Leprechaun Lore

St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and with it comes the ever-popular figure from Irish mythology and folklore: the leprechaun. Though not connected with the historical figure of St. Patrick, or the original celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the leprechaun is now a well-recognized symbol of Ireland and Irish culture.

 

The earliest origins of this mythical creature are thought to date back to before the arrival of the Celts in Ireland. Some scholars speculate that leprechauns were originally linked to “faerie forts” and “faerie rings,” small mounds of earth with unknown origins scattered throughout Ireland. At some point in history, the leprechaun morphed into its own entity, distinct from the other fairy beings of Irish folklore. These early leprechauns were characterized as little old men and were thought to be shoemakers or cobblers for these fairies.

 

Leprechauns Never Lie by Lorna Balian

The legend of the leprechaun soon came to describe these supernatural beings as “crotchety, solitary, yet mischievous creatures”—diminutive shoemakers who hid the gold they made from their labors in a pot at the end of a rainbow or scattered throughout the mountains and forests. Additionally, leprechauns were originally thought to wear red, and only in the twentieth century did the image of the leprechaun change to a figure in green, coinciding with a general shift in associating the color green with anything Irish.

 

Today, leprechauns in popular culture are perhaps not as cranky, yet they still maintain a reputation for mischief. In Lorna Balian’s Leprechauns Never Lie, Ninny Nanny and Gram are in a bad state—the rain barrel is empty, the potato field needs digging, and all they have for food is rainwater soup! Yet, Ninny Nanny is lazy, so she decides to catch a leprechaun and find out were he has hidden his pot of gold. But finding the leprechaun’s fortune turns out to be much more than Ninny Nanny and Gram bargained for. The leprechaun leads them on a merry chase throughout their farm—all with the best intentions!

 

If young readers would like to catch their own leprechaun, consider helping them set up a leprechaun trap to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Construct a trap that lures the leprechaun onto a fake floor with spray-painted “gold,” or assemble a trap that uses a shoebox, a dowel, and (of course) gold to catch the leprechaun under the box.

 

Have fun building and decorating a trap, but don’t forget that leprechauns are mischievous and smart creatures, so you never know what to expect!

Support Your Child’s Math Development, Part 2: Preschool and Up

In last week’s math blog post we talked with Audrey Martínez-Gudapakkam, an associate researcher at TERC who evaluates K-12 STEM education programs and develops programs for Spanish-speaking families, about specific ways parents and caregivers can introduce math to their babies and toddlers.

 

In this post, Audrey and Marlene Kliman, a senior scientist at TERC, explain how adults can support a child’s learning as they enter school and begin interacting with math in the classroom. Marlene notes that as children begin working with addition, subtraction, and other math concepts, they develop a relationship with math that can follow them throughout their lives. Fostering a positive attitude toward math is one of the most important things an adult can do for their child.

 

Here are some suggestions for two age groups.

 

Children Ages 3-5

As children get older, they make connections to math concepts by talking through what they are doing and why. Asking children open-ended questions, Marlene says, helps them develop a deeper understanding of how math works instead of a right or wrong answer.

 

Audrey offers these ideas for engaging children in activities full of math learning.

 

Size and Measurement

“When we sort clean laundry, we talk together about clothing sizes for each person and how big belongs to Daddy, medium-sized is for Mommy, and small is for you,” Audrey says. “As we pick up clothing, I ask my daughter, ‘How do you know it is small, medium, or large? Check to see if it fits you.’ She can measure it by putting it on top of herself and measuring it against her body.”

Sorting laundry is a great time to talk with children about sizes. (from Rosa’s Very Big Job)

Numbers and Counting

While preparing food, Audrey talks about numbers with her daughter. She asks, “How do you know how many tomatoes we have?” Then she says, “Okay, let’s count them together.” As Audrey explains, “Counting physical objects helps them understand the concept of the number of elements in a set or group.”

 

Sequencing

While getting dressed or doing other routine activities, Audrey asks her daughter, “What do you need to put on first, second, third . . . last?” Or, “What do you do first, second, third . . . last?” Audrey says, “This awareness of steps in a process helps her learn about sequences, which in school can help her with computer programming.”

 

Children Ages 6 and Older

When children enter first grade, adults can help their children with homework by asking open-ended questions that prompt them to explain their thought process. Audrey says, “Whenever my daughter is doing her math homework, even if she gets the right answer, I always ask her, ‘How do you know? Show me how you know.’ I try to avoid telling her she’s wrong when she makes a mistake (which is hard because sometimes just by the tone of my voice she guesses it!). Instead, I try to help her notice the mistake herself as she checks her work, or we check the work using a different strategy. That way she can see where she made a mistake. Sometimes I might have her draw it or demonstrate it for me.”

 

Some other ideas Audrey suggests are:

  • Play a Game: “I tell my daughter, ‘I have a total of ten stones.’ I put three on the table and then have her explain how she knows how many stones are hiding in my hand.”
  • Count in Groups: “When we do counting, I ask her to count in groups of two, five, ten, et cetera. I tell her, ‘You know that your hand has five fingers, so you don’t have to count each one since you already know they add up to five.’”
  • Teach about Fractions: “At school my daughter is learning about quarters and halves so when I give her a cookie I ask her how she knows if a half or a quarter is more. Then I show her what each looks like by cutting the cookie.”

Several small parts can add up to one HUGE whole. (from Small Medium Large)

How do these strategies benefit kids for math learning and beyond? Audrey explains that by learning through practice, children discover they can continue to improve their math skills. When adults praise kids for not giving up even if they feel frustrated, it helps them develop social emotional skills for managing strong feelings. And children who can entertain themselves for long periods of time with building or creative projects develop strong reasoning and concentration skills.

 

Most importantly, instilling a positive attitude toward math helps children enjoy learning about it throughout their lives. “At one point,” Audrey says, “my daughter said, ‘I love math, and when I grow up I want to be a mathematician!’” This is the kind of enthusiasm we all want for our kids!

Support Your Baby’s and Toddler’s Math Development

Children are naturally curious and have an inborn ability to make connections. From birth they begin learning the concepts of language and math. While it may be easier to observe a child learning language as they begin to speak and put sentences together, at the same time they are also discovering the ideas of pattern, shape, size, and spatial relationships like up, down, and across—all of which are the foundations of math.

 

Parents and caregivers can help their children develop a strong base on which to build their math understanding by engaging them in age-appropriate activities. As Audrey Martínez-Gudapakkam, an associate researcher at TERC who evaluates K-12 STEM education programs and develops programs to engage Spanish-speaking families in STEM learning, explains: “To help children be ready to learn in kindergarten and beyond, they need repeated concrete experiences in daily life to develop math vocabulary and the experiences that will support their understanding.”

 

These activities do not need to be structured learning times and do not require expensive materials. Playtime, mealtime, shopping, and helping around the house all offer opportunities for children to get hands-on experience with math. Talking with kids about what they see and do is one of the best ways to raise awareness of math concepts.

 

Here are some ideas for babies and toddlers.

Babies

From birth, babies are discovering their hands and fingers; learning how to roll over, sit up, and crawl; watching as they are diapered, bathed, and dressed; and gaining the ability to feed themselves. All of these activities offer ways to talk with your child about math. As you spend time with your baby while shopping, taking a walk, or playing with them, point out shapes, colors, and spatial relationships.

 

Spatial Relationships

  • You are crawling so fast across the floor!
  • I will pick you up and put you in the high chair.

Numbers

  • You have two hands. Let’s wash one hand. Then we wash the other hand. One, two!
  • You have one bowl and one spoon.

     

    Ying-Hwa Hu (Banana for Two)

Shape, Size, and Measurement

  • Look at this big, round ball!
  • The front of the cereal box is a rectangle.

Toddlers

Toddlers are excited to join in on what adults are doing! Use that energy to engage your child in exploring math—and get a little help around the house! Your child will gain invaluable hands-on experience that helps make otherwise abstract concepts concrete.

 

Patterns

  • Make up a movement pattern and have your child follow along: step, step, hop. Step, hop, step. Have your child make up a pattern.
  • Have children point out patterns on their clothing.

Spatial Relationships

  • When coming in from outside, ask children to put their shoes on the ground or a shelf below.
  • While cleaning, ask children to put books on a shelf above and a toy in the bin or box.

     

    Ying-Hwa Hu (Clean Up, Up, Up!)

Shape, Size, and Measurement

  • Take a walk in your neighborhood and play “I Spy” with shapes or colors.
  • As your child builds a tower with blocks or recycled boxes, talk about small, medium, and large blocks or boxes. Talk about tall and taller, short and shorter towers.

Activities like the ones above and talking with children at all ages will make a big difference in their perceptions of math, their joy in doing math, and their readiness for school. For more discussion on math for young children and ideas on activities you can do with your child, visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website.

 

Also check out the Star Bright Books website for additional home activities on numbers and some fun sing-alongs!

 

In our next blog post, we talk about what you can do to help older children (K-1) develop a love for math that will take them far.

Valentine’s Day as a Teaching Opportunity

Valentine’s Day can be an excellent teaching tool for young students. Today, rather than focusing on the “Hallmark holiday” aspect of Valentine’s Day, many elementary teachers and parents instead seize the opportunity to discuss the concepts of inclusivity, kindness, and generosity in the classroom and at home.

 

In Miriam Cohen’s Bee My Valentine, all the first graders in Jim’s classroom are excited to exchange valentines. “Everyone must send a card to everyone else in the first grade,” says the teacher. “Then nobody will be sad.” When Valentine’s Day arrives, everyone is happy—except for George, who somehow receives fewer valentines than everyone else. Through the encouragement and guidance of their teacher, Jim and his classmates find different ways to show George how much they care about him.

 

If valentines are distributed to classmates, as in Bee My Valentine, some teachers remind children they must bring enough for everyone. Doing otherwise easily results in hurt feelings (like George’s). Perhaps not all students want to bring valentines for everyone in the class. But some elementary teachers, like Eric Henry from Skokie, Illinois, counter this stance with discussions on fairness and inclusivity. Eric explains different scenarios to his students and asks how they would feel if they didn’t receive any valentines, or were given poorly made ones. Students are encouraged to see things from another point of view and empathize with one other.

 

Other elementary teachers integrate different activities, rather than ask students to exchange valentines. Jessica Boschen, for example, incorporates an activity focusing on self-love into her Valentine’s Day syllabus. Jessica notes that many children in her class “don’t hear words of affirmation on a daily basis nor do they come to school with a positive self-worth.” In her classroom activity, students are asked to reflect on three things: what they can do, who they are, and their different character traits. The students must then pick their favorite attribute and write it on a heart to be posted on the wall for everyone to see!

 

Parents can also use Valentine’s Day to celebrate kindness and generosity at home with their young children. Before Valentine’s Day arrives, parents and children can hold a valentine-making session together: construction paper, markers, glitter, and stickers are all part of the fun! Kids will have fun creating valentines with personal messages for friends and family members, and parents can use this time to talk about being considerate and compassionate to others. On Valentine’s Day, some parents begin the morning with a special breakfast before school, such as heart-shaped waffles and strawberries, and leave little notes of appreciation for their children to find throughout the day, either at home or in backpacks and lunchboxes. Other parents volunteer at retirement centers or pet shelters with their kids. During dinner, parents can initiate a conversation in which kids go around the table and name what they love and appreciate most about each person there.

 

While generosity, kindness, and inclusivity are all concepts that children can learn throughout the year, focusing on these ideas in celebration of Valentine’s Day will only make the holiday more meaningful. This February 14th, use the day as a teaching opportunity (and a time to eat chocolate)!

The Origins of Black History Month

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the essential role of African Americans in United States history and commemorate African American achievement. It is important to take a moment to understand how and why Black History Month came to be.

 

Widely regarded as the “Father of Black History,” African American historian Carter G. Woodson made it his life’s mission to remedy the dearth of information about black historical achievements and black contributions in the making of the United States as we know it today. The son of former slaves, Woodson felt a proper education was vital in understanding and upholding the right to freedom, noting: “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” In 1912, Woodson graduated from Harvard University with a PhD in history, the second African American ever to obtain a doctorate from the school. (The first was W.E.B. Du Bois, who graduated in 1895.)

Carter G. Woodson

 

Given his academic focus, Woodson was acutely aware of both the distinct lack of attention given to black history and the potential consequences this could hold. Consequently, in September 1915, he joined forces with Jesse E. Mooreland, a prominent minister at the time, to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Today, this organization is known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

 

In 1926, under Woodson’s guidance the ASNLH sponsored a national “Negro History Week” and chose the second week of February for the event, since the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14) are celebrated during this time. Woodson, together with the ASNLH, printed and distributed photographs, books, historical bibliographies, and other literature that suggested different ways to celebrate, such as parades featuring notable African American figures, banquets, speeches, poetry readings, and lectures.

 

The week then began to gather momentum. US cities and towns held various celebrations, founded history clubs, and hosted events, while teachers enthusiastically gathered relevant materials and dedicated coursework to the occasion. Soon, the Departments of Education for various states like Delaware, North Carolina, and Virginia partnered with the ASNLH to promote the event.

 

Over the next few decades, mayors throughout the country established proclamations that recognized “Negro History Week” every year. In 1969, African American professors and members of the Black United Students group at Kent State University proposed extending the week to an entire month, and, in 1970, students and faculty celebrated the first Black History Month. Other colleges and universities soon followed suit.

 

On the fiftieth anniversary, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling on American citizens to seize the “opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since this announcement, every US president has put forth proclamations that officially endorse the ASALH’s annual theme for Black History Month.

 

Since 1928, each of these weeks—and later, months—has been oriented around a specific theme in order to even further direct the attention of the public. Such themes have ranged from “Civilization: A World Achievement” to “African Background Outlined” to “African Art, Music, Literature: A Valuable Cultural Experience.” ASALH provides the full list of these themes for further exploration. This year, the theme for Black History Month is Black Migrations, which, as the ASALH describes, specifically highlights the “movement of people of African descent to new destinations and subsequently to new social realities.”

 

Today, Black History Month is celebrated throughout the United States in schools and communities through lesson plans and classroom activities, history clubs, lectures, performances, museum exhibitions, and so much more. Starting in 1987, other countries also began celebrating Black History Month: Canada in February, and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland in October. Be sure to research what events are being held in your area for Black History Month so you and your family can participate!

Make a Friend Day!

February 11th is National Make a Friend Day!

 

Good friendships play an important role in maintaining a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. In fact, some studies have shown that having close friends can positively impact your health, boost confidence, reduce stress levels, and even increase your chances of living longer!

 

Friends are key for everyone, but studies have found that friendships in young children may have even more of a mental and emotional impact since such relationships are highly influential in a child’s development. A study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign determined that friendships made during a child’s preschool years can provide a valuable setting for developing communicative, emotional, and overall social skills. Even at such a young age, these friendships give children feelings of security and a sense of being part of a group. Additionally, similar to its effects on adults, having friends can lower children’s stress levels and thus increase overall health and happiness.

 

Dr. Paul Schwartz, a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College and an expert in child behavior, further explains some of these crucial social skills learned in childhood friendships. Schwartz notes that friendships create an area for children to learn about differing viewpoints, as well as grow to understand the nuances and rules of conversation. Schwartz even speculates that a child’s experiences with good friendships could be a factor in positive school performance.

 

How can children demonstrate how to be good friends? In Friends at School by Rochelle Bunnett, which intertwines friendship and learning at a mixed-ability preschool, friends go to the park, eat snacks together, and tell stories. At the end of the day, all of the students put on their coats and wave goodbye to each other before going home.

 

For slightly older children, Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! by Miriam Cohen shows readers how they can notice when someone is lonely and begin a new friendship. When Alex, the new kid at school, gets in trouble for lying, everyone shuns him—except Jim, who decides Alex needs a friend.

 

 

Be Quiet, Marina! by Kirsten DeBear and Laura Dwight illustrates how children can be friends in light of differences and difficulties. Two girls—Marina, who has cerebral palsy, and Moira, who has Down syndrome—have a hard time playing together. However, the two soon learn to communicate their feelings, and are now the best of friends!

 

In Show Me How To Be A Friend, J.A. Barnes helps young children on the Autism spectrum understand how they can be good friends. The book opens with “What do I do to make a friend?” before displaying young children sharing toys, taking turns, and saying sorry when they hurt each other. Pictures throughout the book feature children hugging, laughing, and playing, to help the reader understand how to be a good friend.

 

Today, encourage your child to make a new friend!

Around the World in Holidays

The holiday season is in full swing! Houses are decorated with festive lights, stores have holiday gifts front and center, and a feeling of cheer seems to float in the air. December is an important time as it has many holidays for people of all different backgrounds and beliefs. So, as you gear up for the holiday(s) of your choice, here is a guide to some December celebrations around the world.

 

Hanukkah, or the “festival of lights,” kicks off the December holiday season. According to the Jewish calendar, it begins on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev and is observed for eight days, which in 2018 is December 2-10. The holiday came into being when Jewish rebel warriors defeated invading Greeks. They sought to rededicate their desecrated temple, but there was only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days. In celebration, a menorah is lit, one candle each night, until all are kindled on the last day. The importance of oil is also celebrated with customary fried foods like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganya (jelly-filled doughnuts). Children play with a dreidel, or a four-sided spinning top, and receive Hanukkah gelt, or money, from older relatives.

 

Bodhi Day falls on December 8. It celebrates the day Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha, attained enlightenment. Gautama, a prince of Nepal, left his luxurious lifestyle to seek the meaning of life upon seeing the suffering of human beings. After years of traveling and seeking, he sat under a Bodhi tree with a vow to fast and meditate until he found the answer. On the eighth day, he came to a number of realizations that would become the foundational principles for Buddhism. Celebrations of Bodhi Day vary widely between sects and can range from visiting shrines for additional meditation to performing kind acts and decorating the family Ficus tree, the species to which the Bodhi belongs. Rice and milk play an important role, as this was the first meal Siddhartha was offered following his enlightenment. Some families also make heart-shaped cookies like the leaves of a Bodhi tree.

 

Pancha Ganapati is a modern Hindu festival celebrated December 21-25. Created in 1985 by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami so Hindus could have something to celebrate during the Christian-dominated holiday season, the festival centers on Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of beginnings, knowledge, culture, and the removal of obstacles. A shrine with Ganesha at the center is created in the living room. Children dress the statue in a different color each morning to correspond with that day’s color and theme. The first day, for example, is yellow and celebrates family. Offerings are made to Ganesha, and children open gifts on the fifth day.

 

Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26 to January 1, is another modern holiday. It was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, an activist and professor of Africana studies, so all black people could have an alternative holiday to celebrate. Inspired by the “first fruit” harvest festivals in Africa, Kwanzaa is guided by seven principles (Nguzo Saba) that are the basis for strong community. One such principle is ujima, which means collective work and responsibility. Seven candles (Mishumaa saba) represent the principles of the holiday, and a candle is lit each day to celebrate the respective principle. Seven symbols are also used to decorate and represent Kwanzaa. Children receive gifts on the last day.

 

Omisoka (Japanese New Year’s Eve) was traditionally celebrated on the last day of the lunar calendar, but since switching to the Gregorian calendar now falls on December 31. This holiday centers on preparing for the clean slate of the New Year, while concluding the current year. People spend the day cleaning the house, decorating, paying off debts, bathing, and cooking large quantities of osechi, or traditional Japanese New Year foods. It is considered unlucky to cook in the kitchen or handle errands for the three days following New Year’s Eve, so it is important for people to complete the tasks before the end of the current year. Right before the end of the year, people gather to eat toshikoshi soba or toshikoshi udon. These long noodles represent long life. At midnight or in the following few days, people visit Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples for Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year. Amazake, or sweet sake, is traditionally passed out to crowds praying at the shrines.

 

Christmas is the most widely recognized December holiday, and as a result, Santa Claus has become an instantly recognizable symbol. Mall Santas aside, there is a real one that comes around with presents for all the nice children . . . right? In Bah! Humbug by Lorna and Lecia Balian, Margie’s older brother does not think Santa exists, and he sets out a Santa trap to prove Margie wrong. But a little holiday spirit can go a long way.

 

From all of us at Star Bright Books, happy holidays!

One Act of Kindness

Compassion is one of the most important lessons a caregiver can teach children, but it can be a little tough with the world we live in. A survey conducted by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the beloved Sesame Street, shows that 70 percent of parents and 86 percent of teachers “often worry that the world is an unkind place for children.” Though the high marks are worrisome, the survey also provides hope for the direction in which caregivers aim to take the next generation: 81 percent of parents and 84 percent of teachers agree that “people need to be responsible for helping their own children and families and other people in society.”

 

As children grow and learn more about the world they inhabit, we hope they become compassionate and empathetic toward everyone, without the awful –isms and –phobias of society. Aside from making the world a better place, there are other reasons for kids to be kind—it is human nature. Research shows that humans are inherently good and have an instinct to be cooperative. This is great news for humanity, but sometimes children still need a little nudge in the right direction to fulfill this human need.

 

Raising children to become thoughtful and generous humanitarians may seem like a tall order. How can adults expect that from children when it is not always easy for adults themselves to be kind? It is, however, important to remember that being kind is a choice. As with other choice-based behaviors, kindness can be learned and internalized. Ages 4-7 is a critical learning period for children, so lessons on how to be kind should start as soon as possible and be consistently reinforced as they grow.

 

One way to demonstrate the importance of kindness is through modeling. According to Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, people internalize behaviors by observing others perform those same behaviors. In short, children often imitate adults. With this in mind, adults can model kind behaviors that align with the lessons they teach children; thus, children can internalize the information and perform the same behaviors themselves. Consistency between the lessons being taught and one’s own behavior will help a child understand how to truly be kind in practice.

 

Another way to encourage kind behavior in children is to volunteer for the community together. There are many ways to get involved! Sit down with children and discuss the impact of each option and which avenue to take. Some examples include volunteering at an animal shelter, starting a canned-food drive, or picking up trash at the beach. Even gathering clothes and items around the house and donating them to a charitable cause can have a huge impact on those who need it—and inspire children to continue doing good deeds from the kindness of their hearts.

 

It is important to remember that no act of kindness is too small. This lesson is apparent in A Circle of Friends, where one child’s generous act of sharing his snack with a homeless man sparks a chain reaction of caring. An action that may seem miniscule to one person can mean the world to another.

 

Being kind is not always easy, especially when one is told to do otherwise. In Hunter and His Dog, a hunter takes his new dog on a hunting trip. However, upon seeing injured birds, the dog feels compassion and takes them away from the hunter to heal. In going against the hunter’s orders and instead choosing to be kind and empathetic, the dog saves the birds’ lives.

 

During this season of giving, what acts of kindness can you take to help someone in need?

A Bird’s Eye View of the City

Sixty years ago, the peregrine falcon was on the verge of dying off in the United States. At the time, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was widely used as a pesticide for both agriculture and households, and it proved to be poisonous to many forms of wildlife, including fish, bald eagles, and falcons. DDT was especially harmful to apex predators because the chemicals accumulated internally as infected animals were eaten. DDT also caused falcon eggshells to thin, leading to higher rates of broken eggs.

 

It was not until biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson that these issues became known. Her book Silent Spring exposed the harmful side effects that pesticides such as DDT had on the environment. Although Carson’s findings were initially dismissed or criticized, John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee eventually investigated and confirmed the truth of her book, leading to policy changes.

 

With the ban of DDT  and the passing of the Endangered Species Act in the early ’70s, the peregrine falcon population finally had a chance to recover from years of decline. A captive breeding program was put into place to help boost the dwindling population. But another issue arose when it came time to release the fledgling falcons into the wild. Because they were not yet fully mature, the falcons were vulnerable to a number of predators, including owls and foxes. In order to survive, this was not a gamble the species could afford.

 

Then, researchers came up with a radical solution inspired by history. Falcons have been documented nesting in cathedrals and towers as far back as the Middle Ages. In hopes that an urban environment would present fewer threats to growing falcons, researchers garnered the support of government agencies, environmental groups, and the public to introduce the birds to their new homes. The captive birds were released on high-rise buildings in various cities across the US, particularly in regions where the falcon population was especially low. By the mid-1980s, the falcon population had slowly, but steadily, increased. Driven by this success, researchers continued releasing falcons into cities.

 

Eventually, high-rise buildings became homes for more than just captive bred falcons. Wild falcons were also able to adapt to changing landscapes and rapid urbanization by settling into cities. This adaptability is attributed to similarities in habitat. Falcons outside of cities often nest on cliff edges, a habitat well mimicked by tall structures like skyscrapers and bridges. Moreover, falcons mainly feed on medium-sized birds such as pigeons, which are abundant in urban areas.

 

As well as peregrine falcons have taken to urban areas, the unnatural environment does present threats and challenges not found in the wild. Falcons are not nest builders, preferring instead to dig a hole in which to lay eggs. Since this is not possible on a human-made structure, nesting boxes must be provided to keep eggs from rolling off buildings. Falcons are also particular about nest disturbances. Anything from helicopters to construction—and even nearby human activities—could prevent a successful nesting. Young falcons just spreading their wings also face the possibility of falling off structures without the updraft winds found at cliffs to help them learn to fly. The falcon population has an effect on humans as well. In some cities such as New York, which is home to about 40 falcons, they can interfere with construction projects due to their territorial nature.

 

Despite the challenges, peregrine falcons have made an astounding comeback and have even become a shining example of urban wildlife. Today, peregrine falcons are no longer endangered; they are now classified as a species of least concern. Their success story can hopefully serve as a model for the rescue efforts of other species on the brink of dying off.

 

Is your city home to peregrine falcons? In City Birds, two falcon hatchlings named Stars and Stripes call a skyscraper in Cleveland, Ohio, home. The humorous story follows the two young birds as they learn to navigate the real-life challenges of their big-city home.

Remembering Kristallnacht

It has been 80 years since Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”), yet today there are still eerie echoes of the horrific event. Kristallnacht was an organized attack against Jewish people in Nazi Germany that took place on November 9 and 10, 1938. Kristallnacht is also known as the Night of Broken Glass, named for the shattered glass from store windows and synagogues that blanketed the streets in the aftermath of the attacks. These attacks devastated the Jewish community, leaving over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed and nearly 100 Jews dead. More than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

 

Although news of the brutal event was met by shock and outrage internationally, Kristallnacht was the culmination of anti-Semitic policies and beliefs in Nazi Germany. Prior to the rise of the Nazis, Jews in Germany generally had the same legal rights as all German citizens, although they were banned from university teaching positions. However, after Hitler came to power as chancellor in 1933, the Nazis began to broadcast propaganda that singled out German Jews as the reason for various misfortunes, such as Germany’s loss in World War I. This was quickly followed by anti-Semitic laws that systematically removed Jews’ rights. Jewish people could no longer be employed in civil service posts, including any teaching positions, not just at the university level. The Nazis also organized a boycott of Jewish businesses, and German businesses stopped serving Jews.

 

These policies culminated in the Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour forbade marriage and extramarital intercourse between Jews and Germans. It also prevented the employment of German women under 45 in Jewish households, under the assumption workers would be forced into such relations by Jewish men. Another policy, the Reich Citizenship Law, stated that only those with “German or kindred blood” were citizens of Germany; everyone else would be subjects of the state, stripped of basic rights. This law never defined “German or kindred blood,” but it did identify Jews as a race, rather than a religious community. Therefore, anyone who had a grandparent born into a Jewish religious community was considered Jewish, whether or not they identified as one. German allies such as Italy, Romania, and Slovakia passed similar laws. It is important to note that although these laws specifically targeted Jews, they also applied to black and Romani people.

 

The Nuremberg Race Laws allowed Hitler and the Nazis to spread the anti-Semitic sentiments that fueled their party in an organized manner. Many Jews sought to emigrate elsewhere, but faced difficulties both domestically (they were required to pay 90 percent of their wealth to Germany as tax for leaving) and internationally (other countries condemned Germany’s anti-Semitism, but refused to take in Jewish immigrants). The Nazis wanted to further escalate their anti-Semitic campaign; they just needed the right opportunity.

 

And then came the perfect scenario: the shooting of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath at the German embassy in Paris. The perpetrator was Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish-Jew refugee born in Germany. The shooting is commonly thought to be politically motivated, as anti-Semitism displaced the Grynszpan family from Germany, where they had lived for many years. Grynszpan made no attempt to escape arrest after the shooting. In custody, the French police found in Grynszpan’s pocket a postcard addressed to his parents that, in part, read, “. . . I could not do otherwise, may God forgive me, the heart bleeds when I hear of your tragedy and that of the 12,000 Jews. I must protest so that the whole world hears my protest, and that I will do. Forgive me. . . .” Grynszpan was taken into Nazi custody, but his scheduled trial was canceled and his fate remains unknown to this day.

 

In response, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels ordered Nazi Stormtroopers to ignite violent riots disguised as German people protesting against Jews. Then, he sent instructions to the police and army to only interfere if the rioting threatened non-Jewish businesses. And thus, Kristallnacht commenced.

 

Kristallnacht has been largely regarded as a precursor to the “Final Solution” and the Holocaust. Although several countries severed diplomatic relations with Germany over the attacks, there were largely no consequences to the Nazis, enabling them to further destroy the Jewish community.

 

It is more important now than ever to teach tragic events like Kristallnacht so we as a society do not repeat the atrocities. By studying Kristallnacht and the Holocaust, we come to understand how these events were not isolated incidents, but rather a climax of variables such as authoritarianism, racism, dehumanization, and the neutral response of people not directly affected by such policies. It is only by becoming aware of the cause and effect of Kristallnacht, the Holocaust, and other similar events that we can work to prevent future brutal incidents.

 

Here at Star Bright Books, we aim to do our part to teach the lessons gleaned from the Holocaust by engaging readers with books about the time period from varying perspectives. Hidden Letters provides a look at life under Nazi rule. Philip “Flip” Slier, only 18 when he was sent to a concentration camp in Holland, wrote detailed letters to his parents almost every day, chronicling his life under German occupation. In Poland, German officer Wilm Hosenfeld lived his life in accordance to his own moral compass, despite the contradiction with the beliefs of Germany’s leadership. Defying the Nazis follows Hosenfeld’s life from his youth absorbed in nationalist propaganda to his maturity into a brave soul who helped rescue dozens of people from the Nazi regime.

 

Never again.