Tuesday, April 30, 2013

30 Books of Kindness: The Complete List

Back in March, I made the decision to challenge myself and my girls to read at least one book that either promoted, fostered, or taught kindness each day in April. We scoured high and low to find the best books to foster discussions on kindness for our little family. For the most part we did not choose books that were written to teach kindness, but rather books that have kindness as a theme in the story.

So here it is! The complete list of books that we choose with links to the blog posts where I describe why I choose them and how they relate to kindness. Enjoy!









So what do you think? What books would you have added to this list?

30 Books of Kindness Days 28, 29, and 30: Finding Kindness with Friends and Love

Having a daughter in Kindergarten, I know that most of her learning takes place on the playground with her classmates. Watching my daughter figure out how to fit in, be a good friend, and work beyond feelings of being "left out" is both unnerving and inspiring. 

This is why we choose Fancy Nancy- Pajama Day by Jane O'Connor for Day 28. In this book, Fancy Nancy is so excited about pajama day and chooses to wear a beautiful and "unique" night dress to school, even though her friend asked her to wear their pink heart and polka dot pajamas. The next day, when Nancy sees that her friend Bree is wearing the same pajamas as Clara, she begins to feel left out. Bree and Clara spend the whole day together, giggling about how much they love being twins. Nancy feels completely excluded until the end of the day when the girls invite her over to Clara's house. Excited, Nancy goes home to change into matching pajamas and joins the girls- making triplets. 

This "scenario" plays out in a thousand variations at the dinner table each night when my daughter describes the daily playground dramas. While this book is not by any means profound or deep, it is probably one of the books a six year old girl can relate to the most. We spent quite a bit of time talking about how the girls Clara and Bree made Nancy feel left out even though they didn't intend to make her feel that way and how kind it was that they invited Nancy to join them after school. That said, I do understand where parents would not like the "message" of the book which sort of suggests that being unique will make you feel left out. However, my response to that would be if your child likes reading the book because of the girly illustrations, why not read it and interject a conversation about being yourself? 
On day 29, I decided to pick up Frog and Toad Are Friend by Arnold Lobel since several people had suggested I should add it to my list. I knew I had to add it when Lauren of 365 Great Children's Books had mentioned the book on a Facebook post. When I brought the book home, my oldest said, "Awe Mom! I used to love that book when I was in Pre-K." So apparently at the age of 6 she has grown well beyond such a childlike book. Nevertheless, we read the book together and thoroughly enjoyed this heartwarming tale of two friends that show incredible kindness towards one another. Don't believe me? Read the 365 Great Children's Books blog post about the book.

Finally tonight, for day 30, we read First Tomato by Rosemary Wells. First Tomato is the story of Claire, an adorable bunny, who is having a very bad day. While waiting for the bus, she escapes her bad day by daydreaming of traveling to Bunny Planet. While at Bunny Planet, the Queen invites her to experience the day that should have been. The day that should have been was a warm day, where Claire went into the garden and discovered the First Tomato of the summer. She gives this tomato to her mother to cook with, and her mother says, "I've made you First Tomato soup because I love you so."

We are anxiously waiting for the First Tomato of the year as our tomato plants grow.  When that tomato comes, we will make a special meal to celebrate as a family. Claire may have been having a bad day, but she was able to escape that bad day by dreaming of the joy of picking that First Tomato of the year and the kindness of her mother making her something special with that tomato. It is a reminder that kindness spreads not only love, but also memories that help us to get through bad times. 

And with that, we have completed our 30 Books of Kindness challenge! I can actually say that making a concerted effort to "make a connection" to kindness with the books we were reading has helped improve the mood for both this Grouchy Ladybug mom and my sometimes Judy Moody Miss M.

Monday, April 29, 2013

30 Books of Kindness Day 27: Black Beauty

When we sat down to read on day 27, I was quite frankly at a loss for what book to read next. Then my daughter pulled a book out of her book bag and asked if we could finish reading it. It was the classic adaptation edition of Black Beauty that we had found at the library sale a couple of weeks ago. We had started reading it together when we first bought it, and then the book disappeared. What I didn't realize was that she had been bringing it to school everyday and reading during her downtime.

So, with only a few chapters to go, we read the rest of Black Beauty. Even being an abridged version, it still is truly a beautiful story of loss, hardship, perseverance, and kindness. I asked her to explain what had happened in the book that I had missed when she was reading at school. She told me all about how Black Beauty was "adopted" by lots of very mean owners that whipped and overworked the horse. I was touched by how moved my daughter was as we read the chapter where Ginger dies. I had always had a disdain for abridged versions of books, with the feeling that the reader misses the magic of the original text; however, I know that my daughter would have never truly understood the message of the book in the unabridged version. There is plenty of time for her to go back and read the unabridged version when she gets older.

My favorite quote from this book, reads like this in her unabridged version:

" 'The world could be a better place for horses and people,' said our friend, 'if we all troubled ourselves to stop cruelty. If we see such a thing and do nothing to stop it, then we share the crime.' 
'I wish there were more gentlemen like you, sir,' said Jerry, 'for they are badly needed in this world.' "

The original quote reads as follows:

" 'Then I'll tel you. It is because people think only about their own business, and won't trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrongdoer to light. I never see a wicked thing like this without doing what I can, and many a master has thanked me for letting him know how his horses have been used.'
 'I wish there were more gentlemen like you, sir,' said Jerry, 'for they are wanted badly enough in this city.'
After this we continued our journey, and as they got out of the cab our friend was saying, 'My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.' "

In the end, she still got the point.

30 Books of Kindness Day 26: Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct

On day 26, we read Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems. The story is about a dinosaur named Edwina that wins her town over with overflowing kindness and cookies. She is loved by all, except for Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie, who is on a mission to convince the town that ALL dinosaurs are extinct, including Edwina. Reginald tries a variety of tactics, but ultimately, Edwina wins him over with her kindness.

I am not sure why we don't own this book, but it is a library favorite. Edwina is an adorable dinosaur that is loved by my daughters the way that I grew up loving Danny the Dinosaur. The story is silly and fun, which was a much needed after reading the Enemy the night before. As with all Mo Willems books, Edwina is entertaining enough to keep the attention of my almost one year old baby, while receiving the "not boring" stamp from my 6 year old. There are not many books that can keep this range of readers attentive and listening.

Check out Pigeon's page for Edwina.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

30 Books of Kindness Day 25: the Enemy

For day 25, we read the Enemy: a book about peace by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch.

This is a book we borrowed from the library. I didn't really look at it before we checked it out, but nearly got into an accident on our way home because of this book. My daughter was thumbing through the 11 books she borrowed when she stopped on one distinct page in this book. She said, "Mom! Look! There are dead bodies all over this page." And then she shoved the book from where she sat in the backseat up towards me, as I was driving. I waited until I came to a stop and turned my head for a quick glance. She added, "See! There is a dead lady," and she pointed to the outline of a woman's breast. Oh, crap. What kind of book did I let her borrow? For a moment I let the rush of Mom Guilt run over me. And for the briefest of moments I felt like maybe I should be censoring her reading choices...

This is what the page looks like:
This image, by itself, may seem disturbing; however in the context of the book it makes perfect sense. 

The Enemy is a profound story about two soldiers who are at was with each other. They are each in World War I style trenches. The author begins, " Look. Do you see two holes? Look more closely. Do you see the soldiers in those holes? They are enemies." It is from this point that the story is then told from the point of view of one of the soldiers. It is through his eyes you see the futility of war. The soldier says, " Except for hunger, the enemy and I have nothing in common. He is a wild beast. He does not know mercy. I know this because I read it in my manual." It is shortly after this, that the soldier explains what he expects the enemy would do to his family and pets because the enemy is "not a human being." This is where the picture comes in. It is the image of what the soldier fears would happen. 

As the weather gets worse, the soldier finally decides to leave his hole and surprise the enemy so that the war can end. Ironically, the enemy has figured he would do the same thing, and they pass each other unknowingly because of their disguises. When the solider goes into the enemy's hole, he is startled by the pictures of the enemy's family and the war manual the enemy has that is similar to the one he was given. He wasn't expecting the enemy to have a family, to be human. He wasn't expecting the enemy to think he was a wild beast, that is what he thought about the enemy.

The story closes in an open-ended way with each of the soldiers writing messages in plastic bottles and then throwing them at each other. You are left wondering if they get the message that the war should end and if they are able to find peace. 

When we finally read the story together, we both found it to be profound. Now, Miss M did not use the word profound, but I could tell that is what she meant. The sentence structure in the book is simple, the color palate of the images is also simple, but the message is immense. One one level, you can interpret this book as a cry for peace and an end to war. However, on another level, you could simple read it as a plea to learn more about our "enemies" because they may be more like us then we ever expected. 

As much as we try to shelter our children from the realities of our world, the fact is that my daughter is acutely aware that there are wars going on. She notices and comments when we are at the airport and we see soldiers. She makes subtle comments about fighting and veterans. We talk about how bravely my grandfather fought in World War II. She notices when we watch movies if they make references to historical wars. What this book offered was a chance to begin a dialogue. I let her lead the way. Her interpretation of the book was that it is easier to be kind to someone if you know something about them or feel like you can relate to them.

Imagine a world where we learn so that we can be kind.

30 Books of Kindness Day 24: The Sneetches and Other Stories

For day 24 we decided to read The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss.

The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Suess has several stories in the book, but we are going to just focus on the Star-Belly Sneetches and the Plain-Belly Sneetches.The Star-Belly Sneetches think they are better than the Plain-Belly Sneetches because they have stars "upon thars," and that makes the Plain-Belly Sneetches feel badly. The brilliant Sylvester McMonkey McBean decides to capitalize on the Plain-Belly Sneetches' angst and bring a contraption that will put a star upon each belly of a Sneetch that pays $3. Soon, all the Sneetches have stars and this makes the authentic Star-Belly Sneetches mad. But, Mr. McBean has a solution to that: he will remove thier stars for a price. Pretty soon, the Sneetches are running in and out of the machines as fast as they can until no one knows who is who. In the end, the Sneetches decide to forget about the stars and just be friends.

I think this book should be required reading for all adults. It is painfully obvious when reading this book with a child that the Sneetches are being ridiculous. However, how many times have you seen grown-ups make decisions based on looks alone- prejudice comes in many forms? It this ultimate lesson of kindness, we are reminded that what matters most is what is on the inside.

Some sites I checked out while writing this post:
Check out this website for some guidelines on fostering the philosophical discussion.
PBS has an interesting description of an independent documentary about the political side of Dr. Seuss.
Or you can play a game of Sneetch Ball with the little ones in your home.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

30 Books of Kindness Day 23:10 Things I Can Do To Help My World

One thing that I am learning from creating this list of 30 books that promote, foster, or teach kindness is that it is indeed just a list. I say this because several books that other individuals have included in their lists of "books about kindness" have been thoroughly and utterly rejected by my daughter. So each day that I pick one book to blog about, I am actually reading several with my oldest and seeing how she responds and reacts to them. She is quite honest.

Brutally honest.

Monday was SUPPOSED to be day 23, and I thought it would be great to read some poems about kindness in honor of National Poetry Month. For at least a half-hour, I read what I thought were thought provoking poems from a recently published book that has received MUCH acclaim. All the experts are talking about how great this book is for introducing kids to poetry. Except the experts do not have the same tastes as my daughter, and this book apparently did NOT speak to her.

She interrupted me and said, "You know, actually Mom, I really don't like these poems. I mean I don't like ANY of these poems."

So I went to find something else to read. We finally ended up reading 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh. Finally!  A winner!

The book is beautifully illustrated with interactive pages. Each page lists one thing you can do to help the world, and then has a flap that you can lift and see a short, one sentence explanation as to why that thing really does help the world.

The message of being kind to the Earth is clearly stated with great ideas that kids can do themselves. Plus, it is printed on paper made from recycled materials. They actually practice what they preach. 

However, the number one reason this books speaks to my daughter is because it has cutouts. Yes, the value of the page was ranked by the number of cutouts. Which, is why we spent a good 5 minutes flipping back and forth on the page about recycling because there were five cutouts. Because of these cutouts, she said the book was awesome. The cutouts prompted her to spend more time looking at the pages and therefore more time reading and re-reading the message.

The lesson for me, though, is that what really matters is finding books that speak to my girls. I am gathering a list of just as many books about "kindness" that do not resonate as I am for those that do. And this amazing book my Melanie Walsh speaks loud and clear to my girls that they can change the world for the better with 10 simple steps.

Monday, April 22, 2013

30 Books of Kindness Day 22: The Lorax

Happy Earth Day! To celebrate Earth Day, we are going to be reading The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

The message of The Lorax is profound and timeless. The ultimate way to show kindness is by taking care of the Earth for the next generation. 

This weekend, we enjoyed the beautiful weather by visiting a state park. Here is Miss M, on Sunday, pretending to be the Lorax. (I imagine, since it was a State park, that this tree was cut down for a good reason.)

" I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues."

Not only do we have to speak for the trees, but we have to care. We have to care not just a little, but a whole awful lot.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." --The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

Which, is why we teach the lesson of taking care of the Earth by not only reading the book, but by doing. This past weekend we planted sunflower seeds and tended to our little garden. It may not be much, but for those few plants we do grow- we care a whole awful lot!

Our Pink Zebra Heirloom Cherry Tomato Plant

Sunday, April 21, 2013

30 Books of Kindness Days 19, 20, and 21: A Giraffe, a Penguin, and a Little Pink Pig

On Friday, when I went to pick my kids up from school, I observed at least ten kids in the after school program giving one girl a hug. As the kids started to peel away from the group hug, I could tell that the girl in the middle had been crying. As she wiped her tear stained cheeks, I could see a small, but emerging smile appearing on her face.

Later, when I was in the car with Miss M, I asked her why they were all hugging that one girl.  She told me that the girl felt like she didn't fit in and that no one liked her. They were all hugging her to let her know she was loved.

Well, I wish I had gone to school with these kids growing up! I cannot remember how many times I felt like I didn't fit in and that no one like me. A big ol' group hug could have helped me though some rough patches as a child.

To reinforce how simply amazing it was that the whole class was on a mission to make this one girl feel like she fit in, we choose three books that related to feelings of acceptance and self-esteem. After all, to be kind to others, we much first learn to be kind to ourselves.

On Friday, we read Giraffes Can't Dance, written by Giles Andreaeand illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. In this story, Gerald is a giraffe that believes he will never be able to dance like the other animals. He is awkward and clumsy, and the other animals initially reject him. It takes the kindness of the cricket in the story to provide the encouraging words that help Gerald find his rhythm. Once he finds his rhythm and stops worrying what the other animals think, he becomes an amazing dancer. This story's beautiful illustrations and quick, rhythmical text are perfect for the kindergartener trying to figure out how to fit in with the social circles that emerge in school. This book is a favorite in our house, and I even read it to my daughter's kindergarten class when I was the mystery reader.

On Saturday, we read Little Pink Pup by Johanna Kerby. This is a book we picked up at the Scholastic Book fair last year, and I cannot tell you how many times we have read it. This book is the true story of Pink, a pig who was the runt of the litter and wouldn't have survived had it not been for Tink, the family's dachshund. Tink had just had a little of puppies and welcomed Pink as part of her litter. This book will melt your heart with the photographs of this sweet momma puppy taking the little piglet in as her own. This story was written by the family that raised Tink and Pink, and at the end, there are a couple of paragraphs giving some more background information about the story.

I love how this true animal story can teach us humans so much about acceptance of those who are different. I will also say that this is probably in Miss M's top 5 books of all time.

And finally, tonight we read Three Cheers for Tacky, written by Helen Lesterand illustrated by Lynn Munsinger.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

30 Books of Kindness Days 16, 17, and 18: Bears, Ducks, and a Little Blue Truck

The first 15 books that I included in the 30 Books of Kindness challenge were mostly meant for reading with either a toddler or younger kid. However, I thought it might be helpful to include a couple of board books that are meant for the youngest of readers. The earliest lessons in kindness for babies are to learn about friendship and love. Each of these three stories share the same central theme of being kind to our friends.

Please don't judge the worn cover of Bear Snores On, but it really has been read over and over and over again. We have had this book since Miss M was little, and now little Miss J gets her "teefies" on it and loves it to death. In this book, animal after animal sneaks into the bear's cave to seek warmth in the winter storm. They all make friends and share yummy snacks over a fire...UNTIL a pepper flake makes the bear sneeze and wakes him up. The bear is so sad that the other animals were having fun without him. But, the other animals assure him that they can make more snack,s, and they all snuggle by the fire on the cold dark night. 

Bear Snores On is written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. The book is rhythmic, repeating the phrase "but the bear snores on" throughout the book. The repetition is perfect to grab and keep a baby's attention.

The second book I choose came as a recommendation from one of my blog readers! (Yay! I have readers!) She recommended the Gossie books by Olivier Dunrea. I couldn't decide whether I should find them at the library or order them, but the decision was easy when I found this adorable box set of the Gossie board books. (I think this would make the best baby shower gift.) Miss J loves these little books because they are only about 3 inch squares, the perfect size for her little hands.

Our favorite book in this collection is Gossie and Gertie. Gossie is a bossy little duck that likes to tell her friend Gertie to "Follow Me!" At first Gertie does everything Gossie tell her to do. But, when Gertie goes off on her own, Gossie gets mad. She keeps shouting at her friend, and her friend just keeps doing what she wants to do. In the end, Gossie learns that sometimes you have to take turns picking out where to go, and the two little ducks end the story as best friends.

These books have very little writing, which is perfect for very little attention spans. The pictures are dynamic images of bright yellow ducks on a white background. They completely capture the attention of even the youngest of readers.

Finally, the third board book I choose was Little Blue Truck, which is written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. This book has been an instant favorite in our house for both girls since I discovered it not too long ago. It has beautiful illustrations, whimsical words that read more like a song than a story, and an endearing story about how taking time to foster friendships will pay off in the end.

The little blue truck travels along the road making friends with all the animals he meets along the way. However, a big dump truck that comes along is far to busy and important to take time to make friends with any of the animals. When the dump truck gets stuck, no one comes to help him out. None of the animals know his horn, so why would they come when they hear a honk honk honk? When the little blue truck gets stuck trying to help out the dump truck, all the animals rush to his aid when they hear little blue truck's beep beep beep. The dump truck soon realizes the value of having friends that can help get you out of sticky situations.

I choose these three books because they all have animals in the stories. Babies love looking at pictures of animals. Even if we don't read the words in the book, sometimes we just point out the names of the different animals and then make the animal noises. And this is a good alternative to have if you ever find yourself reading a book for the 10th time in a night, which invariably will happen when a book becomes a fast favorite.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

30 Books of Kindness Day 15: god bless the gargoyles

When I got home from work yesterday, I was careful to make sure the television was off. I made sure that my husband and I saved our conversations about the day until after both girls were fast asleep. The last thing I wanted was for either of them to see the harrowing images from the bombing at the Boston Marathon. My heart was filled with endless sadness.

Another senseless act taking more innocent lives.
Another event to tip toe around with my children.
Another moment seared into my memory where I stop to give thanks that everyone I know is ok.
Another moment seared into my memory where I stop to grieve with those I don't even know.

And when those moments happen, I like to read God Bless the Gargoyles by Dav Pilkey.Yes, the same Dav Pilkey that writes the Captain Underpants series of books my daughter L-O-V-E-S. But this book is very different from Captain Underpants.

When I was first given this book as a baby shower gift, I have to admit that I was initially turned off by the dark images on the cover. While the paintings were beautiful, did I really want to read such a melancholy story with my girls?

But what this story does is wraps its arms around you like a warm hug on cold rainy day.
It comforts you like that sad love song you listen to a thousand times when you are suffering a broken heart.
It teaches you more about kindness, love, understanding, fear, sadness, and grieving in one simple prayer than any lecture or self-help book could ever hope to convey.

God Bless the Gargoyles tells the story of how gargoyles were created out of love to protect churches but grew to be misunderstood and feared. The gargoyles become consumed by grief because of the hatred directed at them, but they are soon visited by angels that give them magical powers to comfort those in this world who feel hurt and pain. And while the gargoyles travel the earth to help those who feel alone or unwanted, they sing a song of hope. My favorite line from that poem is,

"god bless the hearts and the souls who are grieving
for those who have left, and for those who are leaving.
god bless each perishing body and mind,
god bless all creatures remaining behind. "

The paintings in this book, while dark, are captivating and beautiful. In fact, when I asked Miss M what she thought of the book, she simply said, "It is beautiful." I was amazed at how moved she was by the message in this book.

Regardless of what your religious background may be, this book is really a message of hope for those who feel left out, alone, or out of place. See if you can borrow it from your local library or pick up a used copy because it looks like it is out of print.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

30 Books of Kindness Day 14: Alexander's Outing

I am lucky enough to have a very dear Australian friend. One year, she gave my daughter several Pamela Allen books as a gift. We love and adore each and every book, but my favorite is Alexander's Outing, which is what we read tonight.

Alexander's Outing is the tale of an ornery little duck, Alexander, who does not stay as close to his mother and siblings as he should and ends up in trouble.

It all started when he left with his mother and siblings on an adventure through Sidney. Alexander's mother warns the ducks to, "Stay close, take care!" However, Alexander has his head in the clouds, so he didn't see the hole in the ground. The ducks make quite a din when they realize the plight of Alexander! Strangers in the park come by to see how they can help get Alexander out. Together, they figure out that by filling the hole with water the duck will float to the top.

My description of the book does not do justice to the purely delightful way Pamela Allen's words leap off the page and her pictures capture the attention of both young and old, alike. For us, we love how this books teaches kindness through helping others and teamwork. All things are possible when we work together.

While reading about this book online tonight I found:
  • This creative activity to do with the kid based on Alexander's Outing
  • Pamela Allen's website, where you can read about all her books.

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