I’m not telling you anything new by bringing this up now, but for those of you who may yet be unaware, the great Brian Jacques of the Redwall books passed away last weekend. I only had the pleasure of meeting Brian once at an event at the Campbell Apartment, and he was charming. I determined that the best way to speak to him was to bring up The Wind in the Willows, a book he adored. When I mentioned the Pan chapter he became wildly enthused, quoting whole passages verbatim. Later in the evening he would tell tales of fellow author and friend Paula Danziger (also deceased) and how she once leapt into a ball pen where she got firmly stuck. There are a couple obits worth mentioning of the man. Over at The Guardian Alison Flood recalls her talking animal phase while Julia Eccleshare writes his obit. The Telegraph gave their two cents. The Liverpool Echo had a great obit too, though it left me wanting to know more about the schoolteacher that taught Jacques, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, so thank you @PWKidsBookshelf for the link. Even the Audubon Magazine had a sweet take on the Jacques legacy (thanks to @MrSchuReads for the link). Can’t say I’m the world’s biggest fan of this British cover, though. A bit too symbolic for me.
Needs more fur.
- Speaking of British covers, I was a little surprised to see that the British edition of When You Reach Me (which they seem to have only just now brought over there in paperback) sports the same Sophie Blackall cover as the one we have here in the States. Almost the same, I should say. Can you spot the difference?
Someone explain that one to me, please. I’m baffled. Anyway, I think I like the Aussie cover best an
I didn't think anything could make me love Narnia more than I already do, and have done for probably (ULP!) almost fifty years....but this book did!
Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis,
does for the Chronicles of Narnia
what John Granger's Hidden Key to Harry Potter
did for the Harry Potter books, and more.
Can you imagine that there is a deeper dimension, a more intricately-woven structure than we ever supposed to the Chronicles of Narnia?
I don't blame you if you are skeptical. But author and Lewis scholar Michael Ward deals with the objections very thoroughly. The real trouble we have is, we just do not live in the same thought universe that medieval people did...but which Lewis moved and worked in like a native.
I have a couple of very small quibbles with the book, but honestly I don't want to bother putting them in this post-- it would be unfair to do that without going into properly proportionate detail about all the many things I think are wonderful about the book, and I haven't the time to do that just now. And the quibbles I have are not with the author's thesis.
Please note, this is serious work of scholarly criticism, meant for the academic audience. I found it very well and clearly written (clarity of expression is one of Lewis's own greatest virtues) but it is thick with footnotes, references to medieval and classical authors, quotes and asides in various languages dead and living. So if you find the prospect of such a bit daunting, fear not-- the author has also written a book called The Narnia Code which advances the same basic argument but without all the academic bells and whistles.
I've been wanting Planet Narnia since I first heard about it; finally got it this past Christmas and have just read it in the past few weeks. I'm eager to go back and read the Chronicles again with this new appreciation for their structure, and also to re-read the
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Aaron Zenz
, Adam Rex
, Amy Timberlake
, Andy Laties
, banned books
, Charles Dickens
, Daniel Pinkwater
, Fiona Robinson
, J.R.R. Tolkien
, Kate Milford
, Katherine Tillotson
, Rachell Sumpter
, Richard Michelson
, standardized tests
, Story Siren
, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
, whitewashed covers
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- Ain’t he just the sweetest thing? Author/illustrator Aaron Zenz recently wrote just the loveliest ode to his four top favorite children’s literary blogs, and then went and created original art for each. In my case he created this little Fuse guy (or possibly Fuse gal) based on the bright yellow Fuse you see at the beginnings of each of my posts (I put it there in lieu of my face because I can only look at myself so often before going stark raving mad). This, I should point out, is not the first time a little Fuse person has been created for this blog. Katherine Tillotson, an artist of outstanding ability (I’m biased but it also happens to be true) created not one but TWO little Fusemen in the past, both for separate birthdays.
I’m a fan. So thank you Aaron and, once again, thank you Katherine. Fusemen of the world unite!
- *sniff sniff* Smell that? That’s the distinctive odor of a brouhaha brewing. Sort of a combination of burnt hair, dead goldfish and patchouli. And you wonder why I don’t cover YA books. Sheesh! One word: drama. Seems that a YA blog called Story Siren plagiarized the work of others for her own blog posts. Folks noticed and suddenly the internet was was heaping helpful of flames, burns, accusations, and other forms of tomfoolery. For a sane and rational recap we turn to our own Liz Burns who gives us the run down in Today’s Blog Blow Up. Ugly stuff.
- And while we’re on the subject of YA (which I just said I don’t cover, and yet here we are), I thought we were done with whitewashing, folks. So what’s up with this? Harlequin Teen, you got some explaining to do.
- In other news, book banning: It’s what’s for dinner. Take a trip with me to The Annville-Cleona School District where a picture book fondly nicknamed by some as Where’s the Penis? is getting some heat. If you’ve ever seen The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Adam Rex, then you know that calling it “pornographic” works only if you are unaware of what the word “pornography” actually means. I would like to offer a shout-out to librarian Anita Mentzer who has handled the whole situation with class and dignity. You, madam, are the kind of children’s librarian others should aspire to be. Well done. And thanks to Erica Sevetson for the link.
- We may not yet have an ALA accredited poetry award for a work of children’s literature but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a Poet Laureate or two instead. Rich Michelson, gallery owner and
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By William D. Romanowski
When Protestant evangelicals opened a Hollywood front in the late twentieth-century “culture wars,” the result was an odd mixture of moral reproach and commercialization of religion. To no avail, they famously protested MCA/Universal over The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and then joined conservative Catholics — outraged over the movie Priest (1995) — in a boycott of the Walt Disney Company, the world’s largest provider of family entertainment.
Then again, evangelicals contributed greatly to the incredible box-office success of The Passion of the Christ in 2004, and the next year called off their boycott when Disney brought The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the screen. These box-office victories drew Hollywood’s attention to those consumers who were spending hundreds of millions of dollars on religious books, merchandise, and music. Moviemakers wanted a piece of the action. The next year, 20th Century-Fox created FoxFaith, a new home entertainment division, to go after the “Passion dollar.”
These are not isolated or unprecedented events. There is a long-standing and complicated relationship between Protestant churches and the movie industry, and put in that context, evangelical strategies actually went against the central Protestant approach to movie reform.
To establish a fitting role for the cinema, Protestants traditionally sought a measure of harmony between individual liberty, artistic freedom, and the common good. While understanding the need for film producers to make money, Protestants long believed that the cinema should be developed along the lines of artistic and social responsibility. Perceiving themselves as a countervailing force to the film industry’s incessant drive to maximize profits, they argued that by tacitly accepting the industry’s commercial ethos, the church was effectively commodifying religion and values instead of “relating itself to the arts of communication, rather than commercial selling of a product.”
Instead of nitpicking at perceived immoral incidents or being satisfied with the mere inclusion of a religious theme, Protestants focused their criticism on a movie’s overall perspective. A film that was made “decent” by deleting distasteful elements could still be dishonest (in its treatment of life) and dull (as art and entertainment). It was the film’s artistic prowess and embodied perspective that mattered most.
In a departure from this Protestant tradition, the evangelical course was really a replay of tactics pursued by the Catholic Legion of Decency. Beginning in the mid-1930s, Catholic bishops used consumer pressure to coerce filmmakers into making changes in movies prior to release in theaters. In contrast, Protestant leaders — by tradition — refused to restrict individual liberty by controlling the viewing habits of church members.
Nevertheless, after World War II some Protestants wanted to imitate the Catholics by consulting with film producers to ensure that Protestants received the same flattering treatment in movies as priests and nuns. But any aspirations that Protestants could deliver an audience large enough to redirect Hollywood’s output were dispelled by The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), a commercial and critical disaster that brought an end to the era of big-budget biblical epics like The Ten Commandments (1956).
These events apparently faded from memory, and as the evangelical consumer culture blossomed during the 1980s and ‘90s, evangelical leaders took their turn now — after mainline Protestants and then Catholics — as the nation’s custodian of movie morals. Mixing boycott threats with promises to deliver American pew sitters to movie theaters, they petitioned Hollywood for wholesome family entertainment — meaning no explicit sex, profanity, or violence (in that order of priority). As a result, in the popular perception at least, kid-friendly has become the defining feature of a “Christian” aesthetic that ultimately prizes PG-rated fare attuned to the level of children.
Evangelicals embraced profit-making as their modus operandi for movie reform with much more intensity than any of their predecessors; their appeal ultimately was to the corporate bottom line, not artistic quality or social responsibility.
This market-based strategy harbors an inherent contradiction — one that always seems to escape its adherents. The obvious assumptions are that “good” movies are somehow those that are commercially successful and that a free market will produce movie morality. On what basis then can evangelicals limit screen exploitation other than profitability? The gauge of commercial success can be used to justify family movies as much as crude teen comedies; the Christian-themed The Blind Side and raunchy The Hangover each earned over $200 million domestically in 2009.
With box-office results dictating the terms of quality, film production will always be a slave to momentary fashionable trends. But as the head of an evangelical pro-family organization put it, studio executives should just “give the public more of what it wants — for profits sake.”
William Romanowski is Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College. His books include Reforming Hollywood: American Protestants and the Movies, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture (a 2002 ECPA Gold Medallion Award Winner) and Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in America Life. Watch a video where he explains protestantism in Hollywood.
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Image credit: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe poster. Copyright Walt Disney Studios. Used for the purposes of commentary on the work. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
If you're not a huge fan of violence and/or the Narnia books, don't go see Prince Caspian. It was one of the most violent movies I've ever seen. My neck hurts from flinching.
Why, oh, why did I do this to myself? Why? The racism was as overt in the movie, as it is in the book. Even amongst the Narnian dwarves, for example, dark = evil, light =good.* The violence was sickening. Arrgh.
In other children's book franchise news, Scaredy Squirrel will be a cartoon series. Scaredy is obviously more my speed.
*Also, apparently, big noses are evil, as are accents other than British English. (More on the racism in the comments, if you're interested.) Thanks, Disney.
One of the trickiest questions I often get at work is, "Which is the first Narnia book?" It's a tricky question because there is a correct answer--The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe--but it is being undermined by the insistence in recent years of publishing them in chronological order within the narrative, rather than as originally released; hence, starting with The Magician's Nephew, whose action predates that in "Lion", Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Horse and his Boy. I'm not sure who came up with this idea--I have even seen it floated somewhere that it was Lewis' wish to re release them so. But in this age of prequels, alternate endings, and companion volumes, I find it difficult to believe that today's savvy young readers would be confused by reading a history of Narnia's inception after they have already read the previous five books. So, when some poor, unsuspecting soul asks me which is the first Narnia book, I give them the spiel about the debate.....and then hand them whichever of the two is actually on the shelf (mustn't send them away empty handed.) The release of "Lion" in the theatre has helped to reassert it's position as the lead-off title. And now, The Horn Book, the children's literature Bible, has taken its stance on the issue. How nice to be right ^_^
Of course, the second part of this issue is: "What?! You mean you don't intrinsically know all of the Narnia books by heart? They're not etched on your soul?!" That incites the same feeling of being flabbergasted as when someone asks me for a recommendation for a 2nd-4th grader, and they answer the statement, "Well, I'll assume you have already read Charlotte's Web," with, "No."
How is that possible?!
Hey, everyone, it's Carl. I want to thank Bill and all of you for your kind expressions of sympathy. It's great to have friends at a time like this.
Cyber Kid 303 and his mom sent these notes:
Carl, I'm so sorry about your mother. Moms are so special and I know you'll miss her.
We were so sorry to hear about your mother. She must have been a very special woman to have raised a son who has become such a kind, caring and outgoing man. As a mother, I know our greatest joy is to see our children happy and healthy. I am sure you played a huge role in making your mother’s life a good one. A mother is never really separated from her children. They stay in our hearts and minds even when they are far away. Your mother is still watching over you and keeping you in her soul, and her spirit lives within you. We will keep you in our prayers as you go through this difficult time.
Carl, I'm so sorry about your mother. Moms are so special and I know you'll miss her.
Bonnie, Tim & Joseph “Cyberkid” Stewart
Thanks, guys. That means a lot. Our friend Lord Vader also sent his sympathies along with a couple of cool reviews:
My family and I were sorry to hear about Carl's mom. He and his family are in our thoughts. I just finished two books that had references to this. One was Star Wars Boba Fett: Maze of Deception by Elizabeth Hand where Boba remembers a lot about what his father had told him about being a bounty hunter. He had to learn a lot of hard lessons and try to avoid another hunter that was trying to get her hands on what was left for Boba. This was my first Clone Wars book and I really liked it a lot. The other book I finished was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I liked this one as well, but having already seen the movie it didn't have the same suspense as the first Narnia book. I'll be reading the third one soon and plan to read Prince Caspien before I see the movie so it isn't ruined.Mikie (a.k.a Lord Vader)
Thanks, Mikie---I mean, Lord Vader. As I said, it's good to know so many people care.
And I'm glad you guys kept on reading. It's really important and will help you as you grow up. Reading is one of those unusual things that are both good for you and fun at the same time! Let me know how you like Prince Caspian--both the book and the movie. (did you see my review from June 6?)
Cyber kid also sent us a good comment:
I did read No More Dead Dogs because Mr. Bill suggested it on the blog. In the book, the character complains that all the dogs in dog books die. I noticed most of those books turned into movies. I found a dog movie the other day where the dog doesn't die! It's called Big Red.
I finally read Diary of a Wiimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. It's about a middle school kid named Greg and his friends and family. Greg and his friend, Rowley, go trick-or-treating,wrestle and get bullied by teenagers in this funny book. (Even though being bullied is never funny in real life.) It's a very popular book. When I requested it from the library system, I was 61 on the request list. It was worth the wait.After I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid I wanted to read the second one, so my friend across the street loaned it to me. It's called Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. It's like the first one, only better!
Thanks once again, everybody! It's good to have friends. I'll tell you all about some good stuff later, especially about our Percy Jackson Summer Book Club.
By: Steve Novak
Blog: Steve Draws Stuff
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Last night, after becoming bored with paying work (which is something my wife says REALLY needs to stop happening) I took a little break and sketched some of the characters from the children's novel I'm currently writing.
I would say that I'm about halfway though the story, which I think I may have to extend out to a second book in order to tell properly. Thus far, I like what I've written - which is weird because I'm usually my toughest critic.
This is either a good thing, or a very, very bad thing. Only time will tell I suppose.
Wednesday, December 10 at 7 pm.
Part of the Aloud series
, funded by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, admission is free but reservations
I'll be there with bells on!
Talk about taking all the fun out of a series: the Guardian reports about an upcoming BBC documentary about the third layer of hidden meanings within the Chronicles of Narnia. Evidently, each of the books can be linked to a planet in our solar system. To quote the article:
"There are three layers of meaning - it's like three-dimensional chess. Instead of wishy-washy fairy tales, in fact this
It is that time of year.....and rather than create yet another Christmas post at the moment, I'm going to ask you to consider giving the gift of Story this Christmas. If you're reading this blog, of course, you probably already have books on your gift list for your nearest and dearest.
But I'd like you to also consider giving a book for older kids or teenagers to your local Christmas bureau. These older kids in need are often forgotten at this time of year. Chances are, these kids are not from bookish homes, so the challenge is to present something that will grab them.
Obviously, The Chronicles of Narnia are one of my own favorite suggestions. Packaged to tie in with the films, they are appealing to a whole new generation of kids. And of course the Harry Potter phenomenon has made reading a bit cooler than it was before-- film tie-ins are good here too.
CDs and films that tell or tie in with good stories are also good bets for this purpose. A recent underappreciated film that I hope to blog on at some point is Penelope. This one is wonderful for girls.
Please do chime in and offer your own suggestions, particularly of stuff that's currently widely available.
Meanwhile, if you came here looking for a seasonal read, click on one of these:
"Cold Hands, Warm Heart"--
what could make Jack Frost decide to rebel against the Winterfolk and join the side of Summer? Short fiction from my archive of previously-published stories.
The Guardian reports that Disney will no longer partner with Walden Media to produce the film version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I find this strangely annoying. I say "strangely" annoying because I have not been a fan of recent film adaptations of beloved books. I should be relieved--"Treader" is safe and can stay just as I remember reading it, rather than how someone chooses to translate
From the introduction:
"A lot of people remember the bliss of their earliest reading with a pang; their current encounters with books offer no more than faint echoes of what they once felt. I've heard friends and strangers talk about the days when they, too, would submerge themselves in a story, surfacing only to eat and deal with the minimal daily business of childhood. They wonder why they don't get as much out of books now. If you dig deep to the roots of what makes someone a reader, you'll usually find the desire to recapture that old spell."
Maybe that's what makes a writer, too. I admit that it's hard to completely lose myself in a book these days--I'm either admiring or critiquing or learning from it. As a child, I read so deeply that my mother once had to sprinkle my head with her watering can. But when I write, and it's going well, I do feel under that spell. I also realize that I've always told myself stories---elaborate sagas in which I released Spock's inner emotional life and natural passion (I must really, really trust you guys), or terrifying tales about that loose bedroom window screen or yes, how I would meet Tumnus the Faun and have mercy on his Witch-tortured soul. I just didn't always write those stories down. (Thank God!)
Like Lucy, I have no idea whether I'm going to find the back of the wardrobe or the snowy branches of Narnia each time I sit down to work. But who can resist looking?
Hey, reader guys everywhere, it's Carl and I'm glad to be blogging again. I was gone all last week on an awesome vacation on an island off the Georgia coast.
It's a beautiful place, as you can see, and has some great beaches. Of course, I couldn't go to the beach without thinking of Capt'n Eli:
The only bad thing about vacation was that I had to miss Joe Piscopo's visit to the library. But Darth Bill said it was really fun and is working on a post about it.
Of course, I couldn't go without taking some good reading. I didn't get much time to sit and read but I did get to hear a couple of good books on CD. The first was Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, read by Judy Blume. It was funny! 10-year Peter has a two-and-a-half-year-old brother that everyone calls Fudge (it's a better name than Farley) and that little brother is almost always a royal pain. From trying to fly from a jungle gym to almost ruining a TV commercial to stashing Peter's pet turtle in a most unusual place, Fudge always seems to cause headaches for everyone. Especially Peter. This made me laugh out loud, it was so funny.
The other one was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, read by that terrific British actor, Derek Jacobi. Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, from the first two Narnia books, find themselves onboard a ship with Prince Caspian, who is now King Caspian. All is well in Narnia, so Caspian sets sail to find seven Narnian lords who disappeared 7 years before. This would be a real treat for Edmund and Lucy except that Eustace Clarence Scrubb, that real stinker of a kid, happened to be pulled into Narnia with them. What happens next? Well, you'll just to read to find out, won't you? This is my favorite of the Narnia books and is just fantastic--there are close encoutners with sea serpents, deadly unknown islands, and storms at sea. Plus a whole lot more! Excitement and adventure abound! And the last few chapters are so good that your jaw will hang open. Derek Jacobi gives a nearly-perfect reading of this nearly-perfect book and makes the characets sound
exactly as you'd think they would.
These books are great if you ever have to spend a lot of time in the car, whether you're going on vacation or just have to ride a long way to school every day. So get on down to your local library and get them!
Had some fun reading this article from the Washington Post Book World:
Authors Share Who They Would Spend a Beach Day With
And now, if you can move on from the spectacle of Emily Dickinson in a bikini with Garrison Keillor at her side (don't you think it odd that he thinks of her as a "fictional character") I ask you:
With whom would YOU share a beach day? I grant you two answers, if you wish: one from all of literature, and one from children's literature.
I only have one answer so far:
from the Chronicles of Narnia. I hope I don't regret that choice when he sticks his pin-sized sword into some blowhard's ankle, but strolling along the beach with an armed mouse at my side seems the height of summer fun.
I just watched the trailer for the new Narnia movie. Dawn Treader is is one of my favorite Narnia books and I’ve been anxious about the movie; so much potential for getting it wrong; so many things I desperately want them to get right.
I don’t know…some worrisome glimpses there. Looks like they’ve added a conflict subplot for Edmund—back in England, the war is on, and they won’t let a mere “squirt” join up. “But I’m a king!” he huffs to Lucy. Argh. Even worse, later in the trailer the White Witch appears in some sort of vision to tempt him. Really? Really? Edmund is so beyond that. After his fall and redemption in LWW, he’s one of the staunchest, most honorable young men in either world.
Equally puzzling: Eustace is barely present in the trailer. All the focus is on Edmund and Lucy, and Ian McKellan’s*,** voice uttering vague yet grand pronouncements about their adventure just beginning. No dragon. Scarcely any indication that Eustace is along for the journey at all. Perhaps in this early trailer, they’re targeting fans who know the films better than the books?
The Dufflepuds look good, though.
*I wrote “Patrick Stewart” before. I knew it was Ian; nearly made a Gandalf reference; I think I must have had Patrick’s name lodged in my mind because of Scott’s dramatic recitation yesterday.
**Except!! I am totally wrong. It’s Liam Neeson. LOL! Thanks, Robin, for the heads-up! Oh, these actors with their sonorous voices!
Martine Leavitt gave an interesting workshop outlining specific questions to help you strengthen your plot. She was such a kind, soft-spoken lady full of brilliance. Don't forget to check out my review of her book, Keturah and Lord Death over at cleanreads!
AFTER you have a rough draft, ask yourself these 8 questions.
1. WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT? Desire drives them with a small object of desire to represent it. Example: Want a dress to get a boy.
2. WHY CAN'T S/HE HAVE IT? Must be a huge problem. What did Ariel of The Little Mermaid want? To live with Eric on land. Why can't she have it? She's a fish. A seemingly impossible thing to overcome.
3. WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF S/HE DOESN'T GET WHAT S/HE WANTS? In Keturah and Lord Death, Keturah will die if she doesn't find true love in one day. In Little Mermaid, Ariel will be miserable for the rest of her life.
4. HOW DOES YOUR CHARACTER STRUGGLE TO GET WHAT S/HE WANTS? Most of your story happens here. 3 tries and failures.
5. WHAT ADDITIONAL HARDSHIPS DOES THE MAIN CHARACTER FACE? Creat a character you love. Chase her up a tree and throw rocks at her.
6. WHEN IS IT HOPELESS? Whe you can't close the book, wouldn't leave the movie for popcorn. When Ariel can't swim to the boat and Eric and the Sea Witch are about to get married.
7. WHEN IS THE TENSION RELIEVED? How do they get what they want?
8. WHAT IS SURPRISING ABOUT THE ENDING? (Optional but satisfying.)
Ask these questions for you MC, then all the rest of the characters. Their struggles, though, must be related to MC's. Any part of the story that doesn't help answer these questions should be cut.
Here is a recent warm-up drawing.
Apparently, I had the "Narnia" movie on my mind.