First she made me laugh. Then she issued a challenge! Lin Oliver, the executive director and one of the founders of SCBWI (remember? Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), spoke at a local SCBWI meeting earlier this year. She urged us to create our own personal canon of the books we have loved and that have hung around in our psyches to most influence our lives. (Writers: Lin also advised us to write the kind of books we love to read.)
“Good ideas,” I thought. But after I wrote my list, I realized how powerful her suggestions actually are. My personal list helped me see what connects my favorite books and how to identify, refine, and stay true to my purpose as a writer. Many thanks to Lin Oliver for her words of wisdom that are also enormously funny and entertaining. (If you get a chance to hear her speak, take it.)
Lin is a prolific writer with a long list of book and screen credits. She writes the Hank Zipzer series with Henry Winkler. Hank Zipzer is billed as “the world’s greatest underachiever.” He’s a smart kid with learning challenges. In Summer School! What Genius Thought That Up? (Grosset & Dunlap, 2005). Hank is facing summer school because of poor grades while his friends get to be Junior Explorers. Hank is funny (read a few of his lists) and clever. His kindness to a kindergartener ends up helping him learn to help himself with his reading and more. There is a nice balance in the book between Hank finding the way to reach an immediate “kid” goal and discovering one way to help himself in the long-term goal of learning to be a good reader. The parents are kind and helpful adults who also say the kinds of things we adults are apt to think kids should take to heart, whether or not our kids think we’re being profound.
There are 17 titles on the Hank Zipzer list. If you know a student (eight and older) who likes to laugh and especially one who struggles with school and reading, check out these books.
I have also just reread Lin’s book Sound Bender (Scholastic Press, 2011, which she wrote with her son, Theo Baker (I’m trying not to be envious). It’s a really good read on multiple levels. I love its creative premise, its characters, and all its connections to real life. It blends science and science fiction with soulfulness. Thirteen year-old Leo discovers he has an amazing ability to hear the pasts of objects. This ability leads him on an adventure to rescue dolphins. The book definitely adds to the emotional map of coming of age and into one’s true self. It’s not necessary background, but, if you have read about any of John Lilly’s dolphin research, the book has an extra layer of meaning.
The only “list” connection I could come up with was that Sound Bender is Lin’s most recent addition to her list of books, but nooo . . . the penultimate book? . . . no to that also. Like I said, she has a long list of book and screen credits.
For next time, we’ll look at the books on my personal canon (or list). I hope you’ll also think about those books that helped form you as a child.