Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Gratitude for Ramona and Beverly Cleary

It is 6 in the evening. There are two ravenously hungry girls in our house and two exhausted parents. The dog is barking for attention. The pot of pasta has just boiled over. And that, my friends, is the moment my six-year-old daughter decides to teach her little sister how to jump on and off of the couch.

I freak out.
My husband freaks out.
No one is hurt....
except our daughter's feelings.

What we see at the moment is a potential trip to our local Children's Hospital. What our daughter sees is that we are unfairly punishing her only, and not also punishing her sister.

An hour later, I walk into my daughters room to see her teaching her little sister how to jump on a doll bed while doing some silly dance.

I am about to freak out, but something happens. The doll bed breaks. My daughter looks at me. I glare at her as she stumbles to the ground. Instead of yelling or chastising her, I simply pick up Little Miss J and take her to her room to put her in her crib for the night. I shut Miss M's door and walk away from the situation. These moments of frenzied excitement, I know, will only become progressively worse as Christmas looms in the distance.

Thirty minutes later, I return to her room to read with her before bed. Before we have a chance to pick out a new book to read, my daughter begins hysterically crying about how she always makes mistakes, how sorry she is for breaking the doll bed, and how mad she is with herself.

These are the moments that they don't prepare you for when you become a parent. What do you say to make her feel better? How do you possibly wrap your brain around the complexity of the emotion in the 12 seconds you are allotted to come up with a response as the crocodile tears stream down her rosy cheeks. I glance over to her books and decide to suggest reading Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary instead of directly addressing the tears.

Within moments of starting the book, I send an imaginary note of gratitude to Ms. Beverly Cleary. It is incredible how a book published in 1981 speaks not only to the young girl sitting next to me but is able to help me remember how incredibly unfair life can be when you are no longer a "cute little toddler"and grown-ups expect so much from you.

It is indeed easy to forget how children can feel that so much of what happens depends on them, and that they may indeed feel overwhelmed at times by our great expectations.

We only got through the first chapter tonight, partly because it was late, but also because the first chapter gave us the platform from which we could actually have a productive conversation about the way she was feeling. It was interesting to discuss Ramona's relationship as the older kid with her neighbor Willa Jean in contrast to how we had mostly seen Ramona as the younger sister to Beezus. Miss M can certainly relate to the dynamic of being the older kid expected to set a good example for her little sister.

We ended our conversation with snuggles. I promised I would be patient and try to remember it isn't easy. And Miss M promised to always keep trying.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sammie & Sax in the Land of Quinoa by Sheila Kemper Dietrich and Illustrated by Timothy Foss

Last night at dinner we were mired in our usual power struggle with my picky six-year-old daughter. My husband had made stuffed peppers. It was the perfect combination of whole grains, vegetables, and protein. They were topped with some delicious Parmigiano-Reggiano. My daughter wanted more cheese to smother on her green pepper. We told her that she had plenty of cheese on her plate.

She countered that cheese was healthy.
We fought back stating that although cheese is healthy, too much cheese is not good for you.
I was about to tell her Paracelsus's principle of toxicology: The dose makes the poison. However, I decided instead to read the book Sammie and Sax in the Land of Quinoa: the Search for a Balanced Meal that night at bedtime.

A week earlier, I had been attending a conference for work, totally unrelated to children's literature, and I came across the Livliga booth at the Expo. This is where I met the dynamic and inspiring Sheila Kemper Dietrich, the author of the book and creator of livliga.

Imagine working as the director of the American Heart Association in Denver, witnessing first hand the consequences of the "super-sized" lifestyle, and then being brave enough to leave your job to work towards fixing the problem. I was truly inspired by not only her creativity, but also actually doing what so many of us just talk about doing- making change. The change she created were several lines of dishes that are designed with size proportion labels to help control the amount of food being consumed at the dinner table. However, unlike many portion control plates I have seen in the store, these are soothing and aesthetically pleasing.  I think what I loved the most about her story, when I was talking to her, was that she lost over 50 pounds herself learning to eat more balanced meals.

One of her product lines is Kidliga, which features a children's book and coordinating porcelain place settings to promote eating balanced meals for kids. I purchased the book and was thrilled to have Ms. Sheila sign it!

The story features Sammie, Sax, and their dog Rhubarb as they travel to the Land of Quinoa in search of a balanced meal. As the kids embark on their journey, they find fruits, vegetables, and other foods along the way that try to help them figure out how to make a balanced meal. The foods are all ingeniously drawn as puzzle pieces, so by the end of the book you have a completed puzzle: the balanced meal. The story is engaging and well written. Most importantly, it didn't feel like I was reading a book that was telling my kids what to eat, but instead just felt like a creative children's book I was sharing with them. What is even better is that there are recipes at the end of the book for the healthy meal the children discovered.

I highly recommend picking up this book. I am slightly annoyed with myself for not purchasing the gorgeous place settings at the conference. The bowl and mug that go with the plate are simply beautiful, and I love that they are made of porcelain and not plastic or melamine. I am going to be putting these dishes on my Christmas wish list! I hope Santa is taking notes.

Here is where you can purchase the book and the coordinating place settings: http://www.livligahome.com/category_s/1882.htm.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Maddie's Wings: A Lesson in Love by Tamera Rickman- A Review

Maddie's Wings: A Lesson in Love by Tamera Rickman and illustrated by Steve McGinnis

The book Maddie's Wings: A Lesson in Love is the tenderhearted story of an adorable dachshund named Maddie and her journey through life. The book is dedicated to the author's real life dog, Maddie, and it is told from the heart in a way only a mommy to a sweet little dog can tell a story. While I really liked the story, my daughter loved and connected with this book in a way that I rarely see her connect with a book. She was in tears by the end when the sweet little Maddie dies, having finally "loved enough" and "earned her wings."

For any parent that has struggled with how to communicate to their child what has happened when a pet dies, this is the perfect book to help ease the pain. In fact, I am finding that even writing a blog post about talking to my child about the death of an animal in a book is tough. The author skillfully uses the analogy of receiving butterfly wings for death. This simple analogy provides the reader with warmth and comfort without becoming mired in any complicated specifics about death.

The author also never directly refers to any specific religious belief about death. I think this is fantastic for families with blended religious and/or cultural beliefs about death that struggle with comforting the youngest of grievers.

I could go on and detail how this book is a superb way to help comfort a child trying to cope with the loss of a pet; however, I would rather share the letter my six year old daughter wrote after reading the book to the author and illustrator. (I left her letter unedited, in its true form, only editing her name.)
Dear Tamera Rickman and Steve McGinnis,
My name is Miss M. I liked Maddie’s Wings because it has a lot of details and the pictures were beautiful to. I liked the way you drew Maddie and the butterflies. I like the front cover because I liked Maddie with the butterfly on her nose  and especially love any kind of dog!
I liked Maddie’s Wings a lot! Our dog Drew died a couple years ago, so we got a new dog. When the dog Maddie died, it reminded me of our dog Drew when she died. Thinking of her as a butterfly made me feel better.
Love, Me 

To purchase the book, please check out it out from Amazon- http://www.amazon.com/Maddies-Wings-A-Lesson-Love-ebook/dp/B00CNWCHW2.

* I was given this book free-of-charge by the author in exchange for my honest opinion. All opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Book Challenge to Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns- A Muslim Book of Colors

Recently, a parent approached the Scholastic Book fair volunteers, the School Board, and the Press to have the book Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns:  A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan removed from future Scholastic Book fairs at the elemtary school my daughter attends.

Here are the links to the press coverage:
Marietta Daily Journal- Father Upset After Child Finds Muslim Book at School Fair

My Fox Atlanta - Father Upset Religious Book Found at School Fair

My initial response was disbelief; however, the disbelief quickly grew to rage. I felt rage over the potential that a book might actually be removed from a book fair. I felt rage over the comments that the parent made regarding this beautiful children's book. But mostly, I felt rage over the sheer hatred that would precipitate such a request.

But, my rage quickly swelled into a call to action as I realized that this hatred stemmed mostly from a fear of the unknown. My call to action led me to write a letter to the school principal. I wrote to the school superintendent. I wrote to the appropriate school board representative. However, writing these letters did little to quell this overwhelming sense that I could and should be doing more to prevent this type of censorship.

In my debate on whether or not to blog about this topic, my biggest fear with writing a blog post was that it would turn into an attack of the person making the complaint. Even though this person may be the one making the request to have the book removed, the challenge to the books is indicative of a problem that is much bigger than him. I feel compelled to state that I don't want this or any discussion in the comments on my blog to be about him, but I would like to focus on the root cause of the challenge itself: fear and a lack of tolerance of other cultures and religions.

I think it is helpful to share with you a segment of what I wrote to the school representatives:

Ray Bradbury once wrote, "There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches." While it seems completely unreasonable to burn a book, challenges to books found in libraries and book sales often are quieted to prevent the match from lighting a fire by removing the book from the shelves. From 1990 and 2000, individuals raised 6,364 challenges to books. This daunting statistic is what compels me to write this email.
 [O]ne of the reasons we love the school is the diverse population. She goes to school with kids from different cultures, that speak different languages, and have different beliefs. We have raised our daughter to be kind and empathetic to her classmates, to learn from them, to listen to them with an open heart instead of shunning them away with fear. It is the fear that drives the request to have the book removed.
As a book fair volunteer, I watched as the children searched the shelves for books that were interesting, that were fun, and to which they could relate. Our school population has many Muslim students, and the students should not be taught that a book about their culture in a beautifully illustrated children's book is akin to terrorism, as [was] inferred from [the] comments [cited] in the paper. Also, there were many books about other religions and cultures available at the book fair, including books about Christmas, Hanukkah, and Greek Mythology, just to name a few. So [the] comment that there was not any representation from other cultures or religions is baseless.
I think Judy Blume put it best when she said, "Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won't have as much censorship because we won't have as much fear.”
I have complete faith that this school district will not let the fear of one man drive the decisions of the [School District]....“[I]t's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.” ―Judy Blume
I look forward to the next Scholastic book fair and seeing "Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns:  A Muslim Book of Colors" on the shelf.
It is my belief that if we ever hope to eliminate this fear, we must all commit to bringing books that represent a broad spectrum of cultures to our children. And, in the same breath, I challenge publishers to bring books to children that show them a true reflection of the world in which they are growing up.

If anything, the fact that Scholastic is bringing this beautiful book to the the book fair is a testament to Scholastic's commitment to address the persisting issue of a lack of diversity in children's books. I love this info-graphic from Tina Kugler (http://tinakugler.squarespace.com/) about the lack of diversity in children's books that were published in 2012. Diversity in children's books will help to create the tolerance that will prevent future challenges to books, which are based largely on fear.

While one person may "challenge" to have a book removed from the Scholastic Book fair, I feel compelled to place a challenge to the readers of my blog to become more aware of the "lit matches" running around in our community. We must defend our freedom to read. We must read about the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (http://www.ala.org/bbooks/). We must take action.

My commitment to this cause is so strong that I have purchased a copy of Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns:  A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan to give away to one lucky reader, in the hopes that it will start a chain of people passing along beautiful books that will have a positive impact on a child's life. My hope is that you will share this story, take action, give a book to a child that will broaden their view of the world, and become a volunteer and voice for the next generation of readers.

Thank you to all who entered the giveaway! Mary V was the randomly selected winner of the contest.

Update: At the Spring Book Fair, in spite of the requests from our PTA to have the book included, this book unfortunately was NOT found at our book fair.  This was a huge disappointment, and something I have been struggling with how to respond.

If you live locally, the fantastic Little Shop of Stories carries the book and has it in stock. Check it out. The store is tucked in the lovely downtown Decatur district.
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