Category Archives: Childhood

Grandparents and Grandkids

I’ve read two good books recently for middle grade kids that focus on children’s relationships with their grandparents.

The Vegetable Museum by Michelle Mulder introduces us to 13 year old Chloe who has just moved to Victoria, British Columbia. Her Dad has lost his job as a teacher in Montreal and he and Chloe’s Mom have separated. Chloe and her Dad have resettled in Victoria where her Dad has a new job as the superintendent of an apartment building.

The apartment is very near Chloe’s grandfather Uli’s house. Chloe barely knows him because, for a reason that remains a secret till the end of the book, Chloe’s Dad and his father are estranged. The thing that brings Chloe and her Grandpa together and helps them get to know each other is her grandfather’s heirloom vegetable garden. He saves seeds and has a unique garden of heritage plants. Chloe’s Grandpa has had a stroke recently and he needs help with his garden so Chloe pitches in to lend a hand with planting and weeding. Later she will be instrumental in saving her grandfather’s seed collection when its survival is threatened.

The garden becomes a way not only for Chloe to get to know her grandfather better but to make friends and get to know her Victoria neighbourhood better as well. Her grandfather has told Chloe that when she finds a place in the heart of her new community she will really like it. He turns out to be right.

My niece and nephew helping my Dad plant his garden.

One of the reasons I felt a connection with this book is because my Dad was a big time gardener and all his grandkids ended up helping him with various gardening tasks. I think they learned a lot from that experience.

Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field by Angela Ahn is about an eleven year old boy from a Korean family in the Vancouver area. Like Chloe, Peter and his parents and his sister also live close to his grandparents. But unlike Chloe who barely knows her grandfather, Peter’s grandparents are a daily part of his life, and have been since he was a baby.

Peter wants to be a palentologist but he also loves drawing. When he finds out that his grandmother’s strange behaviour means she has dementia he uses both the organizational, research and observation skills he’s learned studying dinosaurs, and the artistic skills he’s been honing and exploring, to come up with a plan to help his grandma remain in her own home rather than move to a senior’s residence quite a distance away where he won’t get to see her nearly as often.

Peter’s dealing with some tough personal stuff too. There’s a braggart and bully in his school class who likes to pick on him and he’s feeling inadequate compared to his sister who is a whiz kid with an IQ off the charts. As he works to help his Grandma some of those issues resolve as well.

My Dad in front of a mural of sunflowers he really likes outside his room in the personal care home where he lives now

One of the reasons I felt a connection with this book is because my Dad is dealing with dementia as well and I have been thinking about how different he will seem to his grandchildren and great grandchildren after the pandemic when they can visit him again.

The relationship between children and their grandparents is often painted as a kind of idealistic one in books for kids, with grandparents coming to the rescue of grandchildren who are going through tough times. But in these two novels it’s the kids who come to the rescue and make life better for their grandparents.

Two other middle grade books about grandparents and grandchildren are……

Coop the Great

Family of Spies

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A Lose-Lose Situation

My nephew did an interesting story for City News last Friday.

My nephew Mark Neufeld is a reporter for City News. He did a story last week about a new Ipsos poll. It reported that across 28 countries 82% of parents feel there are routinely being judged because of their children. Here in Canada, 73% said they often feel judged either because of the way their children behave or the way they as parents manage their child’s behaviour

When my children were young I sometimes felt judged as a parent

I think anyone who is a parent knows what the poll is talking about. When my children were young and they did something that embarrassed me like failing to listen to their teacher at school or forgetting to be polite and respectful to an older relative or mischievously turning off all the lights in a gymnasium during a basketball game, as my one son did when he was about four years old, I felt like people were judging me. Like they were thinking, “What kind of parent is she anyway if her child behaves like that?”

My first year of teaching after I became a mother. Being a parent myself made me a lot less judgemental of my students’ parents.

And according to the poll parents aren’t delusional when they say they feel judged because 81% of people in the 28 countries surveyed admitted they do judge parents based on the way their children behave. I know I certainly did that during my first five years of teaching when I wasn’t a parent myself. If a student was ill-tempered or thoughtless or irresponsible I would tend to judge their parents thinking they must not have taught or role-modelled acceptable behaviour. Of course, when I became a parent myself that all changed. I had a whole new empathy for my students’ parents after I began raising a child of my own.

People are better parents if they don’t feel judged

Child Development Specialist Claire Lerner tells people who are judgemental of parents that if you want to love and support kids you have to love and support their parents because the way you treat them impacts the way they treat their children. If you are empathetic to parents they are more likely to be loving with their children. If you criticize them they may feel incompetent and react harshly to their children, leading to their kids feeling bad and quite probably leading to more negative behaviour.

Lerner tells parents not to let judgmental people influence the way they respond to their children. She says to reject the power of judgers, tuning them out and focusing on your child instead.

My nephew’s news report was a good reminder that judging parents is a lose-lose scenario for both parents and children. All of us can play a positive role in the raising of the current generation by supporting rather than judging their parents.

Other posts……….

Grateful for My Mom’s Support

Far From the Tree

Back Porch News

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The Potato Head “Scandal”

This month there has been a hue and cry over the supposed Mr Potato head scandal. Hasbro Toys decided to change the brand name of their popular toy from Mr Potato Head to simply Potato Head.  Why?  Because they also make a Mrs Potato Head and they wanted to promote another product called the Potato Head Family that includes a child. The brand name Mr Potato Head no longer reflected the scope of items they sold. 

Cancel culture critics raved that by removing the Mr. title Hasbro was making their toy gender-neutral. What if they were? The majority of Hasbro customers would probably have no problem with that. But gender-neutrality obviously wasn’t Hasbro’s sole intent because they made it clear they were going to continue selling Mr Potato Head and Mrs Potato Head separately. Customers who wanted gender-specific potato heads could still have them. The company had simply changed its overarching brand name to Potato Head.

A 1985 Potato Head toy

 Ever since the product was invented 70 years ago kids have had the freedom to dress up their potato head creations any way they like.  The idea of the name change wasn’t to cancel Mr Potato Head. It was to make the Potato Head toys more inclusive and popular with current kids and families! 

The Hasbro business decision got major news play on the Fox channel with commentators claiming this was just another example of cancel culture. I am not sure what got cancelled? Politicians, entertainers and political pundits alike weighed in on the supposed ‘scandal.’

I’ve watched kids play with the Potato Head toys in classrooms and homes and blithely unaware of gender designations they dress each potato head using whatever items they wish. And that’s how it should be. The human family is diverse and so kids will dress their potato head characters in ways that reflect their own experience or in ways their imaginations suggest.

In a time when there is a pandemic sweeping across the world surely there are more important things to get upset about than a toy company changing their brand name slightly?

Other posts……….

What’s a Fingerling?

What’s a Fidget?

Inuit Games

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Seuss Is Celebrating All The Way To The Bank

I am following with interest the heated controversy surrounding a recent decision by Seuss Enterprises to stop publishing six titles by the famous author Theodore Geisel. Seuss Enterprises is the corporation that owns the rights to the works of the legendary children’s writer. The company was set up by his widow Audrey who turned it into a very profitable venture. Since her death, the corporation has continued to have a successful earning profile raking in rich rewards for its shareholders. According to Forbes Magazine Seuss Enterprises earned some $33 million last year.

The decision by Seuss Enterprises to no longer sell six older books from the author’s canon because they may promote racial discrimination has caused a huge controversy both by those who think the company made the right decision and those who think they didn’t. It’s led to an epic media battle between cancel culture critics and their opponents.

Seuss Enterprises say they are pulling the books because they promote harmful racial stereotypes but the Forbes article suggests those older books weren’t making them a whole lot of money anyway. With a significant sector of the reading public voicing objection to those six books, it seemed financially prudent to stop printing them. Why let the criticism about a few books endanger the millions of dollars Seuss Enterprises was accumulating from lucrative Hollywood and Netflix deals that featured much more popular and less offensive Seuss titles?

The controversy generated by the Seuss Enterprise decision to pull six books has produced a financial windfall for them as the media attention has sent Seuss sales skyrocketing. All the free publicity will be a real boon as well to the travelling Dr Seuss exhibit set to hit the road after the pandemic.

Those protesting that withdrawing Dr Seuss books is an example of cancel culture have only served to make Seuss Enterprises richer. They are after all a business and are perfectly free to make whatever marketing decisions they like.

While various sectors of society continue to engage in cancel culture wars over the work of Theodore Geisel, the shareholders in his multi-million dollar corporation are celebrating all the way to the bank.

Other posts………

Wisdom From Doctor Seuss

Picture Books Have Changed

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The Remarkables

I talked to a young mother recently who said her two-year-old son wasn’t learning to talk as early as his sibling had. She wondered if that was because his daycare workers wore masks so he couldn’t see the way their mouths formed words. She was confident that post-pandemic, the speech of her COVID kid would flourish.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on

On a walk with a friend, we talked about high school athletes who haven’t been able to participate in the sports they love for the last two years. This has made it tougher for them to earn athletic scholarships for university and has cut them off from the teammates and coaches that played such an important role in their lives. Despite this many have remained devoted to their sports, training on their own. Some people call teens living through the pandemic, the COVID generation.

I was talking with someone, who like me, has had a grandchild born during the pandemic. Our grandchildren have seen very few people besides their parents yet they continue to achieve all the appropriate developmental milestones. Some people are referring to children born during the pandemic as COVID babies.

Photo by Max Fischer on

The media is reporting that kids will be behind academically because their schooling has been interrupted by the pandemic. Luckily my nearly nine-year-old grandson was only out of school for about four months due to the pandemic, but he had such a variety of learning interests before COVID-19. He played basketball and took dance classes. He had a violin teacher and a swimming instructor. In summers he went to art and drama camps. For over a year now he has not been able to do some of those things that enriched his education but when I talk with him and he tells me about what he is reading and shows me his drawings I know he is still learning and growing intellectually. Some people are calling school age kids who are going through the pandemic the children of COVID.

Children born during the pandemic are being given all kinds of labels like COVID babies or COVID kids, or the COVID generation or the children of COVID. In a recent article Neil Renton the head teacher at a school in England talks about the dangers of referring to the current crop of kids with a disease- related label. He says that instead the fact children are actually surviving the pandemic with such remarkable adaptability should be celebrated. We should be calling them The Remarkables.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

Renton believes there is power in words and he thinks using the name of a disease to refer to children implies something negative. It conjures up images of closed doors and feelings of hopelessness. Studies show that the expectations teachers and parents have of children impact their performance. If we always talk about our current kids as some kind of disease generation negatively impacted by COVID-19 we perpetuate negativity and set up a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Renton also points out that science shows us negative thoughts and speech hamper brain performance and trigger stress hormones. We do our kids a disservice if we label them with the name of something negative like a disease and expect less of them because of that.

I am not minimizing the challenge of COVID for kids and their families. There are no doubt all kinds of effects that living through the pandemic will have on our current generation of children. But…………… it is indeed REMARKABLE the way so many children are surviving and even flourishing during this challenging time and in their best interest, we need to emphasize the positive by not labelling them with the name of a negative disease.

Other posts………

God Rest the Children

What is the Best Way to Raise Children?

Meeting the Street Children of Delhi


Filed under Childhood, COVID-19 Diary, Education

I Read Canadian

Did you know it is I Read Canadian Day, a national celebration of Canadian books for children? You can read more about that on the I Read Canadian website. Our prime minister even sent out a special message this morning reminding everyone how proud we should be of all the wonderful books by Canadian authors for Canadian kids. My blog today is dedicated to books by Canadian authors that were always a big hit with my students when I was a teacher.

I saw award-winning author Jean Little speak at a reading conference in Winnipeg in the 1970s. I remember how impressed I was by this blind author for young people who travelled with her guide dog and wrote books for children by speaking into a tape recorder. Two of her novels about dogs were popular read- alouds in my classrooms.

Different Dragons featured a boy who had many fears and a huge dog named Gully who helped him overcome them. Lost and Found was about a girl who moved to a new city and a dog named Trouble who eased the difficult transition.

Kenneth Oppel is such a popular Canadian author. I was intrigued by his most recent book Bloom which was a huge hit in 2020 but a novel he wrote in the 1990s was an equally huge hit with my elementary school students. Silverwing is the story of a young bat named Shade who gets lost on his family’s migration journey. Kids loved all the fascinating things they learned about bats from reading the book and were thrilled by its danger and suspense. I liked the way Silverwing taught kids to value friendship and family.

Although Farley Mowat is more famous than his wife Claire, she was also an author and books by both of them were must-reads each year in my classroom. Owls in the Family is a rollicking tale about a boy named Billy who adopts two great horned owls Wol and Weeps. It’s a heartwarming book that often had my students laughing out loud.

The Girl From Away was a book I read to my students each Christmas. It is about a girl named Andrea who is sent to stay with Newfoundland relatives while her mother is off on her honeymoon with her new husband. Andrea learns a great deal about Newfoundland history, culture and wildlife but also learns to appreciate her family.

Jacob’s Little Giant by Barbara Smucker was a book I read every fall to my early years’ students when we were learning about Canada geese and their migration. It is a story about a boy named Jacob who plays an important role in saving a family of Canada geese who make their home on a pond on Jacob’s family’s farm.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery was a favourite childhood book of mine. It was one of the first chapter books I read aloud to my older son and my upper elementary students never failed to respond with empathy and enthusiasm to the story of the young red-headed orphan from Prince Edward Island.

When I taught high school one of the novels we studied was The Kite Runner by American author Khaled Hosseini. The book is set in Afghanistan. To help my students become familiar with the situation in Afghanistan I had them read three books by Canadian author Deborah Ellis- The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey and Mud City. Particularly for my struggling high school readers, this trilogy about a girl who pretends to be a boy provided an easy, interesting and informative avenue to help them understand the Taliban and their reign in Afghanistan.

I know the books in this blog post are older ones by Canadian authors. I love these classics but I also love all the new wonderful novels for young people by Canadian authors being published right now and I read them voraciously. You can check out what I have written about some of them in the links below.

Coop the Great

Sadia – A Muslim Girl From Winnipeg

You Don’t Have to Die in the End

Family of Spies

My Long List of Impossible Things

Me and Me

Miles to Go

No Fixed Address

7 Generations

The Marrow Thieves

I Just Won A Cache of Great Children’s Books

The Lotterys Plus One

The Crazy Man

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Nora’s Ark

My very favorite thing about grandparenting is choosing books for my grandchildren. In 2019 and 2020 two granddaughters were added to our family and I find that picking out books for them is just a little different than choosing books for my two older grandsons.

A few weeks ago my youngest granddaughter Nora had her child dedication service at her parents’ church. When each of my older three grandchildren was dedicated at their church in Saskatoon I picked a book for them that told a story from the Bible. I wanted to do the same thing for Nora.

As a teacher, I always LOVED sharing books by author and illustrator Jan Brett with my students. Her artwork is gorgeous and her stories are often told in unique ways. So I ordered Jan Brett’s book On Noah’s Ark for our little Nora because I knew Jan had made Noah’s granddaughter the main character and the narrator of the story.

When I was small the majority of Bible stories I heard were about men and were usually told from a male perspective. Jan Brett’s book tells the Noah story from the perspective of a young girl who saw things and noticed things her famous grandfather didn’t.

She also plays an important role in keeping things organized in the ark.

Then almost by accident while I was searching for Jan Brett’s book I found Nora’s Ark by Eileen Spinelli. Yes a book with my granddaughter’s name in the title. It is about a girl named Nora who decides to act out the Noah’s ark story in the Bible using props she has at home and her imagination. She becomes Noah and carries out his ark building mission and his historic voyage. Perfect!

I think it is so important for girls to see themselves in the stories they hear. They need to have female role models who are empowered and centre stage.

Other posts……..

I Just Won A Cache of Great Children’s Books

A Book For a New Grandmother

The Magic Geranium

Novels For Kids You May Enjoy

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God Rest The Children

God Rest the Children

by MaryLou Driedger

God rest our merry children, let nothing them dismay

Let nothing scar their pure young hearts,

This pandemic Christmas Day

May they still believe in magic, the tinsel and the tree

May nothing mar their happiness or taint their innocent glee.

God rest our merry children, but may we stop a while

And think about the little ones who have no cause to smile.

Photo by Ekrulila on

The children of North Korea so hungry and so cold

Tiny babies born in Yemen who never will grow old

Child soldiers in Uganda who’ve learned to fight and hate

Abandoned orphans in Haiti, what shall they celebrate?

In Libya and Syria, the children cannot sleep

They fear the shells and snipers, they hear their parents weep

While violence rocks the cradles in El Salvador

Those growing up in Iraq live with the scars of war.

Photo by namo deet on

Here in North America, we need only look to see

The myriad of children who live in poverty

Homeless, hungry and forlorn, their future looks so dark

We need to light the way for them, ignite a hopeful spark. 

And what about the boys and girls who’ve had family members die

As the pandemic rages onward and infections rise sky high? 

Photo by Ahmed akacha on

God rest the children of this world, but may we feel dismay

That so many of our little ones are sad this Christmas day.

Let us pray that sometime soon all children everywhere

Will live in comfort and joy, and never know despair

Photo by Ahmed akacha on

God bless our merry children, but open our eyes to see

All of those who need our help, our generosity. 

May each of us do our part, whether great or small

To let the children of this world, know that God loves them all.

We wish a peaceful rest this night for young ones far and near

A blissful bit of slumber free from doubt and fear

God rest the children!

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The Advent Books

I became a grandmother for the first time eight and a half years ago and now I am blessed with four wonderful grandchildren. For my oldest grandchild’s first Christmas in 2012, I sent him a Christmas book. It is a tradition I have carried on ever since. The first Sunday of advent each of my grandchildren gets a Christmas book selected especially for them, usually with some socks, or gloves for the season.

Near the middle of November, I go to the children’s section of McNally Robinson Booksellers and gather an armful of interesting looking Christmas books from their shelves. Then I plunk myself down in one of their cosy chairs and read through them all till I have found the perfect book for each grandchild.

Pandemic times required a different approach. I did my research online, placed my order over the phone and used McNally’s curbside pick-up service to get the books.

This year I selected a new book by Eric Wilson for my eight-year-old grandson called The Boy Who Moved Christmas. It is a touching story of how a town banded together to create a Christmas in October for a little boy who was dying and wouldn’t live till December. I also added It’s Snowing which has poems by one of my favourite poets for kids- Jack Prelutsky. My son recently sent me a video of my oldest grandson reciting a poem for his school class and he performed with such flair and expression I thought he might enjoy reading some of the Prelutsky poems to his brother and sister. My four-year-old grandson is getting The Little Reindeer by Nicola Killen.  Beautifully illustrated with watercolour paintings it tells the story of a little girl who helps a reindeer who is lost find its way back to  Santa. For my one and a half-year-old granddaughter, I have chosen Ten Little Reindeer written and illustrated by Johnny Lambert.  Its a counting book that I think she’ll have lots of fun listening to and chiming in on once she catches on to the delightful pattern of the text. My newest granddaughter who will be just a month and a half at Christmas is receiving A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, a Canadian version of the classic The Twelve Days of Christmas. It is a book much beloved by her cousins. I splurged a little on her clothing item going beyond the usual socks or mittens to include a festive little outfit.  It reminds me of a Christmas outfit of her Dad’s at that age. He was also a November baby. Wrapping and sending off the Christmas books to my grandchildren is always my first step in getting ready for Christmas.  I know I won’t be able to see my grandchildren in person this Christmas but I am going to try and figure out ways to carry on with as many of our Christmas traditions as possible despite that. 

Other posts……….

Christmas Books 2019

Children’s’ Christmas Books The Classics

Books For Advent



Filed under Books, Childhood, Holidays

Living at the Hospital- 1959-1960

On a bike ride this week I stopped to take a photo at my former home

I lived at a hospital for a year. When I was five my family made our home in the McEwen Building on the grounds of the St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg.  Named after Dr Sanger McEwen a former medical director of the hospital, the building currently houses the St. Boniface psychiatry department. But when I lived there it was an apartment block for interns who were completing their medical degrees.  

Photo of the McEwen Building from the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation website

In the summer of 1959, my family moved into one of the many apartments in the McEwen Building since my father who was a medical student at the University of Manitoba was doing his year of internship at the St. Boniface Hospital. 

Dad and his fellow interns at St. Boniface Hospital 1958-59.  My Dad is in the back row third from the right. 

Our family was assigned a one-bedroom apartment.  My parents shared the bedroom with my baby brother who had been born in February of 1958 and I slept on a fold-out couch in the living room with my sister who was three years old. I can remember when we first moved I would wake up at night because I heard the trains on the tracks just across the river, but later I got used to the sound. This postcard was used to advertise the internship program at the St. Boniface Hospital. It features a photo of my mother and my sister sitting at the piano in our apartment. My mother was a talented pianist and college music graduate. This Heintzman piano was a part of every house I lived in as a child. My sister still has it in her home. You can see the small kitchen and our table pushed up against the wall to the left.  When we had guests the table was pulled into the living room so we could sit all around it.nun's christmas st. boniface
There were many other young families living in the building and my mother made friends with the wives of other interns and we often played with their children. There was a large common room in the McEwen Building. At Christmas time in 1959, the Grey Nuns who ran the St. Boniface Hospital hosted a party for the children of the interns. We played games and ate goodies and each of us received a gift from Santa. In the photo, I am sitting on Santa’s knee with my friend Candice. The nuns are walking in with more gifts to add to the pile under the tree.

Marion School built in 1950-photo from the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation website

While we lived at the hospital I attended grade one at Marion School. It was primarily a French school but my class was in English. I took a Winnipeg City Transit bus all on my own to school since Mom thought that was safer than having me walk a mile down busy Provencher Boulevard.

My grade one class during the 1959-1960 academic year at Marion School with our teacher Ms Bourreau. I am third from the left in the second row. 

Some of my memories of grade one include being made to stand in the corner because I dropped my thermos in the lunchroom and broke it. This made a noise and we were NEVER to make a sound in the lunchroom. I also remember sitting out in the hall all alone when the priest came to give lessons that would prepare my classmates for taking their first communion. My Mennonite parents asked I be excused from these lessons.

Photo by Canadian Heritage- Queen Elizabeth visits Winnipeg in 1959

One of my memories of living in the McEwen Building was the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Winnipeg in the summer of 1959. My father took me up onto the roof of the St. Boniface Hospital so he and I could have a bird’s eye view of the queen as she rode down Tache Avenue in her motorcade. I was so excited to see the queen but also so excited to be doing something special with my Dad. I’ve been on a pilgrimage of sorts to visit all of the different places where I lived in Winnipeg as a child. This week I went back to my third home in the city. 

Want to read about my previous visits to my past homes?

My First Home on Dundurn Place

It’s So Beautiful! My Old House

Other posts related to this one……….

The Children Are Watching and Listening and Wondering

The Clapper

Could I Have Been A Grey Nun? 

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