What Children’s Books Do You Give?

What gift do you give to the outgoing president of a university? Recently, the seven chairs of Duke’s Academic Council decided to give retiring President Richard Brodhead children’s books, knowing he’s looking forward to spending more time with his young grandchild. Unsurprisingly, the selected books are very old, except for one (see DukeToday to find out which faculty member gave which one and why):

  • Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (1941)
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do you See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle  (1967)
  • Frederick by Leo Lionni (1967)
  • Freight Train by Donald Crews (1978)
  • The Complete Book of Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker(1920)
  • Jessica’s X-Ray by Pat Zonta (2002)

As is often the case with classics, none of the books noticeably features characters from diverse backgrounds, though at least one is authored/illustrated by a person of color.

In general, I like these books–I’ve read all of them except The Complete Book of Flower Fairies—but none of them are among the books I’ve given to the young children in my life over the years (or their parents and grandparents).

My go-to list of children’s books for gifts includes (among other books):

  • Tea Leaves by Frederick Lipp (2003), a beautifully illustrated story about a girl named Shanti, who lives on the island of Sri Lanka, but has never seen the sea.
  • The Family Book by Todd Parr (2003), which misguided proponents of book banning have challenged in the past for its depiction of families with two moms and two dads;
  • Art & Max by David Wiesner (2010), a beautifully illustrated book that contains enough words to add structure to the story without stifling young imaginations;

 

What books do you give to the children in your life?

 

*I learned about Brodhead’s gifts from Alex @randomlyreading. Thanks, Alex!

Impeachment: A Complicated Solution to a Dangerous Presidential Problem

The constant flow of information about Donald Trump’s scandalous and dysfunctional administration has intensified the calls to remove him from office.

But what is the impeachment process, and what will it take to use it against Trump effectively? The process stems from provisions in our Constitution that have long baffled scholars, jurists, and lawmakers:

Article I:

Section 2: The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Section 3: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Article II:

Section 4: The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

(emphasis added).

Much of the controversy around impeachment surrounds the meaning of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” What actions qualify? The answer might be as simple as, “whatever Congress thinks qualifies.” Given how the House has “sole Power of Impeachment” and the Senate has “sole Power to try all Impeachments,” it seems likely that, under most theories of Constitutional law and the separation of powers, the Supreme Court would have no say in deciding if a particular “high crime” or “misdemeanor” was sufficient for impeachment and removal.

The House of Representatives has impeached two presidents, but the Senate convicted neither of them. Still, those experiences, plus the impeachment proceedings of a number of other elected officials, give us an idea of what the process entails.

To impeach a president, the process begins in the House of Representatives after a simple majority approves the charges against the President (known as the Articles of Impeachment). Then the Senate holds a trial, over which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides. Two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict and remove the President from office.

Impeached ThumbnailSo far, the Senate has never voted to convict an impeached President, but it came close to doing so in 1868, when Andrew Johnson kept his office by one vote. To learn more about what happened, I read Impeached: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy by David O. Stewart.

Andrew Johnson became President after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, a few weeks before the official end of the bloody Civil War. Republicans added Johnson to Lincoln’s presidential ticket as a symbolic gesture, hoping a Tennessean would show that they were not only a party of the North.

However, as Stewart explains:

Elected on the Republican ticket, Johnson longed to cut himself free from that party. He did not share its principles, its goals, or its brief history.

Johnson sounds like Donald Trump, the nominal head of a party he barely belongs to. Trump and Johnson have so much in common that many portions of Stewart’s book felt as though they could have been about Mr. Trump if we changed the dates and replaced names with “the President,” “Department official” and “Congressman.” For example:

  • “Quickly, the audience could tell that something was wrong.  [The President’s] face glowed a luminous red. His sentences were incomplete, not connected to each other.”
  • “[The President] had misplayed his hand. Rather than acting the statesman who wished to unify the nation, he behaved like a political brawler with a grandiose self-image.”
  • “[T]he president’s provocative and racist rhetoric failed to unite Republicans against him.”
  • “[The] vindictive spirit blinded [the President] to the damage he was doing to his own cause.”
  • And, as Carl Schurz remembered about Johnson in 1907: “There was a widespread feeling among well-meaning and sober people that the country was really in some sort of peril, and that it would be a good thing to get rid of that dangerous man in the presidential chair.”

There are also differences between Johnson and Trump, one being that Johnson was a hard worker (while Trump spends more time playing golf than any President in recent memory) and Congressional Republicans were ultimately more apt to counter the President in Andrew Johnson’s time than the current version of that party is willing to do today.

With Johnson, Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens laid the groundwork for his impeachment for years, failing multiple times to get a majority in the House to approve the Articles of Impeachment. The charges were “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which required something more than simply being “unfit” for the presidency. It helped the impeachment effort when Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act by replacing the Secretary of War. Republicans in the House then approved, finally, the Articles of Impeachment, but the Senate did not convict, falling short of the required two-thirds by one vote.

It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump will be the first U. S. President to be convicted and removed from office. So far, the GOP’s Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have shown nothing but tacit approval of Mr. Trump’s misdeeds that, at best, show him to be unfit for the presidency and, at worse, raise the specter of treason.

We’re still uncovering the facts, but these disturbing actions (among others) could underscore the case for impeachment against Trump:

  • Trump allegedly demanded “loyalty” from FBI Director James Comey, and then fired him amid the FBI’s ongoing investigation of Trump’s connections with Russia, a country that interfered in our election to benefit him. The stated reason for Comey’s firing—that it was based on Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server—is laughable coming from a man who gleefully encouraged his supporters to chant “Lock her up” during his campaign. So, it’s pretext, and the question is whether it’s obstruction of justice, an impeachable “high crime and misdemeanor.”
  • To make matters even more deplorable, we have just learned that Trump allegedly asked Comey to end the investigation into Michael Flynn’s connections and communications with Russia. (And now, Jason Chaffetz, the Chair of the House Oversight Committee, has sent a letter to the FBI requesting Comey documents).
  • Then there’s the allegation that Trump disclosed classified information to Russian officials, which looks treasonous on the surface, but does not meet the Constitution’s narrow definition of “treason.” Nevertheless, the flippant disclosure of highly sensitive and important information could support impeachment, particularly when coupled with other reckless acts.
  • And let’s not forget the evidence that Trump and his associates may have violated the emoluments clause of Article I of the Constitution, which prohibits public officials from taking something of value from foreign governments. The question is whether the benefits Trump has allegedly received from foreign governments amount to accepting bribes (a separate impeachable offense) or whether it’s corruption qualifying as a “high crime and misdemeanor.” See The Emoluments Clause: Its Text, Meaning, and Application to Donald J. Trump.

The American People deserve to know the facts surrounding these serious allegations. We need Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and their colleagues to finally stand up to Donald Trump. Our democracy remains at risk until either our Republican-led Congress prioritizes the good of the country over its loyalty to Trump or the American people vote them out of office.

*Image: Impeachment In A Horn (1868), https://www.loc.gov/item/2007680124/

Milo’s Malicious Press Release: Will It Matter In Court?

Milo

Milo Yiannopoulos, a professional troll and proud bigot, has announced that he will self-publish the book Simon & Schuster dropped after his comments condoning child abuse surfaced earlier this year. He plans to publish the book as part of a new media venture, MILO, Inc, which he describes in a Facebook post as “a fully tooled-up talent factory and management company dedicated to the destruction of political correctness and the progressive left.”

In this release, he explains the motivation behind his project, saying:

I will spend every waking moment of the rest of my life making the lives of journalists, professors, politicians, feminists, Black Lives Matter activists and other professional victims a living hell.

Charming.

I doubt it was wise to publicly announce the malicious intent behind his company, which I assume will publish controversial statements about individuals belonging to the groups Milo lists. This announcement could make it easier for members of these groups to establish the legal elements of defamation claims against Milo and his company (assuming the company materializes; apparently, his past ventures have not).

Generally speaking, in the United States, a plaintiff bringing a defamation case in court has to prove the following elements (it varies a little by state):

  • 1) the defendant negligently published or communicated to a third party
  • 2) a false statement purporting to be true
  • 3) that resulted in harm to the plaintiff.

However, public figures and celebrities — the people Milo is likely to target, considering his trolling of actress Leslie Jones — have a higher standard to meet to win a defamation lawsuit against someone who publishes untrue statements about them. They have to prove that the defendant made the alleged defamatory statements with “actual malice.” New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).

Thanks to Milo’s press release (and probably other statements he’s made), it might be relatively easy for future plaintiffs to prove that statements published by his venture were made with “reckless disregard of whether or not it was false.” After all, the point of his venture isn’t to publish truthful information but rather to make the lives of anyone who disagrees with him “a living hell.”

Meanwhile, Milo has also announced a lawsuit of his own. He plans to sue Simon & Schuster for dropping his book. If he follows through on this threat, I question whether it will be successful.  I would assume Simon & Schuster’s contracts with authors include a “morals clause,” a provision in many entertainment contracts that generally allows a party to withdraw from the agreement when the other party engages in “bad behavior.” Then again, what kind of morals clause could Simon & Schuster have imposed on Milo when the only reason for the contract in the first place was to capitalize off of Milo’s immorality?

____________________

*Similarly, Donald Trump’s words have also been used against his actions in court. See Trump’s Words Were Again Used Against Him in Sanctuary City Ruling & Trump’s Remarks About Muslims Could Be What Ends The Travel Ban, Testimony Suggests.

“I Hate Seeing You Walk”: Thoughts on A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Teenager Veda Venkat, the star of Padma Venkatraman’s A Time to Dance, believes she excels at only one thing: Bharatanatyam dance. The rhythmic beats of this classical Indian dance speak a magical language to her, changing the way she sees herself. As she explains:

my graceful movements make up for

my incorrectly proportioned face.

I can dance beauty into my body.

Dancing defines Veda to such a degree that when an accident takes away her leg below her knee, it threatens to take away her identity too. A Time to Dance is a lyrical novel, written in verse, that describes the poignant process of healing after a profound loss.

I do not know what it is like to lose a limb, an aspect of the novel that is not #ownvoices, but Veda’s feelings felt realistic to me and even somewhat familiar based on losses I’ve experienced in my life. Veda experiences a range of feelings, from grief to jealousy, as she reestablishes herself as a dancer despite the physical changes she has endured.

She says to her best friend, for example, “I hate seeing you walk.”

This line reminded me of how much I hated the sight of pregnant women after my twin pregnancy ended at 26 weeks, leaving my daughters struggling for their lives in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for 78 days. It made me feel like a monster to hate looking at pregnant women, but I couldn’t help it. Those feelings only intensified when my next pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage, making me believe my body was irrevocably broken. My final pregnancy ended well over a month early, and my daughter spent a few days in the NICU. It was a better result than we’d ever had before, but still far from what I had hoped.

I hadn’t realized the degree to which I had absorbed my culture’s emphasis on female reproductive capacity–the terribly harmful and inaccurate belief that a woman’s role is to have children–until I just couldn’t achieve it the “right” way. I wondered what was wrong with me.

Those feelings of inadequacy have dissipated, thanks to time and the fact that my three children are now healthy. Looking at my twins now, you’d never know how fragile they once were. As a result, I am in a position to appreciate the silver linings of my family’s tumultuous beginning, and I even look back on our time in the NICU fondly (see Rosy Retrospection & #ReadingEmily). I’ve come a long way since those harrowing days beside my children’s incubators, watching their heart rates fall.

In A Time to Dance, Veda ends up in a similar place, feeling stronger as a result of her loss. To find out how she gets there, please read the book. I highly recommend it.

A Time to Dance is ideal for readers of middle grade and young adult fiction. One of my nine-year-old twins read it four times in a row because she loved it so much.

 

*Recommended by the Huntress of Diverse Books. Thanks, Sinead.

Defining “Hendren”: An Update on a Lawmaker’s Attempt to Ban Howard Zinn’s Books

Here’s an overdue update on Arkansas Representative Kim Hendren’s unconstitutional bill to ban Howard Zinn’s books from public and charter schools in his state:

Initially, Hendren’s bill prohibited public and charter schools from including any of Zinn’s books (or any materials about Zinn’s books) in the curricula under any circumstances. See Why is Arkansas Rep. Kim Hendren So Afraid of Howard Zinn’s Books?

A few weeks later, on March 21, 2017, Hendren sponsored an amendment that would permit schools to include Zinn’s books only if those materials are presented in “a balanced manner that considers other opinions and points of view.”

It may seem like a good idea to require the presentation of other “points of view,” but there’s always a question about what that means. Would a teacher have to counter Zinn’s People’s History of the United States with racist garbage? Or would a traditional history book that whitewashes and softens the horrors of our past be sufficient?

Thankfully, it doesn’t look like we’ll have to find out. Earlier this month, Common Dreams and the Arkansas Times blog reported that Hendren’s bill died in committee. Based on Hendren’s amendment to his own bill and its short lifespan, I can only assume he heard an earful from his constituents.

In my opinion, this is an example of how we, the people, really do have the power to impact the legislative process. Making a phone call or writing a letter to a lawmaker seems so insignificant, but it’s not. As Zinn said in The Optimism of Uncertainty (and elsewhere), “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

While I doubt Hendren heard from millions of people, he certainly heard from many, making the demise of his bill an example of Howard Zinn’s point. The death of his proposed law doesn’t quite “transform” the world, but I hope the experience has taught Arkansas’s lawmakers an important lesson about promoting censorship. We’ll see.

Unsurprisingly, Hendren’s censorship effort had the opposite effect on access to Zinn’s ideas. As Bill Bigelow reports in Common Dreams (linked above):

In response [to Hendren’s bill], the Zinn Education Project—a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change, which I co-direct—offered to send free copies of a Howard Zinn book and A People’s History for the Classroom lessons to any Arkansas middle or high school teacher or school librarian requesting them.

In just a few days, we were flooded with requests. Many of them came accompanied by poignant notes about why people were eager to get the materials. One middle school librarian in Western Grove, Arkansas, near the Missouri border (population 373), wrote, ‘The proposed bill to ban Mr. Zinn’s book has fired up the Arkansas librarian world. To combat ignorance, I must have knowledge. I respectfully request a copy so I can educate my tiny corner of the world.’

By the beginning of April, nearly 700 Arkansas teachers and school librarians received copies of Zinn’s books. That’s wonderful, isn’t it?

Bigelow also detailed his conversation with the man responsible for spreading those books across the state, Kim Hendren, who reportedly explained the motivation for his bill like this:

I think my constituents had seen some stuff on the internet or media. And Rick Santorum had mentioned it. I’d never heard of Howard Zinn. I’d never heard of the man.

Wow. I’ll give Hendren credit for engaging in the conversation, even if his responses are laughable. In addition to learning a thing or two about the stupidity of censorship, Hendren also needs to learn a lesson about emulating Rick “Man-on-Dog” Santorum, whose name is synonymous with an occasional byproduct of anal sex.

If Hendren isn’t careful, he might be appalled to learn how the American people will define his last name someday.

Here is HB 1834 in its different stages:

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher #MiddleGrade #KidLit

Recently, my family met the Fletchers, the fictional stars of Dana Alison Levy’s middle grade novel, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, which I read aloud to my daughters as we waited for the school bus. The Fletcher family consists of two dads, Jason and Tom, and four boys of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds named Sam, Jax, Eli, and Frog (short for Bull Frog, AKA Jeremiah). The Fletchers are different from my family in some ways, but we can relate to many of their daily triumphs and tribulations, such as dealing with awkward questions and rude stares.

Here’s an example from Chapter Five:

In the seats, dozens of grown-ups stared blankly at the Fletchers….

Papa stepped forward, smiling. “I’m Jason Fletcher—please call me Jason. And this is my husband, Tom Anderson.”

Dad reached out his hand, also smiling. They had been through this many times, Eli knew… [He] stared at his spotless desk, his face burning. He wasn’t embarrassed about his family—it wasn’t that. It was just… there were so many of them. And so many boys. He knew the questions were coming.

[…]

“Are those guys all your brothers? How old are they?” Griffin said. […] “You guys don’t look anything alike.”

[…]

“We’re all adopted,” Eli said, edging toward Dad, who was reading the compositions taped to the wall. Eli hoped that the questions would stop now. But before he walked away, he heard Mika say, in a loud whisper, “Why do they have two dads? Don’t they have a mom?”

It was apparently loud enough for Frog to hear too, and before Eli could answer, Frog spoke up. “Of course we had moms! Don’t you even know how babies are made? It takes a man and a woman, and the egg meets the—”

Our family’s situation is different, but we know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of insensitive interrogations because some people don’t understand how our mixed-race family “belongs” together, a topic I explored with my twins in our middle grade novel, Anusha of Prospect Corner.

Like 6-year-old Frog Fletcher, who responds to Mika’s question with a reproductive biology lesson, our Sri Lankan-American Anusha Smyth addresses the ignorance she encounters about where her red hair “comes from” with a science-based answer, a similarity my twins noted as we read Chapter Five together.

We spent time discussing the chapter, in part because it provided a piece of evidence that contributed to my kids’ understanding of the time period of the book. They had been confused about the time period because one of the Fletcher boys had considered taking a paper-route, an old-fashioned job my kids know of only from stories about their Granddad’s childhood.

When my girls learned that Tom is Jason’s husband, my daughter said: “Oh, so they’re married. Then it takes place now because same-sex marriage wasn’t legal until recently.”**

“Sort of,” I replied, noting that the story seems to take place in Massachusetts, where marriage equality became the law well over a decade ago as a result of Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941 (2003). That decision came down from the Massachusetts Supreme Court at the end of my first semester of law school. I was in Massachusetts at the time, and I wondered how long it would take for marriage equality to reach the rest of the country.

Twelve years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court finally declared that United States Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry. 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015).

There are some people in our country — such as those responsible for the 2016 Republican Party platform — who want to turn the clock back to a time when real families like the fictional Fletchers had little or no legal protection for their love of each other, but judging from my children’s positive reaction to The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, I think those people are fighting a losing battle. My kids accept the Fletchers for what they really are: a fun family worth reading about. They and other members of their generation are our future, not those people who want to reinstate the past.

_____________

*We read this book after it was recommended by @raincityjane @thelogonauts on the #diversekidlit twitter chat (for a recap, see here: http://www.thelogonauts.com/2017/04/chat.html)

**A later reference to Minecraft helped us narrow the time period to “pretty much now.”

A Shared Superpower & Another Anne of Green Gables

One of my daughters shares more than her red hair and Sri Lankan-American background with the main character of Anusha of Prospect Corner, the middle grade novel we wrote together (the e-book is now $1.99 on Amazon; See also: A Review of Anusha of Prospect Corner (Our #Ownvoices Novel Inspired By Anne of Green Gables).

They share a “superpower” too. Anusha is uncommonly good at finding four-leaf clovers, and yesterday, my daughter showed she is also quite good at finding them. We stuck her clovers in a copy of Anusha:

Anusha of Prospect Corner is a multicultural take on L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I love adaptations of classics, both in written form and on the screen, and I am looking forward to watching the new retelling that will debut on Netflix in the United States on May 12th. Anne is already airing in Canada, which gave us L. M. Montgomery and her timeless creations in the first place.

This new adaptation focuses on some of the darker aspects of Anne Shirley’s life. In a recent interview on Smithsonian.com, Moira Walley-Beckett, the show’s producer and writer, said:

I guess I don’t really agree that it’s a darker take. I think that it’s a deep, honest take. All of Anne’s backstory is in the book. She’s had a terrible early life. She talks about it in exposition, and I just took us there dramatically.

Yes, Anne’s early life was bleak. When I read the book with my daughters, before we wrote Anusha of Prospect Corner together, they teared up at these words:

Marilla asked no more questions. Anne gave herself up to a silent rapture over the shore road and Marilla guided the sorrel abstractedly while she pondered deeply. Pity was stirring in her heart for the child. What a starved, unloved life she had had—a life of drudgery and poverty and neglect; for Marilla was shrewd enough to read between the lines of Anne’s history and divine the truth.

We will watch Anne together next month.  I wonder how my children will react to seeing the story behind these lines transferred to the screen.

____

PS. If you’d like to see a picture of a six-leaf clover I found last summer, see A Review of Anusha of Prospect Corner (scroll to the bottom).