Children’s Books

How Reading Rewires Your Brain for More Intelligence and Empathy

16 September 2017

From Big Think:

Fitness headlines promise staggering physical results: a firmer butt, ripped abs, bulging biceps. Nutritional breakthroughs are similar clickbait, with attention-grabbing, if often inauthentic—what, really, is a “superfood?”—means of achieving better health. Strangely, one topic usually escaping discussion has been shown, time and again, to make us healthier, smarter, and more empathic animals: reading. 

Reading, of course, requires patience, diligence, and determination. Scanning headlines and retweeting quips is not going to make much cognitive difference. If anything, such sweet nothings are dangerous, the literary equivalent of sugar addiction. Information gathering in under 140 characters is lazy. The benefits of contemplation through narrative offer another story.

The benefits are plenty, which is especially important in a distracted, smartphone age in which one-quarter of American children don’t learn to read. This not only endangers them socially and intellectually, but cognitively handicaps them for life. One 2009 study of 72 children ages eight to ten discovered that reading creates new white matter in the brain, which improves system-wide communication.

White matter carries information between regions of grey matter, where any information is processed. Not only does reading increase white matter, it helps information be processed more efficiently.

Reading in one language has enormous benefits. Add a foreign language and not only do communication skills improve—you can talk to more people in wider circles—but the regions of your brain involved in spatial navigation and learning new information increase in size. Learning a new language also improves your overall memory.

. . . .

Novel reading is a great way to practice being human.1 Rather than sprints and punches, how about something more primitive and necessary in a society, like empathy? As you dive deeper into Rabbit Angstrom’s follies or Jason Taylor coming of age, you not only feel their pain and joy. You actually experience it. 

In one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

This has profound implications for how we interact with others. When encountering a 13-year-old boy misbehaving, you most likely won’t think, “Well, David Mitchell wrote about such a situation, and so I should behave like this,” but you might have integrated some of the lessons about young boys figuring life out and display a more nuanced understanding in how you react. 

Link to the rest at Big Think

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hero ‘was originally black’

14 September 2017

From The Guardian:

Roald Dahl originally wanted the eponymous hero of his much-loved children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be black, his widow has said.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for Roald Dahl day on Wednesday, Liccy Dahl said: “His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy.”

Asked why it was changed, she replied: “I don’t know. It’s a great pity.”

Her husband’s biographer Donald Sturrock, who was also being interviewed, said the change to a white character was driven by Dahl’s agent, who thought a black Charlie would not appeal to readers.

“I can tell you that it was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first published, to have a black hero,” said Sturrock. “She said people would ask: ‘Why?’”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

AA Milne memoir shows Winnie-the-Pooh author longing to ‘escape’ his bear

12 September 2017

From The Guardian:

Winnie-the-Pooh may have secured a place in the hearts of children worldwide and made his creator a millionaire, but author AA Milne resented the way the bear of little brain undermined his reputation as a serious writer.

The revelation appears in his 1939 memoir It’s Too Late Now, which is to be republished on 21 September, 70 years after it went out of print and ahead of the release of a biopic about his son, Goodbye Christopher Robin. Despite the success of Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and friends, Milne was frustrated that his reputation as a writer for adults had been irrevocably damaged.

Prior to his children’s books, Milne had written a string of hit plays, novels and short stories for adults, as well as editing the satirical magazine Punch. But his first book of children’s verse, When We Were Very Young, sold 50,000 copies within two months of publication in 1924 and his Winnie-the-Pooh books became immediate bestsellers around the world. When the first volume Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926, it sold 150,000 copies by the end of the year in the US alone. It has never been out of print since.

In It’s Too Late Now, Milne claims that he had tired of children’s writing after 70,000 words (“the number of words in the average-length novel”), but was trapped. “I wanted to escape from [children’s books] as I had once wanted to escape from Punch; as I have always wanted to escape,” he writes. “In vain. England expects the writer, like the cobbler, to stick to his last.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Children turn their backs on e-books as ‘screen fatigue’ takes hold and sales of books for youngsters soar

10 September 2017

From The Daily Mail:

Children’s printed book sales are soaring as youngsters turn their backs on online reading due to ‘screen fatigue’.

Sales of children’s titles rose by 16 per cent last year with sales totalling £365million, as popular authors like David Walliams inspire young readers to pick up a book.

But while printed sales increase, e-books are on the wane with a 3 per cent fall in sales.

. . . .

Figures show that almost £1 in every £4 spent on printed books is from a children’s title, reports the Observer.

Children’s authors are proving to be a key genre in the publishing industry, often outselling others.

But while parents have often worried about youngsters spending too much time on their computer or games console, experts believe that there is a real hunger for the written word among children.

According to industry magazine, The Bookseller: ‘Children are now reading more and want to read print.’

Link to the rest at The Daily Mail

Well. If The Bookseller says so, it must be true.

In PG’s observation, children like brightly-colored images and objects of all sorts, including books. A new brightly-colored object tends to be more interesting than an old brightly-colored object. Old brightly-colored objects, including books, live under the bed. Children have demonstrated this behavior for a long time.

Children also like watching Peppa the Pig, George of the Jungle, Moana, Queen Elsa, Wild Kratts, etc., etc., etc., on television. They will often do so until an adult turns off the television. This behavior has continued over several generations of children, starting with black and white television. Old televisions are too big to fit under the bed and old television shows never die. No sign of screen fatigue here.

Children also like playing with iPads, Kindle Fires, etc. Hand a child one of those and the child will often play with it until an adult intervenes. While not a widespread phenomena today, PG predicts that old iPads will someday live under the bed. No sign of screen fatigue here.

PG suggests that screen fatigue is the creation of a marketing manager somewhere, not a psychological or sociological phenomenon. PG doesn’t know if “children are reading more” is a fact, but suspects it may also be the creation of a marketing manager somewhere.

One thing PG does know is that marketing managers don’t really care if screen fatigue or reading children are genuine phenomena, so long as adults continue to purchase children’s books.

Why Picture Books Now?

27 August 2017

From Nerdy Book Club:

Remember when picture books gave us a simple view of family, neighborhoods and the world at large? As readers we felt safe, cocooned between the pages of that one view, it was comforting.

Fast forward twenty years, an elementary school librarian in a small rural town that is made up of vast social economic disparities. School population of 100+ students from surrounding hill towns. I share these details because our school is a homogenized population, where most of the children are related to each other, have never traveled outside the general area and come to us with that simple view of family, neighborhoods and the world. Is that a bad thing? Yes and no. On the no side they feel confident and vocal to judge, what to them not may not be the “normal” picture of family. On the yes side, many of our students struggle emotionally and physically when their families don’t fit that simpler view. With little knowledge of the wider world and diversity they become more closed in mind, body and words.  How do we help our students see a more modern view of themselves and the world? The school library and books!

. . . .

I have found that after reading books on diversity and compassion the Library Club students start to share their growing knowledge of diversity outside of the club, during lunch time, while chatting with friends, in their art and especially during library book check out. With exposure to books on diversity and compassion students stretch their comfort zones into new and wider reading adventures.

Link to the rest at Nerdy Book Club and thanks to Ron for the tip.

Rediscovering Kids’ Books

18 August 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Midway through life’s journey, many of us find ourselves returning to a realm that we had left ages ago and may not have thought about much since. That country is the land of children’s literature, a place as vivid, varied and tumultuous as any that ever existed on a real map. When we’re young, if we’re lucky, we spend lots of time with its scenes and characters: Hansel and Gretel nibbling the witch’s candy house; Max sailing “in and out of weeks” to where the Wild Things are; Charlotte weaving the word “radiant” into her web to save Wilbur, the pig; Lucy stepping into a wardrobe and emerging in snowy Narnia. The world of children’s literature is rich and enchanting and formative, but by the time most of us reach late adolescence we’re out of it. We put away childish things, as it were, and get busy with the fascinations and requirements of adulthood.

So it can be surprising and thrilling, and disconcerting too, to get a return ticket when our own children come into the world. Having given only an occasional nostalgic thought to Oz or Neverland or the Hundred Acre Wood, we’re plunged back into the joyful scrum. As to the sensations of re-entry and the unexpected complexities that grown-ups may find in the books they loved when they were small—well, that is the stuff of “Wild Things,” a charming, discursive encounter with classic children’s literature from the perspective of a parent.

Our Virgil, on this journey, is both guide and wanderer. Bruce Handy is a widely published essayist and critic and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. With his wife, Helen, he has two children, and it was while reading bedtime stories to Zoë and Isaac that the author felt he was “revisiting a favorite old neighborhood after many years and finding not only that it hadn’t been chain-stored into submission or paved over altogether, but that it was far more interesting and complex than I knew.”

For parents who are embarking on this phase of rediscovery, for those in the thick of it, and for those for whom it is a warm and recent memory, “Wild Things” will be a delightful excursion. Mr. Handy writes with zip, sincerity and good humor. He has a gift for witty phrasing: Fairy tales have a “rude verve,” and in their number is one so ghastly that it lurks “like a moldy berry” in the collected stories of the Brothers Grimm.

The book is organized in a way that approximates the developmental stages of a growing child. We start with the ur-baby book, “Goodnight Moon,” whose author, Margaret Wise Brown, Mr. Handy discovers, was not “a kindly gray-haired woman with an ample lap” but a glamorous hottie with amazing talent. He goes on to tackle the picture books and life stories of Maurice Sendak, Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss ) and Beatrix Potter before progressing to C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott —all the time giving his personal responses. Mr. Handy is an atheist but confesses himself “charmed and persuaded by the religious undercurrent of [C.S.] Lewis’s [“Narnia”] tales—in the sense that I am moved and persuaded not by the theology itself but rather by Lewis’s ability to convey in tangible, organic terms what his religion means to him, what Christianity feels like for him.” All the same, Mr. Handy’s heart, I think, belongs to Beverly Cleary (born in 1916 and thus 101 today) and E.B. White (1899-1985).

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) Here’s a link to Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult

Read like a girl: how children’s books of female stories are booming

11 August 2017

From The Guardian:

Studies in the past have found that children’s books are dominated by male characters, that history books are overrun by male authors writing about male figures, and that literary fiction is less likely to win a prize if it focuses on a female character.

A new wave of books aimed at children might just be doing its small bit to change that. Thousands of little girls – boys as well, but likely mainly girls – will be settling down for bed this evening with a new kind of bedtime story, one in which the heroines are not fictional, but real. From Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls to Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, sales of books about inspirational women have boomed this year – and look set to grow.

Kate Pankhurst – a distant relative of the suffragette Emmeline – has sold more than 52,000 copies of her guide to the Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, according to book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan. Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, meanwhile, didn’t have high expectations when they launched a Kickstarter last year for Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls, which tells the stories of 100 “extraordinary” women, from Malala Yousafzai to Michelle Obama. They wanted to raise $40,000 (£31,000), and to print 1,000 copies. But their Kickstarter became the most-funded publishing campaign on the site, raising more than $1m. The self-published book has since sold more than 500,000 copies around the world.

. . . .

“I didn’t at all expect it to sell so much,” says Pankhurst of her book. “I didn’t anticipate the interest from parents that was out there, but it’s been really lovely to see people enjoying it. It’s a real discussion point for families – a way in to talking about the stories of these women, and to talking about the broader point of why the book is only about women, if they have been forgotten from history.”

. . . .

Father-and-children’s book blogger Phil May, who runs ReaditDaddy, is one of them. “It feels like the last four years or so have seen a huge rise in inspirational girl books. Certainly in 2016 and 2017 we’ve seen more ‘mighty girl’ titles than any other year,” he says. He attributes their astronomical rise to a number of factors: “Renewed interest in space exploration, for example, means that girls as well as boys … not only want to hear about the women who are working in space science today, but the women who helped contribute to hugely important advances in space exploration. Knowing who people like Helen Sharman and Valentina Tereshkova are is vitally important for girls who are no longer satisfied with being palmed off with rubbish [suggesting] ‘space is for boys, why would girls be interested in that stuff?’”

. . . .

“Books about inspirational women have been a welcome and much needed addition to our bookshelves,” says Waterstones children’s buyer Florentyna Martin, praising Pankhurst’s book, which has remained a bestseller for the chain since it was published last year, as well as Good Night Stories. “It’s important to recognise that these titles are shaping a sustainable area of children’s books and not just ‘bestsellers for the moment’. These books are required, to inspire younger generations for years to come … and the older ones too.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

You Can Now Buy and Live On the Farm from ‘Charlotte’s Web’

7 August 2017

From Electric Lit:

The Maine farm where E.B. White’s iconic spider character Charlotte spun her famous web is now for sale for a hefty $3.7 million. The author spent 50 years on the seaside property, where he wrote some of his most beloved works, including classics Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.

White and his wife Katherine, the fiction editor at The New Yorker where White was a contributor, lived on the seaside property from the 1930’s until their deaths. The farm’s most notable feature is the barn in which a little pig named Wilbur met a spider named Charlotte.

. . . .

You know, this barn:

THE BARN was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell—as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world…The barn was pleasantly warm in winter when the animals spent most of their time indoors, and it was pleasantly cool in summer when the big doors stood wide open to the breeze. The bam had stalls on the main floor for the work horses, tie-ups on the main floor for the cows, a sheepfold down below for the sheep, a pigpen down below for Wilbur…

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

 

Here’s a link to lots of photos of the farm.

Watership Frown

3 August 2017

From The Literary Hub:

BACK IN 1974, THE NEW YORK TIMES‘ RICHARD GILMAN WASN’T OVERLY ENTHUSED BY RICHARD ADAMS’ BELOVED RABBIT ADVENTURE STORY

. . . .

“The impulse to make animals represent or incarnate human significances is of long standing in literature, going back at least as far as Aesop. For whatever reason, English literature has for scene time been especially lavish in the granting to animals of human properties: speech, humor, moral values, histories. One distinction of this kind of writing is that while it is mostly directed toward children, adults have enjoyed the best of it as much as children and sometimes more: Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, surely, but also Kipling, A. A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame, even Beatrix potter.

I doubt that Richard Adams’s Watership Down is really aimed at young children, despite his having said that it arose from impromptu stories he used to tell his small daughters. I can’t imagine many readers under 13 or 14, an age when the lines between juvenile and adult fiction begin to blur, having the patience and grasp of extended allegorical strategies to persevere to the end of a 426‐page epic about a community of rabbits. And while older teen‐agers may well enjoy it, I suspect that this tour de force, the Iliad and Odyssey of Oryctolagus cuniculus, is going to find its true audience mainly among the people who have made a cult of Tolkien, among ecology‐minded romantics and all those in need of a positive statement, not too subtle but not too blatant either, about the future of courage, native simplicity, the life‐force, and so on.

I don’t mean to be condescending. Watership Down is in some ways a delightful book, at times an affecting one. But faced with the extraordinary praise given the book in England, one has to draw back some distance. Lacking the high wit and imaginative force of Alice in Wonderland or the triumphant (if occasionally purple) lyricism of The Wind in the Willows, the book seems to me a good deal less than the ‘classic’—with the implication in the word of settled universal appeal—that British commentators have so reflexively proclaimed it.

. . . .

“As in all such fiction, the plausibility issues from the detail and consistency with which the animal life is rendered, and above all from the resemblances we can discern to aspects of our own lives. To this end Adams offers a remarkable wealth of information on rabbit existence and wisely concentrates on matters of sustenance, living arrangement, behavior toward other animals, and the like.

“But as anthropomorphic fantasy replaces observation (the book is in an actual area of Berkshire, England, and Adams is particularly fine on landscapes and flora, weathers and seasons) he sees fit to give rabbits a folklore and folk‐heroes, a mythology complete with creationmyth and, finally, a language …  If I remember correctly, the great writers of animal fiction let their characters unselfconsciously speak the authors’ own languages, and this is proper because the imaginative act is complete once the literary decision has been made to allow animals to speak in words; to let them use their own worth, their own verbal language, is to tempt the pathetic fallacy beyond its acceptable limits. This may seem a small point, especially since the Lapine is a very minor element of the rhetoric, brit I think it symptomatic of what is wrong with Watership Down, or rather what keeps it from being wholly right.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Confessions of a One-Time Reluctant Reader

25 July 2017

From Nerdy Book Club:

I was an absolute book fanatic from the start. Or, to be more precise, I was an absolute PICTURE book fanatic. When adults asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always the same: picture book illustrator.

Every week as a child, my mother took my brother and sister and me to our public library. Every week I brought home an enormous stack of books. In the evening, I would sit on the living room couch next to my mother as she read the words to books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Where the Wild Things Are to me. And I would interpret the pictures for her.

. . . .

Years passed, me checking out as many books as I could carry and drawing nonstop. And then one day, around the start of a new school year, everything changed. Suddenly I was too old for picture books. It was time for me to move on to middle grade books.

I could not process this idea. How could I be too old for picture books? I wanted to BE a picture book illustrator!

Besides, middle grade books were serious. Middle grade books were realistic. And worst of all, they had no pictures!

But at least I had Robert Newton Peck’s “Soup” books. These middle grade books were about a boy and his buddy named Soup, who ran around together having adventures and getting into all kinds of trouble. In short, these books were about me. I almost wondered if Robert Newton Peck wasn’t somewhere nearby, watching my life unfold and scribbling down brilliant, new material in his notebook.

. . . .

But eventually my teacher pressed me to broaden my horizons. I had no such interest, so when asked to choose from a cart of books that had been wheeled into our classroom, I picked a book called A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith. Judging by the cover illustration, it was practically the long awaited third installment in the Soup series– two buddies, running around (this time among blackberry bushes), having adventures and getting into trouble.

One should never judge a book by its cover. (Spoiler alert) Unlike the Soup books, the Soup-like buddy in A Taste of Blackberries dies. I was shocked. I was confused. It had never occurred to me that such a thing could happen in a book. Was that even allowed?  I had so much to think about. Despite my best efforts, my horizons had indeed been broadened. It was an intriguing feeling.

Link to the rest at Nerdy Book Club

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