Book News

11-29-2005: Stan Berenstein Has Died

I read on Drawn! just now that Stan Berenstein, one of the co-creators (with his wife Jan) of the Berenstain Bears, has died. It's very sad. They have been publishing Berenstain Bear books since the 1970s and many of us grew up reading them. And they are as popular today as ever (believe me, I pick them up off the floor of the bookstore nearly every shift I work). New books in the series were still coming out all the time. Stan will be sorely missed!

11-9-2005: New Comics News

Two bits of news:

Neil Gaiman is planning a graphic novel version of Coraline. This could be pretty cool, as it is his story to begin with and he is a skilled comic writer.

The other bit of news is that Joss Whedon is planning to write an eighth season of Buffy as a comic series and, more interestingly, is considering other projects, including an ongoing "Serenity" comic series. That would be very cool.

11-8-2005: Snow for Charity

There is a wonderful charity auction for cancer research going on right now called Robert's Snow. They are auctioning off wonderful snowflakes decorated by some very talented children's book illustrators. Many of my favorite illustrators participated, Graeme Base, Tomie de Paola, Tony DiTerlizzi, Jane Dyer, Brett Helquist, Betsy Lewin, Patricia Polacco, Ruth Sanderson, Mo Willems, and Jane Yolen to name a few.

My three favorite snowflakes are:
Susan Gaber
Shadra Strickland
Paul O. Zelinsky

Check out the auctions here.

10-19-2005: Second American Girl Movie: Felicity

Last November saw the premiere of the first movie based on one of the American Girl stories with Samantha: An American Girl Holiday. It was actually pretty well done. This year brings another of the girls to the screen with Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, which is set to air on the WB on November 29. I am more excited about this one than I was about Samantha's movie. My favorite of the girls was always Kirsten (the Swedish imigrant girl who lived on a farm in Minnesota), but Felicity was a close second. I have a Felicity doll and just adore her clothes. I loved her story because of all the girls Felicity was probably the most rebellious. She wore pants to ride a horse in secret and she wasn't exactly the proper young lady, even when she tried. She went barefoot, let her petticoats fly in the wind, and deliberately forgot her hat when going out in the sun (thereby bringing out all of her freckles) all in colonial Virginia when such things were scandalous. So I look forward to seeing her movie! I hope it does the books justice!

10-19-2005: Mirrormask to open in Madison!

Mirrormask, a movie based on the book of the same title by Neil Gaiman, is set to open in Madison on Friday, October 21 (two days from now) at Marcus Westgate Art Cinemas! I've been really wanting to see this movie. It's gotten great reviews, the author actually likes it and felt it represented his vision well, and it looks really really amazing in all the previews. The book is really cool. I haven't gotten to read it completely yet, but I have scanned through it some at work. It just looks so neat! A co-worker of mine commented that it would have been nice if the book had been bigger, like some of Gaiman's picture books, and I agree. I understand why they decided to do it this way (at least, the most likely reasons), but I generally think putting marketing reasons ahead of design choices in cases like this is stupid and short-changes the work and the author. Oh well. At least I get to see the shiny shiny movie! I'm really excited! Yay!

10-19-2005: Encyclopedia Brown in Hollywood?

The New York Times had an article yesterday about the movie rights to the Encyclopedia Brown series being sold. Apparently the author really really doesn't want a movie made of his creation, but he doesn't have much say until the movie rights revert back to him.

Regardless of the rights issues, I find the idea of a movie of Encyclopedia Brown kind of interesting. Generally I'm sceptical of movie versions of books that I like, but I actually think that in the right hands this series could make a great movie! The stories are episodic, so there is no risk of deep overarching plot being abreviated, altered or otherwise tweaked. The characters are simple and have managed to stay largely the same over the years. And since the main character is a boy, the risk of him being trivialized or made to be anything like the what movie studios think will be popular (that disgrace is usually left to female characters like Nancy Drew).

I think that the movie could easily suck too, but it certainly has potential for a good movie! Too bad the author doesn't think so. I do believe the author's wishes should be respected, so even though I think it could be a good movie, I will be sad if they make it over his strenuous objections. Oh well.

9-26-2005: "Parental Empowerment Act"

I'm posting this because I'm very worried about this particular political issue. A few months ago a bill was introduced in the House called the "Parental Empowerment Act of 2005". Under this bill every elementary school would be required to ask a council of parents with children currently or very recently in the school to approve *any* purchase or acquisition of any "print material" (books) for the library or classroom use. If any state doesn't enforce this, they lose federal funding for education. I can't even explain how bad it would be if schools had to ask permission from parents to buy textbooks and library books. This is a pretty serious bill, and it hasn't gotten any notice as far as I can see.

The bill was sent to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. It is not yet on their list of bills being looked at, but I think that is because Congress is currently out of session. They will be picking up again in the next couple weeks. I plan to keep an eye on the committee website. Any news about this bill will be posted here. Two of the committee members are from Wisconsin, including the vice-chairman. I'm sure they will get letters about this from me. I will post information in the event that anyone else wants to write letters or make phone calls. The congressmen who are on the committee are listed on the committee website with links to their own websites.

This is a really big issue and I hope that the bill doesn't pass. I'm hoping that the teacher's union is on this issue as well. I'll post any news here.

9-9-2005: Katrina Relief for Children

I haven't posted anything about the news lately because everyone else pretty much has it covered. However, I do want to post something now about the Katrina relief effort that Michael and I are contributing to.

SCBWI is putting together comfort packages for children who have been displaced by Katrina. Each kit will have two age appropriate books in it (picture books or chapter books/novels) as well as a stuffed animal or toy, a flashlight and a toothbrush/toothpaste set. Most of these children have lost everything and anything that we can give them will help them get through this (especially for young children this can make a big difference). They are accepting donations of new or like-new books, new toys and stuffed animals and money for the other needed supplies. The address to send things to is:

SCBWI Katrina Relief
8271 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Michael and I ordered several books from Amazon and had them sent to the above address. If you can, pick out some of your favorite children's books or simple toys and send them!

There are children heroes too. The first story to make me cry outright was this one about a six year old boy who cared for six other children, including his five month old brother, and got them to help. That is one amazingly brave and responsible six year old. I hope that somebody writes a picture book about him, he deserves it and other kids deserve to hear his story. I hope he gets one of the relief kits.

7-22-2005: Pooh Adore*Ables Books

There is a new series of books for babies, toddlers and preschoolers from RandomHouse publishers that look really cute. They are called Pooh Adore*Ables and I think they look wonderful. I want to find these books and look at them to see if they are really as good as they look. I love that at least one of the baby songbooks seems to be based directly on an actual song from A. A. Milne's books! The art is darling and I love that Piglet is just as featured as Pooh (more on the website). Check them out. I'll try to get my hands on some and give you a review or at least more educated opinions later!

7-21-2005: Scholastic to Publish Children's Graphic Novels

Scholastic announced at ComicCon that they are launching a new line of books for children. Each one will be a graphic novel. Some are original material while others will be adaptions of books originally written as novels (a series of Babysitter's Club books, a Goosebumps series and an adaption of The Last Unicorn were all mentioned).

Graphic novels have been a touchy subject with parents and teachers in the past, often being dismissed as void of educational value and rarely considered "real" books, but lately that has begun to change. The problem of "reluctant readers" (children who either don't read because they struggle with it or children who don't read because they simply don't like to) has become a major issue, and so many studies on the subject have been given more weight when considering appropriate reading material for children. Many of these studies show that graphic novels are a really good way to get "reluctant readers" to read. The kids find them more accessable (pictures, fewer words in a line, and other visual cues make them seem easier to approach) and so are often more likely to read them than traditional novels. Seeing them as little more than long comic books (which never go over terribly well with parents and teachers), schools and libraries have been reluctant to supply them. Many schools and libraries are now far more open to carrying graphic novels, however, because of the marked difference it makes in getting kids to read.

Scholastic has always been big on supporting education and printing books that will help teachers and parents without turning off kids too much. This is a pretty big move for them, but it is not out of line with their track record either. I look forward to seeing these books published, hopefully seeing other publishers follow suit, and seeing a growing respect for the genre in the field of education. I will be interested to see if it makes a noticable difference in reading level and willingness among kids to have more access to these kinds of books (my suspicion is that if they become easily avalible, it will).

You can read about the announcement here at Comic Book Resources.

7-19-2005: Interesting WOTC Program

Wizards of the Coast has recently (in the last year and a half or so) begun publishing two new young reader series - the Kights of the Silver Dragon and the New Adventures Dragonlance Series. I've read some of the Knights books and generally enjoyed them, although the range of authors means a range of quality that I'm not entirely happy with. The first on, Secret of the Spiritkeeper by Matt Forbeck, was excellent and I would certainly recommend it if you like fantasy (and even more if you like Dungeons and Dragons, but that isn't necessary).

Anyway, they just announced a program for librarians and teachers around these books. The program is designed to encourage kids who don't like to read to do so. WOTC is calling the program "Adventures for Reluctant Readers" and is using the idea that simple adventure stories are usually what reluctant readers latch onto first to develop the program. It sounds very interesting, but (as is usual for them) WOTC hasn't really given much information about it. You can read about it on the Mirrorstone announcement page. I am very interested in the program and pleased that WOTC is doing it, but I would really like to know more about it. They are offering it free to librarians and teachers, but they don't give many details. Hopefully more information will be released about the program soon.

7-18-2005: Voice of Aslan Announced!

Disney confirmed that Liam Neeson will be the voice of Aslan in the upcoming movie of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe! I'm very happy they finally announced who was doing it. I think Neeson could be really good. Obviously, I can't really form too much of an opinion yet, but I'm excited and look forward to it. James Earl Jones would have been the perfect choice, but barring him, I think this could be good.

6-3-2005: New Oz Book from HarperCollins

I was really happy to see today on the HarperCollins Children's book site that they are publishing a new Oz book called The Emerald Wand of Oz by Sherwood Smith and illustrated by William G. Stout. It sounds interesting. In some ways the description of the plot reminds me way too much of Dorothy - Return to Oz by Thomas L. Tedrow for comfort. In other ways, it sounds like it could be enjoyable. I'm bothered a little by the fact that the author is obviously drawing from more than just The Wonderful Wizard of Oz since Ozma is in power and Dorothy is supposed to be there but isn't, however somehow Dorothy (who never grew up and never would, according to the classic books) has two granddaughters. That seems kind of weird to me. Nonetheless, I'll read it when it comes out! Hopefully it will be good!

6-3-2005: Author Responds to Book Banning

Ok, I rail against book banning a lot. Yesterday I found this letter from young adult author Chris Crutcher. He wrote it in response the the banning of his book Whale Talk. He explains why he feels that the book should not be banned and why he wrote it. It's a wonderful letter and I highly recommend reading it!

6-1-2005: Dangerous Books! Beware!

I decided the last post didn't fullfill our daily quota of "book things that piss Katie off". This should just about cover it.

A conservative website called Human Events Online just came out with a list of "the most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries". Some of the books on this list make sense. The Communist Manifesto, for example. I have no problem with this book, but given some of the events it inspired I can understand why it would be on this list. Some of the books on this list make no sense at all. The Feminine Mystique, for example. How is this book harmful? Because it convinced some women who hadn't already figured it out that the world wouldn't fall apart if they weren't well-behaved little housewives? How does that rate alongside Mein Kampf? I totally don't understand. This list seems like it's just intended to supply a list of books that should be burned or banned, especially given that they listed the other books considered besides just the top ten and their scores for how "harmful" they were considered. I also find the list of "experts" they chose somewhat less than balanced. Of the fifteen experts, one is female. And she is one of the few names on the list without "Dr." or "Prof." before it.

Anyway, the list irritated me a great deal. If you want, you can read the list here.

6-1-2005: More Book Burning

I hate hearing about book banning. A lot of people have been unfortunate enough to have to hear my very long, very angry rants about the subject. I'm very sorry to all of those people, but it's a really important subject to discuss and to be aware of. It's a totally stupid thing that we do in the united states every day, something like 547 times last year - give or take. That's more than one book a day. That's insane. Why is it that we have no real problem banning books, but if you talk about banning guns you risk bringing hell and high water down on your head? When was the last time you saw a book shoot someone? I realize that books can be dangerous, but seriously, how dangerous could a book about a little boy and a man floating down the river on a raft really be? How about a book about a kid who goes to school to study magic? Or maybe the danger really lies in books of poetry about silly things by such horrible people as Shel Silverstein. Seriously, why do people do this? Do we think so little of our children (usually high school students) that we can't trust them to think for themselves about issues that could prove very important to them in college and life? It's disgusting and it pisses me off like few other things even begin to.

Anyway, there is currently a fight going on in Pennsylvania over a book called The Buffalo Tree by Adam Rapp. It's a book set in a juvenile detention center and told from the point of view of a kid there. It's intended for teenagers. Obviously this should be a light and fluffy read, right? Well, apparently it involves a fair about of non-so-acceptable language and some discussion of things like a boy becoming sexually aroused. It was being taught in one of the English classes at the high school where it is now banned. The banning is being contested and reconsidered this evening. Hopefully they will come to their senses and remove the ban. You can read the New York Times article about it here.

If you see instances of books being banned, please let me know.

5-8-2005: New Peter Pan Author

Ok, a short while ago I posted about the intended sequel for Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie. If you missed that post about my thoughts on the whole idea, it's Here. It's a rather long rant, just so you know.

Anyway, the author has been announced. Her name is Geraldine McCaughrean. She has written a large number of books, many of them for children. Many of them are focused on mythology. I don't recognize her name, but she has apparently won a number of awards for her children's books. I plan to go check out some of her work (probably starting with her award-winners) and I'll post about what I think!

The working title of the book is Captain Pan, which I don't like very much, and I know that Captain Hook is a character in it, which will involve some interesting reworking of the end of Peter and Wendy when the crocodile gets him. We'll see what she comes up with. I hope that she does well, but I am still very nervious about it. I'll let you all know what I find!

5-8-2005: Narnia Trailer Released!

The trailer for the new movie of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis was released today. It's going to appear during The Magical World of Disney tonight on ABC as well as on the Disney Channel and a few other networks. It is not up on the Official Movie Site yet, but is supposed to be there on May 11. The official site is not the best place to go for news, but they do have some cool features about how the sets and stuff were done. I found it worth a look. That said, I get most of my Narnia news from NarniaWeb.com. They have the trailer up. It's worth watching, but it made me even more nervious about the movie than I was. I'm excited to see the movie, I adore the Narnia books, but a lot of the characters and stuff just don't look right to me. And that bothers me. I guess that happens with most movies, though, so I'll have to deal! Anyway, check out the new trailer (NarniaWeb has screenshots and other cool stuff too)!

5-1-2005: Blog Book

Ok, I'm officially wierded out about the state of children's books right now. I just found out that there is a new book called The Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez by Judy Goldschmidt. This is a book that reads exactly like a blog, comments and everything. There is a very brief description of it here. It sounds kind of intriguing, if not terribly innovative in plot. I'm not sure if I'm scared or excited that blogs are not suitable material for books. Anyway, I'm rather interested in it. I may try to get it from the library at some point or something.

Oh, and the website listed in the book as the location of the fictional blog is twoscoopsofraisin.com, which does exist as the blog belonging to the book character, but rather than the rather cool webiste that it could have been, the site is sadly just one blog entry in black type on a white background (not even centered or anything) with no frills (like comments) or anything. Hopefully the website is in the works and will eventually have something useful (like information about the book or author).

4-25-2005: A Sequel to Peter Pan?

Apparently the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity has decided that there should be a sequel to J. M. Barrie's masterpiece Peter and Wendy. The book was written in 1911, based on a play released in (I believe) 1904 and also written by Barrie. It's an international classic. Who hasn't heard at least some version of the story about Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up? The book is a jewel, one of my absolute all-time favorites. It is full of imagination and fun, topped off with a healthy dose of pirates, indians and mermaids. What more could any kid (or honest adult) wish for? The story is self-contained, so I'm not sure how a sequel would work. Disney did a reasonably good job at it with their movie "Return to Neverland" (much to my surprise), but even that had some serious short-comings and didn't even come close to the magic of the original story.

The GOSHCC has held the rights to the story since Barrie "donated" it to them in 1928. They have benefitted greatly from this gift, as you may guess. There have been a number of movies, many many publications of the book, many stage productions, and a large number of "spin-off" productions in every media out there. Nevertheless, they have apparently decided that they could do with more money from the sale of a new "official" book. So they are auditioning authors. The official statement can be read here.

I have some serious reservations about this. First of all, they are deliberately trying to create a classic. Every time I've seen someone attempt that, it fails. Classics are almost always unintentional. So I'm rather worried about that. I'm also concerned about their statement that the story will "be placed in a contemporary setting" (quoted from the official statement). If Neverland exists essentially outside of time (in the minds of children everywhere and everywhen), then what is the point of setting it now other than to plunge the story into the mess that is adult thinking on the appropriateness of everything in children's books? I mean, if Peter and Wendy had been written today, can you even imagine the uproar it would have caused? There are indians (native Americans) who are portrayed as rather savage and uncivilized, there are pirates that randomly kill each other, there are cruel mermaids, there are children trying to kill each other (and nearly succeeding)... I mean, you publish something like that now and your book is going to be burned on every street corner no matter now many experts say it's wonderful! And yet it works beautifully in Peter and Wendy. The book is incredible. Barrie didn't worry about stereotypes or violence, probably in large part because of when and where he was living and writing. The book has been read and studied for so long now that people have realized that it isn't horrible for the things I mentioned. Modern publications get little such consideration. Look at Harry Potter! Nevertheless, Neverland feels real. It manages that because Barrie really knew the way children think. Talk to a four year old the next time you get the chance. Barrie's statement that Neverland is really just a map of a child's imagination is dead on, even today. I remember playing pirates and "killing" my little brother, how about you? Yet children today are not supposed to think about such things (despite the fact that children do think such things and likely always will - read Bettelheim if you want more detailed discussion of this). We don't really care what children do think when discussing books, we just care what we want them to think. So why try to write a sequel to a book that really gets it when you know that either the sequel is going to miss the point and not have a prayer of holding up to the original or it is going to be crucified hourly? I don't see why we need to do that to Barrie's wonderful wonderful wonderful book! It's such a gem, why try to write a sequel? Why don't we focus on trying to write new stories that get it just as well without causing international incidents?

Then again, maybe GOSHCC will pick a genius who will write a fabulous book with all the magic and wonder and meaning of Peter and Wendy that won't get burned. Maybe. I really hope so, but I have trouble believing it's going to happen.

Why can't we just celebrate classics as they are without poking them with sharp sticks all the time? Flaming sharp sticks?

*sigh* Oh well. Sorry for the long rant. I just felt like sharing this bit of news and my opinions on the matter. That's what blogs are for, right? At least, that's what Michael keeps telling me...

2-9-2005: Controversy Over a Doll's Book

When I was a child all the girls my age either had or wanted Pleasant Company's American Girls dolls. Each doll was set in a different time period and place (my first AG doll was from 1854 and lived in Minnesota) and each came with a book or set of books telling her story. Since then the company has branched out and now makes dolls from other countries, Angelina Ballerina dolls, baby dolls, and modern dolls with books you can write yourself.

For the past two years there has also been one modern doll with a book written about her as well as character-appropriate accessories. This year's character (the third in the series) is Marisol, a hispanic girl growing up in Chicago. Normally the American Girl books are as wholesome as apple pie and no one complains about them, but Marisol's book has been surrounded by controversy since it was released a few weeks ago.

Apparently, the girl's parents decided to move in the book because their neighborhood is not as "safe" as they might like. The problem is that Marisol's story takes place in a real neighborhood in Chicago. Understandably, the people who live in this neighborhood are angry. The company seems to be largely shrugging the complaints off, but this is the kind of thing that can quickly take on a life of its own. It's an interesting development. I hope that they don't stop making the book or change it because of pressure, but you never know what will happen.

Read about it

7-20-2004: New Book

There's a new book out by David L. Hudson, Jr., a First Amendment Center research attorney. It's about the first amendment rights of students. This is a big issue that gets kind of ignored these days. The biggest area of dispute about students' first amendement right is censorship, which doesn't seem to be a big focus of this book. Still, it looks pretty good and worth a look. Copies can be bought at the First Amendment Center website, and there is a PDF version there too.

To learn more about censorship and other first amendment issues concerning kids, check out kidSPEAK!.

4-28-2004: Narnia

Disney has gotten the rights to make a movie of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". It's going to be directed by the man who did Shrek and Shrek 2. It should be interesting, but I'm nervious about it. The Narnia books are not going to be easy to translate to film well.

Read about it

3-26-2004: "Wicked"

Sigh. This is again one of those things that makes me wish I had more money and more time. I'd love to go to New York City and see the new musical "Wicked" on Broadway! It's based on the book "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" by Gregory Maguire, which was really good. The musical is supposed to be fantastic. I *so* wish that I could go see it! At least the official website is good and has lots of pictures and sound clips!