Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Is Dadurday

Saturday Is Dadurday

Picture book
When twins are born into her family, young Mimi, protagonist of
Robin Pulver's Saturday Is Dadurday, and her dad work out a routine
for their favorite day, Saturday. They start off with funny shaped
pancakes and the comics and move on to listing and executing fun
activities.
Well one Friday Dad comes home with the sad news that he has to
work Saturdays from now on. He only just learned himself (typical
corporate America!) and looks as sad as she does. He promises he'll
give her the rest of the day when he gets home.
Making the best of it turns out to be a real challenge for
Mimi. There's one poignant picture where she gazes sadly at her
father who is all tricked out in his business suit, scanning a smart
phone in one hand, holding a cup of coffee in the other. Nothing goes
right. Time drags by. Then suddenly she has an idea that just might
work.
You gotta love the last page where Mimi tackles a delighted dad
who you discover to be wearing bright yellow and green striped socks
under his uber dull grey business suit.
On a personal note, Labor Day I was waiting for the hubby to drive us
and Adam to an extended family barbeque. Katie called to say she had
to work at her part time job which is in the retail world. She just
learned the night before on her closing shift. I found myself
thinking what a predicament a girl her age single parenting little
kids (which lots of 21-year-olds are) without an on call mom would be
in. Imagine trying to snag adequate (or any kind of) child care on
such short notice before a three day weekend? Our big businesses are
far from family friendly and we should very much care.
A great big shout out goes out to parents who must somehow juggle
parenting with unpredictable work hours and their children who must
somehow make the best of it.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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Let's Hear It For The Critters

Let's Hear It For The Critters

Picture books
Recently while shelving at Orono Public Library I came upon two
made to be read aloud picture books. Both involve truly memborable
varmints. Both also boast truly distinctive illustration styles that
blend perfectly with text to create irrisistable works of literature.
I'm sure any of us who count four footers as family members have
experienced these beloved critters on their less that perfect behavior
days. (Joey has shed on and shredded objects and had toileting
accidents.) That's the situation in John Grogan's Bad Dog, Marley!
When Cassie and Baby Louie's parents give in to their passionate pleas
for a puppy, Daddy brings home a tiny yellow furball who doesn't stay
little for long. The bigger he gets, the more trouble he gets into.
When he shreds the sofa the family decides he has to go.
Or does he?
Despite modern details like a microwave, Richard Cowdrey's
richly detailed illustrations have a decidedly 1960's flavor. Think
Dick and Jane (and of course Spot) with attitude. I can't imagine a
parent-child duo reading this lively tail without a whole lotta
laughter.
Carol P. Saul's Barn Cat is a very delightful counting book.
Its quite handsome feline star lingers at the barn door. As growing
numbers of varmints (3 butterflies, 6 dragonflies) loiter around her
domain, she naps and grooms and lets them go on their merry way. (She
does bark at the 8 playful puppies). Don't be misled by her display
of blasé. That fine finicky feline is waiting on something special
and not about to settle for less. Mary Azarian's robust yet delicate
wood carvings perfectly carry the farm setting and the spirit of the
book.
On a personal note, sadly Tuesday was the last day of Orono Community
Garden's delivery to our clients. We've been in growth mode. By the
end of the summer we were giving veggies to about 60 senior
households. The last day was made memorable by the children in my
friend, Pat's cooking and gardening class. They were harvesting the
fine carrots they had grown for our veggie bags. They were so excited
and thrilled and proud! When kids beg to sample carrots and are
delighted to take their favorites home that is a very good thing.
It's why we need school gardens. Getting kids (and maybe parents)
hooked on real food is something we should all strive for.
A great big shout out goes out to all who put up with the sometimes
annoying nuances of our beloved four footed friends.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Goodnight iPad

Goodnight iPad

Picture book
I just borrowed one of the most frightening books I ever read
from the Orono Public Library. No, it was not penned by my birthday
twin, Mr. Stephen King, who will hopefully be doing something fun to
celebrate Sunday. :)
Goodnight iPad, penned under the pseudonym of Ann Droyd by an
unidentified award winning writer) is supposed to be a light hearted
parody of the beloved Goodnight Moon. In my mind it's anything but.
If you carefully study the pictures as you read the text you will see
why.
The story is set in a rather large household. As it begins,
night has fallen. Still every member is using one of the myriad forms
of electronic media. Finally a fed up old woman, grandmother maybe,
trying unsuccessfully to sleep, takes matters into her own hands and
begins collecting and turning off the devices. The others cry, plead,
and even physically try to restrain her.
What's wrong with this picture? Where do I start? Even babies
are using electronic devices which are not good for our youngest
children. The child with a facebook account is nowhere near the age
limit of 13 but able to access plenty of age inappropriate content.
Everyone including the father (tie, business shirt, and cocktail) and
mother (business suit) becomes distraught when the devices are shut
down. Beyond that not being a pretty picture, I find it alarming that
human communication only happens when the others are begging the old
woman not to take their instruments of addiction away.
Yes, the behaviors are exaggerated. Unfortunately real life is
a lot closer to fiction than I'd like. When a mother pushes her
beautiful toddler on a swing with her eyes on her iPhone, when a
father misses his child's soccer goal because he's texting, when
parents complain to Dear Abby about nude photos showing up on a 5-year-
old's Facebook page, I can't help thinking, "What the heck?" OK not
heck.
The author dedicates this book to all the folks who are as
"hopelessly plugged in" as she is. The word hopelessly bothers me.
In my mind when electronic devices come to rule one's life instead of
fitting in as useful implements, that is not a good thing. I know too
many people with serious addictions.
On a personal note, recently while I shelved in the children's wing of
the Orono Public Library I saw a truly beautiful sight. A group of
moms was sitting on the floor, deeply and meaningfully engaged with
each other, their children, and the other mom's children. Impromptu
puppet shows were watched and applauded. Little adventurers were
redirected from potentially dangerous pursuits. Eye contact was the
rule, not the exception. I told these moms they were giving their
children a precious gift many of their peers miss out on.
A great big shout out goes out to all who use electronic media in a
mindful, rather than hopelessly plugged in way and rock the real world.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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Sure Signs Of Crazy

Sure Signs Of Crazy

Juvenile fiction
"You've never met anyone like me. Unless, of course, you've met
someone who survived her mother trying to drown her and now lives with
her alcoholic father. If there are other people like to meet this, I
want to meet them pronto..."
Narrator Sarah Nelson starts Karen Harrington's Sure Signs Of
Crazy with this poignant plea. The defining event of her young life
happened when she was only two. Her mother drowned her twin, Simon,
and almost succeeded in murdering her also. Unfortunately the trials
of her parents (her dad for failing to protect his babies) have become
well known to the legal community and the sensation seeking public.
Sarah and her father have to move frequently, always dreading the
moment someone will connect them with the infamous Jane Nelson and
they'll have to uproot themselves again.
Sarah also has to cope with the moods of an extremely volatile
alcoholic father. There are subjects that must must never be brought
up--including her dead brother and hospitalized mother. There are
trouble words she must be careful not to use. She even keeps two
diaries: a hidden one in which she writes her real thoughts and a
fake decoy journal in which she enters what she thinks would make
anyone potentially reading it think she's normal.
One of the subjects she can't bring up is her concern that, with
a psychologically challenged mother and an alcoholic father, she may
be anything but normal.
The tenth anniversary of her mother's crime is arriving with
journalists more than eager to present an update to the public. When
she returns to school she must make a traditional family tree about
her anything but traditional family.
How can a vulnerable young woman take charge of her life under
circumstances that would be daunting for many adults? Read the book
and see. You'll be glad you did.
On a personal note, when my Amber was almost the same age, Penobscot
County was inundated with the story of an extremely psychologically
challenged woman who started her 5-year-old daughter to death.
Because that mom was clearly unable to comprehend what she had done,
she was hospitalized rather than sent to jail. Over a period of 20
years she engaged in an ardurous recovery and regaining of
privileges. I was very angry when it was all written up on that
anniversary. It very much was not news. Who exactly was served by
doing this to a woman who has to now live with one of the most
terrible realities possible? That's what I'd like to know.
A great big shout out goes out to all journalists who can tell the
difference between news and ratings boosting.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Reality Boy

Reality Boy

I don't remember how many years back I did some babysitting for
a neighbor. Her daughter was quite fond of a reality show in which a
nanny would come to the home of a family experiencing discipline
problems and iron them out. I didn't share the popular opinion that
this was a good thing. Help from a professional seemed fine. It was
the airing it for gazillions of viewers in a format that would last
forever that had me concerned. Some of these kids were much too young
to give anything like informed consent. Would the long term effects
on their treatment by others, their family dynamics, and their life
trajectories be anything but benign?
I'd forgotten about those musings until I picked up A. S. King's
Reality Boy, a fast paced novel that addresses those concerns. High
school student Gerald had some anger management problems and unusual
ways of expressing himself going on when he was five. His family, in
desperation, invited reality television into their home and life in
the form of a nanny and a myriad of cameras that made even intimate
moments accessible to a mass audience and existing in perpetuity in
cyberspace. Almost everyone he meets has seen the most outré behavior
of his young life. It doesn't make friendship or dating exactly
easy. In fact it gives bullies more than enough ammunition. He's in
special ed classes even though he has the potential to handle regular
academic work. The long term effects on his family structure seem to
have been more divisive than anything else. And guess what! He's
still angry.
The story of a young man trying to reshape his life against huge
odds is riveting. The questions it poses about the unintended
consequences of American's far more public life styles, especially for
those too young to grasp all the implications, are unfortunately all
too relevant.
On a personal note, I can remember how I felt when my mom showed
certain photographs involving infant nudity to a limited audience of
friends and family. I can't imagine what it would be like to have the
most embarassing moments of my childhood on display for say my school
committee colleagues, my kids, and the folks who will decide if I'm
grad school material.
A great big shout out goes out to all who try to discover and cope
with the ethics of our all too rapidly evolving technologies and
relationships to them.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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The Misadventures Of The Family Fletcher

The Misadventures Of The Family Fletcher

Juvenile fiction
In just about every neighborhood there is one family that can be
counted on to be outré and unpredictable. I was privileged to be one
of that clan in my growing up working class environs. My mom
successfully led a fight against urban renewal complete with don't
tread on me flag on a 50' flagpole. My father liked possessing exotic
pets but not tending to them. At a very young age I was given
responsibility for mammals while Harriet handled such large reptiles
people threatened to report dad to human services.
We would have gotten on quite nicely with the fictitious
Fletchers, the exotic clan whose escapades Dana Alison Levy brings to
life so colorfully in The Misadventures Of The Family Fletcher. In
addition to two dads, a lazy pug, and a crazed coon cat there's:
*12-year-old Sam, an athlete who has decidedly mixed feelings when he
gets a lead in a school musical;
*10-year-old Jax who must somehow find a way to interview their very
angry next-door neighbor for a project of veterans;
*Eli (also 10--the boys are all adopted) who starts attending an
expensive private gifted and talented school only to find himself
missing public school something awful;
And 6-year-old Frog (Jeremiah), owner of a vivid imagination who can't
get his family to realize his new school chum, Ladybug, is a real girl.
Chapters are told from the alternating viewpoints of the boys.
Each one starts with a note, memo, or similar communication from a
friend, family member, or the ultra cantankerous Mr. Nelson. Kids who
want a fast paced, genuinely funny read or evidence of not having the
strangest family in the world will devour this book.
On a personal note, although my new (marriage and childbirth) family
tends to be a shade more conservative, I keep the outré in the
household by performing my poetry at open mics, celebrating my
birthday through a fund raiser for girls' education in Africa (more
about that upcoming), applying for grad school with only bottle
redemption to pay all fees (more about that upcoming), and being in
outrageous events like dance marathons.
A great big shout out goes out to all individuals and families who
keep life colorful for others to view from a safe distance. :)
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Necessary Lies

Necessary Lies

Adult fiction
The only reason I ever laid eyes on Diane Chamberlain's
Necessary Lies is that someone in Orono Public Library hierarchy
switched the adult fiction and nonfiction displays around and forgot
to send me the memo. I am not a big fan of adult fiction--too much
gratuitous sex and violence and much more than I would ever want to
know about young urban celebrity loving professionals. Thinking I
was on safe nonfiction turf (in a hurry) I picked up a book with a
haunting picture of two young girls running through a field. Back
home I discovered my error in a couple of pages. Amazingly those
pages had me hooked on the novel and the beings who came to life
within its pages.
Necessary Lies is one of these truly rare adult novels that
embues a riveting story populated with complex and nuanced characters
with a poignantly vivid sense of time and place. (Most adult
literature authors who stray from the present time either create a
thin and superficial veneer of the past or do too much telling rather
than showing. In my mind, few adult novels inhabit that just rare
space where setting adds to mood without becoming distressingly
obvious.) The plot centers around two characters inhabiting social
spheres light years apart who become inextricably involved in each
others' lives.
Ivy Hart is a teenage girl in a clan that gives new meaning to
the phrase, dysfunctional family. Because her father is dead and her
mother is institutionalized, she lives with her grandmother, a woman
whose inability to exercise restraint or common sense is symbolized by
her devouring sweets as her blood sugar tests (diabetes) give ominous
results. Her older sister, Mary Ella, and her out-of-wedlock son
round out the household. They all dwell in a primative tenant shack,
fearful of being turned out in favor of a family with strong, working
age boys. Every aspect of their life falls under the jurisdiction of
the Department of Public Welfare.
Jane Forrester, in contrast, would seem to have it made in the
shade. By wedding a pediatrician, she has gained entre into the
Junior League, country club set. Wanting to work before settling down
to raise a family, she has become a Department of Public Welfare
caseworker. However, her work conflicts seriously with her home
life. Her doctor hubby, in true 1960 southern gentleman fashion,
wants her to get over her need to work or at least be more reserved in
what she says--more like his friends' wives. He has no idea she is on
the pill to prevent the pregnancies he desires right away. Except for
one insightful woman, the country club women are a twentieth century
clique of rich mean girls.
Jane had somewhat anticipated these complications. She is truly
blindsided by the extent to which her work conflicts with her ethics.
The total control her bureau has over the lives of its clients,
caseworkers' rights to behave in invasive and demeaning ways, and a
sense that many of their decisions are based on prejudicial
stereotypes rather than actual circumstances wear on her more and
more. For instance, she is troubled by the eugenics program that
allows caseworkers to apply for involuntary sterilization of their
clients, some of whom are deceived about the procedure. Mary Ella has
been told she had her appendix out after the birth of her son. Jane
is being pressured to do the same with Ivy who has petit mal
epilepsy. She considers Ivy to be the most competent member of the
household and knows how desperately the teen wants a family.
"If Ivy were my neighbor, though, noone would think of
sterilizing her. That was the thing. The petition was because she
was poor. Poor and on welfare and unable to speak for herself."
Jane is skating on increasingly thin ice at work and home. She
is isolated from friends who could understand what she is going
through. But she can't shake the conviction that somehow she must
speak for Ivy.
Necessary Lies is one of the most powerful works of fiction it's
ever been my pleasure to read. Fans of To Kill A Mockingbird will be
especially partial to this fine novel.
On a personal note, despite being a tomboy I grew up with a burning
desire to someday have children (after going through the preliminaries
of falling in love and marrying). I have petit mal epilepsy that was
overlooked in my growing up years. I was considered a daydreamer. In
my abortive first attempt at grad school a psychology professor
commented that if she didn't know better she'd think I had petit mal.
I came back with, "You might not know better." Turns out she didn't.
I can't imagine what it would have been like to lose out on the
greatest joy in my life over something that didn't really make a
difference.
A great big shout out goes out to all those who fight against
bureaucracy and its rules because of a conviction of their wrongness.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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