The Rite of Spring, a 1913 ballet born of a collaboration between Igor Stravinsky (composer) and Vaslav Nijinsky (dancer/choreographer), revolutionized the world of music and dance, leading to the birth of modern music and modern dance. This book addresses that Stravinsky/Niginsky collaboration at a young child's level. The composer and choreographer inspired each other and together created "something different and new" that was loved by some who "were excited by the new" and hated by others who "were nettled by the new." A riot between the two groups resulted at the first performance in May, 1913. The illustrations in this book are fun and colorful, and the book is a nice way to introduce children to a famous composer and a famous choreographer, as well as serving as a nice introduction to ballet or to the arts and culture in general. There are other lessons one can derive as well, such as taking a risk to try something new, thinking outside the box, and creating something you believe in regardless of the anticipated reception. After reading the book, I talked to the kids about what a composer does and what a choreographer does. Then we pretended to be composers by making up our own songs. Hopper 1 made up a song titled "Jumping on a Trampoline with Star Wars Guys," and Hopper 2 created a song titled "Basketball." Following that, we found the music to The Rite of Spring on YouTube, and choreographed our own dance moves to some of the music. It was fun listening to the music and trying to relate our movement to the sounds - a nice creative exercise. However, the kids and I agreed that we didn't really care for the music of The Rite of Spring. But this is in itself a lesson I want to teach - that while we might not personally enjoy some products of arts and culture, we can still appreciate and acknowledge the creativity, ingenuity and mastery that are behind those products.
Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed
Illustrated by Doug Chayka
This story takes place at a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, and is a tale of a friendship that develops between two young girls in the camp who meet when each finds one of a matching pair of sandals when used clothing is brought to the camp. The girls, Lina and Feroza, agree to share the sandals, taking turns wearing the pair, and this provides the start of a beautiful friendship. Both girls have experienced much tragedy in their young lives, but the strength of their friendship, and the selflessness evident in that bond, creates a heartwarming story. The authors work with refugees, and as the jacket cover indicates, the "story was inspired by a refugee girl who asked the authors why there were no books about children like her." I found tears in my eyes as I read the book. As I read it to my kids, I asked them to pay attention to how Lina and Feroza lived in the refugee camp and to think about how that compares to how they live (how did the refugees get water and how do we get water, how many shoes do Lina and Feroza have and how many shoes do we have, what did the refugees have to do to wash clothes and what do we do, etc.). We also talked briefly about how refugees are often a result of war and violence, how war and violence hurts people like Lina and Feroza, and why these are some of the reasons why their father and I discipline them for playacting that involves war or violence. After reading the story, Hopper 1 said, "I'm never going to play war again!" Of course, I know this is a child's promise, which is quickly forgotten; sure enough, by the next day, the kids were again building guns out of their Legos, and having them taken away when they used them violently (they do sometimes pretend to target shoot or have non-violent "guns" that do things like melt ice that prevents ships with food from getting through to people). However, they have also started pretending to do rescue work for people hurt by war.
After reading the book, we went to the website for the International Rescue Committee, which received a full 4 stars from Charity Navigator. The IRC "responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives." We watched some of the videos on the site which talked about refugees, and then we made a donation. Both Hopper 1 and Hopper 2 were very interested in Four Feet, Two Sandals and in watching the IRC videos. It is my hope that stories and activities such as this will help my children develop gratitude, compassion for others, and a sense of obligation to help others.
I fondly remember the Frog and Toad books from when I was a child, and I enjoy reading the stories to my children now. The stories are engaging and charming in their simplicity, and the friendship between Frog and Toad is endearing. The book is arranged as a series of short, unrelated stories involving Frog and Toad. Hopper 1 and Hopper 2 both were immediately taken with the book. Each time that I read the book, they ardently request that I read all the stories in the book and then ask for more once I get through them all. I'm going to have to check out more Frog and Toad books from the library. The books likely hold a particular fascination for my kids right now, as they have been finding several small toads in our backyard, and have been naming them and making up stories for them.
Illustrated by Christiane Kromer
I checked out this book as a follow-up to the author's book Peace, Bugs and Understanding, which I included in my previous post about summer reading for kids. In Anh's Anger, Anh is a young boy who becomes angry when his grandfather interrupts his play by insisting Anh come to dinner. Grandfather asks that Anh go to his room and sit with his anger. In doing so, Anh and his anger use movement and breath to work through his big emotion until it becomes small. This is a good book for helping children recognize and acknowledge anger when they experience it, and it uses an engaging story to teach healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with anger. After reading the book, I made anger dolls for Hopper 1 and Hopper 2 so that they have a visual object they can talk to when they are angry. The kids picked out the fabric and general pattern for the dolls, which are based on monster dolls that I've seen online. They were very excited about their anger dolls, and have even been requesting to sleep with their "anger" at night. I don't expect these story-based lessons on how to cope with anger to immediately take hold - these are young children whose brains aren't fully developed for emotional control after all. But I do find that the stories serve as a teaching tool which the kids can mentally reference when I ask them to breathe or sit with their anger. These are some of the little "seeds" I'm planting which I hope will bloom later.