Tuesday, August 24, 2010

mockingjay is a beautiful word

It is, and thank you Suzanne Collins for coining it, and for writing the Hunger Games books.

There was a kid, a young man at the door this morning. Lisa and I were at the front of the store, talking about child-rearing and working vacations, and it's a full 50 minutes before our opening time, and this guy is hesitantly shuffling back and forth, kind of back on his heels, and when we realize he has a question I go over and unlock the door, "Hi. uh, yes?" Looking right at me, but perhaps startled at my appearance nonetheless, he softly rattles out that he's here for something, and gestures at the Mockingjay release date sign in the window. "Well, we're not open for another 50 minutes, so..."
"Oh, I know, I'm waiting."

The Harry Potter era, ensconced within the Books are Dead era, which was itself enveloped by the Readers are a Shrinking Minority era, gave the distinct impression that if a book was going to capture the attention of that distracted, medicated, shiftless mass of American children, it had to be HUGE, with MASSIVE PAN-MEDIA potential, and have a MARKETING PLAN that would ensure that there is NOT ONE CHILD LEFT BEHIND once the tsunami of print, television, internet, and radio advertisements wash the record of all other current children's books from their memories.

We decided to sell him the book and once I got one of the registers up I "Psssst''d him in the door and he grinned like maybe you would have grinned at 12 or 13 years old, and you're out in Coolidge Corner before the shops are even open, on your own, and the guy is gonna let you get the book before anyone else, because you showed up. Lisa asked him if he'd been up all night, probably noticing his shaky hands and nervous mumbles, and I didn't catch his response, but after he'd left (and I had locked the front door behind us, and neither of us went before him to let him out, so he's heading for escape with his prize and awkwardly gets pulled up short, pulling and pushing on the locked double doors) she told me that he had wanted to stay up all night, to go to the Children's Bookshop at midnight.

But his mother wouldn't let him.

Bedtime. Homework. Behavior. Consequences. perhaps Health.

Who knows, and one of the best lessons that fatherhood has taught me is that rushing to judge other parents whom you've never met based on what you see happening right now in front of you is a dodgy, dangerous thing to do, and you will almost always be wrong.
So I'm not going there, but where I am going is that the marketing machine has indeed been working on the Hunger Games. But in spite of that, between HP and HG kids have been reading. Other books. It's doable. Kids can and still want to read and be told stories and find stuff out and look at pictures and comic books and be proud to get that book before everybody else, because feeling like you are getting into the new place before anyone else in the world is a special, lasting feeling.

If you have a baby or a pre-school age child, put a book with pictures, any book with pictures, you don't even have to buy one, it could be whatever is on your shelves, a gardening book or a field guide to amphibians, and put it in front of them.
If you have an older child, a "reluctant" reader, as they might be called in the whatever biz, pick up the book you are currently reading and start holding twenty minute reading sessions after dinner at the table. (You are reading something right? If not, you have NO RIGHT TO JUDGE YOUR CHILD'S READING HABITS. This will be good exercise for you, too.) People learn by doing something themselves, or by watching and listening to others. If your kid isn't going to pick up a book, and they don't want to listen to you, then all they have to do is sit there while you read out loud. If you don't see their interest perking by the third week, then go figure out something else.

Don't take anyone else's word for the unique nature of your child.
Allow them to engage in the world on their own terms.
Let them go out at midnight to the bookstore if they really want to.

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