Sunday, March 27, 2011
Its the Great Depression and Abilene Tucker has spent the better part of her life drifting and riding the rails with her vagabond father Gideon. After Abilene survives a serious injury, Gideon decides that a life on the road is no life for a young woman. Abilene is sent to live in Manifest, the only town Gideon has ever called home. As Abilene settles into her new digs, a bar turned makeshift Baptist Church, she uncovers a box of letters and trinkets. With the help of these mementos and a Hungarian diviner Abilene visits 1918 Manifest and discovers a world of knowledge about the town as it was--and why her father called it home.
Side by Side With Other Award Winners
There are two books I can think of that parallel elements of Moon Over Manifest (Newbery Medal), each is well regarded in their own right: Holes by Louis Sachar (Newbery Medal) and Bud, Not Buddy (Newbery Medal & Coretta Scott King Award) by Christopher Paul Curtis. Like Sachar, Vanderpool unites two stories--one present, one past--and makes them whole. In Bud, Not Buddy our title character sets out to find his father with the help of mementos from his mother’s past--Abilene discovers her father in a similar way. Bud, Not Buddy and Moon Over Manifest, both set during the Great Depression, shed light on racial and ethnic inequalities. Moon Over Manifest would be well paired with Holes or Bud, Not Buddy on library and class reading lists.
Moon Over Manifest is quite honestly one of the best books I’ve read. Why? First, the book is technically sound. Vanderpool weaves together two fully developed storylines like a true professional. Her vivid language makes the setting become real. The main characters are extremely well developed, helping the reader latch on to the story. Beyond that, the supporting cast (a whole town full) adds vital color and content to the book.
I must say, I think the setting of Moon Over Manifest is what really makes me love this book. If a young reader you know enjoys historical fiction, this book is an obvious next read. Vanderpool serves up the Great Depression, World War I, and prohibition. Along with that she addresses immigration, race and class struggles of the time. Moon Over Manifest is an amazing opportunity for young readers to learn about these eras and issues through “experience.”While none of these topics are to be taken lightly, this book is a fun and enjoyable read. There's a great balance between the weight of the subjects at hand, and the whimsy of the story and its characters.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
This week I was privileged to hear former NBA player John Amaechi deliver a speech on Corporate Social Responsibility. Since retiring from the NBA Amaechi has earned a PhD in psychology. He now works as a consultant, and runs the ABC Foundation which focuses on youth outreach.
Amaechi presented a few simple yet impactful ideas in his speech that I’d like to share. He was speaking to national sponsors who build their brands with CSR campaigns, but I feel like there are some major learnings from his speech that apply to the library world as well. When speaking to these sponsors, he communicated that companies and community organizers can’t expect things like a baseball camp or a junior basketball league to magically make kids better people. Amaechi made his feelings very clear, there is nothing magical about sports. People who assert that they learned leadership or team work from playing a sport were likely influenced by other people, not the sport itself. Sports and other activities are just vessels to deliver life changing content to young people.
Another major point Amaechi made is that we have to set tangible goals for youth programs. We can’t set up a soccer camp to create “hope.” You can’t measure hope. We must be clear about attainable objectives so that we have something real to work towards. In the end, it makes organizers more successful and it makes a more lasting impact on kids.
My biggest takeaway is that there is a huge need to teach kids emotional literacy. For various reasons many children (and adults) in our society don’t know how to express, share or cope with their feelings. Lack of emotional literacy can have a host of consequences on an individual’s well being and society at large.
This is the point in the blog where you may ask--”what does this have to do with the library?” Everything. Just as people think that sports will magically change kids, I think people think reading will magically change kids. In general, I have the attitude that “as long as a kid is reading I don’t care what they’re reading.” This attitude is fine if we are just measuring literacy. However, if we are looking to make young people more emotionally literate, we must hand them reading materials that show them a range of life experiences and emotions.
At one point, Amaechi touched on the importance of empathy. Empathy is sharing the feelings of others--feeling their feelings. Empathy helps us to evaluate how we are treating others. If we make another person feel bad, but start to identify with them--we may stop. When we read novels, we have the chance to invest in characters and experience a piece of their lives. We also have a chance to feel what they feel--to experience empathy. Each time a kid reads a book there’s the potential to add another emotional experience to their empathy bank. For children and adults alike, a capacity for empathy may be the difference between bullying and not bullying--between committing violent crime or not.
During his speech Amaechi looked to the crowd and said, “You are axes in a sea of wood”-- meaning corporate marketers have control of massive marketing and CSR budgets that can be used to do a lot of good. I think that libraries are in the same position. Each library contains shelves of books that kids can access to vicariously experience situations and emotions that they might not otherwise. This leaves me with a new mission. As I read through the cannon of children’s literature, I’m now looking for books that can create a lasting impact on the reader. Amaechi likened creating an impact to a footprint in wet cement--it's there forever. Don't get me wrong. I don’t want books to be preachy and not everything a kid reads has to be profound. But I am on the lookout for things that will not only influence kids immediately upon reading, but also for books with situations that can be stored away and called on later when the difference between a good decision and a bad one is emotional literacy.
Monday, March 7, 2011
When I tell people I’m in library school, I get two pretty standard reactions that go something like this: “Oh, so you’re taking Dewey Decimal 101?” Or “Can you recommend any good books for my niece? She just turned 1.” The first response is usually met with some form of sarcasm followed by a semi-rehearsed speech on why librarians need a special degree and the details on what I’m learning. As for the serious question--the one about books--I usually recommend that people stick to books made of cloth or cardboard that focus more on illustrations than text.
A few weeks ago I was hanging out with some good friends when their 16-month old brought me a prime example of what a baby should be reading: Hug by Jez Alborough. Hug is about a “baby” monkey, Bobo, who observes other “baby” animals being hugged by their own kind. Bobo becomes sad that there is no one to hug. Finally, Bobo’s mother appears with open arms. After being hugged by his mother, Bobo exchanges hugs with other animals.
Hug is a great book for babies and toddlers. The text is basically limited to one word leaving room for readers to focus on the pictures. The illustrations, while not realistic, are vivid and well drawn. We see a range of Bobo’s emotions as he searches for someone to hug. Picture books aid in building emotional and visual literacy. The range of feelings put on display for the reader in Hug make it a great addition to any board book collection.