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Kids & Parenting

Picture books about immigration and refugees allow us to experience the feelings of fear, courage, and hope that are part of the journey from one’s homeland to a new country. In these 11 picture books, young protagonists find themselves leaving old lands and journeying to new ones, where hope and promise live side-by-side with memories of what has been left behind.

We Came to America by Faith Ringgold

Award-winning author-illustrator Faith Ringgold offers a timely look at the diverse makeup and backgrounds of the American people and celebrates the country’s diverse immigrant heritage. Ringgold’s poetic text and vibrant art affirm the message that diversity enriches us all.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Other students laugh when Rigoberto, an immigrant from Venezuela, introduces himself. But later, he meets Angelina and discovers that he is not the only one who feels like an outsider. A beautiful and inclusive story that encourages children to find the beauty in their own lives and share it with the world.

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

A young boy named Mustafa has traveled a long way to this country from his old one, where the trees were dusty and gray and there was not a lot of extra food. Here, he visits a park near his new home and finds beautiful flowers, ladybugs, fall leaves, and finally, a friend.

Islandborn by Junot Díaz

Lola was just a baby when her family left the Island. When she has to draw it for a school assignment, she asks her family, friends, and neighbors about their memories of her homeland. However, their memories of home are not all happy – there is also a remembrance of struggles.

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera

When Juan Felipe Herrera was very young, he picked flowers, helped his mama feed the chickens, slept under the starry sky, and learned to say goodbye to his amiguitos each time his migrant family moved on. When he grew up, he became a poet. This beautifully illustrated poem encourages children to imagine all that they might one day be.

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say

A Japanese-American man recounts his grandfather’s journey to America, which he later undertakes himself. He also describes the feeling of being torn by a love for two different countries. The immigrant experience has rarely been so poignantly evoked.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

In warm, sparkling prose that moves easily from English to Spanish and back, Caldecott Honor artist Morales traces the journey that she and her small son took in 1994, when they emigrated from Mexico to the United States. Many books about immigration describe the process of making new friends and fitting in; this one describes what it’s like to become a creative being in two languages, and to learn to love in both.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

This beautiful tale about a father and son’s fishing trip in Minneapolis shows the interconnectedness of family. The story, told from the boy’s perspective, begins when his father wakes him before dawn. Although the child enjoys the outing as a special adventure, they are fishing for food, not sport. The quiet time together provides opportunities for the father to talk about his long-ago life in Vietnam.

Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias

A child fleeing conflict walks across the desert, recalling the home he left behind and promising to return to it someday. As he walks, the simple and poetic text brings readers along on this heartbreaking journey: “I walk, and my footsteps leave a trace of ancient stories, the songs of my homeland, and the smell of tea and bread, jasmine and earth.”

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

What is it like to have to leave everything behind and travel many miles to somewhere unfamiliar and strange? In this beautiful, powerful book, a mother and her two children set out on such a journey – a journey filled with fear of the unknown, but also great hope for what lies ahead.

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

The story recounts the author’s great-grandmother’s arrival in this country from Eastern Europe. Her dress and babushka become part of a quilt that is been handed down from generation to generation. This book is most notable for the family traditions and the changes that it describes, and for the intergenerational love it portrays.

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With Halloween approaching, your children may be asking for spooky stories. While some younger readers love thrills and chills, others are more sensitive to things that go bump in the night. If you’re looking for a gentle scare, we’ve put together a list of 13 books that provide safe places for children to learn about the world and their own emotions.

Bad Kitty, Scaredy-Cat by Nick Bruel

A group of monsters shows up on Bad Kitty’s doorstop. Kitty is scared until she decides to take matters into her own paws!

Click, Clack, Boo! by Doreen Cronin

Farmer Brown doesn’t like Halloween, so he draws the shades and climbs into bed. However, the barnyard animals have other ideas. Big surprises are in store for Farmer Brown!

Herbert’s First Halloween by Cynthia Rylant

Herbert is worried about his first Halloween – but with help from his dad, a special tiger costume, and some roaring practice, Herbert finds confidence on Halloween night.

How to Scare a Ghost by Jean Reagan

Want to know how to scare a ghost? This book will provide young readers and listeners with all the tips they need to lure in and frighten a phantasm!

Tacky and the Haunted Igloo by Helen Lester

It’s Halloween, and Tacky the Penguin’s friends have prepared the scariest igloo in the Arctic. It’s the best Halloween ever, until a a group of ghostly hunters show up demanding treats. How will Tacky save the day?

Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo! by Tad Hills

Duck and Goose go trick-or-treating, but what will they do when they hear a swamp monster is looking for them?

Fright School by Janet Lawler

In this story, school-age zombies, ghouls, and ghosts learn how to scare trick-or-treaters. But what in the world scares monsters?

The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael by Bonny Becker

When the Thirteen bus pulls up one stormy evening, Michael boards it despite some grave misgivings. Creepy and funny, with a surprise twist!

It’s Halloween, Chloe Zoe! by Jane Smith

It’s Halloween, but one house is way too frightening to visit. With the help of her friends and her dad, Chloe Zoe finds the courage to discover what treat is behind its foreboding front door!

Peep and Egg: I’m Not Trick-or-Treating by Laura Gehl

Peep can’t wait to go trick-or-treating, but Egg thinks Halloween is too scary! What will convince Egg to brave the night?

Samurai Scarecrow: A Very Ninja Halloween by Rubin Pingk

Yukio loves Halloween and his sister loves him. When Yukio carves a pumpkin, Kashi carves one much like it. When Yukio maps out his evening, Kashi’s map looks veeery similar. Upset, Yukio says some things he doesn’t really mean. What can save their Halloween?

Scary, Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting

In this atmospheric book, mysterious green eyes watch from the darkness as trick-or-treaters pass by. But to whom – or what – do the eyes belong?

Halloween Good Night by Rebecca Grabill

In this rhyming bedtime story, werewolves, witches, zombies and other cuddly monsters will help you count down the minutes until bedtime.


May 16 2016

1,000 Books and Mrs. Kimbrall

by Hope L

1000books_1DeKalb County Public Library and the DeKalb Library Foundation have launched the wonderful  1000 Books Before Kindergarten program and it has made me think that  I’d like to focus on reading more myself.

I wonder if I could launch my own campaign, say, A 1000 Books Before I Retire, or A 1000 Books I Really Should Have Read While in School, or even A 1000 Books I Shall Read Before I Go to the Big Library Upstairs.

When I think of the earliest books I enjoyed, I think of the Dick and Jane and Spot books, and of course, Dr. Seuss and Curious George. These books bring back memories of the smell of paste and working with construction paper, painting pictures and all the fun stuff we did in kindergarten.  Prior to that I don’t remember much except for digging a deep hole outside by my dollhouse with a spoon from the kitchen drawer while Mom would hang up the laundry.

I don’t believe anything too highbrow came through our household at that time, probably the lone classics being my brothers’ copy of  “The Last of the Mohicans,” or “Treasure Island,” which of course were way above my level of reading.  My parents used to read their paperback novels in bed while we kids watched TV.

And so it was with a pinch of luck later on that I was allowed to select a title  from my fifth grade teacher’s collection of paperbacks, which she invited us all to do as she was leaving after that year.

Mrs. Clarissa Kimbrall was retiring.

Grand Canyon School’s elementary students’ greatest fear was the mere presence of Mrs. Kimbrall.  At some 5’5″ tall, with her stern wardrobe of a floral dress, light pastel sweater, hose and military-cum-old lady shoes, her intimidating stature struck terror in even the wildest or toughest juvenile delinquent or goody-two-shoes alike.  Everyone in our elementary school got a knot in the pit of their stomachs when they thought about Mrs. Kimbrall waiting for them when they, too, finally reached the fifth grade.

We were so … um … fortunate to be blessed to be the final class to have Mrs. Clarissa Kimbrall at Grand Canyon School, in Grand Canyon, Arizona.

But along with everybody else, I stayed awake nights dreading the next day with Mrs. Kimbrall.  It was when worry was formally born in my psyche.  But we all lived to tell the story.

When somebody would have a birthday Mrs. Kimbrall would break out her infamous raisin cupcakes with pink frosting that were tough as a cheap steak. But we politely ate and smiled, for to leave that ‘treat’ (read: rock)  uneaten – that which the old woman would bake once a year (it might’ve been years before!) and would store in her freezer to bring every birthday – would be to face the wrath of Clarissa Kimbrall.

One never knew what the day would bring:  would Rusty Kemper fall asleep during reading?  Would Mrs. Kimbrall herself nod off whilst reading aloud to us from “The Hardy Boys’ Mysteries,” her pinky finger gently resting at the side of her nostril just so?  Would the class giggle and act up and awaken Mrs. Kimbrall, who would then unleash her wrath upon everyone?

But besides the gifts of respect, awe and terror, Mrs. Kimbrall gave me my first book.  Sure, I had books that were hand-me-downs from my three older brothers, and I read their “Boys’ Life” magazines, but this book that I selected from Mrs. Kimbrall’s large collection was my own personal book, my first.

And the book I chose was … “The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek,” by Evelyn Sibley Lampman.  I shall never forget it … or Mrs. Kimbrall and her raisin cupcakes.


Mar 24 2016

Mommy and Me

by Hope L

MommyRecently the Workplace Advisory Group of the DeKalb County Public Library volunteered for a project to help the Mommy and Me Family Literacy Program located in Clarkston.  The DCPL volunteers will be fixing up a space in the school for mothers and their children to read and relax during their school day.

The Mommy and Me Refugee Family Literacy Program is a nonprofit school located in the heart of Clarkston where immigrant mothers and their children learn together.

When I found out about this program, I was delighted.  For a time I worked at the Clarkston Branch of DCPL, and it was (and is) a very busy place!  There were many immigrant children, most of them refugees whose families fled to this country from their homelands.

According to their website, the school’s students come from more than a dozen countries from around the world: Eritrea, Burma, Bhutan, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Burundi.

From the Mommy and Me website,

​We are a nonprofit school located in the heart of Clarkston, Georgia where immigrant mothers and children learn together.

A family literacy program, we offer four components of instruction: (1) ESOL classes for refugee women, (2) onsite early childhood development program for their young children, (3) Parent and Child Time sessions to promote family engagement, and (4) weekly workshops on parenting, health/nutrition, and life skills.

“Clarkston’s transformation dates back to the late 1980’s, when the U.S. State Department and various resettlement agencies chose Clarkston as an ideal site for refugee resettlement.  A mass exodus of middle-class whites to Atlanta’s more affluent suburbs left behind inexpensive apartments that could serve as affordable housing for newly arrived refugee families.  The easternmost stop on MARTA, Clarkston also offered its residence access to public transit and a commute to employment opportunities in Atlanta.”

To find out more about the program or to volunteer or make a donation, click on the link below:

Mommy and Me Family Literacy | about us




Jun 15 2015

Kid Got Your Goat?

by Hope L


This summer, the kids are out of school and underfoot at home. May I suggest Benjamin, the pygmy goat, as a babysitter with the best kick around? Take a look at this video about Benji.

Now, unfortunately, the little guy does live overseas and is currently doing time in a field in Yorkshire, so the next best thing for the kids to do this summer is to visit DCPL–because Every Hero Has a Story, this summer’s Vacation Reading Program, is fully underway  (as is Unmask! for teens and Escape the Ordinary, the Vacation Reading Program for those old goats).

Benji has given us his summer reading picks, which are available at DCPL:

The Three Billy Goats Gruff, retold and illustrated by Janet Stevens, and The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco.

For adults, Benji recommends The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Self-Sufficient Living by Jerome D. Belanger.

DCPL’s Vacation Reading Program runs through July 31.

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Though it must have been at least seventeen years ago, I still remember the first time a teacher stood in front of my class and proclaimed what has since become standard at the outset of every research paper and class project in schools across the country: “You must include at least one (or two, or ten) internet source(s).”

I’d heard that line at least twice a year over the course of my school career, and it never failed to put a wrinkle on my forehead every time. I am and always have been a bibliophile through and through, and it took me a long time to get over the notion that using anything other than a good old-fashioned book for academic research was sacrilege. Of course, I realize now that my views were probably in the minority; the mid-to-late-nineties was a time of rapid digital transformation, when the ideas and gadgets we now take for granted–all the games, all the programs and devices, and all of the wonders of the Word Wide Web–were still fermenting in the technological brewery. Today, I’m as much a part of this wired world as anyone else, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

That said, I do have my misgivings over how much academic research revolves around the internet–not because there’s anything intrinsically wrong with it, but because the attitudes of far too many students literally scream “Everything is Online!” The “sad” truth, however, is that precious little of what’s readily available out there really meets scholarly muster, and as teachers wise up to the yearly round of copypasta they receive from students courtesy of Wikipedia and Google, they are putting a greater stress on quality and reputable resources. Unfortunately, many of these valuable online gems are hard to find; they’re often tucked safely away behind an intimidating pay wall, or lost in a tangle of dead links and dead ends.

The good news is that there are a number of good sources out there dedicated to teaching budding scholars how to separate the wheat from the internet chafe with confidence.  A good place to start would be the About.com Guide to Online Research: Navigate the Web–from RSS and the Invisible Web to Multimedia and the Blogosphere by Wendy Boswell. Yes, I know it’s a book (published in 2007), but it’s a helpful guide for anyone looking to learn the basics of web research. Boswell writes with the casual web surfer in mind and fills her book with helpful hints along with a glossary for readers who want to know an IP from an ISP.  While not specifically geared towards student research, it gives valuable advice on how to evaluate websites, master classic search engines, and many more useful tips for anyone hoping to navigate the internet’s murky terrain.

GALILEOA major topic in Boswell’s book is the so-called Deep Web, the huge sea of websites lurking just beyond the nets cast by the major search engines.  Major components of these hidden websites are the aforementioned pay walls and online databases that form a barricade around most of the information crucial for well-crafted school papers. GALILEO is one such resource, a huge online library portal offering vast, authoritative information from hundreds of periodicals, scholarly journals, and academic monographs. An initiative of the University System of Georgia, GALILEO provides equal access to information for all citizens in Georgia and accomplishes its mission through a network of universities, K-12 schools, and public libraries.  GALILEO can be used as a sort of scholarly Google by typing in queries and collecting results. There’s also a specially-designed GALILEO Kids interface, plus you can access any of its individual resources directly with GALILEO A-Z. These various ways of access are conveniently perched at the top of the Reference Databases page on our library website.

Here are two additional resources specifically tailored for our youngest scholars:

  • Kids Search – Designed with elementary and middle school students in mind, this bright and colorful site cuts a lot of the pain out of researching topics. Its unique check-box topic search helps students narrow down searches without fumbling around to find the right words, and it comes equipped with a dictionary and an encyclopedia.
  • NoveList K-8 Plus – Need to find books in a particular category?  This new junior addition to the popular Novelist database allows young students to browse through subject and genre categories for whatever topic they need.  It’s also a good place for parents to build a summer reading list to get a good head start on what their child may expect in the upcoming school year.

I’d be the first to admit that, if I’m looking for quick, painless information, I’d probably turn to Google or Wikipedia before I crack open a dictionary or an encyclopedia.  The internet is the source for virtually unlimited information, and having all of that at your fingertips can be quite intoxicating. But information access and information literacy are not the same, and if you or your child are trying to get the most accurate and scholarly information you can, you might want to give the Wikiverse a rest and try a resource with a little more meat.

There’s a nice list of student resources available on the library website under Reference Databases.  If anyone has their own hidden gem, please feel free to share.



Feb 10 2015

Seriously? I Think Not!!!

by Hope L

Warning: I am in a very silly mood today.  But never fear, ’cause DCPL is here!

How about something from Just Joking 3: 300 Hilarious Jokes About Everything, Including Tongue Twisters, Riddles, and More! by Ruth A. Musgrave, from the National Geographic Series:


Who’s there?


Distaste who?

Distaste terrible!



Who’s there?


Marionette who?

Marionette the last piece of pie!

Woman Eating Blueberry Pie

“Er … um, Hope, is this gonna be all knock-knock, all the time?”

“No, the only requirement is silliness.”

What did the police officers do when they crashed their car into a bakery?

They made copcakes.

What kind of medicine does a vampire take when he has a cold?”

Coffin syrup.


What does it mean if you find a horseshoe?

Some poor horse is walking around in his socks.

What do you call it when a Cyclops moves into a frog’s home?

An eye-pad.

And here’s one for our beloved librarians:

What do you get when you cross popcorn, a hot dog, and a stack of books?

Kernel Mustard in the library.

Hotdog … how do you eat yours?

I loved that one, but as your friendly library security guard I must remind you that there is no food allowed in the library.



Oct 10 2014

Fed Up or Fulfilled

by Rebekah B

Hello readers,

When I was a little girl, my mother claimed that tea tasted so much better when drunk out of a beautiful porcelain cup. She would get out her best tea set dishes, Royal Crown Derby to be exact, and she trusted me and my sister to be careful not to break them. Although there are many subjects on which my family and I don’t agree, I think there was a great deal of wisdom in my mother’s approach to the proper enjoyment of tea. tea_royalcrownderby

As I muse over a selection of my recent readings and viewings of films, I find a common theme running through most of them: Fulfillment, health, and finding balance in life. Recently, my son showed me a Buzzfeed article showing school cafeteria meals from around the world. It is interesting to see how various countries present their meals, many of them using “real” dishes, silverware, and glass goblets. Whole foods, prepared with care, and the importance of care and beauty, attachment to traditions…these seem to be aspects of life too often ignored by our culture of convenience in America. What if the quality of care taken in the preparation of our meals, the way we grow our foods, and the way we treat one another actually enhances the nutritional value of the food we eat and the ability of our bodies to better process these foods?

school lunch france

I often feel that it is an integral part of American culture to be (in my opinion) highly competitive and dissatisfied. This state of incompleteness gives us goals, things to do, things to buy to improve our condition and lot in life.  We are all about fixing things without taking into account that perhaps our enhancements are not always needed. Although few of us actually stop to consider this aspect of our culture, there exists a concerted effort by factions of all kinds to make us feel as if we are somehow not good enough as we are right now. Doing and accomplishing is generally considered more important than simply being and joyfully accepting reality exactly as it is. This predominance of masculinity, that in order to be worthy, we must constantly modify ourselves and our environment, weighs me down.


After living in France for nearly 18 years, and after 10 years in the U.S., I have realize that France seems a much more balanced yet more conservative culture than ours. The conservative aspect is the feminine, an attachment to tradition and rituals of life that keep the people and the country stable and fairly happy. The attention to the quality of food, of conversation, and the devotion to agricultural traditions, preventive health care, abundant vacation time, and family life are all aspects of nurturing that counter-balance the rush of modern life and the constant changes brought about by science and technology. Both aspects of life are necessary for balance.

kids playing

In the United States, our mainstream culture has cut most of us off from many of the nurturing and artful traditions that fulfill us and that connect us to nature, to our ancestors, and to our own nature as human beings. Without a constant connection to our inner source–which can be personal or collective–we may feel untethered, and the results of the imbalance are evident throughout our primarily masculine-driven society. Anyone who watches the evening news will observe an excess of violent and anti-social behaviors, and if you look around your neighborhood, more than likely, you’ll observe a growing lack of community. People are addicted to work, to sugar, to their electronic devices. Everyone seems to be driven to perform, and yet no performance ever seems good enough. Social media promotes endless chatter, and yet there seems to be little or no time for real conversation, for cooking or eating meals together as a family, for finding meaning in the simple acts of daily life. Instead, we are offered entertainment to distract us from our discomfort and sense of disconnection. Convenience reigns, yet disease is also equally prominent. Our American lifestyle is out of balance.

While I personally believe that culture is not the answer to everything, and that there is no ideal collective or individual way to be or to live, I do find it interesting to observe and to compare how various societies deal with what it means to be human. As creative and complex beings, it is challenging to be human, as we are continually required to reinvent ourselves. The biggest challenge of all is self-awareness and self-love. In the meantime, why not try to use your best dishes every day, celebrate any occasion with a long dinner around the table, without any scheduled activities or events, and observe what it’s like to simply enjoy whatever happens during your day, without any expectations.

Here are some of my recent reads and views…some in progress:

Fed Up, a 2014 documentary by Stephanie Soechtig with Katie Couric.  I definitely recommend this film for viewing by all parents and anyone who feels concerned about the obesity epidemic, the omnipresence of sugar in the diets of our children (and adults), and the state of public health in the United States.

Year of No Sugar: A Memoir, by Eve O. Schaub.  The story of a mom who grew up with a deep and abiding love of home-baked desserts and for whom sugar was the chemical equivalent of true love. She basically transformed her own life and that of her family after viewing a documentary about the evils of sugar in our diet. She decided to embark on a year-long experiment to mostly ban all added sugar from her family’s diet, with the exception of a monthly treat and birthdays. The book details the emotional roller coaster of the experiment. What impressed me in particular was that new family closeness grew, as well as creativity and cooperation. The children seemed to adapt well for the most part, and they learned to cook and create new recipes. When the year came to an end, to some extent sugar was re-incorporated in various ways into the family’s diet. All of the family members were transformed by the experience of trying to find ways to compensate for their sweet tooth.

Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size, by Julia Cameron, 2007.  This is a book for the creative person who feels that he or she is not sufficiently fulfilled creatively-speaking, and who is probably compensating for that frustrated feeling by eating too much.  Ms. Cameron noted in many of her other workshops that participants were leaner going out, and she began to examine the connection between frustrated creativity and weight gain. She explains that the more we express our feelings with the written word, the less we are driven to eat for unhealthy reasons. The fulfillment that comes from expressing the inner self satisfies the hunger, and the weight is lost without real effort.

Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, To Near Death, To True Healing, by Anita Moorjani, 2013. This book is a highly personal account of one woman’s inner transformation. Ms. Moorjani grew up in Hong Kong. Exposed to multiple cultures in her youth, she was pushed to conform and to repress her individual dreams and desires for her life. She describes how she believes fear (specifically the fear of cancer) and repression (of herself in order to obtain approval by her family and peers) led her body to rebel, causing her to develop lymphoma, from which she very nearly died. After all of her organs began to shut down and she drifted into a coma, Ms. Moorjani was not expected to recover, and yet she experienced a miraculous withdrawal of the disease which doctors had given a terminal diagnosis. The experience also transformed her thinking and freed her to live according to her true nature and personality. I was personally more drawn to her choice to fully love and embrace herself and all of life without judgment–and to her realization that heaven is not a place, but a state of being–than to the near death experience and healing, of which I have read many similar accounts. I have observed that people who have touched the extremes of human experience enjoy a refreshed view of the real. While it is not necessary to experience near death in order to live life with the awareness that we are all inter-connected and that everything we think, say, or do affects everything and everyone else, it is nice to know that there are others who are able to appreciate life and reality for what it is, simply and without judgment of self and others.

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May 23 2014

Ready for Summer Break?

by Rebekah B


Hello readers,

When I was growing up, the school year began in September, after Labor Day, and came to a close some time in June.  I grew up in Baltimore, and I remember those summer days at school very well, as we did not have air conditioning, and the image and feeling of those greyish-pink textured plastic seats stuck to my legs as I tried to focus on final exams is forever burned into my memory! Summers seemed so much hotter and more humid, probably because we did not have air conditioning, and so that season was more vividly demarcated in my mind.  I also remember playing in my parents’ back yard with my siblings and cousin Alex, with a garden hose and faded red dolphin-shaped sprinkler attachment, the blazing hot pavement scorching the soles of our bare feet.  A few summers we were sent to day camps, but we much preferred to stay home and relish in the long days and freedom from scheduling.


Here in the Atlanta area, the school calendar is a bit different, with school starting and ending so much earlier.  It feels strange to start a new school year in the heat of summer, but each region has its own culture, rituals, and traditions.  Like many parents, I am challenged by how to keep my child’s mind and body occupied during the long summer break since I don’t have much time off.  Now that my son is 14, he can safely stay home alone, but he is still too young to work.  We don’t have funds for vacations, music or other specialty camps, so we have to be creative to make that time work for us–with improvised language lessons (Russian and Finnish), dog training classes, gardening, hikes, bike riding, day trips, taking photographs, and other art projects.  Try borrowing the Georgia State Parks Pass, Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts Museum Pass, or the Go Fish Pass from DCPL for family outings, or attend summer events during the Library’s Vacation Reading Program.   Many organizations offer volunteer opportunities and internships for older teens, and some offer family volunteering with parental supervision. Communication with friends mostly happens through Snapchat or Facebook.  Without family nearby or close friends with whom to spend time, despite these activities, the summer can sometimes seem like a long, barren stretch.


Many families plan elaborate summer vacations or fill their children’s breaks with robotics classes, intensive science, math, or reading classes, swim meets, music or art training, organized sports, internships, or other camps and activities.

While it is a frequent habit to bathe the past in a golden nostalgic light, a quick google search will soon reveal that childhood was for most far from an idyllic realm for any child around the world through history.   For so many today,  being a child in the twentieth century is indeed a great place and time to live, grow, and to be loved and cherished. I am sure that so many children throughout the world today would be thrilled to be allowed to attend school year-round and to be relatively free from fear and violence.

Old Photos of Girls and Their Dolls (6)

Out of curiosity, I began to wonder what exactly is the history of summer breaks for children as well as the evolution of how children are treated as members of society throughout history.  I have read about child abuse and neglect being the common lot of children up until the twentieth century.  If you click on this link, (readers, beware: this article is not for the faint of heart!) you can read an article about the cross-cultural evolution of childrearing through the ages and around the world. We are very fortunate that our societies are constantly evolving as is our desire to be more self-aware, responsible, empathic and compassionate parents and human beings.  Not so long ago, even in the United States, many children were obligated to work to contribute to their families’ income, and to take care of their parents and siblings, whether in urban or rural settings.  According to historians at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum recreating an 1830’s New England farming village, most farm children went to school between the months of December and March, taking a break until May and then attending school again between May and August.  In the spring and fall seasons, children and adults worked together to help with planting the fields and harvesting.

children working

In the 1800s, urban schools in the United States also operated by a very different calendar than the one with which we are familiar today.  In fact, some of the problems families encountered then are not so different from ours.  For example, immigrant parents of the early 19th century needed safe and affordable places for their children to stay while their parents worked long hours in often insalubrious factories, shops or mills. At that time, children studied 11 months out of the year.

Around the world, each country has a different system and calendar, as well as varying amounts of paid vacation time for working parents.  If you click on the link, you can see the exact breakdown for all countries in Europe.  For example, when I lived in France, every working person had at least five weeks of paid vacation time.  Paid vacations were first instituted in France in 1936 after massive strikes and the election of the Front Populaire.  These social changes brought about a better quality of life for ordinary working people and transformed the summer season.

As is common throughout Europe, when I lived in France, school breaks for ski vacations were scheduled every February, with other breaks during the spring and summer.  Children were out of school every Wednesday, based on an old tradition in which in the past, children attended catechism or bible study on Wednesdays and older children would attend classes on Saturdays.  The school days were much longer than in the U.S.  For example, my son attended pre-school from 8:00 a.m .to 4:00 p.m., with a long nap break during the day.  Various regions of France would alternate departure dates for vacations, altering children’s schedules to help manage vacation traffic on highways, trains, and airways.  After school and during holiday breaks, centres de loisirs, something like our public recreation centers run by county governments, would take over, providing after-care and camps.  Overall, the system made attempts to create some harmony between adult and children’s schedules, allowing for an abundance of shared family time. When the government instituted a shortened work week, my employer allowed us to take off time on Wednesdays, allowing employees with children to spend the time together.

centre de loisirs Chateau-Bonheur

Browsing the web, it would seem that most countries around the world follow similar holiday breaks, depending on religious or secular holidays observed locally.  In South Africa, for example, the school year is broken up into four terms, the first three each 11 weeks long, and the fourth 9 weeks long, with a three week summer break from June 27 to July 21st.  Many parents and teachers believe that long summer breaks are not beneficial to the learning process, and various school calendars have been proposed to break up the school year more equitably.  On the plus side, I feel longer breaks in fall or winter allow families to spend less on off-season vacations and are less of a burden in general on the family budget.  Various studies on the theme of work-life balance seem to agree that a concordance of adult work timetables and children’s school schedules would be beneficial for all, allowing for more quality family time.

Today, most children in the western hemisphere are not expected to work or to contribute to the family’s income.  In fact, from extreme abuse and neglect which was a common lot for nearly all children around the world for millennia, the more modern model of child rearing sets apart childhood as a time of privilege to be enjoyed, and for the first time in human history, at least in highly developed countries, fathers are encouraged to actively participate in their children’s upbringing.  I personally find it encouraging that childhood has evolved into a special, magical time, and that children have begun to be considered highly desired members of society.  I am hopeful that we are collectively working towards a more balanced and aware society, in which each individual, whether child or adult, is valued.  I am also hopeful that this model will be extended to other cultures and countries where poverty, war, and other ills cause children to be the first victims.


A few articles about the realities of childhood around the world today:




Some books about childhood in the DCPL collections:

Children at Play: An American History by Howard P. Chudacoff

Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History by Barbara A. Hanawalt

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Remarkable Children: Twenty Who Made History by Dennis Brindell Fradin

Ancient Greek Children by Richard Tames

American Children’s Literature and the Construction of Childhood by Gail Schmunk Murray

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls


Nov 25 2013

Time For Hand Turkeys!

by Joseph M

hand turkeyTurkeys have long been associated with Thanksgiving, and so it’s no surprise that one of the most popular Thanksgiving crafts for kids (and young-at-heart adults) is the hand turkey. To create a hand turkey, you start by placing a hand (palm down and fingers splayed) on a piece of paper. Next, you trace the outline of your hand, then embellish the outline so that it resembles a turkey, like this:

As you can see from my attempt on the right, you don’t need much in the way of artistic skill, just a vague idea of what a turkey looks like. There are many possible variations on this basic concept. This article showcases a myriad of impressive hand turkeys created in 2012.

It’s hard to say when the hand turkey first made its appearance, but this webpage offers an amusing fictional “history” of the hand turkey that you might enjoy perusing. Happy Thanksgiving!

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