Archive for September 2011

Small Saul, by Ashley Spires

We didn’t go out of our way to find them, but themes of appreciation and valuing difference continued this week — this time in a pirate tale. I sometimes think young children lament things that make them different. While we try to help them gain pride in their uniqueness, it is not always easy for children to accept and embrace that everyone is different, including themselves, and that this is a good thing.

Small Saul may be little but he doesn’t let that deter him from his dreams. Off to pirate college he goes to develop a proper “Aarrh”! While Saul learns all of the pirate ways and eventually joins a real pirate ship he is still uniquely himself with his own preferences and style. One of the great things about this book is that Saul never questions himself or feels like he needs to change. He accepts who he is and this is a great message of self confidence.

The story culminates with the other pirates, who at first rejected him, realizing how they value what he brings to their crew. There are many ways that each and everyone of us can contribute and it is not always in ways that match exactly what other people are doing. It’s a valuable lesson of appreciation – good for any age and any time.

What unique traits are you trying to encourage in your children? Feel free to comment below. I’ll start the list with the following for my daughters:

Elizabeth – taking pride in her height (which often makes her feel that she sticks out, “I look like I’m a nine year old”)

Sophie – leaving that phase of always expecting routine and learning to enjoy new situations, people and experiences (rather than crying and clinging). She started a new dance class this weekend without any tears, so it looks like we are making headway!

I look forward to hearing yours!


Purple Little Bird, by Greg Foley

I frequently find our daughters to be a mirror of Anil and myself. Sometimes they are kind through and through and sometimes they tend to be stubborn (a trait I was told I inherited from my grandmother and could never figure out if it was something bad or good!). Then there are the moments that cause me to hang my head in shame as the girls tell each other to “shut up” and point at me when I asked them where they learned to speak like this. I promise myself I will do better. And I wonder why the good stuff never seems to have quite the same appeal for repetition — like appreciating the good things and diverse people in our lives. I do make an effort to do this regularly, but it can be hard at the end of a weekend when everyone is complaining and seems to have no recognition for all of the parts that were good. Expressions of appreciation can seem difficult for children and I don’t believe that this is due to a lack of being shown this behaviour. It is never a bad time to reinforce the importance of appreciating what we have and how others are different, but at this time of year, with (Canadian) Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day coming up, it seems especially important.

Enter the very unassuming Little Purple Bird. Yes it is a book about colour. It is also a great book for a big sister to read aloud (which I appreciate a great deal if you have read my blog from two weeks ago). It’s about more than just this, though – tucked inside is a message about appreciating what you have and different things you find in others. The Little Purple Bird lives in a house which he/she has painted and furnished all in purple. But something is missing. So the bird sets out on a quest to find the perfect place to live.

He/she meets creatures in various habitats of different colours — but none of these are exactly right. Finally, some wise possums show the little bird a great place. Suprise! It is his/her home, which only requires a little bit of colour from each of the places the bird visited to be made ideal. I find it interesting that it would take those who hang upside down to help the little bird appreciate what he/she has. If more time spent on the park jungle gym is the solution, I think the girls will only be too happy to comply!

The last page is a globe showing the interconnections between the bird’s home and the stops on his/her journey, leaving us to think about how we all have some things to appreciate, both within ourselves and others.

We are going to read this one a few more times before returning it to the library. This is a subtle and helpful message for the beginning or end of any day.

Jumping Jenny by Ellen Bari. Illustrated by Raquel Garcia Macia

It is interesting to see what stories or part of a story will resonate with your child. It is not always what you would expect.

Last year Elizabeth’s Taekwondo class had a kick-a-thon to raise money for the Strong Kids Campaign at the YMCA. In school, her class participated in the Jump Rope for Heart campaign; the school also had a parent council donation request (new school equipment), a loonie-a-button (funds for earthquake victims in Japan), bake sale (to support the grade 8’s class trip), etc., etc. Each of these is a well-intentioned and meaningful effort, but sometimes (and I’m sure I’m not the only parent to think this) the amount of child fundraising seems almost too much! Still, it is good for kids to recognize how they can help make things better and certainly in this day and age raising money for good causes is a regular activity for children.

In this book, Jenny’s class is preparing to help out a sister school in Africa. She sets a goal for herself to make 1,000 jumps on her pogo stick even though she has only made it as high as 250 previously. Jenny has had some rough times with others not appreciating her jumping but she determines to use her ability to help raise money through collecting pledges for each jump. I love the message in this story. Elizabeth connected to the jumping (skipping rope has been a new and much enjoyed activity this past summer). Sophie connected with the number 1,000 and now points it out whenever we see it (or a number with some similarity like 100, 10,000, etc), so we all connected with this story in some way.

I think the overall message was to remind us how our actions can make a difference everyday. This book comes highly recommended by the three of us!

A Call for a New Alphabet, by Jef Czekaj

What I perceive as Elizabeth’s reluctance to read for herself baffles me. We rarely have TV on during the week. We read together all of the time. Many of her friends seem to be quite proficient readers. She recognizes the value of reading – especially for all of the things she sees advertised and believes she needs.

My finds at the library this week include a copy of Usborne Parents’ Guide – Help Your Child to Read and Write, by Fiona Chandler. It reminds me that learning to read is one of the hardest things a child will ever do. I tell myself Elizabeth will become a reader when she is ready. Yet when I see young children who are deeply immersed in their own independent reading, I hope she will soon share this experience.

In the meantime, I remind myself of how lucky I am to be a parent reading to my children during a time when incredibly fun books are available. Any day that begins with or ends with a laugh from the book we are reading feels like winning a jackpot! A Call for a New Alphabet is an educational hoot! While my daughters don’t fully appreciate this story yet, it has humour that works on many levels, beginner to advanced.

I never have imagined that vowels and consonants could be so much fun; the author gives each their own personality and ‘issues’. It is understandable that ‘X’ would lead the charge for a new alphabet — who wouldn’t be upset being so near the end of the alphabet and starting off so few words? But as he dozes off to sleep the night before the letters vote on a change, ‘X’ dreams deeply and begins to appreciate the complexity of all the other letters. It is fun in a comic book style, and a good read for an older child because it will reinforce grammar rules.

Does ‘X’ succeed? Well, you will need to pick it up to find out. Be prepared to laugh — this is one craftily written and illustrated story.