Thursday, July 21, 2016

Carnation Days

“IMAGINE YOU HAD ONLY ONE DAY LEFT ON EARTH. WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH IT?”


I read Ms. Bixby’s Last Day in a single sitting, on an airplane en route to California for 
vacation. My mind, filled with excitement of the week to come, full of big events and 
exciting outings, slowed and focused as I turned the first pages of 
John David Anderson‘s novel.














Three hours and many tissues later, I set the book down as we hit the tarmac, looking 
at vacation in a new light.

There are many things to say about this book. I could write about teachers and the 
tremendous impact they have in the lives of our students, or tell you about the ones 
that mattered most to me. I could write about boy friendship and the way it is honestly 
explored and depicted in Topher, Steve, and Brand. I could write about the ways our 
small acts of kindness to one another have a ripple effect, beyond our wildest
 imagination, or about what it means to be truly seen by another person and 
celebrated for who we are. All of these themes appear in the pages of this at times 
vulnerable, at times laugh-out-loud funny, always perfectly voiced novel.
But instead, I’m going to write about carnations. As in, the flowers.
Please continue reading at All the Wonders ...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Bring a Book!

I'm delighted to be featured at All the Wonders this week talking about one of the most often heard phrases in our home - bring a book!

Summer has always been analogous with reading for me, as far back as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the other summery things too—the swimming pools, the backyard barbecues, the roasted marshmallows, summer camp, the fireflies, the road trips, all of it. But for me, those things all had one thing in common—the book that was (and still is) always tucked safely in my bag. Just in case.

Now, as a mother of two young boys, these are the reminders as we get ready to leave the house:

Did you brush your teeth?
Yes, you have to wear shoes!
Bring a book!

And at least one member of our family takes that last reminder very seriously. 

Reading at Six Flags...
and at Go! St. Louis marathon...
poolside...
in between customers...
and at the beach. Like mother, like son here.

Today, I’d like to share a few book recommendations for all the places you or your children might find yourselves this summer. They range in age from picture books to young adult. So, brush your teeth, grab your shoes, and above all, bring a book!

Please continue to All the Wonders to see my recommendations for books for the beach, summer camp, the pool and more ...

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pick a Lane


Our family has a brand-new swim team member this summer, and it is the highlight of my day watching him and his teammates practice. This morning, those little fish were all lined up on the bright blue starting blocks, goggles on, hair sneaking out the back of their swim caps. Coach blew the whistle and they dove into the still chilly June pool water. They sprinted to the other side. Their first meet is tonight, and they have a lot of things to practice and remember.  

Two-hand touch. Don’t pause. Don’t look at the other swimmers. Stay in your lane.



Last night, my family huddled on the couch to watch The Tony Awards together. I never miss The Tonys, but this year, my boys were as excited as I was. They, like so many of us, have serious Hamilton fever. And last night, the Tonys were a balm to many broken hearts – a strong show of love, inclusion, possibility and progress.  In the words of Lin Manual-Miranda - “Love is love is love is love is love.”

But this morning at the pool, I found myself circling back to different words from Miranda. In the CBS pre-show on Hamilton, when asked how he got to where he is today, he said, “’Cause I picked a lane … it was like, ‘All right, THIS.’”

Miranda is talking about theater, and how choosing an area of focus for his energy and talent gave him the direction he needed to succeed. But as I watched those kids swimming all different strokes in their individual lanes, I thought of his words and how they apply to our response to tragedy. 

Already today, I see the aftershocks of the Orlando shooting ripple across social media. I’m sure you’ve seen it too. Someone says guns are responsible. Someone else says it’s not about guns, it’s about mental health. Someone else says that’s insulting to the mentally ill. Someone else says that homophobia is to blame and yet another person says this boils down to religious extremism. 

I’m all for identifying action pieces and working for solutions. But instead of picking a lane and swimming full speed ahead, we so often look at the swimmer in the lane next to us. We see him swimming a different stroke than the one we are swimming and we stop our race to yell at him. “You’re doing it wrong! That’s not the right stroke! Switch to my lane or we’ll never solve this problem!”

Friends.

It’s the same finish line.

We are, almost all of us, swimming towards the same finish line. 

The finish line is an end to violence, an end to mass shootings, a recognition of our shared humanity, a celebration of the dignity of all human life.

You can swim any stroke you want to get to the finish line and in fact, we desperately need people to swim different strokes.

We need people addressing gun violence. We need people taking our mental health care system to task. We need people standing up against bigotry, discrimination and oppression. We need people challenging extremism in all religions. We do not have to argue over which of these things is the most important thing. We need to fill the roster.

Just pick a lane and start swimming. 

Those of you out there today staying in your lane, I see you. And those of you working quietly behind the scenes, I’m cheering you on. I might be swimming a different stroke in my lane, but I’ll still sign your petitions, listen to your research, go to the polls for you. We are not enemies. We are racing towards a common finish line. 

Let’s not waste our arguments on each other. There are actual, powerful forces out there that will require our collective strength to defeat. Let’s not lose our race to each other on the Internet.  

We were blaring Hamilton on the way to swim practice this morning when the song Dear Theodosia came on. My nine-year old says to me, “You know, Hamilton and Burr think they are enemies, but they want the same things for their kids. They have more in common than they realize.”

We have more in common than we realize.

I’ll see you at the finish line. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Team Love Warriors

Over the course of the last year, I've watched the discourse around the global refugee crisis expand. 

I've watched as we've divided ourselves onto tidy teams.

I've shared my opinions and perspective, on more than one occasion, and will continue to stand in solidarity with those seeking refuge from unimaginable horrors. 

I've listened, really listened, as those on the other team explain their fears when it comes to welcoming refugees.  I've come to understand that many who disagree with me share my compassion for those in crisis, but differ in opinion on how to help.  Unfortunately, I've also come to understand that others don't share my compassion at all, but that those voices are the minority.  I refuse to cast a broad stroke over those with whom I disagree - that kind of thinking is at the root of most conflict. 

So, I'm not writing today to try and recruit more members to my team (though, if you want to join, there are no try-outs and an unlimited number of spots).

I'm writing today to speak directly to my teammates.  Consider this a pre-game pep talk.   

Team - if you aren't already aware of the tremendous work that the Compassion Collective is doing, please start here.  And if you are aware, and have donated to this effort, read the update and see how you are making a difference. 

The refugee crisis will not be solved by a singular government agency, or a non-profit organization.  It is too big (but, unlike a bank, not considered too big to fail).  It will be solved by a collective of individuals, agencies and political policies, and it will require small actions from large numbers of people. 

And it's working.  Right now, the funds raised through the collective are feeding 6,500 people.  Providing tents.  Lanterns.  Cell phones.  Water.  These funds are literally saving lives.  Funds raised by people like you and me in no larger than $25 donations.


We can do small things with great love. - Mother Teresa  


This past weekend, I attended a SCBWI conference on writing for children.  I had the privilege of listening to Linda Sue Park, Newberry award winning author of A Single Shard, talk about the importance of story in transforming lives.  She shared the story of Salva Dut, a lost boy of Sudan who came to the United States as  refugee and orphan, was adopted, received an education and went on to found the agency Water for South Sudan.  Linda Sue Park's book, A Long Walk to Water, shares his story along with a fictional character, Nye, who represents the children in South Sudan.  It's a beautiful book, and one I recommend you share with your kids.  I sat through her presentation blinking back tears, but when she shared that since the book's publication, children around the US have collectively raised more than one million dollars for Water for South Sudan, they streamed down my face.  Children all over this country, including those living in socio-economically depressed situations, were moved to action for their fellow humans.  This is the power of story. 

Please read the stories of refugees.  Don't turn away.  I know it is painful to imagine, but it requires our collective imagination to solve this problem. 


Image from Momastery
The Compassion Collective needs our help again.  They need our small acts of great love.  In the next hour or so, Glennon Melton and her team of love warriors (hint- that's our team too) will be announcing a new initiative and we get to be a part of it.  Are you ready? 

And let's talk about that $25 donation, because I know for some of you, that's not pocket change.  It may require sacrifice.  Skipping a meal out or a night at the movies.  Or adjusting the meal plan for the week to include a couple nights of rice and beans.  A couple less shirts for the summer wardrobe.  I think those things are worth saving a life.  I hope you do too.

I'll be back to share the link right here as soon as they announce their goal later this morning.  But in the meantime team, let's get ready for the game.  It's not going to be a short one.  This isn't a nine inning kind of deal.  In fact, if you decide to be on the team of those who stand alongside refugees, you'll be playing this game as long as you live.  You may never see a final score.  But you'll see some home runs.  You'll see folks crossing the plate.  And that has to be enough for us. It has to be enough to hold our own children tight, grateful that we don't have to leave everything we know behind, and then take that gratitude and turn it into action for those who do.   It has to be enough to get to play at all.

“no one leaves home unless 
home is the mouth of a shark 
you only run for the border 
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.”
– Warsan Shire, continued here




Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Finding Courage in Raymie Nightingale

My very first post at All the Wonders is up today, and it's been such a joy to work with this team of talented and creative people who love to talk about children's literature as much as I do.  

Today, I'm on the site exploring the theme of courage in Kate DiCamillo's newest book, Raymie Nightingale.  I adore Kate DiCamillo's work.  For me, she is right up there with Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume when I think of authors who authentically capture the heart of children in their writing.  Her latest book is no exception, and I'd encourage you to pick up a copy to share with your kids.  It's a perfect summer read.  



“Have you ever in your life come to realize that everything, 
absolutely everything, depends on you?”
Raymie didn’t even have to think about the answer to this question.

“Yes,” she said.

Raymie Clarke is certain that absolutely everything depends on her. Everything having to do with getting her dad to come back home where he belongs, that is. And she has a plan. She is going to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, and when her dad sees her face in the newspapers, he will realize he has made a terrible mistake and come home.

Please visit All the Wonders to continue reading ...

Friday, March 25, 2016

Meet Emily Arrow + a Giveaway!

I love introducing readers to new books for kids, and today, I'm excited to introduce you to someone whose own love of children's books inspires her music.  Meet Emily Arrow! 


Emily Arrow is a music educator, singer, and songwriter who has carved out her own musical niche she calls kidlit tunes.  You already know how I feel about children's books, and many of you have seen the plentiful ukuleles that adorn the walls of our home.  So, when I first heard this talented, ukulele-strumming artist singing a song about Be a Friend, I became an immediate fan.  

Ukuleles + Kid Lit = YES!



I had a chance to catch up with Emily and ask her a few questions about her music.  She had some great things to share about her sources of inspiration, favorite books, and more.


What inspired you to write music based on children's books?  It's certainly a unique niche!
As a classroom music teacher, I began using my favorite picture books in the classroom in conjunction with my music units. For example, for Earth Day, I read The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Then I wanted to infuse music into each lesson that involved literature. After scouring the internet for resources and finding virtually nothing, I decided to create my own songs to go with books! I then began offering storytimes at local bookstores and developed my style, and ultimately genre, of kidlit tunes.

What artists/singers/songwriters influence your music? 

The most influential children's musician I'm influenced by is Raffi. I was raised on his music, specifically his album pioneering a movement to respect the Earth and its resources. His message-driven music gives me inspiration to create music that's simple and meaningful to all ages.

Music is a huge part of our family's life.  I started singing to my kids before they were born, and this blog is named after the Bob Dylan song that was our morning anthem all through their preschool years (though we usually sang the Elizabeth Mitchell version).  Now our home is filled with instruments and music of all kinds.  How do you encourage families to incorporate music into their daily lives?  What about parents who don't feel particularly musically-inclined themselves - any tips for sneaking more music into the day?  
I love to hear how musical your home is!! YAAAAY! There are lots of fun ways to include music in the home, starting with accessibility. An instrument should be just as accessible as an iPhone in the home. Percussion instruments like drums, egg shakers, and tambourines encourage rhythm and musical participation. I also recommend creating playlists together -  "coloring" playlist, "getting ready for school" playlist, "packing for a trip" playlist. This gives young listeners a sense of ownership over their music choices and builds a lovely relationship between experiences and music.

How about books?  What are your favorite tips for sneaking in a little extra reading time with the family?
 Not having a family of my own, I can imaging reading time is hard to come by. But I have a cool project that I recommend to parents of young readers: Video record yourself reading the story the night before during bedtime (or whenever your preferred reading time is). Then during the chaos of the day, why not sneak an extra read in by letting your kiddo watch? Parents tell me their kids get a kick out of this and it's fantastic modeling for them to watch a read aloud-even if it's their own parent!


What was your favorite book or books growing up?  What are some of your favorites now (that aren't featured in music on this album)?
So many! Growing up, I loved Corduroy by Don Freeman, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, and when I began reading on my own, I was obsessed with The Boxcar Children series. 

My favorites in 2016 (in addition to the album books of course) include Be a Friend by Salina Yoon,  I Love You Already by Jory John & Benji Davies, the newly released Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube, and the upcoming Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson.

What's your favorite part of performing for children?
Audience participation. We make kazoo sounds, we yodel, we draw in the air, we basically do everything fun you ever wanted to do at a show but couldn't because you're an... adult. 


I love Emily's creative ideas for integrating music and reading into our homes.  I think I need a "putting away laundry" playlist!  

Emily's debut album, Storytime Singalong, features songs based on some truly delightful picture books including Louise Loves Art, The Curious Garden and The Dot as well as several original pieces.  The sweet and memorable songs are a great way to extend the pages of picture books for your youngest readers.  
 
I'm giving away a copy of Emily Arrow's award-winning Storytime Singalong to one lucky reader!  If you'd like a chance to win the album, do any of the following for an entry in the random drawing:
1.  Comment on this blog (or on the social media outlet you read this post) and share one way your family incorporates music or reading into your daily life. 
2.  Check out Emily's YouTube Channel, then come back and let us know your favorite song!
3.  Share this blog post.

Make sure to tag in me in any of the above options so I see it and add your name to the drawing!
 
If you're not the lucky winner, you're still a lucky reader because you can purchase your own copy of Emily's album right here.   The deadline for entries is March 31st at midnight CST.  I'll announce a winner on April 1st - no fooling.  ;)   Good luck!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Three Things the Presidential Candidates Can Learn From Children's Books

It's voting day in Missouri.  In a couple of hours, I'll head up to the polls to cast a vote in the presidential primary, after what felt like the longest campaign on record.  And it's not over yet.  The behavior of the some of the candidates on the campaign trail has most of us ready for the finish line.  I can't open Facebook without seeing a parent bemoan the behavior of the current presidential candidates, and with fair reason.  The content and conduct at the debates has been embarrassingly less than presidential, and the rhetoric off stage far worse.  I've seen teachers say that their kindergartners have better manners and parents compare the tantrums of one candidate in particular to those of their toddlers.

So, of course, this made me think of children's books.  Wait, stay with me for a minute.  Think about it.  Our children learn so much through the books they read.   As Kathleen Kelly so famously said in You've Got Mail, "When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does."  I believe this is true, and it also makes me wonder what kind of books a few of our candidates read as children.

Maybe they need to go back to the basics and pick up a picture book.  They might learn a few valuable lessons they missed the first time around. Here are a few that come to mind:

"It's okay to change and grow."

The classic narrative arc of a picture book features a character who changes or grows over the course of the story.  Maybe they change a previously held belief, or grow to unearth something they had within them the whole time.   

In Where the Wild Things Are, Max escapes to the land of the wild things when he feels confined by the rules, only to discover that while making wild rumpus is every bit as much fun as he expected, he misses the comfort and belonging of home and family. 



In Julius, the Baby of the World, Lilly is unimpressed with her new baby brother Julius, but when another family member makes fun of him, she finds a fierce sisterly loyalty exists within her. 

Without these character changes, we'd end with Max living with the wild things forever (and possibly being eaten up) or Lilly perpetually spiteful to a new sibling.  It's the characters' capacity for change and discovery that makes them memorable and relatable. 

Yet, in current American politics, to admit to a change of heart or policy in the face of new information or experiences  is considered a weakness.  We end up with a candidate doubling down on racist speech rather than owning mistakes.  We end up with candidates refusing to confront their own past rather than admit to being a normal human being, capable of new ideas and discoveries. 

Be like Max.  Be like Lilly.  Embrace change and growth.


"Show, don't tell."

Sometimes, our candidates do express a change of opinion, but it still rings untrue to voters.  This is because they told us, but they didn't show us.

The best children's books let the readers come along for the ride of discovery.  Rather than page after page of past tense narrative, they offer readers a chance to see the growth and change in the characters through their actions rather than their words.



In Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Mr. Tiger is tired of the way things have always been.  He's ready to leave behind convention and get a little....wild.  The readers get to travel with Mr. Tiger as he sheds some of his formal self and heads into the wilderness on a path towards discovery.  He doesn't just say, "I'm tired of the way things are.  I'm ready for them to change."  He changes himself, and in turn, the town is inspired to get in touch with their wild side too.

When candidates say they stand for something, but nothing in their records or personal history or even present behavior demonstrates what they say, it reads false.  And we don't believe them.

Be like Mr. Tiger.  Show, don't tell.

"Give the reader a reason to turn the page."

Voters are looking for a leader who casts a compelling vision for the future and invites us to join in that course of action.  Anyone can stand at a podium and talk about what they believe, but it is harder to cast a vision that is both inspiring and achievable.  



In One Word From Sophia, Sophia wants a pet giraffe more than anything, and she has a plan to get one.  She casts her vision to every member of her family, using the stories and language she knows will resonate with each of them.  It's a lofty goal, yet we keep turning the page and rooting for Sophia the whole time.  She makes the readers believe in her vision by telling us exactly how she can achieve it, even if it seems a little too big to accomplish.

Our candidates could learn something from Sophia.  Tell us what you want.  Tell us how you plan to accomplish it.  Spend less time explaining how someone else won't be able to accomplish his or her vision and instead invite to us to come with you while you get the job done.

Be like Sophia.  Cast a vision that keeps readers turning the pages.

There's still six more months until the general election.  Plenty of time for the candidates to pick up a few children's books and learn something.  Because President Squid, though a wonderfully funny read for our bookshelves, does not belong in the White House.


"I'm great at doing all the talking.  I'm doing all the talking
right now." - President Squid










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