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 Children’s Novels That Teach Culture & History

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 World Vision & Arguing Over Gay People

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 Why I Don’t Help My Kids With Their Homework

Where’s the Diversity in Literature?

Illustration by Christopher MyersI read a lot. And in all that reading it’s apparent that diversity is lacking. I like to tell myself that’s because of my own tastes or my own white privilege.

But it’s not just me.

It’s a problem that pervades the publishing industry. Earlier this month I tweeted a story about how 93% of the characters in children’s literature are white. The New York Times has run a pair of opinion pieces on the issue, Where Are All the People of Color in Children’s Books by Walter Dean Myers and The Apartheid of Children’s Literature by Christopher Myers, that gives some context and reality to the dry stats:

“In 1969, when I first entered the world of writing children’s literature,” writes Walter Dean Myers, “the field was nearly empty. Children of color were not represented, nor were children from the lower economic classes. Today, when about 40 percent of public school students nationwide are black and Latino, the disparity of representation is even more egregious. In the middle of the night I ask myself if anyone really cares.”

Continue reading Where’s the Diversity in Literature?

Learning How to Write Fiction Again: Point of View

Yesterday I hinted that I’ve dusted off one of my old novels for [some more] editing. I don’t do a lot of fiction writing, but I do a lot of fiction reading, and it’s helping me see what kind of edits I need to make. Sometimes the edits I need to make are painfully basic. It’s like I need an re-introduction to the elements of fiction writing.

Point of view is one of the big issues I’m dealing with.

It’s pretty important because it determines how the reader views things and decides what you’re allowed to see and what you’re allowed to know. There’s the basic first person (I say this, I do that, I jump up and get down) vs. third person (he says this, he does that, look at him jump up and get down) decision, which I managed to do OK. Yay for me.

But when you choose third person, you’ve got three options: Omniscient (you know everything), limited omniscient (you know what one character thinks) and objective (you only know what you can see). There are pros and cons to each, but you’ve got to pick one and stick with it (duh).

My story basically went with omniscient. But then I mostly followed a single character, making it feel like limited omniscient and confusing people whenever I “head jumped” to a different character. Oops.

Nathan Bransford has a good quick summary of omniscient vs. limited omniscient, and sadly it’s something I need to re-familiarize myself with.

I feel like I need a fiction primer that does more than my elementary school book on writing and defines things, but goes that step further to tell me the pros and cons, the tips on how to do it better, the pitfalls to avoid. I suppose that’s called being a writer and working on this stuff more than once a year.

Lessons From a Reader: Don’t Remind Me It’s a Book

I’ve read multiple books lately where a character compares their life to a movie or book.

“I felt like a character in a book…”

No, you are a character in a book!

Every time I just want to shout: But you are a character in a book!

How ridiculous for an author to have their characters compare their life to other stories, breaking down the imaginary world and flat out reminding me that I’m reading fiction? Being specific and comparing your drama to Hamlet or your overbearing parent to 1984 is one thing, but the generic, “felt like the twisting plot of an action movie” is just bad.

One book I was reading did it multiple times, using it as an excuse to explain plot lines.

Another book literally said, “as if I were a character in a sci-fi.” She was a character in a sci-fi!

Ug. I cringe every time as a reader.

But as a writer, I’ve done it myself. I was working on editing one of my novels recently (a task I always seem to take up again and never seem to finish) and came across several instances where I did it. Cringe. Marked for editing.

I can see how it might be a natural reaction. We’re so inundated with stories that it’s only normal to compare our lives to them. But it just kills the illusion and world building that happens in fiction. It’s lazy. Find another way to say it.

Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

Dear People on the Internet,

Do what you say you’re going to do.

Especially when you take people’s money and promise to do something.

(Neglected Kickstarter projects, I’m looking at you.)

Because people are watching. We’re asking questions. We’re gauging your reputation.

Now we can be reasonable. We understand when things don’t work out or stuff falls apart. Sometimes a project doesn’t go the way you think it’s going to go. That’s OK. But don’t just disappear. Tell us what happened. Own it. That strengthens your reputation. We’ll give you some slack.

But when you just drop the ball? When you move on and you’re afraid to talk about it because you know you screwed up? That’s a problem. You’re tanking your reputation and the next time you ask for something, we’re going to say no.

Most People Believe the Homeless Have No Redeeming Value: Help Mark Horvath Change That

My friend Mark Horvath runs one of the only homelessness advocacy organizations in the country, InvisiblePeople.tv. He’s giving a voice to people most of us choose to ignore. Mark is the ideal person for this work, because he was once homeless himself. Mark’s birthday is this week and he needs your help.

Every year Mark does a single big fundraiser around his birthday that provides a big chunk of his donations for the year. In reality, Mark is supporting much of the work of InvisiblePeople.tv himself, through consulting and speaking fees. About 80% of InvisiblePeople.tv’s funding comes from Mark. The other 20% comes from donations, mostly in this big fundraiser.

That’s incredible.

First, it’s incredible that Mark gives so much of himself to this cause.

Second, it’s incredible that donations only bring in about 20%. Mark shouldn’t have to hustle so hard to keep InvisiblePeople.tv going. And right now, his campaign has two days left and he still needs $3,700 to hit his goal. That 20% is kind of pathetic. And we’re barely making it right now.

So please donate.

Mark is doing some incredible and much needed awareness work with InvisiblePeople.tv. He captures the stories of homeless people in honest, brutal videos. They’re hard to watch. Because people want to ignore them. We want to write off homeless people, come up with excuses for why we shouldn’t help them (and in the worst cases, take selfies instead of help them). But if we understood what homeless people have gone through, what they’re up against, we’d change our tune (like Dennis, who admits, “I used to make fun of the homeless until I became one.”). Most people believe homeless people have no redeeming value. That’s horrible. And it needs to change. Mark is making it change.

I’ve been supporting Mark and his work since the beginning. I helped publish the Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness book that supports Mark’s work. I’ve interviewed him for Church Marketing Sucks and Foursquare, sharing his story of being homeless and nearly becoming homeless again in 2008, when he launched InvisiblePeople.tv after being laid off. Earlier this year I ran a half-marathon to support Mark, ultimately raising more than $700 and barely managing to finish (13 miles is tough and I needed all the support I could get).

So I’m asking you to support Mark’s work, give to his birthday campaign. Let’s raise that 20% and then some.

Thank you.

The Reality of War in Syria

“Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

That’s a haunting video highlighting the plight of refugees.

(Part of me is unnerved that it takes the story of a little white girl in the UK to get our attention, but sometimes it’s just the juxtaposition of the normal that we need to shake us up.)

But that haunting plight is reality right now in Syria:

I can’t speak to the accuracy of that photo or the caption, but it represents hundreds if not thousands of civilian deaths at the hands of snipers in Syria.

It’s a war zone in Syria right now (and has been for a year or two). This gallery of pictures is pretty overwhelming.

I don’t have any solutions. I don’t know who is “right” in a conflict like this. But I do see a lot of wrong.

Having a Conversation About Marriage

The ongoing marriage debates in our culture right now make me want to wave a flag and hide in the corner at the same time. I’ve talked before about this shifting conversation, and I think that shift is only speeding up. Even the Pope seems to be allowing that some form of civil union should be considered.

Many traditional marriage supporters may be wondering what’s happening as the ground shifts beneath them. That’s understandable. But from my admittedly biased perspective, it seems like the traditional marriage folks have clung to a dogma without having a real conversation. Again and again they talk about how they were for marriage, not against it, and were defending marriage from all the crazy redefinition that would include gays.

The problem with that is I never saw an actual conversation about what marriage is and how it’s working and not working. They would chant “one man and one woman” and ignore all the mess of collapsing marriages. People get divorced all the time. It’s not ’til death to us part,’ it’s ’til we no longer feel like it. I think that’s an important reality that’s been absent in the traditional marriage conversation.

Continue reading Having a Conversation About Marriage