12 Days of Christmas – A Literacy Feast

12 Days of Christmas literacy feastThe 12 Days of Christmas begin today. We are “off the grid” for the rest of the year. Like you we are enjoying time with family and friends.

Our gift to you is a collection of 12 Days of Christmas. Literacy style. Enjoy some of our favorite literacy finds this year. Our 12 Days offers some new research,  creative literacy ideas, and a few book list suggestions.

This is the only 12 Days of Christmas that give you the guilt-free answer to “I’m bored” during Winter Break.

Grab a cup of eggnog (or your favorite holiday beverage), sit back, and enjoy the feast!

12 Days of Christmas for Literacy Curators

We hope you have enjoyed our 12 Days of Christmas and found something inspirational for the new year.

Happy holidays. We’ll be back in 2014!


Family Matters: An interview with children’s author Susan Fayad

Susan Daniel FayadWhen you read the back cover of Susan Daniel Fayad’s debut picture book, there is no doubt: family matters. In My Grandfather’s Masbaha Susan draws on and weaves her family and cultural experiences into a universal story.

Family matters all year long, but during the holiday season, we tend to place a little more emphasis on spending time together and showing our appreciation for one another.

Susan is a Lebanese American born and raised in the United States. She completed her undergraduate studies in Psychology and Special Education at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. After graduating, she taught primary grades at an international charter school.

Recently I had the chance to interview Susan to talk about her new picture book and what literacy and family mean to her. She is a voice for girls’ education, and you can read about her work in more of our interview at The Reading Tub.

Family Matters: An Interview with Susan Fayad

family  matters book susan fayadTerry: Welcome to the Reading Tub, Susan! December seems like the perfect time to talk about your new book, My Grandfather’s Masbaha! This is a very personal story for you, as it includes your father and son as characters. Yet it also has very universal appeal. What is it that you hope young readers will gain from the story? 
Susan: Thanks for having me, Terry, I am excited to be here. To answer your question, I want kids – and parents – to know that despite the fact that they think that they can have more “things,” if they have family and friends that love them, than those “things” shouldn’t matter so much.

Terry: What are your goals for My Grandfather’s Masbaha with readers? Are there specific things you point out for children and families to help them connect to the story (or connect to their lives)?
:I want readers to see that although Arab and Western cultures are different, we have things in common. Gratitude, family, and finding meaning in the smallest things are a significant part of humanity. They are especially appreciated during the holidays and times when we gather with our loved ones.

Terry: My daughter and I were fascinated by the masbaha (maz ba ha), particularly as it relates to the abacus. We always thought of the abacus as a math tool, does it have a cultural/religious history, too? 
masbaha beadsSusan: It is fitting for the masbaha to be likened to an abacus because both originate from the Mesopotamian region – the Middle East today. Both also are tools for counting. In the Arab World, both Christians and Muslims use the masbaha.

For Christians the masbaha with the 33 beads is their rosary. For Muslims, the masbaha was used to track prayers and the 99 names for Allah. This can be done using the 33 beads, which they go around 3 times, or the 66-bead masbaha, or the traditional 99 bead masbaha.

masbaha for idle handsAs I explain in the book, the masbaha is also a way to keep idle hands busy. When you go to someone’s home you will often find the men of the house with a masbaha in hand, sliding the beads one by one. And when men are having conversations with each other, they will use the masbaha to count to prove a point.

Moreover, the masbaha is a beautiful adornment in homes, you will find them in all sizes, colors, even different forms of beads.

Terry: I laughed out loud at Adam’s declaration about having “nothing” [no friends, no toys, nothing to do]. Parents around the world will nod their head when they read that! How can we help our kids see things more clearly – just as Jidoo and the masbaha?
Susan: That’s a good question and not an easy answer. My son still does the same thing when he feels like he needs more of something – play, attention, toys, etc. I still keep reminding him of how much he does have. Still the frustration persists.

Terry: One of the things on my bucket list is to broaden my own understanding of how reading and literacy are viewed in other parts of the world. I was fortunate to chat with Mitali Perkins, Hannah Ehrlich and Tanita Davis as part of a panel about the culture of reading of reading. Could you share your perspective on how Arab cultures view literacy?
Susan: What a great discussion! There are some great insights there.

From what I have seen, literacy is a means to an end in the Arab World. While education is important and great strides are being taken in terms of girls’ education in particular, in a majority of Arab countries, there is much more to be done.

The level of education of schools is very high and students are required to read and memorize and recite a great deal of information. However, you will not see many people curled up with a good book or reading to their children before they go to sleep. The aural tradition is still great in Arab culture. Parents will “tell” their children stories rather than read. It is a work in progress.

Terry: Could you elaborate more on what kinds of stories they tell? Are they personal family stories, fictional/fantasy works?
Susan: Growing up, my parents and grandmother would tell me the same stories that we are familiar with like Little Red Riding Hood. And there are the traditional Arab folk tales and rhymes.

Terry: What did literacy look like for you?
Susan: Before the age of 11, most of my time other than school and activities, was spent in my parents’ candy stores. By the time I got home, it was late and there wasn’t much time for reading.

As soon as I started reading well, my father would have me read to him articles from the New York Times and we would discuss them. That was the start of my interest in social affairs. Once a week, my mother and I would walk to the local branch of the New York Public Library and I would take out a stack of books.

I really started enjoying to read in the summer of 4th grade. My favorite stories were ones that took me to a different place – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequel stories by Frank Baum, and Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

Terry: I am so envious of your being able to walk to the New York Public Library every week. That alone sounds so magical, to me! Thanks for spending time with us, Susan.  

To read more of our interview with Susan, please visit The Reading Tub. Also Connect with Susan on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/grmasbaha

- Image credits: Flickr.com/creativecommons
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Crossing Generations: An Interview with Kathleen Cherry

Kathleen Cherry crossing generations bookCall it Crossing Generations or the Sandwich Generation. The idea is the same.With our parents living longer, there is more of a chance that our children will have longer, hopefully deeper, relationships with our parents.

They will also likely be old enough to remember the experience the aging and loss of their grandparents. Grief, crossing generations with us in the middle.

Kathleen Cherry is passionate about helping kids (and their parents) with a gentle, positive hand. As a school counselor, Kathleen Cherry deals with “hard” stuff everyday. It seems only natural that her first book tackles a tough subject for kids, too. In her debut title, Kathleen has created a family story centered around an aging patriarch.

Her first book, Blowing Bubbles, embodies a family’s love and concern when Grandpa has a stroke. The depth of the relationship and how it is crossing generations is central to this very relevant story … and very topical, as you’ll see in our interview.

Please welcome Kathleen to the Reading Tub.

Crossing Generations with Kathleen Cherry

Blowing Bubbles by Kathleen CherryTerry: Blowing Bubbles “looks like” a story about a boy and his grandfather, but it is really a story about family. Was it hard to create a story that spoke to all readers, not just boys and grandfathers?

Kathleen: I think it is hard to create a story which discusses a serious subject but is also engaging to children. No kid wants a lecture so I felt it imperative to ensure that Blowing Bubbles still had the necessary “fun” factor.

Terry: One of the things that struck me about the story is how deeply Josh (the grandson) is affected. As a school counselor, I’m sure you have met kids distraught over a major life change like Josh’s. What are the kinds of things parents and caregivers can do to help kids in these situations?
: This is a huge topic! The first thing to know is that talking about a difficult subject be it illness or death will not increase a child’s fears. Here are some of my essential tips:

1. It is important to invite open discussion through open-ended questions. And avoid euphemisms. Telling your child that Grandma went to sleep and isn\’t going to wake up, might increase a child’s fear of sleep.

grandma and Josh

2. Use simple, direct language which is understandable to children. Be aware of “shoulds.” There is no right or wrong way to react to traumatic news and it is important to accept your child’s way of reacting.

Some children prefer not to talk and this should be respected. There are less verbal ways of being supportive. Perhaps you could draw or take a walk together. Accept and normalize their response.

3. Be aware of your own emotions. It is important to be honest about your emotions and express your own feelings. However, it is healthier to shield your child from overwhelming grief.

4. Tell the truth simply without unnecessary information or elaboration. The alternative – hiding information – can cause confusion and mistrust.

5. Reassure children that they are not to blame.

6. Find ways for the child to be involved, if possible and avoiding undue pressure. Being involved at the hospital or funeral can demystify events and provide closure.

7. Encourage the expression of feelings and grief in private ways like journaling or art.

Terry: Thank you for sharing your tips. You characterized helping kids (and parents) as a “huge topic.” Have you thought about taking other aspects of the topic and writing books for children?

Kathleen: I have several more manuscripts aimed for the picture book and middle grade markets. One of my works in progress is Being Ben (working title). The story is set in British Columbia’s beautiful Northwest. It is about a little boy with an older brother and, like many, younger siblings – he is just not big enough! Through the story, Ben has a great adventure and gains self-acceptance.

I also have a longer chapter book written from the perspective of a girl with high functioning Aspergers. Again, this is about self-acceptance and personal growth.

Terry: How exciting! As the mom of a child on the “high functioning” end of the Autism Spectrum, that book can’t be published too soon! Let me come back to Blowing Bubbles. Having shared the book with children, I am guessing that you have some starter questions that can open a discussion. Could you share a few of those with our readers who may be looking for help in talking about aging and death with their kids?

Kathleen: I think the great thing about books is that you can keep it totally non-threatening. Start with chatting about going on a roller coaster or taking a boat ride. If it seems right, ask the child how he thinks Josh might be feeling at certain times.

One can also stop the action and brainstorm for possible solutions or actions which the character could take. One can then read and discuss the actual conclusion. The main thing is to be in-tune with the child and make sure that he is comfortable with the discussion.

Terry: In addition to being a writer, you describe yourself as a reader. Do you remember any of the books that helped create the bookworm that you are today?

Kathleen: I was always an avid reader and read everything from the Trixie Belden mysteries to the classics like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Different authors and themes have appealed at different times in my life but wanting and needing to have a book on the go is a constant.

As a parent and counselor, I have recognized the true art of the well-crafted picture book. Bernard Waber’s Courage or Franklin in the Dark by Paulette Bourgeois have a wonderful simplicity and symmetry to them.

Terry: Thanks for joining us, Kathleen.

To read more of our interview with Kathleen, visit The Reading Tub. Learn more about Kathleen’s other writing, her academic work, and her suggestions for books to read with kids about Alzheimer’s Disease and dimentia.

Connect with Kathleen on her Goodreads author page


- Blowing Bubbles Cover and interior images. Copyright Kathleen Cherry. Used with permission.
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