Literary Geocaching: When Books Leap Into Real Life

We all know what geocaching is—a global treasure hunt where participants use a GPS receiver to locate hidden “caches” of tiny toys or rubber stamps. Literary geocaching (or GeoLit) takes the treasure hunt concept one step further by asking readers to find parts of stories hidden in physical locations.

Available only in e-book form, these next-generation narratives provide only part of a story. The reader must actually travel to a specific location (germane to the tale) to access the rest of the work. When the GPS in the reader’s iPad or iPhone matches the target position, another portion of the story is electronically revealed.

The locations chosen for this distinction are places where action in the story might actually happen. For example, if the Little House on the Prairie books were given the literary geocaching treatment, a reader would need to travel to Pepin, Wisconsin, before the text regarding Laura’s little house in the Big Woods would appear. Imagine reading about the cozy cabin while sitting in the grass in front of the very building (a replica of which does stand today).

Photo: Jodamiller
Photo: Jodamiller

The concept of enhancing the reading experience through technology opens a wide range of exciting opportunities. One popular work, The Silent History, encourages readers to write their own segments of the story through “Field Reports” that are tied to specific locations. In the original story, written by four authors*, 120 “Testimonials” or oral histories were included. Each Testimonial was narrated by a character in the story, and provided the background on which the tale was based. Readers who live in the areas mentioned in the Testimonials can enhance the original reports with details of their own, tied to specific GPS points in real locations. To date, over 300 Field Reports have been written, including one that can only be opened at the White House.

To unlock all of the essential parts of a GeoLit story, a reader must leave his quiet home and travel. Some might view this as an annoyance, but to those who love the concept of geocaching and treasure hunting, the obstacles are just part of the fun. The thrill of being able to see, hear, and smell actual elements of a fictional work overcomes the minor inconveniences inherent in the hunt.

Chrissy Clark, a writer who created Stories Everywhere, describes GeoLit as “a magical way of allowing you to have one foot in the physical world, and one foot in the … annotated world on top of it.” Clark’s location-based storytelling includes a project on a historic block in San Francisco where she left short notes about events that happened there, marked with red balloons for passersby to find.

Photo: Michael Kozlowski
Photo: Michael Kozlowski

Clever authors have adapted the GeoLit concept in many ways. Marcelo Rubens Paiva wrote The Trip Book, which uses GPS to change the locations in the story into landmarks that can be found where the reader is situated. Mark Melnykowycz created Lost in Reality, an app that lets users record their stories as they walk through cities, and search for stories recorded by other users. Andrew Mason, founder of the NPR show RadioLab, has collaborated on Detour Austin, an “immersive audio walking tour” that allows users to hear a fictional story about a serial killer in 1885 in Austin, TX, as they walk around that city.

Finding GeoLit e-books can be tricky, as the genre is labeled in many different ways, but for the eager treasure hunter, the obstacles are just part of the fun!

*Eli Horowitz, Kevin Moffett, Matthew Derby, and Russell Quinn.

Tribute: The Mockingbird That Died of a Broken Heart

There will be no candlelit vigils outside theatres. No tribute performances in memory. No posthumous award with a standing ovation at a gala event—that would be too ironic for both of them.

Perhaps instead we could consider a single image—a mockingbird, lying dead on the doorstop of a local bookstore. It died of a broken heart in a world no longer moved by the symbolic gestures of strength and virtue.

This would be the best way to remember Umberto Eco and Harper Lee; two very different writers who influenced the Evil Genius Mum I am today. Continue reading Tribute: The Mockingbird That Died of a Broken Heart

54,600 Un-Birthday Wishes for Alice in Wonderland

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.

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND Illustration by Sir John Tenniel.

“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.”

(Alice’s Adventures…  20-21)

Continue reading 54,600 Un-Birthday Wishes for Alice in Wonderland

Get Ready WriMos – National Novel Writing Month Approaches

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.

Your novel will suck and that is okay. First drafts are always awful, so let go of the thought you need to write a masterpiece during the month. The idea is to write; write without filters or fear. Jump head first into the unknown and see what happens. Continue reading Get Ready WriMos – National Novel Writing Month Approaches

Building a Personalized Library

Image: Sarah Pinault

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:

For my son Charles, I have the following:

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.

Letters to Aunt C: On the Power of Reading, Writing, and Good Advice

Image by Natania Barron


The Power of a Pen Pal

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.


The view in NoCal. Image by Natania Barron.

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.

Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Bookends © Sophie Brown

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!

Tolkein Beowolf © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Tolkein Beowolf © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves © Plume
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves © Plume

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.

Cherub #1: The Recruit © Simon Pulse
Cherub #1: The Recruit © Simon Pulse

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.

The Best of Connie Willis © Del Ray
The Best of Connie Willis © Del Ray

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.

Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind © Stripes Publishing
Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind © Stripes Publishing

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.

A Simple Murder © Minotaur Books
A Simple Murder © Minotaur Books

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.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Are You In?

Nano: Write Fast, Edit Later © Sophie Brown
Nano: Write Fast, Edit Later © Sophie Brown

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.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars—May the Verse Be With You

Alas, poor C3P0, I knew ye not \ Image: Gordon Tarpley
Alas, poor C-3PO, I knew ye not \ Image: Gordon Tarpley

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!

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Disclaimer: GeekMom received a review copy.

The Books That Changed My Life

This is Keele Hall. In the attic of Keele Hall, once the servants quarters, you will find the Department of English where I studied for my Bachelors Degree. In front of this building I did much of my college reading, and re-discovered some literary gems. Image:

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.

Continue reading The Books That Changed My Life

Making the Unreal Real: An Interview With Kij Johnson

Kij Johnson
Photo by Marziah Karch

Remember how I said that Lawrence, Kansas is a secret hub of science fiction and fantasy awesome? Meet Kij Johnson, KU’s new fantasy professor, an award-winning writer of fantastic things, and one of the people that makes the city such a great place for us geeks. She’ll also be at Oxford this January for the inaugural Pembroke Lecture in Fantasy Literature. I sat down with her to chat about her work, her books, grad school, and life in general.

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

KinderBard: Music + Shakespeare + Kids = A Beautiful and Educational Project

I recently discovered a new Kickstarter project called KinderBard. They are putting words, music, and art together to introduce children to Shakespeare. Depending on the level at which you pledge, you can get a book, a CD, an iPad app, an eBook, and more.

The people behind this project are very passionate about it, and have included their whole family in the project, among others. The child singing the songs is the developer’s own four-year-old daughter.

Take a look at KinderBard, and if you are inspired by their words, music, and art, consider supporting this worthy project.

Meet Puff, the Magic Dragon All Over Again

If your family is anything like ours, books are big. And especially books with, well, shall we say, magical elements.

And that just happens to fit the bill for the kind of books we see from Sterling Publishing. Sterling has a lovely Children’s imprint, as well as many others, and you’ll often see their logo on everything from puzzle books to cryptograms to picture books!

One book we’re particularly excited about is Puff, the Magic Dragon Pop-Up, which just released on Nov. 15th, and features one of the most enduring characters in children’s literature. It’s a follow-up to the wildly popular book, Puff, the Magic Dragon picture book, done in collaboration with none other than Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul, and Mary, who wrote the song with Lenny Lipton. Not only did I grow up with the song, but our son loves it, too.

Puff, the Magic Dragon Pop-Up is an expanded edition of the original, and you’ll find a four song CD included for late-night sing-alongs. The pop up book was created by Bruce Foster, the same paper engineer who worked on those gorgeous Harry Potter pop ups you’ve no doubt drooled over at the book store (I know I have).

What’s even more nifty about this Puff is that he’s also gone digital by way of an app that’s available on all Apple Devices (iPad, iPhone, and iPod) and Android! Music is also fully integrated with the app, and its three modes, “Read to Me,” “Sing to Me,” and “Read Myself” let kids of all learning levels experience the application, plus it’s read by Peter Yarrow, as well.

Puff, the Magic Dragon Pop-Up retails for $26.95, and the app is available both on the App Store and Android Market for $5.99. Just in time for your holiday shopping!

Sterling Publishing is a GeekMom sponsor.


Banned Books Week: Growing Up With Tess Of The D’urbervilles

Image: The edition of Tess that won me over

Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented, was one of the first books that introduced me to literature at the tender age of 14. A life long reader, I had always read age appropriate fiction, Sweet Valley High, The Baby-Sitters Club, and anything by Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. A combination of junk YA fiction and classic YA fiction, I devoured everything I could find. Then our new English teacher, Ms. Bird, took us to the school library and told us to pick a book to review. I don’t recall the parameters she set for the choice, but for some reason I picked Thomas Hardy’s penultimate novel. I read the first 30 or 40 pages, I did not like it. It was thick, it was dense and I couldn’t see the story for the language. I finished it, but with nothing nice to say I instead picked up Pride and Prejudice, and so was born a life long Jane Austen fan.

I encountered Tess again while sitting my A-levels when I was 17/18. Funnily enough, though I disliked my teacher, I no longer disliked Tess. I enjoyed reading the story, I still did not particularly care for Hardy’s style but I enjoyed the book. I did not enjoy the musical stage production we went to see in Stoke-on-Trent. I was satisfied with having conquered Tess and happily moved on with my then obsession with Alexandre Dumas.

To my surprise I was again asked to pick up Tess in my first year reading English at Keele University. It was one of the first texts we looked at, one of the first chances to flex my academic muscles. I did not merely skim it, using prior readings as an excuse to fake my way through the class, I read it, I researched it, I sat in front of Keele Hall and stepped once more into Wessex. This time, oh this time, I adored Tess, I was enthralled with her. Alec was no longer a one sided fiend, Angel no longer a mistimed Angel. Tess’s simplicity no longer stupidity. I moved on to re-read the long forgotten The Mill On The Floss, I had overcome my aversion to the heavy bated language of Hardy and began to revel in his words, to bask in his metaphor. The story and the language became one for me, and opened up a whole new way of looking at both favored and discarded texts.

What a wonderful opportunity I had at 14, to grow with a novel deemed socially unacceptable by so many at so many different points in time. When Tess first appeared it was serialized, as so many greats were, but it was also censored. That’s right, it’s original format was censored. One of the original reasons for censorship was that Hardy was breaking the sexual norms of his society, and challenging the sexual double standard that existed. He proclaimed to all that the rape of Tess, his epitome of nature, made her no less a good woman than those in “decent” society.

Tess is not currently a banned book, but you can still find it being disputed as an acceptable text by school boards and libraries. I remain thankful to Ms. Bird that she did not deem it inappropriate for me at 14, that my school librarian didn’t have it on a restricted shelf, that my school board let me choose to read it, and later endorsed a class covering it.

GeekMom Secrets Origins: Delphine Imbert

No, I don't have blue hair. And no tattoo, either. Everything's fake, I'm afraid.

The word geek does actually exist in French. It’s even pronounced the same. But it came quite late. So did the other words depicting who I am, such as nerd.

But there’s a lovely French word for “RPG player”: rôliste.

And I’m a rôliste, since many, many years. So I figured I could be playful and offer you a secret origins post from the point of view of a rôliste.

Character creation: As I already told, I was predisposed to geekness since my mom already showed many signs of it. My father had other geeky attributes: he’s a physicist (specialised in fluid mechanics) and an Apple addict from the very beginning.

I read my first Tome in utero, as my mother struggled to finish The Lord of the Rings before my birth.

As bonus and quirk, I already get very blue eyes… so strangely blue, actually, that some people wonder if it’s caused by Dune‘s Spice. They were be my only beauty for all my awkward teen years.

Level 1: I buy Ranger skills, founding an “Adventurers’ Private Club”. But the Difficulty Level is still too high for me: many quests are begun, almost none are ended. I try to build various ambitious huts (such as an underground hut and a three-room hut in a tree) and strangely fail. I’m better at Climbing.

My other points go to Performance skills, especially when it comes to storytelling or to pose on a stone, fiercely brandishing a sword or blowing a horn. I use Barbie dolls to train in Politics and Strategy, including them in complex plots of politics and magics which could have been A Game of Thrones if I had read it then.

Level 2: Like most geeks, I obviously use my XP to boost Intelligence rather than Social or Physical skills.

I’m at ease with academics. I skip two classes. Entering high school two years younger is certainly cool, but doesn’t make you the most popular girl of the school. Being called “not a girl, a genius” may sound flattering but doesn’t help your romantic life.

I’m still improving my Performance skills by writing plays then playing most of the parts, and by singing endlessly during car journeys.

I also give a brief try to Thief’s skills (in the Arsene Lupin‘s way: borrowing objects and leaving a mysterious card) but decide I’ll definitely of Good alignment and would do a better job as Detective. I begin to increase the Cypher/Decypher skill and incidently decide to conceive and build a computer. Do I need to precise it fails?

I uncover and read many other Tomes of various values, from Dragonlance to Lovecraft’s stories, as well as many detective stories and historical novels, such as The Name of the Rose or the Brother Cadfael series.

My current Equipment includes a survival kit, an encoding kit, more books that I can carry and, of course, glasses. I enjoy a lot of adventures, especially with pirates.

Level 3: As a gloomy teenager, I choose a “poete maudit” style.  New Equipement includes White Jabot and Black Waistcoat. I update my equipped glasses into contact lenses.

I hesitate between many careers and, what may seem stranger, many races. I could be an Elf, distant and dreamy. Or a Numenorean, forever exiled on these shores. Or a Vampire, a doomed and tormented soul.

For a Character Class, my favourite choice is, of course, Bard. My English teacher shows us Dead Poets Society, therefore I found my own Poetry Society. I write two horrible novels and slightly-less-horrible poems.

Level 4: As a college student, I acknowledge the fact that I’ll be and stay a Multiclassed character. I successively specialize in Mathematics, Literature and History, then Political Science. I sadly admit I’ll never make a good Ranger, nor a good Warrior. There’s still plenty of possibilities, from Enchantress to Warlady, from Bard to Astrophysicist… No, wait, I renounced that one when I decided to come back to Humanities.

Meanwhile, I live wonderful adventures in the many realms of RPG and real life. Many of them are about love, since I’m a proud geek girl!

Level 5: Finally I discover that my dream job would be DADA (Defence Against the Dark Arts) teacher. As there are so few offers for this job since Voldemort’s end, I become a literature teacher instead. Meanwhile, I still write short stories, read more Tomes than my personal library can hold, and play RPGs, including LARPs. That’s an occasion to increase my Social skills and indulge my love for theatre and costumes. Thanks to the French LARP association Don Quichotte, I’m allowed to play the governor’s daughter on actual pirate ships (yes! on sea!), various court ladies from 17th and 18th centuries, and even Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman! Thanks to another LARP association, RAJR, I play a shugenja of the Crane Clan in the Japanese fantasy world of Legend of the Five Rings, as well as various parts, including (of course) an Elf.

Level 6: Around the same time, I choose to becom a Virtual Adept and immerse myself in the Web 2.0. I’m now my mother’s computer hotline (as most of you, I’m sure) and far more of an Apple geek than my dad. That happens when you grow older.

Level 7: Even in RPGs, characters grow old. They set up somewhere, marry, have children, rule some kingdom… Well, I don’t rule a kingdom yet, but I am very lucky about the other parts.

Without even noticing, I became a geek mom, with all the new wonders, questions and interest that arouses. That’s a whole new life.

But “a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. “The man who never reads lives only once,” as  a character from G.R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons reminds us. I’m a lucky girl then, for I am in the same time a book geek, a RPG geek, and a mom.

Harry Potter Week: Teaching With Harry Potter: An Overview

That's me in Harry Potter LARP Archomancie by the French association Clepsydre

Some time ago, I suddenly realised what would be my dream job: I’d like to be Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. After Voldemort’s fall, if possible. Or before his rise. I intend to keep the charge more than one year.

Alas, it seems that few schools (if any) are looking for such a teacher, so I’m afraid I’ll have to content myself with my current job of literature teacher.

Another, more attainable dream, would be to edit a collection of Teaching with Harry Potter schoolbooks in France.

The world created by J.K. Rowling can be used to teach almost every subject to almost any age. British and American websites already offer many resources for various ages and subjects.
You may check online educational resources for teachers (and homeschooling parents) on Fabulous Classroom, Midge Frazel’s Page and Web English Teacher, among many others.

English / Literature / Creative writing
That’s the more obvious.
As the books grow longer and more complex, you can propose them to growing children, and use them to study any aspect of narratives, descriptions, argumentation, and so on. You can also study genres (b.e. how the first chapters of the books, in the Dursley’s world, enhance the magic of the other parts ion a very Todorovian definition of fantastic.)
You can imagine a trial and ask the children to play prosecution and defense: Sirius Black’s trial while reading The Prisoner of Azkaban, Draco Malfoy’s at the end of The Deathly Hallows
You can study JKR’s criticism of our actual world (the newspapers, the government interfering in the educational system, and so on).
Even if I’m essentially a Gryffindor personality, I once wrote (for fun) an essay about House Slytherin’s positive qualities and achievements. It’s in French, but I can translate it if someone’s interested.

And of course, you can make your kids write fiction.
I really think fan fiction is an excellent writing exercise. It’s perfect to help our young writers-to-be to understand that writing cannot be conceived without reading.
And that’s not by chance that Harry Potter is one of the largest source of fan fiction. The books offer all the range of fan fiction possibilities : inventing a past, developing events or characters from JKR’s hints, pairing almost anyone with anyone, deepening characters’ emotions, or even creating the Wizarding World outside Britain from its very rare appearances in the books.

Ancient languages
You probably all know that the first two books were translated into Latin under the titles Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis and Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum.
There’s even an Ancient Greek edition of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone.
If your kids aren’t advanced enough to read these, you can begin with working on the spell names and their Latin origins.
You can find on TES Connect a game exploring the Latin roots of the magic spells in the Harry Potter books. Pupils have to find the Latin words from which the spells were created, and use the meanings of these words to work out what each spell would do.
If you’re brave enough, you can design your own activities from the list of Harry Potter‘s spells.
Of course, you can also teach mythology using Harry Potter‘s bestiary, but everyone knows about that, don’t they?
If you aren’t a mythology geek, you can learn more about these references by reading David Colbert’s The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter.


I haven’t read The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works by Roger Highfield, and the book received contrasted reviews, for some readers found it too complex for the average student and regretted that Harry Potter‘s references seem to be a mere pretext. Anyway, I’m sure every science geek among you could make good use of it.

Otherwise, the easiest ways to associate scientific lessons with the Potterverse are Astronomy and Potions. I dream of a Potions version of Chemistry Kits for kids!

One of the great things with math is that you can design exercises and problems from every universe!
Have a look at the (very easy) questions on Math Stories to help you write your own activities. Use the Hogwarts Express and the Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia to work on speed and distances. Use the wizarding word currencies and their change values (One Galleon is equal to 17 Sickles or 493 Knuts). Work on Quidditch balls and brooms’ trajectories with older kids. And so on.

Of course, Harry Potter‘s history is an alternate one.
But to successfully conceive any alternate history, you have to do research on the actual one.
You may try, by example, to write Harry’s essay in The Prisoner of Azkaban: “Witch Burning in the Fourteenth Century Was Completely Pointless — discuss”. Your kids would have to read about many historical questions about witch-burning in the Middle Ages, Inquisition, and so on. Why not Jules Michelet’s founding essay La Sorciere: The Witch of the Middle Ages? Why not Umberto Eco’s wonderful novel The Name of the Rose?  I see there’s even a book about Teaching Medieval Studies Through Umberto Eco’s the Name of the Rose. That sounds wonderful!
You can use the timeline provided by the Harry Potter Lexicon to conceive researches and activities on various historical periods, from Ancient Egypt to World War II. I always wondered if the actual situation of the Ministry of Magic (underground) was a consequence of the Blitz.

As you see, that could be an endless list!

Feel free to share your own ideas and activities, or to ask me for a detailed activity in literature.

Coming Attractions – Can Trailers Work For Books Too?

Movie Marquis

Recently I’ve been noticing more and more book trailers popping up not only on individual library websites and the blogosphere, but they are creeping into mainstream television as well. (Although not as often as they should be.)

Why not? In this day and age where media is being used to hawk just about every product out there, why not the lovely printed word?

Now I’m not talking the “Read my latest book,” short commercials as done by the prolific James Paterson, but honest to goodness trailers that showcase the highlights of a book or that give a little teaser into what gems are hidden amongst the pages. Not to say that reading is taking any big hits as of late. In fact library usage, book store sales and ebook downloads have been increasing at a very steady rate over the past several years.

In my opinion, book trailers would reach those who believe “Why read the book when I can see the movie?” Give them a little taste of multimedia sensationalism and then reel them in with the magic that only their own imagination can produce. Who knows, maybe in a few years libraries will become the newest hotspot on a Tuesday night when the latest blockbuster book gets released.

As for some of my favorite book trailers out there now….enjoy the following. (A little skewed on the children’s and teen’s fiction side of things.)

Press Here by Herve Tullet

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

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Geek Cinema Has a Heart: After Oz

Ever find yourself wondering what happens after “happily ever after”? What does that even mean?! Vancouver Film School student Percy Kiyabu didn’t wait for a little dog to come along and peel back that curtain. His animated short film, After Oz, gives us a glimpse of the Tin Man’s happy ending.

It may be brief, but this little love story is not as simple as it seems; there’s passion and betrayal, heartbreak and hope. All that, and nobody says a word! Rather like a film from the silent era, After Oz does most of its storytelling through hyperbolic pantomime and music. There’s a bit of slapstick humor in there, too.

After Oz is fun for all ages.

Further reading: There’s science behind mending a broken heart!

GeekMom Secret Origins: Jenn Hansen

Jenn in real life.

Beneath the tree called Grandfather, standing tall in a small copse of trees amid the sweet grass of the eastern plains of Colorado, I listened to leafy tales. Hiding in a lilac hedge along the fence-line in my backyard, I made my home with faeries and many insects, closely observing the natural world. More often than not, I could be found lounging in the branches of a tree with either a book or a pencil and notebook, vehicles for my imagination. Climbing a hill, I once saw the moon, full and sitting low on the horizon. It was orange and I could see nothing else. I hunt for that moon in every evening sky, amid the constellations and their epics.

I cannot remember feeling like I fit in with other kids my age, but it wasn’t until junior high school that I was labeled a geek (nerd, dork, etc.).  However uncomfortable the term was in those adolescent days, I eventually embraced the term. Star Wars, Star Trek, Tolkien, griffins and unicorns, faeries and elves, aliens, talking animals, Lego, He-Man and She-ra; I’m a geek and I’m proud!

I’m not particularly gadgety; I leave the high-tech to my husband. (I can, however, rock NES Tetris and SNES Killer Instinct.) I am decidedly low-tech. I geek-out over old school crafts like ink- and paper-making, foraging for food in the backyard, calligraphy, hand-crafted books, instruments, cooking and spinning. Classical music (especially early music and opera), medieval literature (Caedmon to Chaucer, and Shakespeare too), history, astronomy, nature and Celtic and Norse culture–I love it!

I’m a newborn mom, determined to raise my son to walk in the world without the fear of labels, with pride for whatever he chooses to geek-out about.

The Reason We Should Read Picture Books to Older Kids

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.

(For more on this topic, visit GeekDad.)