A Reader Rescues a Bully’s Love

GibbsAuthor, B. S. Gibbs, summarizes this as a “chapter book for kids … illustrated with a dozen intricate, beautiful drawings.” True. The attorney/storyteller inspired by Jane Austen, light fantasy, “and all things medieval,” goes on to tout Janetta and the Book Thief  as a trove of positive pleas for reading, kindness, inclusiveness, and anti-bullying. Those things are apparent. What is not immediately evident, yet makes the 47-page story stand out, is its elegant plot, straightforward prose, and ability to be a great discussion-starter.

The story is largely uncomplicated. That makes the read ideal for third- to fifth-graders whose energy levels almost forbid them to focus on anything that moves slowly. Gibbs’ mystery tale about someone who takes the last chapters of books is easy to follow and grasp, which is the book’s strength and weakness.

Janetta, the main character, chases down the who and why behind the thefts, which first struck me as a weird story element. What is the value of the last chapter of a book?

I then looked at the work from some other angles. I considered what life might be if the last chapter of every story disappeared. The incompleteness hit me. I was able to connect with Janetta’s motivation. The character says, “I can’t imagine my life without reading!”

To that extent, Gibbs’ heroine might interest a reader, yet comes off as too perfect (apologies, but that is the only word that comes to mind) to square with reality. An average 8- to 12-year-old is not obsessed with reading, despite most parents’ wishes.

The fairies who invite Janetta to Eloria, the book-fairy land, Queen Esmeralda and the villain, Sir Grumpsalot, do not have enough edge to compete with the kinds of characters contemporary grade-schoolers find in other books and on television. Gibbs’ chapter book reminded me of plots and characters I have read in works from some Latin American writers. That is the book’s major shortfall.

A minor one is a slip in the digital layout. In the Kindle version I perused, several of artist Anca Gabriela Marginean’s illustrations slid into the lines above them. Sentences were obscured, which distracts the reader. The saving grace is that the story is pretty easy to grasp, so the gaffs do not cause a person to get lost.

Those elements aside, teachers and parents will find that the message about the effects of bullying in Janetta and the Book Thief  and the power of one kind act to change a person’s life overtakes most of the work’s weakness.

Janetta tells her fairy friend Violetta that Sir Grumpsalot, “rejects all of you so that you cannot reject him.” That defensive stance is at the heart of many rubs and scrapes, even in adult life. The line is a great place to launch a discussion with young people on a bully’s motivation, or offer them insight as to why they indulge in brusque acts.

Fear is powerful, as the story makes clear. “I believe he also tells himself that he doesn’t like any of you. But, I believe he desperately wants to be friends. He just doesn’t know how and he is scared to try.”

I won’t give away the end. Gibbs’ story is a saga about loves. Janetta loves books. Book fairies love to inspire writers. Grumpsalot loves to be mysterious. As those elements collide the reader comes to a happy conclusion. The path is worth a glance. Violetta and the other fairies learn that no one is beyond redemption. For youth today, that is a most important lesson.

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Change is Not just a Six-Letter Word

Change is More than a Six-Letter Word Available in  Kindle Edition and Paperback
Even as one glances at the cover, Mark Reklau’s 30 Days-Change Your Habits, Change Your Life echoes the kind of idle boast even a true expert usually wants to avoid. My first impression was that the book sounds like a bad infomercial. Yet, as is often wisely stated, you can’t judge this book by the cover. Page after page, the review copy provided showed me that  30 Days is more than a boast. The book delivers on its promise for those focused and ready to act on self-improvement, even as they try to keep pace with life’s daily shifts.

More than that, as I read the 204 pages, I began to wish the book had come to my attention sooner. The release date is more than a year ago. Even so, I choose to share the publication because the knowledge it holds remains in constant demand.
“Taking full responsibility for your life includes the risk of making mistakes and leaves you without the common excuses (society, my boss, my family, my age etc…), but it also creates options, space and power,” the author states on his website.  Change can never come too late.
As for tone,  30 Days is easily read, mostly because every chapter is topical. Readers can explore each of the 94 chapters in sequence, or as I, many readers might prefer to jump to the areas of greatest interest. That said I recommend anyone who gets a hold of the book read the Introduction and first chapter to gain a feel for the author’s views.

Reklau is clear from the start – the blame for our lives is on us. “Most people have no idea how they get what they get,” he writes in the Introduction. Some of us just blame it on fate and chance.,,,Everything that happens to you is created by YOU – either consciously by design or unconsciously by default; it’s not a result of fate or circumstances.”

Reklau, who uses the book in his pursuits as a life coach offers advice in a manner that one might expect from improvement gurus. The main difference, which makes this work worthy of a read, is that the book is complete in its message, not a come on. Those who follow the link above can check out his business website and find offers for ongoing consultation, but those who seriously want to redesign their lives will find the book a treasure trove.

He offers blunt advice in a direct, concise prose. “Every day brings with it the opportunity to start a new life!” he writes in the first chapter, Rewrite Your Story.  “You get to choose your identity at each and every moment! … It’s up to you to decide who you are going to be from this day on.”

As stated, the Table of Contents reads like an advice list – Choose Your Thoughts, The Importance of Attitude, Know Your Strengths, Avoid Energy Robbers.  When one steps back from the work, it is clear that part of the book’s attraction is its tight organization and design. Readers who want a quick answer to the life-change question will glean a lot from the browse. Those who take the few moments needed to read a chapter will gain ever more. For example, in Chapter 11, Get Comfortable with Change and Chaos, Reklau writes: ” For personal growth you have to be in a constant state of feeling slightly uncomfortable. Get into the habit of doing things that others don’t want to do. You have to choose to do what needs to be done regardless of the inconvenience!”

Readers who take the thirty days to reflect on their attitudes and behaviors will not be disappointed. In that effort, the book can be a guide and counselor. In the end, 30 Days will be one of those keepers on the shelf that is pulled down once or twice a year to refresh our thoughts on what it takes to achieve the lives we desire. If nothing else, the book will serve as a constant reminder that life we have is the result of our actions. Change will become more than a six-letter word.

 

And, The Workers Say

Talking Back: Voices of Color
Nellie Wong, editor
Red Letter Press
240 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9323223-32-3

Given the recent reports on desperate conditions for service workers throughout the United States, there is no better way to honor Labor Day than to propose you check out Talking Back: Voices of Color. The work offers readers insights into the United States from laborers and a broad assembly of those who see life from the streets instead of ivory towers. The text might be ideal as a reader for writing students, because the commentaries are easily readable and well edited. It is also a chance to hear more from those who live daily with consequences of the social, political and economic policies rather than the competitive cries of paid pundits. Any adult interested in the honest exploration of views on those issues from a wide range of Americans – native-born and immigrant, different genders, races, sexual orientations, ages, and disabilities – is bound to find enlightenment in this essay collection edited by poet Nellie Wong. I did.

If you are closed to the views of those sectors of society, or prone to be biased against the fact that the group behind it is largely socialist, the work provides a chance for openness. No? Then it will not appeal to you.

Talking Back was – and is – a potent force, a crucial step in understanding that race oppression, sex discrimination, abusive bosses, income inequality, poverty, homelessness, and never-ending war were systemic, institutionalized under capitalism to wreak havoc on our political, working and creative lives.

Wong writes that in the introduction as the key lesson learned through the transformation she underwent in the 1970s. As a Chinese woman, she was raised to be silent about her views. The Oakland writer says that as she listened to the many voices of those shunted aside in society she began to grasp that speaking out was a path to change.

Talking Back: Voices of Color is filled with testimony on trending topics as diverse as immigration reform, the Mexican Border, police violence, the Middle East crisis, and workers’ rights. Most of the statements are less than 1,000 words, yet the writers use of facts and reflection give them punch. Interested readers will find themselves saying, “I didn’t know that,” over and over as the commentaries organized under chapter headings such as, “The border crossed us,” make it easier to hone in on the subjects of greatest interest. For example in Chapter 7, “Shaking it up,” retired Teamster Ann Rogers’ contribution, “Still working after 80: Social Security and me,” pulled me into the book. Her plight is one to which many retired Baby Boomers can relate.

 “The cost of living skyrocketed over two decades, my Social Security did not,” she explains in the dissection of a government benefit system that provides no comfort to many elderly. At 82, the Chippewa woman still works daily, “because I unfortunately also need food, clothes, medicine, a car, gas, and car repairs.” Rogers makes readers consider how the system doles out Social Security compensation. She talks about the general procedure, then asks readers to think about what that might be like for a working single parent.

A Social Security pension is based on an average of a person’s lifetime earnings. That means low-wage workers get smaller payouts. Rogers started as a waitress then worked for Sears. Her employer’s retirement rested on company stock. When those prices dropped like a boulder off a cliff in the recession in the late 1970s, and she was laid off at age 60, there was little to hope for except Social Security. “The highest 30 years of my wages were averaged to figure my benefit,” she states, then contrasts her underfunded fate with what will happen to those who will have to cope with the even more restrictive policies today.

Now wages are averaged over 35 years, and that is sure to include the low wages most people start out making. For many women, unaffordable childcare means they have to take time off work when their kids are young, and they don’t have 35 years’ worth of wage history. 

In the overall, the book is an unsubtle critique of capitalism. The work’s tone is not negative, however. This would be good for personal enrichment or to share with senior high or college writing students to open their eyes to ideas that differ from is usually published in essay collections. Most of the Talking Back authors are literate, yet not professional writers. Their political perspectives are far left of liberal or centrist perspectives found in my social anthologies, and that is one of the reasons the book provokes thought. The voices of color are a clarion call for change.