Children’s Books

Students Reading E-Books Are Losing Out, Study Suggests

11 April 2014

From The New York Times Motherlode blog:

Could e-books actually get in the way of reading?

That was the question explored in research presented last week by Heather Ruetschlin Schugar, an associate professor at West Chester University, and her spouse, Jordan T. Schugar, an instructor at the same institution. Speaking at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association in Philadelphia, the Schugars reported the results of a study in which they asked middle school students to read either traditional printed books or e-books on iPads. The students’ reading comprehension, the researchers found, was higher when they read conventional books.

In a second study looking at students’ use of e-books created with Apple’s iBooks Author software, the Schugars discovered that the young readers often skipped over the text altogether, engaging instead with the books’ interactive visual features.

. . . .

While young readers find these digital products very appealing, their multitude of features may diffuse children’s attention, interfering with their comprehension of the text, Ms. Smith and the Schugars found. It seems that the very “richness” of the multimedia environment that e-books provide — heralded as their advantage over printed books — may overwhelm children’s limited working memory, leading them to lose the thread of the narrative or to process the meaning of the story less deeply.

This is especially true of what the authors call some e-books’ “gimmicks and distractions.” In the book “Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Really Big Adventure,” for example, children can touch “wiggly woos” to make the creatures emit noise and move around the screen. In another e-book, “Rocket Learns to Read,” a bird flutters and sounds play in the background.

Such flourishes can interrupt the fluency of children’s reading and cause their comprehension to fragment, the authors found. They can also lead children to spend less time reading over all: One study cited by Ms. Smith and the Schugars reported that children spent 43 percent of their e-book engagement time playing games embedded in the e-books rather than reading the text.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Should UK Children’s Books Be Non Gender-Specific?

20 March 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Guardian reports that “a national campaign to stop children’s books being labeled as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ has won the support of Britain’s largest specialist bookseller Waterstones, as well as children’s laureate Malorie Blackman, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Philip Pullman and a handful of publishers.”

The campaign is called Let Books be Books, and aims to put pressure on retailers as well as publishers not to market children’s books that promote “limiting gender stereotypes.”

. . . .

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy said: “I’m against anything from age-ranging top inking and blueing, whose effect is to shut the door in the face of children who might enjoy coming in. No publisher should announce on the cover of any book the sort of readers the book would prefer. Let the readers decide for themselves.”

And author Laura Dockrill told the Guardian that the project as an “urgent campaign that everybody need to get behind.”

“Children should have the right to choose their own literature and we should be supporting them to carve their paths of interests instead of narrowing them. It is ignorant, old fashioned and ugly to isolate anybody from the beautiful freedom and escapism of the mind that reading for pleasure brings,” she said.

A spokesman from Waterstones told the paper, “Gender-specific displays are a definite ‘no’…if a shop ever goes off-piste and does one we soon find about it and get it removed…There’s no need for them and there are far more intelligent ways to display books.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

May the Stars Drip Down

17 March 2014

Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex

16 March 2014

From The Independent:

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of. And boys? They’re made of trucks and trains and aeroplanes, building blocks, chemistry experiments, sword fights and guns, football, cricket, running and jumping, adventure and ideas, games, farts and snot, and pretty much anything else they can think of.

At least, that’s the impression that children are increasingly given by the very books that are supposed to broaden their horizons.

An online campaign called Let Books Be Books, which petitions publishers to ditch gender-specific children’s books, has met with mixed success recently. Last week, both Parragon (which sells Disney titles, among others) and Usborne (the Independent Publisher of the Year 2014), agreed that they will no longer publish books specifically titled “for boys” or “for girls”. Unfortunately, Michael O’Mara, which owns Buster Books, pledged to continue segregating young readers according to their gender. Mr O’Mara himself told The Independent that theirBoys’ Book covers “things like how to make a bow and arrow and how to play certain sports and you’d get things about style and how to look cool in the girls’ book.” At the same time, he added: “We would never publish a book that demeaned one sex or the other”.

. . . .

There are those who will say that insisting on gender-neutral books and toys for children is a bizarre experiment in social engineering by radical lefties and paranoid “femininazis” who won’t allow boys to be boys, and girls to be girls.

. . . .

I wouldn’t mind, but splitting children’s books strictly along gender lines is not even good publishing. Just like other successful children’s books,The Hunger Games was not aimed at girls or boys; like JK Rowling, Roald Dahl, Robert Muchamore and others, Collins just wrote great stories, and readers bought them in their millions. Now, Dahl’s Matilda is published with a pink cover, and I have heard one bookseller report seeing a mother snatching a copy from her small son’s hands saying “That’s for girls” as she replaced it on the shelf.

. . . .

Happily, as the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, there is something that I can do about this. So I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.

Link to the rest at The Independent

Since PG is not very familiar with The Independent, he will invite British visitors to comment about whether the Independent’s book review policy is likely to be influential or not.

I Still Enjoy What a Line Can Do

15 March 2014

From The New Yorker Page-Turner blog:

This year, Roald Dahl’s children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” marks its fiftieth anniversary. To celebrate, Random House is releasing several editions, including one featuring the book’s original illustrations, by Joseph Schindelman. I reached Schindelman by phone, at his home on Long Island.

Liam Walsh: Did you meet Roald Dahl?

Joseph Schindelman: Yes, he was introduced to me at the office of the publisher. He was incredibly tall.

Did he have anything to say about the illustrations?

I don’t think he said anything at all. We talked a little politics. I think he wanted a British illustrator to do the book.

What was your first impression when you read the manuscript for “Charlie”?

For a children’s book, it was a little unusual. I even started doing some sketches in the margins as I was reading it. It had a somewhat Dickensian feeling. That was primarily why I used the pen and ink. It felt sort of old English in a way—of that period.

. . . .

How much direction did you get from Roald Dahl? Were certain illustrations requested? For example, the book starts with portraits of each of the characters, which makes the first three pages especially heavily illustrated—was that your choice or Dahl’s?

That was Roald Dahl. It was a nice thing to do, since otherwise you kind of flounder, you wonder who these people are. One thing I have to point out is that Charlie was modeled after my son.

. . . .

Interesting. Charlie does have a very distinct wide face with big, soft eyes.

Yes, well, he’s changed a lot.

Your son?

[Laughs] My son, yes. He’s somewhat bald—well, he’s in his fifties now.

. . . .

Who were some of your influences?

I was primarily interested in the classics, and that would include engraving.

Oh, I’d never thought about it before, but your pen work looks sort of like engraving.

Picasso had done some etchings using very fine lines that were beautiful. I like the technique, the making marks and jumbling them together, building them up, going one way and another, crossing over—I like the subtlety that’s possible. I worked with a heavy pad, kind of like tracing paper, but much heavier, so I could make out the underdrawing, a heavy vellum that was great because you could scratch out errors with a razor blade and go over it again.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

20 Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. Seuss

12 March 2014

From Flavorwire:

A wizard of the written word, [March 2 marked] the 110th birthday of Theodor Geisel — better known as the dear Dr. Seuss. The beloved children’s author and illustrator created a menagerie of creatures that recited anapestic tetrameter, caused trouble, and captured our imaginations. The man behind beasties like the Grinch, Lorax, and Sneetches was a fascinating character in his own right. Here are 20 facts about the great Dr. you might have missed.

. . . .

Geisel adopted his famous moniker after getting kicked off the staff of Dartmouth College’s humor magazine, the Jack-O-Lantern. He was caught drinking bootleg gin with his pals and was forced to resign from extracurricular activities at school. He started signing his work with the pen name “Seuss” to hide it from his editor.

Geisel almost earned his doctorate in English literature, but left Oxford to travel Europe and sow his artistic oats. Dartmouth awarded Geisel an honorary doctorate in 1956, and he added “Dr.” to his pen name as a way to acknowledge his father’s dreams for him.

. . . .

Seuss’ style became part of the pop culture landscape as early as the 1920s when Standard Oil of New Jersey hired the artist for an ad campaign that caught on with the national public. The product? A bug spray called Flit. The slogan, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” was spoofed by popular comedians of the time, such as Jack Benny. The successful ad led to work in magazines like Vanity Fair and with major companies, including NBC and General Electric.

. . . .

Geisel and second wife Audrey Stone Dimond had no children. “He was afraid of children to a degree,” Audrey Geisel said in a 2004 interview. He found them unpredictable. “What might they do next? What might they ask next?” he would joke. “No, he couldn’t just sit down on the floor and play with children. It was none of that. He just had to do what he had to do, and they loved him. And he loved them for loving what he did,” Audrey revealed.

. . . .

Green Eggs and Ham contains only 50 words and was written on a bet. Publisher Bennett Cerf didn’t think Geisel would be able to create a story with fewer words than The Cat in the Hat — which featured only 225 words.

Link to the rest at Flavorwire

Children’s publishers respond to ‘gender’ debate

10 March 2014

From The Bookseller:

There has been a mixed response from children’s publishers to a campaign encouraging them to drop designating books as either for boys or for girls, with Usborne saying it is dropping such designations, but Michael O’ Mara describing it as “a fact of life” that parents shop according to gender.

. . . .

Tessa Trabue from Let Toys Be Toys said: “Every child is different and has their own individual taste; it makes no sense to push boys and girls towards separate books. We believe that books are for everyone; children should have the freedom to read about or colour in robots, fairies, pirates or flowers, without publishers telling them otherwise.”

. . . .

O’Mara said that websites such as Amazon showed that people were still searching using terms such as “books for girls” or “books for boys”, and that the company’s books designated that way sold more on Amazon than those that were not. But he said “nine out of 10, at least” of the company’s books were not labelled for a specific gender.

O’Mara added: “We have been aware of this issue for a while and we are addressing it in as much as we are making it very, very clear that none of our books are meant to be exclusively for one or the other sex. Despite all the sensitivities people still very often shop for a girl or a boy.”

However Usborne, which publishes titles including Girls’ Activity Book and Boys’ Activity Book, appears to be changing its approach, saying it had “no plans to produce any titles labelled ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ in the future”. Anna Howorth, marketing and publicity manager, said: “We take feedback on gender-specific titles very seriously.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller


DreamWorks Animation Creates Children’s Books Imprint

10 February 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.  is diversifying into children’s books, creating a publishing unit that this year will issue titles based on such DreamWorks movies as “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar.”

DreamWorks Press, which will publish books in print and digital form, is the latest part of an effort by the animation studio to diversify beyond the high-risk movie business. Previous steps involved theme parks, a consumer-products business and the acquisition of an online video network.

. . . .

The venture faces challenges. The animation company has licensed the rights to publish books based on many of its most popular characters. There are, for example, hundreds of titles related to “Shrek” for sale at, in addition to the original book by William Steig on which the movie was based.

That means new “Shrek” titles from DreamWorks Press may not stir much consumer interest. The company declined to say how many contracts related to “Shrek” have expired, saying only that it would publish in areas where it has reclaimed rights.

. . . .

“We want to be in control of the storytelling,” said Shawn Dennis, the company’s head of franchising. Licensing rights to another publisher entails “far less risk…because as a publisher, you have to put up your own money,” Ms. Dennis said. But, she added, publishing directly offers “the opportunity for much greater revenue and much higher profit margins. We have enough characters and stories today—and new properties on the horizon—to make it worth investing in.”

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

PG says Dreamworks sounds a little like an indie author.

Should potty-mouthed children’s books come with a PG certificate?

5 February 2014

From The Telegraph:

Swearing in Young Adult (YA) fiction is a controversial and complex issue. A new novel – When Mr Dog Bites, written by a Dublin-based teacher called Brian Conaghan – set me thinking. What are the rules governing profanity in books for children? Should there be classifications, as there are with films?

When Mr Dog Bites is not a sensationalist novel. It is an interesting, thought-provoking and sometimes funny story about a 16 year-old named Dylan Mint. He has Tourette’s syndrome and lives in near poverty in a single-parent family. The role of his (now absent) father, who was a drunken and abusive husband, is deftly handled.

. . . .

But the profanity in the book is overwhelming at times and troubling.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Barb for the tip.

Success Story: 8 Hints From The Publisher Who Said No To Amazon

31 January 2014

From Forbes blogs:

Publishing isn’t an easy industry to break into and smaller, independent houses tend to get swallowed up by the bigger fishes. Barefoot Books bucks that trend. Barefoot was launched in 1993 by Nancy Traversy and Tessa Strickland, who wanted a business that would be flexible enough to combine with bringing up their children (they have seven between them) – and Barefoot has not only stayed the course but gone from strength to strength. The company, offers beautifully crafted books for children, although many readers keep them into adulthood. Barefoot is now thriving in both Oxford in the UK and in Concord, Massachusetts, US – but don’t expect to find Barefoot Books piled high in your supermarket or available at a knock-down price online. Traversy and Strickland first took the bold decision to step back from selling in major chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble – and last year they cut all ties with Amazon, the biggest of them all.

. . . .

Co-founder Nancy Traversy explains the Barefoot model

Be different – and once you’ve decided how to be different, stick with it 

“I think probably our biggest point of difference is how we define ourselves. We have an unwavering commitment to creating beautiful, high-quality amazing books for children and never compromising on standards, despite what distribution channels might ask for. Over the past 22 years we’ve created around 600 absolutely beautiful books. People often say they can spot a Barefoot book a mile away, even though we work with a wide variety of writers, illustrators and designers. A lot of publishers make beautiful books, but we think of ourselves not just as a publisher but as a way of life and that has underpinned our business since we started it from our homes in 1992 and launched it in 1993. We have a real commitment to introducing children to other cultures and diversity, using stories to bridge boundaries, and we started the business because we felt there was a gap in the market for books like that: not just books you’d see in your own culture, but books about traditions from all over the world that expose a child to the idea that not everyone is the same. We also believe in the importance of imagination in children’s lives. I believe strongly that space to imagine, play and be is important and the role of story in nurturing children’s imagination has always been core. The third major strand is nurturing children’s creativity and inspiring them.”

. . . .

Thinking on a human scale doesn’t mean thinking small

“I was lucky enough to work at home for eight years. I’d been to business school, spent time at Pricewaterhouse, worked in the design industry, but had never worked in publishing. With hindsight, that was a good thing – we were able to be pioneers, I was able to think outside the box, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I questioned the way that books were always sold through the big chains. I felt it was much more rewarding to connect direct to families. When my children were small, I’d do events at schools, at fairs – we relied on the power of word of mouth. Because our books were so high-quality and special, it didn’t seem right to stick them in a supermarket, pile them on a table. I remember one trade fair where we were asked for a package that would have included, for example, changing a cover. It was very tempting, we could have sold a million copies, licensed all over the world – publishers do that and it’s a very valid model but I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking ‘We can share with our friends, with friends of friends.’ From a very early stage we were out in the community. The human connection is so important in getting people behind you and supporting you, and you don’t get that in a chain, or through mail order, or on Amazon.”

. . . .

If big business can’t fit with your model, maybe you don’t need big business

“In the US, I got caught up in Borders and Barnes & Noble, because that’s just what you do. For three years we sold to them and it was soul-destroying. The books were just a commodity. You had to pay for ‘table real estate’, shift large numbers, pay for the space and often books came back – this is a returnable product. We sold better in some areas than others but we never really knew how much we’d sell or how much we’d get paid. We’d be getting returns and reorders on the same day! It was the opposite of what we wanted to do and we made the decision in 2006. And when Borders went down, we were among the few publishers who didn’t lose money. When we stopped with Barnes & Noble, we actually made more as we didn’t get the returns. Amazon: we shipped to them and then I realised how much they were discounting our books. Our World Atlas, for example: Amazon was selling it at 60 to 70 per cent off the published price and our Ambassadors [independent sales representatives of Barefoot who generally sell face-to-face through events in schools, farmers’ markets, homes, etc.] couldn’t compete. The penny dropped. I said ‘If we are going to support these women, we can’t do this.’ We realised that if we weren’t selling to the chains, we shouldn’t sell to Amazon: we should focus on the model that we started. The decision to pull – maybe it was brave, but it was the right one. It’s too easy to be dragged in and it felt dishonest: we were competing against our own channel, and I knew I could never scale the Ambassador community if I was working with Amazon.”

Link to the rest at Forbes blogs and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

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