When Politicians Become Bullies: Jacob’s New Dress

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North Carolina, where I currently live, has had it’s fair share of negative attention over the past year. Most prominently, in relation to the anti-LGBT legislation known as HB2, or “the bathroom bill”.

This week, the spotlight has returned to North Carolina, only this time, it’s in regards to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS) school district’s anti-bullying curriculum. My daughter is a student at CMS, a district that has 170 schools and approximately 147,000 students. Therefore, the controversy broiling between our state legislature, the NC Family Values Coalition, and our local school district has a direct impact on my family.

Since November, I have written about #ReadingasResistance, and how books can help guide a person to a new level of political and social activism. How books can be the inspiration that opens our eyes and our minds to new ideas; to people, places, and cultures that are different from us. This is nothing new; in fact, the history of banned books highlights the fear that so many people have when they are confronted with difference. With nonconformity.

Unfortunately, a wonderful children’s picture book, Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, is one of the latest books to be removed from our local school’s curriculum, and therefore, is about to be added to the banned books list. Only this time, it is not a parent or school board that was troubled over a book’s inclusion in a curriculum. It is the state legislators, my lawmakers, that are leading the charge that calls for the removal of Jacob’s New Dress from CMS schools, in the name of “family values” (aka bigotry).

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Jacob’s New Dress is a story about a young boy who loves to play dress-up, and likes to wear dresses to school. The book addresses the unique challenges faced by gender nonconforming boys. Jacob’s parents support their son and his clothing choices, but they worry about him getting teased or bullied at school. The story can be an excellent start to a conversation about what is masculine and what is feminine, and the relationship between the clothes we wear and how we are viewed by society.

The book is included as part of the Welcoming Schools program, a project of the Human Rights Committee to help create safe and welcoming schools for ALL children and families. Jacob’s New Dress is included in the lesson plan, “Discussing Gender Stereotyping with Children’s Books”, with a goal of using literature to understand gender roles and recognize gender stereotyping. Discussion questions for CMS students, obtained by the Washington Post, include the following:

  • Why do you think Christopher is upset that Jacob wants to wear a dress? What does he do to hurt Jacob’s feelings during the story?
  • How did the teacher help him? How could other students have helped Jacob?
  • What should Jacob do if this happens again? (teach students to say STOP, move away, tell a trusted adult)

Risqué stuff, indeed.

Complaints about the lesson plan first arose from one teacher within CMS, who has remained anonymous. Despite the fact that the lesson plan is meant to teach children how to handle harassment and bullying, the NC Family Values Coalition and the House Republican Caucus quickly jumped on board with their disdain.

Our society no longer makes judgments about a girl’s sexuality because she prefers to wear jeans and wrestle, so why do we react so strongly to a boy making similar alternative choices? The author’s who wrote Jacob’s New Dress were inspired by their son, a boy who likes to wear things that dont always adhere to traditional gender roles.

You can’t help but find it ironic that a public school district had to step back from using a book about addressing bullying and harassment after being threatened by North Carolina lawmakers. The NC House Republican Caucus, and the NC Family Values Coalition essentially bullied CMS into using different materials for their anti-bullying curriculum.

And guess what? The bullies don’t like that book either. Red: A Crayon’s Story, is about a blue crayon mistakenly labeled red, and was quickly selected to replace Jacob’s New Dress. The latest word is that Red will also be getting more scrutiny from the Republican Caucus. It is amazing that my state legislators have enough time on their hands to micromanage my daughter’s school reading list.

As a parent within CMS, as someone who has read Jacob’s New Dress and looked at the Welcoming Schools curriculum, I LOUDLY and STRONGLY support including more diverse stories in the classroom. And I call on the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board and District to put Jacob’s New Dress back into the anti-bullying curriculum so that it will go back into my daughter’s classroom, and back into the classrooms of other CMS students.

And let’s be clear: this anti-bullying curriculum is not about “promoting a transgender agenda”, in the words of Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald. It is about using stories and literature to promote safety and acceptance of vulnerable students. Reading a book that teaches students that all people deserve to be free from bias, discrimination, and harm, is a GOOD THING.

You can listen to Jacob’s New Dress on Youtube by going here.

Reading as Resistance – Part 3

As part of my personal resistance and opposition to the recent executive order banning travelers and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, and accompanying moratorium on all refugee admissions, I decided to develop a three-part series highlighting authors from the seven countries included in the ban. You can find the Introduction and Part 1 here. Part 2 is here. Below is Part 3. 

Authors from the Seven Countries Affected by Trump’s Travel Ban: Iraq, Somalia and Libya.

Iraq

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Betool Khedairi. Born in Baghdad, Betool received her B.A. in French literature from the University of Mustansirya, and divides her time between Iraq, Jordan and the United Kingdom. She currently lives in Amman. I have one of her books on my bookshelf, so A Sky So Close will probably be one of the first books I read to #resist this year.

  • A Sky So Close – “This haunting coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in wartime Iraq was the subject of heated controversy when it was published in the Middle East; now in English, it offers American readers a rare chance to experience an Iraqi childhood.”

Ahmad Ardalan. Born in Baghdad in 1979, he grew up in Vienna prior to returning to Iraq in 1989, graduating from the University of Dentistry. He moved to the UAE due to the unstable conditions in his home country. Returning for a visit in 2013, this formed the inspiration for his novel, The Gardener of Baghdad. 

  • The Gardener of Baghdad – “Adnan leads a weary existence as a bookshop owner in modern-day, war-torn Baghdad, where bombings, corruption and assault are everyday occurrences and the struggle to survive has suffocated the joy out of life for most. But when he begins to clean out his bookshop of forty years to leave his city in search of somewhere safer, he comes across the story of Ali, the Gardener of Baghdad, Adnan rediscovers through a memoir handwritten by the gardener decades ago that beauty, love and hope can still exist, even in the darkest corners of the world.”
  • Baghdad: The Final Gathering – “With the drums of war just weeks away, Omar invites all those closest to his heart for lunch at his lavish villa overlooking the Tigris River of Baghdad. He can’t help but smile at the faces that have graced his eventful life that spans from an interesting childhood, the two Gulf Wars, and the inhumane embargo that crippled the nation. Loved ones come together, probably for the last time, in the city their ancestors called Baghdad or Baghdadu, ‘God’s Gift.’

Somalia

Nuruddin Farah. Farah is a prominent Somali novelist. He was awarded the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. The only author I have already read on this list, I highly recommend his work.

  • Knots – “A strong, self-reliant woman who was born in Somalia but brought up in North America, Cambara returns to Mogadiscio to escape a failed marriage and an overweening mother. Her journey back to her native home is a desperate attempt to find herself on her own terms-however ironically, in a country where women are expected to wear veils.”
  • Links (Read in 2008, 4 out of 5 stars) – “Jeebleh is returning to Mogadiscio, Somalia, for the first time in twenty years. But this is not a nostalgia trip—his last residence there was a jail cell. And who could feel nostalgic for a city like this? U.S. troops have come and gone, and the decimated city is ruled by clan warlords and patrolled by qaat-chewing gangs who shoot civilians to relieve their adolescent boredom. Diverted in his pilgrimage to visit his mother’s grave, Jeebleh is asked to investigate the abduction of the young daughter of one of his closest friend’s family. But he learns quickly that any act in this city, particularly an act of justice, is much more complicated than he might have imagined.”
  • Crossbones – “A dozen years after his last visit, Jeebleh returns to his beloved Mogadiscio to see old friends. He is accompanied by his son-in-law, Malik, a journalist intent on covering the region’s ongoing turmoil. What greets them at first is not the chaos Jeebleh remembers, however, but an eerie calm enforced by ubiquitous white-robed figures bearing whips.”

Libya

Ibrahim al-Koni. Al-Koni was born in the Fezzan region in 1948. He spent his childhood in the desert, and studied comparative literature at the Maxim Gorky LIterature Institute in Moscow. He has published more than 80 books, although most have not been translated into English.

  • The Bleeding of the Stone – “The moufflon, a wild sheep prized for its meat, continues to survive in the remote mountain desert of southern Libya. Only Asouf, a lone bedouin who cherishes the desert and identifies with its creatures, knows exactly where it is to be found. Now he and the moufflon together come under threat from hunters who have already slaughtered the once numerous desert gazelles. The novel combines pertinent ecological issues with a moving portrayal of traditional desert life and of the power of the human spirit to resist.”
  • Gold Dust – “Rejected by his tribe and hunted by the kin of the man he killed, Ukhayyad and his thoroughbred camel flee across the desolate Tuareg deserts of the Sahara. Between bloody wars against the Italians in the north and famine raging in the south, Ukhayyad rides for the remote rock caves of Jebel Hasawna. There, he says farewell to the mount who has been his companion through thirst, disease, lust, and loneliness. Alone in the desert, haunted by the prophetic cave paintings of ancient hunting scenes and the cries of jinn in the night, Ukhayyad awaits the arrival of his pursuers and their insatiable hunger for blood and gold.”

Hisham Matar.  Hisham Matar was born in NYC, where his father was working for the Libyan delegation to the UN. When he was three years old, his family moved back to Tripoli, where he spent his early childhood. Eventually, his family was forced to flee and live in exile in Egypt, later moving to London. His novel, In the Country of Men, was nominated for the Man Booker Prize.

  • In the Country of Men – “Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman’s days are circumscribed by the narrow rituals of childhood: outings to the ruins surrounding Tripoli, games with friends played under the burning sun, exotic gifts from his father’s constant business trips abroad. But his nights have come to revolve around his mother’s increasingly disturbing bedside stories full of old family bitterness. And then one day Suleiman sees his father across the square of a busy marketplace, his face wrapped in a pair of dark sunglasses. Wasn’t he supposed to be away on business yet again? Why is he going into that strange building with the green shutters? Why did he lie? Suleiman is soon caught up in a world he cannot hope to understand-where the sound of the telephone ringing becomes a portent of grave danger; where his mother frantically burns his father’s cherished books; where a stranger full of sinister questions sits outside in a parked car all day; where his best friend’s father can disappear overnight, next to be seen publicly interrogated on state television.”
  • The Return (the only non-fiction selection on this list) – “From Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Hisham Matar, a memoir of his journey home to his native Libya in search of answers to his father’s disappearance. In 2012, after the overthrow of Qaddafi, the acclaimed novelist Hisham Matar journeys to his native Libya after an absence of thirty years.”

I hope you enjoyed this 3-part series! Please add any other recommendations you might have from any of the seven countries featured.

 

Reading as Resistance – Part 2

As part of my personal resistance and opposition to the recent executive order banning travelers and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, and accompanying moratorium on all refugee admissions, I decided to develop a three-part series highlighting authors from the seven countries included in the ban. You can find the Introduction and Part 1 here. Below is Part 2.

Authors from the Seven Countries Affected by Trump’s Travel Ban: Iran and Syria

Iran

 

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi. Mahmoud is an Iranian writer and actor, best known for his promotion of social and artistic freedom in contemporary Iran.

  • Missing Soluch – “Perhaps the most important work in modern Iranian literature, this starkly beautiful novel examines the trials of an impoverished woman and her children living in a remote village in Iran, after the unexplained disappearance of her husband, Soluch.”
  • The Colonel – “A pitch black, rainy night in a small Iranian town. Inside his house, the colonel stared at the portrait of the famous military hero –The Colonel, long executed. He thinks of his own children, one of whom died supporting the Shah, another of whom fought for the Ayatollah, another of whom – his fourteen-year old daughter – has been captured handing out leaflets against the regime. The Colonel has fought against the British…he fought for the Shah… he fought for the Ayatollah…he’s dedicated his life to his country…the house is quiet.

    Could they really be coming…for him?”

 

Shahrnush Parsipur. Shahrnush was born and raised in Tehran, receiving her B.A. in sociology from Tehran University in 1973. She is the recipient of the first International Writers Project Fellowship from the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

  • Touba and the Meaning of Night –  “Introduces English-speaking readers to the masterpiece of a great contemporary Persian writer, renowned in her native Iran and much of Western Europe. This remarkable epic novel, begun during one of the author’s several imprisonments, was published in Iran in 1989 to great critical acclaim and instant bestseller status—until Shahrnush Parsipur was again arrested a year later, and all her works banned by the Islamic Republic.

  • Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran – “With a tone that is stark, and bold, Women Without Men creates an evocative allegory of life for contemporary Iranian women.”

Syria

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Fadi Azzam. Fadi is a Syrian journalist and fiction writer, who studied Arabic at Damascus University. He now lives and works in the United Arab Emirates.

  • Sarmada – “Sarmada, Arabic for perpetuate or the eternally-not-changed, is the novel’s fictitious setting. In the title, Fadi Azzam creates a new word (a derivative female form of noun-verb, which does not exist in Arabic) and in so doing immediately lets the reader know that women are the protagonists of this story that spans several generations, from Syria to Paris and back again.”

Adonis. Adonis was born Ali Ahmed Said in the village of Al Qassabin. At the age of 19, he adopted the name Adonis (also spelled Adunis) after the Greek god of fertility. He is considered one of the Arab world’s greatest living poets.

  • Adonis: Selected Poems – “This volume serves as the first comprehensive survey of Adonis’s work, allowing English readers to admire the arc of a remarkable literary career through the labors of the poet’s own handpicked translator, Khaled Mattawa.”
  • The Pages of Day and Night – “Restless and relentless, Adonis explores the pain and otherness of exile, a state so complete that absence replaces identity and becomes the exile’s only presence. Exile can take many forms for the Arabic poet, who must practice his craft as an outsider, separated not only from the nation of his birth but from his own language; in the present as in the past, that exile can mean censorship, banishment, or death. Through these poems, Adonis gives an exquisite voice to the silence of absence.”

In Part 3, I will take a look at authors from Somalia, Iraq, and Libya. Stay tuned!

Reading as Resistance – How do you fight back? Reading Authors from the Seven Countries Banned By Trump, Part 1.

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Last week, I followed Trump’s Executive Orders closely. Each day, there seemed to be new trials and tribulations unleashed from his pen as he signed one executive order after another.

What I would like to focus on today is Friday’s executive order, and my response.

When a draft executive order was leaked to the media on Wednesday that placed a moratorium on the refugee admissions program, and an outright travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim countries, I knew we had even more trouble ahead. Prior to the birth of my daughter, I worked in refugee resettlement. I remember the repercussions of the two-month freeze on refugee admissions after 9/11, how it devastated resettlement agencies and made it incredibly difficult for them to have enough funds to keep case workers employed, so that they could continue to help people who were already here, and prepare for those who would arrive after the ban was lifted.

When an admissions ban goes into effect, almost all funding for resettlement agencies dries up quickly. And Friday’s executive order is like no other. A 120-day moratorium on ALL refugee admissions is twice as long as the post-9/11 freeze. A complete travel ban on all citizens of seven countries, irregardless of their visa status, or how long they have lived in the United States.

Such a ban has a catastrophic impact on people fleeing war and famine, on permanent residents who have made a home in America only to find themselves trapped outside of the country and unable to return home. Discrimination against a person based on their religion or national origin is a gross violation of a person’s human rights, and Friday’s EO is harmful to hundreds of thousands of people.

Much has already been written on the illegalities of this executive order, which breaks both domestic and international law. How can we respond, especially as a book community, to such discrimination and human rights violations?

As an individual, I have participated in quite a few actions over the past week. I have called my Senators and Congressional Representatives almost every day. On Friday evening, I participated in a protest at the Charlotte Douglas Airport. I donated, again, to the ACLU, the International Refugee Assistance Project, and my local refugee resettlement agencies. I will continue to volunteer in the refugee community on a regular basis.

For those who also engage in activism, you are likely already aware that self-care is needed to prevent burnout. One of my biggest forms of self-care is reading. Yet, even in this hobby, I see a way to Resist.

I have made a committment to reading at least one novel written by authors from each of the seven countries included in the immigration and travel ban: Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia. I encourage you to do the same.

During the course of this week, I will feature authors from each of these seven countries. I am a firm believer in the ability to learn through literature. If you are participating in #DiversityBingo2017, most of these suggestions will work for a few of the categories in that challenge as well.

Today’s post will highlight authors from Sudan and Yemen.

Authors from the Seven Countries Affected by Trump’s Travel Ban: Sudan and Yemen

Sudan

Leila Aboulela. Leila grew up in Kartoum, graduating from Khartoum University in 1985. She was awarded the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000 for her short story The Museum, and her novel The Translator was nominated for the Orange Prize in 2002, and was chosen as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times in 2006.

  • Lyrics Alley – “The evocative story of an affluent Sudanese family shaken by the shifting powers in their country and the near-tragedy that threatens the legacy they’ve built for decades.”
  • The Translator – “Sammar is a Sudanese widow working as an Arabic translator at a Scottish university. Since the sudden death of her husband, her young son has gone to live with family in Khartoum, leaving Sammar alone in cold, gray Aberdeen, grieving and isolated. But when she begins to translate for Rae, a Scottish Islamic scholar, the two develop a deep friendship that awakens in Sammar all the longing for life she has repressed.”
  • Minaret – “Leila Aboulela’s American debut is a provocative, timely, and engaging novel about a young Muslim woman — once privileged and secular in her native land and now impoverished in London — gradually embracing her orthodox faith.”

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Tayeb Salih. Tayeb was born in Karmakol, near the village of Al Dabbah in the Northern Province of Sudan. He studied at Khartoum University before leaving for the University of London in England. Despite living abroad for most of his life, his fiction is firmly rooted in the village in which he spent his early years.

  • Season of Migration to the North – “After years of study in Europe, the young narrator of Season of Migration to the North returns to his village along the Nile in the Sudan. It is the 1960s, and he is eager to make a contribution to the new postcolonial life of his country.”

Yemen

Wajdi al-Ahdal is a Yemeni novelist, short story writer and playwright. Born in 1973 near Bajil in the province of Al Hudaydah, he received a degree in Literature from Sanaa University in Yemen. He won the Afif short story prize in 1997, and the youth prize of the President of the Republic of Yemen for a short story in 1999.

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  • A Land Without Jasmine – “A sexy, satirical detective story about the sudden disappearance of a young female student from Yemen ‘s Sanaa University.”

Zayd Mutee’ Dammaj was a Yemeni politician and writer. His short novel The Hostage was selected by the Arab Writers Union as one of the top 100 Arabic novels of the 20th century.

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  • The Hostage – “Set in the pre-revolution Yemen of the Imams, this novel depicts the experiences of a young boy who, having been taken hostage, in line with the Imam’s general practice, as a pledge for his father’s political obedience, is sent to serve as a young male attendant in the palace of the city governor.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Wednesday!

A Few Graphic Novel Mini-Reviews for #DAReadaThon

Ms. Marvel, Volumes 2 – 5

Author: G. Willow Wilson
Genre: Graphic novels, Comics

I reviewed Volume 1 of the Ms. Marvel series a few weeks ago. After reading that one, I definitely wanted to continue with the series! I found the perfect opportunity to catch up on some of the later volumes on New Year’s Day, during a 9-hour drive home from Florida to North Carolina. Here is a very quick run-down of what I thought of each of them.

Volume 2: Generation Why – What an excellent sequel! The Inventor storyline continues into Volume 2, and one of my favorites, Wolverine, makes an appearance in this one! The Wolverine cameo and Ms. Marvel’s fangirl reaction was a ton of fun to read. And Lockjaw! I’m personally not a fan of big, slobbery dogs, but I’ll make an exception for Lockjaw. I also love how G. Willow Wilson writes Kamala as a character who is both an incredibly strong female superhero, and a teenager dealing with teenager problems. The positive message at the end alluding to the stereotypes against the millennial generation….EXCELLENT! Rating: 4/5 stars

“A hero is someone who tries to do the right thing, even when it’s HARD. There are more of us than you think.”

Volume 3: Crushed – The Ms. Marvel volumes keep getting more and more fun! This volume was Valentine’s Day themed and featured a cameo of Loki (adopted brother of Thor) and the God of Mischief. There was also an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D bonus comic at the end, which made me all the more interested to watch the TV show. Rating: 4/5 stars

Volume 4: Last Days – By far, my favorite of the series so far. Titled Last Days, this is the Secret Wars story arc that spreads across the Marvel Universe. But what I love about this volume is not the tie-in to a huge Marvel universe event, but the hyper-local focus on Kamala, her friends, family, and hometown. Most especially, the relationship and bond between Kamala and her mother. This volume was very much about relationships, and it was so, so  good. Rating: 5/5 stars

Volume 5: Super Famous – I’m kind of confused about the back story of what takes place in the Secret Wars in the greater Marvel universe, which occurs between Ms. Marvel’s Volume 4 and Volume 5, but it doesn’t seem to have a huge impact in Ms. Marvel’s Jersey City. Volume 5 picks up 8 months after Last Days, and Kamala is officially part of the Avengers, which creates a lot of difficulties in balancing school, superheroing, and family. Super Famous also marks the beginning of a new story arc featuring Hope Yards Development & Relocation (HYDRA). The new character additions, Mike and Tyesha, are both awesome. Although I am definitely shipping on Bruno and Kamala, Mike is very, very cool. Rating: 4/5 stars

Dumbledore’s Army Readathon #DAReadAThon

I am quite excited – and probably a bit overly optimistic – about the Dumbledore’s Army Readathon, hosted by Aentee @ReadatMidnight.

What: #DAReadAThon is a Harry Potter themed readathon, focusing on diverse (especially #ownvoices) books.

When: The readathon will begin Sunday 1st January and conclude Sunday 15th January, midnight to midnight – wherever in the world you’re based.

Who: Anyone can join, although it would be easier for you to write-up your reviews and sign up posts if you had a platform such as a blog or a booktube. If you have a twitter or instagram account, please join in on the #DAReadAThon hashtag! You don’t have to be familiar with Harry Potter to join, but the prompts will make more sense to you.

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and here is my TBR list for the prompts!

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I haven’t read any fiction stories featuring a trans character yet, and George has been on my shelf for months waiting to be read!

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A memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, in graphic novel form!

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At first, I was going to choose We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for this prompt. Then I realized that the books I already plan to read on our drive home from Florida after New Year’s Day would work for this one as well! Since they are relatively short, I am going to count Ms. Marvel, Volumes 2 – 5 for this category.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian also happens to be my book club’s pick for January!

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I’m hoping to read Fangirl over the next few days – although that may be wishful thinking – and planned on following it up with this one!

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So many to choose from!

Book Review – The Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

This will be a relatively short review, because I am not having the greatest week. My endometriosis is flaring up a bit, and on Wednesday I had an adverse reaction to my monthly allergy shots. Which had me in bed (and almost in the hospital) for 24 hours. I was up and about yesterday, but my body still felt worn out and was recovering from the onslaught of allergies and asthma. Today is much better.

Fun times for the first day of my daughter’s winter break. The last day of 2016 can not come soon enough!! It has been one thing after another this year, for me and the world.

On to the book review!

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Book: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Publisher: Philomel Books
Genre: Middle Grade, Neurodiversity

Book Blurb: 

In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful.Kathryn Erskine has written a must-read gem, one of the most moving novels of the year.

There aren’t too many books out there about girls with Asperger’s. Much of mainstream society’s understanding of Asperger’s (when they are even aware of what it is), is based on the profile of boy’s and men who are Aspies. In my life, I do know a few people with Asperger’s, all who identify as male. Is Asperger’s truly more prevalent amongst the male population, or is it woefully under-identified in the female populace? I would hazard a guess that it is a bit of both. Current research is beginning to show that the current diagnostic methods used for the autism spectrum overlook how it can manifest differently in girls.

On that note, enter Caitlin. An 11-year-old girl going through a very rough time in her life. She recently lost her brother in a school shooting, her mom died of cancer a few years previously, and her dad is struggling to come to terms with grief himself. Caitlin is struggling with her own grief and emotions, as well as fitting in at school and working on making new friends.

Looking at reviews written by people with Asperger’s, Kathryn Erskine has done a commendable job portraying what it is like for a young girl with Asperger’s. She tackles a difficult subject: how people deal with the loss of a loved one differently, and how our lives would be different – and better – if we work harder at understanding each other.

I loved the first person narration, seeing the world through Caitlin’s eyes. To experience how a typical school day feels for her .

“I hate recess even though Devon says it’s supposed to be my favorite subject and there is no recess once you get to middle school so enjoy it now. But I can’t enjoy it because I’m surrounded by sharp screaming and it’s too bright adn people’s elbows are all pointy and dangerous and it’s hard to breathe and my stomach always feels really really sick.”

There are quite a few times in the story where the other kids are really anger-inducing. As an adult looking in on the story, I wanted to scream out to the teachers, “Your school really needs some grade-wide lessons on anti-bullying, tolerance, and diversity!!!” The way that some of the other girls mocked Caitlin was frustrating, and I was happy to see this semi-addressed later on in the story.

I loved the tie-in with To Kill A Mockingbird. I won’t go into detail, but it really highlighted the sweet relationship between Caitlin and her brother. It was also completely cry-inducing. There were so many parts of this book that pulled on my heartstrings!

“When Dad drives me home from school I look at the sign in front of the church we used to go to. It says, OUR HEARTS are still with the families of Julianne, Devon and Roberta. Except OUR HEARTS couldn’t do anything to save Devon’s Heart. Maybe that’s why Dad drives past.”

Rating: 4/5 stars