26 February 2013

Over at "From JA to YA"........

........I am comparing board book adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. It is not a format which seems immediately obvious for Austen adaptations, but both BabyLit books and Cozy Classics are giving it a go. You can read what I think about them here.

12 February 2013

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

The landscape of this book is probably (hopefully!) unrecognizable to anyone who reads it: a brutal, bleak, totalitarian society in which the laws of intimidation and suspicion oversee all. It reads like a dystopian novel, yet the book is firmly dated in the past. 1956, to be exact, mentioned in a "blink and you miss it" moment. Where the story is taking place is unknown, although the singing of the first two lines of the hymn "Jerusalem" perhaps provide a clue. Standish Treadwell is living on the edge of society with his grandfather in Zone 7, where the undesirables of society--particularly political adversaries of The Motherland--are corralled until they disappear. The government is preparing a moon launch which will establish its position as the master race of all the world. Standish and his friend Hector, however, know the truth behind the lunar program.

This book, which won the Costa Book Award in the UK for best children's book of 2012, is surreal, disturbing, and compellingly original. The tone reminded me of Eugene Yelchin's Breaking Stalin's Nose, in which a brave child breaks through the dreamy haze of political misdirection. It also reminded me of Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum, although the narrative is much more straightforward, and Standish is an infinitely more reliable narrator than Oskar. Standish's point of view helps the reader navigate through what is at times a difficult read full of uncomfortable imagery and nightmarish scenarios. New York designer Julian Crouch provides black and white illustrations which in any other book might be labeled as spot illustrations, but in this case provide a subtle compliment to the text which does not fully make sense until the end. An unusual and unforgettable read.

Maggot Moon goes on sale in the United States today, Tuesday 12 February 2013. Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing me with a copy of the ARC.

02 October 2012

Banned Books Week: Tintin in the Congo

Not only do I read banned books, but I buy them as well. Let me start with a story.

At the end of August, on my final evening of a lovely trip to Cape Cod, I was checking out Herridge Books in Wellfleet. Herridge Books is a used book store tucked in a corner not far from Mayo Beach and Wellfleet Center. I was looking for Church Mice books, while my daughter wanted ghost stories. You could have knocked me over with a clam roll when I found this:

As Captain Haddock would say--blistering barnacles!

A brief history of Tintin in the Congo: it is unavailable to purchase new in the United States. Period. Despite Tintin's decades of cult status in this country, and a highly successful animated film helped raise the franchise's profile, no one can walk into their local Barnes and Noble, or log on to Amazon.com to purchase a newly minted, 2005 (which is when it was last reprinted) edition of this book. Why not? Because the American publishers of the Tintin books, Little, Brown and Company, have deemed it too offensive for this country. Or, to quote the Forward at the start of the UK edition, (which indeed the copy I bought was) Tintin in the Congo contains "bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period." And Heaven knows we can't have any of that. Particularly in a children's book. And let's not even get started on Herge's attitude to big-game hunting.

I don't mean to sound glib. The controversy surrounding Tintin in the Congo is actually quite complex, based on the book's publishing history, Belgian colonial history, and Herge's own growth as a writer and the creator of Tintin the character. (The Guardian summarizes the issues nicely in this article about a recent attempt to ban the book in Belgium.) And, truthfully, the book is bourgeois and paternalistic. Embarrassingly so. I doubt that Herge meant to offend readers of the day, or even future readers of a more enlightened period, which I'm sure we all like to think the 21st Century is. But there are readers who will take offense to this book.

Now that I have finally read it, I can see that there's not much to recommend Tintin in the Congo other than Herge's name on the front cover. But as a fan of Tintin, I wanted to read it. As a librarian interested in issues of censorship and free speech, I wanted to read it. As a mother who discusses race relations with a daughter curious about the unequal world around her, I wanted to read it. There are many reasons why I wanted to read this book, and not a single one of them had to do with actually agreeing with its content. Yet look at the extent I had to go to find it--dumb luck at a used book store.

It's very easy to stand up and support books like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Color Purple, challenged and banned books whose literary merit and social importance is inherent. But there are ugly books which need protection, too. I recently read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (yet another frequently challenged book,) and I came across this exchange between Guy Montag and Faber:

"My wife says books aren't 'real'"
"Thank God for that. You can shut them, say 'Hold on a moment.' You play God to it." (p. 80)

The Reader plays God to the book. Not the publisher. Not the neighbors. The Reader. Maybe it's because I believe in a God who supports free will as opposed to the manipulation of life to ensure harmony, that I found this quote so appropriate to the issue of intellectual freedom. There is a market in this country for Tintin in the Congo, and Little, Brown and Company should feel free to meet the demand of that market. They should not play God to readers by refusing to publish it. Publish the book, and let the readers play God.

For more information about Banned Books Week--it's the 30th anniversary by the way!--you can visit a couple of sites:

And if you completely disagree with everything I say, feel free not to read Tintin in the Congo (assuming you can find a copy.)

24 September 2012

Best big word in a picture book

That honor, at least this week, will have to go to "malfeasance", from Ian Falconer's Olivia and the Fairy Princesses. As in: "I [Olivia] could be a reporter and expose corporate malfeasance."

I have to confess--I can't even pronounce 'malfeasance'.

Am I the only one who thinks that Olivia will grow up to be Harriet the Spy?

18 September 2012

Bring on the 2012 Cybils!

I'm excited and honored to once again be participating in the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards (but known as the Cybils among friends.) This will be my 5th year acting as a judge, my 4th year in non-fiction, my 2nd year reading for the Non-Fiction Middle Grade Young Adult (NFMG/YA) category, and my 1st year as a second-round judge in the category. Phew! I think that covered all the bases.

Let's be honest--the Cybils is a labor of love: it takes an enormous amount of time to read all the books which are nominated (this cannot be understated!) by dedicated individuals who probably read a lot anyway. Still! It's a ton of books (or apps, for those on the Book App committees.) It's certainly good for the circulation statistics at my local library, as I start requesting copies of the nominated titles. But to finally have a decent excuse to ignore chores and tackle all the great books I've been eyeballing all year ("sorry hon--no clean laundry today. Committee work!") is liberating.

So come on--help me avoid housework! Give me lots of books to read! Nominate your favorite childrens and young adult books in a variety of categories. Nominations open 1 October 2012 and will remain open until 15 October 2012. You can read the Cybils FAQ here to get the nitty-gritty on the nominating process. Then be sure to scour those nomination lists and marvel at all the wonderful books that have been published this past year.

13 September 2012

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

My review of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken is today's Retro Review over at the Nerdy Book Club. Check it out!

12 September 2012

Appropos of nothing

So....who watched Saturday's new Doctor Who episode? I did. And I immediately thought of every one's favorite Time Lord when this arrived in Monday's new book order:
You can't go wrong with dinosaurs in a public library. Dinosaur books come second only to Captain Underpants replacement copies in my book order hierarchy. I personally am not big on dinosaurs. But I have a few favorites. In no particular order:

A sentimental favorite, because it was one of the first books I was able to read on my own.

OK--I've not read this one. But I love the retro theme that's rocking the cover.

Here's one I have read--repeatedly. The idea of receiving dinosaurs instead of lollipops when out on errands with mum seems immensely satisfying. As a child I probably would have preferred ponies to dinosaurs-----but still! Free pets!

 According to this cover, I'd say they descended from Heaven! I like the original approach of this title. Folks are usually more interested in where the dinosaurs went.


What is your favorite dinosaur book?

16 June 2012

Over at "From JA to YA............"

.........I'm taking at a look at The Dashwood Sisters' Secrets of Love by Rosie Rushton, the first book in her Jane Austen in the 21st Century series.

16 May 2012

Over at "From JA to YA".......

........I'm taking a look at the PBS series Wishbone and their riff on Pride and Prejudice, "Furst Impressions."

08 May 2012

Over at "From JA to YA"......

.........I am examining For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund. Set for a June 2012 release, the novel is an original and successful adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasuison. Check it out here.

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