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Monday 10 December 2012

Guest Post: Fran Orenstein

Hi everyone! Today I have author Fran Orenstein on the  blog writing a guest post about Empowering children through books! Enjoy!

  Fran Orenstein has a BA in Education, an M.Ed. in Counseling, and a doctorate in Child and Youth Studies. After briefly teaching, she worked as a magazine editor/writer, then developed and managed programs for women and children. She has written and presented papers on education, gender equity, and violence prevention at national and international forums. A disabilities advocate for 30 years, Fran was a rehabilitation counselor and created the NJ Coalition on Women and Disabilities. Currently retired, she lives in Florida and writes full-time.
A published, award-winning poet and short story writer, she also writes novels for adults.  Gaia’s Gift, a contemporary book with paranormal overtones is set in Florida. It is Rachel’s journey through the many layers of love, loss, guilt, a fateful decision, the consequences and redemption. Reflections, is a book of poetry that invites women to follow the path on a journey of seven decades.  
Her books are available at all on-line bookstores in ebook and paper back or from the publishers, World Castle Publishing and Sleepytown Press. 
Visit Fran’s World at www.franorenstein.weebly.com for more information.

Empower Children through Literature
 by Fran Orenstein, Ed.D.

Children learn by observation, imitation, and rehearsal, until the behavior becomes ingrained in their psychological makeup. What happens when a child is different and exists on the fringes of the social order? Perhaps he has no role model to emulate, no one to listen who understands, or she cannot find the words to express her feelings. Some children act out inappropriately and become the class clown or bully. Others seek friends who will get them into trouble, such as gangs or the wrong kids because they need to feel accepted. Others retreat into their own world and become loners.

We all need to feel accepted and acknowledged. Everyone needs affirmation, positive feedback, and love. Children’s lives disrupted by the breakup of the family through divorce, death, jobs, or military service, often lose the security of a stable home-life and seek family elsewhere, sometimes with dire consequences.

Did you ever read a fiction book that spoke to your life experiences? I’m talking about fiction that sends a message directly to your heart. Books and stories also can do that for children. They read about a boy or girl going through many of the same things they are experiencing and can relate to that character. The character takes on a realism that enables the child to understand his own problems and put them in perspective according to his own level of comprehension.

Picture books begin the process of self-empowerment. The Little Engine That Could is a prime example of a weak engine that believed in herself and succeeded.
Fairytales also exemplify empowerment. Hansel and Gretel fooled the witch and escaped through their own ingenuity. Beauty overcame her fear of The Beast, which resulted in love. Fairytales abound with Princes on quests, overcoming obstacles through their own bravery and cunning.
Solving Problems
Modern fantasy and mystery books like Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson series place kids in situations that they must resolve, through their own prowess.  The number one rule for writing for children is never, ever preach. There are lessons, but they are subtle and evolve slowly over the life of the story. Another rule of writing for older children is that the child characters must resolve their own problems with only peripheral help from adults.

My books, for ‘tweens ages 8-13, also speak to the issues that face children in today’s world. In The Mystery Under Third Base, the first book in a my mystery series for ‘tweens, the main character, Willie, the smartest kid in town, skips two grades and at 10, is in seventh grade. Emotionally, he’s a child, but academically he’s beyond his current classmates. Willie can’t relate to 12-year-olds, so he becomes a loner. He reads science books, lurks in adult scientific chat rooms, and hides away in an abandoned storm cellar. His family can’t communicate with him, and he is the butt of teasing and school bullies.

Then a new kid, Huby appears and knows things he can’t possibly know. What is he? As the recurring character in the series, Huby appears just when life is becoming unbearable for the protagonist. He might be an angel, an alien, a spirit, whatever the reader wants him to be, which is never revealed. Huby helps Willie resolve a problem that creates friendship, brings Willie stature and respect, and takes him to a whole new level emotionally.

As another example, The Mystery of the Green Goblin introduces Alex, age 12, whose father has been MIA for six years. His mother works three jobs, and his older brother is disinterested. Alex turns to the town rejects, Trash and Mungo, for friendship, but his innate goodness prevents him from going along with their petty crimes. Enter Huby. Alex ignores this weird new boy and his strange predictions until he is suspected in the death of his math teacher, and needs the help of his classmates and Huby to prove his innocence.
Fat Girls From Outer Space deals with the realities facing girls entering puberty; self-image, changing friendships, boys, bullying, navigating seventh grade, and realizing their own strengths to survive growing up.  This book addresses childhood obesity and the world overweight children live in, but it also relates to every agonizing misery of children moving into adolescence, from zits to body image and self-worth.

Fulfilling a Quest
How do fantasy adventure novels help children achieve self-esteem? Children need a sense of power to grow and get through the tribulations of childhood. This gives them a strong feeling of self-worth and success. With this grounding they can move into adulthood knowing that they can overcome impediments along the way.
Fantasy adventure places a child in a difficult and sometimes improbable situation. Through his own prowess, intelligence, and strength, he must overcome insurmountable obstacles and fulfill a quest. This power and accomplishment makes this genre so endearing to kids.

 In the three fantasy adventures in The Book of Mysteries   ordinary young teens, fulfill quests in the fantasy worlds to which they are transported by a weird, scary bookseller. In The Wizard of Balalac the boys unmask a wizard to remove the curse from a fiery dragon before it destroys the town. They must overcome fear and use their inner strengths to resolve the problem.

The Gargoyles of Blackthorne transports the boys to Gothica where they have to retrieve the magic scepter of the king that keeps the country safe and thriving. To accomplish this they must stop the evil queen mother who has enchanted stone gargoyles that attack the kingdom every night. Aided by identical twin Goth princesses, the boys achieve feats that might have seemed daunting, but recognize that they really have the power to fulfill the quest.

In The Centaurs of Spyr, Tyler and Zack with the help of storybook friends must avert a war between Griffons and Hippogriffs to save the world of Haven and its guardian, sentient trees. Will they fulfill the quest and return to New York City, or will they be lost forever in the Book of Mysteries?

While the average child understands the difference between reality and fantasy, it is the underlying, hidden message that jumps from the printed page to the child’s brain. He can think through the steps to reach the solution. She is powerful and smart like the heroine. My challenge to you is to use the power embodied in stories to empower the children in your life.

In The Calling of the Flute, a YA to adult historical romance novel, Hannah learns that some decisions you make in life have consequences, especially when they involve rejecting religious traditions and breaking a promise to God. Hannah faces many pressures that most teens never face, shame, her parents’ anger, and a harrowing escape from Russian occupied Lithuania in 1898.

Coming in 2013, One Amber Too Many, is a chapter book about nine-year-old Gillian’s reaction to her parents’ divorce and her efforts to get rid of a future stepmother, that always seems to backfire. How she realizes that some things cannot be changed, some things you have to learn to live with, and these can often turn out to be good,  is the powerful lesson of this book. 


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  2. Fran always makes good sense to me!
    She's an excellent writer for children on up to young and older adults; and since I'm older I will say I love 'em!

  3. 12/12/12

    Fran addresses many of the common problems children face today. I know I learned from books, and so do children. Her books are fun and keep their attention, too.

  4. As a teacher of tweens, I have received very positive responses from my students who read any of Fran's books. They still want more of Huby! Fran, don't ever quit writing, but I see you teaching writing classes as well.


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