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OK, I Lied—But Just Because I Had to Do this One We Recommend, with update

OK, yeah, I'm out of the business, I don't do that anymore—but there's one last heist…and I'm going to need all of your incredible skills.

Here's what happened. A loved one, who is also a social worker, called with this situation. (I will condense and paraphrase.)

She works in a public elementary school where there has been a recent spate of 5th grade girl-on-girl emotional violence in the form of hacking each other's Instagram (and other social media, I imagine?) accounts, as well as emails sent that include unpleasant graphic sexual commentary. Yes, yes—this is terrible, but that's just the context.

Some of the perpetrators were caught, and brought to our friend the social worker (praise be!) to get straightened out. Conversations were had. One girl—a 5th grader, remember—is an extremely beautiful, smart, physically developed Latina. She looks, in the words of the social worker, like a gorgeous 16 year old. In the most recent meeting she wept. "No one ever talks about anything but my face and my body. The only thing the boys in the class talk about is my body. They talk about my body parts all the time."

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. All these things working together—children, rape culture, sexism, race (I have no doubt), social media, 5th grade, being a person. But for us the question is, what can we give this child to read? She feels alone, but she is not alone. 

See why I had to take this one?

My thoughts on this are varied and possibly not all that helpful. First I thought of Speak, but that is too grown up, too much acting as though what people see when they look at her is the truth.

Then I thought of going in a whole other direction with an old favorite, First Test: Protector of the Small. This is the story of the first girl who trains as a page. It is about learning your own power.

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Then I thought of—ok, don't laugh—the greatest of them all, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. Because who remembers Laura? The girl who they socially torture because she has big breasts? Whom no one will speak to? But yeah, she's not the center of the book.

OK, people, I know I'm quitting—we're all quitting!—but I need you now! Or really, this kid needs you. She needs a book to remind her that she is not alone, that she is who she thinks she is. Bonus points if you can offer her a Latinx author. Extra bonus points if you can think of a book to make the boys in her class shut up and learn something about other people's humanity.

You all remember how to do this, right? Put your ideas in the comments, social worker will look here, books will make their way to the girl—let's do this!

 

UPDATE: Chestnut strongly believes that a book should be gotten for the boys as well, the ones who are spending all their time talking about this girl's "body parts," something, perhaps, that might remind them of the humanity of others? She wants the teacher to be able to have them all read it. In a curriculum this might be hard to fit, but I do think it is an excellent idea. 

That’s All She Wrote

Blogs, like all things, must one day die. Maybe even more than most things, actually. I have really enjoyed writing here, and connecting with those of you who read the posts, emailed in requests, commented. It has been a pleasure, one that came upon me unexpectedly. But now my kids are reading Joyce (not happily, alas) and Puar (I'd never heard of her either), and I am no longer reading along with them. I still love a good children's book, and it was a privilege to delve into them here. I thank any and all of you who happen by here on your way through the wilds of the internet. Thank you for making it fun, for telling me about Terry Prachett, for posing interesting questions and offering other readers your truly amazing suggestions.

I will, as they say, just leave this here.

OMG We Still Recommend!: Adventures with One-Parent Families

It’s We Recommend! In which we post a request that's been sent to us, and do our best to get that person the right book. Know a kid who needs a book to read? Send us (thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com) his or her likes, dislikes, favorites, quirks, and any other reading information that might be helpful, and we will think on it, and pose it to our oh-so-helpful readers. And look in the comments—all the best recommendations are there.

Oh, it has been a long, long time! Books have come and gone, blogs have vanished, and I have been doing a bunch of other things, but at the back of my mind ye olde Diamond in the Window has been simmering. And then I got a real live email in my inbox, asking us to recommend a book, and I thought: yes! In this difficult and troubling world, of course I want to recommend books if I can. So let's get the old gang together and see if we can figure out a book for this reader.

Recently I’ve been bemoaning the lack of children’s books that do not fetishize the nuclear family—and I thought, I know who might be able to help!

So, brief background, recently separated from my husband.  Our son is eight.  He loves the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels, Wayside School.  He’s enjoyed a few Roald Dahl books but not enough that we’ve read them repeatedly, and he still loves picture books—Island Boy by Barbara Cooney is a favorite right now.  He likes adventure and humor and a little bit of magic, and self-sufficient kid protagonists.  I’d really love to have something wonderful to read with him that features a single parent or divorced parents or same-sex parents as something unremarkable, you know? Not a book ABOUT divorce, but a book where some kid with divorced parents has a fabulous adventure. I would so appreciate suggestions!

Now this is a challenge! It's tough—a lot of books that have one parent, but are too mature for an 8-year-old—To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance, One Hundred Spaghetti Strings,and When You Reach Me all fall under that category. So great! But maybe more for someone who is 10, or even 12? Then there are books that are just right age-wise and have a single parent, but part of the story arc is about matching that parent up again to a mate: Half-Magic by Edward Eager fits here nicely, and it is wonderful, but I am not sure that this is a message that is comfortable. The Roald Dahl books make a lot of sense, but our kid here is not loving them. So I have come up with these old school books that I think might just possibly work. Maybe. 

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Oh how I love The Magician's Nephew. Digory Kirke lives with his mother only, who is very sick (so that's a bit of a sticky situation) and his foolish terrible uncle. It's magical and wonderful and I still think about the magic rings. So—maybe. Though the sick mom thing is troubling.

And then there's this:

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I think I never knew that this was a sequel to Freaky Friday, but it didn't matter—it was great. The narrator is Annabel, but Boris, who is a major character, lives with his mom and is the hub around which the story revolves. And it's funny, and magical, and terrific.

But! I am 100% sure that there are more modern books that would be even more perfect. So, readers, if there are any of you out there still: help a family out! What should this 8-year-old read?

Sick Books

Chestnut has strep throat. This used to happen all the time. One, or both, would be sick. It would start mid-October with school and colder weather, and then intensify through the winter—colds! Flus! Ear infections! One year, when they were both small, we went something like 49 days straight with at least one person sick enough to stay home every single day.

They are not little anymore. Chestnut is 16, Diana is 18, and children's literature has been pretty much absent from our house for a long while. But when people are sick, especially when they feel very terrible, comfort is essential.

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This is what gave Chestnut comfort today. It was, as she said, an almost perfect sick book, with sentences a person could glide through, a thrilling and playful momentum. She read it after the first dose of antibiotics and before the second, and then she said, "Do we have another book like that? One that's perfect to read when you're sick? I mean, no book could be as perfect for when you're sick as Shining Through."

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That book, she believes, is the perfect book to read when you're sick: comforting and exciting and dreamy all at once. Me, I love to read Rich Men, Single Women. And I did post once on my belief that there is a book for every psychic ailment

But once she was done with Hill House, I was stuck. Somehow I couldn't think of the next one to offer—the perfect thing to get a person through until the antibiotics kick in. So I have to ask: what do you guys do?

Let’s Have Some Inappropriate Rage with The Diamond in the Window!

I got angry this summer.

And here's the thing: I got angry at someone in particular—the wonderful novelist Allegra Goodman—which is something I had no real right to do. She's going about her business, trying to write books, tell stories, do her best in a difficult world, as we all do. Maybe it's more accurate to say that I got angry at her book, The Chalk Artist.

I've enjoyed Goodman's writing for a long time. The excellent The Family Markowitz, Intuition, The Cookbook Collector—all intriguing and interesting, each in its own way. And when I saw that she had written a novel—one about a video game–addicted kid no less, something I have a powerful personal interest in—I happily threw it into my bag (after paying for it, don't worry) along with a slew of other books to bring with me on vacation. I held off from starting it even, like it was dessert.

And, probably, I hoped for some insight into video game addiction. I didn't exactly formulate this thought to myself ahead of reading. And I will freely admit this is an unreasonable wish, expectation and hope. Truly, I know it is.

Instead—and be warned that spoilers will abound from now on—I got insight into what literary people wish were true about video gamers. Long, lyrical passages of description about the world of the game, as though that's what gamers care about. Budding romances and elusive girls—ditto. And then, the stick-in-my-craw most wishful thinking part of all: he is cured by poetry. And not just reading poetry, no. A poetry-reciting competition is apparently just that much more enticing than playing immersive video games 24/7.

See, I think this is a lie. All of it. The idea that love of video games is about falling into their narratives, that a glimpse of a girl player would be interesting—none of these were true. And this romantic, wishful lie broke my heart. Because the wishful dishonesty made me realize that I had hoped for not only a great (or good, I'll take good) book, but also a clear vision into another human being. And all I got was a view into what someone wishes were true. I know what I wish were true, but art isn't supposed to show that, or if it does, it has to know when it's speaking the truth, and when it isn't. So I'm angry—I'm still angry. I left the book on the shelf in the vacation house we rented next to a fishing guide.

None of this is fair or reasonable, right? And yet, here we are.