Title: Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain In A Digital World
Author: Maryanne Wolf
Synopsis: Wolf examines the effect of digital devices and media on what she calls the ‘deep-reading brain,’ highlighting the detriments to attention, comprehension, memory, empathy, critical thinking, and reflection. To offset these effects, she advocates that educators and parents work towards developing a ‘biliterate brain’ in the younger generation that would allow children to become sophisticated readers across the mediums. The final chapters advocate the preservation of deep reading for the civic health of society and our species.
My Take: This is a fantastic book that I had to read slowly in order to absorb a lot of Wolf’s finer points on deep literacy in our digital media. Part of my slow reading stemmed from self-consciousness. Wolf’s major point is that digital devices have rotted out our capacity for deep, close reading. So, after finishing a paragraph and realizing that my mind had wandered, I would castigate myself, “You clearly have no attention span! Go back and read that paragraph and this time REALLY read!” A similar feeling occurs when I read a book on mindfulness. How “mindful” should I be as I read this? If I go faster, does that mean that I’m not being mindful? Does just thinking about being mindful prevent me from being mindful? And around I go.
But stepping back from my own reading experience, Wolf’s book will most likely inform you of new findings and research and also remind you of what you already know. For those interested in the neuroscience, Wolf devotes chapters on what is occurring in the brain during deep reading and how digital media may be short-circuiting this process. For the more pedagogically minded, she dives into how children become readers and how we can best help them arrive at what she calls a ‘biliterate brain.’ I also appreciated the several chapters she devoted to what are essentially ‘love letters’ to the deep reading process. “Reader Come Home” will inspire and motivate you to make deep reading a part of your life and those around you. That said, this is not necessarily and easy read. It is dense in some points and I feel it necessary to revisit this book to appreciate some of the points that I may have missed.
Title: Here In The Real World
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Publication Date: 2020
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: 11 year old Ware seems to be in for another depressing summer hanging out at the Community Rec Center while his parents are at work. His plans change when he plays hooky and discovers a demoed church lot just over the chain link fence next to the rec center. There he meets a girl named Jolene who is planting a garden next to the church ruins. Ware spends the rest of the summer skipping out on the rec center and adding his own touches to the lot with Jolene. But the impending end of summer and an upcoming auction for the lot may spell the end for their special place.
My Take: I thought that Pennypacker hit a home run with her novel Pax, so I was looking forward to reading this. Here In The Real World does not stand out the way that Pax does, but it is still an enjoyable read. I give credit to Pennypacker for staging the text in the 3rd person point of view. So many middle grade and teen books are written in the first person to capture the self-absorption of youth, that I find it refreshing when a book departs from this. Pennypacker is a deft writer and, while I would not characterize this book as especially plot driven, it did not feel like a slow read to me. She chose to keep the chapters short and punchy and this really drives the story forward. This is especially amazing to me, because this book is heavy on themes of rebirth, renewal, coming to terms with being different, first feelings of love, development of an artist, tension between generations, dealing with unfairness, the need for silence and being alone etc. Somehow Pennypacker guides the reader through all of this and yet the book feels well paced. That’s a pretty incredible feat for a writer.
(Side note: This book really reminded me of My Jasper June, in that it introduced a rugged, carefree character to shake up the protagonist and add to their family.)
Beyond that I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It is a solid addition to middle grade realistic fiction about young people finding themselves – which is really what every tween fiction book is about in the end.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to this interview with Publishers Weekly, when Pennypacker was writing the first Clementine book, she “overheard a conversation in which someone had recalled Carl Jung’s answer to a question. Jung had been asked, ‘Why is there evil in the world?’ And he answered, ‘There’s evil in the world when people can’t tell their stories.'” Frankly, I find this to be an incredibly inspiring quote to base your writing (and reading!) life around!