Sunday, December 24, 2006

God bless us every one

Unfortunately, Jamaica Pond doesn't have its Narnia snow this Christmas; Richard took this picture last year. It's virtually Christmas. I hope you and yours are enjoying the season.

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

Harry's House (and Harry's take-home pay)

I know I've exhausted whatever critical credibility I might have had re Harry Potter, but I need to talk about yesterday's headlines announcing that the name of the forthcoming and final volume to the series could be found at the author's website. Less sporting journalists simply announced the name.

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

Choose your own adventure

I thought about our recent links to digital stories when I read this NY Times review of a London Faust in which audience members, independently and at will, move throughout the various spaces in which the play is being enacted: "It's theater for the interactive age. But instead of moving a cursor, you simply move yourself, choosing whatever character you want to follow, whatever sound intrigues you, whichever enticing corridor you are drawn to explore."

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.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Cue, and . . . car crash!

We saw History Boys last night, and much as I loved it (and not to spoil it for you all), it reminded me of too many gay YA novels from the 1970s. See Michael Cart and Christine Jenkins' new book for details.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Who's Our Enid?

Reading this piece on the Guardian book blog about whether or not to give children books whose moral assumptions have become dated, I thought about our previous discussion about reviewers correcting themselves. What do you do when it's not so much the reviewer who's changed his mind, but the times? The Guardian article discusses Brit favorites Enid Blyton and Willard Price (a writer unknown to me); a similar debate here might focus on "Carolyn Keene" and "Franklin W. Dixon," although their series books have been regularly revised to remove what's now perceived (by those with the power to do something about it) as racial stereotyping.

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 the Alias fan in mourning:

Check out Inanimate Alice. It's a spooky ongoing digital story conceived and published for the web, and it will suck you right into its tale about a girl whose father's shadowy work takes the family around the globe. There's an interview with the author in The Guardian. I was reminded of William Gibson's great Pattern Recognition, in which the heroine spends her spare time (and increasingly becomes consumed with) questing for "the footage," mysterious segments of film that show up in odd places and at odd moments on the internet.

For some smart thinking about how digital picture books might work read Jean Gralley's "Books Unbound."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"But she wanted a tutu"

Writing the New Yorker's annual children's-book-roundup about ten years ago, Adam Gopnik took issue with Mimi's Tutu, by Tynia Thomassie and Jan Spivey Gilchrist. It's about a young African American girl who wants a ballerina's tutu, but her mother and family give her an African-styled dancing dress instead. Gopnik commented along the lines of "but she wanted a tutu," and went on to discuss books that serve adult agendas at the expense of children's wishes.

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?

Second Thoughts

Over at Booklist's Likely Stories, Keir Graff has some worthy thoughts about reviewers' changes of mind or heart. We grapple with that in a mild way when we construct our Fanfare list every December--some book someone was crazy about doesn't seem so great anymore, and another star bites the dust; a book that was not starred in the first place is giving off more of a glow.

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

Giving the pig a happy ending

The upcoming Charlotte's Web movie is engendering the usual publishing spawn; just arrived in our office is Some Pig!: A Charlotte's Web Picture Book. The bucolic illustrations are by Maggie Keen; the text is E. B. White's complete second chapter from Charlotte's Web, "Wilbur."

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

Those Pesky Annotations

After spending most of last week working on annotations for our Fanfare list, I read the NYT 100 Notable Books of the Year with new eyes. We'll ignore the fact that the list ignores children's books; what I was fixed on were the annotations of the titles. Some are purely descriptive, such as the one for Monica Ali's Alentejo Blue: "Ali's second novel revolves around the inhabitants of a southern Portuguese village." (At least creating a breeze, one hopes!) Many speak to theme (Lisa Fugard's Skinner's Drift: A white farm family is the foreground of this novel; behind it, the sins of South Africa"). Surprisingly few--maybe a dozen--attempt to note why a particular book is notable or even good: Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children is called "nimble," and Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower is "vivid." The block-that-metaphor award goes to the annotator of Allegra Goodman's Intuition: "A cancer researcher's dubious finding sets off a tidal wave that carries many people away."

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."