Solo by Kwame Alexander

I hope I remember the lesson I learned from this novel written in verse, Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess, in my personal and professional life.

“I am appreciative.  We are all appreciative.  These things
help us, but it would be nice to be asked sometimes what
we want.”

Libraries are the great equalizer; but sometimes when planning programs and services, we forget to ask our community what do you need?  Below is my favorite poem in this book of striking poems that create a beautiful narrative of a young man coming into his own.

People Are People

Two hundred dollars is more than a kind gesture.  I will ask
Elvis to accept half.
That’s not necessary.  I just want to get on with this.  I’m tired of waiting.

. . . .

. . . .

Are you nervous?
Very. But I’m excited too.  This is finally happening.

I’m happy for you.  I am glad you came here.
Me too.

Your father does not need to build as a dormitory, please
tell him that.
He seems serious, and I mean, you do need it.

How do I say this without sounding ungrateful?

The people who come here to help never ask us what
need.  They tell us.

. . . .

One church started the school, another promised to fix it.
One group built two wells, but didn’t leave any tools or
show us how to repair it.
That’s why you to have to walk so far for water?

I am appreciative.  We are all appreciative.  These things
help us, but it would be nice to be asked sometimes what
we want.
What do you want?

A stove would be nice.  Perhaps a washing machine, she
says, laughing.

The women spend half of the day washing clothes.  There
is no time for their own self development.  There is not time
to help their children with homework.  We are so busy
I see.


Booked – Mock Newbery 2017


Reading a novel in verse is a great way to celebrate National Poetry Month.  Though I don’t need a reason to read novels in verse.  I love them.  Oftentimes, it’s a love or hate relationship people have for these poetic novels.  Booked by Kwame Alexander will be a love for everyone… adults, girls and most importantly adolescent males.  The online catalog describes Booked as “Twelve-year-old Nick loves soccer and hates books; but soon learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully and tries to impress the girl of his dreams.”

Reading this novel is like going down a rabbit hole.  You find yourself learning new words that you want to memorize and bring out in conversation:  yobbery, limerance, onomatophobia, sweven and irascent.  Then, there are the book recommendations provided in the poems:  Out of the DustLocomotion, Peace, Locomotion and All the Broken Pieces.  As a lover, of novels in verse I was surprised I haven’t read All the Broken Pieces.  Then, I saw the publication date. . . 2009.  ML was three.  I wasn’t reading many books over the standard 32 pages picture books at that time.

I’m off to read All the Broken Pieces; but first let me assure you Booked is on my Mock Newbery 2017.  Alexander’s The Crossover won the Newbery in 2015.  Booked is just as worthy of a medal.  These books need a jazzier genre name.  Novel in Verse doesn’t cut it.  Rapping Read is a better term!

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan – A Young Adult Novel


Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan has been echoing in my heart all weekend.

I’m not an avid reader of young adult novels.  So the arrival of of an almost 600 page one, did not tempt me.  Until I continued to see one rave review after another about Pam Munoz Ryan’s new book.  I decided to give it fifty pages.  Then, read fifty more and fifty more. Suddenly, I realized I was almost finished with the book.  This novel reads faster than most of the 300 page young adult novels I’ve read.

It’s classified as historical fiction; but includes magical realism.  Finding a historical fiction for young adults is often difficult.  Finding one that is interesting is even harder.  Finally I’ve found a go to for the assignment “You must read a historical fiction book.”  Now I just need to figure out how to convince a seventh grader this 585 page book reads faster than Divergent.  Any ideas?

A Young Adult Novel – Jackaby by William Ritter


My biggest professional weakness as a Youth Services Librarian is I don’t read enough books written for Young Adults.  (Also known as books for teens.)  I read all the book jackets, but very few tempt me for my limited personal recreational reading time.  Until this week.  Jackaby by William Ritter enraptured me.  I read it in two nights.

A fast-paced mystery with evidence of the supernatural and hilarious text.  Seems a little strange to call a book about a serial killer funny.  Trust me.  I’ll be surprised if you don’t laugh at several of the quotes in the book.  For example, “I excused myself to see a duck about a dress.”

I demand another book about Jackaby and his assistant Abigail Rook.  If it happens, I’ll let you know.

Wintergirls – A Story of Anorexia Nervosa


The young adult fiction novel Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson haunts me.  It’s the story of Lia an eighteen-year-old girl suffering anorexia nervosa.

On my daughter’s first Thanksgiving in 2006, I ate a cold slab of turkey with stuffing from a box and gelatinous cranberry sauce from a can.  The year before, my husband roasted an organic turkey to perfection.  I cooked my mom’s cornbread dressing recipe, truly a labor of love.  My father-in-law contributed his homemade cranberry sauce.

Why the difference?   I was a patient on an Eating Disorders Unit in a local hospital. I didn’t have food issues.  My issue — extreme anxiety overtook me following the birth of my daughter in early October.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, I called my brother at 6 a.m.  His groggy voice answered the phone, “Hello.”  I blurted out, “I need to go to the hospital.”  Still half asleep he asked, “Why?”  My response jolted him awake, “I want to be murdered.”  The anxiety had morphed into intrusive thoughts.  I was terrified I might hurt my daughter.   I didn’t want to be the next Andrea Yates.

After hours of waiting  and the intervention of one angry sister-in-law, I was admitted to the hospital. As a medical resident at Duke, she knew the system.  They were waiting for my health insurance to agree to pay.  She  assured them we would pay for a night’s stay out-of-pocket if necessary.

The general crisis ward was full.  The attending physician had a choice; the chaos of the psychotic floor or the relative peace on the Eating Disorders Unit.   His decision forever changed Thanksgiving for me.

I’ve since learned my first experience was typical for admission to any psychiatric facility. . . shoe laces removed, bag searched, sharp objects taken away.  Afterwards, I was shown my room and introduced to my 17-year-old roommate.  This reinforced a bias.  I thought eating disorders were an adolescent girl thing.  They aren’t.  The patients on the unit were women ages 17 – 53 and a 23-year-old man.

Next, restroom procedures were explained.  This isn’t typically done on a crisis psychiatric ward.  However, on an eating disorder unit the restrooms in each room are locked.  When I had to use the restroom, I walked down the hall or pushed the nurse call button.  A nurse would come as quickly as they could to unlock the door.  Sometimes all the nurses were helping others; they couldn’t run down the hall immediately.  Unlike the patients suffering anorexia nervosa and bulimia, I wasn’t monitored.  I didn’t have to place a toilet hat under the toilet lid so my outtake could be measured.  Thank goodness.  I was suffering from c difficile, an intestinal issue.  Being watched would have embarrassed me.

Life on an eating disorder unit is regimented.  Meals and snacks are eaten at regular intervals.  I ate alone in the day room.  The other patients ate together in a small room.  After meals and snacks, they joined me in the day room for post-meal observation. A time when patients are observed so they don’t give in to urges to purge or exercise.  This time provides patients with distraction and support during the very difficult period of having to endure the feeling of being full. Anxiety is usually high during and after meals. Supervision, observation and support are essential to help patients get through this tough period.

On Thanksgiving, the patients’ compassion touched me.  They were adamant.  I shouldn’t eat Thanksgiving dinner alone.  The nurses agreed.  I entered their dining room; a room with no windows and bright fluorescent lights.  The sign on the wall said “No Hoodies, No Pockets Allowed.”

Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa have commonalities with what I was experiencing.  Obsessive thoughts about food plagued these patients.  Obsessive thoughts about other things plagued me.  I obsessed about the ratio of baby formula to water; making certain to level the scoop with a knife.  The scariest thoughts started with the fear I would drop my daughter.  Right before I was hospitalized, I panicked every time I saw a plastic bag.  The warnings about keeping babies away from them filled my brain.  I feared I might forget and put her in one.

Every fourth Thursday in November,  I give thanks,  Once appropriate care was received, I improved quickly.  The journey for those hospitalized for eating disorders is long.  Not only do they suffer mentally, their body is shutting down physically.  As a nurse told me last year, working on an inpatient eating disorders unit is hard.  There are success stories; but often you see the same people again and again.  Each time they arrive, they are a little worse than the last time.

As we remember those less fortunate this week, remember those struggling with an eating disorder.  A holiday that revolves completely around food is one of their worst days of the year.

So why did I state at the beginning of this post Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson haunted me?  The teenage character in the book suffers from anorexia nervosa and also cuts herself.  I’ve met her.  She was my roommate.

If you suspect a friend or family member is struggling with an eating disorder, you can help.  According to Cynthia Bulik, PhD, FAED, director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, “It’s harder for family members to raise concerns to a loved one about an eating disorder than about smoking, drinking, drugs, or depression. I always tell friends and relatives that it is so worth pushing past their hesitation knowing that they might save a life. Be compassionate, but firm. Have resources at your fingertips.”

To learn more about anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa and how to get help for those suffering check out the links to the resources below.