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I want my children to read about diversity

This might seem like a weird thing for a white mother in WA to be worrying about, but…

I want my children to read about diversity.

Last Saturday Grammy took all of her grandchildren to see the Village Theater perform “Big River”.  Every time I encounter Huckleberry Finn I gain new insight.  Hearing him sing was no exception.

“Big River” had some bad words, most especially the bad word that sometimes bans Mark Twain from schools.  But I knew that my son Bruce could handle it, even though he’s just seven.

That’s because we spent all of September reading books about the African American experience.

When I saw the character Jim on stage, trapped in a shed and singing about wanting to fly away, I thought about the stories my son and I read together from The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton.

In the car on the way home from Everett,  Bruce and I had one of those parent-child conversations that you dream about.

But here’s the problem:

I searched and searched for books by African American authors and had a boat-load of trouble finding any.  I don’t know if you can tell from that picture, but four out of ten of those books, are by famous people.  If you are African American, do you need to be a movie star to get a children’s book published?

That’s why when I read the article Will Latino Stories Sell by Laura Lacamara, I was so intrigued.  Is that what’s happening with books about African Americans too?

This is actually a question I’ve been meaning to email Mary Kole, author of Writing Irresistable KidLit for a long time.  (You can read my full review of KidLit here.)  Writing Irresistible KidLit shows a keen analysis of trends happening in the MG and YA market today.  The one thing I didn’t see Mary Kole mention specifically however, was this question I have about the lack of books written by or about African Americans and Latinos.  Has the upswing in the MG/YA market left without them?

If I put my fourth grade teacher hat back on, I know that Christopher Paul Curtis, Mildred Taylor and Gary Soto are master writers.  But where’s everyone else?  I looked and looked and couldn’t find anyone in our library.  Are African American and Latino authors not getting published?

In the picture book market, I keep seeing Amazing Grace everywhere.  Isn’t the author Marry Hoffman a white woman from England?  Don’t get me wrong, I love that book.  But if I was an African American picture book writer from Detroit, I might be a bit miffed.

I understand that publishers need to make money.

So maybe this is what moms like me need to be saying:

I will buy books for my children written by culturally diverse authors!

Who’s with me?

Teaching My Baby to Read Salutes Pacific Northwest Writers

The book version of Bella's truck is on the left, the movie version is on the right.

The book version of Bella’s truck is on the left, the movie version is on the right.

I am very excited to announce my 2012 Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers which will run from Sunday, September 30th, to Saturday, October 6th.

As a mom it can be hard to find time to read books. Sometimes reading two pages in a row without being interrupted feels like trying to climb Mt. Rainer! But sharing the journey of other families through literature can also be inspiring.

Here are some of the books and authors you can look forward to hearing more about:

On Sunday, September 30th I’m kicking off this salute with a review of One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler. This book is by Oregon mom and blogger Tsh Oxenreider. You are probably already familiar with Tsh because she is the creator of Simple Mom.

On Monday, October 1st I will be blogging about Crow Planet, by Seattle urban naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt.  I’m also excited to review the debut middle grade novel Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School, by Seattle author Kim Baker.

On Tuesday, October 2nd I will share some of my favorite books by Portland author Ann Cameron, and Bainbridge Island author Suzanne Selfors.

On Wednesday, October 3rd check out my HearldNet blog “I Brake for Moms” for a review of the fabulous YA novel Running for My Life by Ann Gonzalez.  Right here on Teaching My Baby to Read I’ll be reviewing two picture books from Lindsey Craig.

On Thursday, October 4th I’ll blog about Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition by Seattle author Katherine Malmo.

On Friday, October 5th I’ll write about one of my all-time favorite picture books: Goodnight, Garden Gnome by Jamichael Henterly.

On Saturday, October 6th I’ll share reviews about some of the many children’s books by Tacoma author Kathryn O. Galbraith.

P.S. If you have a Pacific Northwest author you think is worth me considering, please tell me about it in the comment section below.

“Zoe Gets Ready” meet “Ladybug Girl”

A few posts ago I did a mash-up about Equiano and Manjiro. That got me to thinking about presenting books for children in pairs. It’s kind of fun! So here is another dynamic duo for you…

If you have a little girl who loves to try on clothes then Zoe Gets Ready by Bethanie Murguia will be painfully familiar. I can really relate to Zoe’s mom, and Jenna responded instantly to Zoe.  (Seriously,  my daughter changes her outfits at least six times a day. It’s like we live in “Downton Abbey” or something.)

Zoe Gets Ready reminded me a bunch of Ladybug Girl by David Somar and Jackie Davis. Both books are about imagination, possibility and the power of accessorizing. Jenna’s favorite part of Ladybug Girl is the inside cover that shows Lulu wearing all of her different costumes. She always gets hung up on the Lulu that looks like Gloria Steinem. That’s Lulu’s “movie star” outfit…(I think).

Why your children should meet Manjiro and Equiano

Two stories; both true; both about young boys separated from family and homeland by racism, cruelty and ignorance. I am talking of course, about Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus and The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Ann Cameron.

Nakahama Manjiro and Olaudah Equiano are real life heroes that young children can aspire to. Not only did they manage to stay alive under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, but they used their words and talents to make a difference in the world around them.

I’ve been thinking about both stories lately because I’m pondering creating two new Afterschooling reading lists for children. One would focus on Asian American literature, and the other would be African American literature. If you have any must-reads for either of these lists, please let me know.

A Dream Library for Your Children

Excuse me while I drool. For part of my Inspired by SLE a Reading List for Children Part #3 I purchased Who Was Anne Frank, Who Was Charles Darwin and Classic Starts: Frankenstein. Now it’s only a matter of time before my wallet starts burning  and I order a whole bunch more from both the “Who Was” and “Classic Starts” series.

Bruce(7) was already familiar with the “Who Was” series, because it is responsible for his highly detailed knowledge of the Beatles and Harry Houdini. When I sat down to read the Anne Frank and Charles Darwin books, I was really impressed by how the publishers covered serious material in a safe way for children. That they could make history seem so entertaining for young readers, was an added bonus. Unfortunately, our public library system only has a handful of the “Who Was” series, which is really disappointing.

As for the “Classic Starts” series, I was totally unfamiliar with it until I read their version of Frankenstein. I was really impressed how the publishers were able to translate the story into something that was easy and fun for kids to read, without losing the big-picture themes of the story. There are discussion questions at the end of the book, as well as a short essay for parents by Arthur Pober, EdD. This is what he writes:

“Reading an abridged version of a classic novel gives the young reader a sense of independence and the satisfaction of finishing a “grown-up” book. And when a child is engaged with and inspired by a classic story, the tone is set for further exploration of the story’s themes, characters, history, and details. As a child’s reading skills advance, the desire to tackle the original, unabridged version of the story will naturally emerge… When we look at the issues, values, and standards of past times in terms of how we live now, we can appreciate literature’s classic tales in a very personal and engaging way.” (pp.151-152)

Exactly! That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with my kids through all three of my Inspired by SLE Reading lists. I know my seven-year-old was able to finish off that version of Frankenstein in less than 40 minutes, but I also know that since it will be floating around our home library for the next few years, that he is likely to read it again and again. Gouge me in the wallet now, but I want the entire “Classic Starts” collection!

Here’s what I’m going to do in the meantime (before I win the lottery).  I’m adding both series to my Grandma Please by This! page. That will at least be a good start. Any of these books would be great future presents for Grandma and Grandpa to buy.

Grandma Please Buy This!

When Painters Come to Your House

This is what our house looks like at present.  We have this crazy wallpaper removal and wall repair project going on right now, and it’s been rough keeping my kids safe and out of the way.

There’s been between one and four painters here working hard every single day all week, and they won’t be finished until next Friday.  We are so lucky that the insurance is paying for half of this, because as it is the only summer vacation our family will now be taking is going to involve tents.

I didn’t even include a picture of the worst part of all of this, which is that all of my grandmothers’ china and crystal is spread out in my kitchen, because they had to move the china cabinet.  It’s only a matter of time before something breaks.

Coincidentally, Jenna(2.5) and I happened to check out The Great Gracie Chase: Stop that Dog! by Cynthia Rylant from the library.  It is a story about a dog named Gracie who gets frightened and annoyed when painters come to her house!  I wish I could say that I planned this, but I didn’t.  It was just a lucky day at the library.  So if you ever have workmen come to your house, keep this book in mind.

I Read/You Read Challenge

Guided Reading is arguably the most important of all three types of reading. When you and your child read the same book together simultaneously, and then discuss what you have read, you can help your child learn new vocabulary, reading comprehension strategies, and the begins of literary interpretation. Guided Reading is so much more than just Independent Reading or Read Aloud, and yet it can be darn near impossible to fit into your Afterschooling schedule.

It is a lot easier for me as a mom to do meaningful Guided Reading activities with Bruce(7) over the summer.  During the regular school year, it is much more of a struggle. One way I’m trying to keep the ball rolling is by utilizing our “I Read/You Read Challenge” box. The way it works is simple; when Bruce finishes a book he drops it in the box and then I read it too so we can talk about it.

In theory, the box is also supposed to work in reverse, with Bruce reading books I put in there as well. I say in theory because between trying to read everything Bruce has read, keep up the newspaper, and read the occasional Booksneeze book, I haven’t actually added anything to the box for a while. But if I was staying up late to read fifth grade chapter books instead of blog, I’d be able to stretch Bruce’s repertoire of interests by adding new titles to the box. That’s the deal.

It would be even better if I kept a stack of post-its in the box, so that we could write little notes to each other as we read. At the moment, we have to keep pens and pencils under virtual lock-and-key because Jenna(2.5) considers herself a “wall artist”. She would also love to get her hands on a stack of post-its. Sigh…

Rumi Whirling Dervish, by Demi

First off, let me say that I am really behind my SLE Inspired Reading List #2 postings. Rumi Whirling Dervish by Demi has been sitting on my desk for a while, but not because it isn’t an engaging, artful book to read with children. I don’t like to share too many images of the inside of books, because I want to be respectful of Copyrights, but here’s a glimpse at the beautiful illustrations and text in Rumi:

Rumi lived over 800 years ago and settled in Turkey, even though he was born in Afghanistan. He is most famous for inventing/establishing the order of the Whirling Dervishes, who believe their spinning brings closeness to God and peacefulness to the Earth.

Rumi was also a prolific poet. Here is a brief excerpt about Rumi from the book’s jacket describing his poetry: “He wrote about the love that resides in the soul of everyone regardless of religion or background.” All of the poems included in this book were really lovely and not too difficult for children to understand.

From a current events perspective, this was a really interesting book to read with my son Bruce(6.5) because Rumi was born in Afghanistan, and his family traveled through the Middle East before settling in Turkey. Reading Rumi was an easy and meaningful way to expose my son to poetry and culture from that region. It was also nice to read a picture book with him again, because he usually won’t stand for anything he perceives as “too babyish”. In fact, I am going to be adding any book I can find by Demi to my library holds list.

P.S. Now that I’ve finally finished writing up Rumi Whirling Dervish, I can go place it on the bookshelf, or another ulterior location than my desk.  (Sorry.  I had trouble working in my SAT word today.  :))

Organizing Your Home Library

(Our current set-up)

When I first started my blog early in 2011, my son Bruce was five and a half years old and reading at about the 3rd grade level. I wrote a post about how I organized our home library to support Guided Reading.

(Earlier in the year)

Since then, Bruce has entered first grade, had a birthday, and is now reading at the fourth or fifth grade level.  My husband has brought down even more books from the garage, and our home library/playroom has gotten a bit hairy. So today I tackled the mess. Luckily for me, Jenna(2.5) is the rare two-year-old who is not a “dumper”. For some reason it has never occurred to her to empty out one of the Guided Reading baskets, even though she is now tall enough to reach them. This has continued to allow me to organize our chapter book collection thematically and by author.

It would be better to have sturdy wooden or plastic boxes for this system, but the drawer organizers I purchased from Ikea are a lot cheaper, and do the job in a pinch.

If I had more space, I would continue the box system on into the picture books, but that is simply not an option unless I purchase more bookshelves (and had space to put them). So for now, masking tape has to suffice. As you can see, not all of the books are organized. The rest could be labeled “General Fiction”, but I didn’t want to be too neurotic!

There is an empty basket near the recliner in the corner for Jenna to dump books that she has finished reading. That way I can put them back myself in order, and keep tabs on what she’s looking at. Having a “return basket” is also a tip you could use if you had a nanny. That way you could see what books your child was reading while you were at work.

If you turn a lot of our books over, you will find the Guided Reading level written on the back with Sharpie. An alternative way to organize your box system, is by actual Guided Reading level. In many Balanced Literacy classrooms you will see a K box, an L box, and M box etc. The benefit to having the Guided Reading level on the back of your books is that it helps you and your children choose books at the appropriate reading level. Jenna is not ready for this to make a difference of course, and Bruce is way beyond needing this type of assistance. But for beginning readers, this can really work wonders.

It takes a lot of time to look up and label the Guided Reading level of each book, but an additional bonus is that it will help you quickly assesses and monitor your child’s reading level. You simply pull down a book and see if your daughter can read it. If it’s too hard, move back in the alphabet; too easy, move ahead. Just right books are ones where a child makes no more than three mistakes on the first page.

Looking back through all of these pictures I keep thinking to myself “Holy cow, that was a lot of work!” But as a former teacher, I know that organizing a classroom library helps kids feel less overwhelmed by their reading options. It can also help reluctant readers gain footing on the path to becoming strong readers. Once they find the type (or box) of books they like, they know where to start. Hopefully, once they start reading, they will never stop.

I Am Utterly Unique

If you need Christmas gift ideas for a family with a child who has Asperger’s Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism, I am Utterly Unique by Elaine Marie Larson could be a good choice.  It is an ABC book with a very positive spin about the attributes and abilities of high functioning ASD children. It includes everything from being detailed oriented to having “precise pronunciation”. 

This is also a good book for families with children of all ability levels to read, in order to promote understanding and empathy for the ASD people who are, or will someday be, in our lives.  Our local library happened to have it on the features shelf this past week, and I was very happy to check it out.

Cabeza de Vaca for Kids

Bruce(6.5) and I recently read We Asked for Nothing, The Remarkable Journey of Cabeza de Vaca by Stuart Waldman, as part of my Inspired by SLE Reading List Part 2. It is an adaption for children of Cabeza de Vaca’s memoir: Adventures in Unknown Interior of America. I’m not sure if this was on the SLE reading list back when I was in college or not. I don’t remember any of this story at all, but I do have a visceral memory of hearing and saying “Cabeza de Vaca” over and over again. So perhaps I did read this almost fifteen years ago, and none of it sank in.

We Asked for Nothing is a picture book written at a fifth grade reading level or above. It deals with serious issues such as racism, prejudice, slavery, starvation, religious faith and survival. I felt very comfortable reading it side by side with my first grade son in a Guided Reading context, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to just hand this book over to an advanced six year old and say “Have at it.” Discussing the material is key. A nice feature of the book is that quotes from Cabeza de Vaca’s original text are inserted throughout the story, so that children get a chance to experience the primary source.

The illustrations in this book are beautiful, and I can’t help but wonder if I would have remembered what I read back in college better if I had also had access to the children’s version of Cabeza de Vaca’s story!

If you are from Texas or the Gulf Coast We Asked for Nothing would be even more meaningful for you because it talks extensively about the Native American tribes who lived in that area. All of those peoples were unfamiliar to me: the Karankawa, the Queuene, the Chorruco, the Deaguane, the Mendica etc., I had never learning anything about them before. Neither had the Spanish Conquistadors, until Cabeza de Vaca had the courage to find out.

Unfortunately, I believe that We Asked for Nothing is now out of print. I had to order my copy as a discarded library book. It’s worth taking the effort to acquire this book either through borrowing it from your own library or ordering it used if you are at all interested in the history of Explorers or Native Americans. We Asked for Nothing really solidified a lot Bruce learned from listening to Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series.

Here are my Learning Goals for my SLE Inspired Reading List Part 2:

  • We are all capable of thinking our own thoughts and forming our own ideas. We do not need to be slaves to the thinking of others.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, and are accountable for our actions to our own conscious, our families, and our community. Many people in the world believe we are also accountable to God.

Inspired by Stanford’s SLE Program Part 2: A Reading List for Children

(Please note that this post has no official affiliation in any way shape or form with Stanford University. I am however, a Stanford and SLE alumna.)

In college I spent my first year at Stanford in the Structured Liberal Education program, which is perhaps the most rigorous curriculum in Classical Education a freshman can take. At 9 units a quarter, SLE is a year-long course where students immerse themselves in literature, philosophy, art, and the humanities. Ninety freshmen live in the same residence hall, eat dinner three times a week with their professors, write a ten page paper a week, and have a private SLE writing tutor to critique their work. There is even a resident SLE tutor to assist in the evening hours. At Stanford, “SLEeezers” are nerds among nerds!

This is the “SLE Inspired” reading list I’ve created for Bruce (age 6.5) that is inspired by the Winter syllabus from my freshman year in SLE. (For the Fall List, please see here.)  I plan to read the books one by one with Bruce at bedtime, so that we can thoroughly discuss them over the next six months. In the future, I will review each book separately, so that I can share my thoughts on whether or not it is worthwhile checking out for your little one too. Some of these books I have purchased, and some we will check out from the library.  I’d like to create a movie list too, but haven’t thought of any titles yet.  I welcome your suggestions!

Learning Goals for Children

  • We are all capable of thinking our own thoughts and forming our own ideas. We do not need to be slaves to the thinking of others.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, and are accountable for our actions to our own conscious, our families, and our community. Many people in the world believe we are also accountable to God.

Texts for Children:

(An incomplete picture because they haven’t all arrived in the mail yet.)

The Actual 2012 SLE Booklist for Stanford Students:

  • Utopia, Moore
  • Prince, Machiavelli
  • Adventures in Unknown Interior of America, Devaca
  • Rameau’s Nephew & Other Works, Diderot
  • Don Quixote (New Trans Grossman), Cervantes
  • Confessions (Trans Pine-Coffin), Augustine
  • Rumi: Swallowing the Sun, Lewis
  • Discourse on Method & Meditations etc., Descartes
  • Divine Comedy (V1:Inferno), Dante
  • Freedom of a Christian, Luther
  • Interesting Narrative etc., Equiano
  • Second Treatise of Government, Locke

Additional Winter Quarter Texts from When I was in SLE:

  • The Decameron, Boccaccio
  • The Koran
  • The Analects of Confucius

Initial Thoughts 11/10/11:

The Winter SLE book list is very challenging to begin with, but finding kiddie versions of all of the texts took me a lot of effort and thought. Machiavelli for children? —Artemis Fowl. John Locke for children? —- Disc 4 of Story of the World #3. I was unable to think of anything that could recreate Dante for children. Thinking about nine circles of Hell really isn’t appropriate for kids, although I often think about the concept of purgatory while I’m at Chucky Cheese’s. The Candlewick edition of Cervantes looks amazing. I’m holding this one back for a Christmas present.

Looking at this picture brings to mind the question, What the heck am I thinking? Even though all of these books are for kids it seems like a motley and bizarre grouping of children’s literature. These are not your average books from a Scholastic book order. But maybe, just maybe therein lays the magic. This is a group of thoughts and ideas that is going to take regular bedtime read aloud to a whole new level of conversation. Let the reading begin!


Muslim Child

Reading Behind the Veils of Yemen last weekend has inspired me to pull down Muslim Child: Understanding Islam Through Stories and Poems by Rukhsana Khan to read with Bruce(6) at bedtime.

I thought that for your average American I knew a decent amount about tIslam but three chapters into Muslim Child I am realizing how ignorant I am.  For example, I knew that prayer was one of the five pillars of Islam but I did not know that the first prayer, or Fajr, had to be done before sunrise.  So at certain points in the year this can mean waking your whole family up at 4:30 AM, washing, praying, and then going back to bed.  That really teaches kids about discipline and commitment!  Another story we read was about a girl who was grown up enough to try fasting for Ramadan for the first time.  It really made Bruce and I both think about growing up, taking on new responsibility, and perseverance.

I am really excited to be reading this book with Bruce right now, and someday with Jenna(2) too, because I want both of them to have understanding about the other people and faiths in the world around them.  I want Bruce and Jenna to think about how other people think, in order to better form their own opinions and beliefs.   I also want them to have kindness and understanding for their neighbors, and an appreciation for morality in every culture.

Thematic Reading for Two Year Olds

I was just reading one of my favorite blogs, Postapocalyptichomeschool, for inspiration and came across a great post the author wrote about doing a themed week with her toddler on China.  Doing thematic reading with two year olds is such a great idea; I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself!  Preschool and Kindergarten classrooms do this all the time, and the idea translates well into the home environment.  When you group books together and read them with your child in an organized way, this counts as Guided Reading, as opposed to just another random read- aloud.

Since October 31st is coming up, I gathered as many books as we own that are Halloween related and laid them out on our coffee table for easy access.  Jenna(27m) and I are going to be reading all of these stories in the next week, in addition to making some homemade books about pumpkins and costumes.  In future weeks, I’ll be better organized and put some themed books on hold at the library.

Historical Heroes, Wickedly Funny Profiles of Six Time-Honoured Megastars!

 Historical Heroes, Wickedly Funny Profiles of Six Time-Honuored Megastars!  by Mike Kelly Publishing is a really obscure (but wonderful) book that I happened to come across in a used book store.  It is so off the beaten path that it took me a while to hunt of up the Amazon link for it.  This is probably due to the book being of British publication, and intended for British audiences. Some of the humor is also very British, and a bit over Bruce’s head, but most if he thinks is hysterical. 

Bruce(6y) and I are are reading this book together at bedtime, and enjoying it quite a bit.   Each section is about 100 pages long, so this book is really an anthology of six biographies about Joan of Arc, Charles Darwin, King Tut, Napoleon, Shakespeare, and Julius Caesar.  There are lots of cartoon-like illustrations to grab Bruce’s attention, but not so many that this would qualify as a graphic novel.  Due to the nature of the book, you do not have to read the biographies in chronological order.  So far we have read the Napoleon and Charles Darwin section.

The only “hot-button” issue in this book would of course be the Charles Darwin section, which I found very well done.  It lays out the history and science behind Darwin’s classic book The Origin of the Species in a way that still leaves room for faith.  I’m including two pages from this section so you can see for yourself.  If you are okay with these two pages, then you would be very happy with this book as a resource to use to explain Evolution.

Update 11/20/11:  I should add that after reading all of the book, there is a certain section in the Joan of Arc section you should know about, when the ladies of the court check to see if Joan was “a maid” or not.  I just skipped over this part since I was reading the book out loud.