This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Don't judge me! I just thought this picture was funny.
When Bob was in 1st grade she was reading on a 4th or 5th grade level. There was another child in her class who had skipped Kindergarten so the girls were almost the same age (Bob has a Summer birthdate). The girls became good friends and I have to admit they were funny to look at. Being so tall, all of Bob's friends are shorter than she, but this little girl was tiny, and African American. They were opposites in all but personality.

Because the girls were the only ones reading at such a high level, the teacher focused more of her attention on the other children. The girls were allowed to choose any reading book they wanted while the other children were limited to specific shelves. I chose to send Bob reading books that were abridged versions of the classics (Dr. Doolitle, Heidi, Swiss Family Robinson...). The other mom let her choose from the library.

I still remember the day I was dropping Bob off and happened to arrive at the same time the other mom was tearing into the teacher. Apparently her child had come home with a book called, "My Life as a Fifth Grader." Her 5 year old had started to read her assigned 20 minutes to mom and in the first chapter the book talked about condoms. The mom was livid! She wanted the book burned. The wanted the teacher and librarian tarred and feathered.

I did step in and offer to let the girl read Bob's books since the teacher didn't have time to help every child find an appropriate book, and the children didn't ask the librarian (who might not have had time either). I remember thinking at the time that there are 5th graders who are sexually active and this book should be kept in the library.

Flash forward 6 years. Middle school is all about current topics that appeal to the kids. Kitty acted in a play called "Men are Slime." She watched a play about bulimia. I had no problems with Bob watching these, but Kitty... no way! Kitty's therapy focused on how all men are evil and she was horribly triggered by Hubby and all men until well after the play was over. She took the play about bulimia as a lesson plan and encouragement.

This school year I got an email from Kitty's Language Arts teacher. All the 8th graders are reading a book called "The Givers." On the surface it sounded fine, but I am so glad she asked me if it was OK for her to read it to Kitty's class because it is so NOT!

The book is about a Utopian society with no emotions (they take pills to suppress these) and only one person has knowledge of the past stored as memories. Jobs are assigned at age 12, and will be your job for life (yes, like "The Bee" movie with Jerry Seinfeld). There is no sex or love (or hate or happiness) and people who want children are foster parents of babies from "birth mothers" who are basically brood mares. The parents stay together until the child or children (max of two - a boy and a girl) is on their own, then the parents separae and go back to living in dorms.

The main character is different because he has light colored eyes so he gets to be the receiver of the past memories. Unwanted members of society are executed to keep the population exact. The boy's father is a "Nurturer" which means he cares for the babies before they are adopted. Babies that do not conform (like one who cries past a year of age) are executed. The boy's father brings home a baby with this problem to see if he can "fix it," but when it turns a year old it will be executed because they couldn't "fix" it - the boy runs away with it and probably freezes to death (the book doesn't say.

Here's why I told the teacher I didn't want Kitty to be exposed to this book:

1. This book is written for children ages 8 and up - developmentally Kitty is only about 4 or 5. She still thinks concretely; the abstract concepts in this book are beyond her abilities.
2. Taking pills is bad, particularly those that control emotions (she takes mood stabilizers and HAS to take all her meds).
3. Families are over when a child grows up.
4. Killing babies and old people
5. Killing children because they are not perfect or do not do what is expected of them.
6. "Birthmothers" are broodmares.
7. Living without emotions, especially love, is possible and preferable.
8. Serious rule breaking (which she has done) is punishable by death.

There were more issues.

So here is what the teacher offered as alternatives:

Call of the Wild
The Outsiders

Call of the Wild - Kidnapped dog is taken to Alaska, abused and never returns to his ideal family. There are killings (mostly dogs) in almost every chapter of the book. The animal goes off to live by itself and doesn't need people.

Flipped - Friendly girl moves in next door to a boy and idealizes him and wants him to be her boyfriend. He dislikes her and runs from her - until he hits puberty and decides he likes her. She then pushes him away because he's said for years that she was weird and looked down on her, so he chases her. Subplots - cheating in school that's never punished, father who is sexist, putting down people with mental disabilities, lots of criticism of the worthiness of people because they don't have money.

The Outsiders - According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for "social") has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he's always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers--until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy's skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

So what IS appropriate for a 14 year old emotionally disturbed 8th grader and her special ed class to have read to them? Call of the Wild and The Outsiders are out. Death, abuse, and misery - 'nough said. I'm not thrilled by Flipped, but I guess that will have to be it unless anyone (Denise?) has any suggestions?!


Anonymous said...

Ask the school librarian for a suggestion. Is she reading at an eighth grade level? If not try going down a few years in ability and hopefully topic. My sons suggest "My Side of the Mountain," or "Where the Red Fern Grows." I need time to think about it, but I did "Red Fern" last year with my seventh graders and they loved it. One of the themes is faith in God, which is why it has been pulled out of the public school curriculum. Look into it.

I'll put my thinking cap on...

Debbie said...

I was going to suggest Where the Red Ferns Grow, too. It does have a sad ending, tho, if I recall correctly. Other books I remember loving in 4th-6th grade or so (I'm thinking about those grades b/c I was more of an advanced reader, like Bob) were Tuck Everlasting, Island of the Blue Dolphin, A Wrinkle in Time (maybe a bit intense), Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Not sure any of those are perfect for your needs, but ... I think I need to reread a few! :)

Adelaide Dupont said...

They can read Enid Blyton. Blyton is good for all ages, and many countries (everywhere from Finland to Japan to Indonesia), so it might be a new experience.

Great family values in most of her books.

They are mostly genre fiction, but some of the family books like House in the Corner are good. And also Six Bad Boys deals with youth crime in a sensitive and compassionate fashion, and the kids do reform at the end. So that gives hope.

They are very strong and very moral, and easy to read and enjoy and share.

Some of the Adventure books of hers are very good, especially The River of Adventure. (I also like Castle and Island).

The religious side: some of her books were published by Lutterworth Press (one of the big religious presses in Great Britain).

Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm and the sequel are terrific too. There are Susan, Roderick and Melisande among the more interesting characters, as well as the mother, Rose.

Anonymous said...

How about Farenheit 451? Ha, ha... it's a joke... because it's about book burning... Okay, I'm leaving now...

marythemom said...

These are all great books, but the school appears to want something that discusses current teen issues. Most of these books are about survival in the wild or in an unlikely situation.

Where the Red Fern grows - Kitty is easily distraught by the killing of animals (see the post on killing a mockingbird - which by the way is next semester).

Enid Blyton! Never heard of these before. Will have to look for them. They look good.

Think I'm going to recommend a book called How to Not Be Popular. Hope it isn't wildly inappropriate.


Adelaide Dupont said...

From the teenage reviews and buzz, How to be not popular might be okay. (The author's name sounds like she might be a younger sister of the Gossip Girl author).

It's a shame that the books we seem to remember go on the basis of 'the ethics of emergencies' (an Ayn Rand/Objectivism phrase).

Survival in the wild is fairly straightforward, but not necessarily 'unlikely situations'. The situations in many of these teenagers' real lives are indeed unlikely to most people and might be quite implausible if they are in a badly written book.

Another English and more current author is Cathy Cassidy. I love her emphasis on friendship (as didactic in its way as Louisa May Alcott was in hers) and her relationships are more mild than wild. Angel Cake is the one I have, it is about a Polish girl in Britain, and if I had had it back in the 1990s, it would have been terrific. It is a very 21st century book. The main character, Anna, is 14 years old, and she is in a new school in Liverpool. She too struggles with being popular and fitting in, and there is a wonderful character called Frankie. She has a pet rat and is lovely and quirky. And Dan really is an angel who comes through for her. And she for him.

David McRobbie writes good books, and especially Mandragora (my other favourites of his come from the Wayne Dynasty). On the surface it appears to deal with current teen issues - across generations - but it also has a mythological element with spirits. Adam, Catriona and Tam Dubh are characters to watch out for. (There is bullying as well, and a sabotage I never did forget ever since I first read it in 1998). Essentially it is an adventure-romance with great character development.

There is a young man called William Kostakis, who wrote a book called Loathing Lola, about three teenagers on a reality show. Very current, very topical, VERY well written: especially the first chapter. Unfortunately it deals with Courtney at a funeral.

Miz Kizzle said...

How about The Hobbit, Dandelion Wine and The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, the Chronicles of Narnia, The Westing Game and A View from Saturday?