Children’s Books

Dav Pilkey credits his ADHD for his massive success

16 October 2019

From The Washington Post:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Q: How did that work out?

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

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

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

Q: So you created Captain Underpants while in school?

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

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

9 October 2019

From Book Riot:

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Give Kids Good Books And They’ll Love Reading Forever

8 October 2019

From The Huffington Post:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers

21 September 2019

From The Atlantic:

They can be identified by their independent-bookstore tote bags, their “Book Lover” mugs, or—most reliably—by the bound, printed stacks of paper they flip through on their lap. They are, for lack of a more specific term, readers.

Joining their tribe seems simple enough: Get a book, read it, and voilà! You’re a reader—no tote bag necessary. But behind that simple process is a question of motivation—of why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t. That why is consequential—leisure reading has been linked to a range of good academic and professional outcomes—as well as difficult to fully explain. But a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.

. . . .

The size of the American reading public varies depending on one’s definition of reading. In 2017, about 53 percent of American adults (roughly 125 million people) read at least one book not for school or for work in the previous 12 months, according to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Five years earlier, the NEA ran a more detailed survey, and found that 23 percent of American adults were “light” readers (finishing one to five titles per year), 10 percent were “moderate” (six to 11 titles), 13 percent were “frequent” (12 to 49 titles), and a dedicated 5 percent were “avid” (50 books and up).

“Every society has some group of people—somewhere between a minuscule amount and half the adults—that read a lot in their leisure time,” says Wendy Griswold, a sociologist at Northwestern University who studies reading. Griswold refers to this group as “the reading class,” and—adding up the NEA’s “frequents” and “avids,” and considering rates of serious reading in other similarly wealthy countries—reckons that about 20 percent of adults belong to the U.S.’s reading class.

. . . .

Some people are much more likely than others to become members of the reading class. “The patterns are very, very predictable,” Griswold told me. First, and most intuitively, the more education someone has, the more likely they are to be a reader. Beyond that, she said, “urban people read more than rural people,” “affluence is associated with reading,” and “young girls read earlier” than boys do and “continue to read more in adulthood.”

. . . .

Willingham also talked about the importance, which many researchers have examined, of the number of books in one’s childhood home. Studies looking at “family scholarly culture” have found that children who grew up surrounded by books tend to attain higher levels of education and to be better readers than those who didn’t, even after controlling for their parents’ education.

The mere presence of books is not magically transformative. “The question is, I take a child who’s not doing very well in school, and I put 300 books in their house—now what happens?,” Willingham said. “Almost certainly the answer is, not a lot. So what is it? Either what are people doing with those books, or is this sort of a temperature read of a much broader complex of attitudes and behaviors and priorities that you find in that home?”

. . . .

As Willingham explains in his book Raising Kids Who Read, three variables have a lot of influence over whether someone becomes a lifelong reader. First, a child needs to be a “fluent decoder,” he told me—that is, able to smoothly “go from print on the page to words in the mind.” This is something that schools teach, but parents can help with it by reading to and with their kids—especially when that reading involves wordplay, which particularly helps kids with the challenge of identifying the “individual speech sounds” that make up a word.

Second, Willingham said, these fluent decoders benefit from having wide-ranging background knowledge about the world. “The main predictor of whether a child or an adult understands a text is how much they already know about the topic,” Willingham noted. So parents can try to arm their kids with information about the world that will help them interpret whatever they come across in print, or make sure their kids have some familiarity with whatever it is they’re reading about.

Once those two things are in place, the final component is “motivation—you have to have a positive attitude toward reading and a positive self-image as a reader,” Willingham said.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Slight increase in BAME representation in children’s books, CLPE report finds

19 September 2019

From The Bookseller:

The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) has revealed that there has been a slight increase in children’s books featuring a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) character – from 4% in 2017 to 7% last year – with a rise in BAME central protagonists, from 1% to 4% in its second annual report on the issue.

The ‘Reflecting Realities: Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature 2018‘ report was released on Thursday (19th September), with the key finding that there has been an increased presence of BAME characters in children’s books published in 2018, compared to the previous year.  This is the second year the survey has been conducted in the UK, with the aim of identifying and highlighting representation within picture books, fiction and non-fiction for ages three to 11. The document was launched at an event attended by publishers, influencers and media at the CLPE centre in Waterloo, central London.

The report found that the number of BAME protagonists has increased from 1% to 4%, and the number of books featuring a BAME character has increased from 4% to 7% compared to 2017. This equated to 743 books found to have a BAME presence out of 11,011 books. BAME pupils make up 33.1% of the school population in England. Additionally, publishers reported to the CLPE that 42% of the books they published in 2018 featured animals or inanimate objects as main cast characters.

The report adds the survey has “raised important questions for us about what constitutes valid, appropriate and quality presence.”

The 23-page report, which saw the CLPE work with a steering group, also alluded to a sense of progress following the first report last year, and highlighted areas of good practice. “Our findings in the 2018 report – which covered data for the calendar year 2017 – did not surprise us,” the report reads. “What did surprise us, and indeed inspire us, was the range of ways in which last year’s report galvanised others. Our report shone a spotlight on the work of independent publishers like Alanna Max, Knights Of, Lantana Publishing, Otter-Barry Books and Tiny Owl whose commitment to reflecting the realities of young readers was already evident in their work.”

. . . .

However, the CLPE warned that beyond volume, it wished to “encourage quality portrayals and presence” as “Quantity alone will not suffice, particularly if the quality is poor or, worse still, problematic”.

While the authors conceded that “in this second cycle, we found broader, more nuanced relationships within the cast of main characters,” they were still concerned about preventing tokenistic appearances of BAME characters. “This survey has raised important questions for us about what constitutes valid, appropriate and quality presence.”

There were various concerns around ‘Characterisation’ of BAME characters. “It was often the case that characters from BAME backgrounds in the submitted books were less well drawn than equivalent white characters, both in terms of actual illustration and in terms of character development,” the authors wrote. “For example, there were a significant number of books submitted where characters were drawn with exaggerated features that amplified their ethnicity in a way that reduced them to caricatures. We observed instances of colourism, in which there was a direct correlation with the skin tone and the virtue of a character.”

The report also provided 10 “degrees of erasure” which provided specific terms of concern including “Cover Short Change” which saw BAME characters only featured on the cover and not inside the book as well as the “Jasmine default”. The authors wrote: “We experienced a disproportionately high number of female characters named ‘Jasmine.’ The name was, in many instances, the only cue available to suggest that the character was from an ethnic minority background and therefore appears to be the reason the book was submitted for the survey.”

. . . .

BAME characters “need to be well developed and authentically portrayed”. The report’s authors went on to say that these characters “should not be predominantly defined by their struggle, suffering or ‘otherness’” but should instead be “central to many narratives”.

Aimée Felone, co-founder of inclusive publisher and bookshop, Knights Of, welcomed the report. She told The Bookseller: “The CLPE report shines a light on troubling and problematic features in kids books  – overuse of background BAME characters, characters that are ethnically ambiguous and hair as a single, insufficient cue that characters are from a BAME background.

“Many of the books published are still inadequate and rather alarmingly dangerous in their depiction of characters that are from BAME backgrounds.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Books Help Kids Navigate Complex Times

15 September 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

The world is complicated these days—at times, even downright stressful! And while our primitive bodies were designed for occasional acute crises, modern times require our minds and bodies to juggle psychological and social stressors, both chronic and acute, each and every day. It’s exhausting. It’s hard on us, and it’s hard on our kids too. And yet books are a wonderful way for us—as librarians, booksellers, and parents—to teach our kids social-emotional skills that help them understand and manage the complexities of their worlds.

But what is social-emotional learning, really? I have a colleague who says, “Social-emotional learning is just learning.” And she’s right. But the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines it partially as the ability to acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, and feel and show empathy for others. The development of these abilities allows for deeper self-awareness and social awareness and enables individuals to have less emotional stress, more positive social behavior, and better academic outcomes.

As a parent and also the writer of The Nocturnals, a series of middle grade and early reader books, I have witnessed firsthand how stories can be a wonderful place for children to identify and engage in social-emotional learning and dynamics—not only positive dynamics but a wide range of behavior. The modeling of good behavior is of course valuable, but the demonstration of imperfect behavior is perhaps equally valuable. How many of us have witnessed a child’s delight when he or she reads the stories of our favorite tantrum-throwing pigeon by Mo Willems, or the naughty escapades of Junie B. Jones, or the quirky and unorthodox characters of Roald Dahl? Kids like characters and situations that are imperfect because they can relate to the imperfections and impulses these characters demonstrate.

. . . .

I consult with Nisba Husain, a child psychiatrist, who agrees. She recommends that we help our children tolerate their full spectrum of feelings and that we help them understand that it is in our nature to experience feelings such as anger, jealousy, and greed. As a society we tend to judge these emotions as negative, yet without the acknowledgement of such feelings, we can’t know joy, appreciation, and fulfillment. These emotions occupy two sides of the same coin.

Kids are smart. They see and are aware of the times we live in. And they witness all types of behavior, including the actions and discourse of adults, which I think we can all agree is not always optimal. Having characters in books that encourage conversation and provide insight into what motivates behavior—good behavior, bad behavior, and even confusing behavior—is necessary for any child’s education and the adoption of social-emotional learning principals.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

First, at the very end of the quote from the OP, PG says you are correct if you think the author incorrectly substituted “principals” for “principles.” Autocorrect is not always a reliable servant.

Since the audience for children’s books is constantly refreshing itself – younger children are becoming able to understand stories and older children are becoming able to read stories for themselves – old children’s books are highly-recyclable.

The Cat in the Hat was first published in 1957. That and many other Dr. Seuss books have continued to delight children of a certain age ever since.

For example:

Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how.

delighted children in 1957 and, PG suggests, is fully capable of delighting children in 2019, over sixty years later, in exactly the same way.

PG is not an expert on social-emotional learning (although he first went through a social-emotional learning process a long time ago and thinks he’s still engaged in it), but have children’s learning patterns for acquiring social-emotional skills really changed?

Certainly, social standards change (Ms. is handier than having to guess between Miss and Mrs.), but is the process of learning those social standards different today than it was in 1957? In the United States? In Brazil?

PG suggests that

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.

still works for children in 2019 and is likely to continue to do so for a long time into the future.

So please, oh please

11 September 2019

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books.

~  Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Enid Blyton had racist views. But I still read her

6 September 2019

From The Guardian:

in 1965 the eminent American science-fiction writer John W Campbell wrote an essay titled The Barbarians Within. In it, he recommended that “the barbarian” – and it was clear he meant African Americans – be injected with cocaine and heroin in order to be kept under control. It was a plan that, he said, “has the advantage … of killing him both psychologically and physiologically, without arousing any protest on his part”. He also claimed that slavery was “a useful educational system”, supported segregation, and argued that “the Negro race” had failed to “produce super-high geniuses”. Black sci-fi writers were unable to “write in open competition” with whites.

Incidentally, Campbell also believed in telepathy, and once argued that there was “a barely determinable possible correlation between cigarette smoking and cancer”. His opinions never got in the way of his success. As the editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, he was hugely influential on the genre during the 1940s, 50s and 60s; not just the authors he worked with (Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and Robert A Heinlein), but also those he kept out. All three of those writers were positive pinkos compared to Campbell; even Robert A Heinlein, who was an anti-communist rightwinger who proselytised the positives of nuclear weapon testing. In 1941, he wrote Sixth Column, a novel based on a story by Campbell, in which “pan-Asians” enslave the US, which fights back with a ethnic-specific ray gun that can kill the “slanty” and “flat face”. Heinlein would later voice his regret over the openly racist novel. Campbell would not.

Last month, while accepting the John W Campbell award for best debut writer in science fiction and fantasy (awarded by the latest editor of the magazine), British author Jeannette Ng called him “a fucking fascist”. Campbell, she said, had set a tone that was “stale, sterile, male, white, exalting in the ambitions of imperialists, colonialists, settlers and industrialists”. Within days, the prize was no longer named after him. It was a lesson in efficiently dealing with the legacy of influential, if morally questionable artists: the prize organisers considered the implications and made a decision.

The same day Ng got on stage it was revealed that, in 2016, the Royal Mint had considered Enid Blyton for the face of a commemorative coin, but decided against it as she was “known to have been a racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer”. This verdict sparked much blustering about censorship and “political correctness gone mad” in certain pockets of British media. Richard Madeley and Toby Young, for example, lamented the mistreatment of a beloved author who had sold hundreds of millions of books. Young even blasted the decision as “transphobic”, given that Blyton had created George, the short-haired tomboy of the Famous Five.

. . . .

Both English children’s fiction and American science fiction of that era undoubtedly have a reactionary dimension. Just as 1960s sci-fi gave me a particular view of the world – full of cigar-chomping, gun-toting paternalists saving Earth from invading forces – so did Blyton. The baddies were often foreign or Travellers in her mysteries. Her fantasy villains were alternately golliwogs or ugly goblins, depending on whether I was reading her original text or a sterilised, modern edition. The adventures of her polite, white children were affirmative in many ways for me, a child in 1990s Australia who owned a golliwog – and not an old relic “of its time” but a brand spanking new one, given to me by adults who would not have seen much wrong in Blyton’s vision of the world.

When a beloved literary figure from the past is refused some kind of recognition as a result of their personal views, a backlash against modern “culture warriors” inevitably follows. This is understandable to a degree. After all, records of human communication only go back so far; we can only guess what Shakespeare’s opinions on trans people would be (actually he would have loved them, have you seen his plays?). To recognise racism in canonical authors like Blyton and Campbell is not to advocate for a Year Zero approach, blitzing the literary canon until only good-hearted, liberal authors remain.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG says it is not unusual, during a stage of their development, for children to regard their parents as clueless/stupid/outdated, etc.

In some cases, the children will continue to think themselves correct for the remainder of their lives. In most circumstances, however, the old aphorism, “The older I get, the smarter my parents become,” comes into play.

It is nice to think that, had we lived during an earlier era when some moral evil was prevalent in society, we would not have accepted it and our condemnation of the manifest error of societies of that sort would have been clear to all who knew us or learned of us through our later work.

Had we lived in Germany in 1937, we would have been ardent and unflinching opponents of Adolph Hitler and all he stood for.

Had we lived in Atlanta in 1860, we would have been proudly exiled from society because of our beliefs about slavery.

Had we lived in Britain or the United States in 2019, we would have condemned the totalitarian, self-righteous and childish impulses that lead so many of the students, faculty and graduates of expensive institutions of higher learning to remove books written by earlier authors from libraries and curricula and erase such people from history.

I have read a number of articles and books written in the late 1940s and early 1950s that report the great difficulty of locating any Germans who were supporters of Hitler before or during World War II. Evidently the bombing and shelling by invading Allied armed forces were extremely accurate, only killing committed Nazis, as those militaries overran Germany.

PG finds the intolerance for those who lived and wrote in earlier times when their books were solidly within the contemporary mainstream to be childish. He will also predict that the college-aged youths of 2060 will find a great deal to condemn about the political correctness, accompanying mental rigidity and cowardly fear of societal criticism on the part of those who held such foolish, blinkered and intellectually bigoted beliefs during the ignorant and retrograde early decades of the 21st Century.

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