Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck ... maybe it's a dot

It seems like most parents experience those blissful days when their little ones need nothing more than a cardboard box to entertain themselves. I remember those hours of entertainment watching our daughters make games, toys and surprising playthings out of anything they could find - they would spend hours decorating cardboard boxes left over from deliveries and even longer crawling in and out of them and incorporating them into games. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to bottle that creativity so we could tap into it when we get older (and by older, I mean adolescence and beyond)?! In toddlerhood, creativity seems to be unrestricted and unlimited. Our teenage daughters currently inhabit the stage where they consciously limit their creativity. They are creative storytellers in writing, music, art, and drama but when they look at a box, they see a box and the many facets and possibilities they may have noticed in and about that box when they were younger are no longer apparent to them. The creative spark has not fully extinguished - after all, when I see I cute top in a store, they'll insist it's a mini-dress - but it has definitely changed. I like to step back every now and then and ask our daughters to look up at the sky and tell me what they see when they look at the clouds (and the answer cannot be clouds) and sometimes we'll point out strangers on the street or in restaurants and make up back-stories for them.  I truly believe that people who are able to keep creativity infused in their outlook are ultimately happier people than those who are unable to do so and quite likely more successful as well.

Patricia Intriago's first picture book Dot, a finalist for the Children's Choice Book Awards 2012 Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year, is a wonderful exploration of creative perception applied to the most basic of shapes. Patricia Intriago is a clever graphic designer whose talent and wit are sure to make you appreciate a seemingly simple shape in a whole new way; many ways, in fact.  If you and your child love this book (and, really, what's not to love?), then don't forget to vote for it. Voting for the 2012 Children's Choice Book Awards is now open and you can join the legions of children's book fans already voting for their faves by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This little piggie goes...

One of our daughters came home from school earlier this year and announced that one of her teachers had decided to stop using shampoo. She wasn't able to provide enough detail about the reasons behind this decision or the alternative method of hair cleansing selected by the teacher so we were unable to seriously assess the merits of this decision. We agreed that it's best to refrain from judgment in circumstances where you're lacking the facts, even in circumstances such as this one that so easily lend themselves to stinkin' jokes and greasy judgments. This reminded me of a humanities class I took in college in which the professor showed a tiny squirt of toothpaste, the size of a baby pea, and insisted that is the amount she used to brush her teeth each day and we should all do the same. Whatever their reasons, people clearly approach matters of hygiene in different ways. Though generally less principled, kids vary in their reactions to cleanliness as well. Many toddlers try to avoid bath time. Maybe it's because it's often the last step before bedtime and they figure it makes sense to get a head start on delaying the process. Maybe it's because some kids are afraid of the water. In our home, bath time was a joyous time in toddlerhood but became a challenge later on. In those days, I am reasonably sure the concern that bath or shower time would conflict with television viewing or game playing was the real issue. As our girls adolesced, they began to appreciate the importance of regular showers and we never have to remind them to take theirs anymore. Deodorant, teethbrushing, hairbrushing and handwashing still require the odd reminders. Gross, I know.

If you're at the stage where the child in your life is trying everything to avoid bath time, try pinning him or her down before bath time and reading John Segal's Pirates Don't Take Baths together. The story presents a fun conversation between a child trying to get out of bath time and a mom who has a quick and clever answer for every excuse. It's pretty much a battle of wits with mother and child being well matched in creativity and the illustrations are so much fun! After a little cuddling followed, of course, by cleansing, you might want to reunite and follow-up by reading the Margaret Wise Brown/Clement Hurd classic, The Runaway Bunny, together for a perfect end to a lovely evening. Your child gets to hear another wonderful story and you get to introduce your child to yer another parent who has a quick and clever answer for everything!

If you and the child in your life love this book, there are a few things you should do. First, take a look at the author's blog and website. Most authors and illustrators have at least one or the other these days and they're often amazing destinations that enable kids to relate reading and fun while they learn about the books, authors and illustrators they love. You never know what you might learn. Had I read through John Segal's blog before writing this post, I'd have seen that John had declared September 19 to be Talk Like a Pirate Day (in honor of this book) and that would have led me to write an entirely different post because I have a daughter who defaults to pirate-speak with some regularity. No matter! The second thing to do (maybe even the first but I'm trying not to be pushy) is to head on over to the Voting Site for the Children's Choice Book Awards and encourage that child to cast a vote. This book is a finalist for Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year. Of course, if you followed my first piece of advice, you'd have headed over to the Voting Site anyway because John Segal has an awesome call to voting action on the homepage of his site and who could resist a precious pig?! Click here to take a look. Happy Voting!

This is the first post in my quest to blog about each finalist for the 2012 Children's Choice Book Awards. One down, twenty-nine to go. To find out more about the Children's Choice Book Awards, click here. And to vote, click here. And here's a fun fact for you - the award for this category (Kindergarten to 2nd Grade Book of the Year) will be presented at the Children's Choice Book Awards gala on May 7 by Marc Brown, creator of the Arthur books and television series.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Exercise your right to vote!

Last Wednesday, March 14, voting opened for the 5th Annual Children's Choice Book Awards here. This program is the only one of its kind. First, in 4 of the 6 categories (Book of the Year for 4 different age groups beginning with Kindergarteners and ending with teens), kids and teens select the finalists. Approximately 20,000 kids and teens from across the country participate in the part of the program. To select the Author of the Year and Illustrator of the Year finalists we review bestseller lists. Second, this is a national program where kids and teens select the winners. Votes have already been submitted by participants in every state in the country (and beyond). We are expecting to receive one million votes this year.

The program was developed 5 years ago by the Children's Book Council and the literacy foundation Every Child a Reader for a number of reasons.
  • It makes reading fun and gives kids an easy way to talk about their favorite books with their friends - yes, it makes talking about books fun for kids. 
  • It gives kids and teens a chance to express themselves and let book creators know what works best for them and what they love most. 
  • Because the majority of finalists are selected by kids and teens, it offers a peer-approved reading list.
  • It is an essential component of the strategy developed to instill a lifelong love of reading in young people, the mission of Every Child a Reader
If you have children in your life, please encourage them to participate in the amazing program. Read with them and ask them about their preferences. If the child in your life is a teen who has no desire to share preferences with you at the moment, consider reading what he or she is reading or read the Teen Book of the Year finalists and get a sense of what moves other teens. It might help you find a conversation starter. So get started. Click here to see the finalists and start reading!

Beginning tomorrow, each post (and, yes, for those of you doubters, there will be posts to come) will tie one of the thirty finalists to a parent/child issue or story until I've covered them all.

The winners of the Children's Choice Book Awards program, by the way, will be announced live at a gala event on May 7 in New York City that will officially kick off Children's Book Week 2012. The 5th Annual gala will be hosted by the award-winning and beloved creator of the Lunch Lady series of graphic novels (not to mention Punk Farm, Ollie and so many more!), Jarrett J Krosoczka. Awards will be presented by iconic authors and illustrators like Marc Brown (Arthur), Mary Pope Osborne (Magic Tree House), Andrew Clements (Frindle) and S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders), Jack Gantos (Dead End in Norvelt) and Chris Raschka (A Ball for Daisy). An Impact award will be presented by National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Walter Dean Myers to Super Bowl Champion New York Giants’ Justin Tuck in recognition of the important work he has done connecting kids and books through his charity, Tuck’s R.U.S.H. for Literacy.  It will be an evening of champions! A video of the awards presentation will be available on May 8 so remember to tune into the Children's Book Week website to see it almost live if you can't be there in person.

Rest well, my friends, for tomorrow we start the marathon of Children's Choice Book Awards reading!

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Whether you're a stay-at-home parent or a parent who works outside of the home or somewhere in between, the time comes when you must separate from your child and he or she or they from you. Each child and each parent handles separation in their own way. My parental troubleshooting methods often have me turning to two sources for assistance - books and Tylenol - and when it came to separation, I needed both! Our kids handled separation differently from one another but, in their earliest years, none of them found it particularly easy. Nor did I! A tried and true favorite tool in our household when the girls were younger was Audrey Penn's The Kissing Hand. This is a precious story about a mother raccoon seeing her son off to Kindergarten and giving him a way to feel close to her when they're apart. Inspired by the tale, when one of our daughter's was having a particularly difficult time separating to start Kindergarten, I kissed her hands in the morning so she could place my kisses on her cheeks throughout the day when she needed them most. We probably should have let the teacher in on the plan because I received a somewhat alarmed call from her  informing me that our daughter had been rubbing her hands all over her face all morning and they were concerned she might have a contagious rash or an allergic reaction. Our daughters have all let me know this book was one of their favorites and someone gets weepy every time it's mentioned.

I recently came upon a new picture book that evoked The Kissing Hand and all that it has meant to my family. Bonnie Verburg's The Kiss Box, illustrated by Henry Cole, is another story about separation and the love and compassion shared by parent and child. It is the resourceful child, in this case, who comes up with a way the mother and child can hold onto one another's love even when they are apart. Little Bear creates a "Kiss Box" in which he places a hundred kisses for his mother. At his request, she makes one for him too. My kids saw this book on the coffee table recently, read through it and started crying. The tears were brought on by the emotion and the memories - not because the story is sad! On a personal note, I fell in love with this particular book both for the reasons I've already mentioned and because one of our daughters actually did this on her own just a few years ago. My husband Jeff, an attorney, had a big case out of town and had to relocate for a few months. It was an emotional time for all of us and one of our daughters realized that, because the rest of us would be together, the separation was going to be hardest of all on Jeff. She found a small box in which she placed a few private thoughts, sayings and things and gave it to him as a gift, instructing him to look inside whenever he was feeling particularly lonely - to remind him that his family back home loved him and was counting down the days until his return. There's no way around it - kids are special and have enough love to get you through the toughest times. For our part, when we were missing Jeff most, we would cuddle up with out precious dog Lev who we adopted the day he left, who made sure we had many funny stories to share with Jeff every time we spoke and who continues to lick our faces and fill our lives with unconditional love.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Facebook Fury

Friends who have heard my rant about kids on Facebook will be surprised to hear that my position has changed somewhat. My own kids will be especially surprised! I still consider Facebook to be a wicked time suck and I remain convinced that it is a portal to evil and dangers of monstrous proportions but... I'm impressed by the way kids use Facebook to make connections; connections, I'll admit, I used to think lacked substance. Please don't misunderstand me, I don't think having hundreds or thousands of Facebook "friends" has anything to do with making connections. Rather, I'm talking about the fact that our kids check their Facebook pages, become aware of the birthdays of friends and relatives who live far away, and connect with good wishes, happy thoughts and interest. I actually love the fact that our daughters are aware of the things going on in the lives of our extended families and that those connections have become very important to them. Facebook has helped them cultivate relationships and strengthen bonds in spite of itself. Who knew?

I wish, of course, that this was the end of it but it really is a time suck and it really does open to the door to more harm than was imaginable when I was a kid. Should our daughters read this blog post, it will, of course, be met by the most extreme eye-roll of all time. I am not one to shy away in the face of an eye-roll. Parents have a responsibility to learn as much as they can about Facebook and impart that wisdom to their kids, regardless of whether or not kids' accept the parents' perspective as "wisdom". Here are some of the nuggets my poor, unfortunate offspring have the pleasure of hearing regularly:

1. If you have a party and then post pics on Facebook for all your "friends" to see, then do so knowing that you are letting certain "friends" know they were not included. While I firmly believe that kids need to learn that not everyone is invited to everything and they need to learn how to cope with not being included, I also believe that you need to own your decisions, including whom you've decided to invite to what and the fact that rubbing someone else's face in it on Facebook is hurtful and very uncool. Many of us try to teach our kids to think before acting and speaking and Facebook is no exception - before posting a pic, consider what message you are sending and what the implications may be. It's no excuse to say "I didn't mean to..." Forewarned, forearmed.
2. What goes on the internet stays on the internet. It can never be erased. And much of what people think is hidden but remains online is ultimately embarrassing, humiliating or devastating to someone or will be at some point.This reality transcends embarrassment today and puts many Facebook users at the mercy of college admission offices and potential future employers because you never know how much they'll vet (note that this employer warning is no exaggeration; when we hire at my office, we immediately look at the Facebook page of every applicant who passes the resume test; many go no further). Word to the wise: at the very least, consider your privacy settings and immediately delete anything questionable or inappropriate posted on your wall.
3. If you are determined to "friend" everyone on earth, then remember who those friends are and keep in mind that they can follow threads of conversations you have with others.  Many kids "friend" teachers and friends of  their parents and then post with abandon. Eeeeewwwww.
4. Don't  hack someone else's Facebook page and post a hacked status message and don't laugh or otherwise encourage others to do this to you. Think about it.

I think that's enough for now. Needless to say, there's more to come. So much more. But while I work all that out, here's a fantastic book selection for you and your kids. The Future of Us by Carolyn Mackler and Jay Asher is one of the best YA (young adult) books I've read in the last 6 months. Depending on reading level and sophistication, kids as young as 11-ish will love it, all ages of teens will love it and parents of teens will love it too. The book is set in the mid-90s when the internet was just starting to pick up speed and Facebook hadn't been invented yet. Two teens insert an America Online CD-ROM (remember those?!) and end up viewing their Facebook pages 15 years in the future. Once the initial confusion subsides and they come to terms with the fact that they are glimpsing their futures, they also begin to realize that the future changes with every action and reaction in the present. It's a clever and witty and moving tribute to teens, friendship, our grasp of  the future and our limited understanding of the technologies available. It's a completely satisfying read!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

All hail the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Happy New Year! It has been a while since my last post and, in addition to eating well, exercising regularly, losing weight, and yelling less, blogging more frequently is one of my key New Year's resolutions. More important to me than these aforementioned resolutions, though, is to resolve to do my part to make the world a better place. I'm not joking about that. I believe we each have a responsibility to think and act beyond ourselves and our immediate environment and be proactive participants in our communities.  I feel like 2012 has gotten off to a good start and I'm very excited to tell you why. If you take a look at the first page of this morning's Arts section in the New York Times, you'll see an article entitled Children's Book Envoy Defines His Mission written by Julie Bosman. As Julie reports, a new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature has been appointed in this country and it's humbling to be part of the team that created this post and makes it all happen. The real work, of course, falls to each Ambassador and Walter Dean Myers is a force to be reckoned with. Walter is among the most prolific and most honored writers of books for young people. Like his Ambassadorial predecessors, Katherine Paterson and Jon Scieszka, Walter brings his unique perspective and charisma to his writing along with a genuine and palpable respect for his young readers. Walter's platform during his two-year term is "Reading is Not Optional". Walter wants people of all ages to recognize that reading is more than a school activity or a leisure activity - rather, reading is as essential to a person's success as eating, breathing and sleeping. Reading is not optional. The personal history and experience with which Walter backs his claims are compelling. His is a voice that generations need to hear and stories that generations need to read. Congratulations Walter Dean Myers and heartfelt congratulations to the young readers who have a new superhero to call their own. Happy New Year to all!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Superparent Complex

I readily confess that I frequently try to do too much, particularly where my kids are concerned. I can give you all the rationalizations in the world for this but the bottom line is that I'm on a ridiculously competitive quest against myself to prove that kids miss out on nothing when their moms work outside of the home. I firmly believe that proposition to be true and yet I admit that I try to stay a few steps ahead of the inevitable guilt by overcompensating.  Just last week, one child let me know she needed 17 red velvet cupcakes for a book talk scheduled to take place at school the next day and one of her sisters called me just before 4:30 pm to let me know that she desperately needed me to pick up a husky hat (a silly hat with a husky/dog head) because she desperately needed it for the very next day.  I had already committed to attending a meeting for 10th grade parents at our older daughter's high school that night and knew I wouldn't have time to bake cupcakes so I agreed to buy them on the way home. I laughed at the husky hat request and reminded my darling that I was picking up cupcakes and then going to a meeting and would be happy to deal with the hat request another day. "But I need it for tomorrow..." I could have and should have said "no", "you can't always get what you want when you want it",  or "I need a little more notice". Instead I said "I'll do my best but you'll have to live with it if I can't find the hat". She agreed (totally disingenuously, as I later learned). Despite it being a miserable rainy night, I got the cupcakes and I attended the meeting. I visited 4 different stores and never did succeed in finding the hat though. There was a moment there that I felt horrible and unsuccessful because I hadn't accomplished all the tasks on my list. That feeling was quickly replaced by appropriate anger with myself for ever having gotten into this position in the first place and for feeling even the slightest bit as though I'd let anyone down. I was also more than a little peeved with the child who insisted she need that ridiculous hat and that the matter was time-sensitive. At the end of the day, the problem is mine and only mine. Kids need to hear "no" and parents need to be able to say it. My kids only think I can make things like husky hats miraculously appear because I've fostered ludicrous expectations. Silly me - it's so much more important to teach them to manage their own expectations than it is to feed my supermom ego!

As you probably know, kids' books and movies often depict families where there is no mom except the occasional evil stepmom. For this reason, today's book selection can be found in the adult fiction section of your library or local bookstore - it's Lisa Genova's Left Neglected. So many of us teeter on the brink of total collapse as we try to get through an insanely long daily to-do list  This is the story of Sarah Nickerson who teeters on the brink and then falls off the proverbial cliff. One minute Sarah barely has time to breathe and, in the next split second, she sustains a serious brain injury and her life is changed forever. The scary part of the story is that it could happen to any of us. However, I prefer to take away the more reassuring message that change can be good and that challenge leads to opportunity.