Armchair BEA Day #5 – Keeping it Real and Children’s/YA Literature

Can you believe that Armchair BEA is almost over?  This is the last day of the themed discussions, and tomorrow I’ll post a wrap-up of the event.

What exactly does “keeping it real” mean?  The meaning lays in keeping.  How do you not only grow an audience, but how do you keep them coming back for more?  If you have been around for years, how do you keep your material fresh?  How do you continue to keep blogging fun?

One of the main things that I like to remember when blogging is that if it stops being fun, I’m doing it wrong.  Generally the combination of reviewing books and participating in the occasional event has worked well for me.  I’ve also started participating in book tours, because I like being able to discuss a book that I’ve read with other bloggers.  It’s the discussions and overall level of excitement that I see in the blogosphere that keep me coming back for more.

One thing I plan on doing in the near future is a slight re-design of the look and feel of my blog.  While it currently works for me, I noticed since I came back to blogging that WordPress has added more themes that have a sleeker look and better social media integration.  I’d also like to re-do my avatar, because I got glasses back in January and wanna make her look as close to what I look like as possible.  I always wonder though when I update the look/feel of my blog whether I’m making it harder for people to recognize.  Thoughts?

Our final genre focuses on the younger crowd:  children’s picture books and young adult literature and everything in between.  What are the top 5 (or more) books that every child should have on his shelf?  If you are an adult who reads YA, why do you keep going back for more?  If you are not a reader of these books, think back to your childhood and share your favorites from your younger years.

I was lucky as a child, because my mother valued reading.  She used to read me bedtime stories every night, even when she was exhausted and really ought to have been in bed herself.  It’s something that I’m grateful for.  Some of our favorites, in no particular order, were:

1.  “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle – I’m still enchanted by the Murray family of Madeline L’Engle’s Time Quartet.  As a child, they showed me that it was okay to be different, that it was okay to want to learn, and that religion and science didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

2.  “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney – Beautiful illustrations, and a theme of making the world a more beautiful place.  It inspired me to plant lupine seeds all over my neighborhood.

3.  “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – A sad story, but a reminder of the power of a child-like perspective on the world.

4.  “Mary Engelbreit’s The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen – A gorgeously illustrated edition of the classic fairytale.

5.  “The Story of May” by Mordecai Gerstein – A little girl travels to visit each of the personified months of the year.  I was saddened to discover that it’s out of print.

Moving on to the subject of young adult novels…

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with YA.  There are a lot of brilliant YA novels out there, but there are also a lot of duds.  I have a hard time finding the good ones, and it irritates me to no end when an otherwise good story is ruined by love triangles and teenage angst.  Even when I was a teenager, that kind of drama annoyed me.  Sometimes it makes me want to swear off YA for good.  But then, books like Seraphina, Bitterblue, and Katya’s World remind me that I’m being unfair, and that young adult novels can contain imaginative new worlds populated by strong and resilient protagonists.

What are some of your favorite childhood or YA novels?

Categories: Children's, Fiction, YA | Tags: , | 24 Comments

The Magic and Meaning of Dr. Seuss

Childhood nostalgia time!  I found this image while browsing around the internet last night and thought that it was amusing.  It was put together by the teacher of a fourth grade class based on his students’ thoughts after reading Dr. Seuss books, as compared to a popular image macro showing what Dr. Seuss books actually mean.  One of the greatest things about children’s books is that we are able to understand them differently as we get older and to realize that many of them convey larger social messages.

Dr. Seuss was one of my favorite authors as a child.  The rhymes were clever and the stories all had a larger point than mere amusement.  As I got older, I always enjoyed reading these books to my younger siblings.  The Sneetches is my favorite; I liked the idea that you shouldn’t change who you are to be popular or to fit in (and let’s face it, Sylvester McMonkey McBean is a lot of fun to say).

Categories: Children's | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

“Missing May” by Cynthia Rylant

“Missing May,” by Cynthia Rylant, is a children’s book set in West Virginia.  I read it as part of a class on multicultural librarianship.

The protagonist, Summer, is a young girl who is adopted by her Aunt May and Uncle Ob, who live in a trailer in West Virginia.  Although they don’t have much money, Summer finds a loving home for the first time in her life.  When May dies, Ob is devastated and feels like he has nothing left to live for.  One day he claims to have seen her ghost.  To try to help Ob, Summer and Cletus (the weird kid at school) take him on a journey across the state to attempt to communicate with May’s spirit.

I liked the fact that Rylant portrays West Virginia as having its own unique culture without making fun of it or looking down on it.  Rylant uses Cletus’ character to specifically challenge first impressions and judgment.  At first, May thinks he’s quite strange and doesn’t like him, but as the book progresses she begins to see him as an actual person.  Although the characters in the novel are poor, they come from loving families who distinguish themselves through art and creativity.

However, at the same time, I would warn that “Missing May” is not a happy or lighthearted book, as the entire plot deals with reconciling with May’s death.  I think that as a children’s book, it serves an important role in teaching life lessons about grief, but I don’t particularly enjoy depressing stories.

Categories: Children's, Fiction | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle

Yes, this is a throwback to my childhood.  “A Wrinkle in Time” was one of those books that was inspirational to me as a kid.

The book is centered upon the Murray family, whose members are all awesome and nerdy.  There’s Meg, who is a misfit and doesn’t do well at school because she thinks differently than other people.  Charles Wallace is a child genius who didn’t talk until he was four, but at five speaks like an eloquent adult.  Mr. and Mrs. Murray both have several PHDs.  I am jealous of their PHDs.  I’ll be lucky if I ever get one!

Mr. Murry disappears while working on a government project called a tesseract, which involves the fourth dimension.  Meg and Charles Wallace meet up with three angel-like beings who help them in their quest to find their father.  On the way, it is revealed that there is a dark mass centered over their universe, and that various historical figures were fighters against this darkness.  The kids travel to a creepy planet called Camazotz, where all people share one consciousness in the attempt to be perfect.  On Camazotz, citizens have no free will.  Mr. Murray is being held captive because he refuses to submit to the conditioning that would make him a part of the Camazotz collective.

The book really does tackle a lot of deep issues, especially since it’s meant for kids.  There is a theological element that kind of reminds me of C.S. Lewis, with very clear elements of good versus evil.  At the same time, something I loved was the way that L’Engle manages to present both religion and science in such a way that the two don’t contradict each other.  I was impressed that although L’Engle is Christian, she counts major figures (ie. Buddha) as people who were major fighters against the darkness.  Even though L’Engle writes for a younger audience, she doesn’t dumb herself down, but instead assumes that her audience is intelligent and capable of thought.

Categories: Children's, Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

“The Everything Seed: A Story of Beginnings” by Carol Martignacco

Every religion has its own creation myth, and these myths are often taught to children in the form of stories.  A few years ago, I babysat some kids whose parents weren’t religious.  Their parents had given them this very cool book, however, that preserves the magic of a creation story.

“The Everything Seed” is the story of the Big Bang.  It compares the origin of the universe to a seed that one day began to grow.  I was quite impressed by the story, as it held a great  sense of wonder that isn’t often found in science books for kids.  It explains the general idea of the Big Bang without being bogged down with terminology that kids won’t understand.

I was also impressed by the way that the author didn’t state a view as to whether or not there was a God, but instead left the question open, saying that nobody knows how the seed got there.  This means that the book could also be used as a teaching tool for religious families to show that religion and science can coexist.  The author herself is a Unitarian Universalist minister, which perhaps explains a lot about the story’s tone.  Overall, I thought that this book was excellent and filled a gap that not many children’s books can.  If I ever have children, I am reading them this book.

Categories: Children's, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney

Even as a child, I loved to read.  One of my favorite books was “Miss Rumphius.”

Cooney tells the story of a young girl who promised her grandfather three things when she grew up:  to travel to far away places, to live in a house by the sea, and to do something to make the world more beautiful.  Miss Rumphius grew up to travel the world and then settled down in a house by the sea.  After much thought, she decided to make the world more beautiful by spreading lupine seeds throughout the countryside, earning herself the nickname of the Lupine Lady.

I wanted to be the Lupine Lady.  Thankfully, my mom was awesome and decided to put up with my shenanigans, providing me with a bucket full of lupine seeds.  I scattered them through our yard and garden, then did the same to all of the neighbors’ yards.  The lupines that I planted in our garden lasted for years, until after I left for college (at which point my dad accidentally took them out with a lawnmower).  The lupines that I planted in neighbors’ yards didn’t fare quite so well.  Many years later, I realized that this was likely because lupines only bloom every other year, and young lupine plants when not in bloom bear a startling resemblance to a certain plant known as cannabis that the law abiding neighbors probably wouldn’t want in their yards.

Categories: Children's, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

“The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Today’s review is a bit of a reminiscence of childhood.  The Little Prince is one of the most beautiful children’s books ever written, and the story remains touching as an adult.

The novella tells the story of a pilot who crashes in the Sahara desert.  While there, he meets a young prince who hails from another planet (actually, an asteroid), where he spent his days tending a rose.  His rose was quite special to him, and he believed it to be the only one in existence.

The prince tells the pilot stories of his travels and the people whom he has encountered, all the while displaying a view of complete innocence.  The prince doesn’t understand the Tippler, who drinks to forget that he is ashamed of drinking, or the Geographer, who makes maps but will never venture beyond his desk, as that is the job of an Explorer.  Upon visiting Earth, the prince comes upon a group of rosebushes and realizes that his rose is not unique.  He is upset, but then a fox explains to him that his rose was unique because of the time that he put into caring for it.

The prince’s naivete is endearing, and causes one to look at the world from a different perspective.  For anyone considering reading this book, I recommend an edition with full color illustrations.  Normally I don’t consider pictures to be important in a book, but in this one they really do help create the mood of the story.

Categories: Children's, Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

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