Tag Archives: geeky stuff

Confessions of a Failed Geek: My Kids Don’t Like Fantasy

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Imagining… but maybe not swords and dragons.

In the last few months, a horrible truth has come down in our home. While the kids enjoy a little Harry Potter, like playing Dungeons and Dragons, and looked forward to seeing the new Star Wars, they just don’t care for fantasy.

I have been trying to deny this for years. I’ve been pushing the Diana Wynne Jones, the Lloyd Alexander, the Gregor the Overlander books on them. They often tolerate it. Sometimes they find it enjoyable. But the truth has been written on the wall for a long time. The fantasy books get an, “okay,” but they would much rather hear The Saturdays, The Great Brain, a pile of historical fiction, a mystery novel.

I was a fantasy fanatic as a kid. I read nearly everything that was labeled fantasy on the children’s shelves – Narnia, Edward Eager, Robin McKinley, and so forth. Then I moved into the adult section and tried out books like the Dragonriders of Pern and The Belgariad.

The idea that fantasy is “just escapism” has been pretty well refuted in the last few decades as children’s and now young adult literature has become more saturated with it and even adult literature has leaned more and more speculative with writers like Neil Gaiman and George RR Martin as some of the most blockbuster bestsellers out there.

Fantasy was so influential in forming the way I looked at the world. Fantasy is big battles between good and evil. It’s big questions about right and wrong. It’s about power and responsibility. And it lays it all out in a way that’s more epic and more philosophically bare than most realistic fiction for kids. It’s not an escape from reality, it’s reality heightened for young readers, where you can really think about what you believe and challenge your imagination.

I can remember flying through and then rereading fantasy novels, especially in middle school. Obsessing over the details, copying the maps of imaginary places, and then dreaming up my own imaginary places. I can remember imagining, all Mary Sue style, what it would be like to be in these fantasy places, visiting Narnia, tempted by the Dark Side, tromping into Mordor, fighting the power of IT, training to battle dragons.

And now, I realized, my kids just won’t have those moments or anything like them. It made me want to cry.

But, gathering myself together. It’s okay. I would have groaned at some of the long classics and historical fiction that they actually adore. They adored The Secret Garden when they were little. They actually really enjoy classics that other kids often find sort of dull, like when we read Island of the Blue Dolphins. And far from shying away from tough topics, Mushroom’s favorite books are critically acclaimed books about tough topics like Mockingbird and Counting By 7’s. Those aren’t the sort of books I would have read at that age at all, but they’re undoubtedly giving him different perspectives on the world. They get excited about a new Penderwicks book and reveled having a new Calpurnia Tate book to listen to.

And while they may not be fantasy nuts, they don’t lack for imagination, playing out long soap operas of intrigue and love between their toys and coming up with elaborate spy, ninja, and mythology inspired games with their friends. For them, art, history, and politics can be just as much fodder for the imagination as Narnia or Middle Earth.

We Geek Out at the Book Festival

I’m catching up on some old business, but I’d be remiss not to write about the fun we had doing two days at the National Book Festival.  In case you don’t know, this is a massive festival on the National Mall where authors of all genres as well as book supporting organizations like C-SPAN, PBS and Reading is Fundamental all turn out to give talks, sign books and promote reading books.  Past talks are already up on the website of the book festival and I’m sure this year’s will be as well before too long.  Check it out here.

The Good…

We saw a bunch of authors for a short spell in various places and got to hear Michael Buckley read a bit of the newest (unpublished) Sisters Grimm book, Harry Bliss draw a bunch of cute pictures, Jon J. Muth talk about Zen, and Bob Shea talk about becoming a writer and illustrator.  For the kids, one of the Saturday highlights was seeing Tomie de Paola, who talked about becoming an artist and taught everyone to blow three kisses the way Strega Nona would.  They also enjoyed getting free Magic School Bus books and meeting a costumed Ms. Frizzle.

The Best…

One of the best things quite surprised me.  I dragged the kids in to hear the first part of Rita Williams-Garcia’s talk.  I adore her books.  I reviewed One Crazy Summer awhile ago here.  She was so sweet and clearly a little nervous.  Then she told a couple of stories from her childhood – about growing up without enough and having to draw on her inner resources.  I pulled the kids away for something else I thought they would enjoy more.  Later on though, they talked about her speech and were clearly very affected by it.  I was impressed.

The next highlight was William Joyce.  He came in dressed in some excellent gear – a helmet, goggles and a fake jet pack.  Then he proceeded to give an wonderfully nutty speech about crazy relatives, becoming a children’s book author, and all the guardians of childhood from his new series.  He walked a fine line where he never gave it away that he didn’t believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and so forth.  In fact, I’m sort of convinced he does.  I don’t review fiction picture books often for this blog, but we had already read Joyce’s brand new book The Man in the Moon and were simply amazed.  It’s beautiful.  The illustrations and the zany elements of the story are pure Joyce, known for his Dinosaur Bob and the Family Lazardo and Rollie Pollie Ollie.  However, it’s also got a magical quality to it and the illustrations are slightly gothic and steampunk influenced.  I highly recommend it.

The final highlight was definitely Kazu Kibuishi, who writes the Amulet series.  BalletBoy asked him at his talk about the fifth Amulet book, and he told us he was working on it right now, then he pulled the binder out of his bag and showed off the pages before quickly closing it up!  Wow!  Mushroom asked about his characters and we got another cool answer.  I appreciated hearing him talk about his Miyazaki influences and hearing that his great Flight series is going to be rebranded under the Flight Explorer label for younger readers.  Overall, it was just a true geek out moment.  Later on, we stood in line so BalletBoy could get his copy of the third book signed.  We’ve already read the fourth one, but from the library, so it probably wasn’t okay to get that one signed.  He drew BalletBoy a picture in the front and I gushed my thank yous to him for doing what he does for young readers.  I really mean it too.  He said immediately that there’s not enough out there and it’s so true.  There’s more coming out, but kids need high quality graphic novels like his, books that respect the readers.

After we left, BalletBoy clutched his signed book all the way home (yes, even the Metro ride).  Then he paid the series one of those ultimate compliments from a kid.  He declared he wanted to be Emily, the protagonist, for Halloween.  So, now I need to come up with an awesome costume.  He has also declared that he needs me to be Miskit, the giant pink bunny robot.  Hmm…

The Bad…

Not exactly bad, but we were pretty amused by this organization, which tries to get parents to read aloud 15 minutes a day to their kids.  When they asked the kids if the parents read aloud for 15 minutes a day to them, Mushroom rolled his eyes at them and BalletBoy looked very confused.  “You read way more than that,” he told me.  And Mushroom added, “Everyone reads aloud more than that.”  Oh, would that it were so, kiddo.

This year the festival introduced a “Family Storytelling Stage” sponsored by Target and featuring a mix of storytellers, authors and bands, including Justin Roberts and other kid friendly musicians.  Great idea, right?  Well, I guess it could have been, except when we were there, the emcees were Disney channel emcees and they spent the whole time trying to encourage kids to watch Disney, Disney Junior, Nickelodeon and Discovery Channel.  You all know I’ve got nothing against TV.  I love TV.  My kids watch TV, including things I think are excellent that were produced by those outlets, such as Phineas and Ferb and Avatar: The Last Airbender.  But do kids need a pep rally to watch TV?  I was pretty disgusted by it all.

The Ugly…

This year at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, they provided water for people for the first time via big water dispensers where you could refill your bottle or cup.  But the Book Festival folks decided to go with untold boxes tiny plastic bottles for everyone.

That was nothing compared to the “prize” you see above from the PBS Kids tent.  It’s a piece of sticky plastic with an online only PBS Kids character on it that you put on your phone to keep it from sliding around.  I just…  am speechless.  Who is this really for?  Why did they give thousands away?  Why do children need a thing for phones?  Why would adults want a phone sticker with a very obscure children’s character?  You guys, I’m not much of an environmentalist.  I recycle, I bring my bags to the grocery, but that’s about it.  But this is really bread and circus level waste, right?  And at a book festival.  I’m just sort of ashamed for us as a society.

Brickfair!

Did you know we live not far from the biggest Lego festival in the whole country?!?  Okay, I’ve known for a little while, actually.  But this year, we finally managed to not be out of town so we could go and totally geek out with friends.

We saw awesome stuff like this, a freakishly accurate depiction of the Renaissance Fair:

 

And this:

And this, which looks like Anakin from one direction and Darth Vader from the other (!):

And there was a giant ball moving contraption, an entire scene from Ghostbusters, a Lego violin made to scale, and about a million other things.  As we left, BalletBoy said, “That really inspired me to build something cool out of Legos.”  No wonder!