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Posts Tagged ‘young adult’

In the case of a purely instructional comic, particularly in the case of a behavioral or attitudinal piece, the specifics of the information are frequently overlarded with humor (exaggeration), to attract the reader’s attention, convey relevance, and set up visual analogies and recognizable life situations. This inserts ‘entertainment’ into a ‘technical work’.

Will Eisner in Comics and Sequential Art

Daniel H. Pink cleverly taps the comic’s potential to instruct and motivate in his The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, which he proclaims is The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. Pink uses a small cast of characters, comprising of Johnny Bunko himself – a young, bored, uninspired management trainee who, Pink insists, is a “lot like you and me…a good person basically” and a spiky-haired, supernatural career counselor, Diana. Joining them are Bunko’s various bosses and sidekicks, all splendidly multi-ethnic in a story that aims to impart career-related wisdom.

Using a manga-like medium (even though it doesn’t read back-to-front or right-to-left like traditional manga does), is certainly an ingenious approach to dispense career advice. Pink also keeps his counsel pleasantly succinct: six rules, no more. He uses a simple narrative to prove his point, that these six lessons are all one needs for a satisfying, successful career. His style is not fussy or pedantic, and the story serves to make the rules sticky.

Clever, certainly, but calling it ‘the last career guide you’ll ever need’ might be stretching it far too much. Although Pink has done a fairly good job of distilling  his career lessons into six short, simple rules, I don’t necessarily agree with all of them:

  • There is no plan
  • Think strengths, not weaknesses.
  • It’s not about you.
  • Persistence trumps talent.
  • Make excellent mistakes.
  • Leave an imprint.

While the rest may qualify as excellent career advice, I do have a problem with Pink’s very first rule – ‘there is no plan’. While I agree with the premise that life is complicated and unpredictable and that there is no real way to map it all out, and that it is better to do “what turns you on”, I don’t think that might be the best career advice for everyone. Pink, via Diana, urges us to ape what successful people do and how they think:

…they understand what you and your dad and your college advisor don’t.

While our dads and our college advisors may know less about us than ourselves, I’ve found that sometimes the unlikeliest people can make you have an ‘aha’ moment or point you in the right direction. ‘There is no plan’ is probably not the best way to summarize this piece of advice, which emphasizes that parents, teachers and counselors are often wrong, and might only lead to young people shutting their ears to all but their own ideas. Yes, you cannot map it all out, and there is no real way to know if you’ve taken the best path. So, don’t chose a path that you know you will loathe, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and talk to as many people as you can. And that, is a plan. Discover, network, converse. And modify your plan when and as you see fit.

In my experience, career advice is sometimes like fashion. It is exciting and new one season, and dated the next. When I was growing up, and looking for my first job (not all that long ago, actually), Pink’s advice would have been innovative and inspiring. I am talking about a time when we were urged to begin our resume with an Objective whose sole purpose was to announce what you wanted to do with your life. Most life aspirations sounded unoriginal, dull and insipid, something like ‘To gain knowledge and advance in my career’. We were also encouraged to stick with tried and tested routes that led to secure careers. Life has, since then, changed and so has the name of my hometown. Pink’s advice is hardly groundbreaking, but it is brief and pithy.

The plot is weak in places, but the characters and format are interesting enough that I’d recommend high schoolers and college students give it a try.

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Remember when iconic, fictional Carrie Bradshaw decides to pay Big’s ex a visit? When Carrie discovers that Barbara is part of a children’s book publishing unit, she famously makes up a story, about dear Little Cathy.

Barbara: What makes Little Cathy special?

Carrie: Well, she’s got these magic cigarettes….Little Cathy and her magic cigarettes. Whenever she lights up, she can go anywhere in the whole wide world…Arabia, New Jersey…

Barbara: You want to write a children’s book about smoking?

Carrie: It’s a children’s book for adults.

Barbara: You’re outrageous. I love it!

Jeff Kinney has probably without doubt succeeded where Carrie failed. Wimpy kid, Greg Heffley is a hit, among the kids.

I saw my first Wimpy Kid book in an eight year old’s book shelf. He was a collector and was looking forward to the release of the latest book in the series. I spent a few seconds flipping through the book and decided the format looked interesting. I was also curious about eight year olds’ reading preferences (the parent in me speaking). And so when I saw a rare Wimpy Kid book lurking on the bookshelves of the local library, I considered myself fortunate that it was not on hold for some kid, and checked it out right away. I happen to like sardonic humor, and all the cynicism and sarcasm was not totally lost on me. Middle school, high school or even college, tend not to be the shiniest years for many adults, and (for some) it can perhaps be funny reminiscing about all the fun times when some of us were pimply, gauche adolescents trying desperately to be cool (or not to be uncool).

While I found the book funny, funny enough that I would consider reading another book in the series, I also felt uncomfortable that this was being marketed as a children’s book. I can’t really put my finger on it – there is nothing that screams ‘inappropriate’ to me, but somehow an adult’s recollection of middle school misery, funny as it may be, may not necessarily be suitable for middle schoolers. I can imagine that many kids would ‘identify’ with Greg – who doesn’t like to read ‘classics’ like Little Women, likes to spend most of his time either playing video games or sleeping, is socially awkward, is beginning to find the opposite sex attractive, who is lazy and doesn’t like to eat his vegetables. In other words, he is not particularly likeable. He, however, does seem to be wise beyond his years (not in a very good way) and has a dry sense of humor that is perhaps somewhat unusual for kids his age (or not?).

I found out the reason Mom took us to the water park today: It was half price for families.

I don’t believe that protagonists have to be particularly pleasant – in fact wicked can be spectacularly funny. I also don’t believe that all books have to dole out life lessons. But I am an adult.

I understand that my memories of being a child are from over a decade ago, and that reading and other entertainment preferences for children have since then evolved. But I am not sure I want my child to appreciate this kind of dry humor so early in life – it seems that it would be tantamount to losing one’s childhood. I would be very sad indeed if children these days bid a premature farewell to childhood even before they hit their tenth birthdays. Though the book does deal with real feelings that many of us go through: wanting to be popular, being aware of what one has and what one does not have, wanting to go up against parental authority, feeling misunderstood; I am not sure if the book would really help a child deal with these feelings, other than reinforce the idea that unpleasantness and laziness can be cool.

On the other hand, if I was a kid growing up today, I’m sure I would feel that the adult in me was being unjustifiably paranoid. After all, the book is funny.

The series is certainly a good candidate for summer reading for young adults (I am still not sure it is suitable for children), especially if they are not a big fan of the Reading is Fun club. They might not read their Little Women, but they’ll gladly read the Diary.

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