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Friday, October 2, 2015

Say Goodbye to Goodbye Stranger

The winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal won't be announced until January, but there are already plenty of predictions. Recently, I read one of the front runners for the Newbery Medal, Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead.  Now if you look on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Goodreads you will see that Goodbye Stranger has been the recipient of five starred reviews from major publications (School Library Journal, Booklist, Horn, Kirkus, and Publisher's Weekly), as well as, countless raves from readers. The New York Times even calls Goodbye Stranger "masterly". Well, I have never been one to conform to public opinion, so let me just say that my feelings concerning Goodbye Stranger were not quite so warm and fuzzy.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

First off, let me say that I do agree with the reviews as far as the beauty of Stead's writing. There is no denying Stead's talent for depicting tender emotion and creating earnest, sympathetic heroines.   I actually adored the lead character, seventh grader Bridge, and also Sherm with whom Bridge has a budding friendship/romance. Perhaps if Stead had stuck to Bridge's coming-of-age story I would have liked Goodbye Stranger more. Instead, Stead intersperses the seventh grade plot line with chapters set several months in the future and narrated by an unnamed ninth grade girl. Eventually the two plot lines do converge and the mystery narrator is revealed, but younger, less sophisticated readers may have trouble following the action and keeping the time line straight.

Speaking of younger readers, let me take a moment to talk about the target audience of Goodbye Stranger. As I already mentioned, the primary characters in Goodbye Stranger are seventh to ninth graders and the majority of the action takes place in middle school. The subject material is a little too mature for kids in elementary school yet readers in eight grade or higher would probably find the story too juvenile.   As someone who purchases books for a library it is difficult to know where to put Goodbye Stranger. If I put it downstairs in the juvenile section I may get flack from some parents of third and fourth graders, but the book will more than likely be passed over by teens. So, ultimately, what you have is a book that will appeal to sixth and seventh grade girls. At least primarily girls because this is definitely a touchy-feely, emotional book that the majority of boys are going to run away from. This extremely narrow target audience is also true of Stead's 2010 book which won the Newbery Medal, When You Reach Me. Not only did that book appeal to primarily tween girls, you also needed to be familiar with Madeline Le Engle's book, A Wrinkle in Time.  I guess I just feel that the most prestigious award for juvenile literature should go to a book that is not only appealing to kids but also to a wide range of young readers.

OK, on to my major beef with Goodbye Stranger. I already mentioned that some of the subject material of Goodbye Stranger may be too mature for younger readers. In a subplot of the story one of Bridge's best friends, Em, is coerced by an eighth grade boy into texting a semi-nude (bra) picture of herself. Of course, the picture gets texted to multiple people, gets posted online, etc. and Em must face all of the repercussions of her actions. Kudos to Stead for taking on the serious topics of sexting and online privacy. With every kid over the age of twelve carrying a cell phone and the prolific use of twitter, snapchat, facebook, etc. these are issues that kids are currently facing and I was excited to see a book address them.

In my opinion, though, Stead's handling of the sexting issue was a complete failure and even a disservice to the young girls who will read this book. I know that sounds incredibly harsh, but I can't help it. The conclusion to the whole sexting drama in Goodbye Stranger just set my teeth on edge. Let me set the scene and you can decide whether or not you agree with me. Of the three main seventh grade girls, Em is the first to develop. That and her prowess on the soccer field make her instantly popular and attracts the attention of Patrick, the eighth grade boy every girl in the school drools over. The two begin a series of flirtatious texts in which they send pictures of various body parts. Of course, it starts out innocently with pictures of feet, ankles, hands, etc. but then Patrick raises the stakes by sending Em a picture of his full body in just boxers. He continues to needle Em about it being her turn until she finally sends a picture of herself in a bra. Big surprise, the picture ends up online and texted to everyone in school resulting in Em being harassed and labeled as the school slut. Eventually, adults are made aware of the situation. Even though, the picture is deleted from social media and cell phones, Em continues to face harassment from other students as well as teachers, who deem her to be a "bad" girl that is a negative influence on the rest of the student body. Honestly, up to this point I was on board with the story, because these can be the very real and unfortunate consequences of sharing personal photos and/or information.

Where Stead totally lost me, though, is her depiction of Patrick's character. Despite the fact that Patrick texted pictures of himself first and then goaded a younger classmate into reciprocating, he never faced any negative repercussions for his actions. Patrick never even attempted to stop the circulation of the picture (Sherm did that), nor did he inform Em that the person who originally texted the picture to everyone was a girl who she thought was her friend. I know, I know in reality there is a double standard and the whole boys will be boys attitude places the majority of responsibility and blame on the girl. However, Stead could have at least made Em realize that any boy that pressured her into doing something that made her uncomfortable wasn't worthy of her adoration. Instead, Stead relieves Patrick of all culpability in the situation and even had Em continue in a relationship with him. What!! My husband told me that I was getting a little too worked up over a piece of fiction, but the fact that this is a book that many young girls will read made me even more angry. Stead set up the perfect opportunity to address an important issue and instead of setting a positive example for young girls she tied it all up with a happy, romantic pink bow. As the mother of a thirteen year old girl I was disappointed. As the mother of eleven and nine year old boys I was outraged because if my boys ever did what Patrick did they would be in deep, deep doo doo.

I have one more point to make and then I will end my tirade. At the end of Goodbye Stranger Em makes the comment that she is not upset the picture got out. Why? Because she got so many positive comments about her appearance (i.e. "You're hot") that she felt proud. Wow, what a great way to end the book. Em decides that her self worth comes from people appreciating her physical appearance. Now, I am all for feeling beautiful in your own skin, and I would never want girls to feel ashamed of their bodies, but come on! Young girls should not need use selfies and the internet to boost their self-esteems.

All right, I will hop off my soapbox now. If anything, I hope that my comments will at least lead to some discussion. Especially with tweens that choose to read it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Fall has to be my favorite time of year. The wonderful crisp air, sweater weather, warm drinks, and Halloween.  I love Halloween next to Christmas it is my favorite holiday.  I guess the build up to the holiday has always been my favorite part.  First there is the decorating, I have an excuse to craft, make everything festive, and fill my house with scented candles.  My mom and I used to put on a Halloween movie and cover the house in jack-o-lanterns, ghost, goblins, and more.  I still carry on this tradition with my own kids though sometimes we listen to Halloween music instead.  Nightmare before Christmas is one of my favorite soundtracks. Second there all of the fun Halloween treats you get to make and enjoy.
Then last but not least there are the Halloween movies I love so many of them and yes I guess I'm a little old for some of them but I don't really care they remind me of all the great times I had with my mom and now my kids.   Here are a few of my favorites, of course I watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, but I also love:
A good ghost story this time of year
Monster House, I don't know what exactly to say about it except if you haven't watched it, you should, ParaNorman too.  Then throw in Coraline because it rocks.
Double Double Toil in Trouble for all of us who grew up on Full House.

Disney's Halloweentown  movies and other Disney original movies, which yes I know are totally cheesy but they are suppose to be, which makes it perfectly okay.
and of course no Halloween is complete without the Great Pumpkin, Winnie the Pooh, and Garfield


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Storytime Anytime: Bears

Since I have named my preschool storytime Book Cubs I figured that I should write a post about bears. 
Of course, the first thing that springs to my head when I think of bears is the Bill Swerski's  Super Fans saying "Da Bears", but I suppose a Saturday Night Live sketch is not quite appropriate for young children.

Keeping it kid friendly, there are a ton of adorable picture books featuring bears. Probably one of most well known bear books is Brown Bear, Brown Bear written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear is perfect book for toddlers who are just learning their colors as well as the names of different animals. I know that I have previously mentioned my admiration for Eric Carle. His brilliant animals are a beautiful complement to Martin's simple, repetitive text. The question and answer format of Brown Bear, Brown Bear will give little ones the opportunity to name the animal and color. You can also find countless printables and activities online that you can do before or after you read the book ( has several).
I created a flip book for my Busy Bees  ( which is what I call my toddler storytime) to color and take home.
Basically I printed two squares for each animal in the book on card stock. One with a black and white picture of the animal and the second with the words in color. To make the front and back of the book I printed print off a rectangle the length of the two squares.

Stack all of the animal pictures on the left and words on the right on top of the bottom rectangle and then put the title rectangle on top. Make sure that you do not line up the words to match the picture. The idea is that kids will have to flip through the cards to find the match.

To bind the book you will punch four holes along the top (two in the top of each square) and string together with yarn. I was going to use the metal rings, but they made the book too heavy and I imagined kids whacking each other with them. Just do not tie the yarn too tight otherwise you will not be able to flip the pages. Now, have the kids color the pictures of the animals to match the words. There you have it: A color matching flip book to go with Brown Bear, Brown Bear.

A newer author/illustrator who has quickly become a favorite of mine is Peter Brown. Brown's illustrations in Creepy Carrots written by Aaron Reynolds earned him a Caldecott Honor in 2013 and his book, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild was the recipient of the 2014 Mitten Award (Michigan's own version of Caldecott). This post is about bears, though, so I want to talk about Children Make Terrible Pets and You Will Be My Friend. The star of these two books is Lucy, who is a highly energetic young bear cub wearing a pink bow and tutu.
Children Make Terrible Pets is inspired by every child who has dragged home a frog, lizard, snake, turtle, stray cat, etc. to their mothers and begged to keep it as a pet. Lucy the bear finds a little boy in the woods and decides that she is going to hug him and squeeze him and love him forever and ever and ever. Of course, Lucy eventually realizes that Squeaker belongs with his family and decides to let him go.

In You Will Be My Friend Lucy is back and desperate to make a new friend. Unfortunately, Lucy's overbearing (haha bear pun) personality tends to push would-be-friends away. This story reminded me so much of my youngest son whose behavior often resembles that of an affectionate and disobedient puppy.  Peter Brown makes a lot of hilarious book trailers for his own books. The trailer for You Will Be My Friend features Brown being interviewed by an enthusiastic Lucy.

Karma Wilson is a prolific children's author who has a whole series of books featuring Bear and his woodland friends. These are sweet and feature a simple rhyming text that will appeal to young children.

Scare a Bear by Kathy-Jo Wargin is another rhyming book with vibrant and cheerful illustrations. I prefer picture books with humor and kids will laugh out loud as a young camper desperately tries to get a bear out of her cabin. If you like this one Wargin also has Moose on the Loose and Otter Out of Water, which are pretty similar.

Three bear books that I absolutely love reading are the Hugless Douglas books by David Melling. Douglas the bear is just so darn goofy and I adore the little sheep that always manages to stick to Douglas.

If you are going to read about bears you have to include We're Going on a Bear Hunt. Many of us learned this action song at summer camp or school, but there is also a beautiful book written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxbury. You can watch an animated version of the story narrated by Michael Rosen to the right. The book was first published in 1989 and continues to be an incredibly popular board book. A celebratory pop-up version of We're Going on a Bear Hunt came out in 2007 and it is stunning! It would definitely make a wonderful gift for any book-loving little one.

After reading story books, my book cubs made paper plate bears which turned out incredibly cute. Basically you cut a U-shaped piece out of the bottom of a large paper plate. You can use this extra piece to cut out little ears and a tale. The head is just a smaller paper plate. I stapled the head, ears, and tail to the body because I was unsure if glue would be enough to hold them together. The muzzle of the bear is just a brown circle with a black triangle on it for a nose and we used the round stickers you buy for garage sale tags for eyes. You could just let the kids draw their own bear faces if you do not have construction paper. I had the kids sponge paint the bears, but markers would be just as good (and less messy). I love to let the kids in storytime use paint, glitter, chalk, clay, and all of those messy materials that they might not get to use at home. I think parents appreciate that the mess stays at the library (haha).

I could go on with more bear ideas, but I don't want to overwhelm you. Notice, I did not even mention Teddy Bears. I will have to save those for another post.