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Can we read? No. 26
Good morning, people. Congratulations on making it to another Wednesday.
One thing before we get started today:
Building a newsletter list is slow, slow work. I am grateful for every single one of you, I truly am, and I check on each of you using back-end stats (which sounds kind of creepy now that I am typing it out) so I can use that information to see which of you I am reaching regularly, and consider how I might improve on a variety of fronts. Thank you to those of you who open this newsletter often — if there is anything you’d like to see here, please hit reply and let me know. I mean it! (And if you are here just because you love me, I appreciate that too.)
My ask today: will you forward this to one person? Many of you have already sent to this parent-friends — thank you 🙏🏻 — but if you haven’t, would you consider it? Other people that might like this newsletter:
people you “know” on social media
the children’s librarian/s at your local library
grandparents/aunties/uncles (great if you are trying to make hints about gifts)
your kid’s teacher, school librarian, or therapist (you can tell how we roll in this house)
your daycare provider/support folks when it comes to looking after your child/ren
I believe in supporting content creators with both my money and my word-of-mouth, so I’m a forward-er when it comes to sharing content that I like and/or think might be useful to the recipient. This is the beauty of the internet in its most old school sense, on its best days, in its highest form.
Thank you for your help! And as always, thank you for being here.
Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley Newton (2020)
If you’ve been a reader of this newsletter for even a short amount of time you know I feature poetry titles regularly — this is because I believe it’s incredibly important to read poetry to your children (so much that I’ve shouted this at you a time or two 😉 ). We own many anthologies of poetry for children, many books of themed poetry, but it’s possible I’ve never come across a title as vibrant as this. I do mean that literally — Brantley is that rare talented person who can do justice to both words and images as an author and illustrator, and her work here is full of playful, colorful pattens, textures, and people — but it’s also an accurate way to describe her poetry, the premise of which is that “there are all kinds of girls: girls who feel happy, sad, scared, powerful; girls who love their bodies and girls who don’t; country girls, city girls; girls who love their mom and girls who wish they had a daddy.” This is what Brantley writes about on every page — all of this — and as a mother of daughters this is not only the kind of book I have wished for since the moment the ultrasound gave me the best news of my life (on two separate occasions, no less), it’s the kind of book I want so badly to be in the world for all children, regardless of their gender. Boys need to see girls in all their human complexity just as much as (maybe more than) girls do, and poetry is — always — a window, if not a door, through which we can all see and step. This title invites you in and offers a warm, celebratory experience once you’re there.
Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee (2001)
I could go on and on about Marla Frazee — if pressed, I’d say she’s my favorite illustrator (which I mentioned just last week in issue No. 25, so you can see I like talking about her). Likely because this title was one I shared with my first baby in that way you come to recognize (and perhaps dread) once you start reading to your baby — the first book she reached for all the time, the first one I ever read again and again, the first one I memorized. But I never got tired of looking at all of Frazee’s babies — swaddled babies, fed babies (bottle and breast), rocked babies, stroller’d babies, babies eating, babies sitting, babies playing, babies being incredibly loved on by their families, which come in all forms, colors, and situations here. Meyers’ prose, which is based on a line that repeats on every page meant to convey that babies everywhere are alike even as they are different — “every day, everywhere, babies…” — shows the breadth and depth of family life with tremendous honesty, humor, and grace. This is my #1 baby shower book of all time and a title of ours that I will never, ever sell or give away (I have already tucked it in my eldest child’s baby box). I love this book so much it’s enough to bring tears to my eyes. I think it’s truly perfect in every way.
Cinnamon Baby by Nicola Winstanley and Tara Walker, illustrated by Janice Nadeau (2011)
Ah, Cinnamon Baby. I cannot think of this title without smiling. This is the story of Miriam, a talented woman who runs a bakery — “there she would make wonderful bread, full of smells to make your nose twitch and tastes to make your tongue tingle” — who meets and falls in love with Sebastian, a man that deeply appreciates her art. Before long they have a baby, and on the fourth day the baby starts crying and will. not. stop. Anyone who has ever had a colicky baby themselves will recognize the lengths to which these loving parents go to comfort their child — they sing to it and rock it and walk it (the baby is referred to as “it” the whole book, so we never know the sex of the child), they bathe it and tickle it and take it to the doctor, they do everything they possibly can until the problem essentially takes over their lives. Eventually, one evening, “the baby reminded Miriam of a little, wrinkled raisin, and she leaned close and breathed in the baby’s sweet milky smell.” This one moment reminds Miriam — who has spent all this time focused understandably on her unhappy child — of who she is and what she does best, so she packs up her family and they go to the bakery, where Miriam works her magic with cinnamon bread, and finally, finally they’ve found the solution: “the baby was happy and never cried like that again.” Full of rich sensory language and details, complemented by Nadeau’s creative and active line drawings with watercolor (which also stand out for depicting a biracial couple, something that is becoming more common in children’s books but is still quite rare), Winstanley has written a delectable story that’s both a testament to new parenthood and abiding familial love. If you could use a sweet title right now, don’t miss this one.
When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang (1999)
This is one of my absolute favorite books for kids. You’d think that would be a long list but it’s not: I am picky, I have lots of strong opinions, and titles have to be truly capital-E Excellent for me call them a favorite. When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry… is Excellent in every way. Beyond Bang’s sheer talent — she’s a great writer and illustrator of children’s books and this specific title won the Caldecott, so that’s something — is how unbelievably important this book is for children.
Anger isn’t a thing we’re particularly good at allowing in our culture (never mind that we are plenty angry, and steeped in it nearly everywhere we look). We are, in our current moment — and have been for a few years now — caught up in this peculiar place where what I consider to be toxic levels of positivity is the norm. We wear sweatshirts that have “Good vibes only!” printed across them in someone’s practiced hand-lettering; we tell toddlers and preschoolers over and over to “use their words” but then police those words when they are upset, indignant, emotional, inflamed. We tell every damn one (but especially women, of course) to calm down. And yet we’re human, so we do feel angry; we’re living in messed-up world, so we’re full of anger. And we have done virtually nothing to normalize negative feelings for our kids.
In this title Sophie’s sister steals Gorilla and Sophie goes, well, apeshit. She leaves the house and runs to the woods and finds her tree (I love that she has a special tree). She breathes. She takes in the world around her — “She feels the breeze blow her hair. She watches the water and the waves. The wide world comforts her.” Eventually she makes her way back home, to the loving embrace and forgiveness of her family.
I once read an Amazon review of this book that criticized it for giving the reviewer’s son the idea to go outdoors when he is upset, and folks, let me tell you that had I not already known and loved this book, that statement alone would have been enough for me buy it right then and there. Our children need our help, this kind of help — the help that says your anger is okay, it is allowed; we see you and we love you and we accept you. Honestly, we need this kind of help. If we could all be so lucky to have the wide world comfort us, all the better.
That’s it for today. I’m going to end on a title about anger because, even though I wrote this issue weeks ago, it’s pretty dang applicable for me right now. If you too are in a place full of shadow feelings, please know that you aren’t alone. Shout out to those of you who are parenting through all of it, taking care of newer bodies and souls while trying to keep your own head and heart together — I see you continuing to make meals and give hugs and help with school and draw baths and read aloud. Do what you can to take extra care of yourselves, one day at a time. I’m sending you peace of heart and mind across the light inside the fiber 💛