Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Report on a Hissing Match with a Dead Guy

For the Love of Narnia in The Chronicle of Education is being talked about at Child_Lit today. In Love of Narnia, Michael Nelson (a poli sci professor???) responds to criticism of C.S. Lewis from Philip Pullman.

Most of the quoted complaints from Pullman I've read before, though I can't remember where. I think I must have read the original article Nelson is responding to. Reading Pullman's opinions on anything can be fun because he isn't exactly a subtle debater. You don't have to guess where he stands on any subject.

In his article, Nelson places Lewis and Pullman at opposing ends of...uh...I don't know...the spectrum of religious writers for kids? Lewis is described as an "outspoken defender of the faith," meaning Christianity. Pullman is called "avowedly atheistic." "The Christian religion," one of Pullman's main characters blandly explains," (according to Nelson) "is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all."

What I find so intriguing about all this is that, as I've admitted before, I totally didn't get Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is supposed to be a Christian fable. Nor did I get the second two books in Pullman's anti-Christian His Dark Materials trilogy.

They both lost me.

I Know Some Adults Who Are Going to be Really Upset About This

Stan Berenstain, co-creator of the Berenstain Bears, has died after a long and, I hope, very happy life.

The obit carried by
The New York Times included some of the complaints made about the books over the years. As usual, I missed a lot of that stuff while I was reading them to and with my boys. We used to pick up new Bear books after long trips to the grocery store. We've got a stack of them up in our attic now.

Once upon a time, happiness was a shiny, new Berenstain Bear book. If only that were still the case.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Consolation of Reading

The last two days haven't been stellar (though I did get an offer to speak at an AAUW luncheon), but today, when I got home from a disappointing class, I knew I had a good book to finish reading. I just sat down with A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb and read until I was done.

A Certain Slant of Light is the story of Helen, a woman in her twenties, who has been dead for over a hundred years. Though she can't recall much about her life, she knows she did something horrible.

To get away from her suffering in the afterlife, she clings to human hosts to whom she also becomes emotionally attached. She must follow them wherever they go or she'll descend back into what to her is a dark, cold hell. Though they are totally unaware of her existence, she reads over their shoulders, learns through them about life in the generations after hers is over, and hopes she can follow them into heaven when they die.

Clearly that never happens, because she's on, I believe, her fifth host, a high school teacher, when our story begins. One day she's in his classroom with him when she realizes that a boy can see her. This boy's body, it turns out, was near death when it was inhabited by a spirit like herself. Soon Helen is inhabiting the body of a teenage girl who was spiritually near death.

And so begins their intense love story as these two out-of-place souls try to deal with the families of the bodies they now are living in and the guilt they are carrying with them regarding the lives they lived before but can't quite remember.

If a writer is really good, I've realized this past year, she can compensate for slip-ups in her story. I never quite understood how James came to inhabit his body in the first place. Why weren't most of the humans in the story inhabited by the spirits of the dead? And there's some kind of evil thing that tries to take possession of bodies that I never understood, either.

But it just didn't matter. Whitcomb is able to write emotion so well that every character in the book is real. Even the fundamentalist family is saved from being a stereotype by the pain and suffering the mother experiences.

Nothing is wasted in this book. If a character is introduced, he or she has an important part to play at some point in the story.

I do wonder why the book is being marketed as YA, though. The main characters are the adult spirits in the book, not the teenage bodies they inhabit. And the guilt that has kept Helen in hell all these years involves the fear of an adult woman, not a teenage girl.

I tend to be a little jaded, of course, so I wonder if the decision to market the book as YA wasn't made because the two teenage bodies engage in a lot of sex, some of the best sex I've ever seen in a YA book. Teens like sex? Adults won't be interested in sex if the bodies involved are teenagers?

This is a great book. It should definitely become a crossover for any age group.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A New Way to Waste Time

Jane Yolen has been talking in her on-line journal about a game called
, which she has been finding a little addicting. I was hoping for something a little more sophisticated, something that would be about books and not spelling. But spelling did keep my attention for an hour or so today. And here's a hint--you actually do have to link the letters. They have to be touching. You can't just go all over the board hitting letters in order and figure you've made a word. Come on! Don't try to tell me that no one else thought that was how you played the game.

A New Way to Make Good Use of Time

The day after Thanksgiving I thought I was going to have some time to do some reading and do some outlining/planning. Instead I ended up spending two hours putting plastic up on a relative's windows. I couldn't believe it.

The next day I went to the Laundromat with a book and a notebook and slam! bam! I sat down and ideas immediately started coming. We've been having water problems here for the last month so I've been at the Laundromat a lot. Looking back, I realize I've done a lot of good work there. One day I brought a rough draft, made all kinds of changes and wrote a new piece to go with it.

Needless to say, I love the Laundromat.

Someone is coming out next Monday to fix our water system. What will I do then? I'm thinking of just going down to the Laundromat and hanging a few times a week. They have a soda machine, and there's a Chinese takeout right next door. I could go down, do lunch, and get some work done.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Narnia in The New Yorker

About a week ago, kidlit blogs were buzzing about The Prisoner of Narnia by Adam Gopnik in the Nov. 21 issue of The New Yorker. "Buzzing" is defined here as "announcing that an article about C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was in the Nov. 21 issue of The New Yorker." Original Content will give you more. Though not much.

As it turns out, I actually have that issue of The New Yorker because I subscribed to the magazine early this year. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that I really don't care for it very much. I'm two, maybe three, issues behind in reading the things. But I made a point of keeping the Nov. 21 issue out of the heap of periodicals and catalogs in my living room and actually read the article in question.

Prisoner of Narnia includes a lot of information about Lewis's religious attitudes and how he came by them. Don't panic! This is a kidlit blog so I'm not going to go on and on about that. What really interested me about the article appeared on the very first page, anyway, though I did read the whole thing. Honest.

Gopnik starts his article by talking about how Lewis is viewed differently in America and Britain. Then he says "None of this would matter much if it weren't for Narnia. The seven tales of the English children who cross over, through a wardrobe, into a land where animals speak and lions rule, which Lewis began in the late nineteen-forties, are classics in the only sense that matters--books that are read a full generation after their author is gone."

Point One: Lewis, an academic man who wrote a number of books, is known for his children's books. His children's books have kept his name in front of readers. I am moved.

Point Two: Ever wondered what a "classic" book is? "...books that are read a full generation after their author is gone." Whether they're good, whether they're bad, people want to read them. There's a democratic, power-to-the-people aspect to that definition that I love.

Makes me wish I'd liked The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a whole lot more than I did.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Not Thinking of Myself for Once

I had an interesting experience while reading Walking With the Dead by L.M. Falcone. I was actually able to stop thinking about what I like and think, for a moment, about what a kid might like.

I've been talking about doing a mummy book for some time so when I saw Walking With the Dead, which I thought involved a mummy, at a local library, I worried that someone had beat me to my story. I immediately checked it out. I was reassured when I found out that this mummy appeared to be Greek, not Egyptian, so, of course, we were talking about two totally different things. I was also reassured because I didn't care for the book much. The realistic parts of the story seemed farfetched and weak, with the characters just walking from one incident to another.

However, once the book got to the "walking with the dead" part, things became more interesting. Alex, the main character, and his cousin, end up going to the Underworld as it is portrayed in Greek mythology. This should have been the really improbable part, but I liked it much better. I don't mind improbable things when they should be improbable.

I was reading along, recognizing some figures from my youthful studies of Greek mythology, when I suddenly experienced what for me was a deep insight: If I were a youthful person who was studying Greek mythology, I might really enjoy this book. To see a modern day kid interacting with all this old stuff that I was having to learn might make it much more attractive to me.

Not that mythology is unattractive. I seem to remember liking it when I was young. However, I haven't retained all that much, so I can't vouch for Falcone's accuracy. Nonetheless, this might be a title teachers and school librarians should take a look at and have on hand for students who find the Greeks a snooze. And even those who don't.

This book was published just this year. I mention that because as a general rule I miss new titles.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving Reading

I often feel badly because I can't begin to keep up with reading all the new children's and YA books that are published each year. I try to bolster my self-esteem with the knowledge that because I often read older books, I'm able to give some attention here to titles that aren't getting much press any longer. Today's post is a case in point.

I'm sure everyone recalls that yesterday was Thanksgiving. While other relatives prepared the meal, I was able to hunt through my six-year-old niece's book collection. I found a couple of incredible gems that were purchased long before the little girl was born.

Zoom Away and Zoom Upstream are two beautiful picture books written by Tim Wynne-Jones and illustrated by Ken Nutt. They both involve the adventures of a cat named Zoom and a human woman named Maria. They are the second and third installments of a trilogy (my niece's family doesn't have the first book), and they both involve Zoom and Maria hunting for Zoom's uncle, a sea captain who appears to have been lost at sea. In Zoom Away they search for him in the Arctic, which can be accessed through a room upstairs in Zoom's house. In Zoom Upstream Zoom and Maria head off for Egypt, which, again, they can reach through some spot in Zoom's house. The books are marvelous stories with marvelous award-winning black and white illustrations.

The two books, which I managed to read while I should have been mingling with relatives, were published in the 1980s and early '90s and are now out of print. I've heard of Tim Wynne-Jones, a big noise out of Canada who occasionally writes articles for The Horn Book Magazine. I most definitely will be looking for his other books now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I'm Embarrassed for an Entirely Different Reason

The Superintendent of Public Instruction in Arizona wants to ban The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky because it's supposed to include a hot, steamy scene. I say "supposed to" because the guy calling for the book ban has only read one page of the book. I have read the book, but it was so long ago, and I was so underwhelmed that I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember the scene in question. (Thanks to Blog of B.S. for the link.)

I'm Watching

I have two more kidlit blogs I'll be watching in the next few months--Your Fairy Bookmother and Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Weblog. I'm not sure exactly what Finding Wonderland is. And, yes, I eliminated another blog from my list when I added these two. There are only so many hours in the day.

It's Not All In My Head

I believe I may have mentioned here that I feel overwhelmed by the number of book awards I've been reading about the last couple of years. Though I will admit that I am easily overwhelmed, it appears that in this case, at least, I have some justification. According to Debating the Rewards of so Many Awards in the L.A. Times, literary awards just in the U.S. are up from around 20 fifty years ago to at least 1,000 today.

With that many awards, shouldn't we all get nominated for something sometime during our careers? Is it an honor to be nominated when there are so many? Does the sheer number of them undermine their value?

I agree with Mary Gaitskill, author of Veronica, which was a finalist for this year's National Book Award. Forget about recognition, forget about honor, forget about feeling one with your fellow writers while you're all attending a nice reception. (All mentioned in the L.A. Times article) Book awards and book award nominations sell books. At the very least, they get your book in general interest publications so the public might see the title.

I know that sounds crass, but there are a huge number of books published these days, while the number of book reviewing spots hasn't budged. It's extremely difficult to get anyone in book publishing to pay attention to a new title. The general reader hears about only a small percentage of the books that are published each year. An award nomination gets your name in the paper, which is what the average reader reads.

An example? My local city paper rarely--rarely--publishes reviews of children's books. No book I have ever written has received any attention from that paper's book editor. However, last year I was nominated for a Connecticut Book Award and at least got a mention in the article on the nominees. Pegi Deitz Shea, who won the award for children's literature that year, actually was given a couple of paragraphs in an article a week or two later.

I know that doesn't sound like much, but in the competition for press, which is as demanding as the competition for awards, we did good.

Thanks to for the L.A. Times link.

Monday, November 21, 2005

November Disaster

No, I'm not talking about an election. I'm talking about my National Novel Writing Month experience. I did much better last year. I hit the 50,000 word goal, though I was nowhere near finishing the novel. I worked away every day, and I was all pumped up.

I got off to a terrible start this year, unable to even start until November 3. (Can't remember why.) I've been unable to work on weekends because of all kinds of family commitments. Relatives seem to be coming out of the woodwork this month. Well, the relatives weren't to blame for that 14 mile hike I did on the Airline Trail, I suppose, but that was only one day. And then there were distressing things going on on the street and appointments and on and on and on.

Of course, I was working on essays this year instead of a novel, which probably means I wasn't doing National Novel Writing Month at all. And therefore I have nothing to feel badly about? I do feel I'm doing some good work, though I've only finished two essays with big chunks done on two more and lots of bits and pieces of others. Here is what I've discovered about's all about the title.

Part of my plan for this month was to try to improve my work habits. To that end, I reread the portions of Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity by Susan K. Perry that I had underscored when I read it the first time. (I'm not linking to Perry's website because it's too cringe worthy.) I had all kinds of great ideas last week, thought I was making real progress, was going to start writing a book a year.

Then today came. I did a little bit of backsliding. Oh, yeah.

The rest of the week is not shaping up well. I'm thinking of throwing in the towel, and if I have any extra time spending it reading. Of course, by next week I'll be so out of essay writing mode that it will take me until December to get back into it.

Next year I think I'm going to do my month-long intense writing experience during a month when there are no holidays. And I'll plan better for it, making sure that I don't make any appointments during that period. Hmmm. That could work. Maybe March or October?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Uh...Who Was Here?

The opening pages of The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman have an elegy-like quality to them that made me think "Uh-oh. I see a dead person coming." I don't think it's giving anything away to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

We've all known people who no one notices. Some of us have been those people. Shusterman plays with the idea of a person (the Schwa) who goes so unnoticed that he's nearly invisible. The situation he creates almost goes too far. In fact, for a long time as I was reading this book, I thought it was science fiction. I was hoping that the Schwa's mother, who has disappeared, had been kidnapped by aliens and that he was the product of a human and alien relationship. Nonetheless, everything about the Schwa is intriguing and workable.

I actually like the Schwa and his friend Anthony, the narrator of this book. I like building a story around people who rarely have books written about them.

My knew it was coming, didn't you? that I felt there were two separate stories in this book. It reminded me of Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts. Both books have a really interesting premise, but then the authors feel they have to add another storyline about family problems. In The Schwa Was Here, it isn't even one of the two main characters'families. The boys get involved with a stereotypical cranky old rich man (a type that goes back to Little Women, and for all I know Alcott got it from someone else) who is isolated in his house. The guy has a spunky granddaughter...who is blind. These complications really had very little to do with the Schwa. They felt like filler.

I'm a big believer in staying on task. Decide what you're going to write about and stick with it.

Read The Schwa Was Here for the Schwa and ignore Old Man Crawley and his granddaughter.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Can't Get Enough Scandal?

Here's what the New York Times has to say about the Clement Hurd brouhaha.

I Feel I Have to Report This

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall has won the National Book Award. You've probably already read that in at least a half a dozen places. I'm overwhelmed by the huge numbers of book awards that are out there, but this is a big one so I thought I should at least indicate that I know what it is.

Here's something you may not have heard, though. Jeanne Birdsall is also a photographer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

On a More Positive Note

At yesterday's book fair I also saw some books I liked. I'm thinking in particular of Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. This year's Caldecott Medal winner is about a kitten who sees a giant bowl of milk up in the sky and sets out to reach it. She is, of course, unsuccessful. But what does she find on the porch when she goes home but a big bowl of milk. The illustrations are simple and in black and white. The text is simple and brief. I'm sure any number of things can be read into the story. Home is where the bowl of milk is. There's no place like home. What you're looking for in life is right on your own front porch. But what I read into it was that a kitten or kid can strike out on her own with the knowledge that she will always be welcomed back home with a bowl of milk. And that's why I bought the book for a baby gift.

In her On-line Journal Jane Yolen has frequently mentioned her How Do Dinosaurs... series. I saw a couple of them at both yesterday's book fair and the one I attended at UConn on Sunday.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a wonderful A&E program (on DVD) on the French Impressionists while I was ironing clothes. I thought, Why didn't my kids learn about these people when they were in school? The Impressionists have a wonderfully dramatic story about people striking out on their own, rejection, and perseverance. And we're talking history and art, too. So when I saw a book called Pierre Auguste Renoir Paintings That Smile by True Kelley I checked it out. It looked so good I bought it. When I'm through with it, I'll pass it on to one of the elementary education majors I know so they can add it to their classroom libraries. The book is part of a series called Smart About Art.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Old Wine in a New Flask

I stopped by my local elementary school book fair this morning and noticed a few titles I thought I might mention. This was the second book fair I've attended in three days. You know I can't be around that many books in that short a space of time without finding something to complain about, so I'm going to do the complaining today and get it over with.

I thumbed through The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke and was a little surprised by what I saw. The book seems to be both didactic and dated. It's a motherless-girl-raised-as-a-tomboy-then-forced-to-become-girlie-in-adolescence story with a very 1970's kind of feminist ending. The main character is the youngest child and only daughter of a king who has a number of sons. Her mother dies at her birth, a very traditional way of getting rid of moms in nineteenth century children's stories. (Why is Mom always dead in stereotypical tomboy stories? Is Mom the great enforcer of female roles?) Dad then raises the young princess like his sons, teaching her how to ride a horse, fight, etc. But once she reaches adolescence, he wants her to suddenly become the conforming princess who gives her hand in marriage to the knight who wins a tournament. (I'm guessing a sociologist/anthropologist/psychiatrist/somebody could give us a little talk about this preadolescent character--having little in the way of outward sexual characteristics to define her gender--being allowed freedom, which she has to sacifice during the transitional period between childhood and adulthood when she physically becomes girlie so that she can take her place in the adult scheme of things.) The teenage princess disguises herself as a knight to take part in the tournament where she beats all the other knights so that she doesn't have to marry any of them. Then, for some reason that remains a mystery to me, she takes off for a while. When she comes home, she marries the gardener's son. So there's a lesson here about sexual and social equality. A twofer!

You can't miss the gender lesson because it is not subtle by any means. I also think it's a dated lesson because while I would never claim that sexual discrimination no longer exists, it is no longer of the you-can't-be-a-knight-because-you're-a-girl variety. It's more of a we'll-let-you-be-a-knight-if-you-work-harder-than-we-do-and-prove-yourself-in-ways-we-guys-don't-have-to kind of thing. Though Funke is supposed to be living in California now, this book may have been written in German originally and would thus reflect a German sensibility. Maybe the social order is different there. But in the U.S., it's now the twenty-first century. Physical education classes in public schools are coeducational. Boys and girls learn the same things. Municipal recreational sports leagues, though they may be made up primarily of boys, are open to girls. Martial arts classes--open to girls and everyone trains together learning the same things. A number of state universities use the slogan: "Where men are men and women are champions" because of their winning women's sports teams. Women are fighting a war side by side with men. (Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the military is supposed to be sexist as all get out. But that doesn't change the fact that women are there.) While I think it's unlikely we'll have two women heading the party tickets in the next presidential race, people are talking about the possibility that Hillary Clinton will go up against Condoleeza Rice.

The world children live in today is not one where girls are overtly told that they can't do things. I imagine a preschool class hearing this story and going "What do you mean her father didn't want her taking part in the tournament?" I also imagine adults really admiring this book because it hits kids over the head with a lesson many of us like. I just don't think it's necessary to preach to the child choir.

We need a new story model for children who do the unexpected. Instead of children fighting the establishment so that they can be free to be who they are, I'd like to see stories about children just going out and being who they are. Let's actually show children gender equality instead of telling them about it through improving lessons.

For a better liberated princess story, try The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.

Monday, November 14, 2005

My Day at the Fair

I've been talking about the Connecticut Children's Book Fair for months. I was not all talk and no action. It was held this past weekend, and I actually went yesterday. I don't make a point of going every year because while the Fair always hosts highly regarded writers, it does seem to focus more on picture book authors and illustrators. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but my own interest is in books for the middle grades and older.

Okay, first I'll talk about the event in general. I have taken part in at least three book fairs (including the Connecticut Children's Book Fair sometime back in the 90s) and additional group signings, and they are all alike. Most of the authors sit alone at tables looking as if they wished they'd stayed home and done their laundry or mowed the lawn while one big name is getting writer's cramp from all the signing he or she is doing. Yesterday was no different, at least during the hour and a half I was there. Lonely authors sat watching shoppers who milled about among the tables of books offered for sale. Until Tomie dePaolo showed up for his signing. He was seated at the far end of a ballroom. The line of people waiting for him to sign books extended the length of the ballroom and out the door. And this was for his second signing of the day.

I can't imagine anyone being envious of an author at a book fair.

Okay, now that you've got the feel for the book fair experience, I will go on to give you the high points on the author presentation I attended--Suzanne Collins's, of course. Her audience filled up about three-fourths of her room, which was far better than the dozen or so people I had when I gave a presentation at that book fair. (I once saw an author at a book fair giving a presentation to three people--believe me, these are rough gigs.) Collins gave an interesting presentation, and she was prepared to address both adults and children, which isn't easy.

I took all kinds of notes during her talk, but I've decided not to relate every detail because what if you have a chance to hear her speak and I've already told you everything she has to say? If I were her, I'd be really ticked off if someone was giving away all my material.

However, she did say one thing that was really significant for me personally, so I'll pass that on. I love The Underland Chronicles, which is strange because I don't care much for fantasy. However, Collins says she doesn't think of them as fantasy. She thinks of them as a war story. That's what she has in mind when she's writing. Perhaps that's what I'm responding to, the war story, not the fantasy.

The fourth book comes out in May, 2006, which means we'll be competing for review space. Shoot. And the fifth book will be coming out the year after. As a reader, I'm glad the books will be coming out so soon. As a writer, I'm chagrined because she can work so much faster than I can. And that's on top of holding down a job as head writer for a children's show, the name of which I can't remember.

I said hello to three acquaintances while I was at the fair. Patricia Hubbell is the only one I think had a clue who I was.

Children's Book Week

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti tipped me off to the fact that this is Children's Book Week. I never seem to know about these things ahead of time. Susan has a list of ways individuals can observe the event. Personally, I'm hitting my local elementary school's book fair tomorrow.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Good Title is the Key to Success

My own personal version of National Novel Writing Month, which involves writing essays for a month, has slowed down the last couple of days after getting off to a weak start a little less than two weeks ago. I have been mulling things over, hoping for a breakout experience, and I think I've had one.

Each of my essays needs a different title. And once I've found the perfect title, I will be able to write the essay effortlessly.

In the meantime, I am reading a YA novel, but slowly while I'm on the treadmill. I'm also reading an adult memoir, which is going slowly, too, not because I'm reading it on the treadmill, but because it is sloooow. But I'm sure I'll be a much better human being when I've finished.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Everyone Loves a List

As reported here earlier, during Teen Read Week teens could vote for their favorite book so the name could be placed on a top ten list. Doesn't seem like a major voting motivator, but someone must have done it because the votes have been counted and, sure enough, there is now a list. (Thanks to KidsLit for the link.)

Publisher's Weekly has a list of the Best Children's Books of 2005, a few of which I've actually read. And a couple I actually liked.

Here's my problem with "Best of the Year" book lists, though: I can't help but wonder about the people who make them. Did they really read all the books published this past year? One of my acquaintances at Adbooks has read 300 YA novels since March, and if they were all published in 2005, I guess she could take a shot at making her own list. But something tells me she's an exceptional reader. (I hope so, because I've only read about 62 books so far this year.) So once I start wondering about how many books the listmaker actually read, I've got to start wondering about all those other books. And then I've got to wonder if Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is really that much better than everything else that's out there, or if the people who made the list just haven't read very much. (Thanks to Adbooks for the link.)

Kidlit Scandal! Yes!!!

Clement Hurd smoked! Who knew?

This is a big enough deal that I've read about it in more than one place in recent days. (This particular link came from Read Roger.) I'm not jumping up and down about it, myself, because deleting that cigarette is not censoring Goodnight Moon,which Hurd illustrated, since neither the cigarette, nor this picture of Hurd, appear in the book. I do agree, though, that when a publisher changes historical fact, it raises questions about what else it is willing to change. Just who can you trust?

The folks at HarperCollins certainly did clean that picture up nicely, though, didn't they? Clement Hurd was kind of hot.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Another Take on Why Adults Read Children's Books

Over the weekend several children's literature weblogs mentioned William Flesch's article The Way We Were: Why Are Adult Readers So Drawn to Children's Literature at Thank you very much, folks, because adult readers of kidlit just happens to be a subject that interests me.

A recent issue of The Horn Book included an article on the BBC program in which a number of British writers worried that their civilization was falling because adults were reading children's books. They blamed the schools, of course, claiming the poor state of education leaves British citizens ill-equipped to read anything but children's literature.

Flesch has a more thoughtful and thought-provoking theory. In his article, a commentary on The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature, which has just been published, he suggests that nostalgia and melancholy lead adults to children's books. "All great children's literature reminds adults of the ephemerality of childhood," he writes, and "in reading children's literature we suspend disbelief, on the child's behalf, in the permance of the world. But we know that this suspension is itself impermanent."

I don't know that I totally agree with Flesch, mainly because I don't think children's literature should be written "by and for (emphasis mine) adults thinking hard about their own lost childhoods even as they interact with real childen." Instead, I think that children's literature should be written for children and reflect what is going on in their lives to the extent that the adult writer understands it.

However, I do recognize that Flesch can come up with titles to support his claim. In Anne of Green Gables the lively and charming child Anne grows up to become a conforming young woman. Peter Pan and the much more recent The Polar Express are pretty clear that children lose something by growing up. And every teenage coming-of-age novel ever written focuses on the loss of innocence as a young person enters the adult world by coming to terms with a fact of life--usually sex or death or sex and death. Childhood in these books is definitely ephemeral. It's also superior to adulthood.

Though Flesch may be correct that many adults like to read a type of children's literature that takes them back to a time before they knew that life sucks and then you die, it's a type of children's literature that romanticizes childhood. Those adults are looking for something quite different from kids' books than I think kids look for. I think kids are looking for themselves as they are now. They aren't looking backward. I also think kids' books should be about kids. When Flesch says "What can make children's literature great is that it makes us think more consciously about what it was once like to respond as a child to literature, and what it must be like now for the child-reader implied by the book," I can't help but feel that child-readers should have a much bigger say in determining the greatness of their literature than the us referred to in that statement.

But Flesch treats his subject with respect, and while I have my doubts about some of what he has to say, I appreciate the way he says it. Why didn't the BBC invite some like him to be part of its panel last year?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

True Confessions

I've been reading about The Chronicles of Narniamovie and feeling totally out of it because I did not get The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at all. I'd heard it was supposed to have some kind of Christian significance so back when I was teaching sixth-grade Sunday school, I decided we'd read a little of the book at the end of each class. I was hoping to make my students love coming to church because I knew that if I could read something besides the Bible or the hymnal during service, I would certainly be more eager to show up on Sunday morning.

We tried reading the book aloud for a few weeks, during which time I brought in homemade Turkish taffy, which must have figured in the story somehow, though I can't remember now. (By the way, I don't recommend making Turkish taffy at home. Or maybe eating it at all.) Finally, I had to say to the kids, "Can someone explain this book to me? I don't see what this has to do with religion."

One girl, whose mother was the Christian education director for the church, had already read the book. She said, "The lion is Jesus."

I hope this doesn't ruin the movie for anyone. After all, there are lots of other characters in the book who aren't Jesus. And we are just taking a sixth grader's word for it about the lion.

Today's National Essay Writing Month Activity

One thousand, eight hundred and sixty-eight words, for a total of nine thousand, five hundred and sixty-two.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Some New Links

Quite some time ago I was whining here about all the new kidlit blogs that keep appearing and how I don't have time to keep up with them. However, I only had four links listed on my own weblog, and only three of them were kidlit. Which I'm sure left people wondering why I couldn't keep up with just three blogs.

Well, I do check out more than three a day. I just don't have the skill to change my blog template myself and had to pull my wits together so I could ask my computer guy to do it for me and then give him all the instructions. As you can see, I finally managed to do it.

Big A little a and Chicken Spaghetti (no, I have no idea where either of those names came from) are both less than a year old. Both sites are attractive (not that looks matter), they do a good job at staying on topic, and I'm embarrassed to say that both their keepers are doing a better job than I am at keeping up with new books.

Read Roger is even newer. I'm including it with my links because Roger Sutton is editor of The Horn Book and since I like to react to his writers' articles here, it seemed only fair to send people his way so they can hear what he has to say, too. The new issue of The Horn Book is floating around my living room, by the way. It will probably be next month before I can get to it.

I've included Telling the True: A Writer's Journal, because, as my long-time readers know (if I have any), I am obsessed with it. Jane Yolen doesn't stay on topic in Telling the True, but she also isn't writing a blog. She's keeping a journal, so she gets to tell us about her doctors' appointments and dinner engagements. Read her journal and you, too, will become obsessed with the mystery of how a woman who gets as little work done as she claims she does, manage to publish as much as she does. Or even get rejected as often as she says she is. Remember, you've got to write something down before editors can say they don't want it.

I've recently (as in this weekend) discovered Art& Soul, an illustrator's site that I'll be keeping an eye on. This is another kidlit site that is less than a year old.

I have deleted some blogs from my daily list in order to make time for these new ones: sites that weren't being updated, and a couple of general library sites that didn't have that much to do with children's literature. I may have to make a rule that I won't start reading a new blog regularly unless I drop an old one. Harsh, I know, but I'm easily overwhelmed.

How are Things Going With NEssWriMo, Gail?

Since you asked, 1700 plus words today, meaning I made the minimum daily allowance. Unfortunately, I haven't been doing so this past week so my total is only 7,694 words. But since I'm working on essays instead of a novel and now have drafts of three essays completed, I'm feeling...calm.

Remember, you can't have work rejected if you don't write it in the first place.


I'm sorry this didn't get posted on Monday, the 7th. I'm having a lot of trouble posting on Blogger in the evening, and I forgot to put it up this morning.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Twenty Not So Random Things About Me

On October 29, Kelly, of Big A little a said she'd like to hear from me regarding "Twenty Random Things About Myself." She had been "tagged" with the list request by another blogger, who had received it from another blogger, and evidently you can trace this back quite a ways, if you have the time.

I was interested in the passing of this Random List request among children's bloggers because it seemed a way of creating a community of people interested in kidlit, just as I was writing about a few day's back. However, I really want to keep this blog focused on children's literature. I try to only talk about myself in relation to my being a children's writer and children's book reader. So I'm going to do the random list thing, because I don't want to be left out, but it has to be a focused random list.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Twenty Not So Random Things About Me:

1. I was an English major and history minor in the College of Education at the University of Vermont.

2. I never actually taught school.

3. I did teach Sunday school for eleven years (can you believe it?), served as an elementary school classroom volunteer for three years, and presently do author talks in elementary schools and assist with a junior taekwondo class.

4. School settings are of great interest to me, and I used them in three of my books.

5. I taught Sunday school in a Congregational church.

6. Congregational churches were originally Puritan churches, and I once prepared a lesson plan on Puritan history for my sixth-grade class. (Yeah, everyone loved having me for a teacher.)

6. The Puritans came up again when I was writing The Hero of Ticonderoga because Ethan Allen was the anti-Puritan.

7. When I got out of college, I worked in a department at the University of Connecticut that did management development and personnel management training.

8. As a result, I'm probably a little more open to business and management-related ideas than I would otherwise be.

8. For instance, I once led a writing workshop that was developed around using goals and objectives in writing.

9. I always use French surnames in my books.

10. I like reading books on creativity and how to be more productive as a writer.

11. Such books haven't done me a lot of good.

12. I wish I knew more about grammar and usage.

13. I worry that the copy editors at G. P. Putnam get together at lunch and laugh at me.

14. I received a letter last week from a fourth grader who asked if I express myself through writing.

15. My first thought on reading that letter was "What? What's she talking about?"

16. Then I realized that absolutely everything we do expresses something about ourselves.

17. I wrote the child a very philosophical reply.

18. Now I worry that the teachers at that school get together at lunch and laugh at me.

19. I suffer from performance anxiety before public appearances and when training with higher-ranked taekwondo students.

20. Last fall I was nominated for a writing award and really didn't mind not winning at all, because I was so worried about having to get up and thank people. Not that I wouldn't have been grateful. It's just that if I expressed my gratitude incorrectly, I could have ruined the whole thing.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

On a Positive and Upbeat Note

NEssWriMo word count for today: 941. That's not even half the minimum I need to do. However, I'm feeling very good about tomorrow. I've got the whole day, and today's work leaves me primed for the next step. Yeah, that's my story. My three day total: 3,771. It should be something like 4,998. Hey, but it's early days. I can still pull ahead.

I found out today that the hardcover edition of The Hero of Ticonderoga is going out of print. I was relieved it was the older Hero and not Saving the Planet & Stuff. Besides the Hero paperback is supposed to still be going strong.

I am either a really sunny, cheerful person or delusional. One or the other.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Don't Adjust Your Sets...Or Maybe You Should

Oh, my gosh! I think I've finally learned how to upload images. Or at least my computer guy has.

As you can see from this beautiful book cover, I have recently finished reading Notes From a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko, who also wrote Al Capone Does My Shirts, a Newbery Honor Book. Please go to her website to see all the great acclaim A Liar and Her Dog has received. I want you to keep that in mind as I'm going to tell you that I wasn't crazy about it. It took me a long time to get through Liar because it wasn't something I just couldn't wait to get back to.

The main character, Antonia, known as Ant, is the oddball in her family and feels that her mother, in particular, treats her as such. This is another first-person story, and Ant is the first person. Her mother is portrayed as a real Cruella DeVil, but by the end of the book I got the feeling that maybe she was just misunderstood. It was hard to tell, though, because we see everything as Ant sees it, and she may not be a reliable narrator, especially since she's a liar. In addition, in real life some mothers are judgmental and demanding. But when they're judgmental and demanding in fiction, they become one-dimensional, cliched, etc.

Everything in this story revolves around the mother and her relationship with the main character. Neither the mother nor the relationship worked for me. I wasn't crazy about the stereotypical quirky male bestfriend, either.

I liked the witchy older sister, though. And what I would really have liked to see developed more was the father, who appeared to have problems sticking with a job. A parent like that is a trial to a child, as well as everyone else in the family. I don't think that particular storyline has been wrung as dry as some others in kidlit.

Experimenting With Headlines, Too. And Catching Up With Local News

I've tried different kinds of subheadings for different topics discussed in the same day's blog. For a while I'm going to try just using a regular headline.

I'm going to mention The Connecticut Children's Book Fair again because the people running the thing have finally posted times for the author/illustrator signings. Notice that Suzanne Collins will be speaking on Sunday? She has also been nominated for a Connecticut Book Award and one of her books is on the reading list for the Nutmeg Award. This is her year in Connecticut. Thank goodness I was nominated for a Connecticut Book Award last year, or I would be bitter and envious. Please, everyone notice how positive and gracious I'm being.

Three days before the Connecticut Children's Book Fair, on Wednesday, Nov. 9, Jack Gantos will be speaking just up the road at Eastern Connecticut State University. That will be at 3 p.m. in the J. Eugene Smith Library.

If I can get ahead on my pseudo National Novel Writing Month work, I'll try to hit both events. Because I began my National Essay Writing Month experience by revising some essays I'd already started, I was able to make up for yesterday's disaster. NEssWriMo total to date: 2,830 words.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Melting Down Over NaNoWriMo

Today is November 1, the first day of National Novel Writing Month (which appears to be having some kind of problem with its website). I didn't formally sign up this year because I'm not going to work on a novel this month. I'm going to work on a series of essays. But I have been very psyched about the project, hoping the intensity of the experience will help me overcome my really lousy work habits. I've been planning to read a couple of appropriate books this month and everything.

However, I had to be away from the house all day today, which didn't get me off to a good start. I've known I had to be away since last week, so I thought maybe I'd get started yesterday to compensate. After all, I'm not formally signed up so I don'thave to follow formal rules, right? Well, I ended up spending all day yesterday proofreading galleys for a book that's coming out next spring. I worked until 9 last night, and I'll have to do some more tomorrow morning.

So what will become of this big exciting writing project I was planning to undertake, hoping for a serious creative experience?

Stay tuned.

Oh, and I think I've been tagged. More about that in the days to come, too.