Monday, July 21, 2014

This is What Happened When The Tween Read EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS by A. S. King

I am an avid and vocal A. S. King fan and The Tween lives in my home so she is well aware of this. In fact, she recently got a chance to meet my favorite author and got some signed books of her own. But then an interesting thing happened, you see she ASKED me if she could read them. This was an odd thing to me for a couple of reasons.

Like her, I was an avid reader growing up. I never asked for permission to read a book, I just read it. It never even occurred to me to ask. And no one ever asked me what I was reading. So in that moment I had a weird wrestling of Librarian Mom - who was like, read what you want, read everything, go, do it - and Mom Mom - who was like, um, well, you're a very sensitive soul and maybe you should wait a couple of years. In truth, I wish she hadn't asked.

But then one day last week she came to me again and asked if she could read EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS and I said yes.


She is about halfway through at this point and is loving it; not that I had any doubts. But another interesting happened when she came one day and was talking to me about the book. 

EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS is about many things, but an important part of the story involves the main character's grandfather, who was drafted and never returned from the Vietnam War and the emotional impact that has on him and his family. And my daughter, being only 12, doesn't really know a lot about the Vietnam War, or war in general, or about the draft. And this was another one of those moments when I was reminded how important it is for us to talk with younger generations about history and politics.

So she says something to me about how she is glad that she can't be drafted and I started talking to her about how the year I graduated high school, we went to war with Iraq and they had started talking about the draft. I told her about how afraid I was that my brother would get drafted.

Then I told her about the history of women in the military and that I thought that one day, if they ever re-instated the draft, they probably would draft women. And yes, as the mom of little girls this thought terrifies me, but as a feminist I can't help but think it is only fair.

That's Us Meeting A. S. King on the Right!
And through this all she kept talking about how awful war must be, so I talked to her about how the year she was born we went to war with Iraq and Afghanistan and how we have been at war the entirity of her life. She wasn't aware of it, but we have never NOT been at war during the course of her lifetime. We talked about how because we lived here in America she was sheltered from the effects of those wars and what life was like for children in those countries where grown ups were using guns and bombs and drones to fight about their differences. We talked about how they were growing up in a world where loss was the expected norm, safety was never certain, and in some places children were asking and sometimes being forced to fight.

We talked about what it was like for children here whose parents had gone to other countries to fight those wars. I reminded her of her friend back home whose dad had served 2 tours and come back very different, very emotionally broken and how their family was no longer together. We talked about how there were children going to bed at night who didn't get to talk to one of their parents every night and they went to bed praying that they would please come home soon.

In the back of EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS there is a chart that shows how the draft worked. She spent a lot of time talking to me about it. About what she was reading in the story. About the main character and this family. We talked about what POW MIA means, which also comes up in the story.

She has talked a lot to me in the last few days about how truly unlucky this boy named Lucky is. And how mean some of the other characters are.

Signed Books are the Best!
On Friday night, we went to a baseball game. She took the book with her and she read it in the car, she read it at the game, and on the way home in the dark she tried to use the vanity mirror on the visor to read the book. And I am reminded every time I see her reading about the ways that stories can open our minds and open up dialogues that we may not always remember to talk to kids about important things they need to understand about the world they live in.

Take me out to the ballgame . . . so I can read!
At first, I protected my child from the facts of war because it was developmentally appropriate to do so. And then, we had just been at war for so long it became a kind of horrible background noise, it was something that was happening over there as life for many of us have gone on as normal here (outside of the very real effects of our failing economy). But as I spoke with her I remembered that burning fear in the back of my throat as I watched the TV news in 1990 and prayed to a God I was just coming to believe in that this would please not happen because whatever issues I may have had with my brother, I loved him and I certainly didn't want that for him. And I remembered how important it was for us to understand life in other countries. And I remembered how important it was for her to understand the past and how it affects who we are today and where we may be heading in our future.

Watching my daughter read and love this book has been a heartwarming experience. But I have also appreciated the conversations that this book has prompted us to have. And that is one of the most important reasons why we read. Books make us think, they make us ask questions, and if we're doing it right, they get us to talk to one another about the things that matter and move us.

Publisher's Description of Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King:

Lucky Linderman didn't ask for his life. He didn't ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn't ask for a father who never got over it. He didn't ask for a mother who keeps pretending their dysfunctional family is fine. And he didn't ask to be the target of Nader McMillan's relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.

But Lucky has a secret--one that helps him wade through the daily mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Laos--the prison his grandfather couldn't escape--where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It's dangerous and wild, and it's a place where his life just might be worth living. But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way inside?

Michael L. Printz Honor recipient A.S. King's smart, funny and boldly original writing shines in this powerful novel about learning to cope with the shrapnel life throws at you and taking a stand against it. Published in 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

3 comments:

  1. My daughter liked to read books about child abuse in 7th grade. I was a little concerned, but she was willing to discuss issues with me in a way that older readers might not, so we were able to have a lot of good conversations. At 16, she recently read Flowers in the Attic, and it was funny to see her reactions to that, since I read it on the sly and never would have mentioned it to my mother!

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    1. I remember reading Flowers in the Attic in like the 7th grade. I think at the time I didn't really understand a lot of it. Everyone passed that book and Forever by Judy Blume around with all the good pages marked by folding down the corners.

      It seems like kids in Middle School like to read books about abuse, in 20 years of working with them this has never not been the case. The popularity of A Child Called It astounds me. I read it once because it is so frequently requested and it is truly heartbreaking.

      I think talking about the issues is key, if you can.

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  2. I love love love this post, Karen! I haven't read this book (although all of King's books are on my TBR because of you!), but I really appreciated the hard conversations you had with your daughter. You could also talk about the effects war has had in North America (increased xenophobia, discrimination particularly against Muslims, an "us" [good] versus "them" [evil] mentality, etc.)

    I also agree, good books aren't just good reading experiences - they get you thinking about the world differently and talking about the issues they address!

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