Allison's Book Bag

MyMuseMonday

My Muse Monday is a fun meme where writers can meet other like-minded writers and share what they’ve been working on and how the week has gone for them. I’ve decided to post a monthly summary of my local writing group’s meetings.

Our April meeting proved a full one! We began by sharing brief updates about our personal lives. The one lady has a routine life, other than feeling the stress of end-of-school commitments. Another isn’t getting enough sleep because of sick children. And a third tells us she might be moving, because her husband might lose his job. As for me, I’m trying to juggle too many commitments. There are reviews and blog posts to write, job applications and interviews to complete, and now tasks to complete before I travel to Ontario for my grandmother’s burial.

There’s a much-needed feasting on brownies and then we turned to critiques. First up, the lady who writes rhyming stories has made yet another revision to the structure. I admire her dedication. One of these days she’ll get published! Another lady has THREE submissions! For her submissions, she too is trying her hand at rhyme, but supplementing it with an educational article. For her other two submissions, she’s heeding the advice of agents. They’ve told her that they’re looking for picture books and chapter books which can be turned into a series with repeated characters. She’s written two stories featuring the same fun character. The third lady has decided to take the brave step of a writing a novel. We got to read the first few pages. And finally there was me. I had a contest entry about animal rescue. If I don’t win, I expect visitors to Allison’s Book Bag will eventually see it here.😉

When the gathering ended, I headed home and sent out a meeting time request for May. Then I turned to work on a challenging series that I’m writing for my animal welfare blog. My heart is becoming more wrapped up in that world and less in the publishing world. I wonder what the next year will bring?

Saturday Snapshot invites bloggers to share photos. My husband and I recently celebrated our eighth anniversary. With the loss of my teaching position and so many other changes in my life, I have been feeling overwhelmed and insecure. My husband made this video to help me feel loved. He also took me out for sushi and gave me a fancy watch.

The Boy Who Carried Bricks is a sad and inspirational true story by Alton Carter about his years as a foster child. It’s sad because of the horror Carter experienced during his formative years, but equally inspirational because of how Carter stayed true to himself even while the rest of his family fell apart. The Boy Who Carried Bricks will enlighten you about the realities of the foster care system, as well as pull on your heartstrings.

Anyone who reads The Boy Who Carried Bricks will not fail to question how terrible our society sometimes treats children. In a straightforward and honest narrative, Carter describes how he grew up with a life full of fear, hunger, and loneliness. When his mom finally married, after dating and bearing children to five different men, the guy turned out to be violent. More than once, the step-dad physically abused the family. Life should have better after the step-dad left, but the mom didn’t seem to know how to care for anyone. She spent more hours drowning her sorrows and partying than acting like a mom. As a result, the five boys often had nothing but moldy food to eat and at times showed at school with roaches in their ears. Even when the grandparents step into help, life doesn’t really improve, and Carter often felt that he had no one to turn to for comfort or protection. As you can see, the novel makes for a tough read, and even worse happens in the first few foster homes that Carter lands. The matter-of-fact tone, however, kept me from putting the book aside for lighter fare. I had to know what would happen to this young person who seemed determined to succeed, against all odds.

Anyone who reads The Boy Who Carried Bricks should also not fail to feel inspired by the hope that Carter carried within him. Even in the unhealthiest situations, Carter held onto the belief that normalcy could be his. When living with his grandparents, he also often encountered his uncles. One of them in particular turned sadistic when drunk. Yet he could also treat the five boys to an evening of stories and trademark greasy fries, an event which Carter viewed as a happy time. Fortunately, along the way, he also met kind and caring individuals who were to have a long-lasting impact on him. One of them was an elderly lady for whom he mowed her lawn and performed other summer chores. She believed that Carter should improve his reading and so provided him daily with a newspaper article. At the end of the summer, she gave him a novel to read too. Her pride in him helped him believe more in himself. Eventually, Carter encountered enough positive influences that Carter decided to take charge of his own life by contacting the Department of Human Services himself. His tributes to others allowed me as a reader to keep faith in a book that often felt full of dark times.

My final commendation of The Boy Who Carried Bricks involves the subtle lessons that Carter imparts. One that stands out is an incident with a teacher whom Carter accused of picking on him due to his color. In reality, she simply wanted him to do his best, but he kept rebuffing her because of how alone he felt in his troubles. Through her continual affirmation of his abilities, he came to realize that he needed to take responsibility for his own actions. If he pursued a life of crime, this was his own choice and had nothing to do with his being a foster child, poor, or black. And if he wanted to experience love and all the good things in life, he needed to work for them.

According to Carter’s introduction in The Boy Who Carried Bricks, there are over 400,000 children in the United States living without permanent families. In writing his story, Carter hoped to make a difference in the life of readers. He wanted adults to be the best they could and to know they have the opportunity to give young people a chance to believe in themselves. He also wanted young people to know that they can become whatever they dare to dream. The Boy Who Carried Bricks should motivate anyone who reads it.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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.

AUTHOR

AltonCarterAlton 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.”

CULTURAL SETTING

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.

  • 70% of children in foster care never graduate high school
  • 74% of children in foster care end up incarcerated
  • 50% of children in foster care will be unemployed at the age of 24
  • 1 in 5 children in foster care will become homeless by age 18

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.

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May: Advanced Reader Copies

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!

  • Plotted by Andrew DeGraff
  • Unslut by Emily Linden
  • Under a Purple Moon by Beverly Stowe McClure
  • The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
  • International Spy by Brianna and Stan Schatt
  • Rose and the Wish Thing by Caroline Magerl
  • California The Magic Island by Doug Hansen

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Thirty days. Minimum average of 1666 words per day. A total of 50,000 words. I am a NaNo Winner for two years in a row.

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