Arlene is on the SCENE

CLC Seal of Approval simsilvfoilWhile it’s not available in stores quite yet, Arlene, the Rebel Queen is being deemed a good read by some! Children’s Literary Classics gave the sequel to Arlene On the Scene its Seal of Approval, saying it “belongs on every youngster’s reading list.” Read the full review.

We’re so pleased that they liked the book but more importantly, that they understood our point. Well, pointS. We had a lot of them. We wanted to talk to kids about change, and that making change happen can be complicated and risky. As we finish honoring Martin Luther King, swear Barak Obama in as president, and head into African-American history month, let’s be honest–change is huge. It can be frightening. But we can learn so much from looking back on changes we’ve been through, and recognizing the sacrifices made by the leaders of change.

But given that, you–yes, YOU–can be an agent of change. We all can. And should! In our homes, our schools, our communities, even the world. Rebel Queen was written to demonstrate to young readers that they have the power to make positive changes in their corner of the world. Right now!

Finally, we wanted to talk about the interpersonal relationship between Arlene and her friend Lauren. Watching our daughters weave their way through the jungle that is the tween/teen social scene, Marybeth and I wanted to dive right in to these issues–how do friendships evolve over time? How does one navigate through a waning friendship and emerge with self-confidence in tact? And what does difference and disability add to that dynamic?

Well, not to say we answered all those questions. As Mr. Goldberg says in the book, many of life’s biggest questions simply don’t have answers. Asking the question and thinking about it, that’s the point. Arlene isn’t thrilled with this idea, but she rolls with it. Which in the end is what she learns we have to do with change.

Liu_RebelQueen_FrontIt’s almost here! The sequel to Arlene On the Scene will be available March 26th,  pretty much everywhere. If your bookstore doesn’t have it in stock, tell them they should order it! 🙂

Kids are always asking us, what will the sequel be about? Well, the story is about change: how to make it and how to take it. Arlene and her friends land in a heap of trouble when they try to lead a revolution to make Greenwood School more “green.” There are new characters: Mr. Goldberg, the new fifth grade teacher, and Arlene’s Uncle James, who is a little different, just like Arlene. Oh, and the really tough change is that Arlene and Lauren kind of “break up.”

amazon buy buttonBut if you ask me, this book is about something bigger than just these plot points. While the first book told the story of Arlene learning how her disability can be part of a positive and powerful vision of herself, the sequel is about Arlene unleashing that very power. This book is about how one person–one young person–make that one young person who happens to live with a disability–can indeed change the world. Thank you, Margaret Mead, for pointing this out.

Check out an excerpt from the book here. Get yourself a copy, and if you’re local or if I’m coming to your school soon, you know I’ll be happy to sign it for you, talk with you about what you thought of the story. My ideas come from real life, and the kids I’ve talked to during these past two years have driven the content of this book, from the Green Team at Olney Elementary, to the great essays written by students at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, to my friends in my home state of Rhode Island: Kizirian Elementary, Washington Oaks Elementary, Narragansett Elementary–so many great ideas from all the kids I’ve met! I keep a treasure box of the thank-you letters and cards I receive from students, and every last one is in there. Just like we talk about when I visit your school, we are all so incredibly connected. I don’t give a speech; we have a conversation.

Don’t forget to keep us in mind for an author visit and presentation about disability and difference this semester. Just send me an email. And don’t forget to get your copy of Arlene, the Rebel Queen.

The art of rebellion lives on!

Just read a great post on overcoming resistance to emotional and social character development in schools. You’d think there wouldn’t be resistance, but ah, there is indeed.

I find with my own kids, as well as those I work with in schools, that social-emotional character development happens sporadically, unpredictably. Thus, I don’t think we can compartmentalize education to such an extent that we don’t address character development in our classrooms. We’ll miss too many opportunities! Character development, especially with those tweens and teens, is about NOT talking about it. Or talking sideways about it. It’s made up of planting seeds, which you may not be present to see blossom.

I can understand the resistance. I’m not ready to hand over character development of my own kids to their teachers. But that’s where home-school communication is key. Just as teachers have to earn the trust and respect of their students, there’s trust that needs to be built within the parent-teacher relationship as well. Unfortunately, I’m finding as my kids get older, there’s less interaction between home and school. Just when our kids need character development the most!

I like the idea of bringing back character development in schools for this new year. I’m going to try to visit as many schools as possible in 2013 to talk about Arlene and the social-emotional lessons within its pages. And maybe I should reach out to my own kids’ teachers. Start the new year building a better relationship with them so we can work together to combine intelligence and character within our schools.

We Don’t See Racism? | Teaching Tolerance.  This is a great post from a great project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. If you don’t already receive their newsletter, you might want to sign up, especially teachers and others who work with children. They offer incredible resources for teaching children about appreciation of the beautiful mosaic that is our world today.

This post gets at one of the fundamental challenges to opening our minds. Sometimes we don’t even see the problem, don’t even recognize racism. I grew up in a small, pretty homogeneous town. Once I moved away to the Big Apple, I had a shocking revelation: yes, I had a whole bunch of biases within me, attitudes that would be called out as pure racism in most circles. I really had no idea.

Oh, give me a break, some might say. How could you have no idea?

I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t experienced it myself. The first step to opening my mind was to admit it was closed to begin with. This is often the first hurdle to changing attitudes about race, religion, culture, disability. So many think they’ve arrived, they’re advanced in their thinking, it’s only those “other people” who are racist.

But we need to learn to recognize it and teach our children to do the same. How else will we eliminate it?

Maybe the word racism is just too strong, too loaded for people to bear. My son relayed this story to me yesterday, and asked, “Was this racist?”

Teacher was changing kids’ seats, getting ready for some activity in which he needed students arranged in the classroom differently.

Teacher: “Oh, look. I’ve got all my Indian kids in one row!”

Student: “Um, I’m not Indian. I’m from Pakistan.”

Teacher: “Ah, well, close enough.”

I looked at my son. Racist? Well…certainly doesn’t seem like an appropriate thing to say. Imagine: Oh, look, all my Italians in a row! Um, I’m from Greece. Ah, well, close enough.

As tough as it is to go there, I think we need to. Isn’t it racism for a teacher to label a group of children by their race? Within an activity that had nothing to do with race or even close to it? And even when you get it wrong, you stick to your erroneous, race-based label? We can’t possibly think that attitudes will change without our recognition of the problem.

Teaching Tolerance also reminds us that there is probably no finish line. Learning about others and learning to appreciate what they bring to the table is a life-long process.


I would have been glad for one mouse stirring in my house.  Instead I counted six.

Yes, six. All up in my Christmas ornaments!


Serves me right for putting all my precious ornaments into one of those cheap, cardboard ornament keeper things.

Anyway, we carry this box into the house from the shed, then head out to get the tree. Back again, tree is in the stand, and now for the fun part, uncovering memories sparked by nearly every ornament. There’s the paper Jesus made by my daughter in first grade, the popsicle stick cross carefully glued together by our son in kindergarten, the ceramic black lab with a red scarf in memory of the-best-dog-ever, Jasmine. And of course each growth stage is marked with the appropriate commercial product: Elmo, Clifford, princess castle, Luke Skywalker celebrating the holiday by brandishing a light saber upon Darth Vader. Finally, family travels are included: New Mexico, Key West, Brazil, Israel, China.

DSC_0712We lift the cover of this infamous cardboard box, and the dogs seem strangely attracted to the ornaments. We peer inside and see way too many mouse droppings to indicate a mere passer-by. Soon my dog Raydar (the smart one) has his head completely inside the box.

Raydar, with his big ears and big nose, always lets us know when there’s cause for concern. So we listen to him.

We drag this box outside, figuring maybe there’s a stowaway. I lift up the first layer of ornaments, and yes, indeed, there’s a stowaway. Plus his friend, his cousin, his neighbor, and his neighbor’s cousins too!

mouseAway they run! Off into the backyard, with Raydar at the window saying, please, please, let me chase them. What fun that would be!

This little colony of mice made quite a home for themselves in my box. With my ornaments! They destroyed anything paper, and chewed up anything yarn-related.

We saved what we could. Elmo and Clifford did survive, although they got a good scrubbing in the sink.

Lesson learned. I’m off to get myself a nicely sealed, plastic container for this year. Only question I’m left with is, did any of the group leave the box while we were out getting the tree? Let’s hope Raydar is on the trail!


Heading into next week’s holiday, feeling thankful and all, I’m going to focus on something my young client said to me a couple of weeks ago. It was the day before Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast. Winds were picking up; gray skies threatened. The streets were empty as I headed to see two new clients, the day after a social worker removed them from their home.

They were at their aunt’s house. An adult cousin was there too, with her two kids. An uncle came by. Their godmother called while I was there. As I left, another aunt pulled up to see the children, give them some Halloween candy. The kids asked me many important questions: What was I going to dress up as for Halloween? Will the hurricane knock this house down? What is my middle name? Did I have any more tic-tacs?

I explained what was happening to them as best I could, and let them know the adults would keep them safe. But they may not be able to go home for a while. I told them that they would be staying with their family until their mother was ready to take care of them again. The older one blew out a long sigh of relief. Then he looked worried again.

“What happens to kids who don’t stay with their family? Where do they go?”

“They go to a foster home,” I answered.

He shook his head slowly. Then stared right at me. “I’m the luckiest kid alive! I get to stay with my family!”

Yes, indeed. The blessings of family.

Just some of the Liu family

Happy thanksgiving! Hope everyone enjoys their lucky time with family!

Wow what a fun time we had recently at Fallsmead and Arcola Elementary Schools here in Montgomery County, MD. I spoke to over 300 students at each school and had a blast. At Fallsmead, many of the kids had read much of the book, so they were really into the story and character. I received amazing letters from them, with so many great questions for me! I’d love to answer them all, but I’ll answer the most important one: yes, I’ll come back as soon as the sequel is out. I have to drop off a copy for your library! Then I can answer any other questions you have. Don’t forget, you can always contact me here by email.

I have to send a special thank you to the student at Fallsmead who taped coins to her letter to be donated to find a cure for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. I gave that right to the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation. Thank you so much!

At Arcola, the kids and I had a great time! Of course, I wished I had known it was pajama day! But it was great to meet all of you, with your great questions and enthusiasm for writing. You had great ideas for the sequel–and prequel! I can’t wait to come back and drop off a copy of the sequel in March. Let’s see if it meets your expectations!

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