Children’s Books

Indie bookshops turn a new page to fight off threat from Amazon

18 July 2016

From The Guardian:

It’s children’s story hour at the Book Nook in Hove and the owner, Vanessa Lewis, is doing a reading of Julia Donaldson’s rhyming picture book The Detective Dog.

“Sniff, sniff, sniff!” cry a gaggle of excited kids, in unison.

The parents sip lattes in a cafe at the back of the shop, while Lewis, a former teacher, bellows theatrically. Tucked away on a quiet street in the south coast town, the Book Nook is indicative of a growing breed of what Lewis describes as “destination” bookshops. People go out of their way to come here. “You can’t just exist as a bookshop nowadays; you have to make it a place where people want to hang out,” she says.

Last year, this small independent store beat national rivals such as Waterstones and Foyles to win children’s bookseller of the year. Battered over recent years bycut-throat competition from Amazon and the supermarkets, and by a huge rise in ebook sales, indie bookstores have had it tough. Now they’re fighting back, boosted by a surge in printed book sales – particularly children’s books – and innovative approaches to getting people through the door.

Figures to be released this month from Nielsen Book Research show that, in the first half of this year, Britons bought more than 78 million books. That’s almost 4 million more than in the same period in 2015. In cash terms, sales are up by more than 9%, the best performance in a decade – and sales of printed books are now growing faster than those of ebooks.

. . . .

Sensing a resurgence, author Betsy Tobin and artist Tessa Shaw took the plunge and opened their bookstore, Ink@84, at the end of last year in Highbury, north London. But it’s a bookshop with a difference. Alongside the fiction and fancy drinks – including craft beers, gourmet coffee and artisan gin – they also screen films and run writing workshops, poetry evenings and children’s painting classes.

. . . .

“We took over what used to be an estate agent, and people in the community practically fell on their knees with gratitude. They couldn’t believe something like this was opening on their doorstep,” says Tobin. They feel part of a renaissance of independent booksellers. Three have opened in this part of London in the past six months.

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

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Why kids may learn more from tales of fantasy than realism

29 June 2016

From Aeon:

Children have a lot of learning to do. Arguably, this is the purpose of childhood: to provide children with protected time so that they can focus on learning how to communicate, how the world around them works, what values their culture finds important, and so on. Given the massive amount of information that children need to absorb, it would seem prudent for them to spend as much of this protected time as possible engaged in the serious study of real-world issues and problems.

Yet anyone who has spent time around young children knows that they hardly look like a set of serious, focused scholars. Instead, children spend a lot of their time singing songs, running around, and making a mess – that is, playing. Not only do they take great joy in uncovering the structure of reality through their exploratory play, children (like many adults) also tend to be deeply attracted to unrealistic games and stories. They pretend to have magical, superhero powers, and imagine interactions with impossible beings such as mermaids and dragons.

For a long time, both parents and researchers assumed that these flights of fancy were, at best, harmless episodes of fun – perhaps necessary to let off a little steam now and then, but with no real purpose. At worst, some have argued that these were dangerous distractions from the important task of understanding the real world, or manifestations of an unhealthy confusion about the barrier between reality and fiction. But new work in developmental science shows that not only are children perfectly capable of separating reality from fiction, but also that an attraction to fantastical scenarios might actually be helpful to their learning.

. . . .

A large body of literature in psychology has shown that the more similar the learning context is to the context where the information is eventually going to be applied, the better. This strongly suggests that the realistic books should have helped children learn the meanings of words better and report them more accurately on the post-test. But our study showed exactly the opposite: the fantasy books, the ones that were less similar to reality, allowed children to learn more.

In more recent work, our lab has been replicating the effect. One ongoing study is finding that children learn new facts about animals better from fantastical stories than from realistic ones. Other researchers, using a variety of methods and measures, have shown that representations of seemingly impossible events can help children’s learning. For example, infants are more prepared to accept new information when they are surprised, thus violating their assumptions about the physical world.

What can be going on? Perhaps children are more engaged and attentive when they see events that challenge their understanding of how reality works. After all, the events in these fantastical stories aren’t things that children can see every day. So they might pay more attention, leading them to learn more.

A different, and richer, possibility is that there’s something about fantastical contexts that is particularly helpful for learning. From this perspective, fantastical fiction might do something more than hold children’s interest better than realistic fiction. Rather, immersion in a scenario where they need to think about impossible events might engage children’s deeper processing, precisely because they can’t treat these scenarios as they would every other scenario that they encounter in reality.

Link to the rest at Aeon

Painting Pepette

13 June 2016

War Stories: A Reading List for All Ages

29 May 2016

From BookRiot:

Like many parents, I sometimes struggle with the right words to use when talking to my kids about scary or difficult things. When they were younger, I found it much easier to shield them from whatever troubling story was playing out over those darn TV screens (invariably showing CNN) that are suddenly omnipresent in pizza shops and convenience stores. Now that my son is a new reader, he is suddenly much more tuned into to everything around him, the good and the scary. Waiting in line at the grocery store, he sounds out newspaper headlines: Soo-iii-ciiide boooomm-errrrs,” he says. “Mama, what’s soo-ii-cide?” Just hearing those words in his sweet child’s voice are enough to make my blood pressure rise. Alas, we can only pull the wool over their eyes for so long. Sooner or later, we have to find a way to talk with our kids about the scary, the sad and the difficult.

As a children’s librarian, parent, and bonafide book zealot, I look for books to read that will help both my children and I explore difficult topics like war and other violent conflicts. Books are the ultimate safe space to play out fears and anxieties. Over and over, parents ask me why children’s books are so disturbing and violent, and over and over I say “Do you watch the news? Do you read the internet? So do your kids, whether you realize it or not.”

With Memorial Day approaching, the subject of war will be in the news more often than usual. Documentaries will air on TV and newspapers and magazines will run remembrances. If you are a parent, you might get some questions. Although Memorial Day is an American holiday dedicated to honoring those who have lost their lives in US-fought wars, I have always considered it a day for somber reflection on conflicts everywhere, past and present. The effects of war never quite dissipate in the lives of those affected and the anger, pride, and sadness often trickle down through the generations. To help sort through some of those emotions, and in honor of Memorial Day, I’ve created a reading list with books about war for kids of all ages and their grown ups.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Our (Bare) Shelves, Our Selves

18 May 2016

From The New York Times:

When I was 13, in the early 1990s, I dug through my parents’ cache of vinyl records from the ’60s and ’70s. We still had a phonograph, so I played some of them, concentrating on the Beatles. Their bigger hits were inescapably familiar, but a number of their songs were new to me.

Were I a teenager in 2015, I may not have found “Lovely Rita” or acquired an early taste at all for the Liverpudlian lads. The albums stacked up next to the record player, in plain sight for years, would be invisible MP3s on a computer or phone that I didn’t own. Their proximal existence could have been altogether unknown to me.

S. Craig Watkins, a professor who studies the digital media behavior of young people in the department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin, said that he and his family almost exclusively stream music now in their home and that he and his wife stored their old CDs in a seldom-used cabinet. To his teenage daughter, “those CDs are, at best, background matter,” he said.

“I can’t recall her ever taking time to search through what’s in there,” Professor Watkins said. “But I could imagine that when she gets a little older, it might become meaningful to her — that those artifacts are a way to connect back to us.”

Sometimes, though, he and his daughter discuss what is on their devices’ playlists.

. . . .

Aside from the disappearance of record crates and CD towers, the loss of print books and periodicals can have significant repercussions on children’s intellectual development.

Perhaps the strongest case for a household full of print books came from a 2014 study published in the sociology journal Social Forces. Researchers measured the impact of the size of home libraries on the reading level of 15-year-old students across 42 nations, controlling for wealth, parents’ education and occupations, gender and the country’s gross national product.

. . . .

After G.N.P., the quantity of books in one’s home was the most important predictor of reading performance. The greatest effect was seen in libraries of about 100 books, which resulted in approximately 1.5 extra years of grade-level reading performance.

. . . .

The implications are clear: Owning books in the home is one of the best things you can do for your children academically. It helps, of course, if parents are reading to their children and reading themselves, not simply buying books by the yard as décor.

“It is a big question of whether it’s the books themselves or the parental scholarly culture that matters — we’re guessing it’s somewhere in between,” said Mariah Evans, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Nevada, Reno. “The books partly reflect intelligence.”

Although the study did not account for e-books, as they’re not yet available in enough countries, Dr. Evans said in theory they could be just as effective as print books in encouraging literacy.

“But what about the casual atmosphere of living in a bookish world, and being intrigued to pull something off the shelf to see what it’s like?” she asked. “I think that will depend partly on the seamless integration of our electronic devices in the future.”

We’re not quite there. Amazon Kindle’s Family Library enables two adults in a household to share content with each other and up to four children. But parents must explicitly select which of their books their kids can read. So much for the “casual atmosphere of living in a bookish world.”

Will parents go out of their way to grant access to their latest book to their 9-year-old?

. . . .

But the decline of print journalism means that millions of children are eating breakfast at tables without any reading material other than what they bring. That hypothetical 9-year-old may not be inclined to read an op-ed about Syria in the family’s copy of the newspaper, but at least that child sees the headline and is reminded of the existence of the outside world, for better or worse. And it would take very curious teenagers to read, during a hurried meal before school, an adult periodical online over whatever they typically default to on their own devices.

Digital media trains us to be high-bandwidth consumers rather than meditative thinkers.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG suggests that the decline of The New York Times (and accompanying layoffs) appear to have colored the author’s view of physical books and newspapers.

The younger members of Clan PG are digital natives. They’ve grown up around computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. Finding information that fascinates them is emphatically not a challenge for these little people.

PG was about to relate anecdotes, but he will restrict himself to saying both monster truck and lemur aficionados can feed their interests easily and to a great depth online.

As a lifelong lover and rabid consumer of printed books, PG believes the digital world presents much richer possibilities for expanding an inquisitive child’s horizons and satisfying their quest for understanding and delight than the largest of home libraries.

And, considering those of modest means, how many printed books can you buy for the price of a $50 Kindle Fire? $50 does not buy most people weekly trips to the local library for very long.

British Private School: Kids Shouldn’t Read Harry Potter

12 May 2016

From Galleycat:

Graeme Whiting, the headmaster at the British private school The Acorn School thinks that Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, and Terry Pratchett’s books “contain deeply insensitive and addictive material” which “encourages difficult behaviour in children.”

. . . .

In a blog post written to parents at the school, Whiting says that, “Buying sensational books is like feeding your child with spoons of added sugar, heaps of it, and when the child becomes addicted it will seek more and more, which if related to books, fills the bank vaults of those who write un-sensitive books for young children!”

Link to the rest at Galleycat

Masters of Prose Warm Up to Children’s Picture Books

9 May 2016

From The New York Times:

At a reading in Manhattan last month, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley faced an unruly crowd as she read from her new book, “Twenty Yawns.” Audience members squirmed and fidgeted, shouted out questions, and seemed to get distracted.

“The beach umbrella was flapping in the breeze,” she read. “Flap, flap, flap.”

“Look, a fly!” a little boy in a Spider-Man T-shirt yelled, swatting at a buzzing insect.

Ms. Smiley took the outbursts in stride and tried to engage an audience that consisted mostly of toddlers and their minders as she read the story, about a girl who struggles to fall asleep after a day at the beach. “Do you know how to look sleepy?” she asked. The children flopped over and pretended to snore.

For most of her career, Ms. Smiley, 66, has tried to avoid putting readers to sleep. Now, with her first picture book, she is joining a handful of well-known novelists who are aiming to reach readers so young that they probably appreciate the pictures more than the prose. A cluster of new picture books from famous writers will hit bookstores in coming months, including a lighthearted poetry collection by Calvin Trillin and a creepy, fairy-tale-like picture book in translation from the mysterious, pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante, who is best known for her four-part Neapolitan series.

. . . .

Revenue from children’s books sales ballooned to $1.7 billion in 2015 from $1.5 billion in 2011, according to the Association of American Publishers, which tracks sales from more than 1,200 publishers. Sales of adult books, by comparison, remained stagnant.

Following the blockbuster success of series like “Twilight” and “Harry Potter,” a growing number of best-selling authors have migrated into the booming market for young adult and middle-grade fiction, including James Patterson, John Grisham, Ms. Smiley and Jennifer Weiner.

Picture books, typically written for 3- to 7-year-olds, could represent the next frontier for writers seeking to further expand their audiences by reaching an even younger demographic. It also may help them hook impressionable young readers — sometimes before they can even read.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG says it sounds like a gimmick born of desperation. He’s pretty certain this story wouldn’t have appeared unless somebody working for a publisher pitched the story to The New York Times.

What Happens to Your Brain When You Read The Same Book to Your Kid Over and Over

8 May 2016

From BookRiot:

There’s a picture book my three year old son loves, it’s called Ten Little Monkeys. On the surface, it’s a cute, repetitive story about ten naughty monkeys that decide to jump on a bed instead of going to sleep as per their mother’s wishes.

I think I’d be perfectly fine with this book if my son didn’t demand it be read to him every night.

Every. Single. Night.

I’ve read this book so many times I have it permanently stamped into the core of my brain like some sort of Clockwork Orange-esque conditioning experiment. I get the rhyme stuck in my head for days, it invades my dreams and I find myself trying to find a deeper meaning to it.

As a result of what very well may be sleep-deprived psychosis (see three year old above) I’ve begun to think of the characters’ backstories and motivations. This helps me cope with reading the same lines over and over again, night after night.

I want to first talk about the father because he doesn’t exist within the story. He’s either at work, stuck in a cubicle at some soulless job that he hates and will never fulfil him as a monkey or he’s a deadbeat and has abandoned the family altogether. Either way, there’s no mention of him whatsoever.

Then we have the mother, she’s doing her best to keep her family afloat. She might work two jobs, she might be a stay at home mom, whatever her situation is, she has the thankless task of keeping her house running while taking care of ten children. She is frayed and on edge, she hasn’t had a night off in what seems like years.

We, the reader, are introduced to her during a particularly challenging evening. Her ten children are refusing to go to bed, they are unruly, loud and a danger to themselves.

What does the mother do to try and stop them from jumping off the bed and bumping their heads? She calls a doctor and asks for advice.

. . . .

I picture the mother standing on her front lawn in a soiled bathrobe and curlers the next morning, yelling at the animal control officers as they arrive. The hardened veteran calms her down, wraps a blanket over her shoulders and gives her a steaming cup of coffee while the other officers enter the house, their nets ready.

Link to the rest at BookRiot


What You Miss After Your Child Learns to Read

31 March 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Annalee Svoboda, 7, cracked the code around Thanksgiving.

Before then, she would sit on the couch next to her mom, struggling to sound out every T, H and E of the word “the.” Her mother, Andrea, described the process as “painful.”

Then one day, it clicked. Annalee read on her own. She started bringing home from school small chapter books, with characters and stories. At bedtime, she said good night and settled under the covers on her own with her favorite “Elephant and Piggie” series book.

. . . .

“Part of me likes their independence. We can say ‘OK, it’s time for bed. If you can’t sleep, read for a half-hour,’ ” says Ms. Svoboda, of both Annalee and her older brother Adam, 9. “Part of me misses the snuggling up and being able to cuddle and read.”

The day a child learns to read independently is among the most anticipated and important childhood milestones. Parents who have been reading aloud to a child since birth, and sometimes before, have been eagerly waiting to see him or her develop the confidence and understanding to read on their own. When that moment finally arrives, however, many parents are caught off guard, and feel a little melancholic. Rituals change as their children’s horizons broaden.

. . . .

The survey, of 2,558 parents and children, found many children wished the parents hadn’t stopped. Eight in 10 children ages 6 to 17 said they loved or liked being read aloud to because it is a special time together with their parents. Among children ages 6 to 11, 40% wished their parents would continue.

“There is nothing a child of any age wants more than a parent’s total attention,” says Mary Brigid Barrett, founder and president of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance in Wayland, Mass. She read to her three grown children until they were teens, sharing the adventures of Harry Potter.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Beverly Cleary turns 100

27 March 2016

Children’s author Beverly Cleary on turning 100: ‘I didn’t do it on purpose’

More than six decades since her first book came out, celebrated children’s author Beverly Cleary is marking a milestone, turning 100 in April.

You’ll find a lovely video at the link. PG decided not to embed it because of concern that the video would autoplay whenever a visitor opened TPV.

Link to the rest at Today

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