Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Monday, August 22, 2011

See you in September!

Just a short note today to answer questions you may have, arising from my last post.

1. We managed to fit Jeff and myself, our three daughters, our dog, 4 enormous duffel bags, 7 plastic stackable drawers, 3 full laundry bags, 3 sleeping bags, a few fold-up chairs and an enormous stuffed cow in the car last week when we picked our children up from camp. The dog is not loving the cow!

2. Had I put money on the attitude thing, I'd have lost a bundle! We brought home buckets full of tears but there was no bad attitude. I am delighted to write that we have three daughters who each had the most amazing camp experience ever and were sad to see it come to an end.

3. The summer is not quite over. In a few days we will head off on our family vacation. We will fly to Los Angeles and drive up the coast to San Fransisco. We can't wait.

I will be signing off now until just after Labor Day. Taking lots of books with me - both traditional print and kindle edition, both adult and children's - and I look forward to telling you about them all upon my return.

Meanwhile, if your youngster is already starting to feel anxious about the social situation at school in September, then cuddle together over a copy of Peter Brown's You Will Be My Friend!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Full House

Later this week, all of our kids will be finished camp and back home. I've waited for this moment all summer long and, now that it's imminent, I'm kind of dreading it for a few reasons:

First, you may recall that a couple of months ago, we packed two of our children up for camp and barely made it into the car with all their stuff. Curiously, our kids tend to lose a lot of stuff at camp but they tend to come home with bags that overflow even more than they did when they left. The math may not compute but the reality recurs year after year. As a result, we drive up to camp on the last day, filled with the terror of knowing that the car may well not be up to the task of bringing all of us and all the stuff home safely.

Next is that in addition to the duffel bags full of stuff they bring home, there is also profound sadness and attitude.The sadness generally manifests in the uncontrollable flow of tears and the repeated lament, "you just don't know how I feel. I love camp soooooo much. Only my camp friends know how I really feel". Everyone is entitled to own their camp experience and their sadness at facing its end. As you may recall, one of our daughters has spent the summer at a performing and creative arts day camp while her sisters have been holed up (emphasis on "hole") at a sleep-away camp in the Berkshires. Day camp ended this past Friday and, from the final bus trip home from camp this summer, I received the following text: "I was crying and will probably be in pain for the next couple of days so I'll be sad. :( I love u tho". A little bit of rejoicing followed what was meant to be an emotional outpouring because this text confirmed that our child has had an exceptionally good summer and she is sad to see it end. She also tried to manage our expectations via this text and who wouldn't appreciate a gesture like that? Sleep-away camp seems to turn these emotions up a notch, at least for some kids, like at least one of ours. We have come to accept that the drive back home on Thursday will be tearful. I can handle this kind of tears. Experience, though, tells me that after we get the whole gang home, the attitude (some would say "baditude") will rear its ugly head and dissolve much slower than the sadness. We have not always had to deal with baditude and there's certainly some small chance that we'll be able to avoid it this time but it's unlikely. Re-entry is tough and an attutude adjustment is sometimes necessary.

Finally, the end of camp means the end of summer is just around the corner. Unlike our kids, Jeff and I do not get summers off but there's something to be said for working during the slower pace of long, warm summer days. I'll miss the sun, the warmth and the easy pace at work.But you can be sure, I'll make the most of it before it comes to an end.

Your young adult might appreciate Sarah Dessen's That Summer.  This book was Sarah Dessen's first. Young readers may enjoy learning that the protagonist's name is Haven, which just so happens to be the name of actress Jessica Alba's new baby daughter. Is it possible that Jessica Alba is a Sarah Dessen fan? In any event, That Summer to the author herself "is mostly about Haven finding a way to feel comfortable in her skin'. Personally, I love the fact that the 15-year old female protagonist is neary 6 feet tall but that could be because I'm missing my nearly 6 feet tall 15-year old. Ask me how I'm feeling in a couple of days!

Younger readers may already be thinking about going back to school. Those who seem a little anxious might enjoy Lucy M. George's Back to School Tortoise, illustrated by Merel Eyckerman. We've all read our kids tons of books to help them get over the anxiety they may feel about going to or returning to school after a break but this one has a special twist at the end that's pretty precious!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sometimes people amaze you in the best possible ways

The last couple of weeks have been busy and exciting and, as you might have noticed, my blog has paid the price. We were busy interviewing candidates for two open positions at the Children's Book Council. Two members of my spectacular staff have moved on to new, exciting opportunities. I do not use the word "spectacular" lightly. One of the things I am most proud of in my professional life is my track record for hiring the most amazing people. Many people in our industry recognize and appreciate the strength, energy and enthusiasm of my staff and I delight in that appreciation. Upon hearing the news of our impending changes, I've received several sympathy notes. The reality is that I appreciate the notes in that they are an implicit and often explicit recognition of the amazing people I have the honor of calling my team. Having said that, I like to hire people early in their careers and help them along the path they choose so I am far more accepting of and comfortable with these sorts of changes than you might expect. When people move on, it also gives me a chance to meet new individuals who might just have the potential to change the world and I welcome the chance to know them, work with them and play a role in their career development.

The interview process at my office was reassuring, uplifting, and inspiring. After each interview, my team gathered to share impressions. I am not lying when I say we were wowed by every candidate we met.  We are thrilled with the decisions we ultimately made but wish we could have opened up a few more positions. As an employer, I felt a little spoiled and overwhelmed by riches. The candidates we met were really that good. The candidates all happened to be young women and, as the mother of three even younger women, these meetings and these people excited me about the future prospects and perspectives of my own children and the impression I hope and expect each will make as they one day make their own way in the world. This may (okay, does) sound exceptionally corny (even cornier than the bit about my kids!) but as an American citizen and a citizen of the world, particularly  these days when the state of our country and the global economy are so depressed and depressing, I felt curiously optimistic about life and the future. The answers, of course, lie within people and when young people inspire confidence and idealism, it's productive to see the world through their eyes and consider the possibilities.

In honor of my corny, patriotic moment, my book selection for this post is We Are America, written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by his son, Christopher Myers. The father and son team provides a moving, poetic account of what it means, to them, to be American. "What is it to be an American? To live in a strange and beautiful land of complexity, with a tumultuous history of epic proportions, among the people who were here first, who came after, who will come tomorrow." I'm banking on the people who are growing up now and coming into their own tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Who said you're not perfect?

Friends, family and colleagues have pointed out that it's been a while since I last posted to this blog. Sorry about that. I guess it's a little like a diet and exercise routine. I'm pretty good at maintaining a program once I've developed some momentum but once I slip off track, it's remarkably difficult to get back on. I had actually intended the big return blog post to be happy and funny but something happened this morning that changed my mind so please bear with me.

I took our daughter to her camp bus stop, like I do every morning. She was wearing her most awesomely stylish outfit of the season, which, incidentally, included a very cool fedora, and I was feeling reasonably stylish myself. We were happy and chatting away. A former doorman of ours, who now works in a building near the camp bus stop, came over to say hello. He hadn't seen any of our children in several years so I re-introduced him to our daughter and reminded him that she is one of the twins. He said it was nice to see her and then turned to me to say, "And congratulations - I see you have another one on the way". No, I don't. I politely corrected him, "No, I'm just fat but it was nice to see you." He said goodbye and left. I didn't have time to wallow because I had a livid child next to me who desperately wanted to rip him a new one, if you know what I mean, and I had to talk her down to make sure she got on her bus happily so that her day could start right. And then I wallowed.

Several people who are close to me will read this story and immediately want to call, email or text to assure me that I do not look pregnant and that he's an idiot. Much appreciated but, really, don't worry about me. I'd rather use the experience as a jumping off point for a different discussion. I have dealt with weight and body image issues for a very long time and had hoped to spare my own children the trauma. I haven't succeeded. What do you do when your child tells you she's fat or ugly or fat and ugly? There's no easy answer. If you haven't figured it out by now, a mother telling her child that she is beautiful and not fat is pretty well worthless. Don't get me wrong, you still have to say it but you should know that it will do nothing to solve the problem. It's also not particularly helpful to blame the media. While it's true that convoluted notions of physical beauty are conveyed negligently by the media and it may be intellectually interesting to acknowledge the genesis of a problem, it won't help your child to feel better about him or herself. Sometimes the only thing that helps is to open your child's eyes and mind to the fact that they are not alone - that most people are not entirely delighted with everything about themselves - and that it does get better. Encourage your children to find their way, to express themselves in a way that makes them feel as beautiful as possible, and to be healthy and informed in the process. And encourage them to define beauty in a way that works for them, based on what they know and experience. Does objective beauty even exist? Each of our daughters identified a boy she was crushing on to some extent this summer and each raved about how cute he is. I doubt that any of them saw the object of their sisters' affections in the same handsome light. Taste and beauty are subjective. Surround yourself with people who help you feel beautiful and who, maybe, see you just a little differently from the way you see yourself.

No matter what your perspective or your personal state of self acceptance, the universal truth is that adolescence is complicated, difficult and a stage of development fraught with insecurities. Some of us never entirely outgrow those insecurities but it seems clear that they peak for most people during adolescence. In 1995, psychologist Mary Pipher wrote the book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, equating the contemporary adolescent experiences of teenage girls to Shakespeare's ill-fated Ophelia. Pipher wrote of eating disorders, self-mutilation, abusive relationships and more. Sixteen-year old Sara Shandler read the book, identified with many of the experiences described and took it to the next level. She reached out to teenage girls and asked them to write and submit their own stories. She compiled the stories and in 1999 published her response, Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for SelfSome of the stories included in Ophelia Speaks are difficult to read and, for many girls, not easily relate-able but many of them speak to a common or shared experience. There is value in knowing that your experience and feelings may be imprinted with your own uniqueness but the core is something you have in common with more people than you may have ever realized. Mary Pipher's thesis, that teenaged girls in the 90's were coming of age in "a girl-poisoning culture," punctuated by abuse, self-mutilation (e.g., anorexia), consumerism and media pressure to conform to others' ideals, is as relevant now as it was then; maybe more so. Pipher offers concrete suggestions girls can try to build and maintain a strong sense of self, e.g., keeping a diary, observing their social context as an anthropologist might, distinguishing between thoughts and feelings - practical approaches that you may want to suggest to your own children but you might also suggest they take a look at Ophelia Speaks.

One of our daughters is currently reading The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han. Talk about a book worth buying for the title alone! It's a story of first loves and first kisses and I can't help but note the smile on the face and the twinkle in the eyes of my young reader while she's reading it.The sun-kissed effect alone of a satisfying summer is enough to make anyone feel just a little bit prettier than before.

p.s. If you're not sure what the title of this post has to do with the rest of it, go listen to Who Said by Selena Gomez. Beautiful song, powerful message!