Being Family–Nuclear and World

On the heels of Mother’s Day we review books that expand our understanding of what it means to be part of a family and that validate the spectrum of family constellations in our children’s world.

The Family Book .51eLY1EkfZL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_ The Family Book  written and illustrated by Todd Parr with his signature bold style and brevity, captures the variety and importance of family. His illustrations include diverse “races” (pink, blues, yellow, green, etc.), numbers, and configurations–including single parents as well as same-gender parents. The colorful illustrations catch the eye, hold the reader’s attention and affirm the idea that family is about love and connection.

 

 

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 AQ Lens: For adopted children this book can offer a way of discussing differences like race and/or family composition in an abstract way: pink, green and blue people which offers an insulating layer that may make it feel less “personal” and those “safer” to explore. #AAQ

 

Who We Are. 61AGqwNYmoL._SX451_BO1,204,203,200_Who We Are by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott, is subtitled: All about Being the Same and Being Different, is straightforward in its efforts to validate diversity in individuals and in their families. It goes into greater detail than Parr’s The Family Book and is appropriate for a slightly older reader. Using the concept of visiting “Funland” as a logical place to encounter an array families, Who We Are focuses on the commonalities that we share and still affirms that each of us is unique.

The illustrations are broadly inclusive in terms of ethnicity, race, ability, family constellation and body type and activity preferences. The text describes how sometimes differences can make us hesitate or be afraid of people who differ from us in some way. It explains how melanin influences eye, hair and skin color and then reassures readers by highlighting the commonalities of fundamental humanity that we share.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 AQ Lens: For adopted children this book can offer an easy opening to discussing race as well as the many ways in which children can be both different and similar to their adopted families–and/or their birth families if they have an open adoption or knowledge of their birth information. The tone of the book is both affirming and supportive. #AAQ Kids can be both different & similar to both their families--adopted & birth. Click To Tweet

 

All the World.51vxq61dL0L._SY478_BO1,204,203,200_All the World  is written by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee, strives to picture the universals that all people and families share: family love, the pleasure of play–and its variety, parental nurturing, etc.  The book repeats the refrain: “All the world is …” then the detailed illustrations capture many ways in which each concept is embodied. The vignettes overflow with examples of variety; we see types of cars, boats, gardens, byways, weather, foods, etc. There’s truly something for everyone. The delicate rhymes conclude: Hope and peace and love and trust/ All the world is all of us.” Children will appreciate that the world surrounds us and is within ourselves as well.

I predict that this moody book will be one which readers will select from their shelves again and again.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 AQ Lens: adopted children this book can offer a chance to see diversity in a larger swath because the double spread illustrations depict many ways of seeing or experiencing a concept. Instead of seeing difference in an isolated moment or single example, it is seen as part of a complex fabric that holds the varying elements of the spectrum simultaneously.#AAQ Lens

 

Here Is the Baby here is the baby.51Vrd+LHFnL._SX436_BO1,204,203,200_ I predict that this moody book will be one which readers will select from their shelves again and again.by Polly Kanevsky follows a baby throughout his day. Readers travel with him from Mama retrieving him from his crib until she eases him down for his evening’s rest. During baby’s busy day, his parents and sibling, feed, care for and play with him. Clearly he is a well-loved and nurtured child.

Daddy is the one who walks sister to school, strolls baby around the neighborhood and brings him to the library for story time and plays with him at the park. This is a welcome depiction of hands-on fathering!

Although the family is Caucasian, some limited diversity is represented in the characters who appear in the background.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 AQ LensFor adopted children this book shows both parents as involved caretakers. though the story depicts a two-parent family, much of the story shows Dad doing the parenting. This may help it appeal to families that have only a father (or fathers). #AAQ Lens

 

 

Counting Books: “This Jazz Man” & Caldecott Winner: “Ten, Nine, Eight”

This Jazz Man.51p9J7dvhlL._SX383_BO1,204,203,200_This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt and illustrated by R. G. Roth is a high energy, retelling of  the classic children’s song, “This Old Man.” It introduces readers to several famous black musicians and does it in a fun and appealing way. The catchy tune reverberates in your mind’s ear–or better yet, in your read-aloud voice as you sing the text to life.

Bold illustrations pair with a text rich in onomatopeia. Kids will itch to replicate the plinks, thumps and bob-de-bops. The counting aspect of the story is an added bonus. The end pages include biographical information which parents can share with their young readers. This Jazz Man succeeds on several levels: it delivers a powerful punch of fun, introduces readers to some of the great figures in Jazz and expands children’s knowledge of the contribution of black performers to the American musical lexicon.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 (1)The AQ lens: This is an excellent choice for adding a multicultural element to the family library. The educational and entertainment value are valid for all readers, regardless of race. For adoptive families committed to supporting diversity, this is a winner. For families touched by transracial adoption, it affirms the positive role blacks have played in the American music scene.

Music serves a special connection to emotions. Since this book almost insists on being “performed” as it is read, it opens a channel to a child’s interest in self-expression. Nearly all youngsters enjoy music. This Jazz Man is an excellent choice for beginning a process of encouraging music in a family.

Ten, Nine, Eight.61ecp0UXzwL._SY429_BO1,204,203,200_“Each year, the Caldecott Medal … is awarded … to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” (Quoted from the ALSC –Association for Library Service to Children website.) The 1984 winner, Ten, Nine, Eight illustrated and written by Molly Bang  stands the test of time. It offers simple text  and features an African-American child.

I particularly appreciate the illustrations depict Daddy and daughter together. Many books feature moms and their children. When one shows an involved dad, it is always welcome!  The scenes depicted have a gentle, nurturing tone that follow  the little girl from bath time to bedtime. A sweet, relaxing book, it would be an excellent choice not only for multicultural families but for any family.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 (1)The AQ lens: This is a quality book that includes an African-American child. The language is straightforward and free of slang or dialect; the setting is a cozy home that could be urban or rural, thus open to the child’s interpretation. The colorful illustrations invite exploration and offer great conversation opportunities. Although adoption is never mentioned, because the dad is depicted but not mother, it could be especially well suited to a family parented by a single adoptive dad and/or two dads.

 

Summertime and the Living Is … Easy?

firefly nightMy memories of childhood summers conjure thoughts of unscheduled days at the beach, of playing with friends, all  balanced with lots of time to daydream, read and spend time with family. (We had no TV, if you can even imagine that!) Now summer looks and feels quite different. Day care, summer camps, programmed activities and TV dominate many kids’ summer days. Parents struggle to engage their childrens’ attention, to divert them from the various tech and media available to them.

Still, summer offers a wonderful opportunity to build positive memories of time having fun together. Fun is FUN-damental to building strong family ties. From my own childhood, I recall scampering across the grass collecting fireflies. Their glow seemed magical and filled us with wonder. Because It’s a Firefly Night by Diane Ochiltree captures this delightful moment, I truly enjoyed reading it. The little girl’s excitement is palpable when her Daddy tell her, “It’s a firefly night.” The reader senses that this is a special ritual that the child shares with her daddy and something she will treasure down the years of her life. Betsy Snyder’s luminous art brings the rhyming/counting text to life. Children can make a game of searching for and tracking the number of bugs, flowers, etc. And have fun in the process!

Goodnight, fireflyFor another variation on the firefly theme, also consider Goodnight, Firefly by Gabriel Aborozo. Vivid inky black illustrations splashed with small strokes of glowing yellow and apple red set the perfect backdrop for the text. “Nina was scared of the dark…” Children will identify with Nina’s fear, “scary shadows … whispering of monsters…” and her great relief when she spies the welcome light of fireflies “dancing.”

In both books, the girl treasures her captive firefly and yet … she comes to understand that she must release it so that the firefly can live. This is a great concept for children—and parents–to understand. We seek to raise children who grow to be strong and independent, to provide them with sturdy “roots and wings.” Unless we allow freedom, relationships are built on captivity, not trust and respect. Like the firefly, we must release our children and free them to follow their paths. In Albert Schweitzer’s words: “If you love something so much, let it go. If it comes back, it was meant to be; if it doesn’t, it never was.”

 

Wondering about the science behind a firefly’s luminous glow? Check out this link from National Geographic.

magnifying lens AQ.2AQ*Lens: We parents must balance our roles as leaders, teachers and the family “authority,” with time enjoying one another. For children who struggle to maintain self-regulation, this is especially necessary.  (The challenge is to have fun without devolving into chaos.) Strong relationships weave families together.

If we hope to grow children who absorb and embrace our family values and beliefs, we must build relationships of respect and cooperation then cement them with a hefty dose of fun. In the absence of fun, kids will view parents primarily as the enforcers not the compass, the leaders, and heart of their world. Parents who balance “enforcement” mode with plenty of family fun keep kids engaged and interested in spending time as a family. Spending time “in joy” together is a key component of attachment, a high priority in adoptive families.

How will you create magic family moments? Hunting fireflies? Counting Stars? Watching the sunset? What ideas can you share with us?

 

The Wisdom of Two Father’s

Lost LakeTwo books that capture the special connection children share with their dads are Lost Lake written and illustrated by Allen Say and  Enemy Pie written by Derek Munson and illustrated by Tara Calahan King .

In Lost Lake, a boy visits his overly-busy non-custodial father and finds himself craving a more intimate experience, one that moves beyond merely sharing the same residence. Both father and son struggle to express their thoughts and feelings in words. When Luke cuts up his dad’s magazine and tapes them to the wall, it takes two days before father notices. When Dad finally does, the boy asks, “Are you angry with me, Dad?” The dad dismisses the damage as meaningless “I’m having the place painted anyway.”

Luke thinks to himself, “He thought I was talking about the marks on the wall.” This line implies so much poignant emotion. Whether in a divorced family or not, kids will readily identify with the feeling of invisibility and the yearning for focused one-on-one time with a parent.  In typical child-thinking, the boy assumes the blame for his dad’s aloof behavior  and is saddened that Dad apparently thinks the question refers to the wall. Believing his Dad missed the point, the boy still wonders why Dad doesn’t talk to him, wonders what he did to make his Dad angry and wonders how he can grab Dad’s attention.

As the story continues, we discover that Dad understood much more. They embark on a week-long journey to find Lost Lake. They discover so much more about themselves and their relationship. Persisting through set backs, pushing through the challenges, they trek on–together, in pursuit of a common goal. Their journey brings deeper understanding of themselves and a closer bond.

I liked this book because it depicted a non-custodial dad working to connect with his child but not in a common Disney Dad activity. Instead he chooses a less-chosen path and that makes all the difference. The exquisite water colors provide a lovely touch for the delicate tone of this book. I rate this five +++++.

Enemy PieEnemy Pie tackles a common experience for kids: a new child moves into the neighborhood and upsets the delicate balance of  friendships and comes between best friends.

Learning to cope with the quicksilver changes of childhood allegiances is something all children face. They feel the betrayal, the confusion and the anger. Kids will understand the boy’s desire to wreak revenge–in the form of a huge slice of Enemy Pie– on the intruder.

What the boy never sees coming, is the magic of Enemy Pie lies not in the ingredients, but in the journey leading up to its being served.

In the vein of the classic Stone SoupEnemy Pie delivers an unpredicted and satisfying conclusion to the boy’s dilemma. Dad creates a transforming experiencing without a single bit of preaching. Enemy Pie showcases Dad Wisdom at its best.

Both of these wonderful books reinforce the important role fathers play in their children’s lives. Buy or borrow a copy to share with your family today.