Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: Wonder

            Wonder by R. J. Palacio is the kind of book that from the first page, made me tilt my head to the side and raise my eyebrows.  That is code for, “Huh.  I’m interested.”  By the end of the first chapter, I was already invested in the main character, August “Auggie” Pullman, and anticipated being mad at his enemies and cheering his victories as I read on. 
            Auggie was born with a host of facial anomalies, making his appearance exceedingly unusual.  In his words: “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” As a speech pathologist, I’ve had some exposure to children with facial anomalies.  I really applaud the way Ms. Palacio dealt with the description of Auggie’s facial features.  She realistically portrays the struggles of what this kind of genetic snafu would entail, including surgeries and difficulties with basic things like eating. Throughout the story, she intermittently gives us bits and pieces of details, like stolen glances, so that by the end of the book, we have a pretty good idea of what Auggie looks like, without ever having to stare him in the face, which he would hate.
            We meet Auggie as he is about to enter 5th grade, his first time going to school with other children.  From there, the author creates a well fleshed-out microcosm of society.  We feel his parent’s anxiety tenderly, and his sister’s protectiveness fiercely.  As new kids enter his world, you will find yourself thinking, “which kind of kid would I, or my kids, be?”  You will hope you’d be like his non-judgmental friend Summer, but if you’re being truthful, you’ll wonder if you’d be more like Jack - friends to his face, but denying him behind his back, or Julian - downright unaccepting.
            The teachers in the story can be a bit preachy at times, and adult readers may feel like they are being force-fed the story’s morals.  However, I happen to appreciate teachers who weave character education into their lessons, and find myself force-feeding morals to my own kids from time to time.  For the intended audience of a middle grade novel, it works.
             This story is a must read for kids in today’s society.  We have had amazing breakthroughs in medical technology, and more and more children with differences are surviving and thriving.  We want these kids to know that while it might take us a moment to get to know them, we value them and want them in our lives.  We want our ‘typically developing’ kids to understand that we all have differences, we all have struggles, and people should be accepted for who they are, and the gifts they have to share.  This book will help with that important work. 
                I highly recommend this book.  I hope you will read it and enjoy, then pass it along and share the message.  Wonder, and August Pullman, will be with you for a long time.  

To purchase:  http://www.amazon.com/Wonder-R-J-Palacio/dp/0375869026/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330445120&sr=8-1

Also, check out the book trailer on You Tube, keywords  RJ Palacio Wonder

Monday, February 27, 2012

Where do you work?

     I've been thinking a lot lately about environments that people work in.  Many times, you have no choice but to live among muted grays and mauves, in a cubicle world.  Others, like teachers, may have a whole room to play with and add their personality to.  I enjoy seeing what people do to brighten up their work areas.  A well placed picture of the kids or a recent vacation can be a fun window into that particular teller/nurse/accountant/cashier's life.   Just imagine what you could learn from going through the car of a salesperson who does a lot of driving.
     I've had such fun creating what, for me, is an inspirational little work station.  Bright colors perk me up in the morning (the perfectly situated sunny window that looks out onto a row of hemlocks is an added delight!).  I made sure to leave a good chunk of the wall blank for when I need to stare at nothing in order to think of something.  The white chest to the left was made by my great-grandfather. I was so tickled (and a little twilight-zoned) when I realized it fit exactly into the little spot I had for it.
    To top it off, I really can't beat the commute (just up the stairs!), or the dress code (I may be in my pajamas and it may be after lunch time....).  My husband might wonder if I could beat the pay, but then I would give him 'the look' that would tell him not to bother me, that I'm working here.

     I'd love to hear from you: do you like where you work? What have you done to make it your own?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mommy's Time Out

     Mommy's Time Out is the name of a pretty decent and very affordable white wine, and it can also just be a really good idea.  This morning as my kids were getting ready for school, I found myself inside a swirl of inappropriate chaos.  By this, I mean avoidable chaos: if the shoes, coats, and books had been placed where I always ask them to be placed, and if the children had gone to sleep when I put them to bed at a reasonable hour last night, much of this brew-ha-ha would have simply not existed.
     But even when you do things "just right," some mornings will get away from you.  As I felt my blood pressure rise, I recognized and began to fear the approach of "Mommy Two Heads." This is a creature straight from your nightmares.  She is a beast so loud and fearsome that she actually grows a second head, because having one mouth to yell out of is just not enough.  But she is no fun. I don't like her.  I don't want to let her out.
     So,  I do what the mom character is my soon-to-be-under-contract picture book (FYI: that is a desire, not an announcement) does.  I give myself permission to take a time-out.  I quietly head up to my room, close the door, and sit down next to a basket of picture books I recently checked out of the library.  My children have grown beyond these books as bedtime stories, but I haven't.  I let the din of downstairs fade away as I read book after book after book.  It is such a delight to escape for a moment to a world where mother bear can hug baby bear and make everything all right.  Delightful.  Simple.  Blood pressure falling, falling.  Mommy Two Heads retreats.
     I think that is why I enjoy writing picture books so much.  In my stories, the children aren't perfect, but I can control what they do on the next page.  My imagination can swirl around in some rhyming verse that can be later tucked away for just my pleasure.  Delightful. Simple.  Just the right kind of time out - the kind that makes me a better mom, just for having taken some time for myself.
    Time outs - they're not just for kids!  Give it a try. You'll be so glad you did.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Book Review: Galaxy Games

            In Galaxy Games (Book One: The Challengers), author Greg R. Fishbone takes us on an ambitious and enjoyable ride through the universe.  You’ll have to hold onto your seat as this story whisks you from the home of 11-year-old Tyler Sato in Platte Bluff, Nevada, to his cousin’s home in Tokyo, Japan, and on out into the middle solar system, home of M’Frozza of Mrendaria. 
            Even as the world discovers that a star named in his honor is actually a space ship hurtling towards Earth to recruit him as a player in the Galaxy Games, Ty Sato continues to face everyday life challenges such as sharing a bathroom with his obnoxious older sister and dealing with a best friend who’s not talking to him.  These universal themes, along with the overall message of the benefits of a world without boundaries, kept this (usually) sci-fi phobic reader hooked.
            Although the scenery changes quickly, characters are introduced with enough richness that it is easy to keep them straight, and clear chapter headings (and clever use of fonts) will help younger readers move from one setting to another with ease.  There are several laugh-out-loud moments no matter where you are in the galaxy.
            Xenophiles will love how Japanese culture is interwoven masterfully into this intergalactic tale.  Words from different languages (Japanese, Mrendarian, and others!) are introduced in rich context so they are easily understood without the story ever feeling pedantic.  As a fantastic resource, the book includes author notes on Japanese culture and language, and a fun to read glossary.
            Galaxy Games is well suited for middle grade readers, but my son and I also enjoyed reading and laughing out loud together. If you are looking for a fun book that your Sci-Fi, Judo kicking, video-game loving child might enjoy, look no further.  You’ll be glad there is more to come in this series!

Check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/Galaxy-Games-Challengers-Greg-Fishbone/dp/1600606601

Happy Reading!

Monday, February 6, 2012

5 Tips for Handling Rejection

          One of my favorite moments in the movie Monsters, Inc. occurs when Sulley, a superstar, and Mike Wazowski, his assistant, are watching a TV commercial/public service announcement made by their company.  While Sulley is featured prominently in the commercial, poor little one-eyed Mike has only one shot on screen, and in it his whole face is covered by print copy.  
     After the commercial ends, he says to Sulley, "I can't believe it!"
    Sulley, realizing what has happened, starts to comfort him, only to be cut off by Mike's excited proclamation:
   "I WAS ON T.V.!!"

     Yesterday, after a cringe-worthy relay performance at her swim meet, my daughter had a similar reaction.  As she raced up to me after the meet, I was braced to do some self-confidence damage control.  
     "Did you see that?" she asked excitedly.  "If we had been the same age as those big girls, we would TOTALLY have beaten them!"
    So, I took a cue from James P. "Sulley" Sullivan and told my little Mike Wazowski, "that's right!"

    Rejection is not fun.  It is not a good feeling to try hard for something and not achieve it.  (Just ask the New England Patriots!).  It is also inevitable that we will all face rejection at some point in our lives.    As the above examples illustrate, we can't always control how or when rejection happens, but we can control how we respond to it.  
   As a writer, I've noticed a theme at conferences, in critique groups, and in blogs about writing:  get ready for rejection.  Lots of it.  With that in mind, here are my top five favorite ways to weather the storm of rejection:

1.  Take a little time to sulk.  You are not a robot.
2.  Take the Mike Wazowski approach:  "I got a letter from an editor!!"
3.  Take my daughter's approach:  "When I make this manuscript bigger and better, it will succeed!"
4.  Appreciate that a "no" from one publisher leaves you room for a "yes" from another.  Maybe hearing "no" from a small publishing house will translate to better sales when a bigger house says, "yes"!
5.  Process the rejection on a professional, not personal, level.  I'm sure if Ms. Rejecter met you, she would like you very much.  But Ms. Rejecter has a job to do, and I guarantee she doesn't like rejection, either.  Her critique is of your work, not you.  Bonus is that the critiques you read in a rejection letter will help you strengthen your story.

     Rejection.  It stinks, and it happens to all of us.  However, I think it's worth it to put yourself out there and take a chance rather than to have a wonderful treasure sitting in a desk drawer that no one will ever see.  A rejection, for a writer, can be a wonderful beginning.  As Neil Simon said, "In baseball, you only get three swings and you're out.  In rewriting, you get almost as many swings as you want and you know, sooner or later, you'll hit the ball."  


Friday, February 3, 2012

If you want it, write it down!

     When I was around 12 years old, my dad came home from work and announced over dinner that he wanted the whole family to take some time over the course of the following week to make a Want List.  My siblings and I were pretty used to laughing at my dad, so this announcement roused a series of giggles. But we could tell by his response he was serious.  Really serious.
    "I want you to write down anything you want to have or do in your life. It could be something you want right now, it could be something you might want a long way in the future."  He gave the example that my older sister could begin to think about and write down what colleges she might want to go to.  This prompted me to ask, "do I have to do this too?"
     "Yes" was the reply. I remember feeling like it was a really important assignment. He talked about it a lot over the next week, reminding us to write down anything, big or small, that WE wanted.  Adding excitement to the fact that I was included in this grown-up feeling assignment was the concept that we were not going to show our Want Lists to anyone unless we chose to. How freeing that was!
     I tentatively began my list.

1.  Long hair

     I glanced around my rainbow bedroom, got up and shut the door, then came back and wrote in very light pencil:

2.  A boyfriend

     I'm happy to tell you that the list ended up also including slightly more sophisticated line items, such as:

7.  Go to Australia and Costa Rica
12.  Go to college and help people
15.  Get married

     Over the years, I've thought about my original Want List and marveled at the prescience of my 12-year-old self.  So many of the wants became reality.  What was so special about writing them down that made them come true?
     When we ask ourselves, privately and frankly, what do you really want? we are peeling back to the core of what drives us.  I've updated my Want List about three times since age 12, usually when the road ahead was murky and I desired direction.  Each time, writing down my wants has helped me focus my efforts and achieve goals.  From a list in my late twenties:

4. Go to Graduate School
8. Have children

and then in my mid 30's:

2. Try not to mess up the kids
3. Sleep through the night

     I have heard of people whose own answers actually came as a surprise when someone asked them, what do you really want?  In fact, this happened to me. One day when my kids were 1 and 3, I was sitting with a group of other moms of young children. The theme of our chatter was the age old dilemma of how difficult it is to balance working and parenting.  As part of the discourse, one of the women asked "what would your dream job be?"
    I answered, "I'm realizing I actually really enjoy being alone sometimes.  I'd like to have a little quiet desk near a window and write books for children, maybe some books that could help with specific speech therapy goals."
     I had never expressed that idea so specifically before.  And I came home and wrote it down.  Now, 7 years later, I'm writing those kind of stories, among others, from that very "quiet desk" I had pictured so clearly.  It may not happen overnight, but anything is possible, once you know what you want!
     Good luck to you as you explore your goals, dreams, and desires.  Think about what you really want, take out a pen, and WRITE IT DOWN.  Oh, and thanks, Dad.

What would your dream job be? Are you living it?