Children’s Books

The Greta Gerwig Trick For A Modern ‘Little Women’: ‘Make It Sad’

6 December 2019

From The HuffPost:

Greta Gerwig kept pausing, sometimes midsentence. It was a Monday night in early November, and her newest movie, “Little Women,” echoed through the halls of the Manhattan theater where awards voters were among the first to see it. She shot it on film, and a projectionist needed to switch reels at the exact right moment so the action didn’t skip a beat. Gerwig was nervous. “It’s very easy to f*** up,” she said. She stopped periodically to listen, the sounds of the famous March sisters flooding our greenroom.

Nothing went awry, at least not during the 45 minutes I spent with Gerwig, who was beginning the monthslong promotional blitz required of a Christmas Day release that’s based on a beloved book and headed for Oscar contention. But you’d forgive those interruptions, too. “Little Women” isn’t Gerwig’s first solo directorial achievement — that’s the 2017 coming-of-age hit “Lady Bird” — yet it is the movie she was destined to make, as corny as that sounds. Of course she was nervous.

. . . .

Like “A Star Is Born” last year, “Little Women” is a testament to once-a-generation adaptations. The previous big-screen rendition, featuring Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst, opened 25 years ago, allowing enough distance to justify another interpretation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic text. (Before that, Hollywood had adapted “Women” five times, including versions starring Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor.) In the same way that Lady Gaga’s “Star Is Born” performance implicated those of Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, Gerwig’s “Little Women” offers a meta approach to Alcott’s words and the reactions they’ve elicited over the past 150 years.

During their second week of production last October, Gerwig and her cast went to see “A Star Is Born” near Concord, Massachusetts, which is where they shot the film and where much of it takes place. “We sobbed our faces off,” she said. “If you’re starting with great source material and the heart of something eternal — I mean, how many productions of ‘Hamlet’ have there been? We revisit these because they say something to us. I think what was astonishing to me when I read ‘Little Women’ as an adult was how … ”

. . . .

Gerwig’s “Little Women” is a dissertation on the passage of time, the evolution of femininity and the weight of shared stories.

. . . .

“It wasn’t that I was looking for the bigger thing and then this was the bigger thing,” she said. “It’s that this is what I wanted to do, and it needed more bells and whistles. It needed the whole confetti factory. One thing that I loved about ‘Little Women’ was that there were so many different things about it that were new to tackle for me, [like] the world-building of the time period and creating something consistent but interesting but modern but genuine but period-correct but not slavishly devoted.”

Saying her “Little Women” isn’t slavishly devoted might be an understatement. Gerwig knew immediately that she would restructure Alcott’s linear tale, beginning when the four March sisters are adults and using flashbacks to navigate the defining recollections of their youth. Her approach is both reverent and fresh, wistful and progressive. Events unspool as the protagonists look back at a bygone time when they resided under one roof, poor but spirited.

. . . .

As a girl, Gerwig skipped the novel’s second half, finding the depiction of marriage and maturation unrelatable. Now, it’s what most interests her. For that reason, she wanted to make a “Little Women” for adults. Memories — “the way you’re always looking back to go forward,” as she described it — are a fulcrum that guides the characters’ sense of themselves. No single moment better distills that essence than a line delivered by a grown-up March: “I can’t believe childhood is over.”

. . . .

In independent-minded writer Jo, the second-eldest March sibling, she found a kindred soul. The movie begins with adult Jo (Saoirse Ronan, who also headlined “Lady Bird”) preparing to enter a New York publisher’s office to sell a story she’s composed. At first, we see only Jo’s back — “like a boxer,” head lowered, shoulders wide. Moments later, she’s running through town in a mad dash that resembles a popular “Frances Ha” scene wherein Gerwig’s title character sprints down a Chinatown street. (“I’m interested in women in motion,” Gerwig said. “Of course I am.”) Another two hours pass, and after gracefully hopscotching across timelines, the film concludes with a shot of Jo’s face in that same office. No matter the financial and emotional trials that intervened, she has won the match.

“I wanted it to be a palindrome,” Gerwig explained. “I wanted it to read backwards and forwards, so the movie starts on her back and ends on her face so that you could start the movie again from the beginning. It’s a circle.”

That quote alone defines the Gerwig who has blossomed over the course of the 2010s: literary, analytical, witty.

Link to the rest at The HuffPost

PG hesitates to draw conclusions from anything he sees in The HuffPost, but this sounds like a disaster for any who loved the book. For their sakes, he hopes he is wrong.

Excitable Edgar under fire: John Lewis plagiarism claims are now Christmas tradition

18 November 2019
Comments Off on Excitable Edgar under fire: John Lewis plagiarism claims are now Christmas tradition

From The Guardian:

There are two traditions that are rapidly becoming as good markers to the start of the festive season as an advent calendar: John Lewis releasing its Christmas ad and children’s authors accusing the retailer of ripping their books off.

Five years ago, readers spotted similarities between Oliver Jeffers’ Lost and Found, about a boy and a penguin, and John Lewis’s ad about a boy and his penguin. Last year, it was the turn of former children’s laureate Chris Riddell, who noticed similarities between John Lewis’s blue furry monster that hid under the bed, and his own creation, the blue furry Mr Underbed. “The idea of a monster under the bed is by no means new but the ad does seem to bear a close resemblance to my creation – a big blue unthreatening monster who rocks the bed and snores loudly,” said Riddell at the time; Mr Underbed went on to sell out.

This year, more than one children’s writer is feeling aggrieved about John Lewis’s new ad, Excitable Edgar, in which a small dragon keeps spoiling festivities for a village – burning down the tree, melting a snowman – until a girl finds him a job to do (lighting the Christmas pudding). Author Jen Campbell wrote on Twitter: “If you enjoyed this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert, then you’ll love our book Franklin’s Flying Bookshop, all about a dragon called Franklin (who the locals are scared of) & his best friend, a red-haired girl called Luna. Y’know. Just saying.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

No goose is an island: the Brexit picture books for children of all ages

4 November 2019

From The Guardian:

While the adult world is having trouble getting to grips with Brexit, children’s authors are taking a new approach: translating the whole sorry mess into a story with animals, where they hope it will start to make clearer sense.

Two new picture books attempt to make Brexit accessible to children. Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Robert Starling’s The Little Island sees a gaggle of geese hatch a plan to leave their farm, only for their solitary life on an island to go wrong. And in Richard David Lawman and Katie Williams’ I Want to Leave This Book, a cast of animals vote – unsuccessfully – on which sort of story they’d like to be part of.

Prasadam-Halls’ modern-day fable, described by Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler as “an Animal Farm for our times”, has already sold out of its first print run. A paperback edition is now being brought forward to meet demand.

“In The Little Island, I’ve tried to translate the complexity of recent events into a story simple and satisfying enough for the youngest – and oldest – child to grasp and to present a conversation starter, a launchpad, to some of the more serious issues of our time,” says Prasadam-Halls, whose book opens with a quote from one John Duck: “No goose is an island entire of itself; every goose is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

. . . .

Before writing the book, she had been deeply troubled by the changes she was seeing in British society.

“We’ve started to hear words being used again that we have long considered to be totally unacceptable. It has been so troubling to hear aggressive slogans and toxic language used in the highest of offices. Language has such power and when words are used as weapons they cause great damage,” she says. “So I have tried to speak a story of solidarity and friendship into that landscape.”

Her setting felt “absolutely natural” for a dissection of the divide between leave and remain. “Farmyard animals lend friendliness and charm and bring unexpected humour and warmth to what might otherwise feel a heavy topic – especially as we see ourselves parodied in the story,” she says. “They also help us to feel a degree of empathy for all the characters – whichever side of the bridge they are … Animals help us get closer to the heart of the issues and feel a shared humanity.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

 

Reading for fun declines between ages 8 and 9

30 October 2019

From The Washington Post (March 20, 2019):

Studies have shown that proficient readers are more likely to be successful in school and life, partly because better reading skills make it easier for students to access curriculum in all subjects. So the Kids and Family Reading Report issued this week by Scholastic, which showed a significant decrease between ages 8 and 9 in the number of children who think of themselves as frequent readers, is somewhat discouraging.

According to Scholastic’s 2018 survey of more than 1,000 pairs of children ages 6 to 17 and their parents, 57 percent of 8-year-olds say they read books for fun five to seven days each week. But only 35 percent of 9-year-olds report similar reading habits. Another aspect of this “decline by nine” is the number of kids who say they love reading, which goes from 40 percent of 8-year-olds to 28 percent of 9-year-olds.

“When I read that finding, I felt this pit in my stomach, because that age can be a truly magical time for readers, when they are making the leap from struggling with phonics to using reading as a gateway to explore learning,” says Lauren Tarshis, . . . . “For kids who are struggling at that point, the expectations of learners ratchet up…. The focus shifts from reading for fun to suddenly there’s a pressure to make sure that kids can read in a manner where they can demonstrate proficiency.”

There are also increasing demands on kids’ time as they get older, whether it’s sports and other extracurricular activities or the lure of technology, including addictive video games. The high-stakes tests and academic pressure aren’t likely to disappear any time soon, so it’s up to parents and teachers to convey to kids that reading isn’t a chore. We need to teach them that it can be a fun way to explore different places and life experiences, or that it’s a simple escape from everyday life.

. . . .

Focus less on the reading levels of books. Parents tend to fixate on a child’s reading level and insist on choosing books based on that. But what they are reading isn’t as important as the fact that they are reading, [book buyer Mary Alice] Garber says. Parents should encourage free-range reading, and let children choose whatever interests them. She also suggests enlisting a librarian or bookstore employee to help your child choose books that will engage them or take them in a new direction.

“That person can help guide or redirect or encourage your child, and say, ‘Could you read this book and come back and tell me what you think?’” Garber says. “That gives the child a sense of power, a feeling that their opinion counts. Those relationships are really important.”

Don’t censure their choices. Garber says parents may be tempted to disparage their children’s choices in books, particularly when kids gravitate to graphic novels or series. But that is a mistake, she says. Graphic novels can be appealing to kids at this age, in particular, because they are a sort of hybrid between picture books and more advanced reading, and can help kids make the transition. They also require readers to synthesize images with text. And devouring a series is no different from an adult seeking more books by an author they’ve enjoyed, Garber says.

. . . .

Read broadly. Scholastic’s report shows that about half of kids ages 9 to 17, and parents with kids ages 6 to 17, say they wish there were more books available to reflect the diversity of the world we live in.

. . . .

Resist the parental imposed/required reading over the summer. Each school and school district handles this differently. Some schools provide lists of suggested reading for the summer break, broken down by grade level. Others have specific books kids and teens are expected to read and write a report on before returning to school in the fall.

“You can’t avoid it, there’s no way to,” Garber says of prescribed summer reading. “But I wonder if it’s a shared experience, if that might help.” Garber suggests getting an audio version of the text to listen to as a family on a long car trip, and using it as a way to spark a conversation about the book. Let kids choose some leisure reading (remember those graphic novels and series?) as a break from required material. She also likes the idea of selecting books that are enjoyable at different levels: one that is a fairly easy read, something in the middle and one that is challenging, to take some of the struggle out of the mandatory reading. After all, summer is supposed to be more laid back.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

‘Only a quid’: woman reunited with childhood book in museum shop

22 October 2019

From The Guardian:

A woman has been reunited with a copy of The Secret Garden she owned as a child, serendipitously discovering it for sale on the shelves of the Museum of English Rural Life shop.

The MERL, which made news last year for sending an 18th-century schoolboy’s doodles of a chicken in trousers viral, acquired the Ladybird Children’s Classics edition from a charity shop in Wallingford for its collection of second-hand books. On Friday, it was picked up by its former owner, Zoe Andrews, who looked inside and saw it had her sister’s name in the front cover, written in characters that she’d dreamed up as a child.

The MERL’s digital editor Joe Vaughan tweeted about the discovery. “Today, the past sent something back, in our museum, in our strange house of time, like a letter returned to sender,” he wrote. “It’s not every day that you pick up a book, open it, and, in the inside cover, find your sister’s name, in hieroglyphics … the ones you wrote when you were kids.”

Andrews “couldn’t believe it when I found this book … Had to repurchase it. What are the chances?!” She couldn’t remember any details about the secret language her and her sister had written on the book. “I had a grid on a sheet of paper with a ‘key’ as to what symbols meant what. This is going back many years, probably 1993/94.”

MERL director Kate Arnold-Forster said: “One of the most unexpected yet fascinating aspects of libraries is discovering books that bear traces of their readers’ lives, moving us to speculate about how they were read and enjoyed. That it’s The Secret Garden – a novel that has survived generations and provided a magical escape for so many readers – makes this story all the more wonderful.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Here’s the original cover of US edition of The Secret Garden, first published in 1911:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924). Publisher: New York: F.A. Stokes, 1911.

 

And here’s the original frontispiece from the 1911 edition.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924). Publisher: New York: F.A. Stokes, 1911.


 
And an illustration from the 1912 British edition:

‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, illustrated by Charles Robinson. Published 1912 by William Heinemann, London.

. . .
And a 100th Anniversary edition (yes, PG knows it’s been more than 100 years) available on Amazon:

Dav Pilkey credits his ADHD for his massive success

16 October 2019
Comments Off on Dav Pilkey credits his ADHD for his massive success

From The Washington Post:

By any measure in publishing, cartoonist Dav Pilkey is a rock star.The children’s author created his characters Captain Underpants (a superhero for grade-schoolers) and Dog Man (a hound-supercop) while an Ohio second-grader, sitting alone in the hall during class as a result of his ADHD.Now Pilkey is 53, and “Dog Man” — a franchise that has sold millions — is perched atop the New York Times bestsellers list for children’s series, while “Captain Underpants” is at No. 8 (both books have sat on the list for years).

. . . .

Q: You have used puns like “The Hallo-weiner” in your books. What’s your most shameless pun?

A: It might be “Hally Tosis.” And I can’t take credit for that — that’s my dad’s joke. We had a dog when I was a kid and her name was Halle, and she did have a horrible breath. My dad used to call her “Halle Tosis.” And I just thought that was a funny, cutesy little name until I was a little bit older and I realized what it was.

Q: At what age were you diagnosed with attention deficit and dyslexia?

A: I was probably about 8. They didn’t have the term ADHD. They called it extreme hyperactivity disorder. Back in those days, the specialists prescribed caffeine for me, so I was drinking coffee for breakfast.

Q: How did that work out?

A: The only way I could get it down was, my mom would put in chocolate syrup with cream. I think I was so buzzed off the sugar that it didn’t quite work out.

Q: And you had to sit in the hall in elementary school?

A: So little was known about those conditions back in those days, and I think it was just seen as I was distracting everyone in the class with my silliness. I couldn’t stay in my chair and keep my mouth shut. So the teachers from second to fifth grade just put me in the hall. It ended up being kind of a blessing for me, too, because it gave me time to draw and to create stories and comics. I guess I made lemonade out of it.

Q: So you created Captain Underpants while in school?

A: I did. And Dog Man, as well. They were the first comics that I remember creating. In fact, my second-grade teacher gave me the idea for Captain Underpants. She mentioned underwear in class and everyone laughed and I was like: “Oh, that’s a good subject. I’ll do something with that.” And so that was that.

Q: So while you were sitting in the hall, you were also sitting on a future publishing empire?

A: Making comics was a way for me to stay connected to my classmates. I wasn’t just a kid in the hallway. I guess in a way I’m still trying to connect with my readers.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

How the American Girl Series Shaped My Reading, Imagination, and Humor

9 October 2019
Comments Off on How the American Girl Series Shaped My Reading, Imagination, and Humor

From Book Riot:

As an elementary school girl in the ’90s who loved reading and history, I was the target consumer for the first generation of the American Girl dolls. The dolls were all preteen girl characters from different ethnicities, eras, and regions. For my 8th birthday in July 1997, I got a Kirsten doll—one of the three original historical dolls. Kirsten Larson is a Swedish immigrant who lives with her family on the Minnesota frontier in the 1850s.

Each doll had her own clothing, accessories, furniture, and book series. Collecting all of it would have been very expensive, but I kept the doll and her items in pristine condition. If I’d been a couple of years younger, I wouldn’t have taken good care of the doll or been interested in the history yet. I had one American Girl doll with a bed and a few outfits, but I read all the books. If I’d read the books first, I would have chosen Addy Walker, an African American girl who reaches freedom, instead.

. . . .

For Christmas, almost six months after I got my Kirsten doll, my parents bought me the computer game The American Girls Premiere. The game allowed players to create multiple-act plays starring the characters. We could select the main character, her supporting cast, sets, props, lighting, and more. Computer animation and AI from the ’90s would seem slow and clunky today. As my cousins and I typed dialogue, we realized that the robotic voice would speak in run-on sentences unless we punctuated them. We found it hilarious that it hadn’t been programmed to pronounce Addy’s friend M’Dear’s nickname correctly. We made each other laugh uproariously just by making the deadpan voice say, “Hell-O, EM-Deer!”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Give Kids Good Books And They’ll Love Reading Forever

8 October 2019

From The Huffington Post:

Is it weird that I’m almost 30 and my favorite books are kid’s books?

The first book I read this year was Renee Watson’s 2018 children’s novel “Piecing Me Together.” I picked it up thanks to its beautiful cover and relatively short chapters. But those brief sections of text held a complex story about a young Black girl trying to navigate identity, privilege and history in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, that my adult self found wholly relatable.

Sales of children’s books and young adult, or YA, fiction have boomed in recent years, especially for books that tackle mature subject matter, from gender and sexuality in Alex Gino’s “George,” to the movement for Black lives as featured in Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give.” In Jenny Han’s 2014 book “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” kids can learn lessons about love and friendship in the 21st century; in R.J. Palacio’s 2012 book “Wonder,” they can develop language around chronic illness and acceptance; through Tiffany Jackson’s “Monday’s Not Coming,” they can get a better grasp on headline-making stories, such as that of the missing Black and brown girls in Washington, D.C.

. . . .

Some of the most popular books currently on bookstands are intended for younger readers. There are so many graphic novels, chapter books, picture books and poetry collections written just for kids, all of which teach them important lessons on life that grown-ups will get a kick out of too. While at 28 years old, I’m devouring these titles, sadly the intended audience is barely nibbling on the rich literature available to them.

. . . .

A love of reading and storytelling sets kids up for socioeconomic success as they grow through life. But if the numbers are to be believed, as kids advance in age, they tend to fall out of love with reading. And who can blame them, really, when what they’re told to read becomes increasingly dense and outdated as they make their way through school? Common Core standards have long been criticized for taking the fun out of English class, as students are given nonfiction and articles to read since that’s the type of content they’ll encounter in college. Just before this school year began, Florida’s Department of Education unveiled their student reading list for Kindergarten through 12th grade. With few exceptions, most of the books on the list were published between 1800 and 1950 and featured mostly white characters penned by mostly white male authors.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

For the record, PG does not agree with the premise that correlating the race and gender of an author with those of a reader is the key to permitting a child or teenager with a book.

PG will note that JK Rowling certainly knew/knows how to connect with boys with her books. Nicholas Sparks seems to know how to connect with female readers.

See also Fox in the Hen House? Romance Authors You Didn’t Know Are Men and Meet the Male Writers Who Hide Their Gender to Attract Female Readers.

See also The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, featuring testosterone-poisoned Howard Roark, and Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, who, if PG remembers correctly, was 18 years old when she started writing the book, which many would have considered completely unsuitable for a young woman in her time.

Next Page »