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I am writing this as a concerned parent. I am greatly concerned about the number of book challenges and out-right bans that occur every year in the United States. Concerned Parents are the greatest challengers to books in our country. Which is why concerned parents (and teachers, readers, librarians and average citizens, etc.) need to Speak Loudly against censorship and keep intellectual freedom strong in this, The Land of the Free.

Fortunately, we do live in a country which protects Freedom of Speech, so there are no books officially banned by our government. Not that they don’t try. But, authors are not put on house arrest, threatened with imprisonment and death, or banished from our country because of the words they have written. We truly are lucky. I wish I did not have to remind people that there are countries in which people are actually dying for the right to learn and read. Why would we want to threaten that right here?

I do understand why parents are concerned about what their children are reading, but I do not support the removal of books from a library, school system or bookstore. Of course, the obvious statement is, as above, if you don’t like it, then don’t read it. There are plenty of books available that you will like. But what about the required reading lists at school, which is what has led to the recent controversy in Missouri over SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson and in other states for other books? Should they be allowed to be challenged? If a teacher deems a book worthy of educational analysis shouldn’t students have them available to be read? If peers are passing around a book or discussing it because of a topic that is relevant to their lives, should parents or teachers stop them? I am not talking about passing around a Penthouse in the locker room, which-guess what-happens anyway. I am talking about books for teens, about teens and about themes and subjects which are important to teens. Not to mention that the books assigned do have educational value to them including literary structure and cultural information. Contemporary novels deserve to be read and studied just as much as books deemed “classics” which often equates to “old” in the minds of the young.

When I met my son’s freshman English teacher, she showed us copies of the books that they would be reading. I was thrilled that SPEAK was one of them. I read it earlier in the summer and watched the Lifetime film based on it (starring a then-unknown Kristen Stewart). I cried, I laughed, I learned. It has all of the good stuff a book should have. Plus, it had the most redeeming factor, in my opinion, of being accessible to the modern teen. If it is new to you, then to summarize: a freshman girl experiences date-rape and plunges into a terrifying depression in which she essentially experiences Selective Mutism. The absolutely most important lesson that readers can get from this is to NOT be afraid to talk about problems, to use their voice and to tell someone when they are violated or in danger and need help. A ban of this specific book will teach the exact opposite.

I think the case with SPEAK has proven that when you tell a reader that they cannot or should not read a book, then their curiosity is going to be greater than ever and book sales will rise. Dr. Scroggins severely underestimated both the power of the Pen and of the Web. In this Internet era, there are more ways to get your eyes on a book than ever. Even if he achieves his goal (and apparently Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-5 did get cut after his complaints) he has managed to promote these books more than he will ever be able to hide them. Authors, teachers and readers around the world have rallied to support these books and others. But that is the result of a challenge/ban. What leads to the challenge is what bothers me the most. The desire to limit information, to stop people from reading and learning, is appalling. This is what dictators do, this is what terrorists hope to accomplish. We cannot attack our own Constitutional freedoms by fighting amongst ourselves. When adults bicker over books, children do not learn how to rationally debate. When governors suggest books be removed from a public library, then we are in serious trouble. When anyone is told that they cannot read any book, then we face more limitations on our freedom.

I am sorry that I have been absent for so long (if anyone was looking)…Let’s just say that I hit a speed bump, not a block 🙂 But I do know that the first rule of writing is: Sit Down and Start! and that if at first we don’t succeed, try, try…you get it. So, here I am tired, humbled and maybe a bit more determined. Today is the first day of the rest of my yadayada…
normal_book1jkrfanAnd what a great day in literary history it is! Joanne (K) Rowling was born today, July 31st and she also gave her famous protagonist the same birthday, so some people call this Harry Potter Day. I don’t know if they need their own holiday (?) but it is a good day to apply pen to paper and get back into the flow.
Personally, she is one of my inspirations as far as success stories and admiration of style and skill, as well as, darn it, personality. When I first discovered the Harry Potter books, I was a single mother, struggling through a bad separation and divorce, temporarily living at my parents and waiting tables while also trying to finish my degree and maintain a healthy relationship with my 5-year old son. My British, reading-teacher mother actually bought the books to read to him while I worked dinner shifts, but reading at bedtime was one of our Favorite Things, so one night I read a chapter to him, then could not stop after he fell asleep. I had to go back and start the wondrous journey all over. Despite being tired, stressed and a literature major for goodness sakes, I was enthralled. That was in 2001, the boy is 13 now, and we love all things Harry Potter.
I admit to being a bit of a fan, as in fanatic, when it comes to Rowling and her amazing Wizard World. Hearing her own story only cemented my obsession. {btw: if you have not yet seen the documentary A Year in the Life with JK Rowling, you can view it on the ABC site.  i cried. } She was at a low point in her life, divorced with a young child who depended completely on her and an idea for a story that apparently would not leave her head (a feeling I know well). I think that millions of people would agree with me when I say, “Thank God, she wrote it down.”
I believe that her story, both the fictional and the biographical one, epitomize the answer to the struggling writer’s question “Why write?”  A: You never know, it may just change the world.

ADDED Aug 7: Since I have been in a Potter mood this summer and the books are always fun to read, I am definitely signing up for this challenge at Galleysmith. If you haven’t read the series yet, well, of course I recommend it! And if you have, then you may want to listen to the audiobooks, which is accepted for  the challenge. You have almost a year to complete it and yes, there are prizes. But, of course the biggest reward is the joy of reading, right? 😉  Sign up by August 15th to be entered for the prize drawings!

Obama book I have to admit I was happy to get an opportunity to participate in a blog tour through MotherTalk for the New York Times‘ Young Reader’s Edition of Obama: The Historic Journey. This book is definitely going to be a staple in libraries across the country, but it is also a great addition to home libraries. All of my kids were surprisingly interested in it, though they mostly wanted to see the pictures of the President when he was a baby [always a fascinating image for kids]. They are all here, the snapshots of a young unknown collected together, some of which have become familiar after being shown during the campaign. Though there is a bit more text than the preschoolers are used to listening to, it is an easy to follow mini-bio and narrative of his life, career and campaign written by NYT managing editor Jill Abramson.  My middle-schooler also browsed the pictures more than anything, but I would not be surprised if he turns to this book as a reference in the future. Above all, it is a collection of photographs taken by NYT staff of Obama’s rise to the public eye, from before the campaign all the way up to the Inauguration, many of which are stunning and inspiring. The layouts include highlighted quotations and a few charts. Some of the controverisal topics are discussed, including his absent father and his “father figure” Rev. J. Wright, but the facts are told simply and, I think, offer parents a chance to discuss such topics with children if curiosity arises. There is also an “Adult edition” available which includes texts of some of the Times’ columns and editorials focused on President Barack Obama’s journey. Personally, the junior edition is enough for me, because a lot of the info is old news at this point, and because it skips a lot of the politics and gets to the heart of the story: an American boy, with odds stacked against him, worked hard and dreamed big [with all that audacity] and achieved great things with support from his family and country.

The prompt yesterday was shockingly not about Earth Day, but rather, work. Now, I could have done a piece about how we all have work to do to improve our ecological karma, but you all know that already, right? So, this one is more personal, because work, and what it means to me, are very much on my mind lately. I did attempt a sonnet, though Shakespeare would probably shudder…

I read the Help Wanted section for fun
Even though there is nothing there for me.
I scan the freelance sites with ambition
that’s not reflected on my resume.
I work at home with kids all around me
and have little to show when I am done.
Between dishes, diapers and the laundry
I squeeze in blogs, poems and sometimes work on
some novels that may never be ready.
In the eyes of many, I’m just a mom.
There are some who know the real me,
writer, teacher, reader, thinker, and some
who are glad I am there every day
willing to put aside work just to play.

Tuesday’s prompt was a “2 for Tuesday” meaning we got 2 prompts. First- write a “Clean” poem; Second- a “Dirty” poem. That is to be interpreted however you please. Writing both is optional, and I am not sure which one I chose:

It doesn’t matter
how many times
I pick them up
and put them back again.
If I turn my back
or take a break,
they only keep
coming back again.
I put them in boxes
and baskets
and bags again,
but I don’t know why
because they’ll be back again.
I bend up and down
and have been
back and forth again
and again,
but it only goes in
one ear and out again.
So, here I go, again
to pick them all up
before the kids come in…
Oh no!
I threw my back out again!

button designed by Elizabeth Dulemba

Share a Story - Shape a Future

I just learned about this blog, just in time to share before the festivities begin. This week, Mar 9-13 there is a blog tour  happening which concentrates on children’s literature and literacy. Anyone interested in kid lit, whether as a writer, teacher or reader, will find a plethora of information there. Each day is hosted by a different blog and covers a different theme/topic. I got the heads up through The Reading Tub whose blog is hosting the first day. There will be related downloads and giveaways too. As a mom, I look forward to gaining some insight into teaching the skill and love of literature to my own kiddos. As a writer, I think we can probably gain some insight into what children’s literature encompasses and how to write for young audiences. Either way, encouraging literacy in the new generation is beneficial to our culture, future and anyone who loves books.

I think I took today off. I did try writing but got little done, mostly because I was being Mom first. But that is okay. I was reminded of the blessing that job is by Kristi Holl’s latest post at Writer’s First Aid. [Yes, I spent some of my precious computer time visiting some blogs and sites that I have been missing recently, instead of writing like a good WriMo.]  Quick quote from her:

If you love your kids, you never stop being a parent. If you’re a parent and a writer, you’ll always search for ways to combine the roles effectively.

She’s specifically discussing her writing career as it parallels with her now grown daughter’s life. There are a lot of writers who make their careers and creations flourish while also going through all of the ups and downs and chaos that is parenting. I know that everyone’s situations are different and we all have to find how to balance our particular needs. I am still relatively in the beginning stages of my writer’s life, but I am already learning how difficult it can be. They [writing and parenting] both take a lot of time, energy and attention and do not seem to want to share me with the other. Some days I want to quit, but there really never is such a thing as a day off, is there? I am always thinking about them [the kids, the books, the random duties I have], and worrying that I am not good enough.

I am struggling through NaNo, for many reasons, but I am also struggling through their childhoods, every day. In so many ways, writing and parenting are similar. I know i can be am a writer, just as I can be am a mother. Growing up, I was told by others that I would be good at both and I have always known I would do both jobs, [which are both more like lifestyles than jobs, I think]. But, in both roles, I do not necessarily know if I am doing it well or correctly, I am just following my instinct and trying not to lose my patience, will or mind. We may begin with an idea of what our precious creations are going to be like, but it takes time, flexibility and a whole lot of patience to help shape them into their own life. I have found that like my kids, my main characters do not always do what I expect them to, have minds of their own and in the long run, they are not going to be the beings I imagined in the beginning. But I am still so proud of them.

And it all takes time. Squishing an entire creation into 30 days is sheer madness. We would not expect our kids to be completely ready to go out on their own in a month, or even a year or a decade. I do not want to spend that much time on this book, but some authors do. I do want to watch it grow, though and this NaNoWriMo period is much like the gestation period, too. I want to see what my baby looks like! I want to get through the month so I can really start grooming and priming it to enter the world.

But I need to get there first, with a healthy bundle of joy. So I am going to let go of my expectations and just focus on the creation. When that is done, then I can become the tough-love parent, pointing out all their flaws and trying to get them to do what I want them to do. And loving them even when they don’t.

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