Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

What Do Kids Need?

With summer reading programs upon us, many people are discussing the pros and cons of such programs. But most people agree that reading is a good habit to have. So, what do kids need? Mostly, kids need to be presented with books they will read.

  • Books they’re interested in. What are they interested in? Well, pretty much everything, but here’s a short list: babies, backpacks, bacon, badminton, baggy clothes, balloon animals, balloons, Band-Aids, basketball, bathroom humor. And that’s just the ones that start with “ba.” Okay, I totally stole this from Tara Lazar’s blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) (http://taralazar.com/2007/11/04/199-things-that-kids-like/). Books don’t need to have explosions. They just need to use an interesting approach. Easier said than done, eh?
  • Books with characters they can identify with. This does not mean that all books need to be about minorities or disabled or disenfranchised in some other way. What it does mean is that SOME books need to be about girls or African-Americans or children struggling with gender identity. After all, isn’t that the world the kids live in? A good story does more to show how we’re all alike than how we’re all different.
  • Books that challenge but don’t leave kids frustrated. Many of the books I’ve reviewed contained wonderful stories and information for children of a certain age, but I felt there were way too many new words and concepts for that age. In those cases, I suggest that parents and teachers read the book with the kids, at least on the first go-through. Nothing wrong with that. Try it. You’ll like it.
  • Subtle books that don’t hit them over the head with the theme or subject matter. Nobody wants to be preached at. And kids are more in tune to this than adults. Partly because they’re told what to do all day long. It gets tiring. They need something where they can find the clues and come to their own conclusions. Something that stimulates learning.
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Just What Are the Rules?

obey-the-rules-badge-md

Random thoughts.

Cardinal rules for writing almost always start with “Write what you know.” My biggest problem with this is that most, if not all, of us lead pretty boring lives. Was it John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans”? This past week has been a whirlwind. May usually is. I look at my calendar daily and still don’t do anything I think would be of much interest in a book. Who wants to read about taking my dog to the groomer? I guess there are moments in everyone’s life that spark something interesting, but you have to think a certain way to see them. And I guess that’s where the mind of a writer comes in handy. We all look at things a little differently than most people. Costumes on the street – no problem. Enjoying standing in the rain – even better. Accidents become an opportunity to meet people.

And this boring life also makes it difficult to come up with the conflict necessary to a story. I kid with my mother that she made my writing life difficult when she gave me a happy childhood. How am I supposed to resolve problems when I can’t even imagine problems? Seriously, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Another rule I find really funny is “Just because it’s true doesn’t make it believable.” I think this follows directly from “Truth is stranger than fiction.” This applies to conversation as well as plot points. Can you imagine trying to read dialogue that sounds like a real person talking? “Umm, well, I think maybe yeah” and “Nice weather we’re having” would appear a lot.

So, spout your rules if you must, but mostly just write.

 

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Five, Six, Seven, Nate

Circa 1983

Me — Many Years Ago

In a way, this is a spoiler. But you have to read the book to find out HOW Nate does it.

As you may know, I have a suite of blogs called gradereading.net on which I post book reviews. I try to gear the reviews toward teachers, librarians, and parents — by grade level. We try say why kids would love these books and how the books will fit into what they’re teaching. Recently, I finally got around to reading Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle. I adored the other book about Nate (Better Nate than Ever) but just couldn’t seem to fit the second excellent book into the reading pile. My biggest problem with reviewing these is that I love Nate too much. I so strongly identify with Nate that I don’t feel I can do an objective review. You would think that would happen more often, given my love of books, but it doesn’t.  And, being a writer, I have to write what I identify with. Again, Nate is special to me.

Nate is awkward and woefully unschooled in the ways of a Broadway production. But he loves what he’s doing and sticks with it – with the support of those who see his talent. The aspect that I love so much is that Nate ends up saving the day.

I’ve been playing the understudy for most of my life. Those who’ve known me throughout my adult life may have heard about or witnessed the community chorus incident where the cute little soloist got fall-down drunk at the dress rehearsal, leaving the director to beg me to sing the duet for “Tonight” from West Side Story for opening night. But what they may not know is that this is a recurring theme in my life and seems to have slopped over into my children’s lives. When I was in sixth grade, I was put in charge of the music for a skit the entire class did based on our American flag unit. This was mostly due to the fact that I was the only one who knew all the words to all the songs. “You’re a grand old flag…” Imagine a twelve-year-old flopping her arms to keep everyone together. In junior high school, I ended up with solos twice – once because the designated “They Call the Wind Mariah” soloist lost her voice and once because no one wanted to do a song at the graduation. (Anybody even remember “Graduation Day” by the Beach Boys?) At various times, I’ve ended up with various jobs – many at the last minute – because, well, those in charge knew I could do an adequate job. And I usually shine, like Nate did. I considered trying to become a back up singer – my secret dream job. Wish I knew how many times I’ve uttered the phrase “Story of my life.”

So, the long and short of it is. Read this book. Especially if you’re not the star.

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