So the judges have all been announced (and even if you don’t read all their bios, do go read our Big Kahuna’s — Frank Cottrell Boyce — as it is a hoot) and today we reveal the brackets. That is, their specific matches. And tomorrow we open the Undead Poll — our viewers chance to bring back their favorite book for the final Big Kahuna round.
Just to again say — the idea behind the BoB is to create a structure that allows us all to revisit books from last year and consider them alongside some mighty distinguished writers. Over the years we’ve had amazing ones and their decisions are always thoughtful, provocative, and well worth reading no matter what you think about pitting book against each other and such.
New York City’s celebrated Grand Central Station is 100 years old this year and still as gorgeous as ever — well worth a visit even if you aren’t actually going on a train somewhere. And to celebrate this milestone birthday there are all sorts of events, among them an exhibit of original art next month to which Peter Sis has contributed the following, a tribute to his editor Jackie Kennedy Onassis who was among those who helped save the station from demolition.
I loved the London production of the Matilda musical and am so lucky to have been invited to one of the first performances of the Broadway version. Can’t wait!
I’ve been enormously irritated with the popular media use of the term young adult for books that are actually children’s books. Wanting to document and draw attention to this I’ve started a tumblr, It’s a Children’s Book (Not Young Adult)!, By all means follow it, but better yet, if you happen to see one of these irritating misuses, please let me know and I’ll add it in, giving you full credit of course!
Recently I did a brief post noting a Guardian article about a situation in Germany involving what to do about an older, but still beloved children’s book with some language that is very problematic today. I wasn’t surprised because I had noticed such imagery and language before in my childhood German books and also because this is a difficult situation that is happening in many countries, not just Germany. Now Judith Ridge has written an incredibly thoughtful post related to this, “Censor or suck it up? Racism and children’s books.” As she and many in the comments note, it is a dilemma. On the one hand you don’t want children being hurt, but on the other hand it is uncomfortable to start changing books for this when the author is no longer around to give his or her okay to the process.
A few years ago there was quite a todo when someone brought out a new edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn with “the pejorative racial labels” removed. I have to admit that didn’t sit well with me and I concluded in ”The Problem with Protection” that ”History ain’t pretty, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be known.” But then that was a book that most young people encounter in a classroom with a teacher to guide them through it. The situation is more complicated with books that children read on their own.
Say with Hugh Lofting’s The Story of Doctor Dolittle. I loved the book as a child, back in the early 19060s when the adults around me weren’t as on top of this sort of stuff as we are today. And so I was oblivious to the book’s completely problematic plot thread involving the Doctor and his animal friends tricking an African prince who loves classical European fairy tales into thinking he has turned white. Yep, you read that right. Just check out Chapters 11 and 12. And so, some years ago, an edition came out in which “Patricia and Fredrick McKissack gently revised for modern sensibilities a few small portions of the story so as to preserve and emphasize Lofting’s message of universal caring and understanding.” Because I’m sadly, very uncomfortable with the original and the change, I think the only solution is for the book to be one for those interested in the history of children’s books, not children today.
Thanks to Michael Patrick Hearn for altering me to this.
The German publisher of the 1957 children’s classic Die Kleine Hexe (The Little Witch) by Otfried Preußler has made some changes that are creating controversy. Very interesting stuff.
German publisher attacked for bowdlerising children’s classic | Books | guardian.co.uk.
Jen and Lisa over at Reads for Keeps did a forthright post a few weeks back on some of their pet peeves in children’s books. They followed that up by reaching out to some of us to give them our pet peeves. Mine are in this post and there are more here. Fun and illuminating to see what bugs different readers.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these days about the border between fiction and nonfiction. I don’t have time to write a proper well-composed post right now about this, but I did want to mention a few points related to it that have come up recently.
- One of my favorite books of this year, Steve Sheinkin‘s Bomb, has been getting quite a bit of scrutiny as to how well the author explains and documents aspects of his writing, especially the bits that seem most fictional and whether he overplayed certain aspects of the historical material for drama. I’ve looked into both quite a bit as have others and feel satisfied that this book still is one of the best of the year.
- Another favorite of the year for me is Jason Chin‘s picture book Island. While Sheinkin stayed on the nonfiction side of the border while using fictional structures, Chin has gone across to the fictional side while keeping the facts true and well-researched.
- This past Saturday I attended an excellent panel at the New York Public Library on ethics and nonfiction children’s books. At one point one of the panelists talked about her decision to imagine something in her nonfiction picture book for the sake of reader engagement. She described her efforts to make the subject and story right for young readers and that she made it clear in her back matter that she had fictionalized this one element. Another panelist said she would not have done this.
- And then yesterday I had an inquiry about a forthcoming work of narrative nonfiction as to whether it needed an index or not. The questioner worried that too much back matter would detract from the driving drama of the story itself.
- As someone who struggled for years to write someone’s story as nonfiction and ended up crossing the border into fiction this is something I pay a lot of attention to. No answers at all, just more questions all the time.
Blurbs, those glowing quotes from familiar names on the back of books. As a reader, do you pay attention to them? As a writer, do you feel put on the spot when asked to do one? Or, worse, feel awkward in asking someone to do one for you? While they are standard in all parts of publishing these days, some practitioners stand out more than others, One being the so-called “blurb whore” Gary Shteyngart who is featured in the following very entertaining short documentary by Ed Champion.” (via Gwenda Bond)
Seeing this reminded me of Shteyngart’s hilarious book trailer for Super Sad Love Story in which nothing is sacred including blurbs, trailers, writers, readers, teaching, book party etiquette, werebears, and James Franco.