Children’s Books

The Radicalization of Bedtime Stories

16 November 2018

From The Atlantic:

More than 200 years ago, when books for children first became common, they delivered simple moral lessons about, for instance, cleanliness and the importance of prayer. Today, story time is still propelled by moral forces, but the issues have gotten a good deal more sophisticated.

In recent years, publishers have put out children’s books with political undertones and activist calls to action on topics ranging from Islamophobia to race to gender identity to feminism. “The trend has definitely exploded in recent years with the social-justice books and the activism books,” says Claire Kirch, a senior correspondent at Publishers Weekly who has been covering the book industry for 15 years.

. . . .

For children of all ages, books about such charged topics are, in the words of one publishing executive, coming to be seen as more “retail-friendly.” This development applies all the way down to picture books—a category for which the intended audience and the buyers are two very different groups. In this sense, “woke” picture books can be thought of as products for parents, helping them distill some of the day’s most fraught cultural issues into little narrative lessons for their kids.

. . . .

The wave of politicized children’s books has come more from the left than from the right. Kirch told me that “of the three publishers that are the most well known for publishing conservative books”—Center Street, Sentinel, and Regnery Publishing—“only one really has a kids’-book line.” That one is Regnery, which has put out titles such as Donald Drains the Swamp!, Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride (by Newt Gingrich’s wife, Callista), The Remarkable Ronald Reagan, and The Night Santa Got Lost: How NORAD Saved Christmas.

It seems there is more of an appetite for liberal-minded kids’ books: Kirch noted that another Regnery title—Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President, by Mike Pence’s daughter Charlotte and told from the perspective of the family’s pet rabbit—was far outsold by a parody of the book overseen by John Oliver’s HBO show that imagined the titular bunny to be gay.

. . . .

Since then, the number of books featuring marginalized identities has increased. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison examines thousands of books for kids and teens published each year, and in 2015, it found that about 14 percent of American kids’ titles were about people who weren’t white. In 2017, this figure rose to 25 percent. “We have found, however, that the increase in the number of books about people of color is due to an increase in white authors writing about diverse characters,” the Center’s director, KT Horning, told me. “It does not mean that we are seeing more books by people of color.” Even so, diversity—in children’s books and in so many other parts of society—is these days a politicized issue, and an increasing focus on it in children’s books is a development that scans to some as liberal.

. . . .

Laura Stoker, a political scientist at UC Berkeley, put it to me this way: “Kids know that they’re Democrats before they have any clue what a Democrat is.” Stoker thinks it’s possible that children’s books touching on politicized issues are representative of broader political polarization. “Parents who feel very strongly want to produce children who feel the way they feel and adopt their values,” she says.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

While reading the OP, PG was inspired to create a new advertising slogan for Big Publishing – “By New Yorkers, For New Yorkers”.

50% Off Children’s Books

14 November 2018

For parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., who like to give books to children, Amazon is running a 50% off sale on a variety of children’s books.

A children’s publisher is designing GIF books for an immersive reading experience

14 November 2018


Not-for-profit publisher Pratham Books has launched a series of digital books that use GIFs to enhance storytelling and the reading experience for children. Released on November 14 to coincide with Children’s Day, the books are available to read on the publisher’s Storyweaver open source digital platform, which is aimed at making reading more accessible for young children. The books feature text as well as a moving image on each page.

[Click on the illustration to view the animation]

Last year, Pratham Books launched books for mobile phones to take advantage of the increasing penetration of mobile data in India and the “moving books” appear to be furthering the same mission of getting more children to read. “We have constantly expanded the boundaries of what a storybook can be and our latest series of GIF Books is one more innovative reading experience that children will love,” said Suzanne Singh, Chairperson of Pratham Books.

. . . .

Bijal Vachharajani, Senior Editor at Pratham Books said she hopes children will associate with the characters coming alive. “They can dance, jump and run with the adorable Gappu; giggle at naughty Boochandis as they gobble up food (and feet) and prowl about the story; and marvel at the surreal green-glowing tomato patch bewitched by Shoecat,” she added.

Link to the rest at

Can diversity in children’s books tackle prejudice?

1 November 2018

From CNN:

Marley Dias says she was tired of reading books about “white boys and their dogs” in school.

So at the age of 11, she launched the campaign #1000BlackGirlBooks to identify books featuring people of color as protagonists.
Over the past three years, Dias has collected more than 11,000 books. She is in the process of donating all the books and has given more than half to what she describes as “predominantly black and underserved” communities in the US, Haiti, Ghana, Jamaica and the UK.
The young activist from New Jersey has even gone on to author her own book — “Marley Dias Gets It Done” — and is currently developing an app so kids can find “black girl books” more easily.

. . . .

“I hope that my campaign will mean more opportunities for our stories to be told and for books with black girls as the main character to be put on bookshelves worldwide,” she tells CNN.

Yet despite the young writer’s best efforts, statistics suggest “black girl books” are still in short supply.

Just 9% of children’s books published in the US in 2017 featured African or African American characters — according to data from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) which has been measuring representation in children’s books since 1985.

While that figure appears small, it actually represents an improvement on previous years. In 2014, just 5% of children’s books recorded by the CCBC included African or African American characters.

. . . .

Moreover, CCBC director Kathleen Horning points out that many of the books about black experiences have not been written by authors from that demographic.

Africans and African Americans wrote or illustrated just 3% of the books counted by the CCBC in 2017. Horning says this statistic appears to depict how difficult it can be for black authors to break into the publishing industry.

When children’s books about black people do get published, Horning says they often fall into three broad categories: books about slavery, books set during the civil rights movement and books that tell “gritty, contemporary” stories about children growing up in struggling families or teens dealing with violence.

“All of these are important stories, but young readers also want more variety,” says Horning. For example, there aren’t traditionally “many fantasies with African American characters, or books showing a middle-class black family.”

. . . .

B.J. Epstein, a lecturer in children’s literature at the University of East Anglia in the UK, notes that diverse characters are often pigeonholed by their ethnicity, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

In her book “Are the Kids All Right?: Representations of LGBTQ Characters in Children’s and Young Adult Literature,” Epstein surveyed English books with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters.

She found the majority of stories dealing with this subject only highlighted the difficulty of coming out, and the negative repercussions associated with doing so.

. . . .

The consequences of a lack of diverse characters can extend well beyond the classroom.

“The stories that children read at a young age tell them who matters and who doesn’t matter, who’s human and who isn’t human,” explains Philip Nel, professor of English at Kansas State University.

“A story doesn’t have to tell us that explicitly. It can tell us that by failing to represent certain groups of people — omission tells us that these groups of people are not important,” Nel adds.

Link to the rest at CNN

Disclaimer: PG is in a smart-alecky mood today. (This is also a trigger warning.) He’ll undoubtedly be better tomorrow.

He wonders if there’s a reason why a publisher could not release multiple versions of the same children’s book. One could include only black characters. Another could include only Asian characters. One could include only white characters. And a final version could include characters of several races peacefully coexisting.

When commissioning an artist for a children’s picture book, the publisher could request four copies of each illustration that depicted people – one for each of the three races and one with mixed races.

For a children’s book without illustrations of children, a racial character tag could be dropped into the manuscript – “Sue was a white/black/Asian girl” – and repeated in a few other places in the story. Search and replace could do the job. If the publisher was confident it wouldn’t be accused of racial stereotyping, character names could be modified for each racial group as well – “Priscilla/Imani/Ah Lam loved running in the sunshine.”

For the cautious publisher, committed to battling prejudice in all its forms, this might be enough. The result might seem a little bland, but incautious attempts to insert different “authentic” elements or idiosyncratic language usage into each racial version might backfire. Indeed, stereotypical white/black/Asian tropes would be avoided lest they offend someone.

Some of the prospective purchasers of such books might want a version in which all of the characters were of the same race, other parents might want their children to see various races getting along with each other. A publisher fully committed to diversity could do another series of books mixing both races and genders with search and replace again. Should the number of genders increase in the future, the sensitively-structured electronic book files would make updating and reissuing new editions easy.

Professor Nel, quoted in the OP, should be happy because everyone would be “human” and Ms. Dias would be freed from any more “white boy” stories.

Read to Your Kid With the Perfect Sound Effects Accompaniment

18 October 2018

From Offspring:

Last night, I read my daughter a story before bed, like I always do. I picked an old favorite from her bookshelf—Giraffes Can’t Dance. But this time, a musical cast accompanied my narration.

“The warthogs started waltzing …” I read. Just then, a romantic melody started playing.

I continued. “And the rhinos rock ‘n’ rolled …” Suddenly, there was an interlude by an electric guitar.

The lions danced a tango that was elegant and bold.” Right on cue, a dramatic tango tune cut in.

Okay, so there were no actual musicians in my kid’s bedroom—that would have been weird as we were sitting in our pajamas. But it felt like they were there, thanks to a free iOS app called Novel Effect.

. . . .

As you read a children’s book aloud, your iPhone, iPad or connected speakers play custom music and sound effects to enhance the story. The system uses voice recognition technology to drop in the sounds at the perfect moment, so you can go at your own pace. There’s a well-timed “ba-dum-bump-chhhh” in The Book with No Pictures, the hum of machine engines in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and lively underwater effects in The Pout-Pout Fish. There are even some voice cameos by certain characters—in Where the Wild Things Are, Max appears with his famed line “I’ll eat you up.”

Novel Effect works with more than 200 different books, from classics to recent bestsellers. There are some titles that come with the app, but for most of the selections, you must already have a copy of the book, whether print or digital. (There’s also an option to open a book in iBooks directly in the app.) Once you tap “Read book,” you can just set your device aside and start reading.

. . . .

Novel Effect is currently creating media designed to be used with Alexa, which makes a lot of sense. It’d be nice to not need my phone at all to use the technology.

Link to the rest at Offspring

Confusion Pops Up, in a Pop-Up Bookstore

15 October 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

It’s funny what can happen when you throw around industry jargon assuming everyone is familiar with only to find that they are not, in fact, familiar. I’ve written here before about trying to phase out my usage of the terms “middle grade” and “young adult” in store signage and handselling. These phrases tend to be heard as “middle school” and “young adult” (as opposed to 12 years old and up) by anyone not in the book business. And what’s the point of holding on to a phrase that doesn’t communicate what we intend it to?

. . . .

I’ve been running an after-school pop-up [bookstore in an ice-cream shop] which has, so far, been met with frequent delight and only occasional confusion. One of these occasions involved a very sweet elderly lady who came up to me as I was setting up for the afternoon. Setting up involves moving a fairly hefty sales counter — on wheels, thankfully —180 degrees so that the open side with shelves of books is on display to the room. As I was slowly spinning the purple behemoth that is Spellbound’s pop-up bookshop, this exchange happened.

Sweet Elderly Lady: I just have to ask. What is this?

Me: A pop-up bookshop!

SEL: A puppet shop?

Me: No, a pop-up book shop [gesturing at books now that they’re visible].

SEL: So you do puppet shows about the books?

Me: No, “pop-up,” not “puppet.”

SEL: Oh… so these are all pop-up books?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

You know what’s the matter with you?

30 September 2018

From George’s Marvelous Medicine:

“You know what’s the matter with you?” the old woman said, staring over the rim of the teacup with those bright wicked little eyes. “You’re growing up too fast. Boys who grow too fast become stupid and lazy.”

“But I can’t help it if I’m growing fast, Grandma.” George said.

“Of course you can,” she snapped. “Growing’s a nasty, childish habit.”

Link to the rest at George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl

Of Stories and Storytellers

28 September 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

 In 2002,Philip Pullman made a writerly confession to an audience in Oxford, England. “Your nature,” he said, “the nature of your particular talent, is rarely as balanced as your intentions, and I realised some time ago that I belong at the vulgar end of the literary spectrum.” Vulgar is not perhaps the word that first springs to mind in connection with Mr. Pullman, but at the time the author of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy was still wrestling with the discovery that his talents lay in fantasy, a genre he held in low esteem. “I had thought (and I do still think) that the most powerful, the most profound, the greatest novels I’d read were examples of realism, not of fantasy,” he explains in Daemon Voices”, a splendid collection of two decades of the author’s reflections on stories and storytelling.

Mr. Pullman was able to overcome his embarrassment at writing fantasy, he writes, by seeking to infuse his stories with realism and moral truthfulness. It’s what the muse required: “You have to do what your imagination wants, not what your fastidious literary taste is inclined towards, not what your finely honed judgement feels comfortable with, not what your desire for the esteem of critics advises you to. Good intentions never wrote a story worth reading: only the imagination can do that.” And what an imagination! In those books alone, he summons a multiverse populated by armored bears, aeronauts, assassin priests and daemons, which are something like external human souls in the shape of animals—all developed in supple, elegant writing.

The quality of Mr. Pullman’s prose is no accident. From a 2011 speech we learn of his admiration for what he calls the classical “narrative tact” of Jane Austen, William Thackeray and Philippa Pearce, the author of “Tom’s Midnight Garden” (1958), all of whose work is made captivating, he says, by “clarity and steadiness and coolness of tone.” This type of storytelling has a technical term, free indirect style, which Mr. Pullman approvingly contrasts with the urgent first-person, present-tense style of narration (“I flinch, I sob”) that is so much in vogue these days in young-adult literature.

. . . .

“Fiction is the art of transformation [that] for many writers . . . allows for happy reconciliations they cannot achieve in real life,” Liz Rosenberg observes in a sparkling biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery, the Canadian writer who brought plain, sprightly, impulsive, red-headed Anne Shirley into the world with her 1908 novel, “Anne of Green Gables.” With the character of Anne, Ms. Rosenberg writes in “House of Dreams” , Montgomery “performed the great alchemy of art. She transformed her own history of abandonment into a story of rescue. Maud put herself into the fictional Anne: her own vivid imagination; a passionate love of nature; her habit of naming inanimate objects; the imaginary cupboard friend; her hungry affection for books; her own vanity, pride, stubbornness; and a deep, abiding attachment to those she loves.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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