Tag: childrens literature

Fort Building Time

Hey guys!  I just wanted to let you all know about my sister’s latest book called Fort Building Time!

She is now a two time author having previously written Finding Wild. Megan has always dreamed of being a writer and has proven to have a talent in writing picture books full of imagination. I know she wants to write a novel and is working on one as we speak but I think in a way these picture books tap perfectly into her gifts as a nurturer and mother.

Finding Wild is all about the adventures we can take outside year round and for kids to get away from the TV and begin exploring. Fort Building Time is more about creating adventures anywhere you are during any time of year.

I loved making forts as a kid and would often spend hours planning them out and making them perfect. Fort Building Time taps into that desire and I think your kids will really like it.

Abigail Halpin’s illustrations are perfect for the tone and feel of both of my sisters’s books so far. They remind me of the illustrations in Tasha Tudor books.

If you are interested in purchasing Fort Building Time use this link http://amzn.to/2xRxs0t (or anything else on amazon for that matter it would help me out a little bit).

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Calvin and Hobbes

I’ve talked about a lot of great literature on this blog but it occurred to me I have neglected one of my favorites- Calvin and Hobbes.  I can picture you my reader smiling at my mention of the name Calvin and Hobbes.

It is perhaps easy to discount comic strips as real art or literature but that is unfair to the thought and brilliance of the medium.  I love Peanuts and Dilbert but also Calvin and Hobbes.

Calvin and Hobbes is a strip written by Bill Watterson from 1985-1995.  They focused on the protagonist Calvin who is a rebellious but thoughtful kid who wants to explore and have adventures and hates school.

philosophy calvinCalvin is at one point like Lisa Simpson in his thoughtfulness and grown up sensibilities but also like Bart Simpson in his mischievousness and rebelliousness from the rules.

calvinHe is accompanied by his best friend Hobbes who is sometimes a stuffed tiger and sometimes anthropomorphized.  Hobbes is both the sidekick and the teacher for Calvin.

philsophy calvin 2 philsophy calvin3A few years ago I went to a reading symposium and a woman spoke that was a high school teacher.  She mentioned 10 or 11 books in her lecture and the main qualification seemed to be they were ‘short’ and despite being somewhat dimwitted ‘at least the kids are reading’.  That really made me mad then and it still does today (I will add that I am in the minority opinion on that lecture but I don’t care!).  https://smilingldsgirl.com/2012/01/18/writing-and-reading-for-children-and-teens/

Calvin and Hobbes shows you can be entertaining to all age groups while being challenging and thought provoking.  At least the kids are reading is a such a cop-out.

calvin santa Calvin has a great imagination and the adventures he goes on are always full of laughs.

monsters

It’s good for kids to see that parents don’t always know what is the best way.

momI love any art form that takes kids seriously.  That doesn’t assume just because it is children it has to be stupid.  Calvin and Hobbes shows great respect for a child’s intellect and does not shy away from long words or tough topics of religion, philosophy or the meaning of life.

I hate it when adults have a ‘good enough’ attitude about kids.  This book is ‘good enough’.  This movie is ‘good enough’.  No way.  We as adults have an obligation to encourage the best in our kids and to let them rise to a higher standard than their natural man might appeal too.

Calvin and Hobbes is proof that with a little effort we can find enlightening and enriching material that appeals to a childs demographic.  I refuse to accept a ‘at least he’s reading’ attitude.  We can do better than that.  Calvin and Hobbes does better than that.

calvin-hobbes-read-dinosaurI sincerely wish all teachers when they have an unruly little boy would give said boy Calvin and Hobbes.  Maybe it would help them know they are ok and that there is a purpose to their type of sensibilities.  Maybe they would learn to channel that energy into art or nature or even philosophy.

I wish I could give this to every kid who is disciplined for coloring outside the lines
I wish I could give this to every kid who is disciplined for coloring outside the lines

This is one of my favorites.  It’s funny and it really will make anyone, kid or not, think.

bullyThat is brilliant writing I tell you!

Calvin and Hobbes is also full of a sense of play and adventure.  Even knowing the characters takes effort.  There are no movies, saturday afternoon cartoons, plush toys or video games.

calvin and hobbes tv

It’s like Watterson knew what was coming for kids entertainment and instead of embracing it he held off so that hopefully kids would have one thing in their lives they loved that wasn’t spoon fed for them.  When you think of the amount of money he could have made merchandizing it is pretty remarkable; and yet the comics continue to be read by kids and adults alike despite little to no promotion. They are just that good.

These three are just brilliant.

calvin2

This is the last comic strip Watterson did for Calvin and Hobbes.  It’s a magical world…let’s go exploring!calvin-and-hobbes-lets-go-exploringI have a file of my favorite comic strips on my computer and facebook and I turn to it quite frequently. Whether it’s Dilbert in his office, Charlie Brown questioning the world or Calvin and Hobbes on an adventure they always make me smile.  (I need to do posts on Peanuts and Dilbert too)

Do you like Calvin and Hobbes?  Why do you think they have remained so popular? What do you like about them?  Any above that stand out for you?

Reading Dahl

I’ve had an interesting experience recently.  I went back and read a childhood favorite- the author Roald Dahl.  He is perhaps most well known for writing Charlie and the Chocolate factory but also James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Witches and Fantastic Mr.  Fox (and many others).  He also has two memoirs entitled Boy and Going Solo.

I have nothing but pleasant memories of reading his books as a little girl.  In fact, they were one of the few fantasy-like books that I enjoyed, preferring usually to read books like Little Women or Little House on the Prairie about more normal girls.    I was definitely sensitive to dark or scary stories and didn’t enjoy being spooked.  I even thought the end of Sleeping Beauty or The Wizard of Oz were a little tense.

That’s why it’s interesting as an adult reading Roald Dahl I have had such a different experience.  I remember lightness, magic, humor and fun.  As an adult they come across as quite mean spirited and dark.  They do all have a happy ending but the joy is so brief it feels unsatisfying to me.

Recently I just finished Matilda and everyone is so hateful to this sweet little girl that she rebels and moves chalk and glasses with her brain.  The story in James and the Giant Peach is the same.  A boy is treated as a slave by his wicked Aunts and beaten to the point that a life with giant bugs is far preferable to life at home.  There are similar themes  in almost all of Dahl’s stories.

The other interesting thing is that all of this maltreatment is done at the hands of women.  The Aunts in James and the Giant Peach, Trunchbill in Matilda, the Witches in Witches, etc.  What strange and ghastly relationships must Dahl have had with the women in his life to create such horribly abusive women?  Come to think of it most of the villains in fairytales are women, either witches or evil queens.  Funny hah?

Perhaps I’m overthinking it but what does it tell our little girls when they are presented time and again with terrible, gristly, mean-spirited, abusive women?  And why are children clearly attracted to these stories?  I can’t be the only one who was blissfully unaware of these women as a child?

Its funny how you notice things completely differently at different ages.  They might as well be different books.  It makes recommending books to children a challenging thing.  Do I think back to the way I felt at 8 or 10? Do I try to read through the mind of a child?  Is that even possible? Maybe if you spend hours with children that age you might but a child gentile like me would only be guessing.

I had the same contrasting experience when I read Dahl’s memoirs.  What was hilarious to me as a child seemed dark and sad as an adult.  I was shocked at how many floggings there were.  It seemed like 80% of the book, with a few humorous incidents in to break up the mood. One of the most vicious canings was performed by a headmaster who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury, which no doubt explains Dahl’s skepticism of religion!

It is clear that Dahl raised himself a lot of the time, his father dying while he was a young boy and then being sent off to boarding school. You can certainly see this independent streak in many of his characters, especially Matilda (no doubt the main attraction for me in the stories as a child).  Characters that are too needy or pushy are given quite grisly rewards, as we see in all the other children at the chocolate factory. While the independent, forceful willed children are inevitably the heroes and save the day. I have no doubt this is part of his appeal, that pluck, determination and a good heart will always win out over selfishness, greed and bossy behavior.

From everything he writes his mother was a lovely woman and most of his incidents in school discipline were from men, so I’m not sure where the female anger came into place? Who knows?

Still, it still kind of puzzles me to have such a massively different reading experience.  It honestly wasn’t very pleasant reading his books as an adult.  My only pleasure came in remembering how much pleasure I received years ago.

Have you ever had this experience? What do you make of it? What do you think of my adult analysis of Dahl’s works and how do you recommend books for children as an adult? Its tough!

Writing and Reading for Children and Teens

This is a quick post- (Believe me I will do my 3rd interview I just want to make sure it is well thought out and that my political opinions are explained adequately).

On Saturday I went to an awesome literary symposium put on by the Provo Library.  This was with my friend Emily Whitman who has been my BFF for 11 years.  With 2 kids and my busy work-life it is harder to get together than I would like, especially a full afternoon so Saturday was such a treat.

We got to meet Haven Kimmel who wrote the wonderful memoir A Girl Named Zippy- a book which holds a special place in my heart because it is about growing up in Indiana.  I have never met an author that I admire and it was so interesting to hear her perspective.  She seemed a little melancholy over the recent changes in the publishing industry and said:

“I’m not sure how to continue in an art form that has changed so much that I no longer know how to perform it.”

But she was also very funny and there was a spirited debate over the advent of ebooks.  In her mind they lessened the archival nature of a library, created a technological ‘upgrade’ need and excluded the poor/disadvantaged from the freedom provided by free books.  It was interesting to me because I purchased a kindle in August expecting to love it but I haven’t.  I rarely use it and prefer a real book that I can write notes in and arrows (I know you can do that in a kindle but I find it very tedious).

In fact, if anyone wants to buy a traditional 3G kindle I will give you a good deal (of course, they came out with the fire literally 2 weeks after my purchase!).

Anyway, the second session of the conference was on teen literature.  While it was interesting I disagreed with the attitude of the presenter.  She was a teacher in the public school system and to me she had a very defeatist attitude (she was a perky lady but still defeatist).

One of the first things she said was ‘It would be nice for my students to be reading more challenging books but at least they are reading’.  Then as she continued one of her main qualifications for a book being a good recommendation was that it was ‘really fast’.  I felt like she said that phrase 30 times in the hour. (Tell that to all the kids pouring through Harry Potter at 0ver 700 pages).

Her attitude annoyed me because I feel it is emblematic of a culture of compliance that we have in nurturing children and teenagers.  We could encourage them to do better, be more, but instead we are happy with the least modicum of effort.

I’m not saying every child has to read Foucault and Thoreau but let’s not assume they can’t.  Let’s see the greatest potential in all the people around us whether it is reading, dieting, learning, whatever. The greatest people in my life always saw my potential, the biggest disappointments failed to help nurture me (I still feel some resentment towards my high school choir teacher who stomped on my talent so hard I didn’t sing for 7 years in public after).

Once a child/teen is presented with reading options and they chose Diary of a Wimpy Kid, no problem.  At least they are reading something over nothing. (I have never read Wimpy kid but that was just the example the speaker used about what her high school senior kids are reading). I just want the options to be presented and to not assume they will immediately go for something less challenging.  I hated that assumption growing up.

It turns out there is quite a lively debate on this topic on the web spawned by an article in the New York Daily News by Alexander Nazaryan.

http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews/2012/01/against-walter-dean-myers-and-the-dumbing-down-of-literature-those-kids-can-read-h

http://oinks.squeetus.com/2012/01/in-which-i-gamely-stick-out-my-tongue.html

I’m actually inclined to agree more with Nazaryan.  As mentioned above, this feeling comes from the way I felt as a child.  I hated being pandered too and treated like I was stupid because I was young.  I wanted nothing more than to be shown the respect I felt I deserved.  I wanted to be heard and taken seriously from a very young age.

One of my greatest goals if I am ever a parent is to let my children win an argument.  This might sound funny but I want them to know that they have the ability to think things through on their own and that Mother is not always right.  (Not every argument, but I want my kids to feel a freedom of expression and to learn to back up their thoughts as well as they can).

Basically my feeling on writing for children and teenagers is summed up best by Dr.  Seuss (a man who is about as creative as it gets, so proof my approach does not limit magic or youthfulness in kids):

I don’t write for children. I write for people.” Or, as he once told an interviewer, “I think I can communicate with kids because I don’t try to communicate with kids. Ninety percent of the children’s books patronize the child and say there’s a difference between you and me, so you listen to this story. I, for some reason or another, don’t do that. I treat the child as an equal.”

Finally, I think most teens are turned off of reading not because of difficult, boring books but because of the way those books are dissected in the classroom.    If kids were allowed to present their own point of view instead of over-analyzing character motivations and styles I think they wouldn’t be as turned off.  I think it is more a matter of approach than the material itself.

For Christmas I was debating about getting my 12 year old sister Pride and Prejudice, but I did and she was excited.  I could have gotten her Prom and Prejudice (as suggested by the speaker) but I had confidence to give her the real thing.  I think with a little digging we can see the literary potential of all of the people around us, especially the youth, and their life will be better for the faith we show in them.

It is also important to remember that you aren’t going to win with every suggestion.  They might even hate what you put out there for them to read but I think that is good.  Development of a critical eye and a well reasoned mind is part of the learning process.  I read Scarlet Letter as a teen and hated it, still do, but you can bet I can explain why I dislike it so much! I could then, I can now!

So, that’s my opinion on that.  What do you think?  How do you think we should approach reading for teens and children?  Are the classics still relevant and important to introduce or is just getting them reading enough?

(Nice what I think of as a quick post… 🙂 )