“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
― Frederick Douglass
As an exercise, pause right now and think about everything you’ve done today that required reading. Did check your email when you woke up? What about locate the correct aisle in the grocery store? Find the right exit on your way to Thanksgiving dinner? What about simply scrolling through your Facebook feed? Everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, navigating, and even taking in entertainment are made possible largely as a result of the ability to read, yet it is a skill we often take for granted.
Reading organizes and streamlines our lives; As a result of reading, we can decipher directions to put together furniture and read the instructions of our prescriptions. Reading allows us to make informed choices, to learn new skills, and keep in touch with loved ones. Plus, it’s fun.
Unfortunately, 1 in 5 people worldwide are cut off from these privileges because they cannot read or write. This number does not even include those living in a country in which they do not speak the language. Not only does this mean that those who cannot read are not able to do or benefit from all of the above activities, it also means they cannot inform themselves on important topics, often putting them at the mercy of those with more education.
The true cost of illiteracy is staggering. Those who cannot read or write will have difficulty finding employment, which means they will likely struggle with finances, finding adequate healthcare, and a host of other necessities. According to an article by Central Georgia Tech College, low literacy in adulthood can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the United States:
Voting, getting a driver’s license, or finding a good doctor all become difficult, if not impossible tasks without the ability to read and comprehend. All because of one small skill that most of us use every day without thinking.
THANKFULLY, there are those out there who are doing something to solve this problem. Individuals and organizations throughout the world have dedicated themselves to the mission of ending illiteracy and instilling mastery and a love of reading in both young and old.
There are a multitude of ways that you can join in these efforts. We have outlined a few of the larger organizations that are leading this mission below if you would like to join in their work. However, you can help improve literacy without ever spending a penny or even leaving your own city! Here’s how:
2. Talk about what you’ve read: Just as important as the ability to read is the ability to comprehend what has been read. When you read with someone, carry it beyond the page. Restate the story in your own words and ask others to do the same. Ask questions such as: What are the motives of the characters? What would happen if the story where to continue or if a plot point were to change? What were the themes and messages to the story? Not only do these actions build comprehension skills, they build social skills such as empathy, listening, and the ability to respectfully discuss ideas.
3. Volunteer: Whether you like working with children or adults, there is sure to be an opportunity to help build literacy in your community. Check out your local Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, library, shelters, and centers for English Language Learners. Many of these organizations are in need of people to read, tutor, or even teach courses.
If you would rather join in with already-established organizations, here are a few that are working hard each day to build literacy around the globe:
World Literacy Foundation- The World Literacy Foundation is working in partnership with 3,920 groups internationally across 25 countries, including Australia, UK, USA, and others in Africa and Latin America, with one common goal: to eradicate illiteracy in our lifetime. Through literacy, they aim to reduce poverty, improve health, increase employment and educational prospects, and see lives changed forever.
Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy-The mission of the Barbara Bush Foundation is to advocate for and establish literacy as a value in every home. Over the past 25 years, the Barbara Bush Foundation has sponsored 1,500 family literacy programs in 50 states for both children and adults by partnering with a network of high-performing local family literacy programs across the nation.
National Coalition for Literacy- A national coalition of the leading national and regional organizations dedicated to advancing adult education, family literacy, and English language acquisition in the U.S. They exist to help advocates, leaders, and others who care about literacy make a positive difference advocating for adult education and family literacy.
ProLiteracy- The largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the nation, believes that a safer, stronger, and more sustainable society starts with an educated adult population. For more than 60 years, ProLiteracy has been working across the globe to create a world where every person can read and write. They support 1,000 member programs in the U.S. and 25 countries worldwide that provide adult literacy instruction, advocate for awareness, funding, and support for a more literate society, provide professional development to increase the capacity and quality of adult literacy programs, and produce more than 400 print and digital instructional tools for tutors and students.
These are just a few of the many literacy programs for children and adults across the nation with which you can get involved. To find a program operating near you, click on the organization links above.
The ability to read and write can quite literally change someone’s life. It is knowledge, freedom, and joy. This Thanksgiving, we are thankful for books, the ability to read and create them, and for all those who are working tirelessly to ensure that number grows each day! We hope you are having a wonderful holiday—now go read a book, because you can!!
Like literacy, the key to solving bullying is to begin while children are young. This is A. Blob, a tale of a slimy, purple, blob-like creature that wreaks havoc on the playground with its bullying ways, was designed specifically with young readers in mind. With its rhyming text and vibrant illustrations, this 10-page picture book and its sticky purple star are sure to capture the hearts of even the earliest readers. Written by Lori Kefalos, author of several animated shorts, This is A. Blob is the first of a series following this bully.
This first installment follows the antics of A. Blob, as it pushes, slimes, and bullies other children. As the story progresses, however, readers learn that there may be more to A. Blob than meets the eye. Along with its powerful illustrations and rhymed verse for early readers, this book invites children to put themselves in the shoes of another and encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help.
It drives us; drives us to succeed, drives us to fail, drives us to run, and drives us to stay. Fear can be our best friend, prompting us to flee when we sense danger, or our greatest enemy, paralyzing us into a state of helplessness. Fear can inspire us to work harder than we ever thought we could, and it can cause us to act against our own self interest and even the interests of others.
It is this dichotomy that has inspired society’s fascination with the topic. Strangely, the same biological response which causes us to shake in our boots also provides a sort of high, and countless TV shows, films, and books have been created to draw out and exploit that shivery feeling. There is, perhaps, no better example of this than the month of October and its 30 day fear fest leading up to Halloween. During this season, we not only enjoy being afraid—we actually pay for it!
You see, fear is a master of disguise. It hides behind bravado, prejudice, and violence, fueling these harmful actions so quietly that it is often ignored and thus allowed to fester.
From bully to victim and everyone in between, bullying is riddled with fear. The children who are bullied are afraid of harm, their parents are afraid of doing the wrong thing and seeing their child hurt, bystanders are afraid of becoming outcasts or being bullied in return, and children who bully act largely out of underlying fear. While it may express itself in many ways, it is indeed fear which often drives bullying scenarios.
But why does any of this matter?
Until we recognize the root cause of bullying, we will continue to simply treat symptoms, never truly eradicating the problem.
Giving children bullying-solving skills may work for a while, but when fear crops up, if they don’t have the tools to properly recognize and address that fear, they will very likely succumb to it. Fear is designed to keep us safe so, unless we understand where it is coming from, we will have a difficult time turning it off.
While rationalizing through fear is difficult for anyone, it is especially difficult for children. One portion of the brain which plays a significant role in our bodies’ response to fear is the prefrontal cortex. It is this part which interprets the event we are experiencing and compares it to past experiences, helping you decide the level of threat and appropriate response. However, many studies have shown that the pre-frontal cortex, the rationalizing part of our brain, doesn’t fully form until age 25.
This means that an elementary aged child is going to have greater difficulty rationalizing the reasoning behind and consequences of his bullying behavior. One way you can help create context for your students is through reading. Studies show reading fiction helps develop empathy, which is recognized as a core life skill and the foundation for sound relationships and classroom climate. Additionally, books provide entertaining and safe ways for children to explore emotions and consequences, storing these lessons away for a later time.
Picture books, such as The Weird Series, by Erin Frankel and This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos, are excellent examples of books that help students identify and work through the fear behind bullying and standing up to bullying. By reading why these characters might be bullying or why other students are standing by, students are given a framework of reasoning on which they can later build using their own experiences.
Another way to help your students recognize the fear driving their bullying is to provide a visual aid that helps them walk through the steps we take mentally when dealing with fear. On a sheet of paper, have your students draw a picture of a bullying scenario. Ask the students to create a general caption written in the first person, such as "I pushed Jane".
Next to the picture’s caption, write “I did this because…”. With the students, look at the drawings and talk about what that “because” might be. Maybe the answer is “I didn’t like her”. Draw this out, as well. Next to the new caption write”…because…” again, prompting the child to explain why he or she doesn’t like the other child. Perhaps it is because she is new. From there, write “I didn’t like that she was new because…” And onward until the true reason, “I was afraid she would take away all my friends. I was afraid I would be all alone”, comes out. Now that the root fear has been identified, you can begin to discuss solutions to the fear.
Coping With Fear
In addition to helping children recognize their fear, it’s important to provide coping skills to deal with those fears in a healthy way as well as work to create an environment of safety.
Let your students know that they can talk to you about anything without fear of punishment. If you are able, set aside time to check in with each child for a minute or two each week to talk through any issues they might be having or to offer some words of encouragement. Even taking the time to write a small positive word for each child on his or her desk daily can have an enormous impact on the classroom climate. When students feel accepted and important, they will be less likely to feel the fears that lead to bullying.
Finally, one of the best ways to cope with fear is to talk about it. Talk with your students about why they find the situation frightening. What is being done to prevent it from happening? What steps can be taken to bring about a solution if the frightening situation does occur? This helps students take control of their fear and provides positive tools for confronting it.
Bullying is a complex issue. Not only do factors outside of fear contribute to bullying, overcoming fear is a process that will not happen overnight. These are simply suggestions to help you begin searching beyond the surface of bullying and bystander behavior to heal the root of the problem rather than the visible weed of actions it produces.
Fear isn’t all bad. In fact, it can be very good and even entertaining. That’s what Halloween is all about, right? So, this October, this month in which we recognize fear, both good and bad, let’s try to build environments in which everyone feels safe and cared for and may the scariest thing in your classroom be the ghost on the door!
Books are excellent tools for helping children build empathy and become upstanders! This is A. Blob is a masterfully illustrated picture book suitable for children ages 4-8. Written by Lori Kefalos, author of several award-nominated animated shorts, This is A. Blob is the first of a series following this bully. This first installment follows the antics of A. Blob, a slimy, purple, blob-like creature who wreaks havoc on the elementary school playground with its bullying ways. As the story progresses, however, readers learn that there might be more to A. Blob than meets the eye. Along with its powerful illustrations and rhymed verse for early readers, this story invites children to put themselves in the shoes of another. The book demonstrates that a bully can come in any shape, size, or color and encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help.
Who doesn’t love a good Christmas In July party?? Each year, my family breaks out the tinsel and jingle bells, decks out the porch and lawn, and enjoys our favorite holiday dishes under the sun. As the time for this annual celebration draws near, I began thinking: what would it really mean to have Christmas in July?
Depending on the beliefs and traditions of your family, Christmas can look a variety of ways. However, I think most would agree that Christmas is generally characterized by love, goodwill, and charity. How amazing would it be to infuse summer with a little of that giving spirit? THAT is a Christmas in July I could get on board with!
In celebration of this most wonderful time of year, I have come up with 10 fun ways you too can spread a little joy this July!
1. Donate to a local charity
Many charities survive off of holiday giving for the rest of the year. Give them a joyous boost this summer so they can continue to do good for others!
3. Bake cookies for your neighbor- These days, it isn’t rare to not know the name of one other family on the block. Take a few minutes to introduce yourself and chat when you drop off your treats.
5. Leave a treat for your garbage collector or mailman- Those summer days can be long and hot! Leave a cool drink and a kind note to show your appreciation!
7. Make a conscious decision to smile and greet everyone you see- This is something small that can have a big impact
8. Be a secret Santa!- Buy a little gift or make a card for a coworker, friend, or family member and leave it for them anonymously
9. Mow your neighbor’s lawn- The snow may have melted, but there is still outdoor work to be done! There is nothing quite so wonderful as coming home after a long day of work to see your lawn has been freshly mowed!
10. Pay for someone behind you in line
Do you celebrate Christmas in July? Tell us how you spread the joy in the comments below!
It’s never too early to start picking up gifts for Christmas in December! With their fun, creative, and educational qualities, nothing makes a better gift than a book. Pick up a copy of This Is A. Blob today!
This is A. Blob is a masterfully illustrated picture book suitable for children ages 4-8. Written by Lori Kefalos, author of several animated shorts, including “Who’s that Knocking,” “Chug,” and “Croc, Pots and Wildebeests,” which was nominated for Best Independent Short Short, Ages 5-8, at the 2009 Kid’s First Film Festival and for best short at The Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival, This is A. Blob is the first of a series following this bully.
This first installment follows the antics of A. Blob, a slimy, purple, blob-like creature who wreaks havoc on the elementary school playground with its bullying ways. As the story progresses, however, readers learn that A. Blob may have more than meets the eye.
Along with its powerful illustrations and rhymed verse for early readers, this story invites children to put themselves in the shoes of another. The book encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help.
It’s what Valentine’s Day is all about. Roses, candy, sweet notes, and everything beautiful. That’s what love is, right? Well…sometimes. But sometimes, love isn’t like that at all. Sometimes love is tears, heartache, and vulnerability. Sometimes it’s biting tongues, saying hard things, and forgiving in difficult times. You see, somewhere along the way we forgot something:
Love isn’t easy.
Actually, love is often pretty hard. Love, real love, means caring for someone and wanting their well-being, even when they aren’t very likeable. It means sometimes sacrificing your own happiness for the happiness of someone else. True love means feeling the hurts of another as if they were your own hurts. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken… To love is to be vulnerable”.
Despite this, we continue to search and even fight for love. Why? Because, although love can be incredibly difficult, it is also one of the most powerful forces in this world. Love has the power to strengthen, lift up, change, and inspire people to heights never before reached. Love has an almost magical way of making the difficult bits not so difficult. When we love someone, we want to sacrifice for them. Even when they hurt us, we want to see them be the best and happiest they can be, because we love them.
"Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star."
-- E.E. cummings
You might ask why I’m talking about the difficult side of love right before Valentine’s Day. Why point out the cloud in an otherwise sunny sky? Because to ignore the difficult side of love is to do it a disservice. Believing that love is all warm feelings and roses is to severely underestimate its strength, power, and beauty.
In light of that, I want to pose a question: during this holiday where we like to celebrate the people we love, can we find room to love the people we don’t like? Can we do the difficult loving before we are able to experience that warm glow that makes it feel worthwhile?
Can we love bullies?
I know what you’re thinking: “Why—no, how—could I love someone who purposefully hurts others, not once, but over and over again?” I can’t imagine the pain of watching your child be bullied day in and day out. I can’t imagine what it feels like to see them come home from school in tears because of what another child said to them. I do know, however, that love has changed more hearts, behavior, and lives than hate or rejection ever has.
Don’t misunderstand me- bullying behavior should not be condoned. Children who bully must be taught that such behavior is unacceptable, but love doesn’t signify approval for actions; instead it demonstrates a belief in the person behind those actions. Discipline and guidance, though they don’t feel like it, are some of the most loving things we can do for children. Love can be hard, but only because it wants the best. Love is such a powerful force. It would be wasteful to only use it on those we liked and, if we’re honest, if we only gave love to the purely good, I imagine we would all be bankrupt.
We like to think of love as soft, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Real love is strong. Real love doesn’t give up when the going gets tough. It sticks around. It waits. It helps when it can. It loves even when it does not like.
No, love isn’t easy, but it is worth it.
So here is my challenge to you this Valentine’s Day: love someone who has not been kind to you. Try it, just once, and see what happens. If you try it out, let us know how it went in the comments below!
For a great book that helps introduce children to the idea of loving those who may act unkindly, check out This is A. Blob by L.A. Kefalos. This masterfully illustrated picture book is suitable for children ages 4-8. This is A. Blob is the first of a series following the antics of A. Blob, a slimy, purple, blob-like creature who wreaks havoc on the elementary school playground with its bullying ways. As the story progresses, however, readers learn that there may be more to A. Blob than meets the eye. Along with its powerful illustrations and rhymed verse for early readers, this story invites children to put themselves in the shoes of another. The book encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help
A New Year, A New Approach to Bullying Prevention: How Setting Small Goals Can Make A Big Difference- Part I
"If you want to achieve goals you've never achieved before, you have to do things you've never done before."
This is a quote by author and motivational speaker, Stephen Covey. To me, this quote embodies the spirit of the New Year. If you’re like most people, each year you develop a list of goals to achieve in the coming new year and, like most people, you set aside at least half of those goals by February. This regression is often chalked this up to busyness and this is certainly part of the problem; however, I would argue that the bigger culprit is routine.
When busyness kicks in, it becomes easier to stick with what we know. Upon re-entering the “real world”, we naturally fall back into our real world routines. Don’t get me wrong—routines can be great. They create efficiency and help us get things done. However, as Stephen Covey implied, routine will not create change. If we want to achieve something new, we have to do something new. The same truth applies to bullying prevention.
These new actions don’t need to be big. In fact, when setting goals with younger children, experts urge you NOT to make goals too big. At least, not initially. In a podcast for the parenting website, Kids In the House, psychologist Edwin A. Locke states that children should absolutely set goals for anything they want to achieve, but it’s important to break larger goals down into smaller, incremental goals. According to Locke, it’s also essential to track goals through measurement and to set deadlines for achievement. Because young children are still in a concrete state of learning, parents and teachers should provide consistent and visual benchmarks and evaluations of progress. Dr. Lock emphasizes:
“Make sure the goal is clear, make sure the goal has a deadline and that you measure your progress”.
These expert tips inspire the question: is it possible that this incremental goal setting is also key to ending bullying? Perhaps one reason why 25% of students are still being bullied is partially due to having too broad of goals in school. We tell children they need to “end bullying” and, while we provide them with some tools to achieve this large goal, we rarely, if ever, provide small, incremental goals that can be seen and measured to help reach that long term goal. If we, as adults, find bullying a complex issue, how must it appear to a child?
Telling children to “end bullying” is vague, but encouraging them to “Say hello to someone new in the hallway each day this week” is specific and it’s measureable. Better yet, these are goals that can be set and tracked throughout the year, not just during Bullying Prevention Month, and that is really one of our overarching goals. We want kindness to become a lifestyle so that bullying isn’t even in our kids’ vocabulary.
We want to create a habit of kindness.
January brings a new year and a new semester to begin making changes in our routines that may ultimately change our lives. If we want to see bullying stomped out like never before, we must venture to try things we’ve never tried before. Check back here next week for some specific, measureable goals to help you and your children to reach the ultimate goal: Ending Bullying Forever!!
What's something new you want to try this year? Let us know in the comments!
Looking for some new literature to read this year? Check out This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos! With its vibrant illustrations, rhyming verse, and a sticky, purple blob as a main character, this 20 page picture book is the perfect tool to introduce young ones to the difficult topic of bullying. Readers will learn to put themselves in the shoes of another, discover why bullies might behave the way they do, and what can be done to help.
It's Labor Day!
For some, Labor Day is a day off to relax, maybe barbecue, and enjoy a day,well, not laboring. For others, it is the last hold on summer before school and commitments kick into high gear. But what is Labor Day supposed to mean? I decided to do a bit of research to find out.
According to the U.S Department of Labor: “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” The first Labor Day celebration was held in 1882 in New York City -- a hub of industry and a shining example of the achievements of the working man. In these early days, the holiday was celebrated with a parade showing off various trades and organizations, followed by a festival for the amusement of the workers being honored. Essentially, the day was built to celebrate the working man and to give him or her a much needed day off to show gratitude for the labor which keeps America running.
Labor Day is a day to say “thank you” to America’s laborers, but how many of us take the time to show our thanks? I recently came across an article by Amy of the blog, Teach Mama, describing how she and her family decided to take their day off and make a difference. Inspired by a show on PBS Kids, she decided to make Labor Day, Neighbor Day-- a day filled with helping those nearby and making their day a little bit brighter. I love this idea, not only because it spreads kindness—something we need more of in this world—but also because it brings us back to the original intention of Labor Day—showing our love and gratitude to those around us.
To help with your Neighbor Day celebration, I have created a list of 11 easy ways to show kindness to those right on your own street:
1. Take over a pretty potted plant for them to enjoy or collect a bouquet from your own garden.
2. Mow your neighbor’s lawn—This is probably one of the kindest things you can do as most people dread this chore. Make sure you ask first, though!
3. Place a kind note in their mailbox. It could be a note of encouragement, a compliment on the house or gardening, or even an invitation to have lunch together sometime.
4. Take in their trash cans. This is a chore I always put off for some reason. If you know your neighbors well enough to know where they store their cans and you know they won’t mind you walking up their drive, take a couple extra minutes to bring them up from the curb.
5. Offer to help carry in groceries.
6. Offer to weed your neighbor’s garden.
7. Smile and say hello! This seems simple, but it’s amazing how such a small act can brighten a day! Check out our post from June about National Smile Power Day to learn how a smile really can make a difference!
8. Collect any litter that has accumulated along your street.
9. Pay one of your neighbor’s utility bills while you are paying yours. This idea came from the blog Mom It Forward and I absolutely love it. You never know when someone may be struggling between keeping the electricity on and buying groceries.
10. Make some cookies and bring them over to your neighbor. Now, this is one that may require some previous interaction with your neighbor. For example, you wouldn’t want to make cookies for a neighbor with diabetes or a nut allergy! If you know the person is lonely, bring some lemonade too and offer to stay and chat.
11. Bring over some good books—what better way to share a piece of your heart? For some books that teach the importance of kindness check out our post In A New Light!
These are just a few ideas to get you started! The great thing about each Neighbor Day activity is that each can be done on any day of the year and by someone of any age! What a great way to teach our children that kindness starts at home.
If these ideas get you energized, consider checking out these organizations for even more inspiration:
Small Acts Big Change- This group was actually started by kids and continues to be run by children today! They operate under the belief that small acts of kindness can cause big change in this world and from the results of their work—they’re right! Right now and through the whole month of September, Small Acts Big Change is hosting an entire month of Random Acts of Kindness. Each day they challenge their followers and themselves to complete a certain kindness challenge. Are you up for the challenge??
RandomActsOfKindness.org- An entire website dedicated to random acts of kindness! Check out the website for kindness ideas, stories, and resources for spreading kindness in your school or workplace.
Let us know in the comments how you plan on celebrating Labor Day—or Neighbor Day—this year!
Our latest release, This is A. Blob, by L.A Kefalos illustrates to children what can happen when bullying, instead of kindness, is let loose on the school playground. Find your copy on Amazon.com or at LaughingLeopardPress.com
About Laughing Leopard Press
Hello! We are Laughing Leopard Press, an independent book publisher from Akron, Ohio. At Laughing Leopard Press, we’re interested in publishing works that contribute to our understanding of this wonderful world. Through this blog, we hope to add to that understanding with commentary on life, literature, and a few things in between. We hope you enjoy the blog and take some time to talk with us in the comments or on our social media sites. Happy reading!
This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
$1.00 is donated to charity for each book sold on this site--half to St. Jude's and the other half to PetFix Northeast Ohio.