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As I try to enjoy my last week of summer (psych! Hurricane Irene ruined all my last minute beach plans, so I’ve mainly been sitting here getting a jump start on reading for school), I started thinking about teachers. I wish I could say there have been many literary teachers who have inspired me, but children’s lit is strangely lacking in this department. The great thing about teachers is they’re limited to school hours, so they can provide wisdom and advice, but they can’t follow the characters around talking about curfew and responsible driving. I wish more authors took advantage of this unique adult/child relationship, but for now, here are a few great teachers I’ve found in some of my favorite books:

1. Bill from The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I’m not sure how it happened, but Charlie happened upon the best English teacher anyone could ever hope for. Bill sees that Charlie is smart, but has a lot of growing to do, so he starts assigning Charlie extra reading assignments. He does it in a way that makes Charlie feel like his thoughts have worth, and because of it Charlie starts to think more critically about literature and life in general. I love that Bill gives Charlie A’s on his report cards home and on his transcript, but privately tells him he got a B, making Charlie accountable not to his parents or the school, but to himself, and letting him know that even if his work is good enough for an A, Bill knows that Charlie can and should do better. Bill also listens to Charlie’s problems, while still maintaining that teacher/student line. If only all teachers took more interest in their students, maybe more students would take interest in their subjects.

2. Mr. Freeman from Speak

Like Bill, Mr. Freeman is a great teacher because he pays attention to his students. He realizes that not everyone is an artist, so he uses his art class as a way to teach experimentation, exploration, and personalized creativity. He gives everyone room to grow in their own way, while still holding them responsible for saying something, anything. While his message is particularly important for Melinda, every high school student needs someone telling them to speak up. There are too many people in the world telling them to speak only when spoken to.

3. Dr. Hyde from Looking for Alaska

I love the Dr. Hyde, specifically because he doesn’t go out of his way to make any one student feel special. There’s a moment when Miles is caught daydreaming in his class, and Dr. Hyde kicks him out. Later, Dr. Hyde tells Miles that he knows he enjoys his class, so he should work to be present in every moment of his life, wherever he is, and leave the daydreaming out of it. It’s a great lesson, and he’s a very subtle character that has a lot of influence on the way Miles looks at life. Dr. Hyde  is masterful at keeping the line clear, while still using his experience and wisdom to better his students’ lives.

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I’m in the midst of trying to make several large life decisions (graduation? travel? living situation? life plan? does life have meaning?). I need some help, and I started thinking about what characters I’d like to talk to. Originally I thought Dumbledore, but then I realized that he would just be all “Follow your heart and do what’s right,” kind of like my dad (thanks, Dad).  So here’s who I figure would actually help me out.

1. Gandalf

Where Dumbledore would be all serene and tell me to follow my heart, Gandalf would kick me in the butt and get me out the door, moving on to the next adventure in my life. If he was able to shake up a couple of Hobbits, there is no doubt that he’d be able to get me on my way.

2. Gladys from Second Helpings

Jess Darling’s grandmother always has the right advice when she’s trying to figure out what to do next, and I could really use some of her hilarious wisdom right about now.

3. Luna Lovegood

As much help as I’m sure the older generation would have plenty of wisdom to give me, there would be nothing like stressing out to Luna and having her tell me, oh so serenely, that I need to get those nargles or whatever out of my head and then everything will be fine.

4. Anastasia Krupnik’s parents

One of my complaints about YA lit is the blatant lack of parents who are willing to talk things out with their kids. Not so with Anastasia. They would sit with me and tell me to follow my dreams, but they would also be realistic. Two artists with two kids have definitely learned the balancing act in life.

5. Leslie Burke

Bridge to Terabithia never fails to make me cry, which is why I think it would be so powerful to talk with Leslie and see what she thinks. I’d ask what she would have done at my age, if she’d had the chance to make the decisions I’m making. Her answer, I’m sure, would be filled with the kind of creativity and hope that is found only in the perpetually young.

So in my perfect life, I would open my mailbox to find a trillion dollar gift certificate to Barnes & Noble (or maybe Shakespeare & Co) and I would be able to buy all of the beautiful books I want. There are so many pretty editions out there, but usually I’m stuck buying used paperbacks. In a world where I have enough book money to be vain about what I read, the entire line of Penguin Classic clothbound hardcovers would be my first purchase:

 

Ack these are so gorgeous! I love how well the covers fit the stories, and how whimsical and lovely they are.

We all have characters we’d love to meet, and usually we discuss this with the “Who would you invite to a dinner party?” routine. But the thing is, it’s August. It’s hot. And I don’t want to be stuck inside all day struggling to prepare perfect Chicken Kiev when I could be at the beach, so would you please stop asking me to throw a dinner party and just accept that the most you’ll get out of me is a few hamburgers on a slightly suspicious bar-b-que that we find near the sand?

K thanks.

I’m off to the beach until Friday now (for real!), so here are the people I’d take with me to chat with on that two hour bus ride and then dance around on the beach:

1. Takumi from Looking for Alaska.

Yes, he’s a secondary character, but guys, he can rap. On the fly. He can just…rap whenever he wants. And intelligently. He rhymes words like “malaria” and “hysteria.” Who wouldn’t want him on a two hour bus ride?

2. Frankie Landau-Banks from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

She’s a surefire way to make the beach more fun. She would probably lead a whole operation to prank the guys hogging the sand with their football game/toss/whatever it is, and get a killer tan to boot.

3. Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird

Yes, he would complain for the entire bus ride, asking every five seconds how long it will be until the beach, but he would totally hunt for crabs with the eight-year-old I babysit so I can read for a little bit without feeling guilty. Plus, Dill+Frankie Landau-Banks would equal some hilarity for sure.

4. Ruby from Imaginary Girls

Listen, I know she’s not perfect, but she’d be great for a day at the beach. She would be able to convince that group over there to share their watermelon, and she’d be able to convince the bus drive to get there faster and just, you know, skip all those other peoples’ stops (what? I want to be at the beach!).

5. Len Levy from Second Helpings

With this crowd, we’ll need a paramedic around for sure. Maybe he’ll also play us some background music on his guitar!

I’m pretty well-read when it comes to new books. At least, for YA. But when it comes to classics, I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read very many. Guys, there’s something I have to admit, and it isn’t pretty. It’s so bad that sometimes, when a stranger* hears I’m a Lit major and asks me my thoughts on a classic, I’ll pretend I’ve read it just so I don’t have to deal with the inevitable gasp and sidelong glance that penetrates my very soul and questions my worth as a human being.

So I’m coming clean. Here are some (only some) of the classic books I haven’t read. Maybe putting them out there will motivate some actual reading on my part.

Jane Eyre

This one is embarrassingly easy to fake. I read the shortened child version when I was little, and then got totally lazy and never read the real thing. Sorry, Charlotte. If a stranger brings it up on a day when I’m feeling particularly cowardly, I’ll smile and say, “Reader, I married him.” and then they’re convinced. I told you it wasn’t pretty!

Little Women

I’ve seen the movie like eighteen times, but I’ve never made it past the part where Jo cuts her hair. Which I’m pretty sure is like the first thing that happens in the entire epic novel.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The closest I’ve gotten to this one is Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective (which is an excellent movie by the way).

Black Beauty and The Secret Garden

I know, I know, especially shameful, seeing as these are two classic children’s novels. Actually, I’m going to get on that like, this weekend, I swear. I’m cringing.

So there you go. My secret list of shame. What are some classics you’ve managed to avoid reading?

*By stranger, I mean someone who I talk to in passing in line at the grocery store, in the elevator, or on a plane. I would never lie about my literary experience to a friend or family member! The travesty!