Tag Archives: reading

Reading GOALS for 2017

That’s right… I’ve got GOALS for reading this year.

Because, why should this year be any different from the previous ones?

Of course, this year I intend to actually meet most of these goals — which I didn’t manage last year. Of course, I did take half the month to even get this posted so, I’m totally on track to for this… really I am….

readmyowndamnbooksbuttonThis year the top challenge is that I’m going to aim to not spend money on books. I don’t expect this to really happen — not sure I’m actually capable of not buying ANY form of books for a whole year — but I am going to make a concerted effort to use the library and read through a lot of the books that I already own.  Because I do own a great many that need to be read. I managed to find someone who is actually hosting a challenge of this, so I’ve decided to join up on that.


rhc_cover_pinterestI’m also going to attempt the Book Riot Read Harder challenge again this year — and am starting to brainstorm what books I’ll read for what topics. Because I was at a total loss I decided to start with the first one (probably one of the hardest for me) and tracked something down at the library that will count as a “Sports Book.” I think, for the most part, this wouldn’t be too hard of a challenge this year, if I weren’t trying to also combine it with the “Read My Own Damn Books” Challenge and….

Classics Club LogoTrying to knock more books off of my Classics Club list! I’m totally behind on this, and would like to make some real progress on these books! I stacked up a pretty hefty list but didn’t get through any of them last year.  The Classics Club is a cool group – you should check them out!

I will also, of course, be doing some reading for Banned Book Week again this year  – looking forward to the updated list of most-challenged books of 2016 so I can get started on reading.

What are your reading goals for the year? What kind of books are you hoping to read?


The Power Of Art: 5 Inclusive Picture Books

Welcome to my new series.

Art is such a beautiful expression, it can evoke emotions and speak to truths that can be hard to articulate.  It also can often serve as a powerful tool for change, for revolution, to spark people to stand up and make changes.

This series is going to explore the power of art, by looking at actual art.  Sometimes it may be written, or it may be visual (who knows, maybe I’ll convince someone to share auditory art with us as well).  This will run the third Wednesday of every month, for as long as I can keep it going! (Interested in contributing?  Let me know!)

I’m going to start with a type of art that I have long adored, the picture book.

Hannah, of The New Emma Jones Society, let me twist her arm… or, uhm, I mean… volunteered to kick us off with a few of her favorites!

5 Inclusive Picture Books

Reading as a child is connected not only to academic achievement later in life, but to empathy and understanding others. Fantastic picture books abound, for read-alouds or for reading alone as kids get older, but here are some favorites that specifically feature diversity and encourage inclusion:


Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman and Andy Elkerton (2016)do-not-bring-your-dragon-to-the-library

All the hallmarks of a great picture book: catchy rhyming text, rich art that’s full of sight gags, cute character designs, and (ostensibly) a story about library etiquette. It turns out to be less about procedures and more just comedy, which I love because kids should love the library, but the reason it’s on this list is the casual diversity it shows. The boy with the dragon is a person of color, while the rest of the library-goers are a visibly diverse mix including one kid using a wheelchair. The many dragons given as examples are a mix of male and female. There are a few snags in the rhymes toward the end, but the adorable art and lack of didacticism make it a winner for me. (A similar casually-diverse choice is Brontorina by James Howe.)


The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin, Rosana Faria, and Elisa Amado (2006)the-black-book-of-colors

This award-winning book creates its pictures as texture on the page, describing colors using everything but color, while text is available in print and braille. Vision-impaired kids can enjoy the pictures, while sighted kids have an opportunity to connect with that experience in an immersive way. It’s an awesome way to experiment with the picture-book format and make it more inclusive at the same time.


The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein and Henry Cole (2002)the-sissy-duckling

Inspired by the Ugly Duckling story, this book is about a duckling who enjoys cooking and puppet shows instead of sports. I was expecting something a lot more flip, but it’s actually a pretty intense story about bullying, both at home and at school, with more words-per-page to suit the slightly older kids who are experiencing it in that way. The LGBT themes are obvious to adults, but Elmer (the duckling) could stand for any boy who’s not into hypermasculinity, and really anyone being bullied. Just check it out before giving it to your kid, I wouldn’t want any little ones to be surprised by the content the way I was.


Here I Am by Patti Kim and Sonia Sanchez (2012)here-i-am

A dreamy wordless picture book about a young Asian immigrant experiencing his new city in the US. Wordless books are great in general to help kids with visual literacy and understanding things like facial expressions and body language, but the genre is used to especially good effect in this case since the boy doesn’t speak English and doesn’t understand the words he sees or hears.


A Splendid Friend, Indeed by Suzanne Bloom (2005)


This one is a little older, and a little more traditional — it’s about animals, and the series models different kinds of friendship behaviors in different stories. I’m including this one here because it’s about an introvert and an extrovert learning to understand each other, and while I’ve seen a lot of books teaching friendship, I’ve never seen quite that angle before. We’re all different, and friendship is about learning how to relate to someone else, not making them relate to you.


These are just five of the many picture books out there about diversity, inclusion, and valuing others for their differences. Leave your favorites in the comments!

Banned Books Week: Two Boys Kissing


Two Boys Kissing
By David Levithan

Reasons for Challenges: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection.”)

This is one of the most beautiful books that I’ve read in a long time.

The language use and way the story is structured are very poetic, a style of writing that I admire and would love to be able to emulate. Based on a true story, it is, at a very basic level, about two boys trying to break the world record for the longest kiss, but it is about far more than that. (There’s a good review of the book here)

Told through the haunting voices of those who have died from AIDS. It creates a sense of hopefulness and regrets – the reflections and comments in the story are worth paying attention to.  

We wish we could show you the world as it sleeps. Then you’d never have any doubt about how similar, how trusting, how astounding and vulnerable we all are.

We no longer sleep, and because we no longer sleep, we no longer dream. Instead we watch. We don’t want to miss a thing.

You have become our dreaming.  -Two Boys Kissing

This book has faced a few challenges, with the arguments that it is obscene.  One case in Virginia saw an argument arguing that cited the Virginia Code, which “defines obscene as materials that as a whole appeals to an apparent interest in sex and excites lust,” and claimed that the book fell into this category. 

The school board voted (unanimously) against banning the book.

One of the things that is always reassuring about looking at books that have been challenged is when the community responds in a positive way.  When they stand together against the challenges and present arguments about the importance of freedom of speech, about the importance of representation, and don’t allow the important voices of the story to be oppressed.

Banned Books Week: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic



Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
By Alison Bechdel

Reasons for Challenges:  Violence and other (“graphic images”)

This is a graphic-memoir exploring Alison Bechdel’s relationship with her father alongside her personal exploration of self.  It’s a pretty quick read, and very powerfully done.

A number of the challenges to this book have been on the College and University level. When the book was placed on the summer reading list for Duke University, there were a number of students who opposed it being on the list (an opted not to read it).

I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it,” wrote one student in a Facebook page discussion.  Several students argued that it would help to expose them to new perspectives, but the students who opposed the book were quite vocal, claiming that the book was pornographic. This is a reflection of some of the challenges the book has faced at in higher-education.  The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a nice case study of the history of challenges of the book.

Here’s the thing that gets me – we’re talking about college students. Adults. And in all cases it was optional reading or the student was offered an alternative reading. It’s not a “save the children” call, but clearly due to the content of the book itself. Yes, there are drawings of violence, there are illustrations of naked bodies, there is talk of homosexuality (because, while not blatently stated in some of these cases it’s pretty clearly part of the concern).  But this is a book for adults to read – and reading a book you disagree with hardly means it is going to compromise your values… if a simple book can do that perhaps you don’t hold those values too tightly?

I can understand the concerns by some parents when looking at public libraries and being concerned that the book – due to the fact that it’s a graphic novel – might be miss-shelved in a place where children’ would think it’s for them (because it certainly isn’t a children’s book). But to try and remove it from the hands of college students is much harder to put into an understandable framework.

 At the College of Charleston, in South Carolina, the House of Representatives cut funding due to the inclusion of the book on their summer reading list.  

“…the book asks important questions about family, identity, and the transition to adulthood…. These are important questions for all college students…. I’m concerned that some members of the (L)egislature believe their duties include deciding what books should and should not be taught in a college classroom…. I believe that 18-year-olds benefit directly from reading and discussing difficult topics in their courses.” – Professor Christopher Korey, head of the summer reading program at College of Charelston.”

The government stepping into a higher education setting and trying to dictate what can and cannot be taught… it’s painful that such things are still happening.


Banned Book Week: Nasreen’s Secret School

6379158Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan

By Jeanette Winter

Reasons for Challenges:  Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to age group, Violence.

This illustrated children’s book tells the story of Nasreen, a young girl living with her grandmother in Afghanistan during Taliban rule.  Narrated by the grandmother, it’s a very honest story about the challenges the girl faced and about the power of having access to education.

Nasreen’s father is dragged away, her mother goes searching for him and never returns, and Nasreen withdraws from the world. Her world darkens and she stops smiling, she stops talking. Her grandmother finds a secret school for her, and there Nasreen finds a friend….

This is a powerful book, and presented in a very appropriate way for the target age audience.  But, it is a story about an Islamic girl during war, there is mention of the Koran, there is a prayer said by the Grandmother and it ends with the phrase Insha’ Allah (translation: God Willing).

This book is features on some Common Core curriculum for 3rd grade so it is in a number of schools and physically put in the hands of children.   This is a problem for some because they feel the topics of war are too much to expose children to at that age.

The claims that the story is too violent for children in third grade is the primary one put forth, but there is clearly also arguments against the religion of the characters.

“We are walking up a slippery slope when we start to decide what books we are going to ban from the curriculum.” – Nikolati Vitti, Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools

There are statements made that it’s requiring the reading of a book “promoting prayer to someone other than God.” and that Christianity isn’t allowed in the school so why should any other religion (one, of course, doesn’t have to look very far to find examples and references to Christianity in any public venue in the US but, again, that’s another post altogether).  One school district found parents claiming that their children were being made to remember a Muslim prayer due to the grandmothers prayer when she drops Nasreen off at school the first time.

“Please Allah, open her eyes to the world.” – Nasreen’s Grandmother

The story is about the power of knowledge, of learning.  It’s about countering the removal of rights and freedom… and it’s a story I highly recommend reading.  I’m glad that it’s in the curriculum so many places, that it’s being read by children in their schools.

Banned Book Week: I am Jazz


I am Jazz
by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

Reasons for challenges: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.

This children’s book is the story of Jazz Jennings, a transgender young woman, who knew from a very young age that the body she was born with was not the right body for her.  Her doctor diagnosed her with Gender Identity Disorder, and her life as Jazz began.

It’s an important book, and the topic is well handled in a sensitive and very age-appropriate way.  But that hasn’t stopped the challenges, in Wisconsin an elementary school canceled their reading of the book because of the threat of a lawsuit from the Liberty Counsel- a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group.

What’s beautiful about this particular challenge is the community response. This is such an affirming and wonderful way to respond to the restriction.

I think about the people I have known in various points during my life who are born in bodies that don’t fit who their real identity.  People who could really have benefited from having books to read when they were kids that they could see themselves in.

Representation matters.  Being able to see yourself in the books that you read is important, and being able to hear stories like this can go a long way for helping to encourage compassion and care for others.



Passionate Geeks: A Passion for Stories

Background Artwork by Rose B. Fischer
Background Artwork by Rose B. Fischer. http://rosebfischer.com/

Passionate Geeks is a monthly feature (the second Wednesday of the month), where I invite people to explore and share about those things that they are passionate about.
What kind of a Geek are you? (If you’d like to answer this question on this blog just let me know!)


erica12 (1)This months Passionate Geek is Erica L. Bartlett.  Erica is, among other things, an author and certified health coach. She has been published in magazines, and blogs about weight and food issues. When she’s not writing, she enjoys many other activities, including reading, cooking, baking, walking, hiking, traveling and visiting with family and friends.


I’ve loved stories for longer than I can remember. For instance, I’ve heard one of my favorite early childhood books was “Hands, Hands, Fingers, Thumb” by Al Perkins. I don’t remember this so can’t say why I loved it, but knowing this brought a smile to my face when I read the same book (literally – it had my scribbles in it) to my young nephew.1215868

That ability to share and connect through stories is precisely what makes me passionate about them. I know stories come in many forms, but for the moment I’m sticking with the written word since I am, after all, a writer.

In fact, my very first writing was an attempt at reaching out, at sharing my loneliness and feelings of difference in the hopes that someone else who felt lonely and different might read it and be comforted. It was my way of wanting to return the favor, as it were, since that’s how I felt when reading many of my favorite books.

I empathized so much with Talia from the Heralds of Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey. I knew what Jane Eyre meant about finding contentment when drawing her fanciful pictures and how they made her feel less alone. The treasured Serendipity books of my earlier childhood also featured many who were different and perhaps marginalized but who eventually found acceptance and love.


Reading gave me hope that somewhere out in the broader world I, too, would find acceptance, once I got old enough to leave my small town. Such hope was vital to me, as did knowing it had some basis in reality. If nothing else, I knew other people existed for whom writing was a burning need, and who enjoyed my preferred fantasy and sci-fi genres. I was also lucky to have found some of these people nearby in a small circle of friends my brother and I formed, those who would play D&D with us and would talk about paganism and environmentalism and world peace – but I wanted more.

All this remains a large part of why I love to write, or more specifically, why I love to write what I do. I try to focus on things that I know are part of the broader human experience but aren’t necessarily discussed as often. Hence my whole purpose in writing my memoir, Winning the Losing Battle: A True Story of Weight Loss and Transformation, about my journey with food and weight. I wanted to write the book I would have loved to read in my darker moments as an obese teen, something to let me know I wasn’t alone and that someone understood what I was going through. And now I want to write stories of grief and loss, how they shape us and even enrich us if we choose to let them.

I have also found other ways of sharing my stories: at my church, in poetry, and in blog posts. I don’t truly know how many people I’m reaching, but for me, for right now, it’s enough to have even a few folks tell me that reading or hearing what I’ve written has helped them. And just as I continue to write, so I continue to read, and find hope and healing and connection in the stories of others. I suspect it will always be a passion.