2014_04traylor

Today is Reading Day

The kids were both home from school today and so I declared it reading day. No TV. No whining all day. But lots of reading.

How’s that work?

At random points during the day I’d shout, “Reading break!” And we’d gather on the couch to read some books. I promised we’d hit the bookstore or the library, but that will probably come tomorrow.

We got through six books:

  • On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne – A fun and cleverly written picture book about the life of Albert Einstein that introduces a lot of science concepts in a simple way.
  • It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate – A picture book about the outsider art of Bill Traylor, who didn’t start creating art until his 80s.
  • Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert by Gary D. Schmidt – A picture book telling the story of this mixed-race Peruvian saint.
  • Bird by Zetta Elliot – A longer picture book that tells the story of a younger brother dealing with his older brother slipping away to drugs and street life.
  • Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter (we’ve been reading this one out loud for a week or two, but weren’t quite halfway through) – A chapter book that starts out with an Alice in Wonderland-ish flair for the random and bizarre, but eventually comes around and everything connects.
  • Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes – A quick early chapter book about a spitfire of a girl in a new town welcoming another new and not so eager student to school.

And then started a seventh: The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Clearly (going old school).

Our Favorites?

Milo: Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel and Bird

Lexi: Olivia Kidney

Me: On a Beam of Light, It Jes’ Happened and Martin de Porres were all pretty good

2014_04aliftopper

Searching Out Diversity

I keep coming back to the conversation about diversity in literature. I think it’s important. I heard it several times during the Festival in Faith and Writing and today I came across an article about how to get more diversity in your YA fiction.

That piece has some good advice. You have to actually search out diversity, recommend it and support it. It doesn’t happen automatically: Search, share, support.

Lately I’ve been trying to search out more diversity. If I don’t, my shelves are mostly full of white folks. It’s the same with my music collection. I don’t like most hip-hop, and the alt-rock and punk genres are pretty homogenous. So I’ve been working at it.

You also have to recommend it, and it’s something I need to be doing more. Though I should be clear this isn’t about simply recommending stuff because of the diversity, but because it’s good. So here are a couple recommendations, something I’ll try to do more consistently:

Books

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow WilsonAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
The hacker youth culture of a Cory Doctorow novel meets an Arab security state and slips into a fantasy world worthy of J.R.R. Tolkien. The mix of realism and fantasy was pretty great. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of fantasy, but I really enjoyed the glimpse into the Muslim world.

Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul CurtisBud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
This is a YA classic but somehow I’ve never read it. An orphaned boy goes in search of his long-lost father in Depression-era Michigan. An early scene of Bud being abused by foster parents made me physically angry, but the story moves to tenderness as Bud encounters more warm-hearted people on his journey.

Music

Music seems like it should be easier to find diversity. But I’ve always been a rock fan, and aside from a few big names, rock isn’t very diverse. I’m not a fan of hip-hop, so that leaves my musical horizons pretty limited.

Thanks to Spotify, I’ve been researching more diverse voices.

“You Can’t Be Told” by Valerie June
This foot-stomping single is a bit different from the rest of her album, but I love her rootsy voice, regardless of anything else.

“Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)” by Noisettes
This one has a swing-dance style that’s just fun. The band has some more recent stuff, unfortunately it’s only available in the U.K.

2014_04deza

The Difference Diversity Makes

That whole ‘diversity in literature’ conversation keeps coming up and I think it might help some people to understand why it’s so important.

If you’re never confronted with it, if you’re always finding people who look like you in your entertainment, then it’s a question you might never think about. It helps to step outside of ourselves and see a different perspective.

I came across exactly that perspective in Deza Malone, a character in Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Mighty Miss Malone:

When I was in Gary and would read novels I used to put myself right in the middle of the story. I knew it was a great book when it felt like the author was writing about me. Some of the time I’d get snapped out of the book when I read things that I couldn’t pretend were about me, even if I had the imagination of Mr. William Shakespeare.

Words like “her pale, luminescent skin” or “her flowing mane of golden hair” or “her lovely, cornflower-blue eyes” or “the maiden fair.” I would stop and think, No, Deza, none of these books are about you. Continue reading

2014_04ffwgr

Festival of Faith & Writing 2014

This past week I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. It’s a gathering of writers and readers interested in faith.

I first heard about this event when I was in college, but it’s never been practical to attend. It’s also held every other year, so I would tend to forget about it or only remember during off years.

This year I’d been looking for an event to attend and this seemed perfect. I’ve never been to a conference in my professional career that wasn’t in some way promotional. I was always doing work. It was never a retreat or a chance to recharge, it always involved promoting something.

This time around I was there as a writer and a reader, looking to hear from other authors and not do anything promotional.

Which makes for a glorious event. Continue reading

How I Met Your Mother Finale

A Little Therapy After the How I Met Your Mother Finale

The quirky sitcom How I Met Your Mother ended its nine-year run this week, finally revealing who the mother was. My wife and I started watching the show after the second season, usually on weekend DVD-binges. It’s become our go-to comedy and re-watched countless times.

So the end is always bittersweet. Most finales are a letdown (except for Buffy) and this one is worst than most. The only thing that softens the blow is that it was going downhill for the last few seasons.

When we get this attached to a TV show, we usually need to process the end. That’s why there are so many articles to digest. We fans need a little therapy.

I was going to write my own take, but it’s all been said better than I can say it, so let’s just point to a few more insightful gems and offer a few last comments to say goodbye to a pretty great (until the end) TV show.

SPOILERS follow (duh). Continue reading

Bamboo People

Children’s Novels That Teach Culture & History

While generally I have a weak spot for sci-fi reading, I’ve also noticed  I enjoy books that help you understand a specific culture or history. I think that’s one of the greatest joys of reading—better understanding part of life. Young adult and teen novels seem to be the best at this, since they’re usually more focused.

These sorts of stories may be a weak route to diversity, but they at least offer some. I’d also counter that understanding differing perspectives is the whole point of more diversity in our books, so that’s a big win.

So what are some good reads in that genre? I’m probably just getting started and missing the obvious ones, but since I do read a lot I realized I have quite a few to suggest. Continue reading

World Vision & Arguing Over Gay People

This whole flip-flop fiasco with World Vision (declaring one day that they’ll employee abstinent or married gay people and then reversing the decision two days later) just makes me sad. I wrote a piece about it for Church Marketing Sucks, but it’s primarily from a communication lens, exploring how World Vision tried to [rightly] focus on their mission of helping kids in poverty but in the process forgot that very mission. In short, they ended up in a fight about gay people instead of helping kids in poverty.

I think that was a tragic miscue, and I’m curious if more will come out about how this situation went down. Tony Jones claims to have the inside scoop from “unnamed sources” at World Vision (which sounds all cloak and dagger, though in this social media age that sounds totally reasonable), that basically this had been a multi-year process roll out but a leak to Christianity Today forced their hand.

However it went down, it’s unfortunate. Rather than taking a stand on LGBT issues, World Vision was trying to opt out of the discussion so they could be focused on more important things. I think that’s commendable. The fact that opting out was vehemently rejected is shameful. We’re not talking about a church, a pastor or a theological publisher—somebody dealing with theology where a stand on sexuality might actually be important. We’re talking about child sponsorship. We’re not even talking about affirming gay marriage, we’re talking about avoiding a fight.

I’m convinced that LGBT issues are going to continue to rip the church apart until either we figure out how to handle this or there’s nothing left. Actual LGBT people are hurting and struggling with their faith, and we’re too busy arguing about whether or not it’s OK to employ them. Other people see this as one more reason to walk away from the church.

Continue reading

Why I Don’t Help My Kids With Their Homework

I don’t like helping my kids with their homework. There, I said it.

My parents never had to harass me to do my homework. I just did it. I was annoyingly responsible. To the point that I spent Friday nights in college getting a jump on papers. My wife still makes fun of me for that.

But I feel no sense of responsibility over my kids’ homework. It’s their homework. They need to be responsible for it themselves.

And now there’s research that backs me up. Apparently kids don’t learn anything when parents help them, and sometimes they even do worse in school. Why? Well, do you remember the quadratic formula? Me neither. [For the smarty pants who wants to post it in the comments, let me save you the trouble.]

Continue reading

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.