Category Archives: Childhood

Teen Targets

Someone told me a story this week about a teenager who had just started work at a Winnipeg cinema that had re-opened for business. The teen had already been bullied by people who didn’t want to follow the mask regulations dictated by the province. They became rude and angry when the teen requested they put on a mask before entering the theater. That brought to mind a conversation I once had with a group of my high school students about bullying.

Photo by Keira Burton on

Some told me they had been bullied because of their race. Some had been teased about their accent because English wasn’t their first language. Others had been harassed about their clothing or hairstyle or had their sexual orientation questioned sarcastically. There were students whose family background had been ridiculed and others had been the butt of jokes because of their unique physical characteristics.

But…….. the most common kind of unfair treatment surprisingly had come from adults who bullied them or treated them unfairly because of their age. 

One boy said he’d been browsing in a store when the business owner approached him and asked if he had stolen something. The young man said he hadn’t and turned to leave. The owner refused to let him go until he had searched him for stolen merchandise.  “He didn’t even apologize for falsely accusing me”, said the student. 

Other kids had seen people cross the road rather than walk by a group of teenagers. Teens had been the recipients of dirty looks for no apparent reason other than their age. Some felt discriminated against in the workplace where they believed employers felt freer to get angry with teenage workers.

Teen workers deserve the same respect as adult employees

Like the situation, I mentioned at the beginning of this post, customers sometimes feel they can treat teen employees less respectfully too. They feel freer to vent their anger at a teen thinking perhaps they won’t face the same repercussions because the teen isn’t as likely to retaliate or stand up for themselves. I know I experienced some of that kind of bullying treatment when I was a teenager and worked as a waitress.

As we slowly begin to enter post-pandemic life and start engaging with each other again in all kinds of settings we may need to remind ourselves of just how important it is for adults to be good role models when it comes to bullying or angry behavior. We need to accord everyone, including young people a full measure of respect.

Other posts………

Lessons Waiting Tables

Crossing the Line

A Display of Racist Anger

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Aunt Olly

Olly Penner

We didn’t have Sesame Street or Paw Patrol or Blues Clues when I was a kid. We had Aunt Olly. Olly Penner hosted a program on the radio station CFAM for kids called Children’s Party and I was a devoted fan in my childhood.

Like many families in the late 1950s and early 1960s we didn’t have a television and along with thousands of other children from all over western Canada and the central northern United States I sat near the radio every afternoon while Aunt Olly read stories like Tall Fireman Paul, Big Red or Johnny Appleseed and played funny songs like I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly and There’s a Hole in the Bucket. If your mother sent in a request, Aunt Olly would also wish you a Happy Birthday over the air and even tell you where your Mom had hidden your present.

I remember hurrying home from school and sitting down at the table with the snack Mom had ready for me and listening to Aunt Olly.

Photo from the CFAM radio website of Aunt Olly and her sidekick Gus

In 1989 I was on the staff of the magazine The Mennonite Mirror and was assigned to write a feature story about Olly Penner for the magazine. I was excited to have the chance to interview my childhood idol. I found out that not only had Olly done a children’s program for CFAM she had also hosted a variety of other shows like Ladies First, Hints for Homemakers, The Garden Show, and Social Calendar. She co-hosted the radio station’s morning show with anchor Jim McSweeny for 13 years.

Remember this was a time when most women did not work outside the home, something Olly Penner was criticized for by some radio listeners. She said the support of her husband Vic who was the editor of the Altona newspaper The Red River Valley Echo but was often referred to by the public as ‘Aunt Olly’s husband’, made it possible for her to keep up with all her radio station commitments which included many public appearances. She also found time to write a regular newspaper column, publish a cookbook, and be an active participant in several community organizations, all while raising two sons.

Children’s Party souvenir from Greg Lindenbach

The day I interviewed her she showed me the thousands of fan letters she had received from children. Many had sent her photographs and drawings and I recognized some of the names. But Olly also had fan mail from adults; grandparents who enjoyed her show, farmers who listened to her while driving their tractors, recent immigrants who said they were learning English by listening to her, and parents who said they got their children to behave by threatening to take away the privilege of listening to Children’s Party. She even had a fan letter from a clergyman who said he’d ‘fallen in love with her voice’.

Olly Penner

Olly retired in 1987 and when I interviewed her in 1989 she was already a grandmother and was enjoying traveling with her husband, and spending more time with her family. Olly Penner died in 2015 at the age of 86. She had a legion of fans in a time when media programming aimed specifically at children was a rarity.

The full original article I wrote for the Mennonite Mirror can be accessed on page 4 of the May/June 1989 issue here.

Other posts………

Radios Good and Evil

What a Woman!

My Childhood Reading Heaven


Filed under Canada, Childhood, Culture, Media

The Girl Who Loved Giraffes

I was smitten with the story of Canadian giraffologist Anne Innis Dagg after I saw the movie The Woman Who Loves Giraffes. I wrote a blog post about how the film inspired and moved me. So when I heard there was a new children’s book about Anne Innis Dagg called The Girl Who Loved Giraffes I was so excited. Now Anne’s story would be accessible to a younger generation of Canadians.

I was even more excited when I heard that Kathy Stinson a Canadian children’s writer with a long and successful career had written The Girl Who Loved Giraffes. Kathy Stinson classics were favourites in my sons’ book collections when they were young as well as in the libraries of the elementary schools where I served as a teacher. At one point I probably could have recited any number of Kathy Stinson’s books by heart, because I had read them so often.

So when CANSCAIP (the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers) of which I am a member began to advertise the launch of The Girl Who Loved Giraffes by Kathy Stinson I signed up immediately.

The launch was terrific because not only did we get to hear from Kathy Stinson the author, but also from Anne Innis Dagg herself. I also enjoyed listening to Francois Thisdale talk about how he created such beautiful illustrations for the book. He put so many details into each drawing.

He explained for example that in this one where Anne sees a giraffe for the first time at the Brookfield Zoo he added a vintage ticket for the zoo and the numbers on the ticket are Anne’s birthdate.

Anne Innis Daag

One of my favorite things about The Girl Who Loved Giraffes is that it is really two books in one. First of all, we can read Anne’s story about how she went to Africa to study giraffes and became one of the world’s foremost experts on the animal only to be rejected for teaching positions at Canadian universities because she was a woman.

A gIraffe I photographed at the Taronga Zoo in Australia

But… we also learn all kinds of interesting things about giraffes in the notes on each page. Did you know a giraffe’s intestines are as long as a football field or that they eat 90 different kinds of leaves?

I can hardly wait to share The Girl Who Loved Giraffes with my grandchildren. It is a top-notch autobiography- a fascinating compendium of information about giraffes and it contains many beautiful works of art.

Other posts………….

Where Are the Women?

The Matilda Effect

Show Us Where You Live Humpback

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Nature

Show Us Where You Live, Humpback

“A celebration of the wonder of whales and the connections we share with them” are the words on the back of a beautiful new picture book for young children called Show Us Where You Live Humpback by Beryl Young.

A mother and child see a humpback whale with her calf as they walk along the ocean and a lyrical story begins to unfold where the lives of the two children, whale and human are described and compared. As the baby whale grows and learns so does the child.

Photo of a page from Show Us Where You Live Humpback by Beryl Young and Sakika Kikuchi published by Greystone Kids

Show Us Where You Live Humpback is a feast for the eye and ear. Illustrator Sakika Kikuchi has created gorgeous images of the whales under the sea all awash in different shades of blue while the cadence of Beryl Young’s text brings to mind the lapping of rolling waves on the shore.

I loved the page where the whale is shooting a plume of spray out from its blowhole and the reader is invited to make the accompanying sounds- Whoosh- Fwissh- Wow! This is contrasted with lively colourful illustrations of the child in the story blowing out birthday candles, blowing bubbles and blowing away the white fuzz of a dandelion.

There’s lots to learn about humpback whales from the text in the story itself and in a short information piece included at the end of the book which compares the knobs on a humpback’s head to the bumps on a dill pickle and the size of the baby whale to a compact car.

Author Beryl Young

Beryl Young the author of Show Us Where You Live Humpback has written all kinds of books for children including biographies and middle-grade fiction. This is her second picture book. Illustrator Sakika Kikuchi has a degree in children’s book illustration from Cambridge University and lives in Japan. This is her first picture book.

Illustration by Sakika Kikuchi from the book Show Us Where You Live Humpback

The book is published by Greystone Kids which specializes in nature books for children. At a conference in May, I listened to a presentation by Sara Gillingham who is a consulting creative director for Greystone and she talked about working towards more inclusivity in the visuals in children’s books. I could appreciate that in Show Us Where You Live Humpback where the illustrations depict the child in a way that leaves gender and ethnicity open to suggestion.

I have become friends with author Beryl Young through our connection with Heritage House. They published my novel Lost on the Prairie and have also published one of Beryl’s novels, Miles to Go.

I have never met Beryl in person but am hoping to rectify that with an autumn trip to British Columbia where I’d also like to go on a whale watching tour to meet the fascinating creatures featured in Beryl’s beautiful book.

Other posts……

What An Inspiration

Two Breathtakingly Beautiful Books

A Book I’ve Loved For Fifty Years

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Nature

A Book I’ve Loved For Fifty Years

My favorite novel as a young girl was The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare Published in 1958 the story is set in the 1860s. Kit Tyler, an orphan, has grown up in her grandfather’s home in Barbados. When Kit is a teenager he dies and circumstances force Kit to go and live with her very conservative Puritan relatives in New England. After being there for a time she is accused of witchcraft.

I think I loved the book as a young girl because Kit the protagonist is fiesty, independent and determined to stand up for those who are weaker than she is.

Kit and Nat- illustration by Christy Tortland.

I delighted in the tension of the romance that Kit has with a young sailor named Nat even though after the first time I read the book I knew exactly how it would turn out.  

Kit and Hannah-illustration by Christy Tortland

Kit has this wonderfully supportive mentor named Hannah, a woman who understands her and provides solace in tough times. I had a mother who was like that.  

Kit with Mercy and Judith -illustration by Christy Tortland

Mercy and Judith, Kit’s two cousins are a complete contrast in character and they reminded me of my own two cousins who were closest to me in age, one on each side of the family.  

I also really liked the fact that the book taught me so much history. I learned about the Salem witch trials, Quakers, Puritans and life in early New England. Kit charmed me because she had the courage to be different and go against the societal norms of the community in which she lived.  As a young girl I didn’t have the courage to do that, but I wished I did.

As an adult I’ve continued to appreciate The Witch of Blackbird Pond and I make a point of reading it again at least once every year. In the last decade as I have tried to become a writer for young people myself, I have gained an even greater appreciation for the writing genius of Elizabeth George Speare. She won many literary awards including the Newberry Medal for The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  Her characters are memorable and interesting.  Her plot has plenty of conflict. The setting is described beautifully and the pacing is perfect.

I’ve learned recently that since Speare’s novel was published during the McCarthy era in American history some people think she was using the book as a way to make a political statement. By describing Kit’s unfair accusation and trial for witchcraft in the 17th century, Elizabeth George Speare was actually commenting on the way many people in the United States in the 1950s were unfairly accused of being sympathizers with the Communist Party.

Image from @freepik

Today is World Book Day. It is a world wide celebration of books and reading designed to highlight the power of books to change lives and impart knowledge. It encourages people of all ages to understand the value of books and to read more. It promotes the idea that books serve as window into different worlds.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond has been that kind of book for me.

“People are afraid of things they don’t understand.” – Kit Tyler in Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

Other posts……..

I Read Canadian

The Magic Geranium

A Novel For Peter

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Filed under Books, 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 paleontologist 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


Filed under Books, Childhood

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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Filed under Childhood, Family

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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Filed under Books, Childhood

Mrs Brown’s DayCare-This Woman Should Be A Jamaican Saint

Children, children everywhere!  One hundred and forty of them! Our host here in Jamaica, Tony Beach took us to visit Mrs Brown’s Daycare in the Edgecombe Ghetto of Runaway Bay last week. Tony has great respect for the work done at this daycare and he wanted us to see it for ourselves. Here’s Tony with Mrs Claudette Brown who runs a daycare for 140 children on a tiny piece of land in a ramshackle old building with four small rooms. Six other women work with her. When we drove up the children outside playing in the small cement and dirt front yard rushed up to the gate to greet us. The children said “Hello, Hola and Bonjour” welcoming us in three languages. “Do you want to know how to say hello in German?” Dave asked.  When he said, “Guten Tag,” the kids quickly copied him. A little boy immediately grabbed Dave’s hand and a little girl mine when we entered the yard offering to be our guides. It was amazing how many children were crammed into each of the tiny rooms. In the two-year-old’s room, they were giving the children lunch. Tony told us when the daycare runs short of money for salaries the women who work there simply divide whatever funds they have left after expenses for their salaries. Apparently Mrs Brown often ends up staying at the daycare till well after it closes at 5 pm, sometimes till 8 o’clock, because parents don’t show up to pick up their children. Sometimes she just ends up taking children who are left behind home with her. 

The kids ran to get books and asked me to read to them. I was amazed at how they knew their colors, the names of shapes, concepts like big and small and over and under. Tony told us the local primary schools say children from Mrs Brown’s daycare are usually well ahead of the other students when they enter school. A teacher in a tiny dark classroom with tarp walls was working on counting concepts with a small group of older children. Tony and Mrs Brown were having a heart to heart talk while we toured the daycare. Tony runs an after school program in Runaway Bay and he tries to share supplies donated to his program with Mrs Brown and help her out financially when he can. Often parents of Mrs Brown’s students can’t afford to pay the minimal fee she charges and she hates to make the children leave because she tells Tony, “it’s not their fault their parents don’t pay and I can’t punish them because of their parents.” As kids do everywhere these Jamaican sweethearts loved Dave and they all wanted to play with him. Claudette Brown gets no government support for her daycare. It is her own service to the community.  She’s quite an amazing woman. 

We were so glad Tony had taken us to Mrs Brown’s daycare. She is doing so much to help so many children with so very little. 

Other posts about Jamaica……..

Beaching It on the Caribbean

The Remarkable Place We Work in Runaway Bay

Pedicure Patois

Building A House in Jamaica

Wish I Had Them In Jamaica

Pirates, Plantations, Political Activists and Pot

Jamaican Introductions

Acquiring a Taste for Jamaican Food

Dead Yard Party


Filed under Childhood, Education, Jamaica, New Experiences, People, Travel