It’s Okay to Ask

its-ok-to-ask-thumbAsking is better than staring at me.  Asking is better than avoiding me.  Asking is better than making up something about me that isn’t true.  I have been saying these things for years–mostly assuring embarrassed parents that it’s okay that their child asked me about my prosthetic arm–but now I’m not alone.  In addition to the fantastic Jacob’s Eye Patch, now there is It’s Okay to Ask from Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.  Two picture books and me all saying the same message will surely convince people, right? ;)

On MPR News, Tom Weber spoke with a Gillette doctor and a young patient about the book and their experiences talking about disabilities, and he expressed surprise that it was okay to ask about someone’s disability.  “Has that really been the thing we said about how we should interact?” he asked more than once.  The guests assured him that questions aren’t necessarily rude.  It’s the intent behind the questions that is either friendly or rude.  I found myself nodding along at what the guests were saying over and over again.

Here’s what I know about questions:

  • “What’s wrong with you?” is probably not the best question, but even if your child does ask it that way, it’s okay.  It’s a teachable moment.  Encourage them to rephrase it without making them feel bad for being curious.
  • Questions are better than assumptions, and the best questions assume the least.  “How did you lose your arm?” for example assumes I lost an arm, which I did not, but I understand that it isn’t always easy to come up with the best phrasing on the spot.  Don’t stress about the best way to put it.  It’s usually pretty clear when someone means a question nicely.
  • Equipment makes questions easier.  I get way more questions when I am wearing my prosthetic arm than when I go without it.  It seems people are usually more comfortable asking about a piece of technology than they are about a physical difference.

I offered more points to consider in this post on The Blogunteer back in 2012.  In that post, I said:

“It’s okay to be curious. That is probably the most important thing I want to tell people.  The key is how you express your curiosity.”
That is still true.  Questions are okay.  Even poorly worded questions are okay.  The important thing is that we move past staring at or avoiding people with disabilities or physical differences.  I’d rather have to answer an impolite question than always be Other.  As in the book It’s Okay to Ask, once we get past our differences, we can get to what we have in common.
Have a question about my limb difference or prosthetic arm?  See Fake Arm 101 for answers to some common questions or send me an email with some question I haven’t covered yet: fakearm101@gmail.com.

 

Why I am a Librarian

For School Library Month, librarians all over the Internet are sharing their stories of why they became librarians with the hashtag #whylib.  For me, becoming a librarian was more of a why not? than a why.  I didn’t really know what to do with my English degree other than write, and I knew I needed something to pay the bills while I wrote my novel.  I’d always loved libraries, so it seemed like a natural fit for me to be a librarian.  I started library school with my only expectation being he hope that I could support a writing career by the end.

Along the way–between classes in reference and instruction and other library staples–I discovered Young Adult Literature.  I knew very quickly that this was it for me.  Teen fiction and library services to teens was my professional heart.  My first job out of library school was focused on teen services at a public library, and it was a tremendous learning experience for which I am incredibly grateful.

From there, I went to work in the book industry–first for one book distributor/library vendor and now another–where my focus has widened from teens to the whole range of K-12 education.  This was a new perspective for me, and I didn’t really know if I would take to it.

After almost ten years on this side of the library world, I can say that I have gained a strong appreciation for the power of libraries–and librarians–along with a knowledge of children’s literature from picture books and easy readers to the teen fiction I still love.

I may have begun my career with a why not?, but every new experience has given me more of a why than ever.  The twenty-year-old me who started library school would never have guessed that I would end up being as passionate about picture books, storytimes, and children’s programming as I ever was about teen fiction.

I have learned a lot.  Mostly about connection, community, and the power of stories.  That’s what libraries are all about, and that’s why I am a librarian.

Related Links:

  • 6 Things I Wish I’d Known – I wrote this post after listening to an MPR segment with a similar theme.
  • Reflections of a Book Reviewer – My post after eight years of reviewing books for Library Journal.
  • Remember Your Why – From the Letters to a Young Librarian blog.
  • #whylib – Follow the hashtag on Twitter.

 

The Post Script is that I have not yet written a novel, but I still dream of doing so one day.  In the meantime, I had an article in last month’s VOYA Magazine. ;)

Thursday 3: Limb Difference Awareness Month

April is a busy month for awareness.  Autism, Sexual Assault, and Poetry are probably the most well known, but I would like to acknowledge Limb Loss/Difference Awareness Month for obvious reasons.

I am pleased to report that there are a growing number of books for young readers that feature characters with limb differences. Here are three books for young readers that I recommend for understanding what it’s like to lose a limb or be born with a limb difference.

LimbDifference

Dangerous by Shannon Hale is a science fiction novel about fighting aliens that features a heroine who was born with one arm.  She is awesome.  Read more of my thoughts about it here.

Red Butterfly by A. L. Sonnichsen is a middle grade verse novel I referenced in this post.  The main character in the story was born with only two fingers on one hand.

One-Handed Catch by M.J. Auch is about a boy who loses his hand in an accident.  I reviewed it more thoroughly here.

These books are great choices for middle schoolers.  I offer more great books that I think can be used to open up discussions about differences in this article in Book Links Magazine from 2011: Just Like You–Helping Young People Understand Disabilities Through Books.

Diversity at AWP15

awpIt’s about listening and humility.

At the AWP conference this past Saturday, I made it a point to attend as many discussions about diversity as I could.  The conference is aimed at writers not librarians–I only dream of calling myself a writer–but I found the perspective quite valuable.  I attended panels that featured writers of color discussing their work and their experiences in the publishing world, and the conversations kept coming back to listening and humility.

Can you write outside of your own experiences, including those of race, culture, and gender?  Sure.  But be aware of the complexity there.  Be aware of the history and the stereotypes that exist. Do your research, but–perhaps most importantly–beware of research.  Facts are good, but they only take you so far.  Facts read from books or gleaned from acquaintances don’t tell the whole story of a race or culture.  Facts don’t get at the intricacies of humor and language.  In her panel Navigating the Waters of Authentic Voice in YA Native Fiction Debbie Reese, who writes the fantastic blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, cautioned that even primary sources about American Indians can be problematic.  She urged non-Native writers to focus on being allies rather than being voices for Native people.

WNDB_ButtonIn the Race in YA Lit panel, writers from various cultural backgrounds shared their experiences with micro-aggressions, self silencing, and burn-out at always having to educate people about privilege and race issues.  There was some frustration in the conversation, but there was also optimism.  A lot of optimism actually.  Just the fact that we were having that conversation about race at a major conference means something.  The fact that #weneeddiversebooks wasn’t just a hashtag fad means something.

“Allies are important,” moderator Swati Avasthi (author of Chasing Shadows) said as she noted that the audience was mostly white. But there were cautions in this session too.  Avasthi said, “If you’re trying to do your research, do it with humility. Don’t go in and speak first.” Varian Johnson (author of The Great Greene Heist) offered this consideration: “Are you writing to exploit or enrich? Are you writing to expand the conversation or because you heard diversity is trendy?”

I spend a lot of time on this blog asking people to listen to me or explaining what people aren’t getting about my experience.  My day at AWP was a really valuable chance to stop talking and listen.  I don’t remember who said it, but this sentiment got a lot of nods: We are all on this journey.  No one has all the answers.  Let’s do what we can to keep this conversation going rather than shutting it down.

In the spirit of enriching the conversation, I offer these links:

Talking to the moon

On Saturday March 28, 2015, we will have an opportunity to talk to the moon.

From 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. people everywhere are encouraged to turn off their lights in recognition of Earth Hour.  For those of us who live in the city, there are too many lights to fully appreciate the night sky.  Earth Hour is a chance to do just that–to really see and appreciate the night.

redknitcapgirlAfter participating in Earth Hour while living in New York City, artist Naoko Stoop turned her experience into a beautiful, fable-like picture book.  Red Knit Cap Girl caught my attention with the lovely illustrations, but the opening line was what really stuck with me: “In the forest, there is time to wonder about everything.”  In this book, Red Knit Cap Girl wonders about the moon.  How would you talk to the moon?  Would you throw it a party?

It is a simple story with curiosity at its core.  It is a favorite of mine, and I hope you will give it a chance.  Perhaps you will even find yourself talking to the moon on a dark night this weekend.

More about Red Knit Cap Girl & Earth Hour:

 

 

Now Available: Wild About Shapes

wildaboutshapesWhen you see a title like Wild About Shapes, you probably think you know exactly what kind of book you’re getting.  Circles, squares, triangles, etc.  No surprises.  File it on the shelf next to the math concept books, and call it a day.  Most of the time, you’d be right on.

Not this time.

Wild About Shapes by Jeremie Fischer is nothing like you’d expect.  It is one delightful surprise after another.  The “shapes” referenced in the title are really, well, abstract blobs of color that don’t look like much of anything until you turn the acetate page. Then you can see the animal–that’s where the “wild” comes in.  In the end, it’s almost magical that way the animals appear out of nowhere.

The spiral binding will probably mean that most libraries pass on this book, and that’s a shame.  It’s a fun, kid-friendly book that will have readers of all ages considering visual perspective, color, and space.

This is a book to be experienced.  I think it will surprise you.

 

Thank you to Flying Eye for providing me with a review copy.  Opinions are my own.

Women in MN Music

The Local Current blog has covered some of the most notable women in Minnesota music history here and here for Women’s History Month.  I’m sure they’ll also highlight the fantastic all-women bands that are playing out locally right now, but I wanted to share a couple of that I think deserve some attention.

  • echoKitten Forever is a riot grrrl inspired punk band.  Rift Magazine reviewed their 2013 release Pressure: “The band’s anthemic axiom ‘Do you wanna get loud? Yeah you know you wanna.’ aptly initiates the album of 13 poignantly short songs.  Listeners needn’t be well-versed in riot grrrl ideology in order to enjoy the listen, since this release strips the genre down to its essential pieces: unabashed femininity, honesty, partying, and punk rock.”
  • L’Assassins are surf rock with a bit of rockabilly thrown in.  The Current said, “These ladies aren’t following anyone’s rules. That attitude is what makes L’Assassins one of the most refreshing bands in local music right now.”
  • Puff Puff is the newest of the three all-women bands I’m featuring today–and I should note that their current line up includes a non-female after bass player Tanja Sturges relocated out of state–but they are my personal favorite.  Their surf/garage/twee sound is the sort of thing that has me spinning Puff Puff’s music frequently.  They promise a new 2015 EP recorded with the original line up, and the one song released from it is well worth the listen.  This is a band to watch, and I’m not just saying that because they are friends of mine. ;)


recordcollectingforgilsIf you have any interest in women in music, check out Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E. Smith for a fun and opinionated look at women in music that takes on everything from not being taken seriously as a female music geek to questions about the universality of the female voice.  Fascinating reading.  I’ve recommended it before, and I’ll probably do it again.

Also check out some of my previous music posts featuring female musicians: Speaking Music, Caroline Smith, Lucy Michelle, and Zoo Animal.

Or, if you’re like me, you’ll want to read some music-related teen fiction.  I’d recommend Supergirl Mixtapes, The Disenchantments to start with.  More great titles are on my Book Lists wiki.

What women have you been listening to?

Zoo Animal’s Return

Zoo Animal may have taken the last year and a half away from the spotlight, but Holly Hansen’s minimalist, poetic style has remained among my most-played music choices as it has for the last several years.  I was thrilled to hear that Zoo Animal was playing shows again, and even more excited to learn that it was going to be an early show with another local favorite, Fort Wilson Riot, opening.

 We were there with our seven-year-old in tow.  She was the one in the pirate costume.  I love it when we have opportunities to share our love of music with our daughter, even if it did mean that my view of Zoo Animal’s set left something to be desired.  Even from a distance, it was a powerful performance.

zooanimalMar15

Later this month, you can hear Zoo Animal get Loud at the Library in St. Paul.  I love it when my favorite musicians play at my favorite places.  :)

  • Read more about Zoo Animal on this blog here and here or see my photos of the show here.
  • Listen to their latest releases here.
  • Watch a documentary about Holly Hansen and her songwriting here.

Thursday 3: Overlooked Books

Last year I kept my Thursday 3 posts over on my photo blog for the most part.  This year I thought I’d bring them over here.  This week I want to share three picture books from 2014 that did not win any big awards (that I know of) and may  have slipped through the cracks. 



Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear by Monica Carnesi is a sweet friendship story with a twist.  When winter comes Bear is ready to hibernate and Beatrice (a rabbit) tries and fails to sleep through the winter with her friend.  Instead, she finds a creative way to share her experience with her friend while allowing both of them to be who they are.  I loved the messages (be yourself! find creative solutions!), and the fact that the messages were subtle compared to the sweetness of the story.  Well worth sharing with your little ones whether they have found themselves in a similar situation or not.

Brimsby’s Hats by Andrew Prahin is another story of friendship and creative problem solving that may have some appeal to the maker/DIY crowd.  In this picture book from a debut author/illustrator, Brimsby’s friend moves away, and he is lonely.  He struggles, at first, to make new friends, but he uses his talents as a hat maker to get the attention of some birds.  It is a gentle, quiet story that I found quite charming. 

100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz isn’t a story at all.  It is, as the title suggests, a list of everyday happinesses in fun rhyming couplets.  I am an admitted idealist who can’t help but be drawn to a book that promises such positivity, but this book is sure to warm the hearts of readers of all ages and liven up storytimes with its bouncy rhymes. 

You can check out the books that did win big at the Youth Media Awards here.  It was a great year for books!

 

Talking about religion…

I have been eagerly following the discussion of Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit going on at Teen Librarian Toolbox.  I haven’t been talking about religion very much anymore on this blog.  It is one of those awkward topics after all, like politics, that people tend to avoid.  But I am still reading about it a lot, and I am very glad that others are talking about it.   After all,  I spent most of my life (including all of my teen years) as a person of faith in a non-mainstream religion, and I seem to always be drawn to stories that reflect the feelings that I remember from my religious experience, including the feeling of not wanting to be part of the religious identity I had always known.

starbirdHere are just a few of the teen fiction titles that resonated with me, and my admittedly unusual experience, on the subject of faith:

  • Hush by Eishes Chayil – This story addresses issues of sex abuse in a minority religious community in which reporting to the outside authorities is discouraged.  It affected me deeply since it was an issue for my former religion as well.
  • Like No Other by Una LaMarche – While there has been some discussion of the problematic portrayal of Hasidic Judaism in this book, I thought that Devorah’s emotional experience struggling with her faith and strict religious community was beautifully written.  I think that is an important story to tell, and I saw this story as a way of sharing parts of my own.
  • Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock – Starbird’s situation in this book is even more different from mine than the previous two on this list–she lives in a cult–but, again, it is the emotional experience that resonated with me.  When she leaves her home and interacts with the Outside for the first time, she learns that Outsiders are not all bad and that her ideas about the world might not be completely accurate.  This is, perhaps, one of my favorite de-conversion stories that I’ve read for its grace in capturing a nuanced experience.
  • Eden West by Pete Hautman – While I’m on the subject of cults*, I’ll throw this book into the discussion even though it won’t be published until April.  There are already too many cults in teen fiction, but I’ll allow this one.  Yes, the cult has some weird beliefs, but Hautman lets his character figure it out slowly and reluctantly.  No matter how weird one’s beliefs are, the process of leaving them is slow and reluctant.  Too many teen novels don’t get that.  This one does.  Watch for it.

A few other titles that make the list: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt (atheism/agnosticism & Orthodox Judaism), Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu (Quiverful Christianity; Publishes in June 2015), A World Away by Nancy Grossman (Amish). On the nonfiction shelves: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson or Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler.  I have a running list going on my book list wiki.

None of these books is an exact match to my experience of religion or of separating from it, but each of them offers some glimpse into the world of making your own way in the world that is different from the way you were raised (or considering the possibility of doing that).  That is not an easy thing to do, and it is not easy to capture.  I am looking forward to the continued discussion on TLT, and I applaud them for taking up a topic that people often avoid discussing in mixed company.

Curious about my current religious identity? I shared that story here.

* When you are part of a minority group that isn’t often reflected in fiction, you tend to find similarities where you can.  There is an emotional resonance for me with these stories about cults because they are also a minority belief group. My discussion of these books should not constitute a commentary on religion in general or in specific.