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There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all - Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

>> 29 November 2007

Or - how to write a children's book...

Our son is starting to get into books :-)

He is 18 months old and yesterday he sat next to me on the couch actually listening to the entire story of the little mole who doesn't want to go to bed.

The reason might be that little mole has a teddy or blancky that looks just like our son's Rufus (a little lion with blue and white striped pants) and that I have adapted the storytelling accordingly.

This triggered of course an extensive research on the internet for more books of that sort: books with a little story that tell a little lesson, with nice pictures that babies his age can relate to. He is not done yet with the books that have just pictures (he loves his big truck book - although I find it too American looking - and books with Nijntje), but he seems to start the phase where he wants to be read to.

I have often thought about writing and drawing children's books. The big question is of course: where do I start? I have lots of stories, there are lots of sites with good advice. The problem seems to be my overcrowded mind :-)

So I want to throw two questions at you:

  1. If you bought just ONE book for your child (age group 1,5 to 3) which one would it be?
  2. If you could decide on the content/story of the book yourself, what would it be about, what would it look like, what would it definitely NOT have?

Oh and any other tips in that direction are of course welcome.

Many thanks.


The book thief by Markus Zusak

>> 28 November 2007

I have just finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

I stumbled upon a review at Books4breakfast and luckily the local bookshop had it. I finished it within a few days and would like to give it a great thumbs up.

The narrator is Death himsel telling the story of a young German girl, Liesel, growing up in a small town near Munich during WW II. But don't let that throw you off. At times, the narrator even becomes a likeable character.

Liesel cannot read but steals her first book when her little brother dies on the road to her new foster family. Together with her accordion-playing foster father she slowly learns to read and her interest in books, and stealing them, grows. When the family hides a Jewish man, son of the one who saved her foster father's life, Liesel builds a heart-warming relationship with him and becomes his eyes to the outside world he no longer sees from the basement.

Words are of utmost importance during the entire book. Hitler fights and controls with words. Liesel learns words everyday. Words have different meanings on different days or to different people. The author is able to mix the words into a story that will keep you clinging to the book. His descriptions and metaphores catapult you right into the setting and you are there, stealing apples and books with Liesel, you are wasting away in the basement with the Jew, you are accompanying death while he is collecting dead souls, you are part of Himmelstrasse during the read and all characters become very much alive and real.
And they remain with you after you have closed the book.

Although the book is categorized as 'Young adults' it spans its wings much wider. I recommend it.


One of the greatest disservices you can do a man is to lend him money that he can't pay back - Jesse Holman Jones

>> 26 November 2007

Well, here's an occasion, where someone you lend money to CAN pay you back.

Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on Kiva.org (this is the Kiva blog), you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back.

The founders were recently featured on the Oprah show, NBC's Today Show and in Bill Clinton's book Giving. Apparently the effect of this promotion was so overwhelming that all open loans were covered within a few days. So they really don't need me to make them known...
But then again, when I first heard about this idea I thought it just wonderful. It is in line with Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank he created who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Microcredits are such a simple idea that I wonder why it took so long to grow.

I find stories about people helping people with small means and efforts much more inspiring than say the big Unicefs or the likes. Don't get me wrong, they need to exist too and Kiva too will probably grow to become a major help organisation one day. With the difference that here people are connected with people, get feedback on the help they provided and that just makes it all much more real. It's like really being there with the needy person and handing him the money and advice.

That is why, whenever I donate money, I tend to favour causes that are small, local, where I know someone or where I know where the money is going to.


You must stick to your conviction, but be ready to abandon your assumptions - Denis Waitley

>> 14 November 2007

I have abandoned a few assumptions this week. I assumed I could be pregnant (i.e. deal with all the hormones and prepare for this new life coming), take care of our 17 months old boy, my other half and study for a degree at the same time.

I had to admit I was wrong. The strain of having to juggle so many things at the same time when all I wanted to do was take care of myself, read, buy baby clothes, hug my boy and man, was making me iffy and moody. I became angry at myself and the world. I started to doubt myself and my choices. I started to become seriously stressed and letting it out on the ones around me. And all these emotions were not good for the baby either.

Why could I not handle this?

I started analysing the situation. The reason why I chose these classes was so that I could obtain this degree. A degree which would not have advanced me in my current job. It would only allow me to possibly follow some other courses in order to possibly make a career change into education. And education was something I had picked out as being an ideal field to work in when you have to raise two children.

I realised that I would have to catch up on 3 years of education to get this degree - which would probably have taken me more than 3 years in distance learning. After that, it was not sure whether I could actually get into the career path I'd chosen.

What was I to do? Give up?

At first I felt like a failure. I was raised to finish and succeed in everything I started. But this was not doing me or my family any good. After a lengthly and tearful discussion with my other half, I came to see that I had to set my priorities. I had to abandon my assumptions. My other half made it clear to me that that is not the same as giving up your conviction.

I am still confident that I will find the best possible working solution in order to raise my kids the way I intend to. It might just not be a career in education and I might not have the same free time as my children. But there are other solutions and I will strive to find the suitable ones to my situation in due time.
I let go.
It felt like such a relief. I felt light again, undone of a burden. I felt happy again. I was thrilled at the prospect of going shopping for ideas to make the perfect baby card. The thought of being able to lie on the couch and just read for a few hours made me joyful.
Carol Shields was taking the words out of my mouth when she wrote:

Go for long walks,
indulge in hot baths,
question your assumptions,
be kind to yourself,
live for the moment,
loosen up,
curse the world,
count your blessings,
just let go,
just be.


Desiderata - Max Ehrmann

>> 9 November 2007

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed on and digested - Francis Bacon

Some years ago I read 'A year by the sea' by Joan Anderson.

The book really inspired me and some lessons learned are:

  • Silence can be a good friend.
  • Believing in yourself isn't everything, but you can't begin to live unless you do.
  • Joy comes from the capacity to appreciate all things elemental.
  • Be at home in your body.
  • The four necessary steps to finding yourself are the four R's: Retreat, Repair, Regenerate and Renew.
  • Put your relationship with yourself first.

I always find it interesting to read about what I call 'Wonderful Women'. If you go to My Library you will find lots more of the same kind.

If you have any books in the same spirit that you'd recommend, I'd be glad to hear about them.


Why do we have a preference in what we want to learn?

>> 7 November 2007

We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself - Lloyd Alexander

Today I am wondering why it is that we have a preference in what we like to learn and thus most of the time find easy to learn.

Why do I find reading about and learning the English language or geography easier than say mathematics (the current three subjects I am more or less struggling with at the moment)?

I'm sure a scientist will find a very scientific answer to that. But since I don't have a preference for math, I don't particularly like sciences in general either and so his opinion does not interest me :-)

I am convinced that one can learn or learn to do just about anything. I am convinced that I can learn math (yes I can!), even understand it and be able to explain it to someone. However, I will not have acquired this knowledge with pleasure and ease. And I firmly believe that pleasure and ease play a big role in how well we learn and are thus able to keep that knowledge alive.

The cornerstone of education is guiding children in the right direction to learn certain things but above all teach them to enjoy learning them.

When I went to school (we're talking primary and secondary) learning was not presented as fun. It was something you had to do - like a chore. No wonder most kids found school to be a drag. I quite enjoyed the fact that I was learning something. I was quite proud to have acquired a new knowledge and would let everyone around me know it too :-)

I realise however that most of the everyday things I learned, I learned without realising I was learning them: my mother tongue and local language, how to walk, use scissors, cut my bread, play with others, stand up for myself, buy ice cream, plant a tree, name all the animals, swim etc. And those are the things that stick.

I do agree that we have to learn certain general things in order to function in this world (math and accounting do help when you have to do your yearly tax declaration - although I guess you could pay someone to do that and be done with it too...) and have a basis to survive (get a job, cook a meal) and 'make it'.

One might even discover something new to like. I went to a drawing class once with my other half. Because he likes drawing and I wanted to be with him. The teacher taught us how to draw with the right side of the brain. And guess what? I liked it. I always thought I couldn't draw and in one short lesson I was proven wrong because someone used a different method to teach which clicked with me. It was like someone was telling me 'you can do it, you have talent, you are creative, pursue'.

The same happened with singing. I joined the local church choir like every girl in primary school. It was led by the same teacher who already wasn't good at instilling the pleasure side of learning in class. For him, every young girl was a soprano. Hence the immediate conclusion that I couldn' sing because as soon as the songs went above a certain note my voice just went mute :-) I am a definite alto I found out much later when I learned that my voice is an instrument I just needed to learn how to play.

So I am all for trying new things from time to time. And I have found gratitude in finishing a math exercise because I finally 'got it'. But pleasure and fun are not the same. Why do I continue? I am looking at the goal that's at the end of it. I know that this is just the road that I need to travel and get behind me in order to reach that goal that will (hopefully) give me that satisfaction and fun that I am looking for. I hope not to get discouraged and stranded on the way. I try to focus on the road as well and see the beauty of it (there are sometimes flowers growing on the side of each road) instead of just looking ahead at tomorrow and maybe missing something that have been fun after all.


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