Children’s book wins Australia Book of the Year award for first time.

From The New Publishing Standard:

The Australian Book Industry awards, affectionately known as Abias, is hosted by the Australian Publishers Association to recognize excellent Australian writing, although of course with a bias towards sales rather than literary quality.

In that respect it was only a matter of time before a Bluey book came up for an Abias award.

Published by PRH Australia imprint Puffin, titles from the Bluey board book series were the 2nd, 3rd and 4th bestselling books in the country in 2019, and derive from the Emmy-winning Australian children’s TV series of the same name. Bluey being a dog, the antics of which have earned sales totaling over 1 million across 7 titles in the series.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG checked and Amazon (US) does appear to carry Bluey books.

A Wrinkle in Time

About fifteen years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I taught middle school, sixth and seventh grade English. It was a trip. I knew nothing about anything, let alone the thematic depth of The Red Badge of Courage or all the things a noun can be (person, place, idea, emotion, name, et cetera). I spent my first year, as I imagine many novice teachers do, just trying not to drown. Mostly, I was terrified that my students would find out I barely knew what I was teaching them. I’d stay up late the night before, read a few chapters ahead, and then put together a weekly assignment sheet that suggested an authority I did not have. The next day, we’d go over their homework, and I’d stand at the front of the class sweating through my blazer and praying my voice wouldn’t break. Then I’d preview the coming unit as if I really knew the future, feigning confidence, meaning to reassure them. I could see the path ahead absolutely, could see it all the way to its glorious end in June.

When the lockdown began in Oregon, when it became clear that my five-year-old daughter would not be returning to school for the year, I thought back to those early teaching experiences. It seemed I was again in the same boat: unprepared, ill-equipped, drowning in my own ineptitude. My only option was to do as I had done before, to try as hard as possible. For a while, I really did. I made a schedule that transitioned her, every thirty minutes, from “educational” iPad games, to some kind of art-making, to free play, to basic math, and so on. That lasted one week. My own work piled up (I’m fortunate to be an instructor at a university, and my teaching, like everyone else’s, has gone remote). I decided very quickly to scale back, to ask one thing of her a day. I decided we would try, for the first time, to read a chapter book together.

We didn’t choose Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time for any other reason than it was already in our house. A friend had gifted my daughter the complete series for Christmas. My daughter can sound out words fairly well. The struggle is, of course, with patience, with seeing a new and unfamiliar term and not allowing its length and phonetic combinations to overwhelm her. The work is slow, and I remember from teaching middle school that I must marshal my own patience before I can help with hers.

Together, we attempt a chapter a day, often less. I ask her to read or sound out only four sentences during each session. If she does this, she earns a piece of sugarless gum as her prize, which she loves because she desperately wants to figure out how to blow bubbles. She can’t always sit still while I read, so she wanders about the room, touching scattered stuffed animals, rearranging LEGO sets, putting her model horses in a row and making them eat hay. I sometimes quiz her to see if she’s following along. She always is. She recalls everything without effort, and it startles me, the dynamism of her memory:

“Who’s Charles Wallace?” I ask.

“Meg’s little brother,” she replies.

“What does Meg’s mother do for a living?”

“She’s a scientist.”

“Where is their father?”

“He’s missing.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Leo Tolstoy’s Children’s Stories Will Devastate Your Children and Make You Want to Die

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, also a gentleman farmer, operated an ancestral estate called Yasnaya Polyana that included a small school for the children of the peasants who labored there. Tolstoy was known to drop by from time to time and read stories that he wrote himself, which in his typical modesty, he predicted would be read by “thousands, even millions.”

In 1988, the children’s novelist and Russia expert James Riordan translated several of these for a collection called The Lion and the Puppy: And Other Stories for Children, published first by Henry Holt and Company. The cover has a nice picture of a lion and a puppy; the illustrations by Claus Sievert are lovely throughout. My children fell in love with that picture, and they wanted me to read them the book. My first thought was: Children’s stories by the author of the inspirational The Death of Ivan Ilyich? But pestilence has closed the schools and home reading was important. Tolstoy wrote them; they couldn’t be that bad. Now I sincerely wish I had never touched them.

The first story turned out to be the only one we endured together. It’s about a hungry lion in the zoo, whose keepers comb the streets for stray cats and dogs to feed him. Tolstoy recounts the lion coming for a puppy that got lost by its master: “Poor little dog. Tail between its legs, it squeezed itself into the corner of the cage as the lion came closer and closer.”

The lion decides not to eat this puppy, and they become friends. Until we get to page two, when the puppy, now a year old, suddenly sickens and dies. So what does the lion do? “[H]e put his paws about his cold little friend and lay grieving for a full five days. And on the sixth day the lion died.” The end.

“Daddy,” my stunned four-year-old son asked, “why did the lion die?”

“Daddy Daddy,” my daughter asked, still wondering about the now-dead lion’s lifestyle, “why did the people feed the lion puppies?”

So I took the book away and hid it from the children. Later I read it through. If you do this, be sure to read something lighter afterward, like perhaps Anna Karenina’s suicide scene, or a biography of Sylvia Plath. The rest of the stories are just as dark as the first one. So we have:

“Escape of a Dancing Bear.” The bear runs away after the master gets drunk. He’s too strong to capture directly, so they play his dancing music and he dances again. This allows the keepers to grab onto his chain. “The bear saw the ruse too late, roared helplessly, and tried to escape. But the master clung on tightly.” The end.

“Death of a Bird-Cherry Tree.” A property owner orders a tree cut down, then reconsiders. “It seemed a shame to kill such a beautiful thing.” But the woodcutter has already started, so he takes up an axe and lends a hand. “And then an unnerving sound came from inside the very soul of that tree. It was as if someone was screaming in unbearable pain, a tearing, wrenching, long, drawn-out scream.” The woodcutter says, “Whew, she don’t die easy, Sir!” Then the tree falls. The end.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Helping youngsters confront their fears in our lockdown era

From The LittleHampton Gazette:

Samuel and the Monster has been self-published by Alexia Pinchbeck at £9.99.

. . . .

Alexia, aged 38, who lives in East Wittering, said: “Samuel and the Monster, a picture book for two to five-year-olds, is a short, simple story with brightly coloured, bold illustrations that overnight put a stop to my four-year-old son Samuel’s nightmares and broken nights. It is written and illustrated by me.

“After experiencing six months of horrendous nightmares and disrupted nights with my then three-year-old, Samuel, as well as the demands of a newborn baby, I was beside myself with sleep deprivation.

“Then, one night, everything changed. Trying a completely different approach, I got Samuel out of his bed, told him take a deep breath and declare with conviction ‘There are no monsters!’

“We repeated this until he was giggling, happy and in a relaxed state, when I asked him to repeat the mantra ‘I am Samuel, I am Samuel, I am Samuel and I am amazing!’

“By the end, he was a different child, and went back to bed relaxed and happy. Overnight, his nightmares disappeared. And, rather than reclaiming my night’s sleep, I went down to the kitchen and wrote and illustrated this simple story between 2am-6am.

“It was very spontaneous, with no planning whatsoever, and the words and illustrations have altered little since that initial 2am version. By the time Samuel woke at 7am, I had a story and pictures to accompany it and I read it to him. He was thrilled. And, more importantly, he has slept through the night since.

. . . .

“With everything that is going on currently, I questioned whether now is the right time to launch, but after much thought I realised that now more than ever we need a book which provides a discussion point for fears, anxieties and our monsters for youngsters between 2-5 years old.

“I believe this book now has more relevance to a child who might be experiencing greater anxiety around their existing fears, or new worries. That, and of course all of us parents at home are needing more books to read with our children than ever before.”

Alexia added: “The actual experience of writing and illustrating the initial idea was exciting. It is a simple story and idea, with brightly coloured illustrations and loveable characters. Even the monster. The whole time I was painting I was full of energy from 2am-6am, motivated by the possibility of helping Samuel to sleep and, by association, the rest of the family.

“It then took a year to get to this initial point through to publication, some points of which have been really quite challenging. It took me many months to come to the conclusion that I would self-publish, namely after a conversation with a friend who has both published and self-published books made me realise that, even if successful in eventually getting an agent, it could be two years before I would then see the book on the shelves.

“So, having run a – very different – business already, at the beginning of the year, I made the decision to self-publish. I got my website up and running, worked with a graphic designer and a book designer to turn the book into a book of the standards of a traditionally published book, explored all of the print, production, packaging and postage.”

. . . .

“Samuel and I are working on a sequel to Samuel and the Monster together, as it turns out there is more to the story that we are learning about at the minute. As he is home with me homeschooling, we’re using it as an opportunity to work on our writing and storytelling skills. His tales are marvellous.”

. . . .

“But it was only a few years ago, shortly after having my first child, Samuel, now nearly five, that I actually got really honest with myself about wanting to write and illustrate books. “Whilst initially this was children’s books, recently the desire to write something longer form has started to niggle at me, so I’m finding a few minutes every day to start to write that.

“If not writing, the words start to build up in my head, and its almost like they curdle into something negative if not siphoned off for good purpose.”

. . . .

“The feeling writing gives me is addictive, whether analogue: a gorgeous black pen spooling out across a smooth blank page of a notebook or, slightly less satisfying but still enjoyable nonetheless, letting out a flood of words on to the blank screen of my computer.”

Link to the rest at The LittleHampton Gazette and here’s a link to the author’s website, where you can order a copy.

Unfortunately, PG was unable to find the book for sale or pre-order on either Amazon or Amazon-UK.

PG was unable to resist a photo on the author’s website of Ms. Pinchbeck reading to Samuel. Click on the photo to see the author’s Portfolio and more photos.

Kids’ Authors Go Digital

From Publishers Weekly:

School closures and stay-at-home orders may have forced the nation’s readers inside, but children’s and YA authors and illustrators have stepped up in unparalleled ways. From storytimes to drawing lessons and online festivals, the work these authors do each day ensures that those who are fortunate to have digital access can discover new worlds.

Kids’ Authors Go Digital is an occasional column that shares brief news on the most creative, interesting, and inspiring author initiatives that are coming across our screens. Sometimes the columns will feature lists of trends we see, other times they will focus on a single unique effort. All of them will share the goal of helping highlight places for authors and readers to come together and imagine things beyond the confines of home.

For our first column, we are taking a look at seven digital efforts that capture some of the diversity of what is available for children and teens right now:

KidsAskAuthors podcast with Grace Lin

Conceived before the pandemic, Kids Ask Authors is the brainchild of Newbery and Caldecott Honor recipient Grace Lin. The podcast, which is geared toward elementary and middle school children, gives readers the opportunity to ask a question of their favorite author or illustrator. Children can submit questions on the podcast website. Each short episode features a different question, ranging from “What do you do when your brain does not come up with any ideas?” to “How do you get drawings or paintings into a book?” The podcast’s growing catalog of 16 episodes includes authors Jeanne Birdsall, Linda Sue Park, Don Tate, and Jane Yolen.

YALLSTAYHOME Virtual Book Festival

One of the greatest hits the kids’ lit world has taken is the cancellation of book festivals nationwide, including YALLWEST in Santa Monica, Calif. Undeterred, organizers managed the monumental task of taking the entire festival online. The weekend bash, which will take place online on April 25 and 26, will feature more than 70 YA authors for a YALLSTAYHOME Book Festival. Authors Melissa Albert, Kacen Callender, Stuart Gibbs, Leah Johnson, David Levithan, Angie Thomas, Sarah Watson, and others will participate in panels, readings and contests. Signed books will be available for purchase from Blue Bicycle Books. Details and schedule information can be found on the festival’s website.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Frabjous Delights of Seriously Silly Poetry

From The Wall Street Journal:

Today, when public language can seem slippery or unreliable, we might, for pleasure as well as reassurance, check in with the masters of English poetry. They may sometimes use gibberish, gobbledygook or balderdash for fun but, in the end, they leave us delighted rather than confused. Some kinds of nonsense are consoling.

Consider Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” For nearly 150 years, it has provoked happy squeals in children, and inspired serious analyses in lit-crit scholars. The poem comes from “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There” (1871), the sequel to “Alice in Wonderland” (1865). Its origin goes further back. Stanza one appeared, in 1855, in “Mischmasch,” a periodical Carroll made for his family:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

On its face, this may seem like nonsense, and in fact Alice herself has problems with it: “It’s very pretty, but it’s rather hard to understand.” She’s wrong. It may distort sense, but it is not nonsense. If you know English syntax and parts of speech, you know immediately that “toves” and “wabe,” like “borogroves” and “raths,” are nouns, even if you have no idea what else they are. “Gyre” and “gimble” are verbs, “mimsy” and “mome” adjectives. “Brillig” and “outgrabe” are ambiguous. In poetry, all words are important, and the odder they are, the more provocative.

. . . .

Carroll’s creatures, like his words, initially seem weird. But they, too, have meanings or insinuations, in context. Carroll tried to help (or perhaps to confuse) his reader. In the book, Humpty Dumpty offers Alice some definitions. He calls toves “something like badgers” but adds they are also like lizards, and like corkscrews. Carroll’s notes in “Mischmasch” have it a bit differently: A tove is “a species of Badger with smooth white hair, long hind legs and short horns like a stag” that lives “chiefly on cheese.”

Subsequent commentators have made their own interpretations. A variorum edition of the work (such as Martin Gardner’s “The Annotated Alice”) resembles a scholarly Bible or Talmud, with layers of commentary heaped on prior commentary, as one scholiast responds to another.

Is there an original truth? Or is the poem’s meaning the sum total of all the possible interpretations? Whom to believe? As Alice might say, “curiouser and curiouser.”

. . . .

“Snicker-snack” is delicious. And “Galumphing” and “chortled,” words of Carroll’s own invention, have entered our shared vocabulary. We have inherited his creations, the words as well as the characters. They are no longer strange but familiar, part of our linguistic stock in trade.

In poems, sounds gather meaning through suggestion. (This is why rhyme is important.) “Wabe” sounds like “wave,” and “Callooh! Callay!” isn’t far from “Hip-Hip, Hooray!” Some of the words are original portmanteau coinages. “Frabjous” combines “joyous” and a hint of “fabulous.” “Mimsy,” according to Humpty, is “flimsy” and “miserable.” No wonder everyone loves “Jabberwocky”: it turns readers into etymologists. They can make their own definitions.

John Tenniel’s famous illustration is itself a visual portmanteau. It enhances Carroll’s vivid language—which doesn’t really describe the beast—and gives the poem a greater frisson. The Jabberwock is like one of those ancient mythical creatures composed of heterogeneous parts. His neck is a dragon’s; he has rabbit teeth and bat wings. Oh, and he’s wearing a waistcoat.

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

Marotta launches NHS colouring download

From The Bookseller:

Pavilion-published children’s illustrator Millie Marotta has launched an initiative to get the nation colouring while supporting the NHS.

The Animal Kingdom (Batsford) author has launched a Love NHS illustration to combat stress and anxiety during the coronavirus crisis.

Designed to show a heart with the NHS logo underneath, it will be made available as a download.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Sales soar 2,000% for Little Princess picture book on handwashing

From The Guardian:

Parents desperate to persuade their children to keep washing their hands have been turning to Tony Ross’s anarchic creation the Little Princess for help, with sales of the picture book I Don’t Want to Wash My Hands! booming by more than 2,000% over the last month, following new hygiene advice related to the coronavirus outbreak.

First published in 2001, the children’s book follows the Little Princess as she’s asked to wash her hands repeatedly, after playing outside, playing with her dog, going on her potty and sneezing. “‘WHY?’ said the Little Princess. ‘Because of germs and nasties,’ said the Maid.”

Publisher Andersen Press said that it had seen “unprecedented demand” for the book, with sales increasing more than 2,000% from February to March 2020. It has placed an “immediate hasty reprint” of the title.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Give older children story time to halt fall in young readers, urge experts

From The Guardian:

Experts have called on the government to make story time an intrinsic part of the school day for children right up to their teens, after two major new pieces of research revealed a decline in both the number of children being read to daily and the number reading for pleasure by themselves.

The findings of Nielsen Book Research’s annual survey into the reading habits of British children, to be revealed on Tuesday at an industry conference, show that only 32% of British children under 13 are read to daily by an adult, for pleasure, down four percentage points on the previous year, and nine percentage points down on 2012.

Most parents stop reading to their child by the age of eight, with just 19% of eight to 10-year-olds read to daily by an adult, across all socio-economic groups, down 3% on last year. Boys were less likely to be read to daily than girls at 14%, compared with 24%.

A second major survey of 27,000 children and young people, carried out by the National Literacy Trust ahead of World Book Day on Thursday, found that the number of eight to 18-year-olds reading for pleasure has now dropped to 52.5%, from 58.8% in 2016, with only a quarter (25.7%) reading daily, compared with 43% in 2015. The majority of boys and over half of girls in every age group said they preferred screentime to reading.

Publisher Egmont, which co-funded the Nielsen research, said that the steep decline in parents reading to them “signals a significant threat to children’s wellbeing, with potential longer-term social impact”. It highlighted a strong correlation between older children being read to, and children choosing to read independently for pleasure; 74% of eight to 13-year-olds who were read to each day also read independently, compared with just 29% of those who were read to less than once a week.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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

From The HuffPost:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The HuffPost

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

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

From The Guardian:

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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

From The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Guardian

 

Reading for fun declines between ages 8 and 9

From The Washington Post (March 20, 2019):

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

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

From The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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

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

 

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

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

 
And an illustration from the 1912 British edition:

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

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

Dav Pilkey credits his ADHD for his massive success

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Enid Blyton had racist views. But I still read her

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.

Usborne recalls batch of That’s not my monkey…

From The Bookseller:

Usborne is recalling a batch of its That’s not my monkey… books over fears of mould due to a problem with warehouse cartons.

The firm announced it was recalling copies with the batch number 01849/29 and ISBN 9780746093368, sold between July and August this year.

In a statement online, the company said: “This is due to a humidity problem found with some cartons at the warehouse containing this UK batch, causing the potential safety concern of mould forming.

“While not all copies are affected, we are recalling this delivery to ensure customers are not potentially put at risk.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG says books growing moldy in a warehouse is an appropriate metaphor for a great many things in traditional publishing.

35 Children’s Books That Teach Empathy And Kindness

From The Huffington Post:

Parents today are very concerned about raising kids who will be forces for good in the world. There are many ways to teach children empathy and understanding, and one very simple yet powerful approach is through books.

Countless children’s books offer beautiful lessons about friendship, acceptance, kindness and compassion. We’ve rounded up a sample of 35.

. . . .

Last Stop on Market Street

This Newbery Medal-winning book follows a boy and his grandmother as they witness beauty, kindness and joy on the bus.

Those Shoes

“Those Shoes” tells a story of generosity and selflessness in the midst of peer pressure.

 

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

PG is a bit cynical about HuffPo articles with numbers in their title (old internet formula) and he’s not current on much in the children’s books field, but FWIW.

The Five Children’s Books Every Adult Should Read

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

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

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’

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

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