Friday, July 29, 2011

Kindergarten Friendships

If not for my childhood friend Frances, it’s hard to say what would have become of me. Frances stuck by me even though I clearly was not a kindergarten, first or second grade star. My early report cards were a smattering of Cs with an occasional B, plus a red DAYDREAMS in the comment section. I didn’t make friends easily; too often, when I opened my mouth to speak, nothing came out. And I was not good at recess games, especially not dodge ball.

However, I did have my refuge—a corner of the school library that was all mine. While my classmates scattered among the shelves, I tucked myself away in that corner with Frances, a badger who was as spunky as I was meek.

Why was I so enamo
red with the star of the Frances books? Perhaps it was because, when insulted, Frances thought up sassy rhymes on the spot instead of falling silent. When Albert excluded Frances from his activities, Frances created a special day of her own, complete with Albert’s favorite foods and a marching sign: BEST FRIENDS OUTING—NO BOYS (Best Friends for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban). When my friends excluded me, I slunk into my house and told my mom.

Frances was not perfect. She made messes. She ran aw
ay from home. She ate her little sister’s birthday chocolate bar. But Frances had spunk. And I didn’t—not yet.

In the real world, we choose our friends for a variety of reasons (and not because they are perfect). Some are like w
e are, and some are like we wish to be. The same is true of our favorite book characters. All of these friends, those in the pages of our books and those in the real world, become part of us. My friendship with Frances and other book characters made the school day less lonely and helped me find my voice and make real-world friends. Eventually I gained some spunk of my own (though never as much as Frances).

As an author, I also have the opportunity to rewrite my personal history—and reach children like myself—through my characters. In Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten, the main character Polka-dot is a bit apprehensive about her first day of school. But unlike me, Polka-dot is resourceful; she’s packed a fix-it kit just like Grandpa’s—complete with duct tape, the fixer of all trouble.

Polka-dot faces a variety of challenges, including a stripe-loving girl named Liz who criticizes everything from Polka-dot’s painting to her fashion choices. (Try to guess the name of the girl from my old neighborhood who was mean to me…) But, unlike me, Polka-dot speaks up. And she uses the duct tape to deliver an unexpected kindness and forge a friendship with Liz, who is experiencing kindergarten troubles of her own. Polka-dot has given voice to my shy kindergarten self and, with her trusty fix-it kit, created a happier, albeit fictitious, ending to my childhood relationship with the real-life Liz.

I hope that teachers, parents and librarians find the book helpful in conveying lessons about kindness and bullying prevention. I hope that Polka-dot becomes a safe and easy friend for some shy child, perhaps hiding in the corner of her school library. And I hope Polka-dot helps that child find her spunk, like Frances helped me.

It’s almost the start of another school year. So here’s to students everywhere—those of you who bound into your classrooms and those who stand back and watch:

You are stars, e
very single one of you.

Posted by Catherine Urdahl, author of Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten and Emma's Question.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Being Different

Author Manjula Padmanabhan blogs about her inspiration to write her new children's book, I Am Different, on the Global Fund for Children blog, On the Road.

Here is an excerpt:

It didn’t really matter if the differences were “good” or “bad,” as I soon realized. Sometimes we can choose whether or not to belong to the majority. Sometimes the issues are trivial. For instance, I could choose to dress as other Indian children dressed or I could go around in miniskirts and knee-high boots. Needless to say, my mother preferred me to conform, while I preferred NOT to! But at other times, such as in my convent boarding school, there was no question of “choosing to be different.” At the level of uniforms, we had to conform or we’d be sent away.

Read the rest of the story at On the Road.

Find out more about I Am Different at

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Little Pig Joins the Band

Little Pig Joins the Band

The youngest child in the family often feels like a tag-a-long, and that the older brothers and sisters get to do the fun stuff. Jacob is the youngest of five children. Everyone calls him Little Pig. When Jacob and his siblings visit their Grandpa, they pull out an assortment of his old marching band instruments. "Little Pig looked for something he could play," but he discovers that he is too small to hold the drum, so his big sister Margie takes possession of it. He is also too little to hold an elongated trombone, an enormous brass tuba or even a trumpet.

Costello's clean line ink and watercolor illustrations express with quiet humor the youngest child's dismay at being "too little to join the band." Little Pig's remarks appear in a different smaller typeface, indicating that no one else hears him. When he asks, "Do we have any piccolos?," for instance, Margie answers, "There's a jar in the fridge, behind the olives." Little Pig's big brothers and sisters play the instruments, but they do so in a disorganized, discordant manner, and topple over each other because they're not paying attention. Little Pig discovers he can contribute: he can lead the band. Music teachers may quibble that children would not instantly be competent music makers, but we can suspend disbelief for this quiet tale of the littlest pig finding his niche in a family venture. --Lisa Von Drasek, librarian at Bank Street College of Education's School for Children

Discover: An uplifting tale with a gentle lesson about how even the smallest member of the band has something to contribute.