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#ReadForChange: Women Conquer and Dragons Slay in Elana K. Arnold’s Damsel

 

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Elana K. Arnold join us for a conversation about fairy tales, rage, feminism, and Arnold’s 2018 book  Damsel

 

 

I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality, and it’s very shocking to the system.”

– Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

 

Shocking the System with Damsels, Dragons, and Dashing Princes

 

damselThis month’s #ReadForChange is the first fantasy/ fairy tale I’ve chosen to feature. I know some of you readers out there might be wondering: How can the re-cast fairy tale of a fierce dragon, a conquering prince, and a “damsel” (that he, um, rescues?) plunge right into the heart of contemporary issues? If you’re one of those people wondering, then you haven’t yet had the chance to read Elana K. Arnold’s captivating novel, Damsel.

 

In Damsel, Elana returns us to the classic legends, found across many cultural traditions, of dragons in their lairs, protecting their most precious possessions, of privileged men living into their society’s expectations that they become conquerors, and of “damsels” – seemingly defenseless, often distressed, and appearing to be in need of rescue. I won’t ruin your experience of reading the story by sharing Damsel’s astonishing twists and turns. Suffice it to say that Elana works wonders with this classic tale, reshaping it into a powerful feminist narrative perfectly suited to our time.

 

I’ll offer only one example of the story’s contemporary relevance: Shortly after she’s been “rescued” by the dashing price, Ama, the story’s protagonist, takes a wild lynx kitten as a pet. Her prince has murdered the kitten’s mother, ostensibly to (again) rescue Ama. Ama feels both a responsibility for and a strange kinship with the orphaned wild animal. She names the lynx “Sorrow.” Although Sorrow longs to return to the wild, the kitten stays by Ama’s side as Ama moves into the prince’s castle and begins preparations to marry him. (Needless to say, no one has bothered to ask Ama whether she actually wants to marry the prince.) Shortly before the story comes to its shocking close, Ama decides to release Sorrow back into the wild, telling the now-grown cat: “Sorrow is no more your name. Now I call you Fury.”

 

In recent weeks, I’ve seen so many women – women who have, like Ama, felt trapped, confused, and overwhelmed – shift from Sorrow to Fury. Elena Arnold’s legendary tale of a dragon, a damsel, and a dashing prince might be just the story we need for motivation to transform that fury into action.

 

Before we move on: Here’s one action for all of you Readers-For-Change: if you’re over 18, please VOTE on November 6. If you’re under 18, I hope to bump into you out there on the streets, drumming up support for our favorite candidates!

 

“The creative water that filled my well was… rage.”: An Interview with Elana K. Arnold

 

imagesMARIE: There’s no doubt that Damsel is a novel with a powerful feminist message – one well-suited to our time. What made you decide to write such a bold, unflinching story of men abusing their power, and of abused women recovering their own power?

 

ELANA: Damsel, I think, is a natural extension of the work of my previous two novels, What Girls Are Made Of and Infandous, both of which deal with embodied female shame. I found, after working on those two books for close to five years, that the process of writing them was a cathartic means of healing myself from the shame I’d felt all my life—the shame of my body, the ways in which I’d fit myself into a form I felt was expected of me. What was left, when the shame was gone, was this clear, pure rage. That rage is what I drew from when writing Damsel. As a writer, I work with what I have, what I’ve been filled up with, what my personal experiences have been. In the past, the creative water that filled my well was shame, and so that was what I worked from. This time, it was rage—propelled by my own lived experience.

 

MARIE:  I have to admit, the fairy tale trope of the prince “rescuing” the damsel seems an odd place to begin a feminist tale. What compelled you to return to the classic legends of dragons, damsels, and dashing princes?

 

ELANA: Traditionally, fairy tales have been written by men who shaped the stories into commodities that could be sold, products that centered female bodies as consumable objects, morality lessons, and prizes to be won. These are the stories many of us were raised on, so they were some of the material that formed me. Revisiting them and reflecting on how they might be re-formed by centering the effects of making women into prizes rather than leaving the stories when the women are “won” felt like a meaty and interesting challenge.

 

MARIE: How do your concerns about such issues as abuse, toxic masculinity and a culture of conquest shape your actions in the real world? What actions are you taking to create the world you want to live in?

 

ELANA: My concerns about the issues you named shape all my actions. They inform the way I vote, the causes to which I donate time and money, the way I raise my children, how I have committed to speaking up in situations that feel unsafe to myself or others. I hope that my creative work helps give readers language for their lived experiences; by writing an alternate version of the damsel’s journey, maybe my work will light a fire in those who have felt powerless.

 

MARIE: I know that it will! For readers whose fires have been lit, what’s your advice?

 

ELANA: Don’t wait for later. You don’t need to wait for permission to make a change. In many states, you can pre-register to vote up to two years before you’re old enough to cast your first ballot. You can learn more here.

 

Come up with a plan. Many of us, when faced with scary situations, freeze up and do nothing, or “play possum,” just waiting for the bad thing to go away. But if you can decide ahead of time what your script will be in, for example, a situation in which you see someone acting in a racist or sexist manner, then you are more likely to do something.

 

“Wonderful, wise, work:” Elana’s excellent recommendations for learning more.

 

“There is so much wonderful, wise work being done, and there are many amazing resources.” Here are a few books Elana recommends:

 

Can We All Be Feminists? New Writing from Brit Bennett, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and 15 Others on Intersectionality, Identity, and the Way Forward for Feminism, edited by June Eric-Udorie

can we all

Nevertheless, We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage (With a forward by Amy Klobuchar)

nevertheless

Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America, Edited by Amy Reed

our stories

How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation, Edited by Maureen Johnson

how i resist

Elana’s also a fan of the work Teen Vogue is doing. Check it out here. 

teen vogue2

And, there’s a wonderful podcast called KidLit Women that she’s actively following.

 Kidkit women

Want to take action? Need to reach out for help? Elana has some suggestions.

 

Elana’s an active donor to Planned Parenthood. You can learn more about their work here.

 

DAMSEL deals with issues of sexual assault, rape culture, and gaslighting. Elana recommends RAINN as a wonderful resource if you need help.

 

Win a copy of Damsel, fiery hot off the presses!

This new release is such a great read, and it will get you fired up to take action! Here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt November 1!

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season. A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

 

 

 

Writing Outside Your Own Life (and Not Chickening Out), a guest post by Jacqueline West

collectorsAs an author, I make a lot of school visits. And at a lot of school visits, a student will hurry up to me before my talk starts, hand me a lanyard microphone—the kind that links with hearing aids— and disappear again. I’ll wear the microphone as I speak, remembering, every time I bump it with an overdramatic gesture (which happens not infrequently), that one person in the crowd is experiencing the moment just a bit differently than everyone else.

 

I’ve always been drawn to stories about people who see things that others don’t see, who notice things that others don’t notice. I didn’t realize it until just recently, but all the main characters in my novels—at least so far—have this in common. Olive in The Books of Elsewhere finds magic spectacles that bring paintings to life. Jaye in Dreamers Often Lie has brain trauma that brings on Shakespearean hallucinations. When I started writing The Collectors, I knew eleven-year-old Van would be one of those people too. I knew he would be an isolated kid, shuttled around the globe by his opera-singing mother, often lost in his own miniature, collectible world. I knew he would perceive things differently from the people around him. But it wasn’t until I was halfway through the book that I realized something huge: Van was hard of hearing. Suddenly, with that discovery, both the logic and the magic of the story fell into place.

 

My first instinct was to chicken straight out.

 

A story about deafness was not mine to tell. Deafness and hearing loss are not my personal experiences. There are no deaf or hard-of-hearing people in my immediate family. There are authors, like Cece Bell of El Deafo, who do have this background, and who have used it as material for recent, brilliant work. Of course, I write about characters whose lives are different from my own all the time—but this difference felt so foundational to my character’s experience, hoping that I could understand it well enough to use it in my own story seemed arrogant. Maybe even stupid.

 

My second instinct was to leave that element out of the story and just go on without it. But when I tried, I couldn’t get through a single scene. It felt like I had just met someone named Timothy and told him that I was going to call him Reginald instead. My characters wouldn’t go backward with me. They wouldn’t let me rip this vital thread out of the story. Van was hard of hearing. He just was. This was an important part of his life, and it had stemmed from the very heart of the story, and there was no way I could cut it out now without killing the whole thing.

 

So my third instinct was to give up on it completely. I would say goodbye to Van, a character I utterly loved, and goodbye to the magical world I had nearly finished building, and leave them on the shelf in my office that’s stuffed with other out-of-steam manuscripts. But days went by, and then weeks and months, and Van’s story refused to leave me alone. That’s when I started to hope that a fantasy about wishes and underground worlds and distractible talking squirrels—all experienced through the perspective of a boy with hearing aids—might be a story I was meant to tell. So I got help.

 

I read like crazy (I highly recommend What’s that Pig Outdoors? by Henry Kisor and Gerald Shea’s Song Without Words). I reached out to local DHH teachers, who let me visit with their students, interviewing them, shadowing them during their school day, peppering them with questions. (One of those teachers even read the whole manuscript for inaccuracies. Thanks again, Angela!) I met with a book club from a school for the Deaf, and with parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing kids. The generosity and insight of all these people were incredible. The things they shared with me combined with the Van who already existed in my imagination, giving him his own unique view of the world—a view that leads him into danger, wonder, and unexpected magic.

 

I was reminded of something important as I wrote this book: we all want to find ourselves in a story. When you ask people to share a tiny bit of themselves, so that you can weave it into a story that will resonate with others, they don’t usually say no. They say sure! And then they tell stories of their own. It’s such a gift—and it’s one that I hope I can pass along to every reader who opens a copy of The Collectors. That, and some dangerous wishes, and an underground collection, and a distractible talking squirrel. Hope you enjoy.

 

 

Meet Jacqueline West

JacquelineWest2.2017Jacqueline West is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Collectors, the YA novel Dreamers Often Lie, and the NYT-bestselling series The Books of Elsewhere. Her debut, The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One), garnered multiple starred reviews and state award nominations, was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start, and received the 2010 CYBILS award for fantasy/science fiction. Jacqueline lives amid the bluffs of Red Wing, Minnesota, surrounded by large piles of books and small piles of dog hair. Find Jacqueline online: www.jacquelinewest.com, Instagram: jacqueline.west.writes, and Facebook.

About THE COLLECTORS

Even the smallest wish can be dangerous. That’s why the Collectors are always keeping watch.

The Collectors sweeps readers into a hidden world where wishes are stolen and dreams have a price. Fast-paced, witty, and riveting, this contemporary fantasy adventure has magic woven through every page.

It’s the first book in a two-book series from Jacqueline West, the New York Times–bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere series. For fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak, The Isle of the Lost, and The Secret Keepers.

Van has always been an outsider. Most people don’t notice him. But he notices them. And he notices the small trinkets they drop, or lose, or throw away—that’s why his collection is full of treasures. Then one day, Van notices a girl stealing pennies from a fountain, and everything changes. He follows the girl, Pebble, and uncovers an underground world full of wishes and the people who collect them. Apparently not all wishes are good and even good wishes often have unintended consequences—and the Collectors have made it their duty to protect us. But they aren’t the only ones who have their eyes on the world’s wishes—and they may not be the good guys, after all.

Jacqueline West, author of the New York Times–bestselling Books of Elsewhere series, draws readers into a story about friendship, magic, and the gray area between good and evil. The Collectors is for fans of Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus and Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener.

What to know about writing twins: a guest post by Ashley and Leslie Saunders

Growing up as twins, we always received an overabundance of attention. Being constantly compared, analyzed, pointed at and talked about turned us into extremely shy kids. We didn’t know how to handle classmates or strangers on the streets coming up to us like they knew us, asking personal intimate questions about our relationship and our appearance. We hated how it made us feel like a sideshow or a gimmick. Our sisterhood was extremely close- yes, we were identical and shared our wardrobe. Yes, we had the exact same interests such as sports and reading- but we didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. In our eyes, we were just best friends who happened to look like one another.There were definitely periods in our lives when people sought to separate us or would make us feel like our bond was “odd” or “too close”. When we felt isolated or misunderstood we looked to stories to help us feel normal. Our shining lights were all things Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Tia and Tamera from the television show Sister, Sister. Looking back, the portrayal of both sets of twins was very “kitchy” and played to stereotype, but hey, we took what we could get. Distinct memories fill our minds with being asked on the regular to sing the Doublemint gum song as the Doublemint Twins (we still know all the lyrics to this day, of course). But our most dreaded gibe was being compared to the twins from The Shining. This wildly famous depiction of twins followed us through to our adolescence and beyond, leaving the door open for questions like “which one of you is the evil twin?” “Which is the nice one?” “Stand side-by-side so I can compare you both.” “Are you identical everywhere?” “Oh, she’s the dominant one.”We totally get it. Identical twins are question-provoking, especially for twins as close as we are. Even science still has questions: why does a fertilized egg split in the first place? It’s a biological mystery.

But as we grew older, we began to learn how to cope with people’s curiosities and how to turn the narrative around. We started writing about being twins.

It was a game changer for us. We thought, why not take established twin stereotypes and make them our own? Let’s take ownership of being twins. Weaving our authentic bond into a story, giving readers an insider’s look at our unique bond using our own words, somehow lessened the sting of the constant unsolicited questions and stares.

We’re even used the assumption that most twins are tricksters who like to trade places (hello Parent Trap) and made it the log line of our story.

Our novel The Rule of One is about twin sisters born into a world where they don’t belong. Families are only allowed by law to have one child- the stakes are high. But the foundation of their relationship comes from our own. The story is told from dual perspectives; Ashley wrote all of the eldest twin Ava, and Leslie wrote Mira, the second born. It was very cathartic to write in first person about all the little details of daily twin life, adding some of our own personality traits to Ava and Mira. In our novel we tried to go deeper, beyond the initial head-turning surface that attracts people’s attention to identicals, exploring themes of identity and sisterhood being tested under extraordinary circumstances.

We hope other authors and filmmakers who decide to write about the unique dynamic of twins will approach such characters as real, three-dimensional individuals rather than regurgitations of caricatures seen in so many past media portrayals.

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 3.38.49 PM–Author Bio:
Hailing from the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, Ashley Saunders and Leslie Saunders are award-winning filmmakers and twin sisters who honed their love of storytelling at The University of Texas at Austin. While researching The Rule of One, they fell in love with America’s national parks, traveling the path of Ava and Mira. The sisters can currently be found with their Boston terriers in sunny Los Angeles, exploring hiking trails and drinking entirely too much yerba mate. Visit them at www.thesaunderssisters.com or follow them on Instagram @saunderssisters.
Steely-vented hummingbird (Amazilia saucerrottei), perched on verbena plant, Costa Rica, July

Steely-vented hummingbird (Amazilia saucerrottei), perched on verbena plant, Costa Rica, July

–Synopsis:

In their world, telling the truth has become the most dangerous crime of all. In the near-future United States, a one-child policy is ruthlessly enforced. Everyone follows the Rule of One. But Ava Goodwin, daughter of the head of the Texas Family Planning Division, has a secret—one her mother died to keep and her father has helped to hide for her entire life. She has an identical twin sister, Mira. For eighteen years Ava and Mira have lived as one, trading places day after day, maintaining an interchangeable existence down to the most telling detail. But when their charade is exposed, their worst nightmare begins. Now they must leave behind the father they love and fight for their lives. Branded as traitors, hunted as fugitives, and pushed to discover just how far they’ll go in order to stay alive, Ava and Mira rush headlong into a terrifying unknown.

Find it here:

1100 words, a guest post by Claire Rudolf Murphy

bobby on truck bed April 4thOn the evening of April 4, 1968 Senator Robert Kennedy stood on the back of a truck, in a black neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana. But instead of telling people why they should vote for him for president, he had to announce that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed in Memphis, Tennessee.

 

Riots had already begun to erupt in cities across the country, but the crowd in Indianapolis stood silent in grief. Bobby told them that he didn’t blame them for feeling angry. Instead he said that they had a choice about “what kind of a nation we want to be . . . and what direction we want to move in.”

 

martin and bobby newBobby’s profound speech that night and one that prompted me to research and write my 18th book – Martin and Bobby: A Journey Towards Justice. Today is its publication birthday. Even though I was seventeen in 1968 and had a front-row seat to one of the most divisive and important decades in America’s history, I didn’t learn about Bobby’s April 4th speech until years later.

 

This book is the most personal of all my nonfiction titles because I knew about many of the events and people featured in the book. My parents were Kennedy Democrats and we often discussed politics around the dinner table in Spokane, Washington. We supported JFK for president and grieved with the nation when he was killed.

 

When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, a nun at my high school, Holy Names Academy, posted this message on the classroom bulletin board: Christ the King, King the Christ. Some of the students said it was sacrilegious to compare King to Jesus. But I thought it was brave and was grateful that Sister Margaret helped me think about Dr. King in such a radical way. Martin Luther King cared about the poor and disenfranchised, just like Jesus did in the gospel stories I’d grown up with.

 

My family closely followed the 1968 presidential election too. My brother John supported Eugene McCarthy because he spoke out first against the Vietnam War. I remember that my parents were shocked when Johnson withdrew from the race. Right after midnight on June 5, 1968, my mother shook me awake. “Get up, Claire. History is being made.” Together we watched the chaos at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles; the sobbing supporters had just learned that their candidate Bobby Kennedy had been gunned down in the hotel kitchen with Ethel by his side.

 

That fall my friends and I listened over and over to the poignant song “Abraham, Martin and John,” with its last stanza featuring Bobby. It gave me solace and still does today.

 

During the following decades I majored in history in college, got married, had two children, taught writing and drama, and then began writing books for kids and teens, most often about different aspects of American history. In 2012 my husband, mother and I watched the documentary A Ripple of Hope about Robert Kennedy. We sat mesmerized during his speech on the night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. None us had ever heard it before. Awed by the beauty of his words that touched the crowd so deeply, I had to learn more. I had to understand how Kennedy had such courage on a night when he took could have been killed. Why he was able to give such a powerful, healing speech on one of the worst days in America’s history.

 

Thousands of books, articles, blog posts, and documentaries feature King and Bobby Kennedy. Even though I’d grown up with King and Kennedy, there was so much to learn and people to interview. In 2016 I attended the 48th commemoration of Dr. King’s death and Bobby’s speech at the Landmark for Peace memorial in Indianapolis. I am grateful to the many people who shared their vivid memories from that April night in 1968. Many of them appear in the book, especially those who were teenagers that night.

 

During the 1960s civil rights protests, young people led the way and refused to give up. Teen protestors offer me hope now, fifty years later, as they lead us in Black Lives Matter, the Me Too movement, and school safety.

 

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on,” President John F. Kennedy said in a 1963 speech before his assassination. Martin’s and Bobby’s ideas—to end poverty, stop an unjust war, show compassion to all Americans— are still important today. And their words continue to offer inspiration and insight on how our country can heal and face the historic challenges of economic and racial inequality with compassion and activism.

 

john lewis and Claire 2014Like King and Kennedy, young leaders now demand that we take action, not stand on the sidelines. Because of that, during my book presentations this fall, a panel of middle school, high school and college leaders will discuss leadership today and what lessons from 1968 resonate with them.

 

Civil rights activist John Lewis had just joined Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign the night Dr. King was killed. He stood in the crowd as Bobby spoke. His mentor’s Dr. King meant everything to him. In November 2014 I had the honor of speaking with him in his Washington, DC office. We spent an hour together talking about that profound time and what both men still meant to him.

 

Congressman Lewis has often said, “Whenever I have very tough decisions to make, I always think, ‘What would Dr. King do? . . . What would Bobby Kennedy do?’”

 

He is heartened that students and people of all ages are protesting more than at any time since the 1960s.

 

I am grateful that my work on this project offered me the opportunity to deeply study that important time and what it meant to the nation. It allowed me to reflect on what it can teach us today about the need for compassion in our political dialogue and personal interactions.

 

Meet Claire Rudolf Murphy

Photo credit: Paul Gildea

Photo credit:
Paul Gildea

www.clairerudolfmurphy.com

Claire is the author of award-winning fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults, including Marching With Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Rights, My Country Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Martin and Bobby: A Journey to Justice is her 18th book. She began her writing career in Alaska, where she lived for twenty-four years. Today she lives and writes in her hometown of Spokane, Washington. Since 2008 she has taught in Hamline University‘s low residency Writing for Children and Young Adults (MFAC) graduate program. Recent events have renewed her deep-seated passion for political activism. She enjoys music and outdoor activities with her husband, two grown children and their spouses, and grandson in Seattle.

 

 

About Martin and Bobby: A Journey to Justice

martin and bobby newMartin and Bobby follows the lives, words, and final days of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Initially wary of one another, their relationship evolved from challenging and testing each other to finally “arriving in the same place” as allies fighting poverty and racism. The stories of King and Kennedy reveal how life experiences affect a leader’s ability to show empathy for all people and how great political figures don’t work in a vacuum but are influenced by events and people around them.

 

Martin’s courage showed Bobby how to act on one’s moral principles, and Bobby’s growing awareness of the country’s racial and economic divide gave Martin hope that the nation’s leaders could truly support justice. Fifty years later, their lives and words still stir people young and old and offer inspiration and insight on how our country can face the historic challenges of economic and racial inequality.

 

(ISBN-13: 9781641600101 Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated Publication date: 10/02/2018)

Walk the Jagged Streets of Gentrification with Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, a guest post by Marie Marquardt

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Ibi Zoboi join us for a conversation about gentrification, identity, and Zoboi’s excellent new novel, Pride. 

 

 

 

Step onto my block

and walk these jagged

broken streets and sidewalk cracks

like rickety bridges across our backs

to the end of rainbows

reflecting off broken glass

where the pot of gold

is way on the other side

of this world.

– from “Girls in the Hood” a poem by Zuri Benitez, Pride

 

Breaking Past Invisible Walls with Pride

 

prideI’m thrilled and honored to have Ibi Zoboi back to #ReadForChange as we celebrate the launch of her highly-anticipated YA novel, Pride. If you saw my February feature on American Street, you already know that I am a huge fan of Ibi’s stories. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy of this gorgeous (inside and out!) book a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t put it down.

 

Pride is a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, set in the rapidly-gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. Zuri Benitez, the second daughter in a Haitian-Dominican family, has lived her entire life in a crowded Bushwick apartment, surrounded by love, a good dose of chaos, and much delicious food. When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street after funding an “Extreme Makeover: Bushwick Edition,” Zuri’s mom is beside herself with anticipation for the possibilities of a good match, and her giggly younger sisters can’t get enough of the handsome Darcy brothers, Ainsley and Darius.

 

Fans of Pride and Prejudice will not be surprised to learn that Darius initially comes across as arrogant and dismissive of Zuri and her family, and that Zuri despises him. Needless to say, by the end of the book, Darius and Zuri definitely don’t hate each other. As Zuri and Darius’ relationship moves toward it’s inevitable (and super-sweet) finale, Zuri has many chances to reflect on the complicated impacts of gentrification, and to experience the challenges of building relationships across differences of social class. Lucky for us readers, some of Zuri’s reflections come in the form of gorgeous and lyrical poetry, which is interspersed through the narrative.

 

 

“Reverse-gentrifying the Brit-Lit Canon”: An Interview with Ibi Zoboi

Ibi.Zoboi.2018.4MARIE: Throughout the story, Zuri offers so many subtle — but also powerful — observations about the ways gentrification impact everyday life in Bushwick. Were these drawn from your experience? What inspired you to write on themes of gentrification?  

 

 

IBI: Yes, these were definitely drawn from my experience. I live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that’s undergoing lots of changes. In fact, I’ve been priced out of my neighborhood, too. Gentrification is about class, upward mobility, and ultimately, property ownership, all the themes that are also in Pride and Prejudice. It was the perfect issue to highlight for this retelling about two teens finding common ground and falling in love.

 

 

MARIE: Pride takes a head-on look at the effects of gentrification on families and communities, which means it also is a story about social class and belonging. You took some risks to address the complicated intersections of race, class, and identity. Why was it important for you to focus on these?

 

 

IBI: The Darcy family is wealthy and Black, and they’re moving into a lower income and working class community populated by people who look like them, Of course there would be issues of identity and big-picture questions about what it means to be Black in an urban landscape. But most importantly, my characters are teens who grapple with identity no matter what environment they’re in. Zuri is looking into a culture that she’s unfamiliar with, which is wealth and access. If she steps back a bit, she can see what is possible for her. Darius also sees what could’ve been possible for him had he not come from wealth. I wanted to examine the issues of upward mobility, education, and class through the eyes of these two teens.
PrideInside

 

MARIE:  Some might consider it odd that you went to the Brit-lit canon for inspiration to tell Zuri and Darius’ love story. Why Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?
IBI: While I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice for school, many Black kids have had to. I think the better question is, why is the Brit-lit canon forced on Black and Brown students? What connections can a Caribbean or Latinx immigrant teen make between herself and the Regency world of Jane Austen? In the same way that wealthier newcomers to underserved neighborhoods erase the established cultures, this my very own way of reverse gentrifying the Brit-lit canon. Pride and Prejudice has so much to say about class and a woman’s place in the world, but those themes are not relegated to 19th century British women. A Haitian-Dominican teen in Brooklyn can grapple with those same issues.

 

Want to better understand gentrification? Check out Ibi’s excellent recommendations.

 

To get us started, an excellent nonfiction book:

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration 
by Isabel Wilkerson offers an excellent historical perspective on the gentrification of cities. It tells the story of the period from 1915 to 1970, when six million African-Americans left the Jim Crow South to build new lives in the cities.

warmpth of other suns

Now to a documentary:

Citizen Jane: Battle Cry for the City chronicles the visionary work of Jane Jacobs, an activist and author who fought to preserve the city.

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And, finally, a podcast:

From WNYC’s The Takeaway – There Goes the Neighborhood: Race and Gentrification (Click here to listen)

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Want to take action? Ibi’s advice is simple:

 

IBI: I recommend students get involved with any community-centered organizations that advocate for fair housing, public spaces, and funding for the arts.

 

Win a copy of Pride, hot off the presses!

Here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt October 1!

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season (available 2/20/18). A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

Rah! Rah! Rah! Sis boom bah! School Is in Session, and It’s Time to Get Fired Up about Reading and Writing, a guest post by McCall Hoyle

McCall Hoyle, avid reader, high school English teacher, and published author of young adult books, shares her thoughts on the importance of firing up everyone involved in education when it comes to reading and writing for pleasure. Yes, just for pleasure. No grades. No logs. No strings attached.

 

As a high school English teacher, my job is to teach standards that pertain to reading, writing, listening, and speaking. I could do that all day long using nonfiction and classic works of literature. But teaching is about so much more than content. Like many educators, and I include librarians in the educator category, I see teaching as a calling. For me, teaching language arts is about more than decoding and comprehending words or constructing grammatically correct sentences.

 

Teaching language arts is about inviting students into the humanities to explore the lives of others and to wrestle with where they belong in this world. I also really, really want students to take risks and experiment with using their own voices aloud and on paper. And what better way to facilitate reading and writing than by immersing students in tons and tons of popular fiction?

 

Here are some of McCall's students in her school’s media center “tasting” books they might want to read for pleasure.

Some of McCall’s students in her school’s media center “tasting” books they may want to read for pleasure.

Nancie Atwell, my teaching role model and hero, cites a study in her book The Reading Zone. She references a study conducted by the International Reading Association that shows the single greatest indicator of academic success across contents is the amount of time young people spend reading for pleasure. If we trust Atwell and the IRA, and I certainly do, we best start spending lots and lots of money on all kinds of books. We must stock our public and school libraries, and even more importantly, our classrooms with high-interest books. Teens need to be surrounded by books. Books need to be displayed face out, and they need to represent a wide variety of genres, and characters, and authors that kids look like, sound like, and can relate to.

 

We know these things, yet time and time again, we in the classroom get sucked into the stresses and pressures imposed by pages worth of standards and hours and hours devoted to high-stakes tests, and in libraries there are the pressures of recommended summer reading lists and encouraging students to read what their parents and teachers want them to read.

 

Reading for pleasure matters. Experimenting with writing, and that includes poetry and fiction, not just five-paragraph essays matters too. That means we must arm ourselves with knowledge. We must charge ourselves to read more professional texts. Think the new release–180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle or an oldie but goodie, like Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone. We must vow to set aside time and money to attend professional conferences such as ALA and NCTE. And we must remind ourselves and each other daily of the importance of the work we do as teachers and as librarians.

Note the book tasting comes with placemats, menus, and silver trays!

Note the book tasting comes with placemats, menus, and silver trays!

Today, as we look out at the school year ahead, we must suit up in our metaphoric cheerleading uniforms and pick up the biggest megaphones we can find, and shout from the rooftops the principles that guide us in authentically teaching kids what it looks like to be literate in the twenty-first century.

 

Meet McCall Hoyle

Photo credit: Lily McGregor

Photo credit: Lily McGregor

McCall Hoyle writes novels for teens about friendship, first love, and girls finding the strength to overcome great challenges. She is a high school English teacher. Her own less-than-perfect teenage experiences and those of the girls she teaches inspire many of the struggles in her books. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s spending time with her family and their odd assortment of pets—a food-obsessed beagle, a grumpy rescue cat, and a three-and-a-half-legged kitten.

 

 

 

 

meet the skyMcCall’s second novel, Meet the Sky, releases September 4, 2018 from HarperCollins/Blink. It’s a story about a seventeen-year-old girl named, who’s struggling to keep her fractured family together. Sophie’s all about sticking to a plan—keeping the family business running, saving money for college one day, and making sure her mom and sister don’t endure another tragedy. Then a hurricane forms off the coast of the Outer Banks, and Sophie realizes nature is one thing she can’t control. She ends up stranded in the middle of the storm with Finn, the boy her broke her heart freshman year.

To learn more about McCall, her teaching, or her books find her on the web at mccallhoyle.com.

You can also find her on the following social media platforms.

Instagram: @McCallHoyleBooks

Facebook: @McCallHoyleBooks

Twitter: @McCallHoyle

 

#ReadForChange: Back to School with Brendan Kiely’s TRADITION

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and  Brendan Kiely join us for a conversation about power, feminism, toxic masculinity, taking action, and Brendan’s powerful 2018 book, Tradition. Please see the end of this post to enter to win a signed copy of this book! 

 

 

 

There’s really no such thing as the “voiceless.” There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.

– Arundhati Roy

 

“How Can Men be Better Feminists?”

 

Brendan-Kiely-Book-Tradition

Okay, folks. I’m about to climb up on my soapbox for a little bit, so get ready. (Or ignore this post until you’re prepared for a rant. These are tough times. Please be gentle with yourself!)

 

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to what’s happening in the world around you, then the claim I’m about to make will not come as a surprise. Many of the terrible ills that plague our society — and, here in the United States, also threaten our democracy — can be traced to a certain sort of privileged man. You know the type – they carry their entitlement as if it were somehow built into their DNA. They simply assume themselves to be untouchable – above the norms and laws and ethics that hold our communities together. And, if we’re being really honest, they pretty-much are able to live above or outside of those shared norms. Why? Because they live deep inside institutions that both grant them this power and protect them from losing it. They abuse their power. They abuse people because they perceive those people as objects, and not as their fully-human equals.

 

But then there are the men we may expect to be “the type” until we find out how very, profoundly wrong we are. They may be the jocks, the prep-school kids. They may be the recovering addicts. They may be the men who have made terrible mistakes, but who humbly seek guidance, looking to other people as models for how to live well. These men seek to understand the difference between right and wrong, and then they try to do what’s right. Sure, they mess up sometimes. But they try, and that means something.

 

They share a few things in common: they listen, they embed themselves in communities of trust. And by listening carefully in these communities, they learn – maybe slow and faltering – how to fight alongside their fully-human equals for what is right and good.

 

Brendan Kiely has astonishing talent. He writes stories that reveal to us both of these characters, while also unmasking the institutions that shape their lives (think: churches, police forces, and prep schools). His first novel, The Gospel of Winter is the gut-wrenching story of Aidan, a terribly broken boy, who struggles to decide whether he should reveal the abuse inflicted by his priest. I won’t claim that it’s an easy read (it’s particularly excruciating for Catholics like myself), but it’s powerful and compelling and – in the end – hopeful. In All American Boys (co-authored with Jason Reynolds), he introduces Quinn, who has to re-think everything he thought he knew about right-and-wrong, good-and-bad, when his mentor and big-brother figure, a police officer, assaults a black teenager from his high school.

 

Tradition, Brendan’s most recent novel, unflinchingly reveals life inside of a prep-school infused with toxic masculinity. More importantly, though, the story celebrates those courageous people who dare to make visible the toxic abuse of power, and of people. Tradition is, like most excellent novels, a multilayered story. But it is, at least in part, the story of how a boy named Bax, burdened by the mistakes of his past, learned to trust that he knew right from wrong and then developed the courage to do what was right.

 

“Before I act, I need to listen.”: Real Talk with Brendan Kiely

Brendan-Kiely-AuthorMARIE: Tell us about the moment when you knew that this story had to be written, and that you needed to address these tough themes head-on.  

 

BRENDAN: I’m hesitant to locate a moment, partially because I’m kind of dense and rarely respond to (or recognize when it hits me!) a bolt of inspiration, but also because I’m associative and nonlinear. Parts of my past resonate with parts of my present and when the emotions seem correlative, I know there’s a story in there. Also, as I’m looking around at the world, I formulate questions I want to try to address through fiction.

By way of example, I’ve shared this story before, and I think it does get at the crux of why I wanted to write Tradition.

Shortly before my senior prom, my high school allowed a tuxedo rental company to hang advertisements in the halls of our academic building. In the poster, four guys in tuxedos huddled around one girl in a prom dress, but the girl was tipped headfirst toward the floor, her legs in the air, spread open. In my all-boys’ high school, the poster reinforced the old trope of prom = sex, but it also signaled a deeper, more dangerous message as well: wear our tux and get what you want, because you are entitled to it.

The reality of that second message became clear to me when, a few weeks before going to college, I got a call from a friend, a girl who had been at that same prom. She’d been raped at the beach that summer. She didn’t want to share the details; she just wanted me to know. I listened. I believed her. Because I thought about that poster. I thought about the graffiti in my high school locker room and bathroom stalls. I thought about the way so many guys joked about sex aggressively, competitively. None of it was innocent. All of it reeked of entitlement.

An environment in which the boys think and are told they are entitled to sex, and all the messaging is about sex as a goal, and none of it is about consent and agency and seeing the human being, is an environment that nurtures, that is, rape culture. And a definition of masculinity that emerges from a culture which silences, shames, and gaslights women is dangerous—it harms women and robs men of the potential to be better human beings.

This all came back to me when in 2015 I saw the video of Emma Sulkowitz dragging her mattress across the graduation stage at Columbia University in an act of bravery and tenacity to remind the world she would not be silenced, that the story of her assault would not go unheard. The boarding school culture Jules and Bax grapple with in Tradition mirrors our broader society—all too many institutions are riddled with insidious and deeply entrenched misogyny—and I wanted to write about people who challenge that status quo. I wanted to write about the strength of women who stand up and speak out about misogyny, and also, especially as a man writing this book, I wanted to write a novel that asked: How can men be better feminists? What are men’s roles in this time of necessary cultural reckoning?

 

MARIE: What actions are you taking in this time of cultural reckoning? How are your actions, and the way you choose to act, shaped by your own identity?

 

BRENDAN: I love this question because it asks us writers to address the notion of accountability in our lives. Regardless of our intentions in telling the story, how do we live our lives?

As someone with a vast amount of social power and privilege, I’m white, male, cis-gendered, heterosexual, and not disabled, action is the language I’m accustomed to. That’s part of the privilege—I feel emboldened to act, I feel free to act. So though action is necessary, for those of us with these kinds of privileges, I think we should practice humility first and always. Choose to listen to the people in our lives, choose to listen so that we can better understand, but also so we can strengthen our empathetic hearts, instead of just telling myself, “here’s what I think I can (or should) do.” If I want to help create a more just and equitable world, before I act, I need to listen.

When my grandmother, a Catholic, and the matriarch of my predominantly Catholic family, read my first book, The Gospel of Winter, a novel about a 16-year-old boy struggling to decide whether or not he should tell people he’s been abused by his priest, I was nervous to hear what she thought. But she said, “Brendan, your book reminds me of Solomon asking God for a listening heart.” Her wisdom was profound and shook me to the core. In my life, my writing, my relationships, and all work I ever hope to do, I try to remind myself of her words, and strive to find, nurture, and practice, a “listening heart” before I act.

So rather than list the things I do (most of which are in organizations working toward more racial justice in various institutions), I’d rather emphasize the work I think we all need to do before we act: listening and believing the stories we hear—and for those of us who are men or white like me, particularly listen to and believe the stories of women and people of color, who have all too often been silenced or unheard.

 

MARIE: I love this wisdom! For readers who have been doing the careful work of developing this empathetic and listening heart, and who think they may be prepared for action, what’s your advice?

 

BRENDAN: I think it is important to remember that if we want to challenge established authority and status quo, there are inherent risks. It is dangerous to think we can affect change overnight, and it is dangerous to forget just how much work so many people have done before us in the work we hope to do today. Before joining or starting a movement, I think everyone should look through a few key texts to understanding to work, the cost, and the history. For example, one might check out these three graphic guides: A Brief History of Feminism by Patu, Antje Schrupp, and Sophie Lewis; March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell; and Introducing Feminism: A Graphic Guide by Cathia Jenainati and Judy Groves.

 

Brendan's Recommended Books (1)

 

And, after reflecting on the work that people have done before us, if you do choose to act, always act in a group, not alone. The most successful action is collective, not individual. By partnering and growing your numbers in your own organization, you can be a lot more effective in your community.

 

In my perfect world, there’d be a Feminist Club in every high school in America. So, if there isn’t already a Feminist Club at the school, I’d recommend students starting one from which to grow and connect to other organizations. And if there already is a Feminist Club, maybe consider researching the kind of actions other organizations (such as the ones below) have done or are already doing and either mirror those plans or find ways to partner with those organizations in your own school.

 

 

Ready to learn more and “strengthen our empathetic hearts”? Here are Brendan’s recommended reads

 

To get us started, Brendan recommend an excellent list of recent articles that “lay out the realities of sexual harassment and assault and rape culture”:

 

“#MeToo is a wakeup call: We need to talk to youth about sexual health and ethics” (Salon)

 

“The reckoning: Women and power in the workplace”  (New York Times)

 

“Your reckoning. And mine.” (The Cut)

 

“What does a lifetime of leers do to us?” (New York Times)

 

“#MeToo creator answers 10 questions and perfectly explains what the movement is all about” (UpWorthy)

 

“Stop telling us how to confront an epedimic of violence and abuse: Rebecca Solnit on the #MeToo backlash” (LitHub)

 

Brendan also points us all toward a couple of powerful feminist books:

 

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

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We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

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And, when you’re ready to take a break from the books, he’s got several fabulous suggestions for documentaries and videos:

 

The Mask You Live Ina Representation Project documentary about the construction of masculinity

 

Nanette – a stand-up comedy act by Hannah Gadsby

 

Why I’m done trying to be “man enough” – a TED talk by Justin Badoni

 

 “Regardless of our intention in telling the story, how do we live our lives?” Ready to take action?  Here are a few organizations doing great work:

 

Creating Consent Culture – An international movement that educates and enlightens the masses on sexual assault and holistic healing to end sexual violence once and for all.

 

Ultraviolet – A community of people mobilized to fight sexism and create a more inclusive world.

 

NOW Campus Action Network – Young feminists bringing activism to their schools and colleges.

 

TRADITION #RFCHead Back to School with #ReadForChange

If you’re hoping to head back to school with a free signed copy of Tradition, here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt September 1!

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season. A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

 

What a strange time to be a woman, a guest post by Bree Barton

tltheader

Author Bree Barton, whose book, HEART OF THORNS, is out today, joins us to talk about freedoms, feminism, power, and stories. Hop on over to this link to see Amanda’s review of Bree’s new book. 

 

 

In some ways, we have never enjoyed more freedom. As I write this post, I am sitting in a café drinking crimsonberry tea and wearing short shorts—an outfit that would have seen my grandmother shunned by “polite society.” I went to a good school and got a good job. At thirty-three, I don’t have kids, and no one is pressuring me to. Last year I saved up money and took myself to Iceland for ten days on a book research trip. I never once felt unsafe.

 

In other ways, we are stripped of our freedoms every day.

 

I’ve always been interested in what it means to have a body, especially as a woman. What brings us pleasure? What brings us pain? Who has control over our bodies? I wish the answer to the last question were unequivocally “ourselves,” but we know that isn’t true. Controlling someone else’s body is about power, and historically, that power has belonged to men. The church. The government. Husbands. Doctors. And, most recently: the Supreme Court.

 

But to be perfectly honest, those questions were not at the forefront of my mind three years ago, when I started writing my debut fantasy novel.

 

We’d had a good few years. I canvassed for Obama in 2008, riding the wave of optimism undulating across the country. Sure, the years under the Obama administration weren’t as rosy as they’d appeared on those “YES WE CAN” posters. But they weren’t that bad. Right?

 

Besides, we had Hillary. I watched Hillary Clinton decimate Donald Trump in the debates with tears in my eyes and pride in my heart. We were going to have our first female president. If I did decide to have children someday, they would grow up never questioning that a woman could be in charge.

 

As a cis white woman, I thought about power in an abstract sense, the way a palm tree imagines a blizzard. That’s the thing about privilege: it’s so inherent for those of us who benefit from it, most of the time we don’t even know it’s there. I knew my book would have magic—it was, after all, a fantasy—and magic typically involves an exploration of power. But that was just fiction. It wasn’t real.

 

Then November 2016 happened.

 

Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of what people of color, my LGBTQIA+ friends, and anyone from a marginalized community had known all along: the world was not an equal playing field. The game was rigged. I only got a taste of the reality they faced on a daily basis, but that taste was staggeringly bitter.

 

Though I will never understand their centuries of pain, I began to see the ripple effect of our new president’s policies. I could no longer afford my health insurance. On my last covered trip to the gynecologist, she urged me to consider an IUD. “Just to be safe,” she said. “Since we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

 

Meanwhile, one of my favorite nonprofits closed its doors after 20+ years. My local library had to abbreviate their hours, thanks to budget cuts. Nightmare stories began to pile in—hate crimes, casual racism, threats to deport kids from LA Unified. I did what everyone did: Unfriended bigoted relatives on Facebook. Read all the memes. Cried over the thought pieces. Called my representatives.

 

heart of thornsAnd then I took the draft of my debut novel—and I burned it to the ground.

 

Heart of Thorns didn’t start out as an expressly feminist fantasy. I hope everything I ever write is feminist, but not until the presidential election did the story truly snap into focus.

 

In the first two drafts of HoT, I had a fuzzy concept of an “evil king.” After Trump seized the throne, let’s just say that character emerged in high definition. For the first time I saw King Ronan of Clan Killian for what he was: a hateful tyrant who seals the borders, persecutes people of color, and abuses his bisexual son. A man who not only condones assaulting women, but makes it actual policy.

 

I wrote about the unmitigated reality of the United States: racism, misogyny, xenophobia, hate. Sci-fi and fantasy authors talk a lot about wordbuilding, but for me worldbuilding was a three-prong process: read the news, shudder in horror, then write it into fantasy.

 

As I shredded my draft to ribbons, a new question knit itself together in my brain. What if our bodies evolved to shift the power imbalance? What if the “tables turned” and magic focalized in a woman’s body gave her power over men? How would she use that power? For good, or for evil?

 

I knew in my bones I wanted to create a magical system in which the female body had evolved to right the imbalance of power. In the world of Heart of Thorns, this power is why women are feared and hated…but the more they are feared and hated, the more powerful they become.

 

This is a strange time to be alive. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from the heartbreaking events of the last two years, it’s that we have never needed stories more. Stories allow us to write about the horrors of the present—and they also empower us to write the future we desire.

 

In 2017, I launched Rock ‘n’ Write, a nonprofit dance and writing class for preteen and teen girls. Every week we come together to dance, write, and connect; to move our bodies and open our minds. What I tell my girls is, stories have power. Anyone who tells a story—or crawls inside the ones they read—does possess magic.

 

Today’s culture tries to alienate us, to remind us of the ways we are different. Books remind us of the ways we are the same. We need libraries now more than ever. We need librarians to lead kids to books. We need stories to shine light on every corner of humanity—the bad, the good, the resplendent. This is why we read. Always and forever, we yearn to be drawn into the light.

 

 

Meet Bree Barton

Bree BartonBree Barton is a writer in Los Angeles. When she’s not lost in whimsy, she works as a ghostwriter and dance teacher to teen girls. She is on Instagram and YouTube as Speak Breely, where she posts funny videos of her melancholy dog. Bree is not a fan of corsets.

#ReadForChange: Reading into Hurricane Season with Joanne O’Sullivan’s Between Two Skies

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Joanne O’Sullivan join us for a conversation about Hurricane Katrina, climate change, taking action, and O’Sullivan’s 2017 book  Between Two Skies

 

 

Before Hurricane Katrina, I always felt like I could come back home. And home was a real place, and also it had this mythical weight for me. Because of the way that Hurricane Katrina ripped everything away, it cast that idea in doubt.

Jesmyn Ward, author

 

Leaving Home, Leaving the Lost Bayou

joanne-osullivan-Between-Two-SkiesAs we near the one-year anniversary of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, we still occasionally see news headlines about the slow pace of recovery, particularly in Puerto Rico. We are reminded that many communities still need our support, and many of us heed the call by donating to great programs like the Hispanic Federation’s UNIDOS or traveling to support recovering communities.

 

But, unless we are among those directly affected, we have a hard time grasping the profound upheaval that hurricanes cause in the lives of so many. We don’t think much about the slow process of building new lives, new communities – especially for those who no longer have a place to call home.  I adore Joanne O’Sullivan’s 2017 historical YA novel, Between Two Skies, because it brings us intimately into the story of one family that lost everything it knew as home, and then struggled to build a new life together.

 

As Hurricane Katrina’s waters rose to cover her family’s coastal Louisiana fishing village, Evangeline (a “white, mostly” girl, with deep roots in the Bayou) watched from a south-Georgia hotel room, where she expected to wait for a few days, until the storm passed. Needless to say, the storm did pass, but the waters didn’t recede. With her town of Bayou Perdu submerged underwater, Evangeline and her family soon found themselves living as “hurricane refugees” in landlocked Atlanta, trying to adjust to a new school and new home, where the calls of birds on the Bayou have been replaced with the whoosh of cars on the interstate.

 

Evangeline is a wonderful protagonist. She is impossible not to love from the first moment we meet her, days before Katrina hits. Evangeline is “about to make history” for wearing jeans, white rubber boots, and not “an ounce of hairspray or a drop of makeup” as she prepares to be crowned Bayou Perdu’s 2005 Shrimp Queen.

 

hurricane-katrina-ir-clouds-from-goes-on-29-aug-2005-869While developing a beautiful sense of place and a wonderful, memorable cast of characters, Between Two Skies also dives deep into the disorientation of exile. Through Evangeline, readers experience the anxiety of separation, the loss of close friendships, and the profound longing for those smells, tastes, rhythms and sounds of home. The story also explores so many subtle new things that come in the wake of loss: a new gender dynamic in the family, as her mother sets off to office work while her dad struggles to find meaningful employment; a new awareness of social class, as her older sister, a prom-queen-bound cheerleader in Bayou Perdu, comes to terms with her much lower status in their wealthy suburban Atlanta school; and, for Evangeline, a beautiful aching new love. She finds this love with Tru, A Vietnamese-American boy who also spends time in Atlanta as an exile from the storm.

 

For fans of poetry, there’s an added bonus: the story in some ways parallels that of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem entitled Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie. Evangeline’s story in Between Two Skies echoes the heartache, searching, and exile of the poem, while also building a gentle, often innocent, and ultimately hopeful story.

 

“I wrote Between Two Skies to bear witness”: A Conversation with Joanne O’Sullivan

joanne-osullivan-largeMARIE: Tell us about the moment when you knew that this story had to be written, and that you needed to be the one to write it.

 

JOANNE: I spent a lot of time after Hurricane Katrina reading narratives from people both in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast and their stories resonated deeply with me in part because of my own experiences in that part of the world. Although Hurricane Katrina took place in 2005, it was in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana that made me turn my attention to the long-term impacts of both climate change and environmental justice in natural and man-made disasters.

 

The same people who had been displaced and lost their livelihoods during Katrina were once again hit with a devastating blow. A way of life based on deep reverence for nature and community is coming to an end and in a way, I wrote BETWEEN TWO SKIES to bear witness to it.

 

Coastal communities are the canary in the coalmine for the effects of climate change and rising sea level. People who already live on the margins are often pushed into poverty as a result of natural disasters. While recovering from the many losses that can come with a natural disaster is difficult for everyone, it’s much more difficult for those who don’t have the resources to bounce back.

 

In the days and weeks following a disaster, there’s a lot of attention. But it quickly fades. My story looks at what happens next. Sadly, there are a lot of parallels between what happened after Katrina and what’s currently happening in Puerto Rico and coastal Texas after last fall’s disasters.

 

MARIE: What are some of the things you’re doing to create the world that you want future generations to live in?

 

JOANNE: I volunteer for educational, environmental and other causes in my community. I support the work of organizations that are doing good work by helping them raise awareness and giving my time and money. I write and call my elected officials at all levels to urge them to put people before politics. And I vote, every time.

 

Our family is focused on lowering our consumption, not just of energy, but also of consumer goods. It may sound basic, but we don’t eat meat at home. The amount of energy that goes into producing meat (and the waste produced from it) is really staggering. If everyone cut back just a little, the impact on the environment would be significant.

 

MARIE: What’s your message for readers wanting to take action on climate change?

 

JOANNE: If you feel passionately about an issue, engage with it in real life, not just online: you’ll meet other people who are doing important work and you’ll demonstrate your commitment. It may sound simple, but showing up is one of the most valuable things you can do. It’s easier than ever to find opportunities to volunteer: places like Idealist and Meetup.com post notices of volunteer opportunities.

 

Take your showing up to the next level: protest, demonstrate, and go to your local city council meetings or state legislature. Organize at your own school. Don’t wait for leadership to present itself: take the lead yourself.

 

Ready to Learn More? Read On!

In our interview, Joann told me about Terrestrial, a great podcast for “staying informed on environmental issues.”  She also recommended two podcasts that we featured in our April issue, when we interviewed Jodi Lynn Anderson (I’ve already listened to a few episodes of these, and I’ll tell you they keep coming up for a reason! They’re that good.):

 

No Place Like HomeThis is a great, conversational podcast covering different angles of climate change and culture, and offering examples of people taking positive, achievable steps to create a better future.

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Warm RegardsThis one has some fascinating stuff untangling how climate change has become so political.

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And here’s one more excellent recommendation from Joanne: “The Vanishing Island, a short (9 minute) documentary by Emmanuel Vaughn-Lee is a really powerful look at how climate change threatens vulnerable communities. I would encourage anyone with an interest in climate change to watch it to understand the real on-the-ground affects being felt in Southern Louisiana.”

 

 

Ready to take action? “Take your showing up to the next level!”

Here are a few of Joanne’s recommendations for action:

Earth Guardians is a great organization for young people who want to engage on environmental issues and climate change. There are Earth Guardian ‘crews’ all over the US and the world (or you can start one in your area).

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350.org is a global group working on climate justice. You can check the website for a group near you and also start your own group. 350 holds frequent ‘actions’ on climate issues

 

Youth Build gives low-income young people construction skills and involves them in building affordable housing and other community assets, such as community centers and schools.

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I encourage young people in the US to consider joining Americorps or Americorps VISTA for a year of service. There are so many projects available and it’s a great way to really have an impact in a community.

 

“Don’t Wait… Take the Lead Yourself.”

I’m especially grateful to Joanne for reminding me, in our interview, of the importance of engaging in real life. There is much great awareness-building happening in online communities, but getting on the ground and being face-to-face with the issues and those who are affected by them still remains, in my opinion, the best way to build strong and vibrant communities, and to make lasting and significant change in the world.

 

Thank you, Joanne, for this reminder!

 

IMG_5256This Hurricane Season, #ReadForChange with Between Two Skies!

Can’t wait to get your hands on BETWEEN TWO SKIES? It just might be your lucky day!  Here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt August 1!

 

 

 

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season. A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

 

When Books Are The Things That Save You, a guest post by Cindy Baldwin

When I was thirteen, my parents drove me to the University of North Carolina pediatric hospital and checked me in. I had a PICC line—a peripherally inserted central catheter—put in my left arm and a host of super-strength antibiotics pumped through it. We didn’t know when I’d be coming home. And, hardest of all for a young teenager who hated sleepovers and was preternaturally anxious, my parents—busy with one-year-old baby triplets at home—could only visit me during the day.

 

The long lonely evenings, the endless nights filled with beeping machines and blood pressure cuffs, were mine to navigate on my own.

 

It wasn’t the first time I was hospitalized. I’d been in and out of the hospital for my first two years of life, nearly dying as an infant until I was finally diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), a life-shortening genetic disease that affects the lungs, pancreas, and other organs. Those stays, though, existed only in the haziest parts of my memory. More recently, I’d been inpatient two years before, when I was eleven—but that stay had ended up being a fluke, less than forty-eight hours long.

 

This, now, was going to be my first real experience with what CF patients call “a clean-out”: a two- to four-week course of intravenous antibiotics to help calm the pneumonia-like lung infections that are CF’s most persistent and intractable symptom. My doctors assured me that after a few days in the hospital I could complete the IVs at home, but they didn’t know how long that would take.

 

I had never in my life felt as alone as I did that first night in the hospital—like my parents, my friends, my whole life, was in another universe; like none of the people I knew or loved could possibly understand what I was experiencing. The hospital bed creaked and groaned every time I shifted. After I’d turned the lights out to try to sleep, I discovered that no matter what I did the room was twilight-bright. No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to quiet my racing heart, the anxious blood that pounded through my veins.

 

I don’t remember, anymore, exactly how long that stay lasted—less than a week. What I do remember, clear as sunlight almost twenty years later, is the person who made my stay bearable: a young medical student named Neeta. Every evening, after she finished her rounds, she’d come sit by my bed and talk books. Like me, she was an avid reader; like me, she loved Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain chronicles and Madeleine L’Engle. She asked me about the books I was reading during that stay (Joan Aiken’s odd and fantastical Wolves of Willhoughby Chase series). She told me about some of her own favorites—even wrote me a list of recommendations on a notepad.

 

In that whole big, lonely, terrifying hospital, she was the person who made me feel human, like I’d been seen for something more than my disease, something more than the catheter in my arm and the knowledge that these hospital admissions would loom large in my future.

 

where the watermelonsIn my debut novel, Where the Watermelons Grow, my protagonist, Della, also feels isolated and afraid, certain that none of her friends in small-town Maryville, North Carolina, can understand what she’s dealing with as her mother’s schizophrenia worsens. Into Della’s loneliness comes newly-transplanted Miss Lorena, who’s moved to Maryville after being widowed. The first time Della meets Miss Lorena, it’s because Miss Lorena’s son is setting up a Little Free Library-esque book box to serve the town of Maryville, which doesn’t have libraries or bookstores of its own. Miss Lorena gives Della a book of Emily Dickinson’s poems, which ultimately becomes one of the things that helps Della find the strength to accept her life, her family, and her mama for just what they are, recognizing that they can still have value even if they look “different.”

 

As a children’s writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about children like Della, children like I was—kids who feel as though their experiences are so different, so overwhelming, that it creates a membrane of isolation between them and their peers. Kids who, so often, find solace and understanding both in books and in strong, compassionate mentors. These are the children for whom books, authors, librarians, and teachers can have an especially profound impact, showing them that they are not alone in their fear, their hardship, their loneliness.

 

In the past twenty years, like most cystic fibrosis patients, hospitalizations have become a frequent part of my routine; for part of college, it was normal for me to spend about eight weeks a year inpatient. These days, as a busy thirty-something and a mom to a young daughter, the idea of a week in the hospital even sounds like a relief some days. But through almost two decades, the experience of bonding with Neeta over reading during that difficult first hospital stay has stayed with me, a testament to the power of books and friendship to change the heart of a scared thirteen-year-old who could think of few things more terrifying than a night all alone in the hospital.

 

Meet Cindy Baldwin

Cindy BaldwinCindy Baldwin is a fiction writer, essayist, poet, and author of Where the Watermelons Grow (HarperCollins Children’s), her debut middle grade novel. She grew up in North Carolina and still misses the sweet watermelons and warm accents on a daily basis. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of writing the kind of books readers can’t bear to be without. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter, surrounded by tall trees and wild blackberries. Learn more about Cindy at www.cindybaldwinbooks.com.

 

About Where the Watermelons Grow (out today, July 3, 2018)

Fans of The Thing About Jellyfish and A Snicker of Magic will be swept away by Cindy Baldwin’s debut middle grade about a girl coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness.

When twelve-year-old Della Kelly finds her mother furiously digging black seeds from a watermelon in the middle of the night and talking to people who aren’t there, Della worries that it’s happening again—that the sickness that put her mama in the hospital four years ago is back. That her mama is going to be hospitalized for months like she was last time.

With her daddy struggling to save the farm and her mama in denial about what’s happening, it’s up to Della to heal her mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville, North Carolina, for generations.

But when the Bee Lady says that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain and more to do with healing her own heart, Della must learn that love means accepting her mama just as she is.