Children’s Books

Books Help Kids Navigate Complex Times

15 September 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

PG suggests that

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

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

So please, oh please

11 September 2019

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

~  Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Enid Blyton had racist views. But I still read her

6 September 2019

From The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Usborne recalls batch of That’s not my monkey…

2 September 2019

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.

Where The Wild Things Are

30 August 2019
Comments Off on Where The Wild Things Are

35 Children’s Books That Teach Empathy And Kindness

27 August 2019
Comments Off on 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

26 July 2019

From The Guardian:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

The Paddington books by Michael Bond

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

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

. . . .

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

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

Link to the rest at The Guardian

 

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

26 June 2019

From Medium:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Then two days later, he wrote me back.

. . . .

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

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

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

I emailed him back one more time.

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

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

. . . .

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

Dear Darcy,
What’s your address?

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

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

Link to the rest at Medium

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