Tuesday, January 18, 2011

School Shooting, Bullies, and Violence in Books for School Kids

  I am 48 years old, but I have never been away from books for young people.  As a Mom and a teacher and a writer - but most of all, as someone who loves books, from picture books to Paradise Lost.

    In writing, Duffy Barkley is Not a Dog, I gave myself permission to play around in the world of fantasy and to use some traditional features from the types of Fantasy novels that I enjoyed as a child, but also to use some of the issues that the world is dealing with today.

     One of these issues is the fact that, "School Shooting" is a term which was unheard of when I was a student, but which is sadly a common thing to hear about on the news today.  As a teacher, I have to practice safety drills with students, and along with "earthquake" and "fire" drills, we also practice "Gunman on Campus."  I hate this reality, but my hating it makes it no less prevalent.

    There were guns at my High School, a lot of them, and no one cared.  I grew up in Wyoming, close to Yellowstone Park, and the students who lived out of town, on ranches or farms, carried shotguns and rifles in gun racks in the window of their unlocked pick-up trucks.  The targets were beer bottles, jack Rabbits, magpies, stop signs, coyotes.  There was never any thought that the target might be a student or a teacher.

    We had bullies, we had school fights, we went to school while the Vietnam War was on the news every evening and assigned for current events.  We knew that teenage pregnancy and hard core drugs were issues.  We read books where there was violence and favorite characters died.  And yet, it was more innocent still.

   In Junior High I loved, The Outsiders and, The Chronicles of Narnia, and, Bless the Beasts and the Children, and Johnny Tremain.  In High School I delighted in being terrified by Jaws, and Christine and, Carrie and Flowers in the Attic.

    But rogue sharks, and evil automobiles are a million light years away from the violence in The Hunger Games or City of Glass or the second quartet of Tamora Pierce's "The Circle Opens" books.

    And I have to ask myself, if reading so much violence, and hearing it on the news every day, and being saturated in it, doesn't make these kids vulnerable to being involved in it.  Do they come to see that as inevitable.  Yet here I am, selling my book, with a 9 year old turning his gun on a school assembly.

     I don't believe that violence is inevitable, or that suicide is a good response to being bullied, or that life can not be mostly about life and growth - and yet I wonder what the kids believe, and hope that my book gives them more than just a ray of light in the dark.

     I hope, that like Duffy, with his crutches and his Cerebral Palsy, that they find themselves realizing that they can be the peace and the good in the world, not just in-spite of their weaknesses, but often because of them.

    I know that I became a strong, loving woman, because I was bullied and threatened and ridiculed as a child, and while I do not wish any child to suffer as I did, I hope my books shows them, that there is life after school and a whole world just begging you to let it love you.

Monday, January 3, 2011

December 2010

I grew up with White Septembers and an Occasional June snowstorm and even trips to the snow up on the Beartooth Mountains on the 4th of July
 but where I live now, Christmas is green grass and red maple leaves.

It is no less festive
 and yet, there are times when I miss the need to stay indoors, bundled into the living room, huddled around a board game with my family as school is cancelled and hot chocolate is simmered.

There are very few times that we have had snow at the high 25 foot elevation of my Redwood coast home.

But we have a tradition of visiting loved ones over the school break, and that nearly always includes visiting snow as well.

 The Mountains around Ashland, Oregon are where we found it this year.

and what could be more in keeping with the holiday that the acres of oak trees wearing their mistletoe kissing balls?

We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with our friends who are as close as family, in their warm, sunny home in Ashland, OR

but our own Christmas Tree was there to welcome us home afterward.

Then as New Year neared we headed up the Oregon Coast to Visit Uncle Wince, (a nickname from being the wrestling partner of choice when the boys were tiny)

We stopped in Old Town Bandon, OR to buy fudge and walk on the pier.  We have often dropped our crab pots there, but this time the ice chest was already filled with Dungeness crab

 and the goal of the day was to visit the state park, close to Coos Bay, at the Old Simpson estates known as "Shore Acres" in Charleston, OR
The surf there constantly pounds the cliffs and carves surreal shapes in the sandstone

even the trees are sculpted by the wind and weather

both mansions burned but the gardener's cottage remains, and the three gardens are decorated with thousands of lights each winter.

 The oriental garden is my favorite as it reminds me of my days as an exchange student in China.

 Inside the cottage, Santa was discovered bathing on his cap, amid a pool of bubble wrap.

 Up into Salem to the Uncle's house, we took a walk and saw this Dr. Seuss style tree in a yard near-by!
 and shared our third Tree of the Holiday season.
and watched the sunset from Uncle Wince's window

and found this charming scene across the street from the cemetery

 We had such a lovely Christmas break, that even the rest area we usually stop at, had been made beautiful by the arrival of snow.
In my Novel, Duff Barkley hates being at his Aunt's house for Christmas, and is frightened to stumble out of her attic and into a strange world, but in my beautiful world, being welcomed into the home of uncle's and friends, added a magic to the season and gave me memories of love and laughter to carry on into "the bleak mid-winter."