Reading: The Book Thief

I am a fan of Markus Zusak. He is one of my favorite newer YA authors (along with John Green). I ate I Am the Messenger in just a few hours. The Book Thief was much more difficult to read, and shows another dimension of Zusak’s imagination.

Liesel Meminger lives with a foster family in a small town outside of Munich in the early 1940s. Her accordion-playing foster father teaches her to read, although her career as a book thief begins while she is still illiterate. Her family takes in a Jewish man, the son of a man who saved him in World War I, and Liesel befriends him. The story is narrated by Death, who gives a different perspective on life and war.

The story has the dark humor you would expect from a book narrated by Death.

The Book Thief

Reading: The Burn Journals

Since I don’t have a separate blog for my YA reading, I’m going to post those reviews here. I did not have extra time this Thanksgiving break, but I took time to finish two books that have been hanging over my head since the semester began.

The Burn Journals is Brent Runyon’s account of his recovery from a self-inflicted fire that almost killed him. It is incredibly hard to read, because it reminds me that boys can be in incredible emotional pain, yet not know how to reach out… or even want to reach out for help. After Brent survives the fire, he realizes that he does want to live, and he can’t even remember why he set himself on fire in the first place.

My life revolves around boys. I have two of my own, I have a brother who is just 14 months younger than me, we were raised by a single father. I am a Cub Scout assistant den leader and intend to go on to be involved in Boy Scouts next year. My interests as a librarian are middle schoolers… kids the age Brent was when he hurt himself… and reluctant readers. With all the interest and exposure, it’s still clear from this book that I just can’t know what’s going on in their heads, their hearts, and their souls.

The Burn Journals

Summer Reading

The Gypsy Librarian posts about summer reading lists. This is one of those things I might have trouble with in my youth services future. I think it’s a great idea to recommend books for kids to read over the summer, but I have a problem with the relentless “reading as work.” I want to be a youth services librarian because I want to introduce kids to the joy and fun in books. I understand that reading is good for the brain and good for test scores and good for study skills, but reading is more than that, and I’m afraid a whole generation of kids is missing out.

My 16-year-old is an avid reader. However, there were a couple of middle school years when it was touch and go for him. The first shaky incident was when his teacher had the students read a favorite book. The catch was, they had to stop every page and write a post-it note about what they read. By the time he was on chapter five, he told me, “Mom, I don’t even know if I like Harry Potter any more!” The other incident happened two years later, with The Pigman. I love Paul Zindel and read The Pigman for fun, so I had no idea it was required reading in some classes. My son had to read it, but in that stilting 5-page-at-a-time don’t-dare-read-ahead way that will kill the joy in reading any book. (He did read ahead and was punished by missing trivial details on a pop quiz.)

So much about school kills the joy in reading. My favorite English teachers were the ones who said, “Pick a book from this pile, read it, and tell me about it.” (Two books I read that way are still favorites.) I was a rebel in the other type of class. If I liked a book, I would keep reading it. That’s what the author intended, after all. I doubt Paul Zindel meant for The Pigman to be read five pages a week for a semester.

Another problem with the summer reading is that kids are told NOT to read certain books. Angel has the same reaction I do to that: “God forbid a kid actually reads a book before the teacher has covered it in class.” I suspect I would have liked Lord of the Flies if I had read it before we covered it in class. (I never did read it.)

There’s also talk about writings connected to the summer readings. What I would like to see is a blog-type Web site format as an option. I’d like to see a school library provide the blog for students to note their reflections on the books– either in a way that makes them post theirs before they can read the others, or in a more open way. I suspect kids would take to that.

(An aside about actually getting a hold of these books: Angel notes a problem with collection development in school libraries, which he attributes to jumpy librarians and litigous parents, which could be true– but I think the new Information Power! type of school library philosophy contributes to the lame collections. For a class, I had to review four issues of a school library research journal. There were no articles about collection development or collection management… but plenty about curriculum and learning methods. The very foundations of librarianship are being ignored in the rush to turn school librarians into teachers with a lot of books in their classrooms.)