Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Meeting Hate With Humor

I got a book in the mail today that I'm really excited about.  I haven't actually shared it with any children yet; I'm on summer break from school, and my daughter is still a bit young for it.  I think it's a beautiful book with a great message, appropriate for older elementary students on up.

White Flour, written by David LaMotte, is an illustrated poem about a true event, a Ku Klux Klan rally that took place in Knoxille, Tennessee five years ago.  On this day, a group of white supremacists met their match: the Coup Clutz Clowns.  A group of counter-protesters dressed in clown suits came to the rally armed with props.  When the demonstrators shouted "white power!", they feigned misunderstanding and answered with phrases such as "white flour", "tight showers", and "wife power".  The clowns' antics have been captured incredibly well by illustrator Jenn Hales.

In the end, the clowns seem to have "killed with kindness".  The white supremacist group slunk away in defeat--an hour and a half earlier than their rally was scheduled to finish.

David's message is one of peace.  At the end of the book, he discusses that there are options when responding to aggression.  We commonly think of 'fight or flight', but he talks about a third option.  He writes, "If we can be creative enough to find ways to disarm hatred without either retreating or yielding to hatred ourselves, we often find that more constructive outcomes become possible." That is definitely a message worth sharing.

Visit for more about the book and the author's other projects.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

For The Girls

I don't talk with my daughter a lot about gender.  Amelia has friends that are boys as well as girls, and she spends a lot more time playing with her Thomas the Train set than her dolls. I like to think that I'm a bit of a feminist, but I realized recently that I don't always set a good example for my daughter.  

Case in point: Yesterday I couldn't get the garage door to close, and instead of taking two minutes to figure out why it wasn't working, I said to Amelia "Let's go find Daddy and ask him to fix it."  Well, it turns out it wasn't closing because I left my gardening bucket right under the door!  Apparently the door has a sensor, and it won't close if there's something underneath it.  When something mechanical goes wrong, "Ask Daddy" seems to be my standard answer.  But what message am I sending my daughter?

Amelia was playing house with her stuffed animals recently, and I noticed she had the mom cooking dinner while the dad was "at work" typing on his computer.  That's exactly how most evenings play out at our house (although I'm no domestic goddess; my husband could tell a few horror stories about my cooking).  I didn't intentionally plan for it to be this way, but the roles in our household are pretty traditional.  I clean, cook, and take care of Amelia's basic needs, while my husband fixes things around the house and does yard work.  There's nothing wrong with that; I'm happy with my life the way it is, but I don't want Amelia to think that she has to follow the same path.

We are starting to make small changes.  We recently got a grill for our new house, and my husband cooked an entire dinner this weekend.  I've started mowing a section of the lawn each week (with a push mower! I love the authentic exercise).  Even though my husband has only put our daughter to bed once, back in 2010 when I had to chaperon the prom, he has become part of the bedtime routine by taking over teethbrushing.  Baby steps.  Maybe one of these days I'll actually change a light bulb.

Although I might not always set a perfect example for my daughter, there are a few books in our collection at home with strong female characters.

My favorite princess story of all time is The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.

The heroine, Princess Elizabeth, is engaged to Prince Ronald.  An evil dragon comes along and burns their whole kingdom.  He kidnaps Ronald and puts him in a cave.  Elizabeth's princess clothes  have all been burned, so she dons a paper bag and uses her cleverness to trick the dragon into falling asleep.  She then goes to the cave to rescue Ronald, but instead of being happy to see her, he says:

"You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess."

In the end, Elizabeth runs off happily into the sunset--by herself.  This is an entertaining book with a great message for girls of all ages.

You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! by Shana Corey tells the story of the real Amelia Bloomer, who advocated for womens' rights alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  She had the courage to defy societal norms by wearing pants instead of heavy hoopskirts.  The pictures in the book are wonderful and the text is kid-friendly, telling Amelia's story in a funny, entertaining way.  It's a quick read full of  great history.

I found Players In Pigtails, also by Shana Corey, at the library recently.  If you liked the movie A League Of Their Own, you'll enjoy this book!  It tells of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that was formed during World War II.  I love fiction books, but it's also wonderful to find interesting picture books that are based on real events in our history.

The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is not a book for young children, but it's a book I will encourage my daughter to read when she gets to high school.  (Actually, if you're an adult looking for a great summer read, I encourage you to go find it!)  Instead of a traditional novel format, this book is told in a series of vignettes (translation: short scenes) that flow together to tell the story of Esperanza, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago.  It's a wonderfully written coming of age story.  My favorite vignette is A House of My Own near the end of the book, when Esperanza's describes the house she envisions for herself:

"Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man's house. Not a daddy's. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias.  My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody's garbage to pick up after...Only a house as quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem."

Beautiful, right?  I had the privilege to hear Sandra Cisneros speak this past spring at UNCA, and I thought she was an amazing woman.  

Links of Interest:

The Greatest Girl Characters of Young Adult Literature

The Amelia Bloomer Project

Monday, May 21, 2012

Appreciating Differences

My daughter Amelia is a quirky kid.  When we meet new people, she usually introduces herself as a fictional character.  One day she's Pinocchio, the next she's Cinderella, or perhaps Dora or Thomas the Train.  Amelia picks out her own clothes now, and her outfits often don't match.  She wears cowgirl boots with shorts sometimes and loves pink, but occasionally likes to shop in the boys' section (because I need boy clothes when I'm Diego, mama!, she tells me).  She greatly enjoys imaginative play and  loves to tell elaborate stories.

Most young children are quirky, aren't they?  They're fun to have conversations with because they haven't yet learned to filter.  Of course, filtering is a good skill to have as we get older.  It certainly would be weird if we all walked around saying exactly what was on our mind.  I do hope that, as she gets older, Amelia retains some of her quirkiness and all of her creativity.  I hope she will have the courage to be the person she wants to be, and will be accepting of others who are different from her.  As a mother, how do I ensure that happens?  I'm somewhat new at parenting, but I suppose showing unconditional love, encouraging her to follow her interests, and giving her lots of varied experiences is a good start. We've begun to talk about differences among people, and this theme comes up often in children's literature.

Here are a few of my favorite picture books that place a positive spin on being different.

The Big Orange Splot [Book]

The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Manus Pinkwater, is one of Amelia's favorite books.  The pictures are vibrant, sometimes comical, and the text includes some fun repetition.  The story begins with the introduction of the main character, Mr. Plumbean, who lives on a neat street where all of the houses look the same.  One night a bird comes along and leaves a big orange splot on the roof of his house, and instead of covering it up he uses it for inspiration to create a house that "looks like all his dreams". At first his neighbors think he is crazy, but one by one they also create houses that represent themselves.

An interesting note about the author: He was recently named #2 on a list of 'the weirdest children's book authors of all time'.

A Bad Case Of Stripes [Book]
In A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon, Camilla Cream is very worried about what others think of her.  She secretly loves lima beans, but won't eat them because it seems like all the other children don't like them.  Camilla develops "a bad case of stripes", and her appearance changes based on other people's suggestions.  She is finally cured with a big helping of lima beans, when she is able to stop caring about what others think of her.

The artwork in this book is excellent, but it might be a little scary for preschool students.  I have not yet read it with my daughter, but it was a hit with a group of third-graders I taught previously.

Stellaluna [Book]

Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon, is a bit of an ugly duckling friendship story (but better than The Ugly Duckling...really!). In this book, Stellaluna, a baby fruit bat, gets separated from her mother.  She finds her way into a bird's nest, where she is taken care of by the mother bird.  The mama insists that Stellaluna act like a bird, so she learns to eat insects and sleep at night.  However, Stellaluna never really feels at home.  When Stellaluna finally reunites with her mother and realizes what kind of animal she is, she's relieved to be able to follow her instincts and act like a bat.  Stellaluna does continue her friendship with the birds, though. The book includes some great dialogue between them as they discuss their shared traits and differences.

"How can we be so different and feel so much alike?" one asks. "And how can we feel so different and be so much alike?" asks another. "I agree," Stellaluna responds. "But we're friends. And that's a fact." 

It's an all-around beautiful story, and even contains a nonfiction section about fruit bats at the end of the book.