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1. The Collective Power of a Nation of Readers

This piece also appears on The Huffington Post’s Impact blog.

Steve White, a volunteer at a local nonprofit, worked through the holidays to ensure that 3,000 kids in need in Denver would have brand-new books of their own at Christmas.

Elisa Mayo, the finance coordinator for a school district in Mississippi, helped students at her Title I school get the books — and the encouragement — they needed to start book clubs, and now dozens of students, from third to fifth grade, voluntarily skip recess to meet and to talk about their new books.

A community group in Navajo County, Arizona was so determined to have a free library for local children that they raised money through bake sales, started with a donated room in a nearby gas station, and eventually came up with the funds to build a library.

These everyday heroes all have something in common. They are part of First Book, a nonprofit network of teachers, librarians, community leaders and program administrators serving kids in need — a network that stretches across the country and around the world.

An Alabama teacher and her class, part of First Book's network

These men and women and thousands more like them are working every day to transform the lives of children from poor neighborhoods, and they know how desperate the need is. Kids from low-income families lack the resources that many of their middle and upper-class peers take for granted. Every study confirms the impact that has on their futures. One study that never fails to shock revealed that, while children in affluent neighborhoods had access to an average of 13 books a day, there is only a single age-appropriate book for every 300 children.

First Book is working to change that. We partner with the publishing industry to provide books — brand-new, high-quality books — to the teachers and program leaders who sign up with us. Our network is the fastest-growing group of educators in the country serving kids in need: we just reached the incredible milestone of 100,000 registered schools and programs.

Reaching that milestone is exciting, because that means that we’re reaching more children in need than ever.

But there’s another reason why bringing so many educators together matters.

By joining First Book, the people we serve are acknowledging something important: we have more power collectively than we do as individuals. It’s one of the most powerful ideas in human history, from the birth of cities to the workers’ unions that built the country to the marvelous online social networks that are transforming how we communicate.

We’ve already seen the impact this can have. For example, at one point, there was no bilingual edition (English and Spanish together) of the perennial children’s classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but the educators we work with requested it repeatedly. Based on that feedback, we were able to go to the publisher and show that there was real demand. A bilingual edition rolled off the presses shortly thereafter, a book now available to all children and families.

This unprecedented network is also the source of valuable insight into the needs of those serving children at the base of the economic pyramid. There is no group of people whose voices are more critical to our collective future; what they have to say about the 30 million children living in low-income families in the United States and their futures is of paramount importance to us all.

Everyone at First Book is proud of our role in supporting this network. But we know there’s much, much more to be done. We estimate that there are 1.3 million educators and program leaders out there eligible to join us, and we’re doing everything we can to connect every single one.

The post The Collective Power of a Nation of Readers appeared first on First Book Blog.

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2. Through the Slushpile Spectacles - Are Children's Writers a Breed Apart?

by Addy Farmer Peering through my spectacles this week, I spotted this interesting article in The Guardian.  It examined the reaction to writer, Lynne Sheperd's piece in The Huffington Post in which she urged J.K.Rowling to stop writing and give other people a crack at earning some money. She says: I didn't much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I've never read a word (or seen a

0 Comments on Through the Slushpile Spectacles - Are Children's Writers a Breed Apart? as of 2/28/2014 3:58:00 AM
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3. Winning Battles for Writers: National Writers Union

Interview with National Writers Union Organizer Andrew Van Alstyne

by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas

Being a freelance writer can be as lonely as a sailor adrift at sea. In this interview, Andrew Van Alstyne, an organizer with the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981), will share the importance of solidarity among freelance writers.

Andrew is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan. He currently lives in Arlington, Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters.

WOW: Andrew, to start, could you tell us a little about what the National Writers Union is and what they do for writers?

Andrew: The National Writers Union (UAW local 1981) has been around since 1981. We’re the only labor union representing freelance writers. We work on everything from contracts and grievances to copyright issues and member education. Writing is often a solitary profession and the union is a much-needed source of solidarity and support for its members.

This solidarity and support can be crucial for freelance writers. We just won a significant settlement with the publishers of Heart & Soul magazine for unpaid wages for contract writers and staff editors. The magazine’s publisher will sign a confession of judgment and pay the writers in six installments. The first payment was just sent to a writer facing foreclosure. This victory wouldn’t have happened without the commitment of the affected writers, but it also shows the value of collective action and solidarity.

WOW: How did the Pay the Writer campaign begin and why is it important?

Andrew: In 2011, AOL bought the Huffington Post for $315 million. By now, the Huffington Post model is well known: there are a small number of staff employees and a seemingly endless supply of unpaid bloggers. When the sale went down, the unpaid bloggers expected to be rewarded for the value they’d help create. Instead, the site made it clear that bloggers wouldn’t see a dime. In response, Huffington Post bloggers independently called a boycott of the site. We joined the campaign and launched Pay the Writer to make clear that working writers deserve to be paid. This was incredibly important beyond the Huffington Post as a host of imitators emerged all looking to cash in on unpaid bloggers. It’s a successful scheme—Turner just spent $200 million on Bleacher Report.

We recently announced an end to the Pay the Writer campaign so we can focus our energy on building an online writers division within the union. We already have strong divisions for book authors, journalists, and academics and an online division makes sense.

WOW: How can freelance writers know which companies are safe to work for?

Andrew: When dealing with particularly egregious cases, we will issue advisories. For example, in the case of Heart & Soul I mentioned earlier, we issued a Writers Alert letting writers know about the problems at the magazine.

In this market, there are far too many publishers looking to make a quick buck by taking advantage of writers, so it’s important that if a writer encounters problems, she or he has an ally. That’s why contract advice and enforcement is such an important part of what we do.

WOW: What advice do you have for writers—young and old—who are trying to work in the “online” market?

Andrew: A quick scan of Craigslist reveals the challenges writers face, as companies feel no qualms offering negligible rates for professional quality work. There is absolutely no way a writer can make a living on a fraction of a cent per word, but those kinds of job posts are everywhere.

For a new writer or an established writer, my first piece of advice is not to go it alone. Connect with other writers—joining the National Writers Union would be an excellent start. Beyond that, my advice is to not undervalue yourself. Every offer is negotiable, whether it’s on pay or rights or something else. Again, we offer advice on these to members.

WOW: What should writers be looking for in the future from the National Writers Union?

Andrew: We’ll continue working for writers. As our recent Heart & Soul victory shows, there is power in solidarity. As we build our online division, we’re looking to create the infrastructure necessary to make the digital age writer-friendly. Please visit http://www.nwu.org to sign up.

WOW: Thank you for taking time to share this information with us, today. I know there will be many members of WOW interested in what the National Writers Union has to offer freelance writers.

***

Interview by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas for WOW. Linda is no stranger to WOW. She has taught classes, written articles, participated in contests and joined blog tours. She is an educator/writer/poet, living in Western Massachusetts with her husband and cat. Linda is also a member of the National Writers Union, Local 1981. You can read more about her on her blog, Words from the Heart.

2 Comments on Winning Battles for Writers: National Writers Union, last added: 2/20/2013
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4. Huffington Post: 50 things under 50$ (book promotion)

This article was in Huffington Post today ad offers some great ideas.
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These days it seems like everyone's book marketing budget is a little tighter. If you're feeling the pinch, or if you're just looking for some great free stuff to do on your own, here are some tips that can help keep you on track. Along with the tips, I've also linked to other articles I've written on the various topics, in case you want to dig deeper:
  1. Buy your domain name as soon as you have a title for your book. You can get domain names for as little as12.95. Tip: When buying a domain always try to get a .com and stay away from hyphens, i.e. penny-sansevieri.com - surfers rarely remember to insert hyphens. You should also consider using your keywords in your domain because it'll help you rank better. Social media is great, but don't use your Facebook or Twitter pages as your "website" - you should own your domain and have a site. Period. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/penny-c-sansevieri/how-to-build-the-perfect-_b_1932184.html
  2. Head on over to Wordpress.com and start your very own blog (you can add it to your website later): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/penny-c-sansevieri/ten-reasons-why-you-shoul_b_839231.html
  3. Set up an event at your neighborhood bookstore. Do an event and not a signing, book signings are boring!
  4. It's all about content these days so why not create a calendar for content? Often if you aren't sure what to write, or when, a content calendar will keep you on track. You can plan the calendar around your free time (though you should blog weekly) and around holidays or events that may tie into your book.
  5. Then, while you're at it: brainstorm content ideas and start a content folder you can always refer back to when you aren't feeling "inspired" to write anything.

3 Comments on Huffington Post: 50 things under 50$ (book promotion), last added: 10/13/2013
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5. How is First Book Delivering Social Impact?

First Book’s fearless leader, President and CEO Kyle Zimmer will speak live Thursday at 1:05pm EDT on HuffPostLive alongside other tireless social entrepreneurs that include Hilde Schwab, David Jones and Asher Hasan. The live discussion will examine how corporate assets can deliver social impact both nationally and globally.

Check out the livestream below, available at Thursday 1:05pm EDT:

The post How is First Book Delivering Social Impact? appeared first on First Book Blog.

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6. Rewind: A Great Kids’ Book on the Creation of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons

Melissa’s Sweet is on a glorious roll this year getting a lot of well deserved attention for her illustrations for  A Splash of Red,  Brave Girl, and Little Red Writing.  So I thought I’d republish this interview from a couple of years back about her delightful book about Tony Sarg and the Macy’s Parade balloons.

Just in time for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade comes Melissa Sweet‘s picture book biography, Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. That puppeteer is none other than Tony Sarg, a remarkable man indeed. Author/Illustrator Melissa Sweet has done a bang-up job focusing in on the man, directing young readers toward the activities that led him to his epiphany — why not float creature balloons over the parade? Why not indeed?

Sarg being a unique man, Sweet’s story is a fascinating one. But it is really with her illustrations that she, an already much lauded illustrator, has truly outdone herself. Mixing primary sources, toys she made herself for the book, collages, assemblages, comics, drawings, paintings, and more, she has created a picture book biography like no other. Through her text and art the brilliant Sarg bounds to life in this book as do his ideas, his creations, and his stories. Balloons over Broadway is a book that will be enjoyed by everyone in the family — be sure to have your copy on hand when watching this year’s parade!

Thinking that many would enjoy knowing more about how this book came to be I asked Melissa if she’d be willing to answer a few questions and provide a few images. She did all that and more as you will see.

So everyone in America it seems spends Thanksgiving morning watching the Macy’s parade and those incredible balloons. But I have to say it never really crossed my mind to consider how they came into being so your book was quite a revelation. What inspired you to do it? Was it the balloons first or Tony Sarg?

It was Tony Sarg that intrigued me first and I had the same response–how did this brilliant illustrator and puppeteer invent the character balloons? I knew there was a story there. The Macy’s parade and Tony’s life are so intertwined that parade was the perfect vehicle to tell his story.


Tony Sarg seems like such a larger-than-life figure. Did that make it a bit hard at times to write the book? I mean, did you have to pick and chose stories, winnow the text down a lot to get to the essence of his life in terms of the balloons? Was there anything you found especially hard to put in or leave out?

It’s true, with a character like Tony Sarg, every story seems worth telling. In this case, the essence also had to be something that children could relate to. There were many stories I wanted to tell–how he sat in a theatre watching a puppet troupe perform for 50 nights in a row to learn their trade. And how at the end of the Macy’s parade he released the balloons into the sky with a reward for their return.

But my favorite story is when a “sea monster” was sighted off the coast of Nantucket, (where Tony had a house). Luckily, Tony and some friends “captured” it and brought it onto the beach as everyone Nantucket watched. He had a great humor and was a bit of prankster. (The image of this event below is courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.)

I’m curious about your research which was clearly extensive. You seem to have traveled, interviewed, made things, and read and read. Any especially memorable moments along this journey?

A few years into the research I was in touch with a man in his nineties who worked for Sarg at the 1939 World’s Fair. It was remarkable to hear his stories of that time. Another was when I was visiting Nantucket for the first time (where there is a great collection of Sarg’s work at the Nantucket Historical Association), I went to the public library which is in a gorgeous old building on a cobblestone street. It started to snow as I was looking through old newspaper clippings about Sarg and it was dawning on me what a legend he was. The whole place seemed magical.

Tell us a bit about creating the art. You mention it at the end of the book, but HuffPo readers might enjoy learning a bit about how you went about making it. Just a little bit, perhaps?

My studio is full of old toys, fabric and found objects I’ve collected. I started making quirky toys and paper-mache puppets using the materials I had on hand. People often ask which comes first, words or pictures, and in this case making these objects taught me about Tony’s creative process and helped me figure out an angle to tell the story. I knew I wanted a 3-dimensional aspect to the art to give the feel of what Tony’s studio might’ve been like. I recently made some fun Christmas ornaments based on the book for the Martha Stewart show with instructions on her website. They’re miniature parade balloons.

What are you working on now?

I have a wonderful mix of non-fiction and picture books I’m working on and next year I have a picture book biography coming out: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda By Alicia Potter and Spike: The Mixed Up Monster by Susan Hood, about an axolotl which is as funny as its name.

Melissa, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and providing the following movie of Sarg in action as a puppeteer.

Also at the Huffington Post  (along with a slide show with more images of Sarg and some interior art from the book).


2 Comments on Rewind: A Great Kids’ Book on the Creation of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons, last added: 11/27/2013
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7. Go, Renee Olstead!

You may recognize Renee Olstead from her current role as Madison on ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager, or you might have seen her as Lauren on the TV series Still Standing. Maybe you saw her in the movie 13 Going on 30. But did you know that Renee is not only an accomplished singer and actress, but also a student? She's currently attending college classes and working on two productions, a new season of Secret Life and the movie The Midnight Game.

Renee recently posted an article at The Huffington Post in which she thanks her English professor, Joan Eyles Johnson, for inspiring her to be "a better writer, citizen, and human being." She goes on to say:

"I want to speak up and tell you that mascara and clothes don't make you cool, neither do name-brand handbags, but being a leader can. Every day we can choose to challenge what we 'know' and go on our own quest for answers. As teens, you have the ability to channel your thoughts and inspirations through the power of social media, to connect with one another and start social movements for change! Find something you care about -- social injustice, animal rights, international war crimes, human trafficking, or women's rights -- and make a statement. Connect with one another, take a stand, and spread the word."

Click here to read Renee's article.

Follow Renee on Twitter @renee_olstead - and tell her @readergirlz sent you!

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8. Be Positive!

Check out this article by Anya Strzemien at The Huffington Post, which is collecting comments for a good cause. Simply give yourself a compliment! For every comment up to 5,000, the Huffington Post Media Group will donate $1 to Girls Inc. I pointed readergirlz diva Melissa Walker to the article and she immediately posted about it at I Heart Daily. As Melissa said, "How cool is that?"

I told my friend Amber Benson about it as well, and she tweeted: "Say something positive about yourself and help raise some money for Girls Inc - JUST DO IT!"
 Go to the Huffington Post website and leave your comments by April 10th! Then post, tweet, et cetera, and encourage others to do the same.

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9. Storytelling Thursday - Tell YOUR Story

For Storytelling Thursday, I'm sharing a post from Huffington Post's Anya Strzemien.  Anya is tired of hearing her friends - her women friends - talk badly about their looks.  In her article, she talks specifically about looks but we women also talk badly about our cooking, "I can never make this casserole taste as good as my sister can", our talents, "I can't draw - or sew - or write - or sing as well as (insert name here)." our housework - you name it.  It gets wearing to have to reassure us.  It really does.

Maybe we do it to be complimentary to the other person.  And, maybe, we're all lying and we actually believe that we're awesome.  Well, Anya wants you to tell her why you think you're awesome and for every comment, she'll give $1 to Girls, Inc.

So, visit Anya's article and tell her why you like the way you look. Tell a different story about yourself and change the world's perception of YOU. I did.

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10. Writers Against Racism: Author Ana Castillo REJECTED (Tucson HS)

Over the weekend, I was catching up on my Facebook posts and resting. I had to cancel Jacquie Harvey’s interview for another day because I was truly exhausted.  Anyway, while trolling, I saw a post from YA author Matt de la Peña
How do you say no to Ana Castillo, Tucson? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-biggers/breaking-tucson-high-scho_b_1458984.html

www.huffingtonpost.com

In a stunning rejection of celebrated author Ana Castillo’s offer to read and speak with Tucson high school students next week, Tucson Unified School District administrators added a new chapter to the nation’s most troubling censorship crackdown.What is going on in Tucson? What message is this sending to their young people? What can we do to help???

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11. Ode to Libraries video

Thanks to the Huffington Post for sharing this quite, um, laudatory video of Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman performing, as you will, an Ode to Libraries.

I couldn't figure out how to embed the video so follow this link.  It's lovely.  And it features my FAVORITE instrument.  Guess which one.

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12. Indian in the... Dishwasher?!

Though the toy Indians seen in Indian in the Cupboard are not available in the numbers they once were, they still appear in interesting places...

This morning, I was reading Huff Post's "Uncommon Items to Put in the Dishwasher" and item #2 is a plastic toy Indian. Here's a screenshot:



Where, I wonder, did they get it? How and why did they choose it over something else?!

2 Comments on Indian in the... Dishwasher?!, last added: 7/25/2012
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13. Adam Gidwitz on Spooky Spooky Fairy Tales

Halloween’s just around the corner which means All Hallows Read is too. When Neil Gaiman first proposed this idea of giving books for Halloween I offered some suggestions, among them Adam Gidwitz’s fairy tale debut, A Tale Dark and Grimm.  Now Adam is back with In a Glass Grimmly, as macabre and entertaining as his first book, and I thought it would be fun to see what he had to say about fairy tales, their reputation, and other related topics.

For those readers unfamiliar with your two books, how about a twitteresque description. Not too much more than 140 characters that is!

Two children travel through the funniest, weirdest, darkest Grimm tales, facing horrible parents, cruel peers, and other monsters. And—most painfully of all—themselves. (147! I’m a champion!)

Since you are a sort of fairy tale nerd (as am I) what is your take on my impression that for the general public fairies and fairy tales continue to have an image problem. Seems to me that for all the urban fantasy out there (in books, movies, and television shows), many still associate fairy tales with sparkly teeny tiny women flitting about with wings, pink, and Disney.  Would you agree? Disagree?  

I agree. And most of these adaptations don’t really help the cause at all. Most of the current adaptations of Grimm fairy tales take details from the original tales and use them as a jumping off point to tell their own story and to do their own thing. They toss the form and the style of the fairy tale out the window. I think this is a great waste. Fairy tales have endured not only because of the stories they tell but also because of how they tell them. Fairy tales are told simply, matter-of-factly; they are brief; they deal with the deepest of emotions–pain, humiliation, betrayal, lostness (if you will)–without any hyperbole or drama. The Grimm fairy tales in crystalize our most essential emotions. These modern adaptations, for the most part, have nothing to do with our deepest human emotions. They miss the point of fairy tales altogether.

Another criticism fairy tales get is that they are violent yet you seem to have embraced that idea and run with it. Why? 

The real fairy tales are indeed quite violent. But the violence is not gratuitous. On the contrary, it is essential to fairy tales’ task. One of fairy tales’ methods of speaking to the readers’ deepest emotions is a technique I like to call “tears into blood.” There is a wonderful Grimm tale called “The Seven Ravens,” in which a father loves his one little daughter so much more than his seven boys that he wishes they would turn into birds and fly away–which they promptly do. When the little girl discovers that her brothers’ disappearance is due to her father loving her more than he loved the boys, she runs away from home to find them. She is given a chicken bone by the stars (yep, you read that right), and told that it will open the Crystal Mountain where the boys are trapped. The little girl journeys to the mountain but, upon arriving, realizes that she has lost the chicken bone. At this moment, any real child’s feelings of guilt would be extraordinary. Not only was it indirectly her fault that her brothers were turned into birds, but in losing the chicken bone she has lost the ability to save them.

Now, do a little thought-experiment with me. Imagine that “The Seven Ravens,” at this critical juncture, abruptly changed genres and became adult realistic fiction. What would the little girl do? She would live out her days trying to come to terms with her guilt, failing in the majority of her relationships and wondering what could have been. Right? Very depressing. Now, let’s imagine that “The Seven Ravens”, at the moment when the girl discovers the loss of the bone, switches from fairy tale to middle grade adventure novel. In this scenario, the girl would remember a little piece of wire that she received in the first chapter, and she would pick the lock on the door to the mountain and free her brothers. Either that or the bad guy would show up and she’d have to fight him.

But “The Seven Ravens” is a fairy tale. So what happens? The little girl cuts off her finger. And then she slides it into the lock on the door to the Crystal Mountain, and, without any further explanation, the door opens, and she sets her brothers free. This solution raises a series of questions (why the heck does her finger open the door? for example). But what this solution does for the reader is that it takes all the guilt the girl was feeling–about the transformation of her brothers, about the lost chicken bone–into blood. It turns emotional pain into physical pain. It turns tears into blood.

But why is this good? Because every child has cut himself. Every child has been bruised or bled. And so every child knows that the blood stops eventually, the wound scabs over, the bruise yellows and fades. Fairy tale violence teaches the child that emotional wounds heal. That salty tears dry. That no matter the pain, victory is possible.

In your first book you stuck pretty closely to several Grimm fairy tales. This time you branch out a bit.  How did you end up with the tales you did retell and what made you move farther into your own original ones?

Thematic considerations and practical ones. First, the thematic: The emotional journey of A TALE DARK AND GRIMM is the children’s evolving relationship towards parents. The journey of IN A GLASS GRIMMLY is about peers. There were certain tales–”The Emperor’s New Clothes,” for example, and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”–that dealt with issues of peers and peer-pressure beautifully, that I really wanted to include. The practical consideration was that I had settled on calling the children Jack and Jill, mostly because that was another folkloric pairing (like Hansel and Gretel) that kids would recognize. (I briefly considered the Grimm Jorinda and Joringel, but I just didn’t think those characters have the same instant name recognition, you know?). So, once I settled on Jack and Jill, that suggested the famous Jack stories, such as the gruesome “Jack the Giant Killer” and the popular “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

I’m curious about your research. In addition to presumably reading a ton of fairy tales, what other research have you done? 

I spent most of 2012 living in Europe–mostly in France. My wife was doing her dissertation research in medieval history. I, on the other hand, was eating a ridiculous amount of bread, writing in the mornings, and traveling on the weekends. I explored the Black Forest. I found the Crystal Mountain (well, I think I did). I walked under white cliffs along an endless beach (see the chapter “The Giant Killer” in IN A GLASS GRIMMLY). So I certainly did some geographical and scenic research. I also play with language in my books, particularly regarding characters’ names. So I had some German friends I consulted with on the name of the giant salamander that appears near the end of IN A GLASS GRIMMLY, and I spent a lot of time buried in the Gaelic dictionary developing the names of the giants. Finally, I read a fair amount of secondary material on the fairy tales, to ensure that I was honoring their traditions as well as their content.

Your books are being rightly recommended as fun Halloween-related horror.  Do you have any others that you might want to recommend to go with them?  

I love Laura Amy Schlitz’s SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS –very creepy, very Victorian, and very dark. It’s got a witch, a magic amulet, a murderous puppeteer, and a little girl who has to visit a graveyard every year on her birthday. What’s not to love?

The other day one of my students who loves your books was railing about the oddity of fairy tales. Why, she ranted, does Gretel have to use a bone for a key in the first book? Why can’t she just just a carefully constructed object that doesn’t involve..let’s see how to phrase this so as not to spoil things….nasty personal stuff?  How would you respond to her and others like her?

Fairy tales don’t make any sense. That’s the wonderful thing about them. Their strangeness is their beauty. Also, it’s hilarious.

What’s next? 

One more Grimm book. This one is about a boy named Coal and a girl named Ash. Coal is based on the simpleton character that recurs throughout Grimm’s fairy tales–the boy who everyone thinks is stupid, but turns out to possess a special wisdom. Ash is short for Ashputtle. Also known as Cinderella. If you know the Grimm version of Cinderella, you know this book will be just as strange and dark as the two that preceded it.

And to end, for fun, a few questions that Proust also had to answer (and Vanity Fair has taken-off from for years).

What is your idea of happiness?
Writing in my pajamas in the morning; a huge, rare cheeseburger for lunch; an afternoon with my wife and friends; and an evening with just my wife.

What is your idea of misery?
A world with no introspection. For this reason, I fear for our society. Who needs Big Brother and thoughtcrime, when self-awareness is obliterated by a constant stream of chattering screens?

If not yourself, who would you like to be?
An astronaut.

Where would you like to live?
Most of the year in Brooklyn, and then the month of June in Paris. Or the White House. They have a bowling alley, a basketball court, and a private chef. As long as I didn’t have to do any of that annoying work that the dude who lives there has to do.

What is your favorite food and drink?
My favorite food is a huge, rare cheeseburger. My favorite drink is not for kids, so I’ll leave it out.

What is your present state of mind? 
What did Proust say? Bored because of these questions? No. Hungry, because I keep talking about cheeseburgers.

Also at Huffington Post.


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14. Bookish Gift Giving: Peter Sis’ The Conference of the Birds

Wondering what to give that dreamy child you know or an adult relative with a taste for beautiful books?  Might I make a suggestion? Consider one of Peter Sis’ unique and beautiful books, say his latest, The Conference of the Birds.

An artist who works far and wide, the Czech Sís has received many honors including multiple Caldecott Honors, a Macarthur Fellowship and most recently the Hans Christian Andersen Medal (you can see his acceptance speech here). He is well-known for drawing on his personal history in books like The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain and Tibet Through the Red Box while also taking on extraordinary people such as Galileo in  Starry Messenger and Darwin in The Tree of Life.

The Conference of the Birds is Sis’s gorgeous adaptation of the 12th century epic poem written by Farid Ud-Din Attar from Persia, the story of a flight of birds in search of their true king. Led by a hoopoe, the birds’ journey is a treacherous, soul-wrenching allegory. Their road through the world is filled with doubt, death, and destruction, but ends with a final moving epiphany. Those who appreciate allegorical works like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s  The Little Prince are likely to feel the same way about this one. Particularly since, as with de Saint-Exupéry”s work, it is the art that takes this story to whole new levels of meaning and consideration.

Originally published and promoted as a picture book for adultsThe Conference of the Birds is a moving and spectacularly beautiful book for all ages that would make an excellent holiday gift this season.

On December 9th at Prague’s international airport, a large tapestry based on one of the illustrations from this gorgeous book, sponsored and donated by Art for Amnesty, woven by master weavers in Aubusson, France, and honoring the memory and legacy of Václav Havel is to be unveiled. It is certain to be as spectacular as the book itself.

2012-11-27-Pozvankanaslavnostniodhaleni_VI.jpg

Also at Huffington Post including a slideshow with some illustrations from the book.


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15. The Night Before Hallowe'en...

An urgent message from Dave McKean, who is making a low-budget film called LUNA right now:

I urgently need 2 white paper origami crabs to appear in a scene in Luna, like this one:
http://db.origami.com/displayphoto.asp?ModelID=2244
if anyone is willing to make them and send them to the UK straight away, I can pay a small fee to cover time (or a signed drawing or book?), give them a name check in the final credits, and give them a fedex account number for shipping.

Go to the FAQ page if you're an Origami whizz (and I know there are Origami whizzes out there, as I get given amazing things at signings) and drop me a line, and I'll put you straight in touch with Dave. Who will probably soon be drowning in Origami crabs.

Went in to Hair Police today and saw Wendy who turned the strange messy mop that my hair had turned into into a rather nice haircut. From there to Dreamhaven where I signed lots of stuff for Elizabeth and the www.neilgaiman.net site, including a half a ton of Absolute Sandman Volume 2s. As I drove home Roger Avary called to let me know that he's reopening his website after a couple of years without one -- http://www.avary.com/.

Then to Maddy's Parent Teacher conference. She's doing wonderfully at school, and got an impressive report card -- which, for the first time ever, she really had to work for, as she came to the UK for the Stardust premiere and having lost a week of schoolwork. (She's coming to LA with me for the Beowulf premiere, but is only missing one school day to do it.)

And then home. Opened the copy of Bust I'd picked up at DreamHaven (officially I get it for my assistant Lorraine, but I always read it first -- sort of like when I'd pick up a copy of Bunty for my sisters as a boy), and found myself staring at an unexpected advert for the Good Omens and Stardust scents from BPAL. Which reminded me that I had meant to congratulate the amazing Beth, who is the mind (and the nose) behind BPAL -- and a woman who has raised an enormous amount of money for the CBLDF this year -- on her wedding.

(And if you haven't looked at the CBLDF site recently -- http://www.cbldf.org/ -- Gordon Lee goes to trial on Monday. Finally. After three years, two completely different sets of "facts", and $80,000 in legal bills so far for something that should never have been a police matter in the first place... http://www.cbldf.org/articles/archives/000318.shtml for the story so far.)

Lots and lots and lots and lots of emails from people telling me that Marmite can be found all over America, normally beside the baking supplies (probably because of the word Yeast). I don't think I'm going to need Marmite again for another couple of years now, but than you all for the info.

(first time question!)

I've just heard from a friend who was quite annoyed. He met this famous UK author while the author was doing research on his latest book - and the author used my friend's anecdote as quite a major plot device in the book. However, my friend wasn't asked for permission or acknowledged in any way.

Has this ever happened to you (in the opposite direction of course)? I'd think there'd be lots of stories you've been told bubbling in your mind, and sometimes you wouldn't even realize that a story has been told to you by someone else. Would you contact someone if you were using a story of theirs?

I try reasonably hard to credit people who helped (see the very long list of names at the back of American Gods) but find it hard to find fault with the author in question. Authors are packrats. If you tell us an anecdote -- unless you preface it with "I am about to tell you an amusing and/or interesting anecdote. Should you at some future time use it in a book you will need to contact me to obtain my permission, or at least credit me by name. I shall now tell you the anecdote and then give you my contact details in a form in which you won't lose them," -- then it's fair game. I think our attitude -- I don't speak for all of us, but enough -- is that if your friend thought his anecdote would have made a good book, he should have written it himself.

I don't know the names of the people who took me down the sewers or into the disused tube tunnels when I was doing Neverwhere, but their anecdotes certainly made it into the book. I didn't give the name of the financially dodgy agent whose interesting approach to paying over royalties inspired the character and behaviour of Graham Coats in Anansi Boys either (probably a wise move, that). And, as you say, very often you know someone told you that Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria obtained a doctor's note to get out of being married, but who it was or when has melted down in the compost heap in the back of your mind to the brown sludge of memory. It's like remembering jokes, and who told them to you. The shape is now there in your mind, and you know the punch line is "Two coffees and a choc ice," but how it entered your head is a mystery.

(And it's worth pointing out your friend might be wrong. I get letters sometimes from people saying "You got this from me." And the people who send the letters believe it, but it's not the case. I find myself replying "Actually, I wrote this four years before you wrote your story," or "I understand you think I got this from something you said. Actually the entire story was in this newspaper on this date, and that was where I got it from.")

Having said all that, I'm also really sympathetic to your friend. Many years ago I was on a panel where I said "I'm going to write a book called X," and no-one laughed longer or louder than the bloke next to me on the panel who, eleven months later, brought out a book with the title I'd mentioned. I was in a conversation with another author who mentioned being stuck on a plot thing, and I said "Oh, that's an easy one," and made a suggestion, and suggested a title for the book for good measure, and he said "I owe you lunch for that one," but I scanned the acknowledgements in vain looking for a thank you when the book came out, and didn't get a lunch out of it either. And conversely I have fuzzy warm feelings for all those people who wrote books and actually did say thank you, and used their acknowledgments to acknowledge.

...

After a long day, i got "your" love letter that the new york times sent out. It was rather funny and made me laugh a lot.(was even funnier trying to explain to my roomate that it wasnt a real love letter)Did you have anything to do with the writting of those love letter? Or did the new york times write them without the help of the varies authors? Do you know if every one got the same letter? Just curious, thanks.

Yes, everyone got the same letter (it's the UK Times, by the way, not the New York one). And yes, I wrote it. (Really, it's a short story.) The day before me people got one from Margaret Atwood. Today, I think it's Leonard Cohen. I think you can still sign up for the last three... http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/commercial/article2623706.ece

...

Finally -- this gave me a warm and happy smile.... http://papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/30/when-the-wolves-come-out-of-the-walls-its-all-over/

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16. Citizen Journalist Mayhill Fowler: Breaking the Rules or Fixing the Press

As news of Hillary Rodham Clinton's impending concession filters through the Internets today, I think all webby journalists should be thinking about one person. Mayhill Fowler.

"Who?" you may ask. This 61-year-old citizen journalist has followed the campaign all season for The Huffington Post, and she is single-handedly changing the way the rest of this presidential campaign will be reported.

Last night, Fowler recorded former President Bill Clinton saying some off-the-cuff remarks that became breaking news this morning. Earlier this year, Fowler reported some comments that Barack Obama made at a fundraiser. Both times, she went to places where reporters don't usually report, and she made national headlines.

Citizen journalists like Fowler have been ignored and ridiculed for years--and nobody ever expected them to make news. Now they are, and all writers should pay attention. Jay Rosen summed it all up a few months ago. All the rules have changed, and reporters of all stripes need to figure out what to do about it:

"Michael Tomasky of the Guardian thinks we broke the rules, emphasis on “the.” Or that Gawker gawked. We’re in uncharted territory here. Descriptor languages missing. People get mad when they don’t know what to call things. Mad or daft."

What do you think? Is Fowler breaking the rules? Or fixing a broken press?

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17. Ypulse Essentials: Oscars Target Tweens, Lifetime's Identity Crisis, Should Parents Worry About Google Buzz?

Oscars target tweens (recruiting stars like Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart to serve as presenters at this year's show. Also Comedy Central revives the "Def Comedy Jam" spirit enlisting Russell Simmons to debut a new... Read the rest of this post

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18. Odds and Bookends: February 26

Quest for Olympic knowledge stirs reading enthusiasm
A Frederick, Maryland Elementary School is using Olympic excitement to incent students to read.

The Most Amazing Libraries In The World Part Two
The Huffington Post features a slideshow of  the “Most Amazing Libraries In the World Part Two” as a follow up to part one from last month. Check out the amazing photos of some incredible libraries!

The joys of bookshop browsing

Sam Jordison comments that “searching real shelves is the most satisfying way to find literary treasures – but can it survive the rise of Amazon and ebooks?”

Oddest book title prize pits worm hunter’s afterthoughts against Nazi spoons
Check out the shortlist for this year’s Diagram prize for the oddest book title, which includes Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter and Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich.

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19. The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud: Canadian book publishers join forces to rush a new edition of Giller Prize-winning novel

A quickly assembled home team in the Canadian book publishers industry has claimed victory over the so-called “Toronto multinational book factories” with a deal to bring out another 40,000 copies of The Sentimentalists, Johanna Skibsrud’s largely unavailable, Giller Prize-winning novel.

Under the terms negotiated between tiny Gaspereau Press of Nova Scotia and Vancouver-based publisher Douglas & McIntyre, the Friesens Corp. of Altona, Man., has agreed to print a new paperback edition by this Friday. “Because of the urgency of the situation, we will pull out all the stops,” Friesens sales manager Doug Symington said.

The deal brings “three proudly independent Canadian entities” together to solve the crisis that emerged when Skibsrud’s unheralded debut novel won Canada’s most prestigious literary award, according to publisher Scott McIntyre. “With our sales, marketing and distribution system onside, an exceptional novel will quickly reach the wide audience it deserves,” he added.

The books should be available for sale early next week, according to McIntyre. Printed in paperback with a pumped-up cover image and the signature red sticker of a Giller Prize winner (as well as the Douglas & MacIntyre Book Publisher imprint on the spine), they will sell for $19.95 compared with the original edition’s $27.95 cover price.

Booksellers snapped up the entire new edition within hours of its being announced, according to McIntyre, and Friesens is reserving paper stock to print another 20,000.

Gaspereau Press made headlines across the country last week when it turned away Toronto publishers eager to bring out more copies of the award-winning book, which it had hand-printed in an edition of 800 copies and was reproducing at a rate of 1,000 copies a week even after it won the award. But even as the company attempted to justify the go-slow approach, calling the Giller win “an interesting opportunity to slow the world down a hair and let people realize that good books don’t go stale,” Gaspereau co-publisher Andrew Steeves was negotiating a new deal with Douglas & McIntyre.

“D&M had always been my back-pocket doomsday scenario,” Steeves said yesterday, adding, “I was as surprised as anyone when we actually won.” He added that the company will continue producing its deluxe edition with a wrapper printed on a hand-cranked letterpress.

Both publishers emphasized the advantage of the new deal to Skibsrud, who had remained quiet last week while her publisher vowed not to compromise its principles by selling large quantities of her novel to an eager public.

It was patience well rewarded, the author wrote yesterday in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail from Istanbul, where she is vacationing. Admitting that she “doesn’t have much knowledge or interest in the business end of things,” Skibsrud said she was “so glad that a solution has been arrived at that allows the books to be distributed widely without sacrificing any of Gaspereau Press’s practices and ideals, which make them so unique and special to work with.”

Even Friesens, a $70-million, can-do book manufacturer, is sympathetic with the Nova Scotians. “I get where they’re coming from and I can also somewhat understand the Toronto-versus-the-rest-of-the-world mentality that they’re showing,” Symington said, adding that Friesens and Gaspereau are a good philosophical fit.

“We’ve been around for 103 years, we’re employee-owned, we’re a privately held company, so all the staff out here has a high concern and a high regard for books,” he said. “We’re big, but we’re not so big, so to speak.”

The book is such a “cause célèbre it will just shoot out of the gate,” McIntyre predicted, saying that opinion on the matter

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20. Singapore jails author for criminal defamation book attacking country’s judicial system

A 76-year-old British writer has been jailed for six weeks in Singapore after the High Court found him guilty of contempt of court over a book that raised questions about the independence of the judicial system.

Alan Shadrake, who lives in Malaysia, had refused to apologise for the content of his book, Once a Jolly Hangman, which deals with the use of the death penalty in the island state.

Mr Shadrake had offered to apologise for offending the judiciary before being convicted two weeks ago, but Justice Quentin Loh ruled that his book had scandalised the court.

He said Mr Shadrake had shown “a reckless disregard for the truth” and “a complete lack of remorse”. The defendant had contended that the book amounted to “fair criticism on matters of compelling public interest”.

At a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Mr Shadrake was also fined S$20,000 (US$15,400) and ordered to pay costs of S$55,000. The prison sentence was lighter than the 12-week term sought by the prosecution.

M. Ravi, Mr Shadrake’s lawyer, had urged the court to censure the author rather than imprison him. “This is by far the most serious sentence [for contempt]. It is the harshest punishment so far [for this offence in Singapore],” Mr Ravi said.

Mr Shadrake was arrested in his hotel room after travelling to Singapore to publicise the book in July. The Singapore authorities have said that charges of criminal defamation are also being considered.

Overseas human rights campaigners condemned the proceedings. Phil Robertson, deputy director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Singapore was “damaging its poor reputation on free expression by shooting the messenger bearing bad news”.

The Singapore authorities have robustly dismissed claims that the courts discriminate against individuals on grounds of nationality, background or status.

Ministers are unapologetic about restrictions on free speech, however, which they say are essential to prevent conflicts between the prosperous island’s mainly Chinese, Indian and Malay population groups.

K. Shanmugam, the law minister, said in a speech in New York two weeks ago that Singapore’s “small society” could not withstand the impact of US-style media freedoms.

“For example, the faultlines in our society, along racial and religious lines, can easily be exploited,” he told an audience at Columbia University.

Singapore’s controls on expression include a state-supervised and mainly state-owned media, tough libel laws and restrictions on street gatherings of more than four people.

Mr Shanmugam questioned the objectivity of organisations such as Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based press freedom organisation, and Freedom House, a US group that campaigns for civil liberties.

RWB ranks Singapore 136th in the world for press freedom, below Iraq and Zimbabwe, while Freedom House has angered Singapore by ranking it below Guinea, where more than 150 anti-government protesters were last year killed during a rally.

“I suspect that our rankings are at least partly due to the fact that we take an uncompromising attitude on libel – and the fact that we have taken on almost every major newspaper company [in the world],” Mr Shanmugam said.

Singapore, with a population of 5m, also imposes heavy penalties on criminal offenders, including caning for violence and vandalism, and the death penalty for murder and drug trafficking. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

21. It's That Man Again... Celia Rees


Lucy Coats has already blogged (Wednesday, 9th Feb) about the remarks that Martin Amis made when he was interviewed by Sebastian Faulks for the BBC 2 programme, Faulks on Fiction. Her blog has attracted 60 comments and the outrage felt has resonated as far as the national press and the Huffington Post. Martin Amis, as the Guardian on Saturday pointed out, is no stranger to controversy.

I, too, saw the programme and after the first dropping of the jaw, I thought that he actually had a point. Just in case anybody doesn't know, or does not want to scroll down the page and see his words in purple 18 point type, he said:

'People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say: "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book."'

So far, so insulting. He then went on to say:

'The idea of being conscious of who you are directing the story to is anathema to me because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable. I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.'

Once I heard that, I could see where he was coming from. I did not think he was saying 'all children's writers have half a brain', that would be false logic. He was just explaining his own writing stance and he is entitled to do that. He writes literary fiction for adults, as such he sees it as his task to write to the top of his register and would not, could not accept any restraints on that.

The disregard for the reader that Amis expresses is just not possible when one is writing for children. Children's writers, and I include writers of Young Adult fiction, are ALWAYS aware of what their readers will and will not tolerate, or will or will not understand. Anyone who denies this is being disingenuous. Quite apart from the target readers themselves, there are other agencies involved. We have to worry about things that would not trouble writers of adult fiction in the least - see Leslie Wilson's blog below. How many writers for adults would feel the need to explain and justify their use of swear words or the incidence of sex in a novel? How much we take these factors into consideration, how much we allow them to limit our fiction, is up to us, but those limitations are there. We do not use our full palate, as Patrick Ness would say. How can we? We have to write at a lower register because we are adults and our readers are children.

There are other pressures on us, too. Pressures that have nothing to do with our writing but everything to do with the market place. In a squeezed market, there is more and more demand from publishers for novels that will sell. Books that fit into an obvious, popular genre - action, dark romance, whatever. A book that is perceived as 'too literary' is seen as problematic. The equivalent of the literary novel is a rare beast, and becoming more endangered by the minute. If one or two do sneak through, they usually turn out to have been written for adults in the first place and tweaked a bit in a bid to capture that holy grail, the crossover market.

In an interview in the Observer Review (13th February, 2011)) Nicole Krauss attests that the comment she heard most frequently on a U.S. book tour for her novel, The History of Love, was: 'this book is difficult'. Krauss worries that 'we are moving towards the end of effort'. Readers don't want to have to think too hard, it appears, whatever their age. That is the spectre that frightens me. In the hope of keeping that at bay, I actually want Martin Amis to write to the limit

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22. POETRY FRIDAY: Shel Silverstein

Hopefully all of you heard the buzz yesterday about the title and cover reveal at The Huffington Post for the new collection of poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, EVERY THING ON IT.  Here’s the fabulous cover:

It is on-sale September 20, 2011.

To celebrate the reveal and next month’s celebration of poetry, it makes sense to share a Shel poem today.  This is a poem that I actually recited in a poetry competition in fifth grade so it has a special place in my heart – it’s a personal favorite:

SICK
by Shel Silverstein

“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more – that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut, my eyes are blue –
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke –
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button’s caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb,
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is — what?
What’s that?  What’s that you say?
You say today is…Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play!”

I found that hilarious in fifth grade…but, even as adults, don’t we all want to claim all these illnesses to get a day off work!  Still hilarious.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

“Sick” from WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION
by Shel Silverstein
ISBN  9780060572341

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23. On the Books Mar. 30: Man Booker Prize longlist announced, book suggesting Gandhi’s bisexuality banned

The U.K.-based Man Booker International Prize released its longlist to book publishers of 13 finalists for the 2011 award yesterday, but only 12 care to be considered; John Le Carré rejected the nod, offering up an explanation that amounts to little more than “I prefer not to.” Included on the list are three American authors–Anne Tyler, Philip Roth, and Marilynne Robinson–and for the first time, two Chinese writers, Wang Anyi and Su Tong. The award, worth $94,000, is given every other year based on an author’s entire body of work. With christian book publishers informed, the winner will be awarded at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on May 18 and will be feted on June 28 in London.

The assembly of Gujarat, a western Indian state, voted unanimously to ban Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph Lelyveld’s new book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India. The controversy began over early reviews out of the U.S. and U.K. highlighting passages insinuating that Gandhi had a possible intimate relationship with a German man named Hermann Kallenbach. More bans are pending in India, where homosexuality was illegal until 2009.

Simon & Schuster announced it would publish a book of James Garner’s memoir The Garner Files on Nov. 8, 2011. In a press release, Garner saiid, “I’ve avoided writing a book until now because I feel like I’m really pretty average and I didn’t  think anyone would care about my life.”

The most difficult readers to reach are, without question, teenage boys–especially teenage boys from poor, urban neighborhoods. But Paul Langan, a 39-year-old white man from the suburbs of New Jersey, has found a way to tap into the market of “black and Latino urban middle and high school students who are struggling readers.” The Bluford series covers topics like fighting, bullies, and drug dealing, which for many of the young readers constitutes “everyday-life situations.”

Gun- and baby-toting woman of action Angelina Jolie will be getting the comic book treatment. It sounds like it’ll be a realistic, biographical take on her life, but Jolie as a full-fledged action hero sounds so much more interesting. Radioactive lips? Brood of toddler sidekicks? Yes, please.

How do writers deal with bad reviews? Not always well, especially when blogging is involved.

What would you give for this stunning reader’s retreat, a library in the woods? It makes me feel cozy and contemplative just looking at it. Not to mention really, really rich.

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24. Exclusive Interview with Michael Chabon!

With villain names like Professor Von Evil and the Flaming Eyeball, how can you not be dying to read Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon’s debut picture book THE ASTONISHING SECRET OF AWESOME MAN, illustrated by Jake Parker?  With short text and plenty of derring-do action (take a peek inside), this picture book will be a favorite of kids who love comics, as well as kids in your storytime programs.

In its starred review, School Library Journal said “the depiction of a showdown between Awesome Man and his nemesis-the Flaming Eyeball-is priceless. Readers may notice that there’s a moral peeking out from Awesome Man’s cape, but they’ll still grab this story in their ‘ginormous Awesome Power Grip’ and not let go.”

Monica Edinger (of Educating Alice and Huffington Post fame) recently had the chance to interview Michael Chabon himself!  Here’s how the conversation went:

Photo by Jennifer Chaney

From reading your Pulitzer Prize-winning adult novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, fans probably know you have a long-term relationship with superhero comics.  Can you give us a taste of your own childhood introduction to them and how that might have inspired this story of Awesome Man?

Well, of course I remember seeing Batman and the first animated Spider-Man show on television when I was very small… but my first true plunge into the world of superheroes came through the comic books that my father began to bring home for me, as soon as I could read. He had grown up reading them himself, and felt they were an important part of a kid’s education.

You clearly revel in language and names — Professor Von Evil, Moskowitz the Awesome Dog, positrons, and…pooped (and what kid doesn’t like saying “pooped!”).  As an adult author known for reveling in words and language, how did you manage to balance that with the need to keep things relatively simple for a picture book audience?

I was really thinking about the parents here–how much it meant to me, when I was reading a book aloud to my children for the 33832nd time, if there was a little verve or snap to the language. Probably the all time champ, in that regard–to me, at least–is William Steig. Nobody used English, in kids’ books, the way he did.

You have children of your own — were they helpful in the creation of this book?

I wrote this book for my younger son (I have two, and two daughters), Abe. He was the direct inspiration, in every way, for the main character of AWESOME MAN.

Are you a reader of children’s books yourself and if so, what are some of your favorites?

One of the greatest, and most lasting, pleasures of having children, for me, has been the excuse and the opportunity that bedtime reading has given me to revisit, and re-relish (usually), so many of the books I loved a

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25. 10 Greatest Kisses in Literature

In honor of Valentine’s day, The Huffington Post has compiled a list of the 10 best kisses in literature. From the romantic (Gone with the Wind) to the creepy (Lolita and Humbert) to the the innocent (Callie’s first kiss with her friend Clementine in Middlesex,)  this list has a little of bit of everything for everyone.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to all the book lovers out there!

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