From My Bookshelf: The Lost and Found Bookshop

Once in a while, I’ll find myself reading a book that I’d consider a beach read—books that seem to have a mass appeal and not all that intellectually stimulating. The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs was on a shelf outside our local bookstore. On sale. I was in a hurry to pick up books that I had ordered online when I glimpsed the colorful cover picturing a set of books with the title written in large font. How could I resist?

A shelf of books with The Lost and Found Bookshop facing front.

The story was a warm and quick read about starting over in life. And our universal desire to find happiness, love, trust, and ourselves and who we are meant to be.

It just all happened in a bookshop.

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Literacies Circle: Vibrant, Joyful, Affirming

With critical theory continuing to be embroiled in controversy, there has been an uptick in banning, challenging, or judging children’s books in our schools and libraries. After years of teaching and learning with educators in Pre-K through 12, I have yet to meet a teacher who deliberately try to make children uncomfortable about the identities they bring to school. Yet, many children are already uncomfortable at school, especially when there is bullying, disabilities not fully accommodated, and racial, cultural, economic, and linguistic ignorance. I have read that children’s book authors do not purposely set out to write books just to be controversial per se. Instead, they listen to where children and teens are coming from and explore ways to acknowledge differences from the mainstream or difficult circumstances. And just recently, I visited Blackstone Books and picked up picture books that are simply vibrant, joyful, and affirming such as I am Every Good Thing, A Place Inside of Me, Hello, Hello, Outside, Inside, and My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World. 

Bookshelf with seven front-facing picture books. Colors are vibrant, joyful, and affirming.

Instead of banning, challenging, or judging books, how can we have conversations with children and teens around topics in children’s and YA books?

What are the ways we can support children and teens toward putting books into historical, current, or futuristic context?

How do we demonstrate keeping our own culture, beliefs, and values while learning about multiple views and experiences?

Removing books is often a matter of controlling information deemed as harmful to children and teens. But children and teens already see and hear things all around them, by eavesdropping adults, through media blasting from every corner, listening to lyrics, and from their peers. How can we foster curiosity, understanding, empathy, and critical analyses on their developmental terms?

Where is the line between sheltering versus preparing children?

How do we support children and teens—and adults—who are triggered by uncomfortable points in books?

How can adults engage in thoughtful conversation about books in schools and libraries rather than simply express outrage?

From My Bookshelf: Damnation Spring

Ash Davidson, in her first novel, Damnation Spring, wove a tapestry between old growth redwood trees and the small logging community among them in the late 1970s. Herbicides had been sprayed for decades. The environmental and human degradation were evident all along, especially in the form of mudslides, vanished salmon, and a significant cluster of miscarriages. Yet, stoicism and an unwillingness to listen threatened to unravel and divide a town, families, and marriages in order to hold on to jobs and a way of life in the timber industry.

You listened to her when I wouldn’t…

I’m not proud of that.  (p. 387)

Rich admitted to not listening to his beloved wife, but I also saw it as a metaphor for not listening to Mother Earth. 

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Literacies Circle: Refusing

We are all familiar with kids who sit, crossed legged, arms folded, with a pout, refusing to do what we ask of them. They refuse to put on their pajamas at bedtime, eat their peas at dinner, or write a paragraph at school. Of course, refusing is a form of power. Nikole Hannah-Jones visited Ann Arbor last week and talked about refusing to maintain the status quo of racism, rising authoritarianism, and disinformation campaigns. She had a power point behind her: Say: I Refuse. She urged us to take a hard look at the systems and institutions in our lives right around us, in our workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods, remarking that we have more power than we think we do.

And kids know their power.

Very. Much. So.

When children refuse, their refusals are often a cry for freedom, spirit, agency, joy, and …messiness in learning. They need to make mistakes along the way, to scribble out and revise their young developing thoughts, and to shape their identities as they make sense of their places in the world around them.

Certainly, we can’t have our schools running amok. We don’t want children tearing through classrooms in a manner that we call “misbehaving.”

But here’s the thing:

Running amok is a refusal to read, write, think, and share when

the power of literacies is taken away from them.

In a literacies circle, educators can think about and discuss the power that children readily wield:

Why are we having a power struggle?

Why is there a refusal to listen? Are adults listening to kids as much as the kids are expected to listen to adults?

Is what we are asking a demand for simple compliance? Does the request make sense to the child?

How do we practice humility and empathy?

Where is the humanity in the face of power?

What is the impact on our collectiveness, our caring for all?

Are we looking at information, misinformation, or disinformation?

Are we being asked to take things at face value?

Are there voices that offer multiple perspectives? Does the attempt for power incite high conflict or extreme concepts of binaries?

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From My Bookshelf: The Lost Pianos of Siberia

In The Lost Pianos of Siberia, a combination adventure travel-journalism book, author Sophy Roberts went on a search for surviving 19th century pianos in the remote areas of Siberia. Pianos that survived harsh weather conditions, political and cultural shifts, and brutal labor camps. Are there still pianos? Do they still sound rich? While the love of music is universal, the book actually has very little about music and pianos, but is more about history. And a bit of adventuring along the Trans-Siberian Railway and points north. The awe of looking for pianos was always subdued by the terrifying past. Yet, music surely brought joy to such difficult situations and conditions.

Photo of a gray paperback book cover with white font.

How did I, being deaf, come across this book? It was reviewed in the New York Times and sounded interesting. And yes, many people do not know, I took piano lessons as a child when I wore hearing aids. I was able to feel most of the lower range of sounds, hear somewhat the lower to middle range, and only imagine the upper range. But playing the piano to me was simply reading and following the directions on sheet music. I don’t think I got much farther than Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, but at least, I understood the beginning basics of pianos and music. I had the opportunity to learn to play clarinet in fifth grade but that didn’t last long. The entire band blurred into one blob of a roar. Following both the directions of the conductor and sheet music was next to impossible, much to me like rubbing your stomach while patting your head at the same time. All the while trying to figure out if my clarinet was even making a sound in the first place. In college, I successfully challenged myself to take a course on physics of sound, learning about longitudinal and mechanical sound waves, vibrations, kinetic energy, frequencies, amplitudes, and timbre. A lot like reading and writing, one can learn about sounds without ever really hearing the sounds.