by Bryan Patrick Avery
In magic, there are a few classic effects that always seem to be enjoyable, no matter how many times we’ve seen (or performed) them. Effects like the Cups and Balls, where small balls travel magically from cup to cup, continue to astound and amaze audiences. Even when spectators believe they know the secret, the effect can still have a positive impact.
The same can be said about the books we read. Some stories just grab us and refuse to let go. These stories become classics. But what makes them so?
Take, for example, Last Stop on Market Street, winner of the 2016 Newberry Medal and a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book. Written by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson, it tells the story of CJ, who travels on the city bus with his grandmother one Sunday after church. CJ spends the trip peppering his Nana with questions, each one highlighting something CJ feels is missing in his life. Nana responds calmly to each question, pointing out how much CJ has to be grateful for. Eventually, Nana speaks the line which, to me, makes the whole book.
CJ asks Nana why the part of town they’re in is so run down. Nana responds “Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful.” The line is perfect, both lyrical and thought-provoking at the same time, all without being heavy handed. It’s a memorable moment in a memorable book, making it an instant classic.
Another classic book I love is 2000 Newberry Medal winner Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. My daughter’s sixth grade class is reading the book now and it’s amazing to see how they’ve been pulled into Bud Caldwell’s quest to find his father. Kids seem to relate to Bud, which may seem strange when you consider that Bud is runaway in 1930s Michigan. I think his self-reliance (how many kids wouldn’t love to have suitcase of special things) and determination are qualities kids wish to see in themselves and, therefore, enjoy reading about.
What might be most engaging for kids, though, is what Bud says about ideas: “…before you can say Jack Robinson, they've gone and grown a lot bigger than you ever thought they could”. Every child, and adult for that matter, can relate to getting an idea that just grows and grows until you have to do something about it. Bud’s idea, and his drive to see it through, pull us into the story and make us want to come back again and again.
There are, of course, many others. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies from William Golding, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak all come to mind. They are classics, books we can return to again and again. They are books we gift to others so they can share in our joy. But most of all, like the best classic magic tricks, they continue to fill us with wonder.
by Bryan Patrick Avery
As a magician, I’ve always believed the best magic tricks are the ones where the spectator experiences the magic first hand. A great example of this is the sponge balls trick. I hold a red sponge ball in my fist and give one to the spectator to hold in theirs. With a snap of my fingers, the ball flies (invisibly) from my fist into the spectator’s. I open my hand, and the ball is gone. The spectator opens their hand and they have two balls. The amazement and wonder they get when they see that the ball has traveled to their hand is the same feeling I strive to give readers when I write. Like magic, books have the power to expose us to things we might not otherwise experience. In short, books are magic, too.
We all hear that kids “read up”, meaning that younger readers like to read about older kids. That, I think, is part of the magic of reading. My daughter just finished fifth grade and is headed on to middle school next. She’s spent the year reading about middle school kids like Karma Cooper and loves learning about what middle school will be like.
Whether it’s preparing for the transition to middle school, learning to understand a culture different from our own, or imagining life somewhere far away from home, books can give us experiences we might only dream about. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s magic.
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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