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Ashley Peterson

Claudia Kishi and the quest for personal style

Remember Claudia Kishi? Junk food hoarder, terrible speller, burgeoning artist and founding member of The Baby-Sitters Club.
If you don’t know Claudia, you should. But not necessarily because of her role in one of the biggest pre-teen book series of the 1990s (the last title was published in 2000), or because she was one of the few literary role models for Asian-American girls coming of age in that decade (OK, actually, you should definitely know about that). What’s important here is that in the 21st century Claudia Kishi has taken on a new life: Style Icon. The internet is bursting with blogs and tumblrs dedicated to Claudia and her unique, thoroughly DIY, and ultimately undefinable fashion sense.
Here’s a fan art rendering, from the claudia kishi diaries tumblr linked above, of a typical Claudia outfit (if there is such a thing):
And here’s the description, from the Baby-Sitters Club Super Mystery #2: Baby-sitters Beware:

“Claudia was wearing leggings, too – purple ones – with black Doc Martens, red slouch socks, black bicycle shorts over the leggings, a big t-shirt with the words “This Might Be Art” scrawled on it in purple (I knew she’d made it herself), and an old black suit jacket of her father’s, with the sleeves rolled up… Claudia’s earrings were purple feathers (she made those herself, too).”

Here’s the thing about Claudia: even if the shorts-over-leggings or homemade jewelry look isn’t for you, she represented (and still represents) something very important for young girls on the verge of adolescence: fearless self-expression. Her modern style icon status isn’t so much about what she wore (check out this great quiz for examples of how Claudia’s outfits wouldn’t necessarily look so amazing on actual people), but about why she wore. Fashion is frequently dismissed as frivolous, superficial, too girly, and a host of other descriptors meant to deny it as a topic worthy of serious consideration. And while a simple search for “fashion studies” or “fashion theory” or “fashion history” will swiftly disprove this assumption, there remains the very consideration-worthy matter of personal style.

More than just a means to look good, personal style is a path to self-exploration and self-expression. It’s not the only way, of course, but it should be respected as a valid option. It is also a way to take back some control from the usual channels that get to define what is trendy, or beautiful, or worthy of admiration. I suspect the reason many now-grown former readers of the Baby-Sitters Club, as well as new fans, identify so strongly with Claudia is that she beautifully illustrates how creating your own hard-won, trial & error, always-evolving fashion sense can be a crucial part of a person’s development.

And, since Claudia would likely roll her eyes at how serious I’m getting about this, we should allow her the final word:
 “I think clothes make a statement about the person inside them. Also, since you have to get dressed every day, why not at least make it fun?”
(BSC #2, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls)

Learning to Read Backwards

This post was indirectly inspired by Neil Gaiman’s excellent essay “What the [Very Bad Swearword] Is a Children’s Book Anyway?,”  from the November/December 2012 issue of the Horn Book Magazine. It is funny, thoughtful, and available via the Library databases!

But what does it MEAN!??!

In one of my earliest and strongest memories, I am four years old and poring over a beloved copy of something-or-other by Dr. Seuss. It was a book whose pages I had flipped many times, but now something was new: what about these words? Like hieroglyphics or Japanese, I knew that they meant something, and for the first time I was vexed that I did not know how to decipher that something. My determination to learn how to read words was born in that moment, but what I didn’t realize is that in the wake of this quest for literacy, there would be sacrifice. It wouldn’t be until years later that I re-learned how to really look at a picture book, and remember how to read all of the non-word stuff.

Mmm, forbidden book.

A similar thing happened again, a decade or so down the road. I was 13, and came home from the local Borders (R.I.P) with a copy of Tom Woolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I had a growing fascination with all things 1960’s (Hippies! Jimi Hendrix! Tie dye!) and was beyond excited to tear into this true account of drugged-out weirdos driving across the U.S. in a psychedelic bus. What I did not anticipate was my parents’ utter horror at my choice of reading material, and the book’s swift confiscation. These were, after all, the same parents who gamely encouraged my love of Stephen King at age ten—what could POSSIBLY be so objectionable, could so thoroughly corrupt my tender teenage brain? Obviously, I had to find out. I spent the better half of a year reading Acid Test huddled in my mother’s closet with a flashlight, in the half-hour bursts of time after I arrived home from school and before she returned from work. Honestly, I can’t say I loved the book beyond the illicit thrill of reading it, but another birth/death in my literary development took place in its wake: I was DONE with books written for my age group. From here on out, it was stuff about deadbeat grown-up miscreants or nothing (leading directly to my obligatory Beat Generation phase a couple years later, but that’s a story for another time).

I think these sorts of literary purges are essential to children and adolescents learning to navigate the world of Adult Content. It is only after swearing off of kids’ stuff, and many years of reading books by grown-ups, for grown-ups, that I have come around to loving picture books and YA literature once again. I find genuine pleasure in sifting through a beautifully illustrated 32-pager, and sometimes scarcely pay attention to those words that once caused me such agony. And re-living teenage years from a safe distance is akin to bungee jumping, or roller coasters: you get to experience the thrill of something wild & terrifying, well-shielded from any actual trauma.

To conclude, here are my recommendations for adults like me, who temporarily abandoned their literary roots and are ready to dive back into what made us book-lovers to begin with. All available at your local Library!

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Gorgeously illustrated and sneakily hilarious. Also excellent: This is Not My Hat, by the same author/illustrator. Get it at Wheelock: J-P K67i.







Gathering Blue by Lois LowryI read The Giver as a tween, but never bothered with this or any of Lowry’s other follow-ups in the series until recently. WHEW am I glad I did. Get it at Wheelock: J L95gaMessenger, number 3 in the series, is also great.






Illustration from Along a Long Road by Frank Viva



I don’t know what it is about France, but I love the picture books coming out of that country. Get it at Wheelock: J-P V83a. Also check out the gorgeous work of fellow-Frenchie Blexbolex.



The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

The first book in a trilogy called His Dark Materials. If you liked Harry Potter but could’ve used more character nuance & moral complexity (and more bear fights) (like, between actual talking bears), this is your series. Get it at Wheelock: J P96g.

These are just four titles among so, so many other excellent picture and young adult books. You can search around for more, or better yet, ask a librarian! Most public libraries boast experts on this stuff who would be thrilled to send you home with a mountain of new reading material…

Style by the Book: The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Find it at Wheelock: Floor 2M, J L95g

Lois Lowry’s The Giver tells the story of Jonas, a young boy who lives in a seemingly perfect society. There is no violence, poverty, pollution or social inequality. Upon every citizen’s twelfth birthday, they receive a career assignment based on their skills and aptitude. Citizens are content with their roles, and carry out their work dutifully.

We join Jonas on the eve of his twelfth birthday and impending career assignment, and what follows will slowly reveal the sacrifices underlying the community’s utopia. Jonas has been chosen to receive knowledge that all but one of his fellow citizens do not possess, and the more he learns about what life was once like– and may still be like elsewhere– the more he comes to doubt the community’s perfection.

The picture above represents Jonas’s eventual break with convention. From drab sameness to a strange apple to a daring sled ride, The Giver is a fascinating story and a young-adult literature classic. Find it, along with its equally wonderful sequels (Gathering Blue, The Messenger and eventually Boy, the newest) on Floor 2M of the Wheelock Library.

Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012

Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died on Tuesday, May 8.

His career spanned over half a century and produced such children’s literature classics as Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. He was also a fascinating, charmingly cranky man whose life and work are well worth exploring.  Start with any of the links below, and stop by the Library and check out our display of his books, as well as books about him, located right by the front door.

  • New York Times obituary
  • New Yorker profile from 2006: lengthy, but worth your time!
  • NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross interview
  • And, last but not least: parts one and two of his hilarious, delightful interview with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.

Congrats to Sarah Negron and Cara McAuliffe!

Sarah Negron and Cara McAuliffe are the winners of our Return Your Books, Win Prizes contest!  Their names were selected from over 80 entries, and since they had both returned all Library materials by May 3, they received $25 Amazon gift cards.  Thank you to everyone else who returned their books on time as well!