The Perks of Revisiting Old Favourites in 2020

perks of being a wallflower book coverIt seems that no matter how old you get, and how removed from school you are, September always feels like a new beginning—a fresh start of sorts, a promise of exciting new possibilities. That newly crisp chill in the air says “new year, new me” way more than New Year’s Day, when I’m typically lying on the couch with a headache and regretsIt’s time for new shoes, new clothes, new stationary supplies. At the same time, I return to hallowed fall rituals, like rewatching Gilmore Girls and baking apple crisps. One of my more personal traditions is re-reading the YA classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which to me is the embodiment of autumn-tinged nostalgia; a blend of looking back in fondness and looking forward in anticipation. Usually, I feel inspired and emotionally fortified by this reread. But this year, it went a little differently. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, published in 1999 by MTV Books at a time when MTV was still an important part of youth culture (Daria was still on the air at this point, very formative for little me). The plot is simple: Charlie is a high school freshman coming out of a dark period, who vows to turn his life around in high school by really livingQuickly making friends with seniors Sam and Patrick, Charlie’s first year of high school is an emotional ride full of love and trauma. The book is told in epistolary format, entirely composed of Charlie’s letters to a mysterious “you.” Who he is writing to is never made clear, nor does it matter. Since 2004, Perks has made scattered appearances on America’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books Lists for a bevy of typical reasons, namely “drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.” This doesn’t even mention the exploration of mental illness and suicideSo basically, all the things that would attract young readers trying to figure out the world and their place in it.  

The beautiful thing about this book is that it ages wellIt’s situated in the early 90s, but it’s vague enough in period details and honest enough in its humanity that it appears timeless (well, except for the mixtapes, but who doesn’t love a mixtape?). For younger readers, Perks is like a warm, reassuring hand, guiding them through the most confusing and sometimes the most difficult years of their lives. For adults, it can be just as powerful; like holding in your hands a physical manifestation of memory. I didn’t read the book until my university years, and it still hit me like a truck. Though Charlie is technically only 15 by the book’s end, he has the wisdom of a much older, highly observant adult“This moment will just be another story someday, he says, commenting on a football player who just scored a touchdown, and later, “Maybe it’s sad that these are now memories. And maybe it’s not sad.” 

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Everyone’s Awake

Book Cover of Everyone's Awake by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Shawn HarrisBuilding off of Alex’s post about children’s literacy and developing early literacy skills, I’d like to talk about a couple of my more recent forays into picture books and children’s literature and highlight some titles for children & adults alike!

I recently encountered this delightfully written galloping ride of a fever dream, scaled for the reader as a picture book! It’s Everyone’s Awake by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Shawn Harris, and I didn’t know this at the time, but the author, Colin Meloy, is the lead singer & songwriter of The Decemberists, and the musical romp of the prose makes a lot more sense knowing this! This is one of those books you almost can’t help but read aloud, and would make for a great storytime read.* The storyline, if it can be referred to as such, is as straightforward as it gets: everyone’s awake in the night when they should be sleeping, but obviously you’re not picking up a book called Everyone’s Awake just to find that out: it’s everything in between the quite simple story that makes this such an incredibly energetic book, whipped into even more of a frenzy with the incredible illustrations by Shawn Harris and – just look at that colour palette! The pages practically vibrate with energy and movement between the illustrations and the colours, words jumping off your lips faster than you can read them. And by the end (one would hope) you have tired yourself out with all that energy expended, ready to fall asleep.

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Read Me Another: 1000 Books Before Kindergarten

(Posted on behalf of Alex) As a Youth Services Librarian, I often hear from parents who worry whether they are doing enough to help prepare their child for kindergarten. As a parent myself, I understand this worry. As a librarian, however, I can confidently say, “As long as you’re reading to your little one every day, you are doing enough.” Decades of literacy research has shown that reading to your child from infancy, every day, sets them up to be lifelong learners and, statistically, they do better in school and in life.

Alex reading with kidsAt Vaughan Public Libraries we want to ensure that you and your family start off on the right foot, and that is why we partnered with the 1000 Books Foundation to offer the program 1000 Books Before Kindergarten. We want to encourage you to read lots and lots of books with your little one – at least 1000! This may sound like a lot, but it really isn’t. If you read only one book a night to your newborn, infant, toddler, or preschooler, you will have read 365 books in one year, 730 books in two years, and 1095 books in three years! If you consider that most children start kindergarten at around age 4, you and your child will have had more than enough time to complete this fun and exciting challenge.

So now you’re probably wondering, “What books should I read to my child for this program?” I want to make this very clear: there is no wrong book to read to your child. They are all good, but the very best book is the one they choose for themself. If they bring a book to you and you’ve already read that book fifty times that week, read it again, because every time you read the book, your child will get something new out of it. Repetition is necessary and good.

However, I am a Youth Services Librarian, so naturally, I will always have a few recommendations to share with you.

cover image of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

One of the first books I received when I was pregnant with my first child was from a fellow librarian who knew that the baby book, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox, should be on every new parent’s reading list. This sweet rhyming book features babies of diverse backgrounds and highlights, of course, their adorable baby fingers and baby toes.

cover image of Dog's Colorful DayAt around 18 months, toddlers begin to notice colour differences (although they might not be able to verbally tell you the colour till much later). This is a great time to introduce books that talk about colours. Dog’s Colorful Day: A Messy Story About Colors and Counting, by Emma Dodd makes learning about colours fun, as poor Dog seems always to be underfoot when someone makes a mess. By the end of the day, he has 10 colourful spots!

The Wcover image of The Word Collectorord Collector, by Peter H. Reynolds, is a great read for preschoolers whose language skills are exploding and who are discovering their voice. In this extraordinary book, Jerome discovers the magic of the words all around him and their impact when he shares them with the world. Plus, it’s a great book to introduce more complex multisyllable words to your preschooler that you may not ordinarily use in everyday conversation.

If you’re looking for more book recommendations, you can always check out our digital book recommendation list or contact us by phone, social media, or email. We’d be happy to help you find loads of choices for you and your little one to read on your journey to 1000 books. Vaughan Public Libraries will help to make the journey even more exciting by providing a  Reading Log where you can track your reading travels – and when you reach a milestone (100, 200, etc.),  let us know, so we can give your little one a small reward.

As poet and author Emilie Buchwald wrote, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,” so snuggle up with them and enjoy the adventure you are about to embark on together. The memories made will be well worth the journey, and the benefits will last a lifetime.