Friday, July 15, 2016

Why We Need Diverse Books

In the late 60s, early 70s, there was not a great selection of YA literature that spoke to the real lives of kids. I devoured the Black Stallion books, but I never found myself in possession of a wild, desert stallion. Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden were not kids who walked the halls of my school. A Wrinkle in Time probably came the closest, but there weren’t any other titles that pushed that idea of love and acceptance. By the end of junior high, a sweet librarian had introduced me to books written for adults. I loved James Herriot, devoured Victoria Holt, and I tore through Barbara Cartland’s regency romances. But there were no mirrors in those books, no guidance for a teen girl.

In the spring of 1974 the eighth grade class sat in the auditorium and got our schedule selection sheets for high school. One elective choice stood out to me-vocational agriculture. Ag. Finally, a class that spoke to my heart and my interests. I had lived and breathed horses since I got my first pony at the age of three, and I had visions of becoming a large animal vet. (With that in mind, math and science should have been my focus, but that’s another story.)

As I filled in my choices, people around me were amused. No girl in our rural East Texas high school had ever taken ag. No one was certain that it would even be allowed. That made the pit of my stomach flutter, but I was determined. When I got home, Mother looked at my choices, and as we talked about them, my older sister announced that the only way she would allow me to take ag was if I also took home economics. My choice was to add home ec, or ride the bus. P.E. was out, and home ec was in.

Over the summer I heard a few rumblings that there were people who were not pleased that I was going to be “allowed” to take ag. The ag teacher made it known that I would receive no special treatment, and he expected me to quit in the first few weeks. The boys were certain that I would quit as soon as I had to get dirt on my hands. The adults in my life laughed; I had a reputation for being a spitfire who wouldn’t back down from any argument.

But as it turned out, I wasn’t equipped for this particular fight. I didn’t know that they were going to fight with weapons I couldn't defend against. No adult in my family, ever, cursed or used vulgarity in my presence. Ever. I was just about as sexually na├»ve as a kid could be. To be caught holding hands with a boy was a humiliation beyond endurance. Oh, I knew the basics of reproduction, and I would fling out a “hell” or “damn” in the presence of my friends. But I was about to be introduced to a level of verbal vulgarity that was beyond my comprehension.

I know, in today’s world that just doesn’t seem like a big deal. Back then…remember, they couldn’t run feminine hygiene commercials, and the only bra commercial I recall showed a woman wearing the bra over her TURTLE NECK. Every single day of my 9th grade year began the same way. First period, ag building, across the street from the school. The teacher came in 5 or 10 minutes or so after the tardy bell, and that time was a filth fest. One 14 year-old girl. Twelve or so adolescent boys. And it never let up. Oh, they never laid a hand on me, except for a shove to the shoulder and a laugh when they asked about my possible sexual experiences on our family horse farm. A tampon pulled out of a pocket with the suggestion that I might need it. I quickly heard every possible slang word for penis, vagina, intercourse, orgasms, masturbation. Multiple jokes and stories involving all of the aforementioned. Well, you get the picture. I never looked up, I sat with my head-down feeling as though my body was about to erupt in flames, never spoke a word, and I never told anybody.

That first week of school, we piled into the truck and made a trip to the ag farm. A new-born bull calf made my heart melt. Until the teacher had a boy throw it on the ground, spread its back legs, and hand me a knife. He talked me through the castration process and then poured rubbing alcohol over my hands to remove the blood. When I didn’t quit on the spot, I gained a measure of that teacher’s respect. I became his favorite student, but he still left me in that room every morning.

After I graduated from high school, I went back and talked to him about it. He said that he knew what was going on, but if he had intervened, the boys would have made it their mission to make me miserable outside of that room. He also figured that things would improve in later years. And they did.

But he told me one other thing. He told me something that broke my heart. While the boys weren’t thrilled to have me in their All Boys Club of a class, they would have left me alone in a few weeks. Except for one person. The father of one of the boys. He goaded them all year. He fed them nasty jokes, he told them things to say that he guaranteed them would drive me away. Worse, this was a man I knew. A man I liked. Who smiled at me when I was in his business. Who always spoke kindly to me. Who gave me affectionate side hugs. Who cautioned me when he saw me driving recklessly.

I never recognized that evil in him. I had never read about that kind of adult. And I had never read about a girl who stood up for herself. I needed a Willowdean, a Katniss, a Hermione. I know that my situation was nothing compared to the bullying that happens to our kids who are gay, transgendered, or in some other way unacceptable to some elements of society. But I know that year would have been easier if I had found someone like me in the covers of a book.

If your student is ever in my class, he or she may come home with a book that has a character who is gay, or transgendered, or has a family member with a drug addiction. I’m not trying to pervert your kid. I’m not trying to lead them into lives of sin. I just want them to see other humans, and I want them to realize that it’s not okay to inflict emotional or physical harm on people whose lives are different. I just want them to learn not to be creeps.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Scorpio Races

I've had this book in my TBR pile for some time, and it worked its way to the top last weekend. I stayed up waaay too late reading it a couple of nights, and it stuck with me through my days. Maggie Stiefvater takes the Celtic/Irish/Scottish water horse legend, the capaill uisce, and brings the reader into the dream-like setting of Thisby. Puck and her brothers are orphans who struggle to eek out a living, and Sean is a young horseman who has a mystical touch. The story unfolds slowly and magically, and the meat eating, blood thirsty water horses are at once horrifying and majestic. Her scene of the herd of water horses "tearing in from an angry sea" may be one of the most beautiful things I've ever read, and it continues to stick with me. I'll be looking for more to read about the capaill uisce, but I fear nothing will compare to Stiefvater's rendition.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I have never in my life managed to keep a resolution, but the folks at Nerdy Bookclub have created #Nerdlution as a way to inspire us to create habits. So, here goes, for the next 50 days, every day I will: Do something each day to improve my health-park farther away, make extra trips up and down the stairs, or skip the junk food. Read for pleasure. Not for personal, professional development, not for making recommendations for others (though I will-if I love a book, you're going to hear about it!) Make progress on my school website. I think that's enough. Any more, and I'm afraid I'll feel overwhelmed and get discouraged. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Unless You're a Kid, Stay Out of My Classroom

I've been angry lately. Angry and frustrated. I am sick to death of people whose only knowledge of education comes from the fact that they once attended school, telling teachers how to teach. We would not tolerate for one second having these people tell our coaches how to coach, or expect coaches to take advice from the dad who once played middle school football, but when it comes to the classroom, everybody, except the teacher, seems to be an expert. Well, I am an expert, and I'll tell you what needs to be done in an English Language Arts classroom. Kids need to read, teachers need to provide interesting, valuable material for them to read, deep, relevant discussion of the reading needs to happen, and writing needs to happen. THAT'S IT. Any second that one of these things isn't happening is a complete waste of time. Money spent on anything else is money wasted. In addition, if parents will read, if parents will discuss the ideas in books with their children, the literacy rates will skyrocket. It's that simple. Read. Talk about it. Write about it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

And so it ends...

It's over-but it was a good night for it. A soft spring night under the lights. The flag over center field wafting gently in the breeze. Cleats scratching in the on deck circle, and the ball pops the mitt. Subtle courtesies: a catcher hit in the mask and the ump walks the ball out to the pitcher-speaks for a moment, and the pitcher drops to one knee to tie a cleat. Later-ump takes a foul ball off the chest protector. Catcher turns to see that he's okay, calls for time, and trots to the mound. Pitcher and catcher confer and Coach walks the ball to the plate. The game continues-and everyone's had time to recover-everyone's pride is intact. It all ends on a bases loaded, double play ball. Just that quickly. It's finished. Twenty-seven years as baseball parents have passed in the blink of a double play. No one wants to leave. Coach stands in the dugout looking out over the field. It's more than a season ending. This particular program also ended on that double play. The players mingle, hug, keep arms slung over shoulders, shed emotion through their eyes. Eventually they head for the bus. Our son walks with us. His baseball career began twenty-one years ago on a tee-ball field just a few miles away-"You know-I don't mind walking away from baseball. But this"-and he nods toward his teammates-"it's hard for this to end." As we drive away, the lights are still on. They are all Fields of Dreams.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Family Members

Over the Thanksgiving break the Epic family added another dog, a horse and a donkey. A treadmill, too, but we won't count it. Mr. Epic and I grew up around horses, but it's been many, many, many (you get the idea) years since we had one as part of our daily lives.

Oh, my. Jerry Sheldon (Epic horse) has lived his entire life in a suburban area boarding environment, surrounded by other horses, and not a great deal of open space. When he arrived and saw all of the "outside," and no equine companionship, he had a horsey melt down. He's a big boy, and one broken lead rope and another broken halter later, I decided he was going to have to have a four-legged best friend.

Did you know there are people GIVING AWAY donkeys? Seriously-go look on craigslist. And if you get one from the West Equine Rescue (I believe they work in conjunction with the Humane Society of North Texas), a lovely lady and her two friends will deliver it to you. It's good form to give them a donation. They have horses, too.

Anyway-on Sunday Tom Leonard (Epic donkey) arrived. He's eight months old, and 350 pounds of adorable. He had never had a halter on before, and it took three of us to drag/push/pull him into the barn. Fifteen minutes, and ten horse cookies later, he was leading around the paddock like he'd been doing it his whole life. Who doesn't love cookies!

Then it was time for introductions. Much over the stall door sniffing ensued, followed by a full paddock meeting. All went well until Jerry Sheldon (16+ hands, 1300+ pounds) decided to get pushy. Tom Leonard doesn't appreciate pushy. He kicked Jerry Sheldon. Twice. Jerry Sheldon decided to be the bigger equine and act civil. For now. I'm pretty sure he's going to get kicked every time he decides to try to get bossy.

Last night second Epic dog made the mistake of running up behind Tom Leonard in the paddock. I've never heard a dog make the sounds she made while scrambling for her life. Those stories about donkeys keeping coyotes away from herd animals-they're all true. That was one little ball of four-legged grey fury. And he was going to kill himself a dog. Fortunately for her, he couldn't get under the fence.

There's a new boss on the Epic farm. His name is Tom Leonard. He can be bribed with cookies.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Horse Heaven

When I was three my grandparents bought me a pony. Several months later our small East Texas community held its annual trail ride in conjunction with a week long festival. My grandfather and oldest sister were riding horses, my middle sister was to ride my pony on the seventeen mile long ride, and I was to ride in a covered wagon with Daddy and others.

As people gathered for the start of the ride, my poor Daddy was confronted with two hysterical daughters. He held me in one arm as I screamed, and pulled my screaming sister off of the pony with his other arm. As he pulled her off the pony, I grabbed the pommel, clambered into the saddle, and stopped crying instantly. As soon as my sister was in Daddy's arms she stopped her wailing, too. Those two got into the wagon, and I joined the other riders.

All of this came back to me this weekend. On Saturday, for the first time in twenty years, I climbed on to the back of a horse. I felt my face split into a grin, and that exhilarating sense of freedom flooded through me. While I'm an awful long way from that little girl, she is still inside of me, and she is thrilled beyond words that her barn will once again be home to a horse.

I must confess though, it feels odd. Almost selfish. It's something I desperately want, but I want it just for me. That doesn't feel right, but I'm pretty sure I'll adjust-especially once the grandchildren start to ride!