Posts tagged ‘Books’

Happy holiday!

Or at least happy Children’s Book Week!

Yes, it may be a marketing ploy, but hey, I’m all for corporate conspiracies with the ultimate goal of getting people to read kids books.

Celebrate by marking whatever you’re currently reading with the official bookmark, found here.

Incidently, what are you reading? I just finished Talking to Dragons of Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles for about the 10,247th time last night, and I’ve got Heaney’s Electric Light in my bag right now.

May 11, 2009 at 5:38 pm Leave a comment

Pitch your tents, bring your iodine tablets!

boxcar_childrenI cannot stand the Boxcar Children. This wasn’t always the case; my addiction to reading can be traced back to the first Boxcar Children book, handed to me in first grade. For two years I pulled Boxcar Children books off the shelf, devoured them, then replaced them in order – one through about 120 – and pulled the next one down. But even childhood nostalgia can’t save these books in my mind. They’re dragged inexorably downward by insipid, flat characters who seem to think childhood is nothing more than ignorant vulnerability.

“Wait!” you Boxcar defenders may say. “They live alone in a forest! They shell peas! Benny has to drink from a cracked pink cup! Poor child!”

While I agree that the first book’s best feature is life in the great outdoors, if you think that drinking from a cracked cup is roughing it for a 6-year-old, you clearly 1. Have never gone camping, and 2. Have never met a 6-year-old.

The author of the first 18 (and best) books of the series, Gertude Chandler Warner, once told her fans that the first book “raised a storm of protest from librarians who thought the children were having too good a time without any parental control! That is exactly why children like it!” What she doesn’t mention is that parental – or grand-parental – supervision is exactly what the books praise. In an ultimate dismissal of children’s resourcefulness and adventurousness, the kid’s boxcar is dragged into their grandfather’s backyard, where it stands, not as a reminder of the adventures they’ve had and the challenges they overcame, but as a statement that they’ll never ever have to do those terrible things again, because now they have an adult to do all the difficult thinking for them.

To be clear, I’m all for kids having adult supervision and am against children running off into the wilderness to live all alone – I’ve read Lord of the Flies. But fiction lets us be adventuresome, and there’s no better way in kids lit to celebrate resourcefulness, quick thinking, and problem-solving than with an adventurous outdoors tale.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of treacherous expeditions and dangerous nights under the stars in the world of kids lit.Those are the escapades we’ll face this week, in Roughing It Week. So pack up your knapsack, grab a hatchet, read up on your falconry and edible mushrooms, cause we’ll be traveling light.

April 25, 2009 at 10:25 am 2 comments

What the world was missing

From Oh Joy!, a link to what may be the best and most useful website ever created (and no, I do not think that was too many superlatives):




For now, though, they’ve got very few children’s and juvenile books and zero picture books, but I sure hope its not long until those get put there too.

March 16, 2009 at 11:23 pm Leave a comment

Donut Machine Week 1: Henry Reed Inc.

henryreedHenry Reed Inc., by Keith Robertson (1958, though there were sequels published through the 80s, reprinted by Puffin, 1989)

Henry Reed’s father is a diplomat in Italy who sends his 13-year-old son back to the States to live an American life during the summer. And what an American life it is! The town of Grover’s Corners (a name shared with another fictional archetypical American small town), New Jersey, where Henry stays with his aunt and uncle, is filled with the expected cast. We meet the the affable grocer, the young married couple new to suburbia, the annoying little brothers, the dogs adopted by the entire neighborhood.

Henry is an enchanting, business-minded teen, filled with American moxie and the go-getter spirit, who turns the barn (yes, the barn) into his company’s headquarters and recruits his neighbor Midge as his employee. Henry embodies the American Dream, that mythos of enterprise, all while lightly satirizing that very idea. He thinks that adding “Inc.” to his name automatically makes him a company.

The book, which spawed four sequels, is endearing and self-aware, a combination which keeps it far from the category of trite small-town fiction. Compare this Henry to another Henry of the same general era, the Boxcar Children‘s Henry Alden. Alden is 16 but seems to have no friends beyond his siblings, and his interest in girls extends just far enough to complement his sister Jessie on her perpetually new sweaters. Reed tries to engineer a weather balloon, his friend Midge handles worms and turtles with enthusiasm, and he names his dog Agony. Which Henry would you prefer to spend a summer with?

March 16, 2009 at 11:02 pm Leave a comment

Donut Machine Week.

Small towns

Gee Whiz!

Well, shucks, I wanted to make this week’s theme out-of-print children’s books, but as I began researching the stories I had in mind, holy cats!, I found that they’d all  been reprinted in the last few years (Yippee!). Well, I had to find something else to write on, but what? So I put my noggin to a’thinkin’, real melon-scratching type thinkin’. And I decided to write on the books anyway. This week is nostalgia week here at SoA, a week chock-full-a great books from midcentury America as well as some whizbang words.

The books that you’ll see in the next few days are all ones I’d read over and over as a kid, but that I’d first pulled off the shelf because they were old: Beat-up books that were missing covers, with loose pages tucked in between the wrong chapters. These were the books that my mother read as a kid, too precious for my grandmother to throw away, sent instead to us over years of routine house-cleanings.

But these books have another common theme: they are all achingly quaint portrayals of the quintessential small town American life. They’re American commedia dell’arte, with predictable and comfortable casts. Mothers in these books are described as “ample,” and every evening they call the playing children back to the clean house for a warm meal before scrubbing dirty faces and putting them to bed. Fathers are breadwinners who willing offer themselves up as living jungle gyms for younger members of the family. Sisters and brothers wander unsupervised for hours through the town, discovering caves or chatting with white-capped milk men and aproned diner waitresses.

It’s easy to see why a book like this would go out of print.  Yet there are some gems that take these stereotypical plots and characters and elevate them to classics. How? Almost always with an incredibly winning child protagonist. The kids carry these novels and, in the process, become exemplars of an “American” childhood.

With all that in mind, I will present for your critical pleasure “Donut Machine Week,” a title which will suggest to those “in-the-know” what type of books I’ll be listing. They’re all stories from 1960 or earlier which mix bright, adventurous, wacky childhoods with a delicious dose of nostalgia.

March 15, 2009 at 2:44 pm Leave a comment


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman just won the Newbery! I got this book for Christmas (ok, technically my brother got it — isn’t it really the same thing?) and read it in one sitting, it was so good. It’s quintessential Gaiman: great writing, creepy and weird, but wonderfully endearing.  Read it!

In other news, I haven’t posted in a while and probably won’t post again for a few days due to a really yucky case of bronchitis. But its giving me a lot of time to catch up on news and reading, so I’ll have a huge list of stuff to share when I’m back in commission.

January 26, 2009 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

Man, I’m behind the library times

The American Library Association (ALA) is having their mid-winter conference this January in Denver. And this year, they’ve gone digital! With crazy technologies like twitter, they’re announcing the winners of their awards live, and you can watch the live webcast. Who needs an Oscar party when there are ALA’s to watch? And, in their most useful and undoubtedly most popular technological decision:

The ALA Island in Second Life will also broadcast an encore presentation of the Youth Media Awards Webcast. Visitors can take advantage of in-world viewing later in the day on the ALA Island at the Main Stage.

January 9, 2009 at 1:52 pm Leave a comment

Academic habits

All the “…since the Great Depression”s that I’ve read in the news lately have put me in a Steinbeck mood. Before leaving for Spain again, I decided to pull my old copy of The Grapes of Wrath off the shelf and see if it was as good as I remembered it.

In 8th grade, my English class tackled GoW, a book that at 619 pages was by far the longest book we’d ever attempted. Rhetorically and literally, it dwarfed previous middle-school selections like The Hobbit, Brave New World, or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (I’m still bitter about having to read that one for school).

Steinbeck’s work was my first real introduction to literary analysis, and I threw myself into it–partly because I loved the book, and partly because of a feud with the teacher. I was convinced that she’d interpreted everything wrong, and I read the book with a critical eye just to prove her faults in understanding in front of the whole class. The result of this scholarship?



This may not be ideal Metro-riding book condition. I was perhaps a bit over-zealous in my reading. But Mrs. EnglishTeacher did concede, after a 20-minute long argument, that my conclusions about the title were valid (don’t ask me to recall what those conclusions were — all I remember is the victory).

Remembrances like this make me wonder how I ever entered college thinking I’d be a math or history major.


Quick (edit: not-so-quick) note about Roll of Thunder, which I know has some advocates out there: I didn’t hate the book, just the fact that it was part of the curriculum. Its a very well-written, insightful, and challenging YA book, but one which can be handled on a summer reading list. While I’m a well-known advocate of the literary value of YA fiction, I actually think that for YA (10-15 year-old) readers, the classroom should be devoted to books in the canon, for a few reasons. One reason being that reading and understanding the canonical books provides very necessary literary, cultural, and social currency. They help you understand references and culture simply because they are canonical.

My second reason for encouraging middle and high-school curricula to steer clear of YA is because I think that in order to gain in-depth critical value from YA, you have to have a complex understanding of the fundamentals of literary analysis, which you get from reading canonical books. YA books like Roll of Thunder do not require challenging critical thinking to form a basic understanding of the books’ plot, characters, and themes. Books like To Kill a Mockingbird, which we also read in seventh grade and which deals with many of the same racial themes as Roll of Thunder, do require challenging critical work.

There’s an argument to be made that some students are not ready for texts like To Kill a Mockingbird and starting them on the YA canon is a stepping-stone to other books. True and valid. But this work’s place is not the classroom, at least not while books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Grapes of Wrath are also on the reading list. Even a struggling student can gain from truly complex and challenging books, but advanced students languish without them. (this leads into a whole other argument I have set up about the failure of grading systems, but that can be left for another time).

January 6, 2009 at 6:32 pm Leave a comment

Read the Printed Word!
he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.