Children’s Books

What’s Going On In Your Child’s Brain When You Read Them A Story?

26 May 2018

From National Public Radio:

“I want The Three Bears!”

These days parents, caregivers and teachers have lots of options when it comes to fulfilling that request. You can read a picture book, put on a cartoon, play an audiobook, or even ask Alexa.

A newly published study gives some insight into what may be happening inside young children’s brains in each of those situations. And, says lead author Dr. John Hutton, there is an apparent “Goldilocks effect” — some kinds of storytelling may be “too cold” for children, while others are “too hot.” And, of course, some are “just right.”

Hutton is a researcher and pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with a special interest in “emergent literacy” — the process of learning to read.

. . . .

While the children paid attention to the stories, the MRI, the machine scanned for activation within certain brain networks, and connectivity between the networks.

“We went into it with an idea in mind of what brain networks were likely to be influenced by the story,” Hutton explains. One was language. One was visual perception. The third is called visual imagery. The fourth was the default mode network, which Hutton calls, “the seat of the soul, internal reflection — how something matters to you.”

. . . .

In the audio-only condition (too cold): language networks were activated, but there was less connectivity overall. “There was more evidence the children were straining to understand.”

In the animation condition (too hot): there was a lot of activity in the audio and visual perception networks, but not a lot of connectivity among the various brain networks. “The language network was working to keep up with the story,” says Hutton. “Our interpretation was that the animation was doing all the work for the child. They were expending the most energy just figuring out what it means.” The children’s comprehension of the story was the worst in this condition.

The illustration condition was what Hutton called “just right”.

When children could see illustrations, language-network activity dropped a bit compared to the audio condition. Instead of only paying attention to the words, Hutton says, the children’s understanding of the story was “scaffolded” by having the images as clues.

“Give them a picture and they have a cookie to work with,” he explains. “With animation it’s all dumped on them all at once and they don’t have to do any of the work.”

Link to the rest at NPR

Christopher Robin – The Movie

25 May 2018

Timeless Preoccupations and Old-School Virtues

20 May 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:


Louisa May Alcott’s 150-year-old novel, “Little Women,” has remained in print despite a message strongly at odds with contemporary mantras of acquisitiveness, self-indulgence, self-promotion and vulgarity.

The tale of a quartet of sisters in Civil War-era New England has an unfashionable theme: Virtue is always rewarded. Profound tensions—over money, marriage and a woman’s role in the world—propel the novel, slingshotting Alcott’s work into the pantheon.

Alcott wrote “Little Women,” which was published in installments in 1868 and 1869, in a matter of months. The book follows the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy—who live in straitened circumstances and have fallen on even harder times now that their father has gone off to war as a chaplain. That leaves their mother, Marmee, a single parent to the girls. Meg and Jo, 16 and 15 years old when the story begins, already are working—Meg as a governess and Jo as a companion to Aunt March, the family’s well-off relative. Beth, a frail and shy 13-year-old, keeps house and plays the piano while Amy, 12, is still in school.

As illness, disappointment and other tribulations pile up on the Marches, Marmee keeps her daughters cheerful and resolute. But life among the little women isn’t all bearing up under adversity, even if the March girls lack the guile of Becky Sharp, the peerless schemer in Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair.” Laurie, the Marches’ handsome and prosperous neighbor, becomes a family favorite. Jo, an aspiring author, finds success with her writing. And, in the end—spoiler alert—most of the Marches end up happily married.

. . . .

Alcott’s genius is her timeless preoccupations—love and death, jealousy, fear and joy—which, despite changing mores, have kept the March family current for 1 1/2 centuries. The conversational prose often sounds as if the author’s pages flew directly from her desk to the printing press. She flouts chronology—“The three years that have passed have brought but few changes to the quiet family”—and sometimes ducks out of the narrative to address the reader directly. The occasionally insipid family scenes are leavened with bracing displays of bad behavior. Alcott details the Marches’ humiliations, such as Meg’s fashion missteps, Jo’s disastrous attempts at cooking and Amy’s star-crossed social-climbing. The author wrings a humanity from her characters that magnifies even the smallest events, such as when Beth dares to venture over to the neighbors’ house and is bewitched by the piano.

. . . .

Jo, the character who most reflects Alcott’s spirit, aims to earn a living with her writing and insists that her independent nature renders her anything but marriage material. Alcott gives Jo the book’s opening line, in which she vents over the family’s meager holiday plans: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” It’s a startling outburst, even if the girls do reconcile themselves to Marmee’s heartfelt if austere gifts: copies of John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” slipped under each daughter’s pillow. “Little Women” often reads as if Alcott had Bunyan’s work—something of a roadmap for a soul’s trek to heaven—in mind while writing.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal


Sexist Little Miss books? Bedtime reading is always a gender minefield

11 May 2018

From The Guardian:

Emily Thornberry doesn’t like “this thing about being little” and Piers Morgan wonders why “people bother with these things”, but this week’s kerfuffle over an undergraduate study on gender and stereotyping in children’s books shows that the Mr Men have their shocking side.

To be more precise, it’s the Little Miss series that has been causing all the trouble. These books are an offshoot of the Mr Men world launched in 1981, 10 years after Mr Tickle first extended his “extraordinarily long arms”.

I’ve written before about the Little Miss books – how they’re endlessly repetitive and suffer from a plague of exclamation marks – so I’m rather pleased to have another reason for relegating them to the sidelines.

According to the study, “female characters were more passive, had less direct speech and relied on being saved more than male characters” – a finding that chimes with my less scientific survey. Opening our collection at random, I find Doctor Makeyouwell (male) and Mr Small plotting about how to bring down (the admittedly vile) Little Miss Trouble: “I think … that something should be done about that little lady.”

But the Little Miss books are just one chapter in the long history of children’s books that reinforce sexist stereotypes. Take Dorothy Edwards’s My Naughty Little Sister books. When a father is asked to “mind my naughty little sister for the day”, she is predictably annoying, while he is “being a busy man”. When she has a tantrum, his answer is to shut himself away inside and forgets all about her, while she runs away. His response, when she’s found, is to breathe a sigh of relief: “Thank goodness I can work again without having to concentrate on a disagreeable baby.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG doesn’t want to step into a gender wars discussion, but unless the protagonists in children’s books are going to have siblings instead of brothers and sisters, those child characters will have character traits and (mirroring life) those character traits will include positive and negative elements.

The idea that the creators of fictitious child characters are obligated to produce stereotypically virtuous characters of one gender or another seems contrary to some of the fundamental building blocks of fiction – viewpoint and conflict.

If a male viewpoint character comes into conflict with a female character, is the protagonist permitted to have negative feelings towards his sister? Must all female characters be virtuous and brave or can they be thoroughly nasty or paralytically frightened by something trivial? Is a male character permitted to observe those characteristics for what they either are or appear to be in his eyes?

PG is committed to the idea that a fiction writer is and ought to be the dictator in the world the author creates. If the author wishes to strike a blow for gender equity with the characters and story and writes a book readers enjoy, that’s terrific. If the author wishes to set a story in Post World War II America and populate it with characters typical of that day and age, PG thinks it’s a silly criticism of the resulting book that it doesn’t comport with the social opinions of readers that appear seventy years later.

Norman Rockwell, The Saturday Evening Post, May 26, 1945 See for more

For more Norman Rockwell Post covers from the 1940’s, click here. And for covers from the 1950’s click here.

Untapped Markets: Meeting Readers Where They Are

7 May 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

“You should be going to every Girl Scout Jamboree in the country!” urged a troop leader to author-illustrator Sarah Dillard. Sarah, whose Mouse Scouts chapter book series is beloved by Daisies, Brownies, and Girl Scouts the nation over, had been invited to the Girl Expo in Vermont on our state fairgrounds, and her publisher, Random House, arranged for a booth where we could set up and sell the books. What struck me was how many Daisy and Brownie leaders hadn’t known about the books and were intensely interested in them. It was as though Sarah had filled a need in the Girl Scout universe heretofore unrecognized.

The last time we did this event was two years ago, when there were just two books in the Mouse Scouts series. Now there are four, and you would not believe the response Sarah had from young readers and troop leaders alike. She was greeted like a rock star.

. . . .

This series is heavily illustrated with charming spot art throughout, and my favorite thing to do was to see a little person shyly eyeing the books, encourage them to open them up and look at the drawings inside, and then point to Sarah. “She wrote the words AND drew all of the pictures,” I would say. Their eyes would widen in surprise, and they would look anew at Sarah. One little girl pointed to the cover. “Even this?” she said. “Even that,” I said. “Even the wood frame around the mice!” They were uniformly astonished. Some of these kids are young enough that the word “author” carries little significance, but everyone is wowed by someone who can draw terrific pictures.

. . . .

A few years ago, I had the honor of attending a diversity conference for book industry people. I was lucky enough to be in a focus group with the amazing Just Us Books publishers, Cheryl and Wade Hudson, who have worked for diversity in children’s books for decades. They talked about their efforts to get their books into bookstores, but found that those efforts weren’t enough to reach all of the people who wanted and needed them. There just weren’t bookstores in all of the neighborhoods where the very children Cheryl and Wade were publishing for lived, and some of the bookstores that were there didn’t feature a diverse collection of titles. So they took books to church festivals and neighborhood parties and school events, where people would gather around the tables, delighted. Cheryl and Wade would hear comments like, “I had no idea there were kids like us in books!” They sold grocery bags full of books to an audience eager to embrace them, because they had gotten creative and met their audience where they lived.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Amazon launches Prime Book Box, a $23 kids’ book selection, in its first physical Prime book service

2 May 2018

From Tech Crunch:

Along with the higher price that Amazon is introducing to Prime this month, the company is also bringing another first to its membership service: physical books. The company now has a new product called Prime Book Box, a subscription service for children’s hardback books, selected by Amazon editors, sold as part of its Prime tier.

. . . .

Pricing is $22.99 per box, which Amazon says works out to 35 percent below the cumulative list price for the books, and you can subscribe for books to come in one-, two- or three-month intervals. Books are divided up by age groups of baby-two years, three-five years, six-eight years and nine-12 years, with sample titles including If Animals Kissed Good NightA Sick Day for Amos McGeeThe Willoughbys, and Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire.

All books are hardcover, and you can opt either for four board books for kids aged two and younger, or two picture books or novels for older children.

. . . .

The idea of bringing out a physical book service specifically for children is notable. Parents are more likely to buy (and get gifted) physical picture books and young adult novels rather than e-books as presents, and so kids often build up libraries of these. It also could be a helpful fillip to those of us out there who are trying to figure out engaging ways of reducing screen time for offspring.

Link to the rest at Tech Crunch

Two Straight Lines

29 April 2018
Comments Off on Two Straight Lines

From The New York Times:

Ludwig Bemelmans grew up hearing stories about a young girl who attended a boarding school where the students “slept in little beds that stood in two rows” and “went walking in two straight lines.”

That young girl was his mother, Franciska. Today we might recognize her in Madeline, the smallest of the French schoolgirls in colorful little dresses and bows.

Since the publication of Mr. Bemelmans’s first book, in 1939, the Madeline series has become a cosmopolitan cultural touchstone, the first step on the path to bona fide Francophilia for those who have never visited France. The series resonated with decades of American families, including the Kennedys: Jacqueline and Mr. Bemelmans were discussing the possibility of collaborating on a book shortly before he died in 1962.

. . . .

Mr. Bemelmans arrived in America on Christmas Eve 1914 expecting to be reunited with his father, according to “Bemelmans: The Life and Art of Madeline’s Creator,” a book by his grandson John Bemelmans Marciano.

But Lampert “forgot to pick him up,” Mr. Marciano wrote, “and he was forced to spend his first Christmas in America on Ellis Island.”

. . . .

He found his way into the hotel industry and, while working at the Ritz-Carlton, began to write and draw extensively. By the early 1930s, he had begun to place illustrations in the Saturday Evening Post. And in 1934, newly married to his wife Freund, known as Mimi, he published his first children’s book, “Hansi” (with the help of May Massee, a children’s book editor at the Viking Press.) Several more children’s books followed, along with stories published in The New Yorker and Vogue.

Mr. Bemelmans wrote many books, for children and for adults, that did not feature his famous heroine. They include “The Golden Basket,” “Quito Express,” “Fifi,” “Welcome Home,” “Small Beer,” “The Blue Danube,” “The Woman of My Life” and dozens of others.

“He was so prolific,” said Regina Hayes, editor-at-large at Viking, which publishes Mr. Bemelmans’s books. “He was an essayist, a novelist, wrote books about food, wrote and illustrated for The New Yorker and Holiday Magazine,” a travel journal.

It took the birth of his first and only child, Barbara, and a fortuitous trip to France, for the book that made him famous to materialize. In 1938, the young family traveled to the southern part of the country. In the midst of the trip, Mr. Bemelmans was sent to the hospital because of a bike crash, where in an adjoining room was a girl who was recovering from an appendectomy.

. . . .

Madeline, who has a bout of appendicitis in the first book, came together soon after. “He would later say that his creation was a combination of his mother, wife and daughter,” Mr. Marciano writes. “But certainly it was also part Bemelmans himself — the smallest in class, the one always in trouble.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times where you’ll also find some of Bemelmans’ Madeline drawings.

Bye Bye, Geoffrey

4 April 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

“Have you heard that Toys R Us is closing?  You must be so glad!” is the greeting from dozens of customers over the last few weeks.  “Yes, I heard that,” I reply.  “Did you guys come in to visit me today—or is there something I can wrap for you?  I am unpacking new books… would you like to see?”

“So how’s business?  Are you guys OK?” is usually the follow-up query, delivered either sotto voce with a sympathetic look from a parent, or in the appraising raised eyebrow glance of the grandparent—that look that causes you to check your shirt for dribbles of donut frosting and a stray sprinkle or two. “We’re just great—how are YOU guys?  Wow, the kids get bigger every time I see them—my goodness, you’ll be taller than me in a week or so! Did you get an April calendar of activities? There’s a great author event tomorrow!”

And so we smile and tap dance and book talk and gift wrap and dazzle them with service, avoiding the hundredth or so conversation about another chain closing, another retail demise, another conversation about how “everyone buys online, now, you know.”

I’m not sad to lose a competitor, but TRU was never that. They are a chain that sells children’s products, as we do, but oh, the myriad of things they sell is hardly comparable to my little neighborhood shop.

. . . .

The ability of manufacturers to sell online immediately, without using TRU as a testing laboratory for new product lines, was also a factor. But retail, as we know, has fundamentally changed, while many retailers haven’t. Customers can buy almost anything cheaper, faster, and with less effort than a visit to the store that serves only one purpose. Multiply that truth tenfold if you factor in the effort of buckling a child or two into a car seat for the errand. And so, the allure of Geoffrey fades, as will the “everything must go” signs taped to the windows.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Why Young Readers Need Real Books

13 March 2018

From Intellectual Takeout:

A young lady I know won a Kindle in an academic contest. She is a voracious reader. In eighth grade, she enjoys Austen, Chesterton, Lewis, and Wodehouse, among many others. A trail of books seems to follow her everywhere she goes.

Her parents, wary of potential negative effects of screens on growing minds, would have preferred that their daughter not own a Kindle, at least not for a few more years. Since it was a prize well earned, however, they acquiesced.

The young lady continued to read paper books, but the Kindle came in handy for outings (no more scrambling to find enough books to bring along) and reading in bed (no book lamp needed). Not wanting to spend money, she searched for books in the public domain, and was delighted to discover that the Kindle gave her access to some old books by her favorite authors—books that local libraries no longer carried on their shelves.

All in all, it seemed like a wholesome approach to integrating technology, and so her parents were surprised when, several months later, their daughter announced that she wanted to sell her Kindle.

“For the first time in my life,” she explained, “I’ve noticed that I’ve had to read lines two or three times in order to understand them, because I’m distracted. There are so many things I can do with the Kindle. I can make the font bigger, or change the contrast, or highlight and save a passage. There are so many choices, so many things to fiddle with, that I lose track of the story. It’s becoming a habit that is carrying over into my real books, too.”

Nineteenth-century British educator Charlotte Mason described the ability to focus (in a healthy brain) as a habit of the mind—one that can be gained or lost according to how the mind is trained. For this eighth grader, reading on a Kindle was undoing her habit of concentration. Her mind was losing the ability to be fully present to her books, and she did not like how it felt.

. . . .

No doubt, a computer might contain a story worth reading. When a father or mother or beloved teacher reads that story aloud to a child, it can forge memories for a lifetime. In our house, we use computers to listen to audio books by authors like Hans Christian Anderson and Thornton W. Burgess, and everyone enjoys it.

Still, it isn’t the same. Listening to the book on the laptop can be nice, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the bond that is built when my husband or I cuddle up with the children and turn the worn pages of our favorite books as we read aloud together.

Isn’t there something precious about the book itself? Isn’t there something in its weight, in its feel, in its illustrations, in its pages, that, when a grown-up child holds it in his hands and reads it to his own children, will awaken a reverence for the story that a computer screen would not?

Link to the rest at Intellectual Takeout

PG says if you like printed books, by all means buy and read them. If a child in your life likes printed books, by all means buy and borrow printed books for the child to read.

PG is all for choice in this matter.

However, he becomes a little annoyed when an author takes a personal preference up to the top of a mountain and makes sacrifices to a printer god and pledges fealty to forever revere ink and paper.

PG is not persuaded that printed books are inherently superior to electronic books in any meaningful way, however. Each is a means of presenting words to a reader in a convenient manner.

Just like scrolls were once a means of presenting words to a reader in a convenient manner. PG can imagine readers in ancient times extolling the virtues of scrolls over these new heavy and cumbersome book things that caused you to lose your place whenever they fell off the table. Instead of the exquisite unveiling of a story in one continuous stream from a scroll, a book chopped up a story into ungainly pieces and ruined the continuity of the author’s vision. Plus, the prices the binders guild charged were outrageous.

PG likes the convenience of ebooks and the size of the ebook reader. Reading in bed is an end-of-the-day ritual for PG and Mrs. PG, so PG has plenty of experience with a comprehensive and thick printed account of something like the Battle of Thermopylae sitting open on his chest for many long hours. (And don’t forget what happens to your bookmark when the book slides off the bed in the middle of the night.)

He much prefers his featherweight Kindle for reading extensive accounts of heavy topics.



The Other Side of Beatrix Potter

9 March 2018

From JSTOR Daily:

Beatrix Potter is best known as the creator of Peter Rabbit and the Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail crew currently tearing up the movie screens in ways it’s doubtful she would have ever imagined. But Potter (1866-1943) was more than the author those beloved stories, and lived a wide-ranging life that ended with a great conservation gift to Great Britain: over 4,000 acres of land which she gave to the National Trust, now part of the Lake District National Park.

Potter was born in 1866 to a well-off family with a keen appreciation of the natural world. From an early age she studied and collected “animals insects, plants, fungi and fossils” with her brother Bertram. Encouraged towards the arts, and with governesses teaching her what was then considered the ladylike skills of painting and drawing, Potter gravitated towards… mushrooms.

Potter illustrated hundreds of fungi with great botanical skill. She wished for recognition from the scientific community during her lifetime, notes literature school Catherine Golden, but these drawings and watercolors didn’t get their due until after her death.

In her lifetime, however, Potter remained an avid mycologist, studying them with microscope and following the development of fungal spores on glass plates. In 1897, she presented a paper to the Linnean Society of London, one of the UK’s premier natural history organizations. She did this in absentia; “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae” was read by her uncle before the all-male membership, as the Society didn’t allow women members until 1905. The paper seems to have been “well received” according to Potter, but she neither revised nor published it.

. . . .

Mycological illustration of the reproductive system of a fungus. Hygrocybe coccinea (website Armitt Museum) Creator: Beatrix Potter [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily

Here’s a link to more information with drawings about Beatrix Potter’s work as a naturalist

Next Page »