Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

How Do You Spell Success?

According to The Chicago Tribune article Irish author Derek Landy trying to get his skeleton-detective hero into Americans' skulls (Is that really a title or the entire article?), the Skullduggery Pleasant books are nearly Twilight/Harry Potter successful in England. Not so much here in the United States.

I wish the article had explained what it meant by "haven't caught on" here. What kind of sales are we talking about? Because I've heard of Skullduggery a lot on-line. It's a teen nominee for Connecticut's Nutmeg Award, which suggests a certain amount of acceptance by the gatekeepers who run that show.

Is the book considered not to have "caught on" because it isn't the kind of hit it is in England? Is it just moderately successful here?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Have Details

I've been meaning to mention that I have details about my appearance at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair. I'll be there on Saturday, November 14th with a presentation at 12:15 PM and signings from 11 AM to noon and 1 to 2 PM. The fair will be held in the Rome Commons Ballroom of Rome Hall on the South Campus of UConn in Storrs, Connecticut. Here are your driving directions.

I am working on a new PowerPoint presentation. Whenever I make an appearance I seem to need a new PowerPoint presentation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quick! I Have Books Due At The Library!

I did a little graphic novel reading this fall, and I can't renew the books at the library again, so I guess I'd better blog about them, if I'm going to.



First, I read a couple of the Babymouse books by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. I think what makes these books work is that they are graphic novels. While the stories are fine, the basic plots of the two I read, Skater Girl and Puppy Love, weren't particularly unique. But joining those plots with the graphics and the mouse, definitely elevated them.

I found it a little unusual that the books sometimes use a third-person narrator who speaks directly to Babymouse and wondered if kids found that confusing. Presumably not, since there are a lot of Babymouse titles.



Our library classifies Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell as a graphic novel, though I think I'd describe it as more of a heavily illustrated novel for younger readers. It's a beautiful looking book with an interesting basic story, though I could have done without the Cousin It-like character, myself. Readers frequently have to stop reading to study the illustrations, which do, indeed, sometimes tell part of the story. (Though sometimes they're just illustrations.) I wondered if young readers would find that frustrating. On the other hand, a young, not-very-enthusiastic reader might find it a relief to stop and enjoy the scenery.

If you go to the Original Artwork From Children's Book Illustrators site, be sure to watch the slideshow of Riddell's Illustrations to Unwritten Books. It's very clever. Among my favorites...Hot Comfort Farm and Wuthering Tights. But there's lots of good stuff there.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Index Cards Come In How Many Colors?

I'm going shopping for index cards later this week. I read Pick A Card, Any Card at R.L. LaFevers' blog (referred there by Becky Levine), and now I'm thinking that colored index cards could help with the story arcs (which are like mini-plots) in the 365 Story Project. They could certainly help keep track of characters meandering through the year of stories.

I'll let you know how that goes.

"Feminism Has Gone Down The Toilet"

Last week I was with some friends of a certain age. We were talking about how we could remember a day when the word "girl" was derogatory, and how could the present crop of young females not only allow themselves to be spoken of in such a way but even use the word to describe someone over the age of fifteen or thereabouts themselves? Back in the good old days, we wanted to be women. And we made damn sure we acted the part, too.

"Feminism has gone down the toilet," my friend Pat said.

I thought of that just now while reading a Globe and Mail interview with Mavis Gallant. The female interviewer asked Gallant (an eighty-six-year-old award-winning writer) if women can be fulfilled without giving birth. What the Hell century is this? I thought.

You'll notice Gallant gave her a good reply.

Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for the link.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Perhaps It's Just A Matter Of Finding The Right Terminology

I haven't had good luck over the years with writing in a journal regularly. I have dozens of them and have used them successfully in fits and spurts, but nothing that truly satisfied me.

I've tried meditation in the past, hoping it would help my concentration. You know--staying on task and all that? I think that if you have to concentrate on meditating you might be missing the point. Or if you're trying to use meditation you may be lost before you start. At any rate, it didn't work.

Earlier this year, though, I combined the two and started calling my journal work writing meditation. That I'm able to do several times a week. Of course, this is Gail we're talking about, so writing meditation for me is probably not what anyone who actually knows anything about the subject would call writing meditation. But I like the words "writing meditation." And so I use the journal more. (Perhaps if I used it less, I'd write more offical saleable stuff. Perhaps writing mediation is not a good thing. One morning I will meditate on that in my journal.)

I've had a similar experience recently regarding first drafts. I've written here frequently about my difficulty getting through a first draft. I love the advice so many writers give about just get through it and revise later. I can never do that, though, because by the time I get to Point G I've decided I want something to happen at Point M that can only happen if something different happens at Point C. So I have to go back and make changes. Many of these changes are good. They make it possible for me to proceed for a while. Until I have to do another do over somewhere along the line.

Well, last week I discovered the term "discovery draft." My moments of on-line research lead me to suspect that many people who use that term simply mean "first draft." It may just be a pretentious way of saying first draft.

However, the idea of a discovery draft makes me feel so much better about not being able to get through a first draft without starting over...and over...and over. Because what I'm doing with that discovery draft is discovering material and if it's just about discovery, then it's okay--in my mind, at least--to do things with those discoveries.

So what I'm thinking right now is you just have to find terminology that makes what you do make sense to you.

We'll see how long that works for me.

Re-establishing His Eccentric Self

Great article on Sherman Alexie in The New York Times.

Alexie was adored after the publication of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. It was very successful, and he was embraced by the YA world. He could have followed up Part-time Indian with another YA book and got himself some more lovin', at least from YA people.

But he didn't. Instead, he published War Dances, a volume of short stories and poetry. In the Times article, In His Own Literary World, a Native Son Without Borders, Alexie says, "I think the new book was an attempt to re-establish my eccentric self: ‘I’m not supposed to sell as many copies as I just did, so let me write something that won’t.’"

Yes, short stories and poetry should do the trick.

I also liked Alexie's description of how he works: "I’ll write whatever’s going well for a few months at a time and move around." He might write 150 pages and jettison it or turn it into a small part of a poem.

And what was really terrific was that he didn't just write Part-time Indian and go, "Well, would you look at that--I wrote a YA book," or have an agent or editor point that fact out to him, the way many writers of adult fiction write their first YA books. He was aware of his audience and studied YA novels while "figuring mine out."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wasn't It Just A Couple Of Years Ago That Everyone Was Looking Down At Blogs? That's All Over.

A New-Media Read On Books At Huffington Post in the Los Angeles Times is thought-provoking in so very many ways. I will mention just one:

"Hertz argued that authors, their editors and publicists should all be pushing their books on blogs, engaging their readers in direct conversations and opening their publicity campaigns months earlier than they have in the past."

Presumably she means in their own blogs, which would obviously be about marketing and thus on the up and up as far as the FTC is concerned.

I'm fine with that plan, since that is exactly the kind of blog I have here. But there's something about the L.A. Times article that made traditional reviews seem very...quaint. Though we in publishing liked to make reviews about selling by quoting any possible bit that could make us look good, in reality that's not what their function is. It would be a shame if criticism/analysis can't co-exist with marketing.

Link from artsJournal.com.

Mary Sue Has A History

I suffered some Mary Sue Anxiety last spring. I don't know if learning she's been around the track a few times makes me feel better or not.

Hey, Robert Cormier Started Out As An Adult Writer! Who Knew?

In Minders of Make-Believe Leonard Marcus says that Robert Cormier's first three books were for adults. His agent suggested submitting his fourth, The Chocolate War, as YA.

I've heard of that happening a number of times in recent years.

By the way, I have a Robert Cormier story:

I used to be interested in genealogy, before I finally accepted that it was way too exhausting and that there were far, far easier ways to waste time. Besides, one of my cousins found my family line back to the early 1800s posted on the Internet, so my work is done. But I was still dabbling in early Internet days, and in looking for French Canadian material, I stumbled upon a Franco-American site. At this site I learned that Robert Cormier was "our leading Franco-American writer." I found this interesting because I wasn't aware that "we" had a leading Franco-American writer, and how cool that if "we" did have one, he was YA.

Within a couple of months, I heard that Robert Cormier had died. God forgive me, my first thought was, "Does this mean the position of leading Franco-American writer is open? How do I apply?"

As it turns out, the competition for leading Franco-American writer is way too great for my taste.

I have, however, made a list of Famous Gauthiers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"A Rattling Good Story"

Collecting old books seems like something I ought to do, being who and what I am. Maintaining old books seems to be a lot of work, though. I've heard they require special storage. Plus, I'm not seriously into the scent of mold and mildew.

However, I have acquired a nice little stash of old children's books, all of which came from family members. Last weekend while visiting our homebound family member, his wife took me into a room and said, "You want any of these books?"

Why, yes, Ruthie, I'll just help myself to these few you and your parents held on to for, in some cases, the better part of a century. Or more.

Now I am the proud owner of, among other things, Two Young Inventors by Alvah Milton Kerr, published in 1904. Publishers Weekly said of it, "Here is a rattling good story. Mr. Kerr has written a tale of mystery, mechanism and getting on in the world that will be a boys' favorite for years."

The Bookman went into more detail. "An exciting tale of two youths who secure a mechanical education as a result of their efforts to construct a flying-boat that will rise in the air, as well as skim the water. During a stirring experience they render an important service to the North Shore Railroad, for which they are rewarded by positions in the department of engineering."

"Getting on in the world" is an interesting phrase. Maybe good children's books should be about "getting on in the world."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Oh, I've Got To Read That Wimpy Kid

Last night while I was making dinner, I caught most of Some Parents Wary Of 'Wimpy Kid' Series on NPR. I haven't read any of the Wimpy Kid books, but I was intrigued by the phrase the "moral voice outside of the text," which was used during the program.

I think it suggests there should be a moral voice in the text, but I'm not sure. Nor can I decide how I feel about that. It will require a great deal more thinking that I can do right now.

The "wary parent" being interviewed was Tanya Turek of books4yourkids.com.

Hours Spent Gambling

I blew a big chunk of today researching submissions. Years ago, making submissions was exciting because maybe something would happen! Experience has taught me better. With the vast majority of submissions nothing's going to happen that anyone will like. And maybe nothing will happen at all.

Submitting work for publication is a lot like gambling. No matter how much time you spend checking out publication websites, trying to read journals to see what their editors are interested in, and following the rules, you're still rolling the dice and hoping something good will turn up. A big percentage of the time, you're going to be rejected and you're sort of vague on why. You have a general idea that you haven't played your hand correctly and that maybe you don't even know all the rules of the game. But you don't know how to become a hustler.

(Hey, did I extend that metaphor enough? I've been reading Walden. Man could Thoreau extend a metaphor.)

Nowadays I feel that my time would be better spent on writing. Though, being the kind of writer who wants to see her work published in her lifetime and not discovered after she's dead (though that's my fallback plan), I do need to go through the angst of submitting.

Be Part Of The Cheerios--I Mean Democratic-- Process

Cheerios (the cereal, not the Glee cheerleaders) will be putting children's books in boxes of O's in 2010. You can help choose the titles. I've heard you can vote through October 30th, and maybe more than once. Maybe even more than once a day.

But since I got that info through a listserv, it's kind of like gossip. Nonetheless, there's no doubt that you can vote because the buttons are right there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Even Better With Zombies


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith is just terrific. It's funny but not so overwhelmed by the running zombie joke as to make the story pointless.

I know there's nothing people hate quite so much as a woman getting all feminist political, but, nonetheless, I'm going to go forward and say that the zombie menace seemed to work very well in the context of the original Pride and Prejudice story because in Austen World the hunt for a husband is life and death, much like encounters with zombies. As I once read elsewhere (no idea where), as foolish as Mrs. Bennet is, with her obsession on marrying off her girls, she is also correct. Life without a man will be very grim for her daughters. Yet, once the hunting is done, and an Austen woman is married, life is pretty much over for her. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Bennet daughters, like many other upper class Britons, have all trained in the martial arts in order to fight for the Crown against the zombie menace. They have pledged to serve His Majesty until they "are dead, lame, or married."

And marriage, remember, is the good fate for women.

I wondered if this Pride and Prejudice and zombie mash-up wouldn't bring more readers to Austen. (We like to believe that that this is a classic read by teenagers, but I suspect many of them rent one of the movie versions.) Sure, Austen's portrayal of romance within a rigid world order isn't to everyone's taste. But who doesn't love zombies? Unfortunately, if you're already Austen-adverse, the zombies, no matter how endearing, may not be enough to win you over.

I suggested to my computer guy that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might be just the trick to get him to finally read...sort of...the Austen classic. He said that zombies didn't do it for him. "Now, if they'd worked it in with Star Trek..."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yeah, I'll Get Right On That

I have hundreds of blog posts to read at my blog reader, but instead I just read another New Yorker article I found through the child_lit listserv. Subject: Our Marketing Plan by Ellis Weiner is hysterical.

This Pretty Much Ruined Picture Books For Me

The Defiant Ones, a New Yorker article by Daniel Zalewski, left me rigid with fear that I won't be able to figure out the behavioral lessons that picture books are evidently supposed to teach. Perhaps I should just avoid them for a while and look for lighter reading.

Link from child_lit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In Days Of Old, When Knights Were Bold, And Voice Hadn't Been Invented

Farah Mendlesohn, an academic and critic who has written about fantasy, among other things, has started a new blog devoted to the work of British author Geoffrey Trease. In her first post at The Trease Project, Farah says Trease (who I'd never heard of), "set out to write a new form of history for children, which didn't focus on great men and women, but on the you and me of history."

Well, didn't that just speak to me. I've never gotten over my first history class as a college freshman, which was taught by a professor whose car license plate was stamped "Bodo," the name of a medieval French peasant living at the time of Charlemagne. Pretty much all I took away from that class was the importance of the so-called common man. That was enough.

Farah also spoke to me when she said she planned to read and blog about "everything Geoffrey Trease wrote (fiction and non-fiction) in the order in which he wrote it, at the same time, reading contemporary discussions about the teaching of history." Everything that's obsessive about me loved that.

I sought out what I could find of Trease's work and ended up reading The Barons' Hostage. It was originally published in 1952, so it will be a while before Farah gets to it, since Trease started publishing in the 1930s.

I found The Barons' Hostage kind of flat in style but also readable. In the article from British Children's Historical Novels, linked to above, the author says of him, "If there is a criticism to be made of his writing I would say that it lacks emotional depth; intensity wasn't his style, and his understated approach has its own strengths." I think that pretty much hits the nail on the head...lacking emotional depth and intensity and understated. I would say the book also seemed lacking in voice, though that might not have been a big issue in the time it was written. Nowadays when voice is so important in children's books, it was striking by its absence.

The Barons' Hostage tells the story how Edward I, while still a prince, was held hostage by his uncle, Simon de Montfort, who was leading a baronial revolt against Edward's father, Henry III. Two child characters are added for child interest, but as I read this book, I felt that the story about the kids was just an excuse to tell the rather charismatic Edward's story. In fact, if you follow the links on Edward I and Henry III and scroll down on the material it leads to until you find the name "Simon de Montfort," you'll find the basic storyline for The Barons' Hostage.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. When I was a kid, I loved historical kings and queens. By which I mean real ones, none of this fairy king and queen business. I probably would have sucked this book up. In fact, reading it a few weeks ago led me to research these two kings and Simon de Montfort, none of whom I knew anything about.

Reading this book and what Farah has had to say so far at The Trease Project has raised still more questions for me about what a historical novel should be, particularly what a historical novel for children should be. The whole story of children's historical fiction having its own history--how fascinating is that!?

Simon de Monfort has quite a web presence. And get this...his father, also Simon de Montfort, fought against the Cathars. The Cathars appear in the second book of The Youngest Templar serial.

How bizarre is it that I would be reading about all this linked stuff this fall? I love it when this kind of thing happens!

Monday, October 19, 2009

You Don't Suppose This Was Marketed As YA Because It Sounds So Much Like The Hunger Games, Do You?

Salon has an interview with Lise Haines, author of Girl in the Arena, which, at least in the interview, comes off sounding like The Hunger Games. Some of the commenters thought so, too.

Though Bloomsbury states in its catalog that Girl in the Arena is Haines' debut novel, according to the interview and her website, she's written two others for adults. In discussing why it was published as YA, she tells Salon, "...I just wrote the novel I had to write. I let others sort out how to sell and market it."

She's not the only writer who has said things like that. While I can see those writers' point, it seems to me that attitude comes from a belief that writing is some kind of mystical and otherworldly experience, an art that can't be defined. My belief is that art involves craft and that writers should have control of their craft and technique and know what they're writing. Thus, you should know that you're writing a young adult vs. adult novel.

On the other hand, I have to admit, if I wrote a kids' book and a publisher said, "We want to publish this as adult," I'd probably say, "Go for it." You can control your work while you're working on it, but afterwards things get a little murky.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dinosaurs Romping In The Snow In Connecticut

Here in central Connecticut we had a nice, floppy snow today--our second snow this week. So I thought it was neat to learn this afternoon that a launch event for Tyrannoclaus--a Christmas book about dinosaurs--will be held November 8 from 1 to 4 pm at Connecticut's own Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill. If it's already snowing here in mid-October, might we expect a bit on the ground at Dino State Park by November 8th?

Dinosaurs? Snow? Christmas? Come on! I can't be the only one who's seeing the way this whole scenario is coming together.

By the way, there's a fee to tour the museum, but the readings at 1:00 and 2:30 and the booksigning in the gift shop are free.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Kids' Movies That Aren't Really for Kids"

I'm always going on (and on) here about picture books that really should be marketed to adults. Salon has an article up today called Kids Movies That Aren't For Kids: The Top 10.

In it, author Andrew O'Hehir uses the term kidult, which I hadn't seen before. I'm trying to decide whether it has negative or positive connotations.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hmm. What Would I Do For A Book Right About Now?

Many bloggers have been linking to and commenting upon the Interview with the FTC's Richard Cleland at Edward Champion's Reluctant Habits. I found two things particularly interesting about the interview.

1. Over the past year or so there's been a lot of discussion in the kidlitosphere about whether or not book review sites should accept arcs and books from publishers. Could it be perceived as payment for services rendered and thus make the reviews appear biased? It wasn't unusual to see bloggers writing, "What? Do people think I can be bought with a book?" Well, evidently the FTC thinks you can. "If, however, you held onto the unit, then Cleland insisted that it could serve as “compensation.” You could after all sell the product on the streets." "“If a blogger received enough books,” said Cleland, “he could open up a used bookstore.”"

Though that sounds laughable, I do think that I read years ago that Dorothy Parker sold books she was sent for review. For what that's worth.

2. "Cleland insisted that when a publisher sends a book to a blogger, there is the expectation of a good review." My first thought when reading this was, Gee, I wouldn't have known that. My second thought was that I don't think this guy understands publishing. I think publishers send books to bloggers hoping to get any kind of coverage at all. My third thought was that maybe this guy was right. Given that so many bloggers have policies of only recommending books at their sites, publishers may very well have expectations of receiving good reviews when they send them review copies. It doesn't necessarily follow that the books they send are some kind of payment for said good reviews.

I have to say, this whole thing makes me very happy that Original Content is merely a me, me, me author blog and not a review site.

Colleen at Chasing Ray suggests the new FTC rules regarding what is considered compensation for blog reviews will "likely mean the end of receiving ARCs or review copies from publishers. With the ever shrinking print review sections in newspapers and magazines, the negative impact on publishing is obvious."

Stay tuned.

"Twilight's fantasy is that the gorgeous gay guy can be your boyfriend..." Oh. I See. Kind Of.

Esquire carries an article that will tell you What's Really Going on With All These Vampires. It explains Twilight thus: "Twilight's fantasy is that the gorgeous gay guy can be your boyfriend, and for the slightly awkward teenage girls who consume the books and movies, that's the clincher." But aren't those slightly awkward teenage girls hoping for a gorgeous straight guy? Gorgeous gay guys are, indeed, gorgeous, but what's a straight teen girl going to do with one?

This article mentions True Blood, which is somewhere on my Netflix queue, and does a little rave about its opening credits. While I was listening to the True Blood theme music, I thought, Hey, isn't that Chris Isaak? Guess not.

Blog of a Bookslut got me going on this.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just The Way I Remember It!

Okay, so a couple of nights ago I was reading some more of Minders of Make-Believe by Leonard Marcus, which is really wonderful even though I have been reading it for months. And what do I come upon but a few pages about Francelia Butler, a leader in children's literature academics who used to teach at the University of Connecticut.

A lot of what Marcus had to say about her I'd heard before because back in my own personal Dark Ages, I worked at UConn for an institute that appears to no longer exist. (Good. Maybe now I'll stop having that recurring dream about having worked there my entire life.) Professor Butler was there at the same time. In fact, I was working at UConn the year she brought Margaret Hamilton to campus. (Which Marcus mentions.) Though I wasn't a kidlit person then, I certainly knew who she was because she and her children's literature course were famous. People wanted to take that class. The story was that it was always full. Just as Marcus says in his book.

And everything Marcus says about Butler giving her personal library to another college in a "pointed rebuke"--that's the story I heard at the time, too.

Reading all this made me feel as if I were back there listening to campus gossip again. Only now it's history.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Possible Crossover Book


You know, lots of times I'll hear some book has won an award. I go ahead and read it and am left thinking, Gee, was nothing else published that year? That's not the case with the truly terrific The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, which won the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award in 2007. Anything that could have beaten it would have had to be incredible.

Imagine a noncriminal Artemis Fowl in a book with an intellectually vigorous style similar to that of Octavian Nothing that is set in an English village that you might find in one of Dame Agatha's 1950's era novels. And then imagine that that the book you're talking about is very well-written on top of all that.

You're beginning to get the picture.

The Sweetness at the Bottome of the Pie is an adult mystery novel with an eleven-year-old main character, Flavia de Luce. She is one serious piece of work, the youngest child of what seems to be a depressed, country gentleman/stamp collector and his late, lamented wife who disappeared in the mountains years before. She has two older sisters, Ophelia, who plays the piano (classical music, of course) and Daphne who reads Dickens, with whom she is at constant war. They all live in a house the family has inhabited for generations, and Flavia has taken over an ancestor's personal laboratory. She is seriously into chemistry. She is extremely witty in a dark, brittle sort of way. And, yet, she is also innocent.

A body turns up in the cucumber patch. You can take it from there.

Setting this book in 1950 was a stroke of genius. Flavia is a bit over-the-top. Oh, hell, she's a lot of over-the-top, which is what makes her so marvelous. But no one could begin to believe she could exist in the twenty-first century. Her extensive knowledge of...all kinds of things...could only be acquired in a world without TV, malls, dance lessons, sports, and, it would seem, traditional schooling. (School is never mentioned.) And, for me, a big stumbling block with child mysteries is the fact that kids can't get around places on their own. But Flavia's always jumping on her old bike and pedaling off all over the place. It's believable in a pre-suburban world. I have ridden my bike to the library and even a church tag sale, but it's a huge undertaking, taking a big chunk out of my day. Traffic being what it is, I'm taking my life in my hands every time I do it. But in Flavia's world, it works.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the beginning of series. While I'd be delighted to spend more time with Flavia, I've often been disappointed with follow-up mysteries. She may be able to pull this off, though.

This series could definitely have crossover potential for sophisticated teen readers who enjoy literary humor.

I Don't Think I Like Angels

They have wings like fairies. So I'm not looking forward to being inundated with the things.

Link from Jill Corcoran Books.

Have I Done This?

Have I ever used quotation marks for emphasis? Nathan Bransford says it absolutely is not done. He also says it's an error committed by "people of a certain age." (I am not quoting him there. I am using quotation marks to either show irony or euphemism. I'm not sure which, but it doesn't matter because Bransford says both are acceptable.)

Being older than dirt, myself, I fear I have used them for emphasis--but not since technology provided me with italics!

The "Blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks should help us all remember to curb our quotation mark usage.

Monday, October 12, 2009

They Really Aren't For Us

I can sympathize with author Daniel B. Smith, in his article The Very Grouchy Daddy in Slate. Eric Carle's books don't have a lot of "narrative creativity." They weren't read a lot at Chez Gauthier, because the mom here needed more story. We went to things like Curious George just as fast as we could.

But I can't agree with him that the task of children's authors is to "entertain, educate, stimulate the imagination of, etc., the parent" as well as the child and that "lesser writers...serve only the child."

Entertaining, educating, and stimulating the imagination of parents is a marketing ploy. Parents are gatekeepers for young, nonreading children. They have all the money. Authors and publishers may well want to entertain, educate, and stimulate them for that practical reason.

But your gutsiest children's writers serve only one master--their child readers. If adults, like myself, don't get their books, that's just tough. Is Eric Carle milking a monotonous, winning formula for all it's worth? Maybe. Maybe even probably. But the fact that adults like myself don't care for that formula is meaningless. He writes for children--or he should be writing for them--and not for us.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cybilization

We're in the midst of the Cybil nomination period. You have four more days.

Since We Were Talking About Nonfiction A Couple Of Days Ago...


...this might be a good time to mention The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton with illustrations by Tony Persiani.

Disclaimer: First I want to mention that I kind of know Chris Barton in that bizarre way you know people on the Internet you've never met in the flesh and have never been anywhere near because you live in different parts of the country. Which is to say that we've left comments on each other's blogs, which is like knowing someone, but barely.

The Day-Glo Brothers is a picture book describing how Bob and Joe Switzer created Day-Glo paint. This is a really impressive book for three reasons:

1. It truly is written for the age group to whom it is marketed. I've seen a number of beautiful nonfiction picture books that included way too much text for grade schoolers and text that was way too sophisticated for grade schoolers. Usually both at the same time. They were very fine books, but they were really for adults.

2. The "story line" makes sense. Barton does a good job of finding something about each brother that explains why he did what he did. Even traditional, adult biographies sometimes fail to do that for their subjects.

3. The art work is simple and easy to take in. It's not of a "fine art" type. Hey, I like fine art as much as the next person. But it's sometimes too complex to help carry a story, as art needs to do in a picture book. The art work in The Day-Glo Brothers is also reminiscent of 'fifties and 'sixties film strips and brochures. It fits the period during which the Switzer brothers lived and worked.

I've been talking about this book for days.

Gail In Boston


For years, I've been hearing about Simmons College while living my on-line life. In large part, this is probably due to Simmons' graduate program in children's literature. Yesterday I visited the campus because we have a family member in one of the other graduate programs.

Wow. What a great-looking place. It makes a great first impression, at least. I'm hoping to get back to Boston before May and hit this Egyptian exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, which is not far from the Simmons campus.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Is The INK Think Tank Beautiful Or What?

The INK Think Tank, a website with a database of nonfiction books, is one beautiful looking spot on the Web. It appears to be quite functional, too. According to the INK Think Tank press release announcing the website launch, "Twenty-two leading children’s book authors have launched a free online database of nonfiction books, www.INKThinkTank.com, designed to help teachers, librarians, and homeschoolers find the books they need to meet curriculum requirements in grades K-12. The database will enable users to build an outstanding classroom or home library that includes material required by school districts nationwide."

I registered in order to check out the database itself. You can, indeed, search by grade, subject, and standard.

Among the nonfiction writers involved in the INK Think Tank are three with whom I'm familiar: I've heard Karen Romano Young speak, I took part in Susanna Reich's blog tour for Painting the Wild Frontier, and I've met Melissa Stewart a few times through the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

I'm going to leave now to send the INK Think Tank link to a couple of teacher family members.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

How Are Kidlit Conferences Doing?

I can't remember how I found this blog post on dying conferences and conventions, which relates to mystery writers. It did make me wonder how conferences/conventions for kidlit writers and even kidlit conferences in general are doing. It seems to me that over the last decade or so there's been a big increase in these types of things. Is it starting to go the other way?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bad Vikings! Bad, Bad, Vikings!


I picked up The Humming of Numbers when I saw it on the library shelf for one reason and one reason alone--I recognized the author, Joni Sensel's name from The Spectacle. Her book is a well-written historical romance with fantasy elements.

Aidan, an Irish monk-in-training, runs into Lana, the illegitimate daughter of the local lord, at his monastery where she's been sent to shape up. Though Aidan tries to conform to monastic life because he really wants to work there as a scribe, he has this little problem with what he calls hearing numbers--he associates numbers with people and things. Lana, on the other hand, doesn't make much of an attempt to conform to early Christianity. She's a sort of woods witch.

Aidan, of course, is seriously tempted by her. He manages to put her out of his mind much of the time because the day after they meet, Vikings arrive to do their raping and pillaging thing at the monastery and the surrounding villages.

Two things struck me about this story:

1. I found myself...ah...responding strongly to those freaking Vikings. I started thinking of them as Dark Age Nazis. I've read that Vikings raided because of economic need and that, eventually, many of them gave up taking slaves and robbing and settled in Ireland and northern France. What? It took them generations to think of emigration?

Vikings destroying an Irish monastary is kind of a classic situation if you've ever done any research on the tenth century. (Which I have, many years ago, for a book that's on life support somewhere here in the office.) They really seemed to love those places. So, for me the basic situation in The Humming of Numbers was very realistic.

2. One problem I have with romantic thrillers is that it's hard for me to believe that individuals would think of romance while they're running for their lives or dealing with death and dismemberment, etc. While The Humming of Numbers doesn't involve the kind of eroticism you find in Twilight, I did feel that Aidan's feelings for Lana were beyond his control and inconvenient. Thus, the romance here worked better for me than it does in many books.

I think The Humming of Numbers is stronger as a historical novel than it is as a fantasy. That's fine for me, since I prefer historical fiction to fantasy. I don't know if fantasy readers might be a bit disappointed, though.

Suggestion: This might be a good addition to a middle school/high school library that needs historical fiction to accompany classes.

Tintin Film News

This past weekend we saw a French movie while my French-speaking cousins were visiting. Turns out that the star, Gad Elmaleh, will appear in the Tintin movie. You do have to scroll down quite a way to find him.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Band Those Books

The British had their knickers in a twist over book banding last fall. Nathan Bransford brought up something similar last month.

I would suggest that we already have a sort of book banding here with the age ranges that are posted on children's books. There's no industry standard, of course, and the difference between "8 to 12" and "10 to 14" seems a little slight. Plus YA is a mystery, since it seems to include 12 to whatever. So I guess you could say we have "age banding," it's just not very good.

Back To Work

House guests are fine and dandy, particularly when they do dishes all weekend and strip their bed and gather all their linens before they leave. But it's rough to go long periods of time being pleasant and keeping the house clean rather than checking e-mail, reading, and exercising, which, quite honestly, is how I spend the bulk of my time when I'm on my own.

I came away from my family weekend with a lovely anniversary collectors' edition of Anne of Green Gables, direct from Canuckistan, as well as a couple of new writing magazines that I bought for myself when we were all in a bookstore. Two more publications I'll never have time to read. Because e-mailing, reading, and exercising are so time consuming.

Since I've often written here about Sherlock Holmes, I thought I'd mention that this weekend we visited Gillette Castle, a seriously marvelous place. The castle was built by William Gillette, who originated the character of Sherlock Holmes on stage and is responsible for many of the characteristics the public associates with that character.

While we were there, who shows up but ol' Bill himself in character as S. Holmes. So what we're talking about here is an actor playing an actor playing a character. It was a neat touch.

Thanks to YouTube, you can catch a bit of an audio clip of Gillette as Holmes.