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Crunch! Healthy Food Books for Healthy Kids

Posted on March 11, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Food Culture, Homeschooling, Web Resources |

So we’re subscribing to a farm this year–it’s a cool idea. We pay a local farmer about $600 for the season and in exchange we get six months of just-picked local organic vegetables–everything from spring radishes to fall squash and lots of yummy stuff in between. Weekly pickups right in town. Since the quantities may occasionally be, well, more than we can eat in a week (four heads of cabbage?), I’ve been obsessing over cookbooks lately–figuring out how we’re going to cook and store such bounty.

My favorite evening last week involved me sitting up in bed reading to my three-year-old about spinach, turnips, and broccoli from Diana Shaw’s Almost Vegetarian. While I think Shaw’s cheerful and inventive cookbook is perfect family reading for short spells–I started to wonder about kids’ books that focus on healthy food culture.

And I realized I already had at least one on hand, Treasure Hunt with the Munch Crunch Bunch by Jan Wolterman, Melinda Hemmelgarn, and J.W. Wolterman. A friend had dropped it off to see what we thought of it and we’d had such fun cutting out the cards–great goofy illustrations of fruits and vegetables with “Foodles” (food riddles) on the back of each one, I’d forgotten it was actually a book. The story’s cute, but it’s the cards that have had all the attention at our house. They’re just the right size for my daughter to carry around, put in any one of her several purses, or sort out and discuss at length. They even have their own carrying case. She recognized a lot of her favorites immediately (“That’s a carrot with a hat!”) and it’s made her curious about some more exotic plants as well (“What’s bok choy?”).

Likewise Lynne Cherry’s How Groundhog’s Garden Grew gave us a fun break from grocery shopping when we sat down to read it at the local health food store. While the text waxes a bit didactic for my taste–groundhog gets chastened into learning to garden, the illustrations are soooooo gorgeous we both wanted to lick the pages. And it’s such a full visual experience. Even the margins are stuffed with tantalizing herbs and spices or small pictures outlining the steps to longer processes. Since it spans the whole growing season, from early spring to the great Thanksgiving feast, its seasonal appeal is a long one. And trying to identify all the lush fruits and vegetables made for a great seek-and-find game.

I am, in fact, off to grab a snack of some of freshly shelled peas…

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Mindfulness Markers

Posted on February 17, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Homeschooling, Web Resources |

On to some of the most disposable books in the world of kid lit: coloring books. And yet–what an incredible experience to sit quietly with a child and simply color a page. Though, okay, we have days where coloring is an olympic event with elements of both snowboarding and javelin throwing involved, more and more often, coloring is becoming an exercise in mindfulness for both of us.

I wouldn’t natively have used the term “mindfulness” for our marker sessions until I talked to a therapist friend and asked if he knew anything about coloring as therapy–he noted that he’d seen it used as a mindfulness technique and I think it fits. If mindfulness is about bringing ourselves more completely to the present moment, then coloring has certainly done that for us. When my daughter colors she’s absorbed in it as a project–sometimes so deeply that she fills the whole image with a single hue. For me, it’s become a lovely way to center my energies on a task: finding the right color, filling the shape with the chosen color, smoothing out the texture into a more uniform matte or inventing some texture for contrast.

To find some coloring books that might hold my attention as well as hers, I did some digging and found a lot more resources than I anticipated. Dover and Bellerophon are the two biggest publishers, but the Running Press series, many of which are now out of print, are truly beautiful books–and sturdy! I’ve included some coloring-pages sites, though many of them are extremely ad heavy. We use DLTK a lot, in large part because it offers a quick ad-free printing option. The coloring pages on Wendy Wallace’s site all arrive as one gigantic download–over 1600 pages. The list of coloring books by government agencies is well worth exploring, if only for the giggles. The Coloring Addict list and the Wildflowers list I think are useful, as each of them pick up titles I hadn’t seen noted elsewhere. Right now, however, I’m thrilled that my Googling this evening led me to Jan Brett’s coloring pages. I’m a longtime fan and am delighted by the range of coloring pages she’s made available.

Dover Publications

Bellerophon Books

Running Press Coloring Books:

Coloring pages at intuitive counselor Wendy Wallace’s website:

Coloring Book Fun (free coloring pages)

DLTK’s Coloring Pages

Coloring books and pages from various government agencies:

Coloring Addict’s Essential Coloring Books

Celebrating Wildflowers coloring books

Jan Brett’s Free Coloring Pages

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You’re a Prisoner of the Ant People, What Do You Do?

Posted on February 3, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Science Fiction, Web Resources |

A. Lie still on the floor.
B. Attack them.
C. Concentrate on excreting pheremones that will drive them away or make you their leader.
D. Search the cave for the naturally occuring components of boric acid.

That’s right. CYOA. Time to read like it’s 1983! For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, the Choose Your Own Adventure books, many of them still in print (!), were as hot among middle-schoolers in the mid-eighties as Sudoku puzzles are among the middle-aged today. And, hmmmm, there’s a lotta overlap in those two populations–I’ll have to ponder that at greater length later.

Each CYOA book, written in the second person, set up an opening scenario: you’re alone in a room with an strange object; you’re stranded in an exotic location with only basic survival tools; you’re a spy on a deep-cover assignment; you’re, well, a prisoner of the ant people. The opening scenario might be a paragraph, might be two or three pages. At the end, you’d get a choice like the one that opens this blog entry. It would take you to a particular page in the book and from there you’d read another few paragraphs or pages and get to select a path from another set of options. The books were written generally, but not exclusively for boys–that second-person narration left a fair lot of room for girls to play too. Though perhaps the prevalence of the “Attack them” option could be interpreted as a gendered response?

At any rate–the CYOA books, while not great literature, were an important part of my middle-grade reading diet. Why?

1. Great social leveler. We all read them. The insufferable smart kid (me), the kid who’s now serving time for armed robbery, the girls who are now accountants and nurses, the four boys whose parents were splitting up, the kid with severe epilepsy and brain damage, the girl whose babysitter was turning tricks upstairs. We all shared the classroom library copies and, when those fell apart, even each other’s personal copies. It gave us a common, totally voluntary experience (a reading experience!) to share and discuss at length.

2. Bad endings. Nothing said GAME OVER like turning to page 105 and finding out that the serum I’d just swallowed was a lethal poison. A deterrent? No way. I’d go back and make another choice. And that’s where it got interesting. Sometimes I’d discover there were no really good choices on a page and I’d have to work further back in the decision tree to get to a really cool ending. We all shared a lot of information on and had a lot of good arguments about this aspect of the books. Searching for the way out of the ant colony, we were learning a sophisticated lot about cause and effect, story structure, and rhisomal narratives–a key concept in both postmodern literature and hypertextuality. It’s worth noting that many video games follow this same structure…;-)

3. Power. Reading a CYOA book, *I* was always the main character, capable of making things happen or unmaking them. While I loved being able to vicariously enjoy the adventures of fictional characters, getting to BE the character was a thrill all its own. And I’m betting that element was a big part of the draw for the more reluctant readers in our bunch too.

So, well and good, it’s been a nice trip for me down nostalgia lane. But don’t worry. There’s something here for the rest of you too. I believe the valuable experiences my classmates and I shared through CYOA books are replicable–and not just in video game form. The books, as the earlier Wikipedia link indicates, are generally still in print and there are all kinds of print spinoffs that use the same concept.

I’d like to say, best of all, there are now CYOA websites. HOWEVER–most of them contain significant adult content. Google Earth is the possible exception–it apparently has a Carmen Sandiegoesque CYOA that would probably be both home and school appopriate. I think loading Google Earth on my aging machine would about kill it though, so I have left that link unexplored.

Before blogging, I spent some time clicking through all the other Wikipedia links, and though there are some great hyperlinked CYOA stories for kids out there, they exist on the very same sites as stories like “Smutty Sex Romp” and “Super Trooper Blood Bath.” Yeah. Limits their usefulness at school to about zero and their usefulness at home to “Supervision Only Toy.” If you’re brave and you want to find kids’ CYOA stories online, I’d recommend the CYOA Wiki, My Adventure Game and Make Your Own Adventure. For teacher materials that might help elucidate other educational benefits of CYOA books, see Sundance Publishing.

And now, it’s time for me to make a break for it, out through the tunnel that leads to the light, scattering that Macgyver-would-be-proud boric acid as I go.

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Farsi Books, Junk Collage and More

Posted on January 28, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Web Resources |

Two websites to plug this week: International Children’s Digital Library and National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature. I thought I knew my way around the Web, but I’d never heard of either site until I found reference to them in a children’s literature text I’ve been examining. And, while ICDL comes up quite readily in a Google search using related terms, I couldn’t get NCCIL to come up no matter what search terms I used, all the more reason to share the link here.

The ICDL is a truly international collection of children’s books that have been scanned in and are fully available for reading online–though admittedly, we have high-speed DSL, and I’m not sure the books would load or move as smoothly on dial-up. In the last hour, I’ve read (and I use the term loosely) two books in Farsi, one in Tagalog, one in Mongolian, one written in both Spanish and English and two in French. Since everything I examined was a picture book, it was relatively easy to follow the story, even without the text. How marvelous a way to give our kids a taste of another culture! And, more subtly, a taste of what it feels like to be on the outside looking in. While there are books available in English on ICDL, they are a small percentage of the total collection.

The NCCIL offers another sort of feast. Art lessons! More specifically, easy art activities keyed to match the styles of popular illustrators like Donald Crews, Betsy Lewin and Peter Sis. It also offers biographies and critical essays on its featured illustrators and information about the center itself and the traveling exhibits it sponsors. Big fun. I think we’ll be trying the glue flowers from The Gardener (Sarah Stewart, illus. David Small) soon.

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