Monthly Archives: January 2013

To Change or Not to Change, That is the Question

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.




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Thoughts on Newbery: My Reactions to the 2013 Newbery Medal and Honors

My good friend fairosa was on this year’s Newbery Committee so I think what was most important for me this morning as I headed into the Seattle Convention Center for the award announcements was that I could feel sincerely happy for this committee’s decisions. That said, I admit I was nervous.  We were roommates, but she was absolutely mum, mum, mum as she had to be (and as I was when she was my roommate my Newbery year). But oh my goodness am I happy with their choices.  I’m not generally a crier, but I keep getting tearful thinking of these.

First of all, congratulations to Katherine Applegate for receiving the Newbery Medal for The One and Only Ivan. I was waiting to see if this year’s winner would be one I hadn’t yet shared with my 4th graders and would be good for them and this is it. So I look forward to using it in literature circles later this year.

Personally, the Newbery Honor for Laura Amy Schlitz’s Splendors and Glooms is the most significant to me. I was on the 2008 Committee that gave Laura her first Newbery medal for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! so it is wonderful to see her get this so well-deserved second honor, especially for this book of which I wrote in my New York Times review, “Filled with heart-pounding and heart-rending moments, this delicious, glorious novel is the work of a master of children’s literature.”  YESSSS!

And then there are the multiple honors (Sibert Medal, YALSA Nonfiction winner, and Newbery Honor) for Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon.  I can only add: woo-hoo! What an affirmation for this author’s style and this book.  (My blog review here.)

Finally, I am absolutely thrilled about the Newbery Honor for Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky. While I never dedicated a blog post to this book I liked it tremendously as did my 4th graders (and we listened to the excellent audio version), had it on my Newbery list, and am just so tickled that it was recognized.


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Thoughts on Newbery: Tis the Night Before Newbery…

and all through Seattle, not a creature is stirring especially not the tired members of the 2013 Newbery Committee. 

To help prepare those not as familiar as others about what to expect tomorrow I’ve written a “Top Ten Things You May Not Know About the Newbery Award” for the Nerdy Book Club.

Don’t know about you but I am very excited for tomorrow morning!


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SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books: The 2013 Contenders

This is the fifth year of SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, a fun fantasy battle modeled on The Tournament of Books which is itself modeled on basketball’s March Madness. Fun is the operative word here. The idea is to simply use the structure of a battle or match between two often very different, but always lauded books judged by a very distinguished writer of children’s or young adult books. We’ve been incredibly fortunate in having a stellar collection of judges over the years.  Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, and Jeff Kinney are just some of the really amazing judges we’ve had.  Do go back and read some of their terrific decisions here.

The main event will start in March, but to give followers plenty of time to prepare we are announcing the contenders today.  So go here to find out this year’s picks! (And if you want to know a bit more about how we made those selections go here.)


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Coming Soonish: Elizabeth Knox’s Mortal Fire

Even though Mortal Fire isn’t out till June I want to write about it now to get the word out as it is simply spectacular. And to encourage those fantasy fans among you unfamiliar with Elizabeth Knox to go and read her two other also fabulous young adult books, Dreamhunter and Dreamquakethe later a Printz honor book. What, you may wonder, are they like? I would agree with Knox’s own answer (about Mortal Fire, but also applicable to the earlier books in my opinion) in this recent interview:

Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief books, because of the machinations, vigour and sensitivity of the main character (plus the tricky romance). And my view of the magic as a kind of science owes a lot to Margaret Mahy (well—all my books do!)

As for Mortal Fire it is set in the same alternate New Zealand world of the Dreamhunter Duet, but later in 1959. The heroine is Canny, a sixteen year old math genius and daughter of a Shackle Islander (e.g. Pacific Islander in our world) who is known far and wide for her extraordinary act of heroism during the war. The novel begins as Canny, having just graduated from high school, reluctantly joins her stepbrother Sholto and his girlfriend Susan on a research trip to Southland to interview survivors of a horrific mine disaster and investigate local folklore.

Upon arrival Canny discovers the Zarene family, magic, and dark secrets, among them seventeen year old Ghislain who has been magically imprisoned by his family for something he did long ago. Canny discovers that she has even stronger magical talents than the Zarenes and quickly learns to use them. Why she has them and what she does with them are the center of this whirling complex and glorious story.

Knox, as she did in the Dreamhunter books, creates a mesmerizing world in which magic is real, powerful, disturbing, and profoundly spiritual. Canny is a remarkable character, tough, smart, and a teenager in all her complexity.  The other characters are richly drawn as well from the intriguing Ghislain to the caring Sholto.  The contrast between Ghislain and his siblings and Canny and Sholto is starkly and movingly rendered. Knox also writes like a dream, her descriptions of the natural world are superb as is her elegant development of the different and twisty plot lines of the story.

Have I piqued your interest?  Are you frustrated that you have to wait till June?  I hope so. Because then you will go right now, I mean RIGHT NOW, and read the Dreamhunter Duet.  And then I hope you will agree with me that Knox is one absolutely fabulous writer.


Filed under Fantasy, Fantasy Worlds

The Unknown Story of Christopher Goodchild and Margaret Wise Brown

Thanks to Michael Patrick Hearn for altering me to this.

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Fascinating to-do about changing language in a classic German children’s book

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 |


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