Beauty in Everyday Life

All the Places to Love

My tendency is to shamelessly plug picture books that explore urban experiences. So, what’s up with this somewhat idealized, “growing up on the farm” story?

Two things.

First, if diversity really means a wide range, then farm life shouldn’t be marginalized. Second, while I’ve known kids from rural areas to have fascinating misconceptions of their urban counterparts. The reverse is also true.

At it’s core “All the Places to Love” is about finding beauty in life and nature. It’s not hard to find beauty here because Mike Wimmer absolutely nails the illustrations. The story is narrated by the boy on the cover who takes us to all the rural places different members of his family love. As he guides us we discover how each generation passes their love of these places to the next. The twist comes when his baby sister is born and he looks forward to the day when he can show her all the places he loves.

Patricia MacLachlan gives us a feel good, poetic look at rural life that boarders on 1950’s pop-culture idealism. While that romanticized slant might strike some adult readers as amazing trite (and stupid); keep in mind that this is a picture book for kids. If you want to deconstruct the situated complexities of class, gender, political contexts and race you might enjoy reading my thesis (when I finish).

But you will have lost your audience at the title.

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Never Underestimate Little Old Ladies… at Thanksgiving

Thank you Sarah

If you don’t know Sarah Josepha Hale, you most likely don’t know that Thanksgiving is a national holiday because she lobbied for well over three decades to make it a reality. Sound like a boring read aloud? Think again!

This book takes us from the first feast to football. Then adds the historical context of the Civil War, debates over slavery, humor and Matt Faulkner‘s impressive illustrations to teach that you can indeed make a difference in the world: even if you are a marginalized, nonvoting, member of society… just like Sarah Josepha Hale.

Each Kindness… or the lack thereof

Each Kindness

With a title like “Each Kindness” and a cover illustration of young girl beside a quiet pond, I expected a heartwarming narrative on the power of kindness. Apparently Jacqueline Woodson had no interest in fulfilling my expectations.

Instead, I found a realistic account of a young girl that purposefully shuns the new kid in class. But, when it’s too late to repair the damage, she regrets it.

This book is break-the-mold refreshing on so many levels:

You expect a picture book with minority characters to be sanitized? Move along, no one’s covering up their moral warts here.
You want a clean ending wrapped in a happy bow? Check the Disney Channel.
You think sad stories have no place in elementary classrooms? Barny agrees. But kids know better from experience.

So why bother to read Each Kindness?

Because we all make mistakes.
Because it’s a valuable lesson born out of remorse.
Because we should forgive ourselves and move forward.

Consitution Day in Grade School

We the Kids

Constitution Day is right around the corner. This year I’m planning to read We the Kids: which is the preamble to the Constitution masterfully illustrated and designed by David Catrow. Add a little School House Rock (maybe Liberty Kids) plus a discussion and I think I’m ready to go.

I really need a month (or more) to do this topic justice. But, that’s not in the cards.

To all the Overachievers… Especially Me

So Few of Me

What’s it like to be a full time teacher with a family while working on a PhD and not going completely insane?

I’d love to start a blog about that; but there’s just one me.  And as Peter Reynolds wisely points out, that one should do their best and let it be enough.

I’m working on it.

*This might be more for the grown ups than the kids; but I have no problem with that.

This One is for the Outcasts

Scrawny Cat

I tend to root for “lost causes”. I like it when the weak are strong, life’s losers finally win and the outcasts find a home. It just seems right.

This is a story about such a cause. Scrawny Cat used to have a home and someone to love him.  But those days are gone.  Everyone calls him, “Get out of here”. Thus, it’s a story about loneliness; and who hasn’t been there?

The predictable resolution for this story still pays off, even though you can see it coming from a mile away. I like well written (not trite) happy endings: even if there aren’t as many of these in real life as there are in children’s books.

It’s not overtly mentioned in the story, but scrawny cat totally works as a metaphor for the homeless.  So I like it on that level too.

The Best Knuffle of Them All: Trixie realized something…

Knuffle Bunny Free

But her epiphany wasn’t that she had been written into the third, final and BEST Knuffle Bunny. It wasn’t even that her family loved her deeply. (Although that certainly was the case.) It was that giving sacrificially, out of love, is the right thing to do.

I’ve read thousands of children’s picture books. This one moved me profoundly, especially the epilogue.