There is nothing more precious than a sleeping baby – no matter the age. Go to the kid’s section of any library or bookstore and the shelves are stocked with bedtime stories - some great ones :)
The problem is, they’re all for babies and toddlers. Bedtime can be difficult for big kids too. Parents of infants rejoice when baby first sleeps through the night. When my son was a baby he was what is considered a “good sleeper”. Once he was weaned, he slept pretty soundly during the night. He’d wake up late in the mornings, stay awake for about an hour, and then he’d put himself down for a nap! I was amazed.
But every child is different and for a lucky few, sleeping through the night may arrive early. For others, it comes in the toddler years, and for some - even later. When it comes to my daughter, I’m still waiting…
My daughter struggled with sleep from infancy. She needed to be cuddled, rocked, and cajoled to sleep. During those early years when I was overwhelmed and sleep deprived, I developed what parenting experts would consider a bad habit. I would lay down with my daughter until she fell asleep. Then, I’d creep away like a ninja so she wouldn’t wake. Once she could talk, she told me some of the things she was afraid of - things like shadows and how big her dresser looked in the dark.
She’ll be 11 years old next month and she still asks me to lay down with her every night. Now she’s afraid that someone will break into our house in the middle of the night, that she's made a big mistake in her homework, or that she'll lose someone she loves. My nephew is about to turn 12 and has struggled with similar problems with falling and staying asleep all of his life.
It really isn’t true that only wee ones need comfort at bedtime. Heck, many nights I struggle with falling and staying asleep. With the pace and stimulation of modern life and the pressures that so many older kid’s feel, it’s hard for everyone to settle down.
I recently found a set of 3 simple yoga poses that calm my mind and body and have granted sound sleep most nights. One of my faves is child's pose. On a recent trip to the bookstore, I saw Miriam Gate’s beautiful book, Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story . It offers a set of calming poses and guided imagery that are great for all ages. I'm going to buy this book for my daughter and I hoping it will finally help her to relax, rest, and recharge now and for the rest of her life.
What’s your bedtime routine? Do you know any good bedtime books for big kids?
Carol Higgins-Lawrence wrote her first story at the age of five. Her father paid her a quarter for it and she's been writing ever since. She's taken a variety of courses in writing for children. Multicultural perspectives are of particular interest to her. Carol is of Jamaican descent and was born and raised in Canada. She has a BA in Communications and Sociology and she has completed coursework towards a MA in TESOL. She has worked as a literacy educator for the past 15 years. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two young children. You can visit her website at carolhl.weebly.com
Mixed Messages: the depiction of racially mixed families in picture books
Interracial marriage was not fully legal in the United States until 1967. A mere six years later came Arnold Adoff's groundbreaking picture book Black is Brown is Tan (1973, HarperCollins, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully). When Arnold Adoff (Caucasian) married his wife Virginia Hamilton (African American) in 1960, their union violated segregation laws in 28 states. Black is Brown is Tan is a straightforward poem addressing the various skin tones in the family and has the refrain "This is the way it is for us, this is the way we are." The book was reissued in 2002 with new illustrations, also by Emily Arnold McCully.
One thing that stands out to me about these illustrations is that the parents are not depicted as being physically close to each other. Only one image has them touching, and even when they are in bed, there is enough space between them to place another adult.
Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match (Children's Book Press, 2011, illustrated by Sara Palacios and written by Monica Brown) is a bilingual book about a little girl who is Peruvian-Scottish-American. The story depicts her as someone who combines things in ways that other people do not, like making a burrito with peanut butter and jelly. Her own brother criticizes her mismatched clothing, although, presumably, he shares the same biological parents as Marisol. He is depicted as looking more typically Latino, while Marisol has dark skin and red hair, making her "mismatched." Because of the comments that people are making to Marisol, she tries to match. This is boring and makes Marisol unhappy. She decides to go back to her old ways and is once again happy. The conclusion of the story has Marisol adopting a puppy, seemingly a mixed breed puppy. "He's mismatched and simply marvelous, just like me." she says. I find the comparison of a biracial child to a mixed breed dog unsettling, paralleling the word mulatto.
Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs (2015, Feiwel and Friends, illustrated by Shane W. Evans) is the story of a biracial child with an African American father and a Caucasian mother. It echoes many of the sentiments that were expressed in Marisol McDonald; kids tell Mike that his parents don't match. He introduces himself as "mixed-up Mike" at the beginning of the story and talks about people staring at his family. Being biracial is presented as a problem. At the end of the book, Mike says "I'm not mixed up, I just happen to be mixed." While I'm glad that he no longer sees himself as "mixed up," the messages delivered by Mixed Me! are quite negative and awkward.
Lisa Brown's The Airport Book (2016, Roaring Brook Press) is the shining star out of this group of books that feature interracial families. It's very clearly a book about traveling by airplane, not a book about race. The racially mixed family is revealed on the title page, gracefully and unselfconsciously. We see a Caucasian mother, an African American father, and two brown children, packing for a trip. The entire book is filled with a wide variety of people, all ages, races, disabilities, body types and sexual orientations. It is one of the most flawless examples of inclusivity and diversity in recent publishing history. Race is not the subject, race is not the problem. There is no sense that Lisa Brown is being "charitable" by including these characters, these characters seem to exist organically. Obviously, Ms. Brown made all of the decisions about who to depict in The Airplane Book; it is not organic in the literal sense. The tone of the book and the depiction of a wide variety of people feels natural and beautiful and accurately reflects the diversity of people in our world.
For next month's post and moving forward, please send me questions and topics that you would like to discuss that involve libraries, books, diversity, and the children's literature community. firstname.lastname@example.org
Fifi Abu spends her days surrounded by books that have already been created and the rest of her time writing and illustrating books yet to be born. She looks forward to a day when all children can see themselves reflected in the books they read. Ms. Abu holds a master's degree in children's literature and a master's degree in library science, is an active member of SCBWI and a Children's Book Academy graduate.
“We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.”
When the Harry Potter books first came out, I was among the first people at Book of Wonder in New York City to buy a copy. There was already a bit of a buzz about the book and from what I read, the set-up sounded right up my alley.
I sat right down and started reading. As often what happens, my imagination of what the story would be takes over the story I am reading. I read a third of the book and then set it aside. I thought it to be a collection of worn-out characters, plot twists and settings. As I read it, I thought the book was much ado about nothing, a manufactured bit of fluff.
Before long, I put the book away on a shelf and forgot all about it. Book after book in the series came out. With each title, the excitement grew and the more attention the books recieved. I watched from afar, thinking that the readers should go back to read “the real thing”, such as THE LORD OF THE RINGS, THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING or A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA. When I asked about the books, I always replied that I found the Harry Potter books to be highly marketed second-rate rehashes of classic books.
I really had no idea what I was talking about. I can admit that now. I humbly apologize to all. Forgive me. I was jealous.
In the summer of 2005, bored out of my mind with my full-time corporate job, knowing that a new Harry Potter book (HARRY POTTER & THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE) was due any day, I pulled the first Harry Potter book off the shelf and tossed it in my backpack and started reading it on my daily commute.
Something had changed. It might have been me that changed. I was drawn into the world immediately. I sped through the first book in a few days, sometimes reading at my desk. Stopping at a bookstore on the way home, I bought the next book. I read it, sinking deeper and deeper into the world of Hogwarts and the fascinating cast of characters. I tore through the books. I was not alone, the subway cars were full of us: grown-ups with our noses buried the heavy books, getting jostled and shoved about. It was a magical time. We were on a ride side by side, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart.
I was hooked. I caught up right away and found myself a-twitter in anticipation of the next book. I discussed the book whenever I met someone who also had read the books. I scolded anyone who had not read them. “Hurry up, get to it! What are you waiting for?” I would ask them.
I had joined a magical fraternity of enchanted and entranced readers. I often thought that if I was young when these books came out, I am certain I would have dressed like Harry Potter. In many ways, I was Harry Potter as a kid without knowing it.
The books gave me a place to go to. A place that hovered between my imagination and the printed page. A place that swirled around me despite my horrid workplace, crowded subways and streets or my tiny studio apartment on 16th Street. I belonged somewhere else and I knew where it was, at long last.
I moved to Los Angeles in the spring of 2014 and soon after I learned that they were planning on building a “Harry Potter Village” (as I call it) at Universal Studios. I could not believe my great fortune. I followed the progress of the construction work to make certain that it was still on track and keeping in mind the dates it would open. I saw billboards advertising the opening of the park. I spent a lot of time behind the wheel in LA traffic, imagining what it would be like. I almost could not imagine that it would be anything more than a little row of shops. Some faux facades of old buildings. Cobble stone streets. Maybe a little rollercoaster on broomsticks or a whirling quidditch ride. I wanted it to be really incredible was not certain what to expect.
This past month, I finally made a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It had been open for several months and I had heard some promising reviews. When I arrived the place was already alive with crowds of young people dressed in their Hogwarts robes. Somehow, they had built Hogsmeade. There were streets lined with authentic shops complete with snow-covered rooftops. (Keep in mind this is Los Angeles and the temperature was in the 80s.) Nevertheless, there was a chill in the air. We quickly dashed around getting a lay of the land. I was very impressed. I touched the walls to feel how solid they were. Everything felt real, worn, old, permanent. It felt like a real destination. Aside from the lilliputian version of Hogwarts high atop a hill, I had a very good feeling for the place. The attention to detail was impressive. Things were thought out carefully and it looked as if a lavish amount of sensitivity was given to constructing this miniature world.
There were rides and they were beautifully designed. We stood in a 45-minute line to ride the main magical, breathtaking flight ride (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey). The queue meandered through Hogwarts. Technology was able to pull of some rather fascinating magical effects. The air was lively with our excitement. I tried to take pictures but like visiting any city or place, you really had to be there. The thrill was a feeling of being there. Of arriving. At last. We ate lunch at The Three Broomsticks. It was not a bad meal. The butterbeer was a delicious frosty treat. I wanted to buy a wand or school sweater, but did not do so on this trip.
J. K. Rowling sat down years ago and dreamed this world up. It existed somewhere between the printed page and her imagination. She must have believed in it, felt it, because she perserved to get it down on the page and find a publisher. She knew it by heart and did not let it end up in a forgotten folder on a shelf in her home somewhere. She saw something that others did not. She wanted to share it with us.
She made it happen.
As I strolled through her world, I wondered what she thought of seeing it made of wood, stone and brick, inhabited by characters and readers… and even aspiring writers like me. Did she like it? Was it anything like she imagined? Did she stroll through and notice mistakes and flaws? Or, did she stroll through like the rest of us and return to a place of dreams and imagination?
As an author, I came away with a few realizations for fellow writers that I would like to share here.
First, we must know the place our stories take place so well that we can wander through them. Stories are full of detailed and unique places. We must pay close attention to getting the details down.
We must get lost in our worlds and let the stories find our way out.
Secondly, we must believe in our imagined worlds more than anyone else. It is up to us to stay true to our creations. They might just become a theme park one day.
The way to find our way is by believing it exists.
Lastly, we must share our world with others. You never know who will visit them and find what the visitors are searching for. Out there somewhere, someone will stumble into our worlds and touch a wall to feel if it is real, solid, permanent. Someone will believe that it is a place to explore.
We may create a place that will one day, inspire others to imagine cities, town, kingdoms, wizarding schools or lost worlds.
Make your settings orginal. Make them your own. Believe in them. Build them with all the love in your heart.
“I would like to be remembered as someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.”
~J. K. Rowling
Book Island publishes picture books that appeal to me. These books have qualities that some people might classify as “European” - though you shouldn’t let the E word scare you. They are beautifully illustrated and able to tell stories that are subtle and often deal with complex emotional issues. I’m thinking in particular of their title The Lion and the Bird (written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Sarah Ardizzone). The book indulges in such gorgeously quiet moments, I can almost hear the wind whistling over the landscape. Book Island won the 2016 Bologna Prize for Best Children's Publisher of Oceania, and I’m so pleased that founder Greet Pauwelijn made time to answer a few questions from me.
Q: You work with books in translation. Are there some books which, even though you adore them, just can’t translate to another language? Are there some books which are too culturally specific, and can’t “translate” across borders?
GREET: Certainly, we’ve got some foreign children's books on our shelves here that we just can’t translate. I’m immediately thinking of this incredibly funny and positive Polish chapter book about a young, blind girl. The setting and the humour is so Polish that we would never be able to translate that into English without ruining it.
There are also a lot of beautiful and meaningful picture books that we can’t publish in English because they address topics that are taboo for readers in the UK, USA, New Zealand and Australia. We have to be extremely cautious with books about death, bereavement, nudity, violence, …
Q: How important is it to find the right translator for a particular book? Is it comparable to hiring the most suitable illustrator for a text? What qualities have you noticed that makes translators good at their jobs, other than language proficiency?
GREET: I wouldn’t use that comparison. We tend to work with experienced translators who’ve worked with a wide variety of texts. You might think that translating picture books is easier than translating a novel, but nothing is less true. Picture books have very little text, which makes every single word count. When translating a picture book the translator sometimes has to let go of the original text to make sure there’s a perfect match between the sentences and the illustrations. Also, the text has to flow well when read out aloud. You have to be quite experienced to get it right. Everyone involved in the translation process – the translator, the editor and the publisher– is very fussy. You have no idea how many e-mails are being exchanged before we all agree on the final version. I love this part of my job.
Q: Is there a book from your own childhood that you always felt you had to share with your own children? If so, what was it? What language do they read it in?
GREET: As a child I was an avid reader and always looked out for Lemniscaat titles. Unfortunately my kids only read in English. Thanks to Laura Watkinson and David Colmer I can now share books by Tonke Dragt and Annie M.G. Schmidt with them. My oldest son is so crazy about The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood that he’s been begging me to write an e-mail to Tonke Dragt and ask her to write a sequel to the series:-) I’m keeping it a secret to him that Pushkin Press will be releasing a new Tonke Dragt translation by Laura Watkinson at the end of this year.
Q: I like the name of your publishing house, Book Island, and you say the name came from the feeling that comes from reading a book and retreating into your own isolated space. You’ve recently moved from one island nation (NZ) to another (Bristol, UK). Can you name a good book about islands, or about the islands you’ve inhabited?
GREET: I’ve always had a passion for islands and maps, and absolutely adore Atlas of Remote Islands, a stunning book by German illustrator Judith Schalansky.
Greet, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview with me for the Children's Book Academy. You can find out more about Book Island: by visiting their website here: http://www.bookisland.co.nz/en
Rachelle Meyer was born in the state of Texas and spent most of her childhood with her nose in a book. She graduated with a degree in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin and then spent eight years in New York City working as a graphic artist and designer. She has since moved to Europe and launched a successful career as an illustrator, specializing in children's books and editorial interpretations.You can see some of her wonderful work right here: http://www.rachellemeyer.com/
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