In A Darkling Wood

Shadow puppets!  Did that get your attention?

Over at the Simply Read blog, you can find a fun activity tied to the release date of this simply beautiful book, Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward with illos by the lovely Julie Morstad.  (Caroline may well be lovely too, but I've never met her.  Let's just assume that she is.)

Here's the book...

And here's a little inside peek that I snagged from We Heart Books.

Mittens on strings!

Seeing your breath on a crisply cold day!  Almost makes me nostalgic for my Saskatchewan childhood.


Pretty, pretty

Puffin has been doing some lovely limited editions in their "Designer Classics" series.  I love this Lauren Child take on The Secret Garden:

'I thought it would be interesting to do a cover where one could peel back the paper layers, one by one until the garden and the girl are revealed - it was just a nice way to conjure the secretness of the garden.' – Lauren Child

 And what a pretty thing it is.

Spotted at Nathalie Foy's book blog.


House of Henry

Spending the day down at the House of Henry Open House.

If you're in the neighborhood, then drop by!  Faye will have loads of lovely things in the shop and treats on hand in the cottage.

That's me with the goose...


Reform School

I love this site!  Reform School is a little treasure trove located on Sunset Boulevard which also has a great online shop.

And you know they must know their stuff, because there's my little book alongside everything from "know it all" pencils to Amish scooters!



Oh this is lovely.
On October 29, 1868, six year old Laura Jernegan sailed from New Bedford with her family on the bark Roman. They were off in search of whales. It was the height of the whaling era and whale oil was still in demand. Because whaling journeys often kept men away from their families for as long as three and four years, Captain Jared Jernegan decided to bring his young family along. Laura, her mother Helen, and her younger brother Prescott joined the Captain and a crew of 31 men as they headed around Cape Horn for the rich whaling grounds of the Pacific Ocean.  We know about this voyage because of a journal that Laura kept between the years of 1868 and 1871.
And you can see the entire journal reproduced here.   Or you can even have it read to you.  It's a fantastic site - full of photos and all manner of materials to contextualise the diary - and produced by Martha's Vineyard Museum.  Spotted via boingboing.


Young People's Texts

There is a very interesting article about my favourite publisher, Simply Read Books, in Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 2.1.  The article is by Carole Scott and begins:
As I delved into the box of books that arrived from  Canadian publisher Simply Read, I was immediately impressed by the wide variety I found. Not only were  the books of all sizes, shapes, formats, and designs, they also spanned multiple genres and audiences. Primarily picture books or illustrated books, they included board books for very young readers, books with edgy and often philosophical humour, classics with striking new illustrations, books with historical and/or cultural implications, and mysterious books exploring the surreal and twisting perspective.[... ] I found many works that are graphically startling and inventive, and many that are thoughtful and provocative, involving complex messages regarding human values and philosophical perspectives. The more accessible books for younger children have bright visuals and evocative language and sounds, and many are educational in various ways. It is not surprising that the books have garnered a significant number of awards and honourable mentions from across the world.
It's lovely to see such a thorough examination of the work produced by the press since its inception in 2001.  I think that anyone who speaks to publisher Dimiter Savoff about his work with Simply Read is bound to be impressed by his enthusiasm, discernment and dedication.  I know that when their first book, a stunningly beautiful edition of Pinocchio, appeared in 2002 and I interviewed him in my role as a columnist for the Vancouver Sun, I could tell that he was a publisher unlike any I had ever met before.  (Full disclosure:  I was, in fact, so impressed that I was determined to publish something with the press.  And I know every parent thinks their babies are beautiful but my two books with Simply Read truly are and I can't wait to see the  third.)

                          Portrait of the publisher as a young person

The Jeunesse journal is published by the  Centre for Research in Young People's Texts and Cultures which is out of the University of Winnipeg.  And when I have more time, I'll be having a good old browse around their site.  I like that use of people in their title.  Once, when approaching the schoolyard my son and I spoke simultaneously.  "Look at all the kids," I said, while he said: "look at all the people!"  Oh yes, I realised, children think of themselves as people, don't they?



The trailer for the next installation in the Narnia series - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - is now up.

We've been re-watching the old BBC versions of the books.  The special effects and costumes are pretty dire, but (some of) the performances are really very good and overall I'd still rather watch the old films even when it's for the 8th or 9th time.

We're anxious to see who will be cast as Puddleglum in The Silver Chair as Tom Baker* absolutely owns that part.  You can catch a little bit here.

And if you're looking for copies of the C.S. Lewis  Narnia novels, there is an excellent set of re-issues featuring the original Pauline Baynes illustrations.

*Tom Baker was, of course, the fourth Doctor.



In Sam Leith's review of the new Roald Dahl biography over at the Spectator, we find quoted the following interesting albeit slightly wonky analogy:
Up to now, a whole lot of grown-ups have written reviews, but none of them have really known what they are talking about because a grown-up talking about a children’s book is like a man talking about a woman’s hat.
I appreciate the sentiment here - children know what children like - but he loses me with men and hats, particularly as I feel that Philip Treacy, say, could discuss women's hats at far greater lengths than I am capable of.

                              Horse in a Philip Treacy hat, The Guardian 

The book is Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl and it's by Donald Sturrock.  Part of me wants to read it and part of me feels I've read so much about Dahl lately here and there that maybe I don't even need to read it.


My First Novel

I love this.

It's a notebook from UK designer Sukie, available through Larkmade.

According to the site:
Sukie is Darrell and Julia Gibbs from Brighton, UK. Their stunning range of notebooks, journals and agendas is loved around the world and now includes a beautiful organic textile collection. The range will be available from October 2009. Sukie is the name of Julia's childhood cat.
Spotted in the latest issue of LMNOP.


Dodie Smith

Look at these beautiful illos of Dodie Smith by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka ... done for a book about Ambrose Heal.

Smith is perhaps best known as the author of 101 Dalmatians and in her own time enjoyed great success as a playwright.  But I Capture the Castle really is her masterwork.  It was filmed in 2003 with Romala Garai in the role of Cassandra Montamain, Rose Byrne as her sister and Bill Nighy as her father.

Worth watching, but really you should read the novel first.


Do You Believe?

We spent last evening watching Fairy Tale: A True Story, which is all about the two little girls who photographed the Cottingley fairies around 1917-1920.  A very good cast, with Peter O'Toole as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harvey Keitel as Houdini and Paul McGann* as the father of the elder of the two girls.

We also watched this little clip from Antiques Road Show.

In it the daughter of Frances Griffiths talks about her mother and shows the camera which she used to take the photographs along with some of the original pictures.  According to her, four of the pictures were faked, but the fifth is real.

And then young son went and tried making his own fairy photo:

* Doctor Who connection:  the movie featured both McGann (8th Doctor) and the wonderous Bill Nighy (from last season's excellent Van Gogh episode).


Funny Prize

Philip Ardagh picks his top ten children's books by Roald Dahl in an article in the Guardian.

Ardagh, who won the upper age category in last year's Roald Dahl Funny Prize for the first of his Grubtown Tales, is perhaps best known as the author of the Eddie Dickens (which we are currently reading and about to go in search of further volumes).  The household choice for top children's book by Philip Ardagh would have to be The Fall of Fergal from the Unlikely Exploits series.  If you use the look inside feature here you can read the very funny opening of this book, which begins:
The very last words young Fergal McNally heard in his life were: "Don't lean out that window!"  The very last sounds were probably the air whistling past his sticky-out ears as he fell the fourteen stories, the honk of traffic horns below (getting nearer and nearer, of course), and--possibly--the SP of the SPLAT! he himself made as he hit the pavement.  Fergal certainly wouldn't have heard more than the SP, though, because by the time the LAT! part had followed he would have been well and truly dead.
My son thinks this is the  funniest thing he has ever heard, although I'm somewhat partial to the description of the father that follows on the next page:
Of course, their father could have brought them up, but he was a useless dad.  he even went so far as to get a note from his doctor saying that he was "excused parenting" and left everything for poor old Jackie to do.  He kept himself busy by collecting empty bottles.  They were full when he first got them but were certainly empty by the time he'd finished with them.
Now I'm off to look for more Philip Ardagh books.  I've always meant to read Why Are Castles Castle- Shaped just because I love the title so much.


Who are You Calling Simple?

We have been exploring the Robert Sabuda site and spent a while working on "Simple Pop-Ups You Can Make" and while we feel simple may be a bit misleading, it was fun.

This month on the site, they are giving away a copy of Maurice Sendak's Mommy? illustrated by frequent Sabuda collaborator Matthew Reinhart.

I'm not generally a big fan of holiday-themed kids books (mostly because you have to either pack them away or put up with Christmas in July), but this is an excellent choice for both Hallowe'en and year-round.  Perhaps not for the youngest of readers as this is one of the more fragile pop-ups, but an excellent choice for bed-time reading by tired parents as it's just one word over and over.


Pretty Little Things

Now isn't this a little bit of loveliness?  And don't you think you might need it?

                                                    image property Desideratum

This is one of a pair of earrings from Desideratum Art Jewelry's "Whimsical Collection," hand-crafted by the talented Gwen Buchanan and John Ackerson right here in St. Martins, New Brunswick.  You can see more at the Desideratum blog.


Toys with Issues

I hardly ever succumb to the temptation of reading the "weird news" that pops up when I'm looking for real news (which is weird enough most days, thank you), but had to take a peek at "Toymaker makes cuddly animals with mental health issues."  Really?

According to the article:
The toys range from Dub, a turtle who suffers depression, to Kroko, a crocodile with an acute phobia of water, as well as an hallucinating snake called Sly and a sheep called Dolly who has a personality disorder. 
And here's Dub the depressed turtle...

You can play a very bizarre game of "doctor" at parapleusch where the toys are sold.


International Literacy Day

Today is International Literacy Day and I almost missed it.   Fortunately ABC Life Literacy Canada have declared September Life Literacy Month so I have lots of time to catch up. 

I only found out about all this because I was reading in the Globe and Mail about problems with declining literacy rates in Canada and that lead me to look up The Canadian Council on Learning to find out more.  Then I got hooked by a piece on Comics and Prose Literacy for Boys  (I keep typing literacy as litearcy which would be an embarrassing slip to let stand).

Here's a sample from the article:
Research has suggested that boys may report being less interested in reading than girls because their literary interests are not well-represented in school libraries and classrooms. Boys are much more likely to enjoy reading science and non-fiction books, informational texts and “how-to” manuals. They are also more likely to enjoy fantasy, adventure stories and stories that are scary or “gross” along with books about hobbies and things they do or want to do.

Boys also tend to prefer visual media, such as the internet, newspapers and magazines, that focus on sports, electronics and video games. Yet, while boys show clear preferences for specific reading material these genres and media are generally under-represented or even unavailable in school libraries, a reflection of the views of teachers and librarians who judge such material inappropriate.

I will confess that I've always been a bit of a snob about comic books but I am coming around.  I have two sons and while the elder has been a voracious reader from an early age, the younger turned out quite differently.  He wasn't what I would describe as reluctant reader as I understand the term, but rather a perfectly competent reader who was strongly visually-oriented and treated texts as inspiration for projects rather than something to immerse oneself in.  Maybe that is a fair definition of one sort of reluctant reader.

The first book that this boy read - and by that I mean read in that "don't talk to me" and "I'll have supper later" sort of way was Jellaby, a graphic novel by Kean Soo.  And that's what made me a convert.  

Since then, the boy has become much more of a reader, although he does have some of the characteristics described above.  He likes to read for information and he likes humour - this means that the series of Horrible History books have been a huge hit with him.  He's worked his way through all of the Calvin and Hobbes and most of the Peanuts books, including Sparky, the biography of Charles Schultz written by Beverly Gherman for young readers. But he's also reading more prose fiction and particularly loves Roald Dahl and Philip Ardagh.  

The article mentioned above includes recommendations of comic books and I will be looking for Melvin Monster by John Stanley which is being re-printed by the fabulous people at Drawn & Quarterly.  I would welcome any other suggestions in this line.

Going off on another tangent, this has reminded me to recommend (again) the series of Macbeth graphic novels produced by Classical Comics.  Since Macbeth is part of the high school curriculum here, it would be fantastic to see these books made available to boys either through their school libraries or local libraries.  There are three versions available: original text, plain text and quick text.

I think that it's brilliant idea and along with several other Shakespeare plays there are a number of other titles available including Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations.


Bow-ties Are Cool

Funny conversation with young son who is awaiting Christmas even more anxiously than ever this year, because that's when the new Doctor Who will be on.  We'd been talking about the fact that Neil Gaiman was writing an episode for series two and I showed him the photo just posted on Gaiman's blog which shows Matt Smith standing between Neil Gaiman and Steven Moffat right after they'd done the table reading for the new script.

"So that means because I've met Neil Gaiman, I've met someone who has met Matt Smith," I told Euan.

He did an exaggerated jaw dropping and wandered off.  Half a moment later he was back with his jaw dropped even further.  "You've met Neil Gaiman?" he exclaimed.

Lately, there seem to be fewer than six degrees of separation between nearly anything and Doctor Who.  I picked up a novel by Esther Freud called The Sea House for a lovely spate of grown-up reading, and told my young son that I thought she was the daughter of Clement Freud, who, of course, wrote Grimble.  When I googled this, I realised that it was Emma Freud I was thinking of (and that Esther's father was Lucian Freud), but I also learned that when Esther Freud was an actress one of her roles had been in Attack of the Cybermen.  And that she is married to the "Other Doctor," David Morrisey.

We are looking forward to seeing what ilk of monster Gaiman chooses to deploy in his episode.  And in the meantime, we are thinking we might need this new set of figures:  The Eleven Doctors.

So nice to see Paul McGann in there with the rest of the boys.