Canada Writes: Making it Up

I forgot to share this little thing I did for CBC last week:

Canada Writes - Sara O'Leary: Making it up

I mentioned one of our favourite books: That's Not Funny by Adrian Johnson. It's very funny.


A Beatrix Potter Christmas Tale: Wag-by-Wall

Found this Beatrix Potter Christmas tale in a book sale (for two bits!) and it really is a lovely little thing.  Was done by The Horn Book in 1944 and has beautiful woodcut "decorations" rather than illustrations.
Sally Benson, a poor, old woman who lives alone in a little cottage in the country, can't afford to take in her orphaned granddaughter until something wonderful happens, and the ticking of Sally's old clock, Wag-by-Wall, reveals its true meaning.
It's such a dear little book but I do think the photo of the author may be my favourite thing about it.


Tidings of Empathy & Joy

I've been thinking about children the last few days - not surprisingly.  I've read a few useful things online and a lot of things that are not.

In the useful category is a wonderful piece about joy by Zadie Smith on The New York Review of Books.  I agree with her whole-heartedly that there is nothing so terrifying as joy.
A final thought: sometimes joy multiplies itself dangerously. Children are the infamous example. Isn’t it bad enough that the beloved, with whom you have experienced genuine joy, will eventually be lost to you? Why add to this nightmare the child, whose loss, if it ever happened, would mean nothing less than your total annihilation? It should be noted that an equally dangerous joy, for many people, is the dog or the cat, relationships with animals being in some sense intensified by guaranteed finitude. You hope to leave this world before your child. You are quite certain your dog will leave before you do. Joy is such a human madness.
The writer Julian Barnes, considering mourning, once said, “It hurts just as much as it is worth.” In fact, it was a friend of his who wrote the line in a letter of condolence, and Julian told it to my husband, who told it to me. For months afterward these words stuck with both of us, so clear and so brutal. It hurts just as much as it is worth.

Also useful and well worth reading is a fantastic piece by Nikhil Goyal about empathy on the Globe and Mail site. The article gives some alarming statistics:

Today, there is a dearth of empathy in young people. After analyzing data among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years, a University of Michigan study two years ago concluded that college students are 40 per cent less empathetic than their counterparts in 1979. Indeed, the most significant drop has been in the past decade. What’s more, cases of bullying and suicides are climbing at an alarming pace. That means empathy education is needed more than ever before.

The fact that the article was written by a high school student  does give one some hope for the future.

There has been a lot of talk lately about teaching non-fiction in the schools rather than fiction.  There seems to be an attitude that there is something frivolous and lightweight about fiction.  But it's through reading fiction that people (and young people in particular) learn to apprehend the world as someone other than themselves.  They learn empathy.

I've been thinking a lot about Susin Nielsen's The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, winner of this year's Governor General's Award for Children's Text.  The novel is about a boy who goes into a school with a gun and does a terrible thing.  Only really it's not about that, it's about being related to the boy who could do such a terrible thing and how do you live in the altered world you are left with.  Only really it's only partly about that as it's also about a lot of other things: first among them being empathy.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”   James Baldwin

Empathy, joy, fiction.  It's all connected.


(The Literal) Fall of Fergal

Philip Ardagh writes some of the most genuinely funny books for children you are likely to find.

My elder son was a huge fan and was thrilled to meet the man himself when he was on a reading tour that included Vancouver's wonderful Kidsbooks.  That occasion also marked his first publication as a reviewer for The Vancouver Sun, although his career high so far was reviewing one of the Harry Potter books on a 48 hour turnaround.  No mean feat for a twelve-year-old boy.

I've written here before about my younger son's love for the opening paragraph of Fall of Fergal and now he has done a first person POV animation of that scene.  (Initially he was concerned that he might have to purchase an option on the paragraph but we decided to trust in the author's goodwill.)

The sound effects are particularly good, although we both agreed that the whole thing might benefit from an authorial voiceover reading the opening paragraph.  Someone with a nice, deep, Philip Ardagh-ish voice, perhaps?

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.


Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day

Map here with participating stores.

My son would like to start a bookstore.  He's picked out a location and everything.  We just can't agree on which one of us will be Manny and which one will be Bernard Black.


Why not buy a copy of I Have A Right to Be a Child for Children's Day?

According to google doodle (which is where I like to glean my news of the world), today is Children's Day.
This is a new one on me, but I can think of the perfect way to celebrate it - go out and pick up a copy of I Have a Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres with illos by Aurelia Fronty for a child of your acquaintance.

Or donate it to your local library.   When it comes to the subject of libraries, I am with Jeanette Winterson who said earlier this week:  "“Don’t hand kids over to computer games and wall to wall TV – bring them to books early and see what happens. Give them a library as good as anything Carnegie wanted, and see what happens. It is the best social experiment we could make.”

Here's the Groundwood catalogue copy on the book:

With a very simple text accompanied by rich, vibrant illustrations a young narrator describes what it means to be a child with rights — from the right to food, water and shelter, to the right to go to school, to be free from violence, to breathe clean air, and more. The book emphasizes that these rights belong to every child on the planet, whether they are "black or white, small or big, rich or poor, born here or somewhere else." It also makes evident that knowing and talking about these rights are the first steps toward making sure that they are respected.

A brief afterword explains that the rights outlined in the book come from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989. The treaty sets out the basic human rights that belong to children all over the world, recognizing that children need special protection since they are more vulnerable than adults. It has been ratified by 193 states, with the exception of Somalia, the United States and the new country of South Sudan. Once a state has ratified the document, they are legally bound to comply with it and to report on their efforts to do so. As a result, some progress has been made, not only in awareness of children's rights, but also in their implementation. But there are still many countries, wealthy and poor, where children’s basic needs are not being met.



The Books That Find You

The nice thing about church basement book sales is that you always seem to find exactly the thing you didn't know you were looking for.  The other day I picked up The Treehorn Trilogy by Florence Parry Heide with illustrations by Edward Gorey.

I told my son I bought it for him but I was lying of course.  

I read it straight off.  It was quite wonderful and I did wonder why I'd never heard of it before.  Treehorn is a very Grimble-ish sort of boy which is just the sort I like best.

Also wonderful was this little piece by Florence Parry Heide talking about meeting Edward Gorey ("Edward Gorey asked me to call him Ted!") and about writing the books and where the original idea came from:
I was ready to write another story and was sitting at my typewriter ---but look at the time! it's nearly noon, and my five children would be rushing in for lunch any minute now--in those days, kids came home from school for lunch.  So I was rushing to fix something for lunch when: in they came.
"Can Mike come for dinner tonight, could you call his Mom right now?"
"Look, I skinned my knee, I need a bandaid!"
"I have to have a quarter for class dues!"
And more.  And all at once.  And I realized that I was saying "That's nice, dear,"  to each one. And then I thought that I'd probably been saying that every day for ever and ever. And because I had been looking for an idea for a new book, I thought what about a mother who keeps saying That's nice, dear, no matter what's happening. So: something really surprising happens to a boy and his mother just keeps saying things like, That's nice, dear. What might that surprising thing be?
You can read the rest of the piece on Curious Pages here

There's a lovely obituary from the New York Times which talks about her meeting the illustrator of  her book Some Things Are Scary, Jules Feiffer.
“I saw her and it was love at first sight,” Mr. Feiffer said. “She was so alive, so gracious. She had all the good qualities that ordinarily make people boring, but with a kind of roguishness that made you like her.”
I'm now going away to be sad that she died last year (before I'd ever heard of her) and be happy that she lived. I'm also going to look for a copy of Some Things Are Scary.


Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick Cozified

Getting excited about these Cozy Classics board books from Holman and Jack Wang.  Coming very soon!

And the latest news is that there are several more Cozy Classics currently in the works.  From their website:

Cozy Classics is pleased to announce its next two titles in the series: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and and Leo Tolstoy’s War and PeaceLes Misérables will debut in early spring 2013, while War and Peace will be released in summer 2013.
And just look how lovely!


A Small Hallowe'en Character

How darling is this wee dote?  His name is Clem and his mother Vania who blogs here dressed him up as Henry (complete with a thimble hat)  from When You Were Small for a previous Hallowe'en.  I was thinking today how this was pretty much a high point for me career-wise.

Was also thinking that I would love to see any other children dressed as either Henry or Dot and that I would be sorely tempted to give away some books if anyone rose to this challenge and sent me pictures.

Also, look at these amazing children dressed as movie characters for Hallowe'en.  Via Nicole Balch of Making It Lovely.


Plasticene Times Two

I saw this beautiful illo for Barbara Reid's GG nominated Picture a Tree at The Art of the Picture Book Exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  It was even lovelier in person.

I'm a big Barbara Reid fan and blogged about her earlier here.   I also blogged about my son's attempt at claymation there and am re-posting now because his YouTube channel is tantalising close to reaching 100,000 views.  So, if you have a moment....


FOUND POEM: we can be smile to death

Did you know that youtube videos now can provide a transcribed text?  I've just checked on the trailer for The Henry Books and what a strange little found poem it is.

henry synthroid left to ask questions and loves to hear stories
said henry
tell me about when i was still on
when he was small says his father
used to work for a toboggan
when you were small he's just a chess pieces
because our chessboard was missing one of the night huge
with a prediction that
when you were small businesses to give back in a teapot
and when you went down we purchase tippy robert employees about
tell me about where it came from acts henry
says his father
was so long ago now that it is difficult to remember
i think you festoon carved from a spaceship
six is neither
don't shoot me man
your father saw red balloon appear
far-off in the sky
and at the end of the string there you were
forty nine fifty a lot of
milan says his father
till shooting them
recounted in a plastic floating down the river
feeding out for a picnic and at least perfect and
perfect blue sky date
tell me about when you were smiling
psychiatrist lives today
bestfriend westerly
when i was small
i could east onyx single raspberry
when i was strong kaplan since took me one effective
henry loves his parents stories
in stories he says
we can be smile
to death
tell me a story