Children’s Books

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

Before the movie, a classic book: Teachers share favorite ‘Wrinkle in Time’ moments

6 March 2018

From The Deseret News:

When “A Wrinkle in Time” hits the big screen at theaters nationwide on Thursday, a new vision of the story will take hold. For the past 50 years, that vision has existed largely in the minds of readers, of which there’s been no shortage: At its 50th anniversary in 2012, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” book had sold more than 10 million copies, according to The New York Times.

Indeed, it’s been a staple in elementary school curriculums for generations now. The Deseret News spoke with a few local elementary school teachers who’ve either read “A Wrinkle in Time” to their classes or had the students read it themselves.

The teachers discussed their favorite portions of the classic book.

. . . .

“A Wrinkle in Time” has its share of creepy moments. Through it all is a powerful and mysterious villain, a sinister something known only as “IT.” These moments, [fourth-grade teacher Gloria] Holmstead said, are her favorite to discuss with students.

For most of the novel, readers learn of IT only through secondhand information. It isn’t till the book’s final third that readers finally see what IT really looks like:

“A disembodied brain. An oversized brain, just enough larger than normal to be completely revolting and terrifying. A living brain. A brain that pulsed and quivered, that seized and commanded. No wonder the brain was called IT. IT was the most horrible, the most repellent thing she had ever seen, far more nauseating than anything she had ever imagined with her conscious mind, or that had ever tormented her in her most terrible nightmares.”

Holmstead said that before the students start a new chapter, she has them look at the chapter title and share their thoughts. Then they start reading. Every reader has his or her own image of the scenes and characters, and Holmstead said she keeps hers to herself. She wants to know what connections her students are making, and what kinds of images the book conjures for her young readers. These images, she explained, have changed considerably through the years.

. . . .

“The whole story is essentially about the uniqueness of the kids … and that they were viewed as different,” [fourth-grade teacher Elizabeth] Sagers explained. “We spent a lot of time (discussing it) in the class. We spent a lot of time talking about conformity, and how there are times when it’s important to conform — when you go to school, and there are certain rules in the classroom that you are expected to follow — but there are other parts of the day, and other parts of your life, where conformity is not what you should do. And there are times when you celebrate your differences.”

Link to the rest at The Deseret News

My life as a bookworm: what children can teach us about how to read

15 February 2018

From The Guardian:

I spent most of my early years – aged one to three, say – being trodden on. “It was your own fault,” my mother explains. “You were too quiet. You used to stand by my feet, not making a sound, so I’d forget you were there. What toddler does that?”

I think the explanation lies in the fact that I wasn’t really a baby. I was a bookworm. For the true bookworm, life doesn’t really begin until you get hold of your first book. Until then – well, you’re just waiting, really. You don’t even know for what, at that stage – if you did, you would be making more noise about it and be less covered in court-shoe-shaped bruises. But it’s books.

. . . .

My dad is a reader. There wasn’t much money in his family so there weren’t many books in the house, apart from a few precious bound collections of Boy’s Own comics. So it was to the Harris library in Preston that Dad took himself every week, working his way gradually through its offerings. My mother is not a reader. She is a doer. For most of my life, she was a gynaecologist, specialising in gruesome anecdotes and family planning (my mother is the only Catholic in history to have thrown off her upbringing utterly and never looked back).

When I was tiny I didn’t see Dad much because stage managing at the National Theatre takes you way past toddler bedtime. But my first real memory is of him tucking me in beside him on the long, brown floral sofa that sat on an orange carpet and opening a book almost as colourful as our sitting room. It was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle’s paint’n’tissue-paper collaged account of metamorphosis, fuelled by choice morsels of American culinary classics, into a butterfly.

Later came weekly trips to the local library. But those library books have not stuck in my mind. The ones Dad bought me, the ones I was able to keep and read and reread (and reread and reread and reread …) were the ones I loved. Adults tend to forget what a vital part of the process rereading is for children. As adults, rereading seems like backtracking at best, self-indulgence at worst. Free time is such a scarce resource that we feel we should use it on new things.

But for children, rereading is absolutely necessary. The act of reading is itself still new. A lot of energy is still going into (not so) simple decoding of words and the assimilation of meaning. Only then do you get to enjoy the plot – to begin to get lost in the story. The beauty of a book is that it remains the same for as long as you need it. You can’t wear out a book’s patience.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Children’s Book That Made Me Realize It’s Okay to Be Alone

14 February 2018

From Electric Lit:

I am the uncle who gives books to my nephews and one niece. I do this out of love for them and the books, but also out of the need to recover things I may have lost. Most often, the books I give are those iconic lodestones masquerading under simple turns-of-phrase: The Giving Tree, The Little Engine That Could, etc.

. . . .

I decided it would be better to give my niece a compass rather than a map. The one book that came to mind was “Mrs. Rumphius” — a book that I had told myself was “my favorite,” the one that “really influenced” me. Both of those things were true, and I did truly cherish the book’s influence on me. But seeing the title on the cover of the new copy I held in my hands, I realized that I had for years been woefully calling it by something that was not its name.

Miss Rumphius — not Mrs. — is perhaps Barbara Cooney’s most beloved work, and certainly her most well known. The 1982 book tells the life story of Alice Rumphius, an equestrian-elegant, red-haired girl born sometime before the ascendancy of the steamship, somewhere in northeastern America. Something of the young nation’s aloof confidence, charged with untested potential, energizes Alice’s tale of self-reliance — a quality she exhibits from the very beginning. As a child, she adores her immigrant grandfather’s wide-ranging stories of “faraway places,” shared with her in the firelight of his home “in a city by the sea.” She promises that she will travel the world too, one day, and that when she’s finished, she will come home to a house beside the sea. Her grandfather blesses her intentions, but on the condition that she fulfill one request: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

How I Learned the Secret to a Successful Literary Pilgrimage

31 December 2017

From Book Riot:

Last July I set out on a literary pilgrimage across England, coast to coast, along Hadrian’s Wall.

. . . .

Quick refresher: Roman Emperor Hadrian started building his wall back in 220 BCE, to keep out the pesky Picts. They stayed several hundred years, and then hit the high road in about the 5th century CE.

Frankly, when you’re out there in the hinterlands, gazing across the sweeping landscape dotted with sheep and cows, often for hours not seeing another human, you begin to wonder why they even stayed that long. What the Hell was Hadrian thinking?

. . . .

So I was curious about the whole wall concept, historically. You know, like, How’d that work out for you, Hadrian?

Hint: Roman mass exodus plus ruins.

Also! There’s something satisfying about traveling on foot across a whole country. I mean, one of my friends is walking across North America, and, wow, that’s super cool. But I only had time for a tiny country, and just the skinny part.

But mostly I did it for Rosemary.

I had learned about Hadrian and his wall in college courses, but that chunk of history didn’t come alive for me until I read aloud Sutcliff’s Roman Britain novels with my boys, The Eagle of the Ninth and the companion volumes, The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers.

. . . .

I thought for sure I’d happen across a beautiful edition of one of her books. Nope. I mean, I saw her books at every trinket shop in every wall town and village, but none of them were lovely.

. . . .

To see a country at a walking pace means there is plenty of quiet time to reflect on the march of civilization, the changing of the landscape, the evolving relationship of peoples with the land over generations, centuries.

Walking, I thought about the lives of Roman soldiers, especially, the legions and their marches, beautifully evoked in Sutcliff’s novels. And slaves, too, how many individuals, each an essential part of a constellation of relationships, who were sacrificed for the ambitions of a few powerful men.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG had forgotten about Rosemary Sutcliff and her many books which he read as a boy just as fast as trips to the library could provide them (as he recalls, a patron was permitted to borrow a maximum of 2-3 books at a time and PG never lived very close to a library until he went to college).

A comprehensive website, created and maintained by Sutcliff’s “godson, cousin & literary executor,” includes the following about The Eagle of the Ninth, first published in 1954, which PG remembers reading a very long time ago:

One Alan Myers once compiled an ‘A to Z of the many writers of the past who had a significant connection’ with the North-East of England. It seems now to have disappeared from the web . He writes of Rosemary Sutcliff:

“One of the most distinguished children’s writers of our times, Rosemary Sutcliff wrote over thirty books , some of them now considered classics. She sets several of her best-known works in Roman and Dark Age Britain, giving her the opportunity to write about divided loyalties, a recurring theme. The Capricorn Bracelet comprises six linked short stories spanning the years AD 61 to AD 383, and Hadrian’s Wall features in the narrative.

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is perhaps her finest work and exemplifies the psychological dilemmas that Rosemary Sutcliffbrought to her novels. It is a quest story involving a journey north to the land of the Picts to recover the lost standard of the Roman Ninth Legion. A good part of the book is set in the North East around Hadrian’s Wall (a powerful symbol) and a map is provided. The book has been televised, and its sequels are The Silver Branch (1957) and The Lantern Bearers (1959), which won the Carnegie medal. Sutcliff returned to the Romano-British frontier in The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965) and Frontier Wolf (1980).
Northern Britain in the sixth century AD is the setting of The Shining Company (1990), a retelling of The Goddodin (v. Aneirin) a tragedy of epic proportions. The story, however, is seen from the point of view of the shield-bearers, not the lords eulogised in The Goddodin, and treats themes of loyalty, courage and indeed political fantasy.”

And here’s a description of the book from the same website:

The ninth legion marched into the mists of northern Britain and they never came back. Four thousand men disappeared and the Eagle standard was lost. Marcus Flavius Aquila, following in the steps of his father (supposed dead when the legion disappeared ten years earlier) has joined the Roman army, given his oath to Mithras and taken command of his first cohort in the southern part of Britain. He dreams of commanding a legion of his own and of an early retirement to a farm in the Etruscan hills that once belonged to his family. But in his first battle he is seriously injured and forced to leave the army.

During his long and painful recovery, Marcus hears rumours that the Roman eagle from his father’s lost legion is being worshipped by one of the pagan tribes up in the north. Eager to to discover what happened to his father and the Ninth Legion, restore his reputation, and recover the eagle that could be used as a rallying symbol against the hated Roman invaders should a revolt ever break out again among the barbarians, Marcus and his British slave, Esca, travel north. All through the summer, they criss-cross the unknown wild regions beyond Hadrian’s wall that keeps the untamed tribes from the Roman world – in search of the eagle. The quest is so hazardous no-one expects them to return. But he is successful, but not before battling with the Seal people and a desperate chase South to Hadrian’s Wall to safety with the eagle.

Comforted by Little Women

31 December 2017

From Nerdy Book Club:

Last spring I was feeling melancholy, to use an old fashioned word. Our little cat Nellie had died after living with us for 14 years. Cats always choose us, not the other way around, and he had been a big part of the family. I missed his presence on the bed at night, his little mews of hello when I came home, his companionship while I pulled weeds in the garden. I was sad and needed comfort.

I wanted to read Little Women.

. . . .

So I went to my library and brought home the 1980 edition with its soft worn cover and well loved pages and settled into the 1860’s for a week. Going back to a childhood favorite as an adult is a wonderful experience, and I found myself reading now as Marme, seeing the girls from the mother’s point of view. As I relived their trials and joys, I felt better.

Books have been my friends, counselors, and comforters all my life. If I am going through a difficult time, I read.

. . . .

Sometimes, as when reading Little Women, I feel like I am sitting down with a good friend who says, “Yes, I’ve been through that myself.”

Link to the rest at Nerdy Book Club

How Archivists Deal With Redactions, Codes, and Scribbles

20 December 2017

From Atlas Obscura:

On March 15, 1898, the eminent botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker sat down at his desk, picked up a pen, and started writing a letter to his friend and confidant, the Reverend James Digues La Touche. “My dear La Touche,” he began, before continuing what had been many years of correspondence, updating his pen pal on his family life, his intellectual preoccupations, and his professional exploits.

Over a century later, an archivist at Kew Gardens in London—the largest botanical garden in the world, where Dalton served a long stint as director—reached into a folder of the pair’s correspondence, drew out a page, and stopped cold.

The archivists were already deep into the process of digitizing and transcribing Hooker’s letters for posterity. But a few lines into this particular letter, the words suddenly disappeared, censored by row after row of black squiggles. The same went for a number of Hooker’s missives to La Touche. “We were quite mystified by it,” says Virginia Mills, an archivist at Kew. “They stood out to us, because we hadn’t come across anything else like it in his papers. So we just started kind of speculating about what it might be.”

. . . .

Kew Gardens has thousands of pages of correspondence from Hooker. Of these, only a small percentage of lines are blacked out. But these pages play an outsized role in the imaginative life of those who work with them. “The letters are full of unpublished material, private thoughts, scientific exchange and criticism, and intimate details shared with friends and family,” writes Mills in a blog post about the letters. “But perhaps most intriuging of all, to those of us who have got to know the collection, are the stories that remain obscured.”

. . . .

In some cases, obscurity is professionally (or personally) required. Codes, for example, seem to be favored by two very different types of people: businessmen seeking to protect their economic interests, and teenagers and young adults guarding their feelings.

. . . .

Beatrix Potter, later famous for her children’s books, kept a diary written in a self-invented cipher that took a dedicated fan years to crack.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

PG says Potter’s secrets might be forever secure had she online encryption and decryption for her diary.

For example (make sure you copy the entire encrypted text – There are no spaces, so it doesn’t wrap and extends beyond the right side of the post):


PG says you might want to try:

Algorithm: Blowfish

Modes: CBC (cipher block chaining)

Password: Flopsy

How “The Story of Ferdinand” Became Fodder for the Culture Wars of Its Era

15 December 2017

From The New Yorker:

Children’s books, like children themselves, come in for a fair amount of scolding, whether it’s the periodic “family values” attacks on books like “Heather Has Two Mommies” or the international stir kicked up just last month when an English mum argued that the non-consensual wakeup kiss at the end of “Sleeping Beauty” reinforces rape culture. You might think that “The Story of Ferdinand,” about a gentle bull who refuses to fight in either pasture or bullring, only wanting to sit under his favorite tree and smell the flowers, would be immune from such content-shaming. But the eighty-one-year-old book, which was written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson and is the basis for the new animated film “Ferdinand,” opening on December 15th, was caught in the culture-war crossfire of its own era. Mahatma Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt were on Team Ferdinand. Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco were not. But the battle lines weren’t drawn quite as neatly as those rosters suggest.

Set in the country somewhere outside Madrid, “The Story of Ferdinand” had the good or bad fortune to be published in September, 1936, three months after the start of the Spanish Civil War, when Fascist military forces began rebelling against the leftist Republic. In the book, the peaceful Ferdinand is mistaken for the “toughest, meanest bull in all of Spain” after he gets stung by a bee and starts “bucking and jumping and acting like he was crazy.” Carted off to the bullring, however, he reverts to languid form, sitting down and smelling “all of the beautiful flowers worn by the ladies in the crowd.” The picadors, the banderilleros, and the matador do their best, but “no one could get Ferdinand to fight,” and so he returns to his beloved pasture and tree. A sweet tale. But with Spain at war and the rest of Europe on the verge, Ferdinand’s pacifism conveyed a loaded message if looked at the right, or wrong, way. The book’s publisher, Viking Press, had wanted to hold it back until “the world settles down,” according to a reminiscence by Margaret Leaf, Munro’s widow, written on the book’s fiftieth anniversary. The author and illustrator insisted on going ahead, which the publisher did—though apparently without much faith, putting all its advertising muscle behind another picture book on its list that year: “Giant Otto,” by William Pène du Bois, which centered on a floppy dog the size and shape of a four-story burial mound. “ ‘Ferdinand’ is a nice little book,” Viking’s president reportedly proclaimed, “but ‘Giant Otto’ will live forever.”

. . . .

 “The Story of Ferdinand” sold respectably, at first, moving fourteen thousand copies in its first year. But it took off, in 1937, for reasons no one was quite sure of. By its first anniversary it had sold eighty thousand copies, a phenomenal number for a picture book during the Depression. By that Christmas, as this magazine reported, sales were “running slightly behind Dale Carnegie and well ahead of Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Hoopla Digital introduces ‘Read-Along’ children’s books with audio narration

10 December 2017

From TeleRead:

Starting today, digital library service Hoopla Digital is introducing a new line of “Picture Books with Read-Alongs” for young readers. Unlike Hoopla’s normal ebook titles, which feature traditional reflowable text sized to fit device screens, these Read-Along titles are displayed in specific picture-book layouts, much like PDFs. And they feature an audio player with audio narration, as well as highlighting the word currently being read.

The format is launching with titles from Hoopla’s partners Walt Disney Books, HarperCollins, Lerner, Charlesbridge, and Brittanica. As with Hoopla’s other ebooks, read-along titles can be checked out for up to 21 days.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Comparing Trends in Children’s Publishing at Guadalajara’s International Rights Exchange

9 December 2017
Comments Off on Comparing Trends in Children’s Publishing at Guadalajara’s International Rights Exchange

From Publishing Perspectives:

From Brazil, Norway, Canada, the UK, Lebanon, and Turkey, we gather reactions to Guadalajara International Book Fair’s Rights Exchange fellows—all based in children’s publishing.

. . . .

[W]hat are the world trends that you see shaping children’s publishing today?

Isabel Lopes Coelho:  Well, there is, of course, a variety of books and illustrations and also a contrast of themes. For example, we can see many books about immigration and people displaced in the world–which reflects on how much global movement is going on.

Sarah Odedina: The theme of migration is definitely a worldwide trend. There’s a great concern that’s shared by children for the plight of people in the world.

Publishers are really responding to those concerns and trying to publish works that explain and try to help humanize these stories that are basically headlines–numerous and anxious political situations.

Esra Okutan, Sarigaga Books (Turkey): The trend that I saw last year was girl power, and now the father figure is becoming more powerful, I find. Turkish society and Asian countries are trying to get the father more involved in children’s care.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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