Be Kind

When my son was younger I told him that he should keep two words in mind as he went out in the world: be nice.

Now I would change those words to be kind.

There’s nothing wrong with nice. My mother would have used the word correct. (Which is one reason I’ve come to dislike the term politically correct, since there should be nothing political about correct/nice/appropriate behavior.)kindness

But kind, now, means more to me than just correct. Kind means heartfelt. It means selfless. It means love in the most brotherly of terms. It means feeling empathy for others. It means more of what we need as the community of human souls, especially right now.

In tribute to kindness and in the spirit of the season, I’d like to offer some gift suggestions that honor kindness and foster empathy. These suggestions not surprisingly have something to do with books and reading, since not only is that my thing, but also because I believe that through reading and education do we grow in kindness and empathy.

There are many more books than I have room to cite so please add your favorites in the comments – especially for teen readers.Gandhi

For the youngest readers:

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught The World About Kindness, by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low Books, 2016). A Horse that can read, write, and do math? Ridiculous! That’s what people thought until former slave and self-taught veterinarian Dr. William Key, with his “educated” horse Beautiful Jim Key, proved that, with kindness, anything is possible. Over nine years of exhibiting across the country, Doc and “Jim” broke racial barriers, fueled the humane movement, and inspired millions of people to step right up and choose kindness.

Grandfather Gandhi, by Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk (Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2015). Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson tells the story of how his grandfather taught him to turn darkness into light in this uniquely personal and vibrantly illustrated tale that carries a message of peace.download

For middle grade readers:

A Long Walk To Water, by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books, 2010). Before leaving Africa, Salva’s life is one of harrowing tragedy. Separated from his family by war and forced to travel on foot through hundreds of miles of hostile territory, he survives starvation, animal attacks, and disease, and ultimately leads a group of about 150 boys to safety in Kenya. Relocated to upstate New York, Salva resourcefully learns English and continues on to college. Eventually he returns to his home region in southern Sudan to establish a foundation that installs deep-water wells in remote villages in dire need of clean water. This poignant story of Salva’s life is told side-by-side with the story of Nya, a young girl who lives today in one of those villages. (Be sure to check out the many generous actions taken by classrooms that have read this book.)the-seeds-of-america-trilogy-9781481486781_lg

The Seeds of America Trilogy, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster, 2016). It’s 1776 and Isabel, Curzon, and Ruth have only ever known life as slaves. But now the young country of America is in turmoil—there are whisperings, then cries, of freedom from England spreading like fire, and with it is a whole new type of danger. For freedom being fought for one isn’t necessarily freedom being fought for all…especially if you are a slave. But if an entire nation can seek its freedom, why can’t they?

For teen readers:

Challenger Deep, by Neil Shusterman (HarperCollins, 2015). Challenger Deep is an astonishing artistic achievement. In high school student Caden Bosch, Neal Shusterman has created a young hero who finds a way not just to navigate his own schizophrenic breakdown but to ease the struggles of his fellow patients. Poetic, compassionate, and thrillingly inventive, Challenger Deep affirms the power of narrative to describe the indescribable and enlighten us all.download-2

For adults:

I recommend a contribution to We Need Diverse Books.

Their mission: “We Need Diverse Books™ is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”

Please add any suggestions!wndb_button

“November 8th”: The Dance of Ordinary and Extraordinary

Anne Nesbet’s historical novel, CLOUD AND WALLFISH, about the Berlin Wall is receiving wide acclaim, including a Horn Book starred review. “In an intricately plotted novel full of espionage and intrigue, friendship and family, Anne Nesbet cracks history wide open and gets right to the heart of what it feels like to be an outsider in a world that’s impossible to understand.”

Anne wrote this post prior to last week’s election. If you feel a shiver up your spine, it may well reflect premonition. And another: November 9 is the anniversary of Kristallnacht. What is that, you ask? Only the beginning of the Holocaust.

Listen well. The past is teacher to the future. And we must, must pay attention, even to the smallest details. Here’s Anne.

As I finish up writing this post, it is already the early hours of November 8, 2016, a day for nervous humming and the biting of fingernails: a day when we know that tomorrow, the 9th, we will wake up, and the world will have changed a little.cloud dance

At least elections, like hurricanes and holidays, give some advance warning as they approach: we can prepare by studying the issues or boarding up the windows or baking a lot of cookies, as appropriate. But then there are all those other momentous changes that come without warning, like earthquakes or winning the lottery or–well, let’s go back to another November 8:

in 1989.

The headlines that day were very ordinary: Kitty Dukakis was in the hospital; the Fed had just eased credit; Del Monte was restructuring. In Europe change continued to simmer along: something like 60,000 East Germans had slipped into the West through the increasingly permeable borders of Czechoslovakia and Hungary since the beginning of November.

But it was really a very ordinary day.

All over East Germany, children pulled turtlenecks over their heads or buttoned up their shirts and had some breakfast (the brown bread had a lovely, comforting tang to it, and then there were the slices of cheese and sausage, and maybe some jam) while their parents drank coffee they had boiled on the stove, and then those children looked at the clocks on the walls and stuffed their school books into their backpacks and ran off down the stairs to school. Their parents probably worried about the state of their country at some point, about friends who were thinking of leaving somehow, or who had already left, or about the nervousness of politicians these days, while drinking their coffee–but then they put on their jackets and went to work at the lab, at the garage, at the office, another ordinary day in their ordinary world.

And then the very next day, after that most ordinary of Wednesdays, the Wall came down, and everything changed.cloud dance

How do you tell a story that is true both to little things, like the taste of the bread people had for breakfast, and also to the huge events that interrupt the everyday and turn it into History? How do you respect both “November 8” and “November 9”?

CLOUD AND WALLFISH, my middle-grade friendship and spying novel, set in East Berlin in 1989, taught me that writing historical fiction is basically a question of choreography: shaping a dance between the Ordinary and the Extraordinary. There are the amazing historical events that really happened, that bring us to a place and a particular period in time: they dance like black holes, eager to swallow up the story. And then there are all the details of everyday life, the hopes and worries of ordinary people who have no way of knowing that today or tomorrow, their individual stories will find themselves caught up in a dance designed for a very large stage.

Noah and Cloud-Claudia, my heroes, get caught up in that large dance in Berlin; I want us to remember the little, everyday details as well as the splashy excitement of of the Wall’s collapse. For this reason, one of my own favorite parts of the book is where Claudia tells us more about something extraordinarily ordinary: a camping trip she went on with her parents, the previous summer. (If you read this aloud, be warned that you really have to try to do it all in one run-on breath!):

“‘I like to be asleep in a tent when it’s raining,’ she said. ….. “A tent is the best, if it isn’t leaking. If there are blankets and you have spent the whole day climbing up the crazy rock castles by the Elbe River and stopping to draw pictures of them because you can’t imagine how much they look like magicians carved them and then later you eat sausages and crawl into the tent and have the every-evening picture-judging contest to see who drew the best rocks that day which is not a fair contest says Papa, because his pictures are photographs so he can’t show them to us yet and ours always win, Mama’s drawings and mine, but that’s how it goes and you sing one more hiking song and then roll up in the blankets to sleep better and if then the rain comes but not all at once, just pat-pitter-pat like it’s whispering something, then that’s the best.'”

History has already hurt Claudia’s family, by this point in the story, but her life is not just History’s version: it is all the little things that came before. It’s the sound of the rain on the tent.

So my advice to those who find themselves suddenly caught up in History: notice the flavor of the bread. Write down some of the little details–maybe even do that today, which may also, who knows, turn out to be Historical: what socks you are wearing. How exactly you turn on the television, if you have one of those things. What the woman said at the store, when you were buying–what were you buying, again? You will be able to look up the big Historical aspects of today later on, but the little things are what make the difference between History and a life, and they deserve to be treasured, too.

Texas Book Festival & NCTE

Hi all! I have a couple of big events coming up this November. I hope to see you at one or the other! But first, the winner of my Rafflecopter giveaway (drumroll, please......): a Rafflecopter giveaway If you plan to attend the Texas Book … [Continue reading]

Things That Go Bump In The Night

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" 'Hainted, it is, with grindings and screeches...' page 23, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. Ghost. Phantom, apparition, spook. Commonly thought to be the spirit of a dead person appearing in lifelike form. The Scots, it turns out, … [Continue reading]