Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What's in a name?

One of my colleagues is pregnant and we're all having a great time trying to guess the name she and her husband have selected for their baby. It's all in good fun since we know we can't break her and she seems pretty confident that we won't figure it out. I can't blame her for keeping this important information under wraps. She knows that once we meet the baby and learn her name, we'll all agree that it's the perfect fit. To disclose this valuable information prematurely unnecessarily opens the soon-to-be parents up to undesired comments and criticism. My own mom will read this blog and likely call or email soon thereafter to ask if this is about "Jonah" so before I go on - no Mom, I assure you I'm over it and I love you.

Implicit in the comments and criticism about baby name selection is the recognition that names are very important and people genuinely want to help you avoid a major potential blunder of parenthood.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Storytelling Magic

The magic of amazing storytelling is alive and well with the latest installment of Harry Potter films. Harry Potter and the Deathly Halllows, Part 1, is a fabulous movie that plays on every emotion. I laughed, I cried, I screamed in terror and I squealed with delight. It all began with an outstanding book that led to an unparalleled series that led to a brilliant movie franchise. Don't forget the theme park, the merchandise, the games, the Halloween costumes. The Harry Potter series is a reminder of the importance of quality and authenticity in storytelling. Each child is the author of his or her own story. We need to remind our children of the importance of quality and authenticity in their own storytelling.  These are necessary ingredients if you want to make magic!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What I'm Reading Now (and urge you to read too!)

As I begin to emerge from my Thanksgiving-induced coma, it occurs to me that I didn't blog yesterday and, as a result, have not yet written about the most amazing book I just finished. As my dad would say, I shall sum it up thus-ly: Daisy Whitney's The Mockingbirds should be required reading in high school. This story about date rape at a posh boarding school provides an important lesson on what constitutes date rape while, at the same time, deftly exploring the emotions of the victim that range from confusion to shame to empowerment and recovery.

The school is presented as an elite school where the administration believes that the student body is unflinching in their adherence to the Themis code of conduct (somehow this makes me think of the Winklevoss twin in the movie The Social Network who refused to hire a thug to maim Mark Zuckerberg or a lawyer to sue him because "We are men of Harvard"). Since the administration refuses to acknowledge that any wrongdoing could ever be wrought by a Themis student, there are no systems in place if a student misbehaves. It turns out that some Themis students are, in fact, so perfect that they developed a peer review tribunal of sorts to deal with the alleged behavioral transgressions to which the administration turns a blind eye. The teen protagonist, Alex, appeals to this tribunal, the Mockingbirds, whose perspective on justice channels both Atticus Finch and Boo Radley.

The book is clearly and beautifully inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird and evokes the classic novel elegantly (much the same way Rebecca Stead evoked A Wrinkle in Time in the 2009 hit/2010 Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me).

Date rape is a serious offense that parents need to responsibly discuss with their kids, both from the perspective of teaching proper behavior and from the perspective of educating and empowering possible future victims. Daisy Whitney has written a readable road map that engages and grips the reader and gets to the heart of a critical matter.

On second thought, The Mockingbirds should be required reading in high school and required reading by parents of teens.

Friday, November 26, 2010

When Jeff and I moved to New York from Toronto many years ago B.C. ("before children"), Jeff's uncle's family, in Westfield, NJ and Nyack, NY, welcomed us into their homes and hearts and invited us to join them for Thanksgiving dinner. Both the invitation and the experience itself were, at least to us, straight out of a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. The food was, of course, delicious, memorable and plentiful. The atmosphere was warm, welcoming, familial and festive. We were so thankful to be part of such a meaningful celebration with such extra special people. We were delighted to be invited back the next year. In the years that have followed, spending Thanksgiving with the Chernicks and Maleks has become one of our favorite annual traditions.

Yesterday, we finally had the opportunity to repay the kindness and host our adoptive family for Thanksgiving. There is an indescribable feeling that sets in when you are able to use this particular holiday as a way of genuinely saying thank you. Together we feasted and ate ourselves into oblivion. How, then, is it possible that I was hungry when I woke up this morning?! I must have a parasite or several! In any event, hosting Thanksgiving means you get the majority of the leftovers and sweet potatoes are delicious, hot or cold, the next morning, even if the kids have already scraped all the toasted marshmallows off the top. After re-tasting every dish we served last night and basking in the memory of our children goofing around unselfconsciously with their great uncle and our hostess from the last several years finally having the time to relax and enjoy the holiday, it was easy to conclude that our Thanksgiving celebration was a great success. Good food, good times!

And don't forget the good books! For the Pre-K through 3rd grade set, I have always been particularly fond of the Franklin books and, not surprisingly, there's one befitting the holiday. Stepping outside of the box, though, given that food is a major component of the holiday, it's nice to consider some great food-related books that don't necessarily have a Thanksgiving theme. Here's an interesting hodge-podge:

Keith Baker's awesome picture book is a great take on the alphabet with a little help from some beloved veggies.

Judi Barrett's legendary tale from the land of Chewandswallow never gets old!

Rozanne Gold's tantalizing new cookbook is already an award winner in our home. Her Creamy Potato Gratin  (p.278) made it to our Thanksgiving buffet and is a great representative sample from a book that boasts "Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease" 

I'm not one to shy away from controversy. While Thanksgiving and excessive eating conjure up good feelings in most of us, this has to be an excruciatingly difficult time for the many people out there suffering from eating disorders. Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls is an emotionally wrenching, important book for the 12 and up crowd. Anorexia and bulimia are serious illnesses that kids need to understand and Halse writes in a style that speaks to them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Wishing you and your loved ones a joyous holiday.

Be sure to look out for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid's Greg Heffley balloon during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade tomorrow.

And look for my next post on Friday, November 26.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Kiss my math! Get it?

A friend recently asked if I'd consider blogging about math because her daughter hates math and she's feeling desperate for ideas. At some point kids begin to understand that math plays a role in our everyday lives - from shopping to adding up the check in a restaurant to following scores, stats and standings. But when you're in the middle of a math meltdown, none of this seems to matter.

My family is a very pro-Tylenol family. We concluded long ago that there's a Tylenol for virtually every ailment and once you match the ailment with the specialized Tylenol capsule, you're off to the races. Yes, regardless of what's ailing you, there's a Tylenol for that. Since books became such a big part of my professional life a little over four years ago, my new refrain is - say it with me - there's a BOOK for that. Believe it or not, books can even make math fun. Here are a few favorites:

Maybe we should start saying, "There's a Scieszka for that". This one's a brilliant Jon Scieszka/Lane Smith collaboration that's a winner for 4-8 year olds (and still a fun read for 8-12 year olds). 

Greg Tang's book is perfect for 7-11 year olds. Tang has a solid list of fun math titles,
including Math-terpieces and  Math for All Seasons

The Sir Cumference series by Cindy Neuschwander comprises great stories that just happen to have math lessons built in. A great choice for 8-11 year olds

Finally, once kids head into middle school, they might enjoy any of the several books written by Danica McKellar. You may know this math whiz best as Winnie from The Wonder years but this young woman loves math and she can write and your kids may enjoy the fact that she was once a famous TV star.
Her titles, Kiss My Math, Math Doesn't Suck and Hot X: Algebra Exposed just may turn your middle schooler on to the cooler side of math.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Giving Thanks

There is nothing quite like American Thanksgiving. I grew up in Canada and, though there is a Canadian Thanksgiving, which falls on or around Columbus Day, it's simply not the same thing. I don't believe there is a single Canadian holiday that is celebrated by everyone, regardless of religion, race, culture or creed. But in America, Thanksgiving is celebrated by everyone and, as a result, it's the happiest day of the year. At least that's my experience. I quite like the ideal of everyone across the country contemplating their circumstance and giving thanks. I give thanks for my family, my friends, my work, my colleagues, my dog - but most, of all, for my husband and our daughters. For this reason's, President Barack Obama's recently released children's book, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, illustrated by the immensely talented Loren Long, speaks to my heart. The book is a "tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation". I am touched by the President's decision to tell the stories of great Americans in the form of a loving letter to his daughters, in whom he recognizes and appreciates the traits of the heroes whose stories he tells, and also by the fact that proceeds from the book will be donated to a scholarship fund for the children of fallen and disabled soldiers serving our nation. What's more - I love this book - it's a beautiful and meaningful tribute that should probably reside in every American home next to a copy of Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Frenzied by Facebook

Many adults lag behind kids when it comes to technology and the Internet. When this lag plays out in the social networking sphere, parents are not always in the best position to point out all the potential risks and dangers to their kids because they themselves haven't quite grasped the vastness of the network and its implications. This is no excuse for parents to pass on teaching and drilling caution. All this really means is that we have to try harder to see the big picture and not shy away from delivering the pressing message and cautionary tale. If you are going to allow your child to enter the Facebook frenzy regardless of his or her age (note that the Facebook terms of use require an acknowledgment that the user is over the age of 13), you need to talk and walk them through the realities on a regular basis. They are unlikely to fully understand and appreciate the risks on their own and, even if they do, they are likely to forget them as quickly as they "friend" the next person in cyberspace who is not, in fact, a friend of theirs. Teach and repeat! Cards on the table - I feel very strongly that kids under the age of 13 should not be using Facebook. Many parents clearly feel otherwise. Here is my cheat sheet on risks inherent in Facebook use for youngsters of any age:
  • Facebook friends are not friends.
  • Social networking requires a presence on the Internet, which opens the user up to the possibility of being cyber-stalked or cyber-bullied or the terrifying possibility of becoming known to a child predator.
  • Social networking requires the making of judgment calls. How sound is your child's judgment? Are you sure? 
    • Note that colleges and employers are open about the fact that they vet candidates by looking at their Facebook pages and profiles. 
    • Note that "guilt by association" is alive and well in this context. Maybe you can vouch for your own child's judgment but can you vouch for the judgment of all of his or her "friends"? Are you sure their messages do not reflect poorly on your child? 
    • Best line from the movie The Social Network: "The Internet isn't written in pencil. It's written in ink". Your posts and those of your children and their "friends" cannot be erased.
  • The accumulation of Facebook friends has become a status symbol. As a result, many young users have hundreds or thousands of "friends". It takes seconds for one of those friends to pass along something from your child's wall to their  friends and so on and so on and so on.
  • Facebook was created by a hacker and is not hacker-proof itself. 
Many schools are offering Internet safety programs for parents. These are great because we need to be aware of the risks to keep our children safe and to prevent them from inadvertently affecting the safety or circumstance of another child. Information in this day and age can be terrifying, which makes it all the more crucial to have and know.

For the young adult in your life, consider suggesting Katie Finn's Top 8, the story of a high schooler whose "Friendverse" page is hacked and horrible things are posted about her. The sequel, What's Your St@tus? came out this summer.

In the world of technology beyond Facebook, young adults are urged to delve into the world, mind and writing of Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and For the Win

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

I am coming to the end of Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom. While this book has received a great deal of media attention and accolades, I am reading it because my husband Jeff, who reads a ton of non-fiction but only one novel each year, read and loved it. I'm thoroughly enjoying the book and, though the characters are unlikeable, I desperately want to know what happens to each one of them. Each character is more complicated than he or she first appears and Franzen does not shy away from peeling away the layers. His book is a commentary on family and a commentary on America post 9/11. The book is captivating and thought-provoking.

When I am done, I will be reading The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney. Franzen's Freedom is at least partially responsible for this decision. The date rape of one of Freedom's protagonists was a defining moment in her life and the development of her character.The protagonist in Whitney's The Mockingbirds, a young adult novel that published earlier this month, is also a date rape victim. In this case, rather than staying silent, the young victim enlists the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students at her boarding school dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers. It's a story about the importance of taking a stand and speaking out, which the protagonist in Freedom was dissuaded from doing. The pairing of these two books satisfies my interest in reading "companion" books.

For a meaningful contrast, young adults who read The Mockingbirds may want to consider reading or re-reading Laurie Halse Anderson's powerful 1999 novel, Speak, about a high school freshman who becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether until she begins to heal from a trauma that is revealed as the story unfolds and refuses to remain silent.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dog Days

I returned home this morning after being away for 2 days and received the most awesome reception from our dog. Lev (the Hebrew word for heart) is a 1 1/2 year old Havanese. He is adorable, scruffy, energetic, incredibly friendly and insanely loving. When I got home, he couldn't contain his excitement. He just wanted to be held and hugged ... by me ... and I felt like a million bucks. My husband and kids also seemed thrilled to have me home and each insisted on having missed me terribly but it quickly became evident that what they had really missed were the things I do for them. Almost immediately after returning home, I set out to pick up a sick child from school and then pick up another one a little later in the day after she missed the bus home. We were supposed to have a lovely dinner with friends tonight but, with a sick child at home, we had to fend for ourselves so, naturally, all eyes turned to me. Don't get me wrong, I love my family very much, I love doing things for each of them and I'd probably feel awful if I felt as though they didn't need me but then there's the dog. One of my daughters is quick to point out that he had probably missed the things I do for him as well but I'm fairly certain that he also missed me for me - he missed my scent, he missed cuddling in the small of my back, he missed the sound of my voice.

I will admit that I was not a lifelong dog lover. I didn't have a dog growing up and I never thought I wanted a dog once I was grown up. It took a chinchilla to help me see the light (a story for another time) - yes, a chinchilla and three kids entering the tween and teen phase. I wholeheartedly believe that no family should consider getting a dog unless the parent who is home most often is desperate to have one and at some point, around two years ago, I started feeling desperate. I guess the looming threat of a home with three teenagers pushed me in that direction. I know we're all delighted with the result. When I come home from work at the end of each day, I am greeted by a dog who gives me no attitude but is simply overcome with happiness over my return home. Funny but I now can't imagine life without a dog. I have a new and deeper appreciation for all the books for children based on their determination to get a dog. Here are two of my newest favorites:

Erica's Perl's winning book for 8-12 year olds will be available in June 2011

Fiona Robertson's treasure is perfect for the K-2 set and their older siblings too. Available now!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back Soon

I'm off to San Francisco for a few days to work on the upcoming Read it LOUD! campaign, which I will excitedly blog about when we have a few more details in place. Suffice it to say that this will be the most far-reaching, impactful national awareness campaign ever launched. I'll be back blogging again on Friday. Have a great couple of days!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Have a coke and a smile

I grew up watching a lot of television. It's not that I  didn't play outside or read books - I did all of that too - but TV time was together time in my family. We would all pile into my parents' room and watch our shows (you know, Starsky & Hutch, CHiPs, The A Team, Eight is Enough, Donny & Marie...). As good as the shows were back then, sometimes I think the commercials were our favorite part. A 30 second spot could make us laugh or cry like no one's business. Just thinking about the California raisins, where's the beef, nothin' but net, the little boy telling Mean Joe Green. "really, you can have it" and Mean Joe saying, "hey kid, catch"... ahhh...good times! Fast forward to now; we are the DVR generation. How did a generation of commercial lovers become the generation that will pay any price to avoid commercials? This is consistent with my general sense that most of us are racing through life and need to find a way to slow down. It's all about using up as little precious time as possible and if the mission is to watch a television show then it's optimal to reduce the time dedicated by eliminating the commercial breaks.Truth is, though, when I watch TV with my kids, we still delight in commercials. Granted, some of them are awful, but that just makes us laugh more. It makes me sad for some of the people who are missing out. Of course,
they can always catch up on YouTube. Or they can meet the aliens in Jon Scieszka's Spaceheadz series who talk like walking advertisements. "Think outside the bun" says the alien named Bob when young Michael K meets him at the beginning of the book. With Jon Scieszka's genius for getting kids, his talent for writing and his amazing, wacky sense of humor, you can only imagine where this is going. And you'll have a lot of fun going there. Spaceheadz is recommended for kids ages 7-10 but will probably still appeal to 11 and 12 year old who want to laugh. The book has a companion website where kids can sign up to be spaceheadz and help save the world. "Priceless," said Bob (Spaceheadz, p. 151).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Slow down and see the flamingos

  Sometimes we need to slow down and appreciate life. This can be a lot tougher in practice than it is in theory. But it needn't be. Check out the photograph on the left. A lawyer-turned-chairman of a private investment firm-turned aerial photographer/author watched a large flock of  brilliant pink flamingos run faster and faster along the surface of the water before taking off and landing to form the perfect shape of a huge flamingo. Not sure if you got that - nobody arranged the formation you see here; the flamingos arranged themselves this way on their own. Fortunately for all of us, someone was paying close attention to detail and captured this magnificence on film. Affirmation of beauty and appreciation of life is as easy as turning the pages of Robert Haas' I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird for the flamingo photograph and so many more. The book is considered appropriate for kids ages 7-11 but it rivals the best and most beautiful coffee table books and no age restrictions should be imposed or considered. Behold... enjoy... and appreciate!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Word of the Day: OXYMORON, as in "Cool Parents"

“Just because you’re parents, doesn’t mean you have to be lame.” So says Toyota in its new Highlander ad campaign. I’m more than a little surprised by the fact that there’s been negative reaction to this ad campaign (and there’s been quite a bit). Surely all parents realize that once our kids reach a certain age, we all may as well have the word LAME stamped on our foreheads. And clearly someone over at Toyota’s ad agency is plugged into the fact that most parents aspire to some level of coolness in the eyes of their kids in any event. It’s understandable – we don’t want to be thought of as old and coolness is a quality associated with youth. It might also having something to do with our desire to connect with our kids. 

We could all start by reading Lauren Myracle's books, ttyl, ttfn and l8r, g8r. Myracle's ttyl was the first-ever novel written entirely in the style of instant messaging or text-speak - it taught me a lot! I like words, though, and have had some trouble adapting to the short form that is appropriate for text messaging . My kids crack up because my reluctance to give up punctuation and vowels is evident when I try. I've been asked not to try any more. It's not cool; it's embarrassing (I've been instructed never to say or write OMG). The more effective tool for connecting has been the fact that I'll read a book like ttyl in the first place. I recently met a mom who was reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner so she'd have something to talk about with her 13 year old son. Love it! One of my brightest shining moments was the day I brought home an advanced reader copy of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and told my girls it was one of the best books I had ever read and it was meant for them.

I have learned that the best I can hope for are a few delicious albeit fleeting moments of coolness. As for the rest of the time, that’s ok, I don’t need to be a cool mom to connect with my kids and it’s probably best for everyone if I don’t try. I need to be a good, caring, compassionate, and vigilant mom. Sometimes the quest for coolness can inadvertently compromise vigilance and that's not a chance I'm ever comfortable taking.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Long Walk to the What

One of my wonderful daughters was helping me get into bed this morning after I wrenched my back. She wanted to know what else she could do to help. Stoically, I said, “Oh nothing. You’ve done plenty”. And she said, “I’ll bring you a book”. Proud mommy moment and credit in the awesome kid bank for that one! I asked her to bring me the copy of Linda Sue Park’s new book, A Long Walk to Water that I had left in the living room. She did.

I sank under the covers and read with fascination about Salva Dut, one of the legendary Lost Boys of Sudan, and his remarkable trek from Southern Sudan to Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps to Rochester, New York and back to Sudan. I couldn't put it down. Awesome book – my back pain faded fast as the tears for Salva poured down my cheeks and I gained a little perspective about suffering! 

The publisher suggests that it’s appropriate for children 10 and up and that seems right to me. While my own kids will sometimes refuse to read the books that are leveled for kids younger than they are, I’ll be encouraging each of them to read this one. It’s a fantastic account of an excruciating story and it’s not dumbed down in the least, yet it’s entirely appropriate and digestible for middle schoolers and high schoolers alike. It’s a story of man’s inhumanity to man and, equally, a story of hope and perseverance and what’s possible – it strikes me as a story that will grip and affect both boys and girls exactly the way it should. It’s a reminder of the vastness and realities of the world that we live in. 

If you have ever read Dave Eggers’ What is the What, you will quickly recognize that this is the perfect young adult companion to that book. Eggers’ book tells the story of Valentino Achak Deng, also one of the Lost Boys with a harrowing tale of inconceivable suffering and indomitable spirit. It's one of the most amazing books I've ever read and I highly recommend it. Both books are the type that raise awareness and change lives. I think we owe it to the children in our lives and to ourselves to be in touch with the realities of the world beyond our own experiences and I'm so grateful that books like these make it possible.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Since my husband Jeff and I moved to New York 17 years ago, we’ve met the most interesting people – people who recognize that each of us is a work in progress; motivated people who are not afraid of self-exploration and trying new things. Consider the diamond merchant-turned-restaurateur, the possibly aspiring actress-turned-world renowned chef-turned-cookbook author (I need to check some of the facts on that), the IT specialist who makes beautiful jewelry, the contractor-turned-software developer, the grant-maker with an affinity for Japanese culture, the video set designer-turned-interior designer, the graphic artist-turned-bookkeeper-turned-pastry chef, the broadcast journalist-turned-teacher, and the lawyer-turned-author. Today I met a woman who created a phenomenally successful cosmetic line and is now director of a non-profit organization focused on illustrators and education. She left the corporate world when it no longer interested her and she was ready to try something new. She brought a lifetime of skills to her new position where she’s made an enormous impact. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Trivia Can Be Extremely Challenging

This evening, the Early Career Committee of the Children's Book Council (CBC) sponsored the Annual Extreme Trivia Challenge. The event was hosted by bestselling authors Holly Black (Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale; The Spiderwick Chronicles; White Cat) and Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments and the companion series, The Infernal Devices). One hundred publishing people played to win the coveted golden bunny trophies that are awarded to the first place know-it-alls. The trophies are bunnies in recognition of the over-representation of bunnies in children's books. The evening ran beautifully and everyone had a blast. It's safe to say that everyone in attendance learned something new and had a great time doing so. A simple reminder that books and learning can be fun. The categories were challenging and often downright hilarious. One category was entitled WWHPD?(What Would Harry Potter DO). So, if you fancy yourself a fan, try these on for size - name the spells Harry Potter would most likely use to weasel his way out of the following dilemmas.

a. A mountain troll is attacking you, fend it off!
b. You know that evil jinx Malfoy came from Malfoy’s wand—even if no one else does. Prove it.
c. A furious grindylow has grabbed hold of your ankle, get it off!
d. Your annoying but well-intentioned friend *cough—Nevil* won’t stop tagging along on your missions to conquer the dark lord, get him out of the way already!

You'll have to look at tomorrow blog post to see if you're right!

Many, many thanks to my amazing CBC staff - kudos, in particular, to Rachel H for this one - for working together and supporting one another, resulting in yet another brilliant CBC event. My takeaway from this evening is admiration for and gratitude to my staff for a job well done and a strong desire to read Holly Black's new book White Cat, about a boy from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands (recommended for ages 14 and up).

Amazon Update

This update relates to my November 10 post. is no longer offering the Pedophile's Guide for sale. Censorship purists may have a hard time with this but the rest of us are breathing a little easier.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Outraged at Amazon

Have you heard this - The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct by Philip R. Greaves II, which offers advice to pedophiles, is available on Amazon for the Kindle? Wait, there's more. Amazon issued the following statement: "Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions." Who fell asleep at the wheel?! How can anybody have been comfortable crossing this line? For Amazon to fall on the "censorship" argument here is a travesty. Refusal to offer something for sale is NOT censorship - it's a moral business decision! Booksellers have the right to choose which books they are willing to sell! Save the censorship argument for the amazing children's books (those that push the envelope and help real kids deal with real issues) that misguided folks feel compelled to pull off shelves because of bad language or harsh subject matter. Doesn't selling this book make Amazon an accessory to criminal behavior? A person may not financially profit from their criminal act and it seems safe to assume that the author of the piece of trash at the core of this controversy is a pedophile; ergo, by making the book available for purchase, Amazon is making the attainment of profit possible and, as such, is an accessory. Amazon must also get a percentage of the profits from sales of the book, which would mean that the accessory is also financially profiting from the crime. Unbelievable! This is facilitation of a crime - this has nothing to do with banned books or purchasing decisions. I wonder what my author and publisher friends think of all this. Consider the following books that have been banned in parts of this country over the years that truly deserve attention and protection from censorship:



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Accessible Jane Austen

A certain children's book publicist I know will, from time to time, send me a book with a brief note like "Must Read!", "Beautiful" or "Enjoy!". She selects the titles judiciously and I've learned, over time, that it's worth putting aside whatever I'm reading at the moment when I get a package from her. I received such a package yesterday and the note attached simply said "Enjoy". Naturally, once I got home from work and my kids were all settled in, I took out Prom & Prejudice and settled in myself. What a delightfully unexpected little bit of fun! On her website, author Elizabeth Eulberg, explains that, as a writer, she sets out to write books like those she really enjoyed as a teen - books that were fun. Prom & Prejudice is definitely that. As you might have guessed from the title, it's a contemporized take on Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. The characters (bearing the same names as they do in Pride & Prejudice) attend elitist boarding schools in Connecticut. The privileged students generally come from Manhattan and the underprivileged "scholarship students" are from Hoboken. I have to say - she had me at Hoboken. I finished the book in one night just so I could pass it along this morning and brighten someone else's day.

This morning I remembered the time, not too long ago, when one of my daughters encountered and devoured the Twilight saga. When she was done, for a period of time, she craved love stories. She read several but Wuthering Heights and Pride & Prejudice were just too much work at the time. I wonder if a book like Prom & Prejudice might serve a dual purpose - offering a fun and satisfyingly entertaining read on its own and serving as a first step toward taking on Austen; it's an accessible Austen, if you will. By enhancing the enjoyment our kids' reading experience, by letting our kids choose the books that interest them, we are nurturing a lifelong love of reading. The child or young adult who delights in Prom & Prejudice may be motivated to read the author who started it all, Jane Austen. If we really want to expose our children to literary classics, maybe we need to set the stage early and facilitate their development as readers first - by maximizing the enjoyment of the reading experience.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Think Outside of the Box

When I was growing up, I'm pretty sure the expression "thinking outside of the box" didn't exist. The phrase is now so commonly used that it has its own Wikipedia entry. But it's more than a phrase, isn't it? It's more of a mindset, even a gestalt. These days, it's arguably "best practices". It's pretty exciting to live in an age where thinking outside of the box is more the rule than the exception. Life outside of the box involves taking chances and exploring creative solutions. The possibilities are endless.

I hope this love affair with creativity hangs on for a while and I hope our children benefit from it as they should - in terms of how we, as the grownups in their lives, relate to them, in terms of how they approach problem-solving throughout their lives and in terms of how they consider their career options as they get older. Let's make sure we remember how much fun it was to watch our toddlers forsaking the toys for the boxes they came in. After all, a box is almost never just a box! Check out Antoinette Portis' Not a Box if you need to refresh your memory. As our kids get older, it seems more important than ever to embrace a creative, out of the box way of thinking. We can't spare them disappointment and we shouldn't try. Instead, we need to arm them to deal with disappointment and encourage the creative impulse that shone through when they were younger - if you want to go to the moon but you don't have a spaceship, don't give up and don't wallow, just get a box!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Running, running, running...

Congratulations to my husband Jeff and the other 43,000 or more people (including Chilean miner Edison Pena) who ran 26.2 miles today and completed the NYC marathon. As someone who gets winded running for the bus, I have the deepest respect and admiration for what you've all accomplished and truly can't fathom how it's even possible.

Running is an expression of hope and/or determination for some people. For Edison Pena, it was a way to stay in shape and maintain his sanity while in captivity. For Sophy, the young, Cambodian protagonist in Frederick Lipp’s beautiful book, Running Shoes, only a pair of running shoes will allow her to run the 8 kilometers to the next village to attend their school and make her dreams come true. In Margaret Peterson Haddix's first young adult novel, Running Out of Time, a mixture of historical fiction and time travel, the protagonist Jessie is running to save the village of Clifton, Indiana from diphtheria. Chris Crutcher's first book, Running Loose is the story of a high school boy at a crossroads who seems, at times, to be running from himself.

For me, running is a form of exercise I'm not very good at and it's a means of escape. When it comes to escape, though, I'd so much rather get lost in a book! How about Augusten Burroughs' Running With Scissors