Archive for the ‘school’ Category

I’ve finished reading my twelfth novel for 2020, Bill’s New Frock, by Anne Fine. At just 90 pages, the small chapter book is a nice quick read for the middle grade level, yet still thought-provoking. The simple premise of a boy waking up as a girl and spending the day as the opposite gender is rich material. Bill feels out-of-sorts because he is in the wrong body, and through observing with a child’s innocent eyes the differences in the way people treat him, we see ourselves and society as we know it. This is deep stuff. Of her fiction, Anne Fine says, “A lot of my work, even for fairly young readers, raises quite serious social issues.”

It must have struck a chord with readers, because young readers in Leicestershire, England, chose Bill’s New Frock as their favourite title for 2012. They thought it reflected the Olympic values, being inspiration, determination, courage, respect, equality, friendship and excellence. Bill’s New Frock was winner of the Smarties Award (6 – 8 section) in 1990, the Carnegie Medal 1990, the Nottinghamshire Libraries Award 1990, and the Leicestershire Children’s Book Prize in 2012. First printed in 1989, they reprinted Bills New Frock in 2007 and again in 2012. Egmont reissued the popular novel in June 2017 as an Egmont Modern Classic. People still consider this book highly relevant to today’s generation, as the story speaks about gender stereotyping and those who feel they are born in the wrong gender.

The story begins, When Bill Simpson woke up on Monday morning, he found he was a girl. We readers then tag along as Bill must wear a pink frilly dress to school, and we groan in dismay as he slowly wrecks his beautiful dress throughout the course of the day. It adds a subtle layering of metaphor, as hand-in-hand with the stains and damage happening to Bill’s frock, we observe his candid reactions when he discovers the inequities that go along with his sudden change of gender. As a girl, Bill hardly gets into trouble for punching Rohan while Rohan gets told off for kicking Bill. With humour and the child’s view, we look at ourselves anew. It is the age-old requirement of good fiction, to hold up the window and the mirror. We feel Bill’s confusion as he finds even the educational expectations of him have changed. While Bill gets growled at by the teacher for messy work, and the boy sitting beside him whose work is far messier gets praised with the comment ‘well done,’ we readers say ‘unfair’ and sigh with memories of our own. Bill’s New Frock is a gentle traipse through the minefield of socialization without ever being heavy-handed. Child-centered, it never once loses sight of what it is, an amusing children’s story.

I admire Anne Fine’s effortless style. The second Children’s Laureate is an author for children of all ages, with over fifty books to her credit. She has also written for adults to considerable acclaim. As a young woman, having tried various jobs, Fine discovered her talent as a writer by accident. “In 1971 my first daughter Ione was born. Unable to get to the library in a snowstorm to change my library books, in desperation I sat down and started to write a novel. Clearly this was the right job for me, for I have never stopped writing for more than a few weeks since.” Clearly!

Bill’s New Frock is a thoughtfully rendered child-friendly look at gender. A tricky topic handled well.

My rating: Four stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Whatever I’m writing, I always end up with the kind of book I would have loved to read (if only someone else had bothered to write it for me). ~ Anne Fine

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Being a parent is hard at the best of times. When you’re working as well you divide your energy between their needs and your own. And my kids are at the most dreaded age of them all. No, not the terrible two’s but the terrifying teenage years. You always hear parents complaining about their teens and I used to think, no, nothing is as hard as raising little kids. But now that I’m here, man, this is parenting on a whole new level. It’s not just about feeding, clothing, housing and nurturing them anymore, it’s also about a whole raft of complex emotional counselling to keep them on an even keel. It’s about offering day-by-day guidance as they navigate the choppy waters of hormones and the realities of impending adulthood.

The middle son has his trials but being special needs he mostly cruises through life enjoying himself immensely or sleeping. The youngest son is on a rollercoaster of a lifetime. He’s a cauldron of emotions and intense reactions and feels burdened by being the smartest person in the room. There is a continuous thread of school drama going on in the background and he suffers deeply over things that happen between his large group of friends. Every night he regales me with whom’s not talking to who, who has acted strange, who he hates, who said this, that and the other thing. He talks about interactions with teachers where they have treated him unfairly, where none of the teachers appreciate him, and no one understands him. He says he lost respect for them because he asks questions and they don’t have the answers. He says they can’t think out of the box.

The youngest son has what they call “an old head on young shoulders.” He craves adulthood for want of a decent conversation. Teenagers are terrible conversationalists, he says. Teens mostly talk about recounts of their gaming exploits and what they’re watching online. They bore the youngest, and he gets all fidgety.

Being fifteen, he’s living through the most phenomenal rush of growth hormones he’ll ever experience, and I swear he’s taller every week. He’s growing at an exponential rate. Poor thing, he doesn’t know whether he’s a boy or a man. His brain is trying to catch up with him. He looks all awkward and gangly. He’s long limbed and cack-kneed, like a newborn giraffe. He bursts through the front door after school, lopes into the house, flops on the couch, or sprawls in a chair. He is energy at 110% or he’s nearly catatonic and falls asleep.

His voice has changed completely, too. Isn’t it funny how you get what you wish for? The dear boy had wanted a deep voice for years. In fact, I overheard him several times at fourteen-years-old, when playing on his X-box, pretending his voice was deeper than it was. Now his voice has broken it’s taken a lower timbre than any of his friends and he gets teased about it constantly. Now he wishes it wasn’t as deep as it is. Dude, decide!

The ever flowing, evolving form of his language changes like a chameleon. As he and his mates game together online, I hear the interchange of effortless “teen speak.” His tactics were ‘soft’ or ‘stale’ and if he’s doing badly in the game, he’s ‘choking.’ When luck is on his side, he’s ‘clipped it’ or ‘smacked them,’ in which case that was ‘cracked’ (truly awesome). And the favourite way of swearing without swearing is to put ‘frickin’ before everything.

The youngest son is a marvel. He has three modes: talking, gaming, or staring at his phone. Don’t get me started on the phone! What sort of monster did we create? I can remember his father and I discussing whether he was ready for his own phone at eleven. We bought him his first mobile at twelve. Cut to three years later and it’s permanently in front of his face. Their father took the boys to the South Island at Christmas and he confiscated the youngest son’s phone several times just to get him to look at the majestic scenery and take part in the family outdoor vacation. Otherwise the phone remains attached to one’s hand, or occasionally stuck in one’s waistband so one can stay plugged in to friends’ conversations while gaming.

I definitely underestimated how difficult parenting teens can sometimes be. I stand corrected.

Have you survived raising teenagers? Please send notes!

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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90% of parenting is just thinking about when you can lie down again. ~ Phyllis Diller

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The school year is off with a bang! It’s like going from zero to sixty in a matter of seconds. I’m ready for a holiday already. I’ve been running around like a headless chicken as the school year typically begins with a list of the kids’ “required items,” uniforms, stationary, sports uniforms, footwear, school fees, sports fees, and there are endless emails to read from schools, sports clubs, teachers, and coaches and so on. In the last two weeks, between the two boys, with the school gear and stationary lists, and the various items needed for camp, I’ve been on the phone, online, making purchases, making lists, dashing out to the shops, going here and there, buying things and finding obscure items like heavy duty gumboots, insect repellent and aquatic shoes.

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The youngest son began his second year of high school last week. In that time he has already impressed his math teacher by being the only student in the classroom to figure out the difficult math puzzle he put to them. That night when he was telling me about it, he said, “Me, big brain,” which made me laugh. He has that dazzling self confidence that young people do before life has bashed them around a bit. My nephew is always telling him, “You don’t know everything, you realize that?” I think it’s a great and admirable thing about youth when they believe anything is possible. I like to emulate that. He has been away with the other Year 10s on a school camp this week. The house has been resoundingly quiet without him. I never realized he made so much noise.

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Sam-the-man, my seventeen-year-old with Down syndrome started his first week at the Transition Centre. He loves it, thank goodness. Parents of special needs kids always feel trepidation approaching any change in circumstances for their children like changing schools, moving houses, or taking on a new carer supporter. You never know whether your child will flip out this time or display a delayed reaction by “acting out” later at home. As one of the two students from his high school to be picked last year for the coveted positions at the Transition Centre, I wanted him to be ready, but I still wasn’t sure. He seemed too young and immature to be at what is essentially the special needs equivalent of a university or a job training facility. Was he ready? I didn’t know.

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On Monday they picked Sam up in a big Mercedes bus taxi. On board were a small crew of able-bodied young people with special needs aged between seventeen and twenty-one. They were the other kids going to the Transition Centre from around our neighbourhood.

According to the timetable, they spend their days working at local farms and tree nurseries. Some days, they do fitness, swimming, arts and crafts, and literacy and numeracy classes. It’s a far more grown up week. Even after his first day, Sam came home looking more confident. His teacher tells me he worked hard and “he responds really well to praise.” I gladly put my fears away, because Sam comes home each day with a new sense of purpose in his stride. He was ready for the step up.

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Sam’s dance class began their first term of the year on Tuesday. As the night of the class has changed and it no longer clashes with my schedule, I take him. It’s a great excuse to sit and read for an hour while taking peeks at his progress. Sam picks up the new moves quickly. The other girls in the class seem to take him and his sometimes quirky antics and lapses into freestyle in stride, and the teacher carries on teaching! It’s a tolerant environment for him to grow as a dancer. And he’s started going to the gym on Wednesday nights again. I’ve been providing the taxi service for the various activities.

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As the summer holidays draw to their end, I always think the kids going back to school will be a cinch. With all your beach days behind you, you can take anything life brings. Then the first week of school happens and you feel as if you have been “run over by a truck.” The first week or two back at school, the boys and I are exhausted and grumpy. It takes a little while to get the cogs greased and the wheels of the school bus turning again. However, the challenges of the New Year arise and we have to grow to meet them. It’s a process.

We’ll get there, aided in no uncertain terms by good music, family, friends, meditation, and good food.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it. ~ Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens)