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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #17
July 18, 2007

Summertime and the Reading Is Easy

Matilda + Our Pix of Great Summer Kid Lit

Matilda is one of those delicious films that never goes out of style. After all, what kid can resist a story where the main character, a smart little girl named Matilda, is taught by her parents that "there's nothing you can get from a book that you can't get from the television faster!" The notion that TV time is quality time -- absolute heresy in our homes -- gave our kids license to laugh at all of the over-the-top situations throughout the rest of the movie. And there are many: Matilda is kept home from school so that she can sign for her parents' packages. When she finally goes to first grade, Headmaster Trunchbull, an ex-Olympian who terrifies students by throwing them over spiked fences, calls kids "squirming worms of vomit" and locks them in spooky torture closets. Positively Dickens-like, who turns out to be one of Matilda's favorite authors. Her first grade teacher, Miss Honey, who also loves Dickens, turns out to be the fairy princess who rescues Matilda in this kooky fairy tale, and who allows Matilda to read Moby Dick as a bedtime story. How's that for a fairy tale ending?!

While your kids may not be up for reading Matilda's choice of Moby Dick this summer, fear not! Our Kids Off The Couch librarian, Lucy Rafael, reads more children's literature every year than anyone else we know, and has a knack for knowing which books will really appeal to kids. This week, Lucy has created a bibliography of kid lit that is a bit off the well-beaten path. Lucy's List of Great Summer Reads, designed to get kids to tuck a book into their beach bags, has something for every age and taste. This week, Lucy has agreed to share her years of accumulated wisdom as a school librarian and mom, and offers up her tips to get even the most recalcitrant reader to dust off a book (see KOTC Kernels, below). So, get cozy, and join us on an adventure between the pages.

Lucy's List of Great Summer Reads:

Film Title: Matilda
Directed By: Danny DeVito
1996, Rated PG, 102 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:

  • Why This Film is Worth It: Because it's a fun and fantastic adaptation of Roald Dahl's dark view of adulthood, that kids eat up. Danny DeVito directs (and stars as the loathsome dad) with equal parts humor, flair and love of Dahl's book. Matilda is played by Mara Wilson and she charms the pants off adult and kid viewers, alike. A film filled with hyperboles about school, grown-ups and the evil of television, this is a great summer film that keeps everyone laughing.
  • Red Flags: Although Trunchbull is violent (swinging kids by their pigtails and heaving them over spike fences, locking them up in dark closets) and potty-mouthed (she calls kids all sorts of slimy, but funny, things), she is blown up so big that it is hard for even the youngest of viewers to take her seriously. Great for kids six and over.

Our tips for talking to your kids about this film:

  • Cinema Savvy:   Ask your kids why the director (Danny DeVito) chose to protray characters and situations in such overblown ways.  For example, Matilda is a book worm who also has telekinetic powers.  Trunchbull is not just mean and scary, she's an Olympic athlete that hurls kids over fences and just maybe knocked off Miss Honey's father.  Does this hyperbole help kids understand author Roald Dahl's messages? Less scary for kids? 
  • Literature Savvy:  Roald Dahl is a well-known and much-loved children's author, but his vision is quite dark and quirky.  Many critics claim that is is why children adore his work -- adults are not always genuine, emotion is not sappy, and dark, disturbing events occur.  Have your kids talk about their favorite Roald Dahl book or film adaptation and explain why they like it and it's similarities and differences to Matilda. (A few suggestions of Dahl's other books we love: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and The Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches and our son's favorite, The BFG.)


Take A Summer Reading Adventure

Our Kids Off The Couch's Pix for Great Summer Kid Lit

Admission: Any book, but for off-the-beaten track suggestions, see Lucy's List
Where to Find These Books:
Public libraries, School libraries, book stores
Hours: Anytime, Anywhere
Cost: Nothing but imagination



Lucy's Buttery Bits of Wisdom to Get Kids Excited About Reading:

  • I can't get my child to read. What should I do? Turn off the TV. Leave books everywhere. Scatter them in the den, the kitchen table, the car, and yes, even the bathroom. Let her see YOU reading, and choose a book over the television.
  • I left a huge pile of books on his nightstand and he hasn't opened one! Children feel swamped by too many titles. Try leaving a few near his bedside and adopting the theroy that less is more.
  • Okay, I did that. My child still doesn't seem to enjoy reading. Let children sample a variety of genres. Kids can be caught up in thinking they're only going to like what's cool, or what their friends like. harry Potter is an amazing phenomenon because so many nonreaders became readers after it flew into the mainstream. But there are (gasp) kids who will never enjoy Harry Potter,a nd for whom fantasy holds no charm. My sister has always been an avid non-fiction reader and though I just don't get it, that's her genre of choice. Try historical fiction, funny school stories, but let the exploration begin!
  • I tried different genres, but she still won't open a book. Empower your child by letting her choose her own books. She will invest more effort in a book he has selected, than one you have picked out. Just encourage to choose different genres.
  • Why am I even reading this? My kid loves to read! Great! But reality check -- what is your child reading? Are you meandering through the bookstore, smiling proudly, as your child grabs novel after novel. You mighrt peek at some of the covers and they will most liekly appear to be sweet and innocuous stores of friendship. What the covers probably won't contain is a run-downof the sexual references and teen cruelty that is not resolved, explained or made right for an audience of concrete-thinking 10 year-olds. Many of us are very good about filtering our children's intake of movies, but don't consider that the novel our fifth grader is reading may be rife with bone-chilling, graphic violence. Stay connected by reading a few books your child selects and talk about the content.
  • But all his friends are reading these novels. Won't they be out of the social loop? You know the answer to this one. You can file it right beside your answer to "Jenny's parents let her stay up until 11, let her have sleep overs on school nights, drink, smoke..."

Lucy's Buttery Bits of Wisdom about public libraries in your city:

  • Get your child involved in a library reading program:  Most public libraries have wonderful summer reading programs as well as book clubs for children of all ages and you can get your child on board.  Visit your local library, and get to know the librarian there.  I know ofone public librarian who phones her regular library users when a book comes in that she thinks they'll enjoy. Librarians are people who have a strong commitment to their communities and love to see people reading.
  • Get your child their own library card: Giving your child the gift and responsibility of his or her own library card can be a beautiful and empowering thing. 
  • Librarians have no agenda other than to create readers: Many parents have a difficult time at bookstores because children have a hard time choosing appropriate books at their reading level.  Librarians have no agena other than to see you and your children reading.  He or she doesn't have to move specific merchandise off the shelf, and has a wide breadth of materials from which to pull.  A librarian will probably recommend both old and not favorites -- not just what's hot in the bookstores now.  Most librarians are well read in specific genres.  Just last week, i emailed a public librarian and asked for a recommendation for a biography on Charles Dickens.  I received a prompt and well-informed reply.  Give it a try!

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

Click here for our pick of movies which will inspire you to read.

Click here for our favorite page turners this summer.