Out & About: Literary Excursions in Central Connecticut

Have you ever wished you could live inside your favorite novel? If you live near or have a chance to visit central Connecticut, your wish just may come true!

Excursion #1: The Storytellers Cottage 

Level: Older kids to Adult

Book Pairing Suggestion: PERSUASION, the last fully complete novel written by Jane Austen. The story of young Englishwoman Anne Elliot and her second chance at love with Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth will set you in the perfect mind frame for visiting this unique space.

Middle Grade Book Pairing Suggestion:  ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson.  Eleven-year-old Imogen (Impy) has been homeschooled by her parents, who work at a Renaissance Faire. She’s eager to begin her training as a squire, but the complexities of fitting into her new public school friend group are kind of getting in the way!

The Storyteller’s Cottage opened it’s charming doors in October 2017. This uniquely appointed Victorian home is a place where literature truly comes to life. A directional sign adjacent to the front porch points visitors to such memorable locations such as Narnia and The Shire.

From the moment you enter, the Cottage invites you to “immerse yourself in a different time and place…Indulge your passion with like-minded bibliophiles as a member of one of our unique literary societies, or at our charming dramatic events, or in our novel (& inspired) mystery game rooms. We host book clubs, writer’s retreats, author talks, murder mystery dinners, dapper cos-play LARP, 4-D theater productions, and much more.”

 

The Cottage is very welcoming to writers, offering a variety of nooks & crannies to hunker down in when you’re looking to create. (There is a medieval keep room that you access by going behind a moving bookshelf!!) They also host writing retreats, as well as writing workshops for both adults and children. Or, you can join in one of their growing number of book clubs, which include groups such as “The Great British Baking Club” and the “Jane Austen Teacup Lunch Bunch.”

Another fun offering is their Great Scott Escape Rooms. “A variation of the popular ‘Escape Room’ live escape game, the Great Scott! Mystery Rooms offer players a chance to actually become detectives, just like characters in their favorite mystery novels. Bring your team of up to 8 people, and immerse yourself in a classicmystery story. Each of our three game rooms is full of codes, riddles, puzzles, and clues, and you will have one hour to solve the mystery we’ve set for you!”

There is so much going on at the Storyteller’s Cottage! Be sure to visit their website to see many more pictures and get a flavor of the huge number of events offered.

 

Excursion #2:

The Amazing Castle™at the Avon Free Public Library (limited time; traveling exhibit)

Level: Preschool to early elementary school

Book Pairing Suggestion: THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT by Penny Parker Klostermann. This is a fun read-aloud picture book which Kirkus calls “a rollicking and warped Medieval take on the well-worn cumulative rhyme.”

dragon

The Amazing Castle™ is an interactive medieval exhibit on the floor of the Children’s Room at the Avon Library. Kids have free reign of the castle and all its inner-workings. There are lots of opportunities for pretend play, such as cooking in the castle’s stone fireplace. The Amazing Castle™ exhibit was created by the Minnesota Children’s Museum with funding from Curtis and Marjorie Nelson and The Curtis L. Carlson Family Foundation, and will only be at the library until May 12, 2018. So check it out!

 

P.S. Central Connecticut is also home to the Mark Twain House and Museum! Are your bags packed yet?

Happy Valen”tiny’s” Day

valentinywriting-contest2017

Susanna Leonard Hill is a picture book author who loves to invite other writers out to play. She also loves holidays. (Check out her darling Groundhog Day themed book, Punxatawney Phyllis!) To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Susanna is hosting a Valentiny writing contest (“Valen-tiny because the stories are not very long and are written for little people 🙂.”)

The Contest: write a Valentines story appropriate for children (ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words (get it? 2/14?) in which someone is confused!

I love opportunities like this, because sometimes it’s fun to let go of the ‘work’ of writing and remember what fun there is in the ‘play.’ Here’s my entry!

 

Operator? (213 words)

 

Psst. Jax is giving Pax some candy fish for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax a sandy fish for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jack is giving Pax a squishy fish for Valentine’s Day? Pass it on.

Jack is giving Max a fishy squish for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jack and Max are going to fish and twitch on Balancing Day? Pass it on.

Jetpacks are going to switch and mix on Ballet Dance Day. Pass it on.

Jet and Pax are doing a special trick for Valley Trance Day. Pass it on.

 Jester Flax is giving a species talk for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jack is giving Max several purple socks for Valentine’s Day? Pass it on.

 Jax is giving Pax seven people’s snacks for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax some peculiar facts for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax some spectacular flips for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax some cinder block fish for Valentine’s Day. Now, what did you hear?

I heard: Jax is giving Pax some squished black fish for Valentine’s Day. Huh…interesting choice. If I were Jax, I’d give Pax some candy fish. Those are his favorite!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, whatever you get!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save

Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Hello! Hola! Bonjour! 你好! こんにちは! 여보세요!

mcbookday-21

I was thrilled to be asked to share a review of the Broccoli Bilingual Kids Book Series as part of the fantastic celebration that is Multicultural Children’s Book Day (January 27th; more info below!).

fullsizerender-2

Broccoli Multicultural Kids Books is a company that started in Boston as a student run start-up. Now in New York City, they focus on sharing cultures by collecting stories from across the world and publishing them digitally. The stories are available in six languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. It also provides audio! What a great learning tool.

broccolimultilingual

“We believe that understanding each other is the first step to uniting diverse people into one community.” – Broccoli Multicultural Kids Books

Broccoli shared with me two stories from their collection, both presented in French and English

1) Les Deux Freres/Two Brothers has the beautiful feel of a classic folktale.

img_8413

The illustrations in this tale of sibling rivalry taken to extremes were charming. The storyline of the grumpy and mean brother being impatient and greedy felt very “du jour.”
img_8415

2) La Petit Grenouille qui n’écoute pas/Little Frog Doesn’t Listen reminded me of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, where events are not sugar coated. I would proceed with caution with sensitive little ones as things escalate quickly (there is a death) and the little frog who doesn’t listen ends up living with a lifetime of regret.

img_8412

This picture of the depressed Frog Mom was my favorite illustration from this story. It made me laugh but also tugged at my heart. What parent hasn’t at some point thought “what am I going to do about you?”

img_8414

 

Type in [Explore – Broccoli Book Series] on the Google Play Store or Apple App Store to read more!

fullsizerender-3Join me in celebrating stories that highlight how beautifully unique we all are, yet how similar at our core. Read on for more Information About Multicultural Children’s Book Day/ #ReadYourWorld:

mdbd

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. 

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that. 

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey PressCandlewick Press,  Fathers IncorporatedKidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Booksand Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawMaria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah StevensonMonica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNationAndrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Some sites to learn more about #ReadYourWorld

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers 

Free Kindness Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents

WILL’S WORDS: Interview with children’s author Jane Sutcliffe

The Book Aunt’s Gift-Giving Guide 2014

If you’re casting about for gift ideas for your friends and family, I suggest you consider giving BOOKS! You might not steal the show at the holiday gathering, but later, when you have tired kids who want to curl up with the original hand-held escape, the glory will be yours. When the mid-winter relatives have cabin fever, and the book you gave is their salvation, you will be thanked. (If you’re worried about giving books as gifts in case they’ve already been read, just be sure to include a gift receipt!)

There are SO MANY great choices out there. This is a small sampling of some I’ve come across in 2014. In each case, I suggest a “pair with” gift and a profile of who the book may be best suited for. Happy shopping!

Picture Books (ages 0-5+)

Flora

FLORA AND THE PENGUIN by Molly Idle. This is a seriously adorable wordless winter tale of a friendship on ice. Young kids will enjoying “reading” it themselves, over and over. Great for kids who like interactive (lift-the-flap) books, ice-skating, and/or penguins. Pair with a stuffed penguin or a coupon to take the recipient ice skating.

Novak

THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. On the flip side to Ms. Idles wordless book, this book is pictureless. Perfect for the “little devil” on your list, the book goads the adult reader into saying silly sounds and words because “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” Pair with a whoopie cushion.

Middle Grade novels (ages 8-13ish)

The-Dirty-Diary-Cover-w-Blurb-small

 

THE DIRT DIARY by Anna Staniszewski. The first in a series, this book introduces us to Rachel, whose imperfections make her perfectly lovable. Rachel is a girl who loves to bake, but to help out her mom, must clean toilets instead. Great for the kid who always seems to have good intentions that lead to bad results! Pair with a cookie sheet and baking mix.

Hattie

HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson. Another first in a series, this is perfect for Little House on the Prairie type fans. Hattie is a 16-year-old who leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. Pair with a pair of warm socks and/or a cat.

WimpyBig

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, THE LONG HAUL by Jeff Kinney.  Kids simply can’t get enough of this series! A natural choice for reluctant readers, text and pictures intertwine to tell the latest adventure of Greg Heffley and his family as they set out on a road trip. Pair with one of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID book journals – a combination of blank pages and journalling suggestions – to get kids writing as well.

Young adult novels (ages 12 +)

5thWaveBig

THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey. This book is perfect for your older sci-fi loving kid. In brief, it’s a classic “alien’s attack and take over the world” scenario, with fantastic pacing and lots of layers. I read it because I was vetting it for my own kid, and was surprised how much I liked it. There is a smattering of profanity, but it is used as needed, not gratuitously. Pair with an air-soft gun.

TruthBig

ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry. I thought this was going to be another sci-fi story, due to the setting being a town called Roswell Station. But this haunting book is actually historical fiction. The main character, Judith, is unable to speak, yet you will never forget her voice. Perfect for older kids who will understand the nuance of mentally imbalanced adults, and the importance of sometimes sharing secrets. Pair with tickets to a local colonial village.

Fiction and Non-Fiction for the grown-up set

UnbrokenBig

UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the incredible story of olympian-turned WWII Lieutenant Louis Zamperini. Recently made into a movie, this book will appeal to the avid runner and/or history buff on your list. Pair with a WWII documentary, or movie tickets to see Unbroken when it opens.

CastingOff

CASTING OFF by Nicole R. Dickson. This book tells the story of Rebecca Moray, who comes to an island off the coast of Ireland to research a book on Irish knitting, and how she and her daughter interact with the people there. Perfect for the knitter on your list. If they’re Irish, extra points. Pair with knitting needles/yarn.

I’m sure you know of several more books in each category that you’ve loved and could give as gifts! This year, I encourage you to do just that. Happy holidays, and happy reading!

Halloweensie: Snip, Snap, Crack

Halloweensie pic

It’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s annual Halloweensie contest!

Rules:  write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkinbroomstick, and creak in any form.  

Here’s my entry:

 

SNIP, SNAP, CRACK

 

In a deep dark corner, an old lady sits.

She cackles, and snarls, and frantically knits.

 

Click clack go her needles.

Snip snap go her bones,

As she rocks and she creaks

and her kitty cat moans.

 

She conjures up spiders, and pumpkins, and ghosts

All spun from her yarn –

“I’m so wicked!” she boasts.

 

Don’t dare approach her,

She’s all trick and no treat.

What are you doing??

Come hither, my sweet.

 

Get away from that broomstick! Skedaddle! Shoo!

You’re tiptoeing closer??

Snip

Snap

Crack

BOO!

 

Please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog, because there will be tons of fun and scary weensie short stories for Halloween. Or play along and add your own!

 

THE PRANK LIST; Interview with children’s author Anna Staniszewski

Welcome Anna Stanizewski, whose latest novel, THE PRANK LIST (Sourebooks) will be released July 1, 2014!

AnnaStan

Anna is the author of many books for children and young adults, including:

THE UNFAIRY TALE LIFE SERIES

unfairy tale 2

THE DIRT DIARY SERIES

dirt-diary-series

..and two upcoming picture books from Henry Holt: POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT (2015) and DOGOSAURUS REX (2016). 

Needless to say, Anna is one busy writer! However, I’m happy to say she had the time to answer a few of my questions about herself, her writing, and THE PRANK LIST.

To start, here’s a little history (some dirt?) from Anna’s website on book one in The Dirt Diary Series, THE DIRT DIARY (Sourcebooks, 2014):

Eighth grade never smelled so bad.

Rachel Lee didn’t think anything could be worse than her parents splitting up. She was wrong. Working for her mom’s new house-cleaning business puts Rachel in the dirty bathrooms of the most popular kids in the eighth grade. Which does not help her already loser-ish reputation. But her new job has surprising perks: enough dirt on the in-crowd to fill up her (until recently) boring diary. She never intended to reveal her secrets, but when the hottest guy in school pays her to spy on his girlfriend Rachel decides to get her hands dirty.

And now, the wait is nearly over to find out what trouble Rachel gets into next, in THE PRANK LIST. Again, from Anna’s website:

Rachel never thought she’d fight for the right to clean toilets, but she has to save her mom’s business. Nothing can distract her from her mission – except maybe Whit, the cute new guy in cooking class. Then she discovers something about Whit that could change everything. After destroying her Dirt Diary, Rachel thought she was done with secrets, but to save her family’s business, Rachel’s going to have to get her hands dirty. Again.

Nancy: Congratulations on your latest series, The Dirt Diaries! How do you approach writing a series?  That is, how much is done on the sequels before book one is even sent out?

Anna: The timing of a series can make your head spin! With the Dirt Diary series, the second book was done before the first one was published and the third book is in copyedits right now, a couple of weeks before the second book comes out. It can be a little confusing to jump between writing one book, promoting another, and planning out yet another, but it’s also really exciting.

Nancy: Your main character, Rachel, seems like the kind of girl that would be easy to relate to. I think we’ve all had times when our good intentions were misconstrued, or flat-out backfired.  How much of Rachel comes from your own experiences?

Anna: The antics that Rachel gets up to are purely fictional. (I’ve always been far too much of a rule follower to pull pranks on people!) But Rachel’s emotions and quirks are based on real life. I was very shy when I was young, and I always felt like I was doing and saying the wrong thing. I took those feelings from middle school and exaggerated them for Rachel’s story.

Nancy: Again, like many people, Rachel seems to have trouble resisting requests from cute boys. A couch potato at heart, I once went on a weeklong hike (and lost many toenails) because of a crush.  Do you have your own “what was I thinking?” story that stems from wanting to please someone?

Anna: Haha, I cringe even thinking about this, but I once pretended to be into a whole type of music because I thought it would impress a boy. I bought CDs of bands I didn’t like and forced myself to listen to them. Luckily, my ears couldn’t take it after a few days and I gave up. 🙂

Nancy: Rachel works as a house cleaner to help out her mom’s new business.  I’ve done that job, and it was hard, and kind of awful. What was your first job? What has been your hardest/worst job?

Anna: One of my first jobs was at a bagel place where I worked the registers, toasted bagels, and helped make sandwiches. During lunchtime, there was literally a line out the door every single day. I liked the people I worked with, but I would come home exhausted, reeking of coffee, and totally sick of bagels. I also worked for a temp agency during college, and at many of my temp jobs (doing data entry, answering phones, etc) people would talk about me right in front of me as if I wasn’t there. It was mortifying and belittling. I have a feeling both of those jobs have worked their way into my books. 🙂

Nancy:  When you were in eighth grade, what were your favorite kinds of books?

Anna: In eighth grade I went through a huge Stephen King phase. I tore my way through The Dark Half, The Shining, etc. The darker the better! I still enjoy a good dark read these days, but I think my taste in books has lightened up a bit since then.

Nancy: If you could time travel, and you had two minutes with your eighth grade self, what would you tell her? (I know for me, I would take at least a few seconds of that time to say for heaven’s sake, enough with the perms!)

Anna: Haha, yes, I think I would have some words for bad hair and fashion, too! But I think ultimately I’d tell my eighth-grade self that it’s okay to be weird. When I was young, people would tell me I was a weirdo (because of my sense of humor, my non-permed hair, etc) and I would let it cut me down. Now I realize that weirdness is an asset. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to write the books I do!

To find out more about Anna Staniszewski (including how to say her last name!), her books, and her writing process,  visit her gorgeous and fun website, www.annastan.com.

THE PRANK LIST is available for pre-order via AmazonB&NPowell’sBook Depository, and Indiebound

prank list cover 2

Bio:

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.

 

Snowflakes Fall

IMG_4507

Last weekend was a difficult one for all of us.  The one year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary brought up emotions and memories that painfully juxtaposed against the normally joyful holiday bustle.   Images of angelic faces and devastated families swirled around me all day.  But I didn’t need a reminder to be thinking of the Sandy Hook community, because I haven’t stopped thinking about them.  I don’t think any of us have.  It’s like the whole world has reached out our arms to give one big giant hug to the grieving.  I hope they feel it.

My community, also a “small Connecticut town,” organized an event that encouraged the lighting of luminaries on December 14th.  We participated and I found the experience very soothing.  With my oldest, who is aware of some of the details of the tragedy, I slowly scooped sand into 26 bags.  As we carefully placed in tea lights, I brought up specific names as their faces flashed before me.  Snow was falling as we placed the luminaries outside, and I lifted up my face to feel the tiny pings, the gentle reminder of the cycle of the seasons, and life.  Snowflakes have become a symbol of hope and healing in Newtown, CT, and I like to think that maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that it was snowing in CT that day.

To show support and encourage healing, Newbery medalist Patricia MacLachlan and illustrator Steven Kellogg used the symbol of the snowflake to craft their beautiful picture book:

9780385376938

SNOWFLAKES FALL was written in response to last year’s tragedy.  It is a gorgeous book with a healing message.  From the publisher’s website (Random House):

“In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.

MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

In honor of the community of Sandy Hook and Newtown, Random House, the publisher of Snowflakes Fall, has made a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. Random House is also donating 25,000 new books to the national literacy organization First Book in the community’s honor and in support of children everywhere.”

“A snowflake.  A child.  No two the same – all beautiful.”

Time To Make the Magic

Last night, my husband and I had our usual argument: who is more tired?  It started 11 1/2 years ago when we became parents, and it’s always the same.  Each of us is convinced that our current state of bone-crushing exhaustion could not possibly be topped by the other.  [The truth is, my hard-working-up-with-the-crows guy probably is more tired most of the time. Do NOT tell him I said that!]

sleepy

But, not in December.  In December, I am the supreme reigning Queen of Fatigue.  In December, my mind and body do not rest.  If I am not shopping, baking, wrapping, writing, calling, partying, decorating, or concert-going, then I am laying awake thinking about all these things.  I don’t go completely crazy, but I do have this idea of what I want the holidays to look and feel like  for my family, and come hell or high tinsel, I make it happen.  It’s part of the fun for me, but it comes at a cost, which is paid for with yawns.

I find a lot of comfort in talking to other people who feel like they are “in charge of the magic,” as one friend puts it.  And recently I discovered a darling picture book, written by Ann Whitford Paul and illustrated by Nancy Hayashi, which is billed as “the perfect gift for hassled parents overwhelmed by the crazy-making business of Christmas.”

LateNight

In the story, it is the evening of Christmas day, and the mom is facing the monumental task of cleaning up from the frenzy.  But not to worry, because soon…what to her wondering eyes should appear, but Mrs. Saint Nick!  Santa’s better half takes it upon herself to tackle the clutter, and even kvetches about having to clean up after her husband has all the fun.

It’s a silly, sweet read, meant for grown-ups (like Go the F**k to Sleepbut without the swears).  ‘Twas the Late Night of Christmas has some forced-feeling rhymes, but honestly, anything that makes me laugh about the heavy parenting load is a hit in my book.  Mrs. Saint Nick has even set up her own website to help you navigate the holiday and “count down to a stress-free Christmas.”

Now, since we are not likely to be as lucky as the mom in this story, it is time for my annual reminder to myself and to you (from a Zen scroll at a monastery in Japan):

There is nothing you must be

And there is nothing you must do

There is nothing you must learn

And there is really nothing you must become

But it helps to know that fire burns, and that when it rains, the ground gets wet

{Peace to you!}

George Clooney and First Book

I think about George Clooney a lot, but it’s not what you’re thinking.  Well, sometimes it probably is what you’re thinking.  Because, really. But honestly, most of the time it is because of his philanthropy work, and specifically something he said in an interview a few years ago.

Really, I'm only in it for the philanthropy!

Really, I’m only in it for the philanthropy!

The reporter asked him how giving back came to be such a large part of his life. And George (I’m assuming he’d want me to call him that) said that from a young age, his father always took the kids with him whenever he was volunteering for something.  When the reporter asked if he’d enjoyed this, George answered honestly and said something like, “No, he dragged me kicking and screaming.” But he admitted that those early experiences helped influence how much he commits to philanthropic endeavors as a grown up.

I think of this every time I drag my own kids on do-gooder adventures.  It would be SO much easier to leave them home.  And it might even be more productive for whatever group I’m trying to help if they weren’t there.  But little by little, I see them moving into the asset column, and being less of the kicking-and-screaming liabilities they once were.  And always, I hear George whispering in my ear, “this is going to pay off later.”  (No, he doesn’t whisper other things…get your mind out of the gutter!)
~
Recently we had the opportunity to help out an organization based in our town called hawkwing. From their website: “hawkwing is a Native American Federal non-profit 501(c)3 organization created to offer cross-cultural education while assisting the people of the Lakota (Sioux) Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota meet their basic human needs.  Each year, we conduct a major collection drive in order to bring basic need items to some 3,000 children and 500 Elders on the Cheyenne River.”
~
The scale of this effort and the way it is organized is astounding.  We showed up at a warehouse that was packed with supplies and well-trained volunteers, and were greeted by hawkwing founder and president, Rochelle Ripley.  Each year in the late fall, Rochelle oversees the organizing of supplies and packing of a large truck, which then makes its way out to South Dakota for distribution.
Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

As volunteers, we were given a sheet of paper which detailed the needs of a specific family group.  We then took an empty box and worked our way through the warehouse, picking out personal care items, toys, clothing, and sometimes shoes for specific people.
New toothbrushes went in every box

New toothbrushes went in every box

My kids had a lot of fun in the toy section, being directed to pick out “a toy for a 5 year old boy,” or “something for a 12-year-old girl who likes to draw.”  This made the idea of who we were helping very tangible for them.
IMG_2131

IMG_2132

Donated clothing items and outerwear were brand new, and each area had a trained volunteer that helped make sure we were picking out the correct sizes and items.

IMG_2137

Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

And then we came to MY toy area, the books!  It was just so thrilling to pick out books for the children, especially after learning that some areas of the reservation do not have libraries. 

Look at all the books!

Look at all the books!

The “book corner” volunteer had everything sorted according to age and reading level, and gave advice with the wisdom of a librarian (she probably was one!).  I saw many new books that I’d have loved to have gotten my hands on myself.

Middle grade/YA books

Middle grade/YA books

Picture books

Picture books

Knowing what kind of shape my children’s books are in when they get around to being donated, I asked where so many pristine, new books had come from.  The answer was that several of the books were purchased, at drastically reduced rates, from the organization First Book.

From their website: “First Book provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education by making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis.”

And while I’m tooting First Book’s horn, as many of you know there are other equally great programs that are working to get new books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them.  Some of my favorites are: Book Train, which works to “[help] foster children discover great books – and keep them!” and Reading is Fundamental.

Rochelle pointed out that it is especially helpful when people donate money to hawkwing, because she can use that money to get so many more books through First Book than she can if the same donor bought books from a traditional retailer.

There are so many organizations and people using their powers for good in this world.  Pick one and get involved! Donate or volunteer!  You might just meet George Clooney!*

Also, if you are interested in current Native American culture,  I encourage you to check out Sherman Alexie’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  It’s a fantastic and eye-opening read.

*This is probably not going to happen. Sorry.