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.

The Great Good Summer

greatgoodsummerThe Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon begins with God and ends with wonder, which may or may not be the same thing, I suppose, depending on how you decide to read this story.  In the middle, though, is a story of family, faith, and questions that will pull you in no matter where you stand on the God/not-God continuum.  At least it did for me.

For some people, religion means having answers and Truth with a capital T.  For others, that’s what science is for.  Most, I’d venture to say, are somewhere in the middle of those two poles.  I have long held that it’s the questions that are the interesting part, but everyone is different. For Ivy and the rest of her community in Loomer, Texas, church is a way of life.  Ivy has never thought of it any differently or questioned her faith at all until this summer.  Her mother has left with a preacher named Hallelujah Dave.

Her mother was as constant in Ivy’s life as God was, and her absence calls everything into question.  As Ivy starts looking at the world with questions rather than answers, she finds that not everything is as she thought.  Her favorite teacher, Mrs. Murray, has statues of Buddha in her home.  Ivy wonders as she looks at the statue, “Is there something holy or magic here that might help me find my mama, or even help me know if what I’m about to do is right or wrong?”  And she makes a new friend.  Paul Dobbs is the local “science kid,” and he makes it clear that he doesn’t believe in God.  At first he and Ivy butt heads over their differences, but he turns out to be one of the few people who will really listen to Ivy and try to help her.

One thing leads to another, and Ivy and Paul are off to find her mom and bring her back.  They are on the same side through thick and thin (despite some squabbles along the way).  When they set their sights on what was ahead, it didn’t seem to matter that they believed different things.  It wasn’t about that.

You might think that a book that begins with God and spends so much time talking about faith would be preachy, and with most books, I would say you’d be right.  But there’s something about Ivy that keeps the preachiness at bay in this story.  Maybe it’s her questions.  Or maybe it’s her sincerity.  I don’t really know.  Whatever the case, the story didn’t feel, to me, like it was trying to change my mind, and I appreciated that.

This story is not about changing minds.  It’s more about considering why people believe the things they do, why they sometimes question long-held beliefs, and what it means to listen to yourself.

In the end, Ivy seems to find a place where it’s okay if truth doesn’t have a capital T.  At one point she says, “My fingers find the little cross I wear on a chain around my neck.  It was Mama’s when she was a little girl, and it’s been mine since Daddy got her a new one.  I love it, even though the gold has worn off in places and you can see a sort of unshiny silver underneath.  Which I guess means it’s fake, but that doesn’t really matter much to me.”

I spent most of my life with a capital T Truth, so I related to a lot of Ivy’s experience of faith and questioning.  These days I identify as a Unitarian-Universalist, a religion in which truth is never capitalized and sometimes it’s in quotation marks.  So I appreciated Ivy’s feeling that it was what you do with ideas that mattered more so than what one believes or doesn’t.  That resonated with me a lot.

I could quibble with parts of the the story that I didn’t agree with, but I will leave those things be.  We won’t always agree with everyone or everything around us, and that’s okay.

When Ivy finally finds her mom and speaks her piece about feeling like her mother abandoned her, they are in a car.  Ivy listened to her mother’s explanation and apology. “I still don’t turn to look at her, but I listen.  I think Paul’s listening too.  I mean, really, what choice do we have?”

We’re all in this together.  If I can teach my daughter any one value, it is that.  We are all in this together.  We have to learn to listen to one another, to connect, and to move past our differences.  What choice do we have?


Punky Brewster was my hero


Here are five reasons that the eight year-old me loved Punky Brewster:

  • She could take care of herself. When the show began, she was living in an empty apartment on her own. She got what she needed, and she was making it.  On her own terms. She was living the dream.
  • Punky didn’t let anything get her down or anyone tell her what to do.  She never seemed afraid of anything. When you’re eight years-old, it doesn’t get better than that.
  • She dreamed big.  Punky’s dreams of being an astronaut were eye-opening to me.  The eight year-old me didn’t even know that was an option.
  • She made up her own name.  As eight, I hadn’t yet discovered a reason to be dissatisfied with my given name–I didn’t decide that Mindy was too juvenile for me until I was ten–but it was still beyond awesome to see a kid create her own name with pride.
  • punkyFor all Punky’s wild fashion choices, big dreams, and unusual family situation, she still lived a life I could imagine.  I grew up in a world where people lived in apartments and worried about rents going up just like Punky and her neighbors. I didn’t often see that world on television, and while I didn’t think too much about that back then, I definitely noticed it.

Unfortunately the show doesn’t quite stand the test of time.  Upon recent viewing of a few episodes, I have to agree with this article that Punky wasn’t the feminist ideal I thought I remembered.  There is an option, though, for those of us who loved the idea of Punky and want to introduce that nostalgic version of Punky to our kids. Joelle Sellner has turned Punky into a graphic novel with a few updates and changes that are enough to turn Punky and her story into one of empowerment.

I’m glad Punky’s back, and I’m really glad she’s better than ever.

How to take a road trip

arewethereyetiWe have just returned from our second road trip of the summer, and I offer you these bits of experience for any future car travel you might undertake, especially with a child.

  • The right music is key to a good road trip.  You want crowd pleasers and sing alongs for the ultimate road trip soundtrack.  The day we left happened to be a beautiful, sunny day.  Naturally, we listened to The Cure and Depeche Mode for the sing-along portion of the trip.  Later we threw in some Schoolhouse Rock for our daughter–well, maybe for us too. ;)
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to include an educational activity.  This is pretty much my motto in life for both myself and my daughter, and in this case I made a Road Trip Scavenger hunt that my daughter mostly just doodled all over.  Hey, I tried.
  • Stop to appreciate your current location when you can.  We were in a bit of a time crunch on this trip, so there were minimal stops.  We did, however, have lunch in Champaign-Urbana on our way home, which was really cool.  I hadn’t been back to my alma mater in years, and it was a neat, nostalgic side adventure.
  • If anyone in your party is prone to car sickness, stick with audio books.  On this trip, we listened to the first Harry Potter book.  My husband and daughter hadn’t read it yet or seen the movie, and it was fun to see them experience the beginning of the story for the first time.
  • For those little travelers who can read in the car, share Are We There, Yeti? by Ashlyn Anstee for a comical school bus trip that will charm readers and maybe make them forget they are stuck in a car for hours at a time.  It publishes later this month, but here is a preview:


Thursday 3: Dads in Picture Books

“Dads are so in,” Elissa Cedarleaf Dahl said in the latest episode of Pratfalls of Parenting.  I laughed when I heard that, but I think it’s true.  At least when it comes to picture books. Prove it, you say?  Here are a few new picture books that come to mind:



Dad’s First Day by Mike Wohnoutka is about a little boy’s first day of school.  The little boy is completely ready for school, but the dad isn’t quite there yet.  This is exactly how I felt when my daughter started preschool.  Very cute story for parents, especially dads.

Ask Me by Bernard Waber follows a father and daughter as they walk and talk on a fall day.  The little girl’s loquacious inquisitiveness will be familiar to many parents, and the lovely art by one of my favorite illustrators adds to the sweet father-daughter story.

Tad and Dad by David Ezra Stein is a bedtime book about a little tadpole and his very patient dad who just wants to sleep.  We’ve all been there, right?

Want more? Try these links:


Start with a book

I have been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be an ally to people of color or other marginalized groups.  I’ve been seeking out commentary about what someone like me can do to make the world a better place for everyone.  I don’t have all the answers, but I would like to amplify the words of children’s author/poet Nikki Grimes.  She writes:

“Instead of looking the other way while hatred takes root in young hearts and minds, why not try this: Plant the seeds of empathy. Teach the young to feel the heartbeats of races and cultures other than their own. Replace any possible fear of the unknown, with knowledge of the knowable. Teach them the ways in which we humans are more alike than we are different. Teach them that the most important common denominator is the human heart. Start with a book.

Give young readers books by and about peoples labeled ‘other.’ I’m not talking about one or two books, here and there. I’m talking about spreading diverse books throughout the curriculum, beginning in elementary grades, and continuing through to high school. Why? Because racism is systemic and teaching empathy, teaching diversity, needs to be systemic, too.”

I agree wholeheartedly.  Perhaps one of these books will be a good place for you to start:

marketstreet_bg onefamily iamtheworld

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, One Family by George Shannon, and I am the World by Charles R. Smith.

But don’t stop there.  Keep reading diverse stories and talking about them with kids.  We will change the world one story at a time.

Read More:

Speaking of wishes…

wishDandelions are not the only way to make a wish.  Some people wish with kites or feathers.  Candles or weasels. Yes, weasels.  Roseanne Greenfield Thong shares wish traditions from around the world in her picture book Wish. Some will be familiar–like the little boy with the dandelion on the cover of Something Extraordinary–and others will be new to young readers.  But there is something enchanting about all the different ways to make a wish.

Middle grade novels are the real place to find wishes, it seems.

dreamerSome are magical like Dreamer, Wisher, Liar by Charise Mericle Harper, which featured a jar of wishes written on paper that transported Ash to when the wishes were made.  This sweet middle grade novel about friendship, mothers & daughters, and secrets.  I’ve actually mentioned it on this blog before in a post about mother-daughter connections.

waitingforunicornsOthers are searching for magic. Like Waiting for Unicorns by Beth Hautala, which is about grief and healing.  After her mother’s death, Talia wishes she could say goodbye to her one last time, and she latches on to the idea of wishing on a unicorn like in a story her mother once told her.  The writing is beautiful, and the story is sad but hopeful.

wishgirlThen there are the wishes that we make come true.  In Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin, Annie tells Peter that she is a “wish girl,” and he thinks she means magic.  Really, she is a Make-a-Wish girl because she is very sick. The story, however, is not without its own magic as Peter and Annie bond over sharing their wishes.

We wish for all sorts of reasons and in all sorts of ways.  Some of our wishes come true and some don’t.  In the end, I think that all of these books share the idea that what is important is connecting with people–friends, family, community.  The next time you blow out birthday candles or drop coins into a fountain, think about these stories and the people you love most.

Something Extraordinary

something-extraordinaryThere is something extraordinary about a wish. A wish can set your imagination free and open up possibilities.  Sometimes those wishes even come true, though perhaps they’ve always been true.  Perhaps what is happening around us is as wonderful as all the things we can imagine.

That is what I took away from Ben Clanton‘s new picture book, Something Extraordinary.  I have to admit to a particular weakness for picture books that encourage readers to slow down, observe the world closely, and appreciate it, and this book certainly falls into that category.

But I also love the idea that wishes do come true, and that our world is more vivid when we take the time to notice what is happening around us.

Read more about the book: