Thursday, December 23, 2010

Velveteen Mama

OK, so this isn't exactly a blog about a children's book (though you'll find one does play an important part), but it seems to fit in too well not to include it here.

From my "other" blog, The First Day of The Rest of Our Lives:

The Velveteen Mama  

Today, I read a blog entry from one of my favorite bloggers.  It's about a recent discussion she had with her daughter on what makes a mother or brother "real".

This is a topic all adoptive parents deal with as they raise their children.  Who IS the real Mom, Dad, sibling, grandparents, etc?  The message that "birth = real" comes in loud and clear from every societal contact children have.  Schools still do the "Family Tree" exercise where you identify family members and place them on branches showing the "begats" from one generation to another (and, incase you aren't aware, there's a different "connection" for adopted children vs. birth).  Children's books still reinforce the "traditional" (though I challenge the use of THAT word anymore!) family of married Mom & Dad with 2.2 kids and a station wagon.  And, movies talk of "evil" step-parents who can't possibly love the child as much as their "real" parents.

I've had this conversation many times with Janan.  Though we (thankfully) haven't gotten to the, "I HATE you & wish I lived with my REAL mother!" teen angst conversation that is probably still forthcoming, we have had the "I wonder what my real Mom is like." or "You're not my real Mom, but I still want to call you Mom, okay?"

Every time this topic comes up I feel as if someone simultaneously stabs me in the heart and kicks me in the gut.  She doesn't mean it in that way (yet) any more than the co-worker who, just after Janan came home, said, "Wow!  If she's this crazy about this baby, imagine how she'll be when she has her own!"  

But, what came to me today after reading this amazing blog post is that adoptive parents are much like the Velveteen Rabbit.  And, we should ALL take to heart the words of the Skin Horse when he told the Velveteen Rabbit, "Real isn't how you are made.  It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." 

So, I don't need a magic fairy to come and make me the "real" Mama.  But, I envision a day when "real" family is defined by what truly matters - love.  Another quote from the book sums it up perfectly,

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Independent Reader"

I definitely have an independent child.  Yes, she taught herself to read at 2, her first sentence was "I DO IT!" (stated emphatically with tiny hands on hips and a foot stomp for good measure) and she also "just decided" one day to use the potty at not quite 1 1/2.

Here's how THAT story goes.  Because she was already "ahead" of the other children, the daycare asked to move her up with the two-year-olds (something that generally didn't happen until 2 1/2).  At first I said no, because I truly believe children should be with their own peer group. But, after much discussion and a couple of trial days in the two-year-old class I finally agreed.  

When I picked her up after her first full day the teacher said to me, "I didn't know Janan was potty trained! How wonderful!"  I thought for sure she had confused my daughter with someone else so I said, "THAT'S my daughter (pointing to the child she apparently didn't know was mine.) She's not potty trained, yet!  I don't think she's ready."  The teacher then gave me the oddest look and said, "Well, she's been using the potty all day!"

Truly thinking this woman had lost her mind, I knelt down and said to Janan, "Honey, did you go potty in the big potty?" and, as is typical with this amazing child of mine, she simply looked at me and said, "Gaby-elle go pee pee in the potty, Nee-Nee go pee pee in the potty!"  (Gaby-elle was actually a little three-year-old girl named Gabrielle getting ready to move up to the next class and she & Janan - she called herself Nee-Nee at the time - had apparently become fast friends).  From that day forward, she only used the potty.  

Needless to say, she LOVES reading about children (especially girls) who are very independent.  What little girl could be more independent than Pippi Longstocking?  Designated for children 9-12 years of age, Janan began reading Pippi around age 6.  She loved the fact that Pippi had no parents, a monkey and her very own horse living on her front porch.  

Pippi also has a delightful way of taking any seemingly bad situation and turning it into a true adventure.  She's convinced her father, blown overboard during a storm at sea, is living on a island with cannibals and as soon as he can build a boat will come and make her the princess of the cannibals.  

What Mama loved best about Pippi is her ever generous spirit and gregarious nature.  Sadly, many of the independent girls in books are brash, bratty and rude (e.g. Junie B. Jones - yes, Janan read every one of those books, but Mama was never a big fan; and, yes, I know how unpopular it is to say that.).  Now, Pippi definitely has her faults!  She's known for stretching the truth a bit (OK, a LOT) and she's quite mischievous, but she's not purposefully mean-spirited or rude.  

Also, because these books were written originally in the 1950's there are some things that had to be discussed while Janan was reading these books.  At the very beginning one of the gifts Pippi gives her friend Tommy is a "dagger with a shimmering mother-of-pearl handle" and at the end of the book Pippi finds, among other things, "...three pistols and a sword" in a chest in the attic and fires off the guns.  

As with any book, I think it's important to keep the communication open.  Ask about what they're reading!  Not only can it create some great conversation, but it gives you a chance to clarify when something like children firing guns comes up.  

Sunday, October 31, 2010

And We Search Mama's Childhood for Some Options...

When Janan was about 4 or 5, I was once again desperately seeking books she could read.  Digging into my own childhood I remembered one of my all time favorites had been the Strawberry Girl series by Lois Lenski. 

Sadly, we quickly discovered it wasn't for Janan (I still hope it gets in there somewhere).  She didn't like the use of the dialect (they use words like "ain't" and "purdy" which are, of course, grammatically incorrect, but true to the dialect - something she couldn't get past) and a bit "too serious" (her words, not mine).  Now, if you have a child who likes the Laura Ingalls Wilder books you should DEFINITELY try out the Strawberry Girl series!  

One thing I did discover upon making this recommendation was that Janan was TOTALLY intrigued with learning about the books I had enjoyed as a girl (even if she didn't want to read them herself).  So, I began thinking back to the books I liked best. 

I was never one for the science fiction/fantasy, but as soon as I thought "books about magic" Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (by Betty MacDonald) came to mind!  

One thing Janan really loves is a book with a sense of humor.  Throw in magic and it's the "piece de resistance".  With those requirements, what could be more perfect than Mrs. Piggle- Wiggle?  If by some strange, horrific childhood deprivation you haven't been introduced to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle let me say right here, she's worth a read no matter your age.  

As you learn in all of her books, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle loves children and they love her back.  What makes her so endearing?  Unlike most parents, she doesn't get upset if you dribble candy cane juice in her dictionary causing the pages to stick together and, crashing through her basement window into her coal bin in your wagon will only cause her to laugh hysterically and then lean "....through the broken window and sa[y], "Hand me the putty knife and that can of putty off the shelf and...that pane of glass...because putting in window glass is something that every boy should know how to do.  Especially boys who ride wagons with their eyes closed."

But, it's not just the children who like her.  Parents love Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle just as much.  In a very Mary Poppins way, she can cure whatever is "ailing" a child. You know, those horrible childhood habits like Tattle Telling, Interrupting, Not Being Truthful, being a Slow Poke, Picky Eating and so much more that many parents don't know how to handle?  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle can fix them in one chapter!

There are five books in the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series:
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm
  • Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle 
  • Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

Our only "negative" about these books?  We wish there were more!  

But, don't fret! When you finish all the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggles you can move on to Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren!  (We'll tell you more about Pippi later.  She DEFINITELY needs a posting all to herself!) 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Today a friend posted the most amazing video on Facebook.  It brought me to tears and made me think of how hard I have tried to get this vital message through to my daughter.  Watch.

**Caution: Strong language!**

I immediately started thinking of all the books I've collected over the years that reinforce this message.  Not all, as a matter of fact, most, are not girl specific they're simply books with the message of 'loving and being who you are'.  

First up are two more amazing books from my all time favorite publisher Illumination Arts.  (You've met them before here when I blogged about the book Cassandra's Angel and that book would fit beautifully in this blog, too!)

First up is one of Janan's all time favorites.  We read this book so often I had it memorized!  It's called Little Squarehead.  Written by Peggy O'Neill, a 3'8" "little person", this book reinforces the message that no matter how different you are on the outside, it's who you are on the inside that makes you more beautiful than you can imagine.

As Rosa, the main character, walks through town each day with her head hung low, she's taunted by the town's people with, "There goes Rosa Redhead.  She's a Little Squarehead."

The story teaches the importance of courage, confidence and compassion.  Showing that if you love who you are, others will love you.  

The second published by Illumination Arts is called All I See Is Part of Me by Chara M. Curtis. When a little boy asks the sun, "Who are you?"  The sun beams back, "We are one."  From there, the sun goes on to tell the little boy that he's also part of Sister Star who, in turn, shows him how he is interconnected with everything in the Universe and more than just the body in which he currently resides.  

Really, how can a child who discovers they are part of all believe they are less?  

This book is written all in rhyme, so even the youngest children will love it.  It even affirms they are, "...found in candy bars!"  

The next two books I found before Janan even came home from Guatemala.  

The Lovables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem by Diane Loomans I found at a used book store and immediately fell in love with.  The beautiful watercolor-like pictures of animals jump right off the page.  On each page a different animal affirms they are "lovable", "courageous", "capable',  and so much more!  

Each affirmation is written in short rhymes children can quickly memorize and recite along with you.

The Twelve Gifts of Birth by Charlene Costanzo tells the story of how all princes and princesses (children) are granted twelve gifts upon their birth by their fairy godmothers.  Gifts such as Strength, Beauty, Courage, and Compassion are simply reinforced with a statement like: "May you speak and act with confidence and use courage to follow your own path."  Each statement also has a full-color photograph to go along.  

Another used bookstore find was All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka.  This simple picture book shows how children come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

"For love comes in cinnamon, walnut, and wheat,
Love is amber and ivory and ginger and sweet
Like caramel, and chocolate, and the honey of bees.

Children come in all the colors of the earth and sky and sea."

I love the imagery the words create in this book.  

Now here is not only an old favorite, but one we STILL pull off the shelf sometimes.  The Lion Who Wanted to Love by Giles Andreae is about a vegetarian lion who is kicked out of his pride for refusing to eat meat.  

As vegetarians, this book was often called upon to help reaffirm our lifestyle choice.  Of course, in the end, he is welcomed back into the pride (still as a vegetarian!) because he goes out into the world and does many brave and loving things. 

The book, The Witch Who Wanted to Be a Princess by Lois G.  Grambling tells the story of a witch who, duh, wants to be a princess.  However every time she tries the spell, "...her wand went limp, or sputtered.  Once it even started to hiccup."  She then discovers (after consulting her computer), "Due to sharply declining numbers, witches have been declared an endangered species by the grand wizard.  No witch (not even you, Bella) is allowed to change herself into anything.  Especially a princess.  That's final!  Have a nice day. :)"

After reading a personal ad about a handsome prince seeking a beautiful damsel, Bella decides she's beautiful (warts and all) and, upon meeting the "handsome" prince (he looks a lot like Frankenstein) they fall in love and get married.  Of course, since he IS a prince she finally becomes the princess she always wanted to be.  

Now, for me, this book is a bit of a double-edged sword.  I'm not a fan of the love-at-first-sight-marry-a-prince-and-all-your-dreams-come-true story.  In many ways it degrades the value of young girls and reaffirms the societal message that she's not "complete" without a husband.  

So, you have to make that call for yourself and your child.  I always found these types of "personal dilemmas" created a great dialogue between my daughter and I.   Being open about the fact that I didn't like the underlying message of this book brought it into the light of day, so to speak, and gave her something to think about without just accepting.  

Finally, the book Extraordinary Girls by Maya Ajmera, Olateju Omolodun, and Sarah Strunk is a beautiful book about girls from all over the world who have done something extraordinary.  For example, there's a piece about Beth Peres, of the United States, who discovered boys allowances averaged higher than girls - DESPITE the girls reporting they did "four times as many chores" - so she wrote about it and was published "in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and many other newspapers."

This book also reaffirms different traditions, religions and alternative perceptions regarding physical beauty.  This is a MUST have for all girls!  

WHEW!  That's a lot of books for one posting, but I just couldn't leave any of these out (and believe me, I have more that I DID leave out!).  

Saturday, October 9, 2010

When It's ALL About Science

Yes, she REALLY wanted to take this
one home!
Janan has ALWAYS been passionate about science.  It started early with a love of rocks (which continues to this day) and then progressed from there.  

At three, she became obsessed with Bill Nye the Science Guy.  We found his shows on VHS at the local library and she would check them out over and over (especially the one on condensation).  I went so far as to try and find these shows on DVD and add them to our small collection, but they're licensed only for schools and cost thousands of dollars!  Thankfully, the library was very forgiving on the number of times she checked out the same video because, apparently, she was the only one checking them out!  

When Janan was in kindergarten her teacher, Mrs. Williams, had the kids choose an animal on which they would write a report.  When I went to pick her up from school Mrs. Williams pulled me aside and said, "How did Janan learn about poison dart frogs?"  My response, "Poison WHAT frogs?"  I still have no idea how she learned about them, but while other children chose horses, eagles and kittens, my daughter chose the poison dart frog.

So, we've always been on the hunt for great science books for kids.  Some of Janan's favorites came from the author Seymour Simon.  Mr. Simon's "See More Level One Readers" are early chapter books that cover all types of science topics such as animals (her favorite was, of course, the one about bats), earthquakes and pyramids & mummies. 

The books start at "Level 1" reading (considered pre-K to 1st) and go up to "Level 3" (considered 2nd - 4th).  However, Janan read all of them between the ages of 3 & 4.  The amazing, full-color photography and clear, interesting facts kept her interested.  She loved finding information she thought I wouldn't know and showing she "knew more" than Mama.  

In addition to his "See More" series, he has a full line of books called the "Smithsonian Series".   These are listed as being for children in 4th - 7th, but because of their large size and beautiful photography some make perfect picture books for younger science lovers.  Be careful of some like the one on tornados, though, because younger children may get frightened.

Almost all of our Seymour Simon books I've found at the local used book stores & library book sales!  

So, How DO Babies Get In There?

I know, I left the last blog hanging, didn't I?  I promise to remedy that here.

Let's recap a 2 1/2 Janan asked that dreaded parenting question (not sure WHY we dread it really but being that I'm now on the other side of it, it's no longer such a scary thing, I guess) of, "How does a baby get inside the Mama?" which I was able to deflect briefly until it reappeared just about a year later.  When the question came back around, the book entitled A Child is Born deflected the question for me by having such amazing pictures of babies actually still inside the Mama that she seemed to forget the "how" question!  

I KNEW it would only be a matter of time before I had to answer - and it happened, again, about a year later.  Janan was six and had just found out the mother of one of her school friends was expecting.  Now, as is typical in our lives, this question was made even MORE challenging by the fact that this Mama was in a life partnership with another Mama.  

So, as I was blissfully tucking her into bed one night, the question came out like this...."Mama, I understand that an egg needs a sperm to make a baby and I even get how the baby grows inside the Mama and then is born, but what I STILL don't understand is how the sperm gets IN there in the first place!  And, how could Suzie's (not real name) Mama be pregnant since her wife doesn't HAVE sperm?"  

Now, I've ALWAYS been of the belief that if she straight out asks the question than she's ready to hear the answer (or answers, in this case), so I told her it was a little late to go into all the details that night but that I would explain everything the next day after school.

Immediately, I ran to the computer and started looking for age appropriate books on the subject.  I knew NOTHING short of the full truth would satisfy her (or be the right thing to tell her), but I also was still struggling with the "Should I tell a six-year-old THAT?"

I was excited to see the number of children's books available on the subject, but quickly started finding most of them fell back on the "When a husband and wife love each other very much..."  *SIGH*  Yes, that's ONE story, but there are many, many other versions of this story and I wanted her to know them all.

A few seemed promising, so I wrote them down and made plans to take my lunch hour the next day at a wonderful bookstore near Janan's old school in Michigan called The Self Esteem Shop.  Not only do they carry some of the greatest books on a wide range of subjects, their staff was always knowledgeable and helpful.  I ended up with the book It's So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families.  

This book made the final cut for MANY reasons:

  1. It, literally, starts from the beginning - with an explanation of male and female anatomy, how boys' bodies and girls' bodies develop and explains the developmental aspects of sexual maturity.
  2. It covers ALL aspects of how families come to be - male & female, in vitro fertilization, adoption, etc.  And shows no bias for one over another!  
  3. It explains things clearly while keeping it all age appropriate.
  4. It's written in easy language, so I knew Janan could go back and re-read anything she wanted.
On my way back to school with the book (I worked at Janan's school), I was both excited and scared out of my wits.  This is one of those parenting moments I KNEW would lay the groundwork for how we approached not only sexuality, but challenging topics many parents and their children never discuss.  I wanted her to know - without a shadow of a doubt - that these types of conversations would always be open and honest.  I also wanted her to have a HEALTHY perspective on sexuality.  To know it's natural and, when shared with someone you love, a beautiful aspect of a healthy relationship.

Sadly, my husband (now ex) was totally against this discussion.  He even advocated for the stork story!  He felt she was "too young" and "doesn't need to know that, yet."  I reiterated my point that if she's old enough to flat out ask the question, she's old enough to hear the answer.

So, without my husband's support (something I had actually hoped for, because I felt the male perspective on the topic would be helpful) Janan and I headed to her room a bit earlier than normal.   I told her I was going to answer the question she had asked me the night before, but that it would actually take a FEW nights for the whole story.  I showed her the book I had found and said we would read this one together, one chapter per night.  

My philosophy here was that there was a lot of information she would need to process and it would take her time to form questions.  I promised that each consecutive night we'd have time for Q & A on the previous night's chapter and that we would re-read anything she wanted.  And, bonus for me, it wasn't until chapter 10 that the actual "how" was explained!  That meant I had over a week to mentally and emotionally prepare myself.

I won't bore you with the first 9 chapters.  Suffice it to say, we had some great conversation and quite a few laughs (the book is written in comic book form).  

On the 10th night, as with every previous night, we headed back to bed a bit early, answered questions from the previous chapter, Mama took a VERY deep breath and we began reading.  Here, finally, came the answer to her question.  She was so excited I had to chuckle to myself.  As soon as I read the explanation, she placed her hand on the book, pushed it down to see my face, looked me straight in the eyes and said, "You mean to tell me he puts his penis INSIDE her vagina?!"  I don't know how I didn't fall off the bed laughing, but her question was so honest I responded, "Yep!"  

A normal six-year-old reaction followed, "EWWW!!!  That's GROSS!!!"  Quickly followed by an LGR response, "Wait, do you and Dad do that?" (Yes.) "So you're trying to have a baby?" (Uh, no.) Thankfully, this book reinforced my response to that question, which was "not all sex leads to babies".  It's another way couples show they love each other, like hugging or kissing.

After the chapter, I did say that some parents don't talk to their children about this and it wasn't really something she should share with her friends.  I told her I had shared with her because she asked and that everyone should learn about this when they're ready with people they love.

Still fearing an angry mob of parents the next day after school, though, I pulled her teacher aside to tell her what I'd done.  She laughed and reassured me that even telling her not to talk to her friends wouldn't keep this out of the conversations, but that if it came up she could handle it.  

Even Janan's teacher was shocked when it DIDN'T come up that day, the next or any time that year!  What we found was that simply knowing the answer had put the question out of her head and she, in typical LGR fashion, moved on to the next!  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mama, When Was I In Your Belly?

One of my favorite "Mama stories" is from when Janan was 2 1/2 - almost 3 - and we had just left the joint baby shower of two sisters.  One sister had just had her baby weeks before and the second was, literally, due any day.  

We spent a few hours doing the normal baby shower things - cooing at the newborn, touching the expectant Mama's belly, eating cake and watching the opening of baby gift after baby gift.  Of course, Janan enjoyed her own abundance of attention and loved EVERY minute of it.

So, I should have known something was up when my normally talkative, highly verbal 2 1/2-year-old was completely silent as we left the shower, while being strapped into her car seat and during the first 5 minutes of our drive home.

Finally, from the silence I heard, "Mama, when was I in your belly?"  

Having adopted my daughter and always telling her the story of her adoption my response came easily, "Honey, remember, you weren't in Mama's belly you were in Mama Santos's belly.  That's what it means to be adopted."  Thinking to distract her from the "how", I also added, "And, babies aren't in their Mama's bellies, they are in a special place called the womb."

(I got a bit cocky here thinking I had dodged a proverbial bullet and actually smiled to myself as I continued to drive.)

After just a few more seconds of silence, my beautiful daughter responded with, "So, how did I get in Mama Santos' WOMB?"

Now it got sticky.  I couldn't fall back on the "When two people are married and love each other..." because her birth parents were NOT married (a fact she knew) and I didn't know whether they loved each other or not.  So, after a very deep breath to slow my heart rate I said, "Well, a man plants a seed inside a woman and the baby grows there."

Without missing a beat she says, "That doesn't make ANY sense, because if he used a shovel that would HURT the Mama!"

I almost had to pull off to the side of the road.  What was going through my head was "You're right, but I'M NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE TO HAVE THIS CONVERSATION UNTIL YOUR OLDER!  I'M NOT READY YET!"

So, I told her she was absolutely right.  That the actual process was hard to explain and that was really a conversation for when she was older.  She was fine with that, but just wanted to know how MUCH older.  I wanted to say 35, but I went with "when your around 5 or 6".  (Why I picked that age is beyond me, but I was DRIVING, trying to focus on the road through my tears of yet another Mama moment coming years before it's expected time and for which I was horribly unprepared.)

Now, your question is, "What does this have to do with gifted reading?"  Well, I'll explain.

Just a year later (so she's now almost 4), we were at our local library (our favorite hang out) and Janan's favorite librarian was helping her find some books she wanted.  Janan had really gotten into Bill Nye the Science Guy and condensation, so they were in the science section.  Wanting to grab a book for myself, the librarian told me to go ahead and that she would help Janan find her books.  Happily, I trotted off to the fiction section for my book and returned just a few minutes later to see the librarian with a VERY strange look on her face and Janan sitting on the floor in front of the science section, nose-down in a book with large color photographs of in utero babies.

Turns out "condensation" isn't too far from "conception" and Janan had found a book called "A Child is Born" by Linnart Nilsson.  The poor librarian was worried I'd be upset!  I reassured her it was fine and actually smiled and said, "I knew this was coming."  

I have to admit this beautiful book has the most amazing pictures of fetal development I had ever seen, so I sat down next to Janan and said, "Wow!  What did you find?"  She looked up at me with amazement on her face and said, "Look, Mama!  These are babies in their Mama's wombs!"  We checked out "A Child is Born" and a few books on condensation (which never did get opened, I don't think) and headed home.  The entire ride home Janan sat in awe turning page after page commenting on how at first the baby looked more like a tadpole than a baby, but then you could see their eyes, fingers and even hair!"

This book became her favorite.  She scoured over it day and night.  She took it with her everywhere we went and checked it out the maximum number of times our library would allow.  Thankfully, there was a wonderful, local, used book store at which I found a copy Janan could call her own. 

Interestingly (and much to my relief), the photographs seemed to take away the "how did the baby get there" question and replaced it with an almost medical fascination of how the baby develops over the nine months, how it can "breathe" inside there, and how it is born.  We spent hours looking at the pictures every time she "discovered" something new.

The first chapter of the book does explain fertilization, but the photos of the babies intrigued her much more (whew!).  

So, if your LGR asks that ever looming question of "Where DO babies come from?" I HIGHLY recommend this book.  The photographs create wonderful conversation about the entire birth process and can keep the gifted mind enthralled for weeks!

Of course, the question of "How does the baby get in there?" didn't go away for long...but, I'll leave that story for another blog.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Keepers Trilogy - by Jackie French Koller

The first book in The Keepers Trilogy by Jackie French Koller is A Wizard Named Nell.  As Janan began reading on her own, I still wanted to find books I could read to her at bedtime.  LGRs are children first and Janan still wanted me to read her bedtime stories.  So, I had the bright idea of finding books I believed were just above her reading level for that special nighttime ritual.  

The premise of the story is the kingdom of Eldearth, which has always been protected by a Wizard of Light, is in jeopardy because the current Wizard is getting too old to keep out the bad guys (sound familiar?  This is very similar to the premise of The Fairy Realm series Janan loved so much and seems to be a common Fantasy genre theme.).  Of course, in Eldearth, only boys can become the next Wizard of Light (by successfully completing a quest), but Nell is determined SHE will complete the quest and become the first female Wizard of Light in Eldearth's history.

Nell is a strong female character who not only shows drive and passion, but compassion and heart, as well.  While I love a good, strong heroine, my favorite aspect of this book became the fact that Nell finds she needs her male counterpart, Owen, throughout the story.  Showing a beautiful balance of masculine & feminine energy working together for the greatest good.  Because of this, both boys & girls will love this book.

The book is typically rated in the 4th to 6th grade range, but Janan read all three at the age of 5 or 6.  Yes, SHE read them.  As often happened with many of the bedtime stories I believed I'd discovered (and thought were above her reading level), after about the first or second chapter she would take over and complete them on her own.  

This is a trilogy, so for those who find they enjoy A Wizard Named Nell there are two more to follow.  The Wizard's Apprentice and The Wizard's Sceptar.

One word of warning!  Make sure you have Book 2: The Wizard's Apprentice waiting in the wings, because though you will know Nell completes the quest at the end of Book 1, you don't know if she becomes the Wizard of Light until Book 2!  

Janan wanted to ring in on this series!  Here's what she had to say:

"I LOVED this book because it had wizards and the author was a very good author.  I really like the way she writes."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Happy Adoption Day - by John McCutcheon

As an adoptive Mama I am drawn to books about adoption.  I wanted Janan to know from day one how our family came to be. Even before she could understand what I was saying, I believe she could feel the message of the stories I was reading.

One of the first I found, that is still a favorite for both of us, is Happy Adoption Day by John McCutcheon.  The words in this book are actually lyrics from a song by the same name.  The song is on John McCutcheon's CD Family Garden (a GREAT CD for more than just this one song!) and one we play every year at Janan's Adoption Day parties.  

The reason I was first drawn to this book was because, even though the artwork suggests a married, heterosexual couple, the lyrics embrace all forms of adoption:

Some parents come different,
some come the same,
But whether they're single or pairs.
You're never alone,
you're always at home
Whenever there's love we can share.

Janan loved the book because of the sing-song lyrics and the "chorus":

So it's here's to you and three cheers to you!
Let's shout it, "Hip, hip, hip, hooray!"
For out of a world so tattered and torn,
You came to our house on that wonderful morn,
And all of a sudden this family was born.
Oh, happy Adoption Day!

Whether you're an adoptive parent or just looking for a book to teach your child about all the ways families come to be, this is a MUST have!  

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Fairy Realm Series - by Emily Rodda

While I could post about nothing but picture books, I know many of you with LGRs are looking for books they can read independently.  The Fairy Realm Series by Emily Rodda is a MUST have for any child who loves fairies, elves, mermaids and magic.

As with many of Janan's favorite books, we discovered the first book of this series at the local used book store and I still, on occasion, see them when we're out perusing the shelves.

There are ten books in the series.   The main heroine is a little girl named Jessie.  Her job is to save the Realm (which you learn was ruled by her Grandmother, Jessica, before she fell in love with a human and moved to our "mortal" world) from opening to the "Outlands" where trolls, goblins, dragons and many other less than hospitable creatures live ruled by an evil Queen, Valda, who wants to take over.

One issue I have - as with many children's books (for some strange, unknown reason) one parent has died.  In this series, Jessie's father is the passed on parental unit and her grandfather is also gone.  However, on the positive side, Rodda does create an amazingly strong connection between Jessie and her grandmother.

Any child who loves magic and the fact that a child can solve problems to "save the day" will devour this series.  At the end of the first book, Jessie is given a charm bracelet, which grants her access to the Realm.  And, in each subsequent book she gains a charm for her bracelet.  

Online it's listed for 1st or 2nd graders (depending on where you look), but Janan read this series at around 4 and often returned to it time and again (certain books more than others).  A little harder to find than some of the more popular fairy books associated with tv, cartoon and movie fairies, but definitely worth the search!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cassandra's Angel - by Gina Otto

I found this AMAZING book, Cassandra's Angel, while traveling on business in Colorado.  It was right around Christmas time and the book was in a gift box with the book, CD and an angel magnet.

The story follows a little girl through her day where, as unfortunately many children experience today, she's repeatedly told by the people in her life that she's not good enough and she begins to internalize that message.

Her mother tells her she and her room are a mess, her teacher calls her "incorrigible" because she chooses to paint the picture she's told to paint in her own way, and even the mayor tells her he doesn't have time for her problems.

The book is written completely in rhyme with each rhyme ending with "But she did not like that story - NO SHE DID NOT."  Which, of course, after just one reading Janan picked up on.  She LOVED shouting this part and affirming that no matter who in Cassandra's life was telling her she was worthless, she didn't have to believe that. 

Her worth is validated at the end by an angel who tells her:

All of the people who tell stories to you,
They each have the truth deep inside of them, too.

They have just forgotten it over the years,
So now what you hear is their sadness and fears.

It isn't their fault, all those stories they tell.
They believed the stores they were given as well.

Those old kinds of stories create guilt and fear,
But today, Cassandra, those old stories stop here.


With a soft breath of wind the Angel was gone,
And Cassandra could feel in her heart a new song...
"I'm Cassandra, a bright light", was her very next thought.
And no one could change that story - NOT THEY COULD NOT!

This book is very empowering for children.  Even the best parents, at times, forget to discourage the ACT rather than the child.  And our school systems, rather than nurturing a child's individuality and talents, more often forces them to adhere to a set expectation which squelches who they truly are.

While often a nightly choice for Janan, it would also be a wonderful book for those times when a child is struggling with negative messages they're receiving.

The book was made into a musical (hence the CD included in the gift box) and the music is also wonderfully affirming for children!  It was Janan's favorite CD for years.  Below is a clip of her singing along while making banana bread.  

This book was my first introduction to what has become my favorite publisher, Illumination Arts.  Their books are beautiful, positive and without the commercialization of so many of today's books linked to cartoons, movies or television shows.  I'm sure it won't be long before you see many of their other books show up here.  

Blog #2 - The Little Gifted Reader

Well, I never dreamed I'd start blog #1, but I've been thinking about this one (blog #2) for quite awhile.

Age 2, Reading on her potty.
As strange as it may sound, one of my biggest "Mama Challenges" has been finding books for my daughter to read.  Not because she doesn't enjoy reading - on the contrary - but, because she's always been a highly advanced reader.  

Reading one of her favorites "Who Moved My Cheese" to
the schools gecko we kept over a holiday break.
From the day she came home, I've read to her.  I not only love reading for my own enjoyment, but I still LOVE finding a good children's book.  Those amazing picture books which convey life in all it's variations succinctly and with some of the most beautiful artwork created today. 

All seemed normal in our household until, at age two, my daughter began "correcting" me when I read to her.  Now, as is typical with two-year-olds, you often find yourself reading the same book night after night and, often, many times a night.  So, I just thought, "How cute!  She's memorized the story!"  Which would have been 'advanced' in itself, except I quickly discovered that even while reading new stories we had never heard before she was correcting me.  

Reading "The Tao of Pooh" one afternoon
after a swim in Nana & Poppy's pool.
So, I ran an experiment.  I started pointing to words (simple words often repeated in children's stories like 'cat') and asking her, "What's that say?".  It got to the point where I was trying to find words she COULDN'T read!  

I quickly ran out to the closest book store and found some of those "phonics readers" & even invested in a "Hooked on Phonics" package, because where a word stumped her she WANTED to know what it said.  

She was never a big American Girl fan,
but this collection of Samantha stories
she LOVED.
However, after the first "Hooked on Phonics" book and the first set of Bob Books she was done with those 'baby' books and off reading on her own.  By the summer she was three she had completed the entire Magic Tree House series (of which there were approximately 30 books at the time) and the resource guides that go along with certain stories and had moved on to Junie B. Jones.  

Now, it sound like such a wonderful "problem" to have, but what I started finding was that as quickly as she was reading I couldn't keep up with finding books AT her reading level that were age appropriate.  By five, she was reading at a seventh grade level and, I don't know about you, but I couldn't find many seventh grade books appropriate for my 5-year-old.

Reading a "Secrets of Droon" book to Samantha Jayne.
I started talking to other Mama's to see what their kids were reading.  Many of those in the same situation we were in were struggling and hadn't even found some of the ones I had discovered that had become Janan's favorites (like the Jewel Kingdom series by Jahnna N. Malcolm, the Avalon: Web of Magic series by Rachel Roberts, the Carole Marsh Mysteries, and The Keepers trilogy Jackie French Koller).  Interestingly enough, all of these I discovered at our local used book store and were no longer carried in the 'big box' stores like Barnes & Noble or Border's.  

"Found" by Margaret Peterson Haddix
So, somehow I became the 'go to' Mama for those with Little Gifted Readers of their own and continued the search for my own LGR.  I've discovered many gems along the way. Books that (because I pre-read many I find) are enjoyable even at my age!  

And, though the concept for this blog has been rolling around in my head for years, it took yet another Mama from Janan's new school asking me yesterday, "What does Janan read?" that made me finally sit down and start to type.

Just as I rely on the Movie Mom to help me make sure I'm selecting the best movies for Janan to see, I'm hoping this blog will help other LGR Mamas make appropriate reading choices for their children.  (And, I won't have to keep remembering all the titles and authors!)

Reading (as always) while eating one of
"The Jewel Kingdom" books.
Selfishly, I'm also hoping other Mamas will post here when they find great books for our kids to read!  Thankfully, since the Harry Potter series (Janan's ALL time favorite) more and more wonderful authors have been coming out with the stories that will be classics when Janan has her own children.  I hope I'm there to see that, because I've got shelves of many great children's books saved up for just such an occasion!  

Reading Mama's "Mothering Magazine"
while waiting at the bank.

So, I'll go back a bit and begin posting my 'reviews' of the books we've discovered over the years.  The ones we liked as well as those we didn't.  And, if we're all lucky, we'll get feedback from my very own LGR because, trust me, she really knows best!