Category Archives: Reflections

Battle Bullying with Books

Starting Young

Last week, my daughter told me about a troubling recess incident at her school:  apparently, a game of “Lego City Police” devolved into the playground version of police brutality.  Teachers were alerted and intervened but not before one of my daughter’s kindergarten classmates was punched and scratched by another kid.

In her responses to my “casual” questions, my daughter revealed that the boy who was punched/scratched is not well liked among his peers.  She says the other boys don’t like him because he doesn’t brush his teeth.  The only girl police officer in the game, my daughter backed away when the punching started and didn’t know what to do.  The boy who did the punching/scratching has often been sent to the principal’s office but my daughter thinks he is silly and says funny things in class.

Wow.  All this just in time for No Name Calling Week.

Bullying Statistics

Some parents may feel it is an overreaction on my part to be concerned that the Lego City Police incident could be a precursor to bullying.  However, the statistics are alarming:  160,000 students per day skip school in fear of attack or bullying; out of 37 studied shootings, 66% of them were led by individuals who felt bullied; and 20% of high school students say they’ve considered suicide within the past twelve months, mentioning the triggers as bullying, teasing, and social rejection.  (These figures are borrowed from a library colleague; I didn’t ask for her sources).

The messages sent to my daughter and her classmates about this incident matter.  The time to address these issues is now, and the time to lay the foundation for the prevention of future bullying is now.

Don’t just read.  Discuss what you read.

My way of addressing issues typically involves books and I am familiar with the skepticism toward my approach:  can books really change the world?  Can reading really change lives?

Jenny Betz, Education Manager for GLSEN, suggested a different spin on these questions yesterday in “Battle Bullying with Books,” a webinar sponsored by Booklist.  Betz says that perhaps not the books themselves but the conversations around those books are what truly have the power to change lives.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is listening to young people talk about issues of importance to them.  With civil discourse eroding before our eyes and disturbingly venomous speech flying around, it feels increasingly important to teach youth how to engage in respectful conversation with others.  I think using literature to open up dialogue is a great place to start.

Alone, the act of reading will not teach a child how to recognize and understand his emotions, will not create empathy.    But coupled with discussion, reading can help foster sensitivity and healthy relationships.

The thing to remember with discussion is that being “right” isn’t the point.  It’s more important to understanding what the other person is saying.  We adults are so eager to impart wisdom to young people that sometimes we talk too much.  We want young people to listen to us, but we often fail to reciprocate and truly listen to them.

All It Takes is One

In the past decade, innumerable titles have been published that deal with the subject of bullying for kids of all ages.  Last year author Mitali Perkins compiled a list of great titles for young adults (ages 12+).  For emergent readers (ages 5-8) the recent Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker by Geoffrey Hayes is a good one and the upcoming The Three Bully Goats by Leslie Kimmelman seems promising.  James Howe, author of Bunnicula, published The Misfits in 2001  for middle grade readers.  Loosely based on his daughter’s experience at the hands of middle school bullies, The Misfits is the book that launched No Name Calling Week.

My personal favorite is One by Kathryn Otoshi, published in 2008 by KO Kids Books.   This profound picture book is accessible for very young children but has an elegant, Zen flair that makes it appealing for tweens and teens as well.  Every preschool and elementary school library needs a copy of this book, and it would make a terrific teacher gift as well.  (Coincidentally, I had given my daughter’s teacher a copy of One earlier this month.  She read it to the class this week and the kids’ response to it was very encouraging.)

Summary:   Generally, Blue feels happy and life is good.  Except when Red gets mad and takes it out on Blue.  Those are the times when Blue feels, well, blue.  And Red sometimes makes Orange, Purple, Green, and Yellow feel blue too.  Red is a bully but the other colors don’t quite know what to do about it until One comes along and teaches an important lesson—that everyone counts!

Counting by ones may seem like a slow process—one book, one teacher, one kid, one parent—but we never know which one moment can be a turning point.  I, for one, don’t want to allow a single opportunity to slip by.


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Good Intentions

Yesterday I finally made my way back to yoga class.  There’s plenty for me to be discouraged about: my Down Dog and Warrior II are pitiful compared to all these spry retirees!  It will be a while before my Dancer looks like this again.

However, more than just my stiff joints and muscles were imploring me to unroll my green mat again.

Yoga helps me to be kind to myself and 20 days into the New Year, I find that out of all my resolutions and goals for 2011 the most important is for me to take care of myself and ease up on the self-criticism.

In my study of world religions I learned about the Buddhist principle of Right Intention but it was through a yoga class that I developed an understanding of how the concept could apply to my life.  Philip Moffitt describes the idea in this wonderful article called “The Heart’s Intention.”

Some key ideas from the article:

  • “Goals help you make your place in the world and be an effective person. But being grounded in intention is what provides integrity and unity in your life.”
  • “Intention is what provides you with self-respect and peace of mind.”
  • “There’s no need to judge yourself or quit when you fail to live by your intentions. You are developing the habit of right intention so that it becomes an unconscious way of living-an automatic response to all situations.”
  • “There are only two things you are responsible for in this practice: Throughout each day, ask yourself if you are being true to your deepest intentions. If you’re not, start doing so immediately, as best as you’re able.”

In a management course last spring, I likened the idea of intention to the vision statement one might incorporate in strategic planning.  An effective vision statement for an organization is rooted in values and offers guidance in decision-making.  Just as a vision is different from a goal, intention is based on an understanding of what matters most to you and requires a commitment to align your actions with your values.  I used lighthouses as the main visual image in my PowerPoint for that presentation.

This blog is one of the areas I’ve carefully considered as I’ve made goals and reflected on my intentions.  What began as a fun distraction for this Navy wife while her husband was away has turned into one of the “unfinished” projects that I feel guilty about.  (Silly, I know, but as I said, I’m very hard on myself.)  One of my long-standing professional goals has been to create a teaching resource, but achieving that goal with this blog was never my intention.  I needed to remind myself that this “database” is merely an experiment.

What I really need is a data entry assistant but it will be a few years before my daughter is ready for the job.  Eight should be a good age to put her to work, right?

For now, I’m going to approach this blog differently.  I’ll still add reviews but I may as well admit that this isn’t a book blog.  This year, I’ll be nurturing my family through another deployment, completing a few more classes toward my degree, and reading, reading, reading.  Here is where I’ll reflect on it all.

I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with you.

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To Boycott or Not to Boycott?

As a long time customer, I’m really torn over whether to boycott the site after the incident with the pedophilia book.

Like most librarians, I’m a staunch defender of the freedom to read.  In a piece titled “A Few Words about Censorship,” Chris Crutcher–a personal hero of mine–says, “If you live in a democracy, and you want to participate in that democracy, you have to learn to stand up for the expression of things you hate. It’s easy to promote material that represents what you believe—a little harder to do that for material that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”

Crutcher, in addition to being a writer, is a therapist who has worked extensively with abused kids.  He believes that there are some people who need to be kept away from kids, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Even though I find both content and writer of this book to be despicable, the author has the right to free expression and others have the right to read it if they choose.  Do not mistake me, however:  NO ONE has the right to harm a child.

My issue with is that the company does not have a policy for selecting or screening the products available for sale on the site.  Even in a public library where the principles of information access and intellectual freedom are tenaciously protected, a selection policy serves to guide librarians in choosing materials by offering clear standards and criteria.  In the absence of such a policy, there is neither accountability nor a systematic, objective way to evaluate materials.’s mission statement reads:  Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.

This incident shows to be consistent with its vision—clearly people can find and discover anything, and the company did respond to customers when demands were made that the company pull the objectionable material “off the shelves.”

Just because can sell anything, doesn’t mean they should.  Even libraries toe the line:  back in the early 90s, when Madonna’s book Sex was published, plenty of librarians chose not to add the book to their collections because it did not reflect the standards of decency in their communities.

Many people within the library community have chosen to boycott  This latest incident is merely the proverbial straw on the back of the camel, as there are a number of good reasons to avoid what some are calling the Wal-Mart of online shopping.

As an information resource, is incredibly useful to me in my research, primarily on books but for other products as well.  I will continue to use the site in this way, and I will continue to link book titles here to their product pages on

As for shopping…those who argue that is no better than Wal-Mart have a point.  I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, and I’ve substantially reduced the shopping I do at Target.

If I give up on as well, where does that leave me?  I already try to support local, independent booksellers as much as possible—places like Jabberwocky, Riverby, Point Loma Books and Yellow Brick Road.

I’m also unsure that I believe to have been in the wrong over the availability of the book.  Whereas traditional publishing channels would likely have prevented such offensive material from finding an audience, self-publishing in the digital age is new territory for everyone involved in information access.

I’d love to hear from those who have taken a definitive stand and chosen to boycott—what alternatives to do you recommend?  I’d also love to hear from those who aren’t boycotting—what are your reasons?

For the time being, I’m going to spend more money than I planned at the book fair at my daughter’s school and I’ll continue pondering how much holiday shopping I’ll be doing through this year.

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MLISing in Action

Borrowing a colleague’s clever phrase , I apologize for having been “MLISing in Action” for four months.  I didn’t intend to disappear like that, but between adjusting after our move and grad school and my amazing procrastination skills…well, clearly this blog plummeted to the bottom of my priority list.

Though I wasn’t posting, I was reading.  In fact, over the summer, I was reading about reading and I learned some incredible things about literacy and emergent readers.

For example, from Mary Anne Wolf’s fascinating exploration of the neuroscience of reading, Proust and the Squid, I was shocked to learn of the disparity between linguistically affluent and impoverished environments: “In some environments the average young middle class child hears 32 million more spoken words than the underprivileged child by age 5.” Additionally, the average underprivileged child has access to zero age-appropriate books while the affluent counterpart has access to 200. For many children, schools and professional educators do not enter the picture of early literacy until Kindergarten (age 5), at the end of the stage (ages 2-5) at which a child is capable of learning 2-4 new words per day. This means that parents truly are the primary educators of their children when it comes to laying the groundwork for learning to read.

Today happens to be the kickoff day for Jumpstart’s year-long Read for the Record campaign to support preschool children in low-income neighborhoods and prepare them for success in school and life.  By reading The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats today, you & your child can be counted toward a world record.  Click here to read the book online & confirm your participation.

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month.  The folks at Reading Rockets have a wealth of information here.  I love this video in which children’s author Patricia Polacco shares her own moving struggle with dyslexia.

This month also happens to be National Book Month, sponsored by the National Book Foundation.  Next week, the 2010 National Book Award Finalists will be announced.  I’m embarrassed to admit that of all the National Book Award winners listed here, I’ve read three:  Outside, Over There by Maurice Sendak, Holes by Louis Sachar, and Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary.  Perhaps I’ll make a point to read at least one of the titles announced on 10/13.

And to round out this very literary month, Teen Read Week,  sponsored by YALSA, is happening October 17-23.

What are you currently reading?


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Farewell, Fredericksburg!

After four years and countless memories in Fredericksburg, VA, I’m heading home to Southern California.  Of course I am very happy to be on the brink of new experiences and opportunities, but to do justice to the growth I’ve done to get to this point, it’s worth a pause to reflect on one of the things I’ve loved most about living in Fredericksburg:   the history. 

Fredericksburg is halfway between the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. and the state capital in Richmond, as well as 100 miles from the historic triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, VA, making “Fxbg” a popular tourist stop for visitors exploring American history.  The city itself boasts its own deep history as a busy colonial port adjacent to the boyhood home of George Washington.  In the winter of 1862, the Battle of Fredericksburg proved to be a pivotal point in the Civil War.  Click here to read more about all the town has to offer.

This book by local author Jill Walsh highlights some of my family’s favorite places in town.  Click on the cover image to link to the book’s website.  And let me give a shout out to Linda of Jabberwocky who went out of her way to get my daughter’s copy signed by the author (Thank you, Linda!).  Suited for ages 5 and up, this is a great way to commemorate a visit to the ‘burg.

My husband read Fredericksubrg! Fredericksburg! byGeorge C. Rable.  He says it is an excellent account of the battle of Fxbg.  (I do not myself read military histories, but he does–often–and I trust his assessment).

I read the recently published Fredericksburg:  A Guided Tour through History by Randi Minetor.  It is an accessible account of the 1862 battle, appropriate for readers who don’t need the breadth and depth of Rable’s work.  However, the book lacks a proper introduction and begins in 1862, as though the town had not been established more than 130 years earlier. 

My house was less than a mile from the Fredericksburg National Historic District and the battlefield on which Confederate and Union soldiers shed blood and lost lives in defense of their ideals.  So, I’m leaving the Mother State with a deeper appreciation for my country’s story.  After I’m settled in my new home (a short distance from the Plymouth Rock of the West Coast), I’ll share a booklist of American history and historical fiction. 

For now, farewell, Fredericksburg!  I hope to be back to visit someday!

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Filed under Non-fiction, Reflections

Just Read

As I mentioned recently, my daughter is celebrating her fifth birthday very soon.  Though she is only in her second year of preschool, her reading skills are on par with those of seven-year-old nearing the end of first grade.  When she reads aloud (even a story she has never seen before), she reads with inflections and sounds words out in her head. 
We didn’t use Hooked on Phonics or any other program, though we have spent time (perhaps 15-20 minutes, once a week or so) at since she was two and a half.  When she was four and a half, I taught her to sound out words from this set of phonics readers.   (“Dad Can Help” was her favorite.)

Less than six months later, my daughter is reading Level 2–and even some Level 3–books from the  Step into Reading series with little to no help.

The only things my husband and I have done to develop our daughter’s reading skills have been (1) to read to her every day, and (2) to read ourselves.

These may seem like no-brainers, but in fact they require discipline and enthusiasm on the part of the reader.  So my advice when reading aloud is to find a balance between stories the child wants to hear and stories you enjoy reading.  I do not allow reading aloud to feel like a chore, but this also means that my daughter doesn’t always get to pick the book for storytime.  It really is okay to refuse to read a given book for the fifteenth—or fiftieth—time.  

 Also, don’t feel stories ought only be read at bedtime.  True, reading aloud has traditionally occurred before lights out as a way of winding down.  But reading aloud can take place between putting dinner in the oven and setting the table, during afternoon snack, upon waking up from a nap, or even over breakfast.  It’s a bit like exercise—it doesn’t matter so much when you do it; what matters is that you do it.  So build storytime into your routine wherever it works best for you.

As for your own reading, remember that all reading counts, not just the classics or bestsellers.  These days our lives are saturated with text, so make sure you call it what it is—reading email, reading articles on news websites, reading updates on Twitter.  Let your child know that when you’re in front of the computer, you’re reading!  And reading print magazines and newspapers counts just as much as reading books.    

The point is, just read and your little one will too.

(You might also like reading this post on taking reading aloud to the next level.)

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Banned/Challenged Book Recommendations?

Yesterday, the American Library Association released a list of the Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009.  I’ve read four of them:

“TTYL”, by Lauren Myracle (My review here.)
 “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
 Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer (My review of Book Four here.)
“The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier

(Complete Top 10 here.)

Four out of ten didn’t seem like a high number to me, so I went over to ALA’s Banned and Challenged Classics List.  Out of 100, I’ve read these 12:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (which I guess I don’t get to count twice)
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

(See all 100 here.)

It does not escape my notice that all but 2 titles from the classics list are books I read in school.  So I’m thinking I’ll make a point to add more to my reading queue.  I’m open to suggestions–which banned/challenged books have you enjoyed?

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It’s National Library Week!

In tough economic times, communities rely more and more heavily on the services provided by public libraries.  Yet libraries across the country are seeing their budgets slashed.  I posted recently on how libraries need your support.  Click here if you missed it.  This week, try to fit in a visit to your local library and thank a library worker for his/her service to your community.

To kick off the week, I’m featuring my favorite libraries.

Copley Library at the University of San Diego, where I spent countless undergraduate hours in the gorgeous reading room.  Walking into that room always made me feel like Belle when the Beast gave her his library.

Central Rappahannock Regional Library, one of the places I will remember fondly and miss most about Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Thousand Oaks Library, the library of my childhood where I learned to love books and the librarians who care for them (It didn’t look like this in the 80s though). 

Honorable mentions

Geisel Library at UCSD because it’s just such a cool building.

The Redwood Library in Newport, RI which is the oldest the oldest lending library in America, and the oldest library building in continuous use in the country.

Folger Shakespeare Library which has a fantastic celebration in honor of the Bard’s birthday every year.

The Library of Congress which I went into for the first time last fall and have a library card for!

I hope to someday see the New York Public Library and Baker Library of Dartmouth College (for Jose Clemente Orozco’s Epic of American Civilization mural).

With so many amazing libraries all over the world, many of them housed in buildings of architectural grandeur, which are your favorites?

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Easter Week Thoughts

In her article* “God in the Age of Twitter,” Wendy Zierler asks the following provocative questions:

“Where [do] religion and God intersect with our media-saturated existence?  Where is our godly text in our world of texting, tweeting, YouTubing, and downloading?  What structures in our lives allow us to identify the godliness or eternal significance of language, learning, human conversation, and relationship?  And how can we fill our time not with noisy verbiage, but with the language of transcendence?”

During Easter Sunday services, in the row in front of me, an elementary-school-aged child played a car racing game on her dad’s cell phone.  In the row behind, a woman had her cell phone to her ear during the recessional song.  More than 2,000 people were gathered together, so odds are there were at least a few teens texting, and maybe even an adult or two covertly checking email during the sermon. 

Now, I’m not going to rant about cell phone use in church.  But these incidents, combined with my reading of Zierler’s article last week, have me wondering, what is sacred?

I have long been fascinated with cultural religion.  For example, the ways in which Americans make a religious ritual out of watching the Superbowl or American Idol.  In most households, the television features prominently in the family gathering place, reposing on an altar of sorts. 

Lately, in my own home, the computer has usurped the television’s dominance (perhaps owing to the new and amazing 21” monitor).    Many of my daily rituals revolve around the computer:  nearly all of my reading, writing and communicating, both personal and professional, and even some recreation! 

 So, as I’m increasingly paying homage to the Google gods, where is my “godly text,” “where’s the language of transcendence?” 

In answer to Zierler’s first question, about the intersection between religion and God and media, I realize that I try to compartmentalize these things.  On the surface, I think of technology as incompatible with faith, and of unplugging as a religious experience.  I’m not looking for godly text on my computer screen.

And maybe that’s why I’m not finding any? 

I do follow a few religiously themed blogs that inspire me, though I wouldn’t say they employ transcendent language.

But I received a beautiful email from a friend the other day.  In her words, I hear God.  And this is true of any thoughtful human conversation I have, whether in person, by phone, in a personal letter, or via email.  One of my first posts on this blog was about Love Letters and the way a great letter feels like a quality time with a dear friend.

So to Zierler’s questions I add some of my own:  is communications technology enhancing the quality of our conversations?  What “religious” rituals are revolving around our computers and cell phones?  What texts are sacred and, in the Kindle era, how do we read them?  What encounters with God via media and technology are people having?

I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this!
*The full text of this article is not presently available online.  It is published in the March/April 2010 issue of Tikkun magazine—table of contents for the issue here.

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Booklist: Bullying

I’ve been following the case of Phoebe Prince, the 15 year-old Irish girl who committed suicide in January of this year after enduring a months-long bullying campaign staged by her Massachusetts high school peers.

Certainly there are numerous articles containing “tips” on how to identify, cope with and prevent bullying.  This booklist is intended to open up dialogue at various age levels on the subject.

For 4-8 year olds:

Hugo and the Bully Frogs
Written by Francesca Simon
Illustrated by Caroline Jean Church

Hugo is a little frog with a little croak.  He lives in a deep, muddy pond.  And he’s constantly tormented by Pop-Eyes, the biggest, meanest frog Hugo has ever met.  Pop-Eyes snatches Hugo’s toys, calls him names, and drops him head-first into the pond.  How will Hugo ever stand up to such a bully?
4 Flags

The Recess Queen
Written by Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Mean Jean dominates the playground.  She goes first at swinging, bouncing and kicking, and no one risks challenging her.  Then a new kid arrives at school.  Katie Sue doesn’t know that Jean is the reigning recess queen.  So what will happen when Katie Sue decides to swing, bounce and kick first?
4 Flags

For Ages 9+

Buddha Boy
by Kathe Koja

Jinsen, known around school as “Buddha Boy,” is increasingly targeted in mean-spirited, violent bullying by the popular crowd.  Read the full review here.
4 Flags

For Ages 15+

by Laurie Halse Anderson

After years of being bullied, Tyler considers using violence to make himself heard.
Read the full review here.
5 Flags

For Parents and Educators

The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander
by Barbara Coloroso

Coloroso discusses in depth the parts enacted in each incident of bullying (including cyberbullying):  the perpetrator, the victim, the bystander, the adults, and the community context.  This book emphasizes ways in which the cycle of bullying can be broken.  Read the full review here.
5 Flags

For Deeper Reflection

Tikkun Passover Supplement 2010 (Click to link to the full text.)

“As we sit at the Seder table we need to discuss how ancient liberation for the Jews can inspire liberation today for all people.”  So begins the Passover supplement.

How are the Seder and Jewish liberation relevant for non-Jews?  Why is this Passover supplement included on a reading list about bullying?

This piece of reflection from Rabbi Michael Lerner calls the Jewish people—indeed, all people– to open “their eyes to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, the Palestinians,”  to “the ways in which we…have been acting as Pharoah to another people.”  Clearly, bullying is not a problem contained on school grounds.

In fact, bullying occurs on school grounds precisely because it happens on a larger scale in our communities.  Prosperous nations bully developing nations, and powerful companies bully smaller businesses.  Certain adults bully those weaker than themselves.

In all its manifestations, bullying is nothing less than a serious form of oppression.  And so discussion of liberation can move us forward, closer to “communal vision of what messianic redemption would look like,” no matter what our particular faith tradition might be.

As Rabbi Lerner writes, “Instead of relying on domination, we know both from our holy texts and from our real-world experience that it is generosity, kindness, compassion, and caring for others that will be the key to our success and survival.”


Filed under Booklists, Non-fiction, Picture Books, Reflections, YA Literature