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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
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Once in a while an artist comes along who does work so beautifully that you cannot help but gawp. Particularly gawpable (a word? Tis now) is Lizi Boyd. And today, I’m pleased as punch to premiere the book trailer for her latest. It’s a simple concept book . . . at first. Probe a little deeper, however, and you’ll find it’s so much more.
Reading through the most recent issue of The New Yorker, you may encounter the short story “Little Man” by Michael Cunningham. It’s a rather cunning retelling of Rumplestiltskin that veers oddly close to the original tale. Granted Cunningham has no idea how spinning wheels work (see: Paul. O. Zelinsky who actually put in the research with his version) but otherwise I loved what he did with it.
Reading the piece got me to thinking about my current job. These days I’m not really purchasing all that many children’s books. I still keep up, but as the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system I’m now deeply submerged in the world of adult literature and nonfiction. One thing I’ve found with my new job purchasing such titles is that my eyes are now being opened up to a wide and wonderful world I’d never really experienced in full before: Adult books on kidlit topics. Sure I’d seen a lot of the academic titles and books by folks like Leonard Marcus, Phil Nel, etc. but consider the following books. Each one contains something interesting to our business.
Here are some of the titles I’ve encountered in the course of a single week:
The description from the publisher reads:
“The First World War laid waste to a continent and permanently altered the political and religious landscape of the West. For a generation of men and women, it brought the end of innocence and the end of faith. Yet for J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, the Great War deepened their spiritual quest. Both men served as soldiers on the Western Front, survived the trenches, and used the experience of that conflict to ignite their Christian imagination. Had there been no Great War, there would have been no Hobbit, no Lord of the Rings, no Narnia, and perhaps no conversion to Christianity by C. S. Lewis.
Unlike a generation of young writers who lost faith in the God of the Bible, Tolkien and Lewis produced epic stories infused with the themes of guilt and grace, sorrow and consolation. Giving an unabashedly Christian vision of hope in a world tortured by doubt and disillusionment, the two writers created works that changed the course of literature and shaped the faith of millions. This is the first book to explore their work in light of the spiritual crisis sparked by the conflict.”
And while we’re on the topic of Tolkien:
The publisher writes of it:
“From superstar linguist David J. Peterson comes a creative guide to language construction for sci-fi and fantasy fans, writers, game creators, and language lovers. Peterson begins with a brief history of constructed languages, from Tolkien’s creations to Klingon to today’s thriving global conlang community. Then, using examples from his own languages alongside helpful comparisons to real ones, Peterson offers a captivating and lucid overview of language creation, providing a basic foundation of essential linguistic tools for inventing and evolving one’s own lexicon. Along the way, behind-the-scenes stories lift the curtain on how he built the languages for television series and movies such as SyFy’s Dominion and Thor: The Dark World, and an included phrase book will start fans speaking Peterson’s constructed languages. An inside look at a fascinating culture and a perfect entry point into an art form as old as civilization,The Art of Language Invention is a wild linguistic adventure that will have readers ready to rub shoulders with horse lords and dark elves.”
For a second I misread that last sentence to read “house elves”. If only.
This one I would never have suspected, had I not read the Kirkus review. As they say, “Perhaps the best of these stand-alone selections is ‘The Love that Dare Not Squeak Its Name,’ originally from Salon, in which Rakoff’s interpretation of E.B. White’s Stuart Little as a seminal gay icon will make it difficult for readers to see the mouse-child in any other light.” You can read the piece in question here if you’re curious.
All you need to do is to look at the cover. Nuff said.
I find this particular description a bit of the baffling side (what precisely does “violently anti-Wilder” mean?). Still, it falls under the same umbrella. Fingers crossed that there’s a Bloody Benders reference in the book somewhere. From the publisher:
“Two sisters take a road trip that will change their lives. Chloe Ellefson, a collections curator at Old World Wisconsin, is a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, so she’s thrilled when her elderly neighbor Miss Lila brings her a quilt that may have been owned or even made by Wilder. Miss Lila wants Chloe to decide which of the many museums devoted to Wilder should get the quilt, but then she’s killed in a break-in before Chloe can gather much information from her. Although Chloe’s not very close to her sister, Kari, who’s married to a dairy farmer and has two children, they both have happy childhood memories of the Little House books and the times they pretended to be Laura and her sister Mary. So she asks Kari to go with her to visit all the museum candidates. At their first stop, they’re unable to prevent a young man from dying of anaphylaxis. Then Chloe finds herself interfering in a fight between a Wilder-obsessed wife and her controlling husband. The woman leaves her husband behind and joins the group on Alta Allerbee’s Laura Land Tours bus. Chloe’s dream trip keeps getting worse as she realizes Kari’s hiding a secret and at least two of the people tagging along on the tour are violently anti-Wilder. Her struggles to uncover several secrets reveal some surprising things about her heroine. This sixth adventure for Chloe (Tradition of Deceit, 2014, etc.) is a real treat for Little House fans, a fine mystery supplemented by fascinating information on the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder.”
From the publisher:
“Some of your favorite New York Times bestselling authors present five all-new stories told through the looking glass including a new Eve Dallas novella!
You’re late for a very important date…Enter a wonderland of mesmerizing tales. It’s a place that’s neither here nor there, where things are never quite as they seem. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s whimsical masterpiece, ranging from the impossible to the mad to the curiouser, these stories will have you absolutely off your head.
Don’t be afraid to follow them DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE“
On the flip side there are also authors that I’ve only ever encountered through their children’s books without any knowledge of their adult literature. Hannah McKinnon, Mal Peet (which I pretty much knew, but still…), etc. These are folks that are giving me a new appreciation for the variety they are capable of producing. In the meantime, I’m enjoying these other books and their references. Fascinating how childhood memories affect our literature on every level.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Been a while, hasn’t it? Well, better late than never. And you probably get a better level of quality videos if there’s a month’s gap, eh?
Today we begin with the video of the week. The Wall Street Journal released this article about Brian Selznick’s puppeteering work on his own book trailer. For me, it’s the waves that are the most impressive.
When I was sent a copy of Diva and Flea, written by Mo Willems and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, I almost immediately found myself reading it to my kiddo. For me, child of the 80s, it had a bit of an Aristocats vibe to it. For my daughter, it highlighted Paris (a city she already knew through her Madeline and other kidlit texts) and was an interesting tale of miscommunications (her interpretation). Consequently, Disney upped the ante with its video for the book. Here’s Mo sporting some Raschka locks in a kind of Dinner with Andre for children’s literary fans. Be sure you stay for the drawn image at the end. I think Tony’s version of Mo is the best thing ever.
Did I ever tell you about that time I went to a Scholastic event and there were a bunch of authors standing about talking, and I got into a discussion with Barbara McClintock and this guy who was all in black? Yeah, we had a good talk and the guy (who was NOT wearing a nametag) wanders off and I turn to Barbara and say, “Who was that?” And she says, “Jeff Smith”. Yeah. So basically I met the guy and wasn’t able to say anything pertinent to him at all. I’m pretty sure we discussed skunks. I don’t know why. That’s just how it came out (which, technically, is right up there with the only conversation I ever had in person with Judy Blume and it was about black and white cookies). Anywho, I missed this video when it came out in May, but I assure you that the folks in it are just as cute now as they were then.
My beautiful beautiful first library. Is it not gorgeous? Wouldn’t you love to go there? Do. Plus the video shows a mysterious glass box in a tower that I’ve never seen before. I would love a closer look!
Thanks to Marci Morimoto for the link
Here’s how long it’s been since I last did a Video Sunday. I never posted this faux teaser trailer for the Series of Unfortunate Events video series. Crazy, right? It’s so beautifully done, particularly the choice of Amanda Palmer song (and she is a friend of Daniel Handler’s in turn . . .).
Do I really have to mention that Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club for Kids video isn’t, ah, appropriate for kids? I don’t do I? I mean, it’s Chuck Palahniuk, for crying out loud.
One video I’d love to show you and that I just don’t have on hand comes from a recent Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL that I help set-up but could never see. There is footage out there, and I have seen it, of Rita Williams-Garcia, Jeanne Birdsall, and my former co-worker Christopher Lassen dancing like The Jackson 5. I am not making this up. I thought I might have a Facebook link but no go. So if I find it, I will post it, but in the meantime please believe me that you live in a world where such things really do happen.
And for our off-topic video of the day, it’s a little old but there’s no reason not to do the Johnny Depp dressed as Jack Sparrow visiting sick kids in Australia video, right? I do wonder . . . what did he smell like? And do authors ever get asked to do this, visit sick kids? Or write to kids as their own characters?
Because you didn’t truly think The Grolier Club would let the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland pass without a word, did you?
Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece
A Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Grolier Club
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a world-wide phenomenon! Published in 1865, it is one of the most quoted works of fiction in the world, one of the most translated, and has never been out of print. The Grolier Club is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its publication with this groundbreaking exhibition Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece devoted to the myriad translations of Alice. There are 7,609 editions (and counting) that have been translated in 174 languages.
On view from September 16 to November 15, 2015, the exhibition represents the most extensive analysis ever done of one English-language novel rendered into so many languages. The presentation of 140 translations is based on a three- volume book of the same title and is drawn from the collection of Jon A. Lindseth, who is the exhibition curator, with loans from co-curator Alan Tannenbaum as well as the Fales Library at New York University, Princeton University Library, and The Morgan Library & Museum.
The book is famously difficult to translate because of its wordplay, nonsense, homophones, and cultural references. When Lewis Carroll was considering having Alice translated into French or German or both, he wrote on October 24, 1866 to his publisher, Macmillan, saying: “Friends here [in Oxford] seem to think that the book is untranslatable into either French or German: the puns and songs being the chief obstacle.”
This exhibition gives evidence that Carroll’s friends were wrong and to date there are 562 editions in German and 451 in French. On view are the seven languages translated during Lewis Carroll’s lifetime: from the first German and French editions in 1869, through Swedish in 1870, Italian in 1872, Danish and Dutch in 1875, Russian in 1879, to shorthand, published by Cambridge University Press in 1889.
The exhibition begins with background about the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodson, alias Lewis Carroll and and his child muse Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, where Dodgson graduated and then stayed on to spend the rest of his life teaching. Lewis Carroll was a letter writer, photographer, mathematician, teacher, book collector, and of course, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On view are selections from his life and works, his circles, the first use of the pseudonym Lewis Carroll in the magazine “The Train,” when he was 24 years old, through to his funeral keepsake and estate sale catalogue. Also on display are the first edition of Rhymes for the Nursery (1806), with “The Star,” a poem Carroll parodied, and translations of Carroll’s books from the collection of Alice Hargreaves, the real Alice. In addition, there are Carroll’s nonsense poem “The Hunting of the Snark” and Edward Lear’s copy of Alice, the two people being the greatest nonsense writers of the Victorian period.
This is followed by works that discuss the concepts and difficulties of translation including Vladimir Nabokov’s New Republic article of 1941, “The Sins of Translations.” The sins he cites are made by many translators of Alice. In his book Experiences in Translation, Umberto Eco writes: “Every sensible and rigorous theory of language shows that a perfect translation is an impossible dream.”
The other cases are devoted to translations in the languages and dialects of Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, the Pacific, Far East and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Brazil, as well as Esperanto, Braille and shorthand, Disney material, a Pop-up Book, and Comic Books. A world map shows the location of each spoken language into which Alice has been translated.
A brief overview of the translations on view:
Languages of Great Britain & Ireland, Extinct Languages, English in Other Alphabets
All six Celtic languages are represented, as are dialects of Scots. Others include Jèrriais, a Norman language from the Channel Island of Jersey; the Scouse dialect of Liverpool; Sussex dialect of East Sussex County; and Cockney of London. Extinct languages include Middle English and Gothic. Alice transcribed into other alphabets (some experimental) and codes include Carroll’s own Nyctographic alphabet, for writing in the dark. The precursor to Braille, Boston Line Type, is here.
Spain, the Baltic, and the Nordic Languages
The six languages of Spain are represented; there are more editions in Spanish than in any other language, since Alice is also published in many countries of the Americas. Editions in four languages of the Baltic region and five Scandinavian languages are shown.
The Balkans and Other European Countries
The Balkans are represented by editions in ten languages, and there are eight editions in other European languages, including West Frisian, translated by Tiny Mulder, who is featured here along with the King’s Medal for Courage awarded her by the British Government for rescuing seventy-two downed Allied airmen.
The Chinese and Japanese languages comprise large numbers of published editions. Important early editions are shown, along with eight other languages of the Far East, including Uyghur, Korean, Mongolian, Lao, Malay, Vietnamese, and Thai. The Central Asian languages Tajiki and Kazakh are displayed.
The Indian Subcontinent
Represented are editions in fourteen languages of India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Nonsense writing first appeared in India long before Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear.
The Pacific Region and Africa
Six Alice translation languages in the region from Hawaii to Australia are presented, including two illustrated editions of Pitjantjatjara, an aboriginal language of Australia. Four African languages are shown.
A Selection of Other Languages
Translations from North and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and the Near East, including Jewish languages.
A selection of translations from Irish publisher Evertype is included. They have published Alice in more than fifty languages.
Awards for the best Alice translation books
The Grand Prize goes to the Slovak edition of 2010, and the Award of Excellence to the Neapolitan edition of 2002.
On October 7 and 8, 2015 a translation conference is scheduled. Speakers are from China, India, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and Hawaii. The conference is open to the public but tickets are required.
The illustrated book Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece, Jon A. Lindseth, General Editor and Alan Tannenbaum, Technical Editor, is in three volumes. Volume One includes the essays and appendices; Volume Two, the back-translations into English so that readers can see how all translators handled the same difficult portion of Chapter VII: A Mad Tea-Party; and Volume Three, the 174 checklists of editions, with more than 7,600 entries. The book is available from Oak Knoll Press, email address email@example.com.
VISITING THE GROLIER CLUB
47 East 60th Street
New York, NY 10022
More exhibition information can be found at AliceInAWorldOfWonderlands.com
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm
Admission: Exhibitions are open to the public free of charge
The Grolier Club Collects II
December 9, 2015 – February 6, 2016
For press information and jpegs please contact:
Public Relations Consultant to the Grolier Club
212-838-6690 x 2
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- Here’s your SAT question for the day: “Making fun of The Giving Tree in a parody is to shooting fish in a barrel as . . .” You may put your response in the comments below. I’ve lived long enough to feel that I’ve seen every possible Giving Tree parody man or woman could imagine. The Taking Tree, the video with Sassy Gay Friend, that other video where it shows the boy growing up. Been there, done that. That’s why I really kind of respected The Toast’s take. At first it sounds like it’s going to be more of the same old, same old: If the Boy From the Giving Tree Was Your Boyfriend. But like most pieces on The Toast, it’s much smarter and cleverer than its initial concept. Well played, Meghann Gordon. Well played indeed. Thanks to Cheryl Klein for the link.
- Me stuff. If you find that you haven’t heard enough talkety talk from me, Mr. Tim Podell was recently kind enough to speak to interview me for his remarkable, and longstanding, Good Conversations Radio Podcast. Seven years ago he walked into my library and we talked about where to take his show. Now he has a successful podcast and I my same blog. Seems like only yesterday, eh, Tim?
- This one just sort of sells itself. The headline read, “British Library releases children’s book illustrations into public domain.”
- I don’t know as many literary apps for kids as I might. Pretty much everything on my phone is of the Endless series. Endless Reader. Endless Alphabet. Now I hear they’ve a Spanish one as well: Endless Spanish/Infinito Español. This is a great day for kinderappkind.
- Who doesn’t like a good bookface (as the kids are calling it these days)? Lots of children’s literature was on display in this recent Guardian article about NYPL’s call for pictures ala #bookfacefriday.
I think the Libba Bray one is particularly inspired too.
- With the sheer number of picture books out there, sometimes you want to see a recommendation list that isn’t the same old, same old. So if you want something fun and entirely up-t0-date, step this way and take in the Pink Me post Super Summer Picture Books 2015. Good for what ails ya.
- I missed a lot of Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf issues while I was moving to Evanston, so perhaps this piece has already been discussed ad nauseum without me. Just in case it hasn’t, though, The Guardian post Picture Books That Draw the Line Against Pink Stereotypes of Girls is very interesting to me. I should do an American version as a post soon. In any case, many of these I recognize but I don’t think we’ve seen I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail yet. Eh, Bloomsbury? Eh? Eh eh? *bats eyelashes* Eh? Thanks to Kate for the link.
- With his customary verve and panache, Travis Jonker accurately (insofar as I am concerned) pinpoints the books that will probably get some New York Times Best Illustrated love this year. The sole book he neglects to mention, insofar as I am concerned, is my beloved Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann and possibly Mr. Squirrel and the Moon by Sebastian Meschenmoser. Let’s show our German compatriots a little affection!
- One might argue that launching a literary periodical with a concentration on children’s literature in this day and age is as fraught with peril as launching a children’s bookstore (if not more so). Yet I find much to celebrate in this recent announcement about The Read Quarterly and what it hopes to accomplish. You know what? What the heck. I’ll subscribe. Could be good for the little gray cells.
This . . . this looks like a lot of work. Whooboy. A lot of work. But super cool, you bet. Super cool. It’s kids made out of books:
I think I’m getting the hang of this whole living-in-Evanston thing. All moves take adjustment, but you know the one thing that makes a transition smoother? Finding a great new bookstore. I was wondering the streets of downtown Evanston when I saw this sign advertising a bookstore down an alley. And while alley walking isn’t my usual way to go, having living in NYC for eleven years (a land, admittedly, without much in the way of ANY alleys) I was curious. The sign advertised a bookstore called Bookends and Beginnings. So I walked to it and discovered a marvelous little shop. First and foremost it had a great Alice in Wonderland display, celebrating 150 years, and showing off some very cool foreign editions. Then I took note of the fact that children’s books were meticulously scattered throughout the store. Salsa by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh was in the poetry section. Migrant by Jose Manuel Mateo was in the current affairs. But best, by far, was the children’s section. There, tucked away in the back of the store, was the greatest collection of contemporary children’s book imports, translations, and foreign children’s books I’d ever seen sold to the public. It was awe-inspiring. Truly a work of a specialist. Indeed, as I later learned, Ms. Nina Barrett was the one responsible for the translations while her husband Jeff Garrett specialized in the foreign children’s fare. Seriously, check out their staff recommendations.
As I walked about in a daze I stumbled across an interesting item sitting at the front desk. It wasn’t a title I’d run across on my librarian rounds, possibly because it could never work in a circulating collection. Some of you may know my opinion of Peter Pan. Which is to say, I don’t much care for it. I like aspects of it, but the book itself contains one too many twee moments for this average gal. Nonetheless, after spending less than 30 seconds in the presence of Peter Pan by Minalima I was enthralled. The book takes the Peter Pan story and inserts little interactive elements along the way. Reports and a fairy believer’s clap chart, maps and more (you can see some prints from the book here). It was like the Griffin & Sabine of children’s literature. And I wanted it.
It also got me to thinking. Few of us have unending shelf space. So when we go in for certain works of children’s literature we usually get just one version to suit our needs. Sometimes we may have more than one, but at least one has to be there. With that in mind, what is your perfect Quintessential Edition Collection? If you could have only one version of any classic work of children’s literature, what would it be? The question is a tricky one. Not long ago when I sat and watched the speakers at the remarkable Where the Wild Books Are conference created by Etienne Delessert I watched an Italian scholar describe in detail a variety of different takes on Pinocchio by decade. It was the kind of presentation that made clear to me that no matter what your favorite book, you’ll never be aware of all the various permutations out there.
Here is my own personal list. Very personal, since the books listed here are an interesting mix of desire for the unqualified “best” illustrations, titles from my own childhood that made a lifelong impression, and books that I would like to use with my own kiddos.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.
The first thing you’re going to notice about my choices here today is that they tend towards the heavily illustrated, “and what is the use of a book . . . without pictures or conversations?“, a wiser woman than I once asked. Few children’s books are illustrated and re-illustrated quite as often than Alice. We all have our favorites, and this is mine. I am aware of the “GAP Alice” moniker the Oxenbury version attained when it first was published, but I remain steadfast and true to it. Few books are as perfect in child-friendliness than this (and yes, the text was never meant for the youngest of readers, but why quibble?). By the way – this past summer in NYC I noticed that Alice was on a number of summer reading lists. I decided to buy some extra copies of the book for the system. I was then baffled to discover that it was remarkably difficult to buy a simple Alice book in large quantities. Indeed, this edition that I love so much is out-of-print. All the more reason to get it while you can.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by Michael Hague
Now I assume that there simply must be more than one fully illustrated version of this book out there. That said, this is the only one I’ve ever seen. It’s also the version I grew up with as a child. For a while there, Hague was the only game in town when it came to gorgeous, storytime ready, fully illustrated books for kids. He did them all (and you may see his name appear on this list at least once or twice again) and wasn’t afraid to summon the ghost of Arthur Rackham to aid him in his endeavors. This book in particular really solidified the story in my brain. That shot of the statues in the White Witch’s garden? *shudder*
Pinocchio, retold by Kate McMullen. Illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre
Translation is a funny fickle fellow. I don’t know that many Americans read their Pinocchio with an eye towards preserving Collodi’s cadences. Instead, it’s his story, his weird weird weird weird story, that pulls us in. Now I’ll be the first to admit that when this version of the tale came out I was skeptical. It seems to combine an odd cartoonish style with an early chapter book format of a classic title. How does THAT work, exactly? But when I read it to my daughter, magic. This was the first chapter book she had the patience to listen to front to finish. It’s not hard to see why. Originally serialized in newspapers, the story is episodic and odd. The plot hops at a breakneck pace. Characters die and come back to life without much rhyme or reason, and you simply accept it. Add in LeMaitre’s illustrations, which give the story both its mischievousness and a kind of innocence as well, along with McMullen’s fun telling, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Illustrated by Lauren Child
Sort of a no-brainer, this one. It’s big and beautiful (though they came out with a very workable paperback edition not too long ago). Child’s art works so well with the storyline that you suspect she was very influenced by this book when she herself was a child.
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. Illustrated by P.J. Lynch
No one said I couldn’t include versions of relatively recent children’s book illustrated in other countries to this list, of course. Few Americans are familiar with this British edition of the beloved Newbery winner and more’s the pity. I’m pretty much just going to refer you to the cover and leave it at that.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Illustrated by Inga Moore
The other day I found myself describing the plot of A Secret Garden to my daughter. She asked so many questions about it that at last I asked her if she wanted to see it for herself. She did, so I was finally able to pull this version down off the shelf for her. It’s my favorite, probably because it gives ample weight and attention to the garden itself. Also, her sickly Colin is SUPER sickly. That’s a kid who’s never felt sunshine on his skin, you betcha.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Michael Hague
Even more Rackham-esque than his Lion, Witch and Wardrobe. When I was a child my mother had many of the more evocative pictures from this book framed and placed around our house. If I’m not too much mistaken there may be one or two still hanging up around there somewhere. I should note for purists that when she would read the book to me she would also show me the version penned by Winnie-the-Pooh artist Ernest Shepard, and I liked them fine. They just weren’t as lush and amazing as Hague’s. I mean, that Pan beats all other Pans out there (sorry, 1913 Paul Bransom edition). This is a name dropping sidenote, but once I was in conversation with the late, great Brian Jacques and he mentioned he was doing the audiobook of The Wind in the Willows. I asked if it was unabridged and would include “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” section. A lifelong Willows fan, he answered strongly in the affirmative. Of course it would! Of course! How could I even doubt it?
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Illustrated by Michael Hague
Fans will note that for some odd reason Elizabeth Zwerger, Robert Ingpen, and some of the other bright lights of illustration have not been included here. But when you select only one version of anything, that’s the price you pay (though I’m rather intrigued by the Ingpen version of this book, so if someone would like to, ah, send me a copy I might be willing to reconsider). And yes, this is Hague’s third appearance on this list. Like I said, a lot of these have to do with childhood affection. That said, I really truly and honestly have never encountered a Wizard of Oz book to compare to this. The full color map of Oz on the endpapers was killer, as was his interpretation of so many scenes. It was Hague who showed me that the Wicked Witch of the West is never mentioned as having green skin at any time (and so his doesn’t). I’m sure there are folks out there who love Denslow’s original art, but if L. Frank Baum’s wife was allowed to dislike it then so am I.
That’s all I can think of off the to of my head. If you’ve versions of any of these that you’d like to defend, lay ’em on me.
By the way, should you be so inclined, my book Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (co-authored with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta) mentions one particular incident when a Caldecott winning author/illustrator had a chance to illustrate J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit but due to a miscommunication with Tolkien himself was told not to do so. Can you name the artist?
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything
By Calef Brown
Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt (an imprint of Macmillan)
For ages 9-12
Why do I do this to myself? Let me tell you something about how I review. Board books? Pshaw. I can take one and write a nine-paragraph review parsing precisely why it is that Bizzy Bear’s preferred companions are dogs and bunnies. Nonfiction? Lay it on me. I’ll take infinite pleasure in discussing the difference between informational texts when I was a child (long story short, they sucked) and our current golden age. But there is one book genre that lays me flat. Stops me short. Makes it exceedingly difficult for me to get my head in order. Truly, children’s poetry books are the hardest to review. I don’t know exactly why this is. They are the most unloved of the books for kids. No American Library Association accredited awards are made specifically for them. They get checked out of libraries one month a year (April = National Poetry Month) and then lie forgotten. Yet so many of them are bite-sized wallops of greatness. Hypnotize a Tiger by Calef Brown is one of these chosen few. Not many poetry books for kids sport blurbs from Daniel Pinkwater (who found a soul mate in Brown’s art) to Jack Gantos to The Book of Life director Jorge R. Gutierrez. And few author/illustrators are allowed to go as positively wacky and wild as Brown does here. From tomato ultimatums and loofah tortes to velocipede odes and dodgebull (rather than dodgeball) you honestly never know where the book is going next. And you’re grateful for it.
So if it’s so great (and it is) why is reviewing a book of this sort the devil to do? There are any number of reasons. When reviewing a book with, say, a plot, it’s awfully easy for me to merely recap the plot, dish on the characters, bring up some single strange or scintillating point, then close it all down with a conclusion. Easy peasy. But poetry’s not really like that. There’s no plot to Hypnotize a Tiger. There’s not even a running gag that keeps cropping up throughout the pages. Each poem is its own little world. As a result, I’m stuck generalizing about the poems as a whole. And because we are dealing with 84-85 (depending on how you count) of them in total, I’m probably going to end up saying something about how some of the poems work and others don’t. This is kind of a cheat when you’re reviewing a collection of this sort because almost no children’s poetry book is absolutely perfect (Example A: The fact that Shel Silverstein wrote “Hug-a-War” . . . I rest my case). They will always consist of some verses that work and others that do not. In the end, the best I can hope for when reviewing poetry is to try to find something that makes it different from all the other poetry books published in a given year. Fortunately for me, Mr. Brown is consistently interesting. As Pinkwater said in his blurb, “He is a bulwark against mediocrity.”
I’m very interested in the question of how to get kids around to reading poetry. My own daughter is four at this time and we’ve found that Shel Silverstein’s poetry books make for good bedtime reading (though she’s still thrown off by the occasional grotesquerie). For many children, Silverstein is the gateway drug. But Calef Brown, though he swims in Shel’s surrealism soaked seas, is a different breed entirely from his predecessor. Where Shel went for the easy silly ideas, Brown layers his ridiculousness with a bit of sophistication. Anyone could write a poem about waking up to find a beehive attached to the underside of their chin. It takes a Calef Brown to go one step further and have the unfortunate soul consider the monetary implications. Or to consider the verbal capabilities of Hoboken-based gnomes. So Hypnotize a Tiger becomes a book meant for the kid with a bit of prior poetry knowledge under their belt. You wouldn’t hand this title to a reluctant reader. You’d give it to the kid who’d already devoured all the Silverstein and Prelutsky and came to you asking, “What else you got?” That kid might be ready.
It is useful to note that you need to read this book aloud as well. There should be a warning sticker on the cover that says as much. Not that Brown makes it easy for you. Take the poem “Hugh”, for example. Short and simple it reads, “Meet my Belgian friend / He lives near Bruges, on a farm. / His name is Hugh Jarm.” Then at the bottom one of the tiny interstitial poems reads, “I once had a dream I was visiting Bruges – / snacking on chocolates while riding a luge.” Now the correct pronunciation of “Bruges” isn’t really necessary in the first poem, though it helps. The little tiny poem, however, is interesting because while it works especially well when you pronounce it correctly, you could probably mangle the wordplay easy peasy and still end up with a successful poem. SLJ probably said it best when they mentioned in their review of the book that, “Though there is more than one line that does not roll easily off the tongue and awkward rhymes abound, it is easy to see this clumsiness as part of the spirit of the collection.”
The subtitle of the collection is “Poems About Just About Everything” and that’s a fairly accurate representation. It does not mean, however, that there isn’t an internal logic to what’s being included here. There’s a chapter of animal poems, of people, insects, vehicles, schools, food, and then more esoteric descriptions like “Facts Poetic”, “Word Crashes”, and “Miscellaneous Silliness.” No poem directly applies to another, but they still manage to work together in tandem fairly well.
I don’t think it’s a serious criticism of a book to say that it’s not for all audiences. Calef Brown is an acquired taste. A taste best suited to the cleverest of the youngsters, absolutely, but acquired just the same. Not everyone is drawn to his style, and more fool they. To my mind, there is room enough in this world for any Calef Brown collection you can name. This book doesn’t have the widely popular feel of, say, a We Go Together but nor is the author writing poems simply to hear himself speak. Hypnotize a Tiger is a book built to please fans of creative curated silliness. Don’t know if you’ll like it? There’s only one way to find out. Pick this puppy up and read it to a kid. The book may surprise you (and so might the kid!).
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- I think this may honestly constitute the greatest class visit of all time.
This week I received the following piece of info:
“Mighty Media Press is hosting and moderating a Twitter chat on August 18th, with six middle grade authors to discuss how middle grade fiction can teach readers about creativity and imagination; and how it helps them confront and solve real-life struggles and conflicts.
Our hope is to bring greater attention to this reading level of fiction, and to create a discussion among the broader community. We welcome anyone and everyone to participate and contribute answers. Mighty Media Press (@Mighty Press) will be moderating and posing the questions.”
And here’s the poster:
Moving house, home, and family does something to a woman’s brain. If that woman is me, it makes her ponder great intricacies of life, to say nothing of ballsy marketing plans. And today it all began with this book:
I suspect that we Americans are generally more familiar with The Secret Garden as our preferred Frances Hodgson Burnett classic than this little number. Still, it shows up on the occasional Summer Reading List and occasionally gets adapted into films, for good or for ill. As long as you can bust through the child reader’s expectation that the book is going to be about an actual princess, you’re generally in the clear.
Still and all, it got me to thinking. Originally published in 1905 the book is technically in the public domain. And so I wondered what an enterprising soul might do with it if they wanted to hock it to the masses. How could you sell it to 21st century child readers in the most blatant, shameless manner possible? The answer? Kooky taglines, my friend.
With that in mind, here is a crazy conglomeration of famous children’s books with brassy, ridiculous taglines, possibly more likely to cause perturbation amongst the adult masses than interest with child readers. It’s the B-movieazation of classic children’s literature. And I love it. Here they are, along with some of the odder images I’ve found over the years of these books.
A Little Princess: One orphan has the power to conjure up magic in an attic. But is any of her spellcasting true?
The Little Prince: In the desert, no one can draw you a sheep.
Holes: Treasure, blood, revenge and more.
Half Magic: Be careful what you wish AND WISH for.
When You Reach Me: Sometimes the life you save is your own.
One Crazy Summer: Fight the power.
A Wrinkle in Time: Science, God, Magic and one crazy pulsating brain.
The Secret Garden: You only THINK you’re alone.
Harriet the Spy: You only THINK you’re alone.
Charlotte’s Web: You only THINK . . . oh, fine fine. The idea’s played itself out.
Any you’d care to come up with as well?
Bram Stoker had this to say about Chicago: It, “neither fears the devil nor troubles its head about him and all his works.” So in light of my recent move, and in celebration of this (my first day), I offer the following to you:
(With profuse apologies to Margaret Wise Brown, who would find it hilarious that a NYPL children’s materials specialist was referencing one of her books)
Goodbye, branches 89
Goodbye, pretty Lego lions
Goodbye, Winnie. Goodbye, Pooh
Camera- Leaf Aptus22/ Hasselblad H1
Goodbye, toys (still missing Roo)
Goodbye, Mary Poppins umbrella
Goodbye to this striking fella
Goodbye, Plaza and Eloise
Goodbye, statue no one sees
Goodbye, Children’s Lit Salon
Goodbye, tourists from Milan
Goodbye, Peter. Goodbye, Willie.
Goodbye, Kid Lit Drink Nights (really!)
Goodbye, overpriced Bemelmans Bar
Goodbye, not having to own a car
Goodbye, Times Square ads uncouth
Goodbye, Fortitude (on right)
Goodbye, Patience and goodnight
Goodbye, city. This Bird is gone
Hello, gorgeous Evanston!
Do funny books get short shrift when award season comes ah-knockin’? It’s not a ridiculous notion. After all, the Oscars are notorious for consistently promoting and lauding saddy sad performances and films over their funnier contemporaries. So I took a gander at some of the recent winners of the Newbery Award (and Honors) and determined that while humor isn’t the most lauded quality in “distinguished” works of children’s literature, neither is it a true detriment. Some funny winners that come immediately to mind might include:
- El Deafo by Cece Bell
- Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
- The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
- Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
- Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
- One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
- The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
- Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie B. Tolan
- Everything On a Waffle by Polly Horvath
- Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos
- A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
- The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
- Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
- Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
- Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
Naturally there are more out there that I’m not thinking of. There’s also the fact that humor is naturally subjective. While one person might find Catherine Called Birdy a hoot, another might prefer the works of Jack Gantos. Whatever the case, I’m happy to see such a strong showing and hope to high heaven we get a little more of this in the future.
Note: If someone wants to ascribe dates to these books, we could try to work up some kind of algorithm that determines whether humor has been lauded more within one particular time span or another.
Recently I was admiring two different but certainly related articles online. The first was Mike Lewis’s Non-Required Summer Reading List, which is just the loveliest little PDF of fun summery read titles. A great list in and of itself.
The second piece was the infinitely useful article How Teachers Can Create a Summer Reading List That Won’t Make Librarians Die or Children Cry: Unsolicited Advice from a Public Librarian. That public librarian is Miss Ingrid Abrams, and when she talks about summer readings lists I know from whence she speaks. You see, here in NYC, there is no over arching summer reading list. Each individual teacher can come up with their own individual lists. Sometimes, they’re brilliant lists of titles. Well researched, fun, smart pairings of fiction and nonfiction. But oftentimes you get something like this:
This year THIS list is the bane of my existence. This is one page of several from this school, and of those lists this is the good one. The fact that Ms. Hesse’s Brooklyn Bridge is in the nonfiction section isn’t a surprise to me because it was in the nonfiction section last year and the year before that. Yes. I’ve seen this same list for three years in a row. I don’t mind the fiction on this one, but the nonfiction titles slay me.
Or, as Ms. Ingrid puts it:
“Often, parents hand me lists so outlandish I’ve considered whether I was being featured on a really bad hidden-video reality show. They’re either really poorly organized or they contain titles that I know just by looking at them that we just don’t have. I’ve tried contacting schools and teachers, either by phone, email, or in person, and have had absolutely no luck. We have pre-written form letters that we send home with the parents (we call them “Dear Teacher” letters: Dear Teacher, Name of Child was unable to obtain this book due to 1) lack of copies 2) high demand 3) plague of locusts 4) flood of librarian tears, etc.) so that their children won’t get in trouble for not being able to access the books on the list. The letter has our contact info on the bottom, so the teachers and librarians can talk before the next summer comes around.”
We’ve tried our own strategies for combating problem before the summer hits, all to no avail. Every year we see the same out-of-print books over and over again. Birdland by Tracy Mack is unavailable people!!
After reading Ms. Ingrid’s post, though, I got curious. Is this just a New York thing or do other public librarians around the country also find themselves in the weird position of having to check and see how many copies of The Well by Mildred Taylor are in the warehouse at Ingram?
So I put it to you, public librarians. What are the most annoying titles to show up on a summer reading list? Here’s a list of some of my own favorites that I’ve seen pretty darn recently:
Birdland by Tracy Mack
Back in 2005 I could have gotten you any number of copies! Today? Not so much.
The Acorn Eaters by Els Pelgrom
It came out in 1997. It disappeared. And then suddenly folks decided they just couldn’t get enough of it.
Sultans of Swat: The Four Great Sluggers of the New York Yankees
by The New York Times
Nope. Can’t get it. Just cannot.
Maxx Comedy by Gordon Korman
Surely Korman himself would admit that he has published books just as amusing, if not better, than this one. Surely.
Those are my top four at the moment. Any of your own bugging you?
Like the rest of America I have watched, enthralled, the debate going on at the child_lit listserv as to whether or not folks should/are choosing to eschew reading Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.
I’m sorry, what that?
I’m being informed that despite my opinions on the matter, America does not collectively read child_lit. I find this version of the facts suspicious and will look into it further, later.
In any case, here at NYPL, Gwen Glazer came up with an interesting idea. She wrote, “we’re thinking about other authors we wish would suddenly come out (some posthumously) with another novel many years after their first—and only— full-length works of fiction.” Of course, considering the backlash against Lee’s book, one wonders if such sequels would be as desired by the masses as they might once have been. Glazer’s list is fun, so I wondered about what children’s novels we might want to see sequels to. Some already have perfectly good, if not particularly well known sequels, of course. Harriet the Spy, for example. But others might do well. I’m going to try to eschew those books that have had posthumous novels already written by others (Peter Pan’s, Pooh’s, Wind in the Willow’s, A Little Princess’s, etc.) and stick with some that have worlds I’d like to return to. Books like . . .
The Secret Garden
Purging from our brains the lamentable Hallmark version of The Secret Garden which took it upon itself to stage the book as a flashback (the WWI present day bring to mind rejected sequences from Downton Abbey and included such terrible ideas as a Mary/Colin romance and a dead soldier Dickon) I’m not saying that a sequel to this book would be a good idea. Just an interesting one. I mean, you have a house with a hundred empty rooms. Forget the garden, I wanna know the house’s history. But maybe that’s just me.
Yeah yeah yeah. Look, you can tell me all day long that Small Steps was the sequel, but it wasn’t. It was a companion novel and what I want is more Yelnats. Gimme more of that guy. I liked that guy. I want to know where that guy’s going.
The Phantom Tollbooth
Admit it. It writes itself.
People always put down Anne Carroll Moore for not loving this little mouse. Well I can attest that in 3rd grade I became appalled by the ending of this book. Stuart sets off in his canoe to find his delightful bird friend and . . . the end. Open ended finales were never for me. I was just so mad when I found out that there wasn’t a sequel. So I’m in the Moore camp. Stuart’s not my favorite but maybe that’s just because I needed more of him. And while we’re at it.
Sacrilege! Horrors! It would be the worst idea of all time. But . . . come on. I wanna know about those three spider sisters that stay with Wilbur. Forget the rest of the farm, what adventures do they get into? Oh, fine. Bad idea. But I’m still curious.
Any bad ideas/impossible to resist curiosities to share?
Maybe one of the more enjoyable press releases I’ve released.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Authors and Illustrators Reveal the Origins and Pronunciations of Their Names
– See more at: http://forum.teachingbooks.net/2015/07/teachingbooks-net-author-name-pronunciation-guide-reaches-2000-audio-clips/#sthash.oAjVyX6K.dpuf
MADISON, Wis. (July 16, 2015) – Ever wondered how to pronounce a favorite author’s name? Since 2007, almost half-a-million readers have visited www.TeachingBooks.net/Hello to hear authors and illustrators say their names and recount brief stories about them.
Jon Scieszka: Poster child for this collection.
On July 16, 2015, the Author Name Pronunciation Guide—an original online digital resource created by TeachingBooks.net as a way to personalize and connect readers to authors— surpassed 2,000 recordings by prominent children’s and young adult book creators. The 2,000th recording added to the collection is famed and beloved author/illustrator Tomie dePaola – a name often mis-pronounced. Listen to Tomie say it correctly at http://TeachingBooks.net/Tomie.
Maya Angelou: Is it Angel-ooo or Angel-aaa?
Hearing book creators introduce themselves offers unique insight into their personality and background. Through the Author Name Pronunciation Guide, students can hear 2015 Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander rhyme his name with salami (and pastrami); learn what the R and L stand for in Goosebumps creator R.L. Stine’s name; and be confident in pronouncing authors whose legacy lives on in their books, like Maya Angelou and Elie Weisel.
Yuyi Morales: Often mispronounced.
The Author Name Pronunciation Guide, listened to thousands of times each week, is a powerful way to virtually meet favorite authors and illustrators. “Once a reader has an opportunity to connect with an author or illustrator, their impression of the book is forever changed,” said Nick Glass, Founder & Executive Director of TeachingBooks.net. “We created this digital collection of name pronunciations to give readers a glimpse of the person who wrote the book, while facilitating a human connection that we hope further inspires student interest in reading. It is a joyful, beautiful association.”
Lois Ehlert: The inaugural recording.
Launched in 2003, TeachingBooks.net has been licensed in more than 37,000 schools across the United States and Canada. The Author Name Pronunciation Guide is one facet of this online, multimedia literacy service that strives to bring reading to life for all students.
For more information about TeachingBooks.net, or to sign up for a free 14-day trial, visit www.TeachingBooks.net or phone (800) 596-0710.
– See more at: http://forum.teachingbooks.net/2015/07/teachingbooks-net-author-name-pronunciation-guide-reaches-2000-audio-clips/#sthash.oAjVyX6K.dpuf
Mm. Double quick time Fusenews today, I should think. All the goodness. Less of the commentary. As such . . .
- What is the scariest children’s film of all time? If you mentioned a particular film that involved decapitated heads and Wheelers, this link’s for you.
- I’m not a teacher so I had no idea what the Best Websites and Apps for teaching and learning really were. Now I do. Thanks to Travis and Mr. Schu for the link.
- This one’s for any high school students you might know. They’re looking for kids who know how to write funny stuff. Since this is very much my wheelhouse, I’m going to ask you to think particularly of any funny girls you know. Let’s make sure this puppy is well represented in both genders, shall we? Due date: August 3rd so get cracking!
- The Kirkus/7-Imp piece on Private Readers is absolutely fantastic. It isn’t just what we read but how we chose to read it (and keep it to ourselves).
So did this, actually.
- Question: Which hugely famous (and still alive) children’s book illustrator used to paint naked geishas for the troops during WWII? The answer may surprise you. Or not. After all, have you ever checked out the bodies in A Circus is Coming? Va-va-voom! Extra sidenote: Is that clown with the glasses a barely disguised Kay Thompson? Discuss.
- How sad that one of my former co-workers won’t be around to bid me goodbye as I leave NYC. I mean, I understand why. He’s got places to go. People to see. But still, bidding goodbye to the talking parrot head just isn’t going to have the same oomph.
- This note is just for my sister. Kate, we need to do this. Call me.
Okay. So this is pretty much just about the coolest float I’ve ever seen. As I am moving to Evanston, IL, it seems only fitting to know how they celebrate the 4th of July. Recently, this float (in a photo taken by Junko Yokata) was on the route. I have never, in all my livelong days, seen a Newbery float before. Absolutely remarkable.
Thanks to Junko for the image.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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By Sophia McDougall
I’ve a nasty habit of finishing every children’s book I start, no matter how dull or dire it might be. I am sort of alone in this habit, which you could rightly call unhealthy. After all, most librarians understand that their time on this globe is limited and that if they want to read the greatest number of excellent books in a given year, they need to hold off on spending too much time devouring schlock and just skip to the good stuff. So it is that with my weird predilection for completion I am enormously picky when it comes to what I read. If I’m going to spend time with a book, I want to feel like I’m accomplishing something, not slogging through it. My reasoning is that not all books are good from the get-go. Some take a little time to get going, you know? It might take 50 pages before you’re fully on board, so I always give the book the benefit of the doubt. Some books, however, have the quintessential strong first page. They are books that are so smart and good and worthy that you feel that you are maximizing your time on this globe by merely being in their presence. Such is the case with Mars Evacuees. A sci-fi middle grade novel that encompasses everything from gigantic talking floating goldfish to PG discussions of alien sex, this is one of those books you might easily miss out on. Stellar from the first sentence on.
At first it seemed like a good thing that the aliens had come. When you’ve got a planet nearly decimated by global warming, it doesn’t sound like such a bad deal when aliens start telling you they’ve got a way to cool down the planet. The trouble is, they didn’t STOP cooling it down. Turns out the Morrors are looking for a new home and if it doesn’t quite suit their needs they’ll adapt it until it does. Earth has fought back, of course, and so now we’re all trapped in a huge space battle of epic proportions. Alice Dare’s mother is the high flying hero Captain Dare, killer of aliens everywhere. But all Alice knows is that she’s being shipped off with a load of other kids to Mars. The idea is that they’ll be safe there and will be able to finish their education in space until they’re old enough to become soldiers. And everything seems to be going fine and dandy . . . until the adults all disappear. Now Alice and her friends are in the company of a cheery robot goldfish and must solve a couple mysteries along the way. Things like, where are the adults? What are those space locust-like creatures they’ve found on Mars? And most important of all, what happens when you encounter the enemy and it’s not at all like you thought it would be?
The first sentence of any book is a tricky proposition. You want to intrigue but not give too much away. Too brash and the book can’t live up to it. Too mild and people are snoring before you even get to the period. Here’s what McDougall writes: “When the polar ice advanced as far as Nottingham, my school was closed and I was evacuated to Mars.” I could not help but be reminded of the first line of M.T. Anderson’s Feed when I read that (“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck”). But it’s not just her first sentence that’s admirable. In a scant nine pages the entire premise of the book is laid out for us. Aliens came. People are fighting them. And now the kids are being evacuated to Mars. Badda bing, badda boom. What I didn’t realize when I was first reading the book, though, was that this chapter is very much indicative of the entire novel. There is a kind of series bloat going on in children’s middle grade novels these days. Books with wild premises and high stakes are naturally assumed to be the first in a series. There’s a bit of a whiff of Ender’s Game and The White Mountains about this book when you look at the plot alone, and so you assume that like so many similar titles it’ll either end on a cliffhanger, or it’ll solve the immediate problem, but save the bigger issue for later on. It was only as I got closer and closer to the end that I realized that McDougall was doing something I almost never encounter in science fiction books these days: She was tying up loose ends. It got to the point where I reached the end of the book and found myself in the rare position of realizing that this was, of all things, a standalone science fiction novel. Do they even make those anymore? I’m not saying you couldn’t write a sequel to this book if you didn’t want to. When McDougall becomes a household name you can bet there will be a push for more adventures of Alice, Carl, Josephine and Thsaaa. But it works all by itself with a neat little beginning, middle, and an end. How novel!
For all that, McDougall cuts through the treacle with her storytelling, I was very admiring of the fact that she never sacrifices character in the process of doing so. Carl, for example, should by all rights be two-dimensional. He’s the wacky kid who doesn’t play by the rules! The trickster with a heart of gold. But in this book McDougall also makes him a big brother. He’s got his bones to pick, just as Josephine (filling in the brainy Hermione-type role with aplomb) has personal issues with the aliens that go beyond the usual you-froze-my-planet grudge. Even the Goldfish, perky robot that he is, seems to have limits on his patience. He’s also American for some reason, a fact I shall choose not to read too much into, except maybe to say that if I were casting this as a film (which considering the success of Home, the adaptation of Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday, isn’t as farfetched as you might think) I’d like to hear him voiced by Patton Oswalt. But I digress.
When tallying up the total number of books written for kids between the ages of 9-12 that discuss the intricacies of alien sex, I admit that I stop pretty much at one. This one. And normally that wouldn’t fly in a book for kids but McDougall is so enormously careful and funny that you really couldn’t care less. Her aliens are fantastic, in part because, like humans, there’s a lot of variety amongst them. This is an author who cares about world building but also doesn’t luxuriate in it for long periods of time. She’s not trying to be the Tolkien of space here. She’s trying to tell a good story cleanly and succinctly.
The fact that it’s funny to boot is the real reason it stands out, though. And I don’t mean it’s “funny” in that it’s mildly droll and knows how to make a pun. I mean there are moments when I actually laughed out loud on a New York subway train. How could I not? This is a book that can actually get away with lines like “If you didn’t want me to build flamethrowers you shouldn’t have taught me the basic principles when I was six.” Or “It was a good time in Earth’s history to be a polar bear. Unless the rumors were true about the Morrors eating them.” Or “Luckily I don’t throw up very easily, but it made me feel as if I was being hit lightly but persistently all over with tablespoons.” That’s the kind of writing I enjoy. Silly and with purpose.
So it’s one part Lord of the Flies in space (please explain to me right now why no one has ever written a book called “Space Lord of the Flies”), one part Smekday, and a lot like those 1940s novels where the kids get evacuated during WWII and find a kind of hope and freedom they never would have encountered at home. It’s also the most fun you’ll encounter in a long time. That isn’t to say there isn’t the occasional dark or dreary patch. But once this book starts rolling it’s impossible not to enjoy the ride. For fans of the funny, fans of science fiction, and fans of books that are just darn good to the last drop.
On shelves now.
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Other Blog Reviews: The Book Smugglers
Misc: And since this book is British (did I fail to mention that part?) here’s the cover they came up with over there.
I think I may like ours more, though both passed up the fact to display the goldfish, which I think was a mistake. Fortunately, the Brits at least have corrected the mistake (though I’m mildly disappointed to see that there is a sequel after all).
Look, I know how hard you work. You’re busy. And when it comes to your pleasure reading you don’t always have time to dip into the latest 450 page history or novel. Who does these days?
Now there’s a timesaver that will solve all your woes. Introducing the Kidlit Swap Method. All you need to do is to take a work for adults and then locate its children’s literary equivalent. You’ll get all the meaning, with none of the hassle. Some examples!
Instead of This – My Struggle: Books 1-6 by Karl Ove Knausgård
As an adult selector I work with put it, these books are deeply moving, but not a whole heckuva lot happens. Each one is autobiographical and, as The Times put it, “the books combine a micro-focus on the granular detail of daily life (child care, groceries, quarrels with friends) with earnest meditations on art, death, music and ambition.” The first book alone, however, is 448 pages long.
Try This – Hippu by
Granted, it’s Finnish and not Norwegian but if Knausgård wants to peer unblinkingly at the minutia of daily life, he’s got nothing on this book of a mouse that invites a dog into its life. As the publisher says, “Hippu and Heppu—and some friendly mice—shop, eat, go for a walk, take baths, and go for a ride in the car!” Take away that exclamation point and we might as well be talking about The Struggle directly. What’s more, it originally came out in 1967, so for all we know it was an influence on Knausgård at some point. The man does have four children, after all. Even the covers bear some small similarity to one another.
Instead of This – The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
Nordic noir is all the rage these days, and you can thank a certain girl with her dragon tattoo (based, as it turns out, on a grown-up Pippi Longstocking) for the rise. Scandinavian thrillers are particularly hot and Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series is wildly popular. When he’s not writing middle grade novels about fart powder (no comment), Nesbo’s Inspector Harry Hole is tracking down Nazis and uncovering dire plots hatched in the trenches of WWII.
Try This – Detective Gordon: The First Case by Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee
This Swedish import has it all. A single good detective working in a world where thieves pilfer acorns without a second thought. His partner, a very young and unskilled but wildly enthusiastic mouse, learns all too quickly that when it comes to solving crime, Detective Gordon is always there. No Nazis that I can tell, nor any trenches, but if you want Nordic noir done young, this book’s your best bet.
Instead of This – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
In an era where witchhunts are practically becoming the norm, Ronson’s book is a bracing alternative to a society gone hate bait crazy.
Try This – Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead
The out-of-control nature of a sexy selfie forwarded to an entire school is one of the many momentous elements to this novel. No other middle grade, or middle school, book for kids has really considered the depths to which slut shaming can go.
Instead of This – Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Like a lot of library systems, we saw a huge upsurge in hold requests on this book when the Jurassic World movie came out. And why not? I remember reading it in middle school and just loving it. Which is why the logical companion novel is . . .
Try This – Bizzy Bear: Dinosaur Safari by Benji Davies
I’m a big time Bizzy Bear fan. As the mother of two small children, I have followed Bizzy’s adventures from the start. I would not be surprised to learn that this is the last Bizzy Bear book, though. In it, as in Jurassic Park, Bizzy and an unnamed Rabbit companion (we’ll call him “Lunch”) drive through a little Jurassic Park of their own. All the while they are stalked by a rather conspicuous T-Rex and the final shot of the dino, just moments before it has itself a Bear sandwich, is terrifying. A thrill ride of a board book.
Other suggestions, as per usual, are welcome too.
Many thanks to Wayne Roylance for the idea for this post.
So I’m reading through the latest issue of School Library Journal, checking out which books got some stars in the back, and I notice something in the middle grade novel section. Three titles in particular catch my eye:
- A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder
- Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu
- The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
All starred books with great authors. I’ve not read any of them yet, but I’m looking forward to doing so. Yet as I’m looking at their names, it occurs to me that when it comes to naming books, certain titles sound more, how shall I put it, Newbery worthy. Consider the following titles:
The Higher Power of Lucky
One Came Home
Inside Out and Back Again
When You Reach Me
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Walk Two Moons
If you knew nothing about these books, their titles would strike you as particularly esoteric. There’s a certain style to them that repeats. The logical conclusion to reach then is that there must be an art to writing titles that sound Newbery-ish. So, for fun, I tried coming up with a couple of my own. Fake Newbery titles! And while I was at it, I came up with fake descriptions of what the books would be about. Here’s what I conjured up:
- Swimming Against the Dreams – Probably would involve a young woman who decides that her childhood pet wasn’t put down like her parents told her, but is currently the star of a reality show where it competes against other dogs to rescue the most people. She feels she has to reunite with it because she’s convinced that if she brings it home she’ll be able to cure her little brother’s dire disease.
- Twenty Things to do When You Sleep – Hm. This one sounds like a more fantastical story about a boy who discovers that when he dreams he sees the day that just happened through the eyes of one of his classmates. And the bully who torments him may be dealing with more than he ever realized.
- Forgetting the Final Thing – We haven’t done one about moving yet. So this one would be about a girl who has just moved to the big city from the country and is worried that the more time she spends surrounded by concrete, the more things she forgets about nature. She’s convinced that she forgets one thing about nature a day, and the only way to stop it is to run away to the local park and to live there.
- The Art of Making Lightning – Historical fiction. A boy lives next to the Carlisle Indian School but doesn’t think much about it until he hears about their fantastic football team. He sneaks away to watch them play whenever he can.
- Under the Willow Tree – Written in verse, this one’s about a girl dealing with the divorce of her parents against the backdrop of the hottest day of the year. Oh, and it all takes place in 24 hours.
I could do these forever. We should make a game out of it. Like the Dictionary Game or Balderdash, except that you’re supposed to come up with plots for obscure Newbery Award winners.
What are some of your own fake Newbery titles? Don’t pick one that already exists, mind you.
By: Betsy Bird
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The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage
By Selina Alko
Illustrated by Sean Qualls
Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic)
On shelves now.
When the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2015 that same-sex couples could marry in all fifty states, I found myself, like many parents of young children, in the position of trying to explain the ramifications to my offspring. Newly turned four, my daughter needed a bit of context. After all, as far as she was concerned gay people had always had the right to marry so what exactly was the big deal here? In times of change, my back up tends to be children’s books that discuss similar, but not identical, situations. And what book do I own that covers a court case involving the legality of people marrying? Why, none other than The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by creative couple Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. It’s almost too perfect that the book has come out the same year as this momentous court decision. Discussing the legal process, as well as the prejudices of the time, the book offers to parents like myself not just a window to the past, but a way of discussing present and future court cases that involve the personal lives of everyday people. Really, when you take all that into consideration, the fact that the book is also an amazing testament to the power of love itself . . . well, that’s just the icing on the cake.
In 1958 Richard Loving, a white man, fell in love with Mildred Jeter, a black/Native American woman. Residents of Virginia, they could not marry in their home state so they did so in Washington D.C. instead. Then they turned right around and went home to Virginia. Not long after they were interrupted in the night by a police invasion. They were charged with “unlawful cohabitation” and were told in no uncertain terms that if they were going to continue living together then they needed to leave Virginia. They did, but they also hired lawyers to plead their case. By 1967 the Lovings made it all the way to The Supreme Court where their lawyers read a prepared statement from Richard. It said, “Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.” In a unanimous ruling, the laws restricting such marriages were struck down. The couple returned to Virginia, found a new house, and lived “happily (and legally) ever after.” An Author’s Note about her marriage to Sean Qualls (she is white and he is black) as well as a note about the art, Sources, and Suggestions for Further Reading appear at the end of the book.
“How do you sue someone?” Here’s a challenge. Explain the concept of suing the government to a four-year-old brain. To do so, you may have to explain a lot of connected concepts along the way. What is a lawyer? And a court? And, for that matter, why are the laws (and cops) sometimes wrong? So when I pick up a book like The Case for Loving as a parent, I’m desperately hoping on some level that the authors have figured out how to break down these complex questions into something small children can understand and possibly even accept. In the case of this book, the legal process is explained as simply as possible. “They wanted to return to Virginia for good, so they hired lawyers to help fight for what was right.” And then later, “It was time to take the Loving case all the way to The Supreme Court.” Now the book doesn’t explain what The Supreme Court was necessarily, and that’s where the art comes in. Much of the heavy lifting is done by the illustrations, which show the judges sitting in a row, allowing parents like myself the chance to explain their role. Here you will not find a deep explanation of the legal process, but at least it shows a process and allows you to fill in the gaps for the young and curious.
It was very interesting to me to see how Alko and Qualls handled the art in this book. I’ve often noticed that editors like to choose Sean as an artist when they want an illustrator that can offset some of the darker aspects of a work. For example, take Margarita Engle’s magnificently sordid Pura Belpre Medal winner The Poet Slave of Cuba. A tale of torture, gore, and hope, Qualls’ art managed to represent the darkness with a lighter touch, while never taking away from the important story at hand. In The Case for Loving he has scaled the story down a bit and given it a simpler edge. His characters are a bit broader and more cartoonlike than those in, say, Dizzy. This is due in part to Alko’s contributions. As they say in their “About the Art” section at the back of the book, Alko’s art is all about bold colors and Sean’s is about subtle layers of color and texture. Together, they alleviate the tension in different scenes. Moments that could be particularly frightening, as when the police burst into the Lovings’ bedroom to arrest them, are cast instead as simply dramatic. I noticed too that characters were much smaller in this book than they tend to be in Sean’s others. It was interesting to note the moments when that illustrators made the faces of Richard and Virginia large. The page early in the book where Richard and Mildred look at one another over the book’s gutter pairs well with the page later in the book where their faces appear on posters behind bars against the words “Unlawful Cohabitation”. But aside from those two double spreads the family is small, often seen just outside their different respective homes. It seemed to be important to Qualls and Alko to show them as a family unit as often as possible.
Few books are perfect, and Loving has its off-kilter moments from time to time. For example, it describes darker skin tones in terms of food. That’s not a crime, of course, but you rarely hear white skin described as “white as aged cheese” or “the color of creamy mayonnaise” so why is dark colored skin always edible? In this book Mildred is “a creamy caramel” and she lives where people ranged from “the color of chamomile tea” to darker shades. A side issue has arisen concerning Mildred’s identification as Native American and whether or not the original case made more of her African-American roots because it would build a stronger case in court. This is a far bigger issue than a picture book could hope to encompass, though I would be interested in a middle grade or young adult nonfiction book on the topic that went into the subject in a little more depth.
Recently I read my kid another nonfiction picture book chronicling injustice called Drum Dream Girl by the aforementioned Margarita Engle. In that book a young girl isn’t allowed to drum because of her gender. My daughter was absolutely flabbergasted by the notion. When I read her The Case for Loving she was similarly baffled. And when, someday, someone writes a book about the landmark decision made by The Supreme Court to allow gay couples to wed, so too will some future child be just as floored by what seems completely normal to them. Until then, this is certainly a book written and published at just the right time. Informative and heartfelt all at once, it works beyond the immediate need. Context is not an easy thing to come by when we discuss complex subjects with our kids. It takes a book like this to give us the words we so desperately need. Many thanks then for that.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Misc: Don’t forget to check out this incident that occurred involving this book and W. Kamau Bell’s treatment at Berkeley’s Elmwood Café.
Did I mention that my new workplace has peregrine falcons? FALCONS, I SAY!
- As the House of Bird prepares for its inevitable move, I find myself rather entranced with my incipient home of Evanston, Illinois. I’m coming to it with almost no prior knowledge of its existence, and find it to be completely and utterly lovely. Example A: Check out this Humans of New York-esque photo series on Tumblr where the library talks to everyday citizens. Good stuff!
- Last month I participated in the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference, located conveniently enough in New York City. The conference is rather one-of-a-kind since under normal circumstances nonfiction children’s and YA authors are sidelined at the larger book related gatherings. Here, nonfiction was king and each speaker and attendee was a fan. PW has the write-up of the whole kerschmozzle here.
- Actually, that reminds me. I need some blog recommendations from you guys. What’s your favorite nonfiction children’s book blog site? I ask because I feel like I’d benefit from having a roster to call upon. Name me the best, continually updated site you know of and I will return the favor by directing your attention to this jaw-droppingly awesome series of pocket activities conjured up by the one and only Dana Sheridan of the Cotsen Collection of Princeton University. I adore this. For example, at one point she says, “It would be interesting to apply the pocket activity to literary figures. What would Jane Austin carry in her pocket? Charles Dickens? J.K. Rowling? Why not apply this concept to the sciences? What would Einstein have in his pocket? Marie Curie? I did, in fact, do a modified version of the pocket activity when I designed this Character Book activity at my library. Not a wallet, and not replicas of historical objects, but the concept is still there! People often ask where I get my ideas (see FAQ). This one derives directly from the pocket activity.”
This is what Milo from THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH would have in his pockets.
Like I say. Jaw-dropping.
- Each and every Laura Amy Schlitz novel that is published is cause for cheer and generous carousing in the streets. But just as delightful in many ways are the very good interviews she participates in. Kiera Parrott does a stand up job speaking to Ms. Schlitz about her latest novel with Candlewick. Plus there’s a video. Callo! Callay!
Cool. Here in NYC the Morgan Library is doing a pretty fancy Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exhibition. There is probably a roster somewhere of all the Alice exhibits going on in 2015 to celebrate her 150th year. If anyone sends me the link you will earn yourself a cup of treacle in thanks.
My fabulous co-workers. Doing the being fabulous thing.
My fabulous Caldecott winner, Dan Santat. Doing the being fabulous thing while thanking bloggers in his incredibly raw Caldecott speech.
On the one hand the Huffington Post article 13 Children’s Book Authors Who Would Have Written Beautiful Fiction for Adults Too is insulting on a very basic level. Many is the children’s book author who has been asked when they’re going to write a “real” book. But just taken at face value, the post is inaccurate. A lot of the authors listed have, indeed, written for adults. I can think of Katherine Paterson and Maurice Sendak just off the top of my head. Apparently the authors of the piece weren’t really interested in delving too deeply into their subject. More’s the pity. A post on favorite authors who HAVE written adult fare could be far more interesting.
- I was chatting with Jules Danielson and Travis Jonker the other day and she mentions this recent article in the Washington Post about Roald Dahl’s granddaughter’s fiancee, who is currently the toast of Orange is the New Black. Travis pointed out that a very different Dahl descendant was also in the news not too long ago, thereby solidifying the man’s status as having the Best Hipster Descendants of any children’s literature icon thus far (step up your game, Shel Silverstein kiddos). I was thinking of all this when I learned about an A.A. Milne relative who is a very different kind of author than his famous uncle. Tim Milne, nephew of A.A. Milne, was recruited into MI6 and wrote the story of Kim Philby, the legendary Soviet master spy. Now somebody get thee hence and write me a Winnie-the-Pooh spy novel!
- Speaking of Travis, he speaks! With Colby Sharp no less.
I’m a children’s librarian and an author. Every summer I ask my librarians to send me the summer reading lists that they get from the kids so that I can make certain we have enough copies of all the books on our shelves. Summer is just a continual month long process of me shifting holds from one record to another and buying books en masse. As far as I can tell, you’ve really made it as an author if you find your name on one of those lists. Well, today I’d like to formally thank a teacher at P.S. 110 who deigned to put my beloved Giant Dance Party on their summer reading list. Thank you, fine and fabulous educator type person! Kinda makes me feel like I “made it” in some way. I’m #17.
By: Betsy Bird
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As you may have noticed, I’ve not done a Video Sunday in a while. It now appears that what I was waiting for all this time was Dan Santat’s parody of Serial, turning it into a reenactment of his Caldecott Award call. I’m just ashamed that when he won it didn’t immediately occur to me that, “Wow. We’re going to get a really great video out of this.” Hindsight is 20-20.
Nice that he got to take the shark suit out of mothballs, right?
As a children’s librarian I associate American Girl dolls far more with their books than the actual dolls. This American Girl Dolls: The Movie trailer from Funny or Die will satisfy any children’s librarian that has ever had to shelve those darn books (or struggle with the eternal question of where to shelve them).
Shh! Don’t tell them Mattel owns both Barbie AND American Girls. Thanks to Beth Banner for the link.
So this Meghan Trainor librarian parody video has garnered 77,963 views as of this posting. And I have heard from more than one person that its creator resembles me. Which is infinitely kind but she is (A) Younger (B) Cuter (C) Actually knows how to style hair. Ever noticed that my hair is always a plain bob? I don’t do hair. This woman. She’s all about the hair.
This next one’s a bit of a surprise. Not that it exists (tree to book, book to tree) but that I can’t think of a single American book that has gone a similar route. Usually we just get “bury this bookmark” swag. I think only a small publisher could get away with this. Or an Argentinian one. Wow.
Thanks to Gregory K for the link.
As someone who doesn’t know a thing about making book trailers, I tip my hat to anyone who is capable (or has offspring who are capable) of creating such a thing out of the ether. With that in mind . . .
As for the off-topic video, I’m not entirely certain why I decided to go with baby goats in pajamas today. Maybe it was something in the wind. In any case . . .
Thanks to Aunt Judy for the link.
You read that right, folks. Karen Cushman has a new book coming out (hooray!) and it’s not like her books in the past. Cushman has embraced her fantastical side in her latest title, Grayling’s Song. Here’s the plot description:
“When Grayling’s mother, wise woman Hannah Strong, starts turning into a tree, Hannah sends Grayling to call “the others” for help. Shy and accustomed to following her mother in everything, Grayling takes to the road. She manages to summon several “others”—second-string magic makers who have avoided the tree spell—and sets off on a perilous trip to recover Hannah’s grimoire, or recipe book of charms and potions. By default the leader of the group, which includes a weather witch, an enchantress, an aspiring witch, a wizard whose specialty is divination with cheese, and a talking and shape shifting mouse called Pook, Grayling wants nothing more than to go home.
Kidnapping, imprisonment, near drowning, and ordinary obstacles like hunger, fatigue, and foul weather plague the travelers, but they persist and achieve their goal. Returning, Grayling finds herself reluctant to part with her companions—especially Pook. At home she’s no longer content to live with her bossy mother, who can look after herself just fine, and soon sets out on another journey to unfamiliar places . . . possibly to see the young paper maker who warmed her heart.”
To get a sense of the book, I had the honor of asking Ms. Cushman a couple questions about his new direction.
Betsy Bird: It’s always a cause for celebration when a new Karen Cushman book is on the horizon. This book does feel, to some extent, like a bit of a departure for you. While it has a historical feel, there’s magic in its bones. Have you always wanted to write a fantasy? Or is this a newfound desire?
Karen Cushman: It is definitely a departure. After eight historical novels about gutsy girls (and Will), I wanted to try something different. I had an idea for a fantasy. How difficult could it be? I would not be bothered by all that pesky history, the rules and boundaries that constrain an author writing about a real time and place.
That shows how much I know about fantasies. A fantasy world has as much history, as many rules and boundaries and limitations, as historical fiction, but the author has to invent them. For both fantasy and historical fiction authors, our task is to make a world come alive within boundaries. .
Grayling’s Song takes Grayling reluctantly on a journey to free her mother from a curse. I set myself a difficult task: to write a fantasy in which magic exists but is sometimes harmful and never the answer. Grayling has to get herself and others out of danger without magic–by being thoughtful, observant, cooperative, persistent, and determined. In other words, human. My husband calls it an anti-fantasy. And that’s the point: magic is not the answer.
BB: Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of the book itself?
KC: The book began with the image of Grayling’s mother rooted to the ground. I’m not a big fantasy reader and had never before thought about writing a fantasy, but that image appeared in my head and I wanted to find out more, so I had to make it up and write it down.
BB: What are some of the children’s fantasy novels that you yourself have enjoyed reading (either when you were a child or now as an adult)? Have they influenced this book in any way?
KC: I don’t remember fantasy being popular when I was young. Science fiction, yes, but I wasn’t interested. The first fantasy I recall reading is Peter Beagle’s wondrous The Last Unicorn, and I was all grown up and married before that. Since then I have found several fantasies to love: Lloyd Alexander’s five Chronicles of Prydain books, which I read over and over with my daughter, The Hobbit, The Once and Future King, Ella Enchanted, The Princess Bride, Plain Kate, Seraphina, The Goblin Emperor.
I think their influence is mostly in their wide spectrum. There is no one right way to write fantasy, they told me, no correct kind of character, no approved method of magic. And several of them gave me permission to be funny, ironic, and downright silly at times.
BB: So many authors have difficulty writing standalone books. Which is to say, books that don’t require sequels. Looking at your titles, I don’t know that you’ve ever done a sequel. Is there a particular reason for this? Do you think you might try one in the future? I’m sure your fans have asked you to
KC: Stories seem to come to me all of a piece–a beginning, middle, and end, all in one book. I had thought about writing a sequel to Catherine Called Birdy for my second book but my editor didn’t like sequels and urged me to try something else. So I did. That something else was The Midwife’s Apprentice, which won the Newbery Medal in 1996. Good call, Dinah.
I still think about that Birdy sequel. I have a plot and characters, but I’m not sure I could recapture that voice. Birdy’s voice is so distinctive and pretty well known. But maybe, maybe…
BB: Speaking of which, recently you were a bit in the news when Lena Dunham announced that she was adapting Catherine Called Birdy, one of her favorite books, to the silver screen. I assume that you’ve had interest from Hollywood in the past, but this felt a bit more serious. Did it catch you off-guard?
KC: Off-guard is an understatement. Several people had sent me the comment Lena made stating that Catherine Called Birdy and Lolita were the two best books for girls. That’s pretty rare company but I thought no more about it until a contract for an option appeared from Lena’s company.
I’ve met with Lena, who is bright and lovely and sweet, much smarter and nicer than Hannah from Girls. Lena is excited about the project and determined to make it happen so I have my fingers crossed.
BB: Well finally, what are you working on next?
KC: Too many ideas are swimming around in my head. I’m working on a short story set in Elizabethan Bath, which may also be a novel. And there is Millie McGonigal waiting for me in San Diego in 1941. And a book about a pilgrimage to Rome, and, oh yes, something about thieving orphans in medieval Oxford. Probably my next book will be one of those. Probably.
BB: A million thanks to you, Karen, for agreeing to speak with me! Just as a side note, Lena Dunham also has a tattoo of Richard Peck’s Fair Weather. Probably the only one in known existence, so her motives are certainly pure.
And now folks . . . the very first Karen Cushman fantasy novel!
Karen Cushman’s acclaimed historical novels include Catherine, Called Birdy, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Midwife’s Apprentice, which received the Newbery Medal. She lives on Vashon Island in Washington State. Her website is www.karencushmanbooks.com.
By: Betsy Bird
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Boats for Papa
By Jessixa Bagley
Roaring Brook Press (an imprint of Macmillan)
On shelves now
So I’m a snob. A children’s literature snob. I accept this about myself. I do not embrace it, but I can at least acknowledge it and, at times, fight against it as much as I am able. Truth be told, it’s a weird thing to get all snobby about. People are more inclined to understand your point of view when you’re a snob about fine china or wines or bone structure. They are somewhat confused when you scoff at their copy of Another Monster at the End of This Book since it is clearly a sad sequel of the original Jon Stone classic (and do NOT even try to convince me that he was the author of that Elmo-related monstrosity because I think better of him than that). Like I say. Kid book snobbery won’t get you all that far in this life. And that’s too bad because I’ve got LOADS of the stuff swimming between my corpuscles. Just take my initial reaction to Jessixa Bagley’s Boats for Papa. I took one glance at the cover and dismissed it, just like that. I’ll explain precisely why I did so in a minute, but right there it was my gut reaction at work. I have pretty good gut reactions and 99% of the time they’re on target. Not in this case, though. Because once I sat down and read it and watched other people read it, I realized that I had something very special on my hands. Free of overblown sentiment and crass pandering, this book’s the real deal. Simultaneously wrenching and healing.
Buckley and his mama are just two little beavers squeaking out an existence in a small wooden house by the sea. Buckley loves working with his hands (paws?) and is particularly good at turning driftwood into boats. One day it occurs to him to send his best boats off into the sea with little notes that read, “For Papa. Love, Buckley”. Buckley misses his papa, you see, and this is the closest he can get to sending him some kind of a message. As Buckley gets better, the boats get more elaborate. Finally, one day a year later, he runs into his house to write a note for papa, when he notices that his mother has left her desk open. Inside is every single boat he ever sent to his papa. Realizing what has happened, Buckley makes a significant choice with this latest seagoing vessel. One that his mama is sure to see and understand.
The danger with this book is determining whether or not it slips into Love You Forever territory. Which is to say, does it speak more to adults than to kids. You get a fair number of picture books with varying degrees of sentimentality out there every year. On the low end of the spectrum is Love You Forever, on the high end Blueberry Girl and somewhere in the middle are books like Someday by Alison McGhee. Some of these can be great books, but they’re so clearly not for kids. And when I realized that Boats for Papa was a weeper my alarm bells went off. If adults are falling over themselves to grab handkerchiefs when they get to the story’s end, surely children would be distinctly uninterested. Yet Bagley isn’t addressing adults with this story. The focus is on how one deals with life after someone beloved is gone. Adults get this instantly because they know precisely what it is to lose someone (or they can guess). Kids, on the other hand, may sometimes have that understanding but a lot of the time it’s foreign to them. And so Buckley’s hobbies are just the marks of a good story. I suspect few kids would walk away from this saying the book was uninteresting to them. It seems to strike just the right chord.
It is also a book that meets multiple needs. For some adult readers, this is a dead daddy book. But upon closer inspection you realize that it’s far broader than that. This could be a book about a father serving his time overseas. It could be about divorced parents (it mentions that mama misses papa, and that’s not an untrue sentiment in some family divorce situations). It could have said outright that Buckley’s father had passed away (ala Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas which this keeps reminding me of) but by keeping it purposefully vague we are allowed to read far more into the book’s message than we could have if it was just another dead parent title.
Finally, it is Bagley’s writing that wins the reader over. Look at how ecumenical she is with her wordplay. The very first sentences in the book reads, “Buckley and his mama lived in a small wooden house by the sea. They didn’t have much, but they always had each other.” There’s not a syllable wasted there. Not a letter out of place. That succinct quality carries throughout the rest of the book. There is one moment late in the game where Buckley says, “And thank you for making every day so wonderful too” that strains against the bonds of sentimentality, but it never quite topples over. That’s Bagley’s secret. We get the most emotionally involved in those picture books that give us space to fill in our own lives, backgrounds, understandings and baggage. The single note reading, “For Mama / Love, Buckley” works because those are the only words on the page. We don’t need anything else after that.
As I age I’ve grown very interested in picture books that touch on the nature of grace. “Grace” is, in this case, defined as a state of being that forgives absolutely. Picture books capable of conjuring up very real feelings of resentment in their young readers only to diffuse the issue with a moment of pure forgiveness are, needless to say, rare. Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan was one of the few I could mention off the top of my head. I shall now add Boats for Papa to that enormously short list. You see, (and here I’m going to call out “SPOILER ALERT” for those of you who care about that sort of thing) for me the moment when Buckley finds his boats in his mother’s desk and realizes that she has kept this secret from him is a moment of truth. Bagley is setting you up to assume that there will be a reckoning of some sort when she writes, “They had never reached Papa”. And it is here that the young reader can stop and pause and consider how they would react in this case. I’d wager quite a few of them would be incensed. I mean, this is a clear-cut case of an adult lying to a child, right? But Bagley has placed Buckley on a precipice and given him a bit of perspective. Maybe I read too much into this scene, but I think that if Buckley had discovered these boats when he was first launching them, almost a full year before, then yes he would have been angry. But after a year of sending them to his Papa, he has grown. He realizes that his mother has been taking care of him all this time. For once, he has a chance to take care of her, even if it is in a very childlike manner. He’s telling her point blank that he knows that she’s been trying to protect him and that he loves her. Grace.
Now my adult friends pointed out that one could read Buckley’s note as a sting. That he sent it to say “GOTCHA!” They say that once a book is outside of an author’s hands, it can be interpreted by the readership in any number of ways never intended by the original writer. For my part, I think that kind of a reading is very adult. I could be wrong but I think kids will read the ending with the loving feel that was intended from the start.
When I showed this book to a friend who was a recent Seattle transplant, he pointed out to me that the coastline appearing in this book is entirely Pacific Northwest based. I think that was the moment I realized that I had done a 180 on the art. Remember when I mentioned that I didn’t much care for the cover when I first saw it? Well, fortunately I have instituted a system whereby I read every single picture book I am sent on my lunch breaks. Once I got past the cover I realized that it was the book jacket that was the entire problem. There’s something about it that looks oddly cheap. Inside, Bagley’s watercolors take on a life of their own. Notice how the driftwood on the front endpapers mirrors the image of Buckley displaying his driftwood boats on the back endpapers. See how Buckley manages to use her watercolors to their best advantage, from the tide hungry sand on the beach to the slate colored sky to the waves breaking repeatedly onto the shore. Perspective shifts constantly. You might be staring at a beach covered in the detritus of the waves on one two-page spread, only to have the images scale back and exist in a sea of white space on the next. The best image, by far, is the last though. That’s when Bagley makes the calculated step of turning YOU, the reader, into Mama. You are holding the boat. You are holding the note. And you know. You know.
I like it when a picture book wins me over. When I can get past my own personal bugaboos and see it for what it really is. Emotional resonance in literature for little kids is difficult to attain. It requires a certain amount of talent, both on the part of the author and their editor. In Boats for Papa we’ve a picture book that doesn’t go for the cheap emotional tug. It comes by its tears honestly. There’s some kind of deep and abiding truth to it. Give me a couple more years and maybe I’ll get to the bottom of what’s really going on here. But before that occurs, I’m going to read it with my kids. Even children who have never experienced the loss of a parent will understand what’s going on in this story on some level. Uncomplicated and wholly original, this is one debut that shoots out of the starting gate full throttle, never looking back. A winner.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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Misc: Be sure to check out this profile of Jessixa Bagley over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
They said it was dead. They said it was over. They said it would never return again. But what they didn’t count on was the fact that when I leave a city I doggone LEAVE a city! Ladies and gentlemen, I have grabbed my jumper cables, attracted a lightning storm of epic proportions, and rejuvenated the monster. In short, I’m having a final Kidlit Drink Night to say goodbye to New York City.
What: Kidlit Drink Night: Bye Bye Birdie Edition
When: Tuesday, July 14th at 6:00 p.m.
Where: The Houndstooth Bar at 520 8th Avenue at 37th Street. We’ll be in the lower portion.
Why: Because I’m leaving and I would like to say goodbye to you. Or, if you happen to be in New York at that time, hello to you. I’m not all that choosy.
While I acknowledge that from a thematic standpoint it would have made more sense to say goodbye in the Bookmarks Lounge or the Bemelmans Bar, I figured I’d instead choose a venue where you could, say, afford a glass or two of something. So come on over to midtown to bid me farewell and luck with my move to beautiful Evanston, IL. Buy me a drink and I may restrain myself from bragging about the beauty of the town, the impossible coolness of the library, the incredibly cool children’s literature community that thrives there, the fact that I can now rent a house with a mudroom, etc. etc. etc.
See you next week!
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A friend of mine who is not particularly into the children’s literary world, except that she has small children and reads to them, forwarded on to me this recent article in Vox. It sports the clickbait title I never noticed how racist so many children’s books are until I started reading to my kids. It’s one of those pieces that sort of write themselves. Periodically we’ll see articles come out from new parents, shocked and horrified by some aspect of children’s literature. Whether its disdaining Maisy or taking issue with Knuffle Bunny, this comes up all the time. They’re sort of the easiest pieces an author can write. You’re already reading to your kids. Why not write something about the experience? I should note that even as I say this, I’ve spent a good portion of my career as a blogger doing EXACTLY THIS. So who am I to pooh-pooh other authors for doing the same? Besides, sometimes they make very interesting associations.
In this particular case I read the piece and found it was this curious amalgamation of good points (why yes, Little Black Sambo IS offensive!) and downright weirdness. First off, the author mentions books like The Cricket in Times Square, which is one of my favorite SURPRISE, IT’S RACIST! books out there. Folks tend to forget about it. The author of this piece, Ms. Leigh Anderson, also makes an effort to tie this into the We Need Diverse Books campaign, which is a nice idea. Essentially, the article is a call for reaching out and reading newer children’s books that have an eye towards both literary quality and diversity rather than just relying on the books you were read as a kid. I’m all for that.
Unfortunately the author of the piece effectively shoots herself in the foot when she begins to equate the existence of mothers wearing aprons in books with sexism. Several times throughout the piece she mentions a book (like Bread and Jam for Frances or Harry the Dirty Dog) and says that because the mother is wearing an apron and cooking for the other family members, the book is automatically sexist. Years ago when I worked in the Jefferson Market branch of NYPL I would get in a continual stream of grad students looking for “sexist children’s books” because they were writing various papers and needed examples. Never equating an article of clothing with sexism (my friend Erin points out that Ms. Anderson, “seems to be calling anything that isn’t feminist, sexist, which is ridiculous”) I really had to hunt and peck for these students to find anything that (A) might apply and (B) was still circulating (hat tip to Lois Lenski for helping me out on that one). Ms. Anderson, in contrast, is far too happy to throw all her childhood favorites under the bus. She writes:
“Here’s what happens when you try to recreate your 1979 childhood library: You buy Bread and Jam for Frances, Frog and Toad, Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, Heidi, The Cricket in Times Square, Lyle Lyle Crocodile, Stuart Little, Babar, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, and the whole Ramona Quimby series. All were treasured books of my childhood, read and reread to me, and then read again as soon as I could read to myself.”
She then explains the problems with some of these books but not others. Ramona’s crime, as it happens, is that “Ramona Quimby’s mother begins the series as a housewife in 1955; in the mid-’70s she goes back to work; by the mid-’80s she’s pregnant again and quits.” Because, after all, that has never happened before. The crimes of some of the other books are left for us to infer. I assume the apron problem, such as it is, applies to Blueberries for Sal (never mind that Sal is a wonderfully androgynous character that both boys and girls relate to), Lyle Lyle Crocodile (where Lyle, who is male, cooks and ice skates with the missus), and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (anyone else remember how subversive making the cop a pig was?).
Eventually the piece becomes more about We Need Diverse Books and quotes some recent pieces about Shannon Hale’s experiences with boys and her books and the work of independent booksellers. All of which is worthy and good (though she does fail to spellcheck Whistle for Willie). As such, it’s a pity that she had to paint this piece with such a broad brush. Outright sexism did indeed exist in children’s literature in the past, but just because a book is reflecting the times in which it was written, that does not automatically make it unworthy reading.