In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Book as window, book as mirror

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Sounds like a fabulous convention. From checking out your links, I'm particularly interested in reading some of Cory Doctorow's work. For the Win sounds in some ways like an updated version of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game: applying kids' video game skill to real-world situations. I first heard about "gold farming" (sweatshop workers playing video games endlessly to get characters to higher levels, which are then sold to first-world players for real money) a couple of years ago, and find the concept both horrifying and fascinating. I'm intrigued.

I was struck by Mitali Perkins's formulation of books as "window books" or "mirror books," and started thinking this morning about which kids' books I've been reading lately would fall into each category. Then, of course, my English teacher brain kicked in, and I thought, So many of the best books, kids' lit or otherwise, are those which are both mirrors and windows. There's something in a book which allows you to identify with it deeply, and yet the book also has something to teach you outside of your own experience.

One of the first books I thought of which functions as both mirror and window for Eleanor is another of your gifts:

Babies Can't Eat Kimchee

Babies Can't Eat Kimchee, by Nancy Patz, with great energetic collage illustrations by Susan L. Roth, is perhaps my favorite How to Deal With a New Sibling book. The mirror: An older sister is faced with a new baby sister. She lists the things babies can't do (eat kimchee, spaghetti, and strawberry ice cream; dance like a ballerina; know what an elephant is), then turns it around and projects how she will help teach her little sister some of these things ("I'll teach her to lick up the drips"). When we started reading the book, just before Isabel was born, Eleanor immediately picked up on the positive formulation: I'm going to help teach my baby to walk, etc. The window: the girls in the book are Korean, and there are references to kimchee and the special dress the baby will wear on her first birthday. Both of these have prompted questions from Eleanor. The best part of the book: at the end, the older sister gets so carried away by the idea of singing songs with her little sister that she offers, "Baby, do you want me to teach you a song?" Then there's a two-page spread of a red-faced, screaming baby ("WAAAAAH! WAAAAAH!"), followed by the rueful older girl: "Well, maybe someday." We have probably acted out those last pages 150 times this year.

I remember, in my own childhood reading, identifying incredibly closely with lots of characters, to the point where their moods would influence mine as I read. What kids' books do you think functioned most as mirrors, or windows, or both, for Lizzie and Mona?

Love, Annie

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