Thursday, March 30, 2006
The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon
written and illustrated by Mini Grey
What Do Wheels Do All Day?
written by April Jones Prince, illustrated by Giles Laroche
written and illustrated by Lynn Reiser
written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells
Day of the Scarab:
The Oracle Prophecies, Book Three
by Catherine Fisher
Thumb on a Diamond
by Ken Roberts
Mama: A True Story in which a Baby Hippo Loses His Mama during a Tsunami, but Finds a New Home, and a New Mama
written and illustrated by Jeannette Winter (page 351)
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
What other songs have been tilled from our field? The only one I can think of offhand is "Charlotte's Web" ("Now I'm the one who's caught in . . .") by the Statler Brothers.
Friday, March 24, 2006
But I don't think I could read any of them today to save my life. I love the Wee Free Men stories by Terry Pratchett, and recently enjoyed Julie Hearn's The Minister's Daughter, but the vast majority of invented-world high fantasy makes my eyes glaze over--and if your taste in spelling runs along the lines of faery, don't sit by me. While this of course says more about me than about the books, it has me interested in how, as adults, we reject books or genres that spoke so clearly to us at an earlier age. Interests change, certainly, and dare I say, mature. But I wonder if there is also a subconscious rejection going on, a determination to separate the grown-up self from the child self. It's different from rejecting genres/authors/themes because of indifference; I'm talking about the books from which we run screaming precisely because they meant so much to us at a different time.
I don't think I'm alone in this, and there's plenty of room on the virtual couch. How does the dynamic I describe work in/for/against you all as adults invested in books for children?
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
I do have a topic, though--the Naomi Wolf article has me thinking about where the intersection between criticism and practical application should be. So we determine that book is racist, sexist, materialist--objectionable in one way or another. How do we go beyond pointing that out? Or is pointing that out the limit? For example, I am almost completely with Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin in their analysis of how pornography works. But their solutions? Not so much. Anyway, your spirited comments on the Wolf have been a big help to my thinking and I thank you.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Cate Fante, a newbie Philadelphia judge, has a little problem with stress, and has been relieving it once a month or so by picking up rough trade at seedy bars and bedding them in no-tell motels. In the course of a high-profile court case, her secret life comes out and is splashed all over the news and papers. It's actually rather daring of Scottoline to give her heroine such an icky compulsion to deal with; the problem is the tidy way in which the novel cleans it up: early on, Cate confesses her latest indiscretion to her best friend, swears never to do it again, and, apparently, never does. Why give a character such a interesting dark side only to solve the problem by switching on a light? Why raise demons only to exorcise them so easily?
Of course, had Dirty Blonde been a YA novel, we might have been subjected to endless scenes of cutting, OCD, and Cate's sessions with her court-appointed (and long-winded) psychologist, so maybe I should count my blessings.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Questionable was left undefined, as it usually is (like offensive). Questionable meaning, "I don't have an audience in my library for these books," fine. But questionable as "in questionable taste," or as in "I'm gonna get in trouble," not so fine. As well, the "we only have a limited amount of money" argument is no defense, either: if you only have a limited amount of money, don't you want to spend a large chunk of it on books that kids already want to read? When I was in library school, Zena Sutherland took the line that libraries needn't buy Nancy Drew, etc. (I see I'm dating both Zena and myself!) because kids could buy them for themselves, and indeed such books were published with both eyes on the mass market, not on institutional sales. But then I went out and worked with kids who could not (or would not) buy books for themselves. In my opinion, the stocking of mass-market paperbacks in a public library is a signal to kids that their interests are represented and respected. Why should a kid respect my recommendation of, say, Francesca Lia Block, if I don't respect the kid's enjoyment of Gossip Girls? (Note: I don't think you have to have respect for what somebody is reading in order to respect her right to her own taste.)
Monday, March 13, 2006
I was much less convinced by a recent piece in Slate, "The Little Men Who Love Little House: Why Boys Like Girls [sic] Books" by Emily Bazelon. The first problem is that the article doesn't speak to its title; in fact, the case being made seems to be precisely the opposite of what is premised. Her sole evidence that boys like girls' books is that her six-year-old son likes some of the same books she does (but she never says what they are). She also claims that Nancy Drew outselling The Hardy Boys proves the same thing, but . . . no. Ultimately, Bazelon seems defeated by her own question, concluding that boys don't read because we aren't doing enough to publish and promote books they would like: boys' books.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Although I'm only sporadically (or subliminally!) aware of this negotiation, it's going on all the time. Magazine exec. editor Martha or Kitty, her opposite number at the Guide, and I regularly disagree about books: how do we decide what the "Horn Book opinion" will be? Similarly, all our reviewers have their own considered opinions. And the result? It seems to go a different way with each book, which is good.
While this kind of book debate goes on in many contexts, I think what's most interesting about the children's books community is that we are having our debates on behalf of someone else: the child reader, either on the other side of the desk at our teacher and librarian jobs, across the dinner table at home, or as an imagined or projected audience. We're always negotiating the difference between what we like and what they like (or in the happy instance where professional and child audience are in agreement, between how we like a book and how it is enjoyed by the young.)
Maybe, though, we are only ostensibly mediating the distinction between children and ourselves. Maybe we are always reading (or writing) for ourselves. The child-as-other idea, God knows, is fraught with problems literary, educational, and political. I believe that children read for the same reasons adults do (and both groups, of course, are made up of distinct individuals). But woe betide us (meaning those who take part in bringing children and books together) if we forget the stewardly nature of our work.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
An Act relating to libraries; providing for withholding of certain state funds under certain circumstances; providing for codification; and declaring an emergency.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA:
SECTION 1. NEW LAW A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 2-110 of Title 65, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:
The Oklahoma Department of Libraries Board shall not grant or distribute any state funds that are allocated to libraries on a formula basis to any library, library district, or library system unless the library has taken action to place all children and young adult books and materials that are homosexually themed or sexually explicit in an adult or special area in the library and the library has a policy in place to limit distribution of such books and material to adults only.
SECTION 2. It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval.
I'm not sure what moving King and King to a restricted shelf in the adult department is going to do for "the public peace, health and safety" but maybe Oklahoma doesn't have enough to worry about. Here's the story.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
I frequently field questions from reporters wanting to know about "trends" in children's literature, but, honestly, once I swear I've spotted one, another comes along to displace it. So disregard what I said about high-stakes fantasy, I guess.
Monday, March 06, 2006
But. But. Listen to English on the Adult Video News Awards, an award program for porn, with such categories as "Best Anal Sex Scene." In considering the financial impact of the AVNs and other porn awards, English writes, "purchasers of porn videos tend to be drawn with particular force toward award-winning titles. There are few fields of cultural consumption (children's literature is one) in which prizes have a more direct and powerful effect on sales." Mercy!
Thursday, March 02, 2006
--Peter Conrad, Behind the Mountain: Return to Tasmania (Poseidon Press, 1989)