For the past couple of months I have been working as the project coordinator of the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature. This collection is so great because it spans quite a wide time period. There are books from the the late 18th century through to the early 21st. I have run across all kinds of interesting books, from inscribed copies of Maurice Sendak’s works, to first editions of the His Dark Materials series, to books given as prizes in schools and Sunday schools throughout Britain.

While inventorying the collection I came across a book in the Garden Gang series. It was a cute little book, but it caught my interest because the entire series was written by a young girl.

You can learn more about the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature here and read my post about the Garden Gang books here.

To see other fun and interesting things from the collection, follow me on Instagram and Twitter @Poindextrix.

Captain Underpants is in the bookish news right now and this time it has nothing to do with being challenged (this series is frequently banned for being inappropriate or encouraging children to disobey authority).

The full story can be found here, but the long and short of it is that in the course of the newest book, it is revealed that one of the characters is gay. And it isn’t a big deal. In fact, it isn’t even remarked upon.

This is incidental diversity and it is exactly what needs to happen in literature. Kids (and all readers for that matter) need to see characters who are like them in books, but the stories they read don’t always need to be about how they’re POC, gay, differently-abled, etc. In some ways this just highlights differences and reinforces ideas that a white/straight/cis experience is the norm and anything else is a variation.

Incidental diversity shows that a gay character can be gay without that being the story. A character who is a POC or differently-abled or of a different religion can have varied experiences in a multitude of genres and that part of their identity is just that: only a part of who they are.

 

So while I don’t care very much about Captain Underpants, I am super excited about this. Hopefully more authors/illustrators and publishers will take note and we’ll see more diverse characters being regular characters.

First there was Samuel L. Jackson reading Go the Fuck to Sleep and that was good. Now we have Christopher Walken reading Where the Wild Things Are (I say “now” because I just saw it, but youtube tells me it’s been on the interwebz since at least 2011).

This is great not only because of the way Walken reads the story, but because he describes what’s happening in all of the illustrations. It is hilarious and magical and so much more.

Just take a moment to watch/listen and enjoy.

I was checking the little free library website because one day I want to have one of my own and I found out that they have a kickstarter campaign.

Their priorities for the money, as listed on the campaign site, are as follows:

  • Install hundreds more Little Free Libraries that ‘kick start” brighter futures for thousands of children through the power of literacy,
  • Water book deserts – rural or urban areas where books are difficult to access or afford,
  • Help teachers provide books to their students that they can take home to enjoy and build their reading skills during summer and year-round,
  • Provide police departments with Libraries of Understanding that will help them engage with youths and encourage them to read.
  • Positively impact at least 100 communities through the power of reading.

Now here’s the thing, they have 10 days to go and are over $30,000 short. If they don’t reach their goal, they don’t get any of the money pledged throughout the campaign (they don’t charge the credit cards, so there’s no risk to people who pledge).

The Little Free Library Big Book Access Campaign is a great endeavor that I encourage you to throw your money at. Think of all the kids (and adults) that will benefit from increased access to books. To back this campaign and learn more about what their goals are, visit the campaign page, then check out the organization’s website.

We Need Diverse Books

November 7, 2014

I was initially going to write a long-ish expository post in which I’d ask you to think about your own reading habits as a child and the reading habits of children you know, then to think about the children’s, middle grade, and YA books you knew of, slowing leading you to the conclusion that we need diverse books, but I’m just going to jump straight there.

Walk down the aisle of any library or bookstore and pick up some books at random. Of the say 10 or 20 that you might pick up, how many do you think would be by women, people of color, or people in the LGBTQ community? How many of those books have protagonists who are people of color, in the LGBTQ community, are disabled, etc.? Feel free to actually do this exercise, but I can tell you that generally speaking, the answer is far too few.

We Need Diverse Books is a movement — now a nonprofit organization — that addresses this. They work with authors who write diverse books, as well as publishers, in order to produce more high-quality diverse books and get them into the hands of readers in the community.

There is nothing that I don’t love about this. Nothing.

And that’s why I’ve already donated to their Indiegogo campaign. I try not to make you guys spend money. I’m a huge advocate of using your public libraries and all that. But if ever there was a good cause that deserves your extra cash, this was it. Also, donations are tax-deductible, so it’s a win-win. The campaign is running through November 24 (though I’m sure they’ll take donations in other forms after the date).

You might think that a book detailing a cholera outbreak and the beginning of a shift in understanding how the disease spreads wouldn’t make great middle-grade/YA literature. And yet…

In The Great Trouble Deborah Hopkinson introduces us to Eel — an orphan and mudlark who searches the banks of the Thames for things to sell. Eel has somebody after him, so he keeps a low profile, but he manages to get by and he has some people that he can count on along Broad Street. Then cholera, or the “blue death” hits and people are falling ill all around him.

Eel goes to the famous, if eccentric, Dr. John Snow for help and while Dr. Snow cannot help the people who are already sick, he has an unusual theory about cholera that could potentially save countless lives. It is up to Eel to help Dr. Snow gather enough evidence to prove his theory and save the neighborhood.

The Great Trouble will appeal to a variety of audiences. Eel is a relatable character and the action is fast-paced, with bits of mystery thrown in for good measure.

By now you may have heard about the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter. Yesterday the Washington Post released an article about it and how some people might want to reconsider donating, or at least look more closely at what is being offered and where their money is going. The article demonizes the initiative far more than I think is really necessary, but that’s not really what I want to talk about. For the sake of balance, there’s a much more positive article about the Kickstarter campaign on Jezebel.

The Post mentions that one reason Reading Rainbow was cancelled back in 2006/2009 (new episodes stopped in 2006 and re-runs stopped airing in 2009) was because literacy programming was heading more in a teach-them-how/phonics-type direction, while Reading Rainbow was more about fostering a love of reading.

This is what I want to talk about because obviously kids need to learn how to read in order to love it — I’m not arguing against basic literacy programming — but access to books and encouraging enthusiasm about books and reading is just as important. In fact literacy studies have shown as much — that greater access to books leads to increased literacy in children at various reading levels.

Yes, we want kids to know how to read, but imagine if they wanted to read. Programs like Reading Rainbow and Wishbone made books exciting and fun. Even if they’re not directly teaching reading skills, encouraging an interest (if not a love) of books and reading should be an integral part of any literacy initiative.

I’m not really familiar with the Reading Rainbow app — you have to pay for it and since I don’t have any kids who would directly benefit from it, I’d only be paying for the nostalgia factor — and thus can’t comment too much on this particular Kickstarter. But LeVar Burton has shown himself to be dedicated to literacy and education and there are subsidies for underprivileged schools, which seems like, at least, a good step.

Literacy education is important and while we (try to) fund libraries and traditional programs in schools, we should recognize the changing environments in which children learn and adapt in order to better serve their needs so that they not only learn how to read, but develop a love of it as well.

Matilda on Broadway

July 13, 2013

Last night I got to see Matilda on Broadway.

I’ve been so excited about this show. It started out in England (beginning in Stratford, then moving to the West End) and got great reviews. Matilda has finally come to New York where it has continued its streak of critical acclaim, winning a number of Tony’s, as well as additional awards in the theatre community.

But to be honest, even if the reviews were bad and the award committees indifferent, I would still have wanted to see Matilda. I love Roald Dahl’s books, and Matilda, with its emphasis on being true to yourself and the power of books, stories, and imagination has always had a special place in my heart. I own the movie adaptation of the book and watch it fairly often. Seeing the Tony performance just confirmed my burning need to see the show — it’s an adaptation of an awesome book and it looks spectacular!

So anyway, (due to circumstances I won’t go into here) a family friend was unable to use her tickets for the show and generously offered them to me.

And so, a dream came true.

Matilda was everything I could have hoped for and more. It was hilarious and heartbreaking, sweet and inspiring. The cast was superb. I can’t even begin to express my awe at the talent, especially considering the average age is so young.

My favorite line has to be when Matilda asks Ms. Honey, “am I strange?” I desperately wanted that to be on one of the t-shirts, but, alas, I remain unsatisfied. That is a missed merchandising opportunity if ever there was one!

But seriously, the show made Dahl’s story come alive. It’s magical and inspiring and I have to go read the book again. If you get a chance to see this show, I highly recommend it. I’d see it again in a heartbeat.

Born to Run

April 5, 2013

I read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen recently and I think I might just need to read it once a year to remind myself that the human body is actually capable of truly ridiculous things. Ludicrous even.

I can’t remember if I mentioned this, but I’m currently training for a half-marathon, which is both exciting and terrifying because it is now less than a month away and I still don’t feel ready and my ankle has been twinge-y since earlier this week and this is really not a good time to get injured. (I know that was a ridiculous run-on sentence. You should read that as if it was shrill, panicky, and said all in one breath because that’s how I imagined it).

This book was so inspiring and confusing at the same time. I think I want to try barefoot running (once I’m done with the half. I’m not messing with my training right now) and see how that works out for me.

Born to Run is great because it tells this story about these ultrarunners and superathletes, but it’s simultaneously about how anyone can be a runner. It’s fantastic and I definitely recommend it if you’re into running or thinking about getting into running. It’s also super interesting and sometimes really funny, so I recommend it even if you have no interest in running whatsoever.

I recently read another running book, but this one was much shorter. It’s Marathon Mouse by Amy Dixon, and it’s a children’s book that I ran across at work and decided I needed to have in my life. It’s about a mouse whose family lives under the Brooklyn Bridge. He decides to run the New York City marathon even though everyone says that mice don’t run. But he does it anyway! It’s adorable and inspirational and I love it. I think I’ll read it the morning before I run my half and that way I can tell myself “hey, a mouse ran the New York Marathon, I can run this half!” That’s a good plan, right?