Old Enough to Read Fairy Tales Again

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Have you seen the Great American Read program that PBS is doing?  After conducting a poll in which people were asked to name their favorite novel, PBS came up with Americans’ 100 most popular books.  They limited the selections to only one novel by any given author and counted a series as one book.  After all they couldn’t have the whole list taken up by J. K. Rowling, James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, George R. R. Martin, and J. R. R. Tolkien.  Finally they launched the program with a televised special, open the voting, and will air several more programs in the fall culminating with the choice of America’s most popular book.  (There will be a link to the program and the voting at the end of this post.)

I was struck as I looked at the list by how many books written for children and teens (or at least predominantly read by them) are on the list.  One quarter of the books listed fall into these categories.  Since the people polled were asked to name their favorite novels, none of the picture books that people hold dear are on the list as they wouldn’t have qualified as novels.  Also not included would be any nonfiction so no Anne Frank.   Also, by limiting the list to only one book by any given author, there are titles that are surprisingly not on the list like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which I imagine wasn’t on the list because Tom got more votes than Huck.

In addition to the children’s and YA titles listed below, there are some titles that are often read by young people including And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  There are also titles on the list that are “supposed” to be read by teenagers because English teachers assign them, but that is fodder for another post. 

C. S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”  He also said that “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” These thoughts are profoundly true.  I have found great joy in recent years reading books for children from picture books through intermediate books and into the young adult titles.  The writing in these books is phenomenal.  The characters and stories are engaging and not simplistic.  In addition to the tried-and-true titles, the books that have been published in the last few years offer a diversity, complexity, and creativity that will surprise many of you who haven’t dipped your toe into kiddie lit for a long time.  A great summer read should have the characteristics mentioned above and be just plain enjoyable, and this list fills all of these criteria. 

Screenshot 2018-07-01 20.02.30Check out the list of books below that include only the young people’s titles from the list of 100.  How many of them have you read?  If there are titles on there that you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing, this might be a great start for you.


If so, take a look at the full list of 100 titles on the website, but remember that these are the favorite novels not necessarily the critically acclaimed works of fine literature (How else can you imagine Their Eyes Were Watching God on the same list as Fifty Shades of Grey?)  I’m sure that each of us could add a title or two.  Where is Fahrenheit 451 or my beloved Pat Conroy? And I know that there are some I wouldn’t have put on there…I mean, really, Moby Dick?  However, after looking over the list there are bound to be many of your favorites included.   There are also likely to be titles that are new to you.  If so, watch the special and find some new books to add to your TBR pile.

From the Great American Read:        (T) indicates a young adult title

  1. (T)  A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  2. Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  3. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  5. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  6. (T)  Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  7. (T)  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  8. Call of the Wild by Jack London
  9. (T) Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  10. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
  11. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis   Screenshot 2018-07-01 19.39.33
  12. Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  13. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  14. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
  15. Hatchet series by Gary Paulsen
  16. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  17. (T) Looking for Alaska by John Green
  18. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
  19. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  20. Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien
  21. (T) The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
  22. (T) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  23. (T) Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer
  24. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls


To watch the PBS special, view the full list, find out about upcoming specials, and to vote for your favorite(s), go to:


We Live in This World

Screenshot 2018-06-20 18.06.39Barbara Kingsolver wrote a book in 1988 called The Bean Trees. Thirty years ago.  And it is this book that is resonating with me right now, today, all these years later.  It is as relevant and pertinent today as it was when it was written.  In fact it may be even more germane today as we face the global and national challenges of our world.  I have been reminded of the book many times in recent months as I watched the news.  Because, as one character in the book reminds us, we live in this world.

A good place to start in telling you about this novel (before I get too involved in a summary) is with the blurb from Harper Collins Publishers which describes the novel as: 

Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel, now widely regarded as a modern classic. It is the charming, engrossing tale of rural Kentucky native Taylor Greer, who only wants to get away from her roots and avoid getting pregnant. She succeeds, but inherits a 3-year-old native-American little girl named Turtle along the way, and together, from Oklahoma to Tucson, Arizona, half-Cherokee Taylor and her charge search for a new life in the West.  Written with humor and pathos, this highly praised novel focuses on love and friendship, abandonment and belonging as Taylor, out of money and seemingly out of options, settles in dusty Tucson and begins working at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires while trying to make a life for herself and Turtle.  (HarperCollins.com)

Reviews of the novel talked of its wry and “fast-moving humor,” its characters that “tug at the heart and soul,” and described it (in words seeming at odds with each other) as tough, tender, gritty, moving, guileless, refreshing, touching, humane, and as an “affirmation of risk-taking, commitment, and everyday miracles.”  The humor and Taylor’s voice in the opening lines draw you into the novel from the first page.  And then it is both that humor and the quirky, lovable, and heartbreaking characters that have you turning the pages unable to stop.  The novel is thoroughly enjoyable, but it is also at times a disturbing sociological x-ray of the way people behave toward others.  Especially to those less fortunate. 

The story withinThe Bean Trees that has been echoing in my mind lately is a telling of the “How They Eat in Heaven” allegory.  After suffering the verbal abuse directed at himself and his wife as well as the narrator’s little daughter by two, elderly neighbor ladies, Estevan tells a story to the little girl:

“Tortolita, let me tell you a story,” Estevan said.  “This is a South American, wild Indian story about heaven and hell.”  Mrs. Parsons made a prudish face, and Estevan went on.  “If you go to visit hell, you will see a room like this kitchen.  There is a pot of delicious stew on the table, with the most delicate aroma you can imagine.  All around, people is, like us.  Only they are dying of starvation.  They are jabbering and jabbering,” he looked extra hard at Mrs. Parsons, “but they cannot get a bit of this wonderful stew God has made for them.  Now, why is that?…

“…They are starving because they only have spoons with very long handles.  As long as that.” He pointed to the mop, which I had forgotten to put away.  “With these ridiculous, terrible spoons, the people in hell can reach into the pot but they cannot put the food in their mouths.  Oh, how hungry they are!  Oh, how they swear and curse each other!”  he said, looking again at Virgie.  He was enjoying this.

“Now,” he went on, “you can go and visit heaven.  What?  You see a room just like the first one, the same table, the same pot of stew, the same spoon as long as a sponge mop.  But these people are all happy and fat…Perfectly, magnificently well-fed, and very happy.  Why do you think?

“He pinched up a chunk of pineapple in his chopsticks, neat as you please, and reached all the way across the table to offer it to Turtle.  She took it like a newborn bird.”  (from The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, p.119-120)

It is the headlines in recent weeks regarding the treatment of families arriving at our border that had me thinking of this novel.  When I see children being ripped away from their parents, the issue isn’t about politics.  It isn’t about a specific law, who started the law or when it began.  It is about human rights.  It is about morality, humanity, and love for our fellow man.  I don’t want to be involved in playing the blame game.  I’d rather be about figuring out the way forward with as much compassion and empathy as possible.  Both the news reports and this novel remind me of the passage in Matthew 25:44-45 that says,  “‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’” (NLT)  



But it isn’t just the separation of children from their families at the border weighing on us.  It is the atrocities we see around the world and do nothing about.  We tsk-tsk at hearing the news and wonder what the world is coming to.  And then we go about our business.  It seems so overwhelming that there isn’t much we could be doing about it.  We’re just thankful not to be part of this.  And just as she did in the passage above, Kingsolver again brings us up short with a reminder of our place in the world.

Estevan tells Taylor of the atrocities that he and his wife Esperanza faced in their native Guatemala.  They had seen the torture and murder of friends and family members.  Their daughter had been kidnapped in order to pressure the couple into giving names of people opposed to the government.  This would inevitably lead to the torture and deaths of these people as well.  Estevan recounts the horrific events matter-of-factly.  Taylor’s reaction is beyond shock.  She “felt numb” as if she had “taken some drug” when Estevan asked, “What would you do Taylor?”

It’s an important question for all of us.  And as you contemplate what your response would be, look at the remainder of the conversation.  Taylor responds, “I don’t know.  I hate to say it, but I really don’t know.  I can’t even begin to think about a world where people have to make choices like that.”

‘You live in that world,’ he said quietly, and I knew this, but I didn’t want to.” (153)

Later Taylor reflects on some of what she has witnessed, heard and experienced.  Her dejection is a feeling that many people I know have also expressed today. 

“There’s just so damn much ugliness.  Everywhere you look, some big guy kicking some little person when they’re down — look what they do to those poor people at Mattie’s.  To hell with them, people say, let them die, it was their fault for being poor or in trouble, or for not being white, or whatever, how dare they try to come to this country… But it just goes on and on, there’s no end to it.”  I didn’t know how to explain the empty despair I felt… “How can I just be upset about Turtle, about a grown man hurting a baby, when the whole way of the world is to pick on people that can’t fight back?…What I’m saying is nobody feels sorry for anybody anymore, nobody even pretends they do.  Not even the President.  It’s like it’s become unpatriotic.” (191)

We live in this world.  And like Taylor, part of us doesn’t want to know it.  Most of us aren’t living the parts of it we see on the evening news.  We aren’t the Islamic refugees trying to find a place to live where we won’t be tortured and killed.  We aren’t the people fleeing from a war-torn country where life is made untenable due to danger, food shortages, and corruption.  We aren’t living on the island of Puerto Rico wondering whether we will have electricity today and whether we will finally be able to rebuild our house as the next hurricane season looms large.  We aren’t from families living in a neighborhood where people are routinely searched, harassed, and subjected to brutality for the color of their skin.  We aren’t wondering where our next meal will come from and if it will come today or tomorrow or next Monday.  We aren’t wondering if we will be able to pay the utilities and rent before we are homeless.  We aren’t children going to school afraid of gunmen opening fire.  We aren’t the law enforcement officers who are trying to help people only to be ambushed and attacked for the sins of others. 

We cannot bury our heads in the sand.  We need to feel for our neighbors – as Jesus defined our neighbors in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).  Certainly, we as individuals cannot help everyone. But each of us can reach out and help those nearby, we can become part of the solution and not part of the problem, we can make a difference.  If we do a little research and reading.  And by that I mean actual learning rather than just reinforcing our own prejudices by watching news stations that pander to people’s biases…reading from across the spectrum to learn truth that cannot be found in any one source.  Through this we can educate ourselves about what is going on, why it is happening, who is responsible, and who is already trying to help.   We can then support those working for good through our words, actions, money, and time.  Maybe you can’t give money, but you can write letters to those in power.  Maybe you can’t add another commitment to your day, but you can speak or donate.  Everyone can do something.  We can’t just say “someone ought to do something.”  We are someone.




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  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick


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  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
  • March (Books 1, 2, & 3) by John Lewis
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • The Pact:  Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt, and Lisa Frazier Page
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
  • Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall


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  • A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne
  • The Generosity Factor by Kenneth H. Blanchard
  • It’s Your World:  Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going! by Chelsea Clinton
  • The Millennial’s Guide to Changing the World: A New Generation’s Handbook to Being Yourself and Living With Purpose by Alison Lea She
  • Raising World Changers in a Changing World:  How One Family Discovered the Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving by Kristen Welch
  • You Are Mighty:  A Guide to Changing the World by Caroline Paul and Lauren Tamaki
  • Your Next 24 Hours:  One Day of Kindness Can Change Everything by Hal Donaldson and Kirk Noonan
Book reviews cited in this post came from The New York Times Book Review, Publisher’s Weekly, Philadelphia Inquirer, Ann Rivers Siddons, and Kirkus Reviews.

Throw Away My Shot?

Screenshot 2018-06-17 19.15.57I went to the theatre last night.  It was a community theatre production that held a tiny house – about 80 people in total.  And I was in the front row where I was afraid to stretch out my legs for fear of tripping an actor as they worked through the challenging music, lyrics, and choreography that only Sondheim could have subjected an actor to.  And I was transported not only “Into the Woods” but also back to a time when I loved working in the theatre.  I love the artistic flow, the creativity, and the energy that comes from being surrounded by people who love what they are doing. 

Screenshot 2018-06-17 18.49.07In the last week or so I’ve some interactions leading up to this lovely evening where we’ve debated the merits of various Tony winners following the most recent awards. We made wish lists for tickets and Broadway weekends, talked about shows we’ve seen, and turned with green with envy at what tickets others have lined up!  I’ve been listening in my memory to Colm Wilkinson singing “Who am I? Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean.”  To Bernadette Peters’ challenging that “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better.”  To Audra MacDonald’s thrilling, powerful harmonizing on the “Wheels of a Dream” with Brian Stokes Mitchell.  And to Mitchell sending chills through me with his “Impossible Dream.”  (I’ve also moved from my memory to Spotify, of course.)  And I’m actively seeking people who would like to buy me tickets to see Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, The Band’s Visit, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Three Tall Women, Come From Away…

Once upon a time I had a dream of standing in the spotlight receiving my awards for outstanding performance.  I saw myself standing there thanking everyone who had encouraged me and thumbing my nose at the naysayers.  I loved working in the theatre.  I loved being on the stage. I loved working backstage. I loved it all.  When I got out of school, I did some community theatre. But then I found a full-time teaching job, I got married, I had a child.  Life rolled on and I lost the theatre. Screenshot 2018-06-17 19.19.40

I still enjoyed going every chance I got, but I haven’t been on stage or even back stage in many long years.  I lacked the confidence and the courage to give it a real shot.  Once over the years since “real life” took over, I had a perfect chance to perform.  I auditioned and was cast.  I became energized and excited during a particularly low time; it renewed me.  And then the voice of reason and the voice of guilt started speaking.  “You’re a mother.”  “You have responsibilities.”  “How can you devote your whole summer to doing that every weekend?”  (Funny how the voices of reason and guilt often sound like your mother or other well-meaning people.)  The doubts rushed in and I fled.  Not giving it a shot, professionally or then, is one of my regrets.

Last night stirred something in me that I haven’t felt in a long time.  My mind started to sing like Mike in A Chorus Line, “Hell, I can do that, I can do that!”  I’m ready to get back out there.  I still can’t sing and dance, but I’ve had years of performance in front of class after class.  I still have the love of theatre.  And I can still gather props, build sets, change a scene, and be a part of it all!  I need to get up and get out there.  I know it would be a wonderful challenge for me.  Time to explore the possibilities.  So, wish me luc… Oops, I mean tell me to break a leg.

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Actions Along with Words, Please

Screenshot 2018-06-09 13.55.26I really like seeing all of the positive affirmations like this that have shown up over the last few days in response to some very public suicides.  There is some proof that when someone rich and famous like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain commits suicide, often a rise in the number of suicides follows.  It has nothing to do with a personal connection to these people but with the ultimate feeling of worthlessness.  “If someone that _______  (fill in the blank – rich, successful, famous, talented …) can’t find a reason to live, what hope do I have?”   So the instinct to let people know that others are out there who care and who hate to see this happen is a good one.  Sharing the number for the suicide hotline is also a good thing.  If these gestures help even one person, then they were worth it.

However, please know that when someone is in the throes of depression, reading a post on Facebook won’t make a lot of difference.  The care and concern needs to come directly from someone – preferably spoken so they hear your heart, but a message addressed specifically to the one hurting is okay too.  I know that, when I’m at rock-bottom, I would read this and tell myself, “that’s nice and it’s true… for someone else but not for me.”

Depression is an illness.  It is a relentless pit.  It is difficult for the people who suffer directly and also for those around them.  There are some people who need major intervention or who may never heal.   However, for many people, you can help by being there and letting sufferers know that they matter to you.  Start with some of these suggestions and go from there:

  • Reach out with an invitation to have coffee, a personal note that you are thinking of them, or a quick phone call just to chat.  The fact that you were thinking of them counters some of the thoughts in their minds.
  • Invite them to get out of the house and do something with you.  See a movie, take a walk, go to a museum, take a quick run to Target.  It doesn’t have to be something big and planned out.  It just needs to get them involved and let them know you value their company.
  • Encourage them to seek help beyond what you alone can do, but let them know that you will still be there to listen and to care.  Starting with the general physician is often the first and maybe easiest step.  That doctor can certainly start some medication and will be able to offer counselors also.  Offer to go along if the act of seeking help seems too daunting.
  • If you have suffered and had treatment, seen a counselor, or are on medication, share your experiences.  Knowing that you recognize what they are going through and that it isn’t something that they can just “make the decision to be happy and snap out of” allows that person to breathe and talk.  It also helps to take away the stigma some feel with sharing this problem.  It lets them know that you truly understand and that they aren’t alone.

Small, continuous actions that let someone know that you care can save a life.  Knowing that you are thought of and cared for is extremely important for all of us, but for those suffering with depression, it can be a lifeline.


If you or someone you know needs help, call (800) 273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741741 to access free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.

For information on seeking help through suicide prevention hotlines in a variety of countries across the globe, please go to https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/suicide-prevention-resources_us_5abcf712e4b04a59a3154cbd

Before You Comment

Screenshot 2018-06-03 20.00.18“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos…”    

Okay, so quoting from W. H. Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues” is a bit dramatic!  But that’s the way I am feeling lately.  I just want to scream, “SHUT UP!  JUST SHUT THE HELL UP!  I don’t want to watch, read, or listen to the news.  I don’t want to hear a talk show on the television or radio.  I don’t want to read a newspaper.  I am limiting what web sites I visit and curtailing how often I do.  I’ve blocked a lot of commentary on social media.  I know what you’re thinking.  And it has nothing to do with anyone’s political beliefs. 

What has me stressed and depressed is the total lack of civility in all aspects of life anymore.  I am reminded of the opening chapter of The Great Gatsby.  Nick Carraway begins his narration by talking about having returned from the east after a summer living among people that he later describes as “very careless and confused” who “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together…”  But in the very first chapter he explains that, while he tends to reserve judgement on people, he has passed his verdict on the world.  He says, “When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.”  Well that’s the point I have hit.  After getting everyone to shut up, I then want them to stand at a “sort of moral attention.” 

We have reached a place in our society where we feel that we have to label everyone, get offended over everything, and make outlandish, vile, violent and hate-filled statements about everyone and everything that is different from us.  Rivaling political parties label the other party as “flaming liberals,” “white supremacist right wingers,” “snowflakes,” “heartless bigots.”  And they no longer talk about what THEY believe in.  Oh no, they talk about what is wrong with the other side.  And most of the time they are not talking about issues and policy.  They are name-calling based on a competitor’s weight, physical attractiveness, or even penis size!  But to blame this on politicians is to miss the point.  If the American public abhorred this kind of rhetoric and there was a unified outcry, it would stop.

The reason there is no outcry?  Because “your” side (whichever side that happens to be) is the one doing it.  “Our” side is just stating truths… “our” side is just retuning the nastiness that was started by the other side.  We defend the crassness.  Not only that, we join in with it. 

You can see the hypocrisy in every single thing that gets people outraged.  On the one side you have, “How dare Trump refer to women the way he does!” but then the same people will attack Ivanka using misogynistic epithets.  If you espouse treating women with the dignity and respect they deserve, then both are wrong.  Period.  One side wants people investigated for things that may have put our national security at risk.  The other side yells that it’s a partisan witch hunt.  They yell, “you know who should be investigated for the same thing?  Your guy who has done the same kind of things, and he should go to jail.” But, of course, that isn’t partisan at all.

The hosts of The View say many things which I find repugnant.  So I don’t watch it.  I expressed my views to the network and changed the channel.  What Roseanne Barr said recently was against my values, but I’ve disliked her comments or behavior in the past.  I don’t watch her.  There is no need for me to go on Facebook and denegrate any of the women involved, to degrade them, call them names, or to wish them ill.  If I do, I’ve become what I object to and am guilty of the same offense as they are.

Screenshot 2018-06-03 18.29.54Today a Christian singer posted a meme online.  It was something that shouldn’t have created any controversy.  I’ve shared the meme here.  A positive message.  Nothing negative in it.  Nothing particularly religious about it.  Just a word of encouragement.  And people jumped on board with negative comments.  Why?  I mean, if you didn’t like it or didn’t need that word of encouragement right then, keep scrolling.  But no, people have to spew hatred and rudeness.  They have to tear down and criticize.  Some of the comments took an accusatory tone with Toby Mac but more often with each other.  They proceeded to judge people and their intent without even knowing them! 

The rudeness and incivility in this country is out of hand at the same time that people are offended by every little thing they disagree with!  We have allowed a discourse to permeate our society that cheapens and befouls us all!  We see it from the people who are supposed to be our leaders.  We see it from the sports and arts heroes our society worships.  We see it from parents on the sidelines at a little league game.  We see it in road rage.  In the line at the store.  In the way parents speak to their children. In the way neighbors treat each other.  Teachers see it from parents and from the children those parents are raising to have no respect.  I have to say that the second most discouraging place I see it is in how Christians treat the world outside the church building, and the first is in how they treat each other. 

Jesus said that the rules for living can be boiled down to two things:  love God and love each other.  That’s it.  Look at what 1 Peter 4:8-11 says.  “Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus…”  (The Message)  I could fill pages with passages on the importance of loving one another.  

So how do we practice just a little civility?

Turn off those who are rude and mean spirited.  Change the channel.  Don’t follow them on social media.  Stop listening or reading their ideas.  Walk away.  If it isn’t acceptable, it will become taboo.

Screenshot 2018-06-03 19.16.58Don’t feel that you have to comment on everything you see on social media, especially if all you are going to do is name-call, nitpick, or offer up sweeping generalizations about the other side.  I got way too involved in voicing my opinion online and have had some very hateful things said to me or about me.  I don’t believe I ever reduced myself to the kind of incivility I am talking about. I certainly hope I didn’t.  I hope I kept my discussion to the topic at hand without demeaning those who disagreed.    It’s sad but people can’t read or hear an idea without others twisting and distorting it and then getting all up in arms and offended by some very minor things.  So I have stopped commenting on most things that are more controversial than how beautiful and brilliant your child is, a funny joke that hurts no one, an inspirational quote, or the loss of a loved one or pet.  It is hard because there are many things I would like to discuss.  There are important ideas I would like to express.  It’s a shame that I don’t feel that I can say, “I disagree because…” without being personally attacked.  But that is where we are right now.

Have a discussion in which you don’t discuss people but only ideas.  Share things that reflect some issue you believe to be important, but try to be very careful about the tone of those posts.  It is good to have public discourse provided it is polite and respectful of the people listening to or reading it. 

If you can’t support what you believe without resorting to incivility, you must not have very good arguments to support what you believe.  I had a college professor who gave us advice on argument.  Dr. Foote told us that, if we could get our opponent to swear, we’d won the fight.  I’d add to that.  If they are reduced to disparaging comments, personal attacks, lies, shouting over you, and judgmental statements that include the words “all” or “never,” you’ve won.

Don’t get so involved in one issue that you become blind to anything else.  “I don’t care if he is a mass murderer, at least he’s against…” Don’t get so rigid in your thinking that you will condemn and vilify anyone who disagrees with you.  Before you open your mouth, put pen to paper, comment on a post, or criticize someone else, think of the Golden Rule.  No matter what religion you practice, it is within your doctrine.  And if you follow no religion, it is just making kindness a priority.



I think it is time to add some reading on the subject to my summer TBR pile.  These look like a good place to start.  Anyone else have ideas?  I have more time for reading given the things I’m making a point to avoid!

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Tweens Can Find the Joy of Summer Reading

We’re coming into summer when everywhere you look from bloggers, magazines, radio, and television to your local bookstore and school offer up the joys of summer reading through lists and displays.  Most of them highlight what’s new, just out.  Schools don’t tend to do that with their reading lists, but I think they should.  Hear me out.

Copy (2) of World'sEnd 046There is something wonderful about a book that has stood the test of time.  This is true of a classic adult novel that has been loved for generations.  But there is something even more special about the books we all grew up with, especially the ones that maybe our parents and grandparents grew up with as well.  Sharing those titles with the young people in our lives is a pure joy to us as we hand them the book we loved so much as a child. 

It isn’t always the same experience for the kid receiving the book.  Yes, some have stood the test of time well.  They do not seem dated and are still relevant today.  However, some of the books that we loved and remember with such fond affection reflect the time in which they were published.  While working at in the children’s room of the public library there were many days when moms came in pulling a reluctant reader to the shelves of Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and the Baby-Sitters Club.  Screenshot 2018-05-27 13.35.49  The first two are now seen as books about the “olden times” and are sometimes enjoyed by kids.  The third…well, the looks on the faces of the child should have spoken to the well-meaning moms.  And while some grandparents may love the smell of old books, remember that most kids firmly believe that “perfume” is just a stink.  (P.S. – For those of you who are crushed to find out the that the Baby-Sitters Club will look old, there is a new graphic novels series that the kids are eating up!)

If your child is a voracious reader, go ahead and recommend away.  Show them everything and anything you can recommend.  If they are not voracious readers, if they are not even interested in reading, step away from any book that had a huge following for a season.  Step away from any book that has characters on the cover sporting 1980s hair and fashion.  It doesn’t call out to tweens; it screams, “RUN!”  Step away from yellowed pages and musty smells (even the avid readers would usually prefer a cleaner, newer copy of a time-tested book).

As parents and teachers start recommending books to keep their middle graders reading for the summer, they should look for something new and exciting.  We all loved Stargirl and Maniac Magee, Because of Winn Dixie, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 and Bud, Not Buddy.  I still love these books.  We don’t think these are old.  This is the new stuff, right? We can’t wait to introduce our kids to The Giver, Harriet the Spy, Little House on the Prairie, The Bridge to Terabithia, Number the Stars, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And I do want to suggest them to young readers.  However, I want to do it wisely.

First I have to get the tween or teen to understand that I know what kids like.  I want them to see that reading is fun and relevant by giving them books that relate to their lives.  If I’m trying to pull in kids who are averse to reading or who may be disheartened at the idea of reading outside of school, I have to give them a book that meets them where they are.  As an English teacher and a middle and high school librarian, I counted it a huge success when I gave that kid who “hated to read” a book and had him come back for more.  I remember one young man who came into the library saying, “You got me to read one.  It was ok.  Can you do it again?”  By the fourth or fifth time, he was bringing friends and telling them “she’s good” like he had discovered a woman with a secret power hiding in the library.  I quietly went in my office and did my happy dance all over the place!  Those were the moments when I knew I got it right!

I am seeing summer reading lists coming out from schools.  I know why the teachers give them to the kids.  I know that they are trying to keep the kids reading and not let them get rusty.  They want them to establish a habit of reading.  Some of them give choices.  A great idea – it makes the kids feel like they have some power in the whole thing.  But way too many of them have NOTHING written during the lifetime of the kid!  Nothing new and exciting that isn’t taught somewhere as part of the curriculum.  As I look back, a book written in 2000 doesn’t seem all that old.  To my 11-year-old granddaughter, however, that is over a lifetime and a half ago!  Even to a high school senior, it would be a lifetime ago.

If you are looking for something for your middle grade kids to read this summer, why not try some of the titles below.  They have all been written within the last five years (Okay, I did cheat and put one from 2012 on there, but it’s a fave, it’s my list, and I can break my own rules)  There are a variety of genres and styles, both fiction and nonfiction, and a wide variety of authors.  Some of the books use poetry to tell the story.  Some are set in countries far away.  Some have won awards.  Some are parts of a series that began before our time frame, but the fact that the series is still being published will make the first one still relevant today.    Once you have used up this list go to your children’s librarian at the public library or to the local independent bookstore where you will find knowledge about what’s new.  Ask them what new books they would recommend.  That’s how I find out what’s new.  They’ve done the work.  They will be excited, and you’ll go home with a wealth of information and an armload of exciting new reads.

Once I have dangled the carrot in front of the ones determined not to like reading, have won over the reluctant ones, or have proven to the real readers that I know what’s going on, I can then show them the world of books and they will come along for the tour.  And the good news is that you will love these books right alongside your child.

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Acampora, Paul – I Kill the Mockingbird (2014) – realistic fiction

Alexander, Kwame – The Crossover (2014) – realistic fiction, told in verse

Rebound (2018) – realistic fiction, told in verse

Anderson, Laurie Halse – Seeds of America Series – Ashes – (2016) – historical fiction

Applegate, Katherine – Wishtree (2017) – fantasy

Crenshaw (2015) – fantasy

The One and Only Ivan (2013) – animals/fiction

Barnhill, Kelly – The Girl Who Drank the Moon (2016) – fantasy

Birdsall, Jeanne – The Penderwicks at Last (fifth and final book in series release 2018) – realistic fiction

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker – The War That Saved My Life (2015) – historical fiction

The War I Finally Won (2017) – historical fiction

Dagg, Carole Estby – Sweet Home Alaska (2016) – historical fiction/Adventure

Gidwitz, Adam – The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magic Children and Their Holy Dog (2016) – historical fiction/fantasy

Glaser, Karina Yan – The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (2017) – realistic fiction

Grimes, Nikki – Garvey’s Choice (2016) – realistic fiction

Grabenstein, Chris – The Island of Dr. Libris (2015) – sci-fi/fantasy

Hale, Nathan – Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales Series (2012-2017) nonfiction, history, graphic novel

Jamieson, Victoria – All’s Faire in Middle School (2017) – realistic fiction, graphic novel

Kelly, Erin Entrada – Hello, Universe (2017) – realistic fiction

King, A. S. – Me and Marvin Gardens (2017) – fantasy

Korman, Gordan – Restart (2017) – realistic fiction

Martin, Ann M. – Rain Reign (2014) – realistic fiction

Mass, Wendy & Rebecca Stead – Bob (2018) – fantasy

Palacio, R. J. – Wonder (2012) – realistic fiction

Pennypacker, Sara – Pax (2016) – animal, adventure

Reynolds, Jason – Ghost (2016) – realistic fiction, sports

Patina (2017) – realistic fiction, sports

As Brave As You (2016) – realistic fiction

Rick Riordan  – The Trials of Apollo:           

The Hidden Oracle (2016) – fantasy, mythology                                                                   

The Dark Prophecy (2017) – fantasy, mythology                                                                 

The Burning Maze (2018) – fantasy, mythology

Saeed, Aisha – Amal Unbound (2018) – realistic fiction

Standish, Ali – The Ethan I Was Before (2017) – realistic fiction

Townsend, Jessica – The Trials of Morrigan Crow (2017) – fantasy

Wolk, Lauren – Wolf Hollow (2016) – historical fiction

Woodson, Jacqueline – Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) – memoir, poetry

Yousafzai, Malala – I Am Malala:  How One Girl Stood Up For Education and Changed the World (2014) – memoir, nonfiction

Created 5/24/2018

Sometimes, It’s So Good It Hurts

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“We read to know we’re not alone.”

I’m not sure when I first heard this quote from William Nicholson. I know it was before I knew his film Shadowlands which is where the quote originated.  (I know that I first saw it attributed to C. S. Lewis – the subject of that film.)  I also know that it rings true to me regardless of who said it or where it came from. 

Some have suggested a link between reading and other people.  Holden Caufield, the protagonist in J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, tells readers what he sees as a great book.  “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” But isn’t that what friendship is – something that ties us together and lets us know that we aren’t alone?  While Lewis didn’t originate the quote above, he did say, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What!  You too?  I thought I was the only one.’”

I love when I am reading and I have to reread a passage that is so true and so beautifully says what I would have said had I the talent with words that the author did.  I scribble “YES!” in the margins.  I show it to fellow readers.  “This is what I was trying to explain.  Can you believe how perfectly this writer expresses it?” I copy the quote down to have at my disposal someday to think about, to read to someone, or to write about.  I’ve written about several of these passages in my blog already – passages from Pat Conroy, Katherine Applegate, Trevor Noah, Ray Bradbury, Joanna Gaines, Brené Brown and others.  (This isn’t even the first time that I’ve used the Nicholson quote – but at least I’m not still giving Lewis the credit.)

This past week I had the experience of reading another passage that made me say, “What!  You too?”  I had to look up the author to see if she had experienced it. While I can’t find any evidence that she had, she stepped inside one of my fears and voiced it.  She labeled it as the childishness that it is or can devolve into – and captured the truth that when it comes to fears, you don’t care if it is childish!  I wanted to call Liane Moriarty up on the phone and talk about Madeline from Big Little Lies.  I wanted to write “Yes – been there” in the margin – except that I was listening to the Audible version and that makes it tough. 

There is one difference in this passage and the others I have shared.  I didn’t love reading this part.  I didn’t love reading some of what Madeline had to share from there on.  It was speaking so loudly and accurately to a fear from my life that, at one point, I wasn’t sure I would finish the book no matter how much I was really enjoying it and wanted to know who died and how!  I’ve lived with the fear and the emotion and the reality of what she is experiencing since I first became a single parent.  And even though he’s all grown and gone now…the fear lingers.  The fear of you being replaced by someone new or someone not deserving.  The reality of it.  The fear that you’ve held onto the mantra, “what goes around, comes around” and it won’t prove true.  It dragged up things that I thought I had pushed down enough that they didn’t show.  Except they do.  

Here, see what I mean:

“There’s a difference between heartbroken and damaged,” said Ed.  You were sad and hurt.  Maybe your heart was broken, but you weren’t broken.  Now, be quiet, because I think I’m falling for a red herring here, and I’m not falling for it, Ms. Cornwell, no I’m not.”

“Mmmm,” said Madeline, “Well, Jane might be damaged, but I don’t see what Celeste has got to be damaged about.  She’s beautiful and rich and happily married and she doesn’t have an ex-husband stealing her daughter away from her.”

Screenshot 2018-05-22 17.45.36“He’s not trying to steal her away,” said Ed, his eyes back on his book.  “This is just Abigail being a teenager.  Teenagers are crazy.  You know that.”

Madeline picked up her own book.

She thought of Jane and Ziggy walking off hand in hand down the driveway as they left that afternoon.  Ziggy was telling Jane something, one little hand gesticulating wildly, and Jane had her head tipped to one side, listening, her other hand holding out the car keys to open her car.  Madeline heard her say, “I know!  Let’s go to that place where we got those yummy tacos!”

Watching them brought back a flood of memories from the years when she was a single mother.  For five years it had been just her and Abigail.  They’d lived in a little two-bedroom flat above an Italian restaurant.  They ate a lot of takeout pasta and free garlic bread.  (Madeline had put on seven kilos.)  They were the Mackenzie girls in unit nine.  She’d changed Abigail’s name back to her maiden name (and she refused to change it again when she married Ed.  A woman could only change her surname so many times before it got ridiculous).  She couldn’t stand having Abigail walk around with her father’s surname when Nathan chose to spend his Christmas lying on a beach in Bali with a trashy little hairdresser.  A hairdresser who, by the way, didn’t even have good hair: black roots and split ends.

“I always thought that Nathan’s punishment for walking out on us would be that Abigail wouldn’t love him the way she loved me,” she said to Ed.  “I used to say it to myself all the time. ‘Abigail won’t want Nathan walking her down the aisle.  He’ll pay the price,’ I thought.  But you know what?  He’s not paying for his sins.  Now he’s got Bonnie, who is nicer and younger and prettier than me, he’s got a brand-new daughter who can write out the whole alphabet, and now he’s getting Abigail too!  He got away with it all.  He hasn’t got a single regret.”

She was surprised to hear her voice crack.  She thought she was just angry, but now she knew she was hurt.  Abigail had infuriated her before.  She’d frustrated and annoyed her.  But this was the first time she’d hurt her.

“She’s meant to love me best,” she said childishly, and she tried to laugh, because it was a joke, except that she was deadly serious.  “I thought she loved me best.”

Ed put his book back down and put his arm around her.  “Do you want me to kill the bastard?  Bump him off?  I could frame Bonnie for it.”

“Yes please,” said Madeline into his shoulder.  “That would be lovely.”  (101-103)

I hate when I am reading and I have to reread a passage that is so true and so excruciatingly says what I would have said had I the talent with words that the author did…