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12 Books for Young Readers that Made Me Think

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The online reading/writing community has been in a bit of a buzz since the publication of an article stating that adults should be ashamed to read books for teens and children. As somebody who wrote an undergrad thesis on the importance of the YA genre (both for teens and adults) I am also, understandably, a little annoyed by this mentality.

However, a lot of wonderful posts have already addressed the issue in very eloquent terms. So I instead am just going to give a list of some of the books for young readers (YA mostly, but a few middle grade) that influenced me.

1. Wonder by J.R. Palacio

I read this one for my mom’s book club. It’s about a boy with a misshapen face starting his first year at school. The book contains several viewpoints, so the reader sees the struggles not just of the boy but those close to him as well.

wonder

 

2. Unwind by Neal Shusterman

This book is simultaneously chilling and thought provoking. It asks big questions about how we confront the unknown and how to deal with people who see things differently than we do.

unwind

3. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Not only is this book written for teens, it’s also written as a graphic novel. A double whammy as far as literary quality goes, right? Wrong. Yang uses the graphics to express things that I just can’t see working as well with only words. This book is for anyone who has a side to themselves they’re embarrassed about.

GeneYang-AmericanBornChinese-cover

4. Ever by Gail Carson Levine

I picked this book up expecting a fairy tale. I also found a beautiful story about faith and believing in things we can’t see.

ever

5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I just don’t have words for how I feel about this book.

bookthief

6. Blue Lipstick by John Grandits

This is a book of concrete poems, some silly, some profound, and all relatable.

BlueLipstick

7. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

If I had one word to describe this book, I would say chilling. Anderson chronicles the life of a girl with anorexia.

wintergirls

8. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

I can count on one hand the number of books that made me cry. This is one of them.

freakthemighty

9. Tenderness by Robert Cormier

I mentioned that Wintergirls was chilling. Tenderness is worse. It’s probably the most disturbing book I’ve ever read. And I loved it.

tenderness

10. The Giver by Lois Lowry

A lot of critics are saying that dystopia has been overdone in YA, but I still love it. And for me it started with this book. Dystopic stories allow us to ask questions about what society is and how it should be. It allows us to wonder what we as humans are capable of.

thegiver

11. Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

One of my favorite novels in verse. For me, it was an insight into a world I knew nothing about.

makelemonade

12. The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender

There are a lot of Holocaust stories, but this one is my favorite.

thecage

This was going to be a list of 10 books, but it has turned into 12. There are more I could include. YA can in fact be quite thought provoking.

So take that online, YA-bashing article!

 

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Dear Preston

Dear Preston,

You don’t know me. You don’t know that I spent 12 hours on campus today or that I only managed about 5 hours of sleep last night. I was dead on my feet when you ran into me.

To start off, I’m sorry I’m a dork who doesn’t check the weather forecasts in the morning (was snow even in the forecast this morning?). I’m sorry that today was the first time in probably five months that I left the apartment without bothering to wear something heavier than a T-shirt. And I’m sorry that I looked so pathetic as I walked out of the Tanner Building that you felt that the need to let me borrow your jacket.

Being the thick-skinned Montanan that I am, I assumed I could make it home in the snow just fine, and I couldn’t just wear some stranger’s coat home. But you insisted, and about thirty seconds into my walk home, I was glad you did. Even I’m not tough enough to brave that weather in short sleeves.

Preston, people like you make the world go round.

I’ll get your jacket back to you as soon as possible. Thanks again.

Warm thoughts,

Kyra

Adventures in a Fake Japanese Bakery

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ネルソン. カイラ

That’s my name in Japanese, because nothing makes you feel like a kindergartener again the way relearning to write your name does. But truth be told, Japanese class is very fun. We do a lot of play acting, and reading katakana is a lot like playing Mad Gab.

On the other hand, it can be very difficult to enact a realistic play acting scenario with a severely limited vocabulary. Which leads to conversations like these (translated back into English for your convenience):

Cameron-san goes to the bakery to pick up a pie for Liz-san and a strawberry cake for Kyra-san. Michelle-san helps him at the counter.

Cameron-san: Sorry to bother you.

Michelle-san: What do you want?*

Cameron-san: Pie and strawberry cake, please.

Michelle-san: Sorry. We don’t have strawberry cake, but we have cheesecake.

Cameron-san: Is the cheesecake good?

Michelle-san: It’s totally good!

Cameron-san: How much is the pie?

Michelle-san: It’s $50**

Cameron-san: That’s expensive! Do you have anything cheaper?

Michelle-san: We have cheesecake.

Cameron-san: How much is the cheesecake?

Michelle-san: …$15?

Cameron-san: …Is the cheesecake good?

Michelle-san: It’s totally good!

Cameron-san: Cheesecake, please.

Cameron-san pays and returns with his purchase.

Liz-san: What is this?

Cameron-san: It’s cheesecake.

Liz-san: It’s not pie.

Cameron-san: Sorry. The pie was expensive.

Kyra-san: Is it strawberry cake?

Cameron-san: It’s not strawberry cake. It’s cheesecake. There was no strawberry cake.

Kyra-san: Is it good?

Cameron-san: It’s totally good!

 

 

*This sounds rude in English. In Japanese it’s more like “How may I help you?”

** We don’t really know how to do dollar/yen conversions. So when asked what something costs, we just throw out a number. It’s usually either 50,000 or 50.

Kids Need to Read. So do Adults. 15 Reasons

So I normally don’t do more than one serious post in a row, but this is something I feel very strongly about. My friends (okay, so Meghan is my friend. The rest of them just seem cool so I like to pretend we’re friends. Like I do with Captain America) the YA WordNerds are promoting a charity called Kids Need to Read. You can check out their video here:

I’m a huge proponent of kids (and adults) reading not only because I’m an avid reader myself, but also because I wrote an undergraduate thesis on the importance of pleasure reading. I won’t bore you with the whole academic paper, but here’s some bullet point quick reasons.

  1. Kids who read find reassurance in characters who have similar struggles.
  2. Reading improves analytical skills.
  3. Kids who read are better readers (go figure).
  4. People who read are more likely to engage in volunteer work.
  5. People who read as kids are more likely to read as adults.
  6. Reading improves writing skills.
  7. Books can provide an escape and allow readers to de-stress.
  8. Avid readers are more likely to engage in cultural events like going to museums or attending concerts.
  9. Books introduce kids to a variety of factoids. They increase cultural capital.
  10. Reading often serves as a cautionary tale.
  11. Avid readers are more likely to vote.
  12. Reading allows people to make empathetic connections and increases sensitivity.
  13. Kids who read have stronger vocabularies.
  14. Employers say they need more employees with the reading and writing skills that can be obtained from pleasure reading.
  15. Avid readers are more likely to have financially rewarding jobs. Those who don’t read at all are much more likely to be jobless.

That’s really just the surface of my research. I hope that you take time to check out the Kids Need to Read page. And try and pick up a book this holiday season. If you’ve read something you like, pass it on to a friend. You’ll be doing them a favor.

Things I Don’t Forget

I only met Larry, the custodian at my middle school, once. It was a Monday morning, and I had arrived at school several hours early to work on the newspaper. Upon entering a classroom, my teacher and I discovered that some punk had vandalized the school by throwing rocks through several windows and plastering several more with egg, which had baked on thoroughly over the weekend.

My teacher sent me to find Larry so we could ask him to help clean up. I tracked him down and told him about the damage. He walked off down the hall to get some cleaning supplies, whistling some happy tune all the way. He wasn’t about to let the extra work ruin his morning. A year later, when his death was announced to the students, all I could think about was Larry’s happy whistling on what should have been a terrible day.

***

Like most high school girls, I was insecure about everything, and especially my appearance. And if I was insecure on a normal day, I was even more so one particular day when my dad took me to a hardware store after we’d spent a night camping. My hair was only half in what was supposed to be a braid, I hadn’t brushed my teeth, and I was wearing a t-shirt that was probably large enough to fit two of me.

I didn’t really want to be seen by anyone, much less the cute boy who worked at the hardware store. Maybe he wasn’t even that cute, but he was my age about and had a nice smile. Embarrassed, I tried to pretend he didn’t exist, thinking that maybe he would do the same for me.

My dad went back the next day without me, and was asked where his cute helper was. When my dad told me, it took me a minute to realize I was the cute helper. I often think about that when I’m having a bad hair day (of which there are plenty) and I walk out the door feeling a little more confident.

***

Twice upon a time my car was hit in the spot across the high school where I parked. Both times the responsible drivers were kind enough to leave me a note, which I appreciated even though the damage was minimal. My little blue tracer had been in fifteen minor collisions by the time I was done with it. Which is to say, it wasn’t exactly pretty.

tracie

The second kid who hit my car (in that particular parking spot at any rate) was a freshman who had never driven on snow before. He left a little red paint and a small dent on the side of my car, which I may or may not have even noticed had he not left a note. But the way his mom reacted, you would have thought he totaled my car.

Even after I called to say that I didn’t mind the (very minimal) damage to my car, the mother insisted on meeting me at my parking spot the next day after school. I was in a hurry, but I tried to be patient with her as she went on and on about how sorry she was her son hit my car and how nice of me it was to forgive him. Somewhere in the middle of all that she managed to start talking about her other son and how she didn’t want the one who’d hit my car to end up like him. Then she had her son hand me an envelope containing a hundred dollars (a lot, considering we ended up selling the entire car to a junk yard for two hundred just a year later).

I tried to talk her out of giving me the money, insisting that it was way more than compensation for the minor damages. She refused to yield. So I took the money, maybe because I had two other places to be and didn’t have time to argue with her. Or maybe because I saw a mother trying to teach her son a lesson in how to be a good human being. Maybe I learned a thing or two about being a good human being too.

***

I was the only Mormon working on the high school newspaper staff, which sometimes made me a bit of an outsider. The conversations in the computer lab where we worked were often infused with profanity and decorated with dirty jokes. I was pretty adept at ignoring these sort of conversations. I wasn’t about to tell anybody off, because that would have felt too much like shoving my religion down their throats—something I didn’t want to do under any circumstance. Besides, I was a senior by that point and had been fairly desensitized to high school conversation.

One day after class a friend of mine went out of his way to apologize for how crude the conversations in the lab were. He promised that the conversations would be cleaner in the future. The next day I was working at a computer when another dirty conversation started. I did what I always did and kept typing, not paying attention to whatever they were talking about.

My friend lived up to his promise and told the others to cut it out. He said he promised me they wouldn’t have anymore conversations of that type around me. One of the other students argued that I wasn’t even listening, and I continued to act like it wasn’t. But my friend insisted that he’d promised and that they could go somewhere else to have their conversation.

I’m sure the other students didn’t like my friend policing their conversation that way. It couldn’t have made him popular. But I appreciated it immensely, not so much because he’d gotten rid of the inappropriate conversations that I was used to dealing with, but because he had defended me and my moral code. He wasn’t by any means my closest friend or the one I spent the most time with. But the sort of respect and loyalty he showed me are hard to rival.

***

I don’t know if these stories mean anything to you. They’re random, insignificant events from quite awhile ago. Most of the people in the stories I barely knew. In fact, they’re such small stories that I probably should have forgotten all about them. But I haven’t.

These are the sort of things I try to remember when I start thinking that maybe humanity is just a miserable lot. I think about these stories and others often because just thinking about them makes me a little happier.

And I can’t think about these insignificant events without wondering if I’ve ever been on the other side of it, doing something small that somebody would remember. It’s the sort of thought that makes me want to be a better person. Just because I never know who is watching—and remembering—the little things I do.

Proud to be an American

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Happy Fourth of July everyone. I’ve celebrated 21 Independence Days, but this is the first time I’ve celebrated outside of the US. I’ve spent the past week and a half travelling Ireland and the UK as part of a study abroad program.

For one of our courses we were assigned to interview native Irish about their attitudes regarding Gaelic. The Irish government has been working to revitalize the Gaelic language, and part of that includes requiring Gaelic to be taught in the schools.

Most of the younger Irish we interviewed were unable to actually speak Gaelic despite having taken it in school. In fact, most of them disliked their Gaelic classes. What was interesting, though, was that they all felt that future generations should take Gaelic classes. They see it as part of their heritage and something they want preserved.

All the Irish we met were proud to be Irish. As much as they acknowledged past national follies and as much as they railed on their current government, they were genuinely proud to call themselves Irish. When we moved on to Wales we noticed much the same. The Welsh were proud to be Welsh.

Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I fail to notice that much patriotism from my fellow Americans. Our Americanness isn’t as much a part of our identity. Sure, we have moments of grand national pride. Our patriotism swells as we sing the national anthem or watch fireworks light up the sky on July 4th. But where is our American pride the rest of the time?

To be fair, certain groups of people (military or people from certain geographic regions) display a fair amount of patriotism. But the average citizen? I’m inclined to think that as a whole we could be doing better.

Many people take pride in their mixed heritage but forget that being American is an important part of that heritage. They forget that whatever else they are, they are American. They can be proud of their ancestors’ nationalities while still being proud of their American identity.

Or maybe the problem is that America’s history doesn’t stretch back as far as the history of other countries. But that’s no less reason to be proud of it. In our brief time as a country we’ve accomplished some impressive things. We won our independence from the great British Empire with a ragtag army that had never fought together. We established a government that, in many ways, was as revolutionary as the war preceding it.

We have our great novelists, artists, athletes, scientists, poets, musicians, philosophers, and political thinkers.  America has produced people like John Steinbeck, Thomas Edison, Norman Rockwell, Henry David Thoreau, Louis Armstrong, Jesse Owens, Emily Dickinson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Arthur Miller. And that’s only to name a few.

While there are certainly reasons to be discontent with America and the direction it’s going, we don’t have to let our national pride suffer. In fact, I’m inclined to think that if we were a little more proud of our heritage, we’d work a little harder to secure America’s future.

I’m proud to be an American. I don’t always show it like I ought to. But the people of America have accomplished great things, and I believe that we can continue to accomplish great things, despite our faults.

May the star spangled banner long wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

37 Ways to Feel Like You’re Pretty Hot Stuff

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“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.For poise, walk with the knowledge you’ll never walk alone.” -Audrey Hepburn

This list is a compilation of my own thoughts and suggestions from friends.

  1. Smile– On days where I don’t feel pretty, I stand in front of the mirror and smile at myself until I decide I have a pretty smile. Then I toss my hair around (Glinda style) and pose in front of the mirror like I’m at a photo shoot.mirror
  2. Tell somebody else they’re beautiful– Better yet, tell every girl you know she’s beautiful. As girls we spend so much time comparing ourselves to others that we tend to forget… Beauty isn’t a competition. The better you become at recognizing beauty in others, the better you become at recognizing it in yourself.
  3. Give yourself a pep talk– I discovered this video awhile back, and I’m a little in love with it. I love how enthusiastic she is about building herself up.
  4. Be thankful– One of the things that I love about Jessica’s pep talk is that a lot of the things she says aren’t even about her. Grateful people are happy people. Happy people are more beautiful.
  5. Dance– Not in front of people. Well, if you can dance maybe dance in front of people. If you’re me it’s better to do it in private. Still, there’s nothing wrong with waltzing around your basement in the middle of the night.dance
  6. Go somewhere beautiful– To me there’s something about being in the open air that makes me think clearer. It’s peaceful. But there are other places I feel more beautiful. Our environment affects a lot about the way we think. Put yourself in a good environment.
  7. Listen to your pump up song– Everyone needs to have a song that just makes them feel good. Some of mine include “All the Right Moves” by OneRepublic, “These Two Hands” by Hana Pestle, and “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles. Listen to it. And if you’re really feeling it, sing along at the top of your lungs.
  8. Geek out– Everyone has something kinda silly they’re just really in to. For me it’s superheroes and vintage hairstyles (not necessarily at the same time). You’ll feel more beautiful when you’re proud of your geekiness. Don’t be guilty about your guilty pleasures. Love what you love!
  9. Get dressed– Get dressed in the morning even if you’re not going anywhere. Take time to pick out an outfit you really like. Shower. Brush your teeth. Do your hair. You’ll feel much more ready to face the day.
  10. Get dressed up– Sometimes I like to wear a dress just because. Actually, sometimes I’ll go to a store just to try on dresses. Not even to buy one, just to try them on and twirl in front of a mirror (I happen to be a fan of dresses where the skirts flare out when I spin).
  11. Spend a little extra time on yourself– I like to paint my nails. A friend recommended plucking her eyebrows. This isn’t about taking time to fix imperfections. It’s about reminding yourself that you’re worth the effort.
  12. Do something girly– Wear perfume. Put ribbons in your hair. Wear something lacy. Cry while watching a chick flick. It’s ok to be girly. I like to put on super red lipstick. That kinda has to do with the whole vintage thing…
  13. Strut– I like to wear high heels. Sometimes I’ll wear them even if I’m just going to the grocery store. I can pull off wearing shoes with such a high heel that they’re more like frilly stilts than shoes. And I love it. Sometimes when I’m done trying on dresses I go find the most ridiculous heels I can and walk around in them. But whether you’re wearing your super pumps or your ratty old sneakers, you can hold yourself with confidence.
  14. Work out– Don’t work out because you hate your body and want to change it. Work out because you love your body and want to take care of it. And find a workout you enjoy. If you don’t like running, you don’t have to run. Try something else. Lift weights, cycle, do Zumba. Find an exercise that works for you.
  15. Eat fruit– I don’t have a logical reason for this. Like yeah it goes along with taking care of yourself. But I feel cuter eating strawberries than green beans. Maybe that’s just me. Or maybe that’s just because I don’t actually like green beans very much.
  16. Stretch– take a minute in the morning to stretch. It’ll wake you up and help you start your day.
  17. Buy yourself flowers– There’s  a common misconception that you have to wait for a boy to give you flowers. Not true. I love flowers, so I buy them for myself on special occasions. Although if there are any guys out there who want to buy me flowers, I’d be cool with that too…
  18. Talk to your feel good person– everyone should have a person that just makes them feel good. If you don’t, find one. And the best way to find one is to be one (see number 2).
  19. Wear a facial mask or do a hand scrub– Preferably with friends. Again, this is about taking care of yourself. And who doesn’t like how soft your skin feels after?
  20. Give yourself some alone time– sometimes we just need a chance to be by ourselves and regather our composure. That’s ok.
  21. De-stress– If you’re busy, stressed, and overwhelmed it’s easy to become frustrated with yourself and feel like you’ll never measure up to the number of tasks that need to be completed. Take a second to breathe and remind yourself that it’s all going to work out.
  22. Spend time with children– Their simple view on life will refresh you.
  23. Serve– Doing something nice will prevent you from thinking about yourself too much. And it will just make you feel good.
  24. Pray– God loves you. And He’s willing to remind you if you give Him the chance.princess
  25. Forgive- Let go of grudges. They weigh you down and make it hard for focus on being your best self.
  26. Move forward– It’s not enough to forgive others. We also have to forgive ourselves. Don’t dwell on past mistakes. It’s time to move on and love who you are now.
  27. Focus on your favorite features– We all have things we don’t love about our appearances. But we should also have things we do like. When you look in the mirror, focus on the things you DO like. For example: “Dang Kyra! Your hair is so long and curly and beautiful. Girl, you look fine!” Tell yourself something like that. Except use your name instead of mine.
  28. Be aware of media’s effect on you– You know the media is full of idealized images. You know that can affect your self esteem. If you’re exposed to media that makes you feel bad about yourself, turn it off!barbie
  29. Replace bad media with good media– Watch something with characters that inspire you. Like for me, I get excited every time I watch Lord of the Rings and Eowyn has that scene where she pulls of her mask with the whole “I am no man!” line. It gets me pumped up and makes me want to run out and take on the world.
  30. Get comfortable with your body– Spend time in your underwear. Don’t be afraid of what you look like when you’re undressed.
  31. Do something you love– Practice an instrument. Play a sport. Get artsy. Whatever your thing is, do it.
  32. Be productive– When you get things done, you’ll feel better about yourself. You just will.
  33. Find a real life role model– Find somebody who inspires you, especially somebody who excels in a field you’re interested in. And let your role model be somebody who’s not just good at what they do but somebody who’s does good.
  34. Let boys open doors for you– Especially if you’re on a date. Maybe it’s old fashioned. But I think most guys are still willing, eager even, to open your door. Not because you can’t open the door for yourself. Because you deserve to be treated with respect.
  35. Respect others– This goes right along with number 2 as well. Treat the people around you well. You’ll be better at treating yourself with respect too.
  36. Expect others to treat you right– How you let others treat you says a lot about how you feel about yourself.
  37. Treat yourself rightlove yourself