Kojo speaks with "Speak No Evil" novelist and D.C. native Uzodinma Iweala about his second novel and how his local upbringing affects his storytelling.
Schools’ out for summer for most kids in our area, which means summer reading lists are out too. We’ll find out what kids of all ages are reading for fun and for learning, and whether Harry Potter and vampire stories are still popular. And we’ll hear about a picture book with an unprintable title that’s creating a buzz among parents.
- Heidi Powell Manager, Children and Teens Department, Politics and Prose
- Micki Freeny Director of Children and Youth Services, DC Public Library
- Alex Greenhill The Omnivorous Reader columnist, Young D.C.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Summer is officially here, and schools are letting out across the region. For kids and parents, that means the summer reading season has arrived. We'll find out if vampires are still hot, how movies bring kids to books and talk about the appeal of the picture book.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhether your child is a reluctant reader or is at the library daily, we've got suggestions to keep that kid turning the pages all summer long because joining us in studio is Micki Freeny, director of Children and Youth Services for the D.C. Public Library. She started her career as a children's librarian and has been involved in children services for her entire four-decade library career. Micki, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. MICKI FREENYThank you, Kojo. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Heidi Powell, manager of the Children and Teens Department at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. She has three avid young readers at home, ranging in age from 10 to 16. Heidi, thank you for joining us.
MS. HEIDI POWELLThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd gracing our studios is Alex Greenhill. He just finished his junior year at The Lab School of Washington in D.C. He writes "The Omnivorous Reader" column for Young D.C. That's an independent teen-produced newspaper serving D.C., Maryland, Virginia and other selected sites across the U.S. Alex, thank you so much for being our resident expert here today.
MR. ALEX GREENHILLThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation. Call us at 800-433-8850. You can send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send a tweet, @kojoshow. Or just go to our website and join the conversation there. At our website, you will ultimately find all of the books recommended by our panelists today. That's kojoshow.org, but you can go there right now. New parents, what books have you received as gifts or picked up to read for -- read to your baby?
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Micki, I will start with you. Picture books have been the first step for generations of American readers. Recently, there's been some debate over the future of the picture book. From where you sit, are picture books on the decline, and if so, why?
FREENYWe really don't believe they're on the decline because the quality of picture books continues to get greater every year. The inventiveness, the creativity of the writers and illustrators continue to wow us all. So we honestly don't believe that the picture book is dead in any way.
NNAMDIHeidi, one of your former colleagues at Politics & Prose was quoted in a New York piece that ran last October, headlined, Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children. Dara La Porte was quoted in the piece as saying, they're 4 years old, and their parents are getting them "Stuart Little." What's happening to picture books?
POWELLThat is true. We do experience that at the store, but actually, the picture books, our sales are actually increasing. There are so many wonderful authors and illustrators of picture books. And we do try to steer parents in the direction of picture books, not only for younger readers, but there are a plethora of picture books for older readers as well.
NNAMDINot all parents could afford to spend money on books for their little ones. The public library is a great resource, but it's also important for kids to build a library of their own. Tell us about Literacy and Prose.
POWELLLiteracy and Prose is in its infancy. Dara La Porte, whom you mentioned, the former manager in the children's department at Politics & Prose, and I started this nonprofit just this year. We just received our 501 (c)(3) status, and our goal is to connect students in D.C. area Title I Schools with books. One thing we want to do -- and we've done a couple so far -- is to take authors and illustrators into Title I Schools where they'll talk and demonstrate their craft.
POWELLAnd then we send every child home with a signed copy of their book and also donate books to the school library and a hardback to every classroom in the school. So our goal for the fall is to start trying to do these, you know, at least once a month.
NNAMDIAlex, do you have a library of your own?
GREENHILLYes, I do. I have a very large collection of classics like "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne and a lot of things by H.G. Wells.
NNAMDIDo you remember when you first started putting your library together?
GREENHILLWell, it was mainly my mom who encouraged it, as well as my dad, whose parents are very, very big fans of literacy, and especially the classics. It's very, very important, I think, for people to remember those classic books that got genres started and...
NNAMDII do. I agree with you. I think it's absolutely important. When I was young and tried to start a library of my own, I, unfortunately, had an older brother who kept lending my books to others and not returning them. But you can join this conversation at 800-433-8850. Do you load books into your iPad or eReader for your toddler? Which ones have been a hit? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDISpeaking of eReaders, Micki, there are lots of children's books available for eReaders. Parents or toddlers can download interactive picture books that play music and feature games. But good old-fashioned paper books are often interactive, too. Tell us about Press Here.
FREENYPress Here is a very unique book that uses the child's imagination to change the pictures one page to the next. And you press on the page, and the colors might change. You might shift the book, and all of the graphics move to one side of the book. And I know adults, even, who go back to it over and over again. So even though you've done the tricks once, it just happens to have a life that lives on with kids in a very imaginative way.
NNAMDITell us also about pop-ups and flap books.
FREENYPop-ups are -- have always been popular ever since they were -- come into our realm, but in the public library, we especially love flap books because they are durable. And I want to tell you about a new one called "Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?" by Susan A. Shea.
FREENYThis book takes the concept of inanimate objects and living things and poses questions to the child. For instance, if a kitten grows into a cat...
FREENY...will a cap grow into a hat?
NNAMDIWait, wait. I can answer that. Okay. Go ahead, please.
FREENYAnd the book is inventive. It actually introduces some science content. For instance, the difference between living things and inanimate objects, but also is a guessing game, and you open the flap to find the answer. It's one of the best new books on shelves today.
NNAMDIA number of picture books tell true tales. One pair aimed at the 5- to 7-year-old set depicts the life of Jane Goodall. Tell us about "Me...Jane" and "The Watcher."
FREENYYeah, Holly (sic) and I both came in with -- this was one of our favorites. "Me...Jane" by Patrick McDonnell, which some people will recognize as the artist of "Mutts," but in this book, he uses his own illustrations, some drawings by Jane Goodall herself as a child and photographs, even some from National Geographic to tell the story of how Jane Goodall who was curious as a child, curious about nature, who had a toy chimp that was part of her life and how that inspired her to become the Jane Goodall we know today, who studied chimps in Africa.
FREENYThere's a companion book to that as well by Jeanette Winter called "The Watcher." It's a little more comprehensive story of Jane Goodall's life, whereas the "Me...Jane" is a brief but inspirational book about the life of a really important scientist.
NNAMDIHeidi, you're pretty enthusiastic about "Me...Jane," too.
POWELLYes. I also mentioned that when I was speaking with your producer on the phone, and she said that Micki had mentioned it as well. I really like the illustrations, and I like the -- its short nature, and it's brief. But it's a really great introduction to biography for young children.
NNAMDIWell, what other historical figures and personalities are explored in new books for kids? Okay. I'll tell you right off. I love the title "How They Croaked" by...
NNAMDI...Georgia Bragg. What's that about?
POWELLYeah, we featured this one about a week ago at Politics & Prose on our email book of the week. "How They Croaked" is a chronology introducing readers to more than a dozen historical figures and really grabs the reader, hooks the reader with the promise of explaining their gory deaths and how they died. But in the process, you really learn a lot about how they lived and what interesting things they did.
POWELLSo it's a really nice introduction. Brief chapters for each on historical figures and, hopefully, will inspire readers to, you know, go further and learn more about these historical figures.
NNAMDIOne author who is on both of your summer lists is Mo Willems. What is it about Mo Willems' books that kids can't get enough of? First, you, Heidi.
POWELLI think Mo Willems' may be the next Dr. Seuss. He's really explored a variety of medium. I mean, he's done picture books, now Easy Readers. And he's just introduced an early chapter book, "Amanda and Her Alligator." He's funny. He's accessible. We have children coming in who are way beyond reading his Early Readers and beg to see the latest edition to the "Elephant & Piggie" series.
NNAMDIMicki, "Ice Cream," Mo Willems?
FREENYKojo, I'm on a group in Washington, D.C., called Capitol Choices, which meets monthly to discuss children's books, and we come up with an annual list of the 100 best. And whenever we see a new Mo Willems, it's -- I'll do, you know, can we really put another Mo Willems on this list?
FREENYAnd we always agree that we have to because he's so clever. And whether we're talking about his beginning readers or his picture books -- and as Holly has pointed out -- the books have a long life with children. I can -- years ago, I went to read at a kindergarten for my great-niece and read the book "Knuffle Bunny." I then went to my other great-niece's classroom in the third grade.
FREENYAnd she saw I had "Knuffle Bunny" and begged me to read it to the third grade. And the third grade enjoyed it just as much as the kindergarten. So Mo Willems' cleverness and ability to tell a story is irresistible.
NNAMDIWell, getting boys to read can be a challenge for parents and for teachers. What kind of books were you first attracted to when you first started reading, Alex?
GREENHILLWell, mostly science-fiction and adventure stories.
NNAMDIIt's funny because, when I was 11 years old, I was really attracted to a series coming out of Britain of "William" books by Richmal Crompton, which are no longer published anymore. But he was a kid who used to roam around his neighborhood committing all kinds of bad things, and, I guess, as a young boy, I related to that. But it's my understanding that, Alex, you like -- you look for humor in the books that you pick out. How come?
GREENHILLYeah, because I love to laugh, and I really, really enjoy humor because my dad really nurtured my sense of humor throughout my life. And I incorporate that a lot in my reviews for Young D.C.
NNAMDIWe're going to talk about your reviews for Young D.C. even more in a second. But, Heidi, what genres tend to appeal to young male readers?
POWELLSo -- well, in the, maybe, 8 to 12 range, I would say adventure and fantasy primarily. But when people come into the store, we do try to ask them, you know, what they're interested in and what the latest books are that they read so that we get a sense of their interests. But the Rick Riordan books, "Lighting Thief" series are very popular among boys and girls, really. The "Alex Rider" series by Anthony Horowitz is very popular.
POWELLSo it tends toward adventure and fantasy. But I always like to find out what a reader is interested in, you know, what they've been reading before I make a recommendation.
FREENYI'd also like to put a plug in for really good narrative nonfiction, and boys are often drawn to nonfiction. Nic Bishop's books are something that come to mind, a book for older kids on science called "Frog Scientist." The status of nonfiction and children's literature, now, is at its best. It's very readable and reads like fiction now, so we find lots of boys drawn.
FREENYAnd I'd also just like to put a word in for one really good book for humor lovers and that's "The Strange Case of Origami Yoda," which is by Tom Angleberger. And he -- this summer, he'll come out with "Darth Paper." So it's on a "Star Wars" theme. They're funny and just great fun for girls and boys.
NNAMDIYou were going to say, Heidi?
POWELLYeah, they're fantastic.
POWELLI was. He also wrote a book which is not part of the series, called "Horton Halfpott," which is also very funny, a lot of fun for boys and girls ages, probably, eight to 12. And I rarely make that recommendation of such a broad age range, but I think it really works in this case. And also, as far as nonfiction, "The Frog Scientist" book is part of a series called "Scientists in the Field."
POWELLAnd the newest one is "The Elephant Scientist." But are -- there are some really, really wonderful books in that series, and you can probably find something that you're interested in.
NNAMDIHere's Audrey in Alexandria, Va. Audrey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIHi, Audrey, it's your turn. Go ahead, please.
AUDREYOkay. Well, at my library, they have these programs on the computer where -- and you log on to the library homepage. You can go -- it has a link that lets you go to a program called TumbleReadables, where it allow -- like an eBook, except it's online, and it's free. So you just have to sign up for it. And it has tons and tons of books from all kinds of genres. And they have picture books and, like, all of these kinds of books.
AUDREYAnd they're great for, like, little kids and old kids, and it's great for everyone. And it's free. They're just cool, so it's like...
NNAMDIYou said the magic word twice, Audrey. Free.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please. You're not finished.
AUDREYWell, yeah. Well, when -- well, you just sign up for it. I don't think there's a fee unless you -- I think it's just through the Fairfax County kind of thing, the county...
NNAMDITumbleReadables, that's what it's called?
NNAMDITumbleReadables? Here's Micki Freeny. Micki has something to add to that. Micki Freeny?
FREENYI suspect the listener is talking about TumbleBooks...
NNAMDI...which is a subscription service that libraries pay for and that their customers then can go on and use. Fairfax obviously has it. The D.C. Public Library does. And then for younger children, there's a companion service called BookFlix, which has the -- just for young readers. And the children can read along or listen, read without the audio, both of these services, usually available with a library card.
NNAMDIAnd, Audrey, thank you very much for your call. They pay for it, so we don't have to. But...
AUDREYOkay. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation on summer reading for children and young adults. But you can call us in the meantime at 800-433-8850 as Audrey did. If you're a kid or a teen, give us a call and let us know what your favorite book is or what you're reading right now, 800-433-8850. You'll be able to find all of the recommendations of our panelists at our website, kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIWe'll continue this conversation shortly. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's our summer reading children and young adults conversation with Micki Freeny, director of children and youth services for the D.C. Public Library. Micki started her career as a children's librarian. She's been involved in children's services for her entire four-decade library career. Heidi Powell is the manager of the Children and Teens Departments of Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C.
NNAMDIAs we mentioned earlier, she's got three avid young readers at home. And also joining us in studio is Alex Greenhill, who just finished his junior year at The Lab School of Washington. He writes the "Omnivorous Reader" column for Young D.C. That's an independent team produced newspapers, serving D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and other selected cites across the U.S. Micki, series are just as popular with young readers as they are with adults.
NNAMDIMost people know about Harry Potter and the Wimpy Kid. Introduce us, please, to the Penderwicks.
FREENYThe Penderwicks is now in its third book of the series.
NNAMDIIts third iteration, so to speak.
FREENYExactly. And the first one introduced a family of children who have a lot of independence to go out and do things on their own. This one is about a vacation at Point Mouette. And I think children will enjoy the family adventures and will enjoy the independence that these children have to seek their own fun.
NNAMDIAny series you'd like to weigh in on, Heidi?
POWELLMost of the series -- or fairly popular series that readers might know about, oftentimes we ask them what popular series they're reading in order to make recommendations about some others that they may not know about. One that -- a lot of "The Lightning Thief" for Rick Riordan fans, we recommend to them is called "Scepter of the Ancients" series by Derek Landy. And the first one starts with a young girl whose uncle has recently died.
POWELLThey go for the reading of the will, and a strange character enters the room with a trench coat and a hat on. And he turns out to be a skeleton, and he is sharing half the uncle's estate with this girl. So off they go on an adventure to fight evil. And this is a great series called "Scepter of the Ancients" by Derek Landy.
NNAMDISounding a lot more interesting than the books I'm reading.
NNAMDIGraphic novels have gained popularity over the past few years. Some parents may steer their kids away from them, thinking they're too easy, Heidi. But is that really the case?
POWELLI don't think so. I think graphic novels in Politics & Prose have expanded tremendously in our department. We had, probably, a shelf or two devoted to graphic novels just a couple of years ago. And now we probably have a couple of book cases devoted to graphic novels. They really cover all genres, so it's hard to say that, you know, graphic novels just aren't good for a child.
POWELLThey cover, you know, everything from memoir to, you know, historical fiction. They can deal with very serious subject matter, and they can also be funny and entertaining and really run from very early graphic novels called Toon Readers. There's an imprint called Toon Books, all the way through to teens and, you know, older teens.
NNAMDIAlex, have you reviewed any graphic novels for Young D.C. yet?
GREENHILLNo, I haven't. But I did read a book covering a history of comic books in the 1960s by David -- I believe it's -- Hajdu, called "The Ten-Cent Plague," which covered the great comic book scare. There was a great hearing surrounding comic books, how they -- they're -- all of the paranoia that surrounded it with its -- with strange connections with communism and...
NNAMDIIn the 1950s. I lived through that era. I read some of those comics that those hearings were held about.
GREENHILLYes. Yes. "True Crime"...
GREENHILL..."Tales from the Crypt," "The Vault of Horror," all sorts of strange comics that got...
NNAMDIYou've got it exactly right.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that among series, when you were growing up, you liked "The Zack Files" by Dan Greenburg. Why?
GREENHILLWell, mainly because they were basically -- it's about this kid who -- named Zach, who -- whose life is basically full of weird happenings similar to that of "The Twilight Zone," and they have similar plots like "Zap! I'm a Mind Reader" in which he gets electrocuted and gets these mind-reading abilities. And it was very, very strange.
NNAMDI"The Zack Files" by Dan Greenburg. Micki, back to graphic novels, talk about "Lost and Found."
FREENY"Lost and Found" is by Shaun Tan, the author of a book that lots of people remember, "Arrival" from a few years ago. It's very spare in text, but the illustrations, the graphics, the art, actually, fine art that Shaun Tan puts in his book tells three different stories slightly related one to the other. But his stories are imaginative, creative and appeal, again, to a very wide range of ages, as Heidi described earlier, with some other books.
FREENYMost appropriate probably for 10 to 14s, but some younger children will understand and appreciate the stories and art, as will teenagers.
NNAMDIBefore I go to the phones, Alex, you write, as I mentioned early, the "Omnivorous Reader" column for Young D.C. What is it about that job that you find appealing?
GREENHILLWell, I love to read, and I love to write. It's a great combination. It's -- and I get to read such a variety of books, not just fiction. My boss, Kathy Mannix, the executive director, gets to pick the non-fiction. And those are great as well. And I get to read some great -- a great selection of non-fiction as well, such as "Say it Loud," which is a collection of speeches by African-Americans throughout the civil rights movement.
GREENHILLWhat grabs me about those is they're very, very -- they range from very, very strong to very, very serious and sometimes even funny, like the one from -- I believe it's -- Michael Eric Dyson.
GREENHILL"Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind," which is very, very interesting.
NNAMDIIndeed it is. The "Omnivorous Reader" column was already in existence before Alex started with Young D.C. It's had a lot of caretakers over the years. As Alex said, he picks the fiction, and Kathy Mannix, director of Young D.C., picks the non-fiction. On to the telephones now, where it seems like a lot of callers await us. We'll start with Jonathan in Chantilly, Va. Jonathan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIHi, Jonathan, you're on the air.
NNAMDIHi. I'm actually calling in on behalf of my brother because he's -- he was going to call in, but he's too shy. He's 10 years old, and he just wanted to talk about his favorite book. It's called "The Witness Tree and the Shadow of the Noose." It's a ghost fiction, historical fiction novel by K.E.M. Johnston, and it's just a wonderful book. He's read it at least six or seven times now in the past year.
NNAMDI"The Witness Tree and the Shadow of the Noose."
NNAMDIWhat is your brother's name?
JONATHANMy brother's name is Will.
NNAMDIIs Will listening?
JONATHANNo. Will -- well, he's right here if you want to talk to him.
NNAMDII'd certainly love to talk to Will.
JONATHANWill, do you want to talk? No. He's not saying anything. He's too shy. I'm sorry.
NNAMDIOkay. Tell Will we will make a note of his recommendation, "The Witness Tree and the Shadow of the Noose." Thank you very much, Will. Jonathan, thank you for calling on Will's behalf.
NNAMDIHere we go to Phoebe in Glenelg, Md. Phoebe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHOEBEHi, Kojo, I was calling when you asked earlier about suggestions for babies and toddlers. I have a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old...
PHOEBE...and we read to them every day, sometimes together, sometimes separately. But some of the titles and authors that we found -- and I don't go out looking for these things. But people tend to give them as gifts, and then I find that I like an author. And then I go out and buy every book that they have. For the baby, we found that Denise Fleming books are really great 'cause the illustrations are very colorful, and the words are very simple.
PHOEBEAnd for my older child, well, I will echo the Mo Willems praise that was brought up before. But he also loves the Simon James books, who did "Leon and Bob" and the "Baby's Brain" series. And then, finally, for both of the kids, there's an illustrator named Mark Buehner, and he also collaborates with his wife Caralyn Buehner. They've pretty much done a lot of things about snowmen and Christmastime.
PHOEBEBut they've also started to do other books. Like, they did one about "Snowmen All Year," so it's not just a Christmastime book. But those books are great because they have a good story for the older child. And they also have a lot of hidden pictures for him to look at. But they're also very colorful, which the baby likes to look at. So those are just some suggestions that I had.
FREENYI'll add two more authors to your list. Emily Gravett, who is a British author. "Odd Egg" and "Spells," I think -- "Spells," especially for your older child, but "Odd Egg" also. And also Kevin Henkes, especially for the young one, and Kevin comes out almost every year with another wonderful book for babies and toddlers.
NNAMDIYou've got to be careful what you recommend to Phoebe because, remember, she's going out to buy all of the books by those authors, not just any one. So Phoebe does...
NNAMDIThat works for you?
PHOEBEYes. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIThank you so much for your call. We move on to Jenny in Washington, D.C. Jenny, your turn. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENNYHi. I just wanted to ask our great guests about D.C. authors because I know that there are a lot of terrific D.C. authors who are writing great books for kids. And one, for example, is in my neighborhood, Erica Perl. And she just came out with a new sort of 8- to 12-year-old novel, "When Life Gives You O.J.," which I had the pleasure of reading. And my kid has been reading it, too, and it's fantastic.
JENNYAnd she has great picture books. So do they have any great recommendations, aside from Erica Perl, for great D.C. authors?
POWELLI do. Katy Kelly, she wrote the "Lucy Rose" books and the "Melonhead" books, which are great for ages 7, 8, 9. They take place in D.C. And Katy actually does a lot of her work in the coffee shop at Politics & Prose, so we get to find out what she's working on almost on a daily basis. Fred Bowen, who writes sports-related books, he also -- he writes for The Post -- for the KidsPost and has a series of great sports book for probably, again, ages, oh, 7 to 10 or 11 maybe.
POWELLSusan Stockdale, who writes non-fiction for very, very young children, her latest is called "Bring on the Birds." And it's a beautiful -- she writes and illustrates her books. And they're really beautiful books, very accessible for young children, nice introduction to non-fiction. And, finally, Mary Quattlebaum, who wrote the Joe Jackson books, "Joe Jackson's Garden." And she wrote the subway book, which I don't think we can get right now, but Mary Quattlebaum is another one.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jenny. And you, too, can call us, 800-433-8850. We're discussing books for children and young adults. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Micki, do you see more demand for books that have movie versions in theaters?
FREENYI wouldn't say more demand. But we always, always have demand when a new movie comes out. People flock to a bookstore or a library to go back and read the original. And "Mr. Popper's Penguins" is the latest. It's -- it has endured decades of popularity. And, now, with the movie, a new generation is finding it. Also, "Judy Moody" has a new -- there's a new movie out, and kids are going back.
FREENYI just went back and read the first one myself, again, because the books are so funny, and it was fun to watch it in preparation for the movie.
GREENHILLAlso, a big -- for my age group, there is "The Hunger Games" by, I believe it is, Suzanne Collins, which is going to be made into a film due next year, which a lot of people or fans are really, really excited about and...
NNAMDIAction-packed sci-fi, huh?
GREENHILLYes. Mainly, dystopian takes place. It's basically a girl being thrown into a -- I have no other words to describe it -- but, basically, the ultimate gladiator games.
NNAMDIYou're also looking forward -- it's my understanding -- to a two-part adaptation of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
GREENHILLYes. I'm trying to get my hands on a copy again so I can reread it and catch up. But it's being directed by Peter Jackson once again, and it's going to be incredible by the looks of the cast. So...
NNAMDIAlex, you also write movie reviews for Young D.C., it's my understanding, and you tend to read the book first before seeing the movie. Why is that?
GREENHILLBecause, honestly, in most movie adaptations, the book is generally better, most of the time. If the person -- if the director actually bothers to, I don't know, read the book first, which most of them -- by the looks of -- probably the Harry Potter adaptions, they don't.
NNAMDISpeaking of which, here is Shaw (sp?) in Greenbackville, Va. Shaw, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHAWHi. I'm here to call about the -- as you just said, the Harry Potter books. I'm thinking they're really good books for ages 8, maybe 9 to 12, 13.
NNAMDII think you'll find a lot of agreement around the table. What do you think about the movie, Shaw? Are they, in your mind, as good as the books?
SHAWWell, I'd say the -- yeah, most of them are, but the newest one is probably the closest. But I'd say the first movie is not very, very close...
NNAMDITo the book. How old are you, Shaw?
NNAMDIAnd how long have you been reading Harry Potter books?
SHAWJust this year, I read, like, all of them in a month.
GREENHILLWell, that's dedication right there.
NNAMDIYeah, that is dedication. Hey, thank you very much for your call, Shaw. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, more of this conversation on summer reading for children and young adults. Feel free to call us at 800-433-8850. What book do you remember from your childhood most? 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to email@example.com. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about summer reading, children and young adults with Alex Greenhill. He just finished his junior year at the Lab School of Washington. He writes the Omnivorous Reader column for Young D.C., which is an independent produced newspaper by teens serving D.C., Maryland, Virginia and other select sites across the U.S. Heidi Powell is the manager of the Children and Teens Department at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C.
NNAMDIShe has three avid young readers at home, as we mentioned earlier, ranging in age from 10 to 16. And Micki Freeny is the director of Children and Youth Services for the D.C. Public Library. Micki started her career as a children's librarian. She's been involved in children's services for the entire four decade -- for her entire four-decade library career.
NNAMDIWe mentioned during the break, Alex, that we had overlooked the fact that when we were -- about young books for young males, that they said, young males are drawn to bathroom humor. Why is that?
GREENHILLWell, I'm not one of them.
GREENHILLI have to say, I'm -- I have grown out of it, so to speak. It is just a phase, parents. I have to tell you it is just a phase. It is just a phase, but I have no idea why they are drawn to such things. If you could name a few, that would be...
NNAMDIWell, I can name one. Andrew Chad, our engineer, he still likes this kind of humor.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Aaron, who says, "My almost 10-year-old is with me at work today waiting for summer camps to start next week. He and a group of friends are currently excited by the "Warriors" series by Erin Hunter. The books are about a clan of wild cats and have even led the group to set up their own clan or club. I love that their playground activities stemmed from reading."
NNAMDIAnd this email we got from Don in Greenbelt, Md. "I couldn't be happier that you're devoting time on your show to this important topic. As a parent, a preschool teacher and a book reviewer for the site 5 Minutes for Books, I'm happy to say that picture books play a big role in my life. My 10-year-old rising sixth grader will stop and join his younger brother and sister when we're reading a picture book together, simply because he knows well the fun that come -- that can come from the genre, even though he can read on a much higher level."
NNAMDIThank you so much for sharing that with us, Don. Angst may be the word that best defines the American teen experience. Young adult novels often address serious and, sometimes, dark subjects. Some parents and reviewers are critical of their content. Do you think that's fair? Alex, starting with you.
GREENHILLWell, it is fair, but then again, people underestimate their audience. Teenagers can handle a lot of things, a lot of things. Once again, Suzanne Collins is a -- I would say an advocate for this concept. Her books focus on a great deal of mature topics. Her -- a series that she recently completed, "Gregor the Overlander," focuses on topics like war, aftermath of -- the aftermath of war. And one of the books even focused on genocide.
NNAMDIDo you think that young people today can handle these topics because they are, in fact, in their real lives, exposed to mature and, sometimes, dark subjects in the news and on TV?
GREENHILLWell, once again, that's debatable. It depends on whether they are -- why they're exposed and whether they're -- whether they are purposely exposed to it and how they're exposed to it, whether the parents encourage it...
NNAMDIWell, that's a debate for another time. But, Micki, you said you have the experience of kids asking for books that will make them cry.
FREENYAbsolutely. I've -- that...
NNAMDINot the same bathroom humor kids (unintelligible).
FREENYNo. These are the teens. And often teen girls want a book that will make them cry. We know many kids are going through struggles themselves with their own maturation, and they like to know that they're not alone. And reading about the problems that they encounter themselves or maybe people with even worse problems than they have can be very comforting and give them a lot of food for thought.
FREENYSo kids do like to read about angst, and that has always been true in teen literature. I think from the time it became its own genre, the books were filled with topics that some parents may think are too mature, but kids don't.
NNAMDIHeidi, you know that there's a lot of darkness in middle school young adult writing, but skillful authors know how to present it.
POWELLYeah, I agree. I feel that if there's sensitive treatment and the book is well-written -- that's obviously important -- and we try to steer our customers to those books. I think teens are looking for those books to sort of help them navigate a difficult world, whether they're experiencing that firsthand or friends, or if they just want to live vicariously through an experience that a character in a book is having.
POWELLIt's a better thing to do in the safety of a bookstore or, you know, your home than to actually be out there living it. So I'd rather hand them a book than have them live vicariously through the characters.
NNAMDIMakes sense to me. Here is Maya in Baltimore, Md. Maya, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MAYAHi. I just wanted to share a wonderful idea that some friends of mine had for building their baby's library. When they had their first baby and they had a baby shower, you know, they were expecting, I guess, the usual gift. But on the invitation, the people who drew it for them said, you know, they would really love to build their baby's library. So we'll be having a basket at the entrance of the party.
MAYAAnd if you would all be so kind as to have each person bring one of your favorite books from childhood, to put in the basket, it would be a wonderful way to build the library for this baby and any other children they'd have after. And it didn't have to necessarily be baby board books. It could be books for, you know, when the child was older.
MAYAAnd it was a great way of, you know, sort of introducing all of these books to both the baby and the parents because there were some in there that they had never read as children. And I just thought that was such a good idea.
FREENYI would suggest that people keep that habit and give gifts of books throughout a child's life. Politics & Prose is a wonderful place to go find -- birthday, Christmas, any holiday can be a great time to give books. And we -- it's very difficult to choose toys for a child. But the range of books available gives you an endless possibility for gift-giving.
NNAMDII have a cousin that we are convinced started reading by osmosis as a baby, so you can never tell. Here's Jamallah (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Jamallah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Jamallah, are you there? Okay. Jamallah, we'll put you on hold and go on to Aiden (sp?), also in Washington, D.C. Aiden, your turn.
AIDENHi there. First of all, I want to thank you for having this show today because I'm leaving for camp on Saturday, and I need some ideas for books to bring.
NNAMDIYou're welcome, Aiden.
AIDENAll right. Well, anyway, I have a series that I'd like to recommend -- well, a series and a book. The series is "The Kane Chronicles" by Rick Riordan.
AIDENAnd it's about two kids -- brother and sister -- and they are the kids of Egyptian magicians. And they go on these big adventures that include all the Egyptian gods from Egyptian mythology. The second book actually just came out recently.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for your recommendation, Aiden, and have a good time at camp and have a good time reading at camp.
AIDENThank you. And, also, I have a book I'd like to recommend.
AIDENIt's called "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" by E.L. Konigsburg. I think that's how you pronounce it.
GREENHILLMy goodness, I remember that book.
NNAMDIYes. I think our producer, Taylor Burnie, is reading that now.
AIDENOh. Oh, anyway, it's...
GREENHILLI remember this book. I remember this book from -- I don't know if it was fourth, fifth grade. Reading this book. Oh, my goodness. Just a whole -- just this huge sense of nostalgia from it. And it was one of my English teacher's favorite books, and she had, like, 12 copies of it strewn all over the place. And...
NNAMDIMaybe that's where Taylor found her. Aiden, that's it for your recommendation so far?
AIDENYeah, that's it.
NNAMDIThank you very much. As I said, have a good time at camp. Here is Grace in Silver Spring, Md. Grace, your turn.
GRACEHi, Kojo, I wanted to say that I have a 15-year-old boy who reads manga series books by the dozen. And I was just wondering that they have not been mentioned in the show. I'm thinking, am I allowing him to read the right books?
NNAMDII don't know. Micki? Heidi?
FREENYA lot of teens like manga. And I think the most important thing is that kids are reading. So we think it's important that kids read what they like, and they often go on to other genre when they become voracious readers.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Alex?
GREENHILLI say that it's perfectly fine to read manga. It just depends on what genre it is because they do have -- like other forms of media, they have various other -- various genres and sub-genres. And one -- but it depends because some manga series can be very mature. But most people -- a lot of people can handle it. Readers can handle anything that you throw at them.
NNAMDISo, Grace, I guess the most important thing is to discuss those books with your child after your child, your 16-year-old, reads them.
GRACEYeah, yeah. Yeah. And I agree what the gentleman said, that they do have kind of -- some of them have a mature nature. Specifically, there's one called "Death Note," I believe.
GREENHILLOh, yes, "Death Note." I know this one.
NNAMDIThe gentleman has read that.
GREENHILLYes, yes. I know that one. It's about a genius who -- a genius teen who finds the notebook of a -- I believe it's a Japanese death demon.
GREENHILLAnd it's very, very creepy because every -- you basically write a person's name in that book, and the person dies.
NNAMDIOh, yeah. Grace, I see you read it, too.
GRACEI had to…
NNAMDIThank you both for the synopsis. We're running out of time very quickly. But I wanted to ask Micki and Heidi one issue that kids of all ages struggle with, is being different from other kids around them, whether they got freckles, whether they've been adopted or they just feel like no one understands them. They can be isolated. Books can help them realize that they are not so alone.
NNAMDIFirst, Micki, tell us about "Junonia" briefly and "Inside Out and Back Again."
FREENY"Inside Out and Back Again" is about an immigrant from Vietnam. She escapes Vietnam with her family during the war. And the book is told in the first person, so you get the real sense of what it's like to be an immigrant in this country, learning the language. It's a very sensitive book, but a very positive picture of life in Alabama as an immigrant from Vietnam. "Junonia" is an -- actually, a book by Kevin Henkes.
FREENYHe doesn't write just picture books. He does write books for older kids. It's about a family -- a young girl who goes to an island in Florida, and about the problem she has when things aren't the way they used to be now that she's turning double-digit, 10, which seems to be a big thing with kids, you know, when they reach that double-digit age. It's, again, a quiet book, but a very well-written and something I can highly recommend.
NNAMDIAnd I know Heidi recommends "Camo Girl" by Kekla Magoon about Ella, who is the only African-American at her school, correct? I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Heidi Powell is the manager of the Children and Teens Department at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. Heidi, thank you for joining us.
POWELLThank you very much.
NNAMDIMicki Freeny is the director of Children and Youth Services for the D.C. Public Library. Micki, thank you for joining us.
FREENYThank you, too.
NNAMDIAnd Alex Greenhill is our resident expert. He just finished his junior year at the Lab School of Washington. He writes The Omnivorous Reader column for Young D.C., an independent teen-produced newspaper. Alex, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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