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

Monday, January 31, 2011

“Self-esteem isn't everything; it's just that there's nothing without it”

Every generation has its buzz words that begin as a favorable focal point for discussion and support and but eventually polarize an opinionated contingent that then brings their favor into question. For the current generation of parents, one such buzz word or phrase is "self esteem". It's unlikely that anyone really thinks believing in yourself is a bad thing yet contemporary parents are often criticized for making the self esteem of their children the core of their parenting.And it's not just parents, is it? Schools and leagues are criticized when medals and trophies are given to every child that participates rather than every child who wins. Are we telling our kids that they're all winners or there are no winners?

I think it's unfortunate that "self esteem" has become a lightening rod. It seems to me that the real fault does not lie with parents, teachers or caregivers who are encouraging children to feel good about themselves but, rather, with people who view the world only in terms of extremes and lose sight of the forest for the trees. It's perfectly fine to declare a winning team in a game or a winner in a competition. We are not doing our children any favors by shielding them from the competitive realities of life. But kids with good self esteem seem so much better equipped to handle those competitive realities! We all accomplish more when we feel better about ourselves and most of us have found feeling good about ourselves to be a challenge at one time or another (or more often than not). If your child knows that you believe in her ability to do something and that helps her believe in herself, then she just might accomplish the goals she's set for herself. What could possibly be the harm in that? We encourage the development of self esteem so that our children can set high expectations for themselves and work to reach them and so that they are armed with strength when they hit bumps and disappointments along the way.

I have always loved the Jamie Lee Curtis/Laura Cornell collaboration, I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self Esteem. What's more, my kids used to love it too. We all enjoyed the rhymes and had a blast with the illustrations.The message was clear but delivered with humor and color and quirk!

One of the newer books that found its way to my office recently is Stand Straight Ella Kate by the sister team of Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise. Before I realized that this book is a biographical account of the life of Ella Kate Ewing, who, born in 1872, suffered from gigantism and joined the circus, I thought it was a book written for tall kids; a reminder of the importance of good posture. I avoided it for the longest time. I was 5"7 by 5th grade and didn't need to read about someone else's struggles with being tall. One of our daughters is now strikingly tall (I emphasize "striking" because she also happens to be spectacularly beautiful) and I imagine she'd have rejected the book for the same reasons I did. I don't know what drew me to this book in the end but I'm grateful nonetheless. Ella Kate Ewing grew to 8"4. Despite comments, snickers and outright laughs, Ella Kate stood straight and proud, dreamed big and made the most amazing and remarkable life for herself. She traveled the world and became financially independent at a time when people didn't travel much and women were not yet considered full citizens. She believed in herself and made her own dreams come true. I think the key to developing self esteem is that you can only achieve and accomplish great things if you dream them up and believe in yourself and your ability to see them through. Self esteem is a an important ingredient in living the life you can and should live. Doesn't every child deserve to have good self esteem in their mix?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The silver lining of a snow day

To the delight of school children across the Tri-State area, the winter storm that was expected to hit last night hit. It hit big. Schools were closed and children rejoiced (none more than mine). Again. We awoke to a blanket of white covering New York City. Despite the natural beauty at first glance, I was prepared for a miserable and messy commute to work. The roads and sidewalks were slushy and slick and there was so much snow that shoveling paths so people could walk meant building enormous snow banks that were challenging to traverse. I expected the general mood to be foul, as the general mood in New York City has been all month in the face of the first brutal winter in years. Needless to say, I didn't know what to make of the fact that my commute was actually pleasant. I witnessed strangers sharing a laugh over their predicament. People were smiling at and helping one another along. It was hard not to appreciate and ultimate join in this camaraderie just as it was hard not to be enchanted by the golden sun causing the snow-covered treetops to glisten in the most fabulous way. Such a surprising morning! Sometimes it takes misery to bring out the best in people and when the best is brought out, it's contagious. It took me 20 minutes to walk to the subway this morning and during that time, I shared knowing glances, silent chuckles and expressions of gratitude with more than 20 people. Kindness can surely surface unexpectedly.

So, how's this for a segue? Today I received an Advanced Reader's Copy of the most delightful book, Suryia & Roscoe, written by Bhagavan "Doc" Antle with Thea Feldman, with photographs by Barry Bland. I am sad for you that the book will not be available for purchase until April but assure you that it's worth jotting down the name of this one. Roscoe is a Bluetick Coonhound who, as an underfed stray dog, wandered into The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS) park in Myrtle Beach, S.C. in 2006. An orange orangutan named Suryia saw him, ran over and hugged him. They have been inseparable friends ever since. True story. Look at how an unexpected act of kindness can evolve. And just look at the photo to the right where Suryia has Roscoe on a leash. There are tons of photos like that in the book - the two of them hugging and cuddling, Roscoe teaching Suryia to swim and there's even a sweet shot of them kissing. I love this book!

Photo Credit: Katarina Krek
So if that story didn't sufficiently warm your heart, consider the photo to the left and ask yourself who said you can't play in the snow and read at the same time? The book being devoured by a fourth grader from Weston, MA in her “snow nook” is Barbara O’Connor’s How To Steal a Dog, winner of the William Allen White Children’s Book Award. How cute is this?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Are you being sarcastic?

When I was younger I used to think that sarcasm was the lowest form of humor. Cheap shots were for wimps that were lacking the intelligence to be truly witty. I'm not sure when I developed a taste for sarcasm but I am now most appreciative of a well-placed barb. While I know that I use sarcasm liberally as an adult, I was a little surprised when my kids called me on it recently. I took stock and realized that it's true - I've become very sarcastic in my 40's. But when one of the kids approaches me, like one did tonight, asking for my honest opinion of whether or not there will be a snow day tomorrow, a question I couldn't possibly answer and one that gets posed several times a week, and they weren't actually looking for an honest answer at all, I find it takes great restraint to hold back the snark. I mean, really, do I look like Al Roker? In any event, when your kids tell you that it's time to channel your gentler side, you should probably take them seriously. To be honest, I'm a little stumped as to how I set off on this course in the first place. I suppose the reality of life brought out the cynic in me and it's a short hop from cynicism to sarcasm. Still, while I can't say I'll be swearing off sarcasm entirely, I will be making an effort to tone it down with my kids.

I think my latent love of sarcastic humor developed, at least in part, through my love of children's books. I have to admit that my favorite picture books are the irreverent ones. I appreciate them because they are genius when it comes to wordplay and it is precisely the clever ability to play on words that appeals to me when it comes to sarcasm. Books written by Jon Scieszka and Mo Willems never disappoint. For the slightly older set, I love the cynicism and snarkiness in the Baby Mouse and Lunch Lady graphic novels. When it comes to YA books, let's face it, a sarcastic character is present in nearly all!

Try this clever tale on for size - take a look at What Really Happened to Humpty Dumpty by Jeanie Franz Ransom. The investigation into who pushed Humpty is full of suspects and puns.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Random Thoughts

We all have them. When we let our minds wander, we sometimes come up with silly thoughts that can make us laugh out loud. When we're kids or have kids, we think in terms of imagination and creativity. When we get older... well... you know.

Our kids, like many others, have always been masterful at creating games and imaginary worlds. Two of our daughters have named entire civilizations after themselves. One ends with the suffix "lantis" and the other with the suffix "tania". The prefix in each case is the child's name, in whole or part. I'd be more specific and reveal these ingenious names but I haven't fully lost my grip on reality - my intention is to celebrate creativity, not squelch it with embarrassment. They are the leaders in their lands - benevolent leaders - who have been known to build lands for their friends as well.

Creativity in children should most definitely be nurtured and applauded. So should creativity in adults. I think it's important to remind our kids as they get older that it is vital to keep their imagination alive. Creative adults are not just those who create art or music but rather those who see art in the way they view the world and the choices they make. When your perspective is limited to looking at things in a box, your view is limited. By looking or thinking outside of the box, you open your mind and create art, which provides for a more interesting and compelling way of thinking. It also expands the possibilities and potential of your thought process and creativity, making life a far more interesting experience.

I enjoy blogging because it provides me with a forum for expressing some of my own random thoughts. In a million years, though, I don't think you'd have convinced me that someone could turn silly and funny random thoughts into a publishable book. I guess it takes a very talented bestselling writer and a publisher willing to think outside of the box (though not too much because, let's face it, they were banking on a bestselling author) and let's not forget the illustrator who helps bring the quirkiness to life. The result is The Wonder Book, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Paul Schmid. It's an awesomely entertaining and incredibly clever collection of stories, short poems, lists, palindromes, word games and random observations. And it's a lot of fun to read out loud... together!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Who's Your Favorite?

If you have more than one child, then chances are pretty good that at some point in your life, you will be asked by at least one of them to declare your favorite. Note that this is markedly different from when your child, at any age, shouts, "You always take her side. You like her best" in the middle of a meltdown. No, I'm referring to those times when your child, with eyes full of love, asks you to be honest and make a choice. You respond that you don't have a favorite and he says he doesn't believe you. You tell her that you love and appreciate their differences and have heapfuls of love for each of them. She is not persuaded. You might even suggest to him that each child is your favorite sometimes but you and he both know that that's lame too.

I tell our kids that I hope each one feels as though she's the favorite and, being the favorite, I hope she's sensitive to the feelings of her sisters. I must have read that somewhere. I like the way it sounds. But it doesn't work. The truth is I really don't have a favorite and I really do have heapfuls of love for each of them. None of them is particularly satisfied with the response so when the inevitable eye roll comes around, I find it helpful to recall funny stories from when they were younger and the distraction is often hugely helpful. The subject often gets left hanging as we move onto another subject.

Several years ago, a friend of mine shared her experience with this issue and it remains one of my favorite anecdotes. Her middle child (of three) asked which of the three was the mom's favorite. The mom went through all the typical responses and the kid wouldn't let her off the hook. The mom finally said, "listen, you're  like the fingers on my hand; you're all different from one another but each one is special in his or her own way and I need and love each one of you and can't imagine my life without any of you." Her daughter, who was 4 at the time, looked up at her mom with big beautiful brown eyes, open wide, and said, "my favorite is my thumb".

Thumb lovers should take a look at Elise Primavera's Thumb Love. This is the story of Lulu and the thumb that she loved. Lulu was a chronic thumb-sucker. We spend the first half of the book cheering for Lulu and the thumb she loves and the second half of the book cheering for Lulu as she develops and implements a 12-step program to cure her addiction (and doesn't give up even when taunted by her thumb). It's a fun picture book that's perfect for thumb-suckers, people who know thumb-suckers, and people who love to laugh out loud.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Best friends for life

The book Real Live Boyfriends, featured in this blog earlier this week, spends a lot of time considering issues like love, popularity and friendships. The protagonist of this book and the three that preceded it is Ruby Oliver, nicknamed Roo. When author Emily Lockhart stopped by Robin's Roundup on her blog tour, I asked about the derivation of Roo's name, wondering if it came from Winnie the Pooh's little friend. Emily's reply exposed the fact that I had not read the prior books in the series (which was a little embarrassing though I am now sufficiently intrigued and entertained to go back and remedy that situation). She explained that
Kim is Kanga and Roo is Roo -- in the early days of their friendship, back when they were young enough to read Winnie the Pooh.  This was true of me and my best friend in elementary school.  We never had a falling out, though -- I just used the names to show the close connection the girls had, so that when their friendship collapses, readers can retain a sense of what Ruby is losing.
The Kim character referenced above is Roo's former best friend with whom she reunites in Real Live Boyfriends. The Winnie the Pooh reference resonated with me and got me thinking about and appreciating  some of my oldest and closest friends. Then some eerie parallel universe strangeness occurred. You may recall my mentioning in an earlier post that we will soon be celebrating a milestone in the lives of our twin 12-year old daughters. We will celebrate their becoming B'not Mitzvah (the female, plural equivalent of Bat Mitzvah, which is the female quasi-equivalent of the Bar Mitzvah). As I was considering Emily's response, one of my closest friends since I was 12 years old emailed to check in, ask about the B'not Mitzvah celebration, and let me know she and her husband would be coming from Montreal to New York City to celebrate with us. While she always has and always will mean the world to me and we have remained very close, I didn't realize how much having her here would mean to me. It means so much and I'm very excited!

As our children go through different stages: preschool to kindergarten, elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school and the many transitions yet to come, I explain that they will make new friends at each stage, that the bonds of old friendships will sometimes strengthen and that they will find that, though they don't always see it coming, some friendships will end along the way. I hope they are fortunate enough to maintain just a few of those lifelong friendships - those people who know things about you you've long forgotten and who can revive a latent memory with a single word or gesture.You make new friends at every stage but you don't get to go back and make old friends. I am exceedingly grateful to have the old, newer and new friends that I have. My wish for my children is that they will have the same good fortune.

With so many books about friends it's not difficult to find a book to recommend that works with this post. I am tempted to focus on new books yet I've discussed old friends and, to me, that means I've got to stick with my all-time, tried and true faves. Nothing speaks of friendship to me like Winnie-the-Pooh and Charlotte's Web - like old friends themselves - cherished and true!

Just a note before I close about a little scheduling change for this blog. Since the inception of the blog, I have posted nearly every day. Going forward, I will not be posting over the weekend. I will not post Friday and Saturday nights but will be back at my computer every Sunday night to provide you with a thought or two when you check back in on Monday morning. With that - have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Few television shows have led to as much hysterical laughter and frequent quoting in our household as the current hit comedy, Modern Family. This "mockumentary" follows one big (straight, gay, multi-cultural, traditional) happy family. Our kids never tire of repeating one of their favorite Phil Dunphy-isms (Phil Dunphy being the dad/husband of the traditional family - mom, dad, 3 kids - featured on the show); it was the time Phil declared, "I'm the cool dad. That's my thang. I'm hip. I surf the Web, I text LOL= laugh out loud OMG= Oh my God WTF=Why the face".  I've already blogged about the terminal uncoolness of parents (at least in the eyes of their kids) so this one is about the abuse of acronyms and abbreviations by kids today. Text speak is full of them and I have to wonder how many misunderstandings arise from a misinterpretation of someone else's abbreves (that, according to our 14 year old, is the abbreviation of "abbreviation").

When the trend first took hold, I lamented the death of real words and, despite studies to the contrary, I've been a little concerned about the impact on spelling and the formulation of complete sentences. But something funny happened not too long ago. A friend emailed me about something extraordinary and I realized that the most appropriate answer I could email back was "OMG". I was more than a little shocked by the ease with which I was able to transition to trendy jargon after that. I was blown away by the speed with which you can text when "you" becomes "u". I kind of loved the fact that you could sometimes reply to a text with a smiley face and no words at all to get a point across. Then the inevitable happened. One of my daughters heard me utter "OMG" aloud and I was thereafter forbidden from ever saying or writing OMG again. Truth be told, I still occasionally type it - just never in an email or text message to any of our kids. I was subsequently banned from using text message shorthand in my texts to them (I had tried to abbreviate "you're" and typed "u'r" which should have been "ur" because punctuation is out and it was just too much for them to handle). I was amazed to learn that a number of websites provide "dictionaries" for learning this bizarre new language. Text For Free has been a good resource for me. TMWFI or go check it out for yourself!

When ur done learning the shorthand, considering showing your kids just how in the know you are by suggesting that they read NERDS or The DUFF. NERDS is a new series written by Michael Buckley, author of the popular series The Sisters Grimm. NERDS stands for National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society. It's about a group of unpopular students who run a spy network from inside their school. It's a middle grade series. The second book just came out in September 2010.

DUFF, horribly enough, stands for "designated ugly fat friend" according to the urban dictionary, another helpful resource. The DUFF is a YA novel written by 19 year old Kody Keplinger about 17 year old Bianca who, we learn, is neither ugly nor fat but nonetheless bears the unfortunate moniker.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meet Emily Lockhart!

My "visit" with author Emily ("E.") Lockhart was a little delayed by the holiday weekend and subsequent inclement weather but late is definitely better than never. I'm pleased to introduce everyone to the celebrated author of Fly on the Wall, Dramarama, How to Be Bad (together with Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle), and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which was a National Book Award finalist, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and received a Cybils Award for Best Young Adult Novel. She is also the author of 4 books featuring the irrepressible and irresistible Ruby Oliver.  The fourth in the series, Real Live Boyfriends was published in December and is the focal point of Emily's current blog tour.  Visit her at, where you can read all about Ruby. Or check out her blog at But, first, get a little insight into this delightful and talented author by taking a look at how Emily answered my questions:

R.A.: Thank you for giving Ruby Oliver such a unique voice. Which of her qualities do you admire most? Were you anything like Ruby in High School and, if not, did you know anyone like her? 

E: Thank you! I work very hard on the voice. Ruby is a hot mess, for certain, but she does have some great qualities.  I admire her willingness to grow and change. She is very open. She tries to be a good person.  I also admire her enthusiasm.  Apathy is my least favorite quality in a human being. Ruby is like me, or certain parts of me, jacked up and exaggerated.  I was, like her, an ardent vintage shopper and a boy-crazy lunatic. But the things that happened to her never did happen to me. I made them up. 

R.A.: I appreciate that you are a writer who carefully develops her characters. You are very generous with the supporting characters who get to utter some of the most insightful dialog in the book. For instance, when Ruby is filming Finn and asks him to define love, he says love is about trust. He then explains, “Love is when you give someone else the power to destroy you and you trust them not to do it.” That’s a pretty mature thought for a teenager. Is this how you would define love? Is love different when you’re in high school and afterwards? And what about trust – do you think the meaning and nature of trust changes as you get older? 

E: I appreciate what Finn says, but it has taken me four Ruby novels to kind of, sort of, a little bit define love. I can't put it in a sentence. 

I suppose for me, these days, love means showing up. That is, you don't check out. You don't walk away. You listen. You are consistent. You are reliable.  You show affection. You are all these things, even when the person you love is acting crazy or whiny or demanding or awful.  I don't mean no boundaries. Boundaries are very important! I just mean continuing to be there, even when the going gets rough. But that is very much an old married person's idea about love. A mom's idea. A grandchild's idea. I am certainly not sad my teenage ideas about love still have a place for expression in my books!

R.A.: Another theme covered in Ruby’s documentary is popularity. Her friend Hutch, a social outcast, tells her, “I used to think people were popular because they were good-looking , or nice, or funny, or good at sports… I realized the popular people weren’t nice or funny or good-looking. They just had power, and they actually got power by teasing people or humiliating them – so people bonded to them out of fear.” Hutch and Ruby’s friend Meghan both have revelations and seem “cured” from wanting to be popular. Do you think most high schoolers appreciate the connection between popularity and power? You subtly touch on the issue of bullying but focus more on the concept of popularity while inferring the link between the two. Do you have any advice for teens who are or feel cast out, ostracized or teased by the “popular kids”?

E: I'm not in the advice-giving business, although Ruby sometimes is --
-- I am in the business of writing stories in which I try to think about different and sometimes conflicting aspects of stuff that touches me or makes me think.  All my books are about power dynamics, except maybe How to Be Bad. I'm interested in talking about power, and I  hope my stories make people want to talk about it too. 

Instead of advice, I'd like to point teens to the "It Gets Better" project. It has loads of wonderful stories from adults who were bullied and ostracized at school because of their sexuality. I think the hope the videos provide will affect people who don't fit in for other reasons as well, though:

R.A.: Flushing. Ruby and her therapist decide Ruby should write down troubling situations and feelings on small pieces of paper and flush them away literally and cathartically. I think I might have to try this. Letting go is difficult for people of all ages and sometimes a symbolic gesture is enough to let someone move on. Have you ever tried this? How did you come up with this idea?

E: I made it up. But I get lots of the ideas for Doctor Z's (somewhat wacky) thereapuetic methods from my mother, who is a family therapist.  The "treasure map" was her idea completely.

R.A.: Finally, Ruby’s nickname is Roo. As a big Winnie-the-Pooh fan, I can’t help but love this name and wonder about its origins. Does Ruby’s name have any special meaning to you?

E: Kim is Kanga and Roo is Roo -- in the early days of their friendship, back when they were young enough to read Winnie the Pooh.  This was true of me and my best friend in elementary school.  We never had a falling out, though -- I just used the names to show the close connection the girls had, so that when their friendship collapses, readers can retain a sense of what Ruby is losing. 

Also, Ruby is a pretty common name these days -- having an unusual nickname makes the character a little more specific in readers' eyes.

RA: Thank you so much Emily - for stopping by Robin's Roundup and for writing such fun, accessible books for young adults (no matter how old we are!). I wish you the very best with Real Live Boyfriends and look forward to reading what you come up with next!

If your interest in Emily has been peaked, check out the other blogs she visited on this tour:

January 10th — Confessions of a Bookaholic
January 11th — Random Acts of Reading
January 12th — Books on the House
January 13th — Figment
January 14th — Book Butterfly
January 18th — Bookworm Book Lover

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Battle of the Moms

When our oldest daughter was in preschool, I became friendly with one of the moms. We spent a considerable amount of time together with our daughters and I considered her a friend. One day, at lunch with several mother-daughter duos, someone asked my friend what she did for a living. Without hesitation, she said, "I'm a full time mom". In what may have been the most childish move in my adult life, I distanced myself from her that day, without confronting her. I was so offended! I am and have always been a working mom and couldn't bear to be friends with anyone who thought I was anything less than a full time mom. In hindsight, I can admit that she probably didn't think that of me at all and had I confronted her, she'd have been full of the most sincere apologies. She may well have admitted to feeling insecure about her decision to be a stay at home mom, just as many working moms feel insecure about their decision to work. Of course, many stay at home moms and an equal number of working moms are exactly where they want to be. As long as your children are your clear priority, it's hard to imagine that either life choice is a bad one. Certainly, neither one is inherently wrong.

The thing is, whether you stay at home, work from the home or work outside the home, the challenge is maintaining a healthy life balance and stretching each day a few extra hours in order to get everything done. These are the consistent challenges we all face. Between those challenges and the fact that we love our children and (hopefully) put them first and want desperately to do right by them, we probably all have more in common than that which sets us apart. At the end of the day, being a mom is the most difficult and by far the most rewarding job that anyone could ever take on. I have to be honest, though, I wonder if I'll feel ever so slightly punched in the gut if any of our children should choose the stay at home mom route. While I believe that each person has the right to make the choice that's best for them, provided they have the financial means that allow them to make a choice, it's got to be tough to reconcile yourself to a decision made by your grown up children that implicitly critiques a core element of their own upbringing.

That said, whether you stay at home or you work outside of the home, there are times you need to separate from your child. This can be hard for both parties. The best treatment for moms may well be a nice cold chardonnay, a robust cabernet or a spicy margarita. For kids, though, there's nothing like a kissing hand.  Audrey Penn's The Kissing Hand was a favorite around our household a few years ago. There was a time our kids wouldn't go out unless their hands were covered in kisses they could rest on their cheeks if they got sad. Try it ... it works both ways!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Social Studies Books for Use in the Classroom

The Children's Book Council works with several organizations to create reading lists to help familiarize teachers, librarians, booksellers and parents with some of the newest and best books available for children. Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People is a reading list selected by twelve social studies educators who decide on the best books of the year based on the hundreds submitted each year by publishers. This bibliography features K-12 annotated titles published in the previous calendar year. Titles are grouped by subject, including: Biography; Contemporary Concerns; Environment and Ecology; Folktales; Geography, Peoples, and Places; History, Life, and Culture in the Americas; Reference; Social Interaction and Relationships; World History and Culture; and Economics. Each annotation contains bibliographic data and a brief description. This is an annual project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and CBC that began in 1972.

On Saturday, my colleague Rachel and I hosted the selection committee for the 2011 Notables list at our office in New York City and facilitated the discussion the ultimately produced a list of around 116 or so notable books. The list will be available in June and can be downloaded from the CBC website at (past lists are available here as well). Consistent with its past history, this year's list was rich in quality and diversity. This is a great list for teachers and librarians who can turn to it to give students ideas of resources they may want to use for research papers.It is also a list that makes it easy to match up thematic lessons in class with books.

The selection committee was passionate about books and passionate about kids. They contemplated their choices carefully and, as a result, it's a list with integrity. It's fun to be part of this process. I encourage people to share this list with their kids' teachers and librarians. It's a great resource. A social studies class is so much richer when trade books are introduced. When teaching about the Depression era, teachers may encourage older students to read the recent Newbery Medal winner, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. A teacher or librarian with an elementary school student that loves dance may want to recommend Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring to that student to help him or her connect with books. This list is like a great cheat-sheet, narrowing down the best of what's new and available to help great teachers do what they do best.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Come by and meet author E. Lockhart on January 18!

I am quite excited to report that this blog is a scheduled stop on a blog tour next week. A blog tour is the the social media answer to the traditional author tour. Authors can make the rounds at multiple blogs when they have a new book to promote. In this case, Emily Lockhart will be "stopping by" for a Q and A about her new book, Real Live Boyfriends, the fourth of her books to feature troubled teen Ruby Oliver. Emily's answers to my questions will be posted at night on January 17 and available for your reading pleasure on January 18. Should be fun!

I am happy to have Emily come visit for a few reasons. First is the book itself which, quite honestly, made me laugh, cry and re-live teenage angst. Ms. Lockhart is a good and smart writer but it's more than that. She truly gets into the heads of teenagers. Parents of teenagers should read her books. We're all searching for ways to most effectively connect with our teens and help them through the rough times - friends, first kisses, changes - and getting into the head of Ruby Oliver is a great start. Ruby is self-deprecating to the point of self-loathing. She's just a little bit crazy and very genuine. I enjoyed reading this book. I was grateful catch a glimpse into the angst of a teenager who is an extreme version of so many teenage girls and I appreciated the opportunity to ride along on her path of self discovery, self reflection and cure. In addition to all this, I am intrigued by the author herself who is part of a cadre of fabulous writers who live in Brooklyn, write for young adults and hang out together writing and drinking coffee. I have met some of these authors before and they happen to be among the coolest and sharpest people I've ever met. On top of that, they've unlocked some of the mysteries of adolescence, which can only help those going through it, and, for that alone, they are my heroes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It's not my fault; I just have a lot to say!

A few days ago, I blogged about the talkative nature of our children. Last night the tables were turned. As I tried to help one child understand complicated concepts in her history homework, I was rewarded with an eye roll whenever my discourse ran on too long. A couple of nights earlier, when I tried to help a different child with vocabulary homework, I noticed she tuned out once I started to explain my responses. In the earlier blog post referenced above, I surmised that my family doesn't always listen to me. The experience over the last few nights was a little different and somewhat unsettling. These were situations that forced me to come to terms with my tendency to talk too much. I had to admit - at least to myself - that sometimes they tune me out because I've already said what needed to be said and it's time to move on. Truth be told, I'm even aware of it when the words keep pouring out long after the discussion should have ended but it's almost as if I have the floor and I may never get it back so I ought to keep on going. I don't think my sentences are quite as run on when I speak with anybody other than my daughters so I had to ask myself what was really going on.

I suspect it all has something to do with the fact that as tweens and a teen, our kids are trying to do so much on their own as they forge an independent path and I know that my window of time to teach values, responsibility and life lessons is closing. I think my long-winded answers and comments are my way of extending that window. I want more time to teach them all the things I think they need to know. In addition to that, I want to extend the window during which they value what I have to say. My conscious, rational self knows that there is a reason why marketing professionals look for the elevator pitch or the pithy tag line that packs a punch. People remember the concise statements that consist of carefully chosen words. We have a lot to say to our kids, we just don't have to say it all at once. I know this. I just don't always remember to put on the brakes.

I love the way mothers talk to their children in picture books. Those moms get to be sweet, supportive and mushy and they get no eye rolling in return. When I was about to launch into a supportive talk the other night, one of my daughters asked me to stop before I started. I always get a kick out of the Robert Munsch classic Love You Forever. You know the one; throughout the ages and stages of the child, the mother sings“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”   When her grown child lives on his own, we see the mom drive through the night, put a ladder up against the side of his house, crawl in to his bedroom through the window, scoop him out of bed and rock him as she sings, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” Seriously - no eye roll, no head roll, nothing. You gotta love the magical powers of storytelling!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Superiority Complex

The Wall Street Journal published a controversial article this past weekend entitled Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. The article was written by Amy Chua, a second-generation Chinese American, mother of two and Yale law professor who provided the recipe for breeding straight A students who are music prodigies. At last count, the online version of the article had prompted close to 4000 comments. On the whole, the dialogue it incited is interesting. Naturally, some of the reaction is angry and some of it is funny. I particularly enjoyed Wendy Sachs' response in the Huffington Post, considering Chinese Moms vs. Jewish Moms.

Though the article went viral, my source was not my computer. I heard about it on Saturday when one of our daughters happened to pick up the Wall Street Journal and start reading this particular article. She was mesmerized. She felt awful for the kids described in the article who could not have playdates or sleepovers or go to summer camp; who couldn't participate in a school play (I'm not sure if this particular child of ours will ever be in a school play but she reserves her right to participate); who couldn't watch television. She ached for the kids whose mother called them garbage and fatty. I confess to having had a visceral reaction to some of these points as well. Still, I chose to focus on the interesting and thought-provoking nature of the article and Professor Chua's parenting style more than anything. Chua's parenting borrows from the Gladwellian approach (as in Malcolm) that suggests anyone can become good at anything if they put in the time and work really hard. I reminded our daughter how much I believe in her, including her ability to do well in school and we both agreed this is a happy point to glean from the article.

All told, I think my kids are relieved to hear that even if Professor Chua is doing everything right, which almost necessarily means I'm doing everything wrong, I'm comfortable with the parenting choices Jeff and I make. Usually. I don't know how any parent can be certain they're making the right choices all of the time but I do know that we make the choices we believe to be best; choices we feel we could defend if necessary. At the core of every decision affecting our children is tremendous love for each of them and profound belief in each of them. Despite the altered mindset, I have no doubt that Amy Chua also believes she is making the best decisions for her children; that she loves and believes in them fiercely and unapologetically. To be sure, none of us has all the answers and I appreciate Professor Chua's honesty. It's okay to point out the differences in approaches and mindsets, to recognize that sometimes culture and tradition play a role and to learn from one another. Parenting is tough - it no longer takes just a village; rather it takes a global community.

Rarely does this happen but I have a single favorite book about loving my children and a single favorite book about believing in them and helping them explore themselves and their potential. For love, I am a huge fan of Sam McBratney's classic, Guess How Much I Love You? Big and Little Nutbrown Hare get me every time!

Nothing sums up the belief I have in the potential of each of our daughters like Dr. Seuss' Oh the Places You'll Go! As difficult as the road ahead may be, I have every confidence that each our three beautiful daughters will find her own path and she will move mountains. This book always reminds me that I can do anything too!

As far as Amy Chua's article goes, let me be clear - for the sake of my own children who will read this and wonder if it means I'm banning playdates, sleepover and summer camp - I believe that a child is so much more than a grade on a test or a report card and my personal belief is in the importance of nurturing and raising a child to be a whole, independent, capable and responsible person. I believe in creativity and I really do believe that everyone is special in their own way.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Don't interrupt me!

Developmental milestones are undeniably exciting during the baby years and through toddlerhood. When your child utters her first word or his first sentence, as a parent, you are relieved, overjoyed and overcome with  visions of potential. For a while, you just can't get enough. Curiously, it doesn't take long before you'd give anything for a little quiet time. Because once kids start talking, they can really talk! Sometimes I need to remind our kids to breathe. We used to go places and play the "quiet game" with our kids. Nobody ever lasted very long but the few moments (maybe seconds) of silence were well worth that lollipop or bouncy ball we promised as a prize. Our kids don't just talk a lot, they tend to talk at or over one another. I like to think they are supremely well behaved at school but, I have to admit, at home, they are interrupters. Each one is certain she is the victim of interrupting more frequently than her sisters but there are no innocents among them.

I'd like to believe that the interruptions flow from the fact that they are just too excited about the world around them to contain themselves. Maybe there's some of that. Unfortunately, I think it's often a case of not stopping to listen to whether someone else is speaking. When I speak with our children, I'm often interrupted with something that has nothing whatsoever to do with whatever it is I'm saying. This means that I'm not being listened to in the first place. I often wonder, when I'm saying something to Jeff or the kids if they hear me or my voice at all or if they hear the teacher from the old Peanuts television specials who sounds like, "wah-wah-wah-wah-wah". Sometimes it's hard to escape the glaring reality.

To some extent, I'm glad that the kids interrupt one another and I suspect it's precisely the interrupting one another that will get them to eventually stop. Nobody likes the way it feels when they're interrupted and while our kids may not hear everything I say, they frequently hear me remind them to treat others the way they want to be treated and they frequently utter those words to others. They get the message. I think I might just sit in silence for a little while and hope it sinks in soon.

The best known awards in the world of children's books are the Caldecott and Newbery medals that are presented by the American Library Association.. The 2011 winners were announced yesterday. The Caldecott medal, for illustration, was presented to Erin Stead for the enchanting A Sick Day for Amos McGee, a fabulously delightful book that was referenced in this blog a couple of months ago. In addition to the big winner, Caldecott honor books were announced as well; among them was David Ezra Stein's Interrupting Chicken. Little chicken brings interrupting to a whole new level when her father tries to read her a bedtime story. So fun!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hair today, gone tomorrow

I can still remember the haircut that made me cry the hardest when I was a kid. I had always had long hair. One day my mom and I agreed that I would get a bob. I'm not sure I knew what a bob was when I agreed to the style. Until I reached a certain age -- maybe 40 -- I was more comfortable pretending I knew what I was talking about than admitting ignorance so the joke was on me. My long locks were shorn, I had a chin-length bob and I bawled. Of course, like every hair cut, the freshness wore off within a couple of weeks, my hair started to grow longer and my life wasn't ruined after all. At the time, though, I was Samson and my source of strength and comfort  was gone. I felt like people could see too much of me and I wasn't at all comfortable with that prospect. I liked hiding behind my long hair. I could be whomever I wanted. Without my long hair, I felt so exposed!

I now have three daughters and they all like to wear their hair long. While none of them are daring, one of them has experimented with bangs and layers. One of her sisters had her hair cut over the weekend. When the stylist asked how much she should cut, our little ladyshrugged her shoulders. I suggested 2 inches and she agreed. I looked at her seriously and said, "Listen, no matter what they cut, in the end you'll think it's too much and you'll think you have short hair. It won't be true. But don't worry, it'll grow back quickly". When the stylist was done, our daughter looked fabulous. As soon as we got outside, she made a face and said, "Ugh, it's so short!" Imagine if I had suggested she get a bob! In a few days, the last of the three will get her hair cut. We'll no doubt go through the same thing - she'll agree to the cut then afterward complain that it's too short. She'll feel exposed and then she'll unconsciously regain her strength. Before too long, all three will feel empowered enough to whip their hair back and forth like little Willow Smith (if you don't know what I'm talking about, check out Willow Smith music video on Youtube) and all will be right with the world again.

One of the all-time greatest middle grade and young adult authors wrote the perfect book for this topic. Check out Laurie Halse Anderson's The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes To School. It's perfect for the K-3 set. The hair in wild and the story is wilder!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What I'm Reading Now

I am currently reading two amazing books.

On the adult side, I am reading and thoroughly enjoying Logan Ward's See You in a Hundred Years. Logan, his wife Heather and their toddler son did what we've all fantasized about at one time or another - they traded in the hustle and bustle of New York City for a simpler life. Simpler, really? In fact, they moved to a farm house in the Shenandoah Valley and lived for one year as though it was 1900. Not so simple, it turns out. This book is so much fun to read that it merits more attention on this blog than I'd give it in a Saturday post so count on hearing more about it soon.

On the children's side of the publishing globe, is Judy Blundell's new YA novel, Strings Attached, which publishes in March. I started reading this book when I woke up this morning and, quite simply, couldn't put it down. I neglected my family for a few hours and even failed to take them to synagogue as planned because I needed to find out what happened. I loved this book and, again, it is one that merits more attention that it could get on a Saturday post so you'll certainly hear more about it soon - 1950's New York City setting, dancers, Broadway, gangsters, love, intrigue, murder - loved it!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Snow Day!

Monday night I published a post about one of our daughters putting ice down her pants and a spoon under her pillow in an attempt to summon a snow day. I teased her about it last night and she let me know she had actually misunderstood the instructions. To stir up a snowstorm that will lead to a snow day, you must flush 2 ice cubes down the toilet, do a snow dance and sleep with a metal spoon beneath your pillow. Apparently talking about the steps is enough because, wouldn't you know, we awoke this morning to phone calls and emails advising us that school was canceled today in anticipation of a snowstorm. SNOW DAY!!! A day like this should be celebrated by staying in PJs all day long (with no ice cubes), sipping hot chocolate, reading a great book; ahhhhh... A day like this is a day to enjoy reading, for the three thousandth time, Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day. Did you know that this 1963 Caldecott Medal winner was the first full-color picture book to feature a young Africn-American hero? If not, then when you sit down for your three thousand and first reading of this classic, you can appreciate both the exquisite artwork and the importance of the book on a different level. Interestingly, Keats himself was not African American. Rather, it is said that growing up in New York City, he was surrounded by children of many different races and it struck him that all the books he had ever seen were filled with white children. As the son of struggling Polish-Jewish immigrants, he knew what it meant to feel like an outsider and resolved that as a writer and illustrator, his characters would be representative of his community. The protagonist of The Snowy Day, Peter, was modeled after a little boy whose picture he had seen in a magazine and whose likeness had stuck with him.

The Ezra Jack Keats Book Awards were established in 1985 to recognize and encourage authors and illustrators new to the field of children's books.  The winner of the 2010 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award was Tonya Cherie Hegamin for Most Loved in All the World, illustrated by Cozbi Cabrera. It is described as a deeply authentic and touching account of slavery, a  mother’s love and sacrifice in the pursuit of freedom for the daughter she loves and how a handmade quilt helps a little girl leave home for freedom.