Nearly 6.5 years, 2370 days, hundreds of books, hundreds of thousands of words and countless memories later, there’s still almost nothing better reading a book with my little one. At the end of a long day, on a rainy afternoon, when she’s sick, while on vacation at a beach, in the car, on a plane, on the deck, on the swing, or under the stars – M on my lap and a book in my hands make everything else disappear and time stand still.
…And the Lessons a Book Can Teach Your Child
Many of us read with our kids in the hope that they’ll develop a love of reading, have fun, pick up a robust vocabulary and yes, even some life lessons and inspiration along the way. But, the last thing we expect is for them to experience a sense of betrayal and disappointment.
Call it destiny. Or, irony. Or, maybe one heck of a wicked coincidence.
A few days before Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal came to light in October 2012, M and I picked out a book about him. Written by his ex-wife, Kristin Armstrong (I guess they were still married when she wrote the book), it was an easy-to-read, inspiring account of his brave fight with cancer and the way he bounced back to life – not just choosing to live a ‘normal’ life (which in itself would have made a great story) but to thrive and go on to win Tour de France multiple times.
M knew who he was, we had talked about him briefly on a few occasions earlier in the year when she was getting ready to part with the training wheels on her ‘big girl’ bike. As she wobbled and mastered the nuances of bike riding, we cheered for her and told her encouraging stories about Armstrong. Just a few months earlier, she had passed through a phase where she’d call every rider on the street ‘Lance Armstrong’. Given her interest in the sport and her admiration for the man, I chose the book specifically to help her learn more about him, his perseverance and his experiences.
We enjoyed reading the book several times. It took us back to his early childhood days, to his teenage years, to his diagnosis, his uphill battle with and victory over cancer, how he found love and yes, his many Tour de France victories. It was the perfect picture. The one we had all ended up believing over the years. The picture that gave us all hope in various circumstances. It was a picture that I was glad I was able to share with my daughter as we read the book and I could see how she was moved and affected by the story as well.
Until, of course, it all crashed a few days later. We heard it together on the news and at first, when she heard his name mentioned, she was excited to hear what the story was. She began asking me questions. She couldn’t fully grasp what was being said. She hadn’t heard words like ‘doping’ and ‘performance enhancing drugs’ before and couldn’t guess what they meant in Lance Armstrong’s context. She was curious and anxious to know.
At first, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. Because, at first, I still didn’t believe it. ‘There must have been a mistake,’ I kept telling myself. It was only after several days, when the story had taken taken several uglier twists and it became clear that the truth was sadly not what we all wanted to believe, that I revealed to M that, the man we had read about, may have…in fact…cheated. I couldn’t bear to look at her as I said the words.
It took her a few days to absorb and believe the piece of news of course. She kept asking me questions – how did he cheat, what is doping, how can a medicine make you ride faster and the hardest of them all, ‘Why did he cheat?’
As I watched the Oprah interview, I was no more or less convinced, no more or less angry or disappointed than I had first been when he denied the accusations. Somehow, it all seemed anticlimactic.
However, the part where he described how he explained his act to his kids and told his son not to defend him anymore was a powerful one. It was perhaps the only moment when you caught a glimpse of his vulnerable side; despite all his lies and deception and bullying, here he was, clearly a proud, stubborn man with an unquenchable hunger for victory at any cost, feeling the pain and guilt of having betrayed his kids – the ones who trusted him beyond question and looked up to him.
I feel neither sympathy nor anger at this point. No amount of apologizing or regret can undo the hopes he shattered and the people he hurt along the way. But, more importantly, no monetary penalty or ban can make him feel as bad as he likely does when he thinks about his kids and how he betrayed them. He has to live with that reality for the rest of his life and there can be no greater punishment than that.
The book taught M and me some valuable lessons. I just wish it hadn’t been at the cost of M and all the other kids who admired him learning so early on that the people they liked and the world around them weren’t always what they seemed to be.
“Hi honey, what did you learn today?”
As the parent of a child in elementary school, who has just begun her formal educational journey, I am not alone in thinking and rethinking the choices we make when it comes to educating our kids. The educational system, as we call it, is only as good as the people involved. Whether it’s the educators – teachers, tutors, facilitators, counselors etc, the parents or the students themselves, it’s fair to believe that eventually, the quality of education a child receives ultimately comes down to a small group of individuals. We can talk about national standards, racing to the top, standardized testing scores and curricula all we want, but at the end of the day, what and how much a child learns depends on what motivates and moves the people in her life the most and the environment she grows up in. And more often than not, a child’s learning success is not the result of decisions and efforts taken at a macro level, but the day-to-day experiences and stimuli she receives.
In general, I enjoy observing children and how they learn. The process by itself is fascinating and holds most of the answers to key questions that should be shaping our educational system and curriculum design. I have come to believe firmly that the single most important aspect of learning that should be taken into consideration before we launch any kind of teaching method or evaluation standards is the number and kind of questions a child asks.
It appears that as a society, we focus way too much on answers rather than questions. While this is not a healthy sign of true development in general, it is all the more dangerous when it comes to educating and evaluating our youngest, brightest and most curious minds.
One of the best measures of a child’s intelligence is her ability to think and reason unreservedly. The ability to ask important and intelligent questions by itself reflects a great deal about the child’s potential to think, reason, analyze, comprehend and assimilate information. Moreover, when a child asks a question, she is in the most receptive state of mind possible – ready to explore, listen, absorb and understand. She presents what most teachers will tell you is impossible to achieve in today’s classrooms – a conducive learning environment with open, eager, receptive minds. So, if you have a child who raises her hand to ask a question, the teacher’s job then is simply to gently take the child’s hand and lead her on the path of discovery and learning – not by showing or telling her the answer but by helping her choose one of the ways that will lead her to it. And beyond.
They say that the best way to become a master at something is by teaching others how to do it. By extension, the best way to keep learning is by asking questions and not necessarily knowing all the answers.
Lest we forget, every invention and discovery imaginable today began with a quest. Not a solution.
Why then are we so focused on our children getting answers right rather than encouraging them to ask questions? Why is there no extra credit for the best questions? Instead of text books that have answers, why don’t we adopt an educational format where students start with a blank slate, initiating their own learning with the questions that crop up in their beautiful little heads?
Although this is something that has been bothering me for a while, what prompted me to publish this post tonight is the fact that my child began her new school year this past week. After 2 fantastic months of summer vacation where we traveled, read, explored, endured, wondered and played, I sent her back to school to learn. And here’s what I noticed.
I saw M at her curious best the past 2 months. Some of the questions she posed over summer boggled my mind and left me speechless momentarily. Although I may have managed to offer the text books answers I remembered to most questions and looked up some of the others that I didn’t quite know how to answer – what pleased and thrilled me was that her mind was on learning overdrive over summer.
For instance, some of her recent questions include:
1. Why is there a sound when we clap?
2. Who discovered the temperature of the sun? How did they measure it if it’s so hot?
3. If stars, planets and galaxies are so far away, then how do we know so much about them? Who are these scientists who study all this anyway and how do we know for sure that they are right?
4. Why do I have an ear tag? What is its purpose and why doesn’t everyone have one?
5. Why can I see Grandma’s veins by not my own?
6. How fast does the earth spin and how come we don’t get thrown off of it?
7. Was Lord Rama alive when the dinosaurs were here? Who is older - the dinosaurs or the Gods? How do we know?
8. Did you know that when you close your eyes in a dark room, you can see yellow circles? Why is that and what are those?
… And so on…
While I’m sure that the questions themselves aren’t new and that M is one among the millions of children around the world asking them, what thrills me is that the love for learning is alive and kicking in all these kids.
Coming back to what concerns me – Although M seems happy with her new class, her teacher and has even managed to make a few new friends in under a week, she hasn’t asked me a single question ever since she started school. She has instead told me what her teacher has told the class and if she’s in a good mood, she tells me what she has ‘learned’, but I’m worried that in my effort to educate her, I may be slowing or even preventing to some extent, her learning. For the sake of all children and the future of our world, I certainly hope this is not the case.
May the curiosity in our children be alive forever. May there be no easy answers. Long live questions! And I hope my M will never stop asking them.
There’s a reason I pick up parenting magazines with apprehension.
While I enjoy learning about new parks in my area and ways to save on kids’ birthday parties and clothes, at the end of it all, I somehow end up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and none the wiser for having read the latest issue from cover to cover.
Take last month for example. I picked up this magazine for some light reading by the pool while overseeing my daughter’s swimming lessons.
I was glad to see that the issue covered affordable birthday party venues and ideas since my kid’s big day was coming up and for the very first time, I was actually considering throwing a party at one of the party places. I had evaded party planning, goody bag shopping and related tasks for the past 6 years by choosing other ways to celebrate instead. These had included a trip to Disney World, a small family get together at home, a cupcake party at her school and other less complicated celebrations. This year, there was no escape and I knew it. So, I made a mental note of what some of the wisest and most experienced party planning supermoms around town had to say.
As I turned the page, I was dismayed to discover all the wonderful things my daughter was not learning. From tap dancing to rock climbing, Swahili to advanced calculus, I had deprived my 6-year old of a lot of enriching activities she could have unquestionably benefited from this past summer. You see, instead of sending her to camp, I had taken her with me on a trip across the globe to visit family, friends and thousand+ year old temples in India. I wonder how many learning opportunities she had lost in the process.
I then saw that I hadn’t entirely missed the boat. There was still hope. The places that offered all these splendid life skills offered them throughout the year. So, my daughter could still be the tap dancing champ and rock climbing rock star after all, if I could just manage to drive her fast enough from one lesson to the other and still be back in time for homework.
Speaking of which – the next article talked about school homework policies and homework tackling strategies. It had some great advice for parents on how to encourage children to get their work done one time, stay organized and even turn in their term paper on the first day of school. As it turns out sticky notes and file folders are the answer to most of today’s world problems.
OK. So, by now I was determined to get my daughter’s home work habits in order, prioritize her extra-curricular activities, learn how to whip up 5-minute super-nutritious meals three times a day and of course get this all done every day for the rest of my daughter’s school going years.
I began to get physically tired somewhere between turning the pages of the magazine and glancing up to check on how my daughter’s swim lesson was going (she was still sitting on the steps at the verge of convincing the coach that people didn’t actually need to learn to swim without floats – at least she gets bonus points for logical reasoning and negotiation skills). The idea of a nap floated pleasantly in my head for a brief moment. Before I had a chance to acknowledge and entertain it, I snapped awake when I read the next article’s headline. Apparently, children my kid’s age needed between 12-13 hours of sleep a day. Huh. Who knew! I realized that children actually needed to sleep over half the time each day to be able to spend the other half productively at school and in the various classes they would take. This not only would help them develop better memory and math skills but also bring rest and relaxation to parents, thereby restoring some of the pre-baby peace at home. What a stroke of brilliance! Tire them out every waking minute and get them to sleep the rest of the time – sounded like the perfect parenting mantra that had been missing all these years from my life.
Except, there was just this one problem. You see, my kid spends almost 8 hours away from home, 6 of them in a classroom learning all this stuff that’s supposed to be making her smarter and better prepared for life. So, if I were even to succeed to get her to sleep for the recommended 12 hours, that would leave us with 4 hours to do all the other life-changing things the magazine was talking about. That would include the time to finish the day’s homework, drive her to and from lessons, the time to shower, change, cook, eat, brush and maybe even exchange a few words and a hug or two with my child. And let me not forget the 20 minutes of ‘recommended reading’ she was expected to do every night. And the 1 hour of physical activity and free play that was important for children her age, according to doctors and other experts. Oh, and the well-researched fact that one of the articles had thrown at me stating that all kids over the age of 3 should pitch in with household chores in order to grow up to be responsible adults.
You see, this is around the time when I begin to feel utterly exhausted and overwhelmed with all the information and recommendations I had just gathered. My ordinary little brain simply could not do the math and for the life of me I could not figure out how the tiger moms and dads of the world managed to do the best for their kids. Did their worlds function in a different plane where time was more elastic? Did they have some magic cloning potion for themselves and their kids? I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
I put down the magazine and smiled at my daughter who looked like she was having a good time – floats, goggles and all. She didn’t seem to care that she wasn’t one bit of a better swimmer that day than she had been the previous day or that I had shelled out $20 for her and her floats to hang out at the pool with a swimming instructor. All she seemed to care about was that she was in the water, having fun splashing around.
Was I depriving my child of a well-rounded and complete childhood? Was I doing enough to ensure she’d be happy?
I thought about the things I did manage to do with her. The weekly piano and classical dance lessons. The trips to the park once or twice a week. Riding a bike with her once in a while. Taking her on summer vacation to see great grandmothers who were over 85 years old. Having conversations with her in a language that is thought to be the world’s oldest. Reading to her every night and maybe even getting her to read a few sentences although that’s not her favorite thing to do right now. Going for hikes and nature walks to collect rocks and leaves. The 10 minutes we had just to ourselves each morning as I drove her to school and the conversations that invariably ensued. “Why is there a sound when we clap?” ” What is so safe about a safety pin?” ” If the sun is supposed to be so hot, how did they manage to measure its temperature?” “How cum scientists know the answers to everything – who checks if they’re even right?”
It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that it was ok that we weren’t doing everything we could be, as long as we were doing what made us happy. For now, that’s all that mattered. And I hoped that’s how it would stay.
As for parenting magazines, I still have a place for them on my coffee table. Just not in the light reading section.
So, if learning is mostly about setting the stage for the mind and the body to function the way we want them to, to produce a desired result, one of the best examples I can think of where this is implemented with scrupulous attention to detail is the Suzuki Method of learning music.
The Suzuki Method is based on the Mother Tongue Learning approach. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki’s realization that all babies learn their mother tongue and his inference that the same approach could be applied to music learning is the founding principle of this method. He believed that anyone could learn to play an instrument – a belief that challenged the then popular notion that you had to be born with an innate talent.
I can see why Suzuki teachers lay so much emphasis on the child being nurtured in the right environment, rather than on being the ‘best’ or competing with other students. The focus is on effort and ability, not talent or achievement. Suzuki teachers seldom go overboard with appreciation. Nor do they criticize in a hurtful manner or scold a student for making a mistake while playing. They are trained to spot and nurture interest and encourage effort at every stage creatively and patiently, not to praise victory (of having learned a piece) or to punish a child for not meeting certain standards.
The other thing that amazes me about this method, at least, to the extent that I have seen in M’s teacher, Ms. Judy, is this: She seems to have an endless bag of tricks to get a distracted child’s attention. There have been times (oh, many many times) when I have been completely frustrated with M’s behavior during her lesson. Ms. Judy is a very loveable person and M has no inhibitions getting comfortable with someone she likes and treating them as family. She also has no problem treating their space – professional or otherwise- as her home. Needless to say, she would do these annoying things. Like go exploring areas of her teacher’s studios where she had no business going or hiding under the pianos and pretending that the teacher couldn’t see her. Or the time, when she almost sipped from the teacher’s beverage glass. I would sit there fuming and fretting and trying to get M to behave with all the politeness I could muster, so as not to subject Ms.Judy to sounds and decibels she probably wasn’t used to. Ms. J., on the other hand would calmly let M do her thing for a couple of minutes, pretend like nothing happened and gently but tactfully steer the conversation towards the piece she was learning in a matter of fact way. She has done this so many times in so many creative ways that I now know that no matter how hopeless the situation seems to me and no matter how many times M drives me to the edge of irritation where I’m ready to give up on her learning piano, she will come around. Thanks to the teacher and the method that refuses to give up on her.
Others may have shown us the door a long time ago, suggesting that my daughter was too young, too immature or that the piano was just not for her. Not Ms. J. She sees the potential and ability in M and others like her underneath all that distraction and playfulness and knows ways to tap into that potential without making judgements.
There are many lessons to take away from the Suzuki method, not just for students of music, but for parents and educators in general.
The emphasis on learning things the right way from the outset, even if progress seems slow at first, is one of them. The focus is on getting the fundamentals right and not how fast one can move from one piece or stage to the next. The other important lesson is patience and the grace to allow the student the time and space he needs to feel comfortable and in control. Funnily enough, M’s teacher accomplishes far more, in far less time simply by being patient.
Not comparing students, offering meaningful encouragement rather than empty praise, recommending a fix to a problem rather than calling out a child’s flaws and embracing every learning and teaching challenge with humor and humility are some of the other valuable lessons.
If it’s the environment that is most crucial to one’s learning process, then I’m truly fortunate to have found a conducive one. Every music lesson for M ensures that I come away with a parenting lesson or two as well. Regardless of how far M goes with her piano, I’d like to think we’re both imbibing enduring life lessons.
Now, if only we could implement them more often.
“Learning is finding out what you already know…”- Richard Bach, Illusions
Last week, M learned to ride a bike sans training wheels.
The experience, eventually turned out to be almost effortless and far more enjoyable and memorable than I had imagined. But first, may I just say – what a revealing process it was! More than anything, thanks to this experience, it’s become crystal clear that learning is a very personal, individual thing. Whether it’s learning to read, to dance, play a sport or to ride a bike, you can read all the books you want on the topic and enroll yourself or your child in all the classes you can find, but nothing can ensure that you or your child will learn it. Other than the individual mind and the unseen force that drives it, that is.
Teaching the mind and as a result, the body, to do something is not just about training, memorizing, repetition, testing or peer pressure, although each of these may help with the process to varying degrees depending on one’s personality. But, what is really, really crucial to learning an art or skill while enjoying the experience is the right environment. Everything else – happens, as they say.
The story of how my 5 1/2 year-old learned to ride a bike is a simple one. At first, her father and I tried teaching her the old-fashioned way – which is the only way we knew. One of us would run alongside her, holding the bike, helping her balance as she pedaled away, keeping fingers crossed that the bruises would be tiny ones that we could kiss away. After a few unsuccessful attempts, and very unpleasant sensations in our 30-something-year-old backs, the realization that we weren’t going to get very far this way dawned on us. We then turned to online videos and figured out an alternative to this back-breaking exercise. Who knew there’s actually a fall-proof method to learn to ride a bike?!
4 hours later, our daughter was riding her bike, almost embarrassed by then that we continued to hover, demanding that we not run beside her as she rode.
The video hadn’t taught us anything new. It had however reminded us to create the right environment that would accelerate M’s learning process and make it more enjoyable, rather than seem like an insurmountable task. We hadn’t taught. We had merely facilitated her learning.
With the stage properly set and the student willing, learning the skill was but a byproduct. The fun we had with the whole exercise was the bonus.
I guess the same could apply to pretty much anything kids are learning.
Take reading. This is something else M is working on. Sure, it needs practice, letter and sound recognition and phonics awareness and most importantly, patience and time. But, after observing how M and a few other kids respond to the process and take to reading independently at their own pace, I’ve come to realize that what a child learning to read really needs is an environment where reading is enjoyed and encouraged, where stories have a special place and where loving adults read to the child consistently from an early age. It’s completely possible for kids with none of these to learn to read just as well, but something tells me that having the right setting is half the skill accomplished. It’s then only a matter of time.
It’s not everyday that passion shakes hands with work – which is what makes us cherish those opportunities even more.
Series on Reading to Kids on View on Education.
This is an age when beauty crowns, straight As and peer recognition are all too important to even the youngest of kids. ‘The Mightiest’ by Keiko Kasza tells a refreshing tale of simplicity, humility, deceptive appearances and human nature, packed in a lighthearted, entertaining picture book.
When three animals spot a golden crown on a rock in the middle of a forest, each one lays claim to it, declaring himself to be Mightiest and hence, the one most worthy of it. To put matters to rest, they agree to a scheme – the one who frightens the helpless old lady walking towards them wins. Little do they realize what’s in store.
The book races ahead with twists, turns and an unexpected ending. The Mightiest is a rare children’s book that has all the great elements of a good story – humor, mystery, action, dialogue, suspense all rolled into its pages, plus that which is almost impossible to get across in a picture book for kids – a moral! Maybe even a few. Trust Keiko Kasza to pull something like that off with each book!
This turned out to be one of the first books my daughter and I read this year, going by the number of times she’s read it already, I can tell it’s going to be a favorite for a while. Our family had so much fun acting this story out with each of us taking turns to be the old lady, the giant and one of the animals. Have you read The Mightiest with your tiniest ones? How did you enjoy it?
Raise your hand if you agree: kids grow up fast and good times don’t last as long as they ought to.
Sooner or later we come around to the fact that time’s going to fly whether we like it or not, and life’s going to change and the years are going to whoosh by and there’s nothing we can do about it. But, what if we could do something about it? What if, instead of clinging on to our memories, looking back and feeling all forlorn, we passed them on and looked ahead? Like love, memories seem have a way of multiplying and lasting longer when shared, as this little bear discovers in Little Bear’s, Little Boat.
It is a sad day for Little Bear when he comes to the realization that it is his destiny to grow up and his boat’s destiny to stay little. But, a happy little big bear like him can’t stay sad for long, He just can’t. And he can’t bear to see his little boat not fulfill its other destiny of floating around on a beautiful, blue lake.
In this beautifully written picture book, Little Bear comes to terms with his own limitations and those of his beloved boat, but won’t let them stop him from doing what his heart tells him to. He may have outgrown his boat, but his longing to keep his favorite childhood memory alive and his boat afloat leads him to the opposite shore, where another little bear awaits his destiny.
I love this book for many reasons. It’s such a simple and powerful way to communicate the transient nature of life and everything in our world. Accepting that change as the only constant doesn’t come easy, but this beautiful tale shows us and our kids an easy and natural way to let go.
I think this would make a great book for an older sibling, especially when the parents are expecting or have just had a new baby. Reading and talking about this book is a great way to teach the child to share or pass on his baby crib/toys/blankie to the new brother or sister. I also see it as a great book to read with your child if he has recently experienced the loss of a loved one or a pet or if one of his friends has moved away. Transitions are hard, but acknowledging that there are other, newer experiences in store makes them somewhat easier. I know some kids who get very emotionally attached to a certain house or a teacher and don’t take the move to a new home or a new grade very easily. This book would make a great parting gift in those situations too.
What did you take away from Little Bear’s, Little Boat?
…Who Choose To Follow Their Heart
I thought I hit Publish on this post weeks ago! Anyways, here it is now…
What we’re reading this week:
Picked up 4 little treasures last week from the library and here they are:
The Boy Who Wouldn’t Go To Bed:
Creator: Helen Cooper; Publisher: Puffin (December 1, 2000)
Does bedtime stretch on forever at your home? It sure does in this little boy’s case. He will go to any lengths to avoid the ‘b’ word and stay up all night – from racing with a train to roaring with a tiger. But alas, even his playmates are way too sleepy to keep him company. Only one person can manage to keep up with him, not out of choice, but because she can’t rest until he does. Enjoy this imaginative and beautifully presented book with your little ones, noting the little details in the illustrations and how they depict the child’s magnified view of the world. It takes you through castles, jungles and even to the moon and back as the little boy tries to find someone – anyone – to keep him company through the night.
I Don’t Want To Go:
Creators: Addie Sanders, Andrew Rowland; Publisher: Lobster Press; 1St Edition edition (April 22, 2008)
This book is so easy to relate to and takes no effort to enjoy with your little one. You know how kids are anxious about doing things or going somewhere and no amount of convincing or coaxing works? Until one day, they realize for themselves what they’re missing. ‘I don’t want to go’ has all the enjoyable elements of a children’s picture book and some more. Vivid illustrations, simple, repetitive text, an easy to follow plot and the story of a little boy who doesn’t think he’ll enjoy the visit to his grandparents’ house…until he does. Every page of this book reads like a mini story with a problem-resolution element and the more you read it, as many more details your child will probably uncover. When you’re going crazy trying to convince your anxious, stubborn tot to do something or go somewhere and he just won’t budge, give this book a go – it’s the next best thing to saying “I told you so.”
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Creator: Beatrix Potter; Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap (January 26, 2004)
Good little bunnies Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail may have had milk and currant buns for dinner but who has the better story to tell at the end of the day? You don’t need a reason to explore this children’s classic and every time you do, it seems to get more enjoyable. Read the tale of naughty little Peter with your little one and see if you can get him or her to see that’s it’s better to be good and nice instead of adventurous and naughty…chance are, your child will settle for the latter even if it means having to go to bed without dinner. Mine did. She has this impish grin and the sparkle in her eyes as she cheers Peter on at every point. Sure, it would be easier if our kids were good little bunnies, but I’ll take unpredictable, insane, hair-tearing parenting fun over ‘easy’ on most days – wouldn’t you?!
Creators: William Miller, Susan Keeter; Publisher: Lee & Low Books (August 2004)
OK, the only reason we borrowed the book was because it had a picture of a young girl at the piano on the cover and since my daughter is currently taking lessons, we were drawn to it. It was only after I brought it home that I saw that it may have actually been intended for slightly older kids, with its many layers and undertones. That didn’t stop us from enjoying the story however. The Piano is a story of love, passion, dedication and sacrifice, among other things, yet all woven into a very simple tale set in the early 1900s. A free spirited, young black girl’s curiosity takes her to a white neighborhood she has never been to before. Her love of music leads her to a white lady’s mansion. The book takes us on a journey into the little girl’s mind, her love of music and how little everything else means to her in comparison. Chores, hard work, the color of her skin, physical pain and sacrifice seem insignificant compared to the joy she derives from experiencing music. And in her quest for this experience, she manages to take others along on the beautiful journey, touching their hearts and lives in ways unknown even to her. Her determination and passion to learn spill over as she manages to convince the elderly, white lady to overcome her reluctance and physical pain in order to experience music in a new light all over again. This warm tale of kindness, compassion and human nature is a pleasure to read and great for sharing with your child, even if she’s too young to grasp every subtle reference to race, class or human nature. The illustrations are magnificent and tell their own story – and take you back in time to when not everything was as easily accessible to everyone – but to those who had true passion, nothing was ever impossible.