Heigh Ho Silver

Date: 30 June 2013

Books Completed: 133

Books Left: 67

A Facebook friend recently made a post that was very disturbing to me. As a librarian, educator, and human, I feel a need to comment.

First of all, here are some post excerpts:

“…as an educator, it is our responsibility to acknowledge…differences and have zero tolerance on bullying.”

“Read books about two mommies and two daddies to kindergarteners?”

“Promot[ing] gays, lesbians, and bisexuals should not be part of our job.”

“My professor is so biased…”

It seems that this person is taking a cultural class, and one day the topic was alternative sexuality. This person seems to think that reading a book to kindergarteners about a topic promotes said topic—whatever the topic might happen to be (in this case homosexuality).

This type of thinking never ceases to amaze me.

Since when did all reading become persuasive? When I was a teacher, I remember identifying three purposes for reading: to be entertained, to be informed, and to perform a task. Whatever our purpose for reading may be, yes we are influenced by what we read, but it doesn’t mean we embrace and subscribe to every opinion we encounter. How can we have tolerance for another point of view if we only read information that supports the POV we already have? How can we acknowledge our differences if we don’t know they exist? How can you learn about anything new if you only read about what you already know?

Intellectual freedom is integral to librarianship—we all have the right to read whatever we want, and no one has the right to deny us access to any information available to the public. I realize the writer of the post is a teacher and not a librarian, but it is alarming to me that the educator wants to deny students information that the educator doesn’t agree with.

You see, while the Facebook writer mentioned the professor’s biases (and I wasn’t in the class, so I can’t speak to the validity of that claim) I think the writer actually revealed personal biases in the post. While claiming to want to be tolerant, the writer revealed disdain for homosexuality. We are all entitled to our own opinions, so I don’t have a problem with that. I just wish that the writer would have called it like it is: “I don’t like homosexuality so I’m uncomfortable in acknowledging the concept in any way.” Not a noble opinion, perhaps, but at least honest.

The thing is, like it or not, “non-traditional” families are a part of any public school community. At my school, there are two that I know of (one family has two moms, the other two dads). There might be more. Does it matter? Of course not.  But it burns me up to think that an educator wants to discount the families of these two students just because the make-up of these families causes personal discomfort. And the fire only builds when I think that an educator believes that reading something equals promoting something. And then the flames become an inferno when I realize that, knowingly or not, an educator is advocating censorship.

OK. I’ll get off my high horse now.

Out of the Everywhere

Date: 23 June 2013

Books Completed: 120

Books Left: 80

I know—a great jump in the number of books read these past 10 days. For the record, 9 of them were picture books I read to prepare for a reading program I’ll institute at school in the fall. There will only be 6 more, and the rest of the (hopefully) 185 will be chapter books.

 

Out of the everywhere we find inspiration. This post is about someone who has become a source of inspiration to me.

I’ve been a Paula Danziger fan ever since I read Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? when I was in seventh grade. As I was re-reading that book a few weeks ago I realized there were so many of her books I’d never read. A trip to the library (not mine) was in order and I checked out every Danziger book they had.

I started off with The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. I remember reading it as a tween, but not since then, so I forgot most of what the story was about. All I really remembered was that it was a bit painful at times to read. Soon into the book I saw why: Marcy’s dad was autocratic and downright cruel, far worse even than Lauren’s overbearing, insensitive father (Malpractice). Miss Danziger did write about some very good fathers (Aurora’s in This Place Has No Atmosphere comes to mind), but the bad dads seemed to be a theme. This made me wonder how much of Paula was in Marcy’s and Lauren’s experiences.

Turns out I needed to wonder no more. The library’s edition of Gymsuit contained a 30 year anniversary note by the author. Ah.

Reading the author’s note left tears in my eyes, and not just because it was penned shortly before Miss Danziger’s sudden and untimely death. My unanticipated emotional response was because the note made me feel both discomfited and inspired.

In the note, Miss Danziger comments on the events in her life that led her to writing Gymsuit, and on the fact that she and Marcy were similar in many ways—they were both overweight kids who want to be writers and have tyrannical fathers. This revelation moved me in a way I wasn’t prepared for.

I’ve had difficulty this week putting into words how Miss Danziger’s admission affected me. The word I keep coming back to is raw. In admitting the closeness of her connection to Marcy, she was exposing so much of herself. It almost seemed intrusive—like I knew some very private information about her. However, Miss Danziger chose to make the disclosure, she chose to open up and allow herself to be vulnerable. In her willingness to make this acknowledgement I saw a bravery that I both admire and envy.

The truth is, I relate to Miss Danziger in many ways (with one crucial difference—I DO NOT have a tyrannical father!). I was an overweight kid and until recently an overweight adult. I was, and still am, plagued with body-image issues. I am a former teacher who dreams of being a children’s book writer—something I first wanted to be when I was nine years old. I tend to keep my thoughts and feelings inside. I often do not speak up for myself. Et cetera, et cetera.

Is it any wonder I was inspired by Miss Danziger’s journey to authorship? She started by writing about what she knew and basing a story on her own life experiences. A couple of months ago I began jotting down ideas, feelings, interesting anecdotes, intriguing names, and remembrances from my own past in an observation journal I now carry everywhere with me. My hope is to one day turn these scribblings into a story. I’ve also photocopied a part of the Gymsuit author’s note that particularly spoke to me and pasted it in my journal. Perhaps the ever-present reminder of Miss Danziger’s own story will help me to “get my Jane on,” conquer my own self-doubt demons, and realize a long-held dream. Here’s hoping.

The First 100

Date: 13 June 2013

Books Completed: 103

Books Left: 97

On June 9th I reached a milestone in my quest to read 200 books this year—I hit the halfway mark. To honor the occasion, I thought I’d take a moment and reflect a bit on the first 100 books I’ve read this year

82 have been children’s books, 33 of which were new to me. Out of those 33, one, Maus II, was brilliant, and two, Shadow of a Bull and Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission, were so awful that they were a chore to complete. Some were charming (the entire Mother-Daughter Book Club series), some not so much (After Many Days, The Best School Year Ever, and all of the Fudge books). There are titles I know I’ll read again (The Center of Everything, Guitar Notes) and tomes I’m happy to permanently keep on the library shelves from whence they came (My Chocolate Year, Hazel Green).

As for the 49 re-reads, I have for the most part enjoyed them. I tend to re-read books in groups—either by topic, series, or author. Visiting early colonial Connecticut (The Witch of Blackbird Pond), revolutionary Boston (Johnny Tremain), and Willow Falls (11 Birthdays, Finally, and 13 Gifts) were trips of undiluted joy. Spending time with Kevin and Sadie (the Joan Lingard books) was mostly pleasant, but there are moments in The Twelfth Day of July and Into Exile I can do without. My journeys to Biddle, Frell, and Ayortha were delightful, but Bamarre, as always, has its highs and lows (the Gail Carson Levine books). I did experience an unexpected windfall in my venture to Narnia. The Last Battle is my least favorite, and I usually read it simply to finish the series, but this time I actually found myself liking it much more than usual. Ah, the benefits of being a re-reader!

Only two of the grown-up books were rereads. I think I just needed the comfort of something familiar, so I hearkened back to my true-crime days and read two of the most fascinating I’ve come across. I don’t think this year I’ll re-read the mother of all true crime books, Fatal Vision, simply because it’s extremely long and I want to make sure I finish 200 books. (I do highly recommend it, BTW, to any true crime fans.)

So that leaves 16 new G-U books, 8 fiction and 8 nonfiction. I can’t say I loved any of the fiction. I did keep wanting to know what would happen next in The House at Tyneford, so I suppose that was my favorite so far. While I  eternally admire the style of Nancy Mitford, I couldn’t stand Sigi and Charles-Edouard, so The Blessing didn’t top my list (Besides, did she ever really surpass her own brilliance in The Pursuit of Love? I think not.). I’ve been quite vocal about my disdain for Dickens, the Romance Novel, and the Brontë book (though that one was somewhat redeemed) so there’s no need to rehash that.

In reading the G-U nonfiction, I fared much better. Low on my list was Her, but only because the subject matter made the book at times painful to read. Overall, I thought it was very well done. I thoroughly enjoyed my sister and English royalty books, and I’m finding that I truly appreciate anthology-styled interesting fact compilations (After the Fact and Rest in Pieces). Then, of course, there was the pure pleasure, the unmitigated bliss, the sheer enchantment of the book celebrating Pride and Prejudice. Life did not, cannot, get much better.

That was the first 100. Here’s looking forward to 100 more!

Mass Appeal

Date: 2 June 2013

Books Completed: 96

Books Left: 104

Every summer I check out a load of books from my library, looking for new titles to book-talk to the kids. Four years ago, my favorite summer book was Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass. I presented it to 5th graders that fall and it has rarely been on the shelf since. The next summer, I read 11 Birthdays and totally fell in love with the book. It wasn’t until I finished reading it that I realized that this, too, was a Wendy Mass work. And just like that, I became a Mass-shipper.

I’ve read most of Miss Mass’ books since, and I have been charmed by them all. Some I adore (hel-lo Willow Falls!), some I merely like a great deal (The Candymakers), but all have a quality that jumps out and speaks to me. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a character-driven reader. The characters in Miss Mass’ books all have their own distinct personalities, but they do have a common thread that pulls me in: their sense of humor.

Humor can be a tricky business. Today’s humor often has a cruel edge to it. I myself am a bit of a smartass, but I hope to only mock what is not important and never hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t find someone else’s discomfort funny. That’s why the humor Miss Mass creates greatly resonates with me. Whether her characters are poking fun at their parents (Tara), the situations they find themselves in (Amanda) or themselves (Rory) it is all gently done and with no malice.

So while I appreciate the humor style of Mass characters, Miss Mass’ true genius lies elsewhere. What sets her apart is the authenticity of her characters’ voices, especially when they are comedic. They speak–out loud, to themselves, or to the reader–just as I hear the fourth and fifth graders around me speak on a daily basis. Miss Mass may put her characters, particularly Willow Falls residents, into magical and therefore unrealistic situations, but the characters’ actions, reactions, thoughts, speeches, and yes, humor, never lose their endearing genuineness.

So for me, Mass Appeal is the result of the intoxicating combination of her characters’ humor and sincerity. I believe this same recipe explains why as soon as a Wendy Mass book gets returned to the library another 3rd, 4th, or 5th grader enthusiastically checks it out. With the exception of one dissenter (AL, you know who you are), my upper level students are pretty much as hooked as I am, and we are all fervently hoping for 14 Somethings to come along. Miss Mass, please, hear our prayers!

 

**Epilogue**

I recently found out that The Last Present, book 4 in the Willow Falls series, comes out 1 October. Thank you! Thank you, Miss Mass!