October 8, 2015

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:28 am by suebe2

We Are All Made of Molecules
by Susin Nielsen
Wendy Lamb Books

Stewart may be a virtual genius but that’s only book smarts.  He has absolutely no clue how to deal with 80% of the human population — basically anyone who isn’t gifted or exceedingly tolerant.  But that’s okay, he’s got his best friend, his dad and his cat, Schroedinger.

Then his Dad starts dating.  Stewart’s mom died a year earlier and he doesn’t want his dad to forget her but he does want his dad to be happy.  Even when Dad announced that they are moving into the girlfriend’s house with her teenage daughter, Steward manages to see the positives.

Until they move in.  Stewart and Ashley are about as opposite as opposite can be.  Ashley is at the top of the pecking order, dresses like a model and is certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is the girl all the other girls envy.

I know, I know.  It sounds like a fairly tired story.  Blended family.  One brainy kid.  One popular kid.  Blah, blah, blah.  But Nielsen throws in a few twists.  Stewart’s mom died but Ashley’s Dad is still around.  In fact, he’s living in the Laneway house in the back yard.  Ashley hasn’t spoken to him since he moved out.

Then there’s Ashley’s boyfriend who is, to put it simply, scum.  He’s very attractive scum so some people are slow to catch on and socially inept Steward is one of them, until he overhears the boyfriend discussing his date-rapey plans.  Stewart wants to keep Ashley safe but Ashley isn’t interested in Stewart’s take on things until is almost to late.

As a character, I didn’t have any problems with Stewart.  I know people like him; in reality, he’s probably on spectrum.

Ashley was another situation.  Yes, I know people like her, but I don’t like them.  Ashley isn’t as popular as she thinks but it takes breaking up with the boyfriend to find that out.  When she does, she isn’t sure how to deal with things until Stewart and his uncool friends step in.

I think that my favorite part of this is that the kids come up with their own solution to the bullying problem.  Yes, for a time, they sit around and fuss but they eventually get serious and make sure that everyone knows that they mean business.  For me, that was one of the most powerful moments of the book.

In some ways, this felt like a middle grade – I think because Stewart is so socially immature.  But because it deals with some really mature themes, it is definitely a young adult.  It isn’t an altogether easy read but the humor is fantastic and the things it makes you think about? Well worth your time.


September 2, 2014

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:54 am by suebe2

You Are (Not) Small
by Anna Kang
illustrated by Christopher Weyant
Two Lions

What makes someone small or tall?  Or possibly even both.  The answer, of course, is perspective.

Author Anna Kang has  created a picture book that is all about how we relate to each other and our preconceived notions but the beauty is that she never overtly says this.  Instead, a shorter gray bear meets a taller brown bear.  The brown bear announces that the gray bear is small.  Not surprisingly, this offends the gray bear who doesn’t think of himself as small at all.  He insists that the brown bear is big.

The brown bear responds by gathering a group of brown bears.  He can’t be big, because they are all the same size.

The gray bear gathers other gray bears to prove that he isn’t small because they are all the same size.

The discussion is going no where impressive — translation:  they’re yelling at each other — when BOOM! A pair of giant feet shake the ground, changing everyone perceptions yet again.

The beautiful thing about Kang’s treatment is that she discusses perception and prejudice without ever saying those words.  Through her bears, it becomes clear that each group sees the world and those in it just a bit differently and that no one is entirely correct.

Christopher Weyant’s ink and watercolor illustrations bring the story to life.  His bears are just cute and silly enough to keep the arguing from being to scary or serious.  Yet, his bears are expressive enough that the reader can easily guage their mood.

With the humorous twist at the end, this probably wouldn’t be your best choice for a bed time book — you don’t want anyone to wind back up in a fit of the giggles.  But it would make an excellent group read as a jumping off point for a discussion on variety, diversity and the reality that may be only in our own heads.

After all, just because you think it doesn’t make it so.

Except, in this case, I’m right and I know it.  If this book isn’t on your preschool shelt, buy it.  It is an excellent teaching tool without being in the least bit preachy.  A perfect book to share with a group of preschoolers.


June 2, 2014

The New Girl . . . and Me by Jacqui Robbins, illustrated by Matt Phelan

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:07 am by suebe2

The New Girl . . . and MeThe New Girl . . . and Me
by Jacqui Robbins
illustrated by Matt Phelan
A Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum

When the new girl comes to class, the teacher says to make her feel at home.  Mia isn’t sure what that means but she’s pretty sure home doesn’t involve having a room full of kids stare at you while one kid calls you names.  When she introduced herself to the class, Shakeeta said that she had a pet iguana and Mia wants to hear all about this unknown animal, right up until Shakeeta threatens to punch the name caller if he doesn’t leave her alone.

Mia tries to find out about iguanas on her own, all the while keeping an eye on Shakeeta who clearly still doesn’t feel at home.  When they are both sitting on the bench while the others play soccer, Mia works up the nerve to speak to the new girl and soon they are laughing and talking about iguanas, which aren’t as big as scary dragons, and soon the two are on their way to becoming friends.

Lately, I’ve found a string of books that teach without preaching and this is another.  Robbins has written a book all about bullying but she never uses that word.  She just shows kids being kids.

Matt Phelan’s watercolors are light and airy and keep the story from being weighty and dark.  Even the iguana looks a bit sillier than they really do with a slight smile.  But the illustrations and the text pair together perfectly to create a story that is true, although it is fiction, in that it is so real but is simultaneously approachable.

This book should be in every classroom library and is an excellent choice for reading aloud and story times.  It makes a great jumping off point for discussions on acceptance and friendship and just being kind.

Some adults will be alarmed that no adult steps in at any point — not when the name calling starts, not when a punch is threatened, not when the two girls are isolated.  But that’s also what makes this book so empowering for kids and also so real.  Kids need to see that see what kids can do.  And, although adults don’t like to think about it, we are frequenly useless in bullying situations because we aren’t sure what to do either and, even if we do stop it right now, it starts up again the moment our backs are turned.

This is a story of two girls solving it for themselves by finding each other.  No grown ups.  No big solutions.  Just friendship and kindness and hope.


July 11, 2013

Vicious, True Stories by Teens about Bullying, edited by Hope Vanderberg of Youth Communication

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:39 pm by suebe2

Vicious, True Stories by Teens about Bullying
edited by Hope Vanderberg of Youth Communication
Free Spirit Publishing

No one knows more about bullying than those who have experienced it either as a victim or as one of the bullies.  Editor Hope Venderberg and Youth Communications brought together a collection of essays by teenagers who have dealt with bullying first hand.

Some of them have been bullied — online, face to face, and sometimes even in front of adult witnesses.  They tell stories about fear, frustrations and despair.

Others have been the bullies.  They acted out against their peers because it made them feel big and important.

There are stories about online bullying, both from the bullied and from the perspective of peers.  They tell of thinking it is no big deal (just ignore it), until they see the effects of self-doubt first hand.

Each of these stories contains a note of hope.  They relate what turned things around and gave them hope or convinced them that beating on other kids wasn’t how they wanted to live.

These stories can be tough to read simply because of the subject matter but they aren’t explicit.  A tween who is being bullied would likely be okay with the content as it isn’t gory, crude or explicit but it is still tough.  There is so much hate and despair even if it all works out okay in the end.

There are also listings in the back of resources including what adults can do to help, stories of adults who have stepped up and refused to condone bullying that they have witnessed and information on my personal favorite, the It Get’s Better Project and it’s Youtube channel of inspirational videos.

The one thing that I wish this included was a story about academic or other adult on child bullying.  This may not be a new phenomenon, like cyber-bullying, but it is still chilling when it occurs, pitting an authority figure against someone who isn’t sure they will be believed.

This book would make an excellent discussion starter and is something youth groups might want to read together.



July 16, 2012

Cornered: 15 Stories of Bullying and Defiance by Rhoda Belleza

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:29 am by suebe2

14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance
by Rhoda Belleza
Running Press

Some bullies use fists and feet as their weapons.  Others rely on words, sharp as knives.  It can also take place anywhere — at school or at home or out on the street.  That’s probably why there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

But it’s also why book like this are so important.

I won’t lie to you.  This is a tough read.  It may surprise you that the hardest ones to read are often about the bullies themselves.  In part, this is because the authors bring so much empathy to their stories and their characters.  Its painful enough when the main character is the one who is bullied. It is almost unendurable when the main character is the violent one, the bully who is acting out against someone else.

Editor Rhoda Belleza has pulled together a wide range of stories by top writers.  By far my favorite is “Nemesis” by Kirsten Miller in which a girl uses e-media to stop the bullying.  This isn’t a simple story of bullies getting their just desserts because, in  the end, the main character  has to make a choice.  Do you stop someone from being bullied if you have a rock solid reason to wish them ill?

Brendan Halpin’s story, “How Auto-Tune Saved My Life,” is another favorite.  Why?  Because it deals with an all-too-common reality, academic bullying.   Jennifer Brown’s “But Not Forgotten” deals with the hell of suicide.

This is an excellent book for teens but I wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers.  Yes, they too have to deal with bullying but as a Mom I just can’t see turning a tween loose with some of these stories.   They are just that gut wrenching, but then again maybe that was because I am a Mom.  It happens.

This would make an excellent choice for sparking off discussions on this vary difficult topic.  I’m saving it for my thirteen year-old to read when he’s a bit older.  It isn’t a depressing book — it is actually full of hope.  But it is still a very difficult book to read.  Worthwhile, but difficult.


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