Category Archives: Literacy

How to Build a Diverse Classroom Library

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

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

Evaluate the Books You Have

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Expand Your Classroom Library

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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: 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

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!

Developing Child Literacy Through Technology

Image from Pexels.

The Link Between Education and Technology

Recent innovations in technology have enabled education to become more personalized and efficient than ever before. This change is especially visible in digital resources for children’s literacy.

 

With technology, parents, caregivers, and educators can nurture reading skills in new, exciting ways. Digital resources like apps, online games, and ebooks help promote literacy for children with different learning styles and abilities.

 

It is important, however, to be aware of children’s screen time. These education strategies can be implemented in moderation from the time they begin to read or write. A combination of digital and offline resources offers an effective teaching strategy. Experts note that technology can complement traditional literacy teaching, but not replace it.

 

Smartphone and Tablet Apps

Applications for smartphones and tablets provide an interactive medium for young children to develop reading comprehension and writing skills. They also create an inviting and personalized digital environment that inspires regular reading habits.

 

For children ages three to six, tracing apps model the proper way to write letters and allow children to practice. The opportunity to observe and replicate promotes technique through a fun format. Some apps, such as iTrace, allow children to practice writing their names, common words, and letters.

 

Other apps, like TeeRead, are used by educators to assess a student’s reading comprehension and recommend a personalized library. TeeRead encourages children to continue reading and rewards their progress.

 

Online Games

As children become more comfortable with reading and writing, they can practice with free online word games. For instance, Word Game Time provides fun options for children from kindergarten to seventh grade. Starfall offers materials for pre-K through kindergarten and first through third grade to promote vocabulary development, grammar, and interest in reading. Parents and caregivers can play these word games with children, allowing them to shape literacy skills through a bonding opportunity.

 

Ebooks and Audiobooks

Ebooks are a readily available resource to help children practice their reading skills. Since the start of the pandemic, many libraries have expanded their ebook collections, allowing more free digital reading options. With applications like OverDrive, library ebooks can be accessed on a phone, tablet, or computer.

 

Audiobooks are also a helpful resource to develop literacy skills. Hearing intonations, pacing, and even the function of punctuation can help shape comprehension during early childhood. Listening to an audiobook alone or reading the physical copy in tandem can help children understand new stories.

 

Star Bright Books is proud to offer free digital access to four of its picture books on a weekly basis, as well as expanded read-aloud permissions. We hope that these resources will be helpful for parents and caregivers!

 

Other Benefits of Technology Integration

Integrating technology into children’s lives can also help to develop digital literacy—the ability to seek out, evaluate, and understand information online. It is crucial to develop a healthy and responsible relationship with technology at a young age, and implementing these strategies can help to do so.

 

Each child is different! Technology allows parents, caregivers, and educators to tailor learning experiences to meet individual needs. Introducing these resources in moderation will encourage kids to be curious about reading and technology. Providing these opportunities will allow children to have fun, develop their literacy skills, and instill a love of reading.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021

On January 29, Star Bright Books proudly returned as a sponsor for Multicultural Children’s Book Day on Jnau! We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this celebration of representation and diverse stories. Multicultural Children’s Book Day aims to connect young readers with multicultural books and expose them to new perspectives.

 

Volunteers read and reviewed three of our titles—Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!; The Big Day; and 21 Cousins—for MCBD. Below are some of their kind words. Thank you to everyone who participated and reviewed our books!

 

For more information about Multicultural Children’s Book Day, visit their website, Facebook page, or Instagram account.

 

The Big Day, written by Terry Lee Caruthers and illustrated by Robert Casilla.

The Big Day

Jennifer Burgin (Twitter: @mrsjburgin)

“. . . The Big Day ends with two full-page spreads describing aspects of Women’s Suffrage & surrounding politics of the era. It can help equip educators to discuss topics like racism, riots, suffrage and gender equality.”

 

Karina Elze (Facebook: Elze Kids Online)

“I love this book because I am able to cover so many topics with my students, whether it be the civic duty of voting, equality, or history. The illustrations are very detailed and the real newspaper headlines brought it more to life.”

 

Jason DeHart (Book Love/Dr. J Reads)

“The story is powerfully told in words from Caruthers, and would make a wonderful read aloud or shared reading for younger readers, as well as an independent read. I can even see this book as a powerful site for literacy development and cultural discussion for older readers as an introduction to a unit or prelude to a longer text.”

 

Valerie Williams-Sanchez (Valerie’s Vignettes)

“[E]xplore[s] the past in ways that make[s] history come alive, offering [a] fresh perspectives and reconstructed imagining of [an] important event in our nation’s history. . . imagines the excitement of being the first Black woman to cast her ballot in Knoxville, Tennessee.”

 

Dolisha Mitchell (Instagram: @littleblackbooknook)

“The back matter of this book includes so many fascinating facts and details such as a timeline of women’s suffrage world wide, newspaper clippings, and more details about the life of Agnes Sadler.”

 

Roberta Gibson (Wrapped in Foil)

The Big Day is perfect to share for Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), and around elections. Children, particularly budding historians, are going to be fascinated by this glimpse into an important time. Delve into a copy today!”

 

Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!, written by Ellen Mayer and illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!

Zainab Hasan (Instagram: @busyammareads)

“A very sweet board book, Twinkle Twinkle Diaper You! introduces the importance of ‘parentese.’ A form of communication between a child and parent that leads to relationship building.”

 

Sita Singh (Instagram: @sitawrites)

“I love that the book features a family that is diverse and multigenerational, and includes a note that highlights the importance of interacting with your baby. This book is a must-have for all new parents, grandparents, and caregivers!”

 

Jannette Irwin

“I will recommend this book to anyone who wants to have fun while building a warm relationship with his/her baby through playful conversations.”

 

Jolene Gutiérrez

“This beautiful board book features Mommy and Baby as they interact and communicate during Baby’s diaper change. The story serves as a reminder to parents and other caregivers that every interaction with a child can be meaningful.”

 

Kristen Zellner (Eat, Pray, Travel, Teach)

“The illustrations alone are a wonderful addition to any library but I truly think this is one that should be gifted at every baby shower.”

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

21 Cousins

Patricia Nozell (Wander, Ponder, Write)

21 Cousins is a celebratory exploration of family and mestizo heritage. Readers meet each cousin in this loving family in turn, making it a perfect book to explore how we are the same and different. I love that physical attributes, skills, and passions are highlighted—I think readers may find someone who is just like them (or like one of their family members).”

 

Melissa Mwai (Kid Lit Cliffs Notes)

“[T]here seems to be every different type of person in this mestizo family. Such an immediate “draw”! . . . I love that the English version works in a lot of Español! It feels very conversational.”

 

 

 

 

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.

Benefits of Singing With Little Ones!

Singing and music have long been important parts of early childhood education and childrearing. Recent studies show that singing to babies and young kids has numerous neurological and cognitive benefits for the child, as well as social benefits for both the child and parent alike.

Interior of our new book Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! (illustration by Ying-Hwa Hu).

Many parents are uncomfortable singing to their children because they are not confident in their own singing abilities, instead relying on curated playlists and digital music to soothe their babies. Professionals point out, though, that the parent’s voice, not the song quality, is what matters. Singing to babies, both in utero and post-partum, increases babies’ ability to recognize their parents’ voices and appearances and cultivates feelings of safety and comfort in this recognition, thus fostering a strong bond between parent and child.

 

In conjunction with cultivating the parent-child relationship, parents should pay close attention to their baby’s various reactions to songs (cooing, babbling, giggling, pointing, etc.) and respond to them accordingly. In her book Talk to Me, Baby!, the great early childhood expert—and our dear friend—Betty Bardige explains, “The baby’s coos, babbles, and facial and body language let the adult know when they are in sync and when they need to reestablish their connection.” Listening and modifying the networks of communication will help strengthen the bond between parent and child, as well as further establish channels of verbal and non-verbal communication.

 

There are additional benefits associated with singing to babies. Creating a schedule for specific songs at certain times of day can help create a routine for your child. Babies feel secure when they are able to anticipate what will happen next, thus associating certain actions or times of the day—like a diaper change, dinner, or bedtime—with certain songs. This is sometimes called verbal mapping, a term used to describe the adult narration of a baby’s life. Putting this narration into a song routine also helps babies develop more positive associations with everyday activities. 

 

New research suggests that singing to babies helps improve cognitive development in young children. One study shows that singing songs can increase a child’s attention span and positive displays of emotion. Other studies illustrate a correlation between exposure to music and rhythm and positive social connections. This means singing to an infant may not only support their immediate cognitive growth, but can also have a lasting impact on their social development.

Interior of our new book Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! (illustration by Ying-Hwa Hu).

Furthermore, singing is often a child’s first exposure to language.  Singing a variety of songs and lullabies helps to successfully introduce infants to new vocabulary. By introducing new words in conjunction with actions or visuals (tickling a baby’s tummy or showing a baby pictures of farm animals), babies are better able to learn these words by their association to the actions/objects of action or images.

 

Children’s songs and lullabies can help grow a child’s cultural awareness as well. In multilingual households, singing songs in each language helps the baby learn to make word associations across languages—and is a stepping stone in bilingual speech development. Singing lullabies that celebrate one’s culture or heritage is also a great way to introduce a child to that part of their identity.

 

There are many ways to begin singing to your child or new practices to try if you already do! If you are interested in exploring your creative side, try writing your own song. It does not need to be complex; simple lyrics and rhythm are enough for your baby to recognize. Betty Bardige writes that songs and games “are especially fun (and helpful for building language) when they relate to what the baby is doing or seeing.”

 

Or, you can start with a common children’s song like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and transform it into your own song (as the mother does in our new book Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!). Other good songs are “You Are My Sunshine,” “The ABCs,” and “The Wheels On The Bus.” 

 

Once you feel comfortable singing to yourself and your baby, there are many musical exercises to try with children of all ages!

Tips and Tricks for Trilingual Households

Photo from Clean Up, Up, Up! / ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar! by Ellen Mayer.

It can sometimes be intimidating to think about teaching children multiple languages—especially if one or both parents are not fluent in all of the languages. Living in a trilingual household often comes with its own set of challenges. But, while language learning can, and most likely will, be difficult, it doesn’t have to be scary! Below is a list of tips and tricks for trilingual households to start at birth and continue throughout childhood.

 

Start Early and Use Native Languages First

Many trilingual households in the US are made up of two bilingual parents living in an English-dominated culture. It is thus recommended that each parent only address the child in their own native language. For example, if Parent 1 speaks Spanish and English and Parent 2 speaks German and English, Parent 1 should address their child in Spanish and Parent 2 should address their child in German.

 

Beginning this practice in infancy improves a child’s language acquisition in each language and teaches the child to distinguish between languages depending on audience. This is sometimes called the Minority Language at Home strategy, in which a child will speak and native languages at home while speaking and learning English in public (at schools, parks, shopping centers, etc.).

 

Quality Language Exposure Over Quantity Language Exposure

Children will be less likely to master a language if learning becomes tedious or feels like a task. To avoid this, it can be beneficial to incorporate language learning into a child’s interests. For example, if a child likes singing and dancing, they may enjoy learning a non-dominant language through song lyrics rather than books or worksheets. Similarly, if a child enjoys playing with toy cars, asking questions about what they’re doing in a non-dominant language will expose the child to new vocabulary during playtime. Often, if the child has a positive association with the process of language learning, they will be more receptive to learning and using the non-dominant language in these same scenarios.

 

Photo from Clean Up, Up, Up! / ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar! by Ellen Mayer.

Incorporate Culture into Language Learning

Maintaining multiple languages in a household can also mean maintaining multiple cultural identities. A fun way for children to learn native languages at home is by associating the language with an aspect of their cultural identity. This can mean incorporating food, music, books, holidays, and more from each respective culture into a child’s everyday life. Doing so allows the child to make associations between the languages they are speaking and the culture from which they come. It can also make speaking each language feel more relevant and applicable in their daily life.

 

Affirm a Child’s Multicultural Identity and Multilingual Abilities

Throughout the process of language learning, it is important to affirm (and reaffirm!) the progress a child is making in language learning. It will allow a child to see value in their multilingual abilities, as well as instill feelings of pride in their multicultural identity! The more positively the child feels, the more progress they will make.