30 April 2010

Choose Privacy Week--and don't forget the kids!

The American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom has declared May 2-8 to be Choose Privacy Week. The focus of the week is to inform Americans about their rights to privacy in a digital age. Social networks Facebook and Google have recently been in the news because of privacy concerns, so this is certainly a good time to establish such a week and to make Americans aware of current and on going privacy issues.

It is also a good time to remember a demographic whose privacy is often a target for mass, while no doubt well-meaning, privacy rights infringement. I am referring, of course, to young readers. This recent article from School Library Journal's "Extra Helping" newsletter about a Florida mom who wants YA books to be labeled at her public library irritated me when I first read it, and continues to disturb me. Putting aside the issue of why some parents so greatly fear what their child might see between the pages of a book (makes me wonder if the same sort of vigilance is applied to the child's TV habits, wardrobe, and behaviour towards their peers,) there is the matter of parental monitoring of a child's reading habits. I'll be honest--I'm pretty liberal in this regard. I'll let my child read anything she wants. I cry tears of joy when I see her chose a book instead of the laptop or her DS. I take her to church to learn about our family's values. I give her a book so she'll learn to think for herself.

Children and teens have as much of a right to choose what they want to read for pleasure--or information--as any adult does. Labels on books cut away at that right. They are a simplistic code for "good" and "bad" that simply does not apply to everyone. Why should a young reader be scared away from a labeled book? Let the child decide if they are bothered by a book's content the way grown-ups do--start reading it. You can be sure that if the child doesn't like or understand the book, they'll put it down. But a label on a book's spine is a big ole target for shame and covert behaviour. If a child wants to read a book with a label, but think they might get in trouble, they have two options: don't pick up the book (therefore self-censoring themselves,) or borrow the book and read it secretly. No one should have to read in secret!

And don't get me started on the subject of parents who want access to their kids' borrowing records, to see what they are reading.

I realize that I have sort of wandered from the point in this post. But I would like adults to remember that while they consider ways to protect their privacy in a 24/7 digital age (and children should be learning these lessons too, by the way,) they need to also be aware of the privacy rights of the younger readers in our society. And the most important right for a free and learned society is this: the right to read anything without being judged.

18 April 2010

Blog Tour: Horrid Henry's Joke Book by Francesca Simon

This joke book, which proudly claims to be "too rude for parents," shows that Horrid Henry must, deep down, have the soul of an archivist. He has given his name--and a fair bit of dialogue--to a book of jokes which is not just gross and groan-worthy, but pretty well organized as well. These are not just random ha-ha's.

The reader is eased in with elementary school joke-telling staples of mummys, grubs, and underpants (Q: What do you get if you pull your underwear up to your neck? A: a chest of drawers,) before giving way to contributions from other characters in the series. Henry shows his--shall we say,--generous side, by allowing Dizzy Dave to include a section of completely tame dinosaur jokes (which only cost the hapless kid a dollar.) Next door neighbor Moody Margaret contributes Knock-knock jokes; Beefy Bert, who is characterized in the series by his trademark "I dunno" to every question posed to him, heads the section of how/what/why jokes. Aerobic Al's sports jokes offer a reprieve from the offense (ha-ha! Made that one up myself!) but then the attack on decency is back on with a chapter entitled, "Jokes not to tell Miss Battle-Axe". This section was my personal favorite, because it didn't so much contain jokes as a repertoire of smart-aleck remarks that any kid (except for Perfect Peter) would love to fling back at a teacher that was irritating them. Guaranteed to make the whole class laugh not at you, but with you, in admiration.

It wouldn't be a Horrid Henry book without Mum sticking her nose in and trying to force the inclusion of Perfect Peter. Despite Henry's best efforts and repeated threats that reading his little brother's jokes would be more vile than any joke already told, Peter gets in. As ever, though, Henry gets the last laugh. He has saved for the very end, "Jokes much too rude to tell Mom." And he's right! These jokes all of a scatalogical nature, are gross! They are his piece-de-resistance, and if it wasn't for the fact that Mom intervenes and whips the book away mid joke and sends Henry to his room, who knows what further horrors lay in store.

While I wouldn't say that Horrid Henry is anyone's national treasure, he continues to remain a breath of fresh air in children's literature, no matter how rancid his jokes are. Despite a few jokes early on that did not make a smooth translation from Britain to the United States, and might have readers scratching their heads and wondering when to laugh, this book has broad and obvious appeal. There are nods to the parent series here, but readers do not need to be familiar with Horrid Henry to enjoy the book. After all, it's full of jokes! And you can be sure that any readers who were not already aware of the Horrid Henry series will want to read it after their brief encounter with Henry here. Tony Ross' illustrations are scattered throughout, sometimes complementing a joke, sometimes showing Henry in action. They continue to bring to life this stinker of a child and the motley crew that makes up his circle of family and friends. Get this into the hands of any jokesters in your life. Then run for cover.

Note: This book was released in the US on April 1st--of course!--and reviewed from an Advanced Readers Copy sent to me by Sourcebooks Jaberwocky.

13 April 2010

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: it's a three-fer keeper

It's not often that a book serendipitously meets multiple aims, uniting literary tastes and everyday life. But when it does happen, it's a beautiful thing. My daughter and I are reading the new edition of T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. It is an absolutely perfect selection right here, right now, because:

1) April is National Poetry Month! We're expanding our reading horizons and making bedtime poetry time;

2) Poetry is one of the categories I have selected for the 10-10-10 Reading Challenge. This will qualify towards my reading requirement;

3) We are going to see Cats on Thursday.

That Harcourt Children's Books has provided a bright new edition at this time is simply fantastic. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler, probably best known in this country for his collaborations with Julia Donaldson (think, The Gruffalo,) the practical cats have never looked more cheeky and full of Jellicle charm.

I first read this book back in the 80's, during the Lloyd-Webber craze, and to be honest--it didn't make a lot of sense at the time. I couldn't find Memory, for starters. And I didn't have an appreciation for the way Eliot was lampooning everyday cat habits and making them poetic. Which, considering I had three cats at the time, shows a real lack of understanding on my part. Now, as an adult, I get it. It drives me crazy when my cat sits at a door, despite the functioning cat-flap, and waits for me to open it for him--only to reappear outside that same door within minutes, ready to repeat the procedure. Or, as Eliot puts it:

my own jellicle cat
"He's always on the wrong side of every door,
And as soon as he's at home, then he'd like to get about.
He likes to lie in the bureau drawer,
But he makes such a fuss if he can't get out.
Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat--
And it isn't any use for you to doubt it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there's no doing anything about it!"

Even though Eliot has made up words, like "jellicle" and "gumby cat", which didn't mean anything until he gave them a definition, these are not nonsense poems. For one thing, they are steeped in the characteristics and values of British society at the time (including a couple of racial, shall we say--'nicknames'--which prompted my, "this is a sign-of-the-times, but don't you dare let me hear you use these words" speech.) Gus the theatre (mind the spelling!) cat is familiar with all the standards of stage and pantomime. And Skimbleshanks the railway cat reminds me of one or two characters I used to know during my time working for the railway, hold-overs from the days when British Rail wasn't yet privatized. Above all, these poems capture the mystery behind a cat's inscrutable eyes; the sneaking suspicion that they've got a secret life we mere humans no nothing about. John Burningham touched upon this in last year's It's a Secret!  The mystery of the cat, practical or otherwise, continues to intrigue writers and readers alike.

09 April 2010

Renewing my (blogger's) vows

I read this interesting post yesterday on the Presenting Lenore blog, about the Do's and Don't of polite blogging, and--even more specifically--about interacting with authors. The post was particularly directed towards YA book bloggers, but they were tips that are certainly applicable to all. For me personally, the post was enlightening, because it showed me just how naive I am about my own blogging. It has never crossed my mind to actually approach an author in the hopes of drawing readers to my blog. I've never run any sort of competition. In fact, other than cross-posting to a few social networking sites, I do pretty much zilch in the way of promoting my blog. While I'd love for Team NJFK to take off, I'm admittedly relying on the "write it and they will come" philosophy. And my mom, of course.

That post got me thinking about my own blogging behavior. When I started this blog back on 3 August 2007 it was done mainly because I couldn't afford to return to graduate school, but I wanted to join the conversation about great books for kids. I was also trying to bring an adult reader's perspective: these are great books for kids, but grown-ups will find a lot to appreciate, too.  From the start I've been an inconsistent blogger (sigh,) and I post far more reviews than I ever intended, mainly because I've realized that reviews and recommendations are what the random browsers--those readers I've hoped to catch in my world wide web (ha ha)--are looking for.

Anyway, the point is, I'm sure I've made some mistakes as a blogger, and I will never have a readership of millions (hundreds?) because I'm catch-as-catch-canning it here at Not Just for Kids. But all the same, this is a good time to reiterate what you can expect to find here:

--my commentary and opinion (let me repeat: MINE. Not my employees or anyone else's) about books, trends, controversies, and news in the world of childrens literature;
--positive book reviews. If I didn't like a book I won't blog it. Plain and simple. If I have something negative to say about a book, I'll do it at goodreads.com, and it will be short and (not so) sweet. This space is for the stuff I love;
--lots of spelling mistakes. I can't spell for you-know-what, and I can't get the spell check on the new format Blogger to work;
--vigorous campaigning for the rerelease of the Church Mice books!
--booklists (note to self: post more booklists)
--shameless adoration for M.T. Anderson.

There. I think that just about covers it. Comments are always welcome. Unless you are a bot of some sort, of course.

06 April 2010

And the (BoB) winner is.......

.....all of us, of course! Because we got to follow the progress of 16 fabulous books for young readers.

But in terms of actual claiming-the-trophy-winning, that honor goes to Marching for Freedom, by Elizabeth Partridge. All of Gary Schmidt's agony in the first round was worth it. Everyone loves a winner, and he made the right call, setting this book on the path to victory. 

Personally, I find it thrilling that a non-fiction, picture book for older readers (remember one of my favorite sayings: "picture book is a format, not a reading level") managed to out-last and out-wow the judges in a playing field with the likes of award winners (When You Reach Me,) runaway bestsellers (The Last Olympian,) popular high-fantasy (Fire,)  and librarian darlings (Marcello in the Real World.) Let this triumph be a reminder that non-fiction isn't just for homework or coffee tables; it is a genre which has potential for mass appeal to a generation growing up with reality television and 24 hour news access. Non-fiction is real and readable. And victorious, too!

The only down side to this entire experience? It's over :(

01 April 2010

And then there were two: BoB reaches the final stage

The books have been read, the hands have been wrung, and the brackets have been tossed out in disgust. After more than a month of page-turning drama, the School Library Journal Battle of the Kids Book has reached its final stage. There will be the mix-it-up fun of the Undead contender, to be announced on Friday, then all eyes will be on National Ambassador for Young Persons Literature Katherine Patterson, and her final verdict on Monday.

I made a quick reconnaissance of the stacks at work and managed to snag our copies of both finalists. This was a blessing and a pain; a blessing for me, because I felt lucky to get them both in one go. But it hurt, too--why were such awesome books still on the shelves? Someone's not doing their job......Oops. Wait. That's me.

After last year's BoB I gave in and read the winning book, The Hunger Games. I say, "gave in" because the initial premise of the book was off-putting. A reality tv show, and all those dead kids--what could possibly appeal? Of course, I was an idiot. I read the book, was wowed, and gave it as a birthday present to two friends, and recommended it to my mom. My mom put it forward to her book group, which, it is fair to say, is not in the book's core age bracket. But great literature is great literature, and they are reading Catching Fire as their next selection.

My point being--all these new recruits to Suzanne Collins' dystopian epic because of Battle of the Books. As the 2010 edition draws to a close, I look forward to the opportunity to pass on the results with the same enthusiasm as last year. I often pass on recommendations with enthusiasm (hey, it's my job!) But when it comes about because of a bit of fun--and BoB is as much about fun as recognition--then all the better.

2 April 2010

P.S. Bring out your dead! The Undead winner is revealed!

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