...and I've been away from this blog longer than I'd like.  Much company here at the farm...women friends coming and going, and overlapping, last week; then Martin came up Friday and stayed till yesterday (Wednesday) and while he was here some good friends form Brookline,MA came for three days.  All of that is TMI, as kids say...too much information...but it is also an apology for ignoring the blog, and also ignoring working for too long.  I am alone here, now, and getting back into the routine of writing.

Thanks to Oprah for including THE WILLOUGHBYS on her "Recommended Kids' Books" list!

It has rained continuously for two weeks, though finally...FINALLY.... the sun has been out for two days. Here (below) is one of those miraculous moments that happens sometimes when you are about to scream. Can you see the rainbow? It's a little faint because it took me some time to run and find my camera, and the original brilliance had begun to fade.


And here is an article that someone drew my attention to because it mentioned GOONEY BIRD GREENE.


If you stopped by Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, New York, last Valentine's Day, you would have been confronted at every turn with a repetitive theme -- Stand Tall. The whole school, and in fact the entire district of Jericho Public Schools, focused attention on the issue of bullying during the 2007-2008 school year. The Cantiague campaign was unveiled on this day with an inspirational whole-school assembly.

"Bullying is a universal concern," says Cantiague's art teacher Susan Menkes. "Our school emphasizes character education, and the anti-bullying campaign is one part of it. Not being a bully is an aspect of good character. Bullying is an issue that should probably be addressed everywhere, to promote a healthy, well-rounded child."

At the heart of Cantiague's anti-bullying activities was the book Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell. A highpoint of the campaign occurred during a reading of the tale at the kickoff event, the Molly Lou Assembly.

"Molly Lou Melon" stands tall in this poster, proudly displaying a head of hair comprised of anti-bullying pledges signed by Cantiague Elementary students. (Photo courtesy of Susan Menkes)
"The story encourages children to speak up and to believe in themselves," explained Menkes. "During the assembly, the book was read again, and while the students were taking part, volunteers from the parent-teacher organization hung posters made by the third graders all over the school. Every door featured an anti-bullying message."

Cantiague Elementary's K-5 art program emphasizes the master artists. Students study the artists and gain inspiration from their work. So in their anti-bullying assignment, Menkes's more than 60 third graders were inspired by the bright, cartoon-like artwork of American artist Roy Lichtenstein. They used computers to replicate his "Benday Dots" and created eye-catching posters that conveyed anti-bullying messages in "bubbles."

"It was a wonderful surprise for the students to walk away from the assembly and find the posters everywhere, reinforcing the important message of the anti-bullying campaign," Menkes reported. "On the door to my room is a poster that reads, 'Not bullying is an art.'"

After the assembly, the students placed their anti-bullying pledges on a poster of Molly Lou to create her crazy hair. Classes toured the building to view the pledges and posters of all of the students. The children received mouse pads to take home as a reminder to "stand tall" and be an "upstander," not a "bystander," when they encountered bully-like behavior.

All grade levels completed drawings of Molly Lou Melon, and the students wrote about how they would stand up for themselves and others. Every class made colorful footprints that were placed on the floor leading into each classroom. The footprints contained personal narratives about times when they had "stood tall" by resisting a bully. For example, one footprint told the story of a student who defended his brother when other kids teased him about a missing tooth. Each footprint provided a concrete example of the campaign at work, something that Menkes saw, and still sees, every day.

The message in this third grader's poster, the design inspired by Roy Lichtenstein, is "I'll stand up for you." (Photo courtesy of Susan Menkes)
"Messages like it is good to be unique and being different is okay are reaching our students," she told Education World. "I definitely see that the students do appreciate differences. In my classroom, our motto is, You are the artist, so you decide. The students I encounter are kinder, more accepting, and readily help each other."

Further evidence came from the students' actions outside of school. One third grade classroom read Lois Lowry's Gooney Bird Greene, which tells the story of a rather outlandish new student. The class dressed up one day in conjunction with the reading of the book. Out and about on that morning with a parent, a class member was singled out for her unusual garb when another (uninformed) child asked, "Why are you dressed so weird?" Unfazed, her reply was, "I'm not weird. I'm unique."

"Cantiague Elementary is an exceptionally collegial school in which the staff works well together and comes together to support programs like the anti-bullying initiative," added Menkes. "The students encountered the program everywhere -- in the library, in the computer room… They even wrote songs about it in music class!"


Bullying. I suppose it has always existed but I am having a hard time remembering egregious examples of it from my own school days. There were feuds and snobberies and brief exclusions...the things of little-girl-life; and probably I was somewhat oblivious to what was happening with the boys. (In my day we had separate sides of the playground!)

I DO remember with regret and shame that in college, freshman year, in a small dorm, most of us cruelly excluded a girl who was "different" in ways we didn't understand.  She didn't care about the frivolous things that seemed important to us...clothes, make-up, dates, etc.  We made no effort that I can remember to try to understand or appreciate her.  Years later, in an alumnae publication which had solicited our memories...I think this was a 25th reunion year...she wrote that she was very happy in her life, working as an engineer and living with a partner named Helen, but that she had no particularly happy memories of college.  I thought about that for a long time. She must have been so lonely, those years. Did she know then that she was gay?  Did we? I don't think that was part of our awareness in the early 50s. What if there had been organizations that celebrated gay and lesbian orientation? Could she have had a happier college experience?    I planned to write to her, not really knowing what to say but wanting to express my own remorse; then, before I did, she died of cancer.

Well: isn't it odd that I went there from rainbows? And what does it have to do with books for young people?  Lots, I think.  For one thing there are many fine books now that deal with gay and lesbian issues (I contributed a story, years ago, to Marion Dane Bauer's anthology "Am I Blue?") and books are always a way to grapple with experience and form feelings. The newspaper article I just pasted in here mentions my book GOONEY BIRD GREENE as a book that celebrates "differences" in a second grade classroom and I love the anecdote about the child who describes herself proudly as "unique" instead of "weird."

Mike Arnold was the name of the girl in my freshman class at Brown in 1954-55.  She was unique. I wish I had told her so.