Children’s Books

Young Adult Fiction Doesn’t Need to Be a ‘Gateway’ to the Classics

31 October 2014

From The Atlantic:

I tried to get my 10-year-old son to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm recently. He read a few pages gamely, but was mostly uninterested. He’d much prefer to chug along in The Blood of Olympus, the last massive volume in Rick Riordan’s massive Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. An adventure story about demigods kicking butt beat an acerbic parable about the failures of Communism. No wonder totalitarianism is winning.

Obviously, it’s a bit much to jump to apocalyptic conclusions based on the reading habits of one fifth grader. Everyone knows that. And yet, at the same time, children’s reading habits consistently provoke if not panic, at least nervousness and tasteful hand-wringing. Over the summer, Ruth Graham argued that young adult literature was fundamentally different from, and inferior to, adult literature, and that adults who read it were doing so in order to indulge in “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.” Rebecca Mead at the New Yorker presents a softer, more ambivalent version of that argument, worrying that (as in my son’s case) reading a book like Percy Jackson “makes young readers hungry for more of the palatable same” rather than “urging them on to more challenging adventures.”

Discussions like this often seem to presume that there was an idyllic time, somewhere in the past, when kids’ books were substantially better, or when young people read great adult literature. Graham contrasts Percy Jackson and Riordan’s new encyclopedia Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods to the classic 1925 collection of Greek myths by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire. She finds Riordan’s book slangy and “inscribed with obsolescence,” since it references Craigslist, iPhones, and other pop culture detritus. The D’Aulaires, on the other hand, remain “lucid”—though their poetic Victorian language is, she admits, “stilted.” Graham seems to conclude that it’s a loss that kids want to read lines like “At first, Kronos wasn’t so bad. He had to work his way up to being a complete slime bucket” instead of  “In olden times, when men still worshiped ugly idols, there lived in the land of Greece a folk of shepherds and herdsmen who cherished light and beauty.”

. . . .

For that matter, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, told me, “When people say children’s literature isn’t that great, a lot of adult literature isn’t that great.” Better Percy Jackson than 50 Shades or John Grisham or the Left Behind books. Better Percy Jackson than James Fenimore Cooper, for that matter—or than The Old Man and the Sea. Inventive, goofy, elaborate adventures with gods and gleeful pop cult references—or maudlin, macho themes shamelessly vaunting simplicity as an anxious marker of seriousness?  I’ll take the first, thanks.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Sara for the tip.

The Percy Jackson Problem

29 October 2014

From The New Yorker:

About a year ago, the novelist Neil Gaiman delivered a lecture at the Barbican, in London, on behalf of the Reading Agency, a not-for-profit organization that promotes literacy and reading for pleasure among children and adults. In the lecture, which was reprinted in the Guardian, Gaiman came out in favor of what might be called the “just so long as they’re reading” camp.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children,” he argued, adding that it was “snobbery and … foolishness” to suggest that a certain author or particular genre might be a baleful influence upon young reading minds—be it comic books or the works of R. L. Stine. Fiction is a “gateway drug” to reading, Gaiman said. “Every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them.” Well-meaning adults, he continued, can easily kill a child’s love of reading: “Stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.”

The opposite argument—that the kind of book a child has his or her nose buried in does make a difference—has been mounted elsewhere, notably by Tim Parks, in an essay that appeared on the blog of the New York Review of Books. “If the ‘I-don’t-mind-people-reading-Twilight-because-it-could-lead-to-higher-things’ platitude continues to be trotted out, it is because despite all the blurring that has occurred over recent years, we still have no trouble recognizing the difference between the repetitive formula offering easy pleasure and the more strenuous attempt to engage with the world in new ways,” Parks wrote. He enlisted the example of his own children’s reading habits, and those of his young students, to argue that there is little evidence to suggest that readers will make progress “upward from pulp to Proust.” “I seriously doubt if E.L. James is the first step toward Shakespeare,” he concluded. “Better to start with Romeo and Juliet.”

This debate came to mind earlier this month at the New York Public Library, when Rick Riordan, the author of the best-selling Percy Jackson series, was in town to promote “The Blood of Olympus,” the latest and final volume in his second cycle of novels drawing upon Greek mythology. The first, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” has sold upwards of twenty million copies worldwide.

. . . .

For those unfamiliar with the Riordan’s Olympian fictions—which is to say, people without children between the ages of seven and seventeen—their hero, Percy Jackson, thinks he is just a kid with a learning disability and a troublesome tendency to get kicked out of school, until he learns that his difficulties can be explained by the fact that he is a demigod, the offspring of Poseidon and a mortal woman. In the first book of the series, “The Lightning Thief,” Percy gets shipped off, at the age of twelve, to Camp Half Blood, a refuge on Long Island populated by his demigod peers. There he learns the skills becoming of his lineage—sword fighting looms large—and discovers his own peculiar gifts: even when injured, he is miraculously healed and empowered by water.

. . . .

That slangy, casual style is a hallmark of the Percy Jackson books, which often read like a faithful transcription of teen uptalk. At the level of language, Riordan’s books make J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series seem as if it were written by Samuel Johnson. Unlike the Harry Potter books, which, notoriously, have been embraced by adult readers as well as juvenile ones, the Percy Jackson books seem positively contrived to repel adult readers, so thoroughgoing is their affectation of teen goofiness.

. . . .

Riordan’s books prompt an uneasy interrogation of the premise underlying the “so long as they’re reading” side of the debate—at least among those of us who want to share Neil Gaiman’s optimistic view that all reading is good reading, and yet find ourselves by disposition closer to the Tim Parks end of the spectrum, worried that those books on our children’s shelves that offer easy gratification are crowding out the different pleasures that may be offered by less grabby volumes.

. . . .

What if the strenuous accessibility of “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods” proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same?

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?

12 October 2014

From Douglas Quenqua at the New York Times

. . .

For years, child development experts have advised parents to read to their children early and often, citing studies showing its linguistic, verbal and social benefits. In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised doctors to remind parents at every visit that they should read to their children from birth, prescribing books as enthusiastically as vaccines and vegetables.

On the other hand, the academy strongly recommends no screen time for children under 2, and less than two hours a day for older children.

At a time when reading increasingly means swiping pages on a device, and app stores are bursting with reading programs and learning games aimed at infants and preschoolers, which bit of guidance should parents heed?

. . .

Part of the problem is the newness of the devices. Tablets and e-readers have not been in widespread use long enough for the sorts of extended studies that will reveal their effects on learning.

Dr. Pamela High, the pediatrician who wrote the June policy for the pediatrics group, said electronic books were intentionally not addressed. “We tried to do a strongly evidence-based policy statement on the issue of reading starting at a very young age,” she said. “And there isn’t any data, really, on e-books.”

But a handful of new studies suggest that reading to a child from an electronic device undercuts the dynamic that drives language development.

. . .

Of course, e-book publishers and app developers point to interactivity as an educational advantage, not a distraction. Many of those bells and whistles — Clifford’s bark, the sleepy narration of “Goodnight Moon,” the appearance of the word “ham” when a child taps the ham in the Green Eggs and Ham app — help the child pick up language, they say.

. . .

Read the full article at the New York Times

The criticisms in the article seem to be directed at enhanced e-books of the sort that feature animation, narration, and extras. Neither the author nor the experts he quotes seems to know that there is such a thing as electronic books for children that function pretty much like paper books.

Welcoming-a-returning-PG vacation guest post by Bridget McKenna

No, I don’t want to read your self-published book

2 October 2014

From Ron Charles at The Washington Post
Roger Sutton, editor in chief of Horn Book magazine, has had it with what we politely call “indie writers.” Yesterday, he posted “An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed.

Dear self-published author:
I can imagine how frustrating it is to have your book refused possible review coverage by the Horn Book simply because it is self-published. But here is why that situation is unlikely to change anytime soon.
If we met at a party or something, I, and I think my colleagues at the other review rags, would tell you that we don’t review self-published books because there are too many of them. More than half a million such titles are published every year in this country, and I’m guessing children’s books account for at least 100,000 of those. Right now, I’m dealing with about 8,000 titles a year of traditionally published children’s books, of which we review approximately 5,000. If we were to commit to giving self-published books the same level of scrutiny we give to what we already cover, I would need to increase our staff exponentially, which is not going to happen.

***

Thus my final point. Self-published children’s books seem remarkably ignorant of the great history and scope of children’s literature. You don’t need this awareness to write a good or even great book for children (I know several worthy children’s book authors who pay no attention to the field or its heritage) but you do need it to publish a good or great book for children. (Or even a terrible one. Trade publishers publish bad books all the time, but they publish them for good reasons.) An editor isn’t there to “fix mistakes.” His or her most important job is to understand what contribution your story makes–or doesn’t–to the big world of books and readers. That’s what is most missing from self-published books for children today.

He begins kindly enough: “I can imagine how frustrating it is to have your book refused possible review coverage by the Horn Book simply because it is self-published.” But then he lays out the case from the review editor’s point of view. He’s bracingly blunt.

***

I contacted Sutton this morning for additional comment (and to see if he’d been assaulted yet). As I suspected, his open letter had been inspired by an e-mail exchange with a “self-pubber.” Those of us in the business know these exchanges well. They’re pretty much why I don’t answer the phone anymore. There’s always some aggressive or depressed “indie writer” on the other end insisting that his book is spectacular, unlike anything else being published today. If only I’d read 25 pages, I’d be hooked.
I asked Sutton, “What do you say to the indie writer who reminds you that Walt Whitman was self-published?”

“You are not Walt Whitman,” he said

***

At The Post, we’re getting about 150 books a day. A day. And these are books that had to find an agent. And then a publisher. And then were professionally edited. And now are being professionally marketed by people with money on the line. Many of these books, of course, are bad, but many — far more than we can review — are interesting, engaging, informative, moving, timely and/or newsworthy for various reasons.

All the winnowing and editing work that went on before a galley ever arrives at our door make this job possible. The idea of dumping several hundred thousand additional books on our small staff every year is terrifying.
Are there great, truly great self-published books being produced — and ignored — every year?

I’m sure there are, and that’s a tragedy. But it’s not a tragedy that I can solve by reading 25 pages of every one of the 300,000 self-published book that would land in our office if we opened the door.

See the full article here at The Washington Post (Link may expire)

From Guest Blogger Randall.

Go Forth and Re-Read Your Favorite Books From Childhood: A Dare

13 September 2014

From BookRiot:

There’s a not-so-secret society of adults who actively (and sometimes exclusively) read YA fiction, as if it’s a fattening indulgence that cannot be denied. But I think – and this could be the little Tinkerbell in me praying for us all to never grow old – certain children’s and young adult fiction should be required re-reading after your Nth birthday. Your perspective will completely change. Trust me.

Remember back in high school, when the angsty kids were reading The Catcher in the Rye and calling themselves by names they believed to be clever versions of Holden Caulfield? That didn’t happen in your school? Well, in mine, these kids were intellectual snobs, who thought they got “it.” Maybe you were one of them. I befriended a few. But I didn’t get “it.”

Revisit Salinger’s work after you’ve had your quarter-life crisis, and suddenly, your teenage drama feels like it played out in some Marvel multiverse where you remained forever seventeen and nothing was as important as other people’s opinions of you. When you can reflect on your adolescence without self-pity or undeserved veneration, you may be closer to discovering your true self in the words that spoke to you as a child.

. . . .

My childhood bookshelf is filled with intelligent heroines, emotional heroes, clever, cunning, and temperamental kids who taught me how to empathize with others and become authentic with myself. Sure, there were plenty of books about cliques and the popular crowd, too.  But my nourishment came from Virginia Hamilton, Paula Danziger, Mildred D. Taylor, and Beverly Cleary. My childhood bookshelf is daring and diverse. It’s not hindered by racism, sexism, or any other -ism that clouds my judgment as an adult. My childhood bookshelf isn’t worried about what’s popular or what Oprah recommends, or who read it first.  It is strictly about what spoke to me, unadulterated.

So I issue you this challenge. Re-read your favorite (and maybe some of your most loathed) childhood and young adult books now.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Amazon Announces KDP Kids and Launches Kindle Kids’ Book Creator

4 September 2014

From Amazon Media Center:

Amazon today announced KDP Kids, designed to help children’s book authors prepare, publish and promote both illustrated and chapter books in Kindle Stores worldwide. Children’s book authors can use Amazon’s new Kindle Kids’ Book Creator tool to easily create illustrated children’s books that take advantage of Kindle features like text pop-ups. Once the book is ready, authors can upload it to KDP in just a few simple steps, and use KDP’s category, age and grade range filters to help millions of Amazon customers choose the right books for their kids. Authors can earn royalties of up to 70%, while keeping their rights and maintaining control of their content.

. . . .

“Authors want to focus on telling great stories and we want to help them do that. No one should have to be a computer programmer to create a beautiful, illustrated Kindle book for kids,” said Russ Grandinetti, Senior Vice President, Kindle. “Kindle Kids’ Book Creator makes it easy. In addition to helping authors craft their books, we’re helping customers find them with things like age and grade range filters.”

By creating a digital edition of their book, authors can reach a whole new audience of Kindle readers, who have already downloaded millions of children’s books this year.

. . . .

“As a self-published author, doing all the work myself and being no technical expert, I found this so easy to use,” said children’s book author and illustrator Michele Lynn Seigfried. “It will definitely save me time and money when I publish my future books.”

Link to the rest at Amazon Media Center

How Tortellini Came To Be

19 August 2014

From author Lauren Orbison:

Tortellini was originally intended to be just a couple of blog posts. Writers are told over and over again to blog. Because blogs sell books. The more you post, the more people you reach. But a lot of writers write about writing. And I didn’t want to give the same advice that everyone else was giving.

So what else could I write about?

Dragons, of course!

The intent behind the story was a dragon anthology of flash fiction and dragon names going from A-Z. We called these “drabbles” if they were 100 words or less in the fanfiction world.  I thought Dragon Drabbles was an adorable name for a blog.

. . . .

My writing mentor Holly Lisle held a contest to showcase student work with her anthology How to Think Sideways class. The theme of the contest was “creation.” The word count had to be 2500 words or under. Tortellini expanded right at the maximum word count allowed. The competition was intense. There were a lot of entries. And there was only room for 33 stories. I didn’t win in the top 3 for the cash prizes, but I got a spot.

. . . .

My mother loved the story. Now normally, as an independent author, that’s not a good thing to mention, because parents usually love everything their children write. “Good job, sweetie, I’m so proud of you!” is a typical reaction.

My mother isn’t like that. She is a National Board Certified 4th grade teacher.

. . . .

She loved Tortellini in short story form so much she begged for it in picture book format so she could read it aloud to her class. She talked about it at conferences she went to and got other teachers interested.

And kept asking. And asking. For years.

I agreed with her that it would make a great picture book.  It only took one line of editing to make it suitable for children rather than adults. But, I thought the only way to get my book published in picture book format was to keep querying agents and publishers.

. . . .

I queried even more. But querying felt an awful lot like I was a hamster spinning my wheels. Who knew how long this process could take? I needed to be writing. These weren’t easy letters. It was a drain on my health, too. Sometimes crafting one letter took an entire day or more, depending on the agent I had in mind. And then after that, it took a little bit to recover from the intensity of the pressure involved.

I had always wanted to be published by the folks in New York, but then I got to thinking about the fact that once I gave the manuscript over to them, I would have no control what happened to it afterwards. Now, that doesn’t bother me so much with regular print material.

But for picture books? After the edit requests, I didn’t like the idea as much.

I would have no input in choosing the illustrator. I would not get to approve the illustrations. And I would be expected to market it anyway even if I hated how it turned out.

Not to mention the sheer amount of time involved.

I didn’t have the patience to wait another two years to put out my first book. Who knew what my health could be like by then? I couldn’t afford to wait another two years.

I went back to Holly Lisle for advice. Holly encouraged me to go independent.

. . . .

There was an awesome illustrator I wanted to hire, Theo Nicole Lorenz.  I am a huge fan of her coloring books Unicorns Are Jerks and Fat Ladies in Space. . . . Her rates were too expensive for me to afford on our meager budget and she was swamped with other work until September.

She did give me a tip on how she found her first client, though. She told me someone had emailed her art professor and asked if students needed summer work and suggested that I explain my budget situation and that that’s what I should do.

So that’s what I did.

. . . .

We submitted our manuscript to CreateSpace on Amazon.com. It took about a week or less for us to get our proof copy. We made a scant few changes, most in the Author’s Note section and then re-submitted.

It was online live in 24 hours.

Link to the rest at Lauren Orbison

Here’s a link to Tortellini

Why I’ve switched to self-publishing

24 July 2014

From author Diana Kimpton via An Awfully Big Blog Adventure:

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I knew I already had two publishers eager to see my first novel for older readers. I knew that if I went with one of them, I’d be likely to get a good advance and good sales.

But I also knew that the world of publishing was changing fast. Self publishing was now a viable option – I’d already tried it with two backlist titles so I knew what was involved. And I also knew that There Must Be Horses was the best book I had ever written. Did I want to hand it over to someone else or did I want to stay in control?

In the end, I decided to do it my way, and I published There Must Be Horses myself in October 2012. The ebook came first, closely followed by a print-on-demand print version and a few months later by a short print run organised and distributed by Troubador because I’d discovered that I hated handling orders.

Almost two years on, I’m convinced I made the right decision. I probably would have sold more copies initially with a traditional publishing deal, but I make more per book so I don’t mind. Despite being self-published, the book has been reviewed in PONY magazine and The School Librarian, and it’s still selling steadily, often featuring in the best selling list for its genre. (It’s topped it once or twice.)

. . . .

Would I do it again? Now’s a good time to ask that as I’ve just had the latest in my Pony-Mad Princess series, published traditionally. On the plus side for the traditional route, the advance for Princess Ellie’s Perfect Plan was very welcome. I’ve enjoyed working with a very pleasant bunch of people and the final book looks good. On the minus side, I’ve had to give up the rights to my book for many years to come. I’ve missed the fun and satisfaction of self-publishing and, right now, I’m missing the instant access to sales figures that I get when I use Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace.

That’s why I’ve decided to stick with self-publishing for the foreseeable future.

Link to the rest at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure

Here’s a link to Diana Kimpton’s books

 

This is the absolute worst way to teach your kids to read

14 June 2014

From Slate:

Recently, while cooling my heels at the airport, I overheard a boy of about 6 begging his mom to let him play with the family iPad. “No screen time until you do an hour of reading first,” was her reply. The child flung himself back in his seat and opened a paperback book with a disgruntled sigh.

I winced. Of course parents need to supervise their kids’ use of digital devices and the Internet. God only knows, plenty of adults have a hard enough time managing their own screen time.

. . . .

Most parents are also acutely aware of the importance of good reading skills to their children’s academic future. If they’re particularly well-informed, they’re aware that a recent report from Common Sense Media indicates the number of children aged 8 to 17 reading for pleasure has dropped significantly in the past few years. Digital media is frequently blamed for distracting kids from books, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that some parents have gotten the idea of using screen time as an incentive for page time.

The site Reading-rewards.com, for example, was set up by parents who decided to “put a system in place whereby their kids had to earn TV or game console time by reading: 1 minute TV time for every minute of reading.”

. . . .

But there’s the rub: Reading should not be a chore. Chores are tasks that nobody wants to do but that have to be done all the same. Life is full of such activities. Part of being an adult is learning to suck it up and take care of them, yet another thing parents have to teach their kids. Kids often have to be bribed to do this with an allowance or game tokens or some other treat because kids aren’t big on the long view. They don’t care that if they don’t wash the dishes tonight; there will be no clean ones to eat off of tomorrow because tomorrow seems so irrelevantly far away.

To make an hour spent with a book into the equivalent of loading the dishwasher is to send the strong, implicit message that reading is a similar task, one that will never be a source of pleasure. You may end up with kids who have logged in lots of hours of reading, but that won’t makereaders out of them. There’s a vast difference between dutiful, grudging, joyless reading and the kind of hungry, engaged reading that makes for a good student and a thoughtful citizen. It’s hard to be good at something you don’t enjoy.

Link to the rest at Slate

Why Aren’t Teens Reading Like They Used To?

13 May 2014

From National Public Radio:

Harry Potter and The Hunger Games haven’t been big hits for nothing. Lots of teens and adolescents still read quite a lot.

But a roundup of studies, put together by the nonprofit Common Sense Media, shows a clear decline over time. Nearly half of 17-year-olds say they read for pleasure no more than one or two times a year — if that.

That’s way down from a decade ago.

. . . .

Steyer has four kids and has seen the trend most with his 16-year-old. “I start to see it in our 10-year-old, as well, because he is less and less reading, and more and more attracted to some of the digital media platforms that he has access to, and that he did not have access to when he was, say, 6 or 7 years old,” he says.

The studies do not say that kids are reading less because they’re spending more time online. But Steyer is convinced that’s at least part of the answer.

“First of all, most children now have access to e-readers, or other smart electronic devices like phones and tablets,” he says. “And they’re spending time on that. Numerous reports show the increasing use of new technology platforms by kids. It just strikes me as extremely logical that that’s a big factor.”

. . . .

“Kids with parents who read, who buy or take books out of the library for their kids, and who then set time aside in their kids’ daily schedule for reading, tend to read the most,” he says — whether it’s on a book, an e-book or some other gadget.

Link to the rest at NPR and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

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