I just love when a book I am sharing with my children lead us as a family to a journey of discovery. This week we’ve been exploring a childhood favorite of mine, The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. We read the book, drew pictures, listened to the audio, hunted for a boxcar in the woods (alas, no such luck), cooked recipes inspired by the story and watched the movie adaptation. It reminded me how much I love diving into the world of a really special book. And it inspired me to start a new blog series: Explore a Book. In each post, I’ll offer ten ways that your family can explore a wonderful children’s book together. I’ll try to mix it up and offer a variety of ideas (additional reading, videos, arts and crafts, food, games, etc) so you can pick what works for your family, your kids’ interests and your budget.
Our first book exploration is A Gift for Amma by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa. This story follows a young girl as she takes in the sights, sounds, smells and colors of an outdoor market in search of a special present for her mother. The art in this story is just gorgeous. And I am 100% a sucker for a good story that introduces my little ones to another culture. So when I saw A Gift for Amma was one of Barefoot Books’ 2020 releases, I knew I wanted to add it to our collection.
If this sounds like a story that your family will enjoy, grab a copy, read it together and they extend your enjoyment with some of these ideas:
2. The little girl in this story puts a lot of thought into what gift to give her amma. Make someone you love a very special gift that you think they will love.
3. One gift the little girl considers buying is marigold flowers to make into a garland. You can use tissue paper to make your own marigold garland.
4. The little girl plans to go back and get a yummy pink sweet treat for herself. Eat your favorite sweet treat. Or if you’d like to try Indian food, you could make Mango Lassi.
5. AGift for Amma is a celebration of colors. Many of the people in this story are wearing vibrantly colored clothes. Wear your most colorful clothes today. Does wearing brightly colored clothes make you feel different?
7. The game of Pachisi is an ancient one and is still enjoyed by children and adults in India and around the world. Learn to play Pachisi. If you don’t own Pachisi, this version is beautiful.
8. Another holiday the little girl in this story might celebrate is Rahksa Bandhan. This day celebrates the special relationship between siblings. Many children in India make their siblings special bracelets to show their love. If you have a sibling, make them a bracelet. If you don’t have a sibling, make a bracelet for a friend who you love like family. Thread of Love by Kabir Sehgal is a lovely picture book story of one family’s celebration of Rahksa Bandhan.
9. Children in India celebrate the winter holiday of Diwali, a festival of lights. You can make your own Diwali lantern. (note: you can use battery powered tea lights to avoid real flames). To learn more about Diwali, check-out Prince of Fire by Jatimer Verma, a re-telling of the original Indian epic.
10. If there is an outdoor market near you and the weather and public health conditions allow, visit. What do they sell there? For at home play, set-up your own pretend play global market. Put blankets on the floor to set up your shop. What will you sell? Food, clothes, jewelry, baskets, toys, flowers, crafts you’ve made? Create or use pretend money to buy and sell things at your market. Don’t forget to give your customers change!
One of my favorite things about A Gift for Amma is that it allows families to dive into the culture of India. For more activities that help your family explore the world from your own home, take a look at the Global Kids activity deck.
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It’s exciting when your kids reach the point where they can sit still and listen to longer tales. Adding chapter books to your read aloud repertoire is fun, but judging by the number of parents I see asking where to start with chapter books, it can also be intimidating. Frankly, not every book is a good first chapter book to read out loud. Through trial and error, we’ve found a lot that work for us and a few that don’t.
In general, my kiddos like stories that still have a lot of pictures in them (although a compelling enough story will carry the day even without pictures). If there is a book I think they will enjoy that doesn’t grab them when I am reading out loud, I might also try it as an audio book. For us, some books they like me to read and some they prefer on audio. It’s worth trying both. But if my kids don’t get into a chapter book, I just put it away to try again later. They are still very young. We have many years of reading together to enjoy the many wonderful stories out there. I say this also because if your kids don’t want to read chapter books yet, don’t stress! Enjoy all the picture books and be patient… they will get there.
I’ve written about many of these before, but I wanted to compile them all in one place. Since we are still in the preschool phase, I hope to keep adding to this as we discover more and more chapter books that transport and delight us.
The Missing Bookshop by Katie Clapham. When her beloved local bookstore closes unexpectedly, Milly is determined to discover what happened to the owner and to make sure the bookshop isn’t converted into something awful… like a bank!
Dara’s Clever Plan by Liz Flanagan. Princess Dara is no damsel in distress. She is famous throughout the kingdom of Cambodia for her wisdom, beauty and design and building skills. When she leaves home to find building material for a special project, three evil men plot to get rid of her husband so one of them can marry Dara and become rich. But Dara has a plan to set things right.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. If you accuse me of having children partially to have someone to read Beverly Cleary’s books to, I will not contradict you. Reading our first Cleary novel together just felt right. We started with Two Times the Fun, which is a very early chapter book and a great starting point for kids as young as 2 or 3. From there we moved on to Ramona the Pest, who was my favorite scrappy heroine as a kid, but it was when we hit the Mouse trilogy that my young audience became as hooked on this author as I am. Once your kids have fallen in love with this funny little rodent, you can move on to Ralph S. Mouse and Runaway Ralph. Don’t worry, I am saving plenty from this prolific author for the elementary school years.
Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pierce and Maggie Stiefvater. Young fantasy fans rejoice! Pip Bartlett is a chapter book with multi-age appeal. This is a great one to turn to if you want something with cross appeal to older siblings. Pip has trouble talking to adults, but can easily converse with magical creatures. It’s a handy skill to have when mysteries abound, like why creatures that constantly burst into flames have suddenly come to town. The sequels to this lighthearted tale, Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training and Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Sea Monsters follow Pip as she trains a nervous unicorn, solves the mystery of who is stealing unicorn tails and saves a vacation town from some seriously large and hungry sea monsters. Plenty to entertain readers up to age ten, with nothing scary or inappropriate for the much younger set. My little ones request this trilogy on audio all the time.
Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. A charming series of stories about Anna Hibiscus who lives in amazing Africa on a family compound with her parents, her twin brothers and many, many loving cousins, aunts and uncles. I just love Anna Hibiscus!
Freddie Ramos Takes Off and the Zappato Power series. When Freddie receives an anonymous gift in the form of cool new sneakers with super-speed capabilities, he must figure out how to be a hero an average everyday kid at the same time. Start with the first one and follow Freddie as he gains other super-powers in the sequels.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming. A classic for sure, my kids are delighted by the antics of this magical car that outwits bandits and saves the family of a mad-cap inventor.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Another classic tale, my kids love the antics of the irrepressible redhead with no adult supervision and super strength. When reading, I omit references to cannibals and I am skipping the problematic sequels and sticking with just the first one.
Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. This porcine wonder has my kids in stitches each time we read about the butter loving pig who is always stirring up a ruckus on Deckawoo Drive. Mercy is the main attraction but the supporting casting is equally entertaining. Another one that is requested often around here.
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon. If your kids like funny stories, this is a surefire hit. Dory is a highly imaginative six year old who drives her brother and sister so crazy that they make up a tale with an evil villain to scare her. But Dory isn’t easily scared, but if your kids are, wait a year or so on this one. The Dory books are absolutely hilarious and even with a young main character, they will entertain much older kids. I think this is currently my kiddos favorite book series.
Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters and Iggy Peck and the Mysterious Mansion by Andrea Beaty. I love the popular picture books that introduce the Questioneers: Rosie Revere, Iggy Peck, Ada Twist and Sophia Valdez. This kid quartet represent an engineer, architect, scientist and community organizer. And now they are back in chapter length books working together to put their wits and curiosity to good use. Clever, funny and inspiring for creative kids.
Mia Mayhem by Kara West. There is a new superhero in town and she causes chaos and mayhem wherever she goes. Mia is delighted when she discovers that she is the newest trainee at an after school academy for superheroes. But it turns out being a superhero isn’t as easy as she hoped! This was one of the books I discovered when I went looking for more early chapter books featuring BIPOC characters and it’s one of the kids’ favorites. Now, I need to get my hands on the sequels.
Max Loves Munecas by Zetta Elliot. This independently published book is hard to find (although as of today, it is available on Amazon) and it’s a shame because my kids were enraptured by this story and I am completely in love with it. Max desperately wants to learn to make dolls like the ones in the local shop, but he is afraid the kids will make fun of him. When he meets the shops owner, Pepe, Max gets more than he expected as Pepe shares his gripping life story with the aspiring doll maker. This story was much deeper than I expected and may be too serious for some kiddos in this age range, but if you can find it, grab it. It’s well worth it, even if you wait a bit to share it with your kids.
The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant. A cat, a dog and three young mice form an unusual family that live in a remote lighthouse. These gentle and enchanting stories have an old fashioned atmosphere to the sweet adventures. Get the whole series and prepare to be enraptured.
Thumbelina retold by Xanthe Gresham. The vibrant, gorgeous illustrations totally steal the show in this Barefoot Books version of the classic tale of a tiny girl who is carried away on unexpected adventures.
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Elmer Elevator wants to be a pilot when he grows up so he can fly. When a stray cat he befriends tells him that he can fly now if he goes to a remote island and saves a baby dragon, Elmer doesn’t hesitate. Like any good hero, he immediately sets off. Saving the baby dragon leads to more adventures in books two and three of this series.
Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi. Yasmin is a curious and creative second grader who can be a builder, an explorer, an artist or a fashionista if that is what the moment calls for. This is a quick read with colorful illustrations and a Palestinian- American main character that will have wide appeal.
Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin. Ling and Ting may look the same to outsiders, but the identical twins know that when they are making dumplings, getting haircuts and learning magic they are not just alike. These are early readers that would make solid first chapter book read alouds. Several sequels follow Ling and Ting through everyday, relatable, gently paced experiences.
One final word: as you dive in and enjoy chapter books with your kids, make sure you don’t abandon the picture books. There are so many treasures, new and old, in picture books. And the vocabulary in them is rich and beautiful. Make space in your reading journey for both!
Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Community Bookseller, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Bookshop.org supports independent bookshops.
Between the many, many packages of books that have arrived on our doorstep and our library starting curbside pick-up (Hallelujah!), June has been a great month for us in terms of having new stories to dig into. Here’s a few we’ve enjoyed. Stay tuned for more soon!
Have You Thanked an Inventor Today? by Patrice McLaurin and Whoosh: Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton. My kids love anything invention related. They like to create models of inventions out of Legos, they like to hot glue junk from our recycling bin together and call it inventions and they love stories about inventors. The… ummm… quirkier… the inventor the better. Between that and their love of humor, sometimes I think I have the next Fred and George Weasley on my hands. But I diagress… Anyhow, I knew that these two nonfiction picture books about Black inventors would be winners in our house. I was right. When I read them Have You Thanked an Inventor Today? they were delighted to discover they share a last name with the inventor of the lunch box (John Robinson). That is until, one of them declared he is changing his last name to Crum to honor George Crum, inventor of the potato chip. Meanwhile, they sympathized with Lonnie Johnson’s desire to have a workshop of his own to store his parts and junks for inventions. Plus, after learning about his struggles to find a toy company that wanted his iconic Super Soaker water gun, they were overflowing with ideas for toys they are going to invent.
The Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson. I love Angela Johnson’s writing. I did a book discussion group with a class around her book The First Part Last when I was a librarian and gosh, did that book resonate with the at-risk teens I was working with. None of them were teen fathers that I knew of, but Johnson just has a way of drawing a reader into her story. After reading The Sweet Smell of Roses with my kiddos I know she can do the same with a picture book. The Sweet Smell of Roses brings the reader along with two young girls who join Dr. Martin Luther King on one of his Civil Rights marches. I think Johnson’s use of repetition (“the sweet smell of roses”) throughout the story that I so enjoyed was lost on my tiny listeners, but they too were enthralled. They asked a lot of questions, which of course, is just what I want them to do when I read them this type of book. They wanted to know more about Dr. King and Eric Velazquez’s remarkable illustrations made them ask about the white people who were yelling at the marchers and the police officers at the protest. I am really glad we read this one together.
The other Angela Johnson book I bought recently is Joshua by the Sea. It’s a board book and the simple text is really too young for my kids now, but we live near the beach ourselves and have had many family excursions to explore the seashore just as Joshua does. We’ve read this one a couple of times and even if it only takes a few minutes, it’s a great, if too rare, story of a Black child enjoying nature.
Cooking with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass. I like to daydream about becoming one of those people that grows her own food, cooks homemade bread, and makes yogurt and berry jam in her kitchen. But it’s really never going to happen. You could say it’s laziness or you could say it’s because I’m an Enneagram 4. But whatever the reason, I simply do not really like to cook. It’s very unfashionable to admit it, but hey, I’m all about the truth. Still, my kids are obsessed with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass. And I am a fan of this lovable dragon who dares to be different too. So when we found out that Herb has his own kid’s cookbook, I was willing to purchase it. Sadly, it’s out of print, but Better World Books still has a few copies. In the back of my head, I figured there was a better than 50/50 chance that we would never make anything from it. But my kids are more motivated chefs than I am. After they made me sit down and read through the mini-storylets about Herb included before each recipe, they were eager to get out their mixing bowls. I dug around and discovered that I actually had the ingredients to make the Rosemary Pan Bread, even the yeast. I get really invested in my dreams of becoming a domestic goddess. So we whipped up a batch of bread and to my wife’s shock, it was good. Which is all by way of saying, this is a worthy cookbook. If it can teach me to make decent bread from scratch, it can teach your kids too. Next up, my kids tell me, are corn fritters. And in case you know me in real life and doubt the veracity of this story, here my friends, are photos to prove that yes, I baked and no, I didn’t burn the house down in the process.
Rain School by James Rumford. We have recently made the official decision to keep the kids at home for another year with me instead of starting them in preschool. So we’ll continue on our adventures of home learning. One of my learning priorities is to expose them to as much of the world as possible through books. In my humble opinion, seeing people of color from countries outside the United States is a part of raising anti-racist children. Plus, there are just so many great stories out there that are set in other countries. Rain School is one of them. The children in one village in Chad are ready for their first day of school. The youngest kids, new to school, are excited to get pencils and notebooks and learn to read like their older siblings. They arrive and are greeted by their teacher. There’s just one thing missing. A school. The children are told that their first lesson will be building their school. After constructing the building and making desks out of mud, the children dig in to book learning. By the end of the year, their heads are packed with knowledge, the rainy season starts and the story comes full circle. My boys and I both loved this book.
Your turn! Tell us in the comments what you’ve been reading lately.
Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Ambassador, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Bookshop.org supports independent bookshops.
Last week was my birthday and I think it was my most bookish celebration of all time. My parents got me a big bookshelf that will hold all my “grown-up” books. It is beautiful and so nice not to have piles of my books all over the floor of our bedroom. A dear friend gave me a gift certificate to our lovely local bookstore. They just started booking private appointments for people to browse for 45 minutes (with a mask on), which sounds like heaven. And my gift-giving superstar of a wife got me a fabulous purple hammock. I have dreams of lounging in it for hours reading books. That is, if I didn’t have kids…
Courtesy of Barefoot Books, Better World Books and Ashay by the Bay and the the United State Postal Service, I received another round of birthday treats too. The books I have been ordering recently started to arrive (an aside, reader, I need the library to re-open before I go broke). I was, as you would imagine, delighted to see all those new stories on my doorstep. The ones we have read so far are just wonderful. They are full of vibrant illustrations, beautiful storytelling and a cast of lovable multi-racial, global children.
We are enjoying them so much that I started to feel a bit guilty. There is an awful lot of pain, grief and sadness in the world right now. Should I really be spending time delighting in these beautiful books or should we only be reading serious stories of racism and white privilege? After all, my four year olds don’t know who Rosa Parks is. We have a lot of work to do.
And then I saw a tweet:
“I’m a parent, author and former college interviewer. Please hear me- in this time of “stress” people want to flood their kids with books about racism. Please provide 20 joyful books for every one book on racism. They also need to know POC kids are like every other kid.” – Christine Taylor Butler
This tweet made me take a deep breath. I do need to read more books to my kids that specifically explain racism. I have one on Rosa Parks coming in the mail. And we need to continue reading joyful books about People of Color. Stories in which Black children live their lives, spend time with their loving families, make friends and face all the challenges and pleasures of childhood. This is not separate from my efforts to raise anti-racist children because Black children matter, Black families matter, Black stories matter, Black lives matter.
One of my greatest teachers on issues of race and peacemaking is Osheta Moore. I wrote about her book here. One of her manifesto points for aspiring shalom seekers is that they “choose subversive joy.” This is the phrase that repeated in my mind when I read my new copy of The More We Get Together by Celeste Cortright. It’s Barefoot Book’s new Spring of 2020 sing-a-long. Naturally, the publishers, author and book team did not know all that would be happening in our world when this little book was launched into the world. But, readers, this is the right book for our times. The children and community members in this story are Black, Brown, Asian and white. Several characters have a disability. At least one woman wears a hijab. And do they ever get together and engage in practices of peace with joy!
Set to the familiar tune of “The More We Get Together,” these children make the air cleaner by riding their bicycles, helping their neighbors, eating and gardening together and even writing letters and speaking up to make their world a better place. Bettania Zacarias’s illustrations are so vibrant and joyful (I can’t stop using this word) that they make me smile every time I see them. Look:
The book comes with a CD that includes the song on audio and the animated video version. My kids love the animated video. The burst out dancing and twirling in the living room when we watched it the first time. I call that a win.
Tackling the insidious racism in our society and engaging in other social justice work is a marathon, not a sprint. If we want our children to engage in this work wholeheartedly, they must see the joy that is possible both in the work and in the peace and justice this work can bring. Obviously, this struggle cannot and will not always feel good. We white people need to be willing to feel uncomfortable and broken hearted as we confront our role in a racist society. But we should not forget the joy in the midst of all the pain.
A final note: On Saturday, we watched the Sesame Street/ CNN Town Hall on racism for families. It is so worth an hour of your time. Even if your kids only watch the first 5 minutes of Elmo talking to his dad like mine did, they will run off with a better understanding of racism and how we all need to work together to make the world more fair. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum recommended a brilliant resource: Social Justice Books. So many books lists and recommendations. Check it out!
Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Community Bookseller, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. Any earnings I receive from this post will be donated to the Children’s Defense Fund.
Obviously, my deeply nerdy passion for books played a huge role in my decision to become a librarian, but there was more to it than that. I considered for awhile working in publishing and that would have fit nicely with my book love (and also my author worship). There was a bit of serendipity involved in my ultimate career path. After my freshman year of college, I applied for internships with several publishing houses in Boston and one with my hometown library. I never heard from the publishers, but bless her heart, our library director hired me for the summer. That internship led to almost twenty years working at that same library. In the end, librarianship was a much better fit for me than publishing and the reason is a simple one: access.
It turns out that in addition to loving books more than is probably healthy, I passionately want to make books accessible to people, especially to children. There are many wonderful publishers, authors and non-profits (including Barefoot Books) who have started initiatives to get books into the hands of low-income families. They do important work and I love them for it. But, in my admittedly biased opinion, no other institution has more of a societal impact on book accessibility than public libraries. If you want to convince me otherwise, you can give it a go in the comments section, but I warn you, I am a tough sell.
This is not to say that libraries are perfect. Far from it. Like most American institutions, libraries have a shamefully racist legacy. Many public libraries adhered to segregationist policies in the first half of the 1900’s. And today, there is still work to do. Book collections are not diverse enough, behavioral and fine policies are often exclusionary and library staff does not reflect the racial diversity of their communities. In my experience, few libraries have the budget to properly train staff in any area, including anti-bias or anti-racist training. And as we grapple with the role that the police play in our society, libraries need to ask some hard questions about how to handle security in their buildings.
Still, in terms of providing access to anti-racist and diverse literature, libraries are a key player. With many (most?) libraries still physically closed due to the pandemic, book access is a real concern. I fully support purchasing books from independent bookshops, especially black-owned shops. And as blog readers know, I personally purchase lots of books from Better World Books to keep things affordable. But purchasing books is not a privilege everyone can enjoy. I am heartened when I see how many people are seeking out and sharing recommendations for anti-racist books and stories depicting Black and Brown characters. However, sharing diverse books with children should not be limited just to families who can afford to purchase books.
Hoopla is not a 100% solution to the problem of access. Not every library subscribes to Hoopla. For these readers, the library’s Overdrive collection will be a better source, but Overdrive collections vary too widely from library to library to create a useful list. Even if families do have access through their library card to Hoopla or finds a book on Overdrive, any downloadable ebook or audio book requires a device and the internet. We have a lot of work to do in terms of access too. Sigh.
Still since Hoopla is a solution for at least some families, I went through and curated a list of audio books that either featuring Black and Brown children or are written by a Black or Brown author. This list is not comprehensive, nor have I read all of them (if I haven’t read them, they are now on my Hoopla favorite list for future listening). Please be a aware that some of the books do not explicitly mention a character’s race, so it may be a bit ambiguous. But I have done my best to limit these books to ones that depict Black and Brown children.
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. This classic picture book about a young girl whose family is saving money to buy a comfortable chair for their apartment once won a Caldecott Honor. This is a favorite of mine for its racially diverse characters, it’s portrayal of a family headed by a single mom and a realistic, child friendly look at life in a working class, urban family. Highly recommend this book. You can buy it here.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty. I love Beaty’s Questioneers books. The first one was Rosie Revere, Engineer. Ada Twist, is a Black scientist who tests her family’s patience with her science experiments. But she persists and continues to ask and investigate all her “why” questions. This rhyming picture book is fun, funny and joyous. Perfect for all future scientists and curious kids. Buy the book here.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee. This award winning chapter book features 12 year old Shayla, who does her very best to avoid trouble of any kind. When her older sister becomes involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, Shayla takes part in a protest that makes her question her studious avoidance of all conflict. I am looking forward to listening to this one over the summer. Buy the book here.
Barack Obama by Nikki Grimes. Hoopla features plenty of books about Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for that matter, but I picked this one to feature because it is by the amazing Nikki Grimes. I love everything she writes. Her lyrical poetic style makes her such a treat to read. And she even narrates this story on audio. If you want it in physical form, buy it here.
Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs. The little boy featured in this wonderful book for the youngest read aloud audience is teased for having dark skin and curly hair. His mother helps him see how beautiful he is. Buy it here.
New Kid by Jerry Craft. This book is the winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Award, which is “given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” Appealing tweens and teens, the protagonist in this comic book starts school in a racially homogenous community and struggles to fit in. It is also available as a Hoppla ebook. Or you can buy it.
Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse. Tess is tired of the boiling hot summer weather and the dry cracked earth. She tries to coax the rain into giving them some relief. When she succeeds there is a joyful dancing celebration. Buy it here.
Elizabeti’s Doll by Stephanie Stuve. When Elizabeti’s mama has a new baby to care for, this nurturing little girl starts lavishing the same care on her doll. A sweet story that earned Stuve an Ezra Jack Keats Award. Buy it here.
I am Enough and I Believe I Can by Grace Byers. These two releases by Byers feature gorgeous illustrations of Black and Brown children and universal messages of self-acceptance and self-confidence. These titles are getting a good amount of well-deserved attention. Buy Enoughhere and Believehere.
I Love You More Than… by Taye Diggs. Our family has a tradition, started by my mother, of trying to one up each other by coming up with the most extravagant declaration. “I love you more than books,” “I love you more than pizza,” “I love you more than toys” and so forth. This book reminds me strongly of the way we seek to let our children know that they are unconditionally and grandly. This is a message for children of all races. Buy it.
Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo. This book takes place in South Afica during apartheid. I tried to mostly stick with books set in the U.S. for this list, but the message that grotesque racism has been grappled with other places can be valuable for middle grade readers. The children in this story must venture into the city to find their mother at work when their baby sibling is seriously ill. On their journey, they are confronted with the reality of racism in their land. Buy it.
Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes. Here’s another pick by the wonderful Nikki Grimes. Dyamonde Daniel is a third grader with a big personality. In this series debut, Dyamonde is determined to discover why the new kid in her class, Free, is so unfriendly. Buy it.
My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King by Martin Luther King III. Biographies, picture books and otherwise, of MLK are not rare but this one is set apart from the rest because it was written by Dr. King’s son. A great introduction to this Civil Rights icon for younger children. Buy it.
My Name is Tani… And I Believe in Miracles by Tani Adewumi. Tani was 8 year old Nigerian refugee when he learned to play chess. Thanks to a very special teacher, he manages to not only adjust to his new school, but become a state chess champion. Buy it.
Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano. This book, which centers on the aftermath of a police shooting has been on a lot of anti-racist lists recently. It can be hard to find for purchase, however, so I am pleased that Hoopla offers it.
A note: in my last post, I did not include affiliate links because it did not feel right to potentially earn income from the reality of racial discrimination in the United States. The main links on this list go to the Hoopla listings. I am, however, including Bookshop.org links for anyone who wants to purchase these books. Any commission I earn from this list will be donated to The Children’s Defense Fund. This decision was inspired by one of my best teachers, Sarah Bessey, who did something similar in her soul inspiring newsletter.
This is not a book review; this is a book recommendation. A review, by definition, provides a critical analysis of a book’s style, content and merit. But this blog is not Kirkus Reviews and I am not in a position to judge how Black authors present their lives’ stories to the world. Instead, I am simply highly recommending that you read Osheta Moore’s book on “living wholeheartedly in a brokenhearted world.” You may remember that my recipe for a good spiritual memoir requires honesty, good theology, a healthy amount of humor and the ability to glean spiritual insight from the everyday moments. I first read Shalom Sistas about six months ago and it sure ticked all the boxes. I knew immediately that I wanted Osheta Moore to be one of my teachers. I am grateful I have her book to return to in these days when the brokenness of the world is on full, heart wrenching display. Honestly, you should see how many sections of her book I have underlined and starred. I had to stop myself from quoting her whole book right here in this blog post.
I just called this book a spiritual memoir and the publisher classifies it as “Christian Life.” But it really goes beyond either label. In many ways, if I had to categorize this book (here comes the librarian in me), I think I would call it “Community Building.” Moore’s blog, Shalom in the City, that precededher book, the book itself and her podcast, Shalom Ya’ll, are ways in which this peacemaker is gathering people together to do the work of what Martin Luther King Jr. called the “Beloved Community”. She likes the imagery of the city of God, but whether you call it that, the Beloved Community, or the Biblical “Kingdom of God,” Osheta Moore is giving us the tools we need to find peace for ourselves and then bring that peace out into our world.
In her adult life, Moore has lived in New Orleans, Boston, Los Angeles and Saint Paul Minnesota. Before Hurricane Katrina, her job involved doing specific peacemaking work in New Orleans. After being displaced by the storm when she was eight months pregnant, she and her family found refuge in Boston. A mother of three young children, separated from the city she loved and no longer doing professional peace work, Moore found herself feeling adrift. Like so many of us, she had fallen prey to the lie that our accomplishments give us our worth. Happily for all of us, she was brave enough to reject this fallacy and do the work to find a “third way of peacemaking that doesn’t require us to be peaceful by disposition or by occupation.” This books shares her path so we too can follow it.
The spreading of shalom (which she defines as God’s dream for the world) that Osheta Moore feels called to is, in fact, what all followers of Jesus are called to. Moore describes it this way: “That ache you feel, the sense that the world is not right? That’s the shalom in the city of God calling us back home.” To help her fellow shalom seekers, she has crafted a manifesto that focuses on finding shalom in our relationships with God, ourselves, each other and the world.
Each of her manifesto points is fleshed out into a chapter of her book. The first time I read this book, I had recently left a full time job that formed a huge part of my identity. In many ways, my performance in that job determined my own sense of worth. Rather suddenly, I found myself working part-time from home while caring for my children. It was a change I wanted with all my heart, but I found myself struggling with how I could make still make a difference in the larger world when my days were filled with Legos, playgrounds, read alouds and snacks. So. many. snacks. From this vantage point, Shalom Sistas had many lessons to teach me. Moore’s personal story, her focus on everyday acts of peacemaking and the concrete Shalom Steps at the end of the book were just what I needed.
As I reread the book now, it is point number 8 that stands out to me. I will serve before I speak. From where I stand as a White woman, this is a message I think I need to remember. Yes, sometimes I need to speak up for justice, but the world needs to hear from Black people about their experiences with race America. I need to listen and discover how I can best serve in this area. Moore’s podcast is about to launch a series called Dear White Peacemakers. And I will be listening to each episode closely. Episode number six in the series is going to address racism and parenting. I am particularly eager to learn in this area because as the mother of two white children, I think this is where I can have the most impact at this moment in my life.
Early on in Shalom Sistas Moore says, “The world needs more imaginative theologians who can connect us to the heart of God in brave, new ways.” She is the theologian she is wishing for and gosh, does our world need her!
I have always tried to purchase and borrow board and picture books for my kids that depict children and families from a variety of racial backgrounds. As I’ve mentioned before, we live in a very racially homogeneous area so as a White mother of White children, I have a responsibility to ensure that our children see Black, Indigenous and People of Color in our reading material. Recent events have made me even more determined to help my children understand and confront racism and their own privilege.
As a trained librarian, I may be an expert on finding information sources, but I am not an expert on race. I am grateful that there are people who share their expertise on child rearing and racism. There really are so many good ways out there to find diverse books for kids. EmbraceRace and the Children’s Defense Fund: Freedom School Reading List are two places where I started my search this weekend. I also discovered and am loving the OurStory app created by We Need Diverse Books.
Here is what I’ve ordered for our house so far. I will share reviews as we read them.
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
Have You Thanked an Inventor Today? by Patrice McLaurin.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni.
I Can Make a Difference: a Treasury to Inspire Our Children by Marian Wright Edelman.
Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee.
A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson
Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders
Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton
For me, I’ve ordered I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. My two closest friends and I decided to read this and then discuss it virtually. I am grateful that we are creating a space to have these discussions where I can be honest and vulnerable. These women will support, challenge and help me grow in my understanding.
As hard as it is for me to admit that reading won’t solve all the world’s problems, I know that owning and reading diverse books is not enough. So I’m doing research on other steps I should be taking. If you live in a Racially Homogeneous Community like I do, EmbraceRace has a helpful tip sheet. It is also available in Spanish. I am also making my way through their other Action Guides. The Center for Racial Justice in Education also has a great list of resources to check out. Once I started looking, I discovered plenty of material. I have so much to learn!
Raising anti-racist kids and becoming anti-racist myself feels hard and overwhelming sometimes. But I know it’s nothing compared to what parents and kids who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color have to contend with on a daily basis. This is literally the least I can do.
What books do you use to start conversations about race with your kids? What other sources have you found helpful when it comes to parenting and race? Please share with us in the comments.
Note:I have chosen not to include affiliate links on any of thesetitles. Please consider purchasing them from Black owned bookshopsor making your purchases support anti-racist organizations.
Dear readers, do you ever just feel worn out after a long week? That was a rhetorical question. Of course you do. Naturally, when I am feeling physically or emotionally or spiritually, I often turn to books. But not just any books. I need books that give my soul rest. So on Fridays, I shall try to share five books that simply bring me delight. And I hope you may find some comfort and rest in these books or other books today and everyday.
Ish by Peter Reynolds. Voltaire is credited with saying “The best is the enemy of the good.” Reynolds turns this sentiment into a storybook with his signature whimsical artwork. Drawing always made Ramon happy until a thoughtless remark from his brother sends him down the slippery slope of perfectionism. With help from his little sister, Ramon discovers joy in imperfect art. I love Peter Reynolds work. Pretty much all of it. And Ish is one of my favorites. Perfect for a day when you need reminding that art (and life) need not be flawless to be blissful.
The Missing Bookshop by Kristy Clapham. I bought this book when a friend was having an Usbourne books party and I am so glad I did. It’s the tale of Milly’s love for her neighborhood bookshop and its iconic bookseller, Mrs. Minty. When unforeseen circumstances threaten the bookshop, Milly knows she has to do something to save the place that has meant so much to her and discover what has happened to her beloved Mrs. Minty. This ode to bookshops and the people who shape our lives through their book suggestions is just lovely. Aimed at the early reader crowd, the illustrations are vibrant and bring the story to life. The place of honor that Matilda by Roald Dahl occupies in the story is the icing on my reading cake.
Corduroy by Don Freeman. This was our breakfast read today and there is nothing like a small bear in green overalls to help you feel good about your day. When I worked at the library, my love for Corduroy was quite legendary and I think I have successfully transmitted my affection to my kiddos. I will never get tired of reading about the bear who just wants to find his button, sleep in a bed, have a home and find a friend. May all of us be so easy to satisfy.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. Middle grade novels haven’t made much of an appearance on this blog yet, which is a bit surprising since this book category may very well be my favorite. There is just something special about books written for the eight to twelve year old crowd in my eyes. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about it at a later time, but The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a fine first foray into recommendations of this type. Calpurnia is eleven years old at the turn of the century. Her mother wants to see her turn into a well behaved lady, but Calpurnia (don’t you just love that name?) is far more interested in nature, animals and science. I adore books with an old-fashioned feel to them and this one certainly gets the tone right. Calpurnia is spunky and relatable and all together delightful. This strikes me as a modern classic.
Stella’s Starliner by Rosemary Wells. Stella has everything she needs in her small camper home. She shares her home with her mother and her father, who comes home from work on the weekends.. Stella’s life is full. She helps make cobbler, go to the market in a wagon, fishes with her father and memorizes books borrowed from the bookmobile. All manner of things are well until a band of weasels hurt Stella’s heart by making fun of her beloved home. When this family of foxes relocates their camper, Stella is worried her potential new friends won’t appreciate her home either. Simply delightful and worth reading many, many times.
Congratulations on making it through another week, my friends and may your weekend be filled with love, connection and stories! Let me know what you’re reading in the comments.
I love biographies and memoirs. I am especially drawn to those about women who live interesting lives and seek to make some sort of difference in the world. The books below cover the lives and memories of a country music singer, several senior citizen activists, a former First Lady, a couple of authors, a bunch of nuns and a woman who sold most of her possessions to move into a 200 square foot house on wheels. A quirky crowd to be sure, but I sure do love reading (and in some cases re-reading) about these inspiring and eccentric women.
Like Me by Chely Wright. Sometimes a book comes to you at exactly the right time. I have had many books like that in my life and Like Me by was one of them. Chely Wright was a top country music star who lived a closeted existence until she hit rock bottom and decided she had to live her life true to herself. She came out with a bang by being interviewed on national television and releasing this book. When I was first coming out as a lesbian, I didn’t know a lot of gay people and there weren’t many celebrities who were publicly out and sharing their stories. It gave me great solace to hear the life story of a person who was… well… like me. At least in one way; I can’t sing to save my life.
Granny D: You’re Never too Old to Raise a Little Hell by Doris Haddock. I met some amazing people when I worked at a public library, but Doris “Granny D” Haddock was hands down my favorite. When we contacted her to see if she would appear, we thought it was a long shot. But she agreed. This was after she had captured national attention for walking across the country at age 90 to rally support for campaign finance reform, after she ran for the Senate in her home state of New Hampshire at 94 and after she had written this wonderful book. I loved her stories of traveling across the country and staying in the homes of her fellow Americans. Granny D was a marvelous speaker, an opinionated and seasoned activist and a staunch believer in the potential of a well-functioning democracy. Once you’re done with this memoir, I’d suggest you try Granny D’s American Century, which contains more memories of her early years. And if you, like me, can’t get enough of this remarkable woman, check-out the documentary about her Senate race, Run, Granny, Run. Politically, things have changed enormously since the early 2000’s when she was most in the national spotlight, but Granny D still has much to teach us. As a country, we desperately need her wisdom and her belief in the goodness of her fellow citizens at this moment in our national story.
Becoming by Michelle Obama. As an undergraduate political science major, I did an independent study on first ladies in American politics. I got to spend a whole semester reading and researching the lives and legacies of Abigail Adams, Rosalynn Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt and Laura Bush. Considering that I graduated close to twenty years ago, a lot more first lady history has been written since my study. A former first lady came remarkably close to becoming President for one thing. And the country saw it’s first African-American first lady. Michelle Obama remains a popular and admired woman in American life and her memoir has received much buzz. There is even a documentary about her book tour, which I have in my Netflix queue. I listened to the audio book version of Becoming, which Ms. Obama narrates herself. I find something really special about audio memoirs that are narrated by the authors; I like hearing people’s stories in their own voices. And Becoming is a remarkably honest and open look at Michelle Obama’s childhood, career, marriage, motherhood and time as First Lady. Perhaps because of the phase of life I find myself in, I was particularly moved by her honesty regarding their infertility and the challenges of balancing a career and being a mother.
House of Dreams by Liz Rosenberg. I have been reading biographies of L.M. Montgomery since I was a kid. I remember reading one called Maud so many times as a young teenager that the paperback fell apart and I taped the spine back together. When I love an author’s work as much as I love hers, I want to know all about their life. It’s my nerdy version of celebrity worship, I suppose. If I ran into a Hollywood star on the street, there is a 98% chance that I wouldn’t recognize them, but an author is a different story. So naturally, when I read that there was a new Montgomery bio out, I couldn’t wait to get my author-worshipping hands on it. Happily, it was shelved in the Children’s section of the library where I worked. So I brought it home and devoured it. In addition to my much-loved paperback, I have read many of Maud’s journals, so I wasn’t expecting to learn much new. But I did. Liz Rosenberg takes an unflinching look at the author’s life and doesn’t sugar coat the tough stuff. I knew that the creator of the perennially optimistic Anne went through some tough times in her life, but Rosenberg sheds new light on Maud’s mental health struggles. I am still shaken by her theory of Maud’s death. While I have to admit I have a soft spot for whitewashed, cheerful biographies of my favorite people’s lives, these 100% real people deserve to be known in all their human complexity. And in many ways, Maud’s prolific work becomes even more admirable when you fully comprehend all that she faced while spinning her beautiful stories.
If Nuns Ruled the World by Jo Piazza. While I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools at various times, by the time I was there parochial schools were no longer filled with the strict, ruler wielding nuns of legend. The sisters I knew were a guitar playing CCD administrator and the retired sisters living in the convent attached to my high school who burned their toast so badly on the morning I was taking my SATs that we had to evacuate the building. These benign, kindly figures may be why I fascinated instead of bitter about religious sisters. And I am fascinated by the them. I read everything I can get my hands on about nuns and sisters. Most of it is a bit, shall we say, obscure and academic but If Nuns Ruled the World clearly aims at the general reader. Piazza is a veteran reporter and she profiles ten remarkable American nuns. There is the “Nun on the Bus” who lobbies for government policies that benefit the poor, the sister who is willing to go to jail for the rest of her life in order to protest nuclear weapons and the 83 year old nun who is an Ironman champion. These nuns are not the ones of Catholic school children’s memories of the 1950’s, nor the ones from my childhood. They are tough, determined and often social justice warriors. I wouldn’t mind living in a world that these women run!
You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) by Tammy Strobel. Tiny houses are trendy now; they have their own reality TV shows on HGTV. When I first discovered tiny houses, no one had ever heard of them. Tumbleweed Houses was one of the only companies out there with plans for tiny houses. But they were just offbeat enough to appeal to me. It’s been fun to watch the plethora of books, blogs, websites and builders galore spring up to to help those with miniature aspirations craft a pint-sized dream home. What I like best about Tammy Strobel’s memoir is that it focuses on living in a tiny house, not building one. She gets specific about what motivated her to radically downsize and how she and her spouse find contentment in such a tiny space. I’ve read a lot about tiny houses, but this is probably my top book length selection in that area.
My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary. How could I craft a list of memoirs without mentioning one of Cleary’s memoirs? She has two. The first, A Girl from Yamhill, covers her earliest years living on a farm. This second volume follows the future author to college, grad school, early marriage and several jobs as a librarian. Entering college during the Great Depression and working on an army base during World War II provides Clearly with plenty of historical context for her personal stories. Her signature ability to make the day to day realities of life entertaining and readable is on full display in this volume. She is probably the only writer ever who could turn library school into a page turner. Although this book is typically listed as a children’s biography because its subject a popular author for youth, I think adults are most likely to find her stories of interest. I highly recommend this to any grown-up Ramona, Henry, or Ralph fans.
The Peabody Sisters by Megan Marshall. I was first introduced to the remarkable lives of these three Massachusetts sisters when I was a teenager through Louise Hall Tharp’s book The Peabody Sisters of Salem. Her book has since been criticized for the liberties she took with their story and how she romanticized the Peabody women. These critiques may be warranted, but her very readable account of the lives of Elizabeth, Mary and Sophia Peabody has given me a lifelong interest in these fascinating women. The Peabody sisters were intimately involved in the Transcendentalist movement that swept New England before the Civil War. They were friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May and Bronson Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The eldest sister, Elizabeth Peabody was an earlier support of Hawthorne’s writing and Sophia, who was a talented artist in her own right, eventually married the author of The Scarlet Letter. Elizabeth was also key in the creation of the first kindergartens in the United States. Mary Peabody married Horace Mann, who was a well known educational reformer. This thick volume covers the intriguing lives of three women who were at the very heart of the most influential intellectual, social, and religious movements of their day. A fascinating look at this period in history through the lens of talented, but overlooked, women.
I am always on the look out for memoirs and biographies of wonderful women to read. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comment section!
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Bookshop.org supports independent bookshops.
Other than hugging my own mother, what I have missed most over the last two months is our library visits. Our town library is about two miles from our house. For a town of 10,000, we have a great library. Even when I worked full time at a different library, I still loved going to my town’s library. If any of you are librarians, you will know there is a world of difference between being in a library as an employee and getting to use a library as a patron. And I had the best of both worlds. I had access to the large library network where I worked, plus the carefully curated shelves of the library down the street. It didn’t take me long to realize that if I was looking for an older classic, it would be easiest to request it through interlibrary loan at work, but if I wanted a truck book, any truck book, our town library would have it on shelf. With unlimited books at my disposal, I felt rich. I was rich.
I can say without hesitation that not having access to a physical library has absolutely impoverished my life in many ways. Gone is the luxury of wandering the shelves, discovering new treasures, searching for volumes on my list, all while my children play happily at the train or Duplo table, do a craft or work on a puzzle. I miss creating a stack of books on a table to check-out, while conceding to the boys’ requests for DVDs of their favorite shows.
Have you seen the video going around Facebook of a woman singing along to “I Will Always Love You” to a closed T.J. Maxx store? Bless her. She can have the purses and clothes and shoes all to herself when it re-opens because I will be at the library. That video makes me want to perform a similar exhibition outside the library. Only my song would be “I Can’t Live if Living is Without You.”
Still, I completely aware that I am in the most privileged of all positions. We have a healthy home library with shelves full of our favorite books. We have devices to access thousands of electronic books and audio books through libraries. We have a delightful local bookstore that is offering curbside pick-up. We have Better World Books. And we have the financial resources to buy the books we (ok, I) simply don’t have the patience to wait for when the library re-opens. So, readers don’t feel bad for us. There are others who need our concern. When I think of the families home without these resources at their disposal, I could sit down and cry. Which is why I love that Better World Books donates a book for every book you purchase. And I love that Barefoot Books is donating a book with every order to Raising a Reader.
There’s a rumor on the street (fine, it was posted on the library’s Facebook) that the library will be starting curbside pick-up some time in the near future. I am already working on a list of books to request; it’s important to be prepared. In the meantime, we got an exciting delivery by mail: my latest order from Better World Books. They sell primarily used books. Their books are cheap (I usually pay under $4 for each kids’ book) and they support libraries and literacy projects. They even have a carbon offset option at checkout so you don’t need to feel bad having books shipped from all over the country. I love supporting independent bookshops and I do when I can. But when I want a second hand treasure, I can order guilt-free from BWB.
Here’s what we’re currently enjoying from them:
Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman. Jessica loves all things glittery and sparkly. It turns out that her younger brother Casey does too. Jessica is unhappy when Casey starts to want to wear twirly skirts, glittery nail polish and sparkly bracelets too, but their parents and Abuelita let Casey dress how Casey wants. In the end, Jessica has a change of heart when other kids try to convince Casey that “boys can’t dress like that.” She stands up for Casey and the siblings learn to enjoy their shared love of all things that glitter. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about reading the kids stories where people blatantly express gender stereotypes and non-conforming kids get pushback (or worse) for not toeing the line. I have hesitated to even put the idea that there is such a thing as boys clothes or girls clothes into their heads. But at four, they are starting to witness and understand that some people have opinions on clothes and appearance so I figured the time had come to gently start the conversation. This was a good place to start, since the adults in Casey’s life affirm Casey’s choices, Jessica stands up for Casey when it counts most and the story ends happily with a celebration of all Sparkle Kids. The kiddos really enjoyed this book and were properly annoyed that people would suggest that boys can’t love glittery clothes and accessories too. There is a need for books like this and I knew I could trust Leslea Newman to handle the topic well. At the same time, I hope more books will come out that show Sparkle Boys just living their lives without anyone feeling the need to comment on it.
Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell. I am a sucker for cut paper collage illustrations and Falwell does a splendid job with the vibrant pictures in this counting book that features an African-American family shopping for and preparing a feast to share with loved ones. I ordered this one because we are working on number recognition right now. Counting books are a dime a dozen, but the illustrations and celebration of family makes this one stand out from the crowded field. I’m glad this one will be a permanent part of our home library.
Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney. Helping children abstractly understand the geographic concepts of towns, states, countries, continents, etc. can be tough. This book uses a simple concept to clarify children’s position in the world. By starting with a child in a bedroom, the book expands to the house, street, town, state, country and so forth. Very useful.
How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman. What do you do if you want to make an apple pie but the market is closed? Obviously, you set off on a trip around the world to get the ingredients from their sources. This highly entertaining book is both a rollicking trip around the world and a peak at where our food originates. Don’t be surprised if your kids, like mine, want to try their hand at making apple pie after you finish reading. I sure hope the market near you is open!
In Aunt Lucy’s Kitchen by Cynthia Rylant. I am a huge Cynthia Rylant fan. I will surely need to devote an entire post to her Lighthouse Family series. And really, you could have a whole blog about this prolific author’s contributions to children’s literature. She has written wonderful picture books, easy readers that are actually enjoyable to read and lovely chapter books. Whatever the format, her tales are sweetly old-fashioned. We are only half way through this short chapter book, which is the first in The Cobble Street Cousins series. The three cousins, Rosie, Lily and Tess are staying with their Aunt Lucy while their parents are traveling and their idea to start a cookie business helps them meet some wonderful neighbors. We’re about half way through and so far it’s as charming as expected.
Have you gotten any new books lately? Which ones are you and your kids loving? Share with us in the comments!
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Bookshop.org supports independent bookshops.