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Where to begin with how important Harriet the Spy has been in my life? I guess I’ll have to start with my childhood. I was in fourth grade, at a school book fair. I’d forgotten to bring money that day, which was a problem because there was one book I was desperate to have. It had a bright orange cover with bold yellow type and a girl wearing glasses climbing all over it. And somehow I knew I was going to love it and I had to read it. AND IT WAS THE ONLY COPY AT THE FAIR. So I did what any right-thinking person would do under the circumstances: I hid it. Specifically, I put it at the bottom of a pile of very drippy-looking books (I’m guessing they were Winnie-the-Pooh; I detested Winnie-the-Pooh back then) and kept my fingers crossed that no one would find it and I could buy it the next day. Which I did. And Harriet has been a part of my life ever since.
It occurs to me now that this is probably the sort of thing Harriet herself would have done in a similar situation. And that in turn tells you why she’s a character who has endured for so long. She’s resourceful, quick, a little unscrupulous, and entirely recognizable. A real person, in other words. You might not like her (and I’m still not sure I do), but you know this girl.
That school book fair was the first time I remember Harriet being important to me. The second time came much later. I was a young assistant editor, starting out in children’s books. I’d been promoted and assigned a mass market series to edit. It was a steady-selling series for the publisher, and I was excited to be working on something so substantial. Needless to say, I took my responsibilities very seriously. This manuscript was going to be IN PRINT, after all. It was going to be a book! It had to be good! The future of the nation’s youth and the success of the series were resting on my shoulders alone! (I’m exaggerating just a bit, but I really did feel this way.) Unfortunately, the manuscript was about the worst thing I’d ever read. I couldn’t even articulate why it was so awful, but it was complete dreck, and I had to fix it. Or at least make it readable and enjoyable enough to sell ten thousand copies. And I had absolutely no idea how to do this.
Okay, I said to myself. Think about some other books, books you love. What makes them so great? That’s when I remembered Harriet. And I went back and read it — really read it, this time. I took it apart, technically. I began to understand how good it is. And even though the manuscript I was working on was a YA book and Harriet was a middle-grade novel, I learned things from Harriet about dialogue, structure, character, action, and pacing that I was able to apply, in a different way, to the problematic manuscript I had to edit. Harriet saved my bacon that time, and also made me think about books and reading and writing in a new way. It’s actually ironic that Harriet helped me edit a conventional YA romance, because Harriet is the complete opposite of that; it is in fact a wildly subversive novel. Which of course only makes me love it more.
What’s so revolutionary about it? Let’s start with the fact that Harriet is not a nice little girl. She does illegal things when she spies. If she doesn’t actually break into Mrs. Agatha K. Plumber’s house, for instance, she comes pretty close. She writes terrible things about people — not just the people she spies on, but also her best friends. The thing is, she’s not doing it because she’s mean (although she certainly has her mean moments). She’s doing it because she’s honest and because she’s compelled to do it. The note-taking is part of who she is, what she is training herself to be: a writer and observer. It’s work, and she takes it very seriously. And her friends accept this about her, even after she hurts them with her brutally honest observations. They know she can’t change. Even when she’s forced to apologize, she does it out of practical necessity, because she wants to keep her friends, not because she really means it. And then she goes back to doing exactly what she was doing before. She hasn’t changed one bit, and her friends know it.
Just think about all of this! It’s a giant raspberry to the school of thought that says, A-character-in-a-children’s-book-must-change-and-grow-throughout-the-course-of-the-story. Or to the school that says, A-character-must-be-essentially-good-and-lovable. In fact, any rules or precepts or cutesy-poo ideas you might have had about children’s books fly right out the window when you read Harriet the Spy. There is no great moral lesson to be learned, no transformative change that happens to the protagonist. Above all, there is no tidiness. Harriet is real life in all its messiness and ambiguity, populated by real people who are also messy and ambiguous.
There is yet another reason to love Harriet, and it’s another editorial story, this one about its origin. In the book Dear Genius, the great Ursula Nordstrom, the visionary editor at Harper & Row during its golden era, writes about how Harriet the Spy came to be published. It all started with a reader’s report from Charlotte Zolotow, who was then a senior editor, urging Ursula to read the manuscript. “You have to get this writer to come in and talk. This isn’t a book, but it could be,” she wrote enthusiastically. And on what did she base her enthusiasm? Pages of Louise Fitzhugh’s drawings and disconnected narrative, which seemed to consist mostly of Harriet’s spy entries. Somehow Charlotte was able to see past this jumble of words and envision a book. She and Ursula worked with the author and helped her find the characters and story that became Harriet.
In this age of acquiring manuscripts from debut authors that have to be perfect or nearly perfect to be signed on, I find this story to be an inspiration, and most of all a reminder: you have to keep an open mind about the creative process. It’s messy and unpredictable and risky. But the rewards of taking that leap of faith are boundless.
Just read Harriet again and see.
From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
The post Harriet and Me appeared first on The Horn Book.
- "Frederick Douglass appealing to President Lincoln and his cabinet to enlist Negroes," mural by William Edouard Scott, at the Recorder of Deeds building, built in 1943.
- Highsmith, Carol M., 1946-, photographer
Last year, I reviewed a copy of Russell Freedman's, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). The story of their friendship and the "back story," was so interesting, that I thought it might make a good topic for a Black History Month program for younger children. I began searching for a way to communicate to a young library audience the connection between the history of African Americans and these two great men. In researching, I found that the founder of African American History Month (it was originally called Negro History Week), Dr. Carter G. Woodson, initiated this cultural celebration in 1926, and chose February because the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are both celebrated in February. (1)
I then discovered an earlier book, Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship
(Henry Holt, 2008), that recounts the friendship but targets a younger audience. Even better, it has a companion DVD. So, I planned a Lincoln and Douglass birthday celebration, featuring the Lincoln and Douglass picture book and an explanation of the founding of Black History Month. Perfect, right?
Well, not quite. In reading Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship
, I found several discrepancies. As it turns out, the timeline included in the picture book's back matter is correct, but some dates within the book's narrative are not. For example, Freedman's thoroughly researched book has the initial meeting of Lincoln and Douglass as a central theme. The picture book gets the date wrong. Though the picture book still has merit and will be useful to introduce Douglass and Lincoln to a young audience, I can also use it as a teaching moment. Always check to see that a book has been properly researched if you plan to use it as a representation of factual material.
Oddly, the same thing happened to me last year. I sketch out my programs many months in advance to satisfy printing and publicity deadlines. I fill the details in later. Last year, I offered a Black History Month program on Follow the Drinking Gourd
(Knopf, 1988). While investigating resources, I found that the story, while well-known and generally accepted, is more folk legend than truth. (2)
Again, the story is not without merit and I was again able to use it as a teaching moment. Besides the obvious lesson, we looked at ways in which to read the stars without a compass.
I understand narrative license. I understand that it's particularly useful in treatments of difficult topics for younger children. I also understand, however, that there is a concerted effort by our nation's leaders to raise a new generation of critical thinkers, and to achieve that end, the use of nonfiction books will rise dramatically. It is up to us as librarians, teachers, caregivers and parents to discern fact from fiction, even when the line between them may be indistinct. In doing so, we will help children to navigate a world where information is everywhere for the taking, but truth must be mined.
Today's Nonfiction Monday
roundup is at Apples with Many Seeds
And don't forget, February is a perfect time to head over to The Brown Bookshelf
; each day in February will feature a different artist in this annual celebration of Black History Month and children's literature.(1) Library of Congress, "African American History Month"http://www.loc.gov/law/help/commemorative-observations/african-american.php (Douglass' actual birthdate is not known conclusively)(2) Follow the Drinking Gourdhttp://www.followthedrinkinggourd.org/
Photo: Miler Lagos, Book Igloo
Earlier this week the American Library Association announced their 2013 Youth Media awards, sparking immediate discourse on Twitter and listserv about the winners and honorees. Being Australian leads to some unfamiliarity with these American titles, however I found myself reading the thoughts of many American librarians. Their arguments were scarily familiar– the notion of literary quality versus teen appeal.
Is the priority in these awards to recognise the best writer? Awards committees have an established list of guidelines in which to follow – it makes sense that a title’s literary qualities are more easily quantifiable. A writing award should go to the best writer. Good writing elevates young adult literature. However, in arguing for the best piece of literature, we sometimes eliminate books that resonate more strongly with teen readers.
Many librarians expressed dismay that some of the awarded titles would gather dust on their bookshelves despite vigorous booktalking and elaborate displays. Which begs the question – is the concept of quality made null and void if there is no hunger for what is being awarded?
Many readers read books that are the equivalent of Fruit Loops while growing up, yet will move onto works of literary genius. Some readers like to dally in each end of the reading pool, some like the deep end, some do laps churning through everything. Teens know what quality is. They just prefer it when quality is also enjoyable to read.
It is nigh on impossible to sell a book to a teen if it doesn’t sell itself. Quality or not, there needs to be a plot or a concept that ignites a spark. Quality isn’t a selling point to a teen and this is something we need to remember as adults. We might be over paranormal or dystopia, they aren’t. We might choose to reference Ferris Bueller in order to spark their interest, they probably haven’t heard of it. At some point, we need to divest ourselves from the equation.
While teens are represented in the title of an award, they should also be a part of the award criteria. Young adult literature is for teens. That should count for something. While we have a vested interest in cultivating taste, and having teens read about social injustice and inclusivity – sometimes teens just want to read what they want to read.
While quality is important, so is the teen reader’s engagement with reading. There are many authors who achieve this, John Green’s Looking for Alaska, Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon, or Markus Zusak’s The Messenger. I am cautious of award winning books that have an “issue” clearly stated in the blurb. Good writing for teens isn’t about an issue, it’s about living, loving and surviving. It’s about bravery, and yearning, and sacrifice. It’s about growing and changing, not learning. It’s about feelings, emotions and the every day difficulties of ping ponging between who you are and who you want to be. It’s these books, without social agenda, that connect. It’s these books that fulfill teenage readers.
Quality in youth literature should represent exceptional writing, emotional awareness and a representation of a young person’s experience through an authentic gaze. Some people will read this and believe I am a proponent of dumbing down teen’s reading. This is not true.
Every year the Centre for Youth Literature hosts the Inky Awards, a teen’s choice award. Teens have a strong voice in the longlist of ten Australian and International titles, and are primarily responsible for the shortlist and the ultimate winner. The adults who oversee the teen judging panel usually approach the task assuming the teens will choose along popularity, quality-lite books. They come away knowing they are wrong, and reevaluate their thoughts on teen readers and their perceptiveness. Previous Inky winners, as decided by teens, have included John Green, James Roy, Simmone Howell, Jenny Downham and Lucy Christopher Teens have taste, and quality ones at that, so why is teen appeal so often dismissed as popularity?
Why are adults deciding what is quality teen literature? Where are all the judging panels that have teens sitting alongside librarians or teachers? Often awards from teens are separated from the big awards. Where is the teen representation for the Printz, The Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year or Prime Minister’s Literary Awards? If awards are for teen literature, shouldn’t the audience be represented?
Adele Walsh is the Program Coordinator for the Centre for Youth Literature promoting ways and means to encourage young people to read for pleasure. Adele is an avid YA reader and advocate, and a successful YA blogger (Persnickety Snark). She has previously worked as a teacher in Australia, and Japan.
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|By In Helmolt, H.F., ed. History of the World. |
New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1902.
Author unknown, [Public domain or Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Whether you're a school media specialist, a public librarian, a parent or a teacher,
if you know children over the age of 7, you're familiar with "the biography assignment." It comes around every year, and depending one's perspective, it may be a source of excitement, drudgery, irritation, disappointment, interest, or a mixture of all.
Some thoughts on "the biography assignment"Children need to understand the difference between an autobiography and a biography.
Many students arrive at the library insistent that their teacher has assigned an autobiography and a biography will not suffice. I always try to comply with their request, however, there are few autobiographies written for children, though if the child is slightly older, I will always recommend Jon Scieszka's, Knucklehead (
hands down, the best and funniest autobiography for children). For older kids, Walter Dean Myers and Gary Paulsen have both written excellent memoirs. In most cases, the teacher will accept either an autobiography or a biography, but children don't always realize that.Graphic novels biographies are perfect in certain circumstances and I wish more people would give them a try.
A reluctant reader might love Terry Collins', King of Pop: The Story of Michael Jackson,
or any title from the American Graphic Biography Collection, or other similar offerings. Just because they have panels, that doesn't make them less true, less valuable, less informative.Picture book biographies are not just for very young children - in fact, seldom are.
There are so
many wonderful and informative picture book biographies. I urge teachers to read a few and give them a chance. Demi's books are not only informative, but beautiful and evocative - Marco Polo,
for example is simply stunning. Or how about Bill The Boy Wonder
by Marc Tyler Nobleman? Or Michelle Markel's, The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau
? I could go on for days ...The most important thing to look for in a biography is veracity.
Are there source notes, back matter, photo credits, suggestions for additional reading - in short, all of the things that indicate the author has thoroughly researched the subject? Has the author taken "artistic license?" That's not necessarily a bad thing, however, older students should be trained to look for it.
The point is, I understand the dictates of local, state and national policies on what must be taught to children, however, within the parameters of those dictates, there is, hopefully, some room for flexibility - some leeway for children to choose different formats, different topics, different means of delivery. To this day, I don't like the poetry of Percy Bysse Shelley. Why? Because when I was in grammar school, I wanted to do my "famous poet" report on Edgar Allen Poe. I was forced to choose Percy Bysse Shelley. I've long forgotten that teacher's name, and I still don't like Shelley. In another year, a wonderful teacher allowed me to choose Edgar Allen Poe. Her name was Ms. Romano and I still read Poe from time to time. See how it works?
When the biography assignment rolls around, keep your options open!
One more thing:
I haven't had one in hand yet, but Abdo Publishing has a new series of Children's Author biographies.
Tell me what young boy given a biography assignment would not want to choose, Dav Pilkey
Blog: Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them!
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photo by armin_vogel from Flickr
When the news started coming out about the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy, many of us have been reacting strongly on social media sites and sharing in the disbelief that something so horrible could happen in an elementary school in an idyllic New England town. We have watched the stories of sadness and heroism on the news. We know that children at Sandy Hook Elementary, who should never ever witness terrible violence, saw things that as adults we cannot even imagine. People have started debating gun control and mental health care. I decided that what I wanted to say was too long for a Facebook post; and I wanted to share it with the teachers, librarians, and homeschoolers who read my blog, so here are some thoughts on this unusual Sunday post.
After 9/11, we didn’t feel safe. How could we? People didn’t want to fly. They didn’t want to go on a subway or train. Even a bus seemed frightening. People didn’t want to leave home or go to national monuments. But somehow, we got over it; and now we do all of these things again and most of them without fear. Why? I believe it’s because of the security that we now have at airports–the very security we complain about when we are running late for our plane or traveling with a tired and hungry toddler. But it’s the very security that makes me feel safe to travel. When I go to the Arch in my hometown of St. Louis, I’ve complained about standing outside in the heat or cold, while waiting to go through the metal detectors or have my purse AND diaper bag checked. But I am thankful that the security now exists. I can go to the Arch and have fun with my family.
We need to feel like our schools are safe–just like airports and national monuments. To me, a new security system and REQUIRED safety policies are what we need to implement in EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL as well as money for more counselors–especially in the high schools. To feel safe in schools, we need new policies, and they need to be strict like airport security. Stop debating gun control (although I do question why any American needs a permit for a semi-automatic weapon?) and mental health care (although I agree it is extremely expensive to get help for mental illness), and start focusing on new policies. REGULATE and GIVE MONEY to schools, so they can protect our children.
EVERY school needs an entrance where after school starts, a person–teacher, parent, custodian, principal, student–has to be LET IN by someone already in the school. I’ve been at schools who have been able to do this. You open the front door and a camera greets you as well as a locked door. You push a button. The secretary sees you, and you state your purpose. If the secretary thinks you are all right, then she lets you into the school. And obviously one thing we are learning from Newtown, where something like this was in place, is that the glass needs to be thick and hard to break at the entrance, if possible.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not blaming any school security. I worked in schools. I was briefed on what to do with my students if a shooter came into the room after Columbine. We had a code word if we needed to protect our students. I still go into schools as a children’s author; and most of the time, only one door is unlocked. But I can walk in that door and walk right past the office where I am supposed to check in as a visitor. These schools are doing the best they can to protect their students, and they need MONEY to create more security, which is what we are going to need. I think at least all middle schools and high schools need to put in metal detectors–again we need money for this. I know we don’t want to go to school in a “prison,” but we are beyond that now. Did you watch the news this morning? Besides Newtown, there was another man shooting bullets in a busy mall parking lot and an 18-year-old arrested for planning a shooting at his high school.
We can’t let this tragedy stop us from going places. Our children still need to go to school. We need to go shopping at a mall. We need to watch our kids at their basketball game or gymnastics meet. But we need to stay safe, and I think the only way to do that is to implement policies in our schools like officials and legislators did in our airports after 9/11.
One last thought–I remember being scared to death to go to school and teach on 9/12/2001. The faculty had a brief meeting with our counselor before we were turned loose to our students. I taught fifth grade at the time, and these students WANTED to talk about what happened. They NEEDED to talk about what happened. The way I approached it was I put on the board when they walked in: Something terrible happened yesterday. If you would like to write about it in your journal, please do. If you would like to write about something else, feel free. If you would rather read, that’s a great choice. Then when I started class, I asked students to tell me what they knew or if they had any questions. This started a wonderful discussion that I will never forget, including this question, “Is a plane going to hit our school and kill us?”
Imagine what kids are thinking about tomorrow then–I encourage you to let them talk if they need to and use the resources around the web to figure out how to talk to them. Here’s a link I found: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/12/newtown-school-shootings-kids-fears
Peace to you.
And they said we wouldn't last!
Today, in case your Muggle calendar is broken, is five years since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Five years ago most, if not all of us were huddled over new, magical pages as we discovered the last secrets of the Harry Potter saga.
Since that time, we have been faced with questions and demands from people who know us less well than we know ourselves. What will you do? What's next? Where is the Harry Potter fandom going when it's over? I don't know about you, but I am tired of those people and those questions. We come from the age before, and are part of the age after, the glorification of enthusiasm. Part of what made Harry such a story was that no one could believe young people could be that excited about anything, much less a book. For whatever reason, it was less cool then than it is now to geek out about that which you love. Harry Potter will always be an enormous part of that evolution. For all its forbearers, for every pop culture phenomenon that led into the enormous boom of enthusiasm by which the decade of Potter was marked, Harry was the first one to break through the jaded, resisting wall of people who could not be bothered. It was the first one to make those guys seem uncool.
A lot has changed since then, but the important things have not. We still love Harry Potter; we still read Harry Potter. But we're lovers of other things too. Other books. Other series. Movies. Music. Culture. By engaging with Harry as wholly and with so much intelligence and passion, we learned how best to express a fandom: with compassion and curiosity and creativity.
Now, geekery has become cool - nay, even hot. Showing your enthusiasm is expected. The age of being shocked that young people are obsessing over fiction, or writing their own versions of stories, or inventing music about their favorite characters, is over. It's time to unabashedly rejoice in the magic of story, and Harry Potter will always be part of why that's so very okay.
In five years from now, where will we be? Will some of us be reading the Harry Potter stories to our children? How many of us will be published novelists ourselves? Who, of those of you reading this right now, will create a TV series or movie that inspires its own fandom? When you see the unfailing joy, the unironic excitement, and clear-eyed ebullience that meaningful stories can inspire, we hope you'll think of Harry, and remember the time we all spent discovering such happiness together.
Leaky will still be here, helping chart the course. After all, a good story never dies.
Happy anniversary, everyone!
|Most likely to haunt award committees
||Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann
|Better luck next time
||Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke,
illustrated by Lauren Tobia
|Tragic and tragically overlooked
||America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell by Don Brown
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance
of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming
The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf
|Best Cold War book left out in the cold
||Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
|Best year-round Christmas book
(think of the money you’ll save!)
|The Money We’ll Save by Brock Cole
|Science made simple (youngest)
||Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes
|Science made simple (oldest)
||Feynman by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Leland Myrick
|Best animal survival stories
||Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Vicky White
Naamah and the Ark at Night by Susan
Campbell Bartoletti, illustrated by Holly Meade
|Best human survival stories
||Bluefish by Pat Schmatz
Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones
|Best swamp survival stories
||Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story
by Thomas F. Yezerski
Chime by Franny Billingsley
|Batteries not required
||Press Here by Hervé Tullet
American Sign Language (ASL) books for kids
As a general rule, unless I am under obligation to SLJ or LT, I don't write reviews of books that I don't like. The work of many committed people goes into the commercial publication of a book, and it would be the height of arrogance to assume that I am the best or only arbiter of good taste and quality. I offer my opinions here for the benefit of myself and those who may not have the time to read as extensively or expansively as I do. That being said, without referencing a particular book, I wish to offer a caveat regarding American Sign Language books for children.
I am very fortunate in that I work with a deaf woman who has been teaching me sign language for over a year. She and I often share books and discussion about deaf culture, ASL, and unrelatedly, our interest in star gazing. (We both loved Wonderstruck
Over the past few weeks, I've received numerous new ASL picture books at my branch. These recent additions depict ASL in simplistic drawings. This may make for a cute picture book, but the signs are nearly impossible to decipher and replicate with one's actual hands. Sign language is a fluid language. The required movements are very difficult to duplicate in pictures. If you must
rely on printed text and illustrations (which will
work fine for most
of the ASL alphabet), purchase or borrow books with photographs of hands rather than artistic renderings. A better suggestion, however, if you are seeking to teach ASL, is using one of the many kid-friendly DVDs, or YouTube tutorials. Purchasing books which rely on simple, hand-rendered illustrations of complex signs is, in my opinion, a waste of money. My co-worker did
use our new books to teach me something - the signs for "wrong picture." (I already knew the signs for "bad book.")
If you want to learn about deaf culture or ASL, check out the site for the National Association of the Deaf
, or the National Institutes of Health site
, or best of all, ask a deaf person.
That’s a hard one. I know the leading candidates—The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, A Wrinkle in Time, The High King, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. All books I loved as a child, and read, and re-read. I think it has to be A Wrinkle in Time (1963), because it did weird things to the inside of my head. I do not think I saw the universe in the same way after reading it.
winner of the 2009 Newbery Medal for The Graveyard Book
It never ceases to amaze me when op-eds appear in newspapers about young-adult (YA) books. Here are the usual flavors:
- YA books contribute to the degradation of teens.
- YA books are too dark and scary.
- YA books have stopped sending messages about morals.
- This YA book should be banned (even though I have not read it).
- YA books are turned into movies too much.
- All YA books are like Twilight and Harry Potter so why are people still reading them?
- Dude, what is up with YA? I thought it was a fad.
Most of you already know that we have been blessed with another lovely opportunity. Last week in the New York Times, author Joel Stein shared his opinion that Adults Should Read Adult Books.
Of course, he is entitled to his own opinion. In his mind, it is totally not the business for an adult to read anything that resembles teen subject matter. It is embarrassing and as adults, we should only read “adult” things and have the common decency to leave those YA books for the kids. Seriously, grow up ya’ll. LOL.
So with that said, I want to share with you my opinion: Adults Should Read Anything They Want.
I could possibly be a little biased because I’m an adult who writes YA fiction. But even before I dove into this particular type of literature (yes, it is literature), I was an avid reader of YA books.
For me, reading YA novels doesn’t mean that I’m childish or irresponsible. I don’t want to “relive” or “revise” my teen years. I was drawn to these books because I wanted to be engrossed in a fascinating world with dynamic characters who are doing interesting things.
The fact is that adults read books that speak to them. Romance. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Contemporary. Mystery. Horror. Young-adult books have all that covered and then some.
Joel Stein has every right not to read a YA book. Like ever. But it’s sort of sad because I’m thinking he would really like The Fault in Our Stars. :)
For me, I think he missed the most obvious point: Maybe adults are reading YA books because they love good story-telling.
“Hi, Mum! Hi, Pop!” Mike squeaks as he hops from the screen onto the table. “Look at me! I’m the first boy sent by television!”
Mrs. Teavee shrieks. “You’re an inch tall! Oh, my sweet boy!”
“Sweet?” Grandpa Joe whispers to me. “He blew Violet to bits!”
True, Mike did chuck his flinty Everlasting Gobstopper at the ballooning, purple Violet, popping her and splattering blueberry juice, sugary blood, and bile all over the Inventing Room. But Violet was hardly a sweetie. She was, after all, the one who had shoved Veruca into a mob of vicious, mutant squirrels and happily snapped her gum as the gnawed Princess of Nuts slid down the garbage chute. Of course, Veruca herself had previously kicked Augustus squarely in his generous lederhosen, dumping him into the churning chocolate river that led to his being swirled into fudge. (I regret ever having eaten a morsel manufactured in this place.)
Yet I find it difficult to condemn my fellow contestants for their assorted cruelties. Our sadistic host, who at present is suppressing snickers as he unapologetically consoles Mrs. Teavee, lured us all like Hansels and Gretels into this gingerbread house of horrors. If anyone here lacks sweetness, it is Mr. Willy Wonka, demon chocolatier. When this bloody contest concludes and I claim my prize, I will personally see to it that he receives his just desserts.
We were five ticket-holders this morning; now the remaining lone obstacle separating me from my prize has been greatly, er, reduced—to the size of a gummy bear, in fact. The humane thing would be to put wee Mike out of his misery. At least this is how I rationalize the heinous crime I am about to commit.
I reach into my tattered pocket and silently commend myself for having scooped up some of the treats I found behind the door marked EXPLODING CANDY FOR YOUR ENEMIES. I select a weapon disguised as a tiny yellow butter mint. It ought to be sufficient to take out a target so small.
“Go on, Charlie, finish the job,” Grandpa Joe says, nudging me with his bony elbow. “Then it’s one last moralistic Oompa-Loompa song and we’ve won.”
I nod, bracing myself for the blast, and lob the mint.
It is said that a picture's worth a thousand words.
Every few years, publishers will print new geography books, replacing outdated population statistics,government leaders, general information, photos, etc. Cover art is typically updated as well. In with the new, out with the old, standard procedure, nothing unusual.
Today, however, I spotted the new cover photo for the nonfiction, informational children's book, Iran, and I was taken aback.
If a picture's worth a thousand words, what do these three pictures say?
Remember, these are books for children. Can we create bias with a photo?
I think so. Should we? I think not.
By: Abigail Johnson
Blog: Amsco Extra!
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This morning I turned in the last piece of homework I will ever have. I submitted my final research project: my master’s thesis.There was no parade, no trumpets or cymbals to herald my victory. No “three cheers!” to mark the completion of my efforts. Just the simple knowledge that I have finally finished.They won't hand me my diploma until later this month, but the reality is that today marks the end of my years of formal education. Added up, 18 years of teachers, classrooms, professors, projects, presentations, and dreaded papers. Over.
When I think back on the memories of school, what stick out most are not the facts I learned or the books I read, but what I recall are all the relationships I made and the fun I had when I wasn’t studying in the library alone.
School offers us just that, the opportunity to find new experiences that we wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.
Because of a middle-school French-class trip to nearby Québec, I learned that my friend Emma would always find ways to get us into the most fun kind of trouble, and that I love all things maple-syrup related. Because of reading I Will Try during library hour in elementary school, I have made it my mission to travel across Africa (although not exactly the way the author did, when he decided to walk from Malawi towards America for his education). And because of spending countless hours at the local pub after economics class, I have learned that while philosophical entanglements often leave one feeling unfulfilled, beer and good company always leave one in better spirits. We would spend hours there, after Economics Development class, after History of Economic Philosophy class, after Statistics class: my peers and I, in time spent not studying, but taking what we learned in lecture and talking about it, openly, with opinions, with our own theories and smart colleagues to bounce ideas off of.
These are the friends, memories, and happy learning experiences I will grow from for the rest of my life. Even if, heaven forbid, I forget how to use the econometrics regression equation to find the unknown parameters to formulate the average expected outcome of an observed condition. (Not that I hope to ever forget my mathematical training!) My experiences remind me, looking back, that learning happens throughout life. One has only to put oneself in situations that allow for unexpected, exciting opportunities to arise.
Though my years of formal education might be complete, they leave me with the knowledge that power lies in asking questions, and life is a learning curve that I will always be trying to bend. I may be out of the classroom, but I will forever be a student.
Do you have favorite memories, or wisdom to share about your education experience? Leave a comment below!
Starting immediately, ICCSD
will stop purchasing Macintosh computers in favor of 1 platform- Windows. Let me first say that I don't envy the people involved in making this decision for our district- it hasn't been easy.
I understand the reasons I've been given for the change- it is more affordable to purchase and support 1 platform. I get that, I respect that, but I am still a little sad and a little disappointed. I am a dual platform librarian- I have a Mac and a PC at home and Macs, (let's say 90 or more) at school. I value the differences of each platform and respect what each platform has to offer. I know this decision is one of money, but I can't help but take it a little personally. The entire country is "Mac vs PC". You've seen the commercials. Depending on the company I am with, I may or may not admit to having a Mac. Even my husband rolls his eyes at me when I talk about my Apple MacBook. Mac is a dirty word to some people, and I feel that my allegiance to Apple causes people to take me less seriously.
As a librarian, I strive to make technology something that my teachers and kids aren't afraid of. I worry, selfishly, that switching platforms midstream will cause a ton of work for me. Reteaching 350 kids how to log in, save, find files and navigate on a new computer is a daunting task. Buying and finding new software that is compatible with my new platform causes me to see dollar signs. The thought of viruses infiltrating my innocent Mac school makes me tremble. Saying goodbye to Garage Band makes me tear up a little (I can do without iPhoto- I have a Picnik
subscription!) But, I am taking one for the team, as I don't have a choice and will put on my happy librarian smile and make everyone feel comfortable. That is my job, but I need to write this post as a part of my grieving process... yes, grieving process. I will miss the familiarity and ease of my Macs.
A part of me is excited to start this new adventure... a little part of me. The part of me that doesn't have to explain this decision to teachers. At least I will be able to discuss my platform in mixed company... Apple users always tend to be more accepting of PCs than the other way around. Someone please tell me if I become one of those pompus PC users I have met in my lifetime (Hello- I am MARRIED to one!)
Goodbye, old friend. Thanks for the memories.
This is a repost- the Blogger crash deleted this post... Blogger issue or PC operative? : ) Happy Friday the 13th!
ll my life, I’ve been turned off by literary snobs: writers—but also editors —of prestigious literary magazines. My stories just never made the cut.
The online article “A Guide to Literary Fiction”
says that literary fiction is hard to define. Joyce Saricks calls literary fiction “critically acclaimed, often award-winning, fiction.” She says one attribute is that literary novels are more often character centered than plot oriented. She also says literary novels are provocative and often address more serious issues: “These are complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas.”
She’s probably right. But reading literary stories bores me. And for me, writing them is slow torture. Picture me picturing all of my main characters’ childhood traumas: neglectful parents, schoolyard bullies, lost dogs, chubbiness, pimples . . . Yawn. I'm forced to keep my main character decent. I'm forced not to be sarcastic, not to use swear words. I try adding an intellectual character who makes wise statements but doesn’t smile too much. I go against my nature, struggling to write the right kind of story, hoping to sell it to a fancy litmag.
Better yet, win an award.
But I don't. The story always gets rejected.
What did I do wrong?
According to detective writer Mickey Spillane
When snobby literary critics reacted badly to his gritty writing, Spillane said, “Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar... If the public likes you, you're good.”
Way back in 1946, when he was writing comic books, Spillane needed money to buy land for a house. He wrote the detective novel I, the Jury
in just three weeks. In spite of its overkill of violence the editors at E. P. Dutton published it. It sold big-time: eight million copies!
Naturally, reviewers hated it, claiming it “glorified force, cruelty, and extra-legal methods.” But I bet in the privacy of their homes, they devoured this pull-no-punches, hardboiled novel (like I did!).
In I, the Jury
, detective Mike Hammer is out to avenge the death of his war hero/best friend, Jack Williams. Nothing stands in Hammer’s way, and nobody is exempt from his Hammer’s old-fashioned eye-for-an-eye form of justice. Not even the one person Hammer feels he can trust.
The article “The View from the Blue House”
states that Hammer “is the police, judge, jury and executioner. He’s Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and Hammett’s Sam Spade on steroids.” Hamm
I've always had a hard time with musical theater. Who ever just bursts out into song? How does everybody know all the words? And when did they all learn the steps so perfectly in synch? I guess my willing-suspension-of-disbelief button got disabled somewhere between the homeless, coatless man on the subway and the democratic uprising in Egypt.
Then I got Gleeful. As in Fox's Glee. I started watching the show last year. I bought in because the character of Sue Sylvester (a deadpan villain if ever there was one) is played by one of my favorite actresses, Jane Lynch. I've been sold ever since.
The show is a one-hour comedy-drama in the spirit of High School Musical, with musical numbers scattered throughout the script. The show differs from High School Musical, however, in that it is not afraid to deal with complex issues like bullying, disability, homophobia, and teen pregnancy. In fact, it's Glee's treatment of these issues that endears it to me, despite my bias against musical theater.
The show confronts head-on the problems many teens face. While still keeping things "clean," it doesn't apologize for its content, and although some storylines are tied up neatly, many others mimic real life in their messy and unsatisfying conclusions.Whether people are watching it for its uplifting message, its musical numbers, or its complex themes, the show is an out-and-out hit. I highly encourage you to watch an episode, either on the Fox Web site or on Tuesday nights at 8, 7 central. You need not have watched the entire season to appreciate a single episode. In the meantime, here's a taste, a quotation from last week's episode:
KATIE COURIC: You beat out the following losers: the economy, Mel Gibson, Dina Lohan... and Spa
Yes, of course I’m grateful for my amazing family and friends, and my funny, smart, inventive and crazy co-workers. Yadda, yadda. Today, right before we go off to cook and eat until we can’t eat any more only to fix ourselves a sandwich with leftover turkey a few hours later, I want to share some of the things I’m thankful for about the venerable, bloody but unbowed publishing business. In no particular order, I’m grateful that
- I was able to read Jonathan Franzen’s brilliant opus in hardcover (that book is HEAVY!) and Robert Harris’ delicious The Ghost Writer (strongly recommend it) on my Kindle. Turns out I still buy hardcovers and have the equivalent of my bedside table’s weighty load in my e-reader ready to dive into wherever I may be;
- the e-book revolution, while metaphorically violent at times, has led to a fresh look at our raison d’etre: books, how they’re published, who reads them, what their value is;
- there is a new optimism about how we can harness the power of electronic publishing for good and not evil;
- Patti Smith won the National Book Award and pleaded with us not to abandon the book;
- more people talk to me about books they love, loathe, are reading, want to read than ever before;
- we’ve had numerous bestsellers this year, as well as huge sales of books that we hope will be bestsellers in a couple of years, as well as books that we didn’t sell for a lot of money but that were well published to lovely reviews;
- publishers are starting to roll out some ridiculous new boilerplates whereby they try to aggregate every right known or that will eventually be devised by the next Mark Zuckerberg (yes, we agents will fight them tooth and nail on every point because publishers need to find ways to survive and thrive that are not at the expense of authors and their rights, but it indicates to me that they’re not keeling over and dying and are actually putting up a fight to remain relevant);
- I get to meet and/or speak with talented, surprising, fascinating characters almost every day—a number of them clients and some clients to be—and have the opportunity to learn something from all of them (David Morrell told me, upon returning from his successful USO trip to Iraq, that the huge chandelier in Saddam’s main palace was made out of plastic!);
- after 21 years of doing the same thing, I’m still having fun.
Happy Turkey Day everyone!
Whenever I go away and am in a place where people are relaxing—
on a beach, say, or sitting by a pool—
I always look at what they are reading. Up until now, I have been curious as to the actual books, fiction or non-fiction and then what titles within those two categories. Is it science fiction, romance, mystery? Is it history, politics, biography or memoir? I can learn something from this kind of research in terms of what people are interested in and I can then use that information in searching out projects to represent.
This past week, my husband and I went to Florida to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family and I decided to do another kind of research, although I was virtually certain as to what the result was going to be. I decided that once I got through the body scanner or the pat down in security at the airport, that I was going to walk up and down the aisle of the plane I traveled on to see how people were reading, if they were reading. And I was absolutely sure of what I would find out.
First, much to my surprise the pass through security both going and coming was relatively painless; after all of the warnings over the last week and the threatened slow down at the check points, I was not looking forward to the experience; but as luck would have it, none of what was predicted came to pass, at least as far as we were concerned.
Now, on to the actual research. I went through each of the two planes I took and even perused the waiting areas before boarding and I found that almost everyone who was reading a book was reading an actual book and not using any kind of electronic reader. On the plane going down, I saw nobody with Kindles or Nooks or any other reader, but my husband, who helped me with my research, told me he saw two. There were at least 150 people on the flight down so, two readers certainly was surprisingly few. On the flight back which held as many people, I saw one Nook and one person reading on an iPad—
everyone else who was reading a book was reading a hardcover or paperback.
I had truly expected the total opposite. With the enormous increase in the sales of e-readers, and e-books and knowing how easy it is to travel with an e-reader, it just seemed to me a no brainer that these would outnumber print editions. I couldn’t have been more mistaken and I am really surprised.
I wonder, would you have predicted as I did or not? And what, dear reader, do you think I was reading?
The year is winding to a close and as some of us
immerse ourselves in lists of 2010’s greatest hits, I’m thinking ahead to 2011 and pondering what I’d like to see more of in that prime number year. In no particular order, I want:
Really good historical fiction. You know, like The Alienist
or I, Claudius
or The White Queen
or The Crimson Petal and the White—
the kind of thing that totally transports you to another era, giving you insights into the lives of the characters, and the cultural mores and political imperatives they were subject to, while also thoroughly immersing you in a transfixing story.
A memoir that makes one individual’s journey mirror the preoccupations, experiences, fears and fantasies many, if not most of us, share. Oh, and if that could come with a funny, self-aware but not self-important, charming protagonist whose life I don’t mind being wrapped up in for 300 pages, that’d be great too.
Gripping science narratives. I was browsing in a book store the other day and came across The Emperor of All Maladies
by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I stopped to read so long that I was almost late to my appointment. Dr. Mukherjee grabbed my interest from the very first line and I’m his new biggest fan. I’d like to see more of the kind of writing and storytelling that brings scientific or medical topics to life and creates characters out of concepts or ideas.
A political book that explains what’s going on in our crazy republic. Let’s face it, we have some pretty colorful characters running the country (or trying to) these days and I find myself frequently as baffled as entertained by their antics. I’d love to see someone put it all in some kind of historical perspective while analyzing what it is about us (and them) that would make the founding fathers throw up their hands and head to Vegas.
An edge-of-your-seat, can’t-put-it-down, scary-suspenseful-sexy thriller with a hero/heroine who’d give Jack Reacher a run for his money.
Is that too much to ask? What’ve you guys got?
by Rachel S.
I agree with Michael’s post yesterday. Barnes and Noble and Borders are intimidating. Not to say that I won’t spend an afternoon there with a giant stack of books from a myriad of genres and the biggest cup of coffee they have to offer (which is pretty big), but on the days when I actually want to browse for a book I intend to buy, I head to smaller locations. I get overwhelmed by the rows and rows of shelves within shelves and soon realize I’m not even reading the bindings anymore, but just skimming the colors and shapes of each book—
only picking up ones that stand out in that respect regardless of the title.
Smaller bookshops, whether they house used books, are devoted to a single genre, or are just mini versions of the massive box stores have an appeal that cannot be rivaled. My two favorite places to spend my book money in the city are the Housing Works Bookstore Café
in Soho and WORD Books
in Brooklyn. They both have their own unique feel—
a sort of atmosphere that is lacking in the impersonal, albeit well-stocked shelves of the giant bookstore chains.
The selection is smaller, sure, but unless I’m looking for something absolutely specific, I find that doesn’t matter. I’ll still always find something I want and I feel that my choice is much better made. If I’m having trouble, the staff in a small bookstore will more likely know each book they do
stock and will often have certain opinions and recommendations, which is an undeniable advantage of a smaller selection. In fact, both Housing Works and WORD pepper their shelves with little handwritten index cards from members of the staff praising their most recent literary loves. Because they can’t just sell every book that comes out, there has to be some level of thought and selection put into stocking the independent bookshops.
Smaller stores foster a sense of community—
there even used to be a corkboard in WORD that served as a sort of personals section. Anyone could fill out a slip of paper with their name, age and email address followed by books and authors they loved as well as those they hated and then pin it up on the board, in the hopes that some book-reading match made in heaven would soon emerge.
As the holiday season is upon us, gift-buying must be as well. Shopping in an environment that fosters conversation and comfort as opposed to impersonal abundance, I feel, gives the gift itself greater meaning. Sure, the person you so carefully chose that book for might not know where it was bought, but the sense of thought and care that went into it is surely palpable.
I don’t want to come off totally disparaging the bookstore giants—
I love them, too. If you’re looking for something specific, either they’ll have it or will almost certainly have the resources to order it for you. Nowadays there’s near a guarantee that they have a café attached, so there’s no end to the hours you can spend there poring over books you might actually have no intention of buying (okay, so there is an end, as the only times I’ve ever been in a Borders past closing time were for crucial Harry Potter book purchases). Living in the city, it’s easy to forget that oftentimes independent bookstores can’t survive elsewhere and it’s nice to know that the big places are still accessible to the vast majority of the population.
I have a specific experience in mind when I consider entering these havens I call smaller bookstores. When I go book shopping, I want to enjoy it, take my time and truly feel as if I picked the perfect book to read next. I know t
Some folks may have seen the article in the NY Times yesterday
about new teen website Figment. It’s a forum for teenagers to post their own writing and be advertised to…I mean, get the chance to read chapters of works that will be published. The site is now live
, and there’s already ample teen writing to browse through, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ll just say this: I do feel bad for a generation whose teenage poetry will have life on the internet long after they’ve become embarrassed by it.
That said, I think there’s a lot to love about this idea. It has the same sort of feel as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRECord
. That site is about creating user generated creative content that can be worked on by a larger online community. HitRECord feels purer because there isn’t a component allowing advertising to crop up. After all, it’s doesn’t seem as profit-motivated as Figment.
However you look at it, I think efforts to create communities around writing are great things. Something about this site, though, seems to be especially artificial. “ZOMG we’ve launched!” What do we think? Nifty place for teens to find a creative outlet or shameless attempt to cash in on YA market growth?
New - that's the theme requested by Challenging the Bookworm Blog
, the host of this month's Carnival of Children's Literature
. So, I started thinking, what's new?
A new year, a new decade - everything is new. Color e-readers, computing in the cloud, smarter phones, 4G networks - the list is endless; and I am a fan of “new” and “high-tech.” In fact, this post was written “in the cloud” that most of my documents call home. However, as I ponder the new year, I have a nagging feeling that for librarians, it is the old that may matter most. Despite the wondrous new advances in technology, librarians (particularly children’s librarians) must remember that many people don’t live in the shiny new world - they live in the old one, and perhaps our greatest challenge is to ensure that we use the latest technology to do our ages-old job.
As a public librarian, I see firsthand, the large number of people who do not have home access to the Internet, printing capabilities, or telephone service. We bloggers and other denizens of the Internet are so familiar with technology that we may take it for granted that others have the same knowledge base. Imagine my surprise when my son received a new touch screen, video music player with the capability to receive RSS feeds. “Oh,” I thought, “how excited he’ll be to find that he can receive ESPN updates!” Oh, how surprised I was to learn that he had no idea what an RSS feed is or why he might want to use one! In some cases, the ubiquitous social networking sites have made the internet so easy, that people no longer understand how it works. And this is good that they don’t have to, but it’s also bad, because it’s limiting. Voice over Internet (VOI) protocol, free cloud computing applications, RSS feeds - all of these have the potential to aid librarians in assisting customers, particularly students, teachers, and those with limited resources; but only if customers know how to use them.
It’s also wonderful that new tablets and color e-readers make picture books accessible in digital format. The small size and portability of new e-readers makes them uniquely personal, but also uniquely solitary. I love my e-reader, but I still want to see children with loved ones, cozying up with beautiful, full-sized picture books. Yes, there may be a cool phone app for a beloved children’s book, but we have to make the physical book available as well - especially for the child who will never have an e-reader.
Smart phones are also a boon, however, a growing portion of society relies solely on wireless phone service for Internet access - for reasons of convenience, cost, or availability. But is the same information available to mobile users? Will they be shut out from some content, or forced to pay more for service because of the deregulated nature of wireless access? I just turned on the new “mobile template” for my blog, making it easier to read on a smart phone, but I wonder if it matters. Do most people access RSS feeds? Do they know how to access them from a phone? Do content providers know how to make them accessible? Again, another opportunity for us to ensure that we use high-tech capabilities to fulfill an older, low-tech obligation - leveling the playing field, offering equal access to information.
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After being completely overwhelmed by the amount of Christmas presents my two children received from our families (which I believe was relatively modest in comparison to the bounty many other kids received), my wife and I were inspired to watch What Would Jesus Buy?, a documentary on consumer culture in the U.S.What Would Jesus Buy? follows the comedic, yet serious, Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Stopping on a national tour, in which the Reverend (who is actually just a performer and protester, not an actual minister) attempts to spread the word—“Stop Shopping!” Reverend Billy’s ultimate concern is that we are using our time to shop, rather than to create, relax, or help others. To prove his case, Reverend Billy cites some frightening statistics: “26 million Americans are addicted to shopping, consumer credit debt is now $24 trillion dollars,” and there is enough retail shopping space in the U.S. for every person in North America, South America, and Europe to fit inside of a store at the same time.
Although I agree with Reverend Billy’s spiritual quest, I also think there is a very practical matter to be dealt with. How can Americans make smart consumer decisions in a country that is obsessed with fads, inundated with advertising, and bombarded with credit card offers (I think I throw away 2-3 credit offers per day!)? This is a question that politicians, nonprofit organizations, universities, and schools have also been grappling with in light of the recent Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act. Considering that one Christmas shopper who was interviewed for WWJB? passionately declared, “I’m buying all these presents for my kids, I don’t care if go broke because it’s all for my kids,” it seems as though there are definitely people out there who could benefit from a course or workshop in personal finance.Recently,