Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

Plot Summary
Maya Van Wagenen isn’t a total loser—she has one best friend. But on the food chain of middle school popularity, she’s only a step above the teachers. After finding an old book called Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide, Maya decides to attempt changing her social standing. Her mother encourages her to tackle a tip of two a month from the book’s table of contents, keeping a journal of the experiment as she does. Maya goes from throwing on whatever clothes she can find in her closet to wearing pressed skirts and a string of pearls. She stops being content at blending in and pushes herself to sit at every table in the lunchroom. Though the memoir is about Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide, Maya adds in elements of her home life, including a sister with autism, and schoolwork, including an ailing beloved teacher, to round out the story.

Critical Analysis
Maya’s writing is so honest and open that every teen girl will fall in love with her. Maya’s worries about her appearance, weight, and personality are universal, and are written about with an eloquent yet conversational voice that will draw in readers. The title, cover, and concept are all eye-catching enough to appeal to teen girls, but boys should also be encouraged to read the book. The lessons about fitting in and being popular vs. being well-liked are universal, and Maya interacts with a lot of boys in her school in a way that is enlightening for both genders.
     It can be hard to tell if a social experiment book will have a lasting place in literature, but if any do, Popular should definitely be one of them. Maya’s writing is timeless, and the idea of updating classic advice is something that will never go out of style. Before too long, Maya’s advice might be considered “classic” itself!
Related Activities
It’s time to get fancy! Teens will make pearls and bow ties out of paper. Collect junk mail and paper scraps so everyone can get their pick of paper types and colors. White paper can also be custom-decorated, so include markers and colored pencils as well. You can use glue sticks, or water down some white school glue to be painted on to the beads. Make sure you have plenty of stretchy string so teens can wear their pearl necklaces and bow ties!
     Find how to make different paper beads here:
          “How to Make Paper Beads.” WikiHow. Mediawiki, n.d. Web. 19 Jul. 2015.
     Find how to make a paper bow tie here:
          “How to make origami ties.” Origami-Make.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 19 Jul. 2015.
     Maya Van Wagenen not only experimented with becoming classy by wearing pearls, she turned around and made her own project into a book! Teens can do something similar during this craft program. Let them film short videos explaining how to make the beads and bow ties from start to finish. Upload them on the library’s social media sites so other teens can learn how to do these crafts at home.

Read the book that inspired Maya’s experiment! It’s being republished to meet the demand of Maya’s readers, so get your hands on a copy and see how you can interpret and apply the advice to your own life!
     Cornell, Betty. Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide. New York: Dutton Books for Young
          Readers, 2014. Print.
If you’re not into retro advice or changing your social status, you can spice up your life in other ways, with a variety of social experiments. This book is framed within your high school career, but most of the suggestions will fill your time after school hours.
     Stalder, Erika and Steven Jenkins. 97 Things to Do Before You Finish High School. San
          Francisco, CA: Zest Books, 2008. Print.

Professional Review
Coats, Karen. “Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen (review).”
     Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 67.10 (2014): 546. Project Muse. Web. 19 Jul. 2015.

Read it for yourself!
Van Wagenen, Maya. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek. New York: Dutton Books,
     2014. Print.

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