Sep 30, 2012

Reinventing Friendships

Ta-Da... and the winner of the giveaway of an autographed copy of the paperback release of The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman is... Nancy Viau  @nancyviau1
Thank you to all who commented or shared the news about the giveaway!
I'm willing to concede the value of various "theme" months, Black History, Women's History,  Poetry, and others. But balancing out the benefits of the well-deserved attention to these topics is the likely side-effect that they appear to merit only a brief period of attention, only to be ignored throughout the rest of the year.
Despite that concern, this post is just in time for October,

With school now well underway, it's my hope that quite a few excellent titles about acceptance and appreciation of others, openness to friendship, and cooperation have already been shared to contribute to the positive culture developing in classrooms of all ages. I've always believed it's a more constructive and successful approach to build those qualities and skills proactively than to take a "Thou shalt not..." approach to bullying or anything else.

Some people seem to have been born with a powerful kindness-gene, while others have distinct needs for practice, discussion, modeling, and role playing of acts of kindness and acceptance. Thus, the title of this post: Reinventing Friendships. When attraction does not occur spontaneously, or differences generate avoidance or awkward behaviors, books serve well as models for building friendships on unfamiliar ground.

This post is already running long, even after several harsh edits, and so I have created a separate page with related titles (which I will continue to supplement over time) labeled APPRECIATING DIFFERENCES.

Some title choices are obvious selections, just as some differences are immediately visible to others. One excellent choice is BE GOOD TO EDDIE LEE,  by Virginia Fleming, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, whose work was featured in a previous post here. A detailed description and review can be found at Multicultural Literature for Children Blog.
Once again I can extol the power of picture books to open and explore discussions of significance at any age. This topic is yet another  great example of how picture books can be used to introduce a theme that is developed more fully in middle grade and young adult books and characters.

Here's one middle grade title worth sharing. There are already countless fans of WONDER, by R. J. Palacio, justifiably so. It's hard to choose just a few of the many reviews of this 2012 title, but a good place to start is at SLJ's A Fuse #8 Production. It was cited more than any other title as the first chapter read aloud of the year in Colby Sharp's back to school slide show recently.

In both of the above titles the differences are utterly apparent, unavoidably so. It's quite a different story when someone appears to have "no excuses" for observed differences, and this carries over to adult perceptions and expectations as well. 

CHAMELIA, written and illustrated by Ethan Long, is a fun read and an example of a character so clear in her own sense of self that she is basically oblivious to the reactions of those around her and the effects her choices and pursuits have on them. This book is all about finding ways to navigate sometimes murky social waters without losing a sense of self.
Kirkus review agrees.
Such is the case in THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS by Jacqueline Houtman, another middle grade novel winning awards and fans. I was hooked from my first reading and have reread and recommended "Eddy" throughout the past year. Boyds Mills Press Front Street's posted reviews from Booklist and Kirkus and Armchair Geek/GeekDad blog indicate what a complex, positive, and entertaining contribution this title is to the world of middle grade books. 
Author Jacqueline Houtman participated in an interview with Susan Kaye Quinn in the early days of Eddy's release in which she answered many questions about its origin. 
In honor of  its recent release in paperback, (debuting on Amazon as number one in “Hot new releases in special needs", Jacqueline has agreed to answer a few more questions here, and is giving away an autographed paperback copy of her book. 

Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with us. Since your book came out you've visited schools and spoken with kids who read it. What stands out from those visits? 
One thing that surprised me is how much fun it is to do programs with kids. They also ask great questions. More than once, I’ve had so say “You, know, I never thought of it that way.”
One of the best things to come from the book was an adaptation by a youth theater group in Sheboygan, Wisconsin called Theater for Young Audiences. A group of kids did the adaptation, and we Skyped so they could ask me some questions. They put such thought into it. And it really showed. I went up to Sheboygan to see the production. It was surreal to see the characters that had been in my head for so long right there in front of me. I was wondering how they would deal with all the internal monologue in the book, but they came up with an ingenious solution.

I was so pleased to read that Eddy has moved into paperback because it will find an even wider audience in this format.
I’m excited about the paperback for a couple of reasons. First, I love the new cover. It’s quite striking in appearance and conveys a lot about what’s inside. I love the cover of the hardcover, as well, but I think this one will be appealing to a whole new audience of readers. We’ve also added some new material to the back. There are some discussion questions that teachers can use in their classes. I’ve also answered some of the questions people ask, mostly about autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and how I developed the character of Eddy without using the “A word.”

Was there anything about Eddy, as you came to know him, that surprised you while you were writing his story?
I was astounded at how real Eddy became to me. He sort of took on a life of his own.

He did for me as a reader, too! 
Thanks so much for stopping by, and for offering to give away a copy of your book.

GIveAway Rules:

  • Must be 13 years or older
  • Must have a mailing address within the US.
  • Just leave a comment on the post. If you leave contact info (Twitter tag, email, or Facebook page) I'll notify you directly when the announcement is made on October 6. Otherwise, check back here where the winner's name will be posted.
  • To enter, leave a comment below, or
  • Cut and paste on Twitter: Giveaway of #ReinventionOfEdisonThomas offered by @PBWorkshop at
  • Deadline, Midnight, October 5, 2012.
For more titles and links take a look at this Playing By The Book post. Although I'm not crazy about the  labeling (characters with disabilities) I do endorse the purpose, which is to generate lists and links to titles in which characters may have some identifiable differences, but the focus is on the characters and the story, not the disability.


  1. Excellent post, and a giveaway opportunity! These topics are so important. Thanks for informing me about these titles! I haven't read them.

  2. Thanks, Jenny.
    You are officially the first entry in the giveaway! Hope you'll have a chance to read and share these titles soon.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Nancy. Since posting just a few days ago I've had several authors suggest further titles to add to the resource page, too. Good luck wth the give away- Announcement is Saturday!

  4. Thank you for your post. This is excellent information.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and I'm really pleased this proved to be helpful for you. You might also want to check out a new picture book, ‘Bully,’ by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. It's about an actual BULL, but handles the topic of bullying wonderfully.


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.