Author of the Month
Soft Side of Juvenile Judge Writes Book to Help Teens in Trouble
Leora Krygier is an enigma. Californiaís legal system called her a juvenile court referee; in most of our language that means she is a judge. I commented that she—with curly hair, wide brown eyes, and delicate, pixie-like features—doesnít look like a judge and wondered if that would undermine her authority in the courtroom. "The official robes help a lot!" She said it with a pretend scowl, but I could see she meant business.
The author of two mainstream novels, When She Sleeps and First the Raven, Krygier seemed to live in two different worlds—her day job in the courtroom and her night job before the computer at home. (Find information on those books at LeoraKrygier.com).
With Juvenile Court: A Judgeís Guide for Young Adults and Their Parents, she brings these interests together in a book that is so essential to the welfare of the youth of this nation it should be in every home library waiting. Just in case. For at some point each of us is likely to be related to or know a young person who (blessedly?) got caught. When that happens we wonít be thinking straight and it will help to have a friend who has the real answers only an armís-length away.
Here is more about that book—that friend, if you will—and its author who writes not from research or second-hand stories but from her own experiences tending to the care and keeping of Los Angeles teens in trouble:
Carolyn: Leora, you are a primarily a writer of fiction. What made you change direction?
Leora: I donít know if I actually changed directions, more like took a side trip. My writerís heart will always be in fiction, but I wanted to share my twenty years of juvenile court experiences with the people it would benefit most—kids and their parents. Iíd always separated the two parts of my life—writing and being a judicial officer with the juvenile court. With this book, Iíve sort of melded the two parts of myself together and it feels good to do so.
Carolyn: You have a teenage daughter who is just a little older than the young people you address in your book. How does she feel about the book?
Leora: My daughter, who is twenty-one and a college senior, is very excited about this book. She was the one who strongly encouraged me to write it but advised me not to divulge "too much insider information."
She jokingly said to me, "Isnít that like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz?" She really got me thinking about what I wanted to share about juvenile court. As with many aspects of my life, my children have always been my steadfast catalyst.
Carolyn: Among the things things in your book that moved me the most werd the quotations from teens in trouble. How did you get those? Is there a story behind them?
Leora: The quotations from teens in the book are actual excerpts from essays teens have written to me over the years. (They now fill up an entire drawer of a filing cabinet.) I often ask or order teens to write essays when I sense they are better able to express their feelings about their offense and their lives on paper, rather than in open court. Disjointed thoughts often find a better home on paper, an exercise I believe not only helps a judge make better dispositions in each case, but also gives the teens a better understanding of themselves and their thought processes.
Carolyn: How do you visualize your book helping kids?
Leora: Many of the tips and myth busters in my book are based on pure common sense, rather than law or legalese. They were written in response to the patterns Iíve noticed in the thousands of cases Iíve heard. I especially wanted the book to be short and to the point, easily readable, with highlighted tip boxes. I didnít want it to be a tome that would intimidate the typical middle or high school student. I was surprised to find that there were no books out in the marketplace that spoke directly to teens about how to prepare themselves for their court experience, and I wanted to provide them with something that would ease the speculations and fear, and address the misinformation they commonly get from their peers.
Carolyn: How do you visualize your book helping parents?
Leora: I see this as a help to parents of teens in the sense that it reinforces some of the things parents say to their children and are often ignored or dismissed. Teens not only have a sense of infallibility, they also often feel like they know more than their parents about how "things work out there." I hope this book empowers parents to set limits and make good choices for their kids. Parents too, are often fearful and in the dark about court procedures. This gives them a heads-up about what they can expect.
Carolyn: Do you see a disconnect between trying to help both groups?
Leora: Think of how many words we have in the English language to describe a person between the age of twelve and eighteen: teen, teenager, young adult, minor, juvenile, preteen, even "tween." On the other hand, a person over the age of eighteen is merely described as an adult or "grownup." Thatís because the teen years embody continuously evolving stages, while the adult years are more settled. This is the general "disconnect" between parents and teens, but I think that a book that tries to enlighten both groups about the otherís concerns can be helpful, even if parents and teens glean completely different things from the information provided.
Carolyn: You're very prolific. Two published novels and this book for a fine traditional press. How do you manage your time with a family and a full time job as a juvenile referee?
Leora: I donít know if "prolific" is the right word, but I do know that my brain is constantly inundated with ideas, potential stories and hosts of characters. No doubt, I often find it both trying and tiring to be on top of all my various activities, but I also find it challenging and exciting. Iíve often dreamed about having vast stretches of time to write, but Iím extremely grateful that Iíve been able to write despite my time constraints.
Carolyn: If you had only one thing you could tell the juveniles who come before your bench (and have them listen and follow through!), what would it be?
Leora: "Choose your friends wisely!" In my experience, "friends" are the number one determining factor of whether a teen is going to get into trouble or not. That first choice—of who your friends are going to be, and who theyíre not going to be—sets all the balls in motion as to at-risk behavior. More kids get into trouble because of "bad" friends than any other cause. Even the kids who appear before me often explain that "peer pressure" was the reason they ended up in court. But peer pressure has less of a chance to take over a teenís life if parents help in creating a system of checks and balances at home and instill self esteem and responsibility.
Carolyn: I know Scarecrow Press plans a large distribution of your book to libraries. This, however, is a book that I wish I'd had in my own two hands—in other words, easily obtained at a bookstore or online—when my kids were teenagers. How might parents have it "ready as needed."
Leora: No parent envisions a full-blown teenager when they bring their baby home from the hospital. And it takes us awhile as parents to catch up with each phase our children go through. In fact, as we catch up to one phase, our kids are already way ahead of us, diving into another stage. Iíd say the time period immediately preceding middle school is a good time for a parent to be "on deck" with information and a plan for dealing with the teenage years.
Carolyn: [Laughing} I take it that means that youíd have them buy one and put it in their library now so it will be handy. Just in case! Is there anything else you'd like MyShelf readers to know?
Leora: Although adults donít always let on, most of us remember and relate to the teen inside of us. I hope that my teenage self never leaves me, that she finds her way into the stories, novels, and guides I continue to write. And I wouldnít have it any other way.
Leora Krygier has been a referee with the Los Angeles Superior Court, Juvenile Division for almost twenty years and was profiled in the Los Angeles Times for her innovative use of essay writing in sentencing at-risk teens. Sheís a strong advocate of therapeutic justice for juveniles and has used essay writing as a way to engage and encourage teens in their own rehabilitation.
Her novel, When She Sleeps, was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Books for the Teen Age, 2005.
In her latest book—Juvenile Court; A Judgeís Guide for Young Adults and Their Parents—she provides teens with important information about how to prepare for a court appearance and addresses the most common offenses committed by young people. Drawing on examples, stories and excerpts from actual letters and essays written by teen, the book demystifies the judicial process and helps teens get on the right track. It also offers no-nonsense tips to help teens avoid future citations.
Leora Krygier shares her experiences with teen and parent audiences, giving teens a chance to determine the facts on actual juvenile cases. Her audiences will have the opportunity to analyze the facts, apply relevant law and vote on a verdict. Her UBtheJuvieJudge blog is a cyber teen court, which encourages teens to engage, comment, ask questions and decide on cases. It is a fun yet informative learning tool for all ages.
2009's Honorary List