Saturday, November 30, 2013

No, I didn't invent this. But I wish I did.

Time to play Mainstream YA Article Bingo
YA Article Bingo
Here's your link.
Seriously. If you don't read YA, if you're not a teenager, YA author, educator, or librarian, you don't know what you're talking about. Having a goodreads account does not make you a literary critic. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

My Two Problems with Crayons

1. The Labels
I get that crayola sells products in multiple countries. But really, do you need to label a crayon in more than one language?

Quick, somebody tell me what color this is. Hand an illiterate toddler a box of crayons and I think they can find the red one. Show me a box of crayons labeled only in French and I can figure out that rouge equals red.
2. This Is Not Peach

Until the Civil Rights movement hit, this color was called flesh. I get that not everyone has flesh this color. But peaches don't have flesh that color either. When I want to draw a peach, I grab pink and yellow.

Things you can actually color with a peach crayon:
We could call this crayon palomino and it would be so much more accurate. But of course, this wouldn't be a problem if we left the name off in the first place. 
Rant over.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bugs and Insects

When I was little my brother gave me a book that changed my life. It was a skinny book about bugs and insects. It didn't inspire me to become an entomologist. It didn't help me pass science tests. It didn't even help me recognize the bugs and insects in my backyard. I can't remember the author, the title, or figure out which of my cupboards it's hiding in. But I'll always remember the opening line:
All insects are bugs, but not all bugs are insects.
I'd never seen a sentence like that before. The author could've spent a paragraph ranting about how bugs and insects were NOT the same but they DO share some qualities and WHY can't the world get it right. But he didn't. He summed it up so nicely.
This sentence has helped me understand the world. When people tell me, "All members of (extremist group) are (political party) but not all (political party) are (extremist group)," I think back to that sentence. Bugs, party. Extremists, insects. Got it. And when people turn this into a multi paragraph rant I boil it down to the same.
A few years later I read The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine. It's a retelling of The Princess and the Pea. The king and queen devise a series of tests to spot a real princess. As everyone knows, princesses are delicate. So they have the girls lie on a stack of mattresses with a pea hidden underneath. And of course, princesses like flowers, so they hand them a bouquet containing exactly one weed and see if they can spot it. Naturally, princesses are perfectly proportioned, so they're all measured. One poor girl is disqualified because her waist is a fraction of an inch to wide. The queen tells her they "have to draw the line somewhere."
I'd never heard this sentence before. It described something I'd thought about a lot. When is hair long or short? When is a shade of purple blue or red? When is a group of friends a party instead of a get together? And what do you call that point where everything changes?
Levine certainly didn't invent this sentence, I just hadn't heard it yet. She probably didn't know it would be unfamiliar to an eight year old. Neither did the bug and insect guy. I'm glad they didn't or they might not have written what they did. "Draw the line" and "not all x are y" are such important concepts to understand.
When people talk about the books that changed their lives it's always some great important classical novel. And those work their magic too. But sometimes it's not a story that packs the power. It's not a theme that changes the way you view the world. Those are just the ones we remember. Simple sentences-and there so many more I'm not even consciously aware of-alter how we think.
What sentence changed your life?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Don't You Dare Read This!

Back in middle school I went to my first book club meeting. I won't name the book here for fear of spoilers. At the end of our discussion, the librarian asked us to show by raise of hand how many didn't like the book. About half the hands shot up. When she asked them why they all gave the same reason: the end was too sad. Because the main character's pet died. In the epilogue.
I felt like they were betraying the book. It wasn't as if her death was unexpected or threw the plot off course. We'd known she was sick for a while. It wasn't as if we had to watch the main character mope around for another fifty pages. The story ends a few pages after. It wasn't as if her death killed the possibility of a sequel. This was definitely a stand alone. If they loved this pet enough to mourn her death couldn't they love the book?
I've heard so many of my friends say, "The Hunger Games is great. Read the first one. Call me when you finish and I'll bring the sequel. But whatever you do, don't read Mockingjay. It's too depressing at the end."
Yes, it was. I've heard Suzanne Collins' editor called her and said, "Don't do it!" She, like millions of other readers, fell in love with this character. But they kept the death.
Mockingjay is about war. Our book club novel was about animal cruelty. A death is exactly what the plots needed to drive their points home. These deaths were supposed to pack an emotional wallop, and did they deliver.
I believe that a good book is one that can make you laugh and cry. And after spending so much time on book review sites like goodreads, I believe a good reviewer is one who recognizes that. You need to recognize a book as more than just a bundle of emotions. If the an author can make you invested in a character, if a death scene is hauntingly beautiful, then it's not a bad book. Even if it makes you feel bad.