Children’s Books

The Five Children’s Books Every Adult Should Read

26 July 2019

From The Guardian:

I have been writing children’s fiction for more than 10 years now, and still I would hesitate to define it; it is a slippery, various, quicksilver thing. But I do know, with more certainty than I usually feel about anything, what it is not: it is not exclusively for children. When I write, I write for two people, myself, age 12, and myself, now, and the book has to satisfy two distinct but connected appetites.

My 12-year-old self wanted autonomy, peril, justice, food and above all a kind of density of atmosphere into which I could step and be engulfed. My adult self wants all those things, and also: acknowledgments of fear, love, failure. So what I try for when I write – failing often, but trying – is to put down in as few words as I can the things that I most urgently and desperately want children to know and adults to remember.

. . . .

Those of us who write for children are trying to arm them for the life ahead with everything we can find that is true. And perhaps also, secretly, to arm adults against those necessary compromises and heartbreaks that life involves: to remind them that there are and always will be great, sustaining truths to which we can return.

When you read a children’s book, you are given the space to read again as a child: to find your way back, back to the time when new discoveries came daily and when the world was colossal, before your imagination was trimmed and neatened, as if it were an optional extra. But imagination is not and never has been optional: it’s at the heart of everything, the thing that allows us to experience the world from the perspectives of others, the condition precedent of love itself. For that we need books that are specifically written to give the heart and mind a galvanic kick – children’s books. Children’s fiction necessitates distillation; at its best, it renders in their purest, most archetypal forms hope, hunger, joy, fear. Think of children’s books as literary vodka.

. . . .

The Paddington books by Michael Bond

There’s a vivid and obvious lesson in Paddington, about refuge. Paddington turns up at our door, with nothing to commend himself but his existence and his excellent hat, and we must take him in. We must cherish him, because he lives – and Michael Bond is telling us, like William Blake before him, that everything that lives is holy.

But there’s more: for Bond, I think, structure is a form of metaphor, and the stories can be read as parables. So each individual Paddington story usually has some kind of mishap: for instance, Paddington drops a sandwich; a man slips on it. Disaster! But then the man proves to be a burglar, and his stolen goods spill out at the bear’s feet: triumph! The books tell us that if we zoom out we will see that inside each disaster there is a cog, propelling us towards potential goodness. Baked into the structure of the stories, small as they are, is Bond’s colossal central truth: larger than the world’s chaos are its miracles. Paddington asks us to trust, if only for a brief gasp, for the length of the book, in the world’s essential nobility. The books are oxygen for those, like me, who doubt.

. . . .

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

Lyra, Pullman’s ferocious heroine, one of the greatest ever written, a girl with quick wit and tooth-and-claw loyalty and a loose hand with the truth, voyages to the underworld. At first, on meeting the harpies who guard the realm of the dead, she lies – tells them what she thinks they want to hear. The harpies go for her, dive‑bombing her and scraping at her skull with their talons. And so instead, she tells her own story: about pain, loss, hope and grubbiness, love and mistakes. The harpies listen. Lyra’s companion asks why they did not attack, this time: “‘Because it was true,’ said No‑Name. ‘Because she spoke the truth. Because it was nourishing. Because it was feeding us. Because we couldn’t help it. Because it was true.’”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

 

The Time I Called out a Children’s Book Author for Letting Girls Down

26 June 2019

From Medium:

A few years back, I read a children’s book about the moon landing to my then-3-year-old daughter. It’s a great book in so many ways. But one thing stood out to me: Men.

Men, men, men. The word men over and over, in glowing terms, and nowhere a mention of anybody else.

The book, Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, written and illustrated by Brian Floca, is a gorgeous, informative read, made to inspire another generation of stargazers. Unlike many dry books on the topic, this one has a gripping narrative. It managed to keep even my 3-year-old engaged.

Still, as I read I found myself changing words to make the story more gender-inclusive. Instead of “men,” I said “people,” “astronauts,” “scientists.” I wanted my daughter to be able to picture herself on that rocket ship, or in Mission Control.

Our storytime happened to take place in October 2017, just as the #MeToo movement was starting to gain momentum. Women were going public with stories of sexual harassment and outdated, gendered power structures. My own #MeToo stories were swimming in my head when I read Moonshot to my daughter. That night, I could not abide one more message of men’s competence alongside women’s invisibility. Fired up, and bursting with anger at the patriarchy, I did something I don’t usually do: I wrote the author to complain.

. . . .

Raising a kid in this highly gendered society is hard, I told him. The only thing stopping my daughter from imagining herself as one of those astronauts were stories like his that say it’s only something men do. I didn’t expect him to respond — I was used to men overlooking their privilege, ignoring their blind spots, and doing everything to preserve the status quo.

Then two days later, he wrote me back.

. . . .

In his email, Floca thanked me for writing and admitted he had known at the time he was writing the book that he was leaning exclusively on “men.” He said he’d tried “people,” but found the word to be clunky on the page. Plus, in reality, the three Apollo 11 astronauts were men, and he believed each person in Mission Control was a man as well. So he chose the gendered framing because it felt honest, simple, and specific.

Floca did, in his email, mention Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and an interview where she discussed how she wished she’d seen other women astronauts when she was a girl. She was inspired by the Apollo program, Neil Armstrong specifically. Floca said he hoped my daughter would find inspiration in the Apollo 11 story as well.

But there was one line in his response that stood out, a sentence that told me my own work here wasn’t done: “If anyone can find the story of a woman who was working there,” Floca wrote, “I’d be happy and interested.”

I emailed him back one more time.

I found plenty of resources about women’s contributions to Apollo 11. There was Frances “Poppy” Northcutt, the first woman engineer in Mission Control, starting with Apollo 8. Or Joann Morgan, Margaret Hamilton, and Katherine Johnson. But it wasn’t just well-known scientists or astronauts who were left out of the narrative. As I told Floca, female spectators experiencing this historic, cultural event, were omitted from the story. And you would never know from reading Moonshot that in 1969, 17.5% of NASA workers were women, most of them working low-wage jobs.

I didn’t want Floca to draw in imaginary women or to change the focus of the book. I just wanted to put the issue on his radar — we can do a lot better than just saying the moon landing is something men did.

. . . .

Then, this month, out of the blue, I got another email from Floca.

Dear Darcy,
What’s your address?

Floca mailed us a free, signed copy of the new expanded edition of Moonshot, released in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. He made changes. Wonderful changes. I cried, with the realization that my anger, my voice, had made a difference.

The word “men” still shows up often in the book, but it’s not there alone anymore. On the Launch Control/Mission Control page, just as I requested, he changed “each man” to “everyone.”

Link to the rest at Medium

The Island Girl

21 June 2019
Comments Off on The Island Girl

From The Wall Street Journal:

Growing up in a remote island convent, 11-year-old Margaret has long wondered about her origins. From her assiduous quizzing of the sisters of St. Elysia, the girl knows that she was brought to the island as a baby, but she doesn’t know why. Margaret’s true identity is but one of the mysteries woven into Queen of the Sea” (Walker, 394 pages, $24.99), an engrossing graphic novel by Dylan Meconis set in an alternative Tudor realm in which England is Albion, Scotland is Ecossia, and the Virgin Mary and Jesus are known as the Mournful Mother and the Sorrowful Son.

Twice a year a ship arrives with provisions for the Elysian order, as we see in the clear lines and restrained palette of Ms. Meconis’s illustrations. Margaret’s understanding of the convent and its occupants—or are they prisoners?—begins to expand when the ship delivers first a boy her own age and then a haughty, sharp-featured young woman who chafes under the constant observation of a tyrannical chaperone. In unspooling an exciting story of political intrigue drawn from the real life of Elizabeth I, the author introduces readers ages 10 to 16 to the disciplines of cloistered life, treating with interest and respect such practices as the veneration of holy relics and the codified gesturing of silent meals. And who is Margaret? Let’s say that she is not the only redhead on the island to bear a resemblance to a certain broad-chested, oft-married Tudor monarch.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

A Very Happy 50th Birthday to ‘the Very Hungry Caterpillar’

14 June 2019

From NPR:

On average, every 30 seconds someone in the world buys a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Maybe it’s for a grandchild, an expectant parent or a dear friend’s new baby. Nearly 50 million copies have been sold since the classic picture book was first published in 1969, and it has been translated into over 62 languages.

Author Eric Carle, now 89 years old, lives in Key West, Fla.

. . . .

“I think it is a book of hope,” [Carle] says. He’s wearing suspenders and a shirt that matches his lively blue eyes. “Children need hope. You, little insignificant caterpillar, can grow up into a beautiful butterfly and fly into the world with your talent. Will I ever be able to do that? Yes, you will. I think that is the appeal of that book.

“Well, I should know. I did the book, after all!”

Carle didn’t start writing books for children until he was almost 40. Born in Syracuse, N.Y., he remembers an early childhood filled with art, light and walking through nature holding his father’s hand. His immigrant parents decided to return home to Germany — his mother was homesick — and they arrived just in time for World War II.

Carle was beaten by teachers and shot at by soldiers, and his beloved father disappeared into a Russian prisoner-of-war camp for years after being drafted to fight for the Nazis. The man who wrote The Very Hungry Caterpillarexperienced hunger firsthand.

Carle headed straight back to the U.S. after graduating from art school at age 23 and was immediately hired by The New York Times. He served in the U.S. military during the Korean War and, upon return, moved into advertising.

Perhaps that career helped him prepare for using the simple, resonant language of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Michelle H. Martin, a professor at the University of Washington who studies children’s literature, says The Very Hungry Caterpillar‘s writing helps little kids grasp concepts like numbers and the days of the week. (“On Monday he ate through one apple. But he was still hungry. On Tuesday he ate through two pears, but he was still hungry.”)

And the book builds literacy by gently guiding toddlers toward unfamiliar words. For example, Martin says, when Saturday comes around and the hungry caterpillar binges on “one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon,” words like “salami” and “Swiss cheese” might be new to 3-year-olds already familiar with ice cream and lollipops.

Martin and other experts suggest that children have 1,000 books read to them before they begin kindergarten. Repeated readings of the same book count toward the total.


Link to the rest at NPR

How I Got My Toddler Back on Books After She Got a Taste of Screen Time

11 June 2019

From The Huffington Post:

When I opened the gates to screen time for my 2-year-old daughter, I was planning to limit it to airplane rides and sick days. But with TV and tablets came a whole new colorful world that hooked my tot instantly, and her new word— “cartoons!” — became a constant refrain. Almost overnight, her obsession with books and our sweet ritual of reading became a distant memory to her little toddler brain. Screens offered something much more exciting.

I felt OK introducing screen time, especially since most of the time I snuggle up on the couch and watch with her (which is why I now know every single word of Moana), to make the TV time as interactive and educational as I can. And the apps we’ve let her play with are all highly rated for learning. But when it came time to reading books together, her previously enthusiastic interest was now drawn to a shape-shifting demigod voiced by the Rock.

I was worried. For me, books are more than fun and educational. They’re a family tradition. My own lifelong passion for reading was sparked by my mother’s nightly read-aloud sessions with me and my sister. We never skipped a night, and it was truly a highlight of my childhood. I may not follow every custom my mom handed down (like her tendency to embroider our names on anything she could stick a needle into), but I know that a love of books is worth preserving. I want my kid to treasure that magical reading time as much as I did growing up, despite the irresistible pull of singing animals, animated princesses, and sweeping soundtracks (seriously, it’s hard to compete with Lin-Manuel Miranda).

. . . .

Make it a daily ritual

Every night, without fail, before my daughter heads to bed, we read at least two books together, usually more. On the nights she’s wound up and super resistant to sleep, this routine puts her in a mellow mood and helps her relax. By the time I turn the first page, she’s already heavy-lidded and sucking her thumb.

Let them pick

Your kid is bound to have favorite books, and you will inevitably groan inwardly (and probably outwardly) when she asks you to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the 200th time. But it’s those cherished favorites that will always comfort and entertain. (If we go for a third book, Mommy gets to pick. Otherwise we’d never rotate our library.)

Find a quiet, special space

We used to read in the rocker next to her crib, but on those nights she didn’t want to go to bed, she put up a fight just to enter her room. Then we used to read on the couch, but there are inevitably distractions ― the basketball game is on, the dog is barking at the neighbors, there’s music on the stereo. So I created our own special reading space on the bed in the guest room. It’s stocked with pillows and blankets, and I light some candles and lay out the book selections on the bed with us. It’s our insta-special reading spot! (It sure doesn’t take much with a toddler.) You can do this anywhere you have enough room for two.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Mysterious Author

1 June 2019

From Crime Reads:

Let me tell you about the most popular mystery author you’ve probably never heard of.

He sold 50 million of copies of his books worldwide. His work was translated into a dozen languages. The Mystery Writers of America gave him a special Edgar. The character he created became a cultural icon—spoofed by The Onion, the star of a short-lived television series, and the subject of a nasty lawsuit over the movie rights.

His name was Donald J. Sobol. He was World War II veteran and New York City native who moved to Florida in 1961. Two years later he created his “Sherlock in sneakers,” boy detective Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown.

Smarter than the Hardy Boys and wittier than Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown solved mysteries for nearly 50 years and never charged more than a quarter. Although “born” in 1963, young Brown remains forever 10.

His beat is an idealized Florida beach town named Idaville. It exists in the era before cellphones, video games, and Arianna Grande, when kids went fishing or rode bikes for fun. He runs his cut-rate detective agency out of his family’s garage on Rover Avenue.

Sobol’s sleuth has a keen eye and a prodigious memory for arcane facts—hence his nickname. (These days he’d have to be Wikipedia Brown, which just doesn’t sound as authoritative.) He solves small mysteries for his friends and sometimes helps out on big cases that baffle his police chief dad, exposing robbers and con men by spotting the clue everyone else missed.

. . . .

But the real mystery wasn’t inside the books. The real mystery was: Who’s Donald J. Sobol?

Most authors would love to be a big name—a Stephen King, a James Patterson, a John Grisham. People buy their books not for the title or cover image or first page, but because it’s the new King, the new Patterson, the new Grisham.

Not Sobol. He preferred nobody know who produced all those books.

“What I really wanted, and couldn’t achieve—it was just a pipe dream—was to remain anonymous,” Sobol once told his college alumni magazine. “That never worked.”

He came close, though. He never gave a single television interview. When he talked with newspaper and magazine reporters, he did so by telephone. That way they couldn’t take his picture or even describe what he looked like. A photo of the author only appeared in one book, and he said that was by mistake.

“I am very content with staying in the background and letting the books do the talking,” he told the Oberlin Alumni Magazine in 2011.

. . . .

He was the most unlikely of authors, joking once that “I am totally unqualified to be a writer. My childhood was unimpoverished and joyful. Even worse, I loved and admired my parents.”

Donald J. Sobol—the J was just that, no middle name, just an initial—was born and raised in New York City, where his father owned gas stations. As a child, he was more like Brown’s frequent nemesis, inept gang leader Bugs Meany, than his hero, “but only in that I thought up devilish pranks. I never had the courage to act out on them.”

He didn’t read mystery stories. Instead, he was attracted to tales of adventure. As a kid he wanted to be a police officer, or a firefighter, or a shortstop for the Yankees. In high school he tried his hand at sculpting.

In World War II, he was part of a combat engineer battalion, then attended Oberlin College on the GI Bill. He took the college’s only creative writing course, and was hooked. After the last class, he asked the professor if he could take an advanced writing course. The professor explained that there wasn’t one. Sobol said later he just stared at the professor “like a dim-witted penguin watching water freeze.”

Then the professor asked he’d seen action during the war. They talked about that a bit, and finally the professor agreed to teach an advanced writing course for just one student.

“Without his help, I probably never could have had a career as a freelance writer. I owe him so much,” Sobol told the alumni magazine. Not only did the professor help him become a better writer “but he instilled faith in me, in myself. I will always be grateful.”

Two of the stories Sobol wrote for his advanced class wound up selling to the pulps, and he was on his way.

. . . .

Sobol cranked out the first book in the series, Encyclopedia BrownBoy Detective, in just two weeks. That first book contained all the elements that would show up in all the other books: the idyllic setting, the 25-cent fee, the roster of regular baddies like dimwitted Bugs Meany, leader of the Tigers gang.

In inventing his hero, Sobol started with Brown’s nickname, then fleshed out the character from there. “I wanted a name that would appear on the cover and tell readers that this was a book about a smart youngster,” he told an interviewer in 1984.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads


 

Marie Kondo to Publish a Children’s Book!

22 May 2019

From Book Riot:

Marie Kondo fans: check it out. Kondo will be publishing a picture book this fall called Kiki and Jax, to be illustrated by Geisel Honor­–winning author/illustrator Salina Yoon.

The book, which will have a 250,000 first print run, will hit shelves November 5. Kiki and Jax is inspired by the KonMari method, as it follows two best friends — Kiki, a collector, and Jax, a sorter — as they work through what it means when their friendship has to navigate things. When those things begin to get in the way, they learn the power of how their friendship works: the spark of joy.

Kondo said, “I’m pleased to share this timeless story about friendship, and I hope that the characters of Kiki and Jax inspire children and families to tidy and embrace joy!”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG has been “tidying” his office over the past few days. He hasn’t found any joy to embrace yet.

One question for visitors to TPV, what’s the difference between cleaning and tidying?

Another question, this time involving gender – Do men tidy? Or do they clean? Or do they haul trash? In big noisy trucks?

Is tidying the new cleaning? Or, as Marie suggests, is it more transformative than cleaning?

Can PG properly tidy while wearing sweat pants? Before he takes a shower?

PG would love to be able to back a trash truck up to the door of his office.

Nine-Year-Old Author Shares Her Story and Seeks to Publish

16 May 2019

Apparently a press release. PG has added paragraph breaks. The italics are part of the original.

From LifePulseHealth:

Mantua resident and Centre City elementary school student MaKayla Rose had a problem one night at bedtime. She couldn’t find a book that she wanted to read. She couldn’t find a story that represented her family and her point of view.

MaKayla is a problem solver, however, and knew that the best way to fix the problem was to write a story of her own! This was the beginning of “Why Bedtime Sucks: The Opposite of a Bedtime Story”, and a journey for her whole family.

Once MaKayla had written her story and hand drawn her illustrations, she shared it with her peers and teachers. Other students were inspired by her initiative and began writing stories of their own.

This is when her mother, Shalina, knew that Why Bedtime Sucks was a story that could reach and inspire so many other young people to relate and create for themselves, and she began the process of making MaKayla’s tale into a book.

One of the first steps was to connect with the right illustrator. All the illustrations in Why Bedtime Sucks are hand created in collaboration with artist Isabel Rivera of Cancun, Mexico.

To retain the creative independence and MaKayla’s true voice in the story, the Hubbs have decided to self-publish launching the project as a campaign on Kickstarter. Why Bedtime Sucks is an opportunity to provide diversity into illustrated children’s books that would benefit all children.

Link to the rest at LifePulseHealth

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