Happy Halloweensie (Again)!

Well, I decided to do another one! Please be sure to visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s website to read more Halloweensie stories. They’re super-spooky-silly-fun!

The Jack-o’-Cavernb713bb9c16acf569ad416e011204ddc4

Festus Flamel wants the biggest, roundest, screamiest pumpkin ever.

“My Monster-Gro potion should do the trick!”

A sprinkle a day, and his pumpkin grows … and grows … and grows. His pumpkin grows sooo monstrous that it squashes his house.

“Oops.”

Festus tunnels through the gourd-gantuan beast.

“I can work with this.”

Festus digs out the stringy guts. He carves a gap-toothed maw beneath two moon-slit eyes. He stitches cobwebs across its bulbous ribs and lights a fire.

Then, he bakes.

When masked marauders come haunting, the Jack-o’cavern yawns.

For a scream, Festus serves the perfect Halloween treat—whole-brain pumpkin-bread.

Happy Halloweensie!

Wow! It’s been a year since I posted. Told you it’s not a blog! That said, I couldn’t resist the seasonal challenge from Susanna Leonard Hill this year. That’s right! It’s Halloweensie time! Be sure to check out the contest rules and join in the fun if your fingers are feeling spooky or silly or just otherwise inspired.

Here we go …

The Bone House

On Halloween night, when Mira goes looking for mischief, Moon slices a fresh trail into the woods.

“Sweet trick!”

Leaves flutter forward. Mira follows to a bent bone house, whose hollows glow warm and bright, and knocks.

Bones clickety-clack-open.

She steps inside.

Bones snickety-snatch-grab!

“Yikes!”

A fire pops, a cauldron bubbles, but the bare frame rattles.

“Cold?”

Bones crickety-crack-sigh.

“I can fix that.”

Bones slickety-slack-let-go!

Mira gathers cobwebs to stir with memories and dreams. She paints the silky potion from joint to joint until every bone stretches and gleams.

The bone house stands.

“Wicked treat!”

It’s time to go haunting.

A Word, Please

I wrote this poem several years ago. It bears repeating.

A Word, Please

In January 1942, fifteen men sit in a room,
discussing the “final solution” to a question

disguised as a people.

They compete to sound off to make the bigger splash
as they plan the best way to test out and up

through extermination.

Today, a theater Holocaust puppet sits silently
perched in a café window on our souls
while two folk talk

business as usual.

Sallow eyes fully void of life watch.
He’s all wood and paint chipped thin to crack
as his gears and joints creak beneath their weighty worth.
The daily litany patrols back and forth,

casual absurd

without notice for the watcher
marked for vigil in felt and papier maché,
his only armor a yellow star,

a ghost light

that shines brighter than the sun setting
beyond brick glass and wire.

If I trace the life lines from his making
to his playing, I can see him rise
hear him speak to tell his story in a whisper
a secret faint as the smell of cold coffee,
but it’s just for show. A masquerade
that everyone has been told

and should know.

Though somehow they don’t. seem. to.

No, this boy, this metonymy in spare parts
needs others to speak in order to be heard—
and not just for him, not just for his, because

he owns us all.

He appears, like the tree in the forest, to strike a chord,
displacing air, making waves,

without a word.

Got Perspective?

I just made a general post on my personal FB page, and it occurs to me that it might be of use from the perspective of writing.

Here’s the original post: “Sometimes, it’s good to turn our preconceptions on their head. In case you need help with that, here’s an alternate perspective …” (with image below)

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Now apply to your work. Take a story you’re struggling with, and turn it on its head. What assumptions are you making? What happens when you look at it a different way? You might find that you’re missing a unique and wonderful perspective. Perspective matters, in fiction and nonfiction. Take the time to examine your story–as well as someone’s else story, history, government, religion–from another angle.

After all, headstands, handstands and other inversions are GREAT for circulation. Really.

Just a thought.

The Revolution Begins … in Books

I’m going a little out on a limb here. I think we have a problem with how we are approaching literature and English in our schools. Yes, yes, I know there are lots of problems to address, and this is not an attack on teachers and public schools, whom I support wholeheartedly. But this.

I was thinking about my son’s complaints about his freshman and sophomore reading material, and I was looking at standards and Common Core and at his reading lists and at recommended lists like this one. Most high school lit. classes pull from these titles, and honestly, some of my favorite books are on there. I want my kids to read 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies, but I have the same issue with these lists as I do with the predominantly white, male author mural in B&N bookstores. They’re out of step. They’re limited. They’re biased. They’re not enough.

Before we can get kids interested in traditional, classic, dated, old-school, whatever you want to call it literature, we need to get them reading. We need to get them involved and caring. We need them thinking. Why require modern students, really, to read a book about race relations written by a Southern white woman decades ago but not something by Walter Dean Myers, Jason Reynolds, Ta Nehisi Coates, Angie Thomas, Kwame Alexander? .If you skim enough high school reading lists you’ll get a few Jewish authors like Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel and you’ll get a few Black authors like Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou. That’s about it. Possibly Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Alice Walker. You might read excerpts or samples from Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Phillis Wheatley, MLK and others in social studies courses. Great, and maybe history class is the place today for excerpts from some of the other most favored “classics.” Cross-curricular connections rock!

But the reading lists for English and American literature are grossly skewed, and it’s losing our kids. It does them, our society, and our culture a disservice. You have to teach kids to love reading first. At the least, our ELA courses should be a balance of contemporary and historic authors and certainly balanced across the various ethnic and racial experiences of our demographics. What about contemporary Muslim YA authors like Samira Ahmed, S.K. Ali, and Randa Abdel-Fattah? Hispanic authors like Meg Medina, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Matt De La Peña? There is such a breadth of titles and experiences out there, and having read many of them, I can tell you that they are books that speak to young people and that young people as well as old can sink their mental teeth into. Likewise, there are remarkable modern as well as historic Native American, East and South Asian, and white authors out there, covering a range of topics in a variety of ways.

The point of diverse reading is variety and inclusion. Honestly, I’m a firm believer in “it doesn’t matter what they read so long as they read,” but there are so many amazing contemporary novels, short stories and poems available, and I think, really, focusing on those rather than on the oldies but goodies, at the secondary school level, just might help revolutionize schools. Yes, teachers have limited hours and resources, I know, so why waste so many of them on books that many if not most students resist from page 1, if not from the cover and title? As much as I love those books, and realize their value, it just doesn’t make sense. You have a much better chance of engaging young people, generating discussion, encouraging them to seek out more, etc., if you hit on books written in contemporary voices, with issues relevant to their lives and communities, with characters reflective of them and their fellow students.

Just a thought. Not sure what to do with it yet.

Showing Diversity?

Recently, I picked up a picture book that disappointed me by its failed attempt to show social diversity. It features a different profession on each spread along with other assorted setting characters (people who populate the space like furniture). The worker is the focus (MC) of each spread. The book, produced by Scholastic, tries to sprinkle diversity in perceived race and gender across the book, largely through setting characters, but fails. Here’s why.

The breakdown of the MCs and their background cast on each spread:

  • Firefighter = white male, with four other male firefighters, two white, two ambiguous brown, in background
  • Police officer = white male, with two white kids, boy and girl, in background
  • Doctor = white female, with waiting room populated by four white men, one black woman, one white woman, one white boy, one black girl
  • Baseball player = ambiguous brown male, with white male umpire and an assortment of other players, mostly white, one black, all male, in background
  • Construction foreman = white male, with three male construction workers, two white and one black, in background
  • Astronaut = completely ambiguous, in spacesuit, no background characters
  • Server/waiter = black male, with a large white family at table demonstrably waiting for him, a white couple at another table, and a black boy with an ambiguous not-quite-brown male at another table
  • Railroad conductor and engineer = both white males
  • Zookeeper = ambiguous brown male, with three white kids in background

The illustrator and publisher obviously gave some thought to including diverse characters, but they did not take that thought far enough. The diverse characters are sprinkled in the background like furniture; they’re sparse; and most are ambiguous, meaning that they’re not pinky white but are some shade from darker ecru to light brown that could suggest a tan or any number of ethnic or mixed heritages.

So.

Why no women firefighters or women on the construction site? Why is the only MC that is unambiguously black a waiter with a large family of white people to serve? What about a black or Hispanic police officer and a nonwhite construction foreman? And more diversity in the setting characters since there are so many?

It’s not a matter of squeezing out white men. It’s a matter of including all people and giving all people, from various backgrounds, access to positions of leadership and exceptionalism. Yes, even in a picture book, perhaps especially in a picture book whose primary audience are young people, it matters. What does it say to a young black person when the only profession represented by a black man is a waiter? (I’ve been a server. I think everyone should be required to work in a restaurant sometime in his or her life. It’s hard work and requires a lot of skill to do well. I’m not denigrating the work but the implication, because in our society being a server is generally not perceived as admirable or as a leadership position.) Why are all the leadership positions held by white men? The only woman who dominates a spread has a professional job but it’s a caretaker job. Also, there are no persons with disabilities shown.

These are things people in publishing–writers, editors, illustrators, art researchers and designers, agents, etc.–need to think more about. Please.

Some might argue that when you look for racism, when you look for any problem, then you’re going to see it, even if it’s not “intended.” No, when you open your eyes and learn to pay attention, then you notice what is already there. You don’t create it, pull it out of a magician’s hat of progressive propaganda or whatever, by noticing it and calling attention to it. It’s there. It has been there. It will continue to be there until people make themselves active observers. Until more and more make themselves aware and notice and call it out and challenge it. Until we actively try to tell and show a more tolerant and inclusive story. Racism and other forms of discrimination don’t have to be “intended” to be present, pervasive and powerful.

Resource: Cultural Appropriation

I need to do more posts like this but I often forget to share things here. Mainstream social media like Twitter and FB tend to dominate. But just in case anyone stops by, this is an important read, especially for writers and teachers of literature. Take a few minutes to read it. Take a few longer to think about it.

“Exploring Cultural Appropriation in Children’s Literature”

http://thebookwars.ca/2015/10/a-cultural-conundrum-exploring-cultural-appropriation-in-childrens-literature/