Children’s Books

I wanted to mash up Winnie the Pooh and David Attenborough

11 September 2016

From The Guardian:

People often ask writers, “where do you get your ideas?” And the answer is: we steal them from our children…

One night, I was reading the most boring children’s book in the long history of the world to my daughter, Sophy (who was six at the time).

. . . .

Anyway, it was a picture book about a nice, friendly, perfectly boring rabbit and a nice, friendly, perfectly boring bear.

What happened in the book?


At one point, a third friendly, boring animal arrived, just to give the illustrator something new to draw (she must have been getting bored too).

The new animal didn’t do anything either, and it was so boring I can’t even remember what it was.

You couldn’t tell any of the animals apart: they all talked the same, and acted the same, and were nice and friendly to each other, until the book ended, or the reader died of boredom, whichever came first.

There was no conflict; no drama; no STORY. All the animals were polite, well-behaved, and perfect. They had nothing to learn, and nowhere to go. No problem to solve.

. . . .

And so my daughter and I rebelled against the world’s most boring bedtime story, and started to write a better one. We threw ideas back and forth.

. . . .

“What if the rabbit was grumpy and unfriendly and didn’t like the bear?”

“Great! And what if the rabbit doesn’t help the bear build a snowman? What if the rabbit is jealous, and tries to build his own bigger, better snowman?”

“Great! And what if the rabbit steals the bear’s food!

I realised that our story was about ten million billion times better than the book we had read. So, when Sophy was asleep, I stayed up late, and wrote it all down…

. . . .

I wanted to do something quite hard: to combine the charm and humour and complicated, funny, interesting characters of Winnie the Pooh with the weird, different-kind-of-interesting, real-life facts of David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries. Because in the real world, wolves try to eat rabbits. And rabbits have some very surprising habits…

. . . .

And, finally – with (my daughter’s0 help – I think I found a way to combine Winnie the Pooh, and wildlife documentaries. Certainly, the book is getting more five star reviews than anything I’ve ever written. I think readers can tell how much thought, and time, and love, went into it.

And that’s why I dedicated Rabbit’s Bad Habits to my daughter. It’s not because I’m nice and friendly and perfect: it’s not because she is nice and friendly and perfect (though she is my favourite person on earth): It’s because I got her to doloads of unpaid work on the book, and stole all her ideas.

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

They All Saw a Cat

6 September 2016


As a Boy, I Was Obsessed With the Baby-Sitters Club Books. I Have No Regrets.

31 August 2016

From Slate:

“The first time I ever saw a Baby-Sitters Club book, I was 7 years old, browsing the spinning racks at the public library near my house. It was Baby-Sitters Club No. 2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls. On the bright pink cover, a preteen girl in a funky, oversized sweater clutches a baby in one arm while she cradles a telephone under her chin. Claudia looks slightly haunted, but also—to my young eye at the time—competent, collected, and hopelessly cool. I wondered exactly how sinister this phone call was. I wanted to know more.

The book called to me on a primal level. I took it home, read it twice in one day (it was short), and then a third time the next. I pored over the checklist of books in the series, trying to decide which ones sounded most fascinating. (BSC No. 8: Boy-Crazy Stacey especially piqued my interest.) On my next trip to the library, I walked out bearing an armful of the slim, pastel paperbacks.

I felt like I had just hit the jackpot. My mom looked a little concerned. Even in my progressive community in suburban Maryland, the world of babysitting was considered an eccentric and perhaps worrisome interest for a little boy. This was not something that I understood. I just thought the books looked fun and exciting, with their poppy, late-1980s color palette and painted covers depicting exciting tableaus of babysitting in action. And, of course, there was something incredibly alluring to me about teenage girls, whom I had already learned from TV sitcoms were the most glamorous and exciting creatures on Earth. I couldn’t wait to be a teenager myself and hopefully start my own Baby-Sitters Club.

I almost always carried a Baby-Sitters Club book with me wherever I went, and proudly read them on the school bus, under my desk during class, and in the school cafeteria. Somehow, by age 7, I was still oblivious to the strict gender cues that other kids my age already responded to on a gut level, and I was blissfully ignorant—at least for awhile—that the books were, in no uncertain terms, For Girls.

When other boys would ask me why I was reading those, I was confused by the question. Really, I was put off that everyone didn’t find the books as enchanting as I did and wasn’t sure why discussions about the exploits of Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne (“America’s Favorite Girls!” as the covers billed them) were such a conversational dead-end with my male peers. Weren’t boys supposed to like girls, I wondered?

My obsession did, however, make me a hit with friends’ older sisters, whom I’d take aside during play dates and birthday parties for rollicking, barb-filled debates over who was the best baby-sitter (definitely Claudia or Stacey, depending on whether you preferred Claudia’s boho-hip fabulousness or Stacey’s sleek, urban sophistication) or which BSC members should be kicked to the curb. (No one liked homely, bookish Mallory.) Some of these big sisters were already old enough to be embarking on their own babysitting careers, and I loved picking their brains for insider tips and behind-the-scenes dirt about the profession, while my friends ran around playing capture the flag outside.

Eventually, I started to catch on. When I went in search of more Baby-Sitters Club books, librarians began urging me to expand my horizons, often trying to interest me in the books of Matt Christopher, which had names such as The Lucky Baseball Bat and The Boy Who Only Hit Homers. My parents, who had mostly humored my interest without too much judgment, started to set some limits. When I tried to rent the classic Adventures in Babysitting from the video store, my father gave me a fed-up look and told me I had already reached my monthly limit on babysitting-related media.

I kept reading the books, but I had learned to be self-conscious about it. On my monthly pilgrimages to the bookstore to pick up the latest installment in the series, I found myself sneaking them to the register, concealed in a larger pile. At school, I became openly scornful of girls who read the Baby-Sitters Club, just to make sure everyone knew that I had moved beyond all that.

Eventually, I just outgrew them. As I approached middle school, my fascination with teenage girls diminished just as my friends became more interested in them. I knew plenty of girls, and if I wanted to talk to one I could just call her on the phone. Anyway, part of what I had enjoyed about the Baby-Sitters Club as a small child was their comforting sense of repetition, not to mention the fact that they were often almost conflict-free. (There’s one book that revolves around Dawn organizing a sleepover party.) But as I got older, I wanted a little more friction in my reading material. I discovered the X-Men and realized that the lives of superheroes were much more suspenseful than the lives of babysitters. I moved on.”

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Dave for the tip.

The Unexpected, Trashy Joy of Reading Kids’ Books Written by Celebrities

29 August 2016
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From Slate:

If there’s one thing celebrities love to do, besides buy oceanfront property, it is write picture books. Jamie Lee Curtis alone has penned eleven of them. Julianne Moore has cranked out a slew of best-sellers about a spunky redhead named Freckleface Strawberry. If you happen to be a parent to a child on the cusp of literacy, perhaps you’ve been personally seduced by the appealing floral trim around Madonna’s byline on The English Roses: Friends for Life!, or the big-eyed baby jaguar on the cover of LeAnn Rimes’ Jag, or the slapsticky adventures of Max the mutt in Joy Behar’s Sheetzu Caca Poopoo. Amazon is lousy with candy-colored artifacts written by royalty ranging from Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York to Queen Latifah.

It’s not hard to imagine why a celebrity would be tempted to write a kids’ book. When you are so famous that attracting a publisher is as easy as plucking a leaf from a Truffula tree, creating a bespoke picture book surely seems like a breezy task: easy money, light work, a cute gift to bequeath your own offspring. Reading them, you can almost hear the confident scratch of the pen across the page, the happy certainty that no plot is so inane, no dialogue so trite that it won’t be eagerly lapped up by starstruck tots across America.

. . . .

Now that I’ve plowed through a heap of these—the very intense poem about fatherhood by Will Smith, the ode to sisters by Brooke Shields, the doozy Estefan penned about a kindhearted bulldog—I can report that many of them are indeed bad. But to the dedicated student of celebrity arcana, these books have more to offer than their scattershot quality suggests. Despite their varied themes and the range of temperaments that animate them, they are most interesting when viewed through one particular lens: as a weird little reflection of a public person’s inner life, part whimsy, part memoir, part ego.

Take Jay Leno’s 2004 opus If Roast Beef Could Fly, about the time young Leno messed up his dad’s barbecue party and learned a valuable lesson. (The lesson is best approximated as “it’s OK for kids to make mistakes,” or more accurately “sometimes your dad will get mad at you, but then he’ll get unmad and it’ll all be a cool memory.”)

. . . .

All these books feel like heady distillations of the big personalities behind them. One of the most charming features of celebrity kids’ books is how clear it seems, reading them, that no editor buffed the prose before it reached our eyes; it all feels quite unfiltered. There’s the perfect vacuousness of Bethenny Frankel’s Cookie Meets Peanut, a love story between a woman and her dog (and, tangentially, a new baby) that contains sentences like “Cookie and mommy go on walksies” and “They window shop at Bark Jacobs.” And there’s John Travolta’s Propeller One-Way Night Coachabout an 8-year-old boy named Jeff who dreams of flying in an airplane. This one’s a heartbreaker. Travolta loves planes. He really loves them. He claims in the jacket copy that he first invented the tale of Jeff to entertain himself on an overnight layover. His prose is a bonanza of dangling modifiers and adjective strings hopped up on aeronautical amour: “Noble in appearance, strong and powerful in impression, this would be an experience,” Jeff says before his first flight. Here is Jeff beholding an aircraft: “She was beautiful! Silver and white, with a blue stripe down the side with a red accent stripe and the letters UNITED printed on the side. Oh what a sight!”

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

PG wonders what would we do without Big Publishing to curate our culture.

Bill Nye to write middle grade science series

26 August 2016

From Entertainment Weekly:

Bill Nye has made a career out of his knack for getting kids excited about science — and he’ll reach even more budding Einsteins with a new middle grade chapter book series, Jack and the Geniuses, co-written with Gregory Mone.

“The fire of excitement that I feel about science today was kindled when I was a kid,” Nye told EW in an exclusive statement. “Like any kid of any age, Jack and the Geniuses love science and seek adventure. Here’s hoping that a few kids read these books and have scientific adventures for the rest of their lives.”

. . . .

The titular geniuses are Jack’s foster siblings, Ava and Matt. Ava is fluent in multiple languages and builds robots as a hobby, while Matt’s subjects of excellence are astronomy and math.

Link to the rest at Entertainment Weekly and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Pictures Mean Business

24 August 2016

From illustrator and author Sarah McIntyre:

When asked, everyone I know says they love illustration and support illustrators whole-heartedly. Yet illustrators continue to suffer career setbacks when:

* Illustrator’s names are left off covers of books they’ve illustrated (even highly illustrated). Sometimes publishers even forget to put illustrators’ names inside the book. (This happens most frequently with ‘middle grade’ illustrated fiction.)

* The artwork is used as branding for a writer (for example, on the writer’s website), but the illustrator never gets mentioned, implying that the writer did the artwork.

* Publicists launch illustrated book cover artwork to great fanfare, mentioning only the writer’s name.

* Media interviews and articles talk about a picture book as ‘by’ the writer, leaving out the illustrator’s name even though the book is mostly pictures.

* Award websites list only writers of books.

* Reviewers neglect to mention illustrations in their reviews, even when the pictures tell much of the story.

* Teachers lead their classes in studying a book without mentioning the illustrator or studying the book’s illustrations.

. . . .

Why does it matter? Who loses out?

* Kids lose a hero. Not all children (or adults) come to stories and communication through words. I find in teaching writing, kids are most inspired when then can draw a character and create a visual world around it, and only then do most of them want to seek out words to help the story along. Many children who won’t pick up a novel will happily read a comic. If people are inspired by drawing, why not let them look to illustrators for inspiration? It’s awfully hard for illustrators to impress classrooms of kids with their authorship when their names aren’t even printed on book covers. And it won’t even happen if the teacher only invites writers to visit.

* Business misses a trick. Outdated, clunky book data systems can’t track career earnings of illustrators, only writers. They can tell subscribers, for example, how much money writer Julia Donaldson’s books are earning, but they can’t tell you how much money illustrator Axel Scheffler’s books are pulling in. If you search for my name in Nielsen Bookscan, the only books that will come up with be the three books I’ve both written and illustrated. Even my book I co-wrote with David O’Connell won’t appear, because you’d have to search for David and my names together. Since business people can’t easily find out how much money illustrators contribute to the economy, it’s as though they contribute nothing.

Business people cannot make concrete sales decisions based on how much earning power an illustrator has. For example, some airport bookshops only stock Julia Donaldson’s books in the picture book section because they know from the data that she’s a bestseller. (Fair enough, she’s a sound bet.) But it’s possible that Axel Scheffler’s drawings of the Gruffalo sell the books as much as Julia’s words do. The shops sell Julia’s books illustrated by other people; why couldn’t they stock other books illustrated by Axel that Julia hasn’t written? Because they don’t have the sales data to help them. Amazon has a much more searchable data system than most booksellers; and with occasional glitches, you can search by illustrator. Competing booksellers need better systems so they can up their game.

. . . .

* Writers and publishers miss a potential source of publicity. People LOVE watching illustrators draw at events! And illustrators are perfectly equipped for Internet marketing because they can make images that make potential readers more likely to share material. Why have only one person bigging up a book when there could be two? The loss of ‘branding’ income from having two names instead of one will be far less than the loss incurred by cutting out the illustrator. Besides, promoting a book by yourself can be very lonely; why not do it as a team?

Link to the rest at Sarah McIntyre

The Appeal of Girl Detectives

24 August 2016

From BookRiot:

As a young girl, my favorite thing to read about was, rather predictably, girls. The first and second books I read were A Rose For Pinkerton (about a little girl, her big dog, and a kitten) and The Secret Garden. I loved reading about Queen Elizabeth I, and girls with horses, and girls with other animal companions. The first book I was obsessed with, though, was Harriet the Spy.

When I was eight years old, I would approach adults and ask permission to spy on them. If they said yes, I would commence spying, and if they declined, I would inform them, “I guess I will have to spy without permission!” and commence spying anyway. What can I say? I was a precocious child who loved rules, but loved spying more.

. . . .

I was so busy doing so much unauthorized spying, I made my biggest discovery. We were in the local bookstore and I found a used book bin full of yellow and blue hardcover mystery stories about a certain young lady detective named Nancy Drew. I read every single Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on. When I couldn’t find a Nancy Drew book to read, I would read Trixie Beldon, or the Dana Girls. Or, most likely, I would re-read a favorite Nancy Drew. I was just never able to find another book series that captured my heart the way she did.

. . . .

Last year, I discovered Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels, thanks to the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series coming to Netflix. Somehow I had never connected with Murder She Wrote, so Miss Fisher was my first TV lady amateur detective (Jessica Fletcher was my second, and I adore Rosemary & Thyme).

Link to the rest at BookRiot


23 August 2016

From Inquisitr:

Netflix is planning to bring the classic Anne of Green Gables to a new audience with their remake, Anne. Based on the books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne will air next year in an eight-episode, one-hour series.

. . . .

According to Deadline, Netflix’s Anne will “honor the foundation of the book, but will incorporate new adventures reflecting themes of identity, sexism, bullying, prejudice, and trusting one’s self.”

Anne is a collaboration between Netflix and CBC. Award-winning director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, McFarland USA, Zookeeper’s Wife) has signed on to direct the two-hour premiere episode of Anne. Three-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe winner Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad, Flesh & Bone), is tasked with writing the entire first season of the series. It will be produced by Miranda de Pencier (Beginners, Thanks For Sharing) under her Northwood Entertainment banner. That means Anne will be brought to life on Netflix by an all-female powerhouse trio, something fans of the original books should be excited about.

. . . .

“Anne Shirley is one of Canada’s greatest gifts to the world, known and loved internationally, so we’re thrilled to be working with the CBC and Northwood to bring this charismatic character to both new and old fans around the world.” Bradley said in the press release from Netflix.

Link to the rest at Inquisitr and thanks to Julia for the tip.

Indie Booksellers: Book Clubs Are for Children Too

22 August 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

Most of the five million Americans whom the New York Times recently estimated as belonging to at least one book club are adults wishing to mix reading with socializing. While book clubs are not as prevalent among children and teens, who have to contend during the school year with classes, homework, and after-school activities, and then summer’s outdoor distractions, a number of bookstores around the country have launched book clubs for young customers – with varying degrees of success.

Some readers, according to Lisa Baudoin at Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wis., need “a social aspect” to their reading, which book clubs provide. “It’s especially important for kids,” she added. The store hosts an in-store group for middle grade students and teens, in which the members read the galleys of their choice provided by the store and then discuss them. The store also partners with a school librarian who distributes six copies of a galley at the end of the school year to rising fourth-graders and sets dates during the summer to meet to discuss it. There are eight children as well as teachers and librarians in the group, called the Meadow View Book Club.

. . . .

“It’s heavy on the boys,” Baudoin noted about the club members, ascribing that to the personality and efforts of the librarian who moderates the group. But, she wonders, “Why do we have them when they’re younger and lose them when they’re older?”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Clarissa Murphy, a bookseller at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., who spoke to PW about a book club of boys moderated for several years by one of her bookselling colleagues that is now in hiatus: its members ranged in age from eight to 12 years old. “Then they turned 13,” she said, “And they were interested in other things.”

In contrast, Holly Myers, a buyer at Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle, says that the club she moderates for customers in grades six up to 12 has been doing well for the past two years with no signs of a loss of interest in its membership. Its dozen or so members are primarily female, though; they meet monthly to discuss the book of their choice. Many of them also have their own blogs, upon which they post reviews of the books they read.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

We’ve Stopped Translating Children’s Books Into English. Where Will We Get the Next Tintin?

19 August 2016

From Slate:

This is a story about Moomins. I just love Moomins. I always have.

But perhaps you have no clue what I’m talking about? Moomins were important in my childhood, but I know that many people grew up without them. (Though, as is so often the way with childhood reading, I can’t imagine how.) Moomins feature in one of my favorite series of books, created in the ’40s by a genius called Tove Jansson, and they are funny. They’re trippy, and dreamy, sometimes melancholy and often wise. They’re also Finnish.

I shall return to the Moomins shortly. Because meanwhile, in another part of the forest, a small Gaulish village is still holding out against the invaders. A warrior calledAstérix, his friend Obelix, the druid Panoramix, the dog Idéfix … they’re funny, too. (And punny.) Yes, Astérix was another favorite of mine. As were Pippi Longstocking,Tintin, Pinocchio, various books of fairy tales … and possibly The Little Prince? But yeah, mostly Asterix. Or rather “Astérix,” with the accent—if we’re going to be properly French about it.

When I call it “Astérix” rather than “Asterix” it’s not an affectation. It’s an attempt to draw a distinction between Astérix, and Asterix, just as I might distinguish betweenThe Little Prince and Le Petit Prince. They’re the same, and not the same.

Because what I really read, growing up in London, was Asterix, not Astérix. I read The Little Prince—not Le Petit Prince—and I read English Finnish Moomins and English German fairy tales and Danish fairy tales and French fairy tales. All of them, as far as I knew, great landmarks in English children’s literature, sitting comfortably alongsideWinnie-the-Pooh and Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl and Eric Carle and Alice. I didn’t know, I think, what translation was. I didn’t know that the Asterix jokes that made me laugh were by a brilliant woman called Anthea Bell. You may know that the words to the original Tintin were written by his Belgian illustrator, Hergé—but who wrote the English Tintin? If you once read The Little Prince rather than Le Petit Prince, to whom are you indebted for those words?

. . . .

What we read defines our horizons. As a child I had no idea that Asterix was translated but Little Women wasn’t, that Ursula Le Guin wrote in English but Pippi Longstocking needed a second writer to make her exploits readable by the likes of me. I didn’t know, or care. I knew, however, that with every new book I loved I was discovering a new way for a story to be funny, or to be exciting, or to make me wonder. These translated books—just like their English-language cousins—were just more worlds of experience. They were story and characters and voice, and the questions they asked and the pictures they painted and the emotions they stirred in a reader.

. . . .

Last year I published a reference book, The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. When I set out, I knew I wanted to talk about a whole world of children’s books. But it turns out that most of the whole world is hard to find nowadays. I included entries on those foreign books that enriched the old canon: The Little Prince, Astrid Lindgren, the Brothers Grimm, and all the rest. They made us readers, these books—they made a lot of us writers, too. But they came to English 40, 60, 100 years ago—where’s all the stuff that’s happened since?

I recently went to a major London bookshop, a good one, and did some counting. I found 2,047 children’s books, of which 2,018 were by English-language writers and 29 were translations. Of those 29, the number of living writers represented was … 6.

Is this because nobody else in the world is writing anything for children worth reading? Well, even if you argue that the Anglophone world is atypical for the number and quality and—by some metrics—the variety of its children’s books, still it seems improbable. Six point seven billion people in the world whose first language isn’t English, and none of them are writing good children’s books? Nobody but us—however you choose to define that problematic “us”—has a story worth telling?

How many languages are now spoken in homes and schools in New York, say, or London? But where do kids in those cities go to find the brilliant new stories by Polish or Colombian or Syrian or Turkish or Chinese children’s writers? These writers exist, I can assure you.

. . . .

[S]omething happens between those native French and German and Brazilian books and the British and American markets—or rather, doesn’t happen. The channels through which we were first brought Tintin and Asterix and those Moomins, those German and Danish fairy tales, The Little Prince, are all but closed. Where, then, will we find the Moomins of tomorrow?

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

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