80s TEEN NOVEL : "Probably Still Nick Swansen"

Probably Still Nick Swansen by Virginia Euwer Wolff
     One of my English teacher friends asked if I wanted about three bins full of old books, and I said yes. There's no library funding, so I'm big on donations. Whatever we can't use for our library I take to a used book store to trade in for store credit, which I use to get things we CAN use.
     As I was going through all the old books, I found this little paperback gem from 1988. The cover illustration struck me as pathetic, along with the tagline, "What's wrong with being Nick Swansen?"
     If you have to ask...
     Then I flipped it over and read the synopsis on the back:

Nick has a problem. No, problems.
Nick is 16. He is still trying to learn how to drive. He's an expert on some things, not so good at others. He's haunted by the memory of his sister who drowned nine years ago. Nick is a "Special Ed" kid.

He's been teased about it. But that doesn't stop him from asking Shana, a former special ed classmate, to the Prom. That, Nick thinks, will be really special.

But things don't always go the way you plan.

Suddenly Nick wishes he was anybody but who he is... anybody but Nick Swansen.

     Oh, dear. Poor Nick Swansen in his awkward tuxedo, waiting for his "special" date. And what's up with that seemingly random brick of tragedy tossed in, about Nick's dead drowned sister? Like Nick's struggles aren't enough "teen issues" for one book without a haunting accidental death from the past? Virginia Euwer Wolff, you are one hard and unflinching writer.
     There's even a nice little insulting "Author's Note" at the beginning of the book, which reads:

This book contains some incorrect grammar and punctuation in order to tell Nick Swansen's story in language that is consistent with his.

     Wow, Virginia Euwer Wolff, I'm not sure who's more insulted by that, poor Nick Swansen, or the reader.

READ YOURSELF RAAW : "Read Across America Week"

Read Across America Day is Wednesday March 2nd
Read Across America Week is Sunday 2/27 - Saturday 3/5 (I guess)

          When I was first introduced to "Read Across America Week," it seemed okay that they chose Dr. Seuss's birthday (March 2nd) as the official RAA Day.  Whatever, you know?  And in 2004 it was the 100th anniversary of Geisel's birthday so I understood why all libraries were overflowing with Dr. Seuss imagery and read-alouds at the time.
          But now when we library folk celebrate RAAW, could we maybe give Dr. Seuss a rest?  The idea is to support reading in every community across the U.S. during whatever week March 2nd happens to fall in.  I don't think the National Education Association's goal was really to make us all relentless publicists for Dr. Seuss, exclusively.  I don't think he needs the help.
          Also, and this is my BIG peeve-- not merely a pet but a roaring lion of a peeve-- when working with junior high and high school age kids, pushing Dr. Seuss is RETARDED.  They're a little BEYOND that, people.  Sure, it's fun and silly, and we can all enjoy a good picture book at any age, but I happen to think Maurice Sendak is better than Seuss any day.  Especially for grownups.  Seuss is twee and lazy.  Anybody can rhyme words they just MAKE UP.  Some of his stuff is okay, but Seuss does not deserve an entire week of worship every year.
          I try to make a point in the libraries I've worked in to highlight DIFFERENT authors and books during RAAW.  It's hard, though, because all of the official posters and crap are plastered over with Seuss's Cat In the Hat imagery.  They've become inextricable.
          My annoyance reached all-time highs when I was working at the junior high and a new and incompetent principal decided to make RAAW her "thing."  She went all out for it every year, dressing up like the Cat In the Hat, making her assistant principal dress as Sam I Am, and her counselors wear "Thing 1" and "Thing 2" costumes with big fright wigs.  She invaded our library and had a big "Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss" cake brought in, and served all the kids cake in the library while she read from one or two stupid Dr. Seuss books.
          I would like to remind you that this was at a JUNIOR HIGH, so of course most of the kids thought she was weird and lame, and only came in for the cake.  She made sure to get lots of pictures of herself in costume reading to the kids, though, and smugly thought herself a real hoot.          
          I would also like to mention that this same principal was directly responsible for removing a series of biographies about gays and lesbians from our library, and refusing to give them back.  This resulted in the ACLU filing a case against the school district.  I bring this up to make the point that she was a bitch who CENSORED library books that could have been really helpful and empowering to our kids.  She was NOT a real library supporter.  After the censorship battle it was even harder to grit my teeth and watch her parading around as the C__ In the Hat.   
          But back to the RAAW Seuss love-fest.  I was so against the dumbing down of it that I had a super pissy attitude during the "birthday party" in the library, and when the principal asked me to help serve cake to the kids I staunchly refused.  I had the biggest stick up my butt.  More like a totem pole with about ten snarling, cussing faces.
          The fact was that we had our own ideas in the library about how to celebrate RAAW and special AGE APPROPRIATE activities already in place, but that stupid principal just jacked the whole thing and took over.  And it's not like I don't know how to have fun!  I'm REAL f*ckin' fun.  But on my OWN TERMS.
          I'm at a different school now, with grades 7 through 12, and nobody foists Dr. Seuss and the Cat In the Hat on any of us.  They understand that NO means NO.  The principal will not be wearing a giant cat suit on March 2nd, and we won't be reading picture books to the kids or letting them grind cake into the library carpeting.
          I'll put a few Dr. Seuss books out (yes we have them), along with OTHER selections that are exciting to teenagers.  I'll use a few images of the striped top hat in my displays, as a nod to the Cat In the Hat, but I will also use OTHER imagery and ideas.
          This tirade came about because I was searching the internet for RAAW graphics to use on a bookmark we're making that will feature the favorite books of teachers and other staff members.  Of course I couldn't find ANYTHING that didn't feature Dr. Seuss crap, and look like it's for 3rd graders.  I did, however, find a treasure trove of online imagery of adults showing us exactly how WRONG things can go when enthusiasm meets bad ideas.
          Please enjoy a few pictures of adults who don't know the difference between "wacky" and "scary."  It's okay to laugh at these people because their photos were right there on the internet and they should have known better.
When I was a kid this would have scared the pee out of me.  Even just the crotch-hugging red pants, not to mention the rest of it.
Grim times in the library. Girlfriend had to make do with a fake PAPER hat. She does not look happy about it, and apparently didn't even bother to get dressed that morning?
The Crypt Keeper and a white-faced ghoul.  This is far more Nightmare Before Christmas than it is Dr. Seuss.