Knuffle Bunny, Worlds Expanding, and the Danger of the Single Story

If you have young children, know young children, or have ever been in the children’s section of a bookstore, it’s likely that you are familiar with the books of Mo Willems. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or Elephant and Piggie are basically household names. When my boys were young, they were obsessed with the Knuffle Bunny books. You might be familiar with them, but if you aren’t, they center on a character named Trixie (based on Mo’s daughter in real life) and her beloved green stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. The second book in this sweeping trilogy is called Knuffle Bunny Too, and it’s been on my mind this week.

In Knuffle Bunny Too, Trixie’s world is about to expand – she’s going to school for the first time. But when she brings her beloved Knuffle Bunny to school, she learns that he’s not the only Knuffle Bunny in the world. A fight ensues, a mix-up occurs, and a middle of the night rendezvous saves the day.

I pulled this book off the shelf as a mentor text for something I’m working on, but when I reread it, I saw this metaphor for something we are experiencing collectively on so many levels in this country. This week, our newsfeeds have been full of women (and some men) sharing their experiences with sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the smaller, insidious ways women walk through the world in de-escalation mode daily. In my small corner of the world, most of the conversation has been productive, but I’ve also seen a number of posts derailed by people chiming in to negate someone’s personal experience. These statements, in short, say “That’s not my experience, so therefore it’s not reality.” And this made me think of Trixie.

Trixie, like most young children, started off with a small world – her immediate family. Her world, like most children’s, grows as she gets older. It begins to encompass neighbors, friends, perhaps church, then school. As she grows older (spoiler alert!) it will even encompass foreign travel. This isn’t exactly revelatory stuff here – all our worlds expand as we age.

But what I’m seeing right now, what I’m struggling with, is how many of us seem stuck in a childlike mindset, unable to accept something as real because it hasn’t entered our personal world yet. Trixie assumed her Knuffle Bunny was the only one in the world because she hadn’t seen another one, but when her world expanded, she was able to accept that it did, in fact, exist. But so many of us don’t want to see the other Knuffle Bunny. When someone says, let me share my experience with you, if it doesn’t match what we have already experienced ourselves, we are rejecting it as fake. Instead of accepting that perhaps our own reality is limited, and being open to listening, we’d rather maintain our bubble.

From a psychological perspective, this is the height of narcissism. The insistence that the world’s objective reality matches our small existence couldn’t be more self-centered. And while it’s natural for young, growing children to have a self-centered view of the world until they go through the stages of development that expand their thinking, it’s not okay behavior for adults. It’s harmful, it’s shallow thinking, it displays a desire to remain ignorant, it lacks empathy and imagination.

I know we can do better. We can be better listeners. We can take baby steps in this direction by resisting the urge to insert ourselves into someone else’s narrative. If a friend tells a personal story online, and we can simply listen without responding. If the story doesn’t match our own experiences in the world, instead of writing it off as false, perhaps we can try expanding our worldview to include it as part of a bigger story.

I’m going to leave you with this TED Talk that I share at least once a year because I believe it is that important. I believe in the power of story to connect us, but we have to be willing to listen.

Carnation Days

“IMAGINE YOU HAD ONLY ONE DAY LEFT ON EARTH. WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH IT?”

 

I read Ms. Bixby’s Last Day in a single sitting, on an airplane en route to California for 
vacation. My mind, filled with excitement of the week to come, full of big events and 
exciting outings, slowed and focused as I turned the first pages of 
John David Anderson‘s novel.

 












Three hours and many tissues later, I set the book down as we hit the tarmac, looking 
at vacation in a new light.

There are many things to say about this book. I could write about teachers and the 
tremendous impact they have in the lives of our students, or tell you about the ones 
that mattered most to me. I could write about boy friendship and the way it is honestly 
explored and depicted in Topher, Steve, and Brand. I could write about the ways our 
small acts of kindness to one another have a ripple effect, beyond our wildest
 imagination, or about what it means to be truly seen by another person and 
celebrated for who we are. All of these themes appear in the pages of this at times 
vulnerable, at times laugh-out-loud funny, always perfectly voiced novel.
But instead, I’m going to write about carnations. As in, the flowers.
Please continue reading at All the Wonders

Finding Courage in Raymie Nightingale

My very first post at All the Wonders is up today, and it’s been such a joy to work with this team of talented and creative people who love to talk about children’s literature as much as I do.  

Today, I’m on the site exploring the theme of courage in Kate DiCamillo’s newest book, Raymie Nightingale.  I adore Kate DiCamillo’s work.  For me, she is right up there with Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume when I think of authors who authentically capture the heart of children in their writing.  Her latest book is no exception, and I’d encourage you to pick up a copy to share with your kids.  It’s a perfect summer read.  


“Have you ever in your life come to realize that everything, 
absolutely everything, depends on you?”
Raymie didn’t even have to think about the answer to this question.

“Yes,” she said.

Raymie Clarke is certain that absolutely everything depends on her. Everything having to do with getting her dad to come back home where he belongs, that is. And she has a plan. She is going to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, and when her dad sees her face in the newspapers, he will realize he has made a terrible mistake and come home.

Please visit All the Wonders to continue reading …

Meet Emily Arrow + a Giveaway!

I love introducing readers to new books for kids, and today, I’m excited to introduce you to someone whose own love of children’s books inspires her music.  Meet Emily Arrow! 

Emily Arrow is a music educator, singer, and songwriter who has carved out her own musical niche she calls kidlit tunes.  You already know how I feel about children’s books, and many of you have seen the plentiful ukuleles that adorn the walls of our home.  So, when I first heard this talented, ukulele-strumming artist singing a song about Be a Friend, I became an immediate fan.  

Ukuleles + Kid Lit = YES!



I had a chance to catch up with Emily and ask her a few questions about her music.  She had some great things to share about her sources of inspiration, favorite books, and more.

What inspired you to write music based on children’s books?  It’s certainly a unique niche!
As a classroom music teacher, I began using my favorite picture books in the classroom in conjunction with my music units. For example, for Earth Day, I read The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Then I wanted to infuse music into each lesson that involved literature. After scouring the internet for resources and finding virtually nothing, I decided to create my own songs to go with books! I then began offering storytimes at local bookstores and developed my style, and ultimately genre, of kidlit tunes.

What artists/singers/songwriters influence your music? 

The most influential children’s musician I’m influenced by is Raffi. I was raised on his music, specifically his album pioneering a movement to respect the Earth and its resources. His message-driven music gives me inspiration to create music that’s simple and meaningful to all ages.

Music is a huge part of our family’s life.  I started singing to my kids before they were born, and this blog is named after the Bob Dylan song that was our morning anthem all through their preschool years (though we usually sang the Elizabeth Mitchell version).  Now our home is filled with instruments and music of all kinds.  How do you encourage families to incorporate music into their daily lives?  What about parents who don’t feel particularly musically-inclined themselves – any tips for sneaking more music into the day?  

I love to hear how musical your home is!! YAAAAY! There are lots of fun ways to include music in the home, starting with accessibility. An instrument should be just as accessible as an iPhone in the home. Percussion instruments like drums, egg shakers, and tambourines encourage rhythm and musical participation. I also recommend creating playlists together –  “coloring” playlist, “getting ready for school” playlist, “packing for a trip” playlist. This gives young listeners a sense of ownership over their music choices and builds a lovely relationship between experiences and music.

How about books?  What are your favorite tips for sneaking in a little extra reading time with the family?
 Not having a family of my own, I can imaging reading time is hard to come by. But I have a cool project that I recommend to parents of young readers: Video record yourself reading the story the night before during bedtime (or whenever your preferred reading time is). Then during the chaos of the day, why not sneak an extra read in by letting your kiddo watch? Parents tell me their kids get a kick out of this and it’s fantastic modeling for them to watch a read aloud-even if it’s their own parent!


What was your favorite book or books growing up?  What are some of your favorites now (that aren’t featured in music on this album)?

So many! Growing up, I loved Corduroy by Don Freeman, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, and when I began reading on my own, I was obsessed with The Boxcar Children series. 

My favorites in 2016 (in addition to the album books of course) include Be a Friend by Salina Yoon,  I Love You Already by Jory John & Benji Davies, the newly released Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube, and the upcoming Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson.

What’s your favorite part of performing for children?

Audience participation. We make kazoo sounds, we yodel, we draw in the air, we basically do everything fun you ever wanted to do at a show but couldn’t because you’re an… adult. 

I love Emily’s creative ideas for integrating music and reading into our homes.  I think I need a “putting away laundry” playlist!  

Emily’s debut album, Storytime Singalong, features songs based on some truly delightful picture books including Louise Loves Art, The Curious Garden and The Dot as well as several original pieces.  The sweet and memorable songs are a great way to extend the pages of picture books for your youngest readers.  
 

I’m giving away a copy of Emily Arrow’s award-winning Storytime Singalong to one lucky reader!  If you’d like a chance to win the album, do any of the following for an entry in the random drawing:
1.  Comment on this blog (or on the social media outlet you read this post) and share one way your family incorporates music or reading into your daily life. 
2.  Check out Emily’s YouTube Channel, then come back and let us know your favorite song!
3.  Share this blog post.

Make sure to tag in me in any of the above options so I see it and add your name to the drawing!
 
If you’re not the lucky winner, you’re still a lucky reader because you can purchase your own copy of Emily’s album right here.   The deadline for entries is March 31st at midnight CST.  I’ll announce a winner on April 1st – no fooling.  😉   Good luck!

Paris, Art and Holy Ground

Last night, I went to the theater with two of my oldest and dearest friends and two of our children.  We arrived at the restaurant we had agreed upon for a pre-show dinner, Paris unspoken (as the children present varied in age and need/appropriateness of information that could be shared) but heavy on our hearts.  A phone was discreetly lifted, revealing a rising body count.  We swallowed our sorrow, but I know we all we carried it into the theater with us later.

The musical we attended provided moments of transcendence, moments where I forgot what was happening outside the walls of our shared space, as good theater often does.  We laughed riotously with the audience at times, sat somber in other moments, and at intermission, the cell phones powered back on, were brought back to the jarring reality that is the co-mingling of grief and also joy in the present moment.

Half a world away another audience had gathered in another theater to share in the collective experience of live art at a concert.  As I drove home, safe in the comfort of my car with my son lost in his book in the backside, I finally let the tears fall, thinking of the more than hundred vibrant lives that wouldn’t make it home from that other theater halfway around the world. 

It felt like an attack on holy ground.  There is something otherworldly about a concert, a play, a symphony, something extra that happens when a small group of humans gather together to collectively experience the transformative magic of creativity expressed.  Out loud.  Live.  There is a palpable energy in a concert, a moment when voices are raised together and you swear that maybe your heartbeats are in sync with your tapping feet.  There is a moment at the symphony where the instruments swells and you think your heart might burst from swelling alongside it.  There is a moment when a performer is storytelling the truth onstage in such a vulnerable way that you remember that we are all connected.  That we are sharing this human experience.  That we belong to each other. 

So I’m not surprised that those who wish to terrorize and destroy life would deliberately choose to attack those committed to living creatively.  Living collectively.  Embracing the tenacious and vulnerable and diverse expressions of humanity.  I’m not surprised they would choose a place where humans are gathered to celebrate the beautiful source of creativity within us, no matter how we choose to define that source.  It’s perhaps the closest thing we have to a church that embraces all of humanity.

 But I am devastated and a part of me is worried.  Worried that we will continue to slowly pull back from collective human experiences.  That we will continue to retreat into ourselves, our private spaces, our safe homes in order to protect ourselves.   That we will continue to qualify and categorize humans into groups, easily identifiable good guys and bad guys, so we can have answers now.   I am fearful that the easy answers, the ones that come wrapped up in pretty paper with a bow on top, the ones that promise swift and thorough solutions to the world’s most ancient and complex problems will win out over the hard answers.  The complicated answers.   The answers that require much more than the course of one lifetime. 

There was a moment last night when my friend commented that he just wanted to get on a plane to Paris.  I knew the feeling well.  When we are confronted by unspeakable tragedy, we want to help.  We want to do something, even if we have no clue what that something is.  I see the collective prayers, love, light and energy being sent out to the city of Paris from around the world and I have to believe that is something.  I see the lines of people in the streets of Paris waiting to give blood and am reminded that there are tangible action pieces we can take. 

But it’s more than that, more than the desire to help.  I think we also desire to be there to simply mourn alongside those who are suffering.   To remind us that they are our own brothers and sisters.

So we will do just, mourn alongside Paris.  But I think there is one more thing we can do, all of us.  We can keep creating.  Keep sharing creative space with other humans.  We can keep making our art and playing our music and writing our books.  We can go to a play and laugh generously.  We can attend a concert and sing way too loudly.  Dance with abandon.  Look at the people standing next to us, look them in the eye and see ourselves reflected in them and them reflected in us.  We can renew our commitment to participating in this thing that helps define us as humans, our desire to make something with the lives we have been given. 

 I am hopeful that we will do just that.  In the immediate hours following the breaking of this news, this illustration began to circulate on social media, and it was followed quickly by many others.   Thank you Jean Jullien for your work, for reminding us to respond to violence with creation, to despair with hope. 

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It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still love it.”  – Oscar Wilde

Let’s be courageous together.  For Paris.