Librarians are peddlers of empathy. We understand that reading is a chemical reaction between reader and writer producing a visceral engagement with the characters that allows us to live the lives of others, if only for for the space of a novel. We know that when we give a book to a patron, it can be at once an act of revolution, a strike against ignorance, a catalyst for change, a necessary escape, a life-saving event, a clarion call, a moment of peace, or simply a riveting read. Whatever it turns out to be though, it is always founded in empathy. As readers, each book allows us to, at turns, discover, reaffirm or reimagine what it means to be human.
In the wake of the Ferguson verdict and in solidarity with the growing #BlackLivesMatter movement, it is empathy that we need more than ever. Indeed, as I reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, I am reminded of this quote by him: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” Ideally, this communication would happen face-to-face, two individuals in dialogue discovering what it means to be the other. However, in certain cases whether due to lack of representation, access, or will, this is simply not possible. What then? Continue reading Black Lives Matter: Building Empathy Through Reading (Part I)
Happy (belated) Mother’s Day!
It’s always a tight-rope to talk about mothers in kids’ books or YA books. On the one hand, there are lots of mothers, good, bad, and indifferent, who make appearances in books for young people. However, since kids’ books are supposed to be about the kids, and YA books about the teens, the mothers often have to be shuffled into the background. It seems like a disproportionate number of YA protagonists have mothers who are dead or absent, while picture book mothers are often too perfect, since the protagonist kids need to have their adventures against a relatively safe background.
With that said, here are some picture book and YA mothers who have stuck out to me. I know I can’t begin to cover all of them, so please add your favorites (or least favorites!) in the comments, and check out Wendy Daughdrill’s post that celebrates mothers in YA lit.
The Berenstein Bears and Mama’s New Job by Stan and Jan Berenstein. The Berenstein Bears are one of those picture book families in which the mother sometimes seems a little too perfect. I feel like this tendency is more pronounced in later books in the series, especially in the ones where poor Papa Bear becomes the bad example time and again. However, the series also has a lot of good, realistic parenting moments (maternal and paternal), and I think Mama’s New Job is one of these. It shows the process of Mama going from a stay-at-home bear to a working woman and how the whole family makes the adjustment and helps her along the way. Continue reading Young Adult-Picture Book Pairings: Happy Mothers’ Day!
Presidents’ Day celebrates the births of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, arguably the United States of America’s greatest presidents.
Abraham Lincoln came from poverty and rose to lead the country through the greatest trouble a nation can have: a civil war. Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Kentucky in 1809, and was basically self educated. A voracious reader, he grew up to become a lawyer and an Illinois congressman before being elected US President in 1860. Perhaps his greatest legacy is abolishing slavery in the United States and this was foreshadowed early in his life: when he was a child, his family moved twice to get out of pro-slavery areas, and as a representative on both the state and national levels, Lincoln spoke out and voted against slavery consistently.
According to David Herbert Donald’s 1996 biography Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln read and reread such books as The Bible, Aesop’s Fables, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. Taking a leap of imagination, and asking the spirit of President Lincoln for forgiveness for my temerity, I would like to suggest half a dozen YA books that the sixteenth president might very much enjoy today.
Let us begin with the obvious, shall we? Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage is required reading for many middle and high school students in the US, and for a good reason. Though written in 1895 by a man who never fought in a war, the novel is hailed for its realism and honesty about battles, bravery, and coming of age. Soldiers today praise its portrayal of life in the field. Mr. Lincoln might very well enjoy reading such a well-written and well-regarded book about â€œhisâ€ war.
And now for something that is perhaps not obvious at all. The 2007 Printz Award winning American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang might grab Mr. Lincoln’s attention with it’s gorgeous illustrations and quiet palette; but its themes of race, identity, and self acceptance, along with its intelligent humor might very well keep the president reading. With his anti-slavery stance, Lincoln was most assuredly focused on race and identity, and the fact that he was a self-made man with a good sense of humor leads me to think he’d enjoy those aspects of the book as well. Continue reading WWAR? (What Would Abe Read?)