Everyone dies; adults versus kids on literature

I recently read this review of See You at Harry’s the most recent book by children’s and YA author Jo Knowles. The review was written by Claire Messud, author of the Emperor’s Children -which is decidedly not a children’s book. In the review Messud compares her reaction with that of her 10 year old daughter.

While Messud felt that some of the more traumatic moments of the story were quickly glossed over, her daughter was relieved to get over the sad parts and get back to the story.

This reminded me of my own 8th grade students who like to point out that someone dies in every book we read as a whole-class novel. “Well,” I said casually, “In life there is death.” Or something equally irritating and all-knowing. But I forget that for your average middle school student life is about life, not death. For many of them middle school might be the time at which they first realize that life and death are inextricably intertwined. It can be kind of a shocker.

Literature serves a different purpose in each person’s life regardless of age; entertainment, education, distraction, enlightenment, or sheer boredom. Every year I meet kids who assure me that despite my best efforts, they will never meet a book they really like. (Many of those kids lost their bet to the Hunger Games.) Fiction is, like any art, judged subjectively. I can’t tell you how many times I read something and recommend it to students only to have them tell me it was “okay”, or “a little boring.”

So I applaud Claire Messud for taking the space in her review to compare her own judgments with that of the book’s intended audience. The majority of book reviews of YA and children’s lit. are written by adults. And a lot of adults seem to think they know what’s best for children and teenagers to read. The voice of a 10 year old in the NY Times book review was a refreshing change.

Random musings, School

What I’m Grateful For…

It’s the first day of my summer vacation and as the G-ds would have it I have a nasty head cold. I would not have even gone to work yesterday if it were not the last day of school. So apologies right now if I wrote something unintelligible or profane in your yearbook kids.

I am grateful for this beautiful sunny day even if I can’t enjoy it the way I might like to. I did go outside to wash my sandals! I am grateful for daycare which means the wee one doesn’t have to put up with my snuffling and general grumpiness.

But I am especially grateful for my students. I read this article this morning in which teachers were interviewed about why they think kids drop out. And teachers, I must say, are an optimistic bunch in general. At the end of the article they were each asked what it is that keeps them going.  They all attributed their positive and hopeful attitudes to their kids and their love of teaching kids. Teaching is all about connections. If you can’t connect with someone why on earth would they want to listen to what you have to say? (I could probably go on about that ad nauseum)

It’s pretty traditional for kids to get my end of the year gifts and while these are always appreciated, my favorite part are the cards. Getting a middle school student to sit down (even if forced by parents) and write you a note of appreciation is a minor miracle. So I’m especially grateful for any words of appreciation and feedback that come from my students. By the by, my cards usually say things like “You are weird and funny.” Comments that might have upset me when I was actually in middle school now make me beam with pride.

So maybe the final thing I’m grateful for is perspective. Perspective allows me to remember that this head cold will not last forever and there will be plenty of days to enjoy the sunshine. Perspective allows me to create meaningful connections with my students but also to understand that it is right and natural that they move on and so do I.  When I’m doing my best at keeping things in perspective I can enjoy all the wonderful parts of my existence without feeling anxious about what may come, or not come. So I’m grateful for those moments too. Dayenu!



Do you like what you’re writing?

My husband meant it conversationally. He had no idea what a huge loaded writing question it was. It’s really hard to like something while you’re drafting. It’s much easier to convince yourself (at least for me) that it sucks and will always suck.

My Dad gave me this writing mantra which I try and remind myself of frequently; “I will not hate what I write.” I use it to remind myself that you can’t and shouldn’t judge what you’re writing -particularly not when writing a first draft. Other phases of the process do call for judgment and editing, but not first drafts.

Also, any kind of positive answer to the question feels like I might be jinxing myself. Like if I say yes, than I’ll never write another decent word. So when I say yes, I say it in the tiniest most secretly brave piglet of ways.

So what do I like about what I’m writing right now? I like certain characters. I like moments, I like certain scenes. In particular this one scene I wrote recently where a teenage girl falls on the boy she likes, knocking the wind out of him just when he’s about to kiss her for the first time.

What do you like about what you’re writing? (Answer if you dare!)