Tag Archives: books

Mentors and Shining Examples, and a Giveaway!

I have been fortunate to see many models of parenting from the perspective of being an elementary school teacher for 19 years. There is wide range, and my hope is that beyond recognizing the good ones, I have consciously and subconsciously learned from them in preparation for having my own children.

There are a few who stand out above the others for me. They have a mixture of excellent parenting and values that resonate with mine, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with these parents–grateful to collaborate in raising their children for the brief time I have with them.

A few weeks ago, I caught up with one of these parents, Tara Keppler, who inspired me when I taught her daughter. Since then she has co-authored a book, Food for Thoughtful Parenting: 12 must-have lists for new parents & young families, and writes an associated blog. I remember devouring the book when I first got a copy. This small, square book is only 77 pages long, and it is organized in easily consumed lists. FFTP  is written in such a friendly, approachable style that its lists of ideas all seem familiar even when they are completely new to the reader, and they cover crucial topics such as mealtimes and being stuck indoors.

Some parenting books endeavor to prepare the reader for any contingency and in doing so make parenting seem like an impossible job fraught with danger at every turn. FFTP does the opposite. It reminds you that parenting is not only achievable, but it can even be a lot of fun. Some parenting books are steeped in deep theory and require the reader to buy into a philosophy. FFTP is practical and fits anyone’s parenting; moreover, the authors deftly weave their values and philosophy into the background of this book which makes it much more than just a book of lists. It is a gem in an overcrowded and overwhelming genre.

Tara suggested that I hold a giveaway for her book, and I couldn’t be more happy to have FFTP be the first product I specifically endorse on this blog. To that end, three lucky commenters, picked at random, will receive a copy of the book. To qualify, reply to this post (on Facebook or in WordPress) with a list about dads or dadding. What are great qualities of dads? What are your fondest memories of time with your dad? What are your favorite moments as a dad? Give me a list, and maybe you’ll get a book.

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Just Sitting and Reading

Saturday, I was still not feeling so well, and with my wife away at a concert, I had the kids for a few hours. One thing I could do, however, was read the books I got from the library a week ago. With my daughter nestled against me on the couch and my son banging things together as he seems to want to do in every waking hour, we shared the four books. I have copied my GoodReads reviews for each book below.

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

This is a wonderful story of how things change and stay the same. It follows the journey of a quilt made from a family’s clothing as it is passed down mother-to-daughter over the generations and finally is in the hands of the author, Patricia Polacco. The spare use of color in the illustrations highlights the quilt, and the subtle changes in the people around it as the time passes is reflected both in the pictures and the text. This story resonates on a few personal levels with Jewish Russian ancestry and with a quilt hanging in my bedroom made from the clothes of my wife’s mother and which served as the covering of our huppa (as the quilt in the book did several times). I hope our quilt can be a treasured link to past generations just as the one in the book did.

A Pocket for Corduroy by Don Freeman

For quite a while, Corduroy has been one of my daughter’s favorite characters, and we regularly read the first book in the series. It was a favorite of mine from childhood, and I have come to love it again as an adult. From the presence of a spunky, African-American girl for the main character opposite Corduroy to the bear’s constant wonder and joy in the world. I also love the depiction of life that includes apartments, laundromats, and other features that feel authentic to me. In this tale, Corduroy spends the night at a laundromat and eventually gets a pocket with his own name in it, and in the tale, all of the characters are genuinely nice and caring.

Mine, All Mine by Claire Hawcock and Chiara Pasqualotto

My daughter is four. Toooften, but developmentally appropriately, we often hear, “Mine,” coming from her lips. There are some nice books that deal with the idea of ownership, and this is one of them. The little squirrel wants to keep a glittery snowflake, represented on the pages by a textured and glittery snowflake, all to itself. Once it builds a nest to keep control of the flake, the squirrel misses out on life and finally decides to let go of the treasure in order to be with the other squirrels. It is a simple story, but the illustrations and text make it work without being too didactic.

How Groundhog’s Garden Grew by Lynne Cherry

A friend recently commented on my makeshift garden fence that its floppiness was a good groundhog deterrent. So far it seems to have kept out the rabbit that was eating my pea plants, and I suppose it has kept out groundhogs as well. In this lushly illustrated book, all of the regular garden assaulting animals instead grown their own gardens that are overflowing with produce. Squirrel teaches Groundhog how to save seeds, sow them in the spring, care for the plants, and harvest the results. Of course they share the food with friends at the end. I really like the messages and amazingly detailed illustrations and can even get past the fact that the characters in this book are more likely to devastate my garden that can’t hold a candle to the one in the book. There is lots here for my daughter and me to come back and read again.


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More Rethinking Popular Culture and Media

In my last post on this book, I discussed some articles that critiqued Thanksgiving, historical fiction books, and movies. After returning from spring break, I continued to read Rethinking Popular Culture and Media during my train rides to and from school.

I finished reading part two that focuses on the framing of historical events and actors. Ozlem Sensoy and Elizabeth Marshall’s article, “Save the Muslim Girl!” revealed the bias in portrayal of Muslim girls as victims of violence who must escape to enjoy the freedoms they see in the Western world.

The next article, previously read in another publication, analyzes the American Girl messaging and commercialization. The author found that the characters in the books, “The girls rarely participate in historical events in any substantial way.”(p. 130) They looked on from the windows of their houses or heard about events from fathers or brothers. Additionally, the catalog of high-priced items, “undercut the lessons about empowerment that the books offer.”(p. 131)

Besides avoiding lessons on social activism to fight gender and racial discrimination, the “Corporations play on the feminist and/or educative aspirations of parents, teachers, girls, and young women and turn these toward consumption.”(p. 133)

Part Three, Examine Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality, and Social Histories in Popular Culture and Media, starts with an article about a teacher’s attempt to respond to second grade girls declaring they were too fat and needed to diet. This is something I have seen in my years teaching in elementary school, and it is one of the driving forces that led me to develop a health curriculum that included materials on body image, nutrition, and many other pieces to combat the incredible pressure young children feel from media. One of the books referenced, Stories for Free Children, has come up several times in my reading. On impulse I looked it up on Amazon: $269.95, but used for$5.18. I found it even cheaper on Better World Books, so I ordered it. More resources for my kids that will balance out their immersion in sexist, stereotyped, racist media that surrounds all of us.

Our few books and media can’t hold back the flood of damaging images and messages that pour incessantly over our children; nothing can. It is not a case of a finger in the dike or a twig in the dam. Instead, I hope to equip my kids with aqualungs that can help them breath in such a suffocating environment; a tool that lets them analyze and live in their culture rich world.

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How Popular Culture and Media Frame Historical Events and Actors

The second section of Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, one of the books I am currently reading, delves into how historical events and people are misportrayed especially in children’s books and movies. So far I have read essays on Rosa Parks, Columbus, Helen Keller, Thanksgiving, Mulan, Pocohontas, and My Heart is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl.

Much of what I am reading is not new to me having been introduced to it through diversity trainings, previous reading, and working with teachers who critically analyze culture and media for the many messages they present to children.

A passage in the article on Thanksgiving, written by Michael Dorris, struck me:

As parents, our lot is often to watch and worry and cheer and commiserate, curbing throughout our impulse to intervene. The world of children interacting with children is in large part off-limits.

Passivity ends, however, with relation to those adult-manufactured and therefore wholly gratuitous problems with which our children are often confronted. We naturally rise against the greed of panderers of debilitating junk foods; we reject dangerous toys, however cleverly advertised; and we make strict laws to protect against reckless motorists. We dutifully strap our children into seatbelts, keep toxic substances out of reach, and keep a wary eye for the dangerous stranger.

With so many blatant dangers to counter, perhaps it is unavoidable that some of the more subtle and insidious perils to child welfare are often permitted to pass. …

Attitudes pertinent to “racial” or “sex-role” identity are among the most potentially hazardous [deficiencies of our own attitudes and training], for these can easily be internalized–particularly by the “minority” child. Such internalized attitudes profoundly affect self-concept, behavior, aspiration, and confidence. (pp. 101-2)

This article and the others concretely lay out how each example of popular culture and media has just this effect on children. If these ideas resonate, I highly recommend this book. As with most publications of Rethinking Schools, it is an outstanding collection of writing from thought-provoking authors.

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What Am I Doing– and Some Books

It seems that some people are reading this blog. I have a few have posted on Facebook, and even a few have posted on the blog itself. Some people have told me that they are reading, so the purpose has shifted a little. I really didn’t know if  anyone would end up reading these blog posts, so initially, I was just trying to create a body of text that added to the total volume of fathering voices out there. Now that there are actual readers, I probably should explain the process I go through to make these posts.

First of all, they are not well thought out, revised, pondered pieces of wisdom. That probably isn’t my forte, anyway. I start a post by writing about something in the day or recent past that caught my attention. As I plow through the process of getting text down on the screen, I hope, sometimes vainly, for some coherent thought to emerge. These usually end up near or at the end of the post. They were not the original purpose of the writing, but they do come from within me. It is through this action of writing that I uncover something that makes sense in the moment. I realize that much of the entry before that might be rambling, might be trivial to others, and it might not even seem to lead up to the thought. For me, however, these things are a great way to reflect on my practice as a father and husband. I hope some of them have struck chords in you, too. Feel free to comment whenever you read something that makes sense to you. It will help me identify pieces and topics that resonate with those of you who are reading these entries.

Now, on to the real purpose of this entry–More Books! It is like having a candy store across the road. The branch library that juts out from the school across the street has a massive picture book section. This makes sense since it serves an elementary school population. I haven’t even had to request kid’s books yet, though there are some favorites that I will probably get around to requesting.

In selecting their house, my parents saw as a plus the close proximity to the city library. At a very young age, my siblings and I could walk up the street and immerse ourselves in books. There was even a bathtub in the kids section, and I spent many hours lying in that tub on the padding someone had hand-made to fit and reading book after book.

The librarians at our library are similarly creative and motivated to make the space inviting for kids. My daughter loves going there, and now my son toddles around the carpeted area and rocks the rockers.

As much as books move to electronic devices, there will always be a place in my household for physical, paper, printed books. This runs so deep, as deep as religious conviction or faith. I am sure there are reams of data to support and attack my position on the importance of books over electronic text, but that is not the point. Books are a part of my soul; no one particular book, though some come close, but books–the idea of books, the experience of books, the endless stories to discover–they are a large part of me. I won’t let them go.

O.K., that was the big revelation, not surprising to many including myself, but not where I was when I started writing this entry. I had intended to share what my daughter has been reading. After she was entranced with Neil Armstrong in Obama’s Of Thee I Sing, I got several space books. She has gravitated to If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty. This along with Bartholomew and theOobleck my daughter is delving into books with significantly more text. Her attention span is growing. She still wants us to read them over and over again, and this entails a significantly greater investment of time and voice. I am glad she is hearing these stories with my wife and my voices. (Ah, two new thoughts today. What a bonus)

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I’ll Call ‘Em As I Read ‘Em

I have started using Goodreads to organize my book lists. Initially, I consolidated all of my want-to-read lists from different computers and apps to this one location. Lately I have started adding the books we get weekly or every other week from the branch public library located a hop, skip, and a jump from our front door. I have created a shelf in my Goodreads account for children’s books.

In this last batch of books, my daughter really took to The Inside Tree, a fanciful story of a man who brings a lonely tree into his house and the chaos that ensues. She and I liked the book, Daddy Will Be There, which portrayed a daddy as a care giver and source of comfort.

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 Recently I have been stopping by the library, located almost a stone’s throw from the house, and getting books to read with my daughter. It creates a flow of new books, and she enjoys reading them repeatedly until they are due. I have not yet shared with her the idea of renewing books because I can happily use the deadline to create a finite number of readings of any one book. The first time we went, I let her select the books, and we came home with some weird ones and some that promoted values with which I was not too happy. Since then, we have either selected together or I have gone and selected some on my own. 

We have had some real winners. Most recently, my daughter loved the book Chalk by Bill Thompson. The imagination and beautiful artwork were a wonderful springboard for telling the story, and there were no words, so she felt free to make it up slightly differently each time.


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Seeing the World

I am currently reading several books, one of which is Calm and Compassionate Children: A Handbook by Susan Usha Dermond. I am finding it to be moderately good. Many of the things she mentions are not new, but it is always good to hear them again to reaffirm my own practice of parenting, teaching, and being an intentional person. There is a little too much focus on spirituality for my taste, but my taste is not necessarily a good indicator of the larger readership of the book.

This morning, as I rode the T in to work, I read a section on observing the world and specifically the good things in the world around us. I have tried to refocus my daughter’s seeming hyperfocus on the the bad things by having her share events she enjoyed from the day and sharing ones from mine. I feel that aside from developmental appropriateness, this trend of focusing on bad things may be a reflection of how I have been communicating the world to her. My children’s actions and words are often a mirror into my own.
“When we model looking for what we can learn from difficult situations rather than looking to blame others, children will learn the same life skill.” p85  Though I do not think this particular life skill is one of the bad ones I model, I extend the idea of what I model has a greater impact on my children’s behavior than what I say. One of the Practical Steps in the book is to practice noticing good things in the world around us, especially the natural world. This is something I do all the time but don’t necessarily communicate. As I grew older, adults and my peers did not want to hear of my fascination with the minutia of the world around me or of the images that continue to float in my brain like flash bulbs on my retinas.
I looked up from the book and captured such an image. The T was crossing the Charles River on the “Salt and Pepper bridge” named for its distinctive towers that look like salt and pepper shakers. Illustrations of these towers adorn a page in Make Way for Ducklings. The Boston shoreline was shrouded in mist and low clouds which obscured the tall buildings. My field of vision, painted in gray tones, was limited to the first row of buildings on the shore. A single church spire stood above the surrounding buildings, and the entire scene seemed almost a century earlier as if the T had become a clackity, well-lit time machine.

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