Peter Pan Live

I’m very curious about the December 4th NBC live production of Peter Pan (with the just-announced Christopher Walken as Captain Hook).  I grew up with the yearly Mary Martin version (first broadcast in 1960) and, as a result, know the songs inside and out. I wonder, will they have Peter played by a woman as is usually the case with this particular version of Barrie’s story? And then there is that very problematic Tiger Lily American Indian story line. How are they going to make that acceptable for audiences today?

If you want a taste of the 1960 Tiger Lily, here she is as played by the very blonde Sondra Lee:

 

 

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Putting a Stop on the Middle Grade Novel’s Increasing Girth

Travis Jonker has a manifesto: All Middle Grade Novels Should Be 192 Pages. No Exceptions.  I like it. A lot. But still do have an exception.  Here’s my comment on his post:

Yes!!! I am with you on this with a caveat (see below). I have always tried to keep my read-alouds (to my 4th grade class) to as close to 200 pages as possible, but it has become harder and harder to stick to that what with many terrific mg books being way more than that. (One of my favorites from last year — Kathi Appelt’s True Blue Scouts — is 352 pages. On the other hand, Jennifer Holm’s forthcoming The Fourteenth Goldfish, which I read aloud to my class last year, is a just right 208 pages.) My reasoning is that I feel that if some of my listeners aren’t 100% into the book (and I can’t believe all of them are rapt no matter how great a reader I am and how great many of us think the book is — they have their own tastes after all), they aren’t stuck with it too too long. And I also think it applies so much to newly independent readers who can lose steam.

That said, I think there is a place for books like Andy Griffith’s 26 Story Treehouse (352 pages) and Stephen Patis’s Timothy Failure (304 pages), books that are light, easy reading for kids who may not gravitate to the arguably more literary titles along the lines of those you mention. They love the longer length of these sorts of books. Makes them feel they are there with those reading so many of the other  longer popular titles (e.g. Percy Jackson or Harry Potter).

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My Life as an Illustrator (Culminating in Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland)

I started out wanting to be a children’s book illustrator. As a child I was celebrated for my art work, starting in high school I began creating my own illustrations for some of my favorite books and stories, and in college I was an art major, focusing on printmaking. At that time the most scathing criticism was that your work looked  “illustrationy.” And so I did beautiful minimalist engravings and etchings in class and did my illustrations at home, careful to not let anyone in my printmaking world know about them, especially not the instructors — renowned artists themselves — whom I admired tremendously.

From college I went right to Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There I taught and worked as an illustrator for NGOs, creating various educational materials. My biggest project was to create illustrations for a multi-media presentation on bridge and road repair. I learned how to deal with cement, how to fix a hanging bridge, and so much more. I did posters on scabies, on breast feeding, on malaria prevention.  And at home I worked on illustrations for Kipling’s “The Elephant’s Child”, inspired by the gorgeous flora and fauna all around me.

When I returned to the US I considered an MFA in printmaking, but the lack of personal encouragement from my former instructors decided me — I’d stop feeling guilty about my illustration work and focus on that. And so I put together a portfolio and made the rounds (while also teaching elementary school— I wasn’t brave enough to go free-lance full-time and, besides, I loved teaching).  I taught the legendary editor Janet Schulman’s daughter and she kindly looked at my portfolio, but we both agreed my work was too austere for her books. At Harpers  they held on to my portfolio for a while, but then suggested I do some things to make my art a little too cute for my taste. There were a couple of agents too, but nothing came of it.

Perhaps because of greater recognition for my teaching, work in early educational computing, and critical writing, I lost interest in illustrating. My final work is from 1998 when I had the idea of creating an edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that would be visually annotated for children.  That is, it would have loads of small Richard-Scarry-like-drawings that would help young readers understand the text, even the more antiquated passages.  And then Roxanne Feldman (aka fairrosa) whom I’d met online came to my school.  A savvy web designer, when I asked her if we could put a few of the kids’ drawings of Alice online she said “sure” and ended up doing the whole book  —  the first two and a half chapters illustrated by me and the rest by my 4th grade students. Sadly, a couple of years ago the school reorganized their servers and it is no longer accessible.

It is rare these days that anyone sees my work (or even knows about it) other than my “Elephant’s Child” illustrations as they are framed and sit over my couch right next to Robert Byrd’s original cover art for Africa is My Home.  Then last night,  thinking about my current book project which involves making Alice accessible to young readers today, I remembered those Alice illustrations of mine.  And while I have no wish to continue that project (my focus is on writing now), I thought it might be fun to make them again available for others to see. Perhaps I will, at some point, put up some of my other old illustrations — I did some for Tolkien, L’Engle, and a whole bunch of folk and fairy tales. Meanwhile, if you want to see my efforts with Alice please go here.

 

 

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Reading Rainbow, The Doors, and Jimmy Fallon

This is awesome (and from 2012 — how did I miss it?). Via Elizabeth Law.

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Walter Dean Myers: There’s Work to Be Done

 

I believe in families, in the strength of families, and that the strength of a people can be determined by the strength of the families within that people. In December of 2015 the black family will have been established legally in the United States for 150 years. It was December, 1865, that the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery became part of the United States Constitution.

What I proposed to my family was an exhibit, to run in the fall of 2015 outlining the trials and triumphs of the American black family in documents….

Slave documents would constitute the first part of the exhibit, with the second part being a celebration of what marriage has meant to us over the years. It would be great if I could get Obama to declare November 1015 A Celebration of Black Families month. Anyone have his personal cell?….

It takes time to mount an exhibit…. It’s a great challenge but I love it. There’s work to be done.

Excerpts from “150 Years of the Black Family,” a May 2014 post on Walter Dean Myer’s blog.

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Walter Dean Myers R.I.P.

I think my life is special. In a way it seems odd that I spend all of my time doing only what I love, which is writing or thinking about writing. If everyone had, at least for part of their lives, the opportunity to live the way I do, I think the world would be a better place.

I believe that everyone is intelligent. I believe that everyone can be creative. I like just about everyone I meet. For me, life has been good and it’s up to me to appreciate it. I hope that the next book, story or poem that I write will be worthy of the time the reader spends with it. If it is then my life is successful. If it’s not, then I’ll try again.

The above is from Walter Dean Myers’s website.

The world is a lesser place without this remarkable, brilliant, caring, and —yes— very special man who did seem to like everyone he met.  He touched so many through his books, his public appearances, his personal contacts, and so much more than most individuals can do. I think of him as a mentor as I’m sure countless others do too whether they met him in person or through his books and writing. I will treasure all of those always.

His life was successful. A million times over.

My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

walter dean myers

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Fun and Loathing in Las Vegas (with apologies to Hunter S. Thompson)

We were somewhere around a fake white naked statue (or maybe it was a faux Roman mural or an ersatz Egyptian barge) on the edge of Caesars when the lack of sleep began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit light-headed; maybe you should take another look at your phone…it must be just past that guy in the diaper or the lightly clad girl dancing in a cage over there…” And suddenly we were outside and there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge white wet sheets, all swooping and screeching “Do It” and diving around  the taxi, which was going about a hundred inches an hour what with the Celine Dion concert getting underway.  And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn people?”

Then it was quiet again.  My colleague had taken her sensible sweater off and was pouring green tea from her flask down her gullet. “What the hell are you yelling about?” she muttered, staring up at the sun with her eyes closed and covered with pink publisher swag sunglasses.  “Never mind,” I said and grabbed my Iphone to do a quick Instagram before aiming us toward the not-the-Eiffel-tower Tower.  No point mentioning the sad women selling bottles of cold water, I thought. The poor thing will see them soon enough.

It was almost five, and we still had more than a hundred casinos to go.  They would be tough casinos.  Very soon, I knew, we would both be completely twisted. But then there was no going back and no time to rest. We would have to tough it out. The 2014 ALA Annual Convention Exhibits were already open and, for good or ill,  we had  to get there to grab as many ARCs as our rolling carts could hold.

 

ETA: I had a lot of fun really! — ate well, gawked a lot, won $25.10 at the slots, went to Red Rock Canyon, and had fun seeing friends as my roommate fairrosa notes in the comments. This is a parody of Thompson’s first few paragraphs of Fear and Loathing in Vegas that I thought would be fun to do as it undoubtedly expresses many people’s feelings.

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