Just-right adventures

How old should a child be before he or she should be allowed to ride public transit by themselves?

I don’t have a good answer to that question, and I don’t know that one exists.  If you go by the discussion I heard on my drive to work this morning on MPR News, it certainly seems like the two sides (free range parents vs. helicopter parents) will never find common ground.  I fall somewhere in the middle, probably closer to helicopter than I might like to admit.

The truth is that I know more than a few adults who are afraid or extremely hesitant to ride public transit by themselves.  I feel like I am forever assuring people that the city bus seems scarier than it really is while they counter with stories that begin with “I heard…” and end with something terrible happening.  The idea of convincing parents that their children should ride a bus solo seems rather ludicrous in that context.

busrideJust a few hours after listening to experts and callers weigh in on the topic, I happened upon a picture book that provided another perspective.  In The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc, a little girl rides a bus by herself for the first time.  Her bus ride looks a little bit different from my usual bus rides.  Her world is populated by what appear to be scary animals.  Wolves and bears board the bus with her.  They seem intimidating, but in the end, they are friendly, or at least benign.  The girl’s solo trip is not without adventure, but it is a quiet sort of adventure.  It seems like a just-right adventure in this book.

It doesn’t answer any questions or set any guidelines for solo bus travel, but it does portray public transit as a gentle place full of community, much like Last Stop on Market Street did.  That is a message that I can firmly get behind.  I still have no idea when I will allow my daughter to ride public transit on her own, but I sincerely hope that she will feel comfortable doing so as an adult.  Until then, we’ll be off in search of just-right adventures of our own, in books and in life.  Some solo, some together.

Read More:

  • Lenore Skenazy’s writes about letting her nine-year-old ride the NYC subway alone (and the response she got after she wrote about it) in this essay.
  • The recent NPR story about free-range parenting.
  • A review of The Bus Ride from one of my favorite kidlit review blogs.
  • Peek inside a bit of The Bus Ride on the publisher’s web site.

How we tell our stories

redbutterflyI didn’t realize what Kara in Red Butterfly and  I had in common until I was twenty-five pages into the story when she describes her “one blunt hand” that she always keeps hidden in her sleeve.

I couldn’t help but think that when I finally write my own story, I hope it takes at least that long to get to describing my limb difference.  It may be the first thing that most people notice when they see me, but it doesn’t have to be the first part of my story or even the main part of my story.

It isn’t the main part of Kara’s story either.  Her story is about family and belonging and how messy and difficult those things can get.  I don’t have personal experience with Chinese culture or international adoption, so I can’t speak to those aspects of Kara’s story.  I can say that it was really nice to read about a limb difference that wasn’t a trauma, and I can happily report that Kara doesn’t struggle to do anything.  She rides a bike and does all sorts of other tasks that people would typically expect she couldn’t do.  Those things aren’t a big deal.

That, honestly, kind of warms my heart a little bit.

My story isn’t about trauma, and my only struggle is convincing people I’m not struggling.  It feels really good to see a middle grade novel that gets that.  I would recommend Red Butterfly to young readers (ages 10-12) who are interested in a thoughtful story written in lyrical verse.

More about me and my limb difference on Fake Arm 101.

My Day at School

I spent most of Monday in what felt like a sea of first graders.  I was at my daughter’s school for Parent Involvement Day, and as usual there were questions everywhere I turned.  I don’t exactly blend in.

In the lunch line, a little girl asked me if I was a pirate.  The look in her eyes and the tone of her voice told me she meant it nicely.  “I’m not,” I said with a smile. “But it looks like it, doesn’t it?  My hook is even cooler than a pirate’s though.  It opens up!”  She seemed suitably impressed.

Later one of the boys and I discussed some potential additions to my prosthetic arm after I’d explained to him how it worked.  He thought extendo-arm feature would be cool.  Super strength too.  I told him I hoped he would be the one to invent a prosthetic arm with super strength when he grew up.  He looked thoughtful as he said, “Yeah, I probably will.”

But it wasn’t all adorable. How is one supposed to respond to the child who repeatedly says, “You are scary.”? I still don’t know.  It would have been different if this child had seemed afraid, but he only seemed interested in drawing negative attention to me. There are only so many ways I can think of to say “I know I look different, but I’m really just like you.”  And some people won’t hear that message no matter how I say it.

wonder

The good news is that I’m not the only one saying it.

When I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I wanted every kid I knew to read it.  It said what I’d been trying to say for years.  Auggie says in the book: “The only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one sees me that way.”  If you haven’t read it yet, give it a chance.  It may be message-driven (or what some have called “guidance counselor fiction“), but it’s a message to which I feel a strong connection.

jacobseyepatchI have mentioned Jacob’s Eye Patch on this blog before, but it bears mentioning again.  It is a great picture book for talking about differences.  I highly recommend it–and the activity kit–for it’s realistic look at curiosity and questions.  We always tell our kids not to mention anyone’s difference or ask any potentially embarrassing questions, but Jacob offers a “green light” to people who have questions about his eye patch.

My philosophy: When you can’t blend in, you might as well take questions.  It isn’t always comfortable.  But, as I often assure nervous parents whose children are about to ask me anything, I have heard it all, and I swear I’m not as scary as I look.

Sunday morning bus rides

marketstreet_bgMost Sunday mornings, my daughter and I ride a city bus to church and back home again.  We have waited for the bus in the rain and in the falling snow.  We have shared smiles with many different drivers and riders as we all explored our great city via public transit.

So I was excited to share Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena with my daughter.  How many picture books have families riding a city bus?  Only a few that I know of.  And none do it with the magic that Matt de la Pena brings to a simple bus ride.  Last Stop on Market Street is a celebration of city living that I want to share with everyone–especially those who question my appreciation for public transit.

In the story, CJ and his grandmother are riding the bus after church.  CJ asks question after question–Why don’t they have a car? How come that man can’t see? Why do they have to go somewhere after church?–and his grandmother answers them all with kindness.  I couldn’t help but smile as I read the story, and at the end, when they arrive at a soup kitchen to serve food to hungry people, I was reminded to look for opportunities to see beauty in the world.

On a chilly morning like this one, I have to admit I was silently wishing we were a two car family, so we could drive to church and my husband could drive to work.  But I thought of CJ and his Nana.  I thought of all the little moments I’ve had with my daughter on our Sunday morning bus rides.  I thought about my city and my church.  I am grateful that my city has a pretty great transit service and that my church has so many opportunities to help people.  Perhaps one of these Sundays, we will catch a later bus home so we can join the group that packs meals for homeless MCTC students after the service.

You can see some illustrations and read more about the story behind the book in this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

 

 

Stolen Sharpies, Sneaky Copies, and Zine Culture

ssrSomeone was always handing out zines at rock shows back in the ’90s.  I always took whatever people were handing out because I was too shy to do otherwise back then.  I amassed a small collection of zines this way.  Some were among the most wonderful things I’d ever read; some weren’t to my taste.  It didn’t matter.  I was in love with zines regardless.

In a world before blogs and social media, zines were my introduction to the idea that we can all be writers, artists, and publishers.  We all have stories or ideas to share–and the power to share them.  Perhaps that’s old news to young people now.  They are growing up with all sorts of tools for sharing from the usual social networks to video and more.  But, for me, a world opened up with zines as a way to read and share ideas that didn’t have a place in traditional media and that didn’t have to be perfect to be out there.

So when an opportunity to review the latest edition of Stolen Sharpie Revolution by Alex Wrekk came up, I jumped at it.  This DIY book, in its 5th edition now, has been around for over ten years as a guide to all things zine related from basic how-to to the next level stuff like setting up zine events.  It is a starting place for those new to zines, an idea generator for those looking to try something new, and a general ode to the creative exchange in whatever form it takes.  I, of course, loved it.

It’s a small book with a lot of information–and a lot more information online–from the practical (fair use and copyright) to the fascinating (make your own paper) with an emphasis on the DIY spirit.  It’s not perfect, but no zine ever is.  A few typos only add to the general “work in progress” feel to it.  Do you need a how-to about zines before you make one?  No, not at all.  But if you are curious about what zinesters like Alex Wrekk and her contributors think you might want to know as you are getting into zines, Stolen Sharpie Revolution is a must read.

I hope it inspires you to share your ideas, art, or story.  I know it has reinvigorated my desire to be a part of zine culture.

 

And there’s a giveaway!  Alex is giving away 5 print copies of Stolen Sharpie Revolution + a Custom Stolen Sharpie with each one. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway here.

Reflections of a Book Reviewer

I recently turned in my last review for Library Journal. After eight years and over fifty reviews, I have decided to call it quits so I can focus on other aspects of my career. I have to admit: I will miss it.

Everybody is a reviewer these days. Thanks to sites like Amazon and Goodreads or social media, we can share all sorts of personal reactions to whatever media we consume when we feel compelled to do so, but there was something different about a review assignment.

newmomsIt was always something of an adventure to open a package from the LJ offices to see what my editor has assigned to me. Sometimes I was excited to dig into the book—sometimes not. Just once, it was the perfect book at the perfect time. I had recently returned to work from my maternity leave, and I had remarked on how few books there were for new moms that were about the moms (not the baby). The next book I received to review was The New Mom’s Survival Guide by Jennifer Wider. This assignment was also an example of having to separate the personal and the professional. My personal reaction to The New Mom’s Survival Guide: OMG! I am completely overwhelmed by all the things that might have gone wrong with my body. The professional version: “Sections are made for dipping into as needed rather than reading straight through.” It wasn’t about me. It was about the book.

glutenfreegirlAs a former English major, I know very well how being assigned a book can ruin it. But my LJ experience was different. More often than not, I ended up really liking books that I didn’t expect to enjoy at all. I never would have read Gluten-free Girl by Shauna James Ahearn if it hadn’t been assigned reading, and it turned out to be much more than a guide to eating for the gluten intolerant as I assumed. Instead, it was a beautifully written food memoir that would appeal to a much wider audience than you might think. It was a lovely surprise, and I’ve written before about how it inspired me to eat differently.

Not that I liked every book I reviewed. More than a few times, I trudged through a book reluctantly and breathed a sigh of relief when the review was finally turned in. But it was always a lesson in what it means to be a librarian. I had to ask myself about the book’s audience and accuracy (to the best of my ability to determine such). It wasn’t always easy to answer these questions—I am far from an expert in some of the topics I was assigned—but I took the job seriously. I tried hard to take the time and do the research to write a helpful review for the librarians who used them as they considered books for purchase.

I’ll miss the serendipity, the challenge, and the free books. ;) Maybe I’ll return to professional reviewing in the future, but for now I look forward to reading more for myself.

A few of my favorite review assignments from LJ:

Walking on air

walkingonair“I don’t get it.  We’re just walking on floor.” My daughter’s initial reaction to the “Walking on Air” installation at the Walker Art Center last Saturday was quite literal.  I heard another little girl nearby echo the sentiment as we stood inside a hot air balloon being inflated by fans.

I looked around the room. “I don’t know. It doesn’t look like a regular room with a regular floor.  What does it look like to you?”  I suggested a new perspective, and a world opened up. In that moment, we were sliding on a rainbow right into a hot air balloon.  We jumped and jumped to get the balloon to fly, and when we needed to land, we had to be calm and slow.  We waltzed around the colorful cavern and practiced yoga poses until we landed safely.  It was quite an adventure.

I have to admit, it’s the sort of adventure I don’t have very often.  I believe in the importance of imaginative play, but I don’t usually want to participate.  I will do almost anything else first.  I will read a story, do a craft, or play a game–no matter how boring to me–with my daughter before pretending with her.  Frankly, it’s one of those guilty parenting confessions that I hesitate to admit because I do feel kind of terrible about my distaste for pretending. I am probably not going to suddenly change and become the sort of parent who plays house as a first choice, but I am grateful for the reminder that it doesn’t take much for a magical worlds to appear around you.  Really–the kid usually does most of the work. artis

Thank you to the Walker for creating a space for us to play.  We also enjoyed the exploration of what art is and isn’t in “The  Time Wanderers.”  We were inspired to continue talking about the idea with the book Art is… by Bob Raczka.  Because finding books to explore interesting ideas is something I can definitely say I am good at as a parent. ;)

It was a great day. You can see more photos from the day at the Walker on my photo blog and on the Walker’s blog.

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.