Do you want to raise children who believe their ideas and actions can make a difference in this world? If so, you will love my featured books today! Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea features Kamala Harris and her sister, Maya, when they were young and is based on a true story. The story is retold by Kamala’s niece, Meena Harris. In the book the girls have an idea to turn the empty lot near their apartment into a playground. They show persistence, learn to advocate with spoken and written words, and gather allies, as they work towards their goal. In spite of disappointments they persist and problem solve one step at a time with and without the adults in their lives.
The dialogue, simple language, and bits of repetition make this story accessible to read independently for ages 6-8 and fun as a read aloud for ages 3 and above. My favorite line from the book was:
“No one could do everything. But everyone could do something.”
The illustrations by Ana Ramirez Gonzalez are colorful and cheerful. I enjoyed learning that Ana grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico and lives in Oakland, California. She worked on the movie, Coco, and illustrated the companion picture book Coco: Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Pena.
The last pages of the book include an author’s note and photographs of the girls. This is a wonderful story celebrating girl power and the strength of community. I recommend it as an addition to your home or classroom library. This would make an excellent gift especially at this historic moment of Senator Kamala Harris being the Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States.
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When I first read Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea I immediately thought of the book, The More We Get Together, written by Celeste Cortright and illustrated by Betania Zacarias. Cortright cleverly takes a traditional sing along and creates a rhyming, lighthearted call to action for young people and their families. When we use alternative modes of transportation, help others, recycle, and speak up about things we want to change, we can make the world a better place. The four pages of endnotes share specific ways kids can make a difference and participate in community building and teamwork.
The colorful illustrations are inviting for young children. Children will recognize themselves in this book as it is both racially diverse and inclusive of different abilities. The book includes a man with a visual impairment being assisted by his guide dog, a boy wearing noise canceling headphones, a boy with a prosthetic leg, a doctor using crutches, and folks using wheelchairs. Men cook, women do yard work, and children take action to make their community a better place for all! And here’s an extra fun addition…there’s an animal that appears throughout the book that little ones can try to find.
I highly recommend this engaging, vibrant sing along from Barefoot Books for ages 2-6. The addition of the endnotes make it a great gift for siblings.
Beyond the Books
Discussion Questions (recommended for ages 4 and above):
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.