Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Living with a Peeta-file, Part II

A lot of people feel that The Hunger Games is too brutal. They say the book is nothing more than glorified violence, that real people would never let something that horrific happen.

I respectfully agree. And disagree. Here’s why.

In the early 1960s, the United States increased their support of a war that was already in progress halfway across the globe. We didn’t have nearly enough soldiers to make a difference in that war, so in 1969a televised lottery was held. The draft. (Reaping, anyone?) Many of the young men sent to fight in Vietnam were poor; they had no means to avoid the draft. And according to a popular song from the 80s, the average age of those soldiers was 19.

The Vietnam War was the first televised war. Unlike the newsreels sent home from previous wars, the government didn’t get to edit the footage that was released to the American public. Technology had advanced too far and a growing mistrust of our elected leaders made news services all too eager to exercise their freedom of speech.

But here’s where we differ from the people of Panem. Those nightly images served up with a thawed out tray of mystery meat got to be more than Americans could tolerate. Rather than accept that this was our fate, that we had to send more of our children to die, people started protesting the war and demanding that our soldiers come home. It didn’t take twenty-four years for people to start a Rue Riot. Thank goodness.

I know the parallels aren’t exactly the same. But when people say the Hunger Games is too violent, I wonder if they’ve watched the nightly news. Because those smiling hosts are always happy to dish from the scene of the crime and replay the carnage until we’re numb. When people say that we would never let that happen, I say we already did.

And we still do.

Only these days, no one’s forcing us to watch. And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, or not.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Living with a Peeta-file, Part I

I took my son to the midnight showing of The Hunger Games the day it opened. So many people were wrapped around the building that they had to show it on two screens. In my small community, that’s pretty amazing. But I guess we’re just a reflection of what was going on in the big cities.

A group of smiling girls dragged my son into their part of the line. And while he still claims to hold to the belief that girls are strange, he didn’t fight them too hard.

I was ambivalent going into the movie. Most adaptations fail, in my opinion, to capture the essence of a book. And this book was so very good that the thought of seeing it ruined before my eyes, larger than life, left me with butterflies in my stomach.

When the lights finally went down, people cheered. The spectacle we’d waited so long to see was finally here. As the opening frames lit up the screen, their screams got louder, then died away. And the further we got into the story, the more I felt embarrassed by our exuberance. This wasn’t a rom-com, lighthearted flick. Children die on the screen. It’s not the sort of film you can walk away from without being moved.

Over spring break, Drew tore through the next two books. I warned him that I was depressed for a week after reading Mockingjay. But of course that didn’t stop him. Some things you just have to discover for yourself.

I don’t know if I’ll watch the sequels. I LOVE The Hunger Games. And I think they did an incredible job making it into a movie. I highly recommend it. I enjoyed Catching Fire, though I still have a major hang-up with them returning to the games. But Mockingjay? I don’t know if I could ever read it again, let alone watch it unfold in all its horror onscreen. Though maybe a watered-down theatrical version would leave me less disturbed.

My son and I have had some pretty in-depth conversations because of these stories, about right and wrong, choice and sacrifice. That, I think, is what sets this trilogy apart. All those layers to chew on.

And once we’re done discussing the “heavy” stuff, there’s always the endless debate: Team Gale or Team Peeta? I loved Gale from the opening pages, had my heart torn out by him in the final chapters. My son thinks Peeta is a much better character, (though that might have more to do with projecting himself into Peeta’s role since, y’ know, he winds up with the kick-ass heroine).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where Kids' Votes Count

Voting is still open for the Children's Choice Book Awards. I've helped my kids vote. Here are the nominees:

Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year

Bailey by Harry Bliss (Scholastic)

Dot by Patricia Intriago (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan)

Pirates Don’t Take Baths by John Segal (Philomel/Penguin)

Three Hens and a Peacock by Lester L. Laminack, illustrated by Henry Cole (Peachtree)

Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster)

Third Grade to Fourth Grade Book of the Year

Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Bruel (Roaring Brook/Macmillan)

A Funeral in the Bathroom: And Other School Bathroom Poems by Kalli Dakos, illustrated by Mark Beech (Albert Whitman)

The Monstrous Book of Monsters by Libby Hamilton, illustrated by Jonny Duddle and Aleksei Bitskoff (Templar/Candlewick)

Sidekicks by Dan Santat (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)

Squish #1: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House)

Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade Book of the Year

Bad Island by Doug TenNapel (GRAPHIX/Scholastic)

How to Survive Anything by Rachel Buchholz, illustrated by Chris Philpot (National Geographic)

Lost & Found by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog by Garth Stein (HarperCollins)

Teen Book of the Year

Clockwork Prince: The Infernal Devices, Book Two by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Little, Brown)

Divergent by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins)

Passion: A Fallen Novel by Lauren Kate (Delacorte/Random House)

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster)

Author of the Year

Jeff Kinney for Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever (Amulet Books/Abrams)

Christopher Paolini for Inheritance (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House)

James Patterson for Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life (Little, Brown)

Rick Riordan for The Son of Neptune (The Heroes of Olympus, Book 2) (Disney Hyperion)

Rachel Renée Russell for Dork Diaries 3: Tales from a Not-So-Talented Pop Star (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)

Illustrator of the Year

Felicia Bond for If You Give a Dog a Donut (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

Eric Carle for The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse (Philomel/Penguin)

Anna Dewdney for Llama Llama Home With Mama (Viking/Penguin)

Victoria Kann for Silverlicious (HarperCollins)

Brian Selznick for Wonderstruck (Scholastic)

Help your child (or your school) vote for their favorites at the Children's Choice Book Awards.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

According to Joel Stein I'm a Perv

In a New York Times essay on March 29, Joel Stein wrote:

The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter...

I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like. Maybe there are complicated shades of good and evil in each character. Maybe there are Pynchonesque turns of phrase. Maybe it delves into issues of identity, self-justification and anomie that would make David Foster Wallace proud. I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.

Let’s have the decency to let tween girls have their own little world of vampires and child wizards and games you play when hungry. Let’s not pump Justin Bieber in our Saabs and get engaged at Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland. Because it’s embarrassing.  

To which Maggie Stiefvater tweeted:

I realize the guy's a satirist, but really? Maybe because he wrote a book for adults that's coming out soon, he wants to make sure there are adults around who are interested in reading it.

Based on his essay, he can count me out.
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