Don’t touch his/her hair. Admire it instead!

Over the weekend Marcel and I bought two children’s books featuring Black protagonists, written by Black authors to enjoy and then pass along to one of the preschools in the city to support their diverse libraries. One other unifying characteristic of these two books is that they are also a celebration of Black hair.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, (picture book ages 5-12) winner of the covetted 2018 Kirkus Prize is described as; “One of the best reads for young black boys in years, it should be in every library, media center, and, yes, barbershop.”

I certainly learned early on the necessity and importance of Black barbershop culture for both Sam and Marcel. (In fact so much so is the setting of one of my most well-known and widely published poems; Black Enough.) This story vividly captures the ritual and deep importance of the barbershop hair cut and culture to a young African-American boy. The dynsmic illustrative painting style matches the celebratory poetry of the narrative.

“Don’t Touch My Hair” by Sharee Miller is as much a story and celebration of beautiful hair and identity as it is a vehicle for introducing empowered language for young girls in particular to have control of their body and what and who touches them. Courageous young Aria takes us on a realistic and magical journey of self-discovery and finding her voice to help the reader understand what she needs and how to arrive in a similar place of self-advocacy and joy.

Call to Action: Would you consider calling your local bookstore and ask them to order three copies of each if they don’t already have them? Explain that you’re getting a set for yourself and giving a set to the local elementary or preschool. (They can keep a set on the shelves.) This will remind them how important it is for them to support Black authors, publishers, and have Black protagonists in the children’s books available to their audience. At the same time gifting these books to the elementary school gives the message how important it is for all children to see Blackness centered at story time. It would also be a really helpful conversation starter for teachers who are managing successfully (or not) the “don’t touch my hair” request of students in the classroom.

According to Marcel he still manages and deals with this all the time in middle school. He shared that his friends are allowed to touch his hair on the first of the month only-and only once. But they still have to ask he said. He was relieved to see his experience both at the barbershop and in the hair patting captured so well.

If you have other hair related children’s book titles featuring protagonist’s of difference please share them in the comments below.

And then all this happened.. in a week???

A little homage to hugely deserved papa love started the week.

by Marcel
by Marcel


There was the thrilling victory playoff game that Sammy pitched five out of six innings, and may have had at least one homer…


wind up
wind up


followed by a meeting with the jeweler to design one of these:


Shrek's ring design, take one
Shrek’s ring design, take one


Wake up the next day, and go to the championship game, and win decisively. Sam’s team grew exponentially as a TEAM. Everyone contributing something critical to the cumulative VICTORY.

post victory huddle
post victory huddle


where friendships were the real win...
where friendships were the real win…


During all this, someone else suddenly finished first grade and became a member of a PACK.

leader of the pack
leader of the pack


Followed by my successful delivery of this breakout session to a gathering of early childhood educators in Augusta the next morning.

Color in the classroom
Color in the classroom

And when all is said and done, I close my eyes and see this magical place.

Trees where I hope to get hitched beneath
Trees where I hope to get hitched beneath


I can talk about race in the classroom

Over the last few months I have been researching and designing a unit that any parent, volunteer or teacher could use in an elementary school classroom to foster a race positive environment that enhances the cultural competence of the group. I have been collaborating with Sam’s 3rd grade teacher, who opened her doors wide to the offer after I had been volunteering all year-once a week during math (of all things-not my forte). After building relationships with the students, and her, it was an easy and seamless transition for Sammy’s mom to be reading stories and talking to the kids about who they see, and often don’t see in books.

I can see myself in the books I read
I can see myself in the books I read

The impact of this unit-which we delivered once a week for four weeks-is palpable in her classroom.  The comfort level students have with talking about people of all colors, about race, and difference, and the changes we all can make on our communities is evident in their larger discussions now about history, fiction, and current events. It feels different when you walk in the room–a cohesiveness that I didn’t feel before exists now.  Granted, I am biased. But, as soon as I find a way to measure such a shift empirically I will!

This weekend I will be presenting this curriculum along with other components of my; “I can talk about race in the classroom” workshop to administrators, educators and education majors in Augusta. A few months ago I presented another version of this to a group of students pursuing a masters in counseling. This June, I am speaking to a symposium on early childhood educators. This is wildly satisfying work, and after years of volunteering to do it, it is gratifying to be sought out and paid!

Eventually I hope to offer the curriculum itself through this site, or another avenue. This was one of my big goals for working part time this year, and it feels really exciting to see it in action. Have any of you done work of this nature in the schools in your community? What were your discoveries? Or if you haven’t but would like to, what do you feel would be most helpful to get you started with your planning?

So much good in a day

Watching our president, become our president, again. C 2013 Mama C and the Boys
Watching our president, become our president, again. C 2013 Mama C and the Boys

We’ve been all sorts of good busy in these parts. We’re doing great overall. Aside from the preponderance of tissues we’re upright, and accounted for. Watching your brown president become your president again must be about as life affirming in the “I can do anything I may ever choose to do” department for a five and eight year old of the same complexion and gender I would imagine.  I can’t help but wonder how seeing a woman accept the oath of office might have impacted me thirty-five plus years ago.  Here in Maine we also took great pride in the selection of Cuban American poet Richard Bianco as the inaugural poet as well. Hearing all the references to gay rights, climate change, and just about every other equality I can imagine, I felt like a walking goose bump for most of the morning. I feel hopeful. Tremendously hopeful today for the world our children will inherit.

I also had the amazing good fortune to collaborate with several dynamic women and men, young and old and in between, on a celebration honoring Dr. King that families from at least six local elementary schools attended yesterday. The creative portion of my contribution consisted of a staged dramatic reading of Martin’s Big Words by Dorreen Rappaort that I adapted, narrated, and directed with the help of several amazing youth volunteers, and other PTO parents and friends. With three rehearsals in a forty five minute period we pulled it off to an audience of about 250. I was also able to facilitate a little participatory conversation about “big words” as it related to MLK before we wowed the crowd. Afterwords families participated in creating a gigantic mural of dreams (that will be displayed at the City Hall, and travel to several of the participating elementary schools) and were led in a remarkable ongoing drum circle. Right?

I wrote to my co-leader of our “Cross Cultural Committee” of the PTO that this event allowed me to feel as if I answered Dr. King’s call to service in helping to organize and facilitate this event.  She wrote back that creating the opportunity for so many youth of color, and families and children to show up and engage in all of these ways was a gigantic source of  joy for her too.

Rehearsing the play. Photo by K. Mngqbisa
Rehearsing the play. Photo by K. Mngqbisa
mural making. Photo by K. Mngqbisa
mural making. Photo by K. Mngqbisa by K. Mngqbisa
Drum hands   photo by K. Mngqbisa
Mural phase 1. photo by K. Mngqbisa
Wordplay. photo by K. Mngqbisa

If you are wondering how we managed to pull all this off and send the first 75 families that arrived there home with a free copy of Martin’s Big Words while working full time, raising our families, and being in relationship-you should be. It was hard work. I’m not afraid to admit that. But the results were enthralling. The positive reverberations are innumerable.  One photographer who was sent to the event without a reporter, took me aside and said; “I am going back to the office and fighting for this story. The looks on folks faces during the play, the drums, all of it? Now that was moving. That is a real story.”

Feeling inspired? Want to do something like this at your local elementary school next year? Great. Find some like minded folks, and get started. Start small. Organize around a great book, and invite to help would be my suggestion. (For a great post with a zillion resources on books to talk about race, check out this post at Rage Against the Minivan). If you are not part of your PTO, now would be a great time to join.

Did you attend, organize, read, compose or experience something that inspired you and yours too this weekend?  Share it here, or commit to something you’d like to help make happen next year in the comments, and then come back periodically and share your progress! We’d love to be your cheering squad!

Things in flight, and the boots under the table

It’s been, uh, let’s say rather full around here.

Kindergarten is big. It is about as demanding a shift on a little guy as it gets. A thousand new things to learn how to do well. Add a a zillion hundred new names of your new friends. Take away your mom and brother’s easing, reassuring words, looks, and hugs all day and you are setting up a little person for hard patch.  He’s handling it beautifully at school. His teacher has nothing but great things to say. He is smiling when I pick him up.

getting away as fast as he can…

Then we get home. Two words: OVERWHELMED EMOTIONS.  This looks like outbursts of the vocal and physical variety. Things in flight: toys, fists, demands. Often his entire four year old self racing as fast as he can (which is FAST) in the opposite direction from me. Shrek and I have had some great conversations about how to best support him. Reasoning wasn’t working. Time outs were turning into complete mayhem. Then we reached out to other circles as well. What we’ve come up with that seems to be really helping-more connection-more hugging-less time outs-and lots of reassurance that these are BIG EMOTIONS and they are OK and that he is DOING GREAT.

An example of a successful switch it up intervention was last night. He and Sam were watching a movie. He lost track of the plot because one of the characters spoke in a heavy accent. He stands up right in front of the television screaming; “I HATE THIS. IT MAKES NO SENSE. I AM GOING TO TURN IT OFF NOW!!!” Asking him to please sit down, or count to three with the promise of a time out would lead him strait to Melt Down Avenue before you could say; “Don’t throw that remote!”. Instead Shrek suggested that I stop folding the laundry in the other room, and offer to sit with him in my lap, and explain the narrative when necessary. He was cuddled in my lap, quietly watching and laughing in seconds. When the dishes were done, Shrek joined us too. Maybe this seems completely obvious to you. But to me–who was so into CONSEQUENCES for everything, it has been a great reminder to switch it up, CONNECT MORE and find what works better.  It has also been great to realize that what works for one fantastic kid, is not necessarily working for the other fantastic kid. Why this was an ah-ha this late in the game?

What is the parable about the rabbi who tells the man that if his home feels crowded and overwhelming it is time to buy a goat, a cow, a horse and so on and so on?

Establishing trust with the new bird.

Yesterday we welcomed “Friendly” or “Sky” or “Bird” depending on who you ask into our home. Sam in particular is thrilled to have a parakeet. I’m enjoying it too. Lots of opportunity for literacy; “Read to us what he can’t eat again Sam?” and “Parakeets really need quiet in the house to adjust.” It was really sweet to have this be a FAMILY decision, including Shrek, to get the bird or not after a student’s family asked us if we’d be interested in the bird, cage and all. Having a pet is a big deal, and this felt like a great place to start. A bird requires daily attention, and care, but it doesn’t poop on your floor, or bark.

So, why did they want to part with such a beauty?  SHE’S ANNOYING according to the daughter. Huh. To be discovered?

Now to some seeing a large pair of industrial strength boots under your kitchen table might be annoying too. Or perhaps it just a sign of a welcomed change, a growing family, and wait what was that parable getting at?

Shrek’s boots on my, I mean, our kitchen floor.

So although I still feel a rather palpable feeling of loss when I walk around the community pool near the skate park and see this:

in a few steps I have the pleasure of watching Sam leaping into his own in magical ways, that remind me how precious it all is, and not just in the summer time.

I hope your new starts and transitions are not all feeling like “dropping into the big bowl”, but if so, remember that once you leap, you do reach the bottom, with another chance to climb up, up, up, and try it again!

Journal writing success with a 4 and 7 year old

a little juice with your literacy this morning?

Having a mama who is a poet, a writer, and a literacy professional is not always seen as a good thing to my boys. Where it’s cool to have contact paper all over the house identifying things like the “toilet”, it can be a drag when you have to write in your summer writer’s journal again this week. For Sam, this has often been a real tough sell, and has involved bribery on occasion.  So far this summer, Sam is into it. Or maybe he knows it is just something you do. With “adding details to your writing” being a identified goal for him (he is my one sentence equals a complete paragraph guy) I felt the stakes were a little higher this year than last. By 2nd grade the writing standards are clearly looking at a paragraph as the norm, not the exception.

this is how you spell it, and don’t forget to FLUSH

For Marcel, my story teller, who can write his name, and “m-o-m” and “n-o” the goal is to help him record his stories, and to begin to incorporate some pencil holding skills, and the desire to write. I am not expecting him to craft a sentence independently.  If he chooses to, great. Below, I’ll show a fun way to simultaneously introduce ten common Kindergarten sight words by the end of August: a, at, an, and, am, can, do, go, I, me, we.

Materials: two notebooks, two pencils, a few crayons, and a bowl of letter tiles. I picked mine up from a Scrabble set at a thrift shop, and was also gifted a set from a Montessori teaching friend when she saw the bowl. Art stores sell them for crafts too. There are a zillion uses for them, but today I will just focus on how they help us with our journaling.

Keeping a journal-the Pre K version

1.  Any notebook is fine. Designing a picture, or using a post card from a favorite spot for the cover is a good start. Ownership of YOUR BOOK.  This is after all, a memoir in the making.  Using words like autobiography, memoir, and journal are all power vocabulary words too.

2. Once a week on either a set day, a rainy day or the morning after an exciting adventure- we sit down and journal. I have mine out too, making it a family event.

3. Collecting a ticket stub, or printing out a photo can be an added treat, but really is not necessary. It is the writing, and the telling, and in Marcel’s case the drawing that is the focus here.

4. I prompt Marcel with simple questions like; “Tell me one thing you never ever want to forget about yesterday?” Or I simply have him start on a drawing of a memory in his head. He then describes to me the the scene.  After he finishes his drawing, and I record the story, I have him craft a sentence using one of his sight words.  I give him a few tiles to choose from

It is…

to see if he can remember how to spell the word. In this case he wanted to say “It is…” and then think about what it is. He found the tiles, checked in with me, and then copied the words. Then he wanted to add the word loud. He found the first letter, and I added the rest.

Keeping a journal the rising 2nd grade version

1. We used last year’s journal which is a big boost to Sam’s ego.  Having tangible evidence of your progress is very important to all learners. So keep this in mind, and store this year’s journal in a safe place, or keep it going all year. (I failed there, but hey, he was writing in school.)

2. Sam is keen on having me print a photo of him doing the thing, like arm farts, and writing with the picture to help him to describe the event.

Summer Ballphoto, because I was too lazy to go all the way to the basement to connect the laptop to the printer. I did manage to do that today though, and will add the picture as a surprise next week.

2. We are working towards:  a) a title that “captures the reader’s attention without giving it all away” b) Using upper case and lower case letters appropriately c) adding details d) Finishing with a “wrap up” sentence.

Spelling is not important. He spells words the way he thinks they should be spelled phonetically-example; “peopol” for people. If you focus on spelling, it can shut down the young writer immediately. They don’t know how to spell. His kindergarten teacher told me last year, that Sam’s keen phonetic ability, allowed him much greater confidence as a writer. He is not prolific, but he is confident. That is huge! (And, now because he is reading more and more on his own, he is learning how to spell words that way.)

When he senses a word is misspelled he will ask. I will start the word with the tiles, and leave the end letters turned over. He can look for a clue, or just check after to see if he was right. He loves the challenge. I  try to prompt him to add details, by asking questions about color, size, texture, smell, and sound (adding the senses into his writing is great modelling too).

His passage reads; “Summer ball is fun because I met new peopol. I struck out #4 players. i had so much fun. love sammy”

How do you spell struck Mommy?

3. When we are all finished we “read” our entry out loud. Marcel was really PUMPED to be able to READ his sentence;”it’s loud”. He was anticipating the the fireworks that got rained out last night.

Sam then went back to last years journal and reread the entire thing. this generated a great conversation about memories from last summer, and what we HAVE TO DO AGAIN this summer. He could not believe

I had a lemonade stand and I got ten $ and I got jewleryhe used to write like that!

he used to write like that!

Now that you have your writing program wrapped up for the summer, bounce on over to my all time go to resource for all things literacy related (and more)  Pragmatic Mom for today’s post on teaching young readers to read independently.