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Kids & Screen Time

The irony that a parent would be reading this online to discuss children and screen time is not lost on me. Yet, as a mom, I understand the preciousness of time and how reading online saves some for me. I may not have to sit still at home with a magazine or book but I do have a moment to use my smart phone to access text in the form on an article that a friend may share with me. A few years ago I realized that the students at my school had never grown up in a world without smart phones and that the cell number I currently have is older than they are. (I just checked and I’ve had the same number for 15 years!)

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Little Pickle Press offers books for children on learning to be safe everywhere including screen time.

So, when it comes to screen time for children I am acutely aware as a mom whose own kids grew up in the changing landscape of the tech world. We got our first Nintendo game in 1991 when my eldest son was born and his older sister liked playing it until he got old enough to want to play games of no interest to her. We got our first home computer in 1997 and by that time all of my children were old enough to find something to occupy them if I let them have that screen time. Oh, how I wish that Cool Mom Tech was around when my children were younger to help weed out the good and the bad in terms of technology.

Mind you, parents tend to see the potential harm in too much of anything and when I realized that, if left unattended, they would play online all day. One of my earliest rules involved leaving the game consoles out at all times but turning myself into a rental center: all video games stayed in my bedroom under lock and key and if they wanted to play Mario Kart, for example, they had to check it out from me much like a library or video rental store.

What is the right amount of time, then? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics children shouldn’t exceed more than 2 hours of non-school-related screen time each day. Now, if your child is on the spectrum and part of their therapy is learning facial recognition for social purposes, that isn’t included. First, however, let’s define screen time as defined by the National Library of Medicine:

“Screen time” is a term used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games. Screen time is sedentary activity, meaning you are being physically inactive while sitting down. Very little energy is used during screen time.

Much of what is written about screen time is related to physical health and the effects of sedentary actions (like increased body fat and hypertension) and that’s why I monitored it so closely while also realizing the benefits of having something in their hands like a Game Boy while I tended to other things. It’s a constant battle that parents fight that calls into question how their children are faring. If he plays a game, I can get the shopping done. But, will he ever know how to behave without having a tech distraction?

Last November Nickelodeon reported that children born after 2005 watched “an average of 35 hours of television per week”  which translates to about 5 hours each day.  While this seems to be a scary statistic, I am all the more appreciative of the purposeful parenting I also know is happening. As such, I leave you with a few helpful articles about screen time with research-based data:

Screen Time and Children

Does Too Much Screen Time Make Kids Sick

Children and TV: Limiting your child’s screen time (by the Mayo Clinic)

Study: Kids on screen time diet lost weight, performed better in school

What rules do you set for screen time in your home? How is your purposeful parenting technique helpful to your children? Give us some tips to share with parents!

Featured image photo credit courosa via photopincc

The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza

Featured Customer of the Month:

The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza

The first thing that drew my attention to The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, NY, was their Bookaholics Bonus Card. How could someone like me, who loves books, not be intrigued by that?

It turns out that the Bookaholics Bonus Card is only one of the great things that The Book House offers its customers.

Like all indie booksellers, The Book House is more than just a place to buy books. Instead, it has a valued place in the Albany community. Summer is filled with special events designed to bring people together over a love of books and reading. In June, the store held its annual AIDS Council Sidewalk Book Sale. The Book House also has a monthly book club, in which readers gather to talk about the specific book featured that month. Even better, it is open to one and all–if you’ve read the book, you can stop in and participate! July’s featured book is Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge. Read it? Why not join in?

Most exciting for us here at Little Pickle Press is that one of our amazing authors, Coleen Paratore, will be signing books and talking about her lovely new journal, Fireflies (published by LPP), on July 12 from two to four pm.

And the Bookaholics Bonus Card? The BBC is a frequent buyer program for customers of The Book House, Little Book House, and Market Block Books. Customers who spend $150 during the card’s lifetime are eligible for a $15 store credit. Sounds like a great deal for all of the bookaholics in the area!

If you are in the Albany area this summer, why not drop in at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza and say hello to Susan, Dan, Maggie, or one of the other helpful staff? I’m sure they’d be happy to see you, and introduce you to the great books the store has to offer.

ABA therapy

ABA Therapy:

Purposeful Parenting, Special Needs Style

Ever since Junior was diagnosed with Autism, my husband and I have gotten a lot of advice.

“Have you tried the GF/CF diet?”

“You should make him play with other kids.”

And, Lord help me,

“Just smack him a few times; he’ll learn.”

We tried the gluten-free thing for a while; the forced play and smacking (and several other suggestions) we turned down out of hand. The single best piece of advice that we received came in a text message from Dr. K., a research doctor specializing in the brain.

“Call this number.”

The number in question led us to a training program for ABA therapy, Applied Behavior Analysis. Through this program, we met Dr. Linda, Mr. Brandon, Miss Therese, and Mr. Dustin, the founding group of guides for Junior’s journey between his “world” and ours.

Junior is a beautiful little boy with a sunny disposition and an eagerness to please. In his case, Autism manifested as echolalia, social delay, and an incredible preoccupation with (and gift for) numbers. When presented with an option, he would either repeat the question to mean yes, or decline by saying all done. Stress or dismay produced shrieks and agitated hand signs. Pronouns were minimal at best; Junior’s default was she.

“Want she to do it.”

“She get some juice.”

Other children barely existed for him, except as interlopers who would disrupt his carefully arranged patterns of blocks or interrupt his counting. Numbers were the only thing that mattered; the only way to engage his attention. By the age of four, he had mastered binary code and division. Now six, he’s working on fractions and algebra.

Thanks to his therapists, he’s also learning to share his remarkable world with the people around him.

A far cry from the days of negative reinforcement, ABA is a research-based system that focuses on the positive, building rapport and self-esteem. Junior looks upon his therapists (called “providers”) as his friends. Employees of Integrated Behavioral Technologies, Inc., the providers come to our house several days a week to work with Junior one-on-one. They play basketball with him on breaks and indulge his taste for nonsense syllables. They’ve learned to use what motivates him, and to avoid what he fears.

Mostly, they try to keep up with him.

Regular team meetings are held to create and tailor programs designed to teach Junior particular skills, such as saying I don’t know instead of screaming if he’s asked a difficult question. Junior’s astonishing memory (a gift shared by neither of his parents, I assure you) allows him to memorize and implement his programs with remarkable speed; the meetings are frequent affairs.

We are among the lucky parents: Junior has no underlying health issues, he is easily motivated by success, and ABA therapy has worked wonders for all three of us. My husband and I are able to react calmly when Junior is suffering from overload, and we are able to discern the difference between escape and attention behaviors and respond accordingly. From early December, when his therapy schedule really ramped up, to just after Christmas break, the change in Junior’s skills was dramatic. Faculty and staff members at his elementary school remarked on it repeatedly.

“He looked me in the eye!”

“He knows how to sit still now!”

“He played a game with a classmate!”

“Look at this picture he colored!”

Applied Behavior Analysis is not a miracle cure, but then, Autism is not a disease. I think of Autism as a different kind of operating system; ABA, via compassionate, hardworking therapists, is providing new subroutines that give Junior a more user-friendly way to process his environment.

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6 Easy Steps to Growing a Positive Parent-Child Relationship

This article is reprinted with permission from Andrea Nair

Using Attunement to Improve the Connection with Your Child

Stay Tuned

Parents can grow a strong, positive relationship with their children (which helps reduce defiance!) by continually attuning to them. This means being able to be with your children in a way that causes them to really feel understood, heard and important—that who they are, and what they do matters to you.

Children have a strong need to feel significant and to belong. When parents feed that need, children can put their energy into discovery, playing and learning instead of trying to get your attention.

A post called Children Who Shine From Within by Rachel Macy Stafford really struck a cord in me. While reading the article, I said to myself, “Wow, this mom understands attunement.”

In this piece, her daughter asked Stafford what her favorite insect is. They talked about their choices: ladybugs (mom) and firefly (daughter) and then Stafford picked up when her daughter’s tone and demeanor changed. Sensing the shift, Stafford looked into her daughter’s eyes where they exchanged a moment of understanding.

What followed was a beautiful discussion where Stafford and her daughter allowed themselves to be vulnerable and share their struggles.

Children want to open to up their parents—they want to say what hurts, what is hard, and ask for help. Some children might not appear to want this openness, but there is a drive within all of us to speak our truth. For those children who avoid connecting on this level, they likely have had experiences with adults that taught them that being open isn’t helpful. If a child tries to share but continually gets shut down, he will eventually stop trying.

Here are six ways parents can attune to their children:

Schedule uninterrupted time with your children.

Take time (hopefully each day) to be with your child without having one eye on your mobile devices, computer or TV. Get involved in what he is doing, making sure to follow his lead. This way you will get to know what is baseline is (what he is like when all is well.) You’ll also learn more about his buddies, what he likes and what’s happening in his world.

Hit the “pause” button when you see your child’s emotions changing.

You can tell when a child (and adult, too) is feeling a strong emotional surge. Often when this happens, there is some kind of physical response like looking down, a slumping of the shoulders or a change in voice. If the emotional surge is anger, the child might go into fight-or-flight (yelling, throwing, storming away). As I mentioned in this calm-down plan post, the first course of action when that happens is to try and make the shift back into our rational mind before talking: Calm first. Talk second.

When parents pause, they can take a moment to coach themselves into doing something that connects, not hurts. Take control of unhelpful self-talk like, “Not again! This kid is so freaking emotional,” and tell yourself what will help your child, “I need to help this guy back from the ‘losing it’ zone.”

If your child’s emotional response is one of fear or sadness, try telling yourself something like this, “I want to know more. Be gentle.”

Take this pause to postpone your own agenda or to-do list so you can attend to your child’s needs. If you are about to do something that really has to happen now, you can tell your child that what he is experiencing is important to you, and you’d love to come back to that right after your meeting, for example. Hopefully you’ll be able to make at least five minutes available in the moment before needing to dash away.

Ask a question that invites sharing.

Steer away from questions that result in a “yes/ no” answer and use ones that tell your child you’d like to hear what’s up. You can try, “It seems to me that you are sad—I’d love to hear more. What are you thinking about (or remembering)?”

If your child turns that offer down, you can try sharing a story of your own, as Stafford did, where you explain a similar situation from your childhood. Children will often open up when they know their parents have felt sad/ angry/ mad, too. Remember to be aware of your body language when telling your story—be soft and leave pauses in case your child wants to ask you questions.

Paraphrase; don’t invalidate, judge or criticize.

When your child does open up, make sure not to invalidate, “Oh Honey, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad,” or criticize, “Well, if you had spoken up then none of this would have happened.” Listen with the goal of clarification; not making him feel worse.

Ask your child what he thinks the options are to making the situation/his feelings better.

Most people don’t want others to solve their problems, but rather be an ear to hear. Help your child grow his problem-solving skills by discussing options rather than telling him what to do. You can ask questions like this, “Hmmm… OK, so what are the different choices we have to handle this?” or “What can you do to help yourself feel better?”

Learn more about being emotionally open.

If you aren’t used to talking about your own emotions, I encourage you to learn how to do this. When you are experiencing a feeling (mad, sad, glad or scared), pause to notice what is happening—be a commentator of your emotions.

The next step is to ask yourself these questions: 1) Do I need a break? 2) To try again? Or 3) Some help? Perhaps that help needs to come from another person or within yourself. What do you need to happen so your emotion feels addressed? Do you need to learn a skill, talk to someone or go for a walk to cool down?

A great book to read on this topic is DARING GREATLY by Brené Brown, PhD.

Check out more of Andrea Nair’s writing at the Yummy Mummy Club

About Andrea Nair

Andrea Nair, M.A, CCC is a psychotherapist, parenting educator, writer and mom. Her passion is to help parents thrive rather than just survive through each day. Andrea’s passion also includes live music where she is that annoying person who jumps around the entire concert.

Andrea was cruising along as a psychotherapist but when children arrived, her life suddenly felt mostly hard. In the need to find a way to change that, Andrea discovered tricks, books, parenting colleagues, advice, how to laugh again, her own good sense, and the joys of one really good glass of red wine. At YMC, Andrea will be blogging about all the things that helped her from being a scary mummy to a thriving one. BUT you won’t find any parenting judgement here! We’ve all been there and done that. Andrea has the hole her foot made in a wall to prove it. We’re in this parenting maze together.

Would you like to better connect with your kids? Andrea would love to help.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @andreanair

Lewis & Clark Library

Featured Library of the Month:

Lewis & Clark Library

The first thing I noticed about this month’s library of the month was its name: Lewis & Clark Library. The names of these two explorers, who led their Corps of Discovery across half of the United States in search of a water passage to the Pacific, conjure up images of adventure and discovery. Perfect for a library, where we can travel to distant lands and learn about new things just by checking out a book!

The library is centered in Helena, Montana, with branches in Augusta and Lincoln, as well as a traveling bookmobile. I remember how excited I would get as a child when the bookmobile would come to town. It’s good to know that the bookmobile is alive and well and still serving such an important role in rural communities everywhere. The Lewis & Clark Library bookmobile currently has over 3500 books, DVD’s, and audiobooks available for patrons to check out.

Lewis & Clark Library

As with so many of the libraries we have looked at over the past year, this one is at the center of its community. For adults, they offer events such as Living with Antique Furniture Restoration, Author Rae Ellen Lee’s reading and book signing of “A Field Guide to Geezers,” sponsorship of a Red Cross blood drive.

Teen events include Minecraft Monday, Mystery Library Theater, and the Teen Lounge. For children, Lewis & Clark Library offers Books and Babies Monday Morning and Afternoon, Storytime on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and a day dedicated to Science Fun. At the Augusta branch, Markie Scholz of Dragons Are Too Seldom Puppet Productions put on a puppet show in June, and the bookmobile traveled to several different locations.

It’s clear to see that Lewis & Clark Library lives up to its name, providing numerous opportunities for children, teens, and adults to learn and grow in many different ways and directions. Next time you’re in Helena, drop by and see what new worlds you can discover in a book!

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The Hardest Part of Parenting

This reprint from Liz Gumbinner’s blog, Mom-101, was given by the author for use in our Purposeful Parenting month. 

“I know what the hardest part of being a mom is,” Sage blurted out during dinner last night. “Oh? What’s that?”

“Well, she said, pushing her macaroni aside so she could lean forward across the table on her five-year-old elbows. “It’s when your kids grow up and then you have to give them away.”

It was hard to stifle a laugh.

I explained that mothers don’t actually give their children away–although lord knows some have considered it, oh, say at the 0-3 month month mark when an hour of uninterrupted sleep seems less likely than a Yeti in a bridal veil walking through your front door, sitting on the sofa and asking for some chamomile tea.

“In fact,” I said,” I think that while it’s a little sad when the kids leave the house, it might be one of the happiest parts of being a parent. It’s when we know we’ve done a good job raising wonderful kids that become wonderful adults, and now they are ready to go try more things on their own without us.”

“So what is the hardest thing of being a mother?” she asked.

A range of snarky answers flashed through my head, but it just didn’t seem the time.

“Knowing you might ever be hurt or sad or in pain. A mother feels all of it right along with you, maybe even worse. We’d rather take it all away from you and have it ourselves if we could. As much love that we feel, that’s how much pain we can feel too, if it’s yours. So I think that’s the hardest part of being a mother.”

“Like when I hurt my knee in the playground today!” Sage said.

“Yes. Just like that.”

We ended the night with Sage telling me she loved me infinity, and then Thalia one-upping Sage with infinity times infinity times infinity, and then Sage explaining that that’s not possible because there’s only one infinity and it’s already the biggest, and Thalia saying she really didn’t care.

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Brooklyn mom of two, Liz Gumbinner, is the co-publisher and editor-in-chief of the popular websites Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech, and writes candidly and humorously about the trials of parenting on her personal blog Mom-101. Liz is often seen discussing parenting culture and trends in national publications and shows including NBC’s TODAY Show, GMA, and Martha Stewart, and has been named a top digital influencer by Forbes, Nielsen, and the NY Post, and is a recipient of the 2011 AWNY Game Changers award.

Since visits to Sarajevo in the late 90s with her mother to work with Bosnian war refugees, Liz has become an avid supporter of maternal health efforts through relationships with local organizations like Baby Buggy, and global organizations like the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life, and ONE.org, with whom she traveled to Ethiopia in late 2012.

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Featured B Corp of the Month: Cabot Creamery Cooperative

Cabot Creamery Cooperative, our Featured B Corp of the Month, is a dream come true for those foodies amongst us who want tasty dairy products AND a community driven cooperative. We’re featuring them today in the hopes that, as a B Corp, our readers will check them out and see the work they’re doing. Cabot Creamery is a farm family dairy cooperative with  members of the co-op residing in New England and upstate New York. Not only do they produce award-winning cheeses that are all natural, they created the World’s Best Cheddar.

For cheese lovers, this is a dream come true.

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Image via Cabot Creamery

The Cabot Creamery wants their customers to know about their traditions and offer cheese making tours at Cabot but they also have stores in Waterbuy and Quechee.

Cabot’s website is quite interactive, too, for those of us who don’t live in that area. They offer a virtual tour showing what they’ve done since 1919 with the cooperative. Be sure to click on the Farmer’s Stories to read more about the families who produce the dairy products. There’s an interactive map you can access, too, in case you’re in the area and want to know exactly where your dairy is coming from when you purchase cheese products. The cooperative employs over 1,000 people who don’t only make cheese. All of their dairy products from cottage cheese to Greek-style yogurt and cream cheese are made from the milk provided by the farm families.

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And since Cabot is a B Corp we know that they’re doing the best for the world and honor the values of work that is responsible for the planet. The collaboration for a collective voice of workers made them the first dairy coop to achieve B Corp status. To sustain the soil and use of natural products, Cabot Creamery launched a commitment to measure the impact on the land that begins with the cows and creameries to how the consumer can get products that are managed according the best practices.

The legacy of our farmland and our farm families depends on it. We here at Little Pickle hope that you check them out and use your dollars to support Cabot Creamery. Check them out today!

Blended families

First Friday Book Review:

I Was My Mother’s Bridesmaid: Young Adults Talk About Thriving in a Blended Family

Do you ever wish you could read your child’s or stepchild’s mind? I, and every parent I know, had this wish. We couldn’t, of course, but we got a lot closer to doing just that when Erica and Vanessa Carlisle offered us the results of their research, and their interviews with young adults who talked about growing up in blended families. When I reread this book recently, I wondered if it would feel dated since it was published 15 years ago. Surprisingly, I found that not one sentence or idea or illustration was out of date. The stories and insight that fill this book are timeless. The census numbers confirm that more and more families in America have become “blended” and that the trend continues. In 1990 that meant that one in every five children under the age of eighteen did not live in a family with both biological parents. And every decade that number has increased. Today blended families are more common than any other family structure.  As a consequence we parents need this book much more now than even when it was originally published. As the author and speaker SARK says, “This book is a wise breath of much-needed air! A tribute to the strength and imagination of changing family systems, and to the strength of love and its ability to transform conflict, direct from the hearts of two remarkable young women.”

Erica and Vanessa and their interviewees speak about everything from custody schedules to money to rivalries with stepsiblings to living with a new stranger in the house, all with humor and wisdom. In fact, I couldn’t find one pertinent subject that wasn’t addressed in some fashion. And then they circled back to talk to their interviewees about what they would say to parents who were managing blended families now and how to thrive in those challenging situations. That discussion was worth the price of the book. Above all this book is full of hope: It is hope that is tangible and real and believable. In today’s complicated and scary world it is hope that supports us and encourages us to build strong families, families of every imaginable kind. Claudia Black, another author and speaker says, “Vanessa and Erica speak eloquently about the challenges and triumphs of being members of a blended family. They will make you cry, laugh, and think—this book is invaluable for young people and adults.”

Erica Celeste Carlisle is world traveler, food lover, management consultant, and a Principal at Boston Consulting Group in San Francisco. She holds an M.B.A. from M.I.T., a Ph.D. from Princeton, and a B.A. from Reed College. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Gabriel, who is an associate professor in Political Science at U.C. Berkeley.

Vanessa Dawn Carlisle is an anti-racist, anti-state activist, writer, teacher, performer, and glutton for discovery. She is also a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at U.S.C, and holds an M.F.A. from Emerson College and a B.A. from Reed College. She lives in San Francisco and Los Angeles with friends and co-activists.

Diverse books, LPP style.

We Still Need Diverse Books

It’s been a very enlightening month here at Little Pickle Press; the search for diverse books has yielded exciting ideas, new reading lists, and tough questions. Here are just a few of the highlights:

The Diversity Question, by Roy M. Carlisle

“I think the real issues around diversity are subject to what is being taught in schools and what kind of literature our children will read and absorb (I am a new grandfather of twin girls so this subject is now hovering on the horizon for me). The relationship between society, education, and publishing is a very complex one that is affected by federal mandates, historical precedents, library priorities, and state machinations.”

The Magic Poof, by Stephen Hodges

“What my wife, and many others told me is this: It’s ok to create a diverse character, as long as you acknowledge that their diversity is an element of who they are and what their experience is. It doesn’t have to define everything about them, but you can’t ignore it either. If you strike this balance, and you truly love your characters, you will convince others that they are worthy of being loved as well.”

The Magic Poof, a spokesman for diversity!

 

In Search of Diverse Books, an LPP staff compilation

“Many independent publishers are stepping up to fill a void that is becoming more and more obvious to readers everywhere. We asked some of our fellow Pickles to tell us about their favorite diverse books, and they offered up some fine suggestions.”

Featured Young Writer of the Month, Sachi Parikh

“There were no books that I found that had an Indian girl as a normal main character; not during some war, or explaining about treating people the right way. This made me feel alien, even though there are a number of Indians in San Jose.”

Although the month is over, the search for diverse books goes on. Tools such as the Twitter hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks will not only lead you to titles, they’ll send a powerful message to publishers. We may not all be the same, but we can work together as one. Please share your stories of the search for diverse books in the comment section; we love to hear from you!

Diversity in children's books!

Featured Young Writer of the Month: Sachi Parikh

Why Do We Need Diversity in Children's Literature?

The search for diversity in children’s books, or indeed in any books, can be a deeply personal thing. Please welcome Sachi Parikh, our Featured Young Writer, as she shares her perspective on this important topic.

Many books describe characters with the exact same features. Pale faces, light blue eyes, and golden-blonde wavy hair are what make up children’s books main characters. Truth be told, most of us don’t have those features, yet we think the rest of the world is like that. We’re not. The discrimination of diversity in children’s books have made children less and less interested in books, because they don’t feel the connection to the main character of the book, or think they are only reading about one type of person. When you read a good book, you usually feel some sort of connection to the protagonist of the story. Some children aren’t able to see that. Neither can I, at some points. I know from experience.

When I was a first-grader, I used to be obsessed with a book series called Rainbow Magic Fairies, by Daisy Meadows. One day I decided to dress up as Rachel, one of the main characters in the series. When I was all dressed up, I realized that I didn’t look anything like her. I tried on something else, but I still didn’t look like her. Frustrated, I tried to find a character that I looked at least something like. I found nothing. That day, I gave up on that series, and tried to find a book that had people or a person that looked like “me.” Most of the books I found were either historical fiction books that were about racial discrimination or picture books that were explaining that everyone has or should have equal rights and it shouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin. There were no books that I found that had an Indian girl as a normal main character; not during some war, or explaining about treating people the right way. This made me feel alien, even though there are a number of Indians in San Jose.

I had found no books with an Indian girl protagonist; instead I started reading books like the Magic Tree House and In The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, with different people as characters. Rainbow Magic Fairies had started putting in Chinese and Indian girls as characters. I also started getting into historical fiction later on, like The Mighty Miss Malone and Crow, and books that had different people in them, like Harry Potter and Out of my Mind.  I think people who are different are part of diversity as well. Having diversity in books makes you feel like you are exploring new cultures and learning about different people. Reading about diverse cultures and people is fun, because you are getting exposed to other people’s way of life. People are making more historical fiction and diverse books, and I’m reading books like Year of the Dog, which is about a Chinese girl growing up in America, Bud not Buddy, which is about an African-American boy growing up during the Great Depression, and When the Mountain Meets the Moon, which is about old Chinese folklore.

I want people to start thinking that it’s okay to be different. There is nothing wrong with that. One of the ways we can do this is to write about different people, and writing and reading about this will make us think this way. Diversity in children’s books is important because you need to get exposed to different cultures and races, and also different people, or you will be stuck in your own world with the same people, nothing new. Diversity is really cool, because exploring people’s lives in different places by reading is an amazing way to experience other people’s lives.

Thank you, Sachi! Not only have you given us some food for thought, you’ve also expanded the reading lists of everyone who visits today.

Censorship: Struwwelpeter

Censorship: Who Decides, and How?

Yesterday, I wrote a bit about book banning and censorship, and posed the question: who should be the censor?

When I was growing up, it was my mother, who was German and not particularly well-read. I grew up with books like Struwwelpeter which in my not-so-humble opinion should be banned from the planet. But my mother, who has a quite common German sense of humor (i.e. different from American humor), adores this book and continues to buy it – now for her great-grandchildren. We have argued the point, and she will never understand my view that the book is violent and offensive, even as I can’t understand where she sees any humor in the collection of stories.

Now multiply that scenario by many books, and countless families, within many community schools and libraries and you can see the challenges of finding acceptable middle ground. Because, yes, a compromise must be reached in any arena in which funding is supplied by the general public. When taxpayers are involved, the greatest number of people must be pleased by their joint expenditures. It’s perhaps an impossibility in actuality, but my point is, that should be the goal of government. I know this stance will offend many small groups on the extreme right and left of an issue, but stick with me for a moment and pretend you agree that the best way to handle censorship is by pleasing the bell curve.

In fact, that’s exactly what happens in most schools and libraries, where censorship is already firmly in place. Because of limited resources, an endless pool of product opportunities, and extreme pressures from the public, most facilities acquire materials based on a relatively conservative and mainstream set of criteria. Once those products are acquired, and if budget remains, other materials with possibly more controversial and narrow themes, might be addressed.

The question is, how should challenged books and other media be presented to the public? The easiest solution is for libraries and schools to simply not carry any challenged materials at all. Then parents of children who do want their children to have access to banned books could buy their own and make reading them a family project.

Censorship: who decides?

But this puts a burden on families who can’t afford their own book budgets and who rely solely on libraries and schools for their reading materials.

In that case, the schools and libraries could have a separate closed and monitored reading section that requires special parental authorization for access. That’s an added administrative burden for librarians and even parents, but it’s a solution that attempts to protect certain children, while still allowing access to broader materials and ideas to other children. Again, it’s a matter of parental supervision which I believe is key to this debate.

What about you? Can you think of any solutions that might please most of the people, most of the time? Please leave us a comment!

Also, be sure to mark your calendars and think of ways your family can participate in Banned Books Week from September 21-27. Here’s the link to the American Library Association site. You can also connect with them on Facebook and Pinterest.

Dani Greer is a writer and book editor, as well as the driving force behind the popular Blood-Red Pencil blog. She runs a Facebook support group for authors promoting new books that you can join by clicking here. You can also connect with her on Twitter

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Censorship: Who Decides?

Ken climbed into his little convertible sports car after strapping his four-year-old son, Andy, into the passenger seat. It was a perfect summer day in Denver, and a little cruise around the city sounded just right. He loved spending time with his youngest, he mused, as he turned on the radio and tapped his fingers to the beat of a disco number.

“Dad?”

“What, Andy?”

“Why are they burning the baby?”

“What?”

“In the song – why are they burning the baby?”

Ken clued into the tune and its lyrics. “Burn, baby, burn.  Disco inferno …”

“Andy, that’s just an expression. It’s what grownups say when they talk about …”

Five minutes later, Ken figured he had it covered. The two drove along in silence for a while. Then he felt a small tug on his sleeve.

“But, Dad. Why are they burning the baby?”

Sigh. So much for that brilliant teaching lecture.

Some things can’t be explained to a youngster, and in a world in which media has become more prevalent, more powerful, and largely out-of-control, the challenges for parents can seem insurmountable. Whether a song, a movie, or an age inappropriate book, children are bound to eventually get their hands, and minds, into something they should not.

Small wonder censorship, whether book banning or other media controls, has taken center stage. Parents and teachers are rightly worried about the influence of media on young minds. It’s part of what fuels the homeschooling movement, this need for parents to have some sense of control over the information their children are exposed to.

But there is another side to the coin that also needs to be addressed. How much of book banning and other media censorship really has to do with the children, and how much is simply a way to exercise control with less effort?

Book banning is not a new phenomenon and the reasons for banning a title almost always revolves around personal philosophy and control over beliefs. Here are some books that have been banned over the years, and the reasons:

Censorship: Charlotte's Web

In 2006, some parents in a Kansas school district decided that talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural; passages about the spider dying were also criticized as being ‘inappropriate subject matter for a children’s book.

Censorship: A Light in the Attic

In 1985, challengers at Cunningham Elementary School in Beloit, Wisconsin, said that A Light in the Attic “encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.”

Censorship: Captain Underpants

This series offers some great insights on when and how to disobey authority — which is one of the most important things to learn when growing up, but is clearly an issue with some parenting groups. It also is a series about imagination – that, of course, can cause all kinds of problems too!

Some of the reasons sound spurious at best. But banning and censorship aren’t necessarily bad things either. The key is the development of workable and widely accepted guidelines. Therein lies the rub. Who makes the rules? Who gets to be the censor? We’ll offer some suggestions in our next post.

What rules do you think should dictate whether a book is accepted in a school or public library? Is there a book title you would censor hands down if you had the choice? Please leave us a comment.

An author and an editor, Dani Greer brings a dual perspective to this controversial topic. A driving force behind the Blog Book Tours and The Blood-Red Pencil blogs, Dani has spent most of her life surrounded by words. She’ll return tomorrow with part two.

No problem is a problem!

Why “No Problem” is a Problem

How many times a day does someone say to you, “no problem?” How many times do you say it yourself?

“No problem,” and its cousin, “no worries,” have become part of our lexicon. The idiom has earned a spot on Wikipedia. There was even a movie with a title track, both named “No Problem”.

The phrase is a double negative that is meant to convey a positive message. It also implies the existence of a problem that is being excused by the speaker. Why would you dilute a positive message with negative words or a negative inference? Why not instead convey your positive message with positive words, such as:

  • “Sure thing.”
  • “Of course.”
  • “Anytime.”
  • “You’re welcome.”
  • Or my personal favorite, “my pleasure?”

I have made a conscious decision not to say “no problem” or “no worries,” and I have asked our team to do the same. How about you?

Off the Beaten Path Bookstore!

Featured Customer of the Month:

Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Path in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, offers us “Good Books. Good Coffee. Good Friends” as its motto. From all that I have seen of this wonderful store, they deliver in all three departments.

First, Good Books: Off the Beaten Path is ahead of the pack, offering not only thousands of print books, but ebooks as well. From literary criticism to board games to favorite fiction series, they offer books to please everyone. If you can’t find a book that you want, ask their friendly and knowledgeable staff to order it for you.  They also offer used books through their recycled books program, which they began in order to foster literacy for kids, create affordable book buying options, and to support Off the Beaten Path as a local, independent bookstore.

Second, Good Coffee: This lovely indie bookstore has a coffee shop where patrons can visit with friends and fellow customers, or sit quietly and sip some of their wonderful Snickerdoodle coffee while reading a favorite book. Can’t make it to the store? No problem. Whole beans or ground coffee can be shipped directly to your home. So get a cup of coffee, choose one of their sweet treats (baked fresh every day), grab a good book, and sit down and breathe.

Third, Good Friends: You’ll be sure to find lots of fellow bibliophiles at Off the Beaten Path! To make things easier for you, they have a book club that meets once a month to discuss the monthly selection. They are also the official bookseller for Literary Sojourn, an annual festival of authors and readers celebrating the power of the book. Each fall, authors and hundreds of “book lovers from all over the country gather at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort in Steamboat Springs. Together they revel in the written word, fueled by award-winning writers who share the stories and inspiration behind their exceptional books.”

In the tradition of great Indie bookstores everywhere, Off the Beaten Path offers so much more to the community than good books. Their Book Trails summer break program for children works to keep children’s brains engaged with a reading and writing enrichment program that offers book discussions, writing exploration, and outdoor exploration. They want to help kids access and learn about the beautiful environment in which they live while also fostering their love of books and learning.

Next time you’re in Steamboat Springs, we urge you to step Off the Beaten Path and visit this beauty of a bookstore. You just may see a member of Team Pickle sipping Snickerdoodle coffee while munching on a gooey chocolate chip cookie, her nose deep in a book. It’s okay, you can stop by and say “hello.” She might even share her cookie with you!

We need diverse books!

In Search of Diverse Books

There’s a popular saying here in Kansas. “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” We have some of the most diverse weather patterns I’ve ever seen, with everything from heat waves to snow.

And that was in one twenty-four hour period.

While some may grumble, many of us here in the Midwest embrace that diversity and consider it almost a point of pride. Imagine what the publishing world would look like if authors, readers, and publishers embraced the idea of diverse books with the same enthusiasm. The concept is not so farfetched; many independent publishers are stepping up to fill a void that is becoming more and more obvious to readers everywhere. We asked some of our fellow Pickles to tell us about their favorite diverse books, and they offered up some fine suggestions.

Khadijah Lacina not only handles our sales with a deft touch, she also knows a thing or two about diversity. “One series that really says diversity to me (and which my children love!) is the Anna Hibiscus books by Atinuke. My younger children love Anna Hibiscus’ Song, a lovely picture book, and the older ones read the chapter books again and again. Anna Hibiscus lives in amazing Africa with her mother, her father, her baby twin brothers, and lots and lots of her family. Her dad is from Africa, her mom is from Canada. These books are just lovely. They are funny, sweet, interesting, and totally different from anything else out there!

Another that I like is the Lion Boy series by a mother and daughter team that goes by Zizou Corder. The series is about a young boy named Charlie Ashanti, whose dad is African and whose mother is British. Charlie can talk the language of cats after accidentally swapping blood with a leopard cub. When his parents get kidnapped, Charlie sets out to find them, traveling all over the world, including Morocco and Venice, meeting a wide variety of very interesting characters along the way.”

Award-winning author Elizabeth O. Dulemba is proud of her multi-cultural publishing history, which includes the following picture books:

Paco and the Giant Chile Plant ~ Paco y la planta de chile gigante written by Keith Polette (Raven Tree Press)

Soap, soap, soap ~ Jabón, jabón, jabón by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (Raven Tree Press)

The 12 Days of Christmas in Georgia written by Susan Rosson Spain (Sterling)

“My ParentSmart Kid Happy™ books have lots of diversity in them: Ready for Bed; Ready for the Day; and Ready to Play (Free Spirit). I think I’ve become somewhat known for doing diverse characters, because I’ve been working towards that since the beginning of my career. I was actually pitching a picture book about how people say “I love you” all over the world when LPP asked if I had an environmental novel and purchased A Bird on Water Street. After all, it’s boring to have all your characters look the same. My neighborhood is extremely diverse, my books should be too!”

Jodi Carmichael, also an award-winning author, had this to say: “The one that immediately comes to mind is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It is a story of hope, joy, and love amidst poverty and despair. The voices of our First Nations peoples are often ignored not only in literature, but in everyday life. As a Canadian, a focus on Native stories is where I see a bright and important future in children’s literature.”

The hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks has become an excellent promotional tool for raising awareness of the gulf between readers and books that they can truly relate to. Tell us about some of your favorite diverse books in the comments section, and please consider “tweeting” some or all of these titles along with the hashtag. We talk about broadening our horizons; don’t we deserve to broaden our bookshelves as well?

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About & For Everyone: Why #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Children’s literature and YA literature should be about and for everyone. The good news is that there are plenty of options, but not all of what is written is promoted nor do see that diversity in Best Of lists unless it’s specific to diversity.

Little Pickle Press is committed, as a publishing company, to ensuring that all voices are heard in children’s literature. That’s why we’re so happy to be participating in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks ongoing conversation on Twitter. To that end, here are some of our favorite tweets in the discussion to publish, write, and read more diversity in literature.

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NPR Books not only provided their voice in support of literature diversity, they provided a Diverse #SummerReading list of books for children.  (Be sure to check out the late Maya Angelou’s book, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me from that list!)

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Twitter user Nomad provided this fantastic picture to accompany his tweet about Black comic book characters:

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Our friends at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators also pointed us in the direction of this submission page for writers of color to the second annual New Vision Awards. Be sure to check out Lin Oliver’s post here on the need for diversity. Lin is the Executive Director of the SCBWI.

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Since following the hashtag on Twitter, we’ve also noticed a new account titled appropriately as @diversebooks. The link will lead you to check out the official site for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and we are SO glad we fell down that rabbit hole! It takes books that you may have heard of or read already and gives another option that includes diversity.

The campaign, started by author Ellen Oh with her hashtag, has turned into a full-fledged Tumblr site that offers a lot of diversity options. This is what Twitter does best when a hashtag turns into a movement and then turns into a campaign.

Blogger and author of the memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson also provided input and her voice to the campaign with this photo tweet:

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In fact, if you read through the discussions she was having with her followers at the beginning of May, you’ll find lots of book title suggestions and some of her favorites as well her reason for supporting it.

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It’s been an important dialogue happening online and it shows no signs of waning soon, but it reminds me of why we read in the first place: to escape yet belong to something. Join the conversation here and help us provide the world of literature, for kids and adults, with more diversity and be sure to say hello to us on Twitter!

Kansas City Public Library

Featured Library of the Month:

the Kansas City Public Library

If you are on Facebook, you may have seen a photograph that went viral a month or so ago, featuring a library facade made up of giant books, including Catch 22, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Charlotte’s Web, 100 Years of Solitude, and more. Some thought the photo was a hoax, but no, this is one photo on Facebook that you can trust. It belongs to our featured library of the month, The Kansas City Public Library in Kansas City, Missouri.

This 25-foot-high representation of twenty-two different books is part of the central branch library’s parking garage. It is known as “The Community Bookshelf.” The books are even bracketed by stairwells made to look like bookends! Very, very cool. But even cooler is what you will find in the library itself.

Kansas City Library is home not only to books (both small and large) but also plays host to many events, activities, programs and exhibits. This summer’s exhibits include New Compositions: The Dance Portraiture of Orval Hixon, and Greetings from Kansas City: Postcard Views of a Midwestern Metropolis 1900-1950, which was the winner of the American Library Association’s 2014 Excellence in Library Programming Award.

The Kansas City Library is full of interesting things for kids and teens. They have story times for children of all age groups, and offer books (including ebooks) and movies that are sure to entertain as well. The library also offers live homework help from 2:00 pm to 11:00 pm daily. Older kids have gaming days and classes in such things as learning to use Google Drive, as well as offering a teen library volunteer program.

We have written before about the important niche a library can fill in a community, and Kansas City Public Library certainly works to fill that niche. One very important program they offer is called “Building a Community of Readers.” From their website: “Join the Kansas City Public Library in a campaign to transform our community by promoting a lifelong love of reading! Our goal is for Kansas City to reap the social and economic benefits of being one of the most literate cities in America.”

They hope that the program will benefit Kansas City and its residents in a number of ways, including preparing children for school success, increasing the number of college graduates, encouraging more small business start-ups, and nurturing a greater involvement in civic issues. They suggest reading daily to a young child in your life, encouraging teens to visit the library regularly, and joining the library’s programs that support reading among adults.

Stop by and visit the Kansas City Public library the next time you are in town. After you are done browsing The Community Bookshelf, be sure you head inside and lose yourself, at least for a while, between the pages of a good book.

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Why We Need Diversity in Literature

Little Pickle Press believes that diversity is important in literature for children and adults. When the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks started to trend on Twitter, it was a moment of solidarity for us as something in which we already believed. Our books represent stories as diverse as consciously possible and the illustrations of them equally so. In making this a priority, Little Pickle Press is already out in front of the call to action for diversity so we wanted to share some articles that lend to this discussion in powerful ways.

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Diversity Articles

The Diversity Issue of the School Library Journal delivers over a dozen pertinent articles to the diversity question in literature that ranges from book lists to cross-racial picture books to the “whitewashing” of book covers.

Children’s book author Walter Dean Myers wrote a kickoff piece for The New York Times that addressed the question Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books? In it, he describes and breaks down the numbers part of the equation:

Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin.

The Guardian published a piece by Alison Flood that reflects that the problem isn’t just seen here in the United States with regard to a lack of diversity. In the UK this is also reflected in libraries and shelves (be sure to click the links to the lists for Black girls and American Indians for more resources):

“Your kid’s/school’s/library’s shelf doesn’t look like America,” wrote Weiner on Twitter. “If publishers see a market for books with non-white main characters, they’ll give us more.” She was inundated with suggestions, from titles by Sherman Alexie and Malorie Blackman to Myers himself, with readers and authors also sending her lists from “25 Empowering Books for Little Black Girls” to 30 “outstanding” books about American Indians.”

NPR’s “Morning Edition” has a piece worth listening to as well titled As Demographics Shift, Kids’ Books Stay Stubbornly White that any librarian or teacher or parent would appreciate. Elizabeth Blair writes that parents are a powerful influence for their children when they offer up a diverse set of library books for their shelves at home:

When kids are presented with bookshelves that unbalanced, parents can have a powerful influence. Take 8-year-old Havana Machado, who likes Dr. Seuss and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. At her mothers’ insistence, Havana also has lots of books featuring strong Latinas, likeJosefina and Marisol from the American Girl Doll books. She says she likes these characters because, with their long, dark hair and olive skin, they look a lot like her.

Another NPR piece by the CodeSwitch authors shared a perspective of diversity in comic books and how that informs characterization about superheroes in Who Gets to Be a Superhero? Race and Identity in Comics.

To understand the genesis of the discussion and the ensuing hashtag, Malinda Lo shared an article featuring author Ellen Oh, one of those spearheading the diversity campaign with her piece titled #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign Kicks Off Today! The quote not to be missed here is this:

But what if we got a lot more people shouting with us. What if we took over twitter with our voices? Then people would have to listen to us. And then what if we pointed them in the direction of things they could do to support us.

If nothing else, check out the hashtag on Twitter to capture the essence of the ongoing conversation and join us as we support it. Check out our book titles as well to see the collection of diversity we already carry and help us push the message that WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS!

The Magic Poof, a spokesman for diversity!

The Magic Poof, or:

Why is a short, skinny white guy writing children’s books about black hair?

The answer to this complicated question is love. I fell in love with a black woman, and I fell in love with her hair. My wife isn’t just any black woman, she is one of the foremost academics on race, gender and Intersectionality. And, she has a poof! The Poof is a great ball of curly hair that sits on top of her head. And in my head, he’s definitely a character. He can stretch and form into shapes. “Hello there, how are you?” the Poof will ask. “What’s that thing?” the Poof wonders as he points to different objects around the room. “Can we go play?” the Poof whines as I form him into a giant question mark. My wife knows that for me, this is normal. I’ve been creating characters since I was little, complete with personalities, sound effects and storylines.

After one too many attempts to play with her hair before her morning tea she suggested, “Perhaps you should do something with him.” A picture book! It’s a great place to introduce this character and the African-American heroine he’s attached to. Her personality would be a combination of my wife, my nieces, and the daughter we never had. The perfect Yin to the Poof’s Yang.

But I had a dilemma. “How will African-Americans see a white guy writing about a little black girl? Will they be offended? Should only black people write about black people?”

What my wife, and many others told me is this: It’s ok to create a diverse character, as long as you acknowledge that their diversity is an element of who they are and what their experience is. It doesn’t have to define everything about them, but you can’t ignore it either. If you strike this balance, and you truly love your characters, you will convince others that they are worthy of being loved as well.

She also told me to do my homework. She is a professor after all! I decided to start at my local book store. I figured, a picture book is a picture book, right? This is where all characters are equal in a child’s eyes. Everybody loves stories about wild things and princesses, animals and monsters. There must be room in there for a little girl with magic hair! But that’s not what I found. With the exception of the small, unorganized “World Heritage” section tucked away in the corner, I didn’t see a single book that had a black face, let alone an Asian one. And that had a profound effect.

The Magic Poof, a spokesman for diversity!

I wanted everybody to fall in love with Ange-Marie and her Poof. I wanted them to love her earnestness and his nuttiness. I created more characters. Ling, a little Asian girl who’s a daredevil and a fashionista, and red-headed Dylan, the shy boy who gets taken along for the ride. I consulted with teachers and experts in diversity. I studied the classics. I learned word structure and cadence. Last, I found an incredible illustrator who loved my characters as much as I did.

My goal was never to exploit or profit off a community that was not my own.  My goal was to create characters who were universally loved. Now I can respectfully attend a black book festival or a natural hair show confidently knowing I’ve succeeded. I can see that my message has reached not just little black girls, but girls and boys, moms of multiracial kids, and people who love that my characters teach them it’s ok to be different. So why does a short skinny white guy write about black hair? The answer is: I don’t. I create characters I love.

Stephen Hodges began his creative career in second grade by recording epic stories with his best friend. His love of storytelling and theater carried him to the film industry where he has worked on some of the largest productions in Hollywood including “The Matrix Trilogy” and “Battleship”. His producing experience includes documentaries, commercials and corporate work for Fortune 500 companies. Stephen is a graduate of Arizona State University with degrees in Intercultural Communication and Broadcast Journalism.  He is hard at work on the next Magic Poof book and animated series as well several other television projects.   Stephen currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their star-in-the making Havanese dog, Buttercup.

Stephen has very kindly offered special pricing on The Magic Poof for Little Pickle Press readers. Time is limited, so act now and join the diversity discussion!

The Magic Poof, a spokesman for diversity!

First Friday of the Month Book Review: The Magic Poof by Stephen Hodges

It is simply impossible for me to begin this book review without showing a picture of myself as a young girl because it’s all about the hair for me. Now, this happens to be my favorite picture of myself as an adult, but as a child I wasn’t thrilled with my mother’s fascination with my hair and picking it out into an afro. My sisters both have very textured hair as well, but mine seemed to require a lot more effort. In fact, my father ended up doing my hair more often than my mother because he understood the nature of it from his own hair.

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This is my kindergarten photo from school and, as a young child, I truly hated when my hair was like this. It didn’t look like my mom’s hair, since she is German-Irish, and it felt different. I always felt different because of my hair. I longed to have hair like my mother because she could use a comb and start from her scalp and go all the way to the ends of her hair. This isn’t something that was ever a possibility for me. No comb has gone through my hair when it was dried, but I could style it wet and then it would morph into something akin to a Chia pet.

As an adult, I learned to grow to love it and manipulate it into various styles with a plethora of products. For the last 15 years I have been a natural hair advocate and refuse to have it chemically straightened anymore. I embraced it, but after much frustration and angst over how it seems to have a mind of its own.

Enter today’s book review: The Magic Poof by Stephen Hodges is, simply put, a masterpiece for girls with hair like me. It’s a story about a girl with hair that is magical and the complicated feelings she has about her self-esteem on picture day. Yet, like me, her hair has a mind of its own. Literally.

From the Amazon description:

Seven year old Ange-Marie has always felt different. Who wouldn’t when your best friend is literally attached to you? The Poof is a great ball of curly hair that sits directly on top of Ange-Marie’s head. His magical and playful nature always seems to produce mischief and adventure. In book one of The Magic Poof series, Ange-Marie must decide what to wear for school picture day. But The Poof also wants to look good for picture day! How does Ange-Marie look her best and keep her enchanted and hairy friend a secret? In the end, both The Poof and Ange-Marie find that compromise is the key in any friendship.

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Ange-Marie reminds me of myself, but, more importantly, she views her hair as her best friend and little girls reading this book will start to see their hair differently. The Magic Poof is charming and hilarious from the point of view of any girl (or boy!) who struggles with being different and fitting in with others. Young girls with fantastic imaginations will adore this book and feel very comfortable in the beauty that makes them different.

I adored this book and hope little girls with their own magic poofs will read it in the knowledge that they truly are magical.

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You can pick up a copy of Stephen Hodges The Magic Poof by visiting his website or you can use this link to purchase. There’s a Little Pickle Press discount if you order from his page that gives 20% off for the softcover and 30% for the hardcover.

Diversity

The Diversity Question

Recently there has been an interesting ongoing conversation about diversity in children’s books. It was sparked by the following study: Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about African American people, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin. What is dramatic about this study is that the CCBC has been counting children’s books featuring people of color since 1985 and, counter-intuitively, the number has decreased. Still, the current numbers or percentages seem fairly dramatic on the surface, but those numbers only reflect books that major trade publishers sent to CCBC, as the organization’s director, K. T. Horning, confirmed. Small and medium-sized publishers were left out, which includes our team at Little Pickle Press. We are a small but growing press and our percentage of characters of color is very high, 8 out of 15 titles portray diversity. But even that percentage is not indicative of what we are doing in this area because a few of those titles have animal characters, which obviously aren’t “diverse” in the usual sense of that word.

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As I have followed this story and read multiple blog posts and articles, the consensus is that publishers are not doing enough to bring people of color into the publishing equation. No doubt that seems to be true. The discussion revolved around myths about ethnic groups and what they bought, the inability of the major Children’s book divisions to sell into different markets, the racism that seems to still operate in major corporate publishing houses, and various other issues. But from my perspective, that “gracious blame” as I would call it, misses the larger point that is not being discussed.

Some writers have hinted at the larger cultural factors, but most have wanted to motivate the publishing industry to do more. I think this discussion needs to be contextualized in the larger container of institutionalized societal racism and, even more importantly, in a discussion of the racism that exists in the public educational systems. With that statement I have undoubtedly called fire and brimstone down upon my own head. But publishers do not a culture make, no matter how often or arrogantly they call themselves the “gatekeepers” of culture. Not only has that not been true historically, in spite of the claim, but now in the era of the digital revolution and high quality DIY and hybrid publishing that gatekeeper nomenclature is patently untrue. If you want to know more about how publishers and editors make decisions about what to publish then you can read one of my articles on the subject. The article will provide a perspective on how culture and its various forms of media makes publishing decisions, not editors and publishers.

What can be demonstrated to be historically important is that the public school system really does have a profound effect on the society and culture that they serve, and that they mold.

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I think the real issues around diversity are subject to what is being taught in schools and what kind of literature our children will read and absorb (I am a new grandfather of twin girls so this subject is now hovering on the horizon for me). The relationship between society, education, and publishing is a very complex one that is affected by federal mandates, historical precedents, library priorities, and state machinations. Those complexities can and do impede any kind of rapid culture change and also mean that what I want won’t happen easily or quickly. I want school boards and school districts to confront racism in new ways. Of course, they will say they are, but if you talk to actual teachers in specific classrooms you hear a different line. I want publishers to create bold children’s books, which they often do, but which are not honored or understood by parents and teachers.

Each year, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The ALA condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information. In 2013 the number one most banned book in America was the Captain Underpants series of books by Dav Pilkey. This humorous and outrageous set of books for children ages 7 to 9, by an award winning writer and illustrator, is provoking the ire of thousands of teachers and parents. Why? Because it is aimed at children and not at adults, which is often the problem in this area of publishing. In the 1980s I had the privilege of editing and publishing a book by Maurice Sendak, and he used to tell me outrageous stories about what parents and teachers would say to him about his much banned book, In the Night KitchenBut, I ask, why did they really do that? Those stories were funny, but very sad to me. Weren’t teachers and parents kids once themselves? Do they not remember how much wonder and creativity was coursing through their veins during their school years? Maybe not, but I wish they could and that we all could remember what kinds of books stimulated our minds and imaginations. If we parents and teachers were that free then, we would not hesitate to buy and appreciate books with outrageous characters, and diverse kinds of races and ethnicities. I do believe that we as children’s book publishers, and certainly at Little Pickle Press, will keep including all cultures and races in our books in spite of censorship and myths about limited markets and book banning campaigns.