Glad I Saw It: Lonely Dictator

I noticed this sticker on a local post box, and it made me stop and think. And as I’m trying to remain open-minded in a world that screams at me to further polarize, I snapped a photo to give myself time to ponder the art of it all.

How far does empathy extend? Does empathizing demand excusing or mitigating actions? Is there a line that, once crossed, removes our humanity forever? Can I truly empathize with someone I find reprehensible?

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Stalin was once a handsome, loving young husband. Hitler was a vegan and artist who wore bunny ears to amuse friends. Pol Pot had a love of music French poetry. Idi Amin was described as gregarious and charismatic.

But, no. I really don’t care if Stalin (et al) was lonely too. The people who deserve our empathy are those who don’t have access to public relations and wikipedia edits and charming stories of childhood foibles. The people who deserve a spotlight, if they want it, are those who made the best choice for us as a whole and suffer because others made a selfish or hateful choice.

All that said, I do believe that we all make mistakes in judgment and action. And I refuse to throw away those who are willing to learn and open themselves and show authentic remorse. But for those who callously dump on the vulnerable and easily stomped on, for those who are warned of heinous and harmful effects of policy and still move forward, for those who don’t use their privilege and power to stand in the way of inhumane policy: I really don’t care. Do you?

 

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Giveaway of Extinction: What Happened to the Dinosaurs, Mastodons, and Dodo Birds?

Extinction_CoverOne of my favorite book series for helping to address topics with kids is the Build It Yourself series from Nomad Press. The books are written in a simple and understandable style without being condescending or dry. And the projects are meaningful and accessible. With the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom this year, some households may be inundated with curious questions about dinosaurs and how they became extinct.

Discovering fossils, finding out and explaining the causes of species extinction, and looking at whether we are in the middle of a sixth mass extinction event is all included in Extinction: What Happened to the Dinosaurs, Mastodons, and Dodo Birds? This book has basic background knowledge and a timeline for young people new to the idea, but it also has a deep dive into “how scientists know what they know” and explanations of extinctions in each era.

There are several aspects especially appealing to families with motivated learners. One is the focus on primary sources. Each section has QR codes for easy online research and a list of resources for further learning. The inclusion of essential questions for focus and critical thinking will also challenge kids who want to learn more.

The 25 projects in Extinction are easily adapted for different ages and abilities. And while many use kitchen supplies, some will take kids outdoors and into parks. They range from simple and familiar projects to more complex activities that include record keeping and long-term observations.

Nomad Press continues its #SummerofBooks giveaway with Extinction: What Happened to the Dinosaurs, Mastodons, and Dodo Birds? If you want to win a copy of this book for your household, leave a comment naming your favorite dinosaur (or other extinct animal) by July 31st! One person will be chosen at random to receive the book straight from the publisher. Good luck!

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Giveaway: Explore The Oregon Trail with hands-on activities

Have a history buff at home this summer? For kids ages 9-12 who are interested in the issues surrounding western expansion and Manifest Destiny in United States history, there is The Oregon Trail: The Journey Across the Country from Lewis and Clark to the Transcontinental Railroad. As with other Build it Yourself OregonTrail_Cover-1-336x420books from Nomad Press, the book includes a detailed timeline, word cloud, and background information (including a map) to help readers familiarize themselves with what is to come.

The book addresses the impact on Native American tribes, and also highlights the presence African Americans had in westward expansion. However, at times it glosses over the more nefarious details, perhaps due to the intended age group. Still, questions about the legality of the Louisiana Purchase, the unfairness of colonization and homesteading, and the negative impact the railroad had on Plains tribes are detailed, including the Sand Creek massacre and the near extinction of the buffalo.

The projects in The Oregon Trail range from writing a treaty to mapping changes in the USA to preserving plants in the style of Lewis and Clark. There are even instructions for water purification and drying fruit, in case someone is inspired to set out on their own. Each project can be easily adapted to a child’s interest and abilities.

This summer, Nomad Press is hosting giveaways of some of their most popular titles, so you can explore a copy of The Oregon Trail yourself. Leave a comment below telling us why you want to win by Monday, July 16 at 3 p.m. and we will pick a winner at random. Enter below for your chance!

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SPEAK: The Graphic Novel is intense, relevant, and powerfully empathetic

SPEAK The Graphic NovelIn the late 1990’s, Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK became an instant classic that broke ground in Young Adult literature. The novel gave voice to sexual assault and its aftermath via a raw and honest narrative that refused to talk down to readers who had experienced similar incidents of abuse. The book appears regularly on various “banned books” lists, while it has also continued to be reprinted and appreciated.

Now, Ms. Anderson has skillfully adapted SPEAK the novel into graphic novel form, and award-winning artist Emily Carroll gives the protagonist, Melinda Sordino, a vulnerability with a core of strength. The illustrations, which use silhouettes and shading liberally, hearken back to horror imagery, which is entirely appropriate for how Melinda feels about high school and the events that overshadow her freshman year.

Fans of the original novel will notice how the prose has evolved into a seamless tale of shortened descriptions made intense with imagery. This is especially true in Melinda’s descriptions of her inner fears, which suffocate her, and the scenes in which her attacker — IT — comes close to and interacts with her. It’s a powerful, visceral combination.

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The atmosphere around sexual assault and harassment has changed dramatically since SPEAK first came out in 1999, but the story and its impact on those involved are as relevant as ever. Anderson details the physical and emotional effects with honesty and a raw passion that will help those who have not experienced sexual assault first-hand to empathize. For teens who can relate all too well to the events, SPEAK: The Graphic Novel may be a salve and catharsis or a painful trigger of their experiences. Trusted adults in a young person’s life should keep this in mind.

I highly recommend that parents and teachers read this graphic novel to understand (or to remind themselves) what being a teenager in crisis feels like and looks like. This is a powerful, important book.

 

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Looking for a YA Vacation Read? Check out *All Summer Long*

35791910With loving observational style, All Summer Long by Hope Larson captures the insecure wavering that is often felt in the time between childhood and adulthood. Bookended by the end of 7th Grade and the beginning of 8th Grade, and broken up into seven weeks of summer, the graphic novel follows Bina over her summer vacation of ups and downs.

The novel opens with terrible news: Bina’s best friend Austin is going to soccer camp for the entire summer. Gone are the usual summer adventures and vacation traditions they have shared for years. Being left behind is never easy, and at first Bina copes by binging a television series until her mom cuts off the cable. After that, each week brings a new mishap and life experience. Losing her key brings her to a new friend in Austin’s older sister Charlie, that friendship introduces her to the machinations behind teen dating, and a babysitting job – complete with a traumatic episode that is at once upsetting and comforting. Typical teenage summer stuff.

Bina and Austin reunite at the end of the summer having both grown in different directions and learned a lot about who they were becoming. Will their friendship survive for 8th Grade?

The best parts of this graphic novel display the push and pull of growing up. In one scene, where Bina accompanies Charlie to a babysitting job, Bina grumbles and whines like a child about the walk and being hungry, much to Charlie’s dismay. Later, Bina holds her own when defending herself to Charlie in a scene that both highlights and refutes that Bina is “just a kid.”  In another scene it is Bina’s youthful enthusiasm for her favorite band that brings a very grownup piece of advice to her ears and ends up affecting her 8th Grade year.

All Summer Long is a joy to read. Bina is awkward and likeable and fun to watch as she stumbles and dances over the summer. The adventures and mishaps are relatable and have just enough fantastic twists to keep the story stimulating and still believable. It is perfect for fans of Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl. Highly recommended for ages 10-13.

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Another One: The Reality of Numbness and What To Do and What To Say

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After today’s school shooting in Texas, a friend shared that she was disturbed by her lack of emotional reaction to the event. It’s been a cycle that can be played out in shock and denial, horror, anger, helplessness, and throwing up our hands in an attempt to separate and move on with life. A row of various emojis ending with a reluctant and somewhat sheepish ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

However, she ended with “Numbness is not an option.” And she’s absolutely correct. If you love yourself, others, our republic, life, numbness is not an option. Continue reading

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RBG is an Inspiring and Instructive Must See

300xThe new documentary RBG is a Must See if you believe in The U.S. Constitution, incremental but meaningful forward change that lasts, and the power of focus, love, and laughter. It screened recently as part of The Montclair Film Festival, and the film is wrapping up an active festival circuit before opening to wide release this week.

Even active and avid fans of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will learn something new about this icon of dissent and warrior for equal rights for women. Audiences get a peek at her closet of collars, hear touching letters from her life partner Marty Ginsberg, and watch as RBG belly-laughs at Kate McKinnon giving a GinsBURN on SNL. RBG is an entertaining, educational, and hopeful journey centered on cases that shaped the Supreme Court Justice’s career and passion for law. Continue reading

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Review: BE PREPARED by Vera Brosgol

Be PreparedAnyone who has tried and failed to fit in during childhood will find something to relate to in Vera Brosgol’s graphic memoir BE PREPARED. The book opens with 9-year old Vera, an eager and hopeful girl, at the perfect birthday party with a Carvel cake, a stuffed crust pizza, and “high quality” party favors. When Vera tries to re-create her dream birthday for herself, everything is just a little off. Her mother has tried to provide all the ingredients on a budget and with nods to the family’s Russian heritage. The cake is not a Carvel ice cream cake, but a Russian tort complete with Russian lettering, the pizza is from a friend’s pizzeria (no stuffed crust), and all the girls disappear overnight after phone calls home, and without taking their goodie bags. She feels “too poor…too Russian…too different.” The discomfort, desire to belong, and repeated, hopeful attempts at fitting in are palpable and cringe-worthy. Through it all, Vera is a remarkable example of perseverance and sensitivity – even if those qualities are not always consistent. Continue reading

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March for ALL Our Lives

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Note that the top center name is incorrect. Gabrielle Hill Carter, 8, was shot and killed in Camden. Lela Cruz, 8, was hit by a car and killed. RIP

My sign for Newark’s #MarchForOurLives had several names and ages of children killed with firearms in New Jersey. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but I wanted to include a range of places and ages. Please find details, from oldest to youngest by area, for each of the children listed. Continue reading

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23 Years Ago, in Montclair

Screen-Shot-2016-01-09-at-8.59.35-AMIn the 90’s, I remember hearing the phrase “Going Postal” used as almost amusing hyperbole when someone seemed a little too upset about what felt like a minor issue. I remember hearing about unbelievable incidents in passing, trying to explain them away with “ifs, ands, or buts” that protected my sense of safety, and then half-shrugging. But “Going Postal” was never amusing or hyperbole for those directly affected by incidents of gun violence that occurred in or around U.S. Post Offices. Montclair included.

About a month ago, the daughter of Scott Walensky, one of the Montclair Post Office shooting victims, left a message on an old blog post here, and it really hit home (again) how deeply and for how long friends and family and communities of those taken by gun violence feel the loss. Continue reading

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