The Radicalization of Bedtime Stories

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”.

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


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?

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

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

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?

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

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

This Is What Being an Elementary School Librarian Means to Me Today

From Brightly:

In one way or another, I have worked in the world of kids’ books for more than two decades now — yet, it wasn’t until I began my job as a librarian four years ago that I truly realized how much books connect and create community. As an elementary school librarian, I am the one person on campus who interacts with every student in every class on a weekly — and for many, daily — basis. My hours are spent cultivating connections with my 600 students, learning their reading levels and interests, putting the right book in their hands and creating a warm, welcoming, and, yes, noisy space where they feel safe and know they belong.

Children’s books and literacy are my passions and I am grateful for every day that I get to share this love with kids. I could spend my days tracking down lost books, collecting fines, running reports, and teaching the Dewey Decimal System, but that would drastically cut into the time I have to share my love for books and the marvels of reading, see the excitement in the faces of my students when I describe a book I just read, and show them the next, newest book in a series they are reading.

Less than half of the third, fourth, and fifth graders at my school are reading at grade level, and working with kids who struggle with reading was a new experience for me when I became a librarian. During my many years as a children’s bookseller, I found myself interacting most often with kids (and adults) who were book lovers and only occasionally encountering reluctant readers. On a more personal level, growing up in a house filled with books, my three kids naturally gravitated towards them and had little choice but to become readers.

I have learned a lot from engaging with students who struggle to learn read. From the hurdles English language learners face to the dynamics of language acquisition and building vocabulary, I am experiencing kids’ books — and kids themselves — in a whole new way. Where I used to read every new kids’ book that caught my eye, both for review on my website and to share with customers, I’ve found that many new releases are not accessible to my students. I now work to bring high interest, low-level books, especially with diverse characters and authors, to the shelves of my library. Now I spend my days helping students find books, listening to them tell me about the books they are reading, and reading the mini-book reports I reward (bribe) students for writing.

Link to the rest at Brightly

PG says the author sounds like a terrific librarian.

A Responsible Freedom: Patti Smith on ‘Little Women’

From The Paris Review:

Perhaps no other book provided a greater guide, as I set out on my youthful path, than Louisa May Alcott’s most beloved novel, Little Women. I was a wiry daydreamer, just ten years old. Life was already presenting challenges for an awkward tomboy growing up in the gender-defined 1950s. Uninterested in preordained activities, I would take off on my blue bicycle, to a secluded place in the woods, and read the books I had checked out, often over and over again, from the local library. I could hardly be found without book in hand and sacrificed sleep and hours at play to enter wholeheartedly each of their unique worlds.

Many wonderful books captured my imagination, but in Little Women something extraordinary happened. I recognized myself, as if in a mirror, the lanky headstrong girl, who raced on foot, ripped her skirts climbing trees, spoke in common slang, and denounced social pretensions. A girl who could be found leaning against a great oak with a book, or at her desk in the attic bowed over a manuscript. She was Josephine March. Even her name breathed freedom, a girl called Jo. Louisa May Alcott had wrapped herself in her glory cloak, labored at her own desk, and penned a new kind of heroine. A stubbornly modern nineteenth-century American girl. A girl who wrote. Like countless girls before me, I found a model in one who was not like everyone else, who possessed a revolutionary soul yet also a sense of responsibility. Her dedication to her craft provided my first window into the process of the writer and I was moved with the desire to embrace this vocation as my own. Her missteps, comic to bold, were enviable, giving permission for my own.

Set in New England in the mid-nineteenth century, in the throes of the Civil War, Little Women is not a sweeping epic. Instead we are drawn into the lively, combative, and caring atmosphere of the March family parlor. There we are introduced to the four young sisters, each with intriguing personalities, processing an energy specifically their own. We become privy to their dreams and disappointments, their squabbles and collective imagination, the immediate world they learn to maneuver. Each struggling with their lot, but accountable to the expectations placed upon them.

. . . .

Alcott vowed to find a way to support her family, draw them out of poverty, just as Jo strived to support hers. A vow I also uttered, privy to my own family’s postwar financial struggles.

Louisa desired and eventually insisted on a room of her own, and her father built an oval desk, with an inkstand, that stood between two windows. It is here she penned her first attempts at pulp fiction under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard, providing bread for the family. Like Walt Whitman, she had risked her life volunteering as a nurse during the Civil War and published Hospital Sketches, receiving popular acclaim. But it was the publication of Little Women that provided, almost instantly, national success, financial security, and a legion of devoted readers.

The success of Little Women cleared the course she had set for herself for the rest of her life. Alcott refused to marry and embrace the social conventions of the day. She wrote and traveled extensively in Europe. As did her character Jo, she found her method for following her creative path while still attentive to crucial domestic matters, remaining the breadwinner, ever responsible for the needs of her family. And as Jo, within her work, she conveyed the joy of her wild imagination, her terrible longing, and ultimately the tragedy of loss. Through the March girls I came to know extreme poverty and the cost of war. I learned from Jo’s example that art is not produced solely by dreaming but through discipline, steadfast and confident application, and the willingness to accept and grow from astute criticism. Jo, as her creator, was always scribing, littering the floor with her failures, until such skins were shed and she connected with the core of self-expression.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG recalls reading and loving Little Women when he was in elementary school. He followed that book up with Little Men, which was not quite as good.

During this time period, PG’s family of origin was living in a small house at an altitude of about 10,000 feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

There was not a lot of money available to purchase books. The closest real library was over an hour away and required traveling on a narrow and winding mountain road that was more than a little intimidating when PG drove it as an adult.

PG will be forever grateful for his mother’s efforts to provide lots of reading material for her children, regardless of the cost in time, money and energy on her part.

Why ‘Little Women’ Endures 150 Years Later

From Smithsonian:

When Louisa May Alcott lifted her pen after writing the last line of Little Women, she never would have believed that this piece of autobiographical fiction would remain in print throughout the 150 years after its September 30, 1868 publication. Alcott’s masterpiece is a 19th-century time capsule that still draws young readers and has spawned four movies, more than ten TV adaptations, a Broadway drama, a Broadway musical, an opera, a museum, a series of dolls, and countless stories and books built around the same characters. Earlier this year, PBS broadcast a two-night, three-hour Little Women film produced by the BBC. A modern retelling of the classic will arrive in theaters September 28, director Greta Gerwig is planning another film for late 2019.

A new book by Anne Boyd Rioux—Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy—explores the cultural significance of Alcott’s most successful work. Rioux says she was surprised by “the incredibly widespread impact that the book has had on women writers, in particular.” Little Women’s most flamboyant character, the high-tempered and ambitious Jo March, is an aspiring author and an independent soul, much like Alcott. Her nascent feminism has touched many who have admired her challenges to societal norms while embracing its virtues. Over the years, Jo has fed the ambitions of writers as diverse as Gloria Steinem, Helen Keller, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gertrude Stein, Danielle Steel, J.K. Rowling, Simone de Beauvoir and national Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith.

Little Women . . . has never been out of print.

. . . .

Louisa May Alcott by George Kendall Warren Studio, c. 1872

. . . .

When a publisher asked Alcott to write a book for girls, the already-published author procrastinated. “I think the thought of a girls’ book was stifling to her,” Rioux says. In fact, Alcott once commented that she “never liked girls or knew many except my sisters.” When she finally wrote the book, she composed it quickly and with little deliberation, basing the characters on her own family.

Little Women triumphed immediately, selling the initial run of 2,000 books in just days. The original publication represented the first 23 chapters of what would become a 47-chapter book. Soon, her publisher was shipping tens of thousands of books, so he ordered a second installment, which would complete the classic. “Spinning out her fantasies on paper, Louisa was transported, and liberated. Her imagination freed her to escape the confines of ordinary life to be flirtatious, scheming, materialistic, violent, rich, worldly, or a different gender,” writes Alcott’s biographer Harriet Reisen.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian

The Practical Magic of Joan Aiken, the Greatest Children’s Writer You’ve Likely Never Read

From The New Yorker:

In the early nineteen-fifties, before she published any of the novels that established her as one of the twentieth century’s great children’s-book writers, Joan Aiken lived on a bus. Aiken and her husband, the journalist Ronald Brown, had acquired a piece of land on which they meant to build a house. But building licenses in England could take years to be approved. To continue renting an apartment seemed wasteful, and since food was still being rationed—this was only a few years after the war—they wanted to start a garden right away. The obvious solution was some sort of temporary residence, a structure that could be brought onto their new plot and then dismantled or moved away once the house was done. But where could they find a home like that?

“We wanted something roomy enough to accommodate two adults, a typewriter, wireless, gramophone and records, sewing machine, a mass of books, a cat and an extremely lively eighteen-month-old baby,” Aiken wrote. “A bus seemed to answer those requirements. The one which we got was a lucky buy—a single-decker (some local authorities object to double-deckers), recently overhauled. We bought it for less than a hundred pounds, complete.”

They outfitted it with water and electricity. They put in a stove for heat. Brown, who worked at Reuters, commuted to London, by train. Aiken painted furniture, worked in the garden, and wrote stories and poems on the typewriter. Her first book, a collection of short fiction called “All You’ve Ever Wanted,” included material written during the bus phase; it was published in 1953.

Aiken wrote a brief essay, probably in 1952, about her unconventional living arrangements. She published it in Housewife magazine. The piece is called, with cheerful straightforwardness, “Our Home Is a One-Decker Bus.” What’s remarkable about it is how Aiken treats her (intimately personal, yet also odd and whimsical) material. That is, she doesn’t “treat” it at all—she reports, with brisk efficiency. Living on a bus comes across as a practical problem, to be managed without fuss. Here is where we built our airing cupboard, above the hot-water tank. Near the clothes horse we keep the baby’s folding bath.

As the article moves along, though, something strange starts to occur. Aiken’s unsentimental accounting begins to acquire a glow of magic. A slow accumulation of increasingly fanciful detail deposits us, almost without our noticing, on the threshold of a fairy tale:

Space is certainly confined. We have to be tidy, which comes hard, and our visitors must sleep in a tin hut which also contains gardening equipment and tea-chests full of papers. But the bus isour own. We can hammer in nails or saw holes wherever we want to, paint the walls red and green, and draw pictures on the doors. We have done all these things, and we add some new embellishment every week.

Aiken wrote more than a hundred novels over the course of her long career, and many of them manage something like this transformation. An absurd premise (we live on a bus; the Glorious Revolution never happened; a queen claims that her lake has been stolen) is treated with deadpan seriousness, allowing its latent magical possibilities to emerge in an atmosphere that’s half ironic, half enchanted—or, rather, in an atmosphere that’s entirely ironic and entirely enchanted, at the same time.

. . . .

Consider “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase,” Aiken’s best-known novel, which she published in 1962. The book, the first in her Wolves Chronicles series, take place in an alternate historical timeline in which James II was never deposed; in the eighteen-thirties of the books, James III is the King of England and the target of Hanoverian conspirators’ countless plots to overthrow him. A tunnel has been dug under the English Channel, between Dover and Calais, and as a result—and here is the magic sneaking in through the bizarre premise—England has been overrun by wolves, thousands of which have migrated through the tunnel after a string of brutal winters in Europe and Russia.

. . . .

In the deep winter, the river in the woods surrounding Willoughby Chase, the enormous, rambling manor of Sir Willoughby Green, has frozen solid. Lady Green, Sir Willoughby’s wife, has mysteriously taken ill, so the couple have departed on a long ocean voyage that they hope will restore her to health. (That’s three literary clichés—a manor in the woods, a mysterious illness, a sailing voyage—before the novel has even really begun.) They have left their young daughter, Bonnie Green, in the care of a governess (four), Letitia Slighcarp, who also claims to be Sir Willoughby’s estranged fourth cousin (five). To keep Bonnie company, her cousin Sylvia, an orphan (six) being raised in London by their kindly but impoverished Aunt Jane (seven), has made the dangerous train journey north to Willoughby Chase. The little girls have never met before, and their temperaments are opposite—Bonnie is robust and headstrong; Sylvia is modest and delicate—but they immediately become fast friends (eight).

The scene I am thinking of is one in which the girls decide to go ice skating. The forest is full of wolves, but the wolves won’t venture onto the ice, Bonnie says, so as long as the girls stick to the river they will be safe. While they’re skating, they see Miss Slighcarp making her way through the woods. She is clearly up to no good (they can spy on her through a secret compartment in a wall—I’ll stop counting, but you get the idea), and they attempt to follow her, but in doing so they skate farther than they had intended. Now night is approaching, and they are a long way from the house. Bonnie isn’t tired, but Sylvia, who has never skated before, can’t go on any longer. As they try to decide what to do, they begin to hear, from somewhere in the distance, the baying of wolves.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

10 Little-Known Children’s Books by Famous Writers

From The Literary Hub:

This week, Duke University Press is reissuing James Baldwin’s children’s book, Little Man, Little Man. If you had no idea that James Baldwin ever wrote a children’s book, you’re not alone. In fact, quite a number of established literary writers have dabbled in kids lit. Most people know about the children’s books of writers like Ian Fleming (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Salman Rushdie (Haroun and the Sea of Stories), T.S. Eliot (Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats), Toni Morrison (The Book of Mean People, etc) and even Mark Twain (Advice to Little Girls). But others are more obscure, and in honor of the republication of James Baldwin’s only children’s book, here are a few of these, all of them children’s books (even if made into them after the fact) and all written by writers more famous for their grown-up fiction.

. . . .

Langston Hughes, The First Book of Jazz (1955)

In 1955, Langston Hughes, arguably the most important poet of the Harlem Renaissance, published a jazz explainer book for children! It was the first children’s book to tackle the subject, and it’s a good one: a history of the art form—in sections with titles like  “African Drums,” “Old New Orleans,” “Work Songs,” “Jubilees,” “The Blues,” “Ragtime,” and “Boogie-woogie”—and an explanation of the terms, from syncopation to riff. “A part of American music is jazz, born in the South,” Hughes writes. “Woven into it in the Deep South were the rhythms of African drums that today make jazz music different from any other music in the world. Nobody else ever made jazz before we did. Jazz is American music.” NB that The First Book of Jazz was actually the third children’s book written by Hughes. The first was The First Book of Negroes and the second was The First Book of Rhythms.

. . . .

William Faulkner, The Wishing Tree (1927)

William Faulkner only wrote one children’s book—which Maria Popova calls “a sort of grimly whimsical morality tale, somewhere between Alice In WonderlandDon Quixote, and To Kill a Mockingbird, about a girl who embarks upon a strange adventure on her birthday only to realize the importance of choosing one’s wishes with consideration and kindness”—and it was really only meant for one child: Victoria Franklin, the daughter of his childhood sweetheart Estelle Oldham. Estelle was still married to Victoria’s father, but Faulkner hoped she would cast him off and remarry him instead, which she did two years later—maybe in part because of this book, which Faulkner illustrated and lovingly bound himself. On the first page, he wrote:

For his dear friend
on her eighth birthday
Bill he made
this Book

Anyone would marry such a gentleman! That said, as Popova points out, Faulkner made copies of the book for at least three more children. Not a problem until Victoria Franklin tried to publish hers—which she eventually did, with Random House, in 1964.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Teens Today Spend More Time on Digital Media, Less Time Reading

From The American Psychological Association:

If you can’t remember the last time you saw a teenager reading a book, newspaper or magazine, you’re not alone. In recent years, less than 20 percent of U.S. teens report reading a book, magazine or newspaper daily for pleasure, while more than 80 percent say they use social media every day, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Compared with previous generations, teens in the 2010s spent more time online and less time with traditional media, such as books, magazines and television,” said lead author Jean M. Twenge, PhD, author of the book iGen and professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “Time on digital media has displaced time once spent enjoying a book or watching TV.”

The research was published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture®.

. . . .

“Think about how difficult it must be to read even five pages of an 800-page college textbook,” Twenge says, “when you’ve been used to spending most of your time switching between one digital activity and another in a matter of seconds. It really highlights the challenges students and faculty both face in the current era.”

In the article, Twenge says that she and her fellow researchers were surprised to see how dramatic a decline in reading their study revealed. “It’s so convenient to read books and magazines on electronic devices like tablets,” she says. “There’s no more going to the mailbox or the bookstore—you just download the magazine issue or book and start reading. Yet reading has still declined precipitously.”

And in a telling comment, she points out that “Blockbuster and VCRs didn’t kill going to the movies—but streaming videos apparently did.”

. . . .

Use of digital media increased substantially from 2006 to 2016. Among 12th-graders, internet use during leisure time doubled from one to two hours per day during that period. It also increased 75 percent for 10th graders and 68 percent for eighth-graders. Usage rates and increases were fairly uniform across gender, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status, according to Twenge.

“In the mid-2010s, the average American 12th-grader reported spending approximately two hours a day texting, just over two hours a day on the internet — which included gaming — and just under two hours a day on social media,” said Twenge. “That’s a total of about six hours per day on just three digital media activities during their leisure time.”

In comparison, 10th-graders reported a total of five hours per day and eighth-graders reported four hours per day on those three digital activities. And all that time in the digital world is seriously degrading the time they spend on more traditional media, according to Twenge.

The decline in reading print media was especially steep. In the early 1990s, 33 percent of 10th-graders said they read a newspaper almost every day. By 2016, that number was only 2 percent. In the late 1970s, 60 percent of 12th-graders said they read a book or magazine almost every day; by 2016, only 16 percent did. Twelfth-graders also reported reading two fewer books each year in 2016 compared with 1976, and approximately one-third did not read a book (including e-books) for pleasure in the year prior to the 2016 survey, nearly triple the number reported in the 1970s.

. . . .

“There’s no lack of intelligence among young people,” Twenge now says in the APA article, “but they do have less experience focusing for longer periods of time and reading long-form text.

“Being able to read long-form text is crucial for understanding complex issues and developing critical thinking skills.”

Link to the rest at The American Psychological Association

Changing the Picture Book Shelves

From Publishers Weekly:

We’ve been struggling with our picture book section at the shop for some time now, and by “struggling” I mean that while the category is selling well once we locate the suggested title, often the finding of that exact book has been a bit of a challenge for frontline booksellers in a hurry. The last two years have seen big growth in nonfiction sales, and while some of these fit nicely in that “Who Was….” spinner from Penguin, there’s a LOT happening outside those charming little biographies. We have seen an uptick in interest in nonfiction all over the store, from coding books to germ science, sports to baking. Feminist girl power books, yoga how-to’s (I’m still waiting for someone to do “Can Your Mama Asana?”) and lots of history are getting picture book treatment; our increased sales show that these subjects are definitely in our customers’ bedtime story rotation.

Currently, we have nonfiction sections scattered around the store: Biography, History, Science (which is actually several bookshelves, including anatomy, weather and natural disasters, physical sciences and then project type books), Space (which gets its own shelf), Vehicles and Transportation (there is nothing as powerful as a digger in a children’s bookstore), Dinosaurs, Spy, Magic (this is the how-to section, versus the magical fiction category), Cooking, Animals (arranged alphabetically by species, not author) and then general parenting and bibliotherapy: Potty Training, New Baby, and Big Sibling – the holy trinity of the preschool parents.

. . . .

Specific childhood issues from sleeping to school issues are grouped by age, and there’s a good-sized section of books about puberty, sexuality and personal health.  All of those sections are ideally next to non-book displays that cross-sell well with those titles, (like the volcano kits near Natural Disasters, although I could make a case for those to be placed by potty training, too, I suppose)

. . . .

Most of these nonfiction sections are a mixture of early readers, small paperbacks, and larger hardcovers, relying more on their subject similarity for grouping than reading level. This is a particularly “kid lit land” kind of problem – in a general bookstore, all the animal books are grouped together, regardless of text difficulty. In kids’ stores, we have whole sections devoted just to a particular reading level and/or format – so, does Bears Are Curious go in the animal section, or on the early reader spinner (top two tiers for Level One) and if a second grader who is working on a report about grizzlies comes in, where do we direct him first?

Picture books, however, have always had their own long wall, and while they are the #3 selling category by quantity for us, they are the biggest seller in dollars.

. . . .

Late last Friday afternoon (where all good inspiration lives, between gift wrapping birthday presents for the weekend and debating the staff pizza order) we decided that we would just pull all the nonfiction titles out of picture books that were not already classified and give them their own section. We’d not only pull them, but we’d create a “nonfiction picture book” category in the POS system for these titles that allowed staffers to find them easily, and change all the shelf location fields in their description.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG very rarely visits physical bookstores these days, but back in the time when he did visit bookstores, he had a mindmap of the location of sections he would consult for new reading materials. Perhaps he’s an outlier, but he would not have appreciated his preferred books being scattered around the store.

OTOH, it’s been a long time since PG has been a kid, so he might enjoy running all over a bookstore to find things.

How Should Children’s Books Deal with the Holocaust?

From The New Yorker:

As a child, I was obsessed with Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Like Anne, I wanted to grow up to be a writer; like her, I kept a diary (though less faithfully), which for a time I addressed, following her model, as Kitty; like her, I agonized over how little my mother understood me and longed to swoon in a boy’s arms. My obsession peaked at the age of eight with a visit to the Secret Annexe, in Amsterdam—the warren of rooms where the Frank family hid from the Nazis. I had imagined it countless times and had the floor plan memorized, but seeing it was a shock: it was so much smaller than I had pictured.

That may have been the moment I began to understand how great was the distance between Anne’s world and my own. As a girl from a family of survivors, coming of age in nineteen-eighties America, I felt the Holocaust as a tangible presence, simultaneously inescapable and unknowable. My grandparents, Jews from Lodz who fled east when the Nazis began their advance into Poland, had better luck than many: taken prisoner by the Soviets, they spent much of the war in a Siberian labor camp. Some of their family had already made it to Palestine, but most of those who remained behind were sent first to the Lodz ghetto and then to Auschwitz. My great-grandmother died there, but my great-aunt survived.

The enormity of the losses my relatives had suffered was palpable in the deep lines around their mouths, the tremors in their hands, the sighs they heaved every time the war years came up. Once, my great-aunt, who had Alzheimer’s disease by the time I came to know her, even grabbed my arm in search of the tattoo that she thought she would find there. But they didn’t often talk in detail about their experiences. When they did, the stories they told were confusing and full of gaps, and I’d complain at having to hear them. I was terrified of my relatives’ emotion and of the crushing responsibility it inflicted on me: the paradox of being charged with remembering something I hadn’t experienced.

Reading about the Holocaust was my way of trying to fulfill that obligation. But the gaps remained. I pored over the final pages of my edition of Anne’s diary, where the facts of what happened after the police raided the Secret Annexe were stated tersely: deportation to Westerbork, Auschwitz, and, finally, Bergen-Belsen. Searching for more, I came upon a book in which Hanneli Goslar, a childhood friend of Anne’s who was interned in another section of Bergen-Belsen, recalled having caught a glimpse of her, almost unrecognizable, through a fence. She returned a few days later with a package of food, but when she threw it over the fence another woman caught it and ran away as Anne screamed. The chatty, cheerful girl had become a person I couldn’t identify with at all: skeletal, desperate, scrabbling for food. She had gone to a place I couldn’t follow, not even in my imagination.

Those who died in the camps left no testimonies, and, when I was growing up, the idea of writing imaginative literature for children about the death camps was considered almost sacrilegious.

. . . .

Why, [Eric A.] Kimmel wondered, had no writer for children broached “the ultimate tragedy”? He concluded that it had to do with the irreconcilable tension between the subject and our assumptions about children’s literature. To write about the Holocaust realistically, in all its horror, violates the tacit promise of writing for young readers, he maintained: “not to be too violent, too accusing, too depressing.” At the same time, a story that won’t keep young readers up at night contradicts the historical reality. Kimmel continued, “To put it simply, is mass murder a subject for a children’s novel? Five years ago, we might have said no; ten years ago we certainly would have. Now, however, I think the appearance of a novel set in the center of the lowest circle is only a matter of time.”

. . . .

When the novel opens, Hannah is complaining about having to go to a Seder hosted by her survivor relatives. “I’m tired of remembering,” she says. Her grandfather Will frightens her by yelling at the TV set whenever footage of the camps comes on; once, when she used a ballpoint pen to ink a copy of his tattoo on her arm, thinking it would please him, he screamed at her in Yiddish. At the Seder, a little tipsy from the watered-down wine she has been allowed to drink, Hannah opens the apartment door to welcome the prophet Elijah—a key moment in the Seder ritual—and finds herself transported to Poland in 1942. Suddenly, she’s Chaya, the niece of Gitl and Shmuel, siblings who have taken her in after the death of her parents. At first, Hannah/Chaya thinks she’s stumbled onto a movie set or become the victim of an elaborate joke. There’s even some humor in her interactions with other shtetl girls, who are puzzled by her references to pizza and “General Hospital.” But when the guests arrive for Shmuel’s wedding to Fayge, a rabbi’s daughter from a nearby village, Nazis are waiting at the synagogue to transport them all for “resettlement.” To Hannah’s mounting frustration, no one will listen to her warnings:

“The men down there,” she cried out desperately, “they’re not wedding guests. They’re Nazis. Nazis! Do you understand? They kill people. They killed—kill—will kill Jews. . . . Six million of them! I know. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do. We have to turn the wagons around. We have to run!”

Reb Boruch shook his head. “There are not six million Jews in all of Poland, my child.”

“No, Rabbi, six million in Poland and Germany and Holland and France and . . .”

“My child, such a number.” He shook his head and smiled, but the corners of his mouth turned down instead of up. “And as for running—where would we run to? God is everywhere. There will always be Nazis among us.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

The Dummy That Ruined Your Childhood Is Back

To doublecheck the beginning of the following trailer, PG tried to locate a definitive number for how many RL Stine titles have been published but was unable to do so. A great many is his conclusion.

From i09:

Even though Jack Black’s R.L. Stine was made out to be the star of 2015’s Goosebumps film, the character is conspicuously missing in the first trailer for the sequel, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Thankfully, the true icon from the franchise, Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Jack Black) is back and terrorizing children once again.

Fans of Stine’s books will recall that Slappy, like all ventriloquist dummies and dolls possessed by malevolent beings, always comes back no matter what the hapless targets of his rage do to destroy him. In the new trailer, a trio of unsuspecting children Madison Iseman, Caleel Harris, and Jeremy Ray Taylor stumble upon a dilapidated house in their neighborhood that contains a mysterious coffin and a copy of R.L. Stine’s Haunted Halloween that, when read from, releases Slappy from his confinement.

Link to the rest at i09



The Adventurous Writer Who Brought Nancy Drew To Life

From the Smithsonian:

Nancy Drew struggled this way and that. She twisted and squirmed. She kicked and clawed. But she was powerless in the grip of the man.

‘Little wildcat! You won’t do any more scratching when I get through with you!’

‘Let me go!’ Nancy cried, struggling harder. The man half-carried, half-dragged her across the room. Opening the closet door, he flung her roughly inside. Nancy heard a key turn in the lock. The sliding of a bolt into place followed.

‘Now you can starve for all I care!’ the man laughed harshly. Then the steady tramp of his heavy boots across the floor told Nancy Drew that he had left the house…

The Secret of the Old Clock (1930 edition)

As any of the generations of fans of the fictional girl detective Nancy Drew—heroine of hundreds of serial novels published from 1930 to this day—can tell you, Nancy does not stay locked in the closet for long. She tries to pick the lock with a hairpin, then uses a clothing rod to pry off the hinges, while giving one of her trademark side lectures—this time, on Archimedes and the wedge.

This teenage detective became the archetype of a kind of tough American woman: smart and fierce in the face of violence, but also well-respected by police and her doting father. Fashionable, too. Even though she was just a fictional character, she was inspirational, and none other than Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor have said she was a huge influence in their lives.

Over the course of more than 600 books, Nancy Drew’s adventures were often repetitive, and though her cars and clothes were frequently updated, she always remained the same age. Accompanied by her best friends Bess and George, she unearthed lost wills and heirlooms and found missing people. She explored hidden staircases and spooky haunted houses. Tenacious and plucky, Nancy had a boyfriend, the handsome Ned. She always fought to right wrongs, using her smarts to wriggle out of perilous situations. Nancy Drew got kidnapped. She was knocked unconscious. Foes threatened her to stay off cases (or else!).

What she offered American girls was a sense of resourcefulness. She taught us to signal SOS with a tube of lipstick, to break out of a window using spike heels, and to always keep an overnight bag in our car—a girl never knew when she’d encounter a sudden overnight sleuthing adventure. Real-life kidnapping victims have said that Nancy Drew stories inspired them to use their wits to escape; successful women in law enforcement say Nancy Drew led them to their careers.

The real mystery of Nancy Drew is how such a fictional character could inspire real women. Clues can be found in the woman who fleshed out the young detective’s personality, who was named Mildred Wirt Benson. Over the years many different writers worked on Nancy Drew’s stories, which were always published under the pen name of Carolyn Keene. But the very first books in the series, the ones that established her particular steely bravery, were written by Benson, who was just as tenacious and bold and independent as her heroine. Benson sought adventure and bucked conventions throughout her life. Once she was even locked in a room.

Mildred Augustine was born in 1905 in Ladora, Iowa, a rural farming community near Iowa City. An avid reader of children’s classics like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, children’s magazines, and serial fiction, she preferred the books written for boys over those for girls, she said, because they focused on adventure and action.

. . . .

Benson’s original Nancy Drew, depicted in books such as The Hidden Staircase, The Secret at Shadow Ranch, and The Clue in the Crumbling Wall, was a brash and daring sleuth. The 1930s and 1940s, when this first Nancy Drew debuted, were a time when girls who liked to read were ready for something more than the norm—those books Benson described as “namby pamby” girls’ series of the time. Life was hard for kids during the Great Depression and World War II, and parents didn’t sugarcoat the evil in the world. Reading about an adventurous girl who faced down the dangers around her provided young readers a safe escape from the troubles of the day, while also offering a nod to difficult times. Benson’s Nancy Drew paved the way for all of the others that followed, though the character was softened in later years.

Link to the rest at the Smithsonian

Yes, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ is racially insensitive — but we should still read it

From The Washington Post:

Since 1954, the American Library Association has awarded a medal for lifetime achievement in children’s literature in the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The original impetus behind the honor was dismay. Librarians were “chagrined,” wrote historian Leonard Marcus, that none of Wilder’s eight critically acclaimed Little House books had been recognized by the ALA’s highest children’s accolade, the Newbery.

Now, however, librarians are chagrined again. In February, the ALA announced that it was reconsidering the name of the Wilder Award. Alluding to the depiction of American Indians and African Americans in Wilder’s work, the ALA declared that her legacy put the group in the uncomfortable position of serving children while being unable to model values of “inclusiveness, integrity and respect.” Wilder’s books, it went on, “reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments and are not universally embraced.”

True enough. But the ALA’s statement nonetheless evokes the anodyne view of literature it has sought to correct through its annual Top Ten Most Challenged Books list. Changing the name of the Wilder Award is not an act of censorship, but no book, including the Bible, has ever been “universally embraced.” Mark Twain — whose “Huckleberry Finn” often appears on the list — himself mocked the idea that children’s books should never cause outrage. “The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean,” he once sighed sarcastically.

. . . .

Whatever the ALA decides, as a Wilder biographer, I would argue that her work and its reception are more complicated than we may once have believed, shedding light on the myths that white Americans have woven about the past.

Over the past 20 years, Wilder’s most famous novel, “Little House on the Prairie” (1935), has inspired almost as much disapproval as devotion. The novel has racist elements, and its portrayal of Indians has consequences when read uncritically and approvingly in schools. In 1998, an 8-year-old girl on the Upper Sioux Reservation of southwestern Minnesota — only miles from the storied town of Walnut Grove, immortalized in the 1970s-era “Little House” TV show — came home in tears after listening to her third-grade teacher reading the novel and a character’s repetition of the infamous slur, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Indians appear alternately as thieves or screaming warmongers, and the overall portrait is not tempered by Laura’s childish fascination or her father’s remark about a peaceable Indian, whom he describes as “no common trash.”

. . . .

The Minnesota girl’s mother, Waziyatawin Angela Cavender Wilson, a member of the Wahpetunwan Dakota and a scholar of history and American Indian studies, complained to the school, only to discover that her daughter’s teacher was “a fervent Wilder fan.” Wilson devoted months to an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to have Wilder’s books dropped from the curriculum, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to threaten the school board with a lawsuit over censorship.

In recent years, Wilson’s disgust has been echoed by other academics and joined by demands for greater diversity in children’s publishing, extending to editors, booksellers and librarians. Decrying Wilder’s widespread popularity, the scholar Debbie Reese, a member of Nambé Pueblo in New Mexico and founder of the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, has pleaded for everyone to “read more history.”

. . . .

Complicating the issue, other writers and immigrants, including those of color, prize the Little House books for their cozy family values. In her 2014 novel, “Pioneer Girl,” Bich Minh Nguyen, who was born in Saigon and immigrated to the Midwest with her family in 1975, explores Little House fandom as a means of negotiating assimilation. As for Walnut Grove, some 70 Hmong families — natives of Laos — are now living in and around the town, drawn by one Hmong girl’s devotion to the television show. There is a mural there, painted on the side of a brick building, featuring a smiling Laura alongside a Hmong woman in traditional dress. Their integration into the community has been called “the little marvel on the prairie.”

Whether we love Wilder or hate her, we should know her. For decades, her legacy has been awash in sentimentality, but every American — including the children who read her books — should learn the harsh history behind her work. Vividly, unforgettably, it still tells truths about white settlement, homesteading and the violent appropriation of Indian land and culture.

. . . .

 Each generation revises the literary canon. While the answer to racism is not to impose purity retroactively or to disappear titles from shelves, no 8-year-old Dakota child should have to listen to an uncritical reading of “Little House on the Prairie.” But no white American should be able to avoid the history it has to tell. If the books are to be read and taught today — and it’s hard to escape them given their popularity—then teachers, librarians and parents are going to have to proceed armed with facts and sensitivity.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

In disputes such as have involved Ms. Wilder, PG tends to be in favor of historical accuracy and also respect for the right of an author to choose her words and phrases, particularly when she is writing about her own life and experiences.

In times of violent conflict, it is common, even expected that each side will create some epithets to describe those on the other side of the conflict. In 20th century United States history, World War II brought Krauts (see, for example, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 4, 1944) and Japs (see, for example, The Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1942) into regular use. If you look at contemporary newspaper accounts of battles, you will see those terms used liberally. The Korean War (see, for example, the Wilmington Morning News, December 26, 1952) and The Vietnam War (see, for example, The Boston Globe, December 9, 1969) brought Gooks into prominent use.

Turn the sides around in these wars and you will find Americans referred to as Scheiss-AmiGaijin and Miguk Nom.

To address the particular anti-Native-American epithet in Wilder’s stories, it’s easy to find “The Only Good Communist Is A Dead Communist”, ‘The only good Kraut is a dead Kraut”, “The Only Good Russian is a Dead Russian”, “Tthe Only Good Chinaman is a Dead Chinaman” and “The Only Good American is a Dead American” (“The continued survival of life on this planet depends on the extermination of the american nation. This is the simple, unvarnished truth, as any informed person will understand. No tears should be shed for americans, who are not humans any more. They have long since lost the right to be called that. One should not waste tears over roundworms and pathogenic bacteria.”)

The sentiments of the people on one side of an armed battle toward those fighting on the other side tend to be extremely demeaning. The brutal calculus of armed conflicts is that the side that creates the most dead enemies as fast as possible tends to win.

The Little House on the Prairie tells the story of the move of the family to Independence, Kansas, in the southwest southeast corner of the current state of Kansas a bit west of the Missouri border and on the border of what would later become the Oklahoma Territory.

In 1854, what was formerly recognized as part of Indian Territory was, by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, organized into the Kansas–Nebraska territory. The Kansas-Nebraska Act effectively overturned the earlier Missouri Compromise between the the Northern and Southern states and nullified the earlier Dred Scott decision which declared that slaves and former slaves could not become United States citizens. These events were, of course, an important prelude to the American Civil War.

The states of Kansas and Nebraska were included in the large parcel of land acquired by the United States from France in 1803 and called the Louisiana Purchase. All the land east of the Mississippi River between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico had been transferred to the United States by Great Britain in 1783. A huge parcel of land west of the Mississippi, comprising the Louisiana Territory had been involved in disputes between the great powers of Europe, first claimed by France, then transferred to Spain then back to Napoleonic France.

Spain continued to own and control a huge portion of the land between the western edge of the Louisiana Purchase and the Pacific Ocean with this control and ownership dating back to the arrival of the first Spanish explorers at present-day San Diego in 1542.

President Thomas Jefferson engineered the Louisiana Purchase and determined that the acquisition of the land was permitted under the United States Constitution pursuant to the President’s power to negotiate treaties on behalf of the United States. After the acquisition, women, Native Americans, slaves, and freemen of color were not permitted to vote in any elections.

For better or worse, large European powers plus the United States were asserting ownership and control over North and South America. Spain and Portugal effectively divided all of Central and South America between them.

Back to Laura and her books. By the lights of standard legal understandings of the day in the United States and its territories, when Laura’s family moved to a farm near Independence, Kansas in about 1869 and settled, they were acting in a perfectly legal manner under the Homestead Act of 1862.

Homesteading in American territories and states continued through the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th century with the last legislation, providing for Subsistence Homesteads as part of the New Deal in 1930. When PG was quite young, he remembers meeting a man who was living on land he homesteaded in the mountains of Colorado. The land titles in large swaths of the Midwest and Western United States derive from homesteads.

PG suggests that Laura Ingalls Wilders’ accounts of her experiences and the words and behavior of her parents that are recorded in her works of fiction were perfectly understandable and accepted as reasonable words and actions on the part of reasonable American citizens living under the conditions extant in the Western territories of the United States during the 1860’s.

PG suspects that locating anyone who held substantially different views of Native Americans within several days’ travel from Independence, Kansas, during that time would have been impossible. Indeed, traveling very far east from Douglas Montgomery County, Kansas (where Independence was and is located) would take a traveler into a state in which slavery had been legal until a handful of years earlier.

PG suggests that applying 21st century mores and habits to 19th century words and fears is silly.

If the 19th century has nothing worthwhile to teach us, by all means, don’t study it. However, if we believe people who lived a long time before we do learned any lessons or discovered any truths during their lives that may be beneficial to us, we should be prepared to accept them on their own terms and as inhabitants of their own times and conditions, living among people who believed and spoke much as they did.

Some have suggested that Laura’s way of speaking has simply become unacceptable in today’s world. While PG would not make some of the statements contained in Laura’s book today, Laura has already made those statements and is notably unable to revise or adapt the words she wrote a long time ago.

Laura has moved on. She can’t be punished or shamed by anything we do or say today.

On the other hand, generations of readers have consumed the words of her books and, on balance, have loved what Laura has written. Like a great many readers of a variety of older books, they have worked around anachronisms and odd habits of speech to make a connection with the author and the characters she has created.

A great many readers have managed to deal with Twain’s Nigger Jim and found his works rewarding. Jane Austen’s characters seem to have survived blatant misogyny in a great many forms.

Have readers become so delicate that they’ll shatter if they read about the only good Indian?



Laura Ingalls Wilder Hits the PC Guillotine

From Intellectual Takeout:

Growing up, I never got into stories with knights and fair maidens. Walking around in princess dresses while imagining I was trapped in a castle by a vicious dragon? Not interested.

But give me a sunbonnet and braid my hair and I was lost in the world of Laura Ingalls. I still remember being in a titter of excitement at age four when my parents took me to the famous Little House on the Prairie pageant in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.

As I grew older, my conception of Laura grew a little less romanticized as I read her books and realized the amazing hardships she and her family went through. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend six months freezing and starving through a horrendous winter, nor do I relish the thought of huddling in a cabin for several days thinking I could be killed at any moment by my screaming, angry neighbors close to going on the warpath. The Ingalls family had a tough life, yet they weathered through the storms and gave America an inspiring story of strength and perseverance.

Unfortunately, good ol’ Laura is the latest victim of our PC culture. As the New York Daily News reports, Ingalls was the first recipient of an author award given by the Association for Library Service to Children. The award was then named in her honor.

After 60 years, however, the award is being renamed as “the Children’s Literature Legacy Award” because of the attitudes conveyed toward minorities in the Little House books:

“‘This decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness,’ the Association for Library Service to Children said in a statement after the unanimous vote.

The racial issues in her books have been debated long before February, when the ALSC announced it would be voting on whether to keep Wilder’s name on its award, calling her legacy ‘complex.’ At the forefront of the argument is her handling of black and Native American characters, both in namecalling and characterization.”

In the PC culture in which we live, I can see why Laura’s family story might be problematic. Because of bad experiences, the family – Ma especially – had some understandable fears of Indians, which naturally resulted in prejudices. And while these prejudices weren’t right, they were a fact of life which the pioneers had to wrestle with.

Link to the rest at Intellectual Takeout

PG worries that if de facto censorship of historic voices continues, the people who live in nations where such censorship occurs will increasingly become historically ignorant of past events and the sources of today’s (and tomorrow’s) social values.

In a very real way, the world in which Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and about which she writes is a direct cause of the nature of the United States in which its citizens live today. If the citizenry doesn’t know where it’s been, it may not collectively make wise decisions about where it’s going.

There were, in fact, Indian wars in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, wars in which both Native Americans and Anglo Americans, including active participants and innocent bystanders, were injured and killed. To paint all those on either side of those conflicts as innocent of bad behavior is simply incorrect. Blood lust characterized each side on more than one occasion.

When PG was in high school, he lived within walking distance of the site where a major massacre of white troops was carried out by a group of Native Americans. A number of white civilians were also killed. Later, Native Americans, combatants and non-combatants, were also killed in retribution.

The descendants of some of those on either side of this battle attended a small local school together. The school’s athletic teams were called the Indians and both whites and Indians played on those teams.

At the time, the tribe lived in poverty on land set aside for their settlement several years after the big battle. PG did some checking a few years ago and the fortunes of the tribe and its members have taken a distinct turn for the better. The former lands held by Native Americans have been transformed into a reservation.

The tribe has built a gambling casino on its land and one of PG’s former high school football and basketball teammates is the President of the tribe. According to the reports PG has read, the financial conditions for members of the tribe are much better today than in former days in large part from the jobs and financial distributions to tribal members from the casino.

PG is not trying to imply a happily ever after ending for all or most survivors of the Indian wars in the United States. He does suggest that learning this history, whether through the fiction of Laura Ingalls Wilder or from even-handed historians, is important, in part because doing so may help us avoid a repetition of it in the future.

For those who think that 21st century residents of western civilizations are well beyond the behavior others exhibited in former times, PG suggests that many things change, but human nature is remarkably similar in all ages. Having a clear view of former hostile manifestations of human nature is important if we are to diminish and eventually eliminate the adverse consequences of future disagreements.

B&N to Create Kids’ Graphic Novel Sections In All Its Stores

From Publishers Weekly:

In the latest example of the growing popularity of the graphic novel category, Barnes & Noble announced plans to create dedicated sections for middle grade (ages 7–12) graphic novels in all of its stores beginning in June.

The new kids’ graphic novel sections will collect more than 250 book format comics titles aimed at children and preteens in one central location in each B&N store. The new sections will be labeled with “graphic novel” signage and will be located adjacent to the Young Readers areas in each store’s children’s dept.

Stephanie Fryling, B&N v-p merchandising, children’s books, said the new dedicated middle grade graphic novel sections will allow parents and kids to easily find their favorite comics artists as well as new and forthcoming works.

. . . .

Fryling said, “Readership of graphic novels continues to grow and expand, with kids flocking to this popular genre. Graphic novels are a way for kids to appreciate both reading and art, and the breadth of talent for both authors and illustrators in this category is amazing.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Carnegie medal winner slams children’s book publishers for ‘accessible’ prose

From The Guardian:

Carnegie medal winner Geraldine McCaughrean has castigated the books industry for dumbing down language in children’s literature, warning that a new focus on “accessible” prose for younger readers will lead to “an underclass of citizens with a small but functional vocabulary: easy to manipulate and lacking in the means to reason their way out of subjugation”.

McCaughrean was named winner on Monday of this year’s CILIP Carnegie medal for her historical adventure novel Where the World Ends, 30 years after she first took the prize, the UK’s most esteemed children’s literature award. She used her winner’s speech to attack publishers’ fixation on accessible language, which she called “a euphemism for something desperate”.

“Most of its tyrannies are brought to bear on younger books right now. But blink twice and today’s junior school readers will be in secondary school, armed only with a pocketful of single-syllable words, and with brains far less receptive to the acquisition of vocabulary than when they were three or seven or nine,” she said. “Since when has one generation ever doubted and pitied the next so much that it decides not to burden them with the full package of the English language but to feed them only a restricted diet, like poorly patients, of simple words?”

Words are mastered, said McCaughrean, by meeting them, not by avoiding them, and young readers “should be bombarded with words like gamma rays, steeped in words like pot plants stood in water, pelted with them like confetti, fed on them like Alphabetti spaghetti, given Hamlet’s last resort: ‘Words. Words. Words.’”

Otherwise, she warned, publishers would “deliberately and wantonly create an underclass of citizens with a small but functional vocabulary: easy to manipulate and lacking in the means to reason their way out of subjugation, because you need words to be able to think for yourself.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

What’s Going On In Your Child’s Brain When You Read Them A Story?

From National Public Radio:

“I want The Three Bears!”

These days parents, caregivers and teachers have lots of options when it comes to fulfilling that request. You can read a picture book, put on a cartoon, play an audiobook, or even ask Alexa.

A newly published study gives some insight into what may be happening inside young children’s brains in each of those situations. And, says lead author Dr. John Hutton, there is an apparent “Goldilocks effect” — some kinds of storytelling may be “too cold” for children, while others are “too hot.” And, of course, some are “just right.”

Hutton is a researcher and pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with a special interest in “emergent literacy” — the process of learning to read.

. . . .

While the children paid attention to the stories, the MRI, the machine scanned for activation within certain brain networks, and connectivity between the networks.

“We went into it with an idea in mind of what brain networks were likely to be influenced by the story,” Hutton explains. One was language. One was visual perception. The third is called visual imagery. The fourth was the default mode network, which Hutton calls, “the seat of the soul, internal reflection — how something matters to you.”

. . . .

In the audio-only condition (too cold): language networks were activated, but there was less connectivity overall. “There was more evidence the children were straining to understand.”

In the animation condition (too hot): there was a lot of activity in the audio and visual perception networks, but not a lot of connectivity among the various brain networks. “The language network was working to keep up with the story,” says Hutton. “Our interpretation was that the animation was doing all the work for the child. They were expending the most energy just figuring out what it means.” The children’s comprehension of the story was the worst in this condition.

The illustration condition was what Hutton called “just right”.

When children could see illustrations, language-network activity dropped a bit compared to the audio condition. Instead of only paying attention to the words, Hutton says, the children’s understanding of the story was “scaffolded” by having the images as clues.

“Give them a picture and they have a cookie to work with,” he explains. “With animation it’s all dumped on them all at once and they don’t have to do any of the work.”

Link to the rest at NPR

Timeless Preoccupations and Old-School Virtues

From The Wall Street Journal:


Louisa May Alcott’s 150-year-old novel, “Little Women,” has remained in print despite a message strongly at odds with contemporary mantras of acquisitiveness, self-indulgence, self-promotion and vulgarity.

The tale of a quartet of sisters in Civil War-era New England has an unfashionable theme: Virtue is always rewarded. Profound tensions—over money, marriage and a woman’s role in the world—propel the novel, slingshotting Alcott’s work into the pantheon.

Alcott wrote “Little Women,” which was published in installments in 1868 and 1869, in a matter of months. The book follows the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy—who live in straitened circumstances and have fallen on even harder times now that their father has gone off to war as a chaplain. That leaves their mother, Marmee, a single parent to the girls. Meg and Jo, 16 and 15 years old when the story begins, already are working—Meg as a governess and Jo as a companion to Aunt March, the family’s well-off relative. Beth, a frail and shy 13-year-old, keeps house and plays the piano while Amy, 12, is still in school.

As illness, disappointment and other tribulations pile up on the Marches, Marmee keeps her daughters cheerful and resolute. But life among the little women isn’t all bearing up under adversity, even if the March girls lack the guile of Becky Sharp, the peerless schemer in Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair.” Laurie, the Marches’ handsome and prosperous neighbor, becomes a family favorite. Jo, an aspiring author, finds success with her writing. And, in the end—spoiler alert—most of the Marches end up happily married.

. . . .

Alcott’s genius is her timeless preoccupations—love and death, jealousy, fear and joy—which, despite changing mores, have kept the March family current for 1 1/2 centuries. The conversational prose often sounds as if the author’s pages flew directly from her desk to the printing press. She flouts chronology—“The three years that have passed have brought but few changes to the quiet family”—and sometimes ducks out of the narrative to address the reader directly. The occasionally insipid family scenes are leavened with bracing displays of bad behavior. Alcott details the Marches’ humiliations, such as Meg’s fashion missteps, Jo’s disastrous attempts at cooking and Amy’s star-crossed social-climbing. The author wrings a humanity from her characters that magnifies even the smallest events, such as when Beth dares to venture over to the neighbors’ house and is bewitched by the piano.

. . . .

Jo, the character who most reflects Alcott’s spirit, aims to earn a living with her writing and insists that her independent nature renders her anything but marriage material. Alcott gives Jo the book’s opening line, in which she vents over the family’s meager holiday plans: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” It’s a startling outburst, even if the girls do reconcile themselves to Marmee’s heartfelt if austere gifts: copies of John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” slipped under each daughter’s pillow. “Little Women” often reads as if Alcott had Bunyan’s work—something of a roadmap for a soul’s trek to heaven—in mind while writing.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal


Sexist Little Miss books? Bedtime reading is always a gender minefield

From The Guardian:

Emily Thornberry doesn’t like “this thing about being little” and Piers Morgan wonders why “people bother with these things”, but this week’s kerfuffle over an undergraduate study on gender and stereotyping in children’s books shows that the Mr Men have their shocking side.

To be more precise, it’s the Little Miss series that has been causing all the trouble. These books are an offshoot of the Mr Men world launched in 1981, 10 years after Mr Tickle first extended his “extraordinarily long arms”.

I’ve written before about the Little Miss books – how they’re endlessly repetitive and suffer from a plague of exclamation marks – so I’m rather pleased to have another reason for relegating them to the sidelines.

According to the study, “female characters were more passive, had less direct speech and relied on being saved more than male characters” – a finding that chimes with my less scientific survey. Opening our collection at random, I find Doctor Makeyouwell (male) and Mr Small plotting about how to bring down (the admittedly vile) Little Miss Trouble: “I think … that something should be done about that little lady.”

But the Little Miss books are just one chapter in the long history of children’s books that reinforce sexist stereotypes. Take Dorothy Edwards’s My Naughty Little Sister books. When a father is asked to “mind my naughty little sister for the day”, she is predictably annoying, while he is “being a busy man”. When she has a tantrum, his answer is to shut himself away inside and forgets all about her, while she runs away. His response, when she’s found, is to breathe a sigh of relief: “Thank goodness I can work again without having to concentrate on a disagreeable baby.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG doesn’t want to step into a gender wars discussion, but unless the protagonists in children’s books are going to have siblings instead of brothers and sisters, those child characters will have character traits and (mirroring life) those character traits will include positive and negative elements.

The idea that the creators of fictitious child characters are obligated to produce stereotypically virtuous characters of one gender or another seems contrary to some of the fundamental building blocks of fiction – viewpoint and conflict.

If a male viewpoint character comes into conflict with a female character, is the protagonist permitted to have negative feelings towards his sister? Must all female characters be virtuous and brave or can they be thoroughly nasty or paralytically frightened by something trivial? Is a male character permitted to observe those characteristics for what they either are or appear to be in his eyes?

PG is committed to the idea that a fiction writer is and ought to be the dictator in the world the author creates. If the author wishes to strike a blow for gender equity with the characters and story and writes a book readers enjoy, that’s terrific. If the author wishes to set a story in Post World War II America and populate it with characters typical of that day and age, PG thinks it’s a silly criticism of the resulting book that it doesn’t comport with the social opinions of readers that appear seventy years later.

Norman Rockwell, The Saturday Evening Post, May 26, 1945 See for more

For more Norman Rockwell Post covers from the 1940’s, click here. And for covers from the 1950’s click here.

Untapped Markets: Meeting Readers Where They Are

From Publishers Weekly:

“You should be going to every Girl Scout Jamboree in the country!” urged a troop leader to author-illustrator Sarah Dillard. Sarah, whose Mouse Scouts chapter book series is beloved by Daisies, Brownies, and Girl Scouts the nation over, had been invited to the Girl Expo in Vermont on our state fairgrounds, and her publisher, Random House, arranged for a booth where we could set up and sell the books. What struck me was how many Daisy and Brownie leaders hadn’t known about the books and were intensely interested in them. It was as though Sarah had filled a need in the Girl Scout universe heretofore unrecognized.

The last time we did this event was two years ago, when there were just two books in the Mouse Scouts series. Now there are four, and you would not believe the response Sarah had from young readers and troop leaders alike. She was greeted like a rock star.

. . . .

This series is heavily illustrated with charming spot art throughout, and my favorite thing to do was to see a little person shyly eyeing the books, encourage them to open them up and look at the drawings inside, and then point to Sarah. “She wrote the words AND drew all of the pictures,” I would say. Their eyes would widen in surprise, and they would look anew at Sarah. One little girl pointed to the cover. “Even this?” she said. “Even that,” I said. “Even the wood frame around the mice!” They were uniformly astonished. Some of these kids are young enough that the word “author” carries little significance, but everyone is wowed by someone who can draw terrific pictures.

. . . .

A few years ago, I had the honor of attending a diversity conference for book industry people. I was lucky enough to be in a focus group with the amazing Just Us Books publishers, Cheryl and Wade Hudson, who have worked for diversity in children’s books for decades. They talked about their efforts to get their books into bookstores, but found that those efforts weren’t enough to reach all of the people who wanted and needed them. There just weren’t bookstores in all of the neighborhoods where the very children Cheryl and Wade were publishing for lived, and some of the bookstores that were there didn’t feature a diverse collection of titles. So they took books to church festivals and neighborhood parties and school events, where people would gather around the tables, delighted. Cheryl and Wade would hear comments like, “I had no idea there were kids like us in books!” They sold grocery bags full of books to an audience eager to embrace them, because they had gotten creative and met their audience where they lived.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Amazon launches Prime Book Box, a $23 kids’ book selection, in its first physical Prime book service

From Tech Crunch:

Along with the higher price that Amazon is introducing to Prime this month, the company is also bringing another first to its membership service: physical books. The company now has a new product called Prime Book Box, a subscription service for children’s hardback books, selected by Amazon editors, sold as part of its Prime tier.

. . . .

Pricing is $22.99 per box, which Amazon says works out to 35 percent below the cumulative list price for the books, and you can subscribe for books to come in one-, two- or three-month intervals. Books are divided up by age groups of baby-two years, three-five years, six-eight years and nine-12 years, with sample titles including If Animals Kissed Good NightA Sick Day for Amos McGeeThe Willoughbys, and Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire.

All books are hardcover, and you can opt either for four board books for kids aged two and younger, or two picture books or novels for older children.

. . . .

The idea of bringing out a physical book service specifically for children is notable. Parents are more likely to buy (and get gifted) physical picture books and young adult novels rather than e-books as presents, and so kids often build up libraries of these. It also could be a helpful fillip to those of us out there who are trying to figure out engaging ways of reducing screen time for offspring.

Link to the rest at Tech Crunch

Two Straight Lines

From The New York Times:

Ludwig Bemelmans grew up hearing stories about a young girl who attended a boarding school where the students “slept in little beds that stood in two rows” and “went walking in two straight lines.”

That young girl was his mother, Franciska. Today we might recognize her in Madeline, the smallest of the French schoolgirls in colorful little dresses and bows.

Since the publication of Mr. Bemelmans’s first book, in 1939, the Madeline series has become a cosmopolitan cultural touchstone, the first step on the path to bona fide Francophilia for those who have never visited France. The series resonated with decades of American families, including the Kennedys: Jacqueline and Mr. Bemelmans were discussing the possibility of collaborating on a book shortly before he died in 1962.

. . . .

Mr. Bemelmans arrived in America on Christmas Eve 1914 expecting to be reunited with his father, according to “Bemelmans: The Life and Art of Madeline’s Creator,” a book by his grandson John Bemelmans Marciano.

But Lampert “forgot to pick him up,” Mr. Marciano wrote, “and he was forced to spend his first Christmas in America on Ellis Island.”

. . . .

He found his way into the hotel industry and, while working at the Ritz-Carlton, began to write and draw extensively. By the early 1930s, he had begun to place illustrations in the Saturday Evening Post. And in 1934, newly married to his wife Freund, known as Mimi, he published his first children’s book, “Hansi” (with the help of May Massee, a children’s book editor at the Viking Press.) Several more children’s books followed, along with stories published in The New Yorker and Vogue.

Mr. Bemelmans wrote many books, for children and for adults, that did not feature his famous heroine. They include “The Golden Basket,” “Quito Express,” “Fifi,” “Welcome Home,” “Small Beer,” “The Blue Danube,” “The Woman of My Life” and dozens of others.

“He was so prolific,” said Regina Hayes, editor-at-large at Viking, which publishes Mr. Bemelmans’s books. “He was an essayist, a novelist, wrote books about food, wrote and illustrated for The New Yorker and Holiday Magazine,” a travel journal.

It took the birth of his first and only child, Barbara, and a fortuitous trip to France, for the book that made him famous to materialize. In 1938, the young family traveled to the southern part of the country. In the midst of the trip, Mr. Bemelmans was sent to the hospital because of a bike crash, where in an adjoining room was a girl who was recovering from an appendectomy.

. . . .

Madeline, who has a bout of appendicitis in the first book, came together soon after. “He would later say that his creation was a combination of his mother, wife and daughter,” Mr. Marciano writes. “But certainly it was also part Bemelmans himself — the smallest in class, the one always in trouble.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times where you’ll also find some of Bemelmans’ Madeline drawings.

Bye Bye, Geoffrey

From Publishers Weekly:

“Have you heard that Toys R Us is closing?  You must be so glad!” is the greeting from dozens of customers over the last few weeks.  “Yes, I heard that,” I reply.  “Did you guys come in to visit me today—or is there something I can wrap for you?  I am unpacking new books… would you like to see?”

“So how’s business?  Are you guys OK?” is usually the follow-up query, delivered either sotto voce with a sympathetic look from a parent, or in the appraising raised eyebrow glance of the grandparent—that look that causes you to check your shirt for dribbles of donut frosting and a stray sprinkle or two. “We’re just great—how are YOU guys?  Wow, the kids get bigger every time I see them—my goodness, you’ll be taller than me in a week or so! Did you get an April calendar of activities? There’s a great author event tomorrow!”

And so we smile and tap dance and book talk and gift wrap and dazzle them with service, avoiding the hundredth or so conversation about another chain closing, another retail demise, another conversation about how “everyone buys online, now, you know.”

I’m not sad to lose a competitor, but TRU was never that. They are a chain that sells children’s products, as we do, but oh, the myriad of things they sell is hardly comparable to my little neighborhood shop.

. . . .

The ability of manufacturers to sell online immediately, without using TRU as a testing laboratory for new product lines, was also a factor. But retail, as we know, has fundamentally changed, while many retailers haven’t. Customers can buy almost anything cheaper, faster, and with less effort than a visit to the store that serves only one purpose. Multiply that truth tenfold if you factor in the effort of buckling a child or two into a car seat for the errand. And so, the allure of Geoffrey fades, as will the “everything must go” signs taped to the windows.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Why Young Readers Need Real Books

From Intellectual Takeout:

A young lady I know won a Kindle in an academic contest. She is a voracious reader. In eighth grade, she enjoys Austen, Chesterton, Lewis, and Wodehouse, among many others. A trail of books seems to follow her everywhere she goes.

Her parents, wary of potential negative effects of screens on growing minds, would have preferred that their daughter not own a Kindle, at least not for a few more years. Since it was a prize well earned, however, they acquiesced.

The young lady continued to read paper books, but the Kindle came in handy for outings (no more scrambling to find enough books to bring along) and reading in bed (no book lamp needed). Not wanting to spend money, she searched for books in the public domain, and was delighted to discover that the Kindle gave her access to some old books by her favorite authors—books that local libraries no longer carried on their shelves.

All in all, it seemed like a wholesome approach to integrating technology, and so her parents were surprised when, several months later, their daughter announced that she wanted to sell her Kindle.

“For the first time in my life,” she explained, “I’ve noticed that I’ve had to read lines two or three times in order to understand them, because I’m distracted. There are so many things I can do with the Kindle. I can make the font bigger, or change the contrast, or highlight and save a passage. There are so many choices, so many things to fiddle with, that I lose track of the story. It’s becoming a habit that is carrying over into my real books, too.”

Nineteenth-century British educator Charlotte Mason described the ability to focus (in a healthy brain) as a habit of the mind—one that can be gained or lost according to how the mind is trained. For this eighth grader, reading on a Kindle was undoing her habit of concentration. Her mind was losing the ability to be fully present to her books, and she did not like how it felt.

. . . .

No doubt, a computer might contain a story worth reading. When a father or mother or beloved teacher reads that story aloud to a child, it can forge memories for a lifetime. In our house, we use computers to listen to audio books by authors like Hans Christian Anderson and Thornton W. Burgess, and everyone enjoys it.

Still, it isn’t the same. Listening to the book on the laptop can be nice, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the bond that is built when my husband or I cuddle up with the children and turn the worn pages of our favorite books as we read aloud together.

Isn’t there something precious about the book itself? Isn’t there something in its weight, in its feel, in its illustrations, in its pages, that, when a grown-up child holds it in his hands and reads it to his own children, will awaken a reverence for the story that a computer screen would not?

Link to the rest at Intellectual Takeout

PG says if you like printed books, by all means buy and read them. If a child in your life likes printed books, by all means buy and borrow printed books for the child to read.

PG is all for choice in this matter.

However, he becomes a little annoyed when an author takes a personal preference up to the top of a mountain and makes sacrifices to a printer god and pledges fealty to forever revere ink and paper.

PG is not persuaded that printed books are inherently superior to electronic books in any meaningful way, however. Each is a means of presenting words to a reader in a convenient manner.

Just like scrolls were once a means of presenting words to a reader in a convenient manner. PG can imagine readers in ancient times extolling the virtues of scrolls over these new heavy and cumbersome book things that caused you to lose your place whenever they fell off the table. Instead of the exquisite unveiling of a story in one continuous stream from a scroll, a book chopped up a story into ungainly pieces and ruined the continuity of the author’s vision. Plus, the prices the binders guild charged were outrageous.

PG likes the convenience of ebooks and the size of the ebook reader. Reading in bed is an end-of-the-day ritual for PG and Mrs. PG, so PG has plenty of experience with a comprehensive and thick printed account of something like the Battle of Thermopylae sitting open on his chest for many long hours. (And don’t forget what happens to your bookmark when the book slides off the bed in the middle of the night.)

He much prefers his featherweight Kindle for reading extensive accounts of heavy topics.



The Other Side of Beatrix Potter

From JSTOR Daily:

Beatrix Potter is best known as the creator of Peter Rabbit and the Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail crew currently tearing up the movie screens in ways it’s doubtful she would have ever imagined. But Potter (1866-1943) was more than the author those beloved stories, and lived a wide-ranging life that ended with a great conservation gift to Great Britain: over 4,000 acres of land which she gave to the National Trust, now part of the Lake District National Park.

Potter was born in 1866 to a well-off family with a keen appreciation of the natural world. From an early age she studied and collected “animals insects, plants, fungi and fossils” with her brother Bertram. Encouraged towards the arts, and with governesses teaching her what was then considered the ladylike skills of painting and drawing, Potter gravitated towards… mushrooms.

Potter illustrated hundreds of fungi with great botanical skill. She wished for recognition from the scientific community during her lifetime, notes literature school Catherine Golden, but these drawings and watercolors didn’t get their due until after her death.

In her lifetime, however, Potter remained an avid mycologist, studying them with microscope and following the development of fungal spores on glass plates. In 1897, she presented a paper to the Linnean Society of London, one of the UK’s premier natural history organizations. She did this in absentia; “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae” was read by her uncle before the all-male membership, as the Society didn’t allow women members until 1905. The paper seems to have been “well received” according to Potter, but she neither revised nor published it.

. . . .
Mycological illustration of the reproductive system of a fungus. Hygrocybe coccinea (website Armitt Museum) Creator: Beatrix Potter [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily

Here’s a link to more information with drawings about Beatrix Potter’s work as a naturalist

Before the movie, a classic book: Teachers share favorite ‘Wrinkle in Time’ moments

From The Deseret News:

When “A Wrinkle in Time” hits the big screen at theaters nationwide on Thursday, a new vision of the story will take hold. For the past 50 years, that vision has existed largely in the minds of readers, of which there’s been no shortage: At its 50th anniversary in 2012, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” book had sold more than 10 million copies, according to The New York Times.

Indeed, it’s been a staple in elementary school curriculums for generations now. The Deseret News spoke with a few local elementary school teachers who’ve either read “A Wrinkle in Time” to their classes or had the students read it themselves.

The teachers discussed their favorite portions of the classic book.

. . . .

“A Wrinkle in Time” has its share of creepy moments. Through it all is a powerful and mysterious villain, a sinister something known only as “IT.” These moments, [fourth-grade teacher Gloria] Holmstead said, are her favorite to discuss with students.

For most of the novel, readers learn of IT only through secondhand information. It isn’t till the book’s final third that readers finally see what IT really looks like:

“A disembodied brain. An oversized brain, just enough larger than normal to be completely revolting and terrifying. A living brain. A brain that pulsed and quivered, that seized and commanded. No wonder the brain was called IT. IT was the most horrible, the most repellent thing she had ever seen, far more nauseating than anything she had ever imagined with her conscious mind, or that had ever tormented her in her most terrible nightmares.”

Holmstead said that before the students start a new chapter, she has them look at the chapter title and share their thoughts. Then they start reading. Every reader has his or her own image of the scenes and characters, and Holmstead said she keeps hers to herself. She wants to know what connections her students are making, and what kinds of images the book conjures for her young readers. These images, she explained, have changed considerably through the years.

. . . .

“The whole story is essentially about the uniqueness of the kids … and that they were viewed as different,” [fourth-grade teacher Elizabeth] Sagers explained. “We spent a lot of time (discussing it) in the class. We spent a lot of time talking about conformity, and how there are times when it’s important to conform — when you go to school, and there are certain rules in the classroom that you are expected to follow — but there are other parts of the day, and other parts of your life, where conformity is not what you should do. And there are times when you celebrate your differences.”

Link to the rest at The Deseret News

My life as a bookworm: what children can teach us about how to read

From The Guardian:

I spent most of my early years – aged one to three, say – being trodden on. “It was your own fault,” my mother explains. “You were too quiet. You used to stand by my feet, not making a sound, so I’d forget you were there. What toddler does that?”

I think the explanation lies in the fact that I wasn’t really a baby. I was a bookworm. For the true bookworm, life doesn’t really begin until you get hold of your first book. Until then – well, you’re just waiting, really. You don’t even know for what, at that stage – if you did, you would be making more noise about it and be less covered in court-shoe-shaped bruises. But it’s books.

. . . .

My dad is a reader. There wasn’t much money in his family so there weren’t many books in the house, apart from a few precious bound collections of Boy’s Own comics. So it was to the Harris library in Preston that Dad took himself every week, working his way gradually through its offerings. My mother is not a reader. She is a doer. For most of my life, she was a gynaecologist, specialising in gruesome anecdotes and family planning (my mother is the only Catholic in history to have thrown off her upbringing utterly and never looked back).

When I was tiny I didn’t see Dad much because stage managing at the National Theatre takes you way past toddler bedtime. But my first real memory is of him tucking me in beside him on the long, brown floral sofa that sat on an orange carpet and opening a book almost as colourful as our sitting room. It was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle’s paint’n’tissue-paper collaged account of metamorphosis, fuelled by choice morsels of American culinary classics, into a butterfly.

Later came weekly trips to the local library. But those library books have not stuck in my mind. The ones Dad bought me, the ones I was able to keep and read and reread (and reread and reread and reread …) were the ones I loved. Adults tend to forget what a vital part of the process rereading is for children. As adults, rereading seems like backtracking at best, self-indulgence at worst. Free time is such a scarce resource that we feel we should use it on new things.

But for children, rereading is absolutely necessary. The act of reading is itself still new. A lot of energy is still going into (not so) simple decoding of words and the assimilation of meaning. Only then do you get to enjoy the plot – to begin to get lost in the story. The beauty of a book is that it remains the same for as long as you need it. You can’t wear out a book’s patience.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Children’s Book That Made Me Realize It’s Okay to Be Alone

From Electric Lit:

I am the uncle who gives books to my nephews and one niece. I do this out of love for them and the books, but also out of the need to recover things I may have lost. Most often, the books I give are those iconic lodestones masquerading under simple turns-of-phrase: The Giving Tree, The Little Engine That Could, etc.

. . . .

I decided it would be better to give my niece a compass rather than a map. The one book that came to mind was “Mrs. Rumphius” — a book that I had told myself was “my favorite,” the one that “really influenced” me. Both of those things were true, and I did truly cherish the book’s influence on me. But seeing the title on the cover of the new copy I held in my hands, I realized that I had for years been woefully calling it by something that was not its name.

Miss Rumphius — not Mrs. — is perhaps Barbara Cooney’s most beloved work, and certainly her most well known. The 1982 book tells the life story of Alice Rumphius, an equestrian-elegant, red-haired girl born sometime before the ascendancy of the steamship, somewhere in northeastern America. Something of the young nation’s aloof confidence, charged with untested potential, energizes Alice’s tale of self-reliance — a quality she exhibits from the very beginning. As a child, she adores her immigrant grandfather’s wide-ranging stories of “faraway places,” shared with her in the firelight of his home “in a city by the sea.” She promises that she will travel the world too, one day, and that when she’s finished, she will come home to a house beside the sea. Her grandfather blesses her intentions, but on the condition that she fulfill one request: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

School District Pulls To Kill a Mockingbird: It “Makes People Uncomfortable”

From Slate:

The Biloxi school district in Mississippi has decided to remove To Kill a Mockingbird from its junior-high reading list. The reason? Some of the book’s language “makes people uncomfortable,” the vice president of the school board, Kenny Holloway, said. “There were complaints about it,” he added, “and we can teach the same lesson with other books.” The administrator insisted kids could still go to the library to read the book “but they’re going to use another book in the 8th grade course.”

Although the school administrator doesn’t say it, a parent who first contacted the Sun Herald with the news of the apparent mid-year shift in the reading list said the decision to pull the book was “due to the use of the ‘N’ word.”

. . . .

Many criticized the decision by the school district, including Arne Duncan, who was secretary of Education from 2009-2015 under President Obama. “When school districts remove To Kill a Mockingbird from the reading list, we know we have real problems,” Duncan wrote on Twitter. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska also blasted the move, calling it “a terrible decision.”

Link to the rest at Slate

Anatomy of a Picture Book Frontlist

From Publishers Weekly:

One thing I need to get done today is go through the picture book frontlist of Harper’s Winter ’18 titles. I have a sales call for it on Friday. We are a rural store and rep appointments are mostly done by phone, so this means reading though a sales kit of F&Gs beforehand. I thought it would be interesting to make a list of what I was hoping to find in the box and then see how what I found matched up. Here’s the list.

  1. At least one book, hopefully two, that I absolutely love and can handsell to the nines. Ideally it would be an easy handsell, whose interplay of text and illustration is gestalt and intrinsically engaging. A true store favorite like A House in the Woods.
  2. Around five strong books which fill evergreen needs at the store, great new baby gifts, sibling anxieties, birthday books, books that have a moose in them, solid new entries by established authors and whatnot.

. . . .

5. Finally, recognizing that most of the books will fall into the category of being not so bad, and being mindful of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s observation that “there is nothing quite so bad as something which is not so bad,” I hope that one of the books will be spectacularly ill considered, a la Bronto Eats Meat, just for the edifying window it provides into the industry and humanity in general, and the appreciation for quality titles which we should never take for granted.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Since PG is entertained by much that is ill considered, here’s a link to Bronto Eats Meat.

Judy Blume, a Pre-Teen Fiction Trailblazer, Opens Up Her Archive

From The Wall Street Journal:

Once upon a time, there were lots of picture books for children but not many stories for young-adult readers. Then along came Judy Blume. In the 1970s, the author of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” spun pitch-perfect prose for adolescents and middle-schoolers, detonating a genre that exploded with wizards, babysitters, vampires and the junior-high drama of BFFs and frenemies.

The author, who will turn 80 in February, said, “50 years of writing…could be enough.” She is selling her literary archive to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library later this month.

Ms. Blume has published dozens of books, ranging from humorous children’s tales (a second-grader’s quixotic quest in “Freckle Juice”) to grown-up novels (enduring friendship in “Summer Sisters”). But she made her name with stories that resonated with pre-teens. She also took on subjects, including divorce and sexuality, that at the time were taboo for young readers. Ms. Blume’s candor drew fire from some quarters but earned her a world-wide following.

. . . .

The Beinecke, home to the papers of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and others, also has a rich collection of children’s literature. Timothy Young, curator of modern books and manuscripts at the library, said the acquisition will turbocharge its growing young-adult holdings.

For some readers, Ms. Blume defines the genre. “If you ask anybody on the street to name a young-adult writer,” Mr. Young said, the response often is Judy Blume: “She is the iconic person that you’ve read and you loved or you didn’t love but you knew her work.”

Young-adult literature is a largely unexamined area of archival study, Mr. Young said, and one likely to attract faculty, researchers and visitors to Yale.

. . . .

Ms. Blume said she is no pack rat—in part because she moved houses often—but from the start she held on to the rejection letters that met many of her early efforts for very young children. She also kept the mockups of books that she submitted to publishers in her twenties. For those early attempts, she wrote rhyming verses, illustrated them with colored pencils and used brass fasteners to hold the manuscript together. Her creations “would come back rejected and every now and then I’d get a really nice rejection letter,” she recalled.

Ms. Blume also saved boxes of fan mail in which some readers revealed their hopes and fears. One 10-year-old wrote in ballpoint pen on a sheet of Garfield the Cat stationery “in every one of your books you give us a new way to cope with life.” Ms. Blume and Mr. Young said they are working with Yale’s legal advisers to allow access to the letters while preserving the young writers’ privacy.

. . . .

Ms. Blume said the $500,000 Yale is paying for the archive will go to the Kids Fund, her foundation through which she makes charitable contributions.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

First Books: The Stories That Got Us Into Reading

From Bookriot:

When I was nine years old, a collection of books changed my reading habits forever. I can even remember exactly which book made me become an avid reader, and how reading went from being something I liked to do in class, to something I couldn’t live without.

Many years later, I still hold Uma Aventura by authors Ana Maria Magalhães and Isabel Alçada (a Portuguese set of adventure books with no translation to English, unfortunately) close to my heart; they led me to a path I am more than grateful for. Books are magic, and I hold that magic in my hands every day thanks to a single story I picked up as a child.

. . . .


There were picture books I loved as a kid but nothing fueled my desire to read more than The Babysitter’s Club. My older sister would read them to me before I could read them myself and that got me started on the Babysitter’s Club Little Sister books. But those were just a placeholder until I could get my hands on the “real” BSC books. Once I did, I devoured them feverishly–the regular series, the Super Specials, the mysteries, the Super Special Mysteries, etc. The Babysitter’s Club taught me to love reading (and writing) and I’ll always be grateful to Ann M. Martin for that.

. . . .


For 8-year-old me, the Goosebumpsseries was like my imagination synthesized into story. I was the kind of kid that still needed a nightlight, that snuck into my parent’s bed when the nightmares became too much, that, yes, still sucked my thumb and carried around the remnants of a blankie. But the Goosebumps series let me resolve those nightmares, and I loved them. I would carry a stack to school and try to finish my busy work as fast as possible so I could have extra time to read. I combed used bookstores to find the ones I was missing. I even wrote a short story and entered it into a Goosebumps’ writing contest (alas, my pirate-ghosts short story did not win). It wasn’t long after that I discovered Stephen King, and began reading adult books for the first time. It may seem like a leap in reading levels, but I had no difficulty navigating from one to the other. Eventually, I switched from horror to fantasy, but Goosebumps enabled me to move from middle grade reading to adult reading, and it also showed me, all unknowingly, that escapism can help me to face my fears.

Link to the rest at Bookriot

How Reading Rewires Your Brain for More Intelligence and Empathy

From Big Think:

Fitness headlines promise staggering physical results: a firmer butt, ripped abs, bulging biceps. Nutritional breakthroughs are similar clickbait, with attention-grabbing, if often inauthentic—what, really, is a “superfood?”—means of achieving better health. Strangely, one topic usually escaping discussion has been shown, time and again, to make us healthier, smarter, and more empathic animals: reading. 

Reading, of course, requires patience, diligence, and determination. Scanning headlines and retweeting quips is not going to make much cognitive difference. If anything, such sweet nothings are dangerous, the literary equivalent of sugar addiction. Information gathering in under 140 characters is lazy. The benefits of contemplation through narrative offer another story.

The benefits are plenty, which is especially important in a distracted, smartphone age in which one-quarter of American children don’t learn to read. This not only endangers them socially and intellectually, but cognitively handicaps them for life. One 2009 study of 72 children ages eight to ten discovered that reading creates new white matter in the brain, which improves system-wide communication.

White matter carries information between regions of grey matter, where any information is processed. Not only does reading increase white matter, it helps information be processed more efficiently.

Reading in one language has enormous benefits. Add a foreign language and not only do communication skills improve—you can talk to more people in wider circles—but the regions of your brain involved in spatial navigation and learning new information increase in size. Learning a new language also improves your overall memory.

. . . .

Novel reading is a great way to practice being human.1 Rather than sprints and punches, how about something more primitive and necessary in a society, like empathy? As you dive deeper into Rabbit Angstrom’s follies or Jason Taylor coming of age, you not only feel their pain and joy. You actually experience it. 

In one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

This has profound implications for how we interact with others. When encountering a 13-year-old boy misbehaving, you most likely won’t think, “Well, David Mitchell wrote about such a situation, and so I should behave like this,” but you might have integrated some of the lessons about young boys figuring life out and display a more nuanced understanding in how you react. 

Link to the rest at Big Think

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hero ‘was originally black’

From The Guardian:

Roald Dahl originally wanted the eponymous hero of his much-loved children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be black, his widow has said.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for Roald Dahl day on Wednesday, Liccy Dahl said: “His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy.”

Asked why it was changed, she replied: “I don’t know. It’s a great pity.”

Her husband’s biographer Donald Sturrock, who was also being interviewed, said the change to a white character was driven by Dahl’s agent, who thought a black Charlie would not appeal to readers.

“I can tell you that it was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first published, to have a black hero,” said Sturrock. “She said people would ask: ‘Why?’”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

AA Milne memoir shows Winnie-the-Pooh author longing to ‘escape’ his bear

From The Guardian:

Winnie-the-Pooh may have secured a place in the hearts of children worldwide and made his creator a millionaire, but author AA Milne resented the way the bear of little brain undermined his reputation as a serious writer.

The revelation appears in his 1939 memoir It’s Too Late Now, which is to be republished on 21 September, 70 years after it went out of print and ahead of the release of a biopic about his son, Goodbye Christopher Robin. Despite the success of Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and friends, Milne was frustrated that his reputation as a writer for adults had been irrevocably damaged.

Prior to his children’s books, Milne had written a string of hit plays, novels and short stories for adults, as well as editing the satirical magazine Punch. But his first book of children’s verse, When We Were Very Young, sold 50,000 copies within two months of publication in 1924 and his Winnie-the-Pooh books became immediate bestsellers around the world. When the first volume Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926, it sold 150,000 copies by the end of the year in the US alone. It has never been out of print since.

In It’s Too Late Now, Milne claims that he had tired of children’s writing after 70,000 words (“the number of words in the average-length novel”), but was trapped. “I wanted to escape from [children’s books] as I had once wanted to escape from Punch; as I have always wanted to escape,” he writes. “In vain. England expects the writer, like the cobbler, to stick to his last.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Children turn their backs on e-books as ‘screen fatigue’ takes hold and sales of books for youngsters soar

From The Daily Mail:

Children’s printed book sales are soaring as youngsters turn their backs on online reading due to ‘screen fatigue’.

Sales of children’s titles rose by 16 per cent last year with sales totalling £365million, as popular authors like David Walliams inspire young readers to pick up a book.

But while printed sales increase, e-books are on the wane with a 3 per cent fall in sales.

. . . .

Figures show that almost £1 in every £4 spent on printed books is from a children’s title, reports the Observer.

Children’s authors are proving to be a key genre in the publishing industry, often outselling others.

But while parents have often worried about youngsters spending too much time on their computer or games console, experts believe that there is a real hunger for the written word among children.

According to industry magazine, The Bookseller: ‘Children are now reading more and want to read print.’

Link to the rest at The Daily Mail

Well. If The Bookseller says so, it must be true.

In PG’s observation, children like brightly-colored images and objects of all sorts, including books. A new brightly-colored object tends to be more interesting than an old brightly-colored object. Old brightly-colored objects, including books, live under the bed. Children have demonstrated this behavior for a long time.

Children also like watching Peppa the Pig, George of the Jungle, Moana, Queen Elsa, Wild Kratts, etc., etc., etc., on television. They will often do so until an adult turns off the television. This behavior has continued over several generations of children, starting with black and white television. Old televisions are too big to fit under the bed and old television shows never die. No sign of screen fatigue here.

Children also like playing with iPads, Kindle Fires, etc. Hand a child one of those and the child will often play with it until an adult intervenes. While not a widespread phenomena today, PG predicts that old iPads will someday live under the bed. No sign of screen fatigue here.

PG suggests that screen fatigue is the creation of a marketing manager somewhere, not a psychological or sociological phenomenon. PG doesn’t know if “children are reading more” is a fact, but suspects it may also be the creation of a marketing manager somewhere.

One thing PG does know is that marketing managers don’t really care if screen fatigue or reading children are genuine phenomena, so long as adults continue to purchase children’s books.

Why Picture Books Now?

From Nerdy Book Club:

Remember when picture books gave us a simple view of family, neighborhoods and the world at large? As readers we felt safe, cocooned between the pages of that one view, it was comforting.

Fast forward twenty years, an elementary school librarian in a small rural town that is made up of vast social economic disparities. School population of 100+ students from surrounding hill towns. I share these details because our school is a homogenized population, where most of the children are related to each other, have never traveled outside the general area and come to us with that simple view of family, neighborhoods and the world. Is that a bad thing? Yes and no. On the no side they feel confident and vocal to judge, what to them not may not be the “normal” picture of family. On the yes side, many of our students struggle emotionally and physically when their families don’t fit that simpler view. With little knowledge of the wider world and diversity they become more closed in mind, body and words.  How do we help our students see a more modern view of themselves and the world? The school library and books!

. . . .

I have found that after reading books on diversity and compassion the Library Club students start to share their growing knowledge of diversity outside of the club, during lunch time, while chatting with friends, in their art and especially during library book check out. With exposure to books on diversity and compassion students stretch their comfort zones into new and wider reading adventures.

Link to the rest at Nerdy Book Club and thanks to Ron for the tip.

Rediscovering Kids’ Books

From The Wall Street Journal:

Midway through life’s journey, many of us find ourselves returning to a realm that we had left ages ago and may not have thought about much since. That country is the land of children’s literature, a place as vivid, varied and tumultuous as any that ever existed on a real map. When we’re young, if we’re lucky, we spend lots of time with its scenes and characters: Hansel and Gretel nibbling the witch’s candy house; Max sailing “in and out of weeks” to where the Wild Things are; Charlotte weaving the word “radiant” into her web to save Wilbur, the pig; Lucy stepping into a wardrobe and emerging in snowy Narnia. The world of children’s literature is rich and enchanting and formative, but by the time most of us reach late adolescence we’re out of it. We put away childish things, as it were, and get busy with the fascinations and requirements of adulthood.

So it can be surprising and thrilling, and disconcerting too, to get a return ticket when our own children come into the world. Having given only an occasional nostalgic thought to Oz or Neverland or the Hundred Acre Wood, we’re plunged back into the joyful scrum. As to the sensations of re-entry and the unexpected complexities that grown-ups may find in the books they loved when they were small—well, that is the stuff of “Wild Things,” a charming, discursive encounter with classic children’s literature from the perspective of a parent.

Our Virgil, on this journey, is both guide and wanderer. Bruce Handy is a widely published essayist and critic and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. With his wife, Helen, he has two children, and it was while reading bedtime stories to Zoë and Isaac that the author felt he was “revisiting a favorite old neighborhood after many years and finding not only that it hadn’t been chain-stored into submission or paved over altogether, but that it was far more interesting and complex than I knew.”

For parents who are embarking on this phase of rediscovery, for those in the thick of it, and for those for whom it is a warm and recent memory, “Wild Things” will be a delightful excursion. Mr. Handy writes with zip, sincerity and good humor. He has a gift for witty phrasing: Fairy tales have a “rude verve,” and in their number is one so ghastly that it lurks “like a moldy berry” in the collected stories of the Brothers Grimm.

The book is organized in a way that approximates the developmental stages of a growing child. We start with the ur-baby book, “Goodnight Moon,” whose author, Margaret Wise Brown, Mr. Handy discovers, was not “a kindly gray-haired woman with an ample lap” but a glamorous hottie with amazing talent. He goes on to tackle the picture books and life stories of Maurice Sendak, Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss ) and Beatrix Potter before progressing to C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott —all the time giving his personal responses. Mr. Handy is an atheist but confesses himself “charmed and persuaded by the religious undercurrent of [C.S.] Lewis’s [“Narnia”] tales—in the sense that I am moved and persuaded not by the theology itself but rather by Lewis’s ability to convey in tangible, organic terms what his religion means to him, what Christianity feels like for him.” All the same, Mr. Handy’s heart, I think, belongs to Beverly Cleary (born in 1916 and thus 101 today) and E.B. White (1899-1985).

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) Here’s a link to Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult

Read like a girl: how children’s books of female stories are booming

From The Guardian:

Studies in the past have found that children’s books are dominated by male characters, that history books are overrun by male authors writing about male figures, and that literary fiction is less likely to win a prize if it focuses on a female character.

A new wave of books aimed at children might just be doing its small bit to change that. Thousands of little girls – boys as well, but likely mainly girls – will be settling down for bed this evening with a new kind of bedtime story, one in which the heroines are not fictional, but real. From Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls to Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, sales of books about inspirational women have boomed this year – and look set to grow.

Kate Pankhurst – a distant relative of the suffragette Emmeline – has sold more than 52,000 copies of her guide to the Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, according to book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan. Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, meanwhile, didn’t have high expectations when they launched a Kickstarter last year for Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls, which tells the stories of 100 “extraordinary” women, from Malala Yousafzai to Michelle Obama. They wanted to raise $40,000 (£31,000), and to print 1,000 copies. But their Kickstarter became the most-funded publishing campaign on the site, raising more than $1m. The self-published book has since sold more than 500,000 copies around the world.

. . . .

“I didn’t at all expect it to sell so much,” says Pankhurst of her book. “I didn’t anticipate the interest from parents that was out there, but it’s been really lovely to see people enjoying it. It’s a real discussion point for families – a way in to talking about the stories of these women, and to talking about the broader point of why the book is only about women, if they have been forgotten from history.”

. . . .

Father-and-children’s book blogger Phil May, who runs ReaditDaddy, is one of them. “It feels like the last four years or so have seen a huge rise in inspirational girl books. Certainly in 2016 and 2017 we’ve seen more ‘mighty girl’ titles than any other year,” he says. He attributes their astronomical rise to a number of factors: “Renewed interest in space exploration, for example, means that girls as well as boys … not only want to hear about the women who are working in space science today, but the women who helped contribute to hugely important advances in space exploration. Knowing who people like Helen Sharman and Valentina Tereshkova are is vitally important for girls who are no longer satisfied with being palmed off with rubbish [suggesting] ‘space is for boys, why would girls be interested in that stuff?’”

. . . .

“Books about inspirational women have been a welcome and much needed addition to our bookshelves,” says Waterstones children’s buyer Florentyna Martin, praising Pankhurst’s book, which has remained a bestseller for the chain since it was published last year, as well as Good Night Stories. “It’s important to recognise that these titles are shaping a sustainable area of children’s books and not just ‘bestsellers for the moment’. These books are required, to inspire younger generations for years to come … and the older ones too.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

You Can Now Buy and Live On the Farm from ‘Charlotte’s Web’

From Electric Lit:

The Maine farm where E.B. White’s iconic spider character Charlotte spun her famous web is now for sale for a hefty $3.7 million. The author spent 50 years on the seaside property, where he wrote some of his most beloved works, including classics Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.

White and his wife Katherine, the fiction editor at The New Yorker where White was a contributor, lived on the seaside property from the 1930’s until their deaths. The farm’s most notable feature is the barn in which a little pig named Wilbur met a spider named Charlotte.

. . . .

You know, this barn:

THE BARN was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell—as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world…The barn was pleasantly warm in winter when the animals spent most of their time indoors, and it was pleasantly cool in summer when the big doors stood wide open to the breeze. The bam had stalls on the main floor for the work horses, tie-ups on the main floor for the cows, a sheepfold down below for the sheep, a pigpen down below for Wilbur…

Link to the rest at Electric Lit


Here’s a link to lots of photos of the farm.

Watership Frown

From The Literary Hub:


. . . .

“The impulse to make animals represent or incarnate human significances is of long standing in literature, going back at least as far as Aesop. For whatever reason, English literature has for scene time been especially lavish in the granting to animals of human properties: speech, humor, moral values, histories. One distinction of this kind of writing is that while it is mostly directed toward children, adults have enjoyed the best of it as much as children and sometimes more: Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, surely, but also Kipling, A. A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame, even Beatrix potter.

I doubt that Richard Adams’s Watership Down is really aimed at young children, despite his having said that it arose from impromptu stories he used to tell his small daughters. I can’t imagine many readers under 13 or 14, an age when the lines between juvenile and adult fiction begin to blur, having the patience and grasp of extended allegorical strategies to persevere to the end of a 426‐page epic about a community of rabbits. And while older teen‐agers may well enjoy it, I suspect that this tour de force, the Iliad and Odyssey of Oryctolagus cuniculus, is going to find its true audience mainly among the people who have made a cult of Tolkien, among ecology‐minded romantics and all those in need of a positive statement, not too subtle but not too blatant either, about the future of courage, native simplicity, the life‐force, and so on.

I don’t mean to be condescending. Watership Down is in some ways a delightful book, at times an affecting one. But faced with the extraordinary praise given the book in England, one has to draw back some distance. Lacking the high wit and imaginative force of Alice in Wonderland or the triumphant (if occasionally purple) lyricism of The Wind in the Willows, the book seems to me a good deal less than the ‘classic’—with the implication in the word of settled universal appeal—that British commentators have so reflexively proclaimed it.

. . . .

“As in all such fiction, the plausibility issues from the detail and consistency with which the animal life is rendered, and above all from the resemblances we can discern to aspects of our own lives. To this end Adams offers a remarkable wealth of information on rabbit existence and wisely concentrates on matters of sustenance, living arrangement, behavior toward other animals, and the like.

“But as anthropomorphic fantasy replaces observation (the book is in an actual area of Berkshire, England, and Adams is particularly fine on landscapes and flora, weathers and seasons) he sees fit to give rabbits a folklore and folk‐heroes, a mythology complete with creationmyth and, finally, a language …  If I remember correctly, the great writers of animal fiction let their characters unselfconsciously speak the authors’ own languages, and this is proper because the imaginative act is complete once the literary decision has been made to allow animals to speak in words; to let them use their own worth, their own verbal language, is to tempt the pathetic fallacy beyond its acceptable limits. This may seem a small point, especially since the Lapine is a very minor element of the rhetoric, brit I think it symptomatic of what is wrong with Watership Down, or rather what keeps it from being wholly right.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Confessions of a One-Time Reluctant Reader

From Nerdy Book Club:

I was an absolute book fanatic from the start. Or, to be more precise, I was an absolute PICTURE book fanatic. When adults asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always the same: picture book illustrator.

Every week as a child, my mother took my brother and sister and me to our public library. Every week I brought home an enormous stack of books. In the evening, I would sit on the living room couch next to my mother as she read the words to books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Where the Wild Things Are to me. And I would interpret the pictures for her.

. . . .

Years passed, me checking out as many books as I could carry and drawing nonstop. And then one day, around the start of a new school year, everything changed. Suddenly I was too old for picture books. It was time for me to move on to middle grade books.

I could not process this idea. How could I be too old for picture books? I wanted to BE a picture book illustrator!

Besides, middle grade books were serious. Middle grade books were realistic. And worst of all, they had no pictures!

But at least I had Robert Newton Peck’s “Soup” books. These middle grade books were about a boy and his buddy named Soup, who ran around together having adventures and getting into all kinds of trouble. In short, these books were about me. I almost wondered if Robert Newton Peck wasn’t somewhere nearby, watching my life unfold and scribbling down brilliant, new material in his notebook.

. . . .

But eventually my teacher pressed me to broaden my horizons. I had no such interest, so when asked to choose from a cart of books that had been wheeled into our classroom, I picked a book called A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith. Judging by the cover illustration, it was practically the long awaited third installment in the Soup series– two buddies, running around (this time among blackberry bushes), having adventures and getting into trouble.

One should never judge a book by its cover. (Spoiler alert) Unlike the Soup books, the Soup-like buddy in A Taste of Blackberries dies. I was shocked. I was confused. It had never occurred to me that such a thing could happen in a book. Was that even allowed?  I had so much to think about. Despite my best efforts, my horizons had indeed been broadened. It was an intriguing feeling.

Link to the rest at Nerdy Book Club