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What Bringing to Life a Literary Character Can Do for You – a guest post by Mary Gray, author of The Dollhouse Asylum

As a teen, I moved every year. Can you imagine? Spending freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years in four separate schools? That’s not to mention all the moving I did before that, including multiple schools in one year, often being lost in the curriculum, and immensely alone. But I studied hard, and was always determined to do my best in class.

Without question, it seemed I was supposed to read To Kill a Mockingbird. It was literally the book of choice at three separate schools in three separate years. So I got to know the story quite well, and, I’m sad to say, eventually grew sick of it.

One wise English teacher my Freshman year asked us to do a presentation on some aspect of the book. Always drawn to sad, brooding topics, I chose Boo Radley, because what’s not sad and brooding about him? He is so picked on, so very alone, and I suppose a part of me knew what that was like (I never put that together before). At the time, the song “You Might as Well be Walking on the Sun” by Smash Mouth was big (I bought their CD!) and for some random reason, I decided to change the lyrics to fit with Boo’s predicament.

I don’t have all the lyrics anymore, but every time I think of or hear that song, I remember this line, instead of “You might as well be walking on the sun,” I’d changed it to, “You need to be walking in his shoes.”

It’s corny, don’t I know it. And my stomach twists to think of how I performed this little musical number in front of my entire English classroom. (Mortifying!) I didn’t receive any compliments–halfway through it, I knew my performance was bad–but the message has stayed with me, and I’ll always have a soft spot for Boo.

This is why I love reading. We look at characters completely unlike (or sometimes just like ourselves) and think, “How does this character feel?” Analytical study gives us the power to grow compassion, become better than our often selfish selves.

So, moral of the story? I’m not necessarily saying make a fool of yourselves, but taking on projects that aren’t in our comfort zones will stick with us, and God knows the world needs more people who can think of others before ourselves.

*Note: I’m not saying I’m always capable of doing this, but that’s why we keep trying, and remembering our good choices in the past and deciding to make positive strides in the future can only help.


Official bio: Mary Gray has a fascination with all things creepy. That’s why
 all her favorite stories usually involve panic attacks and hyperventilating. In real life, she prefers to type away on her computer, ogle over her favorite TV shows, and savor fiction. When she’s not immersed in other worlds, she and her husband get their exercise by chasing after their three children. The Dollhouse Asylum is her first novel.

You can meet author Mary Gray, Victoria Scott, Jeramey Kraatz, Krissi Dallas and Heather L. Reid at the Betty Warmack Branch Library (where I happen to work oddly enough) on Monday, October 28th at 7:00 PM.

Here’s another post that mentions To Kill a Mockingbird

#bestYAdad

The #bestYAdad list is a present to my husband.  That’s right, I’m super cheap – but creative.  You see, The Mr. is an excellent father.  I pick ’em good I tell ya.  But also, I was reading Eleanor and Park, which does make this list, and was so impressed with the dad I though to myself: “Self, what other great YA dads are out there?”  So I crowd sourced the answer.

Here are some of the nominees . . .

#bestYAdad Nominees

Kimberly Alberts: Meghan, Hans Huberman from The Book Thief is my favorite book dad.

Melinda Bruce: Luke isn’t Clary’s dad, in City of Bones, but he’s close enough and he’s great.

Richa Parande: Anna’s dad in Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins

Tracy Weikel: I’ll always love Matthew Cuthbert. Other favorite YA lit dads include Arthur Weasley and Atticus Finch (of course), Sam from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe, and Denny Hall (If I Stay).

Erinn Batykefer: Love the dads in Lola and the Boy Next Door kicked ass

Melinda Bruce: Luke isn’t Clary’s dad, in City of Bones, but he’s close enough and he’s great.

Barbara Lowe: Mr. Austin in Madeleine L’Engle’s books about the Austin family.

Anonymous: The #bestYAdad that I immediately thought of is Bobby in The First Part Last by Angela Johnson. Being a teen father is HARD!  

Anonymous: One of the #bestyadads is Charlie Swan. #Twilight.

Kym: Dante’s dad in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Love him!! 

#bestYAdads

Atticus Finch
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee


Without a doubt Atticus Finch is the epitome of the wise, loving, patient dad.  I thought it was interesting that so many considered this book YA, and if it was published today it would probably be published as YA.  To me, it is sheer perfection.     

Atticus Finch: “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Ken Deitz
Please Ignore Vera Dietz
A. S. King 


Vera Dietz is struggling with the death of her former best friend who screwed her over big time.  To say she is in a bad place emotionally is to put it mildly.  Ken Dietz is an amazing dad who is raising his daughter all on his home – will the help of some flowcharts.  Flowcharts can help you answer all of life’s great questions.  My favorite is the Ken Dietz Face Your Shit Flowchart.  

Ken Dietz: “the trick is remembering that you are the boss of you.”

Denny Hall
If I Stay
Gayle Forman

One of the things I loved most about this book, outside of its hands down just amazing writing, was that it contained such a beautiful, healthy and loving intact family.  Both of the parents are active, engaged.  Denny Hall is a fine choice. 

Denny Hall: “Alice Cooper? Have we no standards? At least sing the Ramones.”
 
Park’s Dad
Eleanor and Park
by Rainbow Rowell


Park’s dad does exactly the right think in the moment that matters most.  In this one act he helps save a girl, demonstrates wisdom about the wrongness in some men, and expresses faith in Park.  I never knew that the act of handing over your car keys could speak such a powerful message.

I can’t quote the dad from Eleanor and Park here because in a rare moment of responsible library user behavior, I returned the book.  Possibly even on time. Maybe.

Matthew Cuthbert
Anne of Green Gables
by L M Montgomery


Oh, Matthew.  You sir, are a beautiful man.  You took in this red headed wonder, accepted her for who she was, loved her, and gave her the puffiest sleeves ever.  Matthew Cuthbert is Da Bomb as we once would say.  You stood up in the moments that mattered.  Honestly, I never would have thought of him when thinking about making this list, because I was thinking more recent titles, but once everyone started nominating him I thought, “Of course!”

Matthew Cuthbert:
“I never wanted a boy. I only wanted you from the first day. Don’t ever change. I love my little girl. I’m so proud of my little girl.”

What about the worst?

 Kelly Jensen (no relation, thanks for asking) over at Stacked has a list of the worst YA dads.  She technically calls her list Complicated Father Relationships, but some of those dads are hands down the worst dads ever imaginable, like the dads from Scowler and This is Not a Test.  The dad from Flawed also fits on this list.  In fact, I think it is a lot easier to think of bad examples then good ones.  Either way, share your best and worst YA dads in the comments. 

And Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. 

Atticus was Right: Guest post by Amianne Bailey (Autism and Libraries)

Atticus Was Right

*Names have been changed to protect the truly awesome.  This is part of our ongoing focus on autism and libraries.  Current statistics indicate that 1 out of 88 children are diagnosed with Autism.  This is a story about how books can make a difference.

I’m one of THOSE librarians. After I read a book that moves me, I can’t help but tell everyone I know about it. Yes, I’m a book pusher; I own it, but there are worse things to be obnoxious about. Last March I read Out of my Mindby Sharon Draper and immediately started shouting its praise from the rooftops. I blogged about it, and I went so far as to call it “required reading for all of humanity.” I pushed it into the hands of students and told any teacher who would listen to me about Melody’s story, especially the fifth grade teachers at my school; I encouraged them to read it aloud to their classes. They did because they are THOSE kinds of teachers.

Fast forward to a year later. It is a typical Wednesday in the Shaw library. There is a break between my morning and afternoon rush of classes, so kids drop by to checkout books on their own. A group of sixth grade boys huddle near the nonfiction while a cluster of girls congregate near the display of recommended chapter books. The beep-beep of the scanner serenades us as I go from group to group chatting with and checking on the kids. It’s my own little slice of library heaven.

Kendrick slides through the library door and greets me with a head nod that says, “What’s up, Mrs. Bailey?”

Oh, Kendrick. Seeing him saunter in warms my heart even though he is not a librarian’s typical dream reader. He is a repeat fifth grader who suffers from a bad reputation and worse attitude to match. In the line-up of our students, Kendrick is not our most stellar. Simply put, Kendrick is one of THOSE kids.

But when Kendrick is removed from his peers—from the pressure of acting like his reputation—he is an absolute delight. In my three years at Shaw Elementary, I have come to know Kendrick as a secret reader who always greets me with a slow smile and has never given me a second of grief. I had the privilege of tutoring him last year for the TAKS reading test, and I watched him cry—yes, cry—about his anxiety over that test. Luckily, Kendrick’s second time in fifth grade has been much more successful than his first go-round.  Lately, I have been slipping him my personal hardcover copies of Catching Fire and Mockingjay, and he has devoured both in record time and returned them to me in pristine condition.  

As Kendrick ambles over to the sports chapter books, Josh enters the library with his teacher quick at his heels. Josh is clearly upset, assuming his familiar pose of hands covering ears. Josh is a student in our autistic class, and it is obvious that he is on a mission that might result in a meltdown.

“Hi, Josh! Hi, Mrs. Collins!  How can I help you?” I greet them cheerfully.  

“Josh is trying to tell me something. He wants something in this library, and I need to figure out what it is.” I did not miss the desperation in Mrs. Collins’ voice.

“Of course. Let me help you. I know Josh likes car books so let me pull some for him and see if that will make him happy.” I snap into librarian search mode.

Mrs. Collins and I begin to pull car books and show them to Josh, but his moaning grows increasingly louder. Josh is teetering between agitation and meltdown, and Mrs. Collins and I feel perilously close to the edge. I watch as tears begin to form in Josh’s eyes as he rocks back and forth and moans while holding his head in his hands. We are not cutting it with the car books.

At this point, I notice Kendrick out of the corner of my eye. He is the only other student left in the library. I think the others scrambled out due to the awkwardness of the moment. Kendrick is watching us try to help Josh with a look of concern on his face. Pure genuine concern.

I smile at Kendrick to assure him that everything is okay even though it is not. “Mrs. Bailey, what is wrong with Josh?” Kendrick asks.

“Well, Josh has a hard time communicating with us. He has autism, and that means it’s hard for him to explain what he wants, so we have to guess until we figure it out.” My meager attempt to explain the autistic mind sounds silly and trite.

Kendrick looks me straight in the eye and says, “That’s like Out of my Mind. Just like Melody. She couldn’t communicate either until she got that special computer. I can’t imagine that. Can I help Josh find some books?”

An immediate lump forms in my throat. Mrs. Collins hears Kendrick and her mouth drops open. She has read Out of my Mind, as well (she is a merciless victim of my book pushing habit), so she knows Melody’s story. She is also very familiar with the antics of Kendrick, so she gets the magnitude of this moment.

“Of course, Kendrick. That would be awesome.” I manage to squeak out.

Kendrick pulls some books off the shelf and takes them over to Josh. I don’t even know what they are because I am trying to quickly wipe the tears from my eyes without the boys noticing. Mrs. Collins takes the books from Kendrick; he smiles and swaggers out of the library in that cool Kendrick way. Mrs. Collins shows the books to Josh, and he instantly calms down—Kendrick’s picks seem to appease him—and he walks out of the library much calmer, a look of contentment on his sweet face. Mission accomplished.

I stand in the middle of my empty library amazed at what I just witnessed: the power of books exemplified.

Out of my Mind is not a book about autism. But it is a book about the power of tolerance, acceptance, and empathy in a cruel, judgmental world. Kendrick may not be successful in school, but he can make the connection between life and a book. He can put himself in the shoes of an autistic kid and want to try to help him rather than scurry away or worse—bully him. If there was a test for empathy, Kendrick would pass with flying colors.

Atticus Finch was right. In my all-time favorite book To Kill a Mockingbird, he tells Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Books do that for people. They give us that “skin-slippage” experience of being able to stand in someone else’s shoes and consider their perspective. Hearing Out of my Mind read aloud by Mr. Holgram, his fabulous, caring teacher, gave Kendrick the opportunity to experience what it would be like to have a disability that crippled his ability to communicate. Kendrick saw Josh in that library and made the connection. He felt empathy. And a book made it all possible.

It’s April so that means ‘tis the season for state-mandated tests in Texas. Educators across our great state are stressed to the breaking point with the impending pressures of the STAAR test. But this one magical moment in my library brought it all back into perspective for me. I am not in this business to make a kid like Kendrick be a really great test taker. Honestly, he is not, and I’m not sure if he ever will be. I am in this business to help kids like Kendrick—all kids—become better human beings by pushing the power of books. I now consider Kendrick one of THOSE kids—one of the most stellar ones that I know.

Librarians are on a mission to change the world—one book—one person—at a time. I am proud to be one of THOSE librarians.

This MG Moment brought to you by the letter A and the number awesome. You know, if Awesome were a number. Amianne Bailey is in her third year as the librarian at Shaw Elementary in Mesquite, Texas. Before she found her “dream job” in the library, she worked in the trenches as a high school English teacher for eleven years. She loves to read (obviously), spend time with her family, and watch sports. You can visit her blog at http://mywesternsky.blogspot.com/.