Children's Health, family, Parenting

Thirty Million Words


So, a few months ago, I was asked to participate in a library discussion group concentrating on the non-fiction title, “Thirty Million Words,” which is a combination research-report/hopes for the future book covering a long-term study conducted by Dana Suskind, MD, who was an audiologist and a surgeon of cochlear implants (those devices that are inserted directly into deaf ears to produce hearing). Anyway, what all of that long-winded introductory sentence means is this — The librarian knows that I have special needs kids (including speech difficulties), and thought that I’d be interested in the topic of how language builds the brains of children.

And, yes, I was, and am. Since I finished my degree in Early Childhood Education, I’ve been very aware of and into this sort of research. Granted, now that I’m out of the preschool classroom, I don’t keep up on these studies as much as I would like to. Reading this book was a very good way to get back into it.

“Thirty Million Words” is about so much more than how language development affects a child’s future academic and social performance. It’s about critically examining the gap between economic classes when it comes to educational achievement, the vast differences between the self-esteem and personal success of children who were “talked to” enough (as opposed to those who apparently weren’t), what that actually means, how ideally every child would obtain it, and what this research means for our society as a whole.

It’s fascinating. Terrifying. Amazing. Inspiring. Intimidating. I’ve never read a non-fiction book on this topic with this amount of weight before. Most of my textbooks for ECE were either the history of education (with very little about how to potentially grow and advance it for the 21st century), or psychological studies about child development, which is all well and good, but goes only so far when you’re trying to get into the mind and the heart. Suskind didn’t simply repeat what we’ve been hearing on the news for 30 years — that children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds will most likely struggle more in academics — she looked at possible ways to change that.


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The early chapters are heavy on the “technical” stuff — jargon, other studies in this field, Suskind’s own background in audiology and how some of her patients’ results influenced her to learn more about language and the growing brain. In the middle of the book, she begins to really discuss the problems our current culture is facing as a result of being deficient in a particular type of linguistics — families engaging in routine conversation just for the sake of bonding. And this is where the immediate consequences of this decline in America truly starts to hit home.

As I read, I realized that she was saying something quite contradictory to what the modern era has been striving towards: Technology is not going to help our society evolve, it’s going to make it crash and burn. What she found was that more and more parents are tuned in more to their screens, especially handheld devices, in their children’s presence, and are relying on “educational TV” or “learning apps” to teach their kids things we’ve been teaching via human interaction for millienia.

In the 20th century, we used technological advances to enhance our communication; the telephone could relay important information that before would’ve taken days or even weeks to reach someone via letter. Television was to become informed and entertained; we watched the news, and learned things about our world that we’d never imagined; classic books from all genres were made into movies, accessible to tons of people of all ages for the first time, sharing archetypal stories that had already been passed down over generations.

Nowadays, we are using our technology to hide from other humans. Evidently, even our own children.

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(This is the children’s area at my local library, by the way.)

Suskind discovered that children who were raised in homes where screen time (for both adults and youth) was limited, and physical interaction encouraged — beyond “eat your dinner,” “brush your teeth,” “good night” — regardless of whether their family earned 100,000 dollars a year or 15,000, made significant advancements in academics, personal success, and were likely to consider themselves capable, confident individuals.

Yes, it goes that far. It just isn’t talking to — not at — our kids. It’s what we say and how we say it.

Before I had Muffin, I made a habit of trying to read and watch faith-based self-help. Not the cheesy type that makes us all groan and roll our eyes, because the pastors in question are wearing expensive clothes and have gigantic smiles with perfect teeth, and their idea of “suffering” is their dog refusing to hold still for grooming. No, I greatly preferred the practical, will-actually-make-an-impact, Biblical-principled. Joyce Meyer and Max Lucado are still my favorites. And they have both been quoted as saying: Words have power.

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Meyer and Lucado got it absolutely right: No matter what “the world” may tell us (“shrug it off,” “don’t take it to heart,” “they don’t really mean it”) — words can hurt. Or words can build us up, increase our joy, our determination, our feelings of worth and purpose. It’s been in the Bible for thousands of years. How many passages are dedicated to showing us how God feels about His creation by verbal explanation?: love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace, wise, comfort, Father. I am the Life, Living Water. Come to me, lay down your burdens. The 23rd Pslam is one of the most well-known Bible passages in the world because of its incredibly beautiful and affirming word imagery.

Now science is reinforcing that.

And even as an autist, I can attest to the value of face-to-face human interaction.

I love reading to my kids. Well, these days it’s just Muffin. White Fang gave up being read to pretty much as soon as he was able to silently read himself. And I do strive to have meaningful conversations with my boys — beyond instructions and a blase` “how was your day?” Yes, even Muffin and I can have meaningful conversations. (Anyone who dares to claim there is no such thing with a preschooler, I’ll meet you out back with my nunchucks.)

My goal in all of this is not simply to make sure they’re doing well in school. It’s not even because I love them and want to know they’re happy. Well, yes, of course that, duh. But my ultimate endeavor in carrying on continual discourse with my children is to help them become more. To ensure that they develop a strong sense of self-worth, that they know I — the authority figure, the unreachable “old person” who might “not understand” — do value what’s important to them.

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By doing so, I am helping to make these fledging little humans into whole people.

This really is how we’ll evolve as a society. As individuals, as a culture.

Everybody who works with kids needs to read this book. Not just teachers, but social workers, school administration, bus drivers, janitors, recess monitors. Pediatric nurses and speech therapists and day care staff. Not just parents — grandparents, aunts, uncles, adult cousins, babysitters. Librarians, library volunteers. The folks who give kids swim and art and music lessons, run sports teams and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Just, everybody.

So we can start to make the future our children deserve.


Autism, family, flash fiction

How To Be A Savage: Part 1


Hello, everyone! Welcome to the start of an experiment. For the next several weeks, I’ll be posting pieces of flash fiction that will begin to come together in a Wattpad series in the near future. It’s called “How To Be A Savage,” and focuses on the fictional narrator Ellie and her family. Ellie is an autistic adult with a son on the spectrum. There’s a lot more I could say, but I’ll let Ellie take it away…

“Today I want to be a superhero to housewives everywhere!” I loudly declare, directing the wand of the vacuum cleaner as far under the bed as it will go.

Probably most of the dust bunnies by the furthest bedpost are laughing at me. I only reach 5’2″ in heels, and because of where the queen-sized bed sits in the room, the angles from which I can reach the darkest corners underneath it are limited. We live in an old house, with slightly odd measurements, and tight corners, and… Anyway, it creates complications with stuff like where dust can collect.

And today has not been a good day for Executive Function, so I might not be able to determine when I’m at the wrong angle for achieving maximum reach.

Hey, most housewives will consider me a superhero just for trying. I know that. I can live with it.

But I’d much rather live with the excitement on my husband’s face when I tell him how hard I tried to eliminate every speck of dust from our bedroom.

“And so she brandished her wand and directed its fearsome Sucking Spiral at the horrific gray monsters, rearing on their powerful hind legs…”

Okay, yes, sometimes I develop a fantasy narrative to my life in my head while I’m going about mundane tasks. If it helps me get through the day…

My life is extremely mundane. I barely leave the house some days. Lately, Connor’s been a little less tolerant about stuff like the housework being underdone. He won’t say much, but he’ll roll his eyes more, and sigh, and I’ll realize that I forgot to wipe down the bathroom counter like I said I was going to, or that I missed one item on the grocery list, or didn’t return the phone call he told me about last week.

I hate seeing that look on his face. I hate going to bed that night and having him snuggle up to me, anyway, even though he sounds sad when he says, “Good night, El.”

How can he be so disappointed in me but not be mad at me? It twists me up in knots. If he just got mad and yelled and slept on the couch, I’d know what to do. I’d spend all of the next day ironing and polishing and leaving voicemails for people I’d rather never speak to again. Just to make him happy. Because then I’d know for sure how he felt, and I’d have fixed it.

I like it when I can identify the problem, and then resolve it.

Hence, I attack the defiant dust bunnies.

Neither of my sons take any notice of my exuberant housecleaning efforts when they return from school. Well, Sam wouldn’t, he’s only 4. But Luke should, he’s 15, and we’re making him do more adulting. Well, he’s autistic, and he’s just more focused on his homework and how much of his hobbies he can squeeze in before dinnertime. So was I at his age. I don’t hold it against him if he doesn’t notice me putting the vacuum back in the closet.

Should I? Should I be encouraging him to notice the little things more? Reminding him his future spouse will one day appreciate it?

Tonight, I am determined to be on top of things. I turn off my laptop at precisely 5:03, a whole 27 minutes before I expect Connor home. I instruct Luke, who still has up to an hour of gaming time since his math is complete, “Please hurry up and die in Minecraft so you can put away the dishes.” I tell Sam, who’s enjoying his nightly viewing of Nick Jr., “After your show, let’s get ready for Daddy, okay?”

Amazingly, both my boys heed my words without more prodding or cajoling or threatening.

It’s going to be a good evening.

Thank you for reading, everyone! Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

children's television, entertainment, family, television

I Give Up (Or, Why I’m Basically Done with Television for the Forseeable Future)


(Yes, this is the face Toby gives most cable shows. He has good taste.)

So, a while back I was griping about how far downhill (try the bottom of the cliff, in many respects) the medium of TV shows as a whole has gone. At least, in my opinion. I don’t like “reality” programs (since most of them are faked by wannabe actors, anyway), or stuff like “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race”; I don’t care for police procedurals or most medical dramas (anything that can fall into the formulaic tropes way too easily); the only sitcom I’ve watched in the past 10 years is “The Big Bang Theory.”

Within the last couple years, there have been lots of shows I was watching that ended (and some of these none too soon, I felt), that evidently the whole world except for me is watching and I “need” to (but I’m not), and others that have been on the air for years but I only recently started watching.

Here’s a breakdown of my feelings about the whole situation:

I do not like television in 2018.


After being thrown for a loop with the series finales of “Castle” (what was that?!) and “Chuck” (still sobbing), the intense downward spiral in quality for “Supernatural” and “The Big Bang Theory,” and the incredibly unfair cancellation of “Houdini and Doyle,” I feel let down by the industry as a whole.

I could live with the end of “Grimm,” because the writers and directors did a great job of sticking to one, meaningful storyline in the last episodes, and making the most of character development and creating a satisfying conclusion. “Nashville,” on the other hand, which had reached a perfect ending prior to its cancellation and then immediate reboot by another network — which has ruined the whole thing — is crossed right off my list.

I actually got into “Grey’s Anatomy” about a year ago — yes, in the middle of season 13. I’m aware this is more than arriving late to the party — it’s the equivalent of running in the door when most of the guests are moving towards the parking lot. But I did something I rarely do — I fell for the hype. I’d seen ads for this show for years, and never thought about it twice. Okay, slight lie — twice, since Patrick Dempsey used to be in it, and he is just unapologetically handsome. However, he’d already left the program by the time I tuned in (oh, well), and I’m beginning to see why he wanted out of his contract.

So, very shortly here, my modern experiment with a medical drama will be over as well.


Although betrayal seems like too harsh a word to use when it comes to television, I have to admit, regarding “Supernatural,” I feel betrayed. For the last few years, it’s been my go-to example of excellent writing, directing, character development, and how to keep a weekly-episode show going for 10-plus years without losing your fan base. Now it’s become my primary example of how to screw all that up. Last week I caught a rerun of an episode from season 5, and there was absolutely no comparison to the season 13 episode I saw the week before. I just can’t anymore with this train wreck (crying).

Then there are the superhero shows — “The Flash,” “Arrow,” etc — that apparently have to include some sort of political statement in every single episode. Some are bigger offenders than others (I’m looking right at you, “Supergirl” and “Black Lightning”), but this entire group has become way too liberally-charged for my liking. Whatever happened to telling a story for the sake of telling a good story — and if there was a message to it, it was one that could resonate with lots of people, not just those who subscribe to a particular, inflexible ideology?

Even my pleasant surprises of last year, “Riverdale” and “The Good Doctor,” are failing me. “Riverdale” has quickly progressed from kind of unrealistic to wholly impossible and overdramatized, and “The Good Doctor” is focusing far too much on the other characters and using Dr. Murphy’s autism as baiting for not understanding social graces or being intolerant. That last bit flat out destroys me.


And if we could, for just a minute, discuss children’s television? What in the world has happened to the Disney channel? I’m not going to encourage Muffin to turn on Disney Jr now that they’re broadcasting a show about a preschool vampire. Excuse me?! 

And White Fang gave up on Nickelodeon — which was the standard of acceptable teen programming for years — ages back. Their resurgence of live-action, scripted shows, such as “The Thundermans” and “Henry Danger,” that were slightly goofy but still fine in terms of clean humor and covering appropriate topics. But even those have become too far-fetched and just plain silly. Yes, White Fang is now 15, and his viewing tastes will be different than they were in middle school. But, still. Even something that’s aimed at 6-10-year-olds needs to make sense.


So, we will happily binge library DVDs of shows that were cancelled before 2005.

And I have no regrets about what we may, or may not, have missed in primetime.


family, Fantasy fiction, spiritual growth

Guest Post: Kyle Robert Shultz on The Magic Elephant in the Room


Good morning, all. Today we will be joined by Kyle Robert Shultz, the #ShultzWithoutaC author of the Beaumont and Beasley fantasy series. Given that Mr. Shultz is spiritually and morally a churchgoing Christian, some may be surprised that he writes fantasy fiction, chock full of storybook magic, witches and wizards, and mythological creatures. All of this was part of what drew me to this author’s writing in the first place. As someone who believes in Jesus of Nazareth as a divine Savior, and tries to follow his teachings in everyday life, I got very fed up with being told that one cannot attend church on Sunday and read fantasy Monday through Saturday. With popular authors such as Ted Dekker and Carrie Anne Noble breaking this mold (and C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien never being off the bestseller lists in the past decade), I was very interested in connecting with like-minded writers in the indie publishing camp. So I asked Kyle to write about this subject for today’s post, and I’m actually going to use it to lead into a 2-part discussion on the topic later in March. So enjoy, and have a great day, everyone!


The Magical Elephant in the Room by Kyle R. Shultz

In my experience, Christian writers of fantasy don’t like to discuss the thorny subject of magic. We either use it in our stories or steer clear of it, but we’re not inclined to get into a big debate about the ethics of *Anthony Head voice* SOSSERY. The conflict over the subject has been going on ever since Harry Potter first become popular in the 1990s. Much of the furor and book-burning has died down since then, but even today, if you write a novel that heavily features magic, you’re likely to get a review from a Christian reader which at least mentions it as a potential problem.

So, since this is still a relevant issue in 2018, I say we stop tiptoeing around it and and tackle it head on. Ready? Here we go. The basic argument from Christians against fictional magic is as follows:

  1. Real-world magic is wrong, according to the Bible (Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Galatians 5:20, Revelation 21:8).
  2. The Bible also tells us to do nothing that would cause another to stumble and commit sin, even if what we are doing seems innocent (Romans 14:21).
  3. Therefore, reading and writing stories involving magic is wrong because it might encourage someone to engage in real-life sorcery.

If we don’t accept the idea that real-world witchcraft is real or dangerous, than this argument is invalid. However, I don’t ascribe to the doctrine of cessationism. I believe that the supernatural forces described in the Bible–both good and evil–are just as real today as they were in ancient times. The Bible passages regarding witchcraft specifically refer to the practice of communing with pagan gods, similar to both the medieval notion of consorting with demons and the modern concept of neo-paganism (i.e. Wicca). These practices are not only idolatrous; they’re potentially harmful to the soul.

That being said, however, we need to get some definitions straight. Magic as defined by the Bible refers to both witchcraft (invoking pagan/demonic entities) and divination (foretelling the future through means other than consulting God, such as astrology). The definition of fictional magic is a lot broader. It’s a force that the characters harness to achieve their goals and to do things impossible in the natural world. Fictional magic may or may not bear similarities to the sorcerous practices that the Bible describes. The magic systems in the works of J.K. Rowling or Brandon Sanderson, for example, are generally no more demonic in nature than the metric system. They’re mechanical rather than spiritual. On the other hand, there are fictional works which veer too close to promoting actual paganism–Buffy the Vampire Slayer being one of the strongest examples.


Where, then, does this leave the Christian author? Presumably, due to our beliefs, we won’t be writing something that reads like a recruitment pamphlet for Wicca. But all the same, is it wrong for us to be writing about characters who cast spells, especially if we present such characters in a positive light?

The core of the problem lies in the reader’s awareness of the divide between fiction and reality. If an adult reader attempts to summon a demon into his or her living room after reading Harry Potter, Mistborn, or even the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the fault lies more with the reader than the author. It shouldn’t be the writer’s job to repeatedly remind adult readers that fiction is fiction. Child readers are another issue altogether, since young children don’t necessarily have the same grasp on what should and should not be mimicked. I have, in the past, been surprised by the level of occult content in books directed at younger readers, such as the Gatekeepers series by Anthony Horowitz or the Demonata books by Darren Shan. (That’s not an actual critique of the books, as I haven’t read more than a few pages of them–I’m just naming them as examples.) But while there are sometimes murky philosophical waters to be navigated in the Harry Potter novels, as well as occasional content that might be too frightening for some children, I still maintain that it’s highly unlikely the series will lure children into actual occult practices–especially if their parents have clearly explained the differences between real and fictional sorcery.

Assuming that actual paganism is not being endorsed, I don’t believe there’s a conflict between Christian faith and writing magic-heavy fantasy. Integral to the fantasy genre is the concept of other worlds, very different from our own. In this world, magic is dangerous and should be avoided. But in fiction, we journey through a vast multiverse of worlds where magic is not inherently evil. The stars in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia are sentient beings whose patterns inform centaurs of future events; our stars are not. The Potterverse contains people biologically capable of casting spells using wands and faux-Latin incantations, our universe does not. There is no reason for such distinctions to become muddled.

Furthermore, I don’t think Christians should act on a blinkered understanding of Biblical teachings about paganism to single out those who read or write books involving magic. Getting on that soapbox can damage the cause of Christianity by turning away non-believers who have an innocent love for the fantasy genre. What magic represents for many people is a power beyond the physical world; beauty and glory bursting in upon dull and colorless reality. To condemn this is to deny the very thing that we, as Christians, are meant to be offering those outside the faith. Let us not, in the effort to save people from some nebulous occult threat, steer them away from all the wonder of fantasy–a signpost on the way to embracing a very non-fictional God.


entertainment, family

Sharing Your Fandoms With Your Kids


Okay, very scary topic of discussion today.

The situation: You have successfully spawned a second generation geek. He is big into trying sci-fi, fantasy, books that feature talking animals and traveling through time; when you ask what he wants for his birthday, he says the latest installment of The Illuminae Files or Warriors.

This is all cool — why in the world would I say this is scary?

Here’s the catch: What if, when you introduce him to your favorite fandoms…he doesn’t like them?!

Now that White Fang is of a certain age (old enough to try the above-G-rated stuff), I’ve become very excited to share with him things like Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Douglas Adams. While he’s not yet shown any interest in reading Discworld or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he does know the meaning of 42, and he’s officially hooked on Doctor Who.

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A couple weeks ago, I realized White Fang was dangerously close to finishing his TBR — again. Before some of you swoon in utter astonishment and awe, I’d like to remind you that since he’s a rather picky reader, his TBR usually has no more than 10-20 books on it at any one time. He goes through series pretty fast.

The upside is, obviously, all that accomplishment. The downside — what the heck do I give him to read when he’s in between lists?

Knowing I couldn’t get to the library (this was in the middle of the arctic freeze), I scoured my own shelves (spoiler: his are infinitely better than mine, oh my gosh, the unfairness), and set my copy of All the Crooked Saints on his desk.

He started reading it. He got to page 35 and gave me a sideways look. I assured him it starts off really slow and keeps getting better. So he proceeded to page 60 (maybe in sheer defiance at the idea of being beaten by a novel), but was still unsure.

By page 100, he was beginning to grow quite interested in what would happen to the pilgrims. By the midway point of the novel, where things really change for both the pilgrims and the saints, he was hooked. He finished reading with a big grin on his face.

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Seeing his elation at having glimpsed some of the wonder and beauty that is Maggie Stiefvater’s writing, I showed him The Scorpio Races. The light went on in his eyes, and I knew this would be the next big hit.

Part of the joy of sharing your own passions with your kids comes when you discover something new and are convinced they’ll love it, too (especially when you’re right). This was totally the case for us with Kyle Shultz’s Beaumont and Beasley series. At first, White Fang was rather skeptical when I shoved a copy of The Beast of Talesend in his face and basically shouted, “You have to read this now!” But two days later, he couldn’t put it down.

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The trick is to know what your kids are really into. Don’t assume they will inherit absolutely all your dispositions — particularly towards entertainment. Finding common ground is so precious, so do take advantage of it when it happens.

And don’t push it when it doesn’t.

We are not yet up to Lord of the Rings. He has watched the movies of The Hobbit (which we all know are fun, but not exactly Tolkien-pure). He wanted to try to read LOTR first, but after seeing how long each book was, he decided to put that on hold. He’s seen the meme of “You shall not pass!”, and regularly uses it on Muffin and Toby. (Yes, just picture that for a minute. Your funny bone will thank me. I’ll wait.)

There are SO many references to LOTR in geekdom that I really, really want to share with him. But we’ll get there. Just this morning, it was 42 degrees at our house, and he said with the absolute sincerity and gravity necessary to make this quote, “42!“, and I was so proud. One day, we’ll reach the next level. But it is not this day.

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And that’s okay.

Watching the 9th Doctor save the world through White Fang’s eyes is like seeing it for the first time again. Hearing his cries of excitement and terror when he first meets a Dalek or the Cybermen gives me the same chills. I’m very good at not revealing major spoilers, so he gets to be honestly surprised at so many of the twists I know are coming — and await his reaction with bated breath.

It means the future is going to be full of wonderful things.


family, Parenting, reading, Young Adult fiction

Why Adults Should Absolutely Read YA

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Well, nothing like going in, guns blazing, with a hot topic discussion post at the start of the year!

First, how are you all? Did you survive the holidays? Thinking about emerging from the turkey dinner stupor to face the world? Still hiding under piles of discarded wrapping paper with bows and tinsel stuck in your hair?

Well, however you find yourself, I shall welcome you back! Let’s get right to it, then!

A few weeks ago, I read part of a rather irksome/disturbing thread on social media; the jist is that there are a lot of people over the age of 21 who strongly feel that anyone who is old enough to legally drink, get married, join the military, and live on their own should not be reading Young Adult fiction.

Excuse me?? Number one, when were the Reading Police established?! Number two, what is wrong with teachers, parents, pediatricians, school counselors and adolescent therapists knowing what our kids are reading?

And even more, what about those authors who write what our kids will be reading? How can they possibly know what their audience is interested in, or lacking, if they don’t connect with 12-17-year-olds?

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Years ago, parents could just let their kids pick up a novel from the YA/juvenile section in the bookstore or library, and be pretty confident that the content would be acceptable for their age. There were plenty of authors that tackled tough subjects like death, disease, drug use, sex before marriage with tact and in a way of presenting facts and both sides of the debate.

Nowadays teen readers are apparently told to go get stoned, get physically intimate, drive too fast, skip school, turn the air blue with their language. Don’t any of these authors have kids themselves?! Would they really want their own precious darlings behaving this way?

As a parent and a YA author myself, I take this responsibility very seriously. I’m not at all naive — I’m totally aware that nowadays many adults consider kids knowing all kinds of sexual lifestyles, swear words, and various political views to not be a bad thing. Well, I — an informed adult — disagree. It’s one thing to be well-educated; it’s another to instill harmful perspectives on young minds that are still forming their views and ambitions.

Warning: The Invisible Moth is officially jumping on her soapbox.

Encouraging teenagers to wait to have sex because they are too special to give their body to just anyone is showing we love them and believe in them to become solid, confident, well-adjusted future wives and husbands. Telling them the consequences of unprotected sex reinforces that we want them to remain healthy and emotionally whole. 

Warning them against using drugs and too much alcohol helps them develop self-care habits that could last a lifetime. Discipline and high self-esteem will provide our future doctors, teachers, parents, leaders with the power to change society, for the better, for generations to come. Showing them that a clean path can also be fun sets them on course for a productive, respect-filled life. 

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Okay, stepping off the soapbox.

Now, here’s why the idea of anyone “grown-up” reading YA is silly is just: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

1.) YA fiction is simply FUN. Since most children/adolescents aren’t past the point of wanting to believe — at least a little — in mythical creatures or flying cars or that you can access another world through your closet, the possibilities in a YA book are endless. 

What adult in the 21st century (with reality being so damn hard most of the time) wants to only read about fictional characters whining that they can’t get a date? Who cares?! Get out of your own grumpy head and go read about storming the castle and saving the endangered race of beautiful talking unicorns! Dream about being a hero! Don’t lose that passion!

2.) YA fiction provides an escape. Yes, most of us know very well that animals don’t really speak human, hypogriffs aren’t legal pets, and we’ll probably never get to live in a magical library. So?? Let us pretend for a few hours!

Children who regularly use their imagination often grow into big people who invent new technology, new medicines, the prototypes for hovercars, more effective academic systems, tools and inventions that make our lives better. LET US IMAGINE.

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3.) Parents and teens reading together is valuable. In recent years, too many high-schoolers don’t communicate or bond with their elders. Yes, this is a problem, trust me. Concurrently reading the same book or series with your 14-year-old is important. Find a subject that interests you both, and take it from there.

White Fang and I have both read and discussed Harry Potter, Warriors, The Illuminae Files, and Beaumont and Beasley, among others. This activity also gives you a great starting point for discussing tough issues, and encouraging your kids to do their research and develop their own points of view.

4.) Not all of us with a certain date on our birth certificates enjoy reading stuff aimed at that age group. I flatout find most murder mysteries/romances/spy thrillers downright formulaic and dull. Yes, I know that I’m somewhat of a square peg in a round hole in this instance. But it’s a fact, and it’s not changing anytime soon.

While I don’t necessarily want to read about being in high school, either, there are plenty more fantasy and speculative fiction choices among the YA sections than the adult. Plus lots of fantasy YA authors still take care to keep their language and explicit content to a minimum, whereas for adults, apparently ALL the barriers have come down. That just isn’t my thing.

5.) If you don’t have a long attention span or not much free time to read, novels aimed at juveniles are usually less than 400 pages long. This is a big deal for me, since my spare time is certainly limited, and if I can make it to the end of the paragraph without losing my place, then, wow, it’s an awesome evening!

Also, since I currently carry all my library books literally on my back, there is just no way in Hades I’m attempting to haul the latest 650-page New York Times bestsellers. No way, sir.

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6.) Whether it’s my personality, my mindset, worldview or whatever, I simply relate better to characters in YA. If you present me with an adult character who’s narrating about whether they can squeeze in an extra 10 minutes at the gym, or if they interpreted the fine print in their car lease properly, I will be either falling asleep or using the book as a footstool.

Whereas, show me the elf who’s hoping to return the enchanted sword to its sacred mountain before the kraken’s released, and I’m on the edge of my seat. Any night I spend reading Warriors will result in big stupid grins and lots of tears on my face. Finding out a secret about a beloved Clan cat will resonate with me for months.

7.) Reading about characters who aren’t jaded yet, full of hope and plans and enthusiasm, makes you want to have that again. Remember when you were in kindergarten, and making an extra blanket into a cape was the most natural thing? When you looked to the skies with an unending sense of wanting more?

Go for that, whether you’re 25, or 30, or 40.

Save the unicorns! Rescue the flying cats! Storm the castle!

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family, historical fiction, movies

Presenting What We See Versus What We Hope For: Historical Fiction


This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. We live in an age where certain things — like racism, sexism, and discrimination — are considered wrong, but this wasn’t always the case in the world. While I am 110% for preserving authentic historical representation (even the stuff we don’t like is important not to cover up, folks), I also feel it’s important to portray a healthy viewpoint for the next generation — especially since we truly hope they’ll live understanding, tolerance and acceptance much more than previous eras of humans.


Last night, White Fang and I watched Leap!, which is supposed to be a cute kids’ movie about a pair of French orphans who run away to Paris in the late 19th century to follow their dreams of being a ballerina and an inventor. Now, the premise is fine. But the plot that unfolds is riddled with holes — more holes than 10 slices of Swiss cheese.

The filmmakers have the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty being built at the same time (hint: that didn’t happen), the main character wearing denim (again, would not have happened in mid-1880s France, especially for girls), all the dialogue being very modern, most of the soundtrack 2010+ pop hits, two 12-year-old orphans running around the city like they own it, and a girl with zero previous training becoming an expert ballet student in less than a month.


Now, while I expect some suspension of disbelief to be necessary with animated movies aimed at 4th-graders, this is taking it too far. As a classically trained dancer myself, I know for a cold, hard (and often very painful and achy) fact that there is simply NO WAY ON EARTH a girl who didn’t even know the basic 5 positions would be starring in The Nutcracker about two weeks later.

Yes, there is a great message in “don’t give up on your dreams, work hard and keep trying.” BUT we have to present realistic goals and ambitions for our kids. If we’re going to encourage little girls (and little boys!) to enroll in ballet classes for the love of dancing, they also need to know that learning a skill — any skill — requires constant practice, self-discipline, and competition. Some of the other pupils in your dance class will always want to be better than you, not support your progress, not be a team player. You won’t get every role you audition for — you may never get to be Clara in The Nutcracker — and you need to be okay with that.

Back to my point about getting the historical details right: The filmmakers also didn’t know anything about The Nutcracker — its first performance was in 1892 (which definitely wouldn’t coincide with the building of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty). Nor is it just a duet (there are whole big scenes with tons of dancers and vivid costumes and a sort of fairytale to it all), as the movie claimed.

And — this was quite disturbing to White Fang and me — there were a couple scenes where an 18-year-old boy was hitting on a 12-year-old girl. Now, while that’s (disgustingly) more historically correct, these days we would absolutely label that child abuse and make sure it was stopped. Can we — seriously, Hollywood — please NOT release a film that suggests that kind of behavior is totally acceptable?

AND a film that clearly shows it will take you approximately 4-6 years of lessons and busting your butt to be Clara in a professional company’s performance of The Nutcracker?


My complaints on this issue are about far more than blurring the lines between what happened and what we wished had occurred in history. It’s about establishing what a healthy attitude is towards life now, based on where we’ve come from. The rather 1950s Disney version of “happily ever after” is not realistic, and should not be anticipated. We will have to struggle with disappointments, missed chances, mistakes, and other people not liking us (no matter how nice we are to them).

The only thing I liked about Leap! was the fact that the main character did not give up on her dream, despite her poverty, her lack of formal training, the disadvantages her culture threw in her way. Yet, the extremely impossible way in which she got there meant that impressionable young minds will still be swayed in the wrong direction.

I really, really want 21st century girls to understand that their ancestors had to fight for the laws that protect them from child marriage, not being able to choose their occupation, and just being treated as property by men. I really, really want them (and their male peers) to respect the advances we’ve made and not take them for granted. How do I convince my sons that sexual harassment is wrong if they see it in a movie released in 2017?

We currently have a very disjointed, unbalanced view of the past that we’re portraying to the children of today. Not all white people were evil racist bigots. Not all men were sexist pigs. Not all little girls who wanted to be ballerinas danced in Paris.

We need to find a better way to objectively state facts, accept that we can’t change them, and get over it, so that we can pour our present energies into changing perspectives and behavior that we publicly proclaim should not be a part of our lifetimes.