Hope

I’ve been very down this week. A lot of troubling news coming out of places like Steubenville,  Ohio makes the mother in me cringe and wonder what kind of world I am sending my children into. I don’t want to spend time on this blog discussing all the bad things. There are many people already doing that, dissecting the mistakes and the problems that have been brought to light by recent events. I’m glad that is happening – we cannot fix anything before we understand what is broken. But dwelling on it further will not lift me out of the doldrums I am feeling.

Instead, I want to share what I’ve decided I can do to try to change things for the better. I don’t know how much influence I have over the world. I do know, however, that I have a great deal of influence over my children. So I have been thinking of what I should be saying to my children. Here is what I’ve come up with:

(Disclaimer: This is obviously not a complete list of what can or should be done, nor is it in any particular order. Please do not find offense where none is intended.)

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These are the children I will teach, entreat, and hold.

I will teach all my children – not just my daughters, but my son, too – that they have ownership of and responsibility for their bodies. That means they can say “no” or say “yes,” and that they have the right to be respected and free from shame. That also means that they need to treat others with the same respect I expect them to demand for themselves. This seems so obvious – and yet, so much of the news that has made me weep this week would never need to be reported if people who wouldn’t push their way through a grocery store line would have learned to respect other people’s personal space in every instance.

I will teach my children that no one ever has the right to take advantage of them, no matter what bad choices they may have made. As a society, we must stop blaming victims. We all have the right to move through our lives without fear of harm. Victims are never, never, never at fault. But I will remind my children that having the right to do something does not make it right to do. I will ask my children to not put themselves in situations where they can be victimized – not because that makes them culpable in any way, but because I do not want them to be hurt. Because while victims are never to blame,  they do get wounded. I want my children to protect themselves from that as much as they can.

I will ask my children to consider, before they get in a position where they are impaired to a point where memories may disappear, how some of the most enjoyable things about fun experiences are the memories that are created. Again, not because any impairment makes them fair game. It does not. I only ask this to increase the likelihood that they will be safe.

I will teach my daughters and my son that despite whatever false machismo they see on the internet, tv, or other media, a real man does not look at someone helpless and see a deserving victim. A real man sees someone who is helpless and does what he can to help. I don’t know how we ever got to a point where this is not obvious to everyone.

I will teach my children to listen to what a person says and take note of what a person does, and to be cautious if the actions don’t harmonize with the words. This applies to everything from politics – why doesn’t that senator’s rhetoric match his voting record? – to social situations.

I will pledge to my children to try to be less judgmental, critical, or disapproving of the things they tell me, so that when I say they can come to me with anything, they can believe my words to be true. So many tragedies can be averted if people stand up and say something, but that doesn’t happen as often as it should. I understand how hard it is to say something when everyone else is silent. But I will teach my children that while doing the right thing is harder than doing the popular thing 99% of the time, it is still what they should expect of themselves 100% of the time. I will do my best to show them that when they do have to stand up to do the difficult and right thing, they will not have to worry about where to find the strength to do that. Because I will be standing behind them, supporting them, every time they need me.

But most of all, I will hold my children closer, in the hopes that I can protect them with my body and with the strength of my will for as long as I can. Because it is a scary world out there, but parents do not have a choice but to let their children go. Because I cannot control my children’s happiness in life, but I can control whether they feel loved and supported by their mother. And because sometimes, hope is all we have.

Baseball and Bullies

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Photo credit: Tage Olsin

I don’t like baseball.

I could give you a lot of explanations for that. The games are boring, with significant amounts of time passing with nothing happening at all. One hundred and sixty-two games is just too many for me to care about. The players are often un-athletic looking or even personally unappealing. But those explanations don’t really do justice to my disdain for baseball. That’s because, if I’m honest, none of those things are the reason I don’t like baseball.

The real reason has to do with a teacher and a bully.

Bullies have been on my mind lately. My oldest daughter has recently had to suffer at the hands of a bully. And, like me, her bully was a teacher. But her story is hers to tell — just as I haven’t wanted to talk about this for 20 years, she doesn’t want to talk about it, at least not now. So I will just tell you my story.

I can trace my dislike of baseball back to a single day. I don’t remember the exact date, but I know it was in the spring of 1993. I was a junior in high school, and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. After all, high school wasn’t awful for me, but it wasn’t great either. But there was one truly awful part of high school: gym class.

Oh, goodness, how I hated gym class. But never more than on that spring day.

I remember we were doing the baseball unit in gym. I remember walking out of the gym, through the parking lot, to the closest baseball diamond with my class. I remember being split into two uneven teams with the defense manning their positions on the field and everyone else being up at bat. And I remember the teacher, everything about her — though I won’t name her here.

Now, when I was in high school, we were tracked, meaning the academic classes were leveled into advanced, college prep, etc. So, I spent most of the day with basically the same set of kids who were also in the advanced classes. Except for things like gym. There, you could see a clear divide between the “smart” (and likely not athletic) kids and the “normal” kids. That was good, actually — even though I was not particularly skilled at sports, there were enough kids like me that I didn’t stand out as a failure.

On this day, on the diamond, that divide was there, as usual. As I waited for my turn at bat, I knew I wouldn’t hit anything. But neither would a bunch of other people. So, while I remember still hoping class would end before I got to the plate, I wasn’t all that worried about it. It would be no more embarrassing than any other gym class deficiency.

The bell didn’t ring before my turn. So, I stood there and waited for the pitch. I swung — and missed. I swung again, and missed again. And then one more time. Three strikes, and I was out.

Except, not that day.

I remember trying to hand the bat off when my gym teacher said no. She said I needed to stay there until I hit the baseball. I remember smirks and snickers from my classmates.

High School Me!

High School Me!

I swung again. Strike four. Then five. Then six.

Now, that divide I told you about was apparent, but in a very different way. One one side were the kids who were openly grinning and joking at my expense, and on the other were the kids who were painfully looking away, sympathetic to my embarrassment but unwilling to draw attention to themselves. After all, better me than them, right?

Strike seven. Eight. Nine.

Then the bell rang, the one that signaled it was time to go back to the locker room to get changed. I remember how sweet that bell sounded.

Until the teacher said no one was going in — until I hit the ball. Now, the class wasn’t smirking. Now, they were mad. They were going to be late — because of me.

Strike ten. Strike eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen.

Around the fifteenth pitch, I made a little contact with the ball. It bounced forward pathetically. I took a deep breath. Was the ordeal over?

But the teacher said it didn’t count. Strike fifteen. Then sixteen.

Finally, I hit the seventeenth pitch. Well, not really hit it — just a bit more contact than the last time, so the ball bounced a bit more forward. But the teacher nodded, and it was done. I don’t remember, though, the expressions on my classmates’ faces or their reaction. By that point, I was staring at the ground. I didn’t think I’d ever want to make eye contact with anyone ever again.

It took years for me to label that incident as what it was: bullying. At the time, it didn’t occur to me — nor to any of the people who witnessed it. If a math teacher had done something like that — made a kid stand in front of the class for several minutes and figure out how to do a problem beyond his ability — I think there would have been reports and complaints and disciplinary action. Even then, it wasn’t OK to pick on kids who weren’t as smart. But not a single person — including me — thought there was a problem with the gym teacher picking on a nerdy kid. After all, that’s all in good fun, right?

But it’s not. And it’s not OK. And people need to talk about it.

The vast majority of teachers are incredible people who sacrifice and work ridiculously hard to raise other people’s children. That’s a generosity that most of us will never match. Even though it is rare — or maybe because it is rare — it is a severe breach of trust for a teacher to act like my gym teacher did. In the workplace, it would harassment and jobs would be terminated. Between two students, it would be a clear case of bullying and there would be suspensions. But when it is a teacher and a student — where the power difference is so much greater than between peers — it is often overlooked. Especially when the victim is “nerdy.” Because we still live in a world where being smart is a put down for a kid, something to be slightly embarrassed about. High school athletes get pep rallies and star status; the kids who are academically at the tops of their classes get ignored (which might be better than getting teased).

As a society, we have been talking a lot about bullying. I’m glad we are. It’s hard enough to get through school that there’s no reason for anyone to have an additional layer of difficulty artificially created by a bully. We need to learn to stand up and say it’s not OK — no matter who the victim is. Or who the perpetrator is. And we need to talk about how bullying is born of inferiority — not of the victim but of the offender. Looking back, I realize that my gym teacher probably felt that a smart kid like me needed to learn that getting good grades wasn’t everything and to be taken down a notch. But why would she need to take me down if she didn’t feel inferior in the first place?

Me on my pro-nerdyness crusade

Me on my pro-nerdyness crusade

Like I said, it’s taken years for me to come to terms with what happened that spring day. And even coming to terms with it doesn’t make it feel better. The only good to come out of it is that I’m more vigilant about situations like this. Just as I would never let people around me say negative things about another person’s race, religion, or disabilities, I’m sensitive about what they say about another person’s abilities. I’m sure to tell kids whenever I am doing an author visit that of all the things that shouldn’t embarrass them about themselves, being smart is the least of it. And anyone who makes fun of their brains is…well, stupid. And not worth a second thought. This is one of the main crusades in my life.

And, in the meantime, I’m working on liking baseball.

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Isak Dinesen

isak Isak Dinesen is the pen name use by  Karen Blixen (1885-1962). She  was a Danish author and explorer. She is best known for her autobiographical book, Out of Africa, about her time in Kenya. To find more interesting facts click HERE.  Isak Dinesen Quotes:

  • The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.
  • When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.
  • The entire being of a woman is a secret which should be kept.
  • To be a person is to have a story to tell.
  • Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever…

How much do you love that first quote? I think it might be my new favorite!

*Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-54231]

Karma Wilson: Better Today than Yesterday

novprofileI can’t imagine there’s anyone in the world who doesn’t know who Karma Wilson is. After all, she’s a bestselling author and all-around interesting person. Who, by the way, trains in Mixed Martial Arts and calls a dog, a cat, and a chicken her pets. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock and have never heard of Bear Snores On, Frog in the Bog, or Hogwash, here’s a little about Karma.

Karma never really thought about being a professional writer because, growing up, it seemed so boring. But that’s only because her mother was a professional writer – and who wants to do what Mom does? (By the way, the answer to that is usually EVERYONE. But only secretly.) But as children all over the world are grateful for every day, Karma eventually came around and started writing books for kids. The first one(Bear Snores On)  came out in 2002. Since then, she’s written 30 books which have collectively received numerous state and national awards, been translated into dozens of languages, and a few have made an appearance on the New York Times bestseller list. 

I wanted to interview Karma for this blog because not only is she a great example of a Nerdy Chick, but many, many years ago, she became one of my KidLit idols (that’s a secret, too. I don’t want to look like a lame fangirl). So, please welcome Karma to Nerdy Chicks Rule!

So, Karma, you’re an award-winning author! What are your favorite things to read?

Fantasy is numero uno and always has been, followed by historical fiction with plucky characteres, and sci-fi if it’s original.

How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

Oh no, not sure how to answer this. I don’t think all of them are for one thing.

(I agree with you. But do go on.)

A lot of pop fiction is depicting girls as helpless princesses waiting for a hero, or bullies, or cliquish mean girls.  I like books that help give girls a voice, that help them see themselves as capable people able to think and reason. Laurie Halse Anderson’s work, for instance. I think that for me it’s the books that are written about genuine, strong characters set in a good story that will automatically set the right examples for girls.  And I’m not the kind who thinks that only girl characters can set examples for girl readers. I love strong boy characters and think there is a gap in fiction that appeals to boys and girls. A timeless treasure like Freak the Mighty can go a long ways to teaching anybody how to be a more capable, compassionate, thinking person–boy or girl. A book depicting a boy character who values women and treats them as equals can help a girl recognize a good guy. Good stories, good characters–the rest falls into place.

Those are really good points. I think people are coming around to the idea that there shouldn’t be “girl books” and “boy books.” But speaking of girl characters…tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

Anne of Green Gables. I admire her for taking her fantasies and not just using them as an escape from her harsh reality, but to improve herself as a person.  She learned from her mistakes, she grew as an individual, she was caring, unique and plucky.  I love her!

Me, too! Reading is obviously very important to you, which totally makes sense since Nerdy Chicks love to read! What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a Nerdy Chick? family

Teaching my children to value words and literature. All three are excellent readers who enjoy words and writing. WIN!

In fact, I want to give a thanks to my kids, Michael, David and Chrissy for continuing to be my most successful endeavor….

That’s not only fabulous, it’s something that parents everywhere should try to emulate. Brava! How about this: what’s something else you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I like to take pictures of food and post them on facebook. Yep, I’m one of those! lol. To be fair, I like and comment on other people’s food photos.

Mmmmm. There’s nothing wrong with that. Speaking of food, Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

Coffee.  And toilet paper. In that order? Oh, just one. Sorry! lol

OMG, I just snorted my Pepsi all over my desk! You are too funny! If someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it? 

Buy a special treat from a local artist or craftsman. That way it would be a gift to them too! Probably pottery, which I love.

I’m starting to get goosebumps. I love pottery, too! Could we be long-lost sisters? (Wait, too fangirl-y? I’ll stop.)

IMG_2566Last question: tell us a four-word descriptive phrase you would like people to associate with you.

Better today than yesterday.

I’m not sure we could have ended on a better note than that – those may become words I have to live by. Thank you so much, Karma, for joining us.

If you want to learn more about Karma, find her on the web at www.karmawilson.com. There you can find great resources for teachers, parents and lovers of children’s books. 

Celebrating Women in March

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One thing I enjoy about blogging is the opportunity it gives me to learn. Today when I went online to find quotes for our Quotable Nerdy Chick feature, I stumbled across the above logo and decided it was worth noting that today is International Women’s Day. This is something I didn’t know when  I woke up this morning. If you click on the logo, it will take you to the official site. A demand for better working conditions for women, drove the movement to recognize this day.

I pulled a quote from the International Women’s Day site to share today:

 “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” Gloria Steinem

Most of you are probably aware that this is Women’s History Month. Should I admit that I didn’t realize this until last week when I was gathering information for a previous post? Should I? I know my co-blogger would advise me not to admit my ignorance, but there you have it. And in case any of you were unaware, or want to find out more about it, click HERE. The link will take you to my favorite page on the Women’s History Month site, where thumbnails of Library of Congress photos of women will link you to collections from images of the United States first ladies to Rosie the Riveter inspired images.

We’ll be back to our usual quotes next Friday!

Three Questions With…T.S. Ferguson

teeess-54_600T.S. Ferguson is an Associate Editor with Harlequin TEEN, where he acquires and edits commercial fiction for teen girls across all genres, and has the privilege of working with authors such as Kady Cross and Amanda Sun. Prior to Harlequin, T.S. worked for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, where he worked with bestselling and award-winning authors such as Jennifer Brown, Cris Beam, Sherman Alexie, Sara Zarr, and Julie Anne Peters. When he’s not reading or feeding his addiction to karaoke, T.S. is working on a Young Adult novel of his very own.

Today, T.S. is answering Three Questions about Nerdy Chicks and Reading

1) What should today’s Nerdy Chick be reading?

That’s a tough question, since Nerdy Chicks cover such a wide spectrum of individuals with diverse interests. Obviously YA. The Nerdy Chick should be unafraid to read teen novels. They’re for everyone now.

For the Nerdy Girl who enjoys fantasy, the Graceling trilogy by Kristin Cashore is great, as is anything by Tamora Pierce (a classic YA fantasy author) or Cinda Williams Chima.

For those who like paranormal with an element of romance, my favorites are Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series and Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series.

And for the Nerdy Chick who enjoys a great contemporary, some of my favorites include Sarah Ockler, Jenny Han, and Siobhan Vivian.

And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some great Harlequin authors to you Nerdy Chicks. Steampunk fans should check out Kady Cross’s The Girl with the Steel Corset. If you love romance, check out Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry. And if you love Julie Kagawa or Richelle Mead, you should look for Amanda Sun’s upcoming debut novel, Ink (July 2013), a paranormal adventure set in Japan and involving ancient Japanese mythology.

2) How can a Nerdy Chick make her writing stand out?

The things that stand out the most to me when I’m reading through my submissions is a unique voice and a plot that feels different. Be aware of the market and what’s already out there, don’t try to follow trends but rather focus on writing the best book you can write. Don’t be afraid of the revision process or afraid of other peoples’ edits, and even though I know it can be tough sometimes, don’t rush to submit your manuscript to editors and agents before it’s ready just because you can’t wait to be published. Writing that has been polished will always stand out over writing that needs work.

3) Who is a fictitious Nerdy Chick you admire and why?

Roald Dahl’s Matilda has always been a Nerdy Chick I loved and she is someone worth emulating. Not only is she incredibly smart, self-taught, and a lover of libraries, but she survives a neglectful and abusive home life and an abusive school environment, isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and the people she loves, and shows bravery in the face of danger. And she has telekinesis, which is pretty darn cool too.

Thank you, T.S., for your thoughtful answers! If you want to hear more of T.S.’s brilliant thoughts, follow him on Twitter: @TeeEss

100 years ago today….

Women demonstrating, 100 years ago, for the right to vote.

Women demonstrating, 100 years ago, for the right to vote.

Five thousand women marched along Pennsylvania Avenue and demanded the right to vote. This was a huge step toward being awarded that right on August 26, 1920. So today we celebrate Sudan B Anthony’s words of wisdom.  Anthony (1820-1906) is known for her work with the United States’ women’s rights movement. Today, nerdy chicks everywhere salute her eloquence.

Susan B. Anthony Quotes

• It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.

• Men – their rights and nothing more; Women – their rights and nothing less.

• The older I get, the greater power I seem to have to help the world; I am like a snowball — the further I am rolled the more I gain.

• I can’t say that the college-bred woman is the most contented woman. The broader her mind the more she understands the unequal conditions between men and women, the more she chafes under a government that tolerates it.

• I always distrust people who know so much about what God wants them to do to their fellows.

• If all the rich and all of the church people should send their children to the public schools they would feel bound to concentrate their money on improving these schools until they met the highest ideals.

• Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood.

Susan b