Debut novel by Millie Bobby Brown reignites debate over ghostwritten celebrity books

From The Guardian:

The publication of Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown’s debut novel has reignited a debate over ghostwritten celebrity books.

Brown’s Nineteen Steps, inspired by her grandmother’s experience of the 1943 Bethnal Green tube disaster, was ghostwritten by author Kathleen McGurl and published on Tuesday. The cover of the book features only Brown’s name.

In response to a now-deleted tweet by Waterstones promoting the book, many Twitter users criticised Brown. “You should be ashamed,” wrote one. “Ghostwritten celebrity novels have ruined children’s literature and now they’re doing the same thing to adult fiction.”

On Tuesday, Brown posted an image on Instagram of herself holding the book standing next to McGurl, with the caption: “I couldn’t have done this without you!” Below the post, many comments were critical of Brown, claiming that the actor was “taking the credit” and that McGurl’s name “should be on the cover”.

However, others came to Brown’s defence. “People love to attack people who trigger them and Millie is young, beautiful, famous and rich,” Catherine Yardley, author of Ember, told the Guardian. She said that a lot of the criticism came down to “jealousy”, “ageism” and “sexism” – “I can’t think of one man who has had this level of criticism,” she added.

Brown is not the first celebrity to be criticised for using a ghostwriter. “We’ve seen it in relation to many young, female stars,” said Dr Hannah Yelin, author of Celebrity Memoir: From Ghostwriting to Gender Politics. “Zoella’s [media personality Zoë Sugg] first memoir comes to mind as an example which saw her lambasted in the media for breaking some kind of implicit social contract.”

Katie Price and Naomi Campbell are among the celebrities who have also used ghostwriters for their fiction books. “Collaborative authorship is nothing new and exists in many celebrated forms,” added Yelin. “From political speechwriters to editors like Maxwell Perkins who helped F Scott Fitzgerald with The Great Gatsby”. Shannon Kyle, a ghostwriter who started the Ghostwriters Agency, agreed that ghostwriting “has been around for a long, long time – since the days of Shakespeare”.

Kyle said that it was “part of the celeb culture” to front products such as perfumes, clothing ranges, beauty lines and food products that celebrities might not have been involved in the technical side of creating. Brown’s transparency about her use of a ghostwriter was “refreshing”, added Kyle, and “it doesn’t diminish her involvement, because ultimately it is her family story, and it wouldn’t be happening without her”. Yardley added that “the public might feel cheated”, but that Brown was “being open about it”.

In a blog post in March, McGurl explained that she was sent “a lot of research that had already been pulled together by Millie and her family, and plenty of ideas”. Brown and McGurl then had a “couple” of Zoom calls before McGurl wrote the first draft. Brown continued to send the writer ideas via WhatsApp, and the book went through several drafts as the pair “refined the story”.

Kyle said that the “public perception” of ghostwriters was shifting, which was a “good thing” because there were “some parts of the industry where ghostwriters can be subject to being a bit exploited”.

She believes that celebrities speaking about their ghostwriters will happen “more and more”, because the more celebrities talk about it, “the more acceptable it becomes”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian


Judge Sets Second Hearing on Motion to Block Texas Book Rating Law

From Publishers Weekly:

On August 18, Federal Judge Alan D. Albright heard the first round of oral arguments in Austin, Tex., on a motion to block HB 900, Texas’s controversial new book rating law. But with Texas attorneys filing a motion to dismiss the case just days earlier, on August 16, Albright said he would need more time before ruling on either motion. The judge has set a second hearing for August 28, adding that he would rule before the law is set to take effect on September 1.

The plaintiffs in the case fighting HB 900 include two Texas bookstores—Austin’s BookPeople and Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop—together with the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Dubbed the READER Act by supporters (an acronym for “Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resource”), the bill was signed by Texas governor Greg Abbott on June 12. Among its provisions, the law requires book vendors to review books—including both new books and books it has previously sold—and to rate them for sexual content under a vaguely articulated standard. Books rated “sexually explicit” (if the book includes material deemed “patently offensive” by unspecified community standards) would be banned from Texas schools. Books rated “sexually relevant,” (if the books portrays any kind of sexual conduct) would be available only with written parental consent.

As articulated in their July 25 complaint, the plaintiffs argued that the law is an unconstitutional restraint on the freedom to read and that the law imposes an untenable burden on the book vendors tasked with rating millions of books. As evidence of this, the plaintiffs said that a survey of six school districts in Texas revealed more than six million books and items in circulation that would require rating. Texas has more than 1,250 independent school districts; Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston determined that the process for the district to review a single book required 220 staff hours and cost a total of $30,000.

Texas attorneys opened the August 18 arguments by reiterating their argument that the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the law, asserting that there was no “economic injury” to the plaintiffs, who “feared too many things.” The harm was purely “speculative,” said the attorneys. Furthermore, the state argued that any prospective injury should be attributable to the individual school districts deciding which books to purchase, not the state. And finally, the state argued that the law does not compel or restrict speech as the plaintiffs argue. “If this bill didn’t exist,” the state argued, “you cannot sue the school district to force them to buy books from the vendor.”

In his questions, Albright pointed out that the law as currently written does appear vague and unclear. He focused on the plaintiffs’ inability to “get relief” from the school districts should books be rated incorrectly. In addition, he noted that the law must address the future implications of a law, in this case, the potential for financial injury.

Albright also offered several implied criticisms of the law in the course of seeking clarification, asking whether or not John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men would be deemed obscene because it contains a rape, and subsequently E. Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain and the Bible, both of which have explicit sexual references. He also asked after the fate of books depicting paintings by Caravaggio (the judge’s “favorite painter,” he said) and Michelangelo. Albright acknowledged that there were certainly works that could easily be deemed “sexually relevant,” but the part of the law that allowed books to be objected to if they were “patently offensive” and violated community standards, he implied, was problematic.

“Community standards vary wildly across Texas,” Albright said, echoing a point often made by opponents of the law. “What would be deemed acceptable in Austin might likely be objected to somewhere else.”

In response, the state countered that there were “clear guidelines” as to what was considered sexual content. But Albright pointed out that the law’s broadly articulated standard is essentially cut-and-pasted from the state’s obscenity law, noting, for example, that anything depicting a female breast below the top of the areolae was considered sexual: “You just excluded Caravaggio and Michelangelo,” the judge told attorneys.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG cautions that a judge’s comments and questions during a hearing do not always reflect how she/he will rule. However, the OP does lead one to conclude the court is skeptical of the state’s defense of the law.

Jacqueline Wilson says rewriting children’s books can be justified

From The Guardian:

Jacqueline Wilson has said editing children’s books to remove inappropriate and dated language is sometimes justified because young people do not have “a sense of history”.

However, the bestselling children’s author told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that she was opposed to “meddling with adult classics”.

Children’s books by authors such as Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl have been rewritten by publishers to take out words and references that are deemed inappropriate or offensive today.

In February, Puffin Books hired sensitivity readers to review Dahl’s texts to make sure his books could “continue to be enjoyed by all today”.

Hundreds of changes included replacing the word “fat” with “enormous”, and changing “ugly and beastly” to “beastly”. “Old hag” in Dahl’s The Witches was changed to “old crow”.

Blyton’s books, including The Famous Five, Noddy and Malory Towers, dating back to the 1940s, have also undergone “sensitive text revisions”. Words such as “queer” or “gay” have been replaced because of their contemporary meanings relating to sexuality.

Blyton has also been criticised for racism and xenophobia in her books.

While some have welcomed the changes, others have criticised the rewriting of classics, saying it is a form of censorship.

Wilson said her view on such changes depended on “how it’s done”.

She added: “There are some things I think that would make us a bit worried if we returned to our old children’s favourites and read them with fresh eyes. We might be a little surprised.

“I think with children, they often absorb texts. They still haven’t got the power to sort things out and have a sense of history.”

Wilson has been involved in updating earlier works. Last year, she wrote The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure, a reimagining of a Blyton novel.

Her version is without Blyton’s sexist stereotypes and “unfortunate references that were very ordinary in their times but nowadays don’t fit with the way we think”, she told the Irish News last year.

Wilson has admitted that she would not write one of her books, published in 2005, today.

Love Lessons is about a 14-year-old girl, Prue, who falls in love with an art teacher who partly reciprocates. They kiss and he admits that he loves her, too.

When asked in a recent interview if she would write such a book now she told the Guardian: “No. It’s so different now.”

But she told Good Morning Britain on Monday: “I’m very against meddling with adult classics.

“I was just thinking about Jane Eyre the other day. I mean, with the mad woman in the attic and the way she’s depicted, you’d never find that sort of treatment of people with serious mental health problems.

“And yet, I would be absolutely at the forefront of people saying: ‘No, leave it alone. It’s my favourite book.’”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

“There are some things I think that would make us a bit worried if we returned to our old children’s favourites and read them with fresh eyes.”

Playing the devil’s advocate, PG notes that at the time each popular children’s classic was first published, children read them “with fresh eyes.” Fresh eyes are the only sort of eyes most children have.

If we change old texts to satisfy contemporary political correctness, PG suggests readers will not understand important facts about and behaviors of humanity during other times. He posits that it’s good to understand how times have changed.

Absent an accurate understanding of prior behaviors, the incurious reader will be lead to believe that today’s standards and mores have always been universal, which is, of course, a substantial misreading of history. It’s valuable to understand what has been tried and why it failed. It’s a good preventative for making the same mistakes over and over again.

As New Law Looms, Follett Asks Publishers to Help ‘Rate’ Their Own Books for Sale in Texas

From Publishers Weekly:

In their recently filed lawsuit to block HB 900, the controversial new Texas law that will require vendors to rate books sold to schools for sexual content, a coalition of booksellers and publishing industry associations insist that the law is both unconstitutional and impractical. “Booksellers do not see a clear path forward to rating the content of the thousands of titles sold to schools in the past, nor the thousands of titles that are published each year,” explained plaintiff Charley Rejsek, CEO of Austin-based vendor BookPeople, in a July 25 statement announcing the litigation. But with the law’s September 1 effective date bearing down, Follett School Solutions, the nation’s largest distributor of books to schools, does see a path forward in Texas—and that path apparently includes asking publishers to help rate their own books.

“Without having a 3rd party yet for the required ratings (Sexually Relevant and Sexually Explicit), our goal is to get as robust of a collection of purchasable content ready on September 1st and continue building as titles are rated,” reads the text of a memo from Follett officials addressed to Publishing Partners, which was shared anonymously with PW. “However, this is quite a workload. Follett is asking you to provide us with a simple spreadsheet helping us to identify titles which fall into two categories: either NO Questionable Content or Possible SR or SE Content (which we would send to a 3rd party for rating). Again, our goal is to get as many of your titles [available] on September 1st as possible.”

In the memo, Follett officials acknowledge that Texas has yet to provide detailed “guidelines” for how to rate books for sexual content. “But every title we can deem ‘OK’ to provide to them on September 1 for sale will be of benefit,” the memo states.

However, with a hearing on their federal lawsuit seeking to block the new Texas law just days away, publishers and other industry stakeholders are balking at Follett’s request to help the vendor rate their titles. Though all of the Big Five publishers declined to comment directly on the Follett memo for this story, multiple publishers confirmed its details. One publishing executive told PW on background that they understand the bind Follett faces in Texas with the new law but that complying with the request to rate their books would make them “complicit” in an act of censorship. And in a statement, one publisher, Hachette, went on record to broadly reject the idea of rating its books.

“We strongly disagree with the idea that rating our books to flag certain content, or having retailers or wholesalers do this, is appropriate or helpful. We trust our teachers, trust our librarians, trust our parents, trust our student readers who are hungry to experience the world in all the ways that books allow. And we trust the processes of professional review and community input that have been in place for decades,” Hachette officials told PW. “As publishers, we want our books to reach the broadest possible readership. That readership comprises individuals with unique tastes, reading levels, and lived experiences. There is great variability in reading ability and content interest among young readers, even among those in the same grade or the same age.”

“It is our hope that laws that seek to limit access to books and that criminalize teachers, librarians and booksellers will be struck down as unconstitutional,” the Hachette statement concludes, “and that the choice of what book to read remains unregulated by the states.”

The Authors Guild, the nation’s largest author advocacy group—and also a plaintiff in the lawsuit seeking to strike down HB 900—called Follett’s request “alarming,” and is asking publishers not to cooperate.

“We urge publishers not to comply with Follett’s request as it will force them to self-censor and to censor their authors, and it will remove many educationally valuable books from the school market in the state of Texas, depriving students of access to them,” Authors Guild officials said in a statement. “It will also compel speech by forcing publishers to create lists of books that any community in Texas might possibly find ‘sexually relevant’ or offensive, making it appear as though the publishers are tacitly admitting that books listed as ‘Possible SR or SE Content are questionable.’ It could be difficult to sell those books to any school system after such lists are made public, despite the fact that in most cases only a very few parents might find them objectionable.”

. . . .

Follett officials did not comment on the memo for this story. “Follett is aware of the Texas legislation and will comply,” Donald Reinbold, director of strategic business development and content acquisitions for Follett School Solutions, told PW in a brief email. “We remain committed to serving our customers everywhere and will continue to support them as they navigate the required changes.”

In the memo, Follett officials offered some idea of what navigating the new law might look like: The company told publishers that it is preparing a Texas-only view (determined by IP address and account address) for its Titlewave online ordering service, and that the company “will not be putting through” any titles that contain possible sexual content pending the development of “a third party rating program.” Under the law, books rated “sexually explicit” would be banned from Texas schools entirely—and as such, the Follett memo notes, “will not be made available for sale” via Titlewave in Texas.

“Your support in identifying those titles that you know DO NOT fall into those categories will allow us to push through more of your titles from the first day of compliance,” the memo explains. “We have it on good authority that [Texas] sales will come quickly in the fall to get ahead of any additional changes or requirements, so I would ask that you take advantage of this opportunity to identify as many titles as possible and return them to Follett as soon as you can.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PRH Rolls Out Banned Books Resources: ‘Let Kids Read’

From Publishing Perspectives:

On Monday (August 14), Andrew Paul at Popular Science wrote, “Iowa educators are turning to ChatGPT to help decide which titles should be removed from their school library shelves in order to legally comply with recent Republican-backed state legislation.”

Today (August 15), Penguin Random House has released its new “banned books resource site”—titled Let Kids Read.

The two events’ timing is coincidental. What’s intentional is a rising willingness among major book-business players to speak forthrightly to such politically inflamed issues.

PRH’s worldwide CEO, Nihar Malaviya, says on today’s release of its new campaign, “We believe in the power of books and their ability to make us better—as individuals and as a society.

“Books give us perspective; their stories allow us to feel seen and provide us with the opportunity to learn from each other’s lived experiences.

“The acceleration of book bannings, challenges, and related legislation sweeping across the country is a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights. Diverse stories deserve to be told, and readers deserve the autonomy to choose what books they read.”

To that end, the special site set is up as a consumer-facing presentation, ending in a selection of banned books grouped by category and intended to be rotated at regular intervals.

There’s a series of “What We’re Doing” sections first, and Publishing Perspectives readers will be familiar with many of the listed legal challenges in which PRH has been a party, often under the aegis of the Association of American Publishers. This is followed by a listing of relevant organizations the company works with; a section on the company’s support for its authors; and another section on teacher and librarian support.

Technically, that portion of the “banned book resource site” is a corporate-responsibility piece, albeit clearly one that displays some of the good works and associations made and maintained by the company in the service of resisting a censorious era’s darkest dynamics.

Where the piece shows its depth is in the next section, which offers Malaviya’s introductory commentary on the problem. Look for the section called “Resources for Everyone.”

Here you’ll find him linking to reputable (American Library Association) survey results indicating that 70 percent of American parents asked say that they’re opposed to book banning.

Even more enlightening is his use of Hannah Natanson’s May 23 report for the Washington Post in which investigative journalism found that LGBTQ content is the most frequent trigger in book-banning incidents and that the core challenges to the freedom to read in school-setting book challenges were filed, in the Post‘s analysis, by just 11 people in the 2021-2022 school year cycle. Each of these people created 10 or more challenges in their school districts—one lodging 92 challenges in a year.

Natanson’s article calls these the “serial filers” who launch those blizzards of complaints that send school boards reeling and books vanishing from shelves, with librarians and teachers caught in the crossfire.

In Malaviya’s article, he pledges, “We will always stand by those fighting for intellectual freedom.”

“Resources for Authors and Creators” will give you the Penguin Random House author Jacob Tobia, who makes an appeal to authors to avoid self-censorship, writing, “As authors, we must resist not only their efforts to ban our books, but also their efforts to make us afraid.

“Now is not the time to cower. Now is not the time to stop writing. It is the time to double down on our creative joy, on the power that comes with expressing the ideas and stories shimmering in our hearts.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says that Manhattan sensibilities differ substantially from those held by about 90% of the remainder of the US population. The idea of a group of business executives deciding what children can read is going to strike more than a few parents outside of the canyons of New York as both presumptious in the extreme.

Just because some corporate drone is familiar with what books sell doesn’t make them an expert on what children should be reading. It does, however, represent virtue signaling to other members of the NYC hive mind.

The rise of BookTok titles has meant less visibility for other titles, whether they’re longstanding authors or debuts.

From The New Publishing Standard:

“The rise of BookTok titles has meant less visibility for other titles, whether they’re longstanding authors or debuts.”

That’s per a post in The Guardian this weekend that takes yet another look at the BookTok phenomenon, happy to report easy-come quotes, but as ever short on analysis for what it means for the industry.

. . . .

“Groups of teenage girls regularly gather (in Waterstones Piccadilly, London) to buy new books and meet new friends, both discovered on the social media app TikTok.”

. . . .

Caroline Hardman, literary agent at the Hardman & Swainson agency: “It’s driving the appetite for romance and ‘romantasy’ in a really big way, so it’s having a strong effect on what publishers look for too.”

“When traditional publishers try to muscle in on the BookTok market, it never seems to work out quite the same way as an organic, viral recommendation.”

“BookTok is overwhelmingly a factor in Gen Z reading habits. In a poll of more than 2,000 16- to 25-year-olds, almost 59% said that BookTok had helped them discover a passion for reading. BookTok and book influencers significantly influence what choices this audience make about what they read, with 55% of respondents saying they turn to the platform for book recommendations.”

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Stop the world, I want to get off!

Boo Hoo. Publishers can’t figure out BookTok, so authors who are under contract with clueless publishers have next to zero visibility for the most likely purchasers of the latest .

It’s social media. TikTok will be old news some day, but social media is an important fact of life for this quarter’s revenues if you’re trying to sell to demographic groups who spend a lot of their time and get a lot of information, including information about what books are cool from social media.

BookTok sells way more books than The New York Times does, so all the times various publishers have taken the NYT book review editor to an expensive lunch don’t mean anything anymore. Besides, 95% of teenage girls have never read the New York Times or any other newspaper. They also don’t read print magazines targeted toward teenage girls.

When your readers have moved online, you better get online savvy or hire online savvy in a big hurry. That Mount Holyoke freshman who is an unpaid summer intern probably knows more about social media than the rest of the marketing department combined.

Some of the influencers on TikTok make money by promoting various products. Have your intern find out who they are and what they would charge to hype your next romantasy release and hire a few.

See what happens to sales on Amazon (because the outdated and weird publishing supply chain to book stores will take far too long to report how many books are being sold in bookstores and not returned and BookToker viewers are unlikely to spend a lot of time in bookstores anyway).

If a BookToker sells some books, send more books and more money and repeat. See, social media can be your friend after all.

A fine balance

From The Bookseller:

Children’s books can carry important social messages – but how to stop them sounding preachy?

Books have played a huge part in my life. I’m a mum of four, a former primary school teacher, and a children’s author. My kids devoured stories, from The Faraway Tree to Roald Dahl. Books taught them that their imaginations had no limits. Books were read purely for fun, and that was that.

Even when I started to write children’s books, almost 15 years ago, I never intentionally set out to ensure that my stories had a message. Although many of my books were inspired by my experiences as a mum, these events were still very much linked to a child’s personal world, rather than the wider world around them.

Then one day, one of my young children asked me about a person that we passed who was experiencing homelessness, asleep in a shop doorway. I answered in as simple a way as I could, but they kept asking more questions, and I struggled to answer – to find the right words to explain. I didn’t want to scare my children – but at the same time, I wanted to be honest with them about the complex causes that lead to people experiencing homelessness. I also wanted to let them know that there are things we can do to help.

It was then that I decided that I wanted to write a picture book that introduced children to homelessness. I wanted it to be gentle but informative – to create awareness, but not to scare them, and to leave them feeling empowered that they can make a difference.

The resulting book, Kindness Rocks!, was the most difficult I have ever written, and it took me 25 drafts to strike the right balance between the social message and the sense of fun. So for any authors out there feeling the urge to create a kids’ book with an activist agenda, here are a few lessons I learnt.

First, I opted to use animal characters, which offer a great way of engaging children’s emotions while providing a certain distance from sensitive themes.

Second, I also decided to set the story in the world of professional music to prevent the tale from feeling too “worthy”. The idea hit me one day, in 2020, when I saw a photograph of Jon Bon Jovi washing dishes in his JBJ Soul Kitchen, which was short on volunteers due to restrictions caused by the pandemic. Jon’s philanthropy, kindness and compassion inspired my main character, Jonny, whose glamorous appeal will hopefully draw in young readers, but whose experiences of losing his identity – along with his voice – are anything but.

Next, I worked to offer multiple layers of complexity for young readers and their adults to engage in, depending on their age, maturity and preference. When creating the characters in the book that are experiencing homelessness, I wanted to reveal their background and what led to them being where they were now, as this provided a key opportunity for parents and carers (if they wished) to strike up a conversation. I did this by using examples that made sense on the animals’ level but could also offer real-world parallels – for example, Tommy tiger left home after injuring his paw and no longer being able to hunt (unemployment due to disability); Gina giraffe left home due to mean Mr Wolf (an abusive family member); and Busky bear lost his home in the flood (natural disaster). The opportunity to delve deeper and link to real life experiences is there if parents wish to – but it makes plenty of sense if they don’t, or if a child is reading alone.

With the talented Robert Garcia on board to illustrate, I was also able to ensure that the illustrations would be full of colour, dynamism and warmth, to avoid any sense that this was a lecture in disguise, and to ensure that the emotional keynote throughout was hope.

Finally of course, I read other children’s books that balance a compelling story with a powerful message and analysed what made them work. For example, The Last Chip by Duncan Beadie cleverly nods towards homelessness through visual clues while focusing on a story of simple kindness and compassion. The Invisible by Tom Percival tackles a family’s struggle to pay their rent and bills much more directly, but the author provides balance with its hopeful conclusion, showing that it only takes one person to make a difference.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

How to Make a Cliché Work for You

From Almost an Author:

In middle grade novels, do you know what gets my goat? Stories riddled with clichés.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: cliches often come across as lazy writing. Cliches can make dialog as flat as a pancake and cause your labor of love to become as dull as dishwater. Worse, an ill-fitting cliché can throw the reader out of the story world you’ve created. Mark my words, your writing will improve if you weed out these overused sayings. But how?

Once upon a blue moon (and for a different website), I wrote a longer article detailing six ways to deal with this issue. But here, I’d like to focus on just one tried and true method that works especially well for middle grade stories. Consider it my “two-cents worth” approach because it adds humor to your story and gives you more bang for your buck.

Are you ready for this tip? It’s “Run with the cliché.”

I can explain it best like this: Take an old phrase and give it a middle grade twist by adding onto the end of it. The result may tickle your funny bone.

Look at my examples and then try this method for yourself.  

  • That problem was as old as time… but not nearly as old as the Twinkie Mom packed in my lunch today.
  • Sweet Sally. She’s always bending over backwards for people. Literally. She’s a gymnast.
  • I was left with one burning question. I guess that’s what happens when you set your homework on fire and your best friend douses the flames at the last second.
  • In my homeroom, finding a friendly face used to be a dime a dozen. Not with today’s inflation.
  • It’s hard for grandma to jog her memory. It’s more like a crawl.

Link to the rest at Almost an Author

Texas’s new ‘book sexual rating’ law denounced

From BookBrowse:

Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law HB900, which requires suppliers of books to school libraries, librarians, and teachers to rate the books, both on future sales and retroactively. As the Texas Tribune wrote, all vendors, including bookstores, would have to assign ratings to books “based on the presence of depictions or references to sex. A book would get a ‘sexually relevant’ rating if the material describes or portrays sexual activity and is part of the required school curriculum. A book would get a ‘sexually explicit’ rating if the material describing or portraying sexual behavior is ‘patently offensive’ and not part of required curriculum. State law defines ‘patently offensive’ as materials that are an affront to ‘current community standards of decency.’ “

Several organizations have responded. The ABA’s American Booksellers for Free Expression said in part, that it was disappointed that the Governor “ignored the outpouring of opposition from booksellers and Texans across the state and signed HB900 into law. HB900 is an onerous law that will chill speech, and it could threaten the livelihoods of independent bookstores. The governor described HB900 as ’empowering parents,’ an ironic statement at best. The government dictating what other parents’ children can and cannot read is hardly empowering to parents or students.

“From the day this bill was introduced, ABFE and independent bookstores in Texas have fought against HB900. Now that HB900 has been signed into law, ABFE will pursue every option available to ensure independent bookstores do not suffer its consequences.”

ABFE added that the law will make librarians and vendors “inevitably err on the side of caution by not selling or carrying a book title for fear it might run afoul of the law. Whether or not a book or materials are ‘sexually relevant’ or ‘sexually explicit’ is inherently prejudiced and could result in different ratings from different vendors.

Link to the rest at BookBrowse

An Experiment with ChatGPT

Write the first paragraph for a children’s book that includes a little girl, a unicorn and a lazy wolf.

Once upon a time in the enchanting land of Fairytale Meadows, lived a spirited little girl named Lily. Lily had golden curls that danced in the wind, and her eyes sparkled with curiosity. One day, while exploring the magical forest, she stumbled upon a magical unicorn named Sparkle, whose shimmering mane glowed with all the colors of the rainbow. Little did they know that their adventure was about to get even more exciting, for lurking behind a moss-covered tree was a lazy but lovable wolf named Wally, who preferred napping to chasing his prey.

What magic powers did sparkle, a magic unicorn possess?

Sparkle, the magical unicorn, possessed a wondrous array of enchanting powers that filled the hearts of all who encountered her with awe. First and foremost, her horn sparkled with an iridescent glow, allowing her to channel the purest magic in the realm. Sparkle possessed the ability to grant wishes, turning dreams into reality with a single touch of her shimmering horn. She could also create dazzling trails of rainbow-colored stardust, lighting up the night sky with a celestial spectacle. With her gentle presence, Sparkle could communicate with animals, bridging the gap between the magical and natural worlds. Her magic powers were boundless, bringing joy, love, and hope to all who crossed paths with the extraordinary unicorn.

Why was Wally the wolf so lazy?

Wally the wolf was known throughout Fairytale Meadows for his undeniable laziness. Unlike other wolves who roamed the forest with vigor and determination, Wally had a penchant for relaxation and a strong aversion to exerting himself unnecessarily. He preferred the comfort of his cozy den, where he would spend hours curled up in a fuzzy ball, snuggled amongst soft moss and leaves. Wally believed that life was too short to waste on constant running and hunting, and he saw no need to chase after his meals when there were abundant berries and fruits available nearby. His laziness, though unconventional, brought a sense of tranquility and balance to the bustling woodland, and his gentle nature made him a beloved character among the creatures of Fairytale Meadows.

What did Sparkle do to get Wally to do some useful work for Lily?

As Sparkle and Lily ventured deeper into Fairytale Meadows, they encountered a challenge that required Wally’s assistance. Knowing Wally’s affinity for relaxation, Sparkle cleverly devised a plan to motivate the lazy wolf. With a mischievous twinkle in her eye, Sparkle whispered a magical spell that awakened Wally’s sense of adventure and duty. The spell cast a spell of enchantment upon Wally, filling him with newfound energy and a sense of purpose. Suddenly, Wally’s laziness transformed into determination, and he eagerly offered his assistance to Lily and Sparkle. Recognizing the importance of their quest, Wally became a loyal companion, ready to help Lily in any way he could. With Sparkle’s magical touch and a sprinkle of motivation, Wally discovered the joy of lending a helping paw, embarking on a journey that would unveil his hidden potential and forge a lasting bond with his newfound friends.

Did Sparkle have to remind Wally not to be lazy?

While Sparkle appreciated Wally’s newfound motivation and willingness to help, she occasionally had to remind him to resist his natural inclination for laziness. Sparkle understood that change takes time, and habits can be hard to break. So, whenever Wally’s laziness threatened to resurface, Sparkle would gently nudge him with her velvety muzzle, reminding him of the importance of their mission and the joy they could bring to others by working together. With each gentle reminder, Wally would shake off his sluggishness and recommit himself to being an active participant in their adventures. Sparkle’s encouragement and patient guidance helped Wally overcome his lazy tendencies, inspiring him to become a more dependable and enthusiastic companion for Lily and Sparkle.

What dangers threatened Lily as she walked around Fairyland Meadows?

As Lily traversed the enchanting Fairyland Meadows, she encountered a few perils that tested her bravery and quick thinking. Deep within the forest, Lily came across treacherous thorny thickets that seemed to close in on her from all sides, challenging her to find a way through without getting entangled. She also encountered mischievous sprites that played tricks and created illusions, making it difficult for Lily to find her way home. At times, Lily faced sudden storms with gusty winds that threatened to whisk her away, and she had to seek shelter and find her footing amidst the chaos. Additionally, there were misbehaving magical creatures that, although harmless at heart, could unintentionally cause a bit of chaos and mischief. But with the help of Sparkle’s magic and Wally’s newfound diligence, Lily was able to navigate these dangers and emerge triumphant, growing stronger and more resilient with each challenge she faced.

What is the end of the story about Lily, Sparkle and Wally in Fairyland Meadows?

In the end, after overcoming numerous obstacles and forging a remarkable bond, Lily, Sparkle, and Wally emerged as heroes of Fairyland Meadows. Through their collective courage, kindness, and determination, they brought harmony and joy to the enchanted realm. Lily’s unwavering spirit and innate curiosity inspired others to embrace adventure and explore the wonders of the world. Sparkle’s magical powers continued to grant wishes, spreading hope and fulfilling dreams throughout the land. Wally, having discovered his true potential, became a trusted guardian and loyal friend, always ready to lend a helping paw. Together, they brought laughter, love, and enchantment to every corner of Fairyland Meadows, leaving a lasting legacy of friendship and magic. And as the sun set on their final adventure, Lily, Sparkle, and Wally knew that their incredible journey was just the beginning of a lifetime filled with extraordinary tales and everlasting friendships in the magical realm they called home.

Then PG asked ChatGPT to regenerate a response to the final prompt it used to create the paragraph above: What is the end of the story about Lily, Sparkle and Wally in Fairyland Meadows?

In the grand finale of Lily’s adventure in Fairyland Meadows, she, Sparkle, and Wally united their strengths and talents to overcome the final and most formidable obstacle. A wicked sorceress, jealous of the trio’s bond and the joy they spread, cast a powerful spell of darkness, threatening to shroud the entire land in eternal gloom. Undeterred by the daunting task, Lily’s unwavering determination inspired Sparkle and Wally to tap into their true potential. Sparkle summoned her most potent magic, creating a radiant barrier of light that pushed back the darkness, while Wally’s swift agility and keen senses helped guide them through the treacherous path. Together, they confronted the sorceress, their unity and friendship shining as a beacon of hope. With Lily’s pure heart and unwavering belief in the power of goodness, the sorceress’s spell was shattered, and Fairyland Meadows was bathed in a glorious resurgence of light and joy. As a testament to their extraordinary bond, Lily, Sparkle, and Wally were hailed as heroes, forever celebrated for their bravery and their ability to bring light and love to all corners of Fairyland Meadows. From that day forward, their friendship flourished, and they continued to embark on magical adventures, spreading happiness and enchantment wherever they roamed.

PG concludes that, even with the help of artificial intelligence, he’s not likely to be the next Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter, E.B. White or J.K. Rowling

The Young Heroes of the Writing World

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Publishers, writers, and readers know today’s contradictions. As an organized right-wing campaign surges across states and school districts promoting book bans, a new era of original writing—and reading groups—by young people rises. Especially stimulating among the conflicting movements is the increase of original publishing of the young for the young. This is unprecedented. As a historian of literacy and of children and youth, I follow trends in writing and reading. As a public scholar and activist, I write about the unprecedented “new illiteracy” of our unconstitutional, anti–children’s rights and development banners, and I collaborate with the ACLU, ALA, PEN America, and other organizations.

My wife and I follow illustrated children’s books and share them. I call their authors “My Young Heroes.” I publicize how these exceptional young people’s experiences, actions, and interactions shed light on critical dimensions in the uses of reading, writing, and publishing across ages, media, and critical spheres of activity.

In 2021, Dillon Helbing, then an eight-year-old second grader in Idaho, wrote by hand an 81-page novel. He hid The Adventures of Dillon Helbing’s Crismis in the local library on a shelf with other fiction. According to the New York Times, “Over the next month, a series of circumstances made the book one of the library’s most sought-after titles and also inspired children in Boise to write their own stories.” Dillon’s new book project is The Jacket-Eating Closet. Dillon vows to write until he is 40.

Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi, a Nigerian child immigrant to New York City, became the youngest chess master in history when he was 10. In 2020, he released an illustrated book for children, Tani’s New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope & Kindness in America, as well as young reader and adult editions of My Name Is Tani… and I Believe in Miracles (all published by Tommy Nelson). He has also written guides to chess for different age groups. At the end of 2022, Tani and his family received U.S. asylum. He continues to write and play chess.

In 2020, when Orion Jean of Fort Worth, Tex., was 10, he began collecting and distributing books to needy children as part of his Race to Kindness initiative. By the end of 2022, Jean met his goal of donating 500,000 books, and he has also written a book, A Kids Book About Leadership.

In 2021, at age 14, Zaila Avant-Garde became the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The extraordinary young woman’s greater passions lie in dribbling multiple basketballs simultaneously—for which she holds three Guinness World Records—and mental math. She plans to attend Harvard and play basketball. In May, Random House Books for Young Readers published her first book, It’s Not Bragging If It’s True: How to Be Awesome at Life. This month, Doubleday Books for Young Readers will release her picture book Words of Wonder from Z to A.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Librarians, Publishers, Bookstores Join Lawsuit Over Arkansas Library ‘Obscenity’ Law

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Some 17 plaintiffs—including the ALA’s Freedom to Read Foundation, the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, and the Authors Guild—will file a federal lawsuit over a recently passed law in Arkansas, Act 372 of 2023 (also known as SB 81), which exposes librarians to criminal liability for making allegedly “obscene” books available to minors.

According to a report in the Arkansas Advocate, news of the suit comes after the Central Arkansas Library System board of directors voted on May 25 to proceed with the litigation. At press time, the suit had yet to be filed.

In a statement to PW, ALA officials confirmed their participation in the suit. “The American Library Association is pleased that the Freedom to Read Foundation, our First Amendment legal defense arm, and our state affiliate, the Arkansas Library Association, are participating in the lawsuit to vindicate Arkansas residents’ freedom to read,” ALA president Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada told PW. “The government has no place in deciding what books people can borrow or buy.”

The law in question, which was signed by governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders on March 31 and is set to take effect on August 1, removes an exemption from prosecution for school and public libraries and would empower virtually anyone to challenge the appropriateness of library materials in Arkansas. Library staff found to have “knowingly” distributed or facilitating the distribution of allegedly obscene material to a minor—defined as anyone under 18—would be open to a potential felony charge.

The impending lawsuit in Arkansas is the latest in an escalating legal offensive being waged by freedom to read advocates in response to the ongoing surge in book bans and legislative restrictions nationwide.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Woke Roald Dahl Will Put Kids to Sleep

From The Wall Street Journal:

My late father-in-law detested vague or imprecise language. “Don’t tell me you saw a person,” went his typical complaint. “What kind of person was it? A man or a woman? Tall or short? Old or young?”

He, like his contemporary Roald Dahl, came from an era when people valued clarity in speech and writing and believed words should reveal meaning rather than conceal it. Puffin Books has made the passing of that era obvious by subjecting Dahl’s books to a ghastly process of social-justice blandification.

The Telegraph reports that Puffin functionaries and hired “sensitivity readers” have combed through Dahl’s works for children—including whizbang novels such as “Matilda,” “The Twits,” and “James and the Giant Peach”—and cut all references to fatness, craziness, ugliness, whiteness (even of bedsheets), blackness (even of tractors) and the great Rudyard Kipling, along with any allusion to acts lacking full and enthusiastic consent. Some male characters have been made female; female villains have been made less nasty; women in general have been socially elevated; while mothers and fathers, boys and girls have dwindled into sexless “parents” and “children.”

Dahl, who died in 1990, didn’t agree to these changes—consent came from Netflix, which bought Dahl’s estate in 2018. Many of the edits reveal a total failure to understand why children love the spiky and opinionated British writer and why they gobble his stories as fast as his porcine characters eat sweets. Dahl’s writing flashes with menace and tenderness; it’s funny, exciting and unpredictable.

Like all the most enduring stories for children, Dahl’s are odd and original. They stir the mind, disquiet the spirit, and stimulate the imagination. To read “Peter Pan” or “Alice in Wonderland” is to plunge into a fever dream; to read Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is to careen through a fantastical landscape full of greedy youngsters (and indulgent adults) who meet bizarre and terrible fates. Stripping away the weirdness expunges the magic.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

ALA: Book Bannings in the USA Broke All Records in 2022

From Publishing Perspectives:

Last year saw 1,269 attempts to ban or restrict library materials in the United States, the highest level since the compiling of data began some 20 years ago, according to a new report from the American Library Association‘s watchdog agency on the issue.

The numbers make compelling reading, particularly in a week when effects similar to the wave of book bannings in the United States is echoed by a Wisconsin elementary school’s removal of a song from its spring concert because the Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus duet “Rainbowland” could be, in the words of the school administration, “perceived as controversial.” Here is Harm Venhuizen’s write-up for the Associated Press.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks censorship demands made on libraries in the United States. The sheer magnitude of book challenges this office recorded in 2022 the growing threat of censorship in libraries.

. . . .

  • A record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship, according to the report, constituting a major, 38-percent jump in such activity over that seen in 2021.
  • The 2022 number of reported book challenges relayed by the library association nearly doubles the 729 challenges reported in 2021.
  • Some 58 percent of those reported book challenges were made to books and materials in school libraries, classroom libraries, or school curricula, according to the report.

. . . .

Organized censorship groups, the report indicates, are creating lists of books they want to see banned from libraries. The use of these lists, the Office for Intellectual Freedom points out, “contributed significantly to the skyrocketing number of challenges and the frequency with which each title was challenged.”

Prior to 2021, the agency says, “the vast majority of challenges to library resources only sought to remove or restrict access to a single book.” Now, 90 percent of challenges include multiple titles, contributing to the increased numbers the agency is reporting:

  • 12 percent were in cases involving two to nine books
  • 38 percent were in cases involving 10 to 99 books
  • 40 percent were in cases involving 100 or more books

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

These sorts of articles raise a question in PG’s mind: Do children’s book publishers really understand their market – parents of children?

The Origins of Female Protagonists in Children’s Literature

From Book Browse:

This article relates to The Magician’s Daughter

Bridget (known as Biddy), the protagonist of H. G. Parry’s The Magician’s Daughter, grows up on the magical, hidden island of Hy-Brasil, with only her father, the mage Rowan O’Connell, and his familiar, a rabbit named Hutchincroft. She is greatly influenced by the stories of heroines she reads about in her father’s library; female literary figures with whom she identifies and who help shape her character and moral compass. Their influence proves crucial when, in 1912 at the age of 16, Biddy has to leave the island to right past wrongs and face the challenges of the human world. Biddy’s coming of age from an idyllic, magical childhood to a cruel, harsh awakening follows in the footsteps of her heroines, such as Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Wendy Darling from Peter Pan, and Sara Crewe from A Little Princess.

The library of Biddy’s youth is filled with volumes that today’s readers might consider classics of children’s literature, but would have been fairly new at the time. Fiction written specifically for children and adolescents has its origins in the 18th century. Prior to this, the oral tradition of nursery rhymes and published religious verses such as Isaac Watts’ Divine Songs for the Use of Children (1715) was used to inculcate morals and values. Fairy tales, such as those by Madame D’Aulnoy and Charles Perrault, with their predominantly female protagonists, were not originally intended for children. Nor was the first fairy tale published in English in 1621, which featured a male hero, Tom Thumb, already a well-known figure from folklore. In his 1730 stage play The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great, Henry Fielding used the same male character to comment satirically on gender roles of the time — and, indeed, Tom Thumb himself would usually be played by a female child actress.

In 1749, Sarah Fielding, Henry’s sister, included two fairy tales in her novel The Governess, or Little Female Academy. This book is considered to be the first English-language novel written for children and it is notable that all its characters are female. The eldest pupil, Miss Jenny, leads by example, recounting the story of her life to teach the others how to aspire to goodness and happiness; all the other girls then tell the stories of their lives as well. A few years later, in 1765, John Newbery, the first major publisher of children’s books, published The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, an anonymously written story of the poor but intelligent and virtuous Margery Meadwell, who is ultimately rewarded for her innate nobility and diligence.

By the 19th century, children’s literature had begun to evolve away from religious-themed morality tales as society became more secularized. Elements of magic and fantasy permeated children’s stories with the advent of Edgar Taylor’s 1823 translation of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales and the 1846 publication of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. Although male protagonists continued to appear in popular works of the time such as Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies (1863), the most influential, enduring, and famous of 19th century children’s books feature a female main character: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass (1872). The heroine, Alice, is an exceptionally bright seven-year-old girl who enters dream worlds highly influenced by Edward Lear’s nonsense verses, juxtaposed with the darkness and chaos of traditional nursery rhymes. Carroll’s mentor, the Scottish author George MacDonald, deserves to be as well-known today as his protégé, being the creator of such memorable female protagonists as Tangle of The Golden Key (1867), Princess Irene of The Princess and the Goblins(1872), and Rosamunde and Agnes of The Lost Princess: A Double Story (1875).

Link to the rest at Book Browse

Let Kids Read Roald Dahl’s Books the Way He Wrote Them

From The Nation:

The United States can be a harsh place to be a child. There are guns galore and bullies in school. Suicide is on the rise, homelessness is rampant, and many school budgets have been scraped down to the bone. In New York City, almost one in five children are poor. One in seven doesn’t have enough to eat. Even well-off youngsters struggle with sexual abuse, depression, stress, and the cruelty of online life. Thank God there is one place where all is sweetness and light, or will be soon—children’s books.

You may have read that Roald Dahl’s classic tales have been altered to be, well, nicer. Because as we all know, niceness is what Roald Dahl is all about. Forget the misanthropy, physical disgust, and delight in transgression and violence and extravagance that give his stories bite and edge. Forget, too, the dependence of wit and vividness on specific, concrete words, on their sounds and evocative associations. What matters is that no one in the whole world be offended and that no opportunity be missed for moral improvement.

The Roald Dahl Story Company and Puffin, Dahl’s authorized publisher, have teamed up with a group called Inclusive Minds, “a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature.” The organization turned the task of sanitizing Dahl over to their sensitivity readers, the oddly named Inclusivity Ambassadors, who have “lived experience” and can provide “valuable input.” If they sound like smooth-talking authoritarians, that’s not far off. In the world of children’s lit these days, sensitivity is king. But are actual readers—parents and children—calling out for the removal of the word “black” describing tractors or for replacing “North Africa” with “lots of different countries”? Do they object to describing a voice as “screechy” instead of “annoying”? I don’t know why Dahl is being censored—hopes of higher profits by Netflix, which owns the rights to his books and the movies made from them? Fear of social-justice Twitter? Did it start out as a few modest tweaks but got out of hand? In any case, there’s a loss in these changes—in vivacity, vigor, concreteness. As any good writer can tell you, we all know what a screechy voice sounds like, but an annoying one could be anything.

The Ambassadors have made hundreds of changes—59 in The Witches alone. At first, I thought a few were justifiable. Dahl was oddly obsessed with fatness and unattractiveness and used these qualities to mock unlikable characters. In the new editions, every single use of “fat” and “ugly” has been removed. I see the point: We know a lot more now than a few generations ago about how children suffer when others make fun of their appearance, and how long-lasting the harm is. But I don’t know that replacing “fat” with “enormous” sends a different message, or that replacing “fat little brown mouse” with “little brown mouse” does much for the cause of kindness—doesn’t fat also suggest cute and cuddly, at least in small furry animals? The trouble is, once you start fiddling, where do you stop? Why not leave the books alone, and if people are so offended, they can stop reading them (which I doubt will happen any time soon)? The alternative is the falsification of history and the dumbing-down of great literature.

Be that as it may, most of the changes have no such therapeutic rationale. They seem more like the work of an over-caffeinated undergraduate relying on those lists activists write up of Words to Avoid. “Crazy” becomes “silly,” while “idiot,” “nutty,” “screwy,” and other mental-health-related colloquialisms are deleted. “Mother “and “father” become “parents,” “brother and sister” are “siblings,” “boys and girls” are “children,” “ladies and gentlemen” are “folks.” (Sadly missing is my favorite degenderizing neologism, “nibling,” for niece or nephew, which sounds like something you’d find in a can of corn, or maybe an opera by Wagner). But the Ambassadors don’t stop with simple word changes. Compare these passages from The Witches:

2001: “Don’t be foolish,” my grandmother said. “You can’t go around pulling the hair of every lady you meet, even if she is wearing gloves. Just you try it and see what happens.”

2022: “Don’t be foolish,” my grandmother said. “Besides, there are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”

It helps to consider the actual story. The Witches wear wigs because they are bald, and they wear gloves to hide their claws. Touching their wigs would be a dangerous thing to do. Besides, the story takes place at a witches’ convention, where it is unlikely the child narrator is going to meet an ultra-orthodox woman in a sheitel or a chemo patient or a woman who simply enjoys playing with her appearance. But never mind the context: The important thing is to remember that wigs are okay! Be nice! Even if it means adding a preachy smiley face to a book written by an angry genius.

And what about this change in Matilda? Dahl is describing the joy of reading:

2001: She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling.

2022: She went to nineteenth-century estates with Jane Austen. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and California with John Steinbeck.

Take away those olden-day sailing ships and all the adventure is gone. I love Jane Austen, but the constrained world of Regency country gentry simply doesn’t convey the excitement and danger and unfamiliarity Dahl was going for. As for John Steinbeck’s California, it was a grim and prosaic place. What child has ever said, Oh, to be on the road with the Joads! And why is that old imperialist Kipling gone but not Hemingway, whose African stories heavily feature white men hunting now-endangered species and drinking too much? Isn’t Hemingway kind of a colonizer too? Perhaps the next edition will replace him with Mary Oliver.

Link to the rest at The Nation

The BFG Isn’t a BFD

From Slate:

I’ve read Roald Dahl’s books to little kids for years. Let me tell you how that really goes.

As it happens, I have spent quite a lot of time over the past decade reading Roald Dahl books with small children as part of a side hustle in tutoring English. MatildaThe BFGCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryThe Twits: all of them. All these books have moments in them that are a little sticky for modern readers, and that you can contextualize for children, if you want to. I think, from experience, that even small children are capable of understanding something like “In the past, more people thought it was OK to be rude about people who were different from them, but now we don’t do that because it’s upsetting/unfair/wrong.” Dahl’s books are full of material that needs a little explaining to kids, but perhaps more importantly here, the world’s full of other children’s books. I choose to read these to kids because I feel comfortable helping kids through them. It is not required.

As it happens, I have spent quite a lot of time over the past decade reading Roald Dahl books with small children as part of a side hustle in tutoring English. Matilda, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits: all of them. All these books have moments in them that are a little sticky for modern readers, and that you can contextualize for children, if you want to. I think, from experience, that even small children are capable of understanding something like “In the past, more people thought it was OK to be rude about people who were different from them, but now we don’t do that because it’s upsetting/unfair/wrong.” Dahl’s books are full of material that needs a little explaining to kids, but perhaps more importantly here, the world’s full of other children’s books. I choose to read these to kids because I feel comfortable helping kids through them. It is not required.

I mention all of this, obviously, because of a new episode in a doomed and stupid enterprise of our times: Yet again, adults are getting angry online about children’s books. It was announced earlier this week that the Roald Dahl Story Company, which controls the rights to the late author’s books, worked in conjunction with Puffin, the books’ publisher, and a collective who campaign to make children’s literature more inclusive, on what they call “small and carefully considered” changes to the texts, to ensure Dahl’s books “continue to be enjoyed by all children today.” These have apparently included changes to language regarding things like weight, mental health, gender, violent behavior, and race, and whole extra sentences added about topics such as why it’s OK for women to wear wigs, in The Witches.

What’s interesting about this unneeded controversy is that I haven’t so far seen anybody, anywhere on the political spectrum, who thinks this is a good idea. Loudmouths on the right think it’s “woke cancel culture” nonsense, and loudmouths on the left think it smacks of literary censorship. So why has this happened?

Listen: Roald Dahl was a ******. This is known. In an infamous 1983 interview, he said that “there is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity. Maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere.” He was, by some accounts, a more general racist, a misogynist, a bully. I understand the publisher’s impulse to look at these works, which bear marks of the views of their author, and want to try to buff them to a higher shine under the gaze of the contemporary world. Generally, though, I don’t think it serves anybody very well if we scrub away everything that is troubling in this way.

It’s uncomfortable that the world has changed, and that many cultural works of a time before now still exist and are enjoyable. Sometimes, it’s an obvious move to make small changes to a literary text to update it for modern audiences. Surely few would dispute, for example, that changing the name of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None from what it used to be removed offensive language while preserving the value of the work.

But what’s happened here is more extensive, and much less obvious in its merit. What Puffin has actually done in this case is a mess. For instance, Augustus Gloop will be “enormous” rather than “fat.” This performs no sensitivity purpose, because the character is fat. Much of his strand of the plot revolves around this fact. And even taking the word “fat” out at all implies that fat is an insult in and of itself, rather than a descriptor of one possible body type. What has been achieved here?

This whole thing also seems like a misunderstanding about what is appealing about the world of Roald Dahl in the first place. Or not, in fact, a misunderstanding, but something closer to a cynical attempt to sanitize the I.P. before Netflix gets their hands on it to pump out a load of new Dahl adaptations, as they will be doing in the coming years after a deal with the Roald Dahl Story Company. Puffin can change lines like “so I shipped them all over here—every man, woman and child in the Oompa-Loompa tribe” to “so, they all agreed to come over—each and every Oompa Loompa.” Fine, but do we now need more detail on how the Oompa-Loompas are being compensated fairly for their work? Does any child in the world give a shit about that? I’m being facetious, but the point is that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a horrible little story in many ways. Changing specific phrases doesn’t change the shape of these books themselves. They are nasty books. Dahl was a nasty writer for adults as well: His short stories are some of the most memorable and twisted things I’ve read. The Twits is about a husband and a wife torturing each other for fun. In Matilda, a little boy is forced to eat an entire chocolate cake until he is almost sick as a punishment. In George’s Marvelous Medicine, George kills his grandmother by shrinking her out of existence. The nastiness is a feature, not a bug.

Link to the rest at Slate

Welcome to the world of no redemption. Never forgetting without learning anything.

Salman Rushdie, Brian Cox slam Roald Dahl publisher for inclusive book edits

From The Washington Examiner:

The decision to revise some of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s books to make them more inclusive was met with widespread condemnation over the weekend.

Dahl’s publisher, Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Random House, and the Roald Dahl Story Co., which manages the works’ copyright and trademarks, told Britain’s Telegraph for a report published Friday that the two collaborated with Inclusive Minds, a collective that works on making children’s literature more inclusive, to make the hundreds of changes. Critics of Dahl, who remained a vocal anti-Semite until his death in 1990, have argued that some of his works are bigoted.

Renowned author Salman Rushdie , whose novel The Satanic Verses led Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa in 1989 calling on all Muslims to kill him, denounced the changes to Dahl’s works.

“Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship,” Rushdie tweeted Saturday. “Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.”

Actor Brian Cox, who currently stars in HBO’s Succession and has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, decried the revisions by likening them to McCarthyism.

“I really do believe [these books are] of their time and they should be left alone,” he told the Times of London in a radio interview. “Roald Dahl was a great satirist, apart from anything else. It’s disgraceful.”

“It’s this kind of form of McCarthyism, this woke culture, which is absolutely wanting to reinterpret everything and redesign and say, ‘Oh, that didn’t exist.'” he continued. “Well. it did exist. We have to acknowledge our history.”

Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of PEN America, a nonprofit that defends free expression in literature and other art, said her organization was “alarmed” by news of the changes.

“If we start down the path of trying to correct for perceived slights instead of allowing readers to receive and react to books as written, we risk distorting the work of great authors and clouding the essential lens that literature offers on society,” Nossel wrote on Twitter.

Laura Hackett, a lifelong Dahl fan who serves as deputy literary editor for London’s Sunday Times newspaper, vowed to collect old, unaltered copies of Dahl’s works for her children while condemning the revisions.

Link to the rest at The Washington Examiner and thanks to K. for the tip.

PG says all the “inclusive” alterations he has seen in books written by good authors has been ruinous.

Words including ‘fat,’ ‘ugly’ and ‘crazy’ have been removed from Roald Dahl’s books, but the publisher said the ‘sharp-edged spirit’ of the original text has been maintained

From Business Insider:

The latest editions of Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s books have been altered to remove words such as “fat,” “ugly,” and “mad,” The Telegraph first reported.

Roald Dahl, who died in 1990, is one of the most successful authors of all time. His 43 books — including more than 20 children’s books — have sold more than 250 million copies, according to WordsRated.

In a note at the beginning of the new editions, which The Telegraph cited, the publisher Puffin said some text had been rewritten to ensure that Dahl’s books “can continue to be enjoyed by all today.”

The Roald Dahl Story Company, which manages the copyright of Roald Dahl’s books and collaborated with Puffin to update the texts, said that “the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit” of the original books had not been lost.

. . . .

Puffin and the Roald Dahl Story Company hired sensitivity readers from Inclusive Minds, which calls itself “a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature.”

The word “fat” has been cut from all of Dahl’s kids’ books, according to The Telegraph. Augustus Gloop, from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is now simply “enormous” rather than “enormously fat.” Aunt Sponge, from “James and the Giant Peach”, is no longer “the fat one.”

The publisher has also removed the word “ugly.” Rather than being “ugly and beastly,” Mrs. Twit of “The Twits” is now simply “beastly.” The publisher has also cut terms such as “crazy” and “mad,” which Dahl used on numerous occasions.

. . . .

The new editions also try to modernize the books’ portrayal of women. The suggestion that something might be “not ladylike” has been switched to “undignified” in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

The publisher has also replaced references to “female” characters: In “Matilda,” Miss Trunchbull — once a “most formidable female” — is now a “most formidable woman.”

In “The Witches,” a paragraph explaining that the much-feared witches are bald underneath their wigs now adds: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”

They’ve also opted for gender-neutral terms, where possible. “Mothers and fathers” has become “parents” and the “Cloud-Men” of “James and the Giant Peach” are now “Cloud-People.”

Link to the rest at Business Insider

2022 Children’s Bestsellers: Comics with Crowd Appeal, Timeless Picture Books, and More

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Our 2022 Facts and Figures compilation of children’s and YA bestsellers includes a wide variety of titles, dominated by ever-expanding illustrated and graphic novel series and their spinoffs, YA movie tie-ins and sequels, and time-tested picture books. Our lists are based on print unit sales at outlets that report to NPD Bookscan, which tracks approximately 85% of the print market. Here we compile the books that sold more than 100,000 copies in four categories: Hardcover Frontlist, Paperback Frontlist, Hardcover Backlist, and Paperback Backlist.

Last year’s overall top-selling book for children was Diper Överlöde, book 17 in Jeff Kinney’s hugely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which sold more than 800,000 copies in hardcover. The middle grade series and its spinoff, Awesome Friendly Kid, had a strong showing across multiple categories.

The hardcover frontlist list features heavy-hitter Dav Pilkey in the #2 slot, with Cat Kid Comic Club: On Purpose, the third installment in a graphic novel series starring Dog Man character Li’l Petey. Pilkey also ranks high in that category with book four in his Cat Kid Comic Club series, Collaborations, and the color edition of the 12th Captain Underpants book. Despite continued controversy, J.K. Rowling appears at #3 with the newly illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. And reflecting the popularity of movie tie-ins and crossovers is Long Live the Pumpkin Queen: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas by Shea Ernshaw, based on the 1993 film.

At the top of the paperback frontlist is The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han. Her contemporary YA romance series has seen renewed popularity with the June 2022 release of the TV adaptation on Amazon Prime. And the sequel to British writer Holly Jackson’s bestselling teen thriller A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder nabs the third slot. Jackson is scheduled to publish a prequel, Kill Joy on February 28, followed by her first standalone novel, Five Survive, in November.

For hardcover backlist, the late Eric Carle once again takes the lead in the category with sales for The Very Hungry Caterpillar totaling more than 700,000. Perennial picture book favorites Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, and Goodnight Moon also had their usual strong sales.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

13-Year-Old Signs Deal for Contraband Books Exposing Darker Side of Social Media

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Abi Behe, a 13-year-old Londoner has agreed a book deal with UK publisher Markosia for her graphic novels Christiania and Charlie Dirtbags.  Co-created with comic artists Taka, Thomas Muzzell and Thomas John, both books will come out in 2023.

Released this spring, Christiania is set in Freetown – Copenhagen’s crown jewel of artist expression – and centres on social media’s disruptive impact on a defiant Danish teenage girl.  After her parents are forced out of the community, a Christiania is left to raise herself and thrives despite excessive peer pressure – until a close connection seeking online fame begins aggressively targeting her.

“When I thought about making the female character, I wanted her to have experiences similar to girls my age,” says writer Abi Behe. “I hope people can relate to her because I sometimes feel how she feels in the story.”

In the tradition of noir Danish comics portraying idealistic societies with a darker, dysfunctional underworlds, the lead character is a personification of Freetown – an energetic community resisting mainstream superficiality whilst struggling to deal with crime within its boundaries.

“Christiania the girl represents what the real place is all about,” says Behe. “She has gone through all sorts of problems over the years and survived. But then a social media villain tries to destroy Christiania’s real spirit.”

The book’s artist Taka created wordless double-page spreads to emulate the vivid multi-character street art created on the walls throughout Freetown – a stark contrast to rapid-fire content streams flowing in the dark digital world it seeks to expose.

“We wanted to make big two-page scenes without text so readers could soak up each picture and calmly pick up all the meaning,” says Abi. “This is completely different to reading lots of social media messages or news feeds on our phone.”

Both of Behe’s books are set in the world of Contraband, an exploding dark web app attracting people jaded with state censorship, sponsored spam and cancel-culture on mainstream social media. Contraband becomes a criminal digital underground where profit hungry mobs prowl city streets filming radical events to satisfy society’s insatiable demand for sensational content.  But when activists hack the app giving control to any influencer with the most followers, chaos ensues as people everywhere go to any lengths to get the money and fame of being Contraband #1.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

PG says this sounds like more difficult situations than he would have enjoyed when he was 13. He also wonders if the target audience for these books includes children.

An Open Letter to The Nutcracker Ballet

From Electric Lit:

Dear Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow King and Queen, Dewdrop Fairy, Dewdrops, Turkish Twirlers, Mother Ginger, Mother Ginger’s Bébés, Dancing Flowers, Spanish Dancers, Arabian Dancers, Chinese Dancers, Soldiers, Dolls, Rats, Producers, Nutcracker Stans, and beloved Mice:

I’m Angelina Jeanette Mouseling from Chipping Cheddar, UK, born in 1983. Better known as Angelina Ballerina, I’ve danced ballet my whole life. My life story has been made into an award winning set of childrens’ books and TV series. I have a nut to crack with The Nutcracker Ballet.

I’m a mouse. The Nutcracker has always been set against mice. Why? I have no idea. Without us there’s no conflict, no tension, and yet all anyone ever talks about is Clara and the Prince. 

The plot itself is completely unbelievable. In Act One the mice attack the Nutcracker (who turns into a Prince???) for absolutely no reason. I’ve never seen a mouse attack a human in my entire life, let alone attempt to eat royalty. Are you aware of our diminutive size? 

Once the mice are defeated, we’re never seen, or heard from, again. There isn’t a single mouse in the entire second half of the ballet. Whatever… 

Then there’s the tiny problem of typecasting. At first I set my sights on landing the part of Clara, but after years without a callback, I moved on. I thought MAYBE the Sugar Plum Fairy was within reach. But no, I kept getting feedback that I was too little. 

And it’s not just me! Do you know how many of my mouse friends have worked their whole lives, climbing up the ranks through the corps de ballet, only to be cast as Mouse #3 over and over again? 

I’ve advocated for mice in starring roles throughout my career with no success outside of productions for mice by mice. For example my best friend Alice Nimbletoes, the talented gymnast, has never been a lead for a human audience. My rivals, the twins Priscilla and Penelope Pinkpaws, despite being Miss Lilly’s favorites, haven’t made it into leading roles either. Alice is a mouse of color, and the Pinkpaws twins aren’t always the nicest but still, none of us have ever been able to cross over. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Children’s booksellers and librarians urge that momentum from Cottrell Boyce debate continues

From The Bookseller:

Booksellers and librarians are urging that the momentum of the debate sparked by authors Frank Cottrell Boyce and Robin Stevens — who recently told BBC Radio 4’s “Today Programme” that a lack of critical discourse around children’s literature because of squeezed review pages and underfunded libraries was “narrowing down” choice for children — should continue.

The authors’ appearance on the radio show prompted The Daily Telegraph arts desk to pledge to review a new children’s book every week, and Cottrell Boyce has indicated that he’s had a substantial response to his call for change, writing on Twitter last week: “It feels like after years of remote rumbling, something seismic might be about to shift the landscape of children’s books.”

Annie Rhodes, bookseller at Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, told The Bookseller that the team “heard the radio programme and it has got us all talking.” She said they were “encouraged by the recent light shone on the children’s book world” and “do think it is important that children’s books receive as much attention and are as much a part of the literary world as books for adults.

She continued: “Any conversation that highlights the quality of good children’s literature can only be beneficial for children’s reading — the adults in their lives may learn a bit more about really good books from the reviews and will be able to buy or borrow books for children that go beyond what you see in the supermarkets and bestseller lists.”

Of the Telegraph’s reviews pledge, she added: “Any commitment like this from a major newspaper is good news for the children’s book world and for booksellers — a lot of our customers primarily read traditional print newspapers and learn about what is good from the reviews and we often see customers coming through the door asking for the book that was reviewed as the Times children’s book of the week, for example.”

Rhodes said she is “hopeful that this isn’t a brief conversation in the public eye”, that the “momentum” isn’t lost and that the debate “carries on, and that other newspapers and media outlets follow suit.” “We are excited to see what happens next,” she said.

Dee Lalljee, c.e.o. of The Bookery, which won Independent Bookshop of the Year at the 2022 British Book Awards, likewise said the team at the Crediton-based children’s bookshop “completely agrees” with Cottrell Boyce that a debate is long overdue.

“Not only is there zero national conversation about children’s books, but this is underpinned by a woefully inadequate understanding of the skills required to write and illustrate good children’s books, and the influence they have on children’s lives,” she told The Bookseller.

“As independent booksellers we work hard to champion new books and authors. Our schools team are committed to reviewing new children’s books and they collate annual lists to inspire reading for pleasure, taking these curated book lists to thousands of primary school children (and their teachers) across the county. With the pull of video games and screens, we need to be putting more effort into getting children reading. It’s absolutely crucial for good new authors to be supported and reviewed, and so important to children’s emotional well-being and development that they read.”

Likewise, Natasha Radford, co-owner of Chicken and Frog Bookshop in Brentwood, Essex, “completely agreed” that a conversation around which books find themselves in children’s hands and why was overdue, saying: “We steer away from celebrity titles. This is for several reasons, but mainly because I feel it’s important to provide more choice. Celebrity authors get an unfair percentage of the publicity budget, which pushes others out. If you’re already a big name, do you need so much publicity? I don’t think so.”

She continued: “I hope that [Cottrell Boyce] is right about the shift. It’s down to publishers — especially the big ones — to start celebrating their less-known authors. There’s a stigma around being ‘just’ a children’s author. This needs to be challenged. High-profile awards, broadsheet reviews, etc will help with this.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Amazon Alexa Wants To Put Your Child To Bed With Generative AI Storytelling

From Forbes:

Generative AI, which is known for churning out fantastical art based on text prompts, is now sneaking into one of the most sacred bonding experiences for parents and children: bedtime storytelling.

Amazon is hopping into the generative AI craze with a new Alexa feature that creates short, five-scene stories for kids based on a few prompts. Called ‘Create With Alexa,’ the feature lets children and parents select from given themes like underwater, enchanted forest and space exploration and pick a character, a descriptive word and a color. Then, they sit back and wait as the AI comes up with different stories, visuals, audio dialogues and background music.

With Amazon hopping aboard the generative AI craze, some experts say that the company has created safeguards to ensure that the technology isn’t spouting anything inappropriate for young ears, and Create With Alexa could help foster more shared experiences for children and parents. But AI researchers also warn that stories made with generative AI could mystify children’s understanding of AI’s capabilities and intelligence.

The feature, which is available on Echo Show devices, relies on generative AI, algorithms that use existing content to create new content. Specifically, it implements language models, which ingest large amounts of text to learn how to create sentences similar to how people talk. The algorithm that powers Create With Alexa is trained on a database of commercially available visuals as well as Amazon’s own proprietary content.

Eshan Bhatnagar, head of product for Alexa AI at Amazon, says that Create With Alexa was designed with safety in mind. The technology has three safeguards in place, including content filtering, training the AI on a curated dataset that is free of toxic content, and most importantly, setting up a structured and restricted experience. “We wanted to avoid the garbage in garbage out kind of tendency of AI,” says Bhatnagar, referencing the likelihood of AI to render improper content based on the type of inputs fed into it. “We are being cautious, and conservative in our approach to how we want to expose some of the generative capabilities to our customers.”

Stefania Druga, a researcher on creative AI at the University of Washington, says Amazon’s decision to build Alexa’s new storytelling feature by structuring it around a few input prompts that ask users to select from a given set of templates can help make generative AI safer for kids. “I think this approach of providing curated templates, and really trying to curate the experience and control the types of generations that can be entered into the system is very promising,” Druga told Forbes.

But these safeguards can’t fully protect kids from the influence of intelligent computer systems like Alexa. Druga found in her research paper “Hey Google is it OK if I eat you?” Initial Explorations in Child-Agent Interaction” that interacting with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Home can influence how children understand the intelligence of computers. She says Create With Alexa could mystify the abilities of AI for children, influencing their judgments about how intelligent the computer actually is and whether it’s a trustworthy source.

“What I’ve seen in my research is that the kids don’t even know how to read and write when they start interacting with a voice assistant. And if that’s their first introduction into searching anything on the web, that really colors their experience on how they process information,” Druga says. “Because if it’s spoken to them with a nice voice as a human would talk, they don’t really see that this is just like the first result from a search on the web, then it’s harder to develop this critical sense of whether they should trust this or not.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

Freedom to Read Advocates Warn of Proposed ‘Book Rating’ Bill in Texas, Rising Book Bans in Missouri

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Freedom to Read advocates are voicing concern over a new bill in the Texas state legislature, that, if passed, would require publishers to create an “age appropriate” rating system for books sold to Texas school libraries. But most worrisome, critics say, the bill as written would not only force publishers to develop a rating system, it would appear to give Texas state officials the power to direct publishers to change ratings that state officials disagree with and to bar schools from doing business with publishers that do not acquiesce. The ratings would also have to be “affixed to the cover” of each book.

The bill is still in the early stages. Filed this week by Republican Tom Oliverson on the opening day of the filing period for the upcoming legislative session, the proposed bill, HB 338, will compete with thousands of other proposed bills for legislative action when the Texas legislature begins work in January, 2023. For context, the Texas Tribune reported that Texas legislators filed more than 800 bills in the opening hours of the filing period. While most of these bills will not advance, Tribune reporters note, the first bills of the session can often “shed light on legislators’ priorities and what battles could be shaping up in Austin next year.”

Early stages or not, Oliverson’s proposed bill has freedom to read advocates bracing for a rough 2023 legislative session in Texas, a state where conservative lawmakers—including newly re-elected governor Greg Abbott—have been among the most aggressive supporters of book bans and educational gag orders.

In 2021, Abbott demanded that the state agencies overseeing education and library funding keep “inappropriate” books out of Texas schools, and went so far as to direct agency officials to open criminal investigations over offending titles. Furthermore, Abbott’s directive followed a headline-grabbing inquiry launched in October 2021 by Texas state representative Matt Krause that singled out some 850 books for scrutiny.

In a statement, officials at PEN America called HB 338 a “dangerous escalation” in the movement to censor books in schools and libraries.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG didn’t plan the juxtaposition of this item with the one he posted just before he posted this item, but the combination of the two OP’s struck him as interesting.

Let’s take the author of the Female Fear post and take her back to a time when she was 8-10 years old. PG would speculate that she might well be a sensitive girl at that time, perhaps subject to some anxieties.

How would such a sensitive child, female or male, react to a book featuring LGBTQIA+ material as are some of the books that parents and others find objectionable for an elementary school library? In past lives, PG has known more than a couple of children who would have been extremely upset about discovering this sort of book in the library. Violence isn’t the only thing that may upset a sensitive child.

PG is not suggesting that children’s librarians have to make certain the fears of the most frightened and neurotic child imaginable are not triggered, but PG suggests that they do need to put the welfare of children before any ideas that it’s important for children to learn about potentially upsetting issues during their childhood years.

But, as usual, PG might be wrong.

No, Books Should Not Have Content Ratings Like Movies

From Book Riot:

One of the great joys of my young life was reading books pitched to older children. Graduating from picture books to chapter books with pictures, then chapter books, then longer and longer books was a big deal to me. For kids’ books in the U.S., you can usually find an age range somewhere on the flap or back cover of a book. Readers and people acquiring books for readers occasionally use this as a guide for getting books for appropriate ages. In recent years, certain groups have demanded a more robust rating system for books, similar to the MPAA rating system for movies. However, there are many reasons why books should not have content ratings like movies.

The general idea behind a “rating” system for kids’ books makes sense to me. The widespread availability of the Internet means that kids have access to some of the worst information ever documented with just a few keystrokes. Technology companies attempt to keep up with this freedom by providing methods of blocking content that could be upsetting or out-of-age-range for young children. The problem with books is that there’s no way to automatically censor content in books unless you ban them, rip out specific pages, or cross out certain words with a permanent marker.

Since books are longer and more involved than movies, they’re trickier to pin down with exact content ratings. Including age ranges can sort of help, but they don’t tell you much about the content. A 10 year old is also unlikely to have the exact same experiences or sensitivities as a 10 year old from a different country, or even one from a different neighborhood.

. . . .

Jon Lewis, author of Hollywood v. Hard Core: How the Struggle Over Censorship Created the Modern Film Industry, argues that the ratings are subjective by design. We can see what he means in how certain movies are declared to be far more “adult” than others.

. . . .

Parents don’t even seem to like the MPAA rating system all that much, criticizing it for desensitizing children to violence. So what’s the argument for a rating system for books?

The idea is that kids should not have access to stories that could upset them or expose them to difficult topics. The rating system outlined on Book Cave uses seven categories (crude humor/language, profanity, drug and alcohol use, kissing, nudity, sex and intimacy, and violence and horror), and then rates each category on a scale from All Ages to Adult+. The book is then weighted for a final rating. Common Sense Media gives detailed advice about how to assess various aspects of books and how to choose them for children, and promises to provide detailed reviews to help parents, guardians, and other stakeholders make decisions.

. . . .

Age ranges and reading levels are also very hit-or-miss. Reading levels were introduced in schools to make sure students were keeping up with reading demands, so there were lots of numbers introduced to explain these levels. The important part of reading levels is that children should be able to ingest and understand the majority of the book they’re reading so they don’t get discouraged. However, kids should challenge themselves with books theoretically outside of their level so they don’t get bored.

If reading levels are determined by word difficulty alone, that can also make books look less complex than they are. Age ranges and reading levels are somewhat necessary for educators to build curricula, but kids should always be allowed to seek books outside of their “level” or assigned classroom work. I’m an advocate of the method “bring kid to library and let them explore for three hours,” as my caretakers did for me.

There are problems with rating systems that use categories to determine appropriateness as well. A book might not have violence in it explicitly, but it could have imagery that gives your child a nightmare. We can’t determine how kids will react to reading in general, so over-arching rules and categorical rating systems are limited.

Rating systems that determine how “adult” a book is also impose a certain kind of life experience on childhood. They present a monolithic idea of maturity: a child can only read about violent content when they’re of the age to be familiar with it. There are children in the world who are familiar with curse words, or have experience with violent or upsetting events. “Milestones” in childhood are impossible to pinpoint because people’s life experiences are so wildly different.

Reading about difficult topics, whether or not children have experienced them, can be a good way to process complex emotions. It’s also an important way for children to develop language and understanding around “inappropriate” topics.

. . . .

At the surface, none of this sounds necessarily bad. Parents obviously want kids to read, but they don’t want kids diving into books with intense horror that will scare a 7 year old or overt descriptions of sex before a parent has had ‘The Talk’ with their kid.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG notes that parents are not the only people who give or choose books for children.

Schools, public and private, also give/choose books for children. Ditto for libraries.

A ratings system doesn’t need to be perfect to be useful for people who choose books for children to read.

Given the nature of a relatively small portion of books which parents are likely to find objectionable, PG doesn’t mind terribly that a ratings system might err on the side of excluding books that only a small portion of the children’s families would likely find objectionable.

A single book is not the only way a child can learn about something the child or family might regard as objectionable. There are zillions of books available on all manner of topics, presenting them in a wide variety of ways.

As a final observation, PG notes that opinion pieces that claim it’s important for children know about this or that at a particular age are generalizing about children in a manner that assumes that all children of a certain age are ready to understand this or that fact of life. They also often assume that getting such information with a certain degree of specificity is important when a more general discussion might provide some or all children with the information they need to know and assuming they can extrapolate from the general to the specific without having the specific laid out in great detail.

PG’s experience growing up on ranches and farms with livestock of various sizes and shapes exposed him to some universal elements of mammalian interaction between the female and male of a given species gave him the general idea concerning male/female reproduction cause and effect among mammals of other types.

He expects that any child growing up in a neighborhood with more than one or two dogs might have the same general type of experience from time to time without the specificity provided in a book describing such details between human males and females of different ages.

But, as usual, PG could be completely wrong about this whole subject.

More than half of young readers credit BookTok with sparking passion for reading

From The Bookseller:

A poll conducted by the Publishers Association has found more than half of young readers credit BookTok, a subcommunity on the social media platform TikTok focused on books and literature, with helping them discover a passion for reading.

Of 2,001 16–25-year-olds surveyed by the organisation in October, 59% said that BookTok or book influencers had “helped them discover a passion for reading”, while more than half (55%) said they turn to BookTok for recommendations. Moreover, 68% said BookTok had inspired them to read a book that they would have never considered otherwise.

The research also saw 38% of young people say they turn to BookTok for recommendations ahead of family and friends, while nearly one in five (19%) reported that following the Booktok hashtag helped them find a community. Another 16% reported that they had made new friends through BookTok.

Dan Conway, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said: “It’s great to see that the BookTok phenomenon is igniting a love of reading for young people. Reading can be so beneficial to health and happiness and is a way for all ages to connect over common interests.”

Findings suggest a boost for bookshops, too, with nearly half (49%) of respondents visiting a physical bookshop to buy a book they have seen on BookTok. Book Bar, an independent bookshop and wine bar in London, is among a number of bookshops aiming to cater for this audience.

Due to trends driven by BookTok, the shop now stocks more contemporary books which cater to a broader demographic. Chrissy Ryan, the owner of Book Bar, said: “Launching in the pandemic was challenging but BookTok has been really helpful in driving customers into our store. More and more we are seeing young people come to the shop asking for books they discovered on TikTok.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Inside the Real-Life Succession Battle at Scholastic

During his internet checking for the post that appeared online just before this one, PG was researching a bit about Scholastic and stumbled onto something he thought would be of interest to visitors to TPV. This story appeared in October, 2021.

From The New York Times:

When her phone buzzed on June 6, Iole Lucchese was still absorbing a shock that had come the day before. Her longtime boss, M. Richard Robinson Jr., the chairman and chief executive of the Scholastic publishing company, had died suddenly while taking a walk with one of his sons and his former wife on Martha’s Vineyard.

Now, Scholastic’s general counsel, Andrew Hedden, was on the phone, delivering a second surprise.

He had called to inform her that Mr. Robinson, 84 — who turned his father’s book and magazine business into the largest publisher and distributor of children’s books in the world, known for thousands of beloved series, including Clifford the Big Red Dog, Hunger Games and Harry Potter — had left Ms. Lucchese 53.8 percent of Scholastic’s Class A stock. The company where she had worked for 30 years, rising from a junior employee in the Canadian market to one of its top executives, was now a company she controlled.

“It was overwhelming,” Ms. Lucchese said in an interview at Scholastic’s headquarters in SoHo, water towers punctuating the cityscape behind her.

Being handed control of the company, which is valued at $1.2 billion, has made Ms. Lucchese, 55, one of the most powerful women in book publishing, and the stock provides her — the daughter of a construction worker and a homemaker — with significant wealth. The gift also shifts the business, which had been passed from father to son, to a person outside the family and puts Scholastic in an extremely unusual position for a public company: adapting to a succession plan many key players did not know was coming.

In his will, Mr. Robinson described Ms. Lucchese (her name is pronounced YO-lay lew-KAY-zee) as “my partner and closest friend.” But an article in The Wall Street Journal described them as “longtime romantic partners.” Six former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were reluctant to cause further embarrassment to Mr. Robinson’s sons, confirmed to The New York Times that the romantic relationship between Ms. Lucchese and Mr. Robinson had been well known among many Scholastic employees.

“We were great business partners and close friends,” said Ms. Lucchese, a senior executive responsible for strategy and the company’s entertainment division.

She declined to address The Journal’s claim that she and Mr. Robinson had been involved in a relationship, which the employees believe ended a few years before his death.

This was Ms. Lucchese’s first interview with the news media since the death of Mr. Robinson, whom everyone called Dick. She was joined at a round conference table by Peter Warwick, the company’s new chief executive, and flanked by two publicists, one from Scholastic and another from the public relations firm Edelman.

“Dick understood that I shared his passion for Scholastic, and what this company means to the teachers we serve, to the children we serve, to everyone,” Ms. Lucchese said of his decision to leave his Class A shares to her. “He trusted me with that legacy, and I think it’s because we worked together and he knew that we were aligned.”

That bequest bypassed his two sons, John Benham Robinson, 34, known as Ben, and Maurice Robinson, 25, known as Reece. Mr. Robinson’s sons declined to comment for this article.

. . . .

The publisher’s offices are in a warehouse-style building with exposed bricks, subway tiles and a giant sculpture of Captain Underpants busting through the lobby wall. On the day of the interview, the offices sat mostly empty as many employees continued to work from home because of the pandemic. Any silences in the conversation hung heavily in the air.

Sometimes confining herself to one-word answers, Ms. Lucchese discussed her career and the unusual situation of being both a longtime senior executive and now also the chairwoman. A stack of Harry Potter books kept watch from a large wooden bookshelf over Ms. Lucchese’s left shoulder.

“He’s the boss,” she said, motioning to Mr. Warwick, who, as chief executive, in one sense outranks her.

“But I do report to the board,” he answered.

An Envelope in a Safe

“Scholastic announces the untimely death of its chairman and CEO M. Richard (Dick) Robinson, Jr.,” a company news release declared the day after Mr. Robinson died. It emphasized that his passing had been unexpected and sudden, even though he was 84 years old.

About six weeks later, Ms. Lucchese’s new position as chairwoman was made public, with the company including that update midway through a news release titled “Peter Warwick Named Chief Executive Officer of Scholastic Corporation.”

Scholastic did not seek publicity for its new chair, the first woman and the first person outside the Robinson family to hold the position in decades. A few days after the news of the personal complexity around the succession had broken in The Journal, the company, known for its stable of beloved childhood classics, became an object of tabloid interest — “How ‘chameleon’ Iole Lucchese won $1.2B Scholastic empire,” read one New York Post headline.

When a reporter for The New York Times emailed Scholastic in August requesting an interview with Ms. Lucchese, Ira Gorsky, executive vice president at Edelman, the public relations company, called to inquire about whether Ms. Lucchese would be asked about “the alleged affair,” saying, “You can see how this is offensive, how the allegations implied that she has not gotten to her position because of merit.”

Mr. Gorsky said that as “a ground rule for giving an interview,” the Times reporter could not ask Ms. Lucchese about a personal relationship with Mr. Robinson. When the reporter declined to agree to such limitations, Mr. Gorsky responded: “Then we’re done.”

Ms. Lucchese did eventually agree to be interviewed, and no one representing her asked again for restrictions on topics or questions. Aside from an hourlong conversation with Ms. Lucchese and Mr. Warwick, preceded by a tour of the company’s archive led by a librarian, Scholastic declined to make any other employee available.

Her supporters say that as a 30-year veteran and a longtime senior executive of the company, she represents continuity and is qualified to lead it. Any skeptical reaction to Mr. Robinson’s choice of Ms. Lucchese is “laced with sexism,” said Erik Feig, the founder of Picturestart, a media financing and production company that Scholastic invested in and where Ms. Lucchese is a board member.

“She understands every brick of the literal and metaphorical building of the company,” Mr. Feig said.

Wall Street does not know her as well as some players in Hollywood do. Scholastic’s largest investor, after the Robinson family, was not aware of Mr. Robinson’s succession plan. “On a number of occasions, I asked Dick,” said David Wallack, a portfolio manager for T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore-based investment company, which holds more than 18 percent of the company’s common stock.

“He would tell me, ‘When I die, there is a safe, and there is an envelope in the safe, and the board of directors will open the safe and see what my wishes were,’” said Mr. Wallack, who was in regular touch with Mr. Robinson for 20 years. “I thought it was hyperbole.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

(Sorry if you hit a paywall. PG isn’t a subscriber to the NYT digital edition, but somehow managed to slip past the NYT paywall this one time. Sorry, but he doesn’t know what magic formula got him there.)

What Young Readers Need

From Publishing Perspectives:

Among the two days of B2B sessions programmed for the inaugural season of our Publishing Perspectives Forum at Frankfurter Buchmesse, an October 20 discussion called “What Young Readers Need Today: Children’s Publishing CEOs in Conversation” drew a strong audience of trade visitors and exhibitors.

Frankfurt president and CEO Juergen Boos led the wide-ranging conversation with Scholastic president and CEO Peter Warwick and Ravensburger CEO Clemens Maier.

Scholastic, based in the States but with deep international-market penetration, is about a century old and is widely recognized as the largest publisher in the world of its kind. Ravensburger was founded in 1883 and, at 139 years old remains focused on a range of products, not just on books, its first product actually having been a wood chip basket sold in 1884.

“Where I think we’re united and a little bit difference from many publishers,” Ravensburger’s Maier said early in the discussion, “is that [we’ve each] actually built a brand, a company brand, a recognizable brand” which may, in fact, be understood differently according to which consumer you ask about it.

“‘The parents know ‘Ravensburger,’” he pointed out, while youngsters for whom those parents are buying educational content may be more familiar with one of the company’s brands such as ThinkFun or Brio.

Warwick pointed out that there’s a parallel in the brand discussion for major companies like Scholastic and Ravensburger and the author-illustrator relationship.

“In illustrated children’s books,” he said, “it’s always a marriage” between the work of the author and the illustrator,” although he agreed with Boos that by the time a reader may be getting into the YA range of the market, there’s a good chance that she or he will be starting to recognize authors’ names, perhaps as readily as a favorite illustrator.

This creates a kind of shifting market dynamic for young readers’ work, and especially for major houses like Scholastic and Ravensburger.

“We always try to analyze as much as we possibly can,” Warwick said, “to understand exactly who is the customer: is it parents, is it the teachers, is it the child? In different circumstances, it can be it can be all of them.”

This question of market analysis and consumer insight prompted Maier to talk about “huge advances in technology and artificial intelligence that we can use in our industry, I think it’s super-exciting.

“We’re looking at things like text-to-image,” he said, “where through simple sentences, you can create images, it’s quite fascinating.”

While “the human hand is still very, very important, we see technology enabling us in many respects, with all the data analysis” that goes into good marketing by taking into account consumer reaction to products.

“Even a company of our size has to be pretty technologically savvy at this point,” Maier said.

And that, as Warwick had pointed out, is itself complicated in the children’s sector by the fact that the buyer and the reader frequently aren’t the same person. Just how text and image may affect the “consumer” can vary according to who that consumer is.

. . . .

“We do a very significant part of our business actually on the school premises,” he said. “We weren’t able to operate [Scholastic’s] book fairs. And we weren’t able to operate our book clubs. There was nobody around for quite a few months to significantly buy educational books, either. Those, our trade books, and what we sell internationally,” Warwick said, “are the core of our business.

“So the timing of the pandemic was pretty serious,” he told Boos. “What happened was that instead of being able to do commerce, as it were, on the school premises, we did a lot more business with the booksellers and the trade, and a lot more business with direct-to-parents—being able to deliver bookshop choices to parents rather than schools. It’s now reverted back to pretty much where it was before, which is to say 85-percent book fairs,” he said—”and the fairs’ revenue is higher than before the pandemic, so that’s very satisfactory.”

On the other hand, he said, “Our trade sales have cooled a little because those books the parents might have [bought] by going to a bookstore, the kids are now getting through the book fair. So we’ve seen the switch and the switch-back.”

Warwick added that the supply-chain effects had been substantial for Scholastic, as well. Having seen a lot of books come in later than expected a year ago, “We wanted to make sure that [now] we have everything. That’s been a change from last year to this year, a fundamental change in the way our business has been organized.”

. . . .

“With families staying at home,” Maier said, “there was a lot of time to play and a demand for those products, semi-educational products. A good chunk of our business is puzzles.

A lot of people” who might not normally advertise their fondness for puzzles “now started puzzling and were very vocal about it. We found ourselves on the front pages of American newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. I think it was the Australian prime minister who said that puzzles are ‘a product of national need’ and that you were allowed to leave the house for that.

“In that sense, COVID was kind to us. Obviously that’s changing now. Some of that extra time is going away and we do feel supply-chain challenges that many people fear. I get the sense our whole modern global supply chain has been built for 2-, 3-, 4-percent swings, not for the 20-percent swings we’ve been seeing over the last couple of years.”

Warwick concurred with Maier on this: “The whole basis of the supply chain for many years was ‘just in time.’ And it’s now become ‘just out of time,’ really because if you’re working on a just-in-time basis, that will really have to change.”

. . . .

Maier made a aside that in Ravensburger’s GraviTrax interactive construction apps, “Lots of people play it, but what we don’t do—or very rarely do—is try to mix the product experience.

“So when the issue was new, everybody was saying, ‘Wow, that is so cool.’” Some elements of the app’s operation could make it appear that an iPhone was broken, although this was simply a messaging effect built into the media.

“What we all realized, Maier said, “was that joining the experience of digital and physical in-app is not a great idea. Going with the same brand into both worlds we do think is a great idea. And then of course there’s exceptions to that because there’s some things where the screen for learning, as a supplement makes a ton of sense.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Perhaps it’s just PG’s mood today, but none of the participants in this discussion sounded particularly intelligent, insightful or innovative.

Exhibit A: “The whole basis of the supply chain for many years was ‘just in time.’ And it’s now become ‘just out of time,’ really because if you’re working on a just-in-time basis, that will really have to change.”

Duh! Covid shutdowns disrupted manufacturing and shipping for virtually all major industries all over the world, a fact which most intelligent business executives took on board months ago.

Exhibit A is the equivalent of saying, “Trees used for printed books take too long to grow.”

Exhibit B: “In illustrated children’s books,” he said, “it’s always a marriage” between the work of the author and the illustrator.”

Oh, really? It takes an author and an illustrator to created an illustrated book? Who would have thunk that?

Presumably, Publishing Perspectives picked the highlights of the statements of these corporate drones to include in its article summarizing what was likely at least a one-hour session.

There was one key indicator Publishing Perspectives didn’t include in its reporting — How many audience members walked out during the session to look for something that was less tedious and more interesting.

Rick Riordan to Return to Percy Jackson Next Fall

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In 2014’s The Heroes of Olympus: The Blood of Olympus, Rick Riordan wrapped up the tales of Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase, and Grover Underwood, allowing them to concentrate on the future rather than saving the world. Save for the occasional cameo, since then the three have yielded space to other protagonists, such as god-turned-mortal Apollo. However, in September 2023, Riordan will reunite his iconic trio for another grand adventure, when they’re called upon to retrieve a missing artifact.

Percy Jackson and the Chalice of the Gods started off as a way to entice Hollywood studios into supporting the rebooted Percy Jackson TV adaptation for Disney+. “What if I sweetened the deal,” Riordan said he pondered, “by giving the readers something they’ve been wanting for the last decade, a classic Percy Jackson novel from his point of view, featuring Percy, Annabeth, and Grover, just like the original five books? It would be the first time since The Last Olympian in 2009 that we had an honest-to-goodness Percy Jackson novel.” (The Heroes of Olympus series, which initially focused upon Roman demi-god Jason Grace, expanded the cast and was told from multiple points of view.)

“I knew we basically had a year to play with during Percy’s senior year in high school, where nothing had been sketched out, no canon described,” Riordan said. “All we know is he’s in school in New York. So what would happen to him? Of course, he’s getting ready for college. And I’ve been through that with my two boys, and that means recommendation letters. And to get into New Rome University, you need recommendation letters from the gods, and they don’t give those out for free. So Percy has to do quests—not to save the world this time, but just to get into college.”

But the television deal with Disney took off and the pitch proved unnecessary after all, so Riordan shelved the idea while working on other projects. When Disney asked Riordan if he had anything they could publish to support the show, he said, “I have these ideas that I came up with two years ago. Why don’t we give the fans a treat?”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

21 of the Best Opening Lines in Children’s Books

From We are Teachers:

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

Charlotte’s Web

“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf.”

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

“On Thursday, when Imogene woke up, she found she had grown antlers.”

Imogene’s Antlers

“In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived 12 little girls, in two straight lines.”


“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”


There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Link to the rest at We are Teachers

Running an Olsen Twins Fan Page Taught Me to Craft an Online Identity

From Electric Lit:

Before my online life orbited around Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, my imaginative play centered on being Mary-Kate and Ashley. The twins were girls like me, except cuter and blonde. A bit older. Certainly smaller, but still, larger than life. They were influencers before the advent of social media. Their empire was built upon their ability to successfully monetize the self. 

 “Do you want to be Mary-Kate or Ashley?” I’d ask my neighbor, Megan, as we waded through the creek by her house. Megan always wanted to be Mary-Kate. That’s why I’d given her a choice. 

Mary-Kate was marketed as sporty and adventurous. Ashley was stylish and demure. Who you chose aligned with the girl you hoped to be – and for me, that was the most feminine girl, the most perfect of girls, everything I’d been told a girl should be. 

We divvied up the twins and mimicked plot lines from their direct-to-video mystery and You’re Invited! series, pretending to solve crimes in our neighborhood cul-de-sac, planning occasion-less parties in the garden. Everything the twins marketed was rooted in a reality that could theoretically be replicated – a reality more exciting and beautiful than the mundane life of a rural West Virginia girl.

By the time the Olsens were in elementary school, their manager, Robert Thorne, began the work that would lead to their jaw dropping fortune. No longer just child actresses, they became a brand. Their faces appeared all over Walmart, one of the only places to shop in our small town. As my mom filled up her grocery cart, I strolled the dimly lit makeup aisles where I spotted the Mary-Kate and Ashley line: jelly lip glosses and creamy eye shadows in a variety of catching colors. Their makeup boasted no specific cosmetic improvement. Not longer lashes or brighter skin or stronger nails. The only brag was the association.

I walked to the middle of the store, to their girls’ clothing line targeted to tweens, those in-between childhood and adolescence. There, I picked out one of their tank tops to purchase with my allowance money, a flimsy piece of fabric in aquamarine, its back a maze of strings. 

“I don’t know,” my mom said as I held the shirt up in the freezer section of the grocery store, harsh lighting barely illuminating the small rhinestones sewn into the fabric for embellishment. “You wouldn’t be able to wear a bra with that.” 

“I don’t need a bra,” I argued, though my mother and I both knew that I certainly did. I could tell she was about to say this, though she stopped herself, perhaps for fear that my response to being punished for breasts would be continued attempts to starve them away. 

“You can only wear it around the house,” she said.

“In the neighborhood?” 

“I don’t know. Certainly not out.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

The Enduring Allure of Choose Your Own Adventure Books

From The New Yorker:

You were a girl who wanted to choose your own adventures. Which is to say, you were a girl who never had adventures. You always followed the rules. But, when you ate an entire sleeve of graham crackers and sank into the couch with a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you got to imagine that you were getting into trouble in outer space, or in the future, or under the sea. You got to make choices every few pages: Do you ask the ghost about her intentions, or run away? Do you rebel against the alien overlords, or blindly obey them?

This was the late eighties in Los Angeles. You binged on these books, pulling tattered sun-bleached copies from your bookshelf: four, five, six in the course of a single afternoon. All over the country, all over the world, other kids were pulling these books from their bookshelves, too. The series has sold more than two hundred and seventy million copies since its launch, in 1979. It’s the fourth-best-selling children’s-book series of all time. Its popularity peaked in the eighties, but the franchise still sells about a million books a year.

In “The Cave of Time,” the first book in the series, you discover a time-travelling cave whose tunnels carry you to Colonial Massachusetts, where you become a soap-maker’s apprentice; or to the Titanic, where your attempts to warn the captain are futile; or even to a version of the year 2022 that does not look much like our version of 2022 (more bike trails). The stated desire of your character (to return to your own time) is at odds with the actual desire of a reader (to have as many adventures as possible). You want to die in the jaws of a T. rex, or change the course of history by eating a sandwich. The warning at the beginning of the book tells you, “Remember—you cannot go back!” But of course you can go back, and you will. After the first few books, the warnings stop saying “You cannot go back!” They understand that going back is the point—not the making but the re-making of choices, the revocability of it all. In childhood, you get to take things back. It’s a small compensation for having very little power in the first place.

Choose books invited kids to exercise some agency, as they rattled around in these cages of limited possibility: millions of seven-year-olds who would someday become thirty-five-year-olds remembering with an aching nostalgia this early sense of freedom; this faith that, after every death, there would always be a do-over.


The story of Choose Your Own Adventure is largely the tale of two men: Edward Packard, a lawyer who came up with the concept while telling bedtime stories to his two daughters (who sometimes wanted the protagonist to do different things), and R. A. (Ray) Montgomery, an independent publisher who put out Packard’s first book, in 1976, after all the big houses had rejected it. Each of them eventually went on to write nearly sixty titles in the series. During the next three decades, Packard and Montgomery (who died in 2014) weathered an evolving, sometimes fractious relationship. Each, at various points, pursued publishing ventures without the other. But together they were responsible for many of the most beloved titles in the series: Packard’s “The Cave of Time,” “Your Code Name Is Jonah,” “Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey?,” and “The Mystery of Chimney Rock”; Montgomery’s “Journey Under the Sea,” “The Lost Jewels of Nabooti,” “Mystery of the Maya,” and “Prisoner of the Ant People.”

Both men went through divorces shortly before the series started gaining momentum, and ended up writing many of their books as single fathers. Their children remember helping their fathers invent and flesh out new scenarios: Packard’s daughter Andrea suggested the idea of a time-travelling cave; Montgomery’s sons, Anson and Ramsey, suggested cars (the Saab 900 Turbo, the Lancia Stratos) for “The Race Forever.” Packard paid his children thirty-five cents an hour to read his manuscripts and offer feedback: Which parts were boring? Which choices would kids enjoy? (Andrea, Anson, and Ramsey ended up writing for the franchise, publishing their first Choose books during college.)

Andrea recalls that time with her father felt even more precious after her parents divorced. (They split up when she was seven.) He would take her on weekend outings that emphasized experiment and tactile experience—encountering the world in concrete, physical ways—and Andrea sees the Choose books as another manifestation of this ethos: a way of encouraging kids to experience the world through exploration and curiosity. Andrea can still remember looking at her father’s diagrams for the books: the forking branches spidering across taped-together paper charts. To her, “those charts felt like houses of possibility.”

. . . .


When his daughters were young, Packard told them bedtime stories about a boy named Pete, a literary alter ego of Andrea’s. (Pete was also the name of a friend she had a crush on, but she thinks the character’s creation had more to do with her suspicion that boys had more freedom in the world.) At key junctures in the story, Packard would ask his daughters what they thought Pete should do next, and when they gave different answers he’d play out both possibilities. Packard remembers this innovation as a function of necessity—“If I’d been a better storyteller, we never would have gotten the form. . . . I’d get stumped, and ask the girls what should happen next”—but Andrea recalls it as an instance of his generosity. He wanted to give each girl her own ending, just as he was always meticulously fair in his distribution of snacks, compliments, and attention.

Andrea remembers bedtime stories with her dad as sacred—this was the time the kids got to be with him, after his long days working at a law firm in Manhattan and his lengthy train commutes back to their home, in suburban Connecticut. Eventually, Packard began using these commutes to turn his bedtime stories into his first book, “Sugarcane Island,” a story full of branching paths recounting Pete’s adventures on a remote island. Working on the manuscript offered Packard an escape from a law career he found largely unsatisfying. In 1969, Packard signed a contract with an agent, who submitted “Sugarcane Island” to various New York publishers and accumulated a stack of rejections. One editor thought it was more of a game than a book. Another said, “It’s hard enough to get children to read, and you’re just making it harder, with all these choices.”


On a Vermont ski vacation in 1975, years after getting rejected by every editor who read “Sugarcane Island,” Packard stumbled across a magazine article about a small publisher called Vermont Crossroads, run by a husband-and-wife team: Ray Montgomery and Constance Cappel. They were looking for inventive children’s literature. When he sent them “Sugarcane Island,” they were immediately excited by the concept. One of Montgomery’s jobs had been consulting as a scenario builder for the Peace Corps and for Con Edison, writing elaborate second-person roles for participants: “You are a construction worker in your mid-thirties. . . . Oil shortages worry you, but you believe a lot of it is bluff.” Packard’s book reminded him of those scenarios: their immersive perspectives, decision junctures, and forking paths.

Despite the couple’s enthusiasm, Vermont Crossroads didn’t have many resources to devote to promotion. Packard had to pitch in to help with the publishing costs. Montgomery Xeroxed sixty copies and gave them to a local teacher to pass out to her students as a kind of juvenile focus group. Asked if they found the book interesting, fifty-nine said yes—and the one who called it “boring” reported having read it nine times. When asked if they would give the book as a gift, only four students said no (one of whom explained, “I’d keep it”). Another student said, “In other books if you’re in a jungle and a snake was next to you, you would have to go away or stay still but in this book you can do both.”

“Sugarcane Island” went on to become one of Vermont Crossroads’s most successful books, selling more than five thousand copies, but both Packard and Montgomery believed that the idea had the potential to break out on a much larger scale. That’s when things got a bit messy, both personally and professionally. Montgomery and his wife separated (as Packard tells it, “she got the house, he got ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ ”); and both men tried (separately) to take the Choose Your Own Adventure concept to larger publishers. First, Packard signed a deal with J. B. Lippincott & Co., an imprint of Harper, and published two Choose books. His pitch for a third was rejected. Packard says that Montgomery, “miffed” that Packard had left Vermont Crossroads, approached Bantam, then part of Bertelsmann, with the concept on his own. Montgomery got a contract for six books. As Packard tells it, Bantam “wouldn’t sign the deal” without Packard’s involvement; as Montgomery’s widow, Shannon Gilligan, tells it, Montgomery’s sense of fairness, as well as a feeling that six books in a year was too much for one writer, inspired him to get Packard involved. However it happened, they eventually split the deal.

Andrea helped her father come up with the idea for “The Cave of Time” during a road trip. They were in his orange Volkswagen Squareback—with a stick holding up one window, and no seat belts in the back—going to see his mother on the North Fork of Long Island. Packard told his daughters and their younger brother that he had a contract with Bantam and he needed ideas. Andrea had recently gone spelunking at summer camp, crawling into a small cave beneath the main cave, farther than anyone else, and felt torn between exploring more—had anyone ever seen these tunnels?—and returning to safety. When she suggested the idea to her father—a cave whose deepest tunnels transported you through time—he said, “Great idea! Get started!,” and handed her a yellow composition pad. “The Cave of Time” credits Andrea with “concept, title, and editorial assistance,” and she has always received a percentage of the royalties.

At Bantam, Choose Your Own Adventure finally found the huge readership its creators always believed it could entice. A 1981 feature in the Times described a fourth-grade classroom with seven students all making different choices in “The Cave of Time.” Soon afterward, Packard was interviewed by Bryant Gumbel on the “Today” show. (He’d been hoping for Jane Pauley, whom he had a crush on.) At some point in the early eighties, Bantam decided that it wanted twelve books a year, so it got six from Packard and six from Montgomery.

The Choose franchise hit a generational sweet spot, alongside the rise of Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games. Back then, it was these text-based experiences which could most powerfully deliver the possibilities of interactive narrative.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Best-Selling Children’s Books of the 20th Century

From InfoPlease:

  1. The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943) 140 Million
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K. Rowling (1997) 120 Million
  3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1865) 100 Million
  4. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis (1950) 85 Million
  5. The Adventures of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi (1881) 80 Million
  6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling (1998) 77 Million
  7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling (1999) >60 Million
  8. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling (2000) >60 Million
  9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling (2003) >60 Million
  10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling (2005) >60 Million
  11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling (2007) >60 Million
  12. Heidi, Johanna Spyri (1880) ~50 Million
  13. Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908) ~50 Million
  14. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell (1877) ~50 Million
  15. Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White (1971) ~50 Million
  16. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter (1902) 45 Million
  17. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle (1969) 43 Million
  18. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame (1908) ~25 Million
  19. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak (1963) ~20 Million
  20. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl (1964) ~20 Million

Link to the rest at InfoPlease

PG notes that various compilers of best-selling book lists don’t always use the same sources, metrics (number of copies sold vs. number of dollars, euros, etc., earned) or ranking process.

Children’s Nonfiction Has an Image Problem

From Publishers Weekly:

It’s no secret that many adults enjoy reading nonfiction, and as a result, in the adult publishing world, fiction and nonfiction are respected equally. Major book awards routinely include separate categories for fiction and nonfiction, as have the New York Times bestsellers lists since their inception in 1931.

But as Cynthia Levison, Jennifer Swanson, and I wrote in PW last year, nonfiction for kids has an image problem—at home, at school, and in the media. Despite a robust body of research showing that many children prefer nonfiction, and many more enjoy fiction and nonfiction equally, most adults mistakenly believe children prefer made-up stories.

As a result, well-intended parents favor fiction for bedtime reading, and most teachers automatically choose made-up stories for read alouds and book talks as well as science and social studies lessons. A 2015 study published in Teaching Informational Text in K-3 Classrooms found that only 17–22% of titles in elementary classroom libraries were nonfiction. This sends a powerful message to children—that nonfiction isn’t as valid and valuable as fiction, that it’s not meant for everyday enjoyment.

“Children want their nonfiction books; adults may be their barriers,” says Heather Simpson, chief program officer for Room to Read, a global nonprofit organization focused on improving literacy and gender equality in education. “A child learning how to read with fiction texts alone misses a unique opportunity to pique an independent interest in reading.”

A deeper dive into adults’ biased attitude toward nonfiction for children shows that the problem is especially egregious for books that explain STEM concepts.

. . . .

As a science writer who has published more than 200 nonfiction books for children since 1998, I’ve witnessed the exciting evolution of these books firsthand, and I’ve grappled with the bias against them—including my own.

During school visits, children frequently ask me if I’ll ever write fiction. Early in my career, I gave the same answer every single time: “Maybe, I just need to find the right story.”

I don’t know if that answer satisfied the students, but it certainly didn’t satisfy me because it was a lie. In my professional life, I was surrounded by a community of people who prized stories and storytelling, and, for a long time, I thought I should too.

I remember praising the innovative format of a particular picture book biography during a presentation at a writing conference in Texas. Later, a friend kindly pointed out that, to her, the characters in that book seemed a bit wooden.

Not long after that, while serving on a book award committee, a fellow judge campaigned for her favorite title by asking, “Didn’t it bring a little tear to your eye at the end?” One of the other judges, agreed that it had. But I didn’t answer. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I didn’t share their emotional connection to the book.

These comments, and others like them from authors, editors, and educators I respect, gradually made me realize that I don’t experience stories in the same way as my colleagues. I felt like an

But then in 2014, I was doing a week-long residency at a small school in Maine. By the last day, I was really getting to know the students, and I felt comfortable with them. So when a fourth grader asked the question, I finally decided to be honest.

I asked the group: “How many of you like to write fiction?” Many hands went up, as I knew they would. Then I took a deep breath and said, “I know lots of writers who love to create characters and invent imaginary worlds. But for me, the real world is so amazing, so fascinating that I just want to learn as much as I can about it and share it with other people. That’s why I write nonfiction.”

And then something astonishing happened. A boy in the back row—a child none of the teachers expected to participate—lifted his arm, extended his pinky and his thumb, and enthusiastically rocked his hand back and forth. Because he wanted me to know what he was thinking without interrupting, he was using a nonverbal hand gesture popular in many U.S. schools.

“Me too,” he was saying. “I agree.” A moment later, a half dozen other students joined him.

I had validated their way of thinking, their experience in the world, and they were validating me right back. It was a powerful moment.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Two Books Plumb the Hidden Depths of the Fairy Tale

From The Wall Street Journal:

Once upon a time, fairy tales were the rage in fashionable Paris. At literary salons and at the court of Louis XIV, ladies and gentlemen beguiled one another with fantastical tales of talking animals and monster-husbands; of djinns and sorcerers; of sleeping beauties and ravenous ogres. Many tales had their origins in the nscrutable past of oral storytelling, containing narrative elements that in some cases dated back to the Bronze Age and could be traced to no single creator. In time, they began making their way into print—and acquiring authors.

In 1697 the French writer Charles Perrault published the first volume of European fairy tales, “Tales of Mother Goose.” A few years later, Antoine Galland thrilled salon habitués with his translation into French of the Middle Eastern folk tales known variously as “The Thousand and One Nights” and “The Arabian Nights.” These stories, glittering with thrilling detail and told through the framing device of a princess determined to keep her homicidal husband hanging on her words, were a literary sensation.

Who told the stories first? Who knows? As Nicholas Jubber writes in “The Fairy Tellers,” “searching for the roots of fairy tales is a process of entangling oneself in mysteries. Delve into the sources and we can find, every so often, the frayed end of the line, but there are always more knots to untie.” Fiddling about with frayed story-ends and pesky authorial knots is the business of this enthusiastic and enjoyable book, in which Mr. Jubber, a British travel writer, explores the lives and work of seven storytellers who are mostly unknown outside academic circles. The exception is Hans Christian Andersen, the 19th-century Danish fabulist who remains a household name thanks to the enduring popularity of original fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Andersen aside, the general reader is unlikely to have met Mr. Jubber’s other subjects and may be amazed to learn the degree to which these unsung men and women have shaped the fairy-tale canon we enjoy today.

Consider, for instance, “Aladdin” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” sensational tales of wealth and trickery that are perhaps the best-known of all the rich story delights of “The Arabian Nights.” As Mr. Jubber explains, neither tale made an appearance in the first seven volumes of Galland’s translations. The Frenchman was able to add them only after his encounters in 1709 with a Maronite Syrian storyteller who was on a sojourn to Paris. The identity of that long-ago traveler remained obscure—a frayed end, we might say—until 1993, when a Ph.D. student poking through Arabic manuscripts in the Vatican archives happened upon the fellow’s memoirs. The man who brought the world the story of a shiftless youth inveigled by a magician into stealing an enchanted lamp; the storyteller who first told of a bandit chief using the words “open sesame” to enter a treasure cave—this man was a former monastery novice from Aleppo named Abd al-Qari Antoun Youssef Youhenna Dyab. Hanna, as he was known, told 16 stories to Galland, who translated them later into French. “Galland did much to colour in the details,” notes Mr. Jubber, “but it was Hanna who provided the characters, the twists in the tale, the settings and resolution.” In a charming revelation, it transpires that this earliest-known teller of “Aladdin” borrowed ideas for his character’s wonderful palace from what Mr. Jubber calls the “fairy tale seraglio” of Versailles. Thus do fairy tales ever adapt, collecting bits of color and changing shape as they travel through time and language from one person to the next.

We see this process unfurling in the stories told by Mr. Jubber’s other tellers: the Renaissance Italian Giambattista Basile, author of the earliest European versions of “Rapunzel” and “Cinderella”; Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, whose 1740 “Beauty and the Beast” was the first of its kind; Dortchen Wild, the amiable young woman who gave “Rumpelstiltskin” and “Hansel and Gretel” to the Brothers Grimm for their 1812 collection; Ivan Khudiakov, the 19th-century Russian folklorist who amassed fairy tales about princes, fools, the witch Baba Yaga and the magical Firebird; and Somadeva Bhatta, the 11th-century Kashmiri court poet and author of a tremendous, multifarious work known in English as “The Ocean of the Streams of Story.” To bring us into the realms of these men and women,, Mr. Jubber interleaves passages of quirky biography, literary history, personal anecdote and his own retellings of their fairy tales. Rosie Collins, meanwhile, supplies neat little drawings to start off each chapter. The result is a handsome book stuffed with surprise and interest.

. . . .

One of America’s most distinguished experts in fairy tales and folklore is on a reclamation mission of her own with “The Heroine With 1,001 Faces” (published last year but due in paperback in September). In this fluent, genre-spanning work, Maria Tatar, a Harvard professor who specializes in German culture, sets out to illuminate the constellation of heroines that spangle the cultural firmament. In doing so, she purposely offers a complement—and compliment—to Joseph Campbell’s model of male heroism as explored in his 1949 book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.”

To the task of identifying heroic female qualities (not least, care and compassion), Ms. Tatar brings a virtuosic command of story and character, gliding with impressive, almost too-slippery facility from Greek mythology to Buzzfeed; from Scheherazade to Clara Barton; from Fern in “Charlotte’s Web” to Starr Carter in “The Hate U Give.” Heroes, Ms. Tatar reflects, “embark on quests and journeys that have as their goal more than a return home.” Heroines, by contrast, are “habitually bent on social missions, trying to rescue, restore, or fix things, with words as their only weapons.”

Ms. Tatar admits to having been deeply moved by the #MeToo movement, seeing in its revelations the same tensions between speech and silence (and silencing) that have affected women since antiquity. “Rarely wielding the sword and often deprived of the pen,” she writes, “women have relied on the domestic crafts and their verbal analogues—spinning tales, weaving plots, and telling yarns—to make things right, not just getting even but also securing social justice.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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