The Diverse Bookshelf: The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Parakeet Named DreidelThe Parakeet Named Dreidel written by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Suzanne Raphael Berkson

Today the book I’m sharing features religious diversity. While we have a lot of holiday picture books that line up with the religious and cultural celebrations that are specific to our family, but I also love to expose Cam to other holidays and celebrations. Since we aren’t about to crash Friday prayer or someone’s shabbat, I try to share books with Cam that give her a peek inside other families traditions. 

We are bird people in our house with all the chickens and ducks and the conures, so I thought this one sounded interesting. The author is very well known for his works for adults, too. That can be hit or miss with children’s book because, contrary to popular belief, writing good books for children is hard. I was delighted by the story, though.

One cold, snowy Hanukkah night a small parakeet turns up at David’s window. The family lets the bird in and spends a few weeks trying to locate the owner. The only real clue is a Yiddish phrase the bird can say (“Go to sleep, Zelda”). When no one comes forward the family keeps the bird and enjoys his company for nine years. Then, when David is off at a Hanukkah party in college, he tells the story of how they found Dreidel, the parakeet. A girl at the party, a girl David has been taking out on dates, excitedly tells him that she is the Zelda the bird knew. The next day the two families meet and Zelda’s family is overjoyed to see their beloved pet again. Except, with two attached families, who will keep the bird?

The story is set on a backdrop of Hanukkah, but it isn’t a particularly religious story. It’s really a book about how attached we can become to our pets and the joy they bring to our lives. This is a perfect theme for our family with all our animals. I like that it gives a glimpse into Hanukkah, but I wouldn’t use it as my only book about Hanukkah to teach Cam about the holiday and its significance to Jews. Still, we enjoyed the story. 

I had a couple complaints about the story. There are a few places where the text is a little overly descriptive or includes details that seem important to adults, but will just annoy kids. I think this may be a function of the story being written by an adult author or the book was originally a short story forced into picture book format. Also, it’s unlikely that the bird described would be a parakeet. They don’t live particularly long and rarely learn to speak understandable words. Its more likely that this would be a conure.

All told, I’ll be adding this to our collection and repertoire of holiday books. It was such a heartwarming story.

Diversity Swap: Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang

Ten, Nine, EightTen, Nine, Eight written and illustrated by Molly Bang

From Goodreads: Bedtime! A happy game to lure the most persistent sleep evader. A warm and reassuring countdown to the land of dreams.

I am not sure how many parents are aware of this title. I don’t tend to see it out on baby shelves at large commercial bookstores and it hasn’t come across my Amazon account so I’m guessing it isn’t as well known. This was apparently one of my favorite books as a child, but I have little recollection of loving it even though I do remember the book. 

It’s just a simple countdown book. As a little girl gets ready for bed you are taken around her room seeing different important objects and parts of the room, much like the rabbit in Goodnight Moon. Slowly she moves toward her father who picks her up and snuggles her before putting her in her crib. The colors are bright and inviting. It’s a quick story to read just before bed, but has a lot to look at if you want to extend the reading. 

If you read and enjoy Goodnight Moon try this one out too. It’s in the same vein of quiet bedtime book, but features a black father and daughter pair. 

The Diverse Bookshelf: Gordon Parks by Carole Boston Weatherford

Gordon ParksGordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

From Goodreads: His white teacher tells her all-black class, You’ll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know? Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed. His success as a fashion photographer landed him a job working for the government. In Washington DC, Gordon went looking for a subject, but what he found was segregation. He and others were treated differently because of the color of their skin. Gordon wanted to take a stand against the racism he observed. With his camera in hand, he found a way.

Don’t let the heavy-sounding description deter you from this fantastic little book. It does tackle some very difficult issues, but it does it in such an accessible way for young audiences. Carole Boston Weatherford tends to write picture books in verse, collections of poems that tell a story, and they are usually fairly lengthy books. I was surprised to discover that Gordon Parks was fairly sparse in terms of text. Each page has just a few short sentences with fairly easy vocabulary.

Of course, the simplicity of the text belies the difficulty of subject. Parks grew up and lived in a segregated country, and he was not living in the South. When he became a photographer he decided to document the racism and inequality he saw between the black and white communities. It’s here in the story that the book really shines. So much is said with so little and it leaves us, as parents and educators, with the perfect entree into asking open ended questions about these hard topics. Topics like racism and inequality that seem to be so front and center lately. Things that kids notice, but we (and by we I mean white parents), often try very hard not to look to directly at. 

The art in the book is wonderful. It has that vintage and modern feel to it, but instead of featuring buildings and classy inanimate objects, the focus of each illustration is the people. They fill the frame, they draw the eye. And that ties in so beautifully with the story itself. One about seeing blacks as human. Seeing working class people as human. The color palette is limited which makes it feel sophisticated, but also warm, inviting, and cozy. 

If you’re looking for a book about an interesting Renaissance man, this is it. If you’re looking for a book to help you start difficult conversations, this is it. Or just read the book and let your child make inferences. The message is there. 

The Diverse Bookshelf: City Shapes by Diana Murray

City ShapesCity Shapes written by Diana Murray, illustrated by Bryan Collier

From Goodreads: From shimmering skyscrapers to fluttering kites to twinkling stars high in the sky, everyday scenes become extraordinary as a young girl walks through her neighborhood noticing exciting new shapes at every turn. Far more than a simple concept book, City Shapes is an explosion of life. Diana Murray’s richly crafted yet playful verse encourages readers to discover shapes in the most surprising places, and Bryan Collier’s dynamic collages add even more layers to each scene in this ode to city living.

I know concept books can seem babyish, but this book is anything but. Maybe it’s the city setting that makes it feel more hip and sophisticated. The shapes the story presents are fairly basic, but there is a lot to look at on the pages and I think it can inspire your child to begin looking around them.

Murray has used rhymed couplets to great effect here. They give the book some music and really keep you turning the pages. The shapes shared in the book are pretty basic, but I think how they are being used focuses more on visual literacy than learning the names of shapes. 

I don’t know how Collier does it, but he illustrates the most amazing people. They always seem to glow on the page and your eye is drawn right to them. If you want to have an art discussion with your child, point out that Colliers has used a collage style for these illustrations. Ask them how they think the collage style lends itself to this particular story. 

I’m going to be using this book in a storytime this fall in my library. As I said above, concept books (books about a concept like shapes or numbers or letters instead of a story with a plot or straight nonfiction) can seem aimed at babies, but my purpose in sharing this book with older children to is encourage them to begin looking around them. If they can find shapes in the world around them, they can break art down into its composite pieces and analyze it which is a skill I’m going to be working on with my preschoolers. Looking around is exactly what the little girl in City Shapes is doing. 

After reading this I highly recommend you take a walk with your child and see what shapes you can find in your own house or neighborhood. 

Introvert parenting introvert

I know talking about introverts and extroverts became really popular after Susan Cain gave her TedTalk and published her book Quiet. I have seen her TedTalk, read the article she wrote in The New York Times (I think?) that sparked the idea for the book, but I have not read her book. The thing is I’ve known long before she became popular that I was an introvert. I’ve also known that introversion-extroversion is a sliding scale. My husband is a lot more outgoing than I am, but he certainly has some introverted qualities and I am far less introverted than some of my friends. 

When Quiet came out it inspired a bevy of articles about introverts parenting extroverts and vice versa. I think they offer a lot of food for thought and good advice. I read a couple of them when Cam was little and I began to wonder where she would fall on the spectrum of introversion-extroversion. Now that she’s a bit older (almost 5!!) I’m starting to discover the answer to that. Turns out she’s a lot like her father. She is outgoing, but still needs that alone time to recharge her batteries. 

This past weekend was an excellent example of how that works in our family. Thursday we went to the zoo for dinner with two families. Friday night we drove several towns over to have dinner with another friend’s family. Saturday we were out and about running errands and then went swimming at Grandpa Tom’s house, then dinner at another friend’s house. Sunday we went to a birthday party in Napa. I knew in planning this that I would be fried by the end of the weekend and I suspected Cam would be too.

Friday night ended in tears as we left our friend’s house. Cam didn’t want to leave because she was having fun. While she loves to play, she’s usually pretty willing to leave when it’s time. She has never been the kid you have to pry away from something kicking and screaming. The tears were the first sign. Saturday night dissolved in lots of tears and opposition. Sunday was a lot of the same. By Sunday there was a lot of asking if we were “there yet”, another behavior we rarely see, and yet more tears and clinginess. 

I knew when I planned the weekend it was going to be too much and I was right. I usually limit us to one “event” per weekend or every few days. I don’t think we had much choice this weekend though (many of these dates were the only ones that worked). I do think I could have been better about making sure we had breaks between activities and got to bed earlier. My husband was frustrated with Cam and I was too, but we also knew her brain was just overwhelmed and wasn’t getting what it needed to recharge. This meant lots of hugs and cuddles even though we weren’t really feeling cuddly. Thankfully, because I was just as spent I knew exactly how Cam felt. 

I guess my point in writing this is a reminder to parents to consider how your child needs structure and downtime. We all need to be sure they got enough sleep, ate recently, and aren’t getting overstimulated. But don’t forget the power of their personality in the equation when you start seeing difficult behavior. 

Diversity Swap: Wild Berries by Julie Flett

Starting this fall I am going to be regularly posting primarily on books. This is the start of one of three book series I am going to be running that gives you diverse book selections to try in lieu or in tandem with classics. While I am passionate about getting diverse books, which are often new books, into kid’s hands I am not advocating that we remove the classics from their hands before placing the diverse ones there. This series is intended to give you more books, not fewer to read. For similar recommendations be sure to check out We Need Diverse Books Summer Reading Series. They are doing the same thing, but feature a wide age range for their books. Book posts will appear (usually) on Fridays. 

This first book I am presenting is pretty close to the classic, but many of them won’t be exactly analogous. Most of us know Little Sal and her mother from Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal. If you are unfamiliar, go check it out. The art is lovely and the story is both funny and nostalgic. This classic has been around for ages, and with good reason. Children and parents alike love the story. 

Blueberries for SalFor another book about a grandmother and child going out to pick blueberries and enjoy nature, try Julie Flett’s Wild Berries. Both stories take place in similar locations. Flett’s book will work well for younger audiences as well as older ones (Blueberries for Sal is rather long, although engaging). I think this book, like Sal is very timeless. In Sal, it’s clear it’s the 40s or 50s, but really there is no reason this exact story couldn’t be happening today. The same is true in BerriesWild Berries also features the Cree dialect which can open up discussions about the number and variety of Native Nations that live across the US.  

Wild Berries

Flett’s art is incredibly beautiful, be sure to check out her other books (I particularly like We All Count, a counting book in Cree and English).

 

Books, Books, and More Books

So, you may have noticed that I’ve really been posting mostly about books lately. There are several reasons for that, the biggest being that this past year I was officially working in a library and my world has been books. I read a lot. I read to see if books are right for our library. I read to see if I can use them in lessons. I read them to see if they need to weeded out of our collection. I read them for fun. I read them to see if Cam would like them. I read them to Cam. 

Please don’t get the impression that libraries and librarians are all about books. I am not actually paid to read books. I am paid to shelve them, process them, and teach kids that come to visit me in the library. A big part of that teaching has nothing to do with pleasure reading. Nothing. At. All. I do work hard to make sure my students like to read, can read, and come in to read for pleasure. While pleasure reading is incredibly important, I also realize that it isn’t for everyone. Just like baseball isn’t something everyone wants to do. However, reading for information, reading to learn, reading to inform is of the utmost importance. So is evaluating what you are reading. Evaluating it critically. Looking at something and deciding if you agree. Deciding if an article is well reasoned and makes sense. Looking at who wrote an article (or book, or whatever) and sussing out their motives and evaluating those. Basically I teach critical thinking. That is what a librarian, especially a school librarian, is really there for. That is why you don’t see me writing a lot about literacy activities to force your child into interacting more with a book. I do write a lot about why or how a book might work for a family or child. That is just how I think about books. 

One thing I have become incredibly passionate about, and I’ve said this before, is getting more diverse books onto our library shelves. Personal libraries and institutional ones. And that’s where this passion and this blog have begun to collide lately. In light of all the recent crappy events in the world I think it’s more important than ever that we get positive representations of diversity (i.e. non-white) into our children’s hands, minds, and hearts. Books are an excellent, non threatening way to do that.

I am still trying to find how I want to focus my attention here and honestly that is a constantly moving target. I still plan on sharing what’s going on on the family farm and the things I am doing with Cam, but right now I want a space where I can promote books, particularly good diverse ones, with parents. I have a library blog that you can check out which is nearly all reviews, but I focus there on talking about books and how they can work for a library collection and that is very different beast from the home environment. 

The single best things you can do to make your child love reading are:

  1. Read to them
  2. Don’t make it a chore: No reading logs, no timers, no page number requirements.
  3. Let them choose what they read to themselves and what you read to them. Yes, even if that means a book you hate like Captain Underpants.
  4. Don’t tie it with punishment or reward: Don’t withhold reading for not doing chores, don’t make it a punishment for not doing chores, and don’t make them interact with a book they don’t like. If they have to read something particular for school I highly recommend you read it out loud to them. And PLEASE talk to them about why they are not enjoying it. Boring is not a response. Show them how to be more specific and articulate in their criticism. Encourage them to share those thoughts with their teacher. And be honest about your opinon about the book. I tell Cam all the time if I don’t like books and why (usually because they are racist).
  5. Read to them some more
  6. Did I say, read to them? Yes? Well, do it again. 
  7. Make sure they see YOU reading for pleasure. I know MANY parents that proudly say they’ve read all of two books in a year (or fewer) and yet fight with their children to make them read 30 minutes a day. Take a look at your relationship with reading. Seeing you read is going to be a much more effective motivator. And if you don’t hold yourself to a high reading standard, why hold your kids to it? If you don’t value it enough to do it 30 minutes a day, why would they? This also applies to #3. Don’t make them read high brow literature when all you read are New York Times bestsellers. By and large those are not high literature. That’s fine! We all read books to escape and have fun. Much like we all enjoy a candy bar or bag of potato chips from time to time. Just know that kids and their reading habits can and will look like yours. Just like your eating habits. 
  8. Know that reading doesn’t just happen in chapter books. Picture books are reading. Comics are reading. Text messages are reading. You read all day everyday, you just don’t think about it. You read emails, tweets, articles online, Facebook. That’s all reading. Don’t hold your child to an impossible standard of only reading the most difficult nonfiction text they can. And make sure they know reading comes in a lot of forms and formats including audiobooks. Even if they aren’t your preferences, they might be for your child. 
  9. Make sure they are seeing other people in books as well as seeing themselves. This can be difficult, but keep looking. 
  10. And just for good measure, read to them. Even when they seem way too old. 

Friday Five: Trucks and Big Machines

I think all kids love trucks and big machinery and my daughter is no exception. It’s always an exciting experience when there is road construction going on. We peer out the window every time I hear the street sweeper go by. Here are five books that celebrate trucks and construction equipment:

Truck Talk1. Truck Talk : Rhymes on Wheels written by Bobbi Katz

I’m sorry to say this one is out of print. I do belive you can find it used and we were lucky to find it a couple years ago reprinted through the Scholastic school market (in one of those book orders that schools always have). It’s a collection of short, clever poems. Each one focuses on a different type ot truck and it explains what it’s purpose is. Our favorite, the car transport truck that carries cars piggyback. Each poem also includes a picture or two of the truck in action.

 

 

 

 

Stanley the builder2. Stanley the Builder written and illustrated by William Bee

I’ve talked about Stanley before I think. He’s a busy little rodent. The text in these books is incredibly simple as are the illustrations and yet, they are so appealing. We read these all the time and neither of us gets tired of them. In this book Stanley is helping build his friend Hattie’s house. In the process he uses several trucks/machines to help out including that orange bulldozer that is on the cover. 

 

 

 

 

Construction Site3. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site written by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

I don’t particularly like this book. For one, it’s a bestseller and that usually indicates average to low literary quality and high marketability. But Cam loves this book and so do a lot of young children I know. The story says goodnight to all the different machines found on a construction site. Pretty basic premise. The illustrations are cute. 

 

 

 

 

 

Diggers go4. Diggers Go written and illustrated by Steven Light

This one is a little young, but it’s just so much fun! Especially that wrecking ball. I think it was this book that inspired Cam to ask if they would be using a wrecking ball to tear down the house behind us. Ha! It makes an excellent read aloud with all the noises that the machines make. Get silly and really make the sounds. Have your child join you. The form factor is interesting on this one. It’s short and long. Sometimes it’s fun to mix up the size of the books you interact with. 

 

Truck5. Truck by Donald Crews

I love Crews illustrations. They have such clean, neat lines in them. Truck follows a truck on it’s journey to deliver tricycles. It’s wordless so you can make up the story as you flip through the pages. There are lots of things to look at and speculate about. I know wordless books seems like they’re for very young children, and they certainly can be, but don’t rule them out for kids who can read. They give children the opportunity to tell a story and focus on their visual literacy. It’s a good place to ask them why they think a certain action is happening (what clues are in the illustrations) or why they think something is part of the story. 

 

 

 

Bonus titles: Here are a few other books you might want to check out.

  • Trucks written and illustrated by Byron Barton
  • I’m Dirty, I’m Fast, I Stink, I’m Brave by Kate and Jim McMullan
  • Demolition and Construction by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock

The Diverse Bookshelf: Furqan’s First Flat Top

Furqan's First Flat TopFurqan’s First Flat Top written and illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo

Furquan has always worn his hair short and curly, but one day he decides that he wants to try a new style. He asks his dad to take him to get a flat top. The two venture down to the barbershop where Furqan frets over what the new hairstyle will look like and if it will be too flat. Dad calmly reassures him until Furqan can see the new ‘do and realizes how fresh it looks. 

Why is personal hygiene so hard for children? In our house we battle over toothbrushing, showering/bathing, hair brushing, and changing clothes. Battle may be too strong a word, but Cam hates anything that resembles self-care and I don’t think she’s alone in this aversion. 

I originally bought this book for my library where I’m trying very hard to get a lot more diverse literature onto the shelves. It is a a little self-published jewel, funded by a Kickstarter campaign. When the package arrived, beautifully addressed and complete with three stickers of some of the artwork, Cam wouldn’t let the book go. We’ve read it several times since at her request. I’m going to have to buy another copy for work. 

Liu-Turjillo’s watercolor illustrations are as masterful as they are charming. He perfectly captures Furqan’s expressions and body language. Throughout Dad has this gentle, loving expression on his face that perfectly matches his calm reassurance and support. I really think the illustrations are half the appeal here. All the people are so expressive and you know exactly the conversations they’re having just by looking at them. The barbershop is bright and lively and interesting. 

Liu-Trujillo also perfectly captures the weird, illogical anxieties kids have over everyday things, like haircuts. Furqan frets that his hair will be flat like a record or a skateboard or a pancake. Those are things kids would come up with and worry about because they’re flat, even though they don’t resemble hair at all. What I initially thought would be a good book for my library about the worry a child feels about changing their look, turned out to be a great book to help Cam verbalize her nervousness about a first haircut. I think she likes seeing another child struggling with the idea too and may eventually come around. 

One final thing to say, there is a mother mentioned in the text, but she isn’t part of the story. I love seeing and reading books to Cam about involved and loving fathers. This is an excellent example of one such story. 

A worthwhile addition to any bookshelf, whether or not hair brushing is an issue in your family.

Friday Five: Potty Training

There are a lot of different facets in potty training, from underwear to pee and poo to sitting on the potty, and my daughter has struggled with each one. She is still not fully trained at nearly five. Over the past few years I have gathered a number of potty training books to help her process through her worries. Here are five, plus one bonus book that we’ve found helpful. 

Underwear Book1. The Underwear Book by Todd Parr

Todd Parr was on last week’s list too because all his books are wonderful. This one is great for kids who are unsure about wearing underwear. He tells you a list of dos and don’ts that are guaranteed to make you laugh hysterically. It also features a wide range of (oddly) colored people, male and female, human and animal. The underwear are in all different styles, maybe some more comfortable and plausible than others. 

 

 

Vegetables in Underwear2. Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman

 Another one that is meant to convince reluctant underwear-ers that they’re the bees knees. This one is totally hilarious showing all different vegetables modeling their skivvies. The broccoli on the cover walks you through different kinds and when you wear them. Then he finds some babies. But wait, babies don’t wear underwear. Sorry, babies! 

 

 

 

The Saddest Toilet3. The Saddest Toilet in the World written by Sam Apple, illustrated by Sam Ricks

For those kids that are a bit hesitant to sit on the potty. I think adults will appreicate this one as much as the kids. There are plenty of subtle nods to potty humor. Danny won’t sit on the potty, he’s not sure he’s ready. The toilet is saddened by this and runs away from home. Danny and his mom go out to find him in the city and Danny finally feels ready to sit on the potty. 

 

 

Ruby's Potty4. Ruby’s Potty by Paul and Emma Rogers

A rhymed book about sitting on the potty and using it as intended. Ruby does a lot of things with her potty. Everything maybe. It goes in the bath tub, it goes to the park, it even carries art supplies. The one thing she doesn’t do is sit on it and pee. Will she be able to figure out just what a potty is for? I suspect she knows all along, but hasn’t chosen to use it yet. The end features a triumphant Ruby holding the potty up. A good book for sharing what exactly that funny little pot it used for. The book is sadly out of print, but if you can find it used it would make a good gift with a new potty. 

 

 

Time to Pee5. Time to Pee! by Mo Willems

Okay it totally walks you through what to do when you get “that funny feeling”. Hoardes of mice holding signs, wearing crazy headgear, and hanging in different poses present the words in the book and help the little friends along to the potty where they pull their pants and undies down and pee. Ends with hand washing which surprisingly not all potty books do. 

 

 

Polar Bear's UnderwearBonus Book: Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera

Polar Bear can’t find his underwear so his friend mouse vows to help him. They go through the book finding various pairs of undies, but none of them are Polar Bear’s. This book is absolutely hilarious. Kids who love to laugh at underwear will be on the floor with this one. Each page features a cut out of underwear and the page turn reveals who is wearing it. But it’s the conclusion that is the best. Polar Bear has been wearing his tighty-whities all along! He just couldn’t see them because he is also white. Oops. The humor in this just might convince reluctant underwear-ers to put on a pair.