Wednesday, May 30, 2012

So... Pokemon...

It got super popular right at the same time that my age group hit the "we have to be cool and grown up now" stage, so no one I knew was ever into it. I didn't actually know what Pokemon was all about, until last week.

Here follows the conversation that took place:

Me: So, what is Pokemon even about. I never really knew.
Coworker: Well, there are all these little monsters called pokemon. You pick one out and train it to fight against other pokemons.
Me: What? Like gladiators?
Coworker: Kind of. I guess so.
Me: And kids were allowed to watch this show?

Today I saw another pokemon book on the shelf. The pokemons were all cutsie and big-eyed, and a little over-the-top precious.

So right now I'm just sitting here wondering why it's okay to have a show/video game where you choose precious, adorable critters, train them for battle, and then send them into gladiator arenas to fight against each other, thus turning them from this >

To this  <  (Which is still darn cute, but obviously battle-hardened.)

And people complain about the Hunger Games.

So, yeah. This post isn't really about anything. I was just shocked. Taken by surprise is all. Carry on.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Open Letter to Scott Westerfeld

Dear Scott,

I hope you know that I blame you entirely. Your offense? Puppet-mastering my emotions.

Leviathan was good. Behemoth was barking insane. And Goliath had me violently pounding my head into my pillow and curled up in a fetal position clear to the last chapter.

When birds start chirping outside your bedroom window, that's usually a sign that you've read for too long. I tried to stop. I did. But I was utterly helpless. Completely.Totally. Absolutely.

6:50 am, Scott. 6:50.

Perhaps you should include a warning:

Caution: contents may induce obsession and severe anxiety. 

For crying out loud, I've been thinking in a Scottish accent for a week. And saying things like "Barking spiders!"

All I can say is that I am everlastingly grateful that the trilogy is already finished. If I had read Behemoth and then had to wait, I'd probably be stalking your house. Preferably with a storm walker or a fighting bear, but a shotgun would do just fine if worse came to worse.

In other words, well done, man. Well. Done.


Reader-whose-life-can-finally-return-to-normal (Maybe)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Apparently Kids Don't Read Anymore.

Reading should be like this


and this

and this

But apparently it's not. Kids don't even read anymore. 

It's the most depressing thing I've ever heard. I'd like say it's not true, but the evidence is everywhere.

This will be my third summer at the library. I used to hear horror stories about summer reading time. Tables up, carts full, books coming in every which way, and nothing we could do to keep up. In just the two years that I've worked there, I've seen it drop to practically nothing. Summer was barely busier than any other time of year.

Circ numbers are dropping like crazy. The books are going out less and less in the kid's department. It's just sad.

We could blame any number of things. New e-reader technology. Education cuts. Too much tv. ADD.

I won't say that those things don't have an effect, but I didn't learn to read at school. I didn't start loving books because of Goodnight Moon at kindergarten. I learned that stuff from my mom.

 (Gotta love the 80's)

The mom who has wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling book shelves in the bedroom. The one who kept the complete collection of Charles Dickens for herself when our family got it as a present. The one who read The Chronicles of Narnia to us as bedtime stories. The one who devours a 300 page book like it's just a snack. Bring on The Count of Monte Cristo.

(Which, by the way, is fantastic. Really, really, really long, but good.)

Reading was so much a part of our growing up that I learned to read before my long term memory kicked in. I don't even remember not being able to read. More than that, I don't even remember not being able to read full length novels. (My very earliest memory of reading on my own was 101 Dalmatians. Not the disney picture book. The actual Dodie Smith novel.)

In third grade, I already had a post-high-school reading level. And no, it's not because I'm smarter than everyone else. My IQ isn't drastically above average. My high school GPA was 3.56. My college GPA was 3.01. I got a D once in my AP literature class.

No, my reading level was high, because reading was important in our family. And just like with everything else ever, practice is the only way to get better.

You've probably caught on by now. Yes, I am blaming parents for this dramatic downfall. Like I said, other things can come into play too, but by and large, what the parents do with reading affects everything else. (Read this article by Mem Fox. It's a little long, but there are several good stories about parents and learning to read.)

When you work at a library, you overhear a lot of really random stuff. Some of it's funny. Some is creepy. Some is just sad. And some makes you angry.

(These are true stories.)

Story #1:

A mom with a 7-10 year old son comes into the kids section. They ask the librarian for a few suggestions. The kid doesn't like reading. He does like this hobby, that hobby, and this other subject. What can we find for him?

The librarian takes them on a brief tour. (Btw, the kid's librarians at Provo know everything. Seriously. Get them to take you on the give-me-suggestions-to-read tour. It's pretty impressive.) She suggests a few things, and then leaves them on their own to browse.

Mom: What about this book? It looks interesting. 

Kid: No. *Wanders away down the aisle looking bored.*

Mom: Oh, here's one. It has sports in it. 

Kid: *shrugs*

Mom: We are picking out a book for you. Get over here and choose something. 

Kid: *trudges behind mom starting to look desperate for a chance to escape.*

Mom: Come on. Help me pick something for you. 

Kid: Mom, I want to read Harry Potter. 

Mom: No. It's too hard for you. What about this book?

Did you see what just happened? Did you see what SERIOUSLY just happened?

Kid hates reading. Kid doesn't want to read anything. Doesn't even want to be at the library. Kid says "I want to read Harry Potter."

And the mom says no.

Ways that this mother has just made reading even harder for her son:

A) Library time for this family was obviously a boring, stressful, fine-let's-get-it-over-with chore. Neither of them wanted to be there. As Mem Fox points out so well, when reading time becomes a chore, nothing happens.

B) Micro-managing. I realize that this has to be done to a certain degree. But there are times when it is extremely inappropriate. And this is one of them.

Maybe he doesn't have a very high reading level, but if he WANTS to read it, you're already past the hardest barrier.  I don't care if it was Sun Tzu's Art of War. Let the kid read the frigging book.

C) Quality time. Is there a problem with helping him read? Is there any reason on this green earth why you can not be bothered to sit with him and help him on the hard parts? It's clear that the mom doesn't care about reading much more than her son does. She wants him to read, but she's not willing to sit down and help him with it?

D) "You think you can do these things, but you just can't, Nemo!" Did we learn nothing from Pixar? Or do we still think that running our kids down is a good thing?

 Every time you tell a child "you can't", it sticks with them forever. There are still things that I feel like I can't do, because someone told me that I was terrible at them when I was little. And the weird part is that I'm actually pretty good at those things.

Story #2:

Mom and two toddler age kids walk through the picture books. 2-year-old picks up a book and looks at it. 

Mom: No! No, No. Don't look at any books until mommy sees them. Mommy has to check them first.

What did she do to destroy her kids' future reading?

A) I understand some censoring. You don't want your toddler to pick up erotica. But this is the picture book shelf at Provo City. It does not get any safer than that. Anywhere. And when it is safe, you HAVE to let your kids express their interests, opinions, and preferences.

If not, the only things that these kids will ever read are the ones handed to them by other people. They will never choose things for themselves, and they will almost certainly never enjoy it. It's human nature to hate the books we're forced to read. Even I did, and I'm a read-a-holic.

B) See D in the previous story. Just think about the effect of hearing "no" every time you touch a library book.

Story #3:

Mom with two sons and a daughter are in the library. 

Mom: Okay (daughter), do you have your 2 books? (Son 1)?

Son 2: I only have one, mommy.

Mom: Okay, find one more. 

Daughter: Ooh,  mommy, what about this one? Can we get this one, please?

Mom: You already have two.

Daughter: But please, mommy. It has princesses on it. 

Mom: No. You can only get two. If you want that one, you'll have to put one of your others back.

Son 2: Mommy, I like both of these.

Mom: No. You can't have 3. Two books only. Pick one of those, unless you want to put your other one back. 

(This went on for some time.)

The main problem here?

A) We don't have a 2 book limit. We don't even have a 6 book limit or a 12 book limit. The only limit we do have is on dvd's Therefore, this 2 book limit was entirely self-inflicted.

Do you know how much time, energy, stress, and family harmony could be saved by not worrying so dang much about whether it's 2 books or 3?

B) At any rate, how long will 2 pictures books last? All of 10 minutes. Maybe 20 if they're by Dr. Seuss.

Forcing your children to only take two picture books is limiting your child's reading time to a mere .2% of their week. I can't think of a better way to subconsciously reinforce that reading isn't important.

Give me one reason that could possibly be good enough to inflict reason B upon your children. Makes it easier on the mother to keep track of only 2 per kid? Fine. You can play it that way. But when your kids can't read their own high school diploma, just remember that you sacrificed their reading level for your personal convenience.

There are so many more stories I could tell. I've heard it all. But they really just come down to the same few things:

1) Parents keep making library time a chore and a stress-inducer.
2) Parents aren't letting their children have enough room to even enjoy reading.
3) Parents don't care about reading themselves, and yet they expect their kids to start.
4) You just can't, Nemo.

So what do we do about it?

Every library worker that I've asked has told a similar story to my own. They love libraries, and love working at one because of the fond memories of when they were kids.

When we were little, we got excited to go to the library. We had our own cards, and got to check stuff out for ourselves. We went to our favorite sections, and checked books out by the stack. The librarians always had to ask if we needed bags to carry everything out in. And we always did.

When we were little, our moms didn't hover over us, making sure that we checked out a certain number of non-fictions along with our novels. They didn't have to, because without the pressure, we checked out non-fiction in scores.

They didn't follow us around telling us that we had too many books, or that the ones we picked weren't in the reading level that school told us we should be in. They never told us that we could only read 2 books per week, or that they wouldn't help us read the harder stuff.

Our moms didn't do any of that because they were off in their own sections, checking out their own stacks of books, and needing their own grocery bags to carry them.

(Sometimes I can't even handle how cute I was.) I was 16 months old in this picture. I just opened all my Christmas presents, and what was the first thing I did? Sit down with one (the bear) to enjoy another (a book.) See what I mean about warm-fuzzy reading memories?

If you're not a reader, it can have a strong, negative impact on your kids, and you might not even know why. I guess it's one of those things that's really hard to understand unless you've experienced it yourself. I have. And I've also seen it every single day at the library. So trust me on this one.

If you're not a reader, and you can't figure out why your kid hates reading so much, take a look at those examples and see if you're doing any of those things.

To Do Tips: Just do the opposite of those up above.

1) Make library/reading time fun, cozy, comfortable, exciting, etc. If you're stressed about it, your kids will be too.

2) Yes, make sure they aren't getting inappropriate things, and yes, make sure they're occasionally getting stuff that challenges them to become better, but in general, let your kids choose what they want to read. Wanting to read something has a HUGE impact on how enjoyable it is.

3) You don't have to play it fake, and pretend to be a huge reader if you're not. But take time out for them. Help them with words. Read with them. Let them see by your actions that it's important, and not just by you yelling at them over it. Remember, it's their future. Will you sacrifice that for your own personal (and temporary) convenience?

4) Never, ever, ever tell a kid "You can't do that." Even if it's beyond their reading level. Just don't do it. Ever. You could say "that might be hard for you" or "I'll have to help you with that one" or "I'm not sure you'll like that one very much" or "Okay, but let's also get something you can read on your own." There are so many choices that don't involve destroying a child's confidence.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I Need You To Know This

Dear everyone,

I realized today that some people might think I am a constant complainer/whiner-baby.  I'm sorry. I know that I do whine an awful lot. I just wanted to make sure that you know a few things:

A) I have a constant compulsion to express everything that comes into my head. When you are inundated by blog posts, texts, stati, or my mouth running at 70mph, that's why. (Hence this post.) Keeping stuff to myself just does not ever happen UNLESS

B) It's super important. I can't explain it, but when something reaches a certain level of serious, the portcullis falls and you've got to be Fezzick to get through it. I only tell people vital things when I trust them more than implicitly.

Things of this type include (but are not limited to)

  • My deepest ambitions in life. I don't have many, but I hoard them like vintage superman comics. Thou shalt not touch. 
  • Fears. I'm totally open about some of the weird stuff that I'm afraid of. But I never tell people when I'm in the process of being honestly afraid. Ever. 
  • Future prospects
  • Serious pain, physical and emotional. Again, doesn't happen often. Sometimes I need people to know I'm tough, so I mention how my knee was hurting all day. But if it was hurting that badly,  I wouldn't say anything.

Like I said, I don't know why I have trouble sharing stuff like that. But I do. Though I imagine it may have something to do with C.

C) I believe very strongly in bravery and courage, especially in hard times.

(And yet, for some unfathomable reason, I was incredibly shocked to be sorted into Gryffindor on Pottermore. *shrug*)

THE most inexcusable crime that a book character can commit in my eyes is to be weak. (I don't mean physically.) When they choose what is easy instead of what is right. Example: Peter Pettigrew. I despise him so much. Flames. On the side of my face.

So yeah, I can't handle that absence of inner strength. And when something is both serious and super tough, again with the portcullis. I think I have a fear of showing weakness. Of not having that kind of inner-fortitude that I require in everyone else.

I guess I feel like complaining about serious things is a sign of the aforementioned cowardice.

I know that's not necessarily a healthy perspective, but it's gotten me through thus far.

All I'm really trying to say is, unless I tell you otherwise, it's a GOOD sign, when I'm whining and complaining all the live-long day. It means that everything is completely okay in my life, and all I can find to complain about are silly, stupid things like sore feet. Things that I don't even mind people knowing about.

Take it as my weirdo way of letting everyone know that all is well.

But if I ever get brooding and shifty-eyed, that's when you might want to find out what's going on.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Open Letter to Random-Dude

Dear Random Dude who commented on a blog,

It was a post about the Hunger Games. More specifically, a post about why the Hunger Games shouldn't be read/watched so widely, and how it is damaging to kids. You briefly stated your agreement.

I admit that the Hunger Games is also just a dang good story. And perhaps too many people watch/read it without realizing just how bloodthirsty we've gotten in our entertainment choices.

But I still disagree with your comment. You might not even remember doing it. It may have been no big deal to you. But it was a big deal to me.


There were several points made, which I disagree with (and have discussed in another post-in-progress). Some of them made me mad. It's ignorance at its finest.

But yours didn't make me angry. It made me sad. Sad for our society. Sad for humanity. Sad because it makes me wonder where all our courage has gone.

I do realize that we're all different. We have different tastes and different levels of sensitivity. And if you don't like the movie or the book because of those things, I can't blame you. I won't judge you. Unfortunately, I can't help but interpret your comment to mean something else.

"Saw it with my brother. Didn't like the feelings it left me with at the end."

I almost understand. No one should like watching kids die in a gladiator arena. But this is a different kind of bad feeling than a slasher flick or The Exorcist.

Suzanne Collins didn't kill 22 teenagers in a brutal combat-to-the-death because she thought it would be great entertainment. And she didn't do it because she has a savage thirst for blood.

It's supposed to make us feel awkward. It's supposed to make us squirm. Only when something tosses us out of our comfort zone, do we really pay attention to the message behind it.

That bad feeling you got was there to remind you that we are all flawed. That we could all do a little better. And you know what they say: It's the guilty who take the truth hardest. In this instance, we're all guilty to some extent.

You felt it. You squirmed, just like you were supposed to. But that's where you stopped.

"Suffice it to say I read the plot of the other two books on wikipedia to satisfy my writerly curiousity about what happens next and also so that I didn't have to watch movies 2 and 3 when the eventually come out. I have enough emotional baggage without putting myself through two more of these stories. I haven't read the books and don't plan to."

You didn't like what you saw. You ran away, squealing about how it made you feel bad. You couldn't deal with a little discomfort, so you hid from it. You are a coward.

Not a coward because you can't handle death. Or because you can't handle blood. Or even because a teenage battle-to-the-death disgusts you. Anyone with an ounce of humanity would feel the same way.

But I say coward because you can't handle the truth.

See, I read it too. Watched it. Felt just as sad when innocent people died. Jumped, grabbed my knees, clutched the armrest, and even cried a little.

Then I realized exactly what it meant. That our society is not all that far from the brutality of the capital. That there is potential for good and bad in humanity. That some truly evil things have happened in the past, and could happen again.

The overwhelming horror struck me too. (see here) And I could have reacted in the same way. Sprinting out of the theatre with my tail between my legs, whimpering about how bad I feel.

But I didn't.

When I felt that horror, I also felt inspired. I was brave enough to accept that I am very flawed. I was brave enough to realize that I take things for granted, and watch people suffer without feeling anything. And I was brave enough to realize that I need to change.

I know I'm not very good at it. I still look away far too often. But at least I had the guts to accept that about myself and try to act against it. I had that one moment where I let the difficult stuff make me stronger.

Humans don't like to be told that we're not perfect. That's why the poignancy feels so uncomfortable. But only cowards revile and rebel and lash out against honest, helpful criticism.

It is not bravery to blind ourselves to our faults. It is not courage to run away from truth. Real courage is facing down our weaknesses, no matter how painful it is.

I don't know you. And I don't even know if I interpreted your words correctly. I'll probably never know. You may never read this. But here's hoping that a few more people will find their own courage when confronted with unpleasant truths. Here's to a few more wise artists giving the world a chance to see them. Here's to changing the world.