Looking beyond labels


Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan is a beautiful book that provides a child’s eye view of Muslim culture.  The book has received several positive reviews and honors, but it still managed to spark a social media controversy when children’s book author and former educator Kate Messner recommended it to her Twitter followers.

The School Library Journal article about the incident quotes Messner as saying that the Twitter user who took issue with her recommendation, then using the handle “atheistactuary,” seemed to have “set up a search for  Islam, and made it their mission to seek out anyone that had something positive to say about the religion.”  Messner, for her part, maintained a diplomatic tone throughout the exchange.  She promoted diversity and openness in her original post, and she didn’t back down from that in a multi-day back and forth with this Twitter user who seemed intent on painting all Muslims as terrorists, misogynists, or otherwise dangerous.

I can’t be alone in thinking that this controversy shows why books like Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns are important.  We need to humanize people who are different if we want to raise kids who are willing to see beyond their own experiences to make the world a better place.  To see people as individuals rather than as a label full of our preconceived notions.

While I have made no secret of my non-belief–thus making me an atheist or agnostic depending on your definitions of the words–I do believe in people.  I prefer to wear “Humanist” over “atheist” most of the time since that puts people first.  It emphasizes values over beliefs, and that’s important to me.  The specifics of my beliefs about the universe are less important than my values of openness and diversity.

I suppose I am still glowing with a cooperative spirit after reading Chris Stedman’s Faitheist, which encourages non-religious people to get involved in interfaith activism.  It was hugely inspiring, and it has motivated to me to share this specific message: not all atheists are like the Twitter user in this incident.  Please don’t use this as a reason to add to the already strong prejudice against the non-religious.   We are people beyond our label just like Muslims, Christians, and others.  We are as committed to the common good as anyone else.

No matter what your religious affiliation (or none at all), do check out Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns as a way to open a conversation about another culture with young children.  The lush illustrations portray every day life in a Muslim family.  It builds understanding without preaching, and I recommend it highly.  Teen readers might find Growing Up Muslim by Sumbul Ali-Karamali or Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah provide a similar glimpse into Muslim culture.

Check out my For Secular Families page for more posts about children’s books related to religion to promote a people-first perspective in your family no matter what you believe.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links may benefit Proper Noun Blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

Stories & Social Media

In the summer of 2001, I was sitting in a computer lab on the UIUC campus with my fellow Web Design for Libraries & Organizations students when someone piped up with a question: “Do you know what a ‘blog’ is?”

The response was mixed.

Eleven years later, “blog” is obviously a household word. As is “social network,” which I’m not sure I knew in 2001–if it even existed then since Facebook wasn’t around until 2004.

Three years before Facebook, in the fall of 2001, Jennifer Egan published the novel Look at Me in which a fashion model who has had reconstructive surgery after a disfiguring accident is invited to participate in a very Facebook-like project.  The book explores identity in a media saturated world in a way that feels more relevant now than it did in 2001. I found the book fascinating when I read it earlier this year.   I wonder what I would have thought of her version of social media if I would have read it in 2001.

It seems that Jennifer Egan still has an interest in social media.  Check out her latest short story written in tweets as part of the Twitter Fiction Festival.  It might seem odd to tweet a story or try to put any kind of fiction into 140 characters, but people are doing some very interesting things with the medium.  Plus, it’s participatory.  You can join in with a hashtag.  I love it.  :)

Twitter Fiction Festival

You can listen to Jennifer Egan talk more about the project on MPR here.  Tangentially, even if you’re not buying Twitter Fiction as a thing, consider what Egan said about empathy and judgment on Talking Volumes last year.  Seems to fall right in with this lovely headline: Reading fiction ‘improves empathy’ study finds.

A portion of purchases made from Amazon.com links on this site benefit Proper Noun Blog.  Thanks for your support!

Social Media & Me

Science Books for Kids
Some of the books from my MEMO presentation

A couple of Fridays ago, I was preoccupied with my part of the MEMO conference.  I had books on the brain–as I usually do–but everyone else seemed to have technology on their minds (and at their fingertips).  Most had some kind of device ready to tweet with the conference hashtag.  There was a keynote address on social media in education, and I attended another session on social media for librarians and a session about e-publishing.  Frankly, it was exciting.

I hear from a lot of people about social media being all about what people had for lunch or other mundanities.  And yeah, that’s part of it.  But that’s not it.

For me, Twitter has been about connecting with my colleagues.  I follow a lot of librarians, teachers, and others related to education.  I’ve been working behind the scenes in the library field for the last few years, and the connections I’ve made help me keep current.  It isn’t the same as being in a library or a classroom, but I love being able to look over the shoulders of my colleagues.

There are so many ideas out there.  I am grateful to those who are blogging their ideas, to the people who pin or tweet the posts, and to the readers of this blog for considering my ideas.  Seriously, thanks. :)

I would also say, though, that I think there is value to tweeting about your lunch.  It’s fun and personal.  That’s part of connection too.  :)

My dinner after the conference.

What does social media do for you?  What do you want it to do?

(Btw, are we connected?  Find me on Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, and Pinterest)

Finding focus in a connected world

“This book is about a yearning and a need. It’s about finding a quiet, spacious place where the mind can wander free.  We all know what that place feels like, and we used to know how to get there. But lately we’re having trouble finding it.”  – from Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

I am new to the smartphone world, so I listened with interest when MPR aired William Powers’ presentation from the Aspen Ideas Festival.  He spoke of what our extreme connectedness does to our lives and our need for solitide.

His words resonated with me pretty strongly because I am a big believer in the power of solitude.  As a writer, I create alone, and I have learned to value the times when I have no one with whom to interact.  The times when I am waiting, for example, are perfect to simply observe.  With a smartphone in my purse or pocket, how often will I stand at a bus stop without pulling out my phone?

It seems I have added another layer of decision-making to my everyday life.

I will say, however, that just a couple of weeks in to my smartphone experience, I believe I am a better parent with it at least in one aspect.  I now spend my bus commute home from work catching up on emails and social media for the day, so when I get home I can focus on my daughter without distraction.

That is a good thing.

Weekend in Tweets: Three crazy days

  • HighTV plays a family friendly show. Or how we all learned to appreciate babysitters even more than we already do.http://flic.kr/p/9xqB89 – 10 Apr
  • AdviceToWriters retweeted by readermaid – The act of #writing is an act of optimism. You would not take the trouble to do it if you felt that it didn’t matter. EDWARD ALBEE – 10 Apr
  • chenx064 retweeted by readermaid – Interesting portmanteau word: adultescence. Its meaning is obvious on sight. So is its relevance to society today. – 10 Apr
  • megan_gamble retweeted by readermaid – An hour after first hearing about the fire on Lyndale via FB, only news I can find is still on Twitter. New media, FTW. – 19 hours ago
  • gimme_noise retweeted by readermaid – Our report on the Lyndale Ave fire that threatened Treehouse Records and the Bulldog in Uptown last night: bit.ly/femDIt – 12 hours ago
  • I seriously need to get to the library tomorrow. I’ve had no reading material all weekend. At least nothing I feel like reading. #toopicky – 37 minutes ago
Back to work tomorrow!  Don’t miss a tweet: Follow me

I love blogs, and I love loving blogs

I love blogs.  Perhaps that seems obvious since this is a blog.  I also love Facebook.  And Twitter.

I didn’t always love blogs.  When a group of my friends and acquaintances started keeping Livejournal blogs circa 1999-2000, I scoffed.  Why would they want to share their “journal” with anyone?  I didn’t get it.  It wasn’t long before I was swept up in it myself.  I’d always loved writing, and here was a chance for me to write, receive feedback, and engage with people I might not otherwise know.  Soon I was seeking out blogs and communities on Livejournal and beyond.  Most of my old friends have long since forgotten the blogging craze, but I’m still here.  Why?

Cognitive SurplusPart of the answer lies in Clay Shirky’s new book, Cognitive Surplus.  He writes of creativity, sharing, and connectivity in an age of technology.  The Internet/social media has brought amazing opportunity that, coupled with the surplus of time and energy that many of us have, has resulted in projects like Wikipedia, PickupPal, and many others.  We are no longer consumers.  We are producers, collaborators, citizens.

I love this.  I loved Cognitive Surplus.  Perhaps that seems obvious since I’m a blogger, zinester, and lover of indie music.  I love the “publish” button.  I love the “like” button.  I love the opportunity to be a part of something greater than myself.  Shirky writes,

The range of opportunities we can create for one another is so large, and so different from what life, until recently, was like, that no one person or group and no one set of rules or guides can describe all the possible cases.  The single greatest predictor of how much value we get out of our congitive surplus is how much we allow and encourage one another to experiment, because the only group that can try everything is everybody.

Life is good, people.  Let’s do something.