Children’s Choice Book Awards Announced

This year’s winners of the annual Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards were announced at the seventh annual Children’s Book Council gala in New York last night. What I like about these awards are that the children vote for their favorites themselves, so this list is truly a reflection of what our nation’s kids like to read!

“The Children’s Book Council’s vetting process ensures that voting is done by children and teens, or submitted from classroom ballot boxes, they said.”

Here are the top winners in each category (click on thumbnails for more information):

K-2nd grade Book of the Year:
The Day The Crayons Quit
by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.






3rd-4th grade Book of the Year:
Bugs in My Hair!
by David Shannon.

Bugs in Hair





5th-6th grade Book of the Year:
National Geographic Kids Myths Busted!
by Emily Krieger, illustrated by Tom Nick Cocotos.

Myths Busted





Teens Book of the Year:
by Veronica Roth.






Illustrator of the Year:
Grace Lee
Sofia the First: The Floating Palace.

Sofia First





Author of the Year:
Rush Limbaugh
Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans.

Rush Revere


The Problem of Perpetual Cynicism

Drawing by Henry Marks.

But what is it? Drawing by Henry Marks.

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times, written by the president of Wesleyan University Michael S. Roth, points out something disturbing that seems to have infected our youth: A type of perpetual cynicism born of teaching students to think critically about their world, but not following up with teaching them to also find meaning in it.

Mr. Roth suggests that the traditional liberal arts goal of teaching critical thinking has devolved into something focused too much on the critical, and not enough on the thinking. It starts when professors teach students how to tear apart written texts, as if being critical (i.e. cynical) were the sole purpose and pursuit of education.

Yes, there’s a certain satisfaction in being critical of our authors, but isn’t it more interesting to put ourselves in a frame of mind to find inspiration in them?…Our best college students are very good at being critical. In fact being smart, for many, means being critical. 

And it continues when students assume the role of distant and disdainful commentator, one step removed from the object of their scrutiny. The sad result is that these students have come to believe intelligence reveals itself in their ability to describe everything that is wrong with a written work, but nothing that is right.

The inquirer has taken the guise of the sophisticated (often ironic) spectator, rather than the messy participant in continuing experiments or even the reverent beholder of great cultural achievements.

Mr. Roth gives the example of having to ask his students to “put their devices away” when he shows them movies in class. As a former film studies major, I find this especially distressing. When I was in school, we read essay upon essay about film’s transformative power, largely related to the obvious analogies between dreaming and watching a movie. But to feel cinema’s power in that way, you have to give yourself over to the experience. In other words, you have to take emotional and intellectual risks. From what Mr. Roth describes, today’s students prefer their culture served cold, and at arm’s length.

As debunkers, [today’s students] contribute to a cultural climate that has little tolerance for finding or making meaning — a culture whose intellectuals and cultural commentators get “liked” by showing that somebody else just can’t be believed. But this cynicism is no achievement.

I agree with Mr. Roth that cynicism is no achievement. And, if his assertions about modern-day students’ lack of interest in being inspired by art and culture and thought are true, then my next question would be, where did they learn to take such a cynical view of their world? Is this an effect of our modern culture, which some call corrosive (although, really, don’t those voices erupt in every generation)? The inevitable aftermath of postmodernism? The result of education trends going back to the 1960’s, when nearly everything about higher education was called into question? Maybe Mr. Roth will write a follow-up piece in which he teases apart the roots of the problem he has identified. I’d be interested in his thoughts.

Further exploration:


FlowFlow. “Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous investigations of “optimal experience” have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. In this new edition of his groundbreaking classic work, Csikszentmihalyi demonstrates the ways this positive state can be controlled, not just left to chance. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience teaches how, by ordering the information that enters our consciousness, we can discover true happiness and greatly improve the quality of our lives.”

100 ObjectsA History of the World in 100 Objects. “When did people first start to wear jewelry or play music? When were cows domesticated and why do we feed their milk to our children? Where were the first cities and what made them succeed? Who invented math-or came up with money? The history of humanity is a history of invention and innovation, as we have continually created new items to use, to admire, or to leave our mark on the world. In this original and thought-provoking book, Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, has selected one hundred man-made artifacts, each of which gives us an intimate glimpse of an unexpected turning point in human civilization. A History of the World in 100 Objects stretches back two million years and covers the globe. From the very first hand axe to the ubiquitous credit card, each item has a story to tell; together they relate the larger history of mankind-revealing who we are by looking at what we have made.”


Technology: Myth of Multitasking.  “[T]here is no such thing as multitasking —  at least not the way you may think of it. The fact is that multitasking, as most people understand it, is a myth that has been promulgated by the “technological-industrial complex” to make overly scheduled and stressed-out people feel productive and efficient. 


Separated at Birth?


Recently I was wandering around the Internet and came across the image on the upper right (I think my journey started when I was looking up the Gold Museum in Bogotá, Colombia, which led to reading about obsidian, which led to an interesting article about the use of obsidian by Aztec warriors posted on the Corning Museum of Glass’ website. Phew!). Of course it reminded me of Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are


I’m sure Joseph Campbell would have something to say about this!

“Where the Wild Things Are.”
Maurice Sendak.
Aztec warriors image, via Wikipedia Commons.
“The Florentine Codex.”

Love Letters to Sons

For all that we talk about special needs children in our work and practice, the truth is that, as school psychologists, we generally see children in one environment: school. As such, other than what parents tell us as it relates to their child’s school life, it is rare to get a behind-the-scenes look at what daily life is like for parents raising children with special needs.

I recently read Priscilla Gilman’s book The Anti-Romantic Child, which centers around her first son, Benjamin (“Benj”), and the story of his development from birth to about age seven. Gilman calls the book a love letter to her son, which seems apt as she weaves a fair amount of poetry by the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth throughout her tale. I can’t say more about Benj’s disability since the mystery behind it takes up the first quarter of the book and I don’t want to give anything away. But I will say Gilman’s day-to-day descriptions of raising her son and working with his schools to help him succeed were compelling, touching, and informative. I may write a more detailed review at a later date, but overall I recommend The Anti-Romantic Child.

Coincidentally, I recently saw a commercial that features a real mom and her special needs child. It’s an ad for the MassMutual Insurance company, but it is so touching. I did a little Googling, and the mom in the ad is an actress named Katherine Norland. Her son Timothy has cerebral palsy, and the commercial shows the two of them going through some of the routines of daily life. It’s only about a minute long, but a lot is conveyed in that short amount of time.

In their own words, both of these moms tell us what they have learned – and gained, perhaps unexpectedly – from raising a child with special needs. Gilman: “…Benjamin has put me in touch with my deepest values, my deepest sense of what’s important and meaningful.” And Norland: “Everything that you thought was important to you changes, in light of having a child that needs you every moment…I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”

Special, indeed.

Also, because many of you will want to know, the song in the ad is Flume by Bon Iver:

Update 11/2014: I recently discovered that the song is actually not Flume, but was commissioned by Mass Mutual specifically for the campaign. It may be Bon Iver singing, but I haven’t been able to find a reliable source on that. At any rate, enjoy Flume by Bon Iver:

55 Years Ago Today

All of us know this picture: the iconic shot of brave Elizabeth Eckford trying to walk to Little Rock Central High School after Brown vs. Board of Education ended school segregation. This picture was taken on September 4, 1957. This wasn’t the day Elizabeth entered the school; this was the day she was turned away by the Arkansas National Guard. The day she finally walked into the school building was September 23, but she and 8 other African American students were chased out of school that day by an angry mob. On this day 55 years ago, September 24, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the United States Army to escort and protect the group that came to be known as The Little Rock Nine.

The story – and the image above – are indelibly etched on the American collective consciousness (or should I say collective conscience?). If you search for Elizabeth Eckford on Wikipedia, this is the picture you will find. But did you also know that if you search for Hazel Bryan Massery on Wikipedia, this is also the picture you will find? Hazel Bryan Massery is the girl behind Elizabeth, shouting at her.

I mention this because while the drama of the photograph is well-known, it is less well-known what happened in the years and decades after this seminal moment. The short version is that in the following months and years, Hazel became increasingly wracked with guilt about her actions that day. In 1963, she tracked down Elizabeth and called her to apologize. During the 40th anniversary celebration of Central High School’s integration, Hazel and Elizabeth met again and at that point struck up something of a friendship. What came after is complicated, and in some ways represents the challenges of racial relations we still face. But parts of the story are inspiring. And parts of the story make me wonder if the glare of the media – and all its attendant pressures – hadn’t been focused on these two adult women as they tried to forge a reconciliation 40 years later, could they have formed a more authentic bond?

If you want to know more about the story, there is a book about it called Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock. There is also an interesting NPR piece about it, including an interview with the book’s author. In addition, the NPR piece offers a brief introduction to the psychological repercussions of the original incident; perhaps unsurprisingly Elizabeth suffered PTSD as a result of her experiences.

Art Therapy and 9/11

Drawing by Tamara Obradovic in 2001, when she was 9.

After 9/11, children in New York, and all over the country, attempted to process the overwhelming emotions they were suddenly forced to confront. One of the ways counselors and teachers and psychologists helped children was through the simple act of drawing pictures about what they saw, felt, and thought. In some cases it was a form of art therapy, and in others it was an informal way of giving children a tool to process emotions they probably didn’t have words for.

The drawing above is from a book that collected some of these drawings, titled The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11 (it is listed for sale through Amazon via resellers). Tamara’s drawing was also featured in a PBS News Hour special from 2011 titled Then and Now: Children Draw to Cope with 9/11, which compares drawings children made in 2001 and then ten years later in 2011. The common theme is that children use art to explore complex feelings:

“In a national moment of grief and panic – and an equally charged time of remembrance – artwork becomes a way for to children re-interpret painful images in more familiar terms, to make sense of the unimaginable.”

Because 9/11 was such a singular event, many therapists have written specifically about the importance of art therapy for helping children at the time. Most of the articles I found on the subject were written years ago, but the general ideas will always have relevance for children who have experienced trauma and loss. For example, here is a quote from a National Geographic article in 2002 titled Children and 9/11: Art Helping Kids Heal:

“What we find is that children tend to draw the part of the trauma they don’t understand—the part they’re ‘stuck’ on,” said Suzanne Silverstein, president and co-founder of the Psychological Trauma Center at Cedars-Sinai. “Like adults, sometimes what they’re saying is not what they’re feeling. When they draw, they put it all out on paper.”

And there is this from an article titled What Art Therapy Learned from September 11th by psychologist Cathy Malchiodi:

“Studies during the past decade underscore that art is not just a “right brain” activity, but actually a “whole brain” activity that stimulates storytelling. In fact, research with children indicates that drawing while talking about an emotionally laden event can actually stimulate two to three times as much narrative than just talking alone.”

Dr. Malchiodi may be referring to this research study, titled Studies Find Drawing Facilitates Children’s Ability to Talk About Emotional Experiences, published in 1998:

“As every parent knows, getting young children to talk about emotional experiences is often difficult. But new research suggests that one way to overcome this problem is giving children an opportunity to draw while they talk…Researchers report that when relaying an emotional experience, children who drew as they spoke reported more than twice as much information than children asked only to talk about their experiences.”

So we know that drawing, especially in conjunction with a guided interview, is one of the best ways for children to explore difficult subjects and begin the path to healing. When I look at some of the artwork produced by children after 9/11, its evocative and visceral qualities are undeniable. Perhaps, as is true of any artistic pursuit, the final product has the potential to help not only the original artist, but also the subsequent viewer(s). [Click on individual images below for relevant links and more information]

From “Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001.”

‘Empire Fallen’ by Babul Miah, age 17, from the book “The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11.”

By Julian Cortez, 7, and Paul Keim, 8.

By Melanie Cohn, 8.

By Kenny Wang, 8.

Additional links:

Art for Heart: Remembering 9/11.“This book includes selections of artwork and messages from participants in the New York University Child Study Center and the Art for Heart Program of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, as well as the “Dear Hero” and “Notes of Hope” collections, which have been acquired by the National September 11 Memorial Museum.”

Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001.This is a collection of letters, poetry, and art by children in response to September 11th. All were sent to other children reflecting innocent support, outreach, and caring. This book is an archive of what children were thinking and feeling through their honest and heartful messages.”

Procrastination, Deferred Gratification, and Success

Author Frank Partnoy has written a new book about the benefits of procrastination. Titled Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, the book discusses why we need to take time out in our fast-paced world to sit back and think before we act. Drawing on research in diverse fields including psychology, behavioral economics, neuroscience, law, history, finance, and even sports, Partnoy makes the case that,

“[G]iven the fast pace of modern life, most of us tend to react too quickly. We don’t, or can’t, take enough time to think about the increasingly complex timing challenges we face. Technology surrounds us, speeding us up. We feel its crush every day, both at work and at home. Yet the best time managers are comfortable pausing for as long as necessary before they act, even in the face of the most pressing decisions. Some seem to slow down time. For good decision-makers, time is more flexible than a metronome or atomic clock.”

Portnoy’s philosophy about making decisions can be summed up in three simple steps:

  1. Figure out how long you have to make the decision
  2. Ponder the decision as long as possible
  3. Act quickly at the last possible moment

Apparently this method is used by top experts in every field – they wait, wait, wait…and then act. Another way of framing this is to call procrastination delayed gratification, or as Partnoy calls it, “managing delay.” In a famous experiment in the 1960s by Stanford psychology professor Walter Mischel, the chosen term was “deferred gratification.” Mischel tested the ability of four-year-olds to defer gratification when presented with a choice: they could either eat one marshmallow now, or wait a few minutes and receive two marshmallows. Overall, about 1/3 of the children were able to wait. Long-term follow-up found that the children who were able to defer gratification had better outcomes on a variety of measures as adults (test scores, behavior problems, relationships, etc.). Partnoy summarizes the findings this way,

“[R]esearchers have found, again and again, that children who can delay their reactions end up happier and more successful than their snap-reacting playmates: they are superior at building social skills, feeling empathy, and resolving conflicts, and they have higher cognitive ability. Kids with good preschool-age delay skills have higher self-esteem later in life, cope better with stress, are less likely to use cocaine and crack, and aren’t as fat. Children who can decide to wait do better.”

In a related cross-cultural analysis, motivational speaker Joachim de Posada replicated the Stanford marshmallow experiment with Hispanic children in Colombia. He got the same results as Mischel did in the 1960s: about 1/3 of the children were able to defer gratification. Here’s Mr. de Posada’s TED talk on his study, with some compelling (i.e. hilarious) footage of children trying not to eat marshmallows:

So we know that being able to defer gratification is a key component to success. But we still don’t know why some children (read: people) are better at deferring than others. That is one of the questions Partnoy attempts to answer in Wait. I look forward to reading the book, and may write up a brief review at a later date.

If you want to explore the topic further:

Radio interview with Frank Partnoy.

Wait book review.

– Fascinating New Yorker article about the marshmallow experiment, with more recent data about, and interviews with, the subjects in the original Stanford study.