Books for Comfort in Troubling Times

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Books can be a great comfort. If your child is worried, anxious, sad, mad, or confused, there is most likely a children’s book that can help give information and reassurance. This is the world of bibliotherapy – using books to learn healthy ways of coping with difficult situations.

Sitting together and reading a book, any book you both love, is comfort in itself. Giving your child your full attention by sharing a story together shows that you care.

Your children may be worried about the current spread of Coronavirus, confused if your family is going through a divorce, or anxious if someone close to them is facing a cancer diagnosis. Reading about difficult topics will give your child the right amount of information in age-appropriate language so they can feel more in control of a situation.

Sharing a story can also give you both the opportunity to talk about your child’s feelings and find ways to feel more at ease. Learning the words needed to talk about emotions is just as important as learning facts.

Here are some picture book recommendations that cover a few topics, but look for the books that address your child’s concerns. Read the book by yourself first and see if it is a good choice for the circumstances. Reading the physical copy of a book is the coziest way to read together, but you can also find many books read aloud on YouTube, if you’d like to watch with your child, as another way to share a story.

“Cutie Sue Fights the Germs” by Kate Melton, illustrated by Ira Baykovuka. Book 2 in a series, a brave young girl fights germs with lessons she learns from her doctor about personal hygiene and staying healthy. Rhyming text tells the story of Sue and her brother recovering from tummy aches.

“Breathe Like a Bear: 30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere,” by Kira Willey, illustrated by Ani Betts. Whatever your child’s worries, these strategies for calming down with simple breathing and movements will be useful. Once learned, you and your child can practice them whenever needed.

“Two Homes” by Claire Masurel, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. When parents are divorcing, family life changes. This book doesn’t go into the adult reasons for divorce, but instead tells a child-centered story about how life is different living in two households. Life is also the same because each parent always loves their child.

“The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Imagine there is always a connection with a loved one, even if there is a physical separation. With an invisible string, no one is ever alone. This is a reassuring story to help children overcome separation anxiety.

“Cancer Hates Kisses” by Jessica Sliwerski, illustrated by Mika Song. Written by a mom who was diagnosed with breast cancer when her daughter was a baby, this book tells about treatment and the side-effects in an upbeat way. How can children help a parent with cancer? By giving kisses and their love.

BOOKS FOR FAMILIES: The Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes supports area families when a parent or loved one is affected by cancer through their program “CRC Cares About Families.” Through this program families can receive a choice of a book for a child or teen and a resource packet. For more information visit http://www.crcfl.net.

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Spreading the Love with Words and Books

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Writing and receiving cards in the mail or hand delivering a card to someone special can be a fun family tradition. Show your child the value of the written word this Valentine’s Day by making your own cards and sharing them friends and relatives.

Get out your red and pink construction paper (or color some white paper with crayons), scraps of ribbon, buttons, or other odds and ends. Use glue sticks or white glue (for heavier items) and markers or colored pencils. Show your child how to make a heart by folding paper in half and then cutting out just one half of the heart. Open the paper to reveal a symmetrical symbol of love! Cut, arrange, glue and then when everything is ready, add the words to make a special Valentine’s Day message.

When you help your children write the things they want to say on their cards, or you write what they dictate, you are showing them that words are used to tell people our feelings (among other things!).

Read the Valentine message by pointing to letters and words and saying the message together, following along with your finger. Give each other a hug for a job well done!

Give Valentine’s Day cards in person or put in an envelope and show your child how to add an address, stamp, and put in the US mail. Grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, and faraway friends will treasure a handmade card sent to them for Valentine’s Day.

Learn some words about love that you can use in your cards by reading some of these children’s books:

  • “How Many Do I Love You: A Valentine Counting Book,” by Cheri Love-Byrd, illustrated by Mei Stoyva, padded picture book format
  • “Counting Kisses: A Kiss & Read Book” by Karen Katz, board book format
  • “I’ll Love You Till the Cows Come Home” by Kathryn Cristaldi, illustrated by Kristyna Litten

Do you have a favorite picture book character? There is probably a Valentine’s Day book featuring that character that you can read together. You’ll find rhymes and heartfelt messages about love in these books:

  • “Llama Llama I Love You” by Anna Dewdney, board book format
  • “Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle
  • “Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day is Cool” by James Dean
  • “Love from the Crayons” by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
  • “Happy Valentine’s Day Mouse” by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond, board book format

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Jerry Pinkney Gives Children Strong Role Models

Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Jerry Pinkney, award-winning author and illustrator of over 100 children’s books, is going to celebrate his 81st birthday this year and has no plans of slowing down. There are so many more stories to tell!

Pinkney’s books broadly cover two of his favorite subjects: African American history and culture and folk tales. He carefully researches the time period, people, and stories he portrays in pictures. His illustrations are detailed watercolors, sometimes with added colored pencil or oil pastel. Images are both powerful and humanizing, created with the intention of giving children strong, positive role models and showing them that anything is possible.

As an African American himself, Pinkney has also sought out and found opportunities to use his illustrations to portray people of African descent and help change perceptions and stereotypes at a national level. His illustrations of African American history and culture have been used in materials for the National Guard, National Geographic, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Postal Service.

In his children’s books Jerry Pinkney expresses his humanitarian values in words and pictures, a legacy which he has passed on to his family. His wife, Gloria Jean Pinkney, his son Brian Pinkney, and his son’s wife Andrea Davis Pinkney are also prolific authors and illustrators of children’s books with themes of compassion, love of life, and exploring history.

Here are just a few children’s books illustrated by Jerry Pinkney:

  • “A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation,” by Barry Wittenstein (2019) tells the inspiration for this famous speech and how it was written.
  • “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” (2017) is a retelling of an old story about bullying.
  • “A Starlit Snowfall” by Nancy Willard (2011), a rhyming poem that embraces the gentle beauty of winter.
  • “The Lion and the Mouse” (2009), an Aesop’s fable about the importance of kindness, retold entirely in vivid illustrations set in the Serengeti plains.
  • “Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman” by Alan Schroeder (2000) introduces the injustices of slavery through the eyes of a child.
  • “The Ugly Duckling” (1999), a classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen about bravery and patience.
  • “Black Cowboys, Wild Horses: a True Story” by Julius Lester (1998) shows in pictures a different and more accurate Wild West than Hollywood has shown us in film.

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Filed under African American culture, author study, family reading, folk tales, Jerry Pinkney

How to Choose a Children’s Book as a Gift

Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Open a picture book and inside you’ll find a world of wonder waiting to be discovered. It could be an exciting story about far-away lands or a comforting tale about everyday life. It could be a story that introduces new ideas or shows how something works. There are so many children’s books to read!

Share the magic of stories with the young children in your life and give a book as a gift for a holiday, a birthday, or your own spontaneously created special occasion. Start a tradition of making books part of family celebrations. You’ll be giving more than just a physical book. You’ll be giving the experience of sharing it together again and again, creating memories that last a lifetime.

Out of the many choices of books for young children, consider the interests and personality of the child who will be receiving your book gift.

For a wiggly child, choose books that have motions that can be acted out as you read. There is no need to sit still for these stories. Bend, stretch, and make noises. After a few readings your child will come to anticipate what action or sound is coming next.

  • “Wheels on the Bus” by Raffi, illustrated by Sylvie Wickstrom
  • “Dinosaur Dance,” by Sandra Boynton
  • “There’s a Monster in Your Book” by Tom Fletcher, illustrated by Greg Abbott

To wind down at bedtime, choose a book with a calming storyline that leaves children ready to doze off to sleep.

  • “I Love You to the Moon and Back” by Amelia Hepworth, illustrated by Tim Warnes
  • “Steam Train, Dream Train,” by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
  • “Goodnight Little Bear” by Patsy Scarry, illustrated by Richard Scarry

Around age 3 or 4 children start developing their own sense of humor. Pick a book with silly, unexpected happenings that will elicit giggles.

  • “Come Home Already!” by Jory John, illustrated by Benji Davies
  • “Silly Sally” by Audrey Wood
  • “Ball” by Mary Sullivan

For a child who loves learning about new things, there are many fact-filled picture books with engaging stories that will make them want to know more.

  • “The Story of Snow” by Jon Nelson, illustrated by Mark Cassino
  • “The Raft” by Jim LaMarche
  • “Hello Hello” by Brendan Wenzel

When you find an author or subject that your child loves, you can find similar books at your local bookseller or library. Enjoy!

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Giving Thanks

A sunny day, a hot meal, your family, and a friendly face are a few of the many reasons to be thankful. Sometimes it’s the small things that we may take for granted that bring comfort and joy to life.

Identifying those things to appreciate is just the first step in experiencing gratitude in a deeper way, according to the “Raising Grateful Children” project at UNC Chapel Hill. This project promotes four steps of gratitude that children can practice with the help of an adult.

  • NOTICE what you feel grateful for in your life.
  • THINK about why those things are in your life.
  • FEEL the emotion that comes with your gratitude.
  • DO something to express your appreciation. (such as saying “thank you”)

Young children are just learning about perspectives that are different from their own and developing emotional intelligence. Reading picture books about gratitude will introduce your child to some ideas of what to be thankful for in his or her own life. From there you can think together about why they are grateful, how they feel about it, and say “thank you” with words, by drawing a picture, or doing something nice for someone else.

Here are some book suggestions:

“Thankful” by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Archie Preston. A gentle rhyming story about observing the world around us and how we can each be thankful for the simple things that make our lives more meaningful.

“The Thank You Book” by Mo Willems. Laughs abound as Piggie thanks everyone he knows and Gerald the Elephant worries the whole time that Piggie will forget to thank someone. Piggie does indeed forget some special friends, and Gerald is there to remind him who they are.

“Thanks a Million” by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Sixteen poems in different formats point out why we should be grateful and how easy it is to say “thank you” in return. The poems are just right for young children.

“Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt De La Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. Set in a busy city, a young boy named CJ rides the bus with his Nana to the soup kitchen where they will get a meal. On the way, Nana points out the beauty she sees all around them from a smiling child to a rainbow over an apartment building.

“Too Much Noise,” by Ann McGovern, illustrated by Simms Taback. This retelling of a folk tale is a humorous account of seeing a different perspective. Sometimes what you have already is quite good enough! Repetition and creative problem solving make for an engaging story.

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Encourage Creativity and Wonder

Katrina Morse
For Family Reading Partnership

The next time you are at your local library or favorite bookstore, make a point to find the biographies in the non-fiction section of the children’s books. Once you know your way to those shelves, you’ll have access to the true-to-life stories that can inspire and engage your child into learning new things and dreaming big.

Stories about activists, composers, athletes, inventors, artists, engineers, and more will spark your child’s imagination. Many biographies written for children start by describing the childhood of the accomplished adult. They tell how that man or woman began with an idea as a young boy or girl and how their curiosity and wonder drove them to pursue their passion.

Who will inspire your child’s love of learning? Check out some of the following biographies of scientists and inventors. And make sure to read more biographies about other life adventurers that followed their dreams and in doing, made the world a better place.

“Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist” by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens.
This is the story of marine biologist Eugenie Clark and her daring pursuit of studying sharks at a time in history when women were discouraged from careers that were dangerous and traditionally held by men.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” picture book edition, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. This modern day biography was released as a chapter book and is now a motion picture and a picture book for younger children. This is the story of a young boy and his vision to bring electricity to his village in Malawi. With a mixture of illustration and photos, the reader sees the real life account of a boy whose search for answers started at his public library and led him to invent the design for a windmill to generate electricity that changed life in his community.

“On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein” by Jennifer Berne Page, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. We think of Einstein, the man, as a genius, but first he was a curious, imaginative child who didn’t speak much. As an adult he was funny and loved jokes and tricks, and still wasn’t comfortable in social settings. But, Einstein never stopped wondering how things worked and had the courage and motivation to explore the physical world around him and the world in his mind to come up with revolutionary theories in physics.

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All About Trees

by Katrina Morse
for Family Reading Partnership

A tree can be a memorable part of childhood. A tree can hold a swing or a birdhouse. Some trees are good for climbing and others for picking apples. A tree’s leaves can change from green to bright red, yellow, and orange. Children can watch a small tree grow bigger, just as they are growing, too.

Learn more about these remarkable plants by reading some of these books together, and maybe you’ll look at the trees around you in a new way.

“We Planted a Tree” by Diane Muldrow illustrated by Bob Staake.“We planted a tree and it grew up. We planted a tree and that one tree helped heal the earth.” Two families on opposite sides of the world both find that trees are important for shade, cleaning the air, giving us food, and helping to keep soil from washing away.

“The Great Kapok Tree” by Lynne Cherry. When a man comes to the Amazon rainforest to cut down a Kapok tree, he first takes a nap at its base and then hears whispered messages of the animals that depend on the tree for survival. When the man wakes up, he has changed his mind about using his axe to cut the tree down.

“Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids” by Gail Gibbons. Along with giving the reader facts about all the ways trees are an important part of the web of life, this book teaches how to tell one tree apart from another. You and your child will learn types of trees and why we all should appreciate these amazing plants.

“Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf” by Lois Ehlert uses simple text and collage illustrations to describe the life of a tree. The book text will engage young children and older children will appreciate the glossary the back of the book that goes into more detail about the life cycle of a tree.

“The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever” by H. Joseph Hawkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry. This is a biography of Katherine Olivia Sessions in the 1800s. As Kate was growing up, she became fascinated with the trees around her in northern California. Although it wasn’t common for girls at that time to get dirty hands or to be a scientist, Kate pursued her love of trees. When she was older she helped change San Diego, in southern California, from a desert city to one with an abundance of lush green trees. Charming illustrations depict the events in the life of this environmental pioneer.

“Strange Trees and the Stories Behind Them” by Bernadette Pourquie and Cecile Gambini. Trees are very adaptable and have developed special characteristics that help them live in many different habitats. Early elementary aged children will appreciate the unbelievable tree forms and a map showing where all these unusual trees grow around the world.

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