Judaism.

ahanukkahwithmazelcover In A Hanukkah with Mazel, Joel Edward Stein has given us a very traditional feeling tale about the importance of commemorating Hanukkah even when life doesn’t feel very joyous. The painter, Misha, is struggling to make ends meet when a stray cat wanders into his barn. Misha doesn’t have much, but what he has he share with the cat, whom he names Mazel, which means luck. It is the first night of Hanukkah, and while Misha can’t afford candles for his menorah, he decides to paint a menorah and “light” each candle by painting their flames. On the final day of the holiday a merchant comes to his door. Misha admits that he has no money to purchase anything, but the merchant suggests that perhaps they can trade. Misha shows him his paintings and while he is looking at them, Mazel comes out. As luck would have it, Mazel is the merchant’s missing cat, Goldie. The merchant winds up purchasing Mischa’s paintings to sell and also asks Misha to take care of Mazel since he is on the road so much. This is a very sweet tale that happens to take place during Hanukkah, but is also reminds us to be kind to animals, the importance of tradition, and to never stop believing in the miracle of Hanukkah.

oskarOskar and the Eight Blessings utilizes Hanukkah as a way to bring up the Holocaust and the loss that it caused while reminding us all to look for the blessings and that “even in bad times, people can be good.” Young Oskar is sent to America to live with his aunt after Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, November 9, 1938. He arrived in New York on the 7th day of Hanukkah, which also happened to be Christmas Eve that year. He walked from Battery Park to 103rd street and found people performing random acts of kindness toward him. This is a book about hope, the thing that the ancient Jews had when they fought against Antiochus. We always need to have hope, even when things seem incredibly dark. While a simple story, this one is probably best for slightly older children as it has more opportunities for talking points than for telling the Hanukkah story.

gracieGracie’s Night, by Lynn Taylor Gordon, is less about Hanukkah and more about tzedakah, but wrapped up in a Hanukkah bow. The background is that it is holiday time in NYC and Gracie is taking in all of the beauty. She loves looking in the beautiful store windows, but she shops at The Second Chance Shop and is excited to find a pair or matching mittens. Gracie’s father is a bus driver and they are unable to pay all of their bills. But when Gracie manages to get a holiday job at Macy’s she is able to purchase her father 8 much needed gifts, like boots, a new coat, and a hat. When she leaves on a bitter-cold night, Gracie sees a homeless man huddled in a box. She realizes that while their life is tough, his was worse, and she wordlessly left him her father’s gifts. There weren’t many gifts that year for Hanukkah, but they lit the candles, ate latkes, spun the dreidle, and had warm feelings in their hearts. The book encourages all children, young and old, to “become someone’s miracle; be someone’s light! Give up just one gift on one Hannukah night.” This was a PJ Library selection and their note at theh end of the book talks about how many Jewish communities have started celebrating “The Fifth Night,” an annual event during which a night of Hanukkah gifts are donated to a children’s charity. I love this concept and think that this year would be the perfect year to start this tradition.

turtle-rock This summer I stumbled upon the book Tashlich at Turtle Rock, an amazing take on a ritual that has only recently gained popularity. So when I found that the authors wrote a Hanukkah book, I had to check it out. While not quite as powerful as the Tashlich book, Potatoes at Turtle Rock is still is an excellent way to approach Hanukkah in a different way. This family brings their Hanukkah celebration out to Turtle Rock on a snowy evening and young Annie has planned 4 stops. Each stop has a little lesson in history, astronomy, resourcefulness and togetherness. It is an unusual way to celebrate Hanukkah, but does encourage thinking about the things that are truly important.

only-one-club I first heard about The Only One Club while reading an article on Kveller. This isn’t a Hanukkah book, per se, but it is a great book to consider during the holidays when lots of people celebrate a variety of different festivals. Growing up, I was surrounded by lots of Jews, but now my daughters are growing up in an area where they could easily be the only Jewish person in their class. In this special book, Jennifer’s first grade class begins making Christmas decorations, but because she is Jewish, her teacher, Mrs. Matthews, allows her to make Hanukkah decorations instead. Jennifer enjoys the attention and creates “The Only One Club,” of which she is the sole member. When her classmates want to join, she is resistant until she realizes that each of her friends is also “the only one” at something. As she inducts them into her club she reveals the unique qualities that make each of her classmates extraordinary. Through this book, young children are encouraged to discover and treasure their own uniqueness and to actively look for special qualities in others beyond race or culture.

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Queen Girls – A New Kind of Fairy Tale

All children enjoy fairy tales. They help inspire us, teach us, and entertain us. Many traditional fairy tales have had a main female character who needs help from a magical being and/or gets saved by a prince. As we as a society change, so too have our fairy tales. The newest addition to the fairy tale scene is a series of books to be published by Queen Girls. The books that they are bringing forth are “stories of real women turned into fairy tales to inspire girls to follow their dreams.”

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The authors of these books approached me as a way to help spread their message and I jumped at the chance because I am highly impressed with what I see. The main mission of collaborators Andrea and Jimena is to “give girls a positive view of life and help them envision their dreams as possible. This is the reason why our stories are based on real women.

Often times, classic stories highlight the strength, courage and skills of men. Female characters are often stereotyped or one-dimensional: the mother figure, the homemaker, the exotic beauty, the love seeker…We believe that we should be telling different stories to our children. Let’s encourage girls to find their happiness, passions, drive and self-confidence from within. At the same time, let’s help boys to move to a place of equality.”

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The first book that they are publishing is called Bessie, Queen of the Sky. This story features Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman in the world to receive her pilot’s license. I was able to read a rough draft of the book and it is wonderful! The story shows how Bessie Smith always wanted to fly, but that between living in a time when flight schools wouldn’t take women and when women were expected  to “learn how to cook, clean, and become moms – not pilots,” she was definitely facing an uphill battle. But Bessie followed her dreams, went to flight school in France, and became the first black woman to fly airplanes in the whole world. She believed in herself, she believed in her dreams, and she made her dreams a reality.

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Publishing these books is the dream of Andrea and Jimena. I for one would like to see their dream come true, so I have backed their kickstarter campaign. You can do that too by clicking here. I look forward to reading more of their work as it continues to come out. They already have one planned based on Isadora Duncan and one about Savitribhai Phule. There is much that we can learn from these marvelous books. For more information about their books, check out their website.

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Women Who Made a Difference in our Knowledge of Nature

There was a time when we had no technology and people had more time to explore the world around them. That’s when some of our most amazing scientific discoveries occurred. What is amazing is that many of these discoveries were made by women and young girls. I love the notion of encouraging our boys and girls to explore the world around them. I have watched as my younger daughter is fascinated with the natural world around her. Until they started building on the lot across the street from us, she was known to spend large chunks of time making up her own world and seeing what there was to see in her own personal forest. Much of our focus these days seems to be about encouraging children to create the next computer breakthrough, but there is still a world of nature around us for them to explore.

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summer-birds-coverMaria Merian was one of the first naturalists to study animals that underwent metamorphoses. One that she was particularly taken with was the butterfly. In Margarita Engle’s beautiful book, Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, children can learn about the work she did to advance our knowledge of the life cycle of the butterfly. At the time that she lived (late 1600s), it was the common belief that insects like butterflies came from mud, as if by magic, and were therefore also seen as evil.summer-birds-maria-merian1 At the tender age of 13 Maria secretly studied caterpillars and butterflies. She watched as caterpillars were born from eggs laid by butterflies, that each caterpillar ate specific types of leaves, and that after creating and resting in a chrysalis they would emerge as butterflies. She documented everything that she saw and wanted to publish her findings so that people would stop calling them evil. The book is quite simple in its story, but astonishing in all that this young girl accomplished at a time when it was possible to think that butterflies were something to fear.

rachel-carson-coverAnother woman who made a huge difference in how we consider our environment was Rachel Carson. In Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World, by Laurie Lawlor, we are introduced to young Rachel and her passion for studying wildlife. Rachel Carson once wrote,”Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it.” From a very early age, she loved being exploring the outdoors and while at college preferred the local natural history museum to parties and dances. While at college she also came home to rural Pennsylvania and saw pollution impacting her once pristine landscape and wound up studying biology to learn all that she could about plants and animals. carson-inside-jpgShe had great struggles being a female scientist during the Depression, but she always found a way to persevere. Her biggest contribution to our society was in the publication of “Silent Spring,” a book that made specialists and the layperson more aware of the dangers of chemicals on our natural surroundings, and how the pervasive use of chemicals could pollute our environment. This book does an awesome job of showing how she got to the point of writing that book and encouraging kids to be aware of the world around them and protect it.

tree-lady-coverKate Sessions was also a woman who loved natural science in a time when that was highly unusual. Her story gets told in The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, by H. Joseph Hopkins. The Tree Lady tells the story of how Kate Sessions always loved getting her hands dirty, studying science, and from a very young age was completely enamored with trees. Kate was the first woman to ever graduate from the University of California (my alma mater) with a science degree in 1881. She had grown up in Northern California surrounded by trees and lush nature, but after college moved to San Diego, which was void of trees. She left her job as a teacher and became a tree hunter trying to find trees that could grow and thrive in San Diego’s dry climate. She not only discovered trees and brought them to San Diego, but she helped encourage those living in the area to plant the trees themselves. Her biggest achievement was the work that she did in the City Park. tree-lady-inside

All along, Kate Sessions believed that San Diego had the potential to become a beautiful desert oasis. She believed in herself and in her dreams and through hard work and determination, her dreams became reality. The illustrations in this book are the perfect companion to the moving story.

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I love finding new non-fiction picture books to encourage my girls to learn and grow. I find a number of them as part of the non-fiction picture book challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. I haven’t done a great job of staying on top of this challenge, but that doesn’t keep me from trying to be a part of it. Check out the posts on her site.

 

 

In Search of Girly Early Readers

About a week ago I received an email from a reader looking for good chapter book series for her young daughters. First, let me say, I LOVE getting emails like this. I can’t always help when it comes to great books for young boys, but girls, I have that covered! That said, there might be more people looking for similar books, so I wanted to share some series that might be lesser known to people.

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billie-and-jackBillie B. Brown & Hey Jack – I’ve talked about these series before. Billie B. is a bold and brave young girl who is learning how to believe in herself. Her best friend is a boy named Jack who struggles with some of the same issues that she does. Together, they navigate the world around them and perhaps learn a lesson or two in the process. There are two separate series that each have about 15 books to them. They are ideal for early readers with no more than 50 words per page and with challenging words in bold.4001_preciousring_1

Lily the Elf – Lily the Elf lives with her dad in a tiny house in a busy city. Her granny lives in a cottage behind their house. In these charming books, join Lily as she finds lost treasures, makes wishes, meets new creatures, and masters new skills. As with the Billie B. Brown and Hey Jack books, Lily is aimed at newly emergent readers with only 50 words per page in a large font.

showtime-fairiesRainbow Magic Series – Some series never grow old and this popular one by Daisy Meadows is constantly attracting young readers. This series is actually multiple series all under one common theme – young friends, Rachel and Kristy, discover the fairies and find that they are able to help them defeat their arch nemesis, Jack Frost. Each time there are seven books with a common theme – rainbow fairies, sports fairies, ocean fairies, party fairies, the list goes on and on. Young readers easily get hooked on these books, even when parents get sick of them.

secret-mermaid-2The Secret Mermaid – This is a really fun series that appeals to fans of the Daisy Meadow’s Rainbow Magic series. The concept of this series, published by Usborne Books, is that a little girl’s grandmother gives her a magic necklace that allows her to join the mermaid world while she sleeps. It turns out that she is one of a long line of secret mermaids and now she is trying to save the mermaid world from an evil mermaid. A great early chapter book series that still incorporates images and doesn’t cram too much text into each page.

fairy-ponies-1Fairy Ponies – In this series, young Holly and her pony friend, Puck, have wonderful adventures including rescuing missing royalty and saving the day from wicked plots and dark storms. With this series, kids get a bit more adventure than their average fairy books. The Fairy Ponies appeals to kids who are 5-8 years old.fairy-ponies-inside

pony-crazed-pinkPony Crazed Princess –  Princess Ellie is crazy about her ponies! Any time she can, she trades in her royal crown and fancy dresses for her riding helmet and boots, and heads out to the Royal Stable. Along with her best friend, Kate, Ellie takes her ponies for rides and jumps all around the palace grounds. Together, they go on adventures, solve mysteries, and, of course, spend lots of time with Ellie’s adorable ponies. This is a great book as an early chapter book

princess-in-black-comparisonThe Princess in Black – Shannon Hale, the writer behind the Princess Academy series and Ever After High, hit the nail on the head with her series staring the Princess in Black. The Princess in Black is a humorous and action-packed chapter-book series for young readers who like their princesses not only prim and perfect, but also dressed in black. Princess Magnolia appears to be a normal, perfectly dressed princess, but when her monster alarm goes off, she runs to the broom closet, ditches her frilly clothes, and becomes the Princess in Black! This is a great book because it works well as a read-aloud to 4 and 5 year olds and has larger font and images so that a 6 or 7 year old can read it on their own. Super fun and featuring a girl who is unwilling to “just be a princess.”

ghost-tale-for-xmasThe Magic Tree House – This is not a series that falls under the overly girly category, but there are few young children who have not been sucked into this fabulous series about siblings Jack and Annie who discover a magic tree house that whisks them away to places and times near and far to solve problems for Morgan Le Fay. Kids are able to learn a great deal about history from these fabulous books without it feeling like they are learning anything. My 6 year old has even decided that she is naming her children after them!

There are tons of books out there for every child’s pleasure. If at first they don’t enjoy a given book, don’t despair, they just haven’t found the right book yet!

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The Many Faces of Cinderella

The story of Cinderella, at its heart, is the story of kindness overcoming vanity and cruelty. There are many ways to tell this story, but the message always comes back to the fact that the Cinderella character takes care of those around her, big and small, while her cruel step-sisters only think of themselves and expect everything to be handed to them without having to lift a finger.

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Three years ago, I wrote about various versions of Cinderella told from around the world. It was really eye opening to see how so many different cultures have looked at the classic fairy tale over the years. When we were at our local library recently, they had a display about fairy tales and mentioned a few other versions of Cinderella so my mind started churning again. The story always stays within certain parameters, but it is the people and animals who surround Cinderella that always change. I was pleasantly surprised when I found additional versions to add to my original list.

smoky-cover-2In Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella, by Alan Schroeder, we get the classic story, but Cinderella’s name is Rose. Rose’s father marries “the crossest, fearsomest woman that side o’Tarbelly Creek,” and when she makes Rose do all of her chores, her father figured it was best to just stay out of it. Rose’s life only got worse when her father died. Rather than a prince throwing a ball, it’s just a rich young man trying to find a wife, but Rose’s sisters don’t let her go to the party. Fortunately, one of the pigs on the farm knows some magic and sends her off. Her step-sisters recognize her, a nice twist on the original, but can’t do anything about it as Seb, the rich gent, immediately takes a shine to her. Her step-mother plans to whip Rose first thing in the morning, but Seb arrived before she could. Of course the shoe fits Rose and she forgives her step-sisters for all of the sorrow they had caused her and she and Seb live happily ever after.

edna-marriageCinderEdna is a fun twist on the story with Cinderella and CinderEdna living next door to each other. Both are forced to do chores, but CinderEdna finds way to bring joy to her life and to avoid sitting in the cinders. To keep warm, Edna kept herself busy and earned extra money working for other families. Another key difference is that while Cinderella is beautiful under her rags, Edna isn’t much to look at, but she is strong, spunky, and knows some good jokes. Rather than rely on a fairy godmother to get her to the ball, Edna takes the bus. When she meets the prince, she finds him a bore and instead falls head over heels for his younger brother who runs a recycling plant and a home for orphaned kittens. The prince and his younger brother, Rupert, fall for the two girls and go searching for them after they each run off. Rupert can’t see Edna because his glasses were smashed, but he knows it is her when she can recite 15 different recipes for tuna casserole and tells him a joke about a kangaroo from Kalamazoo. The two couples wed in a joint ceremony, BUT, Cinderella finds herself bored with endless ceremonies and speeches while Edna and Rupert enjoy their life making the world a better place and caring for cats.

raisel-insideI will admit that I was shocked to find a Jewish retelling of the Cinderella story, but Raisel’s Riddle, by Erica Silverman, is just that. Raisel is a girl being raised by her grandfather, a town scholar, and she has studied alongside him, something highly unusual in the old setting where this story takes place. When he dies, she must find a way to survive and winds up finding work in a faraway village as the helper to a rabbi’s cook, a jealous and harsh woman who could rival any evil stepmother. Raisel wishes to go to the Purim play but has no costume and has chores that must be done. On the night of the play she feeds an old woman who gives her three wishes for her kindness, thereby allowing Raisel to go the play. The Rabbi’s son is quickly taken by her, but when he tells her of her beauty, she responds with words from the Talmud that it is just a costume. When he tries to figure out who she is, she diverts him with a riddle. Before he can answer, the clock begins to toll midnight and she rushes off. The next day, rather than searching for the girl who can fit a glass slipper, the Rabbi and his son search for the educated girl with the good riddle. He finds Raisel and they live happily ever after.

101012the_golden_sandal_iraqi_cinderellaIn finding Raisel, I was thrilled to also find the beautiful version The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella, by Rebecca Hickox. The Golden Sandal is a retelling of an Iraqi folktale “The Little Red Fish and the Clog of Gold,” which has every aspect of the traditionally Cinderella story, but with cultural traditions of Iraq where marriages are often arranged. In this version, young Maha’s father is a fisherman and after his wife dies he remarries a woman who is jealous of his love for Maha. When Maha is carrying a basket of fish back from the river, a small red one starts to talk to her and begs her to spare his life. She does and he responds, “Allah says a kindness never goes unrewarded.  Call for me anytime and ask what you will.” Years pass and Maha grows sweeter by the day while her wicked step-sister has a face marked by her ugly nature. When the daughter of a wealthy merchant is to be married, there was great excitement “for it was at the women’s celebration that they were seen by the mothers of young men.  Whom would they choose to be brides for their sons?” Maha asks the fish to help her go to the henna party and her wish is granted, but she must leave before her step-mother does. As she rushes out she loses one of her golden slippers in the water. When Tariq, the brother of the bride, finds her shoe he decides that she who can fit it is the one he wants to marry. The step-mother of course tries to block this from happening, but like all Cinderella stories, the two live happily ever after.

cendrillon11Cendrillon is a Caribbean retelling of the classic fairy tale, but told from the godmother’s point of view. In this story, the godmother is a poor washer woman who had been given a magic wand by her mother. She was told that it would only work on someone that she  loved and at the time she had no one. Cendrillon’s mother dies and of course her father marries a mean woman and Cendrillon becomes a washer woman in her own home. She winds up building an even stronger bond with her godmother as they work side by side. When Cendrillon cannot attend the ball, her godmother recalls the want and puts it to good use. While true to the original story, it is the Creole words, beautiful illustrations, and the godmother’s true affection for Cendrillon that make this version unique and special.

The most unusual version I have seen so far comes in the form of The Irish Cinderlad. One thing that has remained true in all of the Cinderella retellings is that she attends the ball, the prince is enamored by her beauty, he searches for her, and they live happily ever after. So I was pleasantly surprised to find this version with a male lead. Becan, who is plagued with exceptionally large feet, finds himself with three horrible step-sisters when his father remarries. They taunt him and banish him to work in the fields. However, there he befriends a magical bull. With the bull’s help, Becan defeats a giant, slays a dragon, and rescues a princess. But before she can thank him, he disappears, leaving behind one of his enormous boots. The princess searches for him, and like all good fairy tales, they live happily ever after.

There is so much that we can learn about ourselves and other cultures by reading a wide variety of tellings of the same story. Fairy tales and folk tales in general will always be a key part of how our children learn. I’m so thrilled that there are so many versions of tales we thought we knew so well.

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Heroes and Heroines

As J gets older, she loves to find out more and more about real people and the things that they have done. I think it is due, in part, to the fact that as kids get older, they truly become more aware about the world around them and learning about people who have made a difference can help shape who they become. So when I was offered the chance to take a look at two new books from National Geographic Kids about Heroes and Heroines, I jumped at the chance. Not surprisingly, National Geographic Kids didn’t fail.

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Each book has an introduction that have seven stupendous qualities that a hero or heroine possesses. Things like courage, compassion, selflessness, and never quitting. Besides all of their heroic qualities, they also all “started out just like you.” The intro also has a side-bar mentioning that a) heroes shouldn’t be swept under the rug in the heroine book and vice versa, so they do get mentioned from time to time and b) heroism isn’t always planned so watch for a special symbol highlighting moments of bravery.

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In The Book of Heroines it’s all about Girl Power!  Looking for a leading lady? How about more than 100 of them?   From Michelle Obama, Jane Goodall and Wonder Woman to Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinem and Katie Ledecky, The Book of Heroines not only highlights how girls are just as tough as boys, but also challenges the reader to be a heroine herself and provides tips on how to unleash her inner heroine. The book is sectioned into chapters on world leaders, sports heroines, women in the workforce, legendary women from Greek mythology to modern television, women who have braved dangerous missions, peace heroines, ladies in lab coats, and even a chapter on brave animals.

 

Similarly, The Book of Heroes highlights 100 guys who had the boldness, bravery and brains to meet the challenges of their day. Men like Abraham Lincoln, Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking and Steve Irwin and well loved characters like Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker will allow boys to find more than just a few role models in the pages of this book and also perhaps inspire them that they, too, are capable of extraordinary things.  As with the heroines book, this one is sectioned into chapters on world leaders, legendary men from myths, comics, and screen, sports heroes, workplace heroes, peace heroes, action heroes, inspiring minds, and animals.

As with all National Geographic books, the photos are outstanding and the information is presented in an incredibly accessible manner. J really loved that her own personal heroine, Emma Watson, was included. I feel like I could look at these books for hours and learn something new every time. The Book of Heroes and The Book of Heroines are a great addition to any bookshelf to inspire the next generation.

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*Note – I did receive a free copy of these books to review, but the opinions are entirely my own.

A Culinary Adventure with All Four Stars

It is wonderful when a book can encourage a child to see outside of their personal bubble. In the charming series, All Four Stars, by Tara Dairman, J’s eyes were opened to a variety of foods and ingredients that she had never come across. At 9, she has started to be more willing to expand her culinary horizons and books like All Four Stars are a great way to entice her palate.

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I first read All Four Stars and thought that it was super fun. I had been enticed as a foodie and also because it was about a child who loved both food and writing. I inhaled the book and then encourage J to read it. It sat on her massive “to read” shelf for a little while, but once she finally cracked open the pages, she was caught under its spell as well. She enjoyed the first book so much that we immediately purchased book 2, The Stars of Summer, and now we are eagerly anticipating book 3 to arrive on our doorstep.

all-four-coverIn All Four Stars, eleven year old Gladys Gatsby loves all things food, but comically her parents are the ones who prefer take-out and are less likely to try new things. Because of this, all of her food explorations are done in secret. When she accidentally sets the kitchen curtains on fire making creme brulee, her cooking days are over, at least for the next six months. At school, her new teacher assigns the 6th graders a writing assignment for a contest held by the New York Standard newspaper in which they are supposed to write about their future. Gladys’s first go lacks passion and her teacher tells her so. Her newest friend, Sandy, would agree that her writing about wanting to be a vet seems far fetched when he thinks she has a future in food writing (having been the only person let in on her secret of the fact that she reviews all of the food she eats and has been for the past 4 years). But when her essay for the contest gets mistaken for an actual cover letter for a food writer, she and her new friends test how far she will go to get a real review.

As for exploring new foods, while Gladys’s parents are not adventurous, Gladys learns about food from her aunt who takes her on culinary tours of NYC. Gladys is also fortunate in that one of her few friends is Indian with parents who cook classic foods from their homeland. Gladys has also befriended the owner of a the local gourmet food shop and her friend Sandy’s mom likes to experiment with desserts. J is now all for making a traditional Indian dessert called Gajar ka halwa thanks to this book (recipe included in the book). It was also comical to read it with J because she would ask me what an ingredient was, I would explain it, and then the book would use similar terms to explain it in the very next sentence.

stars-of-summerThe second book, The Stars of Summer, has Gladys having successfully completed her first restaurant review for the newspaper. The paper still doesn’t know that she is only eleven and her parents have no idea that she is writing reviews. While Gladys was looking forward to a quiet summer, her friend Charissa has other plans and gives Gladys a free summer as the kitchen assistant at her family’s camp. Throughout the high-jinx that the camp backdrop provides, there is still food to be reviewed. This book starts at a tapas restaurant and then moves into a madcap attempt to find the best hot dog in NYC. A nice part of this book is that Gladys starts to share her love of food a little more with her parents, turning the tables and having them try some new foods.

This book took Gladys a bit further out of her comfort zone. Book one had her making new friends for the first time and letting people in on her secret love of cooking. Book two has her making a few more friends, try things that have always scared her (swimming anyone?), and improving her relationship with her parents. As for the culinary adventure, Gladys finds some of the most unique hot dogs possible – Chilean Hot Dogs with avocados, tomatoes and mayonnaise and South African Hot Dog Sandwich with french fries, lettuce and Indian curried pickle to name two.

stars-so-sweet-cover-1The final book in the series, Stars So Sweet, should be arriving at our house any day. That said, here is the summary available online:

As the summer winds down and Gladys Gatsby prepares to start middle school, she is nervous about juggling schoolwork and looming deadlines from her secret job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic. When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting to discuss more opportunities with the paper, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to her parents. But her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold when her parents arrive home with a surprise:  her Aunt Lydia, one of the only adults who knows her secret, fresh off the plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but even with her aunt’s help, Gladys just can’t manage the drama of middle school and a secret life. It’s time for Gladys to be true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.

From other reviews that I have read, this final installment is less about food and more about finding yourself, but we are still looking forward to enjoying it. A very fun series!

The hiatus is over

Hello my amazing readers,

November was a blur and, because of that, I went on an unexpected hiatus. But I’m back! I’ve been writing a ton of things by hand and am finally getting my act together to type them up and bring them to you.

One other big thing that has happened in the past month or so is that I was asked to be a co-host for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day. Multicultural Children’s Book Day began in 2014 by Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valerie Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book.  I have been involved as a participant every year since that inaugural year. The purpose of this yearly event is: to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Now more than ever, children need to see themselves reflected in the pages of the books they read. Readers of all ages need to be able to “read their world” to both see themselves, and those are who different, whether by culture, religion, sexual orientation, special needs or ethnicity.

Now more than ever, we need to come together as a nation of beautifully diverse people.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day is proud to offer an initiative and holiday that encourages discovery, hope, acceptance and exploration through the pages of diverse children’s literature.

The Multicultural Children’s Book Day CoHosts are a group of powerhouse bloggers and parents who all share the same passion for reading and understand the importance of diversity in children’s literature. They also act as ambassadors for MCBD’s yearly event by assisting in spreading the word, extending the event’s reach through social media and acting as hosts sites for the wildly popular book review/blog post link-up that occurs on the actual day of the holiday (1/27/17).

The following are the sixteen CoHosts for the 2017 event. These writers, moms, reviewers, book lovers and thought leaders were selected by the MCBD team because of their true dedication to supporting diversity in children’s literature and we would appreciate if you could take a few minutes and visit each of these excellent blogs and say “hello.”

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A Crafty Arab: Kay Tarapolsi is a Libyan American artist who creates art to promote a positive image of Arab culture. Kay creates handmade Arab, FaA Crafty Arabrsi and Urdu crafts and cards. Check out her wares on Zibbet (www.ACraftyArab.zibbet.com), Amazon, Etsy or select stores in Seattle, WA, Dearborn, MI, and Washington, DC. The Arabic Alphabet Animal Poster became an idea back in 2002 when Kay received an alphabet poster (in English) by Jill M. Schmidt, a published illustrator of children’s books. Kay realized there was a need for an Arabic poster that was bright, fun and colorful and began working with Jill in 2010 to create this product line. Kay teaches Arab art education to various schools in the Pacific Northwest and has been an artist in resident in several summer camps.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, G+

All Done Monkey

Leanna is a stay at home mother to two sweet, funny, rambunctious boys and a sweet baby girl! ShAlldonemonkey.come draws inspiration from the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith and tries to raise her Monkeys in a fun, spiritual, loving environment. She and her husband, who is from Costa Rica, are raising their boys to be bilingual and bicultural but more importantly to be “world citizens.” All Done Monkey is dedicated to sharing this journey with you! All Done Monkey focuses on multiculturalism, children’s education, natural parenting, and spiritual education.

Leanna is the co-founder of Bahá’í Mom Blogs and founder of Multicultural Kid Blogs.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, G+

Crafty Moms Share

Crafty Moms Share
Carrie is a former high school math teacher and diversity club leader. Now she uses her expertise to write about her adventures with her daughter, review books and products and share information. Crafty Moms Share is a place where Carrie shares her ideas, knowledge and more and hosts link parties to allow others to share as well. She is a member of Multicultural Kid Blogs and a believer that we are all equal and need to be respected for our differences as well as our similarities.
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Colours of Us: Svenja is an adoptive mom and social worker, originally from Germany, living in South Africa. As a mom of a little African girl she always searches for multicultural children’s books that have a positive message, and that do not support stereotypes. She shares her findings on her website, Colours of Us. Svenja is passionate about promoting diversity in children’s literature and toys. She believes that all children deserve to see themselves reflected in the books they read and the toys they play with. Because representation matters!

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, G+

Educators Spin on it

Educator's Spin on it

Kim VijKim Vij: Kim Vij is a Certified Teacher with over 20 years of experience using her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Central Florida. She moved from the traditional classroom to raise her 3 children and to be an advocate for early childhood education using a much larger platform online. When she is not creating or pinning ideas for kids, you will often find Kim speaking at events, hosting twitter chats or discussing with a friend at a play date about how to help their child learn with developmentally appropriate strategies. A community builder at heart, she serves as an organizer of a local mom’s group and as a school volunteer coordinator. Kim is the Co-author of the popular website The Educators’ Spin On It.

Kim on Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram

Amanda BoyarshinovAmanda Boyarshinov: Amanda is a National Board Certified teacher with oodles of experience in early childhood education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in Reading for grades K-12. You will often find her in her backyard exploring nature with her kids or doing a hands-on science project at the kitchen table. She loves to walk her dog and snuggling up with a good book when she isn’t elbow deep in baking blueberry muffins in the kitchen. She shares educational activities for children ages 0-7 at The Educators’ Spin On It. Here are some of her tips on building a diverse bookshelf.

More about Amanda, Twitter, Instagram
Watch from Amanda and Kim’s upcoming book, 100 Fun & Easy Learning Games for Kids: Teach Reading, Writing, Math and More With Fun Kid Activities Paperback – May 24, 2016

by Amanda Boyarshinov (Author), Kim Vij(Author)

Franticmommy: me-best-headshot

franticmommy-buttonBecky Flansburg is a blogger and Virtual Assistant from Minnesota who writes about parenthood topics and moms in business. As Project Manager for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, blogger, WAHM, and freelance writer, Becky knows being a mom is The.Best.Thing.Ever and Team Family is #1. Her goal with Franticmommy is to provide tips, ideas, products and services to help other women realize their dreams of business ownership while also sharing the “holy crap!” moments of parenthood and life.

Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

Growing Book by Book

Growing book by bookJodie Rodriguez has a passion for helping caregivers nurture our youngest readers. As a Growing Book by Bookformer National Board Certified early-childhood, elementary teacher and administrator, she has worked with thousands of families and educators providing best literacy practices. She lives near St. Louis, Missouri and now stays home with home with her two young sons. She is the creator/founder of Growing Book by Book. A blog dedicated to helping caregivers nurture our youngest readers. You will find book lists, book related activities and literacy tips and tricks for kids ages 0-8.

Pinterest | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Growing Book by Book

Imagination Soup:Imagination Soup

melissaMelissa Taylor, MA, is an education expert and Pinterest influencer as well as a mother, teacher, and freelance writer. She writes an award-winning learning blog, Imagination Soup and freelances for publications online and in print, including Sylvan Learning, Random House, USA Today Health, The Writer, and Scholastic Parent and Child. Connect with Melissa on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Kid World CitizenKid World Citizens

Becky Morales started Kid World Citizen as a way to share ideas from her classroom Kid World Citizenand activities that she did with her kids. Becky an adoptive mom and the cultures in her family’s household include Mexico, China, Ethiopia, and African-American, but has expanded the blog to include cultures from around the world. Becky loves meeting other globally-minded parents and teachers and sharing ideas to expose kids to world cultures. She has also written a book to help teachers and homeschoolers increase global learning with their kids (and in it there is a booklist of over 300+ excellent multicultural titles for elementary learners!).

Facebook, Pinterest, G+, Twitter, Instagram

Mama SmilesMama Smiles

MaryAnne was raised in five countries on three continents. She currently lives in California with her husband and their four children. MaryAnne blogs at Mama Smiles about building a rewarding family life through mindful parenting and educational and creative family activities. MaryAnne has a Masters in education and Ph.D. in medicine. She enjoyed freelance writing and photography.

Connect with Mama Smiles on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, G+

Multicultural Kid BlogsMulticultural Kid Blogs

Multicultural Kid Blogs is a supportive community which brings together parents, educators, bloggers, writers and artists from across the world. Our mission is to inspire and support parents, caregivers and educators raising the next generation of global citizens through arts, activities, crafts, food, language, and love. We do this by creating educational and parenting content which celebrates global cultures, languages and belief systems and by promoting diversity in all its forms while recognizing our common concerns and dreams for our children.

Facebook, G+, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram

Randomly REadingRandomly Reading: Alex Baugh is a former 4th grade classroom teacher and homeschooler with one Kiddo. She is also on an children’s book award granting committee, where they read over 6,000 books a year. Alex’s experience has made her very aware of the responsibility we all have when it comes to the multicultural content of children’s literature and she shares that he keeps that in mind with every blog post she writes for Randomly Reading.

Twitter @randomlyreading, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+

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jenny-ev

The Jenny Evolution – The Jenny Evolution is a parenting lifestyle blog focused on topics moms care about. From important parenting tips to family meals to simple kid activities, moms want information they can immediately use and have fun with. The Jenny Evolution is focused on articles that enrich family life without making it complicated… because who has time for that?

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, G+

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The Logonauts: Katie is a life-long reader and enjoys ensnaring others in the web of life-long reading. As a traveler, photographer, and former archaeologist, Logonautsshe has visited four five continents (honeymoon in Morocco!), numerous countries, and 41 of the 50 US States. She loves introducing her students to the wider world and fostering their excitement about other countries and cultures. Logonaut was a word invented by Katie and three of her pre-service teacher colleagues while creating a unit on vocabulary-building and word roots. It has as its roots logo (Greek for word) and naut (Greek for ship or nautae, Latin for sailor): word sailor. In their estimation then, a logonaut is someone who sails on the sea of words and shares an appreciation and love of the power of words and language.

Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, G+

Youth Literature Reviews

Youth Literature ReviewsKatie Meadows is a mother, wife, and book lover from the Pacific Northwest. As a bookseller, Katie speyouthnt years helping children, parents, and educators find the perfect book. In 2012 she launched Youth Literature Reviews, a blog that features book reviews and carefully curated book lists for children of all ages, from babies to teens.Connect with Katie on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Would you like to be a Reviewer for MCBD 2017 and Receive a Free Diversity Book?

Bloggers can go here to sign up via our Google Form to review a multicultural children’s book for this event. MCBD is also open to reviewers do not have a blog, but have a strong presence on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
How It Works: Bloggers are then “matched” with an author or publisher that will supply them with a free children’s book to review. Bloggers are encouraged to read the books and share their thoughts on the book (a basic book review) in the form of a blog post.Many bloggers add a book extension activity. Go HERE for the full details and instructions.
Once their book review blog post is live (any time between January 1 and January 27th is good), bloggers are invited to “link up” their blog post on the Linky that will be found on any of our CoHosts’ sites and also the MCCBD website. on January 27th..

Direct all questions and inquires to becky (at) multiculturalchildrensbookday (dot) com

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Reading for Fun vs. Required reading

It’s interesting watching your reader grow in maturity. This year has seen great strides for J who continues to grow, not only as a reader, but in general maturity. Friday morning I was reading a post from the Nerdy Book Club about the “just right” book and what that means and it resounded with me. I am happy to say that J has never focused much on her “level” and always has read for pleasure. She has had great teachers and I’m definitely not one to push for reading levels.

These days, unfortunately, many kids focus a great deal on the “level” of the book and less on the story itself. That’s one thing if the book is required reading, but if you are reading for pleasure, it should be just that – pleasurable. When J was obsessed with Harry Potter or the Land of Stories, it was like you couldn’t pull her away from them. She knew every detail backward and forward. She could actually even recite the chapter titles from the first Harry Potter book.

So these year I watch with fascination as J approaches her required reading list for the Battle of the Books. J has long desired to be a part of the Battle of the Books. While she could easily read and comprehend most of the books at an early age, the rules state that you have to be in 4th or 5th grade for the elementary competition. A big reason for this, I believe, is less about reading level and more about having the maturity to read books that you don’t necessarily like all that much. She took a quick break from one book in order to plow through another and the different purposes and the distinction feels very clear to me.

6795756The first book she is reading is Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen. This is one of the books for the Battle of the Books this year and tells of a 13 year old boy living in the American frontier during the American Revolution. While Samuel is out hunting one day, his parents are taken captive by British soldiers. Samuel then sets out to find them. The story is filled with very detailed descriptions of muskets, rifles, bayonets and other weapons of the time. There are also many instances where readers learn of the practice of scalping someone. After each chapter there is also a page with historical notes that help fill in some of the holes that might exist by reading a book that takes place in such a different time. I would say that we are about half-way done with this book and while some parts are fabulous and keep you yearning to know what it going to happen, there are many other parts that you just have to trudge through.

23208632The second book is Gertie’s Leap to Greatness. She inhaled this book. It was given to her on Thursday afternoon and by Sunday evening she had finished it. When I asked her what she liked about it, she just said it was great. I’ve started reading it myself, but haven’t gotten into the heart of the book yet. Gertie has been compared to Ramona Quimby, but slightly older and definitely more modern.

The story is primarily about Gertie Reece Foy, a fifth grade girl who has made it her goal in life to become the best fifth grader in the universe.  Why? Her mother had moved out when she was a baby, but a few days before 5th grade started, Gertie saw a for sale sign in her mother’s front yard. Gertie feels the need to become her absolute best self so that she can walk up to her mother’s door, hand her back a locket that she had given her, and then her mother “would know that Gertie Foy was one-hundred-percent, not-from-concentrate awesome and that she didn’t need a mother anyway. So there.” But there is just one problem in Gertie’s plan. The new girl, Mary Sue Spivey, also wants to be the best fifth grader.

This book is the trials and tribulations of an 10 year old trying to become her best possible self. In seeking out her greater self, she stumbles upon the greatness that was already inside of her. Even if the kids who are reading it don’t completely get that message, they will see her try new things, fail, and pick herself right back up and figure out a new plan of action. Gertie’s “leap” to greatness is really made up of many small steps that all of us need to take.

I loved watching J tear through a book again, it just really made me think about how we all approach books. When a book really moves a kid, or an adult, they simply can’t put it down. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, Frindle, The Monster War, these are the books that have been favorites recently in between the required reading she has done. She’s definitely enjoyed some of the BOB books more than others and doesn’t wait for me to share in the reading, but she absorbs them and enjoys them in a completely different way. That’s okay, she is learning of the wide variety of styles and flavors out there. If only we could all be as smart as our kids.

The Courage to Try Something New – The Sandwich Swap

sandwich-coverWe read picture books to better understand the world around us. We read picture books to teach lessons in an enjoyable way. Sometimes picture books can help encourage children to change their behaviors, try new things, consider things in a different way. The Sandwich Swap, by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah is one of those wonderful books that gently reminds children that having the courage to try something new can have wonderful results.

This story tells of two little girls who are best friends at school. We see that they are inseparable and love doing things together, including eating lunch. But what they eat each day is different – Lily eats PB&J and Salma eats hummus and pita. Silently, each girl looked at her friend’s lunch and thought it was gross and strange. One day, Lily just couldn’t hold back her negative thoughts and tells Salma that she thinks her sandwich looks kind of yucky.

sandwich-fightSalma is of course hurt by the unkind words and lashes back with similar words of her own. A rift grows between the girls. At the same time, the rest of the school hears of the peanut butter vs. hummus story and people start to take sides. More negative words fly about the food, but pretty soon the rude insults have nothing to do with food and are just mean. A food fight ends the name calling and both girls wind up in the principal’s office.

But the fight has made the girls realize that things have gotten out of hand and that their friendship was more important. They decide to try each other’s sandwiches and realize that what they thought was disgusting is actually quite delicious. The two hatch a plan for a special school-wide event encouraging everyone to try foods from all of the various nations of the students.

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Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah wrote The Sandwich Swap loosely based on experiences that she had as a child. Every day, her mother would send her to school with a hummus and pita sandwich. One day she watched a friend open her lunch box and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and was revolted. She tasted her friend’s sandwich because she didn’t want to hurt her feelings and was shocked that the item she thought was so disgusting was actually quite delicious.

As the Queen says in the back of this splendid book, “It’s easy to jump to conclusions when we come across something new or foreign or strange. But if we take the time to get to know each other, stand in each other’s shoes, and listen to a different point of view, we learn something wonderful – about someone else and about ourselves.”