My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

September 22, 2015

College Care Packages (of which I am the QUEEN)

Ooh, correct grammar (I hope) AND ego all in one post title.  I'm on fire today!

So, the 'baby' goes off to college on Saturday and, yes, it's killing me, but I'm trying not to think about that, so I'll focus on the fun stuff.

When my eldest's (yes, stupid spellcheck, that IS a word) friends went off to college the year before she did I started sending care packages (because I am a Jewish Mother, which means I do food and nurturing).  Not much, one or two packages each semester.  They so enjoyed getting real mail with items they could giggle over or food they could share.  I remember the very first thing I sent during Elise's (eldest) freshman year, a postcard from Hula's (a Hawaiian restaurant) that said, "I got lei'd at Hula's" Nothing says inappropriate like your friend's 50 year old mother sending this to you in your dormitory (which guaranteed that EVERY recipient put it on their bulletin boards).

I now have regular presents that I send freshman year, sophomore year etc. Luckily I can list all those gifts here, since my offspring don't read my blog.  Just doing Freshman Year in this post, otherwise this will be WAY too long.


Within the first week I send The Night Before College by Sonya Sones and her daughter, Ava Tramer, illustrated by Max Dalton (Grosset & Dunlap, 2014) 9780448461472,  As the title implies, it's the cadence of The Night Before Christmas but about all the craziness of senior year of high school. It came out during Sasha's (the 'baby') spring of junior year and she refused to read it because she was stressed enough as it was (it's only funny AFTER apps are done and college choice has been, well, chosen).

10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said by Charles Wheelan, illus. by Peter Steiner (W.H. Norton and Company, 2012)

Oh, I love, LOVE this book! My favorite chapter is #7 1/2,  YOUR PARENTS DON'T WANT WHAT'S BEST FOR YOU.
It's true and not because we wish our children ill, not at all.  It's the opposite, we wish them well, but mainly we wish them safety and security, so anything that takes them off that path makes us nervous.  It is nervewracking to see our children take risks with their lives.  I'm not talking about physical risks (that's a whole other level of unnerving), it's the risk of taking the road less traveled. The author said there were three things his parents didn't want him to do:  Write, travel around Europe (w/o a job to come back to) and get his Ph.D.  The three things that have brought him the most joy in life have been...... yup, you guessed it, Writing, travelling and getting his Ph.D.

One of his friends received a Pulitzer for her writing, her father just wanted to know if she had a 401(k).

We may laugh at this, UNTIL our children (young adults, okay, ADULTS) say to us, "I'm going to work at a few part time, no benefits jobs while I work on my.............. (fill in passion/project here).  So, this book was a gift to me as well as my daughters.  It gave me a wake up call and reminded me to be supportive as they take their possibly not very direct path in their lives.  To remember that it's the detours where we learn and grow and that it's the journey, not the destination (although, if that destination comes with a great 401(k), that's good too) :-)

Another great book that works for entering or leaving college is Very Good Lives
The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination 
by J.K. Rowling, illus. by Joel Holland

In 2008, J.K. Rowling gave an AMAZING commencement speech at Harvard talking about failure and imagination.  This is one of my favorite quotes:

"Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged."

Of course, I don't just send deep, inspiring packages. I send Starbucks, Jamba Juice or local gift cards.  Do make sure that the place you're sending a gift card for is accessible.  I'm used to Jamba Juice being everywhere, but when I looked for the nearest one for University of Michigan it was in ANOTHER STATE!

And yes, the stereotypical care packages also go out about once a month. That's fresh baked cookies, brownies or banana bread.  It's fun sending something that may be familiar to us, but maybe not to our offspring's friends or roomies.  I sent banana bread to Elise and one of her housemates from Germany had never had that before (which meant I had to send more of course) :-)

 I make a local Girl Scout VERY happy by ordering cookies for all the college students in my life.  My regular cookie supplier is now a freshman in college herself, so not only will I not be buying from her, I'll be her supplier this year.  Girl Scouts now actually has gluten free cookies (YAY!) so I can send cookies to every kid on my (ever-growing) list.

I have the best text message exchange in my phone that makes me smile every time I look at it.  Two college freshman, big, tough guys (whom I've known FOREVER) were roommates, but I had just sent the box to one (because there were 4 roomies total and not enough room on box for all the addresses)with a note on the inside that said "SHARE"

Big tough football player, shot putter Ram texts me "Sharon! Santi won't share! He has to share, right?"

Big tough soccer player Santi texts, "These are for me, right? They're addressed to me." (subtext, "I DON'T WANNA SHARE)

I told Santi he had to share and he said, "Yeah, but I don't have to show Ram this text, so he won't know that."  Of course, I foiled his plans and Ram was already showing their roomies my text that said the cookies were for everyone.  Bwa ha ha.

And, a little trick to get your student to call you:

I learned this from a friend.  If you haven't heard from your kidlet in awhile, try this.  Send a nice little card and say, "Honey, I was thinking of you, so I thought I'd send you $20 for a pizza so you can have a meal on me, even if I'm not there."  Now, here's the sneaky part, DON'T INCLUDE ANY MONEY.  They will call you IMMEDIATELY and say, "Thanks for the card, did you know you forgot to put the money in?"  Yes, it's sneaky, but all's fair in getting your student to FRIGGING CALL HOME!

Postscript: It's now the Tuesday AFTER dropping my daughter at school.  It was much harder than I thought it would be, but she seems incredibly happy, so that part is great.  The adjustment is going to be hard (do I see fodder for future blog posts?  Yup) and all I can say is thank goodness for the dog so I'm not ACTUALLY talking to myself when I'm home alone.


  1. Great book suggestions for the college bound, Sharon, and your care packages shame me. When our last goes off next year, I will aspire to better baking and frequency.

    1. Hee hee. The problem is, once you start, the bar is raised and expectations are high. I've been getting stuff for Sasha's care packages for the past year (I have a gift chest where I store things for when I need them). But, I'll tell you, the BIGGEST hit every year would be the Girl Scout cookies. :-)

  2. Gee, those were great book suggestions and care package ideas! My oldest is already in China and taking all kinds of risks and has no 401K!! Thanks for the inspiring blog post.

    1. I hope it helped to ease your fears a bit. Maybe you can send her the book, highlight the chapter and tell her you're trying your best. :-)

  3. Is Sasha already in college? Time flies! Please give her my best wishes and one more recommendation. It's a quirky graphic memoir of a first year in college that I read for the Cybils a few years ago and loved: Ramsey Beyer's LITTLE FISH.

    1. Ooh, thank you! I will look that up right away! Yes, that little cutie you met is now a college freshman. I've talked to her twice (she called, I promise I'm not hovering, much) and she LOVES it! It is wonderful to hear the joy in her voice.

      BTW, I'm on Cybils for the first round of the Graphic Novels this year. SO EXCITED!!!

  4. As a regular recipient of these famous (and sometimes infamous!) care packages, I can vouch for the joy these notes, treats, gifts, gags, and books (always books!) bring to a dilapidated dorm room! Thank you for your endless love and support, Sharon!

  5. Thanks Fran!! I sent the blog to Santi and Ram, they both laughed and Santi texted back "I still say those cookies are mine!" :-) Even funnier, Ryan saw Sasha at Davis and after he said hi, he whined that RAM didn't share the cookies with him last spring! I love these big 'little boys' :-)

  6. You can find even more tips fro freshmen on entering college at this link

  7. As a regular recipient of these famous (and sometimes infamous!) care packages, I can vouch for the joy these notes, treats, gifts, gags, and books (always books!) bring to a dilapidated dorm room!

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