Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Lost, I Mean, Next Harry Potter

According to Powell’s Book Blog:

Publishers are constantly promoting one new children’s fantasy series after another as “the next Harry Potter.” But let’s be honest: nobody saw the last Harry Potter coming, so how are they supposed to predict the next one?

However, as much as any book can be considered a sure thing, 39% of our respondents wholeheartedly believe that Lost Babies: The Early Years by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse will be the next big thing!

Publishing industry, are you listening? We want the wacky, fun-filled adventures of infant Jack, Kate, and Sawyer fighting for control of their play room against Locke, who believes the play room has mysterious powers because he has been crawling for four years — and suddenly he can walk!

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What is My Name?

No, no, no; it is NOT Rumplestiltskin.  Nice try though.

This is tangentially children’s literature related.  You see, I’m getting a dog (first one ever) and she needs a name.  I met her yesterday and she is truly a fairy dog so I’m thinking she needs a name ideally literary and fey.  Any suggestions?

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Ghostwriters

Whether it’s adult fiction or children’s stories, celebrity novelists are big business – even if they may not have actually written the words. So, wonders Stephanie Merritt, what drives ‘real’ authors to ghostwrite these bestsellers?

The book wot I wrote | By genre | guardian.co.uk Book

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Frank Cottrell Boyce and “Young Adult”

Thanks to Jenny Davidson who led me to this review by Frank Cottrell Boyce of Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go. I was curious to see what Boyce thought since I’m currently listening with great pleasure to his latest (Cosmic due out in the US next month— thanks to Kelly Herold for pointing out its availability at audible.com). He thinks very highly of it (and now I’m very eager to read it too!) and uses his critical knife for something else. (BTW: Jenny quoted this on her blog too; I’m quoting it here as well because I know this will be of interest to those in the YA world, some of whom may not read Jenny’s blog.)

If I have one quibble, it is that I think it should be sitting proudly on the shelf next to these books, rather than being hidden away in the “young adult” ghetto. There’s been a lot of fury among authors recently about the proposal to “age-band” children’s books, but in a way they’re too late. The real disaster has already happened. It’s called “young adult” fiction. It used to be the case that you moved on from children’s fiction to adult fiction, from The Owl Service, maybe, to Catcher in the Rye. There were, of course, some adult authors who were more fashionable with teenage readers than others – Salinger, Vonnegut, Maya Angelou. But these were chosen by teenagers themselves from the vast world of books. Some time ago, someone saw that trend and turned it into a demographic. Fortunes were made but something crucial was lost. We have already ghettoised teenagers’ tastes in music, in clothes and – God forgive us – in food. Can’t we at least let them share our reading? Is there anything more depressing than the sight of a “young adult” bookshelf in the corner of the shop. It’s the literary equivalent of the “kids’ menu” – something that says “please don’t bother the grown-ups”. If To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, that’s where it would be placed, among the chicken nuggets.

Variations of this idea have been bandied about before. Thoughts?

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Copying Out Books

When my second-grade teacher was growing up during the Great Depression, she discovered what would become her favorite book at the Cleveland Heights Public Library. Unfortunately, by the time she’d finished reading “The Hobbit” and persuaded her parents to buy her a copy, they couldn’t find it in the bookstore. Undeterred, she checked out the library’s copy over and over again, determined to make one of her own by pecking out the entire text with two fingers on the family’s manual typewriter. How many authors who write for adults can boast of having a reader so utterly devoted to their work? (From Laura Miller’s NYTimes book review of ‘Minders of Make-Believe” — a terrific book by Leonard Marcus, by the way.)

How cool to read about someone else doing this.  I similarly fell in love with a library book as a kid and took it out over and over before trying to copy it into a notebook. Mine was Madeleine L’Engle’s And Both Were Young. Has anyone else ever done this?

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Reading a Personal Act?

Alastair Harper thinks so.  As far as he’s concerned, the reduction of book reviews in media is no tragedy at all. He concludes:

Reading is a personal act. It’s rare for friends to share the same bag of favourite authors; and, indeed, it would be depressing if they did so. Part of loving books is wandering shops or libraries, reading the anecdotes of other writers on books that changed their world, stalking the bookshelves of friends when they’re looking the other way, and finally coming back home, opening the book and finding it a piece of trash. Or, as the case may be, a treasure.

I think he is missing something here. In fact, he is contradicting himself in this paragraph by insisting reading is personal, that tastes vary, yet he also checks out his friends’ bookshelves.  Why not just ask them?  What is depressing about sharing favorite authors with friends? I sure do. Books have always been important for me, but I have made many friends because of our shared taste in literature.

For me,  reading is both intensely personal and social.  Books are my passion.  My favorite social times are meeting up with others who share my adoration for books, especially children’s books.  I connect to others who like the same books I like in person and online.  I love it when I discover a new wonderful book, recommend it to friends who end up liking it too.  Recently I read and loved a forthcoming book. It was only when a house guest who also is a passionate reader of children’s books read it and loved it too that I got up the nerve to post about it.  My immediate response to the book was personal, but it was then nuanced and complicated by my conversation with my friend.  So, yes, reading is most centrally a personal act, but it moves beyond that as we interact and discuss what we read.

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Spelling and Reading in English

The reeder wil obzerv that the orthography of the volume iz not uniform. The reezon iz, that many of the essays hav been published before, in the common orthography, and it would hav been a laborious task to copy the whole, for the sake of changing the spelling.

In the essays ritten within the last yeer, a considerable change of spelling iz introduced by way of experiment. This liberty waz taken by the writers before the age of queen Elizabeth, and to this we are indeted for the preference of modern spelling over that of Gower and Chaucer. The man who admits that the change of housoonde, mynde, ygone, moneth into husband, mind, gone, month, iz an improovment, must acknowlege also the riting of helth, breth, rong, tung, munth, to be an improovment. There iz no alternativ. Every possible reezon that could ever be offered for altering the spelling of wurds, still exists in full force; and if a gradual reform should not be made in our language, it wil proove that we are less under the influence of reezon than our ancestors.

The above quote is from Noah Webster’s Preface to his 1790 publication, A Collection of Essays and Fugitiv [sic] Writings.  Thanks to J. Bell who pointed this one out on his Boston 1775 blog.  It caught my eye because I’d just read, a few days ago, Anushka Asthana’s piece on the problems of learning to read English as it is spelled, “English is too hard for children to read.”  Of course, this isn’t new. Check out  George Bernard Shaw’s view of the matter.  Or, for that matter, Mark Twain.

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The Digital Divide

Perhaps not surprisingly, the lesson from Romania’s voucher experiment is not that computers aren’t useful learning tools, but that their usefulness relies on parents being around to assure they don’t simply become a very tempting distraction from the unpleasantness of trigonometry homework. But this is a crucial insight for those tasked with designing policies to bridge the digital divide. The express intent of Euro 200 was to give a boost to poor kids’ educations. Through programs such as One Laptop per Child, governments around the world have similarly committed to purchasing millions of computers to improve computer access for children. But Malamud and Pop-Eleches’ results suggest that merely providing access may be more of a curse than a blessing. If we really want to help poor kids, whether in Romania, sub-Saharan Africa, or Americas housing projects, we may want to focus on approaches that provide structured, supervised access through after-school programs or subsidies that bring technology into low-income schools. But just giving kids computers? Might as well just ship them PlayStations.

So concludes Ray Fisman in his Slate piece, “Why giving poor kids computers doesn’t improve scholastic performance.” Now Fisman is, no doubt, reducing a lot of complicated issues into a neat short pithy essay, but I agree with him. I’ve long been skeptical of the OLPC project just because they were so focused on the machine and not on the implementation of it. Having spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone followed by several more years getting a master’s in international education I can tell you that it is the on-the-ground-reality that matters. The A-V Centre I worked in in Sierra Leone was full of mildewed equipment — those trained to take care of it and used it were long gone.

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Climbing (and walking between) Skyscrapers

In 2006, he [Renaldo Clarke who climbed the building last week] said, he attended a presentation about the Times Building, a skyscraper that opened in 2007. He studied a scale model and collected written materials on the design. He fortified his spirit with “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers,” a children’s book about Philippe Petit, the Frenchman who danced on a high wire strung between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

Last Thursday, one of Mr. Clarke’s friends videotaped him as he moved from the sidewalk up the base of the Times tower. Traffic stopped. Thousands watched from Eighth Avenue.

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Piaget and Technology for Kids Today

“My 4-year-old has been on the Web since he could sit up,” said Samantha Morra, a mother of two from Montclair, N.J. “My 6-year-old has an iPod and wants a cellphone, although my husband and I aren’t sure who he’d call.”

In the New York Times, Warren Buckleitner addresses parental concerns with recommendations based on Piaget‘s theory of child cognitive development.

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