Archive for June 29, 2010

Essential Reading: “On Facebook, you can be as mean as you want.”

I realize not everyone receives The New York Times. Or if you’re like me, sometimes you don’t get around to reading it thoroughly. So I refer readers to this long, thoughtful, well-researched article from June 27, 2010. It explores the growing phenomenon of cyberbullying, it’s impact on middle school students, and the overall helplessness of school officials to address it fully. The writer, Jan Hoffman, does an excellent job in painting a devastating portrait of how texting and social network sites have changed the landscape of bullying in today’s world.

It’s not easy being a kid today.

For the full article, click here: “Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray.” Here’s the opening few paragraphs of the lengthy article:

The girl’s parents, wild with outrage and fear, showed the principal the text messages: a dozen shocking, sexually explicit threats, sent to their daughter the previous Saturday night from the cellphone of a 12-year-old boy. Both children were sixth graders at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J.

Punish him, insisted the parents.

“I said, ‘This occurred out of school, on a weekend,’ ” recalled the principal, Tony Orsini. “We can’t discipline him.”

Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Later in the same article, a guidance counselor describes one aspect of middle school misery:

Meredith Wearley, Benjamin Franklin’s seventh-grade guidance counselor, was overwhelmed this spring by dramas created on the Web: The text spats that zapped new best friendships; secrets told in confidence, then broadcast on Facebook; bullied girls and boys, retaliating online.

“In seventh grade, the girls are trying to figure out where they fit in,” Mrs. Wearley said. “They have found friends but they keep regrouping. And the technology makes it harder for them to understand what’s a real friendship.”

Because students prefer to use their phones for texting rather than talking, Mrs. Wearley added, they often miss cues about tone of voice. Misunderstandings proliferate: a crass joke can read as a withering attack; did that text have a buried subtext?

The girls come into her office, depressed, weeping, astonished, betrayed.

“A girl will get mad because her friend was friends with another girl,” Mrs. Wearley said.

They show Mrs. Wearley reams of texts, the nastiness accelerating precipitously. “I’ve had to bring down five girls to my office to sort things out,” she said. “It’s middle school.”

Recently, between classes, several eighth-grade girls from Benjamin Franklin reflected about their cyberdramas:

“We had so many fights in seventh grade,” one girl said. “None of them were face-to-face. We were too afraid. Besides, it’s easier to say ‘sorry’ over a text.”

Another concurred. “It’s easier to fight online, because you feel more brave and in control,” she said. “On Facebook, you can be as mean as you want.”

Summer Hours: Less Blogging, More Slogging

I plan to slow the pace of my blogging this summer — and I’ll try not to feel guilty about it. I’ve learned that there’s generally a downturn in readership in July and August, so it’s silly for me to knock myself out. Usually I try to come up with new content 3-5 times a week. This summer, I won’t be as prolific. At the same time, two new books come out in July, Justin Fisher Declares War! and A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade. So it’s not like I’ll disappear completely.

Thanks for stopping by, I really do appreciate it. Please continue to check back, but above all else . . . have a great summer!

Cue the Inspiration: “Home” by the Foo Fighters

My son, Gavin, who recently turned eleven — or as Maggie said, holding up ten fingers, “now he’s off both hands!” — found this song and I immediately loved it. An unexpected track from Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters. The tone of melancholy yearning struck me as perfectly right for the main character, Jude Fox, in my upcoming young adult novel, tentatively titled, Jude, Adrift. It’s a song he’d like, I’m sure of it, and somehow listening to it draws me closer to him. When I focused on the lyrics, I was struck at how some lines seamlessly fit with the story. Cool when that happens.

Slowly I’ve been assembling a soundtrack for the book, songs that might play in the imaginary movie. This would surely be one of them:

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Wish I were with you
I couldn’t stay
Every direction
Leads me away
Pray for tomorrow
But for today

All I want is to be home

Stand in the mirror
You look the same
Just lookin’ for shelter
From cold and the pain
Someone to cover
Safe from the rain

All I want is to be home

Echoes and silence

Patience and grace
All of these moments
I’ll never replace
No fear of my heart
Absence of faith

All I want is to be home

All I want is to be home

People I’ve loved
I have no regrets
Some I remember
Some I forget
Some of them living
Some of them dead

All I want is to be home

One Downside to Raising an 11-Year-Old Boy

Adam Sandler movies.

I submit to you: Bulletproof, Big Daddy, Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds, Anger Management, Click, 50 First Dates, Chuck & Larry, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and whatever else he’s inflicted on innocent, misguided viewers.

Ick, ick, ick.

I think he’s the worst, but most eleven-year-old boys love him. It’s a great divide. I went through it with my oldest boy, and somehow we’ll survive this stage with Gavin, too. It won’t be pretty. I’ll try to look away.

An aside: You know how many, many children’s book authors claim to have “never grown up.” I read that all the time in interviews, hear it in comments. They say things like, “I’m still an eleven-year-old at heart!”

Oh dear Lord.

That’s so not me. The Sandler movies would kill me.

Coach Preller . . . and a Deleted Scene from “Six Innings”

Baseball has been central to my life for as long as I can remember. These days, it’s primarily as a coach, since I’ve become too busy to play on my men’s hardball team.

Let me give you a quick update:

* On Saturday, my Little League team, RC Dairy, lost a devastating semi-final playoff game by the score of 9-7. We had ended the season in 1st place, with a 12-4 record, but in baseball anything can happen in a single-elimination format — and anything did.

I was very disappointed; it took me a day and a half to get over it. Seriously. I couldn’t get that loss out of my head. I loved that team and wanted them to play in a Championship Game, to feel that excitement, have that lifetime memory. I also understood that most kids never get that opportunity. Eight years ago I coached my oldest son’s team, Blue Sky Music, to a championship victory. It would have been nice to do it again, on the same field, with a different child. Maybe I’m still not completely over it.

* The next day, Sunday, Father’s Day, my Travel Team played a doubleheader about fifteen minutes north of Saratoga Springs, an hour’s drive. This team plays on Sundays only, and again it was the end of our regular season. We won both, 11-4 and, in extra innings, 12-11. Gavin had a great day, a couple of big hits, a beautiful sacrifice bunt, pitched three solid innings, and scored the winning run in game two. A close play at the plate, safe, game over! Awesome. A great way to spend Father’s Day.

* Meanwhile, today is the first day of practice for our District 13, ten-year-old All-Stars. That will go hot and heavy until July 13th — unless we come out on top, in which case we’ll move on to Regionals. (I can imagine a dozen parents, thinking of camps and vacation plans, crossing their fingers and hoping . . . not.)

As you likely know, I wrote the book Six Innings about the boys who play in a championship Little League game. It was a book I was highly qualified to write. I know the game, and I know those players (an aside: at this level it is extremely rare to see a girl on the field; softball has swallowed them up).

In revising Six Innings, I cut about 10,000 words. Most of it was back story, character sketches, small moments off the field. We decided that my initial format was too confusing for the reader, bouncing back and forth from game action to character pieces tended to undercut the drama of the game itself. So I cut it to the bone. Painful but necessary. I’ve blogged about this before, and previously shared four deleted scenes: here, and here, and here, and here.

Below, here’s a fifth deleted scene, this time with the focus entirely on two fathers. That’s another lesson learned; there’s not a kid in sight, generally a no-no for children’s books. In short, I needed to write the scene, I needed to know it, but it didn’t have to go into the book. That’s the iceberg theory of writing. Nevertheless, don’t get me wrong: I like this scene a lot, there’s truth in it, and it was something I wanted to explore, how the game helped keep a fractured family connected. Here goes:



Jeff Reid groaned, hit the mute button. “Hello,” he spoke into the phone.

“Is this Jeff?”


“Jeff, hello. This is Casper Lionni,” he paused, “Alex’s father.”

“Yes, Casper,” Jeff replied. “How can I help you?”

“I understand that you’ve got Alex on your Little League team this coming season,” Mr. Lionni said.

“Yes, I do. We’re eager to get started.”

There was a brief pause on the phone. Casper Lionni continued haltingly. “I was wondering if, perhaps, you could use an assistant,” he began. “However, I confess that I don’t know much about baseball.”

“Neither do I!” Jeff joked. “I appreciate the offer, Casper, really. But I’ve been coaching with Andy Van Zant for the past couple of years, so we’re pretty set in that department.”

“I understand.”

Jeff could hear the disappointment in Casper’s voice.

“You see, er,” Casper continued, “as you may know, my wife, Lauren, and I, have recently separated –”

“Yes, I heard that,” Jeff admitted. “Small town.”

“I only see Alex on Wednesday nights and alternate weekends,” Casper said.

Jeff nodded, said nothing. Before giving it more thought, he blurted, “Do you know how to keep a scorebook?”

“A scorebook?” Casper repeated. “I’m sure I don’t even know what that is.”

“You can learn,” Jeff answered. “It’s pretty straightforward. You could come to the games and help out that way. Would that suit you?”

“What? Are you saying that — ?”

“We’d love to have you,” Jeff replied.

“Thank you,” Casper said. “This means a lot to me. You have no idea.”

The two men spoke for a few more minutes. The conversation confirmed three things in Jeff’s mind. Casper Lionni was a good guy, he really didn’t know anything about baseball, and he missed his son, terribly.

Jeff Reid hung up the phone, turned the sound back on for the spring training ballgame. The Red Sox just scored a run, a lefty was warming in the Yankee bullpen. He thought, Oh boy, here comes another season.