WONDER is sappy and predictable. Take your kids anyway.

When the dog died, I said to myself, “They are gonna run out of trowels if they keep on laying it on this thick.”

It’s not really a spoiler to reveal that the family dog dies halfway through “Wonder.” There can be no true spoilers in “Wonder,” possibly the most predictable movie ever put to film.

But that’s okay. It doesn’t set out to be Chekov. “Wonder”has a simple, specific goal in mind: to remind children (and adults) that kindness matters; that people are not always what they seem; that we all need mercy sometimes; and that strength and goodness ripple outward. And it achieves that goal.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Movie image: www.wonder.movie

The Parenting Dare: “We give parents the words” to arm their kids against porn

 
Last week, mother-and-son team Lori and Eric Doerneman released The Parenting Dare, an online video course designed to help parents and kids work together to resist pornography.
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Lori told me:
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This isn’t your typical “Porn is bad and you shouldn’t look”-type of course. We address our broken nature and we clearly show God’s plan of life and love. We talk about why they will be attracted to porn, but that it’s just a trap. We hit that concept pretty hard. We want to dissect the lie and showcase the truth.
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Lori has a degree in education and several years’ experience teaching, and speaking for Project Freedom, a program promoting chastity geared toward eighth graders and their parents. Eric is the oldest of the eight Doerneman children.
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Here is our conversation about The Parenting Dare. My questions are in bold.
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Lori, when we met a few years ago a the Catholic Family Conference in Kansas, you were writing a blog called “Prayer and Duct Tape.” Can you explain that title?
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Lori: I wanted it to be a Catholic blog but without too pious of a title. We had duct tape all over our house. Also, my bra was held together with duct tape at my wedding! Like prayer, it holds us together.
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Eric, you’re pretty open about your own struggles with porn addiction. What happened?
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Eric: We were super Catholic, hitting all the spiritual nails on the head, praying the rosary a lot, going to Mass every Sunday. One summer, I served at Mass every day. Mom was killing the spiritual aspect. But she completely missed the physical aspect.
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Lori: I thought talking about porn would ruin his innocence, and I wanted to keep him innocent.
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Eric: In 5th and 6th grade, I started looking at pictures on internet, masturbating and looking at porn consistently. Mom walked in on me one time, and from, there we always had a bit of a back and forth conversation. I wasn’t always transparent, but through that, we always had a real relationship.
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Lori: I want to talk to my kids, intentionally building a relationship so they will trust me.
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Eric: I told my friends my mom was helping me through it. Initially, they freaked out, but then they thought it was cool. They could never talk to their parents.
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So where did you go from there?
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Lori: The most of the year it took to get him out of porn startled me. Once he finally got out, it was through [an understanding of] the science of what was happening in his brain.
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Eric: I tried [to stop] throughout high school and college. I knew it was immoral, but I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t until college that I said, “I’m actually addicted.” After college, mom kept hounding me. She got me a book [Pornography Addiction: Breaking the Chains] which taught me about the science, and I got a good grasp on what was happening to me.
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What made you think not only of helping your kid, but trying to help other kids and other parents?
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Lori: I changed my parenting through the course helping Eric. I have five sons, and I know I have a lot to offer to other parents.  So I thought, “I want to offer an online course.” Parents need to acknowledge that porn is stealing the hearts of their kids. So we called it “The Parenting Dare.”
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Eric surprised the crap out of me by saying, “You’d suck at doing this alone. I want to do this with you.”
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Eric: We’re daring you to take your blinders off. It’s a hard course. We’re funny, but it’s not tutti frutti. It’s not Pinterest-y.
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Lori: We have made the Gospel too easy. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives.
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Tell me a little bit about what your program offers.
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Eric: There are five main sections of the course, called “modules,” and each one has videos in it, anywhere from seven to ten minutes long. The first module is background, stuff you need to know about us, and then some concepts covered in the course: the four levels of happiness, the brain and addiction, and your belief system.
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Lori: Module Three covers kids age zero to five, to get moms keyed in, and to get them to discuss things openly, like, “That’s your penis!” We get them to establish themselves as an authority.
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“The sex talk” is not a talk, it’s a continual conversation. It starts from a young age: how beautiful your body is, how awesome God is that He created this. This makes it easier to have conversations about sex, porn, lust and love.
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The best addiction is one that never starts. That means we target parents of young kids. In the last three modules, we discuss the parents as the general contractors of their home. The foundation is the understanding of god, and we describe different parts of the “house.”
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The biggest module is the fifth one, for ages eleven to fourteen. As kids mature, we get into bigger concepts. We talk about love versus lust, and about puberty. It helps them be warriors. We talk about understanding the science of porn addiction and help them reject it.
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Eric: We give parents the words to say.
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Lori:  The course is very practical. We address girls sending nudes. I interviewed lots of college girls, and I give them things to say when someone asks for nudes, so they don’t commit social suicide.
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People who enroll are entitled to any updates that will come in the future. Technology is always changing, so is this one of the parts you see yourself updating?
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Lori: Yes. Module Two is about how to protect electronics in your home and your phones. People will buy, for instance, Covenant Eyes, but they don’t install it. We hold their hands, step by step, click by click.
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Why a mother-and-son approach?
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Eric: That’s just how it worked out in our family. In a lot of families, the kids spend more time with mom, and mom has a lot more time to mold the kids.
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Lori: Women use more words, too. But throughout the course, we say this isn’t just for moms to do. We address parents, and that could be moms or dads.
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There are going to be some concepts men will understand in a deeper way because they have testosterone. And some women are so conservative,they can’t even say the word “porn” or “orgasm” or “masturbate.” We hope it will be a family thing, parents going through it together. Husband and wife sitting down together and opening up.
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What if the parents themselves have issues? Do you see this helping them as they help their kids?
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Lori: One of the beliefs we tear down is, “I can’t help my kids because I have my own issues.” No, that actually makes you more qualified. If you grew up dirt poor, are you never gonna talk about it, or are you gonna teach your kid to grow up to avoid it? Do you want your child to be better off, or not?
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I’ve learned how to talk in a different way. How not to shame our kids, to be present for them. It’s almost more of a parenting course: How to authentically connect with your kids so they will open up. We don’t talk about porn all the time. We talk about how to have fun as a family.
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Eric: It’s not even about how to talk when you find out they looked at porn; it’s for beforehand. The tone you want to give off is: If you ever look at that, I’m not gonna hate you. If you do that, they’ll never talk to you about it.
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Lori: It’s a weird tightrope, because you don’t want them to be worldly, but you want them to talk to you.
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What are some other common beliefs you refute?
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Lori: That if my child is moral, and believes in Jesus, they will never look at porn.
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That girls don’t look at porn.
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And the biggest one is: I can’t talk to my child about porn because I want to keep his innocence.

By talking to them, you teach them innocence. They are kind of grossed out when they hear about porn, and that’s kind of good. You catch them before they’re in it. Talking to them gives them this huge protection.
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Eric: In the part for the 6-10 year age range, we discuss a study that says if kid sees porn, he’ll go back to see if it’s still there, out of curiosity. So parents can ask them if they saw anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
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Lori: Priests say the heartache is that there are young kids looking at porn, and their parents don’t even know. We have to shake up the tree a little bit.
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You touch briefly on the topic of modest dress for girls, which is such a hot button topic.
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Lori: A priest told me, “Don’t go there!” But I saw a woman in the park, and the way she was dressed, she was turning me on! We just raise the question, comment, and say how we handle it. We’re not telling you what to do.
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What is your ultimate goal?
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Lori: It’s our vision to get rid of porn. It won’t happen in the next hundred years, but I want to be able to raise men and women who are porn resistant.
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Eric: The things we’re talking about can be overwhelming. We’re going to help you through every step of the process.

Summer Book Swap: The First List!

Last week, I wrote about my idea to get everyone reading more and better books by doing a reading swap with my kids. It’s a simple plan: They read a book I think they’ll like, and I’ll read a book they think I’ll like.

Here’s what we have so far. (Note: All links are Amazon Associate links, meaning I earn a small percentage of every sale. If you click through and end up buying something else, I still earn! Thank you!)

My 19-year-old daughter has me reading The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett,

and I gave her The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh.

My 18-year-old daughter is still mulling over my assignment, but I’m probably giving her The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth.

My 16-year-old daughter got me started on The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan,

and I’m giving her The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis.

My 15-year-old son gave me The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

and I’m giving him A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

My 13-year-old son assigned me Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

and I’m giving him Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

(if you order this book, beware of abridged editions!).

My 11-year-old daughter got me started on The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham,

and I gave her The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (terrible, off-putting cover):

My 10-year-old daughter gave me The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann (here’s hoping the cover is misleading)

and I’m giving her The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald (the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin.)

My 8-year-old daughter gave me The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

and I’m giving her The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White.

My five-year-old is just learning how to read, so she’s not playing, but I did order a copy of The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne for us to read together.

If your family is only familiar with the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh, do yourself a tremendous favor and get ahold of the original. The stories are so weird and hilarious, highly entertaining for parents without being condescending for kids.

And we’re off! I’ll probably follow up with a bunch of quick reviews by me and the kids, and then we’ll get a second list going. So far, so good.

Are you interested in doing a book swap with your kids this summer? What books will you give them, and which books are they giving you? Please include their ages and maybe a little bit about why the books are on the list.

Seven Quick takes: Seven Really Good Books for Young Adults

Wow, I haven’t done a 7QT in forever! And I’m not actually doing one now. This post originally ran in 2010. I was inspired to rerun it when the The New Yorker printed this appreciation of A Canticle for Leibowitz . Enjoy, thou parents looking for some decent fiction for your older kids!

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Sorry this is so long.  I didn’t have time to write anything shorter.

Seven Quick Takes:  Seven Really Good Books for Young Adults

When I was in high school, everything we read had to be about either the Holocaust, or suicide, or both.  An exception could be made for books about racism, provided several lynchings were described in technicolor.  Then, after we finished our assigned reading for the year, the school board would hold a workshop on what to do about rampant and debilitating depression in the student body.

Well, it’s too late for me, of course.  As soon as I’m done with this post, I’m going to go huff some wood glue, write a note blaming my parents, and OD on some Xanax I stole from the locker room while listening to Nevermind (to my younger readers:  check your oldies station if that reference puzzles you.  Oh, lord. . . )

But you still have a chance.  Here are seven books of fiction I recommend for your teenager or almost-teenager.  Kids that age do enjoy a good bout of angst, but these are books that don’t glorify teenage gloom, or teach that it’s the world’s job to learn to appreciate the delicate genius that is Teenage Me.  Not all of the books are about teenagers, and all of them could easily be enjoyed by adults.  Most of these books are about courage, and about something that teenagers really need to know:  how to discern true love from its flashier counterfit.  With the possible  exception of the Patterson novels, I don’t think this list is too girly.  The only other thing they have in common is that they are stuffed with good ideas that young people need to hear, and the writing is far above average. There is even one post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, such as the young parsons enjoy these days.

–1–

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

This one is often included in YA lists, but not for the right reasons, I think.  Teenagers won’t fully appreciate the themes of love and fidelity in this  fleshing-out of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but there is plenty else in this gorgeous and searing novel to grab them by the scruff of the neck and shake the stupid ideas out of them.  Heartrending and intense.  For grades 9 and up.

–2 and 3–

Two novels by Katherine Patterson:

Jacob Have I Loved is a coming-of-age novel about twin girls living on a crabbing island in the Chesapeake Bay in the 1940′s.  One sister is lovely, talented, fragile, and secretly vicious — the other, the narrator, is plain, strong, and full of rage.  The character of the horrible old grandmother is unforgettable.  The book achieves something I always look for in a novel:  honesty about the flaws of the main character, with flashes of sympathy for even the worst characters.  Flawless in structure, characterization, and style.  For grades 7 and up.

Another excellent novel by Patterson, suitable for grades 5 and up, is The Great Gilly Hopkins.

It’s like Flannery O’Connor, Jr.  Great portrayals of hypocrisy, great portrayals of genuine love by a genuine Christian, who happens to be a fat, trashy, semi-literate foster mother named Trotter.  It could easily have dissolved into melodrama, but resists.  My only quibble is with the character of the black teacher, Miss Harris — she seems a bit too glibly drawn as the hard-as-nails and smart-as-a-whip black teacher with a heart of gold, etc.  All the rest of the characters, though, are thoroughly believable, from Trotter, to her pathetic ward William Ernest Teague (W.E.T.), to the greasy-haired would-be sidekick, Agnes Stokes.  (See, I remember all their names, and I haven’t read this book for years.  It sticks with you!)  I believe it’s sold as a novel about racism, but it’s really just about love, failures of love, and redemption.

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The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter

I know, I know.  The guy passed it off as an autobiography, and it wasn’t.  Pretty awful — but darn it, I still like the book.  It is beautiful and funny, and I feel happy while reading it.  I wish I knew the characters in real life, which is more than you can say for most novels or autobiographies.  If you’ve heard that this book is just a piece of anti-white propaganda, you’ll be surprised.  I suppose there’s a message in it, but it’s not the main point — the story is, and it’s a wonderful story about a boy growing up with his Cherokee grandmother and half-Cherokee grandfather in the mountains during Prohibition.   Also, it makes descriptions of scenery interesting.

Apparently it’s been criticized as perpetuating the “noble savage” stereotype of the American Indian, but, again, I just don’t see that.  What I read was an ancient story of happiness, broken by a terrible grief and darkness of separation, and then a return to happiness, until Eden is outgrown.  To read more into it than that is to deprive yourself of a good story.  For grades 6 and up.

–5–

A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

This one is for older teens, for sure.  The story is complicated and demands a lot of the reader.  To be honest, I’m too tired to explain the plot to you.  It’s about Catholic monks and Jews and miracles and nuclear war and space travel and mutants.  It’s a crazy, grotesque, hilarious, fascinating epic with lots and lots of ideas.  There is a disturbing theme of the cyclic nature of history that seems to imply a “new” Immaculate Conception, but a teenager with a good grounding in the faith won’t be troubled by it.  I like how the priests are real men.  It will appeal to lovers of science fiction, but is so much more than that.

–6–

The Don Camillo stories by Giovanni Guareschi

Three collections of short, sweet, funny and poignant stories from post-WWII Italy about a large and rash village priest and his rival, the equally large and rash communist mayor Peppone.  If you don’t enjoy these stories, there is something wrong with you.  I could do without the cartoonish illustrations by the author, but the stories are hugely entertaining, and touch on all kinds of interesting theological ideas.  Don Camillo’s conversations with the crucified Christ in his church are authentic and moving.  For grades 7 and up.

–7–

Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

Please note that, for your edification, I hunted until I found what is probably the most hideous and irrelevant book cover ever to cover a book. I mean, look at it! What the hell is that?

The first two books of the space trilogy are great stories and provide so many memorable scenes (the third in the series, That Hideous Strength, takes a different turn and is not for the kiddies).  It was from Perelandra that I learned that evil isn’t interesting and the devil isn’t clever or charming — as Ransom learns one night as keeps watch on the beach with the Un-Man, and they have the following dialogue all night long  “Ransom.” –  “What?” – ” . . .Nothing.”

For more mature teenagers — there are ideas about sexuality which are entirely Catholic (yes, I know Lewis wasn’t), but which less mature kids won’t be able to manage.  The only part that might strike readers as dated is the fact that the villain wants to conquer worlds and force humankind on the universe, whereas today’s humanist villains are more interested in shrinking and curtailing the human race.  It might be an interesting conversation to discuss what the current evil ideas have in common with the ones in the books.

There are many, many wonderful scenes in both books.  I was especially affected, as a teenager, by the passage in Perelandra where Ransom protests to God that there is a representative of Evil in the world, fighting for the soul of the unfallen Lady — and why is there no champion of Good?  And the silent and terrifying  answer comes booming back at him:  you.  There is also the memorable phrase, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, here goes!  I mean, Amen!”  Lewis’ descriptions of scenery are the only drawback to these books — he does go on and on, and you have to read really carefully to understand what he is describing.  I think these passages could simply be excised without any damage to the books.  For grades 10 and up.

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You’ll notice there is no Madeleine L’Engle in this list.  I read her books several times as a Young Adult, and I’m sure they influenced me, but I just don’t like her.  I don’t like her smarmy characters, I don’t like how her ideals of family life are utterly saturated in six kinds of snobbery.  I don’t like the loosey goosey games she plays with comparative religion, and her stories leave me cold,  irritated and unsatisfied.  I’m always astonished that she’s described as some kind of genius — her prose always strikes me as hokey and stilted.  She is very original, I’ll admit, but I have very little patience with her “Oh-the-aching-wonder-of-it-all” genre.  I wouldn’t say “don’t read her stuff,” but I think you’ll do just fine if you never do read her.

Okay, so, yay, I wrote a blog post!  Thanks to the gracious and prolific (in every way)Jen Fulwiler for hosting Seven Quick Takes every Friday.

UPDATE:  In the comments of the original post, several readers mentioned Patterson’s Bridge to Terebithia and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  My take:  yes, Bridge to Terebithia is just awful.  As reader Suburban Correspondent put it,  “It was everything that was wrong with YA books in my youth – all the hopelessly messed-up adults, the characters manipulated by the author to send some sort of message.”  Yup, pretty much a blight on Patterson’s career.  Her books that I recommended are totally different.  I also remember that her novel The Master Puppeteer was quite good, and is about a boy.  She has written many  historical novels for young adults.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is fantastic — good call, folks.  I can’t imagine a boy really enjoying it, but it really is a wonderful book, despite some hokiness  It’s about a girl growing up in the slums in Brooklyn before and during World War II.  Betty Smith’s other books, unfortunately, are dreadful!  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is fiction, but obviously semi-autobiographical, and is very moving and full of insight into a young girl’s mind.  Some of her notions about sex could be a little damaging to susceptible girls, though, so you should probably read this one first, and discuss it with your daughter.

Don’t bubble-wrap your kids

PIC deformed tree

My son, who is twelve, recently wanted to buy a comic book, and as he leafed through the pages, he liked the story, but was disturbed by some of the gory images he saw. The comic book guy reassured him that he would get used to it over time. And I agreed. Sure, you can get used to it, and eventually it wouldn’t even bother you any more. But why would you want to do that to yourself?

Read the rest at the Register.