Memoir Spotlight: Forget They Were Ever Born

Forget They Were Ever Born

By Sharon Flanagan-Hyde

Paperback, 193 pages

Published October 2019

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When it comes to sharing my thoughts and writing reviews about books, I’m never at a loss for words. That changed when I read Sharon Flanagan-Hyde’s memoir, Forget They Were Ever Born. Upon turning the final page, I pretty much gave up on being productive for the rest of the day. My mind was flooded, not with words, but with emotions – easily a dozen of them. There is so much to this slim, tightly-written account of the author’s experiences as the sister of Mary Jean, a profoundly resilient woman with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities. It took me a while to process my feelings and thoughts on this book, and to put them into words.

Flanagan-Hyde shares a deeply moving story with succinct, straightforward writing. The work is well-research and detailed. The author doesn’t resort to graphic descriptions or sensational prose to relate the horrors Mary Jean endured for decades (first at Belchertown State School and later at group homes) and the stress and anguish her family experienced. Melodrama isn’t needed. The details are dramatic enough. The story is troubling and heartbreaking on many levels – from the shocking way in which people with all kinds of disabilities have been institutionalized, neglected and abused throughout our nation’s history, to the fact that one of our most vulnerable populations still suffers from such abuse today (look up Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix).

As the eldest of five children to parents with untreated mental illnesses, Flanagan-Hyde took on a lot of responsibility to care for her siblings throughout her childhood. She never felt it was enough. As young as five years old, she changed diapers and tended household chores when her mother was incapable. She was a bright, curious child who loved to read and ask questions. Those qualities often rewarded her with tremendous pain (physical, emotional and at the hands of her father). As young as seven years old, Flanagan-Hyde was already keeping a journal and documenting her family’s history thanks to grown-up conversations with her grandfather.

This a tough read, but ultimately it is inspiring and affirming. Mary Jean finally found a safe and loving home, and the author finally found her way to understanding and forgiveness (not only of her parents, but also of herself). It takes great wisdom, courage and strength to reach that pinnacle. It takes even more to lay bare such a painful and personal journey for all the world to know. Flanagan-Hyde and her siblings have my deepest respect and gratitude for the way they have championed their sister, supported one another, and shared their story. This book gets my highest recommendation.

Halloween Book Fun

Giving out books to trick-or-treaters has been a fun way to share my love of reading with children. I stumbled upon the idea years ago when Googling creative ways to donate books. California mom and author Rebecca Morgan founded “Books for Treats” in 2001 to “feeds kids’ minds, not their cavities.”

I don’t object to giving out Halloween candy. (Truth be told, it’s possible I’ve eaten as much of it as I’ve handed out over the years.) But I do champion literacy and the mental health benefits of reading books.

Only about 1 in 3 fourth-graders in the United States are proficient in reading, according to a report by Save the Children. If children can’t read at grade level by fourth grade, they’re unlikely to ever catch up. A key part of the problem is that many children don’t have access to books in their homes or family members who read to them.

To combat those facts, we give books at Halloween. My husband was skeptical at first. In his defense, I tend to go overboard when it comes to books. So, I conceded it might be possible that children would not be thrilled with getting books, and we stocked up on plenty of candy as a back-up.

As it turns out, books-for-treats was a huge success.

The kiddos love it, and they remember. Many run up the driveway saying, “This is the book house!” Often, they take their time going through the baskets to find just the right book, while parents laugh and say, “Just pick one!” Every now and then, a child simply can’t decide and will slip two books into their pumpkin bucket or pillowcase. I smile and look the other way.

Teenage trick-or-treaters are some of the biggest fans; they’re both grateful and suspicious. “I can just take this?” Every year, we buy more books than the year before. We always run out before the night ends.

Giving books for treats at Halloween is a fun way to improve child literacy. And the kiddos love it. #booksfortreats #authorsforliterarcy #readingcommunity

If you’re still not convinced this is the Best. Idea. Ever, check out this CNN article highlighting a neurobiological study of the benefits of books and detriments of screen time on a preschool child’s development. The brain scans are startling. Kids need books.

There are many ways to stock up on books without breaking the bank. Here are few ideas:

  • Thin out your own book collection of board books, early readers and young adult books that your children have outgrown and no longer want. One year, we gave out Manga graciously donated by my daughter who was moving overseas. The kids went bananas.
  • Used-book stores often have large selections of kids’ books in clearance for $1 each. One year, we bought comic books (50 cents apiece) at Bookmans, an indie bookstore in Arizona. When the bookseller learned we were going to give them away to trick-or-treaters, they gave us a 10 percent discount to boot. Library sales are another great source for inexpensive books.
  • If you prefer to give out new books, The Dollar Store often has ones that fit the bill. You can also order inexpensive books from Oriental Trading Company, like this set of 10 nursery rhyme readers for about $6.

DIY Halloween Décor – Old, Spooky Books

In a related note on my obsession with books, check out this photo gallery highlighting a fun DIY project. I hate throwing away books, but sometimes they get outdated or worn out. Other times, the books are of such low quality, I am not comfortable donating them. My solution is to repurpose them in fun ways, like making books look old and spooky for Halloween décor. Scroll down for simple instructions.

DYI Instructions

  1. Tear the covers off paperback books. Paint covers of hardbound books – I used red; when it was dry, I dabbed on burnt umber with a scrunched paper-towel to make it look aged.
  2. Pour left-over coffee into a 9”x13” glass pan. Dip books one at time into the coffee. You can either submerge the entire book, or just the edges; it depends on how old and wrinkled you want them to become.
  3. Fan out the pages and shape the books however you’d like.
  4. Set them outside in the sun to dry, or arrange in front of a fan. Flip the books periodically to make sure all sides get air. It can take a few days to dry thoroughly, depending on how deeply you submerged them.
  5. I also created fake book titles in spooky fonts, make-believe potions and creepy graphics to cut and paste into the books. I dipped the printouts into the coffee and set them on a cookie rack to dry (move quickly when dipping the paper, so it doesn’t get too soggy and fall apart).
  6. Have fun decorating them with Halloween doodads, if you want. I used plastic spiders and ping-pong balls painted like eyeballs. Brush on Modge Podge or Elmer’s glue to help secure pages and décor.

Newsletter about Reading, Writing and Life

I’ve launched an email newsletter and monthly giveaway to shine a spotlight on reading, writing and life. It will feature content that isn’t on my website (so be sure to subscribe even if you follow my blog), highlighting interesting books and articles, writing tips and inspiration, motivational quotes and ideas, and more. Plus, every month one newsletter subscriber name will be drawn to win something fun and bookish (like a bookstore gift card, signed paperback, audiobook, journal, etc.).

Go to the newsletter sign-up page and enter giveaway by clicking here!

(You can also earn bonus entries for the monthly giveaway by using the Rafflecopter form on the sign up page to share this with others.)

Life Essentials

Food, shelter, purpose, companionship, and books: essentials of a happy, meaningful life. They don’t always have to be in perfect balance, but they are a package deal. #lifetip #writetip #FindYourPurpose

#FindTheBeautyInAdversity #PeculiarSavageBeauty