Author Archives: Star Bright Books

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as ever, technology’s role in replacing our immediate communication practices can make putting pen to paper feel outdated.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

Supporting Childhood Development Through Gardening

From What’s In My Garden? written by Cheryl Christian, illustrated by Annie Beth Ericsson

Play isn’t just fun; it is fundamental for supporting a child’s learning, growth, and development. In particular, outdoor play helps improve sensory skills and encourages physical activity. Outdoor play doesn’t stop at the playground; it can also take place in a garden. Gardening with your child provides bonding time and helps them develop positive habits that enhance lifelong health. This activity can be accessible to children who live in urban and rural areas.

 

Gardening Supports Health

Sunlight, fresh air, and digging in the dirt benefit your child’s health in multiple ways. Gardening supports sensory development by engaging every sense—the sights and scents of flowers, tastes of veggies, and textures of leaves. Gardening has also been shown to improve mental health by helping reduce stress and depression. Exposure to healthy microbes in the dirt can strengthen your child’s microbiome—an important part of their immune system. Playing outside can even help children sleep better at night.

 

Tending a garden also supports essential motor skills. Fine motor skills are needed for tasks like using a pencil or tying shoelaces. Using gardening tools, grasping tiny seeds, and pulling weeds help your child develop these skills. Carrying a watering can and walking in soft soil can boost gross motor skills like balance and coordination. Physical exercise like this is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing illness.

 

A garden can help your child enjoy a healthy diet. It can be a challenge to convince picky eaters to try new foods or get proper daily servings of vegetables. Children are more likely to try new vegetables and fruits if they help to grow them. Multiple studies found that gardening increased vegetable consumption in children far more effectively than nutrition education programs.

 

Gardening can also be part of a healthy lifestyle for children with physical disabilities. There are many simple ways to make gardens accessible. One of the easiest is to use raised containers in order for the soil level to be within reach. Window boxes, hanging baskets, or vertical gardens can accomplish this, as well as tall plants like tomatoes or pea vines on a trellis. Wide walkways of compacted soil or gravel can offer better traction for scooter or wheelchair users.

 

Gardening Builds Cognitive Skills

Tending plants can spark your child’s curiosity for science. Starting a plant from seed offers a hands-on opportunity to see the life cycle of plants. Once the seed develops, grade schoolers can learn the basic parts of a plant—flower, leaf, fruit, stem, root—and their functions. Middle and high schoolers might find interest in identifying more detailed parts of a flower—anther, filament, stigma, etc.

 

Planning for a garden can also help develop your child’s vocabulary as they learn the names of plants and vegetables and read requirements on seed packages for light, water, and soil. Grade school children can create plant labels by writing plant names on popsicle sticks or stones. If you are creating a larger vegetable garden, older children can help you make a garden map to plan when to sow seeds and how to maximize available space.

 

Your child’s critical thinking will be challenged by tending a garden, whether it is through figuring out how to move a big rock or quickly pulling weeds. You and your child can solve problems together by discussing how you will manage bad weather, plant diseases, or garden pests.

From A Garden for Groundhog by Lorna Balian

 

Get Your Garden Started

Gardening doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or take up a lot of space; but it does require a little planning. First, consider the needs of your family and the age of your child(ren). With toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary-aged children, avoid plants that may be dangerous if touched or ingested. Young children may delight in the reward of quick-sprouting seeds like peas, lettuce, and beans. Children in middle and high school may enjoy seeing a flower bloom or a vegetable ripen after weeks of anticipation.

 

If you have a big yard, in-ground garden beds are a great option, but smaller spaces like patios can host beautiful container gardens. Urban families with limited outdoor space may be able to use hanging baskets, window boxes, rooftop space, or even plant an herb garden on a windowsill. Many cities offer community garden plots where anyone can volunteer. If you aren’t sure what to plant or how to care for plants, most regions in the US have an extension office with gardening experts who can give you advice.

 

Whether your garden fills an acre or a couple pots on your front steps, it will provide your child countless opportunities to grow and develop as you nurture nature together.

Creating A Cultural Learning Experience Through Vacation

The arrival of summer means planning family vacations! Although the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly reduced travel options, around 42 percent of Americans are cautiously optimistic about 2021 vacation plans. Small family vacation trips adhering to the CDC safety guidelines are definitely a possibility!

 

A family vacation can be a fascinating learning experience for children through cultural immersion. A 2019 survey by the US Travel Association revealed that 55 percent of Americans traveled in order to learn something new about a place, culture, or history, and 85 percent said they planned trips with the intention of creating an exciting experience for their children. With the US increase in cultural diversity, the need for cultural understanding through vacationing has also augmented as more families opt to teach their children about different heritages and cultures.

 

What are the benefits of a cultural immersion trip?

 

There are several different benefits of taking children on a culturally focused vacation!

From Alicia’s Happy Day, written by Meg Starr, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

 

1) Cultural Saturation
By the age of 3 or 4, children are aware of their own racial or ethnic backgrounds. Children who experience multicultural surroundings become more aware of different lifestyles and other cultures. This in turn helps activate vital developmental and social-emotional skills such as open-mindedness and empathy. It also helps children to understand inherent biases and stereotypes and how to overcome them. Through cultural appreciation and understanding, children learn to adapt to diverse cultures and environments.

 

2) Increased Cultural Intelligence
As infants and toddlers constantly examine their environments, every moment can become a learning experience. In an article for Parents, child psychologist Dr. Margot Sutherland stated, “An enriched environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive, and sensory interaction.” In other words, infants and toddlers become more attuned to the world around them and can begin to recognize differences and similarities between their upbringing and that of other children.

 

3) Multilingualism
Exposure to different cultures means exposure to different languages. Experts suggest that children under the age of 10 are more adept at learning a new language. “If you want to have native-like knowledge of English grammar you should start by about 10 years old. We don’t see very much difference between people who start at birth and people who start at 10, but we start seeing a decline after that,” said assistant professor of psychology Joshua Hartshorne, who conducted a postdoctorate study on children’s critical period for learning a second language.

 

4) Interconnection
Family vacations allow you to forge memories and bonds with loved ones that last a lifetime. With a cultural focus, your child will learn to embrace other communities and develop a personal connection with them. For multicultural families, a multigenerational vacation can help foster these connections as children learn about their grandparents’ heritage.

From The Girl on the Yellow Giraffe by Ronald Himler

How should I plan a cultural immersion vacation?

 

Admittedly, planning a vacation in these times is tough. However, there are several ways of ensuring a diverse vacation while also maintaining safety. Some of them don’t require traveling too far and can take place in your own city!

 

Below are a few tips for planning a trip that focuses extensively on a cultural experience.

 

1) Celebrate International Festivals
Most families plan vacations around popular American holidays such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. This year, you can also celebrate international holidays! The Diversity Calendar 2021 is a great resource that includes holidays and major events from other cultures such as the Lantern Festival, a Chinese festival, or Holi, an Indian festival. You and your child can read books on such festivals together and visit nearby areas where celebrations take place. This way, your child can simultaneously have fun and learn the significance of festivals in your community.

 

2) Visit Local Areas
Instead of visiting the same tourist spots and attractions, look for local museums and historical villages of different communities. For instance, the Museum of African American History in Boston focuses on Black culture and hosts collections of historical items accrued the last 50 years. Another great option is the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Museum complex, which celebrates Indigenous tribes and houses one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native artifacts.

 

3) Try Local Cuisines
Book a hotel that offers cooking classes for cuisines from a different culture and whip up new dishes with your child! Another great way of assimilating cultures is by visiting local food markets and restaurants. This 2017 blog compiles all the best cultural markets in the US. Local cuisines offer a variety of dishes that will enhance your child’s palates. You can also extend their vocabulary knowledge by teaching them the local names of each dish. When visiting any restaurant, make sure to follow all current CDC guidelines and maintain social distancing wherever required!

From Zachary’s Dinnertime, written by Lara Levinson and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright

4) Attend Local Events
Although difficult during the pandemic, live events are one of the best and most entertaining ways of learning about a new culture! Live music and dances are especially interactive, often inviting audiences to participate. In Los Angeles, a famous music festival called Mariachi USA is held annually. It features performances from Mexican and American mariachi musicians, along with other mesmerizing folkloric musicians.

 

As you can see, there are a myriad of possibilities in which you can help your child learn about new cultures through vacation activities. These experiences will aid children in developing cultural understanding, while also creating memories the whole family can cherish for a lifetime.

Rebuild the Planet with Reading: Inspiring Children’s Books to Celebrate World Environment Day

What is World Environment Day?

Celebrated annually on June 5, World Environment Day highlights the importance of protecting the environment and ensuring that our planet remains a better place for current and future generations. The first World Environment Day was held in 1974 by the United Nations with the theme “Only One Earth.”

This year, in an effort to help rebuild the planet, the United Nations announced the theme for World Environment Day 2021 is ecosystem restoration and introduced the slogan, “Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.” In the last few decades, worldwide issues such as plastic pollution, global warming, illegal wildlife trade, and water scarcity have destroyed millions of natural habitats and have endangered multiple species, some of which are now extinct.

Page excerpt from Professor Noah's Spaceship

From Professor Noah’s Spaceship, written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith

How Can You Celebrate?

For World Environment Day, you can contribute by teaching your children good habits for sustaining the environment. Through education and exploration, children develop a love for nature and nurture other beneficial skills like social responsibility, tolerance, and critical thinking.

Be it an exciting story on saving a swamp from disaster or a somber tale on poisonous waste, books can be influential teaching materials. Below is a list of books that will inspire children of all ages to be a part of the green literate force and protector of Planet Earth!

Books for Babies and Toddlers

Baby Loves Green Energy!
By Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan
Board Book, Ages 0-2
Expertly written for babies, this book is a great introduction to climate change and green energy options. It includes STEM concepts in age-appropriate language that will spark babies’ interest in nature.

Hello, World! Planet Earth
By Jill McDonald
Board Book, Ages 0-2
The latest installment in the Hello, World! series, this board book details different countries, continents, oceans, landforms, habitats, and Earth’s place in space.

Mrs. Peanuckle’s Hiking Alphabet
By Mrs. Peanuckle, illustrated by Jessie Ford
Board Book, Ages 0-3
Learn about animals, plants, and more with this unique set of ABCs! Using vivid images and playful text, this book is sure to engage little ones and inculcate a love for the outdoors.

Books for Preschoolers and Early Elementary Readers

The Boy who Grew a Forest
By Sophia Gholz, illustrated by Kayla Harren
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 5-8
The Boy Who Grew a Forest follows the real-life story of Jadav Payeng, a young boy who single-handedly planted over twelve hundred acres of lush forest on a barren island in northeastern India.

Greta and the Giants
By Zoë Tucker, illustrated by Zoe Persico
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 4-7
Author Zoë Tucker explores the journey of young environment activist Greta Thunberg who rose to global recognition while raising awareness about the climate crisis. This book was also included on the 2020 Green Earth Book Awards’ recommended reading list.

Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas
By Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 5-9
Named a Green Earth Book Award recommended title, this is a biography of journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas who fought to save the Florida Everglades from becoming an abandoned swamp and land for a jetport.

The Mess We Made
By Michelle Lord, illustrated by Julia Blattman
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 5-7
Using a rhythmic crescendo and digital artwork, The Mess We Made dives into the impact of waste on marine biodiversity. The book also provides details on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch disaster and ocean pollution and conservation.

Artwork from Professor Noah's Spaceship featuring wildlife against a background of artistic trees and smoke

From Professor Noah’s Spaceship, written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith

My Friend Earth
By Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Francesca Sanna
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 3-5
A perfect book for any beginner! It covers interesting environmental facts through interactive die-cuts and poetic text, making it a dynamic reading experience for toddlers and young readers alike.

Professor Noah’s Spaceship
By Brian Wildsmith
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 4-8
Written and illustrated by renown artist Brian Wildsmith, this book unfolds a quirky tale of animals whose habitats are destroyed. When they seek new homes, the animals are transported back to the time after Noah’s biblical flood.

We Are Water Protectors
By Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 3-6
Winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal, this is a lyrical narration of a young Indigenous girl’s quest to save water, the most revered resource, from harm and corruption.

What a Waste: Trash, Recycling, and Protecting our Planet
By Jess French
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 6-9
Written by Dr. Jess French, a qualified veterinarian, What a Waste takes readers on an informative journey on issues of pollution and solutions like recycling and renewable energy. Filled with fun facts and illustrations, this book is apt for any budding ecologist!

Books for Upper Elementary and Middle School Readers

Darcy Moon and The Aroona Frogs
By Catherine Carvell, illustrated by Michael Scott Parkinson
Paperback Chapter Book, Ages 8-11
This book weaves a delightful tale about Darcy Moon, who feels like a misfit around everyone else. Darcy soon learns that she is an Earth Guardian and her mission is to save the local swamp from disaster!

Monarch Mysteries
By Claire Datnow, illustrated by Ruth Palmer
Hardcover & Paperback Chapter Book, Ages 9-12
Part of the Adventures of the Sizzling Six eco-mystery series, this installment follows a group of six preteen girls as they try to protect endangered monarch butterflies from interfering city officials and even the weather!

Meet The Family You Never Knew You Had: A Guide to Creating a Family Tree with Your Child

Children might be curious about the people and cultures they descend from. Genealogical research can be a fun, engaging, and visual way to help children bond with their heritage.

 

One option for helping children learn about their ancestors is by creating an organized family tree. Make it a fun family activity! You and your child can work together to visually trace their ancestry, helping them form links with people from the past.

 

It doesn’t matter how far back you can trace the family, as long as you talk with your child and other relatives about the people and places you come from.

 

But where does one start to dig up their families’ history? When beginning your family tree, you’ll have two main options:

 

  1. Create an online digital tree that will store and organize information such as records, birthdays, marriages, etc. There are many resources that allow free trials and tree creation, such as Ancestry, Familysearch, and Geni.com.

 

  1. Or use a big poster board to visually plot each member of the family. You’ll need a big poster board, lots of pens or pencils (multicolored preferred), scissors, glue, and pictures of family members (if available) for maximum visual aesthetic.

Once you and your child have decided which avenue you want to take, write down all the family members you know. An easy place to start is with you and your child(ren), your parents, your partner, their parents, your siblings and your partner’s siblings, their children, and everyone else you’d be obliged to send a holiday gift or might see at the next family reunion.

 

For those working on a physical poster board, remember to be cautious with spacing. It’s easy to run out of room when creating a family tree, with its many twisting branches and leaves. Plan for mathematics: four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and sixteen second great-grandparents. Not to mention all the cousins, aunts, and uncles!

From 21 Cousins, written by Diane de Anda and illustrated by Isabel Muñoz

Make sure to include your child by having them help identify family members they already know: cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. They’ll get a kick out of helping you organize and record it together! In lieu of printed photographs, your child can draw pictures of Cousin Ruby, Aunt Louisa, and other relatives the know.

 

Now that you’ve jotted down everything you know, it’s time to contact any family elders. Call up Great Aunt Dorothy and let her tell you everything she knows about the family, especially the names of her parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Talk to Grandpa José and record what he can remember about his childhood and early years. And so on. This is a great way to bridge generational gaps with your child and family elders. As your child listens to stories and legacies that shaped the people in their family tree, they will simultaneously strengthen family relationships and understand their culture and heritage.

 

While talking to family elders, interesting stories about family members may come to light. What was Nana Rose’s life like after the war? Why didn’t Great Uncle Richard like his job? Who taught Auntie Sofia that family recipe for ricotta? It’s a great idea to record these sessions with family elders (with their consent) so the conversation is never lost. You can even make copies for other family members who may be interested! If you’re working with a digital tree, most genealogical services provide areas to “attach” stories to particular people.

 

Continue to synthesize information you already know with new information from family elders, making sure to plot them digitally or on the poster board. Your child can help write down names and dates or cut out pictures and glue them down.

 

Facilitate conversation with your child throughout this process. With everything you’re learning together, questions (from both you and your child) will arise. Why did Great-Grandmama June stop speaking with her sister? How come we never knew we had family in El Paso? Mysteries come to light that fascinate and intrigue when we start to dig into our ancestral pasts. Even you will be surprised how much you never knew about the recent past!

 

Here comes the final piece! With a visual model of your hard work in front of you, talk with your child about the people you’ve learned about together and the places they’re from. Not only have you given honor to the people who you descend from, you’ve done your child a service in helping them uncover their identity, building cultural awareness, and opening their eyes to how unique they truly are.