How Reading Helps Kids Develop Empathy & A Review for the TV show, Smash

Blogs:
How Reading Helps Kids Develop Empathy – If you have elementary-school-aged kids, or if you just enjoy middle grade books, check out the excellent Middle Grade blog, From the Mixed Up Files. It's chock full of helpful information for parents, teachers, and writers of middle grade readers. One of their recent posts is about how reading helps kids develop empathy.

I experienced this lesson first hand with my kids.  I read aloud to my kids until they were around 10 or 11 years old. Plus, I gave them a special book allowance, where I would buy them one book a month– in addition to their regular allowance. They were also given an extra half-hour later bedtime, if they wanted to read in bed — but it could only be used for reading. I also suggested books I thought they might like, not books I wanted them to read, but books I truly thought they'd enjoy.  As a result, they read a lot as kids and as teens. In fact, my son came home from college and was happy he was able to read a book for pleasure during his winter break.

Now that they're 15 and 18, I'm starting to see the results of all this reading. Not only has their regular reading habit helped them with their SAT scores and writing, but it also has helped them empathize with others and understand people who are quite different from themselves. They both are able to get along with lots of different people, without much drama, because they seem to understand others pretty easily.

When kids read, they get to feel what it's like to live in other parts of the country or world and even other imaginary societies.  They get to experience romance, adventure, and heartbreak vicariously, and see how others handle those situations, and what the consequences of their actions are.  This gives kids who read an upper-hand when they start dating, or have to deal with drinking and drugs, or head off to college, or when they get their first job.  There's nothing like getting to do tricky things vicariously first to help you feel more confident when you start doing them as yourself in the real world. This doesn't mean that my kids have never learned life lessons the harder self-experience way.  They have, but they also seemed to learn a lot of lessons the easy way too.

PS  – Middle Grade books are fiction novels for kids from around 8-12 years,

TV:
Smash ( 4 stars) – I watched the pilot for the new TV show, Smash, on Hulu last night and loved it.  Smash is the fictional story about a Broadway play coming to life. It starts at the beginning, when a writing team first gets the idea to do a musical about Marilyn Monroe, and I imagine will follow the story all the way up to the show's opening and beyond. 

The pilot deals with introducing the major players: the writing team, the producer,  and the director.  The potential leads are introduced as the initial production team starts auditioning for the lead role of Marilyn. 

All the major players have their own problems and dreams and I can already see what conflicts are coming, and the potential Marilyn has to be a smash hit, but also the real possibility that it might not make it to Broadway either.  The insider details of putting together a Broadway show, plus the musical numbers, plus the individual character stories make the show really fun to watch.  Smash has the strong potential to become a favorite show.

The cast of Smash is a mix of excellent unknown actors and well-known actors, like: Anjelica Huston, Jack Davenport (Coupling, The Event) and Debra Messing (Will and Grace). I don't usually like Debra Messing, but so far, her character is pretty low-key.

[The pilot is available to view for free without registration on Hulu.  It's also available for free online viewing on NBC. The show premieres on NBC, on February 6th at 10/9c.]

Fantasy Baseball and Rihanna

Books:
Title: Fantasy Baseball
Author: Alan Gratz
Published: March 2011
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Ages: 8 and up
Format: Read eBook on Kindle for Droid Phone

Alex Metcalf doesn't know how he ended up on a bus full of almost forgotten storybook characters who have formed a baseball team.  Here in storybook world, characters whose stories are no longer read vanish forever.  Dorothy, the girl from The Wizard of Oz, is the team's captain.  She's desperate for her team to win the championship because the prize is a wish granted to everyone on the winning team.  Dorothy wants to wish that all her teammates will be remembered by children so that they continue to live.

Alex is delighted to find that he's fantastic at playing baseball, even though he's just a kid.  Then his team informs him that he's probably not a really boy, but instead he's a  lark– the daydream of some kid who dreams of being a fabulous player.  Alex is determined to show the team that he's a real boy, not a lark.  Like Dorothy, he wants to bring the team to victory.  Then if he turns out to be a lark, he can wish he's real. Unfortunately, he insults the Big Bad Wolf at the first game, and now he's not sure he's even going to make it to the end of the tournament.

Fantasy Baseball is a unique story with lots of action.  It would make a fun read for kids who like both baseball and creating their own imaginary world.  The story would also make a good classroom or family read aloud.  It's not necessary to know the older storybook characters to enjoy the story.  Though reading about the other characters did make me interested in checking out some of the older children's classics.

Music:
Rihanna, Talk That Talk, [2011] (4 stars) – I first heard Rihanna's new album, Talk That Talk, when I danced to, "Where Have You Been", in Jazz dance class. Her new album is more fun than her last, though it's pretty explicit, not the kind of album you can play while you're carpooling kids around.  The fun danceable songs about sex and pretty ballads on love make Talk That Talk another excellent guilty-pleasure Rihanna album. Favorite songs: Where Have You Been, Drunk on Love, Roc Me Out, Farewell, and Cockiness.

Tuesdays at the Castle, Misfits, and Florence & the Machine

Books:
Title: Tuesdays at the Castle
Author: Jessica Day George
Date Published: October 2011
Rating: 4 out 5
Ages: 8 years and up
Format: Read eBook on Nook for Droid Phone

Every Tuesday Castle Glower adds new rooms to itself. For generations the castle has behaved like a living person, making life easier or harder for the inhabitants based on how much it liked them. It has even picked each new ruler. Eleven-year-old  Princess Celie — the youngest daughter of the current king– is one of the castle's favorites. She understands the castle best.  It's her connection to Castle Glower, and her detailed atlas, that helps her family survive the castle's big crisis.

This is a fun tale with lots of tension and excitement. It would make a good bedtime or classroom read aloud.

Music:
Florence & The Machine, Ceremonials (4 stars) – I like this album even better than the group's last popular album.  The songs are still filled with lots of dramatic over-the-top vocals, but this time I liked the lyrics better. Favorite Songs: Shake It Out, All This and Heaven Too

TV:
Misfits (3.5 stars) – The third season is now available each Monday on Hulu. Since actor Robert Sheehan decided to leave the show to pursue a movie career, the most charismatic of the young offenders, Nathan, is gone.  While Nathan was the funniest character, he was never that important to the plot. His replacement is just okay, but so far the episodes revolving the rest of the characters are quite good.  Their new powers help them explore interesting new aspects of themselves as they grow and change, plus there's a lot of fun entertainment in them. My favorite part is how one of the character's new power is playfully used as catch-phrase in each episode. There are eight episodes in season 3 and Hulu is currently on episode 5.  There's also a 10-minute clip on Hulu's Misfits Page called, "Vegas Baby!", that gives Nathan an amusing send off.

Legend

Author: Marie Lu
Published: November 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ages: 12 and up
Format: Read eBook on Kindle for Droid

15-year-old Day is the Republic's most wanted criminal. He didn't set out to be a criminal, he just wants to help his family survive. In the future Los Angeles of the dystopian Republic, where most of the coastal areas are flooded, and citizens barely eke out a life avoiding the various plagues, daily survival requires criminal behavior.

15-year-old June is the Republic's most promising student, the only one to ever achieve a perfect score on the Republic's important Trial, and a secret admirer of Day.   Being rich and privileged hasn't made keeping her family alive any easier though. When June is tasked to track down Day, she knows she'll do the Republic proud.  It's a job that's going to change Day and June forever.

Legend was one of those books that I ended up reading in just a couple days.  I read slowly for the first 100 pages but then finished the last 200 or more pages in one night.  Day and June are both likable characters and pitting them against each other made the story exciting.  Lu's dystopian world is interesting and she wisely fits the details of that world into the action from the start.