Archive for ‘Realistic Fiction’

September 9, 2013

The Tenth Good Thing about Crystal or What NOT to do When a Pet Dies

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers' Center

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers’ Center

By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard

I am officially the world’s worst parent.

It hasn’t always been the case and there is hope that redemption will come, but meanwhile I wear the gray badge of failed parenthood. A badge which was remarkably easy to earn.

Hannah’s pet frog died while the kids were at school. Since after school sports and parents’ Back to School Night would prevent me from sitting still long enough to talk to Hannah compassionately about death, I scooped Crystal from the terrarium, wrapped her gently in paper towels and tucked her into a small box for safe keeping. Just until after school the next day when I planned to sit down with Hannah and have THE TALK.

But. The next day we hosted an out of town guest and I had airport duty. And the day after that my mom needed help moving some boxes and before I knew it, Saturday had arrived and Hannah called down the stairs, “Mom? I can’t find Crystal!”

I assembled the minions in the living room and told them as gently as possible that Crystal had died. “But where is she?” Hannah asked. My answer that Crystal was probably in Frog Heaven got a snort from my teenager and a follow up question from my ever discerning tween who asked, “What about the body?”

My eyes flitted to the counter where I’d secreted away Crystal’s remains. Before I could protest Chris was off the couch and holding the makeshift casket. The other kids clamored around him, asking to see the body. I weighed the therapeutic values and risks of showing Hannah the body. I figured it might help her to see how peaceful all things look in death, so that when she faced the inevitable loss of a human loved one, it wouldn’t be such a shock. I did not for a second think about how much time had passed since Crystal’s demise. Even if I had, I never would have predicted power of paper towels to completely mummify an amphibian. I unwrapped Crystal from her shroud and showed my children something that looked more like a Muppet version of King Tut than a frog.

After the shrieking and the crying Hannah finally asked if that’s what Cookie Grandma (who died when Hannah was very little) looked like now. Then her eyes grew wide and she asked, “When I die will my skin shrink off like that?”

We had a loooooong talk and a very formal funeral (which required all of us to don our Sunday best). Then I loaded everyone into the van and drove to the place that has helped me heal from so many of life’s shocks: Dairy Queen.

Since then I’ve invested in a few good books in case Hannah’s other pet, a beta named Nick, should go belly up. My favorite is The Tenth Good Thing About Barney because of Judith Viorst’s warmth and humor.

thetenthgoodthingTitleThe Tenth Good Thing About Barney
Author: Judith Viorst
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 5 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

My favorite book about losing a pet. The child is encouraged to cope with loss through remembering the things about Barney that made him so lovable.

 

illalwaysloveyouTitle: I’ll Always Love You
Author: Hans Wilhelm
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Sweet illustrations. Helps young children understand that love doesn’t stop when someone dies.

what's heavenTitle: What’s Heaven?
Author: Maria Shriver and Sandra Speidel
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 5 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Helps explain the mystery of Heaven in a way that is not specific to a religion.

when a pet diesTitle: When a Pet Dies
Author: Fred Rogers (MISTER ROGERS)
Genre: Nonfiction picture book
Ages: Listening 5 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up.

Anyone who ever watched Mister Rogers knows how caring and thoughtful Fred Rogers was. His background in child development is evident in this developmentally appropriate handling of death.

August 27, 2013

Will there be a sea monster in my kindergarten class?

SeaMonsterBossyFish_Tour_Banner

The countdown has begun in our house! We have new lunch boxes, new socks, and a whole whopping stack of new forms to fill out. The school year is upon us and for us, The Wizard of Why will be headed to the big leagues. You know, the Majors.

Kindergarten.

And right now, we are not TOO sure how we feel about that. Which is why it was so awesome to come home from the last vacation of the summer and find these books waiting for us as part of Chronicle Books Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish blog tour.

sea monster-Kate MessnerI was also lucky enough to interview the awesome author, Kate Messner. Here are some things she had to say:

1. Hi Kate! One thing I try to talk about in my blog is what we can do with books after the reading. Or in addition to the reading. In other words, when a parent reads your books to their child, do you have ideas for follow-up activities? Or conversation-starters so that they can keep carrying your message?

Every book can be a conversation starter when it’s shared as a family, but I think SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH especially lends itself to those conversations because its subject matter is something to which every kid (and every adult!) can relate. Everyone knows a bossy fish, and learning to deal with that person can be the difference between smooth sailing and a really rough day at school or the office.

We often ask kids how they can relate to characters in a shared read-aloud, but I think sometimes, as parents, we forget that it’s powerful for us to share our own stories, too. SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH can be a great springboard for talking about how to get along with people whose leadership styles might be different from yours.  Kids will enjoy hearing your own stories – both failures and successes – when it comes to negotiating those kinds of relationships.

2. Your fish pledge mentions speaking out when a child see bullying. We often tell kids this, but it is SO HARD. In fact, I would argue that most adults don’t even do it. How do we really teach kids to speak up? Can you think of a way to use your book as a starting point for that?

It is hard – harder than we think when we give that advice to kids – and that’s why I think conversations about these situations can be so valuable. When we discuss bullying before it happens, we provide a really safe environment for kids to imagine “what if.” What would I do if someone treated me this way? What if someone treated my friend like that?  Role-playing can be a wonderful, natural follow-up to reading a book like SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH. Giving kids the opportunity to practice standing up for friends and modeling inclusive behavior in a fun, non-threatening setting makes it more likely that they’ll be able to be a positive force on the playground when a real situation arises.

3. I like the idea of parents reading books like these because they can share an important concept without lecturing their kids. Do you have advice for parents who want to talk further with their kids about this but don’t want to lecture?

Questions are  more powerful than lectures, I think. The very first time I read this book aloud to kids, I was visiting a classroom full of kindergarten students near Albany, NY, and I was blown away by their reactions. I think I asked a question or two as we read – things like “Hmm…how do you think that made the Ernest feel?”  But soon, all I had to do was pause after reading a page and let the kids reflect. Without me even asking questions, they wanted to talk about the impact of the bossy fish’s behavior. They were able to empathize with the fish being pushed around, and Andy Rash’s great illustration style makes it clear that school settings are full of emotions.  The kids used the facial expressions as evidence in their arguments: “Look, he didn’t say anything, but he’s upset. You can tell by the way his eyes look…”  These kinds of quiet discussions promote empathy and build memories that are likely to be recalled when there’s a need for kindness on the real-life playground.

4. What’s the most important thing you want kids to take away from your books?

That sometimes a “bossy fish” just needs help to be a better friend. As an adult, I love the Robert Frost poem “Outwitted.”

He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took him in.


I’d like to think BOSSY FISH is the preschool version of that sentiment.

Isn’t that all very cool? And in addition, I can offer you a discount:

Just enter this promotion code: SEAMONSTER on this website: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/. Offer ends September 6, 2013.

seamonstersfirstdayseamonsterbossyfishTitle: Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish (and the earlier release Sea Monster’s First Day)
Author: Kate Messner
Illustrator: Andy Rash
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 4 – 7

Download your own Friend Fish pledge here. Use it in the classroom or your own home to promise friend-making over bullying. And good luck!

Have any other books you like to read before school starts? Share them here!

August 23, 2013

Be someone else. Then understand them.

We know books can take us places. We know they can introduce us to new people. But we often overlook the fact that they allow us to be  someone else. Not just to meet them, gaze into their life for a day. But actually to walk in their shoes, see through their eyes. Meet new people through the lens of the new person we suddenly find ourselves being. And the trend of first person narrators makes this even more possible.

I have a secret hatred for first person narrators because I often think you lose a lot without seeing the whole picture. However, when done right, they do lend a sense of immediacy and intimacy that you cannot get any other way.

piggyTitle: Piggy (originally “Big” in Dutch)
Author: Mireille Geus
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: Late elementary, Middle

Piggy is a new best friend (of sorts) to the “different” and “special” Dizzy. Or Lizzy, as the autistic girl is not really ever called. The book unfolds as Dizzy, used to being left out of pretty much everything, suddenly finds herself in a tight, and sometimes intense, friendship with the new girl in school. The friendship spirals out of control as the story is told both in the present (in which Dizzie finds herself in a LOT of trouble) and the past (in which Dizzie tells the story as the trouble unfolds).

Is it unfair to say that the book reminds me of a few others (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Out of my Mind) because of the special-needs status of the narrator? Perhaps. But like those two books, this story brings us one step closer to understanding someone that those more neurotypical readers might have a hard time understanding.

Let me be clear: this book didn’t do well (at least in the states–it was translated from Dutch). I bought it for $1 on one of those outdoor racks at the bookstore. But I liked this book. It was a fast and fun read with a good story and good characters. It’s short and nothing completely unexpected, but good nevertheless. It would be a great read for any kid just because it’s a good story, but I like that it will give those readers a closer understanding of someone different from them. If your child is struggling to understand a classmate or get along with a new potential friend, this would be all the more appropriate for them. Definitely read the book along with them and help them to notice how Dizzy reacts to the world around her and how that makes her different. How does it help her or hurt her at different points in the story? This book will help readers carry these images back to school where they can use them to forge a better understanding of their peers.

August 6, 2013

Take Me Out to the Ballpark

by Angela Verges

Line drive, loose hit, home run, these are all signs that baseball season is in full swing. I remember the days of my boys playing t-ball, coach pitch, and then baseball. Sitting on metal bleachers, watching kids in the outfield pick dandelions during the game, was one of the joys of parenting during baseball season.

During the days of little league parents may play the role of coach, snack organizer, and cheerleader. The job doesn’t end there. As my boys got older they wanted to expand from playing baseball into watching “real” baseball games. So it was off to Tiger Stadium to see professional baseball in action.

fenwayfoulupThis summer, we’ve shifted into reading a book with a baseball theme. One book we chose as a quick read was The Fenway Foul-Up by David A. Kelly. This book is one in the series, Ballpark Mysteries. In the story, Kate and Mike are cousins who stumble upon a mystery to solve while they are at a baseball game at Fenway Park.

Mike and Kate are self-appointed sleuths who search for clues to find a lucky bat that was stolen. The bat belonged to the star slugger of the Red Sox. Large print and pictures add to the easy flow of this book. And the story line is good too.

grandmasatbatIf you have an emerging reader, Grandmas at Bat by Emily Arnold McCully is a fun story. When Pip’s team needs a coach his two grandmas step up to the plate, literally. They coach, they cheer and they even take a turn at bat. It sounds like real life parenting during little league season.

If your little slugger can’t seem to get enough of baseball, let him or her have a little fun with baseball related science experiments or activities. At the science buddies website, there was an experiment that shows how to determine whether body position affects baseball speed (www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Sports_p053.shtml).

The TLC website listed activities and instructions for playing them. Some of the activities included, Backward Baseball, Spelling Bee Baseball and a Base Running Game (www.tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/baseball-activities4.htm).

The next time you’re sitting on metal bleachers watching a little league game or sitting in the stands of a professional game, remember kids really do grow up quickly. Enjoy the journey. Soon the roles will reverse and the kids will take you out to the ballpark.

Do you have any adventures in baseball to share?

August 2, 2013

the secrets of parenting with books

This was a YA book I could NOT put down. I think EVERY SINGLE parent needs to read it right now. And most teens, too. I chose this book for its title and cover. This might make me shallow, but it totally worked. Because Aristotle and Dante DO discover the secrets of the universe, or at least some of them, and they do it in a really realistically teen way.

aristotleanddanteTitle: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author
: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Genre: Fiction, Realistic Fiction
Age: 12 and up

And the cool thing about the parents? Well for starters, they aren’t dead! When is the last time you read a kids’ book where the parents were still alive? Still thinking about that one? Exactly. ALL FOUR parents are involved, and all, despite various issues they might have, are phenomenal role models, or at least doing their best. (And not in a cheesy, role-your-eyes I can’t believe my mom is making me read this book kind of way. Not that your kid would EVER roll his eyes…)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a compelling story about two teenage boys. Both are Mexican-American, which is already an identity with which they struggle, in different ways. And both are discovering sexuality, and again, they discover their own in really different ways. Aristotle is rough around the edges, completely silent inside and out (which makes him a really unique 1st person narrator–he doesn’t understand himself well enough to tell you all the details). Dante is more refined, more talkative, inquisitive. He wants to save the dead bird in the street.

Aristotle and Dante become fast friends and what happens next is nothing less than the story of all boys who grow up. It will, in particular, speak to those teenage boys who are finding out that their own sexuality might be different than the status quo, but I believe this is a book whose teenage angst will speak to all of us: gay, straight, young, and old.

And like I said, this is a book for parents. If you are having a hard time talking with your kids about growing up, having friends, or being gay, please read this book. Give it to your kids to read. And, like Ari’s father, sit down at the kitchen table one day and just start to talk. You might be surprised where it gets you.

If all books were like this, EVERYONE would read kids’ books, everyone would read with their kids, and this blog would be totally irrelevant.

And you don’t have to take MY word for it. This book won the Michael J. Printz Award, the Stonewall Book Award, and the Pura Belpré Award. Seriously. It has three medals on the cover.

If you like this one, I would suggest: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. All are great coming-of-age boy stories with a real MC and real problems in a real world.

July 15, 2013

don’t like camp

My memories of my camping experiences include mostly the one where I was stepped on by a horse and one where a counselor carried me upside down across a lunchroom and plopped me at a table of strangers. They did not, as I wondered if they might, eat me alive, so that was good. Oh, and I remember mail day, because I was one of the only campers who got something EVERY SINGLE DAY. (So embarrassing, mom!) But cool, too.

The protagonist in Like Bug Juice On A Burger doesn’t like camp much. And what makes this different from most don’t-like-this-much books is that there’s no major oh-wow-this-is-awesome revelation at the end. She gets through the experience, she makes a friend or two, and she has a few good times. She doesn’t LOVE it. But she doesn’t hate it, either, and that in itself is a valuable lesson. likebugjuiceonaburger

Title: Like Bug Juice on a Burger
Author: Julie Sternberg
Illustrator: Matthew Cordell
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: Elementary, 7 – 10ish

Another thing I love about the book is the language. It’s written almost poetically with frequent line breaks:

“All aboard!”

And Joplin was waiting beside me.

My mom kissed my head

one last time

before letting me go.

Then,

feeling very small,

I followed tall Joplin

onto the humungous bus.

Is that great imagery? “Tall Joplin”? I love that!

Another reason I love this book is that it doesn’t preach the message that everyone is supposed to be good at everything and like everything. It provides the reader with a great role model for a girl who (mostly) has fun at camp, and it shows that this is okay. One of the great messages, of course, is that she tried it. You can talk with your kids about things they’ve tried and liked or not liked, and what they might have gained along the way.

July 8, 2013

Need some science with your watermelon?

I have never tired to make my love for science a secret. Except in high school, and then I actually hated it so there was no secret, just a catastrophic misunderstanding that was luckily remedied by some more creative teachers in college. But that’s another story for another time. Right now, I want to talk about how you can get your kids to love science, too, because, really there is nothing NOT to love. And while most parents know to keep up on reading over the summer, and many also do some math or writing, not everyone thinks about science.

So today I’m linking to an article I wrote for ParentMap magazine in Seattle. It talks about how to bring science to your kid, whether that kid is scientifically, artistically, linguistically, or anything other-istically inclined. So go ahead and click on the link below.

Turn Cooking and Collecting Into Summer Science Fun!

And then, depending on which part you (and your child) likes best, head to the kitchen or the backyard or the library. And let the science learning begin!

Some of the books mentioned in that article can also be found on this blog. LIke Swirl by Swirl, Forest Has A Song, and Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different.

March 7, 2013

You can’t put the kids in a cardboard box, but you can call on Neville, Boomer, and Big Ernie

We did it last summer. The neighbors are doing it this summer. It’s as American as apple pie and the Fourth of July: the long distance move. The snow might still be on the ground, but I can hear the birds chirping, and they aren’t the only ones looking for a new nest. I can tell by the posts on my neighborhood moms’ group that many human families will soon be following suit. (***Note to people who aren’t moving soon: just skip the next part and read the bit about “Neville”, a great picture book. Then go back to Facebook and thank the heavens you don’t have to move.)

Let’s be honest, nobody likes moving. But let’s be honest again, I only thought I knew how hard moving was when my husband and I moved from the east coast to the Pacific Northwest. And then from the Pacific Northwest to the South. But I didn’t know, not until we moved from the South to the Midwest. It wasn’t the locations that mattered so much, but the cargo: we now had two kids. Things were about to get interesting.

And what do I do when things with my kids get interesting? That’s right, I buy books. Here are some that were awesomely helpful during that time:

neville

Title: Neville
Author: Norton Juster
Illustrator: G. Brian Karas

Neville was our absolute favorite. It was recommended by a fellow children’s book lover in Nashville. Unlike the others mentioned here, it’s not meant as a how-to on moving, but just a great picture book that happens to be about a kid who just moved. A young boy ventures out into his new neighborhood fairly certain that his mom is WRONG when she hints that he might make friends just by walking down the street. But what happens when he stands on the corner and yells “NEVILLE!” at the top of his lungs? Well, you’ll have to read it to find out. I’d recommend this one even if you aren’t moving.

berenstainbearsmovingday

Title: Berenstain’s Bears Moving Day
Authors/Illustrators: Stan and Jan Berenstain

Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day. Some people like these famous bears, some people don’t. And while I understand that they are long and a little preachy, especially by today’s trendy and zen-like picture books, I happen to love the Berenstein bears. And my kids do, too. They tell it like it is, and as long as you agree, they are the way to go. I think this one is an especially good one and definitely useful for a kid who is moving. Brother Bear is sad to leave his cave and his friends, but he learns to love his new tree house (the one we all know and love from other Berenstein Bear books) and find new friends.

boomersbigday

Title: Boomer’s Big Day
Author: Constance W. McGeorge
Illustrator: Mary Whyte

Boomer’s Big Day might be my favorite, especially for the littlest set (2 and up). Boomer is a dog and the family doesn’t really play a major role at all in the story, which I think is nice–it really hits that kid-centric point of view where everything revolves around their world, they aren’t getting enough information, and they are trying to figure it out for themselves. Boomer’s troubles start when he can’t understand why he isn’t getting his morning walk, escalate when his favorite toys are boxed up, but disappear when he sees…his new backyard!

bigerniesnewhome

Title: Big Ernie’s New Home
Authors/Ilustrators: Teresa and Whitney Martin

Big Ernie’s New Home also uses an animal as the point-of-view character, although Big Ernie (a cat) has a friend (Little Henry) who is going through the move right beside him. A little more prose than Boomer, so it might be better for a slightly older crowd (4 and up perhaps) or littler ones who can sit through a story. (It’s not long by any means, but I guess it seems that way in comparison with other books–picture books are getting shorter and shorter every year. One thing I liked about Big Ernie is that it doesn’t make the assumption that the kid is moving to a better place, which some of the books do. It’s a different place (in this case Santa Fe) and doesn’t describe the new house.

Title: Usborne First Experiences: Moving House
Author: Anne Civardi
Illustrator: Stephen Cartwright

Usborne First Experiences: Moving House was a nice short read, factual but with a story about a family. This family is moving across town, so they are able to visit their house before they move. (This was not the case with us, and as a result my son didn’t request this one as much and I didn’t pick it up as much). The book also includes details about how their new house is getting painted and new carpets before they move in, and compares the old house, which is an attached row house, to the new house, a large stand-alone home. If those facts match up, or at least don’t conflict with your story too much, this–while not great literature–is a nice, quick book that’s easy to understand. I think there is also a sticker book that goes with this, so that could be good, too. Especially if you have a long car ride built into your move.

themovingbook

Title: The Moving Book: A Kids’ Survival Guide
Author: Gabriel Davis
Illustrator: Sue Dennen

The Moving Book: A Kids’ Survival Guide was great, and would have been even better had I taken more time to help my son fill out the answers. Part scrapbook, part tutorial on how to move, and part planner for your new town, this book will help calm kids’ anxieties by making them part of the process. I love the way it asks them to find things they are looking forward to doing in their new town. And it has ideas for saying goodbye to friends and keeping in touch.

If you are moving this Spring or Summer, good luck! Give your kids some concrete ideas. The Wizard of Why asked a thousand times how his bed was possibly going to fit into a truck, so we googled it and found pictures of a bed going into a moving truck. I cannot tell you how much that helped! Plus, when are truck pictures a bad idea? Find a map of the city you are moving to and make some definite plans: is there a children’s museum you can go to? Find pictures on the web and show your kids. Or an art museum or a movie theatre…anything that gives them something to look forward to and convinces them that you are moving them to an actual place on the planet Earth with fellow human beings–and not to whatever dimension of outer space their toddler mind is imagining.

November 26, 2012

not too old to swing, not too young to get pregnant

I’m not sure why I have so many books about teen sex here, but I do (and there are two more coming). I picked this one up because I wanted to read a good multiple-perspective book. But I really believe books can be an awesome form of family therapy. Not sure how to bring up the subject? How about a book club? Maybe with some other teens and their parents, or maybe just with you and your own child. Books allow us to go places that are just too tough for normal conversation.

Jumping off swings by Jo Knowles is a good YA story. It’s told alternately from 4 different viewpoints: a high school girl who gets pregnant, her best girlfriend, the boy who got her that way, and one of his friends, who also has a crush on the original girl. It’s a very realistic portrayal of high school life and the impossible ordeal these four suddenly find themselves in. This book wasn’t complex, and that’s what I liked about it–it was simple and very real. You get to know the characters and you feel invested in their story. You understand why Ellie has slept around, and you feel for her. You understand why Josh left her, and you feel for him. You understand the friends and their actions. You get a feeling for each of their families.

As a parent, I think the book would be a great one for kids to read. It shows good examples without preaching. It contrasts Ellie’s one-night stands, that leave her empty and desperate, with some longer-term and more caring relationships of other characters. Jumping Off Swings doesn’t scream at kids that there is only one way to do things, but it does suggest, using characters as examples, ways to think about teenage relationships. And the multiple-character viewpoints allow the reader to see how many people can change from one event.

The book doesn’t sugarcoat any of the issues. It deals realistically with the difficult decisions of abortion, adoption, and teen pregnancy. It doesn’t lecture; it just shows you the heart-wrenching emotions Ellie experiences as she carries a new life inside of her. The four students in the book grow up quickly as they face issues they never thought they’d have to (which is sort of the point; hopefully reading books like these will show teens that these are issues they should be thinking about, no matter what kinds of decisions they are making).

A book like this is a good start to any parent-teen conversation about sex. The important thing is that you are involved in the conversation. Books can help give your children facts; you can help give your children guidance.

November 24, 2012

You ain’t slick and I ain’t stupid

To quote a movie I cannot stand, this book had me at “hello” and held onto me all the way to goodbye. After a wonderful, family-filled, post-Thanksgiving day yesterday, complete with family, a workout, a walk in the snow, and an after-dinner movie, we joked about crashing the Michigan frat parties that were likely just starting up as we trodded off to bed, the hour still in the single digits. But if I’m not staying up for parties anymore (yeah, right, ’cause I used to all the time…) there is one thing that will keep my light on, and Like Sisters on the Homefront, a 1996 Coretta Scott King Honor Book by Rita Williams-Garcia, meant I didn’t turn it off until about one o’clock this morning.

Sisters grabs you from the first page, when Gayle’s mother, hearing the bathroom door too many times in a row, immediately knows something is up. And immediately knows what that something is. Gayle’s voice rings and sings through perfect prose as the defiant 14-year-old is dragged to an abortion clinic by her mother and then sent away from her beloved New York City to live with relatives down south. Gayle already has one child, a baby who comes with her on the journey, and is indeed with her every moment of the day. Gayle struggles mightily against her God-fearing, Jesus-worshipping family, but even as you know what’s coming, or think you know, this book will have you turning the pages quickly.

Whether you fall for Gayle immediately (like “Great” does, the family matriarch who lies dying in her bed and shares life-changing stories of the past with her) or whether it takes you some time to warm up to her (like her cousin “Cookie” who can belt out the Lord’s music like nobody’s music, might depend on who you are and where you’ve been. But that you will fall in love for her I have no doubt. True, this book deals with adult themes–a very young girl is a mother, and on top of that, she’s experiencing the pains of abortion throughout much of the story. But this isn’t pain for pain’s sake. This book feels real. You meet these characters so intimately, you will ultimately feel like your mother sent you down South to live with them. Some mothers might shy away from a book like this, but to the extent that it’s appropriate for me to do so, I would discourage that. This book is filled with positive messages, the good kind that are honest, learned the hard way, and rooted in a messy but caring family.

Title: Like Sisters on the Homefront
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Genre: Fiction
Age: 7th grade and up

If you read this book with your daughter, there are a lot of good conversations you could have at the end. (Hint: one of them does NOT start out with the phrase “and that’s why you shouldn’t have sex until you are 35!”) 🙂 But Gayle has been using sex to get something she doesn’t have anywhere else. What is it? And why doesn’t she have it. Gayle talks about about the baby’s daddy and her latest boyfriend, but we don’t see them at all in the book. Why not? Ask your daughter about it. What is the difference between Gayle and Cookie when Cookie finally admits her own crush? And what happens that fateful night when Cookie rushes to the car? What is Cookie thinking and why does what happens next happen?

If you’re not ready for the romantic/sexual side of the conversation, this book has a lot more to offer about family and history. Why is everyone so keen to hear the “Telling” before Great passes away? What does it mean to know one’s own history and why does that matter? There’s a wonderful passage where Great tells Gayle she should never be angry at another African because they could be family, separated by slavery, time, and geography. Isn’t that something we could all learn?

The last line in this book is still whispering itself softly between my ears. The imagery of the scene is dancing in my mind, even after a good night’s sleep, even after a morning with my own family, who I appreciate through the lens of this newly-read book, resting on my brain, now a part of me.

As Gayle often says, she “ain’t stupid”. But that doesn’t mean she has nothing to learn.

And that’s why we read.