Is Amazon Sabotaging a Pro-Trump Kids’ Book?

From PJ Media:

Earlier this month, former Trump official Kash Patel published The Plot Against the King, a kids’ book taking the real-life Russiagate plot to sabotage Trump’s campaign and presidency and turning it into a family-friendly tale set in medieval times. The book was published by Beacon of Freedom Publishing House, an imprint of Brave Books.

As of this writing, the book is in the top 100 of all books on Amazon and had previously been in the top ten; however, the author says that Amazon is now trying to sabotage his book.

Amazon has restricted the book to verified purchase reviews only. If you attempt to write a review without having purchased the book first, Amazon won’t let you, giving you the disclaimer: “Amazon has noticed unusual reviewing activity on this product. Due to this activity, we have limited this product to verified purchase reviews.”

However, despite this restriction, the author says that Amazon is throttling five-star ratings from verified purchase reviewers by not allowing them to be posted.

“I have received numerous complaints from supporters that after purchasing my book, The Plot Against the King on Amazon, they were not able to leave a review,” Patel says in a statement obtained by PJ Media. “Like I have experienced numerous times in the past, with the documentary The Plot Against the President, Amazon is actively throttling my book.”

In addition to five-star reviews being throttled, Patel notes that there are about 70 unverified one-star reviews from customers who most certainly did not read the book, and haven’t been taken down despite the limitation placed on the book’s reviews. Patel wonders why Amazon allows these bogus one-star reviews to remain, “but doesn’t allow real verified customers that have read the book to review it.”

Link to the rest at PJ Media and thanks to K. for the tip.

Per GeekWire, as of February this year, Amazon had over one million employees. PG suggests that any organization with that many employees is bound to be paying wages to multiple crazy people and fools.

Ideally, an employer identifies a crazy person/fool pretty quickly and takes appropriate action, but, as a wiser person than PG once said, “The problem with fools is that they can be so ingenious.” Crazy people can pass as non-crazy people for a period of time.

In PG’s experience, sometimes large organizations have to fire a crazy boss before they recognize that most of the people that boss hired are also crazy.

So, a crazy person decided to manipulate the hidden levers of Amazon to sabotage a book he/she/they/it didn’t like. PG suggests that spreading the word about this unfair practice/treatment of the book was likely the best way of remedying the problem.

Evidently, somebody else at Amazon doesn’t share the view of whoever glitched the book in the first place. PG just checked and The Plot Against the King is ranked #1 in Children’s Action and Adventure Books on the Zon.

PG would have put up a Look Inside widget for the book, but evidently, someone at Beacon of Freedom Publishing House, an imprint of Brave Books, didn’t think anyone reads ebooks and the paperback link to look inside doesn’t work with the Amazon’s Look Inside WordPress Widget. PG will not indulge in speculation about whether another crazy person working at Brave Books or not.

PG also notes there’s a nice photo of the author with former President Trump or “King Donald” as he is apparently called in the book.

Sci-Fi for Kids Is a Missed Publishing Opportunity

From Publishers Weekly:

While taking a class on fantasy literature in graduate school, I had the idea to go to a local elementary school where a friend worked and count the books in the library to see how many fantasy titles there were. It turns out there were plenty of fantasy books, but my attention was caught by a different genre’s absence: there were barely any science fiction books. I wondered why, and I ended up pursuing the answer for years. I looked at school libraries in almost every region of the U.S., surveyed teachers and librarians, recorded readings with children, and of course read lots and lots of books. Science fiction for children, I discovered, is full of contradictions.

When I looked at very different libraries all across the country, I saw the same low supply of science fiction that I had observed in that first elementary school library, but I also saw a high demand for it. In each library, only about 3% of the books were science fiction. I expected to see a corresponding low number of checkouts. Instead, the records showed that science fiction books were getting checked out more often per book than other genres. While realistic fiction books were checked out, on average, one to three times per book and fantasy books were checked out three to four times per book, science fiction books’ checkout numbers were as high as six times per book. These libraries may not have many science fiction books available, but the children seem to compensate by collectively checking out the available books more often.

The librarians were just as surprised as I was. Library software doesn’t keep track of each book’s genre, and so librarians have no easy way of knowing that science fiction books are being checked out so often. Librarians are, however, aware that there isn’t much science fiction available. There just aren’t as many choices as there are for other genres.

My research has led me to believe that this shortage of science fiction exists simply because adults assume that children don’t want it. There are several larger cultural reasons for why adults find it easy to assume that kids won’t like science fiction. In short, adults often associate children with nature and innocence rather than science and experience, and this bleeds into what adults think children like.

Author Jon Scieszka once told me that his editor asked him to reduce the science in his science fiction Frank Einstein series because it would be off-putting for kids (Scieszka refused). An indie publisher informed me that it doesn’t acquire many science fiction books—even good submissions—because it expects low sales simply due to the combination of genre and target audience. If no adults think that children like science fiction, then no one makes it, no one sells it, and no one buys it because adults are in charge of these processes.

. . . .

Even though, based on my data, children seem to like science fiction, that doesn’t mean they are immune to the stereotypes that adults indirectly teach them about it. Because of the way it is avoided, children may not know that they like science fiction. Indeed, many of the most frequently checked-out science fiction books in school libraries—such as Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series and the Lego Star Wars novels—are often marketed primarily as something else, like adventure or humor.

. . . .

Not long ago, many adults (including professional educators) assumed that children preferred fiction to nonfiction. Around the turn of the 21st century, researchers began investigating the books taught and available in classrooms and found that teachers were avoiding nonfiction—especially science books. Yet when children were asked what genres they wanted, they were highly interested in nonfiction. Following these discoveries, nonfiction has been added to widespread curriculum guidelines and seen greater demand from educators. Publishers have met this demand with increasingly high-quality nonfiction books.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Texas leads among 26 states with book bans, free speech group says

From CNN:

More than a 1,000 books have been banned in 86 school districts in 26 states across the United States, a new PEN America analysis shows.PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, released a detailed analysis on Thursday of challenges to and bans on school library books and class curriculums. The group said it documented media reports, consulted school district websites, and spoke with librarians, authors and teachers from July 31, 2021, to March 31, 2022.According to PEN America, in that period, there were 1,586 books banned. Texas led the country with the most book bans — 713 — affecting 16 school districts, followed by Pennsylvania and Florida with 456 and 204 bans, respectively. PEN America describes a book ban as “any action taken against a book based on its content” that leads to the removal or restriction of a previously accessible book. The analysis includes book removals or restrictions that lasted at least a day, the group says.

Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program and lead author of the report, said challenges to books in American schools are nothing new, but the rate at which they have recently taken place is “unparalleled.”

“Challenges to books, specifically books by non-White male authors, are happening at the highest rates we’ve ever seen,” Friedman said. “What is happening in this country in terms of banning books in schools is unparalleled in its frequency, intensity, and success.”

. . . .

The group says the book bans were directed at 1,145 different titles, many of which tell stories related to LGBTQ people and people of color.

PEN America said the analysis of book titles was based on “standard publishing information provided through marketing and sales materials by publishers for books, as well as relevant reading and review of the books in question.”

. . . .

Politicians and school board members have played a significant role in book banning, PEN America says. At least 41% of book bans were linked to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has pressured school boards to remove what he calls “pornography” from school libraries. Meanwhile in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill late last month that requires school libraries to post more information about their collections and seek community input on materials they acquire.

The trend, PEN America says, is a departure from past book removal practices, which were usually initiated by community members.

The book bans “have become a favorite tool for state-wide and national political mobilization” with groups such as Moms for Liberty, a conservative group whose “mission is to organize, educate and empower parents,” curating lists of books to be challenged and urging parents to mobilize, the analysis says.

The group also found that at least 96% of the bans were initiated by school administrators or board members and that for the most part, school officials did not follow existing guidelines, raising “serious concerns,” it said.

Link to the rest at CNN

PG wonders who else other than elected school board members and the parents of students attending a public school should determine what sort of books their children should read.

PG also doesn’t have a problem with people residing in some geographic locations making different choices about what is appropriate for their children to read.

PEN America presently has 7,500 members. Its principal office is in New York City with another office in Santa Monica, California and a third in Washington, DC.

The current president of PEN America, Ayad Akhtar, lives in New York City. The overwhelming majority of PEN America’s staff lives in New York City with much smaller number based in Santa Monica and Washington, DC. (For visitors from overseas, Santa Monica is solidly ensconced in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.)

If PG were asked to list three large metropolitan areas that are the least representative of the majority of the population of the United States, he would, without hesitation, name New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, in that order. PG has spent substantial periods of time in each of those cities/metro areas and can say with confidence that he has a pretty good idea of the sorts of people likely to staff PEN America’s offices in each of those places.

While he won’t categorically reject the opinions of the PEN staff regarding choices made by Texas school boards and parents about what their the children for whom they are responsible should read, PG will with confidence say that the opinions of those in the New York PEN office are exceptionally unrepresentative of almost everybody in Texas. PG would guess that few members of PEN management have close friends or acquaintances in Texas.

The current PEN America senior management appear to come from an exceptionally homogeneous backgrounds. The bios PG was able to access showed that virtually everyone attended college in New York or Boston (there was one outlier from the University of Chicago, an elite institution that isn’t located within 50 miles of an ocean). Everybody listed in Los Angeles appeared to have attended colleges located in the same places that staff in the New York office attended.

PG says that Texans and Floridians can be pretty certain that nobody at PEN America is much like them or holds views about almost anything that parents of public schools in Texas or Florida believe are relevant to their parenting decisions, including decisions about what sort of books their children should be reading.

PG will note that both Texas and Florida have a much higher percentage of Latinos (AKA persons of color) in their populations than the state of New York does.

PEN America is simply too provincial to be credible outside of the narrow social, educational and cultural sphere its employees inhabit.

Soapbox: Have We Solved the Problem of Boy Books and Girl Books?

From Publishers Weekly:

For nearly two decades, I have been speaking about the ways adult gatekeepers encourage girls to read books about boys but discourage, prevent, or even shame boys from reading about girls. A couple of years ago, a helpful industry professional let me know that gendered reading wasn’t an issue anymore. “We’ve moved past that, you don’t need to keep talking about it.”

I’d heard that before, always from those who live in large coastal cities. I can’t say if those parts of our country have evolved beyond it, but I live in a flyover state, and that very same week, five women had come into my home office one by one to work on a non-publishing project. All were mothers who had at least one son and one daughter, and as copies of my books were in the room, I offered to sign some for their kids as a thank you. Every single one asked me to sign them to their daughter. When I learned their sons were also the target age of the books, I asked if I could sign one for them as well. It was almost comical how identical their reactions were. Uncomfortable. Confused. More than one even spoke those words: “But… it’s a girl book.”

So I gave my spiel: how we assume that boys won’t want to read about girls, but that’s our own bias. How kids don’t look for books based on gender but by genre and interest. How boys should definitely be encouraged to read books about other boys—all kids deserve to see themselves reflected—but that denying boys the opportunity to also read from another point of view is doing them a disservice, because understanding and developing empathy for more than half the human race can only help them as they navigate their lives, and so on and on. I could go on for hours. I promise, I try not to!

I didn’t know if I convinced them, but they did take the books, and weeks later one of the women reported to me—in shocked tones—that her son had read the books and actually liked them!

And this is how the effort goes. We slowly try to change things, one parent, one book, one kid at a time. It feels like the ol’ teaspoon and the ocean, and sometimes I worry that nothing really gets better. When I hear how many people in my own industry don’t think the problem exists at all, that worry dips toward despair.

But I would say most of the gendered reading bias I’ve encountered is not fueled by bad intent. It’s ignorance. Ideologies work their sneaky best when they feel “natural,” as in, “That’s just the way things are.” And our cultural ideology has for so long taught us “girls will read about boys, but boys won’t read about girls” that it feels like truth. That statement is putting an innocuous mask on this foundational belief: girls should (and for their own survival, must) learn to understand boys, but it’s demeaning for boys to understand girls. It reveals that we’ve created a hierarchy out of the binary opposites of male and female, asserting that the masculine is aspirational and the feminine is degrading. And excluding non-binary individuals entirely.

When my husband and I first had the idea for The Princess in Black series, we wanted to write it specifically for the mostly pre-third grade audience, partly because third grade is the age when kids have already absorbed that ideology and it’s so much harder to unpack. But if, from a young age, boys have read and loved books about girls, the ideology will have a harder time infiltrating their brains.

Here is the advice I got from many people at the time: boys are never going to willingly read about a princess. If you want boys to read about a girl, you need to disguise that the book is about a girl.

But that’s the whole point! The book has “Princess” in the title! And a princess on the cover! There is no denying it’s about a girl—and the boys will still read it and like it. That’s an experience their third-grade brain won’t be able to erase. And that will show the naysayers!

Eight years later, I am happy to report that the naysayers have been shown. Alas, they continue saying nay. Especially on Twitter.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

When Poetry Goes Viral

From Publishers Weekly:

On Mar. 13, 2020, I posted a piece of writing to my small group of friends on Facebook. My response to lockdown during the first anxious stage of a pandemic was a brief prose poem told from the future, describing the choices we’d made in facing the virus. That night, a friend asked if she could repost it. “Sure,” I replied, and that was that.

Or so I thought.

Two mornings later, my husband was scrolling through his Facebook page and asked, “How could this former student of mine be reposting something you wrote?”

I had no idea.

The next day, a friend texted me: “Deepak Chopra just read your poem on his daily video.”

And so it began. During a viral pandemic, my poem went viral. Within a week, my little locked-down life was inundated with hundreds of requests from all over the world. It was chaotic, exhilarating, exhausting, and possibly the greatest learning experience of my life. The blessings outweighed the challenges (though they were many and at times daunting).

Two of those blessings stand out. First, going viral when the world was in lockdown connected me with many other artists seeking collaboration and mutual inspiration in translating our conflicted experiences of this pandemic into art. I spent the first year of the pandemic almost entirely immersed in creative work with composers, musicians, visual artists, dramatists, and choreographers. Many of these artists have become life-changing friends. Others twirled into my life and out again, but their enchantment stays with me.

. . . .

The second blessing has been the realization of my lifelong dream. I was invited to become the writer I’ve always been and only ever wanted to be. An editor working with Tra Publishing contacted me about turning the poem into a children’s picture book, and thus And the People Stayed Home was born. I was not familiar with Tra, but after researching its work I let go of hesitancy, as so many of these viral experiences were inviting me to do, and entered into what has become a gifted collaboration. It has been like stepping into my true self, that space that had always been waiting for me.

I’d been writing poems and stories for children all of my life, but “over the transom” manuscript mailings, seminars, online associations, literary agent queries, and every other way into publishing that I knew of had yielded nothing. For most of my adulthood, the internet and self-publishing didn’t exist. I thought I’d exhausted my options for entryways into traditional publishing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

What If Your Memoir Is Middle Grade?

From Jane Friedman:

Many of the adult memoir manuscripts that cross my editorial desk share one issue: They start too early. Usually, about 50 pages too early. The writer spends time establishing the quirky small town/neighborhood they were born in, the family experiences that shaped them, the early realizations that they—or their family—weren’t like everyone else, carefully setting up the clues for later revelations about divorce, addiction, illness or triumph.

The reader needs some of that information, yes, but not all of it. A concrete, well-timed detail can give a lot to readers without spelling it out. For example: I could fill you in on my family history of alcoholism, how it manifested in my grandparents’ daily “cocktail hour,” my own shying away from drinking because I don’t like the taste and I’m scared, what it was like living with a father who was drunk or at least buzzed most of the time—or I could tell you, I have a hard time telling when someone else is drunk. I think they just seem “jolly.” For an adult memoir about an adult experience in my life, and in context, that’s probably enough background.

But what if your childhood is the whole point?

While some adult memoirs successfully cover childhood in depth (notably Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club and Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle), there’s a whole new category out there, selling like hotcakes: memoir for young readers. Graphic-novel autofiction like Raina Telgemeier’s Guts and Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Class Act. Memoir in verse like Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again, both winners of the National Book Award and Newberry Honors, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Shout, the memoir version of her bestselling novel Speak.

These memoirs fall into Young Adult and Middle Grade, but they don’t shy away from hard subjects. Anxiety. Racism. Immigration. Poverty. Sexual assault. They embrace beautiful writing while dealing with issues their readers experience, in vocabulary their readers can understand and apply to their own lives. Not everything ends happily ever after.

In an adult memoir, childhood is usually a chance for reflection, as in Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened:

By age seven I realized that there was something wrong with me, and that most children didn’t hyperventilate and throw up when asked to leave the house. My mother called me “quirky.” My teachers whispered “neurotic.” But deep down I knew there was a better word for what I was. Doomed.

Lawson takes us into the feelings of the child she was, but she’s processing her experiences through the reactions of the adults around her at that time, and her own knowledge now of her adult life. We know she survived—she wrote a memoir about it.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

An 8-year-old slid his handwritten book onto a library shelf. It now has a years-long waitlist.

From The Washington Post:

Dillon Helbig, a second-grader who lives in Idaho, wrote about a Christmas adventure on the pages of a red-cover notebook and illustrated it with colored pencils.

When he finished it in mid-December, he decided he wanted to share it with other people. So much, in fact, that he hatched a plan and waited for just the right moment to pull it off.

Days later, during a visit to the Ada Community Library’s Lake Hazel Branch in Boise with his grandmother, he held the 81-page book to his chest and passed by the librarians. Then, unbeknown to his grandmother, Dillon slipped the book onto a children’s picture-book shelf. Nobody saw him do it.

“It was naughty-ish,” Dillon, 8, said of covertly depositing the book without permission. But the result, he added, is “pretty cool.”

The book, titled “The Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis,” is signed “by Dillon His Self.”

He later confessed to his mother, Susan Helbig, that he slid his book into the stacks and left it there, undetected. But when they returned about two days later, to the spot where he left the notebook, it was missing. Helbig called the library to ask whether anyone had found Dillon’s notebook and to request that they please not throw it away.

Branch manager Alex Hartman said he was surprised at Dillon’s bold move.

“It was a sneaky act,” said Hartman, laughing. But Dillon’s book “was far too obviously special an item for us to consider getting rid of it.”

Hartman and a few co-workers had discovered and read Dillon’s book — which describes his adventures putting an exploding star on his Christmas tree and being catapulted back to the first Thanksgiving and the North Pole. They found it very entertaining.

Hartman read the book to his 6-year-old son, Cruzen, who giggled and said it was one of the funniest books he’d ever known.

“Dillon is a confident guy and a generous guy. He wanted to share the story,” Hartman said. “I don’t think it’s a self-promotion thing. He just genuinely wanted other people to be able to enjoy his story. … He’s been a lifelong library user, so he knows how books are shared.”

The staff librarians who read Dillon’s book agreed that as informal and unconventional as it was, the book met the selection criteria for the collection in that it was a high-quality story that was fun to read. So, Hartman asked Helbig for permission to tack a bar code onto the book and formally add it to the library’s collection.

Dillon’s parents enthusiastically said yes, and the book is now part of the graphic-novels section for kids, teens and adults. The library even gave Dillon its first Whoodini Award for Best Young Novelist, a category the library created for him, named after the library’s owl mascot.

. . . .

As luck would have it, the lone copy of “The Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis” has become a book in demand.

KTVB, a news station in Boise, reported on Dillon’s book caper earlier this month, and since then, area residents have begun adding themselves to a waiting list to check it out. As of Saturday, there was a 55-person waitlist.

. . . .

Dillon is also writing a different book about a closet that eats up jackets.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

The Tale of Beatrix Potter

From The Public Domain Review:

This year [2014], the works of one of the most successful and universal writers of all time came into the public domain in many countries around the world. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck – in all, thirty-three books bearing the name “Beatrix Potter” have sold close to 200 million copies.

. . . .

A teenage Beatrix Potter with her pet mouse Xarifa, 1885, from Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University

Her appeal is so powerful that museums hold her in permanent exhibition – and some of them even commemorate her solely. Hollywood has trawled through her life, if somewhat on tiptoe. The great and the good have acknowledged her influence and the affection she inspires. Pottery, apparel, wallpaper – all kinds of domestic accoutrements bear her quaint, unthreatening drawings; her inescapably fluffy image has driven a licensing industry that has been worth millions. Yet Beatrix Potter was a sharp-edged, and reclusive woman, serious and complex, and her “nursery” reputation does her scant justice; she was much more than a “mere” children’s writer. Which, however, is where and how her famed “product” began – with the famous letter from Beatrix aged 27 to Noel Moore, aged 6, the little son of her final governess;

Sep 4th 93

My dear Noel, I don’t know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail – and Peter. They lived with their mother in a sand bank under the root of a big fir tree…

She called it a “picture letter.” In among the words she had sketched each character in the tale, with Peter unquestionably the perkiest: he’s the only one standing upright. As adults’ novelists do, she had taken him from life – Peter Rabbit was based on a Belgian buck, she’d given him the name “Peter Piper” and described him thus: “Whatever the shortcomings of his fur, and his ears and toes, his disposition was uniformly amiable and his temper unfailingly sweet.”

Link to the rest at The Public Domain Review

Beatrix Potter’s Eye for Nature

From The Wall Street Journal:

Britain’s brief but fertile Edwardian period was a golden age of children’s literature. The first decade of the 20th century saw the stage premiere of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” and the publication of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows.” But no writer represents the genre in its heyday better than Beatrix Potter, whose diminutive illustrated picture books gave the world Peter Rabbit, Tomasina Tittlemouse and a host of other precocious animal characters. Precise, expressive watercolor illustrations by the author were the trademark of her books, which have now sold hundreds of millions of copies.

Potter, born in 1866, didn’t publish her first book, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” until her mid-30s. She would go on to write 23 tales for children, but as early as 1913, at the height of her fame, she began to wind down her career to devote herself to sheep farming in England’s Lake District. When Potter died in 1943, she left behind a treasure trove of drawings, letters and personal effects, which form the basis of a new exhibition opening on Feb. 12 at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

“Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature” includes nearly 200 artworks, books, photographs and other objects, from Potter’s childhood sketches, already demonstrating a keen eye and a steady hand, to a letter written the week before she died. Potter was raised in an upper-middle-class Unitarian clan that made a fortune from printing calico cloth; a photograph of her at 15, holding one of her many pets, shows a cosseted young Victorian. The photo also hints at a sense of thwartedness. In spite of her career, she arguably lived under the thumb of her parents until she married at the age of 47.

. . . .

A toy from the 1920s based on Potter’s character Jemima Puddle-Duck is an artifact of her enterprising forays into merchandising. A cross between J.K. Rowling and John Muir, Potter set herself up in midlife as a guardian of the Lake District’s picturesque countryside and traditional farming methods. She first visited the area on childhood vacations with her family and eventually bought up some 4,000 acres of farmland, which she left to Britain’s National Trust. A 1909 watercolor landscape in the exhibition—“View across Esthwaite Water,” painted near where she eventually settled as a farmer—seems to cross objective topography with frank affection. Later, a 1930 photograph of Potter with a shepherd and a prize-winning ewe casts the London-born writer as a timeless rustic.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes if you hit a paywall, but this should be a free link.)

Considering Enslavement and Its Legacy in Children’s Literature

From School Library Journal:

Children’s literature has been, historically, a site for the origin of ideas about race and racism in the United States. Since I was a child, I have wondered why Black children show up most often in certain genres of the fictions of childhood, and not in others. I grew weary of many of the Black children’s books I read when I was in school. It seemed that if we weren’t following the North Star to freedom or marching for civil rights, we were dodging bullets in the ghetto, or we were the Black best friend in the otherwise all-white landscapes of childhood and teen life. Although we’ve seen movement in recent years, my weariness has shown up during recent presentations as a cynical joke about “The Five Black Kids You Meet in Children’s Literature.” It’s quite telling that audiences almost always laugh. Knowingly.

They’ve met those kids in books, too.

Children’s literature is becoming more inclusive. But it has been a long, complicated road, and the journey is ongoing. Black child readers, and their teachers, families, and communities, occupy a unique place when it comes to stories for children that deal with race. The collective trauma of enslavement—what literature scholar Saidiya Hartman has called the afterlife of slavery—has continuing implications for the descendants of enslaved people living today. That’s because slavery influences the way that Black people are perceived, more than 150 years after Emancipation. In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois notes the presence of Blackness as always already being a problem, in reality and imagination:

To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem?
I answer seldom a word.

Women, people of color, and other marginalized populations have always had to read ourselves into literary canons where we were absent.

We’ve always told our own stories. Black storytelling extend deep into our past, predating the Middle Passage and the Door of No Return, as poet and essayist Dionne Brand observes. After passing through the Door, African Americans have had to write ourselves into existence. Recently, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and author Renée Watson came up with another lyrical metaphor—Born on the Water, the title of their 2021 picture book in verse, derived from the 1619 Project. Black storytelling traditions have always existed in the shadows of the American story—and that includes in children’s books.

“The lost shadow book is the book that Blackness writes every day,” poet Kevin Young writes in The Grey Album. “The book that memory, time, accident, and the more active forms of oppression prevent from being read.”

I love this observation. Despite adversity, oppression, and the shadow books lost along the way, Black people have kept storying. “Storying,” Young writes, is how “Black writers have forged their own traditions, their own identities, even their own freedom.”

Prominent in the shadows cast by Black children’s literature is The Brownies’ Book, a periodical for Black children published in 1920–21 by Du Bois and Jessie Fauset, an editor and writer. Also published in 1921 was Willem van Loon’s The Story of Mankind, which includes the observation about enslaved Black Americans, “the Negroes were strong and could stand rough treatment.” It won the inaugural Newbery Medal the next year. Issues of The Brownies Book included stories, photographs, games, poetry, and information on current events; a goal was to dispel stereotypes of Black people and expand Black children’s literature. The Brownies’ Book was missing from mainstream shelves, but present in Black communities.

Link to the rest at School Library Journal

Join the Fight for School Librarians

From Publishers Weekly:

I’m a children’s book author, a mom, and a grownup whose earliest childhood memories involve trips to the library. As a kid in the ’70s my mother would take me to the public library, where I’d fill my plastic flowered library bag to the brim. It was a magical and mysterious place, with its distinct smell of books and the Shakespeare portrait by the water fountain that gave me the creeps. At school, on crisp fall days, our librarian Mrs. Bright read us the Cranberryport series by Wende and Harry Devlin. She helped us discover our favorite authors and expertly guided us through book reports about unusual animals such as the aye-aye. My time in libraries was a treasure and a privilege—one that some kids will never know.

As a grownup, I know that things are not fair. Not all kids get to go to the public library or bookstores on weekends. Not all homes have shelves brimming with books, or parents who read bedtime stories. For some kids, their best—and possibly only—chance to interact in a meaningful way with books is at school.

School library programs provide equal access to books, technology, and research skills—lifelong and life-altering benefits. School library programs improve students’ literacy outcomes, test scores, and even graduation rates.

In addition to providing equal access to materials, there are social-emotional benefits to having trained librarians in schools as well. Kids feel seen by a knowledgeable adult, a reading concierge of sorts, who recognizes what they like to read and can show them to new and interesting books, topics, and authors. In the school library, kids have choice, autonomy, and freedom. This differs greatly from the classroom, where reading can be mired in leveling, mechanics, and even shame at not being on par with other students. It’s in the school library where children truly choose books for pleasure, where they fall in love with them and become life-long readers.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

A Lovely Long Sentence

From Stuart Little:

In the loveliest town of all, where the houses were white and high and the elms trees were green and higher than the houses, where the front yards were wide and pleasant and the back yards were bushy and worth finding out about, where the streets sloped down to the stream and the stream flowed quietly under the bridge, where the lawns ended in orchards and the orchards ended in fields and the fields ended in pastures and the pastures climbed the hill and disappeared over the top toward the wonderful wide sky, in this loveliest of all towns Stuart stopped to get a drink of sarsaparilla.

Link to the rest at Stuart Little by E.B. White

Long on Kid Appeal, Browsable Nonfiction Continues to Trend

From School Library Journal:

I first heard the term “browsable nonfiction” used by Jennifer Emmett, senior vice president of National Geographic for Kids in 2012 at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) writing retreat in Silver Bay, NY. It’s the perfect moniker for a popular category of children’s books inspired by Dorling Kindersley’s groundbreaking Eyewitness Book series.

When these lavishly photo-illustrated books entered the U.S. marketplace in 1991, they revolutionized children’s nonfiction by giving young fact lovers a fresh, engaging way to access information. Both then and now, the eye-catching design and short blocks of clear, straightforward expository text delight “info-kids” who crave knowledge about the world and how it works and their place in it.

Here’s what some young readers have to say about browsable books:

“You can open to any page and find a cool fact, and I like reading cool facts.” —Lily, second grader
“You have a lot of choices about how you read. It’s like the potluck dinners at my church.” —Matthew, fourth grader

“I like the design. I prefer to flip through the pages to find exactly what I’m looking for rather than having to read through a whole book.” —Keith, fifth grader
The ability to dip in and out of these books instead of reading from cover to cover is a key characteristic of browsable nonfiction, but—initially—it was this very aspect of the category that worried adults.

“When Eyewitness Books first came out, some educators thought the format would interfere with students’ ability to develop critical reading skills,” says Michele Nokleby, school librarian, Hawthorne Elementary School, Missoula, MT. “They wondered: Would these books impact reading stamina? Would they affect students’ attention spans? As a result, teachers were hesitant to use them in the classroom.”

Luckily, that attitude has changed. As is increasingly true with graphic novels, educators now recognize that browsable nonfiction is a gateway to literacy for many children. And according to Marlene Correia, associate professor of elementary and early childhood education, Bridgewater (MA) State University, these books can also “help students who prefer fiction develop the skills necessary to navigate the more complex expository texts they’ll encounter in high school and college, and in their future careers.”

Link to the rest at School Library Journal

Forget Disney. Author Soman Chainani thinks of fairy tales as ‘survival guides to life’

From c/net:

Author Soman Chainani has spent 10 years working on his children’s book series The School for Good and Evil. He finished the sixth, and last, book in the series, One True King, in March 2020, and says he was ready to take the rest of the year to relax and head out on new adventures. But the day after he turned in the manuscript, COVID-19 happened and so he spent most of 2020 pretty much indoors.

What did he do during lockdown? He wrote a new book, called Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales, which has just been released.

Just like The School for Good and Evil, which aimed to upend the fairy tale genre, Beasts and Beauty reinvents 12 classic stories, including Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Peter Pan. There’s a common thread in his approach: Chainani says he thinks of fairy tales as “survival guides to life” and he wants kids to consider the heroes and villains in a completely different way, non-Disney way.

. . . .

“I grew up with Disney fairy tales almost exclusively in our house … and so my entire viewpoint of good and evil is shaped by Disney, and I would honestly say I think most people in my generation and above have their morality shaped by Disney, which is why I’m not surprised that our politics is so polarized,” Chainani explains in an interview for CNET’s I’m So Obsessed podcast.

“Because when you have such a clear good guy and evil guy in all our storytelling … it means that one side has to live and one side has to die, and you’re not going to make any accommodations for either.”

. . . .

As a college student at Harvard University, Chainani reread the original classic fairy tales and learned how much “room for ambiguity and good and grayness and in-the-spectrum-between-good-and-evil there is.” That thinking led to The School for Good and Evil in 2013, which tells the story of 12-year-old friends Sophie and Agatha who go to a magical school where children are trained to become fairy-tale heroes or villains (Evers and Nevers).

Chainani says he wanted to upend “this idea that we brand the evil kids ‘the bad kids’ without understanding who they are and what they’re about and understanding that we all have a different way of approaching life.”

“Once you start experimenting, and giving people the chance to mess with their identity and experience life from the opposite perspective, all hell’s gonna break loose,” he says with a laugh. “But in a way, that’s going to ultimately lead to a more positive reconstruction of the world.”

. . . .

The series has sold more than 2.5 million copies and Netflix is adapting The School for Good and Evil into an original movie set for release in 2022. It’s being directed by Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks, Bridesmaids and Spy) and stars Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Michelle Yeoh and Laurence Fishburne. “It’s going to be a big huge fairy-tale, action spectacular,” Chainani told his fans.

With Beast and Beauty, Chainani decided to “blow up the fairy tales and retell them as if I was the Brothers Grimm in the 1700s and I could see what the world would look like now.” That’s why Snow White is the only black girl in an all-white kingdom and Red Riding Hood is about how the most beautiful girl in town is marked for sacrifice every spring to a pack of wolves/boys in what he describes as the “ultimate #MeToo experience.”

Link to the rest at c/net

Animals have dwindled in novels since 1835. Is fiction undergoing its own extinction event?

From The Guardian:

A recent study in People and Nature claims that animals are being written out of novels at a similar rate to their extinction in the real world. The German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research searched the entire online Project Gutenberg archive of 60,000 texts, written between 1705 and 1969. They found that since 1835, animal usage in fiction – other than domesticated beasts such as horses and dogs or “threat” animals such as bears or lions – has dwindled to a fraction of its former propensity. Professor Christian Wirth, the study’s senior author, argues that this has implications for our response to the climate crisis: “We can only halt the loss of biodiversity by a radical change in awareness.”I think he’s right, but not because animals have been written out of novels. They’ve just been written in the wrong way.

Like all such headline-making research papers, context is everything. I am not sure that public-domain books only, written in English only, from a western canon only, are fully representative of the rich and increasingly human diverse fictional world today. But the decline in actual biodiversity is terrifyingly real. According to the latest reports from the UN and WWF, we have not only lost 60% of animal populations since 1970, but one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction if we do not act now.

Has that profound sense of loss in fact made animals more attractive to fiction writers? There is certainly no shortage of animals in the world of children’s literature. My latest book, The Wild Before – about tackling biodiversity decline – has a hare as a main character, and an animal cast, following in the tradition of books such as Watership Down. This past year alone has seen critically acclaimed children’s books starring a stranded polar bear, a haunting Greenland shark and a magical talking stray cat.

It is no coincidence that The Jungle Book, The Wind in the Willows and the Beatrix Potter books, early children’s classics of anthropomorphism, emerged out of the Industrial Revolution and the first huge jump in biodiversity decline. It appears that the less connected we are to other species, the more their mystery and appeal deepens. Would either Judith Kerr have invited a tiger in for tea, or Yann Martel set one sailing across the ocean in Life of Pi, if encounters with those endangered creatures were commonplace? Would the bestiary of fantasy creatures, from Tolkien’s wargs to George RR Martin’s direwolves (based on an extinct species), have captured our imagination if real wolves weren’t so absent from our landscape?

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Who are Political Children’s Books For?

From The Drift:

“Harriet Tubman was born a slave, and her story could have ended there. Instead, she persisted, escaping from slavery and becoming the most famous ‘conductor’ on the Underground Railroad,” begins the first section of Chelsea Clinton’s baffling 2017 children’s book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. True to its subtitle, the book marches on through thirteen stories of women persisting. Helen Keller persisted, by learning to read and write. Nellie Bly, told by a male colleague that working women were a “monstrosity,” persisted to become a working woman anyway. Sally Ride persisted to overcome stereotypes about women in STEM to travel to space. Ruby Bridges persisted when she attended kindergarten despite threats on her life from segregationists. Oprah Winfrey persisted by rising from humble origins to media superstardom. In case you managed to miss the message, it appears in bold, colorful letters in every woman’s story: “She persisted.”

This phrase, if you have managed to attain blissful amnesia about the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election, is drawn from something Mitch McConnell said about Elizabeth Warren, after the Senate voted to stop her from speaking during Jeff Sessions’s confirmation hearings. “She was warned. She was given an explanation,” McConnell said. “Nevertheless, she persisted.” This became an immediate feminist rallying cry, and was printed on bags, posters, pins, and t-shirts. In 2018, it was adopted as the “theme” of Women’s History Month (which, you might argue, already has a theme). Clinton notes in the dedication that she was “inspired by Senator Elizabeth Warren,” though Warren is not one of the book’s thirteen women who persisted.

This contemporary quote is an ill-considered retroactive framing device for a book about thirteen American women who lived during different times and under wildly different circumstances. There is an obvious flattening that occurs here: Winfrey’s persistence looked nothing like Bridges’s, or for that matter, Bly’s. Clinton applies a one-size-fits-all pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps narrative to multiple women’s stories in a way that ranges from tedious to outrageous; to suggest that Harriet Tubman’s story “could have ended there” if not for her persistence is to imply that people who were enslaved had individual responsibility to free themselves. Through grit and determination, the book suggests, any woman can succeed at any set of challenges! (And, it is careful to imply in some stories, pull other women up with them.) Reading She Persisted, one might get the impression that the experience of American womanhood over the course of the last 200 years has resembled that of doing an obstacle course — and winning.

She Persisted, whose original list price was $17.99, has sold nearly 450,000 copies and spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Unsurprisingly, it spawned sequels. There is now She Persisted Around the World, featuring a grab-bag of international women that includes J.K. Rowling, Malala Yousafzai, and nineteenth-century New Zealand suffragist Kate Sheppard. There is also She Persisted in Sports, about American Olympians who “changed the game.” It has even become a kind of franchise: there’s a series of chapter book biographies written by other authors that are sold under the She Persisted heading. (Clinton writes the intros.)

The project is a blockbuster in a genre that has become increasingly popular over the past decade: children’s books by political, or politics-adjacent, figures. Recent examples have been written by Kamala Harris, her niece Meena Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Charlotte and Karen Pence, Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Sonia Sotomayor, Callista Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Jenna Bush Hager, and Barbara Pierce Bush. These join the realm of a related subset of picture books that are not by politicians themselves but that ride the coattails of political celebrity. The hagiographies include I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark; Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg; Revolution Road: A Bernie Bedtime Story; Little People, Big Dreams: Michelle Obama and Little People, Big Dreams: Kamala Harris; Joey: The Story of Joe Biden; Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls are Born to Lead; Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope; Journey to Freedom: Condoleezza Rice; Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice; Today’s Heroes: Colin Powell and Today’s Heroes: Ben Carson; My Dad: John McCain (by Meghan); The ABCs of AOC: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from A to Z; a series comprised of Donald and the Fake News, Donald Builds the Wall! and Donald Drains the Swamp!; Elizabeth Warren: Nevertheless She Persisted; and, most recently, Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor. Forthcoming this fall: Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi Calls the House to Order and Pinkie Promises by Elizabeth Warren.

These books are typically upbeat, didactic, and unimaginative. Many of them repackage the same themes and characters; frequently, authors select a set number of historical figures to celebrate. Obama picked thirteen American “heroes;” Chelsea Clinton picked thirteen American women; Gillibrand picked ten suffragists. They often rely on the repetition of certain catchphrases, so there is no way to miss the point, even when the point is remarkably banal. Yet they keep coming: in August, the imprint Philomel Books announced that it would be releasing ten more chapter books in the extended She Persisted universe, along with another picture book, She Persisted in Science: Brilliant Women Who Made a Difference.

One might feel compelled to ask why so many of these books exist, but the main reason is obvious: money. In 2003, Madonna published a picture book called The English Roses, a moralistic story about friendship and jealousy. Despite the fact that Madonna was not an obvious fit for a young audience, the book debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller list and reportedly sold more than a million copies worldwide. It has been translated into 42 languages. Like She Persisted, English Roses led to spinoffs and a chapter book series. And it became a kind of test case, evidence that even an unexpected celebrity author could produce a bestselling book for kids. As in the grown-up books market, an established name — any kind of name — goes pretty far. Unlike your average children’s authors, celebrities can leverage massive social media followings and public relations networks to promote their books; they might even get booked on late night shows. Since Madonna’s hit, celebrities as disparate as Katie Couric and Pharrell Williams have authored kids’ books. (Perhaps it goes without saying, but many employ ghostwriters or co-authors.) With enough starpower, these authors can command big advances: Meghan Markle was rumored to have been paid £500,000 for a children’s book called The Bench that, in a rare turn of events, was panned by critics. Still, it hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list for picture books.

Link to the rest at The Drift

What would we do without traditional publishers to curate our culture?

What Makes a Book “Appropriate” for School?

From Publishers Weekly:

When I was a teen, I’d have given anything for a book like Ordinary Hazards. Of course, it hadn’t yet been written. What I did discover back then was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. In her novel, I found Francie, a character I resonated with deeply. We weren’t of the same race, nor were our lives a perfect replica, by any stretch. Still, Smith’s character and I both faced tough challenges in our young lives, and like me, Francie knew the color of hell by heart. Because of her story, I knew that I wasn’t alone in the world, and knowing that gave me strength for my own journey. This is the power of story. This is why I became a purveyor of story, myself.

Over the course of my long career, I’ve written fiction, nonfiction, historical fiction, and poetry on a wide variety of subjects, but the one thing I’ve always believed is that the single most important story I have to tell is my own. Ordinary Hazards, my memoir in verse, is that story. It is a story of darkness and childhood trauma, of a parent’s alcoholism and mental illness, of the seamy side of foster care, and of sexual assault. But it is also a story of love and light, of faith and grace, and of a young girl’s discovery of the power of the written word.

Mine is a story of triumph over darkness, and, as such, is ultimately a story of hope. The possibility of planting seeds of hope in the hearts and minds of young readers is why I wrote Ordinary Hazards. As agonizing as it was to rip open the wounds of memory, I knew there were young people who needed a story like mine—and a true story, at that. And thousands of readers across the country have already been inspired by it. This is why I was stunned when I learned that a school district in Leander, Texas, had elected to remove my award-winning memoir from their curriculum.

What???

It is one thing to rip a book from your own teen’s personal library, but to interfere with every other teen’s access to that book throughout your school district goes beyond the pale.

Leander’s issue with Ordinary Hazards—and Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Shout, among other titles recently removed—is that these titles are considered to have “inappropriate content.” I’m assuming the content in question in Ordinary Hazards is difficult subject matter, namely alcoholism, sexual assault, and mental illness. Difficulty, though, is no reason to remove a book from an age-appropriate reader’s easy reach.

The truth is, the lives of many teens are difficult. Some are homeless, or have parents in prison, or have been bounced from one foster home to another—or all of the above. Other teens live, as I did, in homes where a parent wrestles with mental illness or alcoholism, or may struggle with these issues themselves. Finally, though you may be unaware, countless teens of every gender, sitting in high school classrooms right now, have been sexually assaulted. Is this subject uncomfortable? Absolutely. But writing about the topic is hardly inappropriate, especially when it’s handled delicately.

Censors will find nothing salacious, graphic, or gratuitous in Ordinary Hazards. I specifically chose to write my memoir in poetry because the form allows for the delicate treatment of difficult content. As such, no one can reasonably charge the writing itself of being inappropriate. When it comes to sexual abuse, what is inappropriate—not to mention criminal—is the abuse itself. Writing about that abuse is both appropriate and necessary. Teens need to know that sexual assault is not a secret to keep.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Why Adults Should Read Middle Grade Books

From Book Riot:

The TV show Ted Lasso was not at all on my radar until I started to hear about it everywhere — from friends, on social media, and even on my professional Slack network. I am not a sports person, but I do succumb to peer pressure when it comes to certain media, and like many I devoured the AppleTV show in a single weekend. One of my favorite episodes in season 1 is episode 3, “Trent Crimm: The Independent.” In it, Coach Lasso is working hard to connect to his new football team and inspire them to make some essential changes in how they interact with one another. In order to accomplish that, he gives them all books that he hand-picks for their various needs and personalities. To surly, gruff team captain Roy Kent, who resents Coach Lasso’s upbeat attitude, Lasso gifts a copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

Roy reluctantly starts reading the book, which at first he dismisses as a book about a “little girl.” L’Engle’s classic is about Meg, a young girl whose father has disappeared. She learns that he is being held captive by an evil force on the other side of the universe, and she must rescue him with the help of three mysterious entities. In one of my favorite scenes in the entire first season, Roy is reading the book aloud to his niece when he comes across a passage that illuminates why Coach Lasso gifted him the book in the first place. “F****!” he yells when the realization hits, because he now understands what he needs to do next in order to bring his team together.

It’s one of the most relatable moments of the show for me, and I think it speaks to the subtle, quiet power of children’s books. Adults tend to view books written for children as childish or just silly entertainment, but those of us who write for kids (and teens) know that there is usually a lot more going on underneath the surface. We assume these books are childish, but that’s the deception: Children’s books tend to contain the same big, complex ideas about life that adult novels do…but they’re conveyed in such a way that a young reader can grasp them.

However, I don’t think that a children’s book has to contain a lesson or be emotionally complex in order to be valuable to child or adult readers. As adults, we read books that are entertaining or silly or simply fun escapes, and children’s lit can be that, too. The value in returning to these books as adults is in reminding ourselves what it’s like to be a kid, to gain a different perspective on the world, and to expand our understanding of different experiences and communities. And, of course, to be entertained.

The exciting thing about children’s literature is that it’s constantly changing, so if you’re an adult reading this, there are some amazing books that have been published since your elementary and middle school days, and children’s writers are constantly elevating the field with their incredible writing and stories. Even if you don’t have any kids in your life, there is no one stopping you from picking up some amazing children’s books that run the range from silly to serious and will help expand your perspective. 

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Hong Kong Police Arrest Five Over Children’s Books

From The Wall Street Journal:

Hong Kong’s national-security police arrested five people for allegedly conspiring to commit sedition through a series of picture books that portray sheep being targeted by wolves—an allusion to China’s crackdown on pro-democracy supporters in the city.

Hours after police detained five members of a speech therapists’ union, police displayed three illustrated books that they say incited hatred against the government among children as young as four. The cartoons simplified “political issues that kids wouldn’t comprehend and beautifies criminal activities,” Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah told a news conference. “They’re meant to poison the minds of children,” he said.

Described as teaching aids, the books were distributed through pro-democracy businesses, local political offices and online by the speech therapists’ union, which was founded in November 2019—a time when some activists formed workers’ groups as a way to organize protest actions against the government.

The books include one titled “The Guardians of Sheep Village,” which is set against the backdrop of antigovernment protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019. It depicts a malicious plot by the wolves to take over the sheep’s village and devour them all.

Another, “12 Warriors of Sheep Village,” refers to a dozen activists who were caught by the Chinese coast guard during an ill-fated boat escape from Hong Kong last year. The third book in the series, titled “Street Cleaners of Sheep Village,” alludes to a medical workers’ strike last year when Hong Kong faced its first coronavirus infections imported from China, using cartoons of littering wolves to portray outsiders.

. . . .

Thursday’s arrests are part of an intensifying crackdown on dissent in the former British colony and were made on the same day that four former executives and journalists of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily appeared in court charged with violating the national-security law by conspiring to collude with external forces. Apple Daily, founded by jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai, was forced to cease publication last month after authorities seized its assets.

. . . .

Publishers have been among the targets of authorities since the national-security law was imposed last year. Media groups and opposition groups have raised concerns that free speech is being eliminated and so-called red lines about what amounts to a crime are being expanded to eliminate criticism of authorities.

“Even children’s picture books cross the red line,” Herbert Chow, a local businessman who supports the protest movement, wrote in a Facebook post referring to the arrests.

The five people arrested—two men and three women, aged between 25 and 28 years old—are board members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists. They were detained under a colonial-era antisedition law rather than the security law imposed by China.

In its online mission statement, the union says it has chosen to align itself with the politically marginalized. “We are a group of speech therapists, we should walk with the unheard,” it said on its website. “Those who are lucky won’t understand that being able to speak is a luxury. But we resonate with this.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Summer Book Kit Giveaway at The New York Public Library

From The New York Public Library:

Starting Monday, July 12, visit your local NYPL branch in the Bronx, Manhattan, or Staten Island, and pick up one of our free summer book kits! With special contents tailored to kids and teens of all ages, including books to take home and keep, activity guides, and more, these kits are a great way for kids and teens to keep their skills sharp all summer long. Get yours but act fast—supplies are limited!

. . . .

The New York Public Library’s free summer book kits have been specially prepared for kids and teens of all ages:

  • Babies and Toddlers (Early Literacy)
    Includes a special NYPL tote bag containing NYPL’s ABC Read with Me in NYC board book, and an early literacy tip sheet for caregivers. 
  • Pre-K through 1st Grade
    Includes a red drawstring bag containing two free books to take home and keep, NYPL’s Summer Learning 2021 welcome kit, and the NYPL After School Activity Guide for Grades K–3 (28 pages, English/Español).
  • 2nd and 3rd Grade
    Includes a red drawstring bag containing two free books to take home and keep, NYPL’s Summer Learning 2021 welcome kit, and the NYPL After School Activity Guide for Grades K–3 (28 pages, English/Español).
  • 4th and 5th Grade
    Includes a red drawstring bag containing one free book to take home and keep, NYPL’s Summer Learning 2021 welcome kit, and the NYPL After School Activity Guide for Grades 4–6 (16 pages).
  • Middle School
    Includes a red drawstring bag containing one free book to take home and keep, a special NYPL bookmark, one pot of Play-Doh, and a stress ball.
  • High School
    Includes a red drawstring bag containing one free book to take home and keep, a special NYPL bookmark, one pot of Play-Doh, and a stress ball.

Link to the rest at The New York Public Library

See also Summer Reading Downloads which anyone can download to allow their children to record their summer reading and write a review of one or more of the books they’ve read.

Wizarding World launches free Harry Potter hub for school summer holidays

From The Bookseller:

Harry Potter online home Wizarding World has launched has launched a free virtual hub for the school summer holidays.

Called Harry Potter Reading Magic, it is billed as “a destination to discover more about the exciting story and themes of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Bloomsbury) and have some fun along the way”.

The initiative sits alongside Bloomsbury’s rescheduled seventh annual Harry Potter Book Night on 24th June, with fans all over the world joining in magical events and activities themed around Diagon Alley.

With the new hub, over five weeks, young audiences will be able to get to know more about the iconic characters of J K Rowling’s books alongside chapter challenges, quizzes, craft activities and weekly themes.

Housing easy to follow tips, the Harry Potter Reading Magic hub will also feature handy and helpful guides for parents, carers and teachers. This content comes from a partnership between all Harry Potter publishers, including Bloomsbury in the UK, Scholastic in the US and Pottermore publishing.

The initiative is set to become an annual fixture. It follows the success of the Harry Potter At Home hub launched by Wizarding World for lockdown during 2020, which attracted more than seven million visitors.

Additionally, the first Harry Potter audiobook is available to stream free on Alexa from Audible beginning on 23rd June and throughout the month of July by saying: “Alexa, read Harry Potter Book One.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A Child’s Garden of Metaverse

From The Dubit Group:

When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!

– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

When you think about it, Wonderland may have been the original ‘metaverse’.

If that’s not a term you know, you’ll hear it a lot soon. The metaverse is a massive, immersive, global, always-on digital space where it’s possible to engage in all sorts of play, entertainment, communication, socializing, creative and commercial activities. There can be familiar and lifelike experiences and others that are entirely whimsical or even bizarre.

It’s a virtual “rabbit hole,” holding wonders and intrigues not unlike Alice’s literary journeys.

Will there be books and reading in the metaverse? Fortunately, what makes the concept unique is that it will be constructed, piece by piece, by its users. As the Cheshire Cat said, every adventure requires a first step, so publishers, authors, bookstores and librarians can ensure that they have presence by themselves conceiving and creating immersive, engaging spaces for literature.

What Is a Metaverse?

If you’ve read Ready Player One or Snowcrash, you may be anxiously envisioning dystopian near-future virtual refuges. That’s not where we’re headed (at least not soon). There is no fully-formed metaverse now; Roblox is nearest.

Roblox isn’t a game but the “YouTube of games,” with over 20 million different titles, most created by fans. Roblox draws 32 million daily users and 3.6 billion hours of monthly engagement. According to Dubit’s Trends survey, over half of US and UK children 9-12 play on Roblox at least weekly, with substantial percentages in other countries worldwide.

. . . .

The metaverse draws on familiar media and publishing concepts: multi-platform, cross-platform and transmedia. Beyond the above-noted role for user-creators, the difference is in the depth of immersion and extent of integration among the various elements. Roblox’ CEO David Baszucki’s eight characteristics of a metaverse align closely with Generations Z and Alpha social and gaming habits. His list includes:

  • Identity – persistent avatars that reflect players’ real or imagined selves;
  • Friends – the ability to socialize and play with real-world friends, and meet others;
  • Immersion – transportation from the day-to-day into a fully-formed alternative world;
  • Ubiquity – the capacity to create and play from anywhere, on all types of devices;
  • Variety – deep and wide content, accommodating all types of user;
  • Low friction – easy onboarding and transitions;
  • Economy – in-world goods and service markets that pay creators for their efforts; and
  • Trust and Civility – a welcoming, equitable, diverse and kind community.

But Is It For Children?

Like any place real or virtual, the metaverse will have kid-safe “neighborhoods” and others that are “adults-only.” The concept, though, will make complete sense to kids. Who could better benefit from a coherent, connected world of play, creation and learning?

This is why children and teens are already “kickstarting” the metaverse in their social play. During the pandemic, especially, “down on the corner” became “up on the server.” From 2019-2020, the percentage of 8-10 year olds who played Minecraft in the previous 24 hours rose 49%, and Fortnite 29%. Young people ‘hacked’ various platforms, many not meant for kids (e.g., Discord and Zoom), to socialize during the pandemic.

Amidst overwhelming options, everything competes with everything, and content is dispersed across many platforms. Today’s kids frequently become frustrated trying to find a new favorite video, game, book, movie or toy. A well-constructed metaverse will bring multiple media under its umbrella, supporting more seamless, intuitive navigation and recommendation.

Link to the rest at The Dubit Group

The boy who lived and lived and lived

From The Bookseller:

In every skirmish in the ‘culture war’, be it fought in universities, Twitter or Parliament, there’s an inevitable reference to Harry Potter. The Potter references can seem like a joke; the perpetual furore around the politics of a ‘mere’ children’s author more so. But it is no laughing matter. Harry Potter is a cultural force and a financial powerhouse, one that is, ultimately – and for some, frustratingly – ‘uncancellable’.

According to YouGov, British Millennials have a 95% awareness of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. For context, this puts Harry Potter significantly above classics such as Winnie the Pooh (90%) and Alice in Wonderland (85%), or, for that matter, Marvel movies. It is uniquely high among all publishing properties. By comparison, The Hate U Give – a stunning contemporary book with massive cultural ramifications and prolonged sales dominance – has a 24% awareness in the same demographic. That level of familiarity is, for a book, incredibly impressive. But Harry Potter is a universal cultural touchstone.

And, again for context, “Millennial” means anyone born between 1980 and 1994, a group that now makes up nearly 14% of the population of Britain (and 90% of the headlines). The eldest Millennials are now in their late 30s and early 40s, and have children of their own. Yet, despite countless efforts by publishers and creators of all types, there is no “new” Harry Potter; no other property with the same ubiquitous cultural presence. 

How is it that a children’s book from three decades ago has successfully remained at the heart of every conversation?

The first reason is found in the story itself. There have been countless theses written on this very subject, but there is, unquestionably, something special about the boy. Henry Jenkins has examined the phenomena at length, and argues (to paraphrase) that the series’ appeal stems from its ability to allow readers to see themselves in Rowling’s world. It is, again, to paraphrase, just rich enough: readers are fascinated by the world, but there’s still room for them to fit in. It is welcoming, and more than that, participative. The loose fabric of the Potterverse invites its readers to indulge in passionate meddling, a form of imaginative activism that has translated to a long lasting, and real world, belief in the power to make change.

Secondly, it is impossible to underestimate the cultural supernova that was the release of individual Harry Potter books when they were first published. By the end of the series, it was a national obsession akin to, one suspects, Beatlemania. Pottermania united the British public – often in the queue at Sainsbury’s, where they would be patiently waiting to snatch up a copy. Readers – and even non-readers! – were all feverishly tearing through books on buses and trains, during lunch breaks and all through the night.

Potter’s explosion also took place before online retailers dominated the scene – in those innocent days when supermarkets were seen as the Dark Lords of book retail. People crammed into brick and mortar retailers, all physically coming together in their need for the book. This increased the visibility of the moment, and the sense of cultural unison. Wanting, buying, reading Harry Potter was the thing to do. Potter’s moment was made all the more unique, and bittersweet, by the fact it will not – and cannot – ever happen again. The retail and media landscape have fragmented too much, and take place in quieter, more personal, and less visible ways. It was, again to borrow from Jenkins, the “last gasp of mass culture”.

. . . .

The result is a creative property that is both culturally influential and an unavoidable, arguably essential, pillar of the publishing sector. Harry Potter is deeply woven into our culture. And Harry Potter is also a financial juggernaut, one that single-handedly keeps publishers and retailers afloat.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Anatomy of a Hoax

From The Paris Review:

Eric Carle, the author and illustrator of more than seventy books that captivated, amused, and educated generations of children, died last month at ninety-one. Carle’s work, and his seemingly effortless connection to young readers, was motivated by the privations of his own childhood. Raised in Nazi Germany, he was forced to dig trenches on the Siegfried line; his father, whom he adored, had become a prisoner of war in Russia. Carle’s later proclivity for vivid, exuberant colors was a reaction against the “grays, browns and dirty greens” of buildings camouflaged to protect against bombing. After the war, in America, he worked as a commercial artist, developing meticulous collages of tissue paper and acrylics that soon launched his career as an illustrator and children’s writer. His most famous book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, came in 1969, and has sold more than 55 million copies worldwide. “I think it is a book of hope,” he said on its fiftieth anniversary, in 2019. “Children need hope. You—little insignificant caterpillar—can grow up into a beautiful butterfly and fly into the world with your talent.”

If you looked at Twitter after Carle’s death, you may not have seen that quotation. It was lost in the din surrounding another remark:

My publisher and I fought bitterly over the stomachache scene in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The caterpillar, you’ll recall, feasts on cake, ice cream, salami, pie, cheese, sausage, and so on. After this banquet I intended for him to proceed immediately to his metamorphosis, but my publisher insisted that he suffer an episode of nausea first—that some punishment follow his supposed overeating. This disgusted me. It ran entirely contrary to the message of the book. The caterpillar is, after all, very hungry, as sometimes we all are. He has recognized an immense appetite within him and has indulged it, and the experience transforms him, betters him. Including the punitive stomachache ruined the effect. It compromised the book.

This story was drawn from Carle’s interview with The Paris Review for Young Readers, and tens of thousands of people shared it in praise and remembrance. “What a good man,” one wrote. Another posted, “Eric Carle said f*** the system eat cake and be unapologetically hungry.” A third was inspired to go big for lunch: “a chicken Parm and a whole ass order of garlic knots.” Nigella Lawson retweeted the story, Smithsonian Magazine included it in their obituary, and the parenting site Motherly noted that it had “a profound impact … Eric Carle recognized the harm in implying shame should be something a living creature feels simply for eating food they need to eat in order to grow.” On KQED, during a live broadcast, the radio host asked Carle’s son, Rolf, for more details about the stomachache quarrel. “That’s one of the stories I haven’t heard,” Rolf said, “and when you get an answer, please get it to me.”

He hadn’t heard the story because it never happened. Debunkers, including Snopes, soon pointed out that The Paris Review for Young Readers had originated in 2015 as an April Fools’ Day joke. There had been only a single issue of the “magazine,” which included a rewrite of American Psycho focused on haute couture lunchboxes, a word hunt that featured terms like chiaroscuro and post hoc ergo propter hoc, and a photo of the editor reading to an avid crowd of children, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Though few had fallen for the Carle interview at first sight, the passage about the stomachache dispute had been republished in a 2019 book, Fierce Bad Rabbits, and its appearance in print, out of context, gave it a legitimacy that was hard to shake. Clare Pollard, the book’s author, had cleared the citation with the Review and a prominent literary agency. But institutional memory lapses quickly, and neither party knew to inform her that it was a hoax.

The Review issued an apology and attached a disclaimer to the article. Meanwhile, reactions to the ruse were divided. Some, wedded to the story’s message, would only reluctantly concede that it was fabricated. “It clearly resonated with many for a reason, though we do regret the error,” Motherly wrote in a retraction. Others were so delighted by the quotation that they chose to go on believing it anyway: “This is the reality I will be moving forward with, thanks!” But still more felt sorely deceived. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was wrapped up in intimate memories of reading to their children, or being read to, and those memories had been disturbed. Because, after Carle’s death, this fiction was crowding out the facts of his remarkable life, it risked tainting his legacy and should be expunged. An indignant reader felt that “whenever misinformation like this goes viral”—a phrase that may call for retirement, after a global pandemic—“the people who are MOST key to spreading it … are often so extremely reluctant to admit and correct it!” With these criticisms came others: the interview was too believable to pass as parody; it was fatphobic, and churlish in its implication that children’s literature is unworthy of deep discussion. “Satire needs a clear target and clarity of purpose,” Literary Hub warned. “If the point is unclear, your joke might be misconstrued as reality.”

I followed the story with great interest, because I’m the author of The Paris Review for Young Readers, including the notorious Carle interview. I was surprised to learn that a paragraph I wrote six years ago has, in all likelihood, found more readers than anything I’ve published under my own name. As the chaos unfolded, I experienced a combination of pride and dread—what I imagine it’s like to spend a counterfeit bill so old that you’ve forgotten it’s fake. Six years is not such a long time, but the world that bought into my Carle interview is in some ways unrecognizable from the one in which I wrote it: before alternative facts, before widespread concerns about information literacy, before 15 percent of Americans believed in adrenochrome-guzzling satanist pedophiles. A hoax is designed to be misconstrued as reality—a fact that seems to have eluded some people—and though mine has succeeded beyond my wildest Obama-era fantasies, it stirred up fragments of the past, broken links, and undigested, polarizing half-truths. It has, in short, given me a stomachache.

. . . .

In 2015, I resolved to do better. Children are precious; they were an obvious target. Children’s literature, at its worst, bottles and ferments that preciousness with adult insecurity, which is exactly what I hoped to do. The magazine had recently published an interview with the psychotherapist and essayist Adam Phillips, parts of which I’d committed to memory, I liked them so much. “One of the things that is interesting about children is how much appetite they have,” Phillips said. “How much appetite they have—but also how conflicted they can be about their appetites”:

Children are incredibly picky about their food. They can go through periods where they will only have an orange peeled in a certain way. Or milk in a certain cup … There’s something very frightening about one’s appetite. So that one is trying to contain a voraciousness in a very specific, limiting, narrowed way. It’s as though, were the child not to have the milk in that cup, it would be a catastrophe. And the child is right. It would be a catastrophe, because that specific way, that habit, contains what is felt to be a very fearful appetite. An appetite is fearful because it connects you with the world in very unpredictable ways.

These insights came back to me whenever I had a bowl of cereal—so, multiple times a day. As a preschooler, in the back of the family Honda, I’d once fallen into a tantrum and demanded a box of Lucky Charms. I was so relentless that my parents, usually strict, had given in, stopping at a supermarket to produce that manna, frosted toasted oats with marshmallows. And then I had eaten hardly any. This became an embarrassing chapter in the family lore. I’d attributed my breakdown, apart from my being a little shit, to the power of advertising: Lucky Charms were “magically delicious,” a slogan that generated a want that I confused for a need. Here was an alternate theory, an apoplexy of containment; all food was magic, all hunger dangerous.

I thought I could bring some of this into a spoof of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, another story of unbridled appetite. This is the gist of the book: the caterpillar eats. In the end he turns into a butterfly, which is nice, but the main attraction is his boundless craving. “But he was still hungry”: a refrain familiar to all who’ve lingered in the light of the refrigerator. Whatever Eric Carle’s feelings about psychoanalysis, the man was a student of appetites. Feeling clever, I dressed him up in the language of that student—ludicjouissance, and other favorites of the ivory tower—and had him argue vociferously for the merits of overeating. I thought this was a hilarious stance for a writer who’d risen to success on a wave of salami and cherry pie, and it got at something unique about Caterpillar, which flirts with the insatiable in a curious way. My imaginary Carle venerated children past the point of reason. He favored the abolition of adulthood. He mainlined Christmas music and spouted off like a drunken Lacanian. Yes, I thought, this is my masterpiece, so plausibly implausible. I cracked myself up imagining a magazine like Highlights for Children shot through with the pretensions of The Paris Review, collecting dust in some pediatrician’s waiting room until it caught the eye of a status-conscious parent. “Look, honey, Timmy can read the pull-out section on the objective correlative”—that sort of thing. When we launched the “magazine” on April 1, some were amused, but few were fooled. Their loss, I thought. Pearls before swine. As Phillips had said, “We are children for a very long time.”

It takes a certain blundering confidence to perpetrate a hoax. 

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

How Tove Jansson’s love of nature shaped the world of the Moomins

From The Guardian:

In 1964, when she was in her 50s, the Moomin creator Tove Jansson settled on her dream island. Klovharun in the Finnish archipelago is tiny – some 6,000 sq metres – and isolated, “a rock in the middle of nowhere”, according to Jansson’s niece, Sophia. It has scarcely any foliage, no running water and no electricity. Yet for Jansson, it was an oasis. For 18 years she and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä spent long summers there, heading out from Helsinki as soon as the ice broke in April, leaving only in early October. The island meant “privacy, remoteness, intimacy, a rounded whole without bridges or fences”.

Klovharun encapsulates something of Jansson’s originality as an artist and writer – and her human presence. Her illustrated Moomin books, which began to be published just after the second world war, brought her phenomenal acclaim and devotion. The tales of amiable troll creatures have been taken to generations of hippy hearts; their pear-shaped faces have adorned a million ties. Their marketing triumph – in which Jansson enthusiastically participated – has overshadowed her other achievements as a painter, novelist, short-story writer, anti-Nazi cartoonist, and designer of magazine covers

. . . .

In the last decade nature writing has surged in Britain, and proved extraordinarily varied. Robert Macfarlane has caused us to look at paths as revealing “the habits of a landscape”. Tim Dee has reminded us to look up at the sky and listen to the birds; Merlin Sheldrake’s studies of fungi are making us consider what fusions are going on under our feet; Alice Oswald’s poetry can make you hear water moving as if it were the blood in your veins. These investigations have reverberated strongly in cities over the last year, with lockdowners thrilling to the idea of unreachable wide open space and to the miniature excitements of their own neighbourhoods, the individual blooms they can entice into their flats.

. . . .

Tove Jansson’s writing is different. She has wonderful passages in which entire landscapes are made by peering at blades of grass and scraps of bark. Yet her main Moomin adventures are startlingly catastrophic. For all the light clarity of the prose – which is comic, benign and quizzical – these books show places gripped by ferocious forces, laid waste by storms and floods and snows. They speak (but never obviously) of characters resonating to the winds and seas around them. They include visions that now read like warnings of climate change: “the great gap that had been the sea in front of them, the dark red sky overhead, and behind, the forest panting in the heat”.

. . . .

There is some relish in these extremes: Jansson loved a storm and her island aesthetic is distinctive. Anti-lush, sculpted by the elements rather than softly shaped by a human hand. This is not like living in a garden. Everything is provisional, prey to winds and fogs and being swept away. It is the outdoor equivalent of chucking out your chintz. What’s more, this is writing about nature that provides not only wonder and leisure but a living. Jansson and Pietilä worked hard to support themselves on Klovharun: they chopped wood, made fires, rowed boats, gutted fish. Their attitude reminds me of James Rebanks, the inspiring Cumbrian sheep farmer, who points out that while visitors look at the fells and hills and see beauty, his fellow farmers see sustenance, income and labour.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Why reading comprehension is deteriorating

From The Hechinger Report:

Before the pandemic, eighth graders’ reading comprehension declined substantially. Since then, scholars have been trying to figure out why their scores dropped so much between 2017 and 2019 on a highly regarded national test known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP. 

Researchers at the American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit research organization, are digging into whether kids are reading less — perhaps distracted by their digital devices. The emerging answer is that yes, young teens seem to be reading less and enjoying reading less. But the decline in book reading might not be the main culprit in our national comprehension problem. And separate international studies of 15-year-olds and fourth graders indicate that eighth grade reading habits aren’t telling the whole story.

First, the numbers. In survey questions that accompany the NAEP test, eighth graders reported how much time they spent reading outside of school. The percentage of public school students who said they read 30 minutes or more a day, besides homework, declined by 4 percentage points from 53 percent in 2017 to 49 percent in 2019. These same young teens were also less likely to say they talked about books or went to the library. Positive attitudes about reading fell too. Eighth grade students were less likely to agree that reading was one of their favorite activities or that they enjoyed going to a bookstore.

At first, the declines in reading habits and attitudes seemed to fit together with the decline in reading scores and tell a simple story: those who read more scored higher. But when the researchers broke the data down by state, the neat correlation between reading and comprehension fell apart. There were some states, such as Mississippi, where students read less but scores didn’t drop. And in other states, such as Rhode Island, reading habits were more stable, but scores slid nonetheless. 

“It’s perplexing,” said Elena Forzani, an assistant professor of education at Boston University, in reaction to this reading data, which is still unpublished but was presented at two education conferences in April 2021. “We know that reading motivation causes kids to pick up books and read more. And the more and more you read, the better you get at it.”

Forzani, a reading specialist who was not involved in this analysis, wonders if current survey questions are out of step with our digital age and fail to capture all the new kinds of reading that young teens are doing every day. Perhaps reading posts on social media and clicking on article links in Google searches are useful types of reading too. Students might be learning new words and information and thinking critically about texts, boosting their comprehension skills in the same way that old-fashioned book reading does.

“If a kid just wants to sit and watch videos all the time, I wouldn’t want my kids doing that either,” Forzani said. “It’s a passive activity. But if they’re creating their own videos, that’s much more active and requires complex and critical cognitive processes. And I think that’s what matters more.”

Forzani said reading is “hugely important.” Her advice to parents is to allow kids to read whatever they want to, even if it’s “Captain Underpants” and you would rather an older child choose a more challenging book. “It’s always been the case that we want to let kids read whatever motivates them,” Forzani said, “because if they’re not motivated to read, nothing else is going to work.” 

Forzani thinks the slide in eighth grade test scores could be the result of the way that schools teach reading to struggling students. “We tend to take those kids and throw lower level instruction at them,” she said. “They get these rote phonics programs. It’s all focused on learning to read. They’re not having complex discussions about a text. At the same time, we’re also taking away science and history instruction where kids can develop knowledge and where they can put comprehension strategies into practice. We’re teaching kids to read in a content and motivational vacuum.” 

. . . .

Martin Hooper, a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research who led the eighth grade reading study, has also been digging into reading habits around the world and he’s found an even earlier decrease in reading and reading attitudes in other countries. Between 2000 and 2018, fewer 15-year-olds reported reading for enjoyment in 31 out of 39 countries and jurisdictions surveyed by the Program in International Student Assessment (PISA), which also released its own report on reading habits in the digital age on May 4, 2021. The U.S. was one of the few exceptions, bucking the disappointing trend here.

Link to the rest at The Hechinger Report

The difference between children’s and adult books

From Nathan Bransford:

Authors often get into trouble when they’re writing books for children or adults and end up blending the two in an awkward way. I’m here to clear up confusion around the differences between children’s books and adult books.

Particularly when authors write “coming of age” novels or fictionalized versions of their childhood, they sometimes end up writing novels that feel like they’re not quite for adults and not quite for children. Others set out to write crossover novels that appeal to both adults and children that wind up feeling like strange mishmashes.

While some children’s novels do indeed become popular with adults and become crossover successes like The Hunger Games and The Hate U Give, novels need to have a base readership. There aren’t really crossover publishers, just adult publishers and children’s publishers, with some “new adult” sprinkled in. And even if you’re self- or hybrid publishing, it’s very helpful to know your genre.

If you twist yourself into knots trying to make your novel appeal to everyone it might end up appealing to no one. If you’re writing for adults, write for adults. If you’re writing for children, write for children. If it crosses over, that’s great.

So what’s the difference between a children’s novel and an adult novel, and how do you avoid writing a novel that’s not quite for adults and not quite for children? How do you figure out what kind of a novel you’re really writing if you’re currently straddling these lines? What do you do if parts of your novel are from a child’s POV but it’s adult on the whole?

I’m here to help.

It’s not about the protagonist’s age

A common misconception about what makes a novel an adult or children’s book is that it’s ultimately about the age of the protagonist. Not the case!

There are plenty of novels featuring young protagonists that really feel more like adult novels, whether that’s Catcher in the Rye, Carrie, or the opening of Where the Crawdads Sing. Just because you have a child at the center of the events doesn’t necessarily mean you have written a children’s novel.

This can also happen in reverse, particularly in novels that start adult but then flash back to a character’s childhood. A novel that started off feeling like an adult novel can quickly start feeling like it veers into being a children’s book and might confuse a reader about what exactly they’re reading.

So set aside the age of the protagonist. Here’s what matters.

What’s the lens?

The first element to consider is the “lens.” Is the overall voice of the novel a child’s voice experiencing childhood in the moment or is it an adult looking back on childhood from a more mature distance?

Even authors who are explicitly setting out to write a children’s novel sometimes get tripped up on this. They end up inserting accidental adult viewpoints along the lines of “I would learn much later just how important this was.” Think of this as the “Wonder Years” effect, where it’s an adult narrating a child’s experiences.

Other authors might write their child characters the way they see children from their now-adult vantage point rather than writing for the way children see themselves.

So again, set aside the protagonist’s age and think about the lens. If it feels like an adult’s viewpoint it will feel like an adult novel, even/especially if it’s an adult looking back on childhood, and if it feels like a child’s vantage point it will feel more like a children’s novel.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

How to Write Science as Entertainment

From Publishers Weekly:

As a doctor, writer, and mother of a middle schooler, I was ready to scintillate the sixth graders when I volunteered for the chicken wing dissection class, demonstrating the exciting connection between muscles and tendons and bones. I opened and closed the wing, placed it in their hands, showed them the thin strips of tissue coordinating all the action. Did I see fascination? Excitement? Feigned interest of any sort? Sadly, no.

Surely they’d want to hear about my journey to becoming a doctor, then. And they did. But they were much more enthusiastic about a different topic they were studying: mythology. Greek gods, beasts with multiple heads, fathers who swallowed their children whole—they learned about all of it in school, but they already knew everything there was to know and then some.

Why? Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. If there was an obvious career path involving mythology, they’d be all in.

Fiction provides a framework to make any piece of information interesting and entertaining. Most information is interesting on its own, but it’s inevitably much more enjoyable when embedded in a story. Add action and suspense and humor and a kid who could be any of us, and we are captivated. But is there such a fiction series about medicine? The human body? Ailments and health? The excitement of biology or chemistry or engineering or math? Excluding books that deal with video games, very few.

. . . .

I set out to create a thrilling tale weaving in maladies, much like the Percy Jackson books weave in mythology. In The Antidote, 12-year-old Alex Revelstoke discovers a family secret: he can see disease. And not just disease—he can also see injury, illness, and anything else wrong with the body. He sees skin melt away to reveal the organs beneath, much to his shock and horror. He comes from a family of doctors with this extra gift, going back generations, helping, healing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Scholastic Halts Distribution of Book by ‘Captain Underpants’ Author

From The New York Times:

A children’s graphic novel by the creator of the popular “Captain Underpants” series was pulled from circulation last week by its publisher, which said that it “perpetuates passive racism.”

Scholastic said last week that it had halted distribution of the book, “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future,” originally published in 2010. The decision was made with “the full support” of its author, Dav Pilkey, the company said, adding that it had removed the book from its website and had stopped fulfilling orders for it.

“Together, we recognize that this book perpetuates passive racism,” the publisher said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry for this serious mistake.”

The graphic novel, which purports to have been written and illustrated by characters from the “Captain Underpants” series, follows Ook and Gluk, who live in the fictional town of Caveland, Ohio, in 500,001 B.C. The characters are pulled through a time portal to the year 2222, where they meet Master Wong, a martial arts instructor who teaches them kung fu.

. . . .

Mr. Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” books, featuring a superhero in briefs and a red cape, have been on The New York Times children’s series best-seller list for 240 weeks. In a letter posted on his YouTube channel on Thursday, Mr. Pilkey said he had “intended to showcase diversity, equality and nonviolent conflict resolution” with “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk,” about “a group of friends who save the world using kung fu and the principles found in Chinese philosophy.”

“But this week it was brought to my attention that this book also contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery,” Mr. Pilkey wrote. “I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for this. It was and is wrong and harmful to my Asian readers, friends, and family, and to all Asian people.”

. . . .

Mr. Kim said he contacted Scholastic and spoke with a senior executive there, and he later spoke with Mr. Pilkey by videoconference for about 40 minutes. Mr. Pilkey, he said, apologized to him and his older son.

While Mr. Kim was glad the book was being pulled, he wrote that “the damage has been done.”

“Every child who has read this book has been conditioned to accept this racist imagery as ‘OK’ or even funny,” he wrote.

Cristina Rhodes, an English professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, said that Scholastic should have been aware of the racially insensitive imagery in the book a decade ago.

Stereotypical images and tropes can give young readers a distorted view of certain groups, Professor Rhodes said — as with Asians in this case. “Children see themselves reflected in books,” she said.

Lara Saguisag, an English professor specializing in children’s and young adult literature at the College of Staten Island, said she was surprised to see these images from Mr. Pilkey, who she said had energized children and appealed to “reluctant readers” by teaching them to love books and reading.

“I think it’s part of the alarm about these books because it’s been going under the radar,” she said.

Professor Saguisag said she hoped that Scholastic and other publishers would evaluate other books for racially insensitive imagery.

. . . .

“As long as profit is at the center, I feel like these such acts of pulling books from bookshelves will be the exception rather than the rule,” she added. “I hope I’m proven wrong.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Another screw-up by one of the curators of our literary culture. With a book that was published just 11 years ago.

Is it possible we need an entirely different group of curators?

Given their domination of children’s books sold in traditional bookstores, are we endangering children by allowing large publishers like Scholastic and other giant New York publishers to continue their careless and damaging corporate ways?

News Corp to Buy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Consumer-Publishing Arm

From The Wall Street Journal:

News Corp has agreed to buy the consumer arm of educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. for $349 million, marking the media company’s second deal in less than a week.

The deal adds a portfolio of high-profile novels from authors such as George Orwell, Philip Roth and J.R.R. Tolkien to News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers division. The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that the companies were nearing a deal.

The sale would allow Boston-based Houghton to pay down debt and focus on its digital-first strategy in education, goals that the company had set when it put HMH Books & Media on the block last fall.

The deal indicates that New York-based News Corp, which in addition to HarperCollins owns Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co. and news organizations in the U.K. and Australia, among other assets, is looking to expand through select acquisitions after a period of slimming down through sales of noncore businesses.

. . . .

“Timeless writing is a timely source of revenue and the potential to create highly profitable audio and video works flourishes with each passing digital day,” News Corp Chief Executive Robert Thomson said.

News Corp is focusing investments on growth areas including books, digital real estate, and the Dow Jones unit, a person familiar with the situation said.

In an interview, HarperCollins Chief Executive Brian Murray described Houghton’s catalog of children’s and adult titles as a “crown jewel.” The unit’s children portfolio includes the “Little Blue Truck” and “Curious George” series, and other favorites such as “The Polar Express” and “Jumanji.”

Mr. Murray also cited Houghton’s focus on transforming its children’s titles and brands into streaming and interactive-gaming opportunities. “They have a good team and it should help us accelerate our own children’s activities on that front,” he said.

. . . .

HarperCollins has been a strong performer during the pandemic, which helped propel book sales. In its most recent quarter, the unit posted a 23% growth in revenue to $544 million and 65% jump in profitability to $104 million.

Houghton’s consumer-publishing unit generated revenue of $191.7 million in 2020, accounting for approximately 19% of Houghton’s net sales. Other core properties of HMH Books & Media include the Peterson Field Guides, which cover topics ranging from birds to fish to wildflowers; lifestyle titles from Martha Stewart ; and the Carmen Sandiego franchise.

HMH Books & Media also boasts a strong line of cookbooks that includes titles by Jacques Pépin, Mark Bittman and Priya Krishna.

. . . .

The deal marks the second sale of a well-known publisher in less than six months. German media giant Bertelsmann SE, which owns Penguin Random House, last November agreed to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS Inc. for almost $2.18 billion.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

For PG, the key information bit was “transforming its children’s titles and brands into streaming and interactive-gaming opportunities.”

Perhaps he’s biased, but this didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of books on paper. Again, he wondered whether the buyer or the seller is going to look like it got the best out of this deal in 5-10 years.

Paper beats pixels on most picture books, research finds

From The Hechinger Report:

Digital picture books have been a godsend during the pandemic. With libraries shuttered and bookstores a nonessential trip, many parents have downloaded book after book on tablets and smartphones to keep their little ones reading. The technology allowed my daughter to read the Berenstain Bears, a classic picture book series, to a younger cousin over Zoom when a family trip was canceled. Despite my wistful sentiments for paper and colored ink, I marveled at the bond that could be sustained over screens and pixels. 

But when the pandemic is over, many parents will face a dilemma. Should they revert back to print or stick with e-books? Do kids absorb and learn to read more from one format versus the other?

A new analysis of all the research on digital picture books, published in March 2021, helps to answer this question. The answer isn’t clear cut: paper generally has an edge over digital but there are exceptions. Digital books can be a better option with nonfiction texts and for building vocabulary. Some digital storybooks were better; researchers found that certain types of story-related extras seemed to boost a child’s comprehension but they were rare. 

In large part, the research on digital picture books for children echoes what we’ve seen in studies of e-books for adults. Reading comprehension is superior on paper but the benefit of paper appears to be stronger for adults and smaller for children. Scholars think the reasons behind the brain’s preference for paper may be different for the two groups. In the case of adults, it may be a lack of effort that we’re putting into reading on screens. In the case of children, it may be that many of the bells and whistles that are commonly added to digital picture books — buttons to click on, pop ups, games and sounds — are distracting.

Digital picture books have been around since the 1980s but there’s surprisingly little research that directly compares how much young children absorb in digital and in print and measures learning in a reliable way.

. . . .

Children up to age eight were included in the studies. Some were old enough to read independently but listened to an audio narration of a digital book with headphones. In a study of the youngest children, under two years old, parents held their children in their laps for both formats. In the digital version, a recorded voice read a book about animals aloud as a parent tapped the screen to turn the digital pages. In the print format, the child heard her own parent’s voice reading the names of the animals that were pictured on the pages, such as a horse or a koala.

By chance, this toddler study showed stronger learning outcomes for the digital picture book. Gabrielle Strouse, an educational psychologist at the University of South Dakota who ran this experiment, told me many of the children in her study had never seen a digital book and the novelty of it may have been mesmerizing, causing the children to pay more attention.

In most of the other studies, children were able to navigate the digital books themselves. Sometimes the digital texts were static just like the printed page. Other times, the text moved or changed to a bold font as the child heard the words.

Children were attracted to the many types of interactive buttons, pop ups and games that are embedded in digital books. A tap in the right place might play a noise. Children could seek treasures hidden on the screen. A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood might ask the child to color the character in with a virtual paintbrush or drag the character to perform an action. “It’s fun and enjoyable but it has nothing to do with the story,” said Natalia Kucirkova, a professor of early childhood development at the University of Stavanger in Norway.

Kucirkova, one of the authors of the March 2021 picture book meta-analysis, explained that her team wanted to learn which digital enhancements were working and which weren’t. They categorized all the add-ons as either story related or not story related. They found that the more unrelated bells and whistles, the worse a child’s comprehension was after reading the digital version of the story, compared to the print version.

Kucirkova believes that many digital books are overstimulating children and the unrelated add-ons are overtaxing a child’s “cognitive load.”

“With digital books, children get a lot of stimulation from the different senses,” Kucirkova explained, as they take in letters and pictures with their eyes, sounds with their ears and tap the screen with their fingers. “The amount of information that an individual needs to process is bigger if you have a lot of stimulation. The feedback they get from the digital device overwhelms children.”

By contrast, the researchers found that story-related enhancements reinforced the narrative and improved comprehension. Repetition of new vocabulary words that were central to the story helped. One book prompted children to use the story characters in the digital book to build their own story. “Those creativity games are very conducive to story recall,” said Kucirkova.

Another digital book asked the child to share the story with someone else. Other effective digital prompts were directed at a parent, telling her or him what to point out or ask while reading a digital book with a child. In a book about a little frog, a parent could point and ask a question, “Could the frog be here?” simultaneously connecting with the child and the story line. In other words, actively reading a digital version of a picture book with your child is good for comprehension.

“Even small digital enhancements actually make a lot of difference both ways, they can work well, or they can distract the child,” said Kucirkova.

. . . .

Indeed, when the authors looked at the books in the 39 studies by genre, the digital version was generally better for nonfiction, where there often isn’t a narrative story line to follow. Fiction, by contrast, was generally better on paper.  

I talked with Virginia Clinton-Lisell, a reading specialist at the University of North Dakota who has studied digital books. She pointed out that the slight harm to reading comprehension may be worth it if the digital books are so engaging that your child reads more books. None of these 39 studies looked at whether children read more when they had access to digital books. 

“A parent shouldn’t be overly concerned about a small difference in comprehension for a particular book,” said Clinton-Lisell. “Bottom line, if it’s a digital book that gets your kid to read, that’s great.”

Link to the rest at The Hechinger Report

PG notes that the title of the OP doesn’t take some of the material in the OP into consideration.

Additionally, he will note that the technology and design of modern printed books has been honed and improved for hundreds of years, generally speaking to maximize commercial success (which is not a bad thing at all). Most children’s ebooks with which PG is familiar are adapted from printed books as opposed to being born digital.

The iPad was introduced 11 years ago. The first Kindle was introduced 14 years ago. If you were to pick up the latest iPad or the latest Kindle and compare it to the first version, PG suggests that the first version would seem very outdated. Screen technology, interface design, size and weight have all evolved at a very rapid pace. That evolution is far from over.

As the OP implies, publishers of ebooks for children are all over the place with the technology they build into their content. PG would remind one and all that the trade publishers of books for children are, by and large, owned by the same people who own and run trade publishers focused on adults. Scholastic is the exception with both trade titles (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Goosebumps, Magic School Bus) and titles marketed through school book clubs, book fairs, etc.

PG can’t speak to Scholastic (also headquartered in New York City), but the other big trade publishers are not noted for their technology accomplishments and willingness to pay the salaries necessary to hire really good tech types.

PG’s bottom line on ebooks v. print for children is that the ebooks, including both the content and the device components, are a long way from reaching their full potential. He has nothing against printed books for either children or adults (and still owns a lot of printed books for children and adults, some of which are regularly used by various offspring), but he wouldn’t bet against ebooks for children over the long run.

Picture Books for Older Readers

From Publishing Perspectives:

In the pandemic autumn of 2020, [Claudia Zoe] Bedrick and Enchanted Lion announced Unruly, which she says is “a new imprint dedicated to making space for picture books created with older readers in mind. Innovation and genre-bending, complexity and difficult themes, philosophical ponderings and poetry have been hallmarks of Enchanted Lion from the start, but all of its titles were written as children’s literature.”

While the press remains committed to children’s literature, she says, “it still doesn’t capture the picture book’s full potential as a medium.

“Unruly titles will stand apart as visually complex works of fiction and nonfiction created for older readers.” Asked how old is “old,” she says, “Some books for readers 10 and older, others for teen and adult readers.”

There’s some evidence of this interest—can we call this a crossover title?—in Enchanted Lion’s lists. Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring, for example. It’s written by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Josh Cochran, and on awards both as a “book for kids” (New York Public Library and the Washington Post), simply as a “picture-book biography” (Kirkus) and a “best pick of 2020” (Chicago Public Library).

And Bedrick points to a Guardian editorial from Friday (March 19) about Nobel winner Olga Tokarczuk—with whose work Publishing Perspectives’ readers are very familiar—embarking on a picture book treatment of The Lost Soul with artist Joanna Concejo. Tokarczuk says she sees the form as “able to get through to anyone—regardless of age, cultural differences or level of education.”

What Bedrick says she sees happening in “reframing the readership’s age,” is a chance for Unruly to “open up space for a more complex exploration and instantiation of the relationship between text and image, while also inviting consideration of more mature topics. And these works will push the form through hybridization of picture book, graphic novel, artist’s journal, and art book conventions, while never relinquishing narrative, however experimental.”

The first Unruly title is to appear in June, The True Story of a Mouse Who Never Asked for It, a feminist retelling of a Spanish folktale written by Ana Cristina Herreros, illustrated by Violeta Lópiz, and translated from Spanish by Chloe Garcia Roberts.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Phantom Tollbooth Author Norton Juster Has Died at 91

From BookRiot:

Norton Juster, an architect and children’s book author best known for writing The Phantom Tollbooth, has died at age 91 at his home in Northampton, Massachusetts. His daughter Emily Juster said he had been dealing with health complications related to a stroke.

Juster was born in Brooklyn in 1929 to Samuel Juster and Minnie Silberman. Samuel Juster was a Romanian immigrant and became an architect, and Norton’s brother Howard was also an architect. Norton studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and then later city planning at the University of Liverpool. His penchant for children’s stories came out during his time in the Civil Engineer Corps of the United States Navy, which he joined in 1954.

During his ascent to Lieutenant Junior Grade, he started writing and illustrating children’s stories while stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Juster also started an exclusive membership group called the Garibaldi Society that existed solely to reject prospective members. These early days of his interest in children’s literature and meeting Jules Feiffer for the first time is outlined in The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth, which was published in 2011 for the 50 year anniversary of the book.

. . . .

In 1958, Juster started working as an architect in New York City and received a grant from the Ford Foundation to write a book about cities for children. This work got boring for him after a little while, and he was stuck in the Doldrums. He then began to write the story of Milo and his unintentional journey into the Lands Beyond. Jules Feiffer provided illustrations, and The Phantom Tollbooth came to readers in 1961. It went on to be adapted into an live action/animated film and a musical.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

The evolution of pandemic-era children’s book author events

From The Washington Post:

Jeff Kinney needs a shovel: a six-foot shovel, to be exact.

The creator of the extraordinarily popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series has been one of the few children’s book authors to host in-person events throughout the pandemic, even if they weren’t his usual raucous affairs. Back in 2019, during what he calls “the old days,” Kinney took his interactive tour to theaters across the United States and to seven countries, selling out huge venues at every stop.

“The travel, the thousands of people,” Kinney recalled, “it just seems so naive now.”

But in early 2020, like all his colleagues in the children’s book universe, Kinney couldn’t go to the corner store, much less a packed theater. And for an author who admits that he needs the payoff of seeing his readers engaged and happy, the thought of not being around kids didn’t sit well.

“Touring gives me closure,” Kinney said last fall. “It’s a lonely business to write and illustrate, and I need that connection.”

Kinney is not the only author who feels that way.

“Oh, I need it,” author-illustrator Jay Cooper said. “Actual interaction with kids is a well of energy. You don’t always realize how empty your well is when you’re writing, but you can sure tell when kids fill it up again.”

Lamar Giles, a young adult author and founding member of We Need Diverse Books, knows that feeling. Giles had packed more than 30 author visits into the first couple of months of 2020 and had a full schedule for the rest of the year, but during the first week of March, he found himself stranded in a Seattle hotel room after his series of school visits in the city was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“My first thought was, how am I going to get home?” he said. “But my second thought was, I am really going to miss seeing these kids.”

But grief gave way to reality: If authors wanted to interact with their readers, they were going to have to get creative.

“It’s difficult to engage on a screen, especially with really young children,” Newbery winner Meg Medina said. “As an author, the last thing I want is to ask teachers and parents, who are already stretched so thin, to take on more work to keep their kids engaged while I am talking into a computer.”

Phil Bildner “has to be a magician” to keep kids engaged when he does his virtual author visits, he said. But Bildner is also a booking agent, so he knows that these virtual events are an absolute necessity, no matter the steepness of the learning curve.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG has opined previously about what a waste of time he believes that traditional city-to-city book tours are for most, perhaps all, authors.

He’ll let visitors to TPV opine about whether book tours by children’s authors are worth the time and strange hotel rooms that may be less than ideal for writing. Including the recovery time following a book tour.

PG just considered how much Amazon advertising could be purchased for the cost of a book tour. The efficacy of that comparison would, of course, assume that the publisher was willing to hire someone who actually knew how to create, purchase and place online ads effectively. (Note: People who are really good at that sort of thing and who can generate results tend to be in high demand and charge accordingly.)

6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published anymore because they portray people in ‘hurtful and wrong’ ways

From CNN:

Six Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the business that preserves the author’s legacy said.The titles are:

  • “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”
  • “If I Ran the Zoo”
  • “McElligot’s Pool”
  • “On Beyond Zebra!”
  • “Scrambled Eggs Super!”
  • “The Cat’s Quizzer”

. . . .

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” it said.The announcement was made Tuesday, the birthday of the famed children’s book author.

. . . .

Seuss, born Theodor Seuss Geisel, is one of the best-known authors in the world, the man behind beloved classics like “The Cat in the Hat,” “Green Eggs and Ham” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” among others. Over 650 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide, the Washington Post reported in 2015.

But Dr. Seuss had a long history of publishing racist and anti-Semitic work, spanning back to the 1920s when he was a student at Dartmouth College. There, Dr. Seuss once drew Black boxers as gorillas and perpetuated Jewish stereotypes by portraying Jewish characters as financially stingy, according to a study published in the journal “Research on Diversity in Youth Literature.”

That study, published in 2019, examined 50 books by Dr. Seuss and found 43 out of the 45 characters of color have “characteristics aligning with the definition of Orientalism,” or the stereotypical, offensive portrayal of Asia. The two “African” characters, the study says, both have anti-Black characteristics.

. . . .

Two specific examples, according to the study, are found in the books “The Cat’s Quizzer: Are YOU Smarter Than the Cat in the Hat?” and “If I Ran the Zoo.”

“In (“The Cat’s Quizzer”), the Japanese character is referred to as ‘a Japanese,’ has a bright yellow face, and is standing on what appears to be Mt. Fuji,” the authors wrote.

Regarding “If I Ran the Zoo,” the study points out another example of Orientalism and White supremacy.

“The three (and only three) Asian characters who are not wearing conical hats are carrying a White male on their heads in ‘If I Ran the Zoo.’ The White male is not only on top of, and being carried by, these Asian characters, but he is also holding a gun, illustrating dominance. The text beneath the Asian characters describes them as ‘helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant’ from ‘countries no one can spell,'” the study authors wrote.

Link to the rest at CNN

PG doesn’t question the commercial decision that lead to this action and other similar cessations of publication, but he is annoyed by the accompanying school-marmish lecture that is appears to be designed to educate the unwashed masses concerning the right way of looking at and thinking about nearly everything.

PG would have preferred something like, “Although these books were not deemed offensive by most Americans when they were published, times and community standards have changed and they are regarded as offensive by some people today. So, we’ve made the decision to cease publication of these books. We think that Dr. Seuss would agree with this decision if he were alive today.”

PG will note that the OP describes now-offensive behavior of Seuss/Geisel when he was a student at Dartmouth one hundred years ago.

For those visitors to TPV from outside the United States, Dartmouth is a prestigious academic institution and a member of the Ivy League, which includes some of the most respected and highly-ranked colleges and universities in the country.

Presumably, we know of the Dartmouth creations of Seuss/Geisel because they were published at the time. PG is not an expert concerning Seuss/Geisel or Dartmouth, but he is not aware that Seuss/Geisel was expelled from Dartmouth or was condemned by the faculty or his fellow students for his behavior and creative output at that time.

One of the now-condemned Dr. Seuss books, If I Ran the Zoo, was published by Random House, a major New York publisher, and an undoubted “curator of the literary culture” in the United States.

Random House was co-founded by Bennett Cerf (Columbia, 1919, 1920), who became a well-known and respected public figure and television celebrity in this country.

Cerf was instrumental in obtaining publishing contracts with a large number of highly-successful and respected authors, including William Faulkner (Nobel Prize, 1949), John O’Hara, Eugene O’Neill, James Michener and Truman Capote.

In 1933, Cerf won United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, a landmark court case against government censorship, and thereafter Cerf and Random House were the first in the United States to publish James Joyce’s unabridged Ulysses, which had been previously declared as pornographic and banned from publication. Pornography was a previous generation’s version of what is sometimes described as political incorrectness today.

Here is the Random House’ s description of If I Ran the Zoo from the Amazon listing for the book:

Animals abound in Dr. Seuss’s Caldecott Honor–winning picture book If I Ran the Zoo. Gerald McGrew imagines the myriad of animals he’d have in his very own zoo, and the adventures he’ll have to go on in order to gather them all. Featuring everything from a lion with ten feet to a Fizza-ma-Wizza-ma-Dill, this is a classic Seussian crowd-pleaser. In fact, one of Gerald’s creatures has even become a part of the language: the Nerd!

Here is the Amazon.com Review of If I Ran the Zoo:

“It’s a pretty good zoo,” said young Gerald McGrew, “and the fellow who runs it seems proud of it, too.” But if Gerald ran the zoo, the New Zoo, McGrew Zoo, he’d see to making a change or two: “So I’d open each cage. I’d unlock every pen, let the animals go, and start over again.” And that’s just what Gerald imagines, as he travels the world in this playfully illustrated Dr. Seuss classic (first published back in 1950), collecting all sorts of beasts “that you don’t see every day.” From the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant to the blistering sands of the Desert of Zind, Gerald hunts down every animal imaginable (“I’ll catch ’em in countries no one can spell, like the country of Motta-fa-Potta-fa-Pell”). Whether it’s a scraggle-foot Mulligatawny or a wild-haired Iota (from “the far western part of south-east North Dakota”), Gerald amazes the world with his new and improved zoo: “This Zoo Keeper, New Keeper’s simply astounding! He travels so far that you think he would drop! When do you suppose this young fellow will stop?”

But Gerald’s weird and wonderful globe-trotting safari doesn’t end a moment too soon: “young McGrew’s made his mark. He’s built a zoo better than Noah’s whole Ark!” Some of the text and illustrations–imaginative as they are–are obviously dated, such as the following passage: “I’ll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant/ With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant,/ And capture a fine fluffy bird called the Bustard/ Who only eats custard with sauce made of mustard.” And your children may be the first to recognize that attitudes have changed since the xenophobic ’50s. But that doesn’t mean this tale need be discarded; instead, it should be discussed. Ironically, Seuss was trying here–in his wild, explosive, and sometimes careless manner–to celebrate the joys of unconventionality and the bliss of liberation! (Ages 4 to 8)

PG has gone on for too long, but he predicts that, in the long-standing tradition of human nature, one hundred years in the future, someone, somewhere will be loudly condemning the unforgiveable insensitivity and primitive stupidity of the clods and Neanderthals of 2021.

Scholastic and PRH Remain Untouchable as Top Children’s Publishers

From Publishers Weekly:

Scholastic’s trade group has been on a hot streak for over a year, and that performance is reflected in the publisher’s dominance of PW’s children’s fiction bestseller list in 2020. The company had 53 books that made the frontlist fiction chart last year, up from 43 in 2019. Those titles also averaged longer stays on the chart, occupying 574 bestseller list positions. There are 25 titles on each of PW’s weekly children’s lists, for a total of 1,300 positions on each list over the course of a year—meaning that Scholastic had 44.1% of the frontlist fiction bestseller positions, up from 28.8% a year ago.

Scholastic author Dav Pilkey’s Fetch-22 (Dog Man #8) was on our frontlist fiction chart every week in 2020, and Scholastic published six of the top 10 titles with the longest runs on last year’s bestseller list. Another title in Pilkey’s Dog Man series, For Whom the Ball Rolls, spent 34 weeks on the list.

Pilkey is a mainstay of PW’s annual review of the children’s fiction bestseller lists, but Scott Cawthon, while a bestselling author, has not always finished high in our year-end tallies. In 2020, though, he had two books in his Five Nights at Freddy’s series with long frontlist fiction chart runs: The Silver Eyes was on the list for 44 weeks, and Into the Pit had a 33-week run. Other Scholastic top sellers were the 10th volume in Aaron Blabey’s Bad Guys series, The Bad Guys in the Baddest Day Ever, which had a 35-week stay, as did J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, illustrated by Jim Kay.

Scholastic’s tremendous 2020 showing on the children’s frontlist fiction chart meant down years for most other publishers. Simon & Schuster took the biggest hit in 2020, falling from second place on the ranking in 2019 to fifth place. In 2019, S&S’s bestseller performance benefitted from the release of the movie Five Feet Apart; the original Five Feet Apart novel by Rachael Lippincott was on our list for 35 weeks, and the tie-in edition had a 28-week run.

HarperCollins slipped into second place on the children’s frontlist fiction bestsellers by corporation ranking, with a 10.5% share of chart positions. HC had two titles with long frontlist fiction bestseller runs last year: The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate hit the list for 33 weeks, and FGTeeV Presents: Into the Game!, published by HarperAlley, stayed on the list for 32 weeks.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly