Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
School may be out, but the season of summer reading is in full swing. Whether your kids are reluctant readers or literature lovers, we’ve got suggestions for series, picture books and novels the whole family can read together at the beach or in the backyard hammock. See our book suggestions.
- Monica Hesse writer, Washington Post Style Section; author, 'Stray'
- Edie Ching Lecturer, College of Information Science at The University of Maryland; member, ALA Notables Childrens' Book Committee; reviewer, Booklist
Book Suggestions For Children And Young Adults
Monica Hesse’s Picks
For Middle Graders
For 12 And Up
Edie Ching’s Picks
For 2-5 Graders
For 6-8 Graders
For High Schoolers
For The Whole Family
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Food Wednesday, you'll wonder where that July 4th cookout idea came from as we explore America's food roots.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, most area schools have been out for about two weeks which means many area parents are set to hear the millionth chorus, "I'm bored," any second now. And whether your kids are getting ready for college, on break from grade school or crawling.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIYes, that's right, crawling. One answer to said complaint has been the same for generations, read a book. Here to help us figure out which ones is Edie Ching. She's a lecturer in the College of Information Science at the University of Maryland and a member of the American Library Association, Notables Childrens' Book Committee. She also writes reviews for Booklist. Edie Ching, thank you for joining us.
MS. EDIE CHINGThanks for welcoming me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from the studios of Colorado Public Radio is Monica Hesse. She writes for "The Washington Post" style section and is the author of the young adult novel, "Stray." Monica Hesse, thank you for joining us.
MS. MONICA HESSEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIOf course, if you have questions or comments for us you can call us at 800-433-8850. What books are your kids reading this summer, either because they want to or well, because they have to? 800-433-8850, you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, send us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIEdie, a recent PEW study found a vast majority of parents said libraries are very important for their kids. Why do you think they're important for kids and what role do you think those libraries serve today especially as it relates to kids with special needs?
CHINGWell, it's a place for kids to discover books and to be discovered. So kids with special needs perhaps have been kept more at home and sheltered environments. The library's a place where they can be out and about with other people. And libraries are doing, I think, a very good job.
CHINGYou've had several people on talking about special needs and how communities respond. Libraries not over stimulating kids with too many displays, lowering shelves so that kids with vision impairments can see across the library, entryways and then, of course, having books about characters that are just like them.
NNAMDIAnd special childrens' rooms in libraries these days where the emphasis is not on "shh" anymore.
CHINGOh, absolutely and Jenny Cooper, of course, when she was on did a great job, as you did, in talking about these wonderful new designs especially the Shaw Library. Making libraries not look like the old bastions of, you have to be well-dressed and you have to be an adult.
CHINGAnd the Bethesda Library which has created its own teen space where the teens even assembled the furniture from IKEA. They were in on the design. So we want all ages to be welcome in libraries.
NNAMDIMonica Hesse, it's my understanding that you were a library fan as a kid and you even recommended a book that takes place in a library. Tell us about "Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library."
HESSEWell, one of the things that I love about this book which is, it's a middle grade book so it's good for second through fifth graders I would say, is that it's main character is a boy who's really not so into reading. He loves video games and he loves his electronic gadgets and one of the things that he loves the most is these games that are designed by his favorite designer, Mr. Lemoncello.
HESSESo when Mr. Lemoncello is tapped to design the local library he gets an invitation to attend the library and then he sort of learns that the library is kind of just a magical, just as magical a place as his video games are. That they have all of these stories that come to life and these fantastic adventures within.
HESSESo then he has to escape from the library in a series of adventures that are sort of like "Night at the Museum," except instead of Ben Stiller bumbling around with a flashlight you have these kids who are in this tower of books and learning. So it's very exciting and fun.
NNAMDIMonica, listeners may be familiar with your work for "The Washington Post" style section but they may not know about your young adult novel "Stray," published earlier this year in the UK. If listeners can get their hands on it what kind of story is "Stray?"
HESSESo "Stray" is, it's also for young adults and it's a science fiction novel and it takes place in the future where the government has found one boy who they've decided led the perfect childhood, the childhood that should be emulated and that every child should aspire to.
HESSEAnd so now when disadvantaged youths are born instead of going into the foster care system they are plugged into this virtual reality experiment called "The Julian Path." And so instead of living their own lives, they live the perfect childhood. They live Julian's perfect childhood and they basically experience everything that he experienced when he was a kid.
HESSESo then, of course, what happens is that some of these kids break free from "The Julian Path" and it's a struggle to figure out that the tension between living a perfect childhood and kind of forging your own path.
NNAMDIAnd one young adult who read this book is Edie Ching. Let's hear what she felt about it.
CHINGI could not put this book down. The publisher was kind enough to send me a PDF because it's only published in England right now but you can get it from England. And it's very relevant in terms of parents who want to protect their children and give them a perfect childhood or a perfect adulthood because we know there is no such thing.
CHINGAnd these -- it's very poignant at one point when the electricity goes off and the path stops and these children have nothing to fall back on. They have nothing within themselves because they only have someone else's experience. It blew me away and I highly recommend it.
NNAMDIMonica, you have said that the character names were very important to you in writing "Stray," why was that and what do they tell us about the characters? By the way, we figured out that if I was on the path my name would be AHEW, which would be I guess Ahew, but, your turn Monica.
HESSEWell, I always am fascinated by character names when I read any kind of books but especially when I'm reading science fiction because I feel like character names can tell you so much about the world that you're entering into.
HESSEFor example, when you read "The Hunger Games" and you see names like Katniss and Peta, they sound a little bit familiar, in fact, they sound a little bit maybe like Katherine or Peter but they sound different enough that you know that you're in a new world, you're in a futuristic world.
HESSESo when I was coming up with character names I knew that they had to be evocative and they had to tell you something about the society that you were reading about. And so the way that I decided to do that was that characters aren't named because of sounds that are melodious or particularly beautiful. It's a very functional naming system and so the name is constructed based your birth date and your birthday and where you live and it's really a formula.
HESSESo if you're very lucky, as it sounds that you are, Ahew is a wonderful name because it has vowels and it's pronounceable but there are other characters who not so lucky, who have these bizarre and kind of metallic, clinical names. And I thought that that would evoke the society that had become interested in function that it had kind of lost its concept of beauty and of individuality.
NNAMDIWe also figured out our producer, Tayla Burney's name on the path and so she will hereinafter be known as Fecd (sp?).
HESSEThat's sounds like my name. My path name would be Gfcc, spelled G-F-C-C and it wasn't until after I wrote the book that I thought, man I should've been a little kinder to myself because this is not a good name at all.
NNAMDIWell, we've got everybody working on Fecd (sp?) . Monica Hesse writes for "The Washington Post" style section. She's the author of the young adult novel "Stray." She joins us from the studios of Colorado Public Radio.
NNAMDIJoining us in our Washington studio to talk about childrens' and young adult winter reading or summer reading is Edie Ching. She's a lecturer in the College of Information Science at the University of Maryland and a member of the American Library Association Notables Children's Book Committee. She also writes review for Booklist.
NNAMDIComments or questions, 800-433-8850. If you're looking for suggestions for books that will keep your kids and teens entertained this season, give us a call, 800-433-8850. You can also send email to email@example.com. Monica, you were a bookworm as a kid and you read some young adult fiction as an adult before setting out to write your own novel. How did your appreciation for the genre change once you began to approach it as a writer?
HESSEIt was really fascinating because I've always read young adult fiction and in some ways I think that the boundary between young adult fiction and grown up fiction is kind of a false one anyway because a good story and good writing is, is a good story and good writing no matter what age you are.
HESSEWhich is why I'll periodically go back and re-read "The Little House on the Prairie" series even now that I'm an adult. But I have to say that was really fascinating to me as a writer was, as I was going through the edits for my novel, how often my editor would come back to me and say, "But what is she feeling right now? But what is her heart doing?"
HESSEAnd I think that as an adult I'm so focused on, and we so focused on, things that entertain the brain that we lose a little bit of focus on things that will speak to the heart and young adult fiction, at its heart, is a very emotional experience and it taps into this age when everything that you're experiencing feels so big and so important and I really liked getting back to that kind of rudimentary, fundamental, emotional base that we all have at one point and then kind of lose sight of as adults. So I had a brand-new admiration for the authors who really struggle to do that and make it a true and pure experience for their teenage readers.
NNAMDIEdie, I wanted to get back to the issue of names for a second because they are just one way we define ourselves and teens often struggle with big questions about their identity. One book on your list, and by the way, you can find the recommendations at our website, kojoshow.org. One book on your list explores that question and also, for you, points out the importance of reading for youths beyond the fundamentals. Tell us about discovering Wes Moore?
CHINGWell, this is the second book by a wonderful young man, Wes Moore, who's first book was "The Other Wes Moore." Wes Moore, the author, was a graduate of Princeton, a Rhodes fellow but he came from a troubled past, from a successful family. His father died when he was young, he ended up in the Bronx. He made some poor choices.
CHINGHe turned his life around with the help of a loving family. What he found out was, back in Baltimore, his childhood home, there was a Wes Moore, the same name, who while the author was going off to be a Rhodes fellow, was going to jail for life, for his part in a holdup that resulted in a murder.
NNAMDI"Discovering Wes Moore" is the name of the book. Why do you think this genre, Monica, appeals to so many adult readers?
HESSEWell, I think it goes back a little bit to what I was saying which is that we are very -- we're very in our minds a lot and sometimes you just want to be able to tap into something that doesn't require as much thought, you know. We like to be swept away, it's the same reason that we'll go see romantic comedies or that we'll go see fantastical "World War Z" zombie movies because it's something very visceral.
HESSEAnd that's the experience that I've had in reading a lot of young adult books. In fact, that's why I'm sort of a fan of the "Twilight" books, for as much knocking as they get for not being excellent examples of good writing, I feel like they are excellent examples of good feeling and what it feels like to be 16 or 17.
HESSEIn fact, one of the books that I recommended was that the "New Moon" graphic novel is coming out and if you're a fan of the "Twilight" series and if you like the emotions that that taps into, this should be a part of your collection.
NNAMDIYou also recommended another book that's been a hit with adult readers "Code Name Verity" by Elizabeth Wein.
HESSEYes. "Code Name Verity" is a wonderful book. It's set in World War II and it's told from the perspective of two different women, young women, a spy and a fighter pilot who are separated when one of them is captured by Nazis. And they can only communicate via letter. And what I love about this book is that unlike a lot of young adult books, this -- there's very little romance in this book. The central relationship is between these two women who are brave and they're cunning and crafty and smart. And then of course the backdrop is World War II and Nazis. So it's impossible to go wrong with this book.
NNAMDIHere is Lynn in Washington, D.C. Lynn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LYNNYes. I'm a volunteer at the Young Reader Center in the Library of Congress. And we have a number of the books you're discussing today. We host a lot of visitors from all over the world and I want your listeners to know that we exist. We're open to the public. It's beautiful and kids love it, and young adults as well. So I just wanted to make that comment.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. And once again, you can go to our website kojoshow.org to find the recommended books for summer reading for kids and young adults. You can also call us 800-433-8850. Are you an adult reader of young adult fiction? What's on your list these days, 800-433-8850. Edie, recently "Persepolis" was challenged in Chicago schools. And a Fairfax mom tried to get "Beloved" removed from an AP reading list. What are your thoughts on banned books and the broader questions they raise about whether kids can handle material in any given book?
CHINGWell, Kojo, what parents and librarians both have in common is their care about their children. The parent tends to care about only their child. The librarian cares about the entire population that's coming to his or her library. When a parent wants to remove a book from a library, the book they choose to challenge might be the very book that for another child helps them with a difficult problem. And that becomes the issue.
CHINGParents have, of course, a right to pick and choose what their children should read and they can make very well-informed decisions. But to try to shut out other children from having that same experience I think is very dangerous. Because books are out there for us, as Monica said so well, to explore who we are, to find out our emotions, to have our emotions validated. And we have many different populations out there, people with special needs, people in very different places. And that's why we have a wealth of books.
NNAMDIOne way for parents to navigate questions of propriety is by getting the whole family involved in summer reading. Why do you think that's important?
CHINGSummer is a great time to have a family summer reading club. It's a way for people to share, a way to start conversation. You can start with a simple book. I brought something which I just love "The World is Waiting For You" and I can't wait to show you this picture.
CHINGIt's dirty hands and it's simple language, sip, scrape, get your hands dirty, jump into the water, swim, shout. It's a book that families could create themselves. It's a way to discuss, it's a way to find out what might be troubling your children. All the books that I put on my list can reach across many ages.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Alice who said, "We still love reading books as a family. This summer I'm reading "Peter and the Star Catchers" by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson to the kids. A fun pirate adventure on the high seas is perfect for the season." I would agree except that Dave Barry is not yet an adult. (laugh) Taylor tweets, "Nephews are reading "Middle School" by James Patterson.
NNAMDIEdie, one topic most kids are unlikely to read much about in school or out is financial literacy. One local library is aiming to change that. What's going on in Bethesda next week?
CHINGGood old Kathie Weinberg, a great young adult librarian at the Bethesda Library, is doing a financial book camp for girls. It is -- runs July 8th through 11th. I'm not sure of the hours but if you check with the Bethesda library you can find out. And it's working with a group called Flow which gives financial advice to help people be financially solvent. And I think it's a way to show that libraries want to reach many different areas and explore lots of different topics and help their populations.
NNAMDIAn amazing camp for girls 11 to 18 on how to be financial responsible and solvent. They're going to bring in all kinds of experts. Monica Hesse, series are often a big hit with young readers and you both recommended the "Boys Camp" series which recently starts with book one. Why do you think it'll be a hit?
HESSEWell, this is a really fascinating back story. If there are any parents of young girls out there listening, you might be familiar with the name Valerie Tripp who was a writer of the "American Girl" series. And how the "Boys Camp" series came about is that two moms in Washington who were the parents of young boys found that they didn't -- they couldn't find an "American Girl" series for boys. They wanted that similar sort of reading experience. Something that was wholesome but also funny and that had boys struggling with the issues of being nine or ten and on that cusped into teenageddon.
HESSESo these two moms approached Valerie Tripp and together they brainstormed this new series for boys called "Boys Camp." And so each book is told from the perspective of a different boy attending Wolf Camp one summer. And it's just a fun series because throughout you'll see boys representing lots of different kinds of personalities, lots of different kinds of interests. And there are worms and there are adventures and there's mud and there's getting lost. But there's also a lot of heart. So I hope that it will be as beloved for boys as the "American Girl" series has become for girls and their families.
NNAMDIYou're pretty enthusiastic about it yourself, Edie.
CHINGWell, and it's the kind of thing where they have the crazy songs. The adventure is very minimal. There's no, you know, the bear almost kills us. It's very true to life. You get the smells of camp, working in the mess hall. And even if you can't go to camp, you can read this book and have a camp adventure of your own in your own backyard.
NNAMDIHere's Anu (sp?) in Laurel, Md. Anu, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANUHi, Kojo. I love your show. I have been a regular listener. My question is, like my son is eight years old but he reads from (unintelligible) series. Earlier I used to read the books and give it to him once I like them. But now he's reading faster than me and I cannot complete the book before him. I want to find a website or something there, at least the video of the book before I can give it to my son.
CHINGWell, most libraries have suggestions. And there's a great organization, Capital Choices, made up of librarians, reading specialists, CapitalChoices.org. We look at books all year long. We rate them, we give summaries and we list them by age. But I would also encourage you to have him still read books about kids his own age because there are all kinds of issues about being eight or ten and being in middle school that he may miss out on if he's just reading young adult things.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Anu. And good luck to you with your son. Running out of time, Edie, but the issue of diversity continues to be an issue in children's books and in young adult literature. And you've got some titles for all ages that may either reflect young reader's own heritage or introduce them to other cultures.
CHINGWell, the fun thing was, talking to your foodies who are coming on next, and they knew exactly how to pronounce baletas, which is in "Round is a Tortilla," and it's the Spanish word for ice cream pop. So that was a fun thing to share right there.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we're just about out of time. But I do encourage you to go to our website kojoshow.org where you will see the recommendations of Edie Ching and Monica Hesse there kojoshow.org. Monica Hesse writes for the Washington Post Style section. She's the author of the young adult novel "Stray." Monica Hesse, thank you for joining us.
HESSEThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIEdie Ching is a lecturer in the College of Information Science at the University of Maryland and a member of the American Library Association Notables Children's Book Committee. She also writes reviews for Booklist. Edie, good to see you again.
CHINGThank you so much.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, Food Wednesday. You'll wonder where that July 4th cookout idea came from as we explore American's food roots. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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