so many books, so little time



They say a silent blog is a bad thing, and so this has been. Busy I have been, since our return, reading. Reading, in fact, twenty young adult novels as quickly as I can possibly get them finished. Preferably before the school year began, but as I have two to go, that feat was not attained, clearly.

Each year since our oldest was in seventh grade, I have had the privilege of helping to coach the junior high Battle of the Books team. Think literary Jeopardy. The kids read as many of the books off the list of twenty as they can before the battling begins. Then they meet other teams from the area and are asked questions about what they read. I don’t mean questions like “What was the theme of such and such book?” I mean questions like, “What color eyes did John Smith have?” They’ve got to know these books. And so do I to be able to coach them. After reading each one, I write up about fifty questions on it to quiz them and hope I remember the answers.

I do get some pretty curious looks reading Redwall on the train, but overall, it is a great experience. Beyond exposing me to some excellent writing and allowing me to rediscover that junior high students are a fun and interesting lot, I have learned a quite a bit from reading young adult literature. Things such as:

  • Every teenager has at least one parent who is dead or has abandoned him. Failing this, a sibling dying of cancer or a parent in jail makes an adequate substitute, but it should be understood that this is subpar. If your teenager is missing this in his or her life, someone has failed somewhere.
  • Weasels, rats, and snakes are always evil. Always. Cats are iffy. I think the weasel anti-defamation league should have something to say about this. But apparently there is little to be done about it, because it is pretty universal. Cats probably don’t resent it at all, though. Being the independent sort they are, they prefer to keep everyone guessing.
  • Fourteen-year-old boys who have never so much as hiked a half-mile or mastered the secret decoder ring inside the Lucky Charms box can defeat a team of international spies on the side of a cliff with a week of training and the right amount of determination and wisecracking attitude.
  • Cover artists do not read the books they do artwork for. If they did, they would not draw a heroine with red hair when she clearly is described with raven black tresses. Or a hero on a motorcycle when he has a gold convertible. Actually, I learned this a long time ago when my first book came out and I looked at the cover and, instead of the thrill that is supposed to run through you, I went, “The guy’s eyes aren’t supposed to be brown.” So when a kid is asked in battle, “What color is Mennoly’s hair?” and she gets it wrong, can she at least share the blame here?
  • Rural grandmothers are the best relatives to have on earth. They will do things that, if you did them, could get you arrested or ostracized, and they will take you along for the ride. When I grow up, I want to be just like Grandma Hiddle. (Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech). Huzzah.
  • The most interesting people are always drama geeks or writers. But I knew that already.

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