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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Comic Book Crossovers

Every year I choose September to do my displays in the library, seeing as its the month of National Comic Book Day. I always am scrambling for themes. But this year the themes did half the work for me. There's been a large influx of comic book-based media in the last few years. By this I'm talking about TV shows and the like; of course there's been the superhero movies, at least one every year for the last couple of decades. But over the last few years, we've seen more shows like Arrow, Flash, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Gotham, Powers, Preacher, Outcast, etc.There has also been a smaller amount of video games based on comics. Obviously there's been the high-contenders like the Batman: Arkham series, but there's also the the classic pulp-detective style Wolf Among Us based on Bill Willingham's Fables series. A great conjoining has been happening, giving us interesting new mediums and perspectives to analyze our favorite characters or backdrops. So for this September, our display has been focusing on cross-platform books, such as most of the bolded above. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Kinder than is Necessary

Since my previous post, B is for Bully, focused on picture books I figured that this week I would highlight several chapter books with a bullying theme. Books have remarkable powers. When we relate to a character or situation in a book we are comforted by the fact that we are not alone. Inversely, books can cultivate empathy when we read about viewpoints and experiences that differ from our own. Whether a child is the bully, the victim, or a bystander each of these books is sure to make them feel something be it indignation, remorse, sorrow, or hope.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
The Hundred Dresses may have been written in 1944, but this simple story of kindness and compassion continues to resonate with young readers today.  The story revolves around a poor Polish girl, Wanda Petronski, who is teased relentlessly by the other girls at school for her funny sounding last name and for wearing the same faded blue dress everyday.  When Wanda claims to have one hundred beautiful dresses at home the bullying grows steadily worse. 

Eventually it comes to light that Wanda is an incredibly talented young artist whose drawings of one hundred dresses win a competition at school. Wanda's tormentors are filled with remorse, but it comes too late since the interminable abuse has forced the entire Petronski family to leave town.

So many children (and adults too) can relate to Maddie, the narrator of The Hundred Dresses, who knows that taunting Wanda is wrong, but joins in to avoid becoming a target herself. Although Maddie decides that she is "never going to stand by and say nothing again" the fact that her cowardice caused someone so much suffering continues to haunt her: "Nothing would ever seem good to her again, because just when she was about to enjoy something--like going for a hike with Peggy to look for bayberries or sliding down Barley Hill--she'd bump right smack into the thought that she had made Wanda Petronski move away." The message that bullying hurts all of those involved, not just the victim, is profound and timeless.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Rarely does a single book have the nationwide impact that Wonder has since its publication in 2012. Millions of readers, young and old, have been inspired by the heart-wrenching yet triumphant story of Auggie Pullman.

Let me confess that I was incredibly hesitant to read this book. Why? Well, first off I am a huge, huge crier and I knew from the book trailer that Wonder was going to set off my water works.  In addition to weeping uncontrollably, I was worried that I would end up angry and disgusted. I cannot abide cruelty in any form. Seriously, I think that I would be more outraged and upset to hear that my kid was being a bully than if they were actually being bullied. Thirdly, I was concerned that Wonder would be so sappy that it would read more like a Hallmark card than a realistic novel.

So how did I feel after I actually read Wonder. I did cry (a lot) and I definitely wanted to slap a couple of the characters.  As for the book being too sappy, though, I could not have been more wrong. Wonder is so superbly written that you never doubt the authenticity of the plot or the characters. Palacio has different characters (Julian, his sister, his sister's boyfriend, his best friend, etc.) narrate various chapters and each voice comes across as honest and true.

Wonder is a book that should be required reading in every school. There could be no better class motto than, “Kinder than is necessary. Because it's not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”

For fans of Wonder, Palacio has now written several short stories that follow the original story and are narrated by various side characters.   Also, there is a movie based on Wonder slated to come out in 2017 starring Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as Auggie's parents.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen
First off, let me warn you that The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen deals with a school shooting and suicide so even though the cover looks young and cutesy it is definitely for a more mature audience.

Henry Larsen had a perfectly normal life until his older brother, Jesse, ruined everything with the "unspeakable" act. Now Henry and his father have been forced to move across the country to a new city and his mother is in a psychiatric hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. Encouraged by a therapist to keep a journal, Henry writes down all of the thoughts and feelings that he cannot share with his parents or the friends he has made in his new school.

Be prepared to experience shock, despair, and outrage while reading The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. However, the intensity of the story is deftly tempered by hope, tenderness, and even humor. Trust me when I say that you will be thinking about this book long after you finish reading it

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

Julian Twerski has been asked by his English teacher to write about the events that earned him a week long suspension. This turns out to be easier said than done as Julian begins to write about everything but the incident in question. Through Julian's journal you learn that he he is not bad or mean. He is just a kid (like so many others) that allows his friends and/or the crowd to dictate his actions even when his conscience tells him not to.  At times humorous and others heartbreaking, Twerp is an incredibly powerful story about gaining the strength, integrity, and maturity to not only learn from your mistakes, but make amends for them.

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
In my opinion Freak the Mighty is one of the most poignant and heartrending friendship novels written since Of Mice and Men. Max is a giant of a boy with a heart to match that is a little bit slower than most kids his age. Kevin, or Freak, is incredibly smart and was born with Morquio Syndrome, which has stunted his growth and necessitated leg braces and crutches. The unlikely duo form an indelible bond that helps them cope with bullying, kidnapping, abandonment, and even Freak's crushing disease. I already told you that this one was a tear-jerker so be sure to have a box of tissues (or several) handy when you read Freak the Mighty.

Loser by Jerry Spinelli
In Loser Jerry Spinelli tells the story of Donald Zinkoff (or just Zinkoff) from first to sixth grade. Zinkoff may be one of my all time favorite characters from a children's book. Why? Because Zinkoff is awkward, clumsy, and never quite fits in, but he is also caring, generous, funny, and happy to be who he is. Honestly, haven't we all met someone at some point in our lives who is completely oblivious to what other people think and don't we all wish we could be a bit more like that? Zinkoff's classmates may have labeled him a loser, but he is too busy enjoying every moment of his life to care. Loser is a remarkable story about standing out for all of the right reasons. Not because you are popular, athletic, smart, etc. but because you are kind, brave, joyful, and optimistic. We should all strive to a bit more like the Zinkoffs of the world.

B is for Bully

School supplies, homework, teachers, bus schedules. Back to school time can be stressful for both kids and parents. Unfortunately, bullying in schools is also an issue that many kids and parents (myself included) worry about. I know that kids being mean to one another is nothing new, but that doesn't make it any less scary. Especially when so many distressing stories involving bullying are propagated by the media. Being an avid reader and a librarian I have always relied on books to educate my children or help them cope with serious subjects.

Here are five picture books that are an excellent segue into a conversation about bullying, kindness, and empathy.

1. Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Well, it seems obvious to start with a book that is actually titled Bully. What is truly amazing about Bully is that Seeger is able to deliver such a profound and ultimately beautiful story in a meager 22 words. A big, tough bull walks along a fence shouting things like "Slow Poke" to a turtle, "Chicken" to a chicken, and "Buzz Off" to a bee. He grows louder, bigger, and angrier until a goat calls him out on his behavior and yells "Bully". Immediately chagrined the bull realizes the negative impact of name-calling and is able to reconcile with the other animals.

The illustrations and text of Bully may be simple and sparse but Seeger is able to convey a wealth of emotions from the anger and eventual remorse of the bull to the humiliation and fear of his victims. Below is a video of Seeger discussing how Bully came to be and what message she was hoping to send to young readers.

2. Lllama llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney
I have yet to meet a toddler or preschooler who does not love the Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney. I'm a fan because Llama Llama is depicted as a "normal" kid. One who is sweet, affectionate, kind, but also bratty, selfish, and temperamental. In Llama Llama and the Bully Goat Gilroy Goat is ruining the school day by teasing and name-calling. The teacher handles the situation in the classroom, but when Gilroy's bullying continues on the playground Llama Llama is unsure what to do.

With her gentle rhyming text and adorable illustrations Dewdney teaches young children that it is okay to involve an adult when bullying occurs. I also love that there is the same theme of forgiveness and reconciliation that Seeger has in Bully. Even though Gilroy starts out being mean, Llama Llama is still willing to let bygones be bygones and be his friend. Does every conflict have a happy ending? No, but Llama Llama will show young children the importance of a positive attitude and giving people a second chance.

Anna Dewdney's website has information and activities to go with Llama Llama and the Bully Goat including a downloadable Pledge to Play Nice.

3. Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester

As you can guess from the title Rodney Rat has a speech impediment and cannot pronounce his R's. Being teased and laughed at day after day has turned poor little Rodney into the shyest and quietest rodent (or wodent) in his elementary school. Rodney's tormentors get a taste of their own medicine, though, when a new student who is bigger, meaner, and smarter joins their class. Rodney becomes the hero of the school when his lisp helps him send the bully away.

Wodney Wat does not have the conflict resolution that took place in Bully or Llama Llama and the Bully Goat. Camilla Capybara just leaves and never comes back, which is a bit sad when you think about it. However, Hooway for Wodney Wat is still a fun little story with adorable animal characters illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Kids are sure to giggle when Rodney is leading a game of Simon Says and Camilla Capybara is trying to "Wake" the leaves rather than "Rake" them.

4. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
Maybe I am partial to Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon because, just like her, I was short, clumsy, and had giant buck teeth as a kid.
I didn't have a voice like a bull frog being strangled by a boa constrictor. Mine was more like a chipmunk who had drunk three or four cups of coffee. Well, I am still short, still clumsy, and I still have a high pitched voice, but at least braces fixed the buck teeth.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon is all about embracing what makes you different, even when others put you down for it. David Catrow is one of my favorite illustrators and he perfectly captures the uniqueness and effervescence of Molly Lou Melon.

5.Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Kids will tease each other about the strangest and silliest things, but that doesn't make it any less hurtful as shown in Kevin Henkes' delightful story about a tiny little mouse with a very big name. Chrysanthemum comes home from kindergarten in tears after her classmates make fun of her long and unusual name. Her worried parents are helpless to fix the problem, but they shower Chrysanthemum with love and reassurance cheering her up each night with cuddles and Parcheesi. Eventually, Chrysanthemum's self esteem is restored when a favorite teacher at the school reveals her own long and unique name. The solution is a bit pat, but kids will get the message that individuality should be celebrated.