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NPR’s 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels

August 11, 2012

NPR recently posted a list of the “Best Ever Teen Novels”, and people have apparently been questioning the list enough that they posted again to explain why books like A Wrinkle in TimeA Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Ender’s Game weren’t on the list, although people apparently voted for them. I personally think these books should have been included on the list, despite the panel’s reasoning.

The problem with the list, and also with the panel’s reasoning, is that the distinctions between “teen novels,” “children’s books,” “YA novels,” and particularly “middle grade,” is different for professionals in the publishing industry than the average reader.

The publishing industry categorizes books into smaller categories for marketing reasons, and some of these categories, like middle grade, were somewhat recently formed. For example, Judy Blume didn’t write Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret for “middle-grade readers,” because that category didn’t exist when she wrote it – only children’s book. Today it’s put in that market.

People outside of the publishing industry, however, have no idea what the term “middle grade” means, or how it’s distinguished from “YA” at all, because it frankly only matters to marketers. So readers suggested books that they read as teens like A Wrinkle in Time, which I suppose is considered middle-grade, or Pride and Prejudice, which is an adult novel, and the panel cut them out of the list. This is one of the reasons the list is skewed towards newer YA novels, some of which were published as short as eight months ago: they are clearly in the YA category because they were written for and marketed in that category.

My opinion is this: in compiling a list of people’s favorite teen novels, the panel should have been more open in their definition of what a “teen novel” is. If people read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in their teens and voted for it, and it got enough votes to have placed it in the top 100, it should have been included. The lines between middle grade, teen and adult are too blurred to be excluding reader’s favorite books just because of a panel’s judgment. And, just as a side rant, I don’t get how The Giver, which is squarely in the 8 and up category, won a Newberry award, and was taught in my school to sixth graders (ie 11 year olds), makes this list.

Another interesting lens with which to view this debate is censorship. Obviously this list isn’t banning any books and NPR isn’t really censoring anything by not including a book on this list. But it’s very interesting to me that the panel said A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was an adult book because it had the “adult themes” of a parent dealing with alcoholism and one scene of assault and attempted rape, but probably about half of the books that made the list explore one of these two issues, including Speak which is an entire book about an actual rape. The panel could have made the argument that Brooklyn approaches its coming-of-age story from an adult perspective (which is a reason why coming-of-age novel Prep isn’t considered YA), I would understand that argument, even if I don’t agree with it. But to exclude a book for its content, especially when the book is considered a classic teen story in the literary cannon, doesn’t make much sense.


Mister Rogers Remixed

June 11, 2012

If you haven’t seen this video yet, you need to watch it right now.

{Sorry, the link is broken! Hope you caught it when you could}

This video is (strangely, interestingly) working on two levels. One as a sort of trippy re-imagining of a Mister Rogers’ song and his life philosophy that is rather hilarious. But at the same time, his words and message, and most importantly, his authenticity, still come to the foreground and ring true. Adults might watch this video  just for a laugh, but I think they will end up being touched by his remarkable honesty and heart. I know I was. What a wonderful man.

Thanks Carnegie Hall!

May 25, 2012

Remember when I went to Carnegie Hall to see a show about the music of Jim Henson’s films?  I recently got a tubular piece of mail from Carnegie Hall, with letter inside that read: “We’re glad you liked your first trip to Carnegie Hall and we thought you might like this AUTOGRAPHED POSTER.”*

I responded, “Yes I would!” And I promptly got it framed.













Thanks again Adrienne at C.H. and everyone who signed the poster! You have no idea how excited I am!



*emphasis added by me

Officially a Ravenclaw!

May 22, 2012

The best House of all.

If you are a Harry Potter fan (and who isn’t, really?) then you need to sign on to ASAP. I’m dead serious.

The site itself is a little hard to describe. First of all, it guides users through each of the books with a page dedicated to every chapter. (Right now, only the first book is available. The other books are still closed, much to the frustration of the people currently on the site. I suspect they are still figuring out what the other books will contain – there are “like” buttons and feedback options on most pages, and perhaps that’s how they’re gauging what activities people are responding to). There are hidden things to find (good luck with the Philosopher’s Stone which I looked for FOR 20 MINUTES. Hint: It’s where it is, but maybe not where you think it might be. That’s not a good hint at all.)

As you go through the book, you are initiated into Hogwarts just as the students are: you get a personal wand, you get sorted by the Sorting Hat, and you learn to make potions (or struggle to, as the case may be). You can earn house points by dueling with other users, some of whom are EXTREMELY good at clicking a mouse.

The chance to get sorted is definitely the most appealing thing the website has to offer. Some questions are rather deep, and some seem extremely random. For example, while I was choosing one of seven options for the most depressing thing a person could experience, my sister was picking heads or tails in a coin toss. Yes, every test has varying questions. So interesting!

I, as you might have guessed, was sorted into Ravenclaw, which interestingly was the House that I always most identified with. Despite other online quizzes putting my sister into Hufflepuff, I always knew she was Gryffindor, and she was sorted accordingly. Go get sorted and let’s debate about the placement!

You Are What You Read

May 15, 2012

Two nights ago I saw John Irving speak at the 92nd Street Y. He is my absolute favorite (adult book) author, with A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Cider House Rules clocking in at my most favorite and second favorite book, respectively.

He had a lot of interesting things to say, especially about Owen Meany, who was based on an actual child he knew and used to abuse in school (though this kid probably turned out to be of average height). One comment I found particularly interesting was that he said it was bad advice for writers to “write what you know” because that would be journalistic and boring, and writers should challenge themselves to learn about a topic they want to write about. This was after describing scenes from his own life that made it into Owen Meany and adolescent feelings that influenced his most recent novel. I would define that as “writing what you know” but John Irving apparently doesn’t. I’d love to have a chat with him about this!

I also wanted to post about how influential The Cider House Rules was on my personality and growth, and interestingly, Scholastic posted this blurb about a recent study that showed just how influential fiction can be on readers. Are you what you read?, the article asks. There’s also a link to an online book community  where you can find “friends” by matching the five books that have most impacted your life (I joined immediately).

Before I read The Cider House Rules, I was a 14 year old who thought I knew everything and was very set in my opinions, and wasn’t afraid to share them with people (aka steamroll them with “debates”).* The Cider House Rules taught me about moral ambiguity, and made me see that everyone’s opinions are based on their own experiences, and those experiences might have something to teach me if I was open to them. Since reading that book, I have grown into someone who is less judgmental and more open, and hopefully someone who bases viewpoints on reason and considers all sides of a story.

Though my experience is really specific to one book, I think that all readers can pick a couple of books that have changed their lives. What are yours? And if you are a writer, who might pick your book as the one who has influenced them?

* Even as I write this, I’m imagining an older me, maybe a 72 year old me, laughing at the 26 year old me describing the 14 year old me as “thinking I knew everything.” Maybe the 72 year old me WILL know everything.

Joan Ganz Cooney Event

May 3, 2012

Last night I went to an event at The Museum of the Moving Image (one of my favorite museums in the city). I got horribly lost getting off of the subway, which was incredibly depressing considering I was in my own borough, even on my own street (though still about 25 blocks away from my house). But once I found the place, I was thrilled to sit in on An Evening with Joan Ganz Cooney, founder of the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) which, of course, developed Sesame Street.

Cooney had a lot of interesting things to say about developing Sesame Street, particularly how tied it was to that time period. It’s really amazing to me that something that was so “of the moment” in the late 60s could still be relevant today. Of course, I know how much work goes into the research and development of Sesame Street, so looking at it from that angle it’s not surprising. But it’s longevity is incredibly impressive, and to me it speaks to both the legacy of Jim Henson that has inspired countless young people who are now adults (like me), and the strong research model set up by Cooney that is copied by every other educational television program. She also told a story about how she thought Jim Henson was a rebellious hippy when he showed up at an early conference about Sesame Street (this judgement was on his looks only – after another producer explained who he was, they became fast friends!)

I’m super impressed with the quality of exhibits and programming the Museum of the Moving Image has to offer. I hope they keep expanding!

Jim Henson’s Musical World!

April 17, 2012

Last Saturday I went to an awesome concert: Jim Henson’s Musical World. First of all, it was my first time ever at Carnegie Hall (sad, I know). Second, John Tartaglia, one of my favorite performers in the whole world, was the host. Third, Statler and Waldorf appeared in the balcony just as my boyfriend and I hoped they would!

The concert featured the New York Pops orchestra, as well as Essential Voices USA singing backup, and of course, a slew of Muppet performers. The Big Three (Muppets, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock) were all well-represented, and all of the human inhabitants of Sesame Street performed as well.

Confession (not about me though): My boyfriend is obsessed with a little-known Jim Henson Christmas special, Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas. It’s not only little-known, it’s actually older than we are. I was wondering if they would play anything from it (especially after they played “Pass It On” from my favorite little-known Jim Henson Christmas Special, Muppet Family Christmas). Amazingly, Paul Williams, who wrote many songs for Henson productions including The Muppet Movie, sang a medley of songs from Emmet Otter! My boyfriend and I cheered with excitement as the kids around us asked their parents if it was time for intermission yet (there wasn’t one).

The concert was part of their children’s series, but I think it might have been better marketed to people in their 20s and 30s, because I had a total blast!

Jim Henson's Musical World