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parttimeindianOne of the big topics in children’s books today is diversity, and although there are far more accomplished people addressing this subject than I, children’s publishing is where my energy is focused. For me, it also ties in to writing what we know. (See my first post on this topic.) So while there are many ways of supporting diversity in children’s books, from book purchasing to publishers themselves, I am just looking at writing.

What does diversity in this context mean? As I understand it, it’s a need for the stories we write and publish to include or be from the perspective of people of diverse races, cultures and backgrounds. When I was growing up, the subjects of all the children’s books I read were white, (unless we went into fairytales where Aladdin was darker skinned and exotic, but that was different.) The kids who were the main characters — think Dick and Jane — were only white. Those few stories where black people were featured were of a derogatory nature and a sad comment of the times. Hispanic or Asian individuals were non-existent. Indians were part of Thanksgiving stories, but otherwise, also absent.

Holes-LSacher2How much has changed in the world of children’s books? Again, I am hardly an expert, but our books have not changed nearly as much as the changes in population of the people around us. What is true is that we as authors do need to be aware that the world is way bigger than the little enclaves where we live or where we grew up.

In my humble experience, I have found that Americans, on the whole, tend to be a rather insular people,with a focus that is primarily on our own culture. While exceptions are found in sports and music and a few select other fields, a lot of people don’t seem in touch with the breadth and diversity of the world beyond their own boundaries. A broader experience of the world would bring a lot more to a writer’s plate than what we see just at home. Representation of other races and cultures in children’s books is dragging way behind the actual reality of diversity in everyday life.

ManiacMagee-JSpinelli2How does this affect how we personally write? And how do we write what we know in this context? There’s a lot of opinion on that. Needless to say, I can most comfortably write about my own experience in the world, and this comes from a Western European background of diverse nationalities. If I write what I know, it will be primarily from this perspective, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t include, in both my writing and illustrating, characters of the many races and cultures I have come to know along the way in my life and/or others that exist. But does that also mean that I can’t write from the perspective of a race or culture for whom I feel a deep kinship? That I don’t, or can’t, know enough?

Dogsong-GPaulsen2I was fortunate to have been raised in an area with easy access to New York City so that many of our family outings were in the city where we were surrounded by diversity. When I went to college in NYC, my exposure was expanded as my school was known for drawing talent from all over the world. For this amazing experience I am very grateful. I know that I can bring this, my ongoing living and working experiences, as well as my travels to my writing, but when it comes down to writing what I know? I will still always know my own culture the best. My question continues to be, where is the line drawn? Could I pull off, for example, the true voice of a black girl? Raised in the South? For that matter, as another example, could I even pull off the voice of a rich or entitled girl regardless of race? I don’t believe those are my stories to write, but to the degree that such individuals may be in my stories, in our stories,  it becomes our challenge to do research — among our fellow humans as well as in books – to make sure we are authentic in creating our characters.

Ultimately, I think we, whoever we are and whatever background we come from, do need to include characters of diverse backgrounds in our work when we have the opportunity for this very important reason. Children, from their earliest reading, need to see that the books they read aren’t simply their own reflection. Children of color, different cultural backgrounds, different socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, etc. need to see themselves on the page as well, to have their existence validated and honored. We all may AskThePassengers-A.S.King2be called on to stretch a bit beyond writing what we know, but what loss could there possibly be?

We have the opportunity of expanding writing what we know to become richer as artists and human beings and to raise the consciousness and world view of eager young readers, and … to share a little reality.

Pictured on this page are a few MG and YA books I have read in the recent past which are either written by someone of a different culture/race or are inclusive of characters of diverse backgrounds/orientations. Finding picture books of the same is, unfortunately, a much greater challenge.

Here are a few interesting articles on this subject:

Lynn Joseph on Diversity in Writing
the Children’s Book Council on Diversity
Diversity in Children’s Books – Huffington Post
Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books? NY Times
Diversity Book Lists by GoodReads.
Diversity in Canadian Children’s Book Publishing -Publishers Weekly

 

So I’ll Bake

It seems almost everything I start to write about lately is so serious, (and I have the drafts to prove it), so I decided to write instead about my latest baking experience. Or should I say (unintended) baking experiment.

Each year I volunteer at, and bake for, the annual Open House at the equine rescue I help. Last weekend I pored over recipes looking for something fabulous and Fall-ish to bake, and settled on a gorgeous cranberry-orange cake with orange glaze. I usually bake a Bundt cake of some kind, and then wrap individual slices for them to sell at the bake sale. I make a sign that says “From Scratch” and “All Butter” and between the two, my cake goes pretty quickly. I’d thought about making something vegan, but I’m not practiced enough, so I’ll stick with what I know best, traditional baking.

Cake-Ingredients2

Well, it started with the food shopping. I’d gotten almost all the week’s groceries on my list and went to get the butter. Crap. I’d looked at so many recipes, I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to use salted or unsalted. I decided on the latter. After I’d loaded up on my own fruits and veggies, I searched for the cranberries. No fresh to be found — not organic or otherwise. Hmmmm. I headed over to the frozen section — no organic, looked for regular. Nothing. I asked the fellow in the frozen fruit section and inquired. He says, “We used to have the frozen all year `round, now they come in the same time as the fresh.”

Cake-Batter2Really? REALLY? My whole cake idea is now shot. I decided to go with blueberries, because they’ll be good with orange, but because I’d already been in the store so long, I grabbed the frozen in front of me instead of schlepping yet again to the fresh section. (And I just heard all you bakers groan.)

Saturday morning I got out all the ingredients, including those that needed to come to room temperature. Oh yeah, another recipe with frozen blueberries tells me to thaw them and drain well. So they’re in a strainer over a nice deep bowl.

Okay, now I’m starting to bake. I put Loreena on my CD player, (Mask and Mirror), and happily begin mixing my dry ingredients. I can already see the blueberries may be a problem. But what can I do? Cake-DoneInPan2I proceed with the recipe, make a little salt adjustment because it was salted butter it called for, (of course it was), and everything else goes smoothly. I try some extra gentle blotting of the blueberries before adding them, but it makes no difference. My batter is turning blue. At best, marbled blue. The great cake I had such high hopes for has officially turned into a science project.

Well, I know it will taste good, because a sampling of the batter tells me so, and into the oven it goes. I now find myself hoping that some kids at Open House will see the blue cake and think it’s real cool and beg Mom to buy it. After 50 minutes, I test with a toothpick. It says it’s OK; I don’t believe it, and put it back in for another 10 minutes. And below, when I went to turn it out, is what I got. * Sigh* Pretty depressing, eh?

Cake-TurnedOut2I feel badly as now I’ll have nothing to bring, and badly because I just wasted a lot of time and money. I must say, in all my years of baking, that never happened! Guess there’s a first time for everything.

If you’d like to make the cake I’d planned, and see a photo of what it should look like, here’s the recipe. No substitutions, please.

WomanThinkingBW-2On my path in life I have been told this numerous times by those who have guided me along the way. When life is going smoothly, we can understand this and can breathe a luxurious sigh of relief. Feel happy, even. But when things are not going all that well, in one way or another, a fairly immediate response to that same statement sounds something like, “Seriously? This is exactly where I’m supposed to be?”

I don’t know where so many people got the idea that life should just sail along and bad things should never happen to us, but it’s a pretty commonly held belief at its core. Intellectually, we all know better, of course. Things happen. That’s life. But on some deeper emotional level, many of us are truly taken aback when life throws us the usual curves it dishes up. Somehow we should not really get injured or  ill, certainly not seriously, (occasional colds being the understandable exception); we should not lose loved ones, nor have to suffer terrible financial hardship; everything in GirlThinking-2relationships should be able to be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction in the end; our children should be grateful and well-behaved; we should not lose our jobs; our homes should never catch fire, nor our cars break down in the middle of nowhere … these things just shouldn’t be happening. Right?

And yet they do. And in the midst of all the mess that is a part of life, I am repeatedly told that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. As are you.

I know when I step back that it’s true. I can’t control a great deal of what life brings to me, but I can control how I react to it, and in that, I AM exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m in the ideal spot to look at a situation, grasp its reality, and respond to it in the highest and best way possible.

Every obstacle we meet in life can be looked at as an opportunity to grow, to further develop the abilities we have to handle life and everything in it with love, dignity and grace. Of course, we have the option to feel miserable, to whine, complain and throw tantrums, but when we’re done with that, having found it’s gotten us nowhere, we can still try and figure out why what’s happening is happening, why it’s such a challenge, and then do something about it.

So even as I will sometimes want to sit and whine and/or do nothing in the face of various challenges, I remind myself that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. And there may be a reason for that; I have something to learn. If it’s not a good place, what do I need to do to make it better? I can actually be grateful to be given this chance to grow.

It’s a different perspective … and surprisingly effective when given a try.

 

CharlottesWeb2This Sunday, September 21, marked the beginning of Banned Books Week which celebrates the freedom to read. An annual event organized by the American Library Association, (the same people that award the Caldecott and Newbery Medals) , Banned Books Week is sponsored by a number of organizations who are against censorship. The website presents a wealth of information on books that are and have been banned, by whom and why, plus activities for teachers to discuss the important issues of censorship, banned books and the books themselves with their students. Additional information on Banned Books Week can be found on the ALA’s own site. On this site you can also find the 10 most frequently challenged books by year. In 2001, the most frequently challenged book was Harry Potter with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men right behind.

The most common reasons for censorship are drugs, nudity, violence, offensive language, sexually explicit, anti-family, homosexuality, racism, religious viewpoint, suicide and unsuited to age group but there are a few others.

A fascinating article on BuzzFeed is about fifteen children’s classics that have been banned, where and why. This includes James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Granted some of these were banned  quite some time ago, and some by local municipalities, but some were banned as recently as 2010.

I don’t know about you, but I find this all fascinating. Censorship is no small issue, and the facts about who censors which books and why is an insight into the fabric of this country – what we, as a people, are afraid of, offended by and threatened by to such a degree that we can’t allow our children to read about it. As best I can tell, it’s usually the truth.

 

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time or the brain to post, but at last, I’ve returned. I have a few things I’d like to post about, but as the weather gets chilly and soon I will have beautiful Fall mums gracing my porches, I wanted to share a bit of how they looked this summer.

I was originally going to title this post “The Little Porch of Horrors” because all the plants were doing just terribly. I am not the gardener some of my fellow bloggers are, (you know who you are), and I am sometimes at a loss as to whether it’s me underwatering, overwatering, poor plant quality or simply their settling in. But somehow with the exception of  two pots, they all came around. The most successful of my porch plants are the humble coleus.

TwoColeus2

The dark one on the left had a tag that said either dwarf or miniature coleus. Truly, it is supposed to be a hanging plant, but that would mean I’d have to drag a stepstool or get a hose wand or whatever, and if you know me, you know my indoor plants live by their wits. I pretty much expect the same of the outdoor varieties as well. This burgundy coleus is just gorgeous and in the sunshine, has almost a furry silver texture on its leaves. The variegated one has done quite well, too.

CornerColeus2

In the corner of  the front porch I planted 2 coleus in the pot and 2 dusty miller, hoping the coleus would shoot up like last year and the dusty miller, be bushy underneath. That didn’t happen; maybe too many plants in one pot. What did happen was a never-ending explosion of coleus flowers, which, as you know, are not all that gorgeous. I pinch them back – not a good idea? – and they seem to become more profuse. However, it all looks quite pretty nonetheless.

PetuniaTrees2

Then we have the petunia trees. I have never had petunias which kept growing straight upwards. I chose these gorgeous velvety deep plum and purple varieties and planted them with cream salvia, again thinking the petunias would spread low around the salvia. I pinched them back, did whatever little I knew, but no such luck – they just keep to their aspirations of one day starring in Jack and the Beanstalk, the Revise.

There were several other pots that also did well on the porches, although they sure took their sweet time about it. Again, if I paid them more attention, perhaps I’d figure out what I was doing. But here’s what looks the most fabulous on my porches:

TheBoys2

The Boys. These are my neighbor’s cats who spend a good portion of every day lounging about on my porches, walks, driveway, car – whatever strikes their fancy and might include some sun and ideally, me, usually with a book. Truly, my talents lie in the direction of animal care and not plant care, and I think those described know it and behave accordingly.

So my hat is off to you, you wonderful and talented gardeners! I stand humbly and appreciatively in your shadow, and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that were I to begin to wilt, you’d know exactly what to do.

 

 

 

Claude

I was thinking about my last post on Stillness, and something came into my head. I’d written a post on stillness about 7 years ago but from a very different angle – a lighter and more humorous one. So for those of you who weren’t checking me out back then, here’s a revisit of something I learned about relaxation, a corollary of stillness. Pictured is my handsome Claude, still missed, the Master of Relaxation.

Have you ever noticed the positions your animals get into? They make it look as if they invented the word `relax’. They stretch out, especially in the heat, so every potential draft will ease slowly over their languid bodies. They make it look so damn easy.
Now you might think that this is a comment on my own inability to relax, which is far from the truth. In fact, it brings to mind an experience of many moons ago when my then-husband came home to find me lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling or into space. He asked what was I doing?
I said “nothing.”
With an incredulous look on his face, he said, “What do you mean, nothing?”
“I mean nothing. I’m doing nothing. As in, nothing.” Seemed pretty clear to me.
“How could you just be doing nothing,” he asked. “You have to be doing something!”
Now THIS was a man who had a hard time relaxing!
I tried to search for what it was I was doing, and all I came up with was … in trying to satisfy the question … “I guess I’m daydreaming .. or just thinking.”
And then, with the same confused face, he asked, “How can you just lie there and do nothing?”
Well, I thought I had just come up with an answer as to what I was doing, but I let that go, and said, “Here, just lie down, and kind of stare into space and let your mind relax. You know, just drift around a bit.”
He lay down and for all intents and purposes, assumed the position one would take if they were to relax. He looked up at the ceiling.
Then he looked at me.
“I don’t know how you can just do nothing. I can’t do nothing.”
I don’t really remember what happened after that, except that he wasn’t next to me anymore. Probably feeling guilty for now having the audacity to have actually spent a few moments of my life doing nothing, I’m sure I joined him and made it my business to start doing something.
But I think the animals still have the right idea. They have learned the fine art of doing nothing, of just being in the moment. They stretch out … close their eyes … take a deep breath and they’re off into dreamland or wherever animals go when they close their eyes. We have such a lot to learn from them … and this is one of their best lessons.

Stillness

Being still is one of the most wonderful and simple ways we can manage our lives, our feelings, our stress, our actions … you name it.

Journaling2I try, and generally succeed, to journal every day in the morning. Julia Cameron, author of  The Artist’s Way, refers to this as a “morning dump,” getting rid of all the garbage we’re holding in our heads so we can begin the day fresh and with minimal interference from negativity. While she is recommending this for artists, it is, of course, of the same benefit to everyone. I do love to write so this is a wonderful and freeing piece of time, a gift to myself which I do not allow to be disturbed. It’s a great way to sort out some of the stresses and problems we’re dealing with and look at them afresh, as well as plan a new day.

It’s more than that, however. It’s also a time for stillness. Along with my writing, I often take a few minutes to do any of the following — center my breathing, meditate a little, read something metaphysical, and/or do a few affirmations. The stillness is a tremendous benefit to beginning the day, but it also teaches us that we can Meditating2practice stillness any time things starts to get stressful. When we are still, we connect spiritually with ourselves and with our God, higher power, however one perceives that. We open and can listen for guidance.

There are times during certain work projects that I am ready to up and buy myself a ticket on the Crazy Train, it gets so stressful. But if I can remember to pull back, change my scenery just a wee bit, and breathe rhythmically and easily, restore my balance and be still, it can do wonders. Ideally it’s best to do this way before I’m at the ticket booth, but better late than never!

So consider, as your stress and anxiety begin to mount, that you can do something about it before it gets out of hand. Be still and breathe for a minute or two, opening your mind and releasing negativity. It may take a little practice at first, and the beginning of your day is a great time to try it out along with a little journaling. Both are gifts to and for yourself.

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