Saturday, March 21, 2015

What’s Your Superpower? (Part 2)

My last post featured brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, a coming-of-age memoir in verse. In this book, we learn that Woodson discovers that her “brilliance” is telling stories. We encounter a similar theme in a different memoir for young people that, like Woodson’s book, has earned many awards. A 2015 Newbery Honor Book, El Deafo by Cece Bell is often referred to as a “graphic novel” in consumer reviews. It is, however, a graphic memoir--non-fiction.

When Bell becomes deaf at an early age, she must learn to cope not only with her deafness, but others’ reactions to it. Making true friends is hard, and teasing and bullying sadden, anger, and frustrate her until she takes a bully’s name for her, “El Deafo,” and embraces it as her superpower. What a great way to turn something intended as bad into something good!

You’ll have to read the book to find out how that works out. Read my young friend Haley's review to whet your appetite:

“This touching graphic novel uses bunnies as characters to show how the main character (Cece) is deaf.  This was very clever to help express how different she feels.  This story not only tells about how she learns to deal with her disability but also how she goes through elementary school.  She has the same friend problems as any elementary kid! But she handles them by going into her own creative world where she helps others.  El Deafo has its ups and downs but you'll want to read it to the end!” ~ Haley, 8th grade 

If you aren't sure what your superpower is, see what kinds of programs your public library offers this summer and get your whole family involved. Some libraries across the country are using the theme of heroes and superheroes. Maybe participating will help you find your superpower!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What’s Your Brilliance? (Part 1)

The dust is settling on the book awards season, and winners’ covers proclaim their awards. I was fortunate to get my hands on two very popular titles for young people. While they are completely different, they have one theme in common—a young person’s discovering what’s special about  themselves. Here are my reflections on the first book:

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson has been awarded the 2014 National Book Award—Young People’s Literature, the 2015 Newbery, a 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Work—Youth/Teens, and others. Why all the accolades? And what can I possibly add to the many more learned reviews that have already been written?

-brown girl dreaming has historical significance. It is a coming-of-age memoir written in free verse about growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s partly in the North and partly in the South. These were historic times in the Civil Rights Movement, and this book shows what a young girl thought about living in those times in those places. How to behave in certain places to avoid trouble—or should you go ahead and make trouble?
“At the fabric store, we are not Colored
or Negro. We are not thieves or shameful
or something to be hidden away.
At the fabric store, we’re just people.” (from “the fabric store,” p. 90-91)

By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 -It is a book about who we are as family, and the ways family influences our identity. Aunts, uncles, brothers, sister, mother, father, and grandparents all played a part in making Woodson who she is today. Especially poignant is Woodson’s love for her maternal grandfather, expressed throughout the book, as in “sometimes, no words are needed:”
 “…My head against/my grandfather’s arm,
a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.
Its whine like a song.”

-It is a book about finding one’s unique gift and figuring out what to do with it. Woodson’s brother could sing. Woodson’s sister was brilliant. Fortunately for us, Woodson found her gift in writing.
“I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them
then blow gently, watch them float
right out of my hands” (from “gifted,” p. 169).

The free verse format makes for easy reading that I want to read over and over again. On learning to write her name at age 3:
Will the words end, I ask
whenever I remember to.
Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now,
and promising me

infinity.” (from “the beginning,” p. 62-63)

Indian Girl Child 4970
By Biswarup Ganguly (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Like any life, there is stuggle and triumph, joy and sorrow.
“Maybe, I am thinking, there is something hidden
like this, in all of us. A small gift from the universe
waiting to be discovered” (from “hope onstage,” p. 233).

Woodson’s words are sure to help other young people—of any color—look for and find their own brilliance.

For more about Woodson, here's an NPR interview.

(Stay tuned for Part 2)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscars, Alzheimer’s, and What Flowers Remember

Chances are good that you know someone with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association says that every 67 seconds someone is diagnosed with the disease, more than 5 million Americans are living with it, and 1 in 3 senior citizens in America dies from Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

Awhile back, I won the book What Flowers Remember from author Shannon Wiersbitzky. In the book, the main character, Delia, learns about Alzheimer’s as her elderly friend, Old Red, goes through changes caused by the disease. Wiersbitzky graciously offered to answer a few questions about this book for young people.

Jane: Your story is set in Tucker’s Ferry, a nice small town in West Virginia that reminds me somewhat of Mitford, Jan Karon’s made-up town. How did you go about creating Tucker’s Ferry, and what other writers influenced your own writing?
Shannon: Tucker’s Ferry is modeled after the small town of Culloden, West Virginia. Growing up, I spent all my summers there. It was where my grandparents lived. It had a little post office where everyone met to get mail and share news, one little grocery store, a gas station and a fire department. And that was about it. The fictional Tucker’s Ferry is an idealized version I suppose, and that fits the story. 

I think everything you read influences you in some way. As a child, it was probably more about learning the arc of story. Growing up I loved Robert C. O’Brien books, Judy Blume, Noel Streatfeild and all her dancing shoes, there was the Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher and the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The person who has influenced my writing the most though is probably my editor Stephen Roxburgh. He is simply brilliant.  

Jane: I love the intergenerational aspects of this book. People of all ages do things together and learn from each other, whether or not they’re related. Our society tends to lump people together by age, so that young people don’t mix with senior citizens unless they are grandparents. What are some benefits of intergenerational activities, and how can we promote them in our own communities?
Shannon: You’re absolutely right. And it is such a loss for everyone! I was fortunate in that I lived with my grandparents three months of every year from the age of about seven until I was almost out of high school. We’d visit the requisite amusement park and such, but most of the time it was just regular life. I remember my grandfather heading off to work and coming home in the evening. I’d help my grandmother clean. We’d talk to neighbors. And my grandfather had a big garden. He didn’t grow flowers like Old Red, he grew vegetables, and then my grandmother would preserve hundreds and hundreds of jars for winter. I really got to know them as people, which is such a gift. 

Today I think too many young people only see their grandparents or other senior citizens as old. Every older person was young once! They had first kisses and got in trouble, they’ve been scared or brave, and they are usually more than happy to share their stories. And the stories can be so surprising and wonderful.

I wish there were more ways to connect the generations, through real conversation, not lecture. We should absolutely invite senior citizens into schools. Have them lend real context to an era or a war, read books aloud, listen and mentor, participate in activities. If kids are describing what they want to be when they grow up, have seniors answer that same question based on their own younger dreams. Ask children to interview a senior they know and give them some prompts. Tell me about a time when you got into big trouble as a kid. What were you most scared of when you were my age? What did you do for fun? 

When a young person can discover the personality behind the age, that is the key. From there, anything is possible.  

Here are a couple of recent news items about young people and Alzheimer's patients: 
Let Me Be Your Memory is a school curriculum to link kids to seniors to gather and record memories and create memoirs. 

Jane: The heart of the book is about young Delia and Old Red, who have a flower seed business together. Old Red has been teaching Delia about flowers, seeds, and gardening. Where did you get the expertise to write accurately about flower gardening?
Shannon: I’m so glad it all seems accurate! As I said, my grandfather grew vegetables, so I knew a tiny bit about tending to plants and such. The rest I learned through research. I did my best to get it right for all the real gardeners out there. I’m not very good at it myself. I love the IDEA of gardening, but I don’t love all the hard work it actually requires. My own gardens start out beautiful and then end in a tangle of weeds. It’s shameful. 
Jane: Delia takes over more and more of the work, as Old Red becomes unreliable. He finally must be moved to a senior care center. This process is difficult for everyone in town, but they try to help each other cope with Old Red’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Delia uses creativity to help Old Red hang onto his memories. I read on your website that your grandfather had Alzheimer’s. Did you use a similar tactic? If not, where did you get the idea?
Shannon: My grandfather did have Alzheimer’s and eventually he forgot me. That was horrible, and very hard to comprehend, even as an adult. And I’m certain that is why I was drawn to write about the topic. My grandfather and I never talked about his disease. And not once did I think to record as many memories as I could. Delia’s bravery and ability to confront the problem head on is so admirable. I love her for it. 
The idea for the memory wall that Delia creates in Old Red’s room just popped into my mind one day. I’m a very visual writer. I tend to imagine scenes first and then write them. I knew she was capturing all these stories and folks were giving her photos and I could see this entire wall of Old Red’s life, there for everyone to see. The thought was so beautiful it made me cry. Which meant I absolutely had to get it on paper.   

Jane: The contrast between flowers bursting into bloom and dropping seeds as Old Red loses his faculties and fades away is very poignant. What DO flowers remember? What would you like to tell people who know someone with Alzheimer’s?
Shannon: I would like to think that flowers do remember the people who tended them and the stories they’ve told. Certainly as humans we have the ability to carry stories forward. To tell them to our own children or grandchildren. Perhaps we’re both the flowers and the seeds. 

Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease. It hurts everyone it touches. In the early stages, if I could do it over, I would have asked more, listened more, recorded more. In the later stages, prepare the best you can for the day when your loved one won’t remember you. And simply know you're not alone. So many have been touched by it. Read, talk, ensure you have a support system. 

Jane: I hope we’ll hear more from Tucker’s Ferry. I have a feeling Delia and her friends might have more to learn—and more to teach us. Thanks for talking with me.
Shannon: Thank you! 

Alzheimer’s makes an appearance in the glamour of Hollywood, too. One of tonight’s Oscar nominees is Julianne Moore for Best Actress in “Still Alice.” Moore portrays a college linguistics professor with a happy home life who starts forgetting words and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She is only 50, and the disease progresses quickly, affecting herself and everyone around her. Is she still Alice?  

Avid reader and friend, Jan Mullin, wrote this about the book Still Alice by Lisa Genova: "A Novel." Really? The voice of Alice feels like it comes from my own heart and head and couldn't be more real. Genova writes in such a personal way (Oh my God, what's happening to me?) Her poignant phrases--"She’d rather die than lose her mind" or " Who was she if she wasn’t..." professor, wife, mother, researcher--bring home the realities of the monster under the bed. Alzheimer's is something Alice can't fight, "a demon in her head, tearing a reckless and illogical path of destruction, ripping apart the wiring…" Through diligent research, interviews and personal interactions (and great writing), Genova gives a heart-rending view of the fear, isolation, and confusion as the disease evolves. On the brighter side, Genova includes very positive actions such as early diagnosis and intervention, support groups not just for the caregiver, but also the AD person, and how Alice's family comes to care for and about her in her new reality. The title isn't a question, but through the entire book Alice questions the concept of still being AliceAt the end, the question remains: Still Alice?
Here’s a clip of Moore’s performance in the movie trailer:
 A portion of the sales from Wiersbitzky’s book goes to the Alzheimer’s Association. See how you can help or receive help:

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day from South Dakota!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The romance genre isn’t one I usually reach for, though it sometimes provides me with a little escape from reality. (Maybe romance novels are realistic in your world. If so, good for you!) That said, I enjoyed the escape from reality I got from Rose Ross Zediker’s quilting romance series. They have recently been released in 1 package as “Dakota  Love.”

 So why does this non-romantic like these romances? 5 reasons:

1) They are set in my home state, which the rest of the country considers fly-over, if they consider it at all.
("South Dakota general map 2" by Jon Platek. - Base topography map is from the public domain National Atlas, as were several layers used as reference points. Highway shields were by User:SPUI and released to the public domain. US locator map was by User:Theshibboleth. All other work was done by the uploader.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

2) The author is from my area, so she has written authentically about it. And, in full disclosure, I know her personally and consider her a friend.

3) The main characters are “of a certain age.” You are never too old for love! I liked reading books with characters closer to my age than the usual silly 20-somethings. (Sorry if you are a silly 20-something. You’ll outgrow it.) Those romances or mystery-romances make me want to jump into the story and yell advice at the main character.

4) The quilting theme in this series gives a homey feel to the stories. I’m not a quilter, but I do appreciate the art and craft.

("Baby quilt in pinwheel pattern" by Jim from Lexington, KY, USA - [1]. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

5) And speaking of art, I love the cover art of this new package—“our own” beautiful Falls Park!

What are your favorite stories for Valentine's Day?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Time Keeps on Slippin' Into the Future

Oxford Carfax Clock
(By Motacilla (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

It's been awhile since I posted, what with work, family, holidays, and all. What I've been told is true--time goes faster the older I get. As a measurement, each minute is the same length. But as we experience it, some minutes drag on for hours, while others are a mere blip.

The time-space continuum has interested and puzzled people for ages, and the idea of time travel captures our imaginations. Award-winning author Connie Willis has written several time travel novels, including the one I just read, To Say Nothing of the Dog. This delightful romantic romp was first published in 1997 and won the Hugo and Locus awards in 1999. It was nominated for the Nebulae Awards in 1998.

The characters go back and forth from England in 2057 to Oxford in Victorian times to WWII Coventry during the bombing. The main characters, Ned Henry, an intelligent bumbler trying to do the right thing--whatever that is in his current time period--and Verity Kindle, a smart beauty also trying to do the right thing, also prod the reader to consider the impact of an individual on history and what difference small incidents can make on the future. What if Terence had not met his intended? What if Princess Arjumand had drowned? What if Ned and Terence had not pulled Professor Peddick out of the river? Though we are assured that the time space continuum repairs problems so that things turn out the way they should, sometimes it takes years.

What if we fail to smile at the person we meet, hold open a door, make a call, or give a helping hand where we can? We can't rewrite history, but we may be able to make the present--and the future--a better place. Happy New Year!

In the meantime, Steve Miller is right, "time keeps on slippin' into the future..."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Celebrate: South Dakota, Bison, Picture Books!

Today is South Dakota's 125th Birthday. (North Dakota's, too, for that matter, but that's not what this post is about.) Yesterday was National Bison Day, and November is National Picture Book Month. That's a lot to celebrate!

South Dakota's best-known icon is probably Mount Rushmore, pictured above, in western South Dakota. South Dakota author Jean Patrick has written several books for the Mount Rushmore Society, including the picture books
Four Famous Faces (brand new) and Who Carved the Mountain? , both illustrated by Renee Graef.


Nearby, another mountain turned memorial stands as tribute to the first people who lived here. The work on Crazy Horse Memorial continues (pictured above), though carver Korczak Ziolkowski died in 1982. The grounds themselves provide The Indian Museum of North America,  the Native American Educational and Cultural Center,the carver's studio and home, a gift shop, and more.

The picture book Crazy Horse's Vision by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by South Dakota-born S.D. Nelson, tells the story of how Crazy Horse becomes a brave warrior.

Though South Dakota's official state animal is the coyote, the mighty bison has long played a part in state history. Once nearly extinct because of over-hunting, bison herds now thrive across the state, including at ranches that raise them to sell for meat. 

One large herd that attracts tourists lives in Custer State Park in the Black Hills. We once found ourselves amid a herd of buffalo trying to cross the road we were on. Believe me, there's nothing to do but wait, and you do not want to get between a mother and baby!

South Dakota artist Donald F. Montileaux's picture book, Tatanka and the Lakota Peopletells part of a traditional creation story with the buffalo (tatanka) as hero. The story is told in illustrations, English, and Lakota.

This post is just a brushstroke of everything that is South Dakota. South Dakota is proud of its history and its resources and is ready to meet the next 125 years. Come and visit! In the meantime, find out more facts about South Dakota here.

(photographs copyright Jane Heitman Healy, 2012, all rights reserved)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Zombies in the Real World?

(Zombie walk Pittsburgh 29 Oct 2006CC BY-SA 3.0view termsOriginal work by MissDeeCS; Original uploader at en.wikipedia was PNG crusade bot; The PNG crusade bot automatically converted this image to the more efficient en:PNGformat. The image was previously uploaded as "Zombie894.gif". - This is my own photo. Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.)

As Halloween approaches, zombie images and events appear. My own town is hosting a Zombie Walk tonight!

Zombies are the walking dead, beings who seem alive and yet are not, controlled by some supernatural force. Which leads us to the question, "Are zombies real?"

That's the question that children's non-fiction author Rebecca L. Johnson asks to begin her book, Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead.

In this award-winning book, Johnson tells us how fungus "invades" a fly to support itself and turns the fly into a mechanically-moving, vacant creature. Johnson also explains how parasites and worms do their work to make "zombies" out of other living beings.

Johnson's science background draws her to write about topics like this, making them interesting and accurate for young readers. Many of the zombie discoveries occurred when scientists noticed something and continued to observe. Johnson writes in her author's note for this book: "Nature has no shortage of wonders. Scientists are finding new ones all the time. Even as I finished this book, a new zombie maker was discovered that infects honeybees. Who knows how many more are out there, just waiting to be found?"

Be ever watchful and have a happy Halloween!

Here's a classic from the Kingston Trio, "Zombie Jamboree"