THE LIST: Upcoming Book Reviews in 2014

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About a month ago, I happened upon a list. A book list. A children’s book list.

Bliss.

At the close of 2013, the New York Public Library released their 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing (you can find it here). Throughout the year I plan to read and share quite a bit from this list!

And thanks to my own nearby public library, I am up to my nose in books!

Each book review will include a rating. Here’s the system:

4 Cheers—THIS IS A GREAT BOOK! MUST READ!

3 Cheers—This is a good book, definitely read it.

2 Cheers—This is an okay book.

1 Cheer—This is an even less okay book.

*cricket* —This  book didn’t make a splash. Spend your time elsewhere.

As you can see, these are rigorous standards. Ahem.

BUT I do have some basic questions that will guide my ratings (there is a method to the madness).

Elements To Consider

  • Can I make personal connections to the story? Is it meaningful?
  • Are the illustrations captivating?
  • Is the language interesting?
  • Is it fun? (Reading to children is nothing if it isn’t fun!)

As always, some books are wonderful because they are light, funny, and a rollicking good time while other books become favorites because they appeal to our artistic taste. Both kinds of favorites are welcome to me!

There’s a Bully in All of Us (don’t feed it)

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ImageI read an amazing book by Thanhha Lai a few months ago. This is what I wrote about it then:

Inside Out and Back Again has set alight a spark in me, and for the past few days I have lived through the eyes of the main character, Hà.

Thanhha Lai weaves a thread of emotion back and forth between Hà‘s heart and my own.

This is about the aftermath of war, and racial discrimination, and I am itching to read it to my little clutch of 8-year-olds. Will they understand?  I am too impatient to wait until the end of the year, when they are just a bit older. Do they need to be older?

The story takes place in Vietnam and Alabama. To be honest, both places are equally foreign to these kids.

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And now? I am almost done reading the book to my 3rd graders. And I was right to be tentative.

Thanhha Lai beautifully displays Hà’s character, with depth and emotion. I came to know and love Hà as the story progressed, and I wanted my kids to progress with her.

In a culture where bullying is a trigger word, I wanted my particular group of kids this year to broaden their view. Hà escaped a WAR. She became a REFUGEE in a strange new place. She had to learn a strange new language. Hà experienced RACIAL DISCRIMINATION. I guess what I wanted was to give my kids the opportunity to put their first world problems into perspective.

It did not go the way I planned.

My smart, sensitive class thinks Hà is wildly funny. They treat this heartbreaking character exactly the same way as the bullies in the book do. They call her names—and my kids laugh. She struggles with English—and they giggle. I expected understanding and got something ugly. Not what I anticipated.

It was a reminder that my own response to stories as an adult is not a predictor of what children will get out of it.

My students can see with absolute clarity that the kids in the book are bullies. But seeing it in themselves? Not so easy. If Ha were in our class, I think she would have the same issues as in the story. We have some work to do.

But . . . Tuesday was Library Day. One of my girls searched for Inside Out and Back Again on the shelves, checked it out excitedly, and asked me, “Mrs, Seegmiller, what page are we on? I have to know what happens to Hà.” Her parents split up this year, I know it has changed her. She is a strong girl, and she knows something about learning empathy through experience.

I will definitely try again next year.

 

What stories have given you a powerful glimpse into another person’s life?

What Every Child (and Adult) Should Learn about Being Brave

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Narnia. We all know it is magic.

I just finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader this week and was completely wrapped up in its metaphors and movement.

There is a quest, started by Caspian to find the lost lords who served his father.

There is danger and rescue. There is Aslan.

Every person, big ones and little ones, YOU and ME, knows about adventure and danger BECAUSE WE ARE LIVING, we are human, we are vulnerable, we are learning to be brave.

There are things every person must face, and I am glad to have already met in this book ordinary children who fought sea serpents—and won. When my own troubles come slithering in, I already have the victory envisioned.

CSLewis Brave KnightsSo! This is your list of what I learned about being brave—here I will be brief—if you want the full effect, read the book.

1. Direction is Important 

Bravery in this story has purpose. As a constant motif throughout every chapter, the Dawn Treader sails East. Each island is a step along the way. They know where they are going from the moment they set sail. East, east, east, toward the sun.

2. The end of the world is not the end of the world

I want my students to know this.

I want my future kiddos to know this.

I want to know this.

When Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, Caspian, & the gang reach the first island, they are immediately caught and sold as slaves. In the whole scheme of the book, it is a small piece of the adventure, and (spoiler alert!) they do escape the slavetrader. Of course they do. It is not the worst thing to happen—just the first thing.

When my students bring a problem to me, often their eyes are filled with “this-is-the-end-of-the-world.” No, it’s not. It is the beginning.

CSLewis Courage Dear Heart

3. Dragons Can Be Conquered

Even if the dragon is You.

4. Make It Narnian

For children, and more often for adults, life is murky. If something in your world is hard to understand, imagine instead what it would look like in Narnia.

Ordinary people become kings and queens. Your loved one struggling through addiction becomes a knight in armour, battling off the seven snare-clawed demons circling his head. Make the worry into a metaphor and suddenly it snaps into focus.

So be brave like Lucy! Be changed like Eustace! It is nice to read a children’s novel and feel closer to God and closer to he truest version of myself. You don’t get that very often.

CSLewis The Story