Faire Books and Dogsong

The Bookfaire at the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts at Whittier College (3/23/13) was terrific, except for the part about not being able to be in three breakout sessions at the same time. Sometimes, physical laws are so limiting.

Laura and I at Bookfaire. She’s the tall, non-disheveled one.

I was able to hear Tom and Laura McNeal separately. (See the post of 2/21/13, Predators, Hormones, and Slippery Slopes, for their young adult books.) Hearing the back stories of inspiration for these books and the McNeals’ process of co-writing added richness and even more depth to stories I already found highly satisfying. So I bought two that I hadn’t yet reread, THE DECODING OF LANA MORRIS, by both Laura and Tom, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007, DARK WATER, a National Book Award finalist by Laura, Alfred A. Knopf, 2010, and an adult novel, TO BE SUNG UNDERWATER, by Tom, from Back Bay Books, 2011.

Laura spoke about what makes a young adult book. Besides needing to have a protagonist of similar age, books for this age range need to be honest. They can provide a way for a young person to explore some paths in life that he or she doesn’t actually have to take with their resultant actual consequences. Tom and Laura’s books for young adults fulfill Gary Schmidt’s criteria for what children’s literature needs to do, namely provide tools for kids to become more human.

Besides being terrific writers, both separately and together, they are wonderful people. I felt so blessed to spend so much of Friday evening and Saturday with Laura. It was a great time. Thank you, Laura and Tom.

Although the other authors at the Bookfaire write for adult audiences, some of the books may appeal to YA readers. I just finished reading FINDING EMILIE, written by Laurel Corona and published by Gallery Books in 2011. In the eighteenth century, a French woman, Gabrielle-Emilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil, wrote a translation and commentary on Newton’s Principia Mathematica. The marquise died six days after the birth of her second daughter. The daughter died before turning two. Corona’s historical novel tells of the life she imagines the Marquise would have wanted for her daughter, Lili. We have few historical details of the lives of women, and Corona feels that historical novels are the best way for us to reclaim the lives of the women who have gone before us. I think young women who like Jane Austen may find this book a fascinating look at an aristocratic life that makes me grateful for the rights women have now.

From left: Kelly Lange, former anchorwoman, mystery writer, and keynote speaker; Ann Farmer, former English teacher at Whittier College and Bookfaire chair: and moi.

Now we have to wait almost a whole year for the next Bookfaire.

I did promise DOGSONG the next time I posted. After reading THE QUILT, I decided it was time to read Gary Paulson again. THE QUILT told of Paulson’s  emotional connections—a layer of meaning I’d hadn’t always found in his writing. Now when I picked up my copy of DOGSONG, published by Scholastic Inc. in 1985, I found a solitary boy facing nature story, but with strong human connections.

And I love his description of the human-to-animal/nature connection as the boy, Russell, bonds with his dog sled team. “He let them run and they seemed to want to head the same way he wanted to go . . . did the dogs know where they were going? . . . he let the dogs decide because that was the same as him deciding.” It’s one of the best pictures of creatures knowing and trusting each other that I think I’ve read. Anyway, I’m back to picking up Paulson’s books.

And let me know what you’ve been reading.

I’m hoping for some trades if you live where it’s still cold. When you have spring, things will be getting hot and dry, and many of our plants will go dormant. Then I’m hoping you’ll send pictures

Steps to Ending Bullying

My old elementary school undertook a pilot program within our district to deal with the issue of bullying. I felt so proud of our principal and our school and so pleased to be part of the task force that worked on the implementation. We used the Olweus Program, an approach backed by research. It provides staff training, support for parent involvement, and a number of materials for classroom use and for the school as a whole. There is a financial investment involved.

While many schools have tried to find free bullying prevention programs in these years of tight budgets, some of the available programs advocate practices that Olweus’ research finds unhelpful, at best. Dan Olweus began the program in Norway. It has been around long enough to evaluate the results. If your school or other organization is looking for a program, here are two sites you might want to visit:  www.violencepreventionworks.org  and www.clemson.edu/olweus  (Clemson University does research on bullying.)

One of the main tenets of the Olweus program states it’s the adults’ job to establish the school culture and to deal with bullying. While you teach children things that they can do, the onus is not put on children to take care of the problem themselves. Since bullying involves an imbalance of power, this can be impossible for a victimized child to handle.

The program teaches the children to tell an adult at school and an adult at home if they are the victim of bullying or if they observe bullying. Observing bullying has documented negative effects on non-targeted children also. Children are also taught to be aware of children who have no one to play with and to invite those children into a game. Many victims of bullying are the children who are isolated at school. And some of those children become bullies themselves.

The program teaches both children and adults the difference between true bullying  and teasing or arguments between friends. The school sets up a system to document instances of bullying—first to help differentiate between isolated events and patterns of behavior and also to make sure consequences are consistently and predictably applied.

A picture book that dovetails well with this program is Nobody Knew What to Do: A Story About Bullying, written by Becky Ray McCain, illustrated by Todd Leonardo, and published in 2001 by Albert Whitman. I used to read it with my first graders. One criticism I’ve seen of the book is that it makes bullying sound so simple to solve, but within the context of a story for younger students, it illustrates workable responses to bullying. A boy, who witnesses another child being bullied decides although frightened, he must report the on-going mistreatment. The adults respond appropriately and the school becomes a better place for everyone.

There are many books about bullies and I’ll be reviewing others in the months to come. The related photos of covers are a few of the books I found at the library, but haven’t had a chance to read yet. Many of the ones I have read and looked for on the shelf are currently checked out—a good sign, if a bit frustrating.

Please let us know about any books about bullying that you think are helpful and engaging.

Past and Future Faire

Last March I attended Meet the Authors and Bookfaire at the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts of Whittier College (my alma mater). It was a wonderful day with authors—mesmerizing opening and closing keynote speakers. (Last year, Lisa See derailed my plan to leave a bit early for the long drive home. I could not make myself get up and leave.) There are two additional sessions, one before and one after lunch. Each session has a choice of one of three authors. So each attendee gets to hear four authors speak about their work. Because the event is relatively small, it’s possible to talk to the authors in the sessions, at lunch, and when they are signing books.

This year, Bookfaire will be held on Sat. March 23, 2013. I will send out more information later (including this year’s speakers and the cost). But if you live in Southern California and this is your idea of a lovely day surrounded by book lovers, keep it in mind. I will be introducing Laura McNeal, an author of young adult novels. Her books will be featured in an upcoming post.

Meanwhile, “Go, Poets!” (How can you not love a school that cheers poets at football games?)

And tomorrow, I’m off to meet my sister at The Road to California Quilt Show. Happy fabric to all.