Have you noticed that children’s books aren’t just for children? As I add books to my pop-up bookshop, I am drawn to books that are about speaking up, making a difference, and following your dreams. Wouldn’t you know that as I reimagine my business, I have been taking courses, listening to podcasts, and reading books about these very things. We’re all just kids still figuring out how to make those dreams come true, aren’t we?
As a young girl I devoured books and wrote stories and poems. In college I became an English major (many books and much writing), and in grad school I pursued a graduate degree in Education (loved all subjects but especially all things literacy). As a classroom teacher for 12 years I became a coach and mentor working to make sure my quiet students were heard, that all students discovered their strengths and especially their voice during our writers’ workshop. Publishing my students’ stories and hosting an annual Authors’ Tea for families was my delight. It was always a magical night! After my first son was diagnosed with Cornelia deLange Syndrome, I pivoted from classroom teaching to leading writing workshops, camps, story times with my son tagging along, and selling children’s books…always celebrating the stories that connect us and the power of words to effect change.
It turns out that my son, Benjamin, has extremely limited speech due to apraxia. His brain is unable to make and deliver correct movement directions to his lips, jaw, and tongue. Thankfully he is able to say “mom” and “dad” along with “hi” and “bye”! He is able to communicate his wants and needs by using a speech app on an iPad, and that has made all the difference. And believe me, he has found his voice!
So with this importance of voice in my own life, how delighted I was to discover the amazing books, Say Something and Find Your Voice! Say Something was written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds for young children. It opens with “The world needs your voice.” I just love that. And there are so many ways to say something. It doesn’t have to be with words! A diverse group of children show that you can say something with a paintbrush, with planting seeds in an empty lot, writing a poem, sharing your brilliant idea, and speaking out about injustice. Whether just one person listens or the whole world pays attention, keep sharing what is in your heart, says Reynolds. This book is perfect for children ages 3 to 8, but I know a few adults would benefit from hearing the words, as well!
Find Your Voice: A Guided Journal for Writing Your Truth was written by Angie Thomas, the author of the incredible YA novel The Hate U Give! She shares so many truths with aspiring young writers in just the first few pages: “Practice makes greatness.” “If you write, then you’re a writer with a capital W.” “The desire to tell the story has to outweigh the fear.” Solid gold for young and not-so-young aspiring writers! Thomas also gets practical and specific with sections on character, setting, dialogue, problems, story structure, subplots, and more. This journal is perfect for youth age 10 and above. There are exercises throughout with plenty of space for writing. Thomas shared a powerful story in The Hate U Give and is lighting the way for others to follow in her footsteps with this inspiring and practical guided journal. I highly recommend it!
Purchase Say Something from Bookshop Purchase Say Something from Amazon
Purchase Find Your Voice from Bookshop Purchase Find Your Voice from Amazon
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When my three-year-old isn't jumping on his trampoline, running laps around our old Victorian house, or losing himself in a world of trains and tracks, he is delighting me with his language and with making sense of the world around him. The other morning as I was getting ready for the day, he sat on a stool studying me. He then asked,
"Mom, is your hair darker than mine?"
He sat quietly for a bit then said,
"Your hair is dark like the night, and mine is light like the morning."
And he left to play with Thomas and Henry once again.
I know my son is not alone in his poetic way of making sense of his world. All children are born seeing the world through the eyes of a poet. It is only when we adults interfere and try to "teach" them about poetry that they stop acting like poets.
Kenneth Koch, poet and educator who wrote Wishes, Lies and Dreams in 1970, approached students in New York city schools as natural poets. "I let the children make a good deal of noise. Children do when they are excited, and writing poetry is exciting." I admire Kenneth Koch greatly, and his work has inspired my teaching for the past twenty years both within the elementary school classroom as well as in my writing workshops with Stories by the Sea. My hope and intention through my work is to bring each child and adult back to his or her natural poet within, to slow down, to see the world through new eyes, and to write from the heart. I wish this for my son and I wish it for each of us.
A few weeks ago while home on a typical work-at-home-day with my lively toddler (and big brother off to school), I had one of those unsettling parenting moments. You know, the ones when you're engrossed in washing dishes, doing laundry, or browsing Facebook, and you don't hear the crash of trucks or the roaring of dinosaurs from the other room. That moment when all you hear is silence. Taking a deep breath, I walked quickly from the kitchen through the office into the playroom. There he stood, stripped down to his diaper, ball point pen in hand! Proudly, with both arms opened wide, and looking up at me with those big, beautiful, brown eyes he announced, "Ta-Da!".
He ran over to the corner of the room to show me his masterpiece. He was pleased with himself as he showed me his writing on the built-in bookshelves and the hydrangea blue walls. It was all I could do not to giggle. It was most definitely not a time to scold or squash his enthusiasm. It was a time to remind him that we use pens on paper not on walls, and we proceeded to find the Magic Eraser.
Have you heard of the Magic Eraser? I hadn't until a friend told me about this magical invention after the debut of our little wall artist and writer when he was just entering toddlerhood! This handy sponge-like invention should be part of every baby registry, in my opinion! My first son was never able to express his creativity quite in this way due to a physical disability, so I was late in learning about the Magic Eraser. Knowing we had some magic on the basement shelves made it easier to keep my cool and focus on all that was wonderful in this moment!
Magic Erasers aside, how could I be upset with my budding artist and writer when I had encouraged it from the start. You may have read the same recommendations I had: Provide all sorts of writing materials from as early as 18 months; let your child see you writing; celebrate the process, don't focus on the product; listen to what your child tells you about his writing; let her write in different settings; and on it goes.
So that's what we've been doing. We write in the sand at the beach. We write in the condensation on the bathroom window when it's "potty time" (old house=low Victorian windows). We write on the driveway with sidewalk chalk. We write lists, lots of lists. We write the letters of our names and notice them in words at the grocery store, in the kitchen, on signs, and yes, in BOOKS!
Literacy, as we know, is about more than reading. It involves listening, speaking, and writing, too! We try to follow our sons' leads and readiness to learn more about letters, words, and this writing thing. And in this family of educators, readers, list-makers, and occasional writers, this tiny writer's early attempts at writing, discovering cause and effect, and exerting his independence are cause for celebration!
About the Author
I am a mom to two sweet and lively boys and live in Santa Barbara, California. My oldest has Cornelia deLange Syndrome. He fuels my passion for advocating for equity and inclusion wherever I go. I love the power of a good story to inspire, educate, and make change in our world.