The Mirror World of Books

Books let us escape from current life woes.  They let us explore other worlds and other times. But did you ever think about the things we learn without realizing it, the things we can apply (consciously or not) in our own lives?  

Mikey Brooks wrote a great post over at Emblazon about young readers and learning from the “Mirror World” of books, and he very kindly said I could share it with you:

The Most Important Thing a Child Should Be Doing

When a child reads a book they view it as a type of mirror world—as if by magic they become the main characters, living and breathing in that character’s mind. Gender holds no boundaries when it comes to this mirror world. Whether they are a boy or a girl, when they read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, they become Harry Potter. When they read The Lightning Thief, they are Percy Jackson. The mirror world is not only beneficial to children because they get to learn about new places, but they get to experience emotions and situations they otherwise might not get to experience. The mirror world is why reading is the most important thing a child should be doing.

81zdSFzJh+LRecently I read a fantastic middle-grade book entitled, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. This book is about an eleven-year-old boy named August Pullman (Auggie) who was born with mandibulofacial dysostosis, a very rare facial deformity. The book is written in first person so you really get to see into the mind of Auggie and how much others struggle with his face. People cringe, shy away, even scream when they see him. As I stepped into the mirror world and saw things the way Auggie did, I began to feel things I have never felt before. I was suddenly more aware of how I spoke to others and how I treated them. I wanted everyone to feel important. So often children don’t see how their looks and words can hurt others. One of the best lines from the book is: “… sometimes you don’t have to be mean to hurt someone.” Empathy is learned in the mirror world.

The mirror world can not only help children learn to feel what others go through, it can help children overcome fears and challenges. Bullying is something that happens all the time and there’s not much parents and teachers can do to stop it. The best way to extinguish the problem is the victim empowering themselves. The mirror world can do that. I was ecstatic when two years ago I received an email from one of my readers who had been dealing with a bully issue at school. readingThey said after they read about Kaelyn’s experience in The Dream Keeper they felt they could stand up to their bully. Reading had empowered them and their problems with the bully went away. They learned to stand up for themselves through a book! I think that’s amazing.

As parents, as teachers, as librarians, as human beings, we should be encouraging all children to step into the mirror world and embrace the magic within. Share with them good books that made you “feel” something when you read (yes, that means YOU should be reading too). The more they experience the better they will be able to deal with the world around them and understand the people within it.

Thanks, Mikey, for sharing your insights!  

I’ve lived with this mirror world for more than 50 years – even as an adult, I learn about life situations.  I can even identify with a character so strongly that I pick up his/her speech patterns!  But I’ve learned so much through books that carried over to my real life – empathy, history, coping with my own problems – that I don’t know who I would be without the books that I’ve read.  

I think that the take-away is that a child is never “just” reading – it really is one of the most important things they can do.  

Posted in Deep Thoughts, Guest Blogs, READING | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Snowpocalypse: Take Time for a Text

Feeling alone in a blizzard?

Feeling alone in a blizzard?

Blizzards and ice storms and hurricanes are scary times. If they’re coming our way, we prepare as best we can: food, camp stove, warm blankets, lots of batteries. But sometimes that’s not all we need.

I have a friend back east where “Snowpocalypse” is hitting hard. We’ve talked several times over the last few days, but this morning, as she’s still watching the snow come down, she told me something else.


She hasn’t heard from her children at all.

She has no other family – she’s an only child and a widow. Her children are out west now, but they visit and have a good long-distance relationship.

None of them have called, or even texted, to ask how she’s doing.

In a centuries-old house with very little insulation, they didn’t ask how she’d stay warm if the power went out.

She worried about the heat pump freezing up, but they didn’t know that.

She worried about a rickety carport roof, but they didn’t know that.

She was upset that the contractors hadn’t done their work in the last few weeks, but the kids didn’t know that.

She was very uncertain about what would happen, a bit panicked at times (my mechanically-minded hubby walked her though a few things), but got through it all right.  And her children still don’t know.

There’s not much these young adults could have done from far across the country, but an expression of concern and some moral support would have gone a long way to making my friend feel not so alone in the maelstrom.

If someone you love is in the path of a natural disaster, reach out – before and after, if not during.  Call.  Text.  Send a Facebook message.

But don’t let them go through it alone.


Posted in Home & Family, Misc | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Those Islands at the End of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael from the ferry.

We saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening weekend and I have mixed feelings about the repetition of the movie (mostly unoriginality, to be vented later), but besides seeing that Han Solo smile again, one of the favorite parts for us was the Skellig Islands at the end when … whoops, no spoilers here!

The Skelligs are isolated, majestic, magnificent – and we’ve been there!

On our first trip back to Ireland after living there for a few years, the Skelligs were the only place we wanted to see a second – or third – time around.  They’re off the coast of County Kerry (the southwest corner of Ireland) and always a risky part of the itinerary.

IMG_9606The weather has to be just right.  Rough-ish seas wouldn’t bother the ferry boats on open water, but the waves have to be pretty calm to land at the jetty.  Don’t want to drop any tourists against the rocks!

Nearly a thousand years ago, Irish monks built a secluded monastery on the larger of the two islands, Skellig Michael.  They lived there, subsisting on birds, fish and a bit of gardening, for six hundred years.  Every six months or so, a boat would come from the mainland with bread and wine for Communion.

The guides say that this was a "garden" area for the monks, probably growing lettuce.

The guides say that this was a “garden” area for the monks, probably growing lettuce.  Skellig Joseph is in the distance.


The monks built stone cells with no mortar (dry-stone building is common practice in Ireland).










To reach the settlement, the monks laid 600 stone steps on the main pathway – the same ones we climb today.


The end of the climb!

Starting out.

Starting out. (Yes, that’s Hubby O’Mine.)












A shorter set of steps, the ones seen in Star Wars, go down to the east side of the island.



See that little flat part near the point? That’s the Hermitage site!

And way up towards the needle of the south peak is a hermit’s cell.  Not accessible to the public, but I remember eating lunch and staring at it, imagining trying to sleep on hard rock with the wind and rain pelting me.  Shudder.


Climbing Skellig Michael is not for the faint of heart or weak in body.  You’re not allowed to go if you have vertigo, and heart, knee, and back conditions are cautioned against.  The steps are arduous, uneven, and can be slick, and the park staff have to rescue someone each week – even if you manage to climb up, you may not be able to get down.  (They actually encourage you to scoot down one step at a time if you have problems!)

In the monastery, a park guide tells the story of the settlement.  But when we visited this time, tourists were all agog about the filming of the new Star Wars.  All the guide could tell us was that yes, they had been filming the week before (the islands were closed to the public for several days), the footage may or may not be in the final movie, and she wasn’t allowed to tell us more. Aarrgh!

Needless to say, when the opening scroll of text began in The Force Awakens, my eyes were peeled for the Skelligs.  I imagined there might be an air battle overhead or something.  I got caught up in the story and forgot to pay attention, and when I sensed that the movie was coming to a conclusion, I wondered if I had missed them.

And then there they were, Skellig Joseph and Skellig Michael in all their glory at the very end when … whoops, no spoilers, right? (You mean you haven’t still seen it yet??)  It was what I had been waiting for, and I kept whispering to Blaik.  See that? Remember that? That’s where we ate our picnic! We stood in that spot! I think I was quiet, but knowing me, I probably drove the people next to us crazy.  Sorry, fellow movie goers!

If you’re intrigued and want a great book about the Skelligs, try Sun Dancing: a Medieval Vision. (At least, that’s the subtitle on my copy.) Half the book is fiction, an intriguing set of vignettes of monastic life, from gathering monks for an ascetic life to vision quests to a Viking raid.  The other half is a very readable, topic-oriented history of Irish Catholicism through the dark and middle ages, until the Roman Church demanded conformity.

The Skelligs are a World Heritage Site, and there are a limited number of ferry boats allowed to go out each day.  With the time it takes to climb, you only get about an hour at the monastery before you need to leave.

And if you’re lucky and you’ve got a willing captain, you get to swing through the smaller Skellig Joseph for a close-up view of the bird sanctuary.


Skellig Joseph is a bird sanctuary.

Posted in IRELAND, Misc | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

An Early Thanksgiving Proclamation from Abraham Lincoln

LincolnIn this Thanksgiving season, I have been especially conscious of our blessings: plenty of food, a warm house, clean water, honorable work, good friends and loving family, and the freedom to worship as we desire. As I considered this post, my mind continued to the smaller things: flowers, phones, books, toothpaste, the chickadees and finches, crunchy leaves, soft snow . . . I found myself with far too many to choose from.

Instead of my own gratitude list, I decided to share Abraham Lincoln’s original Thanksgiving Proclamation with you.  But did you know he signed several throughout his presidency?  I enjoyed finding this one from Oct. 3, 1863. (The one we usually reference is dated Oct 20, 1864.) I especially like the line saying that we’re prone to forget the bounties we constantly enjoy!

We are all so very blessed, this day, this minute. Even in the midst of tragedy and turmoil, whether in our own communities or around the world, there is good to be found if we but pause for a moment.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.


Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.

Posted in History, Holidays | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Best School Author Visit Ever!

17514-NR5SNVI had an incredible classroom visit this week.

I’ve done school and library author appearances before, from a reading for 20 to presentations with 200 all squashed together on the cafeteria floor.  They were fun and the kids got involved as we talked and created a story together.

But this . . . wow.

Mrs. Auten teaches a combined 4th/5th class at Brown Elementary here in Brownsburg.  Through the Shimmer of Time had been recommended as a book to tie in with a visit to Conner Prairie, so she contacted me and purchased one to read aloud to the class.  They finished it before Fall Break, visited Conner Prairie, and then invited me to the class for a Q & A session.

Sounds good, right?

And then I found out what an amazing teacher Mrs. Auten is.

As she read each chapter, she asked the kids to listen for a particular thing each time: character traits, plot development, description details, etc.  They speculated on why something was included and what it might mean later.

rising actionAnd then – are you ready for this? – she had them dissect the book and plot it on a rising/falling action chart!  (I don’t think I even knew about rising action until at least high school.)  And then they wrote their own mysteries, using my book as an example!

Needless to say, these kids were curious and intelligent, invested in the story, and we had a great conversation.

They asked simple questions like where I got the idea, why I used a pot for the time travel mechanism, and was Amos Ramsay from the present or the past.

They delved deeper and asked what I changed from early drafts, what I had to set up early to lead to something that happened later, and what pieces of my own life showed up in the story.

We talked about creating contrasting characters, about the ways Jim and Hannah changed through the story, and about some of the research required for both the historical and contemporary parts.

And then we talked about Hannah’s old-time dialect.  I told them I worked hard to do it without using phonetic spelling like Mark Twain – an awesome writer with great stories, but hard to read.  Their heads whipped around to Mrs. Auten.  She had just started reading Tom Sawyer to them, and that night’s assignment was to read a chapter on their own – they would find out first hand what his dialect was like.

They cared about what happens next for Hannah and Jim (always what an author wants to hear) and were excited to learn a bit about RESCUE Through the Shimmer of Time and that it will be out in a couple months.  And yes, I’ll come back for another visit then.

Our planned 30-45 minute flew by (and actually stretched past an hour), I discovered just how much fun it was to meet with a group that already knew the book.  I’m going to work on getting the word out to other schools and individual teachers and see if we can do more classroom visits like this.  If you’re a teacher or a parent who wants to set one up, please contact me!


Posted in School Visits, SHIMMER OF TIME | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment