Category Archives: Childhood

Family of Spies

family of spies“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”   That quote from the Bible was the theme of a  commencement address given at a Virgina college last week by recently fired American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.  Tillerson warned that when leaders lie and people accept those lies, it won’t be long before freedom is lost.  

jodi book launch

I attended the launch of Jodi Carmichael’s book Family of Spies 

Interestingly that same Bible verse about truth and freedom appears a number of times in a new novel for middle grade readers by Winnipeg author Jodi Carmichael. Much of the story in her Family of Spies is set in 1944 just before the end of World War II.  The action happens during a period of time when Hitler is trying to conceal the truth and make the German people accept his alternate reality.  

edward crawford

 Jodi’s grandfather who inspired her book

Jodi’s inspiration for the book grew out of the fact that the records detailing her grandfather Edward Crawford’s service in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II remain sealed to this day. Why? Could he have been a spy? In her book Jodi imagines that three of Edward’s great-grandchildren have arrived in Paris on a family vacation. They have a suitcase of their great grandfather’s belongings and hatch a plan to try to figure out the mystery surrounding his military service. 

war medals family of spies

Jodi’s grandfather’s military service medals

I attended the launch of Jodi’s book at the end of April and she had some of her grandfather’s memorabilia on display, including his war medals and a photograph of him after the Newfoundland native was named a Rhodes Scholar. 

cookies jodi's launch

The cookies served at the book launch for Family of Spies featured the Eiffel Tower.

Jodi wrote Family of Spies while living in Europe so she was able to visit the important sites in Paris where the action in her novel takes place. That  ‘feet on the ground’ research is evident in her vivid descriptions of French landmarks. 

As Jodi’s heroes Ford, Ellie and Gavin explore Paris, trying to discover the truth about their great grandfather’s past, they also discover some truths about themselves and their relationships with one another. I really liked that about the book. 

jodi signing her book

Jodi signs books for her fans

Jodi is a member of the children’s writers group I meet with twice a month. I have just finished the first draft of a novel based on an event in my own grandfather’s life.  Jodi’s success with  Family of Spies gives me a tiny bit of hope that I may be able to get my novel published as well. Jodi is a successful writer and I so appreciate her willingness to share her expertise with our writing group.  You can find out more about Jodi and the other books she has published on her website. 

Other posts……..

A Glamorous Night For Manitoba Writing

The Cube

Who Do Family Stories Belong To?



Filed under Books, Childhood, Writing

Books About Death For Children

A group at my church which provides care and expressions of sympathy for people who are grieving, asked me to recommend books that might help families explain death to children.  I am the church librarian and realized our children’s section didn’t have many books on the topic.  I  ordered four to add to our collection.  I think they will all be excellent resources. 

There is a beginning and an ending for everything that is alive.  In between is living. That is how the  book Life Times opens. It talks to children about the lives of plants and animals and people and birds and butterflies and helps children understand that dying is a part of living. There is a pattern to the way each life cycle is described in the book so that by the time the lives of human beings are introduced the children are familiar with the pattern and there is a certain comfort in its rhythm. 

Twins Jeremy and Liza are worried about being separated from those they love.  Their mother explains about The Invisible String which reaches anywhere and everywhere connecting people who love one another.  The string even reaches to heaven. Mother tells them  “people who love each other are always connected by a very special string, made of love. Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart.”
I’ll Always Love You traces the friendship of a boy and his dog Elfie. After Elfie dies the boy is comforted by the fact that he told Elfie everyday that he loved him. Death is described like going down a long tunnel in the book Badger’s Parting Gifts. Badger dies peacefully by the fire as he has a wonderful dream. After he is gone his friends realize that badger has taught them lessons that will help them be happy even though he is no longer with them. He has taught them to cook and skate and make art and tie knots and as they share these gifts with others they remember badger and somehow they don’t miss him quite as much. 

Explaining death to children is important and these books might be good to read with kids even before someone they know and love has died or is facing death.  Death is a part of life and good children’s literature can help us have a conversation with children about that reality.

Other posts…….

I Just Won a Cache of Great Children’s Books

Picture Books Have Changed

Teaching Kids About the Diversity of Families, Gender Identities and Sexual Orientations

A Book For Children About Poverty

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Teaching Kids About Being Homeless

An article in Wednesday’s Winnipeg Free Press about a one day event to collect the stories of our city’s homeless people reminded me of a book I recently added to our church library.   Illustrated by a former student of my husband’s Jane Heinrichs and written by Jamie Casap and Jillian Roberts On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty introduces the issues of poverty and homelessness in a gentle way that is appropriate for school aged  children.  Kids learn why people become homeless because of things like natural disasters, mental illness,wars or abusive family situations.   The book uses photographs as well as Jane’s illustrations to pose questions children might have after seeing homeless people on the street.It encourages children to be empathetic.  What would it be like to live on the street? Finally the book empowers kids by giving them practical ideas for making a difference like collecting food and clothing for donation or extending friendship to other children at school who might seem lonely or unhappy. 

Perhaps if we can start early to help children become empathetic and understanding of people who find themselves without a home, society will one day have the will to provide  the adequate housing, supportive services and social connectedness that could end homelessness in North America.  

Other posts……..

Tin Can Art and Feeding the Homeless

Meeting With the Mayor About Homelessness

A Lot More Than We’d Like to Think

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Education


advanced comp class

With my Advanced Composition class in Hong Kong-2011

Teenagers are extremely smart.  -Ransom Riggs

With teenage girls at a highschool in Cambodia-2011

 Being a teenager is an amazing time and a hard time. – Sophia Bush

teens by a fountain in lviv (1)

Teenagers in Lviv Ukraine- 2011

Teenagers are kinda the same wherever you find them. -Tom Cotton

high school students and teacher in spain

With my students in Madrid Spain-2008

Teenagers are some of the most passionate, dynamic and creative people I know.- Malorie Blackman

teen in jerusalem

Girl in Jerusalem-2009

I think all teenagers feel they are alone. – Nicholas Hoult

dancing with teenagers borneo

Teenagers teaching me to dance in Borneo-2010

Teenagers come to things fresh and can teach us an awful lot. – Jane Goldman

Visiting two of my teenage students at Parsons School of Design in New York-2012

Teenagers learn best by doing things- Geoff Mulgan

school girls vietnam

Teenage school girls in Vietnam-2008

Teenagers today are more free to be themselves and to accept themselves.- John Knowles

sc eye- school newspaper

As a teenage high school student I was the editor of my school newspaper The SCEye. Here I am pictured with my newspaper staff. -1969

 I liked being a teenager but I would not go back. – Rob Lowe

My mother with her best friend around 1943

As a teenager, you’re still discovering who you are, what your life is about, and who you want to be as a person. -Kaya Scodelario

Other posts………..




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Filed under Childhood, People

Dear World

 Eight year old Bana Alabed narrates a tragic story in the book Dear World.  She and her family lived in Aleppo Syria and Bana started a Twitter account to describe the horror and deprivation her family was experiencing. She garnered nearly 400,000 followers.  Bana’s family has now escaped to Turkey where they have become citizens and Bana and her mother have written a book about their family’s experiences that has been published by Simon and Schuster.  

I had heard nothing about the book before I read it myself and I was moved and mournful as Bana described the terror of bombing raids, the agony of hiding for hours on end in cold and dirty basements, the stark reality of having little or no food to eat, the fear of dodging bullets to get water, the disappointment of having her school destroyed, the anxiety of seeing her family separated and the sadness of losing her dearest friend in a bombing.  

The city of Aleppo where Bana’s family lived

After finishing Dear World which includes a response from Bana’s mother Fatemah at the end of each chapter, I went online to learn more about it and now I am not at all sure what I think of the book.  Many Amazon reviewers, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and a host of websites have questioned the veracity of Bana’s tweets and her narrative in the book.  Even in favourable articles like this one in the New Yorker there are suggestions that Bana’s videos on Twitter are too scripted and that she is being coached. Critics say in interviews Bana simply doesn’t exhibit a good enough knowledge of the English language to have written the tweets she did.  Some even accuse her parents of being aligned with terrorist organizations. Since the announcement of her book launch some of her more political tweets have been removed from her feed. 

Yet I am left thinking …….. Would Simon and Schuster publish her book if they didn’t think it was true and would author J.K. Rowling be Bana’s number one fan and supporter if her story wasn’t verifiable? It’s hard to know. 

The bottom line is that the war in Syria has been devastating for thousands of children.  If Bana Alabed’s story brings attention to their plight and inspires people to help them that’s a good thing.  But it is not a good thing if questions about Bana’s motivations and authenticity does anything to hinder bringing support and aid to the refugee children of Syria .  I am not sorry I read Dear World.  I wish I could still take its very sad story at face value. 

Other posts……….

Meeting the Street Children of Delhi

Standing Up For Children

Thoughts About Children

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Politics

The 4 Ms

Dave and I had supper at an Academy Road restaurant last week.  Adjacent to us a young family was having a meal.  Throughout the supper the parents were talking with one another but the two children were on their i-pads the whole time.   They put down their devices only to take bites of their food.  That’s a phenomena I also observe often with children who are traveling on the bus with their parents.  Both parent and child have their eyes fixated on their phones and don’t interact at all.  

canadian pediatric society screen timeThe Canadian Paediatric Society has published sensible guidelines for the use of electronic devices for kids with warnings to minimize, mitigate, be mindful and model  behavior when it comes to screen time.  Sometimes I feel like printing  copies and handing them out in restaurants, on buses and in other public places. 

Other posts…………

Technology and Family Time at a Resort

Technology Transforms Travel

What’s the Best Way to Raise Children? 


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Filed under Childhood, Media

I Just Won A Cache of Great Children’s Books

I had the winning bid!  I am a member of the Manitoba Writers Guild and we’ve been having an online auction to raise funds for our organization.  I bid on a selection of children’s books from Portage and Main Press here in Winnipeg and ended up posting the winning bid.  It’s a big win for our church library too because that’s where I’m going to place the books.  We have been trying to add more books that reflect an indigenous perspective to our library, and while we have quite a good collection of adult books I hadn’t added any indigenous books to the children’s section. Now I can.

My prize package included……………….

When We Were Alone written by David Alexander Robinson and illustrated by Julie Flett.  The book is this year’s winner of the Governer General’s Literary Award. A grandmother tells her granddaughter about her experience in residential school in a way that connects with young children at just the right level largely because it is told in the context of the love that is clearly shared between the grandmother and granddaughter in the story.

Nimoshom and His Bus written by Penny Thomas and illustrated by Karen Hibbard was just launched on Thursday night at McNallly Robinson. Nimoshom is a school bus driver who introduces the kids on his route to new words in Cree.

Where Did You Get Your Moccasins written by Brenda Wheeler and illustrated by Herman Bekkering.  A young boy does a ‘show and tell’ talk at school about the moccasins his grandmother made for him. 

I Can’t Have Bannock But the Beaver Has a Dam is also by Brenda Wheeler and Herman Bekkering.    A boy listens patiently as his mother explains why she can’t make bannock- all as a result of the beaver’s need to build a dam. Powwow Counting in Cree by Penny Thomas and Melinda Josie is a unique book for young children that teaches counting from one to ten in the Cree language while enriching children’s knowledge of the Cree culture.  

I am grateful to Portage and Main Press for their donation of books to the auction.  I am grateful to the Manitoba Writers Guild for staging the auction. And I am grateful to the writers and illustrators who are creating such beautiful books to help Canadian children learn about an important part of their country’s heritage. 

Other posts……….

Books That Are Perfect For Preschoolers

Classic Children’s Christmas Books

Picture Books Have Changed


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