Abandoned by his father, neglected by his mother, shuttled between foster homes and a boys’ ranch for most of his formative years, a young man refuses to succumb to the fate that the world says should be his.
The above description comes from the inside flap of The Boy Who Carried Bricks, an autobiography from Alton Carter. Writer Space quotes Carter as saying that the title is both literal and figurative. One of the punishments Carter faced at a ranch for boys where he lived for a while as a teen was to pick up, carry, and stack bricks over and over again. The boys sometimes did it for seven hours straight. At the same time, Carter also carried the weight of many issues, all of which caused him self-esteem and relationship problems.
Alton Carter grew up in Oklahoma, where he still makes his home with his wife and two sons. At age eight, he entered the foster care program, where he was placed into multiple homes throughout the state. About many of these homes, Carter says, a lot of his foster parents shouldn’t have been foster parents. They just didn’t take care of the children entrusted to them.
Against all odds, Carter was the first person in his family to graduate from high school and college. Previously, no one in his family had even passed grade nine. He graduated from Cushing High School with no intentions of attending college, but a former Oklahoma State University staff member kindly enrolled him without his permission, and he used the opportunity to receive his bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Now the director of youth ministries for the First United Methodist Church of Stillwater, Oklahoma, Carter has dedicated his life to working with young people. In 2015, Carter founded the Alton Carter Inspire Foundation with the goal of assisting young people who have lived in foster care, group homes, or DHS juvenile facilities in securing a college degree.
Carter waited to write The Boy Who Carried Bricks until his mom passed away. He tells OColley.com that his autobiography isn’t meant to gain pity or compare it to the trials others have faced, but instead to give inspiration to youth who may be in a similar situation. “There are kids still hungry, still abused with so many problems and we just need people to help,” Carter said. “This book is aimed at bringing light on the idea that there are still kids out there like me.”
There are over 400,000 children in foster care. Young people end up in foster care, through no fault of their own, but are removed from their families due to abusive or neglectful situations. In the case of Carter, his mom had five children through five different men, and rarely stayed at home with them. His memoir is just one example of how a child might end up in foster care.
Repeatedly in his autobiography, Carter refers to his other siblings and the sad outcomes of their lives. One of them died young, while the others turned to a life of crime. Although he typically didn’t stay in touch with others he met in foster care, he does tell of one boy who ran away rather than face time in jail. His memoir puts a face to the heart-breaking online statistics about today’s youth in foster care.
Tomorrow I’ll review The Boy Who Carried Bricks. Save the date: April 21!
A New Leash on Life is a cute picture book with an important message about how children should behave around dogs. Written by Kara Hamilton, the story was inspired by her own experience as a new mom who wanted the family’s dog to live peacefully with their newborn baby. The rhyming style is forced, and the plot has flaws, but telling the story from the poodle’s point of view is creative. A New Leash on Life is an educational and entertaining book for toddlers.
By telling the story of Smokey, her apricot poodle, Kara Hamilton advocates for dogs to have forever homes. In the beginning, Smokey enjoys attention from his family. They cuddle him, play ball with him, take him on park dates, and spoil him with delicious foods. These examples show how a dog fits into an average family. Then a major change happens. A baby arrives and Smokey gets neglected. His owners no longer walk, groom, or play with him. Even worse, the baby torments him. Through all these examples, Hamilton shows sympathy for why Smokey begins to act out. Families will begin to understand why their furry friend might start to misbehave. In fiction form, A New Leash on Life provides insight into an all too common dilemma that happens to families and their dogs, as well as provides a solution.
Unfortunately, while the story will no doubt be well-embraced by the intended audience of toddlers and preschoolers, they’re also likely outgrow it due to problems with the style and plot. With regards to the plot, the rhymes themselves mostly work, but the story lacks rhythm when read aloud. Also, there aren’t really any catchy phrases that stick in one’s head. With regards to the plot, while I enjoyed having Smokey as the lead character, the couple should have taken more an active role in helping Smokey live peacefully with their new baby. They neglect Smokey after the arrival of their baby and don’t seem to have time again for him until he suddenly starts acting nice. Then there’s the issue of their baby, who Smokey is left to teach how to behave around him. There are already many families who think that their dogs come in perfect perfects and so neglect to train them. I worry that Hamilton’s story might reinforce this message.
As an introduction to a discussion about how to better integrate pets when changes happen, A New Leash on Life is a good place to start. The story makes for a fun read, while the back pages contain a Question and Answer section with the moms of The Humane Society of the United States. As an added perk, 10% of the profits of this picture book supports animal welfare.
Those ARCs are piling up! Below are a few that I'll review in May. I'll also review books for our local animal club. Enjoy!