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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Storytime Anytime: Trick-or-Treat!

Come on, Halloween is about more than free candy, right? Ha! My youngest son who is already ping-ponging off the walls in anticipation of trick-or-treating would vehemently disagree with me. However, I have always loved the entire Halloween season just as much if not more than tummy-busting quantities of sugar. I get excited just thinking about the cooler weather, leaf piles, bonfires, trips to the apple orchard, pumpkin carving, spooky decorations, costumes, etc.

Books are a great way to get your kids into the Halloween spirit. I know that I have mentioned it before, but The Hallo-wiener by Dav Pilkey is one of my absolute favorite Halloween picture books. If you have kids reading chapter books, you may recognize Dav Pilkey as the author of the Captain Underpants and Ricky the Robot series. Just thinking about the little dachshund who is so embarrassed by the hot dog costume his mother gets him for Halloween makes me laugh. The story actually has a wonderful message about the cruelty of teasing. Also, it is incredibly sweet how Oscar decides to wear the costume without complaining, because he does not want to hurt his mother feelings.

The 13 Nights of Halloween by Guy Vasilovich is a spooky spin on The 12 Days of Christmas song. The 13 Days of Halloween by Carol Green is the same sort of story, but I prefer the illustrations in the Vasilovich version.
I love those pigtails tied with bats:)


Every popular picture book series probably has a Halloween edition. Curious George Goes to a Costume Party, Clifford's First Halloween, Fancy Nancy: Halloween...or Bust! to name just a few.  One that I really enjoy is Click, Clack, Boo! by Doreen Cronin. If you are not familiar Click, Clack, Moo Cows that Type; Giggle, Giggle, Quack; Dooby Dooby Moo; and all of the other books starring Farmer Brown's barnyard of mischievous animals you should definitely give them a try. In Click, Clack, Boo! Farmer Brown has gone to bed but everyone in the barn is busy preparing for a fantastic Halloween party! This is a great picture book for younger kids, because it has onomatopoeia (I love that word!) i.e. words that represent sounds such as "creak, creak, creaking"; "crunch, crunch, crunching"; and "tap, tap, tapping".

Of course, you do not have to read stories specifically about Halloween. There are pumpkins, monsters, bats, owls, and a hundred other themes that work for the month of October.

By far, the best picture books featuring bats are by Brian Lies. Naturarally, my personal favorite is Bats in the Library, but all of the books in this series are amazing! Kids will love the rhyming text and beautifully detailed illustrations. 
See if you can figure out all of the stories that the bats are reading.

You cannot get into the Halloween spirit without reading stories about witches and monsters. Two wonderful witch books to read aloud are A Very Brave Witch and Only a Witch Can Fly, both written by Alison McGhee.

Only a Witch Can Fly is a more subdued story, but it is elegant and beautiful. Taeeun Yoo's linoleum block illustrations are breathtaking and give the book a dreamlike quality. If you enjoy the artwork in Only a Witch Can Fly you can learn more about Taeeun Yoo and her career in this interview.
I do not want to leave out older kids, so two, more mature picture books starring witches are The Widow's Broom by the inimitable Chris Van Allsburg and Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood. For some strange reason, Heckedy Peg was my daughters favorite book in kindergarten. I remember her giggling hysterically every time I would cackle in my best witch's voice, "I'm Heckedy Peg. I've lost my leg. Let me in."

Ok, on to monsters because, in my opinion, those are the most fun. I adore Mercer Meyer (Little Critter) and my favorite books by him are There Are Monsters Everywhere, There's Something in the Attic, There's a Nightmare in My Closet, and There's an Alligator Under My Bed. I know, Halloween is not mentioned in any of these books, but they are hilarious with adorable illustrations of monsters. Also, each book features a child conquering their fear of monsters which is a great topic when there are ghouls, goblins, witches, skeletons, etc. decorating every house.

Aaaah, there are so many different crafts you can do this time of year!!! I am just going to share a couple that I have done in recent years. The torn paper pumpkin is perfect for the wee ones, because it is so simple. Basically, you just tear up orange paper and glue it to a paper plate.  Make sure you let your little one do the tearing (you may have to show them how). This is a great pre-writing activity, because it helps strengthen the small muscles in their fingers.

Next we have paint sample bookmarks. If you are going to "borrow" a lot of green paint samples you may want to hit more than one hardware store. I used the larger rectangles that were one solid shade of green (and I took multiple shades so everyone could pick the green that they liked the best) to make witches and Frankenstein's monsters.

As you may have noticed, I love to make hats for kids to wear. I know that they are a little hard to see in the picture, but each child is wearing a cone hat with a cat head on the front and a tail glued to the back. I have also made paper bat headbands with kids. Obviously, I enjoy making kids look silly and taking their pictures.

If you are looking for a game (or just want your kids to burn off some of that sugar induced mania) put on some Monster Mash music and dance. You can play freeze dancing or my version of musical chairs, musical pumpkins, shown in the video below.
For all of you bookworms here are some amazing Halloween costumes inspired by some of our favorite children's literature characters.I have to throw in this picture of my kids a few years ago dressed as Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and a red Chinese fireball dragon.

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.