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.

04 May 2012

Rave Reviews: Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

I know I'm late for the lovefest for this book, but I say 'better late than never.' I am so glad I read it. I really enjoyed The Wednesday Wars, in which the character of Doug Sweiteck first appears, but I have to admit that I don't remember much about the story. However, I am confident there will be no memory lapses with Okay for Now.  And the credit for that goes to John James Audubon.

Like Doug, I had my own Audubon epiphany almost 20 years ago, when I went to see an exhibit of his Birds of America at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I had no expectations, just an hour's lunchtime to kill between classes at Simmons. I figured I knew birds. They're everywhere; see them all the time. Well as Doug would say, I was a chump. I stood in front of those paintings, which were much larger than I had anticipated, for one thing, and was blown away by the strength and down-right drama in them. Do you know how that feels? Doug Sweiteck does.

Doug's story is, as the dust jacket says, about "the power of art and story over despair and loss." That sums up the plot pretty well; Doug is the youngest child in a blue-collar family in 1969 small-town New York. His father is an abusive lout, his oldest brother, Lucas, returns from Vietnam a blind amputee, and his other brother, Christopher, is following in the footsteps of the dad. His mother is a beautiful soul, and you wonder how she ever got roped into this existence. Doug has nothing going for him except himself. And, thanks to the local library, (hurrah!) John James Audubon. The library has a copy of the Birds of America, which they display on the top floor--and which the town draws from "like a bank," razoring out prints and selling them each time money is needed or some good doobie merits recognition. It is an act of cultural vandalism which Doug is insightful enough to recognize. As his relationship with the paintings becomes stronger, he resolves to rectify this wrong, just as he is fixing so many other broken things in his life.

The nature of Doug's relationships with the prints is two-fold. As a budding artist, he wants to draw them himself; with the help of one of the librarians he learns how to capture and imitate Audubon's techniques. But just as importantly, Doug learns to read the paintings. And these readings stay with him as he interacts with his family, his classmates, and his neighbors. There is a wonderful "pay it forward" feel to the book, without the piety of the sentiment. A magnificent example of this is in Doug's relationship with his PE teacher, Coach Reed, a man who has spent the better part of the book bullying Doug. At this point Doug is working on copying The Forked-Tailed Petrel.

He has also discovered a notebook of pictures that Coach Reed has drawn of his time in Vietnam; nightmarish images which look like Lucas' dreams sound. With the two petrels in mind, buffeting on the wind moments before their paths cross, Doug sees and seizes an opportunity to help two men--one he loves and one he despises--help each other heal.

The final triumph of the paintings is in Doug's reading of The Arctic Tern, the bird which opens and closes the book (the chapters are named after individual prints.) Despite the tone of the title, which suggests that Doug has settled into an acceptable existence, everything is much better than okay. Not necessarily fixed, but full of promise. And at the center of that promise is Doug, with his artist's heart and his artist's eye, looking for the next spectacular thing that is going to come into his life.

27 April 2012

Celebrating Fenway Park: Ted and Me by Dan Gutman

2012 marks the 100th birthday of Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, and children's publishing is on the ball. There have been some lovely children's books published this year, focusing on the park and the team, and I plan to read and review them all!

I'm starting with Dan Gutman's Ted and Me, which is the eleventh volume in Gutman's Baseball Card Adventure series. The premise of the series is simple: Joe "Stosh" Stoshack is an every-boy with a remarkable gift; he can travel through time by touching old baseball cards. On his adventures he has met 10 famous ball players, including Honus Wagner, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Satchel Paige. I have been campaigning for an adventure with Ted Williams almost since the day he died. And it seems that Mr. Gutman and I are of the same mind, because here, just in time for Fenway's 100th birthday, is the book. (Spoilers ahead!)

The best thing about the Baseball Card adventures is the spirit of fun in which they are written. The science involved is pretty vague, and the ease with which Stosh incorporates himself into the lives of the players he meets is suspect (I'm guessing we will never see "Ty and Me".) But who cares--it's a little boy meeting baseball legends! That's a formula that's hard to resist. However, the initial suspension of belief required at the start of Ted and Me is whopping. The FBI are aware of Stosh's ability, and they want him to travel back in time to warn FDR about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Stopping the attack on Pearl Harbor is a time-travel chestnut--one of the greatest "what-ifs" out there in speculative fiction, so it's not a bad starting point for a story about a boy meeting not just a great ballplayer, but a true American patriot as well (which, Williams, with his distinguished military career, was.) But the fact that the FBI don't want to commandeer Stosh and take him back to headquarters to run tests on him, or anything sinister like that, but instead simply send a polite agent to his house to talk with him and his mom about it--that's difficult to swallow.

But at this point, Gutman plays a great trick on the readers which derails the issue--he sends Stosh to the wrong Ted Williams. The FBI may have done their homework about Stosh's talent, but they don't know diddly about baseball cards. They give Stosh a Ted Williams card from 1952. Consequently, Stosh finds himself in the back of Williams' bomber as he's flying a mission over what is now North Korea.  Wrong war! Pearl Harbor is long gone, Roosevelt's been dead for 8 years, and--oh yeah--Williams' plane has been hit. Just before they crash land, Stosh gets himself back to his own time. It's a great scene, full of action and swears (which Gutman wisely replaces with "!@#$%") and a full-frontal, in your face introduction to Ted Williams and his larger than life personality.

When Stosh does connects with the correct Williams, the baseball finally takes over. It is September 27, 1941. Before Stosh can complete his Pearl Harbor mission there is the little matter of baseball history: the next day Ted Williams will go 6-8 in a double header against the Philadelphia Athletics. He will finish the year with a .406 batting average, a feat which has not been equaled to this day. Stosh is particularly careful not to interfere with that, especially since part two of his "warn about Pearl Harbor" plan is to convince Williams not to join the military so that he can reclaim the five years lost to active service and potentially improve his lifetime statistics.

I've said that Gutman never moralizes in these books, but that doesn't mean that he is not trying to reveal a greater point. When Stosh encounters these baseball greats, it's always the right person at the right time. He certainly learns lessons that he can apply to his current situation. In this case, Stosh and his little league team are fresh from defeat in the Little League World Series. Despite his thrill about being involved, the reader sees a hesitancy in Stosh. He feels that he has leveled off as a player, a .270 hitter with a decent arm. He's good enough, but will probably not get any better. He is so preoccupied with not messing up on TV, he turns down an offer to carry the team's American flag during the opening ceremony, and he is unhappy to be in the position to make the final out of the game. Rather than rising to any challenges, he settles back and accepts defeat. This is clearly the perfect time to meet Ted Williams, a man who never settled for being anything but the greatest at everything he put his hand to.

Ted Williams' number 9 was retired by the Red Sox
Ted Williams is not an easy character to recreate for children. For starters, there is the matter of his language. This is not a man who spoke in "gosh's" and "darn's." He swore. Prolifically. This points to the fact that if he is going to be central to one's book, he can't be watered down. Gutman rather humorously addresses this in his "Note to Readers", and then just gets on with it. Williams was a human of striking contradictions. For as gruff and brash as he was, he was also immensely generous with his money, his time, and his compassion. Gutman gets mega-kudos for mentioning Williams' work with the Jimmy Fund. But of course, how could he possibly write a book about Williams and not mention it? It is one of the many reasons he is legendary in the city of Boston.

All in all, as a reader and a Sox fan, I thoroughly enjoyed Ted and Me. I just have one complaint--Stosh never makes it to Fenway Park! History dictates that Williams set his record in Philly, so of course that it where Stosh lands. And then they head for Washington DC, to warn the president, a mission which is--obviously--not completed. I understand that the structure of the story sends them away from Boston instead of to it, but I was looking forward to Stosh checking out my ballpark. But, as Stosh himself admits, these trips through time never turn out as he plans, and for this reader, the same holds true.

Stosh started the story knowing very little about Ted Williams. But by the end, his understanding of the man's legacy is firm. Stosh has grown up during the steroid era, as have many of his readers. He sums everything up quite well as he is sitting in Shibe Park, watching what is a meaningless game of baseball, with no play-off implications--but huge historical ramifications.

"Over the next 70 years, I knew, Babe Ruth's home run records would fall. Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak would be broken. Humans would go to the moon, invent rock and roll, and create the internet; and the world would change in so many ways.
But nobody would ever hit .400 again."

07 April 2012

Letting my 11 year old read The Hunger Games

Long-time readers of this blog, and people who know me well, know that there's no "letting" involved when it comes to reading. My philosophy when it comes to children and books is, "let them read what they want." Experience has taught me that children can be trusted to put down a book when it is too advanced or difficult or upsetting for them. In fact, experience has taught me that most "problems" with childrens books are more about adult hang-ups (my own included) than about an issue for the child. When The Hunger Games was originally published, I put it in the YA department, which in this library is grades 9-12. I would occasionally get middle school readers who would ask for it. Now, thanks to the success of the film, I have 8 and 9 year olds looking for the book. I've also had parents seeking it out for their children, explaining (as if any explanation were needed) that their child could handle it. Hey--we don't judge in this library! Although the parent that asked me for "that hungry book" for their fifth grader did leave me wondering if she was aware of the book's premise. When a chaperon on a pre-school visit pulled me aside earlier this week and asked how I felt about the book, and was it safe for her 11 year old boy, it was clear to me that I will be talking Hunger Games for most of the spring.

I, too, have an 11 year old at home; a daughter I used to think was a reluctant reader, until it finally dawned on me that she just reads differently than I do (more on that later.) She has been reading Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson for her social studies unit on the American Revolution and hating it every step of the way. Her objection--too graphic. She told me (repeatedly) about a scene where a man is shot dead, and then proceeded to describe how the blood looked on the ground. She didn't like it. It upset her. She even told me she didn't think "little kids" (she is in fifth grade, so she is selectively little when the occasion suits!) should be forced to read the book, even for school (a point she later made to her teachers in a written response she was required to write about the book.)

And then The Hunger Games trailers started to appear. And she asked me if she could see the movie. I am not nearly as permissive about movies as I am about books. I told her no. My daughter, being clever, immediately attacked my weak spot. "What if I read the book?"

I'd still read it!
With the Forge experience still fresh in my mind I pointed out that The Hunger Games is more graphic and contextually far more disturbing. It was a point taken. She had not liked reading Forge. She was a little worried about reading The Hunger Games and being scared. But she really wanted to see the movie--a PG-13 movie about kids fighting to the death, which she knew would be an automatic 'no' unless there were some pretty exceptional circumstances. For my part, I wanted my daughter to love a book that I love--an intelligent, magnificent piece of dystopian fiction with a strong heroine and a compelling plot which reveals more and more with each reading. But I didn't want her to get nightmares, or be so deterred if she wasn't ready for it that she then never picked it up again (I suspect this was her experience with Harry Potter.) So we tried to make the book as safe as possible for her. I started reading it to her, a chapter a night, so that she could ask all the questions she wanted (so long as they weren't spoilers!) and not confront the harsher scenes on her own. Then, when we were done, if she still wanted to see the film, I would take her.

That arrangement lasted about a week, at which point she ripped the book from my hands and proceeded to finish it herself. She loved it. She marched down stairs when she finished it and decreed it "the best book ever!" No Forge ill-effects whatsoever.

And this is where I get to the part where I contemplate the different types of readers we are, my daughter and I. I read like my life depends on it. I'm not joking when I say I worry about the books I'm not reading, the great books which will slip through my fingers simply because I don't have the time to read them all. When I have spare time on my hands, my first thought is to read. Every other form of entertainment is balanced against whether or not I want to take the time away from a book. This is possibly unhealthy, I admit it. But it's indicative about how I feel about books.

My daughter likes to read, but usually only at bedtime. Rare is the occasion when she will choose to read instead of watch TV or play on the computer or go outside or simply daydream. In fact, there are times when I feel that she will do anything to avoid picking up a book if it's not during that last hour or so before bed. But when she does read, she has a pantheon of go-to books that she constantly revisits. For her, reading is not so much about the new experience as it is about comforting familiarity. She will sample new books when she has to, usually for school, or on the recommendation of a friend. Sometimes she will even take my advice and try something I think she will like. The Hunger Games (and now Catching Fire, which she is zipping through) is that rare book where she did drop all else to read it. And I know that it will enter her inner sanctum of beloved books and be read repeatedly. I know that what she doesn't understand now at 11 will hit her differently when she is 13, 15, 18--when she is revisiting the Capital and the Districts and seeing a story she thought she knew so well take on new meaning because she is at a different point in her life than she is now. That is an incredible gift that Suzanne Collins has given to my daughter.

So yes, I "let" my daughter read The Hunger Games. My parental concerns gave way to her wishes, and in the end she proved me correct to trust my librarian instincts. Where Forge fumbled, Katniss triumphed. Score one for the freedom to read what you want.

13 March 2012

Blog Tour: Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton

"Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one's desires but by the removal of desire.....No man is free who is not master of himself."

So says Epictetus, the Stoic Greek philosopher. But try telling that to a dog. A playful, rambunctious dog, who says he will be good--who hopes to be good! But who just can't help himself when tempted with cake, Cat, and dirt.

Author and illustrator Chris Haughton has followed up the quietly reassuring Little Owl Lost with this slightly more frenzied offering about George, a dog who, when faced with temptation gives in wholeheartedly. The story reads like a cumulative tale: Harry (not a dog) is going out, and he has commanded George to be good. George agrees, promising to not just be good but to be "very good". Yet George seems aware of his limitations, because Harry is no sooner out the door than George has gone from "I'll be very good," to, "I hope I'll be good." Each temptation is met against a serene backdrop of white space, as if reduced to a single, focused moment as dog eyes cake/Cat/dirt. "What will George do?" the narrator asks. The turn of the page, the assault of neon orange, and the words, "Oh no, George!" says it all. Harry eventually comes home, and George must face what he has done.

The charm of the book is that the reader knows what's coming, but it's still funny. The delicious anticipation of answering each "What will George do?" with a turn of the page to reveal--oh no!--a big mess, never gets old. Which is also what makes the ending so rewarding for the reader (more about that in the author interview.)  Haughton's use of bright orange each time George gives in to temptation is a wonderful way to visualize the madness which must take hold of this poor dog when he tries to be good but just can't make it.

The story ends with a cliffhanger, of sorts, but the back cover is, I think, the true conclusion. It is a picture of George, the recipient of a group hug from Harry and Cat. George is naughty. George is weak. But George is also loved. It's a wonderfully reassuring way to end the book, particularly for children who might very well see themselves in George.

It has been my pleasure to kick off the blog tour for Oh No, George. Be sure to visit the book's other stops in the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

14thUKPlaying by the Book

15thNZChrist Church Kids

16thUKWam Bahm

19thUSThere’s a Book
20thAUSMy Little Bookcase

21stUSSeven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
22ndUKBeing a Mummy
23rdAUSThe Book Chook

As part of the tour, Chris took the time to answer some questions about Oh No, George!

Chris Haught
NJFK: The title Oh No, George! really sets the tone of the book from the very beginning; a sense of inevitable mishap despite good intentions. And it is easy to see from the repetition of the phrase within the story why it makes a good title. But I thought the book could have also been called What Will George Do? based on the number of times George is faced with temptation, and the reader is asked to predict his response (particularly at the end.) Could you tell a bit about how you settled on the book's title?

CH: Yes! That was the other title that I was thinking of using. The very reasons you describe are what I liked about "Oh No, George!" The inevitable disaster combined with the worried face makes a more interesting image and picture in the mind. ‘What will George do?’ probably describes the book better but just didn’t seem to have as much comedy.

NJFK: I'm not a dog owner, but I am a parent, and I remember a time when my toddler's behaviour was not unlike George's. How intentional was the connection between dog and child when you were writing the book? Or did you just set out to write a funny book about a dog, and any similarity to childlike behaviour is mere serendipity?

CH: I set out to just write a simple funny story that is hopefully easy to relate to. When we can see George’s thought process weighing up whether he should eat the cake I think its something we can all empathise with whether you are a toddler or an adult. It seemed funnier to have that dilemma through the eyes and thoughts of a dog than a child or human. It’s true though that the things he enjoys doing and his level of self-control are probably about similar to a toddler’s. I think that helps give him his charm, he isn’t a complicated dog!

NJFK: Can you explain a little bit about how you created the illustrations? How do pencil and digital media work together?

CH: My drawings are quite rough and sketchy when I scan them in. What I am looking for in the sketch is a good expression or pose and I often find that the rougher and quicker it is made the more expressive it is. I colour and tweak the sketch and add the details on the computer while trying to retain the expressiveness of the original drawing.

NJFK: I love the quote by Epictetus at the beginning of the book. I went back and checked, and there is also a quote from Robinson Crusoe at the beginning of your previous picture book, Little Owl Lost. In each case the literary reference brings a sense of gravitas to what might otherwise be viewed as just a "simple" picture book story. Where did you get the idea to include these references? And were they in any way starting points for your stories (because we know that picture books are never merely "simple"!)

CH: They weren’t starting points, I came up with them after I came up with the stories in both cases. I was looking for ways to add something more to Little Owl Lost, a little epigraph or something to add a little more meaning. It was a friend that suggested looking at Crusoe. I looked around and found a great line that basically says ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone’ but of course in great 18th Century English, I just liked the thought of putting an eloquent epigraph from Defoe alongside my little story about an owl falling out of a tree. They are so different but whether you are Robinson Crusoe or an owl who has fallen out of his nest its probably true to say you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone.

For George I originally wanted to quote something from ‘the difficulty of being good’ by Gurcharan Das or from Buddhism about control of one’s mind but eventually settled on that one from the stoic philosopher Epictetus. I like the quotes and it’s something I want to continue in future books.

NJFK: At the end of the book you give the reader one more chance to predict what George does, but you don't reveal the answer. Do you know if he dug through the trash and just aren't saying, or are you giving the reader the opportunity to continue the story?

CH: I didn’t want to finish it. It would be too simple (and dishonest!) to have him be good at the end and too much of an easy gag to have him dive into the rubbish. The ending is neither and so it leaves everyone wondering what happens next. I was unsure about leaving it open but my sister who is a teacher of very young children loved the idea that it is left open so that afterwards they can have a class discussion. In the readings I have done we have great fun after the story deciding what George will do.

Personally I think he probably jumped in the rubbish. Sometimes there are things at the very bottom of the rubbish bin that smell so good it’s hard not have a little rummage!

NJFK: Which picture book illustrators do you particularly admire or whose work you especially enjoy?

CH: I like Leo Lionni for his simplicity, whenever I feel I’m overcomplicating something I will look at some of his books and see how it can be done more simply. I really love Kitty Crowther and Beatrice Alemagna's work for their drawn details and patterns. I love the humour of Tom Gauld, Neal Layton and Ed Vere. Many of my favourite illustrators are French; Chamo, Marc Boutavant, Olivier Tallec. There are so many nice young books for the very young published with Thierry Magnier and editions memo in France:

NJFK: Are there any authors you would like to work with, or do you prefer illustrating your own work?

CH: I think I would prefer to keep writing my own books. I’d feel uncomfortable working with a writer on a picture book because the process I have found to work for me involves working with the text and images at the same time and it’s very back and forth. I can’t really think of another way of really making it work for me. I think I would drive anyone else involved crazy!
Win me!
A big thank you to Chris Haughton for taking the time to answer my questions, and also to the folks at Candlewick for providing me with a copy of the book to preview. As one last special bonus, I am pleased to offer a signed print from Oh No, George! (as seen above.) To be entered in the give away, all you have to do is leave a comment or share this post via twitter or facebook (and make sure you let me know about it!)

Update: Congratulations to Carol Rasco, the winner of the Chris Haughton print! 

01 February 2012

Get ready for the 2012 SLJ Battle of the Kids Books!

Who says February is a bummer? Imagine my joy this morning when my sleepy eyes spied the announcement in my Twitter feed that the 2012 BoB contenders had been announced! I adore the Bob's (also known more formally as the School Library Journal Battle of the Kids Books.) I love the guest judges. I love the monkey wrench of the Undead contender. I love the debate and conversation and second-guessing. I love that the BoBs is the metaphorical kick in the rear to my To Be Read pile. It's one final attempt to get to grips with the gems of the previous year before turning my attention to all the great new stuff ahead. I am particularly pleased to see that this year I have read no less than eight of the sixteen nominated titles (which, after the ignominy of a mere one last year, is heartening.) This is the first year where I will have already read at least one book in each of the brackets. And I still have at least a month to tackle the rest.

In terms of predictions.......going by the books I have read, I'm pulling for A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, based on an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd, which is hands down the finest book I've read in the last twelve months.

29 January 2012

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

....I'm trying to give the Pride and Prejudice board book a fair trial.

24 January 2012

Reader, I despair: Jane Eyre as a board book?

After the glory yesterday of the ALA Youth Media Awards, in which we were reminded of all the quality that children's literature has to offer the world, it didn't take long to find a reminder that children's publishing at least really can be ridiculous. Last year I had a full-blown rant about plans to publish a series of board books based on great literary classics. Clearly my gnashing of teeth (and surely I wasn't the only one!) was not enough to put a stop to the plans; Little Miss Austen and Little Master Shakespeare have been joined by Little Master Carroll and Little Miss Bronte. Okay. Maybe....maybe....MAYBE....I could accept the idea of a board book version of Alice in Wonderland. In this case we are at least talking about a classic of children's literature. But a board book version of Jane Eyre? Really?! Here is the product description taken from the Baker and Taylor catalog I am currently staring at in amazement:

"Provides an introduction to a classic work of literature in a stylishly designed story for toddlers that also promotes early counting skills."

Do those early counting skills include Mr. Rochester counting his wives? How can a book with plot elements including bigamy, institutionalized child abuse, and locking the mentally ill in an attic EVER be considered suitable for toddlers? Even as an adaptation?! Clearly, it can't be. Which means that the board book really has no bearing on the original work and is not fit to carry the name "Jane Eyre". Stop the madness!

There are no words.

19 January 2012

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

.......I am discussing Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman.

13 January 2012

Cybils Wrap-up

I say "wrap-up" even though round two of the judging is just getting into gear. But for me, the work is done, and now there is nothing left to do but sit back and join those waiting to hear the announcement of the eventual winners. After months of reading, and weeks of debating, the Non-Fiction, Middle Grade and Young Adult panel chose six outstanding books as finalists. I don't envy the round two judges as they try to chose a single book to rise above the rest. Without giving away any secrets, I can say that almost everyone on they panel had to give up a title for which the felt passionately. The selection this year was excellent.

This year we have been invited to comment on "the ones that got away;" the titles that we wish had made the final cut. There were several books which I would have been happy to see make the list--books which were not on my short list but which I couldn't argue against if there was strong feeling in their favor, because they were so good. One book which missed out though, which I really would have liked to see make the list, was The Mysteries of Angkor Wat, by Richard Sobol. It's inclusion on our list was a bit of a surprise to me, because it is a picture book. There were several picture books on the list, (including The Many Faces of George Washington, which did go through as a finalist,) but they were text heavy and clearly written for a middle school or older audience. But Ankor Wat seemed young. However, we covered a wide age group, and I am assuming that is why it remained on our list and was not moved to non-fiction picture books. The picture book format served the subject matter well, giving Sobol the opportunity to share some outstanding photos on the sprawling temple. Its kid appeal was evident. Sobol introduced readers to a group of school children who sold trinkets and snacks to visitors to the temple. They befriended Sobol and shared a secret with him about the temple known only to themselves; a hook which was so surprising that I am not going to reveal here what it was, because it certainly caught me by surprise. Adults are almost non-existent in this book, other than Sobol himself, so while it is clear that these children are working to try and raise some extra money, the fact that they are playing on this ancient site completely unsupervised reveals a level of independence and freedom that American children can only wonder at.

Good luck to all the finalists! You can see a full list here.

11 January 2012

YA and Jane Austen: an obvious union?

I have started a new blog over at Wordpress, entitled From JA to YA. It will be devoted entirely to my reading of young adult Jane Austen adaptations, biographies, and anything else which purports to introduce teens to the author. I hope you will stop by and either check on my progress or join the conversation. And if you are in the Boston area on Sunday 4 November 2012, I hope you will join the Massachusetts branch of the Jane Austen Society of North America to hear me speak on the subject. Then you can say, "I knew those thoughts when they were just a blog!"

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