Children’s Books

The Life-Changing Effects of the Baby-Sitters Club

12 November 2016

From BookRiot:

Katie MacBride and Jen Sherman are Book Riot’s resident Baby-Sitters Club mega-fans, and both have written about BSC before. In this post, they talk about their memories and experiences of growing up with the BSC.

. . . .

JS: The most influential and long-lasting series in my life, however, was the Baby-Sitters Club. I picked up one at random when I was 11, and never looked back. I don’t even remember what drew me in initially, because I recognise that they are not great literary works, but at some point I became so immersed in the world of Stoneybrook, Connecticut and the lives of the baby-sitters that I couldn’t leave. I’m still there today.

KM: My older sister was reading the BSC books when I was about seven years old and she started reading them to me. My mom thought I was too young for the books (the girls sometimes had boyfriends! *gasp*) but my sister—displaying the talent that now makes her an excellent lawyer—argued in my favor. The moment I got the green light, I devoured all the BSC (and BSC Little Sister) books I could. I roped my cousin into the depraved world of Stoneybrook, Connecticut and we read them obsessively, long after my sister had outgrown them.

. . . .

 JS: I read all the BSC books that were in the school library and that my teachers had in the classroom. We had the Scholastic Book Club at my school, and once a month, we would get the catalogue full of books. We’d take that home, go through it with our parents, and mark out which books we wanted to (or were allowed to) buy. Filled in the form, returned it with money, and on some magical day some time later, our books would arrive. I was a bit of a spoilt only child, so every month my parents would buy me a few books. BSC were always part of that.

When I was in my early 20s, I owned probably about two thirds of the full series (213 books in total at the time, before they released graphic novels and modernised versions of some of the originals). I decided I wanted the full collection, and set about scouring secondhand bookshops, op-shops, and eBay for missing titles. I remember I paid about $30 for one of the California Diaries on eBay, just to complete the collection, and wishing I bought it when it first came out when it cost $6.

I do now own the full set, but they aren’t all with me. They’re split between my parents’ house in Sydney and my house in San Diego, and splitting up the collection was one of the harder aspects of moving to America.

KM: My parents were always really cool about letting my sister and me go into bookstores and were really generous about buying books for us. That said, when The Great and Powerful Ann M. Martin started coming out with one BSC book per month, they weren’t thrilled. But, they saw that I reread them obsessively and held on to them as though they were the most precious objects, so I ended up owning most of them. Anything I couldn’t get my hands on, my cousin would and we would swap ASAP.

In college, I went through a battle with my mom where she was giving away a bunch of my childhood stuff and I told her in no uncertain terms that she was not to get rid of any of my BSC books. Not unreasonably, she reminded me that I was a legal adult now and it was absurd to cling to books written in the 80s for 12 year-olds as though they were precious family heirlooms. But she saved them and at 32 years old, I still own and cherish them.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

The Everlasting Appeal of Natalie Babbitt

9 November 2016

From Acculturated:

Whether they recognize her name or not, most elementary school students know Natalie Babbitt very well. They know her through the pages of her book, Tuck Everlasting, which seems like a typical children’s story but in fact masterfully raises a complicated question of immortality, namely: What if we could live forever?

This week, news of Babbitt’s death reminded readers of Tuck that the author had fulfilled the promise she laid out in her beautiful book: That life is a wheel that is always turning, and that people are always entering, “always coming in new, always growing and changing, and always moving on.”

For those who haven’t read it, Tuck Everlasting follows the four members of the Tuck family who innocently drink water from a spring that gives them eternal life. Never aging, never succumbing to sickness or death, they travel from place to place experiencing life again and again. After 87 years, a ten-year old girl named Winnie Foster stumbles upon them and their secret, and now must make an anguishing choice: Should she live forever and have good times that never end, or experience the untold power of certain change (and death)?

. . . .

From the first pages of the prologue of Tuck Everlasting, it’s clear you aren’t reading a typical children’s book. The unfurling descriptions of just about everything in the book, from the soil at Winnie’s feet to the first weeks of August (“curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color”) to the sun (which “hung at mid-heaven for a blinding hour”) are evocative and masterful brushstrokes by an author posing as witness to the world around us. Babbitt writes like someone who is recording memories, like someone who will one day no longer see these things.

Link to the rest at Acculturated

Amazon rolls out Rapids, a chat style reading app for kids

3 November 2016

From TechCrunch:

Rapids is a cute new kids app from Amazon using a playful chat style to help kids ages seven to twelve enjoy reading.

A lot of kid’s reading apps are a take on the traditional storybook and Amazon already has a Kindle for kids, but Amazon’s Michael Robinson who headed up the project, noticed his own kids were already using the phone to chat via text with their friends and family.

“We wanted to see what authors and illustrators could do with an app that told stories that way,” he said.

Kids can choose from hundreds of stories in adventure, fantasy, humor, mystery, science fiction and sports categories on the platform. Each story has a text message dialogue between characters and little readers can interact with the dialogue by clicking on the next chat bubble in the story’s sequence.

The app will also help kids sound out a hard word in case a parent or another adult isn’t around. This feature supports the child’s reading confidence and the word is added to their personal glossary if they need to look it up again later.

. . . .

Rapids has hundreds of these short stories in its database so far and Robinson tells TechCrunch Amazon is adding “dozens more” each month. The idea is to make them fun enough and short enough to keep the kids engaged till the end.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Netflix’s Anne of Green Gables Adaptation Casts Its Anne Shirley

25 October 2016

From Den of Geek:

Anne, the eight-episode Netflix/CBC TV adaptation of the much-beloved Lucy Maud Montgomery novel Anne of Green Gables, has found its Anne-with-an-“e.” After a casting search involving 1,889 girls from around the world, Anne has cast 14-year-old Irish-Canadian actress Amybeth McNulty in the title role.

. . . .

Anne creator Moira Walley-Beckett said of the casting:

Amybeth is a wonderful and sensitive actress who embodies all of Anne’s qualities. She’s soulful and inquisitive, mercurial and passionate. Her ability to convey pain and joy is breathtaking. Amybeth is Anne for a new generation.

Of filming in Prince Edward Island, McNulty, who lives in Ireland, told the CBC:

First of all, anywhere you turn is a postcard, instantly,” McNulty said of the experience of filming in P.E.I. “It’s so gorgeous and the people are amazing, they’re so lovely and welcoming. It was so amazing to shoot there, to think that’s where Anne of Green Gables is, and is so loved.

Link to the rest at Den of Geek

UPDATE: Some visitors have had problems getting the video to play. If you go to the OP, you might have better luck and you can click through to CBC if the OP doesn’t work. Sorry for any inconvenience.

I wanted to mash up Winnie the Pooh and David Attenborough

11 September 2016

From The Guardian:

People often ask writers, “where do you get your ideas?” And the answer is: we steal them from our children…

One night, I was reading the most boring children’s book in the long history of the world to my daughter, Sophy (who was six at the time).

. . . .

Anyway, it was a picture book about a nice, friendly, perfectly boring rabbit and a nice, friendly, perfectly boring bear.

What happened in the book?


At one point, a third friendly, boring animal arrived, just to give the illustrator something new to draw (she must have been getting bored too).

The new animal didn’t do anything either, and it was so boring I can’t even remember what it was.

You couldn’t tell any of the animals apart: they all talked the same, and acted the same, and were nice and friendly to each other, until the book ended, or the reader died of boredom, whichever came first.

There was no conflict; no drama; no STORY. All the animals were polite, well-behaved, and perfect. They had nothing to learn, and nowhere to go. No problem to solve.

. . . .

And so my daughter and I rebelled against the world’s most boring bedtime story, and started to write a better one. We threw ideas back and forth.

. . . .

“What if the rabbit was grumpy and unfriendly and didn’t like the bear?”

“Great! And what if the rabbit doesn’t help the bear build a snowman? What if the rabbit is jealous, and tries to build his own bigger, better snowman?”

“Great! And what if the rabbit steals the bear’s food!

I realised that our story was about ten million billion times better than the book we had read. So, when Sophy was asleep, I stayed up late, and wrote it all down…

. . . .

I wanted to do something quite hard: to combine the charm and humour and complicated, funny, interesting characters of Winnie the Pooh with the weird, different-kind-of-interesting, real-life facts of David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries. Because in the real world, wolves try to eat rabbits. And rabbits have some very surprising habits…

. . . .

And, finally – with (my daughter’s0 help – I think I found a way to combine Winnie the Pooh, and wildlife documentaries. Certainly, the book is getting more five star reviews than anything I’ve ever written. I think readers can tell how much thought, and time, and love, went into it.

And that’s why I dedicated Rabbit’s Bad Habits to my daughter. It’s not because I’m nice and friendly and perfect: it’s not because she is nice and friendly and perfect (though she is my favourite person on earth): It’s because I got her to doloads of unpaid work on the book, and stole all her ideas.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Ryan for the tip.

They All Saw a Cat

6 September 2016


As a Boy, I Was Obsessed With the Baby-Sitters Club Books. I Have No Regrets.

31 August 2016

From Slate:

“The first time I ever saw a Baby-Sitters Club book, I was 7 years old, browsing the spinning racks at the public library near my house. It was Baby-Sitters Club No. 2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls. On the bright pink cover, a preteen girl in a funky, oversized sweater clutches a baby in one arm while she cradles a telephone under her chin. Claudia looks slightly haunted, but also—to my young eye at the time—competent, collected, and hopelessly cool. I wondered exactly how sinister this phone call was. I wanted to know more.

The book called to me on a primal level. I took it home, read it twice in one day (it was short), and then a third time the next. I pored over the checklist of books in the series, trying to decide which ones sounded most fascinating. (BSC No. 8: Boy-Crazy Stacey especially piqued my interest.) On my next trip to the library, I walked out bearing an armful of the slim, pastel paperbacks.

I felt like I had just hit the jackpot. My mom looked a little concerned. Even in my progressive community in suburban Maryland, the world of babysitting was considered an eccentric and perhaps worrisome interest for a little boy. This was not something that I understood. I just thought the books looked fun and exciting, with their poppy, late-1980s color palette and painted covers depicting exciting tableaus of babysitting in action. And, of course, there was something incredibly alluring to me about teenage girls, whom I had already learned from TV sitcoms were the most glamorous and exciting creatures on Earth. I couldn’t wait to be a teenager myself and hopefully start my own Baby-Sitters Club.

I almost always carried a Baby-Sitters Club book with me wherever I went, and proudly read them on the school bus, under my desk during class, and in the school cafeteria. Somehow, by age 7, I was still oblivious to the strict gender cues that other kids my age already responded to on a gut level, and I was blissfully ignorant—at least for awhile—that the books were, in no uncertain terms, For Girls.

When other boys would ask me why I was reading those, I was confused by the question. Really, I was put off that everyone didn’t find the books as enchanting as I did and wasn’t sure why discussions about the exploits of Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne (“America’s Favorite Girls!” as the covers billed them) were such a conversational dead-end with my male peers. Weren’t boys supposed to like girls, I wondered?

My obsession did, however, make me a hit with friends’ older sisters, whom I’d take aside during play dates and birthday parties for rollicking, barb-filled debates over who was the best baby-sitter (definitely Claudia or Stacey, depending on whether you preferred Claudia’s boho-hip fabulousness or Stacey’s sleek, urban sophistication) or which BSC members should be kicked to the curb. (No one liked homely, bookish Mallory.) Some of these big sisters were already old enough to be embarking on their own babysitting careers, and I loved picking their brains for insider tips and behind-the-scenes dirt about the profession, while my friends ran around playing capture the flag outside.

Eventually, I started to catch on. When I went in search of more Baby-Sitters Club books, librarians began urging me to expand my horizons, often trying to interest me in the books of Matt Christopher, which had names such as The Lucky Baseball Bat and The Boy Who Only Hit Homers. My parents, who had mostly humored my interest without too much judgment, started to set some limits. When I tried to rent the classic Adventures in Babysitting from the video store, my father gave me a fed-up look and told me I had already reached my monthly limit on babysitting-related media.

I kept reading the books, but I had learned to be self-conscious about it. On my monthly pilgrimages to the bookstore to pick up the latest installment in the series, I found myself sneaking them to the register, concealed in a larger pile. At school, I became openly scornful of girls who read the Baby-Sitters Club, just to make sure everyone knew that I had moved beyond all that.

Eventually, I just outgrew them. As I approached middle school, my fascination with teenage girls diminished just as my friends became more interested in them. I knew plenty of girls, and if I wanted to talk to one I could just call her on the phone. Anyway, part of what I had enjoyed about the Baby-Sitters Club as a small child was their comforting sense of repetition, not to mention the fact that they were often almost conflict-free. (There’s one book that revolves around Dawn organizing a sleepover party.) But as I got older, I wanted a little more friction in my reading material. I discovered the X-Men and realized that the lives of superheroes were much more suspenseful than the lives of babysitters. I moved on.”

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Dave for the tip.

The Unexpected, Trashy Joy of Reading Kids’ Books Written by Celebrities

29 August 2016
Comments Off on The Unexpected, Trashy Joy of Reading Kids’ Books Written by Celebrities

From Slate:

If there’s one thing celebrities love to do, besides buy oceanfront property, it is write picture books. Jamie Lee Curtis alone has penned eleven of them. Julianne Moore has cranked out a slew of best-sellers about a spunky redhead named Freckleface Strawberry. If you happen to be a parent to a child on the cusp of literacy, perhaps you’ve been personally seduced by the appealing floral trim around Madonna’s byline on The English Roses: Friends for Life!, or the big-eyed baby jaguar on the cover of LeAnn Rimes’ Jag, or the slapsticky adventures of Max the mutt in Joy Behar’s Sheetzu Caca Poopoo. Amazon is lousy with candy-colored artifacts written by royalty ranging from Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York to Queen Latifah.

It’s not hard to imagine why a celebrity would be tempted to write a kids’ book. When you are so famous that attracting a publisher is as easy as plucking a leaf from a Truffula tree, creating a bespoke picture book surely seems like a breezy task: easy money, light work, a cute gift to bequeath your own offspring. Reading them, you can almost hear the confident scratch of the pen across the page, the happy certainty that no plot is so inane, no dialogue so trite that it won’t be eagerly lapped up by starstruck tots across America.

. . . .

Now that I’ve plowed through a heap of these—the very intense poem about fatherhood by Will Smith, the ode to sisters by Brooke Shields, the doozy Estefan penned about a kindhearted bulldog—I can report that many of them are indeed bad. But to the dedicated student of celebrity arcana, these books have more to offer than their scattershot quality suggests. Despite their varied themes and the range of temperaments that animate them, they are most interesting when viewed through one particular lens: as a weird little reflection of a public person’s inner life, part whimsy, part memoir, part ego.

Take Jay Leno’s 2004 opus If Roast Beef Could Fly, about the time young Leno messed up his dad’s barbecue party and learned a valuable lesson. (The lesson is best approximated as “it’s OK for kids to make mistakes,” or more accurately “sometimes your dad will get mad at you, but then he’ll get unmad and it’ll all be a cool memory.”)

. . . .

All these books feel like heady distillations of the big personalities behind them. One of the most charming features of celebrity kids’ books is how clear it seems, reading them, that no editor buffed the prose before it reached our eyes; it all feels quite unfiltered. There’s the perfect vacuousness of Bethenny Frankel’s Cookie Meets Peanut, a love story between a woman and her dog (and, tangentially, a new baby) that contains sentences like “Cookie and mommy go on walksies” and “They window shop at Bark Jacobs.” And there’s John Travolta’s Propeller One-Way Night Coachabout an 8-year-old boy named Jeff who dreams of flying in an airplane. This one’s a heartbreaker. Travolta loves planes. He really loves them. He claims in the jacket copy that he first invented the tale of Jeff to entertain himself on an overnight layover. His prose is a bonanza of dangling modifiers and adjective strings hopped up on aeronautical amour: “Noble in appearance, strong and powerful in impression, this would be an experience,” Jeff says before his first flight. Here is Jeff beholding an aircraft: “She was beautiful! Silver and white, with a blue stripe down the side with a red accent stripe and the letters UNITED printed on the side. Oh what a sight!”

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

PG wonders what would we do without Big Publishing to curate our culture.

Bill Nye to write middle grade science series

26 August 2016

From Entertainment Weekly:

Bill Nye has made a career out of his knack for getting kids excited about science — and he’ll reach even more budding Einsteins with a new middle grade chapter book series, Jack and the Geniuses, co-written with Gregory Mone.

“The fire of excitement that I feel about science today was kindled when I was a kid,” Nye told EW in an exclusive statement. “Like any kid of any age, Jack and the Geniuses love science and seek adventure. Here’s hoping that a few kids read these books and have scientific adventures for the rest of their lives.”

. . . .

The titular geniuses are Jack’s foster siblings, Ava and Matt. Ava is fluent in multiple languages and builds robots as a hobby, while Matt’s subjects of excellence are astronomy and math.

Link to the rest at Entertainment Weekly and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Pictures Mean Business

24 August 2016

From illustrator and author Sarah McIntyre:

When asked, everyone I know says they love illustration and support illustrators whole-heartedly. Yet illustrators continue to suffer career setbacks when:

* Illustrator’s names are left off covers of books they’ve illustrated (even highly illustrated). Sometimes publishers even forget to put illustrators’ names inside the book. (This happens most frequently with ‘middle grade’ illustrated fiction.)

* The artwork is used as branding for a writer (for example, on the writer’s website), but the illustrator never gets mentioned, implying that the writer did the artwork.

* Publicists launch illustrated book cover artwork to great fanfare, mentioning only the writer’s name.

* Media interviews and articles talk about a picture book as ‘by’ the writer, leaving out the illustrator’s name even though the book is mostly pictures.

* Award websites list only writers of books.

* Reviewers neglect to mention illustrations in their reviews, even when the pictures tell much of the story.

* Teachers lead their classes in studying a book without mentioning the illustrator or studying the book’s illustrations.

. . . .

Why does it matter? Who loses out?

* Kids lose a hero. Not all children (or adults) come to stories and communication through words. I find in teaching writing, kids are most inspired when then can draw a character and create a visual world around it, and only then do most of them want to seek out words to help the story along. Many children who won’t pick up a novel will happily read a comic. If people are inspired by drawing, why not let them look to illustrators for inspiration? It’s awfully hard for illustrators to impress classrooms of kids with their authorship when their names aren’t even printed on book covers. And it won’t even happen if the teacher only invites writers to visit.

* Business misses a trick. Outdated, clunky book data systems can’t track career earnings of illustrators, only writers. They can tell subscribers, for example, how much money writer Julia Donaldson’s books are earning, but they can’t tell you how much money illustrator Axel Scheffler’s books are pulling in. If you search for my name in Nielsen Bookscan, the only books that will come up with be the three books I’ve both written and illustrated. Even my book I co-wrote with David O’Connell won’t appear, because you’d have to search for David and my names together. Since business people can’t easily find out how much money illustrators contribute to the economy, it’s as though they contribute nothing.

Business people cannot make concrete sales decisions based on how much earning power an illustrator has. For example, some airport bookshops only stock Julia Donaldson’s books in the picture book section because they know from the data that she’s a bestseller. (Fair enough, she’s a sound bet.) But it’s possible that Axel Scheffler’s drawings of the Gruffalo sell the books as much as Julia’s words do. The shops sell Julia’s books illustrated by other people; why couldn’t they stock other books illustrated by Axel that Julia hasn’t written? Because they don’t have the sales data to help them. Amazon has a much more searchable data system than most booksellers; and with occasional glitches, you can search by illustrator. Competing booksellers need better systems so they can up their game.

. . . .

* Writers and publishers miss a potential source of publicity. People LOVE watching illustrators draw at events! And illustrators are perfectly equipped for Internet marketing because they can make images that make potential readers more likely to share material. Why have only one person bigging up a book when there could be two? The loss of ‘branding’ income from having two names instead of one will be far less than the loss incurred by cutting out the illustrator. Besides, promoting a book by yourself can be very lonely; why not do it as a team?

Link to the rest at Sarah McIntyre

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