Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On how to teach children to read broadly

My aunt is the most organized mother I’ve ever met. Over the summer, she has tasks for each day (“Make Something Monday,” “Science Tuesday,” etc) and throughout the year, the kids take turns planning excursions the family will go on over the weekend. But perhaps her most brilliant move is how she approaches reading with her children.
To begin with, she reads plenty of children’s books so that she can know what’s on the market for kids and so she’ll be able to discuss the books with her kids. Anything she likes, she recommends to the kids who are old enough to enjoy it. She also finds series that are appropriate for all the kids (easier than what the older kids tend to read, but not too difficult for the younger kids to understand) and reads them a few pages each night. Reading is definitely a part of their family. Extended family members know this and often recommend books that they think the kids might enjoy. They are drowning in recommendations - which they love.
In addition to all of this, my aunt has some rules for the weekly library trip. Each time they go, my aunt chooses a genre of book and helps each child find a book at their reading level within the genre. She makes sure to challenge herself by picking out her own book within the genre. Then the whole family picks out the rest of their books and they go home to enjoy their spoils. As they cycle back to a genre, the kids have usually changed their interests or reading level somewhat and move on to find new books. Sometimes the books aren’t great, but sometimes they find new favorites and start basing their reading decisions off that one book their mom made them get.
My cousins not only read a ridiculous amount of books, but they read broadly and have read several books from each genre their mom has thought of - and she’s thought of a lot [sci-fi, historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary fiction, creepy stories (they’re a bit young for straight-up horror novels), various subsets of non-fiction - these kids have read everything].
Not only am I jealous that they’re being forcefully exposed to so many books, but that they have someone with more reading experience and an intimate knowledge of their reading habits that is there to assist them in choosing the right book. I’m also impressed that finding these children good reading material has become a whole family endeavor - for all the cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents as well as the children’s own parents and siblings.
I haven’t found a better way to kindly expose children to new reading material while still having some control over what young (and often naive and impressionable) children are reading. I hope this spreads.

How do you encourage young readers to read broadly? How do you encourage yourself to read broadly?

Monday, November 20, 2017

On eating disorders

This post was inspired by the Goodread’s list “Best Eating Disorder Books” and is mainly based off of that list.
When I was young, I didn’t know much at all about eating disorders. But by the time I got to college, I knew a handful of people who struggled with them and who I desperately wanted to help and understand. Because of this, I started trying to find books that are frequently recommended to those struggling with eating disorders or books about eating disorders. My search couldn’t progress as much as I wanted - I was still in school and I felt self-conscious about pursuing this information like I was. I didn’t know a better way to approach it with the people I knew who struggled with it and I wasn’t sure what they’d think about my research. I read countless articles, a handful of books, and also talked with people I knew about how best to deal with it. My research wasn’t perfect, but it did lead me to understand a bit more and I was glad to have more knowledge and understanding.
Today’s post is mostly based off of Goodread’s “Best Eating Disorder Books” list, what I think of it, what books I’ve read from it, and how you can use it in your life. Descriptions are taken from Goodreads. Further comments are my own.

  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson -
    • "Dead girl walking”, the boys say in the halls.
      "Tell us your secret”, the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
      I am that girl.
      I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
      I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

      Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

      Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.
    • Personally, I don’t know that I’d love this book. It seems a little cut-and-dry YA (which I don’t love). Many people noted in their reviews that this book is triggering, but also a very realistic look at ED. I’d probably give it a try, but I can’t see myself loving or recommending this book a bunch.

  • Just Listen by Sarah Dessen -
    • Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything" — at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store.

      This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.

      Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen's help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.
    • This ranks 4th on the list. I read this book in middle school and only rated it two stars. I vaguely remember that I went through a pretty intense Sarah Dessen phase for a while, but got quite sick of her books by the end of it and started disliking them.

  • Perfect by Natasha Friend -
    • Depicting with humor and insight the pressure to be outwardly perfect, this novel for ages 10-13 shows how one girl develops compassion for her own and others’ imperfections.

      For 13-year-old Isabelle Lee, whose father has recently died, everything's normal on the outside. Isabelle describes the scene at school with bemused accuracy--the self-important (but really not bad) English teacher, the boy that is constantly fixated on Ashley Barnum, the prettiest girl in class, and the dynamics of the lunchroom, where tables are turf in a all-eyes-open awareness of everybody's relative social position.

      But everything is not normal, really. Since the death of her father, Isabelle's family has only functioned on the surface. Her mother, who used to take care of herself, now wears only lumpy, ill-fitting clothes, cries all night, and has taken every picture of her dead husband and put them under her bed. Isabelle tries to make light of this, but the underlying tension is expressed in overeating and then binging. As the novel opens, Isabelle's little sister, April, has told their mother about Isabelle's problem. Isabelle is enrolled in group therapy. Who should show up there, too, but Ashley Barnum, the prettiest, most together girl in class.
    • This was another book that I read at the end of middle school and it just didn’t click for me. I had read several books by this author and none of them really worked for me. I appreciated that they were about real girls with real problems, but it wasn’t what I was in the mood for or what I wanted to read at that time. I’d be interested in seeing what my opinion would be now.

  • The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood -
    • Marian is determined to be ordinary. She lays her head gently on the shoulder of her serious fiancee and quietly awaits marriage. But she didn't count on an inner rebellion that would rock her stable routine, and her digestion. Marriage a la mode, Marian discovers, is something she literally can't stomach ... The Edible Woman is a funny, engaging novel about emotional cannibalism, men and women, and the desire to be consumed.
    • THIS BOOK ROCKED MY WORLD. I picked it up (kind of on accident) during the time that I was seriously researching ED and connected so much with Marian and her struggles. While the actual eating part didn’t resonate with me personally, the parts about being a young woman going through an identity crisis really got to me and this is one of my all-time favorite books.

    • "Why does every one of my friends have an eating disorder, or, at the very least, a screwed-up approach to food and fitness?" writes journalist Courtney E. Martin. The new world culture of eating disorders and food and body issues affects virtually all -- not just a rare few -- of today's young women. They are your sisters, friends, and colleagues -- a generation told that they could "be anything," who instead heard that they had to "be everything." Driven by a relentless quest for perfection, they are on the verge of a breakdown, exhausted from overexercising, binging, purging, and depriving themselves to attain an unhealthy ideal.An emerging new talent, Courtney E. Martin is the voice of a young generation so obsessed with being thin that their consciousness is always focused inward, to the detriment of their careers and relationships. Health and wellness, joy and love have come to seem ancillary compared to the desire for a perfect body. Even though eating disorders first became generally known about twenty-five years ago, they have burgeoned, worsened, become more difficult to treat and more fatal (50 percent of anorexics who do not respond to treatment die within ten years). Consider these statistics:

      Ten million Americans suffer from eating disorders. Seventy million people worldwide suffer from eating disorders. More than half of American women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five would pre fer to be run over by a truck or die young than be fat. More than two-thirds would rather be mean or stupid. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychological disease.

      In "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters," Martin offers original research from the front lines of the eating disorders battlefield. Drawn from more than a hundred interviews with sufferers, psychologists, nutritionists, sociocultural experts, and others, her expose reveals a new generation of "perfect girls" who are obsessive-compulsive, overachieving, and self-sacrificing in multiple -- and often dangerous -- new ways. Young women are "told over and over again," Martin notes, "that we can be anything. But in those affirmations, assurances, and assertions was a concealed pressure, an unintended message: You are special. You are worth something. But you need to be perfect to live up to that specialness."

      With its vivid and often heartbreaking personal stories, "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters" has the power both to shock and to educate. It is a true call to action and cannot be missed.
    • This book was read during my intense ED research phase and it didn’t stand out much in my mind. I rated it three stars. While this was an interesting start to learning about and looking at ED, I didn’t feel like it offered any solutions, tips, assistance, or hope. This non-fiction book read more like an expose on the issue rather than a guide or part of assistance. It was helpful in my initial learning, but I strongly desired to know more and this did not satisfy that at all.

What books from this list have you read? Which ones would you recommend? Which ones aren’t worth the time? How have you educated yourself about eating disorders?

Friday, November 17, 2017

On quirky heroines

Quirky heroines are some of my favorites to read - they’re usually smart, hilarious, unique, and they don’t care at all what people think. Most of us could probably learn a bit from their example. Plus, they’re an absolute delight to read. Here are some of the quirkiest heroines I’ve read:

True Grit
  • Mattie Ross from True Grit by Charles Portis- Mattie’s quirkiness doesn’t look like your stereotypical quirky heroine. Mattie is humorous and single-minded and therein lies her quirkiness. What other young teen girl in the 1800’s would hunt down her father’s murderer and make it such a hilarious journey? Only Mattie.

The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn, #6)
  • Steris Harms from Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson - Her first introduction in this series makes Steris look stuffy and uptight. By Bands of Mourning, we’ve finally started to see that Steris is a fantastic planner and that she has an eye for detail that is necessary to Wax and Wayne’s work. Also, she’s able to overcome all her fears to help the people she loves ultimately. Steris’ slow warming to people and her love of lists endears her to me and earns her a spot on this list.

Love Among the Walnuts, Or: How I Saved My Family from Being Poisoned
  • Sunnie Stone from Love Among the Walnuts by Jean Ferris - Sunnie is a caring nurse, a cool head in difficult situations, and a voracious reader of anything she can get her hands on. Some of my favorite passages in this book are Sunnie rambling about what she’s been learning about whales from her reading and watching Sandy fall for her smarts and dedication.

Faith, Volume 1: Hollywood & Vine
  • Faith Herbert from Faith Volume One: Hollywood and Vine by Jody Houser - Faith is optimistic, happy, and somehow balances her job writing for a Buzzfeed-esque company with her superhero job of saving people (and puppies) around town. Plus, there’s all that drama with her ex-boyfriend, but she won’t let that get in the way of doing her job(s). Faith is a wonderful twist on the classic Superman story and she’s a delightful character to read.

Love and Other Alien Experiences
  • Mallory Sullivan from Love and Other Alien Experiences by Kerry Winfrey - Mallory belongs on this list as a stereotypical quirky YA girl - in some ways. She’s an awkward high school student whose anxiety has stopped her from leaving the house for months. But a new friend on her favorite alien forum and getting to know her next-door-neighbors completely change Mallory’s perspective - and perhaps her approach to life.

What characters would you add to this list? What do you think of the characters I included? Who are your favorite quirky heroines?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Series Review: Upon A Marigold by Jean Ferris

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I started the Upon A Marigold series at age 11 and recently finished the last book. With only three books, it’s insane that I’ve been reading this series for more than half of my life, but the final one only came out in the past couple years (and it’s been sitting on my shelf for months…).
This middle grade series follows the story of Christian, a poor orphan who was raised by a kindly troll named Ed, and Princess Marigold, the clever royal young lady with a royal curse. Their story is adorable and tons of fun and these books are gold - like everything that Jean Ferris writes. However, like every series, it has it’s pros and cons.

  • STARTS WONDERFULLY - Once Upon A Marigold is one of the most delightful things I’ve ever read. At a young age, this book hooked me in a way that few books did and it’s consistently been a book I’ve loved coming back to.
  • DELIGHTFUL CHARACTERS - Ferris is the champion of writing quirky and memorable characters. From the misspoken metaphors of Ed to the elephant raising of Wendall the Wizard, the characters in this book are wonderful. Marigold and Christian are, of course, the stars and even they have a precious quirkiness that can’t be beat.
  • EXCELLENT BALANCE OF ROMANCE AND ADVENTURE -Many books leans too far towards romance and make the adventure completely secondary. Other books completely forgo the romance. This series balances everything well and makes it fun and exciting while still making you root for your favorite couples.
  • MIDDLE GRADE SERIES THAT ADULTS CAN ENJOY - This is a huge deal in me picking middle grade books. If I’m going to be recommending it to a kid I know, I need to be prepared to read it with them and/or hear about it endlessly. This series is a perfect one to enjoy in tandem with your favorite middle grade reader.
  • THE PERFECT GATEWAY INTO FERRIS’ BOOKS - This is honestly how most people I know got into Jean Ferris. She has been one of my favorite authors throughout my lifetime and I still reread her stories periodically. If someone reads and loves this series, be assured that there’s plenty more from Ferris to read.

  • GETS PROGRESSIVELY SILLIER - The series starts kind of silly and it’s delightful. However, each book seems to get more ridiculous and bizarre and it’s not necessarily in a good way. By the final book, I was more concerned with finishing the series than I was with enjoying the story. It felt like Ferris began to talk down to the reader more as the book progressed - almost as if the final book had been written for a much younger audience. The tone of the first book is far superior to that of the next two.

I highly recommend this series for middle grade readers and anyone who likes quirky fantasy stories. It is still one of the most hilarious and delightful series I’ve ever read and everyone should give it a chance.

Have you read this series? What are your thoughts on it? Who would you recommend this to?

Friday, November 10, 2017

On bookish yarn project #7

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

These lovely The Secret Garden mittens are perfect for any book lover and book wonderful with various color schemes. Quickly knit a pair for your bookish friends this fall and they’ll be enjoying this knitted garden all winter long.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

On books for lost 20-something girls

Early 20’s are a time of self-discovery and often of self-loss. Luckily, when it seems that no one else can understand what you’re going through, there are always books. Having gone through that awkward period of no direction and feelings of failure, I know that there are some books that can help quite a bit. Here are a few to help through this period of changes and discoveries:

  • The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood - Everyone is talking about Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale right now (and for good reason), but for me, this book packed more of a punch. The book follows a young woman in the 1960’s as she has a mental breakdown and completely changes the direction of her life. It’s fascinating, it’s relatable, and it made me feel a lot less crazy when I was going through some tough times.

  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell - This was fun and quick read, but it also brought up a lot of familiar feelings for me. Cath is a college freshman who is having a difficult time adjusting, something that many of us can relate to. This book is pretty light, while still managing to address some serious issues.

  • Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki - What a dark book, but what a wonderful one. Esther is trying to figure out her next steps after graduating college and being ghosted by her college boyfriend - and turning into her mother is her newest art project. This is an interesting book about women’s relationships with each other and with their mothers. It’s also quite a bit about not knowing what you’re doing with your life after big changes.

  • Treasure Island!!! By Sara Levine - This book is much sillier than the others on this list and (in some ways) much more shocking. A young woman who is seeking direction after college finds inspiration in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and begins living her life after Jim Hawkins’ principles and example. It’s a good story to give directionless folks a character to relate to (and one who will make them feel better about their own position).

What books would you add to this list? What books have helped lost 20-somethings you know?

Friday, November 3, 2017

On fantasy heist stories

If you love Ocean’s Eleven and epic fantasy, this is the list for you. Below are three books that bring the heist trope into a fantasy story with rewarding results for the reader:

  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo - When Kaz Brekker and company are commissioned to break into the Ice Court to retrieve a hostage, they have no idea just how much can go wrong. This YA fantasy story is full of twists, unexpected connections, and fascinating characters. Add in an impossible heist and you’ve got a book that’s worth reading.

  • The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson - Sanderson’s Mistborn series begins with a young urchin girl being enlisted to help pull off the “heist” of the century - deposing Lord Ruler. The rest of the series has the characters dealing with the aftermath of their actions - a fascinating way to handle a heist story. This is an excellent start to a fantasy series that everyone should read.

  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch - Locke Lamora and his band of Gentleman Bastards are pros at pulling off heists - or so they think until someone starts getting the better of them. Full of hilarious hijinxs and some very serious consequences, this book maintains an excellent balance between the silly and the deadly serious - and shows the reader what it takes to become a world-class thief.

What heist stories have inspired your thievery? What would you add to this list?