Book Review: Letters from Santa and the Ice Bear

JRR Tolkien took Christmas pretty seriously. He took the time to write complete letters to his children in the name of Santa. He even created a strange, spindly and unfamiliar (to his family) form of handwriting, so the children wouldn’t know they came from dad.

There’s also a collection of fun personalities that live with Santa, including the Polar Bear, who is both hapless and mischievous:

“Still [Polar Bear] is all right now—I know because he has been at his tricks again: quarreling with the Snowman (my gardener) and pushing him through the roof of his snow house; and packing lumps of ice instead of presents in naughty children’s parcels. That might be a good idea, only he never told me and some of them (with ice) were put in warm storerooms and melted all over good children’s presents!”

And very pleasant neighbors:

“The Man in the Moon paid me a visit the other day—a fortnight ago exactly—he often does about this time, as he gets lonely in the Moon, and we make him a nice little Plum Pudding (he is so fond of things with plums in!).”

In several others, the North Pole is attacked by goblins who actually wage war on the Christmas castle, but find all of Santa’s helpers are far better versed in combat than one might assume – particularly the bear. The goblin wars are exciting, but they are an unusual (and vaguely violent) perspective on Father Christmas, which made them feel a bit odd at points. If you’ve read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, than these stories will sound very familiar.

“I had to blow my golden trumpet (which I have not done for many years) to summon all my friends. There were several battles—every night they used to attack and set fire in the stores—before we got the upper hand, and I am afraid quite a lot of my dear elves got hurt…They have rescued all my reindeer. We are quite happy and settled again now, and feel much safer. It really will be centuries before we get another goblin-trouble. Thanks to Polar Bear and the gnomes, there can’t be very many left at all”

The dates on the letters range from 1920 to 1943, so Santa’s struggles with WWII are detailed in several.

“I am so glad you did not forget to write to me again this year. The number of children who keep up with me seems to be getting smaller: I expect it is because of this horrible war, and that when it is over things will improve again, and I shall be as busy as ever. But at present so terribly many people have lost their homes: or have left them; half the world seems in the wrong place.”

From both a historical and biographical perspective, this portion of the letters are fascinating – to an adult. I attempted to explain the historic significance of those dates to the children in my life and they just stared at me with blank confusion.

Amazon.com

My only complaint about the hardcover version  centers on the illustrations. Tolkien included several pictures, illustrating the North Pole and the antics of the Ice Bear. The hard cover edition provides glossy, full-color reproductions of the handwritten letters and all illustrations, but the size of the book is slightly large than a pocket novel (about the size of an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper folded in half), so these reproductions are hard to see.

What I wish they had done was a large format, full color, 3-D version similar to the Ologies books, such as Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons (Ologies) by Dr. Ernest Drake (Author), Dugald A. Steer (Editor).

This super-fancy format would provide ample room for showing off the letters and illustrations, including little envelopes with copies of the letters included. The Dragonalogy book’s secret pockets with letters in both English and in runes are fascinating to children and just-plain-fun for us stodgy-old-adults.

There are many more quotes from this book already posted to this blog, including those mentioned above.

Book reviewed: Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Seattle is Lumping All its Homeless Children Into One School

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Just plain wrong on so many levels.

For all of the homeless shelters in metropolitan Seattle, the assigned elementary school is Lowell Elementary, up on Capitol Hill….Absolutely no one likes it there, it seems. Students report violence, bullying, and apathetic staff. And the staff claims they aren’t adequately supported to take care of students with special needs….With more training and a dedicated mental health staff, perhaps this school could be a light for students. But as it is, funneling the city’s growing population of homeless youth into one inadequate school is simply harmful.

Seattle is Lumping All its Homeless Children Into One School, LET’s Blog! ON LITERACY, EDUCATION, AND TECHNOLOGY by Mandy

Bullying Is A Community Effort

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To complicate matters, I realized that the girls’ parents were just as gossipy and juvenile as their daughters. At my daughter’s soccer game one afternoon, I heard several mothers talking about some of the players. They remarked on how fat some of the girls on the team were and how they should be at fat camp, not on the varsity soccer team. As they went on, I got angrier and angrier. They were chatting away about someone’s child. I left at halftime because I was disgusted with their behavior. Even if I wasn’t teaching my daughter this type of behavior, it was everywhere. Her peers were bullies, their parents were bullies, and it only made sense that Emily would learn to act that way too, in order to fit in. It seemed we were living in an environment where we couldn’t escape it.

Bullies ruined my childhood. Then I realized my daughter is one., Vox.com, by Kate Young on March 3, 2016

The Usual Dimension 

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One of the children in my life had the following conversation immediately after waking up: 

Child: I’m glad we live in this dimension and not the other.

Me : Oh, That’s good. What’s in the other dimension? 

Child: Nooooo! We have to build the machine to get there!  We don’t have the parts.

I guess that means we’re stuck here.

Economics of Fertility and Childbearing

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Are you likely to have more kids if you are rich or poor?  Or to put this in econo-jargon: Are kids normal or inferior goods?  (Reminder: When you get rich you buy more of a “normal good,” and less of an “inferior good.” And yes, the language of economics can be a bit cold.)…

Whether you cut the data across countries, through time, or across people at a point in time, the same fact arises: The richer you get, the fewer kids you have.

Yep, kids aren’t normal.

The Rich vs Poor Debate: Are Kids Normal or Inferior Goods?, Freakonomics.com, by Justin Wolfers

Admiration List: Nacole

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I have great admiration and respect for victims of horrendous crimes who find the strength and courage to speak about those crimes publicly. Nacole is one such brave soul who gave a TEDx talk about child sex trafficking – and what it’s like to be the mother of a child who has been lured away and sold.

This talk is brave, powerful and heart wrenching.

Homeless Youth Shelters

Homeless Youth

There are youth shelters throughout the United States but there are far fewer of them than adult shelters and sometimes they don’t advertise their location for safety reasons. Often youth shelters are not included in resources listing. For example: I did a quick search for all shelters in Duluth, MN through Homeless Shelters | Find Homeless Shelters | Homeless Shelter Search and the local youth shelter was not listed, despite having a website and generally being as visible as a youth shelter can be. This means that children and youth find out about shelters through other homeless children and youth, or through the staff at the adult shelters.

Adult shelters will not take children without an accompanying adult and sometimes they will turn away families because they have children – other times they will turn away adults without children, it all depends on the shelter. So homeless kids without a guardian frequently sleep and survive on the street.

A few years back, I interviewed a few people at the Life House youth shelter in Duluth MN and they made some very interesting points about the unique challenges in securing funding for a youth shelter. They admitted that many children in Duluth were forced to sleep outside because the shelter simply did not have enough beds. But they also said the funding wasn’t JUST for beds. Homeless children need an adult support network, schooling, counseling, positive discipline tactics, stability and a litany of other things that can’t be found in an adult shelter or on the street. While the Life House provides all of these things, they have to PAY the adults to do them.

That particular town had an extensive network of services for children, including a very active foster care program and a crisis shelter (usually used by parents who need childcare while addressing an emergency) through Lutheran Social Services (http://www.lssmn.org) as well as several abuse-oriented shelters and programs. Yet, the local homeless service providers estimated that at least 25–30 kids were sleeping on the streets every night. Duluth MN is not a big city. It’s a small-to-medium sized market, at best.

Minneapolis is a city (not a BIG city like New York, but a city) and it has a significantly larger population of homeless youth. There are shelters: Youth Shelter Information But there’s never enough resources to meet the overwhelming need.

Here is where I see the BIGGEST problem in all of this: I have heard it said that a child generally lasts about 20 minutes before someone on the street snatches them. Pimps, child abusers and human traffickers of all kinds recognize a runaway or otherwise desperate child and lures them away with promises of food and shelter. 20 minutes!

I personally experienced being lured. I was 16 years old, traveling alone, reading a book in a Milwaukee bus station. Two pimps sat themselves down on either side of me and proceeded to play good-cop-bad-cop, trying to entice or force me out of my chair and into the street – with them. The fact that I knew a) exactly what was happening and b) how to get rid of them tells you something about the people in my life at that time. While I was street smart enough to recognize and avoid that situation, I also had someplace to go. I was hungry and completely out of money, but I had a bus ticket and a destination. I could skip a meal or two.

How long did it take them to find me? I don’t know when they identified me as a target because I’d been in the city a few hours, but when they approached me I’d been sitting at the bus station for about 20 minutes.

Place a child/youth who is naive or desperate in that situation and these guys can get away with pretty much anything. Having enough shelters with enough beds for every child in need of help is a life and death matter for homeless children.

Sadly, that’s not our current reality.

Originally posted on Quora in answer to the question: Where can homeless youth (under 18) find shelter in the USA?

Also see:

Giggle Book Advice: Building a Family Library

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For the month of January, the Giggle Book Award is focusing on the art of creating a family library.

Adulting Is Hard

Choosing books for kids can be a frustrating endeavor. As the adult, the first questions are about quality and content. Does this teach useful skills or proper values? Is this something a child can quote or discuss with friends and family, without insulting people or raising eyebrows? How does it handle race, gender, family and other relationships?

Personally, I have found children’s books at used books sales and on library shelves that leave me wondering HOW this thing got published in the first place! I have no doubt that there are books quoted, reviewed and discussed on this blog that leave other parents scratching their heads and wondering the same.

To further complicate matters, walking into a bookstore, browsing stacks of hundreds (thousands?) of books and flipping through pages only provides the adult half of the matter. Even if you manage to randomly select a book that meets all of your own criteria, there’s no guarantee the child(ren) will like it.

What to do?

The Library Is Your Best Resource

Personally, I have found the library to be the best possible resource for encouraging kids to read while identifying really good books for the family library. Here’s the process that works for us:

  1. Take the kids to the library and let them play. These days libraries have a lot more than books and kids are not expected to be ultra-quiet all of the time. It’s a wonderful way to spend a super-cold winter day or a super-hot summer afternoon. As a bonus, children learn early on that the one place in every geographical location that is really and truly devoted to the care and use of books is a fun and welcoming spot to spend a few hours.
  2. While the kids play, select 15 books that seem like a good fit. Don’t spent a lot of time flipping through pages or reading the text; just browse through the stacks and grab books with covers that jump out at you. Here are a few of my own go-to topics: dinosaurs, pirates, superheros, ninjas, adventure stories, rescue pets (e.g.: lost cats and dogs finding a home) anti-bully stories, friendship stories and stories about building families or communities. While some of these topics may seem either difficult or overly common, I’ve passed over many books that don’t fall into any of these categories. It’s amazing just how wide and varied children’s books really are.
  3. Visit the library a couple times each month. Make library-time a regular part of the family schedule. Books are checked out for 2 weeks, so we usually make a library visit once every two weeks.
  4. Read every day at the same time. Most people read books right before bed. Some people like to set up a daily story-time earlier in the day. It doesn’t matter when it happens, as long as it happens in a consistent and predictable manner.
  5. Let the child(ren) know that you have NOT pre-read this book. Most adults don’t think about this (I didn’t!) but part of reading to children is introducing them to the basics about BOOKS. Specifically:
    1. Some books are disappointing because the story isn’t about what you thought it would be about. If a book turns out to be a dud SAY THAT – and let the children provide their own opinions on the matter.
    2. Sometimes I like a book and you don’t. Sometimes you like a book and I don’t. That’s OK. Encourage kids to respond to a story and express an opinion.
    3. Books contain lots of information, sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong. I once found a children’s illustrated book at used book sales that was blatantly (mouth-droppingly) racist, which put me in the unexpected and uncomfortable position of having to (semi-publicly) explain the negative side of race relations to a child who had simply asked me to take a break from shopping and read a book. In the end I realized the book was a problem but the conversation about race was not – it was just one of those uncomfortable things that the big-people in the family have to do. Also, the child witnessed a book-sale staff-member remove the book from the stacks after hearing me read-and-explain the book – that was a positive. Remember: When a book presents information that is inaccurate or offensive, reading-time is an excellent opportunity to discuss and explain why the information is wrong or bad. Don’t worry about protecting children from every bad thing, teach them how to discern the good from the bad, right from wrong, polite from offensive, etc.
    4. Books can be informative without being entertaining. Not everything has to be a super-fun, wild and exciting adventure! Sometimes books can be collections of facts that are interesting to the reader. An example? Dictionaries of dinosaurs complete with drawings, long Latin names, and current scientific evidence pertaining to potential habitats and behaviors. For a child interested in dinosaurs, this stuff is FASCINATING!
    5. Some stories are happy and some are sad. Most children’s books have happy endings, but some tell stories that are really sad or hard to hear, particularly for children. Again, this is an opportunity for discussion and not (necessarily) something a child should be protected from ever experiencing. Personally, I’ve found the most heart-wrenching stories in the biography and history sections of the children’s library, so I tend to preview those more than others – that way reading time focuses primarily on books that are fun with happy endings, with a few sad stories thrown into the mix here and there.
  6. Let the child choose the books during story-time. Personally, I lay out all of the library books and let the child(ren) pick out three based on the title and cover. Sometimes the child will look over the library books and decide to pick something from the family library instead. Usually, one or two books from the library will be requested over and over again. Sometimes a few library books will never get read. All of this is OK.
  7. When a book is a hit with both the children AND the adults, add it to the list. We keep a shopping list of children’s books that worked really well for the members of this household. A couple of times a month we buy one or two books from the list and add them to the family library – which is why I caution all adults to take a moment to evaluate whether or not they want to read a particular book over-and-over-and-over again BEFORE placing it on the list. Sometimes a book is a huge hit with the kids, contains information or a story that is perfectly fine, and gets on the nerves of the big-person reading it. If you can’t imagine yourself happily reading a book many times over, then don’t add it to the library.
  8. When a book is a hit with just the adults, add it to the list. Every once in a while I will find a children’s book that I REALLY like. It gets added to the list and the family library because I like it. Sometimes I will pull these books out and read them on my own. Honestly, I never thought I would enjoy a children’s illustrated story that much, but there have been a few that have proven me wrong. It’s good for children to see adults reading books, including kids books, so adding the big-people favorites to the library is both natural and positive. It’s important to note that I don’t force the children to listen to (read) these books, I just read them to myself. Of course, when they see me reading, this usually results in the child(ren) asking me to read it out loud, but that’s a bonus. When it comes to story-time, the child(ren) choose the books.
  9. When it’s time to buy a book, let the children choose something off of the list.  We order books online and have them delivered to our home via standard mail. Looking over the list of books and picking out a copy that will be in the family library and, therefore, always available for story-time is an important job. Kids LOVE it!
  10. Put the child’s name on the shipping address. To a child, receiving a packing in the mail, with their name on it, is like getting a birthday or holiday present, even if the book inside if one of the big-people favorites.
  11. Give the child the honor of shelving the book. Putting the new book on the shelf, along with all of the others, is also a fun and important-feeling thing to do. Sometimes simple things like this are a big part of our lives.

Making the joy of receiving/acquiring a new book part of a child’s life is a positive influence on their lives as readers, curious fact-seekers and future problem solvers. Have fun with it!

I hope these tips help other families build their own family library. I would love to see reactions and ideas from others!

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Innocence is Precious

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To me, the longer a child believes in Santa Claus, the longer they hold on to their innocence, which is a very precious thing.

Being Santa Claus: What I Learned about the True Meaning of Christmas by Sal Lizard, Jonathan P. Lane

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Staying Equals Love

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A DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Note: This book is narrated by Death. The plot occurs during WWII. It is a very good book, with both humorous and serious aspects.