Thoughts on writing and reading for boys and young men.
There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. -Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Banned Books!

Banned Books Week is coming to a close.

I’m not going to go into a philosophical rant here about how important this week is (if you want that, read my POST from last year).  What I will do is give you a few links to some information about the week (and about banned/challenged books in general). And check THIS out. Just happened last week, right here in Minnesota. Timely, no? See also THIS MPR story from yesterday about the same incident/book in question. Sounds like a wonderful book. But apparently it teaches teens to swear! 

Now, go out and read something subversive, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Seriously. You'll find it on most lists of books that are frequently challenged. We'd definitely be better off without ever having read anything by that Twain rascal. Right?


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Well, this is pretty cool...

Last week, James Patterson, author of several best-selling thrillers (including the Alex Cross books) as well as some popular young adult fiction (like the Maximum Ride series), pledged $1 million dollars to struggling--but "viable--independent bookstores. They MUST, however, have a childrens section, as Patterson feels these booksellers are among the most important places for fostering a love of literature in kids.  I heard about this story from my cousin, who read it in the most recent issue of The Week. But if you don't subscibe to that fine periodical, you can read about it on the LA Times website (among other places). 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Real Boy

Out this week (September 24)!

Magic can be both awesome and awful. And young Oscar, hand to Caleb, the first magician for generations in the Barrow, despite his knowledge of and respect for all the things magic can do, begins to wonder if perhaps magic doesn’t serve humans after all. Maybe it’s the other way around.  

This is a fantasy story in which magic is kind of a fearful thing.  This is a fantasy story with an unconventional (and not-too-obvious) villain. This is a fantasy story with frequent (if subtle and well-integrated) fairy tale allusions.  This is a fantasy story that is lyrical and lovely and can be read as a modern parable about economic and environmental responsibility—and the stumbly, difficult journey through childhood (and life in general) for a person with autism.  This is a fantasy story that invites the reader to enter a fully-rendered magical world with empathy and to see things a bit differently.

Seriously, the world-building here is phenomenal. I feel like I’ve been to the villages, the city, and the Barrow, right along with Oscar and his new friend Callie (the healer’s apprentice).  Details describing what someone might see or hear or smell abound as do particulars about the rules that govern behavior between those who peddle magic and those who purchase it—and all of it has been woven subtly into the fabric of the text.

It’s a world I almost actually want to inhabit—at least, until things start going wrong.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
Walden Pond Press, 2013
Illustrations by Erin Mcguire
The Shining People of Asteri (the purchasers) believe they are blessed. Only good things will come to them. Fear and pain and sadness will stay far away. Magic is like their religion, and it keeps them safe. But something is wrong with several children in Asteri. They suffer from different symptoms. No cause can be pinpointed. And the adult magic smiths (including Callie’s master, the healer, and Oscar’s master, the magician), who are normally called on to help in such situations, are off selling their goods and services on the mainland. Oscar and Callie fear that perhaps the plague has returned—the plague that 100 years before ravaged the community and ended the wizarding era.  

And something monstrous is terrorizing the Barrow, tearing down trees, ripping up storefronts, and attacking residents.  

Oscar and Callie do their best, on their own, to solve the mystery and help those who are suffering. But Oscar struggles daily, even moment-to-moment, with loneliness and confusion and anxiety about how “different” he is and how difficult it is to figure out how he should act or what he should say in every social situation he encounters. Ursu captures this all so beautifully. We all have moments we want to retreat to the cellar, as Oscar does, believing it’s the only place we’re of any use (or simply to hide from the big, confusing, and sometimes angry world). We’ve all felt odd, unwanted, or misunderstood some of the time.  But Ursu challenges us to think about what it might be like to feel out-of-place all of the time. We are asked to step out of our comfort zones, just as Oscar must, to see things from a different perspective, to allow our preconceptions to be challenged, and to act.

Some final thoughts:

I am not a cat person, but this book almost makes me want to be.  Really.

 I love so many lines from this novel—these are two of my favorites:

“There is something in the magic we have that is greater than the magic we can do.”

 “It was a beautiful lie that they had all been telling themselves—that you could have magic without monsters.”

 Happy reading!

Recommended for ages 9+.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Boys and Reading

Nothing new. But it reminds me what wonderful and important work Jon Scieszka does. I also think it's important not to take for granted how crucial a MALE reader role model can be. Even the librarian in this video is female. Don't get me wrong; I'm sure she's AWESOME at her job (it seems like it from the video!), but how many male librarians are there in elementary schools? How many male TEACHERS are there in elementary schools, for that matter? And how many dads read at home? And I'm not just talking about reading TO your children (which is of course super-important, too), but reading IN FRONT OF your children, for yourself. Books. Newspapers. Magazines. Whatever. Reading is perceived as work, as learning, as uncool. And it is the former two, but it is NOT the latter. Reading is important for both boys and girls, but that SUCH a chasm in literacy has developed between them, and has continued to grow, is disheartening and alarming--and I think it has more to do with social perception than it does anything else. Stepping off soapbox now...