Man, I do love talking about books on the radio. Last week, the Marc Steiner Show needed a librarian for a segment about what kids are reading this summer, and I was lucky enough to be in the supply chain for that request.
I had never been to the WEAA studio at Morgan State University, and it was spacious, bright, and airy. Plus, it was extremely wild to conduct a conversation with That Voice. Marc has been on Baltimore radio for ever - he is smart, friendly, and uncompromising, and I've tuned in to his wave a thousand times I'll bet.
Enoch Pratt librarian Jessica Brown and I tag-teamed Marc with some great books we'd brought for the occasion. It was a great dynamic - Jessica and I propped each other up, collaborated, illuminated more than one side of some of the books discussed, and were mutually stumped when Marc brought up a book that sounds like a political parable about Jerusalem's West Bank.
Here's the audio of our talk:
Here's the audio of our talk:
Choosing books to take to the station, I tried to keep school summer reading requirements in mind. Librarians have a complicated relationship with summer reading lists. On the one hand, we're happy that these lists herd children into the library at least once or twice during the summer, but on the other - oh my god some summer reading lists are so outdated! Or joyless. Or both. The kids at the Catholic schools sometimes have to scare up copies of aaaancient biographies of St. Francis or St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Luckily, many schools have lately given students a lot more latitude in choosing their own summer reading, especially the public schools. Private school kids will still come in looking for Hatchet or 1984, and my own kids have to read Wonder this summer. But we probably all ought to read Wonder.
Marc's 16-year-old daughter has to read Things Fall Apart, and may I digress for one second to say Yes it is great that those kids have to read a book by an African author, but Things Fall Apart is 55 years old. It is a fine book, but the lessons it teaches - among them, that precolonial African society was neither primitive not impoverished - are no longer brilliant news flashes. What is more, African literature doesn't begin and end with Chinua Achebe.
Making Things Fall Apart required reading also does a disservice to Things Fall Apart. Look at it on Amazon. "People who bought this book also bought..." All Quiet on the Western Front, Antigone, Siddhartha, The Stranger, and... ha! St. Ignatius of Loyola: In God's Service, by Peggy Sklar.
All right, I take it back, any measure of approval I expressed toward summer reading lists. God, I hate summer reading lists. Turning these marvelous works into stinking dead seabirds to be slung about the necks of teenagers is like making your ten-year-old watch Cassavetes movies. (And anyone trying that "Well some ten-year-olds would love Cassavetes movies" thing is going to get a pop in the schnozz. NO ten year old is ready for Gena Rowlands losing her mind.)
Anyway. More latitude. One large school in our area merely requires that students read "one non-fiction and one award-winning or classic book;" another list calls for "one work of historical fiction." The Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Nominees list gets a lot of play, and bless the Maryland Association of School Librarians for last year including A Tale Dark and Grimm on that list. (This year's gift to boys is Gordon Korman's Ungifted. Best lay in some extra copies of that one.)
So here are some of the books Jessica and I talked about with Marc:
Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The pretty new edition of this book has an introduction by James Franco. Kids will skip the intro, but grownups will be amused. Betsy Franco is a marvelous poet and seems like a cool person, but good grief does her son seem like a douche. It is my fervent hope that if/when either of my sons goes through a pretentious phase (and if it's an if for the one, I am pretty sure it is a when for the other), he's not in a position to be asked to host the Oscars.
Boyd, Lizi. Inside Outside. Wordless picture book with die-cut windows. A work of art, but also a book with immense teaching potential - seasons, reading-readiness skills, observation, storytelling.
Fleming, Ian. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car. There’s a new edition of this classic family adventure, issued to go along with the fun new sequels by Frank Cottrell Boyce, with great illustrations by Joe Berger.
Gibbs, Stuart. The Last Musketeer. Look for Double Cross, the third in this kid-friendly adventure series about Athos, Porthos, Aramis – and Greg. It might not strictly meet summer reading guidelines - time travel probably invalidates a book as historical fiction - but it will certainly send a kid down that road.
Gilman, Charles. Tales from Lovecraft Middle School. Nice kid Robert is just trying to navigate the pitfalls of his new school – which is full of monsters in disguise. Teacher's Pest is the third in the series which started with Professor Gargoyle and then The Slither Sisters.
Griffiths, Andy. The 13-Story Treehouse. Goofy adventure, gadgets, and ingenuity in this heavily illustrated chapter book. My description of it put Marc in mind of works in the current exhibition at the American Visionary Art Museum. He must mean the fairy treehouses of Debbie and Mike Schramer, see above.
Griffiths, Andy. What Body Part Is That?: A Wacky Guide to the Funniest, Weirdest, and Most Disgustingest Parts of Your Body Billed as “99.9% fact-free,” even that statement is not completely accurate. Perfect for browsing through, full of fairly gross laughs about nostrils, freckles, feet, and your spleen.
Hale, Nathan. One Dead Spy. Hilarious graphic novel about the Revolutionary War. I've written about it before. First in a series (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales) that also includes Big Bad Ironclad! and the forthcoming Donner Dinner Party. Milo says, "I know Nathan Hale writes graphic novels, but I hope that one isn't too graphic!"
Klausmeier, Jesse. Open This Little Book. This is that darling picture book with the nested books inside.
Klise, Kate. Hollywood, Dead Ahead. Book 5 in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series. These books let the reader piece the story together from letters, newspaper articles, and reports. Lots to look at, and a sneaky way to boost comprehension.
Messner, Kate. Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek. Mystery and adventure for a team of kids sworn to protect the world’s most important artifacts. Almost like National Treasure for 4th graders, these sneak history and geography into fast-paced stories.
O’Connor, George. The Olympians. Series of graphic novels about the Greek gods. Four so far: Zeus: King of the Gods, Hera: The Goddess and her Glory, Poseidon: Earth Shaker, and Hades: Lord of the Dead. Cinematic and exciting, with lots of additional information about ancient Greek culture and stories. A must for Percy Jackson fans.
Rivers, Phoebe. Saranormal. Suggested for a caller whose seven-year-old is obsessed with the Monster High novels. Almost a dozen of these short chapter books are out already.
Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Sugar. Ten-year-old Sugar witnesses changes as Chinese workers arrive to work on the Mississippi River sugar cane plantation where her family lives and works after the Civil War.
Scott, Elaine. Buried Alive!: How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert. Jessica brought this compelling piece of nonfiction, which I praised in SLJ's Curriculum Connections newsletter for combining "the remarkable human aspects of this drama—the duration of the miners’ confinement, their inspiring morale, the resources brought to bear in order to rescue them—with the economic and geographic context of the San José mine to create a readable, compelling story." It's a great "put yourself in their shoes" kind of book.
Coincidentally, Jessica and I both brought books by award-winning nonfiction superstar Steve Sheinkin. She brought Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon and I brought Lincoln's Grave Robbers. High interest IN SPADES.
Taylor, S. S. The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon. Another great pick for adventure fans, a new series set in a post-electric future, with an emphasis on geography and maps.
Updale, Eleanor. Johnny Swanson. It’s 1929, and Johnny gets himself involved in skulduggery and subterfuge as he tries to earn money and protect his mother. Lots of fun from the author of the Montmorency books.
Williams-Garcia, Rita. P.S. Be Eleven. Sequel to the award-winning One Crazy Summer, about an African-American family in the late 1960’s. There’s divorced parents, an uncle home from Vietnam, and the Jackson Five on the radio to keep everything upbeat.
Me, too! I'm upbeat! Come see me at the library and I will slide you something super fun that will also qualify as summer reading for school!