Exciting News! My pre-order campaign launches today! Not only do pre-orders play a key role in a book’s success, but when you pre-order THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS from Bartleby’s Books, you…
1) Support a fabulous independent bookstore
2) Get a signed, personalized copy
3) Get a pair of super cool octopus tattoos, AND
4) Support the Women’s Freedom Center!
For every pre-ordered copy, $1 will be donated to this amazing organization of fearless women working to create a society where violence is no longer tolerated. (Plus, I’m also excited to be partnering with the Women’s Freedom Center for an awesome launch party in September, so stay tuned for dates!)
A few weeks ago, the brilliant Donalyn Miller published a #NerdyBookClub post that highlighted a simple but powerful truth: kids need books. I’m a former middle school teacher, so I know how many obstacles can stand in a teacher’s path, and how many teachers push forward anyway determined to support their students with whatever resources they have. And I also know how hard it can be for many kids to have access to new books.
So, when I lucked into a bag of new middle grade books at a Vermont Library Conference this past Friday, it made sense to post of picture of them on Twitter and offer them to a classroom that needed them — especially because I know there are teachers who are hoping to send each child home with a book at the end of the school year.
But what I didn’t expect (although, in retrospect, I should have) was the response. There are SO MANY teachers who are passionate advocates for their students, working to support them as readers and eager to place these books into their hands. And THEN, author Jarrett Lerner decided to offer a stack of books of his own, and suddenly more and more authors and other book-lovers were following suit offering their own stacks of books! As of right now there are over 50 separate stacks of books being be given away, so we can reach over 50 different classrooms!!
Yes, we need the institutional change that will recenter the needs of students and the voices of teachers in decision-making about school budgets, but in the meantime, let’s bring together those of us who love books and love kids and figure out the best way to make sure as many students as possible have access to books this summer. As one teacher said of her student who lives with her family in a motel told her, “In the summer I turn into something I don’t like because I have nothing to do.” I know that there are so many kids just like her, and I am so incredibly grateful to all the authors who have stepped up with such generosity of spirit so that we can reach as many classrooms as possible and give those kids the books they need.
There are several giveaways still underway (I’ll link to them at the bottom, so you can make sure you’ve entered), but I wanted to announce the first round of winners! If you won, please contact me with your mailing address, and I’ll ensure your stack of books gets to you and your students!
First Round of Winners!
Ann Braden’s original set of books goes to….Elizabeth (@elizkyser)!
Ann Braden’s 2nd set of books goes to…. Bonnie Belsinger (@belsinger)!
Augusta Scattergood’s MG set of books goes to…. Lori Barber (@barberchicago)!
Augusta Scattergood’s YA set of books goes to…. Kristen (@Eatbooks4brkfst)!
Marie Cruz’s first stack goes to…Susan Roberts (@quiltmom5600)!
Marie Cruz’s second stack goes to…Emily Golightly (@emilygolightly3)!
Anita Silvey’s three stacks go to… Adison Godfrey (@adisonhaleyy), Alexis Ennis (@Mrs_EnnisOMS), & Donna Miller (@DonnaMiller44)!
Mae Respicio’s stack goes to…. Sarah Williams (@teacherSarah21)!
Paula Chase’s MG stack goes to… Mary Thomas (@msmarythomas)!
Paula Chase’s YA stack goes to… Dani Fouser (@drfouser)!
Congratulations to the winners! I hope your students love their books!
If you didn’t win, don’t give up! There are plenty of giveaways still going on. Here’s a list of all the other authors who have offered up books and haven’t yet chosen their winner, so they’re still time to enter!
(And of course, given the way this movement has been spreading, there might be more giveaways coming, so use the hashtag #KidsNeedBooks to keep track of new ones.)
My column in the Brattleboro Reformer this month examines the role that honesty plays in our ability to cross divides, whether it’s a class divide, a racial divide, or if it’s about guns, a theme that run through The Benefits of Being an Octopus. I also had the chance to talk with Olga Peters on WKVT-Green Mountain Mornings Radio on this topic, and I’ll include the link below.
We have to believe that a less divided society is possible.
Ann Braden: Crossing our divides, one honest word at a time
By Ann Braden
Usually divisive issues are the last thing people want to talk about. For example, the class divide is at the root of so many stresses and conflicts in our society, but in our regular interactions class is rarely outwardly acknowledged, let alone discussed. Fortunately, the group Act for Social Justice is working to change that one conversation at a time.
For several years they’ve been offering a series of Cross-Class Dialogue Circles, and I’m currently participating in one in Bellows Falls. In the circle not only are we exploring the way class shapes our lives and build walls between people, but we’re practicing talking about it across class lines so that we can find ways to take down those walls.
Just the simple act of talking about something — especially something that’s often considered taboo — is powerful.
Kiran at the National Muslim Women’s Summit at Harvard University
I recently had the opportunity to interview high school senior Kiran Waqar for a children’s book podcast I’m starting with Pakistani American author Saadia Faruqi called “Lifelines: Books That Bridge the Divide.” Thinking back about growing up in South Burlington, Kiran said, “I desperately tried to be white but obviously I was brown, obviously I was different ” It was when she came together with three other friends to form the slam poetry group called Muslim Girls Making Change that she stopped running away from conversations about racism. She explains, “Being able to go up on a stage with other people who understood where I was coming from really gave me the courage to say, ‘Okay, I’m not alone in this. There are other people who are just like me.’ Because if no one talks about this, then we’re all just hiding in the dark, and it’s time to come into the light. There’s so much more out there than being scared of your brown skin.”
Every time I have gotten to watch Muslim Girls Making Change perform I have left inspired by their bravery–and breathless at the power of words spoken with such clarity and truth.
Lucky for us, Muslim Girls Making Change will be performing at the Boys and Girls Club as part of the Brattleboro Literary Festival’s second annual teen poetry slam, “Poetry, Prose & Pizza Slam” on Saturday April 21, at 8 p.m. In addition, earlier that day, Muslim Girls Making Change will be leading a workshop.
Even on the divisive issue of guns, people (and teens in particular) have found ways to speak about their aching need for safety and to bridge cultural divides.
We have all seen the inspiring videos of teens speaking at walkouts around the region and the country and at the Marches for Our Lives, but I want to talk about some of the students who aren’t at the microphone.
Two days ago, I had the opportunity to lead a workshop about finding common ground on the issue of guns at Rutland High School.
The students represented the full range of opinions on the issue, and together we discussed what they perceived to be the main talking points on each side.
We discussed the deep beliefs and emotions at the root of each side and looked for similarities.
And then, we brainstormed statements that represent the common ground between them.
As a group they ultimately offered up the shared desire for safety and the need to keep guns out of dangerous hands as a place of common ground.
The world of online comments might be ferocious right now, but here in this classroom, the conversation was thoughtful, honest, and filled me with hope. At the end when we went around the circle to capture the students’ final thoughts, the word that came up most was “unity.”
At the Cross Class Dialogue Circle, working together on an activity that explored the dynamics of inequity and division.
We have been conditioned to see the divides between us more than the similarities that bind us. But the right words make it possible to bring down those barriers.
In my first Cross Class Dialogue Circle the facilitators had us share the story of our experience with class before the age of 12, a time in each of our lives when we basically didn’t have control about where or how we were living. Those stories immediately highlighted each person’s empathy and vulnerability. Even though the 15 of us represent nearly every segment of economic class, when we sat in the circle together we were simply all human.
April 12, 2018: Ann Braden discusses her new podcast. Braden co-hosts ‘Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide’ with Saadia Faruqi. Braden also shares her thoughts on Vermont passing new gun legislation.
I recently teamed up with independent bookseller Nancy Braus and children’s librarians Lindsay Bellville and Paige Martin to offer a series of book talks featuring great books that have strong girls as main characters. The group of us all have different taste, so it was super fun to combine our lists together and offer a broad range of girl-powered books.
Here are some recent radio interviews I’ve had the privilege of doing. I’ve gotten to talk about the revision process for The Benefits of Being an Octopus, the shifting landscapes around the issue of guns, and my love for democracy.
1) A Conversation with Olga Peters of Green Mountain Mornings on WKVT
Ann Braden talks about her new middle-grade novel, “The Benefits of Being an Octopus.” Braden also shares her experience as a policy liaison for the Vermont Democratic Party.
2) A Conversation with David Goodman of Vermont Conversations, WDEV
How Vermont embraced gun safety: Gun Sense VT founder Ann Braden on the challenges ahead
In The Benefits of Being an Octopus, Zoey’s family relies on their EBT card (aka food stamps or SNAP benefits) to be able to have healthy food in the fridge. This month, there’s a good article in The Atlantic by Derek Thompson discusses the importance of supporting low-income families with the financial assistance that is needed so they kids can be more likely to thrive. Some highlights…
“Welfare isn’t just a moral imperative to raise the living standards of the poor. It’s also a critical investment in the health and future careers of low-income kids….”
‘Welfare helps people work’ may sound like a strange and counterintuitive claim to some. But it is perfectly obvious when the word people in that sentence refers to low-income children in poor households. Poverty and lack of access to health care is a physical, psychological, and vocational burden for children. Poverty is a slow-motion trauma, and impoverished children are more likely than their middle-class peers to suffer from chronic physiological stress and exhibit antisocial behavior….Relieving children of an ambient trauma improves their lives and, indeed, relieved of these burdens, children from poorer households are more likely to follow the path from high-school graduation to college and then full-time employment.”
You can read the article in its entirety here: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/03/welfare-childhood/555119/
I’ve gone through such a range of emotions since hearing about Parkland twelve days ago. After the massacre at Sandy Hook, I was furious that the public support for gun reform wasn’t being translated to the halls of the Statehouse, and I started GunSenseVT, an organization to champion the common ground on the issue of guns and bring balance to the conversation. We have had some successes and built a strong grassroots movement, but it has still been an uphill battle. So, when I learned about Parkland, my first reaction was one of anguish and hopelessness. Not only had young innocent lives been lost, but yet again we were going to witness the slaughter of children — and do nothing.
Then, I watched Emma Gonzales speak and watched her cut right through the rhetoric that has been used again and again to paralyze any progress on this issue.
Soon after, my fellow debut authors, including Sayantani DasGupta, Amelia Brunskill, and Melissa Ostrom began a conversation that led to the hashtag #kidlitforkidslives and the desire to show the students speaking out that we were standing with them. I created a website, and we began collecting open letters of support from the kidlit community.
Here are some excerpts from the letters:
“You are taking your grief and doing something powerful with it. Your forthright way of speaking out, of demanding change, is breaking the mold of all of the other mass shootings. And I want you to know that, even if you don’t see us, don’t hear us, we hear you. We’re listening. We’re watching. And you have more support here than you can imagine. So, ignore the hatred as much as you can. Remember that fear is often the motivation for hate. Carry on through the days when it feels as though nobody is listening. You’re doing something new, something unprecedented.”
— Brian Lies, Author/Illustrator
“So now, inspired by your courage, I not only stand with you and support you, I’m joining you in action. And I’m sorry I’m so late to this fight. I’m pledging today to write letters. To make phone calls. To vote. To march. Always in favor of gun control. Because I hear you here in Colorado. And I’ll spread the word to make your voices heard from shore to shore of our great nation.”
— Jean Reidy, Author
“What I want you to know most, what I want you to hold onto tightly, is that your voices are the authentic ones now. Adults are supposed to be the authorities, right? We are supposed to be the moral compasses, the wisdom that comes with age—but we’re not right now. YOU ARE.”
— Tamara Ellis Smith, Author
“What I remember about being a kid — being a teen — is that grown ups looked down on us. Our voices, our ideas, our passions — they didn’t appear to be worthy in the world. What I want you to know now is that we are looking UP at you. Your voices, ideas and passions are what we need to make room for, to receive, and to act upon.”
— Liz Garton Scanlon, Author
“Dear Parkland Students, thank you–for giving a voice to this tragedy. For brandishing the truth like a sword and riding into battle against opponents no less formidable than the most powerful politicians and special interests on the planet. Your fire reignites my own. It inspires–because you’re right: there is nothing more precious than YOU. Nothing more important to our collective futures.”
— Kristen Pettit, Executive Editor
“Never doubt your gut feeling that something is wrong. Never doubt your ability to fix it.”
— Lori Snyder, Teacher and Author
“You have friends all over the world now, and though I know they can’t fully replace the ones you have lost, know that your heroism and fierceness will mend us.”
— Jeanne Dutton, YA author, College Professor
“You are staring into the eye of the storm and attacking it with a vengeance, no let up. Stick to your ideals. Use your wonderful voices to go out and change the world. I am with you. I believe in you. You are the future.”
— Kim Turrisi, Young Adult Author
“One thing that impresses me is that you are working so well together, that you share both the limelight and the work, that you are inspiring legions of young people to join you, that you’ve created a big enough tent that people can respond to the call from wherever they are, physically, politically, emotionally. This is how you build a movement — with other people. You’re doing that.”
— Dashka Slater, Author
“You teach us that angels exist in hallways and classrooms And podiums and behind microphones And holding doors and speaking truths.
You make us remember to gasp out the wrongs of this world. You make us remember to say there should be no such thing as ‘being silent’
With our voices With our votes With our hearts”
— Carrie Jones, Author
“I will work to be as brave as you are. I will try to risk more and fear less. And if it feels like I’m failing–I’ll keep trying to do what needs to be done anyway. That is what courage is. I see that in you.”
— Kim Sabatini, Author
Your anger gives me hope.
Your readiness to burn it all down; your fiery rage that these tragedies are allowed to happen over and over over again; your quivering, livid faces as you call out the gutless lawmakers that pride money over lives… your fury is my breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Maybe I shouldn’t fan the flames, and maybe I shouldn’t embrace the red hot emotions we’re all feeling right now. Maybe I should encourage you to be diplomatic as you drink hot coffee around large tables, grateful to be invited to the discussion. But also? If you want to fling that cup of coffee into the face of anyone who has chosen cash over your friends’ lives, I wouldn’t scold you. If you want to scream until your voices create the tornado that tears down the status quo sky we’ve all been living under, I won’t cower.
Your anger feeds us. Your anger fuels us. Your anger unifies us.
Maintain your rage. Share your sorrow. Keep demanding action. And if they offer only simpering words and patronizing burbles? I know your anger will propel you forward.
You know what happens after fire and fury burns it all down? A phoenix rises from the ashes. A new day is born.
— Kari Anne Holt, Author
“By terrible chance, this path has chosen you and it will not be smooth. Some will disparage you and some will mock you. Some will seek to bring you down. Please know that you have all of us behind you and though we can’t stop the arrows we will gladly take them in your place.
You are the Mockingjay. You are Starr. You are Martin, and you are bringing Martin’s dream. We will follow you.
You are the future and the past will fade in the brilliance of your light.”
— Janet Fox, Author
“If you are the arrowhead, then we must be the shaft and the fletching. As you fly into battle, we must be with you—behind you—every step of the way. Lending you strength, carrying your voices, protecting you from those who would stop you from achieving your goals.”
— Victori Jafari, Mother, Teacher, and Writer of Children’s books
“In Eastern traditions, the master knows the greatest teaching comes from sitting at the feet of students and I would tell you we are sitting at your feet but we do not have time for pretty metaphors now.
So I will tell you we are standing marching rising up with you behind you beside you.”
— Sayantani DasGupta, Author
“You are inspiring all of us to try again, no matter the odds. You are giving us hope. It’s not enough to tweet our disapproval, or to post angry Facebook memes. We need to stand up, speak out, and MARCH.”
Coming up with the right title for a novel is always a process. I had the working title I used when writing it, but I knew that wouldn’t be the final version. A year ago, I bounced ideas off my critique partners, but none of them felt quite right. Over the past month, my editor and I e-mailed back and forth with one brainstormed list after another, but we weren’t quite satisfied. Then TODAY we landed on the perfect title for the novel:
THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS
It cuts right to the heart of the story, and it’s such a natural fit – and there has been much rejoicing!
In the The Benefits of Being an Octopus I explore how difficult — yet how necessary — it is to develop friendships cross barriers. This TED Talk by Caitlin Quattromani and Lauran Arledge centers on a great examples of two friends who were able to maintain their relationship in a true and honest way, despite their political differences. It’s worth a listen.
About This Blog
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