Making Time for Outdoor Spring Activities

Playing outside makes children happy and healthy! (from the forthcoming Let’s Play Outside; photography by Daniel Nakamura).

Spring is fast approaching, and it’s time to think about getting kids outside! If you’re looking for new ways to encourage your child to play outside and keep their imagination active, here are some practical tips.

Why is it so important for kids to play outside?

Increased technology and higher rates of screen time have been linked to obesity, mental health disorders, insomnia, social disconnection, and lack of exercise. Now more than ever, it’s important for children to spend time outdoors. Harvard health experts cite the following medical (physically, mentally, and socially healthy) reasons for children to be active outside:

  1. Sunshine: Enriches children with vitamin D, contributes to bone development, boosts moods, and aids in healthy sleep.
  2. Executive Function: Executive function skills help children prioritize, plan, multitask, negotiate, imagine, and problem-solve. Children need to be outside to imagine, figure things out, make up games, and navigate unstructured, adult-led time.
  3. Exercise: Children should be active at least one hour each day. Sending them outdoors is the best way to give them room to move in.
  4. Appreciation of Nature: Children need to appreciate the mountains, the sky, the birds, the oceans, the worms. It’s essential to protect our planet.
  5. Taking Risks: Falling off a swing or tripping mid-run is part of understanding that failures occur and we can learn from them. It prepares us for life.
  6. Socialization: This can be tough during a pandemic, but forming a pod with other kids can help. Interacting outside of the classroom or sports team structure is crucial.

Safe, Outdoor Spring Activities for Kids

There are many creative ways to keep kids outside and off screens. Here are some of the most innovative and classic activities that can be done with household members or socially distanced with others.

  • Outdoor tea party: Have your kids dress up, make cucumber sandwiches, and have some lemonade or tea!
  • Go fishing: You can fish in almost any type of water. It teaches children patience, and their faces light up when they catch a fish.
  • Fly a kite!
  • Plant a tree: Purchase a tree seedling, dig a hole that’s twice as wide as the root ball, and pull dirt over it. Make sure to create a little dam around it so the tree can get more water!
  • Grill outside: Hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie skewers, and steaks all taste better outside!
  • Dig for worms: Kids love seeing what’s right under their feet. Dig for worms after the rain when the soil is damp.
  • Press flowers: Pick some flowers and let them dry for 7-10 days. Put them in journals or cards or use as art decorations!
  • Go green for St. Patrick’s Day: If you celebrate, make the theme of the day green. Dress in green, spend time in the green world, and eat green foods!
  • Make a fairy garden: Let your kids pick the spot, set up a little house, lights, glitter, beads, garlands, rocks, figurines, and anything else you want!
  • Dandelion crowns: Collect dandelions with long stems. Wrap one dandelion around the stem of another, and keep adding until it looks like a crown!
  • Make a rain gauge: Find a jar, mark measurements with a ruler, put the jar outside on a level place while it’s raining, and bring it back inside to measure how much it rained!
  • Blow bubbles: All you need is a wand and some bubbles (water and soap)!
  • Celebrate May Day: May 1 is right between the March equinox and the June solstice. Celebrate by making a maypole with colorful ribbons, make flower crowns, have a bonfire, go hiking, and read or write some poetry about spring.
  • Decorate a flower pot: Purchase a terracotta pot, and let your kids use paint, stickers, chalk, markers, etc. Add soil, a plant, let them keep it or gift it!
  • Start a nature collection: Collect rocks, feathers, shells, snakeskins, four-leaf clovers, turtle shells, eggshells, empty nests—anything goes!
  • Make wind chimes: Use anything: seashells, wood, glass, stones, silverware, or anything you think would look beautiful!
  • Make a magic wand: Using a stick and some colored ribbons, let your kid’s imagination run free!
  • Dance in the rain: Dress your child in rain gear, or go barefoot! Splashing in puddles is always fun.
  • Make DIY butterfly wings!
  • Go strawberry picking: Visit a local orchard. Apply plenty of sunscreen and wear boots for the muddy terrain. Fresh strawberries taste delicious!
  • Create a backyard golf course: You can use anything as makeshift holes: cereal boxes, buckets, whatever you think would look cool and might give kids a challenge!
  • Set up a hammock: Taking a nap outside or reading in a hammock is one of life’s simplest pleasures.

Engaging Children in Multicultural Music During Early Childhood

From Papa Gave Me A Stick, written by Janice Levy and illustrated by Simone Shin.

It is important to begin teaching children about different cultures throughout their early childhood. Their brains rapidly develop during this period, which allows it to be especially effective for learning.

 

Because there are so many options, introducing multicultural resources to young children may seem overwhelming. Music is an excellent place to start, especially because of its universality People from many cultural backgrounds use music to convey unique experiences and connect with others. Music can help teach a child about their heritage, foster language development, or present new values.

 

Multiculturalism and Children’s Development

Educating children about different cultures promotes socialization, tolerance, and openness. These characteristics can lead to an appreciation of diversity and assist in establishing new relationships. Introducing new cultures also promotes curiosity. An important benefit of music is its accessibility—there are many online resources that provide free multicultural songs.

 

Between birth and age five, children develop a foundational understanding of music that can even influence them as adults. Though babies will not react and engage as toddlers might, it is equally important to introduce them to music.

 

Creating Awareness of Different Cultures

Exposing children to diverse music is a helpful way to introduce them to different cultures. Music can highlight a variety of instruments, languages, styles, and practices from places across the world. It is a powerful vehicle for storytelling and upholding traditions. Pre-recorded songs allow children to hear music directly from other cultures, no matter where they are.

 

One of the ways music is universal is its connection to festivities. Through songs, children can learn about different customs like holidays or other celebrations. Even if a song is not personally relevant, people can still connect with music they do not “understand.” Music is much more than its lyrics, and instrumental songs can foster connection as well.

 

Developing Language Skills

Listening to songs while learning a new language is a well-known strategy for adults, but it is also beneficial for children. Music in another language can help children to memorize, understand grammar, and build vocabulary. Many songs employ repetition, which reinforces familiar words.

 

Studies also show that learning a second language before the age of ten enables children to speak most fluently, so it is never too early! Multicultural songs can be added to a child’s routine from the time they are born, which can ease learning as they grow older.

 

Ways to Expose Children to Multicultural Music

Here are some fun activities that parents and caregivers can engage in with young children.

 

  • Play songs a child is already familiar with, such as the ABCs or counting songs, in different languages.
  • Watch videos of live performances. Children will be able to visualize instruments, locations, and people along with the music.
  • Play an instrumental song and make up a dance together.
  • Watch a simple lyric video and sing along to the words.
  • Build a running playlist of multicultural songs and integrate it into a regular routine.

 

Learning through music is not only educational, but it can be fun as well! Finding ways to integrate a variety of musical forms into a child’s routine can spark curiosity, introduce new ideas, and celebrate diverse cultures.

Nurturing Positive Development in Quarantine Babies and Toddlers

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

With the world in various degrees of isolation for the last year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, parents and caregivers are filled with questions on how this could impact their newborns, infants, and toddlers. There is concern that the loss of socially stimulating environments (like a daycare) could stunt a young one’s early language development or their ability to recognize faces or places. This absence also leaves many wondering if an entire generation will be under-stimulated and anxiety-ridden in the future. While it’s still too early for any conclusive research, now is a prominent time to discuss this topic.

 

The Impact of Past Crises on Children’s Development

 

Some researchers have turned to studies of past crises for possible correlations, specifically children’s responses to life-changing events. For example, parts of the Netherlands experienced severe famines in the 1940s as a result of Nazi occupations. Studies show that children born during this time had higher rates of antisocial personality disorder and shorter lifespans. In another case, 30 to 50 percent of children at the epicenters of Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew developed PTSD and a third experienced recurring symptoms. However, most children reverted to the baseline within a year.

 

Many past studies reflect similar findings in which childhood development may be temporarily altered because of a crisis situation without necessarily indicating long-term effects. Such studies are examples of correlation and not causation. After the Great Depression, for example, children who survived with mild or no changes to their development or personhood were from families who financially recovered from the crisis faster than others. The financial recoveries meant parental figures were less hostile, angry, or depressed, which then had a positive impact on their children.

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

Covid-19’s Impact on Infant Development

 

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers have already begun conducting their own studies. Philip Fisher, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon, sent questionnaires to one thousand American families in April 2020. By the twelfth week, 79 percent of parents with children under the age of five reported their kids were more fussy and defiant than before the quarantine period, while 41 percent were more fearful or anxious. Throughout the study, which concluded in October, Fisher found that the more distressed parents reported being, the more distress they observed in their children.

 

Other studies also reveal that children’s mental health is significantly correlated to that of their parents. The youngest kids, especially, have the strongest bonds with their parents, meaning their reactions to isolation are directly influenced by their parents’ reactions.

 

From Look at You!, by Star Bright Books.

 

Nurturing Positive Development in Isolation

 

The good news is that while child development specialists conduct these studies and explore correlations, they remain hopeful for children! Dr. Brenda Volling, an expert in social-emotional development and a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, emphasizes that infants and toddlers are most in need of stability and loving parental interactions during unprecedented times. Now more than ever, it’s important to pay attention to the needs of your child and adjust support accordingly so as to avoid lingering damaging effects.

 

Here are some signs that your infant or toddler may need more support:

  • New or worsening behavioral problems (such as tantrums)
  • Regression in behavior
  • Withdrawal
  • Difficulty separating from parents or caregivers
  • Sleep irregularities or difficulties
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thumb sucking
  • General fear, nervousness, stress, irritability, or hypervigilance

 

It’s natural for young children to exhibit signs of distress in a stressful environment, even if it’s not indicative of long-term developmental effects. Because parental interaction and support is the most significant socialization for infants and toddlers, it’s completely feasible to meet your child’s needs right at home!

 

How to encourage positive development in your baby while in isolation:

  • Reinforce social skills at home—like sharing and communicative exchanges—to replicate what babies would learn through interactions with other young kids. Verbal and physical exchanges help to build language development skills and broader cognitive abilities.
  • Encourage self-directed activities to allow your child to develop a sense of independence in an environment where they’re likely only engaging with people they depend on. Such activities include building with blocks, finger painting, or playing with dough.
  • When coloring or creating art, ask your child if they want to send it to a family member. Making a habit of this will help to foster understanding of and connection with people beyond your isolation bubble!
  • Read books that encourage facial recognition to build your baby’s social and emotional skills. Star Bright Books offers books that encourage self-expression and self-discovery, such as My Face Book; Look at You!; and Babies, Babies!.
  • Without sheltering your baby, try to keep them away from heighted levels of stress. This could mean creating a separate working space at home, taking shifts with another caregiver when possible, or saving difficult conversations for while the child is sleeping.
  • Be careful when teaching caution to avoid instilling fear. When introducing stressful topics like social distancing, it’s important to avoid framing other people as threats.
  • Remember to take care of yourself! If your mental health is being pushed to the side, the stress and anxiety your child observes may impact them. Make time to relax whether it is meditation, yoga, a walk, or something else.

 

The pandemic’s impact on the inner workings and responses of infants and toddlers may not be reflected in concrete research for years to come. The most important way to support your baby is to pay attention to their needs and build your relationship with them. What your child needs most while living through this time of isolation is your love and support.

Encouraging Children to Learn About and Normalize Mental Health

Image from Pexels

Have you wondered how to approach your child about mental health? Have they asked questions about a family member or a friend or shown signs of mental health disorders?

 

Mental health stigmas have long plagued our society. It is thus important to normalize mental health at a young age. Building a conversation around this topic can help lay the foundation for more understanding, compassionate, and educated future generations.

 

Why don’t kids know more about mental health?

There are a variety of reasons why children don’t know about mental health issues, such as not knowing the appropriate time to talk about them or the age they can be clearly understood. Mental health can also be subjective for different families. Here are some of the reasons given by mental health professionals:

 

  • The majority of mental health literature is targeted at sixth grade and up, making it inaccessible to younger children.
  • Schools lack funding for adequate mental health literacy.
  • Many parents don’t know how to talk to their kids about it.
  • Some children grow up believing the stigma that disorders are rare, making them unable to recognize symptoms in themselves or someone else.

 

Mood swings, anxiety, depression, and disorders are not rare, and children of all ages should be aware of this.

 

Early signs and symptoms of mental health disorders in kids and teens

If you have noticed any of the following signs in your child’s behavior it is important to tell them without passing judgment. Open conversations are vital for ending stigmas.

 

  • No interest in socializing with friends.
  • Irritable or darkened moods (expressing an unusual amount of interest in death).
  • Lack of motivation in school and a decline in grades.

 

Being vigilant can’t hurt. These are not always signs of a mental health disorder, but they can be.

 

Advice for parents, guardians, and caregivers

Most importantly, listen to a child or teen if they want to talk about mental health. Filter out your suggestions and ask them what you can do to help. Some other ways to make children and teens comfortable are:

 

  • Remind them that mental health issues are common.
  • Don’t share what they’ve discussed.
  • Offer impartial counseling.
  • Don’t minimize what they’re going through by telling them to think differently.
  • Validate their feelings.

 

Talking to specific age groups about mental health

Preschool children can’t understand abstract ideas such as anxiety or depression. They need less information because they are focused on what they can see (conciseness is key). Saying someone isn’t feeling well, but that the person still loves them and needs rest will answer concerns and soothe children.

 

School-age children tend to want specifics and have more pointed questions. Many inquiries will surround their own safety and that of others. Try to answer truthfully and reassure them.

 

Teenagers require an open dialogue since most don’t want to be lectured. Teens tend to have misconceptions about mental health and that makes conversation vital. Keep the conversations active and check in as needed.

 

How can mental health education be more accessible to children?

The first step as a parent, guardian, or caregiver is to educate yourself. Turn to a doctor or mental health provider when kids have questions you can’t answer. Health professionals can help you jumpstart the conversation about mental health. Continue conversations with kids in the hope they talk about it positively with another classmate or teacher.

 

Another way to make the topic of mental health more accessible is to educate children on the signs and symptoms of disorders in people they love or in themselves and assure them of the treatment options. Treatment could include therapy, exercise, writing or drawing their thoughts, positive thinking, and mindfulness activities.

 

Resources on specific disorders children and young adults might face

The Child Mind Institute offers guides to parents and caregivers on gaining a better understanding of how diagnoses manifest themselves. The website also includes umbrella topics that don’t fit under specific mental health disorders. The Child Mind Institute advises on:

 

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Behavior and Conduct Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depressive and Mood Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Elimination Disorders
  • Gender Dysphoria
  • Learning and Development Disorders
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disorders
  • OCD
  • Personality Disorders
  • Schizophrenia/Psychosis
  • Selective Mutism
  • Sleep-Wake Disorders
  • Substance Use and Addictive Disorders
  • Tourette’s and Tic Disorders
  • Trauma Disorders

 

While you might not have to learn about all of these disorders, it’s important to educate yourself on topics that pertain to you, those you love, and those you might encounter in the future. When you know more, normalizing mental health becomes second nature.

Stimulating Social Development in the Time of COVID-19

From Madison’s Patriotic Project, written by Dr. Vanita Braver and illustrated by Carl DiRocco.

Socialization is a critical component of young children’s development. Finding opportunities for safe interaction during COVID-19, however, can be a challenging task. After nearly a year of social distancing to mitigate the spread of the virus, many are struggling with pandemic fatigue. During this difficult time, children can grapple with disrupted routines, emotional challenges, and feelings of instability.

 

Safely socializing within a “bubble” or “pod” is an option that some families have chosen, but there are ways to connect with people outside of this group. Implementing new and different socialization strategies can help children develop emotional intelligence and relationship-building skills while feeling less isolated.

 

How does socialization impact children’s development?

Interacting with others in school, family, and social environments helps children to understand behavioral cues and relationships. By hearing and participating in conversations, they are able to build speech and language skills. This communication provides exposure to new and varied outlooks. Having the opportunity to interact with diverse perspectives is a crucial element in developing an understanding of inclusivity.

 

Utilizing Technology to Stay Connected

In-person gatherings may be limited, but video calls can keep children connected to others. Virtual meetings with classmates, friends, and extended family members allow children to stay connected to parts of their routine that have been disrupted. They also offer a sense of normalcy and combat fatigue.

 

There are many accessible online activities and games available for children too. However, it is important to be cognizant of screen time (especially in the era of virtual learning).

 

Encouraging Children to Play (and Partake in Playtime)

Playtime promotes critical thinking skills for young children. They engage their senses of creativity and imagination. It can also be educational and fun. Challenges like puzzles or card games help develop math skills and spatial awareness.

 

Another benefit of playtime is that it creates valuable bonding opportunities with those in a child’s bubble. Instead of neighbors or classmates, toys—such as stuffed animals—can provide companionship during indoor play.

From Let’s Play Outside, written by Pat Rumbaugh and illustrated by Daniel Nakamura.

Playing outside allows children to stay active and explore new environments. Organizations like Let’s Play America aid in planning virtual and outdoor play events that can safely bring communities together.

 

Establishing a Pen Pal

Children can write letters to their loved ones or friends, thus developing communication skills and fostering connections. Writing to a pen pal is an activity that parents and children can even engage in together! Parents can stay informed and assist children with language and grammar. An added benefit is that children can work on their handwriting.

 

Having a pen pal creates personal communication with someone outside of a child’s immediate bubble. Many people also feel handwritten messages are more meaningful than virtual ones. This exchange can be an especially great option for grandparents or family members who live far away.

 

Reading SEL Stories

Reading books with children that contain social and emotional learning (SEL) messages is a way to promote development at home. SEL stories feature important themes such as responsibility, compassion, self-awareness, and inclusion. Exposure to them benefits students in school and in interactions with others. Families can read SEL books together and discuss significant takeaways.

 

In-person socialization is not the only opportunity to promote relationship-building, behavioral understanding, and emotional intelligence among children. These are just a few strategies that can introduce variety, stimulate development, and reduce feelings of isolation in uncertain times.

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.”

 

 

 

 

Promoting Inclusive Communication by Unlearning Ableist Language

Language is constantly evolving and adapting. The acceptability of common rhetoric may shift or change as communities come to discover language that best represents their identities or as the origins of words come to light. Harmful terminology regarding people with disabilities is normalized in everyday vocabulary, and advocates are speaking up about it.

 

Much of today’s common language is at risk of perpetuating ableist narratives, often failing to accurately convey one’s message. The inherent ableism in modern language may not always be widely evident, but learning about its impact can help to avoid causing unintentional harm in the future. By teaching kids­­ more inclusive language from a young age, the normalization of ableist language can begin to be dismantled. Encouraging inclusive language can also help children learn word meanings and develop interpersonal communication skills.

 

What is ableism?

 

Ableism is discrimination or prejudice, implicit or explicit, against people with disabilities. Ableism is rooted in the harmful belief that disabled people are inferior to able-bodied people. It can manifest in a variety of ways, including able-bodied actors portraying characters with different abilities, uploading digital photos without alt-text or captions, lacking ramp or elevator access in buildings, and using language, as insults or otherwise, to “other” people with disabilities.

 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” With this in mind, the ADA is actually representative of a wide array of people!

 

How does ableism impact language?

 

The range of language that carries ableist connotations is vast, including insults, cliches, descriptors, and reactions. Many words with ableist ties are filler and can be better conveyed with alternative vocabulary choices. Others are words used to negatively classify people with disabilities.

 

For example, words like “crazy,” “stupid,” “insane,” “dumb,” and “psycho” draw on stereotypes that belittle or mock mental illness and impairments. More explicitly, using “OCD” to say you’re highly organized or “depressed” to express sadness—without a diagnosis of either—also serves to downplay the severity of mental illnesses that people manage on a daily basis. Ableism has impacted language by normalizing the co-opting of disability rhetoric by non-disabled people, especially through words that express diagnosis or mockery.

 

Ableism is also responsible for making the very word “disability” taboo, resulting in the normalization of alternate words that serve to make able-bodied people comfortable with the subject of disability rather than prioritizing the comfort of disabled people in their identity. Such alternate words and phrases include “handicapped,” “special needs,” and “differently abled,” to name a few, which are effective in avoiding the legal, medical, and social realities of disability. By dancing around the subject of disability, this rhetoric prioritizes assimilating people with disabilities into an able-bodied-centric society over making society accessible to all.

 

How can parents and children incorporate more inclusive, less ableist language?

 

The most significant step for parents in working toward more inclusive language is to listen to people with disabilities, especially as resources can quickly become outdated. Following disability advocates and reading or watching recent content with children that is created by people with disabilities are also easy ways to engage with the community’s conversations. It’s similarly important to note that people with disabilities may have individual preferences towards terminology, so it’s always best to ask!

 

From Brothers And Sisters, written by Laura Dwight.

 

For instance, there is some debate between the usage of “people with disabilities” and “disabled people.” The former is an effort toward empowerment by choosing to avoid defining people by their disabilities, while the latter is an effort toward reclamation of the word “disability” and a rejection of rhetoric that must remind people of someone’s humanity prior to their disability status.

 

Another rule of thumb is to do your own research! If you suspect a word may have questionable connotations, look into its origin to see if it has been used to inappropriately classify mental or physical impairments.

 

Even though ableism may seem deeply woven into society, there are simple changes you can make to your daily language and instill in your children! Doing so improves communication of meaning and avoids perpetuating stereotyped, belittling, or mocking ableist narratives.

 

  • Instead of “dumb” or “stupid,” try uninformed, uneducated, ignorant, illogical, or nonsensical.
  • Instead of “crazy” or “insane” (meaning intense), try shocking, awesome, amazing, incredible, fascinating, extremely, unpredictable, irrational, or unreasonable.
  • Instead of “crazy” or “insane” (meaning absurd), try outrageous, unacceptable, ridiculous, bizarre, wacky, unbelievable, or unreal.
  • Instead of “psycho,” try dangerous, threatening, unnerving, or chaotic.
  • Instead of “OCD,” try meticulous, precise, focused, detailed or detail-oriented, organized, clean, neat, or picky.
  • Instead of “lame,” try bad, boring, unpleasant, unpleasing, lackluster, insufficient, or inadequate.
  • Instead of “depressed,” try sad, down, blue, upset, or tired.
  • Instead of “blind” (meaning unaware), try ignorant, careless, insensitive, thoughtless, or oblivious.

 

While it may seem daunting to alter your everyday speaking and writing habits, the change will be a positive one for you, those around you, and your children. Navigating ableist language is a nuanced and ever-changing landscape, but the effort to unlearn it will become easier with practice and encourage the natural use of inclusive language by your children who learn through observation. Kids raised by and around people who actively avoid using ableist language will help language become a more inclusive and accessible space for people of all abilities.

 

Artist Spotlight: Robert Casilla

In this Artist Spotlight, we talk with illustrator Robert Casilla about his newest book The Big Day, his artistic approach and illustrative process, and advice for young and aspiring illustrators of color.

 

Robert Casilla.

 

Star Bright Books (SBB): Tell our audience how your illustration career started.

 

Robert Casilla (RC): I attended the School of Visual Art in NYC and majored in illustration and fine art. After graduation in 1982, I began to take illustration jobs for magazines and newspapers including Black Enterprise, Video Review, the New York Daily News and New York Times weekend magazines, postage stamps, and other publications.

 

From there, I illustrated a YA book cover for Bradbury Press/Simon & Schuster, which eventually led to being offered a job to illustrate The Train to Lulu’s by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard. Then, within a few days I was hired to illustrate Martin Luther King, Jr.: Free at Last for Holiday House. Those two book jobs started my career as a children’s book illustrator.

 

SBB: How has the children’s publishing industry changed (good and/or bad)?

 

RC: Today it’s much easier to have my work noticed by publishers because of the Internet and social media. When I started as an illustrator in the 1980s, I had to make appointments and/or drop off my portfolio to art directors/editors at publishing companies, which was time-consuming. It’s much easier for up-and-coming illustrators than when I started in the old days. Delivering finished art was either done in person or sent via FedEx. Today, we can send art out digitally and hold on to the originals, which is good because a book printer once lost all of my artwork.

 

SBB: Who are your favorite illustrators? How have they inspired your art style?

 

RC: I admire a lot of my fellow illustrators’ work, some of which are close friends. My favorites are Winslow Homer, NC Wyeth, Norman Rockwell.

 

Jerry Pinkney is my favorite living illustrator. His work is very inspiring to me, not only as an illustrator but as an artist. Although my work is different, I’m inspired by his free and fluent style with watercolor.

 

SBB: You’ve illustrated dozens of books in your career, earning the right to be selective. What do you look for in a book project when deciding to accept or reject an invitation?

 

RC: I look for mildly emotionally moving stories whether it’s fiction or a nonfiction biography. Stories that help young readers become familiar with another’s culture, customs and help to emote empathy for other children and familial situations. I also look for stories that fill my mind with many images to create pleasing art.

 

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

 

RC: Well, my goal as an illustrator is to create art that compliments the story and helps bring it to life for young readers.

 

SBB: Your latest book, The Big Day, takes place in 1919 in Knoxville, Tennessee. How did you approach the setting and characters for this project?

 

RC: Since I work in a somewhat realistic style, I rely on models for the main characters. I also do a lot of research about the period, clothing, and everything that will appear in the artwork.

 

With The Big Day, because of the pandemic I had to change my method by creating the characters without the aid of photos of models.

 

I used artist manikins and photos that had the poses I needed to create each spread. I had previously thought about trying this approach on a book but I was concerned about the end results. This way of working is more time-consuming, but now I know that I can do it without changing the overall look of my book illustrations.

 

Cover of The Big Day, illustrated by Robert Casilla.

 

SBB: Take our audience through your illustration process for The Big Day.

 

I started by reading the story a few times. Then the text was divided for each page or double-page spread. I did thumbnail sketches for each page. Thumbnail sketches are quick 2”x 4” rough scribbles that allow me to plan out the whole book. These tiny sketches show the images that I visualize while I’m reading the divided text and indicate how the words fit within the sketched idea.

 

Doing these sketches helps in trying to make each page different. I try to think of this stage as if I were doing a comic strip, by doing scenes that are close up or farther away and from different views. These sketches are not usually shown to the publisher. They are meant as my visual plan for the book. The sketches tell me what research I need for each scene.

 

Once I completed most of my research, I then developed the characters. Since I couldn’t hire models I looked for pictures of people that looked somewhat like I imagined the characters. Then I drew the character’s faces at different views and angles and in the poses required as I explained above.

 

Once the sketches were completed I sent them to Star Bright Books for approval. After a couple requested changes, the sketches were approved. Next I went on to do the finished, more detailed drawings for each page on watercolor paper for the final paintings.

 

SBB: What advice would you offer young people of color eager to enter the publishing industry?

 

RC: I would advise young illustrators of color to really work hard on your craft. Drawing well is crucial for illustrators, especially children’s book illustrators. Choose a medium that you like to work with, whether it’s watercolors, acrylics, oils, colored pencils, pastels, or digital.

 

Create a portfolio of art that you enjoy doing and is applicable to picture books. When creating art for a book, learn as much as possible about the story’s subject matter and period by doing a lot of research.

 

Also, use life experiences or your childhood memories when you’re creating the art, which can enhance the story visually without altering it. If a character is sad or happy about something, try to relate to how that character feels by thinking about how you felt when you were sad or happy about something and then communicate that in the art with the idea/concept, design/composition and color, tone. . . .

 

I would also advise young illustrators to always do the best job possible regardless of the financial terms. Because the final product will have your name on it and will most likely be seen by many people and hopefully be in circulation for a long time.

Artist Spotlight: Terry Lee Caruthers

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cover from The Big Day by Terry Lee Caruthers

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Building Vital Intergenerational Relationships through Reading

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What are the benefits of forming an intergenerational bond?

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

 

For elder generations, reading together:

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

 

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

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

 

Grandparents/elders reading with young children

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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