Category Archives: Childhood

My Childhood Reading Heaven

Revisiting the Good Will store on Princess Street

The GoodWill store on Princess Street in Winnipeg was a place of wonder and delight for me as a child. The store has changed somewhat since I used to visit there in the 1960s but one thing hasn’t changed. On the far wall just where they’ve always been, are rows and rows and rows of books from the floor to the ceiling. The shelves of the Good Will Store were one of my main sources for reading material when I was a child. We lived in Steinbach which didn’t have a public library till 1973, the year I turned twenty. Our Steinbach church didn’t have a library yet, in fact we didn’t even have a building. We met for services in a school basement.  The old Kornelson School where I first attended classes in Steinbach didn’t have a library either and Steinbach didn’t have a book store.  Perhaps because I had been read to often when I was a child, I grew up loving books and read voraciously. On family trips my Mom would tell me to get my nose out of my book and look at the scenery. Here I am setting off for my first day of school with a book in hand. I could read before I started grade one. So what was a girl who loved to read and had no access to books in her home town to do? My reading salvation lay at the Good Will store.  On trips to Winnipeg my Mom often made a stop at Good Will and patiently waited while I picked out books to read. Books were 5 cents each.  On my birthday my Grandma and Grandpa always sent me a one dollar bill in my birthday card. That was 20 books! Should I choose a Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Box Car Children, Elsie Dinsmore, Bobbsey Twins, or another book in the Anne of Green Gables series or Little House series? I was in heaven in the GoodWill Store! All those books! The Good Will store on Princess Street offered me reading salvation as a child. I’m glad kids today have many more options for gaining access to books. 

Other posts……..

Who Do Family Stories Belong To?

Agatha Christie’s First Trip on the Orient Express

Lesson Not Required

 

 

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Winnipeg

Harry Potter and Eminem

This week people have been celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Harry Potter. It reminded me of an article I wrote about the Harry Potter books in 2000. It was by debut column as a regular writer for the Faith Page of the Winnipeg Free Press.

I wrote about two events in Toronto’s Skydome.  On October 23, 2000 J.K. Rowling read excerpts from her book Harry Potter to 20,000 school children in the Skydome and on October 25, 2000 singer Eminem played a show there to a packed house of enthusiastic teenagers.  Many religious groups had been criticizing both Rowling and Eminem. The year my column debuted, Eminem and JK Rowling were two of pop cultures most famous icons.  

Religious groups were accusing Rowling of championing witchcraft and Eminem was being taken to task because his songs often promoted violent acts towards women.  In my column I suggested the Rowling books should not cause concern for parents but they would do well to read the frightening and disturbing Eminem lyrics and then decide whether they might be suitable for their children. 

The main point of my article was that parents had a responsiblity to be informed about the books and recordings that engaged their children, and be willing to discuss the content of that literature and music with their kids.   That’s as true today in 2017 as it was when my column was written in 2000.

Other posts………

Why Are Adults Reading Teen Fiction?

A Little Inspiration From the James Taylor Concert

Lynch Family and Lead Belly

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Music

What in the World is That?

Have you heard of a fidget?  I just learned about them on Friday when I was doing a workshop with kids at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  One of them pulled out a fidget to play with as she did her artwork.   

“What in the world is that?”  I asked.

 “You don’t know? ” She didn’t want to believe me.  “It’s a fidget.  Everybody has one.”  And indeed several other children working at the same table pulled out their fidgets too. One of them let me try twirling the fidget around with my fingers.  fidget

“Is this all it does? ”  I asked.  

“Well you can also twirl it around on the table,” they said and demonstrated that for me.  

When I got home I did a little research.  The fact I didn’t know about fidgets didn’t make me as behind the times as I thought.  Fidgets just became a fad in April of this year.  By May 2017 twenty different versions of it were topping the best seller list of toys on Amazon.  

Initially fidgets were made for children with autism and attention deficit disorder. Playing with them provided a release for nervous energy or stress. Now however so many school kids have them, they are proving to be a distraction in class, and some teachers have banned them. 

Fidgets come in every color of the rainbow.  Some glow in the dark. Fidgets sell for prices ranging from $2 to $460.  The one I was experimenting with at the art gallery was a $10 model.  Apparently they aren’t just for kids but are also being marketed to adults as way to relieve stress on the job.  I don’t think I’ll be buying one anytime soon. 

Other posts…….

Inuit Games

A Kaleidoscope of Possibilities

 

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Kids and the Flood of the Century

This May marks the 20th anniversary of the height of the great flood of 1997. It was dubbed the Flood of the Century. It caused more than $500 million in damage and resulted in the evacuation of tens of thousands of Manitoba folks from their homes. News of the rising Red River dominated the media. Children saw images of it constantly on their television screens and heard adults discussing the rising waters. In a newspaper column in May of 1997 I wrote about what I was observing in the children and young people I knew as they reacted to all that flood information.

At Mitchell School where I was teaching at the time I watched two girls playing with a doll  house and moving all their miniature people and furniture to the second floor. “A flood is coming,” they told me as they fashioned a boat out of clay to rescue their stranded doll family.                                                                                                    

At recess time I noticed kids digging rivers and building cities in the sandbox and then drowning them with water from nearby puddles.  

The journal entries of my grade four students alerted me to how concerned they were. One girl wrote, “I heard the water would have to touch the Golden Boy’s toes before Mitchell would be flooded. I hope that’s true.” Another girl described the day her family spent sandbagging to try to save a relative’s hog barns in Rosenort. One boy wrote about a horse he had seen on television that had nearly drowned in the rising waters.

Each morning I gave the kids a chance to talk about the flood. They were clearly apprehensive about how the flood might impact them. I had to reassure them adults were handling the situation and they shouldn’t worry.

My older son was eighteen at the time of the flood and just finishing his final year of high school. It was interesting to observe how the natural disaster gave him and his friends such a sense of purpose and importance. For many days in a row they’d report to school in the morning and then be sent out in work groups to flood threatened areas. The teens would put in long hours of hard physical labor sandbagging, coming home wet, muddy, sunburned and bone-tired only to wake up the next morning and head back out again to another threatened site. My son talked about how grateful people were to them and how homeowners thanked them profusely.It was a great character builder for the kids. They were making a difference. People were counting on them. I think probably that week or so of sandbagging was one of the most important learning experiences of my son’s senior year of high school.

I am glad there has been no repeat of Flood of the Century here in Manitoba. But as I have listened to news of the flooding that has caused such havoc in the province of Quebec in recent weeks, I have been thinking about how the children there are being impacted by the rising waters, and how they might be reacting. I hope there are people listening to their concerns, reassuring them and providing positive ways for them to respond.

Other posts…….

Flooding at Birch Point

Noah – A Violent Movie About a Violent Story

Dave Bends Over Backward

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Filed under Childhood, Education, Nature

Portraits in Plasticine

children's art clay faceA popular new activity we have been trying at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on our school tours is portrait creation with plasticine.  It engages even the most reluctant visitors. I’ve found it works especially well with a series of portraits located quite close to one another in our Modernist Tradition gallery. I tell the kids they can try to recreate one of the portraits, combine features from several or create their own unique portrait. 

french professor by comfort Younger gallery visitors aren’t sure they would like to meet Professor Felix Walter whose portrait was done by Charles Fraser Comfort in 1933. They tell me the professor’s eyebrows are too bushy and his hands too bony. Older students however are intrigued by the professor.plasticence professor

Helen Esterman by Sir Jacob EpsteinThe kids invariably comment on Helen Esterman‘s long neck in this bronze portrait of her by Sir Jacob Epstein done in 1948.  plasticene portrait

rubber lips by janet werner

Junior highs seem especially enamored with Rubber Lips a 1997 work by Janet Werner. rubber lips clay model

farmer's daughter prudence hewardYounger students often identify most closely with The Farmer’s Daughter a portrait done by Prudence Heward in 1938. grade two farmer's daughterWe try to give time for some kind of art activity on every tour we do with students at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  We want them to feel like they are artists too and can be creative just like the artists whose work they are seeing.  clay face junior highTheir plasticine masterpieces show just how creative so many of them are!!

Other posts………

I Love Art

Sunday Afternoon at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

What Talent

 

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Filed under Art, Childhood, Education, WInnipeg Art Gallery

Healthier Kids

I was visiting a school and kids at a table just outside the gym door were selling treats to raise funds for a class outing.  “Will you buy something?” they entreated.  

“What do you have that’s healthy?”  I asked.  They were stymied. They had a wide variety of chocolate bars, chips and baked goods for sale.  They suggested a fruit juice box but a quick check of the label revealed it was packed with sugar.  The only healthy thing I could find were sticks of cheese.  The irony of the sales table being just outside the gym door where the kids take their Physical Well Being classes wasn’t lost on me. 

There were lots of positives to the kids’ sales venture. They were learning how to interact politely with the public, how to handle and count money, the importance of managing costs and profits and they were working together to achieve a goal.  Could they have learned those things just as well if their sales table had featured fruits and vegetables, popcorn, yogurt, sunflower seeds, pistachios and whole grain or rice crackers? I understand those things might have been hard to sell.

It will take some doing to get kids to think healthy treats can be just as delicious and satisfying as unhealthy ones.  But it’s a change of perspective families, schools and governments need to work at seriously if we are going to combat childhood obesity and promote more healthy lifestyles for kids.   Thinking about what kinds of things we sell for fundraisers- cookies, candies and chocolates might be a good place to start. 

Other posts………

Eat Like You Give A Damn

Healthy Environments- Not Gyms or Arenas

Food Rules

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Filed under Childhood, Education, Food

Getting To Know Emma Donoghue in Person

Emma was interviewed at McNally Robinson Booksellers by Winnipeg International Writer’s Festival Director Charlene Diehl

Emma Donoghue’s latest book is set in a Toronto mansion with thirty- two rooms. The house is inhabited by two sets of gay parents, seven children named after trees, a frightened cat, inquisitive rat, crippled parrot and three-legged dog.

You might know Emma as the author of Room. She also wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay for the movie based on the novel. I had the pleasure of hearing her interviewed at Winnipeg’s McNally Robinson Book Sellers last week.

Emma, the author of several successful adult novels is currently promoting a new project, a book for children called The Lotterys Plus One. Emma wants to show readers just how diverse families can be and The Lotterys Plus One certainly does that. The four parents in the novel come from India, Jamaica, Scotland and the Mohawk Nation. Many of the seven children are adopted. One has attention deficit disorder, another a physical disability, and a third gender identity issues.

Striking illustrations like this one by Caroline Hadilaksono help readers sort out all the characters in The Lotterys Plus One. 

The children are all home schooled and the parents don’t work because long ago they found a winning lottery ticket that left them financially set for life. Things are ticking along as normally as can be expected in this unusual household until a grandfather moves in because he is suffering from dementia. How will the family cope with this cantankerous newcomer?

We learned quite a bit about Emma’s personal and family life from her talk with Charlene Diehl

Author Emma Donoghue grew up in a large Catholic family in Dublin Ireland but now lives in London, Ontario where she parents two children with her partner Chris. Emma told us she used some of her own parenting experiences in The Lotterys Plus One. For example the children in the novel get head lice, something that has happened several times to Emma’s children. Emma says when her children do something funny or interesting she will ask them, “Can I use that for one of my book characters?”

I was curious how Emma had found the switch from writing for adults to writing for children. She says writing for children is much harder. It took her six years to write The Lotterys Plus One. She is a busy woman with as many as ten writing projects on the go at once, short stories, poetry, novels, screenplays and children’s books. She collects ideas for all ten projects in separate files on her phone. She finds inspiration everywhere and making notes in her phone is the handiest way to keep a record of things as soon as she sees or experiences them. Later she transfers these files to her computer.

Emma answers questions from the audience

After Emma’s interview the audience had a chance to ask her questions. One young girl said she wanted her mother to write books too and asked Emma if she could teach her Mom how to write a book. Emma said, “Everyone has a book in them. Your Mom does too. She just needs the time and space to write it.”

Another audience member said she had never seen the movie Room because there was no way it could compare to the book. Emma said she loves the movie version of Room. She thinks the director did a marvelous job with her story.

I asked her what books she had read as a child and she said pretty much anything but did mention Jane Austen, Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis. She said she had loved fairy tales.

My friend Wendy getting her copy The Lotterys Plus One signed by Emma Donoghue

Her new book is a bit of a modern fairy tale and I think Emma knows that, but she also hopes the diverse family in The Lotterys Plus One will help her readers realize it can be enriching and positive to have an open mind about what  we consider to be “ideal” when it comes to family life.

Other posts………

Writing For Children- Not As Easy As I Thought

Writer or Palaeontologist?

Chocogasm Course at McNally Robinson Booksellers

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Filed under Books, Canada, Childhood, Writing