Monday Morning Music with Adam Levy

NaubinwayCoverAdam Levy has been mostly known to me as part of the Bunny Clogs since I had taken my daughter to a few of their performances as local events, but he is best known for being the lead singer of the Honeydogs. In the last several years, though, Levy has added another role to the list of things he is known for in the Twin Cities: Mental Health Advocate.

In 2012, Levy lost his son to suicide.  Since then, he has become a vocal part of the mental health community pushing  for a world that works for mental health rather than attempts to respond to mental illness when it becomes a crisis.  His new record, Naubinway, delves deeply into the loss of his son. The songs are personal and, at times, quite raw.  It is a tribute to loss and the healing power of art and sharing.

You can hear him speak about the record and listen to the title track from the record in this video:

 

I am very glad that people like Adam are sharing their experiences with mental illness, and I hope that this openness leads to less stigma and more people getting the care they need.

For my fellow librarians: I will be reading the Mental Health in YA Lit series at Teen Librarian Toolbox in 2016, and I hope you will be too.  After all, as quote from TLT:

“According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. Most mental health disorders begin to present in the adolescent years. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents. According to NAMI, 50% of children who present with a mental illness will drop out of school.”

This is too important to leave unspoken. Thank you to all those speaking out and all those listening.

My Newbery & Caldecott Award Picks

I may say this every year, but it always seems true: It has been a good year for children’s books.  As usual, I am more excited about the Youth Media Awards announcement on Monday than I am about the Academy Awards or the Grammy’s or any other honor. Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, etc. These are the awards that matter in my world.

drumdreamgirlmarketstreet_bgThere are so many great picture books this year, but there are two, in particular, that I really want to be honored in some way on Monday.  Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, which I blogged about here, is a personal favorite. It’s a quiet story, but full of warmth.  Dream Drum Girl by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López is a book for dreamers of any age. I am rooting for both of these to pick up a Caldecott Medal or Honor.  But I realize that the competition is tough.

thingaboutjellyfishechowarthatsavedThe Newbery is a harder to predict for me as I haven’t been able to read as many of the eligible titles this year.  Of what I have read, three stand out: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, and The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  I think all three of these might make you cry a little, if you’re like me anyway, but they all offer a bit of hope too.  No matter how the awards shake out on Monday, I hope you’ll read them and share them.

I’ll decline to mention any Printz hopefuls due to potential overlap with the Walter Award (my service on the Walter Award committee means that my opinions on these books are confidential), but I am looking forward to returning to my usual endless chatter about teen fiction in 2016.  Stay tuned! ;)

Writing My Story

whywewriteNot long after this post in 2013, I decided that I would try to write a memoir.  Two years later, I have read a wide array of memoirs–from memoirs in verse to graphic memoirs to picture book memoirs–and I’ve read books about how to write memoirs, including Handling the Truth and Use Your Words. All that reading, and I have yet to write a word of anything memoir-like beyond the occasional personal anecdote on this blog.

Most recently, my dream of writing my story found me in a memoir writing class.  After five weeks of writing exercises, idea exchange, and encouragement, my only progress was adding more titles to my to-read list, including recent memoirs by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sandra Cisneros, and more.  And I’m already on the library waiting list for Why We write about Ourselves: 20 Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, which doesn’t published until January.

Who has time to write when there are all these compelling stories to read?

Until I get all the books read, there’s always this blog, I suppose, for memoirish writing here and there amidst the book recommendations.

Homeschooling never ends

thisismyhomeI quit school after sixth grade.  I’d already already attended five different elementary schools and one middle school in six states, and the twelve-year-old me felt like I’d seen all that public school options had to offer. I was pretty sure I could do just as well educating myself as many of the schools I’d experienced. Probably better in the case of the last school I attended.

So I spent the summer between sixth and seventh grade convincing my parents to let me quit, to let me take charge of my own education.  It took all summer, but it worked.  That was how we became homeschoolers. It was a wonderful and empowering experience for me, and while I have chosen public school for my daughter, I still strongly support homeschooling as an option. It has become much more mainstream in the years since my family homeschooled, but it’s still really rare to see a homeschooling family in a children’s book.  That’s why I was really excited about Jonathan Bean‘s new semi-autobiographical picture book, This is my Home, This is my School.

I completely agree with what Jonathan Bean says in the author’s note: “Homeschooling never ends.” The mindset behind my family’s decision to homeschool has stayed with me. I still look for opportunities to learn wherever I am, to explore my community, and to take on new projects. I hope that no matter where my daughter attends school, she picks up on the values that I still hold from my homeschooling experience.

Read more about This is my Home, This is my School:

Moving isn’t easy

Moving isn’t easy. I should know.  I moved twelve times before I was twelves years old. I considered myself quite the expert. I knew how to pack boxes and say goodbye, and I knew what to expect on the first day at a new school. I can tell with certainty that it was never easy. I never wanted to move. I never wanted to leave friends or belongings behind. I never had a choice.

yardsalelennyandlucyThere were many times when I felt like Callie in Yard Sale or Peter in Lenny & Lucy, and I don’t remember having  books like this back then.  I had to find my own way.

I’ll be honest, books like these still affect me deeply. They tell a story that I can feel in my bones: moving can feel like more than you can bear, but you will bear it. You’ll lean on your family or you’ll find some other way to cope. But you will be okay.

If my childhood taught me nothing else, it is that you will begin to feel at home anywhere if you try.

My most recent moves have been by choice. They’ve been less about emotional upheaval, and more about the usual physical upheaval of packing and unpacking. This last move was only a half a block from old to new, so the disruption of life and routine was minimal. Still, in any move, it takes conscious effort to feel at home in the new space, to create new habits, and to find the comfortable feeling that makes us happy to be there.

I am happy that books like Yard Sale and Lenny & Lucy exist. I hope they are shared widely with a wide variety of readers. I think they will resonate with anyone saying goodbye, settling in, or trying to adjust to a new set of circumstances. They certainly did for me.

Books In My Mailbox

I have been getting a lot of books in the mail lately, but most of them are for my work on the Walter Dean Myers Award committee, which means I can’t blog about them.  Committee work is confidential! But here are two books I received from the publishers that I can talk about:

noahNoah Chases the Wind by Michelle Worthington (Redleaf Press) is about a boy who sees the world differently than most kids. He feels deeply and wants to understand the world around him.  He asks questions, explores the world around him, and uses his imagination.  An author’s note mentions children who experience the world in a unique way due to sensory processing challenges or autism, but I think that many curious young readers will relate to Noah’s gentle adventure in this picture book.  I hope to see more books that help young readers value the perspectives of kids who experience the world differently than they do.  Perhaps this book will help teachers or parents talk about differences with preschoolers or primary graders.

pabloandjanePablo and Jane and the Hot Air Contraption by Jose Domingo (Flying Eye Books) is an unusual book that is part graphic novel, part seek-and-find to make one big adventure.  The story begins with Pablo and Jane going to explore the old house on the hill that everyone says is haunted.  They don’t find any ghosts exactly, but they do find a creepy old lab with a hot air contraption that zaps them into the monster dimension.  The travel around the monster world, and on each spread readers have to find the missing parts Pablo and Jane need to fix the contraption and get back home.  You may remember my fondness for seek and find books from this post about another Flying Eye book, and this book ratchets up the wacky adventure in a way that will hook kids who love scary, weird books with lots of details to pore over.

Thank you to Redleaf Press and Flying Eye Books for the review copies of these books.

On safe spaces and speaking up

jacobseyepatchLast weekend, I visited a Sunday School class at my church to talk about disabilities.  I gave my usual explanation of my prosthetic arm and read Jacob’s Eye Patch, which has become one of my go to picture books on the subject of differences.  I love that way it makes it clear that questions and curiosity are okay. Instead, it puts the focus on how and when you ask questions or express curiosity about people’s differences.  The kids seemed to get that. They all agreed that there are times when they don’t want to talk about themselves or be in the spotlight, especially about something different.

Then I asked the kids if they had any questions for me about my prosthetic arm or about how I did something.  “Anything,” I said.  “This is a safe space where I encourage questions.” Hands went up slowly, shyly.  Still more kids asked their questions quietly when other things were happening in the class.  For some people, curiosity doesn’t care for the spotlight any more than differences do.

As I left, I said, “If you think of a question later, I’m around on Sunday mornings.  You can always ask me.”  It’s true.  I am a walking safe space.  I wasn’t always this way, and in all honesty, I don’t always feel up to it even now.  There have been several times, usually on a bus ride home after a long day of work, that I’ll purposely avoid potential questions that I don’t feel up to answering right then.  That, of course, is why Jacob’s Eye Patch hits so close to home for me despite my having no personal connection to eye patches (other than the obvious pirate connections that plague both Jacob and me).

The truth is that when I was a kid I didn’t want to be the person who always had to answer questions, explain myself, or have patience with rude comments.  I was more likely to tell some sarcastic story about a car accident or animal attack than answer any real questions.  I’m not proud of that, but I think that it’s probably true for a lot of people with disabilities.  Even for those of us who have been born with our differences, it can take a while to get comfortable with the reality of our story.  I’m not sure exactly when the shift to purposely creating a safe space for curiosity happened for me, but I think part of it started, or at least started growing, in sixth grade when my reading teacher took me aside to invite me to share my perspective of life with a disability to the class as we began a unit on challenges.  At the time, I declined the opportunity to speak up.  I didn’t like the idea of drawing attention to myself as different at that age, and I didn’t have anything important to say on the subject of “challenges.”  Or so I thought.

To start off the unit, my teacher booktalked related titles from our school library.  I don’t remember any specific book titles from that booktalk, but I do remember that they all seemed to have the same theme: life with any kind of disability is really hard.  I remember feeling irritated by this, but I still didn’t think I had anything important to say on the subject.

When the class discussion started rolling, I sat quietly, listening as my fellow students spoke of the characters in the books we were reading for the unit.  I thought: Is that how they think of me? Did they pity me like that?  Was I as “inspirational” to them as the characters in those books?  Was that okay with me?

Eventually I did raise my hand to speak.  I don’t remember what I said.  What stands out to me all these years later isn’t so much that I said the perfect things.  It’s that I was given space to speak and that I was allowed to stay silent, to listen, until I had something to say. I felt valued but also respected and that was so important to my feeling safe enough in that class to speak up.

onehanded-300x442To be honest, I haven’t really stopped speaking since then.  Now that I know the power of sharing my perspective, I have made it an integral part of my personal and professional life.  Last summer, I was invited to be part of a book discussion group at a local public library as they read One-Handed Catch by MJ Auch.  In the group of middle schoolers, I shared how my experience as a congenital amputee compared to Norm’s experience with an acquired amputation in the book.  If the kids took away nothing else from what I had to say, I hope they realized that there is no single disability experience.  There’s not even a single experience of being one-handed!

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her TED Talk, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

I’m still grateful to that sixth grade teacher who invited me to share my story and let me speak my truth even when it differed from the narratives presented in the class reading material.  She fostered in me an appreciation of safe spaces and open discussion and that has shaped so much of my life now, both professionally and personally.

So, thanks Mrs. MacDonald from Lewis-Palmer Middle School in Monument, Colorado.  I hope you know that you had a positive impact on at least one of your students.

Monday Morning Music with Matt Latterell

I didn’t drive for years, and I loved it.  I loved not having to deal with other drivers or finding parking or any of the other hassles that come with driving.  But in the time that I have resumed my status as a driver, I realized what I missed. Yes, there is the convenience of driving your own vehicle versus planning around a bus ride, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I missed listening to music while driving.  I had forgotten that the car was the place  I ended up connecting to music most often, and it feels so good to have that space again.  My latest driving soundtrack has been Matt Latterell.  He has a new record out now, and the release show at the Cedear Cultural Center was fantastic. But I’ve been stuck on his 2011 release Life on Land.

 

As I said in this post, his songs tell stories.  They are full of sincerity and the truth as he sees it.  Both records are well worth the listen.

 

What YA Needs

Back in July, the #YANeedsMore hashtag turned my Twitter feed into a wish list of what librarians, readers, and book people wanted to see published for teens.  I’ve been thinking about it, and I want to add my own. YA needs more congenital disabilities.

Let me put it another way. YA does not need any more stories about tragic accidents or illnesses that affect the protagonists’ ability to do what they love most.  A few examples:

  • A runner loses a leg in The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.
  • A dancer loses a leg in A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatramen.
  • An artist loses her drawing arm in Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham.

I like all of these books and recommend them often, but I want to tell future YA writers: this story has been told.  Let’s tell a new story.  Some people have had physical differences our whole lives.  Perhaps that could be a story, and I can tell you from experience that story isn’t a tragic one.

Monday Morning Music with Dolly Parton

dumplin“All the best things in my life have started with a Dolly Parton song.”

So begins Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, which is easily one of the best teen novels this year, in my opinion.  Willowdean Dickson is a girl whose story is well worth being read.  Even if you (like me) don’t have any interest in beauty pageants, give this book a chance.

In honor of Dumplin’ now being available for purchase (and I do recommend you do purchase it), here is some Dolly.