November 26th, 2015, marked the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The origin of the Alice stories were conceived by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Oxford mathematics don, whom the world knows as Lewis Carroll.
In 1862, Dodgson constructed the basis of the Alice stories while on a boating trip with the daughters of Henry Liddell: Lorina Charlotte, Alice, and Edith. Henry Liddell’s middle daughter, Alice, requested Dodgson write the Alice stories down.
In 1864 Dodgson presented Alice Liddell with a handwritten, self-illustrated manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground on November 26th.
“It was all very well to say ‘Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. ‘No, I’ll look first,’ she said, ‘and see whether it’s marked poison or not’; for she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that, if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.”
Every November, thousands of people embark on a month of literary abandon. National Novel Writing Month is the brainchild of Chris Baty, having started as a fun challenge between friends in 1999 which eventually evolved into the worldwide phenomenon that it is today. The challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days may seem wildly impractical and foolhardy to some, as one who has won five of the past seven years, I can tell you it is more than feasible with some determination and a few tricks up your sleeve.
If there is one thing that you will be told again and again as you voyage through the uncharted waters of novel writing, it is to let your muse take the helm. Your imagination is more than capable of this challenge, but you need to get your ego and inner critic out of the way.
Many years ago, my friend introduced me to The Tail of Emily Windsnap, a story about a girl who discovers she is a mermaid. This having been a childhood fantasy of mine, I found the book thoroughly delightful. I was even more taken with it when I heard the story behind the story. When my friend Emily was a little girl, her mother began buying books. She wouldn’t just purchase the classics, Dr. Seuss and the like, there was a specific focus. Now because of her mother’s passion, Emily has a collection of books with “Emily” in the title or as the main character. This made a great impression on me and planted a seed in my mind.
When I was pregnant with my first child in 2009, I came across a book while perusing my local book store. It was called Toby Alone, and was written by Timothee de Fombelle. I remembered Emily’s collection, and knew that this was something I had to do for my children. I read the book to Toby when he was a newborn. I was fighting post-partum depression, and worried that I wasn’t spending enough time with my son, that he wouldn’t know who I was. I read to him constantly so that the silence wouldn’t broaden the chasm I imagined between us. I particularly enjoyed reading this book to him, it made me feel more comfortable in my new mother skin.
These days it’s a much more casual, fun thing I do for my boys. I don’t scour the internet for books, I simply pick them up as I find them. It has led to the discovery of some wonderful stories, and the rediscovery of some forgotten ones. For my son Tobias, I have the following to begin his collection:
Big Brave Daddy by Smiljana Coh, in which Charlie introduces us to his big, brave, daddy.
Several of these are stories I expect them to grow into as they get older, so for right now I get more fun out of them than they do.
You can also go full blown mixed media with this idea. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been made into several movies, and as I used to call my son Charlie Bucket when he was a baby I have a soft spot for this one. Toby Tyler is an old movie, and the author of this book is the namesake of one of the elementary schools I work for. Thomas the Tank Engine, of course, is full of different names and is absolutely everywhere. For something really fun, you can also watch Freema Agyeman of Doctor Who reading Charlie Cook’s Favorite Book for CBBC. There are plenty of places to find books or cartoons that your kids will love all the more for having such an intimate connection. Check out the library and your local book store with them, they will love finding their name in print.
Having a pen pal is a rite of passage for most kids born before the age of the internet—you know, when communicating with people across the continent was kind of a big deal. I remember we got assigned pen pals in elementary school, and I can’t tell you for the life of me who mine was. I am, and remain, a very terrible pen pal.
With one exception.
My great Aunt C has lived in Northern California all my adult life, but in the 80s and 90s she traveled the world with her husband. Over the years she sent me postcards from Venice, from Bali, from China, telling me of the sights and sounds and expressing how important it was for me to travel.
It must have been knowing, and coveting, that freedom that inspired me to reach out to her like I did. I was twelve, and overwhelmed with absolute, crippling misery. The kind of crippling misery that only twelve-year-olds are capable of. We had just moved to Hatfield, Massachusetts, a small town outside of Northampton, Massachusetts, that often didn’t show up on maps. Where I’d been in middle school, I was unceremoniously tossed back into elementary school in Hatfield, since sixth grade resided there.
I also left my best friend, Hilary—who was pretty much the only person in the world who got me—and didn’t fit in with anyone at school. Since I did all my growing at 11, I was approximately the same height I am now, so I was mistaken for a teacher more than once.
I went on and on in my letter to C about how horrible my life was. My grandmother (her sister) and I were never very close, and I didn’t expect she’d understand.
But Aunt C understood.
A few weeks after I wrote to her about my plight, which was clearly the worst plight in the history of plights, she wrote to tell me that she, too, understood not fitting in. That when she was growing up in the Midwest, she felt terribly alone. But there was an answer—there was a bit of magic—because not all was lost.
Read, she told me. Read, and you can go anywhere in the world.
I did. I read so much that I started to write. I couldn’t help it. All those worlds, those adventures, those people I met, they welled up inside of me and had to be let out into the world… changed a little (or hey, not at all, sorry Stephen King). It was Aunt C’s advice that changed me, that shaped me, that gave me hope. No one had ever respected my plight, had acknowledged how difficult it was for me. Everyone else had always said: “Oh, you’ll get through it,” or, “It’s tough for everyone.” There was so much unexpected power in being given permission to suffer and simultaneously granted a way out that was actually useful advice. No, “Try making new friends,” or, “Join a club,” or, “Get a new hobby”—this charge, to read, was the greatest I’d ever been given.
Then, as kids do, I became a teenager. I stopped writing as often, then stopped at all. By the time I was a college student, my days of writing to C came to an end for a while (though she did provide me with the funding to get my first computer). We saw each other on and off, mostly at a funeral or two, but it wasn’t until I went out to San Francisco about seven years ago that we started up our correspondence again, this time in email, after my son was born and not long after her husband died (Liam was born the same weekend her husband passed away).
Picking up the Threads
So it was that from 2007-2013 we wrote back and forth dozens of times, and I visited as often as I could. But in the middle of that, she fell ill. Cancer, for a second time. And things changed. After adventuring in Chinatown together in 2007—she was in her early 80s during my first visit as an adult—her life changed forever. The cancer, and its constant pain, left her much depleted. Her enthusiasm for communication dwindled.
It has not gotten better. Computers have become strange to her, her memory erratic, her handwriting unreliable. When I went to visit her last, my heart broke to see her change so. She had always seemed so ageless to me, a beauty who never knew her beauty, a bookworm who never saw her worth, but a woman who lived life with vivacity in spite of that all.
I call her when I can. And visit her when I can. Every time I visit her she sends me home with books, more books. I take them because I know it’s the richest give she can give. Most recently it was a collection of Rumi’s poems and a biography of our favorite potter, Maria Martinez (what are the odds, right?). But there are no more letters, and we’re an entire continent apart. There are conversations—she worries about my son Liam, who has high functioning autism, a great deal—but we fall into the same patterns again and again. While I visited her most recently, the conversation we’d had ten minutes before evaporated, and we repeated it again. Then again. I realized for the first time that the sharp, ebullient woman I know is fading away.
But not all. As we sat together a few weeks ago listening to the blessed rain, she leaned over to me and asked, “Do you remember that letter I wrote you? After you told me about school in Massachusetts and you hated it so much? I told you to read, do you remember that?”
I told her I remembered; I remember it every day. Twenty years have passed, but those words, they’re still there, still inside of me. I don’t know where that original letter is for the life of me, but it doesn’t matter. I can still see her neat typing on the page: READ. READ. The words are so clear they might as well be tattooed on my skin.
Words Left Behind
Our email correspondences are treasures to me now, as I prepare to watch her slip away again. I was a busy new mom when we first started writing again, but her joy and beauty and love always shone through. Across a whole continent, from California to North Carolina, it strikes me as still being astonishing. Letters like these are absolute treasures to me now.
I shall make note to find your book on the Vikings, etc. They made it as far as Istanbul, I know. Energetic sorts. Your uncle and I were agog in Istanbul. It was/is an incredible city, with much preserved history. One book “Istanbul” by Orhan Pamuk was my dead-on favorite last year. Despite a pep talk I couldn’t manage to convince my book group to read it.
The garden is slowly coming in to shape. My new Chinese neighbors were stunned by the grapefruit, and helped to pick tons. The lemon hedge is groaning with fruit, so I picked a grocery bag full to give recently. Oh yes, if I could figure out how to use my “Zio!” gadget on my computer, I could send you a snap of a large king protea. One blossom. I am proud of it!
Maybe I am getting a bit loony. But gardening does help to keep one busy. I have to be here, definitely, the first week of July, when all the apricots come in.
Please visit and we’ll make a return to Chinatown, or go to Marin County, or drive to Carmel.
We did not make it back to Chinatown, or Marin County, or Carmel, as it turns out. But that’s okay. Because the traveling I do with her, and will do until my last day, requires no physical transportation.
Yes. I will read. I will read and remember and write. And I will get a little loony in my garden, and visit Istanbul, and try, try, to do right by you, my dear.
This month the GeekMoms have run the gamut from new interpretations of Beowulf to a murder mystery in post-Revolutionary War New England. There are graphic novels filled with aliens and wizards, shadowy government organizations, teenage boys painting models in their bedrooms, and girls being discovered floating in cello cases. If something there doesn’t pique your interest then I don’t know what will!
Lisa has taken on the summer reading challenge of poring over two new books featuring until-recently-unpublished writings by two classic writers: Thomas Bulfinch and J. R.R. Tolkien.
She was particularly excited to pick up Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Tolkien actually wrote this translation of Beowulf in 1926, before The Hobbit was even published, and apparently never intended to publish this translation. His son Christopher has recently granted permission for the release of both this meticulous translation and accompanying lecture-style commentary, as well as Tolkien’s own accompanying work in a similar style, Sellic Spell. In addition, Christopher Tolkien’s comments and contributions to this volume are both helpful and welcome.
A perfect companion to it is the Tarcher Cornerstone Edition of Bulfinch’s Mythology: The Classic Introduction to Myth and Legend — Complete & Unbridged by Thomas Bulfinch (Tarcher/Penguin), Thomas Bulfinch’s comprehensive compilation of myths, from Greco-Roman to medieval and Arthurian times, has been an essential element to booklovers’ collections since 1881, more than ten years after the writer’s death.This new collection, set for release June 12, not only includes his three volumes of myth and history in its original text, it features never-before published text from Bulfinch’s journals, and interpretations of more modern works published after his time.
Neither of these books is a simple read, and both demand the reader’s attention. With these new doses of familiar authors, however, readers will want to give it.
Karen has been taking advantage of the late-night feedings that come with having a newborn, and catching up on eBooks. Two that stand out from the last month are Karen Joy Fowler’s Nebula-nominated and PEN/Faulkner award-winning We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. A fascinating character study of a young woman in college in California in the 90’s whose story looks back to the past (an unusual childhood driven by her father’s psychology experiments—to be any more specific would be spoilery) and ahead to her future. Fowler captures the person, the times, the environment, and the skewed weirdness of the premise just perfectly.
In addition, she picked up a much-talked about sf/fantasy novel from last year, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. A wonderful blend of fantasy (jinn and a more-or-less magic book) and sf (hackers and coders subverting the national security state) set in an imagined Middle Eastern emirate, this fast-paced book puts one in mind of a really great comic book. Alif, our young hacker protagonist, can be kind of obnoxious, but he does eventually learn the error of his ways, and the characters surrounding him more than make up for his obtuseness. A nuanced portrait of an environment that is too often stereotyped, Wilson does an amazing job of bringing her setting (both realistic and fantastic) to life along with her characters. If the plotting sometimes falls into slightly cliched ruts, that’s a small price to pay for this fabulous and well-rounded story.
This month Helen has tried a couple of middle grade books, suitable for children around 8-12 year olds. First up was CHERUB: The Recruit by prolific award-winning author Robert Muchamore and suitable for readers around 10+ years. Published a decade ago, the first book in the CHERUB series sees young scamp James, who seems destined for a life of crime, recruited to a shadowy government organization after he is orphaned. He is whisked off to a plush campus where he begins his training to become a spy, making friends with his fellow trainees. James ends up carrying out a dangerous mission, all while dealing with the normal early teenage issues. It’s a fast-paced and exciting ride, with James navigating relationships both inside and outside of his training and missions, as well as attempting to overcome his fear of water and swimming. The CHERUB series would appeal to fans of the Young Bond or Alex Rider books, and hopefully the reissues will gather a new set of fans.
Tethers by Jack Croxall is the first in a trilogy of books with an interesting mixture of genres. Set in Victorian times in the north of England, it also has a science fiction and fantasy edge, as well as adventure and mystery. The main characters are Karl and Esther, friends whose curiosity leads to them becoming embroiled in a strange and fantastic plot to control a magical artifact. It soon turns out that more people are also on the trail, and that they will stop at nothing to control the artifact and harness its powers. Karl and Esther are placed in mortal peril, and with the help of their companions they set out to find out the truth. Helen particularly liked that Karl and Esther weren’t content to wait around for the life that people expected them to have, and that they chose to break away and follow their instincts rather than stay on the expected path. Esther wasn’t limited by the politics of the day, and was able to use a new-found skill which she wouldn’t have been able to develop had she stayed at home. Helen hopes that the next book in the series will cover the expectations of women in the society at the time and how Esther deals with the limitations placed on her gender. Tethers is a great start to the story and she’ll certainly be checking up on Karl and Esther in the next volume.
Depression is the theme in Brilliant, a new children’s story by Roddy Doyle. Set in Dublin, it follows the nighttime adventure of two siblings, Gloria and Raymond, as they attempt to rid the city of a metaphor which has taken form: the Black Dog. It’s a modern fable or fairy tale, filled with talking animals, a friendly vampire, and a pair of children desperate to find a way to rid their uncle of the Black Dog who has settled on his back. It could be a good way to talk to children about mental illness, although I’m not sure how much of the subtleties children will be able to pick up, or whether they’ll see it in a more literal sense. Helen liked the story a great deal, especially that it hinged on the power of a spoken word. Also, she likes that Gloria is the hero and lynchpin, the child who won’t give up in her quest to rescue her uncle.
Malorie Blackman’s Noble Conflict explores morality in a future setting. In a world which has been destroyed by war and genocide, can young soldier and idealist Kaspar find his way to the truth about the past, and decide which side he should be fighting on? As with all Malorie Blackman’s novels, this one has great characterization and a meaty storyline, full of events that really make you think. There are twists and turns as Kaspar uncovers the truth, which will keep you guessing throughout. There is some description of torture in the book, so Helen recommends it for older readers.
The final book that Helen has read this month is Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. This book has been well publicized recently, being shortlisted for a plethora of awards, and winning the prestigious 2014 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. When Helen visited her local bookshop to buy a copy, the sales assistant at the till enthused about it, saying that it was a brilliant book and that all of the staff loved it. So, this is the tale of Sophie, who is found floating in a cello case in the flotsam after a shipwreck. She is taken in by English eccentric Charles, as it is presumed that her parents had perished in the shipwreck. Sophie however, thinks differently, and knows that her mother is alive. Charles teaches Sophie the important things in life: music, books, and Shakespeare. However, he fails to teach her the skills to be ladylike, and when Sophie is threatened with being taken away from Charles, they go on the run to find Sophie’s mother across the rooftops of Paris. Sophie is a fantastic heroine: brave, focused, and tenacious. She explores the roofs of Paris on bare feet and tightrope, learning to trust her new friend Matteo and teaching him to trust her in return. Helen really loved this book. There’s a poetic feel to the prose, and the characters are really multifaceted. Charles is a great father, being supportive but also letting Sophie go when he knows that she must follow her belief that her mother is alive. There’s a great angle of following your instincts and also finding the solution to a problem by looking at it from a different angle, literally in Sophie’s case, as she surveys Paris from high above.
Fran devoured The Best of Connie Willis (Del Rey, 2013), enjoying the short stories that were old friends equally with ones she hadn’t read before. The biggest treats were Willis’ notes on each story, telling the how and why of their writing, and also the journey of this amazing author. Fran is also working her way through two anthologies, 21st Century Science Fiction, edited by David Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor, 2014), and Women Destroy Science Fiction (okay, this is a magazine issue with the size and heft of an anthology, brought to you by Lightspeed Magazine and all of us Kickstarter supporters!). Fran and her daughter are reading Ellen Klages’ The Green Glass Sea together, which is a WW2 story told from the perspective of 11-year-old Dewey Kagan, who likes science and math more than some feel a young lady should, and finds herself in a town that doesn’t exist, called Los Alamos, with her mathematician father. And, because Mount To Be Read is growing exponentially, she’s also started Jaime Lee Moyer’s wonderful sequel to her ghost-detective debut Delia’s Shadow, A Barricade in Hell (Tor, 2014). So gorgeously written.
With an official list now drawn up for this summer’s Young Adult Literature Festival in London, Sophie has begun attempting to read at least one book by as many of the attending authors as possible. Her journey has begun with Andy Robb’s Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind, the story of 14-year-old D&D geek Archie and his attempts to change himself to try and win the affection of new girl Sarah. It’s an interesting story that shows the pitfalls of changing who you are to suit another, whilst also suggesting that sometimes changes should indeed be made in order to move on in life. Next up on the young adult challenge is Holly Smale’s Geek Girl.
Sophie has been filling the Supernatural summer hiatus by working through some books on the show. She found Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls by Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis a fascinating and resonating read (look for a fuller review soon here) and also enjoyed the first official graphic novel from the series, Supernatural Origins, which tells the story of the first weeks of John Winchester’s change from average guy mechanic to hunter. The story gave her a fuller appreciation for the tough decisions John had to make in those early days, however the latter half of the book turned into something more akin to a Sandman story and didn’t feel as in-keeping with the Supernatural verse.
Sophie has also been slowly making her way through Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go which is a slow going if beautifully rendered story with the ability to really make you feel a part of the world created within its pages. She has just begun Charles Soule’s graphic novel Letter 44 where a newly inaugurated U.S. president learns the truth about aliens and what we’re doing to defend ourselves from them, a common enough trope given a new twist here. She found it refreshing to see a female captain aboard the spaceship, especially one that is pregnant—an outcome of long term space missions she had yet to see covered in comics.
Finally Sophie has been somewhat taken aback by her four-year-old son’s interest in the David Chauvel and Enrique Fernandez graphic novel adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The book has taken well over a week to read yet his interest has been maintained despite the strange and often distorted illustrations.
Rebecca Angel just finished A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns. Set right after the Revolutionary War in New England, nothing is simple about this one, with bodies being found, people and horses going missing, unexpected romance, and a father trying to understand his son. Our hero/detective is William Rees, and he’s not an official detective, but very good at figuring these sorts of things out. This time, the murders take place on a Shaker community, bringing discord to the brethren of what is supposed to be a peaceful society. Good book!
Copies of some books provided for review purposes.
Two weeks from today Nanowrimo 2013 gets underway and those of us participating in this year’s event are starting to feel the pressure building.
For those unfamiliar with Nanowrimo (short for National Novel Writing Month although participation is now global), the event occurs annually in November and challenges everyone to write a 50,000 word novel during the month, a target of 1,667 words per day, assuming you stay on track. So far this year, over 100,000 people have signed up to take part.
The official website allows you to add writing buddies who will help you keep on course and offer encouragement as the weeks progress. There are also hundreds of forums where you can meet other writers either by geographical location, age-range, shared genre or by other means.
Between now and the end of Nano I will be posting weekly discussions over on the GeekMom Facebook page. If you are Nano’ing this year then please come along and join us to gloat, cry, admit how late you stayed up last night or share in our permanently open bottle of wine and never ending virtual chocolate box. We won’t tell if you don’t.
Editor’s note: After a successful inaugural year with over 1200 events across North America, Star Wars Reads Day strikes back again today. GeekMom is getting into the celebration with a focus on Star Wars books.
When I heard that Ian Doescher was converting Star Wars: A New Hope (aka Star Wars Episode IV) into a Shakespearean play, I had some doubts about how good it was going to be. My fears were put to rest when I learned that Ian is both a fan of Shakespeare and Star Wars, and I was no longer afraid that this would be just another parody. After I got my hands on a copy of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, though, I was surprised at how much actual Shakespearean history Ian was able to add to Lucas’ original screenplay.
To start, let me tell you that I didn’t pick this up to critique Ian’s use of language or his inclusion of things like asides and exits. I picked it up because it looked fun to read and I was curious to see how true Ian could stay to the original screenplay. Personally, I think that Ian did a nice job of staying true to Lucas’ original story arc, while simultaneously adding in references to Shakespeare’s original works. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t catch every Bard-based allusion on the first go-round, but there were plenty that were obvious even to my ears.
For instance, do you hear a little Hamlet in this line from Obi-Wan?
“Seems young one? Nay, thou didst! Think thou not seems.”
Or, perhaps, some Mark Anthony in this opening exhortation from Luke?
“Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears.”
Ian did more than just add in subtle references to Shakespearean plays, however, he also used some of Shakespeare’s favored literary devices, including fables. A long time ago in a galaxy far away, Shakespeare apparently used fables to help shed light on various events at hand. Ian did a nice job including a few of these without making the reader feel as if he were abusing the Star Wars canon—his additions actually belonged in the Star Wars universe and made sense in the scenes they were in.
Of all the scenes in Star Wars: A New Hope, the ones I was most interested in reading were the battle scenes. By using a chorus during these complicated moments in the story, much the same as Shakespeare employed in Henry V, the story flowed nicely, with words and rhythm ably complementing the action at hand.
Something I personally found to be tremendously helpful in reading and understanding William Shakespeare’s Star Wars was the 19-page Educator’s Guide I discovered on the Quirk Books website. The Educator’s Guide gives a very nice overview of all the references to Shakespeare’s plays, as well as tips on how to interpret and understand the language.
One tip I found to be particularly helpful was to read the play out loud with a group of friends. Not only was reading the story more entertaining this way, understanding the language and the motivations of the characters became easier too.
Another great comprehension-aid for me was the wonderful art by Nicolas Delort. It was amusing to read through and see various scenes re-enacted in a Shakespearean manner with the characters costuming straddling a line between Elizabethan and Lucasian. My favorite image in the story was of Luke, holding up a stormtrooper helmet a la Hamlet and Yorick, as he acts out that most famous soliloquy:
Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not,
Yet have I ta’en both uniform and life
From thee. What manner of a man wert thou?
A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?
A man with helpmate and with children too?
A man who hath his Empire serv’d with pride?
A man, perhaps, who wish’d for perfect peace?
Whate’er thou wert, good man, thy pardon grant
Unto the one who took thy place: e’en me.
When all was said and done, I had a newfound respect for the complexity of Shakespeare’s plays, along with a desire to go to my local library and check out some of his original works. If you are looking for a neat way to get acquainted with Shakespeare or you are a teacher whose students are having a rough time accessing the genius of the Bard of Avon, I highly recommend you give William Shakespeare’s Star Wars a try!
Check out these great pics of my friends doing their best Star Wars Shakespeare poses. To join in the fun and send us a picture on twitter @GeekMomBlog of you #Shakespearing!
I’m always intrigued to hear what people are reading, what they have read, what they are looking forward to reading. Reading, books, literature, magazines, pages, paper, these are all things that I will happily sit and talk about for hours. So I was inspired by a blog post over at Powell Books last week, into looking at the books that have changed my life. These are not books that changed my life through “because it’s great”, but books that you can use to pinpoint a change in your life, a change in your way of thinking, your growth be it emotional or otherwise. Books for which you can say “I realized that there would always be good in humanity after reading this” rather than “It was wonderful.” So here in no particular order, are some of the books that have affected my life and my capacity as a reader.
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke. I read this book when I was fifteen, mainly because the boy I was besotted with had a thing for Clarke and Asimov. I was already a Trekkie by choice, and so literary science fiction didn’t seem like a big leap. It was not a waste of time, I did not dislike the book, in fact I enjoyed it rather a great deal. However, I realized at that point that I didn’t have to merge my identity with someone else’s in order to be liked by them. I am glad I read 2001, but I didn’t read anything else by Clarke until years later, and then it was by choice and not in order to curry favor. I will always see this book as a turning point in my emotional development, and the first step I took in relinquishing what was becoming an unhealthy teenage obsession.
She’s got a new book out, a collection of short stories called At the Mouth of the River of Bees, and I’d recommend you go buy it even if she weren’t a friend of mine. But since is a friend, I recommend you go buy two copies. Just a note of caution. This is fiction intended for adults. There’s adult language and adult situations. Three words: alien tentacle sex. You read that right. And it’s a story you’ll want to read, or as she put it, “Want is such a subjective term — and by want you mean find yourself unable not to.” She’s not wrong there. Continue reading Making the Unreal Real: An Interview With Kij Johnson
I was quickly cruising through my email inbox on Friday morning, making sure there wasn’t something urgent needing my attention, when I came across a link to a New York Times article about how picture books are losing popularity. The subject matter stopped me in my tracks. I skimmed through the article, tagging it for a more in-depth read once I got my nine-year-old on the bus for school.
But the whole time we were going through our school morning routines the idea gnawed at me. The main point of the article is the idea that parents are anxious to get their kids into chapter books. There’s pressure to get your kid moving along the academic track as quickly as possible. Picture books are seen as something for little kids, a minor step on to bigger and better things. I understand the pressure parents are under to keep their children moving forward academically. But letting go of picture books too early is not the answer.
Because I work in a library I have access to all the newest picture books and I bring them home by the bagful. The youngest child in my house is almost 10, and I’m proud to say he and I often curl up with a stack of big rectangular books. There are many reasons he still enjoys these weekly sessions on our living room couch.
For one thing, a lot of the subject matter in picture books is relatable to children of many ages. Some concepts that the younger group may not pick up on will be the launching-off point for an in-depth discussion with an older child. Many picture books deal with relationships, from friendships at school to confusing life situations like a grandparent with Alzheimer’s disease. My son and I have had some valuable heart-to-hearts after reading through a picture book.
Then we could move on to illustrations. I’m a member of a SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and through our meetings I’ve met many amazing illustrators who work in a wide range of mediums. The artwork in a lot of picture books is stunning. Almost once a week I come across a book at the library that has pictures I’d frame and hang on a child’s bedroom wall. By reading picture books to my son I’m exposing him to all types of art and artists. He gets the value of an illustration on a much higher level than a preschooler ever could.
Then I’m reminded of a lesson I learned in my elementary education classes in college. The topic was reading to children, and all of the positives that can come from it. Someone questioned our professor, wondering how reading to an infant or toddler could do any good. I’ll never forget his answer. “A child who’s read to, even before he has any concept of a book, learns to associate the warm cozy feeling of being nestled in a parent’s arms with reading. For the rest of his life he’ll have positive feelings about learning and reading.”
I think the same carries over into the topic of reading picture books to an older child. Sure, my son bounds up the stairs and reads chapter books before he goes to sleep every night. And the nights we aren’t reading picture books, we’re snuggled up together as I read aloud a chapter book that’s just a smidge above his own reading level. But it’s nothing like the positive feelings he gets from our time poring over picture books, discussing the pictures and themes long after the story is over.
Chapter books are great. They have their place and there are many great ones to choose from. But I truly believe we do our kids a great disservice to abandon the world of picture books too early, seeing them as a childish step that has no place in an older child’s reading world.
I hope the New York Times article ends up being just a blip on the publishing radar. My dream would be for parents to understand the value of a great picture book and how they can enrich their elementary age child’s life just as much as it did their preschooler’s. Books are many kinds of wonderful. Let’s not forget the value of each step.