Monthly Archives: September 2008

My Infant Head: The History of Children’s Poetry

This exhibit at Rutger’s looks amazing. Sadly, I can’t go to this coming Tuesday’s opening because it is our Open House night at school. Otherwise I would because I rarely get the chance to hear the brilliant Lissa Paul.

The general public are invited to the opening reception for the exhibition “My Infant Head: The History of Children’s Poetry” in Alexander Library on Tuesday September 23rd . The reception will be held from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. in the Scholarly Communication Center, on the fourth floor of the library, located at 169 College Avenue in New Brunswick.

The exhibition opening will feature an address by Lissa Paul, Faculty of Education, at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and co-editor of The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature. She will be introduced by Andrea Immel, Curator of the Cotsen Library at Princeton University, and co-editor of the recently published, Under Fire: Children in the Shadow of War (2008).

“My Infant Head: The History of Children’s Poetry” surveys over four centuries of poems published in English for children in England and North America. This exhibition comments on and contextualizes several significant studies of children’s poetry, including recent book-length studies of American children’s poetry by children’s lit scholars Joseph Thomas, Angela Sorby, Phil Nel, and Kate Capshaw Smith, and it demonstrates how poetry for children functions as a time-binder, and how it illuminates underlying affinities among disparate historical and cultural constructions of children.

The exhibition includes nearly a hundred texts from Rutgers University Libraries’ collections.

General themes and topics represented in the exhibition include the seventeenth-century origins of the genre of children’s poetry, the Enlightenment and pre-Victorian poets, nursery rhymes, the influence of the Romantics, the schoolroom poets, the tyranny of illustration (or how Randolph Caldecott unwittingly ruined children’s poetry), the influence of twentieth-century American anthologies, poets of the Harlem Renaissance, Asian-American children’s poetry, Urchin Verse/Poetry, and the prose poetry of Alvin Tresselt. Some poets children’s poets included in the exhibition are William Blake, William Wordworth, Edmund Spenser, Kenneth Grahame, Christina Rossetti, Randall Jarrell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter de la Mare, Robert Graves, A.A. Milne, Marilyn Nelson, Ann Taylor, Laetitia Landon, Lucy Aikin, JonArno Lawson, John Ciardi, Edward Gorey, X.J. Kennedy, Michael Rosen, Gwendolyn Brooks, Frost and Sandburg, E.E. Cummings, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Grymeston, John Bunyan, John Donne, Mother Goose and Dorothy Leigh.

In addition to rare and unique artists’ books (including Lois Morrison’s Jacob ladder book “In Adam’s Fall, Sinned We All”), first editions and association copies (including Mark Twain’s own copy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner), “My Infant Head” will display original artwork by Roger Duvoisin, Susanne Saba and other artists, kindly loaned by the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum. A children’s poetry soundscape consisting of children’s poems read by poets, professional readers and by the Rutgers University community will play in Gallery ’50 to emphasize the central importance of the spoken word.

To RSVP for the opening reception, please call 732-932-7505 or send email to events@rci.rutgers.edu, and indicate if you need assistance with parking. The exhibition will be on display until January 9, 2009 in both Gallery ’50 and the Special Collections and University Archives Gallery in the Alexander Library.

“My Infant Head: The History of Children’s Poetry” is co-sponsored by the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies and the Center for Effective School Practices at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. The exhibition is curated by Michael Joseph, Rare Books Librarian in Special Collections and University Archives, of the Rutgers University Libraries.

The exhibition will be on display through January 9, 2009.

If you require assistance with parking, please indicate when you RSVP.

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Multiculturalism and Older Children’s Books

Child_lit has been hopping recently as old and new subscribers debate whether or not older books are problematic today in terms of cultural issues.  Three of the books discussed have been topics before and my good friend and colleague fairrosa has archived some of these discussions at her website.   While the discussions are from years ago they are still very interesting.  The ones explicitly related to the current child_lit threads are: Little Black Sambo, Little Black Sambo by Bannerman: thoughts on racism in children’s literature, and Tikki Tikki Tembo and Cultural Accuracy in Folktales.

And also highly, highly, highly recommended is the post, “Examining The Five Chinese Brothers ” that fairrosa (“100% Chinese: half Han, half Manchurian, born and raised in Taiwan” she points out) has just placed on her blog — a totally superb examination of another book currently being much criticized on the list.

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Another Fun Parlour Game

Talking amongst your shelves: a new way to arrange your books | Books | guardian.co.uk

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Gopnick on Babar

Freeing the Elephants: What Babar Brought in The New Yorker.

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Some Cool Photos from the Coraline Set

David Strick in the LA Times with these very cool shots.  Via Neil Gaiman’s blog.

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Eoin Colfer to write sixth Hitchhiker’s Guide book

Douglas Adams’s increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy is to be extended to six titles, after Adams’s widow Jane Belson sanctioned a project which will see children’s author Eoin Colfer taking up the story.

And Another Thing… by Colfer, whose involvement with the project was personally requested by Belson, will be published next October by Penguin. No information has yet emerged about the plot of the novel but Hitchhiker fans will be hoping for a resurrection of much-loved characters Arthur Dent, Trillian and Ford Prefect, who were all apparently blown to smithereens at the end of the fifth novel, Mostly Harmless.

Full story here: Eoin Colfer to write sixth Hitchhiker’s Guide book | Books | guardian.co.uk (Thanks to  Read Alert for the tip.)

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Coleen Salley

Coleen Salley, a remarkable woman, passed away yesterday.  While I cannot claim a personal relationship with Coleen I did meet her a few times.  The most memorable occasion was many years ago when she hosted a party at her home in New Orleans during an IRA convention.  Her home was a wonderful French Quarter place — I remember charming rooms off a lovely center courtyard.  But it was Colleen I most remember — she was so vibrant and so striking. Being at that party at her home made me feel as if I were in a New Orleans novel or movie or play.  It was unlike any such party I’ve ever been to before or since.  Every time I saw her after that or read one of her books or her heard about her I thought back to that first meeting. Many others on list serves, blogs, and elsewhere have, are, and will post far more comprehensive remembrances than my puny ones.  But all of us will agree that the world of children’s literature has lost one of the great ones.

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Lewis Carroll Society Fall Meeting

The Lewis Carroll Society of North America is having its fall meeting on Saturday, October 25, at the Fales Library (3rd floor of the Bobst Library) at New York University.  Speakers include:

National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature  Jon Scieszka (who has a new adaptation of Disney’s Alice illustrated by Mary Blair out), poet and children’s book writer Nancy Willard, composer Peter Westergaard (on his Alice opera) and illustrator Mahendra Singh (who is illustrating The Hunting of the Snark).   The all-day event is free to the public.  For more information go here.

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Lewis J. Edinger Memorial Service

Professor Emeritus Lewis J. Edinger, who died in May 2008, will be remembered by family, friends, and the Columbia community at a service of remembrance in St. Paul’s Chapel on Thursday, September 25 at 2:00 p.m. A reception in the Lindsay Rogers Common Room, 707 International Affairs Building, will follow.

Please contact Columbia University’s  Department of Political Science, 212-854-3646, for further information.

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Content Versus Quality

On blogs and list serves there was some discussion recently about the Kirkus piece, “Reader Beware,” in which editor Vicky Smith discussed the decision to not give an unnamed book a star because of copy-editing problems:

After consultation, the reviewer and I agreed that although we both felt the story deserved a starred review, it should not receive one; we felt we had to look at the book as a whole, and the whole included too many grammatical faults to ignore.

Many thought the book in question was The Hunger Games, which I had found an exhilarating read.  Spelling and usage have been problems for me my whole life; I have enormous trouble seeing my own errors (I kiss the ground of those who invented spell and grammar checks:) so rarely notice them in books I read.  That certainly doesn’t mean that it is okay for them to be there, just that they don’t register when I read so they don’t affect my appreciation of a book.

What does bother me is poor writing. Clunky sentences, overdoing the telling rather than showing, trite situations, and repeating lame metaphors or similes are things I do notice. I am taken out of the story when I see too much of it.  And there sure was too much of it for me in the much-admired Little Brother.

I had bought the book and taken it on a long plane ride eager to dive into it.  And then the writing tripped me up.  Again and again.  A character kept “pissing like a racehorse.”  Once, maybe, but more than once?  Some characters seemed to have been created purely to give speeches or to be one-dimensional figures in opposition to the main character. Others were barely developed (notably the main character’s best friend) and seemed to exist purely to advance the plot.  Parents came and went in completely unbelievable ways. The romantic (and sex) scenes made me cringe.

Yet reviewers and readers alike seemed to feel such clunky writing didn’t matter because the message was so important.  Austin Grossman in the New York Times writes:

Doctorow’s characters tend to speak on behalf of the ideas they represent, as when the teenage protagonist stagily debates his Homeland Security interrogator: “I thought I lived in a country where I had rights. You’re talking about defending my freedom by tearing up the Bill of Rights.”

At such moments, “Little Brother” is trying to make speeches, and it would be unfair to judge the writing by other standards, but it does lead to a few awkward shifts in tone. After a disquisition on Inter­net protocols, it’s a little uncomfortable having to hear about Marcus’s first real kiss; it’s like spotting a favorite professor eating lunch.

So I guess I just wonder about this. Is it easier to catch those proofreading errors and to overlook clunky writing?  Is the clunky writing less important?  I don’t have any answers, but am struck by the different reactions to these two otherwise enthusiastically-received books.

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