Changing the World by Doing What You Know

I believe there is a calling in each of us that is as natural as breathing. We have to pay attention to that which comes naturally and makes our heart sing. And then build upon it.

Here are a couple of great books about people who changed the world in exactly that way.

The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman with original photographs by Wilbur and Orville Wright tells the story of two brothers, as close to each other as two peas in a pod who had “a way with tools and a knack for solving problems.” This Newbery Honor Book does a great job of mixing technical how-it-happened with the human side of these world-changing inventors. Pegged for ages 10 and up.

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal is about a modern-day legend, the man who brought us the imac, the iphone…the ieverything. From the beginnings of Apple in his parents’ garage, Steve was always compelled from within to push the technological envelope and to bring his strong sense of style to develop a chain of products that have proved irresistible to millions around the world. Pegged for teens.

Share your favorite children’s books about people who changed the world!

Making A Difference: How Do You Tackle the Big Issues?

There’s Been Good

2016 has brought a lot of great things my way. All of my daughters graduated from school (one from college, two from graduate school). Those celebrations, along with graduations for extended family and friends, have given me a tangible sense of what it means to have a “social season.”

There’s Been Bad

2016 has also been deeply troubling. Violence in my city, my country, the world, continues on what seems to be an inexorable march. The core of my being is shouting, “Stop the madness!”

What Can We Do About It?

I think pretty much all of us feel that way. But the “how” is the hard part. A lot of people are reacting with a loud: “Let’s back up, let’s rewind!” For many, finding a safe space means retreating to be with people who think like them, look like them, have similar experience.

Does Running the Other Way Really Help?

That’s not an inexplicable or necessarily evil response. It is, at least in the short-term, simpler and more manageable. But as a solution, it has its own problems – economic, social, and otherwise. What at first might seem to lead to more stability is very likely to increase instability. In England, for example, just days after a vote to leave the European Union – at least in part based on a perception that this will increase stability – people are learning that they stand to lose significant financial benefits from the EU which may very well translate into lost jobs, a devalued currency, and a decreased ability to export goods beyond their tiny island borders.

What’s The Alternative?

What about the rest of us? What about those who want to take on the hard work of building a community that is inclusive and equitable in treatment of all who choose to live with us, that is diverse? How, exactly, do we go about this?

Martin Luther King once said, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” This really hits home. But the problems can seem so overwhelming that you don’t know where to begin. I have yet to see a manual with step-by-step instructions.

Do What You Know

I learned something, this week, from the approach of the painter, Grant Wood. He taught art students at the University of Iowa from 1934-1941. His students were grappling with the question: “How do I organize my talents to have an impact on the world?” Wood’s advice was simple: Choose painting, printmaking, sculpture, murals – any of these. But one message was the same for all: Draw upon what you know. And so from his students could come works about mothers and children, revolutionaries and aristocrats, farmers and factory workers. The collective body of artwork being created at that time had a profound impact on the world.

Draw upon what you know. That is how you can have the most impact. You don’t have to take on the whole problem (in fact, none of us can). Others whose experience is not the same as yours will fill your spaces. This is a great organizing principle, one that can soar in a diverse world.

Pass it on to your children.

Share your stories of tackling big issues


It’s the beginning of summer. Temperatures are inching into the 90s. Fresh fruits and vegetables are everywhere. Kids are out of school. Lemonade stands are popping up. In honor of summer and some of the great things it brings, I’m reprinting one of my very first blogs.

Last summer, one lazy afternoon, I was sitting out in the strong Montana sun amidst vacationing golfers and tennis players and swimmers…oh! and beer drinkers (incidentally I noticed several orders for Goose Island — shout out to my hometown Chicago brewery!) Eventually, I gave in to the heat and, drenched in sweat, began my walk back to my townhouse there.

The Pitch

A short ways down the path, I could see three little girls – the oldest looked no more than ten – with the typical lemonade stand set-up. Table, sign, money jar, big pitcher of lemonade, small paper cups…you get the picture. But as I got closer and could hear the girls hawking their wares, I was in for a surprise. Not the usual 25 cents for a cup of lemonade. Instead, their pitch was:”Donate to Cure Type I Diabetes; Get a Free Cup of Lemonade!”

Now, first, I must say, I was impressed with the marketing strategy – tapping into our openness to giving for a good cause; and our obsession with getting a “free” gift – both at the same time. Brilliant!

The Impuse to Give

But I digress. I wondered what had led these girls to their decision to “give back.” So I asked. At first, they explained, they were just going to have a “regular” lemonade stand and collect money for themselves. But their cousin has Type 1 diabetes and they hit upon this as a way to help her.

Developing the Giving Habit

I began to think: What if every kid who sets up a lemonade stand – and there must be hundreds of thousands each summer – chose some cause near and dear to their hearts to receive the proceeds.

For the recipients of the donations, every little bit helps. But, maybe more important, our children would be having a positive experience with giving at a very young age. They would be involved in the choice of charity, which would require them to think about what means most to them. And they would experience the joy of making the world a better place while doing something fun. You know how children who are read to at a young age often get the warm fuzzies later on when they think about reading? Well, same concept here. Wouldn’t it be great for children to develop the warm fuzzies for giving, starting them on their way to becoming lifelong givers.

Pass it on!

The Fruits of Summer!

And vegetables, too! I am sooooo looking forward to fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes. Not to mention berries of all kinds and ears of sweet corn. Here are a couple of books that will have you and your kids planting in the garden or taking a trip to your local farmer’s market.

Edible Numbers by Jennifer Vogel Bass gives us photographs of luscious fruits and vegetables, while at the same time giving us a fun way to practice counting with our toddlers and preschoolers. Each two page spread focuses on one fruit or vegetable. On the left hand page, the author presents one commonly recognized variation of a fruit or vegetable. On the right hand page she gives us a number of different variations of the same fruit or vegetable. Have fun counting! Pegged for preschool-1st grade.

Seed, Soil, Sun: Earth’s Recipe for Food by Cris Peterson is for those who want to know, “What’s going on in that garden of mine that turns seeds into fruits and vegetables?” The author gives us the science behind plant growth including the buried seed’s journey to the surface and the energy-creating process of photosynthesis. The photos give you and your child a wondrous worms-eye view. Pegged for grades K-3.

Share your favorite children’s books about fruits and vegetables!

Celebrating Freedom on Juneteenth

It’s finally summer – Chicago temperatures are in the 90s. I took a walk along the lake yesterday and was swooning – not so much from the heat but more from the mouthwatering smell of barbecue wafting my way from picnics in the park. I expect more of the same today. With a special extra cause for celebration. It is Juneteenth.

What exactly are we celebrating?

What exactly are we celebrating? On this day – that is, June 19 – in 1865, a general of the Union army issued an order in Texas freeing the slaves.

What About the Emancipation Proclamation?

If you haven’t heard of Juneteenth before, you might be confused. What about the Emancipation Proclamation that was issued 2 years earlier? January 1, 1863, a famous and important date in its own right. On that day, President Abraham Lincoln freed all slaves in confederate states. It did not free slaves in slaveholding states of the Union (such as Maryland). But it did cover a lot of people.

News travels Slow

Theoretically, the Emancipation Proclamation should have freed slaves in Texas since that state was part of the Confederacy. But as long as the Confederate armies fought on, it wasn’t so easy for slaves to claim their freedom. Texas held on to its slaves.

What About Appomattox?

OK. But the war actually did end on April, 9, 1865 when the Confederates surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. Well, news traveled slow back then. And, though the war officially ended in April, Texas Confederates were still fighting until early June.

Going National

So it makes sense that Texas celebrates Juneteenth. But why the rest of the country? Isn’t the Emancipation Proclamation or the official end of the war or the 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, officially ending slavery throughout the United States – isn’t one of these a better official date for celebration?

Some have argued Yes for choosing one of the other days for official celebration. But through it all, black Texans held on to their celebration of Juneteenth. And as some began to move out of Texas, they carried the tradition across state lines. Then, flash forward to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. 1968 to be exact. In June of that year, two months after Martin Luther King was assassinated, King’s followers converged on Washington DC for the Poor People’s March. On June 19 – Juneteenth — of that year, the march concluded and participants returned to their homes across America. They carried the celebration of Juneteenth back with them .

Now there is an official Juneteenth holiday in many states. And how do we celebrate? With summer fun: great music, great friends, and barbecue. Yum!

Share your stories of celebrating Juneteenth!

Cracks in the Glass Ceiling: Taking the Time to Appreciate Their Beauty

Last week, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the apparent Democratic nominee for President, the first woman to be entrusted with this mantle in the entire history of our country. As I watched her speak on the last “Super Tuesday” of 2016, with her female cadences, clothes, hair, face, I felt the power of this pivotal moment. I imagined that any woman, young or old, conservative or liberal, would find it hard not to be buoyed by the breaking of this longstanding barrier.

The next day, however, my newsfeed evidenced that many women were not impressed. The back-and-forth continued about jobs, violence, immigration, etc. Few paused to reflect about the latest crack in the glass ceiling.

Does a glass ceiling still exist?

We are the product of our times. Many of today’s young women experience the world as gender-neutral and open to them. And in many ways it is. There are more women attending college than men. Women are nearly half of the labor force and they hold more than half of the professional and technical jobs in the U.S.

Back in the Day

This was not always the case. Not so long ago, certainly in Hillary Clinton’s lifetime, the glass ceiling hung so low, women could barely stand beneath it. Before the 1970s, most women married young and stayed home raising babies. Most didn’t work for pay at all. Those who did were, for the most part, limited to traditionally “women’s” jobs: nurses, teachers, and secretaries.

The Feminist Fight

In the 1960s and 70s, a revolution of sorts took place. Hillary Clinton was part of that revolution. She benefited from it. Like so many women today, she went from college to career. And it was exhilarating. She boasted at one time that she had more important things to do than stay home and make cookies.

But though the ceiling was higher, it was still there. Hillary has bumped her head on it over and over through the years. Many critics. Ever vacillating criticisms. Those female cadences were sometimes too strident, sometimes too weak. Her hair was sometimes too messy, sometimes too coiffed. She was sometimes too abrasive, sometimes too conciliatory.

And women in general? Last year, women only made 79 cents for every dollar men made. In every single occupation measured, men average higher wages than women. Less than 5% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women. Less than half of women who start out practicing law in firms end up as high-level partners. And even those who make it that far only earn, on average, 80% of what men earn.

Celebrating Milestones

We still have a ways to go. Which makes it all the more important – young and old — to take time out, look at, reflect upon, rejoice in the beauty of the glass ceiling cracks.

Share your stories of cracks in the glass ceiling.

Let Girls Lead

The Democrats have chosen a woman to lead the United States. An inspiring moment for little girls across our land. I’m taking a moment to look even wider – at countries where women and girls have very little power. What happens there?

Raising Female Leaders

I call your attention to a program called Let Girls Lead. Right now, they are focused on Malawi, Ethiopia, and Uganda in Africa and Guatemala in South America. They are raising up leaders – women and girls – to change laws and practices in their countries that hold women back.

Girls Lead in Malawi

In Malawi, a common practice has been to send girls who are just hitting puberty to “sexual initiation camps” where they are forced to have sex with older men. Those who get pregnant are married off to men who have complete authority over them.

In 2011, Let Girls Lead teamed up with Malawi’s Girls Empowerment Network and other women and girls to challenge this injustice. They trained over 200 girls how to lift their voices in protest. After training, the girls argued their case for women’s rights before 60 village chiefs and lobbied Malawi’s President. The result : The Malawian Parliament passed a law banning child marriage.


Share your stories of inspiring programs to teach girls to lead.

The First Woman President!

In honor of Hillary Rodham Clinton clinching the majority of Democratic pledged delegates last night, I invite you to curl up with your kids and read…

Grace for President

by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

When Grace’s teacher rolls out a poster of all U.S. Presidents from George Washington forward, Grace is shocked that there are no girls on there. She decides to run for President herself – at school. Her opponent is a do-it-all-well BOY.

Each kid in the class represents one state and decides how to cast that state’s electoral votes. Wouldn’t you know… the boys hold a slight edge in electoral votes. Can Grace win anyway?

It’s a good time to introduce kids to the electoral process….and a female candidate!

Pegged for ages 9-12.

Share your favorite children’s books about girl power!

June Is Bustin’ Out All Over!

I keep humming this song from the play Carousel. June days are long. The weather is beautiful. The trees and plants are in full bloom.

Musical theater is so catchy. Songs from childhood shows (some from shows I performed, some from shows I watched) bubble up at the funniest times. Here are a couple of fun children’s books about the theater.

Oldie but Goodie

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch, is about a little girl who loves acting out stories. No character is off limits in Grace’s mind – she throws herself into the roles of Joan of Arc, Anansi the Spider, and Aladdin. When Grace’s teacher announces that the class will perform the play Peter Pan, Grace wants the lead. But her enthusiasm is dampened by her classmates’ skepticism that a black girl can take on this role.

With the support of her family and an outing to an inspiring dance performance, Grace follows her passion and tries out for the part of Peter Pan. Pegged for children ages 4-8.

New and Fabulous

Rifka Takes a Bow by Betty Rosenberg Perlov, illustrated by Cosei Kawa transports us back to the 1920s and a young Jewish girl grows up with an insider’s view of the Yiddish theater where her parents perform. Readers follow Rifka as she makes her way around the theater, through prop rooms and dressing rooms, trying on makeup and joking around with the actors, and finally ending up onstage where Rifka gets to perform herself. The pictures are wonderful, enveloping the reader in the magic of the theater. Pegged for grades K-3.

Share your favorite children’s books about the theater.