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.

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.