Category Archives: Other

The Chinese Children’s Book World

My friend Roxanne Feldman (originally from Taiwan) recently visited China to attend the Beijing International Book Fair and explore the children’s book offerings from Chinese publishers. She did a delightful series of posts here about her visit with Notes from Beijing: Children’s Book Authors & Companies specifically featuring some of what she discovered. Announcing this on the childlit list serve, Roxanne wrote:

From August 21st to 30th, I was in Beijing, as an invited guest by a
Chinese publisher that wishes to start bringing quality children’s books to
the States in dual language texts (Chinese & English) to help with
surveying the current output of the Chinese children’s books (especially
picture books) and making recommendations.  It was a truly educational
experience for me, and I have been documenting my second journey to the
motherland, what I’ve learned, and what I am thinking on my blog.

 

 

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Remembering Katrina

Katrina is burned into my brain. It is burned into many of our brains. And now for this tenth anniversary there are many considerations of what happened then, after, and is still happening. For children, there have been books. Quite a few works of fiction and some nonfiction.One of the best I’ve seen is Don Brown’s graphic novel Drowned City: Katrina and New Orleans. Simply outstanding in a heart-wrenching way.

Here’s what I wrote on the third anniversary:

In my experience as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, as time goes on there can be a tendency for the historical record of horrible events to become simplified — for certain iconic images and stories to take on the burden of representing all of it. So far I am heartened to see that hasn’t happened with Katrina. For example, two recent high-profile books have come out and everything I’ve seen about them gives me the imrpression that their creators have done things right. One of them is Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun and the other is Josh Newfeld’s graphic novel A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge which is featured in today’s New York Times and can be read in its original web version here.  Reading about them caused me to remember vividly sitting here that August and following what was happening in New Orleans, following the horrible aftermath, hearing from a friend who lost everything, and then being shown it firsthand by her when I visited New Orleans for the ALA convention less than a year later.  And because I want to be sure her story is remembered, here is what I wrote (and posted last year too) about that.

I got back early this AM and I cannot write about the convention
without first writing about New Orleans, a city I’d know before as a
tourist and convention-attendee. A place I know now as so sad, so
harrowing, so disturbing, and so full of the most remarkable and
courageous people I’ve ever met.

People like Pat Austin of the University of New Orleans who spent
three days after Katrina in a Baton Rouge motel parking lot in a tiny
Toyota with her sister and eleven cats. Pat who lost her house to a
levee breach, but who is totally and utterly and passionately
committed to her home — New Orleans. Pat, who wanting me to bear
witness, spend most of yesterday touring me in that same Toyota
through her beloved city. 9/11 made a New Yorker out of me just as
Katrina has made Pat more devoted to her hometown than ever.

Pat had shown me photos when I saw her at NCTE in November and again
when she stayed with me in March, but I have to say they and news
coverage had not prepare me for the magnitude of what I saw yesterday.
I think it is not possible to appreciate it unless one is in it. The
unsettled feeling I had around the convention center and the Quarter
(with so many places still closed and boarded up) was nothing compared
to the feeling I had yesterday on my tour with Pat.

She began by pointing out to me the miles and miles of destroyed cars
under the highway we drove along. They were being brought there from
all over, a dreadful Katrina automobile graveyard. I’d probably seen
them on my way in from the airport, but hadn’t known what I was
looking at.

She next took me through the Lower Ninth Ward and the adjoining
neighborhoods. Pat had taught there years ago and had been there many
times since Katrina and so was able to point out specific landmarks
to me. We drove around there for hours. The only analogy I could come
up with was being at Nazi concentration camps — that is, how the
vastness of the devastation really hits home when you are physically
seeing it rather than experiencing it in photos or film or in words.*
And seeing, so many months later, lace curtains in a window of a
collapsed home, a tricycle atop of pile of destroyed home stuff, the
official markings (which Pat translate for me) indicating the death of
people and pets, the ironic communications (”Baghdad”) and the
heartrending pleading ones (”donations needed for rebuilding”), the
signs (for lawyers doing claims, for people needing evidence, for
businesses specializing in demolition and rebuilding), the workers
(say a group having a lunch break in a playground), empty businesses
with signs as if they were open (strips of fast food places and other
familiar businesses) — all destroyed.

Worst of all was the horrible eeriness of emptiness. The sense of the
thousands who lived there, the ghosts of a vibrant and busy community,
of people who had worked to buy these homes, now uninhabitable. Mile
after mile after mile after desolate mile.

We then went to Pat’s neighborhood, to her house. She’d shown me the
photos back in November, but again there is no comparison to the
experience of being there. Of standing in her living room and seeing
the remains of her library stuck on the floor. Seeing the beautiful
chandelier which feels like the only thing the water missed as it
stopped a foot or so short of the ceiling. The sodden scratching
post. The waterlogged copy of Pat’s own children’s book (THE CAT WHO
LOVED MOZART
) placed by her in the newspaper holder in front to remind
those who came of those who lived there.**

After that inexpressibly sad experience Pat took me to her new home.
What a joy to see that she has a lovely new place that she is making
beautiful with new and old. (For example, she showed me a photo of a
plush toy Babar in the midst of her old home’s destruction and then
showed me a washed Babar on the new bookshelf next to his book.)

But I’m not done for then she took me to the wealthy areas near the
lake that were as destroyed as those in the poorer communities we’d
already been to. She took me by the infamous levee break, by the
university run out of trailers, by homes being raised on pilings as
now required by the local government, by churches being restored, by
well tended gardens in front of gutted houses, by a remarkable
Vietnamese temple all bright and restored among desolation, by FEMA
trailers and storage units in front of elegantly expensive homes, and
by more and more and more. She explained, she pointed things out, she
kept apologizing for overwhelming me. Yes, I was overwhelmed, but it
was important that I saw. I still feel that I don’t have the right
words to express all of what I saw.

As for the convention itself, it was sad too. As much as everyone
wanted it to be normal, it wasn’t. The exhibitions were quiet, much
more than other times. Maybe it was just me, but there was a subdued
quality to many of the events and receptions. Remembering New Orleans
before, it was hard for me not to notice the difference and so walking
from place to place, to event or reception, it was difficult to forget
what had happened there only months before.

Yes, there were happy moments, of course. Watching Shannon Hale in a
red dress dance in bare feet up to the dais to receive her Newbery
Honor was joyous as was Chris Raschka’s homage to Karen Breen as was
Lynne Rae Perkins beaming face. Oh, and Chris’s duet with Norton
Juster was great fun too. I (usually a curmudgeon about this sort of
thing) proudly wore my “I LIKE MIMI” button (done in the style of the
old “I LIKE IKE” button) to honor Mimi Kayden who received a life-time
achievement award. Bill Joyce had to rescind his invitation to enjoy
absinthe (evidently the W Hotel wasn’t willing to host something still
illegal), but the mint juleps weren’t bad.

But what I’m coming home with and still processing clearly is not the
ALA convention, but New Orleans. I sure hope they can come back; I
really really really really do.

* When I told this to my father he said it sounded even more liked the bombed-out cities he saw at the end of World War II, cities like his home of Frankfurt.

** The house was eventually razed (Pat showed me photos of that too) and, last I knew, Pat was gardening the land.

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An IBBY Wonderland

If you are interested in international children’s books (hopefully you all are!) and able to make it to New York this October, I urge you to consider attending the 11th Annual IBBY Regional Conference, “Through the Looking Glass: Exploring the Wonderland of International Children’s Literature,” October 16-18, 2015. Several years ago I was able to attend the IBBY Congress in London (it is every two years in different parts of the world — next summer it is in New Zealand) and it was fabulous. (You can read my impressions in these blog posts.)  And so I’m guessing that the regional conference will be a mini-version of that and equally awesome. Kate DiCamillo, David Almond, Paul Zelinsky, Leonard Marcus, Chris Raschka, Lois Lowry, and Susan Cooper will be there. Breakout session presenters include Betsy Bird, Marc Aronson, Jaime Campbell Naidoo, Padma Venkatraman, Sarah Park Dahlen, Susan L. Roth, Junko Yokota, Anrdi Snær Magnason, Margarita Engle, and Lisbeth Zwerger, (Oh, I’m doing one too .)  Hope to see some of you there!  (ETA Just saw that there are only 40 spots left so register today!)

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The Martian, Book and Movie

I listened to Andy Weir’s The Martian last fall and, at first, wondered what it was all about, writing in a  goodreads update:

Just as I thought “this is getting claustrophobic” the other side’s story kicked in.

And once that happened, I was completely absorbed. My final brief review:

This was fun. Pretty much a roller-coaster. Almost predicable in that as soon as things seemed okay something else terrible happened, but somehow super-smart Whatley figured them out each time.

Now I’m evidently the last to know the movie is coming out this fall. The trailer has me quite excited. Love this sort of stuff!

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The Holocaust and White Privilege

I was surprised last fall when, during a day of equity training at my school, some of my white Jewish colleagues struggled with the idea that they were privileged. This was due to their awareness of historical anti-semitism against Jews, especially the Holocaust, even though, in most cases, their own immediate families had not experienced this firsthand. As someone who is first generation German Jewish and did have immediate family who had experienced this, I was puzzled. My father, who fled Germany at age 14 after far too much experience with Nazis (his father stayed and was killed), always spoke of how lucky I was not to have experienced anti-semitism. He would have been the first to point out to me how fortunate I was to be able to attend a distinguished college (as he was at Columbia I was able to get multiple degrees there without having to pay tuition) and to do all sorts of things because of my race, education, class, and more. (Not money as we were extremely poor when I was young, something that might surprise people who would assume a young academic was financially comfortable. Not so.) I often repost this piece written by him about his experiences in Montgomery during the bus boycott when I was young. It makes me confident that he would scoff at the idea that his personal background allowed him to claim a lack of white privilege. As a young adult I used to find it enormously frustrating when I complained about something in my life and my father simply pointed out how fortunate and lucky I was. I now see how right he was.

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Another Iconic American Author with a Newly Discovered Book

“Why, then, did … leave this one in the drawer?”

No, that isn’t someone asking about Harper Lee. It is New York Times children’s book editor Maria Russo wondering about Dr. Seuss in her thoughtful review of his new posthumously published book, What Pet Should I Get?  I’d already seen the positive review by Michiko Kakutani’s for the weekday New York Times (done in Seussian rhyme no less), but it is Russo’s for the Book Review that really gets to the heart of the matter. She situates her review within a broader overview of Seuss’s work and time and indeed has a really smart answer to the question above, based on careful consideration of the historical record. Highly, highly recommended reading.

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New Trailer for the SyFy Series of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians

I’m enjoying the BBC’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell  (while revisiting the book via the audio edition) tremendously and am certain to be sad when it is over. So I am encouraged by this clip from the forthcoming Syfy series of Grossman’s The Magicians as I liked the books very much (though they are totally different from Clark’s book). There’s an earlier  teaser trailer here.

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