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Welcome to Lizard Motel: Children, Stories, and the Mystery of Making Things Upby Barbara Feinberg
Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of Anne Lamott, a poignant memoir about books and reading, writing and daydreaming in the lives of children.
Unsettled by the fact that her twelve-year-old son, an ardent reader, hated most of the books assigned to him in school, Barbara Feinberg set out to discover just what kids are reading these days. Much to her dismay, she found that novels about abandonment, kidnapping, abuse, and more have become standard fare in many middle school classrooms.
Pre-adolescents, these novels seem to suggest, ought to be confronted in fiction with "real life problems" straight on, with no magical dimension and limited imaginative scope. In fact, the child characters in these books often must face their stark circumstances nearly alone, without adult shelter. You have only yourself, these novels seem to say. Adults cannot help you; they are often the source of your troubles.
Weaving literary analysis with memoir, told in a playful, elegiacal style, Welcome to Lizard Motel sets its inquiry into books and stories in the context of an unfolding narrative of family life. And as the narrative takes on a novel-like velocity of its own, stories become the lens through which Feinberg reflects on our own notions of childhood — both observed and remembered, our culture's rendering of childhood, and the surprising disconnect between the two.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A rich, brimming and unexpected feast." Lawrence Weschler, author of Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder
Book News Annotation:
In response to her son's reluctance to read books assigned in school, Feinberg critiques the current state of adolescent literature in the context of an unfolding family crisis during the course of one winter in Westchester Country, New York. She started Story Shop, a creative arts program for children ages three through 14.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A poignant memoir about books and reading, writing and daydreaming in the lives of children. Weaving literary analysis with memoir, told in a playful, elegiacal style, Welcome to Lizard Motel sets its inquiry into books and stories in the context of an unfolding narrative of family life.
Welcome to Lizard Motel is a completely original memoir about the place of stories in children's lives. It began when Barbara Feinberg noticed that her twelve-year-old son, Alex, who otherwise loved to read, hated reading many of the novels assigned to him in school. These stories of abandonment, kidnapping, abuse, and more-called "problem novels"-were standard fare in his middle school classroom. Alex and his friends hated to read these books. As one of them said, "They give me a headache in my stomach." So Feinberg set out to discover just what these kids were talking about.
She started to read the books, steeping herself in novels like Chasing Redbird, Bridge to Terabithia, The Pigman, and more. She consulted librarians, children's literature experts, and others, trying to get a handle on why young-adult novels had become so dark and gloomy and, to her mind, contrived.
What she found both troubled and surprised her. "In the middle of the 1960s," observed one children's literature expert, "political and social changes leaned hard on the crystal cage that had surrounded children's literature for ages. It cracked and the world flowed in."
Welcome to Lizard Motel documents this dramatic change in the content of young-adult novels but does so in a uniquely touching memoir about one family's life with books, stories, and writing. Feinberg's examination of the problem novel opens her eyes to other issues that affect children today-such as how they learn to write, how much reality is too much for a young child's mind, and the role of the imagination in children's experience.
Quirky, moving, serious, and witty, Welcome to Lizard Motel is one of the most surprising books about reading and writing to come along in years. Not only does it explore the world of children and stories, but it also asks us to look at how our children are growing up. Feinberg wonders if, as a society, we have lost touch with the organic unfolding of childhood, with that mysterious time when making things up helps deepen a child's understanding of the world. This memoir will reacquaint readers with the special nature of children's imaginations.
About the Author
Barbara Feinberg originated and runs Story Shop, a creative arts program for children aged three through fourteen. She has won numerous awards for her writing and has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony. Feinberg lives with her husband and two children in Westchester County, New York. This is her first book.
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