Artist Spotlight: Terry Lee Caruthers

In this Artist Spotlight, we talk with children’s book author and librarian Terry Lee Caruthers about her new book The Big Day, her entry into children’s books, and her East Tennessee roots.


Star Bright Books (SBB): What inspired you to begin writing books for children and young adults?


Terry Lee Caruthers (TLC): A Christmas legend. In December 1995, I was requested to give a storytelling performance for a woman’s group at an area church. While I was preparing, I ran across a two-sentence Christmas legend used as filler in a newspaper circular. Intrigued, I tried to find more information. When I could not, I decided it was a tale that I would have to write myself. I did and titled it A Gift of Thanks. That was the first book I wrote, and I hope that one day it will find a publisher. 


SBB: Your book ideas often spur from real people and real events. Why? 


TLC: I attribute that to my innate curiosity. An article will catch my eye, and the next thing I know there is a story germinating in my head. Sometimes they are fact-based like a picture book manuscript I wrote on Beauford Delaney titled Shoes Led The Way or my “A Glimpse of Knoxville, Tennessee History” picture storybook series that’s currently in progress. Other times they are fictional like the middle grade novel I am currently working on. The idea was inspired by an NPR StoryCorps episode.


SBB: Tell our audience about your Knoxville, Tennessee, roots and how they inspire your storytelling.


TLC: I am a lifetime resident of South Knoxville, an area near and dear to my heart. The Tennessee River separates it from the east, west, and north areas of the city. That’s why in South Knoxville’s early history it was referred to as “South America” and was slow to develop, even after Chapman Highway was built in the 1930s as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains. Nature still abounds from its kudzu-covered ridges to the limestone rock formations peeking out from the sides of the highway to the ubiquitous sinkholes that deter any type of development. 

Even though I live in a 1940s city subdivision, I can glimpse deer, fox, coyotes, rabbits, possums, raccoons, and the occasional bobcat wandering through my yard. On rare occasions, even a black bear. I guess that’s why I love it. I sit in my swing on the screen porch and let nature inspire me, like watching the crows bully a red-tailed hawk. It’s a description that I’ve used in at least two of my writings.


SBB: What message do you hope to convey to young readers through your work? 


TLC: As a librarian, I want to covey the importance of facts, even in fiction. Everything I write is researched through verifiable sources. For instance, I have a middle grade Civil War manuscript titled The Faithful Dog that I’m currently submitting to publishers. It was inspired by an actual event following the Battle of Shiloh. Even though this is a fictionalized account, I researched several genealogical databases to find background information on the dog’s family, as well as articles and books regarding the military unit they were associated with. As a result, the novel has a ten-page bibliography!


SBB: Your latest work, The Big Day, tells a fictionalized version of events that took place on September 6, 1919, when Agnes Sadler became the first Black woman to vote in Knoxville. Can you describe the impetus of the book?


TLC: Upon discovering Agnes Sadler’s name in a 1919 newspaper article [about the first women voters in Knoxville], I kept thinking what a momentous day that had to have been for her. Of course, at that time I knew nothing about Mrs. Sadler. I did, however, know that I had managed to discover a significant person in our city’s history. Then as I drove home, the words “It’s big day” began rattling around in my head. That night, Tansy made her appearance and I began drafting the story of Big Mama.


Cover from The Big Day by Terry Lee Caruthers

SBB: Why did you feel Agnes Sadler’s story was one worth telling and pursuing? 


TLC: I lived though the feminist movement in the 1970s. When I attended the University of Tennessee I minored in women’s studies. Susan Becker’s history classes were eye-opening, exposing me not only to the role of women in our country from its founding, but [also] the role of people of color, both male and female. I became impassioned about it. What is truly frustrating is that, even today, so much of this history remains hidden. Lost. Untold. When I was indexing that newspaper article and saw that little ‘c’ beside Agnes Sadler’s name, it took my breath away. Here was a woman who had a pivotal role in the history of our city, and she had been lost for nearly a hundred years. I immediately shared the news with Bob Booker, Knoxville’s local civil rights icon and author of several books on our local Black history.


SBB: You’ve developed an acquaintance with Agnes’s descendants through The Big Day. What does that mean to you? 


TLC: When I started researching Agnes Sadler’s life, I had so hoped to be able to connect with her family and share the significant role she had in Knoxville’s history. I’ve often wondered if she knew herself. I had just about given up when a research breakthrough connected me with her great-grandson. I was delighted to share, not only this historic moment, but [also] the information I had gleaned about her that is contained in the book’s biography. Perhaps that’s the librarian in me, being able to connect people with information.


SBB: Can you reveal what you’re working on now?


TLC: Many, many things. I have a variety of picture books that I’m seeking publication on. Then there’s my middle grade novel titled Red and Me that is under review by my critique group. It has been described as a cross between To Kill A Mockingbird and Old Yeller, with one agent calling its characters “timeless.” Hopefully, it will soon find a home with a publisher. One of my unfinished projects that I’m currently concentrating on is a middle grade novel titled If Love Was a Smell. I’m about two-thirds of the way through and hope to finish it by the end of the year.


Building Vital Intergenerational Relationships through Reading

Many people are losing out on time with family members during the pandemic, but this isolating reality has been particularly hard-hitting on the elderly. They are unable to see their grandchildren, youthful chess companions, or book club members who offer a sense of community.


Children, teens, and young adults are losing out too. They don’t get to converse or bake with their grandparents or elderly loved ones.


Reading is one of the fundamental pillars of human connection. It allows people across generations to relate to each other and discuss characters or themes that pertain to their own lives. Literature is a staircase into another world, and it is possible for two generations to scale those stairs together, forming a bond that can benefit both parties.


Young people and older relatives who live in the same household can read together in-person. For those who live apart, technology exists to connect with family members worldwide via FaceTime or Zoom, and this bonding can be furthered through reading.


What are the benefits of forming an intergenerational bond?

Relationships offer mutual benefits we might not consider. Intergenerational bonds reward both young and old people because they can learn from each other (stringing together the past and future). Reading together brings out the inquisitive and social sides to of everyone, but there are individual benefits as well.


For elder generations, reading together:

  • Prevents loneliness.
  • Keeps them updated on current trends.
  • Allows them to share their own stories and pass on lessons.


For children, teens, and young adults, reading together:

Reading with grandparents is a beautiful and rewarding experience for everyone. (from Read to Me, illustrated by Kyra Teis)


Grandparents/elders reading with young children

Children and grandparents can build many fond memories reading together, whether it’s five minutes a day or two hours per week. Children can share their dreams for the future by recognizing themselves in books, and grandparents can encourage them to pursue their interests. This also intensifies a child’s sense of family belonging and reinforces the place a grandparent has in it.


Here are some tips to make efficient use of reading time:

  • If reading together remotely, record yourself reading aloud for a change of pace from
  • FaceTime or Zoom.
  • Allow children to pick a book. It shows that you trust their opinion, no matter how many times you reread the same book.
  • Keep a stockpile of genres handy so there are lots of options.
  • Ask each other questions about the book.
  • Make sound effects while reading.
  • Give books as presents.
  • Take turns reading aloud.


Grandparents/elders reading with teens, college students, and health workers

A book club is one of the best ways to engage in a cross-generational gathering.


A book discussion group can be anywhere with anyone: over an online platform, on a patio, in a church basement, at an assisted living facility, or in any community space where people who love literature can come together.


The best way to facilitate a book discussion is to keep the group under ten people with an equal number from older and younger generations. Participants should be excited and willing!


Pick books that feature friendship amid a generational gap, use icebreakers during the first meeting, have a set of rules and expectations to build structure, make accommodations for anyone who is hard of hearing or visually impaired, and if online, ensure that everyone is able access the platform and feel comfortable in this environment.


Group discussions can be quite rewarding. Other enriching elements are friendships formed outside of a club and creative, book-related group activities.


However you choose to read together, be authentic and let the book be a guide toward connection. There is power in shared experience.

2020: The Year in Review

As we bid farewell to the trying and difficult year of 2020, it is important to reflect on everything that has happened, both on a worldly scale and within the publishing community.


The year started with whispers of a deadly, fast-spreading virus. By April, it seemed the whole world was on total lockdown to try and slow the spread of COVID-19. With every month that passed, a new hardship came to light: calls for racial justice, the fight for a new presidency, and the general uncertainty of the COVID-19 outbreak.


In this piece, we recap last year’s hardships and look to 2021 with a new hope.


A Look at What Happened


Last year brought with it many unbelievable challenges.


At the end of 2019 and start of 2020, a mysterious virus started to spread across the world in rapid succession. By mid-February, many countries had instituted restrictive measures, such as lockdowns and shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders to try and contain the virus. The United States declared a national emergency in March.


With the restrictive measures in place many stores and other establishments closed their doors to the public, leading to a downturn in business and an increase in unemployment. Those who were fortunate to avoid unemployment transitioned to remote work, which brought its own challenges. However, December ushered in a wave of hope in the form of COVID-19 vaccines, one of which is reported to be 94% effective.


Along with the lockdowns and economic instability, there was an increased awareness of social injustice across the US and the world. Calls to end systemic racism and implement changes in police training are not a new concepts, but with people more connected than ever through the Internet and the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, these issues were broadcast around the world. In a recent roundtable interview with NPR’s David Greene, Lynsey Chutel, a South African journalist, said, “There is a George Floyd in every country.”


On top of these obstacles, 2020 was a presidential election year that brought several Democratic candidates. In the end of a divisive election cycle, Democrat Joe Biden defeated incumbent Republican Donald Trump to win the presidency.


Finally, 2020 was the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was ratified on August 18, 1920. It marked the end of a decades-long fight for women’s suffrage and publically declared, for the first time, that American women, like men, deserved all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Young Tansy helps Big Mama vote in “The Big Day.” (illustrated by Robert Casilla)

COVID-19’s Effects on Publishing 


The spread of COVID-19 also had a profound effect on the publishing world in 2020. At the end of March, when COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, book publishers made tough decisions to delay publication dates for key books. This resulted in a bit of a printing jam when the delayed books ran into the production cycles of other forthcoming titles. Needless to say, the backlog created havoc for authors and publishers alike.


The publishing world was forced to learn how to quickly pivot to virtual learning and reading. Publishers turned to more virtual offerings such as book tours, school visits, and book events—all offered online instead of in-person.


Many publishing houses also enforced remote work as the new standard. The day-to-day life of producing a book shifted in 2020—from spreading out printing proofs, artwork, and advance copies across huge conference tables to share with office colleagues to sending printing proofs and advance copies by mail to reduce touch points.


Dan Potash, VP and creative director at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, recently said in an Publishers Weekly article, “Working from home has magnified the incalculable value of the impromptu meeting, the in-the-elevator exchange, the outside-my-doorway-lunch-plan-turned-brainstorming-session, or spontaneous detour to a designer’s office to tell them how impressed I am with their work. It’s both the obvious and the subtle power of these moments that are missing these days.”


In spite of these challenges, some workflow changes have been greatly beneficial, such as the reduced cost and time efficiency of sending digital book copies for review. Increases in Zoom, Skype, and phone meetings, as well as email communication all worked together in 2020 to ensure that book production continues forward. Due to the expansion of homeschooling and remote learning, sales in juvenile and adult nonfiction books skyrocketed last year.


A Peek into Star Bright Books’s Year


Star Bright Books was equally impacted by 2020. Like many publishing houses our list was much smaller than usual, but all the more special. We published four new books last year: Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! (June 30), The Little Red Crane (August 17), Shapes at Play (October 15), and The Big Day (October 30).


Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! is available in English and Spanish/English. (illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu)


We also added books in Swahili, Punjabi, and Hopi, bringing us to 29 different language offerings. Hopi is the third Indigenous language on our publishing list.


Even with last year’s struggles and uncertainty, 2021 is a time for hope and coming prosperity. With the world working together to produce and distribute COVID-19 vaccines and the increasing demand for books, it is only a matter of time before a return to normalcy takes place.


All of us at Star Bright Books wish you a wonderful 2021 filled with new hope, and most importantly, new and inspiring stories.

Helping Children Develop Grief Coping-Mechanisms

The holidays present a unique challenge for grieving families on top of the chaos of a pandemic. With an estimated 1 in 14 children in the U.S. dealing with the death of a parent or sibling before the age of 18, and many more experiencing the death of a beloved pet, grandparent, or friend or family member, it is extremely important for caregivers to know how to support children in these crises. Coping with grief is never easy no matter one’s age, but below are guidelines experts recommend to make the mourning process less encumbering and more accessible for young children.


From Always By My Side, written by Susan Kerner and illustrated by Ian P. Benfold Haywood.

Encourage the Child to Talk about their Feelings

In many Western countries, the subject of death and grief is an uncomfortable one, to be mentioned briefly in polite conversation before quickly being cast aside in favor of lighter fare. While the intention is good in trying not to bog down the bereaved in more sad thoughts than they already have, not addressing the elephant in the room can make the trauma of loss even scarier for a child. Making time to talk personally and honestly with a child about difficult topics such as the idea of an afterlife and the cycle of life, as well as memories of the deceased person can comfort children who may worry that they are bad or strange for dwelling on something that makes people sad. Just be careful to avoid euphemisms when discussing death with a child, which could make a kid feel talked down to or just confuse them more on what death actually entails.


Allow Children to Express Grief in Different Ways at Different Times

While some children primarily process their grief verbally, it is not the only way to do so. Many children find that they can better express their thoughts about a death through a creative endeavor such as drawing, writing a story, or making up a dance. Others may need to do productive physical activities such as yard work or running around to burn off excess frustration that can build up due to anger about the death. The important thing is that the child is not bottling emotions up and is processing them in a way that feels comfortable and is developmentally healthy. If a child starts showing signs of severe depression or anxiety related to the death, contact a child psychiatrist or psychologist experienced in dealing with bereaved children for further constructive assistance to the child in the grieving process.


Remember that Everyone Grieves at Their Own Pace

Just like there is no “right” way to express grief, there is no “right” time to do so either. Some children start to feel the effects of grief immediately after a loved one passes away, and that is normal. Some children don’t fully begin to articulate the grieving process until days or even weeks after the death, and that is normal too. Grief is very personal, with no standardized timeline to pinpoint when a child should start and stop. However, if a child is still showing signs of denial of the death or avoidance of grief altogether, a specialist should be consulted to ensure severe emotional issues do not develop over time.


Though it is impossible to bring the loved one back to life, there are so many ways to show a child the love and support needed to get through the herculean challenge of processing grief in a healthy manner. For more advice on guiding children through the idea of death and grieving, Star Bright Books is proud to point to the enlightening work of childhood grief advocates Miriam Cohen, Ronald Himler, and Susan Kerner. We wish you and your loved ones strength and peace during the holiday season and throughout the new year. And always, always remember that young or old, you are not alone.


From Six Is So Much Less Than Seven, written and illustrated by Ronald Himler.

Support Latinx Bookstores!

Have you thought about how you can support non-white businesses? Star Bright Books compiled a list of Black-owned bookstores and publishing houses in a previous post. This piece is dedicated to Latinx-owned literary establishments.


Many Latinx bookstores are located in low-income, vulnerable communities and are integral to maintaining a literary culture in their local communities. If you are looking for a new book establishment to support, please consider visiting one of the stores below or ordering online or via curbside.


Click on each bookstore name to visit its website. And click here for even more Latinx stores to support!




  • Cellar Door Bookstore
    • Address: 5225 Canyon Crest Dr. #30A, Riverside
    • Phone: 951-787-7807
    • Email:
  • La Libreria
    • Address: 4732 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles
    • Phone: 310-295-1501
    • Email:
  • LibroMobile Bookstore
    • Address: 220 E 4th St #107, Santa Ana
    • Phone: 657-205-9907
  • Libros Schmibros Lending Library
    • Address: 103 N Boyle Avenue, Los Angeles
    • Phone: 323-604-9991
    • Email:
  • Other Books
    • Address: 2006 E Cesar E Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles
    • Phone: 323-742-5409
    • Email:
  • Seite Books
    • Address: 417 N. Rowan Ave., Los Angeles
    • Phone: 323-526-1369
    • Email:
  • Tia Churcha’s Centro Cultural
    • Address: 13197 Gladstone Ave. Unit A, Sylmar
    • Phone: 818-939-3433
    • Email:


  • Altamira Libros
    • Address: 1800 SW 1st Ave. 6th Floor #604, Miami
    • Phone: 786-534-8433
    • Email:
  • Third House Books
    • Address: 400 NW 10th Avenue, Gainesville
    • Phone: 352-317-5387

New York

  • The Bronx is Reading
    • Address: 1125 Grand Concourse, Bronx
    • Phone: 347-202-3713
    • Email:
  • Cafe con Libros
    • Address: 724 Prospect Pl, Brooklyn
    • Phone: 347-460-2838
    • Email:
  • Drama Book Shop
    • Address: 266 W 39th St, New York (New Address)
    • Phone: 212-944-0595
    • Email:
    • Now owned by Lin-Manuel Miranda and other collaborators on Hamilton!
  • Hipocampo Children’s Books
    • Address: 638 South Avenue, Rochester
    • Phone: 585-461-0161
  • Kew and Willow Books
    • Address: 8163 Lefferts Boulevard, Kew Gardens
    • Phone: 718-441-0009
  • Librería Barco De Papel
    • Address: 4002 80th St., Elmhurst
    • Phone: 718-565-8283
    • Email:
  • The Lit. Bar
    • Address: 131 Alexander Avenue, Bronx
    • Phone: 347-955-3610
  • Mil Mundos Books
    • Address: 323 Linden Street, Brooklyn
    • Phone: 347-425-7077
    • Email:
  • Word Up Community Bookshop / Libreria Comunitaria
    • Address: 2113 Amsterdam Avenue, New York
    • Phone: 347-688-4456
    • Email:

North Carolina

Puerto Rico

  • El Candíl
    • Address: 93 Calle Unión Esq. Sol, Ponce
    • Phone: 787-242-6693
  • The Bookmark
    • Address: San Patricio Plaza, 2 Gonzalez Giusti Ave. Suite 1, Guaynabo
    • Phone: 787-710-7848
    • Email:


  • Red Salmon Arts
    • Address: 2000 Thrasher Ln., Austin
    • Phone: 512-389-9881
    • Email:
  • The Storybook Garden
    • Address: 260 S. Texas Blvd., Suite 106, Weslaco
    • Phone: 956-968-7323 


  • Booklandia
    • Phone: 510-519-4436
    • Email:


The Importance of Picture Books

Photo by Christina Rose Pix.

Picture books offer something special for children who are first learning how to interact with the world around them. Simple depictions of everyday occurrences take on a new meaning and play a critical role in the development of children’s language skills, visual thinking, and emotional literacy.


Building Language Skills

Parents are often advised to read to their children every day as soon as—if not before—they are born. In fact, this is backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which based its suggestion on research showing that children whose parents talk to them more have an advantage in school over children whose parents talk to them less. Vanessa LoBue, PhD explains how one advantage lies in the number of words children are exposed to when parents speak to them out loud. She further clarifies that when parents make an effort to read to their children, they expose them to different words that are not regularly used.


As children grow and begin to speak, they learn how to recognize sounds and patterns in spoken language. This is known as phonological awareness. Picture books tend to have a certain rhythm that makes it easy for children to develop and practice phonological awareness. At the most basic level, picture books help children understand that words convey meaning by creating a connection between the pictures and the words on each page. The pictures give visual clues for children to decode the text and help develop their vocabulary.

Not all picture books utilize a strict rhythmic pattern, but this isn’t necessary to help increase phonological awareness and comprehension. In fact, children might start to gravitate to a particular book and wish to re-read one book over and over again. This repetition can help children get better at hearing, identifying, and manipulating individual sounds in words. Additionally, by reading the same book each day children have more opportunities to visualize the links between how a word is spelled and how it is pronounced.


Inspiring Visual Thinking

Along with the introduction of new words and rhythms, picture book illustrations bring the pages to life and help children understand what they are reading. Therefore, even if children have a difficult time understanding the exact words in the text, the illustrations can help them comprehend the narrative.


One major part of reading comprehension is the ability to summarize a story. This is why picture books are neatly organized into identifiable beginnings, middles, and ends with the visual aid of illustrations: to remind the reader what is happening throughout the story, allowing them to confidently retell key events. This also teaches children how to make predictions about what will happen next.


Promoting Emotional Literacy

Picture books have also been proven to help expand a child’s emotional literacy, or  the ability to express one’s emotional state and communicate one’s feelings.  Emotional literacy is one of the most important social skills a child can develop because it is the first step in the development of empathy, which allows children to recognize and respond to the emotional states of others and create deeper connections with their peers.

Photo by Robert Kneschke.

Emotional literacy starts around the age of four and continues to develop into adolescence, which correlates to the average age of picture book readers. It may develop more slowly in children on the autism spectrum. Emotional literacy can also be taught, which is where picture books are helpful as they allow children to indirectly experience the emotions of the characters through text and imagery. This gives children exposure to a variety of emotions and situations that they can then apply to everyday life.


Star Bright Books recognizes that picture books create a much-needed foundation for children to develop their language, visual, and emotional skills. Visit our main website for books that will showcase diversity and promote phonological awareness!

What Kind of Learner Are You? Auditory, Visual, or Kinesthetic?

For parents, educators, older siblings, or anyone guiding a child through the stages of their learning process, it can be useful to know how best they learn. When you picture studying for exams or researching for projects, what strategies come to mind? Color-coding notes? Flashcards? Audiobooks or reading articles out loud? You or your child might not know which way works best or do all three, and that’s fine.


There are three different learning strategies within the Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) that could be helpful to any individual young, old, or in between: visual , auditory , and kinesthetic!


Children carry these learning strategies into high school or college. It can be fun for elementary and middle school students to take the MI test and discover new things about themselves.


From First Grade Takes a Test, written by Miriam Cohen and illustrated by Ronald Himler.


What is the Theory of Multiple Intelligences?

Howard Gardner, an American developmental psychologist, developed the theory through the late 1970s to early ’80s.


The theory totals seven types of learning, but this post will focus on the three most overlooked: auditory, kinesthetic, and visual. The other four types are intrapersonal, interpersonal, logical-mathematical, and linguistic, which are readily integrated into a classroom curriculum. It is difficult to make auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning part of a teacher’s lesson plan because they are individual to each student.


Auditory Learners

Auditory learners retain concepts best when learning materials are spoken aloud. They like to hear words read aloud and annunciated, listen to music while working, and prefer a lecture over reading assignments that require visual focus.


To help an auditory learner hone their skills, have them make up song lyrics to correspond with what they’re learning, listen to wordless music or a favorite genre while working (have them test it out to see which works best), capture their intrigue with language patterns, and refer to audio lessons or readings (if possible).


Visual Learners

Visual learners can be marked by young, enthused readers that move from picture books to chapter books comfortably, recall stories in photographic detail, and enjoy drawing or painting. Students typically sit at the front of the classroom and request to see a method (math problem or spelling) conducted before they try their hand at it.


To aid a visual learner, have them watch video tutorials, examine diagrams or handouts, use highlighters to color-code notes, make flashcards, create a non-distracting work environment, and use white boards to try out concepts.


Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners are characterized by learning through touch, movement, and motion. Children tend to prefer interactive books and museum displays, building 3D sets or clay models over 2D art, and holding items to understand them better.


To support a kinesthetic learner, purchase textured paper and pencils of different shapes and sizes, pattern blocks for math, and alphabet magnets or blocks for spelling comprehension; place them at a standing desk or a seat higher above the table’s surface to decrease fidgeting; and encourage finger-snapping or clapping while studying (so long as it’s not disruptive to others).


Can you be all three? How can I find out which way I learn best?

Of course! Most people are a combination of all three, with varying traits outweighing the others.


If you’re curious how you learn best, you can take this 20-question quiz. It takes roughly 3 to 5 minutes, and there is an additional page if you would like to examine all three learning styles.

The test results will give you a percentage breakdown based on which letter you answered the most to the least (A, B, or C). It’s good for upper-grade elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, early high schoolers, or any adult dying to know how to better prepare themselves for their next presentation.


Understanding how you or your child learn most efficiently can be useful in a social, work, or school sphere and lead to deeper self-awareness. Make sure to ask your child or yourself what is working and what isn’t. By identifying learning strengths, weaknesses become easier to tackle.

Teaching an Accurate Narrative on Native American History

During the Thanksgiving season, relations between Native Americans and colonists has always been the major focus, but often glosses over the ethnic cleansing and cultural suppression Native tribes experienced as a result. Rejecting the whitewashing of history has never been more important in 2020, but how can educators and parents do so in an age-appropriate way? Star Bright Books has collected expert wisdom to guide child caregivers through the holiday season in a respectful and educational manner.


From Cradle Me (Ojibwe/English) by Debby Slier.


Show Children Media Centered on Real Native Americans Voices and Experiences

The image of a “typical” Native American held by many Americans today comes from popular media by non-Native creators such as the Disney film Pocahontas or the serialized television westerns of the 1950s. These shallow media portrayals can give kids harmful perceptions of Native Americans as “warlike”, possessing magic powers, and even that they are a nonexistent group in modern society. Instead, parents and educators should reject the whitewashing status quo of children’s media by amplifying Native voices like Jingle Dancer, written by Cynthia Leitich Smith of the Muscogee Nation (and illustrated by Star Bright Books favorites Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu!).


Listen to Native Americans’ Lived Experiences

For many people, experiencing something firsthand makes a concept easier to understand, and children are no different in this regard. One way educators can help foster a positive connection to Native American culture with children from non-Native backgrounds is to contact a local tribe and see if a member would like to share their culture with students through a presentation or fun activity. Of course, when asking a member of a marginalized group to share their lived experiences, be careful that the onus is not on marginalized people to solve systemic oppression, further educate others on what systemic oppression is, or to explain trauma from discrimination if they do not wish to do so. Additionally, avoid trivializing Native American culture by having children “try on” the culture with dressing up as Native Americans or playing in tipis.


Create Lessons on Tribal History and Culture Outside of Interactions with Europeans

One of the biggest reasons for the gap in knowledge on Native American customs, culture, and history is that schools often only cover these subjects around Thanksgiving time, and the information mostly presents a whitewashed portrayal of Native American culture and history. With over 573 recognized tribes in North America alone, there is so much more to be explored about the diversity of Indigenous experiences—for example, the passion for stickball that could rival college football or hockey. Helping children learn about different aspects of tribal life can spark better appreciation for the rich diversity of Native American cultures.


Native Americans contribute much to North American arts and sciences and should be treated with equivalent respect by non-Natives. So this Thanksgiving season, trade in the tired tropes of Peter Pan for an authentic first- or secondhand view of Native American culture and history in and outside of the classroom.

Celebrating Indigenous Languages

The world is made up of many different languages and dialects; in fact, of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken around the world, 2,680 are Indigenous languages. Indigenous languages are native to the region and spoken by Indigenous people.


The languages of Indigenous peoples are directly tied to their culture. Yet, many Indigenous languages are on the verge of extinction because they are not generally accepted as the national language of a region. We’re taking time to celebrate Indigenous languages in the United States and the revival efforts to save them.


From Loving Me (Navajo/English), by Debby Slier and Naaltsoos Áyilaa.


A Brief History of Indigenous Languages in the United States


Before the colonization of the United States there were approximately 300 languages spoken by Indigenous peoples. European settlers forced Indigenous peoples off their own lands and into reservations where they were coerced into learning English and forsaking their native languages. Over time, this practice has resulted in the elimination of many Indigenous languages.


In 1972, these policies were finally reversed when Congress passed the Indian Education Act, allowing tribes to teach children their Indigenous languages. This right was reinforced with the Native American Languages Act of 1990. Even though these laws were passed to help revitalize Indigenous languages, the long practice of assimilation that punished students for speaking non-English languages instilled a deep-seated fear in Indigenous elders that the children of their tribes would suffer if taught their native languages.


Today, only 167 Indigenous languages are spoken in the United States. Many of these languages are spoken by a handful of elders who are unable to pass them on to younger generations because of a lack of funding, training, and the technical support needed to produce new fluent speakers. This is why it is estimated that by 2050 only 20 Indigenous languages will remain. Although there are 170,000 speakers of Navajo, most other Indigenous peoples only speak English.


From Loving Me (Navajo/English), by Debby Slier and Naaltsoos Áyilaa.


Indigenous Languages Are a Cause for Celebration


With this realization, many Indigenous tribes have focused on language revival. “It is a human right to be able to speak your own language,” says Tania Haerekiterā Tapueluelu Wolfgramm, a Māori and Tongan person who works as an educator and activist in Aotearoa—the Māori name for New Zealand—and other Pacific countries. “You don’t have a culture without the language.”


The empowerment that comes with the revitalization of Indigenous languages helps to strengthen community bonds and enhances self-esteem and cultural well-being. In regions and schools where tribes are focusing on the revival of their native languages, students are performing at higher levels than their peers who are not partaking in the revival efforts.


This is evident in places like Window Rock, Arizona, and Hilo, Hawai’i, where children are being introduced or immersed in their native languages, with English being taught as a second language. Students perform at almost two grade levels above their peers who learned English first. They also have a much higher rate of staying in school and choosing to pursue a higher education.


Enhancing Revival Efforts


Language is the first way we come to understand our surroundings and our place in the world; thus, it has an ingrained place in our cultures and communities. The Endangered Language Fund has assembled a resource page to help people learn more about the ways they can assist in these language revival efforts.

Star Bright Books celebrates the diverse languages of the world through its bilingual books, including Hopi, Ojibwe, and Navajo. We hope to offer more Indigenous language books in the future!

Bonding with Nature During a Pandemic

From Grandma is a Slowpoke, written by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Michele Coxon.

Amid the pandemic, you might be feeling cooped up and rubbing elbows with household members. To release all of that teeming energy, you may have found a special tree you like to sit under or a bird’s nest you like to check on. Perhaps even a brisk walk to the ocean to gather seashells with a little one?


The fall season brings colder weather, and for many who seek nature as an escape from the coronavirus pandemic, this shift in temperatures may be disheartening. But it’s still possible to be in harmony with nature, and we have included some fall activities below for children, teens, and adults to explore!


How going outside helps our mental and physical health

Regardless of age, spending time outside can lower feelings of stress or depression, anger or aggression, and obesity rates.


For kids, it also has learning advantages in the classroom. Children are more focused, experience an uptick in critical thinking skills, and develop motor skills.


What are some activities for kids ages 0-3?

  • Sculptures: Collect acorns, leaves, rocks, pine cones, or any nature item that is Children can construct sculptures with their items using play dough. You can also use old Tupperware or beach toys as a spot to stick the dough on to develop motor skills!


  • Outside Story Time: Grab a blanket, some favorite snacks, and find a cozy spot to read. It can be a nature book or one that encourages children to learn about the world around them.


  • Family Walk or Bike Ride: Use a stroller or bike trailer so you can get some exercise and point out different aspects of nature to your child along the way! Find out what fascinates them most.


What are some activities for kids ages 4 and up?

  • Bird Watching: Have kids identify types of birds and the trees they nest in. Bring a bird watcher’s guide if they are really into it.


  • Nature Hunt: Build a list of items you want to find on a walk (optional: set a goal for how many you want to find). It could be a stash of acorns, leaves, pine cones, or rocks that your child finds interesting!


  • Bring a Ball: Kick a ball around or play catch. Try to stay distanced from people outside your household. Playing catch is better for household members only; kicking a ball is good for people outside your circle.


What are some new ways for adults to bond with nature?

One of the best ways to bond with nature is to bond with your community. The master naturalists at Oregon State give some tips on this.


Volunteer to help a neighbor, a family member, or a friend improve their yard; invite one or two people and set up a mini gym in the yard where everyone brings their own exercise materials; or write some fun facts about nature on a whiteboard for your neighbors and change it weekly!


Consider making some giveaway bags for food banks and homeless shelters with bandages,

masks, non-perishable foods, and socks.


If you’re feeling daring and want to help the environment, take up beekeeping. (This may be more of a spring activity, but you must admit it sounds riveting to start preparing early!)


Other outdoor fall activities for all ages:

Apple picking, corn mazes, building bonfires, outdoor charades or homemade theatricals, and hiking through the woods are all fun socially distanced activities!


Have you considered looking to the stars? There is a full moon on Halloween and four upcoming meteor showers on November 11th, 12th, 16th, and 17th.


During the holidays, try Conkers! It is a tradition in Ireland, Canada, and the UK—even Queen Elizabeth herself enjoys a good game. Collect some chestnuts, string them on arm-length twine, and have kids smash them together to see who can break the most chestnuts. You can also offer a prize to the child who finds the most chestnuts.


Enjoy seeing what autumn has to offer. It may put a smile on your face to discover a funky

mushroom or to use chestnuts as game pieces. Most importantly, make sure you bundle up—with coats, gloves, hats, AND masks.