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Picture Books from a Somewhat Grown-Up Perspective
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One of my favorite things about picture books is there are so many design elements in play, offering tons of potential for fun little wrinkles. Exhibit A: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.
The awesomely illustrated book is about a tiger (Mr. Tiger) who is tired of being proper. He bucks social convention and sheds his suits to go au naturale. It's a fun and well-executed story and definitely a Caldecott frontrunner. If there is one thing that might put it over the top, it is this ingenious book design that perfectly captures the book.
|Dust Jacket On|
|Dust Jacket Off|
That might be the most perfect use of the dust jacket I have ever seen. The physical act of taking off the dust jacket to reveal the tiger's skin perfectly mirrors the story in a brilliant and clever twist that is an example of perfect design. Bravo.
Head over to Book Riot for a full roundup of the best books we collectively read in August. Some really good stuff there. My choice was:
Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban
If a novel starring a used bookshop clerk and a children’s author doesn’t set off your bookish spidey-sense, I don’t know what will. Hoban (himself the renowned children’s author of Bread and Jam for Frances and others) tells this funny but restrained story about two kindred spirits drawn together by sea turtles in the local zoo. Unable to shake the thought that caged life is keeping the turtles from their greater purpose, the two hatch a plot to return the creatures to their natural habitat. Perhaps foolishly, the two harbor a secret hope that releasing the turtles will also somehow offer an escape from their own lives of quiet desperation. Originally published in the seventies and recently reissued by the New York Review of Books, the premise may sound a tad hokey, but Hoban is a skillful observer of human nature and draws convincing portraits of two people desperate to find purpose amidst the monotony of modern life.
|from Journey by Aaron Becker (Candlewick)|
This week I had the opportunity to write a picture book preview for the Atlantic Wire. Luckily for me, there is an incredible slate of books coming out in the next couple of months, so the challenge was really narrowing it down to a digestible list.
Please CLICK HERE
to read the full article at the Atlantic Wire. The article was kind of aimed toward a broader audience, many of whom might not normally think about children's books. Which means I didn't go into too much depth. Over the next little bit I might dive in a little deeper for the kidlit aficionados out there, but in the meantime, here is a list (in alphabetical order) of the books that I included, all of which are worth your time and then some.
- Alphablock by Christopher Franceschelli (Abrams, Aug. 6)
- Animal Opposites by Petr Horacek (Candlewick, Aug. 6)
- Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illus. by Matthew Myers (Simon & Schuster, Oct. 22)
- Boxers and Saints by Gene Yuen Lang (Macmillan/Roaring Brook/First Second, Sept. 10)
- Cozy Classics - Emma by Jack Wang and Holman Wang (Simply Read, Oct. 19)
- Crabtree by Tucker Nichols and Jon Nichols (McSweeneys/McMullens, Aug. 13)
- Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin (Random House, Oct. 22)
- Emma in Paris by Claire Frossard, illus. by Christope Urbain (Enchanted Lion, Nov. 19)
- Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder (Abrams, Nov. 5)
- Hello, My Name Is Ruby by Philip C. Stead (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press, Sept. 3)
- The Hole by Øyvind Torseter (Enchanted Lion, Sept. 10)
- Ike's Incredible Ink by Brianne Farley (Candlewick, Aug. 6)
- Journey by Aaron Becker (Candlewick, Aug. 6)
- The Line by Paula Bossio (Kids Can Press, Sept. 1)
- The Nowhere Box by Sam Zuppardi (Candlewick, Nov. 12)
- Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown (Little Brown, Sept. 3)
- Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion, Oct. 1)
- My Blue Is Happy by Jessica Young, illus. by Catia Chien Candlewick, Aug. 6)
- Rock-a-Bye Room by Susan Meyers, illus. by Amy Bates (Abrams, Oct. 1)
- Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, Aug. 27)
This post originally appeared on Book Riot.
Keep ‘em coming, internet. They never disappoint.
Inspired by Jimmy Kimmel’s always funny Celebrities Read Mean Tweets
, I thought it’d be fun to imagine these authors reading their own one-star reviews. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but a bad review can really sting, man.
One Star Review of James Baldwin’s GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
One Star Review of THE COMPLETE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON
One Star Review of Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM
One Star Review of Flannery O’Connor’s WISE BLOOD
One Star Review of Toni Morrison’s BELOVED
One Star Review of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84
One Star Review of Joan Didion’s THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING
One Star Review of Ernest Hemingway’s THE SUN ALSO RISES
One Star Review of Junot Diaz’s THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO
One Star Review of J. D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE
This post originally appeared on Book Riot.
As a newish father, it sometimes feels like the only organizing principle of my world is the alphabet. From books to blocks to magnets to soup, the alphabet has imposed its will and everything around me now automatically categorizes itself, shuffling obediently into its proper place in this efficient 26 character system.
With the alphabet on the brain (seriously, C is for Cookie is playing in my head as I type this) I thought this would be a fun question to throw out to the book-loving community: Who makes it onto your Author Alphabet?
You can use whatever criteria you want. It could be based on first or last name (or with tricky letters like Q and X, just do whatever the heck you need to do). It can have authors you love or ones that you loathe. You can have read their entire works or have never read a single word. You can try to make your alphabet diverse and representative, or you can fill it exclusively with female authors from the Mississippi Delta.
You get the idea. Anything goes.
Now that we’ve established the ground rules (or lack thereof), I’d like to hear from you all: Who makes it onto your Author Alphabet?
A: Achebe, Chinua
B: Borges, Jorge Luis
C: Coetzee, J. M.
D: Díaz, Junot
E: Egan, Jennifer
F: Fitzgerald, F. Scott
G: Galeano, Eduardo
H: Hurston, Zora Neale
I: Ishiguro, Kazuo
James, E. L. Johnson, Crockett
K: Kincaid, Jamaica
L: Lahiri, Jhumpa
M: Mitchell, David
N: Nabokov, Vladimir
O: O’Connor, Flannery
P: Pamuk, Orhan
Q: Quentin Blake
R: Rowling, J. K.
S: Saunders, George
T: Twain, Mark
U: Updike, John
V: Vonnegut, Kurt
W: Wallace, David Foster
X: Xingjian, Gao
Y: Yoshikawa, Eiji
Z: Zadie Smith
(Warning: Some of the letters force you into really hard decisions whereas others really make you stretch just to come up with a name. The above list is definitely not set in stone and I reserve the right to change my mind often–that’s the beauty of the “anything goes” rule.)
[This post originally appeared on Book Riot.]
Whenever I read The Runaway Bunny to my kids I hear Liam Neeson’s voice in my head: “I don’t know why you’re running away. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for junk food I can tell you I don’t have any. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career as a Mama Bunny. Skills that make me a nightmare for runaway bunnies like you. If you come home now, that’ll be the end of it and I will give you a carrot. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will hug you.”
Well done Kyle, well done indeed. Anyone who has seen Taken
knows that there are no lengths to which Liam Neeson won’t go for his children. Kyle recognized that the intensity of that parental devotion–which admittedly can be a bit dark at times–is matched only by that of the legendarily persistent Mama Bunny. (Make sure to check outKyle’s blog
for a more in-depth look at the Neeson/Mama Bunny comparison.)
With Kyle’s permission, we took his idea and ran with it (pun unfortunately intended). So, without any further ado, here is Runaway Bunny starring Liam Neeson (screenplay by Margaret Wise Brown).
Guest collaborator Kyle is a human factors psychologist by day, and as the father of a two year old and an eight month old, a children’s book reading machine at night. He has been chronicling the crazy thoughts that pop into his head while reading Goodnight Moon for the 5507th time at writingboutreading.blogspot.com. When not reading, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife on a quest to find the best bite of food and offsetting this hobby by training for both adventure and endurance races.
Book Riot recently ran another reader poll about what books people pretend to have read and asked me to help with some of the accompanying graphics, knowing that I can't resist the chance to make a venn diagram.
Click here for the full post.
You know what they say: There is nothing sexier than a man reading a children’s book.
Okay, so I don’t know if anyone actually says that.
But as a man who is often spotted reading children’s books in public, I really want this to be a thing. Completely self-serving, I know. To help make this happen, I’ve recruited some of Hollywood’s most dashing leading men to read to you from beloved children’s classics.
Everyone together now: THERE IS NOTHING SEXIER THAN A MAN READING A CHILDREN’S BOOK.
Javier Bardem reading from RUNAWAY BUNNY
Idris Elba reading from LOVE YOU FOREVER
Benedict Cumberbatch reading from MY LOVE WILL FIND YOU WHEREVER YOU ARE
Ryan Gosling reading from WINNIE THE POOH
Channing Tatum reading from CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a singular novel in possession of a devoted following must be in want of a mashup.
Pride and Recreation or Parks and Prejudice, whatever you want to call it, please join us on a tour of Jane Austen’s world–infused with the irrepressible spirit of Pawnee, Indiana.
starring Elizabeth Bennet
and Fitzwilliam “Mr.” Darcy
Book Riot asked us to pick our favorite books of the year so far. My choice was The Frank Show, but CLICK HERE to check out the full list.
The Frank Show by David Mackintosh
My favorite picture book so far this year is about a young boy who worries about having to bring his curmudgeon of a grandfather into class for show-and-tell. While there is nothing surprising about the plot itself, the execution is so good that it doesn’t matter. Mackintosh’s illustrations are hilarious and intricately haphazard, if that makes any sense–think of a collaboration between Wes Anderson and Ralph Steadman.
And while the overall message is endearing, it never tips over into the sickeningly sweet. In the hands of another author you might get hit over the head with an overly sentimental life lesson that culminates with a group hug and a Cat Stevens song. Mackintosh, on the other hand, deftly handles the boy’s newfound appreciation for his grandfather who, despite his worn pajamas and creaky limbs, turns out to be quite the badass.
There's been a lot of interesting discussion in the kid's lit world about diversity thanks to Lee & Low's post on “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?
”. In particular, I was interested in the question raised by the always on point Betsy Bird
, who said “we need to officially address how we feel about white authors and illustrators writing books about people of other races. Is it never okay? Sometimes okay? Always okay?”.
I took a stab at responding over at Book Riot. CLICK HERE
to read it.
Here is how the three lists overlap:
Note: The Favorites circle is bigger because of a larger sample size.
for the full article (and more venn diagrams!) at Book Riot
If you don’t think picture books can be considered literary fiction, that Harold and the Purple Crayon is strictly child’s play, then a few minutes with Mac Barnett may change your mind. The author (whose works include Chloe and the Lion and Extra Yarn) speaks passionately about his craft and has strong opinions about the power and potential of children’s literature. After hearing him at a recent picture book panel in DC (where he held court on everything from metafiction to skeomorphism), I decided to track him down for a few questions.
[Click here for the full interview at Book Riot]
This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most beloved characters in children’s literature, Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia. As luck would have it, the universe has provided us with the perfect actress to play her: Zooey Deschanel.
Deschanel oozes the odd-but-endearing nature that is Amelia Bedelia’s signature. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the classic series, Amelia Bedelia is a maid who is constantly getting into trouble for misunderstanding (or taking too literally) common sayings like, “drawing the drapes” or “stealing home plate.” Of course, Hollywood would probably modernize the script, replacing the iconic maid’s outfit with a closet of hipster-chic sun dresses and turning the story into some kind of millenial rom-com… maybe something like:
“Loveable but unlucky in love, Amelia Bedelia is a Brooklyn barista who gets fired after a series of unfortunate misunderstandings. Unwilling to move back in with her parents, she takes a job as a live-in maid for a wealthy Park Slope family. Despite her repeated mishaps, she slowly wins everyone over. But the question remains: will she ever find true love?”
Here are a few scenes to whet your appetite for this hypothetical movie:
Things at her new place get off to a bit of a rocky start:
While things on the homefront improve, Amelia eventually becomes disillusioned with the single lifestyle:
So she decides to start playing the field, with mixed results:
At one point she gets involved with and tries to help a guy with a shady past:
Then in an unexpected twist, the movie takes a bizarre science fiction turn:
But in the end, it looks like Amelia Bedelia might have found someone who actually gets her:
So, what do you say Hollywood? Coming soon to a theater near you?
The national news may not have picked this up, but there was an important story out of DC last weekend. Gathering in our nation's capitol, a panel of experts declared that the picture book is in fact alive and well.
The panel was held at Politics & Prose (DC’s preeminent independent bookseller) and featured some of the heaviest hitters in the industry: leading children’s literature scholar Leonard Marcus, editor Neal Porter, authors Jon Scieszka, Meg Medina, and Mac Barnett and author/illustrators Christopher Myers and Laura Vaccaro Seeger.
Now, if you expect a picture book panel to be all fluffy bunnies and birthday cake, then you would have been terribly disappointed. However, if you’re looking for an erudite discussion about the future of picture books with topics ranging from David Foster Wallace to nipples, then my dear friend you came to the right place.
Seated before a full house on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the panelists wasted no time taking a deep dive into the key issues of their field. For those who don’t have the good fortune of living near Politics & Prose, here are some highlights from the sprawling 90-minute conversation.
(Disclaimer: all quotes should be considered paraphrasing because while I did take notes, my handwriting makes chickenscratch look like Lucida Calligraphy.)
- The Price We Pay: Does the high price point of picture books limit access for economically challenged populations? “We are pricing kids out of great stories,” Barnett lamented. He and Scieszka pointed to literacy programs that betray their cause by distributing low-quality books (often cheap movie tie-ins) posing as literature. Scieszka, the first ever National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, made the simple but important point that "the way to get kids to be readers is to give them something great to read." And while many of the panelists agreed that the art of bookmaking is thriving, Myers wondered if there is a danger in commodifying books as artistic objects--if we’ve reached a point of no return where books are no longer viewed as essential, but as luxury items. Marcus then provided a counterpoint by bringing out the nerd hammer and declaring the picture book to be actually quite affordable once you’ve “ammortized the cost over a year of reading”.
- Reflections on Race: Medina spoke forcefully about the challenges of writing geared towards a Latino audience, pointing out that “[America] is the only place where we’re Latinos, everywhere else we’re Guatemalans, Mexicans… there’s incredible diversity here and yet we’re all lumped into this one category.” Elaborating on the importance of diverse characters in literature, she described a potentially vicious cycle, because “children like to see themselves reflected in their books and if we want these children to become authors, we first have to fuel the fires that keep them interested in reading.”
- Uptight Americans: Speaking on the global publishing industry, Porter was asked if the international community viewed Americans as uptight. While wary of playing up cultural stereotypes, he said, “My short answer is yes. Everywhere I go people say, ‘Oh you Americans, you are so afraid of the nipple.’”
- Metafiction is Hilarious: Vaccaro Seeger (who’s brilliant First the Egg is an all-time great) pointed out that its “important to give children enough credit to challenge them—whether that’s using vocabulary that is not considered grade-level appropriate or challenging them conceptually and visually.” Barnett (who studied with David Foster Wallace) was especially excited about picture books as a perfect vehicle for experimental fiction (which is a particular soft spot of mine). Using the misadventures of Wile E. Coyote as an example, he said that while children might not get all the complexities of the joke, they laugh because, well, metafiction is hilarious. However, he also emphasized that the story still has to appeal to the young reader on a basic level because, “the stakes are high—if we don’t deliver [on other aspects of narrative], then they’ve been burned by experimental fiction.”
- Eeeeeee! Books!: On the topic of ebooks, Barnett had a very even-handed perspective. This is where he brought the thunder by mentioning “skeomorphism” (in short, design intended to make one medium look like another material or technology. Think faux-leather, or in this case, the animated page turn.) “Books for the iPad should be written for that format. There can be amazing stories for ebooks… but they’ll be something different, they won’t be picture books.” Porter was more blunt, comparing the experience of the animated page turn to “pushing a dead fish”.
- Whimsy vs. Dark Matter: Myers was most passionate when describing his desire to go to the dark side in his subject matter. “Children are dark little beings,” he declared to the delight of the crowd, “we have to give them a place to channel it.” And while describing the challenges of finding the right balance between the whimsical and the serious, he warned about the dangers of dichotomizing the two. “We are giving kids ways to talk about their life, a vocabulary. If our stories only give them one or the other [the whimsical or the serious], then we have failed them.”
It was only a matter of time though before the conversation took its inevitable turn to fluffy bunnies and birthday cake—but not how you might expect. Scieszka and Barnett are collaborating on a new book. The concept is that a child receives a book called The Birthday Bunny, the most trite, cloying book imaginable (which Scieszka and Barnett wrote by “turning off their brains”).
The kid then takes it upon himself to alter the text and pictures, transforming it into the book he actually wants to read: The Battle Bunny.
This is a fun concept that kids can relate to that just happens to feature a complex layering of visual and written language and challenges children to consider (consciously or otherwise) the intricacies and possibilities of narrative. This is both kid’s play and not--and exactly what makes me love the world of picture books.
The field is filled with these incredibly innovative and passionate thinkers who are very serious about their craft, but do not take themselves too seriously. As the panel ended and the crowd dispersed, one thing was abundantly clear: while we may not be able to predict the future of the picture book, we do know that it is in very good hands.
With Gatsby finally about to hit theaters, I couldn't resist putting together another mash-up. CLICK HERE for the full post at Book Riot.
Now, the story of the wealthy friends who had everything and the one man who had no choice but to tear them apart. It’s… The Great Gatsby.
Great list here from all the BookRiot contributors. My choice for the month was:
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
There’s a great passage early on in Giovanni’s Room that’s incidental to the plot, but provides key insight into the main character, David. He’s describing a car crash in which he was the drunk driver, but he tells his story completely in the passive voice: “something weird happened to all my reactions”, “the car sprang suddenly out of my control”, and finally “a telephone pole, foam white, came crying at me out of the pitch darkness”. Through this narrative alchemy, David manages to separate himself from the responsibility for his actions. He didn’t so much cause the accident as the accident happened to him. As the story unfolds, you see David repeatedly rely on this self-preservation tactic. He may feign self-loathing as he wreaks havoc on the lives of those around him, but whether he is steering friends into a tree or driving his lover toward tragedy, in his mind David is never truly at fault—he is merely the victim of circumstance.
My request to the universe: Louis CK reading Catcher in the Rye. Please? Somebody?
[CLICK HERE for full post at Book Riot]
Through the magic of Instagram, the average person with a cellphone camera can take a normal picture and add depth, grit, and even a sense of made-to-order nostalgia. Now imagine an app that would let you apply this same capability to literature. Something that would allow you to–with just a few swipes on your smartphone–take a pedestrian piece of prose and instantly transform it into something more memorable.
For example, let’s take “The Hunger Games.” Its popularity is unquestioned, but it was not particularly renowned for the complexity or beauty of its language. What if we could take a passage from this book and apply some preset filters to approximate a more classic style?
Book Riot asked contributors to choose the best book we read this month. My choice was A. M. Homes' "The Safety of Objects", but you should go check out the full post--lots of good stuff there.
[Click here for full post]
The Safety of Objects by A. M. Homes
I often hear great writers described as surgeons, but I think of A.M. Homes more as a dentist (and I mean that in the best possible way). In her 1990 collection, The Safety of Objects,
she explores the quiet desperation of suburbia, shining a blinding and unflattering light right in your face as she pokes, prods, and excavates with her sharp and sinister tools. She also (like my dentist, at least) uses humor to temper the discomfort–and that’s when she busts out the drill. These stories are uncomfortable but necessary, and leave you disoriented, numb, and desperate for a lollipop.
(Important Tip: DO NOT read the back cover. It commits the cardinal sin of revealing just a bit too much and diffuses some of the suspense.)
I just wrote another sports related post for Page Views, this time about the Final Four:
It's that time of year again when I find myself brooding over the smoking wreckage that is my NCAA tournament bracket, wondering where it all went wrong.
And inevitably, there's someone out there who filled out their bracket based on some random criteria (uniform color, mascot fierceness, campus with the best food courts french fries), and I can only watch in horror as they dance their way to victory.
So as we head into the Final Four, I'm taking this time to reevaluate the field based on an equally random factor: the literary connections of the remaining schools.
Maybe this will provide clarity in the face of the madness — and perhaps next time I'll head to the library instead of the sports page before making my picks. I definitely can't fare any worse than I did this year.
[Click here for full text
Here's a funny excerpt about teaching writing, from Anagrams
by Lorrie Moore.
"Writing is a safari, dammit," exclaimed the teacher. "It means going out there and spotting, nabbing, and bringing home to the cage of the page the most marvelous living stuff of the world."
Timothy Robinson sat right in front of the teacher. He was doodling scenes from Conan in the margins of his notebook.
"But those cages are small and expensive," the teacher continued, searched, groped, not knowing quite what she was talking about.
Conan's pectorals were like concrete slabs and in Timothy Robinson's margins Conan's biceps and triceps had begun to make his arms look like large croissants. Now he suddenly was getting sunglasses. Now striped thighs.
"Don't bring back any dim-witted mooses," she said. "Don't put a superfluous dumb cluck of a line in your poem." She had used her lifeboat simile in the last class: A line is like a lifeboat--only a limited number of words get to go in it and you have to decide which word-lives are most valuable; the rest die.
It was ridiculous, but the only thing she could think of to say.
When no one said anything in response, she stared out into the center of the room and said, "So, Tim. How the f--k is Conan?"
“Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry.”
J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
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Two of the year’s most highly anticipated events are the The Great Gatsby movie and the return of Arrested Development. To fill the void until their release dates, let’s see what happens when the Great American Novel meets the Great American Family.
Click here for the full piece at BookRiot, but for a taste, here are a few one of my favorites: