Tag Archives: friendship

Maggie Celebrates Ayyám-i-Há

This past December my daughter was getting ready for her school’s holiday music celebration when we decided to get a lesson on inclusion. Their music teacher was having them sing a variety of Christmas songs, but had failed to consider other faiths. Enter E, a very strong willed, opinionated, proud little Jewish girl. She decided that singing only Christmas songs wasn’t very inclusive since she doesn’t celebrate Christmas and asked that they also sing a Chanukah song.

So about a week before the performance, she comes home all excited about the new words to the end of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” – now the words have become “we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a Happy Chanukah, we wish you a loving Ayyám-i-Há and a Happy New Year.” Say what? I couldn’t really understand what she was saying, I thought it was more like a loving Yamaha, but that didn’t make much sense either, so I texted her friend’s mom. Turns out Ayyám-i-Há is a Bahá’í holiday celebrated in late February, but is a time of small gift giving and the closest thing to Christmas that they celebrate.

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According to Wikipedia, “during the Festival of Ayyám-i-Há, Bahá’ís are encouraged to celebrate God and his oneness by showing love, fellowship and unity. In many instances Bahá’ís give and accept gifts to demonstrate these attributes, and it is sometimes seen as a “Bahá’í Christmas”, but many Baha’is only exchange small gifts because gifts are not the main focus. It is also a time of charity and goodwill and Bahá’ís often participate in various projects of a humanitarian nature.”

I needed to find a book about it, so I asked my daughter’s friend for some help. They loaned me a wonderful book that I now share with you.

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In Patti Rae Tomarelli’s book, Maggie Celebrates Ayyám-i-Há, the sun is just starting to go down on February 25th and young Maggie hurries to a hill and uses a compass that her grandfather gave her so that she can face west. She takes in the amazing sunset and then cries in joy, “My God, my Fire and my Light! The days which Thou has named the Ayyám-i-Há in Thy Book have begun!”

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As the day progresses, Maggie find winds to do wonderful acts of kindness. She breaks open her piggy-bank to get at the money she has saved to purchase birdseed and make her own feeder. She bakes cookies with her brother and leaves them as gifts for two elderly friends. She leaves flowers and notes for her parents, brother, and teacher. Then she returns home to meditate.

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I think this holiday is absolutely wonderful. The book even includes information about the holiday, about what Maggie did each day and why, and shows children how to make the bird feeder that she makes as one of her gifts. It was really wonderful for my daughter to see that there are other minority religions out there as well and that we should all take pride in our beliefs and learn to share them with those around us.

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celebrating-around-the-worldWhile I believe that this particular book might be out of print, there is a brand new book that came out in January about the holiday – Celebrating Ayyam-i-Ha Around the World, by Melissa Lopez Charepoo. This book apparently shows a wide spectrum of families around the world celebrating this wonderful holiday.

I love that we learned something new this year and we continue to learn about their faith and experiences. For all of those who will begin celebrating Ayyám-i-Há this weekend, may you have a loving and joyous holiday!
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Over-Scheduled Andrew

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It is amazing how busy our children’s schedules are these days. I know that I personally feel like a taxi service sometimes, just going from one activity to the next. In Over-Scheduled Andrew, author Ashley Spires shows how having too many extra-curricular activities can get in the way of just being a kid.

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It started innocently enough. Andrew loved putting on plays, so he joined the drama club “so he could wear costumes and perform on a real stage.” He was a natural, “but even naturals have to practice,” so he was encouraged to join the debate club, which led to the chess club. He also found it hard to keep up with the dance routines, so he took ballet and karate. It was a lot, but he still made sure to see his best friend and just be a kid. Then people asked him to do more and more and finally, the straw broke the camel’s back.

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All of his activities left him so exhausted that he missed his cue in the big play, the reason he had started all of this in the first place.

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Andrew got smart and cut back his schedule to only 2 things. Now he had time to just hang out with his friends and be a kid.

These days, we really do tend to over-schedule our children rather than let them just have fun. I know that I’m guilty of it at times. Kids seem to have a really hard time with being “bored” these days. Unstructured play time is so important to their development. The hardest part is that most of us no longer live in neighborhoods where the kids can just go outside and play with the other kids who live close-by. Playdates have to be organized around everyone’s busy schedules. There is no easy solution, but this book was definitely spot on for our current culture. The interesting thing here was that Andrew had overdone it himself and he was smart enough to finally take a step back and give up most of his activities so that he could be fully involved in the ones that he really loved. A great book with a timely message.

Can I Join Your Club?

can-i-join-your-club_diversity-inclusivity-and-friendshipOne of the more important lessons that we can teach our children is to be inclusive rather than exclusive. To embrace others regardless of their differences and to try to be friends with everyone. This is something that we teach at home, through our actions and behaviors, and through books. It is never to young to learn to include others, but it can be a hard message to learn, which is why I’m so happy to have found the book Can I Join Your Club, by John Kelly.

In this simple book, Duck wanted to make some new friends so he decided to join a club. He first approaches Lion, although he does so with a large wig on his head to look like a mane. When he asks Lion if he can join, Lion needs Duck to prove that he is worthy of the club and asks him to roar like a lion. Of course, ducks don’t roar, they quack. “‘Application denied!'” said Lion. ‘You’re not really what we’re looking for in a Lion Club.'”club1

Duck then goes from club to club never quite fitting in and constantly being told that he is denied entrance to their club. As I read the book, I got the odd memory of all of the club tables out on college campus, but especially right before rush week. You wanted so much to fit in, and yet deep down, you knew you were a little different.

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Duck was depressed. Who wouldn’t be? Club after club has just said that he wasn’t worth having around. Luckily, Duck is one smart duck and he knows what he has to do – start his own club! But Duck is also a caring duck and he doesn’t want anyone to feel shut down the way he did, so when Tortoise comes up and asks if he can join Duck Club, Duck has one simple question – “Do you want to be in a club with me?” When Tortoise says yes, Duck of course tells him that he is approved.

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Animal after animal approaches Duck’s table which has now been renamed from “Duck Club” to “Our Club.” Duck realized quickly that you can never have too many friends and you don’t have to all be the same.

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The story is simple and yet profound. If you only surround yourself with people that look and act exactly like you, you will be missing out on all of the things that everyone else has to offer. But if you care less about what’s on the outside and more about what’s on the inside, you’ve opened yourself up to a world of possibilities and a whole lot of fun.

This is a great message for little kids as they are starting preschool and going to playgroups. The book is also rather large so it is perfect for story time and sharing.

** I am an Independent Usborne Books & More Consultant, but I never recommend books that I don’t believe in. If you want any additional information on this book or any other Usborne title, please get in touch with me.

Making Friends with Billy Wong

When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, we understandably think about the African-American experience. I wrote once before about how Mexican Americans in California were segregated into various schools and we have all heard of the horrible injustice of the Japanese Internment camps. As a Jew, I have long heard stories of quotas and some regions not allowing Jews to purchase homes or join certain clubs. There has always been a fear of things that are different and unknown. For this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day, one of the books I was sent was Making Friends with Billy Wong, by Augusta Scattergood. This book gave me pause to consider the Asian American experience, especially in the South.

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This novel focuses on Azalea Ann Morgan, a young girl who is sent to live with a grandmother that she barely knows during the summer of 1952. Her grandmother needs some help while she is recuperating from an injury and Azalea has been volunteered for the job. Azalea is very shy and doesn’t like talking to strangers, and more than anything, she misses her best friend back in Texas. Grandmother Clark has a very strong personality and is seen as something of one of the town’s matriarchs, but that doesn’t mean that Azalea likes her right off the bat. Early on, she encourages Azalea to befriend Billy Wong, a young Chinese-American boy living with his great-aunt and uncle and helping them at their grocery store.

Azalea is not comfortable with meeting anyone new, but especially not a “foreigner,” which is how she sees Billy. She fears going to Mr. Wong’s store assuming that she won’t be able to understand anything he says since she doesn’t speak Chinese. Grandma Clark, ever the one to bring people together, finally helps Azalea break down her walls by making her take Billy to ice cream on a scorching hot day.

The reason that Billy is living in in Paris Junction is so that he can go to a better school. According to the author’s note in the back of the book, the Jim Crow laws of segregation in the South also impacted the Chinese immigrant population, which was surprisingly large. In 1927, a Supreme Court case classified Chinese Americans as “colored,” which led to many communities not allowing Chinese students to attend the segregated white schools. for Billy’s character, in his hometown he would have to go to the Negro school, which offered a substandard education. There had been a Chinese Mission school that his older siblings had attended, but it closed down. However, in Paris Junction Billy was allowed to go to the white school. While on the topic of Billy, from time to time, the novel switches to Billy’s voice in the form of his writings. From these small moments, we can see the prejudice from Billy’s eyes which lends additional power to his plight.

I was surprised to learn of the large number of Chinese immigrants that moved to the south as migrant labor and wound up opening  neighborhood groceries that served black and white clientele. But as one might imagine, their being in cities that historically had been segregated didn’t always allow for smooth transitions. As Augusta Scattergood alludes to in this book, other students were not happy with the notion of students who were different coming in and excelling on the sports teams and in the classroom. Local businessmen were also not always thrilled with the Chinese grocery stores, especially if they took business away from them. By setting this novel up through the eyes of 11 and 12 year olds, you can really get a sense of what the experience was like.

Scattergood uses her novel to touch on a variety of topics. There is the fear of those that are different. There is also a general anxiety around people and learning how to deal with strangers. Azalea and her grandmother learn how to be a family and how important family bonds are. Finally, there is also the character of Willis DeLoach who has a lot of anger and is incredibly misunderstood, but behind his prejudice is a little bit of jealousy and a lot of burdens bigger than a boy his age should be dealing with. Grandma Clark is the glue trying to put the whole town together.

This middle grade novel has a lot going for it and was a great read. Many kids can empathize with one or more of the characters and see how hard it is to be different. I also think that reading the author’s note and understanding the true history behind this story is important. A great read for kids 8+.

MCBookDay-white-1I received this book from Scholastic Books as a part of the 2017 Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

I have been involved with Multicultural Children’s Book Day since it started. Having grown up in Los Angeles, surrounded by a diverse community, I never thought about the notion of being different. Now that I live in a small town in the south, I am much more aware just how hard it can be to be a minority and to be misunderstood. I have always tried to teach my daughters to love everyone and to believe that we are all one human race and that all of our histories and differences should be celebrated.  I also know how important it is to be able to see yourself in the books you read, even more so when you are in the minority, so I look forward to this blogging event every year.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Save Me a Seat

When the first Scholastic flyers came home from my kids’ school this fall, I gladly spent a chunk of money on books to support their classrooms. While going through their selections, I came across the book “Save Me a Seat” by Sarah Weeks and Gata Varadarajan and bought it on a whim. That whim proved to be a great move because this book was outstanding.

save-me-a-seat-coverSave Me a Seat follows the lives of Joe and Ravi, two fifth graders in a Hamilton, NJ school. Joey and Ravi don’t think that they have anything in common, but soon they realize that they both have a  common enemy, the class bully, and a common mission to take control of their lives. The book switches back and forth between their perspectives as they navigate one week at school.

Ravi has just moved to New Jersey from India and struggles with how different things are in America. In India he had been the most popular kid, star student, and master cricket player. In America everyone mispronounces his name and struggles with his accent and no one cares how smart he is. He wants to be a part of the popular crowd, but he can’t seem to break in.

Joe is exceptionally tall for his age, struggles with Auditory Processing Disorder and is constantly bullied by the other kids in the class. His two closest friends have just moved away and he is also afraid that his new teacher won’t understand that he isn’t stupid. The only subject that he likes is lunch, although now that his mother is working as the lunch-room monitor, even that has lost its appeal. People thing that Joe is slow and that he doesn’t hear what is being said, but in reality, he hears and notices everything, he just sometimes struggles with what to focus on.

The antagonist of the story is Dillon Samreen. Dillion is an American-born Indian, a kleptomaniac, and the class bully. Ravi believes that they will be fast friends since they share the common Indian background. Little does he realize that Dillion is constantly making fun of him, stealing his things, and even trips him in class one day. Joe knows that Dillion is nothing but a bully and simply tries to stay out of his way.

As the week progresses, they go through typical experiences in school. You can feel Ravi’s frustration when he tries to show that he is intelligent and capable yet fails simply because things are done differently in America than they are in India. You come to appreciate how observant Joe is and how well he understands people.

Both boys also deal with issues in their family life. Ravi’s family is unsure of American ways of doing things and are also vegetarian. In addition to his parents, Ravi’s grandparents have also moved with them and so generational differences play in. Joe’s mother recently lost her job and wound up taking a job as the lunch room monitor at Joe’s school. Joe’s father is often on the road working as a truck driver. Both boys struggle to have their families understand how difficult school can be and the social difficulties that they both face.

Each day of the week is separated into its own section and titled by whatever food is being served in the cafeteria. This emphasizes the importance of food in all cultures and highlights how different Ravi’s family is from those around him. Food has always been an important way to understand different cultures, but in American schools, it has also been a way to ridicule those who bring items that are seen as “different.” Ravi avoids eating hot lunch and brings foods that are foreign to those around him.

But even with all of the differences, by the end of the book both boy learns to stand on his own two feet and each manage to show the other that they are not alone. They each manage to stand up to Dillion Samreen in their own way and we are left to feel that a new friendship is blossoming.

I thought that this was a marvelous way to show that we never really know what is going on in someone’s head and that the person you least suspect to be your friend might just be your best ally. Ravi even realizes that he is getting a taste of his own medicine when the popular boys won’t include him as that is how he treated others when he was in India. Joe’s character is incredibly endearing once he manages to get past his fears. When both boys manage to believe in themselves, they truly shine.

I purchased this book on my own, but Scholastic is a Platinum Sponsor of this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day and this book deserves some love.

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

The Power of Words – a lesson from Desmond Tutu

Adults are familiar with the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but in our efforts to heal our wounded world, our children need to hear his message. Fortunately, Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams have come together to write “Desmond and the Very Mean Word” about the hurt that words can cause and the power of forgiveness.desmond-coverThe first powerful moment of this book came in the form of an introductory letter from Tutu to the child reading his book. In his book, he speaks to children urging them to consider what it would be like if someone told you that a group of people was better than another group just because they had some physical feature, which they had no control over.

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The story itself is simple. Young Desmond is excited about his new bike and wants to show it to Father Trevor. On his way, however, he encounters a gang of boys. He doesn’t want to stop for fear that they will steal his bike. But as he rides through, one boy shouts out a very mean word. What that word is doesn’t matter, it just cuts Desmond to the core.

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Desmond wants to get back at the boys. Father Trevor explains why that won’t solve anything – “You will get them back, and then they will get you back, and soon our whole world will be filled with nothing but ‘getting back.'”(ain’t that the truth!)

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Desmond tries to get past it, but can’t, a wonderful reminder that he is a kid. When he sees the boys again, he shouts the meanest word he can think of at them. At first he feels proud for getting back at them, but then he realizes that the mean word has “left a bitter taste in his mouth.”

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Desmond realizes that while he has figured out a way to hurt the boys, hurting them actually hurts him too. This is a lesson many children’s books have tried to get across, most notably, How Full is Your Bucket.

What finally frees Desmond is his ability to apologize for his own ugly words and to forgive the red-haired boy for his. In that moment, “Desmond felt a little stronger and a little braver and stood up a little taller.”

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When we were children we were taught the mantra that sticks and stone may break your bones but words could never hurt you. In reality, words leave a much more lasting impact on us. It is far easier to hold on to the one negative comment than to remember ten positive ones. What Tutu learned as a child, and hopes to impart to children everywhere, is that we can only raise ourselves up and hope to raise up others by promoting a world of kind words and deeds. Hate speech has never gotten us anywhere, but love, love has the power to heal. As we enter 2017, I hope that we can all learn a little something about kindness and love to all.

The Bake Shop Ghost

This is the time of year of giving and of bestowing acts of love and kindness on those around us. I recently discovered The Bake Shop Ghost, by Jacqueline K. Ogburn. This delicious book reminds us that it is the little acts that can often mean the most.

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Miss Cora Lee Merriweather ran the best bake shop around, but she seemed to have poured all of her sweetness into her cakes for she never smiled and instead seemed to have the pucker of one who had just eaten a sour lemon. When she died, she had no family to leave her bake shop to. bake-shop-1

People tried to take over her shop, but her ghost remained and ran each of them out of town. Years pass and Annie Washington comes to take over the shop. After cleaning the place up and making it ready for business she gets down to the business of baking. Miss Cora Lee of course makes an appearance, but Annie is not afraid of a ghost.

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The two battle it out all night long until Annie finally cries enough! She asks Cora Lee what she can do so that Cora will allow her to work in peace. Cora has one request, which sounds simple enough, but has a deeper meaning. “Make me a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me.”

That seemed like an easy enough task for Annie and for the first time in years, the shop was full of warm buttery goodness. Annie bakes up dessert after dessert but none of them “bring tears” to Miss Cora’s eyes. After a month, Annie has run out of ideas and heads to the local library for inspiration. When she finds a section on Miss Cora Lee and the Merriweather Bake Shop, she realizes exactly what kind of cake she needs to make. When she shows it to Cora, her eyes are brimming before she even takes a bite. It was a birthday cake. Annie had learned that it was Cora’s 100th birthday. Not only that, since Miss Cora had been an orphan, there had never been anyone who celebrated her. It wasn’t the perfect cake Cora wanted, she wanted the love that often comes when people buy a cake for someone else.

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Cora tells Annie that since she made the perfect cake that she would keep her end of the bargain and leave Annie in peace. But in the time that Annie had been making cakes for the ghost, the two had struck up quite a friendship and Annie had come to appreciate and respect the ghost’s judgement. Rather than wanting Cora to leave her alone in the kitchen, she wanted her to stay on as her partner.

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 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.”

Patricia Polacco takes on Bullying

Patricia Polacco has done it again. Book after book she manages to tackle tough topics in an approachable and honest manner. In “Bully,” she keeps up with the times and considers bullying in the modern age of email, texting, and Facebook. While this isn’t something that is impacting my nine year old yet, thank goodness, I know that there will come a day when it rings true.

bullyLyla is new to the area and going to a new school. Like all new kids, she is trying to figure things out in her new environment. She immediately befriends Jamie, who is also new. The two are both in 6th grade and notice how the lunchroom separates into cliques. Lyla also notices that everyone seems to have a cell phone. Jamie tells her that she needs a phone, a laptop, and to get set-up in Facebook.

A few weeks later, when Lyla starts to get good grades and becomes a cheerleader, one of the “celebrity girls,” starts to pay attention to her. By mid-year she is considered “good enough” to sit at the celebrity table. But before that could happen, Lyla also needed a makeover.

The next day when the celebrity girls realize that Lyla is friends with Jamie, they make fun of him and she feels that he has to be her friend outside of school only. One day at one of the girls’ houses, they take their name calling one step further by “scum dumping.” This is when they go onto Facebook and write vicious things on people’s pages, including Jamie’s. Lyla asks him why people do it and he remarkably answers that “some people aren’t happy unless they are putting someone else down.” From that moment on, Lyla spent less and less time with the mean girls.

But Lyla wasn’t going to get off so easily. “No one dumps us, Lyla, we do the dumping.” Gage and her friends set Lyla up to look like she has stolen the test and compromised it for everyone else. Jamie manages to come to her rescue, but the damage is already done.

Lyla had to face a major bully. Gage didn’t look like a mean kid from the outside, but she had a hateful streak. As Lyla’s father said, “in order for people like Gage’s candle to glow brighter, she has to blow out yours.”

Middle school is tough. Everyone is figuring out who they are as individuals and judgements are made for superficial reasons. Junior high school was hard enough some decades ago when I was in it, I can’t imagine it in the age of cyber-bullying. We try to teach kids early on about bullying and kindness, but it is still a hard concept to grasp and something that they will most likely have to deal with. Another blog post is in the works about books for younger kids, but this is a must read for the 4th grade and up.

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