The freedom to choose: finding the right book

By: Vicky Coffin

Vicky Coffin, librarian

I love walking into libraries and book stores—I am like a kid in a candy shop.  I just know that if I explore enough, I will find at least one book miraculously placed on the shelf just for me.   It could be a novel about vampires or witches; it could be a pop-up picture book that I can share with my kids; it could be a manual on home repair full of instructions my husband and I need to fix the leaking kitchen faucet.  In every scenario, there is one common theme:  the freedom to choose.  I can make the choice to escape my reality for a while, spend quality time with my family and friends, or educate and empower myself, all with just a book.

I did not always feel this way; when I was younger, reading felt like a chore.  I equated reading with homework and drudgery.  It seemed like a waste of time to read about events that happened in the distant past when I should be out in the real world living my life.  I could not relate to many of the characters in books that are now considered classics; Tom Sawyer, Hamlet, and Madame Bovary were all so foreign to me.   Not only did I not understand why the characters behaved the way they did, but I didn’t really care, either.

When I read Wuthering Heights for the first time, something changed.  I hated Heathcliff and Cathy—they were both cruel, tortured souls.  So, why did I care what happened to them?  When I truly opened my mind and heart to the author’s words, I realized that these flawed characters were capable of sharing a perfect, deep love.  It was not the fairy tale kind of love with happy endings and noble sacrifices—it was messy and passionate and all the more real to me for its honesty.  And that is what hooked me—that I could get lost for a while in these other realities—that I could step back from my own life to problem-solve, reason, or even fantasize with all of the time in the world.  If I needed to, I could simply shut the book and walk away.  But I am nearly always compelled to crack that book open again after some time of reflection.

Now that I am a parent, I find it compelling to share my love of literature with my children.  I have favorite stories that I think they will enjoy, but I’m always surprised how a book I picked up on a whim ends up being one of their new favorites.  They always love to guess what will happen next, and we have the chance to talk about the rights and wrongs of the world through a story.  I am also amazed at the factual information they absorb about their favorite subjects.  My seven year-old told me today that the spot on Jupiter was most likely caused by a comet—that is news to me!

I cannot deny that I, too, love to learn new things from books authored by experts in all different subject matter.  Parenting books filled with information about pediatric care helped me at 2:00 a.m. on many occasions when my kids were sick; my knowledge of installing flooring, cement board, tiles, fixtures, and even renovating a complete kitchen has expanded exponentially with the help of many how-to books; and of course, the textbooks I visually consumed during my studies in librarianship have led me down a career path that gives me much personal fulfillment.  I am very fortunate to spend each day at my job helping others find just the right book—for research or just for pleasure.

And that is truly the key—finding the right book.  One book can light a fire under you—make you question the world and seek out the answers—allow you the opportunity to ponder your own choices and your perceptions of others.  In the world of reading and literature, you are given an opportunity that no one can take away—the freedom to choose where your thoughts will take you next.  Get lost in a good book, and just maybe you will be found.

Vicky Coffin has worked at both public and academic libraries during her career as a librarian.  For the past seven years, she has worked as a Reference Lecturer at the J. Eugene Smith Library at Eastern Connecticut State University where she is also the primary collection builder for the library’s popular Leisure Reading Collection.     

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Prison Book Program sponsors Books Behind Bars panel discussion at Boston Book Festival

By Nancy E. Oliveira

On Saturday, October 27, 2012 the Boston Book Festival will host a panel discussion—Books Behind Bars—sponsored by the Prison Book Program.  Hear formerly incarcerated people, and literacy organization representatives who serve prison populations, discuss how books and reading have impacted their lives both in and out of prison.

“Pam Boiros from the Prison Book Project has put together a wonderful panel for the Boston Book Festival,” says UMass Dartmouth professor Robert Waxler. “I am honored she has asked me to serve as moderator and look forward to an exciting discussion about the power of books to change lives. Come and participate in the conversation.”

Panelists include: William Gaul, Judge Robert Kane, Michael Krupa, and Edson Monteiro.

The panel discussion starts at 4pm in the Boston Public Library’s Commonwealth room. It is free and open to the public.

The Books Behind Bars panel discussion is one of many free events taking place at this year’s Boston Book Festival, held at the Boston Public Library and the surrounding Copley Square area.

Learn more about the Prison Book Program.

Learn more about the Boston Book Festival.

Learn more about Books Behind Bars.

Five ways to use literature to encourage positive changes in children

By Ken Myers

It is well-known that children who read well experience greater progress in their academic studies. However, literature also is a valuable tool for teaching and reinforcing positive social skills that can help keep children on the right track when it comes to behavior. In fact, the power of literature is so strong, that many juvenile correction systems are implementing the use of required reading as an alternative to other types of punishment. Because literature has the potential to inspire positive change in children, parents and other adults who work with youths may want to try a few of the following ideas in order to begin seeing the effects of literature on a child’s social and emotional development.

1. Create a ritual. Children thrive on routine. This is especially true for children who come from rough backgrounds or who have been forced to overcome significant challenges. Younger children may benefit from having a set bedtime story ritual, while older children can find a regular reading schedule calming. This way, there is a portion of the day set aside that they can depend upon always being the same.

2. Use a book to approach a difficult issue. Working with children can lead to a need for some difficult conversations. Often, adults and children may struggle with ways to bring up particularly challenging topics. For this reason, books are often the perfect way to introduce specific topics for conversation. Through literature, you can seamlessly ease into topics such as divorce, death, and abuse.

3. Explore a common interest. For many children, bonding is a difficult process. However, when a child shares a common interest with an adult, the child is more likely to trust the adult for advice. This can be especially vital for juveniles to make progress towards their goals for better behavior. For this reason, try finding a common interest that you and your child can explore through reading specific literature and books.

4. Make a memory book. When children attempt to learn how to make better decisions, you can help them learn how to focus on the positive aspects of their lives. In these instances, encourage children to create their own literature. By making memory books, children develop powerful resources to track the positive changes occurring in their lives. In a group setting, each member can choose to create a page that everyone can read.

5. Extend reading through activities. Children learn best when they actively participate in an experience. For this reason, extend a literary assignment to include a physical activity. For example, a child who reads a sports-themed book may then enjoy taking part in a real-life game. This can reinforce the concepts the child learned in the story, such as the importance of teamwork.

When children read books, they are able to enter into a world where learning can take place regarding a variety of subjects. Not only is literature an excellent tool for teaching academics, but it is also a valuable resource for helping children learn positive social skills that will enable them to make better decisions. This is especially true for children who may not have had positive role models in the past. Literature should be an important part of any child’s life and supported through the efforts of adults who are dedicated to ensuring the child will have the best opportunities for success.

Ken Myers is the editor in chief and frequent contributor of http://www.gonannies.com/. Ken helps acquire knowledge on the duties & responsibilities of nannies to society. You can reach him at kmyers.ceo@gmail.com.

Image: Frederick Noronha on flickr.com

Drug Court and Other Options in Alternative Sentencing

By Robert McGale

Alternative sentencing is gaining acceptance in today’s judicial system. The county jails and state prisons are filled to over-capacity. In some prisons, portions of the prison general population are crammed into large auditoriums. Fights erupt often, and prison guards face many dangers. Something proactive needed to be done to decrease the number of people incarcerated in America’s penal institutions.

Rehabilitation versus Correction
Prisons used to be institutions for rehabilitating felons to eventually re-enter society and become productive citizens. For the most part, this did not happen. Inmate drug programs were abysmal, million dollar failures. Prisons in the U.S.A. evolved into revolving doors for drug offenders and other felons. In one state, the prison system was, for decades, called the Department of Rehabilitation. It was ultimately renamed the Department of Corrections because nobody was getting rehabilitated.

Drug Court Instead of the State Penitentiary
Drug Court is an alternative sentence option with a long waiting list. When a drug offender appears before the judge at his or her arraignment, the Public Defender requests Drug Court in lieu of serving time in the state penitentiary. The defendant is put on a waiting list. When the drug offender’s name reaches the top of the waiting list, he or she begins participating in Drug Court.

A large treatment facility is contracted by the state to do drug rehabilitation, and a commissioner or judge is designated to preside over the Drug Court Program. Monday through Thursday of each week Drug Court participants attend outpatient drug rehabilitation where they are taught techniques in relapse prevention and undergo other addiction treatment and behavioral therapy. Drug Court participants learn how to confront daily situations without the use of drugs.

All Drug Court participants are drug tested at random during the week. Those that test positive for drugs are sentenced by the judge to a week in the county jail. A Drug Court participant is permitted to have two positive drug tests, but on the third positive test, the drug offender is sentenced to state prison to serve the remainder of his or her sentence.

All Drug Court members attend court on Friday. Members are also promoted to higher levels of treatment while in front of the judge on Fridays. When a Drug Court member has completed the entire program, which is usually around 18 months long, a graduation is held. Drug Court has a much lower recidivism rate than incarceration.

More Options in Alternative Sentencing
Another alternative sentence is the Work Release Program. Inmates are released during the day to work and then return to prison at night. Some states enable felons to serve their jail time on the week-ends. Community service and the installation of a breathalyzer device in an alcohol offender’s car are two other very common alternative sentences. House arrest, in conjunction with the wearing of an ankle device, has proven to be effective in curbing crime and decreasing prison overcrowding.

Robert McGale is a law enthusiast since experiencing a difficult time a few years ago. He is currently working on his law degree at Osgoode Hall Law School and interning at a Toronto criminal law office. If you have been charged with a criminal offense he recommends contacting Morrie Luft, Criminal Defence Lawyer.

Prison is not funny—or is it?

Is there anything funny about prison?

Whether you think there is, is not, or you’re just not sure what kind of question that is to ask, take a look at Justice With Jean.  It’s a new blog by Changing Lives Through Literature co-director and Middlesex Community College humanities professor, Jean Trounstine. She describes her blog as “my humorous look on all things prison, probation and parole.” You know the old saying—if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry!

Justice With Jean by Jean Trounstine

Convicted Reading: a relationship between literature and jail

Listen to Dr. David Sherman of Brandeis University interview Changing Lives Through Literature co-founder Dr. Robert Waxler. They talk about the relationship between literature and jail in this “Convicted Reading” Literature Lab podcast.

 Brandeis University, Department of English, Literature Lab