Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck was the most recent book that I read and reviewed for The Newbery Project. It was funny, it was touching, and it was filled with letter-perfect descriptions of the place I grew up. A little Googling reveals that Richard Peck actually grew up in Decatur, Illinois, and that "Grandma Dowdel's town" was partially based on Cerro Gordo, Illinois. But I'll bet that Richard Peck visited Utica sometime, given the burgoo and the "Souvenir of Starved Rock" pillow in the book.

I'm waiting to get A Long Way from Chicago from These are books that I want my children to enjoy and have on their bookshelves for years.

I liked the introduction to these books on the publisher's site - I think that Peck wrote it:

Young readers who live in age-segregated suburbs need the wisdom, and the wit, of elders. After all, this is a young generation who no longer even have to write thank-you notes for gifts from grandparents. They rob themselves of their own histories and are once again at the mercy of each other.

But stories are better than that. They champion the individual, not the mass movement. They mix up the generations. They provide a continuity growing hard to come by. And laughter. Best of all, laughter.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I Can't Stop! Book Review

I Can't Stop! A Story about Tourette Syndrome, by Holly L. Niner, is a picture book about tics (and TS, obviously) for kids. The kids portrayed in the book are in elementary school, and I'd say the text is good for grades 2-5, and easily read to kids somewhat younger.

It describes what tics are, and shows how Nathan (the protagonist) deals with some common ones. It also relates how tics can be easily misdiagnosed as habits or allergies (as with a constant sniffing tic), and talks about how tics can only sometimes be temporarily suppressed, and how to talk to other people about them. All of this is good, and important, and the note to parents and teachers in the front of the book also includes clearly written, useful information and a link to the TSA (Tourette Syndrome Association). The illustrations by Meryl Treatner are engaging and interesting.

But I have some reservations about recommending this book to my 10 year old with TS, who also deals with OCD and ADHD. First all, Nathan only deals with tics - he is popular, does well in school, has no problems with social interactions (except for a few that crop up with some of the tics), and he is athletic and does well in several sports. His best friend is understanding and his parents and teacher find ways to help him. Everyone is supportive and matter-of-fact when dealing with Nathan's Tourette's Syndrome.

I would have welcomed a little more realism - maybe a grandparent who huffs "I don't believe in this stuff. In my day, we just stopped when we were told or got a spanking!". Maybe a teacher who gets annoyed, or a sibling that is embarrassed (like the wonderful protagonist in Rules, by Cynthia Lord).

Nathan seems to have a pretty perfect life, except for those tics, and this made him a bit bland. And I worry that my son will think that it's ok to have Tourette's, as long as everything else is really, really good. And it's true - as long as you don't have to hear yourself blink a certain number of times before you can finish a math problem, as long as you have a such a great and supportive best friend, and as long as you win soccer tournaments, having tics doesn't have to be such a big deal.

As with many disabilities, in the world of TS there seem to be some big divides between people with different degrees of severity, and/or different types of problems that are often associated with TS. This book would probably be fine - good even, if a bit pedestrian - for kids dealing with "TS only" (as Nathan does), but it's not great for TS Plus (TS+ includes OCD and ADHD, which many agree can be more challenging than tics). I guess I'm still waiting for a good kids' book on that. Maybe someone at Life's a Twitch! could write one?

While I'm at it, here's a useful post "minimizing confusion" about TS. If I were to write a children's book on Tourette's Syndrome, I would include this site (along with many of the others given above).

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tales from Silver Lands

If you want to read what all the smart kids were reading in 1925, check out my review of Tales from Silver Lands, by Charles J. Finger over at The Newbery Project.

It's got hummingbirds and huanacos and evil white toads (the "Silver Lands" are South America). And the origins of monkeys and armadillos are explained.

The Saline District Library had the original 1924 edition, with this interesting woodcut by Paul Honore on the cover:

If I'd seen the most recent cover, I don't think I would have checked it out of the library:

Thursday, April 05, 2007

More Spring Flowers and Feminist Carnival

I think these flowers are from a box elder tree. I took this on Monday, when it was in the 70's and my kids were playing with their cousin at a playground in suburban Chicago (the former Grossdale, for those of you that know your Chicagoland history), and today it is snowing again, and the water in the hoses outside (which we just turned back on two weeks ago) is frozen solid.

At least I have the latest Carnival of Feminists to read, which has stories from Bollywood, 18th century Jamaica, Saudi Arabia, Poland, thirty centuries of Persian art, and the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. And a lot more on pop culture, politics, body image, etc.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More Signs of Spring (Despite Snow Today)

What are these little yellow flowers? They popped up in a scrap of woods near our house last week. From the car I thought they were crocuses, but when my daughter and I walked over there after Kindergarten, I saw that the leaves are all wrong for a crocus. They don't look like any of the yellow flowers in my wildflower book, so maybe they're a garden escape.

This was right next to the yellow flowers - a lovely skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). My daughter and I both took a sniff but didn't smell anything yet.