Talking with Kids about War

The drafty but beloved home of my Michigan childhood featured a rather dim and damp basement that was accessed through a trap door from our kitchen. That cement-floored space was divided into several separate rooms. During the winter, my mother hung washed clothing on lines to dry in the largest of those areas. One of the small rooms was fashioned almost entirely with rough, wooden shelving that held clear Ball and Mason jars filled with fruits and vegetables my mother had canned.

Sometimes we played downstairs while she hung clothes on the line. Being a somewhat apprehensive, quiet, and rather OCD child, one would think I could have been most concerned with falling down the steps (my brother did, once!), about what was hiding in the dark corners, or with that large spider eyeing us from its web, overhead. No, this child of the Fifties and Sixties was silently pondering whether there was enough food for our family on the shelves in that little room, in case we needed to hide out in our basement if “the Russians” attacked!

Did I share those fears with my parents about what I’d overheard on the evening news? I don’t think so. Did they know how scared I was when a B52 flew over from the nearby airbase, wondering if it was “one of ours” or “one of theirs?” I don’t believe they did, or surely they would have said something. I worried a great deal about “war,” but had no idea how to bring up the topic. In the political climate of our world today, there’s no escaping the realities of war or potential for further escalation toward war. Only very young children are easy to shield from the news on television or the internet. There’s no way to ensure that our kids won’t learn about troubling situations in the world.

Some children ask questions and give you plenty of openings to discuss difficult topics. Others, like the childhood version of me, won’t (or can’t find the words to) ask. In those cases, you’ll need to create your own openings, which can be a challenge. That’s where children’s books can help! Along with many other people right now, I’m feeling very helpless about world events, many which have been precipitated right in our “own back yard,” here in the U.S. What can I do? Maybe I can offer some suggestions of children’s books to help parents, grandparents, teachers, and other caring adults approach the difficult subject of war and the equally important topic of conflict resolution with the kids who are important to them!

Why? by Nikolai Popov – Winner: 2017 NCSS/CBC, National Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

A frog finds a beautiful flower and picks it for himself. When a mouse sees him with it, his jealousy overcomes him, and he swipes it. Frog’s friends come to his aid and chase the mouse away. But before the frogs can celebrate, Mouse’s friends return for a counter-attack. Before long the conflict has devolved into a full-scale frog-mouse war. By the end of it, all either side can ask is: why? This seemingly simple book tackles an important subject and will be an invaluable way to talk to young children about conflict and warfare.

Playing War written by Kathy Beckwith and illustrated by Lea Lyon. Learn the details about this book for children in grades 2-5 at Patricia Tilton’s blog, Children’s Books Heal.

Top 20 Picture Books for Anzac Day, with Children’s Books Daily

8 Books About War for Kids from Scholastic

Conflict Resolution with Young Children at Social Justice Books

Literature for Children and Young Adults Examining Issues of Violence and Conflict Resolution with Center for Civic Education

21 Multicultural Children’s Books About Peace from Colours of Us

I hope you can find something here that fits your particular situations and your children!                     ~Becky

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Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #6: Rose Franken’s “Claudia” Series

I should be packing for my upcoming move, down one floor to my new, balconied apartment. Fellow book lovers know exactly what happens when you start going through your shelves. I’m lingering and looking each book over before placing it in a box! While paging through my “Claudia” books by Rose Franken, I decided to stop and write this post.

When I was in high school, a friend loaned me a book that had originally belonged to her mother. It was already decades old, but named after the couple, Claudia and David, the blue and gold cover appealed to me. At that time, I wasn’t an avid reader and probably didn’t start it right away. That might be why I hung onto it, taking the book with me when I moved after graduation. (Please note, I’m much better about returning books these days. Marilyn, if you’re out there, email me your address and I’ll send this treasure back to you:)

As a young mother, I did finally read the book and loved the world of Claudia and David Naughton, as they moved from New York City to suburban Connecticut. One afternoon, while my baby napped and I dusted furniture, I switched the television on to encounter those very same characters! I realized the movie, Claudia, must have been based on the first in a series. The search was on for more books!

Over the years, I’ve been lucky to find several more titles from the series, like those above, in used bookstores. The one on the left is an omnibus, containing the first title, Claudia, and the second, Claudia and David. Come to find out, both of those were made into movies with Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young, pictured on the red dust jacket. I also love my paperback versions, shown below.

Knowing of the collection, my sister found and surprised me with the “Armed Services Edition” of Another Claudia. During WWII, many complete books were printed in a special size and shape to fit into the pockets of those in the Armed Forces. The book has water damage, and I always wonder if that’s from the conditions where it was taken during the war. Other books in the series are more challenging to find, but I’ve borrowed many from libraries in order to read and enjoy the complete series of eight.

Research tells me the saga of Claudia, her architect husband and their children began as stories by Rose Franken that appeared in Redbook and Good Housekeeping magazines, from about the late Thirties to late Fifties. In addition to the movies, “Claudia” was a hit play on Broadway and also appeared serialized on radio and for a short time on television.

By today’s standards, I suppose the stories are rather sentimental and melodramatic. They do address many important and timeless themes, such as marital temptation, gender issues, serious illness, war, financial woes, racism, and grief related to death and dying. There is always an underlying lightness, however, and a certain sense of redemption. Claudia grows up and comes into her own throughout the course of the series, and David evolves, as well. Both husband and wife are examples of strong individuals who aren’t afraid to lean on someone else when that’s what life requires.

Rose Franken 1895-1988

In addition to her writings about “Claudia,” Rose Franken was a well-known playwright and director who also wrote and successfully published many other novels. She was born in Texas but grew up in New York. A single parent, her first husband died of tuberculosis, and she drew upon that experience when she wrote about fictional David suffering from TB. She eventually remarried a lawyer, with whom she moved to Connecticut and collaborated on successful serial fiction and many movies. I found her autobiography, When All is Said and Done, to be as enjoyable as her novels.

I don’t really need more books, unless I plan on investing in some new bookshelves. However, while revisiting online sources today, I was reminded that map backs aren’t just for mysteries. I see that a paperback version of Young Claudia was published with a map on the back, so I may need to keep looking…

Talking with Kids about Severe Weather and other Disasters

After a long night of weather warnings and a tornado ripping through nearby Dallas, I’m reminded that some children (and adults!) have an overwhelming fear of extreme weather and other types of disasters. Although many aspects of these scary occurrences are out of our control, as adults, we can stay well-informed and plan ahead as much as possible to help alleviate part of the worry. Kids have the additional challenges of not fully understanding the various situations and not knowing how to prepare for or deal with these events. Maybe you’d like a great book written with children in mind to get an open and informative discussion started!

The ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children), a division of the  American Library Association (ALA), has compiled the Get Ready Get Safe Book List, with titles about preparing for emergencies, monitoring weather or other types of disasters, and overcoming fears in general. A short description of each book is provided, along with the recommended ages. Many topics are addressed, including blizzard, fire, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, hailstorm, flood, and blackout. Parents, teachers, and grandparents can surely find a book here that could help.

On a bit of a lighter note, I love sharing the book, Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco, with kids. It’s set in my home state of Michigan and tells how a very smart grandmother keeps her worried granddaughter’s mind off an impending thunderstorm. The book includes themes of empowerment and personal strength.

I hope you find something here to share with your favorite youngsters!

 

Nancy Drew Re-Do?

Nancy Drew has certainly evolved over the years. Here’s an interesting article in The New York Times about the character’s history and a new television program. Seriously, though, why has no one come up with a Trixie Belden screen rendition?  Although I collect vintage editions of both series, Trixie will always be my favorite!                                             Becky

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #5: Prolific Garis Family

One of my favorite activities is visiting used bookshops or resale stores that feature books. Often attracted to vintage publications, I’m typically drawn to those reminding me of something from my youth. I enjoy sharing these “fantastic finds,” hoping to spark a memory for blog readers, as well, or to create a new curiosity that leads down an intriguing avenue. Since I write for both children and adults, I have a vested interest in understanding what pulls people toward certain types of books.

Uncle Wiggily” was a popular board game when I was a young child. I remember having mixed feelings about playing with my family or friends and sometimes felt a bit of nerves during the game. Not sure if those related to some of the unsavory characters along the path of play, like the bad “Skeezicks” and “Pipsisewah,” or maybe I just didn’t want to lose! At the time, I was only vaguely aware of stories written about this rabbit, “Uncle Wiggily Longears.”

Hop forward almost forty years to the middle-aged version of me scanning the shelves at one of my favorite used bookstores in Michigan. There it was…a childhood memory in full color, also in rather tattered shape. It was still quite a steal at $8.00. The book, Uncle Wiggily Goes Camping, was mine! Written by Howard R. Garis, I decided to pursue details about the author.

                                            

Further research revealed that Howard Garis wrote thousands of Uncle Wiggily stories, which appeared in the Newark News for many years and in books; I also learned he wasn’t the only published author in his family. During the early to mid-1900s, he and his wife, Lilian, wrote hundreds of juvenile series chapter books. Some sported their actual names, while others were written under various pseudonyms for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, including Tom Swift books as “Victor Appleton” and the Bobbsey Twins series as “Laura Lee Hope.” As you can imagine, I needed more (books and information)!

                                    

 I purchased the treasure above, from the Melody Lane series by Lilian Garis, in a bookstore while living in North Carolina. It’s a former library edition and found its way south from a county in Pennsylvania. I was thrilled to come across it and love the art deco appeal of the cover. The frontispiece illustration and end papers with the dated library pocket (1946) are amazing.

Lilian and Howard had two children, a son, Roger, and younger daughter, Cleo. As a young man, Roger also wrote series books, such as The Outboard Boys. Cleo penned the Arden Blake Mysteries during that same period. The front of Missing at the Marshlands, shown below, isn’t very interesting without a dust cover, but the end papers are beautiful, and the overall condition is very good. This one was bought in a Minnesota bookshop that housed a wonderful vintage section.

                            

In middle age, Roger wrote a biography entitled, My Father Was Uncle Wiggily. I owned a copy, at one point, but gave it away as a gift, so that’s a stock photo, below. The book was a joy to read and has just the right combination of nostalgic family stories and other interesting tidbits, such as tales about Howard Garis being close friends with their neighbor, the poet, Robert Frost! I remember a few hints at some competition between the Garis elders and children, especially as time passes and incomes fluctuate. Roger also tells about his mother’s disappointment in her unsuccessful quest to move from writing for children to more serious works. Overall, the book is a very positive and enjoyable biography, and I didn’t question or care, particularly, whether every bit is true or written through “rose-colored” glasses. Enter the granddaughter, Leslie.Because of my interest in the Garis writing family, I occasionally do a quick internet search to see what I’ve missed. Around 2007, Roger’s daughter, Leslie, wrote House of Happy Endings: A Memoir, which was reviewed as being the story behind the fairy-tale. She recounts a difficult childhood watching her father’s struggle for success, independent of his parents, while he fought depression and addiction. In later years, Howard and Lilian had come to live with Roger, his wife, and three children. Leslie writes candidly about secretly observing much of the goings-on in the large house while hiding in the dumbwaiter.

The book is raw and difficult to read but feels very honest. It certainly dispels any ideas of a Garis utopian life. Not a happy book, but it does contain a certain feeling of hopefulness in the author’s attempts to understand the dynamics between her grandparents and parents, and to come to terms with some issues that follow her into adulthood and even affect her own child. I’ve never come across this memoir at a bookstore but couldn’t resist taking this post full circle. At the time of reading, I borrowed it through the interlibrary loan system. I’m not sorry to have read it, but the story is quite sad. I hope the author, Leslie Garis, has found a bit of her own happy ending.

Talking with Kids about Gun Violence

 

arm me with books

In a perfect world, talking with children about gun violence wouldn’t be necessary. Our world is now further from perfect than I can ever remember, but I’m still hopeful for better days to come. If you’re looking for suggestions of books for kids that can help them cope, please keep reading.                       ~Becky

From Publishers Weekly :

Literary Safari—the New York City-based studio that produces print and digital children’s media with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion—has launched the #ArmMeWithBooks campaign, which seeks to address issues of gun violence in the U.S. 

The campaign, which takes its name from teachers’ responses on social media to the Trump administration’s suggestion of arming educators with guns, is centered on the #ArmMeWithBooks Booklist, a free, downloadable collection of recommended titles—picture books, middle grade, and YA—selected by more than 50 children’s authors. Participants responded to the following question, “What is a must-read for children growing up in these challenging times of mass school shootings and lockdown drills?” The list also includes an original poem by 2018 Arnold Adoff Poetry Award-winner Nikki Grimes.

Sandhya Nankani, founder and publisher of Literary Safari, told PW, “The impetus was to create a toolkit for parents and children to come together and have meaningful conversations around the things happening in the news and in schools.” The parent of a nine-year-old girl, Nankani said, “It has been really interesting to see my daughter’s responses to lockdown drills. We send our children to school to feel safe, to grow and learn. What is the impact of this fear over time? How is that changing generations of children? What do they need more of?” Though she receives emergency protocol information from her daughter’s school, she said, “I wasn’t finding something that spoke to me—something I could use to engage my child.” The book list was created in hopes of filling that gap, by offering stories that highlight social and emotional themes such as empathy and resilience.

December 18, 2018

Visit PW for the rest of this informative article!

 

 

THE BRAVE CYCLIST: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero — from Writing and Illustrating

Author/illustrator Amalia Hoffman has written a new picture book titled, THE BRAVE CYCLIST: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero, illustrated by Chiara Fedele is hitting bookstores on August 1st. Today would be a great day to celebrate this gorgeous book and the life of Gino Barteali, since July 18th actually is the day Gino […]

via Book Giveaway: THE BRAVE CYCLIST: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero — Writing and Illustrating

Author, Amalia Hoffman, says, “We have the right and the ability to make the world a better place. The Brave Cyclist is a testament to the fact that one individual can make a difference and fight against discrimination, prejudice, antisemitism and racism.” 

Check out this inspirational book!     ~Becky