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Friday Five: Be Yourself

This week I thought I would highlight five books that encourage children to be their own person. I think this is something many kids (and adults!) struggle with so sending the message that you are okay just as you are is incredibly important. 

You Be You1. You Be You by Linda Kranz

This one is pure inspirational fluff. It has an incredibly obvious message. And that’s okay. Plus the pictures are what make this book for kids. The fish are all painted rocks and they make for something incredibly visually engaging to look at. Cam will pore over these pictures finding different sizes of fish, different patterns, and different colors. As a parent I love hitting that message that it’s okay to be unique. 


Doo-Wop Pop2. Doo-Wop Pop written by Roni Schotter, illustrated by Bryan Collier

This book is not overtly about being yourself. A group of shy kids come together with the help of the school janitor who teaches them to sing doo-wop. The group slowly comes out of their shells and connects with their class, their school and their community. The book shines in its themes of friendship and finding your place and encourages kids to find what their passionate about, even if it’s not what everyone else is about. Collier’s illustrations, as always, are beautiful. 



It's Okay to Be Different3. It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr

Todd Parr’s book also have messages loud and clear, but they are so positive and affirming. His illustrations are delightfully simple and bright. And many of the differences he highlights are funny and endearing. But don’t be fooled. There is depth here too. He encourages children to really be themselves even if it’s different from their peers or from what they are taught is “normal”. 



A Color of His Own4. A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni

 Chameleon changes color to match his surroundings, but he wants to have a color that belongs just to him. So he tries staying put in one place. On a leaf. You can guess what happens as the seasons progress. Then the chameleon finds a friend and he discovers that being himself is a lot better with a friend. 




Let Me Help5. Let Me Help! by Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Angela Dominguez

Perico just wants to help his family celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but all the activities he joins he makes a mess of. After flying down the street and out into the town Perico finds his family on their rented boat and discovers how he can be helpful just by being himself. Cam loves this book and the pictures are bright and colorful and inviting. The ending is very sweet as the parrot finds his place. 

Friday Five: Grandparents

With summer here many kids may be over at the grandparents’ house while out of school or the whole family may head off to visit grandparents. Here is a list of five great books about grandparents.

Tea with Grandpa1. Tea with Grandpa written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg

This is such a darling story about a little girl having a tea party with her grandfather. They pour tea and nibble on cookies together every week at the same time. The text is simple and the illustrations are lovely and gentle. A clever page turn at the end reveals, though, that the two are having tea over Skype. A great story for kids whose grandparents aren’t nearby. 




Sunday Shopping2. Sunday Shopping written by Sally Derby, illustrated by Shadra Strickland

This is the kind of book that I would have loved as a child. Every Sunday night Evie and her grandmother get out the sale papers, some glue and a pair of scissors. Together they go through and cut out things they would love to buy, from a ham for dinner and lunches that week to a special jewelry box. Sunday Shopping is such a lovely story about creativity, storytelling, and a special time spent each week with a grandparent. It isn’t stated whether Evie lives with her grandmother or just visits, but there is a picture of Evie’s mother on the night stand that shows her in uniform. I think a lot kids would love to try out the game after reading this story. 


Love as Strong3. Love as Strong as Ginger written by Lenore Look, illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson

Katie loves to eat the delicious food her GninGnin prepares for her. She also loves stories of the crab factory where GninGnin works. One day she is able to join her grandmother, rising early and watching what it is GninGnin does as the crab chong. Katie discovers that the day is long and hard, but that her grandmother continues so that Katie will have a better future. While the book is about the sacrifice the grandmother is willing to make for her granddaughter, it’s also about Katie’s realization of how much her grandmother loves her and how she shows it. 



The Airport Book4. The Airport Book written and illustrated by Lisa Brown

A family packs up their suitcases and heads for the airport. The text follows them through the various stops and processes that are involved with airports and flying and makes a good introduction for kids headed to the airport for the first time. The trip culminates in a beach vacation with their grandparents. The text is okay in this one, it certainly offers a lot to children curious about airports and flying, but it’s the pictures that make the book shine. There is so much to look at in them and lots of untold stories that you can follow through the book (be sure to keep your eye on Monkey who has an adventure of her own!). A good one for families headed on a plane to visit grandparents. 



Gooligulch5. My Grandma Live in Gooligulch written and illustrated by Graeme Base

I have loved this book since I was girl. It’s just plain wacky and fun, like most of Graeme Base’s books. The story introduces a particularly eccentric grandmother who lives in a tiny town in Australia and then follows her on an ill-fated trip to the seaside. Grandma has all kinds of animals that come visit her tiny home in Gooligulch and she encounters more on her vacation. There is a lot to look at in the illustrations (again, this is typical of Graeme Base’s books) and makes for a great time poring over. The end leaves the reader with the question, was any of this real or is it wishful thinking on the narrator’s part? It’s also fun to imagine if this was your own grandmother!

Friday Five: Ramadan

Ramadan started on June 5th and because of a very cool book and set we’ve been celebrating it. 

Ramadan Date Palm1. The Ramadan Date Palm written by Fatemeh Mashouf, illustrated by Vera Pavlova

This is the book that started it all, so to speak. Through one of my best friends I saw a crowd funding project for a book, stuffed toy, activity cards, and plate set that was intended to foster pride in Muslim children as well as excitement around Ramadan (i.e. not Christmas, watch their story here, you’ll see what she means). When the box arrived on our doorstep Cam was intrigued. After reading the book she asked to read it all over again right away. Then she started asking when Ramadan would start so we could do the cards and celebrate. The book is darling and while intended for Muslim kids would mostly make sense to kids of any faith. It does a good job of explaining what the holiday is and what it means for Muslims. For more on the story read my full review over on my library blog. You can hear the full story on their website as well as order a copy/set for yourself.

Under the Ramadan Moon2. Under the Ramadan Moon written by Sylvia Whitman, illustrated by Sue Williams

This makes the perfect bedtime story during Ramadan. It has simple rhythmic text and gentle pictures. It isn’t very long or involved either which makes it good for winding down or for sharing with young children. While it does give a bit of information on Ramadan, it’s not really intended to teach about the holiday. There isn’t a story here per se, but it does celebrate all the fun things that go on during the month. 


Party in Ramadan3. A Party in Ramadan written by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobsen

This book is a bit longer and might be better suited to slightly older children (although Cam enjoyed it).  Leena decides to attend a birthday party on the day she is fasting for the first time. At first she thinks it will be no problem, but as the party wears on and she runs around and sees chocolate cake, Leena isn’t so sure going to the party was such a good idea. The ending is very sweet as Leena has a conversation with her dad about how hard fasting can be. And it turns out her friends have saved her some cake and they drop by to share it after the fast has been broken. For older children this may be a familiar story, but it celebrates Leena’s accomplishment and strength in sticking with her fast despite the tempting chocolate frosting. 

Nabeel4. Nabeel’s New Pants: An Eid Tale retold by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrated by Proiti Roy

This story is just plain funny. Nabeel, while out buying Eid presents for his family, buys himself a new pair of pants. But there isn’t time to have the tailor hem them up. Nabeel goes around to his wife, mother and daughter handing out gifts and asking for help with his pants, but no one has time. They’re too busy making food for Eid. Finally Nabeel goes home and does the sewing himself. Feeling guilty, though, each woman sneaks over and hems Nabeel’s pants up a little more. A well-timed page turn reveals Nabeel in his new shorts! Oops. Fortunately they have saved the fabric scraps and are able to repair his pants. The text is a bit long, but so much of it repeats that it doesn’t feel long. It also gives kids the chance to jump in and say it along with you. I think this ties in with the idea from Rafiq and Friends that Ramadan should be fun for children and this will certainly help bring an element of humor! 

Ramadan Moon5. Ramadan Moon written by Na’ima B Robert, illustrated by Shirin Adi 

 Another sweet book that celebrates all the fun things that happen during Ramadan. I absolutely love the illustrations in this one. They are made with different types of paper and fabric, plus some pen and ink details. They are so arresting. I also appreciated that this book is set in Iran with an Iranian family. A lot of the books about Muslims feature Arab characters and it isn’t only Arabs who are Muslim. The story is a little longer than Under the Ramadan Moon, but is similar in content so if you have a slightly older child this might be a better fit. 


 Please note, there are other lists out there of Ramadan books. Many of them are fine lists. The books I have listed here, however, are appropriate both for Muslims children and non-Muslim children, meaning they don’t over explain the faith. Books with lots of extra information and definitions are not meant for Muslim kids, they’re books to help non-Muslims understand and I didn’t want a list like that. The other thing to be aware of is that at the end of Ramadan there is an Eid. Eid simply means holiday or celebration in Arabic, but the full name for Eid after Ramadan is Eid al-Fitr. There is a second Eid, Eid al-Adha which is the time when many Muslims make hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca. I have noticed that there are a couple books about hajj and Eid al-Adha that have been lumped, I suspect unknowingly, into Ramadan book lists. This indicates that the person making the list wasn’t especially clear on Islam. Am I saying I know all there is to know? No, not at all. Is exposure to books about Eid al-Adha a bad thing? No, but it kind of alienates Muslim kids who would know the difference. I tried to be sensitive in this list by adding books that Muslim kids can enjoy as much as their non-Muslim friends. 

Friday Five: Death

I am part of a group on Facebook that is for a bunch of moms (and a few dads). We ask all kinds of questions about kids and about life and use the hive mind to help us through parenting. One question that has come up at least three times are picture books that deal with the subject of death. Here are five books that can help you talk with your child about death, plus three bonus books since I feel like you can’t have too many in the arsenal to help you through a difficult discussion. Plus there is bound to be one that will work for your family.

Hugs on the Wind1. Hugs on the Wind wirtten by Marsha Diane Arnold and Vernise Elaine Pelzel, illustrated by Elsa Warnick

In this book a small bunny and his mother spend the day together in a field. As they go about their day the little bunny expresses sadness over missing his grandfather. His mother helps him see that he can send his grandfather hugs and thoughts through the wind, the stream, and the grass. It isn’t stated if the grandfather has moved away or if he died, but it certainly works in either case. The soft pastel illustrations reinforce the gentle tone of the book.



My Father's Arms2. My Father’s Arms Are a Boat written by Stein Erik Lunde, illustrated by Oyvind Torseter, translated by Kari Dickson

A small boy tosses and turns in his bed after being tucked in by his father. The boy returns to the living room to find his father also struggling to sleep. The two discuss the birds outside and the foxes. Then, tentatively, the boy asks if his mother is also asleep and will never wake. After confirming the truth, the father gathers the boy up in his arm and carries him outside for the two to enjoy a few minutes outside in the cold night. Then they come in and curl up together.

The black background and small, subtle color accents in the cut-paper diorama illustrations create a sombre tone in the story. The slumped posture of the father and the gently closed eyes drawn on their faces give the reader a sense of the weight of the death. The book is not flashy or obvious, in fact it’s quite contemplative. I think My Father’s Arms does a really lovely job of showing how grief can be shared between loved ones and celebrates the simplicity of a child’s understanding of death. 

Duck, Death and the Tulip3. Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch 

This book is particularly philosophical. Death appears one day behind Duck. Death is a charming small child-like body with a skull for a head and face wearing a checkered robe and skirt, black slippers and carrying a black tulip in it’s black hands. At first Duck is leery of Death, but slowly she comes to accept Death’s presence and discovers Death is not frightening. The two talk and visit the pond. Duck even offers Death a kindness and warms him. The two discuss what might happen after death. As summer comes to a close Duck begins to feel cold and asks Death to return her favor and keep her warm. In a moment Duck has passed. Death gently carries her to the river, places the tulip oh her breast and pushes her down the river. As Death watches Duck disappear he muses “But that’s life”. So true. The illustrations have few embellishments and feature the Duck and Death very prominently. Erlbruch does an incredible job showing emotion and expression on the faces of the their faces considering they have few facial features and change very little from one page to the next. 

Cry Heart4. Cry, Heart, But Never Break written by Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi

Along the same lines as Duck, Death and the Tulip is Cry, Heart, But Never Break. In this story three children are living in a house with their elderly grandmother. Death arrives on their door step one evening and in an attempt to prevent him from taking their beloved grandmother they try to keep death awake all night with tea. The soft watercolor illustrations are washes of grey, black and small pops of color. This soft palette and the flowing lines of the paint set a quiet, thoughtful mood for the book. Death, knowing the children are stalling, tells them a parable to help them understand that without death life has very little meaning. As the children grasp his meaning they allow him to take their grandmother. 

This is such an amazing book. It does such a good job of explaining why death is a necessary part of life and why life should be celebrated when we have it. It also encourages readers to mourn for their loss, but not to be consumed by it. 

Rabbityness5. Rabbityness written and illustrated by Jo Empson

In this book Rabbit is loved by all his friends. He is creative and fun. But one day he just isn’t there. The rabbits mourn for their loss of their friend, but realize he has left them with the gift of creativity in their hearts and they feel close to him despite his absence. The bright splashy illustrations match the upbeat presentation of death. 



Bonus books:

Sonya's ChickensSonya’s Chickens written and illustrated by Pheobe Wahl

A newer book about a girl who raises chickens from chicks. One night a fox sneaks into the coop and takes a chicken. Sonya is devastated until her father explains that the chicken nourished the fox and his family. It’s all in how you think about death in nature. 


Boats for PapaBoats for Papa written and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley

This is a story where it isn’t apparent that the father is dead. A little beaver send boats he has made out to sea for his papa to find. He believes that if the boat does not return to shore by morning it means his father has found them at sea and kept them. Over the course of a year he sends many out until one day he discovers his mother has been collecting them off the beach and stashing them. From this the beaver makes new meaning realizing that while he misses his papa he is grateful for his mother who has supported him and created a loving home. 

Friday Five: Makerspace

While I’m technically a stay at home mom I have cobbled together a few jobs that I do get out of the house for. One of these jobs is running the lower school makerspace at the school I’ve worked on and off for. A makerspace, if you are not familiar with the term, is simply a place you can make things. Sometimes they are high tech and for adults, sometimes they are full of recycled materials and art supplies for kids. If it’s truly a makerspace there is very little direction given to the people who use the space. Participants bring their own ideas and make them happen. Oftentimes there are people available to help teach a new skill (sometimes these are other members, sometimes they are staff) or lend a hand. But for the most part what goes on in the space is entirely student or participant driven. For kids, whose lives are often highly scheduled and directed, a makerspace can be both intimidating (what do you mean you aren’t going to tell me exactly what to do?) and liberating (wait, I can take this styrofoam block and make it into this invention in my head?!). 

For our kids, our makerspace falls somewhere in between the high tech and low tech. We have a mix of things like art supplies, cardboard, plastics, and even 3D printers. It was originally meant for students across our Pre-K through 12 school to use, but it’s been hard getting it up and running. So far it’s just been me in there with my lower school kids (2nd-5th graders). The kids absolutely adore the space and it’s been a very popular after school class. 

If you are interested in setting up your own makerspace I highly recommend looking at Tinkerlab. Either the book or the website. Rachel Doorley is awesome and totally gets it. 

This Friday I have five books that embody the makerspace spirit to get you into the mood for making.

Not A Box1. Not A Box by Antoinette Portis

An off-page narrator talks to a small rabbit about the box they are playing with. The narrator doesn’t quite get it, but the rabbit shows that the box is more than meets the eye. This is basically the whole idea of a makerspace. You have a need or find a thing and it inspires you to create.



Idea2. What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada

To be sure, this one is a little more abstract, but it’s a representation of how an idea can grow and become something. It’s very interesting and I highly recommend using it to spark discussion. 





Magnificent Thing

3. The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Again another book, this time featuring a little girl, about making something out of odds and ends. She gets frustrated, but after a little bit of time and a walk she comes back to the project. I think this is really important for encouraging kids to stick with projects. They often have a picture in their head of how something is going to turn out and more often than not it doesn’t work out quite how they had imagined. But that’s okay, we need to be flexible when making. 



Questions Questions4. Questions, Questions by Marcus Pfister

I know this one is very simple, but I think it really emphasizes that questions can come from anywhere and that they are worth exploring. I also like to use this in the library at the beginning of the research process. 



Doug Unplugged5. Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarnio

This is a story about a little robot who has been stuck in a room plugged into the computer learning facts. But when he sees a pigeon on the windowsill he becomes curious and unplugs to follow the bird outside. Doug ends up exploring his city, reinforcing what he’s learned, but also learning that there is nuance in the world and that it’s important to have experiences as well as learning from books and computers. This book encourages hands on experiences which the makerspace is all about. 

Friday Five: Books for Spring

I know spring may be slow in other parts of the country, but it’s here in California. My garden is getting going and the chickens are laying again. Plus the days are noticeably longer. Here’s a list of five books to help you welcome Spring in. For more books about spring check out this list on Goodreads. Many are about the four seasons and their circle, but many are specifically about spring. 

FloatFloat illustrated by Daniel Miyares

From Goodreads: A little boy takes a boat made of newspaper out for a rainy-day adventure. The boy and his boat dance in the downpour and play in the puddles, but when the boy sends his boat floating down a gutter stream, it quickly gets away from him. So of course the little boy goes on the hunt for his beloved boat, and when the rain lets up, he finds himself on a new adventure altogether.

This is such a beautiful book that celebrates those rainy spring days. Don’t discount wordless picture books. They give your child a lot of freedom to tell the story and add in their own details. Float contains a lot of interesting details within it’s illustrations that give you clues about what is going on and what will happen next. Those provide a good opportunity for you to draw your child’s attention to them as you notice them by asking questions and having them make predictions and really read the pictures. These skills then translate over into reading harder, longer books. But really, just curl up on the sofa with this one on a rainy day and then head out to make your own newspaper boat. 

Happy DayThe Happy Day written by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Marc Simont

From Goodreads: The woodland animals awake from their deep winter’s sleep to discover the first sign of spring: a flower blooming in the snow.

This story builds up beautifully as the animals of the forest wake up one early, early spring day. They rush off to see a sight which is not revealed until the final page. It’s the first flower of spring, a herald of the season to come. Even though our first flowers pop up in late January we understand the anticipation of spring. The feeling of a breath finally being let out after being held for so long. I love how it celebrates that joy of the very first sign of the end of winter. 

Rabbits and RaindropsRabbits and Raindrops written and illustrated by Jim Arnosky

From Goodreads: It’s the first day outside the nest for Mother rabbit’s five babies, and all sorts of new creatures and adventures await them. But when a sudden rain shower sends the rabbits scurrying for shelter under the hedge, the other wild animals come to visit them!

Another story that celebrates the rainy season. The illustrations in this are glorious. There are some small details to notice in them, but it’s the colors that will draw you in and the incredible ability of Arnosky to render such accurate and realistic scenes. The focus on the babies and their wonder at all that is new to them I think mirrors the wonder of children and childhood and is very relatable to young children. 

SpringSpring illustrated by Gerda Muller

I think I plug these every time I do a season post, but they really are great books. As with Float, this one is wordless. This time around there is less of a story being told and more vignettes that show various activities through the season. I will say they skew pretty European (thatching the roof?!) and Christian, but they are very beautiful and certainly capture the magic of the season. My daughter loves to look at these during quiet time and remember times she has dyed eggs or played outside in the spring which is a nice way to make a connection between real life and books.  


PancakesPancakes for Supper
written by Anne Issacs, illustrated by Mark Teague

From Goodreads: When her family’s wagon hits a bump, golden-haired Toby Littlewood is hurled into the sky and lands deep in the snowy forest. There she meets a prickly porcupine, an enormous bear, and a hungry cougar, among other fearsome creatures. Cleverly, she talks each one out of eating her by offering up her fancy clothes. In the end, in a competition to be the grandest beast, the vain animals chase each other around and around a maple tree, where they turn into maple syrup!

This one is set during the early spring just as the snow is melting, it also ties in nicely with Fat Tuesday if you celebrate that. The story itself is a retelling of Little Black Sambo, a deeply deeply racist story. Thankfully this one is not and does a good job of updating the story and making it funny. I highly recommend reading it and then having pancakes for supper. The “information” about maple syrup isn’t quite accurate, but you could talk about how maple syrup is made after reading this too. 

A Little Weekend Reading: We Should All Be Feminists

We Should All Be FeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

From Goodreads: What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay—adapted from her much-viewed TEDx talk of the same name—by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike.

This should be required reading for all parents of girls (both parents) and, quite honestly, parents of boys too. Adiche is an incredible writer (and speaker, as this was originally a talk she gave), but more than that she makes such excellent points. Points we should all be well versed in to help raise strong daughters, respectful sons, and end as much of the gender inequality as we can. 

“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not in our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”  

For the homeschooling and unschooling parent I think she often speaks to some of our ideals and ideas. The fact that the traditional schooling system does not address many of our concerns and feels more like it perpetuates ignorances and half truths, as well as falls into perpetuating stereotypes and incorrect ideas seems to be here in many of her points even though she is not speaking to that at all. This applies, at least for me, to both cultural, racial, and gender ideas, but here she speaks most to the gender aspect. 

“What if, in raising children, we focus on ability instead of gender? What if we focus on interest instead of gender?”

That part about interest really spoke to me. She also says:

“What struck me–with her and with many other female American friends I have–is how invested they are in being ‘liked’. How they have been raised to believe that their being likable is very important and that this ‘likable’ trait is a specific thing…We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case. We don’t teach boys to care about being likable. We spend too much time telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons. All over the world, there are so many magazine articles and books telling women what to do, how to be and not to be, in order to attract or please men. There are far fewer guides for me about pleasing women.”

I really think a lot of this stereotyping and inequality pops up in traditional schooling. I’ve seen it in action and am probably guilty of it myself in the classroom and at home. I cringe to think that and try to be aware of it. Reading things like this help bring it to the forefront of my mind and the more it gets in there the less likely I am to do it.

This is a very approachable read. Not because she isn’t an adamant feminist, but because it’s short and so readable. Adiche, as I said before, is an incredible writer and that comes through here. She could have come off very dry, making this feel like a college lecture, but it isn’t. She weaves in her own anecdotes and experiences. 

Certainly I am not doing this short piece justice in my review. All I can say is go read it. It’s available in print format for a few dollars or two dollars on Kindle. 


Cookbook Review: Good & Cheap

Good and CheapGood and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day by Leanne Brown

Through a local interest show on the public radio station I came across this cookbook Good & Cheap. I was more drawn to the message that author designed the cookbook to be used by people who live on the SNAP benefits program (food stamps). As I’ve talked about before we give to our local food bank once a month in an effort to help the community around us. I looked the book up and was enticed by the recipes for our own home. 

Brown developed the cookbook as a capstone project for her master’s degree. Using averages data she figured out how much each recipe would cost to make and keeps the costs down enough that you could eat three meals a day on the allotted $4 a day per person that the SNAP program gives you. Moreover, the cookbook is available as a free pdf download on her website. As someone who does not need to worry too much about the grocery bill (within reason, of course) I bought a copy of the book on Amazon. For every copy she sells she donates a copy to someone (or probably more accurately organizations that can reach someone) who needs it. 

The majority of the recipes are vegetarian since meat is expensive and ups the cost of most of the recipes. She also offers lots of good advice for those just learning to cook and those not super comfortable in the kitchen. While she uses ingredients that don’t cost a lot it’s easy enough to purchase more expensive organic ingredients if that is what you prefer. We have made at least a third of the recipes in this and not a single one has been bad. In fact they have all been incredibly good.

The best part? The vast majority of these recipes only take about 30 minutes to pull together and cook. There are a few, like the beef stroganoff, that take more time, but are well worth it. But most of them you could easily make on a weeknight when you’re feeling overwhelmed and have something healthy and inexpensive on the table for dinner (or lunch or breakfast).

I highly recommend seeing if your local library has a copy or downloading the pdf and trying out a few recipes to see if you like them. Then, if you do, be sure to purchase a copy (it’s only $10!) so she can donate copies to food banks and other service organizations.  

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Sail Away

Decolonize Your BookshelfSail AwaySail Away pictures by Ashley Bryan, poems by Langston Hughes

From Goodreads: The great African-American poet Langston Hughes penned poem after poem about the majesty of the sea, and the great African-American artist Ashley Bryan, who’s spent more than half his life on a small island, is as drawn to the sea as much as he draws the sea. Their talents combine in this windswept collection of illustrated poems—from “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” to “Seascape,” from “Sea Calm” to “Sea Charm”— that celebrates all things oceanic.

I’ve said before how much I love Ashley Bryan’s work, so when I saw he had a new book coming out I bought it without even getting from the library to preview it. I was not disappointed. 

The poems are absolutely beautiful and give you a lot to discuss about symbolism, metaphor, and forming a picture in your mind using words. Bryan’s pictures are also intricate and beautiful and do a wonderful job of pulling out important images from the poetry and splashing them across the page. If you love Lois Ehlert’s cut paper then give Bryan a try. 

I highly recommend reading through these once with your child then returning to the ones that really speak to you. Ask your child if they understand what is being said and help them form a picture of the poem in their mind by defining difficult and new words and asking them questions that get them to think deeply about what is being said. You could also pick one to say at night before bed. There’s a beautiful one about April showers that would be perfect for April nights. You could also get out some scissors and colored paper and ask your child to recreate one of the poems with the materials. 

Pair this with Ocean Sings Blue, another collection of poems about the sea or Water Rolls, Water Rises

Friday Five: Scottish Tales

Our family is part Scottish and while I’m trying to show Cam the wider world I also want to give her an anchor in our German and Scottish roots. Part of this has involved sharing cultural traditions and foods with her, but I have also tried to find stories that are part of those cultures. German fairy tales abound, but the Scottish tales have been more elusive. Below is a list of five books I have found that either retell traditional Scottish tales or use elements from them. 

Tam LinnThe Tale of Tam Lin written by Lari Don, illustrated by Philip Longson

From Goodreads: Janet is forbidden from visiting the woods near her father’s castle because legend says that long ago a local boy called Tam Linn was stolen there by the fairy queen and never returned. But Janet isn’t afraid of fairy stories. Deep in the woods, by a well, she meets a fairy knight – the famous Tam Linn, forbidden to leave by the evil queen’s spell. Janet decides to save her new friend, but when the queen and her army appear, fairy magic turns Tam into a whole host of Scottish creatures. Can Janet hold on long enough to rescue him?

I absolutely love this story. I especially like this retelling because it removes the romance. Janet simply saves the boy because it’s the right thing to do. Add to this that she isn’t some simpering princess. She is strong and brave and determined. An excellent role model for our girls. I’m all for love and romance, but I think sometimes it undermines the message of being a strong woman. 


The Selkie GirlThe Selkie Girl written by Janis McKay, illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane

From Goodreads: Fergus lives with his father by the sea, but is lonely. He wants a friend more than anything. One day Fergus finds treasure on the beach: a beautiful fur blanket hidden in the rocks. But Fergus doesn’t know that his treasure belongs to someone else – a selkie girl has lost her seal skin and can’t go home to the sea without it. Will Fergus give his new friend what she needs, and risk being lonely again?

Selkies are one of the mythical Scot-Irish creatures that come up in a lot of stories. This particular book doesn’t appear to be a traditional tale per se, just a tale that features a selkie. Both this book and The Tale of Tam Linn (and the following book on the list) are from a series of Scottish Tales. These retellings feature younger protagonists or, in the case of The Selkie Girl, kids. I think there is a lot of power in the stories as they originally were, but I think it’s also okay to retell them with children so kids see themselves in the stories more. 

StoorwormThe Dragon Stoorworm written by Theresa Breslin, illustrated by Matthew Land

From Goodreads: The Dragon Stoorworm was the very first, very worst dragon that ever lived. It was ginormous: almost as big as the whole of Scotland! The King of Scotland called for warriors to defeat the terrible dragon and save his daughter, the Princess Gemdelovely, from being eaten. But none who faced the dragon ever returned. 

This is both a creation myth and a bit of a love story. Gemdelovely’s father offers her hand in marriage, his sword and his kingdom for getting rid of the dragon, but she tells him that only she can give her hand. Gemdelovely’s not impressed with the knights that come and are full of bravado and keen on winning the kingdom. But when Assipattle comes along he is not full of braggadocio. He is interested in getting to know Gemdelovely and takes on the challenge of Stoorworm with the help of Gemdelovely instead of as a way of winning her like a prize. The ending is the best where he kisses her once and she takes the initiative and kisses him six or seven times back. I particularly like the final illustration that shows them sitting around the fire with a few beautiful objects like a plate of shortbread telling stories and singing together. 

Wee GillisWee Gillis written by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson

From Goodreads: Wee Gillis lives in Scotland. He is an orphan, and he spends half of each year with his mother’s people in the lowlands, while the other half finds him in the highlands with his father’s kin. Both sides of Gillis’s family are eager for him to settle down and adopt their ways. In the lowlands, he is taught to herd cattle, learning how to call them to him in even the heaviest of evening fogs. In the rocky highlands, he stalks stags from outcrop to outcrop, holding his breath so as not to make a sound. Wee Gillis is a quick study, and he soon picks up what his elders can teach him. And yet he is unprepared when the day comes for him to decide, once and for all, whether it will be the lowlands or the highlands that he will call his home.

I think you have to be Scottish to like bagpipes, but this is a zany story about them which you can enjoy without actually listening to the music. It’s also about the uncomfortable positions families put us in and about finding good compromises. It draws on highland-lowland rivalry too which shows some Scottish tradition (although I’m not sure how real it still is).

Wee BookA Wee Book o Fairy Tales in Scots written by Matthew Fit & James Robertston, illustrated by Deborah Campbell 

From Amazon: Here are six of the world’s best-loved folk and fairy tales, retold in lively modern Scots by Matthew Fitt and James Robertson. Familiar stories like Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin are given a fresh look and sound in these new versions, which are ideal for bedtime, nursery and classroom reading.
Includes: Cinderella; Wee Reid Ridin Hood; The Three Wee Pigs; Snaw White; The Billy Goats Gruff; Rumpelstiltskin

This one is more for fun. It’s five traditional fairy tales, but they are told in the Scots dialect or language. Since the stories are familiar it’s not too difficult to understand what they’re saying, but be forewarned Scots is not American English or even British English. It can sound very foreign, but also incredibly beautiful, particularly when spoken.

If you’re interested in Scots here’s an interesting radio piece (you can read it or listen to it at the link) from PRI about the first Scots Scriever (or writer) Hamish MacDonald. Just listen to him speak. Wonderful.