Tuesday, September 24, 2002

I Guess You'd Call This Thought Provoking

I did not expect to like "Kids Lit Grows Up" an article by Charles Taylor that appears in Salon.com. Children's writers are not very fond of celebrities who decide "Hey, I can write a children's book." Taylor's article isn't about celebrities writing children's books but about writers of adult fiction writing them. Which is a similar situation. Or at least I thought so until Taylor convinced me otherwise.

According to Taylor, a number of writers have children's books coming out soon or already out. He discusses Neil Gaiman's Coraline, which I've already gone on record as saying I didn't like (see September 9 entry), as well as books by Carl Hiaasen, Isabel Allende, and Michael Chabon. (Chabon wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which I found too rambly and couldn't finish--This business of my never reading anything I like is really getting me down.) I assumed writers of adult fiction were moving in on kid turf because the Harry Potter thing suggested there was big money to be made by doing so. Taylor gives a more benign reason, and he makes a logical case.

Taylor's argument is that these authors are writing children's books because right now children's literature is an exciting field to be working in and who wouldn't want to be part of an exciting field? In addition, the impression that there's big money in kid lit (and, folks, it's only an impression--the people making big bucks are few and far between) is making it possible for these people to find publishers for their children's books. Under normal circumstances that might not happen.

It's a good article that's worth a look. Oh, my gosh! I think I just read something I liked!

Sunday, September 15, 2002

More on Gail's Graduate Class

Charles Lamb is one of the more readable late eighteenth/early nineteenth century essayists we've had to read in the creative non-fiction class I'm taking this fall. To give you some idea of how decent a writer Lamb is, I studied him as an undergraduate and actually remember!

Why bring him up in a Weblog devoted to children's and YA literature? Well, Charles had a sister named Mary. During some sort of episode of mental illness, Mary killed their mother. To keep her out of prison, Charles offered to become her guardian. (Evidently you could do that back then.) She got off, but it was a life sentence for him. Needless to say, they ended up spending a lot of time together. And the way this connects with kidlit is that the two of them wrote a book for children called Tales From Shakespeare. The book is essentially prose versiions of some of Shakespeare's best known plays.

As luck would have it, my family happens to own a 1956 edition of the Lambs' book that evidently belonged to my husband and brother-in-law. It looks as if they barely touched the thing. My own sons avoided it as well. However, Tales From Shakespeare is available in a contemporary edition, in the event anyone would like to expose a young child to the playwright.

Here's a possible connection between Charles Lamb and myself--I can remember reading prose versions of Shakespeare's plays when I was a child. My mother had a book of them that I was reading somewhere around the time I was in second grade. If memory serves me, my mother didn't think it was appropriate reading for me and deepsixed the book. She was probably right.

Monday, September 09, 2002


I looked forward to reading Coraline by Neil Gaiman because of some buzz it was generating early in the summer. This kids' book has been getting great reviews from both children's and adult sites. Even the mainstream Salon.com gave it a positive nod. Well, I'm uncomfortable saying this, but I found it a little over rated. Though it's a very creepy story full of atmosphere by an author who is evidently known for writing horror stories, its main character just doesn't work. So what I'm saying is the creepy part is just fine, the noncreepy part is the problem.

Coraline is too good to be true, not in the sense of being well-behaved, sweet, and icky but in the sense of always being able to confront every obstacle. And we never see how she works out these problems. She just does it. We never find out how she knows the things she knows. "'She has lied to you,'" a character tells Coraline. "The hairs on the back of Coraline's neck prickled, and Coraline knew that the girl's voice told the truth." Well, how did she know that?

She is also wise beyond her years, which I, personally, never particularly care for in a child perhaps because it makes me feel inadequate. But it's also not very realistic. "I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn't mean anything. What then?" I'm sorry. Not many kids feel that way, and that passage sounds just a little bit like a lesson--an odd thing coming in a horror story.

Another odd thing about this book is that there is something about the appearance of the scary characters that's similar to that of the family in The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh. (A series of books I loved. I mention that to prove that I do like some things I read, though it doesn't seem to have happened much lately.) The similarity is so striking that I found it distracting. Perhaps Gaiman meant to pay a little homage to Waugh. Or perhaps as a primarily adult author he hasn't read much children's and YA fiction.

Which would go a long way toward explaining the failings in his child character.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

Oh, Yeah. This is Going to be Great

I have finished the 100+ pages I had to read for next week's graduate class but not the book by the contemporary essayist.

Do you recall the poem The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson? (Stevenson wrote essays but so far I've been spared having to read them.) Late eighteenth, early nineteenth century essays are very much like The Swing except they don't rhyme. "I love to go up in a swing. I love to look around while I'm up there. I love to come back down."

I feel very badly for those poor souls who lived before the time of the novel and had nothing to read but essays. On the other hand, it's terrific that you could write this kind of stuff and get paid for it.