15.12.07

Round-ing Up Children's Titles for CBC

Recommended books for CBC Radio One

PICTURE BOOKS
The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming by Lemony Snickett, illustrated
by Lisa Brown (McSweeney's)
Olivia Helps With Christmas by Ian Falconer (Simon & Schuster)
Sing a Song of Mother Goose by Barbara Reid (Scholastic)
Winston of Churchill by Jean Davies Okimoto, illustrated by Jeremiah
Trammell (PGC)
Chester by Melanie Watt (KidsCan)

CHAPTER BOOKS
The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan & Miriam Peskowitz
(Harper Collins)
A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson (Penguin)
Very Serious Children by Caroline Adderson (Scholastic)
Prisoners in the Promised Land: The Ukrainian Internment Diary of Anya
Soloniuk By Marsha Skrypuch (Scholastic)


You have to go to lookybook and check out The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming.
Here:
http://www.lookybook.com/mainpage.php?name_id=1338

2.10.07

We love Olivia


OLIVIA FORMS A BAND
By Ian Falconer
(Simon & Schuster)

Olivia is funny because of the page with lipstick. It was funny because her teeth were so shiny she looked SCARRRRY. The second page of her with lipstick was funny because she looked the exact same but she put her mouth and head up. Close to the end, her brother William just "went to the bathroom." When she went to bed she dreamed to be the Prime Minister.

(as dictated by Euan)

17.4.07

Writing for Children


Novelists these days just can't seem stick to the important stuff -- they write great big grown-up books on great big grown-up subjects and give all appearances of having heeded St. Paul's advice to put away childish things. Then --like an irrepressible case of the giggles at some solemn occasion -- out pops some bit of whimsy, some joyful riff on language, some bit of fantasy and imagination running wild and unbridled. C. S. Lewis, who had a whole, serious life as a scholar and critic, once said, "If they won't write the books I want to read, then I'll have to do it myself." He then went on to write the Narnia books, which have now been read by several generations of children.
So you literati who want to be totally au courant with the latest from our literary icons should know that the latest book from Margaret Atwood is not the dystopian Oryx and Crake, but a rollicking tale called Rude Ramsay and The Roaring Radishes (illustrated by Dusan Petricic). After the grim, imagined, reality of Oryx it must have been a resplendent respite and radical relief to write this really radiant, ravishing and refulgent story. And if you're wondering why I'm writing on such a roll of alliteration then you probably haven't read the book yet. Here is a sample:
"Residing with Rude Ramsay, who was red-haired, were his revolting relatives, Ron, Rollo, and Ruby. They were rotund but robust, and when not regaling themselves with rum, they relaxed in their recliners, replaying reams of retro rock-n-'roll records, relentlessly. This could be rigorous."
Atwood is, of course, the author of many, many books for adults, as well as four other children's books, Anna's Pet (with Joyce Barkhouse), Up in the Tree, For the Birds, and Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut. It's good to know that she knows how to kick back and have fun.
Of course, she's not the first, or the last Canadian writer to find an affinity for entertaining young readers. Dennis Lee composes fully adult verse (Civil Elegies and Un, for example) but is more likely to find readers of the besotted, drooling type with his classic Alligator Pie, or the more recent Garbage Delight. The late distinguished novelist Matt Cohen had a secret second literary life, writing books such as The Kid Line and Night Cars as Teddy Jam. Vancouver writer Madeleine Thien followed up her critically acclaimed breakout book of stories Simple Recipes by writing the text for a children's picture book called The Chinese Violin. And W.H. New, the Vancouver poet and scholar, editor of the comprehensive Encyclopedia of Canadian Literature, also writes truly delightful verse for young children.
Anyone who has endured the nightly ritual of reading to children is grateful to find kidlit that is well-written. There may be a perception that it's easier to write for children, but in fact the work is held up to greater scrutiny. How many other books are you liable to read aloud dozens and dozens of times, sometimes in a single evening? 
Bill Richardson, who has proved himself no slouch at writing for adults -- his Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast books are true Canadian classics -- has in recent years turned his hand to writing for children. He has written a young-adult novel called After Hamelin, and three picture books -- Sally Dog Little, But If They Do and Sally Dog Little: Undercover Agent -- that stand up to the repeated reading test. Asked what he thought the difference between writing for adults and children was, he replied, "Writing a picture book text is like writing a picture book text as near as I can tell. It isn't like anything else. For me, it's about having fun, trying to write well with the needs of both kids and adult readers -- the ones who are buying the book and reading the book aloud -- in mind. If adults don't find it engaging, what's the point?"
Logical as this argument may be, it remains a fact that a lot of literature written for children is dull, dull, dull.
But with all the adults now reading the Harry Potter books, why not regress just a little further and reach for a nice picture book? Or, as Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean term their latest creation for children, The Wolves in the Walls, "a graphic novel for children." That would seem to be an entirely different sort of creature from a children's picture book. For one thing the phrasing privileges the text and the images equally; but it also seems to hint at the fact that there is something satisfying here for adults.
The Wolves in the Walls does fantastically innovative things with illustration -- mixing painting and digitally-altered photography with drawing. And the story is a satisfying one to read because not only does good triumph over evil, but cleverness triumphs over wickedness, bravery over commonsense and loyalty over pragmatism. How often can you get that sense of catharsis and satisfaction from a "grown-up" book?
Gaiman has gained huge popularity for his recent books for adults, American Gods and Neverwhere, but is equally popular with young readers, as the stunning sales of his young-adult novel Coraline proved last year. In an online interview with newsarama.com, Gaiman explains the significant differences for him between writing for children and writing for adults:
"One of the things I love about children's fiction is you can simply make things happen.... Writing adult fiction is harder -- you're dealing with suspension of disbelief. And what will leave one person really happy, and feeling that everything you've written is utterly true will leave the person next to her shaking his head at the pitiful way you've tried to make him believe in junkie leprachauns."
Maybe the reason these writers are drawn to writing for children is based on their willingness to suspend disbelief, to go along with the joke, to allow themselves to wonder. If wolves really did come out of the walls, what would you do? Good writing is good writing is good writing. And you don't have to be a child to recognize it.

(This article originally published in 2003).

Start Them Young


"I don't have time to read." It's a claim that is made often, and with a certain arrogance by people who are Too Busy. How odd that books are such hot commodities these days, but reading, apparently, is not. It's as if reading were an indulgence, a sort of decadent idleness. After all, look what happened to Madame Bovary. Her mother told her to spend less time lolling about with novels. Maybe if she had, she'd have ended up with a nice, productive little home business instead of eating that arsenic.
Then there are those people who do read but feel empowered by the disclaimer, "Well, I never read fiction." As though fiction has nothing to tell us about the world. I wonder how people who don't read fiction ever learn to imagine the world as seen from another point of view. It must make the world a remarkably simple place.
In Robert Fulford's The Triumph of Narrative: Storytelling in the Age of Mass Culture (Anansi, 158 pp., $16.95), we find a cogent analysis of the human hunger for narrative. Stories are how we explain ourselves to ourselves, says Fulford. He alludes to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan: "Peter describes himself as a lost boy who has not been told stories; that's why he can't grow up and inhabit stories of his own as others do. He cannot become an adult because he lacks the narrative equipment." Why read? To imagine being in other places and other times, surely, but also to imagine being other selves.
In the early '90s, Italian fiction writer Italo Calvino posed the question Why read the classics? with a collection of essays that closely examined what he took to be seminal literary texts. But these days it is impossible to discuss the classics without a discussion of "the canon" (a dirty word) rearing its ugly head. We shouldn't be forced to read dead white European males but should be free to read whatever takes our fancy. Fair enough. But the work of the dead white males has been studied by many people over many centuries; our consciousness is steeped in their narratives, whether we ourselves have read the books or not. For better or worse they are part of our common language, a language made up of images and symbols and plots and archetypes.
As Archbishop Hare (one rather obscure but oft-quoted dead white male) once suggested, a possible answer to this conundrum is -- for every new book published, one should read an old one. There are so many books being published now that many of them will have a shelf- life not much longer than a quarterly magazine. There is always a new season around the corner and with it comes more novels, more memoirs, more and yet more thin volumes of short stories. How to cope with it all? Where to begin?
There is a spanking-new edition of Italo Calvino's Why Read the Classics? (Knopf, 278 pp., $34), and it provides a crash course in all the books you've meant to read but never have. Or read it just to find out what Calvino, no intellectual slouch, considers a classic.
Calvino offers a couple of definitions: "The classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying: "I'm rereading ... ," never "I'm reading ... ." Another definition: "A classic is a book which with each re-reading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading." Those who do have time to read, and to read to their children, soon discover that one of the joys in reading to a child is this sense of discovery, or re-discovery. It gives you the opportunity to once again while away the hours with Toad of Toad Hall, Christopher Robin and Alice in Wonderland.
And preschoolers love to be read to -- so much so that it almost doesn't matter what you read to them. Start them young enough and they will listen to Principles of Geography with as much alacrity as The Adventures of Curious George. There is something maddeningly attractive about the little blank slates they carry about in their heads. Something that makes you want to fill them up with Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, and Titania and Oberon, and Zeus and the rest. Narratives to grow on. After all, when they grow up, they probably won't have time to read. 

(This article originally published in 2000)

Alice, I Think


I can't tell you how many times I have followed my husband around the house, clutching a young-adult novel and reading passages aloud to him. Well, yes, I can. Once. The passage was from Susan Juby's Alice, I Think (HarperCollins Canada, 242 pages, $15.99), the first in a planned trilogy of novels about Alice MacLeod of Smithers.
The bit I felt impelled to share is near the beginning of the novel, where Alice is describing how she was socially crippled by what she calls her "supportive home life." As a preschooler, she becomes obsessed with Tolkien's The Hobbit and is encouraged by her parents:
"Not only did they encourage me in thinking I was a hobbit, my mother actually made me a hobbit outfit. It included a burlap-sack tunic with twine fringe, brown felt slippers with bits of fake fur on the toes, and a pointy green hat. I wore it everywhere. I said hobbity things and practised my deep fruity laugh. I asked people to call me Took and carried an oversized pipe that my Dad's friend picked up for me at something called a headshop.
"So off I went for my first day of Grade 1 where I quickly discovered that everyone else had bonded and figured out the rules the year before. My next discovery was that kids don't like other kids who think they are hobbits, especially kids who break into song and dance without warning."
I don't usually quote at such length, but it's the most direct way of showing that this Susan Juby is funny, no matter what age you may be.
Curiosity led me to her Web site (Susanjuby.com), and to her at her Nanaimo home. She and her husband relocated there after she completed the master's program in publishing at Simon Fraser University. I told her I'd read an article recently about people moving to Nanaimo and commuting to Vancouver. There was a polite pause and then she told me that she'd written it.
Juby has had an interesting journey with her first novel. It was originally published by Thistledown Press and was nominated for both the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Canadian Library Association Best Young Adult Novel Award. The nominations are a good indication of the fact that it is one of those crossover books that can be enjoyed by both teen and adult readers.
I offered up the term "kidult fiction," which I'd seen coined in a British article about the Harry Potter phenomenon. Juby thought it might be a more useful designation than the one she'd been using up to now: "immature adult fiction."
After completing the manuscript for her follow-up novel, Miss Smithers, she decided she would be well advised to find an agent who could sell foreign rights to both novels together. Hilary McMahon of Westwood Creative Artists read the manuscript.
Then she mentioned it to a New York editor, who, on the basis of a description of one scene in the book, urged McMahon to sign Juby and bring the manuscript to her.
Subsequently, all three novels have been signed in a lucrative international deal that will see the books appearing here, in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Miss Smithers will be available here next spring. The new edition of Alice, I Think is available now.
The books recount the continuing adventures of Alice MacLeod, a girl with her own definite perspective on life. She is in a constant process of revising her list of life goals, and at different junctures it includes such items as: "Become practising feminist. (Find out what it entails besides being nice to other females)" and "Develop new look. (Like career choice, must reflect uniqueness. Must also be at least semipresentable, not just sad.)"
Alice is a true non-conformist, even if she is always trying to model herself on someone else.
Her recounting of adolescence is every bit as horrific as I remember it being: She is counselled at the Teens in Crisis Centre by a man she refers to as Death Lord Bob; she takes a career aptitude test that shows she should become either a stewardess or a seamstress ("I pointed out to my mom that I'm afraid to fly and can't sew"); she gets a haircut so terrible it incites violence; she meets a boy named Aubrey who keeps trying to work the word "zoo- merization" into the conversation; she gets a job in an alternative bookstore but is fired (by her own mother) for "over-surveilling" the customers.
Alice, I Think is your typical angst-ridden female adolescent coming-of-age story with all the dreary earnestness sucked right out of it, which is to say not typical at all.
Juby says she was happy when the book found a home with Thistledown because it was one of the few small presses actively publishing YA fiction and willing to take a chance with edgier choices.
Until she began approaching publishers, Juby wasn't even aware that she was writing for teens. As of September, she is teaching a course in the subject at the University of Victoria.
She is also doing a little tutoring online, but her students aren't your standard-issue creative writing types. She is tutoring United Nations employees who are working in trouble spots around the world and need to pass UN writing exams.
It seems the sort of career choice you could never exactly plan, and I was reminded of how, at the end of Alice, I Think, Alice, age 15, imagines her future life.
"It strikes me that perhaps what I learned today is that I would be a good observer of some kind. You know, one of those people who watch things happen and don't feel the need to get involved. What are they called? Oh yeah, impartial observers. They go to wars and demonstrations and things like that and just watch. I could be quite good at that."
It's ironic that Juby felt compelled to have something like teaching publishing as a back-up plan because she couldn't imagine how she'd ever support herself from her writing.
So far, it's going pretty darned well, and I think she's going to find herself with a lot of readers: mature and immature, adults and teens.
Imagine a younger, non-smoking, non-drinking, non-dieting Bridget Jones in a remote British Columbia locale. Imagine Adrian Mole with a father who writes (but never publishes) romance novels and a younger brother who breeds rare and unusual fish. Imagine Holden Caulfield in a 1950s housedress, nurse shoes and full 1980s makeup, adjusting to life at an alternative high school after 10 years of home-schooling.
Imagine Alice. You're going to love her.
(Originally published 2003)

19.3.07

Montreal Gazette - March 17

Page-Turner takes readers to egypt of old
SARA O'LEARY, Freelance
Published: Saturday, March 17, 2007
As readers, we seldom know or, indeed, care, about an author's reasons for writing a book. We may be intrigued by where a book was written (in an Edinburgh cafe by single mum Jo Rowling, with baby in tow), or when (at the tender age of 15, Christopher Paolini began the book that became Eragon), but we don't often wonder why. Readers - both young and old - generally assume that books are written for our pleasure.
In fact, Rise of the Golden Cobra, by Gazette columnist Henry Aubin, stems from the author's effort to find stories for the pleasure - and education - of one person in particular: one of his sons, now an adult. According to his publisher's website: "Henry's exploration of Egypt's 25th Dynasty began when he was telling his 8-year-old son about African history. (Two of his four children are adopted, and one is of African-Canadian origin.)"
Does this make for a better book? As my own son used to say, probably yes, probably no. The fact is that whatever led Aubin to write it, Rise of the Golden Cobra is a fine yarn - a good old-fashioned page-turner with a solid historical grounding in an epoch less than familiar even to some of us well on the upper end of the book's suggested age-11-and-up readership.
Rise of the Golden Cobra is set in 728 BC, during the reign of Pharaoh Piankhy, the Kushite ruler who united North and South Egypt. The story centres on Nebamon, a boy who is half Egyptian and half Mesh and who, through courage and initiative, rises from peasant, to scribe, to lieutenant in the pharaoh's army. Nebamon is assigned as shield-bearer to Shebitku, nephew to the pharaoh. While Shebitku is a historical personage, Nebamon is an invention of the author. But both boys are completely believable, and a teenager's problems with impulse control ring true no matter what the century.
Sheb, as part of the royal family, may be elected to succeed his uncle as pharaoh, but his ambition often outruns his judgment. Nebi, possessed of a cooler temperament, is often forced to play conscience for the older boy. At the same time, he fights against his own desire for revenge. Both boys are forced to mature in the course of events, and while doing so they come to understand the importance of maat - a concept of honour common to both Kushites and Egyptians.
Luckily for readers, (especially those with an insatiable appetite for plot), the moral lesson comes enlivened by lots of heart-in-your-throat descriptions of battles.
Aubin is also the author of The Rescue of Jerusalem: The Alliance Between Hebrews and Africans in 701 B.C., which argues that Kushite forces from Africa helped defend Jerusalem from the Abyssians. His interest in the period shows no sign of waning, and it is to be hoped that a sequel to Rise of the Golden Cobra may not be far off.
Rise of the Golden Cobra
By Henry T. Aubin
Illustrations by Stephen M. Taylor
Annick Press, 255 pages, $12.95


© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007

http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/story.html?id=e1ab5407-161e-429b-a9e8-90f75ff3f1cc

16.3.07

Talking Up Kids Books on CBC This Week

We talked about the following kids books on CBC this week:
READ ME A BOOK
Barbara Reid
(Scholastic)

GRUMPY BIRD
Jeremy Tankard
(Scholastic)

HUGO PEPPER
By Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
(Random House)

THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY
By Susan Patron,
Illustrations by Matt Phelan
(Simon & Schuster)

THE MYSTERY OF THE MARTELLO TOWER
By Jennifer Lanthier
(Harper Collins)

COWBOYS AND COFFIN MAKERS
One Hundred 19th-Century Jobs You Might Have Feared or Fancied
By Laurie Coulter, art by Martha Newbigging
(Annick Books)

Had this to say about Jeremy Tankard's book:



"It's called GRUMPY BIRD and it's by Jeremy
Tankard who also illustrates his own text. This is the first time out
for Tankard - he was a student at the Alberta College of Art & Design.
It's quite a simple little story - a bird who wakes up too grumpy
even to fly and so he starts walking. He's quickly joined by all his
friends and at the end he's so cheered up he suggests they all fly
back to his place for a snack. My six year old was chortling with
delight when he realized the snack on offer was a nice juicy worm.
There's a lovely droll tone to the whole book and the illustrations
are beautiful - particularly in their use of colour. I had to read
this one twice the first night we had it and then I had to listen it
to it twice, and then we had to go looking around the house for other
people to listen to it. That's basically a four thumbs up rating."



http://www.cbc.ca/radioshows/FREESTYLE/20070313.shtml