Friday, July 26, 2013

More Fun Summer Reading

Now that we're closing in on the end of July, it's time for the young people in your life to read for fun (even though we know you've been encouraging that all summer long)!

In my work at the Bank Street College of Education two days a week as the director of the Center for Children's Literature, I get to work closely with the children's librarian, Allie Jane Bruce.

If you were to walk into the children's room today, you'd see an array of graphic novels on display that range from an exceptionally moving memoir of a childhood spent studying at the American School of Ballet under George Balanchine, To Dance by Siena Charson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel; and Little White Duck, a memoir of growing up in Maoist China by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez, illus. by Andrés Vera Martínez; to more classic comics such as George O'Connor's action-packed, gloriously illustrated Olympians series (my special favorites so far of the planned 12: Poseidon and Hera); plus a middle school Drama--literally--written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier about theatrical antics on and off the stage.

As with her graphic novels display, Allie's terrific summer reading lists include fiction and information books as well as poetry. The lists are divided into lower school (K-3rd grade), middle grades (4th-6th grade) and upper school (7th-8th grades). She also offers tips on how to present summer reading as fun, rather than a chore.

And here's the summer reading list I put together in May, just in case you missed it. Please don't miss Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein--my favorite summer read since my May list came out. Part Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (a wealthy gentleman searches for a young successor) and part Mysterious Benedict Society (testing wit and intelligence through unusual means), it's a great read-aloud for the entire family.

Happy reading!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Body Image

In her debut novel, 45 Pounds (More or Less), K.A. Barson helps teens see that they may not always realize how much they internalize the comments made by the adults around them, especially parents and other family members. 

K.A. Barson
Here's an example at the opening of the novel when narrator Ann hears a comment her mother makes about herself, and the teen takes it as a comment on her own body. When her mother holds up an orange polka dot bikini, Ann tells her mother to "go for it." Her mother responds that she would "if it weren't for this paunch. And these stretch marks.... Hideous." Ann immediately makes the connection back to herself: "I know that I'm bigger than she is. If she believes she's hideously fat, what could she possibly think about me? I don't say any of that, though." Ann's next thought is that she's hungry. Ann's mother never comments on Ann's weight in the book; she supports her daughter's efforts to lose weight and exercise, but Ann's sense of her mother's judgment comes solely through Ann's misguided perceptions of how her mother sees her.

When Ann overhears her four-year-old sister at a pretend tea party, she realizes how far these comments about body image and weight have penetrated into the family. Four-year-old Libby says, "Teddy, are you paying attention to me? This is very, very important... Eating too much food makes you cry. You only eat when nobody is watching. Then nobody will see you get fat. That's what Annie does. Or you run and run and run the fat away. That's what Mommy does. And you yell a lot. That makes fat go away, too." At that moment, Ann knows she must stop the cycle.

Ann is never bullied by her peers--which is refreshing; she simply exists on the fringes. Her struggles are internal. When I got to interview K.A. Barson recently for School Library Journal, she addressed Ann's need to take responsibility for her situation. "The cliques aren’t necessarily mean to Ann, but they’re not including her either," she said. "Some of it is Ann, too. Had she stepped up a little bit, out of her comfort zone, they’d have included her." Barson reveals through Ann's evolving attitudes that there are no quick fixes. Changing one's habits to healthy ones, and adjusting one's image of oneself require practice, discipline and consistency. This is not a heavy-handed book; readers close it thinking, if Ann can do it, I can, too.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Games of Wit

Chris Grabenstein
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein ranks among some of the top novels for middle-graders that deal with solving puzzles. It will stretch readers' minds, yet the book also provides all the clues necessary for the solution.

Fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will appreciate billionaire library benefactor Mr. Lemoncello's Willy Wonka–like eccentricities and his search for a young mentee through a series of tests--both intellectual and moral. And those who enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society will revel in the kinds of games and puzzles the fellow puts forth. 

Like Roald Dahl's group of would-be heirs to Wonka's dynasty, Grabenstein, too, puts together a cast of characters with a variety of personalities in their quest to win prizes and become the spokesperson for Mr. Lemoncello's company. Twelve children have won a place through a winning essay explaining why they're excited about the new library that Mr. Lemoncello is building in their town. One of the 12, Sierra Russell, helps kind protagonist Kyle Keeley due to her incessant reading and the details she picks up on in her search for books (Kyle invites her to join his team). Charles Chiltington, on the other hand, wants to win at any cost, no matter whom he sacrifices. Kyle simply loves to play games, and he's enjoying the contest for the sheer sport of it.

Grabenstein takes pains to show that the children are never in harm's way; they are free to exit the contest early--with the understanding that they forfeit their chance to win. It's a great summer read for the pure fun of it, yet it also sharpens readers' intelligence--they can't help but be on the alert for clues. It's also a terrific family read-aloud; children as young as seven can easily follow along with delight.