What a Difference a Doughnut Makes

I had the pleasure of introducing the book Arnie the Doughnut, by Laurie Keller, to a 4 year old last week.  I asked him if he’d like to hear the story before I got it out of my book bag, and merely telling him the title made him laugh. 
I stumbled upon this book a few years ago and the title made me laugh, too.  I was charmed by the story, the art, and the layout of the book.  It’s so rare to find a book that’s genuinely funny but doesn’t resort to mean or potty humor.  
Arnie is a bright, happy doughnut who has no idea he was made to be eaten. 
And once he finds out, he is again dismayed when his friends back at the doughnut shop are happy to be comestibles.  
Fortunately, Mr. Bing, who bought Arnie, no longer wants to eat him now that they’re on a conversational level.  So they must find something for Arnie to be besides tasty.  It’s a wonderful book with inventive puns and a compelling story line.  It’s also wonderful for sharpening visual literacy. 
 
Keller peppers her story and illustrations with side characters who have opinions on everything.  On any given page, you might have people, pastries and aliens making comments.  It’s an easier book to read with one or two children than in front of a class or big group.The children can participate in the story.  They can ask what the squirrel is saying.  Or they can read that the caveman says, doughnut make good wheel.
A few years ago, I got to read it to a 9 year old boy who was in foster care.  I live in an intergenerational community called Bridge Meadows, which is set up to help support families adopting children out of the foster care system.  (You can read about it here.)  I am fortunate to get to help introduce books to kids who have seen a lot of the scary world but not a lot of the caring world.
This boy, John, was so taken with Arnie the Doughnut that I decided to buy it for him.  Before I could give it to him, though, the Department of Human Services (DHS) discovered he was being abused and moved him to a safe house.  It was the 9thmove for this 9 year old boy. 
Through the social worker here at Bridge Meadows, I was able to get the book to him.  Later she told me that in a counseling session, John was asked about his anger. 
“I know what anger is. I’ll show you.”  He got his copy of Arnie and show them the picture of angry Arnie, who had discovered his fate.
 John was able to express his anger, but also, in the midst of extreme uncertainty, to laugh at it.  And laughter, often, is the first step to wisdom.  John will not have an easy life.  Nobody gets the kind of happy ending Arnie does.  But John has had the good moments hearing the story.  He has read it himself and he’s used it to express his own emotional state. It’s a colorful and safe spot in his memory.   

Perhaps it will prompt him to look to books for solace while he navigates the fractured path of foster care in search of an identity. 
I believe books like Arnielay the groundwork for deeper thinking.  Once you make the leap into imagining a doughnut has a personality, a will, and hopes for the future, you’re free to imagine everything has a higher purpose. Toys.  Plants.  Animals.  Humans.  Yourself.  Maybe it isn’t your destiny to be eaten.
This book didn’t miraculously make John’s life better.  I believe, however, it’s made his life more bearable.  I know, for sure, that it’s made mine more so.  I hope that it puts a few sprinkles of humor and love on his fractured and perilous path.  I can’t fix broken home, broken families, or broken children.  I can give them stories, though, to lighten their load. 
John is now in a permanent home and has a new family.  His future looks good.
Laurie Keller is the author of many picture books, all of which I’ve enjoyed, Birdy’s Smile Bookbeing my second favorite.  Or maybe Do Unto Otters.  Or maybe Open Wide.  She’s started a chapter book series on Arnie the Doughnut, including Bowling Alley Bandit, (a who-doughnut), and Invasion of the UFOnuts, (an outer spastery story).  These books are great for reluctant readers, and have elicited howls of laughter from one of the kids I mentor who hates to read.  
For another opinion on Arnie the Doughnut, here’s a link to a NYTimes review:
Thanks for reading my blog. If you like it, share it.
 If you missed my last post on the books of Shuan Tan, you can read it here.
And there are links to my book reviews here.

Bridge Meadows on PBS

Here is the link to the program I wrote about on this blog:
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/foster-families-share-support-with-elders-oregon-housing-community/
 Bridge Meadows Community on PBS
I’m linking this to my friends at Paint Party Friday.  I’ll be back to posting art next week.

Hi friends and blog followers.  I’ve been absent from blogging a lot longer than I intended, but I was in the

By Lily age 8

midst of two freelance jobs and couldn’t really work it into my schedule.  I’m in the process of writing a post about that, meanwhile, I got news today, April 15, that the PBS Newshour will be broadcasting a story on Bridge Meadows, the intergenerational community I live in.  Last month Cat Wise and her cameraman came out and shot a lot of footage of the elders, families and kids here, and interviewed a lot of us, including my husband and me.  So if you watch the Newshour, or even if you don’t, tune in tonight and see what intergenerational living is all about.

About two months after I moved here in 2012, I made the following observation on this blog: “I’ve met many of the elders (there are about 29 of us) — a wonderful and diverse group of young-at-heart optimists who all feel pretty lucky to be in this intentional community built to support families adopting foster children.
I feel this sense among us that we can help patch up a small tear in society.  

Instead of just being “low-income” seniors, I feel we are now contributing members of society.  It’s both a subtle and grand shift in self-perception.  We are now teachers, friends, aunties, grandparents, musicians, neighbors, uncles, writers, counselors — all more than a statistic or a hard-luck story.  There are so many creatives and support people, it’s hard to figure out what my contribution will be — but whatever it is, I know I’ll get plenty of support.  I’m also pretty sure I’m going to learn more from the kids than they’ll learn from me.  Plus it’s a work in progress, this community.  It only opened in April of 2011, and is only one of 3 in the entire county. That gives it a fresh, shiny sheen of optimism.”

Bridge Meadows Neighbors

I’m providing a link to a post I wrote in September about working with one of the boys here on art and repair, called Godzilla’s Prosthesis.  He and I are in the process of making a cardboard robot now, so expect more on that soon.  Meanwhile, thanks for reading my blog.

http://www.joycorcoran.com/2013/09/godzillas-prostheses.html

Bridge Meadows: My Home Sweet Home

My dragon story and story friends

I haven’t written about my community Bridge Meadows in a while.  They’ve made a new video about it and I thought I’d share it with you.  It’s posted on their Facebook page, but it’s a public page so you should be able to get to it without being a member of Facebook.  There’s a shot of me reading the very funny picture book Socksquath by Frank Dormer, which represents what I do in the community.  I read stories to and with kids.  I also do a lot of drawing and encouraging their creative sides.  Everyone here knows there’s no such thing as a bad drawing.  Yesterday, one of the girls here told me, “There’s no such thing as a bad child.”  Amen to that!  The kids in our community have been through a lot in their young years, but each one of them is a treasure and full of the potential that every human is born with.  Here’s the link to the video: 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=604397772906379

We have a great community space where all the buildings and houses open up to a courtyard.  My husband and I live in a small apartment that is frequently visited by children of all ages.  One of the great things is that the kids here are used to being around people with disabilities.  My walker is a popular item.

We all get to have fun with crayons, paints and our imaginations.
I’ve made great friends with people of all ages and some of the elders even like my children’s stories.  Nita, my 89 year old neighbor, just joined me in a challenge to write a poem every day in June.  And if I’m every blue, my young friends always know what to do:
photo by J.E. Underwood

If you want more information on Bridge Meadows, just ask.  And thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂

Joy and Jim At Bridge Meadows

(I’ve reposted this from my old blog and set the date for the original post.  Hopefully it will show up as an older post, but if you are reading it anytime after October 14, 2013, and it’s new to you, it’s the first post I wrote after moving to Bridge Meadows.  Sorry if the formatting’s a bit off.  Such is the fate of transferred blog posts.)

I’m sitting at my desk watching the intermittent snow and rain fall outside.  I am warm and comfortable.  My new apartment is very well insulated and has radiant heat — so much nicer than the drafty apartment I left.  The new smaller space has a certain coziness to it — a small snug refuge from the cold world.  I’ve been here a week and two days and feel right at home here at Bridge Meadows, a three generation community serving the needs of foster families.
My dear husband Jim made a scale layout of the apartment before we moved, and little post-it note cut outs of furniture and laid out everything before we moved.  Then we set up my writing/drawing area in the old apartment exactly like it would be here so I could get used to it.  He made sure it was set up and ready to use the first day we moved in.  I barely went a day without my precious artsy clutter.   And while it’s been a little disorienting to move from a big space to a smaller one, it’s been mostly good and a bit exciting.

My desk/studio

Jim’s desk/dining table

The community here at Bridge Meadows is very friendly but very respectful of privacy.  It’s odd to be in a neighborhood where people are excited that you moved in and want to know all about you.  Since there are Wisdom Circles, Happy Hours (not the alcohol kind), classes and meetings, there are plenty of ways to get to know people, but when I come home, I’m home, in my own Bless This Mess sort of fashion.

The kitchen upon entry
Entering the cozy
The view from the patio
The nook between bed and bathroom
Bedroom

The kids here at Bridge Meadows are pretty busy with school and after-school stuff, and it’s winter so I’m not seeing a lot of them hanging around, but they are a part of most of the meetings.  There are6 families with a total of 17 kids in the neighborhood so far, all of them 13 and under.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been at a meeting that’s interrupted by the joyful noise of a youngster — and I love it.
I’ve met many of the elders (there are about 29 of us) — a wonderful and diverse group of young-at-heart optimists who all feel pretty lucky to be in this intentional community built to support families adopting foster children.
I feel this sense among us that we can help patch up a small tear in society.  Instead of just being “low-income” seniors, I feel we are now contributing members of society.  It’s both a subtle and grand shift in self-perception.  We are now teachers, friends, aunties, grandparents, musicians, neighbors, uncles, writers, counselors — all more than a statistic or a hard-luck story.  There are so many creatives and support people, it’s hard to figure out what my contribution will be — but whatever it is, I know I’ll get plenty of support.  I’m also pretty sure I’m going to learn more from the kids than they’ll learn from me.  Plus it’s a work in progress, this community.  It only opened in April of 2011, and is only one of 3 in the entire county. That gives it a fresh, shiny sheen of optimism.

The library

I’m on the library committee already.  The on-site library has hundreds of children’s books and a fair collection of young adult and adult books — about 2000 in all.  Of course that isn’t enough!  I now can channel my book-a-holism into that and make sure such classics as The Big Bad Pig and the Three Little Wolves  gets in the collection.  I ‘m going to start a regular story time at the on-site library and do storytelling  and perhaps workshops/swaps if people are interested.
The library is also a wonderful quiet room to get away from it all — a place we all need, sometimes.  One of the girls expressed that need at a library meeting last night and that resonated with me.  In the midst of all these caring and concerned people, I’m sure it’ll will be an ongoing need for the kids to find a small quiet place of their own.
Here are some pictures of the grounds — a little barren here in the midst of January, but I’m seeing lots of places to sketch and hang out when it warms up.  Jim’s got some gardening plans and already has installed a few plants.

Community garden boxes
The bridge through the meadow
Bio-swales to collect rainwater
new landscaping


My art time has been a bit limited but I”m getting back into the swing of things and messing up many a fine white piece of paper.  Here’s a New Yorker cartoon by David Borchart that inspired me.

I used to draw myself into New Yorker cartoons every once in awhile to practice different styles — you think cartoons are simple until you try to copy them.  This cartoon stuck a chord with me.  I once had a young artist ask me if I made a good living at art.  I said no.  Most people don’t make a good living at it, but you can make a good life.  I hope that if I had the health to go back to a day job, I’d bring my rejoicing heart with me.  I think this new phase of my life here in Bridge Meadows will keep me from ever having a poor heart.  So  I just drew a cartoon of myself rejoycing.  May your heart find it’s wealth, too.

Rich and joyous