Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

How Brave Writer Picks Books

Brave Writer

How many books do you think Dawn, our Director of Publishing, had to read to select the 35 books featured in our Dart, Arrow, Boomerang, and Slingshot programs? I’ll wait…

Did you guess 40? 55? 70? In fact, she read over 100. 

The jigsaw puzzle of selecting books is no small feat! What follows is Dawn’s outline of how we go about putting together a year of reading with your family that leads to rich learning and family closeness. Can’t wait to share our brand new book lists for 2021-2022 with you on June 1 and 2!

What’s the process of pulling the book lists together?

  • Customers recommend books or topics
  • Staff members suggest books
  • We follow publishers to keep up with what’s new
  • We keep tabs on new and popular books on GoodReads and other book-related sites

Those recommendations go into a project and we read throughout the year—yes, we are already reading for the 2022–2023 lists! 

There’s no guarantee that a book we love will even make a list. There are lots of moving parts once we start putting the books into a sequence and stand them up side-by-side. For instance, we don’t want a string of depressing story-lines or too many books in a row that feature animals as the protagonists.

As the year progresses, we look for what’s missing—holes—in the lists. We want to ensure a year of reading that feels fresh each month, not a retread of what has already been experienced. 

We also keep in mind the books we feature in our Literature Singles—books from previous years. The trick is to find the magic TEN that will make a list (FIVE, for the Slingshot). 

What does a book need to make the cut? 

  • Amazing writing is the first hurdle for a book. That’s not to say that every book on our list has the most stellar writing—sometimes a book’s popularity with kids lands it a spot which allows us to showcase mechanics in a book your kids already enjoy.
  • We look for an engaging plot or slice of life. A rip-roaring plot can pull readers along and keep them engaged, but sometimes it’s nice to slow down and appreciate the quiet moments in life. Bronze and Sunflower comes to mind—there’s a plot, of course, but the amazing aspect of that book is the level of daily life details, and, of course, the writing. It knocked our socks off! 
  • The book needs to be appropriate for the developmental level. A book might bump up to a Boomerang or down to an Arrow or Dart depending on the themes or the vocabulary.
  • We always look for party possibilities, of course! (*wink*). Some books just scream “Party with me!” (we’re looking at you, PIE!), while other books deal with heavier topics that don’t lend themselves to a “party” atmosphere. You may have noticed that some issues refer to the book club as a “gathering” rather than a “party.” It’s a slight shift, but a good distinction to make when considering the celebration of books with heavier topics. 

What are our considerations? 

  • Library of variety. Our goal in putting together our book lists is to provide a “library of variety” in two ways: genre and representation. In terms of genre, we include historical fiction, graphic novels, fantasy, poetry, and modern fiction to name a few. In terms of representation, we look for characters and authors from a wide variety of backgrounds. We are particularly attuned to the trend in publishing called Own Voices books—meaning the author is a member of the community that is the focus of the book.
  • Filling gaps in our overall Literature Singles list. In the fall of 2019, Dawn attended an Equity in Action course for librarians. The goal of the course was to learn how to audit a collection of books by surveying the standing collection and looking for gaps in representation. Our audit helped us make selections that fill those gaps. It’s a satisfying process, even if it’s a long and ongoing one here at Brave Writer.
  • Finding windows and mirrors. You may have heard that books can be both windows and mirrors. The phrase “mirrors and windows” was first introduced by Emily Style for the National SEED Project. A mirror is a story that reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity. A window is a resource that offers you a view into someone else’s experience.  Rudine Sims Bishop expanded on these concepts with the addition of sliding glass doors that allow readers to walk into a story. Then Grant Snider, a comic artist, expanded it even further: stepping stones, overcoats, anchors, springboards, escape hatches, quiet corners, warm blankets, flying carpets, and beacons for new readers.  

We are so excited to introduce you and your kids to great literature! Read along with us this year by purchasing a year-long program: Dart, Arrow, Boomerang, or Slingshot!

Brave Writer Language Arts

Selecting Books: Diversify

Selecting Books: Diversity

When selecting books to read aloud, we (at Brave Writer) follow a key principle:

Diversify

The idea is to lay a feast of ideas (ht: Charlotte Mason) before your children, to create opportunities for empathy, to help your children grow in critical thinking, to expand a child’s world, and to entertain! That too.

The goal is to offer a selection of books over a year or several years that is diverse in lots of ways. Keeping the list below handy will help you get out of ruts and habits too.

When reading gets stale or predictable, shake things up! Here’s how.

Select from these categories:

Diverse Authors

Diverse Characters

  • male and female protagonists
  • older and younger
  • varieties of worldview

Diverse Experiences

  • types of childhoods
  • historical events
  • national disasters
  • humanitarian crises
  • humorous, suspenseful, fantastical situations

Diverse Genres

  • poetry
  • prose
  • nonfiction
  • graphic novels
  • comics
  • plays
  • short stories
  • fables

This post is originally from Instagram and @juliebravewriter is my account there so come follow along for more conversations like this one!


Arrows and Boomerangs

Books for Summertime

We LOVE a good book list here at Brave Writer! Check these fun books out from your local library, or head to the bookstore, and get your kiddos in the summery spirit.


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Brave Writer receives compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you!]


Summer Books for Kids

Caveat: We are familiar with a number of these titles but have not vetted them all (relying on trusted sources like Here Wee Read and others for some of the suggestions). So please remember that you’re the parent. Certain titles, especially for teens, may contain mature themes and strong language. If you have doubts about the content of a particular book, check the reviews of it or read it for yourself first.

Also, some of the titles have an accompanying Arrow or Boomerang, Brave Writer’s mechanics and literature programs, and we’ve linked to them in the lists below.

LITTLES

MIDDLERS

TEENS


Brave Writer Arrow and Boomerang Programs

Question: Why do students have to study literature?

Library booksImage by CCAC North Library

My response: The study of literature is intended to give students a lens into the ideas and stories that shape society (present and past) as well as to expose them to the complexity of human development, through time. All sorts of fiction genres create scaffolding for philosophies, ideologies, the politics of relationships, the exploration of the logical end of imagined scenarios, the psychology behind particular actions and events, and more. Literature also exposes students to uses of language not available in non-fiction, and creates a series of cultural touchstones for shared understanding that transcend mere fact.

In short, literature provides an avenue of expanded imagination and language for the sake of both appreciating beauty and human depths, while sharing the experience with other readers (creating a kind of connection and community through shared story). We consider the reading of literature to be one of the ways we create societal cohesion!

Now onto the real question: do they HAVE to study it?

Kids don’t have to study lit any more than they have to study trigonometry or post-modernism or physics or sculpture. Some exposure to literature is valuable just like some exposure to advanced math and science has value. But for kids who are not enamored with literature, keep it to a minimum just like you would if you were raising an actress who never imagined using the quadratic equation in her future but who wanted to go to college and so needed to take Algebra 2.

Make it as painless as possible. Select works of fiction that are more easily accessible (popular story lines with fast-aced writing). Learn how to identify themes, imagery, plot arc, and characterization. Appreciate the use of language (note what sort it is, examine why it works or doesn’t). Learn to write one literary analysis essay in high school so when it happens in Freshman English in college, it won’t be your child’s first attempt.

Cross-posted on facebook.

The professor-archetype

Portrait of Professor Benjamin H RandHave you ever noticed that in some children’s literature, a professorial type male character is often included as a father-like figure to a gaggle of kids? He might even be the father.

This man is usually interesting to the reader because he seems oblivious to typical parental worries—he doesn’t throw up red flags of caution when the children experiment with dangerous tools, contraptions, or potions. He is unworried by their retellings of journeys into magical worlds or forests. He is non-plussed by their cheeky philosophy or their impolitely expressed opinions. He often accepts their fantastical tales with aplomb, barely registering alarm when they return from adventures riddled with danger, and shows a surprising capacity to believe the stories at face value.

This man-character doesn’t lecture children and sometimes, infuriatingly, doesn’t even give advice or warnings when they seem most merited. He, himself, might be engaged in his own mysterious doings and ponderings, which leave the children bewildered and impressed.

I think of characters like Professor Dumbledore (Harry Potter), Professor Kirke (Chronicles of Narnia), Professor Martin Penderwick (professor of botany, The Penderwicks), Merlin (The Sword and the Stone), Wayne Szalinski (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings series) and even the benign homesteading pioneer, Pa Ingalls (Little House series).

This archetype is an intriguing figure. Children gravitate to these men and I’ve been curious about why. I have a few hunches. It seems to me that children crave the experience of being taken seriously. They want their words to be weighed by adults and then found to be full of truth, sincerity, and importance. Even if children’s ideas or experiences could be explained away by an adult’s greater worldliness, children still hope to find in the adult they respect, an appreciation for the way they know the world so far.

These professor-like men uniformly respect a child’s grasp of the world they live in and they are appropriately engaged in their own battles and explorations so as not to be overly impressed by the children’s, either. These men’s lives are independent of whether or not the kids turn out, survive, or discover the same truths the professor-types take for granted.

Additionally, the professor-archetype believes he doesn’t know everything and is open to learning from any source, including the naive experiences of kids. This openness registers deeply with readers. It gives child-readers hope that the thoughts and feelings they have about the life they are living can find a kind, sympathetic, or at minimum, respectful audience in the adults they love and trust.

When I get worked up (wanting to cover all the bases, trying to protect my children from danger – even my adult children!, lecturing them from the vast-expanse of my more abundant failures and successes, disbelieving their reports because they don’t match what I’ve known to be true), I sometimes envision Professor Kirke and his wave-of-the-hand type attitude. He couldn’t be bothered explaining away Lucy’s experience of Narnia. If she reported it and she was trustworthy and we admit that there are things in the universe we do not yet know, there must be truth in Lucy’s report. End of story.

A profound respect for the truthfulness of children. Impressive.

When faced with my children’s inexperience and their youthful impulses, I have to resist the temptation to be a stodgy, know-it-all adult who fails to see magic and opportunity in a child’s point of view. I have to sometimes sit on my hands (which tend to do all the talking, lecturing, and waving) and let the perspective “ride”—let it run its course or express itself without restraint to hear the full-bodied nature of what it wants to say. I have to make room for what makes me uncomfortable.

I’m learning how to let risk be a part of a child’s (or young adult’s) exploration. I’m trying to hang back, talk less, and listen more. I want to be open, quieter, more curious, less case-closed.

I want to relate to my kids, believing that life is a better teacher than a lecture.

I want to respect their experiences without being a busybody about them.

It’s funny. This professor-archetype character is so popular with kids. They just love the surprise of an authority figure who would treat children as peers and invite them into real danger trusting them to their competencies, heart (valor), and goodwill—at least on the level of how they express their participation in the world around them, and how they understand their part in it.

These men (and women) make good role models for us. Don’t you think? Who are your favorite adults in children’s (or any) literature? What have you learned from them? I’m curious.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image Portrait of Professor Benjamin H Rand by Thomas Eakins (1874)