Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Shelf Discovery": Classics that really get read

A recent post by Levi Asher in the Literary Kicks blog reveals that classics are for everyone, regardless of gender. And a cautionary note for teachers: if you want to get kids reading, give them the good stuff! A high school senior has enough problems without being tortured by second-shelf Shakespeare. Check for these books using the World Catalog (library copies) / (purchase) search boxes above.

Some kind words ...

Here are the teenage classics covered in Lizzie Skurnick's delightful new reading memoir Shelf Discovery that I've also read:

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwieler by E. L. Konigsburg
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Blubber by Judy Blume The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh
Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Deenie by Judy Blume
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel
Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

Lizzie Skurnick writes best about the books that excite her most, like From the Mixed-up Files, which she illuminates in surprising ways (I never actually thought about it, but the Michelangelo statue does seem to symbolize Claudia herself) and the two great Louise Fitzhugh novels, Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret. Skurnick gets extra points for recongnizing that The Long Secret is every bit as good as Harriet the Spy, though very different (it also occurs to me, thinking of these books today, that a good friend of mine recently went through an experience very much like the climactic scene in Harriet the Spy). Lizzie also gets big points from me for paying attention to the wonderful but lesser-known All-of-a-Kind Family, the first book in a series about a family of Jews living in old-time New York City's Lower East Side that meant a lot to me as a kid (her treatment of the book, though, is cursory). My biggest problem with Shelf Discovery involves its unnecessary gender focus, which Michael Orthofer also recently wrote about. (In a witty post on her website Skurnick replies to Orthofer: Men! I did not neglect the male perspective. I just wasn’t thinking of you at all. So, so different.) Teenage boys read books too. Why leave half the world out?

I've also never heard of many of these titles. Hangin' Out With Cici by Francine Pascal? Okay ... I'll have to take her word for it. And where is Lisa Bright and Dark by John Neufeld, and Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack by M. E. Kerr, and I Never Loved Your Mind, Paul Zindel's lesser-known best book? And where on earth is S. E. Hinton? Still, this is a fun book and I predict it will sell very well (among other things, it's a good book to give as a gift). And there's one more nice touch: Shelf Discovery is a paperback original printed on thick creamy paper that looks and feels exactly like many of the teenage-era books described within. Nice, nice.

... and some complaints

Speaking of children's literature, I have complaints about some recent High School syllabi. My daughter Abby has to read The King Must Die by Mary Renault for her upcoming 10th grade English class. She hates the book and asked me my opinion; I tried to read it and I hate it too. Can't they find a book more relevant to the lives of teenagers, and more enjoyable to read?
Meanwhile, a Long Island high school senior recently told me his class studied Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus last year. Titus Andronicus? There are 37 better Shakespeare plays to read. I asked him if he'd read Hamlet. "No." Enough said. Get your act together, teachers.

Kids Are Authors competition, from Scholastic Books

Kids Are Authors is an annual competition open to Grades K–8 and is designed to encourage students to use their reading, writing, and artistic skills to create their own books.

Under the guidance of a project coordinator, children work in teams of three or more students to write and illustrate their own book. The creative process of working in teams helps provide a natural environment to practice editing, teamwork, and the communication skills necessary for future success. All students involved get a sense of pride and accomplishment from submitting the team project.

Two Grand Prize winning books will be published in each category, fiction and nonfiction. The winning books will be published by Scholastic and sold at Book Fairs throughout the country.

Visit Scholastic Books for more information.

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