“Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, Everyone! Hope you’re having a good one, whether catching the Black Friday bargains or catching a breath after the yesterday’s celebrations. Since I don’t like to turn my holiDAYS into holiDEALS, you won’t see me anywhere close by the shopping malls. Instead, while my sons are enjoying the quality time with their dad, I am going to tell you about another creative book for creative minds.

Harold wanted to take a walk in the moonlight. But there was no moon. Luckily, Harold had a giant purple crayon. He could draw a moon with the crayon. He even could draw a path to walk on. Actually, he could draw whatever he wanted. A mountain, Harold could climb on,  a boat to ride in the ocean, a pie and more pies, for who likes walking in the moonlight while being hungry? A policeman, to show Harold the right direction when he got lost. And last but not least, he could draw his bed, so Harold could crawl into it again when he was done with his imaginary walk. 

Now I should comment on the book, but isn’t it self-explanatory? No wonder that the book has been around for over 50 years and hasn’t lost its appeal or relevance. Every child should know that they have a magic crayon at their disposal. Purple or not, the crayon can take the child on an exciting adventure in the wild world of imagination.  

Today my son wanted to go mini-golfing with his dad, but as they found out, the place had closed down. He was quite disappointed. I think it’s a good day to re-read Harold’s adventure and perhaps do some drawing. Imaginary or not.

I fully recommend this book for the holiday season. Holidays are filled with wishes, but also with disappointments. Some things, even great things, just can’t happen, however hard we try otherwise.  Let the child discover the magic crayon in their imagination, so they can  create the thrilling world of anything is possible. Even a walk in the moonlight without the moon.




“The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt

One could write a book about reading books and a dictionary on a language, but with the writing time as ‘vast’ as mine, one post per week is all I can scribble away. If I’m lucky. In other words, I’d better move on to another topic. Just to remind you, this fall I’ve been focusing on the picture books illustrating various skills that our children learn during their early schooling. The books are meant to reassure our little learners or provide teaching tools for us, parents, or teachers. So far, I’ve covered the basics of math and the first steps into the language arts. Today and in the weeks to follow, I’d like to add an artistic spin to the theme. After all, art classes are a part of every curriculum, and for a reason. Coloring, painting, drawing or sculpting are a great way to develop so many vital skills: From mastering the fine motor skills, to enhancing creativity, dabbing at art does your child lots of good. Unfortunately, many parents undermine the role of artistic exercises in their children’s education. They deem art is not serious  and not effective enough, or worry that the artsy nonsense will push children away from the more practical academics. I couldn’t disagree more.  Art is a wonderful learning/teaching medium, even though the art-based curricula are less apparent and the results harder to measure. Children love hands-on activities and pushing the limits of their imagination. Not all children will become the next Picasso and choose art as their profession (thanks goodness!), but I don’t know a child who does not engage in art-based activity. My son, for example, treats it as a scientific experiment. What will happen when two colors of paint will be mixed?  Some children use drawing to relax, some others to focus. Many children can illustrate concepts or emotions they can’t express verbally.  

“The Day the Crayons Quit” is not only an outrageously amusing book that I wish I had written. It is also an ode to drawing within the lines while thinking outside the box- a gift every child has and a skill that many grown-ups have lost for good. The book is written in a very inventive format  that helps the story to promote thinking creatively.

One day, Duncan’s crayons simply had enough. They were fed up with the way Duncan was using them and they expressed their grudges in writing. The gray crayon was tired of coloring giant animals, like whales and elephants, all by himself. The red crayon felt abused for working on holidays, coloring Santa and Valentine hearts.  The yellow and orange crayons were confused which one of them is the real color of the sun, as Duncan used both of them. The peach crayon wanted to know why he had been deprived of his wrap.  Now he was naked and stuck in the crayon box. And then the pink crayon pressed some charges against sexism. Is pink a girl color only?! Luckily, smart Duncan found a solution that pleased his loyal coloring crew greatly. What’s more, his art teacher rewarded Duncan’s creativity with A+. 

I hope other teachers and parents will follow!

“What Is Your Language?” by Debra Leventhal

It was shortly after moving to Antwerp, Belgium.  I was stopped in the street by a  little boy scout. He spoke Flemish, which at that time was Greek to me, so I shyly recited my exit phrase “Ik spreek geen Vlaams.” (I don’t speak Flemish.) The boy didn’t give in, though. He just calmly followed in fluent English. “So what language do you speak? English, French, Italian?”

As someone who was born and raised in a highly monolingual country, where foreign languages were heard only at school, the move to the multilingual Belgium came to me as a linguistic shock.  The little boy, who was no older than seven and was ready to converse with me in four languages, was my inspiration to expand not only my own multi-linguistic abilities, but also take care of my children’s. As a result,  I make a conscious effort to speak Polish to my boys and use language schools and babysitters for the Spanish immersion. So far, it has been working out great. Now, why do I bother turning my household into the Tower of Babel? For me the answer is pretty simple. I want  my children to communicate with their Polish-speaking grandparents and their Spanish-speaking neighbors. I don’t want them to feel lost when traveling abroad, avoid foreign movies and read only translated classics.  But why do I start at such an early age?

1. Children are perfect multilinguals-to-be.

A new-born brain is la carte blanche. It is capable of learning any sound of any language in the world. The brain of a six-month-old baby starts filtering the sounds of their native language and the languages they are exposed to. Year by year, children’s linguistic capabilities become more limited. And we all know how hard it is to learn a new language as a grown up.

2. A child’s brain is like a sponge.

Child’s brain has twice as many neural connections (synapses) than adult’s brain. Unfortunately, if the connections stay unused, they vanish.  Conclusion? It’s crucial to stimulate child’s brain early on, because it’s like a sponge, which will dry up when unused.  Learning new skills, including languages, keeps the synapses active. What’s more, some scientists claim that being multilingual enhances your multi-tasking skills. A child that is used to juggling different languages is more likely to shuffle various tasks more efficiently than a monolingual child.

3. Language acquisition vs. language learning. 

Many parents wait with exposing a child to foreign languages until the kids are “old enough”. They don’t want to “confuse the chid” with too many languages. A common yet very fatal mistake. A teenager is indeed more capable of memorizing new words and understanding the rules of grammar but he or she will struggle with fluency, accent and linguistic nuances. Learning a language is a slow and painful process, as opposed to spontaneous language acquisition, which is a gift of little children. A child  picks up languages without thinking. It doesn’t matter if it is their native language or not. But around the age of 12, things change. The time for language acquisition is over and all we can do is to try to learn some of the simpler tongues, like English.

“What is Your Language” by Debra Leventhal is actually a song turned into a picture story. As a child travels to different countries and hears different languages. Yes, Oui, Da, Si… Of course the book is not meant to teach different languages but makes the reader aware  that they exist. 

When my son turned two, I actually did look for a book that would teach my son Polish. As I didn’t find one, I decided to write one: http://www.blurb.com/books/2651759-wstep-do-jezyka-polskiego-dla-dzieci-introduction

Hopefully,  my older son will read it soon to my younger son. Pass the word to anyone, whose children learn Polish as a second language. I wonder if they find it useful.





“Yoko’s Show-and-Tell” by Rosemary Wells

Yesterday, my son came from school as proud as could be. It was finally his turn to take home the sharing chest. One by one, children take the box home and fill it with an object of their choice. Next, they bring it back to the classroom and introduce the item to other children by giving three clues. My son has been practicing the clues for days. Finally he chose the following: “It is shaped like the first letter of my name. (His name is Victor). It is made for outside. It comes back to me.” Have you guessed it was a boomerang?   I thought these were pretty good hints for a five-year old. And I love the whole idea behind the sharing chest.  Not only does this simple show-and-tell drill allow our children to share their passions,  but it is also a great way to introduce the little guys to the art of public speaking. Kids think they just show children their favorite toy, latest craft or a souvenir, but at the same time they learn a bunch of crucial speaking skills. How to overcome the stage-fright, how to sound clear and confident, or how to stick to the time limit, to mention just a few.   As someone who teaches giving business presentations and appreciates an engaging talk,  as opposed to the far-too-common-time-wasting lengthy rambling, I am happy to see that my son is already working on being an eloquent speaker and effective communicator. We all could use more of those at work, outside work and on TV.

If your child is getting anxious about his or her first show-and-tell, you can help them to pluck up some courage by reading a book on the topic. It’s always good to see how someone else has done it and either follow their example or learn from their mistakes.  Rosemary Wells has a few good titles to choose from.  In “Yoko’s Show-and-Tell” children learn to consider their choices. Was it smart to bring a cute Japanese doll to school? Apparently not so much. (My son’s Spanish teacher for example, does not allow store-bought toys for example. As a parent I really appreciate that restriction. Kids are willy-nilly the best advertisers.) In “Henry’s 100 Days of Kindergarten” by Nancy Carlson, children learn to think outside the box. Bringing a 100 years old grandpa to celebrate 100 days of school is quite an idea!  And if you just want to help your child relax  before their first public performance and get some healthy laughs, go for “Big Bug Surprise” by Julia Gran. You can find more about the last two books in one of my previous posts.