Monday, December 14, 2015

Janet's Four Favorite Gift Ideas and One Book, of Course

Traditional Japanese Origami by Nick Robinson (Rockpoint, $15.99)
This set includes seventy pieces of exceptional origami paper and an instruction book housed in a beautiful cover. (A variety of other origami sets are also available at the store.)

The Saggy Baggy Elephant by Yottoy ($14.99) with The Saggy Baggy Elephant by K & B Jackson (Golden Books, $3.99)
Classic children's books accompanied by plush main characters often bring the story alive for young and older readers. Our collection of plush ranges from classics to modern favorites.

Left Right Ergonomic Crayons (International Arrivals, $7.95)
Perfect for little grips with either hand, this crayon set is non-toxic, erasable, and eco- friendly. This year, we have a large variety of drawing, coloring and painting sets along with both children's and adult coloring books.

Feathers Gilded Journal by Margaret Berg (Blink, $14.99)
From the whimsical to the simple and practical, journals make a great gift for the writer, the artist, the scribbler in all of us.

Dusk by Uri Shulevitz (Farrar Straus Girooux, $17.99)
One storybook that points the reader to all the lights of the winter festival.

Janet Elfant, December 2015

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Staff Pick List Meta-List for December 2015

Searching for a recommendation? We've been compiling staff pick lists, in print and on the blog, for nearly 5 years! The print copies are all collected in binders at the store -- feel free to peruse whenever you're in and looking for inspiration.

Here, meanwhile, is a sampling of our lists online -- Apologies for not getting it out until the seventh day of Chanukah... Check them out, and feel free to comment, particularly if you have a book you'd love to recommend that fits the theme!

First, some general links (including some labels available in the sidebar):

- All of the Staff Pick Lists
- Picks by (or on behalf of) our kids
- Great QUILTBAG* (Queer, etc.) Books for Kids and Teens
- Celebrating Multiracial Families and Friendships: A List of Books for Kids and Teens
- The 2011 Staff Pick List Meta-List
- Posts labeled "gifts"

Our Current Staff:

- Elliott's Five Poets That Will Make You Gasp for the Beauty of It All
- Five Books That Were Even Better Than Elliott Thought They'd Be
- Celebrating Translators -- Elliott's Five Favorites You Don't Know You Already Know
- All of Elliott's Picks



- Janet's Five Ways to Feel Grateful
- Janet's Five Selections of Hope through Music
- Janet's Five Picks That Speak to the Obsessive in All of Us
- All of Janet's Picks


- Jen’s Five Books Not Just for Parents
- Ten Authors of Series Jen Loves to Reread: Part I
- Jen’s Five Kids’ Books Demonstrating That Vehicles Are Not Just for Boys
- All of Jen's Picks


- Mariga's Five Picks to Sweep You Away to Imperial Russia
- Mariga's Five Favorite Books Featuring Ducks
- Mariga's Five New Books Featuring Classic Literary Characters
- All of Mariga's Picks


- Micah's Favorite Books That Break the 4th Wall (according to Nif, his mum)
- Nif and Jen’s Five Books for Potty-Training
- Nif's Five Books That Make Micah (age 19m) Go "Moo!" (which means "More, more!")
- All of Nif's Picks



- Sarah's Five Favorite Feminist Books of the Year (So Far)
- Sarah's Five Favorite Children's Read-Aloud Stories
- Sarah's Phive Phavorite Philly-Related Books
- All of Sarah's Picks


- Sheila’s Five Books of Adventure for Warrior Girls...and Boys
- Sheila’s Five Series for When I Want My Books to Be Candy
- Five Jewish-y Books that Sheila Likes a Lot, for Many Ages
- All of Sheila's Picks

- Raw Writers 2015 -- Tiara's Four Picks by African American Authors
- Big Blue Marble's Picks for Children's Book Week (May 4-10, 2015)
- All of Tiara's Picks

Our Writers-in-Residence:

- Exploring the Verse Novel with Cordelia
- Cordelia's Five Books That Feature Creative Talent as a Major Theme
- Cordelia’s Five Newbery Honor/Medal Winners Featuring Female Main Characters Who Overcome Parental Loss and Conflict in Unusual Ways
- All of Cordelia's Picks



- Minter's Four Memoir Pairs
- Minter’s Five Recommended Books About Writing
- Minter’s Five Writers’ Journals That Illuminate the Writing Process
- All of Minter's Picks

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Jen's Five Gifts of Cheer and Edification

Most, but not all, courtesy of the Unemployed Philosophers Guild.

Famous People Magnetic Finger Puppets!
Haven't you always wanted Frida Kahlo on your fridge, or near to hand? Rosa Parks? Betsy Ross? Get several at a time, and stage fantastic conversations: poets Walt Whitman and Rumi and Sylvia Plath, Sappho and Pete Seeger (with their stringed instruments), Che Guevara and Emma Goldman, Darwin and Einstein, or Zora Neale Hurston and Joan of Arc (points if you know why). Also, check out our supply of Schrödinger's cat puppets! But hurry -- until you look, you won't know whether we still have them...or not.

Heat Changing TARDIS mug
With the addition of only a hot cup of tea (or other liquid), this amazing Police Call Box will dematerialize and then rematerialize all the way on the other side of the mug! We also have mugs of banned books, Yiddish proverbs, Shakespearean insults, and heat-activated constellations.

Jews Glasses
When Micah was 3, and Passover came around, we sat at dinner and told him about the
holiday. We talked about slavery, and his Jewish ancestors, and his African American ancestors, and I told a brief version of the story of the Jews' escape from Egypt. He listened patiently, and at the end he asked, "So what happened to the red stuff?" Red stuff? We hadn't talked about the plagues...or named the sea... "You know," he prompted, "the juice!" Oh, the juice. The juice who escaped from slavery. Oops.
So here are some juice glasses covered with the names and images of famous Jews. Drink up!

Totes Adorbs
From manatees sharing tea (or octopi serving pie) to "Books, Not Bombs," to the little "Read to Me" and "Future Author" versions, we have charming, literary, useful canvas tote bags for your every book-carrying need. (Oh, and it turns out they can carry other things, too.)

Encouragemints and Empowermints
These are tiny peppermints in tiny tins featuring the images of, respectively, Mr. Fred Rogers and Rosie the Riveter. Give yourself a boost!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Raw Writers 2015 -- Tiara's Four Picks by African American Authors

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor Books, $15.95)
I really appreciate the humorous characters that Adichie creates. They are gritty and unabashedly honest about the customs of their home, Nigeria, in juxtaposition with what they experienced while trying to assimilate in America. However, this story transcends any cultural barriers and is ultimately about a love the endures both distance and time.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor Books, $7.95)
Adapted from a TED Talk conference, We Should All Be Feminists delves into how and why the word "feminist" has developed a negative and extremist connotation. In this short essay, Adichie deconstructs some the ostensibly basic double standards in society and reveals the complexities of the modern feminist. As a person who would avoid the use of the word "feminist" in the past, this essay is a part the reason I now think of myself as a proud feminist.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel and Grau, $24.00)
I was genuinely brought to tears by Coates' personal account of maturing as a black man in America. He writes to end the disillusionment on racism that has plagued society for generations. As a letter to his son who was heartbroken and confused about the recent case of Michael Brown, Coates makes no attempt to comfort or disguise the harsh reality of prejudice and injustice. Both sobering and eloquent. I recommend that every person read Between the World and Me.

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison (Knopf, $24.95)
I usually shy away from stories told from multiple point of views however, Morrison does a exceptional job of intertwining the lives of the protagonists who have suffered from grief and unspeakable tragedies. The smooth sentences and seductive tone of this book made it difficult to put down even as these characters are stripped down and forced to face their demons.

Tiara Richardson, December 2015

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Store Is Ten! -- Bookstore Birthday Doggerel II

The store is ten!
I raise my pen
here once again*,
invite you in...

Come on a splen-
did new adven-
ture: books as friends;
worlds without end.

From noisome fen
to Elvish glen,
from tenement
to cozy den.

From confluence
to monuments,
from Orient
to Occident.

I recommend,
my brilliant friend,
Vorkosigan,
or Tolkien,

Miss Peregrine,
and Hiassen**,
Cordelia Jen-
sen, and Le Guin***,

Mysterious Ben-
edict and Pen-
derwicks, Huck Finn,
Rick Riordan**.

Expand your ken
with panda Zen,
and Where (or when!)
the Sidewalk Ends,

With Maurice Sen-
dak, Kevin Hen-
kes, and Hans
Christian Andersen.

Come once, and then
come back again,
and you can say
you knew us when!

To you, our friends,
our denizens,
to you we send
our compliments.

You surely are
our oxygen;
we hope we lend
you nourishment.

The store is ten!
Some say Amen.
Some shout, Again!
We thank you.
-Jen

*Please also enjoy a previous birthday poem from back when we were very young.****

**I have just learned that Carl Hiassen and Rick Riordan both pronounce their names with a stressed long-i in the first syllable. I did not know.

***Okay, so words like "in" and "Le Guin" don't actually rhyme with "ten" in my dialect; there's some, um, poetic license at work here. However, I do know some people with the appropriate vowel mergers, for whom this whole thing ought to rhyme perfectly. Almost perfectly. Better, anyway.

****And may I point out that the 2009 version was also posted (and celebrated) on Saturday, November 21...?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Janet's Five Ways to Color

For those of us who love to color or have never colored or simply want to try a great way to relax, ADULT COLORING BOOKS HAVE ARRIVED. Here are five of my favorites:



Vive Le Color India Coloring Book by Marabout (Abrams, $9.95)

Mandala Designs (Peter Pauper Press, $7.99)

Color Me Stress-Free by Lacy Muchlow (Race Point, $16.99)

The Art of Nature Coloring Book (Adams Media, $14.99)

Zen Doodle Coloring Book by Kristy Colin (North Light Books, $14.99)

ENJOY!                 

Janet Elfant, November 2015

Friday, November 06, 2015

Five Journals Mariga Loves

                

Rainforest Decomposition Book (Michael Roger, Inc., $8.00)

Anorak Rabbits Notebook (Quadrille Publishing, $10.95)

Peacock Handmade Embroidered Journal (Galison Books, $14.99)

Jackie Morris Notebooks (set of three, Jackie Morris, $15.99)

Oz Passport Notebook (Unemployed Philosophers Guild, $3.25)

Mariga Temple-West, November 2015

        

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Sarah's Five Favorite Feminist Books of the Year (So Far)

Dietland by Sarai Walker (Houghten Mifflin Harcourt, $26)
This is the story of Plum Kettle, an advice columnist who is waiting for bariatric surgery for her life to begin. It's also the story of Jennifer, a radical feminist counterterrorist group who changes Plum's life forever. I can't recommend this enough.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest (Arthur A. Levine Books, $19)
Visually stunning and lyrically beautiful story about two friends who find their way back to one another, even after the death of one. Incorporates a gorgeous webcomic and no romance.

Not Funny Ha-Ha: A Handbook for Something Hard by Leah Hayes (Fantagraphics, $17)
This is an illustrated book about abortion. It details the circumstances and experiences of two different women and the choices they make during their decision to terminate pregnancies. Hayes has done something incredibly moving and important and relevant in a world where Planned Parenthood is often struggling with budget cuts and pro-life protesters. The art is great, the words are great. I want to give copies of this to all my favorite feminists so we can gush about how awesome it is together.

Tonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales (Farrar Straus Giroux, $18)
Arden's life isn't going the way she expected. Her mother just left and her father isn't around. She spends a lot of time taking care of her younger brother and her best friend who is a trouble magnet. Her boyfriend is cute, but somewhat inattentive. Something is building in Arden. I initially disliked Arden - she martyrs herself for the people she loves and blames them for it. She decides to take a trip to New York to meet Peter, the author of a blog she loves, along with her best friend. The trip and the night following it turn out to be transformative for her. I won't spoil anything, but I will say this: Tonight the Streets Are Ours isn't a love story in the way you're expecting it to be. It's not about falling in love with another person. It's about learning to feel competent and independent. I want to walk down the street and hand a copy of this book to every teenager I see.

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen (Boom!, $15)
This comic is everything. It's intentionally inclusive racially, including a couple of queer characters and dare I say a trans girl as well? More than that, it's fun and sweet and hilarious. This is everything I want in a comic and I cannot stop raving about how well written and well drawn this title is. There's adventure, supernatural elements, romance, three eyed magical foxes, some mythology, and sibling rivalry thrown in for good measure. It's appropriate for all ages, so after you're done reading it, you might pass it on to a younger nerd.

Sarah Sawyers-Lovett, November 2015

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Best of All Possible and Impossible Worlds

If you didn't make it here for our YA author event on Oct. 9, I recommend you hop on over and check out the books (and the follow-up book club discussion this Thursday*). We had a wonderful and inspiring conversation, with a great group of authors, and enthusiastic readers to hear them read! Kate Scelsa and Lyn Miller-Lachmann both travelled from New York City to be here, while Randy Ribay and Ilene (I.W.) Gregorio are both local to the Philly area -- though Ilene, "practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night," was coming from a full day in surgery and was actually still on call.

The readings were well-delivered and powerful. None of the authors chose to read from the beginning of their book; instead, each read a scene of transformation from partway through.

In Surviving Santiago, Wisconsin teenager Tina reluctantly returns to her homeland of Chile to visit her father, in the tense political climate of 1989. Lyn offered us the scene where Tina has arrived in Chile and meets her papá for the first time in years, thinking about what he was like in her childhood and how he was changed when he came to the US after his political imprisonment...and wondering what he'll be like now.

In her scene from None of the Above, Ilene gave us the moment when Kristin, who has recently been blindsided by the news that she's intersex, finally decides to take her father's advice and look at information about support groups for people with her condition -- which takes her out of complete despair and offers a measure of hope.

Kate's book, Fans of the Impossible Life, is about three teens trying to move forward from difficult parts of their lives, and in the scene she read, they have put together a ritual, full of silliness and power, to get rid of their demons and invite into their lives what they most want.

An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes is also about a group of teens dealing with issues in their own lives, but they don't talk to each other about them: at this point they know their D&D characters better than they know each other, and their experiences of the world are separate, and barely overlapping, even when they're in the same room. Randy gave us a scene in which Mari, who runs the D&D game for the group, takes her own recent set of news and writes the destruction of a world.

The discussion that followed the readings was friendly, open, and insightful.

"What was the nicest thing someone has said about your book?" asked an audience member.
Without exception the responses were about reflected experience -- from the teens who tell Randy that the amount of diversity in his writing is realistic, rather than overdone, to the 13-year-old who told Ilene that None of the Above gave her the courage to reach out to a support group, to the adult reader who told Lyn that, from his own experience, he both questioned and understood why Tina's father would want to return home after exile. Kate summed up this general feeling in her own answer: "When you write about something you haven't experienced and have people say you got it right!"

The authors talked about problems with both good reviews and bad reviews, and the frustration with people who use review space to trash books that they don't like and wouldn't normally read -- as though that sort of book shouldn't exist at all. We suggested that there needed to be a website for people to discuss books with the guideline to use only "I" language. Relatedly, we also talked at length about trigger warnings, and how the use of both the warnings and the label itself has changed. Originally conceived as a way to warn people of content that might trigger actual PTSD flashbacks in the readers, it has devolved in many settings into a way to warn readers that they might be uncomfortable with what they read, or might learn something they don't like. Which both discourages reading/learning and dilutes the importance of the trigger warning for those who need it. Kate pointed out that the overuse comes from both ends of the political spectrum.

Further topics included audio books -- Lyn talked about recording one on her own for a friend who's blind -- and the store's QUILTBAG YA shelf: how to present books that explore gender and sexuality in a way that highlights them and yet doesn't compartmentalize them. After the general discussion, the gathering moved into book signings and smaller, equally vibrant conversations...and Ilene got her first page (medical, not literary) of the evening. I got the sense that everyone went home inspired and energized, and it was fun to hear the authors getting excited about each other's writing. Thanks to everyone who came, and whether you were there or not, I'd love to hear your thoughts on these books!

*Big Blue YA Book Discussion on any/all books by these authors: this Thursday, October 22, at 7:00pm. See our website or the Facebook event for more information!

Also: we were privileged to have Randy Ribay in the store a week before his book's official release date, and two weeks before his official release party!
Randy's release party: Friday, October 23
Boys' Latin of Philadelphia Charter School
5501 Cedar Ave, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19143

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

They do exist! Finger puppets of your favorite authors and celebrities!

Yes, it's true. You can now put on a puppet show starring Hannah Arendt, Malcom X, or Betsy Ross. Mix it up and let your imagination go wild.

Feeling revolutionary? Here's your very own Che Guevara.




Perhaps a romance between Malcom X and Frida Kahlo?










The story is yours to create with Big Blue Marble's selection of literary finger puppets. Also, every puppet is magnetic for convenient attachment to any magnetic surface. Go on, put Andy Warhol on your refrigerator.


And don't forget Ms. Arendt.


Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Jen's Five Books of Possibilities

So there's a bunch of books that have come out this year, all YA, whose plots I was constantly mixing up or forgetting, due to their titles full of quantifiers. Here's a quick list to help clear things up. Also, and this wasn't confusing at ALL to organize, three of the authors below will be reading their books at the store this Friday, October 9. Come check them out!

An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay (Merit Press, $17.99)
In which four D&D-playing friends find themselves on a road trip, working through the parts of their lives they haven't told each other.

Anything Could Happen by Will Walton (Push, $17.99)
In which a small town kid deals with being in love with his straight best friend.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte, $18.99)
In which a teenager confined to her house as protection from profound allergies starts to fall for her new neighbor.

Always Never Sometimes by Adi Alsaid (Harlequin Teen, $17.99)
In which a pair of best friends, who have made a list of things they would NEVER do in high school, decide in their final year that they might as well try all of them instead.

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio (Balzer & Bray, $17.99)
In which a high school senior finds out she's intersex...and so does everyone else.

Bonus picks:

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, $9.99)
In which a teen starts at a new school after five years on the road with her father, dealing with his traumatic memories of Iraq. (This is actually from last year, but the paperback just came out this summer.)

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa (Balzer & Bray, $17.99)
In which three friends become closer as they struggle with romance, bullying, foster home and family problems, and mental health issues.

Jennifer Sheffield, October 2015

Thursday, October 01, 2015

YA Scavenger Hunt: Stephanie Keyes, hosted by Cordelia Jensen


Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! 

This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!


Go to the YA Scavenger Huntpage to find out all about the hunt. There are SIX contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the PURPLE TEAM--but there is also a red team, a gold team, an orange team, a blue team, a pink team, a teal team and an indie team for a chance to win a whole different set of signed books!

If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE

Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've listed my favorite number somewhere. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the purple team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!). 

Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize http://www.yash.rocks/p/enter-here.html. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by OCTOBER 5th, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

SCAVENGER HUNT POST

Today, I am hosting Stephanie Keyes on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt! Stephanie Keyes is the author of the YA Fantasy series The Star Child, which currently includes The Star Child, After Faerie, The Fallen Stars, The Star Catcher, and The Last Protector, all from by Inkspell Publishing. She will also release the forthcoming novellas The Boy In The Trees (November 2015) and A Faerie Wedding: A Star Child Companion Novella #4.5 (February 2016).

The Star Catcher took first place in the 2014 Dante Rossetti Young Adult novel competition (Mythological Category).  Here's a bit about The Star Catcher:
Kellen and Cali will battle bewitched armies and unknown foes as they fight to stay together. Will Kellen embrace his immortal destiny? Or will his world, and the man he is fated to become, be destroyed by The Star Catcher?





Find out more information by checking out the author website or find more about the author's book here! And enter for a chance to win THE FALLEN STARS, another book in THE STAR CHILD series in our #TeamPurple  Giveaway! 

Stephanie's website: http://www.stephaniekeyes.com/

NOW! EXCLUSIVE CONTENT FROM STEPHANIE's NOVELLA COMING IN NOVEMBER!

CHECK OUT THIS SNEAK PEAK OF A BOY IN THE TREES HERE:

And don't forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me,
 Cordelia Jensen, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is . . . wait for it . . . not such a unique one  . . but a good one . . . 7! Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the purple team and you'll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

CONTINUE THE HUNT

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author, Adi Alsaid
http://adialsaid.tumblr.com/

BONUS! Extra SKYSCRAPING GIveaway! Enter here for signed ARC giveaways of my book SKYSCRAPING:

Friday, September 11, 2015

Staff Review: Rainbow Train CD for Kids, by Chana Rothman

Reviewed by Jennifer Sheffield

We are excited to announce the recent arrival of Rainbow Train, a CD of songs of gender liberation, created by local teacher and musician Chana Rothman. Chana was Micah's music teacher from 18 months until about age 3, and, along with her music and musicianship, I always loved the care and deliberation evident in her song choices and their presentation in class.

Next stop: free to choose; next stop: we've got love coming through...

One of the albums I loved growing up was Free to Be You and Me, with its fabulous and memorable songs and sketches celebrating friendship and cutting down gender stereotypes. So I was looking forward to sharing it with my own child...until I listened to it after he was born. Some songs had stood the test of time beautifully -- "Some Kinds of Help," "Glad to Have a Friend Like You," not to mention the title song itself. But in listening to many of the other songs, I found they were more likely to introduce the very stereotypes they were created to dispel. It seems we have moved forward since the '70s!

So then I was excited to learn, during one of our periodic post-music-class discussions of gender and language and music, that Chana was working on a project to create a musical update, of sorts, and to move the conversation even further along. And now, only a couple years later, we have an album full of fabulous and memorable music that celebrates being who you are, gender as a spectrum, rejecting gender stereotypes, being in charge of your own body, forging and standing up for your own identity, and transformation!

Next stop: turn another whirl; you don't have to be just a boy or a girl; you can be a beautiful blend and swirl...

Throughout the album, Chana works to transcend some of the difficult lines between rejecting a gender binary altogether (gender as rules imposed from outside) and recognizing/crossing it (gender as identity). One of the ways she does this is by focusing on kids and their own sense of self.

One of the most haunting songs on the album is "Holy," with an ethereal melody and a plea for letting people grow up to be their own amazing selves. One of Chana's friends (and a fellow music class attendee) compiled a beautiful photo-montage video with this song, to celebrate her own child's gender experience. (You can see the video at the end of a Huffington Post blog article Chana wrote about some of her experiences that inspired the Rainbow Train project.)

The other songs on the album continue this theme of letting kids (or anyone!) be who they are, as long as they're not hurting anyone. This includes playing what they want to play, liking what they like, and also trusting their own ideas of who they are. There's a strong focus on bodily autonomy, from "Your body is your own; you can decorate it how you like" to "Everybody gets to choose their own name" to "My body is mine, each and every day".

Next stop: pink and blue; anyone can wear these colors, it's true...

One thing I love about Rainbow Train is the way it responds to hurtful language without privileging the actual bullying and instead by getting to its root.

Free to Be You and Me has a song called "William's Doll," in which William persists in requesting a doll to love despite the dismissive or disparaging things his family tell him. This song has a corollary in Rainbow Train with the poem "Boy in a Dress". The new poem similarly presents different people's reactions, including a bullying kid, but, unlike the Free to Be song, the bully's reactions here are presented by providing the subtext ("I'm scared and confused, so I'll be mean to you"), rather than by saying any of the mean things out loud.

Earlier, in the song "Gender Blender," Chana suggests specific responses to hurtful things that people may say, either deliberately or without understanding:
"If they say, 'That truck's for boys,' say, 'Anybody can use this toy!'"
"If they say, 'Only girls wear pink', say, 'A color's just a color, don't you think?'"
"If they say, 'Girls look like this', say, 'There are more ways to be a girl than I could list!'"
"And if they tell you who you're gonna be, say, 'Thanks, but actually, that's up to me!'"

And, finally, she presents all sorts of encouraging/affirming comments directly from the mouths of actual kids: "There's no such thing as boy colors and girl colors." And "Anyone can play sports, no matter who you are, no matter how old you are."

Sometimes people tell you who to be...
They try to put you in a box that you can't even see
We're moving to a place where we're free...
And there's plenty of room for you, plenty of room for me...


The album has something in it for everyone. Along with its songs about kids and growing up, there's a welcome baby song (one of my favorites), and even a piece called "In Utero". There's a song that introduces Rosa Parks and Harvey Milk and links their struggles to those in the present. Folk songs, rap songs, lyrical, and laid-back songs.

Rainbow Train is certainly a sensation in my own household. Released in May, it stayed on nearly constant play in the car for two months. My four-year-old has worked really hard at learning the songs and the words -- something he's only done quite as consistently with the soundtrack to Cats. So, you know, it's (almost) "Better than Cats!" He sings along and asks me to join in, and then later, even on songs where I haven't heard him sing, he can fill in lines I've forgotten.

Next stop: tell us who you are; next stop: shine your star; next stop: we've come so far, riding on the Rainbow Train...

The album is also excitingly home-grown: Chana collaborated with numerous musicians from the neighborhood. A number of local kids appear as well, shouting "Rainbow Train!" at the beginning, or singing in the songs, or providing their own experiences and wisdom. And there were music and dance parties along the way, to which everyone was invited -- such an amazing amount of community support.

So take my hand, come along, and take a ride on the Rainbow Train!

See also Chana's Rainbow Train Resources on her website.
If you're not local to Philly, you can also order the cd/songs from cdbaby.