Speaking of pirates…

While I am on the subject of pirates, which I referenced in this post, I’d like to bring up the only one-handed fictional character everyone knows: Captain Hook.  I spent most of my life really hating that guy.  You can imagine why.  It’s not easy having something so obvious in common with a terrible villain, especially as a kid.

I had to re-evaluate my anti-Captain Hook stance (a little) when my daughter started watching “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.”  In the show, Captain Hook is not only a villain but also a bumbling oaf.  It was hardly an improvement.  But as I watched, I noticed something.  He might have been a bad guy and a stupid guy, but he was never helpless because of his lack of an arm.  The show never, that I saw, had him struggling as a one-handed person.  He struggled with bad decisions and was defeated fair and square by the good pirates.  I’m still not crazy about the whole disability = villain trope, but at least it doesn’t equal helpless.  I think that’s a win.

In my new-found not-hatred for Captain Hook, I happened to read a couple of interesting books recently:

  • aliashookAlias Hook by Lisa Jensen is a re-imagining of the Peter Pan story.  In the book, Captain Hook isn’t the villain at all.  He’s a tragic hero who may be able to find a happy ending after all.  It’s part-historical novel, part-fairy tale fantasy, and an odd sort of coming-of-age novel.  There’s also a romance, which I appreciated.  How often do you see the person with the disability get the girl?  ;) It is far from my usual reading choice, but I rather enjoyed it.
  • hooksrevengeHook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz is a children’s novel for middle graders (roughly ages 10-12) that follows Captain Hook’s daughter as she takes command of the crew after her father has died.  It’s a fun adventure full of humor and action with a girl at the center.  Jocelyn Hook is a two-handed heroine, but the book has some funny references to the disabled pirate stereotype that made me laugh.

Maybe pirates aren’t so bad after all.  And maybe people with differences aren’t as helpless as people think either. :)

A new look at the end of the world (or, another #YAlittrend)

“In the Bible, the end of the world went on for a whole book.  But the real and of the world, Aiden knew, would never be more than a paragraph or two. The real end of the world would just be small things piled up.” –Son of Fortune by Victoria McKernan

YA lit has explored all sorts of ways the world might end or change drastically in various post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels that have been popular in recent years.  The book I quote above isn’t about the end of the world at all, but I thought the quote was interesting since I’ve read several teen novels this year, including a few that will publish in the year ahead) that take on the Biblical end of the world in various ways.  The trendwatcher in me has been taking note of these:

  • vivianThis Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready explores the rapture and religious fundamentalism.  I liked the story and the suspense, and I think that the message that religious extremism should be avoided will certainly resonate with a lot of young readers looking for a middle ground.
  • Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle has a more satirical edge to it that I liked.  It’s basically a road trip novel with social commentary thrown in for good measure.  Not to mention a post-apocalyptic style world. (Pubs January 2015)
  • No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss turns this trend on its head. This book takes place after the predicted End did not happen.  The family who banked their future on the prophecy is now homeless and navigating the challenges of the same old world. (Pubs March 2015)
  • Eden West by Pete Hautman is less about the actual end of the world and more about how it feels to live with the End hanging over you.  As someone raised in a non-mainstream religion with a similar focus on an End that could happen at any moment, I related to the story of being torn between the present and the possible future.  (Pubs April 2015)

I admit that my religious history might have me seeking out books like this out of personal interest, but it feels like a trend to me.  Or maybe it’s just the usual interest in non-mainstream religion (See also: Like No Other by Una LaMarche and Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock) that has always been a part of teen fiction.  Either way, I’m watching it.

See my previous discussions of trends in teen fiction here and here.

Princess Talk

princesspI am sick of talking about princesses.  I am sick of my daughter talking about how much she loves princesses, but I’m also sick of hearing and reading about parents hating princesses.  So when a review copy of The Princess Problem landed on my desk at work, I rolled my eyes and ignored it for a while.

Princesses aren’t going anywhere however, and neither was this book.  When I finally gave it a chance, I was pleasantly surprised.  The Princess Problem was more than a rant about how princesses are ruining our daughters.  It’s actually a guide to talking to our kids about the media they consume as it relates to princesses.  There are discussion questions for movies and ideas for healthy media consumption.  It’s a fantastic resource with a practical sensibility.  Find out more on the author’s web site.

While I’m on the topic of princesses, I want to recommend a couple of books that will appeal to both princess-loving kids and princess-hating parents:

  • The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale is an early chapter book about a princess who is secretly a superhero.  My six-year-old daughter was obsessed with this book for months, which is a pretty strong endorsement right there.  Definitely a fun pick for the kids who want to dress up in pretty clothes and do the rescuing.
  • Princess in Training by Tammy Sauer features a disappointing princess.  She’s not very princessy, but those non-princessy interests come in handy when a dragon sneaks in the castle.  This picture book is cute and fun.
  • Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider has enough pink sparkles on the cover to attract the princess loving kid, but the story isn’t really about princesses.  It’s about a girl and her doll and what happens when that doll is attacked by the family dog.

Parents and other people who interact with kids might also be interested in this post on Princess Shaming in which a librarian advises, “Find out what it is about the princess that makes your kid want to read about her and be her; find out what your kid thinks it means to play princess.”

Right on.  Instead of hating princesses, let’s think critically about them.

Pirate arms vs. Robot arms

One of the most common questions I am asked regarding my prosthetic arm is some variation of the following: “Why don’t you have one of those cool robot hands I saw on TV?”

My standard answer is to talk about how prosthetics are expensive and often not covered by insurance.  This explanation usually makes sense to people, but I can’t help but feel that I’m letting them down.  After all, the basic design for my prosthesis was developed in 1812.  The materials have changed for the better; they are lighter and cheaper. But I still look like I belong on a pirate ship with my body-powered, hook-shaped prosthesis.

amazingbioI bring this up now because we are in the middle of Disability History Month (at least we would be if we were in the UK), and it seemed like a good time to link to this article from How Stuff Works: How Prosthetic Limbs Work. It is a fantastic article that covers a lot of the points I usually make, like how expensive this stuff is, how they haven’t changed that much, and how they don’t last a lifetime.  People don’t usually think about these things.  They just think about the cool documentary they watched about the cutting edge stuff.  A kid might think of a book they read like Amazing Feats of Biological Engineering, which makes it seem like bionics are more here and now than they are.*  Or they think: We live in the twenty-first century; Robot arms should be a reality by now.

It does seem like we’re getting closer to that reality.  3-d printing offers some really interesting options for prosthetics, and organizations like E-Nable are trying to connect people who could benefit from the technology to the people who know how to use it.  I am excited to see where this will lead.  Perhaps sometime soon my old pirate arm will be a thing of the past.

Until then, it would be cool to see a documentary or read a book about the prosthetic devices that people are actually using right now.  Even if they do seem like they are from another era.

 

More questions about my prosthetic arm answered here.

 

* Nothing against the book.  It’s actually pretty cool to see prosthetics addressed at all, and if it encourages kids to think about this kind of technology, I’m all for it.

More trends in teen fiction

I have a few more #YAlittrends to add to the conversation started on Twitter months ago.  I added a few of my insights in this post, and here’s what I’m seeing in 2014 and ahead to 2015:

  • doubtfactGenre-blending – Is it magical realism or realistic fantasy?  Whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t fit neatly into one category like we are used to.  Some of the more interesting genre-blenders I’ve read recently: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, There Will be Lies by Nick Lake, and Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King.
  • Distortion of Truth – This could be lumped in with the Secrets & Lies category I identified in my previous trend post, but I wonder if we’ll see more books focus on the media like The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi and How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon.  I think that teens are thinking about and paying attention to issues like the ones addressed in these books.
  • Verse – Novels in verse aren’t new (and there are lots of terrible ones out there), but I’ve read some particularly excellent or interesting verse novels this year.  The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is one that comes to mind as a standout, but I might also mention A Time to Dance, which I blogged about here, and The Red Pencil.
  • chanceyouThe Effects of Mental Illness – These books aren’t always the easiest books to read, but I’m glad that they exist.  The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi is a powerful look at one family dealing with a mental break.  All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is a heart-wrenching story of suicide and bipolar disorder.  Whether it is about friends or family, the reality is that mental illness isn’t just about the people with the disease.  Also: Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington and The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Any other teen fiction readers seeing trends?  Use the #YAlittrends hashtag on Twitter or share here in the comments.

 

An unexpected gratitude

I meant to post something about gratitude during the week of Thanksgiving, but the days were full of holiday preparations to the point that I had no time to spare on putting such words together. Now that I have a moment, let me express a surprising bit of gratitude: I am thankful for my mornings.

No one in my family is a morning person, least of all me, so any positive feeling at that time of day is outside of my usual. But things have shifted with the beginning of this school year. After years of getting up super early to take the bus to work well before my daughter woke for school, I have traded in my bus pass for a set of car keys.

My mornings are no longer a frenzied rush to make my bus. They are comparatively slower and much happier.  They have become my most treasured moments with my daughter. We talk about our dreams and plans over breakfast, and sometimes we even have time to share a story or two.  By the time I send her off to school and leave for work, I am smiling.  I can’t help it.

Best Time of Day by Eileen SpinelliOne of my favorite morning moments was from a story we read one day before school. The book was The Best Time of Day by Eileen Spinelli, and my daughter shared her own best, which was not far off from my own. She had a dreamy/happy voice when she said how much she loved mornings–at school. Her favorite time of day is that moment when she first gets to school. “There are kids and teachers talking and laughing. The piano is playing, and everyone is saying hi to each other and rushing around. I just love it so much.”

These are the moments I don’t want to miss.  It’s the stuff of happiness, right?  Watching this little girl experience the world as her own individual while sharing so much of who she is with her father and me makes me happy.   I’m grateful for moments like this.

alljoyHappiness is complicated though, especially when it comes to our kids.  Parenting is not all sunshine and lollipops.  You don’t need me to tell you that, I’m sure.  I probably didn’t need a whole book telling me that over and over in different ways, but I still read All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior.  And somehow, I even loved it.  For all the bleak stories and statistics in the book that threatened to be pretty depressing, it was all so fascinating.  She chronicles how the word “parent” turned into a verb, how kids went from being “economically worthless to emotionally priceless,” and how happiness plays a role in all of this stuff in a shifting world where there is no script for any of us.

In the absence of a script, it’s just love.  It’s just little moments where we read stories and talk about our favorite things.  It’s the days when we can’t help but smile.

 

Read or watch more:

On Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown_Girl_Dreaming-200If you are a regular reader of this blog or you landed here searching for information about Brown Girl Dreaming, I probably don’t need to explain to you how stories can change lives.  Maybe you are a reader who has long been drawn to the power of story.  Maybe you’re a parent looking for books to instill that appreciation in your kids.  Or maybe you’re a librarian who has made connecting people with books into a career.  Whatever the case, I think you know what stories can do.

Brown Girl Dreaming was a story I had to read twice to really appreciate.  The first time I flew through the pages looking for familiar elements that I so rarely see in books.  You see, I spent my childhood learning the days of the week by their religious obligation, standing quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance, and sitting out of school holiday celebrations just like Jacqueline Woodson did.  Like other minority experiences, it is one that is not often reflected in books, especially books for kids.

For readers who have never had the experience, let me tell you how it feels to read a book about a person who shares something that sets you apart from most people: it is thrilling. I tore through Brown Girl Dreaming looking for what we shared.  There was much we didn’t share–Woodson is African-American and grew up in the 1960s; I am Caucasian and grew up in the 1980s–but so many of her words and feelings might have been mine when it referenced our shared childhood religion.

In the world of children’s books, we have been talking a lot about the need for books to reflect the diverse experiences, cultures, ethnicities, abilities, etc. of young readers.  I have always believed that, but Brown Girl Dreaming made me feel it.

My second time through the book was slower.  I wanted to read it again to see what others who don’t share my religious background were seeing.  In that reading, I saw an exquisite coming-of-age memoir that was about so much more than religion.  It was about the power of stories to shape who we are. Woodson wrote about the stories her family told, the stories she read, and the stories she wrote as a child, and how they all became part of her.  She concludes her memoir by describing herself as a person who believes in many things, who carries many worlds inside of her because of those experiences of listening, reading, and observing the stories around her.

If there is one idea I can share with others, it is the one expressed in the final poem: “When there are many worlds, love can wrap itself around you, say, Don’t cry.”  Seek many worlds for yourself.  Listen, read, observe.

Links of interest:

 

Looking closely for science

eurekabookYou probably don’t think about science when you’re poring over a Where’s Waldo? book, but in the upcoming book Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist, Chad Orzel spends a whole chapter connecting seek-and-find books like Where’s Waldo? to science.  He talks about patterns and whatnot, but for kids, it’s about looking closely and observing details, which is just the beginning of thinking like a scientist.  Even if it doesn’t seem like it.

mrtweedsgooddeedsI was thinking about that as my daughter and I pored over a different seek-and-find book recently.  I chose Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds for the good deeds part of the story, but in the end it was the opportunity for looking closely that was the real strength of the book.  The spreads are full of details, and they were just challenging enough for my six-year-old to keep her attention without being too easy.  Once she got to the higher numbers, we found it was hard to remember which of the objects we’d already found, so we laid the book flat to use coins to mark our finds.  We recommend it for those looking to spend some time with something quirky, practice their observation skills, and get closer to their inner scientist. ;)

IMG_0690.JPG  IMG_0692.JPG

Read more about Mr Tweed’s Good Deeds on Brain Pickings or read more about how observation relates to science in this post.

 

Disclosure: I received a review copy of Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds from the publisher.

 

 

Kids Voting Minneapolis

IMG_0657.JPG

I spent Election Day afternoon handing out kids’ ballots and I Voted stickers to the kids at my polling place.  It was pretty quiet, but the kids who did cast ballots in the Kids Voting Minneapolis mock election seemed so proud to be voting just like their parents that I couldn’t help but be glad I was there.

According to Kids Voting Minneapolis, about 50% of young people grow up in non-voting households like I did.  I didn’t vote at all until I was in my late twenties, and, as someone who is new to voting, I can tell you that it is intimidating to vote for the first time.  That is exactly why I wanted to volunteer with Kids Voting.  The goal of the organization is to de-mystify the process for kids in an effort to foster an engaged electorate when they grow up.  I believe in this wholeheartedly.

It is important to me that my daughter knows that we are a voting household.  We pay attention to politics, and we participate in elections.  She is growing up in a household in which politics are frequently discussed and debated.  Even so, I realized this year that she had never accompanied us to the polling place.  We’d always voted while she was at school or otherwise occupied as a matter of convenience.  That changed this year.  All three of us cast ballots together this year, and I hope that this is a new tradition will continue for a long time.

voteI also took the opportunity to share more about the election process with my six-year-old with the book Vote! by Eileen Christelow, which I was delighted to learn was actually inspired by Minnesota’s high voter turnout and early voter education!  It is a fun picture book that follows a small town mayoral race from the dog’s eye view.  It covers a lot of information, and it would be perfect for a second or third grade classroom.  For fourth and fifth grade classrooms, try America Votes by Linda Granfield, which even mentions the Kids Voting organization along with the note that “Statistics show that the Kids Voting program actually increases parent voter turnout by nearly five percent.”

Increasing voter turnout? Getting to see the pride of participation?  Encouraging a new generation of civic involvement? These are all great reasons to make volunteering with Kids Voting Minneapolis an Election Day tradition as well.

Friday Finds: New (and new-to-me) Music

Books and music have always been my two main interests, but I end up talking & writing about books a lot more, especially online.  As least for today, I’m changing that.  Here are four bands I’ve discovered recently:

  • speedyOne evening this week I heard a song on Radio K as I drove home.  It turned out to be a song from Cool Choices by S, a former member of Carissa’s Wierd.  Anyone else remember Carissa’s Wierd?  Anyway, I’m loving the Cool Choices record.  Read more about it and stream some of it here.
  • A couple of weeks ago, I happened to catch Brilliant Beast play at the Kitty Cat Klub, and I liked their  dream-pop/fuzz-pop sound.   Read about their 2013 record, Where Do You Want, here.
  • I wrote about Falcon Arrow last year.  If you liked them then, you will want to check out their latest record, Tower, which came out in August of this year.  Read more about their “acrobatic” record here.
  • When I first heard Speedy Ortiz, I thought: the teenage me would have loved this band.  I guess I haven’t changed that much because I am crushing on it pretty hard even now. Read about them here or catch them live here.