Summer Reading Guide: Early Elementary School

This week, I am going to channel my inner Prince Humperdink (a sentence I never imagined myself using, by the way) and…

“Skip to the end.”

I am tired. You are tired. This seems like a good week to just “skip to the end” and get right on with listing good books.

We already have lists for the junior high aged kids and the upper elementary school kids. This week, I am recommending books for the early elementary school students, which for my purposes would probably be first through third grade. Although, advanced Kindergarten readers could likely be included. There are so very many books for this age group. It can be overwhelming standing in front of the beginning chapter book section of your library trying to decipher the quality differences between eighty-eight Rainbow Fairies books, one hundred two A to Z Mysteries books, and five million Magic Tree House books. Although I can make this particular scenario simple. Given those three options, always go with the Magic Tree House. But that’s not the point. The point is there are way too many options in this particular reading category. And no one has time for that.

To that end, here are some books for this summer that your chapter book reader will enjoy.

If they like adventurous kids like themselves:

Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest (Marti Dumas) – If I sound like a broken record at this point, you will just have to forgive me. The Jaden Toussaint books belong in every library. Your children (and you) will immediately be drawn to Jaden’s character, his cleverness, his hijinks, and his humor. As an added bonus, Dumas leaves Easter eggs for her adult readers throughout her books, just check out the title of this one.

Jada Jones (Kelly Starling Lyons) – I just discovered these books this year at the book fair at my children’s school. In full disclosure, I have not read one all the way through yet, but the parts I have read lead me to recommend them as an excellent choice for this age.

Clementine (Sara Pennypacker) – Clementine is the answer for all your Junie B. Jones woes. I have checked these books out more times than I can count.

 

If they like problem solving:

Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet (Jacqueline Kelly) – These illustrated chapter books follow the beloved character of Callie Vee from The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. The books pick up her story with her  now as a vet in training. These are definitely ones to read.

Keena Ford (Melissa Thompson) – Much like Clementine, Keena has a knack for finding herself in problematic situations and trouble. Thankfully, she also has a knack for getting herself out of these circumstances.

Clubhouse Mysteries (Sharon M Draper) – Because there are only so many Boxcar Children books a person can read, we all need another alternative. The Clubhouse Mysteries are just the thing. Sharon Draper is a wonderful writer and these books do not disappoint.

 

If they like stories with animal personification:

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Roald Dahl) – Fantastic Mr. Fox is an absolute delight of a book. Like most of Dahl’s work, this book has twists and turns, humor, unique character perspectives, and thoroughly enjoyable storytelling.

Mercy Watson (Kate DiCamillo) – While Mercy Watson is no Wilbur, she is just as endearing. My kids have like these books a great deal.

Ralph S. Mouse books (Beverly Cleary) – I mean, a mouse who just wants to ride a motorcycle and see the world, how can you not want to read about that?! These books are fun, funny, and, in true Cleary fashion, connecting.

 

If they like dragons and fantasy:

My Father’s Dragon (Ruth Stiles Gannett) – One boy goes on an adventure that leads him on an improbable rescue mission. If that’s not classic fantasy fiction, I’m not sure what is. There is a good reason these books have endured for the last fifty years.

Princess in Black (Shannon Hale) – Somehow, it has not been until this year that my younger kids discovered the Princess in Black books. They were an instant hit. These books will see your dragon and raise you a unicorn and they will do it successfully.

How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell) – As usual, before there was a movie, there were the books. And again, the books are better.

 

If they like a twist on “the classics”:

My Weird School Fast Facts (Dan Gutman) – Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the rhyming teacher related titles as much as the next person. However, I have found that, although there is no limit to the number of My Weird School books one could read, there definitely is a limit to the number one should read. When you find yourself needing to suggest your children take a break from said books, the new-ish “Fast Facts” series is an excellent switch.

Magic Tree House Fact Tracker (Mary Ann Osbourne Pope) – Sometimes its a good idea to substitute the magical world for the real world. Sometimes. In those times, these are an excellent switch. (Yes, I know I just used that same sentence for the last books, but I meant it when I said I was just tired. I will get back to the regularly programmed originality next week, hopefully.)

If you have other books you would add to this list, I would love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer Reading Guide: Upper Elementary

I am done. Just. Done.

I am done with:

  • School lunches. My children have not eaten a vegetable in their lunches in weeks. And those notes I write to each kid every day for said lunches, yeah, those stopped about two weeks ago.
  • Unpacking school backpacks. Yes, I hear you, they are supposed to do it themselves. But I can’t anymore. I physically cannot say, “Did you empty your backpack?” or “Is there anything in your backpack I need to see?” one more time. I certainly am not reaching my hands inside that dark cavern of unseen pencil shavings, eraser putty, sticky candy wrappers (from the day they had that one sub who gives out candy), mildew from the leaky water bottle, and, what is now, paper pulp from a bevy of missed notices.
  • School clothes. Ugh! Just the laundry. And the everydayness of that laundry. Please, no more.
  • Organization of any kind. I want my Google calendar back. It has been co-opted by purple (my color for school events on the calendar). Each child has a different event every day that requires something different. I can no longer keep track. Don’t misunderstand. I am not complaining about school events. I absolutely love fairs, and awards assemblies, and talent shows, and open houses, and art nights, and field days, and field trips. Really, I do. But again with the everydayness?!

I call this doneness “May.”

But the thing is, the closer to the end of May, and thus being done, we get, the more undone I become.

My grip on sanity is loose, at best. All I can think about is summer when all this will stop and we can rest, relax, and read in peace, contentment, and quiet. (I know, I know, but I need something. Just let me have this innocent dream of what might be!) We will call this tranquil time reading camp. Yes, I like that. Reading camp is definitely a thing. And it is happening at my house…but not until the end of this endless month!

Reading camp requires zero dollars. It can be run from the comforts of your own home (or anywhere else that is comforting to you). It does not even require that you find the books (unless you are so inclined). You can find a recommended reading list for your middle school aged children here. Now you will be able to add a reading list for your older elementary school aged children.

For the animal lover:

  • Ginger Pye (Eleanor Estes) – This is a must-read, heartwarming story for any dog lover. It is the sweet story of one family bonding with their new dog.
  • White Fang (Jack London) – The perspective this book is written from contributes to its long lasting appeal to readers. The story itself is one that your reader will not soon forget.

For the adventurer:

  • The Book Scavengers (Jennifer Chambliss Bertman) – This series a very entertaining. The stories follow two friends who find themselves in a “life imitates art” scenario as they have to follow clues to find their favorite author.
  • The Wild Robot (Peter Brown) – What do you do when your child has read every “how to survive the wilderness” book there is? You give them a book about a robot doing just that. This will be a favorite. As an added bonus, my daughter tells me that the sequel is even better! I have not had a chance to read The Wild Robot Escapes yet, but I will trust her on this one.

For the fantasy lover:

  • Jupiter Storm (Marti Dumas) – Again, by now, you are aware of my great appreciation for all things written by Marti Dumas. Jupiter Storm is no exception. I loved this book and my two older daughter’s loved this book. Between the girl power, the scientific process, the family relationships, and the dragon, the kids will not be able to put this book down. When they finally do, they will spend days flipping through the pages to watch the surprise unfold on the bottom corners.
  • Gregor the Overlander (Suzanne Collins) – Before her Hunger Games fame, Collins wrote an excellent series about a human boy, Gregor, who discovers a fascinating world underground that is in great danger.
  • 100 Cupboards (N.D. Wilson) – This is the very engaging story about a boy who discovers a cupboard full of doors that lead to other worlds. As happens, drama ensues.
  • Tuesdays at the Castle (Jessica Day George) – If your fantasy fiction enthusiast is looking for a twist on the princess in a castle kind of story, this is the one. It is the first book in a five book series.

For the budding scientist:

  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Jacqueline Kelly) – This is the perfect story for your child who loves animals as much as they love science. But it is much more than a story about animals and science. It is a beautiful story about family, following through, and hope.
  • Hidden Figures (Margot Lee Shetterly) – As is usually the case, before it was a movie, it was a book. And, as is usually the case, the book is better.

For the detective:

  • Spy School series (Stuart Gibbs) – This highly enjoyable series follows an unlikely middle school aged boy who becomes a secret C.I.A. agent.
  • The Platypus Police Squad (Jarrett Krosoczka) – These books are funny, unique, and kids love them.
  • The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency (Jordan Stratford) – This series imagines a world in which Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace met as young girls and found themselves entangled in intrigue, leading them to form their own detective agency. The books are very fun.

For the athlete:

  • The Track series (Jason Reynolds) – Yep, again. They are just that good. Really.
  • The Kicks series (Alex Morgan) – Part autobiographical, part fiction, US Women’s Soccer team star, Alex Morgan, writes about a young girl, Devin, trying to navigate a big move, a new soccer team, and trying to keep it all together.

Just for fun:

  • The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (Karina Yan Glaser) – I love this book. It has become one of my most recommended books. This fantastic story about the children in a large family trying to save their family home is everything you look for in a story.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart) – These books are my oldest daughter’s most recommended books. A group of kids volunteer to be a part of a special society, but after many tests and challenges only a few remain. Now they have to find a way to work together.

My work here is done. Just like me!

 

Summer Reading Guide: Junior High Edition

As I write, my fifth grade daughter is telling me, for the six hundred fifty-sixth time, that she only has eleven more days of elementary school left. This fact seems thoroughly exciting to her. Time cannot move fast enough for her. She seems to sense the cusp she teeters on and is no longer satisfied to wonder what lies ahead. She is ready for what comes next.

I, on the other hand, am not ready at all. It is continually remarkable to me how moments in parenting can have such long build up times and yet find a way to sneak up on you. You have nine months of pregnancy to prepare, adjust, and anticipate the birth of your baby, and yet, the moment is always a surprise. You have five years to enjoy, discipline, and teach your precious babies before you place them in the loving care of a long line of teachers, and yet, that first day of Kindergarten is a complete shock. Then you have six long, comfortable years to laugh, learn, and grow with your fantastic elementary school age children, all the while knowing what comes next, and yet, the day it ends is going to be a surprise (despite the dictated second by second countdown).

Almost since the moment I found out I was pregnant the first time, I have worried about and dreaded the middle school years. Those years were so painful and dramatic for me that I felt, and still feel, completely powerless in knowing how to help navigate my own children through them. I know I cannot protect and shelter them from every harm, whether physical or emotional, but a little gentle bubble wrap between twelve to fourteen should just be standard. What she senses ahead with ease and expectation, I look back on with difficulty and hurt. And while I know in my head that she is not me, and her story will not be mine, my emotions are not convinced!

These oncoming years that I have, previously, been able to ignore, shut away, and block off, are now, unavoidably, upon us. I am ill-prepared, nervous, and excited. When she was a baby, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and completely lost as to how to help this tiny human flourish. I would check out every parenting book I could find and hang on to the things that were consistent throughout each book. But now, again feeling overwhelmed and lost, I have read exactly zero books on parenting during this new phase and I avoid talking to parents of teenagers about parenting.

With denial firmly established and recently identified, it is past time for me to move forward with reality.

A friend helped me take a few steps in the right direction a few weeks ago by asking me for book recommendations for middle school students. I was, unsurprisingly, excited and got to work on a list right away. I realized that this is an age group that I often skip over in my recommendations. As I worked through my book list, I thought about my daughter reading these books. I found myself looking forward to her broadened literary adventures and our discussions of them. While so many things around her may be changing, at least one thing will not, she and I will still read together. And that gives me great comfort and confidence.

If you share a home with a middle school aged kid and find yourself in need of some comfort and confidence, here are some excellent books to read together. While each of these books can be enjoyed by anyone, for the sake of ease, I have given them very general categories. These are not definitive, merely directive. And, there are many more books than these. As always, I would love to hear your recommendations.

For the athlete:

  • Crossover (Kwame Alexander) – Kwame Alexander is a gifted storyteller. His lyrical style of writing is creative, accessible, and enjoyable. He has many books to his name, but Crossover is my favorite. The characters he develops are so tangible and relatable you cannot help but connect with them.
  • Track seriesGhost, Patina, Sunny, and, coming soon, Lou (Jason Reynolds) – If you have spent any amount of time around Well Worn Pages, you know that most of my lists include something by Jason Reynolds. This series is one of my favorites to recommend to kids. The books are so refreshing, interesting, and compelling.

For the world events journalist:

  • A Long Walk to Water (Linda Sue Park) – This remarkable story follows two children, in two different eras, living through war in Sudan.
  • I am Malala (Malala Yousafzai) – This is a perspective changing story of a girl whose name we all know now. She took a stand against the Taliban to advocate for the education of girls and nearly lost her life in the process.
  • Refugee (Alan Gratz) – The book follows three different kids through three very different wars throughout recent history. It is heartbreaking, shocking, and based in reality.

For the historian:

  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare) – The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a Newberry Medal winner. It is a fascinating story of a young girl sent to Puritan America by herself. It is a story of struggle, friendship, misunderstanding, and cultural tension.
  • Lions of Little Rock (Kristin Levine) – This book tells the story of the desegregation of schools in Arkansas through the eyes of two girls and their commitment to maintain their friendship.

For the fantasy enthusiast:

For the deep thinker:

  • The Giver (Lois Lowry) – Here is another excellent Newberry Medal winner. Like A Wrinkle In Time, this book had a significant impact on me. It is worth the wait to read it when it can be thought through and understood.
  • The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) – There are many twists in the telling of this World War II novel. The narrator’s voice and the perspective of the main character are particularly unique and excellently done. This would be a great one to read together and talk about.

Coming of age stories:

  • Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson) – Woodson’s autobiographical work in this book is remarkable. The way she tells the story of her transitional childhood is, by turns, intriguing and relatable.
  • Full Cicada Moon (Marilyn Hilton) – The pain of moving, of being uprooted and un-rooted and the struggle to understand identity and cultural contexts; what could be more recognizable to middle schoolers?
  • Esperanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan) – Ryan has a way of telling stories you need to hear in such a way that you want to hear them. The story of Esperanza’s transition from life in Mexico to life in California is no exception.

Just for fun:

  • Holes (Louis Sachar) – This hilarious book is a Newberry Medal winner and a National Book Award winner. It is funny, heartfelt, cheeky, and great fun. Who knew digging holes out in the desert could amount to all that?!
  • The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin) – This book is one of my all time favorites of the Newberry Medal winners. It is Clue (the board game), murder mystery dinner, and a logic puzzle all in one. This one makes for a fantastic read aloud.

Books create bonds at any age. And, when it comes to middle schoolers, we can use all the help we can get creating and maintaining those bonds.

Here’s to these doing just that!

10 Poets to Read with Your Kids (Besides Shel Silverstein)

When my oldest daughter was in 2nd grade, she had a teacher who did something I had not heard of before. Rather than playing background music while the students were working, this teacher would play Shel Silverstein audiobooks. At first, I was skeptical about this strategy. I thought it would be distracting. How could they concentrate on their work while also listening to poetry?

My skepticism (about this at least) was laid to rest by half way through the year when my daughter would start quoting Shel Silverstein poems for any life circumstance that arose. Most often this involved quoting “For Sale” at the slightest sibling annoyance!

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Notice the dog earred page!

This teacher inspired me. I had visions of listening to poetry in the car, in the house while the kids were playing together, during bedtime, and all other times in between. All with the dual results of the children absorbing poetry while creating a peaceful, quiet, contemplative environment. But, like most of my inspirational ideas, none of this happened.

As it stands now, my children have absorbed exactly zero poems. Well, I take that back, they know Philip Schuyler’s rap in “Take a Break” from the Hamilton soundtrack thoroughly and will quote it at any opportunity. I am of the opinion that every song on that soundtrack is poetry at its finest.

Additionally, I think an argument could be made that most picture books are actually poetry, what with all the rhythm and rhyme. If you took the text of picture books and wrote them on a single page, they would be called poems. So, now that I think of it, the kids are fine, they know more poems than I could have hoped for.

Hamilton and picture books aside, I have failed on the poetry front. This is ironic for me as poetry saved my sanity as a teenager. The reading and writing of poetry gave me an outlet for things I could not otherwise express. My love for both reading and writing was sparked and fueled by the genre. One would think that would be a motivating factor in passing on that love to my children. And yet…

Now, during the waning days of National Poetry Month, I have a renewed sense of the importance of exposing my children to poems. Here are a few of the books and poets that we have enjoyed.

  1. Kwame Alexander – For the elementary school aged kids, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets is one of my favorite, recent, collected works of poetry. It has the benefit of not only exposing the kids to poetry, but also famous poets. Alexander is most well-known for his young adult novels, The Crossover, Booked, and Solo, which are expertly written in verse. He was awarded the Newberry Medal for The Crossover.
  2. Marilyn Singer – Singer has mastered the art of the mirror poem. She is a clever and entertaining writer. Beyond mirror poems, A Stick Is an Excellent Thing is a great book of poems to read with kids.
  3. Bob Raczka – Anyone who can title a book “Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems” automatically deserves to be on a list of poets to know. It is exactly that subtle play with words that make poetry fantastic, and he has done it IN HIS TITLE!
  4. Jacqueline Woodson – In the genre of novel-in-verse, Woodson is a gift. Brown Girl Dreaming is a remarkable book that every child fifth grade and above should read at least once. She has been awarded almost every award there is, including a National Book Award.
  5. Bravo! Poems for Amazing Hispanics (Margarita Engle) – My kids and I thoroughly enjoyed these poems. When we moved to the Los Angeles area, I knew that I needed to find a way to give my kids more exposure to Spanish-speaking important figures, many of whom had a significant impact on the area we live in. This book has been an excellent introduction.
  6. Nikki Grimes – While Grimes has a great deal of poetry to her name, One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissancee is my personal favorite. In this book, she takes her own poems and matches them up with famous poems of the Harlem Renaissance.
  7. Thanhha LaiInside Out and Back Again is another stand alone novel written in verse. It is a Newberry Medal Honor and National Book Award winning book that uses the power of poetic verse to convey a rarely heard story.
  8. Nikki Giovanni – While Giovanni is most well-known for her poetry aimed at adults, she does have several works that are for children. She is one of the great poets of our time and having our children exposed to her poetry is important.
  9. Patrick Lewis – Lewis has books of poetry about all manner of things ranging from cars to animals to math, math based on Edgar Allen Poe poems no less! He is clearly very good at what he does and children respond accordingly.
  10. Poetry for Young People and Poetry for Kids series – These two series are aimed at introduce “the classic” poets to young readers. The Poetry for Kids series is geared toward an elementary school age audience, while the Poetry for Young People series is more for the middle school age student. These are good introductory collections for helping students get to know the essential works of important poets.
  11. BONUS ROUNDI’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups (Chris Harris) is a must have! This book is an absolute delight. My favorite poem in the book is “Alphabet Book (By the Laziest Artist in the World).” You will want this book in your house. It will be read again and again.

Here’s to hoping that my children will begin quoting more “reading” by Jacqueline Woodson along with their Silverstein “The Crocodile’s Toothache.”

My Journey with American Racism and the Books that are Teaching Me

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. As I have read articles, listened to speeches, and reflected on how far we still have to go, I have been challenged, on a personal level, by how far I still have to go with my own understanding of American racism.

Like America itself, I want to think of myself as post-racial. And yet, I speak up when I should be silent. I sit in silence when I should speak up. I speak out of pride rather than humility. I misplace my role, identity, and responsibility.

Recently, I had a chance to speak out loud words on behalf of Stephon Clark, the young black man shot by police in Sacramento. To my shame, I chose to be silent. And this after defending myself for posting about it on social media by saying that I speak up about these issues in my everyday life, not just online. Except, this time, I didn’t. I could list off endless reasons for why I didn’t. But the end of all of that, the simple fact is, I just chose not to speak up.

That choice has left me with an overwhelming sense that I have not come quite as far as I hoped I had in my journey with American racism. After all this time, I still pick and choose when to engage. I am still willing to let things I hear slide. I still miscommunicate. And I still sit back when it is inconvenient for me to stand up.

Couple this with an article I read called “The White Allies’ Guide to Collecting Aunt Linda,” in which I was challenged by #4 and #7,  and I am left this week humbled, convicted, and unsure of my process.

When this happens, I find it helpful to look back and remember how this process started. Growing up in Nigeria, I had identity issues the likes of which would make Rachel Dolezal squirm. Additionally, I also had to wrestle deeply with colonialism issues. But those are stories for another day. This is about my journey with American racism, so I will start when I moved here at 18.

I moved to downtown Chicago with no clue about winter, wind, and being white in America. More importantly, I had no clue what it was like to not be white in America.

Almost immediately, I realized that racism was alive and well in the United States, and in the north no less. And here I had innocently believed this to be a southern thing of the past. Not so! I could not even count the ways I saw, every day, my black peers being treated differently. It was shocking, frustrating, largely ignored, and NEVER publicly discussed. It did not make any sense to me.

It was a very confusing time of disillusionment and anger for me. I quickly learned that I did not have a place to express my frustrations. My white friends got angry, defensive, and would not talk about it, my black American friends were hurt by my ignorance and reminded me that I was part of the problem, and my international friends were just trying to figure it all out too.

Thankfully, I met very patient, very gracious black American friends who were willing to talk to me openly about what life was like for them. They helped me start to see and slowly understand the recent history that kept racial tensions so high.

Then in 1999, Amadou Diallo, a young, unarmed, black man was shot 41 times by police in New York City. His story changed the story for me. This racism problem that I had seen on a personal level, now became glaringly real on a systemic one. I was once again shocked by the callousness and anger shown towards black men.

But I still could not see my own role in the system. I’m not from here, I kept telling myself. I was raised in a black African country, this issue has nothing to do with me. I am nothing like “those people.” I was too busy working through those aforementioned identity issues to take on anymore culpability at that time.

Then, thirteen years later, Trayvon Martin was shot. And something his story gave way in me. I think because he was so young and I was a parent by then, I saw his murder in a whole new light. I was no longer willing to be silent or ignorant of my own implicit biases and role in those systemic problems. It was time to get over myself, stop seeing this as other people’s problem, and start working on my own actions and words.

There are many, many articles, posts, and most importantly, people who have helped me (and continue to do so) on this ongoing journey towards racial equity in America. It is often a one step forward, two step back kind of learning. But here are a few of the books that have helped change and shape my thinking and understanding the most.

Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson) – This book revolutionized my understanding of the American justice system. It has become one of the few books I try to make a point of re-reading.

Divided By Faith (Michael Emerson and Christian Smith) – If I only had one book to suggest to white American Christians, it would be this one. It serves as a vital, must-hear challenge.

Trouble I’ve Seen (Drew Hart) – I have entire chapters of this book underlined. Again, this book is of particular importance to white American Christians.

Warmth of Other Suns (Isabel Wilkerson) – I learned more about American history from this book than anything I ever learned in school. The true stories of the intentional, institutionalized racism that African Americans faced leaving the Jim Crow south are devastating and must be heard.

The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander) – I read this after reading Just Mercy and it challenged everything I thought I knew about the “justice” system.

And Still I Rise (Henry L. Gates) – This book follows the PBS special “And Still I Rise” and is an excellent historical resource. Gates’ America Behind the Color Line is also a very good book to read.

Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates) – Something about the way Coates writes speaks to me. He has a way of conveying harsh truths in an unreserved, direct way that forces me to listen and hear him.

Tears We Cannot Stop (Michael Eric Dyson) – I will be honest, I kicked and squirmed through almost every page of this book. Dyson does not hold back in his “sermon to white America.” Everything in me wanted to say, “I don’t do that.” This is probably exactly why I needed to read this book, and then read it again.

Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance) – This may seem like a strange book to have on the list, but it did help me a lot. It was eye-opening and made sense of many things I had seen. But the thing that helped me most in my racial understanding, was when Vance admitted that even growing up the way he did, he, as a white man, recognized that he still had privileges available to him that a black man would not have.

We Were Eight Years in Power (Ta-Nehisi Coates) – My phone is filled with pictures of quotes from this book. I first read a library copy and couldn’t highlight. When I tried writing quotes I wanted to remember down, I realized I was just transcribing the book. Then I started taking pictures. They are many. The chapter on reparations was particularly poignant.

In addition to these current authors, there are five authors from the past that have greatly impacted my journey. They are:

  1. Frederick DouglassNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a fantastic place to start.
  2. W.E. B. Du BoisThe Souls of Black Folk should be required reading.
  3. James BaldwinNotes of a Native Son is where I recommend starting with his writing. While not in book form, the movie “I Am Not Your Negro” was made from his writing and is also excellent.
  4. Maya Angelou – Today would be Angelou’s 90th birthday and she is deeply and greatly missed. Her poetry speaks beyond her with remarkable voice. “Still I Rise” is essential reading.
  5. Martin Luther King, Jr – While not immediately thought of as an author, I include him in this category because it is through reading that I have “heard” his speeches. I am consistently challenged by his speeches and writing. Letters from a Birmingham Jail has become a particular favorite, one I read regularly as a way of keeping my priorities, motives, and intentions rightly ordered.

As I have learned from these books, I am reminded that my goal and hope of arriving, of being done learning is flawed, unrealistic, and misplaced. My goal has to change. This is not a “one and done” kind of education. This is a moment by moment, day by day, self check kind of education. A continual, hopefully, progressing education. An education in humility, openness, empathy, and action.

 

 

 

 

 

50 Family Favorite Picture Books

This month, my youngest child turned five. I find myself experiencing something largely unfelt for the last ten years…nostalgia. For these past ten years, I have been in perpetual, day-to-day survival mode. I have experienced all manner of “mom” modes, including, but not limited to:

  • Newborn Haze Mom
  • Zombie Mom
  • I Can’t Even Mom
  • “That” Mom
  • Judge-y Mom
  • Mama Bear Mom
  • Defeated, Deflated, Detached Mom
  • Yell-y Mom
  • Sobbing Mom
  • Bribing Mom
  • Oh No You Didn’t Mom
  • These Toddlers Will Be The End of Me Mom
  • and above all HOT MESS MOM

But I have never (well, rarely ever) been Nostalgic Mom. You know, the one who sees a baby and immediately sighs, reminiscing through rose-colored glasses, and pining over those best memories that rise to the top.

Nostalgic Moms used to cause very real stress for me because, with them, I had a constant feeling that I was not “enjoying the moment” enough, or present enough, or “treasuring it all up in my heart” enough. I was overwhelmed, out-numbered, exhausted, and perpetually at a loss. I had never been far enough removed from the intensity of it all to experience anything else. Now, I liken it to swimming in the ocean. When waves are rolling in at a pace that allows you to catch your breath in between, you can look around and appreciate the beauty, majesty, and power of them. At this rate, even the large, overwhelming, crushing waves can be absorbed. But when the waves come in at such a pace that each time your raise your head out the water, another crashes over you, even the smallest waves become thoroughly incapacitating and panic inducing. That is what much of the early days of mothering felt like for me. And so, nostalgia was very far removed.

But now, suddenly, with the coming of my youngest child’s fifth birthday, I am becoming Nostalgic Mom. I see a tiny baby and I coo and aww and remember (only the good things). I see an older baby grab their mom’s face and turn it to them and I can almost feel the hands of my own children years ago. I see a new walker heading in the opposite direction of their heavily pregnant mother and my mind rewinds to the joy of my children’s first tentative steps while stubbornly blocking out the endless chasing that followed. I see a toddler throwing a fit in the store and I smile at the exhausted, embarrassed mother in solidarity but feel no shared panic.

I am, at long last, far enough removed. The waves are rolling in at a relatively even pace. And I am shocked by how emotional it is. I was not prepared for how jarring this new phase of life would be for me. My children are now all school aged and my role is shifting under my feet. In an effort to somewhat steady that shifting, I have been trying to find some way of commemorating the past ten years of baby/toddler/preschool parenting, something unique, something that embodies my parenting experience during that time.

What better way for me to do that than through books?! I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that we have read thousands of picture books in our home over the last decade. Some we have read so often the pages are destroyed, some we never finished (which is saying something for a picture book), some we have given away, some we have memorized. But no matter the reaction, the picture books have been there, in neat stacks, in rows, in “hot lava” patterns across the floor, in lopsided piles. Increasingly, though, the younger kids are asking for longer stories to be read to them. And while I will always read them picture books, I can sense the days of having twenty-seven checked out at a time waning.

Because of this, I would like to make a list of our family’s favorite picture books. This is not a list of the best picture books, though some are in there, or the most popular, though, again, there will be some overlap. These are simply the ones we enjoyed the most and I love each and every one of them for that.

The Essential First Books:

  • Yo! Yes? (Chris Raschka) – Hands down, this is the best picture book about friendship out there. This was my first picture book love and it is the first book I give to new parents.
  • Freight Train (Donald Crews) – The illustrations in this book are true art. Also, who doesn’t love trains?!
  • Red Wagon (Renata Liwska) – This fantastic book is everything a picture book should be: beautifully illustrated, funny, imaginative, and helpful.
  • Seven Blind Mice (Ed Young) – Perspective is an important thing, as these mice learn.
  • Bear’s Loose Tooth (Karma Wilson) – Of all the wonderful Bear books, this one has been my children’s favorite. Probably because over the last five years there has always been a least one loose tooth in the house.
  • Lonesome Polar Bear (Jane Cabrera) – This is a personal favorite of mine. I have memories of long, cold winter nights, reading this book again and again. All the Polar Bear wants is a friend and Cloud just is not cutting it.
  • Whistle for Willie (Ezra Keats) – This is the summer version of Keats’ Snowy Day and I absolutely love it.
  • Little Quack (Lauren Thompson) – Every parent can relate to Mama Duck’s struggle trying to get the kids out of the house, or nest, in this case. Every child can relish in the joy of overcoming fears.
  • Planting a Rainbow (Lois Ehlert) – Ehlert is a picture book icon and this was my kids’ favorite of hers.
  • The Umbrella (Jan Brett) – This book is basically The Mitten in the rain forest. I cannot count the number of times we have read this book in my house, but we all thoroughly enjoy it every time.

The Classics:

  • Snowy Day (Ezra Keats) – This book almost makes me want to play in the snow! It is picture book perfection.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Eric Carle) – The best thing about this book is that your two and three-year old will feel an enormous sense of accomplishment reading this book to you, by themselves, over and over and over and, yep, over again!
  • Swimmy (Leo Lionni) – Different and all alone in the world, Swimmy just wants to find his place. Lionni’s famous illustrations will keep this book on your children’s shelf for a very long time.
  • Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak) – Max needs no introduction!
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst) – It seems like every time we read this book, my kids can relate to a new part of it. Because some days are just like that, even in Australia.
  • Bread and Jam for Frances (Russel Hoban) – I’m not going to lie, I have used this book as a subtle teaching tool for how to learn to eat other things besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sadly, while they love the book, they have not picked up on the lesson.
  • Curious George (Margret and H.A. Rey) – “This is George. He was a good little monkey and always very curious.” I mean, does it get much better than that!
  • Dr. Seuss’s ABCs (Dr. Seuss) – I think each of my kids have learned the alphabet to this book, with a lot of laughs along the way!
  • Chrysanthemum (Kevin Henkes) – Because my children do not have common American names, this book has been essential in our home. They have spent many hours, like Chrysanthemum, courageously embracing their unique names.
  • Animalia (Graeme Base) – This book is brilliantly written and illustrated. It does not matter how many times you have read it, you can always find something new. It is, by far, my favorite ABC book.

The Laugh Track:

  • Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus (Mo Williams) – All of the Pigeon books are hilarious, this one is particularly so.
  • The Book With No Pictures (B.J. Novak) – Belly laughs will ensue, even without pictures.
  • The Day the Crayons Quit (Drew Daywalt) – Listen to the laugh-out-loud messages the crayons have for their owner.
  • A is for Musk Ox (Erin Cabatingan) – Sometimes a musk ox just needs some alphabet attention, too.
  • Count the Monkeys (Mac Barnett) – What happens if you are reading a counting book, but all the things you are supposed to count are nowhere to be found?!
  • Stick (Steve Breen) – A young frog gets overly excited about his tongue’s fly-catching abilities. Wait for it, though, because the big laughs are on the last page.
  • Hippo-Not-A-Mus (Tony and Jan Payne) – Portly, the young hippo, decides he doesn’t want to be a hippo anymore and goes searching for the animal he should be instead.
  • 11 Experiments That Failed (Jenny Offill) – Occasionally, things do not go according to plan, experiment wise. When that happens, there can be hilarious results, at least in eleven cases I’ve read about!
  • Froggy’s Worst Playdate (Jonathan London) – My kids went through a very long Froggy phase. I think “more red in the face than green” were the first seven words they were each able to read. This one is guaranteed to bring the laughs.
  • Z is for Moose (Kelly Bingham) – Moose is feeling a little excited about his upcoming page in the alphabet book. Hijinks ensue, feelings are hurt, chaos and drama reign, all until Zebra figures out the perfect solution.

The Constant Go – To’s:

  • Down By the Cool of the Pool (Tony Mitton) – The rhyme and rhythm of this book are so catchy that kids just want to hear it again and again.
  • I’m Dirty (Kate and Jim McMullin) – Apparently, there is nothing more interesting than listening to a back hoe digger brag about its machinery and revel in the mud.
  • Ladybug Girl at the Beach (Jacky Davis) – The Ladybug Girl books were sanity saving pieces of literature for my escape from all things Fancy Nancy related.
  • Only Bread for Eze (Ifeoma Okoye) – This is the second picture book I came to love as a young girl. I have read it more times than I can imagine and I love it more each time. It is the Nigerian version of Bread and Jelly for Frances.
  • Manana, Iguana (Ann Whitford Paul) – My kids feel so cool reading this book, like they speak Spanish. It is a very fun re-telling of The Little Red Hen.
  • Smash, Crash (Jon Scieszka) – If dirty diggers are your child’s thing, then this book is even better because all these two trucks want to do is smash and crash everything in sight.
  • My Name is Not Isabella (Jennifer Fosberry) – I read this book to my girls all the time. Isabella has a very active imagination and at every turn she is pretending to be a different famous woman from history.
  • Catch That Goat (Polly Alakija) – This story takes place in a Nigerian market. A goat goes missing and one little girl must find it before her mother comes back. I cannot recommend this book enough.
  • Dial M for Mercy (Doug Peterson) – Written by one of the VeggieTales writers, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber are mess-line detectives who find themselves in the middle of a pretty big mix-up.
  • My Truck is Stuck (Kevin Lewis) – To be honest, I am not sure what it is about this book that my kids enjoyed so much. But they could hear about this stuck truck many, many, many times. I really think it is the hilarious, scene-stealing gophers that they like so much.

Bedtime:

  • Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (Sherri Duskey Rinker) – Don’t you need to say goodnight to every construction vehicle in town before bed? Because from the antics in my house, that seems like a standard need.
  • Goodnight, Moon (Margaret Wise Brown) – I mean, whether you understand why we are saying “Goodnight, nobody” or not, you have to own the book. It is a must.
  • Llama, Llama, Red Pajama (Ann Dewdney) – Llama just needs his mama, again and again. Your kids can relate, you can relate, everybody wins.
  • Just in Case You Ever Wonder (Max Lucado) – My dad gave me a copy of this book a few years before he died and it has become a bedtime must read (and cry) with my kids.
  • Giraffe Can’t Dance (Giles Andreae) – There is nothing bedtime-y about this book and a great deal of windy-upedness (?) about it, but my kids love to hear it at bedtime. Maybe its all the middle of the night dancing, I don’t know. Either way, it is a great book, no matter the time of day.
  • Mommy’s Best Kisses (Margaret Anastas) – The book goes through different mother animals kissing their babies in all different places and my kids absolutely loved having me follow suit. And I was all too happy to oblige!
  • I’m Not Sleepy (Jane Chapman) – This is the bedtime story every parent can understand. It is a very entertaining tale of a little owl who just cannot go to sleep, or stay in bed.
  • Hedgie Blasts Off (Jan Brett) – Again, I do not know why a space traveling hedgehog story got into our bedtime rotation, but somehow it did and now it’s here to stay.
  • Little Pink Pig (Pat Hutchins) – Mama Pig just wants her baby to come home, but a farm can be oh so distracting for a clumsy little pig.
  • The Going to Bed Book (Sandra Boyton) – I think I read this book nightly for nine straight years. It was wonderful because it could always be the last book I read and I could “read” it even after the light went out. I think this is the book that will bring back visceral memories of our bedtime story times most.

If you are still reading this, you deserve to win all fifty of these books! I can’t actually make that happen, but you deserve it. These books hold very special places on my shelves and  I am glad to have a place to go to when Nostalgic Mom comes calling.

May your family enjoy these books as much as mine did!

Black History Month: Two Excellent Books for Children

Let me be honest for a minute, when I first came to the United States, I did not understand Black History Month. At all. I would sit in my education classes listening to my professor talk about the importance of emphasizing Black History Month in our future classrooms and I admit to being confused. In my naivete, I thought, “Why can’t we just teach American history?” I did not understand why we were segregating history.

And then I started to read American history.

I realized that America’s history has always been segregated. The more I read, the more I realized that outside of sections on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, the vast majority of U.S. history textbooks were stories about Americans of European descent. James Baldwin is famously quoted as saying,

“When I was going to school, I began to be bugged by the teaching of American history, because it seemed that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”

Reading these stories and listening to gracious and patient African American friends describe their educational experience helped me to realize that there can be no “unified” historical story until everyone’s story is included.

One of my favorite songs from the musical, Hamilton, is “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” The song begins with George Washington’s character singing:

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory. You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

We have no control who tells our story, but we do control which stories we choose to tell. The stories we choose to tell need to do justice to the people who gave so much to the foundation and formation of this nation. The stories we choose to tell need to go beyond the broad strokes children learn year after year and into the fine detail of underappreciated creators and inventors. The stories we choose to tell need to inspire, uplift, and excite a new generation of history-in-the-making individuals. Stories that are not limited to just one cross-section of our society, but stories that represent all contributors.

This is why Black History Month has gone from being a source of confusion for me to being something I view as essential. If our everyday history teaching is only going to cover the generalities of American history, then taking a month out of the year to shine a spotlight on events and individuals otherwise left out of the story is exactly what is needed.

The thing is, even when we do celebrate Black History Month, we often mimic our textbooks’ incomplete picture. Our focus tends towards topics of some familiarity, namely slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. As such, we often do not look much further than Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Please don’t misunderstand, we need to and must learn about this country’s horrifying history with slavery and celebrate the individuals and groups who worked tirelessly and sacrificially to bring about it’s end. The same is true of the brave national heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.

This is not a call to stop learning about those times or people in American history; rather, this is a call to expand our knowledge to include so much and so many more. Our children (and the adults too) need to learn about Lewis Howard Latimer, Daniel Hale Williams, Alice Ball, Garret Morgan, Bessie Coleman, and many, many others. We need to know the stories of the inventors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, and artists who made significant contributions to American life and development.

Two of my favorite books that do just this are:

    • Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison: This is an excellent book to jump start your child’s historical education. I think this book is a great resource and an interesting read for any age, not just the “little leaders” in the title.

Between these two books, you would have over 29 individuals to learn about, research, and study; one person for each day of February. If you are looking for more resources, Be the Bridge has fantastic book lists for younger kids and another, equally good, one for older kids. You can also see my list from last year here.

With the broad strokes of America’s historical painting finished, let’s start filling in the details.

15 Stealthy Books About Ninjas

Many people wonder, and a few brave souls even ask, if my husband and I planned to have four children. The surprising answer to most is that, yes, yes we did hope to have four kids. Four seems like the perfect round number, everyone always has someone they can get along with for that moment, no one is ever naturally excluded (my lone son may have something to say about this after seeing his sister’s notebook that read, “The Secret Sister’s Club”), and there is a built-in, substantial group of friends to play with at all times.

Now that our youngest child is about to turn five, these theories, for the most part, are finally proving true. There are natural pairings among the four, but on any given day, for seemingly any random reason, those friendships strain. The effected children are able to find different siblings to commiserate play with relatively effortlessly. Secret Sister Club’s aside, there are very few times when an odd sibling is, intentionally, left out. It is also true that they now have a small village to play with every day before and after school. Our house and backyard sound like it, too.

Lately, as all of our neighbors can attest, the kids have been playing a game they call “Ninja Training.” Which is awesome, except that in all of their research, they have failed to realize rule number one of ninja-ing: SILENCE! I need to give them one of my favorite shirts (which you can find on Woot.com).

“Ninja Training” works like this:

  • My second born is the Ninja Trainer, always.
  • She teaches the others her stealthy moves.
  • They try to always stay in the shadows.
  • They try to blend in with their surroundings.
  • They try to move with extreme caution (though, again, silence seems of no import).
  • They learn to fight with some pretty sweet, made up moves.

“Ninja Training” takes place anytime, anywhere: in the car, in the hallway, on the walk to school, at the table, while going to bed. But their favorite place to play is in the trampoline, in the dark. The trainer has a flashlight and the ninjas have to sneak around the trampoline in the shadows and scare the trainer. It is hilarious, often violent, and always noisy (really, why can’t they get the silence component!).

There is just something universally awesome about ninjas. They embody mystery and adventure, poise and control. It is an irresistible combination of imaginative thrill for children. A thrill they like to incorporate into every facet of their lives, including the literary. I know it is not actually true that my children have read every ninja picture book there is, but I am pretty sure they have read every ninja picture book there is! And there are some very good ones:

Nighttime Ninja (Barbara DeCosta) – This is one of my favorite birthday presents for little kids (don’t worry, I give them other things too, not only one small book). This little ninja fulfills every child’s fantasy of sneaking through the house in the middle of the night in search of the forbidden!

N.D. WilsonHello Ninja is a fantastic ninja rhyming adventure for the younger kids in your life. Ninja Boy Goes to School is the perfect book for the child who doesn’t want to take their ninja costume off as they head off to school.

Chris TougasDojo Daycare is a hilarious book that leaves every child I have ever read it to laughing and KA-POWing. It is a remarkably relatable tale for those of us reading it, as well! You have definitely felt like this dojo master at the end of the day!  Dojo Daytrip and Dojo Surprise follow in the same vein. These are very fun books.

Arree ChungNinja! is the go to ninja book for the picture book lovers. Arree Chung has two other ninja books that deserve attention as well, Ninja!: Attack of the Clan and Ninja Claus.

Corey Rosen Schwartz – Schwartz has cornered the market on turning fairy tales into ninja stories, which does not sound like something that should work. I was skeptical at first, but these books are funny and children love them! Be sure to check out The Three Ninja Pigs, Ninja Red Riding Hood, Hensel & Gretel: Ninja Chicks.

Little Kunoichi The Ninja Girl (by Sanae Ishida) – My girls loved reading this book. It is still rare to find ninja books that feature girls. As if that weren’t enough, the story is actually good.

The Boy Who Cried Ninja (Alex Latimer) – An active imagination can be a burden when amazing things keep happening and no one will believe you!

Magic Treehouse: Night of the Ninjas (Mary Pope Osborne)  – This is book 5 of the Magic Treehouse series and one of my kids’ favorites. It now comes with a companion, Magic Treehouse Fact Tracker: Ninjas and Samurai.

When the books no longer suffice, I give you this song, Ninja by Slugs and Bugs.
https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/0fObBZiutHOWoeq0QwJcq2
Unapologetically.

Books to Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life with Children

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination. 50 very short years since his life was brutally cut short and what was his life’s work became his lasting legacy.

It is that lasting legacy that we commemorate and honor on this upcoming American holiday.

While it is sometimes easy for us to think of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s work as bygone history, it is important to remember that, according to the Census Bureau, approximately 29% of the population of the United States is 50 years old and above. That means that within the lifetime of 29% of Americans, in parts of this country, there were separate drinking fountains for black Americans, black Americans were not allowed to check out library books from the public library, schools were segregated, black Americans could not stay in public hotels, eat at public restaurants, or swim in public pools. The list goes on and on and on. Within the lifetime of 29% of Americans. This is not slavery-days history, this is contemporary history.

It is this contemporary history we must not ignore. In his, now famous, 1967 speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King begins by talking about the progress and success of the Civil Rights Movement up to that point. But shortly after this introduction, he turns his attention to the future and asks, “Where do we go from here?”

As we celebrate and honor the life of Dr. King, this is a question we must ask ourselves now. “Where do we go from here?”  We now live in a country quite different from the one he knew, and yet, even now, we still have so far to go towards realizing his dream. “Where do we go from here?”

We start by not being content with almost realizing the dream. Almost is not good enough. We commit to working tirelessly, sacrificially, and determinedly towards true equity and equal standing, politically, financially, and practically. We commit to teaching our children and students the truth of our collective past. We give them tools, resources, and support to bring about greater change in their generation.

We all want to live Dr. King’s unforgettable words:

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls”

In order to reach that dream, we must teach our children the truth, the truth of our history and the truth about each other. It can be difficult to know how to talk to children about these awful realities. We naturally want to shelter and protect our children from unpleasant things and preserve their innocence as long as possible. As a result, in many settings, “race” has become a new “four letter word,” a taboo subject, for any age. But this should not be the case. Racial differences are not inherently wrong, they are actually a beautiful, healthy, and completely natural part of human existence. It is our responses and reactions to those differences that are either morally wrong or right. Our discussions with our children should reflect that reality.

With all this in view, we look back and remember the life of a man who gave voice to a movement, a movement that altered the course of a nation, a nation in desperate need of change.

Here are some books to help your children or students learn more about Dr. King’s lasting legacy and the movement he helped lead.

Picture Books:

Early Readers:

Middle Grade Chapter Books:

Junior High and above:
I highly recommend just reading his speeches, besides the “I Have a Dream” speech. It is a remarkable speech and should be listened to or read in its entirety, often. But he had many other equally remarkable and memorable speeches that deserve our attention as well. My 3 favorite are “Letters From a Birmingham Jail,” “Where Do We Go From Here?” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

In his own words, from “Where Do We Go From Here?”:

What I’m saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, “America, you must be born again!” [applause] (Oh yes)

And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction. (Yes)

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. (All right)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. (Yes sir)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history (Yes), and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.

Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

Let us be dissatisfied (All right) until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. (Yeah) Let us be dissatisfied. [applause]

Let us be dissatisfied (Well) until every state capitol (Yes) will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.

Let us be dissatisfied [applause] until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes)

2018: The Year of Reliability (I hope)

2018 is 4 days old and so far I have:

  • purchased 3 books on Amazon.
  • returned 24 books to the library…on time!
  • checked out 19 different books.
  • placed 13 books on hold at the library.
  • set off the alarm trying to leave the library, again. (Actually, this happens so often that my 4 year-old son will no longer walk through the scanner with me. He makes me go ahead of him so that he doesn’t have to be seen with the embarrassing alarm-setter-offer.)
  • gone over (and over and over) in my head exactly how to phrase my conversation with the kid from my daughter’s class that I lent 2 of my books to over the break when I ask for my books back.
  • started reading 2 different books only to give up on both (for the time being) to catch up on This Is Us and The Crown.

For the most part, there is very little “new” about this new year. I guess I should be fine with that. Last year was a really good year, actually. I resolved to work towards greater organization and self-discipline. And I, moderately, did just that.

I was able to get a family system of organization in place that kept the 6 of us going, often in 6 different directions, where we needed to be, with the things we were supposed to have, fed, and appropriately dressed…mostly.

As far as self-discipline goes, considering my default mode is to use as few muscles in a day as possible, I feel pretty good about how I did. I wrote at least once a week. I exercised for at least one-third of the year. For a majority of the year, I was carbonated diet drinks free, which for this fizz-lover was an impressive feat of self discipline. I cut down on my daily dark chocolate intake. Mind you, there is still daily intake, but less than there used to be. I also spent more time reading than watching TV. Some may argue this is not self discipline, as actual self discipline would have been to spend more time cleaning the house more than I did read. But that is just crazy talk!

Now here we are at the beginning of a new year and nothing has changed. I need something to change though, because I have a whole new word of emphasis for this year. Somehow January 1st is supposed to bring with it the magical powers of renewed determination and refreshed enthusiasm. How am I supposed to accomplish my goals when the first 4 days are more “meh” than “whoosh” (that’s the sound magic makes, right)? Especially when this year’s word may just be my most difficult one yet.

Reliability.

You know, that word that means when you offer to help someone learn how to drive, you actually get in a car and teach them to drive, not just never call them again because you realized you don’t have time to teach someone how to drive. That word that means when you say you will meet someone for coffee, you actually put it in your calendar and meet said person for coffee, not totally forget and get a “are-we-still-on” call while reading in bed in your pajamas. That word that means when you say, “Mom, don’t buy that album yet. I want to get it for you for Christmas.” You actually go online and order the album for your mother, rather than forgetting until you hear her playing it 5 years later and realizing she got tired of waiting for you to follow through. Because when even your own mother gets tired of waiting for you to follow through, you have a very significant problem indeed…not that I would know?! (Ahem)

And so, I find myself much like Hamilton’s George Washington, “in dire need of assistance.” I am determined to find a way to be more reliable this year, to consistently follow through with what I commit to, but so far it is more of the same. To help motivate me, I will start off with a thing I have no problem being reliable about…books. Here are a few of the books I am most looking forward to reading this year.

Picture Books:

Children’s Chapter Books:
Early Grades:

Middle Grades:

Books for Me:

Now we have 361 days to see if I can discipline myself towards being reliable with the more difficult things.