Turned the Page

We wonder why we try to write, sometimes. Especially when the phrases aren't coming easily, the book contracts aren't forthcoming, or it's just one of those straight uphill days. If we're lucky something happens to make us realize why the struggle is worth it. 

That something, this time, is what's happened to my mother.

My mom's been waiting to die for years. Not only waiting, wanting to die. It's no secret, you can ask anyone who knows her, even her. Why this time last year, with so much most anyone else would consider every reason to live--her grandaughter's upcoming wedding, a new great-grandson, two grandchildren's graduations and money enough to do whatever she wanted, and reasonably good health--mom said exactly that, not once, but several times. "I want to die." "I wish I were dead." She said it loudly and seriously enough that the staff at the assisted living reported it and therapy was ordered. 

Mom doesn't get out much. Not that she can't. Or doesn't have opportunities. But she chooses not to. Days go by and she never leaves her apartment. Not even for meals. (Even though going to the dining room is a requirement in her Independent-Assisted Living facility). Mom's tried some of the activities. She's gone on some field trips, took art classes for a while, even played bingo for a spell (because her then boyfriend "Charlie" liked to play). But then, she started having bladder issues and despite what they say in the Depends commercials, her will to participate flew. And took with it, her will to live. 

Then, someone got the brilliant idea to start a Book Club. The staff coerced--insisted-- mom attend.. Now, this isn't what you'd think of as the usual book club. Usually, book club members read the books on their own and then coming together for discussion. In this book club, members listen to a book. Why?  Because most of the folks in the club can't see to read anymore. So, an hour at a time, once a week, they listen as one person reads a chapter or two, with occasional pauses to discuss parts that aren't clear or might be particularly interesting. They continue on this way until the book is finished. Unless the chapters are super short, at a chapter a week, it takes months to finish a book. 

At first, specifically because working through a book was slow going, Mom wasn't keen on the book club. In fact, if Dana, the director, hadn't told Mom she had to participate in "something" or she would have to move out as this was not a nursing home--and even then, if they hadn't served snacks (cookies, cakes and coffee)--Mom probably would have quit. But then fate intervened by way of a novel entitled A Journal for Jordan.

 Other than that it was an "Oprah Book", I have absolutely no clue idea what A Journal for Jordan is about. Or whether it's particualrly well written, or interesting, or not... All I know is that the young aide, the "designated reader" for the Book Club was having "a difficult time" reading some of the passages. "She kept mispronouncing words," Mom said. 

What you may not know is: my mother is a retired teacher, a reading specialist, and an excellent reader. (Something the aide found out soon enough.) After being corrected a few too many times, the aide--perhaps in a slightly irritated voice--asked Mom,  "Do you want to read the book?"

To her surprise, Mom said, "yes!" 

Ever since, every week, Mom's been the designated "Reader" in the Book Club. Attendance in the Book Club is on the rise. (The other day "a man" join it!) Mom's become something of a celebrity in the Assisted Living, and best, there are plans afoot to increase club meetings to two-a-week.

The satisfaction Mom gets from reading to the other residents who can't read, and the praise they heap on her for her "lovely voice" and "excellent expressiveness" and "cheerful clothing" is what made the difference. It literally changed Mom's life! Not only doesn't Mom want to die anymore, she's got the club booklist . . . and her Book Club wardrobe planned out for quite some time to come.

Books can transform--save lives! 













MAX said "YES!" to Children's Choices

What inspires: Children choosing to read and what!Maybe because his namesake starred in the story, my son Max chose WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE for bedtime reading so many times we can all recite it by heart... Maurice Sendak, the author/illustrator/creator responsible for that story and for bringing to light the truth of good story--that good doesn't mean "goody-good"-but rather means honest, true, sometimes messy and naughty and irreverent, died today, at age 83, after suffering a stroke.

A 'Wild Rumpus' with Maurice Sendak

Fitting that the Children's Choice Awards honorees were anything but "goody-goods."  SE Hinton, author of THE OUTSIDERS, was there. So was Jake Gantos-- convicted felon whose not ashamed to write or talk about it--who said he literally picked a "life-changing" copy of THE OUTSIDERS up off the street.. Man of the evening was another dark horse:  DIARY OF A WHIMPY KID'S creator Jeff Kinney, he made a point of saying how 4 years ago he was unknown and unpublished--definitely not "Whimpy" now! (Surely Sendak was there in spirit, cheering with the lot of them.)

"This year’s Impact Award went to Justin Tuck, defensive end for the New York Giants, for his contributions to children's literacy. Tuck and his wife founded an organization called R.U.S.H. for Literacy, which encourages children to Read, Understand, Succeed and Hope. Tuck recalled how hard his parents worked to put food on the table for the family, and how as a child he never got to travel anywhere. “My mom always told me, ‘You want to go somewhere, pick up a book.’ ”--excerpted from Publisher's Weekly



Saturday, June 25th,  was SAVE A BOOKSTORE DAY. Part of a movement to support local bookstores. I read about it on one of my favorite blogs Writing On The Sidewalk.

Agent Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency sent out the call to rally everyone in support of bookstores and books.

Why is a "buy a book" campaign needed? Because, as Kelly wrote in her letter promoting Save Bookstores Day, "Bookstores are dropping like flies and we want them to stay alive!"

I'm hoping Saturday every single one of you went out and bought a book. All those who did breathed a little life back into the bookstores. But it's going to take more than that to save them. So, let's give them more. Let's dub this, the summer of 2011:

Save Bookstores Summer!


The Day the Rainbow Died

Make a wish/Have a ball/Dream a dream/Be it all…/If you want it, you can get it/But to get it, you’ve got to want it/Anything you want to try…../Just let go and you'll fly highhhhhhhh.../And Make a Wish!*

I’m making a wish. I am wishing, dreaming, hoping someone, or a lot of someones, realize how gray our world will be without rainbows—especially this rainbow, the Reading Rainbow

On August 28th Reading Rainbow died. After 26 years of celebrating books Reading Rainbow is off the air.

Why in the world is Reading Rainbow—a program celebrating books and reading and ideas--going off the air?

“Because no one — not the station, not PBS, not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — will put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the show's broadcast rights,” explained, John Grant, who is in charge of content at Reading Rainbow's home station.

What’s a few hundred thousand dollars in the grand scheme of things? Consider how much more than that we, the United States of America, spend on other things—war, for instance--wars against things like drugs, poverty, pollution, people...oh yeah, and illiteracy.

Grant noted that while the decision to end Reading Rainbow had to do with funding cuts to PBS, it “can also be traced back to a philosophical change about TV and reading. He says the change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on things like phonics and spelling, the basic tools of reading”….And PBS and CPB and the Department of Education want to put funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read. They think “teaching the mechanics of reading should be the network's priority.”

Silly me, I thought that was what teachers and parents were supposed to do…maybe that’s why funding for education is not of highest propriety…why pay teachers? Heck, let’s let TV teach our children “the mechanics of reading.”

Reading Rainbow is not and has never been about teaching children to read. Reading Rainbow does something more…something huge: “Reading Rainbow" Grant notes, “taught kids why to read, you know, the love of reading, encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read.”

We don’t seem to mind spending heaps of money to bully people into doing the “right thing.” So why not peel off some good old American greenbacks to do a really right thing: Bring back Reading Rainbow.

Better yet, skip PBS. PBS will go on to create other, wonderful programs—that’s what PBS does, provide “quality” programming for television viewers, programs like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, the only programs with longer runs on PBS than Reading Rainbow.

Let’s turn instead to those “for profit” TV program producers, the one who bring us “quality” TV shows packed with plenty worth learning to love: violence, rage, anger, slaughter, decapitation, blood, cussing, crime, crime, crime…

ABC, NBC, FX, CBS, Fox, HBO…why don’t YOU bring back Reading Rainbow?

Come on, use a couple of hundred thousand of those dollars you charge sponsors to air commercials for products they want us to buy—and buy us a program we want to watch—and want our children to watch. One that celebrates reading and imagination.

Butterfly in the sky/ I can go twice as high/Take a look/ it's in a book/ -- Reading Rainbow...

For the full NPR story go to: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112312561

*Theme from “Make a Wish” with Tom Chapin, the 70's morning show that fostered my grand ideas.)