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).

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.