Tag Archives: creativity

Sumptuous Storytelling with Yokki and the Parno Gry

parno coverOne 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 →

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10 Picture Books about the Writing Process

One of the most wonderful things you can do for a child is to teach them a love of books and writing. For some, one comes easier than the other. Sometimes it is a matter of age – you can tell a story before you can actually read or write the words. Sometimes it is mind over matter or simply trusting your voice. I definitely see both sides of the spectrum with my two girls. J is 10 and while she loves to read, she isn’t as comfortable creating stories. E is 6, and she could tell stories and create worlds of her own all day if you let her. So when I come across books that encourage the writing process and story writing confidence I definitely feel the need to share them.

10 Books Aboutthe Writing Process

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Happy Dreamer

There are some books that just scream out for certain children. When I walked my younger daughter into kindergarten today, her teacher had the latest Peter H. Reynolds book up on the counter. I love Peter H. Reynolds. He is the genius behind ish, The Dot, and Sky Color (among others). His latest book is called Happy Dreamer and it just calls out for E. Turns out that this book is due to come out at the end of March and I will have to purchase a copy of it at that point.

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This beautiful book encourages the dreamer in all of us, but especially in children. E is one of those children who loves to create her own worlds, who is constantly doing some sort of art project, and who of course leaves a mess in her wake. She marches to the beat of her own drummer and happily dances around to the music in her soul. Her older sister and I are more literal, but her path is anything but straight. It is what makes her so special.

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Peter H. Reynolds gets what it is like for children, especially for dreamers. He understands how hard it can be to sit still sometimes when there is so much going on in your brain. He understands how it can be hard to be quiet when there is so much to shout about. Poignantly, he gets how challenging it can be for some to sit still and pay attention in school when your dreams have a mind of their own (and can be more interesting then what’s in front of you).

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Happy Dreamer celebrates all kinds of dreamers. He acknowledges that sometimes it can be really hard, like when your parents tell you to clean up – because if I put my things away, “there is less me to show” (seriously, it feels like he talked to E before writing this page). That life doesn’t always work out, but that true dreamers must believe in themselves at all times and they will be able to find a way back to their happy spots, because “Dreamers have a way of bouncing back…and moving forward!”

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I adored this book. I think this book is important for all of the dreamers our there. “There are so many ways to be a happy dreamer. What kind of dreamer are you?”dreamer-inside-cover

Great books for the Inventor in all of us

Yesterday was Benjamin Franklin’s birthday and my daughter’s kindergarten class has been focusing on inventors and inventions because of it. When we think of inventors, we often think of older white men with crazy hair. But there were a lot of amazing inventions created by children and young adults, male and female, black and white.

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picture-book-of-ben-coverSince it was Ben Franklin who got me thinking about this, I did find three very different books about him and his work. For a true biography on the great Ben Franklin, David Adler’s A Picture Book about Benjamin Franklin is a great start! This book focuses less on his inventions and more on the man himself. Some of Franklin’s inventions are cleverly interspersed as he created them with the reasons why he invented them as well.

now-and-ben-coverIn Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, Gene Barretta highlights a large number of Franklin’s inventions. What makes this book extra interesting is how Barretta juxtaposes how we use these inventions in the current day to when Franklin was creating them. A great way to show the impact that Benjamin Franklin has had on all of us.now_and_ben_2

wit-and-wisdom-coverAlan Schroeder brings us an unusual look at Benjamin Franklin and his inventions in Ben Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z. A very interesting way to learn more about this amazing inventor and founding father.

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Emphasizing the power of perseverance, inventors-secret-hires1The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, alternates between the lives of two inventors, beginning with Thomas Edison, who was 16 years Henry Ford’s senior. Many of Edison’s major inventions are touched on, and young Ford is portrayed as curious as to the secret of Edison’s success. Ford continues to work on developing engines and designing cars and finally seizes the opportunity to meet Edison in person. The two go over Ford’s designs, and Edison urges the younger man to “keep at it!” With that, Ford discovers that “he’d known Thomas’s secret all along!”—a realization illustrated with a light bulb over Ford’s head.

so-you-want-coverWant a quick, fun rundown of a ton of inventors? That is what you get in So You Want to be an Inventor?, by Judith St. George. This colorful book reminds young minds that they “don’t have to have white hair and wrinkles to be an inventor” and then it gives them a slew of examples. The book features some of the world’s best-known inventors-Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney-as well as lesser-known geniuses like Georges de Mestral (inventor of Velcro), Wilhelm Roentgen (inventor of X rays), and Hedy Lamarr (inventor of a system that became the basis for satellite communication). One page highlights that not all inventors are men and focuses specifically on female inventors. Also highlighted is the fact that some inventors work alone while others work as teams and that one great invention can often lead to another. The bottom line is that your invention could change the work, you just have to take the risk.

six-dots-coverInventions often come out of a specific need. Such was the case for Louis Braille. When we think about famous people who are blind, the first name that usually pops into people’s heads is Helen Keller. But we also need to give credit to young Louis Braille, who invented the Braille alphabet, allowing visually impaired people to read. Six Dots, by Jen Bryant, excellently tells the story of how Braille lost his sight at 5, his constant desire to still be able to read, and his creation of the Braille alphabet. A fascinating read.six-dots-inside

whoosh-coverMost kids know the thrill of soaking someone with a water gun, or being soaked themselves, so reading about the guy who invented them is an enticing subject. But Whoosh! is more than just a story about how super soakers were invented. Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton, tells of a young boy fascinated with how things worked and who loved to create. It tells of the successes and failures that all inventors deal with. It illustrates how unusual it was for an African-American team to win a major science fair at the University of Alabama in 1968. And then it shows how Lonnie Johnson came up with a great idea that got rejection after rejection until he finally had success. A true story of perseverance and innovation.whoosh-inside

marvelous mattieThere are a ton of female inventors out there, but they don’t get the same kind of recognition that men do. In Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, Emily Arnold McCully tells the story of Margaret Knight, aka Mattie, who was a brilliant woman who lived from 1838-1914, during the height of the industrial revolution. Her father’s toolbox and her sketchbooks of ideas were her salvation during a very rough childhood of poverty. When she was a child, no one felt that a woman could have an inventive mind, but she always saw ways to improve things. She probably saved many lives by creating a safety device for looms and was the brains behind the flat-bottomed paper bag. When a man tried to steal her invention before she could get it patented, her methodical notebooks and determination proved to a judge that a woman could and did invent the new bags. This book is a wonderful story that  children can relate to and it helps them comprehend the struggles that Mattie and every woman went through so many years ago.

ada lovelaceIn Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Walmark, girls can see the story of the woman credited with creating the first computer language, way before the actual invention of computers. While she didn’t code in the way that we thing of the terms now, she realized that a machine to solve complex equations created by a fellow inventor could not actually run without a detail set of instructions. By using his notebooks and her knowledge of mathematics, she left her mark on the history of computer science.ada-interior

harnessed-the-wind-coverA final fascinating story is that of young Wiliam Kamkwamba told in The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. This is the picture book version of the autobiography written by Kamkwamba. When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba’s tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season’s crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family’s life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William’s windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land. This is a wonderful way to bring a current story to a younger audience.boywhoharnessedthewind_zunon5

While I have focused on nonfiction picture books about inventors, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding books by Andrea Beatty. Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect are three of our favorite books and such a wonderful way to show children that they should follow their dreams and believe in themselves. For more information on these books and a few other fiction titles, check out the post I wrote last year.

nfpb2017I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post these books every  Wednesdays. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.

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Celebrating Roald Dahl

Today is Roald Dahl day. The comedic genius would have turned 100 today! We have had a long fascination with Dahl so I thought it was appropriate to share J’s summer reading project today since it focused on one of his books.

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Roald Dahl wasn’t a big part of my childhood, but J has really taken a liking to his work. I personally  love his style and think that he has a marvelous way with kids. Especially in a world where we are focusing so much on science and teaching to tests rather than encouraging a child to explore their creativity, Dahl is an amazingly fresh voice. His stories speak to kids and grab them quickly. He makes the children the heroes and often turns the grown-ups into the villains.

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charliechocfacThe first book that J ever read by Roald Dahl was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Reading it with her, I realized that it was one I had never read as a child, but the story was one that we both enjoyed together.

matildaWhen we started getting obsessed with Broadway I introduced J to “Matilda the Musical.” I had to explain the story to her, which then, of course, got her intrigued by the book. She loved it so much that we managed to convince our kids’ book club to read Matilda as well.

Over the summer, she decided to take Dahl’s The Witches with her to summer camp. She fully enjoyed the book and when she was faced with having to do a book report project upon returning to school, she chose The Witches as her book.

witches-imageThe Witches is pure Dahl. As the synopsis says, This is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. Real witches don’t ride around on broomsticks. They don’t even wear black cloaks and hats. They are vile, cunning, detestable creatures who disguise themselves as nice, ordinary ladies. So how can you tell when you’re face to face with one? Well, if you don’t know yet you’d better find out quickly-because there’s nothing a witch loathes quite as much as children and she’ll wield all kinds of terrifying powers to get rid of them. Ronald Dahl has done it again! Winner of the 1983 Whitbread Award, the judges’ decision was unanimous: “funny, wise, deliciously disgusting, a real book for children. From the first paragraph to the last, we felt we were in the hands of a master.”

J’s project for school was actually to write a picture book version of the novel. She’s never been a huge fan of drawing, but I think she is completely fascinated by Quentin Blake – she notices his work regardless of the author he is illustrating for.

In The Witches, Roald Dahl decided to really focus on the ugly side of witches. Witches have been portrayed in many ways by various authors, but Dahl had a lot of fun making them disgusting, nasty creatures. Who else would think to create witches with such grotesque features?The details of what the witches looked like made for my favorite page in her project.

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This story is rather crazy. A young boy and his grandmother wind up in a hotel that happens to also be hosting a witches convention. He accidentally gets himself locked into the room with them and they turn him into a mouse. But it is more than that, they plan to turn ALL children into mice! The young boy and his grandmother turn the tables on them and instead set out to rid the world of witches.

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Not everyone is a huge fan of Roald Dahl, but J has certainly gotten a kick out of his work. We love the strength of his young heroes even in the face of some very difficult odds. His work encourages children to think on their toes, to believe in themselves and their power, and to be kind even when those around them haven’t been kind to them. So happy birthday, Mr. Dahl!

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Exploring the world of Color

Children love learning about colors and they are often some of the first words that they can read on their own. There is something completely fascinating in what you can do with three primary colors if only you are allowed to try. There are actually many wonderful books that open up a world of possibility and encourage creativity in the realm of color exploration, I’ve only found a few of them…

This post was born from random library browsing. A few weeks ago I picked up a wonderful book called Snap at our local library. When I was returning that and looking through other new books, I came across Swatch: The Girl who Loved Color and an idea was born. Why not write a post about books that talk about color? Do you have favorite books about colors? I would love to hear of them in the comments section.

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mix it up coverMy children love books that allow them to be involved. Hervé Tullet has a collection of interactive books and Mix-it Up is his way of teaching color theory. This book is a great way to get kids thinking about how to utilize the primary colors to make a world of possibilities. One of the fun things about this book is that most of it can also be done with actual paint allowing the kids to get truly tactile.

usborne colorAnother fabulous book that focuses on the colors themselves with less of a story is The Usborne Big Book of Colors. This is a great book to start young children in an understanding of colors. This is a visually stunning book for the youngest learners to kick start their excitement about colors. What is marvelous about this book is that it goes beyond exploring the basic red, blue, green colors and instead shows the various shades within the main color groups. Where it goes further is by having a color wheel to show complimentary colors, a page with an acetate layover to show how colors mix together, and a page that shows color words that are used to describe feelings.

my blue coverTouching on the concept of colors used as ways to describe emotions, My Blue is Happy is a great book that perhaps changes how we look at colors. We often forget that colors mean different things to different people. Is red angry, like a dragon’s breath? Or brave like a fire truck? Is pink pretty or annoying? Is black scary like creeping shadows or peaceful like the still surface of the lake? Art teacher Jessica Young challenges common assumptions about colors and celebrates individual perspective in this ode to colors and the unique way we experience them.MyBlueIsHappy-int1

snap coverWho doesn’t love a brand new box of crayons? In this colorful book, Evan can’t wait to draw with his brand new set until, SNAP! his brown crayon breaks in two. He tries everything to get the crayons back together until “as if by magic, something changed.” What changed? This is the awesome part – Evan realized that having two pieces was even better than having one!snap broken

In an unusual twist, Snap shows kids how to make lemonade out of lemons. The broken crayon encouraged all kinds of creativity in Evan. When wrappers came off, he figured out how to do etchings, when he lost his green crayon, he accidentally got into color mixing. This is a marvelous book about creativity, discovery, color combinations and always looking on the bright side. An incredibly fun way to encourage a young artist and the dreamer in all of us.snap mixing

Sky-ColorPeter H. Reynolds is known for his amazing books about creativity and thinking outside of the box. In Sky Color, Marisol is ready to paint the sky for her class mural, but there is no blue paint. While the rest of her class works on their portions of the mural, Marisol ponders how she can do her part. As she watches the sky, she realizes that it is so much more than blue, changing as the son moves across the horizon. When she goes to school the next day, she creates her own new color, “sky color,” and the effects are stunning.

swatch coverIn this newly released book by Julia Denos, Swatch: The Girl who Loved Color is about a little girl named Swatch who loves to run with the colors and make masterpieces. When she called to the colors, they would come to her “because Swatch loved color and color loved Swatch back.” One day she realizes that she can capture the colors in jars and starts to make a collection. However, when she goes to collect her final color, Yellowest Yellow, the color actually asks her what she is going. Yellowest Yellow doesn’t want to be put into a jar and while Swatch could have scooped it up anyway, she agrees to allow him to go free. Yellowest Yellow reminds her just how wild he is from roaring and loud to warm and buttery. She allows all of her colors to be free again and together they make a masterpiece. A wonderful book highlighting the beauty and power of colors and the life that they can bring to your world.

Liza loves her crayons, but when she decides that a blank wall in her room would make a wonderful canvas, her mother takes her beloved crayons away from her. Immediately, this bright, colorful book turns black and white and Liza experiences a life without crayons and, in her mind, a life without color. She goes about her day and unknowingly starts to create art. When she roams outside, grass stains open her eyes to the wonders that are nature and she starts to bring color back to her pages. As colors return, so does her outstanding creativity. She gets her crayons back, but she no longer needs them. A glorious look at colors and the creative genius.

Finally, what would a post about colors and crayons be without The Day the Crayons Quit? There is actually a series around this book and the kids LOVE it!  The concept of the first book, The Day the Crayons Quit, is that Duncan opens his crayon box to find that all of his crayons have quit. Beige is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown. Blue needs a break from coloring all that water, while Pink just wants to be used. Green has no complaints, but Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking to each other. The Day the Crayons Came Home is about some of the lesser known crayons writing postcards to Duncan asking to be rescued from various scenarios. This October there will be a new board book available, called The Crayon’s Book of Colors, where the crayons come together to make Duncan a birthday card.crayons quit red

No matter which book you choose, there is a world of color waiting to be explored!

Future Inventors Unite!

As the mom of two girls, finding things to encourage them to persevere regardless of the challenges they face is incredibly important. When children are in school they learn all about the famous inventors Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin and so on. Very few students today can name female inventors, but they do exist. Last month was International Women’s Day and much was said about the fact that while we are encouraging our kids to be inventors and scientists, they still don’t get to see a lot of women in history who stepped outside of the box.1-girl science

Of course, we have found a slew of books on this subject, but I know that I’m not exactly normal when it comes to finding kids books, so for anyone looking for ways to encourage the dreamer in your daughter, take a look at these and check out the post I wrote a year ago encouraged by the same event.

rosie revereRosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty could quite possibly be one of my favorite books. This is the story of Rosie Revere who dreamed of becoming a great engineer. “Where some people see rubbish, Rosie sees inspiration.” Rosie loves to invent things, but after an uncle laughed at one of her inventions, she became afraid to show anyone anything. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions a life-long dream of flying, Rosie sets out to create a flying machine for her. It hovers for a moment and then crashes and Rosie again feels like a failure. Her aunt Rose, on the other hand, sees her invention as a marvelous success because you can only fail if you quit. This is a great book to encourage experimentation and to remember to believe in yourself.

ada twist coverI’m super excited that Andrea Beaty’s newest story Ada Twist, Scientist, is available for pre-sale (she also wrote Iggy Peck, Architect). According to the description on Amazon, Ada has a boundless imagination and has always been hopelessly curious. Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose? When her house fills with a horrific, toe-curling smell, Ada knows it’s up to her to find the source. Not afraid of failure, she embarks on fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble!

Inspired by real-life makers such as Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, Ada Twist, Scientist champions girl power and women scientists, and brings welcome diversity to picture books about girls in science. Touching on themes of never giving up and problem solving, Ada comes to learn that her questions might not always lead to answers, but rather to more questions. She may never find the source of the stink, but with a supportive family and the space to figure it out, she’ll be able to feed her curiosity in the ways a young scientist should.

most magnificent thingIn the same vein of creating new things, we also love The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This is the story of a little girl and her dog who love to do things together. One day, she gets a marvelous idea to make the most magnificent thing. She knows just how it will work and starts drawing up plans and then she gets to work in front of her house and starts to build. She figures that building it will be easy-peasy, but it’s not. She tries over and over again and just can’t get it right. She gets frustrated and then even gets mad. Her dog convinces her to go for a walk and it manages to clear her head and by the time she gets back, she has figured out exactly how to build her project. This book is awesome in its display of perseverance and creativity.

story_of_inventions_the_ir_300For real-life stories about actual inventors, there are few marvelous sources. First, to show the full spectrum of inventors is the amazing book The Story of Inventions. Now I will admit, that I am an Usborne Books consultant, but we purchased this book way before I got involved and my older daughter just ate it up! Toasters, toilets and televisions, computers, cars and chocolate bars, flying machines and even your jeans. All these everyday things and many more are only here because someone bothered to invent them. This book reveals the real-life stories and bright sparks behind dozens of brilliant inventions. What is extraordinary about this book is that it is immensely readable. It also does a wonderful job of including female inventors right alongside all of those important male inventors. You can check it out here.

girls think of everythingSimilarly, there is a great book called Girls Think of Everything, by Catherine Thimmish. As this book starts, “In kitchens and living rooms, in garages and labs and basements, even in converted chicken coops, women and girls have invented.” Here, young minds can see some of the amazing things that women have invented over the years. Many inventions evolve out of general curiosity, but some out of need and some happy accidents. From the Apgar score of measuring crucial aspects of a newborn baby’s health to chocolate chip cookies, windshield wipers to liquid paper, women have invented some pretty amazing things.

This book also encourages young minds to create things themselves by highlighting some inventions by younger people. In the 1970s a 10 year old girl invented a “glo-sheet” so she could write in the dark. In 1994, it was the inquisitive mind of an 11 year old that created the no-spill feeding bowl that so many parents now use. This book was written in an incredibly engaging way, encouraging all would be inventors to dream big.

girls who rockedGirls Who Rocked the World, by Michelle Roehm McCann and Amelie Welden, was a favorite of J’s a few years back. This book is intended for upper elementary and middle school aged kids and introduces them to a number of influential women who each rocked the world in their own way, from Joan of Arc to Coco Chanel. One thing that is extra special about this book is that the women included each first started to impact the world while they were in their teenage years or younger! Personal aspirations from today’s young women are interspersed throughout the book, which also includes profiles of teenagers who are rocking the world right now. This book can show young minds that it’s never too soon to start making a difference.

marvelous mattieMarvelous Mattie, by Emily Arnold McCully truly is marvelous. Margaret Knight, aka Mattie, was a brilliant woman who lived from 1838-1914, during the height of the industrial revolution. Her father’s toolbox and her sketchbooks of ideas were her salvation during a very rough childhood of poverty. When she was a child, no one felt that a woman could have an inventive mind, but she always saw ways to improve things. She probably saved many lives by creating a safety device for looms and was the brains behind the flat-bottomed paper bag. When a man tried to steal her invention before she could get it patented, her methodical notebooks and determination proved to a judge that a woman could and did invent the new bags. This book is a wonderful story that  children can relate to and it helps them comprehend the struggles that Mattie and every woman went through so many years ago.

ada lovelaceIn Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Walmark, girls can see the story of the woman credited with creating the first computer language, way before the actual invention of computers. While she didn’t code in the way that we thing of the terms now, she realized that a machine to solve complex equations created by a fellow inventor could not actually run without a detail set of instructions. By using his notebooks and her knowledge of mathematics, she left her mark on the history of computer science. The book is also important, as discussed in this recent post, because it again talks about the struggles that she went through simply because she was an intelligent woman.

The children today are our hope for the future. We educate them with books and with love and support. These are great books to add to any library.

I often find out about great non-fiction texts from bloggers who participate in Kid Lit Frenzy’s non-fiction picture book challenge. Check out her website for a ton of great resources!

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To all of the future inventors, I leave you with this marvelous song from Zootopia about the importance of making mistakes in order to make it just right.

The Sweetness of The Candymakers

Adults often shy away from reading fiction aimed at children. Perhaps they think it is too juvenile for them. Perhaps they think the writing isn’t as deep as books written for adults. I can tell you, in the last number of months I have read enough fabulous middle-grade fiction to know that anyone who misses these books is missing out.

After my 8 year old read Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, one of my favorite bloggers, Pragmatic Mom, suggested that we also read The Candymakers. That was enough of a ringing endorsement for me to reserve a copy at my local library. When it came in, simply reading the intro on the book flap was enough to hook me and J.

candymakersThe concept of this story is that four 12 year-olds have entered a contest to create the next big thing in the candy world. You first meet Logan, the only child of the Candymakers, who own and operate the Life is Sweet factory where the four kids will get to create their masterpieces. Logan has the rare gift of being able to figure out ingredients by taste alone. Everyone thinks that he has an advantage in the competition due to his upbringing, but he just wants to be like everyone else. Then there is Miles, a quiet, bookish boy who talks about the afterlife and has some unusual allergies. Daisy is our lone girl contestant. She is super-strong,  arrives on horse one day, and is often found randomly reading a romance novel out loud. Finally, there is Philip, who arrives at the competition clad in a suit-and-tie. He doesn’t seem to want to be anyone’s friend and will not even taste the candy the factory makes.

These four are a part of a national competition, but they get the opportunity to spend a little more than 2 days at the Life is Sweet candy factory. The factory itself feels oddly reminiscent of Willa Wonka’s factory. They have their own cows to provide milk for their chocolate which is made from cocoa beans that are harvested in their in-house tropical forest, and that’s just the start of it.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Every day, Logan’s mom gives him a slip of paper with a quote on it. The above saying is what he was given on the second day of the competition. This quote struck me as I read it simply because it is completely accurate. But it has a deeper meaning in this story because the story itself unfolds by repeating the same 2 day period from the unique perspective of each character. By seeing events from each contestant’s eyes, your preconceived notions about each character change as they layers of the onion are peeled off. Miles’ strange habits make more sense, Philip turns out to be not as bad of a character as you initially believe that he is. This was actually J’s favorite aspect of the book and why she was completely unable to put it down. She enjoyed the fact that you got to learn about the different characters slowly, especially Daisy and Phillip.

As the story unfolds, you also learn that Logan was horribly scarred as a child. When reading the book from his perspective, nothing is mentioned of his scars because he simply doesn’t think of them. He has basically been sheltered at the factory since he was quite young and doesn’t come into contact with people very often who aren’t already aware of his scars. However, the other contestants are curious but also don’t want to be the one to bring the topic up. Young Logan is wise beyond his years when he says:

“I don’t understand why anyone would feel sorry for me. Some people have scars on the inside, and some people’s are on the outside. It shouldn’t matter.”

J has completely devoured this book. She loves reading about the factory itself in the same way that she enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As with Lemoncello, she wrote this week’s letter to a classmate about The Candymakers.

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As an adult, I appreciated the insights that the characters learned about their own situations. In addition to Logan’s consideration that there are visible and invisible scars, Miles makes huge advancements. His own personal scars run deep, but when he discovers that what he viewed as his defining moment was different than he believed, rather than be angry at the pain it had caused him, he realized that it helped him grow.

“The whole thing taught me a lot about life and losing things. I can kind of see things in people now, like I know when someone else has lost something, and that makes me understand them better.”

I’d love to see J read this again in a few years to see if she comprehends it on a different level, but for now, this is one book that we have both truly enjoyed in our own ways.

When the Student Teaches the Teacher – The Wonderful book Willow

willow coverWhen we first opened the pages of Willow, the strains of Harry Chapin Carpenter’s  “Flowers Are Red” floated through my head. Given that this was a favorite song from my youth, I was immediately captivated by this book. Multiple readings with my 4 year old only made the book that much better.

Willow is the story of a little girl with a big imagination and a deep love of art. The only problem is that her art teacher cares more for order and conformity than for creativity. With today’s climate of teachers being so limited by new rules and regulations and a need to teach to the test rather than inspire and focus on creativity, this book really touched home.

Every day when the kids entered their art class, the room felt cold and definitely devoid of creativity. Their art teacher, Miss Hawthorne, isn’t what you would expect from an elementary school art teacher. She expects the room to be in order with nothing out of place and no broken crayons.

willow paintingEach week Miss Hawthorne gives them assignments with an example of what she would like to see. Then all of the children in the class copy what she does. “Everyone except Willow.” Willow takes the assignment and then paints what she sees when she closes her eyes. Each time Willow gets told things like trees are not pink and apples are not blue.

Willow-Childrens-Art-Book-Interior-2This would crush most children, but Willow has a deep love of art and a favorite art book at home and so each time she is told that she has done it “wrong,” she brings in her art book and shows another famous painting that didn’t follow the rules.willow art book

When winter break comes, only Willow thinks to give Miss Hawthorne a gift – her beloved art book that inspires her. All alone during the break, Miss Hawthorne allows herself to be creative and the children come back to a brand new world of art.

This is a marvelous book that encourages children of all ages to use their imaginations and to believe in themselves. It is also a good way to see that famous artists often saw things outside of the box and created fabulous works that viewed the world in different ways. It is through art that we can have pink trees swaying in the breeze. It is through art that you can combine parts of many different animals into one.

My 4 year old loves this book because she has a very vivid imagination. My 8 year old has started to enjoy art more and this is a nice way to encourage her to believe in her own vision and start wanting to visit art museums with us. As Harry Chapin Carpenter said

There are so many colors in the rainbow,

so many colors in the morning sun,

so many colors in the flowers and I see every one.

Re-imagining Rumpelstiltskin

We are a fairy tale loving family. From picture book classics to the original Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson collections and now on to modern turns and twists, there is a comforting enticement in fairy tales. A current favorite in our household is Rumpelstiltskin.

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A few weeks ago, J brought home a book from her school library that I had never heard of – Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter. We both thought that it was fantastic. The book is a fractured fairy tale with the “what if” storyline of what if the miller’s daughter refuses to marry the king and instead runs off with Rumpelstiltskin? Years after Rumpelstiltskin had spun straw into gold, his daughter, Hope, travels through the village selling the golden coins spun by her father. The king greedily tries to have Hope spin for him, but instead she tricks the king into doing good for his kingdom.

What an awesome story! Haven’t you always read the traditional Rumpelstiltskin story and wondered why in the world she marries the greedy king who repeatedly threatens to kill her? The original story has so many odd aspects to it that it is ripe for additional interpretations. But when J announced after reading Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter that it was one of her favorite fairy tales, I felt that it was the perfect time to introduce another version of the story that I had just read – the middle-grade novel Rump.

Rump is the story of Rumpelstiltskin from his perspective. This great book attempts to explain Rumpelstiltskin’s actions and also give a story to why the miller would lie and say that his daughter could spin gold when she obviously could not. At 12 Rump discovers that he can spin straw into gold, and in a world where everyone is barely scraping by and mining for gold that seems to have run dry, this seems like a godsend. But Rump soon discovers that being able to spin straw into gold is more of a curse than anything else. The story gives an alternate view of the story and insight into all of Rump’s actions. Rump then must go on a quest to find a way to rid himself of his curse. I wasn’t sure how J would respond to this story, as there are a lot of mature themes about fate, karma, fair trading practices and greed. I was pleasantly surprised when she fully enjoyed the story. Of course she didn’t get the deeper meanings, but she understood a lot of it and enjoyed the journey that Rump had to take.

We have also recently seen another version of the Rumpelstiltskin story within  Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns. This is book 2 of a series we have fully enjoyed (and are waiting for our pre-ordered copy of book 3) in which two children enter the world of fairy tales. The character of Rumpelstiltskin gets introduced in this book as someone who had been tricked by the evil Enchantress to kidnap a baby princess as part of her plan to take over the world. He regretted what he had done and found the loophole out by making the deal of giving the baby back if the Queen could guess his name. After over 120 years in prison, poor Rumpelstiltskin thought he was done with the Enchantress, but she managed to come back even more powerful than before.

What is so fabulous about fractured fairy tales is that they take a story that we think we know so well and turn it on it’s head. By doing that, it makes us think more. For young children, it also opens up their eyes to different forms of creativity. Yes, kids can write things from scratch, but sometimes budding young authors need a little nudge to help them get a story going and taking something they know and changing it around is a great lesson in creativity. There is always another way to look at things.