Category Archives: Book review

A Summer of Silk Moths

I really enjoyed reading and thinking about Margaret Willey’s YA book: A Summer of Silk Moths.

Life is a complicated journey. This story reflects: loss, confusion, discord, family truths/untruths/unknowns as well as caring, focused energy and growth. Pete, and Nora, both in high school, are the main characters among many other equally authentically believable individuals covering three generations. Many, and certainly the teenagers, are finding their way – in developing an understanding about others and self as well as with the past.

With these engaged characters, Willey crafts thought provoking, realistic journeys. The story is influenced by the pace of nature. With specific focus on metamorphosis: Both with insects and humans. Moths and the potentially multiple metaphors they elicit, are woven into this literary work of art. I found the young people’s growing in their awareness and insights and thus, in part embracing, the natural energy of life’s many transitions – as metamorphic.

I appreciate that the tempo and structure of the story leads you to and through the characters’ lives with genuine frustrations, forgiveness, love, misunderstandings, riskiness, and acceptance. Not in a neatly wrapped package. More authentic – real world.

A Summer of Silk Moths by Margaret Willey, originally published in 2009 by Flux, A Division of Llewellyn Worldwide and republished by Reclamation Press, in 2018, it is a read rich in believable intriguing characters living out the entanglements of the past to create new possibilities for the future.

Other favorite books of mine that Willey authored include: The Bigger Book of Lydia (1983), Four Secrets (2012), The Melinda Zone (1993), and Saving Lenny (1990). All of these works legitimately present YA topics in an artful, accessible, richly human and memorable fashion. If you like A Summer of Silk Moths you may want to check out the above titles.

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You and I Cannot be Bystanders

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White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo is not ‘light’ reading.  It is serious. It is important. It is provocative. It voices to an American reality.  It speaks to White Fragility.

Reading it and thinking about the many ways DiAngelo challenges the status quo of how white people, me included, walk through our society – is like signing up for an intense workshop on why it is so hard for white people to talk about racism and how white people can do the work (on ourselves) to breakout of our fragility.

I see this book as an invitation. It provides an opportunity for white people to embrace what will likely be, a long growth journey toward self-understanding and significant behavior change.  This book is not sugar coated.  It is not soft.  It presents a real American dilemma that may not be easy to either comprehend and/or act on.  Yet, for white Americans, there is work to be done to move toward the dream of a “more perfect union”.  DiAngelo presents the realities of all the racism and superiority we white people have internalized.

I recommend this book. I also recommend that you read, as much as is possible, with a non-argumentative mind.  We adults have to be prepared to be changed by the experiences of reading and thinking about stimuli that comes our way or that we seek out.  I am encouraging you to seek out this book.

This book might lead you to want to retreat and stop reading.  Readers might be challenged by emotions such as anger, fear and guilt and by wanting to argue with the author and/or abandon the learning opportunity that engaging with this content provides.  DiAngelo is attempting to provoke positive societal change.  In this book, she examines the forces that prevent white Americans from confronting racism.  I encourage the reader to remain in a ‘learner mode’ throughout the read.

I believe that to be impacted by this book you and I need to be willing to be generative in our understanding of ourselves.  We need to believe that each of us is a ‘work in progress’ and that our society is also a ‘work in progress’ – and that by engaging in the work we can make things better:  we can participate in non-defensive, meaningful and productive dialogue, we can genuinely become non-fragile, we can demonstrate our vulnerability, curiosity and humility, and we can interrupt privilege-protecting comfort and internalized superiority.

As a white person, I have internalized the messages of our society. DiAngelo asserts that white people have internalized fragility around race.  We know there is racial inequality in America.  We often don’t see any way we could be playing a role in perpetuating that problem.  We believe that since we are not racists nor do we intentionally use our whiteness as privilege – therefore, we are not benefiting from any white-norm-centered patterns in in our society.

DiAngelo is a white person.  She is presenting a case for how White Fragility keeps us from having meaningful cross-racial dialogue. She asserts that White Fragility keeps us from authentically facing racism.

To move society forward in confronting racism you and I cannot be bystanders.  We need to be prepared to be changed by conversations, reading, reflection, and other stimuli.  We need to consider ourselves as ‘not finished’ with our learning.

If you and I are truly open to that, then we may become a force of generative growth for confronting racism and white superiority in our culture.  This is going to be long, messy and challenging work for each of us.  I say, for the common good, it is worth doing.

Dreams Deferred and Dreams Being Actualized

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I recommend this book.  I appreciate contemporary YA realistic fiction that tackles the complexities of our times.

With genuine voice Patrick Flores-Scott has woven together the story of Teodoro, his siblings, the challenges of a brother coming home from a war zone with post-traumatic stress disorder, a childhood friend becoming his first love, his ambivalence about school achievement reconsidered, family strength and strife, a road trip, and economic hardship.

This is a story of dreams deferred and dreams being actualized.  It is a story of the serious challenges that many families and individuals face.  Teodoro has to find the energy for forward movement when the status quo seems to have him locked in place.  His brother must also secure a healthy path into the future.  It is a hopeful story.  It is not a sugar coated tale.

American Road Trip is journey of falling in love, responding to PTSD, friendship and family energy.

As a person who worked in public schools for over 30 years, I find the way Flores-Scott presents issues around school and schooling to be on target.

It is fast moving and full of life.  Flores-Scott is storyteller.

American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott, 2018, Henry Holt and Company

It Is Time To Read or Reread ‘The Other Side of the Mountain’

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Alex Kotlowitz tells the story of a Benton Harbor teenager who died in 1991. The book is The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America’s   Dilemma. The two towns are St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan. The death is that of an African American 18 year old, Eric McGinnis.  The dilemma is the racial divide that was and is present in America.

The challenges of Benton Harbor were and are real to me, to our state and to our country.  I to read this book when it came out in 1998 and I have just read it again a couple of weeks ago.   Twenty years later this is still a reflection of the racial divide that is present.

Kotlowitz is a master of bringing reality into focus.  I felt that way the first and second I read The Other Side of the River.  The focus does not diminish the profound complexity of this American dilemma.  The reality of this being so contemporary as well as historical is stunning.  We have so very much work to do. There continue to be too many racial divides.

I highly recommend this book. It will get you thinking.  I hope it will also influence people to embrace our very real challenges as we work together to end this American Dilemma.

Thanksgiving 2018: An Invitation

The concept of a national day of thankfulness is something I see value in.  I believe that a basic frame for living our lives is thankfulness.   And I believe we American’s have room to grow in our authentic thankfulness.   The Thanksgiving holiday can be a time to explore and understand the myths of the ‘first Thanksgiving’ while growing our new knowledge of the American experience.

According to the Smithsonian: “The Thanksgiving myth has done so much damage and harm to the cultural self-esteem of generations of Indian people by perpetuating negative and harmful images to both young Indian and non-Indian minds. There are so many things wrong with the happy celebration that takes place in elementary schools and its association to American Indian culture; compromised integrity, stereotyping, and cultural misappropriation are three examples.”

I like to think that being reminded of the ‘Thanksgivings myth’ has the potential to lead a continuation or beginning of an authentic learning journey around this holiday.  Thanksgiving can be an opportunity to learn more about the complexities of the American Indian story.  It may spur a deep dive in the intricacies and realities of current and  past history.

There many available resources you might tap to assist you on a learning journey.  Here are a couple of resources I recommend (knowing that any and all resources have their strengths and their limits).   I see both of these offerings to be valuable for their authentic focus and depth. Each is told in the first person. Each is a glimpse of the Native American experience.

On to the invitations: For teachers, young adults, and adults I recommend Brian “BB” Melendez’s podcast: Coffee With an Indian.  And for teachers, parents and young adults (12 to 17), especially boys, I recommend the book: If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth.

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Both of these recommendations are examples of material that I see as straight forward and not sanitized to down play or remove the realities of life.  I like that.  I know some might find either or both of these a little “raw”.  Life is more than a little “raw” for many.

Melendez writes on the Coffee With an Indian web site, that this “is a tribal-social-podcast-platform for all things uniquely indigenous. Basically, we get ridiculously caffeinated—then, from a (raw) tribal perspective, intelligently assess everything! Our mission is to stimulate constructive introspection within all communities, by supporting forward thinking spaces for all people.”

Melendez captures listeners with his authentic voice and non-manicured story.  It is his story, his life, and he tells it to you as your “resident Indian”.  He is a Northern / Southern Paiute – Western Shoshone.  Listeners will come to known him, his circle, his challenges, his triumphs and his journey.  The depth and honesty of his story will draw you in. He wants to stimulate thought. He does that.   He has my brain focusing on the complexity of and humanity’s connection to Native American issues.  I am grateful for that. I invite you to start with episode 1 and listen to his journey.

If I Ever Get Out of Here is a novel about Lewis, who is a Native American seventh grader who lives on a native American reservation in New York state.  The story takes place in the 1970s Lewis loves the Beatles and Paul McCarthy and he doesn’t have any friends. He is in the academic advanced track at school and there are no other Indians in his class.  Being in this Middle School is the first time he is experiencing a non-reservation school.  It is not easy to get used to the social isolation he experiences from his classmates.

A new boy, George, who lives on the military base, shows up in his class. They have similar interests and over time become friends.  It is a realistic story filled with strong characters.  The serious issues of bullying and cultural difference are a big part of this story.  Lewis does not let George learn about his life on the reservation.  On the other hand, George invites Lewis to his house and Lewis begins to learn about George’s family, their life and some of what it means to be a transient family due to the reality that George’s father  can be reassigned to a new location at any time.

The bullying Lewis experiences leads to Lewis and, as time goes on, George responding.  The tension and drama are real and the stakes are important.

I recommend this book because it is a good story for middle or high schoolers.  And I see it as being a great catalyst for family discussions.  This is the kind of novel that both the parent and the teen might want to read at the same time and discuss together.

The potential discussion topics might include: reservation life, Indian boarding schools, bullying, the Beatles, children with a career military parent, friendship, parenting, the varying status of students within a school and so many more possibilities.

The author, Gansworth, is an enrolled citizen of the Onondaga Nation; however, he grew up in the Tuscarora Nation as a descendant of one of two Onondaga women present among the Tuscarora at the foundation of the nation in the 18th century.

These two recommendations of – Coffee With an Indian and If I Ever Get Out of Here – are only possible places to start.  You can ask your local librarian for others material and/or you can create internet searches to find sources you would like to investigate.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018 and may this be a good time to learn more about the complexities of the American experience

Fuel – As You Contribute to the Future

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This book: Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds was written in 2017 by adrienne maree brown, a young (in my eyes, under 40 is young) activist who has much to say about contributing and building a brighter future for all.

This book was gifted to me.  Gifted is a special way – I had many options on a table of items that meant something to the person who put them on the table.  I too had placed something I valued on the table and waited for it to find its new owner.  I chose this book because I was attracted to its subtitle – Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.  I ‘signed on’   for the mission of ‘Change’ when I was a teenager during the civil rights movement. So, this subtitle spoke to me.

The book is a journey as opposed to a straight path to some very clear predetermined destination.  And this journey was one that I found to be very meaningful.  I have so much appreciation and respect for the components of the journey that brown took me on.

Her focus is rich.  She understands that adaptation has to be intentional when you’re working for change.  She is totally respectful of the necessity of interdependence among people and the decentralization of power/control in order for progress to be significant.  She gets it, that change is not an event!  It is a process and therefore – change agents must be resilient and essentially and deeply committed to focusing on and creating possibilities. Shaping change and changing the world is the work of bringing life to possibilities.

These are all concepts that many of the established leadership resources* focus on and they focus on them in a more formal, researched based manner.  I find brown’s presentation to be conversational, situational, inspirational, developmental, and ‘possibility’ oriented.  In addition, I see her approach to be authentic and potentially valuable to those wanting to grow their leadership.

I think this book is a good read for any and all people who wish to lead, are leading and/or ready to be a significant be part of forward looking change.  As an almost 70 year old white male who has benefited from all forms of privilege to gain both an education and positions of responsibility in my of life – I found this book to be enlightening, challenging and provocative as in causing discussion, thought, even argument).  We, all of us, need books like this. This book invites a thinking reader, who is willing to become active, to enter a journey to shape and bring about change.

Brown writes, “I will admit here that even some of my closest loved ones find me naïve for holding a vision of the humanity with no enemies.  I can imagine that though, and in fact, it seems like the only viable long-term solution.  We need to transform all of the energy we currently put into war and punishment – into creating solutions for how to continue on this planet.  The time, the energy, the money – we actually have all of that in abundance.  What we lack is will.”

What an important, bold challenge!

This challenge and several others from the book – speak to me loudly.  Brown invites new leaders and established leaders to tackle that which many people avoid because they consider the task impossible.  She encourages us to create more.  She says, “At the human scale, in order to create a world that works for more people, for more life, we have to collaborate on the process of dreaming and envisioning and implementing that world.  We have to recognize that a multitude of realities have, do, and will exist.”

She’s right, from my point of view.  She gets it that we have to think bigger than we are thinking and we have to act on our determination to arrive at a preferred the future rather than settle for not having all of us move forward into a preferred state.

I recommend this book to people who want to make a difference: People who do want to shape change,  people that want to change worlds.

There is no pretense that this book has all the answers.  In the introduction she clearly states that this “book is not one that will teach you all about hard science.”  It won’t, she is right AND it will present a tapestry of observations, learnings, understandings and sincere inquiry that potentially can fuel you as you contribute to the future.

I hope you enjoy Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds as much as I did.

 

*As examples – such as: Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf 2002, The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner 2017, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, 2002, Appreciative Leadership: Focus on What Works to Drive Winning Performance and Build a Thriving Organization by Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rader, 2010, Leading Change by John P. Kotter, 2012, or The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World by Heifetz, Grashow and Linsy, 2009

Energizing, Appreciative and Affirmative . . . A Fulfilling Read!

The book: Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle is rich in positive ripples of appreciative and affirmative framing. It is respectful, forward-looking, and abundant in love!  Gregory Boyle‘s ability to frame the life journey of the people he serves in the “positive” is beyond inspiring!

He works with ex-gang members. He is a Jesuit priest. He is not young and he has not old – he’s experienced. He is a positively piercing voice related to the goodness that can be achieved by “framing” any and all situations in a life affirming fashion.

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Gregory Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries. He refers to the ex-gang members as “homies”.  This book is full of stories of his interactions with homies and the many gifts that he has received by working with ex-gang members over the last three decades.

Here are some short passages from the book.

“Knowing homies has changed my life forever, altered the course of my days, reshaped my heart, and returned me to myself. They have indeed been trustworthy guides. Together we have discovered that we all are diamonds covered with dust. They have taught me not that I am somebody but that I am everybody. And so are they.”

“I don’t empower anyone at Homeboy Industries.  But if one loves boundlessly, then folks on the margins become utterly convinced of their own goodness.”

“Homeboy Industries has always been the “already and not yet”. What this place announces to the world is aspirational and not declarative of a fully formed, complete thing.”

“When life throws a knife at us, we can either catch it by then blade or by the handle. We can stare right back at the terrifying darkness of what we’ve been through in our lives and grab it by the handle.”

“We always seem to be faced with this choice: to save the world or savor it.  I want to propose that savoring is better, and that when we seek to “save” and “contribute” and “give back” and “rescue” folks and EVEN “make a difference,” then it is all about you . . . . and the worlds stays stuck.  The homies are not waiting to be saved. They are ready are.”

“I met a man, an ex-homie, born –again and with the best of intentions, who was now working with gang members. He asked, ‘how do you reach them?’  My response was, ‘For starters, stop trying to reach them.’”

I love that Boyle embraces the complexity of life and living. I totally respect his absolute focus on building honest, caring relationships. This book and Boyle’s previous book, Tattoos on the Heart, are both excellent reads.  They celebrate humanity.  I find them to be energizing.  I recommend them highly.