Thursday, October 30, 2008

Barefoot Books: Reading With Your Kids Has Never Been More Delightful

I love books. I devour them. There are not enough hours in the day for me to get through my book list. Nothing makes me prouder than to see Bird take such interest in reading and really putting his heart into learning the beauty and magic of how letters form words and words form sentences that glide us into wonderful escapes, adventures, and daydreams. I can tell that he is already learning an appreciation for words. He might be the only kindergartener who excitedly remarks when he comes upon a homonym. He is now learning about palindromes too and is so tickled that a word can be spelled the same forward and backward. Through his eyes I recall feeling that same sense of wonder when I was five. I do hope his math skills don't suffer as mine did.

Bird now reads to Deal time to time. Let me be clear; reading involves sounding out words and sounds and making up the story as he goes along. Deal loves nothing more than sitting with his side pressed into his brother's hips as close as he can physically get as he listens to a story. From afar they look like Siamese twins. That Deal must have been a furry cuddly lap dog in another life. Through Bird's lessons Deal is also learning his letters and developing a curiosity for words and books. As you can imagine, this makes me beam.

I was thrilled when the kind folks at Barefoot Books gave me the opportunity to review a couple books. Barefoot Books is an independent book publisher that was started 15 years ago by two working moms with seven children between them. The many books in their collection focus on celebrating diversity, appreciating myriad cultural traditions, nurturing a sense of curiosity, and fostering a global perspective. The company is still a grassroots organization and lives by its mission and values cemented in the early days of its inception.

I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to read something with no corresponding licensed character merchandise, computer generated animation, formulaic plot, or television counterpart.

I read My Granny Went to Market and Shopping With Dad. Both books had lovely, colorful illustrations that were vibrant, engaging, and works of art.

My Granny Went to Market was the hands down favorite of my little bunch. The illustrations are charming enough to warrant a frame and some picture hooks. If I had another copy of the book I would tear out the pages and do just that. The story is a counting story but not one of those stupid ones about ducks swimming away or putting eggs back into a nest. The premise is about a grandmother who travels the world collecting various goodies from faraway lands. It all starts with a magical flying carpet found in Istanbul (which as we know from They Might Be Giants, was once Constantinople). Nesting dolls from Russia. Paper lanterns from China. Kites from Tokyo. Drums from Kenya. It is a delightful little book that is a great introduction to global understanding for small children. It's a pretty good reminder for us grownups too.

Shopping With Dad has fun illustrations (gee, I am a sucker for illustrations) and perfectly captures the chaos of grocery shopping with a toddler in tow, especially when the grocery list calls for things like Octopus Underpants, Extra-Clean Germs, and Strong Anti-Grump Pills! Deal even referred to this story when we were at Harris Teeter this afternoon. He assured me he would not sneeze (You'll get it once you read the book.).

What I love about both books is how the authors inject a global perspective without being preachy or obvious. It is simply a snapshot of the world that I was raised in; people of many cultures living, playing, working together. The town I live in does not share the same diverse culture I enjoyed as a child so these books are a wonderful tool to give my kids a broader perspective of the world. The pictures in these books are not merely black and white; the characters represents cultures, not colors. Such is Barefoots Books' distinction.

Bird attends an International Studies school so he eats up learning about other cultures and loves gazing at the globe to see where our various family members live. Barefoot Books will be a perfect accompaniment to the curriculum he follows at school. We are going to put up a map in the play room so we can mark the cities we have visited. And if we can't make it to the many corners of the planet, we will bring those corners to our little corner.

I am adding A Calendar of Festivals, The Barefoot Book of Blessings, The Faerie's Gift, The Story of Divaali, and The Tear Thief to the boys' Christmas lists. I think we're all going to enjoy the ride.

And as a way to deal with this sour economy, you can get 30% off through November 3 if you click here www.ReadingBarefootBooks.com !
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