Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Story Rx: Ditch Oprah! Have your book club read something YA!

Are you in a book club? I am.

About two years ago now, I suggested the club to a group of smart, talented, funny mothers I met through my daughter's nursery school and didn't want to lose touch with. At the time, I was promising myself to write more, and reading fiction with others (smart, insightful others) seemed an important part of that picture.

Now, all credit to Oprah for encouraging people (let's say it, mostly women) to form similar book clubs all around the country. More credit to her for introducing said clubs to writers they might not have otherwise read: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Rohinton Mistry, Jeffrey Eugenides.

But what about shaking it up a little, ladies? Beautiful, eloquent, literary fiction is great - the authors above are some of my favorites. But sometimes I need to mix up my literary diet with fun, flash, or snark - things with which YA books are often rich to the brim. Last January, I suggested my book club read Sherman Alexie's smart, sassy, honest Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Outside of our book club, I got a fellow voracious reader in the group, LK, to become addicted to The Hunger Games. I'm wondering when my time to host comes around again, if I should suggest Going Bovine or Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

What I love about my book club is the ability to learn a little something about each person in it through the books she suggests. My friends have learned I'm a kid at heart - something I don't always wear on my sleeve. And if you think your fellow clubbers might be down on you for your lack of 'literary maturity' - point them to the following New York Times article on the lure of YA literature for adults: The Kids Books Are All Right. Hey, if the New York Times says its OK, it must be, right?

As for Oprah? Maybe she'll have Katniss and Peeta on her list soon.

And if you don't know who Katniss and Peeta are run, don't walk to your nearest bookstore and buy The Hunger Games trilogy.

Then make your whole book club read it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Story Rx: Read to your kids every day

Ok, after the heady drunken-ness of beginning my blog, I thought I'd follow up by starting a tradition: Story Prescriptions. And my first story prescription? Pledge to read to your children at least 10 minutes every day.

It doesn't sound like much, I know. Most of us already do it. Bedtime, bathtime, pottytime - we read. But do we do it religiously, every day? And do we keep doing it when our children become readers themselves?

This father and daughter, highlighted in the New York Times in March, kept up with this all the way through high school - and they called it "The Streak." And they didn't let anything - not high school parties, not trips away from home, not late night play rehearsals, break it.

Who'll join me? I call a nation-wide gathering of parents to participate in a "streak" of daily reading to our children!

What would such an act possibly do?

1. Promote a shared intergenerational vocabulary
2. Model a love of words and learning
3. Associate words and stories with attachment, love and closeness. Stories become not something enjoyed in isolation, but a shared experience.

It's these benefits that prompted my colleague and role model the pediatrician/writer Perri Klass to begin her organization Reach Out and Read: which promotes literacy by giving children free books at every pediatric visit and having doctors give "prescriptions for reading."

All I'm suggesting is that we pledge to continue daily reading well beyond baby and toddler-hood. That we read to our readers and non readers alike. Every day without fail.

We're reading Pippi Longstocking at our house, a good a role model as any for finding joy thinking outside the box.

Come on, parents, let's streak!


Here's a lovely coincidence, after I posted this, I saw that there's a great guest post on reading aloud (with a list of suggested books for older kids) on From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Check it out!

One more correction, this time via Perri Klass herself - she didn't found Reach out and Read but inherited it from Robert Needlman, and then went on to expand the program to several locations!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I wanna be Dr. Seuss! Only snarkier...

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Like a zillion other graduates across the country, I got that Dr. Seuss classic when I was graduating from college - and soon on my way to medical school.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

And steer I did - in many a brainy and footsy direction. Medical school, pediatrics residency, multiple fellowships, some truly wonderful and fulfilling faculty positions teaching at New York area universities. But still, there was something in me just waiting - waiting for

a pair of pants, a wig with curls, or Another Chance....

Well, actually, not pants or wigs. But I was waiting for Another Chance - a chance to find my Writerly Voice.

For many years, I was Very Patient and was waiting for my Writerly Voice to arrive, care of UPS or FEDEX or maybe just USPS, so that I could get on writing my Great Novel. Because of course my Great Novel would be Very Serious and cover Very Serious Topics like health care, immigration, race, family, gender, justice, education and the meaning of the universe.

Except for one tiny problem. Although I do care deeply about Very Serious Topics like health care, immigration, race, family, gender, justice, education and the meaning of the universe, I'm not actually a Very Serious Person. And I read far more children's literature, Dr. Seuss included, than any Very Serious Person should perhaps do. And so I continued waiting. And waiting. Until, suddenly, I met my best friend from second grade after about twenty years. And on a whim, over gluten free pancakes, suggested that we write a novel. Not The Very Serious Novel, but a fanciful, romp-a-licious middle grade novel. And after that novel, I wrote another. And suddenly, I had escaped ...all that waiting and staying. And found the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.

Because the name of my personal Boom Band is children's literature.

So what my day job is A Bit Serious? After all, Dr. Seuss was a dentist. And I can't think of A More Serious Topic than Oral Hygeine. Except maybe the meaning of the universe. Even still...

So I begin this blog to document the journey of a kids doc into kids literature.

And so...

though the weather be foul, my enemies prowl, and Hakken-Kraks howl,

I hope against hope I succeed.

98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.