Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Yes, I'm Still Moved!

So to learn about my Picks of the Week—and all my other news—please come visit me at! Don't forget to "follow" me over there by clicking the link at the top of the page!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Yes, I've Officially Moved!

Yes, this entire blog! For all the news this page has previously provided, please hop on over to my  website. You can find this week's Pick of the Week, and all future picks, on my website's "News & Picks of the Week" page. Can't wait to see you, and while you're over there, don't forget to hit the "follow" button!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I'm moving!

Dear friends of Lela Nargi News:
I'm moving this page! Starting with this weekend's Pick of the Week, I'll be posting reviews over on my website, on a page dedicated to News & Picks of the Week. Find it here. And so you don't miss a single installment, make sure you "Follow" the new page! It's easy as pie—just press the little button on the top left bar. See you over there!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Belated Mother's Day Pick(s)

As I was way too busy being adored by my family yesterday, I put off posting the thoughts I'd had in mind all last week for this page. And those concerned what is possibly my daughter and my favorite activity, reading aloud together. More specifically, my reading aloud to her. For the past few weeks we've been working our way through these:

Ada thought that I should wait to post about them until we'd finished the last book in the trilogy, THE AMBER SPYGLASS. But whether Ada likes the third book as much as the first two is slightly irrelevant to the purpose of this post. Which is to extol the virtues of reading to the kid(s) in your life. 

I'm moderately aware of what literacy experts have to say about the matter: that it increases vocabulary and stimulates language development; that it creates positive associations with reading generally; that it introduces kids to books they might not select on their own, and helps them learn to sit still and listen. All of these are terrific reasons. But they're not any of them the reasons I started reading to Ada in the first place, and they're not the reasons I continue to read to her now.

I guess my reasons are selfish. Reading some of my own favorite books to Ada lets me visit them again,  and also to appreciate them from her perspective, since she almost always has some observation that I'd missed, or that never occurred to me. Reading out loud also helps me understand, as a writer, what works and what doesn't in written language—I can hear when passages are too verbose, or when they  are paced just right (and in Philip Pullman's books, there are a lot of passages like the latter). And I can figure out, from Ada's reaction, what is fun and engaging and what is completely lame and boring.

Ada accuses me of not liking to play and I'm ashamed to admit it, but she's right; I'm good for putting together a puzzle, or arranging dollhouse furniture, or hauling down the sewing machine and practicing making seams. But the imaginative play as well as the board games—well, my husband really has to pick up the slack there. When I read to Ada, though, she accuses me of nothing. Pretty much for as long as I'm able to read—and sometimes we have marathon sessions going on two hours—she's able to sit and listen. I love watching as, when we come to a particularly tense scene in which Mrs. Coulter and her monkey daemon are up to their nasty old tricks again, she shoots up her head to look at me with wide eyes and to groan, "Oh, no!"

A lot less often than when she was younger, Ada will sit curled up with me on the couch as I read—as opposed to sitting and drawing at the coffee table, or glueing beads to something, or rolling around with the dog. When she does, I notice that she's reading along and I think how great that is, that she's getting to see how some big words are pronounced and building her vocabulary, and all those important educational things. But mostly, I'm just enjoying the feel of her soft, warm head tucked under my chin.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Picks of the Two Weeks, and a Tribute, of Sorts

I’ve spent the last two weeks reading as much E.L. Konigsburg as my local library shelf provided. Even before the sad event of her passing on April 19, I was well through my fourth reading of all time of her Newberry Award-winner, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I was trying to determine if my third reading of all time (about three years ago, out loud to my daughter), in which I found myself vaguely disappointed by the story, was really a case of not-in-the-mood, or let-down due to Ada’s apparent lack of enthusiasm, or just of a once-beloved book—through no fault of its own—not being able to live up to the adoration in which it was once held. In short, I wanted to know if I plain didn’t like the book anymore. And more broadly, I was also considering the question of whether certain books seem out-of-date after a generation or two. Also in the back of my mind was The Wind in the Willows, my absolute favorite book of childhood, the one that made me want to be a writer in the first grade and which I plagiarized heavily for a story I scribbled in the notebook my mother bought me for my first day of school. When I tried to re-read it in adulthood, it seemed so dry and slow I could barely find my way out of the first chapter.

My 4th grade teacher read From the Mixed Up Files…out loud to us, way back in 1976. I was completely, unutterably entranced. So much so that when she finished the read-aloud, I asked her if I could borrow the book, so I could read it again at home. “What do you want to read it again for?” She asked. “We just finished it!” I wanted to read it again, of course, because I wanted to savor it all on my own, without having to listen to the tittering and commenting and breathing of my classmates—the scenes of planning and organizing to run away; the scenes of choosing where to sleep in the Metropolitan Museum, and those in which Claudia and Jamie have free run of it afterhours. In retrospect, it’s obvious why I loved these as much as I did. I grew up a few blocks away from the Met and my parents and I spent every Sunday afternoon there, wandering the Egyptian wing, and the Arms and Armor, and those rooms full of furniture. The book was like my own private fantasy written into life.

After my fourth read-through, I still wasn’t sure what I thought. Except for this: kids don’t really talk like that anymore. And also this: the story requires patience, which contemporary kids aren’t asked to dredge up very often when they read these days—they are thrown right into the action of a story, right off the bat. I had never read another book by E.L. Konigburg, so I checked out Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, her first novel; The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World; The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place; and Konigsburg’s second Newberry winner, The View from Saturday.

These books span four decades. And still, after reading them, I thought, kids don’t really talk that way anymore, and also, these stories require patience. And I also thought: these two observations are irrelevant. Because what was obvious on considering these five books all together were Konigsburg’s real talents. She had a true and deep understanding of the emotional complexity of relationships—the kind and savage ways we treat each other, and the place where those disparate sides of ourselves meet. And she was a master of the chaotic coincidence—the narrator who turns out to mean much more than the reader (or the protagonists) bargained for; an incidental, never-introduced character who holds the key to a grand mystery; four teenagers whose friendship hinges on a seemingly random wedding in Florida.

To enjoy the results of these talents, it is worthwhile to overlook quirks in dialog, and also to have patience.  And as a parent, and a late-arriving fan of some of these books, perhaps I should have patience, too. Ada may not have been ready for From the Mixed Up Files… as a six year old; and she might not be ready for it now, as a 4th grader; but perhaps one of these years she will discover this book and the others all on her own, and find them just right for the moment.