Stella Brings the FamilyWhen my kids were younger, I was always on the lookout for children’s books that stood up against stereotypes of all kinds. In King and King, a prince falls in love with another prince, not a princess. In bell hooks' Happy to Be Nappy, a little girl celebrates the beauty of her natural African-American hair. My Princess Boy tells the story of a little boy who loves to dress in pink, sparkly clothes. These titles are all classics of the anti-bias genre, and they still deserve to be read.

New ShoesBut a couple of weeks ago, a library patron asked me to suggest some anti-bias books that have been published more recently, and I discovered some real gems that I wish had existed when my kids were still the right age for picture books. It might not be too late for your kids, though, so check out this list! And let me know if you have more titles that should be included on it.

Hasn’t 2016 been a doozy of a year? A friend of mine told me he wants to get some lighter fluid to incinerate his calendar. I told him I thought I might need explosives for mine.

Lately I have been trying put in some effort every day to make the world a little better. I go to demonstrations, give donations to worthy causes, subscribe to two good newspapers, and email my representatives in state and federal government. But once bedtime comes along, I need to leave this world behind and get lost in a novel. It's not a time for books that are esoteric, demanding, or very dark. My ideal escape read sucks me right into the story and gets me involved with its characters. If I especially like some of those characters, all the better.

The Bookshop on the Corner fit the bill perfectly. It tells the story of a laid-off librarian who buys a van, turns it into a portable bookshop, and moves to Scotland. The author's vision of Scotland is charming and cozy, full of perfect nooks for reading, gorgeous landscapes, cheap and lovely flats, handsome Scottish lads, exceptionally delicious toast, and, of course, many opportunities for reader's advisory. I loved it and have spent the last month forcing it on my librarian pals, who also love it.

In case you need some escape reads, too, I made you this list. And if you know of any excellent books that will whisk me away and guarantee me a good night’s sleep, please let me know. I think I’ll be needing these for a while to come.
 

On vacation last month, I listened to an audiobook that I just loved. I read it while taking long walks on the boardwalk of the New Jersey island where my mom lives, but it occurred to me that it would be a spectacular audiobook for families to listen to together on car trips this summer.

The War that Saved My Life tells the story of Ada, a 10-year-old who was born with a clubfoot and an absolutely awful mother. Ada’s little brother is allowed to go to school, but her mother keeps Ada locked up in their flat, saying she’d be embarrassed to have the neighbors see that she has a daughter who is a cripple. Both kids are starved and maltreated-- until World War II begins, and children are evacuated out of London to new homes in the countryside to keep them safe from German bombs. The loveliest part of this book is watching Ada getting stronger and learning to embrace her new family and watching how that family and her community embrace her. Until her birth mother shows up looking for the children…

Its celebration of family makes this a perfect book for families to listen to together, although the kids would need to be old enough to handle the darkness of the war and the terrible mother. If you’re planning car trips with your family this summer, here’s a list of great downloadable audiobooks and another of audiobooks on CD you should take a look at.

Louise Erdrich keeps getting better and better. Reading her new book, LaRose, I was awed by how the stories seem to bubble out of her in such interesting, complex profusion.

The main story is a tragic one, so tragic that it almost made me decide not to read this book. There are two families connected by blood and friendship, and both have sons who are five years old. One of the fathers is out hunting and accidentally shoots and kills his friends’ son. To atone, he decides to give his own son to the other family.

That’s where it starts, but there’s so much more. These families’ stories connect to the stories of other people in their community and to the stories of their Ojibwe ancestors. And all of these well-developed characters are voiced on the audiobook by Erdrich herself, who is perhaps the best audiobook narrator ever. Her quiet voice is just plain lovely to have in your earbuds, and she wholly captures the different characters’ voices, their humor and heart.

It’s a special experience, when writers read their own books for the audio version, and especially when they read them brilliantly. You’ll find more wonderful audiobooks read by their authors on this list. Please let me know if there are titles I’ve missed that should be on it.
 

From what I hear from my kids about sex education at their schools, kids in the Portland area are getting abbreviated, inadequate information about sex in these classes. Studies show that kids are probably also getting plenty of information from Internet porn. Neither of these options are very good.

I want them to know things that are never talked about in sex ed class-- that sex is supposed to feel good for girls, too. That pornography almost always presents an insanely stylized, but also unimaginative version of sex, and that real sex won’t and shouldn’t look like that. And then, of course, there’s a whole host of conversations to have about our culture’s weird over-sexualization of girls.

Clearly, we need to talk to our kids about sex, even though it is perhaps not their favorite subject for a chat with parents. For those questions they would never ask you, there’s a great sex-positive website called scarleteen you can point them to. And, of course, library books can help, too, so I created this list of really good books for kids of all ages.

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