My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 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).

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?

October 14, 2014

From Mommy to Mom

Language has always been important to me.  Word choice carries so much significance, even while my brother argues that the word 'girl' as applied to adult females is merely semantics and not denigrating, I say there is no such thing as 'mere' semantics and words convey values and relationships.

So, it is not gently that I go from Mommy to Mom.  I know this is necessary, because it sounds really silly for my 17 and 20 year old to call me Mommy.  "Mom"  that's like an adult word.  "Mom" also can be said with so much more attitude, drawn out with exasperation or short and curt like a reprimand (as in "MOM, stop embarrassing me").  Mommy can sound whiny or needy, but never snotty or fed up.

Mommy is a name that has always made me feel wanted.  There is nothing of 'go away' in the title Mommy,  it's a sobriquet that says, "Snuggle me, feed me, scoop me up, read to me, etc. etc."  Remember the Robin Hood cartoon, or am I really, REALLY dating myself?  Well, REALLY dating myself would be me saying that I loved the Errol Flynn Robin Hood (which I did). ANYWAY, in the cartoon Robin Hood (where Robin is a fox and Prince John is a scrawny lion), Prince John often sticks his thumb in his mouth and says "I want my Mommy!"  He would never say, "I want my Mom!" It just doesn't have the same pathos.

But, sometimes we have to hear words in someone else's mouth to realize how they sound.  For instance, when Elise was little, I had really tried to clean up my language.  One day I startled her as she came down the hallway and she said "Oh my goodness gracious!" which is what I had been saying.  I realized that it sounded absolutely ridiculous and if it sounded ridiculous when a 3 year old said it, then it had to sound completely stupid when I said it.

So, when I heard a friend of my daughter's refer to her parental unit as "Daddy" and I heard how young it sounded, I realized it was time for us to move on.  It's not in the least little bit easy though.  I have started signing e-mails as Mom(my) and I have now moved on to Mom......  Not ready to give up those ellipses (and all they symbolize) quite yet.

"Mom" has its joys as well, I realize that.  Grown up conversations and debates,  daughters who are making their own way in the world, yes there are positives.  But, ah, that doesn't mean I can't miss being "Mommy" now and then.

September 30, 2014

Who SAYS kids aren't reading? (written in 2010)

 I originally wrote this (in my now defunct writing spot, The Grind) when a woman said, very offhandedly, to me "Kids today don't read."  I was furious and pounded out the piece below.  Sadly, the sentiment remains.

Who says kids aren’t reading?  I find myself constantly defending kids and their reading habits to adults who seem to feel that kids aren’t reading at all, distracted by texting, computer games, and really bad movies (really, Jackass 3D?!?!?!?).

Thirty nine years after I was in junior high (go ahead, I’ll wait while you do the math) I am FINALLY cool to teens BECAUSE I read their books.  I find I can talk to almost any kid because I just ask them what they’re reading and then the conversation goes from there.  I do not cut down their tastes (even if they’re reading Twilight, we are all allowed our ‘trash’ reading) and I love to hear how they view various characters and plot.

We know the stereotype of 8th graders:  too cool for words, into fashion, video games, boys or girls and perhaps sports.  Excited about a book?  Nope, that’s not what we think of.  Well, let me tell you about my morning.

Today, I paid a surprise visit to my daughter’s 8th grade Language Arts class (YES, I asked her permission first, so it wasn’t a surprise to her, just the teacher and her classmates).  I had gone to Kepler’s (our local, independent bookstore) to pick up Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy that was just released today (August 24). 

I knocked on the classroom door and when I walked in, I didn’t say a word, I just held up the book and grinned.  There was a moment of silence and the room just exploded.  The kids who knew the book (about 85% of them) were going “Woo Hoo!  No way!!  I want it!!” as I handed the book to their teacher (it was a gift for her) who hugged it and said, “Mine, all mine.”  (yes, she’ll share, but she’ll definitely be reading it tonight)  The kids who didn’t know it were saying, “What?  What’s happening?”  Guaranteed, all those kids will be getting Book 1 today, in order to be in the loop.

Of course, I also handed a copy to my daughter, so she can start reading it during SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) today (why else do you think she gave me permission to come into her class on the second day of school?).

I left with a huge grin on my face and realized that I had not said a single word while I was in the room.  I didn’t have to, the book said it all. 

September 23, 2014

The End of an Era... my last 'first day' of school

I remember (and right there, that's a shock, given the quality of my memory), anyway, I remember Elise's first day of kindergarten. (1999).  We were sitting at the kitchen table and she was eating her breakfast and I was looking at her, feeling tired (we aren't morning people) and thinking, "Oh my gosh, this is my life for the next 15 years.  Grey, early mornings at the kitchen table.  Wow."

So, it was with shock and sadness that last Tuesday was Sasha's last 'first' day of school.  Well, as far as I'll experience it.  When she's off to college next year, her first day will not have an impact on my daily schedule (I may possibly be curled in a fetal position and sobbing, but technically, her first day won't have any impact on me).

She wasn't at the kitchen table drinking her cocoa, as Elise had been all those years ago.  I 'deliver' cocoa to her room and she drinks it while she gets ready, I sit at the kitchen table still, with my coffee and newspaper.

Nevertheless, I was very aware that this was the end of an era.  Setting the alarm to get a 'kidlet' off to school with breakfast, lunch and a kiss (when it's allowed), that's not going to be my reality next September, unless I'm like the creepy, obsessive mother in Love You Forever, and if I am, please whack me upside the head.

I feel like there's one of those montages running through my mind (like in t.v. shows when they want to put a cheap episode together).  In the beginning, the girls always wore a tie dyed dress on the first day.  We used to buy them at an art and wine festival every year, then we decided to start making our own.  So a week before school started, after I'd rush ordered the dresses from Dharma Trading Company (because I procrastinate in EVERY area of my life), we'd be in the backyard with the gloves, dye, clothing and having a great time.  Although, I do remember ANOTHER end of an era in the middle of that, Elise no longer dying dresses, but thongs instead (let me tell you, the dye goes a long way when you're only dying 2 inches of fabric).  :-)

So then on the first day we'd get a picture of our two girls brightly dressed, looking cheerful (no, really), thumbs up (that would be Sasha, who is more apt to flash a different digit now) and ready to go off to school.  Sigh.  

I know next fall will hold new adventures for all of us, but for this school year, I am just going to happily/sadly wallow in every event, moment, passage that I can.

(NOTE:  yes Sasha's first day was in August, see MANY references to my procrastination, hence the actual writing and posting of this blog)

September 16, 2014

Who knew the age and fitness of my DOCTOR determines MY care?

I am Une Femme d'Un Certain Age (woman of a certain age, it just sounds better in French, everything does).  What does this mean?  Well, it means I can walk down Michigan Avenue in Chicago in November in shirtsleeves and be really happy.  It means that I carry a fan AND a spritz bottle in my purse (much to the dismay of my daughters).  It means that every calorie I consume likes to stay with me and every calorie I burn (and dammit, with this 'internal summer' I have there should be SOME burning) doesn't seem to have any impact.

Such a joy, let me tell you.

So, recently the lovely spousal unit and I went to Washington D.C. (yeah, cuz that's where a woman who runs hot belongs in July).  We walked 8-9 miles/day, ate really healthfully (they have some great and healthy restaurants in D.C. like Sweetgreen and Protein Bar  with very few snacks or unhealthy food (okay, there were a couple of iced mochas consumed, but it was frigging DC in frigging July!)

ANYWAY, I thought, "Well, even though weight loss is not the reason for the trip and I never want to obsess about it (I have two daughters, I try to be sane about that kind of thing) there's NO WAY I won't have lost weight from this trip."  Apparently, "NO WAY" does not mean what I think it means, because not one pound had left me (I guess it's so faithful to me that it will never leave, but honestly, my feelings would not be hurt if some poundage and I parted ways).

Before my trip I had seen my doctor and talked to her about the extreme fatigue I had been feeling, probably due to perimenopause, but I wanted to check. She also said that I'd feel better if I dropped about 20 pounds, which I agreed with in theory, at the rate of about 1 pound a week.

So, when we got back, I e-mailed my doctor and said, "Oh lovely, young slender Dr. X, here's what happened on my trip.  How the heck am I going to lose weight?"  She said she could give me a referral to a nutritionist, but that she and I could also discuss surgical options.  SURGICAL OPTIONS!??!?!?!?  Are we talking lap band surgery?  What the Heck?!?!?!  Even discounting my lovely lying friends aside who say, "Oh you look fine."  my DOCTOR friends all said, "Um, you are not badly overweight.  You would NEVER be a candidate for that kind of surgery.  It's shocking she would even suggest it."

So, am I being punished, mistreated (not as in 'beaten' but as in getting bad medical treatment) because my doctor is in her 30's and seems to be naturally slender?

If this were an isolated incident, I wouldn't be writing this blog (venting, yes, venting is also an apt word) but it's not.  So let me tell you about the other incidents (interestingly enough, these are all at the same large medical entity).

About two years ago I went in because my knee hurt a LOT and it made what I call 'crunchy granola' noises when I squatted down and then stood up again.  I went to the orthopedist and he did his thing (x-rays, manipulation, etc.) and said that I should exercise 1. 5 hours 2-3 times a week.  I said, "Low impact?  Swimming?"  "Nope", he said, "anything"  REALLY? Cuz you know, my knee really hurts (I didn't say that, hence the lack of quote marks).  His assistant asked why I didn't exercise and I said, "Because I'm a slug." and she said, "Well, at least you admit it."  Wow, nice bedside manner.  I did go on to inform her that I am LITERALLY (and I ALWAYS use that word correctly) allergic to exercise, having exercise-induced anaphylaxis, and no, you DON'T want it, believe me, it is not nice having an 'excuse' not to exercise.

I did take the Rx for Physical Therapy, I did NOT take the advice to do aerobic, high impact exercise 2-3 times a week.  When I talked to my PT, he said that was HORRIBLE advice and would definitely do more harm than good.

So, was it because my doctor was very fit?  Was I running (well walking) into fat bias?  Probably.  I was being treated based on who HE was and his judgement, not MY reality.

But the most invasive (and I mean INVASIVE) episode happened a few years ago.  While leaving out details, my urologist felt there was some irregularity in my urine.  He said given my age, I should get images of my bladder interior.  When Ismayil (lovely spousal unit) and I showed up at Stanford (which was NOT the entity that had made the initial diagnosis) the doctor who was to do the imaging said, "Why in the world did they send you in for this?" and I said, "My doctor said given my age, I should get checked."  THIS doctor (who was probably about 60) looked at 45 year old me and said, "You're a baby, you're not at higher risk for this cancer at all."  But, of course, since the 'C' word had been dropped and I was already there, we went ahead with the imaging.  Given the 'path' that needed to be taken, not only was it uncomfortable, I told the doctor that after that he owed me flowers and dinner!  :-)

Yes, everything was all clear (and the images once he got in the bladder were REALLY cool, the ultrasound engineer husband was fascinated) and the test was unnecessary.  So, my medical treatment was based on the fact that my mid-30's doctor saw mid-40's me as old.

Am I venting just to vent?  No (although venting is fun).  The medical industry needs to realize that this is going on and address it, because it adds up to bad medicine.  Do I think that MY posting about it and my 39 regular subscribers reading about it will make a difference?  Well, as one of my heroes, Pete Seeger said, “The world will be solved by millions of small things."  So, if nothing else, it's a start (and hey, maybe by next week I'll have *40* subscribers!)

March 30, 2014

Reading My Way Around the World - What should I actually call this project?

Wow!  Two posts in one week!  It's a Chanukah Miracle!!  See, this project is actually going to happen, but I'm still working through the details.  Then I realized, I should work through the details on the blog so 1) you all actually know I'm doing something and 2) I could REALLY use some input.

Ann Morgan called her project A Year of Reading the World (or AYORTW) which is a GREAT title, but I can't use it.  I'm also not sure of timing.  Can I do this in a year?  I'm hoping to do a picture book, middle grade and young adult from each official language in each country.  How many books will this actually be? 

So, suggestions please.  Something that's catchy and might work as a Twitter handle (do people say 'handle'?  Am I completely dating myself by using CB language?  Am I completely dating myself by knowing what a CB (Citizen's Band radio for those youngsters out there) is?

Winning suggestion will get books from me!!  I don't know what books yet, but books, I promise will come your way if you come up with a great title for this project.

Well?   I'm waiting..................

March 24, 2014

Reading the World in Children's Literature

I am getting off my throne as Queen of Procrastination to actually 1) Blog and 2) Start a project I've been intending to start for awhile (as I always say, my road to Heck is very well paved).

So, obviously #1 is happening right now.  What's #2?

Well, I'm sure many of you heard about Ann Morgan who made it her goal to read a book from every country (196 is what she counted) over the course of a year.  More info at her site,

When I heard about her project I thought, "How cool.  I could do that with children's books."  But did I?  NO.  Did I have various friends and colleagues say I should do that? YEP.  But did I?  NO (are you starting to see the pattern?)

Well, today IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) put out their awards   so I'm taking that as a kick in the tuchus to get myself moving on this project.

My first step was to e-mail IBBY and see if I'm still a member, if my membership has expired, then I'll sign up again right away because they will be the perfect resource for this.

Why do I want to do this?  Well, I remember taking my first children's literature class 19 years ago and we were taught "If you don't know the story, you can't understand the culture." and I completely agree with this.  A people's values are often shown in their literature, especially the literature written for children.

That same teacher (shout out to Dr. Beverly Vaughn Hock) also ran a conference called Reading the World, which was an AMAZING gathering of people who created and supported multicultural children's literature, so I'm keeping her (and Ms. Morgan's) title for this project.

I love reading and I love learning about other cultures, so this is a perfect way to really expand my worldview. 

 I served for a year on the American Library Association's Mildred L. Batchelder Award Committee (for best books in translation) and truly enjoyed it.  I can't tell you what we discussed because it's one of those "If I told you I'd have to kill you."  committees (like Newbery and Caldecott). But I can tell you that I did help 're-translate' the Batchelder winner for the year before my year.  We had read it to see an example of a winner and I noticed an awkward paragraph.  Since the book, SOLDIER BEAR, had originally been written in Dutch (which is my second language, not normally a useful second language since all Dutch and Flemish speakers speak English WAY better than I speak Flemish) I was able to check it out in its original language and discovered the paragraph had been translated incorrectly.  The publishers changed the translation in the paperback edition. 

I'm wondering why I wrote the above paragraph and realized that 1) trying to establish my creds and 2) I wanted to brag (well, at least I'm honest about it)  :-)

You may also be asking "Why is everything in italics now?"  Well, I'll tell you, it's a very deep, thoughtful reason..... I CAN'T FIGURE OUT HOW TO TURN OFF THE FRIGGING ITALICS!!

So, signing off for now.  The next blog will be italics free (I hope).