Thursday, March 24, 2011
These are not easy things to know about your hero.
Yet the author takes nothing away from Amelia Earhart’s intelligence, goal-setting and accomplishments. She worked hard and earned every success. As readers we can feel Amelia’s charm and courage coming through the pages. Each chapter makes a strong case for why she became an American hero. I had a chance to interview Candace Fleming recently, and one of the things I found most touching was the reason for the author’s fascination with Earhart. “My mother, who must have been 13 in 1937 [when Earhart disappeared], would tell a story about going outside and looking up, convinced that she'd see [Amelia] fly over her little town in Indiana,” Fleming says. “She couldn't believe her Amelia was lost—not the person she had seen in the newsreels and in the papers!”
The book leaves us with haunting questions: How far would you be willing to go to pursue a dream? Would you risk all that Amelia Earhart risked? Friends, family, safety? If presented with the right opportunity, if we were offered a fully funded chance to fly around the world as the first woman pilot—the Friendship flight that started her on her way—maybe we would have risked it all, too.
Friday, March 18, 2011
One of the things I admire most about Kylie Jean is the way she goes to her friends and family for help. Together, she and her cousin and friends figure out how to cope with the mean new girl without stooping to mean-girl tactics, in Kylie Jean: Drama Queen by Marci Peschke, illus. by Tuesday Mourning. In Kylie Jean: Blueberry Queen, she asks her cousin (a different, older cousin) to help her register for the Blueberry Queen contest, then calls upon her grandparents for assistance—her photographer grandfather for a picture, and her other grandparents for sponsorship. Kylie Jean also asks a neighbor she admires to write a recommendation for her. The heroine models a strategy that can be very helpful to children of this age, who are making fledgling attempts toward independence. She asks for help from people she trusts. Clara Lee also does this in Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream when she seeks out her grandfather as her trusted advisor.
That awkward transition to doing things on their own is easier for both Kylie Jean and Clara Lee because of the roles their families play in helping them achieve their goals. Kylie Jean makes a list of tasks to complete in Blueberry Queen, and enlists her family or friends with specific skills to help with each. In the case of Clara Lee, it’s self-confidence she needs—to believe she, too, deserves to represent her town, not because her family helped to found the town (like her rival’s family did), but because she sees herself as an integral part of its community. And then she must summon the courage to give a speech. But once she overcomes the first crisis of confidence, the second feels easy.
It’s sometimes hard to find strong books for this age group because so few drill down to these essential issues of blossoming independence. But Kylie Jean, Clara Lee, Dessert Schneider from Dessert First, Clementine, and Ivy and Bean can be strong guides through rough waters.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein captures the essence of the experience of a child reading aloud with a loving adult. In the opening wordless scene, we detect hints of the ceaseless energy of the young chicken before she ever appears. Once she’s in her pajamas, she asks for a story, and Papa says, “Of course, you are not going to interrupt the story tonight, are you?” We know that she will (though she promises, “I’ll be good”), and we can’t wait.
When she breaks into the story to warn Hansel and Gretel about the witch--and to take part in the other two stories--it’s clear that the little red chicken knows these stories by heart. My favorite aspect of the book is the way the little red chicken imagines herself as a character in each story. She believes she can save Little Red Riding Hood from the Wolf. In Stein’s artwork, the little red chicken literally appears as a character alongside the red-caped star and the villain who would, if left to carry out his mission, swallow the girl’s granny. In an interview, Stein discussed the process of creating this clash of the "real" and storybook worlds. (He received a 2011 Caldecott Honor citation for Interrupting Chicken.) The feathered heroine is a riot of color in a sepia-toned world. She is shaking things up.
The captivating little chicken at the center of this story is smart and spirited, she loves her Papa, and she cares about the characters in her books and wants to help them. We can imagine her becoming a passionate and involved member of her classroom and community. The best books enhance and help to develop those qualities in a child, by opening up a discussion between the child and someone who cares about him or her--someone who has a wider experience of the world and can help to process all that a young person is learning from hour to hour. So maybe it’s worth moving up bedtime just a bit, just enough to allow for those interruptions.