How to Build a Diverse Classroom Library

Most educators understand that to help students thrive, children’s books need to reflect and uplift a child’s own identity. This can be accomplished when students have access to diverse and inclusive children’s literature, but challenges exist in both the lack of diverse children’s books on the market and limited access to funding for teachers to acquire books for their classrooms. Here is a guide on how you can overcome these challenges to make your classroom library one in which all of your students can see themselves in the pages of a book.

From Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Ronald Himler

Evaluate the Books You Have

 

Before you make any changes to your classroom library, it is important to evaluate the content and quality of the books you already have.

 

As you start to evaluate and expand your library, work with school administration to prepare for potential complaints, opposition, or censorship. Ask your school board to develop and implement policies in support of inclusive written material and clear intellectual and academic freedom statements, as well as measures to handle opposition. These policies should include a formal complaint process and indicate possible reasons for exclusion of written material.

 

Make a list of topics you want your classroom library to cover. A diverse library will include books written by or about the experience of people including (but not limited to):

  • LGBTQIA+ individuals
  • Indigenous people and people of color
  • People with disabilities
  • Families with varying socioeconomic experiences
  • Ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities

Next, clear your classroom library’s bookshelves or bins. Label the empty shelves/containers with the topics you’ve identified. Then, sort your current books into these categories, based on content and/or author demographics. Permanently remove books from your library that work against inclusion; for example, books that reinforce stereotypes or books that promote offensive depictions or descriptions.

 

Identify the types of books that are missing from your collection, based on which shelves are sparse, empty, or not varied. Remember that while it is important for children to read about racism, discrimination, and marginalization, it is essential for children to see themselves thrive. As Dorian Smith-Garcia notes, “When you’re picking stories with Black lead characters, it’s important to choose diverse plots. Not everything needs to focus on slavery, racism, and inequality all the time—the Black experience is not a limited one!”

From Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Ronald Himler

Expand Your Classroom Library

 

Now that you have a better understanding of the books already in your classroom, expand your library by researching which books will fill the gaps in your collection and figuring out how to fund and acquire those books.

 

Research books that cover the topics that are missing from your current collection. You will be able to find expert help from a librarian, or you can consult online lists of books with diverse subjects from reputable sources, such as We Need Diverse Books and the American Library Association “Best of” lists. Your students might also be able to provide great recommendations!

 

Obtain funding to purchase new books. Since PTA and classroom funds are often limited, consider applying for grants through the American Library Association. Teachers in the US can receive free diverse children’s and young adult books through the Multicultural Children’s Book Day Diverse Books for Classrooms Program. If you teach in a low-income school, there are free diverse books available through We Need Diverse Books in the Classroom.

 

You can also solicit the support of your community by starting a crowdfunding campaign through organizations like PledgeCents, Teachers Pay Teachers, or Adopt A Classroom. Collaborating with other teachers, working with a local librarian, or checking with your school administration can help you to identify additional funding sources.

 

Acquire the books on your list. A great way to use funds efficiently is by shopping at public library sales, secondhand stores, or “budget” book websites. Consider asking your local indie bookstore for discounts or donations. If your funds are very limited, harness the power of social media (especially Twitter and Instagram). Many children’s book authors and bloggers host book giveaways with hashtags like #FreeBooks, #BookGiveaway, and #KidsNeedFreeBooks.

 

Finally, integrate the new books into your classroom. Don’t just put your new books on the shelf! Having a “featured read” section can highlight a new book for your students. You can also prompt interest by reading books aloud in class or integrating them into your curriculum. Encourage student ownership in caring for the books by assigning a student “librarian of the day” to organize the library. This ownership will help assure your inclusive collection lasts for many school years to come.

From Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Ronald Himler

Learn to Fly: A Guide to Traveling with Kids

From Comings and Goings by Anna and Manos Kontoleon

Jet-setting is the fastest way to connect with places and people around the world. Everyday, thousands of flights carry people to far-away destinations. For many, it can be a daunting and anxiety-inducing experience. This is especially true for children on their first flight.

 

With travel restrictions loosening and travel becoming more possible, you and your child may have an upcoming flight. Here are some ways to set a good and healthy precedent and ease any plane anxiety your child may feel.

 

First, demystify the travel process with your kid. Talk to them about your destination and how to get there: you’ll need to pack, get to the airport on time, pass through TSA, and board the airplane. Walk them through each step so they aren’t left to wonder what the travel process will look like. It may also relax your child to know the steps you will take to ensure a smooth flight.

From Comings and Goings by Anna and Manos Kontoleon

You may want to curate the media your child consumes in the months prior to the flight. Steer clear of media that depicts planes in peril; it may frighten your child and plant a seed of fear. This is an easy precaution that will benefit you and your child before the flight.

 

Once you’ve set a good precedent before the flight, it’s time to fill the space between destinations with activities. Books are excellent in moments like this (and anytime!). Coloring books are great for stimulating a child’s imagination and preventing boredom. Most modern airplanes are equipped with TV monitors on the back of every seat. Be sure to bring headphones with wire cables, as the monitors are not Bluetooth-compatible. On shorter plane rides movies are only available to fill a portion of the in-flight entertainment.

 

For many, even adults, experiencing turbulence can induce a lot of anxiety. It can be especially upsetting for children. It will help your child to have something to do, and hold onto, if the plane experiences turbulence. They can distract themselves with a book, coloring book, or a stuffed animal. Explain to your child that turbulence is a normal occurrence and should not be feared. Talking them through the turbulence can also be a good way to ease their worries.

 

Taking off and landing are much easier when chewing gum. It will keep your ears from feeling too pressurized. For your mini-traveler, this can also help ease the rush and discomfort during the takeoff and landing.

 

If you can choose the flight time, see if a red-eye flight matches your child’s sleeping habits. It may help them adjust easier to different time zones—and they can sleep during the flight. If you depart in the evening, hopefully they’ll be so exhausted they sleep through the night. This may be the best option for children who have a lot of anxiety.

 

For kids, flying may seem daunting and wild. They might be equal parts intrigued and nervous. You can ease their concerns before arriving at the airport and during takeoff by maintaining a casual manner. Keeping your own travel stress under control will help your child understand and accept plane travel as a normal and easy way to get from place to place. It’s a chance for you and your child to enjoy time together with a book or a movie—and it’s an adventure!

From Comings and Goings by Anna and Manos Kontoleon

Artist Spotlight: Anna Kontoleon and Manos Kontoleon

Welcome to our Artist Spotlight section! Today, we talk with Anna Kontoleon and Manos Kontoleon, a daughter-father duo from Greece and authors of the forthcoming book Comings and Goings. Anna and Manos share their inspirations for the story, how the collaborative writing process took hold, fun travel experiences, and favorite memories during family trips.

 

Anna Kontoleon

Star Bright Books (SBB): What inspired you to collaborate with your father?

 

Anna Kontoleon (Anna): On one of my visits as a writer to a primary school in Chania of Crete, where I live, a young student asked me if I had ever written a book with my father. This question surprised me, realizing that I had never considered this possibility, though I grew up with his stories and I was certainly inspired by him to become a writer myself. So, I answered “no” to the young student, but I kept the idea in a corner of my mind. However, I did not want to collaborate with my father in a book, just because it would be a good idea to do it. I needed a good project that would justify our “co-existence” in the same book.

 

When I later had the idea of Comings and Goings I knew immediately that it was the right opportunity to do it.

 

Manos Kontoleon

SBB: How did it feel to write a book with your daughter?

 

Manos Kontoleon (Manos): The truth is that I had never considered the possibility of writing a book with my daughter. Maybe I should have, however, since Anna always used to be the first reader of my manuscripts and her subtle commentaries were often substantial in defining the last version of my stories. Therefore, when she proposed to me to collaborate in writing together a story inspired by the experiences of our own lives, I was delighted. Having confidence in her vision, I not only accepted her proposal, but I also let her [take] the initiative to develop the storyline and guide me through the whole process.

 

 

SBB: How was the collaborative writing process for Comings and Goings?

 

Anna and Manos: The funny thing is that this book was made in “social distance” far before the social distancing period imposed by the pandemic virus. We all worked remotely: Manos from Athens, Anna from Crete, Fotini Tikkou—who did the illustrations—from Denmark where she lived at the time. We never met [in person] during the writing process and the editing of the book. Thanks to technology this has become possible.

 

As for our collaboration in the writing process, it may not be obvious, but each one of us worked on different parts. Anna had the parts of Alex in a country of Northen Europe, Manos the parts of the relatives in a country of Southern Europe, who are waiting for him and preparing for his longed-for visit. Each of us worked freely and added our own point of view and temperament to the story, without much interference from the other, although of course we had some creative discussions at the editing process.

 

 

SBB: What inspired you to choose the theme for Comings and Goings?

 

Manos: I very often share my personal experiences with the characters of my books. This happened in this story as well. I consented to write the parts of the different members of Alex’s family in his home country, since, you see, Anna kept for her the easy part of the narration of just one main character, the protagonist young Alex and she “charged” me with the parts of seven different persons! (laughing) So, I had to “direct” the preparations of all these people for the visit of their beloved young grandchild, nephew, and cousin. It was expected that I would draw on my own experiences as the grandfather of Anna’s son to talk about my worries and feelings, but I had to get in my other characters’ skin in order to be able to speak for their own feelings and worries as well.

 

 

SBB: Do you identify with any of the book’s characters?

 

Anna: The easy answer would be that I identify with the mother of Alex, which I do of course, but not more than the obvious fact that I am a mother too.

 

I would say that I may identify more with Alex. You know, my personal belief is that the young child we once have been keeps living inside us our whole lives and sometimes takes control of our behavior or our thoughts. And when this child is whispering in our ears, we choose to write children stories.

 

As a child, I traveled a lot on my own without my parents. I think what resurfaces finally in that story is my anticipation of these trips I did on my own, along with the stress before each one of them. Every new step for a child, every change or transition, even a desired one, comes along with intense stress and agony. Because this is how we move forward in life.

 

 

SBB: Were there any particular memories that resurfaced while writing Comings and Goings?

 

Anna and Manos: The story is of course inspired by our personal experiences: the fact that we live far away from each other—well maybe not so far away as we live in the same country, but we still need to travel by airplane or ship to meet since Crete is an island. [Also,] the fact that Anna’s son is always looking forward to visiting his grandparents for the summer holidays, especially at this time when traveling has been for so long forbidden, the preparations before each trip, the waiting and the anticipation of each reunion, the surprise and the joy such a reunion brings. All these personal memories resurface in our history.

 

 

SBB: How do you feel the illustrations represent the anxiety and thrill of traveling?

 

Anna and Manos: We think that the double motif the illustrations use in each [spread] to show what happens at the exact same time in the two different countries, the expressions of doubt, anticipation and anxiety of the characters, the focus on several details and objects that have to do with traveling, and a sense of movement that exists in every page, together with the secret hints to help the child identify where the action takes place (airplane taking off and landing and the compass) and put in order the chaos that precedes each trip, represent very well the anxiety and thrill of traveling.

 

 

SBB: What are some of the best family trips you’ve taken together?

 

Anna and Manos: In the distant past we did some marvelous trips as a family to many different Greek islands. It was a careless and wealthy period in our country’s history and we keep some very nice memories from that time. In recent years, we traveled mostly to meet each other, which is always wonderful, but doesn’t include the joy of discovering a new town or country.

 

We definitely reserve a special place in our hearts to the travel we did last year in London. Exactly one month before the pandemic wave forced a worldwide lockdown, we feel we had a last marvelous chance to explore the English capital as we used to know it.

 

We don’t know when and if we’ll be able to travel abroad again together, in what conditions and [under] what specific restrictions. Traveling tends to be complicated these days. But maybe one day we’ll travel together to the US. We won’t give up on dreaming.

 

 

SBB: Besides writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

 

Anna and Manos: Anna enjoys writing songs on her guitar and singing, spending quality time with her son, walking and exploring new paths, and would wish to have the time to read more.

 

Manos enjoys reading books (he actually has a tremendous library at home with bookselves almost everywhere), and he is writing book presentations of his own impressions as an eager reader in several book magazines, sites, and portals. And he is really active writing for his two blogs.

 

 

SBB: Do you have plans for any future collaborations?

 

Anna and Manos: We’re actually considering a sequel of Comings and Goings where we’ll have the chance to show how Alex spends his fabulous holidays with his relatives, while dealing with his homesickness. And at the same time how his parents, who are left behind in the North, deal with his absence, feeling a mixture of carelessness and emptiness at the same time. The story should end with a surprise reunion.

Comings and Goings by Anna Kontoleon and Manos Kontoleon

How to Talk to Children about Climate Change

Climate change is a challenging topic for children, as it often involves scientific facts that can be difficult to understand. Related worldly issues—extreme weather, food shortages, or even pandemics—can be alarming or fear-inducing to discuss. Parents and caregivers may find it daunting to decide how and when to talk with their children about climate change.

 

As with other complex topics like racism, body autonomy, or alcohol use, conversations you have with your child about climate change should start early, be ongoing, and change based on your child’s developmental level. Here are some techniques you can use to introduce and build on conversations about climate change as your child grows.

 

Toddlers: Build a Love for Nature

Spend time outside with your toddler to help them cultivate respect for nature. Prioritizing outdoor play is increasingly important for children’s mental and physical health, but it also helps toddlers experience a sense of wonder at the beauty of nature. A toddler may not have the developmental capacity to understand the climate crisis, but their love for the environment will be foundational in caring about how they impact the earth when they’re older.

From Let’s Play Outside by Pat Rumbaugh, photographs by Daniel Nakamura

Preschool and Kindergarten: Nurture a Sense of Responsibility for the Planet

Give your preschool or kindergarten-aged child ways to nurture nature. Houseplants wither when we don’t feed them; gardens wilt if we don’t water them. Children can understand these cause-and-effect relationships at a very early age; by taking on responsibilities like watering and feeding indoor or outdoor plants, youngsters can begin to see how people impact the planet. These chores are also opportunities to discuss our larger responsibility to care for nature.

 

Elementary School: Make Real-Life Connections and Share the Science

Beginning in first grade, have more direct conversations about climate change with your child. While climate change is a global issue, it is important to show children in this age group how it impacts them personally. Ask your child how the weather affects them—how sunny days make them feel or how rainy days make it hard to play outside. Then, compare the weather today to the weather fifty or one hundred years ago. Explain that while weather variation is normal, humans cause expected weather conditions to change in an unexpected way.

 

Children in upper elementary school may also want more detailed explanations, like the difference between weather and climate, or the science behind the greenhouse effect. NASA Climate Kids has basic explanations, interesting visuals, and engaging videos to help.

 

Teenagers: Talk about Climate Inequity

With your teenager, talk about how the climate crisis reinforces inequalities—the ways in which poor or marginalized people are more harshly impacted by extreme weather. These issues naturally fit with conversations you have with your teenager about racial and socioeconomic inequity. Here are two examples of how climate change and inequity are connected:

 

When severe weather strikes a high-income country or community, people and governments have the resources to rebuild cities and homes. However, low-income countries and communities lack resources to deal with the major impacts. Climate change means low-income countries are more often impacted by natural disasters.

 

Recent heatwaves and drought are associated with increases in wheat prices. In wealthy countries, this may mean slightly higher prices at the grocery store; in lower-income places around the globe, climate change means that food has become scarce or completely unaffordable, resulting in widespread civil unrest.

From A Circle of Friends by Giora Carmi

All Ages: Focus on Making a Difference

Details about the climate crisis may be overwhelming for children (and adults). It can be reassuring for a child to hear that there are many people working together to solve the problems. Another way to combat fear is to focus on action: there are many ways to help! Below are a few options for you and your child to get involved.

 

Live Sustainably

Sustainable Living Tips from Conservation International: This list includes over seventy ways you and your child can live more sustainably. Some of these actions may not seem like much, but together, we can all make a big difference.

 

Conserve the Environment

Youth Conservation Corps: Youth ages fifteen to eighteen can apply to participate in regional environmental conservation projects like maintaining nature trails, cleaning up campgrounds, improving wildlife habitats, restoring streams, and more.

 

Advocate for the Planet

Become a member of YOUNGO: YOUNGO, the official youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is a network of youth organizations from all over the world. Their common goal is to mobilize youth to address the climate crisis.

The Practical Benefits of Writing Letters

Image from Comings and Goings by Anna and Manos Kontoleon, illustrated by Fotini Tikkou (Available August 30)

In this day and age, the art of proper letter writing is a fast-dying practice. Although mail services are as quick and efficient as ever, technology’s role in replacing our immediate communication practices can make putting pen to paper feel outdated.

 

However, there are numerous practical benefits for children to pick up letter writing—especially with so much recent at-home schooling. Letter writing helps children develop lifelong skills, such as patience, penmanship, sentence-building, and maintaining relationships with family and friends.

 

First, help your child identify a good letter recipient. Writing letters is a great way to bridge generational gaps. Grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and other elderly people may prefer letters to text messages or emails, so this is an easy and fun way to keep in contact—and letters are sure to be on display on the fridge for years to come! One of your child’s pals or a friendly neighbor are also good options. The recipient should be someone who you think will be inclined to respond.

 

Writing a letter is a different experience for each child. But, overall, it is great practice in assembling words, expanding vocabulary, and building sentences. Especially in the summer, it keeps a school-aged child’s reading and writing skills finely tuned and improves penmanship.

 

Sit down with your child and explain the the parts of a letter and how formal or informal (depending on the recipient) to make their note. Help your child practice their sentences and go over what they write. A message can be short and to the point! Teach them where to put the stamp on the envelope.

 

Let your child’s creativity take hold! They will enjoy decorating each letter with stickers, glitter, and lots of colors. Your child can include an illustration, and even decorate the envelope. Make sure to help them address the envelope correctly. You can even talk about the parts of an address as you write it out.

 

Perhaps most importantly, letter writing teaches children the importance and value of patience. In a time when we get things nearly instantaneously, patience is a tremendous virtue best learned at an early age. Let your child drop their letter into the mailbox and wait for a response. The joy of finally getting a letter back addressed to them will make the wait so worth it!

Learning and Dismantling Discriminatory Language

Language is one of the most powerful tools an individual possesses—it is essential in connecting with and learning about each other. However, when language causes harm to certain individuals or communities, it fosters an environment of non-acceptance and discrimination.

 

Despite noticeable efforts to do away with implicit racist language, some people continue to use common terms and phrases without realizing the inherent racism in them. Activists and educators create awareness of such terms and encourage parents to teach children the implicit racist connotations in everyday language. According to Nikki Tennermann, administrative director of the Office of Health Equity and Inclusion at Boston Children’s Hospital, children who hear offensive terms directed at them or their family members develop negative internalized feelings (toward themselves), impacting their identity development.

Mother giving piggyback ride to daughter

Image by shotphoto2u from Vecteezy.com

Below is a list of common American English terms that are normalized in everyday usage, but extremely harmful and insulting to marginalized communities. It’s imperative that we understand the negative impact of these words and their history, especially when inculcating language development in children.

 

  1. Powwow: Considered an offensive appropriation of a culturally important term in Indigenous communities.
  2. Master bedroom: The word “master” has problematic ties with slavery as it implies ownership and existence of “enslaved people’s quarters.”
  3. Blacklist/Blacklisted: Terms that imply Black is bad in comparison to the “whitelist” of accepted terms.
  4. Urban: In references to literature and music, this term reinforces negative stereotypes and marginalizes Black artists.
  5. Thug: Although the Indian origin word “ruffian” means thief, in the US, this term is a nominally “polite” way of using the N-word.
  6. Uppity: According to The Atlantic, this is a term racist Southerners used to describe Black people, especially Black women, who “didn’t know their place.”
  7. Spirit animal: Similar to “powwow,” this term also appropriates Indigenous cultures and puts forth misconceptions about their sacred beliefs.
  8. Long time, no see: Although NPR says this as an accepted form of American slang, some believe it mocks people of Asian descent who speak with broken English.
  9. Tribe: When a non-Indigenous person uses “tribe,” it erases the significance of Tribal sovereignty and identity.
  10. Eskimo: A derogatory term used by colonizers that contains racist connotations of barbarism.

 

Many parents and caregivers now take initiative to speak with their children about racism and discrimination in language. Although these conversations are not easy to navigate, they foster a sense of understanding and empathy in young children. Moreover, they are the first step toward building an anti-racist household.

 

How can I teach my child to identify and deal with racial/ethnic slurs?

Here are some strategies you can use to facilitate a conversation with your preschooler/toddler. To engage with your child at an earlier age, refer to the resources at the end!

 

  1. Address the situation immediately: If your child says something hurtful or disrespectful, be swift and firm in your response. Let them know that it is harmful to the other person or community. Use phrases like “It is not okay to use that term. It is inappropriate and unkind.”
  2. Explain the origin of the word(s): Do not downplay the racism and use age-appropriate descriptions. For instance: “Their feelings are hurt because it is not the right way to describe them.” You can also explain how the term(s) is/are racist and teach your child the appropriate words. “We do not use the word ‘Eskimo. The correct word is Inuit.”
  3. Acknowledge your child’s feelings: If your child is a target of any slur, comfort and acknowledge their feelings. “I know it made you angry when they called you that name. It’s okay to feel angry about that.”
  4. Start an open dialogue: You can also ask questions like “Why do you think they said that?” Reaffirm their identity by saying, “We are proud of our heritage. Even if people say such things, it doesn’t affect who we are.”
  5. Engage in positive media: Read and watch positive portrayals of different communities. To counter negative media stereotypes, expose your child to stories, books, films, etc. that accurately represent diverse racial and ethnic groups. For example, the film Zootopia explores stereotypes among animal groups, which is a great way of teaching children the impact of prejudices and false perceptions.
  6. Understand your own biases: Acknowledge your own implicit bias(es) and make a conscious effort to be a role model for your child. If your child observes you making an effort, they are likely to follow suit. Have regular conversations about racism and bigotry to develop an anti-racist environment.
Father and son reading outside

Image by notecocktail915705 from Vecteezy.com

These are just some of the ways you can teach your child about bias-free language. Consult the following resources for more information on ways to talk to your child about racial bias.

 

 

Artist Spotlight: Diane de Anda

Diane de Anda

After devoting much of her life to education, professor emerita and social worker Diane de Anda recognized a need for children’s books in which Latino children could see themselves and their families. She began to write stories where Latinos were the main characters. Many of her twelve children’s books have won numerous awards.

 

In this Artist Spotlight, Star Bright Books talks with Diane, author of the book 21 Cousins. Diane shares about her life, her entry into children’s book writing, where she finds inspiration, and the themes that inform her approach to writing for children.

 

 

Star Bright Books (SBB): What was your favorite book as a child?

 

Diane de Anda (Diane): My favorite book as a child was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. I read it at least three times and cried each time Charlotte died. When I was a freshman in college, a new friend (who is a close friend to this day) and I bonded over this mutual experience in our childhoods.

 

 

SBB: What inspired you to start writing books for children?

 

Diane: I had already been writing short stories for adults that included elements of my culture and people I knew who were not like most of those who appeared in the literature to which I had been exposed in college. When I began to buy books for my children, I realized that there were few in which Latino children could see themselves and their families; so I decided to write some myself. I remembered how different the Midwestern family in the Dick and Jane readers of my elementary school days seemed to me.

 

 

SBB: Who are some of your favorite Latino writers and artists?  How have these creative individuals inspired your own writing?

 

Diane: Among Latino writers, my favorite book is Isabel Allende’s The Stories of Eva Luna, because it is so beautifully lyrical. The works of Kahlo, Tamayo, Rivera, and Siguieros grace my walls.              However, they have not served as inspirations for my writing. The inspiration has come from the stories of their lives told to me by my great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and other relatives, by the experiences of all the people who have confided in me both personally and professionally as a social worker and social work educator, and by my own experiences beginning in childhood. I find the everyday lives of people, their struggles and their joys, to be inspiring, rather than those whose lives have brought them fame.

 

 

SBB: Having written everything from children’s books to academic articles and even satire, do you see central themes or driving forces in all your work?

 

Diane: Most definitely, there are unifying factors. Most are driven by some issue which impacts people’s lives, be it personal, familial, societal, political, or even historical. Many of my short stories deal with the impact of historical evens (e.g. war) on the trajectory of people’s lives. Some of the children’s books deal with issues from a child’s perspective such as [the] deportation of a family member, a grandfather’s progressing dementia, healthy eating, etc., but all in the context of a story and a supportive family.

 

My latest book, 21 Cousins, deals with appreciating diversity within Latino culture in appearance, talents, and abilities and is aimed at correcting stereotypes. I write some things simply because I like to laugh and make others laugh too.

 

 

SBB: Can you share a bit about how you think humor and learning relate?

 

Diane: I was a junior high school teacher for four years, and had to find ways to get 250 early teens to be interested in history and English. Throughout my lesson plans I would add what I called “Motivational Activity,” which often had a component of humor. This perked up interest in whatever we were studying and motivated them [students] to engage in the learning process.

 

Sometimes humor can illustrate a point in a less threatening way. Humor can also add nuanced meanings. Most of all, humor adds a bit of a respite, and, I think, provides a different type of cognitive processing.

 

 

SBB: What are some ways your teaching experiences in social welfare inform your approach to       writing books for children?

 

Diane: My focus has always been social work with families and children whether in teaching, practice,  or research. This has given me an intimate knowledge of all the issues and situations with which they are dealing and the types of things that bring joy and pleasure into their lives. The field of social welfare also teaches us to listen to children and to find ways to have their voices heard.

 

 

SBB: What approaches do you take as a writer to assure you books educate and entertain without being overly didactic or moralistic?

 

Diane: As a writer, I have always followed the dictum “show not tell,” which helps keep one from becoming too didactic. In children’s books, I often have a child narrator who speaks in a straightforward and concrete manner, which also helps keep the text from becoming didactic or moralistic. I try to set things up so that readers can come to their own conclusions. I can’t stand anything “preachy” and prefer to let natural consequences do the “preaching.” Also, I try to present situations that show different perspectives rather than always a clear black or white view. Finally, the use of humor can get across a point without sounding too didactic or moralistic; that’s why I enjoy satire.

 

 

SBB: What were the biggest challenges and most exciting moments you encountered in the journey of your new book, 21 Cousins—from conceptualizing the idea through seeing it published and shared with the world?

 

Diane: Stereotyping has always bothered me. Being fair-skinned with reddish brown hair, I was often asked the rudely phrased question “What are you?” When I identified my ethnicity, the response was an equally rude reply: “You don’t look Mexican.” My snarky retort eventually became: “We come in all colors.” My large extended family did come in all colors and were loved as such. Even though diversity in appearance first came to mind, I knew I had to move people beyond that, to recognize and appreciate, in addition, [the] wonderful diversity on many levels, particularly in talents and abilities. The challenge was covering as many areas as possible that were contemporary, and so I included academics, athletics, music and dance, and technology. I tried to normalize the different appearances adolescents chose. I included children with disabilities, but focused on their talents or relationships rather than their disability, which did not define them. It was a pleasure working with my publisher, Deborah Shine, as we edited and shaped the different characters and made sure the illustrations were congruent with the descriptions of the children.

 

 

SBB: What are some things you learned in the process of researching and writing 21 Cousins, and, in turn, what do you hope readers take away from it?

 

Diane: One interesting thing I learned in the process was that I am actually one of twenty-one first cousins! When I first thought of the book, that number just popped into my head randomly, or so I thought. At some point in my life, I must have counted cousins and that number lay buried.

 

What I hope readers take away from this book is not just an end to stereotyping, but an appreciation of diversity and all the wonderful assets this offers to society along with a desire to have all children develop their talents and abilities and make their contributions to society. More subtle is a recognition of potential loss because of inequities.

 

 

SBB: Imagine there were a page in 21 Cousins featuring you!  What objects or surroundings would be around you in the accompanying illustration?

 

Diane: The illustration would be filled with lots of animals of all different species, as I have had (and loved) dogs, cats, rabbits, [and] chinchillas all in the double digits, as well as guinea pigs, hamsters, a large white duck named Henry (who sat next to me at age eight as I sang to him), a two-foot-long iguana named Spike who loved to have his neck scratched, various birds, a chipmunk, a gopher before he chewed his way out of his wooden cage, and many more.

Cover image of 21 Cousins by Diane de Anda, illustrated by Isabel Muñoz. Available in English and Spanish.

Tips for Learning a Second Language with Your Child

Greetings in many languages, image created in Canva

Hundreds of thousands of people who’ve immigrated to the US have felt implicit and explicit pressure to switch from using their native tongue(s) to fit the wide use of English. In due process, generations of families have lost their original languages, resulting in monolingualism. While many adults struggle to learn new languages as their brains are accustomed to the sound and structure of English, it is well documented that children are quicker to absorb new languages.

 

Try learning a new language with your child! The benefits of English-speaking parents learning a new language with their child are innumerable. Language engages different parts of the brain, and is said to even out bring out different sides in people. We can learn more about ourselves and the world around us through other languages.

 

Early childhood is the best time to introduce another language, as children build essential language and vocabulary skills. It can also be a good time for adult parents and caregivers to embrace a new language. Immersion is a fundamental way to learn a second language. You and your child can make this a fun family project!

 

First, identify a language that you and your child are interested in learning together! This can come from family history: maybe your family tree boasts an array of mother languages that haven’t been spoken in generations. Honoring your ancestors and heritage while learning the language with your child is a perfect full circle.

 

Another option is to consider your neighborhood. Maybe the area where you live has a high secondary language rate. Maybe it’s French if you’re in the New Orleans area, or Spanish in the Los Angeles area. Depending on your location, English may not even be the dominant language.

 

Once you’ve chosen your language, the fun part begins! There are many ways to implement the new language into the daily lives of you and your child. Find the best activities for your family to immerse in the language.

 

The alphabet, early fundamental vocabulary, and simple sentence-building are the first steps in comprehending and speaking a new language. Luckily, most languages have free resources online, such as alphabet songs on YouTube. Listening to how each letter in the alphabet is properly pronounced will enhance your accent as well as your child’s, no matter their age.

 

For slightly older children, you can reinforce key vocabulary words by placing sticky notes on common household items with the name in English and your chosen language. For instance, if you are learning Italian, every morning you can get breakfast / colazione from your refrigerator / frigo and put it on a plate / piatto. Repetition helps retain basic vocabulary words, making practice important. You may even consider making this activity part of your daily family routine.

 

Image by Nontanun Chaiprakon from Vecteezy.com

Another easy way to add doses of a new language into your routine is to consume media in your new language. Look up famous singers, movies, TV and radio stations, daily talk shows, online magazines, etc. Switch your phone and tablet into the language too. Surrounding yourself with native words and sounds allows you to pick up nuances and pronunciations you might otherwise miss through traditional language learning practices. You also have the benefit of hearing how words are pronounced by native speakers. This part can be different, especially for adults! While children aren’t entirely used to or settled on the way English sounds, adult brains have a stronger association between a letter of the Western alphabet and its English pronunciation.

 

Pick an English movie that you and your child know very well, one you can nearly recite word-for-word. Watch the movie in your chosen language, if such an option is available. As you don’t have to decipher the plot, you and your child can soak up the vocabulary and most importantly, the pronunciations. Listen to the words; pick out words you recognize and ones you aren’t familiar with. Talk to your child about how the movie seems similar and different.

 

And finally: read together! Sit down and read a book in the language you are learning or in a bilingual format. Read aloud together and practice speaking words and sentences. This is a good comprehension exercise for you and your child.

 

Image by MotionLantern from Vecteezy.com

Language is a lengthy process to master; it can take years to even reach proficiency. That’s okay! Keep things ongoing—it means slow and steady progress. Learning with your child is beneficial for them and for you. Instead of learning alone, you have a built-in buddy to practice with. Good luck!

Building Sensory Development in Children

Sensory development is the gradual process by which an infant learns and becomes aware of their senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, vestibular (body movement), and proprioception (body position).

 

Stages of sensory development differ for each child. However, each sensory milestone falls around the same approximate timeframes:

 

  • 0-6 months: Babies are alert and respond to sounds and voices. They also begin looking at their own hands.
  • 6-12 months: Babies can move their tongues around food particles and distinguish different textured foods.
  • 1-2 years: Babies enjoy messy play! They also react to extreme temperatures and can solve problems using trial and error.
  • 2-3 years: Toddlers begin to explore their surroundings. They can also identify basic shapes.
  • 3-4 years: Children can count from 1 to 5 and identify most colors. They also develop social skills through activities and simulated play.

 

Children acquire sensory skills in a progressive manner. These skills play an important role in their overall development. You can initiate sensory play by providing a safe and encouraging environment for discovery.

 

What is Sensory Play?

 

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates a child’s senses. These activities facilitate exploration and encourage children to discover and refine different thresholds of sensory information.

 

Sensory play helps refine other skills such as language development and motor skills. Some forms of sensory play also have calming effects, which can assist in regulating a child’s boredom, restlessness, or agitation.

 

How Can I Induce Sensory Play?

 

There are several ways of introducing sensory play to your child. You can utilize everyday items in your household to create an exciting experience. Below are some fun ideas to try!

 

1) Sensory Board

A sensory board is suitable for babies around 4-6 months and can also be used with toddlers until the age of 2. For this engaging activity, you will need a wooden board, glue, and an assortment of household items. Affix the items to the board with the glue. Choose similar items with varying textures, shapes, and sizes. For example, attach different types of fabric. As your child feels each piece, describe its texture using words like “rough,” “sparkly,” “soft,” etc. You can even attach a jingling key ring to engage your child’s sense of hearing.

 

2) Play Dough

Play dough is one of the most stimulating toys for children under 2. Your child will develop an understanding of how to grasp objects and mold different shapes. Most play dough available in stores contains chemicals that could be harmful to your child. Instead, you can whip up a quick batch of safe and edible play dough! To get you started, here’s a great recipe that is delicious and easy to make!

 

3) Food Art and Play

Feeding a baby or toddler often can be a messy task. However, it’s also an ideal time to have a fun learning experience! Cut up different types of fruit such as apples, oranges, and bananas. This will help your child in understanding different colors, shapes, and textures. Moreover, it will stimulate their taste buds and nasal rectors and expand their palate. Bonus point? Let them squish the fruits to their heart’s content and build their hand muscles. Encouraging your child to play with their food may also make them more receptive to try new foods.

From Banana For Two by Ellen Mayer, illustrated by Ying-Hwa

4) Rice Bottles

Rice bottles are perfect for toddlers between the ages of 2 and 4. Fill an empty bottle with grains such as rice, wheat, or barley to make a shaker for your child. Shake the bottle to help build motor skills; the sound of the moving grains will also stimulate hearing. Be sure to seal the bottle tightly so as to prevent any grains from accidentally entering your child’s mouth.

 

5) Interactive Books

Interactive books for babies and toddlers have plenty of developmental benefits. Interactive book elements such as lift-the-flap, die-cut holes, and touch-and-feel provide a range of sensory experiences. For example, books that emit sounds and light may improve sight and hearing. The die-cut or lift-the-flap features will foster your child’s curiosity and touch as they trace shapes or play with the flaps. In addition, reading aloud to your child will enhance their language acquisition skills.

From Shapes At Play by Jin Choi

By introducing these forms of sensory play, you help children remain cognitively stimulated and aid in their overall development. These are just some of the ways you can engage in sensory play. Visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children website for more suggestions and information.

Artist Spotlight: Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon and her “rescue love dog,” Teddy

Star Bright Books had the privilege of speaking with Arizona-based writer Judi Moreillon about her life, her writing, and her newest book Please Don’t Give Me a Hug!. In our interview she discusses her life as an academic and children’s book author, as well as her inspirations from her childhood and into her career. Here is a portion of our conversation.

 

 

Star Bright Books (SBB): What does your creative writing process look like?

 

Judi Moreillon (JM): Although I have a routine, my process can be described as messy. I write and edit professional books as well as write children’s books. I write every day.

 

Since I have just completed a professional book project that is in production, I now have more time for my creative writing. If I have just an hour or so to focus, I pick a children’s book work-in-progress to read aloud and revisit. Ending a story is one of my weaknesses. So, I often spend time writing alternative endings.

 

If I have new inspiration, I write very sloppy rough drafts. When I can truly dedicate two or more hours to writing, I pick up a historical fiction project I started years ago. I am currently reengaged in a focused research effort for that project.

 

 

SBB: How have your experiences teaching and working in library science impacted your own

storytelling and views on children’s literature?

 

JM: Before studying library science and becoming a school librarian and librarian educator, I

was a classroom teacher. When a principal asked me what I most enjoyed about teaching,

I responded that I loved sharing literature and stories and conducting research with

students. She told me I should be a school librarian.

 

During my library science master’s degree program, I had the opportunity to study

children’s and young adult literature and how fiction and informational books can be

used to deepen young people’s thinking and increase their knowledge of themselves and

our world. One professor who greatly influenced me had extensive knowledge of the

history of children’s literature and made connections to folklore and storytelling. You could say I was hooked!

 

 

SBB: Growing up, did someone in your life encourage you to read? Did someone encourage

you to write?

 

JM: My mother said I loved stories from the very start of life. My father was working and going to night school, and well, Momma just didn’t have much time to read to me.

 

Fortunately, I had same-age cousins who didn’t enjoy being read to so my uncle adopted me as his star listener. I believe he made a difference in my love of the written and spoken word as did my dad who told my siblings and me made-up stories at bedtime most nights.

 

I also credit my third-grade teacher, Miss Schwab, with setting me firmly on the path of

writing. Miss Schwab loved poetry. She read poems aloud to our class daily and every

Friday we composed our own heartfelt poems. From those writing experiences, I learned

I had an innate understanding of meter and rhyme, and to this day, I feel great satisfaction

when I write a poem that captures an authentic emotion, curious experience, or exciting idea.

 

 

SBB: According to your website, you have written many poems that will “never be published.”

Why is that?

 

JM: Most publishers are reluctant to publish poetry collections. They say poetry doesn’t sell. To my way of thinking, it’s a great day to celebrate when a poetry collection or a book written in rhyme earns a prestigious children’s literature award. Sadly, those days are few and far between.

 

 

SBB: How do you use different sides of your writer’s brain, so to speak, to write both educational texts and books for children?

 

JM: For the past few years, the research-based educational texts side of my brain has dominated the more imaginative side. I am on the cusp of “retiring” the serious side and look forward to the resurgence of the playful side. My grandchildren—now eighteen months and three years of age—are powerful motivators for lightening and loosening my writing.

 

Even as young as they are, they have given me enough story starters to last for many

years of writing and submitting manuscripts for consideration.

 

 

SBB: What inspired you to write Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! ?

 

JM: Make Way for Books (MWFB), a Tucson-area nonprofit that offers early childhood literacy programs and services, hosted a writing contest. I had never written a work-for-hire or even entered a writing contest. I elected to write a story for children who do not like to be hugged. At the time, I was learning about young children with autism who preferred not to be touched and the idea of giving consent for the ways one wants to be touched was gaining more attention. For me, the story forthrightly addresses both the needs of touch-sensitive children and children’s rights to body autonomy.

 

 

SBB: What do you hope Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! will convey to adults and caregivers?

 

JM: I believe that the first-person point of view in Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! is essential in telling this story. The book makes it clear that children have agency with regard to their own bodies. They can say “no” to peers and adults alike; they can state how others should respect their boundaries. Understanding and practicing consent from an early age can increase how touch between children and between children and adults is understood in families, schools, and communities.

 

 

SBB: How do you think Estelle Corke’s illustrations help bring this book to life?

 

JM: As a picture book author who does not draw, I feel especially fortunate when an illustrator enhances my story. I appreciate that Estelle Corke’s child-friendly illustrations show three different children demonstrating autonomy while engaging in a wide variety of intergenerational social situations. The children and adults depicted are from various racial and ethnic groups and one character is assisted by a therapy dog. Estelle’s art shows each child’s discomfort when receiving a bear hug and their comfort in receiving greetings in other ways. Books published by Star Bright Books are sensitive to showing diversity in books that increase young children’s understanding that difference among people is both normal and positive. Estelle Corke’s artwork furthers Star Bright’s “concerted effort to include children of all colors, nationalities, and abilities in our books.”

 

 

SBB: How did you come up with the many alternative ways of showing a child love and affection that are mentioned in the book?

 

JM: As an educator, parent, and now grandparent, I have practiced all of the ways to show caring that are demonstrated in the book. All children deserve to receive (and ultimately give) kind greetings and meaningful acknowledgements.

 

It seems winks, waves, and smiles have always been go-to communication tools for

educators and family members. In addition to acknowledging auditory or speech differences, including the ASL sign for “hi” is also important. Some children may not want a soft pat on the back or a cootchie-coo under the chin, but it’s likely most will enjoy an air kiss. Our grandchildren like to sign-off our video chats by blowing us kisses. (The three-year-old is working hard to master winking!)

 

 

SBB: Should we keep an eye out for more Judi Moreillon children’s stories in the future?

 

JM: Absolutely!

Cover image of Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! by Judi Moreillon, illustrated by Estelle Corke