Children’s Books

How I Learned the Secret to a Successful Literary Pilgrimage

31 December 2017

From Book Riot:

Last July I set out on a literary pilgrimage across England, coast to coast, along Hadrian’s Wall.

. . . .

Quick refresher: Roman Emperor Hadrian started building his wall back in 220 BCE, to keep out the pesky Picts. They stayed several hundred years, and then hit the high road in about the 5th century CE.

Frankly, when you’re out there in the hinterlands, gazing across the sweeping landscape dotted with sheep and cows, often for hours not seeing another human, you begin to wonder why they even stayed that long. What the Hell was Hadrian thinking?

. . . .

So I was curious about the whole wall concept, historically. You know, like, How’d that work out for you, Hadrian?

Hint: Roman mass exodus plus ruins.

Also! There’s something satisfying about traveling on foot across a whole country. I mean, one of my friends is walking across North America, and, wow, that’s super cool. But I only had time for a tiny country, and just the skinny part.

But mostly I did it for Rosemary.

I had learned about Hadrian and his wall in college courses, but that chunk of history didn’t come alive for me until I read aloud Sutcliff’s Roman Britain novels with my boys, The Eagle of the Ninth and the companion volumes, The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers.

. . . .

I thought for sure I’d happen across a beautiful edition of one of her books. Nope. I mean, I saw her books at every trinket shop in every wall town and village, but none of them were lovely.

. . . .

To see a country at a walking pace means there is plenty of quiet time to reflect on the march of civilization, the changing of the landscape, the evolving relationship of peoples with the land over generations, centuries.

Walking, I thought about the lives of Roman soldiers, especially, the legions and their marches, beautifully evoked in Sutcliff’s novels. And slaves, too, how many individuals, each an essential part of a constellation of relationships, who were sacrificed for the ambitions of a few powerful men.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG had forgotten about Rosemary Sutcliff and her many books which he read as a boy just as fast as trips to the library could provide them (as he recalls, a patron was permitted to borrow a maximum of 2-3 books at a time and PG never lived very close to a library until he went to college).

A comprehensive website, created and maintained by Sutcliff’s “godson, cousin & literary executor,” includes the following about The Eagle of the Ninth, first published in 1954, which PG remembers reading a very long time ago:

One Alan Myers once compiled an ‘A to Z of the many writers of the past who had a significant connection’ with the North-East of England. It seems now to have disappeared from the web . He writes of Rosemary Sutcliff:

“One of the most distinguished children’s writers of our times, Rosemary Sutcliff wrote over thirty books , some of them now considered classics. She sets several of her best-known works in Roman and Dark Age Britain, giving her the opportunity to write about divided loyalties, a recurring theme. The Capricorn Bracelet comprises six linked short stories spanning the years AD 61 to AD 383, and Hadrian’s Wall features in the narrative.

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is perhaps her finest work and exemplifies the psychological dilemmas that Rosemary Sutcliffbrought to her novels. It is a quest story involving a journey north to the land of the Picts to recover the lost standard of the Roman Ninth Legion. A good part of the book is set in the North East around Hadrian’s Wall (a powerful symbol) and a map is provided. The book has been televised, and its sequels are The Silver Branch (1957) and The Lantern Bearers (1959), which won the Carnegie medal. Sutcliff returned to the Romano-British frontier in The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965) and Frontier Wolf (1980).
Northern Britain in the sixth century AD is the setting of The Shining Company (1990), a retelling of The Goddodin (v. Aneirin) a tragedy of epic proportions. The story, however, is seen from the point of view of the shield-bearers, not the lords eulogised in The Goddodin, and treats themes of loyalty, courage and indeed political fantasy.”

And here’s a description of the book from the same website:

The ninth legion marched into the mists of northern Britain and they never came back. Four thousand men disappeared and the Eagle standard was lost. Marcus Flavius Aquila, following in the steps of his father (supposed dead when the legion disappeared ten years earlier) has joined the Roman army, given his oath to Mithras and taken command of his first cohort in the southern part of Britain. He dreams of commanding a legion of his own and of an early retirement to a farm in the Etruscan hills that once belonged to his family. But in his first battle he is seriously injured and forced to leave the army.

During his long and painful recovery, Marcus hears rumours that the Roman eagle from his father’s lost legion is being worshipped by one of the pagan tribes up in the north. Eager to to discover what happened to his father and the Ninth Legion, restore his reputation, and recover the eagle that could be used as a rallying symbol against the hated Roman invaders should a revolt ever break out again among the barbarians, Marcus and his British slave, Esca, travel north. All through the summer, they criss-cross the unknown wild regions beyond Hadrian’s wall that keeps the untamed tribes from the Roman world – in search of the eagle. The quest is so hazardous no-one expects them to return. But he is successful, but not before battling with the Seal people and a desperate chase South to Hadrian’s Wall to safety with the eagle.

Comforted by Little Women

31 December 2017

From Nerdy Book Club:

Last spring I was feeling melancholy, to use an old fashioned word. Our little cat Nellie had died after living with us for 14 years. Cats always choose us, not the other way around, and he had been a big part of the family. I missed his presence on the bed at night, his little mews of hello when I came home, his companionship while I pulled weeds in the garden. I was sad and needed comfort.

I wanted to read Little Women.

. . . .

So I went to my library and brought home the 1980 edition with its soft worn cover and well loved pages and settled into the 1860’s for a week. Going back to a childhood favorite as an adult is a wonderful experience, and I found myself reading now as Marme, seeing the girls from the mother’s point of view. As I relived their trials and joys, I felt better.

Books have been my friends, counselors, and comforters all my life. If I am going through a difficult time, I read.

. . . .

Sometimes, as when reading Little Women, I feel like I am sitting down with a good friend who says, “Yes, I’ve been through that myself.”

Link to the rest at Nerdy Book Club

How Archivists Deal With Redactions, Codes, and Scribbles

20 December 2017

From Atlas Obscura:

On March 15, 1898, the eminent botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker sat down at his desk, picked up a pen, and started writing a letter to his friend and confidant, the Reverend James Digues La Touche. “My dear La Touche,” he began, before continuing what had been many years of correspondence, updating his pen pal on his family life, his intellectual preoccupations, and his professional exploits.

Over a century later, an archivist at Kew Gardens in London—the largest botanical garden in the world, where Dalton served a long stint as director—reached into a folder of the pair’s correspondence, drew out a page, and stopped cold.

The archivists were already deep into the process of digitizing and transcribing Hooker’s letters for posterity. But a few lines into this particular letter, the words suddenly disappeared, censored by row after row of black squiggles. The same went for a number of Hooker’s missives to La Touche. “We were quite mystified by it,” says Virginia Mills, an archivist at Kew. “They stood out to us, because we hadn’t come across anything else like it in his papers. So we just started kind of speculating about what it might be.”

. . . .

Kew Gardens has thousands of pages of correspondence from Hooker. Of these, only a small percentage of lines are blacked out. But these pages play an outsized role in the imaginative life of those who work with them. “The letters are full of unpublished material, private thoughts, scientific exchange and criticism, and intimate details shared with friends and family,” writes Mills in a blog post about the letters. “But perhaps most intriuging of all, to those of us who have got to know the collection, are the stories that remain obscured.”

. . . .

In some cases, obscurity is professionally (or personally) required. Codes, for example, seem to be favored by two very different types of people: businessmen seeking to protect their economic interests, and teenagers and young adults guarding their feelings.

. . . .

Beatrix Potter, later famous for her children’s books, kept a diary written in a self-invented cipher that took a dedicated fan years to crack.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

PG says Potter’s secrets might be forever secure had she online encryption and decryption for her diary.

For example (make sure you copy the entire encrypted text – There are no spaces, so it doesn’t wrap and extends beyond the right side of the post):

ocLMqZgyTwX8w/hXaH25zq4s4NZvpRMxLh45vy+5dkpuXqiW1opCBj21NTNkZuzkTln3jNDD3755kry050K+iNA5pONkgN/zSlJZgBidK7WZq422Zz8J23bot4IbQHrs5vfbTM8eeicqhfegcT6TdUCsxrKd45Sr

PG says you might want to try:

Algorithm: Blowfish

Modes: CBC (cipher block chaining)

Password: Flopsy

How “The Story of Ferdinand” Became Fodder for the Culture Wars of Its Era

15 December 2017

From The New Yorker:

Children’s books, like children themselves, come in for a fair amount of scolding, whether it’s the periodic “family values” attacks on books like “Heather Has Two Mommies” or the international stir kicked up just last month when an English mum argued that the non-consensual wakeup kiss at the end of “Sleeping Beauty” reinforces rape culture. You might think that “The Story of Ferdinand,” about a gentle bull who refuses to fight in either pasture or bullring, only wanting to sit under his favorite tree and smell the flowers, would be immune from such content-shaming. But the eighty-one-year-old book, which was written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson and is the basis for the new animated film “Ferdinand,” opening on December 15th, was caught in the culture-war crossfire of its own era. Mahatma Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt were on Team Ferdinand. Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco were not. But the battle lines weren’t drawn quite as neatly as those rosters suggest.

Set in the country somewhere outside Madrid, “The Story of Ferdinand” had the good or bad fortune to be published in September, 1936, three months after the start of the Spanish Civil War, when Fascist military forces began rebelling against the leftist Republic. In the book, the peaceful Ferdinand is mistaken for the “toughest, meanest bull in all of Spain” after he gets stung by a bee and starts “bucking and jumping and acting like he was crazy.” Carted off to the bullring, however, he reverts to languid form, sitting down and smelling “all of the beautiful flowers worn by the ladies in the crowd.” The picadors, the banderilleros, and the matador do their best, but “no one could get Ferdinand to fight,” and so he returns to his beloved pasture and tree. A sweet tale. But with Spain at war and the rest of Europe on the verge, Ferdinand’s pacifism conveyed a loaded message if looked at the right, or wrong, way. The book’s publisher, Viking Press, had wanted to hold it back until “the world settles down,” according to a reminiscence by Margaret Leaf, Munro’s widow, written on the book’s fiftieth anniversary. The author and illustrator insisted on going ahead, which the publisher did—though apparently without much faith, putting all its advertising muscle behind another picture book on its list that year: “Giant Otto,” by William Pène du Bois, which centered on a floppy dog the size and shape of a four-story burial mound. “ ‘Ferdinand’ is a nice little book,” Viking’s president reportedly proclaimed, “but ‘Giant Otto’ will live forever.”

. . . .

 “The Story of Ferdinand” sold respectably, at first, moving fourteen thousand copies in its first year. But it took off, in 1937, for reasons no one was quite sure of. By its first anniversary it had sold eighty thousand copies, a phenomenal number for a picture book during the Depression. By that Christmas, as this magazine reported, sales were “running slightly behind Dale Carnegie and well ahead of Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Hoopla Digital introduces ‘Read-Along’ children’s books with audio narration

10 December 2017

From TeleRead:

Starting today, digital library service Hoopla Digital is introducing a new line of “Picture Books with Read-Alongs” for young readers. Unlike Hoopla’s normal ebook titles, which feature traditional reflowable text sized to fit device screens, these Read-Along titles are displayed in specific picture-book layouts, much like PDFs. And they feature an audio player with audio narration, as well as highlighting the word currently being read.

The format is launching with titles from Hoopla’s partners Walt Disney Books, HarperCollins, Lerner, Charlesbridge, and Brittanica. As with Hoopla’s other ebooks, read-along titles can be checked out for up to 21 days.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Comparing Trends in Children’s Publishing at Guadalajara’s International Rights Exchange

9 December 2017
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From Publishing Perspectives:

From Brazil, Norway, Canada, the UK, Lebanon, and Turkey, we gather reactions to Guadalajara International Book Fair’s Rights Exchange fellows—all based in children’s publishing.

. . . .

[W]hat are the world trends that you see shaping children’s publishing today?

Isabel Lopes Coelho:  Well, there is, of course, a variety of books and illustrations and also a contrast of themes. For example, we can see many books about immigration and people displaced in the world–which reflects on how much global movement is going on.

Sarah Odedina: The theme of migration is definitely a worldwide trend. There’s a great concern that’s shared by children for the plight of people in the world.

Publishers are really responding to those concerns and trying to publish works that explain and try to help humanize these stories that are basically headlines–numerous and anxious political situations.

Esra Okutan, Sarigaga Books (Turkey): The trend that I saw last year was girl power, and now the father figure is becoming more powerful, I find. Turkish society and Asian countries are trying to get the father more involved in children’s care.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Accidental Bestseller

4 December 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Some books arrive labeled “can’t miss,” or have such a hefty advance that publishers do everything they can to assure that they won’t miss. But what about the sleepers? Those books that worked their way through the publishing pipeline quietly, launch with little buzz, and somehow find their way to bestseller lists anyway? Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie had been abandoned unread in a box when an editor went on maternity leave and decided not to return. Dusted off and published by her replacement, it has sold 8.8 million copies. Jeff Kinney’s now international bestseller Diary of a Wimpy Kid initially met resistance at Abrams, where some wondered whether kids would buy a book that they could already read for free online at the Poptropica site. Random House acquired Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a first novel published under a pseudonym, for a modest advance. Even those with the highest hopes for that book didn’t dream it would sell two million copies, spend 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and spawn a movement about the importance of being kind.

Nobody loves a good story more than an editor, so we asked editors to tell us how they came to publish their favorite buzzless bestsellers.

. . . .

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
(Chronicle, 2011)

I found Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site buried in our bin of unsolicited manuscripts and I was immediately taken with the concept, the sweetness of the text, and the pitch-perfect title (which never changed). I also responded to the author’s story about how the book came to be. In her cover letter, she described a nighttime routine in which she helped her sons settle down by saying good night to all the things they loved—which, for one of her boys, always included trucks. I thought this was a brilliant approach to bedtime and could see how it would benefit moms and dads of truck-obsessed kids everywhere.

My second thought, though, was that the concept of a bedtime book about trucks was so natural and smart, that a similar book must exist already. I jumped online, but happily found no books that could come close to competing. I called Sherri to share my enthusiasm and make sure she hadn’t sold the book elsewhere. She was lovely to talk to—so excited about the opportunity and ready to collaborate and work hard. Now I didn’t just want to work on the book, I wanted the opportunity to work with this delightful and talented debut author. I took the manuscript to our acquisitions meeting with no doubt that it would pass—which it did, quite quickly and easily. Soon after, the designer, Amelia May Mack, and I were lucky enough to find the perfect illustrator in Tom Lichtenheld. I had the chance to see the book through from acquisition to publication, but I was living out of the country when it first hit the bestseller list. I was over-the-moon thrilled, but not really surprised. I only wished I could be home to celebrate with Sherri, Tom, and the wonderful creative team at Chronicle. —Mary Colgan

● Rinker sold Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site to Chronicle for a $4,000 advance. The title has been on the New York Times list for three years, with more than 850,000 copies in print and rights sold into 23 territories.

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

PG will note that Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is a big favorite with the posterity of Mrs. PG and PG.

Why Nancy Drew is an ideal role model for today’s girls (and boys)

8 November 2017

From author Linda Fairstein via The Lilly:

Whenever asked what prompted my interest in either of my careers — fighting crime or writing crime — I have always credited my passion for both to my pre-adolescent devotion to the teenage sleuth who inspired me twice over: Nancy Drew.

I had been a voracious reader as a child, but my memories of discovering a charismatic teenager and her posse of friends who returned in book after book to take on the evil forces in River Heights marked my initial awareness of continuing characters in a series of novels. I admired everything about Nancy — how intrepid she was in her efforts to set things right, her loyalty to her father and her pals, and her bold manner of taking on mysterious situations to right wrongs, even when adults scoffed at her plans.

. . . .

I smile whenever I hear an accomplished woman mention Nancy Drew — who made her first appearance in 1930 — as an inspirational figure. Former justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote about being pulled away from Nancy’s exploits to do more serious work on the family ranch; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg responded to the young woman’s adventurous nature and her daring; and Justice Sonia Sotomayor — who has described reading as her “rocket ship out of the second floor apartment” in a South Bronx housing project — admired Nancy’s character and her courage. Hillary Clinton, too, is a fan, respecting how smart and brave Nancy was, also her ability to multitask: taking care of her dad’s house, keeping up with her schoolwork and solving capers on top of it all. Laura Bush also loved reading Nancy Drew mysteries.

. . . .

I have spent 45 years as a lawyer, fighting for justice for women and children who have been victims of violence. And I have written 21 mysteries — two of them for young readers — in which my protagonists, one a prosecutor and the other a 12-year-old sleuth, channel the character and courage of a fictional heroine.

Link to the rest at The Lilly

Here’s a link to Linda Fairstein’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

 

The Kid’s Book That Connects Me to My Lost Soviet Childhood

26 October 2017
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From Electric Lit:

I twirl a package in my hands, a crumpled plastic sleeve with line after line of stamps and my mother’s neat handwriting. She memorized the list of items approved for mailing to the States by heart. Russian chocolate, gingerbread cookies, newspaper clippings, socks — all okay. No luck on tea bags, CDs, religious paraphernalia. Sometimes she gives packages a false bottom and hides an icon for this saint or that. She says she worries about my spirit. This package came earlier today and I know, before I rip the plastic open, that it’s a book. A copy from my childhood, worn edges, the price — six kopeks — listed on the back cover.

The Adventures of Dennis by Victor Dragunsky is classic Soviet literature — Soviet, not Russian. Does the difference matter? It didn’t when I was a kid. My grandfather read those stories to me at bedtime. In them, a mischievous eight-year-old boy finds all sorts of trouble. Perched on my stool at the gate, I open the first page. These titles! “3rd Place, Butterfly Stroke,” “Exactly 25 Kilos,” “Who Ever Heard of It?” Each one resurrects a memory. In one story, Dennis forces himself to drink a full bottle of soda to weigh exactly 25 kilos and win a year’s subscription to Murzilka, a children’s magazine. In another, he performs “satire verses” during a Young Pioneers concert, only to suffer from extreme stage fright and be stuck singing the same line. Twin stories “Things I Like” “…And Things I Don’t” list with lucid detail the tastes of a young boy in the 1950s, one of them playing “Reds and Whites.” He doesn’t like to be a “White,” Dennis says. He’d rather drop out of the game.

Pioneers, Murzilka, Reds and Whites were relics by the time I entered school in the early ’90s. Things of the past, but not forgotten. Reds, of course, were the Bolsheviks in the Civil War; Whites were the remains of the old society, the side that lost. My great-grandfather, a White Officer, disappeared in the prison camps. “I love stories about Red Army cavalrymen who always win their battles,” Dennis says in “Things I Like.” I did not hear it as a child, but now that I sit with this book 25 years later, I wonder. Did my grandfather’s voice falter when he read this story to me?

. . . .

I want to slow down, savor the stories, but the moment I finish one my eyes find the first line of the next. “The Mystery Clears,” “Chicken Soup,” “Twenty Years Under the Bed.” New editions of the book come every year, but it’s becoming harder and harder for parents to translate the realities of Soviet life to their children. “Chicken Soup” begins with Dennis’ mother bringing home a whole chicken, which she hangs on the window frame. The English translation published in 1981 by Raduga has the mother put it in the fridge instead. Playing hide-and-seek with his friends in “Twenty Years Under the Bed,” Dennis enters an unfamiliar room only to be accidentally locked in by the room’s occupant, the elderly Efrosinya Petrovna. This won’t make a bit of sense unless you’ve lived in a communal flat.

. . . .

The book is flimsy, with a faded image of a boy bundled in a thick winter coat marching in front of his father. It doesn’t scream of being a children’s book, not unless you can read the title in Russian. Or is it my connection to this book? After all, The Adventures of Dennis is an intimate part of my childhood. Somewhere in it are chocolate stains from my six-year-old fingers. Trapped between its pages is the smell of meatballs and pickle soup my grandmother made every month.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

School District Pulls To Kill a Mockingbird: It “Makes People Uncomfortable”

15 October 2017

From Slate:

The Biloxi school district in Mississippi has decided to remove To Kill a Mockingbird from its junior-high reading list. The reason? Some of the book’s language “makes people uncomfortable,” the vice president of the school board, Kenny Holloway, said. “There were complaints about it,” he added, “and we can teach the same lesson with other books.” The administrator insisted kids could still go to the library to read the book “but they’re going to use another book in the 8th grade course.”

Although the school administrator doesn’t say it, a parent who first contacted the Sun Herald with the news of the apparent mid-year shift in the reading list said the decision to pull the book was “due to the use of the ‘N’ word.”

. . . .

Many criticized the decision by the school district, including Arne Duncan, who was secretary of Education from 2009-2015 under President Obama. “When school districts remove To Kill a Mockingbird from the reading list, we know we have real problems,” Duncan wrote on Twitter. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska also blasted the move, calling it “a terrible decision.”

Link to the rest at Slate

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