Sunday, February 28, 2010


I don't usually post anything on Sundays, but I found something that might interest you. In October I reviewed a book by Kathy Stemke about using physical activity to help kids learn. Here's something she recently wrote that will help children improve their reading skills:
Please check it out.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Culture Shock

Culture shock means the feelings of disorientation people experience when they find themselves in a different environment then they're used to. The term originally referred to the experience of someone moving to a foreign country. But similar feelings of disorientation may happen when kids start a new school, move to a different place, or have a change in their immediate family such as a sibling going away to college, a grandparent or step-parent moving in, or a new baby being born.
As adults we experience culture shock on a small scale all the time because the world we live in has had more changes in the last twenty years than it used to have in a matter of centuries. Do you remember a time before most people had personal computers? Before people on space stations were heard of? When all telephones were on land lines?
And in our current society changes are coming even faster. Have your favorite big-box stores changed their names and owners? Have other businesses you used closed down? Have you or people close to you had to find new jobs or leave their homes? Have you learned the car you've driven for a long time may be unsafe?
It's normal under those circumstances for people to cling to whatever is still familiar and refer to the way things used to be, perhaps even to an extreme degree. But, as we become used to the new normal, it will be possible for us and our children to release our hold on the past and move on.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Baby Names

As a teacher I noticed that names often come in batches. Sometimes parents tend to name their babies after someone famous so it's not surprising that hundreds of children born near the same time were given the same name. But in other cases there doesn't seem to be any reason for an epidemic of certain names in kids of similar ages.
Of course, some names never seem to go out of style and are often handed down in families for generations. Other common ones are given in honor of saints or other important religious people.
In recent years many parents have tried to give their babies unique and uncommon names but it's not unusual for those kids to later discover other children with identical or similar ones in their school or neighborhood. In the meantime, names that were popular in generations past have become unusual now.
Perhaps modern parents who want to give their children uncommon names should consider some of the old ones. Let's see.... How about naming girls Mabel, Bertha, Edith, Ramona, Viola, or Doris? All those names once belonged to people in my own family. And boys might be called Percival, Augustus, Gilbert, Lucidus, or Oliver. There are a few children with some of those names, but they're far less usual than most.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Meeting Authors

When I was a Girl Scout our troop once visited the home of a local author, Josephine Blackstock, who showed us the galley proofs of her newest book and told us about her job. That was an unforgettable experience and encouraged me become an author myself when I grew up.
After many years of doing other things I finally became a professional writer and now I truly am the author of children's books.
Today I'm at a writer's conference as a workshop leader and I've attended and spoken at many others. But it's still always a thrill for me to meet and connect with other authors, especially those who write the kind of books I enjoy reading.
And when I meet kids who enjoy books at school visits and other places I always hope some of them will be inspired to become writers themselves someday. Then perhaps they will pass the torch on to generations even farther in the future.
By the way, Blackstock is the author of a biography of John Newbery, and the most prestigious medal for the best children's books published each year is named after him. Now that's a positive influence!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


When I was a kid, and for many generations before that, kids entertained themselves and each other by playing games like tag, hide and seek, jump rope, hopscotch, having races, etc. The rules were passed down from older children to younger ones with no need for adult intervention.
Now lots of kids don't even know what those games are unless they've been taught to play them in school.
Instead, they play electronic games. Is that a bad thing?
Some people say violent electronic games, like devices used for training new military recruits, can make kids comfortable with the idea of hurting or killing other people and blame the games for increased violence in our society. But I remember when people said the same thing about children playing with toy guns. Of course the old fashioned violent play was much less realistic, so the modern games might have some negative influence, especially if played excessively.
On the other hand, many of those games teach children good things like how to solve problems, and help improve their manual dexterity.
The biggest problem with electronic games is that children tend to spend too much time playing them when they should be getting exercise, but today most kids in our society can't go out to play in their neighborhoods without adult supervision like we did anyway.
Instead of considering computer games to be evil, it would make better sense for parents to control which games their kids play and how much time they spend playing them, and make sure plenty of physical activities are also included in their children's lives.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Feet and Shoes

Did your mother keep your first pair of shoes all her life? Many did and still do. Baby shoes are cute and remind us how tiny our kids once were.
As they grow older, children's feet grow amazingly fast, and new shoes are often a necessity. We may choose them for practical reasons or to look nice for special events. As kids grow older, they may need certain kinds of shoes to go with uniforms or as status symbols, and things like dancing lessons and sports require certain kinds of shoes.
Unlike other clothes, hand-me-down shoes from older kids aren't a good idea unless they weren't worn much because each person's feet are unique and the shoes would have changed to fit the child who previously had them. Parents must spend a lot of money on shoes, but it's important to do it because shoes that don't fit well can be painful.
Before babies are born they grow from the top down, but children grow from the bottom up. We noticed ours would first outgrow their shoes, then pants would get too short. Next their shirts and jackets would become too small and, finally, we'd have to replace glasses and hearing aid earmolds because those no longer fit. Then the child's shoes would get too small and we'd know the cycle was beginning all over again.
I've heard that old shoes hung on a power line indicate a location for drug deals, but I choose to see them in a positive light and let them remind me of the many shoes my children wore over the years and the cute little feet they once had.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The London Eye Mystery

The London Eye Mystery is a middle grade novel by British author, Siobhan Dowd. It's an exciting middle-grade book, of which there are many, but two things set this one apart.
First, it involves an impressive tourist attraction I'd never heard of before. The London Eye is a gigantic ferris wheel where groups of people ride in sealed capsule-type cars. The kids in the book must figure out how their cousin disappeared while riding in one of those.
The second unusual thing is that it's told in first person by a protagonist who seems to be autistic, although that word is never used. Ted's brilliant mind doesn't work like other people's do, and, with the help of his "normal" sister, he uses his different way of noticing things and thinking about them to solve the mystery. The author did an amazingly good job of helping the reader experience what the world is like from the mind of someone with that condition.
This book would be a good read anyway, but the unique setting and point of view make it even more enjoyable.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Colleen L. Reece has had more than a hundred books published and they've sold millions of copies, but her new book, Katydidn't, is different from most of the others. It's a picture book. Because we have the same publisher, Guardian Angel Publishing, I was able to get a copy of Reece's book to review.
Katydidn't is about a little girl who is part of a big family, but she's lonely. Katy's many brothers and sisters each have their own interests, and none of their activities appeal to her. Eventually Katy realizes her siblings may also feel lonely, so she tries joining them and has fun.
The book will not only help children get along with other kids, but will teach them the importance of treating others as they want to be treated.
One of the most charming things about it is the setting, a natural world where children are free to play outside and can hear the sound of Katydids in the evening. I have a feeling that part of the story is autobiographical, since Reece grew up in a similar area.
The charming illustrations by K.C. Snider capture the feeling of the story well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Potty Training

When my daughter was young I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom so I operated a family daycare home for many years. As a result I had experience with potty training lots of kids and perhaps some things I learned will be helpful to other parents.
Children become ready for potty training at various ages and trying to teach them to control what they aren't yet able to do only results in frustration for both the children and parents. They must be able to feel when their bladders and bowels are full before they can control their elimination.
I knew quite a few children whose parents started the training before the kids were ready and it took more than a year for them to become trained. On the other hand, one little boy's parents didn't start potty training until he was nearly three years old and he was completely trained in less than a week.
It's also important to communicate exactly what is expected.
One little boy never wet his pants, but would have severe diarrhea in his clothing a couple of times a week. Finally one day he told me through his tears, "I try and try not to go, but it just comes out!" He had misunderstood and thought it was wrong to have a bowel movement at all, and had been holding in his excrement until it liquified. I explained that it wasn't wrong to have a bowel movement as long as it was in the toilet and he never had another 'accident.'
Kids going through stress, which can be anything from a parental divorce, health problems, moving, a new sibling, or even going on a fun vacation, often have setbacks or delays to their training. And a few may have physical health problems that require medical assistance. But, in most cases, if children are physically mature enough and their parents communicate well, they will be completely potty trained (at least during waking hours) by the time they're old enough for preschool.
Potty training isn't easy for either parents or kids, but it really only takes a small part of a lifetime. When frustrated it may help to remember, "This too shall pass." (Pun intended.)