Take Care When Picking Teen Books
Please Write in This Book
By Mary Amato
Illustrated by Eric Brace
Holiday House, 2009, $6.95
A Dog on His Own
By Mary Jane Auch
Holiday House, 2009, $16.95
By Lynn Messina
Harcourt, 2009, $7.95
Children's literature is refreshing: original, fun-filled, innocent, creative. Teen literature is too often the older, troubled sibling: edgy, morally loose, angry, sexual.
Let's start with examples of the prior. "Please Write in This Book" is a clever idea from author Mary Amato.
The premise is that an elementary school teacher has put a blank book in the classroom, with instructions for the students to write in the book whenever they're in the writing corner. The only instructions she gives are that the students should have fun and always sign their names to their work. Fun ensues.
Students reveal their personalities, hopes, and interests as they write notes, draw pictures, and create stories for one another. Stereotypically, the boys write a lot about snot and puke, and expand on the idea that worms don't have buttocks.
The girls draw sunshine and flower pictures, chastise the boys for their rude comments about mucous and puke, and create stories about horses. There's even a boy named Milton who will end up an accountant or scientist; he spends most of his time trying to get everyone to stick to facts.
Elementary-aged readers should get a kick out of "Please Write in This Book." By the time they finish reading the creative stories the main characters develop, they should be ready to start their own blank books to share.
Mary Jane Auch keeps children's literature fresh with "A Dog on His Own."
Told from the dog's perspective, this tale should delight any dog lover. Named K-10 by his mom because she thought he was a notch above a K-9, the main pup is a scruffy, independent, heart-weary mutt. He takes great pains to elude the dog catchers, though he ends up spending a short stint in a shelter, where he meets his two main canine friends.
A central theme of the book is that humans just aren't as loyal as dogs are, as evidenced by the fact that K-10 was left by "his boy," and had been rejected by lazy owners several times after that. Most of the dogs have trouble trusting humans, but especially K-10.
After dealing with a tough-guy German shepherd, helping his two friends find homes, and successfully dodging the dog catchers, K-10 eventually finds a real home -- and learns to trust humans again.
Young readers will enjoy how the dogs communicate through "pee-mail" on bushes, and will be joyfully frustrated when the dogs bark answers, but the humans can't understand them.
Speaking of hard to understand...
Switching from innocent children's books to a book for ages 14 and up is probably not a good idea. But why does children's literature have to segue so drastically into teen lit? "Savvy Girl" is a Disney Channel-type story idea: Chrissy, the main character, has earned a summer internship at "Savvy" magazine, a popular teen periodical. She's smart, cute, and talented. But she quickly falls into Lindsay Lohan syndrome.
What's particularly troubling about the story is that the adults in the book assist Chrissy in underage drinking and partying. Her mentor takes her to parties and teaches her how to order and enjoy the hip new drinks.
Yes, there's a moral turn-about at the end of the book, where Chrissy writes a stellar piece on how hard it is to stick to your values and be true to self under the bright lights of fashion and big-city partying. But that comes only after much of that partying, lying to parents, and betraying friends has been glorified.
A moral alert: Chrissy is also strongly pro-choice. Since what we read is so closely tied to what we become, readers should be aware of the world-views that authors espouse.
Whatever age reader you have or are, reading books is a great way of exploring the world and the way others view it. Just remember that young readers may need guidance as they move from the child's world of literature to the teen's.
See more of Southern Pines writer Charlene Vermeulen's reviews at www.prudereviews.blogspot.com.
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