Monday, October 30, 2017

On children's fiction and disability

This post was inspired by a Goodreads list - Children’s Fiction with Positive Images of Disability.
I’ve been looking into books about mental illness and disability lately and this list really intrigued me. It’s difficult enough to find adult fiction that portrays disabilities in an interesting, unique, and positive way, so I was curious as to what children’s fiction would offer. The list both surprised and delighted me. As I write this, there are more than 85 books suggested - which is a pretty substantial amount for any interested young readers.
My post today is entirely based off of this Goodreads list - books I’ve read from it, my thoughts and feelings about the list, and if I’d recommend the books on it. All descriptions are taken from Goodreads. The comments and thoughts are my own.

Top Book
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord
    • A heartfelt and witty debut about feeling different and finding acceptance--beyond the rules.
      Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She's spent years trying to teach David the rules-from "a peach is not a funny-looking apple" to "keep your pants on in public"-in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?
    • I immediately added this book to my TBR when I read it. After working with autistic youth for years, the premise intrigued me and I’m really excited to read this. I can see why it’s at the top of this list.

Books I’ve read
    • Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.
      Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, for fifteen-year-old Christopher everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning. He lives on patterns, rules, and a diagram kept in his pocket. Then one day, a neighbor's dog, Wellington, is killed and his carefully constructive universe is threatened. Christopher sets out to solve the murder in the style of his favourite (logical) detective, Sherlock Holmes. What follows makes for a novel that is funny, poignant and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing are a mind that perceives the world entirely literally.
    • I read this several years ago and enjoyed it, but it didn’t stand out too much in my mind. I gave it three stars and I could not remember a thing about it until I read the description. I feel like I’d have a different perspective on it now. My memory tells me that this book is similar to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    • When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle's great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.
      The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary's only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?
    • I loved this book as a child and adored the movie even more. Mary’s cousin was sooo much better in the book than in the movie and this is a great perspective on how opinions on disability have changed.

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
    • It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.
      "Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I'll be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract."
      A tesseract (in case the reader doesn't know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L'Engle's unusual book.
    • I haven’t read this since elementary school, so I had to wrack my brain a bit to find the disability in this book. The only conclusion that I can come to is that it must be Charles Wallace - who ultimately is wonderful and solves things that Meg cannot. This is a must-read.

  • Big Fat Manifesto by Sarah Vaught
    • Jamie is in her final year of high school. She's playing the lead role in the school musical. She's the features editor for the student newspaper. She is also struggling with college applications. Jamie is in a committed relationship with her boyfriend, and like so many of her friends, she's trying to work out where she fits in the world.
      She is also enormously, irreversibly, sometimes angrily (and occasionally delightedly) overweight.
      Her most immediate need is a journalism scholarship to college, so she writes an explosive and controversial column every week in the school paper in the persona of Fat Girl. She leaves nothing out - including her reaction to her boyfriend's gastric banding surgery, which aims to help him lose weight but could end up killing him. When her column raises all kinds of public questions, Jamie finds herself fighting for her right to be herself - and not quietly.
      With a new chance at love emerging unexpectedly, and satisfaction in her size losing ground to real frustration, Jamie must find her own private way in the world. At heart is she still Jamie, or is Fat Girl taking over?
    • To begin with, I’m a little confused about why this book is on this list. I don’t classify obesity as a disability (unless it actually completely inhibits someone’s ability to do things), but the main character in this book was not (to my recollection) inhibited enough to consider it a disability. That being said, I didn’t like this book. I didn’t connect with the main character and she irritated me more than she inspired me.

  • Of Sound Mind by Jean Ferris
    • A poignant novel partially set in a world of silence
      High school senior Theo is fluent in two languages: spoken English and sign. His parents and brother, Jeremy, are deaf, but Theo can hear, which has over the years cast him in the role of interpreter for his family. Unfortunately, it's not a welcome duty, especially in the case of his mother, Palma. She is a successful sculptor who, being deeply suspicious of "hearies," expects Theo to act as her business manager. And Jeremy relies on Theo for company and homework help. It's become especially frustrating lately because Theo has met a fascinating new girl at school, Ivy, with whom he wants to spend as much time as possible. Theo's father, Thomas, is the only one who has never burdened him, but that changes when Thomas has a stroke. Palma, frightened and self-absorbed, cannot bring herself to nurse her husband, leaving Theo with the full burden to bear. But with the help of Ivy and some of her friends, Theo is finally able to change his family's dynamics and find time to plan his future.
    • Jean Ferris is one of my all-time favorite authors, so of course I loved this book. It’s believable, it’s touching, and it’s fascinating. Also, Ferris is fantastic. This wasn’t one of her stronger books, but it’s still by her, so it’s wonderful.

What books have you read about disabilities? How do you learn about new books to read? What Goodreads lists are you enjoying?

Friday, October 27, 2017

On getting back with the ex

There are lots of mixed opinions on getting back with your ex. Some say it’s a great idea, others say it’s the worst thing you can do. Need something to think about while you consider getting back with yours? Or need a bit of advice for how to go about getting back with your ex? Here are a few books that may help you:

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Betting on You (Always a Bridesmaid, #1)
Betting on You by Jessie Evans
Forever, Jack (Butler Cove, #2)
Forever, Jack by Natasha Boyd

Bold Tricks (The Artists Trilogy, #3)
Bold Tricks by Karina Hale
The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Trouble with Love  (Sex, Love & Stiletto, #4)
The Trouble with Love by Lauren Layne
For Darkness Shows the Stars (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #1)

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
The 5 Phases to Get Your Ex Back: Where You Are Now and Where You Need to Go to Get Your Ex Back by [Andrews, Clay]

The 5 Phases to Get Your Ex Back: Where You Are Now and Where You Need to Go to Get Your Ex Back by Clay Andrews (for if you really need advice)

And a few songs to get you through this situation:

  • “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley

  • “Telephone Line” by Electric Light Orchestra

  • “Lips of an Angel” by Hinder

  • “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from the “Grease” Soundtrack

  • “If You’re Not the One” by Daniel Bedingfield

Any other good songs or books about trying to get back with an ex?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

On beginning to read as a blogger

It’s now been about 7 months since I began my blogging adventure and things have certainly changed. For one, I’ve found that it’s harder to write interesting posts than I thought it would be. It’s also difficult to keep up a steady stream of ideas and plans and blogging schedules. The biggest change I’ve found, however, is in the way I read. For me, reading used to be how I’d spend my leisure time. In recent months (even before I started blogging), I found that I was getting more serious about reading, that I wanted to devour every book in existence, that reading a couple books in a month wasn’t really enough.
Blogging changed things more. I started to feel an obligation to read, to broaden my reading horizons, to start reading deeper in some genres so I could have more interesting and more diverse and varied books to write about and to include in my blog posts.
My reading choices weren’t the only thing that changed - the way I read had been altered tremendously. Reading with a purpose is much different from reading for fun for a lot of reasons.
  • I read more analytically - Instead of finishing a book and saying, “Well, that was fun. On to the next one!” I like to think about what made the book good, whether I’m glad I read it, what sort of audience I would recommend it to, how it could have been made better, what parts were clunky and needed changing, etc. It’s been enlightening to read like this and I’ve discovered more of my personal tastes and what I want out of a book. I’ve also found a lot of things that I don’t like in books (i.e. love triangles - bleh).
  • I choose different sorts of books - Like I stated above, reading with a purpose makes me want to read more broadly. I want to have an overall idea of what’s going on in each genre, what’s currently popular, who the big authors currently are. It’s been fascinating to learn this about many genres that I’m not well-acquainted with and fun to try finding new books within each genre.
  • I read more deeply - While I’m trying to read broadly, I’m also trying to focus in on a few specific genres. Right now, for instance, I’m working on reading more science fiction so that I can have a better idea of what works in that genre and how talented sci-fi authors write. I’ve learned that I really enjoy gritty science fiction and that there are some really cliched sub-genres within science fiction, so it’s been a fantastic learning experience. This has also given me a TON of new and unique books to mention on my blog and more chances to write about sci-fi. It’s also helping me as I work (slowly) on writing a sci-fi book of my own.
  • I think about my review as I’m reading - While I’m not strictly a reviewer, I’m constantly thinking about my future reviews as I write. Sometimes, a quote will stand out and I’ll make a mental note to mention it in my review. Or I’ll notice a subplot that’s more confusing than helpful and I’ll remind myself to reflect more on that when I write my review. I’ll often have the review half written while I still have the last several chapters to go.
  • Books I read will inspire blog posts - I’ll often read a book that gets me thinking and inspires a blog post about sections of the book or about similar stories. For example, reading Women at Church by Neylan McBaine got me thinking about lots of other books for Mormons - leading to posts on the topic (here and here)

Has blogging or writing reviews changed the way you read? How do you find inspiration from books you love? How does writing about reading change the sorts of books you choose to read?

Monday, October 23, 2017

On fiction about adoption

Reading non-fiction about the issues humans face is easy. Reading fiction about them is more difficult. It’s easier to look at something objectively when each person is just a number, when you don’t know the individual stories behind the issue and how people have dealt with it.
For me, adoption is something that hasn’t been a big part of my life or the lives of those I’m close to. A close friend of my parents was adopted as a child and recently reconnected with her birth family, but beyond that, my experience was fairly limited. Fairly recently, I met a woman who adopted her first child (and then had two birth children) and heard her talk about it a bit. It intrigued me and I’ve started thinking about how difficult and rewarding it must be to adopt a child - and how much more difficult it must be to be an adopted child. As I looked into it more, I found this Goodreads list and found that I’d already read plenty of fiction about adoption.
The books listed below are taken directly from this Goodreads list and my experience with books on this list. All descriptions are taken from Goodreads. Additional comments are mine. I had read a great many of the books on this list, so I am only mentioning the top five that I read on this blog post.

  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - Everyone's favorite redhead, the spunky Anne Shirley, begins her adventures at Green Gables, a farm outside Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. When the freckled girl realizes that the elderly Cuthberts wanted to adopt a boy instead, she begins to try to win them and, consequently, the reader, over.
    • I read this book as a child and loved it. Anne was wonderful and fun while dealing with some major changes. This look at an adopted child and the difficulties she must overcome is both hilarious and inspirational.

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle's great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors. The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary's only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?
    • I quite enjoyed this book when I was young. Mary Lennox struggles greatly with her adoption - especially since her new guardian, her uncle, is rarely around and leaves her to her own devices. Some adopted children can probably identify with Mary’s struggles to adjust.

  • Stellaluna by Janell Cannon - Stellaluna is the tender story of a lost young bat who finally finds her way safely home to her mother and friends. This award-winning book by Janell Cannon has sold over 500,000 copies and was on the bestseller list for more than two years.
    • I was read this book many times as a child and always loved it! This story of a poor little bat who is taken in (for a short time) by a family of birds is both adorable and heartwarming.

  • Matilda by Roald Dahl - Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she's knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she's a super-nerd and the teacher's pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda's world. For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there's the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Mrs. ("The") Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge. She warms up with some practical jokes aimed at her hapless parents, but the true test comes when she rallies in defense of her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, against the diabolical Trunchbull. There is never any doubt that Matilda will carry the day. Even so, this wonderful story is far from predictable. Roald Dahl, while keeping the plot moving imaginatively, also has an unerring ear for emotional truth. The reader cares about Matilda because in addition to all her other gifts, she has real feelings.
    • What a fun and delightful book! While Matilda is not adopted until the end of this book, she gives an excellent example of the sort of backgrounds some adopted children come from. This is a classic that everyone should read.

  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo - Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose. Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.
    • This book is WOW. And incredibly long. But still WOW. Cosette is a child with a difficult background and one traumatic adoption that ends when she is taken in by Jean Valjean, where she finally finds love and acceptance. This book is a must-read.

What books on adoption have you read? What other issues do you enjoy reading about? How accurate do you feel this Goodreads list is?

Friday, October 20, 2017

On RPGs: Sandboxing vs. Railroading

Matthew Colville’s spectacular video guide to becoming a Game Master is a resource that every RPG-lover will thoroughly enjoy. As I watched this video specifically, I began to see the similarities between running an RPG and writing a novel:

For those of you who don’t have 15 minutes to watch his video right now (because you NEED to watch it at some point), Colville introduces two terms:
  • Sandboxing: Allowing characters to run the story and allowing yourself (as the GM) to be surprised at new developments in the story, but learning to roll with the changes. Characters get to explore the sandbox and take the story into their own hands.
  • Railroading: Having such a strong idea of where the story needs to go that you beat your characters into submission by forcing them to do what you originally intended. Characters are railroaded into your planned story.

Colville explains that, for RPG players, having a GM who sandboxes is far more enjoyable and often leads to a more rewarding and enjoyable story. As I watched his video, I realized that this sort of thing happens to writers all the time.
A few years ago, I was writing a NaNoWriMo story about a girl who ran away to join some space pirates. I had some big plans for her and I was so excited to see how she would develop and lead the story.
You can imagine my surprise when her little sister started leading the story with the drama back home and when my dear space piratess became a blood-thirsty and mad murderer.
At first, I was pretty shocked when these changes began to happen. It felt a little like the story was writing itself and like I wasn’t truly in control of it anymore. I resisted at first, trying to steer the story back on track. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that the story worked much better with this dark twist and that having my original MC kill a bunch of people actually worked fairly well for the character I’d built. So I let the story move along in a direction I never could have forseen and I was shocked (and somewhat delighted) by the results. This whole experience affected me so much that my next NaNoWriMo was about an author who tries way too hard to whip his characters into shape and who eventually learns to let the story go in an unplanned direction.
Colville’s video hit me hard as I remembered my own experiences in writing (and even some of my RPG-playing) when I had tried far too hard to make the story go in a certain direction instead of sitting back and seeing what would happen. And Colville’s right - in an RPG, your characters have much more fun if you let them run the story. So why are we often so resistant to allowing the characters in our stories to do just this?
I’m learning to sandbox more instead of railroading my characters. For me, this works much better. But I’m curious - do you sandbox more? Or railroad more? What do you see as the pros and cons of each style? And why do you write like you do?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

On how to throw a book swap party

Confession: I threw a book swap party before I had ever attended one.
I worked at a senior housing community for a while and had the idea when my church group announced they were holding one - several months in the future. So about a month before I attended my first book swap, I threw one.
It actually turned out okay! We had a few raffles, a table out for books, and some treats. We had a decent attendance (though not great). The funniest part was that I had several people feeling sheepish about not having any books to donate (they must have been book hoarders - which I completely understand), so they all showed up after the party to swipe a few books before I could donate them. I was proud to be part of a community that obviously valued reading and I was really excited to attend more book swaps.
Now that it’s time for you to throw your own book swap, here’s exactly what you need to do:
  1. Decide what will happen to any books left over - This, in my mind, is an important first step. Traditionally, any remaining books are donated to a local library or thrift store (one book swap I attended sold the books to Half Price Books and donated the money to a local church - they only got about $7, but it’s a nice thought that can motivate more people to come and bring books). However, if you don’t want the pressure of having to donate boxes of books, you can dictate that any books that aren’t claimed must be taken back by their owners.
  2. Plan a time/location/invite list - Once you’ve decided what to do with your books, it’ll be easier to nail down some of the other details. If you’re going to be donating books that are left, you may want to make it a smaller group so you have less books to haul around. However, if you rent a room at your local library for the swap and plan to donate your books there, having a lot of guests (and leftover books) won’t pose as much of a problem. Picking who to invite can also be difficult - you want to make sure you have people who enjoy reading and who will be able to find a new home for their old books while still finding something new for themselves. Inviting folks with compatible book tastes may limit your guest list - or you may decide to simply invite every book-lover you know so that everyone will have an opportunity to try something new. It’s up to you.
  3. Invite people! - This is a pretty straightforward step, but there are some adorable ideas online for cute invitations. If you want to browse a bit, check this Pinterest page. If you want someone to just give you an invitation idea, check this blog for an invitation freebie download.
  4. Pick a theme - You can center your party around a specific book or genre. You can have a library theme. The book swap I threw had a Spring Cleaning theme, with various cleaning products as raffle prizes. Another book swap I attended didn’t have a specific theme and just encouraged people to delight in the magic of literature.
  5. Don’t forget the food! - I’m a lazy party planner, so I tend to like serving simple foods - finger sandwiches, fruit salad, lemonade, store-bought cookies. Check this Barnes & Noble post ( for some fun book-themed food ideas.
  6. Book introductions - I didn’t do this at my book swap party, but if you want to motivate people to take home new and interesting books, have each guest plan to quickly spotlight one book they’ve brought so the rest of the party-goers will know why it’s such a good book - and why they should take it home. Alternately, you can have your guests write a quick note for each book (or even just their favorites) about why it’s worth reading and stick it in the book. That way, any interesting individuals will have a ready-made recommendation while they’re looking at the book.
  7. Get partying! - Once you have all this in order, it’s time to collect your books, get your theme and food items ready, and swap! Hopefully you’ll come away with some interesting books and a good evening to remember.

Have you ever thrown or attended a book swap? What thoughts or suggestions would you add to this list?