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It’s 4:50 p.m. on a Wednesday, and this is the scene at my house: I’m madly rushing to finish up cooking dinner, while tripping on my one-year-old who, in preparation for her witching hour, has thrown herself at my feet. Meanwhile, the five-year-old is bemoaning his starvation, despite the fact that he had a snack an hour ago, and his dinnertime smoothie is already in front of him.


I slam their food on the table, like an ornery waitress at one of those 50s-themed diners, but I won’t be sitting down with my kids to eat tonight. Sure, I may plop down in exhaustion on the chair next to my son, but I’ll be up in three minutes, cleaning up spilled milk from my kindergartner or thrown food from the toddler.

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My husband won’t be joining us either, thanks to his Silicon Valley job with a long commute and even longer hours.

Yet again, we won’t be having a family dinner together. Even though I know my husband and I spend plenty of time with our young children, I still feel guilty from seeing report after report extol the virtues of having every member in the family sit down together for an evening meal.

I know we’re not the only family who’s not having dinner together tonight and feeling bad about it. But a study from 2012 can assuage our guilt. Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that family dinner itself did not create the benefits that have been previously reported in children whose families share nightly mealtime. Those benefits were lower obesity rates, greater academic success, and fewer instances of substance abuse and delinquent behavior. Instead, family dinner was “a marker for families that have a bundle of traits that contribute to good child outcomes,” MinnPost reported.

Families that regularly have mealtime together tend to have more time and money and are more likely to have a non-employed stay-at-home mother than families who don’t dine together, according to the report.

Unlike in previous studies on family mealtimes, researchers for the University of Minnesota report were able to use data that asked both children and parents questions about their family life, and it asked these questions at several different times during the participants’ childhoods. The data came from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, a long-term study of a sample of 18,000 children.

The study’s conclusion is a classic example of confusing correlation for causation. It’s also reminiscent of recent research that indicates that the previously-reported benefits of breastfeeding have been exaggerated. (Breastfed babies tend to be in families with more resources than formula-fed children, and this socioeconomic status is more likely the cause of these children’s better health and well-being.)

In a similar vein, Bruce Feiler, a New York Times columnist and author of “The Secrets of Happy Families,” argued that it’s not the family dinner that yields the benefits, but the quality time spent together – no matter the occasion or time of day.

In his research into tens of thousands of cataloged chats around the dinner table, Feiler found that there is actually only 10 minutes of real conversation.

“The rest is taken up with ‘take your elbows off the table’ and ‘pass the ketchup’ and all that kind of stuff,” he told radio program “The Splendid Table.”

So if regular family dinners don’t work for your family – like mine – there’s no need to feel guilty. Ann Meier, co-author of the University of Minnesota study and University of Minnesota associate professor of sociology, told MinnPost that family meals “may be a nice kind of ritual context for good parenting to happen,” but families can connect with each other at other times and in other ways.

Feiler came to a similar conclusion, saying that as long as families can find 10-15 minutes a day to bond and have that “real conversation,” they will reap the same benefits as having family dinner. Taking the concept of “time-shifting” from the work world, he said, families who can’t eat together nightly can simply time-shift their family time.

How can your busy family carve out 15-30 minutes a day to check in and spend quality time together? Here are five alternatives to the revered family dinner:

Family breakfast

This is one of the alternate rituals Feiler recommended, but is family breakfast a truly viable option for families scrambling to pack lunches, make daycare and school dropoff, and get to work? Apparently so, I found when I crowd sourced family-dinner-alternative ideas from friends and parenting groups on Facebook.

“We only do family dinner one to three times per week, but we have breakfast together every morning,” said Beth Wolf, mom of two children under four in Chicago. “The kids get us up early anyway!”

Family breakfast is an ideal choice for families with little ones who are up at the crack of dawn. If you’re up with your kids and sleep deprived long before you have to start your morning commute, why not share some eggs and toast together?

Video chats

Since my kids changed their nap schedules this summer and started going to bed at 7 p.m. – before my husband even gets home from work – an evening video call through the Houseparty app has become part of my family’s daily routine. It’s a chance for my son to tell Daddy about what happened at transitional kindergarten that day and the toddler to say “Dada, Dada” excitedly when she sees her dad’s face – and a great replacement for the family dinner that doesn’t work with our family’s schedule.

Family video chats are well suited for families where a parent travels a lot or works odd hours, like Laura Birks-Reinert’s family in New Jersey. Her husband works nights, so she and her twin six-year-old boys Skype with Daddy at 7 p.m. every day, sometimes during bath time.

Play

Many families feel like mealtimes aren’t the best time for real conversation anyway. Families with young children often spend most of dinnertime cleaning up spills and managing one crisis after another. Tweens and teens feel like they’re being interrogated about school and friends when everyone is gathered at the dinner table, staring at them.

Family play time might, in fact, be a better way to spend quality time than mealtimes.

“In our home, our family spends plenty of time together,” said Teresa Currivan, parent coach and mother to an 11-year-old in Oakland, Calif. “As long as some of that is quality time, I’m fine skipping the family dinner. Our family does improv games together, Nerf battles, etc. Play lends itself to more connection than sitting and eating together all the time – at least for my gang.”

Blogger and author Kelly Holmes has instituted five to 10 minutes of family cuddle time in bed after everyone returns from work and school to give her family of five a chance to re-connect before their busy evening routine starts.

While family play happens more spontaneously with little ones, there’s still ways to engage with older kids. Families can gather for weekend board game nights or participate in daily conversation games that author Bruce Feiler recommended. Those games include “Bad and Good,” in which every family member takes a turn telling one thing that was good about their day and one that was bad, and “Pain Points,” where everyone talks about a difficult situation they’re facing.

Special weekly routines

Like the weekend board game nights I previously mentioned, creating weekly family traditions is another great way to bond, especially as your kids grow older and want to spend less time with you and more time hiding in their rooms (on Snapchat with friends).

Move family dinner to Sunday night, and invite the kids to help you prep and cook. Bring the family together for Sunday brunch, go for a walk Sunday afternoon before dinner, or sit down for a movie and bowl of popcorn Saturday night.

Driving time

Make use of all those hours you spend in the car, shuttling the kids to and from after-school activities. Instead of conversation during family dinner, this is where your family’s real discussions can happen.

Car chats are what works best for Jacqui Pastoral-Conclara and her husband in San Bruno, California, as they drive their three boys, aged 11, 13 and 15, to after-school sports and weekend travel tournaments.

“I found that the time we drive to the games is the perfect opportunity to connect with my kids,” she said. “They tend to be introspective and profound in these conversations when trapped traveling in the car with their parents.”

And if your child is feeling a bit reticent about opening up on their own during the drive, try one of Feiler’s conversational games: “Bad and Good” or “Pain Points.”

A special note about teenagers

Remember that University of Minnesota study showing that family dinner isn’t what leads to the positive outcomes in children? There’s one exception – teenagers. (Teenagers are always the exception, right?)

According to the researchers, adolescents whose families shared mealtimes tended to report fewer symptoms of depression. Study author Ann Meier theorized that these regular family meals might be an opportunity for parents to check on their teenager’s emotional well-being and intervene if necessary.

Note: There was no similar association between family dinner and adolescent substance abuse or delinquency, like shoplifting or damaging property.

But again, if you’re a parent of teenagers and can’t fit nightly family mealtimes into your schedule, connect with your kids with Sunday dinner or conversation during car rides.

No matter what your children’s ages, try to take at least 10-15 minutes a day to really be there for them. Put down your phone, turn off the TV or car radio, open your ears, and see what happens.

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The holidays are quickly on their way, and while there are tons of ways to celebrate, you should feel free to get a little creative with it and make your own traditions (there's no law requiring you to dress everyone in matching red velvet jumpers to sit on Santa's lap). So instead of battling between getting the perfect picture and your baby's natural urge to wiggle, harness the power of those inevitable Hallmark moments—the first giggle, the budding personality, the two-toothed grin—to make your December super special.

Here are six new traditions you can start to meet your little one where they are and celebrate joy in this season—without all the stress.

1. Make DIY ornaments

Decorating the tree is a beloved tradition, and having a little one is all the more reason to get into the spirit of it. Get the baby—and the rest of the family—involved in the fun by letting everyone color or paint on an unbreakable, homemade ornament and hang them towards the bottom of the tree. And sure, your infant may not create any masterpieces at this age, but not only will the precious family heirlooms stay higher up (read: away from tiny hands), you'll also be creating keepsakes to build on for years to come.

2. Bring a holiday scene to life

Connecting your children to the spirit of the season is an important part of teaching them what it's all about, but it's not always so easy to do through books and stories alone. Instead, offer them the chance to live it out! Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas or another significant holiday, playing pretend is the ideal way to teach and have fun along the way for everyone in the family. Use a kid-friendly nativity book as a guide or make your own menorah as you explore the story of the oil that burned for 8 nights—whatever your religion, there's an important tale to tell.

3. Make video cards

There is joy in receiving physical mail and holiday cards are a wonderful way to make your loved ones feel special. But don't stop there! Record a video greeting to send to your nearest and dearest to keep even the most far-away relatives feel like they're right there with you. Everyone will love seeing the baby's latest milestones in live-action, and it's a great way to spread the season's warmest greetings.

4. Start a time capsule box

Making (and maintaining) a baby book is a fabulous idea, but sometimes keeping it up-to-date gets lost in the shuffle of parenthood. Use the holiday season as a time to reconnect with all those beloved memories for your kiddo by starting an annual time capsule box: Each year, have all members of the family add one item of their choosing (or your choosing, depending on age) to the box and label it with a little note. Things can range from a favorite holiday-themed blanket or toy to something they no longer need but aren't ready to throw away.

5. Begin a culinary tradition

Nothing says "cozy" like a yummy-smelling kitchen filled with laughter. While your tot may still be too small to really help in the kitchen, it's never too early to kickstart their love of cooking. Pick a recipe you'll make every year and get them "involved" with a spoon and an empty mixing bowl. You'll get to enjoy the fruits of your labor together and it'll help encourage them to cook with you more year-round, too.

6. Play king for a day

We all know that as babies grow up—independence is a priority, no matter how ready for it we really are. This year, give them the gift of being in charge. By allowing your little one to eat what they want, wear what they pick (a sparkly tutu? No problem. An adorable Christmas cape? Great!) and play with what they prefer, you'll be empowering them with a sense of self and giving yourself the gift of hilarious photo ops for years to come.

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As an ESPN anchor Kevin Negandhi talks to a lot of pro athletes. But as a parent he knows that sometimes raising kids is as hard as training for the big leagues (seriously, science proves that kids energy levels surpass endurance athletes' and parents are running after those kids).

Negandhi knows what it's like to be face-to-face with athletes that so many people idolize, but he also knows that a parent can be more influential than any big league idol, and that's why he's working with Dove Men+Care SPORTCARE to put real dads in the spotlight.

"We have a platform to showcase what they do as everyday athletes, but also as everyday men, everyday fathers," says Negandhi, who has three kids himself. He tells Motherly he tries to make sure he's active with his kids—playing sports with them so that they understand the importance of staying active—but also staying active with the kids when the touch football ends and the real parenting endurance test begins. Like many modern fathers, Negandhi is committed to doing more childcare than his own father did.

"My mom did everything in our house," he tells Motherly. "My dad worked, but my mom worked as well. And she did everything. She raised us. But at the same time she showed me another side. And many times growing up I said, 'How can I be different than my father?'"

Being involved with his kids and doing more of the unpaid work in his household than his own dad did is how Negandhi is doing it, and he's taking time to showcase three fellow dads who—while sharing their names with professional athletes—certainly don't get as much credit as the pros.

That is actually something of a problem in media right now. According to a recent survey by Dove Men+Care, 70% of men wish regular guys who are athletes (but not professionals) got more attention in sports media. Because as much as winning the Superbowl or making it to the major leagues should be celebrated, being a dad who is physically active and active in raising his kids should be celebrated, too.

Research shows that when kids grow up seeing dads exercise they are healthier, and while these three men happen to share their names with famous athletes, they don't get the same glory. So Negandhi and Dove Men+Care are giving these hard working dads some recognition.

Alvin Suarez

Alvin Suarez is teaching his kids that having a disability doesn't disqualify you from being an athlete. As a visually-impaired person, Alvin isn't the standard athlete we see represented in media. He plays Goalball, a sport that relies on keen ear-hand coordination, and he is certainly a keen father, chasing after his twin girls.

Alvin says the difference between sports and fatherhood is that you can train for sports, while parenthood takes you by surprise. "I try to be a good role model for my daughters and I want everyone to know that everyone has potential and that there is no such thing as a nobody."

Alvin has won championships as a Goalball player, but says holding his daughters in his arms for the first time was like winning a medal but multiplied by a million.

Sean Williams

Sean Williams is committed to his community and his kids. He uses physical fitness to connect with his kids and to, literally, save lives. A volunteer firefighter, Sean keeps fit so that he can use his body and energy to maximum impact. He isn't just changing the lives of people impacted by fires, but also his fellow dads.

The founder of The Dad Gang, an organization committed to celebrating and telling the real story of black fatherhood, Sean has created a space for dads to connect with their children and each other while staying active.

"One of the challenges we put out on social media is where you do pushups with our kids on our backs and that merges fatherhood and fitness," he explains.

If there was a Super Bowl for community service, Sean would be wearing the ring.

Chris Paul

A Marine Corps veteran, Chris needs a ton of energy to keep up with his blended family. It started out as an "all-girl Brady Bunch" he explains, as his wife and he had six daughters between them, but they've since added a boy to the family which now included seven kids. .

He's basically got his own sports team at home so it makes sense that Chris is super committed to staying fit for them. The Marine turned realtor takes time to help other dads in his community stay fit and knows when to draw boundaries to protect his time with his kids.

He's got some good endurance, but he's not going to work 15 hours a day when his kids are waiting at home for him. Chris says in former times dads were often passive figures in their kids' lives as the child rearing was done by others.

Like the other men, he's changing that. "I'm an active participant and I want to make sure that I can contribute to my children's lives."

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Back in 2017 when we learned Beyoncé was starring in a new remake of The Lion King I was thrilled. My son (my only child) was almost 2 years old and I told my partner I wanted The Lion King to be our son's first movie theatre experience. Going to see the original Lion King in a movie theatre was a big deal to me as a kid and I wanted to recreate that experience for my son.

Flash forward to July 2019 and The Lion King is in theaters—but my son and I are not. Turns out I really overestimated how long 3-year-olds can sit still. While my son loves watching 1994's Lion King at home (he always stands on the couch and lifts his stuffed animals to the sky during "Circle of Life") he's just not quite subdued enough for the cinema yet.

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So we have been waiting to see The Lion King at home, and now we finally can! October 11 marks the film's digital home video release, and the Blu-ray hits stores on October 22.

Rob Legato, a VFX supervisor on the film, tells Motherly that "the visuals are so well preserved on 4K and newer television sets that it is literally the mini theatre experience and you're not missing much by seeing it at home."

Basically, the digital version is going to be just as awesome as seeing it in theaters, except that we will be able to pause for potty breaks and my kiddo can stand on his seat pretending to be Rafiki without blocking anyone's view.

The movie is, of course, incredible, but so are the animals it's based on. Screening the movie at home is an amazing way to start conversations with your kids about the various animals in the film as they are of course more similar to the real animals they are based on then their animated counterparts were in 1994.

The filmmakers went to Africa to research the animals they were bringing to life and they also spent a ton of time at the Harambe Wildlife Reserve inside Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida watching various species to try to make their movements as realistic as possible. There, 34 species live on 110 acres and the filmmakers got to watch them closely, making this film incredibly detailed.

Some of the animal experts who work with these animals on a daily basis say that when they watch The Lion King, they can actually tell which characters are based on which of the animals they know in real life.

"This film presented a really wonderful and unique opportunity to bring the production crew to the animals here at Disney's Animal Kingdom. They spent about 6 weeks here collecting reference footage of the animals here and we partnered really closely with the animal care teams at Disney's Animal Kingdom to make sure that all of the filming that we were doing, the impact to the animals was minimized," says Jon Ross of Disney's Animals in TV and Film department

The film crew watched the animals from a distance, which is something families can also do at Disney's Animal Kingdom by taking the Kilimanjaro Safari or staying in Jambo House at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where giraffes and other animals can be seen right from hotel balconies.

But the work Disney is doing with the animals is more than a tourist attraction. The company is serious about conservation and protecting the animal species featured in the park and in its films. "Tied to the Lion King film we launched the Protect the Pride initiative," Claire Martin of Disney's Conservation & Partnerships team tells Motherly. "We realized that we'd lost half of the world's lions since the first Lion King film debuted and we want to turn that around, so we're working with the Wildlife Conservation Network's Lion Recovery Fund to help their vision to double the amount of lions in the wild by 2050," she explains.

Marin suggests that parents watching The Lion King with their kids can use the film to talk to their children about conservation issues and continue the education long after the end credits roll. "We encourage people to learn more, visit the website, get involved and learn more about how they can make an impact on lions and other wildlife across Africa," says Martin.

Through the website, parents can even download an activity packet (you can print it and make your kids a cool book) with all kinds of information and cool activities and to help kids feed their lion obsession in an educational way even when screen time is over.

The Lion King is available to stream now and will be on Blu-ray October 22 (with even more educational features about the animals!)

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For those without a toddler glued to the screen, Blippi is the colorfully dressed, bespectacled YouTube alter ego of Stevin John. He delights children by acting like a little kid as he visits farms, indoor playgrounds, construction sites and more, teaching simple lessons and singing songs about everything he sees. His channel has 5.71 million subscribers, with hits like "The Excavator Song" racking up 50 million views.

This kind of success meant he was long overdue to take the show on the road. Earlier this week, he announced a 30-date U.S. tour with an interview on Billboard, as well as on his social media. But now parents of Blippi fans, are concerned that they won't get the "real" Blippi when they attend Blippi Live shows next year.

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Parents flocked to his site to purchase tickets, which cost $26-$70, for the shows running in February and March 2020. But some of them hadn't read the interview, nor did they notice the fine print on the FAQ page of the Blippi Live site that said Stevin John himself was not going to be on the stage.

"I won't be on the road, but I am obviously extremely involved with the whole process," John told Billboard. "Blippi is as a character and I'm the creative force behind it, but since YouTube is a monster and all of these platforms are really crazy I can't go on the road for many weeks or months at a time."

Some parents had even spent $40-$51 on the after-show meet-and-greet before they realized that their kids would be meeting an unfamiliar "performer" instead of John. Many reacted with outrage and immediately tried to get a refund, according to Buzzfeed News.

"I didn't find out until five seconds after I submitted my payment and Ticketmaster refused to refund me," Angelina Sakowski told Buzzfeed after she bought tickets to a New Jersey show.

Stephen Shaw, the producer and promoter of the Blippi Live show, told Buzzfeed that his company would be sending parents a letter informing them about the replacement performer and would offer refunds.

They have also since added this line to the Blippi Live site: "Stevin John is the creator of Blippi and acts as the writer and creative force behind the Blippi character. Now that Blippi has evolved as a character he is excited that a dynamic stage performer has been cast as Blippi to entertain and thrill audiences across all of the tour markets."

It's hard to guess whether Blippi's actual target audience—i.e., not the upset parents—would care that stage Blippi was a slightly different person than the one they see on screens. After all, the Baby Sharks in the live show are 3D and therefore slightly different from the animated versions we all know and love/hate.

Stevin John issued a statement on the official Blippi Instagram account this week, which reads, in part: "We tried to make it clear that I would not be the character at the live show (via Billboard Exclusive Interview + FAQ on BlippiLive.com) but I'm sorry it seems that wasn't enough. We have adjusted and continue to make it even more apparent that it's not going to be me on stage. I will be the creative force behind the live show, as a producer, a writer, and also I am personally casting the live theater performer to play the character on stage."

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Today, October 11th, is the International Day of the Girl. To celebrate, we curated our favorite books showcasing incredible girls from around the globe. These picks challenge the girl-boy binary by breaking gender stereotypes and demonstrate how gender intersects with race, culture and class. These books celebrate the power of girls, and inspire us to create a world where kids are free to be regardless of their gender.

Each of these books have been featured in the Little Feminist book club, and our subscribers have read and loved them all!

1. Rosa Loves Cars

Ages 0-4

What's more empowering than doing what you love? Cars, dinosaurs, dolls, dresses—all kids can love all of these and so much more! We love Rosa's joy in all things wheeled from fire trucks to car races. Celebrate the freedom to play with this adorable board book series.

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2. We are Little Feminists series

Ages 0-5

Babies love photos of babies. All kids deserve diverse books. Put that together and what do you get? Our book series!! These three books (Hair, On-the-Go and Family) feature amazing community-sourced photographs of all sorts of people moving, laughing and loving in all sorts of ways. You and your kiddos will want to look at them again and again!

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3. Big Mooncake for Little Star

Ages 2-6

Breathtaking illustrations and sweetest insatiable sweet tooth make this book unforgettable. Little Star keeps craving the big mooncake, and her sneaky bedtime nibbles will make you want a bite too! This #OwnVoices story draws on the author's Taiwanese roots to highlight the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. We love how this story perfectly captures love, anticipation and celebration for little readers.

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4. Drum Dream Girl

Ages 3-7

Gender minorities (read everyone who's not a cisgendered male) have been historically excluded from countless activities and institutions: schools, sports, and even drumming. We love this unique story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga- one of Cuba's first womxn drummers! The musical rhymes and colorful Cuban plants that adorn each page will have you dancing as you read.

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5. Reading Beauty

Ages 3-7

This is a fairytale done right! The princess's prince is not who you think it will be, in fact there's no male savior in sight. Princess Lex, with her awesome blue afro, is an adventurous problem solver who seeks peace and inclusion instead of revenge. If you have any aspiring little royals at home, this fantastical kingdom is the place for them!

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6. My Papi has a Motorcycle

Ages 3-7

Take a motorcycle ride alongside this little girl and her papi and discover what makes community so special. We love how seamlessly the Latinx author and illustrator blend Spanish and English in this #OwnVoices story. Watch out, your little reader might ask you to get a motorcycle after they see the illustrations of this dynamic ride.

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7. Separate is Never Equal

Ages 6-10

We all have heard of Malala and Ruby Bridges, but so many girls have fought for equal access to education including Sylvia Mendez. We love how this story puts the Mendez family's activism front and center—shining light on the rich history of self-advocacy in the Mexican-American community. Yes, this is another #OwnVoices stories, and yes those are our favorite.

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8. What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

Ages 6-10

Do you know who Barbara Jordan is?! GO, do all the Googling now! But also, read this book! Minds will be blown- how did we not learn about this powerhouse of a woman in history class?! Glass ceilings will be shattered- Barbara served as a Texas Senator in 1967 along with 30 white men! This book goes to show that children's books are not just for kids.

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9. Josephine

Ages 7-13

We are illustrator Christian Robinson's #1 fans! In this book he takes you on a beautiful journey through artist and activist Josephine Baker's life. Josephine felt fearful and angry about all the injustices in society, sound like a familiar feeling? She took all that frustration and transformed into amazing art. We love this book because we believe art is powerful, art is necessary, art is healing. And books about strong black woman without any white saviors lurking on the next page are always a win.

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10. Book Uncle and Me

Ages 7-13

A book about a girl's community activism in her Indian city written by an Indian author?! We're here for all these great #OwnVoices stories! We love how this story of Yasmin campaigning for change empowers kids to be changemakers- and also reminds adults to see kids as capable. Yasmin's tenacity will inspire you to channel your inner leader no matter where you live.

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While these books feature and celebrate girls, we believe all kids of ALL genders should read these picks. Each child deserves a joyful, healthy, free childhood where they feel safe being who they are.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


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