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Wonder-RJPalacio2I am always a big fan of these, which, to me, are more or less the same thing. I tend to think of them as quotes, but in the book I just finished, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, these are referred to as precepts by Mr. Browne, a character in the book and a middle grade English teacher at Beecher Prep. (I will write more on Wonder soon – this is what lit my spark today.)

Mr. Browne found that his students were more inspired by a quote he had once discovered than by how it had greatly influenced his life, so at the beginning of each month, he wrote a precept on the board. The class discussed it during the month, and at the end of the month, the students wrote an essay about it. Over the summer, his students were encouraged to write their own, or some other inspiring precept and send it to Mr. Browne. What a great teaching idea for real life, eh?

The copy of Wonder lent to me by a friend was part of a boxed set which also included a second volume called 365 Days of Wonder, Mr. Browne’s published selection of a year’s worth of quotes on the issues written about in Wonder, which, in a nutshell, is about kindness as well as overcoming adversity and bullying.

Midsummer Eve painted by Robert Hughes, 1908

Midsummer Eve by Robert Hughes, 1908

He also includes some precepts submitted by his fictional students. This is a really great accompaniment to a book that addresses these issues so well and would hopefully be an inspiration to Wonder‘s middle grade readers, (not to mention a brilliant marketing idea.)

So I started to read the precepts/quotes.

I was entranced by the quote on January 2nd written by Roald Dahl, (of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach fame, if you’re not familiar).

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

It just brought a rush of imagery and creativity to me – “glittering eyes”, indeed, and sparkling thoughts. I am always amazed how such seemingly small tidbits drop right into our laps when we least expect and need them most. Or I am just paraphrasing Roald Dahl?

Have an inspiring day!

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Pierogies-MichalZacharzewski2At first that may sound like a wacky idea, but who could argue with teaching tolerance to kids and who doesn’t like food? The idea is not mine*, and actually I’m focusing on just a part of the author’s three recommendations to remove judgment, be aware of your own behavior, and diversify your life as a way of inspiring your kids. The third idea is about broadening a child’s frame of reference so that those kids who might seem “different” can seem “normal.” (their words.)

The recommendation was eating out at international restaurants or creating a regular family event that features different ethnic foods while learning about that culture. This is really genius to me. Unless you have a super-picky eater, you can generally find a dish in almost any culture that is tasty and palatable, even to children. Think about starting with your own heritage. For example, I have six different nationalities between my grandparents and great grandparents. That’s where I’d start, right with one’s own family.

DimSum-xiantianmi2Let’s pick one … how about Irish? It might not be easy to find an Irish restaurant nearby, (although there is at least one in Manhattan), but we can cook up some Irish goodies at home. There’s lots of ways to cook up potatoes and cabbage, and if you eat meat, there’s corned beef for starters. Or …. Irish soda bread anyone? And perhaps some stout for the adults. These are the obvious choices, but exploration reveals greater variety in any country’s cuisine. Meanwhile, you could learn about Ireland’s history and of the Irish when they came to America, what they ate in the past and what they eat now.

Today we are seeing more different cultures than we did even a decade ago, between immigration, (the very same way so many of our own forefathers got here), but also in increased adoptions from overseas. Our children now go to school with Russian, Vietnamese, African, Chinese, Korean, and Colombian children, among others, all adopted. Understanding what these children eat in their native culture and serving something from it at our house while learning about that culture is to help them be understood and accepted.

Chimichanga-JavierArmendariz2Depending where you live, you can also visit restaurants of different cultures. Skipping the chain food restaurants, it’s still possible to find authentic Chinese, Mexican and Italian foods in many places. It’s now becoming easier to find Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, and Korean for not too long a ride. Without leaving my state, you can also find authentic Hungarian, German, Ukrainian, Polish, Szechuan, Portuguese, and Cuban food and more. The key is to learn about the culture as well as enjoying the food.

Maybe your kids have some new students in their class. They’d like to learn more about them but are feeling shy in reaching out. Let’s find some facts and enjoy their food! It’s often been said that knowledge is power, and in this idea, that’s half of it – knowledge AND good food can be the power of tolerance. Bon appétit!

* My post is inspired by one segment of the Better Homes and Gardens‘ series called The Good Kid Project which explores the qualities that are key to a happy, well-adjusted child. Their January  column is devoted to tolerance. Visit their website for more info.

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ManiacMagee-JSpinelli2How did Jerry Spinelli manage to cover the subjects of race, homelessness, bullying, friendship and the loneliness of the elderly all in one middle grade novel AND do it with humor, insight and compassion? This book was a revelation to me, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants an excellent, (and fast), read even though it’s hero is 12 year old Jeffrey (Maniac) Magee.

I began to read Maniac Magee and found quickly that Maniac was into sports – how fast he could run, how far he could throw a football – and I thought it might not be for rather unsporty me. Was I wrong. It’s not about sports; it’s about an orphaned kid on his own who encounters a variety of life’s toughest situations, (aside from losing his parents), and how he deals with them. He finds more than his share of challenges, some friends and/or admirers along the way, and some pretty scary antagonists. Maniac/Jeffrey loses some of his naiveté but his optimism always prevails.

Spinelli writes in a beyond-engaging style. His word choices and phrases and his sense of humor had me turning the pages and never wanting to put the book down. Every character is developed beautifully, but of course, especially Maniac. It’s no wonder this book earned Spinelli a Newbery Award.

And what’s also surprising is that although Maniac Magee was written in 1995, it is totally contemporary. Somehow Spinelli wrote a timeless tale – almost a folk tale or legend – that is as meaningful right now – maybe even more so – as it was back then. I am in awe of this author and in love with this story. Walk – no, run – to your library or bookstore and get Maniac Magee.

p.s. I have also read Stargirl, Eggs and Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli – all worthwhile reads as well.

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