What will your children be reading this summer?

I just read an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times by Claire Needell Hollander, a middle school teacher. Her article explains that while young, inexperienced readers should go ahead and read whatever they want during the summer, so long as they read, maturing readers of 10 years old and up will benefit more from selective reading. Ms. Hollander’s preferred books build “verbal knowledge (an increase in word recognition) and world knowledge (an increase in understanding about the world around them).”

Ms. Hollander believes that middle- and high-schoolers should not self-select their summer reading. She believes that some students do well with the traditional recommended reading list (heavy on literary novels recognized as “classics”), but she prefers to narrow the students’ selection by genre to ensure they are getting the literary diet that will enhance their academic health. Her top picks? High-quality but developmentally appropriate non-fiction. Most revolve on serious moral issues–child soldiers, the bombing of Hiroshima, and the like.

I believe Ms. Hollander when she says that studies have shown that students who read “high quality” material over the summer do better than those who completely self-select. My problem is that this is too short-sighted a goal. We don’t just want successful students who pass tests, we want to make life-long learners who will turn to books for information as well as pleasure through adulthood. 

So, yeah, a kid who (her comparison) reads The Hunger Games might in the short term learn less words and information that the kid who reads The Red Badge of Courage. But if the kid who reads The Hunger Games enjoys it and develops a real pleasure in reading, they might read more as a 30 or 40 year old than the kid who read The Red Badge of Courage and gritted his teeth through the whole thing (not because it’s a bad book, but because it was not to his taste). There was a wonderful post on the Nerdy Book Club recently by Sasha Reinhardt about how her low-brow love of The Babysitters’ Club series helped develop her lifelong devotion to books.  

And while studies have supported (as mentioned in previous blog posts) that non-fiction appeals to many children who normally don’t identify themselves as book-lovers, the serious tone of the books Ms Hollander lists will turn-off many children. The graphic novels Kampung Boy and American-Born Chinese may not appeal to her, but they certainly introduce serious subjects, geographic detail, and lots of new vocabulary in a format that might appeal to reluctant readers more than Francesco D’Adamo and Ann Leonori’s Iqbal  or John Hersey’s Hiroshima.


A trip into the Uncanny Valley

My kids love Tintin comics by Herge, so I was unable to suppress my desire to watch the trailer of the new Tintin film (despite the fact I haven’t gone to the movies in nearly eight years). If you’re interested it’s here:


What surprised me is that the animation in Tintin seemed to me to fall into what is called the Uncanny Valley.
The Uncanny Valley refers to the widespread belief that when computer graphics, robots, or other representations of people look and act almost, but not quite, like the real thing, people are creeped out. Apparently some genuine research has been done in this area, and many experts in CGI and robotics try hard to avoid stumbling into the Uncanny Valley in order to avoid turning off potential viewers. 
As technology advances, this becomes more and more difficult. Just when does the image flip from being disgusting and become convincing? And how are we supposed to respond to such simulacra? 

[Indeed, this is a favorite theme in science fiction. For example, both the classic book I, Robot by Asimov and the Ridley Scott movie Blade Runner (based on Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) directly address this conundrum. In one fictional world, androids are prohibited from having a convincing human appearance altogether; in the other, such robots exist, but are forbidden from living on Earth.]

Now let’s get back to the new Tintin adaptation. I watched the trailer (and I should repeat that I actually don’t watch movies in theaters and rarely at home unless Jewish), and I immediately responded—Ugh! 

I’m not sure why the producers opted for an image capture CGI as opposed to live action (there actually are already animated adaptations of the Tintin comics, so I’m not so shocked that they opted out of another animated version), but I had a visceral reaction against what I saw. I’m wondering if other viewers will have similar reactions. With more and more exposure to video game graphics and the like, maybe the Uncanny Valley will lose it’s effect on people who see a lot of CGI.

Around the World…in books!

This week, the Family Camp that I organize is following the theme “Around the World.” Here are a few books I recently borrowed from the library that definitely fit right in.

The Hatseller And The Monkeys
Baba Wague Diakite’s The Hatseller and the Monkeys retells the folktale most Americans recognize from Caps for Sale. In this Malian version, we are given a wonderful glimpse into African village life, as well as a moral for the wacky tale. Ages 2-7.
Kampung Boy
The Far East is where the graphic novel first became most popular, and in Southeast Asia, one of the most popular authors of this format is Lat. Lat portrays his boyhood in a small village in Malaysia, circa 1950 in Kampung Boy. I adored both the humor and the loving nostagia Lat imbues the book with. Ages 7 through adult.
The Little Prince Graphic Novel
Many people grew up reading The Little Prince. Joann Sfar recently recreated Saint-Exupery’s French classic in the graphic novel format. The experiences reading the two are very different–why not read both and compare?
Age 9 and up.

More groovy graphic books for new readers

I’m still on my graphic literature kick. Here are several more graphic books for young readers that will get them really reading…all are appropriate for the “kosher” audience:

The wonderful “Elephant and Piggie” series by Mo Willems.
Today I Will Fly (Elephant and Piggie Series) by Mo Willems: Book Cover
Today I Will Fly is the first book my almost 6 year old read entirely on his own. Elephant and Piggie books are accessible even to many 5 and 6 year olds and are a fabulous way to ingrain the pleasure of independent reading. The stories are so silly, with easy vocabulary and spare but charming illustrations. The kids have so much fun, they forget they are reading.
Luke on the Loose
For readers at 2nd grade level and up, the oblivious misadventures of a boy lost in the big city as he chases pigeons in the park. For fun, comic fans can spot Tintin, Captain Haddock, Olive Oyl, and the Incredible Hulk in the book.
Binky the Space Cat
The wacky adventures of a very indoor cat who thinks Outer Space starts in his front yard. For ages 7 and up. Adults will especially enjoy this one, particularly if they are cat lovers.
Rick and Rack books from Balloon Toons
The timeless encounter between unlikely friends: the optimist and the pessimist. Lots of wackiness and a character lesson about the merits of optimism to boot.

Been checking out more graphic literature

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out my list of Jewish graphic literature on Amazon.http://www.amazon.com/lm/R2IIZNVM2VGGX9/ref=cm_pdp_lm_title_1

As mentioned before, I checked out a bunch of secular graphic literature for the kiddie set from the library recently. Several friends mentioned they are struggling to get their kids excited about reading, and I committed to checking some out to check if they are “kosher” for the consumption of frum kids.

So far, I have found some options. Two titles from Toon Books (Candlewick Press’s new Easy to Read comic line), Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework, and Mo and Jo Fighting Together Forever are clean, nicely illustrated, and silly enough for first through fourth graders. My kids really, really liked them. I should add that my new reader, who usually refuses to do the reading himself, was really motivated to do so with this book. Amazing. He’s virtually begging for me to find more Toon Books at the library.
I enjoyed Patrick Atangan’s The Yellow Jar more myself. However, it’s more sophisticated and definitely tailored for older kids, at least 5th grade.
Still trying to finish the stack from the library. Next up, Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown.

Back from Pesach break

I took a few weeks off due to Pesach (never got around to new songs, drat!) and now I’m back, with a HUGE stack of Manga/graphic lit to read. I’ll publish reviews soon, but I have hardly started reading because I had another writing assignment, B”H. (I’m hoping the editor likes it…)

Also, just wanted to say that there are free books again in the Cheerios boxes we bought post-Pesach. We received _How to Hug a Porcupine_, and it’s absolutely darling.
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