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    Entries in preschooler (4)


    fine reads: one hundred is a family

    One Hundred Is A Family, by Pam Muñoz Ryan and illustrated by Benrei Huang is, on its face, a book about counting set to rhyme: both popular subjects with my three year old. Its underlying themes, however, are ones of diversity, community and stewardship of the earth; the families represented are multigenerational, chosen, single-parent, in some cases ambiguously gendered and -- most importantly -- all happy to be hanging out together. 

    Beginning with a single child ("one, finding a place to call home") and counting through ten, then by tens to one hundred, each number represents a different concept of family, from two women and a young girl stargazing to a farmful of workers bringing in the harvest. In the final pages, one hundred people tend the earth to make it better for the child pictured at the book's start. My preschooler quickly seized on this idea and turned back to the beginning to look at the kid, pointing out that all one hundred people were "his family, and the earth's family, too."

    Huang's cheerful watercolored characters aren't overly stylized or arty, and are shown planting a garden, eating around a big table, hiking, and (most exciting, for me) co-sleeping four to a bed (without mention of poverty or implied pity - imagine that!), among other fun, often festive activities. A Chinese New Year celebration illustrates number seven ("a family keeping traditions of the past") and this sparked a neat bedtime conversation about the lanterns and dragon, and the similarities to American New Year's celebrations. 

    As the numbers climb higher, the concept of family gets broader, including a school posing for a portrait and a neighborhood gathered for winter caroling. Muñoz Ryan's approach here is admirable. Where many children's books over-explain, One Hundred Is A Family assumes you can hang with the relative subtlety of families of origin shown next to communities, and see the importance of both. My three year old, who regularly calls his preschool classmates his brothers and sisters, was certainly able to buy in to the idea, and I'm sure others like him, with a large extended chosen family would be able to do the same.

    No time was given in this book to defining characters' gender, and while some of the people present more typically, with 1990s side ponytails or skirts, there are plenty of folks with no obvious gender, leaving the door to interpretation wide open. My son identified two families as having two mamas (one of which was the co-sleeping cuties at left), and a few of the baseball cap-clad kids as girls though they were indistinguishable to me from the ones he identified as boys.

    Several races and ethnicities make appearances, here, with no tokenism or heavy-handed approach to diversity. The feeling is truly one of inclusion, not for its own sake, but because it fits the story. 

    Overall, we found One Hundred Is A Family refreshing, fun and inspirational. With the tie-in to caring for the earth, it's a timely choice for our garden-loving crew as we prepare for spring, and a relatable read for my littles, with chosen families as cherished as the ones they were born into. 



    Five stars for some skirts, some headbands, but plenty (and I do mean plenty) of kids in neutral colors with no gender signifiers and nothing to tell you how anyone identifies. Nary a gendered pronoun in sight. 


    Five stars for happy families doing things like eating a meal around a big table and sleeping four to a bed. Lots of babies as active participants and older folks as relevant and fun. Characters' neutrality means pretty much any familial configuration can find representation.


    Five stars for people of different races and ethnicities depicted hanging out, doing stuff with their loved ones rather than exemplifying stereotypes. Traditions are respectfully hinted at, as in the picture of a Black family stitching together a quilt, but don't overpower the more powerful message of togetherness.  


    Four stars for co-sleeping and family members of all ages working together harmoniously. Big people looking lovingly at littles, and the implication of mutual respect. 


    Three stars for a somewhat dated illustration style I don't personally love, but my son found fun and accessible if not wow-inducing. A well worn rhyming scheme perfect for toddlers and preschoolers, with a beautiful overarching message and simple text appropriate for young listeners and readers. 


    Four stars. A sweet, uplifting and inclusive book I didn't mind re-reading when asked, which gave us the opportunity to talk about our different families and communities, and what other families look like. No problematic gender stereotypes, ageism or scary stuff to turn off my sensitive son. Cartoony but well-done illustrations that appeal to preschoolers. A fine read indeed! Check it out at your library or buy it at Powell's or Amazon.  

    As a closing note: So many people have offered their suggestions for Fine Reads, and each book mentioned is added to my reading list. Thank you, all, for the ideas about subject matter, authors and books you've loved sharing with your own kids, or remember enjoying as children yourselves. Most of what's recommended to me are books that deal directly with same sex parents, boys that wear dresses, and the like. While these are great, I wanted to clarify that they aren't my focus. I know that I could walk into a library and ask the librarian for a book about having two moms, for example, but a child with two moms doesn't need to learn about that phenomenon. Instead, I'm trying to find books that simply show diversity, different families, gender de-emphasis, and differing abilities as truths that fade into the background of an otherwise-angled story. I think this might make my small efforts a more universal resource, and I hope that the open-endedness of the books I choose leaves more room for self-directed thought and discussion by young readers and their big people. That said, keep those rec's coming! 



    It was George's birthday, it was Zelda's birthday. We had parties. I was going to write things about them, but everything I started to say was uninteresting. My kids had birthday parties like pretty much every other kid has at some point in their lives. 

    (I love this picture for many reasons but one of those is that Autumn is just cruisin' the internet)

    And the bowler:

    (his favors)


    a pony bead mobile

    Way back last winter when we were dying for new indoor activities, I bought a container of pony beads for George to string on pipecleaners. He enjoyed it for a little while but got good at it pretty fast and then the activity lost its charm. I'd bookmarked The Artful Parent's pony bead suncatcher tutorial and, though our beads weren't the translucent variety, thought we'd make a go of it anyway. George really likes playing with cookie cutters so even if the end result was a bust, I knew he'd have fun in the process. 

    The beads we have are a rainbow assortment which was good for our purposes. Older kids would enjoy making shapes or scenes out of the different colors, but "can you put another purple one into the star?" type stuff seemed to help George feel successful while still being mildly educational since he's got colors and shapes down pretty solidly.

    We talked about putting them into the hot oven (400 degrees for 20 minutes) so they would melt, and I asked him what he thought would happen to the beads -- would the colors blend together or would they stay separate? He's been pretty interested in cooking recently so I likened it to making a pizza, where the ingredients stay identifiable, or making a cake, where the ingredients blend together to make something that looks different. 

    Meanwhile, Zelda chewed on a cookie cutter. I let George choose which cutters we used, and he picked all of the Hanukkah shapes: dreidel, star of David, scrolls, and menorah, in addition to some ovals. Weird, but whatever.

    I got out the drill and a small bit and drilled holes in the finished shapes. This was easily the least popular part of the whole process. Zelda whimpered in fear and George cowered in the doorway saying, "do it fast!" After fastening on some fishing line and snipping the top ring out of an old oats canister, I tied them uniformly around the ring and added a bit of yarn for hanging. I'm not sure how long it'll last, but it's a pretty cute little mobile.

    Festive! And only four months early for Hanukkah. We'll totally do it again, but with the translucent beads. Guess who's proud of his handiwork?


    a child's garden of...dirt

    On Facebook the other day, Dee posted a link to an article about a play garden. George likes to mess around in our fallow raised bed, though between him and the chickens this has proven a bad pastime for the growing season. Our family plot will be locked down with chicken wire this year, high enough to keep a curious toddler and his three clucking cohorts at bay until their "assistance" is needed, but I wanted George to have a place to grow things of his own, to dig and hunt for worms and shovel away to his heart's content. I also wanted it to have some sensory components aside from the squishy mud, and The Imagination Tree's post about their sweet little garden gave me some inspiration. 

    Ordinarily, I am not one to recommend shopping at the dollar store, as I usually find thrift shops more fruitful and less, well, crappy, but when you've got about 20 solid, no-cry-guarantee minutes to get supplies for both a garden and dinner, you do whatcha gotta do. At the dollar store, I found:


    • a pinwheel
    • a muffin tin for mudcake making
    • a mat to kneel on
    • a bamboo windchime


    And at Home Depot, which shares the parking lot with the dollar store -- another place I would not ordinarily discuss patronizing, as there is a lovely local hardware shop and there are myriad pleasant little nurseries around -- I got:


    • a mint plant 
    • a lavender plant
    • two colors of posies
    • cedar edging


    At home, we already had a little trowel, a shovel and some terra cotta pots. I found some rocks and stones in the yard and piled them in one corner of the garden.

    I used some of the soil from our raised bed, as it needs to be supplemented anyway, and made a large-ish dirt pile in the hopes that George might not dig up the plants. The rocks and stones, I imagine, will gather some critters underneath (looking for and identifying bugs is currently a hot hobby around here), and a blackberry branch that needs to be pruned back is holding up the wind chime whose cheapness is, honestly, rather obvious. The dull clinking adds something nice to the space, though; I'm glad I thought to buy it. Already, the scents of the lavender and mint waft around when you walk by...especially when a certain hapless gardener is accidentally crushing the plants with his galoshes. 

    An hour of this morning was spent playing in the new garden, a good portion of which "makin' dinosaur fossils!" with his little raptor. Sometimes I am confounded over the fact that two years ago, my full-sentence-speaking, archaeology-interested child was this small and drooly:

    His sister enjoyed the view from her little coccoon, and maybe she'll be big enough to dig around a little, herself, by the time summer's really here. Because summer doesn't really get here until August, anyway.

    Happy spring!