Two videos about penguins from different ends of the spectrum.

First joy:

And then despair:

Actually, perhaps better to watch those in reverse order. The BBC one isn't new, but we've been watching it alot around our house over the past few days. Just something "uplifting" about it.

And to tie this in to my children's literature theme, here are the three books about penguins: Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers ( a boy-meets-penguin classic); Penguin and the Cupcake by Ashley Spires; and the yet-to-be-released The Pirate and the Penguin by Patricia Storms.

I once wrote a story about a penguin and a polar bear meeting up in Stanley Park. I wonder where I put it.


Getting the Girl

Best of luck to Susan Juby, whose novel Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance and Cookery is up for an Edgar Award for Best Young Adult book from The Mystery Writers of America.

Good review of the book here.

I first met Susan when I interviewed her for the Vancouver Sun about her breakthrough novel, Alice, I Think, and I have to say that while she is a very lovely, very grown-up woman, she does seem to be able to put herself right inside the head of adolescent boys (as in this book and also the excellent A Different Kind of Cowboy) and girls (as in all three of the Miss Smithers books). And she's funny as hell, too.


What Makes a Good (Children's) Story?

Have been having some interesting conversations with Steph Aulenback (chatelaine of the Crooked House) about the difference between writing for children and writing about children. Which leads me tangentially to this discussion of Laura Miller's The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia in this interesting review by Zsuzsi Gartner:

What Miller finds there is refreshing. "Narnia is a country of literature, of books, and of reading, a territory so vast that it might as well be infinite." There is also C. S. Lewis as ironist; Lewis as an exemplar of friendship (Miller devotes much space to the real-life friendship between Lewis and Tolkien); Lewis as a writer of fairy tales to be enjoyed by adults.

It was Lewis the critic who noted, "A children's story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children's story." I came as a full-fledged adult to Narnia (save for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), to the Harry Potter series and to His Dark Materials - the two former in my guise as a parent, the Pullman books with no excuses. I now wonder, did reading these marvellous stories trigger my current impatience with many literary adult novels, or did a nascent boredom make me more susceptible to the charms of more engaging narratives?

The many childless adult visitors I know to Narnia, Middle-earth, Hogwart's and the worlds of His Dark Materials (Pullman might cringe to be included in this company) is a testament to the power of "story" at a time when, as Pullman himself said in a speech in 1995, "In adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. ... The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs."
-from "In Defence of 'Fairy Tales'" by Zsuzsi Gartner, Globe & Mail, Feb. 7, 2009



Here's the dedication to Russell Brand's My Booky Wook:

For my mum,
the most important woman in my life,
this book is dedicated to you.
Now for God's sake don't read it.

I'd actually like to read this one ... since I'm not his mother.

Smart Cookies

Cookie Magazine has an article by Paul Collins about hosting autistic children at birthday parties. Very 21st century etiquette, and very useful as it's all too easy to be awkward in our own ignorance. As he points out in the piece: "As diagnoses rise—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimate 1 in 150 eight-year-olds nationwide—it's increasingly likely that your guest list will include an autistic child."


Cirrus & Endymion

I'm reading a book called Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton. It came out a few years ago, but I've just read an advance copy of Skelton's new novel which is called Cirrus Flux. (Thanks so much to the fine folk at Penguin for giving me a sneak peek).

Cirrus Flux is very, very good. But really I should wait to tell you about it as it won't be available in stores until August. So I won't tell you about how it's an eighteenth-century romp or how it gives an interesting view of London's Foundling Home and of peculiar hybrids of entertainment and scientific investigation during that period. I won't tell you that the book would make a very fine film, and that more than that, it makes a very fine book. I'll tell you all that closer to the date in August when you can go to a bookstore and get a copy of your own.

Incidentally, there's a very fine book called A Home For Foundlings by Marthe Jocelyn (Tundra Books) which is chock-full of fascinating detail and great pictures. One poignant aspect of the Foundling home which stuck with me from reading this book was the collection of tokens left behind by those who hoped to one day be reunited with their children, and this detail becomes an important plot element in Cirrus Flux.

So now I've gone back to Endymion Spring (both books are named for their heroes), which I somehow managed to miss when it came out. I may have filed it under L for later, which is where a number of books end up. I thought it was a fantasy title, but actually it's a sort of historical fantasy - blending a modern story about a boy whiling away the hours in the Bodleian Library and another boy, centuries earlier, apprenticed to the great Gutenberg.

Just by chance, I found this video online today and plan to spend a little time later on educating myself on things Gutenbergian before returning to the book.


Children's Writing in Lithuania?

In my other life, I have been doing some work with Mikhail Iossel who is the founder of the Summer Literary Seminars (which you can learn more about here). St. Petersburg faculty member George Saunders said of the program: "SLS is one of the most exciting and important intellectual venues in the world right now; absolutely the most important seminar of its kind. "

Right now SLS is gearing up for summer 2009 in Vilnius, Lithuania. And consideration is being given to adding a Children’s Literature Workshop to our curriculum, in part because we have an opportunity to bring in a Newberry Award winner to teach the subject. Personally, I think it's a fantastic idea - but it would help to have a few more voices join the chorus, so if this interests you, please take the time to send a note along to Mike Spry, Programs Coordinator, at mike@sumlitsem.org.

There is still time to apply for the 2009 summer program in Vilnius. The ‘New Prague’ is eagerly awaiting its first SLS program. It is going to be a unique literary and cultural event. Peter Cole, Dovid Katz, Phillip Lopate, Erin Moure, Darius James Ross, Antanas Sileika, Lynne Tillman, Laima Vince, Mac Wellman, and others lead a talented and enthusiastic faculty of the "general" SLS and SLS-Jewish Lithuania. The program runs July 19th to August 4th. Should you require supplemental funding please contact Programs Coordinator Mike Spry at mike@sumlitsem.org. The program is filling up fast, so now is the time to apply. Please visit our website here to apply.


Thanks to Lori Schubert at the Quebec Writers Federation and to Robin Sales and Elizabeth Macdonnell of The Montreal Children's Library, I had a lovely time yesterday with my favourite kind of readers. Small ones. The kind who chuckle and chortle, and who keep edging ever closer. The kind who politely enquire at the end of a story, whether you could "just read that book again, please."

Thanks too, to the Canada Council for funding this reading series.


Good Mail Day!

Hey, we just got the new Jellaby - it's shiny, it's gorgeous and it has a title we were not expecting... Jellaby: Monster in the City. Given that the first volume of Jellaby ended on a cliffhanger, and given that we've been waiting months to get ourselves off that cliff we've been dangling off, this is very good news indeed.

More later! Must go read.

Meantimely ... there's an interview by Kean Soo and Naseem Hrab (of Canadian Children's Book Centre) with Shaun Tan posted over at Drawn. And check out Kean Soo on livejournal here.

See earlier posts for our feelings for Jellaby. And thanks so much to Lisa Mior at H.B. Fenn.


Apparently We're Going to See This One

Thanks to Betsy for the link.

I never actually read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs but my resident expert in children's-book-to-film adaptation tells me that they are taking lots of liberties here.


Bang Bang

I had no idea that Chitty Chitty Bang was written by Ian Fleming! (Although it does make sense of the name Truly Scrumptious which is like a PG version of ... well, those less PG names). Wiki-wisdom tells me that Fleming wrote it for his son Caspar. We watched the film today and I was also surprised to note that the adaptation was co-written by Roald Dahl.

I have to say I loved this little wiki-quibble:

The plot summary in this article is too long or detailed compared to the rest of the content. Please edit the article to focus on discussing the work rather than merely reiterating the plot.

How many times have I wanted to append that to a newspaper book review?

The best thing about the movie, I have to say, is that it has finally driven the song Chim-Chim-Chimlee out of my head (where it has been in residence since last weekend's viewing of Mary Poppins). The bad news is ... Bang, Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!



Had a nice time chatting about childrens' books on the CBC the other day - the time always flies by. Angus Byers of Montreal's fantastic Babar Books was there, as was Kathy Conroy of the Eleanor London Public Library. After making our own recommendations, we answered questions from callers.

One interesting query was about picture books with non-white protaganists. We talked about books like Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch, but one that occurred to me was Edward and the Lucky Eureka Wish Company by Barbara Todd with illustrations by Patricia Storms. I found it interesting that Edward's race was in no way a factor in the story being told and that the choice made by the illustrator could well be an example of what in theatre or film would be called colour-blind casting.

I was curious enough that I fired off an email to Toronto illustrator Patricia Storms and got the following reply.
"That's interesting, your thoughts about Edward. I have wondered about it myself. You are the first person to bring up the subject, though. To date, no one who has seen the book has made any comment to me about the colour of the boy's skin. All I hear is that it looks like a fun book (phew!). I'm inclined to think that this is a good thing, because it means that so far, the question has not been asked (out loud, anyway) as to why wasn't the boy white instead of dark skinned."

And yes, Edward and the Eureka Lucky Wish Company is fun - check it out. Meanwhile, I'm wondering if anyone out there can think of other examples where the skin colour of the child in a picture book isn't directly related to the story being told but is just who they are.


Excellence in Design

Congratulations several times over to the wonderful Robin Mitchell who has been honoured yet again for her wonderful work in design by the Alcuin Society's Book Design Awards. In the category of Childrens' Books, Robin Mitchell's work on Where You Came From tied for third place with ...wait for it, Robin Mitchell's work on Monkey World: An A-Z of Occupations by Matthew Porter. Both titles are from Simply Read Books who know a good designer when they see one.

Robin Mitchell and Hundreds and Thousands Design pop up again in the Prose Non-Fiction Illustrated Category. I also noticed that Robert Bringhurt has won first prize for his design of his own book The Surface of Meaning: Books and Book Design in Canada, which is, of course, just as it should be.


CBC Radio Noon

Will be on CBC Radio Noon here in Montreal tomorrow (Thursday, April 9th) to chat about childrens' books. We're on at 1 pm local time and you can listen to the program live by clicking through from the link above. If you're in the area you can even call in with your own childrens' book suggestions. (UPDATE: the show is archived on the site for one week).

Here's my list of things I plan to talk about ... not that there's ever enough time to cover everything.

Picture Book Picks
The Very Hungry Caterpillar- 40th Anniversary Pop-Up Edition by Eric Carle (Penguin)
The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket with illustrations by Carson Ellis (HarperCollins)
Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal with ilustrations by Jen Corace
(Raincoast Books)
Willoughby and the Lion by Greg Foley
Penguin and the Cupcake by Ashley Spiers
(Simply Red Books)

Chapter Books
(also known as the wish list as these are the books
stacked up on my bedside table)

The Last Apprentice: Wrath of the Bloodeye by Joseph Delaney
Half World by Hiromi Goto
(Puffin Canada)
Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston
Cirrus Flux by Matthew Skelton
(Penguin Books)

A Graphic Novel
(which is supposed to arrive next week - can't wait!)

Jellaby Vol 2: Jellaby in the City by Kean Soo

One That Isn't a Book at All
(but is so darned beautiful that if you see it you will want it)

ABC by Julie Morstad
(Simply Read Books)

If I was a nice person I would put up links for all those titles. But what I am is a very tired person -
will try to add some more info on all these great books sometime tomorrow.


I liked this little bit of trivia from a BBC article:

Last year, nine out of ten children in a National Trust survey were able to identify a Dalek correctly.

Only 47% of the children surveyed by the heritage charity were able to identify a barn owl.

Not sure how well those stats would hold up over here in Canada, but I will note that my son went to school today in a home-made Dalek t-shirt (part of his clever new promotional campaign for his Diary of a Dalek series of books.)


When You Were Small on TVO

Oh look, isn't this nice?

Somebody is reading our little book. Somebody is reading our little book on TVO. The show is called Gisèle's Big Backyard and the episode will run Monday the 13th. You can also watch the video here.

(In related news, my younger son began work today on a book titled When Mom and Dad Were Small--he has apparently decided it's never to early to take over for me.)


You Meet the Nicest People Here

I had a lovely email from a writer/illustrator named Rosie Winstead this week and am now looking forward to reading her book Ruby and Bubbles.

It looks charming.

My grandmother's name was Ruby and I keep thinking it's really one of those names due for a comeback.


Book Trust

Wouldn't you like to read a story called Teapot on Pluto? Of course you would. It's by Julie Bertagna and available online courtesy of the Scottish Book Trust and their Virtual Writer-in-Residence, Keith Gray who is also a YA writer.

Here's a list of the stories up online:

Whose Face Do You See? by Melvin Burgess
A Teapot on Pluto by Julie Bertagna
The Other Side by Marcus Sedgwick
Rip Tide by Ally Kennen
Falling by Anthony McGowan
Exclusive Alternative Ending to Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan
Blog It by Keith Gray

You can also take a video podcast Creative Writing Masterclass.