Beyond 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid': The Trick to Getting Kids to Read

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A librarian who's passionate about young adult fiction, and a couple traveling to Lisbon to get away from their kids

Rob Thompson.
Tomer Appelbaum

Rob Thompson, 34, lives in Silver Spring, Maryland; arriving from Toronto

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Israel?

I’m here for a family wedding. I have aunts, uncles, first cousins and friends here. A lot of people I know have immigrated to Israel.

Have you ever thought of doing the same?

Not really. Maybe one day, but not now. I really love my work.

And you couldn’t do that work in Israel?

Not really. I’m a librarian at a children’s library. With children, every day is a surprise, you can never know what’s going to happen.

How many books does your library have?

I’m working in a small branch just now, because the big one is being renovated. I think we have around 9,000 titles.

And the children really read?

People say that children don’t read, but I meet children who do.

They all read “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” right?

A lot of them read that, and also “Captain Underpants.” And some kids will read those books over and over. But sometimes they go on to read other things. Especially if you recommend something that grabs them.

Like the book you’re holding?

This is actually a book for ages 10 to 12. It’s called “The Menagerie” and it’s by a writer named Tui Sutherland [and co-author Kari Sutherland]. She has an excellent series of books about dragons called “Wings of Fire.” Do you know it?

No, but every book with dragons is a friend.

This book is about a zoo of mythological creatures: gryphons, unicorns and dragons. It’s the first book in a series. In the meantime I’m enjoying it very much, so I’ll probably continue to the next one.

It seems as though in children’s literature today, you can only publish books in series.

Yes, there have been many changes in children’s literature. Not only are there a lot of series, but the books themselves are longer. It used to be that books for this age weren’t more than 250 pages, but then along came J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter. These days there are books that have 500 pages.

What do you read for your own pleasure?

Fortunately, I enjoy reading children’s and juvenile books, since it’s important for me to be up-to-date. I especially like fantasy books, to escape into an invented world, filled with magical things.

How did you start? With “Narnia” and “Lord of the Rings”?

I don’t like “Narnia” all that much, and I read “Lord of the Rings” for the first time after high school. In fact, until high school I didn’t like reading very much, which is ironic, given that I’m a librarian today.

How did that come about?

I read Tamora Pearce’s “Song of the Lioness” quartet, and really loved it. That was my gateway into reading.

How do you get children into the world of books?

For children who don’t like to read, you can suggest graphic novels. For children who like to read, it’s worth sending them to the library themselves, because parents take what they would like the child to read, and not what he wants to read. And because I’m neither a parent nor a teacher, and don’t care about the reading level, the child can tell me what he enjoys. If he doesn’t read, I can ask him what television programs he likes, or recommend a book according to a movie he liked.

The book is always better – I have a pin with that on it.

Could be, but in my opinion, it’s better to let the children see the movie first, because if they like it there’s a chance they will also want to read the book, and then they’ll have two things to like.

Tomer, the photographer: Are you familiar with children’s books from Israel?

Unfortunately I’m not. The United States imports only about 8 percent of its books.

Give us a reading list for children and teens.

One – Tamora Pearce; two – Angie Sage. She’s the author of the Septimus Heap series, which is a little like Harry Potter but special in its own way. Three – for little ones, a book called “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates.”

Great title.

It’s about a female dinosaur who starts school and is the only dinosaur in the class.

Yinon and Alice Sasson.
Tomer Appelbaum

Yinon and Alice Sasson, both 36, live in Petah Tikva; flying to Lisbon

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Lisbon?

Alice: First of all, we’ll sleep. It’s been a long time since we slept a whole night through.

Small children?

Alice: Two sweet children, 3-and-a-half and 9 months, whom we left with Grandpa and Grandma. It’s the first time we’ve left them.

Are there guilt feelings for leaving behind a baby?

Alice: None. Because I know that babies have no difficulty. If anything, it’ll be harder for the older one. But we worked on her ahead of the trip.

What did you say?

Alice: It was mostly bribery. We promised her Elsa and Anna [dolls] and everything that goes with them. She gave us a shopping list.

Yinon: With all respect to the children, it’s also important to invest in our relationship. To go out to a restaurant for two hours isn’t exactly to disconnect. Going on vacation once a year – that’s recommended.

Alice: And plan early so you have something to look forward to.

Yinon: But four days – more than that makes it hard.

Alice: Both for the grandparents and for the children.

Yinon: But the routine is grinding and it’s important to take a breathing space from the regular course of life.

What’s your usual routine?

Alice: I get up in the morning.

Yinon: She’s a morning type, organizes herself and leaves. I’m more of a night type but I also get up at 6:30. At 7, I’m at the door with the kids. A five-minute delay means another 20 minutes in traffic.

Alice: He drops them off at preschool and I pick them up. I’m always looking for something to do. In big housing projects in Petah Tikva, developers have to build playground, so we diversify. Then Yinon comes home, fixes supper and bathes them.

Yinon: I don’t want to see them only when they’re in bed.

Alice: Places of work are more tolerant these days, and even the most pressured dads pick up kids from school at least once a week. Times have changed.

Thank God. Yinon, how are you as a cook?

Alice: He makes amazing food. Just this week, our daughter said to me, “Mom, you make okay food, but Dad makes really good food.”

Yinon: Keep going!

Alice: He’s also an amazing father. We complement each other and there’s incredible cooperation between us. I manage the house and the tasks, and he…

Yinon: Is a laborer. (They laugh)

How did you meet?

Alice: We were a group of girls in the army. One of the girls had a friend who brought a few guys with him and we went out together. All kinds of couples came out of the group – two other weddings besides ours.

Yinon: We lived together for a few years and saw that we got along. It’s important to know how the other person gets up in the morning.

Alice: I had the feeling that this was it. We were at a friend’s wedding and I just realized it and said to him, “We should get married.”

Yinon: Afterward, we moved to Petah Tikva [lit., “gateway to hope”], a city with no hope [laughs]. But it’s a good place to raise kids.

Alice: In my job there are lots of couples who have been together from a young age. Maybe it’s a thing with the profession.

Where do you work?

Alice: I’m an accountant in a bank, not exactly a “liberal profession.” Conservative people who seek small, calm things, and like big changes less. People who work in a bank aren’t looking to change jobs every year. They want to change on the inside and stay put, and that’s also reflected in the relationships they choose. Stability.

Advice for a stable, good relationship?

Yinon: Not to keep things pent up, inside, and if there’s a problem, to talk about it.

Alice: We also don’t settle accounts with each other: “You did this to me,” “You did that to me.” We are relaxed and forgiving, and don’t bear grudges, otherwise you can’t get along.

Yinon: It’s true that we’re calm, but you must work to preserve that. The way not to be harried is not to get married.

Alice: Everything in life is compromises.