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Question or Suggestion? Contact cslevin59 (at) gmail.org.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Love Live Theater? Check out Family Day Festival in New Brunswick on Monday as well as NJ Stages Festival in March

12th Annual State Theatre New Jersey Family Day on Presidents Day



WHEN: Monday, February 19, 2018, featuring Mr. Popper’s Penguins at 10am, 12:30pm, and 3pm.
WHERE: State Theatre NJ, 15 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick; The Heldrich Hotel, Mason Gross School of the Arts, and the United Methodist Church
TICKETS: $25-$35.
For tickets or more information, call State Theatre New Jersey Guest Services at 732-246-SHOW (7469), or visit us online at STNJ.org. State Theatre New Jersey Guest Services, located at 15 Livingston Ave, New Brunswick NJ, is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm; Saturday from 1pm-5pm; and at least three hours prior to curtain on performance dates unless otherwise specified. For information on group outings and discounts, call 732-247-7200, ext. 536. Some additional ticket and transaction fees may apply.
Family Day is supported by The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.

The show follows painter and decorator Mr. Popper, who spends his time dreaming of Antarctic adventures. One day a packing crate arrives on his doorstep and a penguin waddles out. With original songs and performing penguin puppets, this musical adaptation of Richard and Florence Atwater’s popular book is suitable for all ages.

Presidents Day is Family Day at the State Theatre

Families can spend the school-day holiday enjoying dozens of performances, workshops, and hands-on activities—many of them free—plus costumed characters, face painting, balloon animals, sing-a-longs, a photo booth, coloring station, food, and more. The festival, which runs from 10am to 3:30pm, features multiple venues.

“Spending quality time together as a family helps build strong, healthy relationships and that’s why The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey is excited to support this year’s Family Day,” said Executive Director Jonathan Pearson of The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey. “We’re very happy to again team up with the State Theatre New Jersey to help improve the quality of life for families throughout the state. On behalf of everyone at Horizon, we hope all of the children and families have fun and make memories to last a lifetime.”


The featured Family Day events include performances of Mr. Popper’s Penguins at 10am, 12:30pm, and 3pm at State Theatre New Jersey. Additionally, there will be free performances in the United Methodist Church, including performances by the Joanie Leeds (10:45am, 11:45am) and one-man band KB Whirly (1pm, 2pm).

A variety of hands-on workshops take place throughout the day, including “Hand-in-Hand” for ages 3-4 (10am), a Beginning Ballet workshop for ages 6-8 (12pm), and a Jazz/Theater Dance workshop for ages 9 and up (2pm), led by American Repertory Ballet; three theater workshops led by coLAB Arts including “Fables in Performance” for ages 3-5 (11am), “Penguin Journey” for ages 3-5 (1pm), and “Intro to Improv and Theater Games” for ages 9 and up (2:30pm); and this year we welcome the Garden of Healing Yoga and Wellness Center leading “Yoga Mad Libs” (10:30am, 12:30pm), “Zumbini” for ages 0-4 (11:30am), and “Kids Zumba” for ages 7-11 (1:30pm). Additionally, FREE arts and crafts activities, will be available from 10am-3:30pm at Mason Gross School of the Arts Bloustein building and on Livingston Avenue there will be FREE Ice Sculpting Demonstrations as 11:15am and 1:45pm. No registration is required for the workshops: first come, first served.

State Theatre New Jersey’s Family Day is supported by The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey. State Theatre New Jersey’s Family Series is sponsored by Investor’s Bank. The Family Day Media Sponsor is Magic 98.3.

State Theatre New Jersey—creating extraordinary experiences through the power of live performance. The theater exists to enrich people’s lives, contribute to a vital urban environment, and build future audiences by presenting the finest performing artists and entertainers and fostering lifetime appreciation for the performing arts through education. State Theatre New Jersey’s programs are made possible, in part, by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, and contributions from numerous corporations, foundations, and individuals. The Heldrich is the official hotel of State Theatre New Jersey. The Star-Ledger is the official newspaper of State Theatre New Jersey. United is the official airline of State Theatre New Jersey.

Thanks to Ruth Ross www.njartsmaven.com for this information.



THE 2018 STAGE FESTIVAL INTERACTIVE CALENDAR IS UP AND RUNNING!Visit stagesfestival.org to search 90+ performances, readings, workshops, camp samplers, and special theatre events all over New Jersey throughout the month of March. 85% of them are FREE, and the rest run from $2 to $20.

Every March, The Stages Festival offers free and discounted performances, workshops, play readings, and behind-the-scenes events for all ages. Make sure you're the first to learn about Stages Festival events by signing up for our mailing list. The Stages Festival is in its 21st year of bringing free and low-cost theatre to comunities across New Jersey.

Events are presented by professional Equity theatres; some take place at their theatres, and some take place in libraries, community centers, performing arts houses, senior centers and more.

Bring your family and your friends, to experience the quality, inspiration and richness that New Jersey's professional theatres have to offer. Find a Stages event near you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Thanks to everyone who came to my Retirement Party, Caldecott & Newbery Winners Announced, Meet “Peter Pan” “Thomas Jefferson” & “Cinderella” plus indoor play spaces for cold days.

I want to thank everyone who came to my retirement party on Sunday 2/11/18. It was so gratifying to be able to see people and say goodbye. I tried to send “thank you’s” individually but realized I didn’t have emails, addresses or phone numbers for Benjamin & Annika and Billy’s families. Please contact me at cslevin59 (at) gmail.com and know your cards, gifts, flowers, bookmarks, and (last but definitely not least!) kind words were so appreciated! 

2018 Caldecott winner and honor books2018 Newbery Award Winner and Honor Books

Caldecott & Newbery Winners were announced this week -- Read more: http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/caldecottmedal

Upcoming activities:

Hulafrog | Local things for kids to do.
Hula Hot List: Indoor Play Places When It's Cold Outside Near Bridgewater!


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When it's just too cold for outdoor fun but the kids are bouncing off the walls from being cooped up all day, let them get some energy out at one of these  indoor places to play! Bonus: Some have added perks like Wifi or coffee for the parents! Check out the list here: https://hulafrog.com/bridgewater-nj/hula-hot-list-indoor-play-places-when-it-s-cold-outside-near-bridgewater-489012


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It's officially the week of love! Kick it off with some fabulous, family fun. Check out Hulafrog's "The Week Ahead" for a list of the events that you should not miss this week!


DID YOU KNOW? While Frederick Douglass’ exact date of birth is unknown, the abolitionist and African-American icon picked February 14 as the date to celebrate his birthday. Happy African American History Month! Celebrate with some great books http://carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com/2014/03/school-age-storytimes-black-history.html



Presidents Day Weekend February 17-19, 2018 Free Admission on Presidents Day

This Presidents Day Weekend, visitors can participate in a presidential festival while learning about the role of the president and what it takes to be commander in chief. On Presidents Day, Monday, February 19, families can also participate in our Presidential Costume Contest and join us for a Kids Town Hall to meet some very special guests: Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt!


Last weekend for Peter Pan Play at Villagers Theater in Somerset:
Peter and the Starcatcher

Performance Times: Fridays/Saturdays 8:00pm  Sundays 2:00pm

Buy Tickets
Reservation Request

Tony-winning Peter and the Starcatcher upends the century-old story of how a miserable orphan comes to be The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (a.k.a. Peter Pan). A wildly theatrical adaptation of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s best-selling novels, the play was conceived for the stage by directors, Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, and written by Rick Elice, with music by Wayne Barker. From marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, Peter and the Starcatcher playfully explores the depths of greed and despair… and the bonds of friendship, duty and love.

A young orphan and his mates are shipped off from Victorian England to a distant island ruled by the evil King Zarboff. They know nothing of the mysterious trunk in the captain’s cabin, which contains a precious, otherworldly cargo. At sea, the boys are discovered by a precocious young girl named Molly, a Starcatcher-in-training who realizes that the trunk’s precious cargo is starstuff, a celestial substance so powerful that it must never fall into the wrong hands. When the ship is taken over by pirates – led by the fearsome Black Stache, a villain determined to claim the trunk and its treasure for his own – the journey quickly becomes a thrilling adventure.

Monday, February 19 --  Presidents’ Day for Kids

imageMontclair, NJ – Monday, February 19 from 10 am to 12 pm. Presidents' Day should be about more than just a good sale. At the Crane House and Historic YWCA, your child will discover how our past presidents (and their wives and children) lived through crafts and other activities at this drop-off program. Activities include a Symbols of our Country scavenger hunt, making a log cabin, play-acting George Washington’s Rules of Civility by the hearth fire, historic selfies, and signing the Declaration of Independence with a quill pen.

110 Orange Road, Montclair. Admission is $10/child. Registration required to mail@montclairhistorical.org or 973-744-1796 to reserve a place by Wednesday, February 14. Appropriate for children ages 6 to 10, children under 6 cannot be left unattended. www.montclairhistory.org.

If you are not a member, you may join prior to the event or at the event for admission by contacting the Montclair History Center at 973-744-1796, at www.montclairhistory.org, or sending a note to mail@montclairhistorical.org.


Monday, February 19 – Morris County  Abraham Lincoln Remembered

image10:00-11:30 am; 1:00-2:30 pm; 3:30-5:00 pm

Explore Lincoln's whistle-stop train ride from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C. to take the presidential oath of office in 1861. Using a large floor map, follow his journey with "travel cards" marking significant events. Design a booklet using images and famous quotes.

$8 general admission, $6 members, adults free.

Pre-registration requested with Cynthia Winslow at cwinslow@maccullochhall.org or (973) 538-2404, ext. 16.


February 25th -- Make History Come Alive -- Meet Thomas Jefferson

The American Historical Theatre presents Steven Edenbo as Thomas Jefferson

Meet Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, the first Secretary of State, the second Vice President and the third President of the United States.

Sunday, February 25, 2018   1pm & 3pm Sessions

East Jersey Old Town Village  1050 River Road  Piscataway, NJ  Directions

Funded by: New Jersey Historical Commission, a Division of the Department of State



Text CULTURE to 56512 for more details


Then Make a Wish Come True with Cinderella! in March



When cavemen invented the wheel thousands of years ago, it was probably wood or rock. It probably wasn't a rubber tire full of air, and they probably didn't use it to go sledding. That's called inner tubing: you sit or lie down on a giant donut-shaped balloon, someone gives you a push, and you slide down the snowy, slippery hill. It's called an "inner" tube because it's from inside an even bigger circle: a truck tire. Humans first started snow tubing in 1820 in Switzerland, a long time after the cavemen -- but a long time before cars and trucks, so where did they get their tubes? More importantly, what happens when you spin as you slide? Lots of math, as you'll see here!

Wee ones: If your inner tube spins once to the left, then once to the right, then once to the left, then once to the right...which way do you spin next?

Little kids: If you, 3 friends, and 2 snow-loving dogs all pile onto an inner tube, how many riders are there?  Bonus: You can also ride tubes on waterslides. If you go 10 miles an hour on snow but twice as fast in water, how fast do you tube on the water?

Big kids: If you start sliding facing downhill, with the hill's right side on your right, and as you slide you spin 1/2 turn to your left, then 1/4 of a turn to your right, then 3/4 turn to the left, which way are you facing now?  Bonus: If 1/2 the tubes are double tubes (seating 2 people) and the other 1/2 are single tubes, how many tubes are there if they hold 18 people total?

The sky's the limit: If your tube spins once around every 2 seconds, your friend spins once every 3 seconds, another friend spins once every 4 seconds, and the last friend spins once every 5 seconds, what's the soonest you'll all face forward at the same time if you all started facing forward?

Find more Bedtime Math here.

Why should people have all the fun – see a dog and a crow sledding by clicking on their hotlinks!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Photographic Permissions, Farewell Party, Sensory Sensitive Performance and Area Happenings plus an interesting look at Raising Self-Reliant Children…

As many of you are aware, I am no longer working for the Somerset County Library System and this site is no longer associated with the Bridgewater Library.

imageThis week I was sent a “cease and desist” letter from the library attorney informing me that all pictures that were taken by library personnel and downloaded on library computers were copyright the library and ordering me to remove them immediately. Accordingly, I am in the process of taking down many of my older pictures that were taken with library cameras -- so if you want access, you will need to make copies quickly. The photos that will remain were taken with my cell phone camera or the cell phones belonging to some of you. If there are any pictures of your children that you do not want me to continue to display on this site or on carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com, please email me at cslevin59 (at) gmail.com with photo details & the date of the post(s) and I will remove them forthwith.

I also want to invite all of you to my retirement party at the Bridgewater Library on Sunday February 11th. You and your children are welcome to drop into the program rooms anytime between 2 and 4 p.m. to say goodbye.

All the best,  Carol Simon Levin


Sensory Sensitive Performance in Princeton this Weekend




Looking for more things to do while the weather outside is frightful?


Check out this list from Hulafrog!

A fascinating look at child-rearing possibilities:

Do Germans Raise More Self-Reliant Children?

Jason, left, and other kids have fun as they try out a new adventure playground in Moritzburg, some 20 miles north of Dresden, Germany, Thursday, April 24, 2008.

Jason, left, and other kids have fun as they try out a new adventure playground in Moritzburg, some 20 miles north of Dresden, Germany, Thursday, April 24, 2008.
( AP Photo/Matthias Rietschel )

Sara Zaske talks about her new book Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children. Zaske details her own experience as an American woman raising her children in Berlin and learning that German parents allowed their children to do much more on their own -- from riding the subway, to cutting food with sharp knives. Based on interviews and research, she looks at German ideas about self-reliance and raising children.

Achtung Baby: An Entertaining, Enlightening Look at the Art of Raising Self-Reliant, Independent Children Based on One American Mom’s Experiences in Germany

When Sara Zaske moved from Oregon to Berlin with her husband and toddler, she knew the transition would be challenging, especially when she became pregnant with her second child. She was surprised to discover that German parents give their children a great deal of freedom―much more than Americans. In Berlin, kids walk to school by themselves, ride the subway alone, cut food with sharp knives, and even play with fire. German parents did not share her fears, and their children were thriving. Was she doing the opposite of what she intended, which was toraise capable children? Why was parenting culture so different in the States?

Through her own family’s often funny experiences as well as interviews with other parents, teachers, and experts, Zaske shares the many unexpected parenting lessons she learned from living in Germany. Achtung Baby reveals that today's Germans know something that American parents don't (or have perhaps forgotten) about raising kids with “selbstandigkeit” (self-reliance), and provides practical examples American parents can use to give their own children the freedom they need to grow into responsible, independent adults. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Beloved Librarian Leaves Bridgewater Branch Library


BRIDGEWATER, NJ - After 25 years as a librarian in the Somerset County Library System, at the Bridgewater branch, youth services librarian Carol Simon Levin submitted her retirement papers in January.

News of her leaving the library system caused uproar from parents and library system employees who have benefited from her services over the years, and several turned out to the county library system commission’s meeting Jan. 10 in protest.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Carol, and she is light years ahead of me in terms of creativity,” said Somerset resident Lawrence Sapienza, who retired from the library system in April. “She is a wonderful asset to the staff, as well as the public.”

Several people spoke during the commission meeting of Levin’s service to the public and the programs she has spearheaded for children in her position as child services librarian. They expressed their sadness over the loss.

“My child has been coming to the library for 10 years, and comes to story time,” said Bridgewater resident Jodi Golden. “She cried when I told her Carol was leaving.”

Another Bridgewater resident said she has been bringing her children to story time for years with Levin, and the quality of her programs is far superior to those in any other library she has visited.

And still another Bridgewater resident said she has admired Levin’s dedication and intelligence in the field for 25 years.

Resident Atulya Chaganty credited the library, and Levin, with helping her become who she is today, a graduate with a masters degree in industrial design from the Rhode Island School of Design.

“My family moved to this town when I was 10, and we did not know anyone or have a lot of money, so we found refuge in the library,” she said. “We went to every program, got to know our librarians and I even logged the most hours as a volunteer during the summer reading program during my middle school and even some of my high school years.”

“This library made me who I am because of the librarians,” she added, “librarians like Carol, who taught me so many things, not just about reading, but about life.”

Chaganty said she has seen changes in the library over the years, from old computers to limited decorations in the children’s department and a lack of librarians available on Sundays.

“(And) they ended the career of one of the library’s last living legends, Carol Simon Levin, a woman who has dedicated her life to this community,” she said. “Incredibly educated, compassionate and committed to everyone she meets, she does not even need to know you to invite you into her home and welcome you into her life. These actions all symbolize to me a culture shift I am not happy to witness.”

For many, although they will miss Levin’s programs and her presence in the library, of biggest concern was the apparent way in which she left her position in the library system.

According to Brian Auger, administrator of the Somerset County Library System, Levin submitted her retirement from the system, which was accepted.

In the case of a retirement, according to the bylaws of the library system, there is no vote taken by the commission, the retirement is accepted by the director only.

Auger said that according to the bylaws for the library system, the administrator is in charge of executing policies, dealing with personnel and a host of other responsibilities.

In the case of personnel issues, Auger said, he has the ability to terminate an employee, who then is able to file a grievance if they believe they were wrongfully terminated. At that point, he said, the commission would get involved to do an investigation regarding the termination.

Because Levin submitted her retirement, Auger said, the commission did not have any say in the situation.

“I don’t begrudge anything, they meant well from their perspective,” Auger said of the people who spoke out on Levin’s behalf during the commission meeting. “They came out and spilled their hearts and told us what they thought.”

“But there are two sides to a story, and when it is a supervisors’ side, we must remain silent,” he added of the commission’s decision not to comment with regard to a personnel issue. “All they know about Ms. Levin is that she is a great librarian, does great story times, she is positive and upbeat and the kids love her programs. There are two sides to every story, but she is retiring.”

But the side of the story that the commission could not comment on during the meeting was what was so troubling to many members of the public.

“I had just become aware that Carol was retiring, so to speak,” Sapienza said. “Sometimes it’s not always by choice, and that is, I fear, the case here.”

“When an employee of 20 plus years is put in that position, sometimes I think the commission needs to get involved,” he added. “This is one of those cases. She is a remarkable lady, and I hope that the commission might take time to talk to Carol to see if this is something she wants to happen.”

Levin herself spoke at the commission meeting of her retirement, and painted a different picture of her release from the library system.

“I did this because, after 25 years of consistently exemplary reviews from my supervisors on the quality of my programs and reference transactions, and many appreciative letters sent to supervisors from happy patrons, I was presented with termination documents and told I would be fired if I did not accept retirement and sign away all my employment and legal rights,” she said.

Levin said the charge was insubordination, although the commission’s attorney requested her not to continue speaking on that because it was  personnel issue that is not permitted in a public forum without a signing of a RICE notification that allows an employee’s status to be discussed in open session.

Levin said, after the meeting, that there were a number of incidents that led to her leaving the system, beginning in April when she reported that she found it surprising none of the programs from the library system were appearing in the “Courier News” newspaper. She said she was reported and received a notice that she would have her duties reduced to reference desk and regular story times, as well as the elimination of her display in the lobby.

In October, Levin said, she violated those terms when she put up a display on the “Day of the Dead” an in almost empty space where the Halloween books had been, rather than in her allotted space. In the ensuing days, she said, she was cited for a violation again when she put up a poster for Books for Kids on the children’s reference desk, using one from several years ago instead of one that was new.

“It distresses me mightily that I have been asked to leave over a series of events that had to do with publicity and marketing,” she said. “What bothers me most is this is a pattern, it’s not just me.”

Levin said she has heard from others who value her work, and has worked with patrons, teachers and others to help them find books and more.

“I’m a librarian, I eat, drink and sleep it,” she said.

Levin said that in order to retire, she was required by administration to sign away her ability to ever work again in any library with the Somerset County Library System.

“Though I would have loved to continue creating innovative programs for Bridgewater library youth patrons and helping them, their parents and their teachers find information and great reads, I am not able to do so,” she said.

Auger maintained that Levin had submitted her retirement papers, and there was nothing he or the commission could do in the matter of her employment. He declined to comment on any of the statements made by Levin regarding termination at the commission meeting, citing personnel privacy.

But Levin said she is disturbed that this all came about because she spoke out.

Still, for many patrons of the library, the loss of Levin will be felt by all, young and old.

“I realize this situation is extremely complicated, and we all have a tainted view on what happened,” Chaganty said. “No matter personal feelings, those in power must maintain some professionalism, respect and dignity. Many of us gathered in support of Carol not to reinstate her position, but because of the lack of respect that was shown to a woman who is a 24/7 librarian.”

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Surprising History of the Beatles’ Song "Blackbird," Why Children Need Books that Address "Dark" Issues

Michael Kronk
“He was visiting America. It is said that he was sitting, resting, when he heard a woman screaming. He looked up to see a black woman being surrounded by the police. The police had her handcuffed, and were beating her. He thought the woman had committed a terrible crime. He found out "the crime" she committed was to sit in a section reserved for whites.
Paul McCartney was shocked. There was no segregation in England. But, here in America, the land of freedom, this is how blacks were being treated. McCartney and the Beatles went back home to England, but he would remember what he saw, how he felt, the unfairness of it all.
He also remembered watching television and following the news in America, the race riots and what was happening in Little Rock, Arkansas, what was going on in the Civil Rights movement. He saw the picture of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford attempt to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School as an angry mob followed her, yelling, "Drag her over this tree! Let's take care of that n**ger!'" and “Lynch her! Lynch her!” “No n**ger b*tch is going to get in our school!”
McCartney couldn't believe this was happening in America. He thought of these women being mistreated, simply because of the color of her skin. He sat down and started writing.
Last year at a concert, he would meet two of the women who inspired him to write one of his most memorable songs, Thelma Mothershed Wair and Elizabeth Eckford, members of the Little Rock Nine (pictured here).
McCartney would tell the audience he was inspired by the courage of these women: "Way back in the Sixties, there was a lot of trouble going on over civil rights, particularly in Little Rock. We would notice this on the news back in England, so it's a really important place for us, because to me, this is where civil rights started. We would see what was going on and sympathize with the people going through those troubles, and it made me want to write a song that, if it ever got back to the people going through those troubles, it might just help them a little bit, and that's this next one."
He explained that when he started writing the song, he had in mind a black woman, but in England, "girls" were referred to as "birds." And, so the song started:
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting
for this moment to arise."
McCartney added that he and the Beatles cared passionately about the Civil Rights movement, "so this was really a song from me to a black woman, experiencing these problems in the States: ‘Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.’ "
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting
for this moment to be free."
- as told by Valgeir Sveinsson

Why We Shouldn't Shield Our Children From Darkness -- a Time.com essay

Matt de la Peña is the Newbery Medal-winning author of Last Stop on Market Street and, most recently, Love.

Editor’s note: On Jan. 12, Kate DiCamillo responded to de la Peña’s questions. Read her essay here.

Twice this past fall I was left speechless by a child.

The first time happened at an elementary school in Huntington, New York. I was standing on their auditorium stage, in front of a hundred or so students, and after talking to them about books and writing and the power of story, I fielded questions. The first five or six were the usual fare. Where do I get my ideas? How long does it take to write a book? Am I rich? (Hahahahaha!) But then a fifth-grade girl wearing bright green glasses stood and asked something different. “If you had the chance to meet an author you admire,” she said, “what would you ask?”

For whatever reason this girl’s question, on this morning, cut through any pretense that might ordinarily sneak into an author presentation. The day before, a man in Las Vegas had opened fire on concertgoers from his Mandalay Bay hotel room. Tensions between America and North Korea were reaching a boiling point. Puerto Ricans continued to suffer the nightmarish aftereffects of Hurricane Maria. I studied all the fresh-faced young people staring up at me, trying to square the light of childhood with the darkness in our current world.

All of this, of course, was wildly inappropriate for such a young audience — and had little to do with the question — so I just stood there in awkward silence, the seconds ticking by.

Eventually I gave the girl some pre-packaged sound bite about dealing with rejection, or the importance of revision, and then our time was up. But hours later, as I sat in a crowded airport, waiting for a delayed flight, I was still thinking about that girl’s question. What would I ask an author I admire? Writers like Kate DiCamillo came to mind. Sandra Cisneros. Christopher Paul Curtis.

Now I wanted a do-over.

A thoughtful question like that deserved a more thoughtful response.

Just as my plane reached its cruising altitude, it came to me. If I had the chance to ask Kate DiCamillo anything, it would be this: How honest can an author be with an auditorium full of elementary school kids? How honest should we be with our readers? Is the job of the writer for the very young to tell the truth or preserve innocence?

A few weeks ago, illustrator Loren Long and I learned that a major gatekeeper would not support our forthcoming picture book, Love, an exploration of love in a child’s life, unless we “softened” a certain illustration. In the scene, a despondent young boy hides beneath a piano with his dog, while his parents argue across the living room. There is an empty Old Fashioned glass resting on top of the piano. The feedback our publisher received was that the moment was a little too heavy for children. And it might make parents uncomfortable. This discouraging news led me to really examine, maybe for the first time in my career, the purpose of my picture book manuscripts. What was I trying to accomplish with these stories? What thoughts and feelings did I hope to evoke in children?

This particular project began innocently enough. Finding myself overwhelmed by the current divisiveness in our country, I set out to write a comforting poem about love. It was going to be something I could share with my own young daughter as well as every kid I met in every state I visited, red or blue. But when I read over one of the early drafts, something didn’t ring true. It was reassuring, uplifting even, but I had failed to acknowledge any notion of adversity.

So I started over.

A few weeks into the revision process, my wife and I received some bad news, and my daughter saw my wife openly cry for the first time. This rocked her little world and she began sobbing and clinging to my wife’s leg, begging to know what was happening. We settled her down and talked to her and eventually got her ready for bed. And as my wife read her a story about two turtles who stumble across a single hat, I studied my daughter’s tear-stained face. I couldn’t help thinking a fraction of her innocence had been lost that day. But maybe these minor episodes of loss are just as vital to the well-adjusted child’s development as moments of joy. Maybe instead of anxiously trying to protect our children from every little hurt and heartache, our job is to simply support them through such experiences. To talk to them. To hold them.

And maybe this idea also applied to the manuscript I was working on.

Loren and I ultimately fought to keep the “heavy” illustration. Aside from being an essential story beat, there’s also the issue of representation. In the book world, we often talk about the power of racial inclusion — and in this respect we’re beginning to see a real shift in the field — but many other facets of diversity remain in the shadows. For instance, an uncomfortable number of children out there right now are crouched beneath a metaphorical piano. There’s a power to seeing this largely unspoken part of our interior lives represented, too. And for those who’ve yet to experience that kind of sadness, I can’t think of a safer place to explore complex emotions for the first time than inside the pages of a book, while sitting in the lap of a loved one.

We are currently in a golden age of picture books, with a tremendous range to choose from. Some of the best are funny. Or silly. Or informative. Or socially aware. Or just plain reassuring. But I’d like to think there’s a place for the emotionally complex picture book, too. Jacqueline Woodson’s amazing Each Kindness comes to mind, in which the protagonist misses the opportunity to be kind to a classmate. Margaret Wise Brown’s The Dead Bird is a beautiful exploration of mourning from the point of view of children.

Which brings me to the second child who left me speechless last fall.

I was visiting an elementary school in Rome, Georgia, where I read and discussed one of my older books, Last Stop on Market Street, as I usually do. But at the end of the presentation I decided, on a whim, to read Love to them, too, even though it wasn’t out yet. I projected Loren’s illustrations as I recited the poem from memory, and after I finished, something remarkable happened. A boy immediately raised his hand, and I called on him, and he told me in front of the entire group, “When you just read that to us I got this feeling. In my heart. And I thought of my ancestors. Mostly my grandma, though … because she always gave us so much love. And she’s gone now.”

And then he started quietly crying.

And a handful of the teachers started crying, too.

I nearly lost it myself. Right there in front of 150 third graders. It took me several minutes to compose myself and thank him for his comment.

On the way back to my hotel, I was still thinking about that boy, and his raw emotional response. I felt so lucky to have been there to witness it. I thought of all the boys growing up in working-class neighborhoods around the country who are terrified to show any emotion. Because that’s how I grew up, too — terrified. Yet this young guy was brave enough to raise his hand, in front of everyone, and share how he felt after listening to me read a book. And when he began to cry a few of his classmates patted his little shoulders in a show of support. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so moved inside the walls of a school.

I hope one day I’ll have the chance to formally ask Kate DiCamillo my questions about innocence and truth. But I do know this: My experience in Rome, Georgia? That’s why I write books. Because the little story I’m working on alone in a room, day after day, might one day give some kid out there an opportunity to “feel.” And if I’m ever there to see it in person again, next time hopefully I’ll be brave enough to let myself cry, too.

Read Kate DiCamillo's wonderful response (citing Charlotte's Web) here:  http://time.com/5099463/kate-dicamillo-kids-books-sad/

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Farewell from Carol Simon Levin

Dear Bridgewater Library Patrons and Friends,

You may have noticed that this blog is no longer showing events at the Bridgewater Library. In late 2016, I was informed that the Marketing Department was creating its own quarterly online Youth Services Newsletter and I could no longer create the blog at the library. So for the past year, I have been writing "Out and About in Bridgewater" on my own time. Now all my time is my own.

On December 11th, I was informed that because of a series of actions I had taken -- including mentioning to Marketing in the spring that it appeared our programs might not be showing up in the Courier-News Calendar section, emailing colleagues in the summer asking if anyone had received a DisABILITIES poster from the County, putting up an impromptu "Day of the Dead" Display on Halloween to coincide with Disney's new film "Coco," and using an older version of the "Books for Kids" poster on the reference desk -- I was “insubordinate” and would no longer be permitted to work at the Somerset County Library System. I was given the option of termination or retirement and was immediately shown the door.

I had not been accused of child endangerment or theft of library funds or materials -- I had tried to help patrons find our programs and materials!  And for this, I was ordered to leave library employment without even getting the chance to return to my office, say goodbye to my colleagues, or to create a farewell program for your wonderful children.

And so, after 25 years at the Bridgewater Library, I have accepted an early retirement offer and have left the Somerset County Library System. The agreement I signed will not allow me to work again at any branch of the Somerset County Library System.

I am so sorry I couldn’t say goodbye to you at my library programs or the youth services reference desk. I plan to attend the Library Commission meeting on Wednesday January 10th at 7 p.m. at the Bridgewater Library if anyone wants to say goodbye in person – and plan to stay active in the community so may see many of you around the area.

It has been my great pleasure during these last 25 years to share a kaleidoscope of programs with your wonderful children – introducing them to my favorite books (and through them to stories, people and ideas to expand their minds and horizons), time-traveling from Pompeii to Picasso, inspiring them to create art and architecture, to explore engineering, science, and mathematics, to write their own books, and use their imagination and creativity to the fullest.

I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing stories, songs, and activities with a quarter-century of preschoolers as well as being able to help you, your children, and your students at the reference desk.


I will miss you all.

I have a busy future ahead – I plan to become a freelance librarian, doing programs for adults and children in various venues in area communities (if you know of any in particular who might want to have me, please have them get in touch with me), writing about “fascinating women history forgot,” and doing my best to make this world a little better. You can find my upcoming programs at tellingherstories.com and children's program details at carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com

Feel free to stay in touch. I plan to stay active in the community so may see many of you around the area. I would be delighted to hear from you and am always happy to help with questions or reading suggestions. My email is cslevin59 (at) gmail.com. 

It has been a wonderful journey together. A special thank you to the Muslim Community of Middlesex County for your "Everyday Heroes" award, to the Library Commission for the commendation for my book Remembering the Ladies and, most of all, to all of you who have made my working days an absolute delight.

Wishing you all a happy & healthy 2018!  Carol Simon Levin

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." ~ Margaret Mead, anthropologist.

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” ~ Helen Keller

"The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day." ~ Gloria Steinem

"I figure if a girl wants to be a legend, she should go ahead and be one." ~ Calamity Jane (1852-1903), American frontierswoman



A walk down memory lane --  a few of the programs from the past few years (you can see more pictures by clicking on the titles)
Celebrating The Great American Eclipse 2017


Fairytale Engineering "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" -- Building a Better Bridge




STEM Playgrounds:






Falling for Rapunzel -- Egg Dropping:




Cardboard Construction Challenge:

Pencil  & Rocket                                                         Train & Doghouse

Exploring Mathematics from a Perfect Square to Pi Day!


Hands Across the World



Tut Tut: Visiting Ancient Egypt:

Picture This: Keith Haring: Characters at Play


Imagine the Possibilities!
 Squiggle Pictures:


Halloween Fun:


Halloween Hootenany 011image

Building Our Own Monsters:


Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Curious George:


Literary Field Day with The Tortoise & the Hare:


Celebrating Young Authors and Illustrators:



Playing with Poetry:


Heart of Art–Drawing Lessons with the BRRHS Art Honors Club


Making a “Recycled Orchestra” inspired by the book “Ada’s Violin”


Tap Those Shoes!


Celebrating Friendship and Making Animals with Hearts on Valentine's Day:

Chinese New Year: Celebrating the Year of the Chicken:



Seussapalooza!! Read Across America Day


It has been tremendously rewarding and fun – thanks to all of you! – Carol (aka “The Cat in the Hat”)


Read more: www.tapinto.net/towns/bridgewater-slash-raritan/articles/beloved-librarian-leaves-bridgewater-branch-libra