Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Girl with Grit

In a world where little girls are bombarded with images of princesses and pop stars, it can be hard to make sure that the women your little girls look up to are women of character, strength, and most of all grit. Grit is not commonly a character trait that little girls aspire to obtain, but it is one that can mean the difference between success and failure later in life. Grit in little girls is often frowned upon, but being pretty and dainty is praised. Just think of the last time you saw a little girl. What is the first thing most anyone says to a little girl? "Look how pretty you are! Look at your pretty dress, and your beautiful curly blonde hair!"

The other day I just happened upon this blog called Watch. Connect. Read. The post was titled "A Snapshot of My Reading Life." While reading through the post, my eyes locked on a picture of the book:  Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909. It took just one look at the cover for me to know that I had to have that book. So I ordered it online, and I was thrilled to find it waiting for me when I got home today. 

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 is written by Michelle Markel and is illustrated by Melissa Sweet. It is the historical tale of Clara Lemlich, a young immigrant working as a garment worker in the early 1900's in New York City. The story begins with her journey to the US, and the author's description of her, "The girl's got grit, and she's going to prove it. Look out, New York!" As the story continues, you are drawn in as the author details the horrific working conditions these young women faced on the job. Clara, a girl with grit, is not going to just sit by and take it. She works with many others to unionize the workers and organize the great strike of 1909. In the process, she is beaten, arrested, and fired. But, she doesn't give up! She yells to her fellow garment workers, "Stand fast, girls!"

And that is just it, they were mostly girls. Most of the strikers were young girls between the ages of 16 and 25, some being as young as 12. These young girls were not wondering what they were going to be doing on a Friday night or complaining to their parents about what was for dinner; they were out standing up for their rights and changing the world.

The book not only tells a story that should be read in every history class, in every school, in every state in the US, but it captures the heart and emotion of this movement with beautiful artwork. Melissa Sweet did a fantastic job integrating the look and feel of sewn fabric into the pictures. My favorite picture in the book is an aerial image of all the young garment workers sitting at the tables sewing. When viewed from afar, the rows of the young seamstresses' heads appear to turn into stitching itself.

In reading the book to my daughter tonight, it was profound to see her reaction. I asked her how she would feel if she had to work instead of going to school. She insisted to me, "But Mommy, I work hard in school everyday." I responded by telling her, "Yes, you do work hard in school, honey. However, these girls worked hard like the pauper in that movie Princess and the Pauper you watch all the time. They worked long hours and weren't allowed to go to the bathroom or go outside and play. For these girls, there was no prince, like there was in the movie, that came and solved all their problems. They had to solve their own problems and help themselves." She sat there for a while in silence contemplating the lack of a prince on a white horse. I sat there and contemplated if crushing the idea of a prince on a white horse was too cruel.

She also was fixated on the idea that Clara was doing what was right, but she ended up getting arrested and beaten. This is an incredibly difficult concept to explain to a young child. The whole idea that you can be killed, beaten, or arrested for being a good person goes against everything you tell a child about why they should strive to be a "good person." I remember that shortly after Miss M found out that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed when she was in preschool, she started to worry that she would be "killed." I didn't put two and two together at first. She would at random times ask me if I would protect her from being killed. I assured her she didn't need to worry about being killed, but yes, I would protect her nonetheless.  Eventually, she explained that she was worried that if she was a good person like Martin Luther King, Jr., that she too would be killed. So tonight, we had to rehash the discussion about why a police officer would arrest someone who was doing "right"  and why sometimes rules and laws do not always reflect the way things should be governed.

In the end, I think the book translated this complex concept of social justice and worker rights to my daughter in a way that makes sense, while at the same time bringing back to life this amazing historical figure.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

If you give a girl a book...

If you give a girl a book, she is probably going to want you to Google it. At least in my house, that is how it works.

I keep trying to remember what I did when I was younger and came across something I didn't understand or know anything about in a book? What did we do before the internet? It blows my mind that my daughters will NEVER know a time when it wasn't as simple as grabbing a phone, tablet, or laptop to instantaneously find out the answer to a burning question. I cannot decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing?

I distinctly remember one night when my oldest was probably about 4 years old. She was SUPPOSED to be going to sleep in her bed, and I was trying to get some work done in our office when she asked me how many people live in China. Really? That is what you need to know when it is well past your bedtime? I shouted back to her that I didn't really know, it was late, and she needed to go to sleep.

But her response was profound. She said, "But Mommy, I can't turn my brain off. Google it."

I sat there in the other room and stifled my laughter. I wasn't sure what was more surprising- the demand that I Google information or that she was able to verbalize that she couldn't quiet her mind down to go to sleep. So I opened Pandora's box and Googled how many people live in China. And then she had to know how many people live in the US and Mexico and Australia. And since that time, we have had to look everything up.

The book Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi is this humorous and playful book that gets children comfortable with pooping. (If you have a child that is potty training age or a kid that feels uncomfortable "letting it go," I highly recommend picking up this book.) Miss M loved the book. Let's face it, all kids like to hear the word poop spoken out loud, on purpose, without getting into trouble. At one point in the book, there is this beautiful painting of a whale straining, with the words, "What does whale poop look like?" This of course forced Miss M to beg the question, "Mommy, what DOES whale poop look like?"

So you can probably guess what her response was when I said I didn't know. Yes, Google it. If you don't know what it looks like, you go Google it. It is gross.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, poop came up again in conversation. We were delightfully engrossed in Ivy and Bean Make the Rules (Book 9), which is written by Annie Barrows and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, when the reading had to come to a screeching halt. The Ivy and Bean books are addictive in the sense that they capture the heart of mischievous girls. The girls are quirky and clever, and in book 9 they decide to make their own summer camp. Creativity ensues as they are left to their own devices all day to use their imaginations and play. In the Chapter: Monkey Park Gone Wild, Ivy decided that the activity for the day would be to do nature study. They decide to study the Komodo dragon. And the conversation goes something like this:
"Today's nature study is," she paused dramatically, "the Komodo dragon."
"Komodo dragons are lizards," Ivy explained. "They're longer than two grownups put together. Their spit is red and poisonous. And guess what: They don't ever poop." 
"Say what????" My daughter stopped me. I implored her for us to read further to find out more.

"What do they look like?" asked Harlan. "How can they not poop?"
"They look like giant brown lizards," answered Ivy. "They can't chew. They don't have any taste buds." She didn't know how they could not poop, so she didn't answer that question.
"Seriously mom, how can an animal not poop?" I knew we weren't going to get further in the book, so we paused to spend the next 30 minutes looking up information about Komodo dragons online and watching videos about them. Did you know that scientists have discovered that Komodo dragons have a venom that basically causes the animals they bite to bleed to death? And that some Komodo dragons, to speed up the slow process of swallowing their prey whole, will run with a carcass in their mouth at full speed and ram themselves against a tree to shove that dead animal into their stomach?  We could never decidedly find out that the dragons actually do not poop, but after a Komodo dragon eats it spits out a gastric pellet with all the leftovers it couldn't digest (hair, bones, teeth, etc.). So we figured that replaces pooping. Interesting.

I never in a million years would have ever thought to look up information about Komodo dragons or what whale poop looks like, but that is what makes this adventure of being a parent so amazing. You just never know what fun factoid you are going to be on the hunt for next.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

And the Winner Goes to...

In the spirit of the Oscars, I thought it would be fitting to share some of my favorite books that were made into movies. There are so many to choose from- from Charlotte's Web to The Secret Garden, but here are 5 of my favorites.

#5. Horton Hears a Who- This Dr. Seuss book was adapted in 2008 into a full-length animated film. The movie, while it takes creative license to make it a full-length film, it stays true to the intent of the book. Miss M loves this book and movie to death. I could recite the movie from start to finish.

#4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone by J.K. Rowling. Miss M's cousins just finished reading ALL the Harry Potter books and got her super excited to start this series. My sister was actually the one who got me on the kick of reading books and then watching the movies. I was a little hesitant to start reading these books to Miss M., but she relished in the story. I am holding off on reading past book one for now, but the movie is great because it stays so true to the book.

#3. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. [I should get this out of the way early on in my blog that I am obsessed with Roald Dahl and his books.] The movie does not directly follow the book, so we did have to do some compare and contrast. However, Roald Dahl characters are larger than life and it helps to see them on screen. Making the transition from picture books to reading chapter books can be difficult for little ones to imagine what the characters look like and what they are doing from the words alone. The movie helps to imagine just what happens when a peach grows uncontrollably and travels across the ocean.

#2. Matilda by Roald Dahl. I could read this book a thousand times. It is clever and imaginative in a way that captures the heart of any young child that ever felt that grown-ups were out of touch. What makes the movie version of this book so amazing is the cast. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman hit the nail on the head when it comes to dead-beat parents.

#1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Have you ever read a book as a child that completely makes you fall in love with reading? This was the book. When I re-read it with Miss M, I was delighted to see her eyes light up with excitement as the fights ensued. The movie, which was produced by Disney in 2005, does not disappoint. Thank goodness it doesn't disappoint because I have seen it more times than I can count. What makes it so magical is that it takes you to another world, which is something I think we would all like to do every now and then.

What are your favorite movie adaptations of children's books?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Judy Moody Mood

The other day, Miss M. was in a mood. It was a very Judy Moody mood. It was certainly not a good mood, but instead was a very bad mood. It was the kind of mood that causes a mommy to give herself a time-out. It was the kind of noir mood that calls for a glass of Pinot Noir (for me of course). The problem was this: we were in the car with nowhere to go. 

After a weekend mini-break to the mountains of Tennessee, we decided to stop by Chattanooga on our way home to Georgia. We had given the option of either choosing to go to the children's museum or the aquarium. Miss M. choose the children's museum. However, Mommy made the mistake of not checking the hours until we go into the car for the 40 mile trek. When we realized the museum was not going to open until much later in the day, we informed the little lady that we were going to be seeing fish instead. She told us that the change in plans was completely unacceptable. 

For the next 40 miles, things went from bad, to very bad, to very very bad as my husband I alternated between being good cop and bad cop. At the place in the road where you have to choose between heading I-75 south to Georgia or I-24 to Chattanooga, the very moody Miss M was reporting to us that this was THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO HER. Rather that torture her by taking her to the aquarium, we headed home and solidified in her book the day being a complete failure. Meanwhile, Miss J just babbled baby talk to herself, oblivious of the impending doom.

As we drove the miles towards out house, I contemplated my feelings of having failed as a parent. Am I the only mother that has six year old girl that goes from being the SWEETEST CHILD EVER to A PURE BALL FULL OF SPIT FIRE? Surely not? Right?

It was after this adventure that we began reading Judy Mood Was in a Mood. Not a Good Mood. A Bad Mood., by Megan McDonald and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. I was smitten with this book the instant Judy replied to her mother's vain attempts to get her daughter out of bed with a resounding, "Roar!"  Has this author been spying into my home? I am pretty sure the crisis in the first few pages of the book about how Judy did not have the right T-shirt to wear to school was scripted from a dialogue I had already experienced. Experienced like a thousand times. 

The book takes Judy on a journey to find out about herself as she makes a "Me Collage" poster for her second grade class.  She experiences THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED, which my daughter definitely connected with after our fated journey. But, by the end of the book, she is able to take something bad happening and make it into something "Rare." This, my friends, is a skill that we are working on in our household. And that moment when Judy was able to make that transition, Miss M. reported that was her favorite part. 

These books are recommended for ages 6-10 and are chapter books. They are excellent books to read aloud because of the great dialogues the characters have with each other.  But, what I adore about these books is the way my daughter is able to relate to them. She is in kindergarten and with common core standards she has been struggling to make "connections" to books she has read. Making the connections is not a problem with this book series.

Can't wait to start reading book 2- Judy Moody Gets Famous!

Friday, February 22, 2013

I have a bit of a problem.

I have come to realize that I have a teeny, tiny, little problem. Really, it is not a problem at all, depending on the way you look at it. I cannot, will not, just plain don't say no when it comes to buying books. I don't have this problem with just any type of books. I have packed away most of my novels, and I have graduated to the Kindle Fire for my reading pleasure. My textbooks are collecting dust in my office. No, I only have this problem with children's books.

I am obsessed with children's books. I love children's books. I love the pictures, the way the words roll off your tongue, and the way the stories are simple and mostly lighthearted. However, I really love children's books because of what it means to my relationship with my oldest daughter, Miss M, who is 6, and for what it is beginning to mean with my relationship with my youngest, Miss J, who isn't quite one year old yet.

Over the past six years, I have accumulated over 450 children's books. I know because I counted them the other day on a whim. Over these books, I have shared laughs, tears, and thousands of smiles with my children. And it occurred to me, that despite all these conversations and questions, I don't have a way to remember it all. It is funny how probably the most meaningful time I spend with my girls on a daily basis has really never been photographed or captured the way we as a society are obsessed with documenting things.

I am writing this blog as a way to remember the moments I share with my girls reading to them. I hope you enjoy these stories, but more importantly, I hope you support the authors I mention by reading the books I share with your kids.
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