Archive for October, 2013

October 24, 2013

When Monster Have Minds of Their Own

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers' Center

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers’ Center

By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard

With Halloween soon at hand, I’d like to take a moment to talk about monsters.

At one point or another all of us have two-stepped it from the light switch to the bed, yanked the covers over our heads, and hoped like heck the monster didn’t see us. Whether it’s the boogeyman or a subterranean troll, childhood fears are universal. In fact, one study found that as many as 74% of 4-6 year olds self-report being afraid of monsters and ghosts.

You might wonder how a four year old even knows what a ghost is—it’s not like his parents handed him a bowl of popcorn and said, “Come on, son, it’s family night—let’s watch Poltergeist.” Still, monsters are as integral to American culture as baseball. Test this theory: Lay out pictures of Frankenstein, Dracula, Godzilla, and The Hulk next to snapshots of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, and Willie Mays. All classics. Now see which ones your six year old can name. At my house the score was 3-0. (But don’t worry, Hannah’ll bat 1000 as soon as we introduce her to the Avengers next week.)

Monsters get a bad rap, but the truth is we need them. (We need baseball players, too—but that’s a different blog.) For years, psychologists have been looking at the role of monsters in children’s development. Monsters in movies and books place abstract fears like abandonment and powerlessness in physical form. Watching heroes triumph over monsters teaches us that we too can triumph over our fears.

But monsters are changing, my friends. It’s no longer easy to tell the difference between monsters and teddy bears—just look at Sully from Monsters Inc. He’s fluffy, for Pete’s sake. And what’s worse, monsters aren’t following the classic do-something-scary-and-then-be-defeated scenario. They’ve started thinking for themselves. Just take The Monster Who Ate My Peas. It has eyestalks and tentacles. It lurks in the kitchen just waiting for its chance to…eat our yucky vegetables? In the words of my eldest daughter, “Wait—what?” Katie’s 14, but she sat right down and read that book to see why the monster would want to help the boy. Turns out it wanted something else entirely. And Gabe—the monster that lives under Nathan’s bed in I Need My Monster—goes on vacation. I’d like to know where in his contract it says he gets vacation. Speaking of contracts…Zack should have read his before he paid the owner of The Monstore good money for a monster to scare his little sister.

No, these creatures are not the usual suspects. They have redefined what it means to be a monster and because of that, even adults won’t be able to put these books down.

monster who ate peas coverTitleThe Monster Who Ate My Peas
Author: Danny Schnitzlein
Illustrator: Matt Faulkner
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up


Title: The Monstore
Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: James Burks
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

i need my monsterTitle: I Need My Monster
Author: Amanda Noll
Illustrator: Howard McWilliam
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Okay this might be cheating, but in thinking about monsters and bedtime fears, I have to include a fantastic resource for parents. Child psychologist Margaret Jessop has written a great story about a little boy who overcomes his fear of the dark. It’s available FREE on her website along with suggestions for what parents can do to help banish bedtime fears.

Title: Nighty-night Knight
Author: Margaret Ann Jessop
Genre: Read-aloud story
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

October 23, 2013

a stormy, superhero-ific saturday

The best thing about The Best Saturday Ever is the illustrations. Bright colors on a black background give a superhero feel to the book, which is appropriate for a story of a boy who turns into a superhero on a rainy saturday. The colors also do a nice job of giving the effect of a rainy day when the power is out; all the light seems to be coming from the boy’s imagination, which I love.

Tbestsaturdayeveritle: The Best Saturday Ever
Author: Gary Cook
Illustrator: Adam Sword
Genre: Picture Book

A great book to encourage kids to play imaginatively, parents can jump right in with their own encouragement. Get out your own superhero cape and fly around the house. (Kids run faster when there is someone chasing them!)

Power outages might be my favorite times. Of course, there are downsides now that I am the responsible adult (making sure the fish get enough oxygen, picking up dry ice for the freezer and finding all the flashlights). But I wouldn’t trade them for anything, and this books definitely explains why.

October 10, 2013

Monster Costume (but not how you think)

If there’s one thing we do in this family, it’s Halloween, so obviously we have to have lots of Halloween books. This is a new one that the folks at Scarletta were nice enough to send me.

I love a good monster story. And I also love a good monster story. (Get it?) This is both.

monster needs a costumeTitle: Monster Needs a Costume
Author: Paul Czajak
Illustrator: Wendy Grieb
Genre: Picture Book, Halloween
Ages: 0 – 6

Monster wants to be a cowboy for Halloween and wears his costume everywhere…until he sees the ballet. But cowboy? Dancer? Ninja? What WILL monster be? This is a great story that will make kids laugh and get excited to try on their own costumes. (Of course, ANYTHING could et my kids excited to try on a costume.) But still. I loved the illustrations in this book, too. They are super colorful, super lively, and super funny. Stealth ninja monster is definitely my favorite.

Another great thing about this book is that the monster dresses in outfits that are traditionally assigned to both genders. Cowboy. Dancer. Ninja. I love that those are interchangeable ideas because too often they aren’t. You can challenge your kid on that…see if he or she notices. Or ask your boy if he would consider being a dancer or your girl if she would be a cowboy. If they look shocked and upset, ask them why. If their answer is gender-based (I can’t do that because I’m a —-), challenge them. There’s a difference between not choosing a ballet costume because it’s the last thing you would want to wear and not choosing a ballet costume because you think you shouldn’t. Kids should know that difference.

(And no, I wasn’t purposely trying to prove that I can take the fun out of anything. It just comes naturally.) 😉 Kidding! Keep in touch for more Halloween stories, but this is a great one to start with! And remember, talk to your kids!!!

October 3, 2013

How does your family tree grow?

Angela Verges

Angela Verges

by Angela Verges 

A child was born and a tree grew. By the time my son was old enough to walk, a new tree was planted in my grandfather’s front yard. The two events were not planned to happen together, but provided an interesting history.

The seedlings grew up with each other, the tree and my son. Until one day, my son had a history class in which he had to create a family tree. We discussed how a tree was planted the same year he was born. Our talk eventually led to actual facts about family history.

There were countless cousins, an armful of aunts and long lost legends to add to my sons’ family tree. There was no place on the tree for explanations/details such as: a great grandmother who played basketball, a grandmother who marched with Martin Luther King Junior, or a great uncle who was a town mayor.

Discovering relatives who had simple quirks was entertaining for my son. He once asked, “Mom why is Aunt Lou’s mustache so thick?” and “Why does Granny collect so many newspapers?”

thefivelostauntsofharrietbeanMost recently I read a chapter book where the main character discovered she had relatives she never knew about. In The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean by Alexander McCall Smith, Harriet was nine years old before she learned she even had aunts (her dad’s sisters). Harriet described her dad as great at inventing things, but absent minded. He forgot to tell Harriet about his aunts.

Harriet’s dad explained how he and his sisters were separated when they had to sell their family farm. This led Harriet to ask more questions. She helped fine each one of her aunts and reveled in their oddities. Aunt Veronica always had super strength and was found working in a circus.

Aunt Japonica and Thessalonika were twins and they could read minds. Aunt Harmonica was a ventriloquist. All of the aunts were peculiar, but special in their own way, just like our real families. You’ll have to read the book to find out the challenges Harriet faced as she found each aunt.

If you’re looking for fun ways to teach your child about your family history, here are four ways that I found interesting:

  • Play family history games
  • Have your child video tape an interview with an older relative – your child could pretend to be a report and ask such as

-where did you grow up?

-what movies and songs did you like when you were growing up?

-what did you do for fun when you were a child?

  • Create personal histories – have kids keep a journal, create a scrapbook or write stories form their lives. Have older kids or teens take pictures of events and the photos for their scrapbook
  • Start a family newsletter

For more ideas check out the link at

There can be many branches on a family tree, discovering how each is connected provides a rich history.  How do you teach your child about family history?