Arlene is on the SCENE

Archive for the ‘All About Arlene’ Category

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!

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!

We had a great time this weekend at Barrington Books‘ Children’s Festival! They do an amazing job of hosting events like these. When you walk into their store, you see why independent bookstores are where it’s at. From the variety of book offerings, to the amazing stock of gifts and things, to the knowledgeable and incredibly helpful staff, it’s clear that big box stores will never replace an oasis like this!

The other thing that indie stores like this offer is a strong connection to the community. It feels like home walking into the place. Staff give a warm hello, ask how your mother is doing, or whether your son won the big baseball game last weekend. That’s the kind of place it is.

Finally, our fellow panelists were amazing: Mary Jane Begin, Peter Mandel, Patty Bowman, Eileen Rosenthal, and Grace Lin. It was great to meet you! Read all about the panel–including a fascinating “Inside the Writer’s Studio” commentary–at Barrington Books’ blog (say that three times fast). Also a big thank you to Anika Denise who moderated the panel. Check out her books and blog too!

I watched the debate along with the throngs. First thought, what a way to spend an anniversary. 🙂

But when I sat down to watch, I called the kids in. At ages 13 and almost 12, I figured it’s about time. Time for them to participate and engage. They need to pay attention to what’s happening around them, learn to keep learning, and become part of the discourse.

OK, well, it was a challenge. The older one checked her email, glancing up once in a while, and the younger one arranged his mini-M&M’s into shapes on the coffee table. But then they did begin to listen, especially to my shouts at the television. And then the 13 year old went off: how are you going to lower taxes for everyone and still have enough money to pay for everyone?! The younger one looked up at me to ask, “Wouldn’t Obama have done that already?”

Ah, there it is. The healthy questioning that is the foundation of this country. (It’s true. See Stan Mack’s great new book.) The refusal to simply accept what the government or the leaders or the establishment says just because they’re appear to be at the top. The masses have something to say too. We have brains. And our leaders have no secret formula. It’s all up for debate.

I’m hoping that our next book in the Arlene series, Arlene, Rebel Queen, can help to empower our children to ask questions, speak up, think for themselves. Arlene and her friends learn the right–and wrong–way to create change. The goal is to convince the young that they have a voice in all this too.

One of my favorite songs, my favorite groups, speaks to this beautifully:

On Children by Sweet Honey in the Rock

 

I’m ready to edit!

I get this question at pretty much every school I visit: Will there be a sequel?

I LOVE this question, because it allows me to shout: Yes! Yes there will be!

I’m working on it now, as I said in the last post. Very hard work, this editing. But for me it’s fun. I get to let my imagination go wild!

The students at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland have offered up their help with the storyline for the sequel. Throughout the year, I heard great ideas from students, especially my buds at Washington Oak in Rhode Island (yes, I still have those scraps of paper you wrote your ideas on). But my friends at JDS actually wrote the first few chapters as a writing assignment!

Oh, they’re great, really great! So many ideas–talk about imaginations going wild! And I love all the cool stuff you put into your writing. I saw metaphors, imagery, hyperbole, just like we talked about. Many of your wrote about camp or the beach, with great details, proving that when you write what you know, it comes out very vivid! Some of you included other characters from the book too. Carlos made several surprising appearances. Some of you had Arlene falling in love (hmm, little early for that maybe? :)), and many showed Arlene in a real way dealing with her leg braces. You all certainly seem to understand the message of the book–gotta live it, but not let it take over everything!

I will gather all your papers and sit down at my computer to finish the sequel this summer, I promise! Stay tuned right here for some sneak peaks early next fall.

To my friends at JDS–thanks for all your ideas and hard work! Keep my email and write me! Let me know how your summers go and what’s happening next year. I’d love to come back and see you!

Feels like school’s basically out already for the summer, doesn’t it? In our house it does! It’s sunny and 90 degrees here in Washington, DC! So I thought it was a good time to wrap up the second year of our School Outreach Program, see how we did.

Well, we certainly hit our goals! The first year we visited 23 schools, and this year it was 30. And we ventured off the east coast! We went to Los Angeles and had a great time there. We spoke to 4000 students in all, talking about important issues, such as disability, self-image, the value of diversity, and the power of writing. With each presentation, students and teachers learn about Charcot-Marie-Tooth and the mission of the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation to support those living with CMT. And with each presentation, we highlight the importance of empathy, true understanding of each other’s strengths and needs, so that our classrooms can be bully-free and comfortable places for kids to let their true selves shine.

We ended this fantastic year with a visit to a great school nearby, Olney Elementary. There we encountered something that made us think of foreshadowing. All you third, fourth and fifth graders reading this, if you don’t know what that is, go look it up before you read on. [Insert my lame attempt to whistle…] You done? Ok, yes, foreshadowing. At Olney, we met this great group of kids who call themselves the Recycle Rangers…

Carol got to meet Olney Elementary School’s Recycle Rangers!

…and this made us think about foreshadowing (when an author gives you hints about what’s coming later in the plot). Turns out one of the main parts of the sequel to Arlene On the Scene is that Arlene and her friends start a recycling group at her school, just like Olney Elementary’s Recycle Rangers. So we asked them lots of questions. Authors have to do their research, even when writing fiction!

The sequel is our summer project. We’ve finished a draft, but as anyone who has seen our presentation knows, now the real work begins–the editing! Yes, this will take a while, but hopefully we’ll be able to get the sequel out sometime next year. Working title [insert drumroll]: Arlene, the Rebel Queen. Please, comment away! Olney kids gave it a thumbs up, but tell us honestly–does it grab you?

And don’t forget to contact us and get on the schedule for next year! Presentations are completely free of charge, thanks to the support of the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation, and we also donate copies of the book to the library of each school we visit. We’re only limited by the challenges of time and geography, so just let us know and we’ll try to work out a trip to your local school!

It was good to go home again. It really was. Growing up in Rhode Island was special. I didn’t appreciate it, like most things, until after it was over. (Why does it always work like that?)

But this is why we set the book in Rhode Island, to kind of re-live it. And this is why we keep coming back.

We visited nine schools in three days–what fun! Providence, Coventry, West Warwick, Narragansett, and Wakefield were all on the schedule. The best part: the “real” Arlene came with us! That’s right, Grace Caldarone stole the show at Kizirian, GJ West, Carnevale, and Narragansett elementary schools. We were so happy to have her with us!

Now that I’m home for a few, caught my breath, did my laundry, all that…I have a few things to say to my new friends.

To the kids at Pleasant View ES–let’s keep up the challenge! They dared me to come up with a funny story about a grain of rice. I double-dare you to write a poem about…hmm…this piece of toast that I half finished for breakfast this morning. Go! Write! Email it to me and maybe we put it on the site!

To my friends at Kizirian–can I come back again for the third time next year? You are all fantastic! Please write me at the link above–let’s keep talking!

Students at Narragansett ES–why didn’t anybody tell me it was “wear your sports jersey day?” I would have brought my Capitals shirt. What’s that? Bruins are ahead 2 games to 1? Well, it’s not over yet!!

Okay, you know I would get to you, fifth graders at Washington Oaks ES. (Yes, that means you too, Aidan!) I know you’re on spring break right now, but it’s the perfect time to start writing! I’d love to see your work, and email me more of your ideas for the sequel!

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. I have visited schools from Washington, DC to Los Angeles this year, and as they say, there is just no place like home.

Boy I wish I were announcing that Arlene On the Scene is about to made into a blockbuster motion picture!

Unfortunately…not yet!  I’ve had several students tell me recently that they have “connections”  to the industry and will put in a good word for me.  That’s terrific!  I think these kids really just want to see Plumpy rolling down the hill, flattening Joey and his buddies!  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, you really must read the book!  🙂

But we did make it to sunny CA.  Only to find it 20 degrees colder than on the east coast!  What gives?

I want to give a big shout-out to Dahlia Heights and Rockdale elementary schools for being such great audiences and great listeners.  It was so great to meet you!

Now, it’s on to Rhode Island.  Oh, you know I have to go back home again!  We’ll visit eight schools in RI in mid-April, talking to kids about differences, disability, and the power we have to change the world!

Check out our School Outreach Program: we’ll come to your school for free and donate a few copies of Arlene On the Scene for your library!  We discuss how it’s really our job, using our empathy skills, to create a safe place for all of us to be ourselves, our true selves, including difference, disability, whatever you bring to the group.  It’s all sponsored by the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation to raise awareness of Charcot-Marie-Tooth, which is the condition that “Arlene” deals with.  Along with the more tricky issues that a fourth grader has to face: friends, teachers, homework, parents, big brothers…

A recent survey tells us that kids with autism are much more likely to be bullied.  The new movie, Bully, coming out this week will bring needed awareness to this important issue.  We hope to continue to contribute as much as we can to this awareness effort, school by school, student by student.

Let us know if we can come to meet you–contact us today!  We just need a few schools in the same general area, and we’ll be on our way!

Hey, it’s Arlene again.  Yes, I’ve been gone all summer.  I mean, not really GONE, but you know, you and I haven’t really talked in a while!  Doesn’t it always seem to go that way?  We say let’s stay in touch over the summer, but then we go to camp, Mom and Dad drag us off to see cousins and family, we watch a whole lot of TV, whatever.

But I did read some great books too!  I read the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and to get a little more serious, I read Esperanza Rising.  That was good.  I also read the Guiness Book of World Records because one day I will set one.  Haven’t decided which one yet.  I know it’s NOT going to be longest fingernails, because I tend to bite them.

But now it’s time to go back to school.  Part of me is really excited.  The other part is…I don’t know…nervous.  Just like last year.  This year my braces aren’t new, but still, it’s stressful, you know?  I read this thing online that made me laugh, but it was also very true.  Here, you can read it yourself, but come back to this page so we can finish talking.

So this girl is a little older than me, but she is talking about going to school with a disability, an “upper limb deficiency” to be exact.  I had to ask Mom what that meant.  As far as we could tell, sounds like this girl has only one arm, or at least only one hand.  Now that seems pretty intense to me.

But then again, I have Charcot-Marie-Tooth, and that sounds pretty intense to most other people too.

But what made me laugh is that when kids asked this girl what happened to her arm, she said it got flushed down the toilet!  Crazy!

People do ask funny questions when you’ve got a disability, and it helps to have a few of those funny answers handy when you need them.  But this girl talked about more serious stuff that is really true, things that make me a little nervous walking back into school this week.

Things like, the staring.  And I’ll probably get some funny questions too.  I’ll get new teachers who don’t know me and try to do everything for me, instead of letting me choose when I need help and when I don’t.  And I’ll get friends who get to know me so well that they forget about my disability, which is great, but then they run down the stairs ahead of me, never stopping to wait.

It’s all a big swampy mess of things and feelings that are harder to push through than say…hanging around the house this summer.  I’ll make it though.  No doubt.  In fact, I’m sure I’ll have a blast.  Just gotta get psyched up for it.

Post a comment, tell me about what went on for you when you started school this year.  I’d love to hear about it!

We just had to share this story about a young boy who is fighting to take his service dog to school with him.  This reminds us so much of our beloved Harp, the wonderful Canine Companion who helped Marybeth for a decade with loyalty, earnestness, and yes, the cutest dog-face ever.  Harp was a member of Canine Companions for Independence, a fantastic organization that provides service animals for people with disabilities.  Service animals really do help with things like picking up hard-to-reach items and opening doors, but they also provide invaluable companionship.  We hope that with brave kids like Caleb fighting to make people understand the power of the canine, we’ll eventually see service animals everywhere!

Maybe in the sequel, Arlene should get a canine companion…

See what I mean? Harp--loyal, earnest, cute face

(And now you know why Arlene’s last name is Harper–a little known fact!)


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Arlene On the Scene is proudly sponsored by the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation.

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