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What I Learned About “Representation Matters” While Reading BENEATH WANDERING STARS by Ashlee Cowles
By the time I graduated high school, I had attended 9 separate schools in three different states. Every time I would start a new school the first question everyone asks, after what’s your name, is “where are you from?” I have no good answer to this question. I am from nowhere and everywhere.
I am what they call a “military brat”.
My father was in the Air Force and long after they divorced and he retired, my mom continued to work for AAFES. I understand if you don’t know what that means. While other kids bought their school supplies at KMart or wherever, I bought mine at the BX (base exchange). And we bought our groceries at the commissary. Although I only ever briefly lived on a base, usually for transitional housing, my life was often radically different then the kids I went to school with. We spoke in my house in terms and abbreviations that my friends never fully understood.
And you always entered into each new school year with the realization that you were a stranger in a land full of people who had spent their lives building bonds that you could never hope to have. When I graduated high school I had only been at that school for 2 years. For the few brief years of my Freshman and Sophmore year I had a glimpse into the epic lifestyle known as best friends. But one of my trio died in a car crash our junior year, shortly after I moved again, and the second part of that trio died on January 1st of this year. That was the closest I ever came to traditions and rituals and stories to share about high school besties because there was always another move.
Which brings me to Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles.
Gabriela Santiago is a military brat/kid. When we first meet her, she is stationed with her family on a base in Germany (my parents were stationed in Germany as well). Her brother has recently enlisted and is now serving in Afghanistan. They soon learn that Lucas has been seriously injured and he has requested that she and her father go on a hiking journey in his honor and conquer the Camino de Santiago. What follows is a moving tale of self discovery and forgiveness and relationship in the great tradition of quest novels. This book would actually be a great companion piece with The Way Back from Broken by Amber Keyser in the way that it combines rugged outdoor activity and peril with healing journeys. I recommend both.
When I began reading this book, I was immediately struck by Gabi’s story of life in the military. It wasn’t a vague reference to military life, Gabi actually mentions going to the BX, AAFES, and more. She talks very openly about the frequent moves and the emotional impact. She talks about the expectations of military kids. And she does so in ways that were moving and felt incredibly accurate to me. This is only the second time I have really read a book that addressed the life of being a military kid in such authentic ways. The first was If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth.
Reading this book and seeing my struggles as a military kid – I can not begin to tell you how much it meant to me. I’m not going to say that I cried, but I’m not going to say that I didn’t. I have always struggled with a lot of the emotions that Gabi expresses. Today as an adult I continue to struggle with the lack of what most people call ties or a sense of home. When I go visit either of my parents, there are no rooms full of childhood memories because they are not the rooms that I slept in.
The way that I related to this book and the way that it spoke to my soul really got me thinking about representation. As a white woman, I have never really lacked to see myself in a book. I am not underrepresented in YA literature. There are 1,000s of Hermiones and Bellas and whoever else you can think of. I can pick up almost any book in my YA collection and read about girls that look like me.
But Gabi is different. She spoke to a part of me that always seemed so different and misunderstood – being a military kid. This is not surprising as the author bio states that Cowles herself was an Army “brat”. She gets it. She was able to tap into her experience in a way that speaks of authenticity to military life, which is another affirmation and helped me gain a better understanding of the importance of “own voices”. In this case were not talking about ethnicity or disability, but about unique life experiences. And trust me, military life is a unique life experience that is under represented in YA literature and media as a whole. As we talk about “supporting our troops”, we fail to fully grasp not only what we are asking our military to do, but the unique burdens that we put on their families as well.
It’s interesting to note that Gabi is not white, she is Latinx, but as a white reader I still had no problems relating to her. Her Latin culture is very important to her story and it was something that I enjoyed learning about, but her story of what it is like to be a military kid spoke the universal about military life. This book was, for me, both a mirror and a window. I can not tell you how powerful that was to me to read things about how military life haunted me in the story of Gabi, further reminding me of the importance of representation for all of our teens.
I needed this book when I was in high school and dealing with yet another two moves. I didn’t know I needed it until I read it, but what a difference this would have made for teenage Karen. I needed to hear someone else say AAFES and talk about shopping at the BX and eating at the food court with some really unique and weird food places that didn’t seem to exist off base.
And our teens . . . they need to see themselves in the books that they read. They need to have a voice. They need to know that there are people like them who experience and think about the same things that they do. This book further solidified for me a deeper understanding of the call for more diversity and inclusion in YA literature.
Publisher’s Book Description
After her soldier brother is horribly wounded in Afghanistan, Gabriela must honor the vow she made: If anything ever happened to him, she would walk the Camino de Santiago through Spain, making a pilgrimage in his name. The worst part is that the promise stipulates that she must travel with her brother’s best friend–a boy she has despised all her life. Her brother is in a coma, and Gabi feels that she has no time to waste, but she is unsure. Will she hesitate too long, or risk her own happiness to keep a promise? An up-close look at the lives of the children of military families, “Beneath Wandering Stars” takes readers on a journey of love, danger, laughter, and friendship, against all odds. (August 2016 from Merit Press)
Leave a comment by Friday, September 2nd for your chance to win a hardback copy of this book. Open to US only please. Be sure and leave some type of trackback, like a Twitter handle or email, so I can get in touch with you. I’ll put the names into a hat and do a random drawing.
Book Review: GEMINA, the sequel to ILLUMINAE, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, reviewed by teen reviewer Lexi
In October, the greatly anticipated sequel to Illuminae, Gemina, will be released. Our TAB reviewer, who just left for her Freshman year of college, was very excited to get an advanced reading copy of this book to review for you today.
Publisher’s Book Description
The highly anticipated sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller that critics are calling “out-of-this-world awesome.”
Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.
The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.
Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.
When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.
But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.
Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless. (October 18th 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers)
“When you fight a monster, be careful you don’t become the monster.”
It took me three days to process what the hell i had just read. Not only does this book have such a peculiar format but it also has such a crazy plot that the events of the book gave me whiplash.
For starters, i’m gonna touch up on some things i really loved about this book. I say somethings even though i literally loved the whole darn thing.
The strong female characters
Because not a lot of authors think they have a successful book where there are independent, kick-ass female characters that save the day.
The endless sarcasm displayed by the characters
I feel like the authors legit wrote me in this book with how much sarcasm was dripping off those pages.
Flawless character descriptions
These character descriptions of the House of Knives gang members and the descriptions of the soldiers on ship got me all hot and bothered over some fictional booty. What has this world come toooooo!!!
Finally, i must say that this book was the best emotional rollercoaster i have ever been on. When i think it goes one way the authors pop out of nowhere with a “but wait folks, there’s more!!!”
I recommend this book to everybody because this is one of the best science fiction books i have ever read and it’s even better than the first book. I have high expectations for the next book.
Today as part of the #MHYALit Discussion we are honored to host author Paula Stokes who discusses some of the myths that people have about mental illness.
Why do myths and stereotypes about mental illness persist? Why do people believe things that aren’t true? As someone with an undergraduate degree in psychology and a graduate degree in nursing, I’ve thought about this issue quite a bit. Here are some possible explanations:
We formulate incorrect ideas based on limited personal experiences.
Sometimes we’re just wrong about stuff. If my only direct knowledge of clinical depression came from observing a close friend who was diagnosed with it, and I watched that friend seem to get worse on his medicine, I might draw the conclusion that medicine isn’t helpful for depression. But there are a lot of flaws with that logic. My friend might have been incorrectly diagnosed. His physician might not have selected the medicine best suited for his particular case. He might have only tried one medication regimen before giving up. He might actually be worse off the meds, but hiding that information from me. Or maybe he really is someone who doesn’t currently need medication to manage his symptoms. But just because my friend is fine off his meds doesn’t mean other people with the same diagnosis will be too.
The media we consume exacerbates our incorrect preconceived notions.
We believe what we see—in books, in movies, in blog posts, on the news. The problem here is that all of those things are curated and manipulated to be what the creators consider “newsworthy” and/or a “good story.” That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lying (although they could be), but it means they’re presenting skewed information instead of giving you unbiased facts. Both news and entertainment media tend to emphasize mental illness when it presents with extreme symptoms, because those are often viewed as more interesting or “clickable” stories.
We subconsciously reinforce our views with “selective perception.”
This phenomenon contributes to pervasiveness of almost all stereotypes. Once we accept something to be true, we’re more likely to hone in on evidence that backs up our beliefs, ignoring or downplaying contradictory information. Or, when evidence to the contrary is difficult to ignore, we’re more likely to justify it as being an outlier, not truly representative of reality. So if I think medicine doesn’t help depression, each time someone posts about how their meds affected them negatively, it registers in my mind, but I skip right past all the evidence of people who improved with medication.
How does all this affect the way we think about mental illness? Here are seven mental illness myths that many people believe to be true.
You can tell someone is mentally ill by looking at them.
This is just blatantly false. It might be tempting to diagnose the man sitting next to you on the train who is dressed inappropriately and talking to himself as mentally ill, but there are many organic causes for hallucinations and delirium—everything from a brain tumor to an infection to dehydration. Most mental illness does not look like Girl Interrupted or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. My main character in Girl Against the Universe has PTSD and anxiety, along with some secondary unhealthy coping behaviors, and her pathology is not readily apparent to anyone. Even her own mother doesn’t realize how much she’s struggling until she has a crisis. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 teens experience mental illness in any given year. Take a look around. Mentally ill people look like you and me.
Therapy is just a bunch of talking about your feelings and your childhood.
It’s true that psychoanalysis, as made famous by Sigmund Freud, involves exploring your history and childhood, and most forms of psychotherapy will involve talking about your feelings. However, that’s not all the therapy experience is. Most clinicians give their clients subjective and objective tests to help diagnose them and determine the best course of treatment. Behavioral therapists use theories of classical and operant conditioning to help clients. One example of this is systematic desensitization to help with phobias. Under the monitoring of a clinician, clients are slowly exposed to the phobic stimulus, building up the degree of exposure as they become less afraid. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is what my main character Maguire undergoes, incorporates ideas from both behavior and talk therapy. Maguire’s sessions—several of which are featured in the book—are a mix of discussing her negative thought processes and coming up with outside tasks that will help her get past her fears.
Therapy is only for the wealthy and those who can’t function.
I felt like this for a lot of years when I was younger. If you grew up in a “tough love” household, it’s possible you think that therapy is only for self-absorbed celebrities and people who are a danger to themselves or others. This just isn’t true. There are all kinds of licensed therapists who specialize in things like family therapy, career therapy, etc. Just because you’re “getting by” or “surviving” doesn’t mean you don’t need or deserve help. You only get one life. You should aim for thriving, not surviving. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your life situation and/or your emotions, talk to your general medical doctor about getting a referral for therapy. If you don’t have an internist, talk to a counselor at school, a clergy member, or find support at NAMI.org.
Therapists want to put all of their clients on medication.
If anyone is trying to put clients on medication, it’s insurance companies. Medications are cheaper than therapy by far, and it’s true that a lot of insurance companies limit the amount of therapy sessions you can have. However, your therapist has no reason to push medication on you unless they think it will improve your symptoms. Listen to what they say and then make an informed decision. Even in a hospital setting, nurses and doctors can’t force you to take meds against your will unless they believe you’re a danger to yourself or others.
Psychotropic drugs make everyone fuzzy-headed or “a zombie.”
This is one myth I really wish that books and movies would stop perpetuating. Yes it’s true that some psych medications make people feel fuzzy-headed. So do some painkillers. So do some blood pressure meds. So do some antibiotics. It’s normal to start a medication and need your dosage adjusted due to side effects. I’ve taken antibiotics that made me lightheaded and the fix was as simple as changing the time I took the medicine from in the morning to before bed. Sometimes the fixes are a little more complicated—different or split doses, perhaps trying a different class of medication. Most side effects can be reduced or eliminated by working with your doctor and being honest about what you need. I’m not saying medication is right for everyone—just that there a lot of options. You don’t have to settle for a treatment regimen that saps your energy or clouds your inability to think clearly.
It’s impossible to live a meaningful life with mental illness.
Mental illness might make it harder—though not impossible—to pursue certain careers, especially those in the military, police force, etc., but being diagnosed doesn’t mean you can’t find happiness. People who have struggled with mental illness find romantic partners and engage in healthy relationships. They graduate from high school and college. They achieve success in a variety of careers. In the past ten years or so, some huge literary and Hollywood stars have talked candidly about dealing with mental illness—J.K. Rowling, John Green, Maureen Johnson, Kristen Bell, Demi Lovato, and Lena Dunham just to name a few. Mental illness doesn’t half to hold you back.
Mental illnesses are all incurable.
A lot of mental illnesses are incurable, at least right now, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be incurable forever. There’s a lot we don’t know about the brain, but we’re learning more every day. And just because an illness isn’t curable doesn’t mean we haven’t figured out treatment plans to manage symptoms so people can still live a normal life. And good news: longitudinal case studies have shown that it is possible to completely recover from some disorders, for example anorexia and Borderline Personality Disorder. Additionally, there are many cases where people with depression, anxiety, etc. needed medication at first but were able to reduce their dosages or quit taking it after engaging in therapy. Maybe they’re not “technically cured” but they’re happy and healthy, and that’s what really matters, right?
What other mental illness myths do you wish people would just get over?
Paula Stokes writes stories about flawed characters with good hearts who sometimes make bad decisions. She’s the author of several YA novels, most recently Vicarious and Girl Against the Universe. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at authorpaulastokes.com or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.
About GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE:
Maguire is bad luck.
No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.
It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.
From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.
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Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.
Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.
A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.
Do you like nearly unremittingly bleak stories? Then do I have a book for you! Now don’t jump ahead and assume that I mean that in any kind of damning way. I like bleak. I like real bleak. I like books where I think, good lord, more bad stuff? So keep reading, okay?
We meet Charlie as she is just getting settled in a treatment facility. She’s a cutter who has done too thorough of a job and just spent a week in the hospital. At the facility, she’s silent—selective mutism. She’s been through a lot. Prior to landing in the facility, she was homeless for nearly a year. Now in treatment, she’s getting the help she so desperately needs, grateful to be indoors, warm, and fed. But money and/or insurance doesn’t last forever, and way too soon she’s being cut loose, released to her abusive mother. Instead of going home with her mother, she’s handed some money, her birth certificate, and a bus ticket to Arizona. Great parenting. Charlie heads out there alone. Her friend Mikey is there, but Mikey’s tied to a lot of her past. He’s also not around much, so when he leaves on tour with a band, Charlie is truly alone. She gets a job washing dishes at a cafe, where she meets Riley, a sometimes charming junkie ten years her senior who quickly gets into her head, heart, and pants. Riley is horrible for Charlie. She’s trying so hard to move on from her past, but that’s not easy. Every day is a struggle for her to not cut herself. She makes a lot of crappy choices around and because of Riley. There are small good things mixed in among all this bleakness. Charlie finds solace in drawing and is going to have some of her art in a show. She’s making… I wouldn’t say “friends” at work, but she’s interacting with her coworkers and coming out of her shell a little. And when things fall apart in a pretty epic way, Charlie learns she has more support, resources, and hope than she had imagined.
Glasgow’s writing is stunning, moving from lush and poetic to choppy and spare. We’re in Charlie’s head a lot and slowly learn about her background—her father’s suicide, her best friend’s near-suicide, her abusive mother, her life on the streets. She isn’t much for talking, even with Riley, who’s far too self-absorbed to really think to ever ask her anything about herself. Glasgow’s story is gritty and grim and at times almost too much to bear. I admit to taking lots of breaks while reading this one. People bend, break, leave, disappoint, hurt, die, suffer, and harm. In most cases, they also heal, change, recover, and hope in this astoundingly sad, astonishingly poignant debut.
For more on Girl in Pieces, see Glasgow’s previous piece for our blog, “This Book Will Save Your Life.”
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 08/30/2016
Middle School Monday: Reading in Class. Minus the Worksheet or Report. Just, you know, READING. By Julie Stivers
Disclosure: I love writing. I love when students write. One of the goals for my library this year is helping to integrate more creative writing opportunities into multiple classrooms. Not for a grade or to tick off a curriculum line, but for the incredible social and emotional benefits of encouraging student expression.
But, here’s the thing. I think sometimes we get in a trap of always linking reading and writing. After a student reads a chapter or a book, we (as educators) want them to write about it: complete a worksheet, a summary, or (horror) a report. This makes me uncomfortable as it can be at odds with developing a love of reading.
Imagine the last book you read. What if when you finished it, you had to write a report on it or complete some plot and theme worksheets? Hmmm. Would that make you want to pick up another book?
It was these thoughts, plus the abundance of great World War II MG and YA fiction and narrative non-fiction that led to one of my favorite collaborations last year: the 7th grade WWII Historical Fiction Choice + Expert Project.
WHAT do I mean by Choice and Expert?
Our goal was for students to dive deeply into one aspect of WWII—specifically, a topic that interested them. We introduced this project just as they were about to begin their WWII study and we were hoping that as elements of this wide-reaching and global unit appeared, students would feel empowered by already knowing interesting information from their chosen title.
To generate interest in the project introduction, I showed a series of trailers and historical footage to tie into available titles. [If you’ve clicked through to the link, several of the images and titles are hyperlinked.]
Giving students choice doesn’t make any sense if the options they have to choose from are not wide. I worked to have different formats, lengths, and main characters representing different communities. I was not as successful as I would’ve liked to be at this. (See below for an example…which has a happy ending!)
In addition to giving students choice in which book they chose, they also had complete power in how they chose to show us what they had learned. Their choices included:
- Set up a time to come talk to Ms. Stivers in the library.
- Write an imaginary text conversation between two of the characters.
- Write a Top Ten List related to the book. [Top Ten Reasons I Liked This Book, Top Ten Scenes, Top Ten Bloodiest / Scariest / Unbelievable Moments, etc.]
- Draw a picture based on the book.
- Think of three questions you’d like to ask the author. We’ll try to connect with the author via Twitter to ask those questions!
- What’s your idea??
They didn’t need to decide on their product until AFTER they had read the book. The response was overwhelmingly positive when they saw how the project would end. Our great 7th Grade Social Studies Teacher gave students time each week to READ and, just as importantly, gave students TIME to finish. The end date became fluid as the project progressed.
What did most students choose? Over 90% came to talk to me in the library about these titles and I loved hearing their impressions of the book. Two wrote book reviews—which I uploaded to the library website. Several drew pictures which—just like the book reviews—I shared with authors if they were on Twitter. [Sidebar: I love Twitter. Deeply. For bringing the world IN and sharing our students’ talents, work, and brilliance OUT to the world.] One of our students read Unbroken, never having read a book half as long. His teacher and I were so proud of him that we gave him the copy to keep.
The Happy Ending. Which Starts Out Disappointing.
I liked my list of WWII books. Didn’t love it. One of its glaring flaws is that we had no authentic historical fiction on the Tuskegee Airman. I am thrilled that our library has TWO new titles on the Red Tails to share and booktalk with students this year and also include in this project.
American Ace by Marilyn Nelson (2015) is a powerful and engaging title, written by the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman!
Below is SLJ’s review from December 1, 2015.
Gr 8 Up-When she dies, Nonna Lucia leaves a letter to Connor’s father, her oldest son, which reveals that he is not the biological son of her husband but rather of an American who died during World War II. It is as if Connor’s father has lost himself as well as his beloved mother; he is devastated. The confusion and questions emerging from the discovery propel Connor to explore who this mysterious grandfather might have been. It emerges that he was one of the storied, heroic Tuskegee Airmen. Through 45 poems in Connor’s voice, Nelson considers such matters as identity, heredity, nurture, race, and family. Connor and his father, who is teaching him to drive, have ample opportunity to probe tentatively and delicately into their feelings about such things while they’re on the road. Connor’s research takes on urgency after his father suffers a stroke, and his gradual recovery is deftly linked to Connor’s increasing pride about their newfound heritage. VERDICT Nelson packs a good deal into these verses, and though the subject matter is weighty, she leavens it with humor and deep family affection.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NY
When I introduce this title to students, I will actually begin with the illuminating author’s note titled:
How this Book Came to Be,
And Why an Older African American Woman
Ended up Writing as a Young White Man
Amazingly enough, the second Red Tails books is ALSO a novel-in-verse. You Can Fly by Carole Brown Weatherford (2016) is another beautiful title and impossible to read without thinking of the myriad ways to use with students!
Below is SLJ’s review from February 1, 2016.
Gr 5 Up-This distinctive collection of verses lets readers journey with the African American men who dreamed of flying despite racist attitudes. Through 33 poems, readers will travel beside these determined men as they become pilots and fight not only the Nazis, but prejudice as well. For those who have never studied this time period, this book sheds light on the Tuskegee Airmen through stories filled with authentic voices and hard truths. For those who already know of the Airmen’s accomplishments, the book offers a more personal connection to the men and their ideas and feelings through poems such as “Operation Prove Them Wrong” and “No Hero’s Welcome,” which demonstrate that despite their proven skill and heroism, the aviators were still denied acceptance and respect. Scratchboard illustrations by the author’s son bring the subject to life. VERDICT A unique and very readable addition to supplement black history and World War II collections.-Laura Fields Eason, Parker Bennett Curry Elementary School, Bowling Green, KY
I also love that this slim novel has a powerful epilogue, a helpful timeline, and a great list of additional resources. If you’re reading the above and thinking—this would make a perfect 7th or 8th grade Social Studies (whole) Class Text, I like the way you think! It would also be interesting to pair specific poems to additional texts, for example Private Joe Louis (page 28) with Matt de la Peña’s A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (2013).
Welp. This post was too long—I’ll stop talking! I would love to hear about the WWII collaborations or historical fiction lessons you have done! The more we SHARE with each other, the more we can DO each year in our own libraries.
Have a great week!
We use a lot of words that we don’t fully consider where they originate from and what they truly imply. Some words are loaded; heavy with meaning and wielding a subtly destructive power that we often fail to fully grasp. Some words harm with their history, the suggested implications, and the way that they reinforce dangerous stereotypes and harmful stigmas. I have been thinking about the power of words a lot lately and here are five words that we should all probably stop staying. These aren’t the only five words, they just happen to be five words that I have heard recently – or I’m sad to say I have said myself. Please note, after much internal debate I have decided to use the words here instead of censoring them to help us fully understand their impact.
At it’s most basic, the definition of this word means less developed then the rest. In its truest form, it can refer to anything. For example, you can refer to the interrupted growth of a tree as being retarded. The problem is that at some point in time in the history of our language we started referring to people as retarded and this is a problem. Now, we casually use this word to refer to something that we think of as stupid as retarded, which is incredibly harmful. People with disabilities have struggled long and hard to be recognized and respected as fully human. The history of how average citizens have treated those with any type of disability is staggeringly shameful. And this word continues that shame. For more information on why we should all stop using this word please visit R-word | Spread the Word to End the Word.
I am a child of the 1980s, which means one of my go to phrases has long been, “that’s so lame.” Like retarded, lame is a pejorative term used to denote something that is stupid, less than or fails to please. Teacher gave a big assignment over Christmas break? Lame.
What does lame really refer to? A person or animal that is unable to walk or unable to walk well because of an injury or illness that affects their foot/feet or legs. A war veteran who loses part of their leg in combat is lame. A child born with a congenital deformity of the feet is lame. And we have just used this word to say that someone or something is stupid, unacceptable, not desirable.
Using the term lame as a derogatory remark others people. If saying something we don’t like or find as less then is lame, the corollary is that people who are in fact quite literally lame must be less than and undesirable.
Retarded and lame are examples of ableist language. Ableism is the discrimination by non-disabled people against disabled people. Ableist language assumes that there is a norm and that anything outside of that norm is undesirable and bad. For example, being able to walk fluently is the norm and anything else – having to use a wheelchair or walker, for example – are bad and undesirable. So our language has evolved to reflect these biases that say there is one right way to be and everything else is less than. The words retarded and lame reflect this bias and when we use them, they hurt people. See, for example, Ableist Word Profile: Lame and Deeply Problematic: Language: why “retarded” and “lame” are not okay.
So you have that friend who changes their mind a lot? Yeah, stop saying they are schizophrenic. Schizophrenia is not the inability to make a decision or someone who changes their mind a lot or has a problem committing. Schizophrenia is a real psychological illness that can be very difficult to live with and requires lifelong care and treatment. People with schizophrenia struggle to find support because there is so much stigma associated with mental illness. For example, even today as we continue to recognize the importance of medical insurance for quality of life, many people still don’t have insurance for mental health issues because our understanding of and stigma against mental health issues is that extreme. Using schizophrenia as a pejorative for your friend with a “quirky” personality helps no one. Worse, it actively harms people. Real people who are struggling to find support and quality care for their very real schizophrenia. See also: It’s Time To Stop Saying Schizophrenic
Crazy and insane as a pejorative falls under the same umbrella as schizophrenia. We throw these words around so casually and they are actively harming people. I talked some about this here: Sunday Reflections: Let’s Talk About How We Talk About Mental Health.
The bottom line is this: people with mental health issues are fighting against so many stigmas to get the medical care and personal support that they need, these terms hurt that fight. They hurt real people. Don’t use them.
I myself am a former slut shamer and I fully admit it. If I saw a girl who was what I considered to be immodestly dressed, the term slut automatically popped into my brain. The problem with this term is that it sexualizes women’s bodies as the default and takes away their sexual agency. It’s a loaded term, someone who makes different clothing and or sexual decisions than me is a slut, the thinking goes. But the problem with this term runs deep because it also feeds into our rape victim blame culture, setting up the idea that a woman can dress or act in a way that makes them somehow complicit in their rape. This is not okay. Slut shaming is deeply rooted in both patriarchal and purity culture. It suggests that a girl in a spaghetti strap tank top is somehow a slut while our men walk around freely without shirts. It suggests that girls are responsible for how men think and act around the female body instead of forcing men to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. I talked earlier and perhaps more eloquently about my former slut shaming ways here: True Confessions of a Former Slut Shamer.
Words matter. They have meaning and impact. They have a history. Before we use the words that we use, we should take time to consider where they come from, what they mean, and how they impact the people around us. I’m working on this every day and I hope that you’ll join me.
Today, in honor of her August 23 release of The Left Handed Fate, Kate Milford joins us to share some of her own remembrances from Middle School:
Things that I remember from middle school, in no particular order: I always seemed to wear the wrong clothes; I discovered Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series; I had a crush on a guy for the entire three years and then he went to a different high school before I could figure out what to do about it; I made friends with a girl named Alli who also had a crush on that guy the whole time. I somehow made it onto the dance team, even though I wasn’t particularly good at dancing; I wrote terrible poetry I thought was epic; I didn’t die from any of the incidences of extreme embarrassment that happened to me. (There were many, a disproportionate number of which seemed to have to do with the aforementioned clothes and boy problems.) The last song of the Eighth Grade Dance was “Can You Stand The Rain” by New Edition. Alli danced with our crush. I was happy for her.
Middle school is so weird. I’m honestly not sure which, of the things that I remember about it, are important—except for Alli (who’s still my best friend), The Dark is Rising (which I still reread every year or so) and the fact that I was marginally better at some things, like dance, than I thought I was and not as good at some things, like writing, at which at the time I thought I was some kind of genius. I wasn’t exactly who I thought I was, and I certainly wasn’t exactly who I wanted to be, but I was at least someone who could be happy for a friend who got something I badly wanted, too. There was at least one moment in those otherwise nothing-but-confusing years where I got something right. I suppose it’s even possible there were more moments like that. That’s a nice thought. Kinda wish I remembered them.
If you’re interested in knowing more about The Left Handed Fate, read on…
Return to Nagspeake for a new fantasy adventure from the bestselling author of National Book Award nominee Greenglass House.
Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault are on a mission: find the three pieces of a strange and arcane engine they believe can stop the endless war raging between their home country of England and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. During the search, however, their ship, the famous privateer the Left-Handed Fate, is taken by the Americans, who have just declared war on England, too. The Fate (and with it, Lucy and Max) is put under the command of new midshipman Oliver Dexter . . . who’s only just turned twelve.
But Lucy and Max aren’t the only ones trying to assemble the engine; the French are after it, as well as the crew of a mysterious vessel that seems able to appear out of thin air. When Oliver discovers what his prisoners are really up to—and how dangerous the device could be if it falls into the wrong hands—he is faced with a choice: Help Lucy and Max even if it makes him a traitor to his own country? Or follow orders and risk endangering countless lives, including those of the enemies who have somehow become his friends?
And be looking for my review of this enchanting novel in the near future.
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