Of course, much of it is strong medicine and not for young children. But after many weeks of my reading, or at least looking into, several hundred careful, loving, protective, prettily illustrated juveniles, this book of gods and heroes at last seems the real thing.
It is common gossip among the experts in children’s reading—the teachers, the librarians, the critics—that the child of today is a lucky little fellow. Children, say these experts, no longer need be frightened, as their parents were, by grim and brutal fairy tales and by generally unsuitable reading matter. And there is great rejoicing over the abundance of well-illustrated, well-printed books that appear each season. The flowering of children’s literature and graphic art is usually attributed ot the influence of the children’s-book departments in the great city libraries. It is certainly true that there are scores of beautiful, innocuous books, but I’ve begun to wonder whether the sheer quantity of them does not divert children from adult books they otherwise would be reading. I wonder, too, whether our children, immersed in the protective bath of modern psychology, may not be worse off than were their elders without it. The child has become sacrosanct, and, by extension, so has the children’s book. This was made clear to me some time ago at a candlelit meeting at which children’s books were discussed in a spirit of reverent dedication. Like the experts at that gathering, many writers are careful never to approach the child except in a childlike manner. Let us not overstimulate his mind, or scare him, or leave him in doubt, these authors and their books seem to be saying; let us affirm. Somehow, this modern sentimentality seems to me far more insidious than the simpleminded sentimentality of the Victorians. At any rate, the Pantheon book of myth is a good antidote.
That was in 1946. Sendak hadn’t come along yet. (His first published illustrations appeared in a textbook in 1947; his first children’s book, Kenny’s Window, came along in 1956, and the deliciously dark Pierre: A Cautionary Tale, part of the Nutshell Library, in 1962.) Ursula Nordstrom was busily changing the shape of children’s lit in a way I gather Mrs. White approved of—veering away from saccharine morality tales toward immersive, imaginative adventures. What would be fun to see is Katharine White’s take on the prevalence of edgy, black-humor-based books in today’s market: creators like Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen come to mind. I suspect she’d enjoy their work.
Mrs. White goes on to wax nostalgic about her own childhood encounters with Ivanhoe, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield (“I made my first inquiry into the mystery of birth because of the puzzling phrase on the first page: ‘I was born with a caul.'”) and then remarks that publishers seemed afflicted with the same nostalgia, given the number of classic reprints on their lists. Alas, she reports,
“No publisher has thus far reissued the set of books I read oftenest—the Andrew Lang collections of folk and fairy tales known to my generation as ‘the colored fairy books.’ I owned the Blue, the Red, the Green, the Yellow, the Pink, the Grey, and the Violet.”
Originally published in the late 1800s/early 1900s, these collections were back in print during my own 1970s/80s childhood, and I hunted the various shades of the rainbow in every Aurora, Colorado library branch within biking distance of my parents’ house. I still have my treasured paperback copies of the Blue Fairy Book and the Green Fairy Book, which have made their dogeared way through my children. Nowadays, the Lang fairy books have reappeared as mainstays of legions of Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschoolers, and just last week I uploaded a copy to my Kindle, the better to enjoy its charms (augmented by enlargeable font) with Rilla.
A handful of the new books Mrs. White reviews in this 1946 column are still with us, prized among the kidlit enthusiasts and living-books homeschoolers—Miss Hickory, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, d’Aulaire’s Pocahontas (“an unqualified delight,” she says, unaware of the many qualifications a 21st-century audience would pile onto it—though not nearly as many as necessitated by d’Aulaire’s Leif the Lucky, whose ending recently made me wince and end the read-aloud a couple of pages early)—but most of the season’s new offerings are titles unfamiliar to me, including books by Lois Lenski and Garth Williams.
Katharine White’s children’s-book reviews are almost as much fun as her gardening columns, and if you have access to the New Yorker digital archive, it’s worth your time to pop in and read her take on a selection of books that have, for the most part, come and gone.
Bunch of books have to go back today; before they go, a quick catalog of the ones my gang loved:
Gideonby Olivier Dunrea, from the Gossie & Friends series.
Huck enjoyed this short, simple story about a gosling who isn’t quite ready to take his nap. A repeat request, usually as a stall tactic at naptime. 😉 Sweet art; pleasingly small trim size. A good library choice, since Huck, at a month shy of four (eek), is on the top end of the age range this book is likely to appeal to.
A leveled reader that enchanted all three of my youngest. The homey adventures of imaginative twin girls with very different personalities. The making-dumplings chapter is Rilla’s favorite. She’s hoping for more Ling and Ting tales.
This early reader scored especially high with my boys. Huck’s an easy mark: you had him at “Robot.” Wonderboy was amused by the way Robot upended Rabbit’s careful sleepover plans. Plus: Magnetic hands! A lost remote control! A snack of nuts and bolts! And poor, flustered Rabbit, worrying about sticking to his schedule—a character Wonderboy can very much relate to. I might snag a copy of this one to keep.
That’s as far back as I’ve gotten so far…I’ll add more as time permits. Some of my older reviews are compiled on this page—I had the idea that I was going to create one page with direct links to every booknotes post I’ve ever written. In nearly seven years of blogging. Blogging mostly about books. I know, I know. Well, until time freezes, allowing me an infinity of free moments to copy-paste my way through—good heavens, I just looked—2500 posts (!), partial lists like this will have to do.
The Children’s & Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards!
The call for nominations for the best children’s and YA books published in 2008—nine categories of books, from easy readers to poetry to nonfiction to novels—will begin on October 1st. The tireless Cybils organizers have worked hard to assemble panels of judges for each category. Each category has a team of round I panelists—people to read all the nominated books and compile a shortlist in each category—and round II judges, who will choose the winning titles from those shortlists. For more details, and to see lists of Cybils winners from 2006 and 2007, visit the Cybils website.
I’m a Round 1 panelist for the Fiction Picture Books category this year, and I am really looking forward to reading (and sharing with my children) all the nominated books. So start thinking about what picture books bowled you over this year (published in English between January 1st and October 15th, 2008) and watch for the call for nominations at the Cybils site.
My fellow team members in the Fiction Picture books category:
A Murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner. Middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old girl hiding from her father’s murderers. She witnessed the crime and has reason to believe the killers were acting on orders from Queen Elizabeth. Half-dead from hunger and cold after making her way from London to York, young Alice Tuckfield encounters a group of amiable choirboys (most of them are amiable, at least) who take her in and convince her to hide out in the boys’ choir as a lark. I thoroughly enjoyed this suspenseful tale, which I read before giving it to Jane so that we could have the fun of discussing it. I think Scott is next in line. He’ll like the setting: much of the action occurs in and around the York cathedral choir.
The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell. Next on my list of read-before-Jane-gets-hold-of-it. She has so much more reading time than I do that if I give it to her first, she’ll be miles away from it before I ever turn a page. Also, I bought it, so ha-HA, I get first dibs. This is another compelling and fascinating read. A young Spanish cartographer sits in a prison in New Spain, awaiting trial for failing to give the King of Spain his share—one fifth, following the precedent set by Cortes—of the treasure he is believed to have discovered in the Seven Lost Cities of Cibola. The young man, only seventeen years old, relives his adventures on the trail with Coronado and his army in search of the fabled cities where the streets are paved with gold. I’m only halfway through and am completely captivated. Very suspenseful, vividly detailed. The kind of historical fiction I love: a “respectfully imagined” (to borrow Gail Godwin’s phrase) rendering of real historical figures and events.
Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark. Will I ever get into this book? This is my third attempt at reading it aloud to children. First attempt was years ago, when only Jane was old enough to listen. After three slow chapters, I gave up on the “aloud” part and just handed it to her to finish. And she loved it. Last year, I tried again, this time with Rose. Stymied once more by those opening chapters. And yet, glutton for punishment optimist that I am, I’m giving it a third go-round, this time to Rose and Beanie. (Rose never finished reading it last year.) You see, I’ve put a lot of faith in Jane’s enthusiastic recommendation. Any minute now, it’s going to pick up steam. It won the Newbery in 1952, for Pete’s sake!
For now, at least it has generated a lot of discussion about the Incas, the Spanish conquistadors (happy coincidence!), and llamas. The main character is a young Indian boy, Cusi, who lives in an isolated mountain valley with his elderly guardian, Chuto, and a herd of llamas. There have been all sorts of hints in these quiet opening chapters about Cusi’s heritage (which he knows nothing about) and Chuto’s occasional mysterious journeys away from Hidden Valley with some of the llamas—journeys from which he always returns alone. Cusi wears golden earplugs, which a wandering minstrel recognizes as a sign of royalty. And now Chuto is going to take Cusi on a journey out of the valley for the first time. There’s a brooding sense of “the time has come” in the air…you see why I don’t want to give up on it? There is rich story potential here—if the characters will just get past the preparing-to-travel stage (and the singing to the llamas, oh my heavens, enough already with the the interminable singing to the llamas!) and get on with the actual traveling. Not that I’m impatient or anything.
Some books just don’t lend themselves well to reading aloud. I’ll give this one two more chapters before I decide, for once and for all, that this is one of them.
I’m glad I checked my comments spam filter today, because look what I almost missed! Sorry, Sherry; I don’t know why the filter zapped you. We’re big Semicolon fans here, even if my filter isn’t.
I wanted to tell you that I’m starting something new at Semicolon, and you’re certainly invited to join in along with any of your readers. It’s called Semicolon Author Celebration, and to start with I’m looking for posts about Charlotte Zolotow on this Thursday, her birthday.
Welcome to the May 2008 edition of the Carnival of Children’s Literature!
I promised a no-frills edition this month. It’s a lazy Saturday morning in my house, the kind filled with cartoons and sugary cereals. On Saturday mornings, you would never know what booksy people we are. Saturday afternoons are different. There is nearly always a library run on Saturday afternoon. Sometimes Scott will take some of the kids; other days, I’ll swing by during errand-running to pick up whatever we might have on hold. It’s always fun to see what Scott or Jane might have requested from inter-branch loan during the week. Jane’s queue this week seems to be full of Miss Marples and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books. Scott has a knack for hunting up interesting new books in all genres, including children’s and YA. At our old branch in small-town Virginia, the librarians told me they used to watch for his requests and snag his returns for their own reading lists. They mourned when he left. We mourned to leave them!
As an author myself, I am always interested in what attracts a reader to a book. Of course, I’m interested in this from a mom’s standpoint as well. It’s fun to see what turns my individual kids on to a title. Rose is at the classic 9-year-old girl stage which leaps at anything with a horse on the cover. At Under the Covers, Lisa Chellman shares some observations about book covers in Book Jackets with Familiar Faces. “Has anyone else noticed,” she asks, “celebrity look-alikes on children’s and YA book covers?” Don’t miss the comments for an informative response from the editor of one of the books Lisa discusses.
Nancy Arruda raves about a picture book at Bees Knees Reads. “Traces is a book of beautifully written verse by master children’s writer Paula Fox and illustrated by Karla Kuskin.” You had me at “beautifully written verse.” By the end of this carnival, our library reserve list is going to be a mile long.
At A Year of Reading, Mary Lee presents an interesting look at how kids of different ages responded to the same picture book: Experimental Read-Aloud. She says, “As an experiment, I read aloud the same book in Preschool-5th grades. (I am a classroom teacher, not a librarian, so this was a unique experience for me.) The differences in their responses were fascinating.”
Becky offers a Young Readers review of As Good As Anybody by Raul Colón, “the story of two men: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Two men. Two stories. Both powerful.”
And wrapping up our carnival, Elizabeth O. Dulemba presents a fabulous photo-essay of an event I would have loved to attend: the 1st Annual Children’s Book Illustrator’s Show! I loved all the pictures showing kids sprawled on the gallery floor with books in the background.
Thanks for visiting this month’s carnival. Next month, author Susan Taylor Brown will host a carnival with the theme of fathers in literature. You may submit a post to Susan using our carnival submission form. To explore past kidlitosphere carnivals, visit the archives.
UPDATE: Eek!! I just went to the BlogCarnival site to enter the info for this post, and I discovered EIGHTEEN MORE SUBMISSIONS that must have come in after the deadline this morning. That means BlogCarnival automatically began forwarding them to next month’s host instead. Bear with me while I figure out what to do. Meanwhile, enjoy the posts below.
UPDATED UPDATE. I know what we’ll do. I’m out of time for this endeavor, so if you missed the deadline and want your post to be included, you may submit the link in a comment below. But listen, folks, on-topic posts only, please. I’m seeing an awful lot of spam there, or self-promotional pieces that are merely book promos, and a bunch of posts that have nothing at all to do with children’s books. If I spot links like that in the comments, I’ll delete them because I don’t want to waste my readers’ time. For the sake of the substantive and relevant posts in the bunch, I’m allowing this means of making late entries.