Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kitchens... with a twist!

I am in the middle (optimistically the second half) of a kitchen renovation and all I could come up with for "K" this round (for Mrs. Nesbitt's Round 10 of ABC Wednesday - check it out!!)  was Kitchen - with a twist.

kitch·en / ˈkichən/ (from The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English, 2009)• n. 1. a room or area where food is prepared and cooked. ∎  a set of fixtures, cabinets, and appliances that are sold together and installed in such a room or area: a complete kitchen at a bargain price. ∎  cuisine: the dried shrimp pastes of the Thai kitchen. 2. inf. the percussion section of an orchestra. 3. [as adj.] (of a language) in an uneducated or domestic form: kitchen Swahili. 
Some fun kitchen facts:
  • Fun Tudor kitchen facts:
    • The kitchen at Hampton Court provided food for up to 600 people while smaller palaces and mansions might cater for 200 people;
    • Hampton Court kitchens were staffed by over 200 people, providing two meals a day for the 600-800 members of King Henry VIII's court.
    • The annual provision of meat for the Tudor court is estimated to have stood at 1,240 oxen; 8,200 sheep; 2,330 deer; 760 calves; 1,870 pigs; and 53 wild boar.  This was washed down with 600,000 gallons of ale.
    • Click here to find out about Tudor banquets- which were for special guests after the main meat courses
  •  Hoosier cabinets - cabinets that organized ALL the obvious (and some not so obvious) kitchen needs into one hutch were introduced in the early 1900's and they provided a huge step towards moving 'homemakers' into "fitted kitchens." Aside from a counter top, small drawers and cabinets within the cupboard, the Hoosier cabinet also had racks and hardware to organize food staples, a combination flour bin/sifter, a tin hopper, and a sugar bin.  Special Hoosier glass jars were also manufactured by the Hoosier Manufacturing Co. of New Castle Indiana for coffee and tea canisters, a salt box and four to eight spice jars. The inside of the cupboard doors had cards with measurement conversion information, sample menus, and household tips.
  • The percentage of American families who owned a mechanical refrigerator jumped from 44 to 80% between 1940-1950;
While kitchens are places of nourishment, nurturing, and often the place to find the best family conversations, they are also sources of accidents and of learning. Regarding accidents, children in kitchens should be supervised and taught how to carefully and safely prepare food.  Regarding kitchen learning, here's what kids can and should learn in a kitchen:
  • Attention to details - whether following a recipe or safety rules, when working in a kitchen you have to focus carefully on what you're doing.
  • Chemistry - cooking, and baking in particular, are ALL about chemistry and how and when to mix specific amounts of given ingredients.  Stray from the proportions and your dish will stray too!
  • Math - cooking and following recipes is understanding measurement, ratios, and proportions, and often involves some form of calculation (for example, changeing cups to tablespoons or quarts to ounces).
  • Reading - my husband's grandmother taught her kids to read - in the kitchen - with cereal boxes. Reading recipes is a great reading resource, especially for reluctant readers.
  • History - kitchens tell stories about families, men and women's changing family and kitchen/cooking roles, new technologies and appliances, and shifts in values and everyday life.
  • Health - cleanliness, food expiration dates, awareness of what's going into your food, and general awareness about how what you are eating is essential for overall health and later independence. Being aware of what goes into making food will help children make more educated and health-based food decisions. 
While there are TONS of incredible children's books about food...(here are some of my favorites)...:
  • Thunder Cake (Patricia Polacco) 
  • If You Give a Mouse A Cookie (Laura Numeroff) 
  • Bread and Jam for Frances (Russell Hoban)
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle) 
  • Bake Sale (Sara Varon)
  • Chato's Kitchen (Gary Soto)
  • Blueberries for Sal (Robert McCloskey)
  • The Chocolate Touch (Patrick Skene Catling)
  • Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements (Deborah Hopkinson)
  • Kitchen Dance (Maurie J. Mamning)
  • Strega Nona (Tomie DePaolo)
  • Pascual and the Kitchen Angels (Tomie DePaolo)
  • Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (Judi and Ronald Barrett)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl) 
  • Chicken Soup with Rice (Maurice Sendak) 
  • In the Night Kitchen (Maurice Sendak)
  • Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss) 
  • How to Eat Fried Worms (Thomas Rockwell)
  • Piggies in the Kitchen (Michelle Meadows) 
...there are not many stories that take place primarily in kitchens.  Maybe one reason is that until recently, kitchens were where food was prepared, and the dining rooms were where the family met, ate, and interacted. Now as more people are preparing and eating food more and more in kitchens maybe this will change.  There really is so much kitchens have to offer stories - in terms of wild adventures, yarns to tell, and life lessons to learn.

I can think of nine kids' books that center around a kitchen: 
  • Bake Sale (Sara Varon) - while the story centers around a baker and bakery and not  home kitchen, much of the story takes place in a kitchen. In this graphic novel, Sara Varon weaves a salivating tale of friendship, chemistry, baking, and marching bands. It is about friends using creative ideas to help each other with life's dreams and unavoidable obstacles. Life's solutions (at least in this book) revolve around baking. There are seven recipes from classic cupcakes and cookies to sugared flower petals to marzipan.  It is wonderfully heart-warming and creative and in addition to being about friendship, we have a glimpse of how a bakery kitchen is run. Please see this YouTube clip for more about the book.
  • Thunder Cake (Patricia Polacco) is based on the author's true life story of how her grandmother helped her overcome her fear of thunder.  It seems the author hated thunder and so her grandmother helped her face that fear by gathering ingredients from the barn (milk and eggs) and the pantry shed outside the house for her Thunder Cake recipe, and then baking it together in the kitchen as a thunder storm approached and passed.  This is a wonderful story of love, fear, distraction, and the powerful art of baking.  While it doesn't take place only in a kitchen, they do bake the cake together in the kitchen for half the book, and the recipe is included for you and your kids to bake together in your kitchen.  This is also a great book for grandparents to read and then bake with their grandchildren.  It is one of my favorite books.
  • Chato's Kitchen (Gary Soto) is about Chato, the coolest cat in East L.A. who couldn't be happier when a family of mice move into the barrio, but soon realizes that he is getting more than he can handle with the surprise guest the mice bring along.  This is an ALA Notable Book.
  • Kitchen Dance (Maurie J. Mamning) - about a young girl who wakes in the night to mysterious, inviting noises.  She wakes up her brother and together sneak downstairs to see (to their amazement and delight) their parents dancing and singing as they clean up and put food away. The kids are swept into the dance's embrace and slowly the song changes to a lullaby, lulling the kids to sleep.

  • Piggies in the Kitchen (Michelle Meadows) is about the fun, mess, and surprises that ensue as Mama leaves for the day and her piggies sneak into the kitchen to bake.

  • Pascual and the Kitchen Angels (Tomie DePaolo) - When Pascual was born, angels flew down and sang to him from the trees.  As a boy, Pascual san to the sheep and they sang back to him. As a young man, Pascual joins the Franciscans and when sent to work in the kitchen, has no clue what to do.  The angels return, flying down and a delicious dinner appears, the friars soon realize Pascual is special.

  • Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements (Deborah Hopkinson) - is a delightful slice of history as it tells Fannie Farmer's story - how she was a mother's helper for the Shaw family, taught their daughter Marcia how to cook, and of Marcia's influence on her to record her recipes and exact directions for measuring and cooking into one of the first modern cookbooks.  It even has Fannie Farmer's famous griddle cake recipe to inspire young readers and young chefs.

  • The Borrowers (Mary Norton) is the first in a series of stories about tiny people who live in peoples' homes who secretly "borrow" things to survive. The story begins when Arrietty (a Borrower) is seen by a 'human bean', while scampering under the kitchen floorboards in an old English manor.  The adventure continues from there.
  • In the Night Kitchen (Maurice Sendak) is the story of Micky's surreal dream/journey though a baker's kitchen where he helps with the creation of a cake ready by morning.  Note that Mickey, at the beginning of the dream, falls into a giant pot of batter, loses his pajamas and is naked for most of the story.  This, along with the surreal dream has made this 1970 story somewhat controversial.  While not one of my favorites, my husband and kids actually enjoyed reading it together.  Also, the book, while a true product of the 1970's is a bit 'tripppy' but  there is a lot of imagery and imagination and wonderfully exciting art work. 
For In the Night Kitchen fans, here's an animated version adapted and directed by Gene Deitch found on YouTube:

What do you think? 

Whether you read about food, read about kitchens, or view kitchens on television or in the movies (Ratatouille was one of my favorites), there is a lot of fun and learning that goes on.  Please share some of your kitchen fun and learning (links to kitchen/kid ideas are also welcome) in the comments, or include other books and stories centering around the kitchen (that I failed to think of).

Thank you for stopping by and joining the conversation.  
Have a great week.

        Sunday, March 18, 2012

        Jabberwocky & Dr. Seuss: A Lesson in Nonsense

        For the uninitiated, "Jabberwocky" is a nonsense verse found in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass.  As Alice is conversing with the White King and White Queen (chess pieces) she finds a book in seemingly unintelligible language.  Realizing that she's traveling through an inverted world, she holds a mirror to the poem and reads the reflected verse of "Jabberwocky" which to her disappointment still makes little sense.


        'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
        Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
        All mimsy were the borogoves,
        And the mome raths outgrabe.

        "Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
        The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
        Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
        The frumious Bandersnatch!"

        He took his vorpal sword in hand:
        Long time the manxome foe he sought--
        So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
        And stood awhile in thought.

        And as in uffish thought he stood,
        The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
        Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
        And burbled as it came!

        One, two! One, two! and through and through
        The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
        He left it dead, and with its head
        He went galumphing back.

        "And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
        Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
        O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
        He chortled in his joy.

        'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
        Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
        All mimsy were the borogoves,
        And the mome raths outgrabe.

        'It seems very pretty,' she said when she had finished it, 'but it's rather hard to understand!' (You see she didn't like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) 'Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate' (Carroll, Lewis (2010) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass pp 64–65 Createspace ltd ISBN 1-4505-7761-X)
        The concept of nonsense verse was not new to Carroll. Nonsense verse existed in Shakespeare's work as well as the brothers Grimm's fairytales. Shakespeare, in fact, is well-known for coining many new words.  Martin Gardner (The Annotatted Alice:  The Definitive Edition.  NY Norton & Company, 1999), however,  wrote that "Few would dispute that Jabberwocky is the greatest of all nonsense poems in English."

        Dr. Seuss  was also a genius with nonsense words as he invited kids to explore parallel worlds, language, and morality!!!!
        I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life's realities. Dr. Seuss US author & illustrator (1904 - 1991)

        The genius and fun of nonsense verse is that while many of the words are nonce words (words invented to meet a need that is not expected - often for a particular occasion), the syntax and poetic forms are observed (as you can tell the poem is written in ABAB rhyme scheme and iambic meter). The rhythm and sound of the words make this somewhat scary poem a lot of fun to read and 'feels' solvable.

        Nonce words are often used to study the development of language in children. They enable researchers to investigate kids' understanding of morphemes, prefixes, suffixes, and syntax (grammar, sentence structure).  Jean Berko developed the "Wug test" (1958) to observe and better understand the acquisition of the 'plural' in English-speaking children:
        "This is a wug.  Now there are two of them.  There are two.....?"
        The point is that creating nonce or nonsense words in verse is FUN while being an excellent exercise in language, sentence structure and comprehension. This is particularly important as kids are developing vocabulary and comprehension skills.  So often, when they come to words they can't read or don't quite recognize, readers can use context to help them.  This is the power of playing with nonsense words.  By understanding how the location of a word in a sentence can tell readers if it is an action, a name, a description can help them better figure out its meaning.  Nonsense can be used to teach kids the power of context, rhyme, alliteration, and sentence structure. It also makes language learning more fun and less intimidating.

        Instructional Ideas:
        • Jabberwocky
          • Ask your kids to act out the lines.  
          • Ask them what the words mean.  
          • Ask them to supply their own words to help explain the verse.
        • Dr. Seuss' ABC's - While Jabberwocky can be used and read with older kids, this is ideal for younger ones. It teaches the alphabet and letter sounds and it plays with language in an engaging, enticing manner.  Here are some instructional ideas:
          • Ask your child what the nonsense might mean (the illustrations will help too).
          • Come up with your own version of this book full of alliteration and nonsense words.
        Here is a YouTube clip of the book read in Jamaican Patois:
        • And of course there's Dr. Seuss' The LoraxBelow is an older animated version.  
          • Listen / read this together.  Make a list of the nonsense words.
          • Can you identify what they mean in isolation when reading the list?  What about when you read them in the book.  Why?
          • Come up with your own definitions of the words.  Insert them into the story and read it again.  Is it as much fun to read?  Why/why not?
          • Talk about the value of using nonsense words and HOW masters like Dr. Seuss use them so masterfully.
        Language learning should be meaningful and fun.  I can't think of a better way to teach sense, than using nonsense!  What do you think?

        Tuesday, March 13, 2012

        Interpretations, Ideas, and Inspiration

        Today's post is guest hosted by Talia Hurwich - a middle school teacher who has wonderfully insightful and creative ideas.  We hope you enjoy it.

        Interpretations, Ideas, and Inspiration

        When we observe the world around us, we don't simply observe, we interpret it in our own way. 
        • Historians interpret events with the hope of gaining greater insight into a culture's past, present and future.  
        • Writers are constantly interpreting and reinterpreting stories and histories. Shakespeare did this with many of his plays (whose plots were largely taken from other sources). 
        • We constantly interpret social situations (particularly awkward ones!) to decide what our best response or course of action should be (or should have been).  
        • We interpret speeches, movies, books, songs, and poetry.  
        • We interpret a person's facial expressions, their posture, their hair and clothing.  
        • We interpret what others say and don't say - all to gain insights into relationships, events, and the world around us.
        • We can call it "spin" or "bias" when we talk about news stories or opinions that do not necessarily represent all 'parties' or 'sides' - but these too are reflections or interpretations.
        Children similarly are always interpreting the world around them.  In fact, the act of interpretation is the first step to learning. 

        This is especially true for language acquisition.  Babies will interpret and imitate the sounds they hear until they begin producing those sounds in closer and closer approximations of recognizable speech. They use these approximations to express needs.  As these approximations become more intelligible, they are reinforced.

        When faced with a question about the world, children often try to come up with their own answers - which are often quite creative, and quite entertaining.  Art Linkletter and later Bill Cosby had television shows "Kids Say the Darndest Things" based on kids' interpretations of the world around them.  James Thurber wrote a wonderful children's book  Many Moons which illustrates this (and I highly recommend it).

        Here is a clip form The Lion King  which also clearly imitates and interprets kids' views of the world as Pumba, Simba, and Timon contemplate what the stars are made of:

        Interpretations are made by incorporating various existing ideas in 'original' ways and combinations, or by taking new information or questions and attempting to explain or answer them by 'brainstorming' and combining various existing ideas that may not have originally been associated one with the other.

        •  Feed creativity.  Many works of art including Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet (to name two), Michelangelo's Moses and the Sistine Chapel, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, and A Muppet Christmas Carol are all interpretations of others works.  And while inspirational on their own, they lead us to think of and create other stories and versions. 
        • Inspire. Exposing kids (or oneself) to interpretive works inspire us to read more about them, or inspire us to create our own versions or similar versions, to think of multiple perspectives, and allow us to look at the world somewhat differently.  
        • Entertain.
        • Teach us to think.  First, they show us how 'tweaking' or rearranging stories, facts, or ideas can inspire, entertain, and help us generate rules and greater knowledge about the world around us.  Often, when these interpretations or 'rules' proof false this creates what Jean Piaget termed 'cognitive dissonance' which forces us to rethink and reinterpret that question or issue to form a more lasting schema, rule, or response (which is hopefully closer to the 'truth').
        How to help inspire our kids to interpret:
        • Shows like Sesame Street are FULL of interpretations of classic works.  Super Grover is pretending to be a super hero; many of the songs are interpretations or 'takes' on existing classic songs. After watching these 'interpretations' show your kids the 'originals'. Ask young kids what was 'different' and what was "the same.'
        • Do the same with books. Compare The Wizard of Oz and Wicked;  nursery rhymes and modern interpretations for younger kids (Jon Scieszka has some wonderful versions of "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" and "The Frog Prince Continued"). Make up your own versions. Talk about what you like and don't like; what is same and different. With older kids talk about what worked and what didn't.
        • Ask kids to take stories further; ask them how they might tell that same story today, in 100 years, or how they might have told it a few centuries ago. 
        • After reading a book or story ask your child, "if you could retell this story any way you choose, would you make it a video, a book, a comic, a song, or something else? Why?"
        • Greek myths and fairy tales are great sources of 'interpretation' told across a variety of mediums.  If your child liked the Disney movie Hercules, show your child the episode Hercules and Cerberus from the television show The Storyteller:  Greek Myths; have them read the graphic novel Zeus, Hera, or Athena (all beautifully done graphic novels by First Second Books). Here too ask questions of comparison and inference.
        • Create challenges for them!  Ask your child to summarize a story in under two minutes. There's a series of videos called "The 90-second Newbery" where kids and adults make videos summarizing plots of Newbery Award winning books in 90 seconds.  You may want to try this too.
        The point is to have fun with interpretations.  They are entertaining, they make us think, and manipulate ideas and perspectives. 

        In closing, here are two more (related) clips illustrating how interpretations can be entertaining, humorous, educational, and inspirational.  They are from The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged.  (It is a must see show for fans of all ages). 

        In this clip, Shakespeare's histories are reinterpreted in a football game.

        Here we have "The Othello Rap"

        Thanks for your visit -  please, leave your own interpretations and ideas in the comments - and have a great week.

        Sunday, March 4, 2012

        Heroes for All

        Everyone needs heroes and the wonderful thing about life, books, graphic novels, movies, and entertainment is that our heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and costumes; they go solo or have sidekicks and foils, and ALL give us a run for our money.

        Hero was coined in English in the 1300's and is derived from the Greek ἥρως, hḗrōs  which means protector or defender.

        But what is a HERO (aside from a very big messy sandwich)?

         While we all have variations in our definitions / opinions of "hero"  Here are a few:
        • "A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer" - Ralph Waldo Emerson
        • "The ordinary man is involved in action, the hero acts.  An immense difference" - Henry Miller
        • "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself"  - Joseph Campbell
        • "A real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else" - Umberto Eco (in Travels in Hyper reality)
        • "A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles" - Christopher Reeve
        On the importance of heroes in our kids' lives:
        • Heroes serve as role models to learn from and emulate;
        • Heroes introduce values that are both universal and culture specific;
        • Heroes inspire us tobe 'better' and set loftier goals and expectations for ourselves and others;
        • Heroes teach us courage, compassion, resourcefulness, and perseverance to rise against our own weaknesses or against stifling oppression;
        • Heroes often teach creative problem solving while fighting for unselfish goals.
        Kids need to have, enjoy, and evaluate these figures as they select role models and begin to shape who they want to become. There are heroes everywhere, right in front of us, with powers of dedication, charity, compassion, selflessness, and strength of will, character, and muscle.  It's important for us to talk about these everyday heroes and how they face life's problems.

        Below, are some of my favorite children's picture book, prose and graphic novel heroes. I have passed over the obvious choices, hoping to introduce less-known gems to boost your treasure trove of heroes.


          Tacky from Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester.  Tacky is an odd bird who has his own special 'way' about him and does not fit in with the others. Tacky, in his own inimitable way not only shows the others that different can be fun, he uses his 'special (awkward) powers' to save the day.

          Ping from The Empty Pot by Demi - is a Chinese boy who faces a stiff challenge set by the Emperor with honor, grace and courage.

            Princess Elizabeth from The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch - had planned to marry Prince Ronald, until a dragon arrives, kidnaps Ronald and burns everything in sight.  Elizabeth challenges the dragon and saves the prince but on her journey she ends up doing a lot more than that...she saves herself.

            Pippi from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Michael Chesworth - (an early reader chapter book this can be read aloud to younger children and savored by older ones as well).  Pippi is a feisty, red-headed unconventional nine-year-old with superhuman strength (she can lift her horse) who lives in a small Swedish village with her monkey and horse - no adults, no relatives.  She befriends the kids next door and together they have many adventures.  Pippi, shows kids how to be alone and independent, how to embrace being different, and how to come to terms with what life has to offer.
            Pink and Say from Patricia Polacco's Pink and Say - a story about her great, great, grandfather Sheldon Curtis (Say) a white boy fighting for the Union, who is found unconscious and left for dead on a battlefield by Pinkus Aylee, a black boy also fighting for the Union. Their lives become intricately intertwined as they fight to stay alive and save their families during the Civil War. Here is a YouTube clip of Patricia Polacco introducing the book, the real life background, and reading Part 1 of her book to students.  It's not a super quality but the content is well worth the look:

            PROSE BOOKS FOR AGES 9-12:

            Cimorene from Patricia Wrede's Dealing With Dragons is sick of learning etiquette and would like to learn fencing, math, Latin, and the ways of the world.  One morning an enchanted frog tells her she should seek help from the Dragons, and her life as an independent young woman begins.  She ends up not only saving herself, but her kingdom as well.(Grades 3+)

            Jonah from Lois Lowry's The Giver - lives in a dystopian society that has eliminated pain and suffering.  Their collective societal pains and memories are entrusted to a Giver and in his twelfth year Jonas learns he is to be the next Giver. Jonas must incorporate societal memories, pains and fears and decide not only how to cope with them, but how to act for betterment of his culture.

            Arnold Spirit, Jr., from The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is a bright, motivated, budding cartoonist living on his impoverished reservation. His high school teacher encourages him to go to an off-reservation all-white school in the nearby town.  Arnold must deal with racism (both from his reservation friends and his peers in his new school), poverty and how to follow his own path while keeping and following his family's traditions. (Grades 5+)

              Johnny from Esther Forbes' Johnny Tremain is a budding silversmith apprentice in Colonial Boston when he suffers a debilitating accident.  He tries to find his way in a series of odd jobs and finds himself by a twist of fate, working for The Observer, a Whig publication.  As Johnny grows in strength and character he must wrestle with his fate and with his personal and political beliefs.  On the way he meets and interacts with historical leaders including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Doctor Joseph Warren, Paul Revere, James Otis, Jr., Governor Thomas Hutchinson, Thomas Gage, John Pitcairn, Francis Smith and Josiah Quincy II (lawyer and member of the Sons of Liberty).  It is a powerful journey in history and of self-discovery. (Grades 5+)

              Billie Jo from Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse lives with her mother and father who are struggling to keep their Oklahoma farm during the Dust Bowl years.  After two tragic accidents, Billie Jo's remote father becomes unreachable and she must struggle to keep up the farm while learning to rehabilitate herself after a debilitating accident.  This story is told completely in free verse and is an absolute gem.  Billie Jo is a real, incredibly strong young woman who faces life's hardships with as much grace and courage her pre-teen years can give her. (Grades 4+)

                Paul and his sister Marie from Resistance (and the sequel Defiance) by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis are growing in World War II France as the Germans have just occupied it. Not only do they have to struggle for food and survival in war-torn France, they are faced with the dilemma of how to help their best friend Henri (a Jew) and whether to help the Germans, try to survive by being indifferent, or whether to join the Resistance forces and help as much as two young teens can.  (Grades 4+)

                Zita from Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.  When her friend Joseph is reluctant to touch a "button" they found in a field, Zita just cant resist.  The button, however, zaps Joseph into a black hole that whisks him off to another world.  Zita, determined to find and return Joseph leaps to his rescue to find herself chasing his trail through a strange planet with humanoid chickens, neurotic robots and sweet-talking con-men.  Before long the aliens and ancient prophecies don't seem to phase her. Zita scrambles to save her friend the the new world she finds herself in. Here is a link to Ben Hatke's web pages for more characters and glimpses at Zita. (Grades 2+)

                    Jack Long from The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell. Jack is a white male reporter living in Texas during the Civil Rights Movement who must make career and life choices while trying to do the 'right' thing.  It is a powerful story about the pull of friendship and commitment to family values.  It is based on a true story of Civil Rights Movement in 1967 Texas. (Grades 5+)

                    Amelia from Amelia Rules by Jimmy Gownley.  Amelia McBride has to adjust to life in a new town after her parents' divorce.  She and her new friends face adolescence, bullies, gym class, cheerleaders, clubs, cliques, and many other knocks life seems to hand them. Amelia has spunk and character which in times of stress are eased by her super-coo, famous aunt. Amelia and her friends are real life characters with real life problems and Jimmy Gownley tells their story with grace and humor.  These are super-read books for kids of all ages.

                    Here is the trailer that introduces Amelia and her super-hero (almost, kinda') friends:

                    Barbara from I Kill  Giants by Joe Kelly. Barbara is a fifth grader who tells anyone who will listen that she kills giants.  Initially we're uncertain if she really kills giants, or lives in a world of her own out of touch with others, or if this is one giant metaphor for her having to face huge scary issues in her life. And, while I won't ruin this powerfully told story, Barbara is an awesome fifth grader who while uncertain about herself and her physical or mental strength, faces social and personal issues valiantly. (Recommended for Grade 5 +)

                      Be they cartoon, fictional, historical, or real people, heroes are truly inspirational and should have a regular place in your and your children's lives.  Heroes and superheroes are important - for all of us not only to learn from, but to aspire to become.  I hope you check out and enjoy my choices.

                      Here it is one more time (The Daly Show - Episode 7 -with Nathan Fillion - I just can't seem to get enough of this)... because... some superheroes just don't die (especially the geeky kinds)...nor should they:

                      Please share your heroes with us in the comment, and have a great week!