White Oleander, Medea’s Pride, and the mother-daughter book club

I published my draft by mistake. Here’s the completed post:

 

Because my oldest daughter is 13, we don’t read together anymore, and I miss it. She thinks reading with me is babyish, and I decided a way to lure her back in would be to pick an adult book that would appeal to kids, so I chose White Oleander.

32234

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the start of the book, the protagonist, Astrid, is 12 years old. She spends much of the book in juvenile hall, an institution that fascinates my daughter. We drive by a “juvie” building on her way home from tutoring and she’s always peppering me with questions about it, so perfect, right?

Holy shit, White Oleander is a chilling book. It’s about a narcissistic single mother, Ingrid, who murders her ex-boyfriend leaving Astrid alone to navigate LA’s brutal foster care system. The kind of abuse Ingrid heaps on Astrid is so manipulative and insidious, at times, I felt nauseated reading the story. Part of the mind-fuck Ingrid inflicts on her daughter is she acts as if she’s a free-thinker who encourages her daughter to think for herself and make her own choices as well. Ingrid is a poet. But really, all Ingrid wants is a sidekick, a shadow, an echo, a carbon copy of herself. Ingrid uses her daughter and only connects with Astrid when she can use her. If Astrid is not useful, Ingrid dismisses her.

Ingrid, like many narcissistic mothers, abuses her daughter by “gaslighting.” Gaslighting is a term coined from a movie with Ingrid Bergman, where her partner dims the lights and when she mentions it, he tells her she’s imagining things. Gaslighting is when someone tells you that your thoughts aren’t based in reality to the point where you start to doubt your perceptions. This kind of abuse is often used with partners, but it’s especially horrific if a mother inflicts a child, because she’s so vulnerable to having her reality shaped by a parent.

A big part of a parent’s job is to validate and mirror her child’s emotions. I love this passage in Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time by Stephen Mitchell:

One of the things good parents provide for their children is a partially illusory, elaborately constructed atmosphere of  safety, to allow for the establishment of “secure attachment.” Good-enough parents, to use D. W. Winnicott’s term, do not talk with young children about their own terrors, worries, and doubts. They construct a sense of buffered permanence, in which the child can discover and explore without any impinging vigilance, her own mind, her creativity, her joy in living. The terrible destructiveness of child abuse lies not just in trauma of what happens but also the tragic loss of what is not provided– protected space for psychological growth.

It is crucial that the child does not become aware of how labor intensive that protracted space is, of the enormous amount of parental activity going on behind the scenes.

A narcissistic, gaslighting parent uses her child as a receptacle for her thoughts and emotions. When a narcissistic parent is challenged by her child, she either goes into a rage or dismisses her, both are terrifying for a kid. The kid usually complies, becoming what her mother wants her to be, useful, and displays only the traits that her mother wants her to possess. Worst of all, the child believes this is who she really is.

A narcissistic mother dismisses her daughter’s emotions or concerns as petty,  not valid, or not even real. To recognize gaslighting, a child has to be confident in her own vision and emotions.

White Oleander is one if the best books I’ve ever read about the complex dance of narcissistic abuse. I won’t tell you how Astrid recovers but thank God she does. At the beginning of White Oleander, Ingrid bets on a horse called Medea’s Pride to win a race. Ingrid is a Medea who tries to murder her daughter’s soul with her self-absorption, all under the guise of her devotion to her kid.

My daughter, by the way, has not stuck with me past chapter one. I’ll have to search for another way to connect.

Join artist-warriors at the Bay Area Book Festival June 4 – 5

Are you coming to the Bay Area Book Festival June 4 – 5?

Here’s the poster my 9 year old daughter’s cartooning teacher, Aaron Southerland, made for the event. I love how it shows my daughter, her best friend, and her teacher wielding writing tools instead of weapons, because, truly, when it comes to changing the world, is there anything more powerful than art?

bookfest

To learn more about Alice’s book or to buy it click here.

Sick of sexism in cartoons? Inspiring course teaches girls to create and publish comics

 

“Lone woman fights bad sexism” is getting old and an excuse to feature sexism in the first place

I miss you guys! I know I’ve been blogging for a couple years that I’m almost done with my book, but I’m REALLY almost done now. Finishing a book (finishing anything?) is so challenging, tying up all the loose ends, letting it go, but I could not be more excited about what I’m writing so that’s pushing me to the end. I haven’t had any time to blog, and I don’t just mean the time it takes me to write these words, but once I pound it out, I get engaged with the whole Internet world and I can get lost for hours on line, it’s a shift of energy and brain cells I can’t afford. I think I’ve written this before but being a mom has truly made me realize how carefully I have to choose where to put my energy. I get how Obama says he wear the same thing every day because his decision making reservoirs are used up. I wish more women could get away with not putting so much time and money and brain cells into how we look without getting mocked or put down, but I’m going off on a tangent here. There is one blog I’m dying to write about Roald Dahl’s BFG which I’m reading with my 7 year old daughter, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I got this amazing comment that I have to repost. The commenter encapsulates why I started my blog, the Minority Feisty, and the issue I have with most stories for kids featuring ” a strong female character” or two or three. Her comment is in response to my blog: If we can imagine talking bunnies as police in ‘Zootopia,’ why can’t we imagine gender equality? Here it is, from sellmaeth:

“Realism? You mean, like lionesses doing all the hunting (lead by a lioness) while the lazy males just eat what the lionesses bring home and murder the cubs fathered by other males?

Or male bees and ants only existing for breeding, and only being about, l don’t know, five animals in the whole hive?

Or … the daddy clownfish in “Finding Nemo” changing to mommy clownfish because that’s what that kind of fish does …

Oh, or anglerfish … tiny males have their mouths fused to the big female.

Haha. You’ll never see that in a movie.

I can imagine equality of the sexes. But I am not paid to write movie plots, I just write fanfic.

You are right, this “lone woman fights bad sexism” is getting old, and an excuse to feature sexism in the first place.

Once played pen&paper roleplay game with a dude who wanted to force me into the “token female who has to fight sexism all the time” role … in a setting that’s explicitly not sexist. (He changed the original game to suit his tastes)

He was a sexist in more ways than that. You are definitely on to something there.”

Mills College renowned Book Art program on chopping block, alumni outraged

On 10.20.15, students and alumni of the Mills College Book Art program got word that within 30 days the program might be completely cut. The program has existed for over 35 years, benefiting hundreds of students in the fields of book arts, bookbinding, and printmaking, and letterpress. My mother, Jill Tarlau, is a bookbinder and a graduate of the Book Art program at Mills. She wrote the blog below in response to the threat to end the program. Known for her work with needlepoint, the photos are of books she’s bound. At the end of the post, there’s a link to a petition to save the program. As of this posting, over 2,500 have signed. Please consider adding your name.

In 1983 my teenager daughters advised me to get a life.

It was the first year of the Book Art Masters program at Mills College, where I had been as an undergraduate from 1961-1965. As an English major I had been, of course, into books.

photo2

At that time my focus was on content, but I already cared about design, preferring to read Moby Dick in an attractive, hard cover edition for a little more money rather than struggle through yellow paper, gray type, and a spine that disassembled after the first 100 pages. Almost twenty years later, it was time to discover what contributed to book design.

Mills had unique advantages, already gifted the Florence Walter bindery, already famous examples of beautiful books in the Bender room, already its own type fonts and press. Also the Bay Area had for decades been a center for some of the greatest American fine presses, (The Allen, Tuscany Alley and Arion) several still functioning. Commercial publishers such as North Point employed experts willing to discuss with our class cover design, layout. What a lucky spot for me.

My degree took three years to complete. That final printing project is a story written my youngest daughter, illustrated by my oldest, with notes on the author set in type letter by letter on the back cover by my middle child.

photo1

Out of the many disciplines learned, I chose to pursue bookbinding, moving to Paris to concentrate on my career. I am proud to say that my embroidered bindings are in the collections of many French libraries, including the Bibliotheque Nationale, libraries of several other countries, Morocco, Luxembourg, Belgium, universities in the United States, Princeton, Harvard, and private collections.

The seriousness of the Book Art program at Mills, and the difficulties I had in fulfilling its requirements, got me to take my own possibilities more seriously. All I wanted was to be the best.

photo3

Mills College can’t afford a medical school, or a law school. It can and does have the very best book arts program in the country. Don’t give up that honor!

My fiftieth reunion was in September. I was so proud of my college, but today, with this devastating news, I am so ashamed.

Please sign the petition to save the Mills College Book Art program.

In revolutionary new ad, Target shows girls and boys playing “Star Wars” together

Just weeks after getting rid of gender-segregated toy aisles, Target put out an inspiring new ad showing girl and boy “Star Wars” fans playing together. Check it out.

YAY Target! THANK YOU. I did all of my back to school shopping at your store and will continue to shop the hell out of your chain whenever I need supplies for my children. I’ve got to admit, part of me can’t believe this blog post has to be written at all, that I feel the need to congratulate Target and express my gratitude, that my headline isn’t satire that belongs on The Onion. But sadly, as the mom of 3 daughters, I speak from endless personal experience of the rampant sexism in kidworld where gender equality is hardly allowed to exist even in our imaginations. Here’s a video where my youngest child, like many kids in America, was teased at preschool for wearing “boy shoes” in her case, “Star Wars” sneakers.

It’s kids like her who Target is helping now, because in spite of my daughter’s promise to keep wearing those shoes, and in spite of having a feminist mom, she was “choosing” “gender appropriate” footwear by kindergarten.

In May, I went on Fox News to support Amazon’s similar decision to drop gender categories from its toys. After I was intro-ed by an annoying gender police siren, I was told, as I’m so often told, that children just “pick “the toys they want. I’ve been repeatedly “informed” that girls are just born obsessed with how they look while boys who are denied toy weapons will bite their toast into the shapes of guns. That’s just how we are. As I told Fox News, in nicer words, we don’t have a fucking clue how we are.  Our brains are wired up based on actions we engage in, and these connections are never made more rapidly or elaborately than when we’re little kids. Why wouldn’t we want to expose our children to more stories, more experiences, more colors than pink?

When we live in a world dominated by sexist mass marketing, driven by male dominated narratives from the Bible to most of Hollywood’s movies to “great” literature and art mostly by men, where men and boys create and star the shows while females, if they exist at all, are usually sexualized and on the sidelines, there isn’t much free choice, especially not for kids. Women are half of the human population but make up just 15% of protagonists in Hollywood movies, 29% of all major characters, and 30% of all speaking characters. Outlets that sell toys like Target or Amazon still have a major stumbling block: Girls and women gone missing from most of the epics being marketed. We’ve got a long road ahead to create gender equality in the fantasy world and in the real one. I commend Target and Amazon on the important steps taken so far. I look forward to witnessing many more and hopefully the great day when Reel Girl becomes obsolete.

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2014

See Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2012

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2011

Brooke Shields has written stunning memoir of life as the child of an alcoholic

There are a couple reasons why I bought Brooke Shields’s memoir There Was a Little Girl The Real Story of My Mother and Me. I grew up in the 80s and remember images of Shields, from the infamous “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins” ad to her hair perfectly coiffed to cover her breasts in “Blue Lagoon” to that child-woman face staring at me from magazine cover after magazine cover.

index

When I saw the book at my local store, I was curious about her story, the one behind all those images. I was also drawn in by the book’s title There Was a Little Girl. In some ways, I imagine what happened to Shields, the contradiction of being a real, emotional being beyond all those “beautiful” photographs of her, the three dimensional versus the two dimensional, is an extreme version of what happens to girls everywhere, the paradox of being seen yet not being seen at all.

In the first pages of her book, Shields writes that she wants to tell the real story about her mother. She resents the characterization of Teri Shields as an aggressive stage mom. Shields believes that her professional life saved her, it was a way for her to exist in a world beyond her mother’s frenetic one. The real danger, Shields writes, was that her mother was an alcoholic, self-medicating her depression and anxiety. Her mother was ill. Teri was loyal to Brooke, obsessed with her, and conscientious, but while those characteristics may imitate aspects of love, they aren’t real love, the kind of love that makes a child feel happy, safe, and strong. Instead, Teri used her daughter like a tranquilizer, a buffer between her and the world, a passive receptacle for her thoughts and beliefs, almost like a translator, to communicate with the outside, all the time, making Brooke think it was her choice to play that role.

Problems started to happen when Brooke finally took steps to become more independent. Her mother undermined or ignored these attempts, instead of supporting Brooke, took her moves personally, continuing to only see the Brooke that she wanted to see, the one who was most useful to her, the one in the photographs.

There Was a Little Girl is a sad, raw, and beautiful book about how one person’s alcoholism affects those who love her.

Reel Girl rates There Was A Little Girl ***HHH***

 

Katniss, Lucy, and Rose

After a depressing day of girls gone missing at the movies, it was great to see Katniss in the lobby of the Metreon in all her glory. I cannot wait for “Mockingjay,” nor can my 11 year old daughter who devoured all of the books. The Hunger Games trilogy remains one of the only fantasy worlds where gender equality exists, and it’s a dystopia.

unnamed

Romance novelist Danielle Steel pens book ‘for little girls’

I admit it, I’m judging Danielle Steel’s new picture book “for little girls” by its cover: a smiling chihuahua wearing a pink bow and jewelry sitting in a purple sparkly stiletto. The book in called Pretty Minnie in Paris.

index

The Publisher’s Weekly blurb tells us it “will delight young fashionistas.”

The synopsis:

Inspired by the adorable adventures of bestselling author Danielle Steel’s own Chihuahua, Pretty Minnie in Paris is the stylish, ooh la la tale of a fashionable Parisian pup out on the town. Lost backstage during a noisy, crowded fashion show, tiny Minnie is separated from her owner, the girl she loves best. Quel désastre! But chaos turns to couture when Minnie unexpectedly finds herself the star of the runway. With a dreamy Paris backdrop and an atelier full of adorable outfits, Pretty Minnie in Paris is sure to be in vogue as the season’s must-have tale for little girls—and Danielle Steel fans of all ages—who love clothing, glamour, glitter, and all things à la mode.

 

On Amazon.com, Cookie writes:

Adorable!! So pink and glittery and girly. Plus Paris and fashion! Swoon! Perfect for little girls who love pretty things.

 

How did I find out about Steel’s debut contribution to kidlit? A full page ad in Us Weekly. Here are 3 books I wish had ever gotten that kind of PR:

 

Sparrow Girl

sparrowgirl

This synopsis from fantasicfiction:

Ming-Li looked up and tried to imagine the sky silent, empty of birds. It was a terrible thought. Her country’s leader had called sparrows the enemy of the farmers–they were eating too much grain, he said. He announced a great “Sparrow War” to banish them from China, but Ming-Li did not want to chase the birds away. As the people of her village gathered with firecrackers and gongs to scatter the sparrows, Ming-Li held her ears and watched in dismay. The birds were falling from the trees, frightened to death! Ming-Li knew she had to do something–even if she couldn’t stop the noise. Quietly, she vowed to save as many sparrows as she could, one by one…

This story is based in truth: Sparrows were eating up grain so Mao’s solution was to make the Chinese people bang pots and walk the land for days. Exhausted sparrows fell dead from the sky. As a result of the sparrow massacre, crops were decimated by insects free of predators. The Chinese people went into years of famine and millions died. In this fictionalized version, Ming-Li saves her people by rescuing the sparrows and coming to a true understanding of what farming really is.

Reel Girl rates Sparrow Girl ***HHH***

Stone Girl Bone Girl

stonegirl

I first heard about the young fossil hunter, Mary Anning, in an Ivy and Bean book. I was thrilled to learn more about her in this beautifully illustrated story.  Anning begins her life surviving a lighting strike that killed her nanny. She is passionate about finding fossils and is teased for it by the kids at school who call her “stone girl, bone girl.” In 1811, when Anning was 12 years old, she discovered an Ichthyosaurus skeleton, one of the most important fossil finds is history. She goes on to survive her father’s early death, her work supported by two rich female benefactors. I love that this book also features those powerful, wealthy, ethical, smart women. How often do you see that combo in kidlit?

Reel Girl rates Stone Girl Bone Girl ***HHH***

The Story of Ruby Bridges

thestoryofrubybridges

In 1960, four African-American girls were ordered to integrate two white elementary schools in New Orleans. Ruby Bridges was sent to William Frantz Elementary as the only African-American student. When children and parents taunted her and police did nothing to protect her, the national guard was sent in to escort her to and from school. At that point, the white kids stopped going to school. Ruby stayed on and learned her lessons. One day her teacher saw her stopped in front of the taunting crowd, moving her lips. Later, Ruby told her teacher that she was praying for those people. Eventually, the white kids came back to school. This story is amazing on many levels; it is remarkable to see how brave Ruby is and that she has such a great, strong spirit.

Reel Girl rates The Story of Ruby Bridges ***HHH***

New ‘Land of Stories’ available now!

Yesterday, in the book store when we were buying a present for someone else of course, my 8 yr old leaped for joy at the sight of Chris Colfer’s latest The Land of Stories A Grimm Warning. 

Landofstories

Note on the cover, the girl is front and center, also she’s standing ahead of the boy. Do you know how rare this image is in kidlit? Even series like Harry Potter and all the Rick Riordan books show consistently the female characters a step behind the males.

While I was initially dismissive of the books (Redone fairy tales again? Written by a “Glee” actor? Who is 23 years old?) The Land of Stories is the series is that got my daughter really into reading. Here is what I blogged after she finished the first two books:

“My daughter plowed through the book, requested its sequel, and then finished over 500 pages in about a week. My daughter, now just turned 7, read most of the book herself, so I only got snips here and there, when I read it to her. From the scenes I read, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. The protagonists are twins, Alexandra and Conner. I get annoyed by how books with a female protagonist seem to need to balance her with a co-starring male. Can’t we just see the female protag? Or what about sisters? Or female buddies? Why is that pairing so rare?

But in most parts of Land of Stories that I read, Alex is a strong and brave character. Here are a couple passages that won me over as we neared the finish of the second book, The Enchantress Returns.

“You have to save the fairy-tale world, Alex!” Conner said. “You have to save the Otherworld and Mom, too!”

 

Alex’s grip around her brother’s feet tightened. “I can’t save anything without you,” she said.

 

“Yes, you can,” he said. “It was always meant to be you! You’re the one who got us here and you’re the one who is going to get us out! You heard the ghosts– you’re the heir of magic! You’ve got to defeat the Enchantress so this world can go on!”

 

“I can’t do it alone,” she said, terrified to lose him.

 

“Yes, you can,” Conner said. “I’m really sorry about this.”

 

Conner kicked Alex off of him, and the vines consumed him entirely. They dragged him and Trollbella down into the ground and disappeared.

 

“Conner!” Alex yelled after him, but it was no use. He was gone.

 

Alex looked across the camp just in time to see the vines pull Red, Froggy, Jack, and Goldilocks into the ground with one, final heave.  As soon as Trollbella, Red, and the others clinging on to them had been taken, all the vines in the campsite disappeared into the ground. They had com efor the queens.

 

Alex got to her feet and looked around in shock. In a matter of minutes, all of her friends and her brother had been taken from her. She had no choice but to finish the quest alone– it was all up to her now.

 

Love it! Of course, as I reading this to my daughter, I was thinking: “Right on, Conner, get out of there. Alex needs to do this.”

Unlike Harry Potter’s magical world, this Fairy world has an almost equal number of females and males in power in the government, with a the Fairy Godmother at the head, and the evil enchantress as the villain. Here’s a passage that describes the governing group.

Hung across the wall from top to bottom were Queen Snow White and King Chandler, Queen Cinderella and King Chance, Queen Sleeping Beauty and King Chase, Queen Rapunzel. and members of the Fairy Council. And now, withe the inclusion of Red and Trollbella, the entire Happily Ever After Assembly was at the Enchantress’s mercy.

I appreciate all the subtle ways Colfer recognizes female power. The female characters are not princesses but queens and they are listed before their male partners. Red is Little Red Riding Hood and Trollbella is the leader of the Trolls. It’s great to read a story about what happens to these princesses after they marry and their adventures are supposedly over. It’s also nice that Rapunzel remains unmarried. It’s interesting that Colfer makes an effort to pair the others and gives the kings big roles. It’s sort of like giving a female protags a male twin, and other passages I read, the deference of the Queens annoyed me.

Here’s the passage that made me a true fan. How does Alex find the strength to save Fairy-tale world all alone? She has a dream where goes into a cave and meets four little girls: Lucy of Narnia, Alice of Wonderland, Dorothy of Oz, and Wendy of Neverland. They five girls talk together about the various ways Alex could try to destroy the Enchantress.

 

She looked up at the girls and around the cave. “Now I understand the meaning of my dream,” she said. “Deep down, I knew I could never kill the Enchantress, so I was searching for another way. The cave represents my questioning and you represent the answer— because ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always thought of you when I had a problem.”

“Why is that?” said Alice.

“I suppose I’ve learned so much from you,” Alex said. “I always wanted to be as loving as Wendy, or as curious as Alex, or as brave as Lucy, or as adventurous as Dorothy– I always saw a little bit of myself when I read about each of you.”

I’m not a fan of Wendy, but I named my oldest daughter Lucy and my second Alice after those incredible characters. I really enjoyed the pages where they come together and mentor Alex, giving her sage advice from their own experience.

The writing in these books is not the greatest. There is a lot of word repetition in sentences like: “It happened so fast Alex wasn’t sure what happened.” Also, too many adverbs: “Her hair anxiously swayed above her.” But Colfer is twenty-three, for goodness sake. I’ll be following his writing career. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.

If you have read these two books, please let me know what you think. With the caveat that I have only read passages of them, Reel Girl rates Land of Stories ***HH***”

Here’s to hoping Book 3 is as good as the first two. I’ll let you know…