Book Review by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp: “Dear World” by Bana Alabed

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Bana Alabed, a brave young girl from Syria, was born in 2009 in Aleppo.  Her early years were peaceful and happy, surrounded by a loving family.  The onset of war in her country changed her life and the lives of her family forever.

“Dear World” is Bana Alabed’s account of what living through a war feels like, through the eyes of a child.  Alabed writes in a simple, straightforward and very honest way and her book is very readable, both for adults and children.  It is also interspersed with writing by her mother, giving us an insight into the pain of a parent trying to protect her children from harm in the most terrible circumstances: circumstances which ultimately lead to the family deciding to leave Syria and become refugees.

Alabed says, “I dedicate my book to every child suffering in a war.  You are not alone.”   Her book is prefaced with a quotation from Anne Frank…. another very famous girl who wrote about her experiences living through a war.

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What struck me, as an adult, reading “Dear World” was the universality or Bana Alabed’s experience of modern war: the similarities of her story to that of children and young people (like Anne Frank) who have suffered as a result of war, in our world’s recent history.  The words, “When will they ever learn?” from Bob Dylan’s famous song come to mind.  Regardless of the time period and technology, the trauma experienced by children living through a war is the same.  Alabed is a child of our modern technological age, born in 2009 (the same year as my third son).  She plays with Barbie dolls, wears “Princess Barbie boots” and watches Sponge Bob Square Pants and Tom and Jerry with her two younger brothers… in between running to the basement during shelling.  There is a sense of a “normal” childhood, interspersed with the horrors of war.  Alabed has an I-pad and she uses it to communicate with the outside world.  Her “tweets for peace” in English become famous around the world and draw attention to her country’s plight.

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These same tweets also made Bana Alabed, then aged only seven, an enemy of the Assad government, who actively attempted to silence her.  As well as living in fear of the war, the Alabed family were terrified for their young daughter’s life and dressed her as a boy whenever they went out, to avoid drawing attention.  Alabed is an intelligent, sensitive and perceptive child who lives through her father being taken away by the secret police and the death of her best friend  Yasmin, whose body is lifted from the rubble after a bombing.

“After Yasmin was gone, I was even more scared to die….the way I missed Yasmin…gave me a feeling like I was sinking inside. I couldn’t talk to her. We wouldn’t get to dress up in our favourite princess dresses ever again. I bet Yasmin’s favourite dresses were all under the rubble still.” [pp.114-115].

Alabed tells us that all the things she loved about her childhood vanished because of the war: going to the local swimming pool, going to school or the playground or shops.  Hospitals, schools and public places became targets and even in their homes, people felt like “sitting ducks.”

Although Alabed’s story ends with her safe escape from Syria as a refugee (and it does not destroy the story to tell you that), it raises questions for us all. What use is our modern technology and ability to communicate with those in a war zone if we are unable to help?  And why, despite our technological advances, do we still live in a world where war is necessary? And where children suffer because of war?

Alabed also draws attention to the plight of refugees the world over.  At the beginning of her book she speaks of her pride in Syrian culture and sense of belonging in her family and history.

“I wanted to live in Syria always.” [p.15]

Her mother says they never imagined a war could happen there.

“I suppose that’s what everyone believes until it’s too late.” [p.51].

This puts me in mind of people the world over, who have had to leave their countries.  Everyone likes to feel safe in their homeland, the land of their ancestors, and to believe that their children and grandchildren will always live there.  Unfortunately, this is not always possible.  Alabed advocates for children still living in war zones everywhere and for fellow former refugees.

“…children are still dying and getting hurt everyday…we all have to help one another, no matter what country we live in.” [p.203]

“If you had no country or your parents or children were going to be killed, what would you do?” [p.201]

Here at the “Forever Years”, we see the world’s children as our own children.  “There but for the grace of God go I” (John Bradford) is a phrase that comes to mind.

I recommend “Dear World” to children and adults alike.  As J.K. Rowling says, it is “a story of love and courage amid brutality and terror.”  Through reading this book, we come to love its young author, Bana Alabed, and the strength of character she displays as she continues to send her message of peace to the world.

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Art that Rocks! (A fun creative project), by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

“Rock Art” seems to have become a “thing” in recent years.  In schools and kindergartens, in particular, you often see colourful painted rocks, created by students and teachers, brightening up gardens and playgrounds.  My five kids and I and a friend recently went to a “rock art” workshop and had great fun.  Here is what we did and how we did it, so you can have a go too.

Seven year old daughter and I painting rocks in the workshop.

  1. Choose Rocks…..For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, it is Summer now (November, December, January), and a good time to “choose rocks” when out and about.  Rocks washed smooth by streams are great.  It’s better if at least one side is smooth.  If it’s winter where you are or if you can’t find any smooth stones or rocks, garden shops often have them for sale in bags.  The workshop we went to had some of these.  They are not always especially large, it’s good to have an idea of what size you want and where you’d like them to go when you’ve completed them.  Although we did ours at a workshop, we also did more at home later, including some larger rocks we already had in the garden.
  2. Choose Paint….. oil based paints are not ideal when allowing kids to paint.  A good exterior paint is fine.  Tester pots are great for saving money and getting lots of different colours.
  3. Our 10 year old engrossed in rock art

    Paint!…..   It sounds very logical, but, after this just paint!  Kids tend to use excessive amounts of paint, so a prepared palette with some of each colour can help prevent paint waste.  Or a good plan to salvage unused paint at the end of the activity.  My daughter kept quoting her art teacher who, she says, always tells her students that “a little paint goes a long way”.  A good motto which helps kids remain mindful of waste.  The themes on the rocks are up to your imagination.  I found it was best to give the kids “free reign” in this area,  I had a plan for our rocks and didn’t mind how many they painted.  It was great to see them experimenting with lots of different ideas.  The rocks can be completely covered in paint so you can’t see the original, or a small image with the rock “background” still visible.  If you’re really stuck for ideas, here are a few: ladybugs; cats; dogs; people; flowers; butterflies; snails; mushrooms; fairies; caterpillars; trees; rainbows; korus; balloons; emoji faces…. Another good idea is to use a vivid marker afterwards (when the paint is dry) to create clear outlines.

  4. Varnish…  it’s far better to do this than not.  If your rocks are going to sit in the garden or in an out door area, they will be exposed to the elements.  A friend painted a beautiful rock for me a couple of years ago which, because it wasn’t varnished, now has the paint almost completely worn away after just two years of “weather” exposure.  Rain in particular is hard on the unvarnished paint.  The best varnish to choose is an ultraviolet resistant polyurethane or similar, which protects colours from fading.  I chose a gloss finish which gave the rocks a “wet look” and made the colours stand out brightly. Leave the painted rocks for a day or two after varnishing, to be sure any colours are completely dry.  As I said before, kids tend to use a lot of paint and sometimes the thickly coated rocks take a while to dry.  The varnished rocks will then need to be left for at least another day before they are ready to set up outside.

I love that when we step out on our deck now there is a colourful (almost “magical looking” array of rock art.  It’s Summer here now, but I imagine that this will make us feel warm during the cold days of winter and will maintain a “splash of colour” in our garden even after the flowers have died down.  Thanks to whomever first picked up a rock and turned it into art… perhaps in a cave thousands of years ago.  Perhaps our rock art will be discovered and analysed many years in the future.  Perhaps children will find it and say, “that looks like fun!”

 

 

 

 

 

November: Adoption Awareness Month: Interviews with Mums of Adopted Children

For adoption awareness month, November…

The Forever Years

adoption looks FYBy Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

November is a busy month for child-advocacy related issues!  As well as Multiple Birth Awareness and Premature Birth Awareness, November is the month for increasing our “global family’s” knowledge of and sensitivity towards adoption.  There are many different kinds of adoption: domestic adoption (within one country); inter-country adoption and extended family adoption (as in the Maori tradition of “whangai”, where a child is adopted by his or her biological grandparents, aunties and uncles or other extended family members).

Since the dawn of time, people have been expressing strong opinions about the pros and cons involved in raising a child who has different DNA from our own.  In some countries and cultures, there are strong taboos against it, with “blood lines” being held up as being vitally important.  As a result, children who are orphaned, abandoned or for whatever reason left without parents or extended family networks…

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Appalled Graphic Designer Shows Girls’ Life Magazine What Their Cover Should Look Like (from “Women You Should Know”)

 

A couple of weeks ago we ran a piece about an image that was posted on social media and went viral. It was a side-by-side shot of this Girls’ Life magazine cover (left, lead image) next to the cover of Boys’ Life magazine that served as a harsh reminder of the stereotyped messages that, even in the year 2016, are STILL marketing to girls. We weren’t the only ones ticked-off by the image. After seeing it posted on her Facebook feed, Katherine Young, a graphic designer, took matters into her own hands and decided to show Girls’ Life what their cover SHOULD look like.

“When I saw the post I was just in frickin’ shock,” Katherine said. “Can this be real? Is this photo fake? After Googling current issues of these two magazines I found them to be real. I was just appalled.”

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

http://womenyoushouldknow.net/appalled-graphic-designer-shows-girls-life-magazine-what-their-cover-should-look-like/

Carol Krueger’s latest children’s novel, “In the Shadow of the Axe”, makes history come alive… and all “through the eyes of a child”.   Through the narrator, 13 year old Bessie, we are taken back in time to the reign of King Henry VIII of England during his divorce from his fourth wife, the German Anne of Cleves, then his marriage to his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, both during the month of July 1540.

Bessie is asked to be a “Lady in Waiting” to the new Queen Katherine.  This is historically accurate, as girls this young, from “noble” families were often invited to “serve” in the royal household. Indeed, this was regarded as an honour and even made these young women more of a “catch” for future husbands… most were married between 14 and 18 years of age.  Bessie is a rounded, believable character and we can empathise with the terrible pull she feels when asked to testify against Queen Katherine to whom she has sworn an oath of allegiance.

Portrait of Agnes Tilney, a Lady in Waiting to Anne Boleyn, who came to court at age 15 and carried the Queen’s train during her marriage. She was later God Mother to Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth.

When these women joined the queen’s office they had to swear the ceremonial oath. This oath was used to form a bond of allegiance between the ladies and their queen.

Furthermore, Katherine was only 17, close in age to Bessie, and, of course, had formed a strong bond with her.  Refusing to testify, or being accused of lying, would result in being accused of treason… the crime which was punished with the harshest penalty of all.

In “The Shadow of the Axe” Krueger shows us not only life at court, but also the harsh realities of the times… the plague (households were “shut down” for 40 days to be sure there was no risk of contamination); high infant death rates (Bessie’s mother has a stillborn baby during her daughter’s time at court); how marriages were arranged, particularly among the upper classes… daughters in particular had very little say in who they were to marry… and the gruesome reality of what happened to those who incurred the King’s wrath and were “sent to the tower”– as Katherine Howard was in November 1541, until the time of her execution in February 1542 at the age of 19.

Colourful characters such as Lady Rochford, who goes completely insane, or the intimidating Archbishop Cramer, who is tasked with questioning all the Queen’s staff about her behaviour and loyalty to the King, are even more interesting when readers learn that these were indeed real people and Krueger tells the story of Katherine Howard’s downfall and eventual execution realistically and accurately.  There are also interesting historical notes at the end of the novel.

A word of warning to the squeamish: accounts of torture and execution are not spared… the description of the death of Frances Dereham is particularly gruesome and Bessie’s sense of horror at what has happened is palpable.  I know some people strongly disagree with children learning about such things as Medieval torture and execution.   Personally, I believe that “knowledge is power”, particularly when it comes to history and the mistakes of the past.  The harsh reality of King Henry’s subjects (including his courtiers and even his wives) being at the mercy of his temper and power to snuff out life also pervades the book.

My ten year old son (who loves history) and I read this book together and we both really enjoyed it.  Despite knowing the historical outcomes, the book has another layer of interest, as we wonder how all these things came about and what happens to our narrator, Bessie.  Krueger has a talent for crafting time, place, character and scene, so that events which took place over 500 years ago come alive.

 

“In the Shadow of the Axe”, by Carol Krueger. A Book Review by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

How Different Cultures Protect New Mothers, by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett examines how other cultures protect new mothers’ well-being.

Is ours not a strange culture that focuses so much attention on childbirth—virtually all of it based on anxiety and fear—and so little on the crucial time after birth, when patterns are established that will affect the individual and the family for decades? Suzanne Arms.

As citizens of an industrialized nation, we often act as if we have nothing to learn from low-income, developing countries. Yet many of these cultures are doing something extraordinarily right—especially in how they care for new mothers. In their classic paper, Stern and Kruckman (1983) present an anthropological critique of the literature. They found that in the cultures they studied, postpartum disorders, including the “baby blues,” were virtually nonexistent. By contrast, 50% to 85% of new mothers in industrialized nations experience the “baby blues,” and 15% to 25% (or more) experience postpartum depression.

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Ken Tackett

What makes the difference?

Stern and Kruckman noted that cultures who had a low incidence of postpartum mood disorders all had rituals that provided support and care for new mothers. These cultures, although quite different from each other, all shared

5 protective social structures

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Ken Tackett
  1. A distinct postpartum period. In these other cultures, the postpartum period is recognized as a time that is distinct from normal life. It is a time when the mother is supposed to recuperate. Her activities are limited and her female relatives take care of her. This type of care was also common in colonial America, when postpartum was referred to as the “lying-in” period. This period functioned as a time of “apprenticeship,” when more experienced mothers mentored the new mother.
  2. Protective measures reflecting the new mother’s vulnerability. During the postpartum period, new mothers are recognized as being especially vulnerable. Ritual bathing, washing of hair, massage, binding of the abdomen, and other types of personal care are prominent in the postpartum rituals of rural Guatemala, Mayan women in the Yucatan, Latina women both in the United States and Mexico. These rituals also mark the postpartum period as distinct from other times in women’s lives.
  3. Social seclusion and mandated rest. Postpartum is a time for the mother to rest, regain strength, and care for the baby. Related to the concept of vulnerability is the widespread practice of social seclusion for new mothers. For example, in the Punjab, women and their babies are secluded from everyone but female relatives and their midwives for five days. Seclusion is said to promote breastfeeding and it limits a woman’s normal activities. In contrast, many American mothers are expected to entertain others—even during their hospital stay. Once they get home, this practice continues as they are often expected to entertain family and friends who come to see the baby.
  4. Functional assistance. In order for seclusion and mandated rest to occur, mothers must be relieved of their normal workload. In these cultures, women are provided with someone to take care of older children and perform their household duties. As in the colonial period in the United States, women often return to the homes of their family of origin to ensure that this type of assistance is available.
  5. Social recognition of her new role and status. In the cultures Stern and Kruckman studied, there was a great deal of personal attention given to the mother. In China and Nepal, very little attention is paid to the pregnancy; much more attention is focused on the mother after the baby is born. This has been described as “mothering the mother.” For example, the status of the new mother is recognized through social rituals and gifts. In Punjabi culture, there is the “stepping-out ceremony,” which includes ritual bathing and hair washing performed by the midwife, and a ceremonial meal prepared by a Brahmin. When the mother returns to her husband’s family, she returns with many gifts she has been given for herself and the baby. The following is a description of a postpartum ritual performed by the Chagga of Uganda. It differs quite a bit from what mothers in industrialized countries may experience. 

Three months after the birth of her child, the Chagga woman’s head is shaved and crowned with a bead tiara, she is robed in an ancient skin garment worked with beads, a staff such as the elders carry is put in her hand, and she emerges from her hut for her first public appearance with her baby. Proceeding slowly towards the market, they are greeted with songs such as are sung to warriors returning from battle. She and her baby have survived the weeks of danger. The child is no longer vulnerable, but a baby who has learned what love means, has smiled its first smiles, and is now ready to learn about the bright, loud world outside (Dunham, 1992; p. 148).

What American mothers experience

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Ken Tackett

By contrast, American mothers often find that people are more concerned about them before the birth. While a woman is pregnant, people may offer to help her carry things or to open doors or to ask how she is feeling. Friends will give her a baby shower, where she will receive emotional support and gifts for her baby. There are prenatal classes and prenatal checkups, and many people wanting to know about the details of her daily experience.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below….)

https://womenshealthtoday.blog/2017/07/30/how-cultures-protect-the-new-mother/amp/

Reversing fetal alcohol damage after birth: Study offers hope, from “Science Daily”

Two commonly used drugs erased the learning and memory deficits caused by fetal alcohol exposure when the drugs were given after birth, thus potentially identifying a treatment for the disorder, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

The scientists also newly identified a key molecular mechanism by which alcohol neurologically and developmentally harms the developing fetus.

“We’ve shown you can interfere after the damage from alcohol is done. That’s huge,” said lead investigator and senior author Eva Redei. “We have identified a potential treatment for alcohol spectrum disorder. Currently, there is none.”

Redei is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the David Lawrence Stein Research Professor of Psychiatric Diseases Affecting Children and Adolescents.

The Northwestern study was in rat pups, and the scientists are trying to raise funds for a clinical trial.

In the United States, 1 to 5 percent of children are born with the disorder, which includes learning and memory deficits, major behavioral problems, a high rate of depression, low IQ, cardiovascular and other developmental health problems.

If the drugs are effective in the clinical trial, the infants whose mothers consumed alcohol during their pregnancy potentially could be treated with them, Redei said.

The paper will be published in Molecular Psychiatry July 18.

“There are women who drink before they are aware that they are pregnant and women who do not stop drinking during their pregnancy,” Redei said. “These women still can help their children’s future, if the current findings work in humans as well. The ideal, of course, is that women abstain from drinking when pregnant, but unfortunately that does not always happen.”

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170718084532.htm

 

Police issue child safety warning over Snapchat maps update that reveals users’ locations, by Matthew Field

Police forces have raised child safety concerns about a new Snapchat feature that reveals users’ locations amid fears it could be used for stalking.

Parents have been warned to turn off “Snap Maps” on their children’s phones after Snapchat, which is wildly popular among teenagers, introduced the location-sharing mode this week.

The feature displays a map of nearby friends, showing their latest location gathered using a smartphone’s GPS sensor.  Users of the app can also search for locations such as individual schools, with the app displaying public photos and videos sent by students.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/06/23/police-issue-child-safety-warning-snapchat-maps-update-reveals/