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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #12
June 13, 2007

Walk a Mile in my Shoes

Children of Heaven + Operation Gratitude

Children of Heaven is a heartbreaking film that offers a child's-eye-view on growing up in a poor Iranian neighborhood. A young boy named Ali has lost his sister Zarah's only pair of shoes, and the children must run back and forth to school, handing off the single pair of soles so the other can make it to class. The siblings can't tell their parents or their teachers that the shoes are gone, and their secrecy creates a bond that our kids related to, instantly. While munching on yummy Persian take-out, our kids were amazed at how different life is for Zarah and Ali. The child actors mesmerized us all and we found ourselves rooting for Ali when he enters a road race in order to win a new pair of shoes. All that running paid off for our little hero.

Operation Gratitude was started by a mom who was inspired by the events of 9/11. Carolyn Blashek wondered how young Americans abroad could face the unimaginable horrors of combat, and knew instinctively (as any mother does) that the soldiers had to feel that someone at home cared about them. Six years later, what began at a kitchen table is now a bustling national effort: Operation Gratitude will send 120,000 packages designed to lift morale this year, and it's all done through donations and the efforts of volunteers. Memorial Day kicked off the nonprofit's Fourth Annual Patriotic Drive, whose goal is for 50,000 care packages to reach deployed troops by July 4th. We'll be packing the boxes with the Operation Gratitude team in California this month and urge your family to spend some of the summer volunteering together. In this week's City Savvy, our Financial Experts weigh in how working for something greater than yourself helps to create empathy in children, and suggest two good websites to connect you with worthy projects. In our experience, volunteering with our kids is truly a gratifying operation.

Film Title: Children of Heaven
Directed By: Majid Majidi
1999, Rated PG, 89 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:

  • Why It's Worth it: Roger Ebert called Children of Heaven "a very nearly perfect children's film", and we absolutely agree. It's timeless tale is told with very little dialogue, so even young children can, with a little parental translation, understand how the story is unfolding.
  • Red Flags: The film is fine for any age child, as long as they can read subtitles or if an older person can translate the few lines of dialogue.
  • Cool Fact: Children of Heaven is the first Iranian film to be nominated for an Academy Award. It lost out in the Best Foreign Language Film category to Life Is Beautiful.

Our Tips for talking with your kids about this film:

  • Cinema Savvy: The choice to tell a story from a child's point of view is key in this film. Ask the kids how the film would be different if it were told from, for instance, their mother's point of view. This film reminded us of another simple tale, told from a child's point of view - The Red Balloon. Click here for more on this classic tale, that is great for all ages.
  • International Savvy:  We like to compare the daily ways of life between different cultures. Ask your kids what items or events remind them of life in the US, and what details convinced them that Ali lived in a very different culture. Our kids noted the handwriting as a similarity (although the letters were new to their eyes) and the sewers running down the center of the street (yes, that's what that was) as a startling difference.


Care Packages for Operation Gratitude

Age Recommendation: 5 and up

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Popcorn Adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: Operation Gratitude has a WISHLIST with simple items that your family can donate, such as batteries, DVDs, Beanie Babies and packs of cards. Have your kids pick some simple items and then rally friends, school and camp mates, and relatives to donate. Items sent after June 15 will be part of the Holiday mailing, so this is a good summer-long project. Our kids are excited about collecting packs of cards and sending them overseas for the holiday delivery.
  • Operation Gratitude: Here is the official website with lots of stories about how families from all over the country have helped send care packages to our troops.
  • Money always works: When the cost of a stamp went up last month, it increased the organization's operating costs tremendously. Consider sending a donation of cash to help cover shipping fees.
  • YouTube Link: Click here to learn more about Carolyn Blashek and Operation Gratitude.
  • Persian Food: Our kids love the simple but elegant cuisine of the Persian countries. Google "Persian food" in your City, or check local restaurant reviews and order-take out while watching the movie. Meat comes on skewers, or kabobs, and is usually chicken, lamb or beef. Rice is the star of most meals and comes with various additions: baghalee polo (made with dill and lima beans), or estanboli polo (made with green beans, tomatoes, and ground beef), or zereshk polo. Tahcheen is also a rice dish made with chicken or lamb, saffron and berries. Stews are often spicy, and not great for kids. Desserts are simple, usually just fruit.

National financial experts Eileen Gallo, Ph.D and Jon Gallo, J.D., contributors to this week's Popcorn Adventure, are the co-authors of The Financially Intelligent Parent: 8 Steps to Raising Successful, Generous, Responsible Children (2005). Click here to visit their website. Here's their advice about volunteering with kids.

  • Volunteering can serve as a rite of passage for young people, helping them grow into mature, responsible adults. Families that volunteer together help children develop positive qualities that they might not otherwise possess - generosity, an appreciation for what they have, a realistic perspective about haves and have nots, kindness and empathy. There are  several websites that will help you find volunteer opportunities for you and your family. Here are our two favorites:
  • has matched close to three million people with volunteer activities offered by more than 45,000 organizations.  You begin the Volunteer Match experience by inputting your zip code, the distance you're willing to travel and your interest area (which range from animals to children to religion).
  • is a program of Youth Service America and is notable for offering young people volunteer experiences - it's geared for people between the ages of 5 and 25.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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