A big part of growing up is figuring out friends and, as you get a bit older, what it means to be more than friends. I remember that when I was in the 5th and 6th grade, one of the book series that was incredibly popular, and which I adored, was Sweet Valley High. Now no one is going to argue that this was high quality literature, but it was fun. These books hit on topics that I was thinking about, but wasn’t ready to quite voice or fully understand. Most of my friends were at least a year older than me, and the notion of boys was definitely in play.
Back in the day, the Sweet Valley High books were intended for preteens, the market that we now consider tweens. Were the SVH books quality literature? Not even close. Were they brain candy and super fun? Absolutely. Kids have to be kids and read light fluff from time to time, especially when we put so many pressures on them. So where am I going with this? I want to take a look at the Choose Your Own Ever After series published by Kane Miller and available through Usborne Books & More.
Choose Your Own Ever After is a series of books that were first published in Australia in 2014. The concept behind these books is that each one lets you choose your own path and change the story based on your decisions. Many people recall the Choose Your Own Adventure series written in the late 70s and early 80s. These books work within that same concept, but have fewer decisions to make and the choices are based on bigger issues. A sample question is do you go to the big party with your two closest friends so they can chase the boys they like or do you go to the movie night/fundraiser for the club at school that you have been a long-time member of? Continue reading →
Being a kid is hard. Every day a new challenge comes around that might stop you in your tracks. How you deal with it is key.
There are a lot of books out these days about believing in yourself. I’ve written a bunch about the idea of believing in yourself in the past, but it is a topic that resonates with me and with children. When you are learning to do something new, it is so easy to just give up when it is hard, but where would that get you?
Not giving up is the main focus of Ashley Spires’ new book, The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do (Kids Can Press, May 2017). In this story, Lou and her friends are brave adventurers who have big dreams and can do anything. Except that one day when they decide to play pirates, her friends suggest that the pirate ship be a tree and she has never climbed one before. Lou suggests other games, comes up with excuses why she can’t climb the tree, and finally admits to her friends that she just doesn’t know how. With a little help and encouragement, she decides that she will give it a try. What’s even better? Spires doesn’t actually show Lou getting up the tree. She gives it a go, still doesn’t make it, but she will be back another day to attempt it again. We loved Spires’ earlier book The Most Magnificent Thing, and this is a great addition to books about perseverance and determination. Continue reading →
“Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.” So says Stephen Sondheim in the beginning the song “Children Will Listen.”
Sometimes people forget that children are little sponges who soak it all up and they notice everything that we do. In light of everything going on in the news right now, is is especially important to show our children through our actions and deeds how to be kind to others. Showing your children kindness and being kind to others is an important first step, but sometimes it is also important to reinforce those ideas through books. Fortunately there are a wealth of them that help children see the value of being kind to others.
For the simplest stories and the youngest of readers, the best books are soothing and lighthearted. Books such as “Good People Everywhere,” “Because Amelia Smiled,” and “Stick and Stone” can warm children up to the concept very early on.
“Good People Everywhere” is a soothing book that shows how we are all interconnected. Small deeds that people do everyday reverberate with their impact. When it comes to trying to encourage children to be kinder to those around them and to their world, this is a beautiful place to start. From the mother cooking for her child, the teacher explaining a math problem, a farmer growing food, or the driver getting it to the market. We touch other people with the deeds that we do. We can also help a friend who skinned their knee or help rebuild a home damaged by a storm, it all begins with simple acts that bring us together.
Anyone familiar with Laura Numeroff’s “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…” series is well versed in the notion that every action produces another counter-reaction. In the beautifully illustrated “Because Amelia Smiled,” because one little girl smiled while she was walking down the street, Mrs. Higgens also smiled. The little girl made Mrs. Higgens think about her grandson in Mexico and she decided to bake him some cookies. Her grandson shared his cookies with others and the smile continued to spread. Through a sweet story and beautiful illustrations, this book shows that positive outlooks and kind deeds spread joy.
Sticks and stones may break our bones, but in the book “Stick and Stone” they actually stand up for each other. When Pinecone tries to use words to hurt them, the two lonely figures learn that standing up for a friend is the best thing you can do to counter-balance a bully. It’s a comical take on the old rhyme that we all grew up hearing and perhaps better than ignoring the taunt, shows kids to stand up for others, even if they are not your friend to start with, you may make a friend in the end. As stick tells stone, “You rock.” And stone replies, “That’s just what stones do. Best friendship rocks too.”
For slightly longer stories, and children willing to listen a little more, “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed” and “Someone Loves You, Mr. Hatch,” are both books that shine a light on how being kind makes such a huge difference for people. “Chrysanthemum” is a long-time favorite and “The Invisible Boy” shows one perspective of what it feels like when others are unkind.
In “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed,” a chain reaction similar to the one that happened in “Because Amelia Smiled,” starts because a little girl gives her neighbor some freshly picked blueberries. From there, it isn’t just a matter of being kind, but actually paying forward the good deed by doing something else for another stranger – baking muffins, helping someone with heavy bags and even helping the homeless. What looks like an ordinary deed to you might make an extraordinary difference to someone else.
In “Someone Loves You, Mr. Hatch,” children see a man go from being lonely and depressed to sharing joy with those around him because he had received a valentine. When it turns out the valentine was a mistaken gift, it crushes him so much that he goes back to his old ways. But the neighborhood was used to the happiness and love that he had spread that they go out of their way to find a way make sure that he knows that many people truly love him. A touching book that shows the impact of positive thoughts and actions.
I will admit that I am biased when it comes to “Chrystanthemum.” I love just about anything by Kevin Henkes and this is one of my favorites. The main concept of this story is how mean words can make us wilt, but kind words can make us bloom (similar notion to filling a bucket). When a few girls at school ridicule Chrysanthemum because she has a long name and was named after a flower, it is her teacher who they all love who comes to her rescue. Mean words hurt, no matter how much we try to ignore them. The best medicine is to help those being mean to stop.
In “The Invisible Boy” we are looking a little more closely at what it feels like when people are not kind. Children often only consider their own feelings in a given situation, but it is much more challenging to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Whether it be a child acting out in class because he desperately wants friends or allowing himself to become invisible so that no one will make fun of him. In this book, poor Brian feels like he is invisible – no one picks him to be on their team, he isn’t invited to parties, and he is simply lonely. Amazingly, his invisibility is highlighted in the book by having him be a pencil drawing in a world of vivid color and ink. When he made a new student feel welcomed instead of laughing at his differences, the new kid in turn helped Brian be less invisible and more included. This is a great way to open discussions about challenging topics, like which is worse, being laughed at or being invisible? A remarkable book for elementary school kids.
Once children get the notion of being kind, the goal is to set them out there to try new good deeds. Whether through the awesome story of Mrs. Ruler’s class or through Bernadette Russell’s idea for chronicling your good deeds in some way, there are a lot of great ideas floating out there to get more children spreading kindness.
The back of the book “Kindness is Cooler, Mrs. Ruler” says it all – “When Mrs. Ruler asks five of her kindergarteners to miss recess, she’s got a special plan up her sleeve. She’s about to teach a new golden rule: KINDNESS IS COOL! From clearing the table after dinner, to helping the elderly, one kindergarten class is proving that kids really can make a difference.” The five students had been acting up in class, and rather than being mean to each other, she wanted them to each go home and do 5 acts of kindness towards their families. When one little boy asks “What if I don’t want to be kind?” she responds that “good deeds fill needs.”
The kids learn that each kind act leads to more. They move from just being kind at home to being kind in school. When that one little boy still doesn’t fully buy in to the concept, his classmates intervene and help him see the benefits. By the end of the book, the children have done 100 fabulous and fabulously simple acts of kindness at home, school and throughout their community. A great way to show kids that being kind doesn’t mean anything outrageous, it can mean simply setting the table without being asked.
Bernadette Russell created two books that showcase good deeds – “Do Nice. Be Kind. Spread Happy,” and “Be the Change. Make it Happen.” In these books, Russell encourages children to be special agents of kindness and change. Each book offers over 80 ideas of good deeds towards others and the planet. Whether sending a hug through the mail, passing on a favorite book to a stranger, or organizing a clothing drive, these are amazing ways to get children involved in the act of being kind. A seemingly small act to us, like sitting and talking with someone in a retirement home, makes a big impact to the other person. These books are full of lessons we could all learn from.
So now let your children learn from you, and perhaps we can learn from them, to make this world a better place.
Any parent is well versed in the artistry and engaging stories of Eric Carle. There was a time that I could recite Brown Bear, Brown Bear by memory. What did the Very Hungry Caterpillar eat that gave him such a terrible tummy ache? Yeah, knew that one too. But every once in a while, I still manage to come across a book of Carle’s that I didn’t know about.
The Mixed-Up Chameleon is a brilliant story about just being yourself and appreciating what makes you different. It is told from the eyes of a young chameleon who happened upon the zoo one day. After seeing each animal, the chameleon thought how that animal was better than he was and wished to be like the other animal – “‘How small I am, how slow, how weak! I wish I could be big and white like a polar bear.’ And the chameleon’s wish came true. But was it happy? No!”
Each page continues with it finding something about each animal and slowly taking on a part of each animal. There are also cutouts on the left side of each page to show each animal that the chameleon is turning into, which miraculously also take on the colors of the rainbow. By the end, the chameleon is barely recognizable, but worse than that, he was so mixed up that he couldn’t even manage to catch a fly so he could get something to eat!
At that point, he realizes the importance of just being himself, wishes himself back to normal, and caught the fly.
This is such a simple story and yet so powerful. My 5 year old really loved the cut out tabs and all of the crazy colors. It is a great opener to a conversation with kids about what they like about themselves. Another win for Eric Carle!
Recently I picked up a cute little book called Badger’s Bad Mood at the local library. When I started to write about it for the blog, I realized that it might make more of an impact to be connected with other books about moods and how to deal with them, so a new trip to the library was hatched. Here are a few books that we have found that talk about depression, mood and emotions. What I find impressive is how the books talk about getting out of a funk. They try to point out that it is important to help those around you and to help yourself. Try as we might, there are days when we feel down. I know that my kids have learned from the new movie, Inside Out, that there is nothing wrong with sadness. As my daughters and I agreed, the best memories in the film were those that were created with a mix of sadness and joy.
In the book that started me on this thought process, Badger’s Bad Mood, poor Badger has got the blues and no one knows what to do about it. The animals in the forest depend on Badger and look to him as their rock, so they are at a loss when Badger can’t get out of his funk (somewhat like a parent).
Lucky for Badger, his friend Mole sticks it out and just is there for Badger hoping that time will make him feel more like his old self. When that doesn’t work, Mole comes up with another plan. Mole decides to throw an awards ceremony with music and food afterwards. Even Badger seems to come out of his stupor when Mole says, “You’ll have to come, of course. A little bird tells me you may be getting something.”
Mole goes back to his home and creates awards for all of the forest animals and a whole bunch for Badger. Badger makes it to the part and is honored with a wide variety of awards. Badger realizes that Mole thought up the whole thing and is incredibly appreciative. He thinks Mole deserves his own award because sometimes everyone needs to know how much they are loved and appreciated.
This is an important lesson for all of us, parents and children alike. Sometimes we all just need to hear that we are appreciated for what we do – cleaning up a bedroom when no one asked, bringing in your dinner dishes, making a special meal.
In the beautifully illustrated Virginia Wolf, by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault, the book shows both literal and metaphorical realities of depression. One day Vanessa’s sister woke up feeling wolfish. She didn’t want to be around anyone and was bothered by noises that her sister made. “The whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim. Glad became gloom.” The person who is depressed often doesn’t realize it, but one person’s depression can impact an entire house. Vanessa tried to cheer Virginia up in many ways. Finally, she was inspired to create a beautiful new world full of a lush magical garden and wide open spaces. Virginia finally started to come out of her shell and see the beauty in the world around her and her wolfish demeanor morphs back to reveal her normal girlish form. Adults know of the true Virginia Wolf who suffered so terribly from depression. This book can touch children and adults in a variety of ways showing the lightness and darkness that are inside of all of us.
The Pout-Pout Fish is a well known book about a fish who believes that it is his destiny to spread the “dreary-wearies all over the place.” All of the other sea animals try to convince him to turn his frown upside down. They let him know that they don’t really like being greeted with scowls and would rather that he radiate a little joy and hope. He always responds that he has no choice because he is a pout-pout fish. One day a new fish swims in, plants a kiss on his face and swims away. Mr. Pout-pout realizes that he had it all wrong. He isn’t a pouting fish, but a kissing fish who spreads cheery-cheeries all over the place. The book is silly, but it gets the point across beautifully that no one really likes being around someone who is sad all the time and that we need to find the positives in the world around us and in ourselves.
Another book that is great for talking about how our actions impact those around us is the marvelous book, How Full is Your Bucket? We first heard of this book when J entered kindergarten and her class had a bucket to fill instead of each child being somewhere on the red light/green light spectrum. This book explains that we all have invisible buckets of water over our heads. When people are mean to us, or when we are mean to others, our buckets can empty a little. But when we are kind to others or when others are kind to us, our buckets get filled. Young Felix learns about this from his grandfather when he is unkind to his little sister. He wakes up the next morning with an actual bucket over his head and sees how it gets filled and emptied throughout the day. This is a nicely illustrated way to show how your actions have a bigger impact then you might think and has been used wonderfully as a teaching tool for younger elementary school classes.
You can’t talk about bad moods without talking about the perennially classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. As the book starts out, “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” This book might seem like a child whining and repeatedly threatening to move to Australia, but then again, it is and there is a time and a place for that. The book is written in a way that totally works for kids and many often clamor for it to be read over and over again. Everything is a run-on sentence and little issues feel more like huge events that will make this “the worst day of my entire life.” That’s a phrase that my kids like to say. We are constantly vacillating between the worst day and the best day, in a matter of 10 minutes! Everyone can commiserate with Alexander and realize that their problems aren’t so very bad after all and tomorrow is always another day.
Finally, I came across the book Yesterday I had the Blues. Yesterday one boy had the blues and had them bad–not just the ordinary blues, the “deep down in my shoes” blues, the “go away Mr. Sun quit smilin’ at me” blues. But today he’s traded in those blues for greens, the “runnin’ my hands along the hedges” greens, the kind of greens that make him want to be Somebody. This book does a marvelous job looking at the emotions we face on a day to day basis and also highlights that our family members go through different emotions as well. His dad has they grays and his ballet happy sister has the pinks. Gram has the yellows, which seem like a golden ray of sunshine to me (especially when compared to Mama’s reds on the next page). There are a rainbow of emotions out there that we have to deal with on a daily basis and this book does a great job of showing a wide variety of them.
It is hard to teach children about emotions. I’ve loved being able to have conversations about them due to the movie Inside Out, but these books are another great resource for us.