A book birthday for Curious George!

It’s here! Today is the book birthday for IT’S RAMADAN, CURIOUS GEORGE. The past few months for me have felt like anticipating the birthdays of my childhood—only bigger because I got to share the countdown with you. It’s been thrilling to see the reactions of people from all over the globe to news of the book, to share it with the media (check out all the great coverage it got here), and to plan future events around it. And now it finally hits the shelves and ships out to all those who pre-ordered. A huge thank you to everyone who made this book happen, and to all of you for your support and enthusiasm for it. I hope you'll take a moment to let me know what you and your kids think about Curious George celebrating Ramadan and Eid with his Muslim friends. 

Librarians: A lifeline to education

The beautiful library at the Awsaj School, DohaI recently went on my biggest adventure as an author yet, one that took me all the way to Doha, Qatar, where I was invited by a group of librarians for a week of visits at five schools. It was my first time in the tiny Gulf state, and a wonderful chance to share my books and experiences as a writer. Doha is a fascinating place, with massive construction projects everywhere and a huge push to develop, particularly the education sector.

I was warmly welcomed at each of the schools, and ushered into the most impressive schools libraries I have ever seen. The large and breathtaking spaces were staffed with both upper and lower elementary librarians, as well as several assistants. I was struck by how the schools truly seemed to value the crucial role that librarians play in the academic development of their students. Connected to each student, the librarians worked to develop special projects, helped with research and assignments, set up programs and guests, and fostered a love of reading and seeking knowledge. 

I spent lovely time with the librarians, who took care of me during the school days, even packing me homemade lunches and snacks, and went above and beyond to entertain me after hours. They took to me to delicious dinners, invited me into their homes (where I, overcome with jetlag one afternoon, even napped), and went sightseeing with me. I learned about their lives and their families, where they had worked before, and what their futures held. Among the librarians I met, the Americans and Canadians were fairly certain that they would remain abroad until they retired. I assumed it was because life overseas was exciting and romantic, because they were part of such a close-knit expat community, or because the compensation and lifestyle was so comfortable. But, that wasn’t always the case.

“There are no jobs for us back home,” was what I sadly kept hearing. I was jarred by this news. It breaks my heart that these talented and committed educators feel like they can’t come home if they want and share their knowledge and expertise because there aren’t enough opportunities left for them. But we still need them! In a recent Huffington Post blog post, Sense and Sensibility: Why Librarians Remain Essential to Our Schools, Yohuru Williams defends the role of librarians (aka media specialists) and other key staff, and why they must be preserved in spite of budget cuts. I hope his arguments, and others like them resonate with lawmakers and those who make tough staffing decisions. Librarians, as Williams says, must be seen as lifelines who, in addition to all of their traditional roles, “help students to unlock and decode the vast amount of information now at their fingertips.”

The creative "lesson tent" at the Greenfield Community School Library in DubaiI am eternally grateful to the librarians who have championed my work and who continue to share it with their students, taking care that all are represented. They have made me feel at home wherever I visit, preparing their students and creating excitement around my presentations. And they serve as a great source of ideas and sounding boards, especially since they are so in tune with what kids like to read. I’m thrilled that I had the chance to make an amazing trip to Doha and spend time with such kind and thoughtful people. And as an author whose greatest ally is the librarian, I hope that America isn’t willing to lose any more to far away places, or at least not to let anywhere else value them more than we do. 



The next chapter

My baby boy with his favorite bookToday, I became the mother of a teen. And while that comes with its share of anxiety, disbelief and nostalgia for my baby boy, there are many unexpectedly wonderful things about having an older child. One is being able to share books with him in different ways than when he was younger.

My son has always been an enthusiastic reader. “Book” was actually his first word, uttered to an ecstatic mom before his first birthday. We read everything together since he was an infant, graduating from The Going to Bed Book to Where the Wild Things Are to the Chronicles of Narnia. And then, it stopped rather abruptly. My son started reading on his own, impatient to continue a story beyond where we left off at bedtime. Occasionally he’d come into his little brother’s room, squeeze onto the bed and listen to his old favorites. But mostly, reading became a solitary endeavor for him.

Since we didn’t read much together anymore, I started to pass on to him the books that I had loved as a child. But I had mixed results. He loved Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing and A Wrinkle in Time. But he rejected the Lord of the Rings, even when I bribed him with the reward of watching the movies when he was done. If he rejected Tolkien, I had no chance he would pick up my all-time favorite, Little Women. But I stubbornly tried.

A better approach was for me to start to read the books he was reading. I found myself eagerly waiting for him to finish the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson and, later, Hunger Games. And then I suggested we both read recommended books that were new to us both. We both loved Wonder and Shooting Kabul and, recently, A Long Walk to Water. When I asked him what he thought of the latter, he actually said he “felt like a better person” for having read it—once again to an ecstatic mother.

I couldn’t be more proud of my big boy and look forward to sharing more stories with him. Even still, I do miss snuggling him on my lap and letting him turn the pages of the picture books I could recite with my eyes closed. So happy birthday to you, son. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.