Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It Gets Better

It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living
Edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller

328 pages
Published by Dutton/Penguin

Publisher's description:
Growing up isn't easy. Many young people face daily tormenting and bullying, making them feel like they have nowhere to turn. This is especially true for LGBT kids and teens who often hide their sexuality for fear of bullying. Without other openly gay adults and mentors in their lives, they can't imagine what their future may hold. In many instances, gay and lesbian adolescents are taunted - even tortured - simply for being themselves.
After a number of tragic suicides by LGBT students who were bullied in school, syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage uploaded a video to YouTube with his partner Terry Miller to inspire hope for LGBT youth facing harassment. Speaking openly about the bullying they suffered as teenagers, and how they both went on to lead rewarding adult lives, their video launched the It Gets Better Project YouTube channel and initiated a worldwide phenomenon. With over 6,000 videos posted and over 20 million views in the first three months alone, the world has embraced the opportunity to provide personal, honest and heartfelt support for LGBT youth everywhere.
It Gets Better is a collection of expanded essays and new material from celebrities, everyday people and teens who have posted videos of encouragement, as well as new contributors who have yet to post videos to the site. While many of these teens couldn't see a positive future for themselves, we can. We can show LGBT youth the levels of happiness, potential and positivity their lives will reach if they can just get through their teen years. By sharing these stories, It Gets Better reminds teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone - and it WILL get better.

My comments:

Here's the video that started it all: What started as one youtube video has steamrolled into a movement with it's own website where the continually growing collection of inspirational videos will be maintained for years to come. In addition to watching videos, visitors can sign a pledge, read the blog, and follow it on twitter and facebook. As Savage stated in his keynote address at the ALA conference in June, the purpose of the book is to reach kids in school libraries and other places where the Internet may be filtered and blocked.

The collection of 100+ contained in the book is truly diverse, including contributions from gay, straight, bisexual and transgender people; from residents of rural areas, suburbs and large cities; from atheists and members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths; and from teenagers through senior citizens. Their experiences and perspectives are all unique, yet share many commonalities. For instance, even those who say that they weren't badly bullied still recall instances when they were called names or ostracized for being different. Many emphatically state that life gets better after high school, while a few bluntly state that life is still tough, but they have grown stronger.

While the common theme and basic message of the essays is repetitive, the differences in viewpoints and writing styles help to distinguish one essay from another. Most are written in a very straightforward manner, a few read like lyrical narrative fiction ("In The Early Morning Rain," p. 18), and a couple appear as comics (see "I Was a Teenage Lesbian," p. 79 and "Survival Tools, " p. 177). A few contributed by groups are presented as scripts (see "Coming Out of the Shtetl: Gay Orthodox Jews," p. 48). All are brief, the longest being about five pages.

I like the brief biographies at the conclusion of each essay that tell a little more about the author and what else they're up to. Resources at the end provide curriculum guidelines for teachers and point readers to helpful organizations including The Trevor Project, GLSEN and the ACLU.

I read the book a few entries at a time, marking the ones that I especially liked with scraps of paper. At first I thought I would limit myself to a top ten, but by the time I finished I had marked 25 favorites. While it's nice to see essays from celebrities and public figures like Suze Orman and Al Franken, the most moving contributions came from "regular" people. Food blogger Adam Roberts' contribution,"The Dinner Party," (p. 82) made me long for the warm family dinners that he now shares with his and his boyfriends' parents. Some, like "Hope Out of Tragedy" (p. 282) by Columbine High School (yes, that Columbine High School) graduate Matthew Anthony Houck, had me reaching for the kleenex. Whether teens read the essays in order, or skip around, there is little doubt that they will find messages that resonate with them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

ALA Nonfiction Book Blast

I've been reading at a snail's pace lately, so to liven up the blog until I have more books to comment on, here are my thoughts on the excellent Nonfiction Book Blast held at ALA Annual in New Orleans. Ten authors of nonfiction books for young people shared their inspiration, writing and research process, and programming ideas to accompany their books. Visit for the full color handout that accompanied this program.

Anastasia Suen moderated the panel. She mentioned her blog, a weekly round-up of nonfiction for young readers. She also writes Booklist Quick Tips, a monthly e-newsletter for youth librarians and teachers. Her readers' theater program on sports can be found on page 36 of the handout.

April Pulley Sayre encourages use of her books for read-alouds, describing them as poetic narrative nonfiction. She's inspired by nature (vultures, sea turtles) and gardening. Her new book Rah Rah Radishes was inspired by a depressing interview between Jamie Oliver and kids who didn't know any vegetable names. She also shared interesting facts about bumblebees: unlike honeybees, bumblebees are native to North America. They pollinate plants that honeybees can't by shaking and creating static shock.

Carla McClafferty's latest book is The Many Faces of George Washington. She describes it as “CSI meets the Biography Channel.” She talked about how the image of Washington used on the $1 dollar bill is based on an unfinished portrait by Gilbert Stuart. New statues that depict Washington at various stages of his life were created using life masks and state of the art computer imaging. She traveled to Mount Vernon to learn more about, and connect with, the book's subject. Watch the book trailer:

Shirley Duke has a biology degree, has taught science, writes a science blog, and has also written fiction. Her book You Can't Wear These Genes is about genetics. She has also written about infections, infestations, and diseases. She has 3 books coming out in the fall: Enterprise Stem, Forces & Motions at Work Here, and Environmental Disasters.

Loree Griffin Burns doesn't shy away from tackling troubling stories. Her 2007 book Tracking Trash tells the dark and troubling story of a gigantic garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. She says that the key to telling troubling stories is to provide something for kids to do about it. She had the “citizen science” concept in mind when writing last year's Hive Detectives, about the mysterious deaths of honeybees. She also shared information about the Great Sunflower Project – You can participate by planting lemon queen sunflower seeds, caring for the plants until the flowers bloom, and then staring at them for 15 minutes each week to count the bees that visit them. Submit data through the website. Her upcoming book is Citizen Scientists.

Darcy Pattison's new book, Prairie Storms, comes out in August. The narrative combines information about weather, habitat and animals. Her next book, Desert Baths, is coming next year. Her publisher, Sylvan Dell, has provided downloadable lesson plans at Her book trailer incorporates the animal sounds.

Deborah Heiligman, who has written more than 20 books, joked about changing her name to Charles & Emma because that's the one that everyone remembers. She used only primary sources in writing Charles & Emma, finding scanned images of family letters and journals online. The paperback edition comes out in the fall, and the readers theater she wrote for it should be included in back. She asks that you email her if you use it in a program. She wants readers to get immersed in books and not think about her as the author. For the “Holidays Around the World” series she uses the pronoun “we.” Each of the books in that series includes a recipe that she's made herself (usually desserts) that can also be made by her readers.

Christine Taylor-Butler has a website: She's an MIT engineer and lives in Kansas City, where the average ACT score is 14. She has several science books coming out this year & next year. She presented several cool science experiments that can be replicated for under $5 including "Is there metal in your money?" in which she used a rare earth magnet to push and pull a $1 dollar bill. This magnetic push and pull is the same force used to power maglev trains. Another one measured the iron content in Total cereal. The cereal is crushed and mixed with hot water in a plastic bag, then rubbed with a magnet to draw the iron out. She likes to call them “magic tricks” to hook kids, then explains the science as she conducts them. Check out for more information and links to videos and PDFs.

Carla Mooney is the author of Explorers of the New World: Discover the Golden Age of Exploration from Nomad Press, published this month. 22 projects are included in the book. She's written many series nonfiction books for ReferencePoint Press, including entries in the "Compact Research" series and Dragons for the "Monsters and Mythical Creatures" series.

Kelly Milner Halls is the author of many books including Saving the Baghdad Zoo. Only 40 animals were found alive (mostly large carnivores) after the U.S. invaded. All the others had been eaten. She likes to get readers asking questions like, “What would you do in this situation?” Her latest book is In Search of Sasquatch, coming out in October. She encouraged everyone to watch the Patterson-Gimlin footage of “Patty” on youtube, here’s just one version: She brought in plaster casts of bigfoot tracks, and showed how people can make their own. Her previous book Tale of the Cryptids got her fascinated with Bigfoot. She began researching Sasquatch convinced that it would turn out to be fake, but after interviewing several scientists she found herself open to the possibility of its existence.

Tune in next week for my thoughts on It Gets Better, edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller.