23 October 2007

Book of the Week--Zachary's Ball

In honor of the fact that the Red Sox are in the World Series for the second time in four years, this week's book of the week is Zachary's Ball, by Matt Tavares. Everyone wants a souvenir when they visit the ballpark, and in this picture book a young Zachary is transported to the game of his dreams when his dad hands him a snared foul ball. Perhaps it is the ball itself, or maybe it is the act of passing the ball from one generation to the next--in any case, it is a magic that must be shared. And it all takes place within the shadow of Fenway's Green Monster--reason enough to read any book!

20 October 2007

Answering The Guardian--My belated top ten

I have been slightly side-tracked by the Red Sox's pursuit of the pennant, but at last I have for your consideration my Top Ten Favorite Children's Authors. About a month ago I wrote about a Top Ten List from The Guardian, a daily broadsheet coming out of the UK. Their list of most popular children's authors, which purported to be voted on by British young adults, was lopsided in favor of 1) British authors and 2) Classic authors. So I have countered with my own list.

I have compiled my list based on authors that I either loved as a child/young adult, as well as authors I have discovered since working in the field. They are listed in the order in which they popped into my head.

Drum roll please......

Susan Cooper
Madeline L'Engle
Lloyd Alexander
E.B. White
Elizabeth George Speare
Rumiko Takahashi
Beverly Cleary
David McPhail
John Agee
John Burningham

Honorable Mention:

And then there are my Top Three Fond Memories, listing authors whose books I remember really loving at the time:

Donold Sobol
Ellen Raskin
Walter Farley

16 October 2007

Spiderwick Board Game

According to ICV2, there will be a board game tie-in to the film version of The Spiderwick Chronicles, due to be released in early 2008. That's kind of cool, and will probably sell like the proverbial hotcakes, since the series is so popular (not sure I would call it a YA series, though, as it is called in the article.) But where's all the hotly anticipated The Seeker memorabilia? ;)

Happy Ending Hoax

Guerrilla advertisement hits the world of Children's Literature! Considering we are talking about the country that spawned a registered political party called The Official Monster Raving Loony Party, it's easy to see why The Mail fell for this. And concerned parents are a mad bunch anyways, right? Still, I bet Lemony Snicket was tickled.....lemon? And as for Milo and the Magic Stones, it's only unhappy if you chose the path of selfishness. Sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure for the preschool set.

12 October 2007

What I am Reading Today--Keturah and Lord Death

I love fairy tales. I love the language and the imagery and the allegory--the whole package. I wish people would stop thinking of fairy tales as exclusively for children, because they aren't. The tradition of the fairy tale dates back to the oral history of literature, when stories were told rather than read. That's why some of them are so frightening and just plain twisted. Long before they became morality morsels for children, fairy tales warned listeners to be careful in a dangerous world.

So with that in mind, I whole heartedly recommend Keturah and Lord Death, a book for a YA audience steeped in fairy tale tradition. I'm almost finished, and I love it! Keturah is a young woman with a talent for telling stories. She also has a talent, if you want to call it that, for seeing Death (who is a rather sympathetic, burdened character in this book.) The people of Keturah's village, once they become aware of her ability, beg her to intercede with Death on their behalf, but don't want anything to do with her otherwise. Meanwhile, Keturah has her own bargains to broker with Death, who not only is ready to take her from this earth, but claim her as his bride as well. Great stuff!

Still on the topic of outwitting Death, check out Teresa Bateman's picture book The Keeper of Soles, in which a cobbler manages to put off the inevitable with the promise of new shoes.

10 October 2007

The Seeker--oh dear!

This is just one of a half dozen wretched reviews I've read for the film. My worst fears confirmed! The Dark is rising, but the film is floundering.

09 October 2007

What I am Reading Today--The Thing About Georgie

First time novelist Lisa Graff covers Andrew Clements territory with this story about a fourth grade dwarf. While George Washington Bishop's dwarfism has always been a reality, it has never been an issue. Until now. He is concerned that his soon to be baby sister or brother--dubbed Baby Godzilla in his mind--will one day outgrow him--literally. He is falling out with his best friend, Andy, and can't seem to find a way to end the fight. And the only person interested in being his friend is Jeanie the Meanie, and she has a strange way of showing affection (like signing him up against his will to play Abraham Lincoln--he tallest president ever--in the school play.)

Once I started this book I really couldn't put it down. Graff does a fantastic job of making Georgie a character the reader can sympathize with without pitying. The thing about Georgie is a great recommendation for middle grade readers, boys and girls, for we are all little in a big world.

08 October 2007

Lost Treasures #3--John Patrck Norman McHennessy-the boy who was always late, By John Burningham

John Burningham is one of those authors that I did not discover until I was an adult. Had I grown up in his native England, it would have been a completely different story. But here in the States he's just another respected import. His classic, Mr. Gumpy's Outing, is listed by Anita Silvey (talk about gurus!) as one of the 100 best books for children, but other than that his droll little windows into a child's psyche seem to come and go. A quick search on Amazon.com shows that of three pages of titles, only half a dozen or so are still in print. Again, it's a different story in the UK, but American fans need to catch his books in the initial print run.

John Patrick Norman McHennessy-the boy who was always late (we'll call it JPNM for short) is a frequent bedtime favorite at our house. It's the simple story of a boy making his way "along the road to learn." Each day he meets seemingly insurmountable hurdles (a crocodile leaping out of a drain, a lion sneaking out of the bushes, a tidal wave washing over a bridge) yet he vanquishes them all, only to come up against a higher hurdle--his teacher's disbelief. The teacher is straight out of the Oxford Don book of fashion, with a log black coat, four-point cap, and a total lack of imagination. Various punishments are meted out to JPNM--standing in the corner, writing out "I must not tell lies" 500 times, solitary confinement, and even the threat of a good thrashing. The teacher not only discredits JPNM's stories, but he gets unreasonably irate about the loss of a glove, torn trousers, and the fact that the boy arrives sopping wet (which is to be expected when you've nearly been washed away by an unexpected tidal wave!) But revenge is sweet, and by the end of the story we see that JPNM has not been traveling along the road to learn for nothing.

I find that children have an amazing capacity for magic while understanding the world in completely literal terms. If JPNM said a lion sprang out of the bushes, well of course it did, even if that's not supposed to happen. John Burningham's books wonderfully capture this dichotomy, and it makes them great fun for the adult reader.

05 October 2007

We interrupt this blog.....

....for the American League Division Series! Yes, the Sox are back in the big time, which means late nights and disrupted guru service. Sorry (but not really--it's the SAWX!)

Today is the release date for The Seeker, the film based, supposedly, on The Dark is Rising. Having recently completed the book, and seen the trailer for the film umpteen thousand times, I'm pretty sure that they are two different beasts. Author Susan Cooper has similar concerns. In rereading the book, I was struck by how little actually happens (hard to translate a lack of action to the big screen.) Even more importantly, the book is steeped in antiquity--the land of Britain itself, the Old Ones who fight the Dark, Will Stanton, the protagonist, who's only connection to modern life is a preference for Chelsea Football Club (he still goes caroling, for pete's sake, and sings carols in French!) This is not simply an everyday-boy-discovers-magic-powers type of story. But that seems what the filmmakers are aiming for. I don't know. If it's a success, I'm sure we'll see the rest of the series eventually.

02 October 2007

Guys Read--What a concept!

I came across this gem while updating my Authors' Websites list. The site, called Guys Read, is moderated by Jon Scieszka. He needs to update it and add Cowboy and Octopus! There's a great list of recommended authors that write what guys want to read. Alright! Makes my job easier.

01 October 2007

Book of the week--Cowboy and Octopus

What a quirky little book! The seven stories chronicling the friendship between Cowboy and Octopus are distinguished by Lane Smith's pick-and-mix artwork and a subtle humor that is truly child-like, reminiscent of James Marshall. Comparisons between Cowboy and Octopus and Marshall's George and Martha are easy to draw. Cowboy and Octopus themselves, however, are not drawn. They are paper cut outs. They can change location, but they can't change pose. It's all part of the charm. My personal favorite is "The Rainy Day." One window, two points of view, no more than two dozen words exchanged, but volumes expressed. Check it out!

What I am Reading Today--Jack Plank Tells Tales

2007 really is the year of the pirate--even failed ones, like Jack Plank. I picked this one up because it's short (I need a quick read before immersing myself in Red Sox postseason baseball,) and because I like Natalie Babbitt. Reading this book of tightly constructed vignettes, I'm reminded that Babbitt is an excellent picture book author as well as a novelist. I'd enjoy more structure in "Plank" but the tales are amusing.

Tintin on the hot seat

The news that Little Brown will not be publishing Tintin in the Congo is not really news. This story made the rounds of the blogosphere earlier in the year when the book was released in Europe. My gut instinct is to disagree with this decision, because to me it seems like historical revisionism. I can understand not marketing it as a children's book. I can even understand not including it in the box set. But to decide against publishing it altogether seems spineless and naive; spineless because the publisher's preferred to avoid a controversy, and naive because ignoring the book doesn't make what is objectionable less so. English children's novelist Anne Fine commented on the controversy in an article for The Times, citing incidents in her own writing where she has revised older texts for modern readers. If she chooses to do that to her own writing, that's her decision. And I guess choosing not to publish a book is a publisher's prerogative, but I would have had more respect for their decision to cancel publication if Little Brown said they wouldn't make any profit from the book. Everyone knows that money talks. And maybe that is what's motivating this decision, and they're not simply taking the high road.

I always come back to the opinion that if something is objectionable, don't buy it/read it/promote it. English journalist Kathryn Hughes agrees, although she is of the opinion that modern readers can learn from their unenlightened ancestors. Which takes us back to that historical revisionism thing. Tintin in the Congo is what it is: a book written when colonialism and colonialist attitudes were rampant. Eradicating racism from modern society is commendable, but eradicating all reference to it is not the way it's done.

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