Sunday, December 24, 2006
Very sad news about Philippa Pearce, who died Thursday. NB: do not click to read Nicholas Tucker's comprehensive appreciation unless you've already read Tom's Midnight Garden, as he gives away the ending, the finest, I reckon, in children's literature.
I am on vacation through New Year's Day, so posting and reading will be erratic. Looking for suggestions, though, to burgeon my Provincetown reading list: so far I have Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book, Kipling's Kim, and Greg Iles's Turning Angel; Miss Pod is bringing a gloomy mystery by Henning Mankell and Maeve Binchy's Tara Road (which is a better class of the same story told in the appallingly written if gamely performed The Holiday, which we saw last night.) I know, it sounds like I have enough already but a boy likes to have options.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
But why the hoopla? Is it an all-join-in-thing? Is it because the publishers made a game out of the news? I mean, I could get all excited if I heard that Hilary McKay was writing another Exiles book (and I am all excited that there's going to be another Die Hard) but I wouldn't care what they were going to call it. Maybe I'm missing a gene.
I do like the name, though, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Fundamentalists, come on down.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
It makes me wonder about reading in the same way--I'll similarly roam around the Bible or a reference book, but how could this work with fiction? Maybe this could be my path into that War and Peace you all talked me into buying last year . . .
Also take a look at this book-arts gallery Michael Joseph mentioned on child_lit a few weeks ago. If anyone is still looking for the perfect Christmas present for me, I'd love Doug Beube's "Interlocutors," in which the pages of a book can be zipped and unzipped together for a multitude of orders.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
What's more of a question here is what we should do about classics such as Laura Ingalls Wilder's books or The Five Chinese Brothers or Little Black Sambo. The latter two have been re-illustrated and retold--taking out the stereotyping, to be sure, but also overelaborating the stories beyond the patience of a story hour audience--and Wilder's white-settler tales have been joined by a host of alternative narratives, notably Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House and The Game of Silence.
I'm guessing that what the Guardian treats as a question about parents handing down their childhood favorites to to their children is, in this country, more a concern about what gets intrenched in school curricula. Do we have here an Enid Blyton whose longevity is cause for concern?
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
For some smart thinking about how digital picture books might work read Jean Gralley's "Books Unbound."
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I've got two books he might want to take a look at:
One of the valuable results of the picture-book-folktale boom of the '90s was the publication of "Cinderella," "Beauty and the Beast," etc. variants from around the world. We got to see folk heroes and heroines of many colors from many cultures.
But Disney will out, it seems. I can't decide if this is revolutionary or reactionary. On the one hand, it's Disney (Jump at the Sun is a Disney imprint), and the retellings are Disney-bland ("Beauty and the beast danced and played together"). On the other, the characters, as pictured, are recognizably African-American--Rapunzel's long hair is braided in dreads--not just sepia-toned drawings of white people. Does a little black girl have to want to be an Ashanti princess, or is she entitled to the Disney dream, too?
While the Horn Book (and I'm guessing the other journals) will only "take back" a review if it is shown to be factually inaccurate, any reviewer will frequently, over time, change his or her mind about a book. This can partly be ascribed to mood, but mostly I think it is because the reviewer has gone on to read more books and thus acquire a larger and different context to place the reviewed book in. Every book you read changes the way you read the one before it as well as the one you read after.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I guess you just have to think of it as a souvenir. (Like this.) The title will only mean something to someone who's read the book or seen the movie, and the uninitiated may also be perplexed by the opening spread ("Fern loved Wilbur more than anything") with its picture of a girl sitting on the kitchen floor cuddling a pig. But while I imagine kids would enjoy this scenario too much to worry about how the pig got there in the first place, I don't know what they're going to make of the conclusion: "The next day, Wilbur was taken from his home under the apple tree and went to live in a manure pile in the cellar of Zuckerman's barn." The. End.
Through the strategic employment of lemony sun-dappling and manure that looks like the softest grass, Keen does her best to make this scene look happy, but she can't disguise the fact that the line she's illustrating is not an ending but a beginning. This why you have to be careful when messing with the classics--it's not because they're holy, but because they'll go on strike: they won't work.
Monday, December 04, 2006
But God knows, annotating a list is hard work, the haiku of book reviewing. Not only do you have to express a lot in few words, you have to watch out for mindless repetition. I like to remember Betsy Hearne's rule of reviewing: "The use of the words charming, beautiful, or interesting will be allowed on a one-time basis only."
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Sunday, November 26, 2006
While I'm sure we'll see them on various Notable and Best lists, the odds are against them when it comes to the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz.
Here's the problem: the Newbery Medal is for text; the Caldecott is for illustrations. In neither case is the award for the whole book. (Each award goes to the author or illustrator who created the text or pictures for a book, not to the book itself, and is not shared with the author of a picture book or the illustrator of a Newbery winner.) This situation is of course thought goofy by all right-minded people, and while discussion of changing the award criteria comes up periodically, easier--far, far easier--said than done.
You can see how graphic novels are excluded from the Newbery, since the text without the pictures and placement would be unreadable. The Caldecott, though . . . . That, I'm guessing is going to depend upon any given committee's reading of ALSC's definition of "picture book." ALSC defines it as a book "that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised," and adds that picture books appropriate for older children (through age 14) are eligible. Sounds like graphic-novel territory to me.
The Printz throws a different hurdle in the graphic novel's path. Although the criteria hang considerably looser (and I wish somebody would finally get around to copyediting that page) than those for the ALSC awards, there is that sticky designation of eligibility: "To be eligible, a title must have been designated by its publisher as being either a young adult book or one published for the age range that YALSA defines as "young adult," i.e., 12 through 18. Adult books are not eligible." To my mind, this excludes the National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese, whose publisher, First Second, does not give age or grade ranges to its titles. (And good for them.) While some graphic novels are firmly established as being for children (such as the wonderful Babymouse series), most of those read by older kids and teens are published without regard to age. If the Printz award wants to be meaningful in a fluid publishing era, it has to get rid of its "published for teens" clause, ill-considered when its rules were made and bound to become ever more increasingly out of touch.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Berger goes on to say that teenage girls are "about more than going out with the cute guy. This line of books gives them something to read that honors that intelligence and assertiveness and that individuality.” Well, it's about time.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Monday, November 20, 2006
Friday, November 17, 2006
While asthma is long behind me, I ponder what the enthusiastic use of what I called "my spray" has done to the way I read. Case in point: The Book Thief. After the first twenty pages of Death's meditations stymied me three times, Martha suggested I try the audiobook instead, allowing me to get through Death's opening remarks less painfully--no pages to force myself to turn. And she was right: once the story itself gets going, it's pretty unstoppable. But those first twenty pages made me so resentful I wanted to give up. Where's my spray?!
I'm of several minds here (perhaps as a result of other abuses of the instant-gratification reflex). One, maybe it's just me--impatience is a subjective experience. And two: as Natalie Babbitt told me (after fielding many letters from children who struggle with the opening chapters of Tuck Everlasting), a writer needs to write the book the author needs to write. And three: sometimes (as Natalie said children also told her) the patience required in the beginning is amply rewarded in the end.
But I'm also reminded of what former NY Times "women's news editor" Charlotte Curtis was told by her first boss, at the Columbus Citizen: "Curtis, you didn't get your clothes off fast enough!," meaning her stories took too long to get to the point (quoted in The Girls in the Balcony by Nan Robertson). In our recent "What Makes a Good Book" special issue, Richard Peck offers plenty of advice for writers on how to begin a book:
It's far too tempting to warm up on your reader's time. I regularly find my first line somewhere on the sixth page, after five pages of starting too early and walking in circles and pleading with the reader. I've learned to pitch those first five out.
(I would add that writers should NOT start as if they took a writing manual's advice "to immediately engage the reader's five senses" far too much to heart, as in opening with "James could still taste the breakfast marmalade on his tongue as he piled grimy handfuls of dirt on the fresh corpse while the scent of magnolia from Grandmother's farm drifted across the sky along with the sound of the circling vultures screeching overhead.")
But (a) what advice do we give to readers? and (b) does it make a difference if the reader is a child or an adult? Martha suggested this morning that what readers need from a beginning is "to know that they are in good hands," that perceived confidence on the part of the writer can inspire the same feeling in the reader. I like that. I remember Hazel Rochman blithely telling her high-schoolers to skip the first chapter of Wuthering Heights. Right on (remember The Rules). And I know I just have to become more patient--but I do love a book that from the first page makes me feel like I've finally gotten some air.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Not online is their end-of-the-book "Soapbox" column, which this week bemoans the curse of being good-looking. Nora Ephron wrote a long time ago that if one thing bored her more than the problems of big-breasted women, it was the problems of the pretty. Courtney E. Martin has written Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body and is well aware of the irony of worrying about her looks in her attempt to sell her book about worrying about your looks, but "crudely put, no one wants to read a book about the overvaluation of beauty by an ugly girl." Martin claims that publicists came to all of her proposal meetings to "check out the goods," and she must have passed, as Free Press will be publishing the book in April. "And now for the author photo, the publicity campaign, the book tour . . . the beauty pageant of the book world. Ugh."
Ugh my flat ass. If one thing bores me more than the complaints of writers about their author photos, publicity campaigns and book tours, it's the complaints of those who claim to endure it all for the sake of the Greater Good and above all, the kids: "I am not above buying an expensive suit if it means that even one teenage girl in Topeka, Kan., questions why she is spending more time thinking about her waist than the war in Iraq." And with the right shoes and bag, world domination could be just around the corner.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Betty also included Jeannette Winter's picture book Mama in this group, but I'm not so sure about that one. Fable, maybe, except it's practically nonfiction. (And, jeez, that's another discussion. While looking back over the year's books for our Fanfare list, we're finding many whose adherence to a given genre seems distinctly optional.) But like the novels above, it's brought the knives out. Why is that? I'm all for a little sharp carving, but I'm wondering if there's something in the nature of allegory itself that prompts the strong response.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Sunday, November 12, 2006
I have taken some time out to enjoy another birthday present (more exactly, a present I picked out for myself because the intended present--the Die Hard trilogy--was so perfect I already owned it), Spy: The Funny Years, a history of my third most-favorite magazine, which includes the best piece of cultural theory from the 1980s, "The Irony Epidemic," by Paul Rudnick and Kurt Andersen.
There was recently a discussion on childlit about the definition of irony as presented in Karen Cushman's recent novel The Loud Silence of Francine Green, and novels such as M. E. Kerr's Gentlehands, Brock Cole's The Facts Speak for Themselves, and Chris Lynch's Inexcusable depend upon young readers being able to detect an ironic stance, a narrative strategy not all teen readers are ready for. (I've always maintained that Catcher in the Rye is popular with teens and deadly celebrity stalkers because they don't Get It.) But forget innocence as an excuse to misuse irony, "The Irony Epidemic" looks at what such a powerful weapon becomes in the hands of heterosexuals:
Victims of the Irony Epidemic do not dread commitment--they fear uncoolness. When Bob wears his garish shirts or his black-rimmed nerd glasses, he implicitly announces, I am aware enough to appreciate the squareness of this shirt and these glasses; I don't like them--I get them.
And history--and Elvis Costello's glasses--has proven Rudnick and Andersen's thesis that such easy irony has neither sting nor staying power: "As this decade began, Bob and Betty thought kidney-shaped coffee tables were amusing monstrosities; as the decade ends, Bob and Betty consider them merely stylish." The article is sidebarred by some of the hilarious compare-and-contrast boxes that Spy pioneered. "Camp Lite: Watching a videocassette of One Million Years B.C., starring Raquel Welch as a cavewoman. True Camp: Working out to Raquel's exercise video and wondering if Tahnee, Raquel's daughter, is a happy girl."
I need to tear myself away from Spy and you to go proof Guide reviews for a while. But, for discussion, I'll leave you with Paul Rudnick's puckish thoughts, printed elsewhere in Spy, on poetry: "Poems are Laura Ashley prints for the mind, unicorn dung. . . . Emily Dickinson never left her cottage in Amherst, and with just cause: no one asked her to. Don't invite Emily, she might recite one of her things."
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Each year the teacher held up my pathetically barren [U.S. Saving Stamps] book as an example for the other pupils of how not to support your country and they would all laugh--that peculiar braying laugh that exists only when children are invited by adults to enjoy themselves at the expense of another child. It is the cruelest laugh in the world.
Forty years later it is still too painful for me to put my own example of this laughter here; suffice it to say that it involved a teacher announcing to the class just what book I had purchased that month from the Scholastic book club. No wonder I'm such a freak about reading privacy.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Then there are the books you thought were over at one blow but NO. Like The Giver. And surely there are those (examples, anyone?) that never see the finish, like TV leaving us with the aliens taking over Florida (Invasion) or the hunky psychiatrist screaming at the sky (Huff). I hope when Lemony Snicket called his last book The End, he meant it.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Second, I've received a brochure touting the NEH and ALA's annual "We the People Bookshelf," with this year's theme being "the pursuit of happiness" Rick Santorum wants you to forswear. (Take that, Founding Fathers!). Get information about how to apply for the collection of fifteen "classic" books here; I'll just sit here and whine about the poetic injustice of turning "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" into a picture book. Count me in with Ethel Heins, who, in reviewing Susan Jeffer's edition of the poem in 1979, wrote "it is often questioned whether an explicit line-by-line pictorial representation of a lyrical--not a narrative--poem may constrain a child's imagination and interfere with his or her response to poetic ambiguity--the spontaneous formation of images in the mind."
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
If I look as if I'm going to collapse right into that birthday cake, write it off to the exertions of turning thirty. The hardest thing about being the guest of honor at a surprise birthday party is convincing people you actually were surprised, which I certainly was.
The party, adeptly organized by Richard, who invented an entire decoy event to throw me off the track, was a wonderful climax to my birthday vacation. Although we did not make it to Disneyland, my cosmic twins and I had a great time in San Diego, including eating red mint chip ice cream at Korky's, spending the mortgage at Brady's for Men, and riding on the Giant Dipper, the very roller coaster (I found out later from Harcourt editor Allyn Johnston) that inspired Marla Frazee's Roller Coaster.
Beautiful, but I don't know how people live out there. "Wonderful weather," I kept hearing, but it's more like wonderful climate. Weather changes; this was more like nonstop perfection. Not my thing.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
I'm only worried because there are approximately fourteen In-N-Out stands between our hotel and Sleeping Beauty's castle, any one of which as capable of diverting us from our goal as they were thirty years ago, when Double-Doubles won out over Henry James almost every single time.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The selection from children's books is very limited: Treasure Island and, snore (sorry, Monica!), Alice in Wonderland, some fables. I would have added at least the Little House books, Where the Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat and . . . over to you.
Monday, October 16, 2006
But the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were the occasion of a great Friday night, and we're lucky nobody invited the fire department as the Boston Athenaeum was seriously overbooked with our guests. The evening began with cider and cupcakes (the new brie, I think) for the honorees and their friends and publishers; Picture Book winner Lois Ehlert was there surprised with a group of friends from Milwaukee who flew in for the event. Fiction winner Kate DiCamillo greeted me with a peace sign; not quite sure what this meant, I later hastened to inform her that, discussions on this blog notwithstanding, I liked Edward Tulane. The event proper began with a gracious welcome by Athenaeum trustee Alice De Lana, who, I discovered, had taught high school English to my college friend Ali Mauran at Miss Porter's. That's right: ten years ago.
The winners' speeches were nicely variegated, and I like the way the shorter remarks from the Honor Book recipients punctuate the proceedings. Only Sandra Markle and Allan Marks, from New Zealand and England, respectively, could not attend; the late Faith McNulty was represented by her niece Katherine Keiffer, who beautifully recalled her aunt's writing and passions. Lois Ehlert was warm and generous; Stephen Kellogg was fast and funny (we're hoping to put some video clips on the website next week; his speech is one you have to see) and Kate DiCamillo was deep and eloquent to the point that my Richard is completely ready to run away with her.
I've been trying to upload some photos but Blogger doesn't seem to like them. I'll try again later.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Tonight occasions our annual glamour moment: the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards at the Boston Athenaeum. I need Tim Gunn here for wardrobe assistance (particularly as it needs to be an outfit that will take me from day into evening) but I've drafted Richard to play stylist: we wouldn't want any Serious Ugly in the room. I'll post a full report tomorrow.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Just because you lived through something doesn't mean you should write a book about it. I'm getting more and more weary with this "tell your story" bullshit. Yes, tell your story... to your grandkids or your nephew or your cat. The world at large doesn't need to know about it unless you're particularly good at the telling.
I haven't read Cancer Victim so can't comment re, but Crispin's sentiment is one I often find echoing in my head when reading refugee, war, and Holocaust memoirs for children. Too often, I think, they proceed from the assumption that having lived through horrific circumstances is justification enough for publication of memories of same, but it isn't. Nor is moral righteousness, or even heroism. (One of the most interesting Holocaust stories I've heard was from Maurice Sendak, who had met an old lady who as a child had performed in the original Theresienstadt production of Brundibar. Her most insistent memory--the one that still kept her up nights, he said--was about how she didn't get the plum part in the performance that she wanted.) It isn't the historical significance or the moral imperative of a book that gets it read. The testimony has to be compelling.
If not fun. I felt a distinct attack of moral seasickness this morning when I read a forthcoming pop-up book about the Irish famine (Life on a Famine Ship by Duncan Crosbie, published by Barron's in January '07.) Lift-the-flap and watch the farmhouse get wrecked! Lift-the-flap to see the corpse dropped over the side of the ship! Despite the protestations of Fraulein Maria, not everything can be turned into a game.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
And former editor in chief Anita Silvey (after Ethel and before me) is getting a good discussion on Childlit for her article in the latest School Library Journal about the current state of YA literature, more precisely, YA reading: "Of one thing Im certain: instead of craving realistic stories about people like themselves, todays teens are crazy about characters (and scenarios) that have little in common with their own everyday lives." She's right that teens are turning away from the realistic "problem" fiction that we think of as the core of YA lit in favor of fantasy and other genre fiction, but I question whether teens ever read realistic fiction because they identified with it: it wasn't potheads who made Go Ask Alice a success, it was junior high girls looking for vicarious thrills. (I think the same appeal is what gets kids into the Gossip Girl genre, too.)
But while Anita is thrilled that kids are broadening their horizons, I have to ask if she would still feel the same way if she were back in the Horn Book trenches, ducking for cover whenever another book cart stuffed with new fat fantasy trilogies comes barreling back to the editor's office!
P.S. I'm with Blogger spellcheck when it suggests replacing "trilogies" with "trellises."
Friday, October 06, 2006
Book reviewers confront this dilemma all the time: how do you fairly evaluate something that seems like something you've seen before? It's a greater burden for children's book reviewers, too, because the target audience for any given book is far less likely to have read any of the books the reviewer is referencing. I got into this many years ago with editor Melanie Kroupa, who was miffed that I wrote of a Ron Koertge novel that it was too much like the one he had published the previous year. If the book succeeded on its own terms--which we agreed it did--was it then fair to fault it for not being different enough from the author's other work?
No and yes. No, because if a book succeeds in its own right, it deserves praise. But yes, it is also fair to criticize an author for not stretching. A book review has responsibilities to the book (to represent it fairly), to the reader (ditto), but also to literature as a whole: the reviewer needs to ask "what does this book add to the books that are already out there?" PR judge Nina Garcia would call this the "editorial judgment."
Next, maybe I'll examine Heidi Klum's ultimate words of praise: "It looks expensive!"
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
[Isabel] walked to the rear door and took out a bobby pin from her pocket. Hugo watched as she fiddled with the pin inside the lock until it clicked and the door opened.
"How did you learn to do that?" asked Hugo.
"Books," answered Isabelle.
My kind of girl!
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Monday, October 02, 2006
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Friday, September 29, 2006
written by Mike Reiss, illustrated by David Catrow
The Last Dragon
written by Silvana de Mari, translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside
The Green Glass Sea
written by Ellen Klages
written by Walter Dean Myers
written by Philip Reeve, illustrated by David Wyatt
A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama
written by Laura Amy Schlitz
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
The party celebrated the inauguration of the Carle Honors, given this year to an artist (Rosemary Wells), an "angel" (philanthropist Helen Bing), a mentor (Carle's chief editor Ann Beneduce), and a "bridge" (Weston Woods' Mort Schindel). All, thankfully, kept their remarks brief and gracious; Rosemary Wells opined that while we were living in an era akin to the fall of Rome, "we have something Rome didn't: 'Eric Carle.'"
Well, can't argue with that (except to say that Rome had something we don't: Virgil). Not to pick on Rosemary, who was just being gracious, but her remark reminded me that we in this field do have a tendency to plump the importance of children's books up to a point that can seem self-deluding. As when Philip Pullman said, in his Carnegie Medal acceptance speech for The Golden Compass, "There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book." Balderdash. Old-timers may remember when Horn Book editor Ethel Heins and School Library Journal editor Lillian Gerhardt practically came to blows over this very issue. Literally: Lillian threatened, in print, to come up to Boston and hit Ethel over the head with a chair. Ah, those happy golden years.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Monday, September 18, 2006
I was interested to find out more about how the "distributed in the United States by . . ." kind of publishing works. It's different from publishing companies such as Scholastic, say, which have editorial offices in multiple countries, and different again from selling the rights to a U.S. publisher (Frances Lincoln is the original publisher of Mary Hoffman's Amazing Grace, for example, but licensed the book to Dial for publication here.) Sarah explained that different books will take different paths to becoming available here, depending on what's projected to be the best way to achieve the most sales, and/or find inclusion on the various award and recommended reading lists. It's certainly a fuzzy distinction: I said at breakfast that I thought Frances Lincoln books would not be eligible for ALA's Notable Books list (because the rules state the book must be "published" in the U.S.), but now I see that Canada's Groundwood Books has received Notable citations, and they seem to be in the same situation as F.L., with both companies' books distributed here by Publishers Group West.
I know this all might sound like so much insider baseball, but as trade agreements, publishing, and consumer access to foreign books makes country-of-origin both less and more complicated, we all might need to be rethinking our rules about what we mean by "published here." Where?
Friday, September 15, 2006
I tell myself, and frequently other people, that guilt has no place in reading choices. But maybe it is part of the pleasure: reading as playing hooky? having an illicit affair? Similarly, virtue should have no greater a place in reading, either, but there's something to be said for the results of dogged determination, or going to church even though you don't feel like it, or even simply bragging rights.
Books I loved reading and books I'm glad I read. Two lists I can live with.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Now you don't!
So what do you think was the reasoning behind the cover change of The Green Glass Sea (published this fall by Viking), an excellent historical novel set at Los Alamos, and what it was like for the children there, during WWII? My first thought was that the photo of the girl might have made people think it was an Anne Frank book, or perhaps the publisher might have decided that the design was just too darned busy, especially if somebody decides to put an award sticker on it. The second definitely says literary fiction here, and tones down the math. It's beautiful, but I have to say the first cover made me grab the galley straight away. And, cover questions aside, I'm glad I did. Do watch for the book.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Monday, September 11, 2006
You are so fond of fighting--you always have been since you were little boys. [If you were allowed to vote] you'd very likely forget that the real object of the State is to nurture and protect life, and you would be voting away huge sums of money for battleships, each costing ten million dollars, more money than all the buildings of Harvard University. Every time a gun is fired in a battleship, it expends, or rather explodes, seventeen hundred dollars, as much as a college education costs, and yet you would be firing off these guns as mere salutes, with no enemy within three thousand miles, simply because you enjoy the sound of shooting.
You tell 'em, sister.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Thursday, September 07, 2006
And now I want a refund for those Sea Monkeys.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
For a more laissez-les-bon-temps-roulez attitude toward this argument, try Nick Hornby's essay on "How to Read."
Friday, September 01, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Still, ka-ching! I wonder who got his wings for this one?
Monday, August 28, 2006
Actually, I imagine there is a copy of the manuscript in Times children's book editor Julie Just's office just as there is in mine. Unlike the Harry Potter books from Scholastic, S&S sent out review copies of Peter Pan in Scarlet with the proviso that no coverage appear before the pub date in October. (They wanted a signed agreement to that effect, but didn't get one from us.) That's fine by me: however "authorized," a sequel to Peter Pan is not exactly breaking news--unless your news is breaking the embargo. Emma Dryden, you evil genius.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Monday, August 21, 2006
Then I found a lengthy rumination on the closing of the fabled Cody's bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley:
Those were the years when just having a copy of a certain book could mark you as hip. Howl, say, or Das Kapital or Steppenwolf or The Rubyfruit Jungle or The Monkey Wrench Gang--carried face-out, of course, or read at a cafe table, it could get you kissed. Buying such a book in Berkeley infused it, and its buyer, with cachet.
But books don't mean what they once did. For those who write and read and publish and sell them, that's sad. But it's reality. When street mayhem broke out on Telegraph in the first years of the new millennium, the thieves stole shoes, scooters, CDs. No one looted the bookshops.
Did Telegraph kill Cody's? Hut Landon of the Independent Booksellers' Association certainly thinks so: "I wouldn't walk that street at night." He lived on Channing and Telegraph as a student in the 1970s. "Yes, there were wackos then but they weren't aggressive," he says sadly. "They weren't all hustling me for stuff. Cody's didn't do anything wrong. Cody's was a victim of its surroundings."
Less willing to blame the neighborhood, Andy Ross speaks darkly of something subtler but more devastating: a cultural shift. They're both right, of course. It's all part of that death by a thousand cuts.
First, America's book-buying demographic changed. Yes, people still buy books, but who are they? In fact, today's customers are the same as yesteryear's--the exact same customers. They're the Rubyfruiters and Monkey Wrenchers of yore; they simply grew up. They're now parents, homeowners, above-average earners. The typical American bookbuyer is a woman thirty to sixty years old. To her, and her male counterpart, books still mean what they always did. The right book can still be a status symbol, a social signifier. But things are different now for the young, including today's Telegraph habitues. The shattering of a monoculture into myriad microcultures has made it impossible for any single book to broadcast: Behold: This is me.
What books once did, tattoos now do.
The thing that's always kept me from tattoos is their permanence. Who wants to be stuck, at fifty, with what you thought was cool in your twenties? Do people look at that yinyang thing on their shoulder and cringe? But with books, you can reinvent yourself more often than Madonna. And I think that the book-as-personal-flirtation-device still has possibilities. (It probably doesn't even matter what you're reading, just the fact that you are ensures a certain degree of self-selection among the passersby.) Provided said book is closed, it's certainly an invitation to talk. But even this old-fashioned strategy proves vulnerable to corporate manipulation: I'm told that Pearson/Penguin commuters have been instructed to carry a copy of the Loren Long edition of The Little Engine That Could this Thursday in support of their company's sponsorship of Read for the Record Day. So if your idea of a good time is someone who whispers "I think I can, I think I can, I think can," then get yourself a copy.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
It was perfectly legitimate tv drama, but I was surprised to see it where it was. (Just as I was always nonplussed that my beloved Friends was shown during "family hour" at 8:00PM.) I'm similarly surprised about a great new book, Thomas M. Yeahpau's X Indian Chronicles: The Book of Mausape, coming out this fall from Candlewick. It's a stunning, mordant collection of linked short stories about young Indian men in "NDN City," a myth-shot modern city of gangs, booze, drugs, and sex, where the atmosphere of alienation and disaffectedness is anything but cosmetic.
But it's really, really (brilliantly) raunchy, and I'm having trouble seeing it as YA, although I'd love to be argued otherwise. It's not that it won't appeal to teens, quite the contrary, and Candlewick grades it for 14 and up, rather than the standard 12-up, so they're acknowledging the sophistication of the material. But why not publish it as an adult book? (This is not a question for Candlewick, which doesn't publish books for adults.) One, I'm afraid a lot of adults (and teens who feel themselves beyond YA) are going to miss it; and, two, I'm afraid that the children's buyers and librarians aren't going to know what to do with it. It's one of those books--again--that has me pining for the old lost cause: adult books for young adults. One of those books that deserves being discovered by a young reader rather than presented to.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Monday, August 14, 2006
I did find--it's only six months old--and gambled on Sarah Waters's The Night Watch, a novel described on the jacket as being about women in wartime London. While the book did not turn out to be like Maeve Binchy, but with lesbians, I still enjoyed it tremendously. Early on, one of the characters mentions her fondness for going into a movie when it's halfway through, because speculating on peoples' pasts is more interesting than imagining their futures, and likewise the book proceeds backwards, beginning shortly after the war and then going back to two points in the midst of it. The way the time periods and the characters intersect has the effect of a puzzle, almost, but the realism of the relationships and, especially, the evocation of the blackouts of the bomb-battered city keep things from getting too cerebral. I'm thinking I'll try Waters's previous novels now--I hear they're like Leon Garfield, but with lesbians.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
(But nobody beats Hazel Rochman for classy headphone listening. Her favorite in-flight entertainment is an old tape of Eliot's Four Quartets.)
One might think that Coleridge's wintry imagery might have put me in the mood for the morning's task: Martha and I are assigning holiday books for review. But just imagine how different English literature might look if the person from Porlock arrived with seven different (albeit alike in their utter lack of necessity) versions of The Night before Christmas in hand. Not pretty at all, no.
Monday, August 07, 2006
The Cow Who Clucked
written and illustrated by Denise Fleming
One Potato, Two Potato
written by Cynthia DeFelice, illustrated by Andrea U'Ren
Boo and Baa Have Company
written by Lena Landström, illustrated by Olof Landström, translated by Joan Sandin
An Abundance of Katherines
by John Green
Tales of Slicksters, Tricksters, and Other Wily Characters
(Schwartz & Wade/Random)
written by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by André Carrilho
by Terry Pratchett
Aggie and Ben:
written by Lori Ries, illustrated by Frank W. Dormer
Notes from the Midnight Driver
by Jordan Sonnenblick
by Susan Vaught
Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow
written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes
The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
by Russell Freedman
It's NOT the Stork!
written by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley
Friday, August 04, 2006
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Even for a gifted young reader, getting through long chapters with dense language can easily become overwhelming and can obscure the richness of the story and its characters. Reading an abridged, newly crafted version of a classic novel can be the gentle introduction a child needs to explore the characters and story line without the frustrations of difficult vocabulary and complex themes.
Reading an abridged version of a classic novel gives the young reader a sense of independence and the satisfaction of finishing a "grown-up" book. And when a child is engaged with and inspired by a classic story, the tone is set for further exploration of the story's themes, characters, history, and details. As a child's reading skills advance, the desire to tackle the original, unabridged version of the story will naturally emerge.
Oh, sure. Here's what it really wants to say:
Attention Walmart Shopper: For only $4.95, you can buy this hardcover version of a book you have definitely heard of but have probably never read. And not just any old famous book but a classic, the kind of book your third- or fourth- grader should be reading rather than wasting his or her time with an easy and probably demonic "children's book." This book used to be a grownup book, which means your child will be smarter and more advanced after reading it. And think of the sense of pride and satisfaction you will have that your child read a classic. Go ahead and brag. You've earned it.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Saturday, July 29, 2006
I'm no movie critic, and when Richard and I watch something together I'm amazed by the stuff he sees--he used to work in film and tv. (The glamour jaw-and-name-dropping moment of my life came when his old friend Andy Davis called me and asked whether he should cast Annette Bening or Sigourney Weaver as the Warden in Holes. I went with Sigourney and made history.) Whereas I tend to miss as much as I see--it all goes by so quickly.
We saw The Lady in the Water the other night and he assured me I didn't miss much, though. It reminded me of the kind of book I've wanted to walk out on for the past thirty fucking years--the kind where it seems like the author is making it up as he or she goes along. Like a sculpture you try to finish by just slapping more and more clay onto it, rather than carving away at what you already have. When I read that the movie began as a story Shyamalan told his kids at bedtime (a genesis often stated for celebrity children's books, too) I shoulda known it would be trouble. As Zena Sutherland told me Ursula Nordstrom used to say, "you could read your kids the telephone directory and they'd be happy."
Thursday, July 27, 2006
My second-favorite line from the article comes from a clown who sees her work as historical preservation: "We're helping keep Barney alive." But my most favorite comes from Kyle Good, one of the clowns at Scholastic: "Anyone would understand it's an important property of Scholastic and that we protect our rights and protect children from ever having a bad experience around any of our properties."
Great, so Scholastic books now come with insurance, or what? Do they know what kids do to Barbie?
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
The case seems to be quite the political futbol in Miami, too. Opponents of the book, one of those cookie-cutter series books about foreign countries for primary grades, object to its lack of commentary on Castro's regime; some objected to the photos of people smiling (just as Ayn Rand did in front of the HUAC). While Vamos a Cuba/Visit to Cuba was the object of the ban, apparently they went for the series in general so as to claim content neutrality. The judge saw through that one, too; I think I'm in love. Miami Herald education reporter Matthew I. Pinzur's blog is also tracking this story; check it out.
Here is the official Horn Book Guide line on the book, which was reviewed together with Visit to Puerto Rico, in the same series. Rating the books as "5s" (not good), our reviewer Elena Abos wrote: "These books offer superficial introductions to the geography, people, customs, language, and daily life in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The formulaic texts are almost identical for both countries, and neither contains more than the barest amount of information. The large-print texts are accompanied by color photographs of varying quality and relevance. Short lists of facts and of nine Spanish words are appended."