Books for Boys

Finding a well-written, entertaining book for a boy who hates to read is always a challenge.

 

Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen, grabs your attention at the get-go. It opens, “One day, it seemed he was eleven and playing in the dirt around the cabin or helping with chores, and the next, he was thirteen, carrying a .40 caliber Pennsylvania flintlock rifle, wearing smoked-buckskin clothing and moccasins, moving through the woods like a knife though water while he tracked deer to bring home to the cabin for meat.”

This is a book for the reluctant male reader.  It is just 164 pages and moves quickly but with plenty of detail in the right places.  It has characters that you root for, conflicts that create tension, and plenty of interesting historical information about everyday life during the Revolutionary War.  Most importantly, the author makes the reader feel the struggle, the pain, and the chaos of the war, with an appropriate amount of detail (not too much for an eleven year old, but not too little for an adult.)  The reader witnesses death, destruction, and disease, as well as heroism that, against all odds, continues to fight for what is good.

Paulsen does not glamorize war.  He shines a light on war’s destructiveness, in which we see the very worst of man’s nature, as well as the very best.  It’s a tense story with a very real conflict that is deeply felt.  To the very end, it is not predictable.  In fact, at several points a long the way, Paulsen shocks the reader with something completely unforeseen yet entirely believable.

The main character, Samuel is an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy whose life is transformed in extraordinary ways. The publisher writes, “Gary Paulsen brings readers into the flesh-and-blood reality of one boy’s struggle in the long and savage war that changed people’s lives in infinite ways.”  It’s best to just read it, without reading the jacket cover or anything.  Is it a sad story? Yes.  Is it full of exciting action? Yes.  Is it deeply depressing and full of despair? No.  Similar to the birth of America, it is a tale of tragedy and triumph.  It is just the sort of book that boys (ages 10-14+) should be reading.  And the values taught within the tale will be tops on anyone’s list: loyalty, perseverance, self-sacrifice for others, resiliency, and resourcefulness.

Some other good books for boys, related to boys surviving difficult obstacles:

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

Holes, by Jeff Sachar

Hoot, by Carl Hiassen

The King of Mulberry Street, by Donna Jo Napoli

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Series) by Rick Riordan

The Secret Benedict Society (Series) by Trenton Lee Stewart

Eragon (Series) by Chris Paolini

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Series) by Andrew Peterson

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In addition to reading about outdoor adventures, our kids need to get outdoors. So, sign those kids up for summer camps that get them outdoors.  Have a campout in the backyard. Go fishing. Try a hike you’ve never been on but have heard good things about. Anything.

Here’s a slideshow from our little Outdoor Camp.

 

Thanksgiving Child

Kathryn was born on Thanksgiving weekend 11 years ago on an unforgettable day.  Due to the trauma of her birth, she sustained brain damage which causes her to have spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and cognitive delays.  She cannot walk, talk, or do anything without assistance.

Her disabilities are many, and her life is full of discomfort, but her spirit is delightful and other-centered in spite of it all.  She is not a disability.  She is beautiful and strong.  Those who know her are better for it.

 

Kathryn

Wakes with seizures

Scars with surgeries

Grows with splints

.

Plays without running

Comprehends without reading

Communes without speaking

.

Throws with accuracy

Laughs with hysterics

Hugs with stiff arms

.

Life in the Shallows vs. Life at Sea

In the area of technology and society, nobody is an expert because we just don’t know what the long-term effects are.  In fact, nobody even knows what a digital life will look like five years from now.  Most of us don’t even understand what is going on right now.

This video displays many of the realities of the digital lives of teenagers and young adults in 2010.  I think you’ll find it enjoyable, informational, and thought-provoking.

Jordan is a complex picture of modern adolescence, so it’s not as if this portrait can be labeled as entirely good or bad.  However, there are two things that are striking about this video: 1. Jordan is alone and 2. his social connections and activities all exist to serve himself.  In a word, I’d describe his relationships as “immature.”  In many ways, it is a sad picture of someone whose primary motivation is to entertain himself.  Jordan is living for himself and having a pretty good time.

While Jordan is not an evil young man, he is clearly living a life in the shallow end of the pool.  He has not grown up yet.

Hopefully, we can raise a generation with a reality that is more rich in meaning than this. Here is an example of a man and his family who are living life well, in spite of daily trials and extreme tragedies.  Furthermore, they are passing good character on down to the next generation.  Prepare yourself for the remarkable story of Ed Thomas, his family, and his community.

And to accept the award…

The Wrong Kind of Pain

Generally speaking, children who face difficulties will grow up stronger in the long run.  They earn a host of other character qualities, forged in the fires of adolescence.  I say “generally” because there are some trials which are truly damaging to the soul of a child: molestation being one that comes to mind.  But intense, unmitigated bullying can be just as bad, raping the heart of all that is good.

Single Dad Laughing” is an excellent blog, and there is one must-read article called “Memoirs of a Bullied Kid.”  It will take about 15 minutes to read and reflect on it, and if you are a parent, teacher, or coach, then it is well worth your time.

The Value of Pain

As I walk through the halls after school, there is a barrage of faces along my path.  Some I know well; some I don’t know at all.  Some are happy; some look very frustrated.  But all of these kids have stories inside.  Some of their stories are silly — full of joy from a life yet unblemished by heartache or tragedy.  And some have stories they keep to themselves because they are not the kind that they want to tell or others want to hear.  There are some broken kids out there, some of whom will mend well, and grow up to be good and strong.

As I walk briskly by them each day, I think about what stories I know.  Not enough, unfortunately.  But I know that boy; he’s has had serious struggles with perfectionism and an eating disorder in middle school and is now very healthy, athletic, and academically successful.  I know that girl, whose mother died of cancer when she was ten; her dad remarried a woman whose spouse also died of cancer.  Their blended family is an inspiration.  I also know the story of that girl, whose little brother has Down’s Syndrome and whose parents are on the brink of divorce; she’s serious, smart, and sometimes silly.  Actually, I just know bits and pieces of their stories, but it’s enough to see the depth in their eyes.  I know that they know pain.

Continue reading “The Value of Pain”

Failure’s Top Ten List

1.  Not Everybody Gets A Trophy

Somewhere along the line we became a society that preached instant gratification. Like a giant carnival, our slogan became “everybody wins all the time.” We know it’s not true. It’s also a terrible example to set. Losing is every bit as important in human growth as winning. Rewarding your child for doing nothing will teach him just that. Nothing.

2.  Everyone Has Different Talents

Maybe your daughter wants to be the next Carrie Underwood. Then you hear her sing. Your son wants to be Evan Longoria. He can’t hit the ball off a tee. There are just some things we aren’t cut out for. It’s best to learn that at an early age. The good news is that they are a champion at something. Guide them towards where their gifts lie.

3.  Have Class

What is one of the most flattering descriptions a person can hear? “He sure has a lot of class.” “She sure was a great sport about it.” Are you teaching your children how to fail with dignity? How a person accepts failure is an easy indicator of the character within. It also almost guarantees future success. Respect is gained outwardly and inwardly. Coach Dungy is prime example of “class.”

4.  Learning From Mistakes

“I think and think for months. For years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.” Who said that? Albert Einstein. Mistakes humble. They can hurt. Yet without them, we are stagnant. Every mistake we make is an educational experience. Every success is built upon a foundation of errors and corrections.

Continue reading “Failure’s Top Ten List”

Prepare Them for Life

Protection and provision are not enough.

“Here’s the paradox: If we protect our children too absolutely, we actually end up exposing them to other risks.  And leave them without the skills, experiences, and minor life lessons that they’ll need to handle the big challenges as they grow up.” (Perri Klass, M.D.)

When children are very young, they must be protected and nurtured in absolutely every way.  An infant is helpless and needy at all times.  He must be fed, clothed, changed, transported, and even cajoled into sleep – or else he will get sick and die.  Babies are totally unprepared for life.  Now flash forward 18 years, and that same human, now full-grown, had better not be helpless or needy, or else something very wrong has taken place in the meantime.  That 18 year old should be a strong, self-sufficient young man, able to learn on his own at school, have a variety of healthy relationships, and be able to do the jobs that other adults require of them, in order to have any success in his adult life.  After all, he is a legal adult with all the rights and privileges that come with: working, paying taxes, continuing education, voting, getting married, having children, and even fighting in a war.  He should be ready to fly on his own – maybe not soar yet, but fly enough to survive.

In a recent article about “helicopter parenting” we get a glimpse of the problem from the eyes of a college professor.  “Kathleen Crowley, a professor of psychology says parents’ eagerness to overdirect their children’s lives has led to young adults who are less independent and creative than the generation before. Twenty years ago, Crowley announced an upcoming test in her college classes and that was the end of the discussion. Now, she says she’s expected to provide students with a study guide so they know exactly how to prepare, and she’s had these same young adults come to her in tears because they’d earned their first B and didn’t know how to cope. Because of this “extended adolescence,” when these students graduate and enter their careers, they’re now offered workplace mentoring and on-the-job training just to ensure their success.” (Jennifer Gish)

So why are so many 18-28 year old men and women still in adolescence?  Why are so many having nervous breakdowns in the midst of their inability to deal with the trials of life?  Why are so many young men and women crippled (socially and emotionally) in the adult world?

The answer may be simple, but the solution is complex.  The young man’s parents, teachers, and coaches may have done a fine job of protecting and providing, but they did not prepare the child for adulthood.  The solution is not so simple.  HOW do you prepare a child to succeed on his or her own?  (The following is not a comprehensive list)

Continue reading “Prepare Them for Life”

Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis

If you are growing old well, then you are likely to help a child grow up well.

40 is not old, but it’s certainly not young either.  It’s the start of mid-life, and it has a well-earned, dangerous reputation.  It’s when so many people have an inner crisis, even if life is sailing along smoothly on the outside.  At some point disappointment, boredom, or depression accompany the person who has a career, a family, a home, a community, and all the subsequent stress of being responsible for so much.  In addition, health problems of all kinds begin to flare up by 40, which remind us that we are decaying in far more ways than we are growing.

Many 40-somethings have established their career, have gotten married, have had a few kids, and have bought all the things they need and most of the things they want.  They have arrived at their life destination, and they wonder, “This is it?”

For others, they are still building the best  life they can, and they feel the crushing weight of pressure from what they have constructed.  There are too many things to do, too many people to care for, too many problems to solve – just too many responsibilities in every area of life.  They are caring for children, spouses, friends, employees, and even aging parents.  They get to a point where they simply cannot balance it all anymore; it’s all just too much.  In frustration they cry out, “There just isn’t enough me to go around!”

It’s a tough time of life, indeed, and for some it’s just too much, so they pull the ripcord of life.  They give up on something big, like their marriage, their kids, or their career.  Sometimes they chuck it all at once.  Or they just give up trying very hard at anything, settling into a comfortably complacent lifestyle.  They fall prey to the consumer-centered suburban lifestyle, and they go out to pasture.

So what’s a mid-lifer to do?  Well, after spending four days in Colorado with some of my favorite 40-ish guys, I’m ready to convey a few suggestions based on our conversations.  I’m sorry if any of this seems trite; I realize that all of these things are a lot easier said than done.  But hopefully, it will help in some way – for your sake, and for your kids.

  1. Focus. Identify your top four or five priorities in life and focus on them — to the detriment of all else.  Set your sights on just a few things that you are passionate about and that you have valued for a long time.  For me (at this point in my life) it’s family, faith, teaching, and writing.  If I can do those things well, then I am on the right track.  But that may mean that I am not going to keep up with all my friends very well.  It means that I am not going to be able to play golf, read a novel a month, or hone my guitar skills anytime soon.  I have to face facts: I can only do so much.  Trying to do it all is living in a fantasy world (see #4 below).  Learn to accept mediocrity in the less important areas of your life. Continue reading “Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis”

Lousy Starts and Strong Finishes

I’m grading papers on the second to last day of the school year.  I’m grading fast, trying to finish ASAP, so I can go run some errands.  I am more than a little ready to get out from behind my desk and browse around the hardware store, before heading home.  Teaching in May is exhausting.  And in walks Ian, who is in a very happy mood.

Ian is a junior (a senior in just 24 hours) who was an English student of mine five years ago when he was in seventh grade.  Back then, he was a trainwreck academically (he’s the first to admit that).  In spite of his positive attitude and a love for books and acting, he was a woeful writer.  He routinely earned D’s and F’s on his papers, especially on essays of any length.  He could talk your ear off, and he was terrific in dramatic performance, but writing was a source of constant frustration.  Truly, his spelling, handwriting, and syntax were awful.  Trust me.  It was scary.

Continue reading “Lousy Starts and Strong Finishes”

Our Friend, Failure

I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane.  First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp.  His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.

In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals.  ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say.  ‘You’ll kill yourself.’  ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’  I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful!  I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim.  Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level.  I went all over the sky.  I couldn’t fly.  My lesson was a total failure.  But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better.  I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’

Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures.  He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good.  He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit.  Impressive.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.  That is wisdom for all ages.  We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time.  That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.

Consider this…

Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress.  Then encourage them some more.  “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”

Try it.

Continue reading “Our Friend, Failure”

Are Your Kids Resilient?

Bouncing Back: Increasing Resilience for Hurting Kids

This is an excerpt from an article by Maria Drews on August 3, 2009. (Fuller Youth Institute)

Our kids face obstacles every day — difficulties with friends, stress at school, issues with boyfriends or girlfriends. But many of the students we work with also face larger obstacles-poverty, violence at school or in their neighborhood, parents getting divorced, substance abuse in their homes, homelessness, teenage pregnancy, abuse, or domestic violence. Remarkably, some kids seem to make it through these situations intact, while others crumble before our eyes.

Even more remarkably, there are kids who even thrive despite facing huge struggles. Which leaves us scratching our heads — Why are some kids able to bounce back from tough stuff, while others aren’t? What are the differences between those who seem to make it through in one piece and those who seem to fall apart? And what can we do to help more kids survive — and even thrive — in the midst of steep challenges?

Responses to Adversity

When adolescents face tough stuff, they experience adversity — defined in the research as serious stress or trauma that can be physical or psychological.1 Adversity can be a one-time event (such as a violent incident at school) or a long-term situation (like living in poverty). There are a lot of ways the teenagers we know might respond to adversity in their lives.  Here are a few typical possibilities:

  • Succumbing: Kids succumb to the adversity and enter a downward slide in their lives, decreasing their level of functioning and their ability to cope with everyday life.
  • Survival with Impairment: They survive the adversity, but never fully recover to their previous level of functioning, leaving them hurt long-term by the adversity they faced. This leads to more vulnerability to future adversity.
  • Resilience: Resilience is the capacity to recover from adversity and return to their former state of well-being. 2 These kids are able to “bounce back” to their previous levels of functioning after the adversity ends, or even in the midst of long-term adversity.
  • Thriving: Finally, a fourth group of kids are able to overcome the adversity and actually surpass their previous level of functioning.3 This is because adversity can be an opportunity to grow, gain new skills or knowledge, new confidence about their future, or strengthen trust in personal relations.4 All these developments can help them face future adversity and become higher functioning people in general. Because adversity can lead to either succumbing or to resilience/thriving, we should see it as both a threat and an opportunity for growth.5

The Path Toward Resilience and Thriving

All of us possess resilience. It is not a quality some people have and others don’t. We all have the ability to overcome problems and adapt to challenging and new situations. 7 If we didn’t, we would never make it through the day, because we would not be able to bounce back from the small problems we face. Although resiliency is an innate capacity in kids, their ability to actually be resilient can either be strengthened or hindered by the amount of assets or risks in their lives.  As Fuller psychology professor and youth development specialist Dr. Pamela King notes:

All young people have the potential to grow and change — especially in the face of adversity. Youth who have more internal resources and external supports, and the ability to activate them, will weather the waters of life more effectively. For example, kids who are anchored by a strong sense of purpose and hope will not easily be overcome or deterred by obstacles. Similarly, young people who are buoyed up by family and adults who can affirm and empower them will face life’s challenges with more fortitude than those who go it alone.8

Assets are the resources and supports available to a kid both internally and in their environment, like having a sense of purpose (internal) or a supportive family (environmental), that are the building blocks of healthy development.9 Risks are the adversities and disadvantages the kid faces (also both internal and external), such as lack of desire to learn or violence at school. The more adversity and risk factors a kid faces, the more likely there will be poor outcomes and lowered levels of functioning. Fortunately, the more assets and resources an adolescent possesses, the better chance they have of meeting obstacles with resilience or thriving.10

There is no “silver bullet” that we can give kids to ensure that they thrive, but we can increase assets and resilience factors in kids’ lives through relationships.

  1. Charles S. Carver, “Resilience and Thriving: Issues, Models, and Linkages,” Journal of Social Issues (vol. 54, no. 2, 1998) 245. []
  2. Carver, “Resilience and Thriving,” 248. []
  3. The four responses to adversity are described in Carver, “Resilience and Thriving,” 246. []
  4. Carver, “Resilience and Thriving,” 251-252. []
  5. Carver, “Resilience and Thriving,” 247. []
  6. Chart from Carver, “Resilience and Thriving,” 246. []
  7. Ann S. Masten, “Ordinary Magic: Resilience Processes in Development,” American Psychologist (vol. 56, no. 3, March 2001) 227. []
  8. Pamela E. King, personal correspondence, July 2009. []
  9. Pamela E. King and Peter L. Benson, “Spiritual Development and Adolescent Well-Being and Thriving,” in The Handbook of Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence, ed. Eugene C. Roehlkepartain et al. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers, 2006) 388. []
  10. Masten, “Ordinary Magic,” 228. []

It’s a Wonderfully Difficult Life

 

It’s a Wonderful Life strikes a chord — several chords — deep in my soul, every time I watch it.  Most importantly, it makes me want to be a better man and to live my life as well as I can for my friends, family, and community. Deep down, I want to be counted in the ranks of the George Baileys of the world.  And if I can’t, then I want my son to get there upon my shoulders.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” should be required viewing for every young person growing up.  Anyone over the age of ten should see this movie with their parents, grandparents, or any adult who cares enough to explain what’s going on as the film rolls.  If you haven’t seen it in a few years, do so.  And bring a kid along for the ride.

This movie says it all about growing up well.  It does not hide the truth that life is hard, and it’s even harder for those who choose to serve others.  It teaches just about every character trait you would want to see in a young man or woman.  In no way is it an easy life — just ask George Bailey — but it’s worth it all.

Here’s a fun little trivia game for lovers of this movieClick here


Counting Blessings

Why can’t we be thankful?  Why is having an attitude of gratitude so difficult?  Even the most optimistic people have many days in which everything seems to be going badly, when nothing seems right.  Indeed, there are awful things we have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience.  Nobody is immune from trouble.  In time, every person experiences intense grief, disappointment, or depression.  It’s a necessary part of being human.

However, our culture does not deal well with trouble.  It likes to gloss over it.  For example, at DisneyWorld there is an exhibit which encourages its passengers to “turn that frown upside down!”  Oh, if life were only that simple.

Even the Bible does not require us to be happy and smiling all the time.  Instead, it challenges us to be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  There is a big difference between a happy face and a thankful heart.  Happiness is an instantaneous bliss.  It’s a bit like pouring gas on a fire; it flares up fast, bright and hot, but it does not last very long.  On the other hand, a thankful heart is a deeper joy, not mere emotion.  It’s more like pouring a bucket of charcoal on a fire because it burns slowly, deeply, and for a very long time.  Therefore, happiness is great for a moment, but thankfulness is eternally rewarding.

Continue reading “Counting Blessings”

Training Up Independent Kids

Embracing Mistakes; Developing Problem-Solvers

Thomas Edison believed that failure was not a bad thing; it merely directed him closer to success.  He embraced his mistakes as opportunities to learn, and he ultimately succeeded as the greatest inventor of all time.

The truth is that you want your children (or students) to learn from their mistakes, which means that you are going to have to be okay with them making mistakes.  You want them to learn that they are capable of creating solutions to their own problems.  You want them to struggle with fixing their own troubles.  And you want them to know that their parents, teachers, and coaches are sources of wisdom and help along the way.

“So at the heart of good parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy
.” (Silk 51)  In fact, mistakes are often the greatest teachers.

Continue reading “Training Up Independent Kids”

Don’t Baby Them

BENEFITS OF STRUGGLING

“A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily.

But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened!

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life.  If God allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. And we could never fly.”

chrysalis

I got this in an email forward, years ago.  It’s simple, yet profoundly important in relation to helping 10-14 year olds in their struggle in the chrysalis of adolescence.

Too often adults expect too little of the kids in their care.  Adults can cripple kids by solving every problem for them or by removing every painful thorn in their path.  It’s best not to baby them too much.  They need to stretch and writhe in solving their own problems in order to grow up strong enough to solve much bigger problems later in life.

Continue reading “Don’t Baby Them”

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