A Book Review of Something Happened in Our Town- A Child's Story About Racial Injustice
The recent incidents of police brutality toward people of color, and the treatment they receive that is very different from their white counterparts, is currently shining a light on a social issue that has been, and continues to be, a crisis within our communities. The news of the protests and the uptick of conversations around racial issues are, in fact, affecting our kids. They are watching and they are listening. As adults, we want to shield our kids from the ugly realities of the world. White people have had the privilege of not discussing race with their kids. This is part of the problem that needs to change. Therefore, it is crucial to have these discussions and this book is a perfect starting point.
One of the most important and effective things that we can do is to teach our children to pay attention to the world around them, to watch out for how others are treated and to stand up for themselves and others. Our children are our hope for a better future of equality for ALL people. We need to help them understand sameness and celebrate difference among people. This is our opportunity to check ourselves on how we are perpetrating the ongoing biases and disregard for people different from ourselves. We can learn along with our children.
Starting as young as 3 years old, numerous children of color that I encountered in my practice, verbalized to me that they thought they were ugly because of the color of their skin. There were also those who said they wanted to be white because that was better. Our society is teaching our precious children these falsehoods and it is our responsibility to make it stop!
This post may seem that it is directed more toward white children, but it is directed to all children. White children, however, have the most to learn about this issue due to a long history of disregard and discrimination of people of color perpetrated from their white heritage. White children are crucial in using their privilege to change the future. It is never too early to start talking about race. It is important to make this an ongoing conversation and to point out injustices that you or they may witness. Expose your children to people of color through real life activities, literature, music, etc.
Something Happened in Our Town was written in 2018, but was relevant long ago and, unfortunately, continues to be relevant to the experiences of today. It was written for children ages 4-8, however, I believe it is a learning tool for those from ages 4-99. Something Happened in Our Town offers a brief history of slavery and segregation, describes exactly who white and black people are, brings police brutality and racial inequality into light and encourages children to stand up for others and be allies. That is a lot for one children's book to cover, but it addresses these topics beautifully and with compassion.
The authors skillfully pull in the perspectives of a white and a black family, which makes the book relevant for all children and helps us see the perspective of the "other." After all, that is a big piece we are lacking as a society. The authors do not shy away from the big issues, but address them in an age appropriate, direct matter. The illustrations reflect the intensity of the subject matter and include powerful silhouettes that have a strong emotional impact throughout the book. Anger surrounding racial issues is addressed in the story and the character explains how it can be used as momentum to improve the world.
The conclusion pulls together what the children have learned through the conversations with their families. The two children, white and black, are in school when an immigrant boy arrives as a new student to their class. They notice how other students are mistreating the new student, and stand up for him. A lesson we all need to learn and develop the courage to uphold. Those children were the start of a better pattern in their school, which can carry over to the larger community over time.
The authors have provided a note to parents and caregivers at the end of the book with resources to help us continue to have these conversation with our children.
Below I have activity and discussion ideas to take this conversation to a deeper level.
Activity and Discussion Ideas for Something Happened in Our Town- A Child's Story About Racial Injustice
My first suggestion is to provide many books to children that include different races of people. Provide a variety that discuss the life hardships of people of color, as well as those that have a main character of a different race, feeling and experiencing the same day-to-day things as they do. The idea being understanding sameness and celebrating difference.
In the activity below, I have included many ideas for discussion. This is a difficult subject to discuss with children and these are just some ways to approach this sensitive topic.
1 brown egg
1 white egg
2 small bowls
Do you think that people with different colored skin should be treated differently? Why? Why not?
So, our job, because we know that people are the same on the inside, is to stand up for those people who may be treated unfairly just because of the color of their skin. Discuss how the kids in the book did this with the new student.
Then, go deeper with the discussion. Why are people different colors?
People are different colors depending on where in the world they, or their ancestors, were born. Discuss where the child's ancestors were born and relate it to the color of their skin. Explain that most white people's ancestors are from Europe or other countries where the people are mostly white. Black people's ancestors are usually from Africa, Haiti, or the Caribbean. There are also people of other colors that come from different places in the world too. (A globe or world map can be helpful with this discussion.) But now, since their ancestors came to this country, many people of different colors are born in America, just like you(if that is true for them.)
Now, let's go even deeper. Should we pretend we don't notice that their skin is a different color?
No, we should celebrate all of our differences. Your skin color depends on where your ancestors are from. For that reason, skin color does make us different in ways that we can celebrate and enjoy about each other.
The fact that most of our ancestors are from different countries can bring with it different traditions like, food, music, art, rituals, religions that different families enjoy about their heritage. We wouldn't have the privilege to enjoy going to Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Moroccan, Ethiopian, or many other kinds of restaurants if people didn't bring these recipes from their native countries. What are some things that our/your family eat or does that have come from where you or your ancestors were born?
Ancestors also bring with them their history of experiences that can make life harder for them and the generations that come after them. One example of this is slavery, like we read about in the book. Many people with black skin had ancestors that were brought to the United States from Africa as slaves. They were treated very poorly by the people who were already here from Europe. Slavery finally ended, but black people still haven't caught up to having the same opportunities or being treated as well as white people.
These discussions don't have to be done all at once. This is the type of discussion that needs to be done repeatedly throughout the life of a child/adolescent/young adult. Children as young as 3 years old are aware of differences of skin color. Nurturing an understanding of others, empathy, and a sense of justice in our children will go a long way in helping to make the world a better place for ALL people.
A Book Review of Grumpy Monkey
-with constant togetherness,
major changes in routine,
fewer emotional and social outlets,
worry about the future,
money issues, etc.,
I would venture to guess that grumpy monkey business is now at an all-time high! In other words, it is likely that we are all going bananas! For that reason, I have decided to review the Grumpy Monkey book this month for all of you "grumpy monkeys" out there (well, and here too!)
Grumpy Monkey is a New York Times bestselling picture book that addresses that vague, all-the-big-feelings-at-once mood of GRUMPINESS. Jim Panzee had a day where nothing felt quite right. His jungle friends noticed his grumpiness, but Jim was in denial and insisted repeatedly, "I am not grumpy!" They pointed out his body language that showed otherwise. Marabou said, "You're all hunched," so Jim straightened his body. Lemur noticed that Jim's eyebrows were all bunched up and snake noticed a frown on Jim's face. Jim changed his body language, but the jungle friends knew that he was pretending. Even though he was trying not to look grumpy on the outside, Jim still felt grumpy on the inside. However, Jim still insisted that he was NOT grumpy.
Sound familiar? Many times we don't notice ourselves feeling or acting grumpy. Children, as well as adults, tend to deny being grumpy when its pointed out. But grumpiness not only affects ourselves, but those around us, and sometimes it's even catchy! Grumpiness is often so many feelings lumped together into one that it is difficult to recognize in ourselves and even more difficult to pinpoint the cause.
The animals couldn't understand why Jim was grumpy because it was such a beautiful day. The jungle friends tried to cheer him up, suggesting a mountain of ideas, but Jim didn't feel like doing anything. All of their suggestions were things that made his friends feel happy, but not Jim, especially not on this day. The efforts of his friends became increasingly annoying and Jim reached his limit. Finally, his mood escalated further and he went BANANAS, screamed at the top of his lungs, "I AM NOT GRUMPY!" and stormed off.
After feeling bad for yelling at his friends and noticing that his friend, Norman, had become grumpy too, Jim finally accepted that he was grumpy. Accepting that feeling for himself, and his friends acknowledging his feeling, when he was ready, was all he really needed to start to feel a little better.
In this book, Suzanne Lang promotes social-emotional learning by showing children the importance of reading other's body language. Another important emotional lesson is that sometimes cheering up is not what we need. Sometimes, we just need to feel grumpy and for that to be okay. Accepting your own and acknowledging other's feelings, when they are ready, can go a long way in being able to sit with your feelings and start to feel better.
The illustrator, Max Lang, does a beautiful job portraying the distinct facial expressions and body language of Jim and his jungle friends. The illustrations are vivid and fun, adding to the enjoyment of the story.
Suzanne and Max Lang have created a series of Grumpy Monkey books that are equally enjoyable. Check them out at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/222967/suzanne-lang.
Below I have an activity suggestion to go along with the book!
Activity Idea for Grumpy Monkey
We are going to make a Grumpy Monkey mask, so your child can hold it up when he/she is feeling grumpy and doesn't want to be bothered. They may even lend it to you, or other members of the family, when they notice you are having a grumpy day. Maybe it will help lighten the mood!
-printed copy of monkey face from this link https://www.firstpalette.com/pdf/monkeymask.pdf
-craft stick or straw
A Book Review of When Grandma Gives You A Lemon Tree
Schools and day cares are closed, meaning time with friends, relationships with teachers, special school events and our day to day routines-CANCELLED. Extra classes and team sports-CANCELLED. Holidays with family and friends-CANCELLED. Playing with friends in the neighborhood-CANCELLED. Time with Grandma and Grandpa-CANCELLED. Their 5th birthday party-CANCELLED. And that doesn't even count Mom and Dad's disappointments!
These disappointments and major changes in routine have a big impact on young children too, who don't fully understand why this is happening OR, more specifically, why so many things are NOT happening!
In my practice, I have found that young children are usually adept at understanding and identifying general emotions, such as, happy, sad, scared, and mad, but are less adept at understanding more specific emotions such as DISAPPOINTMENT. Sure, we are all feeling all of those general emotions right now and disappointment can be a combination of some of those. However, the more specific a young child can be about understanding and articulating exactly how they are feeling, the less the likelihood of major meltdowns. Not to say, meltdowns are not going to happen, but an increased feelings' vocabulary will help to decrease the incidence and intensity of those meltdowns. For example, if a child's plan for a day at the beach is ruined due to the rain, if they are able to verbalize "I'm so disappointed that it's raining and we can't go to the beach," the fallout will be much less intense.
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree is a well-written, entertaining story for children ages 4-8. It breaks the 4th wall in writing, meaning it addresses the reader directly which pulls the reader into the story. The book is about a young girl with a birthday wish list, filled with many fun technology choices. However, on her birthday, she is surprised by her grandmother with none other than a . . . LEMON TREE! Needless to say, our protagonist was quite DISAPPOINTED.
Ms. Deenihan, the author, uses much humor in discussing the appropriate response to give Grandma and what you should NOT do with the lemon tree. When our protagonist's friends are all playing with their technological toys, the lucky, lemon tree girl is learning to care for her lemon tree and is not particularly happy about it! The feelings in the book are depicted beautifully by the illustrator, Lorraine Rocha, which add much spunk to the story.
Once the fruits of her labor start to appear, our main character starts to see the joy in a caring for a tree, and grandma teaches her what she can do with those fruits--make lemonade of course! Conveniently, the author shares a recipe for lemonade, so the readers can make it too!
Our protagonist sells her lemonade, with the help of Grandma, through a lemonade stand, bringing joy to many in the community. And . . . she is able to use the money from the lemonade stand to . . . buy something on that long, NOT-forgotten birthday list! Literally, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade (and sell it!) Well, while shopping for her new technological toy, an added message is born in the book which fosters a sense of community and finding joy in activities outside of technology.
I strongly recommend that you buy this book or borrow it from your local library(when you can!) to benefit from these amazing messages, especially during these tough times.
Introduce the word "disappointment" to the child and discuss his/her specific disappointments since the Pandemic began. Share with them some of your own disappointments. I have added an activity below to go along with the story to help your child discuss his/her recent disappointments and ways of coping.
Activity Idea for When Grandma Gives You A Lemon Tree
First of all, MAKE LEMONADE!
If you haven't had a chance to pick up the book yet, here is a recipe. https://wisconsinhomemaker.com/state-fair-lemonade-recipe/
Second of all, MAKE A LEMON TREE!
This month, since we can't really get out to buy supplies, we might have to improvise with the supply list. Use whatever you have around the house that will work-be creative! This project is a little more time consuming than many I have suggested in the past. Feel free to complete it over several days.
-large paper or poster board
-twig (Getting the kids outside to explore for a perfect "lemon tree" twig could be beneficial! If not, cut brown construction paper or paint a trunk.)
-green tissue paper or construction paper cut into small squares
-printed lemons https://www.freeprintable.com/print/free-printable-name-tags/lemon-tag
-printed lemonade pitcher
-glue (strong glue or hot glue gun for twig and elmer's or glue stick for everything else)
-crayons or markers
-construction paper for pot
A Book Review of Stay Through the Storm
Why would we broach the subject of suicide with young children? It's very painful for us to accept that suicide touches lives of young children, but it does. They may have teenage or adult relatives or friends that die due to suicide. They may have suicidal thoughts themselves or may even have made attempts. Even though successful suicides are rare in children below age 10, children as young as 5 years old have successfully committed suicide. Suicidal thoughts at a young age are a major predictor of later successful suicide. Therefore, it is important to address coping with these feelings from a young age. Joanna Rowland, the author, approaches this intense topic in an age-appropriate and gentle manner.
Her theme throughout the book stresses the power of friendship to help us through life's storms. The story helps children understand the importance of reaching out or accepting the help of others when their lives feel full of darkness. "Stay" is a repeated word throughout the dialogue. "Stay" and allow me to care for you. Together we can conquer your hopeless, scared feelings. Tell me about your feelings, I will understand because I am human and I probably felt that way at one time or another too. This will end and we'll get to the other side of it together. If the feeling comes again, I will be here for you then too. This book is an example of humanity at its best.
Through the illustrations, Lorian Tu, portrays hopefulness through vivid colors. The illustration of the fort on the cover and in the book supports the theme that you are safe and protected and can be helped through tough times.
I highly recommend this book for all children, especially those who have been through or are going through dark and difficult times. This gentle, beautiful story provides coping skills, reassurance and hope to the youngest among us.
Check out this author's website for excellent books on mental health and other topics for young children. https://www.writerrowland.com/
Activity Idea for Stay through the Storm
Have a discussion with your child after reading the book. The following questions can help.
1. If you were feeling really big feelings like sad, scared, confused, hopeless or worried, who would you want to be with you to help you(can be more than one person)?
2. How would that person(s) know you're having big feelings and that you want them to stay with you?
3. What do you think that person can do with you to help you feel cared about and safe?
4. Who do you think would want YOU with them if they were having really big feelings?
After the discussion, make a fort/tent with the child and include their safe people inside the tent.
Directions are below.
And... in the words of Mr. Rogers...
Welcome back to my blog for 2020!!! First things first. It is my Blog Birthday this month! It has been one year since I started this new endeavor. In honor of my Blog Birthday, I have christened my blog with the name of "Psyched Writer." This seemed appropriate for my overall website and the content of my blog. Why, you ask? I am super PSYCHED about reading, writing and reviewing Children's books with PSYCH content. My background is in PSYCH and I am super PSYCHED that you have joined me on this adventure. Please comment below if you have any comments or ideas for blog posts in 2020. Thanks for being here! Now, moving on to the first post of 2020 . . .
A Book Review of A Feel Better Book for Little Tempers
However, eventually children need to get ahold of those BIG feelings and learn to regulate themselves and express those feelings in more socially acceptable ways. If they don't, they will likely have a lifetime of struggles. That is where our job as parents, therapist and teachers comes in. This book, A Feel Better Book for Little Tempers, is a great tool to help us with what seems like, at times, an insurmountable task.
The sing-songy rhyme and fun, simple, writing style make this book appropriate for even the youngest of temper throwers! My favorite thing about the structure of this book is that it uses the point of view of what writers(and actors) call "breaking the fourth wall." This means that the authors are talking directly to the reader. This technique draws children into the story and encourages them to participate. This writing style is very useful for this book as it encourages children to talk about their anger and practice the calming techniques. This book is appropriate for young children ages 3 - 6.
The illustrator, Shirley Ng-Benitez, has created colorful, vivid illustrations that also pull the youngest readers into the book. The feel of the illustrations are calming, but active, which is exactly what needs to be expressed through this book. She created strong facial expressions on the characters which will help young readers with the important skill of recognizing feelings on others.
Through this book, Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen, have done a wonderful job in covering all the bases of helping children with their angry feelings. The following concepts are covered in the book:
1. A description of what it may feel like in your body when you are angry.
"...your ears are quite hot and your cheeks are all red."
2. A definition of temper with very helpful illustrations that further clarify the explanation.
3. Examples of specific behaviors the child may use to express their angry feelings.
"You try stomping your feet, maybe a scream or a shout..."
4. Validation and normalization of the feelings of anger.
"...It's not only you who has tantrums to throw."
5. Age appropriate suggestions of calming techniques, including movement, sensory pressure (giving yourself a hug), muscle relaxation, deep breathing, etc. The suggestions include physical activity along with imagery which is very useful.
A Feel Better Book for Little Tempers reinforces that it is okay to get angry if you know how to express it appropriately. It is written in a gentle, supportive manner that gives little ones the message that they are not alone with their anger and an adult is there to help them.
"...Let's practice together, just you and I."
The authors empower young readers with the message that they have the ability to take charge of their anger. It shows a sense of pride among the children in the book when they practice the skills.
The child likely will not be receptive to this book in the throws of a temper. We sure don't want the book to go flying across the room or have pages ripped out! My suggestion in utilizing this book is to read it regularly when the child is calm. Therefore, when the child does become angry, they are prepared and familiar with what to do. Reminding them and working with them when angry on the strategies presented in this book will go much better if they have the knowledge behind them.
With all the above in mind, there is one crucial technique in helping a child with BIG feelings.
That is to name the feeling(s), help the child explain why they are having that feeling, and validate it. This simple technique goes a long way in helping to calm little ones and to teach them about their feelings. By the way, this is very helpful for adults as well!
The book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers which is very thorough and helpful in understanding and dealing with a child's temper. I have included an activity below to reinforce the concepts in this book.
To learn more about these authors and other Feel Better Books in this series, check out this link to read an interview. https://maginationpress.apabooks.org/?p=1254
Activity Idea for A Feel Better Book for Little Tempers
This book provides valuable strategies for young readers to help control their BIG feelings. It will be helpful for the adult to practice these strategies together with the child often. It is also a great idea to model using these strategies in front of your kids when you, yourself, become angry.
A technique I have used often in my practice with young children is to utilize role playing techniques to practice important skills. This is like "pretending" and very enjoyable for young children. But first, we need to make a visual aid together.
Stop sign template http://www.supercoloring.com/coloring-pages/stop-sign
Sturdy card stock paper
Markers or crayons
Role Playing Exercise
1. Let the child know that you'd like to play a game of pretend.
2. Tell the child that you are both going to take turns pretending to make the other person angry and practice how to handle your anger.
3. The adult starts and, for example, may give the child a toy and then grab it away from them.
4. The adult holds up the handmade STOP sign in front of the child (Giving the message that you stop and think first before reacting).
5. The adult then says "How are you feeling?" or "How did that make you feel?"
6. For younger children you may have feeling pictures nearby so they can choose.
7. Acknowledge their feeling(s) and state how it would have made YOU feel if it happened to you. Maybe ask if it ever happened to them before or tell them about a time that it happened to you and how it worked out.
8. Ask the child "Is it okay to feel that feeling?" "Would it be okay to hit me or call me names?"
9. The adult then asks the child "What can you do instead to calm yourself down?" Show them the options in the book as ideas if necessary.
10. Practice the skill they picked together.
11. Ask how they are feeling after you complete the practice. If they are still feeling angry, have them pick another technique from the book and practice that one together.
12. Provide much positive feedback to the child when practicing the techniques.
13. Now it's the child's turn to make YOU feel angry. Coach them through this. Make sure they hold up the stop sign for you after they make you angry. Handle it inappropriately at first (for example, you can yell or say "You're not my friend anymore!" so they can remind you what you can do. Practice the skill together.
14. Make it fun!