In this episode of Two Lit Mamas podcast, the Mamas join forces with Uncle Johnny to discuss the latest in LGBTQIA+ books for Middle Graders. They look at how far we’ve come and how far we have to go through the lens of two great novels about love, loss and growing up queer in America.
The snowbound, quarantining mamas are starting to get a little stir crazy, obvi – the cry-laughing was a dead giveaway – but fortunately they found some great middle grade fantasy reads about American myths to distract them. Please join the mamas in beating off the winter blues, especially if you’re a Sasquatch or a ghost mastodon.
For bookworms like myself and my young’uns, bookstores are a sacred place offering an experience that cures whatever ails you. With each of our many moves I have managed to find a perfect bookstore to offer solace for my transient soul. After moving to Turkey, I found a two-story wonder with a decent selection of English titles and a phenomenal section of Turkish authors translated into English. I would disappear inside that shop for hours and imagine myself back in a world where the task of daily communication wasn’t exhausting. It was heaven.
When I returned to the US, I had a toddler in tow, so I had to start frequenting children’s bookstores. Bookstores soon did for my kids what they have always done for me, open a universe of possibilities. Trips to the bookstore have always been experiential, transformative and frequent. After moving to Massachusetts, it only took about three months before we found our spot – An Unlikely Story Bookstore in Plainville. This amazing independent gem also happens to be the brainchild of Diary of a Wimpy Kid genius, Jeff Kinney.
The boys and I have made regular pilgrimages to An Unlikely Story throughout our time here. If there was an early dismissal or day off, we’d make the 35-minute drive to hide out in the stacks and find new and exciting titles for our own bookshelves. But when COVID-19 hit, the entire state locked down, including our magical escape. We’ve waited six long months but when An Unlikely Story finally opened for ‘appointment only’ shopping, it was game on!
We counted the days until our bookstore fieldtrip, deciding to go in with no titles or styles in mind, rather hoping to be inspired by something peering out from the shelves. When we pulled into the empty parking lot my heart was a twitter. I’ve hated crowds even before the pandemic and this store was always packed. Seeing only two other cars meant there were only two other groups. Ahhhhh. Heaven.
At our allotted time a bookseller joined us in our socially distanced line in the parking lot, giving us a warmer welcome than I’ve received at family functions. “If you need suggestions or have questions, just ask. Our booksellers are as happy to see you as you are to see them. We are so glad you’re here.”
Even my sarcastic 12-year-old was moved. “Mom, this is really cool. I feel important.”
After giving us the now requisite instructions about one-way aisles and hand sanitizing stations, we were unleashed into the store. Ahhhhh. Heaven.
We had 45 minutes to hang out with only 10 other people and we made the most of it. We settled in with some Star Wars STEAM books (I share our faves in Episode 5 of TwoLitMamas podcast) before scouring the chapter books. We moved through all of the mythology and science sections and did a serious dive into sci-fi and general middle grade fiction before exhausting our budget. We saved our last 10 minutes for their brilliant gift section because doesn’t everyone need Elizabeth Warren socks and Ruth Bader Ginsberg action figures? I know I do.
As we wrapped up our adventure and ordered me a coffee and the boys some brownies, the only black cloud of the day appeared. My 7-year-old burst into tears.
“Honey, what’s wrong? Wasn’t it good?”
“I don’t know, Mom. It was good but it wasn’t the same.”
And he’s right. While I absolutely adored my private shopping spree, it wasn’t the same. A bookstore isn’t just a retail space. It’s warmth. It’s safety. It’s shelf after shelf of possibilities and while all of those things were still there, it wasn’t the same. Unfortunately, it was a great reminder that while we’re slowly accepting our new normal, our kids might need a little more time. But in that time, we can devour a few books and hide away in some amazing tales.
“Do I have to read it? Can’t I just watch the movie?”
If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that phrase in my 20 plus years as an educator, I’d be typing this from my luxurious, oceanside villa on Cape Cod rather than from my backyard deck adjacent to a pop-up pool in Plymouth. Most avid readers know that when it comes to adaptations, the book is always, always, always better than the movie. But when you’re 12 and you have the option between 2 hours on the sofa, munchin’ Jiffy Pop or actually engaging your brain for 300 pages, the choice is obvious. Unfortunately, the easy choice is seldom the best one.
The problem doesn’t only exist in the classroom. We’ve had the same issue in my house, but I recently flipped the script before the whining could start. When I realized my eldest’s 7th grade summer reading list included Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Lightening Thief, I cut a deal. “Read the book first and then we’ll watch the movie. If they’re more than 75% the same, then you can always watch the movie first from here out.” He had no idea it was a set up. The Lightening Thief is a page turning ride that can keep even the most reluctant readers engaged. The film adaptation…not so much. As a former student once said, “Mrs. O, the only thing about that movie that’s like the book is the title!” Agreed kid.
After a few weeks of cozying up with the book version of Percy and Grover and joining them on Grecian inspired adventures, my son tuned in to Disney Plus for the film version. A couple hours later he reappeared. “Mom? What was that?”
“It’s nothing like the book. The book is totally amazing and that was nothing like what I had in my head.”
“Well which was better, your head or the movie?”
“Duh, Mom, obviously my version.”
“So, I guess you’ll be reading the books from now on, huh?”
While I have some really strong opinions on film adaptations, I encourage you and your crew to test the theory for yourselves. 2020 has seen a slew of middle grade and YA adaptations with more to come. Challenge your family to read the book and then watch the movie. Afterall, there’s still a pandemic going on and everything is cancelled so you’ve got plenty of time on your hands. Afterwards, make a T-chart to list all the similarities and differences between both, then the experiment will not only count towards quality family time, but you might score bonus points for homeschooling or e-learning.
To help you get started, here’s a quick list of book-to-movie adaptions for 2020 and where to find them. Enjoy!
My One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Culfer
The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier
The Babysitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
Emma by Jane Austen
PS I Still Love You by Jenny Han (sequel to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before)
Theatrical Releases – Available for rental on Amazon Prime:
Call of the Wild by Jack London
Dolittle (Based on The Story of Doctor Dolittle)by Hugh Lofting
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Witches by Roald Dahl – 10/20/20
The Dragon Rider – Cornelia Funke (Wide release coming in the fall)
2020 Releases Moved to January Due to Covid 19
Peter Rabbit 2, (Based on Peter Rabbit) by Beatrix Potter
Chaos Walking, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Let us know in the comments what book/movie you chose and which you preferred. You can get the Two Lit Mamas opinions on their favorite adaptations by tuning in to Two Lit Mamas Podcast Episode 6. And, to hear to them chat about adaptation failures, check out podcast Episode 5.
Heather and Margie are two moms who met in a graduate writing class at Butler University a million years ago. That was so long ago that Heather’s son was still free of facial hair and sans driver’s license and Margie’s oldest son was working on tying his shoes and her second son was still a bun in the oven. When a young classmate’s writing mocked the brilliance of Def Leppard and both Margie and Heather immediately came to the hair band’s defense, a spark emerged. Being the only two in the class who had actually danced to Def Leppard at their junior proms and who could commiserate on the horrors of little boys and toilet seats, the bond was quickly formed. However, when the two learned they shared an insane love of middle grade literature, their fate was sealed and they’ve been together ever since.
When Margie’s family was relocated to Boston two years ago for her husband’s job, the dynamic duo feared for their future. That’s when Heather had the brilliant idea to turn their coffee clatch book chats and wine-fueled writing symposiums into a pod cast. With three sons in three different age groups, the two cover a lot of ground in homework reading alone. Add to that Heather’s life teaching pre-school and Margie’s long history as a middle school teacher and these Def Leppard loving broads have a lot to talk about and they love sharing all of it – with you, the listeners.
Note, the recommendations and commentary on all books discussed are solely the opinions of the hosts. And though they believe their opinions to be supreme, it’s perfectly fine to disagree and they would love to hear from you as long as you’re not nasty.