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.




Filed under Other

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.


Filed under Newbery

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!


Filed under Newbery

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.)


Filed under Battle of the (Kids') Books

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Other

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 |


Filed under Other


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.

1 Comment

Filed under Other

Thoughts on Newbery: Ten Books I’d Like to See Recognized this Year

1. Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Back in September I wrote in my review that

I was blown away by it.  This is nonfiction thriller writing of the very, very best.  Sheinkin weaves together the stories of the race to build the atom bomb, the developments in the war that made things more and more urgent, the efforts to steal it, and the efforts to stop others from creating their own.

Every kid I know who reads it adores it. Sheinkin is doing something new and different and very exciting in nonfiction for children.

2. Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy.  I concluded in my starred Horn Book review that:

Stead’s spare and elegant prose, compassionate insight into the lives of young people, wry sense of humor, deft plotting, and ability to present complex ideas in an accessible and intriguing way make this much more than a mystery with a twist.

3. Laura Amy Schlitz’s Splendors and Glooms. I finished my New York Times review with:

Schlitz skillfully manages multiple narratives as the story makes its complex way forward, creating scenes of warmth and humor along with those of drama and horror. Filled with lush language and delightful sensory details like the savored warmth of a velvet cloak, this marvelous story will keep readers absorbed throughout. While the intricate storytelling, captivating characters and evocative setting owe a great deal to Dickens, the book also feels very much in the tradition of such grand 20th-century writers as Joan Aiken and Elizabeth Goudge. Filled with heart-pounding and heart-rending moments, this delicious, glorious novel is the work of a master of children’s literature.

4. Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. In my review here I wrote:

Among the many well-intentioned books featuring issues of exclusion among children of different ages,  Each Kindness is for me the most transcendent with Woodson and Lewis taking this far-from simple issue to a profound place of emotional depth and truth.

5. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s No Crystal Stair.  In my blog review I noted that the book “… is a community itself” filled as it is with a vibrant collection of voices coming together to tell the story of a remarkable Harlem bookseller and concluded that it “…is an elegant and riveting look at an extraordinary man who was part of a remarkable historical time.”  A groundbreaking book that definitely does extraordinary things within a hybrid genre Nelson calls a “documentary novel.”

6. Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky.  I enjoyed my first read of this, writing on goodreads that it was “completely and utterly charming!”  I then listened to the audio book with my 4th graders and that experience along with their responses only raised it in my estimation.

7. Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a Job. I reviewed this last April, but it has stayed with me. Back then I wrote:

This is a real life story that takes place over a brief period of time and Levinson does a superb job bringing out the suspense, drama, harshness, and celebration of all. I especially appreciated the elegant way she brought in the complications — what was working and what wasn’t, the different behaviors and personalities of the leaders, and most of all the varied voices of her young people.

8.  Grace Lin’s Starry River of the Sky.  I like this one very much indeed. Well-done character development, plot (especially the structure), and setting. And while it won’t factor into the Newbery Committee’s deliberations, the art and design is spectacular.

9. Louise Erdrich’s Chickadee. I was a very big fan of Erdrich’s previous books in this series, especially The Game of Silence. Took me a bit to engage with this one as I was a bit miffed that she just jumped into a new generation, but once I did I enjoyed it. There are some wonderful characters and scenes.

10. Adam Gidwitz’s In a Glass Grimmly.  A long shot, no doubt. After reading this aloud to my students, I can say that that this guy nails it, balancing out the emotional stuff along with silliness (my students and I adore the frog and various sized salamanders), some major gross stuff, and the occasional lyrical moment (say with the mermaid).  I love the way he merges traditional tales with literary ones and then his own.

And while not in my top ten, here are my thoughts about two very popular titles.

R. J. Palacio’s Wonder. I enjoyed and admired this very much when I read it (my review is here) and continue to think it a strong work, one that speaks to children and adults in a sincere and powerful way.

Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. What has stayed with me is the lovely relationships between the animals, the complexness of Mack, and the melancholy tone that permeates the book. I struggled initially with Ivan’s voice, finding him a bit too wise and using an awful lot of figurative language for a self-described spare speaker, but the folks commenting on this Heavy Medal post helped me enormously with this.



Filed under Newbery

NYPL’s Ethics on Nonfiction Panel

Susan Kuklin, one of the panelists at last weeks NYPL Literary Cafe has done a thorough write-up at I.N.K.: “Ethics in Nonfiction for Kids.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nonfiction