My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 18 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

September 22, 2015

College Care Packages (of which I am the QUEEN)

Ooh, correct grammar (I hope) AND ego all in one post title.  I'm on fire today!

So, the 'baby' goes off to college on Saturday and, yes, it's killing me, but I'm trying not to think about that, so I'll focus on the fun stuff.

When my eldest's (yes, stupid spellcheck, that IS a word) friends went off to college the year before she did I started sending care packages (because I am a Jewish Mother, which means I do food and nurturing).  Not much, one or two packages each semester.  They so enjoyed getting real mail with items they could giggle over or food they could share.  I remember the very first thing I sent during Elise's (eldest) freshman year, a postcard from Hula's (a Hawaiian restaurant) that said, "I got lei'd at Hula's" Nothing says inappropriate like your friend's 50 year old mother sending this to you in your dormitory (which guaranteed that EVERY recipient put it on their bulletin boards).

I now have regular presents that I send freshman year, sophomore year etc. Luckily I can list all those gifts here, since my offspring don't read my blog.  Just doing Freshman Year in this post, otherwise this will be WAY too long.


Within the first week I send The Night Before College by Sonya Sones and her daughter, Ava Tramer, illustrated by Max Dalton (Grosset & Dunlap, 2014) 9780448461472,  As the title implies, it's the cadence of The Night Before Christmas but about all the craziness of senior year of high school. It came out during Sasha's (the 'baby') spring of junior year and she refused to read it because she was stressed enough as it was (it's only funny AFTER apps are done and college choice has been, well, chosen).

10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said by Charles Wheelan, illus. by Peter Steiner (W.H. Norton and Company, 2012)

Oh, I love, LOVE this book! My favorite chapter is #7 1/2,  YOUR PARENTS DON'T WANT WHAT'S BEST FOR YOU.
It's true and not because we wish our children ill, not at all.  It's the opposite, we wish them well, but mainly we wish them safety and security, so anything that takes them off that path makes us nervous.  It is nervewracking to see our children take risks with their lives.  I'm not talking about physical risks (that's a whole other level of unnerving), it's the risk of taking the road less traveled. The author said there were three things his parents didn't want him to do:  Write, travel around Europe (w/o a job to come back to) and get his Ph.D.  The three things that have brought him the most joy in life have been...... yup, you guessed it, Writing, travelling and getting his Ph.D.

One of his friends received a Pulitzer for her writing, her father just wanted to know if she had a 401(k).

We may laugh at this, UNTIL our children (young adults, okay, ADULTS) say to us, "I'm going to work at a few part time, no benefits jobs while I work on my.............. (fill in passion/project here).  So, this book was a gift to me as well as my daughters.  It gave me a wake up call and reminded me to be supportive as they take their possibly not very direct path in their lives.  To remember that it's the detours where we learn and grow and that it's the journey, not the destination (although, if that destination comes with a great 401(k), that's good too) :-)

Another great book that works for entering or leaving college is Very Good Lives
The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination 
by J.K. Rowling, illus. by Joel Holland

In 2008, J.K. Rowling gave an AMAZING commencement speech at Harvard talking about failure and imagination.  This is one of my favorite quotes:

"Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged."

Of course, I don't just send deep, inspiring packages. I send Starbucks, Jamba Juice or local gift cards.  Do make sure that the place you're sending a gift card for is accessible.  I'm used to Jamba Juice being everywhere, but when I looked for the nearest one for University of Michigan it was in ANOTHER STATE!

And yes, the stereotypical care packages also go out about once a month. That's fresh baked cookies, brownies or banana bread.  It's fun sending something that may be familiar to us, but maybe not to our offspring's friends or roomies.  I sent banana bread to Elise and one of her housemates from Germany had never had that before (which meant I had to send more of course) :-)

 I make a local Girl Scout VERY happy by ordering cookies for all the college students in my life.  My regular cookie supplier is now a freshman in college herself, so not only will I not be buying from her, I'll be her supplier this year.  Girl Scouts now actually has gluten free cookies (YAY!) so I can send cookies to every kid on my (ever-growing) list.

I have the best text message exchange in my phone that makes me smile every time I look at it.  Two college freshman, big, tough guys (whom I've known FOREVER) were roommates, but I had just sent the box to one (because there were 4 roomies total and not enough room on box for all the addresses)with a note on the inside that said "SHARE"

Big tough football player, shot putter Ram texts me "Sharon! Santi won't share! He has to share, right?"

Big tough soccer player Santi texts, "These are for me, right? They're addressed to me." (subtext, "I DON'T WANNA SHARE)

I told Santi he had to share and he said, "Yeah, but I don't have to show Ram this text, so he won't know that."  Of course, I foiled his plans and Ram was already showing their roomies my text that said the cookies were for everyone.  Bwa ha ha.

And, a little trick to get your student to call you:

I learned this from a friend.  If you haven't heard from your kidlet in awhile, try this.  Send a nice little card and say, "Honey, I was thinking of you, so I thought I'd send you $20 for a pizza so you can have a meal on me, even if I'm not there."  Now, here's the sneaky part, DON'T INCLUDE ANY MONEY.  They will call you IMMEDIATELY and say, "Thanks for the card, did you know you forgot to put the money in?"  Yes, it's sneaky, but all's fair in getting your student to FRIGGING CALL HOME!

Postscript: It's now the Tuesday AFTER dropping my daughter at school.  It was much harder than I thought it would be, but she seems incredibly happy, so that part is great.  The adjustment is going to be hard (do I see fodder for future blog posts?  Yup) and all I can say is thank goodness for the dog so I'm not ACTUALLY talking to myself when I'm home alone.

September 3, 2015

Pam Munoz Ryan on her AMAZING book ECHO (guest post)

I read and loved, LOVED Echo!!  This book is magical, lyrical, delightful, thought provoking (wait, let me look up more compliments in my thesaurus).  The backstory is also fascinating.  With permission, I am printing Pam Munoz Ryan's FAQs on Echo. If you haven't read this book, do so, NOW (well? we're WAITING!!!)

How did you come to write the book?
I was researching an entirely different story and what I thought would be my next novel about a little know discrimination case in California in 1931. Roberto Alvarez vs. the Lemon Grove School District. It was the nation's first successful desegregation court case. While I was looking through archives at the historical society in Lemon Grove, I came across a photo from the early 1930s of a classroom of students sitting on the steps of the school, each holding a harmonica.
When I asked about the odd photograph, the elderly docent, who had attended that very school said, "Oh, you know, that was our elementary school harmonica band. Almost every school had one in the 20s and 30s during the big harmonica band movement."

There was a harmonica band movement? I went home and began to research Not only was there a harmonica band movement in the United States, but also Alfred Hoxie's then-famous Philadelphia Harmonica Band of Wizards, the 60 member band of boys who played in Charles Lindbergh's parade, and for three presidents. And the band used, primarily, one harmonica—the same model of harmonica in the picture with the children on the steps of the country school—the Hohner Marine Band.
I began to wonder about the children in that country school, and in Hoxie's band. Two fictional characters and their stories began to take shape. Mike, an orphan boy in Philadelphia who wanted to be in Hoxie's band, which by the way, WAS full of orphans. And Ivy Maria, a girl in a country school harmonica band.  I began to wonder, too, "What if it by some odd fate, my characters, at different points in time, had played the same harmonica?  And if it was the same harmonica, who owned it before them?

When I traveled to the Hohner Harmonica company in Trossingen, Germany, to tour the campus and museum of the largest and one of the oldest harmonica factories in the world. I learned about the young apprentices who worked in the factory before WWII.

Another character's story, Friedrich's, began to unfold.

I took the story farther. What if there was something magical about this harmonica that contributed in some way to each character's ability to carry on through fear and darkness. I began to imagine the harmonica's back story. That is how Friedrich's and Mike's and Ivy's stories became entwined and framed in a fairy tale.

Then,  I needed a bridge between the two worlds: the fairytale world of magic and the harsh reality of the real world. I needed a character to live in both worlds so that he might deliver the harmonica from one to the next.
         I needed an emissary. That character became Otto, the boy who is playing hide-and-seek in the forest on the first page of the book.
Did you plot out all the storylines ? How did they evolve?
Once I understood the bigger structure of the novel story:  the three main characters' stories bookended by the fairytale and Otto's story, then each section developed organically. I knew how each story would begin and had the opening scenes in my mind. And I knew the resolution I wanted for the endings of each section, but I didn't know in advance how I might get there. That was organic. The characters often led me. But for the novel-as-a-whole, I bought an enormous magnetic white board (7 feet long) for my office. It held the monthly calendars for the span of each story in the appropriate years. I drew a chart with my leit motiffs - a term used in music for the recurring themes, phrases and words. Each story had a column. Thank goodness it was dry erase as I spent lots of time reworking the board. I wrote long lists of phrases and words that appeared in each story. I had never done this before but the  book needed it. I needed it. The process for each book is different. But for this book . . . it was such a challenge I wanted to take on . . .
 Are you a musician?
I am not a musician but at one time, I thought I wanted to be one. I took piano lessons and violin lessons as a young girl. I was mediocre at best at the piano. Even though we lived in a part of town that was not affluent, our elementary school had an orchestra! I was smitten with the violin and began lessons in earnest with my friend, Irene. But only a few months after I started, I had an incident with the very strict violin teacher. He had lectured us about the responsibility for the care of our instruments.  When the bridge popped off of my violin while I was practicing at home, I was so terrified of what his reaction might be, that I secretly tried to fix it with wood glue. I actually thought the music teacher wouldn't notice! I had no idea the bridge was held in place by the tension of the strings and that all violinists are familiar with this occasional happening. I ruined the school violin. The music teacher was not forgiving and my violin lessons ended in shame. I wisely switched to glee club and a few years later in junior high, joined the school chorus. But I didn't pursue music from the performance aspect after that, except as devoted audience member. And a musical theatre and Motown geek.
That's the wonderful thing about music and so many of the arts. You don't have to be the one who makes the art to love and appreciate it or to become an expert on it.
Besides, someone has to be the audience.

How did you approach such difficult topics for children?
 My goal was to be honest and clear, but not necessarily graphic, and to trust the reader to infer. I wrote hoping that there would be multiple levels of comprehension - to introduce a topic on a simple level but have another layer of understanding bloom for an older reader or an adult - or a more sophisticated level of understanding on a subsequent read. Entry point for discussion for tough subjects. One on one . . . opportunity for discussion.

What was interesting at the harmonica factory?
There is a museum on the grounds of the factory complex. I contacted the museum director and he was incredibly helpful. I asked if I could visit. Everyone at Hohner was wonderful and welcoming and could not believe I wanted to include a Hohner harmonica in my story. The Hohner family and company kept amazing artifacts from the inception of the company. And Mattais Hohner was a brilliant marketer. For every world event since the late 1800s there has been a commemorative harmonica. It was there in their museum that I first saw a glass case of harmonicas embedded with bullets that had saved soldiers lives along with letters from grateful family members, or the soldier himself, who had eventually returned the harmonica.
I had to research pre-WWII and understand the political dynamics of Hitler's rise.
For my research of Hoxie's band, I connected Michael Bowman who had done years of research on Hoxie and was joyous that I was interested.  He sent me invaluable images and articles he had collected.
For Ivy Maria's story, I relied on much of the research I found about the Alvarez case, and the Mendez vs. Westminister case. For the Alvarez case I was able to read the actual court documents.  I didn't use the Alvarez case specifically because the dates didn't align for my novel, but I read many actual accounts that were very similar to my character's .  It was a common story during that time in California.

The reader isn't always sure the main characters will survive. But they all live. Why?
I wrote several different versions of the endings. In one, Friedrich's father had died by the time the concert took place in Carnegie Hall. In another version, Ivy's brother, Fernando, died. I tried on so many scenarios in my mind and on paper. But in the end, neither of those situations felt right for such high profile characters. There was already plenty of mention of death in the over-arching story. Friedrich's mother had died. Mike's mother and grandmother had died. Susan's brother had died. In each story, so much of the characters' struggles were about what they conquered together as a family. So losing one of the high profile characters, ultimately felt too tragic. And of course, one of the themes was finding a way through darkness and fear and obstacles. I became so invested in them that I wanted them to find their way.

What do you hope readers will take away from the story?
I hope the reader will see that music is a universal language. It is understood by the person speaking the language—the musician, as well as the person being spoken to—the listener. And what each hears is a different experience based on what they bring to each performance, their life experiences, their joys, their fears.  And yet, it is the same piece of music. I think most people have had moments in their lives where music - a performance, a soundtrack, a choral performance, a singer - brought tears to his or her eyes from either the beauty of the performance, or the emotional resonance, or a memory it evokes.  It is that commonality of experience with which people connect. 

August 11, 2015

Don't you ever get tired of reading children's books?

Okay, simple answer, NO. (and the blog is done, YAY!) Wait, no it's not because it's not the question but the thought/values/perceptions behind the question that I want to address.

"Don't you ever get tired of reading children's books?"  What is the questioner implying?  Children's books are boring, simple, unengaging, a chore to read, something someone would want a break from.

I'll address all of those in a minute, but let's first consider that this is never, NEVER said about any books written for an adult audience.  If someone only reads mysteries or romances or non-fiction they are not asked if they 'get tired of it' or 'need a break' (always accompanied by the nose wrinkle that implies a lack of respect for the genre or age group).  Their intelligence is not judged by their reading material.  Well, that's not true (someone reading Danielle Steele vs. reading Richard Feynmann, oh yeah, there's judgement going on), but it's never said out loud. I guess people think they're complimenting me when they judge me 'capable' of reading books outside the children's literature arena.

So, let's look at some of those 'lesser than' books written for (apparently) a 'lesser than' audience and see if they fit the perception. 

Boring, unengaging, etc.  oh yeah, that's what comes to mind when reading The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams, a story about a girl in a religious cult who is going to be forced into marriage with one of the church leaders.

Oooh, how about Unwind by Neal Shusterman  A book in which the ProChoice and AntiAbortion sides come up with a compromise, abortion is gone, but if between the ages of 12 and 18 you STILL don't want that kid (come on parents of teens, when are they at their least lovable?  Come on, admit it) you can have them 'unwound'.  Every molecule will be used in another human being somewhere. So, the person isn't gone, just 'disseminated'. Unwind follows three characters:  a boy who is his family's tenth child, so he's the 'tithe', an orphan girl who doesn't play piano quite well enough to be of use to the state, and a boy whose parents are just DONE with him.  It's an amazing book and very useful as a parenting tool as well (I have threatened my daughters with 'unwinding'.  Parenting through YA lit, I recommend it highly).

Ah, but these are YA you say, what about the boring stuff written for younger children? Only engaging to an immature mind (yes, which I know does not exclude me).  Oh, yeah, boring like Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett and illustrated by Matthew Myers (and yes, I think Mr. Scieszka and Mr. Barnett are right around where I am maturity-wise). A treacly sweet, well intentioned Birthday Bunny given to Alexander by his Gram Gram is changed (for the better) thanks to Alex's black crayon and lively imagination.  I know librarians who are now taking the culled books from their shelves and handing them to students with a crayon or pen and saying "Make it your own."

Or Katherine Otoshi's STUNNING book One which has a lesson to make those adults who think ALL children's books should teach, inspire, etc. etc. (yuck!) but is not pedantic, so it makes people like me (story first, lesson later or never) very happy.

Also, Exclamation Point by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom  Lichtenheld  Lively, fun and fits same category as Ms. Otoshi's book.

How about Quest, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker This magical book won't be on any AR lists because it's wordless and therefore unworthy of being considered (do NOT get me started on AR or Lexiles, feel free to look at previous post on that)

I could keep going on and on and on and.................. there are many ABSOLUTELY AMAZING books written for children and young adults (and I'd love for y'all to add your own suggestions in the comments). Too many to read them all, let alone list them.  Too many for me to ever get 'tired of' reading (no nose wrinkle) children's literature.

Of course there are books in children's literature that fit one, some or all of these negative descriptions, but that is true in every category of literature. I think the devaluing is part of the bigger picture of all things having to do with children being less valued (monetarily, no matter how much lip service we give to things) i.e. teaching, child care provider, etc.

So, NO! I do not ever, EVER get tired of reading children's books! If I do ever get tired of reading children's books, that means there's something wrong with me and you all need to stage an intervention, STAT!!

May 19, 2015

When we can't see past our own special interests

Recently I was at a FANTASTIC children's literature conference sponsored by the Arne Nixon Center at Fresno State University.  It was called, OUTLAWED:  The Naked Truth About Censored Literature for Young People.  It was informative, inspiring and often heartbreaking as many participants shared how painful it was for them not to see themselves in books.

One of the keynote speakers was Leslea Newman, the author of Heather Has Two Mommies.  Let's put this out there right away, the original version of Heather was a terribly written book.  It was pedantic, wordy, dull.  HOWEVER, as I always say in my book talks, since I always, ALWAYS include LGBTQ, books on my list, it needed to be written. Heather broke down walls, got people talking, and paved the way for better written, fully fleshed out LGBTQ literature (including Ms. Newman's own STUNNING October Mourning).  Ms. Newman faced angry crowds, banning, death threats and more, all because she dared to write a book about a lesbian couple and their daughter.

At the conference Ms. Newman read us the original Heather and then read us the 25th Anniversary edition that is being released this year.  In the first book, all the children are asked to draw pictures of their families (showing that families come in all shapes and sizes).  One of the pictures showed a boy in a wheelchair, the text underneath listed everyone in the picture including, "One boy was in a wheelchair." (okay this may not be an exact quote, I don't actually have the book in front of me). In the new edition, the boy has been erased from the text and the illustrations.  When I asked about this, Ms. Newman answered "They told me the book was too wordy and I needed to cut down the text."  Yes, I'm in complete agreement with that, the book WAS too wordy and it needed some serious editing (it was originally self-published), but why was this boy taken out of the illustrations and why didn't Ms. Newman protest (or her editor notice)?  In a book that was/is about embracing everyone, why was this child so easily deleted?

What would the reaction be if this book had been about a child with Cerebral Palsy or Muscular Dystrophy and one of that child's classmates had drawn a family picture with two moms or two dads, but that picture didn't make it into the newer edition of the book?

There is another book that came out years ago (and is thankfully out of print) called King and King and Family.  Now, I love, LOVE King and King and have been booktalking it since it came out (and, I'm happy to say the reaction to it has gotten less and less hostile over the years). King and King is about a prince who has a parade of eligible princesses brought in front of him and he finally falls in love with one of the princess's brothers.  Delightful! Thought provoking!  Yay!  THEN, these two go on a honeymoon to Africa, and to make a long story (well, not that long, it's a picture book) short, a little African girl stows away in their luggage and they become King and King and Family.  What a bunch of colonialistic BS!  It's written and illustrated by two Dutch women and I do understand the colonial mindset is still there.  I remember going to Efteling, an amusement park in the Netherlands and seeing a ride that was spinning 'cannibal pots' with a 'native' with big lips and a flattened bone pierced nose overlooking the ride, stirring the 'pots'.  This does NOT make it right, but it's harder to be aware of a bias when many in your country think the same way.

However, K&K&F was published by a California (liberal Bay Area even) publishing company.  Did the excitement about supporting a pro gay couple book overshadow the other issues?  As I said in an earlier post, I run into people who are liberal about race, but blindingly sexist.

Can people only consider one issue at a time?  Only support one specific group at a time? I like to think not.  Life, and literature, are more interesting when no one is excluded.

March 24, 2015


Image result for the giggler treatment 

Ah, The Giggler Treatment, a book I read every year to my daughters' classes from 1st - 5th grade.  It has since gone out of print, making it the subject of this week's BRING IT BACK plea.

It is absolutely HILARIOUS with tons of word play and a poo oriented plot (this is a plus in my opinion).  The Giggler Treatment is what happens to grownups who are not nice to children.  Not nice can mean sending them to bed without dinner, or, my personal favorite, farting and blaming it on the child (not that I would ever do that, that's what the dog is for).

Mr. Mack (who is married to Mrs. Fleetwood Mack) has sent the children to bed without dinner because they broke the bathroom window with a soccer ball ("How many times are you going to do that?" "Um, nine?" the son says accurately, NOT 'cheekily').  The gigglers decide he will get the treatment for this, so they go out to gather the necessary material, thereby missing when Mr. Mack lets the boys come down to dinner.

What is the necessary material you ask?  I am SO glad you did!  It's poo!  Fresh dog poo! Created by Rover (in this case), the neighbor's dog who is a millionaire due to his frequent contributions to the gigglers.

The entire book is an uproarious adventure with everyone (including the gigglers and
Rover) trying to save Mr. Mack from stepping in the poo.

I remember reading The Giggler Treatment aloud to my eldest's second grade glass.  Since it's a chapter book, I read it over the course of a week.  About three days into the book, one of the little boys came up to me and said, "My mother says that book you're reading us is disgusting."  I said, "Yes, and that is why YOU like it."

He thought about that for a second, nodded and sat down, waiting for me to read some more.

February 24, 2015

Sexism, alive and well, even (especially?) among liberals

This one has been brewing for awhile, but finally boiled up and over after listening to Your Call on KALW yesterday. (NOTE: Yesterday is actually February 2nd, yes it DOES take me awhile to finish things, especially when the %&#$ computer didn't save half this post, sigh).

The guests were two political cartoonists,  Khalil Bendib and Mark Fiore and while I agreed with them on many points (although I think they're looking at the U.S.'s support of free speech through rose colored glasses, it's not as strong as they seem to believe) I didn't start yelling at the radio until near the end of the program (I often yell at the radio, today it was because the S&P 500 admitted they manipulated ratings to line their own pockets, but will not admit to any crime. Plus $1.3 billion is WAY too small of a fine.)

Anyway, I digress (I know, you're saying "DUH, get on with it.")

So, a woman called in and complained about sexism in cartoons in Charlie Hebdo (I had also called in, said that I found what cartoons I had seen of theirs reprehensible, but I still defended their right to publish and I defend my right to choose not to buy their magazine).  Mr Fiore's comment was (and yes I'm paraphrasing, but he definitely used the 'b' word) "I don't care if there are a couple of boobies in cartoons.  I'm not putting them in mine, but it's okay if others do."

WTF?!?!  You, Mr. Fiore think that a woman is complaining because there are occasional naked breasts in cartoons?  REALLY?!?!?  You, Mr. Fiore, are a Dismissive, Chauvinistic  Twit (conveniently this contracts to DCT, yup, say it out loud).

It is AMAZING to me how quickly people (yes, normally men) dismiss sexism, even those who lean left.  Actually, I see it a lot in men who lean left.  Maybe they're so proud of showing how liberal they are about race, that they feel they can dismiss an entire gender out of hand.

Honestly, I don't know the reason, but as I said this has been simmering for awhile.

An earlier seed was planted when we went to Washington DC this past summer.  We went to the Martin Luther King Monument and took the docent tour.  The tour was led by a white male who was probably in his 60's. He came across as vehemently liberal and concerned about civil rights.  That's wonderful, I'm in total agreement with that.

As he was standing in front of the beautiful, looming sculpture of MLK, he talked about the 15th Amendment giving black men the right to vote.  He said, "Imagine if you were African-American or Japanese-American or American Indian, you were not allowed to vote before that."

I said, "And if you were a woman, you couldn't vote until 1920."  He looked at me and shrugged.  SHRUGGED!!  WTF?!?  We're talking another 50 F-ING years before women got the vote!  What is this with the dismissiveness of men toward women?  Men who seem incredibly proud of their 'open-mindedness' but still limit it to their own gender?

Now, I'm not going to just focus on men, because, as I said in a previous post (Women, Are We Our Gender's Own Worst Enemy?) it's not like we women are always supportive of our own.

When we took a tour of the Capitol our female tour guide pointed out with pride the statue of Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony  She seemed to be highlighting the openness of our government to include women.  She said that it had been given to the Congress by the National Woman's Party in 1921, commemorating the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.

I vaguely remembered there being a relatively recent brou ha ha about that statue and confirmed via the 'Magic Box' (husband's iPhone) that the statue had been in the Crypt (you know, like the basement where you put those holiday gifts you never want to see again) for over 50 years.

So, I raised my hand and very nicely (REALLY, I can be nice) pointed out that the statue had not been brought up to the Rotunda until 1997, which I think is actually quite interesting. The guide lit into me for 1) wasting time on the tour with this fact and 2) saying that there had been a crack in the base and NOT a reluctance to admit women to the Rotunda that was the issue.  Well, if she reads the website of her BOSS, the Architect of the Capitol, that is not the case.  If you want to read about it (and get really p----d off, check out this article 

I do not know what to do about this.  I expect it from conservatives, I wish I didn't, but I do. But, from liberals? What is it that makes those who consider themselves progressive feel perfectly comfortable dismissing or demeaning more than half the population?

I don't know, do you?

January 20, 2015


FINALLY, I'm doing my first 'Bring it Back' post for books that went out of print and should be brought back.

Gender Blender by Blake Nelson (Delacorte Books for Young Readers 2006)is the PERFECT middle school book.  When I booktalk it, it's the one that students ask to borrow (or, keep) the most.  Normally, when I booktalk a book, I use my own words (cuz yeah, that's what a booktalk is) but the jacket copy on this book does my job for me, so I'm putting it here word for word:


Wants Jeff Matthews to notice her.
Hates sexist boys.
Wonders when she’ll get her period.


Must avoid looking like a wuss.
Must deal with his blended family.
Must get a chance with Kelly A.

Then something freaky happens: Emma and Tom switch bodies. And until they can find a remedy:


Can’t believe she has a . . . thingie.
Hates mean girls.
Finds out secondhand that her period has arrived.


Must learn to put on a bra.
Must deal with an overachieving family.
Must not be alone with Jeff Matthews.

Seriously, who could resist this book?  I cannot tell you how much students giggle when I say "thingie" Yes, Gender Blender IS hilarious, but it also has great heart and empathy.  So, Random House, BRING IT BACK!!

 Anyone notice that I again cheated and barely did any of my own writing for this?  Just used the jacket copy again (bwa ha ha).

December 2, 2014

How to Get Your Child to STOP/HATE Reading (it's surprisingly simple)

So, I have holiday cards to write, photos to download, books to cull (perhaps a house to clean, nah) and I skipped my Shut Up and Write meeting this a.m. because my dog had, well, Baboon Booty (red, swollen, THOROUGHLY unattractive) so I took him to the vet instead.

Who knew that I'd be so inspired (infuriated) by that visit that I'd find the energy, time, motivation to write a blog post before doing anything else?  The vet, as always, was delightful.  I love the office, love the people, great medical care.

BUT, when I talk to people with children, I often write a Book Rx for them (I even have a pad of prescription pages, really).  I was writing down some titles for the vet's kids when I asked a bit more about their reading habits.  Her son loves graphic novels, but he's not really allowed to use those for 'real' reading.  That is per his parents AND his teacher!  He does 20 minutes of real reading for homework, THEN he's allowed 30 minutes of graphic novel/comic book reading in order to earn iPad time.  Sigh, isn't reading its own reward?  Couldn't iPad/screen time be earned by doing chores instead (otherwise, this sends the message that reading IS the chore).

I used the argument that I always use, "We don't do that to adults.  We don't tell them they're not reading across a broad enough range or that what they've chosen isn't challenging enough.  AND, BTW, graphic novel, comic books, etc. ARE reading. "   Sigh.  My belief is as long as they're reading for pleasure, they'll read the books they HAVE to read later and they'll get through them and might even enjoy them.

She said that they would let him read what he wanted for 30 minutes, but if he wanted to earn more iPad time, that 60 minutes of graphic novel reading was not allowed.  I said, "As long as he's enjoying the reading, that's your biggest hurdle.  Why not let him choose his fun reading?  Tell him that's up to him."

The answer, are you ready for this?  "I don't want to give him that much power." Okay, he's 8, don't give him your Visa Card or the keys to the car, but giving your child the POWER to choose what he reads?  That is the BEST thing you can do!

And then I thought, "She's not alone" because EVERY teacher,  EVERY librarian and EVERY parent who looks at a book that a child has chosen for themselves and shakes her/his head in dismay, disgust (yes, it happens) or general 'judginess' has taken that power from that child.

Think this is too strong or too harsh a judgement?  I've been working in bookstores for 7 years now, only in the children's department (because NOBODY wants me to wrap gifts, believe me) and I have seen a child's face go from happy and eager to crushed when they hold up a book they chose and they're told it's 'not suitable'.  I STILL point to a friend of my daughter's, now a bright high school senior, who has NEVER fully recovered her full love of reading after her 5th grade teacher told her she was not allowed to read any more Disney Fairy books.

Want to see a child light up?  Gain confidence?  Find joy?  Take them into an (independent) bookstore and say, "You have $25, make your own choices." (yes, libraries are great too).  'Power' is not inherently evil and the power to choose your own books is MAGICAL.

November 4, 2014

Women, are we our gender's own worst enemy?

Yup, that's an inflammatory blog title and of course it's not an absolute, but I think it's something we have to think about.

In a way this is a follow up to when I stated that it seems to be women, more than men, who steer boys away from books about girls.

It happened again last week with the "Oh no, he won't read a book about a girl." even though the book was The Fourteenth Goldfish by 3 time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer Holm, it's an AMAZING book and there IS a boy main character as well, but for the grandmother who turned it down (yes, nose wrinkle and all) having a girl so prominently in the book was a deal breaker.  I stopped to think about it and realized that in ALL my years of reviewing, book talking, bookselling, I've never, NEVER had a dad say "Nope, no books about girls."

So, this has made me think, "What is this?  What has caused this to happen?  Where else does it show up in society?"

Well, I know that I've had many women say to me over the years, "I hate working with/for women." or "I hate working in an all female office."  Personally having worked in an all female office for a woman (obviously) and working in a predominantly male office (for a man), I prefer the female dynamic.  And, again, I've never heard similar sentiments from men about working for male bosses or working in an all male office.

Is it cool for us to 'gender bash'?  Do we think this makes us more appealing to men? DOES it make us more appealing to (some) men?  I've seen men nod approvingly when they've heard women make these statements, so perhaps it does.  Are THESE the men we want to 'please'? (Well, not me, that's for sure.  And I'm sure the feelings are mutual.)

So, in this vein, let's address something currently hip (and this is a Chanukah Miracle, since I'm desperately unhip) the song by Meghan Trainor, All About That Bass.  It's great that she loves herself just as she is (I'm certainly WAY more bass than treble myself), but the line, "I'm bringing booty back. Go 'head and tell them skinny bitches that. No, I'm just playing, I know you think you're fat. But I'm here to tell you, every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top." pits woman against woman again.

Yes, Ms. Trainor says that she's 'playing' and that even skinny 'girls' think they're fat and she's saying they should embrace themselves too.  Great, so then why call them 'bitches'? 

Why is it 'us vs them'?  Can't it be about self love for all (not THAT self love! Prince already covered that in Darling Nikki).  If we love ourselves, why does it have to be 'balanced' with hate/disdain for others?

Avrile Lavigne's song Girlfriend, is not just about getting the guy, but tearing down his current girlfriend in order to 'win' him.  Beyonce's song Flawless has some GREAT lyrics,

We raise girls to see each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes

Which I love, love, LOVE, but why (and maybe I'm missing something here) does the song also include the lyrics "Bow down bitches."?

I did a 'scientific study' by asking my daughters and their friends if they could come up with any popular songs by men that cut down other men.  Is there a "All About That Pate" that praises baldness and cuts down "hairy bastards"?

They couldn't come up with one.


October 21, 2014

Girls ARE Interesting!!

 (Originally written 2011)

I know I’ve ranted about this before, but I can’t help but rant again.

I went to a conference this past weekend, where I heard numerous times ‘Will a boy like this book?”  asked because it’s got a girl main character, is about a girl’s thoughts or has a girl on the cover.

I even went to a presentation by a children’s lit ‘expert’ (okay, I know that’s snotty to put that in quotes, but she got a lot of stuff wrong) who kept hammering in the point that boys will not like books about girls.  She showed the cover of Calpurnia Tate and said, “Would a boy like this book?  No,”

Sigh.  Where do I start?  So many places, so let me begin with Calpurnia Tate.  A child (young woman) who doesn’t want to do what her mother wants her to do (sew, cook, etc.) but instead wants to study science and evolution and discuss Darwin.  Hmm, a child rebelling against what the parental unit wants for them.  Yea, that’s hard to relate to.  Let’s make a quick change – Calpurn Tate’s dad wants HIM to be a rancher but Calpurn wants to, hmm, study science and evolution and discuss Darwin.  NOW would a boy like it?

So, let’s say it IS about good old Calpurn.  Would anyone, ANYONE not give it to a girl OR show it to a girl and say, nose wrinkling “You wouldn’t want to read this, it’s about a boy.”?

Well, of course they would say that because nobody gave Harry Potter to girls.  When schools read Hatchet for literature circles, they make sure they give the girls Little Women instead. 

Oh wait, people DID give HP to girls AND expect them to enjoy Hatchet?!?!?!?!?!?  Wow!

So, really, what we’re saying is that boys are interesting and girls are boring.  We wonder how any boy could be interested in what girls are up to, even though in any good book, the story, conflict, etc. should be interesting enough to be a good read for ANYONE.

What do I find most disturbing about this?  Well, that it’s mainly women who keep this ‘boys can’t possibly like books about girls’ train of thought on the track.  It’s the female teachers and librarians at conferences I hear asking about ‘male appeal’ of books.  It’s the moms I’m selling to at the bookstore who will not buy books about girls for their sons

What I find interesting is that when I do booktalks in classrooms or am handselling at the bookstore, boys do not run away from Kiki Strike or Heir Apparent or Red Scarf Girl. 

Do we truly think so little of ourselves that we believe that adventures featuring our gender cannot possibly be of interest to the opposite gender?  What is it about women that we instill the value in boys (and girls by extension) that reading about girls is for girls and reading about boys is for everyone?  Where does this self loathing come from?  It breaks my heart.

We want boys and girls, well, all people to understand and relate to each other.  Then why do we teach boys that girls are unrelateable?  How do we understand each other if we don’t get to know about each other?

As I was ranting on the way home from the airport after the conference  the spousal unit said  “Would any of these people hold up a book about an African-American child and say to a white kid, ‘you wouldn’t like this, it’s about a black kid’?   Well, of course not, that would be racist.  So, why in the world is sexism not only accepted, but reinforced, taught even, by those we hope know better?