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.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Bad things happening

Dear Annie,

I love your Summer Reading post.  The pick-up-a-book-for-yourself line to grown-ups was a lovely reminder at the end.

I would add one other element in helping one's children be engaged with reading: give them space.  Unscheduled time when they can curl up with a book or play in other ways helps kids to find their own pace, including the most satisfying times to read, and for how long.  And limiting screen time for the entire family will help everyone to engage more with books and each other.  Just as kids benefit from seeing parents read, it helps them to see parents who don't need to be constantly plugged in.  NY Times column on this last week.

I had a lovely challenge from a mom the other day.  I often speak with parents who are looking for books with action and adventure, but nothing scary.  There are lots of concerns out there about kids' fear thresholds.  And many parents recoil from books in which the mother is dead.  But this mom said, "My daughter wants books where bad things happen."  The girl was 10, and it turned out she wasn't looking for unalleviated tragedy.  It was more wanting a plot driven by some form of adversity.  I offered a lot of books, most of which the girl had already read, but the process of applying her Bad Things standard to familiar stories gave me fresh eyes.

She wanted neither historical fiction nor fantasy.

Books which fit into the definition, but which she'd read already:

Counting by 7s
by Holly Sloan: Both parents are killed in an accident in the first chapter.  The book is about the odd and endearing main character's quest to find people with whom she can belong.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio: Spectacular book about a boy with severe facial deformities. Link is to blog entry singing its praises.

Out of My Mind
by Sharon Draper: Spectacular book about a girl with cerebral palsy who can't communicate.

by Cynthia Lord: Girl grappling with her relationship to her autistic brother.

Rain Reign by Ann Martin: Girl on autism spectrum who finds and loses a dog.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: Girl sets off in search of her missing mother (at that point, I was searchng for dead-mother books).

All of these books are basically optimistic stories which affirm the goodness of human nature.  But in order to get to that conclusion, bad stuff has to happen.  This girl wanting bad things is, I think, a step in becoming a more mature reader.  If bad stuff happens -- we're talking about kids' books here -- the journey to resolution is bound to follow.  Which makes for a more interesting and also more emotionally complex read.

The winners were:

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.  Set in what is now South Sudan, it's the grimmest of the list.  The book alternates chapters about a fictional girl who must walk 8 hours a day to bring water to her family, and a real boy who was one of Sudan's Lost Boys, displaced by war.  The fictional character and the real guy meet at the end of the book.

Anything But Typical
, by Nora Raleigh Baskin.  Like two of the books above, this one features a kid on the autism spectrum.  He befriends a "neurotypical" girl through a kids' online site, then panics when he's presented with the opportunity to meet her in person, afraid that she'll see only his difference.

Love, Ruby Lavender
by Deborah Wiles.  A delightful, often-epistolary novel about the relationship between a small-town girl and her grandmother.  During the course of the book, the circumstances of the grandfather's death come to light.

Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay: Well, I just love it.  And Saffy is dealing with the pain of not having known for 8 years that her birth mother had died when she was little, leaving her to be raised as a sibling among her cousins.

by Sharon Creech.  A girl who really really doesn't want to go is sent to a Swiss boarding school, in the midst of kids very different from her.

Things I should have offered:

The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis.  A black family goes from Michigan to Birmingham, arriving just before the church bombing.  It has a lot of grim intensity, but also wonderful characters and hilarious moments.

The Search for Baby Ruby
, by Susan Shreve.  Baby is kidnapped while being babysat in a hotel by her teenage aunt -- much family drama.

I didn't try the concept of action thrillers: books where bad things are perpetrated by villains, the CIA, or enemies of the CIA.  I don't think they would have had the emotional depth she was going for.

Now I'm longing for the mom -- or preferably the mom and the daughter -- to come back so I can see where she'll be heading from here.



1 comment:

  1. Another great book that fits this category is Waiting For Normal by Leslie Connor. Every student I've had read it, loves it.