Tag Archives: books

Joanna Gardens?

Even though I am completely inept at taking care of low-maintenance houseplants, I volunteered to help my daughter’s kindergarten class tend their garden.  (I know my friend with the chicken coop in her backyard is LOL.)

Let me backup a bit:  one of the ideas that came up in regard to my desperate post last week was for me to volunteer more in my daughter’s class.  This seemed a reasonable suggestion since I have to contribute more hours to the school anyway (lest I end up with a poor school service record to go with my delinquent library record).  When I asked the teacher how I could help out I was thinking, “Storytime!  I can break out the hand and finger puppets!”  After all, it’s Joanna reads, not Joanna roots around in the dirt.

But all Catholic school teachers are gifted with the ability to receive a “yes” answer to any request and my years as a teacher haven’t yet balanced out my years as a student.  So when the teacher eagerly asked if I could assist the children once a week with their garden, I was helpless to say no.

I wasn’t kidding about my ineptitude with plants.  Remember that Sex and the City episode when Aidan brings a plant into Carrie’s apartment?  Yeah.  When my husband had to go to Newport, RI for training, he seriously considered taking his plant with him because it had a better chance of surviving a New England winter in a Navy barracks than six months of my negligence care.  (He should have gone with his instincts on that one.)

Predictably, I have turned to books to help me out.  At ALA Midwinter, I picked up Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin.  While I love Baldwin’s ideas and succulents probably could withstand the abuse they’d take from me, this book is actually not helpful for the project at hand, what with kids and cactus being a bad combination.

Three books that I have been reading this past week are Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots:  Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy, How Does Your Garden Grow? by Clare Matthews, and Gardening with Children: Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-region Guide, all available at my local library.  Each takes a slightly different approach to gardening with kids.

Charmingly illustrated, Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots offers a list of the 20 best plants for kids as well as 12 backyard projects.  In the section titled “Gardening Basics,” Lovejoy says that children can easily feel overwhelmed by long lists of garden chores.  This applies to me too so Lovejoy’s suggestion to break gardening tasks into ten-minute chunks sounds about my speed.  The section gets progressively more complicated so while I think I can handle weeding and watering I will certainly not be composting nor having anything to do with worm boxes.

Truthfully, I preferred Clare Matthews’ approach in How Does Your Garden Grow? Matthews arranged her book into projects, listing materials recipe-style and providing step-by-step instructions with pictures by Clive Nichols to illustrate the directions.  Whereas Lovejoy’s book will appeal to older kids who already have an interest in gardening, it is too text rich to be accessible to the age group I’ll be working with.    In fact, I think Lovejoy’s book is aimed at adults who want to garden with kids (even though the book is classified in juvenile non-fiction).

Matthews includes straight-forward answers to typical questions such as, why is grass green?  Why do plants have roots?  Why do most flowers come out in the spring?  Between the clear pictures, colorful projects and simple language, this book is the best of the three for young children.  (As an aside, I have to say that I love how Matthews (who is British) uses the term “black dustbin liner.”  Doesn’t that sound so much classier than “trash bag?”)

Finally, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden book Gardening with Children offers the most scientific perspective of the three books and really appealed to the biology nerd in me.  With diagrams of the food chain and photosynthesis as well as information about climate and habitat, this book provides older children with an expanded discussion of common classroom science topics.  For someone like me who has an intellectual interest in plants and ecology but little to no skill with the actual living specimens, this is a great book.

I placed a hold with the library on How to Grow a School Garden but as I’m still waiting on it I can’t do more than mention it now.

Well, at this point, I welcome the insight of those of you with green thumbs—any tips for me?  I’ll let you know how this endeavor turns out.

 

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Filed under Booklists, Non-fiction

Battle Bullying with Books

Starting Young

Last week, my daughter told me about a troubling recess incident at her school:  apparently, a game of “Lego City Police” devolved into the playground version of police brutality.  Teachers were alerted and intervened but not before one of my daughter’s kindergarten classmates was punched and scratched by another kid.

In her responses to my “casual” questions, my daughter revealed that the boy who was punched/scratched is not well liked among his peers.  She says the other boys don’t like him because he doesn’t brush his teeth.  The only girl police officer in the game, my daughter backed away when the punching started and didn’t know what to do.  The boy who did the punching/scratching has often been sent to the principal’s office but my daughter thinks he is silly and says funny things in class.

Wow.  All this just in time for No Name Calling Week.

Bullying Statistics

Some parents may feel it is an overreaction on my part to be concerned that the Lego City Police incident could be a precursor to bullying.  However, the statistics are alarming:  160,000 students per day skip school in fear of attack or bullying; out of 37 studied shootings, 66% of them were led by individuals who felt bullied; and 20% of high school students say they’ve considered suicide within the past twelve months, mentioning the triggers as bullying, teasing, and social rejection.  (These figures are borrowed from a library colleague; I didn’t ask for her sources).

The messages sent to my daughter and her classmates about this incident matter.  The time to address these issues is now, and the time to lay the foundation for the prevention of future bullying is now.

Don’t just read.  Discuss what you read.

My way of addressing issues typically involves books and I am familiar with the skepticism toward my approach:  can books really change the world?  Can reading really change lives?

Jenny Betz, Education Manager for GLSEN, suggested a different spin on these questions yesterday in “Battle Bullying with Books,” a webinar sponsored by Booklist.  Betz says that perhaps not the books themselves but the conversations around those books are what truly have the power to change lives.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is listening to young people talk about issues of importance to them.  With civil discourse eroding before our eyes and disturbingly venomous speech flying around, it feels increasingly important to teach youth how to engage in respectful conversation with others.  I think using literature to open up dialogue is a great place to start.

Alone, the act of reading will not teach a child how to recognize and understand his emotions, will not create empathy.    But coupled with discussion, reading can help foster sensitivity and healthy relationships.

The thing to remember with discussion is that being “right” isn’t the point.  It’s more important to understanding what the other person is saying.  We adults are so eager to impart wisdom to young people that sometimes we talk too much.  We want young people to listen to us, but we often fail to reciprocate and truly listen to them.

All It Takes is One

In the past decade, innumerable titles have been published that deal with the subject of bullying for kids of all ages.  Last year author Mitali Perkins compiled a list of great titles for young adults (ages 12+).  For emergent readers (ages 5-8) the recent Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker by Geoffrey Hayes is a good one and the upcoming The Three Bully Goats by Leslie Kimmelman seems promising.  James Howe, author of Bunnicula, published The Misfits in 2001  for middle grade readers.  Loosely based on his daughter’s experience at the hands of middle school bullies, The Misfits is the book that launched No Name Calling Week.

My personal favorite is One by Kathryn Otoshi, published in 2008 by KO Kids Books.   This profound picture book is accessible for very young children but has an elegant, Zen flair that makes it appealing for tweens and teens as well.  Every preschool and elementary school library needs a copy of this book, and it would make a terrific teacher gift as well.  (Coincidentally, I had given my daughter’s teacher a copy of One earlier this month.  She read it to the class this week and the kids’ response to it was very encouraging.)

Summary:   Generally, Blue feels happy and life is good.  Except when Red gets mad and takes it out on Blue.  Those are the times when Blue feels, well, blue.  And Red sometimes makes Orange, Purple, Green, and Yellow feel blue too.  Red is a bully but the other colors don’t quite know what to do about it until One comes along and teaches an important lesson—that everyone counts!

Counting by ones may seem like a slow process—one book, one teacher, one kid, one parent—but we never know which one moment can be a turning point.  I, for one, don’t want to allow a single opportunity to slip by.

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Filed under Booklists, Picture Books, Reading Activities, Reflections

Chris Crutcher

After years of reading the works of dead people (both literally and figuratively—Barthes’ “The Death of the Author,” anyone?), I finally made the incredible discovery that a living author who is accessible to readers can contribute an amazing new dimension to the dialogue about a story, offering a layered experience of reading and understanding.  When I was coordinating a research project on the works of Chris Crutcher last semester, I was thrilled to correspond with him about his work as a therapist and an author and to get his take on recent incidents of “bullycide.”

Next week—January 24-28, 2011—is No Name Calling Week and because Chris Crutcher’s books usually deal with themes of bullying and harassment, I am going to post summaries of some of his books over the next several weeks.

Some info about the author:

Crutcher has been writing for young adults for three decades and is therefore a fixture in the genre of the young adult problem novel.  His writing is witty and sarcastic and particularly appealing to the reluctant adolescent male reader.  He incorporates sports into every one of his stories, delving deeply into the mind of the athlete, and within the entire body of his work, Crutcher features every major high school sport.

Crutcher’s books are frequently challenged or banned primarily for their religious perspective, homosexual content, sexual content, offensive language, or suicide.  Crutcher calls these “human things” and he continually expresses his concern about the ways in which these human things are avoided in conversations with young people.  He writes these elements into his books for the purposes of opening up dialogue.   He believes that talking about stories, talking about a character’s issues is a great way to start conversations with young people.

This video in which Crutcher talks about censorship reveals why he is such an articulate advocate for the the freedom to read.

What is truly awesome about Crutcher is the way that he personally gets involved when his books are challenged.  He writes letters, works with teachers, and even makes personal appearances.  On his own website, Crutcher provides information about challenges to his books as well as his responses.

This article discusses the most recent challenge concerning Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.  I’ll put that title up first.  In the meantime, check out this short booklist for other titles that deal with bullying.

 

 

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Farewell, Fredericksburg!

After four years and countless memories in Fredericksburg, VA, I’m heading home to Southern California.  Of course I am very happy to be on the brink of new experiences and opportunities, but to do justice to the growth I’ve done to get to this point, it’s worth a pause to reflect on one of the things I’ve loved most about living in Fredericksburg:   the history. 

Fredericksburg is halfway between the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. and the state capital in Richmond, as well as 100 miles from the historic triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, VA, making “Fxbg” a popular tourist stop for visitors exploring American history.  The city itself boasts its own deep history as a busy colonial port adjacent to the boyhood home of George Washington.  In the winter of 1862, the Battle of Fredericksburg proved to be a pivotal point in the Civil War.  Click here to read more about all the town has to offer.

This book by local author Jill Walsh highlights some of my family’s favorite places in town.  Click on the cover image to link to the book’s website.  And let me give a shout out to Linda of Jabberwocky who went out of her way to get my daughter’s copy signed by the author (Thank you, Linda!).  Suited for ages 5 and up, this is a great way to commemorate a visit to the ‘burg.

My husband read Fredericksubrg! Fredericksburg! byGeorge C. Rable.  He says it is an excellent account of the battle of Fxbg.  (I do not myself read military histories, but he does–often–and I trust his assessment).

I read the recently published Fredericksburg:  A Guided Tour through History by Randi Minetor.  It is an accessible account of the 1862 battle, appropriate for readers who don’t need the breadth and depth of Rable’s work.  However, the book lacks a proper introduction and begins in 1862, as though the town had not been established more than 130 years earlier. 

My house was less than a mile from the Fredericksburg National Historic District and the battlefield on which Confederate and Union soldiers shed blood and lost lives in defense of their ideals.  So, I’m leaving the Mother State with a deeper appreciation for my country’s story.  After I’m settled in my new home (a short distance from the Plymouth Rock of the West Coast), I’ll share a booklist of American history and historical fiction. 

For now, farewell, Fredericksburg!  I hope to be back to visit someday!

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Filed under Non-fiction, Reflections

For the First Five

My home state has a program called “First Five,” which is designed with the goal of ensuring the health, well-being, and kindergarten readiness of all children.  Emphasis is placed on the most formative years of a child’s life, the first five.

My own daughter will turn five in less than two weeks, and in my first five years as a mother, I’ve relied on various resources.  I’m sharing the following titles as a woman who previously had little to no experience with babies and toddlers, and I recommend all of them for other such parenting neophytes. 

Booklist:  For Parents of Children Ages 0-5

What to Expect the First Year

by Heidi Murkoff


Since I had no idea whatsoever to expect from my first year of motherhood, this book was a true lifesaver.  I can honestly say that in the first six months of my daughter’s life I probably referred to this book at least once a day.  (You should know that I’m a bit neurotic.  Normal people without my obsessive, perfectionist tendencies would probably only need to consult this book once a week or so).

The Nursing Mother’s Companion

by Kathleen Huggins 

The decision to breast or bottle feed is obviously an incredibly personal one.  For those who choose the former, true to its title, this book is a wonderful companion.  As I’ve indicated, I was clueless about all things baby related, so this book answered a host of questions I didn’t even think to ask.  Highly recommend this one.

Caring for your Baby and Young Child Birth to Age Five

American Academy of Pediatrics

After the first year, this book replaced What to Expect as my go-to reference (and I stopped consulting it daily some time before my daughter’s first birthday).  It has been especially useful when my husband’s Merck Manual is too much for me. 

The Happiest Toddler on the Block

by Harvey Karp

Now, I also read The Happiest Baby on the Block and was disappointed.  Someone gave me a copy while I was pregnant, and I was all set to swaddle my baby the way Karp recommends.  Then I actually met my baby and she let me know in no uncertain terms that there would be no swaddling.  So I wasn’t sure if Karp’s Toddler = Caveman ideas would be helpful.  To my happy surprise, the ideas in this book did help me through 18-24 months, which was the most challenging part of toddlerhood for my daughter and me.  This book is intended for one to four year olds, but I did not refer back to it after my daughter was two.

Child of Mine

by Ellyn Satter

This is an excellent resource on feeding and nutrition for babies and young children.  Satter emphasizes a division of responsibility in feeding:  adults are responsible for what, when and where children are fed; children are responsible for how much and whether they eat.  Between the problem of childhood obesity and the rise in increasingly bizarre diet and exercise programs for all ages, parents need to make it a priority for their children to develop healthy relationships with food.  Child of Mine can set families on the right track from the very beginning.

The above five titles are intended specifically for the first five years.  I’ve also read a number of other books that are applicable throughout childhood and into the teen years.  Here’s a list (with links but not annotations) of additional parenting titles that I recommend.  I’ll be revisiting these over the summer as I make the transition from parent of a young child to parent of an elementary-school child.

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee
Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World
Parenting With Love and Logic
The Five Love Languages of Children
Parenting from the Inside Out

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Filed under Booklists, Non-fiction

The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander

By Barbara Coloroso
Classification
:  Non-fiction
Genre:  Education/Parenting
Subjects:  Bullying, school violence

Summary:  Subtitled, “From Preschool to High School – How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence,” this book offers a psychological profile of the three characters in a tragedy.  Coloroso explores the emotions and rationalizations experienced by the bully, the bullied, and the bystander.  She also discusses the three main types of bullying—physical, verbal and relational—that occur “in person,” and she explains the ways in which cyberbullying is an even more invasive and poisonous form of bullying.  Throughout the book, Coloroso emphasizes the need for parents and educators to take bullying seriously, so as to change the attitude that it is “part of growing up.”  Numerous cases of school violence from around the world are cited as examples. 

Notes:  Coloroso has created an invaluable resource for individual parents/families and educators.  The emphasis on reconciliation, healing, and on-going dialogue are sound.  While her suggestions regarding reconciliatory justice are idealistic, schools are in need of strong leadership on the issue bullying and school violence.   This book offers excellent guidance for navigating treacherous waters and for keeping kids safe and thriving at school.
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Buddha Boy

By Kathe Koja
Classification:  YA Literature
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  10+
Subjects:  high school, bullying, friendship

“’They’re called pretas,’ he said.  ‘Hungry ghosts.  Big big bodies and little tiny mouths, they eat all the time but they never get full.  Like when you have a lot of stuff, you have everything, but all you want is more.’” ~ from Buddha Boy

Summary:  Jinsen is a new kid at school, tormented for his oddities which include oversized tie-dyed tshirts with dragon motifs, his shaved head, and his serene smile.  Justin is less than thrilled to find himself paired with Jinsen for an economics project, but quickly discovers Jinsen’s remarkable artistic talent.  As Justin gets to know Jinsen and the reasons for his behaviors, Justin finds himself inspired by his new friend’s equanimity—a result of Jinsen’s understanding of Buddhist philosophy.  But when classmates go too far, both Jinsen and Justin find out how hard it is to stick by one’s convictions in the face of extreme provocation.

Notes:  A very spare amount of Buddhist philosophy is introduced in this story.  In fact, the Buddhist elements seem contrived—a reader looking to glean anything insightful in regard to the Four Nobel Truths will be disappointed.  Koja does little more than toss out these concepts in a thin attempt at character development.  On the other hand, the issue of bullying is highly relevant.  Young readers will likely relate to any number of characters as the increasingly malicious taunting plays out and adult readers can use the plot to frame dialogue with tweens and teens about the subject.
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Filed under YA Literature