Personal Safety

Partners in Practice

September is International Child Protection Month, and we are delighted to announce our partnership with Kidpower, the 25-year-old global non-profit dedicated to teaching positive, practical, personal safety skills to people of all ages.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Kidpower founder Irene van der Zande and listened as she told a group of adults about the incident that inspired her to start the organization. It’s a powerful story  to be sure, but to hear her tell it in person is downright chilling; you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone in that room to disagree with the assertion that child safety is important. But that’s just it. Child safety is a no-brainer. Of course we want our children to be safe. What resonated with me was van der Zande’s admonishment that we practice child safety. Just as we practice crossing the street with our children—holding hands, looking both ways, being vigilant—we need to help them practice being safe with people.

In her Kidpower safety comics, van der Zande writes that children learn better by doing than by being told what to do, and gives adult caregivers tips for practicing child safety through “calm conversations, fun hands-on practice, and enthusiastic encouragement.” She encourages adults to “integrate People Safety skills into your daily life, coaching children so they are successful—in the same way that you might prepare children to be safe with water, food, fire, cars, and bikes.”

So I’m taking her advice to heart and setting a goal to practice safety with my children every day. International Child Protection Month is important because it invites caring adults to come together for a month of action, and shines a light on the important issue of child safety. But to make a change that counts, our efforts should be year-round.

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Featured Young Writer of the Month: What Does Being Safe Mean To Kids?

Over the past few weeks there have been a plethora of stories in the news that have been, not to put too fine a point on it, disturbing and horrible. As adults, we see the world whizz by and try to remain informed but not overwhelmed by all the information we take in daily. Some days, I have to take small bites of the world news instead of ingesting it all at once. I am convinced that my friends feel the same way once we talk and lament trying to simultaneously inform and shield our children from the horrors of the world.

The difficulty in being an adult or parent or teacher is found in that very lesson.

With that said, I am worried about what the pre-teens and teens in my school know about the news. Naturally, I ask them about what they know and how they’re responding to the world as it, like us, whizzes past. They have every social media app that’s available. They catch the news with their families at home. They talk about it very easily in their adolescent speech peppered with questions and comments. For me, most importantly, they allow me into their world once they’ve learned to trust me.

During that first week of school I overheard many of them discussing injustice they see happening in Ferguson, Missouri (which, as of this writing, hasn’t entirely come to a standstill). Of course, I did what all teachers do and asked clarifying questions to find out what they knew. This is the most important step in talking to kids: find out what they know first. That discussion led me to asking them about safety and what, in their world, makes them feel safe.

What makes you feel safe?

James - I feel most safe when people tell me the truth. Sometimes the adults in my life don’t want me to know things but I know more than they think.

Francis - My safety comes from my mom. She does all the things a mom is supposed to do; she feeds me, clothes me, and teaches me how to stand up for myself.

Kara - Everything is changing and I don’t always feel safe. But safety feels like being fair. My family isn’t always fair and, yeah, I know I’m supposed to obey my mom and dad but their rules don’t always feel fair. Deep down I know that the rules are there for my safety even though I don’t always like it.

Chiara - I don’t feel safe. Everything seems bad right now. My dad doesn’t know I keep up with the news on Twitter and Tumblr and everything is bad. It seems like the rules we have aren’t even doing that right now. Is the world always like this?

Taylor - I know I’m supposed to feel safe but there are real threats when I walk home from school. A mean dog that’s never locked up and a man who always yells stuff at me. I put on my headphones to ignore him, but how can I be safe in the world? I’m safe at school where I know people care about me and I’m safe at home with my mom and brothers. But everywhere else? With everything happening? I’m not safe. How can I even keep my little brother safe?

My students make some good arguments for safety and they’re in the throes of living as an adolescent: somewhere between childhood and adulthood. It’s a scary time when they become aware of the dangers in the world and the best we can do, to help them feel safe, is to ensure them of what Mr. Rogers said:

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Helpers come in all forms and for kids in the middle grades that can mean adults, parents, teachers, and friends. In helping to keep our children safe we must assure and prove to them that there is good in the world and that there are people who want to improve it. It’s an active process that these young writers, even in short quotes, can teach us.

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If you’re having this discussion with your children, tell us what you’re learning from them. For a primer on starting this talk with young children, please check out Rana DiOrio’s book What Does It Mean to Be Safe? You can also check out our shop to purchase directly from Little Pickle Press.

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CASA

CASA Is Where the Heart Is

Sometimes, being the change we seek doesn’t mean looking at the big picture. Sometimes the view can and must narrow down to looking at one child. LPP’s Creative Consultant Leslie Iorillo knows this firsthand; she’s deeply involved with CASA, the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children.

From the CASA website: “CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.”

Although drawn to CASA and its mission, Leslie was at first hesitant to reach out to the organization. “My friend’s mom was involved, so I’d known about it for a while; I thought you needed a degree in law or social work to be a part. After reading My Sister’s Keeper, which includes a CASA character, I realized that this was something I could do. After getting settled, I took the training at the county’s children’s advocates office.”

That was only the beginning; Leslie studies hard on a regular basis. “I do four to six workshops a year, plus a lot of reading for continuing education. Not just law, either. CASA workers study trauma and anything else that might impact a child. I’ve had to study writing! I write a report to the judge about every six months, and these reports have to be free of speculation and subjective views.”

Being an advocate can require nerves of steel and a spine to match. “I’m the micro-perspective,” says Leslie. “Our focus has to be what is best for the kids, not necessarily the family or the lawyers and social workers. It’s hard, but some things have to be said.”

Sometimes heartbreaking, often underappreciated, but ultimately rewarding, being a CASA advocate isn’t a job for everyone. Why does Leslie do it? “I just felt compelled. I saw a woman who was involved, and I was struck by the desire to be a voice for these kids.”

You can provide a voice, too. Visit the CASA website to learn how you can donate or volunteer, or check out the LPP shop to find out how your purchase supports International Child Safety Month.

Kidpower Partnership

The Perfect Partnership:

Kidpower, Little Pickle Press, and YOU!

Little Pickle Press is incredibly proud to be embarking on an important and meaningful relationship with Kidpower. We are kicking off this alliance by being a founding partner of International Child Protection Month. This month, Little Pickle Press, Kidpower, and all of the individuals, families, schools, organizations, businesses, and agencies involved are taking action to honor, inspire, and support adult leadership worldwide to promote and protect the safety and well-being of young people. At Little Pickle Press, we are honoring our commitment by donating 25% of sales to Kidpower when you purchase a book on our website, using the code “KidpowerSafe.”

We are excited to be strengthening our ties to an internationally recognized organization such as Kidpower; it shares so many of our core values. We believe that children’s minds should be opened to intelligent, engaging, and caring discussions about issues that can and do matter most to them. How best to ensure their own safety and get help when they need it is one such issue. Our title, What Does it Mean to be Safe? tackles this very issue. Kidpower offers its own Safety Comics which similarly provides young people with real-life examples of how to protect themselves, while utilizing a non-threatening teaching style.

As we continue to deepen our relationship with this fantastic organization in the coming months and years, we urge you to consider all of the young people in your life, and extend the Kidpower Protection Promise™ to them:

You are VERY important to me!

If you have a safety problem, I want to know—

even if I seem too busy,

even if someone we care about will be upset,

even if it is embarrassing, and

even if you made a mistake. 

Please tell me, and I will do everything in my power to help you.

Wild Rumpus

Featured Customer of the Month:

Wild Rumpus Books

When you step through the lovely purple door at Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis, be prepared to be surprised! A visit to this exceptional Indie bookstore is an adventure in itself.

During its twenty-year course, Wild Rumpus has had a sort of conversation with the book The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer. In 1992, we first used this story as a kind of blueprint for building the store. And today it continues to teach us about books and young people, and about adults who love them … Architecture …  allows us a front-to-back spatial progression. Our store’s front doors open into a fairly conventional interior with carpet, a comfortable reading chair and floorlamp. Midway, things begin to change, there’s a tree-trimmer sheetrocked in the ceiling on a ladder, and the ceiling itself at this point starts to crack open to the sky. At the back, with birds above and rats beneath a garden shed, the store wants you to feel like you’re outside.

Birds? Rats? Well, yes, and cats! While browsing through the store’s extensive collection of children’s books, you may very well meet up with one of many tail-less Manx cats like Trini, Sumo Mouse or Daniel. Speaking of mice (or rats), try not to jump if Tilly and Pip stop by to say hello to you. Ever heard of  a chinchilla? Well, after a visit to Wild Rumpus you can claim the acquaintance of not just one, but two, Amelia and Mr. Skeeter. Believe it or not, all of these animals and more call the bookstore their home.

For a really wild time, stop in at the store for Tail Time every Monday at 10:30 am. At Tail Time, you can listen to stories, sing some songs, and generally make a ruckus. While you’re there, sign up for a book club and receive 20% off of any books featured in any of the store’s book clubs, such as The Book Eaters (ages 2-3), The Ink Drinkers (ages 4-6), or Beer and Comics (21 and up).

The store also offers special events such as the PJ Party on the Trolley (Yes, you read that right. Make sure your jammies are nice and clean!). In the Rumpus Reads program, Wild Rumpus picks one middle grade book and one young adult/adult book for a community reading event which goes throughout the month of August. Then, at the end of the month, they host parties with the authors (one for each book).

If you like to walk on the wild side, then Wild Rumpus is the store for you!

Kidpower

Kidpower: Working Together to Keep Kids Safe

Join Us for International Child Protection Month!

We at Kidpower are honored to have Little Pickle Press as a Founding Partner for International Child Protection Month because of its mission, philosophy, and commitment to excellence. I want to share the story about how Kidpower started, what we do, why our nonprofit organization decided to establish International Child Protection Month, and what actions you can take to join us.

It goes back to 1985, when my family was young. On a field trip with eight young children, including my own daughter and son, in a public place with people standing all around, a man suddenly came charging towards us. He was shouting that he wanted to take one of the girls. This was a classic case of the Bystander Effect, because everyone froze, except for me.

I did what I think anyone would do to protect the kids in their care. I put myself in between the man and the children and shouted at him to leave us alone. I then ordered a man standing watching us with his mouth dropped open, “Get over here and help us! Can’t you see these kids are scared?” When this bystander very reluctantly came to stand next to me, the attacker ran away.

The kids were fine. What they saw was that I yelled, and the bad guy ran away. But I wasn’t fine. Having this experience left me with a lot of troubling questions. What if this man had knocked me down? What if he had managed even to touch one of the kids? And what about the unprotected children that he probably went on to assault? After taking a self-defense class for myself to answer the first question, I also wanted to know how to teach kids to be safe with people without making them anxious or scared.

Kidpower was born in 1989 out of my search for answers. Instead of using fear to teach about violence prevention, Kidpower makes it fun to learn to stay safe! Instead of just talking about problems with people, Kidpower provides the opportunity for successful practice of practical tools about the words to say and the actions to take to deal effectively with difficult or dangerous behavior.

When we started, many of our advisors in mental health, law enforcement, and education told us, “If you just teach skills to children, you are not doing your job. Putting the entire burden for staying safe on kids is unfair, and these skills won’t work nearly as well without ongoing adult support. Their parents, teachers, and other involved adults have far more power and responsibility. They should be the ones in charge of their children’s well-being and of helping them to use these safety skills in their daily activities.”

This is why for the past 25 years, in addition to teaching children, Kidpower has been teaching adults what they need to know and do to keep their kids safe and to prepare their children to take charge of their own emotional and physical well-being, including how to develop positive relationships that can enrich their lives.

We decided to establish September as the first International Child Protection Month in order to honor, inspire, and support adult leadership worldwide in protecting young people from harm and in empowering them with skills and knowledge for taking charge of their own well-being. This month, we at Kidpower along with individuals, families, schools, organizations, businesses, and agencies are taking action to honor, inspire, and support adult leadership worldwide to promote and protect the safety and well-being of young people.

We want to thank Little Pickle Press for its partnership, including donating 25% of the sale of its delightful, educational, and empowering books for children to Kidpower to help support this important initiative. You can use the code KidpowerSafe when ordering.

We hope you will join in by learning more and by using and sharing free online posters and other educational resources about actions each of us can take to protect and empower children and teens. You can:

  1. Make the Kidpower Put Safety First Commitment™
  2. Make the Kidpower Protection Promise™ to Young People in Your Life
  3. Become a Child Protection Month Partner
  4. Act as a Protector of Children and Teens

Every adult who makes the Kidpower Put Safety First Commitment makes life better for kids. Every individual or agency sharing International Child Protection Month information is taking a stand for the safety of young people.  Please fororward this blog post to friends, family ,and organizations with young people in their care.

By taking these actions, you will be helping us reach our first-year goal of having 50,000 caring adults pledge this September to live and act in ways that protect the safety and well-being of young people.

For more information, please visit: www.ChildProtectionMonth.org

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Irene with Kidpower Co-founder Timothy Dunphy.

From the Kidpower website: Irene graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in June 1969 with a degree in Psychology. She received her initial training as a VISTA Volunteer, setting up services on Indian reservations and in small towns in Iowa and Nebraska. She trained other volunteers to work in both inner city barrios and rural communities, and her focus on training others to share learning continues todaywith Kidpower.” Irene has also written numerous books and articles about self-protection and child development.

LPP is excited and grateful to be partnered with such a dynamic, forward-thinking organization. In support of International Child Protection Month, Little Pickle Press will donate 25% of sales to Kidpower when you use the KidPowerSafe promo code at checkout. Turn your buying power into Kidpower!

Vail Public Library

Featured Library of the Month:

Vail Public Library

Vail, Colorado, is famous for its ski slopes, drawing thousands of people a year to the area to play in the snow. If you happen to find yourself in Vail this winter, be sure that you make time to drop in at the Vail Public Library.

One of our favorite programs at the library is Reading Buddies. In this program, volunteer middle and high school students are matched with children in grades 1-3 for a one-hour reading time once per week. The Reading Buddies Program meets at the Vail Public Library for an eight-week session during the school year and a six-week session in the summer.  The one-hour program includes a group activity, one on one reading, reflection time, and games. The purpose of Reading Buddies is to provide a leadership, responsibility, and community service opportunity by facilitating middle and high school mentors to help foster a love of reading in elementary school students.

In addition to children’s story times, Vail Public Library is also a participant in the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, wherein parents and caregivers encourage and assist children to reach the goal of reading 1,000 books before entering Kindergarten. It sounds daunting, but it only takes one book a day for three years!

For teens, Vail Library offers Homework Help, a program in which employees help teenagers use the extensive library databases to assist them in research in any area of study. The Town of Vail Public Library’s media collection called ‘Playaways” boasts many titles for teens/young adults.  It is an audio book pre-uploaded onto self-contained MP3 players for convenience and simplicity.

The library also hosts many events geared to bring people together to socialize and expand their horizons. In August the Living History program featured Molly Brown, portrayed by Mary Jane Bradbury, as well as a workshop in making “brag books” as keepsakes or gifts.

When you get tired and cold from skiing the famous Vail ski slopes, make a point to stop in at Vail Public Library and see all that they have to offer!

Safety Comics

First Friday Book Review:

Kidpower Safety Comics for Adults with Kids Ages 3-10

As a parent, thinking about how to teach my two young kids to stay safe is, well, downright scary. It forces me to think about all the dangerous, uncomfortable, and complex situations our kids can face when we can’t be there to protect them. On top of my own fears, it also raises the question: “How do I teach my kids to be safe while not scaring them?”

That’s where KidPower and its incredible line of training materials come in. They have mastered an approachable, effective, and fun way to help our kids tap into their own power to keep themselves safe. KidPower’s underlying principle is that “the safety and self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.”

Specifically, Kidpower Safety Comics for Adults with Kids Ages 3-10 provides “entertaining cartoons and engaging social stories making it easy for adults to provide crucial knowledge and skills so our children can learn to be safe with people they know and with strangers.” The book encourages us, the adults in our children’s lives, to read the stories together with our kids and act out the scenes portrayed. The stories are adaptable and can be easily made to fit each child’s age, unique situation, and abilities.

Important concepts are addressed in several comics to show how they play out in different situations. “Checking first” is one such concept. A comic shows a little girl playing in front of her house. A stranger comes up, calling her by name and saying she knows the girl’s mom. The little girl moves away and goes inside to “check first” with her mom. Her mom responds by thanking her for checking in and praising her safety skills in front of the friend. The message is that the girls’ safety is far more important than any inconvenience or offense to the unknown friend when the little girl moved away from her.

The very next comic sets out the exception to the rule—when there is an emergency sometimes you cannot “check first.” In those cases, it is okay to get help from others such as a paramedic, a firefighter, a search party, or a parent with children. The corresponding stories are set up to spark discussion and meaningful interactions between adults and children so the safety rules come to life.

All parents should have these important conversations with their children.  Kidpower, through its Safety Comics, provides us with just the examples, words, and pictures to make these conversations so impactful.

KidPower’s Safety Comics, and all their instructional materials, are available on Amazon or by contacting safety@kidpower.org for discounts on orders of 20 or more.

Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International is a global non-profit leader in teaching positive, practical personal safety skills to protect people of all ages and abilities from bullying, molestation, abduction, and other violence—and to prepare them to develop positive relationships that enrich their lives. We are celebrating 25 years of preparing families, schools, and youth organizations to prevent bullying, child abuse, and kidnapping. Kidpower makes it FUN (not scary) to learn to be safe!

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The Priceless Gift of Safety by Pamela Price

Today’s article is a reprint from the blog of Pamela Price from her blog, Red, White & Grew. 

Safety.

It’s at the heart of so many discussions when one first becomes a parent.

Yet when you move past the basic childhood safety devices—car seat restraints, minimizing access to items that will lead to choking, a dizzying array of kid-proof drawer and door locks—one gradually comes to realize that the definition of “safety” is somewhat relative.

Yes, while one parent may cringe quietly at the noise coming from two rowdy small boys tussling in the living room like puppies, another may be convinced that a trip to the emergency is inevitable and rush to stop the kids. Of course whether you think that roughhousing “builds character” or is a fast-track to teenage delinquency depends a lot on your own personal experience and culture.

Now if you remove yourself from your own culture, your own language, and your own comfort zone, then the definition of safety becomes even moreslippery. And what do you do when you have an extenuating circumstance, a personal health obstacle like a food allergy, that renders otherwise harmless situations potentially dangerous?

We encountered this situation first hand when we traveled abroad last spring. Eager to show our child more of the world, we arranged to fly to Paris, travel via train to England, and fly home from London.  Our son, like so many children of his generation, is allergic to peanuts. We naively figured that in Europe and England, where governmental agencies are more aggressive about product labeling to protect food allergic citizens, we’d have less to worry about with regard to peanuts.

We were wrong.

You see in Europe lupin flour is increasingly used in mass-market products such as pasta and bread dough. Unfortunately, people with peanut allergies also appear to be allergic to lupin (both are legumes) and exposure can result in anaphylaxis or potentially even death. (Note that lupin flour is increasingly making its way stateside in gluten-free products.)

Thanks to some pre-trip sleuthing on our part, we came up with a game plan to protect our son’s well-being on our vacation. We arranged to carry an extra Epi-Pen. We learned every French word related to peanuts, legumes, lupin, and nuts.  Ultimately, we decided to stay in a modestly priced apartment in Paris so we could prepare most of our own food.

This last decision ended up being a hidden gift wrapped up in our worries. In taking responsibility for our own food choices, we spent more time daily shopping for our bread, fruits, meats, and other items. Consequently, we learned more vocabulary words and came away with a better appreciation of what it means to live as Parisians.

There’s a larger truth revealed here, one much greater than “We played it safe on our vacation and avoided an allergic reaction.” By intentionally putting safety first we didn’t narrow our experience of Paris, we expanded it. Moreover, on the trip we were reminded that cultivating safety is as much about nurturing well-being as is eating right and getting enough sleep.

Which really makes me wonder why we parents don’t openly talk about it as such.

Along those lines,  I can recommend to you an excellent children’s book on the topic of safety that will help you open the door to thoughtful, intelligent, and loving discussions about it.

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The book is published by Little Pickle Press, written by LPP founder Rana DiOrio and is titled What Does It Mean to Be Safe?. Sandra Salsbury’s illustrations are warm, colorful, and engaging. The text is direct (“Being safe means… not tolerating bullying… not revealing information from yourself to strangers…”) and therefore easy for parents to riff on the themes at story time.  In short, it’s a winner.

As mentioned above, today’s post was written as part of LPP’s blog book tour. If you’re interested in purchasing the book from LPP, note that there is a free shipping code (BBTSAFE) that you can use at checkout. If you do use it, be sure to add a Safe poster to your book order, and you’ll also receive it free. It’s printed on TerraSkin, a tree-free paper.

Thank you to Pamela for writing and sharing this post with us today. Please visit her blog theRedWhiteandGrew.com feed and to follow Pamela on Facebook and Twitter.

Dhana EcoKids

Featured Customer of the Month:

Dhana EcoKids

If you have children in your life, you know that “organic” clothing is all the rage right now, as people look for clothing that is good for their kids and for the environment. Scratch below the surface of many clothing lines that claim to be organic, and things don’t always look so pretty. For one thing, the word “organic” itself has as many definitions as products it is used to describe. For another, the clothing may be organic, but is often produced in a way that is harmful to the environment—and to the people making the clothing for consumers to buy. Confused? Make it easy on yourself by taking some time to get to know our featured BCorp of the month, Dhana Ecokids.

Dhana Ecokids sets a high standard, and as a result their customers can rely on their forthrightness and reliability while at the same time dressing their children in beautiful, well-crafted garments. Dhana doesn’t hide behind catch phrases. Instead, they clearly define all the terms they use on their website.

Want to know what Dhana means when they say “organic”?

“In simplest terms, organic means that a product is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. According to the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), organic agricultural products are also “produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.”

To this end, they use only Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton to make all of their kids’ fashions. GOTS certification includes both ecological and social criteria, and is backed by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain.

How about “fair trade?”

“In plain English, “fair trade” means that the workers who create our goods enjoy safe working conditions, reasonable hours, and a living wage, and are treated with respect as human beings.” 

Dhana has the certifications to back up all of their claims, including BCorp, Social Accountability International Certified, Green America Gold Certified, and others. Clearly a corporation that believes in walking their talk, just like us at Little Pickle Press!

Dhana Ecokids considers their values to be a guiding light for the company. Not only is their clothing sustainable and organic, they are dedicated to diversity and maintaining a strong connection with nature. They also donate a percentage of their to communities all over the world, and strive to raise environmental awareness in whatever way they can.
Beautiful, high quality children’s clothing from a company that truly cares about the world around them and strives to make a difference. What are you waiting for? Visit Dhana Ecokids today!

 

White Out

White Out

The following piece was originally published on the Neumannic Times blog. We would like to thank the author for permission to post these thought-provoking words.

“This place sucks … I mean, not this place (she’s referring to my classroom), but (insert swirling hand motion as if to indicate this high school as a whole) … thhiissss place.”

Me: Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying.

Senior Girl: The walls are so bland.

Senior Boy: It’s depressing. They’re all beige. Next thing you know, they’ll have us wearing matching uniforms and planning to invade Eurasia.

Insert a collective processing pause.

Emily: I don’t get it.

Senior Boy rolls his eyes and lets out a laconic sigh. “Jesus, Emily! We’re not really going to invade Eurasia … I was trying to—Oh never mind!”

Me: No I get what you’re saying. The hallways around here do have a sort of institutionalized flavor to them.

Senior Boy: Everywhere you turn. It’s just different shades of brown. Is that supposed to be conducive to creativity?

Me: Valid question. I can’t remember when this happened, but were you guys here before the White Out? Like, before all the murals and stuff were erased? When the walls still had color?

White Out

Several students chime in, “Yeah! We were freshmen. There were murals everywhere! Then they painted over all of them.”

Me: I know. T’was kind of sad. I painted a lot of those.

Senior: You did?

Intercom: Teachers and Students, please pardon the interruption. Due to the impending inclement weather, we will be dismissing students from school 2 hours early, at 1:30. All classes for the remainder of the day will be 30 minutes long. Teachers, please check your email for the updated bell schedule.”

Wish I would’ve taken a picture of everyone’s reaction after the intercom spoke, because in that moment, everyone won the lottery. Everyone was a winner, and if you’d never yelled, “Yahtzee!” in your life, that was the perfect moment to rejoice. I’ve read about the weight of the world residing on people’s shoulders; even written about it. One thing I’d never seen though, at least until that moment, was the weight of the world actually being lifted off people’s shoulders. Tell students they’re gonna be dismissed from school early, and that it’s because of snow, and they’re floating. Carefree. Giddy. Weightless. The excitement is electric.

Out in the hallway, a boy broke free from his class and ran down the hallways shouting, “THERE ARE NO RULES! THIS IS THE APOCALYPSE!! NO RULES! HIDE YOUR CHILDREN! HIDE YOUR WIVES! THERE ARE NO RULES! …”

Hyperbole perhaps. Foreshadowing of things to come? I’ll let the reader decide. But if you were anywhere in Metro Atlanta around 1:00 PM on January 28th, 2014, the notion of an apocalypse wasn’t too much of a stretch. No need to relive the dysfunctional calamity of what happened next. Atlanta became an episode of The Walking Dead.

I left school at 4:00 PM that afternoon, and returned at 6:45 PM. The plan was to drive home (Downtown Atlanta), but I couldn’t even reach access roads to the interstate. There were just too many wrecks. Having admitted defeat, I made my way back to Pope High School. The revised plan, and only feasible option, was to crash at my parents’ house. They live across the street from Pope, but I needed to retrieve some contact solution from my classroom. So, enter, once again, I did.

Principal: Ryan! What are you doing back here?

Me: Forgot something.

Principal: Forgot something! Where do you live?

Me: Next to the Georgia Dome.

Principal: And you came back because you forgot something?

Me: Yeah. But my folks live around here. So, gonna crash at their place tonight.

Principal: Well be careful!

He begins walking, hurriedly down a nearby hallway; appearing concerned about something.

Me: Will do. What are you still doing here?

Still walking, he replies, “We still have students here! I’m not leaving ‘til their parents are able to come get them!”

His voice trails off.

Walking towards my classroom, I pass many of the walls that once portrayed murals. Some painted by me. Others by peers. They’re all buried by several coats of beige now. And unless you were here before the school was renovated a few years ago, you’d never know there were murals to begin with. It’s kind of a weird feeling. Seeing projects you devoted so many summers to, erased. Like it never happened.

While this isn’t the root cause of my distaste for artistic endeavors, it was one of the final nails in the coffin. Seeing the blank walls every day creates somewhat of an indifferent disposition, like “What’s the point? Why bother with art if it’s just going to be erased?” Guess that’s the jaded idealistic side of me going emo for a second.

The realist side recognizes the murals weren’t going to last forever. At some point, they’d have to go away for one reason or another. So what’s the big deal? No use in crying over spilled guineas, right? Oh wait … that was Jack Nicholson in The Departed. It’s Milk! No use crying over spilled milk.

Anyway, I suppose it’s more ironic than anything else. Student returns to his alma mater a teacher. Hired in part for his creative tendencies in the classroom, he returns to find that the paintings he was once commissioned to paint have become, for lack of a better phrase, collateral damage. Well that, and one of the core beliefs of the Cobb County School District state that “creativity and innovation are encouraged and embraced by all stakeholders.”

Who knows? Maybe I just didn’t get the memo.

Every once and awhile, I’ll pause at a wall that used to contain a mural. For a moment, I’ll glance and see the picture that once was. I try not to stare for long; having already established a reputation for some of my more awkward quirks as a teacher, I’d hate to compound the matter further by earning the additional label of, “that weird teacher who stares at blank walls.”

So I shake it out and move on. Out of the building. Into the snow. Where the paralysis brought on by Winter Storm Leon creates a white out of its own; facilitating a silence that is deafening.

White Out

Artwork courtesy of Ryan Neumann.

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John Green Titles: Perfect YA Reads

John Green’s name is on the lips of every middle schooler I know right now. In fact, he’s been a fixture in middle schools for a few years and has several books and short stories under his belt. John won the 2006 Printz Award for his debut novel, Looking for Alaska,  and is currently holding strong to number 1 spots on book lists for the popular The Fault in Our Stars. Green is so popular that he was included as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in Time magazine because he’s so charismatic and busy with multiple platforms of writing and speaking. This is a man who calls his fans nerdfighters and they love it.

Why John Green?

Last year, The Guardian published an interview with John Green that offered a peek into what makes his writing so relatable to teens. In it, he says which, as an educator, I can wholeheartedly agree and that is that he’s “…tired of adults telling teenagers that they aren’t smart” and his writing reflects his beliefs about the realness, including all the hard parts, about being a teenager:

Teenagers are doing so many things for the first time, says John Green, and asking big questions about life, loss, love and politics. He is clearly very interested in teens and what they experience and encounter in their childhood. When he replied to my question about what makes writing for teenagers so interesting, I felt like I was talking to another adolescent.

Since we’re promoting a love of Reading Not Tweeting this month, we wanted to provide a list of perfect YA titles with a short synopsis from the inimitable John Green that you can introduce to your teen or that you can read for yourself if you haven’t already!

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By far, Green’s most popular work that turned into a blockbuster at the movie theaters this summer, was The Fault in Our Stars. Personally, when I read it I couldn’t put it down and had to complete it in one sitting. Hazel has been afforded a medical miracle that has helped her tumor shrink  but she knows, as well as anyone with a sense of understanding of the fragility of life, that it’s a terminal diagnosis. Suddenly, though, a new guy shows up at her Cancer Kid Support Group and we’re introduced to Augustus Waters who challenges her at every turn and offers her a final chapter that is alarmingly thoughtful and beautiful. Teens who read this all seem to love the strong feelings offered in this book and can relate to Hazel’s sense of apprehension of the possibility of love. 

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Teenagers love a good love story, but Colin Singleton’s experience with girls who all share the name Katherine, won’t deliver. He keeps getting dumped and is up to 19 Katherines by the time we meet this character. In order to make sense of this, he and his best friend 
Hassan, go on a road trip without a destination. Colin loves anagrams and is living with the past of being a prodigy. Somewhat of a genius, Colin sets out to prove his Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability. On the way, we’re treated to interesting characters, a dead archduke’s bones, and a heartening and hilarious ending that allows teens to realize that they can reinvent themselves.

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John’s debut novel, Looking for Alaska, debuted in 2006 and won the Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association. It’s about Miles “Pudge” Halter whose life feels like one big non-moment. Pudge has a preoccupation with famous last words and his whole existence has been one big nonevent. His obsession with famous last words leads him to Culver Creek Boarding School where he’s put in risky situation with the destructive Alaska Young, a girl who seems to have it all as well as a life full of the opposite of what Pudge has experienced. She teaches him that risks are good even as she’s stealing his heart.

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The main character is so wonderful that John Green went ahead and put it it in the title. Twice. But don’t let that make you think that Tiny Cooper, another character, isn’t entirely important and interesting. But, that’s just the thing: there’s another teen named Will Grayson just like our main character. He wrote this book with David Levithan. The common theme you’ll find in John Green books is that there is nothing but possibility and magic and the power to look beyond yourself which probably makes them so endearing to teens who are hoping to find the same in their lives. I’ve noticed that more mature YA readers tend to check this one out of the library. 

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You know how it goes. You’re a kid with an awesome name (Quentin Q. Jacobson) and someone you haven’t thought about since the time you both discovered a dead body in the park shows up at your window dressed like a ninja with black paint on her face comes to see you. Typical evening, right? But, why stop there? Why not break into houses and leave mysterious clues for people and then wake up the next day for school as if nothing happened? But, something did happen. And Quentin and Margo Roth Spiegelman know that something happened. What, exactly? As Quentin tries to get closer to Margo he realizes that he doesn’t really know her anymore. Green’s theme of delving into the personal while digging up the past is haunting and teens love when that happens.

Want More John Green?

In 2007, John and his brother Hank hosted a popular internet blog, “Brotherhood 2.0,” where they discussed the happenings in their lives, books they liked and read as well as current events. They created a vlog every day for a year and then continued vlogging. You can follow John and Hank Green’s vlog, The VlogBrothers, here, and you can read John’s Tumblr page here.
Photo credit: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (John GreenUploaded by MaybeMaybeMaybe) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Courtney Leonard, buildOn supporter.

Featured Young Writer of the Month: Courtney Leonard, Making a Difference in Nicaragua

Courtney Leonard

On July 1, 2014, seven high school students from Reno, Nevada travelled to the tiny village of Bambu, Nicaragua to build a school for the impoverished families living there. These students had spent the better part of the previous school year raising over $30,000 to fund the actual materials and construction of the school. They went with a national non-profit organization called buildOn, a group striving to better the world through education by building schools in third world countries. buildOn works in Mali, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Nicaragua, Haiti, Senegal, and Nepal. In these countries, they travel to villages in which the families fall below the poverty line. Furthermore, these villages do not have schools suitable for a learning environment.

The buildOn crew!

The buildOn organization was started by Jim Ziolkowski, author of Walk in Their Shoes: Can One Person Change the World?, who built his first school in Malawi in the early 1990’s and is now part of buildOn’s movement. buildOn not only helps students in developing countries, but it also betters the lives of high school students in the United States. In cities where high school students will likely end up associating themselves with gangs and other unsafe groups, buildOn gives these students an opportunity to be part of something greater and not only become passionate about it, but to better the lives of other people around the world while also bettering their own lives. Over 500 schools have been built around the world through the efforts of buildOn!

This year’s trip to Nicaragua demonstrated to these students from Reno, Nevada how different third world countries truly are. Despite many problems in the United States, children are still faced with much greater opportunities here than they are presented with in places like Bambu. Bambu was a two hour drive away from any city in Nicaragua, and was located in the remote mountains. The village has limited roads, no plumbing, running water, or other luxuries that we consider to be necessities in the US. The little electricity they had allowed for two single light bulbs in each house and nothing else.

Future students of the buildOn school.

Not only are the accomodations in their homes scarce, but the resources in their schools are even more meager. The previous “schoolhouse” was nothing more than a single wall, a tin roof supported by branches, a whiteboard, and a few rows of desks.  The children did not possess books and merely had a single small notebook and perhaps a pencil or pen. Ages four through thirteen shared the same classroom and sat through the same lessons directed by two teachers (both under the age of 20). The buildOn organization and the students traveling on the trek, helped to build a two-classroom, four-walled cinderblock schoolhouse with concrete flooring and a substantial roof. Additionally, buildOn partners with the local district government to ensure that they will provide teachers, books, desks, and other learning materials.   They also guarantee that at least 50% of the students will be girls.

Ready to learn, with help from buildOn.

However, one of my biggest takeaways is that the children and young adults are so eager to learn! While most of the adult male villagers work on the local coffee plantation and the women stay at home, it was exciting to hear the dreams and ambitions of the young children of the village: “I want to be a doctor, teacher, lawyer, engineer, etc.” The gift of education can help these children realize their dreams, as well as improve the lives of the villagers around them.

My other eye-opening observation was that despite lack of the “creature comforts” that we expect to have in the USA, these people were still truly happy without all of the excess we have in our lives. Other than the occasional crying baby, not once did we hear a raised voice, see an unhappy face, or see a downtrodden look. The younger generation interacted continuously and seamlessly with the older generation, and there was always a steady stream of visitors through the humble home we shared with our host family. Everyone was always smiling! In fact, we had so many visitors in our family’s home that until the last day we were never sure who was and was not a member of the extended family! While I was happy to come home to a toilet vs. a latrine, a hot shower, and a meal other than rice and beans, I truly missed the simplicity of life in the village. We rose at 4:30 each morning with the sun to make tortillas with our “house mom,” and were working on the construction site side-by-side with the villagers by 7am, followed by a well-balanced lunch of more rice & beans at noon. Afternoons were filled with learning to cook traditional Nicaraguan meals, touring the coffee plantations, hiking to waterfalls in the amazing countryside or playing pato pato ganza (duck duck goose) and “London Bridge” with the children. Dinner was a light meal followed by story-telling and games with our village families. We introduced them to Uno, Jenga, Yahtzee, marbles … Lights out by 7:30 as the sun went down and darkness settled upon the village.

The most difficult part was saying goodbye. It is unlikely that we will ever return to the village, but we have become long-distance relatives to our host families and will do our best to remain in touch despite the communication challenges. And who knows, maybe someday we shall see the name of one of the children of our village of Bambu make the national headlines of Nicaragua or the international stage of the U.N.

As a final contribution to the new school, Little Pickle Press generously donated over 25 copies of “Your Fantastic Elastic Brain” to these children. These children have always been so grateful for what we have given them, and thus showed great appreciation for the books. We could not be more grateful for the help that Little Pickle Press has given to us!

Courtney Leonard is a senior at Sage Ridge School in Reno, Nevada.  She has been a member of the Sage Ridge School buildOn Chapter since her freshman year, contributing to raising over $60,000 each year to build schools in impoverished third world countries.  She participated in the treks to build the schools in Nicaragua in her sophomore and junior years.  This year, she is the President of the buildOn Chapter at Sage Ridge and will head up the efforts to raise another $30,000-$60,000 to build two more schools next summer. This year’s goal is to raise money to build one or two schools in Haiti.

Courtney is also active in her schools’ theatre program, is the co-editor of the school newspaper, and co-chair of the Sage Ridge Honor Council. She has always been an honor student throughout her Sage Ridge career.  In her spare time, Courtney runs a dessert business with her mom, tutors in Latin and Spanish, and enjoys snow-skiing and water-skiing.

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The Word Gap: The Early Years Make the Difference

When Betty Hart and Todd Risely did their groundbreaking study known as the “Thirty Million Word Gap” it made a difference not just in parenting circles but in economics and education circles as well. Intently studying the affect of vocabulary and language in the homes of 42 different families, Hart and Risely found that the words we use in the formative years of language in children directly correlated to issues of poverty for families when limiting the words used and messages conveyed to young children.

The study was rather simple: spend time in the high, middle, and low income homes of the families and gather data in the areas of speech patterns, vocabulary, and communication techniques. What they found was a word gap in the early years of talking to children that seemed to follow the children throughout school that affected their performance both during their academic years and the workforce years that followed.

When I was parenting my daughter as a single mother in the 1980s I hadn’t heard of the 30 Million Word Gap but I was, unintentionally, using best practices from what Hart and Risely learned: I spoke to my child as if she were an adult and used big words with her that probably weren’t developmentally appropriate. At the time, I just had no one else to talk with and I was studying English Literature in college so I ran my summaries of Shakespeare and Wordsworth by her even though she was just shy of 4 years of age. While she didn’t understand me she was being exposed to new words and her vocabulary was growing. Sometimes, she impressed strangers with her grasp of the language but I knew it was simply due to her mother being lonely.

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If I were being completely honest I would have to admit that I raised a smart child out of sheer ignorance: I was cheating because I truly needed someone to talk to not because I set out to rear a little Einstein. While I studied in the college library she tagged along and plopped herself in front of the children’s section pretending to read. She occasionally asked me what a sound made and, because I was busy, I quickly told her things like “When you see ‘u’ and ‘e’ together at the end of a word they make the sound ‘ooo’. See how that works? Now go read by yourself.”

When I finally got to graduate school and read the 30 million word gap study I secretly rejoiced that I had done something right as a mom. Go, me! Especially since I don’t know what I’m doing with this parenting thing!  The truth is, it taught me how to communicate better with my children as they continued to grow and more kids were added to my family. Those crucial early years are why I support the efforts of Head Start and pre-K programs where children are exposed to reading and vocabulary to help make the difference when they are in their later years of school.

The Word Gap was an important part of parenting for me even if I didn’t know it. In our case, the study turned out to have some truth to it as she’s a college graduate herself who still loves to read. For us, it made all the difference.

Photoforía via photopin cc

Depression Press via photopin cc

Too many books?

Too Many Books?

I’m not sure when the topic suddenly became important; perhaps during that Cask of Amontillado moment when my husband found himself accidentally walled into the spare room thanks to a pile of paperbacks. Elbowing his way through Heinlein and King, Larry broached the subject.

“You have too many books.”

Inwardly protesting his use of the pronoun, I marshalled my wits and summoned my most persuasive argument.

“Nuh-UH!”

After a lengthy, rational discussion that featured minimal shouting and a limited number of expletives, it was finally decided that we should cull our substantial collection. We started with “Larry’s” bookcase.

“Okay, all of these books are good, so we can keep them.” Part one finished, he promptly turned his attention to “my” shelves. “I think we can get rid of most of these.”

“Wait a minute! I need all of these; we can’t just toss them.”

“What about this one? I haven’t seen you pick this one up in over a year.”

“You were working that day.”

“What about this one? You hate this book.”

“Yeah, well … Somebody gave me that one. If they come over and don’t see it, they might get offended.”

With an expression that might have resulted in eye sprain in a lesser man, Larry made further suggestions. I met each one with calmly deliberated rationalizations.

“It’s a first edition.”

“I’m going to read that on our next road trip.”

“I borrowed that from someone, but I don’t remember who.”

“I like the cover.”

By the time we got to the last shelf, the vein in Larry’s forehead was sticking out like a relief map. Out of the few thousand books that we actually keep in the house, we had a donation pile of … one.

“Are you sure you want to part with this one?”

“Yeah, it’s okay.”

“Positive? It doesn’t hold any fond memories of the time you were stuck in line at the Post Office, and this book saved your sanity? It doesn’t contain a descriptive phrase that you’re saving to put on a T-shirt? It’s not the perfect size to use as a paper weight in a twenty-six point five mile per hour wind?”

“No, go ahead.”

“Really?”

“Well …”

In the end, I summoned the courage to part with a few dozen volumes. Larry’s face lost its purple tinge, and I mentally tallied the space that was now freed up for yarn.

I wonder what will happen when we have to start on Junior’s books.

Mabel's Fables

Featured Customer of the Month:

Mabel's Fables

Today we’re looking northward for our customer of the month. Mabel’s Fables, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, embodies everything one could hope for in an independent bookstore. They not only have a huge selection of books (In English, Italian, French, and Mandarin!), they also either sponsor or take part in many programs that make them an invaluable part of their community.

Mabel’s Fables has been “GROWING BIG readers since 1988.” To this end, they say, “Mabel’s Fables knows that loving to read and learn begins at home. Our bookstore guides you through the ages and stages of reading––to help you build strong readers––for life. The Children’s Books You Need To Know, Books Your Kids Want To Read.”

The bookstore is a drop-off location for The Children’s Book Bank, a charitable organization that provides free books and literacy support in high-need neighborhoods. They also have a holiday Book Angel program that works toward the same end. In an effort to get good books into schools, they offer a 20% off discount to schools and libraries, with 30% off bulk orders of 20 books or more. They also offer a book fair program to schools, bringing their best titles into schools for fundraising purposes. Their Mabel’s Fables Baby Basket is a popular gift for new babies (and their parents), featuring a Moses basket filled with a selection of books and music designed as a starting block for baby’s first library. The bookstore also features Sally and Erika’s Storytelling Programs for Young Children. Sally and Erika are a mother daughter team that specializes in teaching new parents how to engage their children through language and music. Their Songs, Tickles, Bounces, and Rhymes brings families together for fun and learning.

Mabel’s Fables is truly at the heart of their community in Toronto. If you are visiting our neighbor to the north, be sure and stop in and browse the bookshelves––and don’t forget to bring in any gently used children’s books you might have, to spread the love of reading even further!

Small-town libraries

Small-town Libraries: Struggles and Strengths

They occupy tiny afterthought buildings or community center closets. They are understaffed or run on an honor system. They are frequently limited in scope and run on less than shoestring budgets.

In spite of all this, they are treasured.

They are small-town libraries, the hidden jewels of literacy. Often found in rural or impoverished areas, these little libraries are in some ways far more impressive than their big-city counterparts. What they lack in grand architecture and well-funded programming, small libraries make up for with welcoming atmosphere and overall “interestingness.”

They are usually stocked by donations, which means that you’ll almost always find unique volumes, long out of print, alongside newer titles. They are frequently staffed by volunteers, which means that you’re likely to be engaged in cheery conversation with someone you only just met. They are often relegated to small spaces, reducing the chance of having to chase your kids through endless stacks of books.

The existence of small-town public libraries is a testament to the people that start them. The local community center might offer space, while citizens cull their bookshelves for donations to the nascent collection. Volunteers sit for hours at a card table “checkout desk.” Bake sales and raffles are held to raise money. With luck, a bond issue might pass that increases funding, allowing for the purchase of a plot of land on which a tiny building is erected.

The entire community turns out to celebrate their hard-earned “real” library.

A small-town library is worthy of celebration, indeed. I’ve related fairy tales to enthralled children in one town, and been invited to share birthday cupcakes with a librarian and two patrons in another. I’ve exclaimed over yellowed and crumbling maps, and offered congratulations for a newly-acquired third-hand VCR and television combo in a fledgling multimedia room.

A small-town library is a monument to the people it serves. As such, it is up to the patrons to maintain it. Donate a book, or even a buck if you can spare one. Share your time and show your support. In these ways, citizens can keep their library, and the spirit it reflects, alive.

Concord Free Public Library

Featured Library of the Month:

Concord Free Public Library

The story behind the Concord Free Public Library is as interesting as the library itself. The citizens of Concord and their guests dedicated the Concord Free Public Library on Wednesday, October 1, 1873. Located at the intersection of Main Street and Sudbury Road (the present 129 Main Street), the library was founded through the generosity and vision of William Munroe, a Concord native who made a fortune in dry goods and textiles; after retirement, he developed a desire to use his accumulated wealth to benefit the town where he had been born and raised. The library was built in Victorian Gothic architectural style, and would have seemed very exotic to the people of Concord, as the town was still a primarily agricultural town with a population of not much more than 2,500 people and a pronounced local preference for traditional New England simplicity. Realizing that the library would need to expand in the future, Munroe left provisions in his will for its eventual growth.

Concord Free Public Library

As its building has grown and evolved over the years, Concord’s library has changed in other ways, too. The collections and the staff size are now approximately twenty-five times what they were when it first opened in 1873. Separate departments have evolved to handle administration, technical services, reference services, the particular needs of the children and young people of the town, and the research demands of those who seek information on Concord history, life, landscape, literature, and people. Automation and the Web have radically changed the way the staff functions and information is accessed. And yet, even as the library has changed, there has been a continuing re-commitment to the high standards of its founder and the idealistic aims that informed its establishment. Summarized from the library website.

The Concord Free Public Library is certainly a hub and mainstay for the community of Concord. New books are added to the collection daily, and library patrons can see what new books are available on the website. They feature a monthly concert series, Music on the Lawn, which is free to all attendees. Other summer activities have included a class on origami, family films, storytimes for various ages, and singalongs.

Concord Library’s Special Collections are truly an outstanding window onto the history of Concord and the surrounding area. They include the most comprehensive archive of primary and secondary source material related to Concord history, life, landscape, literature, people, and influence from 1635 to the present day. The collection includes printed books, archival and manuscript materials, pamphlets, ephemera, broadsides, maps, photographic and pictorial holdings, municipal records, printed town reports, street directories, vital records, genealogical volumes, historic building files, works of art, artifacts, and other types of material may be all used by the researcher in the Special Collections. Much of the Special Collections is cataloged online, with records available locally through the Minuteman Library Network and internationally through OCLC/FirstSearch.

The Concord Free Public Library is definitely a great place to spend a few hours—or days—in. From New York Times bestsellers to pamphlets published in the 1800′s, the library is truly a bookworm’s dream!

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Reading Instead of Tweeting: Part II

I don’t just watch trends happen in education when it comes to reading: I live them daily. In my two decades as an educator in various capacities, I have seen my share of trends come and go when it comes to instruction of reading, but there are some constants and hard data that educators and parents use to make decisions about reading. The research is telling us a number of disturbing trends about how fewer parents are reading to their children and that in the previous 30 years we’ve seen reading decline further and further amongst children.

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So, when I hear things like “Kids just aren’t reading these days!” I have to stop myself from arguing against it when the research and data tells us that it’s true. Developmentally, reading is a part of what makes our imaginations blossom and our worldview expand, but I also know that there are other things capturing the attention of children.

Naturally, much of this discussion comes with advances in technology and apps that are appealing to younger and younger children. Getting my own teens to continue reading long after I stopped reading to them was a battle but we got lucky in that they found what interested them early on and it they were varied genres. Of course, I didn’t have to compete with smartphones or easily accessible apps to get my own children to read. While they were growing up the media that vied for their attention was the television or video games and even that wasn’t seen as an “addiction” like many believe it to be today.

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Even as the data comes in we are learning that there are concrete reasons for encouraging reading. Readathon focused on the National Literacy Trust data to help us see the important connection that reading has with our own joy:

“The National Literacy Trust cites overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship with a person’s happiness and success. A deep engagement with storytelling and great literature link directly to emotional development in primary children, according to The Rose Review, 2008 Independent Review of the Primary School Curriculum.”

Not long ago, Time used the data from Common Sense Media to explore what that decline looks like in actual numbers. What they shared is alarming but not surprising:

The decline in reading for fun is most easily explained by technological advances (i.e., kids would rather text than read), but education could have something to do with it as well. It’s no surprise that 53% of 9-year-olds read for fun every day, but only 19% of 17-year-olds do. Yes, the teenagers have more Instagrams to post, but they also have more homework to do.

Censorship: who decides?

Readathon tells us that reading matters but that developmental growth is shaped by allowing children to choose their books:

Over 96% believe ‘reading what they want’ helps children develop. Neither the content nor its format is considered as important as it once was. Many teachers welcome anything to encourage reading, including comics (90%), DVDs (55%) and even mobile phones (32%).

All hope is not lost, however, and PBS offered Tips for Encouraging Summer Reading (as many sites do yearly) which includes providing children with plenty of books and making time for reading as a sacred activity. Book Riot also offered a less scientific study that may be considered action research in discussing why we read what we read if we’re constantly naming the classics as our favorite books. Be sure to check out The Problem with Reading for Pleasure because it challenges us to think about our recommendations to other readers:

Whenever I meet someone who says they love books, I am quick to ask them to list some of their favorite books of all time. Most are drawn from a familiar pool (The Great GatsbyTo Kill a MockingbirdCatch-22, and the like) with a couple of more idiosyncratic titles thrown in. In general, the books mentioned are well-crafted, serious works of literary art. This fact stands in stark contrast to something else I’ve been watching closely: the dominance of crime and romance on bestseller lists.

How is it that most people’s favorite books are neither crime nor romance but these are the books that people buy most often?

The data tells us that children are reading less but just as quickly as apps are introduced and discovered by kids there are ways in which staunch supporters of reading communicate to us the danger in allowing the drift from doing something parents view as fiercely important to simply letting them go with the technological flow. Looking at the data and research did for me what it always does: it made me realize how precious and sacred reading is but it also forced me to actively protect and cultivate it.

For all that research tells us then, is it any wonder that I feel immeasurable joy when I catch my students reading while walking down the hallway or listening to them discuss their favorite books or making recommendations to their friends. Even in teen speak when I hear things such as, “You, like totally, have to read this book. It’s so awesome.” I know that they must see the value, too.

What are you noticing in the reading trends with your own children? Do you agree that kids aren’t reading as much when you consider your own family’s commitment to reading? 

pedrosimoes7 via photopin cc

susivinh via photopin cc

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Reading Instead of Tweeting

This month at Little Pickle Press we’re perusing a lot of data about teens and reading and what it is that dominates their time. While we know that the research doesn’t lie, it’s hard to swallow some of the research that tells us that kids and teens just aren’t reading anymore. That’s probably because we’re all readers and have cultivated a family of readers in our own homes.

Do you remember sitting in the library waiting for a book to be returned or sitting down to read a book right away? We do!

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First, however, we have some questions for you! It’s our own bit of research, if you will.

Did your reading ever slow down while growing up? When did it happen?

If you had a period of time when you didn’t read as much how did you get back into it? What book brought you back?

Do you have a top 5 list of books that you often recommend to friends? (Tell us what’s on the list!)

Are your teens continuing to read or do you see slump happening?

Tomorrow, we will share some of the data and research we’re looking at as publishers who hope to keep kids reading. We can’t wait to see your answers!

ciro@tokyo via photopin cc

Green Libros

Featured B Corp of the Month:

Green Libros

Visitors to our house notice two things right off the bat: plenty of Beatles posters, and a few thousand books.

The wall-to-wall shelves in our front room house only a portion of our collection, but it’s still enough to supply a small town library. Although my husband makes cracks about “too many books,” he and I both know that we are very fortunate to have access to so much knowledge and entertainment. There are many people around the world who are not so lucky.

It’s for this very reason that Green Libros was started in Chile. Although the country’s literacy rate is impressively high at 97%, the sad fact of the matter is that less than half of the population has regular access to books. The books are either too expensive or just not available. Green Libros, one of the first social ventures in South America, seeks to remedy that situation.

Started in 2009, Green Libros has collected over 160,000 books that would otherwise be collecting dust or thrown away. They redistribute, donate, or recycle these books, raising funds for twelve non-profit partners and subtly influencing market prices (and education and equality) for the benefit of the people they seek to serve.

A Certified B Corp since 2012, Green Libros (like Little Pickle Press) works hard to “B” the change they seek.