The “It” Book of 2014?

So Goodreads decided to look at their own data to see what is 2014 so-called It book of the year, “It Book” being defined by them as:

They’re the ones that we pass along, that we hope our friends have read so that we can discuss and debate. Love them or hate them, we can’t stop talking about them!

Check out their results here (and then you may discuss amongst yourselves as to what it means in terms of the debate as to whether certain adult readers are going to hell in a handbasket or the opposite).

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Learning About Africa: Best Source for Ebola Info? Not What You May Think

I have never agreed with the dismissal of Wikipedia as a source of information, even for students. This is because that while, yes, there are pages that are full of misinformation, others are excellent. The latter are carefully maintained by experts and highly knowledgeable people regarding the topic in question. I’d long ago read about scientists who were seeing to it that Wikipedia pages on their subjects of expertise were being properly maintained. I think that rather than teaching students NOT to use Wikipedia, we’d be better off teaching them to use it and other sources carefully and critically.

And so now with all the ever-growing hysteria about Ebola in this country (sadly reminding me like this person of the early days of AIDS), I wasn’t at all surprised to read the New York Times article “Wikipedia is Emerging as a Trusted Internet Source for Information on Ebola.” And I think those of us who have been negative about Wikipedia need to rethink our position. Here’s a good source that balances out the misinformation going on all over the place. Rather than casting it out, embrace it, help people develop skills to use it in the best way rather than not at all.

(There. Now to get off my soap box.)

 

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For All Benedict Cumberbatch Fans…

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Holly Black and the Twelfth Doctor

Holly Black has joined a stellar line-up of children’s authors (to name a few: Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, Patrick Ness, Eoin Colfer and Neil Gaiman) who have each crafted a short tale for every incarnation of the eponymous Time Lord.

When the original run of e-books ended in November of last year Matt Smith was the incumbent Doctor but now acting heavyweight Peter Capaldi has taken on the role it seems apt that he should be featured in a story.

Black’s story, Lights Out, is unique in many respects. She had the exciting but “super intimidating” task of penning an adventure for the Twelfth Doctor who, when she wrote it over the summer, had yet to appear on our screens. She was given scripts to aid her (“Some of it was blacked out for mysterious reasons!”) and relied on images but she seemed somewhat relieved to have been allowed to edit Lights Out after seeing Capaldi’s debut, Deep Breath back in August. “When I actually saw the episode [Deep Breath] I went back and made a lot of changes,” she tells me. “Because there’s just something so different about seeing Peter Capaldi owning the role onscreen.”

Read the rest here.  There is also a fun gallery of jackets for each doctor here. I’ve just ordered this as an audio book— I think it will be a lot of fun to listen to.

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A Westing Game Movie Directed by Neil Patrick Harris with a Screenplay by Gillian Flynn?

What book would you most like to see turned into a movie?

I have, for years, been a bit obsessed with “The Westing Game,” by Ellen Raskin. It’s a young adult murder mystery, about a group of residents in an apartment building, the death of a millionaire in a mansion nearby and their trying to solve clues left by the deceased to win his inheritance. Apparently it has already been made into a movie, but not by me! I’m dying to direct a really dark, moody version of it. Then I read that Gillian Flynn, of “Gone Girl” fame, loved this book growing up, as well. So now my infatuation has rekindled — I want to get her to write the screenplay. Fingers crossed.

Fingers crossed indeed! From Neil Patrick Harris: By the Book.

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Frank Cotrell Boyce on the Importance of Story

I love visiting schools. There’s a humbling, Homeric magic in the sight of a crowd of children sitting down waiting to listen to your story. A few months ago, however, a lovely young NQT stepped between me and that crowd and said: “Now we are very lucky to have Frank with us today. We’re going to use our Listening Skills (she touched her ears) to try and spot his Wow Words (what?) and his Connectives so that we can appreciate how he builds the story.” Imagine going on a date with her. “We’re going to have some proteins. Some carbs – not too many – and conversation. If you make me laugh, that’s a physical reaction so it puts you on the erotic spectrum and you might get lucky.”

That’s from “schools are destroying the power of stories” an extract from Frank Cotrell Boyce’s David Fickling Lecture. And if you don’t know Frank Cotrell Boyce’s work you should.  In addition to being a screenwriter and one of those who came up with the idea of the queen parachuting into England’s Olympic opening ceremony, he is the author of MillionsFramed, and my personal favorite Cosmic (I’m doing my yearly read aloud of it right now) as well as a trio of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sequels — they are fabulous middle grade books.

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A Victorian Wild Thing, Lewis Carroll

I admit to a particular fondness for subversive books and so Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta’s Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature would have been right up my alley even if I hadn’t known the three authors long before the book came into being. And so I was pleased as punch when Betsy and Jules invited me to answer a few questions about someone who created my favorite subversive book, Lewis Carroll.

We know that you’ve done a fair amount of research on Alice in Wonderland in your spare time so let’s find out some stories folks might not know very well.  In fact, let’s start at the very beginning.  Lewis Carroll.  We know that name was a pen name and that he had a penchant for early photography.  What don’t we tend to know about him?

The mythology around the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland centers on Carroll’s friendship with the real Alice Liddell and her two sisters. What has been completely overlooked is that the girls had an older brother, Harry, who was also one of Carroll’s good friends. Among the children of the head of the Oxford college where Carroll was a mathematics instructor, it was the nine-year-old Harry whom Carroll befriended originally. He took Harry boating, tutored him in math, to chapel, and so on. The friendship was reciprocated in spades; Harry was known to follow the young man around like an eager puppy. However, he soon went off to boarding school as was typical for boys of his time and class, leaving behind his three sisters who were educated at home by a governess. And so it was that Alice and her two sisters became the most famous of Carroll’s many child friends with Harry quite forgotten.

The relationship between Alice and Carroll has been the source of much speculation.  Few people pause to wonder what happened to her when she grew up, though.  What did she do with her life?

It seems to have been typical of her time and class. At age twenty-eight she married Reginald Hargreaves in Westminster Abbey and had three sons, one of whom she named Caryl. While she always denied it you have to wonder if she was being subversive and was indeed naming him after Carroll. In 1932 for the centenary of Carroll’s birth she traveled to New York City where Columbia University gave her an honorary doctorate.  A delightful and completely fictional imagining of this event is Dennis Potter’s movie  Dreamchild.

It’s hard to picture the book without also picturing the original illustrations.  Are there any stories there?

The first edition of the book came out in July 1865, but was recalled when Tenniel informed Carroll that he was unhappy with the print quality of the illustrations. So the books were recalled and all who had received presentation copies were asked to return them. The rejected copies were sent to hospitals and other institutions. The handful that exist today are the most desired by collectors and the most expensive. After illustrating Looking-Glass Tenniel declined to illustrated any more of Carroll’s work leading many to suspect the relationship between the two had been a difficult one, but who knows?

Various adaptations of the Alice books have made their way into television shows and feature films.  What’s your favorite Alice adaptation?

I’m still waiting for a completely successful one. So far I’ve liked parts of different ones, but I don’t think any work completely. One that I think actually does a lot quite well is Disney. I dislike his framing story — especially the end with the frightened Alice running back home as the book Alice is not fearful at all. However, many scenes are just wonderful, say the Walrus and the Carpenter.

I get a kick out of Betty Boop in Blunderland.

And I also quite like Alice at the Palace perhaps because Alice is played and sung by Meryl Streep!

But I’m still waiting for a great one.

Is there anything else about the book that you think folks are generally unaware of?

Just that it is a really fun and whimsical book and has an unfortunate reputation as being unduly dark. What it is is deeply subversive, especially for the original Victorian child readers. He makes great fun of so many aspects of their lives, say the didactic poetry they had to recite — the poems in the books are mostly parodies of dreadfully instructive ones Victorian children had to memorize and recite —  as well as what they had to learn and how they had to behave. He respected children enormously and it comes through in the books. I urge people who have been dubious about the appeal of the book for children today to give it another look. Kids who go for other subversive books (Lemony Snicket’s come to mine) and/or those that play with language are really going to like these given the chance.

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