To All the Hero Moms: Veteran’s Day

Hero Mom

Nearly every mom I know is a self sacrificing hero. Obviously they aren’t perfect. But they willfully give of themselves over and over.

Heroes.

Each of them.

But when “Terra” looked down at her shoes and told me, “My mom’s going to Iraq.”

I didn’t have an adequate response. Her words blindsided me.

I wish I had this book to offer.  I didn’t then. But I’m ready for the next time.

Bryan Landgo offers a tribute (strikingly similar to Hero Dad) to thank the families of these heroes. Even if you don’t have military families in your community, this book acts as a reminder of those who sacrifice for their country and family.

And here’s my usual  disclaimer:

I’m not writing to condone or condemn U.S. foreign policy. I’ve been pleased with U.S. foreign policy and I’ve protested such matters. But those complicated topics are for a political blog that I’ll write when I get 9 more lives. This is about saying thank you to those that serve our country.

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Breathtaking Childhood Realizations

My Teacher is a Monster

A close second to the childhood realization that your teacher does not live at school is this; your teacher is human.

Crazy, I know! But that’s certainly not how it seems to Bobby in My Teacher is a Monster.

Ms. Kirby is a legit maniac-raging, green skinned beast posing as a person.  She stomps, roars and squelches every spark of joy… until Bobby runs into her at the park.

Somehow seeing people out of the little compartments that we mentally box them in can be just enough to jar us into a new paradigm. Or as Susan Philips argued, the participant structure of a given event shapes who we can be in that place. (Just building my nerd cred.)

This is exactly what happens to Bobby as he interacts with Ms. Kirby. She changes, and how he sees her changes. Peter Brown makes full use of this visual: gradually morphing Ms. Kirby from this…

My Teacher is a Monster 2

To this.

My Teacher is a Monster 3

Along the way Ms. Kirby learns to see that Bobby isn’t the monster that she thought he was either. And everyone is wiser, even if they still have their monster moments.

Not Your Normal “Gender Construct” Picture Book

Of Course They Do

There are many books in the niche of challenging gender norms… and most of them are a waste of time because they are such an amazing mismatch with the day to day lived experience of their target audience. Read a book like that to a group of six year olds and they’ll dismiss it in seconds AND give you an emphatic earful to boot. (It seems to me that culture often trumps education).

Fortunately, Of Course They Do shows examples of men and women who violate norms without moving so far to the edge of culture that students can easily dismiss them. The opening line states, “Boy’s don’t dance” is accompanied by an image of two young female dancers. But turn the page and you find a male hip-hop artist in motion. “Boys don’t jump rope” is followed by an image of a male boxer jumping rope in an urban looking gym. “Girls don’t know about cars” is disarmed by a female professional race car driver and so on.

Oddly the one exception to this is the cover image: boys playing with baby dolls still don’t get a pass in many US cultures. But this brings us to an interesting point. This picture book was originally published in France by author Marie-Sabine Roger and photographer: Anne Sol. Perhaps in France this is no big deal. Meanwhile on the US side of the equation Of Course They Do reminds us not to constrict definitions of gender norms to cultural expectations which (on closer examination) are a mismatch with everyday life.

 

A Quoi Tu Joues

Hope in the Darkest Hours

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising WWII

Warsaw Ghetto: Photo from Jürgen Stroop’s report to Heinrich Himmler – Public Domain

On September 1st, seventy-five years ago, German forces swept into Poland to open one of the most demented chapters of the last century. A year later, Jews were forced into the infamous Warsaw Ghetto (pictured above) to be eliminated by starvation, exposure and infectious disease: after the Ghetto was liquidated, the Germans used camps to work their evil. Despite the grim nature of the Ghetto, Karen Hesse brought a kid safe story of resistance to us in the form of The Cats in Krasinki Square.

The Cats in Krasinski Square

This is the tale of two Jewish sisters who have escaped the Ghetto and are posing as Poles in Warsaw. As the only survivors of their family, they have joined the resistance and sneak food to their friends within the Ghetto. But the Gestapo learns of their scheme to bring food in on a train and plot to sniff them out with a team of dogs. Undaunted the resistance releases cats all over the train station throwing the dogs into confusion and allowing the precious food to slip into the Ghetto.

Hesse’s smooth prose flows seamlessly through this story, masterfully balancing the atrocities of the Holocaust with the innocence of her target audience. Likewise, Wendy Watson‘s illustrations bring us the tension of the story without traumatizing students.  

It’s extremely rare that I can bring such a harsh topic to young readers with confidence that the material is suited to my first graders. But once in a great while, I cross paths with such a book. The Cats in Krasinki Square is that book.

The Cats in Krasinski Square 2

A Tale of Two Piggies

Sidney & Norman

I don’t normally review books that involve God because (generally) they repulse me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-God, on the contrary. But, so many books that include God are models of awful prose and many of the remaining few have horrible (often trite) story-lines.

So, how did these porkers creep past security? It wasn’t simple, but it involves an important moral:

Norman is that self-righteous jerk that some churches seem to spawn… and Sidney is a guy who just can’t keep his life together. Both receive an invitation from God because he has something to tell them.

Holding true to their characters, Norman is confident that God wants to tell him how awesome he is… and Sidney is pretty sure he’s going to get run over by a train.

When they finally meet God, both pigs are in for a shock. Mr. Goody-two-shoes finds out that God loves him. But, he adds, “you’re not as good as you have lead yourself to believe. You’re prideful. You’re selfish. You look down on others, simply because things don’t come as easily for them.” So Norman leaves in tears. The truth hurts.

Sidney observes Norman’s stricken exodus and is really sure he’s doomed. BUT the message is simply this, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Sidney leaves just as stunned as Norman.

This book is brilliant commentary on self-righteously annoying church people, without being hateful. That’s a tough tightrope to walk, but Phil Vischer pulls it off. It also sends a message that, despite church culture’s favoritism toward successful middle class types, God loves and welcomes all who will come.

 

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.

Tanogram Hype Man

The Warlords Puzzle

The Tangram is so engaging that it doesn’t really need a picture book to entice kids to play. But, if you were seeking an over the top  introduction with a nod to medieval China (and a side of economic social justice) then this is definitely your book.

Virginia Walton Pilegard delivers The Warlord’s Puzzle  in a style often employed for Chinese folk tales. In this one, the ruler (warlord) has a problem (tangram) that no one (wise men, monks, and the affluent) can solve.  Enter the peasant fisherman’s son, to save the day and receive a lavish reward. It’s no shock that we wrap up with the moral of the story. (Just because you’re marginalized by the mainstream culture doesn’t mean you aren’t wise.)

Predictable? Yes. But given the application I have tasked this book with, this is a solid selection.

And here are a couple user friendly tangram sites.

ABCya!

National Geographic Kids