Parallel Lives: Rallying for Causes—Centuries Apart

My love for the Classics, especially Latin began in ninth grade, with my first Latin class. I just loved everything about the language—from the declensions to the subjunctive to the four purpose clauses. So, as I thought about the themes for 2017-2018, I looked through the ancient Greek and Roman topics I had covered in past issues, and then—who knows how and why—I remembered Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. I had referenced that work so many times, both in school and since starting the magazine, but never done much else with it. True, it was a fascinating read and also interesting from the perspective of the personalities Plutarch had chosen to profile. Yet, how could I turn it into a theme for DIG? The answer definitely did not come right away. In fact, I worked on confirming the other eight themes for the year, leaving one slot open, just in case. If it didn’t work, I would find another topic.


Finally, as decision-time came for me to submit my final list of themes for 2017-2018, I looked again at Plutarch.  There had to be a way—now I was determined to find it. Another review of Plutarch’s work, and some ideas/thoughts began to pop up in my mind.  I would chose personalities from among those Plutarch had highlighted and parallel them with modern-day American personalities. And, I need to include women—ancient women. Plutarch had not done them—all his people were men.


My ideas and thoughts began to overtake my ability to keep them straight; there were so many ways I could handle the topic. “Calm down,” I told myself. “Let’s take this a little more slowly.” Ok, now, I had it—but I do not want to ruin the suspense for you, so here’s just an overview:


I am focusing the first section on orators, people who moved others to actions just with words.  I have five people: two that Plutarch paralleled, an ancient woman that I added, and then two orators—an American man and a woman—who lived in more recent times. The second section focuses on people who, for the most part, put their country above their own interests. Here, too, I included two of Plutarch’s choices, an ancient woman I choose, and two modern-day American people who did the same. For the third section, I focused on traitors, people who turned against the country they once had supported with great conviction. Again, I selected two of Plutarch’s people, an ancient woman of my choosing, and two modern American personalities who had done the same.


The ideas kept coming—how about DIG paralleling lives past and present.  Oh, I liked that idea. And, I had the world from which to choose! That was the difficult part, narrowing down the possibilities. Got it: two woman who had helped and then followed their husbands’ or families’ roles and excelled on their own; two patrons of the arts; and two philosophers whose teachings continue to be influential today.


What a great issue this would be—Plutarch would be proud!


But, I still had the Let’s Go Digging section to go. What could I do to complement Plutarch? I needed to sit back and think for a minute. An excavation site would not work here—but wait, a manuscript. That was it, I would focus the section on writing and paper, the materials the ancients used to write, which survived, which did not, and what happens to paper documents found on excavations. I needed a bit more—got it—I would include a piece on libraries in ancient times. And for artifacts—that was easy: the oldest-known example of a dated printed book.


Oh, I am going to love working on this issue, I thought. And, now that I have it almost ready for the designer, I can say that I definitely have! Hope you all will as well!


Order your copy of the May/June issue of DIG Into History. Don’t miss an issue of this award-winning magazine! Subscribe to DIG here.

10 Gift Ideas That Are Better Than Toys

Am I the only one with a child under the age of 10 who doesn’t need to head to Toys R Us this year? In fact, I didn’t need to head there last year either. It seems strange to admit this, but my daughter doesn’t really play with toys any more.

If you are in the same boat, I encourage you to think beyond the shopping cart to experiences that will feed your child’s interests and ignite his or her passions. Think about what your child loves and discover ways to support them in increasing their knowledge and skills. While you may have fewer boxes under your tree or around your menorah, you’ll create memories that will last much longer than that time it takes to rip open the packages. (And you can always write up a description of your upcoming adventure, put it in a box and have the child open it so that you—and they—get the same pleasure from opening a present.) In the end you’ll have less junk to give away after 5 minutes of play time, and more memories that will last a lifetime.

Toys: No. Experiences: Yes, Please.

Here are a list of 10 ideas to get your family away from screens, out of the house, and engaged in an activity that will up their happiness quotient.

Cricket Magazine cover from December 2005

A trip to theater is a great gift alternative to toys and could be a trip your child remembers forever.
(Cricket Magazine cover from December 2005. Art by Jada Rowland.)

  1. Head to the (Live Action) Theater. Does your child love to act? Do you catch her shaking her booty and tapping her toes? Is he always singing in the shower? Head to the theater! This is the time of year to see The Nutcracker, of course, but there are tons of other ballets, plays, and musical shows you can go to as well. Usually there is a local ballet doing the Nutcracker somewhere nearby (and these are generally fairly inexpensive) but for the complete experience (amazing dancers, costumes, and sets) try the big ballet company in your major city. There are also touring productions of Broadways shows for kids (Matilda and Annie are both making their way around the country right now) and local productions where you might even see a performance from someone you know.
  2. Museums rock. If you take the wrong kid to the wrong museum (think a kid who loves history to the science museum or vice versa), it can be a disaster. But matching a kid’s interests to the right museum: pay dirt! From museums that celebrate fashion, to those that highlight dinosaurs, to collections of Star Wars artifacts, whatever your child is in to, there is someone who has put together a museum dedicated to just that topic. There are even kid-friendly museums aimed at the smallest museum-goers so don’t worry about gifting this adventure to kids as young as 2.
  3. Jump to it at the trampoline park. Your child is one of those kids who just never stops moving. He won’t sit through a show, she hates museums, he needs to be doing something. Let him or her move to their hearts content at the new indoor playgrounds that seem to be popping up everywhere. Trips to trampoline parks, bounce places, ropes courses, indoor swimming pools and water parks, circus schools (yes, they exist!), and sports clubs are the perfect gift for the kids who just want to “do something”.
  4. Check out history. I doubt anyplace in the USA is more than 100 miles away from some sort of local, regional, or national historical site. If your child is a history buff, pique their curiosity for your local history or expose them to a major historical event. Whatever you choose—a battlefield, a house a president used to live in, a local monument—will be absorbed into your child’s growing knowledge of American history and will serve them well through the many history and social studies courses they are bound to take over the years.
  5. Take a city tour. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived in the city your entire life, I guarantee there is so much to see, do, explore, and discover in whatever city you live in or near that you won’t know what to do first.

    Cricket Magazine cover from July/August 2013

    The best gift for your animal lover could be a tour through a national park where you might get to see some animals in their very own habitats. (Cricket Magazine cover from July/August 2013. Art by Jennifer Hewitson.)

  7. Excite your animal lover. Zoos and aquariums are obvious choices, but sometimes a trip to Pet Smart to see the birds, hamsters, lizards, and fish they have on display is enough to satisfy a little kid. You can also head to your local cage-free cat shelter (they often love to have people come in and play with the cats), adopt some caterpillars and let your children watch them grow into butterflies you can release in the spring (I’ve used Insectlore in the past), or take a hike to see the squirrels, bunnies, deer, and other animals in the woods near you.
  8. Take in a concert. Pop, rock, classical, jazz, kidsbop, whatever music your children enjoy, you will likely find a concert to attend that will be music to their ears (sorry, couldn’t resist). Remember it doesn’t have to be Taylor Swift to be a concert they will remember forever.

    Cricket Magazine cover from March 2009. Art by Christopher O’Leary.

    How about a trip to the drive-in theater as a Christmas gift this year. That Star Wars film will be even better if you see it under the stars! (Cricket Magazine cover from March 2009. Art by Christopher O’Leary.)

  10. Lessons in whatever…Maybe your child is the type of kid who likes to try new things. Gift them with a series of lesson instead of a toy and let them pick the type of lesson they want to try. Lately my daughter claimed she wants to try (of all things) ventriloquism. Normally, I wouldn’t even consider lessons in ventriloquism, if they even exist, but in lieu of a gift that will probably just sit around and collect dust, I’m happy to explore it. Other suggestions for out of the ordinary lessons include: chess, arts & crafts, fencing, trapeze, Lego-building, rock climbing, and writing.
  11. Restaurant reviews. Even if your family eats out a lot, a trip to a special restaurant can be a fun experience and increase your holiday festivities. Look around for Breakfast with Santa events, tea parties, and other specialty dining activities that could feel much different than the regular meal out.
  12. Time to subscribe. If your child is inundated with gifts during December (I’m looking at you, December babies!), subscription boxes can be the perfect answer to the year-long present drought that comes after the onslaught. There are tons of subscription boxes to choose from (check out My Subscription Addiction for a complete list), but for an extra special treat, I recommend the Wonderful Objects kids box from Wonder and Co. and Cricket Media. This box is a Make-Your-Own-Story Adventure unlike anything you’ve seen, bringing together the best of children’s storytelling and the best of hands-on story-making to make your child the agent of their own imagination. If your child loves to read or write, if he excels at making up stories, if she sometimes pretends to be a character in a book she is reading, then this gift will fire their imaginations for a lot longer than your decorations stay up.

No matter what your child does in your adventure together, you can support his or her interests through a subscription to one of the Cricket Media family of magazines. For your story-maker, try our literary magazines: Babybug (6 month to 3 years), Ladybug (3 to 6 years), Spider (6 to 9 years), Cricket (9 to 14 years), and Cicada (14 and up). For your history-buff, try Cobblestone (9 to 14 years). Travelers and geography buffs will warm up to Faces (9 to 14 years). And if your child loves the sciences and arts, Click (3 to 6 years), Ask (6 to 9 years), Muse (9 to 14 years), and Dig (9 to 14 years) will be the perfect complement to their favorite subjects.

Living History

If your child isn’t particularly enthused by history, it’s not their fault. History, while potentially a super exciting subject, has traditionally been treated as an after-thought in elementary school curriculums that are super-focused on math and reading. Often children are given only a glimpse into a historical subject and sometimes that glimpse doesn’t even do a good job of putting historical events or customs into context. So it’s no wonder children don’t often think of history as a subject that excites them, that inspires them, that makes them want to know more.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. History has the power to come alive if it is just presented to children in the right way. I was reminded of this just this past week when I took my daughter and her friend to visit Colonial Williamsburg. Colonial Williamsburg, is a living museum which features hundreds of restored, reconstructed, and historically furnished buildings staffed with costumed interpreters who tell the stories of the men and women of the 18th-century city. In other words, history really does come alive in Williamsburg.

Williamsburg Jail

The girls check out the jail at Colonial Williamsburg

The two 9-year-old girls I was escorting around town got to dress up in relatively authentic period clothes, ask whatever questions came to their minds, and leave behind the trapping of modern life for a day while they discovered that sheep are shorn to create cloth, printing presses have to be put together letter by letter, and young ladies of the time learned dances much different than the “whip” they are familiar with. Thanks to a particularly eloquent and informed guide they also discovered much more about the horrors of slavery than they could ever have learned from a text book.

Williamsburg Doctor

The girls chat with the “doctor” about what kind of medicines would be available during the late 1700s at the apothecary in Colonial Williamsburg

As a writer for Cricket Media, I have personally described Cobblestone, our American history magazine for kids 9 through 14, as a place where “history comes alive.” Now, I won’t claim that a magazine can make a subject come alive with the same power that a place like Colonial Williamsburg can make it come alive, but having read some of the articles did a great deal to helping us gain some much needed context for our trip. If you are planning a trip with any sort of historical aspect, from a visit to a national park (hey, did you know that 4th and 5th graders can get free admission to all U.S. National Parks through the government’s Every Kid in a Park to a visit to Washington, D.C., to a trip to place like Colonial Williamsburg, Cobblestone could act as your personal orientation to the trip. Of course, for a complete historical overview, be sure to subscribe to Cobblestone so you can get awesome history all year long.

Here are some popular family trips with an historical component and a back issue (or two) that might help your family get the most out of the experience.

Trip To

Colonial Williamsburg
National Parks
Washington, D.C.
Chesapeake Bay
St. Augustine
New York City