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If you regularly find yourself lamenting kids’ devotion to electronic devices, texting and their inscrutable, abbreviated secret language, you’ll probably find this story heartening.
And so it begins
LitKid turned 13 recently and was having three friends over for a slumber party. Since this was a big birthday, and she was on board with having a smaller party (I lost my mind and allowed a past slumber party to swell to 11 girls a few years back), I thought it would be nice to get her friends a party favor that was nice/lasting (ie, not made of plastic or sugar).
I asked her what ideas she had, and she couldn’t think of anything right away. We were up against the clock, so I told her I had had an idea on the way to work -– how about giving her a friends a book she had enjoyed? I tossed out Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me as a first suggestion.
(I admit to bias on this one. It is one of my favorite books from recent years, based on its merits – it won the Newbery – and on the fact that I am a child of the 70s, so I felt right at home.)
Thumbs up or thumbs down? Cool mom or hopelessly bookish mom?
My girl obviously loves to read, but I was fully prepared for her to tell me that a 13th birthday party favor needed to be something cool or trendy – or that not all of her friends would be into getting a book.
But to my surprise and delight (after all, 13-year-olds don’t tend to think 49-year-olds’ ideas are cool), her immediate, enthusiastic response was that this was a “perfect idea!” and When You Reach Me was a perfect book to give her friends.
Quail Ridge Books, our favorite store, had three copies (which gave the idea a “meant to be” feel, as girls 4 and 5 had had to cancel at the last minute) and gift-wrapped them for us, as always.
The night of the party, I was very curious (and yes, a little nervous) to see how the girls would react to their bookish gifts.
Again, the tween/teen reaction was heart-warming.
All three girls were genuinely thrilled – not an overstatement, I promise – when they opened their gifts … even the one who had already read When You Reach Me.
“It was my little sister’s book from the library,” she said, “so I love having my own copy: I’m going to read it again … and hide it from my sister.”
Just another bit of unscientific evidence that print is not dead, and it’s always cool to be a reader, even at 13.
The Book Thief
By Marcus Zusak
As soon as I picked up The Book Thief, I was immediately transported into a whole other world. A world where love and friendship were the hopes that everyone in Nazi Germany clung to in that time of fear.
At the beginning of the book you are introduced to the ever-faithful narrator, Death, who transports us through the lives and stories of those in Molching, Germany. Then you are introduced to a young girl, Liesel Meminger, who’s the main focus in this hypnotizing tale.
As you are introduced to her, she commits her first act of book thievery The Grave Digger’s Handbook. This will be a first in a long career. She has been sent to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann, for her father left her family and her mother can no longer afford to take care of her.
Hans & Liesl develop a connection when Hans begins to teach Liesel to read after she wakes up from her recurring nightmare. Then comes Rudy Steiner, the next piece of Liesel’s puzzle. They grow closer through many a Himmel Street soccer game and then attend school together in the fall.
And next year on Hitler’s birthday, Liesel commits her second act of book thievery at the Hitler Youth Celebration of the Fuhrer’s birthday. She steals a book entitled The Shoulder Shrug. There is someone watching her the night she steals the second book.
And then comes Max Vanderburg, a Jew who shows up at the Hubermanns (because Hans was a good friend of his older brother Erik who died in the War that he and Hans served together) looking for a place to sleep, or rather hide, from the vicious and cruel Anti-Semitism rules of Hitler. He and Liesel soon form a bond over their love of reading, writing, and drawing as well as the loss of the families they loved.
Everybody needs to read this book. As I read on the back of the cover, this is a life-changing book in so many ways, and is probably one of the most beautifully written pieces of literature to ever grace my eyes. I got in trouble for reading it at school, and finished it in the wee hours of the morning on my way to school. For anybody who has not read this book, I urge you to as soon as you can.
Postscript: My mom read The Book Thief before I did, and it is one of her very favorite books now; we watched the movie after we had both read the book, and we thought it was great.