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Building a library of compassion: 5 picture books that teach inclusiveness

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Building a library of compassion: 5 picture books that teach inclusiveness

After the huge response to our recent feature on Stories Bookshop + Storytelling Lab's favorite feminist books for kids, the store's Maggie Pouncey is back with her recommendations of the best books that show it's never too early to start teaching compassion and inclusiveness.

After the 2016 election, one of my worries as a mom was how to teach the importance of civility, decency, and plain old good manners to our children. Kids' powerful sense of fairness and intrinsic understanding of right and wrong is a strong barometer in judging our laws and leaders. Still, conversations around inclusiveness are ones we need to be having with our young people daily.

The best tools for starting these conversations are right in front of me on the shelves of my children’s bookshop in Brooklyn called Stories: gorgeous picture books by sensitive makers celebrating the glorious diversity, generosity, and kindness we can find in our communities, our nation, and our world, when we look and listen. Here are some of my favorites — worth bringing home and reading over and over.

"We’re part of a community. Our strength is our diversity. A shelter from adversity. All are welcome here." - All Are Welcome

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All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold and illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman ($17.99)

I fell in love with this new, sweetly rhyming story, the title a refrain throughout: “We’re part of a community./ Our strength is our diversity./ A shelter from adversity./ All are welcome here.” Set in a city elementary school, in a place that looks a lot like Brooklyn, with beautiful illustrations showing families of every kind — from walking to school together to celebrating a multicultural feast. Read this one aloud to even your smallest activists. Plus, the jacket becomes a poster!

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Pie Is for Sharing, by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard and illustrated by Jason Chin ($17.99)

The perfect summertime picture book, full of quintessential summer pleasures that are better when shared (tree climbing, towels warmed by the sun, pie), showcasing a diverse group of children playing, and celebrating the America of our dreams — inclusive, warm, generous. A great read-aloud, bring-on-vacation, and of course, share-with-a-friend story.

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Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill, ($17.99)

This book asks, “What does it mean to be kind anyway?” and offers many different answers from “paying attention” to not laughing at another person’s expense. It acknowledges it’s not always easy to be kind, “And sticking up for someone when other kids aren’t kind is really hard.” How simple and how crucial these lessons are in our political moment, and this book can provide such a good starting point.

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This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids Around the World, by Matt Lamothe ($17.99)

Kei from Japan is 9, Kian from Iran is 7, and Ribaldo from Peru is 11. We see who they live with, what they eat for breakfast, what they wear to school, how they play, and how they help at home. This beautifully designed nonfiction picture book is based on seven real families (you find their photographs in the back matter) and reading it is a discovery of overwhelming commonality within the specific cultural differences.

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People of Peace: 40 Inspiring Icons, by Sandrine Mirza and illustrated by Le Duo ($14.99)

From Joan Baez to Nelson Mandela, this thoughtful compendium of international activists throughout history who “all forcefully denounced the atrocity and absurdity of war, and fought against slavery, racial oppression and social injustice.” With bright graphics and illustrations, and tons of interesting factoids, these mini-biographies can be shared with older kids who are hungry for positive models of resistance.

Maggie Pouncey is the co-founder and co-owner of Stories Bookshop + Storytelling Lab, and the author of the novel, Perfect Reader, and the forthcoming picture book, The Fort on the Moon. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two young sons.

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Three little words we all need to hear: "breastfeeding welcome here."

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Three little words we all need to hear: "breastfeeding welcome here."

There's so much work ahead in the journey towards equality for women and mothers at work and at large, that the mountain we need to climb can seem overwhelming at time. But we are inspired and strengthened in our resolve by other incredible initiatives being built up in this space. Today, we shine a light on UP-STAND, an organization founded by Christine Serdjenian Yearwood to create more accessible locations for pregnant women and nursing mothers in Queens and beyond.

When I gave birth to my daughter in 2014, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. Why hadn’t anyone told me it would be this lonely? What had happened to my relationships? Why had I earned these degrees if I wasn’t working outside of the home? Why was it so hard to do anything or go anywhere with a baby? In many ways, I didn't recognize myself. In search of connection with others who would understand, I joined a local mom group and put myself out there when I was most vulnerable, tired, and most certainly the least put together version of myself. 

While in that community, I spent a lot of time listening. I heard pregnancy story after pregnancy story about a lack of accommodations and inaccessible spaces leading to health complications - being expected to perform dangerous work, standing too long, carrying something too heavy, fainting from exhaustion or motion sickness, and being shoved on crowded trains. And worse, once people had children, it became incredibly hard to access the subway or ride the bus with a stroller, find establishments with diaper changing tables, feel welcome breastfeeding or to locate a place to pump, or gain access to a restroom in a potty training emergency. Pregnant women and caregivers felt overwhelmingly overlooked and unwelcome. Many said they felt forced to stay at home.

I heard pregnancy story after pregnancy story about a lack of accommodations and inaccessible spaces leading to health complications.

It is not, as some would argue, about entitlement. It is about valuing all members of society enough to develop and implement policies and practices that allow everyone equal access to spaces and opportunities. In the United States, it can seem like we simply do not value pregnant women and parents enough to provide the practical support that they need to be able to fully participate in, and contribute to, society. This rings true for sectors of society that encompass almost every one of us at some point – our youth, pregnant women, disabled and elderly members, and caretakers. If we want to be a healthy society now, and raise the next generation to be the most productive and considerate citizens possible, we need to do better at being more inclusive. Parents and kids cannot be expected to permanently stay at home - they need to be able to grocery shop, get a haircut, use the bathroom while out, experience libraries, museums, theaters and sporting events, and travel - and we should give them every opportunity to do so.

After a plethora of personal experiences with inaccessibility during my pregnancy and the first year at home with my daughter, encouragement from my husband and other moms, sufficient research and business planning, and completing the search for a part-time daycare, I founded UP-STAND in 2015. UP-STAND’s mission, made possible by lots of coffee and late nights, is to make life more accessible for pregnant women and families via our consulting services, workshops, products, event management, and advocacy.

One of the things we champion, which is near and dear to my once-again-breastfeeding-a-newborn-nonstop-heart, is lactation accommodations. We use our social media platforms to raise awareness by giving shout outs to companies and organizations that support breastfeeding, work with elected officials to create legislation such as New York’s Family Accommodation in Entertainment Act (A9775), offer pop up lactation accommodations at festivals and fairs, and advise HR Departments as to how to best provide sanitary and private lactation spaces for their employees. Last summer, we used an online voting process to select over twenty establishments to receive and display our Breastfeeding Welcome Here signs as part of a Family-Friendly Astoria Campaign, making our Queens neighborhood an oasis of locations lactating women could frequent without fear. 

Last summer, we used an online voting process to select over twenty establishments to receive and display our Breastfeeding Welcome Here signs, making our Queens neighborhood an oasis of locations lactating women could frequent without fear. 

With my second child, we’re always on the go for my first, and I’m not able to plan around breastfeeding at home or somewhere private. While I’ve lost the hesitancy around breastfeeding or even pumping in public, I’d still prefer locations that are comfortable, supportive, and clean. We have a long way to go to make that the norm, but we’re working toward it.

On August 1st, we will kick off World Breastfeeding Week by co-hosting a Latch-On Event, coming together in solidarity around breastfeeding and bringing attention to the week with Assemblymember Aravella Simotas. Each year, celebrations are held during the first week in August in more than 120 countries, in order to highlight the benefits that breastfeeding can bring to the health and welfare of babies and to push for better maternal health policies and outcomes. 

As with any social justice work, there are setbacks and discouragement – you may have seen the news that the United States recently opposed a breastfeeding resolution at the UN – but my daughter proudly points out every Breastfeeding Welcome Here sign she sees in our neighborhood, and my son will be at the forefront of the Latch-On. I’m proud of this work and am thankful my children get to see me lead it.

Christine Serdjenian Yearwood holds a B.A. in Sociology from Brown University, MST in Teaching ESL from Pace University, and a ME in Higher Education from Harvard University. She is the Founder and CEO of UP-STAND, a movement to make life more accessible for pregnant women and families. Christine resides in Queens, NY with her husband and two children.

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How to live your best life as a single parent

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How to live your best life as a single parent

We first met Lauren Sweeney when she joined our International Women's Day event at the United Nations (you'll love her post entitled "What happens when a few hundred moms, babies and toddlers take over the United Nations.") Since then, we've loved following along as she sheds light on the challenges, surprises and triumphs of single parenthood. We asked Lauren to share some of her insights with the Mindr community.

Two and a half years ago, I broke up with my daughter’s father and became a single mom overnight. Early on, I was afraid. But my fear quickly disappeared, and now - just a few years later - I can say that the single mom chapter of my life has been the best one yet. How has this been possible? Well, with the right mindset, anything is possible.

Understand your own potential

I would bet that nearly every single mom has at some point gone down that deep, dark Google hole researching opinions on single motherhood. It’s not hard to find the negative stuff. If you are the rare single mom who’s never done it, here’s the gist: we are ruining America and perhaps the world, and our kids will most definitely not be alright.

I don’t want to be delusional about the state of single motherhood. Plenty of single moms do not personally identify as “thriving.” Still, reading a study on negative outcomes related to single motherhood won’t change that fact. Changing the way you think, however, can be the key to creating a shift - both in your life and in society.

To some extent, what you believe is what you become. If you believe single moms are bound to struggle, you will see that belief reflected in your reality. Even if single moms at large are struggling, you can personally aim to thrive instead. One by one, we’ll change those statistics by believing in something better.

I believe our perceived limitations are exactly what we need in order to grow. Had I not been challenged with the momentous task of raising my daughter on my own, I wouldn’t have grown in wild, wonderful directions in every area of my life over the past few years. We are all trying to figure out how to unlock our unlimited potential. Single moms are no exception.

Had I not been challenged with the momentous task of raising my daughter on my own, I wouldn’t have grown in wild, wonderful directions in every area of my life over the past few years.

Find role models and be a role model

If you are familiar with New Age thinking, you may already be aware of the idea that in order to manifest something into your day-to-day reality, you need to truly believe it’s possible. According to the Law of Attraction, you simply can’t create something if you aren’t entirely convinced it can really happen. Makes sense, right?

It’s why so many of us get stuck, especially as single moms. When we’ve grown up in a culture that stigmatizes single motherhood, it’s understandably difficult to cultivate the belief that a single mom can live a deeply fulfilling life. Here’s the good news: there are single mom role models out there. If you don’t know any in your own community, join a Facebook group. I’m lucky I found a few single moms to look up to early on in my single motherhood journey, including a bestselling author and a startup founder. Seeing these women live the kind of life I aspire to as a single mom helped me get to that “I truly believe it’s possible” point.

When we’ve grown up in a culture that stigmatizes single motherhood, it’s understandably difficult to cultivate the belief that a single mom can live a deeply fulfilling life.

There’s another piece to this, too. Whether or not you know it, you are already a role model yourself. Other women around you notice the way you live your life. Your everyday decisions can provide another woman with the much-needed proof she needs to develop her own beliefs around single motherhood. Maybe you’re already showing someone going through a rough divorce that eventually, it will get better. Maybe there’s a woman out there considering adopting a baby on her own, and you are her proof that it’s possible to do it alone.

Be your best self by not putting too much pressure on yourself

Whoa! Being a role model to that woman at work/on the playground/sitting across from you on the L train sounds sort of scary!

Relax.

There’s no pressure to be perfect here. If you ask me, there’s nothing more inspiring than a woman who’s not afraid to be herself, even if that means being a little imperfect. In fact, I’ve discovered that tossing away my fear of imperfection brought me so much closer to the best version of myself.

I’ve always had a lot of ideas. and a tendency towards a stressed-out perfectionism. Before I became a mom, I was often so paralyzed by the fear of taking the wrong action that I stepped very slowly and cautiously towards becoming the woman I wanted to be.

Suddenly, I needed to take care of a 6-month old baby and provide for her on my own. At the same time, my boss was giving me some exciting new projects, and even though I had less time than ever, I couldn’t slow down in my career. As a newly single mom, I recognized that building my career was essential to becoming the kind of mom I wanted to be - a mom who could provide well for my daughter while exploring my passions for tech, publishing, and progressive values.

Three years in, I’m grateful that I dove right in and didn’t look back. I’ve made mistakes along the way, and I know I’ll make more. I’ve learned that the only way to progress is through trying and failing a few times before finding success. Like every working mom, I’ve learned that letting other people help out so I can focus is okay. I’ve found a perfect, Swiffer-reliant level of clean I can maintain with minimal effort. I’ve discovered that if dishes are left in the sink overnight while I catch up on some work or even some self-care, the kitchen doesn’t actually explode.

As a single mom, you’re going to need to prioritize. You need to go after what will really bring you closer to the person you want to be. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking you need to co-found the next unicorn startup, throw Pinterest-worth parties, make Instagrammable vegan dinners from scratch every night, and run the most lucrative preschool fundraiser ever seen on either side of the East River. Do you even want to have time for all of that? Choose what matters most to you and go after it, hard.

Turns out, living your best life as a single mom isn’t too complicated after all. Don’t forget the happy thoughts. Connect with single moms you look up to. Know what you want. Understand that you’ll mess up a little bit as you go after it. Go after it anyway. This is your life! You deserve to live it to the fullest.

#MINDRMAMA Lauren Sweeney is a single mom who blogs about single motherhood, tea, goal-chasing, and more on her blog Millennial.Mom. She works at a tech startup and advises on political social media strategy on the side.

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