Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Dozen Delectable African-American Chapter Books

Many of the books listed below are just one in a series, so there's lots more fun where these came from. Choosing just one book per author means I've had to leave out some of my favorites. But it's easy to find more, once you know a good author.

Gloria Rising
, by Ann Cameron. Gloria meets an astronaut, Doctor Grace Street, at the grocery store, and then has troubles in school when her teacher doesn't believe her. My son loves these. There are at least 8 more books about Julian, his younger brother Huey, and their friend Gloria.

Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs: The Buried Bones Mystery
, by Sharon Draper. 4 boys, all friends, all from different sorts of families, decide to form a club, and solve mysteries. They get a big one almost before they start.

The Warm Place, by Nancy Farmer. Ruva, a young giraffe, is taken from her mother and home in the grasslands of Africa, and sold to a zoo. With the help of 2 rats, a chameleon, and a boy, she escapes and heads home. Read everything by Nancy Farmer!

The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street, by Sharon Flake. Queen is so spoiled and bossy she doesn't have any friends. Then Leroy joins her class. He has stinky clothes and a broken bike, but he says he's from Africa. Somehow the two connect past all their differences. Queen still manages to cause plenty of trouble, and almost loses her chance to solve the mysteries Leroy presents her with.

Missy Violet and Me, by Barbara Hathaway. Viney may be 11, but she still thinks Missy Violet, the midwife, brings women's babies in her bag after finding them in cabbage patches. That summer she gets to work with Missy Violet, and gets quite an education.

Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis. Buxton is a town of free Blacks in Canada, close enough to Windsor and Detroit for runaways to come their way and settle. (This is true. Here's more information on the town.) Runaway slaves would come to Buxton and settle, and this is the imagined story of Elijah, the first child born free in the town.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor. Set in the deep south, in the 30’s. Cassie Logan’s family owns and farms 200 acres. The Logans have managed to protect their children from the hatred of the whites around them, but this year will be especially difficult.

Darnell Rock Reporting, by Walter Dean Myers. Darnell isn't much into school. But he joins the school paper, and his article on a homeless man gives him and the community lots to think about.

M.C. Higgins, the Great, by Virginia Hamilton. I loved this book, but read it too long ago to remember the details. I remember that M.C. lives on a mountain with his family and is very independent. Amazon says it's called Sarah's Mountain, after his great-grandmother who settled the family there after running away from slavery. Amazon also says he's dealing with nearby strip-mining. I'm going to have to read it again...

If You Come Softly, by Jacqueline Woodson. Jeremiah is Black and Ellie is white. They're both 15, and falling in love. The book was inspired by a poem by Audre Lorde that begins like this:
If you come softly
as the wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees.

Be prepared to see what sorrow sees.

The Friends, by Rosa Guy. Once again, my memory is lacking. I loved this book so long ago, I remember almost nothing. Here's what I got from enotes.com: Phyllisia Cathay has recently moved from the West Indies to Harlem. She's smart but lonely. Edith is much poorer, and would like to be her friend. Phyllisia doesn't think so. Hmm, the class issues in this book and the Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street sound similar...

Small Steps, by Louis Sachar. I loved Sachar's book, Holes, and was excited to read another book with some of the same characters. This book is very different, less mythic, and grittier. I loved it differently. Armpit is back home, and trying to get his life on the right track. His mom is trying (sometimes too hard?) to help. But his friendship with Ginny, his neighbor with cerebral palsy, is a big help too. It's all going pretty well, until X-Ray, a shady dealer from his past at Camp Green Lake, comes into the picture. Lots of action.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Getting Better All the Time - At Parenting

I'm a single parent, working full-time. This past year, I worked too much, my son didn't get enough time with me nor enough consistency in his after-school care, and things got rough. He was very angry and acted out (hitting me sometimes). I worked less during Spring term, and saw things gradually improve.

I want to write about two steps forward, and one other milestone.

Last year in July I left my son with my brother and my family for a week while I attended the Math Circle Teacher Training Institute. When I returned, my son was furious. We had lots of trouble at bedtime, when he was acting up and I was too tired to deal. It was memorably bad.

I was planning to go to the Institute again this year, and he was saying he didn't want to go to Michigan. (We live in California, my family is in Michigan, he stays with them there while I go to the institute in Indiana.) He was not happy about the thought of me leaving him for a week again. But I knew I just had to go.

A few weeks before we left for Michigan, I stumbled upon a wonderful idea. We were at Toy Go Round, a used toy store, to buy him a hotwheels car. In the front window was a Playmobil service station. My son has been just about obsessive over cars his whole life, and has recently become enamored of Playmobil (way more expensive than the other toys in his life). The service station was the perfect thing for him. But his birthday was the month before, and xmas is a very long way off.

He says he asked for it. I don't even remember that. We asked to see the price when we went in, and at $35, I just shrugged to tell him it was way too much to spend. I so wanted to get it for him, but couldn't justify it when he'd already gotten so much on his birthday. He took his usual long time picking a hotwheels car, and we paid and left.

As I looked in the window one last time, I had an idea. I sat him down and reminded him of how angry he had been last year after I'd come back from the Institute, and how badly he'd behaved. Poor kid thought I was reprimanding him, I think. I said he might feel angry again this year, but it's important to find better ways to express it. I asked if he wanted me to get the service station and hold onto it until we got back. He could have it if he behaved well. His eyes lit up - "Oh, yeah!"

Normally I hate punishments and rewards. But it seemed like a good idea for him to have something to look forward to. And it was. He was great on our trip, even though it was hard for him. (He had a bunch of meltdowns the day after I got back, and I'd hold him each time and say "I know, it was so hard...") I think the second time with mom away was easier for him, but still very hard. He was more prepared for it, having gone through it before. And I was more prepared for dealing with the aftermath. When we got home a week later, he was thrilled with his new service station, and maybe it means more to him than other toys.

The holding and loving him up (with not so many words) when he cried came in handy again yesterday. He hates change, and I wanted to move the furniture in my room around. He still sleeps in my bed and didn't want me to change the room. He burst into tears at one point, and I just held him and said, "I know, it's hard." I'm learning to talk less sometimes.

That's the two steps forward. Here's the milestone: My son is friends with a woman who uses a powered wheelchair when her energy level demands it. She carries it in her van, and when she's visiting us, she's not using it. She allows my son to 'drive' it sometimes. Yesterday he asked if he could drive it out of the van. It was facing away from the door, and he made a 4-point turn to face forward, without touching the walls. When she complimented him, he said, "I was thinking about how to do it the other night, and I figured it out in my head." She and I both thought that was some pretty fancy visualization.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Autism from the Inside

Some months back, someone on change.org pointed me to Jim Sinclair's website. When I got there, I was enthralled. Jim Sinclair is autistic, and explains his own worldview in a way I'd never encountered before. Unfortunately, that website is gone now. You can still read one of his essays, Don't Mourn for Us. And maybe you can find others.

Today I discovered another autistic person's blog, Cat in a Dog's World. She writes more about the politics, and less from a personal perspective, but there's still lots there.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Dozen Delectable African-American Picture Books

I'm the white parent of a Black and Latino son. It is very important to me to read lots of books to him that reflect the courage and tenacity of people of color, and also to show him lots of kinds of families. Some of these books deal with race issues overtly, and in some it's just not the issue at hand. We also have lots of favorite books that deal with slavery and civil rights. I'll write another post about those.

Good Night, Baby, by Cheryl Willis Hudson, illustrated by George Ford. I memorized this whole story and recited it to my son every night for over a year. Very simple story in a board book. I might be partial to it because of our history with it...

Baby Dance, by Ann Taylor, illustrated by Marjorie van Heerden. Another board book. My favorite. I love the pictures, I love the text (a re-working of ‘Hush little baby, don’t you cry’). When my son was smaller, I danced around with him while I read it.

Joy, by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Pamela Johnson. Mother tells son: “You are my joy. In every season, summer, fall, winter, spring, You touch my heartstrings.” I read it as a poem, and I tell my son often: You are my joy.

Corduroy, by Don Freeman. Written in 1968. “Corduroy is a bear who once lived in the toy department of a big store. Day after day he waited … for somebody to come along and take him home.” My son loved it when he was younger.

Whistle for Willie, by Ezra Jack Keats. Peter wants to be able to whistle, so he can call his dog Willie.

Bigmama's, by Donald Crews. Every summer the whole family takes the train to go stay at Bigmama’s (grandma’s). The kids love her old-fashioned country house, with its well, chicken coop, fishing pond, and big family meals.

Nappy Hair, by Carolivia Herron, illustrated by Joe Cepeda. Uncle Mordecai gives a sermon, call and response style, on the glory of Brenda’s nappy hair.

Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch. Grace loves stories, and loves acting them out. When her class is going to put on Peter Pan, one friend tells her she can’t be Peter because he’s a boy, and another says so because he’s not black. Her mama and her nana help her through. Boundless Grace is great too (on families that don’t have the ‘required’ mother and father).

Pictures for Miss Josie, by Sandra Belton, illustrated by Benny Andrews. A fictional story about a real woman, Josephine Carroll Smith, who helped young Black men in college, providing them a home away from home.

The Patchwork Quilt, by Valerie Flourney, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Grandma teaches Tanya and her mama the value of memories. They all learn to value old age more.

Smoky Night, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz. How do you talk with children about something like riots? The boy in this story is kept safe by his mama, but their apartment building catches fire, and they must stay awhile in a shelter. Two cats who always fought make friends and bring the people together.

Ben's Trumpet, by Rachel Isadora. Ben listens to the music coming out of the jazz club, and pretends to play trumpet. Kids laugh at him, but one day he gets his chance.

Well, that's a dozen, but I still haven't told you about Yo, Jo, or Please, Baby, Please, or Rainbow Joe, or Something Beautiful, or ... I guess we have lots of favorites... : )

Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Vacaton

I'm away from home for 3 weeks, and have intermittent access to the internet. I wasn't worried about not posting here, because I figured no one was watching yet. But I see I've had 17 visitors (I'd love some comments, too), so I thought I'd make it known that I will be posting regularly once I'm back home.

Coming soon: A Dozen Delectable African-American Picture Books (and then the chapter books...)

I have a bunch more coming eventually.

It's good to get away from my internet addiction for a few weeks... ;>