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Reilly’s Life is an animated series aimed at children who have autism. The show will provide a forum that demonstrates to autistic children, their families, caregivers, practitioners and general audiences that they are not alone in this world and society values and appreciates their experience as autistic individuals. It is a tool in the acceptance and awareness of autistic behaviors that we hope will help society embrace autism as a rich and diverse way of living in this world. It shows some of the challenges faced by children with autism and possible solutions that may help, or at least facilitate a basic understanding of the challenges faced by Reilly.

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Reilly’s Life is created by Sinead Clancy. She is mother to a ten-year-old son with autism. After the initial diagnosis she followed the usual path of blame, anger, fear and looked for the elusive “cure.” But quickly she realized that autism was as much a part of her son as breathing and she now embraces his autistic way of being. Finding a path for him where he could co-exist in a world where autism and autistic identity is not embraced or fully understood sowed the seeds for Reilly’s Life.

Each episode will be 10 minutes of 2D animation followed by a live action bumper that shows children or adults experiencing the unique strengths and challenges of autism in the context of the episode. The show highlights the breadth and depth of autistic life while dealing with some of the common challenges and barriers children with autism face.

 The name is pulled from Sinead’s Irish roots. Someone who is enjoying life to the fullest with no worries is said to have “the life of Reilly.”

Christmas Books for Children

I love Christmas. I think it’s a wonderful time of sharing, caring, and hope. Fittingly, there are loads and loads of books written about this holiday and its various aspects. My family and I enjoy many of them–books about Santa, presents, reindeer and other animals, food, and traditions. It’s important to my family that we focus on the birth of Jesus, in addition to enjoying the more secular aspects of the celebrations. Here are books on the Nativity that we read or share at Christmas.

Baby’s First Nativity written by Muff Singer and illustrated by Peter Stevenson (Reader’s Digest Children’s Books Publishing)

Using simpleIMG_6053.JPG rhymes that will keep young children (ages 1-3) interested, this board book has cut-outs on the first few pages that create a peeking window. The book includes activities on each of its spreads. Shepherds in the Fields: On hills above Bethlehem, shepherds and sheep suddenly awoke from their peaceful night’s sleep. The sky was filled with angels who started to sing, “Born in a stable is Jesus, your king.” [Pretend you are a shepherd. Stretch and yawn like you are waking up.] The colors are vibrant and the illustrations are adorable.

On This Special Night written by Claire Freedman and illustrated by Simon Mendez (Scholastic)

This is a paperback book for ages 4-8. Little Kitten iIMG_6047.JPGs snuggled warm next to Mother Cat in a barn when a thirsty donkey arrives. Soon, a lamb, mice and calf join them. All are very tired from their journeys. Little Kitten wonders why the stars are shining so brightly. The other animals know. Calf smiled, his big, brown eyes shining. “Tonight is a very special night,” he said. “Something amazing is going to happen.”  “Come with us–and you’ll see it, too!” squeaked the mice. Little Kitten and Mother Cat follow the animals to see a very special baby. The illustrations are very realistic and luminous in their colors.

Silent Night, Holy Night: Book and Advent Calendar illustrated by Maja Dusíková (NorthSouth)

I adore this book. The cover is an Advent calendar, so we look at it every day. The illustrations are siIMG_6051.JPGmply beautiful, and are representations of the carol’s lyrics. For instance, Silent night, holy night features a winter wonderland scene complete with snow-covered pine trees and houses with rabbits huddling under a full moon. My favorite scene is All is calm, which shows a closer view of the houses with their trees, wreaths and candles and the back of a cat sitting on a roof enjoying the serenity. The history of the carol, which was written by Father Josef Mohr and set to music by church organist Franz Gruber in 1818, is included, as is the musical arrangement with lyrics.

Stable in Bethlehem: A Christmas Counting Book by Joy N. Hulme and illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Sterling)

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The countdown to the Nativity is told in this book for 3-5 year olds. Bethlehem awaits the birth of Jesus, and the animals are no different. Seven soft sheep are still awake and see the stars grow bright. Guarding the fold, six faithful dogs are ever alert nearby…From eastern lands, four camels come with humps and shaggy fur. The illustrations are luminous in their golden hues.

The Christmas Baby written by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Richard Cowdrey (Simon & Schuster)

IMG_6055.JPGThe birth of Jesus is celebrated by the beasts in the stable and by the angels in the heavens. When the baby was born, the beasts shouted with joy. “Have you heard?” they whinnied and brayed and mooed and barked and bleated. “He is come!”  This book is for ages 2-5, and features cherub-like angels and sweet animal faces. It is also suitable as a gift for new parents, as the end of the book features a question for today’s newborns: And you–when that dear little baby was you–do you know what you did? … You smiled back at us all with God’s own smile!

The Christmas Story (A Mini Magic Color Book) written by Janet Sacks and illustrated by Luana Rinaldo (Sterling/Pinwheel Books)IMG_6050.JPG

A board book perfect for ages 1-3, who will learn colors along with the Nativity story. Each of the five spreads includes a pull-out tab that changes the character’s color. Baby Jesus is born in Bethlehem. He sleeps in a manger. Here is baby Jesus. What color is the manger with baby Jesus? [Pull the tab.] The manger is brown. Using age-appropriate language, the book is colorfully illustrated with cartoon-like images.

The First Christmas: A Pop-up Nativity Book written by Justine Swain-Smith and Marie Greenwood, illustrated by Ingela Peterson, and paper engineered by Allison Gardner (Discovery Kids Books)IMG_6048.JPG

This book is a treasure, and is possibly my youngest child’s favorite Christmas book. It is an interactive, pop-up book that comes complete with a pull-out Nativity scene and Advent calendar. The text is for older children (ages 6-10). Mary and Joseph were very happy to have found a place to rest at last. That night in the stable, Mary gave birth to her baby son. She wrapped him baby Jesus in strips of cloth to keep him warm. However, younger children will find the book enjoyable and accessible for its images and pop-ups.

The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats (Penguin Putnam)IMG_6054.JPG

This paperback book for ages 3-6 is a representation of the carol. The little drummer boy spots the procession of the Three Kings and joins in.

Baby Jesus (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / I am a poor boy, too (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / I have no gift to bring pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / That’s fit to give a king (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum) / Shall I play for you (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / On my drum? 

The artwork, while in muted colors, is vivid and almost other-worldly and includes patterns. The carol’s words and musical arrangement by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone are also included.

The Story of Christmas written by Patricia A. Pingry and illustrated by Rebecca Thornburgh (Candy Cane Press)

IMG_6052.JPGA wonderful way to introduce the Christmas story to children ages 2-5, this board book presents simple language that helps connect the biblical story to today’s celebrations. For example, Do you know why we give gifts at Christmas? We give presents because it is Jesus’ birthday. They [the Wise Men] brought presents because they loved Him. We give gifts at Christmas to show our love. The text’s font and multiple colors engage the young readers, and the illustrations are lovely.

Merry Christmas, and happy reading!

Why April 24 Matters

NOTICE: This post contains subject matter of a sensitive nature and graphic images. 

 Twitter is blowing up with the hashtags #TurkeyFailed and #ArmenianGenocide. Why? April 24 is the official date of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide, and 2014 marks the 99th anniversary of those atrocities.

On April 24, 1915, the Turkish government actively began plans to massacre Armenians. Over the course of a few years, they murdered 1.5 million Armenians in the first act of genocide in the 20th century. Whole villages were rounded up and executed. Men and women were raped and tortured in heinous acts. Thousands upon hundreds of thousands were sent on death marches, forced to walk without water or food until they died. Young children were sold by Turkish soldiers or kidnapped by families and taken as slaves.

Turkish official teases starving Armenian children by showing them a piece of bread during the Armenian Genocide in 1915

An Armenian Child Starved to Death

Bodies of Armenian Children

 

 

 

 

Here is video testimony of Astrid, a Genocide survivor.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCCz1tGER7M 

 These events were widely accounted for, documented by, and written about by English, French, German, and American witnesses, including Henry Morgenthau, the United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He formed the Committee on Armenian Atrocities to raise awareness and to supply aid. Unfortunately, nothing stopped the Turkish government from carrying out their campaign of annihilation, especially as World War I served as a cover for their crimes. armenian poster

Despite Turkey’s plans to annihilate an entire ethnicity, a few Armenians survived. One was my maternal grandmother, Siranoush. She was very young at the time of the Genocide, perhaps three or four, so young that she could not remember her surname. She was a survivor of the battle of Musa Dagh (Musa Ler, Mountain of Moses) and stayed in a refugee camp in Egypt. She was sent back to Musa Dagh as an orphan after the Genocide was over. When she got married, she moved to Antioch in Syria and from there to Damascus and then Beirut, Lebanon. None of this was an easy life. She was widowed at a young age and left with five children. The youngest is my mother. Despite terrible economic hardship and having to flee yet again due to Lebanon’s civil war, my Nana didn’t just survive, she lived. She had many grandchildren and was honored by her family until her death.

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My maternal grandmother

Had Turkey been stopped, perhaps my grandmother and other grandparents would have had much easier, happier lives. Perhaps the millions of Armenians would have been saved. Perhaps the country of Armenia would not struggle economically-—had more men and women survived to till its soil and build its industry. Perhaps my heart and those of my fellow Armenians would not have to grieve for the horrors our ancestors faced. Perhaps my grandparents would not have been orphaned. Perhaps my parents and I would not have been products of the Diaspora. Perhaps my children would have happier stories to tell about their ancestral history. Perhaps April 24 would be a date of celebration instead of commemoration.

But the Genocide happened. Despite Turkey’s denial, despite its campaigns to revise history, despite its attempts to extricate itself from wrongdoing, Turkey murdered 1.5 million Armenians.

BUT Turkey failed in its attempt to wipe out a culture. It failed because the Armenian culture is alive and strong and well. It failed because millions of Armenians around the world recognize that they must continue despite a tragic past and the burdens of such a history. It failed because we still sing songs and listen to our music. We still recite our literature. We still pray our “Hayr Mer” (Our Father). It failed due to the bravery of those who stood against it. It failed because I, like so many others, am here today. It failed because my children and their generation know their history. It failed because the Armenian Genocide will not be forgotten.

And that is why, 99 years later, April 24 matters.

Genocide memorial

POSTSCRIPT

To this day, Turkey does not recognize the Genocide and actively teaches against it. Twenty-one countries and 43 states of the USA do recognize the Genocide.

Please consider signing the Change.org petition urging the US Congress to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

If you would like to learn more:

Facing History, Facing Ourselves: The Armenian Genocide

The Armenian National Institute

The History Channel: The Armenian Genocide

The United Human Rights Council

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian, a National Book Award finalist

The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response by Peter Balkian

The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Powers, Pulitzer Prize winner and currently the US Ambassador to the United Nations

The Sandcastle Girls by New York Times bestseller, Chris Bohjalian

Zabelle by Nancy Kricorian

(While the above books are linked to Amazon for book descriptions, please consider purchasing them from a local bookstore.)