Even though the topic of The Book Tree may be appropriate for some of the rhetoric we are currently hearing in society, I, in fact, wrote the first draft four years ago. I was doing a signing at my local library in Danvers, MA, and like most of my early signings, no one came. Shocking, I know. How could someone so brilliant, so ground-breaking in their writing not have people lined out the door waiting for just a glimpse of greatness? Simple–that author was doing a signing across the street. Since I had a lot of time on my hands, I started wandering around the library, and one particular book cover caught my eye. It wasn’t anything special. I didn’t even pick it up. But, it had a tree pressed into the cover. I immediately said to myself, “Book Tree.” Those two words stuck with me all day, and I thought wouldn’t it be cool if books grew on trees. Yes, I know. Technically books grow on trees, but you know what I mean so no need to inform me in the comment section. I couldn’t shake this idea of books growing on trees like fruit, but at the time it was only an idea, not a story. Of course, that’s never stopped me from writing. I’ve never been a “plotter of stories,” someone who works out the beginning, the middle and the end before they put pen to paper. Or in this case, a digital representation of a letter onto a digital representation of a page. I am what you call a pantser. I usually start with an idea, begin writing and see where it takes me–also known as, writing by the seat of my pants. I like working this way because, for me, the writing is more organic in nature. In fact, I’m doing it right now. I’ll be honest. I have no idea how this post is going to end, but don’t tell my editor. It might make her nervous. The Book Tree took many different paths before it became the story that is on the shelf today. Though, two things never changed from its birth, the title and the last line: “The book was just the seed.” There was something about the last line that I loved, and by staying true to its metaphor it shaped the story into what I wanted it to be about. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. You’ll have to figure that out on your own. Sorry. Now, I am going on record as saying this book would be nothing without my critique group. It may take a village to raise a child, but it also takes one to write a story, at least for me. I also had the incredible opportunity to work with Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple. They taught me that subtle word choice can have a huge impact on how a reader responds to your work. Draft after draft, critique after critique, revision after revision, and rejection after rejection for what seemed like forever. I almost gave up on this story, but luckily for me, my agent did not. He kept on submitting and eventually it hit the right editor at the right time. They say timing is everything, but I don’t think that gives enough credit to the work that goes into writing a book. I would say timing is important, but it only favors those who are prepared. As I write this and I think back on the journey The Book Tree has taken, it occurs to me that the book I originally saw on that lonely day in the library was the seed that grew into an idea that eventually blossomed into a story. And I guess I hope that someday my book can be a seed for future readers and writers. — Paul Czajak

 

Big changes can happen in your community when you decide to stand up for what you believe in! Check out the video below to hear Paul’s story of taking a stand together with his family for a cause they are passionate about. Watch the video here.

If you want to inspire the kids in your life to stand up for what they believe in, don’t miss out on our new release, THE BOOK TREE, available in September 2018. What will Arlo do when the Mayor destroys all the books in town? Click here to learn more. Paul Czajak struggled with reading and writing as a child, and never thought he’d end up writing books. But after working as a scientist for 20 years, he discovered that his creativity could no longer be contained to the laboratory. Now he hopes his books will be the seeds to a new generation of book gardeners! Paul lives in New Jersey, USA. Rashin Kheriyeh is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning illustrator, author, animation director and painter who has more than 70 children’s books published around the world. Born in Iran, she is now a professor at the University of Maryland College Park and lives in Washington, DC, USA.


The Book Tree is one of my favorite picture books I have done so far. I had lots of fun illustrating it. I loved Paul’s story, and I got lots of cool visual ideas right after reading it.

I chose oil, acrylic and ink as my materials, and I added more depth and a 3D feeling by using a collage technique with some textured papers and newspapers. Also, I used golden paint to show the magical quality of the tree that actually grows books. I picked primary colors — red, blue and yellow — for my color palette, and I tried to keep everything thing simple and effective both in forms and colors. I attempted to represent a universal classic with modern images so everybody can relate to this book. I designed my characters so that the story could be told as either in the past or in the future.

Once the artwork was finished, the team at Barefoot sent it to a book printer in Hong Kong to be professionally scanned. Then they tried out many different types of gold ink for the magical trees, until they found one that printed just right. I was lucky to work with a great team at Barefoot Books!

I was inspired by books and pages of the books in different languages, and  influenced by the spirit of the fiction and non fiction picture books, to create a book that shows the magical moments in our lives. My favorite part of the story is when Arlo reads his stories out loud in the rain for people passing by, but sadly no one listens to him. 

I would like this book to remind kids about the excitement of reading a new book or a new story. Books are our best friends and they help us to fly with our imaginations up in the wonderland sky. The Book Tree tells us that if you never give up on your dreams and believe in yourself like Arlo, you can change the world to be a better place for everyone.

– Rashin Kheiriyeh

Just like Arlo in THE BOOK TREE, Rashin stood up for herself and persevered to follow her dreams to become an illustrator. Check out the video below to hear her full story. Big things can happen when you stand up for what you believe in!

Watch the video here.

If you want to inspire the kids in your life to stand up for what they believe in, don’t miss out on our new release, THE BOOK TREE, available in September 2018.

What will Arlo do when the Mayor destroys all the books in town? Click here to learn more.

Paul Czajak struggled with reading and writing as a child, and never thought he’d end up writing books. But after working as a scientist for 20 years, he discovered that his creativity could no longer be contained to the laboratory. Now he hopes his books will be the seeds to a new generation of book gardeners! Paul lives in New Jersey, USA.

Rashin Kheiriyeh is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning illustrator, author, animation director and painter who has more than 70 children’s books published around the world. Born in Iran, she is now a professor at the University of Maryland College Park and lives in Washington, DC, USA.

 


Big things can happen when you stand up for what you believe in. From writing a letter sharing their dreams, to collecting books and supplies around the neighborhood, these five incredible kids are using their young voices to effect change. Read on to learn how their kind, powerful acts inspired action in their communities and created global movements.

 

Sophie Cruz

At five years old, Sophie is one of the youngest kids who is sharing her voice to change the world. Sophie witnessed the separation of other families who have immigrated to the United States, and she feared the deportation of her own parents who are originally from Oaxaca, Mexico. She decided to write a letter to the pope and ask for help to protect her family and other families. Her letter asked the pope to support the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans Act and included a drawing with the message “my friends and I love each other, no matter the color of our skin”. Sophie’s message, coming from a place of compassion and love for her family, inspired Pope Francis to address Sophie’s cause at a joint meeting of the United States Congress the next day. Because Sophie had the courage to speak up and share her story, she has inspired others to support peace and happiness for all families.

 

Zach Bonner

Zach was six years old when Hurricane Charley struck neighborhoods in his hometown of Tampa, Florida in 2004. He saw first-hand the devastation his neighbors faced. With a desire to help, he set out walking through neighborhoods collecting water in his little red wagon. He ended up collecting the equivalent to 27 pickup trucks of water. Others saw the determination Zach had at six years old and wanted to join the initiative. He established the Little Red Wagon Foundation to more efficiently help a larger amount of people. His later projects are often lead by kids to help other kids. Zach’s compassion to help his neighbors inspired others to get involved, creating a movement that has lead to continuous positive change.

 

Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez

Since the age of six Xiuhtezcatl has been using music and speech to challenge the status quo, confront climate change, and inspire a global youth-led movement. Xiuhtezcatl performs his own hip-hop music and speaks out along with other courageous kids from the group Earth Guardians to advocate for environmental protection. He explains, “My dad taught me that all life is sacred. When I was a little boy, we would always talk about our responsibility to protect our land, our culture, our earth as indigenous people. These teachings are the foundation of the music I write and the things I fight for.” His music serves as a fantastic platform to engage other kids to come together, support each other, and protect the environment. His success in actualizing reform, shows the power kids’ voices have to bring about positive change.

 

Amariyanna (Mari) Copeny

In 2016 eight-year-old Amariyanna (Mari), also known as Little Miss Flint, wrote to President Obama asking for support for the children of Flint, Michigan who had not had clean water in over two years. Her letter inspired Obama to visit Flint and meet with the residents. Copeny’s mother supports her speaking out for the residents of Flint: “I couldn’t be more proud of my child, who refuses to stand down when people tell her that she can’t do something or people won’t listen to her… Mari just wants clean water. She just wants to take a bubble bath!” She has become the symbol of the kids of Flint and continued to help by raising money and provisions for her neighbors. The sincerity of Mari’s voice has drawn much-needed support to Flint, leading to instrumental change for her community.


Marley Dias

At age eleven Marley noticed something about her English class curriculum: all the books on the reading list were about white boys and their dogs. As an avid reader, Marley was disappointed that she was unable to read about characters and stories that reflected her own experiences. She wanted others to enjoy reading as much as she did by making reading a more inclusive experience at school. Marley decided to start her own book drive to collect books that featured black girls as the main characters. She launched the campaign #1000BlackGirlBooks, collecting over 9,000 books and raising attention towards the need for more diverse books in children’s literature. Marley has put her desire for change into action within her community, and in doing so she has inspired others to join in and kickstarted a literary movement.


These five courageous kids had a desire to create a better future for everyone. Beginning with small actions in their communities, they inspired others and effected change. Big things can happen when you stand up for what you believe in! Don’t you agree?

If you want to inspire the kids in your life to stand up for what they believe in, don’t miss out on our new release, THE BOOK TREE, available in September 2018.

What will Arlo do when the Mayor destroys all the books in town? Click here to learn more.


Barefoot Books | Magical Castle Build-a-Story Cards

Stories shape the way we see the world. Great stories allow us to relate to one another, nurturing our social experience and fostering kindness within ourselves. That’s the magic of storytelling! Here at Barefoot Books, we’re all about storytelling. We want to teach kids to learn how to tell great stories, too.

Perhaps you’ve heard of story cards. They’re cards that have illustrations and no words on them designed to help kids learn storytelling and writing skills. We knew we wanted to create some of our own because they are such a great fit for our product line. We started by kid-testing some existing story cards created by other companies. The cards were great in most ways, but we found that kids were having a really hard time creating stories that made sense. So we thought, “How can we improve on this when we make our own deck of story cards?”

That’s how our Magical Castle: Build-a-Story Cards deck was born! We asked illustrator Miriam Latimer (you’ve seen her artwork in our beloved Ruby series) to create this magical world full of potions and dragons and unicorns and castles. We divided the cards into three categories: red cards that depict characters, blue cards that depict objects, and yellow cards that depict settings.

Barefoot Books | Magical Castle Build-a-Story Cards | Cards

With the cards divided into these categories, kids can create stories that have more of a structure. We also created an instruction booklet chock full of activities that show kids that when you play with these different story elements, you can create fun and interesting stories that actually make sense.

At Barefoot Books, we always like to have multiple layers of learning in our products. That’s why we included a social-emotional element to our Magical Castle: Build-a-Story Cards with character pairs that have easy-to-identify emotions. In the instruction booklet, we ask them to create stories involving friendship and conflict resolution. There’s so much in this one little deck! Kids will be learning about story structure, writing, and developing social-emotional skills. Want to engage the kids in your life in imaginative storytelling? Get your own copy of Magical Castle: Build-a-Story Cards now!

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A message from our CEO and Co-founder, Nancy Traversy

Just Like Brothers | Barefoot Books

When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game
But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game
Oh, you get love for it, you get hate for it
You get nothing if you
Wait for it, wait for it, wait
I’ve got to be in
The room where it happens
– by Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of “Hamilton”

 

Dear Barefoot Friend,

Last week, I discovered this story by my role model and friend, Abby Falik, who founded Global Citizen Year, an organization dedicated to building the next generation of global leaders.

I met Abby 7 years ago when my eldest daughter, Meaghan, enrolled in her bridge year program for students between high school and college. As an 18-year-old, Meaghan spent several months in Sebikotane, Senegal, a transformative experience that culminated in her building a library for the children in the village. Here is a video that captures her story.

Late last year, Abby attended the Obama Foundation Summit where President Obama reflected: “I’ve been in ‘the room where it happens’ and here’s the secret: no one in that room is inherently better equipped than you…You all are equally qualified to be in that room – you’ll get there if you can keep believing in yourself, the power of others and your ability to connect the two.”

We can all be “in the room where it happens”…

If the future is going to look different than the present, we need a generation of leaders with the curiosity, imagination, compassion and conviction to change things for the better. For more than 25 years, our mission at Barefoot has been to combine the best of the past, with the best of the present, to educate our children to be the caretakers of tomorrow.

Just as Abby Falik and the Global Citizen Year community are working hard to help equip high school students with empathy, insight and moral courage, at Barefoot we are helping to grow a generation of open-minded, curious and compassionate leaders through the power of story and connection.

Looking back

For a quarter of a century, we’ve worked hard to make sure that all children feel “seen” when they read our books.

From the publication of The Animal Boogie in our early days, with its cast of multi-ethnic and multi-abled children, to Baby’s First Words in 2017, featuring a multiracial family with 2 dads, our books have always validated a wide range of children by accurately and sensitively depicting characters who look and live like them.

In 2016 we introduced The Barefoot Book of Children, which was described by Caryl Stern, President and CEO of U.S. Fund for UNICEF, as a “a colorful and hopeful celebration of childhood” and received a starred review in Publishers Weekly.

Late last year, we launched our Mindful Kids activity deck at a time when the importance of mindfulness in our daily lives has become so much more than just a buzzword.

And in 2017 we were honored by Forbes as one of the 25 Best Small Companies in America who set “the standard for excellence in children’s books” and who “defied conventional wisdom with a publishing brand that parents and grandparents recognize, trust and buy.”

Looking ahead

As 2018 begins, I feel a renewed sense of purpose and passion for the work we are doing in the Barefoot community.

Today, as nationalism and xenophobia surge, it is more important than ever before that we raise our children to be open-minded, globally aware and compassionate citizens; and to be the next generation of empathetic leaders.

With new books in our 2018 collection, including Just Like Brothers, the heartwarming tale of a young boy and a wolf cub who question prejudice, and La Frontera: El viaje con papá / My Journey with Papa, an immigration story of a courageous journey to a new land, our commitment to opening children’s hearts and minds is stronger than ever before.

Since we began as a small, home-based business in 1992, we have put more than 20 million books into children’s hands. In 2017 alone, that number was 1 million books. Let’s make it our collective goal to double that to 2 million books in 2018.

We are “in the room where it happens”

In the words of my friend Abby Falik, “Organizations and ideas don’t move history, people do.” As President Obama says “you’ll get there if you can keep believing in yourself, the power of others and your ability to connect the two.”

As part of our community, you are in the “room where it happens”. If you believe in Barefoot’s mission, you have “skin in the game”. Each time you help to put a book into a child’s hands, you make a difference. You are educating and expanding young minds and helping to create our next generation of leaders.

Together, we’re driving a movement to open children’s hearts and minds through the power of stories.

And together, we are part of something more powerful than we can be on our own.

Let’s do this together.

Warm wishes,

Nancy Traversy | Barefoot Books

Nancy Traversy | Barefoot Book

 

 

 

Nancy Traversy
CEO and Co-Founder


Finding the perfect artist for a project is one of the trickiest but most rewarding parts of creating a book–or, in this case, a deck of cards! And Mindful Kids is no ordinary publishing project. A typical picture book has 32 pages of artwork. By comparison, each of the 50 cards in this deck is lavishly illustrated with a detailed scene on the front, and several smaller pieces of artwork illustrating different steps of each activity on the back—not to mention the colorful, hand-created design elements that make this deck both beautiful and easy to use. Overall, Mindful Kids contains over 200 separate pieces of artwork!

Barefoot Books Mindful Kids Card Deck

When searching for an illustrator for this project, we knew we needed an expert at drawing facial expressions and complex postures. We were also looking for a connoisseur of pattern and texture, since it wouldn’t be a Barefoot product without that level of attention to gorgeous detail. Finally, we wanted a fresh, fun, and quirky style, to keep the cards feeling young and engaging.

Our co-founder and (now retired) editor-in-chief Tessa Strickland initially discovered Mina Braun’s work at a gallery in Edinburgh. When we looked through her portfolio, we were captivated by her bold palette and the sophisticated yet whimsical style of her prints and illustrations.

Once we signed a contract with Mina, we sent her the text for the cards, a description of the design elements we wanted to include (such as the decorative borders and color-coded corner elements), reference photos for some of the trickier poses, and specific instructions for sketching out the cast of characters.

Mina writes:

Barefoot Books | Mindful KidsMy work-process usually begins with plenty of pencils and a large sketchbook. Here I bring to paper anything that comes to my mind about the brief. I really enjoy this first stage of sketching ideas.

When starting with Mindful Kids, I drew lots of quick little doodles whilst working my way through the script. To me, those first ideas tend to be the strongest ones and in this case, most of them became the actual illustrations later on.

After deciding for a color scheme together with the production team of Mindful Kids, as well as creating a set of eight different characters for the card set, I made a rough pencil sketch for each card. Once they were approved, I then made a more detailed version of each rough by hand.

After scanning them in, I then created the final color artwork on the computer, using a digital drawing tablet to work over the drawings. I often use handmade textures and patterns as well, collaging them into the artwork in Photoshop.

Mindful Kids was created from the sunny studio I share with three other artists, which is part of a communal art-space in the heart of Berlin-Neukölln, Germany.

We also worked heavily with Alex Strick and Beth Cox, consultants at Inclusive Minds, to ensure that the artwork reflected our high standards of diversity and inclusivity. For example, we chose to depict one of the characters as a child with spina bifida who uses a wheelchair. Inclusive Minds helped us art-direct realistic and comfortable poses for this child outside of his chair on some cards as well, to combat the stereotype that children who use equipment to move are inseparable from that equipment. They also helped us find reference images for a child-friendly hearing aid for another character.

We’re thrilled that a wide range of children using these cards will be able to see themselves reflected in the illustrations. As you explore these cards with children in your life, I hope you’ll fall in love with Mina’s characters just as we did!

Learn more about Mindful Kids!

Lisa Rosinsky is Senior Editor at Barefoot Books. You can follow her at @LisaRosinsky.


Introducing My Friend Robot!: See inside the must-have STEM book with the award-winning author | Barefoot BooksLike many small children, my three-year-old daughter has a big imagination. She excels at thinking outside the box. For instance, playing with her dolls includes pretending to fix the robots my scientist husband works with – and then putting them to bed with her dollies!

Thinking outside the box and promoting imagination and innovation are some of the goals of STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and math). STEM is all about combining ideas and skills that are as different as dolls and robots to come up with something new! It’s a popular topic right now among kids, educators, and caregivers. So when we at Barefoot Books were looking for a subject for our next singalong, I took my inspiration — like so many authors before me — from my daily life!

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to our upcoming singalong My Friend Robot! It’s about a girl who loves robots — but also about so much more. Let’s peel back some of the layers together!

We’re always looking for new topics and subjects to cover in our books, so we packed My Friend Robot! with STEM concepts for kids to learn. This book teaches these topics by following a project step by step — building a treehouse with a robot!

The book covers:

  • Simple machines: The robot and children use one of each of the six simple machines to build the treehouse together. Introducing My Friend Robot!: See inside the must-have STEM book with the award-winning author | Barefoot Books

  • Carpentry: As the treehouse comes together, readers are introduced to different tools, safety equipment and the critical skill of following instructions in a sequence.

  • Programming: When the singalong ends, kids can dive deep into six pages of educational notes to learn more about simple machines, robotics and programming. It even includes a fun game that teaches basic programming principles without a computer! Introducing My Friend Robot!: See inside the must-have STEM book with the award-winning author | Barefoot Books

Introducing My Friend Robot!: See inside the must-have STEM book with the award-winning author

But if I’ve learned anything from being surrounded by robots, it’s this — there’s more to robotics than gears and sensors and code. My husband studies how robots and humans can work as a team, which inspired us to bring a social-emotional angle to the story as well. I wanted to explore what the robot can teach the children, and in turn what the children can teach the robot. So My Friend Robot! can also start conversations about:

  • Independence: Our clever main character builds her robot herself, and comes up with the idea to build a treehouse with her friends. We hope this book empowers children to imagine their own projects. Caregivers and educators can ask: What would you build with a robot friend?

  • Community: Kids and grown-ups alike will be inspired by this diverse group of neighborhood kids collaborating on a treehouse that they can all share.

  • Introducing My Friend Robot!: See inside the must-have STEM book with the award-winning author | Barefoot Books

  • Teamwork: The robot helps the children by sharing what it is good at, like using tools and building, and then the kids get a chance to help the robot by sharing what they’re good at, like…

  • Empathy: When the puppy is nervous about climbing up in the treehouse, the children teach the robot how to empathize with the worried puppy and comfort him.

Who would have thought that a picture book about a robot could be a tool for teaching so many different topics? That’s what you get from carefully crafted, high-quality picture books like the ones we make here at Barefoot Books. It has been such a pleasure to work on this book both as author and editor, to create something that will inspire children like my daughter to innovative, out-of-the-box thinking!

Introducing My Friend Robot!: See inside the must-have STEM book with the award-winning author | Barefoot Books

But there is so much more to this amazing project than what I’ve told you here! Stay tuned to learn more about My Friend Robot!, including its fun illustrations, music, and animation, as we count down to the book’s release this autumn. I can’t wait to tell you all about it! In the meantime, visit our website to learn more about this exciting new book and discover more of our fun STEM stories!

Introducing My Friend Robot!: See inside the must-have STEM book with the award-winning author | Barefoot Books

About the Author

Kate DePalma, Senior Editor | Barefoot Books

Kate DePalma, Senior Editor | Barefoot Books

Kate DePalma
Senior Editor, Barefoot Books
Author, My Friend Robot! (as Sunny Scribens)

As Senior Editor at Barefoot Books, Kate DePalma has helped develop dozens of picture books. She co-authored The Barefoot Book of Children, which has won four awards, including the Nautilus GOLD Award and Foreword INDIES Silver Award for Juvenile Nonfiction. She holds an M.A. in Classics from the University of Texas and is also a published poet and scholar.

 


How we're bringing mindfulness to preschoolers and beyond | Barefoot Books

How can you help children build empathy, manage everyday emotions and reduce stress and anxiety? With mindfulness! It’s the latest hot buzzword in education and early childhood development, for good reason: a growing body of research shows that practicing mindfulness has a direct impact on kids’ brain development and behavior. Mindfulness teaches you to focus your attention, expand your awareness, and build kindness and patience. These skills help kids become compassionate global citizens, which fits perfectly with our core mission here at Barefoot Books!

 

Why a deck of mindfulness cards?

Mindful Kids is the very first deck of mindfulness activity cards for ages 4 and up. Like our bestselling Yoga Pretzels, Mindful Kids is a deck of 50 activity cards packaged in a sturdy box for easy portability, so you can carry it with you and use it all day long. Each double-sided card is fully illustrated with easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions. The activities are divided into 5 categories designed to fit into each part of the day, from morning to night.

How we're bringing mindfulness to preschoolers and beyond | Barefoot Books

The activities and an 8-page instructional booklet include tips that make them accessible for children with a wide range of abilities. (More about that below!) And the large, laminated cards make it easy for kids to grab the cards they want and keep them close for reference as they explore the deck.

 

Developing Mindful Kids

We started by commissioning the text from an expert! Whitney Stewart is an award-winning children’s book author and mindfulness instructor. She has practiced meditation for over thirty years, and is certified to teach by both the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens Program and the Prison Mindfulness Institute. Whitney has tested each activity in this deck with children in her own classes and programs.

Next, we turned to our very own Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed., to make sure the activities and language were developmentally appropriate for even the very young end of our target audience (ages 4 to 104!). In the process, we tested them repeatedly in the office. Ever since, I’ve been practicing these activities myself when I need to find a few moments of inner peace during the day!

 

Making the deck diverse and inclusive

How we're bringing mindfulness to preschoolers and beyond | Barefoot Books

We worked extensively with Beth Cox and Alex Strick at Inclusive Minds to make sure the artwork shows a diverse cast of characters, and that the activities are accessible for a wide range of children. We discussed everything from choosing the clearest term for a pointer/index finger (we chose “pointer,” because that tells you what it does!), to considering when it was appropriate to change the instruction “stand” to “stand or sit” (which makes the activities more inclusive for children who might not be able to perform them standing), to what a kid-friendly hearing aid looks like.

 

How we're bringing mindfulness to preschoolers and beyond | Barefoot BooksI especially loved discussing the depiction of children with disabilities in the illustrations. For example, one of the characters has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. Beth and Alex coached us through the art-direction process to make sure that we were portraying a sporty, modern-looking wheelchair, as well as showing this child outside of his wheelchair, using other supports like couch cushions, on several cards—to combat the stereotype that children who use wheelchairs are inseparable from their equipment.

 

Bringing the product to life

One of my favorite parts of the editorial process was working with fabulously talented illustrator Mina Braun, whose artwork brings such whimsy and humor to each activity. It’s not every artist who can take an abstract brief like “girl

pretending to be a tree” or “child sends love to the whole universe” and turn it into sweet, sophisticated artwork. Kids will love all the funny details in the illustrations…including the mindful pets!

How we're bringing mindfulness to preschoolers and beyond | Barefoot Books

 

When can you use Mindful Kids?

Do the kids in your life ever need to calm down? To practice patience? To think about the way someone else might be feeling? You can use these activities in any of these situations, and many more. When else do you think you’ll pull out a few Mindful Kids cards during your day? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Or if you want to follow the conversation on Twitter, look for #mindfulkids.

Mindful Kids will be available in October 2017.

 

Lisa Rosinsky is Senior Editor at Barefoot Books. You can follow her at @LisaRosinsky.


Building Empathy in Children: Lessons From Early Childhood Education by Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed. | Barefoot Books

By Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed., Senior Director of Product at Barefoot Books. Originally appeared on Edweek on October 31, 2016.

Imagine if we stopped teaching math to children over the age of 5, yet expected them to grow up to be totally proficient with math in their daily lives. Sounds like a pretty bad idea, right?

Sadly, this is exactly how we treat social-emotional learning (SEL) in most cases. The good news is that, since early childhood education has long included SEL as one of its pillars, educators of school-age kids don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel.

The “empathy gap” has been getting a deluge of attention recently, and with good reason. Just google “empathy” and you’ll quickly find that the ability to understand and share the feelings and perspectives of others is now widely considered a crucial 21st century competency. It’s also the foundation of global citizenship. Students might learn about other people and about world events, but without empathy, they won’t necessarily care what’s happening or choose to be agents of progress and change.

It’s wonderful that SEL is now getting the attention it deserves for students of all ages, but early childhood educators have known about the importance of empathy for a very, very long time. Friedrich Fröbel, Rudolf Steiner, and Maria Montessori, among other luminaries of the 19th century, grounded early childhood education in the importance of nurturing the whole child.

The Recipe for Empathy

Empathy can be defined as having a number of components. To my mind as a child development specialist, there are three major social-emotional and cognitive skills that come together to create the ability to empathize. These are:

  • Self-awareness, or the ability to identify and label one’s own feelings and motivations
  • Perspective-taking, or the ability to see things from someone else’s point of view
  • An understanding of cause-and-effect, or how one’s own actions might impact others

In other words, empathy relies on an awareness of self, an awareness of others, and the ability to understand how the two interrelate.

A Snapshot of SEL in Early Childhood Education

Children in high-quality early childhood classrooms have ample opportunities to develop their understanding of themselves and others. SEL is considered a fundamental part of each child’s preschool education, just as important as early literacy, math, and science skills. It’s a key component of both curriculum design and student assessment. SEL also gets reinforced in countless “teachable moments” every day. Take a look at how the pre-K teacher in the following example fostered SEL in multiple ways:

Two 4-year-old children, Max and Suki, are in the block area of their pre-K classroom. Suki grabs a block out of Max’s hand. Max yells, “No!”
A teacher approaches and asks, “Hey guys, what’s going on?”
Max cries, “She took my block!”
The teacher, getting down to the children’s eye level, asks, “Suki, why did you take the block Max was using?”
Suki says, “Because I needed a block like that one to build my bridge.”
The teacher asks, “Max, how did that make you feel?”
Max says, “Sad. And mad!”
The teacher then inquires, “Suki, what could you do instead of grabbing the block?” [No response from Suki.] “Why don’t you try asking Max if you could use that block?”
Suki asks Max if she could use the block. He says, “No, I need it now.”
The teacher responds, “Okay, Suki. Max is using that block now. Let me help you find something else to build your bridge. Let’s look at the block shelf.”
Suki hands the block back to Max and follows the teacher to the block shelf.

In this scenario, the teacher:

  • Set the stage for a safe and open conversation by signaling a neutral (rather than disciplinary) tone.
  • Prompted Suki to reflect on the motivation for her actions, promoting her self-awareness.
  • Gave Max practice with identifying and labeling his feelings.
  • Helped Suki see that her actions had an impact on another person, which encouraged her to think about cause and effect.
  • Gave both students the opportunity to assert their needs in an appropriate way.
  • Modeled respectful problem solving.

Over time, with consistent scaffolding from teachers, young children can begin to internalize these behaviors and do them more independently. This is the foundation of empathy. But students need continued guidance and opportunities for practice as they grow and their cognitive and social skills become more advanced.

SEL for School Age Children

Building Empathy in Children: Lessons From Early Childhood Education by Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed. | Barefoot Books
Although many formal curricula and learning standards for older children pay scant attention to “the whole child,” I’ve seen firsthand how SEL can successfully continue past the early childhood years. When I was with the Lesley Ellis School in Arlington, Massachusetts, I had the pleasure of witnessing skilled teachers of elementary and middle school students continuing to weave SEL into the classroom. At times they adopted aspects of formal curricula like Open Circle, and at other times informally wove SEL into the existing curriculum units using books and activities.

While studying immigration, the 5th and 6th grade students at Lesley Ellis not only learn what some of the push/pull factors are that lead to people immigrating, but they also examine the emotional toll immigrants can go through by staging a mock Ellis Island. By “putting themselves into the immigrants’ shoes” (so to speak), the students can, for instance, “experience” getting turned away if they are asked to represent someone who has a cough or doesn’t fit some other type of health requirement. The students then write a journal entry, in the voice of their Ellis Island persona, describing the immigration experience.

This is a beautiful example of how SEL can and should grow with children as their skills develop. Like the students in the pre-K example, the kids in this scenario practice self-awareness, perspective-taking, and the appropriate expression of feelings through language. By not only learning about people from other parts of the world, but also experiencing what they might feel, these kids are on their way to becoming caring global citizens.

Getting Scrappy with SEL

Even if you teach in a program where you have little control over the formal curriculum and there is no SEL curriculum in place, there are still ways to take the cue from early childhood education and meaningfully integrate SEL into daily classroom life. Here are some resources that will help you informally incorporate books, assignments, and discussions that promote self-awareness and perspective taking.

  • Barefoot Books is an independent children’s book publisher with a wide selection of global, diverse, and inclusive books that foster SEL for children from birth through ages 8+.
  • Dr. Michele Borba, author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, offers practical articles and resources for educators on her website.
  • Roots of Empathy offers a fascinating, evidence-based classroom program used around the world that has been shown to raise social/emotional competence and increase empathy. Learning about their curriculum can give you some ideas for SEL lessons.
  • The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley website includes an education section with links to a variety of SEL articles for educators.
  • The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence website describes its “RULER” program, an evidence-based approach to teaching emotional intelligence, and has a publications section with research articles about the impact of SEL.
  • Ashoka’s Start Empathy Initiative offers the Start Empathy toolkit for educators Homa Tavangar, author of Growing Up Global, provides an overview.
  • Jordan Catapano, a high school English teacher in the Chicago area, wrote an excellent blog post in which he offers simple, empathy-boosting strategies teachers can use.
  • School 21 in London uses what they call a Wellbeing framework to approach SEL. You can read about it and find practical tips from their curriculum.

Building Empathy in Children: Lessons in Early Childhood Education by Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed. | Barefoot Books

 

Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed, is Senior Director of Product at Barefoot Books and a child development expert with over 20 years of experience. She earned her dual master’s in Early Childhood General & Special Education / Infant & Parent Development & Early Intervention from the Bank Street Graduate School of Education and her B.A. from Harvard University.

 

Want more of Stefanie’s expert tips to nurture your child or students’ empathy? Download a FREE empathy-boosting activity and discussion guide here!

Building Empathy in Children: Lessons from Early Childhood Education | Barefoot Books


4 Ways to Celebrate the Lunar New Year with Children | Barefoot Books

Welcome to the Year of the Rooster!

According to the lunar astrological calendar, every year in a twelve-year cycle is ruled by a different animal — and as of the Lunar New Year on Saturday, January 28, 2017, the rooster is in charge! The rooster’s place in the Lunar Zodiac was established in the mists of time, when the Jade Emperor decided that a different animal should rule each year and, to determine the order of the animals, challenged them all to an epic race. The rooster (or “cockerel”) finished tenth, earning it the tenth place in the Lunar Zodiac.

So if you were born in 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993 or 2017, this is your year! You’re known for being adventurous and hardworking; but it’s your kindness — no matter what place you finish in a race — that friends and family really appreciate.

Cherished in China, Korea and beyond, the Lunar New Year is a great way to introduce the children in your life to another culture’s traditions. Here are a few kid-approved ideas for celebrating the Lunar New Year:

Have a Lavish New Year’s Eve Dinner

Traditionally, the festival opens with a lavish New Year’s Eve dinner held in honor of deceased ancestors. This meal is a time for all living family members to come together with the deceased, creating a united community to celebrate past and present generations.

In the past, family members filled bamboo stems with gunpowder and burned them to drive evil spirits away; today, people use firecrackers instead. Each is rolled in red paper, as the color red is considered lucky.

4 Ways to Celebrate the Lunar New Year with Children | Barefoot Books

From The Great Race

Send Letters to Loved Ones in Red Envelopes

The use of red extends to red envelopes or red packets that are traditionally passed out during the celebrations. The packets almost always contain money ­— sometimes chocolate coins — and the amount is always given in even numbers. The number eight, for instance, is considered lucky, as is the number six, because in Mandarin it sounds like the word for “smooth,” promising a smooth year.



To create your own special Lunar New Year letters for loved ones, print our FREE Share your Love DIY Letter / Envelope on red construction paper, or on white paper and slip inside a red envelope!

Make a Paper Lantern

The fifteenth and final day of the celebration is commemorated with the Yuan Xiao Jie, or the “Festival of Lanterns.” Gathering under a full moon, adults and children light up the sky with their lantern displays and a lantern-carrying parade. Learn how to make a paper lantern in the informational notes in Lin Yi’s Lantern (US / Canada), a gorgeously-illustrated Barefoot tale from China!

4 Ways to Celebrate the Lunar New Year with Children | Barefoot Books

From Lin Yi's Lantern

Share a Story to Learn More About the Culture!

Research shows that children (and grown-ups!) often draw incorrect conclusions about other cultures. In order to help children challenge stereotypes and develop global literacy, it’s important for adults to educate themselves and correct their own misconceptions. It’s easy to get started: just share stories from other cultures with the children in your life. It’s a great way to prompt conversations about diversity!

Keen to explore East Asian cultures? You’ll experience the excitement of a rural market in Lin Yi’s Lantern (ages 5-9) (US / Canada), discover the warmth and wisdom of Buddhist thought in The Barefoot Book of Buddhist Tales (ages 6+) (US / Canada) and meet “The Beggar Princess” in The Barefoot Book of Princesses (ages 4-9) (US / Canada).

And, of course, be sure to watch the Jade Emperor’s epic race unfold—and find out why there is no Year of the Cat—in The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac (ages 4-9) (US / Canada). Find additional tales from China and beyond here!

4 Ways to Celebrate the Lunar New Year with Children | Barefoot Books

Want more ideas?

For more information on the traditions and customs of the Lunar New Year, and for recipes and crafts you can make with the children in your life, check out our Pinterest board!

Want to find out which animal you are? Download a Lunar Calendar from The Great Race to use in your classroom, for fun at home or as a festive desktop wallpaper!

Do you have any Lunar New Year traditions? What is your Lunar zodiac animal? Share your stories with us on Facebook or Twitter!

 

4 Ways to Celebrate the Lunar New Year with Children | Barefoot Books