To celebrate the release of One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman (3/14/17), blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Ruth and 10 chances to win a copy of One Good Thing About America, as well as a chance to win a Skype visit with Ruth in the Grand Prize Giveaway!
by Ruth Freeman
I happen to believe it’s really important to discover what makes us happy. I’ve learned to pay attention and look for those things that make me smile on the inside. More on them in a minute, but first: Anaïs.
In my book, One Good Thing About America, Anaïs is upset and homesick when her grandmother Oma (back home in Congo) asks her to find one good thing about her new home in America every day. “This is a very hard job,” writes Anaïs, “or maybe impossible!”
But, slowly, Anaïs does start to discover things in America that make her happy. Like her new black backpack, her beautiful cursive writing and her new friend Jenna. As she moves through her first year in America she finds more and more good things (snow! ice cream! the library!) until, at the end, her teachers and friends tell her SHE is One Good Thing About America!
I will admit that many of Anaïs’ One-Good-Things are things I love, too. I’m a sucker for ice cream, potato chips and jelly doughnuts because I don’t eat them very often. Like her, I also love stars, libraries and the first snowflakes of the winter. I even love snowstorms because there is nothing better than a snow day!
Of course, there are my wonderful students who make me smile and laugh every single day. And I can’t forget my two sons. And how about dogs? I grew up with a basset hound we named Miranda. What a face!
A few more things I thought of: the first time in the fall when I put flannel sheets on my bed is, mmm, pure delight. The sound of waves and the smell of the ocean. And I love trees, I don’t know why exactly, but especially in the winter when their branches are black and tangled against the sky. And there’s something beautiful about the sound of a car going by on a rainy night.
I’m sure I could think of more things, but this is a start. You may love some of these things, too, or you may absolutely hate them and think I’m crazy. But I hope you’ll think of your One-Good-Things. I’ve really enjoyed making this list. It makes me happy just to sit here and read it over. And there are plenty more wonderful things out there….like BOOKS!
Stop by Chat with Vera tomorrow for the next stop on the tour!
ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA is a sweet, often funny middle-grade novel that explores differences and common ground across cultures.
It’s hard to start at a new school . . . especially if you’re in a new country. Back home, Anaïs was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she feels like she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken FINGERS?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa. Anaïs misses her family . . . so she writes lots of letters to Oma, her grandmother. She tells her she misses her and hopes the war is over soon. She tells her about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese dinners, and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself.
About the Author: Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English language learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She is the author of several acclaimed nonfiction picture books. One Good Thing About America is her first novel..
GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY
- One (1) winner across the whole blog tour will receive a signed copy of One Good Thing About America for their personal collection, as well as a 30 minute Skype visit with Ruth Freeman to the school of their choice and a signed copy for the school’s library.
- Enter via the rafflecopter link below
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- Ends 4/23 at midnight ET
ADDITIONAL BOOK GIVEAWAY
I am also able to offer one reader of my blog a copy of the book.
- Get an entry by commenting on my blog post.
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- Get another entry by following me on Facebook and comment that you did that.
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- Ends 4/23 at midnight ET
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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.
Salma 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.
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.”
In our present world of allergies, I’m actually rather surprised that I haven’t seen more book like “The Peanut-Free Cafe.” In this well written book we are presented with two dueling issues that more and more kids in elementary school are having to face – kids that can’t eat peanuts and kids who are incredibly picky.
Simon, the main character of this story, is a picky eater and only eats 4 foods – “bagels, green grapes, purple lollipops, and his favorite – Peanut Butter.” Grant is the new kid at school who has a severe peanut allergy.
When Grant comes to the Nutley school, Principal Filbert was conflicted. She wanted a safe space for Grant, but knew that many of her students brought peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day. The compromise that she came up with was to have a peanut-free table in the lunchroom.
Simon and Grant become fast friends, but at lunchtime Grant sat alone at the peanut-free table. Ms. Filbert talked to some kids to try and find a better solution and they came up with a way to encourage nut-free foods. Kids started to bring in some different lunches, but poor Simon was afraid to try anything new. Now he had found a way so that Grant wouldn’t have to sit alone at lunch, but instead, he found that he was having to sit by himself.
Simon finally relents and begs his mother to pack something else so that he can sit with his friends. He still eats his peanut butter, but saves it for after-school and on weekends.
When I found this book over the summer, I had not yet found out that J’s school had gone completely nut free this year. Now, a few months into the school year, this book truly hits home with our household. Nuts were a healthy way to get protein in my daughter’s diet and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were one of the few things she would actually eat in her lunch and almonds were a staple. I picked up this book at the library again and she agreed this this story is pretty spot on.
We have had to have a number of conversations about why our school has gone nut free. Children can bring nuts for lunch, but then they have to sit at the one table in the lunchroom that allows them. Since J has a number of friends that have allergies, she does understand, but it is still hard to figure out how to send in a healthy lunch with a finicky child.
It is important for kids who don’t have allergies to understand the world of those that do. Grant explains to all of the kids that if he eats “just one peanut or anything made with peanut oil,” he can’t breathe. He shows them his epi-pen to reinforce the fact. People often misuse the word “allergy,” but for so many kids true allergies are a serious issue. “The Peanut Free Cafe” is a great way to explain a difficult situation to young kids.
There are a ton of intermediate reader series out there these days, but finding one that holds your child’s attention and is at the right level can be truly daunting. That was actually the reason that I started this blog a few years ago. It becomes complicated to write about chapter books, but I am making it a mission to focus on that more, especially since we are finished with the full Harry Potter series and expanding our own horizons.
A few years ago a good friend suggested that we read the series The World According to Humphrey. For whatever reason, at the time J wanted nothing to do with it. Perhaps it was that she has always been more interested in books with princesses and fairies, and then when she moved from those, books had to have a strong female lead. A book with a hamster on the front cover did nothing for her. Fast forward to Christmas of this past year when her beloved second grade teacher gave her a copy of Winter According to Humphrey. I was shocked when I went into her room one night to find her eating it up.
Humphrey is a hamster. In the initial book of the series he is purchased as a class pet by a teacher. That teacher winds up moving to Brazil and leaving Humphrey behind with a new teacher who is not so thrilled by his existence. Ms. Mac, the first teacher, brings Humphrey in because “You can learn a lot about life by observing another species,” as well as by taking care of another species. Now most would think that this is a statement for the the children to learn by taking care of Humphrey, but Humphrey also learns a great deal about the children and adults who take care of him.
The fun thing about the Humphrey books is that they are told from Humphrey’s perspective. Since the new teacher, Ms. Brisbane, does not initially like Humphrey, he gets sent home with a different student each weekend (although his first weekend is with the Principal, Mr. Morales). The students are able to learn by taking care of this amazing hamster, but he also learns a great deal about them by observing them in their natural habitats.
A great example from the book has to do with a little girl named Sayeh. Ms. Brisbane has been trying to get her to participate in class more often. They make a deal that if Sayeh raises her hand at least one time during a given week, Ms. Brisbane won’t send a note home about her lack of participation. Sayeh does raise her hand to volunteer to take Humphrey home. When he goes home with her, he learns that English is not spoken in her home and that she is afraid that the other kids will make fun of her accent. While Humphrey is home with her, Sayeh gets the courage to tell her family that since he only understands English, they have to speak English that weekend. Humphrey gets a better understanding of who Sayeh is as a person and Sayeh believes in herself a bit more.
The series continues in a marvelous fashion and the books don’t need to be read in any specific order. Some of the themes that are covered are friendship, doing the right thing, racism, and cultural differences. J likes to read the books and says “Even though all the humans hear is Squeak-Squeak-Squeak, Humphrey helps them solve their problems. He’s everyone’s favorite classroom pet!”
The Humphrey books tend to have a Lexile level somewhere in the 600s or 700s. Typically that is the 3-6th grade level. That said, I believe that these books are more age appropriate for 6-9 year olds. At 8, they are sort of perfect for J even if they are super easy reads for her. A great read aloud for a 1st grader and perhaps something to encourage them to read more on their own.