One of the things that seems to be happening in many of the public schools, at least in my neck of the woods, is that there is such a focus on test scores, reading levels, and facts that we are spending less time encouraging our children to think and create. Childhood is a time where many children still believe in the power of stories and where their imaginations run wild. But between the presence of technology and the odd over-scheduling we can’t seem to escape from, kids often don’t get to experience the creative bursts that come from boredom. Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby’s story, Yokki and the Parno Gry, is a tale that highlights the power and wonder of a child’s imagination.
Yokki and the Parno Gry is a tale about the Romani people and the power of storytelling. In the same way Evan Turk’s book, The Storyteller, has the art of telling a story as the item that saved a people in their time of need, so too does Yokki’s story save his family. What sets this book apart from anything else I’ve seen is that it focuses ono the Romani culture and traditions, something we rarely see presented in books in a positive light. Continue reading →
To celebrate the release of On Bird Hill by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall (5/10/16), blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Jane, Bob, and Brian Sockin (CEO and Publisher of Cornell Lab Publishing Group), plus 10 chances to win a copy of On Bird Hill and a window bird feeder!
by Jane Yolen
My five basic writing tips for picture books (On Bird Hill is a classic 32 page picture book) are these:
1. Sit down and write. Not being snarky here. I am approached everywhere I go by well-meaning folk who say, “I have a great idea for a book, if I could just find the time. Note: There is no such thing as “finding” time. No one has dropped it by the wayside or stashed it in a treasure chest. A writer makes time, takes time, grabs time, steals time.
2. Read a lot, and I mean a LOT of picture books, and not just the classics from your childhood. A good start is to get ahold of the Caldecott winners and honor books of the last ten years. Sit down and read them, first silently, then aloud.
3. Learn what makes a good picture book. First of all, they are almost always (if they are not board books or novelty books) 32 book pages. There has to be something illustratable on each page. Do NOT write instructions for the illustrator. Do NOT find a neighbor to do the illustrate it unless that person is already a well-known children’s book artist. That’s the editor’s job. Get a copy of Uri Shulevitz’s brilliant book Writing With Pictures. It’s really for illustrators but a writer of picture books can learn an enormous amount from it as well.
4. Join SCBWI – the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the biggest and best organization that will help you learn everything you need to know about writing for young(ish) children, will likely have a critique group in your area, lists of agents and editors and what they are looking for, etc.
5. Sit down and write. “BIC” as I like to say: Butt in chair. Do I repeat myself? Of course, it’s #1 on my list and #5. Writing is not an oh-I-have-a-great-idea kind of business. Its a learning, slogging, every-day job that is the greatest in the world. You can change a child’s life and do it in your jammies!!!
Loosely based on the old cumulative nursery rhyme/song “The Green Grass Grew All Around,” a nursery rhyme first published as a song in 1912. But in this version, it’s a boy and his dog who find the bird in a nest on a hill in a strange valley.Following in the footsteps of Jane’s highly acclaimed Owl Moon, winner of the prestigious Caldecott Award, On Bird Hill is a beautiful picture book with an enchanting story, fancifully illustrated by renowned artist Bob Marstall. On Bird Hill is sure to attract interest from millions of readers and fans of Jane’s popular classics.
About the Author: Jane Yolen has authored more than 350 books, including the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon, which every budding young ornithologist owns, You Nest Here With Me, which is a popular new favorite, and the New York Times bestselling series How Do Dinosaurs. Jane Yolen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages and are popular around the world.
Janes husband, David Stemple, was both a well known bird recordist and a professor of computer science and he taught the entire family how to identify birds. Many of Jane’s books are about wildlife subjects, especially the winged kind. Jane lives in Easthampton, MA. Visit her online at janeyolen.com.
- One (1) winner will receive a copy of On Bird Hill and a Window Bird Feeder ($28.99) to get up close and personal with the birds in your backyard! Great for blends, peanuts and safflower, this durable feeder attaches right to your window pane with suction cups, allowing you to see every bird detail. It’s easy to fill and easy to clean.
- This giveaway is open to US residents only.
- Comment below to get a free entry.
- Comment again if you like Cornell Lab Publishing on Facebook.
- Comment again if you follow Jane Yollen on Twitter.
- Finally, comment again if you tweeted about this giveaway. Make sure to mention @booksmykidsread in your tweet!
The aging process is a very difficult thing for anyone to comprehend. Explaining what is happening when Grandma or Grandpa starts to lose their memory or perhaps starts acting differently due to dementia or Alzheimer’s is especially challenging because there is no easy way to explain why it is happening. Finding ways to open the conversation with your children and grandchildren is important as are coming up with coping mechanisms. As with most difficult topics, there are a slew of picture books out there that try to open the door to understanding.
One of the biggest challenges with children, is that when we start to explain that someone is losing their memory, children aren’t exactly sure what that means. In “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,” little Wilfrid gets a lesson in what memories are. He grew up “next door to an old people’s home, and he knew all of the people who lived over there.” One day he hears his parents talking about how his favorite resident, Ms. Nancy, has lost her memory. When the concept confused him, he goes over to the retirement home and asks many of the residents what a memory is. They each give him wonderful responses and Wilfrid decides to gather up wonderful things of his own to give to Nancy since she is losing her memory. While his treasures initially confuse her, they do help her remember some special moments from her own childhood. A very sweet story and a marvelous look at not only how special memories are, but how special they can make us feel.
One way to start a conversation with children focuses less about what their grandparents are going to lose and try to look at the pieces that help them remember, since these things are often aspects that children can help them hold on to. In Alison Acheson’s touching story, “Grandpa’s Music,” Callie’s grandfather moves in with her family as his memory begins to fade – an important part in understanding the aging process for any older adult. The family makes a routine so that “grandpa will know what step comes next.” It is only Callie, however, who realizes that Grandpa doesn’t want to be a burden and so she gives him responsibilities that he can still handle – gardening, peeling potatoes, kneading bread and making music. As time passes, he becomes less able to do those things, but his music still remains as connective tissue to his past and Callie sits and sings with him whenever she gets the chance. Even when he has to transition into an assisted living facility, seeing the piano in the common room gives him comfort.
With the same respect for music and the fact that sometimes your muscles remember what to do even when your mind doesn’t, Sarah Lynn’s “Tip-Tap Pop” is a sweet story about a little girl who loves to tap dance with her grandfather. As Pop ages, he starts forgetting things, even Emma’s birthday. Rather than dancing around, he sits quietly in his chair. Emma is saddened by his changes and then realizes that a brief moment of memory brings his dancing feet back, if for a moment or two. The story glosses over some of the harder aspects of Alzheimer’s, but is a good place to start for young children.
Finding the connection that a grandchild can still have with their aging grandparent is important. Just like Callie had music with her grandfather and Emma had tap dancing, in Émilie Rivard’s “Really and Truly,” Charlie and his grandfather share a love of a tall tale. His grandfather always told him stories, really and truly! But now that Charlie is older, his grandfather not only doesn’t tell stories, he has “an awful disease [that is] eating up his memory and his words. It has even swallowed up his smile.” Suddenly, Charlie makes up his own story and when he says the magic line, “really and truly,” a spark of recognition appears on his grandfather’s face. Charlie takes on his Grandfather’s magical power of story telling to bring him out of his fog for a moment or two. While his grandfather doesn’t always recognize him, he continues to be the story teller with “the power to find the right story to make him smile.”
While these stories are very sweet, the reality is that it can be a very frightening experience for kids when their grandparents start to lose their memories. In “Always My Grandpa,” by Linda Scacco, young Daniel looks forward to spending his summer vacation with his grandpa, but this year Grandpa starts to change as the summer progresses. Daniel learns that since Grandpa has Alzheimer’s disease, he will increasingly have trouble remembering all of the things that belong to him – his clothes, his words, his memories – and eventually, his own grandson. This is a heartwarming tale describing what it is like to be close to a grandparent who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
In a similar vein, “Still My Grandma,” by Véronique Van den Abelee, celebrates the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter while showing the challenge as grandma begins to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. One day Grandma forgets her granddaughter’s name. Another day she puts her shoes in the refrigerator. This is a sensitive way to introduce a young reader to the realities of Alzheimer’s disease and a reminder that love is more powerful than any illness.
Making memory boxes and scrapbooks is an important theme that you will see come up repeatedly in books about Alzheimer’s. As with “Still My Grandma,” in Maria Shriver’s “What’s Happening to Grandpa” Shriver walks a girl through acceptance and a beginning understanding of her Grandpa’s condition after her grandfather starts repeating the same stories over and over again. Kate questions not just what can be done to address the changes Alzheimer’s will bring within her own family but she also tries to place her concern in the larger context of growing old. She decides how to help her grandfather as he goes through this difficult time. Together they sit down with a box of photographs and his still-intact memories and create a scrapbook so that “the important memories of my life will forever be in my heart.”
Help a young child find ways to understand what is going on with their beloved grandparents with any of these marvelous books.
“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.
Dad’s don’t often find themselves front and center when it come to children’s books. There are many books that don’t include a parent at all, but when they do, they are typically mothers taking charge or fathers who are not actively involved. But that is not the case in real life and it isn’t always the case in literature. In honor of Father’s Day, here is a round-up of books with great dads.
For an introduction on Father’s Day itself, Ann Heinrichs put together a wealth of information in her book “Father’s Day.” This book is part of a series from The Child’s World. Considering how commercialized the day has become, it is very interesting to see where the holiday actually came from. Children can learn the interesting story of how a little girl came up with the idea to honor fathers in church in 1910. The idea spread, but did not become a national holiday until 1972.
Another non-fiction title that will easily grab the attention of young readers is “The Emperor’s Egg,” by Martin Jenkins. This beautifully done picture book depicts the interesting twist in the child birth process for emperor penguins. While the mother penguin lays the egg, it is the father’s responsibility to keep it warm for two months in the frigid arctic cold while the mom goes out to see to replenish her nutritional reserves. Fathers are the first caretakers for their young, even providing their first food until the mother returns.
Many of the books that feature fathers often feature animal fathers. In Peter Horn’s “The Best Father of All,” a young turtle tells his father how safe he feels when he is with him and in return his father explains that keeping him safe is his job. This starts an interesting conversation about what else fathers do. Each page is a journey through the animal kingdom showing how fathers support, nurture, and educate their children. A simple example of how all of the little things add up.
Another book highlighting the mundane little things that really add up is “Every Friday,” by Dan Yaccarino. Turning the pages of this book makes you feel like you have taken a step back in time, yet it was written in 2007. The story is of a little boy who loves Fridays because that is the day that he and his father stroll through the city to a corner diner to share a breakfast of pancakes. Apparently, Yaccarino started this tradition with his own son when he turned three and with this wonderful story, he encourages every family to start a little tradition of their own.
One thing that we know is true is that dads come in all shapes and sizes, but dads also come with many different temperaments. “When Dad’s Don’t Grow Up,” by Marjorie Blain Parker, pays homage to the dads out there who have never lost the kid inside themselves and who truly enjoy playing with their kids. In addition to celebrating hands on dads, it also does a great job of showing a full spectrum of dads from various races and cultures. “They may look like grown-ups on the outside, but underneath they’re just like us….KIDS!”
Not only do dads come with different temperaments, but they also have all kinds of jobs to help support their families. In “Night Shift Daddy,” by Eileen Spinelli, Daddy works the night shift, so father and daughter share a special routine around bedtime. Every night, Daddy reads to the little girl, tucks her in, makes sure that she is cozy, and turns off the light. Unbeknownst to him, she also goes to the window and watches him leave for work. When the morning sun wakes her up, Daddy is there to share breakfast with her and then she tucks him into bed in the same way. This is a very touching book and a reminder that all dads work hard, but routines and special shared moments make all the difference.
Some dads not only work hard for their family, but also for their country. The sunny story of “Hero Dad,” by Melinda Hardin, opens with the words, “My dad is a superhero.” The reader soon learns that while the boy’s dad might not be Superman with a capital S, he is an American hero – a soldier. This book wonderfully covers the way that a child might see the actions of their military fathers and what an amazing role he plays while protecting our country as well as at home protecting his own kids.
Finally, “Dad and Pop: An Ode to Fathers and Stepfathers,” by Kelly Bernett, is a great tribute to blended families. In this story, a young girl compares the two fathers in her life by showing how the have different behaviors and enjoy different things. By the end, it comes back to the fact that even though Dad and Pop are very different, in one crucial way they are exactly the same – the both love her unconditionally.
No matter what special father you want to celebrate this year and every day, there are a wealth of great books out there that highlight the relationship between parent and child.