Connecting Across Cultural Divides

March 3, 2016 § 4 Comments

"Mango, Abuela, and Me" by Meg Medina & Angela DominguezWhen I was eighteen, I spent a few months abroad, living with a Vietnamese family in the beautiful coastal city of Nha Trang. I hadn’t known the family before arriving at their front door, and I knew exactly two words of Vietnamese. The father spoke a bit of English; the other members of the family spoke none. In my first moments in the house, nothing prepared me for the blow that I felt: the adrenaline that had coursed through my veins in the weeks leading up to my trip suddenly emptied, pooling beneath my feet, as I took my first inhalation of the unabated loneliness that would become a frequent companion in the days ahead. « Read the rest of this entry »

Gift Guide 2014 (No. 2): Three Books for the Linguist (Ages 6-12)

November 25, 2014 § 1 Comment

Children have an inherent drive towards language. As infants, they hang on our every word. Once they begin to speak, they never tire of the sound of their own voice; and, as they develop more self-control, they relish in the discovery of expressing themselves (“Use your words!”) to get what they want. But it’s in the elementary years, when our kids are at last reading and writing on their own, that they become most keenly aware of the power of words, not only to shape and alter meaning, but also to connect them to the world.

Of course, it can’t hurt to nudge an awareness of the nuance of language into the forefront of our children’s minds. (We have to believe our kids are capable of more than “It was fine,” when asked about their day.) It just so happens that 2014 has given us three exceptional books (one picture book and two middle-grade chapter books) that showcase the power of language.

"The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus" by Jen Bryant & Melissa SweetJen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus (Ages 6-12) introduces children to the notion that, in the vast archives of the English language, there is a “right” word to express a precise meaning. Bryant and Sweet have become masters of picture book biographies in recent years (remember this post?); but their portrait of the man who invented the thesaurus is their most magnificent to date. The story of Dr. Peter Roget’s life is narrated beautifully for a young audience; but it is the way in which Sweet has visualized Roget’s fascination with language that truly captivates the reader. Like the thesaurus itself (which comes from the Greek word meaning “treasure house”), this is a book that’s impossible to absorb in one—or ten, or twenty—sittings. Visual feasts of collage beckon the eye on every page. « Read the rest of this entry »

Rethinking Mother Goose

April 30, 2013 § 3 Comments

Mother GooseA customer once said to me, “Nursery rhymes are what parents used to have to read before better books were written.” A bit harsh, maybe, but there was a time when I could very much relate to this sentiment. With my firstborn, I quickly passed up Mother Goose in favor of reading him plot-driven stories featuring animals (my choice) or construction vehicles (his choice) or Richard Scarry (our compromise).

But then my daughter was born and my opinion of these verses—albeit old-fashioned, nonsensical, and odd—changed. Emily was born with an ear for music; she hears a song once and weeks later she’s belting out a bastardized version from her bed. Early on, her musical predisposition translated to reading material. The two Mother Goose board books on our shelves, whose spines were barely cracked by her brother, became Emily’s prized possessions (the better of the two being Tomie dePaola’s Tomie’s Little Mother Goose).

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How do I get my squirmy-wormy baby to love books?

May 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve been fortunate that my kids have loved books from the very beginning. I’ll admit that part of my design was purely selfish: I’d rather read to my children than do almost anything else with them (read: sitting for hours on the floor making train sounds). So they quickly learned that Quality Time With Mom meant listening to stories.

During the years that I worked in retail, I was always surprised when a customer, shopping for a baby gift, would say, “I’m not going to buy a book for someone who can’t even talk! How would they understand it?” Who said anything about understanding?! In the beginning, books are simply stimuli: things to touch, to feel, to explore, to eat. They present an opportunity for little ones to listen uninterrupted to a parent’s voice, a sound babies are born loving. And they make for the best snuggle time EVER.

But don’t be fooled: the past decade of child development research tells us that, even while they’re hanging out of drooling mouths, books are wielding their magic on babies’ brains, laying the groundwork for early language development and, yes, even lifelong intelligence. So how do you get your squirmy-wormy baby to love books?

1. Start with board books: they fit in Baby’s hands and hold up to copious drooling.

2. Surround Baby’s environment with books from Day One, so they don’t know any different.

3. Store books at Baby’s eye level (baskets work great) so they can dump them out, spread them around, and (my personal favorite) “read them” upside down.

4. Not all books are created equal! When they’re newborns, they might sit through anything, but by the time they’re five or six months old, they’re only going to sit still for Certain Books.

5. What Works for the Under One Set: Anything that invites physical interaction, like a finger puppet that pops through each page, flaps that open and shut, anything with a mirror, or touch-and-feel pages. Bright, simple illustrations (or photographs) with clear, high contrast. Sing-songy rhymes that make your voice interesting; same goes with text that encourages you to be loud then quiet, or make animal sounds, or just-plain-silly noises. Books that you can sing. Also books with photographs of babies (before she ever said “mommy,” my daughter said “baby”).

6. What’s Out for Under One: Illustrations heavy in pastels or cartoonish drawings. Books where the pictures look the same on every page. Books with more than a single sentence or phrase on each page. Books that don’t excite YOU (because, yes, your enthusiasm is a big part in all this).

7. Don’t shelve a book for too long. Babies under two are incredibly fickle: what they push away one week becomes their Obsession the next. Keep trying!

Some Favorite Board Books for the First Year:
Hello, Animals: Black & White Sparklers, by Smriti Prasadam (Ages 0-6 mos)
In My Tree, by Sara Gillingham (Ages 0-1 yrs)
Where is Baby’s Belly Button?, by Karen Katz (Ages 0-2 yrs)
This Little Chick, by John Lawrence (Ages 0-2 yrs)
Quiet Loud, by Leslie Patricelli (Ages 0-2 yrs)
I Went Walking, by Sue Williams & Julie Vivas (Ages 0-2 yrs)
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin Jr. & Eric Carle (Ages 0-2 yrs)

Emily and her Books (at 12 mos)

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