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A look at “The Giving Tree”

cover of The Giving Tree book

image credit: wikipedia, by source, fair use.

A half century ago—yes, 50 years ago—Shel Silverstein wrote and illustrated one of my all-time favorite children’s book, “The Giving Tree.” First published in 1964 by Harper & Row, this classic is now printed in several languages with over 10 million copies sold internationally. Scholastic Co., a national publishing company known for educational books and materials, rated this book with an interest level for students in kindergarten through second grade. Personally, however, I feel this book can be read at all ages and can garnish lively conversations of the relationship and various interpretations. It is considered a picture book because the illustrations are as (or even more) important as than the words.

If you don’t know this story, it about the relationship between a boy and a tree. The tree was always there for the boy and gave everything he could to make him happy. As the boy grew into a teenager, a young man then an elderly man, he took what he needed from the tree and the tree continued to give him all he could, until there was no more the tree could give. The illustrations are simple and powerful.

As one of my favorite books, I always thought that it was a story of generosity and self-sacrifice to make someone happy. In a recent conversation with a colleague, I was quite surprised to hear her perspective of this book. Her thoughts of this book are very different than mine. She thinks the story is about greed. She shared why she feels this way, and each of her points were valid and well thought out. I left the conversation pondering and wondering what other people thought of the book.

I began researching and discovered that “The Giving Tree” is “one of the most divisive books in children’s literature.” That one quick conversation I had about a book read and loved by many, lead me to reread this book and look at the relationship between the tree and the boy from different perspectives.

As a teacher and a parent, I carefully choose what I read to children. Seemingly a book of friendship that withstands the test time, I read it often. Never was it read with dry eyes and without a sniffle at the end. In fact, the last time I read it to students, I vowed that I wouldn’t cry. Guess what? Didn’t happen!

So is this a book on selfless giving or a parable of narcissistic greed? The title implies that it is a story of giving, but as you read it you may begin to think differently. Many adults pick it up and read it to their child for the first time in many years. Some of them are disappointed, yet many people love the book just as much.

I asked 25 of my friends their thoughts on the book. Strong opinions and valid points on both were voiced. One friend said that her church recently referenced it in the sermon. My teacher friends all read it to their classes. Some felt it was about the unconditional love as in the parent-child relationship. Another friend thought it’s a parable about life, as our world is full of both the givers and the takers. There are so many ways to interpret this book that go well beyond this post.

Regardless of how you interpret the characters, this story has withstood the test of time. I encourage you to read it with your child and talk about it. Talk about the friendship and the special relationship between the boy and the tree. Take time to look at the simple illustrations and discuss what you see. On another occasion, reread the book together and talk about the boy’s greed and what he did to the tree. What is greed and what it does to others?

One of the questions I continually ask myself is what makes literature good? My answer always comes back that good literature is timeless. Fifty years ago, this book was loved and read by millions, just as it is today.

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Spring into April with dessert

frozen fruit popsicles, frozen yougrt bars

Dessert can still be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle as long as it is eaten in moderation. Fruit is always a good choice (note the frozen mango chunks or grapes below), but if you would like to have another option, consider Yasso frozen yogurt bars or the Dole dark chocolate covered banana slices.

  • Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars

Having a portion-controlled serving on a stick a great alternative. There are 15 flavors to choose from; for more information visit the Yasso website.

Nutrition information per serving (1 bar): 80 to 100 calories, 2g total fat (1.5g sat fat), 50mg sodium, 17g carbs, 0g fiber, 13g sugars, 5 to 6 g protein. Weight Watchers SmartPoints® value: 5

  • Dole Dippers Dark Chocolate Covered Real Banana Slices

Take your snack game to the next level with these cool chocolate-coated banana coins! The single-serve packs are perfect for keeping portions in check. And the combination of wholesome fruit with indulgent chocolate makes for a fantastically balanced dessert.

Nutrition information per 4-slice serving (1 pack): 100 calories, 4.5g total fat (3g sat fat), 10mg sodium, 13g carbs, 4g fiber, 7g sugars, 1g protein. Weight Watchers SmartPoints® value: 5

  • Frozen mango chunks (no sugar added)

I snack on this stuff straight, and it’s such a refreshing treat! The natural sweetness and tropical taste are beyond amazing. Just thaw your mango for a few minutes and dig in. Remember to check the ingredients and avoid added sugar. Another option is to wash then freeze grapes and enjoy as a sweet treat.

Nutrition information per serving (1 cup): 120 calories, 0g total fat (0g sat fat), 0mg sodium, 32g carbs, 3.5g fiber, 28.5g sugars, 0.5g protein. Weight Watchers SmartPoints® value: 0

– Bethany Kramer, MA, RDN, is a clinical dietitian at the Beaumont Weight Control Center in Royal Oak. The Beaumont Weight Control Center offers cooking demonstrations to the community. View a list of current demonstrations here.

April is National Poetry Month

children's poetry book

In 1996, the Academy of American Poets created one of the largest literacy celebrations in the world: National Poetry Month. The yearly April celebration was started to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States. Schools, libraries and bookstores are wonderful places to get involved and join in the celebration.

What is poetry?

Poetry uses language effectively to evoke feelings. It can make us laugh or cry. Some poetry has form and is written in a specific style with rhyme and rhythm, while other poetry is spontaneous with no intentional form. Children’s poetry is written specifically for children but is appropriate for all ages.

Here are some types of poetry that you can enjoy reading with your child.

Nursery rhymes

Rhymes help children learn speech patterns and develop their oral language skills. They help develop foundational and fundamental skills to be a successful reader. It was proven that students who know how to rhyme and can recite rhymes are better readers and writers in school. So, pull out the Mother Goose books and enjoy the fun and rhyme in this form of poetry.

Hickory, Dickory Dock

Hickory Dickory dock,
The mouse ran up the clock,
The clock struck one
The mouse ran down,
Hickory Dickory dock.

Hickory Dickory dock,
The mouse ran up the clock,
The clock struck two
And down he flew,
Hickory Dickory dock.

Hickory Dickory dock,
The mouse ran up the clock,
The clock struck three
And he did flee,
Hickory Dickory dock.

Alliteration

Alliteration is a form of poetry that uses the same letter or sound at the beginning of each line in the poem. Typically, they are descriptive poems and fun to read. Challenge yourself and child by writing one together.

Eat Wisely

Franks and fries, and French fondue.
Beans and burgers and biscuits too.
Chicken, chili, and cheddar cheese.
When I munch too much, I always sneeze!

Limerick

One of my favorite forms of poetry is the limerick. Most often, they are nonsensical and make us laugh. It uses a five-line stanza in which the first, second and fifth lines rhyme. The third and fourth lines are shorter and rhyme. Children love to listen to the rhyme and rhythm of the limerick.

There once was a lady named Sue
Who had nothing whatever to do
And who did it so badly
I thought she would gladly
Have stopped before she was through.

Haiku

Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry appreciated and loved around the world. It is a three-lined poem that follows a specific format. The first and third line have five syllables and the second line has seven syllables. Haiku is usually written about someone or something specific, such as a person or animal. Rarely does it rhyme.

Frog

Green and speckled legs,
Hop on logs and lily pads
Splash in cool water.

Kangaroo

In a pouch I grow,
On a southern continent —
Strange creatures I know.

Free verse

Free verse has no rules. It does not have rhyme or rhythm; instead it follows the rules of the natural rhythm of speech. Many people think that this is a new form of poetry, but it has been around for hundreds of years.

Dolphins

By Brook

Here I swim, with my friends.
They jump around me and flip in the air.
I am in Florida.
There are lots of different kinds of dolphins.
I am a Bottled nosed dolphin.
I slip in the water to find my prey.
My predators are sharks and some bigger
animals than me that live in the ocean.
I see something standing on land that I have seen before.
There is a noise coming from there. I keep playing with my friends.

Acrostic

Acrostic poems spell out the topic of the poem going down the left side of the paper. Each line uses the first letter to describe the topic.

Pumpkin

By Kaitlyn Guenther

P iles of candy
U nder the bed
M ake for a delicious snack
P eople
K now
I t’s been Halloween because
N o one is without candy

As you can see, there are many forms of poetry to read with your child. Pull out the book of nursery rhymes and have fun reading them. Visit a library and borrow a book or two of poetry. If your child is older, write poems together.

Have fun and enjoy National Poetry Month!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Tips for traveling with babies or young children

mom with baby and young boy on airplane

Cropped image. Lars Plougmann, Flickr. CC license.

Which statement best describes your thoughts on traveling with your baby or young child?

  1. I’d rather organize a sock drawer and find matching lids to my Tupperware® than travel with my infant or toddler.
  2. Did someone say family trip? Give me an hour and our bags will be packed.
  3. I’d love to get away but I don’t know how we’d do it with our little one. It’s so much work to pack all the baby supplies. Plus, what’s the point? Our child won’t remember the trip anyway.
  4. Who wants to watch our baby while we’re gone?
  5. It would be great to go on vacation but there’s no way I’m taking my kid and there’s no way I’m leaving her home either.
  6. We’re going to my parents for Thanksgiving. Wish us luck.

As a Beaumont Parenting Program speaker on traveling with a baby, I’ve heard all of the above from parents. While moms and dads do take road trips and hop on planes, they are understandably apprehensive, especially before their first trip. Granted, it’s not easy to travel with a baby or young child, but for those who love to get away or need to travel, there is no reason to stop post-baby. And there are many things parents can do to ensure a hassle-free, safe and, yes, even fun trip.

Simple organization

During my talks, I offer a variety of advice to make traveling as smooth as possible. Did you know that when packing, zip-close bags could be your best friend? Infant and even toddler clothes are small enough that you can organize everything in these self-sealing bags. For example, onesies can easily fit in one bag, socks can go in another and shirts can also be placed in their own bag.

Don’t over pack

You can always buy what you need at your destination. However, do plan for delays and bring extra supplies like diapers, wipes and snacks. Consider where you’ll be staying. Do you have access to a washing machine and dryer? Will there be a dishwasher or will you have to wash bottles, breast pump supplies and feeding utensils by hand? If so, bring some dish soap and a few sponges.

The same rule also applies to toys. Even if you’re traveling by car, avoid the temptation to bring too many. Putting a baby into a new environment is stimulating enough that you probably won’t need to bombard him with toys. 

Air travel made easy

Air travel is stressful enough these days, even without taking a family along for the ride. Consider this scenario: Get to the airport two hours early. Wait in a long line to check in. Wait in a longer line to pass through security. Pray your flight isn’t delayed. Cross your fingers your luggage makes it to your final destination. And, if you’re a nervous flyer, the list grows even longer.

Does baby need a ticket?

You don’t have to purchase your child a ticket for domestic travel until he or she is two years old. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of a car seat for those weighing under 40 pounds. If you are not using your car seat on the plane, you can typically check it (and the stroller) at the gate, but put them in a decent bag so they stay clean.

Start with security

TSA agents confiscate a lot of stuff because travelers don’t know or forget the rules. Regarding some of the most common baby supplies, here’s what is on the do and don’t list.

  • Liquids and pastes are allowed in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or less per item. TSA recommends placing these items in a small bag and separating them from your carry-on baggage to facilitate the screening process.
  • Formula, breast milk, and juice for infants or toddlers are permitted in reasonable quantities. TSA also suggests removing these items from your carry-on bag for screening and informing the TSA agent if you have more than 3.4 ounces of formula, breast milk or juice. The agent may need to test these liquids. Also, you do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk through security.
  • Ice packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice are allowed in carry-on bags. You can also bring gel or liquid-filled teethers as well as canned or jarred baby food in your carry-on. However, these items may be subject to additional screening.

To pre-board or not? That is the question.

If you fly to Orlando, there may not be an opportunity to do so because, as a gate agent once told us, “Just about everybody on this plane is traveling with an infant or child.” However, almost every other flight will give families the option to be among the first to get on the plane. If two adults are traveling, consider having one pre-board with all of the carry-on luggage while the other stays in the boarding area with the child and is among the last to board. This strategy minimizes the amount of time spent in a restricted space on the plane.

Ease pressure change discomfort

This is some of the most common advice for air travel so most likely you’ve already heard it already, but it is still worth repeating: Feed or nurse your baby during takeoff and landing because it helps alleviate discomfort in baby’s ears. Don’t stress if your child refuses to drink doing those times.

Other helpful travel tips

  • Try to stay on baby’s schedule but remember that babies can adapt.
  • Consider bringing crib/pack-and-play sheets because they have a familiar scent and feel.
  • Download a white noise app to drown out unwanted noises.
  • Bring scented bags for dirty diapers.
  • Baby-proof your hotel or wherever you are staying as best as you can.
  • Most of all, take pictures, have fun and try not to sweat the small stuff!

Traveling as a family, even when your child is just a baby, can be such a positive bonding experience for everyone. There are not the responsibilities of home so you have more time to really focus on your family. Developmentally it’s great for the little ones because they tend to progress by seeing new things in new environments. So although they won’t remember the trip, you will and most likely you’ll have some great pictures to share with them when they’re older and those great memories of your own.

– Jen Lovy is a Beaumont Parenting Program volunteer.

Time to celebrate reading

Boy reading to his stuffed animals

Modified image. John Morgan, Flickr. CC license.

March is National Reading Month, a time when schools across the country celebrate and promote reading. However, reading and literacy can start as early as birth. In fact, researchers state that promoting early literacy is in direct correlation with reading success when children enter school. That means it is never too early (or late) to encourage reading.

This month, find time to read and have fun with your children. Here are some reading activities you might like to try together. To make this extra special, make a tic-tac-toe board and have your child choose nine activities from this list. Put them in the squares and mark them off as you complete the activity. When they get a tic-tac-toe, create another game.

  • Read books from your child’s favorite author.
  • Celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday (March 2) by reading a book of his every day this month.
  • Record number of books or pages read for the month.
  • Visit your local library.
    • Introduce your child to the children’s librarian.
    • Get a library card in your child’s name. Check with your library to see when a child can get his own card. Some libraries have a guideline that a child must be able to write his first and last names legibly.
    • Spend extra time there and really look around to see what is offered.
  • Make a “reading place.”
    • Get a large appliance box and decorate it as a special area for reading.
    • Read under the covers with a flashlight or headlamp.
    • Make a tent with blankets over chairs as a special reading place. Use flashlights or headlamps to see.
    • If you have the space, decorate a special corner or area in your home for a reading space.
  • Bring reading to life.
    • Change your voice for the different characters in the book.
    • Dress up like the characters when you read your child’s favorite book.
  • Read as many different genres as you can.
  • Read and make a recipe from a child’s cookbook.
  • Get a book on drawing and learn to draw something new.
  • Read about things they are interested in. If they are interested in animals, visit a zoo.
  • Have your child read a familiar book to a pet or favorite stuffed animal. Reading aloud to a non-judgmental furry friend can improve reading skills and confidence.
  • Meet an author.
    • Some bookstores and libraries invite authors to speak and read aloud to children.
    • Get a book signed especially for your child by the author.
  • Read something other than a traditional book.
    • Listen to an audiobook. You can even follow along in a printed copy if you’d like.
    • Order a magazine for your child to come in the mail.
    • Comic books and graphic novels are unique options.
  • Read together at bedtime.
    • Take time to snuggle and read to your child, even after your child can read.
    • Start bedtime early or extend it by 5 to 10 minutes for extra reading time.
    • Read a chapter a night from a favorite author.
    • If your child can read, take turns reading a page.
  • Other literary-supporting ideas
    • Play with magnetic letters on the refrigerator.
    • Play rhyming games.
    • Let your child make up a story and tell it to you.
    • Plan a scavenger hunt in your home, with a book being the prize at the end.
    • As a parent, model reading for your child.  Let them see you read everyday.

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Love scavenger hunt

scavenger hunt clue

Valentine’s Day used to mean I looked forward to flowers and candy from my hubby (And I still do like those things if you’re reading honey,) but besides my husband’s modeling this for my two young boys, I questioned how do I explain this holiday to them?

Anyone could look up the history behind St. Valentine and end the discussion there. However, I’ve been on a mindfulness journey recently and taking an extra minute to really think about the decisions I make for my family. Do I want to show my children that this holiday is another event for candy? (There are just too many of those already!) Along this journey, I’m also paying extra attention to the lessons and traditions that I start for my family. After all, this will shape their lives and eventually how they celebrate this “holiday” in their own adult lives—maybe even one day carry on the traditions with their own children.

Instead of candy, giant teddy bears, or a love explosion concentrated in one day, I started the tradition of a Love Scavenger Hunt.

I created little rhymes and riddles that lead my oldest son, who is almost five, on an adventure throughout our house to highlight the everyday kind of love we have in our family. Once my youngest is old enough, he will get his own set of clues to play detective and join in on the fun.

My husband will tell you that I’m not the best at rhyming, as evidenced by my constant questions of “What rhymes with …..” in bed while writing the clues, but I’m the best at being grateful for everyday moments with my kids. I’m a big fan of gentle tickling my little ones wake them up, bedtime stories, card games at the kitchen table, and movie cuddles. So why not highlight these ordinary moments of love to show my boys that my love isn’t overflowing for them on Valentine’s Day? My love for those two rambunctious boys overflows for them every day.

I will disclose that at the end of the scavenger hunt my 5-year-old boy gets a big prize of dinner and movie (both his choice) with mommy or daddy. I feel this prize is fitting because it highlights that the importance of Valentine’s Day isn’t on the present or candy, but with the people who you love.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.

Fabulous winter outdoor photography tips

silhouette of boy and girl jumping at sunset

You’ve been waiting for what seems like forever. Gazing wistfully through the icy windowpane, you sigh in impatience as each day passes with less-than-ideal conditions. Just as you reach your breaking point, it comes: An overcast day … and it’s just what you wanted.

The lighting is finally perfect for your outdoor photo shoot!

OK, so it seems strange to desire an overcast day. But believe it or not, sunlight isn’t the best to work with when taking pictures outside. Why, you might ask?

When mixed with clouds and trees, sunlight can cast erratic shadows that are difficult to erase even with editing software. Your subjects may be well-lit in the front, yet they’re squinting because of the light shining into their eyes. Put the sun behind them and their faces might be draped in darkness. The best solution is to remove the sun from the equation completely.

With the lighting set, you should consider your setting. Winter can seem very stark and bland—void of color. So instead of color, focus on texture. Tree bark, bricks and stone are all great options against which to pose your subject. Weather-beaten boards, such as the side of an old barn, look great too. If you do want some color, look around for some graffiti; some buildings in Berkley and Royal Oak feature buildings on which an entire side is dedicated to a gorgeous work of art.

You have your lighting and your setting. Something else to think about is your style. Do you want all posed shots, where everyone is facing (and smiling at) the camera? Do you want everyone centered? Go ahead and get some of those. Then consider sneaking in some candid shots. Get the one where everyone burst into laughter because someone tooted.

The “Rule of Thirds” is a popular one in photography; there are different levels of complexity to this. In the simplest terms, the subject(s) are in one-third of the frame, be it the left, right, or bottom. Shoot some off-center. Also consider tilting the camera and snapping faces from a different angle. Lie down on the ground and shoot up. Climb on a picnic table, gather everyone close to you, and shoot down. You may find that some of the best pictures are captured when conventional poses are tossed out the window.

If Mother Nature somehow confounds you and presents you with one sunny day after the other, you do have some recourse. Find a hill. At sunset, have your subjects gather at the top of the hill and take some pictures as the sun dips down towards the horizon behind them. Use your editing abilities (this can be done on a phone as well as with computer software) to tone down the amount of light in the image. The resulting picture is a timeless silhouette, framed in the vibrant colors of that darn winter sun.

– Wendy MacKenzie is a mother of four, Parenting Program volunteer, and a huge fan of silhouette photos.


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