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Children's Book Reviews

Book reviews by elementary school teachers Kate Glinsmann and Jennifer Sykes.

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Teaching Positive Life Skills to Young Children
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I was introduced to Julia Cook through a social media page for kindergarten teachers and two particlar books caught my eye. The thing that impressed me the most was how both of them reinforced positivity over negativity. This is such an important concept when dealing with young children. The best advice I ever received as a teacher (and carried over into my home as well as my classroom) was to eliminate all negative words from my vocabulary. This may sound easy to you, but believe me, it was very difficult. When I spoke to my students or sons I had to stop and think, “Now how can I reword this statement so that there are only positive words?”  Instead of saying, “Don’t run inside” I said, “Walk inside and run outside.” Instead of saying, “No jumping on the bed!” I said, “Beds are for sitting or lying down only.” So I’m throwing this challenge out to all of you parents at home to give it a try. Take out the negative words from your vocabulary (no, don’t, not, never, won’t, can’t, isn’t, etc.). Instead of stating what you don’t want your child(ren) to do, state what you want them to do. It will be difficult, but you’ll find that it gets easier and easier and will make for a more pleasant environment for all involved.

 

Bubble Gum Brain by Julia Cook, illustrated by Allison Valentine

This book is about two boys, one with “Bubble Gum Brain” (positive outlook on life) and one with “Brick Brain” (negative outlook on life).  The boy with Bubble Gum Brain likes to “chew on his thoughts, flex, bend and stretch his brain.”  He turns mistakes into learning experiences. When things are difficult he keeps trying or finds a different way of doing things. He’s open to trying new things, even if it’s hard. The other boy, the one with the Brick Brain, likes things the way they are and doesn’t want to change things. He always complains that things are difficult, he’s afraid of failing, or has anxiety over not doing something correctly. He gets frustrated, angry, depressed and upset very easily when things don’t go his way. The boy with the Bubble Gum Brain convinces the Brick Brain boy to “take off the bubble gum wrapper from his brain and he’ll start to grow, “taking charge on how he thinks.”  This is such a great book to read to children who have “brick brains” and deal with some of the issues above. I love how it reinforces positivity, even if things are difficult. I think many kids would benefit from this great book, whether they had “bubble gum brains” or “brick brains.”

 

Jumping into Kindergarten by Julia Cook and Laura A. Jana, M.D., illustrated by James Newman Gray.

This is a cute story about a little kangaroo who is starting kindergarten but is nervous about all sorts of things. He’s worried about his hair, the color of the carpet, if he can’t answer questions and numerous other silly little things that five year olds worry about. His mom comforts him by reciting to him all of the things that he already can do, and then reminds him about “the skills in his invisible backpack.” Skills such as the “ME skills” that help him pay attention, and control how he acts, thinks and feels. The “WE skills” that help him share, play well with others and show them he cares. The “WHY skills” help him make sense of the world by asking questions. The “WILL skills” teach him to keep trying, even when things get difficult. There are even “WHAT IF skills” to build his imagination (these are my favorite!). I think that this is a fantastic book for young children that again focuses on the positive by talking about the things they can do. As a bonus, at the back of the book the authors included tips for parents and educators that cover ways in which they can help their children develop all of these self-awareness skills. As adults we know how important it is to teach these life skills to children early in their development so that they turn into responsible, caring and respectful adults. It’s never too early to learn these skills.