Saturday, April 8, 2017

Earliest Memories

I can remember some things from when I was two years old, but some people can't even remember things that happened when they were four or five years old.

My earliest memories are of my grandmother, who died when I was two and three months old. We visited her every weekday, so that's one reason why she's stayed in my memory.

And I remember when my baby brother was born. I was two and a half when that happened. It was an important event, so it, too, was impressed in my mind.

I wonder why some people can remember things that happened early in their lives while others can't.

What are your earliest memories? Do you know why they might have stayed with you?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Stupid Expert

I've always been interested in languages. I took lots of electives in college just for fun and have several shelves of books about languages.

But the stupidest thing I've ever read was in a book by a supposed expert in Linguistics.

I read it so long ago I can't even remember the title or author's name, but I've never been able to forget one stupid thing that supposed expert wrote in his book.

He (and, yes, I do remember it was a man) gave an explanation for the variety of Native American languages.

Here's the explanation:

Thousands and thousands of years ago early humans came across the land bridge that existed between northern Europe and the North American continent and traveled southward, then across the continent.

As they traveled they dropped off babies and toddlers who hadn't yet learned to talk at multiple points along the way. Each group of tiny children developed their own language.

In the first place, what are the chances of kids that young being able to survive without adults to care for them?

And why would any people simply drop off their babies and leave them, probably to die?

Even if the toddlers survived to adulthood, could they really invent complex languages?

The whole concept is so impossible I don't know how whoever wrote that book even got it published.

I wish I could find out the title or author. He ought to have won an award for the worst academic book ever written.




Saturday, April 1, 2017

Mnemonic Devices

A Mnemonic device is something that helps a person remember something.

Most of us probably learned some of those in school.

One example is "I before E except after C or when followed by G as in neighbor or weigh."

As we get older our brains gather more and more information, so it becomes easier to forget things.

I've developed a few mnemonic devices of my own.

For example, I used to keep my medications on the windowsill over the sink and I'd move them from one side to the other after taking them. That way I'd be sure I'd done so.

I'll put library books I've finished reading in a different location than the unread ones so I don't forget to return them.

I keep a big whiteboard in my office and write my daily to-do lists on it, then check off the things I've accomplished.

And, of course, I often write notes to myself and put them where I know I'll see them.

What do you do to help yourself remember things?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Agreeing

With all the disagreement going on in the world about politics, religion and just about everything else, it's nice to know there's one thing everyone agrees on.

What is that? you may ask.

It's money.

Money is only bits of paper or metal or even references to those things. The only reason it has any value at all is because everybody agrees that it has.

Even the gold standard only worked because everyone agreed that gold was valuable.

You can't eat it, cook with it, build houses or make clothes with it, but it is pretty and rare.

Money isn't even pretty or rare, though most people would like to have more of it.

All of us work for it, trade it for things we want or need, or hoard it.

It would be interesting to see what the world would be like if money didn't exist.

Maybe there are creatures on planets in other galaxies who have advanced societies without money. (Okay, my writerly imagination is coming into play here.)

But here and now, we can be grateful that at least there is one thing we can agree about.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Computers

I've blogged about my early experiences with computers before, but here's something else about computer history.

Today I looked up the word, computer, in my old dictionary that I used in college. (I still keep it because it tells about the history, not only the definitions of words.)

That edition of the dictionary was published in 1958 and the word, computer, wasn't even in it!

Wow! The world has certainly changed a lot since then.

I think it was in the 1960s that we began hearing about those things. The early ones were gigantic, about the size of refrigerators. And they only existed in a few science laboratories.

Rumors began spreading about those strange contraptions, which seemed like something out of science fiction. Like many people, I found the concept a little scary. There were even rumors that someday computers might take over the world!

Well, that's one prediction that has certainly come true.

Since I wasn't a scientist I didn't know exactly what those huge, early computers could do, but it was only the tiniest fraction of what even tiny cellphones can do today.

Of course my writerly imagination still wonders if they might someday be used for some sort of mind control or other world dominance.

But, in the meantime, it's hard to imagine what we would do without them. I'm certainly grateful for mine.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Big Change

I'm preparing for a big change in my life.

Since my income will go down in a few years I've decided to go back to operating a preschool in my home, as I did years ago. I no longer live in the same community, but I'll use the same name for it, Happy Hands.

I'm not as young as I used to be, so this Happy Hands will be mornings only, but I think there are stay-at-home parents and grandparents who would enjoy a break from childcare while their kids or grand kids benefit from learning.

Besides operating my own family daycare home, I also taught in several preschools, so I have lots of experience.

And I love working with young children!

But the requirements are much stricter and more complex than they used to be, so it will be several months before I'm licensed and ready to start advertising Happy Hands.

I can hardly wait!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Hair

I let my hair grow for over three years so it would be long enough to get cut off and make wigs for cancer patients.

If I let it hang loose it was driving me crazy getting in my face. In a ponytail it bumped against the backrest in my car. And I was constantly yanking out snarls.

This week I decided it was long enough, and got it cut short.

Ahh, it feels so much better!

But, to my surprise, the only places that accept grey hair for wigs make them for children with various conditions that cause hair loss, not only cancer.  I asked why places that make wigs for adults don't accept grey hair and was told adults who want wigs are more fussy and want to be sure the ones they get aren't died.

But don't people with grey hair ever need wigs?

I don't understand, but I hope my hair donation will help improve the life of some kid.

Here are the before and after photos my neighbors took for me:


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Dessert Garden

This book starts out like a fantasy. Martin and Julio expect to find doughnuts and cupcakes growing on trees when their parents take them to the Dessert Garden the next day.

But the garden is real, and the kids discover all kinds of delicious fruits growing there, and some healthy desserts made from them.

This charming picture book is both fun and educational. It will help motivate kids to appreciate eating healthy food instead of junk food. And they'll learn something about Latino culture and a few words in Spanish in the process.

Diane de Anda has done a great job writing this book, and Eugene Ruble added colorful illustrations.

I hope lots of kids get to enjoy and learn from The Dessert Garden.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Preschool and Kindergarten

Back in the 1940s and '50s there were no preschools. Some rich families sent their kids to "nursery schools," but those were not common.

And Kindergartens weren't required, so lots of children started First Grade without any previous school experience. Many churches included five year old children in their nurseries, so those kids hadn't even had experience in Sunday School.

Even after Kindergarten did become required, most of them were only for half days. Since most children had stay-at-home moms, five year old kids would be at home the rest of the time.

Today there are far more mothers with full time jobs than stay-at-home moms. Kindergartens start and stop at the same time as the older grades, and thousands of children go to after school programs in the afternoons.

Kindergartens used to teach the things kids now learn in preschool, so Kindergarteners learn the things kids used to learn in First Grade.

I used to be a substitute teacher and noticed that children who hadn't been to preschool were at a great disadvantage when starting Kindergarten. Many of them had missed learning basic skills like the alphabet, counting, and writing their names, and they hadn't leaned how to function as part of a group. It took them some time to learn to raise their hands and wait to be called on, walk in a line, sit quietly at their desks, take turns, etc.

Preschools are great for kids.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Libraries

I love libraries!

When I was a kid the small town where we lived had a branch of the county library in what had previously been a bar. My father took me there to get my first library card when I was in First Grade.

After he died my mother had to get a job. Since I had severe asthma I couldn't climb the hill to our house, so every day after school I'd hang out at the library until my mother picked me up on her way home from work.

The librarian taught me the Dewey Decimal System and let me help her by shelving books. In return I always got to be the first kid to read the newest books for kids.

A few years ago the county where I now live considered selling the libraries to a private company. The entire community came out in protest, so they kept the free, public libraries.

Now the libraries use computers instead of cards to check books out, and file card catalogs are obsolete. Some people come to the library to use computers with internet access, and the main county library even has a 3D printer and classes in technology.

Things have changed a lot since I was a kid!

But little kids can still come to Story Time, and people are constantly coming in to check out or return the old fashioned, hard copy books they enjoy reading.

I hope libraries never go away.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Tech Stuff

In the 1970s if I'd seen someone walking around alone and talking out loud I'd have assumed he or she was mentally ill. Today I see people doing that all the time.

As a kid I wouldn't have guessed people would be able to do all the things technology allows us to do today.

And who knows what the future may bring?

Mechanical arms are becoming available for people who can't use their usual arms because of a special need. I predict one day we'll have brain implants that let us plug a third arm into a shoulder whenever we could use an extra hand.

But tech stuff isn't always good.

I heard on the radio (Yes, I still listen to one of those old fashioned things) that kids are suffering because their parents are always using their tech devices instead of interacting with their children.

And we've probably all heard that it's bad for kids to use their own phones, etc. as much as they do.

My writerly imagination makes me wonder if one day the government will require everyone to use devices, or even brain implants, that let them track us all the time.

I love that I can communicate with people all over the world and have connected with some I hadn't had contact with in years through the internet.

I spend lots of time on my computer every day and, since I did terribly in my school typing class, I probably couldn't have become a published writer without modern technology.

But there can be too much of a good thing. Sometimes we just need to set limits.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cosmic

Liam, the main character in Cosmic, is like any other kid except that he looks like an adult. That enables him to become the chaperone for a bunch of kids on a secret space flight.

The book is nearly half over before the kids actually get sent into space, but it's an adventure from the very beginning.

Kid who read this book will have to wonder what it would be like to look like an adult and have to act like one to convince real adults they're one of them.

And the interactions between the kids are realistic.  The author, Frank Cottrell Bouce, obviously knows kids.

And when Liam manages to become the chaperone, that's only the beginning of the adventure. Due to some errors, the kids might never get back to Earth, and the trip is secret so nobody would even search for them.

Cosmic is an exciting book that will be enjoyed by both middle grade boys and girls.
 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

My Books for Kids

I don't often mention my own books, but decided to do it once in a while. They're all available online at places like Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and local bookstores can get them through their distributors.

The Peril of the Sinister Scientist is about a kid in Middle School who thinks he was cloned from the blood on the Shroud of Turin. He needs to know What Would Jesus Do. The publisher rushed it into publication so I could have it ready for a group book signing so the kid on the cover doesn't look at all like the main character.

Secret Service Saint is about Nicholas, who discovers the fun of doing secret good deeds. It's a surprise at the end that he becomes known as Santa Claus, so this might be a good time for kids to hear the story and learn the truth about Santa Claus.

Signs of Trouble is about kids who get separated from their Special Ed class on a field trip and use what they've learned about recognizing signs and following safety rules to get reunited. It has educational information in the back that would be helpful for classes and home schooled kids.

Slime & All is about a giant, talking worm who wants a friend and a boy who helps him. It's written at second grade reading level and I hope it encourages kids to accept people who are different.

A Shadow of Fear is about a boy who must face his fears to help a friend with a special need when her "helper dog" is lost. (It's not an official Service Dog.)

It's just a coincidence that all my books for kids have the letter, S, in the titles.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wonder

I decided to read the book, Wonder, by R. J. Pelacio because I'd heard that it was good.

It not only is a good book, it's one of the best I've ever read, and I've read thousands.

The book is about a boy named Auggie who was born with a severe facial deformity and has been home-schooled all his life. When people see him, they often react with horror or embarrassment.

But Auggie's parents have decided to enroll him in a mainstream school for fifth grade.
He's terrified about how other kids will react to him.

And they do react to his appearance.

The story is realistic - the author obviously understands kids - and the plot is fascinating.

The point of view characters change every so often, but readers are given clear warning when that's happening, so it isn't confusing.

I've always cared about kids with Special Needs, and my tagline is, Opening Eyes, Opening Hearts.
Wonder will certainly open the eyes and hearts of kids who read it, but it's also a just, plain, good story.

I hope Palacio will write more books in the future, but it will be difficult to produce any as good as this one.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Baby Carriages

When I was a little kid on the East Coast my mother would push my baby brother around in a baby carriage. People kept stopping her and asking if the baby was a boy or a girl.

I thought it would be much simpler if baby carriages were either pink or blue instead of the dark colors used back then. It would save so much time if my mother didn't have to keep stopping and telling people my baby brother was a boy.

A few years later we moved to California and babies didn't ride in carriages. Instead they were pushed around in baby buggies.

That was only one of the strange differences in how people talked.

And that's probably one reason I became interested in languages.

I took Latin and German in High School and French in College. Although I majored in English, I also took quite a few college electives in Linguistics just for fun.

Later I learned American Sign Language from an interpreter who I later married, worked at California School for the Deaf for many years, and raised three Deaf foster kids.

Of course the baby carriages were only one minor influence, but they helped set me on a path that made a difference in my life.

We never know when some little thing can start us in a new direction.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Nicknames

I'm never sure of my own name anymore. Some groups I belong to have another member named Janet, so they call me Jan. Other groups have someone named Jan, so I'm Janet to them.

When I was a kid in the 1940s I asked my parents to call me Jan, but everybody "knew" that was a boy's name in Holland, so it wasn't appropriate for a girl. I suggested that they call me Jenny, but that was the name of a mule in a comic strip so nobody would want to be called by that name.

I was stuck with being called Janet until the day I got married. But Janet Collins seemed a little bit difficult to pronounce because of the "t" and "C" sounds being next to each other, so some people started calling me Jan. By then people didn't think of it as a boy's name.

Centuries ago a nick name was originally an eke name.

Eke meant just a tiny bit more, like eking out something. If someone was affectionate they'd add something tiny to show that at the end of a person's name. For example John would be called Johnny, or George would have the nickname of Georgie. Those are diminutives and show affection.

Of course many nicknames are shorter than the original names. Will is shorter than William and Sue is shorter than Sue, but Billy and Susie are still used.

And lots of nicknames aren't based on the original names at all. People may be called affectionate things like Sugar, Sweetie, or Honey or called by their relationship to others or some noticeable characteristic. I've known people called Sis, Sonny, Red, and Doc, among others.

Do you have a nickname?

If you do, do you like having it?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Loving Kids by Reading

When I was a little kid one of my parents always read to me from a picture book before having me say a prayer, kissing me good night, and tucking me in.

When my brother was old enough each of us would get to choose a book for our bedtime stories.

He ALWAYS picked the same one, The Animals of Farmer Jones.

I would have preferred to hear another different story every night besides the one I chose, but that was his preference.

Having our parents read to us made both of us feel loved.

I've mentioned before that scientific studies have shown reading to young children helps their academic abilities when they're older.

But that's not as important as making them feel loved, and reading stories as part of the bedtime ritual certainly helps do that.

Did your parents read to you when you were too young to read?

If they did, what were your favorite bedtime stories?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bleak Midwinter

I remember the Christmas carol that begins, "In the bleak midwinter." The lyrics were a poem written by Christina Rossetti.

But Christmas was only the beginning of Winter.

The bleak midwinter is actually now. The third of February was the exact middle of the Winter season.

This time of the year can be pretty bleak. In Northern California the strong winds and huge amounts of precipitation have caused a lot of damage.

And I'm glad not to live in places like Louisiana where the weather has been even more dangerous.

Of course other parts of the world have different weather. In Australia it's now midsummer!

But, no matter what kind of weather is happening, people will complain about it.

Since I haven't had my home destroyed or any other serious damage caused by the weather I intend to enjoy it as much as possible.

If the power goes out I can sit in front of the fireplace and read a book by lantern light. 

And I'm grateful that the water will restore life where years of drought have killed plants and trees.

How do you cope with the bleak midwinter?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

My Favorite Kids

I've been a parent, grandparent, teacher, and I'm author of books for kids. 

Of course I love my own kids and grandkids best, but if I had to choose my favorite age group to work with it wouldn't be easy because I enjoy kids of all ages.

Babies and toddlers are very cute, but caring for them is sometimes difficult.

I was a substitute teacher for many years and my least favorite age to work with was Middle School. I thought the boys behaved a lot like two-year-olds while the girls acted like they were twenty, and it wasn't easy to keep both sexes interested in anything.

High school kids are more like adults. Historically, and in some cultures today, they would be married and holding jobs instead of attending school.

Elementary school kids were a pleasure to teach, because most of them are interested in learning, but my favorite age to work with is preschoolers.

I taught preschool for about twelve or thirteen years and loved doing that. Those kids are both cute and eager to learn.

If you are or have been a parent or worked with kids what's your favorite age group?


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Life On Mars

No, this isn't a post about a scientific discovery. At least not exactly.

It's a review of a book for kids.

Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown is a middle grade fiction book about Arty, a boy with the usual problems of sibling rivalry with his sisters. He has two good friends, a fascination with astronomy, and an active imagination.

Then a strange, scary, old man moves in next door, and Arty's dad looses his job so they'll have to move away. Things keep getting more and more difficult.

When Arty has to stay with that scary neighbor he finds out the man can help him find out about life on Mars. Then even more things change.

I couldn't help caring about Arty as if he were a real kid.

The story is fun, exciting, and kids who read it will enjoy learning about astronomy without being bored.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Names

I've blogged about names before because they fascinate me.

There are dozens of names related to my first name, Janet. It means 'gracious gift of God,' or 'God gives grace' and some of the various forms from different languages include John, Juan, Sean, Jeanette, Juanita, Shawna, and Janice, to name only a few.

Then there are the last, or surnames.

Lots of those were originally based on people's careers, where they lived, or what they looked like. Names with "son" or "s" at the end told what family someone was from.

Towns and cities were often given names that described their locations. Others were named after people who originally owned or ruled the land where they were built, or who were famous. Others were named after historical events. Sometimes when places were settled by people who had traveled  from far away they were named after the residents' previous homes, often with the prefix, "New." And some were named after deities or religious figures like saints.

And people often give names to animals - unless they plan to kill them for food.

Do you know the meaning of your names and the place where you live?

If you have pets, what are their names and why did you choose those?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Teaching Kids

When I was a little girl my father died and my mother had to get a job. Fortunately my grandfather had retired and was able to move in with us to care for us kids while our mother was at work. There were no daycare centers or after school care back then.

Throughout my childhood my mother kept telling me I should become a teacher when I grew up so I could be home with my kids whenever they weren't in school. (She had no idea how much work teachers must do when the students aren't there.)

I thought it would be stupid to choose a career in case some husband I might never have might die and I'd have to care for kids I might never have, so I completely ruled out the possibility of becoming a teacher.

I never got a degree in teaching (though I do have Early Childhood Education units) but ended up teaching kids even though it wasn't in the kind of classroom situations I expected.

After working in the dorms at California School for the Deaf for many years as a counselor and Instructional Counselor, I had a preschool family daycare home for about seven years, worked as a substitute teacher for all ages for about another six years, and taught preschool for about four more years.

If I had followed my mother's suggestion and gotten a credential to teach elementary school I probably would have made more money, but I enjoyed working with preschoolers and in Special Education classes.

I wasn't a widow, but just loved the kids.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Languages

Not too many years ago language was defined as "a spoken or written means of communication." Back then American Sign Language wasn't considered a real language since it was neither spoken nor written, so very few people who weren't Deaf or related to someone who was knew ASL.

Now that lots of people can study that language in school life is easier for Deaf people.

And even animals have languages. I read a fascinating book by Stanley Coren called How To Speeak Dog about dog communication.

We once had a Deaf Dalmation who learned to understand over 300 ASL signs (mostly names of people or animals, places, and foods) and all her signs are in that book. I have a story about her in a Chicken Soup For The Soul Book, I Can't Believe My Dog Did That.

I also once met and had a very short conversation with Koko, the gorilla who learned Sign Language.

But lots of other creatures have languages. The birds and the bees are only a few of them.

Communication is essential to all of us.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Political Questions

I usually blog about words, books, and kids, so I hope readers won't mind that this post is off topic.
I've been thinking about politics lately for obvious reasons and have some questions.

Why do political parties exist at all? I don't think the Constitution mentions them, though it has been a few years since I took the Constitution Test in 8th Grade.

Who decided that seats in Congress should be arranged according to the political parties of members? Is that in the Constitution? If not, why not eliminate it?

And, why do the parties get to nominate candidates for the presidency? But, if they didn't do it, who would?

And, what about the Electoral College? Who decides who the members are? And what would happen if those members chose to vote differently than the majority in their states? If they can do that, then they have immense power and the USA isn't actually a democracy. 

If the Electoral College were to be abolished I guess we'd have to wait until every single vote had been counted to know who won elections. This year it would have taken weeks for us to get the results.

And why not count our votes according to the individual citizens instead of involving states at all? That way every person's vote would count the same.

I'd love to hear your answers and comments on these questions. Thanks.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Imagine That

I'm happy to live in a neighborhood where kids can play outside on sunny days without adult supervision.

I wonder if they use their imaginations and pretend things as we did when I was a kid, but I certainly don't want to be nosy and spy on them.

Today's kids are using I-phones and pads so much of the time they don't have much opportunity to use their own minds to create possibilities.

And most of them are constantly under adult supervision so they stop pretending at a much younger age than my generation did.

I grew up just after World War II and, if people returning from military service had PTSD we never heard about it. I personally knew some airmen who had served in the Korean War, and my mother worked at Hamilton Air Force Base as Civilian Personel so I met quite a few other military people. They all seemed perfectly normal, though some might have hidden their trauma.

I wonder if part of the reason some war veterans have PTSD today is because they were used to shooting and killing people all the time with their computer games and didn't realize how different the real thing would be.

I wish kids could just go out to play and pretend for a few hours every day without the use of technology.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

King of Shadows

I've read thousands of books for kids in my life, and King of Shadows by Susan Cooper is certainly one of the best.

It's about a boy in a drama troupe rehearsing to produce a play by Shakespeare who is transported back to the past and actually meets Shakespeare himself. But there's a lot more to the plot than that.

Anyone who is interested in Shakespeare or history will enjoy this book.

Anyone interested in drama or the theater will enjoy this book.

Anyone who likes a book with an exciting plot, realistic characters, and excellent writing will enjoy it.

And anyone who enjoys all three will absolutely love it, as I do.

Now I'll have to read more books by Susan Cooper.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party

I recently read Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine.

The book is based on the author's personal experiences growing up in China under the Communist "Cultural Revolution."

Middle grade kids who read it will be amazed at the sort of things people experienced in China back then, but people in my generation heard about all that in the news back when it was happening.

The book is well-written and the main character is easy to care about.

In spite of the terrible things going on, the book isn't depressing, has a satisfying ending, and will encourage young readers to stand up for what they believe is right.

I hope lots of today's kids will read it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

I Have A Voice

I've been interested in, and worked with, people who have special needs most of my life, but the main character in this book has a condition I'd never heard of before. It's called Selective Mutism.

Jamie is unable to speak to anyone except members of her immediate family, and she'll be starting Kindergarten soon. What can she do?

Her mother takes her to Dr. Faye, who helps her work through her problem.

When Jamie meets another girl on her first day of school she is able to speak without a problem. She is no longer selectively mute!

Joni-Klein Higger has written other books for kids, and did this one with assistance from therapist Flora Zaken-Greenberg, Ph.D.

While the story, and colorful pictures by Eileen Goldberg, are intended for kids, the information at the back of the book about Selective Mutism will be helpful to adults who know someone with this condition.

In my opinion, every school with Special Education classes should have a copy of this book, as should anyone who knows or works with children who have Special Needs.

And lots of kids will enjoy reading the book because it has a positive message and will help them accept others who are different from themselves.