Rosy Retrospection & #ReadingEmily

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It’s been a long time since I last visited Emily Byrd Starr, the main character of L. M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon (1923). Emily isn’t as famous as Anne, the star of Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, but she’s every bit as lovable. She’s an imaginative child and an aspiring writer who recognizes and embraces the world around her:

[Emily] loved the spruce barrens, away at the further end of the long, sloping pasture.That was a place where magic was made. She came more fully into her fairy birthright there than in any other place.

Sadly, Emily isn’t lucky enough to stay in this magical place. By chapter three, she loses her beloved father, setting into motion a cascade of tragic events, including the gut-wrenching loss of the yellow account-book into which Emily poured her creative thoughts.

When I signed up to participate in the #ReadingEmily readalong (hosted by Naomi of Consumed by Ink), I remembered the basic outline of Emily’s story, but I didn’t remember the details, and I certainly don’t remember crying over it. But I cried this time.

Am I more sensitive now?

My friend Jaclyn of Covered in Flour (linked below) had a similar experience:

Reading Emily as a child, I was terribly sad for her but didn’t give her father much thought in his own right.  Reading Emily as an adult, I can imagine what he must have felt, knowing that he would have to leave his beloved daughter to fend for herself in the world, that his moments with her were dwindling and that he would not see her grow up and achieve her dreams and fall in love.  (I’m getting weepy again.)

When I was a child, I didn’t have the life experiences to put myself into either Emily’s or her father’s shoes. In our modern society, life expectancy is far longer than it was in Emily’s day. Death felt remote to me as a kid, more so than it does for me now. These days, I worry about the loss of my parents, a loss many of my friends have already faced. I also worry about my children, who were born so early that their mortality was an ever-present fear in the early months of their lives, and that fear has never entirely disappeared. As a result, now that I’m an adult, I identify with ten-year-old Emily more than I did when I was her age.

However, when I look at my 9-year-old twins, with whom I’m #ReadingEmily, I wonder if I’ve misremembered my experience. They found Emily’s trials even more distressing than I did, crying especially hard when Emily’s yellow account-book became a “little heap of white film on the glowing coals.” Of course, these are the same sensitive souls who begged me to make sure that Anusha’s Manoj in Anusha of Prospect Corner, our #OwnVoices homage to Anne of Green Gables, met a different fate from Anne’s Matthew (see How I Betrayed My Kids – While Writing With Them).

Maybe I was the same way when I was their age. Maybe I don’t remember the tears I shed over Emily’s tragic circumstances.

Even when I look back on undeniably tumultuous times in my own life, such as my twins’ 78-day NICU stay, my memories do not fully reflect the reality. Nine years after their hospitalization, I still jump every time they get a cough, remembering the bleating ventilators and pulse oximeters, but most of the time, I only remember the positive parts. As I said a few years ago, when a fellow preemie mom quoted me (under my nickname) in Moving Beyond the Trauma of Preterm Birth:

Honestly, after three years, I have more positive memories of the NICU than negative ones. I was a wreck during our twins’ NICU stay, but I don’t really focus on that when I think back to that time. I miss hearing about every little milestone – every ounce gained, every step lower on the respiratory support, every poopy diaper – and I miss the nurses and doctors who cared for our twins for so long.

L.M. Montgomery understood this memory bias, giving Emily the gift of remembering her final weeks with her father as beautiful when the “pain had gone out of their recollection.” Perhaps it’s no surprise that I remember the magic of Emily’s vibrant world instead of the sadness. That’s just the way memory works.

To find other bloggers who are #ReadingEmily, check out:

  • Naomi at Consumed By Ink (host): “The girl has pluck. It’s easy to see why so many readers move on from their infatuation with Anne and fall in love with Emily.
  • Sarah Emsley: “This month, I read L.M. Montgomery’s 1923 novel Emily of New Moon for the first time in many years, and while I remembered some aspects of Emily’s journey to become a writer—the diary she burns after her aunt reads part of it, the letters she writes to her father after his death, her ambition to become both a poet and a novelist—I had forgotten just how strict her Aunt Elizabeth is, how cruel her teacher is, and how much Emily has to fight to be taken seriously as a person.”
  • Jaclyn at Covered in Flour (also quoted in my post): “And then there are books that are so intrinsically a part of you, books that you have lived in, that you will return to their pages for the rest of your life and even when you’re not in the midst of a re-read, you are carrying their subtle influence with you.  Often, that’s a childhood book – one that was a formative influence on you when you were growing up. Emily of New Moon is that book for me.”

More Than a “Bathroom Battle”: An Update Now That Sessions is in Charge of the DOJ

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A Sad, but Unsurprising Update: On Wednesday, February 22, 2017, the Trump Administration withdrew the guidance that protected transgender students.

For more background on the guidance, and why it was important, keep reading (a post from February 13, 2017, before the Trump Administration officially withdrew the guidance):

Donald Trump’s choice of Jeff Sessions as the head of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), confirms what we knew would be true the minute Trump seized the electoral college: our rights as Americans are threatened.

The DOJ is a federal agency with broad powers, including (but not limited to) the prosecution of federal crimes, the promulgation of regulations, the provision of grants to meet civil, criminal, and juvenile justice needs, oversight of various law enforcement agencies (like the FBI), and investigations (such as “pattern or practice” investigations into police misconduct).

It’s hard to believe a man like Jeff Sessions, someone who was once deemed too racist to be a federal judge, could possibly lead an agency with “Justice” in its title. His nomination to the federal bench in 1986 prompted Coretta Scott King to write a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. In this letter (available here), King assailed Sessions’s conduct as a U.S. Attorney, “from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws,” saying, “he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.”

His nomination to the federal bench failed, but he became a U. S. Senator from Alabama, and now he is the Attorney General of the United States. The Senate confirmed his nomination after Sessions’s colleagues voted to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren for daring to read Coretta Scott King’s letter on the Senate floor.

So, what can we expect from Sessions as the Attorney General of the United States?

As the National Law Journal wrote last November in What to Expect from a Sessions Justice Department, “Immigration, violent crime, and undoing President Obama’s executive actions are expected to be on [Sessions’s] priority list if he’s confirmed.”

This agenda would be a departure from the DOJ’s actions during the Obama Administration, which sued states over race-based voting restrictions, made an effort to reduce racial profiling, investigated police misconduct, and fought for the rights of transgender individuals.

We are only in the early days of the Sessions DOJ, and already the signs suggest that Sessions does not care about equality for all Americans. Last Friday, the day after Sessions took over the DOJ, the Agency withdrew its request asking the 5th Circuit to narrow a temporary injunction that blocked the Obama Administration’s guidance on transgender students’ rights. The joint filing states that “the parties are currently considering how best to proceed in this appeal.”

I wrote about this case over the summer in More than a “Bathroom Battle”: The Rights of Transgender Children at School. At the time, the district court judge in Texas had just imposed a nationwide injunction that (1) allows Texas and other states to force transgender students to use bathrooms that do not match their gender identities and (2) prevents the United States government from investigating this type of discrimination across the country.

This lawsuit came in response to the DOJ and the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance document (May 2016), which clarified that Title IX prohibits schools from discriminating against students on the basis of their gender identity, defined as “an individual’s internal sense of gender” that “may be different from or the same as the person’s sex assigned at birth.”

From the start, this case was challenging for the government to defend because many people seemed to misunderstand the issue, thinking that the Obama Administration’s guidance forced schools to allow boys to use the girls’ bathroom, which seems to offend some people. But here’s the language from the guidance (a guidance I presume will disappear under Trump):

Restrooms and Locker Rooms. A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity. A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so. A school may, however, make individual-user options available to all students who voluntarily seek additional privacy.

Really, all the guidance did was clarify that schools must permit people who identify as girls to use the girls’ bathroom and those who identify as boys to use the boys’ bathroom. That’s pretty narrow.

I don’t purport to be an expert on trans rights, but I make an effort to understand the issue as best I can as a cisgender person (and I’m always learning). I’ve found that literature is helpful in this regard. For example, George by Alex Gino introduces us to a fictional transgender child who shows us some of the harms of forcing a child to use a bathroom that does not match their gender identity:

[George*] stumbled, sobbing, into the bathroom—the boys’ bathroom. Her lips trembled and salty tears dripped into her mouth. George hated the boys’ bathroom. It was the worst room in the school. She hated the smell of pee and bleach, and she hated the blue tiles on the wall to remind you where you were, as if the urinals didn’t make it obvious enough. The whole room was about being a boy, and when boys were in there, they liked to talk about what was between their legs. George tried never to use it when there were any boys inside. She never drank from the water fountains at school, even if she was thirsty, and some days, she could make it through the school day without having to go once.

In this paragraph, we can clearly see how traumatic it is for this child to use the wrong bathroom. We can also see that it’s a health hazard. No one should go an entire day at school without drinking water or using the restroom.

George–who prefers to be called Melissa–is fictional, but there are children in our schools who face similar challenges in real life. It is a shame that our children have a government that isn’t likely to secure or enforce their rights.

__________________

*I inserted “George” at the beginning of the quote because that is the name that appears throughout the paragraph in the novel. However, Melissa is the name the child prefers to use. For more on the recalcitrance of the name “George,” see George or Melissa? It Matters.

**For more uplifting news, see Authors, Does Donald Trump Care About Your Name Change?

What Every Kindergartener Needs: A Study Guide for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road?

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Recently, Moppet Books, led by Frederik Colting and Melissa Medina, launched a series of so-called “learning guides” for children based on classic novels for adults. Known as KinderGuides, the books contain illustrations and simplified versions of the original classic plots.

These derivative works would be fine if the classic books were in the public domain, like L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, a source of inspiration for Anusha of Prospect Corner (Modern Middle Grade), and Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the basis for Amelia Elkins Elkins (Contemporary Fiction).

While at least one forthcoming KinderGuide is based on a public domain work–Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice–the majority are based on books that are still under copyright. The first set of KinderGuides includes the following copyrighted works: Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Moppet Books does not have a license to borrow from these novels, prompting the literary estates of Capote, Hemingway, Kerouac, and Clarke, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster to sue them for copyright infringement. The plaintiffs filed the complaint–available here (PDF)–in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on January 19, 2017.

According to the complaint:

Although defendants call their Infringing Works ‘guides,’ the Infringing Works do not purport to be companion reference books or study guides for readers of the novels, such as those commonly used by college students. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a situation in which a 6-year-old child would have the need for a ‘study guide’ to inform his or her understanding of the adult novels.

Yes, it is hard to see a Kindergartener using a “study guide” for these classics, but the derivative works could still be “fair use” (and therefore not copyright infringement) depending on its (1) purpose, (2) nature, (3) the “amount or substantiality of the portion” of the original work used; and (4) the impact of the use on the original work’s market. Copyright Act, 17. U.S.C. § 107.

Without examining the allegedly infringing work against the original novel, I can’t say whether I think these KinderGuides violate copyright law. My gut sense is that it could be copyright infringement if the KinderGuides add little new content to the original works (and thus aren’t sufficiently “transformative”) and use a substantial portion of the original works. We’ll see what happens with the case.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time Moppet’s Frederik Colting has found himself in court facing similar allegations. He is the author (writing under a pen name) of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, the unauthorized sequel to J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. In 2009, Salinger filed suit against Colting, alleging copyright infringement. In the settlement, Colting agreed not to sell his derivative novel in the United States.

Among the “coming titles” in Colting’s KinderGuides series is a children’s version of Catcher in the Rye. I wonder what the Salinger estate thinks about that.

A Review of Anusha of Prospect Corner (Our #Ownvoices Novel Inspired By Anne of Green Gables)!

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Via Sinead at The Huntress of Diverse Books, a book blogger with Sri Lankan roots:

I had such a weird feeling while reading this book, as I was actually able to relate to some of the experiences that Anusha and Pramila had. I’ve never been represented like this before, so it took me a long time to get used to it. People not knowing where Sri Lanka is; people asking where I’m originally from; and the mispronunciation of my name (even though my name is Irish) – these are all things that have actually happened to me.

One of my goals when I was writing Anusha of Prospect Corner with my twins was to create a character with whom they could identify, and it’s wonderful to know that others identify with Anusha too. Sinead is a quarter Sinhalese Malaysian, and Anusha, like my daughters/co-authors, is a quarter Sri Lankan. The experiences Anusha and her mother have come from experiences I and my family members have had as multiracial Americans of Sri Lankan ancestry.

Sinead’s full review of our middle grade novel is available here. I shared her thoughts with my twins, and they were thrilled. Thank you, Sinead, for reading and reviewing our book!

To learn more about Anusha of Prospect Corner, find it on:

Here’s the description:

For Anusha Smyth, four-leaf clovers pop out of the grass like 3D optical illusions, practically begging her to pick them. She hopes they’ll bring her luck. She has big plans for 7th grade, but first she needs to convince her mom to move back to the United States. Unfortunately, a nosy neighbor keeps getting in the way. With Mrs. Lowry on the prowl — and she isn’t the only obstacle — Anusha’s going to need more than luck to make her dreams come true.

PS. Anusha’s “superpower” is something I share. I don’t look for four-leaf clovers. They find me. Over the summer, I even came across a six-leaf clover.

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Eight Years Later… #KidLit

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Eight years ago, my twins and I watched President Barack Obama take the oath of office. My daughters were only a year old. Today, they are nine, and none of us will watch the inauguration of President Obama’s successor.

Instead, when they come home from school, we will re-read President Obama’s children’s book, Of Thee I Sing, and reflect on the personality traits that make someone a great leader.

For more on this book, see Of Thee I Sing: Inspiring Little Girls to be Future Leaders. I hope we will have a female president before my daughters are old enough to run for the position.

Anusha of Prospect Corner: A Sri Lankan-American Anne of Green Gables

Anusha of Prospect Corner is now available! My twins, Maram and Samira, are my co-authors.

Our middle grade novel is a modern, multicultural homage to one of my favorite novels from childhood, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.  Anusha’s family does not fully mirror our family’s ethnic or religious identities — it’s fiction, after all — but Anusha’s family and our family are both Sri Lankan-American (I’m half Sri Lankan).

In the video (above), Samira refers to “Anusha’s Origin,” which is a note at the beginning of the novel about how this project developed. Here it is:

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To learn more about Anusha of Prospect Corner, find it on:

We are excited to share Anusha with you!

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What Do Our Kids Read During Independent (But Not Really) Reading Time?

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When students choose “independent reading” books, what do they pick? According to Renaissance Learning’s 2016 report, high school students chose To Kill a Mockingbird, (9th graders), Night (10th graders), The Crucible (11th graders), and Macbeth (12th graders).

It’s hard to believe The Crucible, a 1953 play by Arthur Miller, would surpass comic books or modern fiction, but these results aren’t an indication of what children choose to read entirely of their own accord. The report is based on data from 9.9 million participants from grades K-12 in the company’s Accelerated Reading 360 program (presumably including my children, who go to a school that participates in this program). It isn’t truly independent reading: teachers set individualized goals with each student, the students choose from books selected by the program to meet those goals, and, ultimately, the students take quizzes on the books.

Interestingly, Renaissance Learning found that students are generally reading below grade level, and high school seniors are reading below the expected reading level of incoming college freshman: “By the time students finish high school, they are reading books in the 5-6 range, which is close to the level of typical fiction best sellers of about 5.6; however, their selections are one to two grades below the demands of books assigned as summer reading to incoming freshman (6.5) and typical nonfiction best sellers (7.2).”

It’s concerning that American students aren’t meeting expectations, but it’s hardly surprisingly in a country in which more than a quarter of adults haven’t read a single book in the past year. Hopefully, in the future, more high school seniors will graduate with enough of a love of reading to read more than adults do today–whatever the level.

*I learned about this report from Education Week, November 30, 2016.