Kindness Goes a Long Way

                                       

Today is Pink Shirt Day, an annual event against bullying that’s held in Canada and New Zealand to raise awareness about bullying, especially in schools. It started in 2007 in Canada, and it’s held here on the last Wednesday of February each year.

Books can’t eliminate bullying, but a good story may help people recognize and call it out in their own lives. Most of all, though, a good story often provides victims with insights, coping strategies and much-needed comfort and support. Here are some books on bullying for young and not-so-young readers.

For the picture book crowd:

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell; illustrated by David Catrow

Lunch Box Bully by Hans Wilhelm

I Didn’t Stand Up by Lucy Falcone; illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon

What If Bunny’s Not a Bully by Lana Button; illustrated by Christine Battuz

Bird Boy by Matthew Burgess; illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani

One by Kathryn Otoshi

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill; illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson; illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Dear Bully of Mine by Vicki Fraser; illustrated by Cody McGrath and Sean McGrath

For older readers:

Camp Disaster by Frieda Wishinsky

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Jennifer Chan is Not So Alone by Tae Keller

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Bullies Rule by Monique Polak

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Blubber by Judy Blume

Some Girls Are by Courtenay Summers

To This Day by Shane Koyczan

Dear Bully – Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

My February Reads

The snowdrops are blooming, the hyacinths are poking up out of the soil and the buds on the trees are starting to swell. We still have another month of winter before the official start of spring in March. But spring is coming, and that means a much busier time for me as I juggle writing and reading with garden activities. Right now, though, I still have lots of time to curl up with a good book. And here’s what I’m reading this month.

Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewell by Pico Iyer

Welcome to Beach Town by Susan Wiggs

Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan by Alex Kerr

Books read to date in 2024: 10

Love Through the Ages

                                          

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Some people go all out for Valentine’s Day; others don’t. A friend of mine has terrible anxiety around the whole idea of celebrating on February 14th because she remembers feeling rebuffed during Valentine exchanges as a young child in elementary school. Other people, like Mr. Petrol head, believe Valentine’s Day was created for commercial purposes only and love doesn’t need a specific date to be celebrated. I agree on the latter, but I’m not so sure the origins of the day are as crass as he believes.

Valentine’s Day, which is sometimes referred to as Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, began as a Christian feast day honoring a martyr named Valentine. By some accounts, St. Valentine was a Roman priest and physician who was martyred during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus in the year 270. Apparently, Valentine defied the emperor’s ban on marriage (he thought it distracted young soldiers), and married couples in the spirit of love until he was caught and sentenced to death.

Given that this is ancient history, the tale has taken on a number of different versions over the years. Some sources even suggest there were two men named Valentine who could have inspired the holiday. Nevertheless, by the 14th century, St. Valentine was accepted as the patron saint of lovers. And the responsibility for that rests with poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer, often called the ‘father of English literature.’

His 14th century poem, “The Parliament of Fowls”, is the first known reference to St. Valentine’s Day being a day for lovers. William Shakespeare and John Donne followed Chaucer’s lead and by the 18th century, the idea of expressing love with flowers, sweets and greeting cards was well-established.  Even back then, however, there was some criticism of the commercial nature of the day.

In 1858, an editorial in the London Journal supported the exchange of cards on Valentine’s Day but observed that ‘the predominating sentiment should be the sentiment of love,’ adding that home-made cards are much preferred as mass-produced Valentines are ‘very trashy and not a little vulgar and the result of mercenaries for hire.’

Clearly rebelling against the commercial tone of Valentine’s Day isn’t new. That said, celebrating love isn’t a new thing either. And I’m all for that, regardless of the form the celebration takes.  

Perfectly Imperfect

                                               

I’m planning a trip to Japan. I’m not sure when I’ll go, but it’s on my longish short list of destinations to visit. “You must go in spring,” a friend told me the other day. “It’s a perfect time.”

Perfection seems to be the theme of the week. Maybe it’s the way the stars are aligning, or maybe February calls on our inner perfectionist, or maybe it’s simply coincidence. Whatever the reason, people seem to be tossing the idea of perfection around like happy celebrants tossing confetti at a wedding.

It’s starting to annoy me. Not the celebratory confetti thing; that sounds like fun. Although, having just googled confetti and the environment, I should probably find another simile. Or is it a metaphor? . . .

Now back from five minutes of checking the difference between simile and metaphor and thinking maybe I should scrap this idea entirely lest I make a mistake and write an imperfect blog.

There it is, the whole perfection/imperfection thing cropping up again.

Full disclosure: I have been known to have (cough, cough) perfectionistic tendencies, especially in a few areas of my life (those who know me well can stop laughing now). It’s a tendency I’m trying hard to overcome. That’s why my house is currently a mess (at least, that’s my excuse).

I didn’t start the week thinking about perfection. First, there was that conversation with a friend about Japan and the perfect time to go. Then there was an interview and tour I did for a feature on a new home build. The home is stunning. It could – and probably someday will – grace the cover of Architectural Digest Magazine. The word perfect was bandied about a lot during my tour, including a few apologies for areas that ‘weren’t quite perfect yet.’ Finally, there was a walk with friends where I learned that Bruce Springsteen has hair plugs (I’m not sure how I survived this long without knowing that, but amazingly I did). That morphed into a conversation about his plastic surgery which led someone to comment that they’d much rather watch him perform with a full head of hair and no wrinkles. He would be perfect that way.

We were walking in the woods when I learned about Springsteen. It had rained heavily overnight; the trail was muddy and littered with leaves. The trees around us were bent and twisted. Moss and Old Man’s Beard dangled haphazardly from the occasional branch, waiting for wind or a forager to carry it away.  Nothing about the view was perfect, yet it was perfect in its imperfection, as nature always is.

Our culture promotes the idea of perfection. We’re told everything can be improved: our bodies, homes, and relationships, to name only three. In the middle of writing this, I received an email from a local garden retailer extolling the virtues of the perfect patio plants now available to order. A few weeks ago, I learned that women in their thirties are getting Botox or ‘soft’ facelifts as a preventive measure to avoid ‘future imperfections.’

In Japan, they have something called wabi-sabi. An integral part of their culture, it’s the practice of celebrating and embracing imperfections. In fact, the Japanese have dedicated a 400-year-old art form – kintsugi – to putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. Kintsugi is designed to highlight the ‘scars’ and to create something more unique, more beautiful and even more resilient in spite of its apparent inadequacy. Many of the antique bowls used in the Japanese tea ceremony have cracks, uneven glazes and imperfect shapes. And they are highly prized for their supposed deficiencies.

When I write novels, I’m always careful to develop characters with flaws. Most writers I know are careful to do that too. We recognize at a deep level that flawed characters are more believable, more relatable, and more likeable. Yet it can be a real challenge to accept and let our own imperfections show.

That, I decided, was the lesson of this week. In a culture that favours the flawless, the perfect, the hair plugs or preventative Botox injections, I need to honour the beauty of imperfection. I need to let the housework go for a little longer still. Let the dirt collect a bit more in the corners. And I also need to book that trip to Japan. Even if I can’t figure out the perfect time to go.

Take Me to a Library . . .

I’ve often said if I had to be stranded somewhere, I’d choose a library. They are warm, well-lit, and clean. There’s usually a staff room with the makings of coffee and tea, and often a fridge filled with snacks. Best of all, there are books. Stacks and stacks, row upon row, of books.

I love to visit libraries around the world.

Did you know that the Tikkurila Library in Vantaa, Finland has a karaoke room with thousands of songs that patrons can perform? (Don’t worry; the room is soundproof.) Or that the New York Public Library loans accessories like neckties or briefcases for people who need to polish off their look for a job interview? How about this piece of trivia: the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal has a number of bats in residence. No one minds because the bats prey on insects that could damage books. Staff drape the tables overnight and clean up the guano in the morning. Now that’s dedication!

And librarians are dedicated. As a kid, it was a librarian who helped me learn to write so I could get a much-coveted library card. As an adult, librarians helped me with research for a number of my books. And now, as a writer, libraries also contribute to my income.

The end of February is when PLR (Public Lending Right) cheques are issued to authors. This year, more than 17,000 Canadian authors will receive money as compensation for free public access to our books through Canada’s public libraries. I’m always grateful to receive that cheque. I’m also grateful for what it represents – our incredible library system and the acknowledgement of the role Canadian authors play in contributing to it. Thanks is also due to the Canada Council for the Arts which spearheads this important program.

And if you’re a reader but you haven’t visited the library in a while, I hope you check out your local branch soon.

Reading Canadian

Tomorrow is the inaugural I Read Canadian Day, an event designed to bring attention to and celebrate Canadian books for young people. Let’s broaden out and support ALL Canadian books and authors, even those written for adults.

For information on the I Read Canadian program for children and teens, go here:

If you’re looking for a good read by a Canadian author, check out this list from Booknet Canada. You’ll find fiction and non-fiction, and some juvenile titles too. 

https://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2017/6/13/150-bestselling-books-by-canadian-authors

Happy Reading!

My February Reads

For those who note these things, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Life inevitably has its messy, difficult times and that’s been true around here since mid-December. I’d managed for a while by scheduling everything in advance but lately even that’s proven challenging. So while this blog and my social media presence is on something of a hiatus, I’m hoping I won’t be away too much longer. My reading has taken a hit lately too, though I’m managing to squeeze in a few books here and there. And I’m gravitating to upbeat escapism whenever possible. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

 

At the gym: Best of My Love by Susan Mallery

Beside the fire: A Glorious Freedom by Lisa Congdon

Before bed: Starlight on Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs

Books read to date in 2018: 14

Library Love Affair

publiclendingrightAnyone who reads my blog on a regular basis probably knows how much I love libraries. When I was a child, I learned to read and write because I wanted a library card. Back then, going to the library and wandering the stacks of books was one of my favorite things to do. When I became a writer, libraries (and the invaluable librarians who work there) took on added importance. As well as being a place of escape, I began to rely on the library for much of my research. I still do to some extent today.

Libraries nourished me as a child. They informed me as an adult. As a writer, they contribute to my income.

The end of February is when PLR (Public Lending Right) cheques are issued to authors. This year, more than 17,000 Canadian authors will receive money as compensation for free public access to our books through Canada’s public libraries. I’m always grateful when that cheque hits the mailbox. I’m also grateful for what it represents – our incredible library system and the acknowledgement of the role Canadian authors play in contributing to it. Thanks is also due to the Canada Council for the Arts which spearheads this important program.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the PLR. And for the first time since the program began, electronic books may be registered. If you’re an author and you’d like more information, go here: http://plr-dpp.ca/PLR/

And if you’re a reader but you haven’t visited the library in a while, I hope you check out your local branch soon!

Million Dollar Blues

money bundle_1Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. On this date back in 1690, the first piece of paper money was issued by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the United States.

 

Life would never be the same again.

I’m thinking about money quite a bit these days because I’m working on Million Dollar Blues. It’s a women’s fiction novel about a contested lottery win and the impact it has on the lives and loves of three different women. I’ll be self-publishing it under my Laura Tobias name but first I have to get it in some kind of shape for the editor. There’ll probably be revisions to tackle after she’s finished with it too. And then there’s the cover to commission and the formatting to take care of and all the other details that go into self-publishing a book.

It’s been a real learning curve since I uploaded What Lainey Sees a little over a year ago. Changes are afoot with that title too. It started life as an ebook available only on Amazon, but in the coming months I’ll be making it available on more platforms and getting print copies made as well.

Stay tuned for details.

Meanwhile, happy February!

The Kindle Has Brought Out My Dark Side . . .

kindleI wasn’t desperate for an ebook reader. I wanted the perfect tablet instead. A tablet featuring E Ink and color, one that was easy to hold and reasonably priced. There’s no such thing. At least not yet. But there are plenty of books coming out in electronic form only, and I couldn’t read them easily. So I bought a Kindle Paperwhite.

It does the job. The lighting is terrific; it’s easy to hold. I never run out of reading material, and I don’t have to remember to take a book when I know I’ll be waiting somewhere. It’ll be great the next time I travel.

Friends said owning an e reader would change my reading habits, that I’d never buy physical books again. I don’t think so. A hardcover sits perfectly on the elliptical at the gym and I prefer a paperback in the tub. Plus, what would a cookbook be without those luscious, glossy pictures?

But the Kindle has done something. It’s brought out my dark side (And I’m not talking about how much I’ve spent in the Amazon store, though that certainly has its dark side). No, the Kindle has made me an impatient, stingy reader.

When it comes to physical books, I’m generous about giving a writer time to draw me in. I’ll read quite a long way before giving up on a story. I figure even a poorly crafted book teaches me something. With rare exceptions – that exception being a book that sucks so totally my eyes cross as I read – I pretty much finish everything I start.

Not on the Kindle.  That screen is small. I read fast. If I’m not drawn in with a few swipes of my finger, I get cranky. My mind starts to wander. And if I’m not completely hooked in those first five or six pages (probably the equivalent of one or two pages in a physical book), then I’m hitting delete.

At first I felt guilty. Then I got worried. Maybe I had an arrested case of ADD. Or something worse. Maybe I needed to see my doctor  (I don’t; the Kindle Paperwhite lets you google Web MD).

What I have instead is a new relationship. My Kindle and I need to get used to each other. Maybe my dark side will recede. Maybe I’ll become more generous and patient and revert to my old reading patterns. Maybe. Maybe not.

Either way, this dark, guilty business has reminded me of the importance of craft. The critical need for smooth, clear, and irresistible story openings. Openings so compelling the reader can’t stop reading. I’m not the only Kindle user out there. And I may not be the only impatient one.

What I’m reading this month:

On the Kindle – Angelfall by Susan Ee

At the Gym – Stay by Allie Larkin

Beside the Tub – Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott