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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

I’m Still Learning

On 04, Jun 2018 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Today in my Feedly I read this thought-provoking article from the blog Reading While White. If you are white you need to hop over and read through it. The author, Elisa Gall, discusses troubling aspects of the traditional publishing industry including the publication of books about oppressed and marginalized people by white people as the industry’s answer to the call for more diversity. The article also calls out the fact that we’re seeing less “I don’t see color” arguments, but are seeing more people calling for books with what they call “casual diversity”. I’ve heard and used the term “incidental diversity”.

As I was reading, though, I was embarrassed to realize I am guilty of looking for those casual diversity books and naming some of the diversity I see in picture books as such. And from there I realized, as Gall points out, this is because I’m still looking at those books with a white lens. While I may never be able to remove that lens completely (or at all), I should not be looking for books that simply have brown or disabled or queer characters in circumstances or stories or places that are essentially white or able bodied or hetero. And if those characters can be swapped out for a white character, it may not be true diversity.

Now that being said, this does not mean we need one story to represent all black people (or all disabled people, etc.). Nor does it mean that a black and white character may not be able to be seen in a similar story. I think my own blindspot over this stemmed from my desire to see the abundance of stories that reflect me and my children available to children of color (and others). The problem with that is that I didn’t stop to examine whether or not those same stories would be applicable to those other children. In some cases they might be, but in many others they are not. It was a really good check on my privilege to read that article and realize how careful I need to be when reviewing books and a good reminder that I am not always the best person to be reviewing diverse content. I’m trying to use my gatekeeper status and the fact that white librarians might (sadly) be more likely to listen to my recommendations, but that doesn’t mean I will have the most accurate perception of how a book will work for an audience that isn’t white, cisgender, able-bodied, straight, and middle class.

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In Uncategorized

By Elizabeth Wroten

I’m not the f*cking book police

On 19, Oct 2015 | In Uncategorized | By Elizabeth Wroten

Sorry for the language, but I’m about to rant. Recently a few colleagues have come to me wanting me to limit types of books kids can check out (in particular I Spy, Where’s Waldo and Elephant and Piggie books). In lieu of these I’m supposed to push them into chapter books. And while I was gracious and conciliatory I didn’t give them a definite “yes, I will do that”. Because I’m not the fucking book police.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about helping kids find all kinds of books they like. From chapter books to picture books, from non fiction to fiction, from classics to new releases. The way I see it our kids come to library NOT to learn how to read, but to learn to want to read. One factor in this is that the other librarian is, by training and practice, a reading specialist. She has no other library experience and has in no way been immersed in library culture. That’s not a bad thing. Quite the contrary, she’s an incredible teacher and she knows her stuff. Plus she doesn’t get mired down in some of the library crap there is. The kids like her and she gets books in their hands. But it does mean she sees the library as the place to teach reading, not literacy. She has the same end goal as I do, life-long readers, but our approaches are vastly different.

Here’s why I refuse to become the book police:

Making reading a chore, something where you are told to choose something else or handed a book by the teacher with little to no input from you, does not make life-long readers. It makes kids who don’t want to read. It makes reading feel like something they have to do. Or worse yet, something they need to pretend to do to get the grade, make the teacher happy, or get by. I don’t want to teach kids to dissemble. I want them to love to read.

Moreover, limiting and saying no to their choices invalidates those kids. They like those books. That’s why, of their own volition, that have sought them out on the shelf and brought them to me (or the self-checkout station) to check out. They have sat down with them and started reading them. WITH ABSOLUTELY NO INTERVENTION OR ENTICEMENT on my part. None. Far be it from me to tell them they shouldn’t like that. Or that their choices suck. They probably think that about the books I choose to read. Every book its reader, right?

Also, what if a student is choosing a particular book because they see them self in it? When we tell them it’s not good enough, we invalidate that child. And let’s face it, the large majority of books that are deemed “good” and “worthwhile” are white, middle to upper class, heteronormative, with a traditional family structure. Even in my very wealthy private school these books reflect a small part of our population.

Policing kids reading also underestimates motivation. My colleagues don’t just want me telling kids they can’t read books that are “too easy”. I’m also supposed to stop kids from reading books that are “too hard”. Kids are really good at self censoring, both when it comes to content and when it comes to difficulty. I don’t want to tell the kid who loves mythology he shouldn’t be reading Percy Jackson if it’s a stretch. Especially if he really wants to. That desire is going to do a lot more for advancing his ability to read and his success than me giving him a book he’s not interested in. One thing I do, do when kids bring books that are really hard is tell them it’s okay to put it down and come back to it or ask a parent to help them read it.

I have been that reluctant, struggling reader. That was me. And guess what I learned to pretend to read the book that was handed to me by my parents and my teachers. There was stuff I wanted to read (god awful crap, looking back as an adult), but I was told it wasn’t good enough and that it I shouldn’t want to read it. The result? I read a total of 5 books for pleasure between high school and the start of graduate school. Five books in in ten years. Five books. Ten years. That’s not what we want for our students, is it? And let’s face it, the kids I’m supposed to get all book nazi on are the reluctant readers. The weak readers. Forcing them into books they haven’t chosen will do exactly this. Actually I probably read so many books in those ten years because my parents were readers and it was part of the family culture.

What happened in graduate school, you ask, that made me start reading again? Oh, just that it was library school and I was suddenly given permission to read all the YA, MG, and Kidlit I wanted. And no one batted an eye. It was “for work” and “for school”. Except I love that stuff. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT! I wish I could just read all day. Sometimes I do. Oops. I found myself as a reader. I found what I love (most things, especially if they are for younger audiences) and what I don’t like (adult fiction about sad women in bad marriages, tedious and dry nonfiction). And that’s (one of) my goals in the library- to help kids find themselves as readers. I can’t do that if I’m the one selecting their books for them. That’s them learning they don’t know themselves and I do. Which is completely false.

Sure, I’m happy to do reader’s advisory with them. I will make all kinds of suggestions and ask them questions. I may even put a book in their hand and say “try it”. But when I do that I tell them my feelings won’t be hurt if they try it and hate it or even if they don’t want to try it. My ego isn’t on the line. I know they like what they like and I like what I like. It’s not up to me to make that call for them and when they make it, it’s not a rejection of me. Just the book they didn’t like.

It’s not like these kids don’t get other practice or support reading. They’re in library for an hour a week. They are in their classrooms five days a week for 6 hours. In those classrooms the teachers are reading aloud to them and having them read aloud. Choosing books that will both challenge and help them. They have books that are precisely where their reading level is. They read these several times a week. They practice reading directions, math boxes, words on the board, spelling books, and worksheets (ugh). The classroom is where reading instruction takes place. Where they look at phonics and mechanics. That’s why librarians don’t take classes on the mechanics of reading. It’s not usually part of their curriculum. It certainly isn’t in our school, nor does it need to be.

So, to the kids in third grade who want to check out a Where’s Waldo and Elephant and Piggie, to the kids in second who want to check out three Elephant and Piggie, to the kids who want all picture books, to the kid reading graphic novels and comics, to the kids who want the thickest book in the library, to the kid who reads ten books a day: do it! You go! I love those books too. I’ve read them. I haven’t read them. I hate them. What I think doesn’t matter. What you think is the only thing that matters. You are reading. Good for you! Keep going!

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Everyone Prays by Alexis York Lumbard

On 05, Mar 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Everyone PraysEveryone Prays: A Celebration of Faith Around the World by Alexis York Lumbard

From GoodReads: Christians, Jews, and Muslims all pray. So do Hindus and Buddhists. Many others pray too. So begins Everyone Prays, a bright and colorful concept book celebrating the diverse ways that people pray. In a vibrant yet accessible manner, young readers are transported on a visual tour across the globe. They will discover the Native American sun dance ceremony, visit the sacred sites in Jerusalem, behold the Shinto shrines in Japan, watch Maasai dances in Kenya, see pilgrimages to the river Ganges in India, and much, much more.

I have to add a personal spin to this review, especially since I read some of the reviews on GoodReads and was surprised by the criticism. We’re a pretty a-religious family. The holidays we celebrate are tied to cultural tradition and significance rather than religion for us. That being said I don’t want my daughter to think religion isn’t okay if she’s interested and I want her to know about other faiths beyond our vaguely Christian one. I also think you need some conception of religion to really be culturally literate. So, I often seek out books that share religious stories, figures, and other religions (especially Islam since one of my closest friends is Muslim) to share with my daughter so she is exposed to the idea of religion. That is why I picked up this book.

I know this type of book, one that presents religion, can be really hit or miss. Some people on GoodReads complained that it was too didactic. I agree the book is didactic, but it’s essentially seeking to do what I am seeking to do with my daughter: expose her to religion and how it’s similar and different across faiths and cultures. Nonfiction is, at its heart, didactic. I did not get the impression here that there was a Message with a capital ‘m’, nor did it feel like there was some agenda underlying the text.

The other complaint I saw was that the text within the book was sparse and there wasn’t much information except in the back matter. This is true, but I didn’t see it as a downside. In fact, it made it the perfect book to share with my three-year-old. I love nonfiction books, but the more text heavy they become the less interested my daughter is and I think this is true for younger audiences in general.

We both liked the bright simple illustrations and I thought they complimented the text nicely. I was relieved to see that the pictures have a white field and modern feel rather than the bland, watery or cutesy illustrations that seem to plague religious picture books. It’s also refreshing to see a mix of people in a book, a mix of people that are primarily brown, not white.

So, the long and the short of it is, I think this is a great book for exposing kids to different religions to see how they are the same and how they differ. It’s probably best for the younger set 3-7ish (preschool up into first grade). Certainly older kids might be drawn in by the extra information at the back and it would make a good read aloud because it doesn’t get too bogged down with tons of information. There is a lot here to spark discussion about different religious ceremonies, traditions, and rituals and because it’s not all included in the picture book part of the book the audience can pick and choose what they are curious about. Return visits to the book would spark more questions and discussion.

Half way through the book my daughter asked if we could buy our own copy of the book once we returned the library copy and if that isn’t a ringing endorsement I don’t know what is.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Allison Levy

On 14, Jan 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Family FletcherThe Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Allison Levy

From GoodReads: Meet the Fletchers. Their year will be filled with new schools, old friends, a grouchy neighbor, hungry skunks, leaking ice rinks, school plays, wet cats, and scary tales told in the dark!

There’s Sam, age twelve, who’s mostly interested in soccer, food, and his phone; Jax, age ten, who’s psyched for fourth grade and thinks the new neighbor stinks, and not just because of the skunk; Eli, age ten (but younger than Jax), who’s thrilled to be starting this year at the Pinnacle School, where everyone’s the smart kid; and Frog (not his real name), age six, who wants everyone in kindergarten to save a seat for his invisible cheetah. Also Dad and Papa.

WARNING: This book contains cat barf, turtle pee, and some really annoying homework assignments.

Oh no! This was a DNF (did not finish) for me. I wanted to like the book and I can’t say I didn’t, I just wasn’t clicking with it right now for some reason. (I suspect it’s the time of year as I read this just before Christmas and had a to-do list a mile long.)

Even though I put it down I think it’s got great appeal. The story follows the four boys in the Family Fletcher. Four very different boys, in appearance and personality, who are all adopted by two dads. The book really captures a loving, functional family which is so refreshing. The family is also very  much the picture of suburban families- they play sports, attend private school (and public school), they camp, they have traditions, they have a cat and a dog, the list goes on. If anything this book goes overboard in making the family both diverse and normal. But can you really go overboard with that?

Each chapter switches perspective and is narrated not by, but from the perspective of, one of the boys. They each have something going on such as a new school or changing friendship. The Fletcher’s live next door to a crotchety old man who is always yelling at them about too much noise and various pieces of sports equipment, but even he isn’t painted with a broad villain brush. He slowly evolves in the eyes of the boys as they have a variety of interactions with him where he becomes a lot more human.  The best part of the book is how quirky the whole family is when taken as a whole. And I think this is so relatable for kids at that upper elementary level. They’re just starting to become aware of how they look as a family to people outside looking in and it can be so embarrassing!

This would make a fantastic read aloud to a third or fourth grade class (or kid), but the youngest brother has just started kindergarten so there is certainly something there for younger readers to connect with and make this book good read aloud for a mixed-age group. The langauge and length definitely make it more suitable to older readers who want to tackle it alone. Although not quite as sweet and pastoral as The Penderwicks I think this is a good place to go for kids who liked sibling relationships and friendship elements of that book.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Labeling Children’s Books

On 06, Jan 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

It turns out what I’ve been calling middle grade is not actually middle grade. At least, not exactly. Publishers call books for 8-12 year olds middle grade. This seems rather absurd to me. To begin with, the difference in simple ability to read between an 8 year old and 12 year old can be so vast. Most 8 year olds are in second grade. They’re just learning to read and can tackle basic chapter books.* Most 12 year olds are in 6th or 7th grade and are reading considerably harder novels. I was 12 at the start of 8th grade when we read Of Mice and Men and The Old Man and the Sea. Those are a far cry from what a second grader can/would/should read. Second, a 12 year old is in a very different developmental place than an 8 year old and is probably struggling with very different issues. There are different social dynamics at 11 and 12. There are different interests (romance!) at 11 and 12.

I think these age ranges and labels are designed to sell books. Publishers are trying to capture the biggest market they can for any one book. Saying a book is good for 13+ is not exactly helpful, but you get a lot of parents who think it might be right for their kids who are 13+. Same with saying a picture book is for 4+ or 3+. I also think that these age ranges are indicative of how we are pushing academics younger and younger. Eight-year-olds are, with rare exceptions, reading fluently enough to pick up a middle grade title. I worked in an elite private school in second grade and even those kids with all their privilege were not able to. But we love to place that expectation on kids. It plays into parents who refuse to let their first graders read picture books because those are for babies. Nevermind that the actual reading level of many picture books is higher than those early chapter books and easy readers they replace them with.

Ultimately I prefer broad terms like kidlit, middle grade, and YA to refer to books. They capture a broad audience and line up with how we already group kids (lower, middle and high school). It’s an easy system for parents to understand. If I had to state a preference for age ranges, I would cut out those young kids from middle grade and tack on another year or two. So the age range would look more like 10-13 or even 11-14. I know there is still big difference between a 10 and a 13 year-old, but I think for the most part these kids are in middle school and are facing some of the same issues and are better able to handle more “mature” content (like crushes and kisses, not sex). I also think by fifth/sixth grade or 10/11 unless there is a major issue either with the child or with the schooling system these kids are fluent readers.

In looking back at the age ranges for the books I’ve called middle grade, I’ve mostly been in line with the category. The most glaring difference is that I’ve lumped the books that fall into the 8-10 year old range into kidlit and put some books that are better suited to 12 and 13 year olds into the middle grade category. I’m not out to change the publishing industry here, I’m just trying to explain the terms I’m using on my blog and rant a bit about something that baffles me. So, just to clarify for the blog:

Kidlit: books for kids, especially picture books, but includes chapter books appropriate up through fifth grade

Middle Grade: books for middle schoolers, these books will potentially involve more explicit romance (but no sex!!), language, drugs, and growing pains, they’re for kids in sixth grade through eighth grade

YA: books for high schoolers, kids who are 14 and up, sure there’s a range here but they definitely tackle some serious stuff and look at relationships and language in a more mature way

*Which the publishing industry labels as for 6-8 year olds or somewhere close to that, This is also absurd since 6 is the age of many kindergarteners and they are learning letters not reading chapter books.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The Place of Information

On 02, Dec 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

This is going to be a little friend-of-a-friend-y due to the nature of a post I recently read, but please bear with me. This post was about teaching informative Arabic novels and I was especially drawn to an idea that the author calls the “place of information”:

“I realize that I go there — to that place of “information” — more times in a week than I’d care to admit. I, too, have written and taught about “current events,” and made literature the handmaiden of hot-button discussion.”

The author elaborates quoting another article, by Miral al-Tahawy, (I’m quoting a quote!) explaining what the place of information means in the context of both the classroom and using translated books:

“So that kind of novel, sometimes I choose to include it. It’s there to inform people about the Middle East, to inform the students about something they care about…But when you speak about literature… I feel it to be something magical, it’s something different, which is really hard to be translated, first, because it’s very connected to the language, the Arabic tradition, the symbols, the smells, the human beings that live.”

What particularly interested me was that I think this idea really applies to the discussions librarians (and parents and the general public) are having about a lack of diversity in children’s publishing. I think a lot of the books that are considered diverse fall into that place of information in that they are there to show kids diversity.

I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, although I worry they can make diversity seem exotic and “other” as well as exoticise other cultures and people. But we need books that just are diverse. Not more books that, as the blog post says, make “literature the handmaiden of hot-button discussion”.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Ghost Story Anthologies

On 31, Oct 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Scary Stories

I may be the biggest chicken there is. I can’t watch horror films, dark rooms creep me out, and I can have a pretty active imagination when things go bump in the night. Still, I love to read spooky tales and ghost stories. While in college I stumbled across a couple ghost story authors that I absolutely love. They are primarily Victorian era authors, but there are a few more modern ones. The first few ghost story anthologies I read really got me into them, and from then on I started buying any anthologies I would come across. Sometimes this meant volumes of short stories by one author, but often it was collections from all kinds of authors.

Collected Ghost StoriesIf you’re interested I suggest looking for Wilkie Collins, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood (his Wendigo story still freaks me out ten years after reading it), Elizabeth Gaskill, and M.R. James. Penguin published a collection of ghost stories called American Supernatural Tales that included Poe and Stephen King as well as Washington Irving and was quite good.

To celebrate the Halloween season I’m reading through a couple of these anthologies that have been sitting on my bookshelf for far too long. So far they’re great. Scary Stories with illustrations by Barry Moser has a few tales that I’ve never read. My favorite thus far has been the first story in the book that has a little girl getting retribution for the death of her kittens. It’s more creepy than scary with an incredibly clever twist at the end.

I also have (yet another) collection of M.R. James tales. M.R. James was the author I came upon quite by accident when I was studying abroad in Cairo. I had way too much free time and was miserable to boot so I began wandering the American University’s bookstore. They had a really fabulous literature section and I began buying any and every book that piqued my interest. One of the first I got was this collection of ghost stories. If San Francisco Noirreading every saved me, it was then. And if there was one book that made me realize I could lose myself in books, it was this one. I still have the book and I return to it every once in awhile. I’m hoping that this new Oxford edition will have a few tales I haven’t read and will bring me back to some of my old favorites (“Casting the Runes “and “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook”).

The other collection I have picked out is San Francisco Noir 2. The Akashic Noir series complies collections of ghost and supernatural stories from one city (there are a few geographical areas slipped in). Not all the stories are from the US either. There is Tehran Noir, Haiti Noir, and Bangkok, to name a few. I have also read New Orleans Noir which I bought in an old funeral home converted to a Borders bookstore in the Garden District. Awesome! I’m curious if the San Francisco one will have a similar feel to the New Orleans one. I highly recommend the series, especially if you live in or have visited any of the cities featured. Check out the GoodReads listing of the series here.

Ghost stories, especially anthologies, are great reading for high school (and even brave middle schoolers). If you go with the classics they’ll be creepy, but not inappropriate (unless, of course, you consider murder inappropriate). You can pick the book up for a few minutes and read a story, then put it down again without needing to keep the whole book in your head. The anthologies often contain some excellent authors, authors who may appear on the the AP exam, so you can frequently get a literary factor in there too. Plus the stories are always so engaging.

Any one else love to read these kinds of books? Any favorite ghost stories or authors out there?

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Banned Books Week: The Virtue of Comics

On 22, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I just read a post about banned comics over on The Hub and was inspired to write my own little post about how comics really helped me. I know as librarians we are all about letting kids read, but I don’t think you can emphasize enough how important it is to let them read what they are drawn to.

I’ve talked about it before, but when I was younger I struggled with reading. There were books I would get into and I would read through them quickly, but that didn’t happen all that often. I didn’t have a special librarian I connected with and I didn’t really use books as escapism. Then in late elementary school I had a really good friend that got me into the Archie comics. Sure they weren’t any great piece of literature, but I would be lost for the evening reading through the new issue I picked up at the grocery store check out. I can’t say that comics got me into reading. I did already read and there were other books that I enjoyed. I also didn’t run out and start checking out stacks of books from the library. It took many more years for that habit to develop. I think that what comics did for me, really, was to keep me engaged with reading. They kept me looking for more material and encouraged me every time I picked one up. I only wish that there had been the profusion of comics and graphic novels that there is today. I think then I would have become a voracious reader.

I was so struck by a comment from Amy Koester at the ALSC Institute last week where she said she doesn’t really like the term “reluctant reader” because she feels that they are simply readers that haven’t found their niche yet. I wanted to get up and shout when she said that. I cannot agree more! Especially because I am one of those readers. Comics helped keep me reading through a time when I thought I didn’t really like reading, through a time I struggled with reading, through a time when assigned reading was way above my head and could have turned me off to it completely.

I’m really grateful that despite their eye rolling my parents did buy me those Archie comics and kept buying them. I went on from there to read the TinTin comics which are both beloved by many and really problematic (I have another post coming up about that topic). I read those a million times each and they kept me reading too, through middle school when I thought I wasn’t a reader. So, keep graphic novels in library collections. Put them in the hands of readers. They are real reading and maybe they will keep another kid reading.

For more about Banned Books Week see the website here. The official week runs from September 21-27, but I think we can always celebrate reading banned books.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Required Reading

On 02, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Leaving Cheyenne

<—-This is the book. It was required reading the summer before ninth grade. And I hated it. There were some sex scenes in it that, as a young and immature ninth grader, I was not ready for. I think we all have one or two Required Reading books that we’ve really hated. I’ve been thinking about writing a bit on this topic, especially because I think required reading is problematic. Since it’s back-to-school season and because The Hub also wrote up a post related to the topic I thought now would be a good time to tackle it.

There were plenty of required texts that I liked. Several I loved (Jane Eyre, The Scarlett Letter, and The Heart of Darkness). And some I wasn’t fond of but could appreciate (The Great Gatsby, Beowulf, Gilgamesh). I can only think of two that I really disliked (The Chosen and A Separate Peace) but I know it’s because I didn’t get them. I doubt I would adore them if I did get them, but I could have respected them.

Then there are a couple text that tended to be required reading that we did not read and I am SO GLAD. Because I read them when I was a little older and could appreciate them more, specifically The Joy Luck Club and Things Fall Apart. Things Fall Apart is one of my all time favorites and, along with Jane Eyre, I reread it every couple years.

Some of this required reading kicked off a classics reading binge. Or maybe it was the looming AP test? I’m not sure, but I went on to read most things Bronte and loved them. And that turned me onto gothic novels and ghost stories. I loved The Jungle and Fitzgerald’s short stories (Flappers and Philosophers is a great anthology, I’m really glad Gatsby didn’t turn me off to his work all together). There were plenty of other American and British novels I went on to read.

I went through another classics phase when I was living in Cairo. I needed to fill the time I wasn’t in class or at the museum. Reading options were limited, but the AUC had a wonderful bookstore that was well stocked with British versions of the classics. I started to read through a ton of those. Moll Flanders, Wilkie Collins ghost stories, Rebecca, The Four Feathers, and many more that I don’t remember. I’m glad I came to all those when and how I did.

I think there is a conundrum of required reading. I understand why we have required reading, to get kids to read outside themselves, to read outside their comfort zones and to expose them to classic, quality literature. But what if that exposure turns you off? I worry that by taking such a rigid tactic, that in some ways presumes to tell kids we know what they should be reading, we run the risk of turning them off to good books, good authors, or, worst of all, reading in general. For me, I went out and found more and kept coming back to the classics, but that can’t be said for a lot of kids. Working in a high school library I heard more complaints about the books they “had” to read than compliments or expressions of a desire to read more.

How do we keep require reading from making that mistake? First and foremost students need a good English teacher to walk them through many of those books. Often you are too young to appreciate or relate with the themes and characters and situations, so having a knowledgeable adult walk you through it is essential. That is what I needed when I read Leaving Cheyenne. It wouldn’t have been my favorite book, but I doubt I would have taken as much issue with it as I did. I think as librarians we can help kids find YA novels that can speak to them more directly. That they do enjoy. I think we can also encourage English teachers to use a few well-written YA novels in their curriculum. I know there are a lot of complaints about YA, but there is well written content out there (The Giver, anyone?). By showing students that reading material can be great and lofty (with classics) and can meet them where they are (with YA) I think we would do them a great service. It would give them the gift of pleasure reading.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Emily’s Blue Period

On 01, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Emily's Blue Period

From GoodReads: Emily wants to be an artist. She likes painting and loves the way artists like Pablo Picasso mixed things up.Emily’s life is a little mixed up right now. Her dad doesn’t live at home anymore, and it feels like everything around her is changing.

“When Picasso was sad for a while,” says Emily, “he only painted in blue. And now I am in my blue period.”

It might last quite some time.

Emily’s Blue Period is a picture book about divorce, but I think it handles it in a very interesting way, a way that makes is accessible to all kids.

Despite the fact that this is a “divorce book”, it doesn’t take the tack of many divorce books I’ve seen. In fact the word is never even mentioned. It never tells kids it will all be okay. It doesn’t have Emily trying to get her parents back together and it doesn’t have her blaming herself for their divorce.

What it does do is show Emily and her brother struggling to make sense of their new reality. I think you can look at the book through the lens of Emily or through the lens of Picasso. Which is to say you can look at it as a divorce book or an art book (or both, obviously). Through Emily you see how divorce can be confusing for a child. But you also see her use the transformative power of art to make sense of what is happening to her family. Emily is clearly sad, but the book is hopeful as she works her way through understanding that home is not necessarily your house, but a feeling you create through love and although many things have changed, her parents love for her and her brother has not.

Taking the art angle, the reader learns about Picasso and about his art. But the great thing about this book is how his art is related to Emily’s life. It gives real examples, of the variety that are relatable and don’t shy away from the difficult times in children’s lives, of how Picasso used art. I think many or even most kids know someone with divorced parents, so understanding that it’s a hard and confusing and sad time for their friends still make the topic familiar. I think children who are not faced with divorce will still like Emily and her interest in art and may even find inspiration to use art to work through problems they are faced with.

A lovely book for slightly older kids who are either interested in art or have parents divorcing. The format uses chapters to break the story up even though the chapters are short. I’m not sure how well issue books work for reading aloud to a group, but if any book like that is going to work it would be this one. I think really it makes art, abstract art at that, come alive and feel relevant and understandable.

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