Kids and Summer Reading

Here’s a subject with which I’m intimately familiar. Having raised three kids, I spent many summers trying to figure out how to get two of them to do even just a little reading. My oldest –  my daughter Morgan – was, quite fortunately, an avid reader and considered a trip to Barnes & Noble better than a trip to the amusement park. My middle kid and my youngest kid – well, that was a different matter. These two each had a learning disability that impacted their ability and interest in reading. My middle child – my son Ryan – had an issue with comprehension. He could read several pages to you with fluency, but when you asked him about what he’d read, he had only the vaguest of ideas. My youngest – my daughter Amanda – had a different issue. Her learning disability was communication centered. For her, letters and words were just lines and squiggles. She struggled to make sense of the words on the page, but if you read to her, she could repeat almost word for word what you’d read.

Trying to get my younger two kids to read often seemed a more difficult task than performing a root canal on a crocodile.

crocodile_teeth

Without anesthesia.  I tried bribing, I tried taking away privileges, but this turn reading into something my kids resented or felt was a chore they were being forced to endure. As a writer for children, I couldn’t bear the thought that my kids would hate reading and books because of my efforts to help keep them engaged and learning during their time off from school. So I came up with a plan that was sort of a compromise. I told my kids that we would go to the book store. They could pick out one book, any book they wanted. Morgan went for Harry Potter – because they were new and all the rage. My son wandered around, looking at things like the Guiness Book of World Records. Eventually I managed to lure him to the Young Adult section. I pointed out a few sports themed books, and casually mentioned that I had met Walter Dean Myers.  The book Slam was on the shelf, a book about basketball (well, more than basketball, but that is my son’s first love, so it was all that mattered). My son had found his first of what would be a long-term affinity for Walter Dean Myer’s books.

Somehow, my youngest daughter discovered Manga books. For those not familiar with Manga, they are graphic novels which feature Japanese anime style drawing along with text. I have to say, at first I wanted to tell her no, she needed a “real” book, but then I remembered that I said they could pick “any” book. And thus began a love affair with Manga and graphic novels that my daughter enjoys even now that she’s in college. It’s easy for her to follow, and she can read them over and over. She’s moved through a variety of series, and I’m so grateful I didn’t tell her no all those years ago.

mangabooks

Many years ago, when the  Goosebumps series first started, many adults were outraged by the books and fought to steer kids away from them (and in some places, tried to ban them outright). But many writers and educators defended the books, and in one interview I read at the time, a wise parent said, “I’d rather see this book in my son’s hands than the remote control to a video game.” I absolutely agree! If it’s a choice between a book (even one deemed “trashy” or “worthless”) or the X-Box, I’d far rather the kids’ version of pulp fiction than mindless zombie blasting.

My advice for summer reading? Let your kids pick. Even if it’s not on their teacher’s summer reading list, give them the choice. My married oldest daughter is still a voracious reader. My college student son still reads sports books, and he still reads Walter Dean Myers. And while my youngest college student daughter still enjoys Manga, she also stole and read my Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe.  Give kids the freedom to choose their own entertainment through a book, and it won’t feel like you’re sentencing them to an agonizing chore. (But if you happen to recommend my books, that would be okay, too!)

And here’s a great summer reading tip for young kids: personalized books! Emergent readers (those just learning to read) get an absolute thrill when they see their names in a book! Surprise one of your favorite youngsters with this very special gift. Many companies are encouraging parents to spend time with their kids, and nothing is more fun than having your child on your lap with a book in hand! The wonderful people at Personal Creations are making this easy by offering delightful books for young readers, customized with their names! To learn more, visit http://www.personalcreations.com! Make summer reading more fun, and spend some valuable time with your kids. Trust me, they grow up way too soon, so don’t miss those opportunities to connect!

Opinions Are Like . . .

Have you ever been to a movie, enjoyed it immensely, then talked to someone who said, “I hated that show; I can’t believe you liked it.”? Conversely, have you ever read a book that drove you nuts – maybe you didn’t even finish it – and then had someone tell you “It’s so good!  I just couldn’t put it down!”?  I’m always intrigued by the reactions of others when I’ve had the opposite reaction.

I belong to a writers’ list serve – well, I belong to several, actually – and in recent months there has been a rather vocal discussion about a particularly popular vampire series. I’m sure you know the one.  I don’t know how anyone in the free world could have missed the hype.On one of the list serves, a writer decided – jokingly of course – to start a fan club for the main characters. She was asking for people to sign up to be fan club officers. The response was incredible. A flurry of replies came in with people clamoring to sign up, and not all of them thought it was a joke; many were serious and ready to host meetings in their homes.

Then one writer friend of mine – bless her heart – said that she hadn’t read the whole book, but that the first few pages hadn’t impressed her much.  I followed up her comment by saying that I had tried to read the first book, but I couldn’t get past the writing style – there were too many passive verbs and an over abundance of adverbs – and I had put the book down after two chapters because the characters lacked credibility to me.  Now, I emphasize that I said “to me” in this reply.

The response was stunning, and I don’t mean that in a nice way.  You’d have thought that I said the Pope should be hung upside down from a crucifix and burned alive. 

“You’re just jealous,” was a fairly common reply.

“Why do you have to attack a writer just because she is successful,” was another.

My personal favorite: “You don’t know much about vampire literature.”

Hmmmm.  I’ve read Bram Stoker’s Dracula a few times, along with books like M.T. Anderson’s Thirsty and the entire Ann Rice Interview with a Vampire series.

I would, by no means, call myself an expert, but I am definitely a fan of vampire stories. The thing is, I don’t think Ms. Meyers has really written a vampire book – I mean, a vampire who doesn’t drink human blood? A vampire who can go out in the sun light, and instead of being incinerated, he sparkles? That’s not a vampire in the tradition of more than 100 years of vampire literature.  I’m not sure what that is.

But it isn’t the story I necessarily take issue with – it’s the writing.  It didn’t appeal to me.  I didn’t believe the characters, I didn’t like the stylistic choices she made, and the book did not work for me. 

I got one email sent personally instead of through the list serve that said, “You don’t have to belong to this list, you know. You can spread your hate somewhere else.”

Hate?  Who said anything about hate?  All I said was the woman uses too many passive verbs, too many adverbs, and that I – me personally – didn’t believe the characters were realistic. I didn’t bother replying to the person who emailed me personally, but I know who she is, and I’ll be very careful to avoid her at any future gatherings we may both be attending.

So what’s the lesson in all this?  Well, at first glance it might be that I should be careful about offering my opinion on popular works of fiction – but I don’t think nasty emails will keep me from doing that.  I know that I enjoy a lot of books that many other writers or readers might think were ridiculous.  I’ve always encouraged my kids to read what appeals to them. Currently, my youngest daughter is devouring manga books like they were potato chips.      And she goes through them about that fast, too.  Manga, for those who aren’t familiar with teen pop culture, are Japanese cartoon books.  These are not your typical Archie comics, they are novel length illustrated stories. The writing is usually weak, the plot lines are simple and often cliche’, but if it puts a book in my kids hands, I’m happy. This one (above) is from a series called “Chibi Vampire” – and I actually like this one a lot.

The point is, as the old saying goes, that opinions are like noses (okay – you substitute your own body part here), everyone has one and they are ultimately only useful to the owner.  If you enjoy something – a book, a movie, a band – then go ahead and enjoy it.  If someone offers a differing opinion, that doesn’t mean he or she is trying to change your mind. It doesn’t mean he or she is saying you are wrong. All that an opposing opinion means is that someone doesn’t agree with you.  Period. So to the woman who told me I could “take my hate somewhere else” – perhaps you should listen to your own advice.  I’m not going anywhere.