Saturday, September 3, 2016

Time To Talk

My first child valued her library card. When the time came that the books she checked out were of her own choosing, not mine or a teacher’s, I discovered that books open doors to discussion. That’s especially helpful when the discussion is not easy.

Bullying is always a concern, but as school bells announced the end of summer this year, at least one news source reported that the group most vulnerable to bullies in academic settings is the LGBTQ community.  If you want to begin a discussion with your kids, here are a couple of books that might open a door. One is for parents, the other for teens.

PLAYING A PART by Daria Wilke, Translated by Marian Schwartz, Arthur Levine Books, imprint of Scholastic, 2012.

Grishka’s mother and father are actors in a puppet theatre in Russia. This is Grishka’s whole world. His friend, Sam, a talented young adult actor and puppeteer, has announced he will leave the theatre soon and go to Holland to escape the risks of homophobic persecution in Russia.  A number of subplots involving family and friends lend themselves to the coming of age moments Grishka experiences, including standing up to his grandfather who is homophobic.

I saw the Jester puppet as a metaphor for Grishka’s personality and growth. How and why do people play the part of the Jester? What made them be that way? What happens when the role of Jester doesn’t work?

Author Daria Wilke was born in Moscow and grew up surrounded by the art and craft of puppetry.  Marian Schwartz is an award-winning translator of Russian literature.

This is a beautifully written thought-provoking book, and the translation preserves its quality.

CROOKED LETTER i: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie Griffin, NewSouth Books, 2015

The contributors to this enlightening collection of first-person narratives are professional writers who are Southerners. They are also gay, lesbian, or transgendered. Readers will applaud their courage to share some of their most painful growing up experiences.

The thread that caught this children’s writer’s eye was not the Southern connection, but the childhood experiences of each writer.  Parents who simply didn’t understand what they were doing tried to do the right thing. In most cases this turned out to be the very worst thing to do to their much loved children. The same thing could be said for the community, teachers, pastors, many who thought their actions were helpful when in fact, they were hurtful and their impact destructive.

In reading this book a second and third time, which I often do before I review a book here, I kept returning to the essay by Merril Mushroom, “The Gay Kids and the Johns Committee” for a sense of history in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Were others being persecuted? Yes, the McCarthy hearings were in progress. And then there was Brown vs. Board of Education. Whatever the term “civil rights” means to you, capitalized or not, the circle of those who should have them and don’t is wide.

The essays can be read out of order. If you are looking for a shorter essay that ends with hope and acceptance, “Coming Home,” by Logan Knight is a good choice.  It is the second essay in the book, but it would also be a good one to read last as a way to remember the book. Hope and acceptance between generations is always a positive sign.

May you find doors to walk through to discussions that will keep leading you and yours forward together.

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