The Library in Ã…rhus, Denmark

I love visiting libraries in other cities. Here's the Århus library in Denmark.
22- Libary

The teen/YA section


The picture book section
24- Library 6

The middle grade/ elementary school fiction section

25- Library

A play area in a loft above the kids' section
26- Library 11

The multimedia area in the kids' section
27- Library

After I took this picture two kids came and played a video game on this giant screen.

28- Library

There was a separate room off of the middle grade fiction section filled with fantasy and sci-fi books for kids and teens.
29- Library

This is the doorway and other wall of the fantasy room.30- Library

Harry Potter in Danish

Library 13

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

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,

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.]

Review for the book: Pink Brain, Blue Brain

TV Quote (from Parks and Recreation):
Tom: You gotta throw some cold water on this situation.  Start talking about nerd stuff.
Ben: You know, nerd culture is mainstream now, so when you use the word "nerd" derogatorily, it means you're the one that's out of the zeitgeist.
Tom: Yeah, that's perfect.

Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – and What We Can Do About It
Author: Lise Eliot, Ph.D.
Year: 2009
Rating: *** 1/2
Format: Read this adult non-fiction book in eBook form on Kindle for Droid

Neurologist Lise Eliot carefully goes through the research on gender differences and explains what the results actually say. She then explains how the media and gender experts, like Michael Gurian, Louann Brizendine, and Simon Baron-Cohen, have interpreted these same studies.  Her conclusion?

"As a neurobiologist, I had high hopes for understanding sex differences by studying the brain.  Unfortunately, the data just do not add up to anything like the headlines that regularly crop up in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and various parenting magazines." 

  Eliot found that there are small differences between girls and boys at birth, but as children develop, the largest differences seem to be environmental. She found that many gender experts: misread studies, ignore when studies are proven flawed by the scientific community, and ignore the extensive body of research showing how environment is a large factor in gender differences. These gender experts also ignore the research that shows just how strongly stereotyping affects behavior and expectations.

This is a dense, methodical book.  Eliot goes though each stereotype touted by gender experts, examines all the biological differences that would affect each behavior, and then combs though the research and explains what it actually says and how that compares to what the gender experts say about it.  She methodically goes through gender research in infancy, preschool, reading lessons, math and science class, and teens' emotional development.

Her overview on the now debunked research about women's verbal advantage is interesting. She walks the reader though the famous Shaywitzes' study that gender experts taut as proof of women's verbal advantage.  She, then, goes through the many research articles that pointed out flaws in the Shaywitzes' study, like they didn't account for the fact that the women in the study were more educated than the men,  or the fact that no other study has been able to replicate their results.  Eliot also reviews the dozens of other studies on verbal ability and shows how the findings as to which gender has the verbal advantage is all across the board, depending on how the study is set up. Eliot points out that medical texts no longer use the Shaywitzes' study because of it flaws, though gender experts continue to use this study as proof of women's superior verbal skills.  In fact, you probably have read a current article using the study as proof of women's verbal advantage in a popular newspaper and magazine, with no mention that it's been debunked.

Her section on emotional development was equally interesting.  She reviews the body of work on adolescents and hormones and finds that hormones have not been shown to cause the emotional divide for men's reputation as stoic or women's higher depression level.  In fact, there are numerous studies that show boys and men are just as emotional as girls and women.  The difference, many studies conclude, is that boys and men are taught to repress their emotions and girls and women are not.  Eliot points out that this socialization causes men a lot of problems with their social relationships and gives women a disadvantage in their working life.  As she notes, boys would benefit from being taught to handle their emotions better in personal relationships and girls would benefit from learning to repress their emotions more in their professional life.

The most interesting part of the book, for me, was the section on math and science. Eliot describes some fascinating studies on how stereotypes affect outcomes in math.  In the study, girls were randomly divided into groups to take a math test.  Before the test each girl was given reading material.  The group given material that said that girls had poor math skills, because of gender differences, did the worst on the math test.  The group given material to remind them they were a girl (a paragraph  about paintings and the arts) scored in the middle, and the girls that were given a paragraph about how research found girls were actually good at math did the best on the math test.

These stereotyping studies have been done in a number of areas.  For instance, white boys who read a paragraph about the superior athletic skills of African-American boys did worse on a strength tests than boys who read a neutral paragraph first.  White boys who read a paragraph about the superior math skills of Asians did worse on their math test than boys who read a neutral paragraph. Eliot then wonders what we are doing to boys when we go on and on about how boys can't read or write as well as girls. 

The moral of the story:  Stereotyping hurts everyone and we have the research to prove it.

November 28 – December 3, 2010: In Brief

Middle Grade Fiction Novels:
Whales on Stilts (A Pals in Peril Tale), by M.T. Anderson and Kurt Cyrus (***1/2) [2005] – You know a story is going to be a fun read when it starts like this:

"On Career Day Lily visited her dad’s work with him and discovered he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation."

Whales on Stilts reads like a Saturday morning cartoon in novel form, with lots of clever asides and loopy happenings.  [A middle grade novel for ages 9-12.  I read this in eBook form on Kindle for Droid.]

Web Links:
Create Your Own Comics – This useful link for parents and teachers of comic lovers has a short review and link for 6 different create-your-own-comic websites. 

[Parent note: site # 5 requires registration.  The video for site # 6 is narrated in a Transylvanian-vampire-voice and compares making comics to "making love".  It’s a little risqué but fun.]

Bullying – In this Slate article, Amanda Marcotte offers an insightful take on the root causes of bullying.  Her conclusion:

"The ugly truth is that kids get bullied because they’re not conforming to some social standard the bullies hold, and often the adults in charge agree with the bullies on the social standard, which makes them side all too often with bullies against the bullied. This is the most under-discussed aspect of the problem, by far.

The only people who seem to be talking about how bullying is a direct result of larger social messages about conformity are a handful of people talking about homophobic bullying, and how it reflects larger social messages about queerness that the bullies are absorbing and acting out. And even in this case, most of the discussion around things like the It Gets Better Project are mealy-mouthed condemnations of bullying without looking at root causes.

Until the adults in charge vigorously disagree with the bullies on subjects such as, "Kids who are unathletic are second class," or, "Kids who don’t conform to rigid gender roles are threatening,’" there isn’t going to be much we can do about bullying."

(Emphasis mine)

November 14 -20, 2010: In Brief

TV Quote:
"I’m not asking you to dye your hair red and call me Mulder, I would simply ask that you consider the possibility that Marie had knowledge of, or had contact with something up there." 
Richard Castle (to Kate Beckett on the show Castle)

Middle Grade Fiction Books:
The Carnival of Lost Souls:  A Handcuff Kid Novel, by Laura Quimby (****) [2010] After years of searching, foster child Jack Carr and his social worker Mildred think they may have finally found him a home. An elderly professor specifically asked for a child who likes magic tricks. Handcuff-collecting, Houdini-loving Jack fits that description perfectly.  

Jack’s new home with the professor and his doting housekeeper, Concheta, is a dream come true until the Professor dares Jack not to peek into an old carnival chest in his office. Of course, Jack has to peek.  It’s too late that he realizes he’s been tricked into taking on the professor’s debt, a deal the professor made long ago when he was just a boy.

Now Jack’s soul belongs to the great Mussini.  As Jack is pulled into the land of the dead, the professor urges Jack to use his love of Houdini to help him get free.  Jack’s skill of escaping from handcuffs helps him in his new role, entertaining the dead in one of the acts of Mussini’s traveling carnival.  Could Jack’s skills also help him escape and return to the land of the living?  That’s the trick Jack needs to figure out.

The Carnival of Lost Souls is an entertaining tale.  Quimby creates an intriguing land of the dead where life seems much like the days when there were traveling carnivals with seedy edges, a group of lovable kids, and creepy surprises along the way.

Full Disclosure:  Laura is another member of one of my writer’s groups.  Her book is a delight and one of those action-filled tales that are hard for older elementary-schoolers to find. [Middle grade fantasy for ages 10 and up.]

Web Links:
Avid Writing Kids–  If you have a child who writes a mountain of stories or poems, you’re probably wondering how to help them grow as a writer.  Rosanne Parry at From the Mixed-Up Files offers three sound ways to encourage your budding author.  Her advice:

1. Help them save and safely store their work.
2. Help them find a time and place for writing.
3. Help them find a writing community.

Check out the details here.