It’s awards season. Onward with the reviews!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

This year’s Newbery award winner is a magical novel for middle-schoolers. There is a witch in the forest. And the people in the town are familiar with her, are terrified of her. She wants to take the children away. The only way to save the many is to sacrifice one child each year. ..Or so they think.

The many-faceted plot builds from there, full of adventure and magic and love – the glue that binds all. An entrancing story that moves at a fast clip and leaves the reader breathless.

Pegged for grades 4-6.

Share your favorite fantasy books!

Teaching Love of Country

Today’s blog entry has been a hard one to write. Tomorrow is President’s Day, an in-your-face reminder of the turmoil roiling our country, in large part having to do with our new President. Some people will celebrate the change they hope this new person in the White House will bring. Others will march in protest of all that he represents. In the face of all this, what do we teach our kids? Perhaps, no matter what we feel about the current President, we can teach love of country.

Trying Times

We are in trying times. A lot of Americans do not love the current condition of their country. For many, it’s harder and harder to make ends meet. Time with family is harder and harder to squeeze in. Retirement recedes further and further from our grasp. It’s a scary time where hatred is palpable. People are often suspicious of those who look different, talk different, worship different. Some of us wish desperately for the good old days. Others of us wish just as desperately for a future that has been an elusive promise since the days of our founding fathers.

How, then, do we teach love of country in times like ours?

Teaching Love of Country

Maybe the greatest fundamental thing about our country that we can all (well almost all) agree on is that we live in a democracy. WE THE PEOPLE is how we roll. And our children can understand that from a pretty young age.

So, what to do?

Actually celebrate President’s Day. What an opportunity! A day off to share with our kids, to read about, talk about, watch movies about our country’s leaders, past and current. In my youth, we had a recording of a comedian named David Frye who did impressions of President Nixon. I may not have understood all the references but some of the issues sunk in. I also had a favorite book about Abe Lincoln. I loved it that he was called “honest Abe” and that he wore the simplest clothes. Somehow, that book gave me an image of what I thought “WE THE PEOPLE” should mean.

These stories might conjure up more than just thoughts about presidents past. Your child might be inspired to declare he or she will be president one day. Maybe explore your child’s Presidential agenda – sometimes an eye opener. Your child might rhapsodize about world peace. Or maybe about making school for kids optional.

Get involved with your kids. These days, my email box is flooded with suggestions of how to get involved. Right now, for example, our representatives are headed back to their hometowns, providing us, their constituents, a chance to meet with them, ask questions, raise our concerns. If you decide to attend, maybe take your child with you. Then stop for a smoothie or milk and cookies and talk about what happened.

Share your suggestions for teaching love of country.

The Importance of Teaching History

We are full into Black History Month. For four weeks, kids all across the country are reading about, talking about, writing about our country’s black ancestral history. Stories of contemporary bright lights such as Beyonce, Te-Nehisi Coates, and Barack Obama give way to stories of Ella Fitzgerald, Frederick Douglass, and Romare Bearden — men and women who lived and died before music videos and twitter. Why, then, is teaching black history important? Why teach history at all?

The other day, I went to a new doctor. Before being ushered into the examining room, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire. Name, age, height, weight. There was a checklist of chronic illnesses: cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure. One column asked me to check off any of these illnesses that I have personally experienced. A second column asked for my family history – did my parents, siblings, or grandparents suffer any of these illnesses.

By the time I was introduced to the doctor, she had read my questionnaire and already knew a lot about me. My history gave her valuable information that would be useful in dealing with my current state of being.

A couple of years ago, I saw a funny Saturday Night Live skit — a parody of Steve Jobs unveiling the latest IPod: The IPod Micro, the size of a razor blade with a storage capacity of 50,000 songs. Before Jobs finishes his pitch, he interrupts himself. The IPod Micro has been updated to the IPod Pequena, which holds a million songs. Before Jobs finishes this pitch, he interrupts himself again. The latest Ipod, the Invisa is just that – Invisible! And holds 8 million songs. Silly… but rings the truth – human beings are constantly building on our knowledge of current technology to take it a step further.

In the same way that our medical history is valuable to doctors and technological history is valuable to programmers , our country’s history is valuable to all of us. Yesterday, I saw the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.” I recommend that all Americans get to the theaters and see it. At one point James Baldwin is asked why history is important. He says, quite simply, “We are our history.”

We are our history but we don’t have to repeat our historical mistakes. Our history provides telling information that helps us think about and respond effectively to the issues of today. Avoid the pitfalls. Build on our successes. Study. Our world depends on it.

Share your favorite stories from history.

Black History Month

Today I recommend a book for Black History month. This is not the story of someone famous but a story of black history nonetheless.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson won the Newbery Award for this poetic memoir of her life growing up as an African-American child in the 1960s and 70s. Through her bird’s eye view, Woodson touches on the larger black experience with Jim Crow and the Civil RIghts movement. It’s all in the details and Woodson gets them just right leaving the reader with a powerful sense of the period with its joys and struggles. A must read.

Share your favorite black history stories!

Making the Super Bowl Super Fun for Kids

When I think of Super Bowl parties, I have to admit I get images of beer guzzling and colorful language. Which can be lots of fun. But what if you’re including kids at the party?

Here are some kid-friendly ideas to go alongside the adult partying:

GAMES. Kids get pretty bored with watching men – even helmeted men — running back and forth on TV for hours. They need games of their own that they can actually participate in. One way to address this is simply to have games that have nothing to do with the happenings on your TV screen. Another idea is to give kids a way to interact with the game itself. Play Super Bowl bingo. Bingo cards can include players, coaches, sportscasters, team apparel… anything you want! Each time a kid spots something from her Bingo card, she can fill in a square, until someone gets BINGO! Another game is a spinoff from one we used to play in the car. We used to look at signs along the road, trying to spy the letters of the alphabet in order. With so much action on your TV set, your kids will have lots of opportunities to catch letters popping up on the screen.

FOOD. No beers, of course, Chips are fine. But what about food that kids enjoy making. Homemade pizzas allow kids to choose their ingredients and watch their own individual pie being made. Fruit sticks. Put out a bunch of fruits and a pile of toothpicks. Let the kids build their own combinations and then pop them in their mouths. And, of course, the tried and true cookie-decorating activity. Choose sugar sprinkles in team colors. Allow kids to choose add-ins from an array of chocolate chips, coconut, peanuts, cinnamon-sugar sprinkles or your own special concoction.

Enjoy the party!

Super Bowl/Super Giving

Watching the Super Bowl this Sunday? Not sure yet where you want to park your tush to catch the football fireworks? I toss out for your consideration, joining in a watch party that has a charitable component to it. Here in Chicago, Otis Wilson (are you old enough to remember the Super Bowl Shuffle?!) is hosting a watch event at a price that’s not off-limits for most of us. The money goes to a youth mentoring program. Check out opportunities in your local area.

Enjoy the game!

Groundhog’s Day Recommendations

Whoo hoo! One of the days I anticipate all winter is…tomorrow! Groundhog’s Day! Hoping for Punxsutawney Phil to foretell an early spring. For kids who feel the same way I do, here are a couple of fun books about the fascinating subject of predicting the weather. Ahhhh.

Punxsutawney Phyllis is by Susanna Leonard Hill with illustrations by Jeffrey Ebbeler. Phyllis is an outdoor kind of girl and she knows her weather, including the signs of spring. But she’s a girl. Will she get her wish to be the next Punxsutawney forecaster? Read and find out! Pegged for ages 5-8.

The Kids’ Book of Weather Forecasting by Mark Breen and Kathleen Friestad with illustrations by Michael Kline is chock full of experiments and other activities that will teach kids to predict the weather. Have great fun while learning weather science! For grades 3-5.