Friday, June 12, 2009

A Book Reviewer Raises Some Interesting Questions

Last month I mentioned that The Hartford Courant, which very rarely reviewed children's books when it had a book editor, has been doing children's book columns maybe once a month now that it doesn't. I'd been seeing columns by Nicholas Brisbane, but last week, The Courant ran a column by Mary Harris Russell, who writes For Young Readers for The Chicago Tribune. (Which has only part of last weekend's column up at its site.) The Courant and The Tribune are both owned by the Tribune Company.

I've raised the point before that the few newspaper reviewers left are going to become incredibly important if their reviews are being shopped around to more than one paper. (Presumably that's cheaper than hiring a lot of individual reviewers.) Aren't publicists and publishers going to be desperate to get their books reviewed by a columnist whose review will be carried in several papers across the country? To say nothing of authors? Is anyone else seeing a movie here about a reviewer being wined and dined and played up to? Oh! Oh! With Owen Wilson or maybe Will Ferrell! There can be some really moving bit at the end about critical integrity. And a wedding. And a dog.

But until then, let's talk about Mary Harris Russell, who probably uses "Harris" so she won't be confused with Mary Russell. In When Mary Meets Harry, an article from 2003 in an Indiana University publication, Russell, an English professor at Indiana University Northwest, has some very interesting things to say about the crossing over that's going on now between children's and adult literature. When that starts happening, does it change the definition of "children's literature?"

"That’s been a big part of the critical discussion in the past 10 or 15 years," Russell says. "Adults write the books, adults buy them—so how do you decide what’s children’s literature? Is it a matter of thematic questions? Formal questions?"

This popped out at me because I've wondered if we won't see children's literature changing as adult readers become fans. Who will children's literature be written for?

"How does the dual audience work?" Russell asks. "Does anyone write just for children anymore, or are they all working to pitch laughs at that second level?"


A good article, even if it is a few years old.

Training Report: Really spent a lot of time in my chair today, doing research and nearly finishing that essay I keep talking about. Yesterday, the essay was dreadful. Today it's not so bad.

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