Published as Play Room in PDX Parent magazine

Take Five: Aron Nels Steinke

When it comes to the “my teacher is the coolest” contest, Aron Nels Steinke’s class of fourth and fifth graders at Woodstock Elementary School have some serious bragging rights. Their teacher is the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Mr. Wolf’s Class. And the second book in the series, Mystery Club, just dropped at the end of February. Steinke and his wife Ariel Cohn have also received the coveted Eisner Award for their 2015 book, Zoo Box. He recently talked with us about doodling in class and at home. You can meet him at one of his book signings: March 2 at Bridge City Comics, 1 pm-3 pm or March 16 at Powell’s City of Books, 2 pm.

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Q: How did the idea for Mr. Wolf’s Class start?

AAs soon as I started teaching elementary school, I started making a webcomic about the little things that happened during the day. When I showed them to my students they loved it. After I’d made about 200 comic strips, I knew I had it in me to write an original graphic novel for kids set in the world of Mr. Wolf’s class.

Q: Have you considered giving up teaching to be a full-time author and illustrator?

ACertainly, but the reality is I have a family and I have health care to provide. It’s a lot of work, but I’ve managed to balance both careers so far. Plus, I love working with kids. I am very lucky to spend my days with such creative and compassionate young people.

Q: Were you the kid who was always doodling in class? What advice would you give to kids who love to draw and want to illustrate books one day?

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A: Yes! I still doodle at staff meetings. I don’t mind if kids are doodling when I’m speaking as long as they communicate to me that they are listening as well. We all need things for our hands to do. If a child is expressing interest in making books, I think it’s important to encourage them to make their own. Start by making a book that’s just a sheet of paper folded in half. Then move up from there. Just keep at it and share your work with people. It’s important to get reactions from people. That feedback is invaluable. Make copies and give them away.

Q: Is Mr. Wolf’s Class a trilogy, or will the series continue past book 3?

A: The third book, Lucky Stars, will be out in late summer and I’ve got a script ready for a fourth book, but I’m just waiting for the green light.

Q: Do you have any kids of your own?

A: My son is in the first grade and I’m so lucky to have these books coming out just as he’s starting to be able to read them. He loves drawing and making books, too. It’s so much fun to have our art days where we both work on our own projects side by side. — Denise Castañon

Playlist: Your Mardi Gras Soundtrack

On my very first trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (way before I had kids), I fell in love with the infectious joy of the region’s Zydeco music. Swamp Romp by Johnette Downing with Scott Billington brings that fun and liveliness of a Mardi Gras parade right into your home so your kids can boogie down. Downing joins forces with a number of New Orleans musicians who play the drums, accordion, fiddle and washboard to deliver this Louisiana dance party for kids. And appropriately for an album that celebrates New Orleans, many of the songs revolve around food: king cake, po’ boys and etouffée. Spin this album for your Mardi Gras party and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find the baby in the king cake. — D.C.

Gear Guide: Unbox It

Kids subscription boxes are all the rage. (And honestly, who doesn’t love to get packages in the mail!) We tested out three of the coolest new options.

Raddish Kids is a cooking club in a box, providing three illustrated recipes, a shopping list, a real deal kitchen tool, apron patch, conversation starters and little extras. When we tested it out, the theme was Le French Café. My 6-year-old made a perfect bechamel sauce for Croque Monsieur sandwiches and pâte à choux for cream puffs pretty much by herself. I was amazed. (She also made menus and filled our drink orders.) My 4-year-old son grated cheese, whisked some vinaigrette, and sliced eggs and tomatoes for our salad niçoise. While eating our meal, we learned French phrases from the flash cards provided. My 4-year-old didn’t eat much, but everyone else gave the meal a big thumbs up. I really loved how this box was about more than cooking — high five for the emphasis on learning about different cultures and enjoying each other’s company during a shared meal. Find out more at raddishkids.com.

When it comes to buying my 6-year-old daughter clothes, I usually choose function over frills and get clothes in which she can get messy. But she’s starting to have some more say in what she wears and I was surprised that when we tried out the kidpik subscription box, she was really into some of the clothes. Each kid can fill out an online questionnaire and select images of outfits she likes, then a stylist creates a custom box of fashions and accessories. You can purchase all the looks (and save 30 percent) or pick and choose. Adela liked all the clothes, but fell hard for a gold pleather faux fur varsity jacket that made her look like a mini rapper, a flouncy peasant dress and suede high tops with glittery stars. All of the choices were pretty adorable, but the total cost of the whole box would have been $131.95, which yields about four outfits and is more than I spend on her entire wardrobe for a season, so I only said yes to the jacket and kicks. Since I’ve always been into clothes myself and view outfits as another form of self-expression, I definitely could see letting her get a box once in a while for a special occasion or at the start of the school year. Find out more at kidpik.com.

If you like the idea of a subscription box as a gift for your kid, but are Kon-Mari-ing your space, then local company Super Nature Adventures is the way to go. Instead of “stuff,” each month’s shipment contains the ingredients for an outdoors family adventure within 30 miles of Portland: a waterproof map of a local trail, scavenger hunt stickers of common nature finds from the trail, an activity-filled Field Guide, a “Super Nature Hero” sticker and more. New this year: They’ve added directions for a craft or activity to each kit and the field guide is a larger size. And we love that they’ve partnered with Friends of the Gorge to help raise funds to maintain areas damaged by the Eagle Creek fire. Find out more at supernatureadventures.com. — D.C.

TOP 5 …New playgrounds for Nature Lovers

➊ Not one but two new nature playgrounds are opening at the beloved Oxbow Regional Park this spring, featuring fort building, tree stump-hopping and plenty of sand and water play. 
➋ An all-new, fully inclusive Couch Park is slated to open this spring in NW Portland, featuring a centerpiece climbing structure designed to make kids feel like they are clambering to the top of a tree fort.
➌ A new nature play area is coming to Sahallie Ilahee Park in West Linn in June, joining the epic two-story slide set into a hill that’s made the park a favorite for years. 
➍ Look for the new play area slated to open in late May in North Clackamas at the Boardman Wetland Complex; you’ll also find a half-mile boardwalk trail, perfect for observing the wetlands and wildlife. 
➎ An awesome new space is open for fun at Dirksen Nature Park in Tigard, featuring a secret rock cave and a living willow tunnel. — Julia Silverman

Bookshelf: The Envelope, Please!

It’s awards season for books! Herein, Kim Tano and Madeline Shier, the children’s book buyers at Powell’s, Portland’s favorite independent bookstore, pick their favorites from among this year’s American Library Association honorees.

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

A beautifully moving book about Evan the Fox and the loss of his beloved pet dog. Lies explores embracing grief and mourning, and the healing power of nature in this Caldecott Medal honoree, given for 
a distinguished American picture book for children. $17.99.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Meg Medina is known for writing heartfelt stories about Latin American protagonists, and Merci Suárez is no exception. Sixth grade isn’t easy, especially when Merci’s assigned to show the new kid around; it’s even harder when her beloved abuelo begins to lose his memory. Everything’s changing: Can Merci find her footing? Winner of the John Newbery Medal for the year’s most distinguished contribution to children’s literature. $16.99.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

It’s 1947. India has its independence, it’s separating from newly created Pakistan, and 12-year-old Nisha is caught in the middle. Is she Indian or Pakistani? Hindu or Muslim? When she and her family become refugees, Nisha records their journey in her diary, written as letters to the mother she barely knew. A Newbery Honor Book. $16.99.

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer and Ekua Holmes

It’s no wonder that Ekua Holmes has won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award two years in a row — she’s just that good — but it’s certainly impressive. Her gorgeous, expressive paint-swirl style brings this poetic picture book about the birth of the universe to vibrant, compelling life. $17.99.

Good Deeds: Helping Furry Friends

Kids love animals, and usually the feeling is mutual — but because of safety concerns, there aren’t too many family-friendly volunteering opportunities with animal aid/rescue organizations. That’s why we were so excited to find this great new idea from Hands On Greater Portland for DIY projects you can do at home with the kids to help out animals in need in the metro area. Get in touch with them and they’ll send you a materials list and a tutorial for making either doggie treats for the pups at the Oregon Humane Society or catnip mice for the kitties at Cat Adoption Team. When you’ve finished the project at home, you can drop off your treats at the Hands On office or with one of their partners, and they’ll make sure the items get to our four-legged friends. To find out more, call 503-200-3355 or visit handsonportland.org. — J.S.

Ask Dr. Doug

Q: My son plays soccer, and I worry all the time about concussions. I understand that there are some new guidelines on childhood concussions from the American Academy of Pediatrics. What do I need to know about these?

A: I worry about concussions, too. Concussions are common, with around 2 million children and teens receiving treatment for one each year. That number is probably too low, since many may not seek medical attention. As you might have guessed, contact sports carry the highest risk, with boys’ tackle football leading the pack, followed by girls’ soccer.

It’s important to realize you don’t have to be “knocked out” to have a concussion. Sometimes seemingly mild injuries or falls can also result in problems. Think of a concussion as any forceful injury that disrupts normal brain function. It often comes on quickly, and usually resolves with time.

Symptoms are varied and may include headache, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, nausea, light or noise sensitivity, feeling mentally foggy, feeling more irritable, or developing sleep problems. Most sports-related concussions are better within a few weeks to a month, but some may last longer.

What should you do if your son heads a ball hard and you’re worried about a concussion? First, he needs to be off the field and out of the game. Many sports have access to a team physician or trainer who can help appropriately manage next steps, but remember “when in doubt, take them out.”

You should then see your pediatrician as soon as possible for an evaluation, which should include using a validated screening tool to follow symptoms. Then we’ll come up with a plan on how to manage things while he gets back on track.

One of the main takeaways from the updated recommendations is that gradual return to regular activities after a few days of rest is better than complete physical and mental rest until symptoms are gone. Symptoms should be our guide — after a few days rest, if reading makes a headache or nausea worse, that’s the brain saying it needs more time to heal. Once he’s back to regular non-sports activities (including school), then your family can go through the return-to-team-sports steps. That means a gradual approach to full play, from light aerobic exercise to non-contact drills to contact practice and finally a return to full play, seeing how he feels along the way.

Sometimes concussions are more complicated and don’t follow this pattern of gradual resolution. If that happens, you may need to involve specialists or get other testing to clarify things, such as a neuropsychological evaluation.

Interestingly, newer research has raised the possibility that repeated “subconcussive” hits over time may be worse for long-term brain damage than one or two concussions. It’s sort of like potholes — the big ones that blow out your tire obviously aren’t good, but the small ones that cause little knocks can cause damage that builds up, even if they don’t seem that bad at the time.

The preteen brain is growing rapidly and is particularly vulnerable to trauma. Are we unintentionally causing long-term damage to our kids’ brains by letting them play contact sports too early? More research needs to be done before we have that answer. In the mean-time, please play it safe when it comes to concussions.

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