I just had to report the conversation I had with my kids today on the way to school. This gives a glimpse into what they think about my coursework.
Elijah (11 years): Mama, what do you do all day?
(You see, I work from home and go to school from home, and he knows that, but I think he has some sense that sitting at the computer all day is fun, so he wonders when I actually work…)
Me: Well, I do homework and work work and stuff around the house. Like today I’m going to finish a paper I have due tomorrow.
Ari (6 years): What is your paper about?
Me: Well, you know how there are all different kinds of people? Some people are black, some people are white, some people are Mexican, people speak different languages, people are all different, and my paper is about how libraries can make sure to serve all the people who come to them.
(I was all proud of myself for summing up cultural competency in libraries so a 6 year old could understand, until…)
Ari: That’s boring.
Me: What would be interesting?
Ari: How do pigs snort?
Me: What other things would you like to learn about?
Ari: Write about Legos.
Me: Well it has to be a question or something to write about, like what should we write about Legos?
Ari: Why Legos are so awesome!
Me: What else?
Ari: And why pizza is so awesome!
Me: Well, it has to be about libraries.
Elijah: Write about why libraries should have Lego books in them.
(Elijah’s class has been writing “persuasive” writing assignments)
Elijah: Is this like a persuasive writing assignment?
(we’re just pulling up to school)
Me: No, it’s something different, I’ll explain it to you…
(As he steps out of the car and closes the door)
Elijah: Please don’t.
(I laughed all the way home!)
Plot: Twelve year old Dre Parker lives in Detroit, and then one day he and his mom get on a plane, and all of a sudden he is living in Bejing. Dre’s mom has a new job in China, and he finds himself in an unfamiliar land, knowing neither the language nor the customs. His first foray to the playground results in his finding a new friend, Mei, and being beaten up by her friend, Cheng. Cheng does not think that Mei and Dre should be friends, and Cheng’s continued bullying of Dre make Dre’s life difficult and unhappy. Dre decides that he needed to learn martial arts to be able to defend himself from Cheng and Cheng’s gang. Eventually, the maintenance man, Mr. Han, becomes Dre’s Kung Fu master and they train together intensely for a tournament in which Dre has been entered. This movie is a remake of a movie of the same name from 1984.
Review: Entertaining and exciting, this movie has a lot of great martial arts scenes as well as beautiful views of Beijing and the surrounding Chinese countryside. Jaden Smith as Dre is cute and witty, vulnerable and brave. Jackie Chan as Mr. Han is understated and serious, caring and strong. Dre’s friendship with Mei, played by actress Wenwen Han, is sweet and the two support each other. The kiss between Dre and Mei seems out of place, given their young age, and I suspect it could be the least popular part of the movie for the many young tween boys who would likely enjoy everything else about this film. A great film for boys and girls and the whole family, the Karate Kid has positive messages including: never give up, find your inner strength, work hard and respect yourself and others.
Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Family
Viewing/Interest Level: 9-12 years
Available in: DVD; Blu-ray
Subjects: friendship, kung-fu, dreams, inner strength, bullying
Selected Award: 2010 Kids’ Choice Awards Favorite Movie
Plot: In this family comedy Jackie Chan plays Bob Ho, a Chinese spy helping the CIA with a case. Ho is dating woman next door, a single mother of three, who doesn’t know that he is a spy. To the kids, he seems like a boring guy, and they vow to keep him away from their mother. But, Bob is determined for the kids to kids to like him, so he can marry their mother and the five of them can settle down as a family. He takes on the role of babysitter to the three kids when their mother has to go tend to her injured father. Bob is planning to retire from being a spy, but things take a turn when it seems there is a mole in the CIA, and Bob get called in, one day into his retirement, to help out. He is in the position of managing the kids and his search for a Russian spy. With some great fight scenes that feature Chan’s talent as a a highly skilled martial artist, this film combines elements of comedy with action and adventure to entertain the whole family.
Review: Sometimes silly, sometimes goofy, this action comedy is light on plot, but, contains enough silliness and great martial arts scenes to make it enjoyable. Jackie Chan plays a seemingly stiff and awkward “normal” guy who is really a top-secret spy. The fight scenes are almost comical, like a cartoon, no blood is spilled and with Chan jumping around demonstrating his agility and finesse, the bad guys don’t stand a chance. The stereotypical Russian spies as bad guys are disappointing, but not surprising given that the plot of this movie is fairly basic and predictable. Even with that, though, I enjoyed watching Chan as both potential step father being challenged by his girlfriend’s three kids on the one hand and being a highly competent and sought after spy on the other.
Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Adventure, Family
Viewing/Interest Level: 8-12 years
Available in: DVD; Blu-ray
Subjects: spies, honesty, love, family
Content: The most. The largest. The best. The smallest. The newest. The fastest. The youngest. The heaviest. The strangest. The longest. The first. The oldest. The loudest. The Guinness Book of World Records brings you world records from the year as well as from the first decade of the 2000’s. From scientific discoveries and unique human bodies to sports records and cutting edge technology, this book covers a lot of ground. This book is packed full of information, pages have very little blank space between the extensive text and many full-color photographs. Just a quick flip through the book is exciting and entertaining, but it is also something that a reader could read from cover to cover. Reluctant readers are likely to be inspired by this book, with appeal to both boys and girls.
Review: This book is fascinating, exciting, interesting, silly, and even educational. There is some great science information as well as tons of facts about a huge diversity of things. A great book for tweens to read together with a parent or a friend, there is something for everyone in this volume. While there is a fairly extensive Table of Contents organized in page order, which is by category, there is no index, which detracts from the reader’s ability to pinpoint a particular world record. The Guinness Book of World Records was the originator of this type of superlative information book in 1950’s. This 2010 edition is a colorful, compelling, and exciting book, worthy of the Guinness name.
Reading/Interest Level: 8-14 years
Available in: Hardcover
Similar Books: Time for Kids That’s Awesome!, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Enter if You Dare, Time for Kids Super Science Book, Guinness World Records 2011
Subjects: food, plants, animals, insects, electricity, world records, sports, the earth, celebrities, pets, music, movies, television, energy, buildings, transportation, vehicles, collections, stunts, human body, technology
AMA Boy’s Guide to Becoming a Teen: Getting Used to Life in Your Changing Body, by Amy B. Middleman, MD and Kate Gruenwald Pfeifer, LCSWPosted: May 13, 2011
AMA Boy’s Guide to Becoming a Teen: Getting Used to Life in Your Changing Body. By Amy B. Middleman, MD and Kate Gruenwald Pfeifer, LCSW. Illustrated by Brie Spangler. Jossey-Bass, 2006. 128 pages. $12.95
Content: This book provides boys with an overview of the physical, emotional, social, and relational aspects of entering into the teen years. Puberty and it accompanying body changes are explored in depth, from acne and growing taller to nutrition and the reproductive system. There are also chapters exploring feelings, describing situations boys might find themselves in and helping them to articulate their feelings. Changes and challenges in relationships are explored including with parents and elementary school friends. The book provides ideas about how to address bullying, peer pressure and conflicts with peers. This book also discusses sexuality, including crushes, dating, and sexual activity. Boys having crushes on other boys is briefly mentioned with advice to talk to a trusted adult if the feelings are confusing. There is mention of STD’s, sexual harassment, and sexual assault, as well as ideas for “healthy ways to be close,” ie non-sexual. The book is illustrated with a multi-cultural cast of teenagers (all stereotypically attractive, none overweight) as well as anatomy diagrams.
Review: Overall this book provides a lot of important information in a matter-of-fact and approachable way. It goes into detail about puberty and the other topics are addressed with less depth, but it is amazingly comprehensive, and touches on many important topics. As mentioned above, it even speaks to boys having crushes on other boys, though it falls a bit short in stating that a boy might have those feelings, and fairly soon after telling them to talk to a trusted adult, if they feel confused. I’m not sure that would be validating for a young boy with those feelings. I also question how realistic some of it is, though I think it’s well intentioned, as I’m not sure teenagers who really want to have sex are going to, instead, try playing “together with a new puppy,” (p. 106), which is one of the book’s suggestions. On the other hand, it certainly is a good message to send that there are other options, and that boys shouldn’t feel pressured into doing anything that does not feel comfortable to them. The text is readable for all tweens, but the subject matter, particularly the discussions around sex, make it likely more appropriate for older tweens and young teens. This would be a great one for parents to screen before giving to their child, to make sure the material is appropriate for that child’s maturity level, as they are so varied in the tween (and teen) years.
Reading/Interest Level: 12 -14 years
Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Similar Books: The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Boys, The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU, On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! A “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Boys
Subjects: puberty, boys’ bodies, human bodies, growing up, hygiene, health, nutrition, sexuality, feelings, sex
Plot: The Twits are awful people. My Twit has a disgusting spiky beard that he never washes; it is full of bits of food and other debris. Mrs. Twit is ugly, but she wasn’t always that way. Her face got uglier and uglier until eventually the ugliness of her face matched the ugliness of her thoughts. The Twits do not seem to like anyone, even each other. They spend most of their time thinking up or carrying out cruel tricks on each other. Mrs. Twit feeds Mr. Twit worms in place of spaghetti. Mr. Twit adds small bits of wood to Mrs. Twit’s walking stick every day to convince her she has a terrible case of the shrinks. The tricks go back and forth and back and forth, until the day the birds and monkeys get involved. Will the mugglewump monkeys have to spend the rest of their lives upside down, like Mr. Twit would like them to? Will the birds continue to be made in the Twits Wednesday night bird pie? Will the Twits ever get what they deserve?
Review: Roald Dahl never fails to make his stories unique and weirdly twisted. With The Twits, he did not disappoint. His gentle, melodic, and matter-of-fact writing belies the darkness of the Twits’ story, but this works to keep readers engaged and not too uncomfortable. Readers will be justifiably and satisfyingly outraged at the preposterous, mean, and warped behavior of two of Dahl’s worst characters. When the monkeys finally decide enough is enough, readers will root for them and hope they succeed in exacting revenge on these despicable people.
Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years
Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook
Subjects: tricks, misanthropy
Plot: A fictionalized biography of celebrated poet Pablo Neruda’s childhood, The Dreamer is magical and beautiful with pointillist pen and ink drawings that combine with the t4ext to create a poetic and graceful novel. Pablo Neruda was born Neftalí Reyes in Temuco, Chile. Neftalí is a dreamer. He has an active and creative imagination and often has his head in the clouds. He finds beauty in everyday things and appreciates the magnificence of the natural world around him. But Neftalí’s father doesn’t approve of Neftalí’s dreaming. His father is strict and overbearing, demanding and cruel, and Neftalí does his best to stay out of his father’s way. His father wants him to excel in school and eventually become a doctor, but school is not Neftalí’s favorite place. Neftalí is soft spoken, gentle, and slight in stature. He is sensitive and becomes involved in fighting for social justice for the indigenous Mapuche people. With his heart in writing poetry and his father’s disapproval for what he considers idleness, what is Neftalí to do? How does he become Pablo Neruda?
Review: The Dreamer is fictional story about a poet, which itself contains poetry similar to the poet’s and the illustrations depict the poet’s imagination as well as create a visual poetry themselves. This book is unique. The illustrations tell part of the story. The prose, written in third person but basically from Neftalí’s perspective, flows smoothly and draws the reader in. There is something about the act of reading the book that makes the reader part day dreamer as well. The book includes a note from the author about her inspiration for the story as well as few selected poems by Pablo Neruda.
Genre(s): Magical Realism, Fictionalized Biography, Poetry
Reading/Interest Level: 9-14 years
Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook
Subjects: Chile, poets, poetry, growing up, social justice, hopes, dreams, family, activism
Selected Awards: 2011 Pura Belpré Author Award, 2010 ALA Notable Children’s Book for Older Readers, 2010 Kirkus Best Children’s Books
On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! A “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Boys, by Lynda MadarasPosted: May 11, 2011
Content: On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! Introduces preteens to the changes that are happening or will happen throughout puberty. Chapters cover the growth of sex organs, body and facial hair, height spurts, weight and muscles, body odor and pimples, erection and ejaculation and “Becoming Your Own Self.” With straightforward, understandable information as well as some humor, Madaras takes boys through the various changes they will experience, all the while reassuring them that these changes are entirely normal and natural and that variation in responses to puberty is also completely normal. The text includes cartoon-like illustrations that further demonstrate points and/or are detailed diagrams of body parts. Illustrations represent boys from a variety of racial backgrounds. This book covers puberty from A to Z, and, in fact includes an index for quick reference to particular topics. The content is comprised of the author’s text, the illustrations, sidebars with “tips,” quotes from other boys or men about their puberty experiences, and each chapter ends with a “Questions and Answers” section. The Q&A sections addresses what one would imagine to be commonly asked questions from pre-pubescent and pubescent boys with practical, reassuring answers to each. Though this book does address erections, masturbation, ejaculation and orgasm, it does not address issues of sexual attraction or sexual activity with another person.
Review: One of the things that makes this book so appealing is the author’s obvious comfort with the subject matter. Madaras’ calm manner and matter-of-fact text puts the reader at ease, even though some of the topics could make young readers squirm in discomfort. With practical and useful facts, and a non-judgmental approach, On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! provides tween and young teens boys the information they need to navigate the confusing, potentially scary, and hopefully exciting time in their lives called puberty.
Reading/Interest Level: 9 -14 years
Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Similar Books: The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Boys, AMA Boy’s Guide to becoming a Teen: Getting Used to Life in Your Changing Body, The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU
Subjects: puberty, boys’ bodies, human bodies, growing up, hygiene, health, nutrition
www.itgetsbetter.org. Website for the It Gets Better Project. Created in 2010.
Content: “The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better. “ The founders of the project, Dan Savage and Terry Miller were alarmed by the suicide rates of LGBT youth, and wanted to send out a message of hope. One the website, viewers can find hundreds of video messages from the LGBTQ community and allies that tell young people things like: the harassment or bullying or teasing that they are experiencing will end, life will get better, there is hope for a happy future, and they are NOT alone. From every day folks and teenagers telling their coming out stories to cast members from the TV program Glee, President Obama, Joe Jonas, Ellen DeGeneres, the staffs of The Gap, Google, Facebook, Pixar, and Apple there are over 10,000 videos that send the same message in hundreds of different ways: It Gets Better. Anyone can upload an It Gets Better video, and the website also provides links and information to other organizations that can support LGBTQ youth. Specifically, there is ample information about the Trevor Project, which operates a suicide prevention hotline and website with information about how young people can get support.
Review: What an amazing idea! How sad that we continue to hear about LGBTQ youth who can’t stand the rejection/harassment/bullying and lose hope and take their own lives. The concept is simple, remind young people that life is worth living, have people who have been there tell the viewers, they are not alone, it gets better. The videos on itgetsbetter.org are moving, inspiring, motivating, and poignant. And they work; from the website: “Trevor Project sees 400% increase in requests for in-school suicide prevention kits.” Another benefit to this website is that young people can access it anonymously and in private, even if it means a trip to the library, if prying parental eyes are unwanted. It’s not often that one gets to witness and have the opportunity to participate in something that truly changes lives, the It Gets Better Project gives all of us that chance.
Genre: non-fiction, self-help
Interest Level: 10-20 years
Available in: there is also a companion It Gets Better book
Subjects: LGBTQ, sexual orientation, gender identity, bullying, harassment
President Obama It Gets Better Video:
Plot: Following along the lines of the book of the same name, eleven year old Harry Potter is living with his cruel and neglectful aunt, uncle, and cousin when he receives a letter telling him he has been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Prior to this Harry had not known he was a wizard. And, as it turns out, Harry’s famous in the wizarding world for not succumbing to an attack by the evil wizard Voldemort. Once at Hogwarts, Harry, along with his best friends, Ron and Hermoine, get enmeshed in the mystery of the sorcerer’s stone, a magical crystal with the power of immortality. With encounters with an angry troll, a three headed dog, and a baby dragon, the three friends show a great deal of resourcefulness, determination, and bravery, but danger seems to lurk around every corner. Will they be able to save the sorcerer’s stone from the evil wizard searching for it? Will they get through their first year of Hogwarts alive?
Review: Exciting and entertaining, this movie stays amazingly true to the book upon which it is based. The characters are well developed and intriguing, with a cast of talented actors. The special effects are well done, if not perfect. There is a need to suspend disbelief anyway, so why not forget they’re special effects and sit back and enjoy? The scenery is beautiful and once immersed in the magic of the movie, most viewers will not want to come back to real (I mean, muggle) life.
Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure, Family, Mystery
Viewing/Interest Level: 8+ years
Available in: DVD; Blu-ray; Wide Screen, Full Screen, and Ultimate Editions
Subjects: magic, wizardry, spells, growing up, coming of age, family, friendship
Series Information: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first movie in an eight movie series, movies two through eight are: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (to be released later in 2011)