Children’s Books

Amidst Concerns Scholastic Inc. Removes “A Birthday Cake For George Washington” From Shelves

18 January 2016

From Forbes:

In a statement made on January 17th, Scholastic Inc. announced that it would discontinue distribution of the new picture book A Birthday Cake for George Washington, written by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, after concerns were raised by educators, book reviewers, and librarians about the depiction of “smiling slaves” and a perceived sugarcoating of a tragic but important aspect of the United States history. Similar concerns were brought up last year in regards to the picture book A Fine Dessert written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. (The book was published by Schwartz & Wade books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.) Once A Fine Dessert was noted on The Horn Book as being a contender for the Caldecott award various educators brought up their dismay that slavery wasn’t referenced at all in this book depicting the making of the blackberry fool dessert over four centuries and different families through time. The author of A Fine Dessert apologized for this discrepancy on the website Reading While White and went on to donate her advance to the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books. Schwartz & Wade made no public comment in relation to the book.

Prior to A Birthday Cake For George Washington’s release there was a post on Kirkus by the teen/children’s book editor Vicky Smith noting [the] similar depiction of “smiling slaves” in this text being a similar cause for discussion as it was to A Fine Dessert. In her post Smith pondered whether there’d be similar dismay brought up on this book because the editor, author, and illustrator are all people of color when one of the largest arguments for Dessert was why no one in the marginalized community may have seen this book prior to its publication to hopefully vet and raise concerns on the depiction of slavery and also the lack of naming this institution outside of the author and illustrator notes in the back. While A Fine Dessert wasn’t a best-seller nor did it end up on any of the ALA Youth Media Award lists there was also defense of the book on Sophie Blackall’s blog. Both A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington illustrate the history of the making of a dessert in history. In the case of George Washington it reflects the perspective of Delia watching her father Hercules, head kitchen slave, as he figures out how to prepare the president’s favorite dessert without sugar.

Link to the rest at Forbes and thanks to J.A. for the tip.

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Harry Potter Books Head To Kindle And Nook After Pottermore Suffers Cruciatus Curse

9 January 2016

From The Digital Reader:

When Pottermore was launched in early 2012, it was hailed as the first of many publisher-owned ebookstores that would lead to the vanquishment of Amazon.

Pottermore was the sole source of Harry Potter ebooks and audiobooks, and many saw that as a club that could be used against Amazon. As I predicted, that proved to be far more hype than substance, but now it turns out that Pottermore was not nearly as strong as everyone assumed.

I’ve just discovered that Amazon is selling Harry Potter ebooks in the Kindle Store. The ebooks were quietly listed in early December 2015, and have been collecting reviews since at least the 15th.

You can also find the ebooks in the Nook Store, as well as Kobo, where they are selling for $9 each.

. . . .

The Bookseller published an article yesterday which looks at Pottermore’s company filings and offers a revealing explanation for Pottermore’s recent decisions to distribute enhanced ebooks to iBooks and to let Audible,B&N, and other retailers sell its audiobooks.

The answer, my dears, is money.

When Pottermore launched, one of its earliest partners was Sony. The electronics giant was in it for the branding, and they released Harry Potter games, a Harry Potter themed section of Playstation Home, and included a free Harry Potter ebook with the Sony Reader.

Sony was paying nicely for the privilege, but eventually that deal ran out:

The site, which gives Harry Potter fans an enhanced experience of J K Rowling’s wizarding world, along with new short stories, insights and games, relaunched in September with a new mobile-first search-friendly format. Before this, in the year ending 31st March 2015, sales dropped by £24.8m – or 352% – to £7m (from £31.8m a year earlier), while profit at Pottermore also decreased significantly, from £14.9m in 2014 to a loss of £6m in 2015.

So apparently over 70% of Pottermore’s revenue came from this one deal with Sony, and not from sales or other channels.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

A children’s tale that will have adults moved to tears too

13 December 2015

From The Daily Mail:

Somehow it seems both entirely fitting and slightly surreal that I’m sitting with Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler discussing how knowledgeable Father Christmas is.

Julia is the slightly eccentric former busker who’s become the fourth biggest-selling writer in British history – despite only publishing her first book when she was 45 – and the first author to record UK sales of more than £10 million for five consecutive years, while Axel is the illustrator who brings her stories to life.

. . . .

 Although the book is aimed at a pre-school audience, parents seem to adore it too. She doesn’t bat an eyelid when I tell her Stick Man’s happy ending is so touching it used to make me weep when I read it to my children.

. . . .

 Like so much of Julia and Axel’s work, Stick Man came about by accident. It was pure chance that Julia started writing books in the first place – she was working as a songwriter when a publisher asked if she could turn her song A Squash And A Squeeze into a book. Axel was the third illustrator she approached, which in itself turned out to be a happy accident for him.

. . . .

 ‘I can’t make the figures tally,’ she says. ‘Axel and I get about three per cent each per book – probably less once you count the foreign sales or the books that are sold at a discount. But even then I still can’t work the figures out. I certainly don’t receive as much as you might think. I’m not complaining but I imagine people think we’re billionaires; that’s certainly not the case.’

Link to the rest at Daily Mail and thanks to Mike for the tip.

PG is moved to tears by these royalty payments.

Scholastic Reading Club #WeNeedDiverseBooks special edition

9 November 2015

From Scholastic:

The need for books showcasing the growing diversity of America’s classrooms is growing. Teachers, parents, librarians and family members have been asking us for resources to help children discover books that reflect their lives and characters that reflect them and the people they know– both in the classroom and at home.

Today, Scholastic Reading Club and the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books have joined together to answer the call for this need with a special edition We Need Diverse Books Scholastic Reading Club flyer offering 75 key book titles for grades 4–8 that feature diverse characters and storylines.

This special, curated offer includes award-winning titles, beloved classics, and new releases, and will reach over 100,000 classrooms and 2.5 million students with great books in time for the holidays. All book orders are placed through a classroom teacher, and, for every purchase, the teacher earns reward points that are redeemable for books and other classroom materials.

. . . .

Q: What has been the feedback from teachers?

We are repeatedly asked year after year for more diverse titles by our teachers. This has been an initiative for many years. As club editors, we consistently make sure that we are selecting diverse titles and books by authors who represent diverse backgrounds. We also have a long history of advocating for more diversity from our publishing partners. This offer is a way to highlight and elevate those titles in a curated collection.

. . . .

Q: What role can teachers and parents play to help kids find diverse books?

A: Teachers and parents are who kids go to for book recommendations. With that in mind, they can infuse diverse literature into all the good work they’re already doing. And they can take an active role in seeking out diverse books and making sure to speak about them accurately and be open to having conversations with their students. This is an opportunity for them to make sure every child in their classroom is represented and exposed to stories and viewpoints with which they may be unfamiliar.

Link to the rest at Scholastic

How Children Make Sense of Impossible Events in Fiction

1 October 2015

From OnFiction:

Oftentimes, fairytales consist of unrealistic or fantastical events. Although children understand that fantastical fiction differs from reality, it is unclear how they interpret these unrealistic events. A study by Julia Van de Vondervoort and Ori Friedman (University of Waterloo) indicates that children, like adults, use the impossible events to infer general rules about the fantasy world that allow them to predict what will happen in the story.

In their first experiment, 78 children between the ages of 2 and 4 were randomly assigned to either watch the experimenter enact scenarios that demonstrate a rule or a control condition where no rule demonstration was given. In the demonstration condition, a cat behaved unrealistically by making the sound of the animal it was addressing instead of the expected “meow” sound. For example, the cat would address a sheep with “baa baa”. The scenarios provided a fantasy rule that cats make the sound of the animal they are addressing. After children either received a rule demonstration or did not, they were asked to predict what sound the cat would make when it addressed a dog, a pig, a cow, and a snake. Children in the rule-demonstration condition were more likely to predict that the cat would make the sound of the animal being addressed than those in the no rule-demonstration condition. From this we can conclude that children are able to infer a fantasy rule and use it to predict future events.

. . . .

If parents are ever worried that reading fairy tales may confuse children by exposing them to events or entities that do not exist in reality, this study indicates that children can easily infer general rules about fantasy worlds that help them make sense of fiction.

Link to the rest at OnFiction and thanks to Livia for the tip.

New York Times Changes Children’s Bestseller Lists

20 August 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

Starting August 21, the New York Times will tweak its children’s bestseller lists, separating hardcover middle grade and young adult titles from paperback and e-book bestsellers. The hardcover lists will appear in print, and the paperback and e-book lists will be available online. Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, told PW that the changes were meant to be more useful for readers, authors, and publishers in helping discoverability of titles.

Paul said that when she started as children’s books editor of the Book Review in 2011, middle grade and YA were reported together under the category “chapter books,” with paperbacks a separate category. “It was such a wildly mixed group,” she said, “that I thought it was very confusing to readers. If you’re a parent, and you’re looking at that list for your child, The Hunger Games is very different from Rebecca Stead. I thought it made sense to break the two categories apart,” and separate middle grade and YA lists were created.

Adding paperbacks to the newly created middle grade and YA sections allowed more titles to be included on the list. What happened, however, “was that given the relative unit sales of paperbacks, they would overtake the lists,” she said. “New authors would find it hard to break into the list, and it was difficult for readers to discover new writers from those lists. So it made sense to return to the model we use in adult.” Paul sees a slight trade-off in moving paperback and e-book figures online, as opposed to their appearing in print, but said, “Given how large our Internet readership is, I didn’t feel we were losing anything. Our Internet audience is growing enormously, and paperback and e-book sales are not trending the way we expected four years ago, and as a result the lists are not reflecting the breadth of what’s being published.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Heather for the tip.

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep becomes chart-topping bedtime read

18 August 2015

From The Guardian:

A self-published picture book by a Swedish author that promises to help children fall asleep at bedtime has shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic, outselling Harper Lee’s new novel Go Set a Watchman and Paula Hawkins’s bestselling thriller The Girl on the Train.

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep – the front cover emblazoned with the claim “I can make anyone fall asleep” – follows Roger the Rabbit as he and his mother set out to visit Uncle Yawn to help him doze off, meeting the Sleepy Snail and the Heavy-Eyed Owl on the way. Self-published in Swedish by Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin in 2011, a clunky English translation was published in April 2014 and has surged to the summit of Amazon.co.uk’s charts over the last five days, moving into the top spot over the weekend in both the US and the UK.

. . . .

Customers on Amazon.co.uk give the book an average of 3.5 stars. Some are more than satisfied. “I’m actually speechless!” wrote one user. “I’m sat here waiting for someone to pinch me. Bedtime just went from taking two to three hours to taking 12 minutes. We made it to the middle of page two.” Others are not convinced. “Didn’t work for us!” wrote another. “Our two-year-old still wide awake. Disappointed, though I was probably gullible in the first place thinking it would.”

Ehrlin said he did not have exact sales figures for the book, but that it had sold “many thousands of books in the UK and internationally”.

. . . .

“The whole story came to me in a split second. I woke my mother up, she was with me in the car. I told her to quickly write down what I said and all we found was a napkin and an old pencil that barely worked. I got all the characters, the techniques that I should use and the basis of the story. Then when I came home I had to write everything down and starting to make sense of the story.”

Ehrlin said it took him more than three years to find the “right words to use, to get the effect it was supposed to have” in Swedish.

. . . .

Ehrlin decided to self-publish, saying that “in Sweden I see a trend that the books that sell best are often self-published. There’s a new era growing in the book business where people who are active in social media becomes the new bestsellers.”

With the book now translated into French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, as well as English, and four more languages on the way, Ehrlin has been contacted by publishers interested in taking it on. But he has so far turned them down, because he believes he has “found a good strategy to succeed without other publishers”.

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

The most banned and challenged books of 2014

23 July 2015

From The Los Angeles Times:

A memoir by a sexual assault survivor, a science fiction comic book and a children’s book about gay penguins were among the 10 most frequently banned or challenged books in the United States last year, according to the American Library Assn. (ALA).

The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom today released its annual “Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books,” based on over 300 reports of community members attempting to have literature removed from libraries and school curricula. The organization notes that “attempts to remove books by authors of color and books with themes about issues concerning communities of color are disproportionately challenged and banned.”

Four of the books on the list are by writers of color: “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.

Seven of the 10 books were challenged because they were “sexually explicit.” Among those books are two that deal with child sexual assault: Morrison’s novel “The Bluest Eye” and “A Stolen Life,” a memoir by Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped, raped and held prisoner for 18 years by a Mendocino couple.

. . . .

The top 10 most banned and challenged books of 2014:

1. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie. Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

. . . .

4. “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison. Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times and thanks to Tim for the tip.

Why Horror is Good For You (and Even Better for Your Kids)

22 July 2015

From Tor.com:

One of the core reasons I make books now is because Ray Bradbury scared me so happy, that what I am perpetually compelled to do is, at best, ignite the same flame in a young reader today. Most of my comics, certainly the ones I write myself, are scary ones or revolve around scary themes. In the last ten years I began to notice that they also featured, as protagonists, children. Even when the overall story wasn’t necessarily about them, there they were: peeking from behind some safe remove, watching.

I came to understand the pattern was leading me to a more clearly defined ethos when I both had kids of my own and I came to find that the comics industry had for the most part decided not to make books for kids anymore.

. . . .

Reason #1: CHILDHOOD IS SCARY

Maurice Sendak, whom I love as a contributor to the lore of children’s literature as well as a dangerous and wily critic of the medium (especially his grouchy latter years), once countered a happy interviewer by demanding she understand that childhood was not a skip-hop through a candy-cane field of butterflies and sharing and sunshine, that is was in fact a terrifying ordeal he felt compelled to help kids survive. Kids live in a world of insane giants already. Nothing is the right size. The doorknobs are too high, the chairs too big… They have little agency of their own, and are barely given the power to even choose their own clothes. (Though no real “power ” can ever be given, anyway… maybe “privilege” is the right term.) Aside from the legitimate fears of every generation, kids today are enjoying seeing these madhouse giants lose their jobs, blow themselves up using the same planes they ride to visit grandma, and catastrophically ruin their own ecosystem, ushering in a new era of unknown tectonic change and loss their grandkids will get to enjoy in full. The insane giants did to the world what they did to comics: they didn’t grow a future, but instead ate it for dinner.

. . . .

Reason #3: HORROR IS ANCIENT AND REAL AND CAN TEACH US MUCH

In the old days, fairy tales and stories for kids were designed to teach them to avoid places of danger, strangers, and weird old ladies living in candy-covered houses. They were cautionary tales for generations of kids who faced death, real and tangible, almost each and every day. There was a real and preventive purpose to these stories: stay alive and watch out for the myriad of real world threats that haunt your every step. These stories, of course, were terrifying, but these were also children that grew up in a time where, of every six kids born, two or three would survive to adulthood. Go and read some of the original Oz books by Baum and tell me they are not freakishly weird and threatening. The Brothers Grimm sought to warn kids in the most horrifying way they could. So much so that these types of tales have all but vanished from children’s lit, because these days they are deemed too frightening and dark for them. But they also are now more anecdotal than they were then; they mean less because the world around them grew and changed and they remained as they had always been. They became less relevant, however fantastic and crazy-pants they are.

Horror also touches something deep within us, right down into our fight-or-flight responses. We have developed, as a species, from an evolutionary necessity to be afraid of threats so we might flee them and survive to make more babies that can grow up to be suitably afraid of threats, that can also grow up and repeat the cycle. We exist today because of these smart apes and they deserve our thanks for learning that lesson. As a result, like almost all pop culture, horror lit can reflect in a unique way the extremely scary difficulties of being a child in a certain time. It touches on something we all feel and are familiar with, and as such can reveal a deeper understanding of ourselves as we go through the arc of being scared, then relieved, and then scared again. The thrill is an ancient one, and when we feel it, we’re connecting with something old and powerful within us. Whether it’s a roller-coaster, a steep water slide, or watching Harry Potter choke down a golden snitch as he falls thirty stories from his witch’s broom. There is a universality in vicarious thrill-seeking and danger-hunting. It is us touching they who began the cycle forty thousand years past.

Link to the rest at Tor.com and thanks to Elizabeth for the tip.

West Milford mothers team up to write and illustrate new children’s book

14 July 2015

From NorthJersey.com

Two West Milford mothers have teamed up to publish a new picture book that pays homage to the mother figures in children’s lives.

Author Mary L. Moore and award-winning illustrator Cheryl Crouthamel have recently released their self-published “Mommy Fix It Up.”

. . . .

“Mommy Fix It Up” is geared for children ages 1 to 7, as well as mothers and mother figures of every age. The story pays homage to the ultimate handy person, solver of problems, and overall superhero to all kids – Mommy Fix It Up – according to the book’s press release.

Through familiar scenarios, the story shows how Mommy Fix It Up seems to have the perfect solution for every childhood tribulation.

“What makes this book different from other children’s books is that the parent is the ultimate hero of the story,” said Moore. “But Mommy Fix It Up doesn’t just fix the problem for the child. (She) helps the child to be part of the solution too.”

. . . .

Moore said that “Mommy Fix It Up” is her first children’s book, and it is a homage “to the various mother figures in every child’s life. Mommy Fix It Up is not just moms, but aunts, grandmas, friends, or anyone that provides maternal support.”

Link to the rest at NorthJersey.com

Here’s a link to “Mommy Fix It Up”

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