WONDER — The Spark of Truth

I’ve been working on a memoir of my sister and me covering the first five years of her life. Struggling with author voice and the art of stringing events together in a cohesive fashion, fellow Scriblerian TJ Akers suggested I read Wonder.

Wonder-by-RJ-Palacio-e1387718254694
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, is a novel, but it reads like a memoir. In both my story and Palacio’s, the subject matter focuses on growing up in a family where one of the siblings has special needs. My sister overcame several physical handicaps. In Wonder, Auggie must tolerate people’s reactions to his facial disfigurements, and he must have the fortitude to become vulnerable to others if they are to ever know the soul behind the face.

 

 
Published in 2012, Wonder has already been noted as a modern classic, and I can see why. Classic literature takes readers beyond a good story, rich in emotion. It takes us deeper into the meaning of life. Secular or Christian, it doesn’t matter. Humans are made in God’s image, and all of us have been created with kindling in our hearts that bursts into flame at a touch from the spark of truth.

spark to kindling
Palacio’s writing style in displaying Auggie’s courage and honesty is such a spark. She has accomplished what I’m aiming for. I want my sister’s perseverance and spritely spirit to set hearts on fire.

 

 
Many of the books I review here at The Scriblerians fall into the “classics” category. Which children’s books have you read that sparked fire in your heart?

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I Just Can’t Leave These Books Alone!

Thunder vibrates our house, lightning flashes outside our windows, but I’m warm and dry inside. I’ve got my half-sweet chai tea in one hand and a dog-eared book in the other. I slump into my sofa and snuggle into a pillow, happier than a pony in a clover patch.

I’d promised this reading time to myself, after the dishes were done, cherries pitted and in the freezer, and my regulation four hours of writing/editing were finished. My book is my reward. It is my third time through it, but it’s exactly the escape I need nonetheless.

As I open the roughed up cover, I ponder about what it is that draws me to this book and a few others again and again. As a writer, I need to analyze the book’s charm. I dream that one day, someone will curl up with a book I’d written with the same affection.

Books I read come under two headings basically: books I need to read, vs. books I want to read. Of course, often the ‘need to reads’ combine with the ‘want to reads’, and when that happens, it’s fantastic. Most of the time though, ‘need to reads’ are educational non-fiction books on the writing craft, platforming (getting known on the internet etc.) or it may also be a bible study workbook. But for the time being, I’m going to discuss my ‘want to reads’.

Like my diverse taste in movies, my desires for books change with my moods. Sometimes I need a good brain-stumper murder/mystery that I can rehash for the next day or two, and sometimes I just want to ‘veg’ and be entertained, thank you very much. But both have one thing in common, I MUST enjoy or identify with the main characters. They are what pull me into the worlds, not the worlds themselves. Often the plot fades from my mind, but the characters’ personalities live on.

One of my ‘go to’ books for escapism is AIRBORN, by Kenneth Oppel. Not only is the setting fascinating, but the MC is engaging, likeable and slightly unpredictable. Matt Cruise, a teenaged boy, lives on a zeppelin-like airship. However, Pirates and strange creatures also inhabit the skies. Great Escapism that I highly recommend!

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But I don’t always need a fantasy in order to escape. Another book I love to go back to is MEN OF STONE, by Gail Friesen. Gail has hit the mark with her portrayal of fifteen-year-old Ben. He must deal with a house full of females, painfully awkward moments with girls, and bullies that hound him day and night. Normal stuff, right? But Ben hooks me with his sense of humor every time I enter his world, a sure way to keep me coming back!

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So, on a dark and stormy night, with your beverage of choice by your side, what book calls to you?

 

So Not Okay

So Not Okay: Mean Girl Makeover Series

So Not Okay tells the story of Tori Taylor, a quiet sixth grader at Gold Country Middle School in Grass Valley, California. Tori knows to stay out of the way of Kylie, the queen bee of GCMS. When an awkward new student named Ginger becomes Kylie’s new target, Tori whispers a prayer of thanks that it’s not her. But as Kylie’s bullying of Ginger continues to build, Tori feels guilty and tries to be kind to Ginger. Pretty soon, the bullying line of fire directed toward Ginger starts deflecting onto Tori, who must decide if she and her friends can befriend Ginger and withstand Kylie’s taunts, or do nothing and resume their status quo. Tori’s decision dramatically changes her trajectory for the rest of the school year.

The first thing that struck me when I opened this book was how wonderful Nancy Rue’s prose was. The writing was really spectacular and drew me right into the story.

The plot was interesting and each character was unique and, I believe, would draw any tween age girl right into the drama. I liked how Rue was able to show through each character that we are all capable of bullying others (even though our bullying may not be chronic). And how bullying can make the bully feel safe and important–protecting them from the world. It made me emphasize with the bully a whole lot more.

I found the main character, Tori Taylor, initially very annoying. So much so that I was tempted to put the book down. But at each page turn I found her growing on me. Perhaps Rue was trying to show how all of us are flawed in some way (she is quite pretentious) but it is a little tiresome at the beginning.

The thing that really sold me on this book was not just that they showed how damaging bullying can be but also an action plan that could easily be implemented in any school. Having worked in a highschool myself I often got frustrated with how systemic, and accepted, bullying was. This book gives actions on how to pull the disease out at the roots instead of just dealing with the symptoms on the surface.

I would recommend this book to teachers, tween girls, and parents of tweens. My only wish would be that there was another story geared towards boys. 🙂 4 stars from me. 🙂

You can pick it up here.

Or here if you are Canadian, eh?

Also, check out Nancy Rue’s website for other great books.

Bullying was definitely a part of my childhood. In the 80’s it was often called “acceptable” and “part of growing up”. Did you, or someone you love, ever encounter bullying? How did you deal with it?

Karen deBlieck

Karen deBlieck

Bullied? You Are Not Alone

BIRD.FACE.FC.tinyVanessa writes: today I’m talking to author Cynthia T. Toney. Her new book, Bird Face, is an entertaining—yet enlightening—novel about a teen girl dealing with issues such as suicide, eating disorders, and bullying in the public school system.

 

As I read Cynthia’s book, it resonated with me because of my own experiences—which are still quite vivid despite the passing of years. In high school, two girls consistently harassed me in the halls, the cafeteria, the gym, wherever our paths crossed. They were tall and loud and insulting, abullying leaves scarsnd the constant stress ruined my high school years. At home, my father had a debilitating, chronic illness and my mother was his full-time caregiver, so I was reluctant to tell my parents I was in trouble. Like many victims, I felt isolated and just wanted to survive until it was over.

Fellow readers, if you or someone you know is being victimized by a bully, you’ll find immediate help and resources at the bottom of this blog post.

Cynthia, thanks for coming to the blog today and talking to us about Bird Face and the subject of bullying.

Vanessa: My first question is about your main character, Wendy, and how she faces difficult challenges and discovers something about herself along the way. Did you draw from personal experience?

Cynthia: I did. Not so much as a young person, but later. It takes some of us a long time to understand that we have within us the strength to do more than we initially think ourselves capable. I remember thinking as a teenager and a young adult, “If only I didn’t have this difficult situation to deal with” or “If only I could get over this hurdle” or “solve this problem” then I could do such-and-such. But often, forcing oneself to move forward and get involved somewhere else you’re needed, or to work at solving a different problem, helps resolve the previous one.

Vanessa: Were you bullied in school or did you know anyone who was, and how did you deal with it?

Cynthia: There was a girl in elementary school who bullied other kids into giving her candy. I had only one encounter with her but didn’t give in. Nothing further happened because of that. In upper elementary, I was called Bird Face a couple of times, and it hurt a little, but the bullying was short-lived and didn’t affect me the way it does Wendy. My daughter experienced instances of bullying when she was in school, but I experienced more verbal bullying as an adult from other adults.

Vanessa: Indeed, adult Iamavictimbullying is now getting attention, too. Scientific studies indicate that the resultant stress—regardless of age—causes depression, anxiety, PTSD, migraines, stomach trouble and a host of other physical ailments. In Bird Face, is the bully, John Monster based on anyone you knew in school?

Cynthia: The idea for John-Monster came to me because of the variety of bully types in the news. A bully doesn’t always fit the stereotype of years past — that of the hulking male who shoves his way through life. It can be anyone, including someone like John who is verbally bullied at home and turns the same toward his classmates. It can also be the pretty and perky girl next door who bullies someone over the Internet.

Vanessa: How did you develop the bullying plotline in such a believable way?

Writing in first person point of view creates challenges. I had to write the character John-Monster to show us why he verbally bullied Wendy the way he did. Neither she nor the reader could be allowed to get inside his head. I didn’t want her or the reader to understand the reasons for his bullying right away, so I wrote clues into the story as it went along. And I had to show he was still lovable, and loved by someone the reader knows.kid yelling other kid crying

Vanessa: Your research and insight are fantastic.   Most victims are bewildered at being the object of a bully’s vitriol. Bird Face delivers believable, multi-dimensioned characters instead of simple black and white, right and wrong. What advice would you give kids (or parents of kids) who are being bullied right now?

Cynthia: Parents and other adults responsible for children in their care should pay attention and listen to kids. To me, one instance of name-calling doesn’t necessarily equal bullying, and a talk with the parties involved may put a stop to it. Repeated offenses that distress the victim to the point that he or she withdraws socially or turns on others shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important to be aware of what’s happening at school and what your child is doing on the Internet.

Vanessa: Thanks for talking with us about Bird Face and this important social issue for teens. Fellow readers, I highly recommend Bird Face. I bought it for my fourteen-year-old daughter and she found it entertaining as well as informative. A rare combination in children’s literature.

Cynthia: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

———————————————————-

Ms. Toney holds a BA in art education and began her first novel while working as an advertising designer and marketing copywriter for a number of publishers. She enjoys writing both contemporary and historical fiction for teens. Also once a decorator, her articles on interior decorating appear at homeguides.SFGate.com. She has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and studying the history of the South, where she resides with her husband and as many dogs as space will allow.

Connect with her:

Email: birdfacewendy@gmail.com

Personal Blog:  http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com/

Member Blogger:  https://thescriblerians.wordpress.com

Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy?ref=hl

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

About Bird Face:

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

At the end of eighth grade, Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like her good-looking classmates Tookie and the Sticks—until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even her best friend, Jennifer, is hiding something and pulling away. But the Spring Program, abandoned puppies, and high school track team tryouts don’t leave much time to play detective. When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer, will Jennifer still be around to support her?

Using humor and offering hope, this story for ages 10 to 14 (grades 5-8) delicately addresses issues of bullying, eating disorders, imperfect families, and teen suicide

**********

 how to stop bullyingIf you or someone you know are being bullied, do not remain silent. Bullying is wrong, and you deserve to live in peace, without harassment. Get help and know your options.
  1. Resources for coping with bullies, approaching school authorities, and other strategies: http://www.stopbullying.gov/get-help-now/
  2. Crisis hotlines and informational websites: http://www.teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines

Tell us about your own experience with bullying. We’d love to hear from you. Together we are strong!

 

 

 

 

confessions from a junior high bird face

To celebrate the release of Cynthia Toney’s debut novel, Bird Face, I have decided to publicly humiliate myself. [deep breath]

You see, Cynthia’s novel took me back to my junior high years. I don’t know about yours, but mine came with a lot of ups and downs. Academic ups and relational downs, mostly.

In 6th grade, I had to switch elementary schools because I was admitted into a gifted and talented program and they weren’t offering it at the school that was a block from my house. So in my final year of elementary school, I had to start all over. New school, new friends, new everything. And I looked like this:

Horrible picture of me from 6th grade. #soembarrassing

Horrible picture of me from 6th grade. #soembarrassing

No fashion sense, glasses, braces, and stick thin. AND I was in the gifted and talented program. *sigh*

The funny thing is that no matter how you end up looking, your junior high self-image tends to stick with you for quite a while. So while I ended up graduating from high school looking like this (and don’t ask how long it took me to get my hair to look like that)…

Me as a senior in high school

Me as a senior in high school

…I still felt like the 6th grade image of me. I was bird face and bird legs, and just like Wendy Robichaud, the main character of Cynthia Toney’s most excellent novel, my best friend was drop-dead gorgeous. She was even voted Most Beautiful our senior year of high school. And just like Wendy, I was both happy for her and jealous.

But the character from Bird Face that really resonated with me was John-Monster. A brainiac bully who made himself feel better by making others feel worse.

There was a boy in our gifted and talented program name Mike Long. He was smart, obviously, and a nice guy. We all liked him, but we all called him Mike Wide behind his back because the poor guy was very large. If his last name had been Smith or Thompson or something else, I wonder if things would have turned out differently. I don’t think any of us meant to be a John-Monster to him, but I’m sure at some point that we probably slipped and he heard what we called him. The thing is, we didn’t do it to be deliberately mean. At least, I didn’t. The long/wide comparison was just sitting there begging to be used, kinda like people would always call me Lisa Pizza and my husband Chris Piss growing up. It’s what kids do. And honestly, Mike was large enough that he would have been teased no matter what his last name was. Childhood obesity when I was growing up wasn’t what it is today, so a large kid really stood out.

I never saw Mike after 6th grade, but I heard he committed suicide less than two years later. A product of childhood teasing? I’m sure it played a part. And this is what reading Bird Face made me think of. While we all feel like a bird face at times, there’s a little John-Monster in all of us as well. Growing up is coming to the point where you don’t let others identify you. You decide who you’re going to be, and become the best person you can, like Wendy.

BIRD.FACE.FC.reducedSo I think Bird Face is important and that all tween girls and their parents must read this book. Let’s talk about real issues that kids face and confront them head-on. Unlike many Christian novels where everything must be clouds, smiles, and rainbows, this book is edgy in that it handles topics like bullying, self-image, eating disorders, and suicide in a gentle manner from a Christian worldview. And it’s non-preachy too. Read this book, is all I’m saying.

And to Mike Long and his family… I’m sorry. I remember your son for the great pictures he drew.

And now, dear readers, if you could go back to junior high and do one thing differently, what would it be?

Interview with Bird Face’s Author, Cynthia T. Toney

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy Robichaud down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy Robichaud down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

Using humor and offering hope, this story for ages 10 to 14 (grades 5-8) delicately addresses issues of bullying, eating disorders, imperfect families and teen suicide

 I’m so excited to present my fellow Scriblerian and critique partner Cynthia T. Toney! I came in late to the group, so I’d never read any of her work. But when I did, I was so impressed by the quality and the truthfulness of her story, that I jumped at the chance to be the first to interview her. Her main character, Wendy, leaps off the page in all her humor, awkwardness, and honesty. One can’t help but love her. But let me first tell you readers a bit about Cynthia so you can catch up to what we know!

Cynthia began her first novel, “Bird Face,” while working as an advertising artist/designer and marketing copywriter. With a love for decorating with salvage, she later became an interior decorator, and her decorating articles currently appear on homeguides.SFGate.com. She has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and studying the history of the South, where she resides with her husband and as many dogs as space will allow.

Now for a quick summary of Bird Face!

At the end of eighth grade, Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like her good-looking classmates Tookie and the Sticks—until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even her best friend, Jennifer, is hiding something. But the Spring Program, abandoned puppies, and high school track team tryouts don’t leave much time to play detective. When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer, will Jennifer still be around to support her?

Now,to jump into getting to know Cynthia and her book even better!

 Nickname: My fellow writers call me Cyn. Family calls me Cindy, but anyone is allowed. I love the name Cynthia but get tired of typing that many letters.

 Philosophy: We all have a special contribution to make. Find out what that is for you. For me, it’s working with dogs and with people who associate with them. God made us stewards of the animal kingdom, and man domesticated several species. So it is our duty to care for those, such as dogs, cats, and horses, to name but a few.

 Fave Scripture: Psalm 7:1 O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge. (That covers everything for me!)

 You’ve dealt with many school issues extremely well, (bullying, eating disorders, peer problems, family dysfunction and teen suicide) but one of them struck home with me: the desire of parents to excel at sports. Do you think this is a relatively new phenomenon?

 In the story, a parent’s desire for and pressure upon a child to excel at sports represents any and all pressure placed upon a child to achieve something non-curricular that is the parent’s dream but not necessarily the child’s. This has been around at least as long as I can remember. I’m no psychologist, and I believe that we should give children goals to reach for. But I’ve seen instances where a child shows a particular interest or a parent chooses an activity for him, and the child is forced to keep trying to be the best at it for the rest of his childhood or he’s called a quitter. Talk about stress! Adults often change jobs for one more satisfying or for which they are better suited. Maybe that child would like time to read, work with animals, or pursue an art form or a different sport. On the other hand, if a child chooses a sport or hobby, he should stick with it at least long enough to give himself a chance to do well. The amount of time would be something that the parent(s) and child should discuss. My daughter pursued dance for a few years, was very good at it, but gave it up in spite of my urging her not to. She regretted that later. I had a number of interests that my parents didn’t help me pursue at all, and I’ve often wondered if dance lessons, for example, would’ve made a difference in my life.

How long did you take to write this book from the beginning stages to the end product?

 Over a decade to write it because it took some twists and turns, and so did I. I put the manuscript aside at least a couple of times—for years at a time because of moving and job changes—and at one point lost my computer files. I’d pretty much given up on the story ever being published and then found a hard copy that was several revisions prior to the last one I remembered. I mentioned that to my husband, and he searched some old Zip discs until he found a digital copy I’d forgotten was saved. We didn’t even have a Zip drive any more, they were so outdated. He had to consult with some tech guys at work, I believe, to get the manuscript off the disc. But it still wasn’t the latest version I remembered.

It’s true what they say about putting a manuscript aside and looking at it with fresh eyes. Mine was an extreme example, but I made some major changes to the plot after finding the manuscript again.

Your main character, Wendy, comes off so true and relatable. Is she fashioned after yourself?

 In some ways. I was shy at her age and I have a few of her habits, such as list making. The title came from a name I was called only a couple of times. Like Wendy, I didn’t know what it referred to at first, but I didn’t let it affect me as much as it does her. I didn’t even think of using that title until I was pretty far along on the first draft.

I love how you’ve shown your bully, John Monster and your snob Tookie to have major problems of their own. Were you able to see this other side of characters in your own school years?

 Not while I was still in school, but I wish I had. A wise person later called my attention to the fact that everyone, no matter how good their lives appear to us observers, carries burdens and sorrows and faces difficulties that would perhaps shock us.

As an artist as well, I’m completely attracted to your cover. It’s so refreshingly different. How much involvement did you have with the design?

 Thank you. My husband conceived the basic design, and my publisher’s artist carried it through. I was glad not to have to design it myself.

Are you working on a sequel to Bird Face?

I plan to write one, but I’m awaiting reader feedback on the first book. I hope readers will share their favorite characters with me so that I can be sure to incorporate them in the sequel. And I’d like there to be another small mystery within the story, for which I have an idea but am not committed. The setting will be Wendy’s freshman year of high school and may take her to another location in Louisiana or elsewhere. But no matter what, I believe Wendy will continue to discover the weird and the wonderful about herself and her fellow human beings.

Now that we’ve warmed you all up, here is an excerpt of Bird Face!

 “Bird. Face.” A whisper, but the voice rang deep. He stood against the wall just inside the door.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. With animal instinct, I turned only my eyes toward the sound. Time slowed while I walked past him, so close the breath from his sneering mouth rustled my hair.

Bird Face. Those two simple little words came from John Wilson, the tallest boy in eighth grade. A Brainiac, he reminded me of Frankenstein’s monster. Not that he was hideous or scarred or anything. Other than his block-shaped head, he looked about as ordinary as any boy could—brown hair, brown eyes, glasses. He had bony arms and wimpy shoulders. Nothing scary about that.

But he had a way of creeping up on a person. I could be in the library or the bus line, and all of a sudden, there he’d be, looming in my personal space. He acted like the monster in some old black-and-white movie. I had gotten somewhat used to that, but it was weird he decided to speak. And what the heck was a “bird face,” anyway?

I kept walking. If John-Monster expected some kind of reaction from me, he wasn’t going to get one.

I didn’t stop until I got to my desk. That’s when I noticed a swatch of yellow on the seat. Another sticky-note message. Still printed, but this time signed too.

Only words.

“A FREND”

And a bad speller, apparently. I examined the little square of paper for a few seconds. The writing still didn’t seem familiar at all. An eerie sensation like someone was watching me made me turn. But when I glanced around the room, I got nothing.

A yellow note pad would be a clue, if only I could find one. Tookie wore a yellow shirt —designer, of course. Gayle wrote in a yellow notebook. Frank grinned at me with yellow teeth. But no yellow sticky notes anywhere in sight.

Okay, it’s me again! Look on Amazon for your copy of Bird Face! And lastly, I have a question for you. During school, did you ever form an unlikely friendship, or have a likely friendship fizzle out due to differences in lifestyle?

To get in touch with Cynthia:

Email birdfacewendy@gmail.com.