I want my daughter to be a rebel.
And I'm going to rebel right along side her.
In fact, I'm going to be her role model for rebellion.
I do realize that rebel has a negative connotation. Rebels are the bad girls or boys: the misbehaved, the troublemakers, the noncomformists. And yet, I'm proud to say that my daughter is growing up to be kind, honest, and aware. There is not a single bad thing about her. And I plan on her staying that way.
So, let's forget connotation.
Merriam-Webster's definition for rebellious is:
1. fighting against a government
2. refusing to obey rules or authority or to accept normal standards of behavior, dress, etc.: having or showing a tendency to rebel.
And if we're going to be real, and if we're going to be candid, the truth is, that despite the progress women have made, history and the present both clearly demonstrate that we are the lowest "man" on the totem pole. Though, what we have yet to embrace and what the world has yet to comprehend is that the foundation is what supports the whole structure. Women may as well be the Atlases of the world. So, embrace it. It may be heavy as hell, but it's ours.
So, when I say that I want my daughter to be a rebel, what I mean is that I want her to be strong, independent, ambitious, and herself. I want her to be a fighter for what she wants and believes in; I want her to follow her path, despite anyone who may discourage her; I want her to know she has claim to her own life and her future, and that it is her decision whether she shares it with another. Her choices are her own - her choices in career, in her sex-life; she will not lie down for anyone, unless she chooses to do so. She will not be a woman who needs a man to tell her what to do; she will not be a woman who desires to be taken care of. And that. That will make her a rebel.
Being comfortable in our bodies, being confident in our thoughts, in our words, in our actions, that will make us all rebels.
For Christmas, I bought Mackenzie this little crowdfunded and independently published book I somehow stumbled upon on social media - Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women, written and compiled by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, illustrated by 60 different female artists from around the world. And at 31, as I'm reading these stories to my 5-year-old, I finally understood what Favilli and Cavallo obviously already did - that women's stories of success should be our daughters' fairy tales. Instead of wishing for a prince to kiss them awake from an eternal slumber or save them from an evil witch, our daughters should be learning to save themselves by exploiting their own talents and intellects. Our girls require an anti-fairy tale, one in which the the girl is her own hero, and a realistic one at that - a doctor, an artist, a scientist, a writer.
After we read the first 3 entries, which included Ada Lovelace (mathematician), Alek Wek (supermodel), and Alfonsina Strada (cyclist), Kenzie immediately asked me if we could look up the real images of the women on Google. You can't even imagine how thrilled I was; she was obviously interested. When we had looked up the different images, which she found fascinating, because, depending on their time period, there were only painted representations or black and white photos. So, as an extension, we were able to discuss the progression of art forms and documenting people's portraits. My heart was very happy.
At the end of that first reading session, I asked her who her favorite woman was, and she replied that Ada Lovelace was. When I asked her why, she said because she was pretty. Kenzie loved that illustration. I just smiled and added, "and smart." Kenzie's response, "Just like me." Yes, baby girl. Exactly, like you.
The trend has continued. We read three entries a night, among other books, we look up their real images, and then I ask her who her favorite is. Only now, she tells me, "Mama, they're going to write a book about me one day." And I say, "Yes, Mackenzie. You would most definitely be worth writing a book about." In fact, when we finish the collection, I think Kenzie and I will sit down, and I will write her story, as it is at the time, and we'll illustrate it. Then, as she grows older, it can be an activity and a disucussion that we continue to revisit - the progression of her rebelliousness.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is currently Kenzie's favorite book and one of mine as well. When we speak about change, this is how we go about it. Read to your children - start young, interest them, educate them, make them want to be readers, make them want to self-educate. Let me emphasize that this book is not just for girls. Read this book to your boys; teach them that we are equals - that women can be just as smart as, just as strong as, just as influential as, and, sometimes or often, even more so, than men.
If you're a teacher, read this book to your classes; have conversations with your students. Engage them. Google pictures of the women. Encourage students to write and illustrate their own stories. And, most importantly, don't save it for March, when it's Women's History Month, this is a book that can be read over the span of a school year. Each entry is only a page long, accompanied by a beautiful illustration of the rebel. So, it's perfect for reading a few stories each day or each week.
These women are rebels, but not because they misbehaved or acted badly. They are rebels because they were or are themselves because they had or have integrity because they dared to nonconform to women's societal standards. And these rebels should be our heroes.
Rebel, girls, rebel.
Favilli, Elena, and Francesca Cavallo. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women. Venice, CA: Timbuktu Labs, 2016. Print.
In my last post, I explored how readers have been put-off by Poppy’s ugliness; yet, I see the juxtaposition between Poppy’s physical beauty and moral grotesquerie as the element that renders her irreplaceable. She is realistic and relevant to today’s culture; Eco states, “ugliness is relative to the times and to cultures, what was unacceptable yesterday may be acceptable tomorrow, and what is perceived as ugly may contribute, in a suitable context, to the beauty of the whole” (421). Poppy exploits her appearance, belittles others, and, yet, despite her meanness, she thrives socially. Tucholke has held a mirror up to our society, and, if you don’t like the image, how are you going to change it? Poppy contributes to the beauty of Wink Poppy Midnight by exposing some of the ugliness we may find in ourselves and in our culture.
On the other hand, I find Wink far more terrifying than Poppy, who at least owns her cruelty. When I first began the novel, in an Instagram post, I characterized Wink as fanciful and innocent; two days later, I revoked my statement - “So... I was wrong when I thought Wink was innocent... the girl can kiss... and she’s potentially unhinged.” When Wink leans in to kiss Midnight for the first time, he says, “I would have guessed that Wink would kiss like a little girl, since she still kind of looked like one. Sweet and tender and shy... But her kisses were... hunger, and experience, and skill, and want” (Tucholke 66). Again, we have a female character, whose appearance doesn’t necessarily match her nature. Unlike Poppy, she doesn’t exist in a clear dichotomy of black and white, ugliness and beauty; instead, she swims and morphs through shades of gray.
As I mentioned in my post about Atonement, an overactive imagination can be dangerous, and Wink lives in fairy tales. In fact, she has cast Midnight as the hero and Poppy as the villain of her own; Wink repeatedly speaks of revenge and how Midnight must seek it before a happy ending can occur. Warning bells should be chiming. And yet, she does wear unicorn undies, which Poppy exposes in front a group of classmates, she picks strawberries, believes in ghosts and magic, and plays and reads stories to her siblings. She is petite and unassuming, and a lot of that is honest. Still. The deception.
When Wink and Midnight lure Poppy to the piano in the Roman Luck house, Wink’s eyes go “wild. Wild, wild. her lips [draw] tight, sucked in between her teeth... Her voice was high and clear, and [Midnight] could barely recognize Wink in it at all... and something in [her eyes] was... wrong... so wrong...” as she tells Poppy that the unforgivables are going to “slice [Poppy] open and lap up all [her] blood” (Tucholke 130-131). Once Wink and Midnight leave Poppy, Midnight admits that he believed Wink’s performance and was scared of her; Wink smiles and brushes it off to play-acting with her little brothers and sisters. However, this behavior is hardly sane or harmless. Wink “dwells in [her] sphinx-like mystery,” hiding an unpredictable darkness within her childlike presence (Eco, 354).
In a similar incident, after leaving Poppy in the haunted house, when Poppy’s friends believe she is dead, Wink offers to lead a seance at the Roman Luck house. As Wink begins trying to call Poppy, her head tilts back, “so far her hair touche[s] the floor, and her body [goes] rigid, it [snaps], like a rope pulled tight, like the rope that [they] used to tie up Poppy, snap, her wrists to the piano,” then she wakes, touches her hair, “look[s] at her arms, and her legs, smooth and graceful twists, eyebrows raised, lips pressed together in a pout,” and she “was cold and hard and sneering and Poppy, all Poppy,” and “it was horrifying. Horrifying” (Tucholke 208-210). Wink becomes Poppy; she channels her words and her movements. She interacts with each person intimately, sharing secrets only Poppy would know, terrifying each person. However, shortly after Wink’s transformation, the house catches fire. Midnight is the only one who doesn’t escape, and as everything becomes hazy from the smoke, he believes he catches a glimpse of the real Poppy, as he is pulled from the house. Once he recovers and makes his way back to the hayloft with Wink, he tells her that she was Poppy. After some silence, Wink asks him if he liked it, and she slides “her left leg over [him]” and “flip[s] her hair and arches[s] her back, just the once, just in the exact right way,” and Midnight knew; he “knew” (217-218). Wink’s entire seance was a charade. So, just as Poppy has similarities with Amy Dunne of Gone Girl, so does Wink - they’re both excellent actresses and off-kilter (Wink’s probably not a sociopath). Wink is a girl, who fears an early death, and has created an adventure to give her life meaning and importance, but in the process of realizing her fantasy, she has become twisted and unnatural. The dangers of imagination are at play; in order for Wink to accomplish her fairy tale, she has, with calculated precision, studied Poppy to an extent at which she can become her, which is unnerving to say the least.
However, it is at this point we learn that Wink and Poppy were friends - Wink learned Poppy’s mannerisms and psychology, while Poppy read Wink’s fairy tales, learned to disappear, and hoped Wink would give her Leaf. Poppy says, “I had to be the wolf, [Wink] said. It was [Wink’s] idea, her plan, the unicorn underwear and the kissing contest and the calling her names and the vile Roman Luck house and the making Midnight into a hero” (Tucholke 222). Wink orchestrated the entire story; for Wink, Poppy and Midnight just had their parts to play. Readers may attribute Poppy as the scandalous, manipulative one, and she is, but it is Wink who takes the cake. And yet, paradoxically, there is still an innocence in Wink, who misses the father who was less interested in his family than in himself, who fears leaving the world without leaving a mark, who still reads fairy tales and looks for her hero. Eco states, “we find ourselves faced with a multitude of contradictions” (423). This novel places those contradictions in front of us. We can be innocent and worldly, beautiful and ugly, unhinged and stable. So, who is the hero, the villain, the liar? They all are. And they all aren’t.
Lastly, Midnight. Midnight is sensitive, poetic, thoughtful, and handsome. He is overall a likable character, but he is weak and easily manipulated. He’s also much less interesting than Poppy and Wink, who present human paradoxes and complexities that Midnight just can’t. Midnight goes from loving and crying over Poppy and taking her abuse to attaching himself to Wink, even after she beguiles him into exacting revenge on Poppy. He is unable to stand up for himself; he bows to the women in life, and in the end, he runs away. Without a word. He doesn’t even have the confidence to say goodbye to Wink. But after all, this is a story about the girls; Midnight fulfilled his role and leaving was easy, “as easy as the sun setting, as easy as thunderstorms, and rivers rising, and boys leaving, and two girls reading together in a hayloft” (Tucholke 222).
Before the novel begins, Tucholke makes a dedication “to all the girls with their heads in the clouds” and follows it with an epigraph, quoting Joseph Campbell, that states, “you are the hero of your own story.” Despite the dangers of an overactive imagination, it is the one thing that can enable you to write your own story. Both Poppy and Wink possessed their narratives, and they had the brazenness to create their outcomes. Will you be a hero? What will your story be?
Eco, Umberto, ed. On Ugliness. New York: Rizzoli, 2007. Print.
Tucholke, April Genevieve. Wink Poppy Midnight. New York: Dial Books, 2016.
While I was scouring the pages of Atonement for quotes I had marked, I came across this - “beauty, she had discovered, occupied a narrow band. Ugliness, on the other hand, had infinite variation” (McEwan 7). I immediately associated this quote with the characters in April Genevieve Tucholke’s Wink Poppy Midnight. Despite the novel’s beautiful cover, it is the ugliness within the cover that I find fascinating.
After rating the novel in my Goodreads account, I glanced at a couple of the reviews. One reader vehemently hated Poppy, so much so that she "wanted to throw her out of the book with her bare hands...” I stopped reading after that. From the snippet I did read of this tirade, all I could think was: Poppy’s vileness is her appeal; it’s what makes her a fantastic character, and it is the reason I appreciate her. As I was turning this over in my head, I couldn’t help but compare her to Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. Poppy was “nothing but smooth elegance and cold, precise movements” (Tucholke 11), and she had “an evil in [her] too, a cruel streak” (Tucholke 13). Poppy and Amy are both physically beautiful but manipulative and morally corrupt. Both characters are loathsome, but the fact that the authors created characters that evoke such strong feelings of hatred from readers is awesome. And like Amy, Poppy owns her ugliness; she says, “everyone loved me and I loved myself and I got my way and did what I wanted and I still left people feeling like they were lucky to know me. No one thinks they’re shallow, ask every last person you know, they’ll deny it, but I’m living proof, I get away with murder because I’m pretty” (Tucholke 14). Poppy and the reader both know she is corrupt, and there is no issue of Poppy not realizing the wickedness of her behavior; she revels in it. She is very much aware that she can use her appearance to her advantage, and to pretend that society does not make exceptions for the beautiful would be counterproductive. In On Ugliness, Umberto Eco quotes Jean Lorrain, who wrote, “Ah, Botticelli’s mouths, those full lips, solid as fruits, ironic and sorrowful, with their sinuous, enigmatic folds that make it impossible to understand if they are concealing purity or abomination!” (354). Eco elaborates, “As far as women were concerned, some dwelled on their sphinx-like mystery (Wilde), others on their sinfulness, moral corruption or decaying flesh (Baudelaire)” (354). Poppy could easily be one of Botticelli’s models; she looks “like an angel, cherub lips and blushing cheeks and elegant bones and blond halo hair” (Tucholke 14). In Poppy’s case, her physicality does hide her ugliness, which manifests itself inwardly in her moral corruption. To her benefit, her angelic features disguise and make more palatable the demon within.
When Poppy disappears after being tied up in the Roman Luck house, she has settled into the Gold Apple Mine, and, at the end of the novel, when her parents come to bring her home, she tells them she “loved them but that living with them was no longer an option, catching fish and sleeping on the ground and being alone a lot was what [she’d] been built for, this was who [she] was, and doing the other things, being their little angel, it made [her] unhappy, and being unhappy made [her] mean” (233). It’s too easy - that Poppy could move out to the wilderness and miraculously become a better person, but I also think that moving away from the society that enables her would facilitate her in gaining a new perspective. I am unconvinced, due to her nature, that she could ever truly become benevolent. Perhaps had the Roman Luck incident not been a charade, I would think differently. Trauma could potentially alter her personality, but the reality is that the Roman Luck incident was a lie. However, the mercurial nature of humanity also leads me to believe that it is plausible for her to, at the least, improve herself. Leaf, who “laughed in [Poppy’s] face and told [her she] was ugly on the inside” when she was 14 and her one true love, finally joining her may steal away some of her meanness (Tucholke 14).
Poppy opposes poetic justice; she may not get a "happily ever after,” but she still ends up with the one person she wanted more than anyone - Leaf. Rather than despise Poppy for successfully avoiding karma and for her malicious behavior, I think it is much more productive to respect the honesty of her characterization. People can be and are ugly; our ugliness contributes to our humanity just as much as our benevolence. Eco states, “ugliness is relative to the times and to cultures, what was unacceptable yesterday may be acceptable tomorrow, and what is perceived as ugly may contribute, in a suitable context, to the beauty of the whole” (421). We no longer live in a literary age where a villain’s appearance reflects his or her nature, nor do villains always face punishment, and more importantly the villain may not actually be villainous - just human. In the end, Poppy was the easiest character to analyze in Wink Poppy Midnight; she knows who she is and so does the reader, and her character contributes to the overall beauty of the story by exposing the ugliness that can lurk behind pretty faces and that thrives within humanity.
Wink: Coming Soon...
Eco, Umberto, ed. On Ugliness. New York: Rizzoli, 2007. Print.
McEwan, Ian. Atonement. New York: Anchor Books, 2001.
Tucholke, April Genevieve. Wink Poppy Midnight. New York: Dial Books, 2016.
Recent high school graduations have inspired me to reflect on my transition to college, an influential professor, and a book that has stayed with me since then. As soon as I entered high school, I was ready to graduate. I dreamt of moving out of state and the independence college would offer me. I was ready for the culture and adventure of being in the world on my own.
Most people don’t discuss negative college experiences; college is supposed to be a party. But that first year, for me, was a black hole in which I sunk.
I entered Vandy on the pre-med path, which meant 8AM calculus and chemistry classes - classes that I didn’t want to wake up for because I hated and didn’t excel in the subject matter. (I now tell all of my students to take math their senior years - I took pre-cal my junior year and no math my senior year...) For the first time in my life, I was below average. I shot my GPA; I couldn’t rush because it was so low. And around Spring Break, the anxiety attacks began - room-spinning, heart-pounding, sitting-in-the-hallway-in-case-I-passed-out panic attacks. This wasn’t college - it couldn’t be.
Fortunately, when I went to my dean to ask permission to take physics at a community college over the summer, she actually took an interest and examined my grades and courses. I still remember the sports analogy she used - she said that I probably didn’t play basketball (I’m 5’1”) and that maybe I shouldn’t be pre-med either. It was clear that I was focusing on pre-med to please my parents and that the arts were my strength and passion. So, after some tears, from myself, and some disappointment, from my mom and dad, I ventured from the pre-med track, and I majored in English and Art History.
My grades steadily improved, as did my experiences, and in the spring of my sophomore year, the heavens parted when I stepped into my contemporary British novel course with Professor Halperin. The man is brilliant. His professional honors include the Guggenheim Fellow (twice), National Book Award for Non-Fiction (short-listed), Pulitzer Prize for Biography (short-listed; twice), and the Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Yet, he was never pretentious or intimidating; he was kind, supportive, and funny, and he taught me more about reading, writing, and life than anyone else had thus far. He allowed for different learning styles; he never forced anyone to speak, which appealed to me because my brain works better when writing than when speaking. He also allowed rewrites on the 2 or so essays that made up the majority of our grades. That said, he was tough. He had high expectations, and my writing benefited tremendously.
I vividly remember him handing back the first papers we wrote for that course because, when the girl sitting next to me received hers, every page had a giant red X through it. And I thought - “oh shit.” I started out writing B- papers and rewriting my way to an A-, but by the time I graduated, I was writing A papers without rewrites. In addition to the girl’s paper that was entirely crossed out, another memorable moment from that first course was when he took grammatically ambiguous sentences from our essays and shared them with the class. It was anonymous - but when he read the sentence from my paper and laughed, anyone who had any question about whose essay it was just had to look at my face - which I’m sure was a shade of crimson. However, I will always remember that “people lie and chickens lay.”
Professor Halperin retired the year I graduated; in an interview with him for the Vanderbilt Hustler, he expressed that "literature is not just a way to learn but a way to understand life. Through the greatest minds history has yet to produce, we can learn so much... Reading good literature prepares you to live your life." This passion was evident in his teaching, and as a 20-year-old sitting in his class, I was convinced that literature could provide me with everything I needed to know about human nature and the world around me. So, it's not surprising that the novels, Atonement in particular, I read with him have made a lasting impression.
I read Ian McEwan's Atonement for the first time during my first course with Halperin, and I’ve read it at least twice more since and taught it once. Being in such a transitional time of my life, I had empathy for the novel's focus on how one day, one defining moment, can change and shape the lives of a person and those around him or her forever. At that time, I felt like I was constantly on the precipice of either enhancing or destroying my future, and I recognized how one mistake, in perception or action, could haunt me for the rest of my life. I didn't want to end up like Briony - plagued by guilt and living to atone.
Furthermore, with Professor Halperin's aid, I became enraptured with the concept that novelists (and artists) can make readers think about their lives in ways they never have - which is why, when my parents divorced, I suggested one of them read Joanna Trollope's Marrying the Mistress and the other read Penelope Lively's Heat Wave; I thought those texts might help them gain some perspective - both novels I read in this first course with Professor Halperin. In one of his lectures, Halperin quoted Oscar Wilde, who said that "Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life." Art is more real than life. We cannot interpret our own lives; we're too subjective, but art tells us what our lives are like better than we can. I have read novels that made me completely reconsider my ideologies, and in some cases, having now lived situations portrayed in literature, I can see how true those portrayals are. On the other hand, McEwan reminds the reader that all fiction is fiction. Fiction is arbitrary; a writer can tell you anything he or she wants, and yet, paradoxically, there is so much insight to be gained from reading it.
Lastly, McEwan renders Atonement's psychological nature beautifully. I appreciate McEwan's handle on abnormal psychology; emotional displacement, destructive behavior, jealousy, and guilt flood the narrative. Human nature is so mercurial; it is almost impossible to prevent emotions from swaying us one way or another, but it is important to at least be cognizant of the effect our emotions, as well as our imaginations, have over our perceptions and actions. Atonement opens with a quote from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which attacks literature that is too fanciful and not grounded in reality. The imagination must be controlled; otherwise, you're more likely to misinterpret the real world. Briony's life ends with brain disease, which is a poignant conclusion for one who has overused her brain to disastrous ends.
The summer following this course, I read McEwan's Enduring Love, which Professor Halperin suggested to us in one of his lectures. I have now read multiple McEwan novels, and he is one of my all time favorite authors. McEwan’s writing puts my brain in overdrive, and the intellectual stimulation that Atonement and Professor Halperin evoked inspired my initial love for McEwan's writing.
I am pretty sure I took a class with Professor Halperin every semester after that spring. And I still think of him anytime someone uses the word impact as a verb (Halperin’s GUIDELINES FOR PAPERS - #1: Do not use nouns (“impact,” “access”) or other parts of speech as verbs), which simultaneously makes me cringe and smile. I hope everyone encounters a professor that stays with them well beyond college. One that makes you smile when you think of him or her because smiling is exactly what I'm doing right now.
McEwan, Ian. Atonement. New York: Anchor Books, 2001.
Solomon, Andrew. "English Professor Reflects on 24-year Career at Vandy." Vanderbilt Hustler. Vanderbilt University, 19 Apr. 2007. Web. 2 June 2016. <http://www.vanderbilthustler.com/news/article_80247910-0e5f-5426-bd25-8670b0dedcf3.html>.
Since my last post was about a graphic novel, which is not my preferred reading format, I would like to share some of the insight I gained from hearing Nathan Hale speak at the North Texas Teen Book Festival. Teri Lesesne moderated a panel, entitled “Diversity Is More Than A Hashtag,” which included authors Karen Blumenthal, Cindy Pon, Nathan Hale, and Kathi Appelt. Cindy Pon and Nathan Hale both shared brilliant perspectives on the need for diversity in YA literature. I referenced Cindy Pon’s discussion in my blog post about Carry On, but today, I would like to focus on Nathan Hale’s commentary.
First of all, Nathan Hale is funny; he would be fantastic speaking with young adults. Secondly, he is an advocate for alternative literary formats. Now, as Hale is a graphic novelist, it is not surprising that he enjoys drawing; his need to keep his hands free for doodling led him to checkout audiobooks - an alternative literary format. For him, audiobooks allowed him access to literature without hindering his sketching. I am not a fan of audiobooks; I need to see the words on the page. However, there are plenty of people who enjoy listening to stories and others, such as struggling readers and multitaskers, who would benefit from exposure to them. The necessity of audiobook production is evidenced in the growth of the audiobook industry, “fueled by the increasing popularity of the digital download format” over the last few years (Maughan 23). Despite the numbers and the need, at my library, they are not checked out. We offer recently published, popular ebooks and audiobooks, which are available to students and staff through Follett Shelf; they can listen or read them on their phones or other devices. Now, as a librarian, I realize the need for diversity, in formatting as well as in content, but anytime I suggest an audiobook version to a student, I get turned down. Despite my preferences and my library stats, Hale has me praising the benefits of audiobooks, and my new stance is that, even if they only affect a handful of kids, they’ve still had an effect. Because kids like Hale exist, and I would guarantee I have some.
Graphic novels (another alternative format, which Hale creates), on the other hand, do not require nearly as much suggestion to get checked out. We have our devoted traditional graphic novel readers, as well as our manga readers. Despite the popularity of our graphic novel section, I think there are still some misconceptions that graphic novels are picture books and not necessarily for teenage or adult readers. However, graphic novels provide a sophisticated combination of text and images that rely on multiple literacies to be properly comprehended. The utilization of images to advance the narrative implores readers to infer the transition of events from one panel to the next. This “cognitive leap [is] referred to as ‘closure’” (Watts 39). Pam Watts states “ because closure requires a high level of reader participation, the emotional impact of graphic novels can be quite high. Particularly if the student is reading about something outside his realm of experience, such as the civil rights movement, closure can generate reader empathy for the characters in the story” (39). So, according to Watts, nonfiction graphic novels, such as Hale’s Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, would be an ideal way of teaching history because the readers experience the story, time period, and events, as opposed to digesting information from a textbook. As far as content is concerned, graphic novels provide adult and young adult situations and concepts; for example, Derf Backderf’s My Friend Dahmer delves into the psychological and social implications of creating a serial killer. Furthermore, graphic novels still provide readers with “high-level vocabulary words” (Redondo Beach Educational Foundation). On the other hand, graphic novels can alleviate the reading process for struggling readers or English Language Learners because the imagery can facilitate the comprehension of text. Graphic novels have something to offer every reader - empathy, intellectual stimulation, help, aesthetics.
One more observation provided by Nathan Hale, at NTTBF16, on the topic of genrefication. Hale began by warmly and humorously explaining how his father taught him to choose books in the library - by looking for the books with unicorns or space ships on the spine labels. So after listening to all the fantasy and sci fi audiobooks available, he took a leap of faith - closed his eyes and his fingers found the largest audiobook case on the shelf - Lonesome Dove. In many ways, Lonesome Dove was more exciting than the previous novels he had encountered - insert comment about prostitution here - and he never would have crossed its path if the genres weren’t mixed. I would agree; it makes browsing so much more exciting when you can be surprised by what you find.
If you ever have the opportunity to hear Nathan Hale speak, attend. You’ll learn something and probably laugh a little bit too.
"5 Reasons to Read Graphic Novels and Comics." 5 Reasons to Read Graphic Novels and Comics. Redondo Beach Educational Foundation, 10 July 2014. Web. 31 May 2016. <http://rbef.org/blog/5-reasons-to-read-graphic-novels-and-comics>.
Bello, Grace. "Aural Sex: The Rise In Audiobook Erotica." Publishers Weekly 260.19 (2013): 22-26. Literary Reference Center. Web. 31 May 2016.
MAUGHAN, SHANNON. "APA Survey: Audiobook Sales, Production Still Growing." Publishers Weekly 262.32 (2015): 23. Literary Reference Center. Web. 31 May 2016.
WATTS, PAM. "Graphic Novels Offer Diverse Perspectives, Narratives." Education Digest 81.2 (2015): 38. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 31 May 2016.
With the number of YA novels that have been, are in the process of being, and will be adapted to film, it is clear that YA literature has forged its way into Hollywood. Nothing gets people to read a book more than it becoming a movie; I haven’t seen our copies of Paper Towns or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children all year.
Now, I’m going to be real - I tend not to read a lot of the books being made into movies; I just watch the movies instead. [An aside: I have read The Giver (a classic), The Hunger Games trilogy (I’m good on dystopian), I recently read A Monster Calls (I love Patrick Ness novels), and I do plan on reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.] Does that make me a bad librarian? I don’t think so. Most of those books (or series) are already popular and don’t need much book talking to be read. I like to read the books that kids don’t already know about. If I’m really being honest, I’m kind of a book snob, just like I’m kind of a music snob. I want to read books that I’m interested in - that are a little more intellectual or artsy or quirky or darkly humorous; for example, I LOVE Andrew Smith novels, and my kids love them too - but I have to book talk them; most kids don’t just grab Winger from the shelf like they do Divergent. I do make an effort to read different genres, but I try to avoid the mainstream. I like to find those literary gems that require a little more digging because they shine that much brighter in the hands of my students. So, having decided I don’t want to read a particular book, I don’t mind seeing the movie, and having seen the movie, I definitely don’t want to read the book. That’s the cycle. BUT there are always exceptions, and those exceptions are a testament to the film industry’s artistry and expertise.
Now, to the confusion of some, I am not going to discuss the Academy Award-winning Room. I saw it; it was good. But it didn’t make me want to read the book. Instead... I would like to highlight the punch in the face that was Deadpool. I’m not a comic book, superhero fan - I’ve always left that to my brother. As I posted before, I read and loved Derf Backderf's graphic novel My Friend Dahmer, but that’s about the extent of my graphic novel experience... so, it was to my surprise that Deadpool captured my interest enough for me to read outside of my preferred genre and format - because, after having watched the movie this weekend, I checked out and read Night of the Living Deadpool today. I realize it’s a different story line than that of the film, but I wanted to see if the comic held the same sarcastically cynical dark humor that the film conveyed. To my delight, it did. I don’t know the whole Deadpool history with X-Men and what not, but I was pleasantly surprised and entertained by Cullen Bunn’s graphic novel (review coming soon). It embodied the same wit and shock-value that made the film thrive.
For the most part, it’s a given that the book is going to be better than the movie - I realize that - even when I choose to watch a movie, rather than read the book - but, again, it’s the exceptions that help regain your faith in the movie industry. I'm not saying the film is better than the graphic novel, but they are equally well done. Perhaps, Deadpool was such a success because of its format - graphic novels are already cinematic - it seems much more natural to adapt a graphic novel to film because they're both visual entities. Although, I’ve seen X-Men and Spiderman and Captain America, etc. [everyone loves Batman], but I’ve never been the least bit interested in reading those comics. For me, I think the appeal of Deadpool is that he’s much more human than he is superhuman. He’s a mixed character - dark and light - he’s so much more relatable, and he’s a result of good intentions gone bad. Who can’t empathize with that? Not to mention that I loved the “boy humor,” though I’m not a boy, so it’s just humor, I guess, and the fantastic allusions to my generation’s pop culture (“Shoop,” Salt-N-Pepa; Sinead O'Conner). In fact, I would say that the pop cultural allusions are one of the major factors that it was so appealing to me and successful, in my opinion - it made me feel like this movie was made for me, for my generation. All in all, Deadpool is a cinematic thrill ride in film AND graphic novel format - TAKE THE RIDE.
Everyone has heard the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and, metaphorically speaking, that’s sound advice. However, when we’re speaking literally about book covers, let’s be honest. EVERYONE judges books by their covers. I am a librarian, and I don’t want to read a book with an ugly or dated cover. I want a book that is as aesthetically pleasing on the outside as it is on the inside. The problem with this is that art is so subjective - I imagine adult tastes are different from those of young adults and so on. And yet, there still tends to be trends in cover art - for a while, it seemed like every young adult book (of various genres) we received in the library had a picture of a girl’s face on it - which does not particularly appeal to me. I’ve also noticed the addition of texture to book covers. I have a student who is legally blind, and he feels the covers of everything in the library; having met him, I have become much more interested in raised lettering and images, such as the raindrops on Becca Fitzpatrick’s Dangerous Lies, as well as metallic/holographic covers, such as David Levithan’s Hold Me Closer. Now, I find myself running my hands over book covers as much as I look at them. Taking these new elements into consideration, I am excited to see how the trends in YA book covers evolve.
Having come across an image of My Friend Dahmer’s cover in a recent issue of Booklist, I was reminded how exceptional an example Derf Backderf’s graphic novel is of a book with an artistic and evocative cover. The cover art captures the essence of Dahmer and the tone of the graphic novel. Dahmer is central, staring, blankly and directly, at the reader, challenging and unfeeling. He is spotlighted, and yet, the shadows under his eyes and near his mouth render him ominous. Moreover, his classmates in the periphery appear unconcerned and oblivious to his presence, reflecting his triviality. I can’t imagine a more haunting image of a man who grew up to commit unspeakable crimes. To this novel’s credit, the author and cover-artist is the same person; so, he had an opportunity to capture the sense of foreboding that emanates throughout the text. I would love to see more covers with art that so successfully evokes the essence of the literature, as well as can stand as art in its own right.
I finally finished Carry On! As I expressed before, the beginning (as in the first 150 pages) was extremely slow-going for me. I didn't care for the allusions to Harry Potter, and there didn't seem to be anything of much consequence happening - Simon's position as the Chosen One, as well as his unfortunate magical ineptitude were clear, as was his obsession with Baz. I definitely would have appreciated it if Book One had been more concise because once I hit Book Two and Baz appeared on the scene, I was in it.
Rowell presents a valid commentary on societal inclusion/exclusion and the divide between social classes. However, I think the most striking aspect of Carry On was her attention to creating a diverse, young adult fantasy novel. I attended an author panel entitled "Diversity is More Than a Hashtag" at the North Texas Teen Book Festival in April. During the discussion, Cindy Pon, author of Serpentine, expressed her desire for authentic and diverse protagonists in all genres of literature. She created a Chinese protagonist for her novel because, growing up, there were no novels that included main characters that she could identify with culturally. The worlds of books should mirror the diversity in the world around us. White characters dominate all genres of literature, and minorities still read and identify with those stories. White readers would, similarly, still identify with more diverse characters, as well as broaden their understanding of various cultures. There is literally no reason to exclude minorities as the heroes or heroines in novels. In the case of Carry On, Rowell beautifully created a fantasy novel, in which the two leading characters are homosexual. And I think what makes that so fantastic is that it is a fantasy novel - the main characters just happen to be gay. Most of the GLBTQ YA I’ve read is realistic fiction, and the purpose is to show the evolution of owning one’s sexuality. But Rowell isn’t as focused on that; instead, she throws it out there nonchalantly, so the reader is like, “yeah, the protagonists are gay, no big deal.” For example, at the end of the novel, Simon states, “I suppose I am gay; my therapist says it’s not even in the top five things I have to sort out right now” (515). With the progress in gay rights and the passing of gay marriage, sexuality should no longer be a cultural or societal anxiety. The GLBTQ community is just as human as anyone else; there’s no reason that sexuality should prevent a tale from being told or cause that tale to become a spectacle rather than a story. I appreciate Rowell for providing me with characters I’ve never encountered before and easily (after the first 150 pages) fell in love with.
Having finished the novel, I would like to address a few elements I mentioned in my last post. First of all, I still find the spells obnoxious, but, at the same time, I have to give Rowell props for alluding to some awesome music - most obviously Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Secondly, I did find it amusing. I thoroughly enjoyed the running joke about the numpties, as well as any description of Fiona, who “likes to swear like a Normal” and "thinks she’s punk” (156). In the end, I did like Carry On; I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t had to wade through Book One, but overall, it was a witty read, and I would suggest taking a chance on it.
It seems as though it is librarian taboo not to have read Harry Potter. I am not, however, afraid to admit that I never read it. It was published when I was in middle school, and, to be honest, I was never interested; I was much more interested in Stephen King and John Saul. And as much as I imagined dragons and fairies and magic when I was a little girl, I HATED high fantasy books like Lord of the Rings. I have since seen and enjoyed all of the Harry Potter movies; plus, I don't think you can exist in our world today and NOT know about Harry Potter. That said, I'm still picky about the fantasy books I choose to read. However, knowing Rowell's reputation for Eleanor and Park, which I have not yet read but plan to, I picked up Carry On, which Lev Grossman called "thrilling and sexy, funny and shocking" on the back cover. To my extreme disappointment, all I could think of for the first quarter of the book was Harry P. The main character, Simon, is a "Normal" and he's an orphan and he's the Chosen One and he befriends Ebb, a sheepherder/groundskeeper... So, die-hard Harry P. fans may LOVE the similarities, but it definitely left me wanting more than what seemed to be a more grown-up version of Harry P. with bad language thrown in. Additionally, the spells, which are derived from songs or popular phrases, should be charming, but instead just annoy me. I was also planning to laugh. Andrew Smith books make me LAUGH. I recently read Lance Rubin'sDenton Little's Deathdate and Adam Selzer's Play Me Backwards - both made me LAUGH. Carry On, sadly, has not.
Now, I realize that this may seem like a negative review of Carry On. It may or may not be. I'm not finished reading yet. My original distaste may result from my disinterest in Harry Potter - that this novel didn't strike me as original enough - or that I don't particularly care for this genre of fantasy. It has taken me a substantial number of pages to get to a place where I'm beginning to think I may end of up liking it. Sometimes great books take some work, and I'm working. Now that I'm almost 2/3 of the way through, it has piqued my interest, and I even chuckled at one point when Simon arrived at Baz's for Christmas break. So now, I'm going to carry on, and I'll let you know what I think when I'm finished!