Thursday, November 16, 2017

Photos Filled with Thousands of Words

Yesterday started with a cat being an asshole, and ended with incredible grace.

My lovely stalwart Gully, who is a horse, was going to get his hocks injected--this is a way to combat arthritis, and Gully I realized with shock is 21 years old now--anyhow, the vet tranquilized him and scrubbed his legs and was just ready to inject him when our ancient witch-cat, Hazel, jumped onto the tailgate of the vet's truck and smashed all the supplies. So Gully got to brood in his stall while the tranq wore off, and we'll try again Monday.

I went off to Faith in Action, as I usually do on Wednesday. Afterwards I took our two broken printers to the recycling plant, feeling very virtuous until they handed me, in return $1.12. Yep. Two broken printers equal one Pal's iced tea. Or, the gas it takes to drive them to the recycling center.

I went to the school where my husband coaches basketball and fit the team for their uniforms and the librarian at the school gave me a couple of boxes of books--mostly multiple copies they'd bought for of previous state book award contenders that they no longer needed multiple copies of. I put those in my trunk and went off to Boys and Girls Club, where I met the woman who runs the library and gave them some books--plenty more to come, I said. We had a really good conversation about books, and I understand their library better now. It had been full of crap books until last Christmas, when the local Books-A-Million made them the focus of a holiday donation drive. So that's why the books are so non-diverse--they were bought by random customers, without an overall plan. That's also why they have, say, Diary of a Wimpy Kid books 1, 2, 3, and 5, but not 4. Anyway we're going to be able to work well together.

After that I went to Girls Inc., the afterschool place where I'm going to renovate the library. I had one of those reusable shopping bags stuffed full of books, and when I went into the lobby the side of the bag gave out, and the books cascaded to the floor. Girls rushed to help me pick them up--and most of those books never made it into the library room. They got taken home instead. One girl picked up The Hate U Give, and said, "Oh," in happy recognition, and tucked the book under her arm. Another picked up The War That Saved My Life (the girls don't know I wrote it; for that matter, neither does the administration, though the Boys and Girls Club people googled me so they do), held it out to a friend, and said, "This is a really good book." I picked The War I Finally Won off the floor and said, "here's the sequel," and the first girl said, "There's a SEQUEL?" and snatched it out of my hands.

I will get down to the serious work of this library after Thanksgiving--I'm headed to NCTE tomorrow--but I did take away a couple of armfuls of horrible books. Here's a few:


So you see I'm not making things up. These were copyright 1963, 1960, 1959. Also they all had DISCARD written in huge letters on the inside covers. Appealing, right?

There were a whole host of girls now happy about books, so I took them out to my car and opened the trunk and told them to help themselves to the paperbacks I'd just gotten from the school. They said, "You mean to KEEP?" and started hauling books out of the car, some of them selecting a few books for themselves and others just carrying the books into the building for the rest of the girls. It was pretty fun to be the book fairy.

Then I drove home and my back door looked like this:


And when I opened all those boxes I found this:


Can you see it? Can you see the good this is going to do? I've gathered up the gift receipts and I will be writing thank you notes, but for now, THANK YOU, from the absolute bottom of my very grateful heart. Love to all--



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I Am Overwhelmed

Oh, Y'all. You are so beautiful.

I woke up late this morning, which is what happens when you finally give in and take an Ambien at midnight because shit has been triggering you a little too much, and even burrowing under your 25-pound weighted blanket and even having the best man who ever lived lying gently by your side, taking up the space between you and the door because he knows that makes you feel safer, isn't making you able to relax enough to sleep. Your thoughts dodge into dark places and your skin feels too tight, and where do you think I got Ada from, people? and then the drugs kick in and next thing you know it's mid-morning and your doorbell is ringing, whoops.

It's a new day. There's a lot of sunshine. My husband has sent texts saying he loves me. The doorbell is ringing because the very large new bookcase I ordered has arrived, and the men carry it right up the stairs for me (I don't have to assemble it!).

I open my email and get a message that reads, in part, (and I have permission to quote this): I was reading War with my class and we were having a discussion about Becky, one of my 4th graders guessed that maybe Becky was Susan's wife.  A parent complained and my principal made me stop reading the book until it had been approved through our county.  I was so disheartened and defeated.  I filled out all the necessary paperwork and made some phone calls.  Finally last week, I got the approval to continue!  Since it has been approved through our county, schools  can now purchase class sets and teach with it.  Woot woot!

I already know that most of the one-star reviews my two War books get are from people who think being gay is not compatible with being a good person, let alone a Christian. I would say, Roy Moore has been held up as an Excellent Christian for a very long time. So maybe we're wrong about what it takes to be an Excellent Christian. I myself am perfectly willing to be labelled an Imperfect Christian if it means I can distance myself from Roy Moore and anyone, gay or straight, who preys upon children or forces themselves on anyone sexually at any time. I'll stick with the Doing Our Best Christians who limit sex to between consenting adults and not concern myself with how exactly their adult bits fit together.

I had several messages saying that books were en route to me, and glory, I can't thank you enough. And I want to say right now, loudly, that USED BOOKS ARE GREAT. It's the ancient ratty half-torn racist sexist ones I don't want. If you're unsure, send me the books. I'll sort them. (Last night my husband started reading one. His eyebrows went up, and he said, "I'm pretty sure this is YA." I'm pretty sure, too. That'll be going to the YA section at Girls Inc., not to the elementary school.) Books are my thing, y'all. I can sort them.

Then--just as I was sitting down to write this thank you, for hearing me yesterday and hearing Beverly Young Nelson, and standing up for love and integrity and truth, and sharing my posts on Twitter and Facebook and reading them all the way to the end--just as I was already thinking, this is such a glorious day--

I checked my Amazon wish list. The one I created for these libraries for low-income Appalachian children.

It's gone. Or, rather, it's empty.
I put a ton of books on that list. I put 12 copies of some of the books I wanted most.
Thank you thank you thank you thank you.
I love you I love you I love you I love you.
I promise that I'll do y'all proud.

Now I'm going to add more books to that list.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Crap For the Poor (Books for My Kids)

OK, I'm way behind on blog writing and for that I apologize. It has been an interesting fall, in entirely good ways, and in a related comment my house/office/schedule is a mess. This morning I had a bunch of routine medical tests and appointments and while it was all happening I wrote a really hilarious post about it in my mind--about how when I was asked if I'd had a colonoscopy before I said, "Yes, about four years ago--no, wait, let me think--actually 17 years ago," and how that doesn't actually count as recently. Then I realized I was writing in my head, as I've done for as long as I can remember, and that made me laugh.

Then I went grocery shopping. At first I was really cranky about it, because I wanted lunch and also I wanted groceries to magically appear in my refrigerator, and I shamed myself out of that by reflecting on how damn lucky I am to be able to buy whatever groceries I want whenever I want them. And then I saw the bags of food prepacked for donating to the local food bank. You grab a brown paper sack and put it into your cart. The grocery charges you $10 at checkout for it, takes it from you, and gives it to the food bank. Which sounds like an awesome idea--I quite like our local food bank--until I looked at what was in the bag. Generic mac-n-cheese. Generic tuna. Generic green beans. Generic dried pinto beans, which even I don't know how to cook, and I cook a lot of weird things. I personally would not buy most of the stuff in that bag for myself. I might do generic green beans, if I were ever to buy canned green beans at all (and I totally get that the food pantry needs shelf-stable stuff, and that canned veggies are better than no veggies) but generic mac-n-cheese tastes like orange chalk and generic tuna just might be dolphin. And here's my rule: if I wouldn't feed it to my kids, I'm not donating it to the food bank. Because I am almost certain that the rule is, "Do unto your neighbor as you would have done to you." So I am ALL for keeping our food pantry running, but I'm also all for springing for the real mac-n-cheese and the decent water-packed tuna.

Which brings me to my book rant. So. I've signed Bristol Faith in Action up for First Book, a national clearinghouse for getting books into children's hands, and as a result we have some really lovely new books to put into our Little Free Library on the porch. A mom asked me the other day if we had anything that might appeal to her daughter, who's in 6th grade but reading on a 2nd grade level, and, as such, comes home every day with a book written for 2nd graders that she's supposed to read, which she hates, both because the story is aimed at 2nd graders and because she's deeply embarrassed by her teacher handing her a baby book every day. So I handed the mom one of our shiny new books that I thought might work, and book-talked it a little, and the mom smoothed the cover of the book and said, "This looks new," and when I said that it was, her whole face changed a little, because I was giving her something that wasn't a castoff, wasn't crap for the poor.

It's not to say that donating stuff you can't use isn't useful. It's that donating crap is crap. We put lots of nice used books in our LFL, and they go the way of all good books, which is to say into readers' hands. But when we offer people something of value people recognize that we see them as valuable.

So I am on this whole book rant now, as you know if you've read even a smidgen of my posts lately. When I left BFIA that afternoon--that was last Wednesday, day before I left for AASL--I first went to Girls Inc., which is an afterschool and summer care place for mostly low-income girls in our community. They have a super-cute Little Free Library right by the front door. I opened it to discover the most tragic set of children's books I've seen since the Carter County school library that became my summer project a decade ago. I mean, these were books I wouldn't have been interested in back in the 70s, when color printing wasn't a thing yet and when I was willing to read anything. I don't mean these books were boring. I mean these books were actually from the 1960s and 1970s. They were ancient, ratty, un-interesting. I thought about clearing the whole LFL out, but that wasn't my job, not yet at least, so I went inside with my little box of shiny new good books, and I introduced myself to the director, whom I'd never met, and I said I had some books to donate.

She took me into their library, which is a room lined with bookshelves filled with tattered ancient uninteresting books. The comparison between the books in my box and the books on the shelves was fairly staggering. So, I said, I have access to a lot of books. Can I do something about all this? And the woman said, oh, please, none of the girls want to read these and I can't blame them. She gave me a volunteer form so they could run a criminal background check on me, and I promised to come back this week and get started.

From there I went up the street to the Boys and Girls Club, also afterschool and summer programs for mostly low-income youth. By now school had let out and the place was starting to fill up. A black man happily accepted my books, and showed me their library, which was much nicer, newer, and more organized than the one at Girls Inc. However. "This is," I said, "just about the whitest library I've ever seen." The man looked at me like he couldn't believe I'd said that. I'm still not sure if his reaction was because he didn't think I'd notice that, or wouldn't say so if I did, or because he just assumed from growing up with scads of white books himself that we were still mostly in a white publishing world, and hey, we're not as good as we should be but we're getting better in that regard. So I told him I'd be bringing him some books too, and he said he'd be glad to get any books I wanted to give them. The only sets of books they have (multiple copies for book clubs, etc.)--not making this up--were Treasure Island, Little Women, and something equally moldering.

I went back to the recreation room. Bristol's not very diverse but the Boys and Girls Club is about half non-white. I sat down next to a couple of the middle-school students and started asking them what they liked to read. "I don't like to read," one boy, who was black and introduced himself as Ajani, said. "I like to play ball." So I called up The Crossover on my phone and showed him the cover. "Never heard of him," Ajani said. You'll note he said him, referring to the author, Kwame Alexander.

"I like Stephen King," said a white boy, Jonathon.
"So, you like horror stories?" I asked.
"Not really," he said, "I just like the way Stephen King writes."
"Me, too," I said.

I chatted with a few more kids--they were remarkably polite given that they had no idea why I was questioning them--and then I came home and wrote to my editors and agent and some friends in publishing and then I posted some pleas online, because I need a lot of books here. I need a lot of good books. I'll need a lot of help--I can do some of this on my own, but obviously a whole lot more people helping will do a whole lot more good--and I'm still giving books to Highland View Elementary school, too, which this year is not 100% free lunch. It's 99.5% free lunch--one middle-class kid goes there now. (The librarian said, "some of them are getting really excited about reading this year.") and I've got an idea to put a LFL at the food pantry. And of course I'm cleaning out that wretched one over at Girls Inc.

So many people have offered support in the past week. THANK YOU. It's a true social justice issue. I could go on for hours about it. I put a wishlist on Amazon--here's the link--but as I also have friends who despise Amazon (Yep, I get it)--the general idea of the list is, if it's recent, good, if it's a book you loved or your children loved, if it has non-white characters, if it's YA, if it's a picture book, if it's anything you want to send me, please, go ahead. The address is 128 Old Jonesboro Road, Bristol, TN 37620. This is gonna be a long-term project, so send books anytime.

I'll post updates.

Updated 3:14 pm

Oh, world.

I wrote a big blog post about how I need books for the low-income children near where I live, and then I settled down to write my Egypt book but I was twitchy and checked twitter and there was something about another woman accusing Roy Moore of sexual assault. So I found the feed in time to see Beverly Young Nelson, 55 years old now, all dressed up with makeup on, carefully reading her statement. And she was so brave, and so honest, and I could see the pain and fear of that night in her eyes

it never leaves you. I was five years old, and he said if I ever told anyone I'd be taken into foster care and never see my family again

and whoa it's the hardest thing to hear these stories and the best damn thing and the most amazing thing in the world to see predators suffer some consequences for once in their lives

and it's gathering momentum now and maybe the world will be safer for our children

and I tried to go back to my novel but my hands were shaking

and the UPS truck came right then

and delivered two boxes of brand new children's books, so beautiful. The Hate U Give and Bone Gap and Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Best Man and all sorts of other ones, so good, so exactly what I want and need

dozens of books

and they were gifts from people I don't know. People who read my posts and were moved to kindness

and I stood in my kitchen and sobbed

thank you everyone. Thank you, Beverly Young Nelson.

Thank you forever.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Brown Books for White Children. Etc.

A couple of weeks ago I got to be part of the Southern Festival of Books, a great big literary party in downtown Nashville. It was excellent. I shared a ride from the airport with Javaka Steptoe, and was so in awe when I discovered who he was that I said, "I loved Radiant Stepchild. (For the record, it's Radiant Child. He was very nice about me sounding like an asshat.) I got to present with Alan Gratz, author of Refugee. And I got to hang out with my favorite booksellers, from Parnassus Books; my daughter, on her fall break, worked Saturday in their tent.

At one point my daughter came up to me. "I just saw," she said, "a perfect example of why we need more diversity in children's books." She pointed to a little girl holding her mother's hand--a little black girl, perhaps four years old, dressed in a Supergirl dress with a flouncy bright red tulle skirt. "That girl," said my daughter, "she stopped and looked at one of the book covers, and she counted, 'one curly-hair, two curly-hair, three curly-hair!' Then she said, 'Mama, look! Three of the girls on this book have curly hair!' and her mother said, 'That's right. Curly hair like you.'"

It's a really, really simple thing. You are an important part of this world. Your hair, your skin, your smile--your songs, your food--everything you love is true and real and important to the whole world. Your history is important. Your family is important. You are part of the world's stories. Whoever, however, whatever you are.

Which brings me to today's rant. Because last week Nic Stone's incredible new YA novel, Dear Martin, debuted at #4 on the NYT Bestseller List, right under Angie Thomas's equally amazing The Hate U Give, and all of a sudden, to some white writers at least, this was Taking Diversity Too Far. A white writer, Seriah Getty, tweeted that diversity had to be representational,  "Will I include diversity (race, age, gender, disabilities) in my books? Heck ya! But when it fits the story, and serves a purpose. Not just to throw it in there solely for the purpose of being "sensitive" or fit the times."

This caused a fair bit of outrage that she still does not seem to understand. It horrified me. Not the outrage--the ignorance, the continued willful ignorance, the hardened shell of white supremacy, the distance we still have to go. Because diversity is normal. White is not normal. Ablebodied, heterosexual, cisgender--not normal. Not the default. Except that it still is, so many places, so many times, and I am so so sorry and so tired of it.

If you're white, and your white kid mostly reads books about brown kids this year--if those books are assigned to your kid, if what your kid is reading doesn't look like your kid or have anything to do with your kid's lived experiences--get in line. That's what we've done, over and over, to all sorts of non-white kids. For years. For decades. Forever. And if as white people we feel a little uncomfortable when our surroundings aren't 100% white anymore--that would be the effing point. Be a little uncomfortable. Let your children be a little uncomfortable. Let them see for one tiny minute what it's like to not have themselves constantly validated as the normative standard.

Let the little girl in the red tulle dress skip her fingers of a book that shows smiling children with hair exactly like hers.

"What's this book called, Mama?"
The mother looks, and smiles. "'Beautiful,'" she says.*

*Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty and Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Here's a Reading Rant for the day--and forever

Teachers, help me out.

I seem to have found a life's passion here. I'm working on all sorts of things, and I don't yet have a coherent message, but let's just plunge in.

A few weeks ago, prepping for a talk I was giving at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians meeting at the start of my 19-day book tour, I came across some staggering statistics--brand new from 2016.

In Tennessee, of public-school fourth-graders receiving free or reduced-price school lunch (that is, 180% of the admittedly-low federal poverty line), 22% tested in reading at proficient or above;

while among public-school fourth-graders NOT receiving free or reduced-price school lunch, 88% tested at proficient or above.

This staggered me.

Now, correlation is not causation. The link between poverty and reading success could be explained many, many ways. And I wondered how my TN stats compared nationwide. I found the following at the National Center for Education Statistics: 2015 data, again fourth graders.

Nationwide, lunch-eligible students at or above proficient: 21%
                      non-free-lunch students at or above proficient: 52%

So not as large, but still, to my mind, shocking.

Children who don't read proficiently by fourth grade are more likely to drop out of high school.
Adults who fail to graduate high school make something like $10,000 a year less than high school graduates who don't attend college.

We have got to get more kids reading.

Access to books is a primary concern: the only data I have is pretty old, but says that middle-class neighborhoods average 13 books per child; low-income neighborhoods average 300 children per book. This makes sense to me: if you can't afford rent or food you're not going to be buying books. And yes, libraries, but that requires transportation, time to get to the library, and a permanent address.

So then I've been looking at the teaching of reading, and what motivates children to read, and this is where I need help from educators. Because it seems like what most schools are doing is at cross purposes to their goals.

Take Accelerated Readers. I hate them. I do not know a single author or librarian who doesn't hate them, and most teachers I've talked to hate them too. We turn reading into something students do for "points," not fun. It demotivates readers. More than that, it's just insane. Last week I had an email from a mother asking when the AR quiz would be coming out for my new book, The War I Finally Won. Her son had read The War That Saved My Life, and loved it, and he was eager to read TWIFW, but, you know, she couldn't let him--he needed points for his reading. I told her that I had no idea.  AR is a company that make money selling the quizzes and systems to schools. I've taken quizzes on my own books and not gotten a perfect score, because the quizzes are stupid. They're designed to prove the kid read the book, not to prove that the kid understood it, or thought anything meaningful about it.

Then, Lexiles. What the actual F? Apparently children take Lexile tests to show how strong of readers they are, and, after that, they're only supposed to read in a range right around their Lexile level--nothing too hard, nothing too easy. The problem here is two-fold. One, we're discouraging love of reading by throwing up barriers to books kids might love. If they're obsessed with dinosaurs, they should read all the dinosaur books you can throw at them.

As adults, how many times do we pick up a book because it's at the correct lexile for our reading level? How many times do we set down that fun-looking current piece of chick-lit and, instead, eagerly pick up Moby Dick? That's right, never. Because we read what interests us. Full stop. Why shouldn't children do the same?

The second problem with Lexile numbers is that they make no sense at all. I've spent a bit of time looking them up this morning.

Les Miserables, the original doorstop novel by Victor Hugo, in translation of course: 1010L.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down: 1010L.

You can not tell me that one of these books is as easily read as the other.

Let's look at a few other numbers:

The War I Finally Won (my new book, 400 pages long): 520L (a number that suggests it's appropriate for many 2nd graders)
Pop! A Book About Bubbles (picture book I wrote for preK): 540L
Dear Martin: 570L (that would be, no higher than 3rd grade!)
The Hate U Give: 590 (ditto!)
Last Stop on Market Street: 610
Oliver Twist: 900
Little House in the Big Woods: 930
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (the first one, others are higher): 950

Please, I really mean this. Help me understand how this makes sense. What am I not getting? Because this seems like complete crap to me. 


Friday, October 13, 2017

Hello from the Book Tour

Good morning! I'm in Baltimore, at a Hilton Garden Hotel, and I've got 8 minutes until official checkout time and 53 minutes before I'm picked up by someone who's taking me to the airport. It's the third Friday of my book tour. I'm headed to Nashville, for the Southern Festival of Books (I'll be speaking tomorrow in the Nashville Public Library, at 3 pm, with Alan Gratz, please come) and then I'm going home. Mostly I've been touring schools and libraries, but this morning I video chatted with librarians and educators in Nebraska. The schoolchildren of Nebraska gave The War That Saved My Life this year's Golden Sower award, and while I couldn't manage to be physically present at the awards ceremony I very much enjoyed talking to them.

I've been talking a lot. I woke up Wednesday with a cold and today I've very nearly lost my voice, so I'm grateful I don't have school visits today. But the school visits in general have been excellent. I love talking to kids who are enthusiastic for my books, and I love talking to kids who are indifferent to my books. I've been trying to convince them all that reading is not about decoding squiggly lines on a page. Reading is about telling and hearing and understanding stories. I felt like I'd succeeded when a fifth grade girl stood up and said, "I have dyslexia. Do you think I could actually be a writer?"

I said, "Of course you can," and the girl beamed.
I hope she always understands I was telling her the truth.

The whole tour is about the launch of Ada's second book, The War I Finally Won. Wednesday I learned that on October 22nd it's debuting at #3 on the New York Times Bestsellers List. This is amazing. It's astounding. It's everyone-at-Penguin-was-dancing-in-the-hallways and I-couldn't-stop-laughing-even-though-I-was-on-my-second-box-of-Kleenex-for-the-day-and-felt-inspid-glorious. Thank you, everyone.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Happy Birthday, and Thank You.

Today is my Book Birthday, the official release date of my new novel, The War I Finally Won. It's a fabulous day, as pleasing to me as my recent actual birthday--and I loved my actual birthday.

I find I have something to say:

--to the 500 sixth-graders crammed yesterday onto a middle-school cafeteria floor, who listened to every word I said;

--to the student yesterday who handed me a copy of Jefferson's Sons for signing and said, "Thank you for writing this;"

--to the student yesterday who confided to me that they were being raised in foster care, and that when I said, "That's hard. You must be strong and brave," looked me dead in the eye and said, "I am strong and brave;"

--to the parent last night with tears in their eyes, telling me how TWTSML reflected their own reality of adopting traumatized children;

--to the student in the back row who dabbed when I came in, causing me to dab (in an embarrassing middle-aged white woman kind of way) (which the students nevertheless received with touching enthusiasm) on my way out;

--to whoever stuck the sign next to the white board for one of my presentations yesterday that read, "Kimberly Brubaker Bradley--welcome home;"

--to whoever wrote the early review saying, "Ada is for the ages;"

--to my author friends who thought 9 revisions astonishingly many, and even more to my (very few) author friends who thought 9 revisions astonishingly few;

--to the 50 or so people at Penguin Random House who worked very very hard to turn my words into an actual physical marketed on-sale book;

--to my agent, Ginger Knowlton, who loved it before anyone else, and that includes the rest of my family;

--to the indomitable Jayne Entwistle, reader of the audio version, who magically matched Ada's physical voice to her true one;

--to my mom, who thought it was better than the first one;

--to my dad, who caught a bad mistake on page 318 that no one else would have;

--to my daughter, who made one crucial change to the ending;

--to my son, who reminded me to try not to suck;

--to my husband, who helps me find the best stories;

--to Jessica Dandino Garrison, my amazing editor. The book is dedicated to her because she worked so hard and well on it that she deserved to have her name on it;

--to all of you who read it and will read it:

Happy Birthday. This book also belongs to you.

Love,
Kim