Children’s Books

The Secret Power of the Children’s Picture Book

18 January 2019
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From The Wall Street Journal:

Millions of people—perhaps you’re one of them—have watched viral videos of a Scottish granny collapsing in laughter while she reads to a baby. Comfortable on a sofa with her grandson, Janice Clark keeps cracking up as she tries to read “The Wonky Donkey” and, in a second video recorded a few months later, “I Need a New Bum.”

Her raspy burr sounds great, and she’s fun to watch, but the real genius of the scene is what’s happening to the baby. Tucked beside her, he’s totally enthralled by the book in her hands. In the second video especially, because he’s older, you can see his eyes tracking the illustrations, widening in amazement each time that she turns the page. He’s guileless, unaware of the camera. He has eyes only for the pictures in the book.

What’s happening to that baby is both obvious and a secret marvel. A grandmother is weeping with laughter as she reads a story, and her grandson is drinking it all in—that’s obvious. The marvel is hidden inside the child’s developing brain. There, the sound of her voice, the warmth of her nearness and, crucially, the sight of illustrations that stay still and allow him to gaze at will, all have the combined effect of engaging his deep cognitive networks.

Unbeknown to him and invisible to the viewer, there is connection and synchronization among the different domains of his brain: the cerebellum, the coral-shaped place at the base of the skull that’s believed to support skill refinement; the default mode network, which is involved with internally directed processes such as introspection, creativity and self-awareness; the visual imagery network, which involves higher-order visual and memory areas and is the brain’s means of seeing pictures in the mind’s eye; the semantic network, which is how the brain extracts the meaning of language; and the visual perception network, which supports the processing of visual stimuli.

And it is all happening exactly when it needs to happen, which is early. In the first year of life, an infant’s brain doubles in size. By his second birthday, synapses are forming for language and many other higher cognitive functions. And by the time he’s blowing out five candles on his birthday cake, today’s viral-video infant celebrity will have passed through stages of development involving language, emotional control, vision, hearing and habitual ways of responding. The early experiences he’s having, and the wiring and firing of neurons they produce, will help to create the architecture of his mind and lay the pathways for his future thought and imagination.

. . . .

Just as Goldilocks sighs with relief when she takes a spoonful from the third bowl of porridge and finds that it is “just right,” so a small child can relax into the experience of being read a picture book. There is a bit of pleasurable challenge in making sense of what he’s seeing and hearing. There is time to reflect on the story and to see its reverberations in his own life—a transaction that may be as simple as the flash of making a connection between a real donkey he once saw with the “honky tonky, winky wonky donkey” of Craig Smith’s picture book. The collaborative engagement that a child brings to the experience is so vital and productive that reading aloud “stimulates optimal patterns of brain development,” as a 2014 paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics put it, strengthening the neural connections that will enable him to process more difficult and complex stories as he gets older.

Much of the hidden magic of reading aloud has to do with those curious eyes and that devouring gaze. Looking at a book with an adult, a child increases his capacity for “joint attention,” noticing what others see and following their gaze. This phenomenon has a remarkable tempering power in children. It encourages the development of executive function, an array of skills that includes the ability to remember details and to pay attention. Children “learn to naturally regulate their attention when they are focusing on a task they find interesting in a context that is nurturing, warm and responsive,” as Vanderbilt University’s David Dickenson and colleagues put it in a paper summarizing the rich developmental value of reading aloud.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Ontario’s 49th Teachers Site Supports Canadian Books in Schools

5 January 2019
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From Publishers Perspectives:

Launched in the spring of 2018 with the aim of getting Canadian books into Ontario classrooms, 49th Teachers expands on the established book promotion platforms 49th Shelf and 49th Kids, but is designed to connect directly with teachers and teacher-librarians.

. . . .

The new teacher initiative may well be of interest to other world markets’ publishers who would like to see their books better featured in educational settings.

The site offers educators a database of nearly 20,000 Canadian-authored kids’ and YA books as well as nearly 800 related resources, all available as free downloads.

One area of the site, for example, features “character education” selections that are recommended for development of respect, responsibility, empathy, kindness, teamwork, fairness, and so on.

. . . .

In addition to the database, the site offers users:

  • Options to search by author, title, genre, subject area, age, and grade level
  • Access to nearly 800 resources developed specifically for use with books in the database, searchable by subject, grade, and by resource type such as teacher’s guides, reading guides, handouts, etc.
  • A variety of themed booklists prepared either by the site editor or by educators
  • A books blog written by a children’s books librarian
  • Links to reviews, recommendations, and purchasing options
  • The ability to create book lists and share them with other site members

Link to the rest at Publishers Perspectives

I used to hide books from my children – I couldn’t bear to read them again

21 December 2018
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From The Guardian:

The house opposite Hampstead Heath where Helen Oxenbury has lived with her husband, fellow children’s writer and illustrator John Burningham, in north London for more than 40 years, is a home you might find in an old-fashioned children’s book: turreted, with steps up to a porch, a sun-lit kitchen – all paintings, pots and pans and piles of books. It is easy to imagine it as a family haven for their three children; the youngest, Emily, an artist, now lives next door with her baby and toddler. And Oxenbury, a sprightly, upright 80, with angular features and hair in the messy bun she has worn all her life, is the sort of no-nonsense grandmother you might find in such a book.

Her life and 50-year career as one of the UK’s best-loved illustrators – with classics such as Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little ToesFarmer Duck and, most famously, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (written by Mem Fox, Martin Waddell and Michael Rosen respectively) – is celebrated in a handsome coffee-table book by the critic and children’s book specialist Leonard S Marcus. “Helen has mapped out the territory of childhood in drawings that combine the intimacy of a family snapshot with the formal mastery of a searching and rigorous art,” Marcus writes, placing her in the English tradition of Randolph Caldecott, Beatrix Potter and Edward Ardizzone.

How does it feel to see her achievements between hard covers? “A bit embarrassing,” she grimaces. “I don’t find it easy to look at it.” She feels the same about being interviewed. “I just get so bored of myself. If I were to talk about John, I could do it for hours.” “John! Are you listening John?” she calls periodically to check a date or anecdote. “No!” he shouts back, before retreating to his studio on the ground floor, from which, for decades, he produced one or more books a year, including such nursery favourites as Husherbye and Avocado Baby.

. . . .

At first she just wanted to make enough money to afford some help around the house. “Then I loved it so much I wouldn’t have stopped anyway.” Motherhood “spurs you on”, she says. “You think: ‘I’m bloody well not going to sit back and do nothing,’ and she would start work each evening once the children were in bed. “I do feel for mums,” she says, and they are always sympathetically portrayed in her books (Spare Rib approved of the resourceful, fun-loving single mum in Meal One).

Oxenbury’s initial playful counting book, Numbers of Things, was published in 1967. Just two years later she became the first artist to take the Kate Greenaway medal for two books, The Quangle Wangle’s Hatby Edward Lear and the gloriously trippy The Dragon of an Ordinary Family by Margaret Mahy.

“We were in at the beginning of a great boom of children’s illustrated books,” she says of the way in which her and Burningham’s careers took off as part of a group of British artists who are now household names, including Janet Ahlberg (Each Peach Pear Plum), Quentin Blake (The Enormous Crocodile and many more Roald Dahl stories), Raymond Briggs (The Snowman), Shirley Hughes (Alfie) and Jan Pieńkowski (Meg and Mog), and who transformed the drab postwar children’s publishing scene. “It was just wonderful, the energy and the excitement. Printing improved. Also publishers got the idea that you could make money out of children’s books – that helps. We were very very lucky.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Three Good Men, Three Great Kids’ Books

19 December 2018

From The National Review:

Men get a bad rap. They’re blamed collectively for rape culture, violence, war, poverty, climate change, and all other manner of global suffering. They’re forced to apologize on college campuses for their chromosomes, anatomy, and athleticism. They’re vilified incessantly in women’s magazines, on women’s talk shows, and at women’s confabs promoting the male-bashing #MeToo movement.

Not me.

This holiday season, I write in praise of three fine gents and their three great children’s books.

. . . .

Saving Montana, by John Paolucci (illustrated by Doris Tomaselli).

A retired detective sergeant from the New York Police Department, John has a thousand-watt smile, central-casting résumé, and heart of gold. He worked narcotics undercover, patrolled housing projects in the South Bronx, supervised a crime-scene unit for the forensic-investigation division, and managed the entire agency’s DNA evidence. He’s a teacher, trainer, expert witness, musician, church-mission volunteer, and animal lover. Saving Montana is the true story of how he met, bonded with, and rescued a “white freckled horse with a mane that was blond” from a kill auction.

In real life and in the book, John moved out of the gritty city to the countryside and shared the transformative power of his beloved Montana with two young children, Anthony and Charlotte. Having seen the worst of humanity over the course of his law-enforcement career and lost some of his closest friends and colleagues on 9/11, John notes that Montana saved him as much as he saved the horse.

. . . .

Kirkus Reviews praised The Pepperoni Palm Tree for its “touch of Seuss” and “inclusive message that sets out to prove everything has value, no matter how strange it seems at first.” On a faraway tropical island where life is a jungle, a palm tree that grows bulging, spicy pepperoni sausages stands out among “normal trees” that bear coconuts and mangoes. Young Frederick befriends the tree, which pines for evidence that it is not alone. In the end, the boy concludes:

“You are the only one in the universe, and that’s what makes you so special.”

. . . .

Lulu is a Rhinoceros is a buoyant father–child collaboration with a life-affirming message, like Jason and Aidan’s book, and a treat for animal lovers of all ages, like John’s. Jason and his daughter, Allison, built a story of embracing differences around their real-life pet bulldog, Lulu, who imagines herself to be a rhinoceros and fights to establish her unique identity. In an interview with Billboard magazine about the book, he expressed a life philosophy that binds the trio together and me to them:

“I’ve always been someone who believes in standing up for the underdog.”

Link to the rest at The National Review

China’s Children’s Book Market: Big Numbers, Local Talent

18 November 2018
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From Publishing Perspectives:

While other markets around the world reported relatively stable children’s book sales in 2017 (with small increases or decreases), China’s children’s book market grew by 9.66 percent—and this is its lowest growth rate in the last 10 years.

. . . .

This slower growth comes after a decade of huge changes for Chinese book publishing, and the children’s book sector in particular, in which the average annual growth rate over the last 10 years is 19 percent.

. . . .

Children’s books—picture books, in particular—are relatively new in China. At the Bologna Book Fair earlier this year, Haiyun Zhao, deputy director-general for SAPPRFT’s department of import administration, told Publishing Perspectives that modern picture books have been on the market in China only for about 15 years.

In this short amount of time, Chinese publishers have built up the domestic children’s book sector by bringing many foreign titles to the market and by developing authors and illustrators at home.

Ren reports that 22,834 new children’s books were published in China last year, and 19,607 titles were reprinted. Sales reached 17.55 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) in 2017, up from 3.9 billion RMB (US$561 million) in 2008.

. . . .

The main reasons for this rapid growth, Ren told the audience, are China’s massive population and peoples’ increasing willingness to spend money on books. More people are reading, he said, and parents are spending more money on books for their children than before.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Radicalization of Bedtime Stories

16 November 2018

From The Atlantic:

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

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

50% Off Children’s Books

14 November 2018

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

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

14 November 2018

From Scroll.in:

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 Scroll.in

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