Cover image for Welcome to Lizard Motel : children, stories, and the mystery of making things up : a memoir
Welcome to Lizard Motel : children, stories, and the mystery of making things up : a memoir
Feinberg, Barbara.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Beacon Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
209 pages ; 23 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Z1037.A1 F45 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Welcome to Lizard Motel is a completely original memoir about the place of stories in children's lives. It began when Barbara Feinberg noticed that her twelve-year-old son, Alex, who otherwise loved to read, hated reading many of the novels assigned to him in school. These stories of abandonment, kidnapping, abuse, and more-called "problem novels"-were standard fare in his middle school classroom. Alex and his friends hated to read these books. As one of them said, "They give me a headache in my stomach." So Feinberg set out to discover just what these kids were talking about.

She started to read the books, steeping herself in novels like Chasing Redbird, Bridge to Terabithia, The Pigman, and more. She consulted librarians, children's literature experts, and others, trying to get a handle on why young-adult novels had become so dark and gloomy and, to her mind, contrived.

What she found both troubled and surprised her. "In the middle of the 1960s," observed one children's literature expert, "political and social changes leaned hard on the crystal cage that had surrounded children's literature for ages. It cracked and the world flowed in."

Welcome to Lizard Motel documents this dramatic change in the content of young-adult novels but does so in a uniquely touching memoir about one family's life with books, stories, and writing. Feinberg's examination of the problem novel opens her eyes to other issues that affect children today-such as how they learn to write, how much reality is too much for a young child's mind, and the role of the imagination in children's experience.

Quirky, moving, serious, and witty, Welcome to Lizard Motel is one of the most surprising books about reading and writing to come along in years. Not only does it explore the world of children and stories, but it also asks us to look at how our children are growing up. Feinberg wonders if, as a society, we have lost touch with the organic unfolding of childhood, with that mysterious time when making things up helps deepen a child's understanding of the world. This memoir will reacquaint readers with the special nature of children's imaginations.

Author Notes

Barbara Feinberg is the originator of Story Shop, a creative arts program for children ages three through fourteen. She has won awards for her writing, including a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Feinberg lives with her husband and two children in Westchester County, New York. This is her first book.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

When her son's seventh-grade teacher said a "good book should make you cry," Feinberg started to wonder. After she noticed her son's reluctance to read school-assigned novels-Newbery Award-winning books like Creech's Walk Two Moons or Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia-she read them herself and discovered the "problem novel," a "subgenre of the realistic adolescent novel," which often features a youngster facing horrible difficulties-incest, domestic abuse, rape, death or disease of parents, etc.-without the aid of any sympathetic adult, without "recourse to fantasy." Educators push these parables, Feinberg says, believing children need to abandon fantasy and learn to "cope" with reality. This campaign starts quite young, as Feinberg found when her daughter invited her to her second grade's "publishing party." Listening to these children reading their "memoirs"-as if eulogizing their own childhoods-Feinberg began to question the philosophy behind the Calkins writing workshop system used in so many schools. Why do children need experts to tell them how to write about the world, she wondered? Yes, it's good to learn to observe the world closely, but Calkins's "orchestration of the poetic moment" struck Feinberg as too didactic. Rarely can teachers reject the curriculum's "problem novels," nor can they refuse the Calkins system. But Feinberg, who's spent years working with children in a creativity workshop she designed, has the independence and experience to raise important questions. Her critique, delivered in the palatable form of a chatty parenting memoir, should stir some much-needed controversy, especially among "progressive" educators. (Aug.) Forecast: The implications of this small book are quite large. Parents will want to read it, as will writers, publishers and educators. A blurb from Mary Pipher could help sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

This is a sweet memoir by the mother of a 12-year-old boy who began to wonder why her son didn't want to read what he was assigned for school. These were critically lauded books like Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia and Sharon Creech's Chasing Redbird. So, with some time off during the summer, she decided to read some of them and do some research into the current "philosophy" of children's books. Feinberg started with Terabithia and discovered that although it is beautifully written, the conclusion left her with a feeling of bleakness and despair. Then a children's librarian gave her a copy of Children's Literature in the Elementary School, which says that "Realistic fiction helps children enlarge their frames of reference while seeing the world from another perspective." At first, Feinberg spends a lot of time deconstructing this concept, but she soon digresses to subjects like the after-school program she runs called Story Shop, and her daughter's ear surgery. The digressions are entertaining, and are eventually connected to the theme of children's literature, but in a wordy and roundabout way. This is a very personal story, more exploration than analysis, and though it's a quick read, it leaves readers wanting more substance.-Marlyn K. Beebe, City of Long Beach Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.