Life Lessons

What Big Leap Will You Take Today?

What Big Leap Will You Take Today?

Inspired by the picture book Trini’s Big Leap, The Big Leap is a home for stories about people who discover new strengths—physical, emotional, intellectual, artistic, social—at home and in their communities. In short, this is a collection of stories from people who take big leaps and have something to say about the ride.

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Some Thoughts on Young People Who Speak Truth to Power, in Real Life and in Books

Some Thoughts on Young People Who Speak Truth to Power, in Real Life and in Books

Watching the magnificent teenage environmentalist Greta Thunberg’s impassioned address at the UN on Monday was hard on many levels. She’s right about what’s happening to the planet, and she’s right th at not enough is being done to stop climate change. She’s also right that the mad dash for profits and growth is taking a massive toll on earth. It’s not hard to agree with her.

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Natural Grain: Penny Candy's New HQ & Better Parenting

Penny Candy HQ

Penny Candy HQ furniture rehab

Chad here. It seems that every week we reach a new milestone at PCB, and this week marks the first that our new physical office (our "headquarters") seems put together enough to actually work in. Located in the historic Paramount Building in Oklahoma City's Film Row District just west of downtown, the office is 175 square feet of bliss with high ceilings, a whole wall of built-in cabinets, and a great view of downtown. But when I first saw it, the walls had a hideous green paint on them, and there was a drop ceiling with two rows of old fluorescent lights. It was clear that hiding behind those regrettable modifications was a gem of an office space, its original beauty obscured by whim and fashion.

I've been working on rehabilitating some old furniture to use in the space. One is this credenza with a chrome lip and marble top. Notice the wood grain. When my wife purchased this a couple years ago, it had been smothered in a maroon polyurethane finish that obscured the natural beauty of the wood. I've been slowly sanding it down, and this past weekend I applied a nice ebony stain. 

I think there's a metaphor here for parents. Too often, without thinking, we try to form our kids into what we want them to be. We try to “finish” them, to paint over their natural beauty. We expect them to perform the roles we prescribe them. We do it without thinking because, after all, our kids seem to be miniature reflections of ourselves in many ways. Painting over walls or furniture isn’t the end of the world, but maybe not such a great idea with humans. How many of us would have benefitted from a parent telling us that our natural instincts were good enough?

How much better if, instead of shellacking them in what we envision they should be, we would instead help them to discover their own natural grains? Not turn them loose exactly; rather help them help themselves? Maybe they’d get a stain (that could be called culture), but only if it lets their own inner beauty shine. 

This got me thinking about a book my wife and I loved reading to our kids when they were smaller: Gregory, the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmatt, illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey. It’s the story of a kid (as in a young goat) who, to his parents’ horror, would rather eat fruits and vegetables than cardboard boxes, old tires, pieces of rugs, and the other things that good goats eat.

Flummoxed that Gregory refuses to eat what they offer him (shoes, magazines, coats), his parents take their fussy eater to the doctor, the wise old Dr. Ram, who says that “it makes sense” that Gregory would want to eat what he likes. He advises that Gregory be allowed to eat what he wants but that the parents introduce one new item into his diet a day. This approach helps the parents to accept Gregory for who he is and helps Gregory come to see that what his parents want isn’t all bad. By the end of the story, a normal meal for Gregory might consist of juice, scrambled eggs, and wax paper. Compromise!

Like so many great kids’ books, it seems Gregory, the Terrible Eater is not only intended to help kids grow and learn but also to help parents be better parents. Adults have a lot to teach kids, but kids can teach us adults a lot, too, if we’re willing to listen to them.

Life Lessons: Books for the Kid in ALL of Us

We've been thinking a lot over here at Penny Candy Books about just how important the books we read as kids have been in our lives—and the responsibility we have as publishers to engender dialogue rather than present the world in black and white. We want our books to raise questions, not to create unwavering answers (except, actually, when it comes to hate. We don't have time for hate). We get excited about multiple interpretations—books that can be walked around like holograms, seen from multiple perspectives. 

A lot of the books we read as kids are interpreted by our parents, or through our parents' lenses. Take The Giving Tree, one of my all-time favorites, for example. My mom's interpretation of this story: be selfless, give of yourself to make others happy. My interpretation: don't take advantage of another's kindness; don't give so much of yourself that you're left a stump for sitting on.

Images from  The Giving Tree , Shel Silverstein

Images from The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein

These are wildly different interpretations of Silverstein's story (and there are plenty more)—I never thought it was fair that the tree kept giving of herself just to win the boy's approval, not even when my mom told me the tree was doing the right thing. Silverstein was a complex man, and so are his stories. All of these ideas are in conversation with each other. The story is simply told, but it is not simple. The Giving Tree gave me the opportunity to develop my own theories about self, selfhood, selfishness, and selflessness. 

Here are two books that make use of kids' books lessons:

We'd love to hear about the lessons you've carried with you from your childhood reading. Please post a comment! We'll continue to add to our list of influences in our Life Lessons category. 

Here's to the kid in all of us,