Monthly Archives: July 2010

Whose Favorite Books?

David Elzey wonders about the suggestions Susan Orlean has been getting after tweeting a request for #booksthatchangekidsworlds.  They do have more to do with adults remembering beloved books than what Orlean’s five-and-a-half-year-old son will necessarily go for (and remind me of similar suggestions made in response to a Nicholas Krisof op-ed piece of last year).  Coincidently, J. Bell has a post on the art of recommending a book to a kid that could serve as a cautionary tale to all those nostalgic adults.

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Filed under Reading, summer reading

Charles R. Smith Poses a Great Question

What if Harry Potter were Black? (Thanks to Rasco from Rif.)

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Book Scrying

Thank you, David Barnett of the Guardian, for letting me know about this mind-blowing map which evidently shows real-time Book Depository purchases all over the world.  Very, very cool indeed.

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Camilla Salander (possible spoiler if you haven’t read all the Larsson books)

Okay, I just finished Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.  I was pretty satisfied except for one thing — Camilla Salander, Lisbeth’s twin.  What is up with her?  Why is she mentioned here and there and then no more?  With all the attention given to Lisbeth there was nothing done with Camilla? Why does no one seem to care?  Not Blomkvist?  His sister? The baddies?  The goodies?  Let me edit that — why does no one appear to care?  Is she a clumsy red herring?  I have a hard time believing that. But on the other, she is barely a blip in three books.  What the –?

I can only surmise that Larsson had intended something with her in the future.  Readers of these books — what do you think?

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Anthony Browne’s Shape Game

Turning a doodle into a picture is one of Anthony Browne’s favourite games. So what happened when the children’s laureate sent an outline to artists, authors and actors and asked them to have a go?

This and this.

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Filed under Children's Literature

The Little Fellow

When I was in high school it was typical to have John Lennon or Mick Jagger up on your bedroom wall. I had Charlie Chaplin — a lifesize poster, as a matter of fact.  He may have been my grandfather’s age at the time, but for me he was that fey twenty-something in the films of his that I saw on public television.  Elegant, flirty, sweet, clever, and adorable.   As he charmed everyone in his day so he charmed me decades later.

My crush on Charlie has never left me and so I’ve been showing the Little Tramp films to my classes for decades.  These nine and ten year-olds adore him and pass the word on to other classes  with the result that my colleagues have been showing Chaplin too.  I love that this clown and these early films are so successful with today’s media savvy kids.

For years I’ve had in mind a book on Chaplin, a book that would send young readers straight to his films.  Sid Fleischman’s recent biography is solid, but he is showing the whole life of a complicated artist.  I want to do something different — to focus on Chaplin’s art more than his life.  I want to communicate to child readers the energy, wit, hilarity, and elegance in his early films that is Chaplin at his best. I have years and years of firsthand evidence that kids still find him hilarious.  The word needs to get out — born in the 19th century, Charlie is still funny, funny, funny in the 21st — hopefully I’m the one to do it.

And so this summer I’m deep into Chaplin, reading and viewing and thinking about how to do this.  Having been besotted with the man, his character, and his work for so long I figured I knew a lot, but I’m learning more every day.  In particular, I’m interested in his particular comedy, gags, and the methodology of early film making — the stuff that I know that kids will be interested in too.  And is the case with research (and made easier with the Internet), I’m easily led astray on one tangent or another.  But I’m having fun learning about vaudeville and early film making along with the little guy himself.

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Filed under Chaplin, Film

Pithy Poet Pinsky

The issue of “children’s verse”– a concept rejected by Maurice Sendak and William Corley– is worth pondering. It’s a marketing and retail category, and therefore an acquisition-editor’s category . . . but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it as a personal or literary category. To put it differently: niche, shmiche.

That’s one of Robert Pinsky’s responses to a comment on his Slate article, “Wild Child: The Best Poems for Kids aren’t the Soft and Saccharine Ones.” Article (including audio of Pinsky reading poems) and comments well worth reading.

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Coming Soon: Jonathan Stroud’s The Ring of Solomon

Farquarl had been rubbing it in for hours.  During the entire clear-up operation he’d been on at me, in fact, even while we’d been digging the burial pits, even while we’d been piling up the camels and trying to get them to light.  He’d never stopped the whole time.  It had ruined my afternoon.

The news that there was a Bartimaeus prequel in the works had many of us barking wildly.  Not to mention panting excitedly when we heard an excerpt at an ALA Disney-Hyperion fall preview. As there were no ARCs available and having plenty other great stuff to read I figured I’d be a good girl and wait patiently till November.  But then, out of the blue, I received a package from some kind folks at Disney-Hyperion. Ripping it open I discovered something that made me howl with enthusiasm. (Okay, no more dog stuff, I promise.)  Yep, it was an unedited version of The Ring of Solomon. (Not sure what unedited means as it seems pretty polished to me.)   Would I be jealous of me?  Yes I would. Big time.  Would I still want a spoiler-free taste of what is in store? Yes I would.  So here goes.

As Bartimaeus told us in his footnotes in the previous books, he had a long and checkered career serving a variety of magicians over the eons. (And by the way, he’s got a blog. It is brilliant.) This is one of those stories (and I sure hope not the last).   On the very first page we encounter Bartimaeus being his familiar self — snarkily shapeshifting and voiceshifting (Stroud’s switching from first to third person and back again as our djinni changes form) as he interacts with his master, a shrewd old magician.  It is 950 B.C.E.  Jerusalem and  Solomon is the king.  Soon we meet a young woman named Asmira who is a worthy new heroine, many bad things, and an engrossing new story. Oh, and a ring.  That does a lot and is, needless to say, fiercely desired.  And you know about those magical rings, don’t you?  This isn’t that one, but it is mighty powerful in its own right.

One of the themes of the book is a consideration of blind devotion versus slavery.  While Stroud may not have intended this it made me think about contemporary politics — particularly the nature of extremism, being raised to think a certain way, to consider self-sacrifice on behalf of a charismatic leader versus a leader doing the self-sacrifice, and the concept of enslavement.  But don’t worry — it is first and foremost a grand adventure, filled with magical beings, the wonderful Bartimaeus, excellent writing, and cleverness galore.

You’ve got a treat in store, I can tell you.

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Filed under Fantasy

Returning to the Exquisite Corpse

Alack, alas, I have fallen behind with The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.  Oh well, no matter. For those just tuning in, this is an initiative of the Library of Congress; a shaggy dog of an adventure created by some of the biggest and best children’s literature folks.  Every couple of weeks there is a new episode beautifully illustrated and available for reading and listening.

Since I greatly appreciate the use of the word “meanwhile” as a way to change the subject*, gummy bears, Lemony Snicket, and new roads taken, I delighted in the latest episode: “Meanwhile, Near a Meadow.”

*Beautifully demonstrated by Jules Feiffer in his picture book titled — what else? — Meanwhile.

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The Magic-Hating Magician of Vegas

“I have always hated magic,” he says. “I have always hated the basic undercurrent of magic which Jerry Seinfeld put best when he said: ‘All magic is “Here’s a quarter, now it’s gone. You’re a jerk. Now it’s back. You’re an idiot. Show’s over”.’ I never wanted to grow up to be a magician. It was never my goal.”

So sayeth the talking one in this Penn and Teller interview.

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