Category Archives: For Kids

The Young Presidents

It can stretch the imagination to picture powder-wigged George Washington and chisel-faced Abraham Lincoln as preteen boys, but don’t you wonder what kind of boys they were?

This President’s Day, let’s explore books that take us back into the boyhoods of the extraordinary men we honor today.

Abraham Lincoln, George Washington: Young Presidents by Augusta Stevenson from Aladdin.

The Education of George Washington by Austin Washington from Regnery History. (Note: This book is written by President Washington’s great-nephew and is geared toward adult readers.)

Young George Washington America’s First President  by Andrew Woods, illustrated by John Himmelman from Scholastic.

George Washington, Young Leader (Easy Biographies) by Laurence Santrey from Troll Communications.

Abe Lincoln: The Young Years (Easy Biographies) by Keith Brandt, illustrated by John Lawn from Troll Communications.

Abe Lincoln Grows Up by Carl Sandburg, illustrated by James Daugherty from Scholastic.

Abraham Lincoln by Ingri D’Aulaire, illustrated by Edgar Parin D’Aulaire from Yearling Books.

Do you have any good books to add to our list? How are you and your students and children celebrating President’s Day?

Another Pair of Shoes

On a recent gray afternoon, during a desultory spin through the Twitter-verse, I came across a tweet that perked me up. It was from Sara Grochowski. To say Sara loves reading is to say flowers lift their faces to the sun. She and I have met at a few book events, and it’s been a deep pleasure to talk with her about my work, and to keep up with what she’s reading and thinking. (You can meet her yourself, at thehidingspot.blogspot.com or @thehidingspot)

The tweet I read the other afternoon said something like, “I always thought it was my parents who taught me empathy, but I’ve come to realize it was books.” This caught my attention for lots of reasons. One is that the need to see through someone else’s eyes, to walk in another’s shoes―lies at the heart of all my work.

Childhood is a self-centered time. Kids have an entire world to learn and process, so it’s no wonder that at first they put themselves at the center of it. Yet a baby gets upset when she hears another baby cry. The capacity for empathy exists from the very beginning, and in my books, that wondrous capacity is what makes characters grow and change, as they come to understand they’re not the center of the world, but are instead an essential, powerful part of it.

There’s another reason I loved Sara’s tweet. Even the best intentioned parents can’t do everything. Neither can teachers. A lot is up to our children themselves. For empathy to grow, they need experience. And next to real-life, a close second to actual experience, is reading.

A 2013 study published in the journal Science proved what most of us already know: reading good fiction increases sensitivity and empathy. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/i-know-how-youre-feeling-i-read-chekhov/

To read we need to understand motivation, make connections, note nuances, seek what’s beneath the surface. Picture books, where illustrations and text sometimes complement, sometimes contradict each other, introduce this. And middle grade fiction? Over the last years it’s been growing ever more wonderfully, deeply diverse. A reader, safe in her own familiar world, can have lead many lives vastly different from her own. We’ve all had the experience of feeling as if a writer had x-rayed our hearts, eavesdropped on our thoughts. Reading makes us feel less alone, yes, but more than that. I love the phrase “lost in a book”. When we read about others different from us, boundaries fall. We lose ourselves to become those others.

These days, lots of people are fretting we need empathy more than ever before. I don’t think we need to worry. Empathy and compassion are essential parts of us all, seeds waiting to be nurtured. This spring middle grade writer Shelley Pearsall and I are lucky enough to be doing a workshop at the beloved Virginia Hamilton Conference.  http://www.kent.edu/virginiahamiltonconference We are calling it “Seeking a Wider Window”, and we’ll discuss the challenges and rewards of being white, middle class writers creating characters with lives very different from ours. I’ll be sure to report back!

Tricia’s most recent middle grade novel is Every Single Second. The third book in her CODY series, Cody and the Rules of Life, will publish this April (and yes, one of those rules is to always ask yourself, How would you feel if it happened to you??)

Daring to Be Different

Because this is Black History month, I asked several experts to recommend some not-to-be-missed middle-grade books. Not all their suggestions are about the African American experience, but they’re all about the multicultural experience and kids dealing with differences. If you’re discussing the timely topics of prejudice or exclusion, here’s a great list of resources:

TWO NAOMIS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

Two girls named Naomi are forced into an unlikely friendship when their parents begin dating. The girls’ emotional journeys take them through the struggles of living in a blended family and learning to become friends as well as sisters.

 

 

AS BRAVE AS YOU by Jason Reynolds

This multi-award-winning book examines bravery from the viewpoint of Genie, who wonders how you can tell who’s brave. What about his blind grandfather, who never leaves the house? Or his older brother who doesn’t want to shoot a gun? Maybe bravery is being strong enough to admit what you don’t want to do.

 

 

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

A National Book Award Finalist, Ghost tells the story of four kids from diverse backgrounds whose personalities clash. But they must come together to form an elite track team bound for the Junior Olympics.

 

 

 

THE LEFT-HANDED FATE by Kate Milford

Caught up in the war between England and France, Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault hope to stop the battle by finding parts to an engine. They’re imprisoned by a twelve-year-old American midshipsman, Oliver, who must decide whether to become a traitor or risk the lives of enemies he now sees as friends.

 

 

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON by Linda Williams Jackson

Set in Mississippi in 1955, Jackson’s novel blends fiction with the true story of the trial of Emmett Till. Rose Lee Carter decides to be a part of the movement that changes the South.

 

 

 

FRAZZLED by Booki Vivat

Filled with doodles by Booki Vivat, this hilarious story of Abbie Wu is filled with drama. Will Abbie “survive the everyday disasters of growing up”? Great for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

 

 

 

THE SEVENTH WISH by Kate Messner

Charlie feels unimportant until she discovers a wish-granting fish – only what she wishes for comes true in unexpected ways. Then her family faces a challenge. Should Charlie risk a wish on something this important?

 

 

 

THE GAUNTLET by Karuna Riazi

In a steampunk set in the Middle East, twelve-year-old Farah and her friends get trapped in a game board. The only way they can escape and save the others inside is to figure out the puzzle set up by a diabolical gamemaker.

 

 

 

TOWERS FALLING by Jewell Parker Rhodes

An award-winning author, Rhodes tells the story of the Twin Towers from the point of view of children who weren’t born when it happened. While they’re learning about their town’s history, they’re also discovering things about themselves and what it means to be an American.

 

 

MAGNIFICENT MYA TIBBS: SPIRIT WEEK SHOWDOWN by Crystal Allen

With pink cowboy boots and the upcoming Spirit Week, Mya’s all set for partnering with her best friend. But then she gets paired with the school bully. Great for fans of Clementine and Ramona.

 

 

 

 

If you want more great titles written by and about African Americans, take a look at Brown Bookshelf’s daily featured books and authors every day this month. If you’re not familiar with the Brown Bookshelf,  be sure to return to our blog on February 22 to learn more when Jacqueline Jaeger Houtman interviews Kelly Starling Lyons, one of the founders.

ABOUT THE BLOG AUTHOR

A former teacher and librarian, Laurie J. Edwards is now an author who has written more than 2300 articles and 36 books under several pen names, including Erin Johnson and Rachel J. Good. Living in Africa as a child and traveling extensively as an adult taught Laurie the importance of appreciating other cultures. She spent last weekend with an African friend, learning to properly cook grasshoppers and caterpillars. To find out more about Laurie, visit her website and blog.