Diversity in children’s literature has always held a strong place in my heart and is something that I promote at every possibility. When Charlottesville happened, I couldn’t wrap my head around how our country had seemingly traveled backwards in time. I went back to check out books that focused on diversity, that focused on the experiences of racism that African-Americans have faced in this country, I took comfort in how far children’s books have come to show inclusion instead of exclusion. It wasn’t enough, but it was a start. Continue reading →
Every fall, Jews around the world come together to celebrate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, also known as the High Holidays. Five days after Yom Kippur is over, another holiday starts again, this time, it is the wonderful holiday of Sukkot.
Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest and the exodus from Egypt. Many families build their own sukkahs or have one at their synagogue. A sukkah is a temporary hut topped with branches and decorated with autumnal, harvest, or Judaic themes. One mitzvah of sukkot is to share a meal in the sukkah. Another is to shake a lulav and etrog and rejoice before God. The lulav is actually made up of branches from palm (lulav), willow (aravot), and myrtle (hadassim) trees and the etrog is a citron fruit. The four items are meant to represent the various personalities that make up the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity is emphasized on Sukkot. More than anything, sukkot is a holiday of coming together.
Since Sukkot is a holiday of community, it is a great time to come together and read a book to understand the many meanings of the holiday. Continue reading →
There are not a lot of books that we come across that talk about Buddhism. I was instantly intrigued by The Sweeper, a new book written and illustrated by Rebecca Hazel, that illustrates the importance of mindfulness.
Inspired by Buddhist tradition, this original story tells how Padme, a young servant girl, meets the Buddha as she is sweeping her master’s house. When she laments that she is so busy that she would never have time to meditate, the Buddha gives her the instruction to “sweep and clean.” This simple mindfulness practice transforms Padme’s life, and when she encounters the Buddha many years later, he teaches her how to send compassion out to others. Continue reading →
At the beginning of summer one of our local libraries held an event where the children saw books about fairy and gnome houses and then were able to make them themselves. It was a marvelous activity that really got their creative juices flowing. The houses were made with all natural items and intended to be left in the green areas behind the library. My daughter teamed up with a friend and they came up with a wonderful little house hidden under a miniature weeping willow-like tree.
Of course seeing them do this project, especially sponsored by the library, got the wheels spinning about all of the cool books out there that talk about fairies and encourage kids to use their creativity while still living in a world where fairies really do exist.
An ideal place to start learning about building a fairy house is in Tracy Kane’s book, Fairy Houses. This sweet story is about a little girl who spends the summer building fairy houses in Maine in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a fairy. The only rule in the woods where she is building is to not use artificial or living materials, much like the rules when we were building. As the little girl builds and adds to her house, you see how all of the animals are lured to it. The fairies leave her a note about how special her house is for that very reason. The back of the book gives ideas about what to use every season to make a fairy house.
In true Pinkalicious style, the “I Can Read” series offering of Pinkalicious Fairy House shows the magic of fairies seen through the eyes of a true believer but is shorter and easier for a younger reader to follow than Fairy Houses. In this book, Pinkalicious believes that fairies come into her yard and sprinkle fairy dust to make the plants grow. She longs to see the fairies so she and her brother build them a house. While she never actually sees fairies, as a true believer, she catches glimmers of light in the morning sky and believes they are fairies. A great encouragement for younger girls to build their own fairy houses.
I don’t normally review craft books, but since I’m talking about the idea of making fairy houses, this seemed appropriate. Fairy World Crafts, by Kathy Ross, is a great book that is absolutely do-able (said the very not crafty person). Staying with the theme of fairy houses, this book shows step-by-step instructions on things like toadstools, snail friends, fairy log houses, and a leaf table and bed.
The Hidden Folk, by Lise Lunge-Larsen, is a wonderful collection of stories about fairies, dwarves, gnomes, selkies, river sprites, and other hidden beings. As Lunge-Larsen explains, “for as long as there have been people, there have been stories about beings whose presence we feel but cannot see.” An excellent addition to books about fairies and other magical beings with an international point of view.
Most of the time we think of fairies as sweet little sprites. But many cultures tell stories of fairies who are not so sweet and instead are rather quite mischievous. Heather Forest retells an old Scottish story in The Woman who Flummoxed the Fairies that my 6 year old absolutely adores. In this story, the fairies come out at night and dance on dinner tables and feast on the crumbs people leave behind. But the fairies are never given a chance to taste the crumbs from the bakerwoman’s cakes because they are always eaten down to the last bite. The king hatches a plan to trap the bakerwoman in the fairy world, but she has a few tricks up her own sleeve. A fun story that kids love.
Too Many Fairies, by Margaret Read Macdonald, also looks at the idea that fairies might look sweet and innocent, but are not always so in real life. An old woman hates cleaning her house, but when fairies come to help her, she gets more than she bargained for. A great story showing the other side of fairies as well as highlighting that it is better to look on the bright side than to constantly complain.
Finally, for a true story about fairies, check out Shirley Raye Redmond’s Fairies! A True Story. This book tells about how different cultures all have different stories about fairies and how they each do different things. Over time, many people have told stories about actually seeing fairies, but most of these have been pranks. The second half of the book deals with the most famous fairy prank. In England in 1917, two cousins took pictures of themselves with cutout paper fairies. By moving the fairies while they were taking the pictures, it looked like they were real. This is a very interesting look at a make-believe subject and how it has permeated our history for so long. (Apparently this was also made into a movie in 1997)
My daughter and her friend had an absolute blast with the craft at the library. Here are some photos of them getting down to business, their finished product and one of the other houses made that day.
Folktales are such a wonderful part of children’s literature. There are so many tales that have been passed down through the generations and we have learned so many valuable lessons from them. One of the things that I find especially fascinating is reading folktales from a wide variety of cultures to see how similar situations are handled differently and how each culture tries to educate its children on how they are supposed to behave. The list could go on and on, but here are ten that we have recently read that are completely non-traditional for mainstream western world and quite wonderful.
One of the things that seems to be happening in many of the public schools, at least in my neck of the woods, is that there is such a focus on test scores, reading levels, and facts that we are spending less time encouraging our children to think and create. Childhood is a time where many children still believe in the power of stories and where their imaginations run wild. But between the presence of technology and the odd over-scheduling we can’t seem to escape from, kids often don’t get to experience the creative bursts that come from boredom. Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby’s story, Yokki and the Parno Gry, is a tale that highlights the power and wonder of a child’s imagination.
Yokki and the Parno Gry is a tale about the Romani people and the power of storytelling. In the same way Evan Turk’s book, The Storyteller, has the art of telling a story as the item that saved a people in their time of need, so too does Yokki’s story save his family. What sets this book apart from anything else I’ve seen is that it focuses ono the Romani culture and traditions, something we rarely see presented in books in a positive light. Continue reading →
We all feel a little different from others from time to time. Sara O’Leary’s sweet book, A Family is a Family is a Family, gently reminds us all that no matter what our differences, we are all the same in the one way that matters most – there are people around us who we love and who love us.
The book starts from the voice of an unknown child who wanted to go last when her teacher asked the class to share what makes their family special. This child wanted to go last because they weren’t sure what to say – “My family is not like everybody else’s.” But what does that mean? What makes this child think that her family is so different?
The rest of the book features a different family on each spread. No two families are exactly alike which also allows each child reading it to see a family that might be similar to theirs. We talk about how important it is for kids to see themselves represented in books, and this story aims to include as many as possible. There are a variety of races, families with gay and lesbian parents, adoptive families, step-families, and everything in between. Continue reading →
This week my younger daughter is at a camp where she is getting to do a wide variety of arts and crafts project with the theme – Party in the USA. They are fully involved in celebrating this great country that we live in. So far, her favorite day has been where they focused on the Statue of Liberty. In addition to painting a picture, they created her crown and torch.
Back in April, I wrote about a few books that we had found about the Statue of Liberty after visiting her during our spring break. Now there is a new book coming out this September that takes a very interesting look at Lady Liberty, specifically, her right foot.
In Dave Eggers’ new book, Her Right Foot, readers get the usual history of the great statue – how she was designed and built, why she is green, and what the symbolic significance is behind aspects of her design. But then about half-way through the book, Eggers draws the reader’s attention to a little discussed part of the statue – her feet. Continue reading →
There are moments in our collective history that we would rather forget happened, but that we must never forget and never allow to happen again. Whether the extermination of Jews in Europe, the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States, the slave trade that took so many people from Africa, or the Indian Residential School program in Canada.
This last item is one that many of us don’t even know existed, but it was a program that attempted to assimilate native children into Euro-Canadian culture for over a century. Indigenous children were taken from their homes, placed into special residential schools, treated poorly, and forbidden to speak their own native language of Cree. In the last twenty years, former students have pressed for recognition and restitution. There are now two books from Second Story Press that deal with this subject, albeit in very different ways. Continue reading →