Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Survivor Girl and The Fame Monster

I first encountered Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (winner of the 1961 Newbery Medal) when I was in third grade. Since my school was tiny (dividers for walls, random people from the community for teachers), my class was combined together with the fourth and fifth grades. Intense jealousy filled me when I saw the fifth graders reading Island of the Blue Dolphins while I was stuck with our banal basal reader. As a quiet shrinking violet, it did not occur to me to ask my teacher for a copy of the book to read on my own. Eventually, a copy finally found itself into my private collection and I was able to savor the story of Karaana, who is stuck on an isolated island after the people from her village are taken away by white men. As a child I was inspired by Karana's resilience against impossible odds. Even when her brother is killed by the wild dogs, Karana carries on and finds meaning in her life. Now, as an adult, this story is even more empowering. While I am surrounded by forced limitations of what I cannot do, Karana reminds me that women can kick ass, tame wild dogs, and survive anything. While much has changed since third grade (rise of the internet, terrorism, and reality TV), Karana's story will always be timeless and inspiring.

I'm sure George Seldon did not picture reality TV stars and musicians when he wrote The Cricket in Times Square, a Newbery Honor book for 1961, but after I read this book, I couldn't help by draw parallels between the Chester, the cricket's rise from a nobody insect to the toast of the town. A simple country cricket is happy to help a poor family survive by sharing his musical gift, but his talent is exploited by his new-found friends, Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat. Our modern culture is so obsessed with fame and popularity that we forget what's really important. Chester reminds us that "what good is it to be famous if all it does is make you unhappy" (134). We need only look at the tabloids and grocery counter magazines to know that fame does not guarantee happiness or success. Instead, Chester has a genuine talent and is happy to share it with everyone. While he may gain financially from performing in Times Square, he playing "gives a lot of people pleasure too - woodchucks and pheasants and ducks and rabbits". This book helped me reexamine my definitions of success and popularity. Instead of thinking about success according to the media, Chester teaches us that sharing your talents with ordinary folk can make others and yourself happy. It may not be network TV or even youtube, but it will make a connection that no one will forget.

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