Arlene is on the SCENE

Posts Tagged ‘childrens books

Arlene has been on the road again!

We visited fourteen schools in our home state of Rhode Island in early April. Wow, was it good to go home again! I even went to my alma mater, Sherman School. And there was that red bench, the one Arlene sits on near the end of Rebel Queen when she has a heart-to-heart with Mr. Musgrove. While the bench has been painted, and the seats in the auditorium are now cushioned (cushions! I had to sit on hard wood, for hours, with no bathroom breaks…), my former school has the same warm feel, the same welcoming vibe.

Kizirian Elementary, Providence

Kizirian Elementary, Providence

We simply had a great time in Rhode Island! From Narragansett to Quidnessett, Coventry to Providence, Warwick to Johnston, we met amazing students at every school. We even ventured into southern Massachusetts, to Braintree and Arlington. Students at every school jumped into a great discussion of empathy, self-image, and the power of activism. Through these conversations, and an amazing video of eight year old Jennifer Keelan climbing the steps of the US Capitol, we learned that one person, one kid, can indeed change the world! We spent some extra time with kids at Kizirian Elementary in Providence–they had great questions! Hope their biographies are coming along. We also want to send a big thank you to Wakefield Books for hosting a book signing with Grace and Marybeth!

Carol, Marybeth and Grace at book signing, Wakefield Books, RI

Carol, Marybeth and Grace at book signing, Wakefield Books, RI

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Margo Toth, teacher extraordinaire, and Carol Liu

We also just got back from Illinois–Naperville to be exact, just outside of Chicago. What a great town, great kids! And I had the pleasure of meeting in person a wonderful teacher I’ve heard about for years, my husband’s fourth grade teacher from Madison, NJ. There she is, still in the classroom, still inspiring young minds. Her second graders had just finished reading Arlene On the Scene and had many insightful questions and responses.

At every school, students and teachers learn about Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and the challenges our friends and families face each day. They begin to understand why the mission of the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation is so important. More broadly, we highlight the power of empathy and the beauty in not accepting, not tolerating, but embracing differences.

Still left on the schedule this year: New York, Philadelphia, and Dallas. Be sure to let us know if you’re interested in a free author presentation! Details can be found on our program brochure, and you can email us any time for more information!

Carol with Elmwood 3rd GradersIMG_0979IMG_0965DSCN0158

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If you can believe it, we still have over thirty schools on the schedule for us to visit between now and the end of the school year. Amazing!

We’ll do a week in my home state of Rhode Island in April, visiting twelve schools from South County to Providence. We’re even going back to my old elementary school, Sherman. Can’t wait!

After Rhode Island, we’ll be Illinois, then New York, and finally, Dallas. In between I’ll be going to schools locally in Maryland and Washington, DC. Each school brings a new energy to our School Outreach Program, and every new reader is one more partner in our mission to find a cure for Charcot-Marie-Tooth.

DSCN0139I had a great time today at Stonegate Elementary in Colesville, MD. I even met the president and vice-president of the SGA. Arlene would be so excited!

The only thing that was disappointing about today’s visit was that no one told me it was Crazy Hair Day! But there was great school spirit in the library, with some pink locks and spikey ‘doos.

I hope the students I see like the book, and don’t forget that the sequel, Arlene, the Rebel Queen is now available! And once you’ve read the books, think about posting a review on Amazon, for Arlene On the Scene or RebelI know reader reviews always help me choose my next book!

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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!

…because it’s such an awesome place!

We had the best time bopping from school to school in my home state, talking with kids about the ideas behind Arlene On the Scene and about our mission to support people living with CMT.

We had some of the most amazing conversations!  At Monsignor Clarke School, where Grace attends, students were very interested in the science of it all.  “If they’ve given CMT to mice, then they already have the recipe.  They should just follow the steps in reverse, and they’ll get rid of it!” one young woman stated in exasperation.  Good point, we thought.  But then another student pointed out that when mixing chemicals, one has to be careful of unpredictable reactions, so he advised that the researchers use caution when developing new treatments for CMT.  We agreed.  Finally, one assertive young woman took the microphone from Carol and made her point quite clearly, “Grace is my friend.  I just don’t even see the leg braces anymore because she is just my friend, and that’s it.”  We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

At Kizirian School in Providence, one class wrote a limerick in honor of Arlene.

There once was a girl named Arlene

Who was always on the scene.

The kids thought she was cool.

She became president of the school.

Next she will run for Queen.

Thanks Kizirian!  You were terrific!

I was lucky enough to return to my own alma mater, Sherman School.  Ah, what great memories.  For those of you not from Rhode Island, that white thing on the left is a bubbler.

At nearly every stop we made, we heard from brave kids who told a roomful of their peers about their own differences.  You impressed us so much with your courage and honesty.  Here’s to the girl who showed us her own leg braces, to the kids who told us of their struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder, to the boy who talked about his brother with autism spectrum disorder and the teasing he faces, to the girl with the young cousin who lives with multiple sclerosis.  We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to talk with you and hear your stories.

I keep coming back to the words of that insightful young man at Hopkins Hill Elementary School in Coventry: “It’s like we think people with disabilities can’t do stuff, so we kind of lock them in this little cage.  But they can.  And so we just need to like, unlock the cage.”

I love that metaphor because it reminds me to unlock and open my own mind to differences, whatever they may be, and practice the art of appreciating those differences, not merely accepting or tolerating them.


Arlene on the Scene is a fun way to introduce kids to the idea of celebrating differences, whether those differences involve ability, personality, culture, religion, whatever!   Throughout much of the book, Arlene mistakenly refers to her classmates using labels based on visible characteristics.  At the same time, she struggles to erase her own visible difference.  By the end of the story, Arlene realizes the whole thing should be turned around.  She comes to understand that there is much more to her classmates than what she can see at a glance.  And she must trust that others will see beyond her disability as well.  Trying to “erase” her difference only leads Arlene to further misunderstandings with her peers and a lower self-confidence within.

Arlene on the Scene sends a clear message: it’s all about embracing everything that you are–strengths, weaknesses, differences, the whole package.  When you are comfortable with who you are, lots of other things fall into place!

From our own professional work in schools, we envision this book as an excellent way to spark discussion about disability, difference, self-concept, and a host of valuable ideas for students.  Consider introducing Arlene to your local school counselor, teacher, or principal.  We hope to do school visits as much as we can in our local areas.  Contact us for more information!


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

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