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With all the ingredients of an enduring fairy tale, Azizi and the Little Blue Bird is a charming and beautiful tale of freedom over oppression and hope over fear, with the intriguing twist that it is actually based on real-life events from just a few years ago.
Written by Laïla Koubaa, illustrated by Mattias De Leeuw and translated by David Colmer, this allegory is set in an imaginary Middle Eastern land where despotic rulers, Tih and Reni, cream the land for its riches whilst locking up those they don’t like. Thus it comes to pass that all the country’s blue birds are trapped in one huge cage inside the rulers’ palace.
Whilst Tih and Reni feast on opulent riches, a single bird manages to escape and to find the hero of our story, a young boy. Azizi climbs onto the blue bird’s back and soon they are flying over the whole country, with a garland of flowers trailing behind them, leaving a ribbon of scent as if to wake the senses of everyone they pass. Will it be enough to overthrow the tyrants and free the birds?
Wonderfully rich imagery in word and illustration triggers memories of colourful bazaars piled high with riches. De Leeuw makes liberal use of smudges; creating softer, more energetic illustrations where you can feel the hand of the illustrator very close by. His use of perspective accentuates the sense of oppression: The rulers get bigger and bigger whilst their subjects become smaller and smaller.
Koubaa’s timeless tale, translated with clarity and beauty by David Colmer, actually refers to a period in 2010/2011 when, during the Arab Spring. the the internet was censored and/or shut down during the uprisings, in an attempt to prevent protests from spreading over the region. The little blue birds – have you already guessed it? – refer to Twitter.
For me it is really interesting to see a children’s picture book explore the positive side of social media, albeit metaphorically. When I recently looked into portrayals of social media in books for the very young, I found that the message was overwhelmingly a negative one. This book, however, would be an interesting one to include in a more nuanced discussion about the pros and cons of life online as explored through picture books.
Azizi and the Little Blue Bird is a wonderfully hopeful and evocative fairy story is about good triumphing over bad and little people being brave and clever. I hope it reaches the wide audience it deserves.
Enchanted by the vision of a sweet smelling garland of flowers spreading and hope, the girls and I raided our allotment for flowers we could thread.
Using tapestry needles (nice and big for little hands), and strong thread the girls set to threading their garland.
It was a lovely sensory experience and soon we had a good long stretch of colour and good cheer.
We added a few blue birds and our garland was complete!
Bergamot, zinnias and cornflowers (the flowers we used) all dry quite well so I’m hoping that the garland will have quite a long life.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, my six-year-old daughter snuggled next to me on the sofa. My nine-year-old daughter nestled in on my other side. I cherished these moments. Our easing into the mornings with Bible study and prayer were my favorite times. However, even though we were enjoying our second year of homeschooling, I still struggled with doubts. Am I teaching them the right things? How long will I be able to do this? Will we survive being together all day, every day?
I pushed the thoughts aside and focused on the moment. By the time, I finished reading to my girls; President George Bush also ended his reading to a class of second graders in Florida.
Shortly after that, my husband calls from his office and tells me to turn on the television. I stand in shock of the images I’m viewing. Both of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are billowing black smoke. Numerous sirens are blaring in the background. Anxious reporters are dropping words of destruction, “hijacked,” “under attack, “and “acts of terrorism.”
“It’s Cancer”—Finding Help and Hope on the Road to Recovery was recently released by Straight Street Books. There’s a great need for this book because statistics state one out of every two men, and one out of every three women, will hear those two words no one wants to hear. "It's cancer."
While statistics sound cold and clinical, this book is not. Rather it is full of hope, encouragement, and helpful guidance.
I am delighted to have the author and cancer survivor, Venita McCart, as a guest on my blog this week. Venita and I became friends a few years ago and I’ve eagerly waited for her to write this book. Not only does it offer help for those diagnosed with cancer, but it is enlightening and beneficial for the rest of us to read.
In “It’s Cancer”—, Venita shares her own experiences as well as those of others. The back copy reads, “Come alongside patient survivors as they successfully overcome the obstacles of weighing treatment advice, managing caregivers, establishing attainable goals, realigning expectations, and embracing a new normal during and after cancer. Grapple with the tough questions about suffering, death, and heaven. Learn the value of being your own advocate, accepting setbacks, choosing gratitude, and developing a closer relationship with God.”
As the founder of Faith Force Cancer Support Ministry in Illinois, Venita continues to validate the realities of cancer while offering strategies for finding inner joy and peace. I’m delighted to have her share with us today.
Developers want to replace the bookshop with a supermarket but hope arrives when an energetic and powerful superhero, Origami Girl, folds herself out of a newspaper delivery boy’s bag. She summons an army of friends out of the pages on the shelves of the bookshop and local library, and when builders and the local bigwig come face to face with characters they themselves loved in the books they read as children, do you think they can still continue with their plans to bulldoze the bookshop?
There’s so much to enjoy in this optimistic and not a-political picture book. From the very first illustration, which I’m sure is semi-autobiographical (Foreman himself was a newspaper delivery boy, and the blue and white scarf is perhaps a nod to his life-long support of Chelsea football club), to the final pages showing a completely different building project which really serves the local community, each spread from Foreman has something to make readers smile and feel empowered.
The story arc reminds me of Foreman’s piercing and brilliant War and Peas; Conflict and peaceful resolution are key themes throughout his oeuvre, perhaps unsurprisingly for one whose outlook on life has been so coloured by his experience of World War 2 and the Cold War (the former engagingly explored in War Boy).
Colour plays a powerful role in the illustrations in The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army. Yes, Foreman is known for his intense blue washes, and they are present here, but by counterpointing these with flashes time and again of rainbow hued details (the passing train, the children’s outfits, the railway bridge arches), the blue lifts and brightens, and the palette and composition of his spreads embody energy and hopefulness. For me, each rainbow splash is like a shaft of sunlight hitting the page.
Fictional characters coming to life have a long and wonderful history. Two of my favourite examples are to be found in Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson and Eleanor’s Secret, a marvellous animated film which deserves to be much more widely known. Classics old and new are represented in Foreman’s visionary army, with McKee’s Elmer and Ross’ Little Princess marching alongside Alice, Puss in Boots, Toad of Toad Hall and many more, including some of Foreman’s favourites from earlier books of his. This playfulness seems to me a Foreman hallmark; when I interviewed him I was especially struck by the twinkle in his eye and joie de vivre. His sense of mischief shines through too: The spread showing politicians snoring in parliament is a hoot!
Unfortunately, the future for bookshops is not as bright and rainbow filled as Foreman’s rich book suggests. Just this week Saltaire Bookshop has announced that it may have to close in 6 months time, with takings currently averaging only £2 a day. The stats for the UK are bleak: Ten years ago there were 1,535 independent booksellers here, but by 2014 there were only 939. Interestingly, the situation in the US seems more hopeful: According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookshops (or should I say bookstores) in the U.S. has grown significantly in the last 5 years (figures differ, but if you’re interested, take a look here and here).
I can only encourage you to do your bit to ensure there continue to be local independent bookshops to feed our imaginations by getting your own copy of this loving ode to the impact books can have on us and the value of places which store stories for us all by seeking out your own copy of The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army. It will make your book-loving heart sing!
Inspired by Foreman’s fabulous book we wanted to create our own bookshop full of origami characters. First we had to fill our shop with books, and not just any old books, but edible ones. These were made with little chewy sweets (fruit salads), but you could use any small individually wrapped rectangular sweet.
We also included in our inventory these enticing books:
I hope the image below gives you a good enough idea of how to make these books yourself. If you do use fruit salads or blackjacks (in the UK) you can use my printout for the words on the pages by downloading from here. Each double page spread is a excerpt from a different Grimm’s fairy tale so you can include everything from Rapunzel to The 12 Dancing Princesses in your bookshop.
The fairytale texts were attached to the sweets and book covers (small slips of cardboard) using tiny glue dots.The second type of book was made out of fig rolls (fig newtons) and strips of dried fruit / fruit leather (we used these), with writing icing to decorate the covers.
Once our bookshop stock was ready we had to build some shelves and create some origami characters to hide in amongst the books:
Designing your own playground. I’m sure your kids will have loads of ideas about what would be in their ideal playground, but if you wanted some more ideas, you could show them this pinterest board with ideas.
Creating your own book bloc shields. These have an interesting and very real history, which I first learned about at the V&A’s exhibition Disobedient Objects. Full details on how to make your own can be found here (scroll down to the book block shields).
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publishers.
If you liked this post you might also enjoy these other posts of mine:
At age twelve, Martin Pistorius slowly slipped from perfect health into an unknown illness. His body weakened and his memories faded. After his parents exhausted all medical avenues for an answer, they painfully watched their boy become a mute, quadriplegic.
For four years, Martin was in a waking coma state in an unresponsive shell, unseeing and unknowing of his surroundings.
Then, his mind slowly woke up. But, his body did not.
For ten years, his mind was completely aware—aware that he was trapped inside an unresponsive body and unable to communicate with others. Martin wasn't paralyzed, but no matter how hard he tried, he had no control of his spastic muscles, his curled fingers, or the voice that disappeared with his childhood.
Most of us can’t begin to grasp what it’s like to have no physical control of our bodies. Nor can we fully comprehend the horror and painful realities someone, with a fully intact mind, experiences encased in one of these silent shells.
For someone who went fourteen years unable to express his emotions, Martin Pistorius pushes full throttle, and exquisitely conveys them all in his book.
Tension builds in Martin’s tedious days. Sorrow snatches the tiniest glimmers of joy. Hence, a courage develops, as does hope.
Martin inserts a great sense of humor in spots. I was thankful for them, especially after reading the difficult passages.
I cringed at what Martin had to endure at times. I believe a note for reader discretion is needed for the chapter titled, “Lurking in Plain Sight.” I hated reading it—and rightly so. And yet, had Martin not been so painfully transparent about his darkest days of torture, his story would be incomplete. Nor would I have fully appreciated his joy when he survived and overcame.
This is not an overtly Christian book. There are two or three points of faith shared—but they are profoundly powerful.
The most amazing one to me is the one where Martin shares his knowledge of God’s presence with him. He never had church worship experiences or even Christian training prior to his illness. Nevertheless, when his mind awoke inside the shell of his unresponsive body, he knew God was there with him. Martin sharing that realization is one of my favorite parts of the entire book.
Martin Pistorius as a young teen
The story unfolds of Martin’s amazing journey from being like a “potted plant” to living a full and productive life. All because of one person noticing a flicker of life in him and opening a door of opportunity. Martin expresses appreciation to many but he is certain of who he owes the most gratitude.
In a May 2015 interview with Christianity Today, Martin said,
“Without the Lord, I would not be here today. I have no doubt that it was only his intervention that saved me. It is only through God that I have found my voice.”
In the book, Martin shares the joys and fears of learning how to communicate once again. His life changed. He got a job, a college degree, started his own business, and married the love of his life.
This book inspires me to take time to look more intentionally at people—especially those who seemingly fly under the radar. You don’t have to have a health condition to feel invisible.
Time after time, Martin shares the power one tiny act of kindness, one caring word spoken, or one consideration of the man’s heart rather than his body, all had a huge affect on his life.
I recommend this book. Martin Pistorius’ story will take you into the uncomfortable pit of darkness and encourage you to grasp hold of life-giving faith, hope, and love.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
We hope that the next story will break out.
We hope that the next submission will sell.
We hope that the next revision will be amazing.
We hope that the next royalty check will be double.
We hope readers will love our stories.
Hope. It’s how we live. And I love it when Hope comes to live in tangible ways.
I went Friday to an awards banquet to honor my friend, Carla McClafferty. She was inducted into the Arkansas Writer’s Hall of Fame for her work in children’s non-fiction.
Brookins’s ‘Rise’ Goes to SMP
In a six-figure North American rights deal, Rose Hilliard at St. Martin’s Press acquired Cara Brookins’s memoir, Rise. The book, which Dystel and Goderich’s Jessica Papin sold at auction, is about Brookins’s experience as a single mother coming out of an abusive relationship, building her own house from the ground up. SMP said the author, a social media marketing expert in Little Rock, Ark., took on the massive DIY project “with only the help of her four children.” Rise is currently set for fall 2016.
Children’s: Picture book: Monica Clark-Robinson’s LET THE CHILDREN MARCH, an historical picture book told from a child’s point of view about the Children’s Crusade, a series of civil rights marches that took place in 1963 to protest the Jim Crow Laws, to Christine Krones at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s, for publication in Fall 2017.
That was hope come to life.
Each time a friend realizes a small portion of a dream—from the beginning of a career to a career at the top of its game—we need to stop and rejoice with them.
Why? For many reasons—friendship shares good news.
But for today’s purpose, rejoicing over someone’s good news builds my reserve of hope. I know the hope isn’t futile; someone else’s hopes came to fruition and that leaves me with a renewed hope that mine may also.
I often end a speech or a retreat with the words, “Send me your good news.” It’s not hollow words, and it’s not bragging on your part. It’s sharing a joyful event. And really, I’m being selfish: I want my hope recharged.
Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Davina Bell. My pleasure! What’s your background in books? I was the type of kid who read all night by the hallway light that peeked through the cracks of my bedroom door and wrote endless stories on old computer paper – the type with the holes in the side […]
Goal setting, writing goals, marketing goals, life goals . . . everyone has heard of these terms, these strategies to creating and achieving goals. But, what’s involved in actually creating and achieving those goals? How do you get from an idea or desire to its fulfillment?
To begin, you need to have the ‘right stuff.’ You need three essential elements. The first of which is confidence.
So we are back to my favorite topic - charity. In a previous write-up, I discussed how giving away money from a stockpile of it is not necessarily noble. By extension, the concept also applies to giving away time when you have a lot of it on your hands.
But it is not so. Giving of yourself - effort, emotional attention and time - is much more difficult than writing a check, and requires real commitment. Our values are sorely tested when you have to take time out of an already full day to go do something to bring succor to someone else. It is easier if that person is someone you care about, so friends and family are a different story altogether. But when it is someone you do not even know, or even relate to well, it calls on every bit of strength in your belief system. It is also a great way to test your own commitment to a cause.
As difficult as it is to reach out to an individual you cannot really connect with, in sympathy or otherwise, it becomes just as important to accept them and their needs. And that is a crucial factor in philanthropy. I have heard the common dictum that talks of finding your own cause, something that you feel for. I think that is a really misguided notion.The cause should be where the need is most dire. Because helping where help is needed most is what charity is all about. I might think kids need to be in school, but what the kids really need is food and clothing first. I cannot give them a book instead of bread just so I can feel good about myself, or because I had that extra book to give away. That is a gift, not charity
Another important part is being non-judgmental when assessing need. Wondering why a needy family does not manage time better, or have fewer kids, or be less whiny is not a factor in deciding their need. Charity in its purest form must be unselfish, and that means your prejudices and opinions should be irrelevant to the act of giving.
I believe the defining nature of any charitable act is the establishment of a feeling of hope in the receiver. Hope is not just an optimistic wish, or a pleasant vision of the future. It is also a reflection of joy and satisfaction in the present. So when you fulfill an immediate need, or remove an imminent distress, it gives the person such relief that it translates to hope - hope in the present day for a better day tomorrow. And that is why it is imperative and unquestionable that we provide for the requirement, irrespective of what we think or have or want to contribute.
Altruism is predicated on doing good for others. It does not include the right to decide what is good for them, or to classify their needs according to our priorities. Or to withhold charity because of the recipient's attitude. It was Mother Theresa who put it so lucidly, "It's not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving." And how much effort, she may have well added.
Trust yourself. You know what you need. We’re given constant messages from the media about what we need and how we should be. But we are each individuals, influenced by our past experiences–and we are not all the same. I’m queer. You might not be. I need to write, to have a voice through my writing, and to reach others. Maybe you have a voice in a different way. I need to talk about traumatic or painful things with trusted friends and a therapist–but sometimes I need time to think about them first. I also need time for fun, play, and hugs. Maybe you’re different. I love time to myself to read. Maybe you don’t. I need time with friends, but I also need quiet time. Figure out what it is you need, and follow that. Listen inside, and your heart will tell you what you need–to be happy, to be safe, to take care of yourself.
This can be a hard time of year for many people, so I thought I’d post more positive messages for people again–selfies along with the messages, so people can see the person (and author) behind the message. I think it helps make it more personal and real.
I will try to post photos most days of December for you all. Let me know if you like this idea.
And if you like this post, if it speaks to you, I hope you’ll share it with others.
And the salt in my wounds isn't burning anymore than it used to It's not that I don't feel the pain, it's just I'm not afraid of hurting anymore And the blood in these veins isn't pumping any less than it ever has And that's the hope I have, the only thing I know that's keeping me alive
It's just a spark But it's enough to keep me going (So if I let go of control now, I can be strong) And when it's dark out, no one's around It keeps glowing
It's just a spark But it's enough to keep me going (So if I keep my eyes closed, with the blind hope) And when it's dark out, no one's around It keeps glowing
After I turned this blog back on yesterday I felt the need to get away for a while. To draw near to the Lord. And as I pulled out of the drive it was very obvious there was a power struggle going on. I could feel it in the air. As if there is a battle heading up in huge proportions. I felt as if I were in the middle of it.
I got a milkshake and I did a once through of the thrift shop- went on my way praying over a bed (frame) that would cost about one tenth of the one I had dreamed up in my head for her majesty's birthday present in two weeks. I prayed it would still be there when I had money in hand, and the price would be down to one I feel comfortable paying for a used item. I was just minding my own business. Praying. Seeking. No, not for a bed. For the Lord.
I turned onto the main street, and I began to go up the hill by the hospital (on my way to the river to be alone with the Lord). As I began to accelerate up the hill, a trucker pulled up in the left lane (had his left turn signal on, so I thought, Okay?!). I was in the right lane.
Something said to give that truck the once over so I could identify it. Couldn't figure out why I need to do that, until it began to pull over into the right lane (left turn signal still blinking). He didn't even see me. He kept pulling into my lane where I was. Fear and anger almost overcame me. Finally there was a parking lot right across from the hospital.
If it hadn't been there, I wouldn't be here.
I remember beeping my horn two or three times and the person never even let off the gas. In fact, accelerated. My jaw was to the floor. Seriously. I just looked around. Nobody who had been behind me would let me back into traffic, so I couldn't get the license plate number. I was dumbfounded more than anything.
Here's the thing. It was like I was invisible. Like nobody saw me. Didn't see it happen. I was so freaked out, and nobody even came to my aid. And that was when the devil hit me with, "You are invisible. Nobody is going to help you. They don't care."
Wow. Not so much.
I began to speak the word of God. To pray.
And then I heard the Lord say that it is time for things to break. Not just in me, but in others all around me. And I knew I had to draw away deep within His presence.
I said the words ripple effect.
He said, "No child. Tidal wave."
I am okay with that. Definitely. Just protect me and mine as we all go through this.
So instead of getting into the river, I climbed the hill. The very steep, slick hill. It was about 90% humidity yesterday, and 80+ degrees. But I went. Still frightened and feeling as if something/body had it in for me. Trust me Princesses, your enemy does.
I sat on a towel and I prayed. I felt led to tell the Lord my allegiance is with Him. He knows it, but I know He needed to hear me say it out loud yesterday. There is a huge battle going on in the spirit. And it is heading up to be a war.
Children of God, listen. We have got to get our heads out of the sand. Stop believing that everything will be just fine, and we can continue to keep doing the things we are, committing the same sins over and over. We are lying to ourselves. Self included.
The Lord really does want to set us free. But something has to change. That change begins inside of us, not in the middle of a political party. The word of God says may you prosper, even as your soul prospers. Nothing is going to change in this nation, inside our churches, our homes, our hearts, until we make up our minds that we are done with the game playing.
Stop hiding the porn, and other sexual sins. Stop hiding the excessive drinking in private. Stop hiding the gluttonous appetites and the gimme gimme attitudes. Stop with the envy. Stop with the pride and arrogance. Stop with the anger and unforgiveness and just let go of the hurts of the past.
When we make up our minds that we truly want to change, then, and only then can it be broken and restoration begin.
It starts in the head, and when the head is convinced, then it moves to the heart (or the body...). Once the body catches on, it goes outward, and not just inward. It radiates. Calls out to God like E.T. sending his signals home for mom and dad. Turn on our heart lights. Call out to the Lord. Repentance. Truly sorry for the things we have allowed to go on. Sometimes we don't even know we were allowing something to go on until we begin to ask the Lord to open our eyes to see.
Problem is, some stop right there. They see what is going on and, oh no, please don't make me go there Lord. They run and hide. They are afraid to face it.
If we would seek Him in boldness and not just give the Lord lip-service, we would know that these things inside us HAVE to change if we are ever to be truly usable by the Lord our God. And if we truly have allegiance with Him then we will not shy away from those things which hurt. We will just let the Lord be who He is, and cleanse and purify us from the inside out.
People will get saved. Ministries will grow. Churches will have revival. The Holy Spirit will pour out and create in us newness and new gifts. Fears will melt like ice cream in the heat of a July day. Children will straighten up. Homes will no longer be broken. Life will be so full, instead of empty. Our hearts will be full. There will be less poverty and homelessness. Less sickness and emotional grief. People will be made new. They will understand and feel again.
Wouldn't that be wonderful? That is my hope and my prayer. Join me.
Matthew 7:7-"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
2 Chronicles 7:14- if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
If you have questions, complaints, concerns- email me. If you need prayer, email me. If you need to give your life to the Lord, email me.
If you have been touched by this, please share.
If you have suggestions or comments, feel free. But please, keep them pleasant and positive. We don't go bashing other people's blogs, and we would hope for the same respect here.
Who loves to go to the rest homes, the assisted living centers, the nursing homes? Whatever name you call them, they are probably not on your list of favorite places to visit. The stench of urine, feces, and death are not as difficult to endure as the weight of hopeless despair lingering in the halls.
Some people serve regularly here. For others, it’s a constant internal struggle between our minds wanting to do what we’re comfortable with, and our hearts doing what we know Christ wants us to do.
My husband, son, and I recently visited a church member who lives in such a place. We always enjoy our visits with Beth. We want to minister to her but it’s not easy. As soon as we enter the building, the odors welcome us. That doesn’t bother us as much as “the walk.”
In order to reach Beth, we must walk two long hallways. Those who are able have parked themselves on the sidelines in hopes of viewing something new, something fresh. They watch those from the outside pass by in their bright colors. Some of the residents’ bodies deny them a view of the faces; allowing them only a view of shoes pattering by. Nonetheless, it is life in motion, and a better scene than what lies in their room. For others, who receive a cordial hello or a smile, their faces light up like those of children catching candy in a parade.
Hoping for something new, something fresh.
Then, there are those whose minds will not free them to show any expression, or worse, they convey hopelessness. We speak to those we can, and steadily make our way to Beth’s room. She’s gone but her roommate is there. Confined to the bed, she repeatedly moves the one thing she can—her arm, back and forth, back and forth. No sound comes from her lips. You only hear a tap as she touches each side of the bed with her arm. Tap…tap…tap.
Eventually, we find Beth in the cafeteria. A few residents have gathered there for an afternoon worship service. The residents share with one another their pain—not the pain in their bodies, but in their hearts. Some wrought with burdens for their loved ones who do not follow Christ. Others are lonely or feel offended. They end with a discussion on love, forgiveness, and prayer.
The man leading the service talked of days gone by when church groups used to come and sing the old gospel songs. He fondly remembered children giving him pictures they had drawn, and how Sunday School groups would bring treats for everyone. He misses the old songs and said a lot of today’s contemporary Christian music doesn’t even mention God or Jesus. He asked if anyone played the piano. No one volunteers.
My husband stood up and said he’d try to play something if they wanted. The residents joined in on I’ll Fly Away and Amazing Grace. Tears welled up and I could hardly sing, especially when I saw the face of one gentleman. He, too, was emotional. His closed his eyes tight and scrunched up his wrinkled face as if he were in severe pain. I watched him for a while. His gentle swaying gave me the impression his intensity was because he was soaking in the music and with all his might he was trying to hold it there. Savoring it down to the depths of his soul, clinging to it for as long as possible.
I took a deep breath trying to suffocate the lump that had risen in my throat. I take so much for granted. Gazing around the room, I presumed their wheelchairs imprisoned them. Reflecting on that later, I realize it was their only thread of freedom to move themselves out of their tiny rooms and to this temporary sanctuary.
And temporary it was, for as soon as the service was over, most of them merged into a single lane out into the hallway. We stayed back to visit with Beth. Three or four other residents lingered in the room. I saw a skinny, stubble-faced, man wheel up to the man who had been soaking in the music. They spoke to one another softly and the skinny man bore a toothless grin. What they did next made mebreak out into a smile. Each of the elderly gentlemen stretched an arm out and gave the other a fist bump. They laughed and then they talked.
There was another man who stayed. We couldn’t determine if he wasn’t in his right mind or if he was just a rascal. He wheeled up behind our son and held a tiny paper cup in the air. “Can I get another shot of this? Or some other kind of liquor?” We laughed it off and Beth told him, “Quit cutting up just because I have visitors. You know all you had was juice. Tell these folks what your name is and then go on.”
The man announced his first, middle, and last name with a rolling, loud flair as if he was announcing a boxer into the arena. Beth said, “He always says it like that. Alright, now, you go on and leave us alone.”
With a mischievous grin he did not move. Using a racial slur, he proceeded to ask her a question about the man in the corner, the one who had enjoyed the music. The man in the corner overheard it and asked him what he said. Beth got mad. She pursed her lips, raised her eyebrows, and told him in a firm voice to go on before she told on him. He didn’t move. She said, “Don’t make me come over there.” He didn’t move.
Nervously, I looked at my husband and wondered if we were going to see a rest home brawl. Beth, with her enormous gold purse on her lap, which held all her “valuables, because things tend to go missing in this place if left unattended,” began to wheel herself behind me, around the table, then behind the instigator. Her agitation fueled her adrenalin and amazingly, she pushed his chair towards the door.
He yells, “Get out of my rim!” He starts to push his chair back around towards our direction. It looked like a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” He wheels behind me and circles back to his original position. Beth is livid. Suddenly, the man asks if we have any medicine. Beth tells him it’s in his room and he slowly moves on. Before exiting the room though, he stops by the two men in the corner. Slamming his paper cup down on the table, he roars at them, “Don’t ever come back unless you have free samples!”
As entertaining as that sounds, I don’t imagine living with it every day is very pleasant. Dealing with bullies, worrying about someone taking what little belongings you have left, or wondering when you’ll no longer have that single thread of freedom; it’s easy to see why so many feel desolate.
Give them a sanctuary.
I am grateful for those who are at ease serving people in this season of life. To go work day in and day out in this atmosphere takes someone special. For the rest of us who struggle with it, I pray God reminds us of His will to treat the elderly the way we want others to treat us when we reach that age. And that we remember that He wants no one to perish but for all to have eternal life. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone but the opportunities for accepting Christ are definitely dwindling for those in assisted living centers. Pray for them. In the midst of their despair, point them to an eternal hope. Give them something new, something fresh. Give them a sanctuary.
Someone asked me at a recent book talk why I chose to write about hope and children in poverty. They asked whether it was frivolous to write about such a topic at a time when children are experiencing the challenges associated with poverty and economic disadvantage at high rates. As I thought about that question, I began to reflect on the stories of people I know and families I’ve worked with who, despite the challenges they experienced, were managing their lives successfully. I also reflected on popular figures who shared stories in the media about the ways in which they overcame early adversity in their lives.
As I reflected on these stories, it occurred to me that a common theme among these individuals was hope. I began to see the various ways in which hope is a highly influential and motivating force in their lives. This kind of hope is not passive—it is not merely wishing for a better life, but it is active. It involves thinking, planning, and acting on those thoughts and plans to achieve desired outcomes. It is the driving force that keeps us moving despite the adversity and allows us to adapt and to be resilient in the midst of these circumstances. In reflecting on these themes, I decided that I wanted to tell these stories and to link the stories with theoretical frameworks that help illuminate why I believe hope is so important. Most of the theories and ideas I discuss are well known to those of us who study children and families. However, it occurred to me that practitioners and policymakers may not be so familiar with these ideas and may find them useful in planning their work with children and families. My goal is to foster understandings of hope and resilience in practical terms so that together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers alike can help more children and families manage their circumstances and chart pathways toward well-being.
So when I think about a response to the question “Why focus on hope?” — I respond “Why not?” Why not focus on strengths rather than deficits? Why not focus our interventions, legislative activities, and funding priorities on processes that will motivate individuals to strive for the best outcomes for themselves and their children? In so doing, we can formulate an action agenda on behalf of children and families that first assumes they can and will succeed in rising above their circumstances.
As I learned from the families I interviewed, success means different things to different families. For some, success is being able to keep their family together—have dinner together, talk with each other, and support each other. For other families, success means being able to be a good parent– to go to bed at night realizing that you’ve provided for your child emotionally, spiritually as well as materially, and that by doing so, your child might have an even better opportunity than you did to achieve success. These individuals are truly courageous. They have overcome many obstacles and are striving to continue along that path. There are countless other courageous individuals who may never have the opportunity to tell their stories or to have their experiences validated with concepts and theories I discuss from the psychological literature. I hope this volume will represent their lives too. I challenge those of us who work with children and families and who advocate for or legislate on their behalf, to have the courage to “ hope” and to allow that hope to be a motivating and unrelenting force in our efforts to foster resilience and well-being in these families.
Dr. Valerie Maholmeshas devoted her career to studying factors that affect child developmental outcomes. Low-income minority children have been a particular focus of her research, practical, and civic work. She has been a faculty member at the Yale Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine where she held the Irving B. Harris Assistant Professorship of Child Psychiatry, an endowed professorial chair. She is the author of Fostering Resilience and Well-Being in Children and Families in Poverty.
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The wife of a friend of ours from high school recently lost her courageous battle with cancer. In her honor I post this piece that I was commissioned to create for a client who’s friend also died from cancer. Thank you, Mary E. for permission to share on my site. RIP Margo McCabe.
Dragonfly Pond, commissioned in the memory of Shawn Oligmeuller 2009.
Where were you when you first heard the sound? Good sounds – your husband’s voice, your baby’s giggle, the words “I love you?” Do you remember? Can you picture the scene and surroundings?
I experienced a condensed courtship with my wife because I was briefly called back to service during Desert Storm. I don’t recall the first expression of the four- letter L word in our relationship. I know it came, and stuck. I have said it to her every day for nearly twenty-two years. I say it every night to my girls and sometimes in front of other people, much to their chagrin.
I wish I remembered the first time I said it, though.
I will never forget the first time I heard the word Cancer as it related to my family. I was in the hospital just a week ago when it was introduced to me, while my little girl lay sleeping nearby. The doctor actually used the words “oncological event” before I made him dumb it down for me. Cancer.
I held my wife in my arms as she collapsed into a puddle. Doesn’t cancer affect other families? Why would he be saying this word? I felt an instant dislike for this man, but my mind clouded to nothing. My wife’s head heaved in my chest. I couldn’t think in more than three word bursts. I have no idea how long we stood that way. I was roused only by the sound of a man pushing a cart way down at the end of the hall. The wheel squeaked as he carried out his task and I remember thinking, “How can he be pushing that? Doesn’t he know? It doesn’t matter where that squeaky cart is! Why isn’t he stopping?”
It was then I realized this isn’t everyone’s diagnosis. It is Kylie’s and ours: our family’s, our friends and network of support. But the rest of the world will continue to march on around us.
I will add a link to Kylie’s Caring Bridge at the end of this post because I won’t allow cancer to dominate my writing. It will peak its evil head in from time to time, I have no doubt. But I won’t allow it to take over my life, steal my joy, soil my faith, or crush my little girl.
It took a while to determine the enemy. Until then, we’ve been punching at shadows. Now we start to take it out. We are at the beginning of a long road, but there is hope. Kylie knows what is going on, she is scared. We cried together and prayed. She has decided that this is happening because God must have a really big, great plan for her. I don’t know if I could have gotten to those words so quickly at twelve – she’s just chock-full of amazing.
The picture I added is one of Kylie as Annie in her school play a couple of years ago. She is an incredible actress and I can’t wait to see her on stage again.
Because our minds are reeling right now, the verse we’ve been holding onto is Romans 8:26
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement, friends. I have to go now, the bell just sounded for round one…
I am happy to be part of Barry Rudner's virtual book tour this month. To promote his book, SILENT VOICE, Barry is touring the blogosphere with The National Writing for Children Center. In this guest post, licensed psychotherapist Nicole L. Albert talks about Barry and his book. I hope you'll enjoy the post. Happy reading!
I am fortunate to be a long time friend of Barry Rudner. We met while vacationing in the Florida Keys more than two decades ago. It has been with enthusiasm and appreciation through the years that followed, to participate in his journey of children's literature. Each and every piece of his work, touched me in the deepest of ways. He addresses so many issues of what is typically never spoken aloud. With each piece of writing, he imparts messages of hope, each and every time, and attends to the struggle while opening the hearts of the reader.
I am a licensed board certified therapist and I work with children, adults and families struggling with a variety of life's issues. His writings touched a chord in me as I would think of people whose lives I came into contact with for a variety of reasons. I knew they would benefit from the insight and pure joy his books would provide.
A good proportion of my client base, are individuals with a wide array of Developmental Disabilities.
One day I called Barry to wish him a Happy Birthday - we exchanged some events of what we had both been doing of late, and I described to him some of the situations that I was challenged with, for individuals and families touched by Autism.
A couple weeks later, I received an email from him asking me to read something - the early drafts of Silent Voice. It was utterly staggering! He had accomplished to put into words, a world that many people know only too well and unfortunately way too few are aware of. Silent Voice was born, along with outstanding illustrations that completely depict the nature of this overwhelming and all consuming challenge.
I am so very proud, to have been part of this journey.
SUMMARY: A modern day allegory about autism awareness: that the only ought in autism is that we ought not ever give up. Ever.
Barry Rudner has been an author/poet of self-esteem books for children for over thirty years, dealing with universal truths such as, reaching for your dreams, homelessness, undying friendships, disability awareness, always being yourself, autism awareness, hope and utter silliness. He firmly believes that we cannot educate our children unless they feel good about who they are; and ultimately, as they grow up, they will not feel good about themselves unless they educate themselves.
Barry Rudner has been an author/poet of self-esteem books for children for over thirty years, dealing with universal truths such as, reaching for your dreams, homelessness, undying friendships, disability awareness, always being yourself, autism awareness, hope and utter silliness. He firmly believes that we cannot educate our children unless they feel good about who they are; and ultimately, as they grow up, they will not feel good about themselves unless they educate themselves. Please feel free to visit us at our website at www.nickoftime.us.
Thank you for joining us today, Barry Rudner. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
I am a product of an incredible education from my parents. My formal education was a double major in biology and religious studies. I thought I wanted to grow up to become a doctor, but I realized I wanted to grow up and try to answer questions in ways that science cannot. But it is this hybrid of both degrees that gives me a certain insight into the world of children’s literature. In other words, as a scientist, I know the grass is green because the chlorophyl absorbs all the wavelengths of light and reflects the green. But as a children’s author, it is so much more poetic to think that the grass is green because it envies where the children have stepped.
When did you first get bit by the writing bug?
I was in graduate school in the late ’70s trying to earn a Masters degree in neuroanatomy in the hopes of being admitted into medical school. I was at a friend’s house, and he had a room mate who was taking a children’s literature course. On the kitchen table was Shel Silversteins, The Giving Tree. That one moment completely changed the path of my life.I knew that I would spend the rest of my life chasing after what I consider to be the most linear thought ever committed to paper for children. I have been pursuing this goal ever since.
Why did you decide to write stories for children?
I started writing stories for children because I love the way they think. If I may be so bold to quote Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, “…and such things commonly please us best which are most strange and come from farthest off.” And that in essence is our children. Somehow, in their innocence they understand things that we do not even mean. They are living, breathing allegories. Children are that very thing that “comes from farthest off”.
Do you believe it is harder to write books for a younger audience?
I believe that my life would be much harder if I did not write for children. I believe I understand my audience as well as my craft. Children’s literature is no different than taking a felled tree and stripping it of its bark and limbs and whittling it down to the size of a toothpick; and, right when you think you are done you split it in half. That is children’s literature.
What is your favorite part of writing for young people?
My favorite part about writing for children, especially thirty-two page picture books is to teach them universal truths without ever dealing with what is real. By definition, that is a fairy tale. Teaching them to reach for their dreams. Teaching them to be themselves. Teaching them to be aware of the less fortunate. The beauty of truth is that it is multi-cultural and I never have to deal with what is real: only with what is true.
Can you tell us what your latest book is all about?
The latest book is entitled, Silent Voice, and it is a modern day allegory about autism awareness: that the only ought in autism is that we ought not ever give up trying to find the cause and cure. The majority of the world population is not even aware of the pandemic nature of this disorder. But the book is not about finger pointing or blame. It is about educating those who are simply unaware.
What inspired you to write it?
Last year in March I was speaking to a dear friend, Nicole Albert, a licensed therapist, who approached me about writing a book about the lack of awareness of those children that fall under the spectrum of autism: worldwide one in eighty-eight suffer from this disorder. It is a staggering number when you consider the statistics. I simply felt that it needed to be addressed. After three months of researching, I started the process of rewriting.
Where can readers purchase a copy?
Silent Voice can be purchased online at our website at http://www.nickoftime.us in a variety of electronic formats as well as a hardcover version of the book. Our hope is that the book version will become a part of bookshelves everywhere.
What is up next for you?
For an author, even a barely-an-author-type like myself, all that matters is to rewrite a book that is worthier than the one that proceeded it.
Do you have anything else to add?
It took almost eleven years to become published. For anyone aspiring to become an author, do not take rejection personally. Take it as a complement. It means your work is being circulated. You are looking for that one editor who is searching for that very manuscript you have written. Case in point: I once met the editor at a symposium who rejected Richard Bach’s, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, because their was no mass market appeal for it. Need I say more.
Thank you for spending time with us today, Barry Rudner. We wish you much success.