10 Children's Books to Celebrate Black History Month

From courageous activists to extraordinary citizens, it’s a wonderful time to share these stories with your children.

February is a time of celebration, a time when we honor and remember the achievements, contributions, and accomplishments of black Americans in history and culture. Below are ten books to help you celebrate Black History Month. From courageous activists to extraordinary citizens, it’s a wonderful time to share these stories with your children.

[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]

Martin’s Big Words

by Doreen Rappaport

An inspirational picture book for children and adults that brings the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to life in his own words. Author Doreen Rappaport has pulled together some of Dr. King’s most remarkable and influential quotes that take us on a vivid journey through history. Powerful watercolor illustrations detail how he used words, not weapons, to fight injustice and spearhead civil rights.

[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]

amazing grace

Amazing Grace” by Mary Hoffman

by Mary Hoffman

Grace is a girl who loves stories, and her colorful imagination knows no boundaries. When her teacher announces that her class will be performing the play Peter Pan, Grace’s heart swells with excitement. All the kids want to play the lead role, including Grace. But when the other children tell her she can’t play Peter Pan because of the way she looks, she begins to question her identity and limits. Her grandmother reminds her that strength, courage, and hope can help anyone achieve their dreams.

[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]

the story of ruby bridges

The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles

by Robert Coles

Crowds of angry white parents lashing out. Children staring in indifference. Walking alone through unfamiliar halls. Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to integrate into the public-school system back in 1960s New Orleans. Her struggle and bravery are chronicled in this powerful book narrated by Robert Coles.

[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]



by Nikki Giovanni

Long after her courageous refusal to give up a seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, Rosa Parks remains one of the most honored and central figures of the American civil rights movement. “Rosa,” a 2006 Caldecott Honor Book and the winner of the 2006 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, is the retelling of this historic event in a haunting narrative from award-winning writer Nikki Giovanni.

[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]

voice of freedom

Voice of Freedom

by Carole Boston Weatherford

A 2016 Caldecott Honor Book, Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, and John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award Winner, “Voice of Freedom” retells the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a vocal champion of equal voting rights. Hamer, one of twenty children, had to drop out of school to work in the cotton fields. But that didn’t stop her from taking on this important mission.

[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]

sweet clara

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt

by Deborah Hopkinson

Born into slavery, Clara dreams about one day reuniting with her mother who lives on another plantation. There are days when she evens dreams about running away. When she learns about a passage north, via the Underground Railroad, her skills as a seamstress lead her down an important road. With cloth and a needle, she makes a patchwork map—a freedom quilt—to help guide escaping slaves. Based on a true story, “Publisher’s Weekly” says, “This first-rate book is a triumph of the heart.”

[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]

harlems little blackbird

Harlem’s Little Blackbird

by Renee Watson

Set during the Harlem Renaissance, author Renee Watson details the life of Florence Mills, an African-American born with a bird-like voice. Her gift lands her on the 1920s Broadway stage, where she inspires fellow singers and playwrights, particularly fellow African Americans. “Featuring a moving text and colorful illustrations, “Harlem’s Little Blackbird” is a timeless story about justice, equality, and the importance of following one’s heart and dreams,” says Watson.

[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]

henrys freedom box

Henry’s Freedom Box

by Ellen Levine

A Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author, Ellen Levine recounts the true story of Henry “Box” Brown, “a slave that mailed himself to freedom.” Brown endures the agony of having been torn from his mother as a child and then later taken away from his wife and children. Desperate and heartbroken, he conspires with abolitionists and travels to Philadelphia tucked away in a packing crate. Will he be able to keep his secret hidden? “…the evolution of a self-possessed child into a determined and fearless young man,” says Catherine Threadgill of the Charleston County Public Library.

[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]

heart and soul

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

by Kadir Nelson

“Heart and Soul” perfectly describes this collection of stories about America and the African Americans who shaped history. The stories show the courage, determination, and unwavering commitment of the men, women, and children who suffered and fought to have a better, more equal tomorrow. Although there is still much work to be done, “Heart and Soul” shows how far one step can take us on a journey to freedom and equal rights.

[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]

the other side

The Other Side

by Jacqueline Woodson

Clover, a young African-American girl, lives near a fence separating her segregated town. On the other side, lives Anna, a young white girl. One summer they form an endearing friendship, never breaking the sacred law of crossing the fence. Their days are spent sitting atop the wooden structure, as their bond becomes stronger and the fence becomes the only thing that seems out of place. “The Other Side” contains a powerful lesson blended with the artistic beauty of the masterful illustrations.

Do you have a favorite book to add to the list? Share in the comments!

Can We Cool It With the Orphaned Superheroes?

If your Netflix account hasn’t navigated away from the Kids page in a while, you may have forgotten that a striking number of comic book movies feature orphans.

In the climactic scene of “Captain America: Civil War”, Iron Man learns the horrible truth behind his parents’ death. Alliances are shattered, emotions overflow and the main characters conduct one of the best fight scenes in recent Marvel movies.

As a fan of comic book movies, I found this scene gripping and exciting. But as a parent, I ask this: can we cool it with superhero parents dying all the time? Just for, I don’t know, a minute?

If your Netflix account hasn’t navigated away from the Kids page in a while, you may have forgotten that a striking number of comic book, fantasy, and adventure movies feature characters who’ve lost one or both parents in notable ways. On the superhero side, you’ll find Batman, Robin, Superman, Spiderman, Daredevil, the Green Hornet, Iron Man, and many more I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

Looking to the Star Wars universe, every other person seems to be missing a parent, most recently Jyn Erso in “Rogue One” and Finn in “The Force Awakens”.

Throw in James Bond and Harry Potter for good measure, and you basically can’t throw a shoe at Comic Con and not hit someone dressed like an orphan. It’s staggering.

In general, I really enjoy reading comics and watching movies in my kid-free moments. I understand that the loss of a parent is an effective storytelling device to create a sense of purpose in a character, and the urgency of that loss can motivate them to search out truth or push themselves beyond their limits. It provides a rational justification for why they may do strange things, like put on a mask and punch people at night.

But now that I wear my dad hat, it’s also very terrible to be reminded of the possibility of orphaning your child. It’s awful to think that you may not be there to help your child grow up and miss the important moments of their life. Plus, you’re dead. Being alive is pretty great, and you probably want to ride this life thing out for as long as you can.

Not being around for my son is something I don’t like to dwell on, and yet here are Mr. Marvel and Ms. DC driving the idea home repeatedly. It’s like loving to read the newspaper and having a crippling fear of sharks, and every time you flip to the sports section, a Great White jumps out and takes a nip at your arm.

Now, I understand that many of these stories come from comic book origins created many years ago. But when it comes to the most recent movies, orphaning often remains a central component of the film. The biggest reveal of “Civil War” was ALL ABOUT Iron Man losing his parents.

Peter Quill from “Guardians of the Galaxy” leaves Earth because his mother passes away. Not long ago, I innocently turned the channel to find myself plunging straight into the scene where little Peter runs out of his dying mother’s hospital room. Wham! with the emotional stomach punch. You can’t escape it.

When I saw that, I thought – nope. Nope, nope, nope. A galaxy of nopes! Grab your television off the wall! Throw it into your garage! Burn down your garage and prepare an alibi in which you explain to your wife that your neighborhood has been ransacked by a ragtag group of carport arsonists! Enough with the abandoned children already!

Just once, I want to watch a fantasy hero origin story that follows these beats:

Child grows up in a stable, supportive home.

Child learns morality, the importance of justice and Brazilian jujitsu from a network of parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, and coaches (after all, it takes a village).

Child grows up to fight crime and things go great, given the strong foundation he/she has been given via his/her upbringing.

Justice reigns. Parades are held. Everything is swell.

So maybe this sounds like a terrible movie. Like someone made Daniel Tiger into an action hero.

If we can’t make a movie where there’s no stunning, tragic loss in the hero’s childhood, let’s meet in the middle. I request that the makers of these films insert a warning before these scenes. Tell us to switch over to something, head to the restroom, or look at our phones just before the pint-sized hero-in-training witnesses the death of a parent.

They could even do a side-by-side screen thing and show a puppy playing with a beach ball until it’s all over. That’s not too much to ask. Until then, I’ll keep ostriching into the couch and riding out those moments until we’re back to the world-saving and Kung Fu fighting.

Very thankfully, my son is not yet into comics. He prefers Mickey Mouse and Thomas the Tank Engine, neither of whom have dark, gritty, emotionally loaded histories.

But I’m dreading this conversation one day:

“Dad, how do I become Batman?”

“Well, son, you have to want to fight crime and believe in justice. You have to work really hard in school to make the gadgets that Batman uses, and you have to exercise and eat your vegetables so you’re big and strong.”

“Sounds good, Dad. Anything else?”

“I really didn’t want to mention this, but yes, there’s one more thing. Unfortunately, your mother and I have to be gunned down in the street to give you the proper motivation to take on the life of a masked vigilante.”

“Oh no! That seems terrible and unnecessary. Why does that need to happen? Can’t I just want to fight crime?”

“Not if you want to be Batman, kiddo.”

Maybe my son will want to grow up to be a Minion or something instead. I have no idea if those little yellow things have parents.

On Watching "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" With My Daughter

Three generations later, it seems women are still after the same things Mary was looking for.

I was born in 1970, the same year as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Growing up, I knew one thing: my mom wouldn’t let me watch it. I went to bed at eight, and she turned on the melody that would haunt my dreams in the next room.

Years later, in my 30s, I stumbled across the show again. A local network was running reruns. I was instantly hooked. I also started to understand why my mom had not let her young daughter watch with her. This was not a show for a young child. 

In one episode, The Happy Homemaker has an adulterous affair with one character’s husband. In another, Mary openly dates two men at the same time. Even the opening episode is rough: Mary and Rhoda spar angrily over an apartment with a barely controlled fury. The famous line, “I hate spunk” comes across as a punch in the gut rather than funny, only redeemed by Lou’s later agreement with Mary that her former fiancee is a jerk. 

Still, the show is funny. I looked up Veal Prince Orloff only to find it is a real dish. I cheered when Mary asked for a raise, and watched as she grew in confidence with her job each year. Being short myself, I laughed even more when she realized her date was about 10 inches away from her forehead.

Mary struck me as still relevant, her struggles as real as her mustard and brown clothes made the shoulder pads of my 80s classmates look like the height of fashion. Her earnest Midwestern niceness was not the brash Brooklyn style I grew up with, but somehow real and utterly likable. 

I went back to it again about a year ago, after a friend played an episode clip on YouTube. My eldest daughter is in her teens, and she came in with me to watch. Episode after episode came to life in our house during the middle of a blizzard. I made the decision to let her watch it on a whim. She’s not the child I was the first time it aired, when my mom sat watching in the living room.

Together, we laughed again and again. We cheered on Rhoda, rolled our eyes at Phyllis, and cried when Lou’s life left him. She asked me why women dressed like that, and I told her I didn’t know because I don’t. 

As the snow outside looked like something right out of Minneapolis, I realized something important: I had never really discussed the show with my own mom. I began to realize why she had watched so entranced in the early 1970s, and why, so many years later, she once told me to find my inner Mary.

I suppose, in a way, the struggles of the main character mirrored my mom’s struggles. She was in her late 20s back then, married with kids. She was a world away in Queens from the urban world of Mary and daily production schedules, but still a Mary trying to decide how to make her own life in a man’s world. 

Years later, she’d recount to me with great anger how she’d been denied the right to open up a bank account in her own name. The bank official had demanded she get her husband’s consent, while my dad could open an account at the same bank without her consent.

She would also tell me of going back to work when my brother and I were finally in school full time and encountering the same condescension and sexism. I told my own daughter this story and explained what life had been like for women back then – and what it’s still like for many of us today. 

In the last two seasons, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” would suffer, as such shows do, from a lack of ideas. The funny is still there, but there’s way too much Ted, and he’s about as interesting as Frank Burns from “M*A*S*H.” As a whole, though, it still holds up. My teen daughter certainly thought so. She laughed and I laughed. And together, in the middle of it all, we went someplace special, a place my mom had gone before – three generations knowing that we can each create a fantastic world of kindness, laughter, and a career.

I hope my daughter understands that the world still has a long way to go for its female citizens. I also hope she understands that she will make it after all, catching that hat in her hand with a pride Mary would have truly understood. 

This post originally appeared on Kveller

Toddlers Are the Most Chivalrous of Us All

When it comes to being generally cheerful, excited, and happy to see you, no one does it better than toddlers.

Imagine going to work and this happening: A coworker spots you, smiles, screams your name, and runs at you full force, colliding in a bear hug. Next, he or she, reaches up and gently takes your hat off, hanging it on a hook with your name on it. He or she then assists you in tugging your coat off, places that on your hook as well, and the two of you sprint off gleefully to get lattes.

This is what many mornings are like for my son when he arrives at daycare. Just swap “coworker” for “best buddy” and “lattes” for “Lego cars.”

The first time my son’s classmate greeted him this way, I was so charmed by the entire unself-conscious display that I told a friend the story. The friend made a cute joke, “What? Is that kid you son’s butler?”

I’ve repeated the joke. It’s a good line. I also like the idea of my son being some sort of Polar Bear Room aristocrat. Who wouldn’t?

But after a few retellings it stopped sitting well. I realized what’s wrong with the joke, and with my frequent repetitions of it: It’s emblematic of everything I hate about adulthood.

Why do we have to make fun of being genuinely glad and helpful? Why is it weird to assist someone in such a tangible way without any money changing hands?

To be clear, toddlers are terrible role models in lots of other areas, such as:

  • Bowel control
  • Voice regulation
  • Hygiene
  • Mastery of temper
  • Time management
  • Utensils

The list goes on.

But in this one, area, I really think they’ve got us beat. It’s hard to wrap my head around, since I’ve often referred to toddlers as walking egos.

How is it that they are still able to pull off these unrivaled feats of chivalry? And if they can do it, why can’t we?

My son does it all the time (in the moments when he’s not being a tiny totalitarian dictator and demanding his banana be cut into perfect 1/16s): helping my husband and I take our shoes off, comforting our dog when she’s scared in the car, rubbing our backs with the soft words, “I feel you all better.”

Maybe this dichotomy is possible because toddler brains are so in tune with the basics in our hierarchy of needs: food, warmth, shelter, and comfort. They see providing those for others as a clear means of expressing themselves, without considering any hidden messages about what their actions mean for their own feelings of prestige and social acceptance.

While I won’t be bear-hugging my coworkers any time soon, I am going to model my toddler in valuing the simple gifts and gestures I often ignore or take for granted: smiles, handshakes, hugs — hell… eye contact — the basic human being stuff that is getting harder and harder to see, as I peer beyond the soft glow of my iPhone.

5 Picture Books to Help Get Little Kids Interested in STEM

These five picture books instill children (and parents) with excitement while exploring science, technology, engineering, and math concepts.

STEM education has seen a major bump over the past decade. From astronomy to robotics, students are expected to examine what sort of things shape the world around them. Some children have immediate interest in these ideas while others are hesitant. All are well-served by great books on the topic.

Here are five picture books to instill children (and parents) with excitement while exploring science, technology, engineering, and math concepts:

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

rosie revere engineer

Rosie Revere, Engineer

by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by David Roberts

Though Rosie may seem quiet, her mind is brimming with ideas for new inventions. When her Great-Great Aunt Rose talks about her lifelong dream of flying, Rosie sets off tinkering. Although things don’t go according to plan, that might just be a good thing.

Andrea Beaty’s rhyming text looks at the importance of failure during the creation process. After all, great engineers rarely achieve perfection on their first attempt. Matched with David Roberts’ watercolor illustrations, where pages overflow with quirky debris and sketches by Rosie, this is the perfect work for inspiring inventors to try and try again.

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

math curse

Math Curse

by Jon Scieszka
Illustrated by Lane Smith

After her teacher suggests anything can be viewed as a math problem, that’s exactly how one girl begins to see life. Her morning routine confronts her as a time calculation and pizza for lunch turns into fractions. Soon the questions become overwhelming with no logical solutions and she has to break the curse while considering what really makes a math problem.

Jon Scieszka is one of the leading voices in picture book humor, and it’s used wonderfully here to calm the common anxiety over math. Word problems, from the standard to the downright wacky, are dissected and shown in everyday circumstances.

Lane Smith’s collage illustrations are rich and manic as the curse spins out of control, but also incredibly warm as the narrator finally discovers that problems have solutions.

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

bright sky starry city

Bright Sky, Starry City

by Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrated by Aimée Sicuro

Phoebe loves space. But as she and her father set up telescopes in front of his shop, she becomes worried. The bright lights from the city might block out any view of Saturn or Mars. Worse, rain and lightning move in. However, when the power goes out and the sky clears, the night sky reveals itself in stunning detail.

The text by Uma Krishnaswami is both lyrical and informative, and Phoebe’s affection for the stars and planets is tangible through the page. Informative facts flow from her and weave effortlessly into the narrative.

The mixed-media illustrations by Aimée Sicuro capture the frantic shuffle of city life before opening up to the beautiful, calm night imagery. Together, the text and illustrations leave readers ready to try their own stargazing.

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

How the dinosaurs got into the museum

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum

by Jessie Hartland

A boy in a museum examines the skeleton of a massive Diplodocus longus and ponders how it got there. Flashing back, he traces the skeleton’s journey, starting with its unearthing in Utah in 1923. From there, paleontologists remark on its authenticity, excavators carefully remove it from the earth, and a host of others work to reveal the dinosaur at its present location in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

This is a remarkable sketch of the archeological process, aided by Jessie Hartland’s deceptively simple illustrations that make the descriptive text more accessible. Through repetitive prose, she explains the multitude of skills necessary to undertake such a massive project, from paleontologists and welders, to cleaners and curators. The back of the book contains more information about the museum and pairs perfectly with a physical visit or virtual tour on its website.

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

11 experiments that failed

11 Experiments That Failed

by Jenny Offill
Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Is a diet of only ketchup and snow sustainable? Does bologna have the same properties as a Frisbee? The narrator here understands that science can explain the important questions in her head. Sometimes the results can be downright disastrous, but that’s part of being a scientist.

Jenny Offill translates the questions of a fictional girl into hilariously testable hypotheses. Though these often end in imaginative failure, each spread shows the full process of carrying out an experiment.

Nancy Carpenter’s collages are accented by graph paper backgrounds, making the pages feel like they came out of the narrator’s actual notebook. This simplistic look at the scientific method will have children ready to craft and test their own hypotheses.

5 Family Films That Celebrate Boy-Girl Friendships

Boys and girls often play together in real life, but it’s rare for media or advertisements to reflect this. Here are five great films that do.

Platonic friendships between adult men and women are often treated as difficult, unusual, or even impossible by mainstream films and media. It’s also rare for children’s films to show girls and boys playing together as friends.

Mixed gender group films tend to involve siblings, (often annoying ones), or girls are included as the romantic interest – someone to impress, rather than being a fully-fledged member of the gang. Some girls feature as the “minority feisty – a token girl there to help the male protagonist reach his goal.

Besides the fact that in family films, there’s only one female character for nearly every three male characters, children’s media often exaggerates the perceived differences between boys and girls. Male characters are portrayed as adventurous, strong and, funny. And while there’s been a shift to more adventurous portrayals of girls recently, there remains a big focus on looking good, being helpful, and longing for romance.

What kind of future relationships are we setting up for children when we expect girls to wish for romance, yet encourage boys to scorn it?

Boys and girls often play together in real life, but it’s rare for media or advertisements to reflect this. To help show kids that boy-girl friendships can be fantastic, here are five great films with girl-boy friendship at their heart.

Bridge to Terabithia

In “Bridge to Terabithia,” 12-year-old Jesse makes friends with the new girl at school, Leslie. Together they explore local woodlands where they invent an imaginary world they call Terabithia. The story is based on a novel inspired by a real life friendship and tragedy. The actors are great and the friendship is beautifully played. It’s a magical  and heartwarming tale, but also has strong themes of bullying and loss, which makes it more suitable for older children.

Big Hero 6

“Big Hero 6” is the story of robotics enthusiast Hiro, his inflatable robot Baymax, and four friends, (two male, two female), from the Institute of Technology – GoGo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred. Together they form a team of superheroes who fight a powerful supervillain.

It’s great to see a film with a group of friends who clearly love and respect one another with no hint of romance, (also great that the female characters are into science), and it’s a lot of fun.

Sadly, the post-film merchandise inspired the hashtag #BigHero4 on social media when the female characters were left off T-shirts and other licensed items.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione forms the backbone of the Harry Potter stories. The first films in the series show the three becoming great friends. In later films a romance develops between Ron and Hermione, but Hermione and Harry keep a close platonic bond throughout the series. The trio face many difficult problems together and the importance of friendship is a theme that threads its way through all of the films.

Swallows and Amazons

“Swallows and Amazons” follows the exploits of a group of six children – four girls and two boys, from two families – the Walkers and the Blacketts. John, Susan, Tatty, and Roger meet Nancy and Peggy on an island in the Lake District. After some rivalry the children team up to fight a common enemy.

Based on a 1930 novel, the children have the freedom to explore the outdoors in a way that’s rarely seen today. It’s great to see girls being pirates and leaders in an adventure film that actually features more girls than boys.

The Secret Garden

Mary Lennox is an orphan who discovers a locked and neglected garden on the grounds of her uncle’s mansion. She enlists the help of nature loving Dickon, the brother of a maid at the mansion, to bring the garden back to life. Mary’s cousin Colin joins them after Mary tells him tales of the garden that persuade him to venture outside for the first time in his sheltered, unhappy life. The three children become great friends in a story that explores the healing powers of nature and friendship.

Friendship between the sexes is surely something to be encouraged and treated as normal in popular culture, yet it’s thought that the gendered nature of childhood products like clothes, toys and media have contributed to a culture where girls and boys now stop playing together earlier than they used to. Films that show genuine friendship between girls and boys can encourage children to recognize that they are more alike than different.

What are some of your favorite movies that portray strong girl-boy friendships?

14 Classic Movies That Offer a Chance to Discuss Sexism

As much as we love sharing classic movies with our kids, they tend to have plenty of old-fashioned gender roles. Be ready for discussions when viewing these.

I understand why my six-year-old daughter loves princess stories, but that doesn’t mean I’m thrilled when her pretend play involves falling in love with a prince, getting married, and living happily ever after.
I don’t want to ruin her fun, but I do try to turn tales of true love’s kiss into teachable moments about why it’s important for girls to take care of themselves (and I try to steer her toward the more empowered princesses, such as Moana and Mulan). When kids see outdated gender stereotypes portrayed over and over in media, it can affect the way they think about themselves and their beliefs about what they can grow up to be.
As much as we love sharing classic movies with our kids, they tend to have plenty of old-fashioned gender roles. Before you push play, be sure you’re ready to have a conversation with your kids – both girls and boys – about the messages these films are sending. (And if you want some strong-women alternatives, look here.)

  • Annie Get Your Gun: It’s fun and upbeat, but this 1950s musical hinges on the idea of the main character downplaying her skill as a sharpshooter to win her – naturally – macho, competitive fella’s heart (as the song lyric says, “You can’t get a man with a gun”).
  • Beauty and the Beast: While bookish, independent Belle usually gets a bit more credit than some of her fellow Disney princesses, pompous bad guy Gaston is a walking stereotype of what makes a man “manly.” The movie mocks him for it, but it also doesn’t really supply any alternatives. And the jiggly barmaids fawning over him add fuel to the fire.
  • Carousel: Darker than most Rodgers and Hammerstein classics, this musical deals with domestic abuse – and implies that feelings of love can overcome a woman’s physical pain.
  • Cinderella: She’s stuck in a life of thankless cooking-and-cleaning drudgery, and her circumstances only take a turn for the better when the prince (who’s little more than a rich, handsome stereotype himself) falls in love with her at first sight and whisks her off to his castle. Hardly empowering. (For a twist with more girl power, try “Interstellar Cinderella.”)
  • Grease: It will always be fun to watch on summer nights, but don’t forget that Sandy basically changes everything about who she is to increase her appeal to Danny … and it works. She and her girlfriends also are the subject of plenty of objectification, and Danny feels like he has to lie to his friends about having sex with her for them to think he’s cool.
  • The Little Mermaid: Feisty Ariel falls in love with handsome Prince Eric on sight, then gives up her home, her family, and even her voice just to get the chance to be with him. Why isn’t it Eric – another prince who’s loved basically just for his looks – who should want to live under the sea?
  • My Fair Lady: While grumpy Professor Higgins learns some important lessons about treating people with compassion and humanity, his treatment of Eliza can be pretty appalling – and she doesn’t even seem to mind that much. And then there’s his “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” number.
  • Oklahoma!: Will Parker gets to go check out the bright lights of Kansas City (including the “bur-lee-cue” – aka “burlesque”), while Ado Annie, who’s presented as so endearingly loose that she MUST want everyone’s kisses, just “cain’t say no” to anyone. Plus, women are auctioned off to the highest bidder – well, their picnic baskets are, anyway – and Curly is a traditionally strong, protective “man’s man.”
  • Peter Pan: Often cited for its racial stereotypes, this Disney classic has many of its female characters (particularly Tinker Bell) caught up in jealous rivalries over Peter’s affections. And Peter even says, “Girls talk too much,” at one point.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The girls wait at home while the boys head out into the wilds. And when Clarice and Mrs. Donner (who doesn’t even get her own name!) do try to help, they almost immediately get captured by the abominable snowman.
  • Sixteen Candles: Girls don’t get a lot of respect in John Hughes’ beloved 80s comedy: Boys pay to see Sam’s underwear, and in one scene it’s implied that a guy had sex with a girl while she was passed-out drunk. And why is Sam so fixated on Jake, anyway? He’s not all that much more than good hair and a nice car.
  • Sleeping Beauty: Poor Aurora falls in love with her prince (another rather one-dimensional handsome Disney hero) after one meeting but then doesn’t even get to follow her heart. Instead she’s packed off to the castle to marry someone she’s been engaged to since birth, with no say in the matter. It works out OK in the end, but she still barely knows him before they say “I do.”
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: After being kicked out by a jealous stepmother who cares only about superficial beauty, Snow White ends up cooking and cleaning for seven men while they’re off at work. And despite the fact that she’s been warned of evil, she’s easily tricked by the witch in disguise – and then (of course) gets saved by a man.
  • Swiss Family Robinson: The female characters are a bit too dependent on the stereotypically strong, capable boys and men in this classic adventure story. Mrs. Robinson is most excited about her fancy tree house kitchen, and the boys immediately start fighting over Bertie/Roberta when they discover she’s a girl (rather than a “sissy” boy).

Written by Betsy Bozdech for Common Sense Media

A Lack of Paid Sick Leave in the U.S. Is a Public Health Concern

Without paid time off, these workers are not only suffering through an illness while at work, they’re creating a public health problem.

The cashier is counting out your change, but right before she hands you 83 cents and sends you on your merry way, she lets out a big sneeze. “Gross,” you think. “Why didn’t she just stay at home?” You gingerly take your coins, and douse yourself in hand sanitizer the second you get to the car. There’s no way you can afford to get sick this week.

For many people, riding out a cold on the couch with a mug of steaming tea simply isn’t an option – especially if you have children and a job that doesn’t let you take time off. For the millions of workers without access to paid sick leave, they simply can’t afford to stay at home – even if it means putting their coworkers and customers at risk.

In the United States – the only industrialized country that does not require employers to provide paid sick leave – 40 percent of workers in the private sector must go to work even if they are sick, or go without pay if they stay at home. Without paid time off, these workers are not only suffering through an illness while at work, they’re creating a public health problem.

In 2009, the year of the swine flu pandemic, public health experts estimate that seven million individuals contracted the H1N1 virus from contagious employees who went to work, resulting in 1,500 more deaths than would have otherwise occurred. Many of these illnesses and deaths might have been prevented if more employees had access to paid sick leave, giving them the option to stay at home and recuperate without fear of financial repercussions.

Because paid sick leave in the United States is typically viewed as a perk, not as a basic part of employment compensation, it’s not surprising that fewer low wage employees have access to paid sick leave. Only 29 percent in the bottom fourth of workers receive paid sick leave. Hispanic and American Indian workers are also less likely to have paid sick days than other workers. 

But paid sick leave is more than a perk. It’s a way to help the general public from getting sick, and unfortunately, many low-wage positions are at a greater risk of spreading diseases. Less than one-fifth of workers in the food service industry have paid sick leave, and nearly two-thirds of restaurant employees admit to having prepared or served food while under the weather. It’s enough to make you think twice about eating out until spring comes again.

For parents, a lack of paid sick leave presents an additional problem. While some workers may be able to afford taking a few unpaid days off in order to nurse a cold, workers with children must choose between taking care of themselves, or budgeting that time for when their child is truly ill. Parents who can’t afford to do both are often stuck going to work while they’re sick, potentially spreading contagious diseases to coworkers and the public.

Children of employees without paid sick time suffer as well – if their parent can’t even afford to take unpaid time off to care for them, they can be sent to school while ill.

If employers were required to provide employees with paid sick time, mothers would stand to benefit the most. Forty percent of mothers in a National Health Interview Survey said they were solely responsible for staying home from work when a child is sick, compared to only three percent of fathers.

With women earning less than men, a family might be foregoing less money when a mother stays home. Unfortunately, employers also justify paying women less because they are more likely to take time off to take care of kids, trapping women in a can’t win situation. Paid sick leave for all employees could help even the playing field, and help all parents take care of their family’s physical health and financial needs.

Critics of paid sick leave point to the financial cost for businesses, worrying that it would cause undue strain. But while the costs of the programs are moderate, the benefits are pronounced. An analysis of Connecticut’s paid sick leave law showed an average weekly cost per worker of $6.87. Employers, meanwhile, see an increase in productivity and reduced turnover by providing compensated time off.

Going to work with the sniffles might not seem like a big deal, especially if you need the money more than you need a day to rest. But when millions of workers do the same, disease spreads more rapidly. Cities that require employers to provide paid sick leave for their workers, like Washington D.C., Seattle, and New York, have fewer cases of the flu. Not only do the workers benefit from paid leave, anyone who would have come into contact with them benefits as well.

More and more employers, states, and cities are recognizing the importance of paid sick leave to their employees, their employees’ families, and to the public as a whole. For parents, paid sick leave can offer not only improved financial stability, but also better health for the entire family.

How to Incorporate the Music of Mozart Into Your Daily Life

Many studies suggest that playing Mozart for children can boost their concentration and general listening skills.

During my undergraduate years, I took a music history course called “Mozart and his Music” in which the professor introduced his students to the glorious music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It made a great impression on me and, over the years, I’ve often referred back to the professor’s playlist. Mozart’s music has since become a mainstay in my family’s daily life.

Many studies suggest that playing Mozart for children can boost their concentration and general listening skills. According to research outlined in the book “The Mozart Effect” by Don Campbell, music can relieve stress, improve communication, and expand creativity. Further studies suggest that children who are exposed to the great masters are more likely to appreciate a wider range of music in later years.

Whether these studies are true or not isn’t extremely important to me. All I know is that when I play Mozart for my kids, they listen and take notice. They have never complained or asked to turn the music off.

I play Mozart while I’m driving my kids around in the car. The music seems to keep them occupied and lessen squabbles. I play it on rainy days while they’re playing inside. It has become a nightly ritual to play it at bedtime. 

Bedtime can be the greatest challenge of the day for many families. This is where the soft, gentle, comfort of Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21”, 2nd movement, shows its genius. Marked andante, it’s a wonderfully slow piece that helps calm things down. Try playing theConcerto for Flute and Harp in the background while reading a bedtime story to the kids.

Play Mozart while your kids are coloring or painting! Painting to music allows children to feel the movements and emotions involved in creating a work of art. Invite your child to swing their arms like a music conductor while they paint. Encourage them to “paint what they feel.” Discuss what pictures or colors the music brings to mind.

“What do you think of while hearing this?” or “What do you feel?” are good starter questions. Choose songs with different tempos and moods. Perhaps begin with bright, upbeat music, such as Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca for one painting, and then change to a gentle piece, such as the Flute Concerto K. 313 for the next painting. Give them a new canvas or sheet of paper for each new music selection.

January 27, 2017 marks the 261st anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What better way to celebrate Mozart’s birthday than listening to his music? Mozart wrote more than 600 works during his lifetime, including 41 symphonies, 22 musical dramas, 12 violin concertos and 27 piano concertos.

An excellent CD to listen to with your child is My First Mozart Album by Naxos. This CD contains 17 tracks, including the famous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (4th movement), Papageno’s song from The Magic Flute and the beautiful Elvira Madigan concerto. 

There are several wonderful children’s books about Mozart. “Who was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?” by Yona Zeldis will certainly appeal to young readers. This book recounts the major events of Mozart’s life, including his tour of the royal European courts, his career in Salzburg, his family life in Vienna, and his early death at age 36. The black-and-white illustrations and the timelines of Mozart’s life offer a good opportunity for children to understand Mozart’s life in a historical context. 

Another engaging book to read with your children is “The Magic of Mozart” by Ellen Switzer. This book recounts a brief biography of Mozart, followed by the story of The Magic Flute with colorful photos of marionettes.

Spending time with your child listening to Mozart can be a starting point for future music lessons or other creative endeavors. But most importantly, listening to music promotes joyful family time together. 

“This Is Us” Shows How Easily a Loving Mother Can Screw up Her Kids

Thanks, “This Is Us,” for tapping into so many insecurities of a mother who worries I’m not doing a good enough job.

“Why haven’t you been writing about ‘This Is Us’?” people asked me all fall.  “I haven’t recovered enough from ‘Parenthood’ to take on another drama,” I explained.

And it was the truth. I kept reading Facebook posts about people sobbing their way through “This Is Us” each week and it wasn’t that long ago I did that with the Bravermans. This year was a hard one for me. I didn’t want to take on the pains of a fictional family when I was already beat down by real life.

I understood why people were surprised I wasn’t soaking up “This Is Us,” though. I’d seen enough headlines, teasers, and posts from friends to gather there were storylines about both obesity and adoption.

I’ve been overweight my whole life and write freely about my struggle to find my way to a healthy relationship with food while loving myself. Trying to lose weight while having a positive body image at nearly 300 pounds is quite the tight rope balance. 

My husband and I adopted our daughter from the foster care system and I also frequently write about the joys and challenges of adoption. Oh, and we’re a transracial family like on “This Is Us.”

So, yeah. I got why people kept asking my thoughts.

But. The Bravermans, yo.

Then I watched (and hated) the “Gilmore Girls” revival and wanted to see more Milo Ventimiglia, so I decided to suck it up and stream “This Is Us” on the NBC app last week. The show was on break for the holidays, so it seemed like the right time to jump in and catch up on the first 10 episodes. 

I’m so glad I did.

I love Milo even more now. His Jack is everything you want in a husband and father. No, he’s not perfect, but he sure tries his hardest. 

Then there’s Mandy Moore.

I’ve been a fan of Mandy for a long time. Her “Wild Hope” album is easily in my top five favorites ever. I’ve always found her adorable and oh-so-likable.

Still, I have a really hard time with her character, Rebecca.

I guess that’s because I have such strong connections to the storylines of two of her children – Kate and Randall. Rebecca loves her children fiercely, but does things that really screw them up, something they’re all still figuring out decades later.

She nitpicks and draws attention to Kate’s size and what she eats from the time she’s a very young girl. And Randall…wow. She lies to him and keeps crucial information about his biological family from him.

I want to hate Rebecca and label her a horrible mother for how she’s set her children up to have such huge issues later in life. If she was more accepting, less critical, more open, they both might have grown up so much more secure and confident. 

But I also see so clearly that Rebecca’s just doing her best. She worries Kate will be teased because of her size, so she tries to help guide and “fix” her to save her from that, not realizing the damage she’s causing is more harmful than what any little girl could throw Kate’s way. And she’s afraid Randall will love his biological family more than her and she’ll lose him, so she keeps him in the dark.

She screws up big time. Her children are deeply impacted by her choices, as is her relationship with each of them. But her intentions were not malicious.

Rebecca is hard for me to handle because I relate to her even though I really don’t want to. I constantly wonder if I’m screwing up my daughter. Being a mother is an incredibly powerful position. Mothers shape who we are and how we see ourselves – good or bad. 

I’ve had issues with my weight, food, confidence, and body image my whole life. I worry I’m passing that on to my daughter. And then there’s the adoption piece. Am I doing enough to help her feel connected to her biological roots? Is my fear of abandonment keeping her from pursuing a relationship with her biological mother? 

I want life to be easy for her. I want to do everything right for her. But I don’t always know what that is and I screw it up a lot.

Just like Rebecca.

So thanks, “This Is Us,” for tapping into so many insecurities of a mother who worries I’m not doing a good enough job. I have a feeling I’m not the only one who worries I’m screwing up my kid, though. I hope they’ll all be as willing to hash it out with us one day as Rebecca’s kids have been with her. I’m looking forward to seeing where these complex characters, and even more complex relationships, go when the series returns.