Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Top 10 Banned Books I’ll Make Sure Kids Read

When I have children, these will be among the best books on their shelf, but people around the country have found them much more controversial.  So instead of saying “why not”, here’s WHY they are so great:

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell / The adorable true story of two male penguins in Central Park who, with the help of the zookeeper, hatch a beautiful baby daughter. While one of the most challenged books in 2008-2009, this may be my favorite story about a “modern family”.

2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson / Victims should never be blamed or silenced, and anyone that sees rape as pornographic is severely disturbed. I was appalled at how Anderson’s novel was targeted last week. Teens should be encouraged to #SpeakLoudly… and they can get the courage to do so from this book.

3. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling / Obviously.  Since I am the kind of person that labelled myself as a “Christian witch” when I was 12.

4. Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary / If kids are reading the dictionary (even if it’s to look up the definition of “oral sex”), the only consequence is that they’ll probably do better on the SATs. Also, if your children have to look up what sex means, you probably need to work on your parenting skills.

5. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison / Ooh muttis and vatis may have a nervy spaz because Georgia’s diary contains gorgy sex gods, but if you cannot grasp the hilariosity, you are probably a wet tosser and in need of a duffing up. Now let’s go down the disco!

6. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee / Racism is a tricky one when it comes to banning books because if, like me, you’re staunchly against censorship, it’s difficult to be okay with older versions of books that have racist undertones (like Little Black Sambo).  But there’s a big difference between being racist and portraying racism, and To Kill A Mockingbird certainly falls under the latter.

7. The Diary Of Anne Frank / Only Nazis would ban Anne Frank.

8. The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman / By the time you get through the 3rd book (The Amber Spyglass), it is clear that Pullman has a strong anti-religious agenda.  But it never stopped me from loving the series, and even if I raise my children in the Christian faith, I’ll want them to read, doubt and think for themselves.  All opposed should go read Narnia instead.

9. In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak / Again with the disturbing interpretations of what is “sexual content”.  Really, naked babies?  Who hasn’t seen a naked baby running around? Come on. They’re just jealous that he got a Caldecott Honor.

10. The Rabbit’s Wedding by Garth Williams / Another adorable story of (note: animal) love and family that is twisted around by bigoted extremists.  Luckily, Williams gets the last word, saying,

“I was completely unaware that animals with white fur, such as white polar bears and white dogs and white rabbits, were considered blood relations of white human beings. I was only aware that a white horse next to a black horse looks picturesque.”

He went on to say that adults “will not understand it, because it is only about soft furry love and has no hidden message of hate.”

Here’s to little black and white bunnies, and freedom!  Happy Banned Books Week.

Baby Rhino Sketch!

The first prototype for the main character of a new picture book I’m starting.  Except maybe with smaller ears?

He’ll be watercolor eventually but for now I’m enjoying playing around with digital for color sketches (it gives me an excuse to improve my tablet/Photoshop skills!).

Public Humiliation – Part I


It takes a lot to embarrass me. So when I heard about The Rejectionist’s Public Humiliation Un-Contest, for which readers are asked to post their childhood diary entries, it didn’t take much for me to dig up and revisit my old online journal, circa 2003-2005. Yes, before there was WordPress, there was Diaryland. Apparently I was not scene enough for LiveJournal or Xanga in high school.

While I considered sharing the link to all my cringe-worthy angst and bad poetrywicked FUN!!” moments, I’ll leave them in safe obscurity – for now. However, I will celebrate my teenage past by spilling a deliciously embarrassing short story (in the next post) and this enlightening excerpt on my first visit to Pratt and New York City:

Day Two: Monday, April 25, 2005

Today was a very eventful day! Mom and I found this adorable breakfast place next to the hotel. I’ve found that one of my favorite parts of NYC is all the different people: it’s so much fun to watch everyone and listen to the different languages! I love diversity! We did a little shopping, and I was very patient in places like Ann Taylor, because I knew that I would get my shopping in later! Plus, it’s entertaining to pick out mom outfits. We were both in a good mood and getting along… thank goodness!

Anyway, we needed to give ourselves plenty of time to get to Brooklyn!!! Because I had an appointment at Pratt!!! We took the subway out to the school… and I had forgotten how much I love public transportation! I actually have a pretty good sense of direction in the city, and the subways remind me of Roma, so I feel perfectly comfortable. We got to Pratt wicked early because we didn’t get lost, and just wandered around the campus for awhile. Unlike all the other schools I’m applying to, this one actually looks like a college campus, with the brick buildings and gates. We got lunch in the caf and I got to check out what the food and students were like. Food: excellent, an immediate plus; People: typical artsy kids, very weird, I fit right in. We took a tour directed by an admissions counselor, and I really like the school. The only things I didn’t like were the lack of personal studio space (it’s in the dorms and pretty communal), and the fact that we didn’t get to see much of the classrooms. But still, I can definitely see myself there. And it’s a fantastic art school. I also had a meeting with my very own admissions counselor, Bill Swan, and that was very successful. He reviewed my portfolio, gave me good constructive criticism (“very strong skill level, but you need to have a lot more drawing from observation”), and we talked about the college and such. He said he’ll be in Boston in the fall, and then we’ll have another interview (the interviews are about 50% of the admissions process). Overall, I think I won’t have a lot of trouble getting in there (he told me to apply early action!), so it’s a strong second option.

Reasons why I ❤ NY:

1. There’s always something to do!

2. Everything is open at night.

3. Everyone is really friendly.

4. Everyone is from all over the world.

5. I felt beautiful walking down the street.

6. I’m not the weirdest one there.

7. Fashion Capital of the World.

8. There’s tons of artsy stuff.

9. Public Transportation.

10. There are layers and layers of buildings, lights, sounds, and smells, all piled in this one place, which makes it a most exciting and wonderful city.

Public Humiliation – Part II

I’ll never know what compelled me to write a teenage ROMANCE short story (for 11th Grade English class) based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but according to my 2005 online journal entry (see Public Humiliation – Part I), I thought my writing was “amazing”.  Now I’m laughing too hard to be embarrassed.

Enjoy!

Seeing Dave
by Annie Beth
© 2005

15 September 2004
I was lost in my new school. I cautiously travelled down the hallways, overwhelmed by the unfamiliar setting, clutching my mother’s hand like a frightened kindergartener. This year, at Perkins School for the Blind, I was helpless and insecure.
After an eternity of confusing noises, we finally reached the solace of the dean’s office. I stood at the doorway, trying to get my bearings. Since the accident, I hadn’t yet discovered how to sense where things were, but I could at least feel the warmth of September sunlight coming in through an open window at the far wall. My red-tipped cane touched the edge of a desk in front of me, and I reached out my hands to feel the surface. My right hand was swept up in a handshake, and a booming voice broke the quiet:
“Well, hey there! I’m Dean Witherspoon, head of student affairs! Welcome to Perkins!”
For the next hour, the two adults chattered on about my new life. My mother asked all the questions, the same ones she had asked millions of times of all the doctors, specialists, and Perkins officials. Patiently Mr. Witherspoon gave her all the same hopeful, reassuring answers. Finally, the two directed their voices at me.
“Well, Julie? Any questions? How are you feeling?”
How was I feeling? Did they really want to know? There were so many emotions surrounding me that I couldn’t possibly give them all. I simply shook my head – no questions, thank you – and gave them the thumbs up, a gesture that I could remember but only they could see.
Suddenly, another person was ushered into the room.
“Morgan!”
“Hey Witherspoon! How’s it going?” Morgan immediately turned her attention towards me, excitedly asking, “Are you Julie? I’m Morgan, your new peer advisor. I’ll be helping you out here at Perkins.” She reached to shake my hand as well, and I felt her sweet-pea-lotioned hands with a heart-shaped ring for the first time.
“Why don’t you show Julie around the the campus?” said Mr. Witherspoon. “Her stuff has already been brought to the dorms.”
Before I knew it, I had kissed my mother goodbye and gone out the door with Morgan. We went outside and strolled along the campus, crossing the smooth, even paths, her hand lightly touching my arm. I liked Morgan; she was friendly and personable, but not overwhelming.
By the end of the day, I was feeling much more comfortable with Perkins. Although there was still so much information I couldn’t grasp, Morgan had been there most of the day to show me around. I met my roommate, Giselle, who was shy but pleasant, and she spent the greater part of an hour helping me get acquainted with the position of the furniture in our tiny 1st floor room.

16 September 2004
“Good morning, sleepy-head!” Morgan called. “Let’s go! We’ve got classes!”
Our first class was American History. As soon as I walked in the door, I heard a deep and hearty laugh. My eyebrows shot up my forehead, so curious was I about who could sound that ridiculously amused.
“That’s Dave,” Morgan whispered, sensing what I noticed. “He’s a great guy… one of the most popular kids in school. You’ll get to know him, everyone does.”
“… and all of a sudden, the blind man swings the seeing-eye dog over his head! The shop owner asks, ‘What in the world are you doing?’ And – get this! – the man replies, ‘Just looking around.’!!!” Dave broke out into laughter again, and this time, everyone in the room joined him, including myself. Blind jokes, nice.
“We have a new student today!” Miss Presby told the class as they seated themselves into desks around the small classroom. Everyone was quiet. “Meet Julie Chester!”
“Hi Julie,” the students said, as if reciting. But it was obvious they were all interested, for new people are always a novelty, no matter what school you‘re in. I counted about eight other voices, perhaps seated in a circle. Dave’s broke out again.
“Jules! A gem! Our very own rare diamond!” The class laughed, and I was shocked, a grin spreading over my face that they probably couldn’t see. Should I be flattered? Was I being mocked? Morgan patted me on the shoulder, and something told me I wasn’t. I was officially a part of the group.
“Where are you off to next?” Dave surprised me after class by being right next to me, talking directly into my ear. He smelled quintessentially boy, with the scent of soap and fresh-cut grass.
“Braille… I think?”
“Great! Do you know any Braille yet?”
“Nope. I tried a bit this summer, but I didn’t really know where to begin.”
“Don’t worry about it, Diamond. You’ll pick it up soon enough, it‘s pretty important here. And if you ever have trouble, just ask me. I’ll tutor you!”
Morgan butted in. “Alright, Dave, that‘s it. We’ve gotta book it to the West Building.” Her tone of voice was joking, but before I could even say goodbye she wooshed us off to our next class.

19 September 2004
I’d always had an easy time with languages, but Braille completely escaped me. I tried and tried to decipher the strange code of dots that pressed into my fingers, but it was hopeless. I left every Braille session exhausted and frustrated.
“Well,” said Morgan after a particularly rough day, ”Maybe it’s time you let Dave tutor you.” She elbowed me playfully, and I could picture her winking in my mind. Morgan was good at sensing emotion, and I knew she could tell that my eyes, although sightless, lit up whenever I heard him coming. “Let’s go meet him at the library.” As if planned by fate, Dave was already there. Morgan sat me down in a chair next to him, then quickly excused herself.
“Okay, Diamond, let’s start with my favorite book of all time.” He pulled out a large but thin hardcover. “You might know it.” He cleared his throat dramatically. “It begins, ‘I am Sam.’ “
I laughed, and jumped in with the next line, “Sam I am! Green Eggs and Ham!”
“Ah, yes, you are a bright one.” he remarked sagely. “I just know we are going to make progress here. But let’s try reading it in Braille.” He lightly put his hand over mine and, surprised at his touch, I jumped. “Whoa, there!” he responded. “Nothing to get nervous about. It’s just Dr. Seuss. Green Eggs and Ham. Nothing you can’t handle.” I immediately started to believe him.

31 September 2004
Having a crush on a blind person was very different from anything I had ever experienced. If I had ever liked a guy at my old school, when I could see, I never had any problem snagging him, because guys always considered me to be attractive. But Dave couldn’t see what I looked like. He only knew me from our conversations, conversations that were getting increasingly more frequent. I was falling for him hard with every afternoon. Yet I still longed to have some idea of his appearance. Finally, I caved in, and brought it up.
“Hey Dave?” I pried one day as we relaxed on the campus, taking in the smell of the falling autumn leaves. “What do you look like?”
For the first time, I heard him catch his breath and fall silent for a moment. Was he nervous? “Why do you ask?” There was a strange tone in his voice that I couldn’t place.
“Oh… just curious.”
“Oh!” He relaxed a bit, and the old Dave came back. “What do you think I look like?” he teased.
“Mmm… maybe a cross between Josh Hartnett and Chad Michael Murray.” I couldn’t believe I’d just said something so bold. Dave laughed warmly, and I glowed.
“Really? That bad? ‘Cause I was gonna say Brad Pitt.” He chuckled to himself and touched my face tenderly, caressing my cheek. I felt a surge of emotion and reached for his in return, but he stepped back, laughed again, and pushed me into a pile of leaves. It didn’t matter anyway. A few days later, he asked me to be his girlfriend, and I wasted no time in saying yes. Now, when we held hands, it was different.

4 October 2004
Today was Family Day.
I was amazed at how well adjusted I’d become to Perkins. Granted, I was still confused all the time, running into things I’d forgotten were there, learning new things about the blind culture every day, struggling with Braille. But I felt so comfortable in the community. Still, I did miss my family, and couldn’t wait to see them again. I especially wanted to introduce them to all my friends.
As we passed my American History classroom, I heard Dave’s deep voice inside, and saw the perfect opportunity. I left my parents waiting in the hall and went in.
“Dave! I want you to meet my parents!” I exclaimed, grabbing him by the arm and dragging him out of the room. I didn’t notice the desperation in his voice as he fiercefully protested. I expected that my family would immediately take a liking to his vivacious personality.
“Mom, Dad, this is my boyfriend!” I pronounced as I entered the hall.
My mother gasped.
My little sister let out a scream.
Then silence.
What was happening???
Dave, tried to end the awkwardness by saying, “Mr. and Mrs. Chester, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Dave.” His voice was turned toward the ground.
My parents didn’t respond. I was more confused than I had ever been.
Finally, my mother replied, “Nice to meet you… Dave.” Her voice was cold… and fearful. I couldn’t grasp why. This was going horribly wrong.
My father turned all of us around forcefully and barked, “Let’s go.” I turned around to find Dave, but I didn’t know where he was. I wanted to mouthe, I’m sorry, to him, but there was no reassuring glance or action I could do that he would see. Dad pushed us down the hall, leaving Dave in the dust.
When we reached the main corridor, my mother sat me and my siblings on a bench, and they stormed into the Dean’s office. Through the door, I could easily make out my father’s yelling.
“You never told us that this school was a freak show! My daughter is blind, but she is still a normal girl! How could you let her associate with… monsters! I cannot allow this to continue!”
My confusion quickly morphed into horror, rage, disbelief. What was he saying??? I managed to stand up and leave the scene, stumbling along routes that I had travelled a hundred times before, tears welling in my eyes. Today was supposed to be perfect, and it had turned into a disaster.
My parents didn’t say goodbye. I don’t think they could find anything to say to me.

5 October 2004
I found Dave in the library at our usual tutoring table. We didn’t say anything for a moment, until I gathered up the courage to speak.
“Dave, why do you shock my parents? Please… tell me the truth.”
He was silent for a moment, “Julie.” I winced at his use of my real name instead of his endearing nickname for me, and feared the words that would come out of his mouth. “I was in a fire when I was three. I barely made it out alive. This is why I am blind. My body, from the shoulders up, is severely disfigured from the burns. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you… I just wanted you to like me, not judge me because of my deformity. Please forgive me. Please don’t hate me.”
Images flooded through my head. I pictured Dave an ogre, a monster, the top of him covered in scars and marks. No wonder my sister had screamed. He was… ugly. Hideous, maybe. But then, I smelled his perfect smell. I remembered all of our conversations and the joy I always felt when I was with him. Maybe Dave was disfigured, but I didn’t have to see him. I knew the inevitable, unbending truth.
“I don’t care. I love you, Dave.”
He laughed like never before, gasping with relief, letting out all of the tension. I’d bet anything that he was smiling. “Diamond, I love you too.” His fingers touched the back of my hand, and it was the sweetest touch. He had beautiful hands.
I guided his hand, boldly, to my face. I stepped closer. His breathing was shallow and quick. My heart was pounding; I thought it was going to fall out of my chest. I wished I knew the color of his eyes. Our lips were inches apart, so close to meeting. I reached up and touched his cheek.
His skin was rough and mottled, like unformed clay, or raw meat. I shrank back, repulsed, and I couldn’t help myself. I hated it. I flung his hand off me and took a few steps back. His breathing stopped, then he called out, “Diamond? Julie? Talk to me.”
I couldn’t face him. I grabbed my cane leaning against the table and fled. I heard his frantic voice searching for me as I burst out of the building and into the November rain.

12 December 2004
It is so easy to lose someone when you are blind. You never notice them, unless their laughter carries across a hallway or a courtyard. You never have to look them in the face. You can simply pretend they aren’t there. There was no happy ending with Dave and me. We never spoke, never acknowledged each other.
I never saw him again.

__________________________________

This short story, Seeing Dave, has much in common with the horror novel, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Although the two styles are very different, they share a common theme. Both tales deal with the Romantic principle that all people are born good, but are corrupted by outside forces, like Frankenstein’s monster or Julie Chester, the protagonist of this story. Frankenstein’s monster is also similar to Dave, Julie’s love interest, not only because they are both deformed, but because whomever they loved most shunned them for their hideousness, neglecting their inner character. Seeing Dave is based on the blind man in Frankenstein, who welcomes the monster into his home and befriends him, until his family comes in and throws the creature out, appalled. Both Seeing Dave and Frankenstein are cautionary allegories that teach that we should not discount a person based on looks alone.

New Site Launch!

As my dear online stalkers will have noticed by now, Walking In Public and anniebethericsson.com have gotten a makeover!  Web design has never really been my thing, and I’ve struggled in the past with trying to create a professional and consistent online presence that is also easy to update.

Enter my hero, flavors.me! This new site allowed me to create a personalized custom website by embedding existing social media outlets (like WordPress, Twitter, and LinkedIn) into one hip, designed package. I’m loving this alternative to a Flash site because it’s not static – my work and online life is constantly changing and updating, and I need something that reflects all that I’m learning and doing, day by day, no coding included.

To complement my new look at anniebethericsson.com, I also freshened up my other sites to match. Since I can’t add content directly to flavors.me, I created a Tumblr blog simply for my illustration portfolio, but made it look similar to the home page (you can also view slideshows of more work on the Tumblr site that you can’t on flavors.me, so it’s worth checking out separately).

And since the Walking In Public blog and Twitter design was outdated, I whipped up some new puffins MUCH more reflective of my current style. And . . . I just realized, that all I paint anymore is birds.  Oops!

Anyway, check it out and enjoy!

The Brooklyn Book Festival Re-cap

Where have I been all week? Sick sick sick. And when I’m sick I’m in no mood to blog, talk or communicate in any form – unless it’s to whine. So enjoy the post that should have been posted on Sunday!

Despite the grey and rainy weather, I had a wonderful time at the Brooklyn Book Festival!  I must have been super-distracted in September over these past few years, because who knew there was such a fantastic annual event celebrating books and NYC culture – just down the Fulton St. Mall?

I didn’t drag out of bed early enough (surprise surprise) to make the Jon Scieszka, E. Lockhart and Matt Barnett presentation, but I did manage to get myself to the Youth Stoop by the end of the improv-style Illustrator Draw-off! (with Mike Cavallero, Shane Evans and Vanessa Brantley Newton).  I spent some time wandering the maze of bookseller tents, and bumping into familiar faces such as my pals at Star Bright Books, professor Pat Cummings and Putnam author/illustrator Michael Rex.

Overwhelmed by the dozens of panels available at any given hour, I stuck pretty close to the Youth Stoop, and caught two really excellent presentations.  The first, Where Concrete Dreams Are Made, featured authors Laura Toffler-Corrie, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, and Newbery Award winner Rebecca Stead, whose middle-grade characters all discover adventures growing up in NYC.

As a new resident of Park Slope (and halfway-through the novel Prospect Park West), it seems like the issue of raising children in the city is a hot topic. I’m always surprised that nearly all my Brooklyn-loving compadres would easily move in favor of a big yard in Westchester or Fairfield. Yes, it makes me nervous to raise children in a city where there is less control over their independence, very different from where I was raised. But I find the “Little Boxes“-style suburban life to be bleak and depressing, and the country, while beautiful, to be isolated. I don’t know where life is going to take me, but raising my future kids with the diversity and opportunity of NYC seems like the best of all scenarios.

So, it was encouraging that these three authors and longtime New York residents, had such a positive outlook on childhood in the city.  When asked if there was a loss of innocence in urban kids, all adamantly agreed that’s an outdated stereotype. The protectiveness of parents in NYC, combined with the national media, mean that kids today are seeing the same images and can get into just as much trouble in a small town as in a big city (truth!).  When raised with the right values, New York kids are asked to confront real issues and develop a better sense of personal identity – in a good way. I totally agree!

The second panel we saw, Happily Ever After?, brought the discussion to a YA level with authors Jenny Han, Sara Shepherd and Lauren Oliver.  All of their books (Pretty Little Liars included, by the way) deal with the drama and growing pains of teenage girl-hood. So, with a panel full of adult authors who spend their days reflecting on adolescence, it begged to ask the classic question: are people always doomed to play the part they were in high school?

Again, the panel felt the same way I did: not… really. It is true that some people never grow up from the petty social behavior that plagues every high school (case in point: Bachelor Pad). But I think life allows too many opportunities to change your stripes if you want to. In high school, I was cast as a “good girl” and flew under the radar (looking back, I have no problem with this!). But even though I felt like I stayed the same person, I was perceived differently in college… and I played a much more public role. Maybe it was a change in confidence, or maybe just a change of scenery… but I certainly haven’t been my high school stereotype since the day I left Concord.  Hopefully, that’s how it is for most people!

Anyway, by 3 PM, I’d had enough reliving my childhood and standing in the rain… it was time to go home and curl up with a good book!  Until next year, when I will actually plan to go to these things…

Oh, And One More Thing…

6. This Wallpaper

Anthropologie has the hottest book wallpaper… so in case you can’t get enough real books to stack, you can plaster your walls with Penguin paperbacks!!

Happy Friday, everyone…  I’m going to be artsy tonight with some gallery openings, then forgo the cool people at Fashion Week to get my nerd on at the Brooklyn Book Festival instead.  I love Fall!