From the Publisher
Fresh and wonderfully readable . . . perfect for parents eager to cultivate their kids' fantasy lives and foster a passion for literature.Michelle Green, People
"The implications of this small book are quite large. Parents will want to read it, as will writers, publishers and educators."Publishers Weekly, starred review
"I loved this book. Feinberg is a brave woman to challenge every shibboleth of the schools of education."Diane Ravitch, author of The Language Police
"Welcome to Lizard Motel turns out to be more than a diatribe against the dark subject matter of YA problem novels . . . Only a reader as attuned to realism as Feinberg could have puzzled out so nuanced a defense of imagination in children's lives."Laura Miller, New York Times Book Review
"When we place the steady diet of 'problem' novels in the context of the hours children spend being electronically bombarded by graphic, unremitting trauma, Feinberg's concerns . . . become not just comprehensible, but urgent."Susan Linn, Boston Globe
When her son's seventh-grade teacher said a "good book should make you cry," Feinberg started to wonder. After she noticed her son's reluctance to read school-assigned novels-Newbery Award-winning books like Creech's Walk Two Moons or Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia-she read them herself and discovered the "problem novel," a "subgenre of the realistic adolescent novel," which often features a youngster facing horrible difficulties-incest, domestic abuse, rape, death or disease of parents, etc.-without the aid of any sympathetic adult, without "recourse to fantasy." Educators push these parables, Feinberg says, believing children need to abandon fantasy and learn to "cope" with reality. This campaign starts quite young, as Feinberg found when her daughter invited her to her second grade's "publishing party." Listening to these children reading their "memoirs"-as if eulogizing their own childhoods-Feinberg began to question the philosophy behind the Calkins writing workshop system used in so many schools. Why do children need experts to tell them how to write about the world, she wondered? Yes, it's good to learn to observe the world closely, but Calkins's "orchestration of the poetic moment" struck Feinberg as too didactic. Rarely can teachers reject the curriculum's "problem novels," nor can they refuse the Calkins system. But Feinberg, who's spent years working with children in a creativity workshop she designed, has the independence and experience to raise important questions. Her critique, delivered in the palatable form of a chatty parenting memoir, should stir some much-needed controversy, especially among "progressive" educators. (Aug.) Forecast: The implications of this small book are quite large. Parents will want to read it, as will writers, publishers and educators. A blurb from Mary Pipher could help sales. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Feinberg, the creator of Story Shop, a writing and arts program, was led to write this memoir by parenting two children. When she noticed her twelve-year-old son, usually an enthusiastic reader, sitting "stiffly" over an assigned middle school book and her questioning prompted him to disparage the literature, she discovered a grim variety of problem novels chosen bent on teaching life's hard realities with "traumatic themes" and with " a relentless earnestness." Her memoir mixes parenting, philosophy, psychology, reviewing and poetry in a readable book that makes you think. Feinberg gives convincing arguments based on keen observations at home, in her workshops, as well as her research and experiences with the literature. Feinberg's observations about how children create offers the most powerful arguments against a literature that force-feeds reality. She describes calming herself and her daughter with a student story about a mystical, mysterious hotel run by a lizard and contrasts with a joyless writing session she observed in her daughter's classroom. This book is strong and insightful, but not perfect. The author sometimes indulges herself in extraneous, distracting details. And while she is adamant that children find their own way in creating and reading stories, she's often invasive in asking her children's opinions. "Leave me alone!" her son cries. Reading, I felt as annoyed as he did. 2004, Beacon, Ages Adult.
School Library Journal
This is a sweet memoir by the mother of a 12-year-old boy who began to wonder why her son didn't want to read what he was assigned for school. These were critically lauded books like Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia and Sharon Creech's Chasing Redbird. So, with some time off during the summer, she decided to read some of them and do some research into the current "philosophy" of children's books. Feinberg started with Terabithia and discovered that although it is beautifully written, the conclusion left her with a feeling of bleakness and despair. Then a children's librarian gave her a copy of Children's Literature in the Elementary School, which says that "Realistic fiction helps children enlarge their frames of reference while seeing the world from another perspective." At first, Feinberg spends a lot of time deconstructing this concept, but she soon digresses to subjects like the after-school program she runs called Story Shop, and her daughter's ear surgery. The digressions are entertaining, and are eventually connected to the theme of children's literature, but in a wordy and roundabout way. This is a very personal story, more exploration than analysis, and though it's a quick read, it leaves readers wanting more substance.-Marlyn K. Beebe, City of Long Beach Public Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.