Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Restless Reading, and Restless with Excitement for the 3 B's (BEA, BBC, and BlogHer)

Is it just me, or does it seem that a lot of us have had a restless time of reading lately? That January represented a sluggish start to our reading year, that it has been tough going?

Or maybe I'm just noticing these blog posts because I've been having such a reading month myself.

I'm ending January with only four books read (and four that were abandoned).

1. The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter (review here)
2. Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf (review here)
3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (audio)
4. Poems from the Women's Movement, edited by Honor Moore

I'd hoped my current read, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, would have been #5, but chances are slim that I will finish it tonight. Honestly, I'm having a tough time with this one. I love the prose and the language, but am finding that I need to re-read passages several times. Maybe I'm not ready for another Virginia Woolf so soon after Mrs. Dalloway, maybe I'm not in the right frame of mind. Normally I wouldn't finish it, but I want to ... so I'm planning to continue with it.

I'm also reading a nonfiction book. Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life, by Getting Things Done guru David Allen. I looove David Allen and the systematic approach he offers for managing all the "stuff" we have to do. Of all the productivity and time management methodologies and systems, Getting Things Done (or, GTD) is the only approach that has worked for me ... when I actually do it and haven't fallen off the wagon. Hopefully this book will pull me out of somewhat of a rut in that regard.

And in other news, I'm going to this, this, and (hopefully ... maybe ... amthisclose to signing up for) this:

Yes, I've lost my blogging mind and have signed up for Book Expo America (BEA) and the Book Blogger Convention, both happening on consecutive days in May. I'm so excited (and admittedly, a bit nervous) for both, but especially the Convention. It is going to be great to meet so many bloggers at once! (I must say, though, as much as I love the Attendee list on the Convention page, it is not doing my Google Reader any favors ... because I've added even more blogs to my subscriptions.)

I have a little more time to come up with the cash for BlogHer '10 (if anyone wishes to give me an early birthday present and throw some cash my way ...). Honestly, I wasn't going to spring for all three ... but Florinda is planning on being at BlogHer, as will Kristen, Niksmom, and several other bloggers who I read regularly. As of now, I'm just planning to go to BlogHer on Friday for the day and skip the hotel room expense. But, I'm looking at this as an investment in my writing and a chance to build my personal platform and network. I also don't know when all three of these events will each be in New York again, and since The City that Never Sleeps is very accessible via a 2 hour or so Amtrak ride, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd better get back to reading if I am to call myself a book blogger at any of these events.

Will I see you at any of them?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Equality On the Spectrum, On the Eve of Black History Month

This is not an easy post to write.

It is one that I write with some (ok, a lot) of hesitation, because I know it makes me sound like a horribly inadequate parent and I am feeling like one when it comes to this issue. Because it is hard to admit (at least for me) one's struggles and that I am not sure what to do.

But at the same time, I have confidence and trust in this community of bloggers who walk with me on this road we call the autism spectrum. For as much as I need your help with this, I think I need to know that I am doing the best I can.

Even if that doesn't seem to be nearly enough.

OK. Enough of my melodrama. Out with it.

We are having a tough time explaining racial equality to Boo. As most of you probably know, Boo has Asperger's. He is, like many on the autism spectrum, a very literal-minded person. There is not much gray area in his world. Things are very much black and white.

You see where I am going with this? Hence the problem.

He came home from after-school care one day this week, proudly explaining to us that he organized a basketball game that day. The Blacks versus the Whites. He himself apparently grouped the kids by color to form the teams.

To say that we were utterly aghast at this is putting it mildly - and how the hell we didn't get a phone call or an expulsion notice is beyond me. But to Boo, it was a logical way of creating two teams. We tried to explain that this wasn't right, that you can't separate people based on the color of their skin, that this is not fair.

And he asked why and the best we could come up with was, "Because it Is. Not. Fair." That there are laws, that people fought and died so that everyone could be equal and treated fairly. We reminded him of Martin Luther King Jr. Of Rosa Parks.

We talked to him about people we know personally who are African-American. Who are in inter-racial relationships, and what if someone said they couldn't get married? "I dunno," was the response. We talked about his friends, his classmates, our neighbors. (One of the selling points of this school district and neighborhood for us was that it is much more racially diverse than the lilly-white one we moved from.) About President Obama.

I cannot find many resources online for teaching racial equality to kids with autism. Like everything else with parenting this particular individual child on the autism spectrum, they must have forgotten to give me the manual when we left the hospital eight years ago, so we're making this (all of this) up as we go. On Friday, I had occasion to go to the library sans kids, and I took advantage of that to check out some children's biographies, in hopes that the stories of African-American heroes will help.

We have read several of these books before. We have talked about these issues before, particularly during the 2008 Presidential election. And yet, my kid is the one who organizes a segregated basketball game and when you try to talk to him about it, it is an instantaneous tantrum from him, a scream-fest from him, a complete meltdown from him and a psychic meltdown from us.

This year especially, I welcome and embrace February as Black History Month. I'm hopeful that some of Boo's homework and worksheets that he will be bringing home will help reinforce and prompt additional dinner-table discussion.

And yet.

And yet I know all of this might not make a difference. That it might not be what Boo needs - whatever that is - to change what I fear is something stuck in his mind.

Maybe there aren't any right-and-wrong, black-and-white answers to this. Maybe all we can do is continue the dialogue, providing examples. Maybe we are talking too much. Maybe we need to be doing more, or doing something different.

Because right now, like so much of the quagmire of emotions that accompanies having a child on the autism spectrum, this feels as if we went astray, that we did something wrong. That we are doing something horribly wrong, that we are bad people.

That we are flailing and failing as parents and as people.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's Not Just Another Word

My cousin Joey has asked people to share their stories of discrimination and bullying on Facebook group that he started less than two weeks ago, Equality Project. As of this morning, there are 3,361 3,389 members of the group, with the vast majority of them being teenagers. (If you missed them, see my previous posts here and here about Equality Project.)

It struck me that by being asked to share my story is an opportunity to share with this audience my thoughts on a subject that matters deeply to me. Most of what I say here has been better said by more eloquent writers than I am, but if this helps one person to think before saying the r-word, then it's worth it.

I'm spelling the word out for the purpose of the Equality Project post (which you can see below) but not here because there is something inherently difficult about writing that on my blog, even for educational and awareness purposes. I just can't do it.

"That's so r ----ed."

How many times have you heard someone say this, or some variation of this?

Pretty often, I'd imagine. Because I've heard it too. From everyone. It's not a figure of speech flung by teenagers. I've heard this from a few of my otherwise professional coworkers. If I was a Cabinet member in the Obama administration, it's possible that I might have even heard this in the halls of the White House this week, when Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel allegedly, reportedly (according to the Wall Street Journal) referred to something or someone as "fucking r -----ed" in a meeting.

You've heard it and I've heard it. And, it is just a matter of time before my 8 year old son, who has autism, hears it too.

And he'll ask me - because he always asks me - what that word means.

And I have no idea what I will say.

I'll probably explain it to him similarly as I did when I told him he has autism. Trust me, as a parent, you get intimately acquainted with a special kind of heartbreak when you get to tell your 8 year old that his brain works differently, that he has something called autism, that even the best doctors don't quite exactly know why you were born with this, that this is the reason why some people don't understand why you act differently than other kids, that you will have this (to some degree) to the rest of your life.

I don't really understand the logic behind using this word. I've heard the reasons (and excuses, really) why it happens.

It's just a figure of speech. I don't know what I was thinking. Oh, I wasn't referring to your son. It's just a word.

It's not just a word. Trust me on this. It is Not. Just. Another. Word.

For in the minds and hearts of those with developmental disabilities and those of us who love them, it is a word with searing-hot and flame-red qualities. Hearing it hurts my heart, physically. It is a dagger, a rifle. It is the verbal equivalent of rape.

I cannot explain the pain this word causes unless I am talking with other parents of special needs. It is a certain kind of pain that you only understand if you love someone with a disability, regardless of that disability.

And chances are, you probably know someone who has a disability. Even if they're good at hiding it, even if it is a disability on the inside, in the deepest corners of their minds. So, if it helps, think about that person who you love when calling something or someone r-----ed. Or think about my little boy, who will soon be asking me why someone called him this name.

We've been talking a lot about equality in recent days. About embracing each other and our differences - whether they are in regard to our sexual orientation, our political and religious beliefs, our skin color, our ethnicity.

We are speaking up.

But when speaking up means continuing to casually say the word r -----?

That's when we need to change the conversation.

More than 52,784 people have taken a pledge to Spread the Word to End the Word. Find out how you can join them at You don't have to wait until March 3. Even if you have used the r- word in the past, today is a new day with a clean slate. Check out these Facebook groups for more information and resources.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Caught Between the Moon and New York City

"If you get caught between the Moon and New York City
The best that you can do ...the best that you can do
Is fall in love ..."
"Arthur's Theme" ~ Christopher Cross

I'm feeling kind of giddy here in these wee small hours of the morning, under what is supposedly the biggest and brightest full moon of all 2010. (Truth be told, last I looked it seemed a little fuzzy.)

You see, the giddiness is because I just signed up for BEA. I'm kinda feeling like I've arrived here in this book blogging world. Like I'm being invited to play with the cool kids.

Speaking of which, I plan to sign up for this tomorrow, or pretty soon thereafter, once I crunch a few numbers and see what's what in the bank account.

I'm not sure what has come over me. I don't know New York City (and I'm kind of missing my uncle a bit tonight, for he certainly did). I haven't been there since I was in college when a friend and I hit the town for a day, I haven't firmed up hotel or other logistics other than the possibility of taking Amtrak (we're a do-able 2 hour or so train ride away).

My plans are as nebulous as that moon outside. I have no idea what I'm doing. Part of me thinks the other part of me is nuts. (I'm sure my mother, reading this, is thinking similarly.)

But ... I'm being pulled to go to the city that (like me) never sleeps.

Tonight, I'll blame it on the moon.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I'll Take a Few of Those, Please.

"I must have read awhile, the latest one by Marilyn French or something in that style ..."

"The Day Before You Came" ~ ABBA

This week, I had the occasion to visit the corporate headquarters of IKEA.

(I know ... pretty cool, huh?)

Yep. But not as cool as THIS.

THIS was one of the first things I saw when I walked into their offices.

A two-and-a-half story (oh, I crack myself up ...story...) bookcase. I think I stared in awe for several minutes before whipping out my camera. I may have even mumbled something incoherent like, "oh, my book blogger friends will loooove this ..."

I'm professional that way.

But this bookcase? I. Want. That.

I do, I do, I do, I do, I do.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

State of Our Union: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

Notice anything missing from this picture?

Like ... I don't know, maybe a grown up? Or ... gasp! A woman?

Oh, right. The woman is at home. Keeping her husband interested.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book Review (Kids): How the Nobble Was Finally Found

How the Nobble Was Finally Found, by C.K. Williams and Stephen Gammell

The Nobble is an unusual kind of creature, some type of mishmash between a human and a nymph, a fairy and a benevolent goblin. Someone who thinks he might be invisible because he likes to hang out in places where "nobody else ever went."

"He used to take his naps, for instance, in the bottom rung of the number eight, and you don't come across too many other things in the number eight, or not often anyway.

And sometimes he went to play in the space between Wednesday and Thursday, and naturally you'd have to expect that he'd be mostly by himself there, because in that little space there really wasn't much to see at all, except way off in the distance a little glow like a radio dial that the Nobble decided was probably something even farther away, between Friday and Saturday, maybe."

After "about four thousand three hundred and twenty-three years and three months or so," the Nobble decided to explore the world, to see if there was something out there or someone other than himself. He has adventures and makes discoveries, tries out new things like doors and he walks on roads. And then, with the help of a little friend, he finds something truly amazing.

"You're a Nobble," said the Nobble.

"And you are, too - you're a Nobble, too," said the other Nobble.

"I thought I was the only person like me," said our Nobble,

"And I thought I was the only person like me," the other Nobble answered.

"This is wonderful," said our Nobble. "You have beautiful huge eyes and dangly ears and long hair and finger claws and a bunch of very nice toes. And you also look very friendly."

And the other Nobble said, "You look friendly, too. In fact, you look perfect. Would you like to be my friend?"

"I certainly would," said our Nobble. "It's a little sad out there in the twirls on top of the oak leaves and the swirls under the waves of the sea."

"I know," said the other Nobble. "Even in the curlicues inside flowers and the big boxes in shooting stars."

C.K. Williams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (it is easy to see why, for this is one of the most beautifully lyrical and poetic children's books I've ever read) and Stephen Gammell is a Caldecott medalist who has illustrated numerous children's books we've enjoyed (I Know An Old Teacher, by Anne Bowen; The Relatives Came, by Cynthia Rylant; Hey Pancakes! by Tamson Weston, just to name a few).

And, if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know why I absolutely adore this children's picture book, why its message is particularly poignant, and why it had me slightly teary-eyed while reading it to Betty and Boo. It has such a wonderful message for kids of all ages, especially those who view themselves as different.

Which, come to think of it, is all of us.

We are all Nobbles.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Update on Joey

On Friday, I wrote about our 15 year old cousin Joey who started a Facebook group (Equality project) to speak out against discrimination and bullying.

I've passed along all your comments to my post, and he is incredibly grateful and appreciative - as am I.

On Friday morning, there were 660 members. It's Monday night, and it has doubled ... to 1,226 and more, every time I hit refresh. The rippling viral effect is truly amazing to watch. Literally, I can sit and hit refresh on the group and watch the numbers go up in awe.

He is scheduled to be interviewed on our local news tomorrow evening, plans are in the works for another chat with another news station, and ... he received an email reply from an Oprah producer, saying "the group is remarkable and we will keep it in mind if there are any more shows on bullying."

It is all very exciting stuff. We are very proud.

And, it must be said, more than a little worried.

1,233 members now ...

Because as fervently as Joey believes in his cause, there are others who believe otherwise, with equal (or more) passion. By going public, by being a leader, he's inviting the crazies to take notice. As one of Joey's friends wrote, "the greatest leaders draw in the worst enemies."

It's an interesting balance, this concoction of pride mixed with apprehension. Of waiting for some troll to say something offensive.

1,240 members ...

Of wanting him not to get hurt. Or worse.

I wonder, what is that quality, that elusive elixir, that allows some people to take the hurt they have endured and transform it into something that is so refreshingly good ...

1,243 ...

... and that makes others do exactly the opposite?

1,248 ....

As his numbers increase, I would be lying if I said my apprehension wasn't rising as well. For Joey. For his parents, for his sister, for our family.

For I am too jaded, way past idealistic, complacent in many ways and for many reasons. I have seen too many headlines, I have Melissa Etheridge's song "Scarecrow" ringing in my ears and images burnished in my mind of another boy.


I am counting.

photo taken by me on 1/23/2010 of a tiled mosaic fountain at Longwood Gardens.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Links Roundup

It has been quite a while since I did a links roundup, so I realize that some of these you may have already seen these days or even a few weeks ago. No matter. It's my blog and I'll include 'em if I want to. Which I do, because they are worthy reading.

On talking to kids about Haiti, from Genesis Moments.

From the Afghan Women's Writing Project blog: I Am For Sale, Who Will Buy Me?

Kelly Diels had a great guest post over at ProBlogger about the rules (or not?) of blogging ("The Blah Blah Blah Blogging Rules. F It.") A snippet of what she writes, almost poetically.

My point: blogging can be transformational.
You know why?
Because it is writing – and we might say, oh you don’t have to be a good writer to be a
popular blogger, but for the most part that is a big wiggly lie – and we’re doing it daily.
Those two things, together, mean we’re thinking about THINGS and working through them.
A-ha moments are practically guaranteed.
And then there are the people. Wow, the people. Blogging lets us find our people and that is a revelation. It is like coming home to a love-in, only everyone keeps their clothes on (usually) and talks pretty about thinky things.
It is beautiful. It is soul food that doesn’t make you fat.
Transformation, community, freedom, creative expression.
That’s why some (most?) of us are blogging. We’re not looking for another set of rules to obey.

A couple of posts of interest (at least to me) about Facebook. There was this Politics Daily piece ("My Bra? Color Me Furious") by Donna Trussel, which gives the perspective of an ovarian cancer survivor on the whole Facebook bra meme. (The comments are kind of surprising to me, to be honest.)

And my newly-engaged, friend-who-I-know from college Chris, also known as Another Delco Guy in South Jersey, reflects that Facebook helps us be the people we would like to be.

Have an older model iPod that you don't know what to do with? Consider donating your iPod to help a child with autism. Jess from diary of a mom (a brilliantly written blog, BTW...I wish I could write half as well as she can) is the brainchild behind this and the details are in this post, paying it forward - the freedom project.

The anniversary of Boo's diagnosis was this week, and quite frankly, it's a day we'd rather forget. Natalie from My Yellow Apple: Journeys in Parenting Asperger's Syndrome thinks otherwise, as the two year anniversary of her son Aiden's diagnosis is an occasion of honor and even celebration.

And another Natalie (this one from Between Fact and Fiction) writes about how much as we don't want to write, sometimes we have to Do It Anyway.

Happy reading!

The Sunday Salon: Many Years From Now

My grandmother celebrates her 97th birthday today, and in thinking about what to write for today's Sunday Salon (because it has been somewhat of an unremarkable reading week for me), I wondered what books were published in 1913. Which of them, if any, were relevant in our lives today - or even known?

I turned to my trusty friend Google, thinking of all the advances and discoveries that my grandmother has seen in these 97 years. Landing on the Wikipedia entry, 1913 in Literature, I was bemused to find this:

According to Wikipedia, The Google Book (ISBN 0192797352) was written by economist Vincent Cartwright Vickers in 1913 and is said to be a kind of children's monster book about a monster called Google (pictured below) that can howl. The book has surrealist illustrations of various fictitious birds created by Vickers. The Google Book is considered by some to be insight into Vickers's insanity. Vickers, whose extended family owned Vickers Limited, wrote the book while serving as a Governor of the Bank of England. (A hardcover, published in 1979, is currently for sale on Amazon for $122.00.)

Kind of has a bit of a Maurice Sendak quality to it, don't you think? I think this is kind of neat, the fact that there was a children's book called The Google Book published when my grandmother was a newborn (I wonder if anyone ever read it to her?) and how, 97 years later, the Google monster is still with us.

It's also kind of cool to see which books published in 1913 are still recognizable today. Take a look:

New books
Alain-FournierLe Grand Meaulnes
L. Frank BaumThe Patchwork Girl of Oz
- Little Wizard Stories of Oz
- Aunt Jane's Nieces on the Ranch (as "Edith Van Dyne")
Edgar Rice BurroughsTarzan of the Apes
Hall CaineThe Woman Thou Gavest Me
Willa CatherO Pioneers!
Arthur Conan DoyleThe Poison Belt
Ellen GlasgowVirginia
Husayn HaykalZaynab
Henry JamesA Small Boy and Others
Katherine JamesA City of Contrasts
Franz KafkaThe Judgement
D. H. LawrenceSons and Lovers
Jack LondonThe Valley of the Moon
Flora MayorThird Miss Symons
Oscar MicheauxConquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer
Octave MirbeauDingo (novel)
Baroness OrczyEldorado
Eleanor H. PorterPollyanna
Marcel ProustIn Search of Lost Time starts to be published
Saki - When William Came
Elsie SingmasterGettysburg
Vincent Cartwright VickersThe Google Book
Mary Augusta WardThe Mating of Lydia, The Coryston Family
Hugh WalpoleFortitude
Edith WhartonThe Custom of the Country

Delmira Agustini - Los Cálices Vacíos (Empty Chalices)
Guillaume Apollinaire—Alcools
Robert Frost—A Boy's Will
Siegfried Sassoon—The Daffodil Murderer

I wonder ... which books being published this year, which authors of 2010, will we be remembering, recognizing, and Googling in 2107?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

All Politics Is Local

This afternoon, Betty and I took a little drive up to Longwood Gardens, a spectacular oasis of acres of gardens and foliage. (Even in the winter months, it still draws thousands because of its conservatory and holiday show.)

I've lived within an hour of this paradise for most of my life and until today, had never set foot on the grounds. So, prompted by a children's event happening there and my desire for fresh air and activity, we went.

En route, I mentioned to Betty that we were in the hometown of Vice President Joe Biden, and I pointed his street out to her.

"I don't think he got very many votes," she said.

Slightly confused - and curious - I asked her, "What makes you think that?"

"Because he has seven houses."

Laughing, I corrected her. "No, sweetie, that would be John McCain."

This recollection comes from a onetime dinner conversation we had in August 2008 at our house.(Our one and only house.) Seriously, how proud of a mama am I that my 8 year old remembers a campaign issue from nearly a year and a half ago?

(photos are of a version of Monopoly that we have - America Has Voted! - it says, and which were taken one rainy night as we played this during our beach vacation last year. Aunt E., if you're reading, look closely at the top photo and see that your tablecloth has made it onto the blog.)

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, January 22, 2010

In Which I (and You?) Help a Friend with a Paper on Children's Literature

A longtime friend of mine has a homework assignment to interview someone knowledgeable about children's literature. She sent me an email, asking if I would be her interview subject. ("Because I remember that you are really into books," she wrote.)

I hardly consider myself an expert in children's literature but I told her that I would help her with her questions as best as possible. She needs to complete this over the weekend, so if you have a moment or two to answer one of the questions along with me, you'll be doing both of us a favor. I'm writing this post quickly and kind of thinking out loud, so hopefully it makes a little bit of sense.

Here they are. Feel free to chime in and answer one (or more) for my friend.

1. Can you tell me what a media specialist is and does?
Quite honestly, I'm not entirely sure. Anybody?

2. How are reading trends different these days vs. decades ago?
From my perspective as a parent, I think kids have more competition today than we did when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s. I see this with my own kids, as their activities (Girl Scouts, acting class), interests (the Wii , computer games like Club Penguin), and TV all compete for the time that might have been taken up by books.

When I was growing up, there were certainly these distractions - but somehow, I always seemed to have my nose in a book. (Maybe too much, because my mom had to tell me to go outside an play with other kids - something I wasn't always that inclined to do.)

I think children's literature is dealing with issues that used to be either forbidden or just simply not discussed. You see this especially with some middle grade and young adult novels - and the idea that some adults are reading young adult books is also different than it was several years ago. I think it is great.

And of course, the number of book bloggers and the passion they bring in sharing reviews is certainly a great trend!

3. How do you feel about Censored books? Would you ever share any in particular with your child? If so which ones?
I'm against censorship of books. I think that such actions are a violation of free speech.

I'm participating in a "reading challenge" (Unlock Worlds) where we are actually reading censored books and writing book reviews on our blogs. Many of the books that have been censored or challenged are children's books (or middle/young adult) and ones that I remember fondly from my own childhood.

Several of Roald Dahl's books have been challenged, and my kids (2nd graders, age 8) have read them in school. He's one of their favorite authors. I've also read them poems from A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein as well as In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak.

4.What is your favorite Caldecott/ and Newbery Award winner and Why?
I had to look up the winners here and from that I realized that we have only read two winners. (That's kind of embarrassing.) They were The Hello, Goodbye Window illustrated by Chris Raschka and written by Norton Juster, and So You Want to Be President? Illustrated by David Small, written by Judith St. George (2001).

We have read more books that have been Honorary Mentions for the Caldecott. A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, by Marla Frazee (2009); Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems (2005); Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems(2004); Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin (2001); and When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry, by Molly Bang (2000).

I'll answer this from the perspective of my kids, who loved the Don't Let the Pigeon ... series by Mo Willems. They could read this series forever (and I hope they do). Doreen Cronin is also a big favorite, too.

5.How do you feel about those awards should they be continued or updated?

Definitely continued. I don't know much about the nomination and the awards process (similarly as the CYBILS), but I think they serve as a guide for parents, teachers, and librarians.

This is a good one for some bloggers to answer.

6. Do you have a favorite book you would recommend to a teacher to use in the class? If so which one and why?
I'll answer this question from the perspective of a parent whose child has autism. I just read a children's book called "My Brother is Autistic" and I think it would be great if every classroom read this. With 1 in nearly 100 children being on the autism spectrum, I think that reading these kinds of books can be helpful to classmates as well as to siblings. It might help in realizing, particularly with younger kids, that everyone is different.

For preteen kids, I think teachers would do a great service by teaching the middle grade novel "Anything But Typical" by Nora Raleigh Baskin.

7. What would you like to see change in the next few years regarding Literacy and Children's Literature.
Hmm ... I can't really think of anything ... what do you think?

8. where do you see children's literature headed in the future?
Help me out here, blogger friends ...

9. If you could have a meet and greet with any children's Author who would it be, for what book(s) and Why?
Without a doubt, Judy Blume. Because her books are the gold standard for children's and young adult literature. Her books defined my pre-teen and teenage years. She was on the cutting edge of being able to write about issues that were on the minds of kids, and she did so in a way that we have never really quite seen since. (And similarly to the censored question, many of her books have been censored - and I can't wait for my kids to read them.)

10. How would you try to engage children in reading?
Both of my kids are (in my unbiased opinion) excellent readers, and I take some credit for that. Here are some of the things we've done and continue to do:

1. I have always read to them - even as early as 3 months old as part of a bedtime routine. I still read them a book every night while they eat their snack.

2. We have a gazillion books at home. Seriously, they are everywhere - in the library (a formal living room area that we turned into a little library), on the family room coffee table, piled in the corner to be taken back to the library, in the kids rooms, in the car ... there are books everywhere.

3. We go to the library often, usually at least once a week. We join the Summer Reading Club every year.

4. I make sure they see me reading.

5. We read every night together, upstairs in the guest bedroom. We usually read our own books silently, for about a half hour or so, before going to bed. It's a wonderful time of just reading, answering and asking questions, laughing, pointing out words that we might not know.

Hope this helps, girlfriend ... and I'm truly flattered that you thought of me as someone knowledgeable enough about children's books to help you out with this!

(Photo above taken by me in July 2009 at the Philadelphia Zoo. It's a little exhibit in the children's zoo of these wooden houses, and this one is a bookstore, "Bunny Tales and Books.")

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Be the Change

"Be the change you want to see in the world ..." ~ Mahatma Gandhi

I have known Joey since before he was born. Since before his parents were married or even engaged. Without his parents, The Dean and I would likely never have met.

He is The Dean's first cousin once removed. He is my Facebook friend, and for the past couple weeks, his status updates have been ... well, worrisome.

Now I know why.

Three weeks ago, he took his belt off at school, intending to use it to hang himself in a stairway. A final message, of sorts, to the kids who have been teasing him, bullying him, calling him names.

Because he is gay.

He's known this for some time and came out in middle school. What he has experienced since - including a knife brandished by another student and held to his throat as he is shoved against a locker, indifference and inaction on the part of school officials - is unfathomable to me, as a person and as a parent.

I know all this because he is sharing his story publicly - at 15, he has more strength than I ever will - and encouraging other teens to do the same.

He launched a group on Facebook this week. Equality Project is a place for students to share their stories about bullying, about being different. (Although it's a student group, Joey invites anyone to join in ... even 40 year old relatives like me.)

In a few days, Equality Project has attracted 660 members, many of whom are posting their stories. Boy, are they posting their stories. They are not easy to read. It's one thing to know that bullying happens in schools; it is another to read these raw voices, one after another after another, writing of unimaginable violence.

As a parent, this scares the crap out of me. It is enough to make one lose hope, to feel defeated, to mourn for a generation lost.

For the majority are stories of kids being attacked, brutalized, beaten. Of desperate cries for help, of stories from the bullies themselves - including one who admits to have bullied special needs kids in the past.

What is happening on that Facebook page is both heartbreaking and heartfelt. There seems to be a dynamic at work there, giving kids a sense that they are not alone, that they are not the only one who has been terrorized, that they are not the only one who feels different and strange.

Joey has ambitious plans for Equality Project, to take it national (thanks to Facebook, it kind of is, isn't it), all in the name of encouraging teens to share, to speak up.

To prevent another Joey from taking off his belt and hanging himself in the school hallway.

To be the change they want - and desperately, achingly need - to see in this world.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In This Case, TSA Stands for Totally Stupid Asshole

Can someone tell me exactly what the fuck is going on with the TSA? I mean, seriously, are there any grown-ups working at that agency?

As if it wasn't bad enough that grandmas and military personnel and 8 year olds are subject to "secondary screening," now we have TSA agents who apparently get their jollies by playing practical jokes on unsuspecting passengers, like what transpired with 22 year old Rebecca Solomon on a recent flight home from Philadelphia.

I'd explain what has me so riled up, but this column by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin explains things quite well. Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.

You're done? Am I wrong or is that unfuckingbelievable? God knows you can't legislate common sense, but thankfully, Ms. Solomon's father is in a position to try. He's a legislator, and I hope he helps his daughter sue the pants off this guy, the TSA, and anyone else involved. This Totally Stupid Asshole should not only lose his job, but he should be forbidden to go anywhere near an airport. Like ever.

Airport security is no laughing matter - or, as my father (God rest his soul) used to say, "this isn't about shits and giggles."

Drop kick this Totally Stupid Asshole like the piece of crap baggage he is, and kick him and his juvenile sense of humor to the curb.

Today. Now. Our national security is at stake.

UPDATE: The above was written at 2:15 p.m. According to this article, posted at 3:40 p.m., the Totally Stupid Asshole is no longer employed by the TSA. Good riddance. Buh-bye, and don't let the metal detector hit you in the ....

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Review (Kids): My Brother is Autistic

My Brother is Autistic, by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos, illustrated by Marta Fabrega

I'm posting this review today on purpose, because today is the day that the world as we knew it changed.

It's been exactly six years since we officially learned of Boo's autism diagnosis.

So much has changed in our lives and his since then, some for better, some for worse. On a daily basis, we see strides and accomplishments we never imagined while being reminded of how different our family is and the challenges ahead. Perhaps I'll have more to say about this anniversary in a separate post, but until then, here's this review with a personal perspective.

This was one of those "just in case" books that I'd gotten from the library.

I've mentioned before that Betty, Boo, and I read together every night before bed. We take our respective books upstairs into the guest room and read silently for about a half hour, sometimes more, sometimes less; sometimes pointing out a funny phrase or word, sometimes asking questions, sometimes throwing out a random thought. It is, by far, my very favorite time of the day.

On one of these reading nights in the late fall, I was reading Parallel Play, Tim Page's memoir of growing up with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome. Boo asked me what the book was about. I took a deep breath and explained the story, that Tim was a bit like Boo in that his brain sometimes worked differently than other people's, that he knew a lot about music, and that sometimes people didn't understand him.

"Why does his brain work differently?" Boo asked.

"Because he has something called Asperger Syndrome," I said.

"Do I have Asperger Syndrome?" Boo asked, almost matter-of-factly. (Too matter of factly, I thought.)

I paused, drew in another deep breath, realizing that this was it. This, right here in the guest bedroom on a November's evening, was the moment I'd been scripting and rehearsing in my mind for nearly six years. The telling. The moment when Boo's world as he knew it would change. Just as mine did nearly six years earlier and would again.

I couldn't lie (as much as a part of me wanted to). I didn't want to over-dramatize this, nor did I want to make it seem no big deal. Still, this had to be handled right, in the exact, right way.

Whatever that was.

I said the hardest four words I ever said - ironically, all too similar to the easiest.

"Yes," I said. "Yes, you do."


And that was it, for a few minutes. I explained how when Tim Page was 8 and in second grade, like Boo, his teacher was upset with him when he wrote a report about a field trip. I read the passage to Boo, who just stared, taking it all in, asking why Tim Page's teacher was so upset.

The subject of Asperger's hasn't been mentioned much since, and that's OK. I think it is the type of thing that will unfold over time. For the most part, this revelation wasn't the drama that I expected. Nowhere near.

Still, I thought that there might be a chance that Boo might mention this to Betty, and indeed, Asperger's was a brief guest at the dinner table a few nights later when we were discussing music and Boo referenced Tim Page. And a couple days later, I found My Brother is Autistic at the library.

My Brother is Autistic is a wonderful picture book for kids, told from the point of view and in the voice of a sister whose brother, named Billy, has autism. They attend the same school where, one day during lunch, another classmate asked Billy if he could have one of his cookies.

"Billy ignored the boy and kept admiring his row of cookies, so the boy asked again. This time, Billy repeated the boy's question, and the boy thought Billy was making fun of him so he leanedover and grabbed one of Billy's cookies. And that's when it happened!

"Billy got mad! He squinted his eyes, started flapping his hands in the air, and squealed really loud. Then he stood up, flipped over his lunch tray, and kept flapping his arms. Billy's shriek was so loud that everybody had to cover their ears. And everybody knew that he was my brother! I was so embarrassed that, instead of trying to calm him down, I ran out of the cafeteria as fast as I could and left Billy with all that mess he had made."

The sister (who is unnamed throughout the story) confides her embarrassment and mixed emotions to her teacher. Together, they create a collage in the classroom of famous people who are on the autism spectrum, including athlete Jason McElwain "who made the winning basket for our [school] basketball team."

"At first I couldn't figure out what all these pictures of people Ididn't even know had to do with Billy, but when Mrs. Smitty asked the class what each person on the board and one in every 150 American kids had in common, I figured it out! All these people, who were so good at doing different things, had autism, just like Billy! Not eveybody with autism will become famous and, just like everybody else, some will be able to do more things than others. And that's okay because that's what makes us all special!"

"Going back home with Billy, I realized that now I saw him not only for who he is, but for who he could become. I told Billy that I was sorry for leaving him all alone in the cafeteria and I promised that no matter what I would never do that again. Billy smiled, touched my shoulder and said, 'you're IT" and then ran away."

I didn't read this book with Betty. I offered, but she wasn't too interested - so back to the library it went. There's probably a good chance that we'll be checking it out again sometime, though, for it is an incredibly well-done book that explains autism in terms that a young child can understand, without being scared or ashamed. It also offers a parent guide in the back of the book.

In addition to being a good book for young children who have a brother (or even a sister) on the autism spectrum, I think My Brother is Autistic would be helpful for others who are close to the child with autism - perhaps cousins who are close in age, friends, or classmates.

This is part of a series of books Let's Talk About It. Other titles include:

Are You Shy?

The Colors of the Rainbow

Daddy's Getting Married

Do You Have a Secret?

I Remember

Lost and Found

Mom Works Too!

My Friend Has Down Syndrome

My Grandparents are Special

My Mom Has Cancer!

When My Parents Forgot How to Be Friends

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Running for Political Office, Ladies? Better Keep Your Husband "Interested"

So, let me get this straight. If I was contemplating a run for political office (which I'm not), according to Rutgers University law professor Michael Livingston I'd damn well better be able to keep my husband "interested."

I can't make this stuff up, people. You can read Mr. Livingston's words from his December 16, 2009 blog post right here.

Or here:

"You know it’s the holiday season when everyone gets, well, a bit silly. A couple of examples:
Dawn Stensland—Let me get this straight. She can’t keep her husband interested, and she wants to take on Pat Meehan in the 7th? Last year’s candidate (Craig Williams) didn’t win, but he always showed up with the same woman."
(the link is Mr. Livingston's, not mine; it was included in his post).

For the benefit of those not in the Philadelphia area, some background: Dawn Stensland (pictured at left) is a former news anchor and reporter, last with FOX29, and who recently announced that she is thinking about running for Congress in the 7th district .

Ms. Stensland is also married to Larry Mendte, who was the news anchor for a competing Philadelphia station when he was charged with hacking into the email account of his co-anchor, Alycia Lane, and leaking them to the media. Mendte also admitted to having "improper relations" with Lane.

(This all happened two years ago, mind you.)

Mr. Mendte has since served his full term of house arrest for those charges; both Stensland and Mendte have been forthcoming about the situation and circumstances (and whether one agrees with Stensland's decision to stay in her marriage or not, she is widely regarded as handling the situation with class and dignity). To their credit, both Stensland and Mendte are working hard to rebuild their personal and professional lives. As well they should and are entitled to do.

Hence, the possible run for office on Ms. Stensland's part, which blogger/Rutgers law professor Michael Livingston feels she isn't qualified for.

Because of her failure to keep her husband "interested."

OK. Deep breath, folks. I got a few things to say on this one. Not to mention, I feel compelled to check my calendar because, hello? What century are we living in here?

Are we really saying that just because a woman's spouse has "improper relations" that this automatically disqualifies one for public office? Are we really? Isn't that just a wee bit sexist to say that the whole scandal is Dawn's fault, and clearly, if she can't control things in the bedroom, she won't be able to control ... anything else?


In the response to the equally-dismayed-like-me commentators on his blog post, Mr. Livingston claims that Ms. Stensland hasn't demonstrated any qualifications for seeking public office. Which justifies his insinuations that she shouldn't even think about running because she can't keep her husband "interested."

That's the lowest of the low roads, Mr. Livingston. Instead of actually interviewing Ms. Stensland about the issues and asking substantive questions on the issues and what she would do as a candidate, you decided it would be easier to take the cheap shot and denigrate her. Her family. Her professional reputation.

I mean, his blog post doesn't even make any sense. (Some may say this one doesn't either, but I'm not a university professor responsible for instructing impressionable minds nor someone with a public platform.) What's up with "Last year's candidate (Craig Williams) didn't win but at least he always showed up with the same woman." What does that have to do with anything, much less whether one is qualified for higher office?

We would be much better served, I say, if we had more females in politics. But we're never going to get there when we have the likes of Michael Livingston to kick us when we're down, blogging about our prowess in the bedroom and marital charms.

There is one point of agreement that I have with Mr. Livingston's post. It's the concluding sentence, where where he writes:

"Maybe some people need an early vacation."

Yes, indeed. Maybe some people need a permanent vacation.

Rutgers University School of Law started their semester on January 6. The university would do well by giving Mr. Livingston the opportunity to start packing.

(Also well worth reading: Dawn Stensland's husband Larry Mendte's post "Sexism Alive and Well in National and Local Politics" from his blog, The Mendte Report)

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Book Review: Mrs. Dalloway (Woolf in Winter)

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf
190 pages
copyright 1925

I apologize for being tardy to the Mrs. Dalloway party, where the participants of the currently ongoing Woolf in Winter read-along discussed this acclaimed novel.

As I wrote in my Sunday Salon post this week ("To Reread or Not to Reread?") , I read Mrs. Dalloway in college and was somewhat nonplussed about a re-read (even though I contemplated such several years ago when I read Michael Cunningham's The Hours, a spectacular book.) I thought I remembered most of what Mrs. Dalloway was about, and indeed, there were things that came back to me as if I was still sitting in Dr. Young's class.

But, I'd like to think I'm a different person now than I was then and maybe the passage of time gives me a renewed appreciation for Mrs. Dalloway two decades later. For one thing, I'm closer in age to Clarissa Dalloway and her peers, sad to say. If I thought I had an understanding of the dynamics between Clarissa and Richard and Peter back then (and in my know-it-all 20s, it wouldn't have been beyond the realm of possibility), then I have a different perspective on that now.

Mrs. Dalloway follows socialite Clarissa Dalloway through one June day in 1923 as she prepares to give a party. She throws these parties often, and doing so seems to stress her out a bit. The real story, however, is not about the party preparations but about the passage of time.

It's about how we are all interconnected and the threads stitching our lives together even if we don't recognize them. It's about the coincidences and decisions that make up our lives, the words said and words unspoken between friends, between spouses, between those we loved and still do.

I've written before about the Barbra Streisand song, "On My Way to You" that I love and that I had our soloist sing at our wedding ("so often as I wait for sleep, I find myself reciting/ the words I said or should have said, like scenes that need rewriting ... if I had changed a single day that went amiss or went astray, I may have never found my way to you.") I think that is at the essence of what I love and still love about Mrs. Dalloway.

Woolf conveys all this through the stream-of-consciousness and seemingly effortless way she segues from one character's thoughts into another. Her use of symbolism - the mending of the dress, the clocks striking, the presence of waves and water, the flowers, the windows in which we see others - coupled with exquisite prose and the ability to give the reader a full understanding of a character in only a page, or even a paragraph.

Others have commented that Mrs. Dalloway is a book that is a good candidate for rereading - and having just done so, I agree. I think that there are different elements that one can glean from the book depending on one's circumstances and life experiences when one reads it.

Sarah hosted the Mrs. Dalloway portion of the Woolf in Winter read-along, and you can find her thoughts as well as those from other bloggers right here.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Sunday Salon: To Reread or Not to Reread?

I'm not one for re-runs. I can probably count the movies I've seen twice on one hand (It's a Wonderful Life, When Harry Met Sally, The Graduate, This is Spinal Tap). And aside from children's books, I can't think of many books I've read twice.

So even though I signed up for the Woolf in Winter read-along, I'd intended to skip Mrs. Dalloway, having read it in a college class a mere 20 years ago. (I'm still indebted to you, dear Dr. Young.) No need to revisit it so soon, I reasoned.

But I changed my mind and am very glad I did. This was kind of a slow reading week for me, so I've been spending most of this slate-gray rainy Sunday in my favorite place - my living room/library, surrounded by books and photos of loved ones - finishing the last 60 pages of Mrs. Dalloway. (I'll have a post with my thoughts/review up soon. Better late than never to the Woolf in Winter party, right? "We are shockingly late, dear Mrs. Dalloway, we hardly dared to come in," she [Lady Bradshaw] said.)

In reading some of the other Woolf in Winter posts, several bloggers have commented that this is a book to re-read. Having done just that, I agree.

It made me think: I keep my already-read books because I think that they are ones I might like to reread. (I'm getting much better at giving away books that I won't.) But even though I want to reread them, I don't. Why is that? Is it because there are too many other books to get to? Is it that I just like having them around, on days like this when I am sitting in the library with them nearby?

In looking at my shelves, there are several that would lend themselves well to a second go-around. The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor, absolutely. (Hmm ... maybe I might need to create a Flannery O'Connor Reading Challenge if one doesn't already exist.) Any of Lorrie Moore's books, but especially the short story collection, Birds of America, are worth a reread. (I don't know about her latest, as I haven't read it.) There's also Rachel Simon's first book, a short story collection (are we sensing a theme here?) called Little Nightmares, Little Dreams.

There are also novels by Ursula Hegi that I wouldn't mind rereading (Stones from the River), classics like A Catcher in the Rye, The Glass Menagerie, The Plague, and The Stranger. Nonfiction like Getting Things Done by David Allen (love him!) and Freakonomics, and oh - the columns by Darrell Sifford, a wonderful Philadelphia Inquirer columnist who passed away all too young.
Too many books to read and reread. Nowhere near enough time.
What are some books you've read more than once, and which ones are you longing to take another look at?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Facebook Fatigue

"I got dozens of friends and the fun never ends
that is, as long as I'm buying ....
Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?
and it's ticking away with my sanity
I've got too much time on my hands
it's hard to believe such a calamity ..."
"Too Much Time on My Hands" ~ Styx

You know the old saying that it only takes one person to ruin something good for everyone?

That's starting to be the case for Facebook. It only takes ... oh, I don't know, around 350 gazillion (or however many members they're up to now) to ruin what was something good for the rest of us sane people.

Now, I'm just as much of a Facebook addict as the next yahoo. I admit that and I own up to spending way more time there than I should. That's because I love being in touch on a daily basis with relatives I only see at funerals, with my college roommates, my best friend from kindergarten. Truly, I do. I also like being Friends with my blogging buddies.

I can deal with the annoyance of getting Friend requests from wackos who remember verbal zingers I hurled back in 1986. From my childhood friends' parents and my kids' teachers, for God sakes. I can even deal with the requests to become a farmer, a mob boss, a wizard, or a chef. Ignore, ignore, ignore. Defriend, defriend, defriend. Block, block, block.

But within the past week or so, my annoyance has reached a new high. And now that Facebook is the social media equivalent of the junk fax (remember those, from when the fax was the kick-ass thing?) the chain letter, and the forwarded to a million people e-mail, it's losing its appeal.

I think it started with all these ridiculous fan pages and "groups." You know what I'm talking about, because like me, you also have that Friend who joins groups like "I had someone talk to me about a facebook status I had last night" or "so-and-so became a fan of Give Mr. Hentz a Raise."

Even all that was tolerable. So was the bra color thing. Cute, funny for a few minutes, and I'll even go so far as to say well-intended but slightly misguided.

But now, I can't even keep up with the absurdity. When they're not shuffling statuses, I have Friends doing odd things, posting them as statuses that I don't understand. I have people who are telling me what to repost as my status. Clearly, some people have way too much time on their hands.

Frankly, it's just becoming juvenile. And I'm no social media expert (although, no one is more surprised than me that I am going to be paid a decent sum in a few weeks to talk to a group of nonprofit directors about exactly that ... so maybe I do know a thing or two) but mark my words: this crap is going to be the end of Facebook. I think I am probably very much a Facebook fuddy-duddy, very much in the minority who doesn't care about this crap and wants the substantive Facebook of old back.

Maybe this is the natural trajectory, the logical evolution of such things. Maybe Facebook is only a fad at best or at its worst, an illusion that brings us all together before the end of time.

Too much time on my hands, too much time on my hands
Too much time on my hands, too much time on my ....

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book Review: Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff

UPDATE to this post: 

Hi, you. Yeah, you with the school paper due in a few hours and who didn't read Make Lemonade like you were supposed to, so you thought you'd try and see if there's a book review online and you've found this one.  (Been there, done that ... except in the pre-Internet world of the '80s.)  I'm glad you're here, and I'm flattered that you find this book review worthy of plagiarism.  Truly, I am most honored, as greater writers than I have never been plagiarized.

As a mom, though, I kind of feel like it is my duty, of sorts, to let you know that this is one of the most popular blog post here, according to the search terms and the hits.  So, if you're passing off this review as your own, there's a pretty damn good chance that someone else has gotten to this party before you.  Might even be someone in your class.  Which would kind of suck if your teacher was smart enough to figure out that you're both quoting from the same blogger. 

But listen, your secret is safe with me.  Quote away. Just promise me this:  when and if you get caught, can you make sure you give your teacher the url of this blog?  I think he or she might like what she sees here. 

Today's a day of errands for me and later tonight, I'm hoping to spend some time finishing Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf for the Woolf in Winter read-along. So, for today, I thought I'd give you a review of a book I read a few months ago, by another Virginia Wolff.

Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Fourteen-year old LaVaughan recognizes that the ticket out of her urban neighborhood includes going to college. To earn money towards tuition, LaVaughn begins babysitting after school for Jilly and Jeremy, the toddler children of 17 year old Jolly, an unwed mother who works the night shift in a factory.

While caring for Jilly and Jeremy as if they were her own, and struggling to keep her own schoolwork and aspirations on track, LaVaughan gets a real-life lesson from Jolly in choices and how one's decisions can impact not only your life but those of others.

It's a lesson that LaVaughn already knows too well, becoming wise well beyond her 14 years in the aftermath of her father's accidental killing on a nearby playground by a gang member. She saw then how others' decisions affect others, and she sees a similar scenario in Jolly's life. Where all others have seemingly abandoned Jolly and her children, LaVaughn becomes the family's young and unlikely advocate and role model for the kids. She imbues them with a sense of safety, stability, and even a little bit of fun in their lives that is sorely lacking and missing.

Written in poetic verse form, Virginia Euwer Wolff's young adult novel is a quick read. (It's perfect for a Read-a-thon book.) It's subject matter is heavy, yes, and a bit on the depressing side, but ultimately Make Lemonade is a story of hope and the universal struggle to better oneself and how sometimes others recognize that quality in ourselves before we come to realize it ourselves. It's also a story of how it truly does take a village to raise a child - whether they are toddlers, as Jilly and Jeremy are, or a 17-year old, as Jolly is.

The short stanzas in Make Lemonade worked well, and were appealing to me. I especially liked how the specific race of the characters was left unsaid. It's easy to make assumptions, but leaving the character's race unspoken supports one of the book's premises that it is easy to do so.

Before entering the world of book blogging, it would have never occurred to me to pick up a young adult novel. Now my perspective has changed and I find myself visiting (perhaps with a little vicariousness?) the teen fiction section of the library - which, for full FTC disclosure purposes, is where I got Make Lemonade.

I'm also reading more young adult books because there is the possibility that the novel I started for NaNoWriMo may morph into a YA book. I'm thinking the story could lend itself better to that and if so, I'd better get familiar with today's YA, as opposed to that that I grew up with in the 1980s. (Not like there's anything wrong with my brand, far from it. It's just that it's a whole new world.) Virginia Euwer Wolff seems to be a good author to read in that regard, and I am very glad I discovered her.

Make Lemonade is the first book in a trilogy, and it is also the recipient of numerous children's literature awards. I was surprised to learn that it was written in 1993, as it continues to be relevent 16 years later. True Believer, published in 2001 is the second in the series, and This Full House (which took seven years to write and was published earlier this year) is the final installment.

Publishers Weekly has a great interview here with author Virginia Euwer Wolff (who once lived in Philadelphia!) The interview does contain a spoiler or two about the second and third books in the trilogy, just so you know.

See what other bloggers had to say (and let me know if I missed your review!)

Kidliterate (contains discussion about True Believer and This Full House)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Seeing Red

A man carried a child outside the Hotel Villa Créole on Tuesday evening. (photo credit: Ivanoh Demers, AP)

The morning news coming from my radio was, rightfully so, focused on the unfathomable devastation and destruction in Haiti.

I was only half-listening to the reports I'd already heard, until the announcer got my attention with a truly newsworthy item.

"And out in California, they're worried about rain, which is threatening to affect Sunday's Golden Globe awards ceremonies."

This wasn't said in a "you've got to be kidding" tone, nor did they say as much afterward. They were dead serious.

So was the obligatory spokesperson - an expert on such matters, if you will - assuring us that every preparation is being taken to avoid a disaster on Sunday evening.

"All the stars will be safe and dry on the red carpet," some talking head purred.
Whew, thank God for that. Because, you know, I was pretty concerned.

I may not have the quotes exactly verbatim, but trust me when I say this is pretty damn close. Appalled doesn't quite describe my feeling at this. An entire country is in shambles, in ruins, practically wiped off the map ... and there are people who actually are concerned about the possibility that the stars might get rained on while preening on the red carpet?

Are you kidding me? I'm sorry, but that is just the epitome of insensitivity.

In the midst of reports about the Red Cross and the red blood being shed, we're hearing about the red carpet. Which one of these things doesn't belong?

There's no reason why that spot should have aired. The earthquake happened on Tuesday; this was a Thursday morning drive-time broadcast.

I can't be the only person who thinks it seems kind of frivolous to even have the Golden Globes at a time when on this very globe people are suffering in unimaginable ways. It disgusts me, frankly, to contemplate the money that will be spent on this - the parties, the swag bags of stuff these celebs could afford to buy ten times over, the dresses that cost more than most people make in a year. Yeah, there have been a few bucks spent on the Golden Globes already but the money that would be lost by cancelling what is truly a superfluous event is nothing - nothing! -compared to what has been lost in Haiti.

This won't happen, of course, because we just love our celebrities. Worship them, even. Look at how much agita has been spent on the Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno brou ha ha, when even before the earthquake there were much larger problems in the world and our own country. It takes a disaster of these tsunami and earthquake proportions for us to momentarily care more about real life heroes than our pedestaled ones - and even then, it's a fleeting mentality. Soon enough, we'll be back to paying attention to the drama of the rich and famous, tuning into the reality show that is anything but.

Don't get me wrong - I'm glad some celebrities have stepped up to the plate and are donating significant sums of money to assist the Haitians. I don't even care if they have less than altruistic motives, for they should be doing this.

But to worry about the possibility of rain on their red carpet parade? That should have all of us seeing red.

text copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.