Darkness and Oz

There’s been another recent kerfuffle, albeit a relatively minor one, about darkness in children’s books.

What set it off was Maria Tatar’s Opinion piece in the New York Times, “No More Adventures in Wonderland.” A notable paragraph includes: “But the savagery we offer children today is more unforgiving than it once was, and the shadows are rarely banished by comic relief. Instead of stories about children who will not grow up, we have stories about children who struggle to survive.” In another section, she says, “Children today get an unprecedented dose of adult reality in their books, sometimes without the redemptive beauty, cathartic humor and healing magic of an earlier time.” Mind you, then she brings up an example that was definitely written for young adults, not children.

Her final paragraph mourns what she calls a lost tradition: “Still, it is hard not to mourn the decline of the literary tradition invented by Carroll and Barrie, for they also bridged generational divides. No other writers more fully entered the imaginative worlds of children — where danger is balanced by enchantment — and reproduced their magic on the page. In today’s stories, those safety zones are rapidly vanishing as adult anxieties edge out childhood fantasy.”

I’ve read some thoughtful responses to that piece from Monica Edinger, Nina Lindsay, and Betsy Bird, along with some insightful comments from their readers. I don’t think I have a lot to add to the discussion.

But I did read something this week that made me laugh, when juxtaposed in my mind with Maria Tatar’s article. Believe it or not, it’s the Introduction to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

I was rereading this fabulous book for a meeting of the DCKidLit Book Club.

Bearing in mind Ms. Tatar’s article and that L. Frank Baum wrote this in 1900, see if you can see why this Introduction made me laugh:

Folk lore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and instinctive love for stories fantastic, marvelous and manifestly unreal. The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more happiness to childish hearts than all other human creations.

Yet the old-time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as “historical” in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incident devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder-tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.

Having this thought in mind, the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to pleasure children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.

— L. Frank Baum
Chicago, April, 1900

It’s funny in several ways. First, he was complaining that existing children’s literature is too dark. But also, he was saying the opposite of what people say today: That it’s “modern” to have sweetness and light in children’s books.

So perhaps critics have a point. But I’m thinking there were two camps then and there are two camps now. One camp thinks that childhood should be G-rated, and you should try to keep unpleasant things from the little dears. (I guess you can already tell which camp I’m in.) The other camp thinks that kids can handle unpleasant things, in reasonable context and as they grow.

To be honest, I love the Oz books, but they do have a sentimental, grandfatherly tone. This makes their best audience tend to be younger children, who don’t mind being talked down to. Mind you, they’re wonderful adventures. But the reader must not mind that the heroine is called a “little girl,” as in this passage: “Dorothy was an innocent, harmless little girl, who had been carried by a cyclone many miles from home; and she had never killed anything in all her life.”

I’ve been thinking about it, and Oz is a perfect family read-aloud for young children, as well as an ideal choice for early readers. The reading level is a little higher than the interest level, because as kids get older they are less taken by the grandfatherly sentimental tone. (Though if you once hook kids on the Oz stories, I’m convinced they’ll continue to gobble them up, and will take longer to outgrow them.)

Like J. K. Rowling, L. Frank Baum had an incredible imagination, and threw all kinds of bizarre countries, characters, and adventures into his books. As far as creating new, American wonder-tales, he certainly succeeded.

But how funny that he was trying to save the world from dark children’s literature of “heart-aches and nightmares”!

Actually, if everyone who finds children’s literature too dark would take his approach, I would have no complaints at all: Go out there and write something wonderful without the darkness. L. Frank Baum decided to write light-hearted wonder-tales, and did a magnificent job.

And whether or not you think L. Frank Baum was right that the tales before his time were too dark, you’ve got to admire his response. He didn’t just complain. He did something about it, and created the kind of tales he wanted to see. If today’s critics would only do the same.

KidLitCon 2011

I spent last weekend in Seattle at KidLitCon and had a fabulous time!

KidLitCon is an annual gathering of bloggers who specialize in children’s books. I went when it was in Washington, DC in 09, and loved it. Last year, it was the same weekend as the Horn Book Colloquium at Simmons, and that was closer, so I went to Boston instead, and got to be a fangirl meeting Megan Whalen Turner. But this year, especially when I heard it would be in Seattle, I wanted to go to KidLitCon again.

What did I take away from KidLitCon?

1. Connection!

KidLitCon is the friendliest conference you could ever hope to attend. I figure it’s because almost no one who attends blogs for their job — they do this because they love it. So you’ve automatically got about a hundred people who love what you do. Definitely a bunch of kindred spirits!

This year, there was a special connection for me. You see, seven years ago, I posted a review of The Hollow Kingdom, by Clare Dunkle. Clare also lived in Germany at the time, and she got in touch with me, and we became friends. Clare was the one who put me in touch with Farida Dowler. Sure enough, our reading tastes made us friends and we became e-mail buddies. Later, when my marriage was falling apart, I needed friends to talk to about it who didn’t know my husband, so I could say all I needed to say without hurting his reputation. Farida provided a kind and helpful ear, and over the years I came to think of her as a dear friend.

So, at KidLitCon, I finally met her!

Here I am with my dear friend Farida, finally meeting in person! (And I was delighted when her round up of the conference also talked about how nice it was to meet!)

Some other lovely connection moments were meeting my roommate, Lisa Song of Reads for Keeps (we’d worked out the arrangements via e-mail, and she ended up being delightful); having a spontaneous dinner with Dorine White of The Write Path; and finishing off the conference with breakfast with Liz Burns, of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, whom I first met at KidLitCon09, and saw again at two ALA conferences. But that doesn’t mention all the many interactions with so many wonderful and friendly people. From start to finish, KidLitCon is the perfect place to meet people who love what you love and are happy to meet you, too.

Here’s a lovely group of people I had lunch with:

Above are Lisa Song, Melissa Fox, Maureen Kearney, Liz Burns, and me.

Let me repeat that the people I met at KidLitCon (including the ones I didn’t get pictures of) are fantastic people! Passionate about books and reading and literacy and libraries, and just a wonderful community to be part of.

What else did I get out of KidLitCon?

2. Encouragement!

A lot of the panels were about doing what I believe I’m already doing: Blogging about both old and new books; writing reviews that tell why I reacted a certain way to a book; trying to do good with my blog. These panels were inspirational, and gave me additional ideas to do what I do even better. They rekindled my excitement about being a book blogger.

Chris Singer of Book Dads reminded us that the books you choose to review can make a difference.

The panel with Maureen Kearney, Melissa Fox, and Jen Robinson encouraged that blogging a variety of types of books can keep your passion alive.

The panel on Critical Reviews, with Kelly Jensen, Abby Johnson, Julia Riley, and Janssen Brandshaw, gave us some nice tools of things to look at when analyzing why a book worked or didn’t work for you.

Richard Jesse Watson talked about using your blog to play, to express yourself. He said, “Isn’t blogging like yodeling into the abyss?” He also said that play is one of the most important ways to rejuvenate your voice. He left me inspired to have fun with blogging and try new things.

3. Fascinating Information!

Friday night, we met a whole bunch of Seattle-area authors, as they got to talk for 90 seconds about their latest book. Of course my to-be-read list just got longer.

The Keynote Address by Scott Westerfeld on Saturday morning was wonderful. He talked about how he came up with the idea for the Leviathan series and how working with an illustrator changed how the story went. He talked about how technology changes our lives, but you can’t predict ahead of time how it will go. He showed some fan art and said that, thanks to fan art on the internet, we may be living in the age of the illustrated novel again. Another good quote: “In the west, we crazily think that illiteracy is related to pictures.”

In the panel “Moving Beyond Google Reader,” Jen Robinson gave some good instruction about how to set up a weekly or biweekly newsletter with your blog. Since that’s how Sonderbooks started, I definitely plan to follow her instructions to get back to that.

And the final panel, “Prejudice and Pride,” on Diversity, was simply amazing in all the good stuff that came out.

In the picture are Brent Hartinger, Sara Ryan, moderator Lee Wind, Justina Chen, and Sarah Stevenson.

Some quotables from that panel:

“What we are doing is art, not sociology.” — Brent Hartinger

“We’re writing a character, not an archetype.” — Lee Wind

“Do you have the right to write a character who isn’t you? YES!”

“This is a call for a plenitude of stories.” — Justina Chen

More than one author pointed out that the more stories there are about a group, the less tense people get. So the solution: Let more stories be told!

“You have tremendous power in what you choose to talk about.”

Also, we do need a certain distance from a topic, so sometimes people NOT in a particular group can tell a story better.

Remember: “People are not only one thing!”

So, that begins to tell you how wonderful KidLitCon was. I never would have gone if I’d realized I’d be recovering from a stroke, but I’m so glad I did! And it did not solve my problem of needing more sleep, and so getting way behind on blogging. However, it did remind me how much I love blogging and books and bloggers and book people. And it reminded me I’m doing it for fun, but I am also doing good while I’m at it.

Finally, big kudos to the organizers who put together a fabulous conference! Here are Jackie Parker of Interactive Reader and Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray:

Thank you so much, ladies, for planning a weekend I will never forget!

Bravo for YA Literature!

A month ago, I posted about YA Saves and YA Saves, Revisited. Today I listened to two internet radio interviews with the author whose essay in the Wall Street Journal started the kerfuffle. I wouldn’t have listened, but the interviews also included two brilliant YA authors. The first one included Maureen Johnson, and the second one Lauren Myracle. Both were eloquent in defense of YA Literature.

Laurel Snyder posted a nice reaction to the first interview. And after listening to both interviews, there are things I want to say.

1. It seems silly to me to say that YA is getting darker. The article began with a description of a mother going into a big box bookstore and being unable to find a book for her teenage daughter, because “all” the YA books were too dark. I am a librarian. I happen to know that there are many “light” YA books out there. It seems especially ironic that Meghan Cox Gurdon was on air with Maureen Johnson today. Because Maureen’s books are wildly popular — and yet in my review of Suite Scarlett, posted long before this fracas, I described it as “light-hearted fun.”

She also makes the point that YA didn’t really exist until the late sixties. Well, when I was a teen, we just read adult books. Current YA is not darker than adult books. Is she just objecting to calling it YA? The teens will find it anyway, I think. But how can you say that YA wasn’t around when we were kids, but then say it’s darker than when we were kids? Personally, I think the genre is broadening and expanding. There are PLENTY of light books being written, too.

2. She dismissed librarians’ objections that if the mother had consulted a librarian, she could have easily found appropriate books. I still think that’s a very legitimate objection. The light books DO exist. I am very aware of outstanding YA books. I’m not a big fan of dark books myself, and I find plenty of YA books that I love. But I see those books that don’t appeal to me being loved by teens and making a difference in people’s lives. I strongly disagree that there are not many “light” choices for teens being published today.

3. She said that she is NOT in favor of banning books, and she is not in favor of censorship. So what, exactly, was she trying to say? That publishers should not publish so many dark books? That it should not be called YA? That writers should not write this “dark” material? How is that not censorship?

She also stated more than once that 12 to 14-year-olds are children. Does she think that by labelling a book for “Young Adults,” publishers or librarians are saying that it is appropriate for every 12-year-old?

My response would be Absolutely Not! Just as not every book in our Juvenile Fiction section is appropriate for every 2nd-grader.

As a matter of fact, 12-year-olds are some of the most difficult people for which to do Readers’ Advisory. Because there are often many books they will love in the Juvenile Fiction section, and many books they will love in the Young Adult section. So you normally need to show them both sections of the library and explain that they will like some of both sections.

Now, if Meghan Cox Gurdon was simply trying to say: Parents! Be aware that there’s some “dark” material in YA books these days! Be aware that not every book labelled for 12 and up will be appropriate for every 12-year-old!

Well, if that’s what she was trying to say, more power to her. But I did get the impression she was saying that dark books are bad for kids and should not even be available to them — despite all the outcry on the #YASaves hashtag on Twitter with stories of people whose lives were changed for the better by “dark” books.

4. I think a big part of this issue is the question of protectiveness versus overprotectiveness. I have two sons, ages 23 and almost-17. I was much, much more protective with the first one. But as he grew and pushed back, I realized he was strong enough and smart enough to deal with things I didn’t want him to have to think about. My younger son has a lot more freedom — won by his brother! — and I think he handles it well, and I like talking him about what he thinks, even when it’s so different from what I think.

The thing is, somewhere between 12 and 18, our children DO become adults. I’d rather they grappled with some of the dark issues in the safe pages of a book, while they are still under my roof.

But I realize that’s just me. I have many friends who are much further on the side of protectiveness, and when I was a new mom, at least, I had many friends who were much further on the side of letting the kids find their own way.

Yes, parents should be aware that there’s some dark stuff in YA books. Then they can decide whether trying to keep their kids from that is what they want to do — or not. For some kids, having books talk about issues no one else will talk about is life-changing, even life-saving.

As a librarian, I’m proud to have books available for all of those kids. And I’m proud that I’m damn GOOD at helping each reader find a book that they will enjoy.

Preparing for ALA Annual Conference 2011

I’m so excited! My flight leaves for ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans at 6:00 am on Friday morning! (I so hope I will wake up! But I think I will be too excited to sleep well.)

The first thing to do when preparing for ALA Annual Conference is figure out what programs and events you’re going to attend. This time I signed up for several things that cost extra, before I’d even seen the schedule, hoping that would make it easier to choose. It didn’t.

Imagine it this way: There are a series of programs about libraries and authors and serving various customer groups and so many other things. There are at least five or so very interesting choices at each time slot. Then there’s the whole author signing schedule, which doesn’t correspond to the program schedule in any way. Then add into that Publisher Previews where editors talk about the books coming out in the Fall that they’re most excited about. It’s really hard to pick what you want to go see. I did learn from previous conferences when I wedged into a room without enough space for everyone that you definitely need to have an alternate plan. (That’s not hard to do. The hard part is realizing that you really won’t get to very many of your alternates.)

I also needed to make my schedule before I figured out what to pack. It will be HOT in New Orleans, and I definitely want to dress up for the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet and the Printz Award Reception, so I’ll have to build in enough time to go back to my hotel. Maybe maybe rest while I’m at it? And should I bring my laptop? I won’t have much time at all to use it, but right now I’m leaning toward bringing it, if only for the time sitting in airports.

I looked at the signing schedule and tried to figure out which ones I could go to while still hitting as many programs as possible. I got it “down” to 20 authors whose signings I will try to attend! Yikes! (I will try to figure out how to mail the books home. I believe they usually have a place you can do that.) But I really hope to see Marilyn Johnson, signing the book I gave to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Laini Taylor signing her new book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (want! want! want!), Alex Flinn signing Cloaked (I have it but want to meet her because she’s so brilliant), Franny Billingsley signing her incredible new book Chime, Catherine Gilbert Murdock signing her new book Wisdom’s Kiss (want! want! want!), Brian Selznick signing her new book Wonderstruck (want! want! want!), and Maureen Johnson, the very funniest person on Twitter, signing her new book Name of the Star (want! want! want!).

Of course, if any of these have long lines, which they well may, I may not get to the others. Though that might be a good thing, as it looks like I am going to be weighed down…

For programs, the ones I splurged for a ticket are:

The Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet. Attending this was a highlight of my year last year. I wouldn’t miss it.

The Printz Award Reception. Where ALL the brilliant authors honored give speeches.

The YA Author Coffee Klatch. Where you get to meet lots more authors, all award winners.

The Margaret Edwards Luncheon. Alas! Terry Pratchett isn’t healthy enough to come in person, but he’s going to send a video acceptance speech. And that’s one day when I’ll take the time to eat a good lunch.

This year I also decided to buy a ticket to the Gala Author Tea, honoring some writers for adults (to broaden my horizons), and a Walking Tour of the French Quarter, since I know nothing about New Orleans and it seems a shame to be there but only stay in the hotel and the convention center.

This doesn’t leave a lot of time for other conference programs! But some I’m hoping to attend are:

A panel with Nancy Pearl talking about Reader’s Advisory Research and Trends. (What? That doesn’t sound super exciting to you?)

The movie “Library of the Early Mind,” a documentary film exploring children’s literature. (Again, I’m really looking forward to this!) Here’s the trailer:

I’m thankful for the tip from Travis Jonker at 100scopenotes to attend the Notable Books Committee meeting, where they talk about the best books of the year.

And to Abby the Librarian for the tip to attend the Best Fiction for Young Adults meeting where they have actual teens (gasp!) come in and give feedback on the books.

I’m not sure whose blog tipped me off to go to the Odyssey Awards, but when I saw that slot was free and read the outstanding audiobooks that are being honored, I got excited about that event.

Because the SCBWI KidLit Drink Night last year got me off to a fantastic start at meeting people, I’m planning to attend the ALSC Happy Hour Friday night, and hope it will be as good. Oh, another reason I have to attend is that Google Maps reports that the walking distance from it to my hotel is 22 seconds! Not one minute, not half a minute, but 22 seconds! How can I resist going and timing myself? Besides, it will be easy to get to my room if I conk out early.

And, definitely, attending ALA is about making connections. I really love meeting authors and telling them how much I love their books. (And I hope to be one of them some day — I’m still seeking an agent for my middle grade fantasy novel.) I also love meeting other librarians who are excited about librarianship, and especially touching kids’ lives with books. I recently volunteered to be on an ALSC Committee and was appointed to the Children and Technology Committee. My term doesn’t start until after ALA Annual, but I hope to meet other committee members. And I was delighted when I learned that bloggers extraordinaire Travis Jonker of 100scopenotes and John Schumacher of MrSchuReads are on the very same panel! This will be my first committee experience, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m a relatively new librarian, and I don’t want to lose my enthusiasm, which gets endangered when I stay local and think about things like RIFs and budget cuts.

So, I can’t think of a better way to build my enthusiasm for being a Librarian! On to New Orleans!

(And now I’d better go pack!)

YA Saves, Revisited

On Saturday night, I posted about the frightful (in more ways than one) Wall Street Journal article that was creating a stir by saying Young Adult books have gotten horribly dark and subversive. The response on Twitter was beautiful with people tweeting about how dark and light YA books have enhanced and even saved their lives, using the hashtag #YAsaves.

Since then, there have been many, many insightful articles on the topic. Two that I especially enjoyed, yes, put in a plug for libraries — where it will never be a problem to find a book for a reader, no matter how picky they are. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re good at. (Today, in fact, I had fun finding a book for an eight-year-old who didn’t like any of her grandmother’s suggestions and introduced herself by saying, “I DON’T want a princess book!”)

First, I loved Cecil Castellucci’s article on the Los Angeles Review of Books blog, “Better to Light a Candle Than to Curse the Darkness.” One thing I loved about this blog post was that it gave me a new motto: “Putting the right book in the right kid’s hands is kind of like giving that kid superpowers.” Yes!

Today I read a parody of the original article, written by Sarah Ockler on her blog. The blog post is called, “All This Darkness! What to Buy the Grownup Reader? (A Parody)” This parody was completely successful with me once I read this paragraph right at the start:

I recently stood slack-jawed in the adult fiction section of my local big box book store, having decided that supporting my community while getting personalized recommendations by professionals who generally adore books and make it their business to know exactly what sorts of things a reader will love was just not on my to-do list this year, feeling stupefied and helpless.

I love it!

Of course, it’s a little ironic that even as I’m defending dark books, I stopped listening to an adult book on CD because it was too dark for me. But I simply wasn’t in the mood for it today. And the difference is that I understand that the particular book I stopped listening to is considered great literature by many, and is a popular book club choice. I’m fine with that. I tend to like lighter books, but that’s exactly how I knew that the mother in the Wall Street Journal article would have been able to find all kinds of great, current, light, uplifting, well-written books for teens if she had only gone to a library and consulted with a professional.

2011 Comment Challenge

Hooray! Mother Reader is again hosting a Comment Challenge, along with Lee Wind. Here’s the challenge: within 21 days, post 100 comments on other blogs. It’s a lot of fun, and gets you roaming around the kidlitosphere supporting other blogs and letting people know they’re being heard.

One catch for me: WordPress recently ate all the comments on my blog, for some unknown reason. So I’m going to test and try to put a comment on my own blog and see if it works. If it doesn’t, I’ll know not to expect anyone’s comments. Also, people who have commented before may be asked to register afresh. We shall see. But I will be out there posting comments.

Note: Sure enough, something’s wrong. It may be related to the fact that I haven’t yet upgraded my blog to WordPress 3.0.4. Not sure I want to try that until I have plenty of time to mess with it, though. Perhaps this weekend.

Update: I tried upgrading, and it actually went much much more smoothly than earlier updates, and didn’t take much time at all. However, it didn’t fix the comments. I tried deactivating and activating Akismet. No change. I tried changing my comment settings. No change. It sees the comment, but sends me an e-mail to approve a blank comment, and doesn’t acknowledge that it exists. Very frustrating during the Comment Challenge! Someone has reported this problem on the WordPress Forum, so I’ll keep checking back.

So don’t bother trying to comment on this blog until further notice!

Further notice: It works! All the comments are back! Hooray!

Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards

For quite awhile now, I’ve been looking forward to traveling to Boston this weekend. I am a dedicated subscriber to Horn Book Magazine, and have been for years. They announced that on October 2nd they’d be having a Colloquium — The Horn Book at Simmons — with the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards the night before.

After I had such a fabulous time at the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet, I knew I had to go to this. For one thing, Rebecca Stead, the winner of the Newbery Medal, author of the brilliant When You Reach Me, was also the winner of the BGHB Award for Fiction. She gave a wonderful speech at the Newbery Banquet, and I got to meet her a couple times and she was so nice. I wanted to hear her speak some more.

But what clinched it for me was that Megan Whalen Turner was going to be speaking. She is the author of what I have to call my favorite series — the books about Eugenides, The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and this year’s A Conspiracy of Kings (which won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor for Fiction).

Another nice thing was that as long as I’m not working at the library, it’s easy to get weekends off. So I took today (Friday) off and my plan was to take the 11:50 flight to Boston, settle in to my hotel, and maybe even take a leisurely, lovely walk through Boston’s parks to the Horn Book-Boston Globe Awards from 5:30 to 7:30.

Well, yesterday the DC area had a ferocious rainstorm – heavy rain, with flooding. Unfortunately, that same storm decided to travel to Boston today, too. Our flight was delayed SIX HOURS. Ironically, if I had booked the 2:00 flight, I would have made it on time. But first, my flight was delayed due to weather in Boston. Then it was delayed much longer because of a mechanical problem with the air conditioning. Since that’s linked to the engine, they had to test the engine at full strength on the runway, which ended up taking hours. After that was finally resolved, they told us that the first officer wasn’t able to fly (He had to get home to a sick family member in Seattle.), and they had to find a substitute. When they found a sub, they boarded us on the plane – and then we learned that Boston wasn’t accepting flights!

In Boston I wish I wish that I had stopped at the Wolfgang Puck restaurant at the airport. But it was 7:00, and I was still toying with the idea of trying to get to the end of the awards. But by the time I took the shuttle to the subway, it was 7:30. The subway was very easy and not scary at all. (I had worried a little about taking the subway in a strange city downtown at night.) Then I walked only a couple blocks in the dark to the hotel, which also wasn’t scary because anyone out in that rain was in a hurry to get inside. My umbrella got blown inside out a couple times. I arrived at my hotel, quite soaked, at 8:00 pm. By that time, I was NOT going to set foot outside the hotel again. I even had pop-tarts from the vending machine for supper.

So, with all that waiting time, I did a lot of tweeting and reading tweets. My phone isn’t great for long messages, and I don’t like its e-mail interface, and I can’t write blog posts on it — but it’s great for tweeting. I also saw all that waiting time as a gift of reading time, so I got started rereading A Conspiracy of Kings, which I thoroughly enjoyed. (I brought it because I hope to get it signed.) That book is awesome! Like all of Megan Whalen Turner’s books, it’s even better when you read it again.

I admit, the first time I read it, I was a tiny bit disappointed — because she has set the bar so very high, and the surprise at the end wasn’t as big as the surprises in some of the earlier books. However, reading it a second time, knowing what to expect, I can really appreciate the brilliant way she develops Sophos’ character and how she gives the reader a sense of the huge choices he is facing.

In all of the books, we see that it’s not easy ruling a country. And Sophos, the heir of Sounis, must decide if he wants that kind of responsibility, and what he’s willing to do to get it. And there’s also the ever-present threat of the Medes.

Anyway, any day where I can spend several hours reading one of Megan Whalen Turner’s books is a good one! I only wish I could have landed in time to see her at the awards tonight — but the weather is supposed to be clear tomorrow, so I will not miss it!

Blogging and the Kidlitosphere

Today I got a big disappointment. I had applied to be a judge or panelist for the Cybil Awards. They’ve been announcing the selectees since last Friday, and finally today posted the panels I had most wanted to be part of.

During the week, I’d really gotten my hopes up. I love blogging, and love fantasy and science fiction and kids’ books, and I’ve written these reviews since 2000 — probably longer than anyone else in the Kidlitosphere.

Is that, perhaps, the problem?

I’m not well-known in the Kidlitosphere. Probably partly because I don’t exclusively review children’s books. But I don’t think that’s the whole answer.

I don’t think I’ve really adapted with the times. I started Sonderbooks as an e-mail newsletter, with nearly weekly posts of the books I’d read that week, trying to have a balance of genres in each issue. Before long, I made it into a website. But I still posted in “issues,” with links between reviews for each issue but also a page for each genre.

Eventually, I decided it would be good to make it a blog. If I’d heard of blogs and an easy blog tool in 2000, that would have been how I made Sonderbooks in the first place.

But I’ve kept the Sonderbooks blog mainly to book reviews. I decided to post more personal things and pictures on my Sonderjourneys blog, quotations that uplift me on Sonderquotes, and personal reminders to be grateful on Sonderblessings.

Now, mind you, on Facebook, I’ve been posting articles about budget cuts to libraries, the value of reading, great things about authors. What if I started posting some of those things on my blog? I have so many opinions about libraries, reading, reading with kids, writing, and so many other things. I’ve been to author talks this week, and have some exciting book-related events coming up. I’ve been posting about ALA, but I did it on Sonderjourneys.

Mind you, I’m also way behind on posting reviews. I have a stack of 14 books here that I really really want to get reviewed, and I have 18 reviews which I have written, but haven’t yet posted. Or downloaded the cover picture or gotten the ISBN or made the links on www.sonderbooks.com.

I’d also like to get going with my Twitter account. I made an account, but I’ve never posted anything. That could be a good way to consolidate my different blogs and my Facebook links and posts.

But having so much I want to do is making me fall into the Perfectionist’s trap of Not Doing Anything.

So, not getting chosen for the Cybils is making me re-evaluate. I want to be a valued part of the Kidlitosphere, without losing the people who enjoy my other reviews.

Therefore, I’m making a resolution: I will post more on this blog, not confining it just to reviews. Anything related to books and authors and libraries and writing and learning — I’ll post those links and thoughts here. When I go to the National Book Festival this weekend, I’ll post about it here. When I go to the Horn Book Colloquium the weekend after next, I’ll post about it here.

I’ll still keep posts about my spiritual journey and my divorce and pictures of hiking and old pictures of castles over on Sonderjourneys. Actually, that gives me an idea. I’ve been posting old pictures on Facebook, in a cycle of Cute Pictures, Castle Pictures, The Good Ol’ Days, and Pretty Pictures. I’ve been scanning in pictures from our ten years in Europe, and there are some stunning ones. The Good Ol’ Days and Cute Pictures are about people, so Facebook is a good place for them. But it might be fun to post the Castle Pictures and Pretty Pictures on Sonderjourneys, since it relates to my travels. I could make each one a weekly feature.

I’ll also try to start using Tags. I’ve got categories, but I haven’t really been using tags. Time to get more adept at this social media!

So, my faithful readers, any ideas about other changes I should make?

Review of Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book

Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life

edited by Anita Silvey

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2009. 233 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a fabulous and thought-provoking celebration of children’s books. I read it slowly and savored it, enjoying a few pages a day. I definitely want to purchase my own copy so I can go through it again many times.

In the Introduction, Anita Silvey explains what she has accomplished with this magnificent book:

“In this book 110 society leaders from various areas — science, politics, sports, and the arts — talk about a children’s book that they loved and its impact on their lives. Funny, insightful, and inspiring, these stories testify to the amazing power of the right book for the right child — at the right time.

“A single illustration from Treasure Island created by N. C. Wyeth made his son Andrew want to become a painter and inspired Robert Montgomery to become an actor. Sometimes a specific book sent an individual on a career path: Steve Wozniak of Apple Inc. read the Tom Swift books, knew he wanted to be an inventor, and eventually created Apple I and Apple II. Characters became role models; Jo March of Little Women inspired actress Julianne Moore, television commentator Judy Woodruff, and writer Bobbie Ann Mason. A book revealed a truth about the person’s character, as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel did for Jay Leno. At times single lines from a book have resonated for a lifetime: William DeVries, the cardiothoracic surgeon who implanted the first artificial heart, has thought about a statement from The Wizard of Oz all of his career — ‘I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart.’…

“All of the essays reveal interesting details about the person who wrote them. Many of the people in this volume remember the name of their librarian or teacher, the bookstore they frequented, or the person who handed them a beloved book. When we give children books, we become part of their future, part of their most cherished memories, and part of their entire lives.

“Children’s books change lives. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book provides insight into how they do this. I hope the essays in this book will inspire you to find great books for the children in your life and move you to read to them. The act of reading to a child is the most important contribution to the future of our society that adults can make.”

The large format of the book includes a one-page excerpt with a picture from the book that the famous person is remembering. On the page about their remembrances, there is a sidebar about the background of the book and the person who was touched by it.

The books chosen and remembered present an amazing range of titles. There are picture books, chapter books, and even books considered adult books. Given the ages of the contributors, many of the books were written long ago, but a large number of them are still in print and much beloved today.

Here’s a passage that I enjoyed from Kyle Zimmer, who talked about falling in love with The Hobbit as a child and later reading that same book to his own son. Perhaps I especially loved that essay because the same is true of me and that very book. But his summing up applies to so many more books and so many more people:

“When we read great books with our children, we teach them to turn to great books throughout their lives for comfort, humor, and for illumination of the human experience. The most influential leaders and thinkers in the world have consistently relied on literature for inspiration at their most difficult moments. Nelson Mandela turned to Steinbeck during his imprisonment and says it changed his life. Lincoln was criticized for reading novels in the middle of the Civil War; he defended himself by saying that it kept him sane.

“Whether we are called upon to govern a nation or organize a birthday party for too many children, the key to both surviving our days and cultivating our next generation of leaders is many books, well chosen.”

In many ways, that sums up why I love being a children’s librarian and think of it as more of a calling, than a job. (So I am still a children’s librarian, even though I am currently not employed as one.)

As Jerry J. Mallett says in the very last essay, “It is never too late to have your life changed by a children’s book.”

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/everything_i_need_to_know.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

My New T-shirt!

Here I am in the t-shirt the nice folks at School Library Journal sent me for blogging about their wonderful Battle of the Books!

I stole an idea from one of the other commenters and made a display to follow the progress of the tournament at the library. My co-worker took this picture this morning before I had checked today’s round. I did predict Megan Whalen Turner’s decision correctly.

I hope this new stretch of correct predictions extends to Fire coming back from the dead and winning it all! The Battle will unfold through the start of next week. Stay tuned…