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Hats Off (or On) to Imagination!

ZingerThe title of this book is what made me so curious that I just had to delve in.

There’s just a nice ring to “Mr. Zinger’s Hat,” don’t you agree? Well, Mr. Zinger’s Hat ($17.95, Tundra books, Ages 4 and up), written by Cary Fagan, is a story about Leo, a boy whose ball knocks a hat off an old man’s head – Mr. Zinger’s head of course.

The hat blows around the school courtyard in the wind, as do the words on the page. When Leo gets hold of the hat, old man Zinger invites the boy to sit with him for a while. Mr. Zinger convinces Leo that there is a story inside that hat that needs to come out. So the old man starts to tell a story and cleverly gets the boy to use his imagination to add his own details and help shape the outcome. After Mr. Zinger leaves the boy to write a story of his own back in his office, Leo befriends a girl who happens by. You’ll have to read the story to find out how Leo shares with the girl what he learned from Mr. Zinger.

What’s nice about this book is that it inspires young children to use their imaginations. There’s also a subtle, yet valuable lesson to be learned in the story Leo creates with the old man.  You’ll enjoy the imaginative illustrations, too, by award-winning illustrator, Dusan Petricic, that truly enhance this unusual story.

Creativity is an essential part of childhood and of life. So if you are looking for a book to stir your child’s imagination, I suggest you look inside Mr. Zinger’s Hat.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

Are We Failing Our Kids by Failing to Talk About Race?

Helen Lesnick and Valerie Pichney, the creators of LET’S TELL STORIES (formerly Organic Kids Company) shared some interesting insights with me that I would like to pass along to you.

imag008CNN recently conducted a study with children about race. The children were given five dolls that were identical except for skin color. When asked questions such as who is the mean child, or the friendly child, children generally associated negative characteristics to the dolls with the darker skin color. And many of those children had darker skin themselves. The study found that about 75% of white families and 25% of black families don’t talk to their children about race. Primarily because they didn’t think it was an issue. But silence about race is not enough because children receive a lot of subtle and indirect messages about race. Two main ways that they receive the messages are through the media and through cultural language constructs.

The Princess and the Frog movie exemplifies the indirect messages about race that our children are receiving. Although the Princess is depicted as being African American and having darker skin, the Prince has lighter skin. The most sinister of the characters, the Facilier, is obviously depicted as black. Why isn’t the Prince black like the Princess? In white Princess movies, the Prince and the Princess are the same race. Are children subconsciously absorbing the message that if you are black you cannot be a prince? Language also has an impact. Typically something that is dark is bad or scary. In Star Wars, the “dark side” is the bad side; Darth Vader’s costume is black. These depictions affect children’s perspective on race because they can associate the depictions of darker being bad or undesirable and mistakenly connect it to skin color and race. Parents need to break that association so that children can understand that skin color is not an indicator of other traits, such as good behavior or intelligence.

An excellent way to open a dialogue with your children is through storytelling. Storytelling can convey the concept that what we look like does not define who we are in a way that children understand and relate to. Storytelling is more potent than just talking directly to children about race for many reasons including that they must use their own imaginations to imagine for themselves the imagery and characters the storyteller describes. Then they draw on their own connections, helping them make the story personal and memorable. Stories often incorporate songs, rhymes, and repetition to make them memorable. When children can repeat and participate in the story it becomes their own and it is synthesized into their thinking. Finally, we learn best when our emotions are affected. It is not nearly as effective to tell a child that lying is wrong as to take a child through the emotions of the story, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” At the end of the story, when the child hears the plaintive cry of the boy, “Wolf, Wolf!” as the wolf really is attacking and eating the sheep, the child can truly understand, in an intellectual and emotional way, the consequences of lying.

imag0011Our company Let’s Tell Stories, created a Storytelling DVD series that is an excellent option to talk about race. The DVD, Storytellers Favorite Fables, features multi-cultural storytellers telling fables from around the world. The first fable on the DVD, Croc n Hen, deals with this very issue. The message is that although we may appear different, we are very much alike in the most important ways. It is important to remember that your kids are getting messages about race even if you never talk about it. And if you are not pro-active, helping them to sort out what they hear and see, it is likely that they will develop biases because they don’t know how to interpret the information they are receiving.

For more information on storytelling and the DVD, Storytellers’ Favorite Fables, please visit: www.LetsTellStories.com

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