The Importance of Representation

You can know a thing and not really know it. I knew representation was important. I knew it’s important that Doc McStuffins exists and that baby dolls come in all colors. But I didn’t really get it until it changed the way I thought about myself.

This week I was teaching a unit about genetics and in doing so was discussing the meaning of the word “generations”. I did this on two different days. The first day, my slideshow featured these images:

Generations 1

There were no unexpected or unusual comments as we discussed the meaning of the term. The next day as part of a review, my slideshow featured these pictures:

Generations 2

In two of my classes there were comments from the male members of the class. “Where are the boys?” they wanted to know. One student even went so far as to say, “Hey that’s discrimination.” He was joking, but that’s hardly the point. The boys noticed when they were absent. They noticed when there were people in the pictures who didn’t represent them. They noticed, and they complained.

The girls, when looking at similar pictures, said nothing. They did not think it was strange to look at pictures representing a term that should include them but didn’t. Their absence or lack of representation was not a new or unusual thing.

I thought about writing a post like this after I watched the first few episodes of Girls, starring Lena Dunham. I loved the awkward and uncomfortable way she portrayed sex. But after the first few episodes I realized it was more than that. I loved watching a woman with a less than pencil thin body being portrayed as a sexy and sexually desirable being. The character of Hannah Horvath is in many ways an awful human; self-centered, narcissistic, etc. But one of my favorite scenes involved her riding her bike down the road in her bikini. When one of her friends suggested she put on some clothes she dismisses the idea, claiming that she’s in a beach town.

The humor in this scene doesn’t come from the fact that she’s hanging out of her bikini six different ways. It comes from her own delightful lack of self-awareness and social mores. It’s funny because she doesn’t care. I didn’t realize how much I liked watching someone with an actual human-looking body on TV until I saw it. I’m embarrassed to admit how much watching a TV show has made me feel differently about my own body. And I’m equally embarrassed to admit how much I didn’t really get about the importance of representation until I did.

There’s a fantastic organization in the kidlit world called We Need Diverse Books. I’ve followed their progress in social media but now I understand their mission in a new way. It’s not called “Diverse Books Would be Nice” or “Diverse Books Would be Helpful”. There is a need for diverse books because of the way representation can fundamentally alter the way we see ourselves and envision our future. If seeing Lena Dunham parade around in her altogether can change the way a 40 year old woman thinks about some very entrenched ideas about body image, imagine the possibilities for kids seeing themselves in the pages of books and on TV as doctors, lawyers, ninja super heroes, rock climbers, athletes, professors, and so on. The possibilities are truly infinite or at least they could be.

 

The Importance of Friendship

amy-poehler-2

I became a mother almost 7 years ago but it took my daughter’s first sleepover with a friend to make me really feel like “a mom”.

The sleepover itself was smooth sailing. Lots of giggling, pizza for dinner, more giggling, extra cookies, giggling at a movie that as far as I can tell was not a comedy and then more giggling before passing out a good hour after bedtime. All standard stuff.

It was a really weird feeling to be the one creeping up the stairs only to hear the giggling stop. But this isn’t a post about getting older or getting more mom-like, it’s about friendship. Because what I didn’t expect was how teary I felt watching my daughter and her friend create this world that is just about them. This was an extended look at a relationship she has with another human that has very little to do with her parents.

I never doubted my daughter would have friends. Both of her parents are pretty extroverted social people. Our community of friends is like a second family for both of us. But there’s something about seeing those relationships form that made me grateful, both for her friends and mine.

The book I’m currently writing/revising is considered middle grade fiction; the protagonist is eleven. And the theme of the book (kids get your pencils out) is the importance of friendship. The main character has a tough family, but learns that his friends can hold him in the world much like a functional family does.

There are a lot of young adult and middle grade books about romantic relationships because adolescence is the age of discovery as far as what those bits and pieces mean and do. But discovering friendship and the role it plays in our lives is equally important and the lessons last well into adulthood.

As a side note, I’m exhausted and now understanding why my parents were never quite as thrilled at the idea of a sleepover as I was.

Resistance and Rage in Period 5

Oh look, I’ve neglected my blog since early November….like many of you I felt sucker-punched in early November. The rise of Voldemort has left me feeling rather lacking in the words department.

In the last few weeks I’ve felt more consistently angry than I can ever remember feeling. I have felt torn between wanting to run out and join whatever guerilla revolution would have me, and wanting to hide with my kids in a blanket fort. Guerilla revolutions offer full health and dental coverage right?

I’m afraid to continue with my life as though things are normal and yet I’m struggling to know how best to resist being squashed by the pavement roller of patriarchy and oppression that is rolling across our land.  I’ve always felt like the work I do as a middle school teacher is less about kids learning science and more about kids learning that there are lots of different ways to be a healthy functioning adult in the world. But right now that doesn’t feel like enough. I suppose I feel more helpless and powerless than I ever have in my life before. It’s kind of scary to stand in front of a class of 13 year olds when you’re feeling that way about the collective future of the country.

I’ve been told that tomorrow during our school-wide viewing of the inauguration “personal emotions/beliefs/views will not be communicated/shared”. I understand this in theory; no one wants Ms. Kaufman to launch Dumbledore’s Army during 5th period, and yet there is so much about this that is troubling. I don’t want to be passive and accepting. I want to channel my rage into something productive, into something that makes a difference and I want my students to know the importance and power of resistance. But mostly I want my students to know that 3 million more people in this country voted for love and acceptance over hate and division. I want them to know that this is not a “normal” election even if it is a peaceful transfer of power. I want them to know that what they do with their lives matters so I guess I have to practice what I preach. 

 

Totally normal

Totally normal things authors think when their agents take more than 24 hours to return an email.*

*My agent is a wunderkind who never takes more than 6 hours to get back to me. But, if say an email were to get lost in the shuffle…..

  • She hates me
  • She hates what I wrote
  • She is in the middle of negotiating a really important deal for someone else
    • I will never get important deals because I suck and shouldn’t ever have gotten her as an agent anyway.
    • Everyone has better deals than me
  • She thinks I’m too needy
  • Am I too needy?
  • I bet her other clients aren’t this needy
  • Was my question dumb?
  • Maybe I can google the answer
  • Maybe I should add dolphins or an amusement park to the ending of my book
  • I bet her other clients write about dolphin-themed amusement parks
  • There is probably a huge dolphin-themed amusement park book about to be HUGE any second now.
  • Shit, we’re going to miss it.
  • *Sigh*
  • *Hits refresh*

Book Launch Party and Contests

There are two great ways you can win a copy of WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE before its official pub date of September 1!

First -my publisher, Carolrhoda Lab is giving away a copy on their blog.

Second -I’ve got a giveaway up on goodreads through September 2nd. So please spread the word!

Book Party

I wrote this book about two years ago -my first book took about four years to go from draft to publication. The point is it’s fun to celebrate with all the people who have supported me and this book along the way.

When: SEPTEMBER 9TH AT 7PM

Where: MECHANICS HALL LIBRARY 519 CONGRESS ST. PORTLAND, ME

What: Cupcakes, Reading, Wine/Beer in a really cool old school library!

Poster Book Launch

Freaky Friday Reveal -the Truth About Normal

Monkey

I spent a lot of middle school and the early parts of high school trying to be normal. In WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE my main character Ben is obsessed with the appearance of normalcy and doesn’t understand people like Ilona, the blue-haired skater girl, who reject it. (Who are these people I’m referencing? See last week’s post for character details.)

In order to write a whole book about something I have to connect to the material on a fundamental level. I distinctly remember experiences from elementary school, middle school and high school where I felt called out for being other than normal. In 4th grade I had friend ask the boy I liked what he thought of me. His response: “She’s pretty, but she’s kind of weird.” So for more years than I care to admit I tried really hard to be less weird. Something I understand now as a very typical part of adolescence -but what a waste!

As a middle school teacher I’m most in awe of those kids who seem to move through middle school with a strong sense of self firmly intact. Those kids who don’t try and be anyone but themselves. which in middle school this is not only an act of wisdom but one of bravery.

I have a weird name and weirder still -I made it up when I was 2. My family played the guitar and sang folks songs at Thanksgiving and went to nude beaches on summer vacation. I gave my stuffed animal monkey the name Harriet Irving because I couldn’t tell if it was male or female and I didn’t want to impose gender on it….I was nine. I was weird. And the only thing I regret about it is that I didn’t learn to embrace it sooner.

Next Wednesday I’ll be revealing the cover for WIRED MAN on the awesome YA Interrobang site -stay tuned!