The Importance of Unimportant Books, a guest post by Darcy Marks
When I was a kid, I knew the books with the shiny metal stickers, were Important Books™. My teachers had already tortured us with BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, and that was okay because I was one of those kids that read everything. I knew these tear-jerker books were not all there was. There were books about vampire rabbits and dragons and rich twins who somehow always got involved in mysteries, and those were the books I grabbed.
The Unimportant ones.
I knew when I started writing that those were the kinds of books I would write. The Unimportant ones. The books that didn’t end up with shiny metal stickers, face out on the top of library shelves. In those commercial fantasy and horror books I learned bravery, conviction, and curiosity. I saw a million different lives in a million different worlds, and saw challenges, some real and some fantastical, all overcome.
And most of all I had fun! My love of reading never needed much encouragement, but with each new book it grew.
We know reading is vital to expanding your world, to learning and growing as a person, to developing empathy for other people and to see how wide the universe of possibilities really is. But sometimes, when kids aren’t natural readers, and their only experience reading is the book with the shiny sticker and the dog on the cover who definitely does not make it, they come to the mistaken belief that reading isn’t for them. That the problem is not the book but reading itself.
My brother was one of those kids. The exact opposite of me; he resisted reading at every opportunity, until his high school English teacher struck a deal: “Read the first chapter. If you still hate it, you can stop, and I’ll pass you anyway.” The book was ENDER’S GAME. A book about genocide, which no one could argue is not a very Important topic, but it’s also about a bunch of kids away from home for the first time and a video game that is not a video game. That book flipped the switch. He found his book.
Every reader deserves to find their book, the one that pulls them into the universe of possibilities. Books that tell a kid about the world beyond their home and school and show them that the world is a bigger place than they ever imagined. In a life where third spaces between home and school have basically disappeared or moved online, books provide escape and adventure.
That book might be an Important Book™, but it might also be one of the Unimportant ones: the horror book about a creepy doll, or the graphic novel about a lumberjack vampire, or even the audio book read by their favorite actor.
In kidlit we talk about the concept of windows and mirrors; books that show kids other lives, and books where they see themselves reflected. And yet, in 2023 we have groups actively fighting to pull the blinds on the windows and replace the mirrors with paintings of their “perfect” child, ignoring the realities and value of human beings different than their ideal.
It goes without saying that we must prevent these attempts to sabotage libraries and to infiltrate school boards. And while book banning is obvious, less obvious is the disparagement of certain books as “not really reading.” And even though those comments may come from a good place, they serve to close the world just the same. THE HATE U GIVE created readers, but so did CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, and TWILIGHT.
GROUNDED FOR ALL ETERNITY is about kids who live in Hell, who slip through the veil on Halloween night, and must recapture an escaped witch hunter, all while avoiding a kidnapping angel. And they must do it before the town is wiped off the map or worse yet, their parents find out. But it’s also about taking control of your own life when the adults around you all insist, they know better, clinging to your friends when life changes and being true to who you are. It’s about doing what’s right, even when it’s hard, even when everyone is standing against you.
It was important to me, in my Unimportant book, that kids would see themselves. That Malachi’s struggles would resonate with what they go through at school and at home, when they are trying to be themselves. That even with all the fantastical craziness of ghosts, demons and gremlins, the reality of being a kid would reflect true. And that it would still be fun!
In THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY, an interdimensional mixer ends in existence ending trouble, but we also follow Malachi as he tries to fit into a new school, while keeping true to himself and figuring out how he wants to present himself to the world. It’s the stress of changing friendships as people go their different ways, and figuring out the agonizing dance of when a school friend becomes a friend-friend. And also about a hellhound that really likes ice cream.
Both of my books about my rebellious Hell’s angels are filled with humor and snark, and the mythology and influences of my book loving past. And they are both Junior Library Guild Selections. A fact that I will always be proud of. Libraries were always my happy place, and when I saw that Grounded had been selected as a High Interest read for kids who struggled to find books they connected with, I was flying. My book could be an entry point, and that is important.
However we create readers, we must defend options and access to the Important Books™ dealing with Important Issues and the Unimportant Books about principals that fight crime in their underwear. We must encourage kids to find their books, whether that means reading comics, or listening to audio books or picking up a snarky book about Hell. We should encourage reading, in whatever form that takes, because what makes a reader is the love of reading. And that’s not something that can be dictated.
The truth is, there are no unimportant books, and the most important book is the one that you never forget. More than shiny stickers on the top shelf, it’s the one that opened the joy of books and reading for you, whatever that may be. As authors, teachers, librarians, parents and trusted adults, we must encourage and help kids find their book, because while that book may be a window or a mirror, it is also a door to a much wider world.
Meet the author
Darcy Marks is a lifelong reader who learned to walk quite well with a book in front of her face, thank you very much. She lives in Vermont with her husband, three genre-defying kids, a very needy cat and an extremely friendly former racehorse, where she writes rebellious fantasy books for kids. When she’s not reading or writing she explains math and science to lawyers as a forensic toxicologist and used her several black belts to help found The Safety Team, a non-profit changing the world and smashing the patriarchy one step at a time. She is the author of GROUNDED FOR ALL ETERNITY and other snarky books for kids.
GROUNDED FOR ALL ETERNITY:
A group of kids from hell come to Earth on one of the craziest nights of the year—Halloween—in this snarky, witty middle grade adventure about teamwork, friendship, shattering expectations, and understanding the world (or otherworld) around us.
Mal and his friends are just your regular average kids from hell. The suburbs that is, not the fiery pit part. But when Hell’s Bells ring out—signaling that a soul has escaped from one of the eternal circles, Mal and his friends can’t help but take the opportunity for a little adventure.
Before they know it, they’ve somehow slipped through the veil and found themselves in the middle of Salem, Massachusetts, on Halloween night. And what’s even worse, they’ve managed to bring the escaped soul with them! As the essence of one of history’s greatest manipulators gains power by shifting the balance on Earth, Mal and his squad-mates—along with some new friends that they meet along the way—work desperately to trap the escapee, save the people of Earth from the forces of evil, and find the portal back to their own dimension.
If they can’t manage it before their parents realize they’re gone, they’ll be grounded for an eternity. And an eternity in hell is a very, very long time.
THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY: Out July 18th!
An interdimensional mixer with angels and other beings brings unexpected trouble for Malachi and his friends in this smart and uniquely funny second book about the squad of teens from hell.
When an angel comes to his home to deliver a message, Malachi immediately knows what’s going on. The seraph Cassandra who helped his squad recapture Samuel Parris’s wayward soul has finally set a date for her interdimensional mixer! With fae, angels, and hell dwellers alike on the invite list, it promises to be an event of a lifetime.
Mal can’t wait to go to the hot new fashion salon in town and have Morgan, its fabulous fae owner, help him create the perfect look. But Mal’s parents and even some of his squad mates are not quite as excited for the soiree. And when Mal overhears another fae talking to Morgan, he starts to wonder if there’s something at play other than a simple party.
But the mixer gives everyone the opportunity to get to know people from different dimensions and form new connections…what could possibly go wrong?
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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