31 July 2006

SFWA seeks nominees for Andre Norton Award

Janni Lee Simner, a juror for last year's inaugural Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, reports that this year's jury is now looking for appropriate novels first published in 2006 to consider for the next award ballot.

Jurors choose the books to appear on the ballot, which are
then voted on by the Science Fiction Writers of America. "To have your book considered," she writes, "all you have to do is have your publisher (or yourself) send a copy to this year's jurors."

To get that list of names and addresses, go to the SFWA's webpage for the Norton Award and look for the jury chairperson's email address for inquiries.

The winner of the first Andre Norton Award was Holly Black, for Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie. (Personal website in need of updating here.)

30 July 2006

Between the lines of George and the Dragon

Chris Wormell's picture book George and the Dragon was published in the UK in 2002, but arrived in the US only this year. I don't know how it would stand up to many, many rereadings night after night. It's basically a one-joke story (well, a joke and a half). But it's certainly worth a first and second look because it's gorgeous. The dragon is a magnificent, fiery red beast, huge and fierce with expressive eyes and ears.

George and the Dragon is almost a primer in how picture book action can move from spread to spread. The whiffs of smoke on a Himalayan landscape (1) turn out to be the dragon (2), who then launches himself into the air (3). Next we see four spreads of the dragon attacking a castle, each showing consequences of the last spread's action. All of these images are from the same basic angle, but because Wormell varies his scale--and because of that awesome dragon--these visuals don't get boring.

In the middle of the book, the focus shifts to George. This is not Saint George, the armored dragon-hunter of English mythology and E. Nesbit's "Deliverers of Their Country". (The knights sprawling across one page spread have St. George's cross on their shields, though, as if they were English football fans.) George is a mouse. The book's layout emphasizes his small size, first by putting him alone on wide page spreads, then by shrinking the size of the illustrations focused on him. The mighty dragon's art bleeds off three sides of the page; George's is eventually crowded top and bottom by text. But then George goes to see the dragon, and the order is upended.

Wormell (a fine name for writing about dragons, but he must hear that all the time) situates most of his jokes quietly in the gap between text and art. The typical kidnapped princess, for instance, is never mentioned in words, though she appears on about half the spreads. Indeed, humans are mentioned only in passing (the dragon "could brush away an army" with his wing). That lovely extra half-joke on page 21 also pops up from the mix of text and art.

It would be hard for a writer to convey those things in a manuscript: "Here I want the artist to draw the dragon carrying off a princess, even though my text will never mention a princess." Indeed, the book's story contains some logical sticking-points. (What's the source of the dragon's fear? Why has George bought such an inconvenient home?) But with the giant red dragon slithering across the pages in front of our eyes, who has time for such quibbles?

29 July 2006

Shooting Spiderwick in September

The Spiderwick Chronicles, by Caldecott Honoree Tony DiTerlizzi and Norton Award winner Holly Black, is a recent fantasy series that transcended its initial impression (to me, at least) of Harry Potter dressed up in Lemony Snicket packaging. It never got deep, I thought, but it got darker than I expected, and many of the fantastic details are truly chilling. I think my favorite is how goblins stick broken glass, metal, and stones in their gums in place of teeth.

The inevitable movie adaptation has come from the word processor of John Sayles, of all people. The director will be Mark Waters, best known for the superior remake of Freaky Friday. In May, Hollywood North Report ran an interview with Waters in which he said:

For Spiderwick in particular, the reason I'm talking to you is because we're heading into the big unknown of finding these identical twin brothers and you're just not going to find identical twins who have acting experience and are ages 9-11 that have the look and the quality that is necessary for this movie.
Translated, that meant the Sprouse twins had no chance at the roles.

But Waters evidently gave up on finding North American twins who could act, and chose a young British actor who has the chops to act for two: Freddie Highmore of Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Highmore looks right, too. Older sister Mallory the fencer will be played by Sarah Bolger of Jim Sheridan's exercise in personal nostalgia, In America--another young actor from the British isles. Will the script be rewritten to make the children British? Or will there be dialogue coaches galore when shooting starts in September?

More news via Waters and Hollywood North Report:
I know that Tony and Holly are writing another trilogy on top of these five, which means the (people) we cast in the movie could most likely be in more movies down the line if it becomes a big franchise.

28 July 2006

Art of Oz at Eric Carle Museum

Yesterday I visited the "Wonderful Art of Oz" exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was quite enjoyable, and I think Saturday's event with Robert Sabuda demonstrating how he designed his Pop-Up Wizard of Oz should be a treat. Curator and author Michael Patrick Hearn will be there as well. Unfortunately, I'm now four hours further on up the road, so I'll miss it.

The exhibit includes many of W. W. Denslow's original pen-and-ink drawings for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The two parts of the picture of the field mice pulling the Cowardly Lion from the poppy field, now in different collections, have been reunited and hung together. I'm sorry the picture of the China Country isn't among them since that shows Denslow reworking how Toto is posed, giving a special peek at his process.

There are also lots of pictures by John R. Neill, especially some of his iconic portraits of Dorothy, Ozma, and Glinda, and some oddities he produced for fans rather than for publication. Especially impressive are some of Neill's illustrations for The Road to Oz. They're among his most beautiful and elaborate, and the originals--significantly larger than the reproductions in books--let you see more details.

Among the latter-day Oz artists on display, I was most impressed with Charles Santore's work. Some of his double-page spreads seem overstuffed with objects, but if you shield your eyes from the jellybean colors you can pick out lots of nice touches. The picture of Dorothy throwing water over the Wicked Witch has a nice spare quality, in contrast. Not until I looked in a printed book did I recall that the tall, empty brown wall behind the figures, on the canvas so emblematic of the witch's dry lifestyle, was actually there to leave space for text. I think I actually like the image more than the page layout.

A couple of remarks in gallery labels that might questions, or eyebrows.

  • Denslow expected The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to be issued in 1899, so he prepared a copyright page illustration with that date. It was even printed in the book when it appeared--in 1900. The illustration is mounted at the gallery, the 1899 date as visible as ever, with a 1900 label to the side but no explanation of the discrepancy. See Hearn's Annotated Wizard of Oz for more details.
  • The 1928 Oz book wasn't named Anything of Oz as a label states. Neill created a mock cover with that title, and that nonchalance does reflect how steadily the series was selling. But, as the cover illustration mounted below shows, that book eventually got the title The Giant Horse of Oz.

27 July 2006

Openers that Make Books Close Quickly

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest announced its winners for 2006 a while back. This contest seeks bad writing, but it's not for bad writers. You actually have to be mighty good at writing to pack all those mistakes into a single sentence. And, frankly, I think too many of the entries show the strain and go for the easy laugh.

For truly bad opening lines, we should turn to the world's most courageous book reviewer and her POD-dy Mouth blog. PODs, for those writers and readers spared the knowledge so far, are books created through print-on-demand (POD) technology. There's nothing inherently literary or un-literary about that approach; in fact, within our lifetimes I predict that most novels will be printed that way.

For now, however, POD technology's most visible use stems from how it makes printing a book cheap enough to appeal to authors who want to self-publish. And self-publishing means that an author can avoid considering the opinions and advice of agents, editors, marketing and sales people, and booksellers. In most cases the author ends up avoiding readers as well, though that clearly wasn't the plan.

POD-dy Mouth has dedicated some of her valuable time to seeking the worthwhile books published through POD avenues. She offers an award she calls the Needle (as in haystack). She has thus found an even better source of bad openings than the Bulwer-Lytton Contest, which she summarizes in a blog entry titled
"Opening paragraphs of recent PODs that yielded an abbreviated read."

Many of POD-dy Mouth's examples start with declarations of odd sexual tastes. Some offer multiple grammatical or spelling mistakes in a single line. But I think it says more about the reviewer than about the book that the swiftest closure came after only four words. These four words:

9. In the year 9892 . . .

26 July 2006

Rohmann piles up Cats and Rabbit

Eric Rohmann's The Cinder-Eyed Cats is one of my favorite fantasy picture books of recent years. It's definitely one of the purest, swimming in a fantastic world for no other reason but to enjoy the mix of danger and power and spectacle and wonder.

Unlike Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, this journey to a strange, wild place isn't prompted by the young protagonist's anger. Nor does it seem to be a dreamland; the boy naps during his adventure, not at the start. And while the island of the cats and the flying fish is the most fantastic landscape in the book, even before the boy reaches that place sailboats hover over the water like dirigibles. It's picturesque fantasy for its own sake.

Another interesting detail of Cinder-Eyed Cats is that the text never mentions that boy. The cats and sea creatures dance every twilight, the text implies. The boy just happens to arrive at the right time, but is welcome in the play.

Rohmann seems to like the image of animals standing on each other's backs in a tower. The cats do so toward the end of this book so the boy can wave goodbye to cloudy whales (or are those cetacaean clouds?). Rohmann's Caldecott Medal-winning My Friend Rabbit, written and drawn in a very different style, is all about the building of another pile of animals as narrator and title character try to retrieve a mouse-sized airplane from a tree.

One detail of Rabbit seems wrong to me: Rabbit brings each new animal to the tower from the right of the page spread. That means that on most spreads the action moves right to left; usually picture books in English flow left to right, the direction in which we read, the direction where the next page spread will be found. I've tried picturing the spreads flopped the other way to see if that kneecaps the suspense or the jokes, and I still think Rabbit hops the wrong way.

25 July 2006

Major new staging of The Wiz

The La Jolla Playhouse outside San Diego has announced a major new production of The Wiz to debut in September. According to Broadway.com and other press reports, the cast will include big names from television and Broadway, including:

  • Nikki M. James as Dorothy
  • Wayne Brady as the Scarecrow
  • Michael Benjamin Washington as the Tin Man
  • Titus Burgess as the Cowardly Lion
  • E. Faye Butler as Evillene
  • David Allen Grier as the Wiz
I consider the two female parts above to be the most important in the show, but the supporting cast carries the comedy.

Director Des McAnuff staged and co-wrote The Who's Tommy, and directed many other musicals. He co-produced Brad Bird's wonderful Iron Giant animated film. He also directed the 2001 Rocky and Bullwinkle movie, so life hasn't been all good.

The La Jolla Playhouse was once a home stage for I Am My Own Wife, the one-actor, fifty-part play starring my old college roommate Jefferson Mays. Another of my roommates directed a production of The Wiz back in college. So it all comes together.

24 July 2006

Strolling through the Carnival of Children's Lit

Big A little a has posted the Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature, which is well worth serenading.

The link I found most personally intriguing was Gail Gauthier's Original Content on reading Pinnochio in adulthood. I've never read that novel in its entirety, but you know my taste tends toward the old-fashioned. With century-old translations available through Project Gutenberg, I'll load one on my PDA and see what happens.

On this carnival's deadline day, the internet gods spared me the puzzlement of figuring out how and why and what items I might submit by putting my phone/DSL connection down like a horse with two broken legs. And the next carnival's host doesn't actually seem to be a blog about children's literature, so I expect to sit out that one as well.

But I'm still accepting entries and reminiscences for the very first
Oz and Ends blog carnival of German kids playing accordions in tents, now through the end of July.

23 July 2006

You and Dutton: how did that ''happen''?

Agent Kristin's Pub Rants blog offered this insight into Dutton's tastes in teen fiction (for girls, it seems to go without saying):

Chatted with the publisher of Dutton Children’s--Stephanie Lurie Owens--and I think we might have coined a new YA phrase for what Dutton is looking for:

The 80s John Cusack Syndrome

I just have to smile. You know how an 80s John Cusack film just has a certain heart-warming level of honesty, sentiment, and reality? There is such an emotional connectivity to his character despite foibles and mistakes. Well, that’s what they like for their list.

Gossip Girls--not for them. Too mean.

Not that edgy won’t work it just needs that certain level of compassion.

So should this be our model for querying Ms. Owens?
Tell you a couple things about myself. I'm 37, stopped writing for a few years, now I'm back. I'm a children's writer, so I rarely drink. Steampunk, you ever heard of steampunk? Science fiction of the past? China Miéville? Michael Moorcock? City of Lost Children? I can see by your face, no.

My point is, you can relax because your sales will be safe with me for the next seven to eight years, ma'am.

22 July 2006

It is your old pal Grover

Fuse #8 alerted me to librarian Adrienne Furness's essay on The Monster at the End of this Book, featuring Grover as the furry narrator. (And he is cute, too!)

For the record, the author is the late Jon Stone, the artist Michael Smollin, but as a TV spin-off the book is clearly the culmination of many people's creative efforts. (But Stone had special monster insight; he'd married Beverly Owen of The Munsters.)

I loved The Monster at the End of this Book when I was in early elementary school. So have millions of other American kids. As I recall, Publishers Weekly once reported that it was the biggest seller Golden Books ever issued, and thus one of the biggest sellers of any American children's book. In 2000, the title's thirtieth year on the market, the magazine tallied 91,730 copies sold; in 2003, 83,701. That, my friends, is backlist publishing.

Furness [an appropriate name for writing about Grover, but she must hear that all the time] calls The Monster at the End of this Book an "early postmodern picture book gem." I didn't have those terms in 1971, but I definitely enjoyed the fact that Monster was a book about being a book. Its plotline was based on how a book works: turning one page after another, journeying unstoppably from one cover to the other. Monster probably helped prepare me for a publishing career. The only picture book that's come close since is The Stinky Cheese Man.

I also identified with Grover's fear and confusion about monsters. When I was little, before second grade (when my family bought our first TV), I knew the monsters on Sesame Street only from glimpses at friends' and relatives' houses. And they frightened me. Why? Because they were monsters. I knew that "monsters" was a term for scary creatures. So I was scared. No matter that Grover, Cookie, and Herry (the big blue three back then) never did anything scary that I could see. Adults called them "monsters." Obviously, they were going to be scary real, real soon!

For the same reason, I also hid from Margaret Hamilton in the MGM Wizard of Oz the first time I saw it, not because she did such a good job acting horrible (which she did), but because that's what I thought you should do with witches. It was expected.

The last time I saw my preschool-age godson in London, he was even more worried by Sesame Street puppets than I'd been. Not the monsters, who now jump around saying, "Wubba wubba wubba," and eschewing pronouns. (Grover doesn't use contractions, and Cookie uses "me" in place of "I," but Elmo talks about Elmo in Elmo's own peculiarly irksome way.) No, my godson made a point of leaving the room whenever the Big Bad Wolf came on screen. He calmly and quietly went to his bedroom--up two tall flights of stairs in about five seconds.

So what did I, being a good godfather, do? I wrote him a whole story about the Big Bad Wolf. Maybe in thirty-five more years he'll enjoy reading it.

21 July 2006

Past and present at the present day

Debbie Michiko Florence begins a discussion about the use of present tense in fiction, particularly these days.

Linda Sue Park continues the discussion, with a decided preference for past tense. Such authors as David Lubar join in.

Debbie notes that Sally Keehn writes historical fiction--stories that take place in the past--in present tense. That seems unusual, but no more illogical than futuristic stories taking place in the past or present tense.

Linda Sue wraps up the discussion with another posting. Consensus agrees that changing or contrasting tenses can be more powerful than sticking with one--at least until such changes themselves become overly familiar.

Back in April I make a few comments on this choice in a presentation on narrative voices at the SCBWI New England conference. I choose to distinguish between verb tense and temporal perspective--two different, though overlapping, ways that narrative voices treat time.

I see verb tense as a choice authors can now make according to their individual tastes.

My taste happens to accord with Linda Sue's. Therefore, unless I'm telling a joke, I narrate a story in the past tense.

Of course, I often tell jokes.

20 July 2006

Seeking direction on The Golden Compass

On Sunday, Variety magazine analyzed the challenges, technical and financial, in filming Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (a/k/a Northern Lights) this fall.

Among the obstacles ahead are "over 800 CGI shots," no worldwide brand of the magnitude that New Line could count on for its Tolkien trilogy, and finding just the right polar bear to play Iorek Byrnison. (All right, that last one isn't in the article.)

Variety also lists this as a challenge: "There is a decidedly anti-authority tone to the stories. (Because of Pullman's atheist beliefs, some have interpreted this as anti-organized religion, but for him, it's a metaphor for any controlling organization.)" In other words, there are no more problems with organized religion than with any other organization that tries to make people think and behave in a certain way to benefit its leaders. Evangelical moviegoers are so open-minded that few will have a problem with that, right?

Ironic that we audiences can cheer for the rebellion in Star Wars, for defying government authorities in E.T., for breaking down class lines and etiquette in Titanic, for maritime criminals in Pirates of the Caribbean--but an "anti-authority tone" might be a problem when it comes to a fictional church.

The detail from the Variety article that seems most ominous to me is:

New Line, which hardly ever goes over $40 million on a budget, hasn't yet committed to filming the other books in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
As we recall, the first book ends with Lyra flying up Some of you haven't read it? Please, run, run, like a bunny to the library and get yourself a copy.

In the meantime, The Golden Compass is clearly the first part of a trilogy. It ends with important threads unresolved and the heroine heading off to a new, strange world. Hollywood won't be able to give viewers a satisfying ending without changing the book's story, but New Line's not yet ready to commit to the full trilogy.

Perhaps we'll end up with two endings for The Golden Compass: one for the standalone version, in case it doesn't make enough money to warrant a sequel, and one to lead into The Subtle Knife. After all, the unscreened ending could always go on the DVD.

19 July 2006

Doot-en doo doo, feeling Woozy

The Woozy

The Woozy is a loyal beast—
He’s always on the square.
Whenever there’s a royal feast,
He’s certain to be there.

He’ll eat his share of fruits and cake,
He’ll dine on cheese and bread
Although he rather would partake
Of honeybees instead.

That eating habit he has ceased
Since under Ozma’s care.
The Woozy is a loyal beast—
He’s always on the square.

verse copyright © 2005 by J. L. Bell

18 July 2006

Iz Abadazad a new Oz?

Monica Edinger, award-winning teacher at the Dalton School in New York, asked me through the Child_Lit listserv about the fantasy series Abadazad, by writer J. M. DeMatteis, illustrator Mike Ploog, and colorist Nick Bell [no relation].

Abadazad was first a line of comic books, now a shorter series of longer graphic novels from Hyperion, the publishing wing of Disney. Monica wrote, "I read the first one and it struck me as playing off the whole Oz phenomena in some very interesting ways." Her three major points of similarity:

1. Kate's diary with a typical snarky teen voice to it. But with stuff like, "You've heard of Abadazad, right? I mean .... duh...who hasn't.....But, just in case you're totally clueless: The first book, Little Martha, was written in 1898 by this guy named Franklin O. Davies...Davies wrote, I dunno, nineteen or twenty Abadazad books that were all published between 1898 and 1942....Well, I think you get the idea. After Franklin O. died, his daughter P.J. Davies wrote fifteen more...."
That bit of fictional publishing history certainly could be inspired by the Oz series--as well as the Stratemeyer Syndicate that generated the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, which was taken over by the founder's daughters. Three of L. Frank Baum's four sons tried to write stories in his mode, but none was successful or stuck it out for more than a title or two. But Ruth Plumly Thompson, who did take over the official series and wrote, "I dunno, nineteen or twenty" books, was bothered throughout her career by rumors that she was Baum's niece or some other relation. (They never met.)

2. A comic which, along with the diary, is the story of Kate going into Abadazad looking for her missing little brother.
To my eyes, this plot-starter makes the Abadazad stories different from the Oz stories in a mighty significant way. Rescuing a little sibling is the starter for other going-into-a-strange-land stories, from A Wrinkle in Time to Labyrinth (which Ploog worked on as a storyboard artist), but the child-protagonists who have adventures in Oz are remarkably sibling-free. Not until Number Nine and Twink and Tom in the 1940s do those children have any siblings at all, much less siblings who need rescuing. Dorothy, Tip, Inga, etc.--they're all only children.

3. Pages from an actual Abadazad book with bits like, "You are a very bad man!" Little Martha exclaimed. "Indeed I am," sneered the Lanky Man, incredibly pleased with himself.
And again that seems like a parodic echo of an exchange from Baum's Wizard of Oz that was plucked whole into the MGM movie:
"I think you are a very bad man," said Dorothy.

"Oh, no, my dear; I'm really a very good man, but I'm a very bad Wizard, I must admit."
To Monica's points, I can add some graphic similarities, such as this big head of a man with a fringe of hair.

Now it might be that we view all "child goes to fairyland" stories through the lens of our favorite examples of that genre. Kevenn T. Smith, an illustrator in last year's issue of Oziana, and pioneer Oz blogger Eric Gjovaag noted echoes of Oz in the Abadazad comics back in 2004 on the Oz Club bulletin board. But in the same year, All Ages wrote of Abadazad as "in the vein of Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." (All Ages also anguished that something would be lost in the shift from comic pages to hardcover.)

To that point, it seems significant that Monica calls herself a "Carrollian," and isn't claiming to see Alice here. She wrote, "I found it quite fun and intriguing. I thought they would be of particular interest to Oz folks just as we Carrollians are always interested in parodies of Wonderland." So how about it, folks? What do people think of Abadazad in comparison with the Oz books? On its own? And does the shift to the new book format make it more or less reminiscent of Oz as the comics?

17 July 2006

Oh, as if!

At the SCBWI New England conference last spring, I picked up a reading copy of The Door to Time, by "Ulysses Moore" (a corporate pseudonym for a book copyrighted by Edizioni Piemme S.p.A., with "Text by Pierdomenico Baccalario"). Hey, it was free, I was in a conference mood. This is not a recommendation.

Sampling a few pages when I had no mind to finish the book got me thinking about a writing challenge I've also noticed in manuscripts lately. The seven uncrowded pages of Chapter 1 of The Door to Time, as translated from the Italian, contain these sentence gems:

She blinked and stared, touching her fingers to her lips as if she was not yet sure that she could believe her eyes.

The house was enclosed by the blue of the sea and sky as if it were about to be swallowed up by nature herself.

She brushed her hand along the walls of Argo Manor as if to reassure herself that it was real, that this wasn't all some fantastic dream.

Yes, that was the word, thought Mrs. Covenant. Character, as if it were a living thing instead of a mere house of stone and wood.

In other places, it was scarred by scrapes and deep gashes. As if--could it be?--someone had once taken an ax to it in a fit of rage.
Chapter 2 breaks this pattern, but only by substituting "though" for "if":
It was as though there was some sort of challenge between them.

When they'd faced each other for the first time, it was as though Argo Manor had whispered to him, "Not everything is at it seems. Come discover my secret, Jason!"
Some of those uses of "as if/though" are clearly similes, proposing a comparison of two things that aren't really the same. The house is not truly whispering to Jason, it's not a living thing, it's not being swallowed by the sea.

But in other uses of the phrase, the author/translator team is explaining what characters are thinking or have done--skipping the challenge to show and instead telling us straight out what we can't see for sure in the current scene. Someone did take an ax to that door. There is some sort of challenge between the twins. Mrs. Covenant isn't sure she can believe what she sees.

So "as if/though" seems to have two opposing implications:
  • that the statement which follows is simply a metaphor, not literally true.
  • that the statement which follows is literally true, not simply a metaphor.
Add to that the sarcastic use of "As if!" popularized by the character Cher in Clueless, and it seems impossible to know what an author means by writing "as if..." unless the meaning is already so clear from context that the phrase is unnecessary to begin with.

Yet grammarians still frown on using "like..." as a conjunction to indicate undoubted similarity, not mere metaphor. It's as if we writers are trapped in room with no way out. Or perhaps it's like we're faced with a conundrum that has no obvious solution.

16 July 2006

Another comic with Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy

Though Lost Girls is getting all the attention, another comic artist is using the characters of Dorothy Gale, Wendy Darling, and Alice. Andy Weir's Cheshire Crossing, launched in June 2006, brings the three girls together at a sanitarium where they'll all be treated for delusions of traveling to magical worlds. Or so they think.

This comic's Dorothy Gale is based on Return to Oz, with a dollop of the MGM movie character. In her entrance scene, Dorothy says that American sanitariums "use only the very latest technology! And lately that seems to involve a lot of electric shocks!...Um..."

The governess is obviously based on Mary Poppins, but the creator appears to have kept away from making the identification explicit because that character is still protected by copyright. Of course, so is Return to Oz.

So far, I'd say, the pace seems slow, the scripting leans more on mild shocks than deep characterization, and the Flash-anime artwork makes me yearn for the graphic subtlety of Space Ghost. Plus, if we're going to treat Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy as historical figures, wouldn't it make sense for their behavior and values to reflect the Victorian era they came from rather than our post-feminist times?

15 July 2006

Dueling sequels to Peter Pan

In this corner, the Miami Herald offers an interview with its former star columnist, Dave Barry, and novelist Ridley Pearson on their second sequel to Peter Pan. Weighing in at 541 pages, it's Peter and the Shadow Thieves!

And in this corner, from Britain, the Times of London profiles Geraldine McCaughrean, author of Peter Pan in Scarlet. She knocked out all other contenders to be chosen by the Great Ormond Street Hospital to add value to its Peter Pan copyright just before it expires (barring another special act of Parliament).

But wait! The fix is in. After Barry and Pearson's Peter and the Starcatchers spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, the hospital made a late deal to allow a British edition in exchange for a cut of the profits. So now their book is also legal in the UK. But not to worry, Ms. McCaughrean! It's all for the kids, right?

Meanwhile, I can swivel my chair to the right and spot Peter Pan and the Only Children, by Gilbert Adair, published in the UK in 1987. Did the hospital get a piece of that? I can't tell.

The hospital did license James V. Hart to publish Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth last year. Its author also wrote the screenplay for the 1991 Steven Spielberg movie Hook, starring Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, but we shouldn't hold that against him.

our years ago Disney, never one to let money rest in parents' wallets, released Return to Never Land, sequel to its animated Peter Pan. (This time it was personal!) And, coasting through the air on that property, the company licensed a series called "Disney Fairies" through HarperCollins, featuring the character of Tinkerbell. The first title was written by Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted.

So Peter Pan may never have grown up, but he's sure had a lot of offspring.

My favorite recent adaptation of Peter Pan is P. J. Hogan's CGI-heavy movie version from 2003. The makers of that film understood that Peter's a bit of a monster, and that even off the stage his story's about playing roles, not just playing. The latest news from that quarter: Hogan has been tapped to direct a movie of Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer. Didn't I say that novel is really a fantasy?

14 July 2006

My Potter Predictions

For two days I've discussed what J. K. Rowling really said about characters dying in her seventh and last Harry Potter novel, and why Harry Potter will not die, all leading up to my predictions about what will happen in that book when it comes to the matter of death.

Whereupon my phone/DSL line got muggled up, and I spent the whole day keeping my mother company through pyramiding medical appointments. It may have looked like I was building suspense, but of course that's not my job. Using Blogger's ability to backdate entries, here's what I'm betting will occur in Harry Potter and the Whatever Whatever, the seventh in the series.

1. One of Harry's dead father figures (his father, Sirius Black, Dumbledore) will be resurrected in a form that lets Harry have a meaningful conversation with him, if only to say goodbye.

2. Harry will have the chance to kill one of his worst enemies (Voldemort, Snape, a Malfoy, a Death-eater he learns was directly responsible for his parents' deaths), but will refrain from doing so because, he realizes, he's better than that.

3. Another of those worst enemies (not including Voldemort) will refuse to kill at a crucial time, also showing that he's better than that. His refusal will most likely cost him his own life (that's where Voldemort comes in), but by saving a good person's life he will redeem himself.

4. A major enemy will die as a consequence of his own or another enemy's actions, giving Harry (and us) all the satisfaction of seeing him die but none of the guilt. Because we want to see the bad guys die, but have to believe that we're better than that.

5. Harry will believe that one of his closest friends has been killed, but either that will turn out to be a mistake or the friend will be magically resurrected in a process that proves crucial to the outcome of the overall conflict.

For a grand slam, run-the-board perfecta, Harry will:

  • believe a very close friend has been killed,
  • attack Voldemort in a fury and subdue the villain,
  • refrain from killing Voldemort because of a conversation with a resurrected father figure,
  • see Voldemort counterattack and die anyway because of his own or a disciple's action, and
  • then learn that his close friend has not died after all.
I tend to read Harry Potter novels a few months after the rest of the world, so I'll rely on you folks to tell me if any of my predictions are accurate. See you in a year!

13 July 2006

Harry Potter will not die

Yesterday I made my case that J. K. Rowling's recent comments about characters dying in her next and last Harry Potter novel have been overinterpreted, if not simply overblown.

Rowling's job as an author (both a writer and a promoter of her writing) is to make us think that death's a possibility for any of her characters we care about. Fair enough. But I don't have that job, except when it comes to my own stories. So I will now reveal what will happen to Harry and his best friends in the next novel.


The Harry Potter books are very imaginative in their details, but in plot structure and in the metaphysical system underlying them they're a conventional set of narratives. They're genre novels. That's what makes them enjoyable.

Rowling has combined the forms of the British school saga (a tradition which dates back to Tom Brown's School Days and includes such luminaries as Kipling and Wodehouse) and the fantasy epic, to create immensely popular books for children.

School sagas are about growing up, preparing for adulthood away from one's parents but in a very structured environment. The whole enterprise loses its meaning if the main character dies before leaving school.

Classic fantasies are about the triumph of good over evil in an allegorical way that we can't be sure of in real life. (Come to think of it, a lot of school sagas are just as Manichean.) Sometimes the evil is vanquished entirely. Sometimes its power is simply broken.
Rowling herself described her villains as "pure evil." She didn't sit down ten years ago to write about them winning.

Finally, the Harry Potter books are children's books. As the Inside-Out Tea Cozy blog points out, it's very hard to find a story written for children in the last hundred years in which the main character dies--especially if that protagonist is a child. (Dead parents, best friends, and wise mentors don't count.) Sure, Hans Christian Andersen killed off protagonists: Steadfast Tin Soldier, Little Match Girl. But as a good, sentimental Christian he also made sure to give them some sort of immortality. There's no reason to think that Rowling planned a series that would end up breaking that deeply ingrained pattern in our culture.

Some people have written that dying would be a fitting end for a tragedy--but the Harry Potter books aren't tragedies. And unlike some callow heroes, Harry doesn't need to experience death in order to mature. He's suffered loss his whole life. He can grow up only by getting beyond that.

I'm not saying that Harry should or shouldn't die for the sake of young readers, or literature, or commercialization. I'm saying he won't die. He just won't. And what's more...


In all the Harry Potter books, boys get beat up more than girls.
At the end of HP1, Ron and Harry are knocked unconscious while Hermione is left unscathed. Harry has been to the infirmary for serious injuries in practically every book. Hermione has gone there for cosmetic problems: teeth and, um, fur.

Who's died so far in the series? Males on that list greatly outnumber females. The most prominent female death, that of Harry's mother, came about because she was doing a most traditional female thing: protecting her baby.
In HP6 Katie Bell [no relation] nearly dies not because of a violent assault but because she, well, touches a necklace.

Again, Rowling's values are, at bottom, traditional. She has created smart, athletic, powerful female characters, and then largely protected them. Though she sends boys out onto the firing range, she doesn't write so comfortably about violence against girls. Even so...


This statement may be a little more iffy than the last two, but I'm still betting the odds. Ron will be put in terrible danger, be injured, and lose a relative or two. (There are so many, after all.) But he won't die, either.

How then, folks might ask, will Rowling have a "much loved" character die? Well, she didn't say that she would. Channel 4's interviewers asked her if any "much loved" characters would be among those to die, and she avoided answering the question directly. As a novelist, she puts her answers in her books, not in interviews a year before.

And even if she'd said that a "much loved" character or two dies, these books' huge worldwide following means that practically every recurring character would qualify. Luna Lovegood, the weird girl introduced halfway through the series, has her own fanlisting with almost 1,500 fans. There's a site for finding out whether you should marry Fred or George Weasley, and they're identical and indistinguishable twins! There are even Snape fan clubs. The death of practically any character short of Voldemort and "fourth voice in quidditch crowd" will produce some complaints.

Tomorrow: What will happen in HP7 when it comes to death. Because it's not my job to keep this from you.

12 July 2006

What J. K. Rowling really said

Last month J. K. Rowling gave an interview to the Regis & Kelly equivalent on Channel 4 in Britain, which was quickly amplified around the world. And as usual when remarks are amplified, there was a bit of distortion. Carefully vague remarks about unnamed characters dying in the last Harry Potter novel got turned into a worldwide debate about whether Harry himself would or should die. Examples of some of the more impassioned commentary appear at Chasing Ray, Xterminal, and the bottom of editorial columns in several great metropolitan newspapers.

Come on, people! If we're going to read that much into Rowling's words, the least we can do is examine those words closely and not hear more than they actually say. Here are Rowling's comments, as quoted by the Guardian newspaper:

The final chapter is hidden away, although it's now changed very slightly. . . . One character got a reprieve, but I have to say two die that I did not intend to die. . . . A price has to be paid, we are dealing with pure evil here. They don't target extras, do they? They go for the main characters. Well, I do.

I've never been tempted to kill him [Harry] off before the end of book seven, because I always planned seven books and that's where I want to go. I can completely understand, however, the mentality of an author who thinks, "Well, I'm going to kill them off because that means there can be no non-author-written sequels...so it will end with me, and after I'm dead and gone they won't be able to bring back the character."
So what we have learned, Dorothy? First, Rowling isn't going to tell us that Harry or any other major character lives, or that anyone dies. She's floating both possibilities. She's keeping us in suspense. That's her job as a good storyteller.

Second, Rowling is sticking mighty close to her original outline of several years ago. Her final chapter has changed only "very slightly." Three characters have different fates, but their living and dying has altered the final chapter only a little. The original game plan is still on.

Third, yes, Rowling said that her "pure evil" villains will "go for the main characters." Which they've been doing all along. Since before HP1, in fact. But "going for" or "targeting" people isn't the same as landing a fatal hit. Going for a main target can cause collateral damage, as every war shows us. Again, Rowling is producing suspense, keeping the stakes high and the outcome uncertain.

The comments that produced the most anguished words (during a summer holiday when there wasn't a lot of other news from the English-speaking world to write about) were about Harry himself. Does Rowling want to keep other authors from writing about him by killing him off?

Again, it's important to note that Rowling's sticking to the same plot outline she wrote as an unknown hopeful. She had no idea her creation would become a billion-dollar enterprise. She had no idea that thousands of people would be writing their own Harry Potter stories. She was just hoping to get published. She therefore didn't plan out her overall story arc with the goal of protecting Harry from posthumous licensing.

Rowling has some of the fiercest trademark lawyers on the planet on her side, but she hasn't tried to stop fanfiction writers. She's just not that protective. And she knows the real "threat" would come from her literary heirs, not her fans. Rowling's a healthy woman in middle age with two real children and other books she wants to write. It's very early for her to start worrying about what might happen to her fictional world "after I'm dead and gone."

Furthermore, the structure of Rowling's comment on authors killing off their characters doesn't imply that she's taking steps to be one of them. It implies the opposite. If I say, "I completely understand, however, the mentality of an author who wants to spell out exactly what her characters intend when they speak," that doesn't mean that I plan to use a lot of adverbs in my own writing. It means that I see myself as looking at that mentality from the outside.

If Harry or any other main character is going to die in HP7, it will be because J. K. Rowling planned that death over a decade ago.

Tomorrow: Rowling's job is to create suspense about which of her characters live. Mine is not.

11 July 2006

Carnival of Children's Lit & Akkordeonspieler

I'm new to blogging, and carnivals are one aspect of the culture I'm still puzzling out. It's not that I imagine blog carnivals to be as raucous as, say, a German kid playing an accordion in a tent.

I get the idea of aggregations of above-average blog entries. I enjoy exploring the links in the carnival entries I've seen, and am very glad someone's gone to the trouble.

I just don't get the process yet. Who is that someone? What are the criteria for links? What defines each carnival's theme? Why does hosting circulate? Such sites as Blog Carnival have been designed to fill a perceived need, but they don't answer those questions. Perhaps there are as many different combinations of answers as there are carnivals. Perhaps part of the appeal of blog communities, like other communities, is insider status: like finding your way here in greater Boston, if you don't already know where you are, you don't belong there.

In any event, the past Carnivals of Children's Literature are swell. Big A little a will host a new one on 23 July. Entry deadline is 15 July. And what happens in between those dates? I really don't know.

So I've decided to institute the Oz and Ends blog carnival of German kids playing accordions in tents to find out. It's open for entries through the end of July.

10 July 2006

Spotting Glinda's castle in the distance

I'm starting to prepare for the Munchkin Convention next month. Last year, this annual convention moved from Harrisburg to Princeton, New Jersey, a fine college town that happens to be (a) where I have dear relatives, and (b) closer to my home. So I'm very happy with the locale.

The one drawback is that when I attended in Harrisburg, I enjoyed visiting the rural parts of Lancaster County as I drove to Philadelphia to visit my grandparents. And on a certain road I know, when the weather is right, you can see Glinda's castle, much as Dorothy and her companions did in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:

The Monkeys had set them down near a farmhouse, and the four travelers walked up to it and knocked at the door. It was opened by the farmer's wife, and when Dorothy asked for something to eat the woman gave them all a good dinner, with three kinds of cake and four kinds of cookies, and a bowl of milk for Toto.

"How far is it to the Castle of Glinda?" asked the child.

"It is not a great way," answered the farmer's wife. "Take the road to the South and you will soon reach it.

Thanking the good woman, they started afresh and walked by the fields and across the pretty bridges until they saw before them a very beautiful Castle.

08 July 2006

School district trying not to "arouse a child's imagination"

Have you followed the silly but dismaying saga of the Vista San Gabriel Elementary School library? It's taking place out in the dry inland exurb of southern California ironically named Lake Los Angeles.

In 2000, one local newspaper, the Antelope Valley Press, quoted Wilsona School District board member Sharon Toyne saying about the Harry Potter series:

"The book's wizards and magic all falls in the line of witchcraft. . . . In our district we are trying to promote character with programs like Character Counts, and I don't see how the book promotes that. I think [the books] could arouse a child's imagination and curiosity of the unknown, of the dark side."
(Not "imagination and curiosity of the unknown"! We must keep children curious and imaginative only about the known, I suppose.)

In 2002, the school district board voted 3-2 to start having religious invocations at the start of its monthly meetings. The Antelope Valley Press reported that the "prayer of entreaty and call for divine presence...would be nonsectarian," according to proponents. But the first prayer offered "invoked Jesus Christ...and asked the Lord to look down upon the people's wickedness and sought forgiveness for banning prayer in public schools."

Sharon Toyne is now president of the district school board and "honorary mayor" of Lake Los Angeles. In February 2006, she led the board in removing 23 titles from a list of 68 recommended for the Vista San Gabriel Elementary School library by a committee of parents and teachers. You can read the full Antelope Valley Daily News report captured at Susan Ohanian's website and GirafNetwork, and reactions at As If!, Read Roger, and the School Library Journal censorship roundup for May. This time Toyne was quoted as saying (obviously extemporaneously):
"There were several of the books on there that board members felt were not appropriate for the children. . . . I think basically because for the last eight or nine years, we've been pushing character education in our school district. There are so many issues changing in the society we are living in. With this ever-changing society, we have to just stick back to the traditional thing of what kids are supposed to be learning."
Another board member and retired teacher, Marlene Olivarez, said that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was dropped because it's fantasy; "We want books to be things that children would be able to relate to in real life." Others dropped titles that fall into the fantasy category included some Clifford the Red Dog books (but only, apparently, bilingual editions), a couple of Artemis Fowl titles, and Disney's Christmas Storybook. I haven't found any report on the 45 titles that were approved.

The Antelope Valley Daily News quoted the school's principal and librarian and a parent expressing surprise and dismay over the board's decision--the first top-down intervention on book choices in at least five years. The Antelope Valley Press editorialized against the decision. (That essay is ironically captured on the blog of a conservative homeschooler who supported the board's restrictions as long as government stays out of education, or something like that. And it seems odd that this homeschooler apparently doesn't care that more students' parents were involved in creating the original list than in cutting it down.)

This week the district school board issued new guidelines, written by Toyne, board member Patricia Greene, and school superintendent Ned McNabb. (Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the news.) The Antelope Valley Daily News reported them like this:
Books now cannot depict drinking alcohol, smoking, drugs, sex, including "negative sexuality," implied or explicit nudity, cursing, violent crime or weapons, gambling, foul humor and "dark content."

"In selected instances, an occasional inappropriate word may be deleted with white-out rather than rejecting the entire book," the policy said.
. . .
Revisions included adding the words "socially appropriate" to one criteria [sic]. It now states books should have a "Fair balanced socially appropriate portrayal of people with regard to race, creed, color, national origin, sex and disability."

The guidelines also now state that all books must comply with a section of state education law, titled the "Hate Violence Prevention Act," which states, "Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, and the meaning of equality and human dignity, including the promotion of harmonious relations, kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government."
(Clifford obviously can't show kids anything about "kindness toward domestic pets," could he? These guidelines on values remind me of those Florida just mandated for history.)

Here's another wrinkle in this story that I picked up through Google:
  • In March 2006, the Associated Press reported, the Wilsona School District was "sanctioned under the California's Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program" for failing "to improve student achievement for at least two consecutive years."
  • Such sanctions sometimes make a school board look for new leadership. But in late June, the Wilsona School District board extended McNabb's contract for three years. Obviously, the board liked the approach and priorities he was demonstrating.
  • One week later, McNabb, Toyne, and the board unveiled their new guidelines for school library choices.

07 July 2006

another British Invasion?

Fuse #8 and Children's Music That Rocks offer detailed reports with photos on a performance by Harry and the Potters, with opening act Draco and the Malfoys. Actually, the two groups seem to have some overlap.

Here in Boston, we were serenaded last month by the Remus Lupins, whose CD is Spells from a Broken Wand and whose MySpace motto is: "Fight Evil. Read Books." As with the Potters and Malfoys, this "group" presents a puzzle. It seems to consist of a single singer-songwriter-guitarist, Alex Carpenter; more about him/them from Boston's Weekly Dig. But of course Remus Lupin always had identity issues of his own.

Forbes reported on these groups and the genre of "wizard rock" last summer. Other bands that have gotten as far as a CD include the Mud Bloods, the Hermione Crookshanks Experience [I don't want to know], and the Whomping Willows.

So here's my question: Is "wizard rock" primarily an American phenomenon? The Frappr chart of self-proclaimed fans shows many more upside-down orange raindrops in the US than in the UK. The movement's MySpace page declares its home is Hogsmeade, but the group founder identifies herself as a Texan.

I tried Googling "wizard rock" and "site:.uk," and found only about 100 hits, compared to 26,000+ with the .com suffix. Many of those UK hits were clearly unrelated to J. K. Rowling's creation. Indeed, the top link was a BBC 6 story titled "Harry Potter-themed 'Wizard Rock'--is MySpace to blame?" Harry Potter's home country doesn't seem too excited about this odd form of homage.

06 July 2006

Dorothy gets angry, Dorothy gets mad

Last week I posted a message about TCM's Oz film festival, adding a tart remark about the movie Glinda's decision not to tell Dorothy that the ruby slippers can take her home. (Indeed, that Glinda deceives Dorothy by implying she doesn't know the slippers' power.)

Since then, two fellow Oz fans have sent me this link to the YouTube version of a Mad TV sketch. I was saving it for a future post, but to keep my in-box only mildly out of control, I figured I'd pass it now on with thanks to Atticus Gannaway and Marc Berezin. Before the sketch devolves into the easy yuks of catfighting and homophobia, it does a fine job of portraying how angry Dorothy might feel at realizing what Glinda has done.

The real Dorothy certainly wouldn't have stood for such treatment. Baum told us as much in "Little Dorothy and Toto," one of the short tales published in The Little Wizard Stories of Oz in 1913. In Baum's first version of this story, Dorothy was kidnapped by a giant who (in a poor tactical move) shrank himself down into a very small man, whereupon Toto jumped on him and killed him. Baum's publisher thought that was too violent, and suggested a different ending. In the published story, the giant turns out to be the Wizard; he has disguised himself as the giant, carried off Dorothy, and set her to washing dishes in order to teach her a lesson about wandering around Oz on her own. You know, "she had to learn it for herself."

And the real Dorothy's response? It goes like this:

"Come on, Toto," said Dorothy; "let's go back to the Emerald City. You've given me a good scare, Wizard," she added, with dignity, "and p'raps I'll forgive you, by 'n' by; but just now I'm mad to think how easily you fooled me."

05 July 2006

Long life ahead for Zen Shorts

Over at Fuse #8, reader response has put Jon J. Muth's Zen Shorts close to the top of a purely unscientific list of the top American picture books of the past 25 years. I think this is a fine choice.

Muth's earlier book in the same mode, The Three Questions, struck me as ill-conceived from the start, on the other hand. It put abstract questions into the mouth of a young boy: "What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" Picture-book readers don't usually have trouble answering those questions. The most important person? Well, that would be me. The best time? How about NOW!

Of course little kids consider big ethical questions. But they consider them in concrete terms. They think about rules rather than philosophical principles. The Three Questions's Tolstoyan lessons on living in the present don't offer much enlightenment to children who are struggling to learn patience.

Zen Shorts works the other way: from the concrete (bringing too many bath toys to fit into the wading pool, for instance) to the abstract (worrying less about material things). The "real" story of three children getting to know their big new neighbor is augmented with that fellow's parables, illustrated in a different style to make them distinct.

And to humans, Stillwater the Panda will always be cuter than Leo the Turtle. Round furry creatures with what look like big eyes are inherently more appealing to our primate minds than wrinkly green lizards with sharp beaks.

04 July 2006

John Dough celebrates the Fourth

John Dough and the Cherub was written by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by John R. Neill, and published (in 1906) by Reilly & Britton, but (unlike all the other books that fit those criteria) it wasn't an Oz book. Then in The Road to Oz (1909), Baum made the John Dough story part of his Oz universe by bringing John and companions to Oz to celebrate Ozma's birthday party. This would later be called "cross-selling."

John is a giant gingerbread man, about the size of an adolescent boy (and drawn larger than that). He's one of several characters whom Baum portrayed being brought to life and then struggling to adjust to the world. More famous examples are the Scarecrow, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Patchwork Girl.

John differs from those Ozzy examples in that he magically comes to life in America, not a fairyland. In fact, he's animated on the Fourth of July, and he experiences America's national holiday like this:

As he hurried along he met with few people on the streets; and these, in the dark, paid little attention to the gingerbread man. . . . By and by he heard a strange popping and hissing coming from the direction of the square in the center of the town, and then he saw red and green lights illuminating the houses, and fiery comets go sailing into the sky to break into dozens of beautiful colored stars.

The people were having their Fourth of July fireworks, and John Dough became curious to witness the display from near by. So, forgetting his fears, he ran through the streets until he came to a big crowd of people, who were too busy watching the fireworks to notice that a gingerbread man stood beside them.

John Dough pressed forward until he was quite in the front row, and just behind the men who were firing the rockets.

For a time he watched the rush of the colored fires with much pleasure, and thoroughly enjoyed the sputtering of a big wheel that refused to go around, merely sending out weak and listless spurts of green and red sparks, as is the manner of such wheels.

But now the event of the evening was to occur. Two men brought out an enormous rocket, fully fifteen feet tall and filled with a tremendous charge of powder. This they leaned against a wooden trough that stood upright; but the rocket was too tall to stay in place, and swayed from side to side awkwardly.

"Here! Hold that stick!" cried one of the men, and John Dough stepped forward and grasped the stick of the big rocket firmly, not knowing there was any danger in doing so.

Then the man ran to get a piece of rope to tie the rocket in place; but the other man, being excited and thinking the rocket was ready to fire, touched off the fuse without noticing that John Dough was clinging fast to the stick.

There was a sudden shriek, a rush of fire, and then--slowly at first, but with ever-increasing speed--the huge rocket mounted far into the sky, carrying with it the form of the gingerbread man!
John Dough thus became one of the earliest examples of someone traveling from America to fairyland by rocket.

03 July 2006

Facial scrub

After about a month and a half of dispatches, I stole the time to list the blogs I visit most regularly and the websites I find most pertinent (or refreshingly impertinent).

I don't claim that these are comprehensive lists, even of my own likes. I managed to leave E. Nesbit out of my profile's roll of favorite authors even though I read her books regularly and blogged about her multiple times in my first month.

I've listed blogs alphabetically by title, but sites alphabetically by what I in my hurried wisdom decided were the key words (usually an author's last name). I expect these lists will evolve like germs.

My only other feeble attempt at organization on this blog involves the placement of images. If I find a book cover or other visual item to illustrate an entry, it goes on the upper right if the posting is about "Oz," on the upper left if it's about, er, "Ends."

02 July 2006

Hunting for that crucial "sense of hope"

If I ever need a "sense of hope," I know where to hunt for it: in children's books. If you listen to lots of authors and illustrators talking about their work, it seems like no book can go without.

Author Jane Kurtz:

"So I'm happy if readers take away a sense of hope--and a better understanding of what life is like in different time periods and different places from the ones they themselves inhabit."
Author-illustrator Jan Brett:
"She tries to impart a sense of hope and a sense that children are capable of triumphing over problems."
Author Marty Kaminsky:
"Looking to instill a sense of hope in America's youth, Kaminsky chronicles the lives of 15 athletes who overcame adversity to achieve their goals."
Author Janet Lee Carey:
"The trick is to face the story problem head on and still give the reader a sense of hope."
Author Jenny Robson:
"Jenny believes that a children's book 'must give a sense of hope, of some faith in the future, some belief in some basic goodness'."
Does anyone look for a "sense of hope" with more avidity than children's writers and artists? Of course! Reviewers, critics, and those all-important award committees seem to emphasize that quality even more.

Newbery committee head Susan Faust on Cynthia Kadohat's Kira-Kira:
"What's really compelling here is the quietude of the book, in that there's both pathos and humor, and I think the book kind of radiates a sense of hope from the inside out."
School Library Journal on Karen Hesse's Letters from Rifka:
"Countering the misery and uncertainty are the main character's courage, determination, and sense of hope as well as the happy ending."
Education World on Rodman Philbrick's The Last Book in the Universe:
"It is worth noting that despite the dismal world of the Urb to which Spaz returns, there is a sense of hope at the end of the book."
Resource Library Magazine on illustrator David Diaz:
"Two themes appear consistently in books illustrated and/or written by David Diaz: a sense of hope--even when dealing with social issues fraught with controversy--and a strong and kind mother figure."
Publishers Weekly on author Sharon Flake:
"Sharon Flake raises important issues about self-awareness for African Americans and leaves readers with a sense of hope."
The Governor-General's Award committee on Tim Wynne-Jones's The Maestro:
"This sensitive, imaginative young man has tremendous, strength which invests the conclusion with a tangible sense of hope."
Leonard S. Marcus on author-illustrator Ezra Jack Keats:
"His work has a core of honesty, always leaving children with a sense of hope."
Kirkus on Julie A. Swanson's Going for the Record:
"...this intense story portrays a father’s death in painful detail, balanced with a sense of hope."
The ALAN Review on author John H. Ritter:
"So, what memories, experiences, and events serve as a backdrop for John H. Ritter as he paints literary images that later become powerfully written novels? Novels that not only address our human imperfections, but also leave readers with a sense of hope."
CM Archive on Monica Hughes's A Handful of Seeds:
"Hughes, an experienced story-teller, gently leads the reader through the story, imparting a sense of hope to the younger reader newly faced with this ugly side of the world."
Disability Studies Quarterly takes issue with one book, Jan Needles's My Mate Shafiq, for not offering young readers enough hopefulness :
"...the ending of Needle's novel shows 'hope' at a low premium. 'Realism' is identifiable with sadness. The sense of hope is lacking in this novel: the children 'cope,' but as regards disability there is no sense of any greater understanding, inner growth or liberation. The disabled mothers are a 'problem,' although sympathetically viewed."
(How, I wonder, is having a mentally disabled mother not a "problem" for a young child?)

Myself, I got nothing against hope. I like it. There's probably a "sense" of it in most of the fiction I write, too. So why do I bring up this pattern?

First, I never see the "sense of hope" yardstick being applied to literary fiction for adults. People don't say that Graham Greene or Margaret Atwood or Ralph Ellison should always leave their readers with a sense of hope. What if you were M. T. Anderson and you want to express the attitude: "Yes, I do have hope. Not for the human race--we're doomed--but for the Insect Overlords who will follow us"? (This is from Anderson's Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor acceptance speech for Feed. I quote the version of Ayelle's journal, which is a pretty good match for my own memory of the event. In a better world, this speech would be on YouTube.)

Second, I question whether it's an appropriate goal for so many stories--indeed, the way some people address it, for the entire field of children's literature. For example, i
n 2003 Gary D. Schmidt questioned whether the "sense of hope" approach is appropriate for books about the Holocaust. His review essay in The Lion & the Unicorn says--
"When a child reads a book about the Holocaust--particularly in a pedagogical setting--the adults around that child may assume certain purposes are at play. . . . There is the context of a hopeful ending, even if not a conventionally happy ending--the narrator or protagonist may experience hell, but will survive, and may emerge triumphant, or even still naively innocent. . . . Is a hopeful ending appropriate, even given the audience, or does such an ending almost mock the choicelessness of the victims?"

As we consider those hopeless questions, I invite people to report more spottings of the wandering sense of hope in the world of children's literature.