Glad I Saw It: Life Lessons from Read Alouds

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I found this on my child’s 1st grade classroom wall today. It seems to me that adults need more Read Alouds from which to learn Life Lessons.

Which stories would you read aloud to the adults in your life, and which life lessons would YOU put up on the wall for emphasis?

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To Pledge or Not To Pledge

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via Mental Floss 

I was leading a school tour for a mom and dad soon to join our local school system, and the usual questions came up about recess and playtime in Kindergarten and curriculum and school community. And then the dad asked if our school says the Pledge of Allegiance. I think I let a second hang in the air as I gauged the motivation behind the question, and then answered, “Yep, every morning.”

Hmm. Are the parents okay with that? Don’t they complain? Don’t they see it as indoctrination? “Maybe,” I answered, “but no one has complained to me.”

What followed was a conversation about how their Manhattan elementary school doesn’t say the pledge and that no NYC schools do. “I guess that’s changed. When I taught in a Brooklyn high school, we had the pledge every day.” Oh, well, not our school. Not anymore. And we kept chatting about how I wish “under God” would be removed from the Pledge and how he believed that asking students to stand respectfully was still asking for approval of the act. I disagreed. We moved on. It was an exchange of ideas, albeit half-hearted on both sides.

But later it got me thinking about why I don’t have much of a problem with my kids reciting the pledge of allegiance. Or Pledge of Allegiance. For my kids’ part, to them it’s a ritual they enjoy. They love their country. They admire their (current) President. They think apple pie and the 4th of July are both excellent. So, for them, reciting the pledge is obvious. It’s wholly positive.

My memories of saying the Pledge of Allegiance are intertwined with struggling to remember the words, being terrified my shy self would be called on to start the Pledge for the class, and wondering what “for witches stand” had to do with the American flag. It didn’t indoctrinate me; it confused me. It was just a part of the day.

As a grown-up, my snarky self revels in the hypocrisy of eventually adding “under God” in a country supposedly touting a separation of church and state. Not to mention the interesting change of hand over heart instead of right hand salute to the flag. Ahh optics!

Perhaps because I’m not religious at all, I don’t take the words too seriously. And perhaps because I’m not nationalistic at all, I don’t take the weirdness of pledging to a piece of cloth too seriously. Maybe I should. I don’t know. I just feel like some ritual is healthy, and this seems pretty tame. Perhaps I don’t get upset because as a child of immigrants who appreciated the opportunities and life they’d built in the USA, I’m willing to flex and bend. Maybe it’s getting older and seeing other fights that need attention.  Just like anyone else, my own subjective experiences as well as my children’s current experiences inform my reactions. And were I in a school where the ritual felt more nationalistic, I would probably react more ardently, more fiercely. For my own part, depending on my mood and the context, I usually choose to stand quietly and silently remember how I’ve benefited from opportunities. Some days the list is shorter, some days longer. But it’s always there.

I’m curious to hear how others respond, or don’t, to the idea of the Pledge of Allegiance for themselves or their children. Do tell.

 

 

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TRAPPED: Access to Abortion is about Women’s Health

1426373_1102507819781609_7451136119617283030_nWhen Dawn Porter sent out a notice about a Kickstarter for a film documenting the systematic elimination of abortion clinics in the Southern United States, it was a no-brainer. Of course I would support the film. And when I recently sat in the theater and watched the finished product, I was reminded how important it is to be vigilant and active when women’s autonomy over their bodies is at stake.

TRAPPED, the film Dawn Porter created in response to the injustice pleading for notice from states where legislators had set TRAPs (targeted legislation of abortion providers) with the goal of closing clinics, raises an alarm for those of us nestled in relatively safe havens for reproductive choice. The film makes clear that there is a seedy, conniving web of power-grabbing legislators sharing techniques and language aimed only at removing women’s ability to control their own bodies.

TrappedThe regulations passed by states like Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas create a desert of services for women who seek to terminate a pregnancy. As in the past, this lack of access affects poor women (and, by the way, those in abusive relationships) hardest and most cruelly. TRAPPED documents tragic situations like a young girl pregnant after a gang-rape, desperately trying to have an abortion before the 12 week mark. Just TWELVE WEEKS after being gang-raped, she is again abused and bullied by (mostly male) legislators and judges who don’t believe she is capable of making a decision about her own body.

TRAPPED also documents a mother who is pregnant and in her 40’s. At the end of her emotional, financial, and physical rope with the care of her children, one of whom has autism, she resolutely wrings her hands as she shares her story. Her discomfort is not due to her decision, but in anticipation of the social judgment she knows awaits her.

Trapped quotationI came of age with the knowledge that my body was governed by my own choices when it came to safe and available reproductive choices. Just like all the women I know, I always hoped I wouldn’t need to consider an abortion. And just like most of the women I knew, especially in the age of ACT-UP and interactive demonstrations of condom use, I took precautions to avoid pregnancy, HIV, HPV, and a host of STIs. It was easy because I lived in and attended college in the Northeast where the health clinic was accessible, included in tuition and fees, and staffed with skilled Nurse Practitioners. I took it for granted.

Researched studies and horrifying real-time statistics make it clear that when women can’t access abortions and dependable birth control, they look for other methods, even to the point of risking their fertility, their well-being and their lives.

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We live in a village where privileges are only as complete as those of our neighbors. As horrifying and pathetic as it is, we cannot take women’s reproductive health and services for granted in the United States of America. Get involved with groups like Planned Parenthood, spreading the word about films like Trapped, or get involved in groups that advocate for a woman’s right to control her own body.

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Effie Lee Newsome: The Bronze Legacy #BHM

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Effie Lee Newsome

 

Effie Lee Newsome probably isn’t the first name that pops up when discussing Harlem Renaissance writers or illustrators, but she was a part of many and varied projects in the first half of the 20th Century.

I chose Effie Lee Newsome to highlight today over people like Jessie Redmond Fauset (a NJ native!) because her focus was on children, and she is primarily known as a children’s poet — which often relegates people into a subset more easily overlooked.

Another reason I chose her is because, sadly, it’s not easy to find varied digitized information about her influence andbronz_pv background. Much of it seems to be regurgitated details and facts borrowed from various sources like Project Muse.

However, one of her tasks for W.E.B. DuBois’s magazine The Brownies’ Book and  The Crisis was to educate young people about their history, and guiding righteous anger into effective and positive action. She was also a forerunner of the Black is Beautiful movement. And don’t mistake her poetry, created for children, as childish. These are no nursery rhymes. Check out Morning Light (The Dew-Driers) here.

I found a First Edition of Ms. Newsome’s African Folk Tales for a mere $1500. But Wonders, a collection of her children’s poems, is available for much less.

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Happy Tenth Birthday, First Second! #10yearsof01

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In my home, we dove feet first into graphic novels when the kids first started reading on their own. Even before that, our home had many graphic novels in the bookshelves — everything from King Lear to Persepolis to Maus.

My first introduction to First Second publishers was the stunning graphic novel American Born Chinese. I remember reading it for the first time, and I was stunned, uncomfortable, entertained, and impressed. It made me think. It challenged me. And it made me want to learn more. The hones

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First Second author Jorge Aguirre shows off some of his collection.

ty and intensity of the story rang true on many levels. It was a keeper.
Now, my house is home to dozens of First Second books. My kids fell hard for Giants Beware! as well as its sequel Dragons Beware! Together, the kids and I laughed and learned about the human body from Human Body Theater, and explored new interpretations of life lessons via Fable Comics. Other First Second books like Gryphons Aren’t So Great and the Olympians collection, Little Robot and Zita the Spacegirl, and the entire Sardine collection have provided hundreds of hours of entertainment and peace of mind over the last couple of years.

The First Second logo has come to mean “You’re going to love this!” for me and my family. And while we have explored only a corner of the First Second library, I know that we have lots of fantastic books to still explore. Check out some happy First Second readers showing off some of their favorite books! So, Happy Birthday Tenth Birthday, First Second! And many happy returns!

For reviews of the books mentioned in this post, click on the title links in the text above.

 

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Glad I Saw It: Nina Simone on Sesame Street

YoungGiftedandBlackA friend shared this clip of Nina Simone singing Young, Gifted and Black on Facebook this morning. Despite having no claim on any of those identifiers, I clicked on it because 1) NINA SIMONE! 2) Sesame Street and 3) I’d probably watched it as a toddler when it first aired. There’s also the whole shared human experience and appreciation and celebration of those both alike and different than we are, but you know. Anyway, I’m so glad I saw it. Despite the poor copy quality and not-quite-synched audio/visual, it’s lovely.

Watch, enjoy, listen, share, grow.

 

PS: The friend who shared this is also named Nina, and in addition to many other amazing accomplishments, she is the owner and founder of Pee-kaboo Potty Sticker. Check it out!

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Vital Dining: Great for Vegans and Foodies Who Love Them

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Order this macaroni & cheese. Seriously.

For those of us in culinarily mixed-families, something usually has to give. That’s why it’s such a joy to find a restaurant like Vital Dining with lots of options for everyone from carnivore to vegan. And with a vegan chef in the kitchen, there’s no wondering if the vegan dishes are genuinely free of animal products.

It’s probably because I didn’t expect the dish to be vegan that I still dream about the macaroni and cheese at Vital Dining. Made with cashews for the creamy texture, a hint of curry sets it apart from the usual pasta and “cheese” dishes elsewhere. My dining companion and I were sampling several items at this Bloomfield Avenue eatery, so we felt like we shouldn’t finish every dish, yet we kept sneaking bites of the mac & cheese until it was gone. It’s an instant classic!

Way back when in Brooklyn, I used to frequent the wonderful (now shuttered) Brawta Cafe on Atlantic Avenue. As a vegetarian, there wasn’t much on the menu for me, but I loved the flavors in the Roti and Ital Stew. Now, with Vital Dining in town, I can enjoy the vibrant Jamaican flavors as reimagined by Chef Kwame Williams. As a vegan who is also an accomplished chef, he understands both the parameters and delicious possibilities of the cuisine.

Every meal begins with a complimentary sample of black-eyed pea hummus and plantain chips. Don’t hold back on these! It’s the perfect tease for the rest of your meal. If you’re looking for more appetizers, and you want a little heat, the Callaloo Dip is a perfect choice. It’s creamy, spicy, and served warm with whole wheat chips. Here’s a welcome tip: all the soups at Vital Dining are vegan — no need to ask about the stock!

There are several leafy green salads to choose from, but I tried the Stuffed Avocado, found in the salad section of the menu. More of an appetizer than a salad, the combination of the crunchy almond filling, creamy avocado, and spicy pico de gallo balances perfectly. I wanted to get all three flavors in every bite. The almond stuffing also appears in some dishes as a garnish. Wonderful.

We tried two dinner entrees: the Curried Cauliflower and the Cassava Dumplings. Both have unique flavors, and make a satisfying meal. The cauliflower dish is served with coconut rice and sautéed kale, both of which defy being rote sides with their balanced flavors.The cauliflower is perfectly cooked, and the curry sauce is vibrant without overpowering the other flavors. You’ll be using the rice to soak up any remaining sauce.

The Cassava Dumplings, a favorite with co-owner Nataki Williams, are an elegantly plated  and colorful dish. The dumplings are placed over a light and tasty sun-dried tomato puree which serves as the perfect foil to the crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside dumplings. Together with the savory spinach and stewed peppers and onions, the dish is a treat for all the senses. Highly recommended.

When choosing sides, there is a fantastic variety depending on whether you want sweet, savory, or a little of both. Naturally, the swoon-worthy macaroni and cheese is a must-try. The okra fries (which are one of the options as a lunch entrée side) are delightful, crispy, and will be gobbled up by the whole table. Also recommended are the smashed yams, sautéed greens (kale or spinach), and sweet plantains for a special treat.

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Jamaican Carrot Juice, vegan style

The drinks at Vital Dining are made with the same care and thoughtfulness as the dishes. The house made Ginger Beer, Sorrel, and Vital Lemonade are all fantastic. Each has a distinct personality that resists overpowering the taste buds in order to prove its authenticity. The drinks menu includes healthful options like elixirs and smoothies, fresh juices that combine popular fruits and vegetables.

The most interesting drink is a reboot of Jamaican Carrot Juice, traditionally made with condensed milk. To keep the creamy sweetness of the original, the Chef swapped almond milk for the condensed milk and made sure to keep the sweet and spicy balance of the carrots and nutmeg. Don’t miss a chance to enjoy this treat!

Vital Dining is all in the family. Chef Kwame Williams and Nataki Williams have been running the restaurant for the last year with the intention of bringing healthy, delicious food to the community. The variety and quality is sure to bring vegans to the table again and again.

Vital Dining: 387 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair, NJ 07042 • Tel: 973.655.9500

 

 

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Badass From History: Robert Smalls

As bizarre as Facebook navigation can be, sometimes really great things swim by your sight line and make you stop and do more than just hit the like button. The image below is one of those times.

Robert Smalls Badass

If you want to read more about Robert Smalls in detail, check out Henry Louis Gates’ post about him on The Root. Take special note of his mother’s particular form of rebellion in his upbringing.

 

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Glad I Saw It: Vintage Gene Autry

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A few days ago I spied some books left on the outside ledge at Whole Foods. I liked the colorful cover, but I have no knowledge of Gene Autry and I didn’t have time to flip open the cover. Still, I took a photo because seeing the books sitting out there waiting for someone to pick them up reminded me of BookCrossing. If you want to share some books with your community, it’s a fun way to send your beloved books into the world and follow where they go.

If you want to just share, consider dropping off (and picking up) some books at a Little Free Library near you. Find one here.

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February Read: Three Out of #1000BlackGirlBooks

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New Jersey’s Marley Dias is collecting #1000BlackGirlBooks

Every publication from Vibe to Jezebel is talking about Marley Dias, the 11-year old New Jersey girl who is holding a book drive for 1000 books with Black female protagonists. No stranger to activism, Marley is clearly a DO person, not a WAIT person. And I love that.

I also love that the attention given to her heart-warming and inspirational project has brought up discussions about literature in junior high and high school that DOES have Black girls as the focus. Some concerns point out that high school staples like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Bluest Eye, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Color Purple, Annie John, Breath, Eyes, Memory often show Black girls and women as victims. (I haven’t seen much mention of A Raisin in the Sun, which has a variety of Black, female, extraordinary everyday heroes.) And while I’d argue that seeing the aforementioned novels as filled with victims is unfair, that’s for another post.

So, in the spirit of #1000BlackGirlBooks, I’d like to make a few reading suggestions you might not have yet read.

  1. Fresh Girl, by Jaira Placidefresh-girl-jaira-placide-paperback-cover-art
    • Similar in theme to Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, this novel was given to me as an end-of-the-year gift by a student who was graduating. She was a relatively recent immigrant from Haiti and had taken several of my literature classes over a couple of years. We’d spent a good amount of time before school and after school working on essays and college applications and so on, but she didn’t like to talk about herself. When she gave me a copy of Fresh Girl, she told me that this was her story. That I’d know who she was after reading it. I still have it 15 years later.
  2.  Kindred, by Octavia Butlerkindred
    • If you’re into science-fiction/fantasy, this is a must-read. If you’re into historical fiction, this is a must-read. If you’re into good books, this is a must-read. Basically, just go read this book that includes elements of time travel, slave narrative, and even mystery. And the best part is that if you like it, there are loads more where that came from.
  3. Earth’s Waters, by Nicole Blades
    • This coming-of-age novel has a protagonist you root for even as you watch her $_35making wince-worthy decisions. With echoes of Edith Wharton and Zora Neale Hurston, this novel will entertain you you’ll think about the plot and ending long after you’ve finished turning the pages. Also, make sure to read this first novel by Ms. Blades before her next novel, The Thunder Beneath Us, comes out!

I have so many more to recommend, and there are many ways in which We Need Diverse Books, but I think I’ll save some for later. And can I ask a favor? Please leave your suggestions for #1000BlackGirlBooks in comments.

 

 

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