I dedicate this blog to comics in all forms, manga, autobio, superhero, art books, etc. And of course, since I need a challenge, I've decided that I'll read and write (short) reviews for 365 comics during 2015.
This Summer I am leading a book club for kids in grades 1-3. I'm excited, in part, because we've decided to combine our former girls and boys clubs into a mixed 'kids' book club, I feel like we're finally stepping out of a box and into bigger and better possibilities for discussions and books. The other part, is of course, just me liking to share books with people.
Still, there is pressure to find books specifically that the boys will like. I was reminded to make sure my book choices would not be 'too girly' and to make sure the books I chose would also appeal to the boys in the club. As if all books, unless otherwise noted, are written for girls.
I'm annoyed two-fold by the remarks. One, why do we need to cater to the boys? Why aren't we concerned about finding books that are not 'too boyish' to appeal to the girls of the club? Two, why are the boys being treated as if they are all the same and all have the same tastes?
If we, as librarians/parents/teachers/friends/caregivers, continue to keep one set of ideas from boys whilst pushing another upon them, of course they will never (admit to) like a variety of books, including those that have themes that are wrongly seen as of interest specifically (or only) to girls. I think that the program of promoting specific books and clubs to boys had it's time, but now it's time to move on. We need to instill the idea that books are not gendered things, that it's good to pick up and try out any book, regardless of what it's cover looks like, regardless of whether it's an action book or a poetry book. Read two pages, then if you don't like it, pick out something else. Simple as that.
I am excited to host the club, especially now that we've combined the two groups. In truth I was always frustrated as a facilitator when my choices of books were limited, sometimes wishing that I could have hosted the boys reading club as the choices for their books generally aligned much closer to my own reading tastes than those often chosen for the girls club. Give me zombies! Forget Green Gables! (I'm kidding, I liked Anne of Green Gables as a kid...though I still preferred Goosebumps.)
I had a young boy come up and ask me where the 'boys books' were in the library. I told him all the books were boys books and girls books too and that library books belonged to everyone. I realized how corny and fake-y that sounded even as I said it and didn't blame the kid when he didn't believe me. I always hated when adults talked down to me, as if I didn't know that the world wasn't a fair utopia where I could do anything I wanted and be whatever I dreamed. I probably gave my teachers the same disdainful look I received from this kid.
So, I asked him what kind of stories he liked and he said, "ghosts." I showed him where the Goosebumps were and he said, "So there you are!" As if greeting old friends. I wish I could say that I bonded with that child over our shared love of Goosebump books and he came to realize that he could share an interest even with weird old library ladies, but yeah that's not how life works. It was pretty obvious that I had been dismissed by the kid, so I just shrugged and went back to the desk. Yeah, a little bit of Fail, but that's how I roll.
Maybe I should talk about some books now. I was reading these non-fiction easy(ish) books, all of them beautifully illustrated, in hopes of finding a good, not too challenging, non-fiction book for my 1-3 grade club. I wanted a nice non-fiction account of something, but as for what, I'm pretty open, so I ended up with a rather odd selection, which could almost all be used in a club, really. Choices, choices.
How to swallow a pig by Steve Jenkins and illustrated by Robin Page is a book of strange and awesome animal facts. From the nesting rituals of the bower bird to the disguises of an octopus and of course the eating habits of boa constrictors the book presents very interesting facts contained in brief and fun step-by-step instructions. One fun fact I learned was that as an Orb Weaver such as a barn spider weaves a web, first it lays out the pattern, then it lays out the sticky webbing, whilst eating the original webbing. I always thought a spider weaves a web and that's that, I had no idea that it was as precise and that spiders to produce both sticky and not sticky silk. Neat! Could turn into a fun game for acting out some of these directions (some would work better than others!). I also thought that the how to catch dinner instructions for a crocodile were quite amusing (despite being totally factual and deadly).
Ada Byron Lovelace is the first computer programmer and a very interesting person besides. This book presents her life simply, but well. This is also the first time I've read about Lovelace where the quote, "Mad, bad and dangerous to know" wasn't used, which is a real plus (nothing against Lord Byron, but it's nice that for once the man falls to the background). The book focused squarely on Lovelace, her perseverance when illness took away her sight and mobility, her amazing skill with mathematics and innovation in creating a complex program for Babbage's' thinking machine. It was fun to note that even though she was never able to try the program out, it was discovered that with one minor error her program worked! The illustrations here are somewhat sweet, often featuring a kitten somewhere, but as on the cover, Ada's determined expressions feature on every page as well.
E.E. Cummings has a fascinating life story and an inspiring one. I could definitely see reading this book and asking kids what they thought of his poems, if it was silly of him to write sentences that dotted the page instead of running from one side to the other, or if they think it's okay to write with a lower case I.
I loved the subdued illustrations with little typewriter type dotted the pages, the way words were emphasized and the poems flowed with the images across the pages made everything much more accessible and attractive. Showing e.e. cummings as a young child, his mother writing down poems for him, was sweet and inspiring, along with the look at his rejections that lead ultimately to his being a famous poet! See, even famous poets have to deal with people telling them they're no good!
A cautionary tale with a ton of fun flip ups. Even though I don't think I'd use this one in a book club, it was still really fun to read. Though not for the faint of heart or those who don't like books that show children being eaten. That wasn't a spoiler because the title tells it all, Jim, Who Ran Away From His Nurse And Was Eaten by a Lion. There. Now we know what happens, but along the way we learn all about Jim and the fact that he doesn't appreciate cake or tea. So, really, we can't feel too bad for him when he ends up as a lions dessert. The rhyming couplets describing Jim's fate are especially funny.
I have never been a fan of Walt Whitman. I hated reading his poetry. Song of Myself nearly killed me. Reading it reminded me of a guy I knew in one of my early college lit classes, who rebutted my point about a T.S. Eliot poem by saying that the only reason I thought about the poem in that particular way was because I was a woman. The class and I were all speechless. So, yeah, to say that approaching this single, short, poem by Whitman wasn't really my idea of a good time, is to say very little on the matter.
I didn't like it. I was bored. The illustrations while telling a more interesting story, led me to believe that even the child of the book was bored. The language was not something a child would show much interest in, and truthfully, I wasn't much interested in it either. The best part of the book was the quote from Einstein at the very back, which summed up what Whitman was trying to say in the poem in one succinct, clear and awesome line.
The illustrations depict a child who is bored to death by the lecture his well meaning parents bring him to, so instead of falling asleep in the lecture hall, he wanders outside and makes discoveries on his own in the natural world and in his imagination.
"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." -Einstein