Category Archives: Children

Take a Child Outside Week- A great Minnesota Autumn Idea!!

As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unselfconsciously to the soughing of the trees.~ Valerie Andrews, A Passion for this Earth

Our ancestors would be incredulous, and totally amused, to learn that September 24-September 30  marks the annual national celebration of “Take a Child Outside Week.”  Kids were supposed live outside – farm kids working in the fields, city kids bouncing a basketball or playing girl games like hop scotch….  Though Pokémon-mania has lured some kids to the outdoors, emphasis there is on the chase and racking up pokes….

The truth is that many or most kids are not  instinctively oriented to “experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bell” or “feel the earth quiver”, or “know a hundred different smells….”

Recognizing the “magical capacity of the young,”  the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences ( conceived the idea of a designated week.  The expressed of goal of Take a Child Outside Week is “to help children develop a better understanding and appreciation of the environment and an enthusiasm for exploring the natural world.”

If you haven’t thought much about intentional exploration of the great outdoors, there are treasures yet to be enjoyed – especially with a child.  A quick check of Wikipedia offers some ready points of access to outdoor adventure – some may be closer to home than you realize – most of these offer armchair access via the web:

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” – Rachel Carson

ANOTHER RESOURCE: National Park Foundation, Out of the Classroom into the Park.


Children’s voices tell the story of North Dakota’s oil boom

This week’s massive train derailment and oil spill in West Virginia is a horrific example of the ignored consequences of the oil boom – a tragic catastrophe that commands explosive headlines and overwhelming videos of the disaster. We learn that Bakken shale mined in North Dakota is currently producing 1.3 million barrels of oil a day and that 90% of that oil is shipped by rail, making up 10% of U.S. energy production.

We who live closer to the source of the oil cannot ignore the human impact of those men and women who have resettled themselves and their families in hopes of finding work in the oil fields. Constantly reminded by the spike in rail traffic thundering through our countryside, our towns and cities, we consider the source. The media remind of the living conditions and the hardship of our neighbors just across our Western border. On a clear day we can almost see the rigs.

A 20-minute documentary produced by a young filmmaker may heighten our awareness. In recent days “White Earth,” the creative documentary written, directed, photographed and produced by J. Christian Jensen, has been nominated for an Oscar in the short subject category. This is just the most recent of a lengthy roster of awards for the low budget film that dares to tackle an “incendiary” subject – the human impact of the North Dakota oil boom.

“White Earth” was actually Jensen’s thesis project for his Master of Fine Arts in documentary film and video at Stanford University. The film is shot in the real town of White Earth, a town in the northern part of North Dakota that has grown overnight from a population of 100 to over 500.

Jensen’s unique approach is to tell the story as seen by the children whose lives have been disrupted by the boom. The voices are those of three children and an immigrant mother. One of the children moved to White Earth because his father got a job in the oil fields – he can’t go to school because of missing custody papers.

Another young girl has always lived in White Earth where her quiet life has been torn asunder by the influx of workers and their families. She looks forward to her old age when, she hopes, the oil rigs will be gone and White Earth will have settled back to the quiet town it was. Yet another voice is that of Elena, a Mexican-American girl whose family has been uprooted from their home in California.

Jensen describes his intention thus: “My hope was that by focusing on these different stories that people from all sides of the political spectrum would be able to find a common point of empathy.” Jensen makes no effort to take sides in the politics of the boom.

Learn more about the video:   Jensen has recently completed a contract with Vimeo to expand access to “White Earth.” The video can be rented for $3.99 or purchased for $7.99




Children’s books that explore tough topics – poverty, hunger, life & love

Note: Two years ago I posted this quick list of books that help children understand – and discuss – issues of hunger and poverty. Since that time, friends have suggested other titles and new books have been written. Titles that were not included on the original list are appended here. I decided to post the original list, too, as a reminder that there are wonderful reads that can start a discussion of a topic with which children have questions and ideas. If you have suggestions of titles that should be added here, please let me know.

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For far too many children abject poverty and insatiable hunger are a constant reality.   Still, most children are shielded from the facts that sine of their peers know only too well. For children who live in comfort, good books that portray children with whom they can identify can open doors of understanding, even empathy.

Much that is written for children depicts the travesty of global hunger – starving children who struggle against unspeakable conditions in faraway lands. Poignant as these stories are, some are remote, beyond the experience or even the imagination of a child.

In recent times the world of children’s literature has expanded to embrace the plight of children closer to home.   My amateur search for children’s books about poverty and hunger is grossly limited by my ignorance of the genre.   A good children’s librarian, teacher or bookseller would be a far better resource. My thought has been to explore children’s stories about hunger in our midst. The goal has been to find books that tell a story that will some day have meaning for my grandson whose idea of severe hunger is missing a glass of milk at bedtime.

The unfortunate and statistically inaccurate fact is that ethnicity and family situation play a role in several children’s books that deal with poverty and hunger.   Adults sharing these books are cautioned to take this into account by stressing that the characters are not responsible for their condition. For the most part the causes of poverty are not individual but systemic.

Many books that depict causes and conditions of poverty derive from passed from generation to generation; many come from places and people that enjoy an oral rather than written tradition. Though the setting may be unfamiliar, the message transcends geography. These books come to life when they are shared with caring adults who can interpret the underlying factors that shape the lives of individuals and families, especially children, who are not to blame for their situation.

* A good conversation starter is the classic story of Stone Soup, a familiar tale that has been told in words and pictures by countless writers and artists who know children well.

* Rosie, the Shopping Cart Lady, by Chia Martin, is a story for children, told by a child, a good introduction to the reality of poverty and homelessness for young book lovers.

*Another good read, based on a Chinese folktale, is One potato, two potato retold by Cynthia DeFelice. In this story a hungry family learns that doubling their edibles is less important than expanding their circle of friends.

* In The Roses in my Garden, set in Afghanistan, author Rufshana Kahn tells the story of a young refugee living with terrifying memories. Overcome by thirst, hunger and mud he continues to dream of freedom.

* Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier and Lori Lohstoefer, was first published by Heifer Project International. The book describes how the gift of a goat brought a level of prosperity to a village in Uganda.

* In The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh Frederick Lipp describes how a young girl saves money to buy a bird for her impoverished extended family.

* Sounder, by William Armstrong and James Barkley, is the story of a 19th Century African American sharecropper family.

* In A Shelter in Our Car Monica Gunning writes about a widowed mother and her daughter Zettie who are forced to leave their home in Jamaica. The mother’s strength instills hope and confidence is the little girl.

* Jane Resh Thomas tells the story of Latino migrant workers far from and lonesome for their homeland during the holiday season in Lights on the River

* In Angel City an elderly African man discovers an abandoned baby on a Los Angeles street. With no experience, he rears the child as his own, keeping the child and hope alive with songs and stories.

* A Handful of Seeds by Monica Hughes recounts the story of Concepcion, a young orphan girl who is forced to move to the barrio when her grandmother dies. When she learns that her new friends must steal for food Concepcion decides to sow the corn and bean seeds left to her by her grandmother. The community garden represents hope and illustrates the impact one person can have on a community.

* Gowanus Canal is a grubby area in NYC in which a homeless man and a brood of dogs share a common fate. Jonathan Frost shares their story in his first book, Gowanus Dogs.

* Race and poverty play a role in Lucky Beans, based on the real life memories recounted by author Becky Birtha’s grandmother. It’s the story of a Depression-era African American family who enter a bean-counting contest with high hopes of winning a sewing machine.

The Double Life of Zoe Flynn by Janet Lee Carey is the story of a little rich girl with a secret – – that her family is no longer rich but living in a van. Hope and strong family ties help Zoe survive her situation.

Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen is a realistic story in which a young boy sees first-hand the difficult lives of families who are hungry and the kindness they are shown at the workers at the soup kitchen.

* Well-known author Eve Bunting recounts the plight of a homeless boy trying to avoid detection in an airport terminal. Fly Away Home describes how a bird in flight gives him hope.

In Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn, Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, the young boy Sam discovers the true meaning of the “lucky money’ his grandparents have given him to buy “anything he wants.”

Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary Chamberlin and Richard Chamberlin is about a poor Kenyan mother and son who go to market to shop for the ingredients to make pancakes. The generous boy insists on inviting all people he encounters to join the pancake feast.

* Predictably the Berenstain Bears have a tale to tell, a story of conspicuous consumption writ large. In The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings Mama helps her cubs realize that love trumps worldly goods, even Bearbie dolls.

* Last on the list, first in my heart, is one of my favorite holiday reads, Always Room for One More by Sorche Nic Leodhas, illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian. Though it’s not strictly about hunger and poverty this book is the perfect holiday read for the whole family and the perfect gift for a young reader with a vivid imagination and a generous heart.

These few titles offer but a quick sample of the treasures on the shelves of libraries and bookstores. In these volumes creative writers and illustrators interpret themes and conditions that are difficult for children to grasp, harsh realities that are nonetheless part of the world in which they live, learn, make friends and come to understand others.   A good story well told can reveal deep truths and subtle nuances that children are just learning to comprehend and apply.

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More children’s books that can start a discussion about hunger – added 11-14

* Maddi’s Fridge, story by Lois Brandt, illus by Vin Vogel. Fall 2014.

Lilliana Grows It Green, story by Amy Carpenter Leugg, illus by Heather Newman. Trans into Spanish by Ale Siekmeier.

French Toast for Maleek , story by Amy Carpenter Leugg, illus by Healther Trans into Spanish by Ale and Ben Siekmeier.*

* Very Hungry Caterpillar, story and illus by Eric Carle, orig. 1969. Picture book.

* We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, story by Mother Goose and Maurice Sendak, illus by Maurice Sendak.

 * Bone Button Borscht, story by Aubrey Davis, illus by Dusan Petricic.

 * May’naise Sandwiches & Sunshine Tea, story Sandra Belton, illus. by Gail Gordon Carter.

The Rag Coat, story and illus by Lauren Mills.

A Day’s Work, story by Eve Bunting, illus by Ronald Himler

 * The Little Match Girl, story by Hans Christian Andersen, illus. by Blair Lent.

Faith the Cow, story by Susan Bame Hoover, illus. by Maggie Sykora. 1955.

Tight Times, story by Barbara Shook Hazen, illus by Trina Schart Hyman. Picture book. 1983.

Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman.

 * The Good Garden: How one family went from hunger to having enough, story by Katie Smith Milway.

One Hen: How one small load made a big difference, story by Katie Smith Milway, illus by Eugenie Fernandes.

Dear Mr. Rosenwald, by Carole Boston Weatherord, illus. by R. Gregory Christie. Story of the Rosenwald Schools, Depression era schools in the South.

The Lady in the Box, by Ann McGovern, illus. by Mami Backer, 1997.

Esperanza Rising, story by Pam Munoz Ryan.

A good book is always the ideal gift for any child.   In every home, for every child, there is always room for one more….








Bookcase for Every Child – An idea whose time has come????

What must be two decades ago now, midst a flurry of efforts to encourage and support early readers, Sherry Lampman observed that, while it’s great to give books to young readers, kids also need a safe place to store their treasures – they need bookcases.  Kids need to know that books are special, that books deserve special care, that a kid can actually own a book that is his or hers alone to treasure, that a book is to be read and read again.  Sherry’s intriguing idea has floated through my mind many times over the years….

Until just yesterday when I learned about the national “Bookcase for Every Child” project!    The project is thus described in the promotional materials:
“This project provides quality, personalized, oak bookcases, and a starter set of books, to pre-school children being reared in low-income families.”  The seed that Sherry had planted in my mind has taken root in Arkansas and environs.

Now copyrighted, the “Bookcase for Every Child” ( began nearly a decade ago in Conway, Arkansas.  There’s a comprehensive development plan that includes tips on who needs to be in the  “central committee” – the local librarian, a representative of the faith community, media reps, elected officials, a “literacy-minded banker” to serve as treasurer, and, of course, a “master craftsman to head up the bookcase builders.”

The erstwhile folks at Bookcase for Every Child are serious about all this – they also provide detailed information on just what resources the “master craftsman” and the building crew will need.  (

And they’ve made progress, particularly in the area around their starting point in Conway.  There’s a fun slide show that shows not only the finished bookcases, but the exuberant responses of builders and young readers alike.  (

I’ve had a fun time exploring the unique website sponsored by the project and the energetic project director, Jim Davidson (  Davidson’s energy and enthusiasm for the task rekindle that thought that Sherry had shared all those years ago.  Jim writes and believes and “bookcases save lives, bookcases with books save lives, reading saves lives, literacy saves lives….”   He is still working on the project from his home in Conway – Jim Davidson, 1 Bentley Drive, Conway AR 72034, 501-4507743.

I’m wondering now if Minnesota, land of 10,000 amateur craftsmen and grandpas, might offer a fertile growing environment for this special idea.  It can’t hurt to transplant the seed….


Read These and Reap!

Because our images of the family farm tend to be stereotyped, out of date, shaped by the media or otherwise skewed, one special way to celebrate 2014 – International Year of Family Farming – is to focus on the very young, those urban tabulae rasae whose  perceptions of the family farm are not yet formed.

With a child, even a very young child, stories can start the discussion that will shape their mental images. Reading to and with an impressionable child will have a powerful influence on that child’s understanding and appreciation of the heritage that we Minnesotans share a responsibility to preserve.

This list is random, subjective, intended to get a family member, friend or caregiver to think about reading to and with young readers about family farming as a time-honored profession. Celebrate the International Year of Family Farming by sharing a good read, maybe your own experience, with a youngster who’s poised to learn the facts, the stories and importance of the nation’s family farms.

Some possibilities to prime the pump —

Weidt, Maryann, Daddy played music for the cows.  Memories of a young girl growing up on a family farm reflected in the songs her father played for the cows.  A delightful read by a Minnesota writer.

Miller, Jane.  Farm Alphabet – for babies and older children – uses photos to introduce the basics of things found on farms

Wolfman, Judy.  Life on a Cattle Farm.  Also  Life on a Pig Farm, Life on a Goat Farm, and others by the same author.

Lobel, Anita.  Hello, Day!  Farm animals and the noises they make.

Murphy, Andy.   Out and About at the Dairy Farm.

Flemming, Denise.  Barnyard Banter.  Lovely illustrations – watch for the wily goose.

Brown, Margaret Wise.  Big Red Barn.  How the animals spend their day.

Wellington, Monica.  Apple Farmer Annie.  Especially good for harvest time.

Dorros, Arthur.  Radio Man/Don Radio.  Bilingual story about a boy and his migrant family.

DeAngelis, Therese.   The Ojibway: Wild Rice Gatherers.   The story of American Indians’ discovery of wild rice, the “food that grows on the water.”

Smith, Joseph A.  Mowing – a little girl helping her grandparents on the farm.

Purmell, Ann.  Maple Syrup Season.  The basics of collecting and boiling the sap, the making maple syrup.

Brown, Craig McFarland, Tractor.   Some of the basics of how a small farmer plans, harvests and sells the fruits of his labor.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls, Jody Wheeler and Renee Graef.    Winter on the Farm.  Paging through brings back memories, not of the farm but of reading the book with the family.

Lewis, Kim.  Little Puppy.  One in a series of family farm books by Kim Lewis.

Root, Phyllis, Kiss the Cow.  When the consequence of not doing so means no milk…

Runcie, Jill.  Cock-a-doodle-doo.   A delightful spin on an old story about depending on a rooster to sound the morning call.

Wolff, Ferida.  It is the wind.  Rhyming text that describes the thoughts of an African American boy awakened in the night by the sounds of the farm animals.

Philips, Mildred. And the cow said Moo!  The bossy young cow tries to teach the other animals his language.

Most, Bernard.  The cow that went oink.   More about farm animal language differences.

Cleary, Beverley.  The Hullabaloo ABC.  Fun-loving kids enjoying a day on the farm.

Bradby, Marie.  Once Upon a Farm.   Every day work and life on the family farm.

Williams, Sue .  I Went Walking.  A young boy encounters all sorts of animals on his walk – what/who will come next?

Fredrickson, Gordon W.  Fredrickson, who taught for many years in Minnesota schools, has published a series of farm stories that tell of his first-hand experience growing up on a family farm. One of Fredrickson’s books, What I Saw on the Farm, is illustrated by Bradley Simon, a New Prague teenager.

Last but definitely not least   — Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type.  Written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. This recent (for me) discovery explains so much – any kid or adult who ever engaged in labor negotiations will get it!


“Rejoice the Legacy!” Andrea Davis Pinkney Delivers 2014 Arbuthnot Lecture May 3

Born in Washington, DC in 1963 Andrea Davis Pinkney was an infant during the Civil Rights Movement, this year celebrating its 50th anniversary.  And yet she tells the stories of those days with beauty and passion – in words and pictures that communicate with children of today.  Today Pinkney is a highly regarded writer, editor and publisher, creator of stories that bring deeper understanding of African American heritage to young readers.

Pinkney’s elegant books for children, many illustrated by her husband Brian, have earned her a host of awards, including the famed Coretta Scott King award.  Her acceptance speech on that occasion warrants legacy status.  (

And “Rejoice the Legacy!” is the title of the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture she will deliver on May 3, 2014, at Willey Hall on the University of Minnesota campus.   The Arbuthnot Lecture is a prestigious honor bestowed by the Association of Library Services to Children, a network of over 4000 children’s and youth librarians, literature experts, publishers and educators.

Andrea’s husband Brian Pinkney is just one of several talented family members who contributed to a profile of the writer in The Hornbook.(

To prepare for and further illustrate the Arbuthnot Lecture Lisa VonDrasek, Curator, and staff of the Children’s Literature Research (Kerlan) Collection  at the U of M have prepared an exhibit that brings to memory the stories of the Civil Rights Movement era.  One visual highlight of that exhibit is a real-life reconstruction of the famous lunch counter where protesters sat in to protest the ways in which the civil rights of African Americans were trampled in a nation that prides itself on equality.

The exhibit at the Andersen Library on the University of Minnesota West Bank is open now during library hours.  Included in the exhibit are original art and sketches selected from Pinkney’s children’s and young adult titles, “providing insight into one writer’s creative process as well as a peek into editorial practice.”

The Arbuthnot lecture is set for 7:00 pm. at Willey Hall on the U of M campus.  Doors open at 6:30 p.m.  A reception and signing will follow the event.  Required tickets are free for the lecture and can be obtained from the U of M website.(

For more information or with questions, contact the Children’s Literature Research Collection at  One treasure on the CLRC website is a great Educator’s Guide to one of Pinkney’s books, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, the story of the peaceful sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter and its role in the Civil Rights Movement.

Read more about Andrea Davis Pinkney:




Ideas + Influence Inspire Change – The Challenge of International Women’s Day 2014

[Fighting] to give women and girls a fighting chance isn’t just a nice thing to do….It isn’t some luxury that we only get to when we have time on our hands. This is a core imperative for every human being in every society. If we do not continue the campaign for women’s rights and opportunities, the world we want to live in — and the country we all love and cherish — will not be what it should be.  Hillary Clinton

The quote is from the The Shriver Report – and it may be because I have been following the reaction to that report that I review with mixed feelings the stories I’ve been gathering for a Minnesota Women’s Press calendar of activities planned to commemorate International Women’s Day 2014.  ( Pre-pub tip –there are some great events in the works – check the next issue of MWP)

On the one hand it may seem quaint to be celebrating the century old IWD custom, a day designated in a time when women had no right to vote much less to have a say about how the home, the church, the town or the world was being run.  We’ve come a long way since those feisty women of the Socialist Party of America observed the first National Woman’s Day in February 1909.

Maybe it’s time to count our triumphs, bank the benefits, and exhale.

Or not.  Though the focus of IWD is global, clarity begins at home where it seems the urgency to categorize the rights, contributions or welfare of women has waned. Many institutions, even those that once made an effort to schedule events and raise issues, seem disinclined to budget the money or time to pause on March 8 to commemorate International Women’s Day 2014.

Maria Shriver and the raft of women and organizations that have joined her initiative suggest we think again about today’s domestic realities.  To wit:

  • 1 in 3 American women, 42 million women, plus 28 million children, either live in poverty or are right on the brink of it.
  • The Violence Against Women Act continues to languish in the U.S. Congress.  The fact is that violence against women is major health problem and an horrific violation of women’s human rights.  35% of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • SNAP benefits, upon which countless women and their children and “invisible” elderly women depend, remain a political punching bag in Congress.
  • Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women who often get zero paid sick days.
  • Two-thirds of American women are either the primary or co-breadwinners of their families.
  • The average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and that figure is much lower for black and Latina women; African American women earn only 64 cents and Hispanic women only 55 cents for every dollar made by a white man.
  • Even though women outnumber men in higher education, men still make more money than women who have the same level of educational achievement, from high school diplomas to advanced graduate degrees. In 2011, men with bachelors’ degrees earned more than women with graduate degrees.
  • There were 135,000 more elderly women living on less than $5,500 per year in 2012 than in 2011, pushing the total size of that group to 733,000.
  • In 2012 6.2 million children lived in families with unemployed parents. Many of these children live with parents who have been out of work six month or longer. Unemployment insurance covers only 36 percent of children with unemployed parents; unemployed parents are more likely to receive SNAP benefits than unemployment benefits.

Though the human mind can absorb just so many stats this small sampling makes the point that there are millions of women in this nation who are not swept along by the tide of women’s progress.

The good news is that there are women in positions to make change.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2014 is “Inspiring Change”.  Decision-makers are “inspired to change” by those who elect, appoint, support, contact, or otherwise express their concerns and their ideas for change.  That’s where most of us come in.  IWD falls on Saturday this year – good time to think about how to inspire changes that will cast in legal concrete the rights and opportunities of women and girls, now and for generations who will someday walk in the path we forge for them.