30 June 2006

Oz movie festival to lead into 4th of July

On Monday night, 3 July, and stretching into the early morning of Independence Day, Turner Classic Movies will have an Oz movie fest, supplementing its frequent showing of MGM's Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland by airing three other versions of the story as well.

7:00 --> The evening starts with the hourlong making-of documentary about the MGM Wizard assembled in 1989 and hosted by Angela Lansbury because, well,...? She made The Court Jester, so I guess she had a better connection to fantasy movie musicals from the Hollywood studio age than any other star of 1989.

8:00 --> The MGM movie itself. Least favorite line: "Because she wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself." So Glinda kept vital knowledge from Dorothy, ensured she was away from home for longer, let her go into danger, and watched her become a killer--all so the girl could learn never to leave her own back yard again. Bitch.

10:00 --> The Wiz. I haven't actually watched this overbuilt Diana Ross vehicle all the way through. I saw the stage show on Broadway, and it was terrific, so I go just a few minutes through the movie before deciding not to spoil my memory. Director Sidney Lumet had interesting things to say about the production in his memoir, Making Movies.

12:30 AM --> The 1925 adaptation by silent-movie comedian Larry Semon.
A teenaged Dorothy who turns out to be a kidnapped princess, awful racist jokes, high falls off silos, cacti in the bum, a transvestite dancer,... It's been thirty years since I first saw this silent movie at the University of Wisconsin. I've never wanted to see it again.

1:45 AM --> A fifteen-minute novelty from 1910, recently found and restored.
The image above comes from a frame of this movie as Dorothy meets the Scarecrow. This is probably the second filming of The Wizard of Oz, though it may have incorporated footage from the first, commissioned by L. Frank Baum himself. There's a lot of dancing, not a lot of plot, as I recall. Practically no plot, in fact. Not worth staying up for but well worth recording. And a good reminder that people have been saying, "The book's better than the movie," almost as long as there have been movies.

29 June 2006

Ella Enchanted: what sort of message?

Depending on which headline you read, Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted is a feminist or post-feminist retelling of the "Cinderella" story. I'm not sure what the difference between "feminist" and "post-feminist" means here, but apparently it all comes down to the fact that the original Cinderella--a girl who spent all day doing chores for her stepfamily until rescued by a fairy and a prince--no longer seems like a plausible character, much less a heroine. We want our young females as well as our young males to stand up for themselves, to be plucky, to demonstrate modern human aspirations instead of just survival instinct.

Indeed, the limitations of the original character are what inspired Levine to reinvent Cinderella and her world. The publisher's webpage for teachers quotes Levine this way:

I had to write something and couldn't think of a plot, so I decided to write a Cinderella story because it already had a plot! Then, when I thought about Cinderella's character, I realized that she was too much of a goody-two-shoes for me and I would hate her before I finished ten pages. That's when I came up with the curse: she's only good because she has to be, and she's in constant rebellion.
Levine's Ella is thus cursed to be obedient, yet struggling to express her true nature. It's an interesting idea, though it seems almost tailor-made for an intro women's-studies class and the final resolution of Ella's inner conflict seems rather perfunctory. All that swirls around that conflict is much more enjoyable for me.

In her 2001 Sequential Tart essay, "Cinderella: In Search of a Heroine," Rebecca Salek focused on that fairy tale's implications:
In recent years, feminists in both the United States and around the world have attacked the story. "What sort of message are we sending our daughters?" they ask. "What message are we sending our sons?" And rightly so.
Salek concludes with praise for Levine's book, saying, "We need more heroes like Ella." Likewise, Amber LeDeit lists Ella Enchanted among her examples of "How Feminism Changed the Face of the Fairy Tale," the subtitle of her report for a YA lit class at San Jose State in 2005.

So what sort of message are we sending daughters and sons in Ella Enchanted? It's a charmant novel, but I can't help but note that almost all the antagonists and outright villains are female. The character who thoughtlessly curses Ella is a female fairy. Her childhood playmate and the stepmother and stepsisters who discover and exploit her weakness are female. The worst places for her to live are all-female households: her finishing school and her stepmother's palace. Literally, Ella has to flee to a war zone.

Among males, only one takes advantage of Ella's disability, and he's an ogre. In Levine's inventive reconceptualization, ogres can wheedle anybody who hears them into doing what they want, so he could get to her anyway. Human males in this world all tend to be pleasant but apt to disappear on quests and wars and clueless about females. The prince is truly charming, though he needs a little loosening up. All his knights and his father prove pleasant, however gruff they appear. Ella's father is as greedy and dishonest as her stepmother and stepsisters, but somehow more likable.

To be sure, there are several likable females as well, but the only truly nasty people in the book are, each and every one of them, female. Is that "post-feminist"?

28 June 2006

going back through the Phantom Tollbooth

Peter Sagal, host of NPR's uproarious Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!, wrote a fine essay in the Chicago Tribune about reading The Phantom Tollbooth to his daughters. Such was his early love for the book that he would have named each of those female children Milo if not for the little matter of a missing Y chromosome.

The girls enjoyed the book, but Sagal found rereading it painful:

...moments I had treasured from the book down through the decades now seemed like cheap gags. The first place he arrives is a stop in the road called "Expectations." Thus, every place he goes after that is "beyond Expectations." Get it? At one point the characters make statements unsupported by facts and suddenly fly through the air to an island called "Conclusions." They jump to Conclusions. See?

Milo's friends on his quest, whom I had once thought of as my own friends, were simple archetypes who showed up, made their speeches and vanished. Where as a child I had seen mystery and wonder, as an adult I saw smug, self-satisfied intellectual humor. . . .

But I should stress, again, that while I was sitting in our beat-up glider chair reading the book, silently, motionlessly writhing as my childhood collapsed around my ears, my kids were having a fine old time.
I suspect that Sagal would have writhed just as much if he'd gotten a look at himself at the age when he first read and loved The Phantom Tollbooth. And even more if he'd been able to see into his mind at that point. I know I would have. "Self-satisfied intellectual humor" seemed like an apogee to aspire to.

The Tollbooth seems expertly calibrated for kids breaking into the realm of abstract thought. The puns and archetypes that Sagal now finds so facile are almost all based on abstractions like "Expectations" and "Conclusions." The book's treatment of them isn't very deep, to be sure. But it's many miles wide: it takes young readers on a whirlwind tour of the new possibilities of their minds, their language, their logic and mathematics. If you read the Tollbooth at the right age, its jokes are funny because they come at you for the first time, and because they represent the delight of discovering a new way to play with the world.

Now when I say "expertly calibrated for kids," I mean not calibrated at all, by someone who never claimed to be an expert and wasn't thinking of kids. As Juster told an interviewer at Powells.com, "There was no audience but me." Eventually he was also writing for his neighbor Jules Feiffer, who had gotten the assignment of illustrating this strange book. (Similar remarks from Juster at AbsoluteWrite.com.) The Tollbooth had to come from outside the children's lit field. It's not about vivid characters or a plausible world or a tight plot. It's about exploring something more, beyond Expectations.

I think everyone should read The Phantom Tollbooth once. Life won't be the same. Rereading many years later--well, that might indeed be painful.

27 June 2006

Worldwide Conspiracies in Oz

Because The Wizard of Oz occupies such a big place in Americans' collective imagination, it's only natural for our conspiracy theorists to decide that it means even more. And of course the World Wide Web is a wonderful forum for people to express their theories about, well, worldwide webs.

I recently sampled some of the online conspiracist essays about Oz, and see some broad patterns:

  • Many of these theories trace The Wizard of Oz's role in their personal favorite conspiracy back to author L. Frank Baum, given his lively, if not detailed or consistent, opinions on religion and social movements.
  • However, none of the conspiratorial connections those theorists see were detected in Baum's lifetime or shortly afterwards. All these interpretations date from well after the MGM movie was televised annually.
  • Many theorists have a hard time differentiating between the book and the movie, crediting Baum with details that didn't appear until 1939 or seeing books and movie as all part of the same conspiracy.
  • Racism and bigotry of other sorts is never far below the surface of these theories.
  • Most enjoyably, conspiracy theorists have a wonderful way of splintering into smaller and smaller groups, each accusing others of being part of the conspiracy.
Here's one such essay, "L. Frank Baum and the Not-So-Wonderful Wizard of Oz," apparently a joint production of Dennis L. Cuddy, Ph.D., and Steve Van Nattan. The main text is said to come from Cuddy's book, the Biblical interpolations from Van Nattan.

Cuddy is an anti-New World Order crusader. His biography reassures us that he "has been a Senior Associate with the U.S. Department of Education [and]...testified before members of Congress on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice." (No dates attached to those experiences.) Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) inserted various Cuddy writings into the Congressional Record during debate on an education bill in 1998.

Van Nattan is a Christian pastor who's written such things as, "Nor will I approve of the pulpit being used by those who are mere do-gooders or political hucksters, such as the Gideons. I know how to hand out Bibles without the help of Episcopalians." (Those aggressive Episcopalians.) The "Not-So-Wonderful" essay also appears on Van Nattan's old website, with every appearance of the phrase "New World Order" replaced with "piano casters." The ways of the world are mysterious, but an explanation may lie in the fact that Van Nattan has a piano supplies business. And, apparently, a hacked-up website.

Van Nattan has apparently angered another conspiracy theorist, Edward Hendrie, on the question of interracial marriage. Meanwhile, Hendrie and Cuddy and a lot of others are in agreement that the U.S. government knew about the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York in advance--but it's quite possible each has different explanations and therefore opposes the other.

But where in the Oz legend, you must be asking, are the Illuminati? According to "Wizard of Oz and Illuminati Mind Control", they were involved, too. That essay seems to come from Fritz Springmeier and Cisco Wheeler's book The Illuminati Formula to Create an Undetectable Total Mind Controlled Slave, and Deeper Insights. (Insights even deeper than undetectable mind control?) That book reveals, among so much more, that "At the Kennedy Space Center...Mind control testing is done, and base programming such as the Wizard of Oz programming is done here." Well, some people do think Oz is on another planet.

Springmeier presents himself as a minister, and Wheeler states that she is from "an Illuminati family." This webpage links them to other identities. In March 2001, the Portland Oregonian reported that Springmeier had been arrested on drug charges and found with "white supremacist literature." He replied by starting the charges were--what else?--a conspiracy. But in late 2003 Springmeier was sentenced to nine years in prison for helping to rob a bank in 1997.

Ken Vardon, maintainer of the webpage reprinting Springmeier and Wheeler's Wizard of Oz essay, has his own opponents among the conspiracy crowd who regard him with suspicion because of his military background.

Also reprinting material from Springmeier and Wheeler is this page from the "New Covenant Church of God" in Sweden, whose website tells us:
The theme inside the MGM is the Wizard of Oz which is for Monarch programming. (To understand the Wizard of Oz mind control programming the reader needs to get this author’s various writings on the Monarch Programming, which includes an Illustrated Guide To Monarch Programming and other writings.) Bob Hope, an MI-6 agent who was used extensively in W.W. II to trigger mind-controlled military men with the proper hypnotically embedded trigger words, received his own mind-controlled sex slaves after the war. . . .
Secret agents, word-triggered hypnosis, sex slaves--that definitely sounds like a Bob Hope movie from the early 1960s. Somewhere between Bachelor in Paradise and I'll Take Sweden. Pity it exists only in some fevered imaginations.

26 June 2006

Bats at the Beach takes off

Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon maintained their role as the Oprah Winfrey of picture books this weekend, producing top sales with one rave review broadcast to millions.

The Saturday-morning pair focused their sonar on Brian Lies's Bats at the Beach. Before the day was out, the book was #3 at Amazon. All of us Lies fans here in New England are thrilled for him.

You can hear the radio segment here. Here's Brian's website.

Bats at the Beach also gives the lie to a "rule" of writing picture books that a lot of newcomers think they've heard: "Don't write in rhyme." BatB is in verse, as are many other successful picture books, new and old. Verse requires both rhyme and rhythm. Rhyme seems easy, but rhythm is hard.

So I think newcomers should interpret "Don't write in rhyme" as:

  • Don't write in rhyme just because you think all picture books have to be written that way.
  • Don't write in rhyme unless you can manage the rhythm as well.
  • Don't expect writing in rhyme to make up for a weak story, flat characters, wordiness, cliches, or other problems.
Brian's text actually shifts from iambic to anapestic rhythm for some couplets, which might trip up readers until they realize the pattern. Stick with it!

25 June 2006

Septina Nash and the Order of the Penguins

Septina Nash is lamenting her publisher's concern that the working title of the upcoming chronicle about her, Septina Nash and the Penguins of Doom, sounds too much like certain thick books by J. K. Rowling.

As someone who's been in a scores of title meetings, I have to go with the publisher on this one. Sounding like a certain series could obscure the book's originality. And with only one volume left, said series is going to be yesterday's news the day after tomorrow. (I write metaphorically, of course.)

I'd say to young Miss Nash, "Honey, you know no one knows your first name yet. Every September you have to teach your school administrator how to spell it and your teacher how to pronounce it. How will potential fans find your book in digital databases if they're not sure how the first word of the title is spelled?

"Yes, I know Harry Potter gets his name in his titles. But his name is ludicrously easy to spell. It's Anglo-Saxon and salt-of-the-earth (not like those aristocratic French and Latin names that attach themselves to villains, such as Voldemort and Draco--but that's another story).

"So what's better for a Septina Nash adventure than a title starting Septina Nash...? Well, look at what happened when your penguin friends waddled onto your MySpace page: 1,200 friends! Yes, I know they were just coming off a hit movie. But we're talking about your chance for break-out here. People like penguins. People know how to spell 'penguin.' So think about something like..."

Penguins of Doom: The Lost-and-Found Letters of Septina Nash

Did Penguins Steal My Sister?: A Septina Nash Mystery

Penguin Peril: Septina Nash's Epistolary Adventures, Volume 4 (starting with volume 1 is so old-fashioned, so...Pottery)
Of course, the book's publisher might then decide that Penguins of Doom sounds too much like a certain adventure by M. T. Anderson.

24 June 2006

authorless events at Wild Rumpus

The American Booksellers Association website carries an article about "authorless author events" at Wild Rumpus, a children's bookstore in Minneapolis.

What gets children more excited than authors? Well, potato chips, for one thing. Sometimes just one potato chip. Or a scrap of a potato chip that hasn't been lying on the floor too long.

But if you're a bookstore, potato chips would get the covers all greasy. Instead, Wild Rumpus offers...doll mutilation!

"Mummify Your Barbie" is one of Wild Rumpus' most popular events. An archaeologist discusses and demonstrates the mummification process, and attendees each practice on their own Barbie. "The highlight is cutting off her hair. Every little girl wants to cut the hair off her Barbie," said Morgan. "The appeal of the workshop is not only curiosity about the whole mummification process. There's something deeply satisfying about mutilating a Barbie."
It's true. Forbes says so.
Wild Rumpus provides the Barbie dolls, which it buys in bulk, and does not charge for the event.
Well, that's no fun--mummifying a Barbie that doesn't belong to anyone! Isn't the real appeal of Valley of the Kings Barbie playing with your sister's doll?
To find an archaeologist, she recommended approaching the archaeology department of a local university. "People are usually pretty excited to [visit the bookstore] because it's a chance to connect with a totally different population than they see every day. . . . And if someone tells you no, don't take it personally. What the hell, just find another archaeologist."
They're always hanging around, after all. Unlike authors.

non-fantasy book warning

Since I expect more children's librarians will see this page than will find their way to my other blog, Boston 1775, I'm adding this link to a series of messages I posted there on inaccuracies in A Travel Guide to Colonial Boston (Lucent Books, 2004). Now I feel better.

23 June 2006

looking for Leapholes

According to legend, Joseph Kennedy got out of the stock market just before the Crash of 1929 because he heard his chauffeur and other menials talking about stocks and decided that the market had peaked. He figured that these investors were too uninformed to value properties accurately, and there was no one left to buy stocks at an even higher price.

My proposed sign that the recent bull market in children's fantasy has peaked: The American Bar Association is publishing a fantasy novel for young readers. It's called Leapholes, and it's
the first children's book by thriller writer James Grippando. "Harry Potter meets John Grisham," the book's editor told Publishers Weekly. "It's time travel with a legal twist."

The premise that PW describes seems to come out of one of Evil Editor's query specimens:

With the aid of a lawyer with magical powers, Leapholes's hero, young Ryan Coolidge, literally zips in and out of law books, meeting historical characters who figured in some of the most famous legal cases in American history.
"Oh, no, a magistrate has issued a bench warrant for John Peter Zenger! Thank goodness I've retained a lawyer with magical powers!"

According to the BookSpan press release, young Ryan is "a boy who hates middle school and who is in the worst kind of trouble--trouble with the law." He must wish that he merely had, say, medical trouble. Ryan's mentor is "a mysterious old, African-American lawyer named Hezekiah"--another "magic Negro" part for Morgan Freeman.

The volume ends with essays by prominent lawyers--Baldacci, Scottoline, Boies & Alia--describing how they came to the profession. (BookSpan calls this an "Afterward." Sic.) Let's not tell those high-powered attorneys that kids rarely read prologues, forewords, introductions, afterwords, or other extras. If we did tell, we might get into the worst kind of trouble.

22 June 2006

visions of fantasy editors

At the chock-full-of-stuff Cynsations, author Cynthia Leitich Smith has posted an interview with Mirrorstone editor Stacy Whitman. I met Stacy online while she was in graduate school at Simmons, and you can see the informed perspective she brings to her job:

Children's literature is the only genre written by people who aren't its target audience. A lot of "gatekeeper" adults filter the literature before it reaches a child's hands--booksellers, teachers, librarians, parents, editors, writers. So our challenge is to help those gatekeepers love our books as much as we love them, to create stories that kids will love even after being recommended by an adult.
I suspect that feeling of being outside the gates is especially strong at Wizards of the Coast, Mirrorstone's parent, since it specializes in paperback fantasies, which make a lot of critics turn up their noses. As Stacy says, "I've heard from many readers that...they expected a series paperback to be pretty bad. We want to tell good stories that kids will enjoy, and to do that, the writing must be excellent as well as the story."

Last month HarperCollins editor Michael Stearns offered Fly by Night, Blog by Day, a room-by-room description of escorting British author Frances Hardinge on her American tour to promote Fly by Night. One moment to remember--
Question from darling schoolchild: If you were born in England, why are you touring schools here?

(Good question, Frances looked at her editor, who was unable to explain much of anything, and then she explained that the book had just been published here.)

21 June 2006

getting and sorting, we lay waste our powers

Ever since a certain hat whispered, "Gryffindor," more and more fantasy stories seem to include a scene in which the young protagonist is formally sorted into one group or another. I'm surprised at how this ritual apparently appeals to so many young readers.

The Ranger's Apprentice series, by Australian John Flanagan, starts with a "Choosing Day." As Penguin's web catalogue copy helpfully explains, "at Choosing Day, the day all wards of the castle are told what career path they'll follow into adulthood." (This moment was featured in Unshelved, Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum's online comic strip by, about, but not just for librarians.)

Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series includes a "claiming ceremony," when the Greek gods claim children as their own. As Publishers Weekly reported, the great Bookpeople bookstore of Austin, Texas, used this as the basis of a short summer camp for young readers. The legend of Zeus claiming Ganymede as his cupbearer offers some precedent, but not one I thought would carry a lot of weight these days.

Another, non-literary example appears in the Disney movie Sky High, in which the "power placement" ceremony separates teens into superheroes and sidekicks.

Such sorting and choosing is part of a childhood, of course, whether it's picking sides for kickball or finding a seat at lunch or starting the college-application process in eighth grade. But when did formal sorting ceremonies become something kids in our society looked forward to?

It's often said that European education systems have deeper tracks than ours, so it may be no surprise that Britain, home of the O-Levels, produced the
OWLs in Harry Potter. But J. K. Rowling's fantasy world sorts deeper than that. Harry and his schoolmates are wizards from birth. As for the rest of us--well, if you haven't been called to Hogwarts by age eleven, you're a mere muggle. Have a fun life.

Are kids now so used to being tested, categorized, and labeled that they don't wish for an alternative system, simply for a better label? Riordan's website offers "Ten Signs You May Be a Half-Blood," such as being diagnosed with ADHD or dyslexia; his fantasy thus offers one label for another. And the wizard/muggle division seeps into real life in the "indigo child" phenomenon.

In most classic fantasy with one foot in the realistic world, the heroes are ordinary kids, much like the readers. They become extraordinary through luck (often bad to start with) and pluck. Anybody can stumble across a magic ring. Anybody can be a dragon-hatcher. Anybody can find the grail. That's the fantasy part!

20 June 2006

How Martha Speaks speaks to kids

Last month I had the honor of introducing author-illustrator Susan Meddaugh to an audience of the Foundation for Children's Books. A fine lady, and a model for doing much creative work after employment at a publisher.

Susan's character Martha, as her many fans know, is a dog who eats alphabet soup and develops the ability to talk. That's page 5 of the 32 (unnumbered) pages in Martha Speaks, so I'm not giving anything away.

This picture book combines two types of text to tell its story. There's the genre's usual narrative styling: serif type (Century Schoolbook, it looks like) with big leading, no paragraph indents, standard punctuation, lines above and below the artwork, describing action and dialogue in third person ("Martha raced to the kitchen. She barked. She growled.").

And then there are handwritten word balloons, as in cartoons. Their letters expand and contract, their lines bend and bulge. These words even turn red with anger. Most of those word balloons point to Martha, so figuratively her dialogue--her ability to speak--disrupts the staid text.

What Martha says is also disruptive. She talks like a little kid--just a bit younger than readers themselves, I guess. She's got a fine vocabulary, but no sense of propriety. So Martha asks for food, wonders why a man is fat, asks for food, tattles, gives away secrets, asks for food, speaks during TV shows, and wonders when that food is coming along.

Reading Martha Speaks, kids get to feel like grown-ups, seeing what Martha's doing wrong and feeling proud that they're above that. The book's main child character, Helen, is grouped with her parents in the conflict rather than with Martha.

Of course, those young readers (and we older ones) also get to live vicariously through Martha, saying whatever's on our tiny minds.

19 June 2006

Southbridge library displays Oz collection

This weekend I stayed at the home of fellow Oz fan and cataloguer Dee Michel while I attended a historical conference. I had no idea until I got home, however, that last week Dee's display of his Oz collection kicked up a tiny cyclone in another Massachusetts town, Southbridge.

Dee's display is called "Wizard of Oz: A Cultural Touchstone." He first assembled his collection this way for the University of Massachusetts library last year. With 2006 being the 150th anniversary of L. Frank Baum's birth, the Jacob Edwards Library in Southbridge is hosting the exhibit.

This exhibit is also connected with Gay Pride Month since
Dee's working on a book about the appeal of the Oz series for gay men. On 21 June, the library hosts him and Gregory Maguire, author of latter-day Oz novels Wicked and Son of a Witch and a gay father of I've-lost-track-of-how-many. They'll speak and mingle with guests at a fundraising reception for the library.

All that seems to have been too much for one town council member, who used meeting time to suggest boycotting the library. T
he Jacob Edwards Library gets no money from the town for its displays and speaker programs, and even if it did Massachusetts leads the nation in ending anti-gay legal discrimination. So the town councilman seems to be using public resources to promote his personal viewpoint on a private matter.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette broke the story. (Thanks to Blair Frodelius's new Daily Ozmapolitan roundup of Ozzy news for this link.) The American Library Association also picked it up.

death of Tim Hildebrandt

I think the brothers Hildebrandt, Greg and Tim, defined the look of high fantasy for readers of my generation more than any other illustrators. Like many others, I first encountered their work in the context of Tolkien. Later Greg illustrated an edition of The Wizard of Oz.

Tim Hildebrandt died on 11 June of the effects of diabetes. The brothers' Spiderwebart Gallery website now contains a memorial page with photos from their childhood, as well as many prints.

18 June 2006

highlighting Highlights

I didn't mind when the New Teen Titans went vaguely manga for their TV show. After all, I'd read that comic book during the George Perez years of the 1980s, and no animation studio in Asia could replicate his artwork 20 frames a second.

Nor did I mind the new, vaguely manga look for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a few years ago, or this week's news that their TV look will change a little bit more. After all, they always had a Japanese inflection.

But I was a little taken aback by this year's model of
Goofus and Gallant from Highlights for Children, that waiting-room staple. They've looked about the same since my early childhood. The magazine revamped the pair when it switched to a full-color interior, but their basic style remained: realistic pencil sketching, timeless clothing, whitest boys in America. Samples are preserved at Fark.com.

So I checked out the Highlights website. I was pleased to see that, despite the new stylist, Goofus still doesn't comb his hair. That gave me courage to try out the choose-your-own-very-mild-adventure pages for G&G. It felt like being one of those cartoon characters with a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other. I can therefore report that Gallant comes off as even more of a prig. All is well.

This week the Boston Globe ran a story about Highlights on the occasion of its sixtieth anniversary and (so the magazine says) billionth copy. The August issue will explain the concept of a billion this way: "If Goofus stacked a billion children on his shoulders, they would reach the moon, wrap around the moon 11 times, stretch back to the earth, wrap around the earth five times, and there would be enough kids left over for 34,944 Little League teams." But where could we possibly find a billion kids stupid enough to trust Goofus to hold them up?

I understand that Highlights is narrowing its target audience, no longer aiming for the upper-elementary grades at all. This revamp of G&G as cuter may be part of that strategy.

16 June 2006

"Tin Soldier" rejection letter

Dear Mr. Andersen:

Thank you for sharing your manuscript of "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" with us. We apologize for any delay in responding, but we receive a large volume of submissions every week. Unfortunately, our editors has decided that this project is not right for us now.

The premise of "Tin Soldier" is a strong one, as the Toy Story movies have shown. The text offers many
illustration opportunities--we especially like the scene with the rat customs officer in the sewer. Though the main character seems to have few facial expressions, we feel that a skilled artist could find ways to express a variety of moods. It's also refreshing to see that, although your protagonist is missing a leg, the story does not revolve around "fixing" that situation.

That said, we feel the story would leave young readers with many serious questions and concerns, producing a less than satisfying experience for families. The main character is essentially passive, and the paper ballerina does little to make herself interesting. The action seems to be driven by the imp's motiveless mischief rather than arising from the little soldier's desires.

We always like our books to leave young readers with a sense of hope. The return of the soldier through the fish does that, outlandish as the coincidence may be, but we don't see how most children will maintain that hope after both the soldier and ballerina are burned in the stove.
Especially when the soldier is thrown into that fire by a child for "no reason." We suspect that you meant the molten tin heart to symbolize the survival of the soldier's love. However, we don't think that children would find that a reassuring conclusion.

As you know, different publishers have different needs. We wish you every success in placing this project elsewhere.


15 June 2006

Early reader turns precocious reviewer

CNN's website offers the opinions of guest reviewer Andrew Oglesby on five recent picture books. Andrew is six. Something tells me school has been out in Atlanta long enough for Andrew's mother to be eager to find something for him to do.

Here are short selections from each of Andrew's reviews, showing what he looks for in a picture book, at least until he turns seven:

"I really like the part where the grape smells his armpits."

"This is an outstanding book. The author who made this was wise."

"I liked three of the poems. . . . I liked those because they were short."

"The best part is how the rooster followed him and how he said 'How boring!' I just think that's funny. I don't know the reason, but I just think it's funny."

"This book is amazing because the funny part is the poop, poop, poop."
Overall, Andrew's opinions put me in mind of something I heard at a conference from reading specialist Tony Stead. The teachers he'd polled thought the most important ingredient in a picture book was a valuable lesson about life. The kids thought the most important ingredient was humor. Their sort of humor.

14 June 2006

On the hunt for girl detectives

CLUES, a scholarly journal devoted to detective fiction in all its forms, has announced plans for an issue on "the Girl Sleuth." See the call for papers at the Children's Literature Association wikisite.

Stories about female detectives have been marketed to young readers for over a century. The Old Sleuth, one of the most popular dime-novel detectives, had an assistant named Maggie Everett, who specialized in trailing criminals; in case she was attacked, she carried a club in her purse. Laura Keen, the Queen of Detectives, went further: she used pistols and a knife in her own 1892 adventure. These and other dime-novel female detectives were all adults, as far as I can tell.

The creation of the girl detective, like that of the boy detective, seems to have come in the early twentieth century. It probably started with one-offs in standard girls' series, like Marion Marlowe's Skill; or A Week as a Private Detective, by "Grace Shirley" in 1900. One pioneer in writing series about teenaged "girl sleuths" was L. Frank Baum, who published Mary Louise under the pseudonym Edith Van Dyne in 1916. That book's second protagonist, Josie O'Gorman, is a policeman's daughter who goes undercover. Toward the end we read:

"It's good to see you again, Josie," said O'Gorman, as they seated themselves on the bench. "How do you like being a sleuth?"

"Really, Daddy," she replied, "it has been no end of a lark. I'm dead sick of washing other folks' dishes, I confess, but the fun I've had has more than made up for the hard work. . . . I'm patting myself on the back, Dad, because you trained me and I want to prove myself a credit to your training."
Despite not being a WASP, Josie grew increasingly important in the Mary Louise series. Under second writer Emma Speed Sampson, she took it over entirely.

In 1917 Baum even referred to the young heroines of The Lost Princess of Oz as "girl detectives." That book's not really a mystery, but I had to say something in this entry about fantasy, hadn't I?

Click on the thumbnail cover of Old Sleuth Weekly above for a bigger, better picture of "Wild Myra" punching out kidnappers about 1910. It comes from the Stanford University library's online exhibit of dime novels, penny dreadfuls, and popular literature of other currency, which is well worth a browse. The University of Minnesota library offers a checklist of girls' series.

13 June 2006

A wizard from a Barron: The Lost Years of Merlin

T. A. Barron's The Lost Years of Merlin is in one way a radical addition to modern Arthurian literature. In both traditional and modern versions of the Camelot myth, as in The Sword in the Stone or even Over Sea, Under Stone [ooh, I told!], Merlin is the mentor figure. Arthur or, once his story got told, various young knights were the heroes.

But Barron (an American inspired by Wales, like Lloyd Alexander) reimagines Merlin as the young hero in his own coming-of-age saga. The result is more than serviceable high fantasy, but I'm not sure why besides the Merlin "brand name" it has to be tied to Camelot.

Some reviewers have said that the Lost Years starts slowly. I think it starts fine, but then it starts again, and again.
Usually a novel should begin when the protagonist's life changes in a major way. Thus, for example, Franny Billingsley's The Folk Keeper starts when its main character arrives on an island to take a new job. Of course, that gives the author the challenge of filling us in on the character's previous life, but it's inherently dramatic.

Lost Years has, by my count, not one but four moments when a sudden and drastic change comes on the hero:

  • Prologue: Young Emrys finds himself washed up on a strange shore. He can't remember anything of his past, and he knows his life will never be the same again.
  • Chapter 2 (or, rather, II): Emrys discovers that he has untold magical powers, and is sure his life will never be the same again.
  • Chapter VI: Having responded to a bully with magical fire and then tried to save the other boy from it, Emrys wakes up blind, haunted by the memory, and certain that his life will never be the same again.
  • Chapter VIII: Emrys discovers that he has the gift of second sight, restoring his independence and proving once and for all that his life will never be the same again.

12 June 2006

How to train your metaphors

After taking in an audiobook of How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell (already optioned by DreamWorks, apparently because it's Shrek-like), I felt a pressing need to hunt down a list of bad metaphors I'd once read. And I found them at Funny2.com: a whole page of Questionable Analogies. Some samples:

Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center. (Russell Beland, Springfield)

His fountain pen was so expensive it looked as if someone had grabbed the pope, turned him upside down and started writing with the tip of his big pointy hat. (Jeffrey Carl, Richmond)

He felt like he was being hunted down like a dog, in a place that hunts dogs, I suppose. (unknown)

Sometimes some of these lines are spread 'round the 'net as examples of poor student writing--evidence for each generation's smug belief that today's students are vastly worse than themselves. But it’s obvious that the authors of the lines were trying to create bad metaphors. If students had created them, they'd be signs of the ability to write, or at least to distinguish bad writing when it really matters. But in fact internal evidence suggests that Washington Post readers created many of these lines for the paper’s “Style International” column, retired in 1999.

What made me wish to seek deliberately bad metaphors as avidly as I wish to stop the Four Tops’ version of “Macarthur Park” from playing in the back of my brain? That Dragon book. This is a comic fantasy in exaggerated, crowd-pleasing style. (Well, boy-pleasing; there are no girls to be found.) It’s supposed to be told in the voice of an aged Viking warrior looking back on his youth.

Yet How to Train Your Dragon tells us that the glowworms illuminating a cavern of sleeping dragons resembled an array of low-wattage light bulbs. Apparently this book's Vikings not only made it to North America before Christopher Columbus, but they also developed light bulbs before Thomas Edison.

Metaphors don't just float in empty space like a bubble. They float in empty space like a GPS satellite, part of an interlaced system of imagery. They help to establish the mood, tone, and setting of stories. The two things that a metaphor compares (technically, the “tenor” and the “burden,” though I don’t recall which is which) have to resemble each other in a crucial way. But they should also fit with the story’s overall milieu. Otherwise, the metaphor stands out like bullet on a birthday cake and undercuts the story's verisimilitude.

So now I wish to cleanse my palate with a generous gulp of good metaphors. Luckily, I have P. G. Wodehouse's The Mating Season on my iPod. Wodehouse novels are an excellent place to start a simile hunt. But of course they're an excellent place for a great many things.

11 June 2006

My teenaged spy adventure

The Ian Fleming estate continues its grandiose plan to conquer the world [have they learned nothing from those books?] with the Young James Bond franchise. This month the second book by Charlie Higson rolls out in the USA. There's also the Young Bond website, and promises of graphic novels in 2008. All of which begs two questions.

First, wasn't James Bond fairly adolescent already?

And second, considering all the technical gadgets that today's teenagers have at their fingertips, wouldn't the most advanced technology of the period when young James was at Eton seem as slow and frustrating as, say, those thrilling scuba sequences in Thunderball?

My own teenaged spy novel would harness the latest scientific discoveries:

"Gosh, Terry! How are we ever going to get out of here? That guard's guarding us like a...well, like a guard!"

"Let me think, Chris. Let me think. We need some way to distract her for up to thirty seconds. I have my Swiss Army knife with two blades, a file, and an eighth-inch drill. What do you have in your backpack?"

"Just a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke and some Mentos."

"Darn. Is that all?"

"Nothing but a paper clip."

"Why didn't you mention that in the first place? I saw something on the Internet..."
Check out the video and complete instructions at EepyBird. Thanks to Jerry Bell for the link.

10 June 2006

New launch for Ozoplaning

Hungry Tiger Press has announced that it will launch a new edition of Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz, the last Oz novel that Ruth Plumly Thompson wrote for Reilly & Lee. That book was first published in 1939, when the publisher knew that MGM was about to release its big-budget Judy Garland movie. Thompson was therefore under pressure to deliver a story that took off from the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz but was new and exciting. The result looks both back and forward. Thompson chose her heroes from the characters whom Baum had invented for Wizard, but then took them into the stratosphere on rocket-powered balloon-levitated magic Ozoplanes. (No, the machines don't make any more sense when you read the book.)

One great quality of past Hungry Tiger Press Oz titles and other latter-day Oz books designed by David Maxine is that they were the first to replicate the "look and feel" of the Reilly & Lee series. The typeface, layout, and trim size reflect the originals--though often with thoughtful variations. That makes nearly the whole series fit together well on a shelf.

In this case, however, the Tiger is roaring about "a whole new look for the classic Oz books!" Not just the out-of-the-world cover by Eisner Award-winner Eric Shanower, but a bigger trim size--with bigger John R. Neill illustrations inside. So this Ozoplaning will not fit with the Reilly & Lee Oz books, or others on that model. What's the flight plan here?

The answer seems to appear in this interview with Eric Shanower at Comic.con. (Thanks to Eric Gjovaag for the alert.) Eric S. states, "I’ll be doing covers for new editions of some of the Oz books from Hungry Tiger Press." The plurals in that sentence hint that there are more Oz reissues ready to take off--and they will, I presume, fit well on a shelf with each other.

Cheesiness in Philadelphia

Geno's Steaks of Philadelphia, which will always be thirty years behind cheesesteak originator Pat's King of Steaks, is getting press this month for posting a sign that says, as the Associated Press image shows:

This Is
When Ordering
"Speak English"
I can't help hoping that people who proclaim themselves guardians of the language would use correct punctuation.

09 June 2006

Runaway Bunny source material

Last month I wrote of my fondness for The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown, with pictures by Clement Hurd, over more recent “I Love You More Than That Other Book” books for new parents and young children.

In his 1992 biography of Brown, Leonard S. Marcus writes that the inspiration for this book came from a Provençal love song. The lines he quotes are:

If you pursue me I shall become a fish in the water
And I shall escape you.
If you become a fish, I shall become an eel.
If you become an eel, I shall become a fox
And I shall escape you.
If you become a fox, I shall become a hunter,
And I shall hunt you...
The closest equivalent in the British tradition seems to be a ballad called “The Twa Magicians,” collected by Francis James Child in the late 1800s.
The lady stands in her bower door,
As straight as willow wand;
The blacksmith stood a little forebye,
Wi hammer in his hand.

“Weel may ye dress ye, lady fair,
Into your robes o' red;
Before the morn at this same time,
I'll gain your maidenhead.”

“Awa, awa, ye coal-black smith,
Woud ye do me the wrang
To think to gain my maidenhead,
That I hae kept sae lang!”

Then she has hadden up her hand,
And she swam by the mold,
“I wudna be a blacksmith's wife
For the full o' a chest o' gold.

“I'd rather I were dead and gone,
And my body laid in grave,
Ere a rusty stock o' coal-black smith
My maidenhead shoud have.”

But he has hadden up his hand,
And he sware by the mass,
“I'11 cause ye be my light leman
For the hauf o' that and less.”

O bide, lady, bide,
And aye he bade her bide;
The rusty smith your leman shall be,
For a' your muckle pride.

Then she became a turtle dow,
To fly up in the air,
And he became another dow,
And they flew pair and pair.

She turn’d hersell into an eel,
To swim into yon burn,
And he became a speckled trout,
To gie the eel a turn.

Then she became a duck, a duck,
To puddle in a peel,
And he became a rose-kaim’d drake,
To gie the duck a dreel.

She turn’d hersell into a hare,
To rin upon yon hill,
And he became a gude grey-hound,
And boldly he did fill.

Then she became a gay grey mare,
And stood in yonder slack,
And he became a gilt saddle,
And sat upon her back.

Was she wae, he held her sae,
And still he bade her bide;
The rusty smith her leman was,
For a' her muckle pride.

Then she became a het girdle,
And he became a cake,
And a' the ways she turnd hersell,
The blacksmith was her make.

She turn’d hersel’ into a ship,
To sail out ower the flood;
He ea'ed a nail intill her tail,
And syne the ship she stood.

Then she became a silken plaid,
And stretch’d upon a bed,
And he became a green covering,
And gain’d her maidenhead.
Brown might not have known of this version or any like it. Still, her book's source material seems to have been at bottom about snobbishness and rape, and all the magical transformations laced with sexual innuendo. But she produced a reassuring bedtime story out of it.

Incidentally, Clement Hurd’s picture-book work, along with his wife’s and son’s, is on exhibit at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum through 23 July.

08 June 2006

Agent Kristin's top ten

Agent Kristin, “a very nice literary agent,” shares the top ten things she’d rather not see in the opening chapters of manuscripts. Many of these prohibitions are peculiar to fantasy novels--unless authors of, say, contemporary realistic fiction start their stories off with “Characters inexplicably getting sucked into a portal” or “A person gathering herbs in the forest.”

But maybe I speak too soon.

“Our relationship,” I say, starting to unpack the groceries.

“What about it?” We have lived together long enough that I can sense the wariness that she would deny if I were to ask.

“Nothing,” I say. I slam the baguette into the steel bread box.

“No, really. What? Why does every serious conversation have to start out like this?”

“Start out like what?” I say, because I panic and can’t think of anything better. I reach back into the paper grocery sack, making as much noise as I can.

“Start out like--"


I turn. She has vanished, truly vanished, into another world. I am alone in the cramped apartment kitchen, holding a clear bag of freshly gathered herbs.

Some of Agent Kristin’s warnings are more general, such as “I have yet to see a well-done prologue in sample pages I’ve received.” There she echoes the advice of Elmore Leonard, whose own top-ten advice list says, “Avoid prologues.”

Have I mentioned that one of my current writing projects has a prologue? I may decide to relabel it.

07 June 2006

The Night Is Singing too quietly?

Fantasy literature depends on children's imaginations, but sometimes that imagination can be too energetic--it can make a young child anxious about a dark night and an empty bedroom. That's what The Night Is Singing, a new picture book from Jacqueline Davies and Kyrsten Brooker, responds to.

Jackie's a good friend, and I saw her text for this book in a critique group and then through several stages to print. So I don't claim this is an unbiased opinion about The Night Is Singing.

I simply mention hearing that the two big U.S. bookstore chains have passed on stocking this picture book because it's "quiet." I'm not a parent, but I'd think that quiet is a good quality for helping a child go to bed. And the advance reviewers seem to agree.

  • Horn Book: a "welcome contrast to the monster-under-the-bed genre"
  • School Library Journal: a "perfect bedtime read"
  • Kirkus: "gratifying and readable night after night"
So even if the two big chains don't (yet) carry The Night Is Singing in their regular stock, we can find it at Powell's and other independent retailers. Dial offers a look at a couple of page spreads, and Jackie's own site gives a hint of the rhyming text.

06 June 2006

Ozma in chains and other rare images

A few years ago, I understand, the Baum Family Trust made a deal with the heirs of Ruth Plumly Thompson, the first author to continue the Oz series after L. Frank Baum's death. Since Baum's own novels are all in the public domain and available from several publishers and Project Gutenberg, the Baum Trust needed some intellectual property to call its own. About a dozen of Thompson's Oz novels are still under copyright and therefore can be exclusive properties.

However, it turned out those Thompson books were already under contract to Random House due to an old agreement with the Del Rey imprint. And as long as Random keeps its print-on-demand editions on sale, I suspect, that contract remains in force. What to do?

Well, the Del Rey editions didn't include one ingredient of the original books: John R. Neill's color plates. Under the copyright doctrines of the early 20th century, illustrations were considered derivative of the texts they illustrated unless a contract specified otherwise, so the images on those plates had become part of Thompson's copyrights--but not part of the Random House editions.

The happy result of that situation is that the Baum Trust has posted those color images on its Oz-Central website. Small as the images are, this is the first time most of those pictures have been widely distributed in many decades--since the Reilly & Lee Company stopped printing the plates to save costs. (Books of Wonder and the International Wizard of Oz Club have each reprinted a couple of Thompson novels with color art, but most have been reprinted only in black and white.)

There are some wild images in the collection, such as the pictures of Ozma in chains (as aforementioned) and a frightening first glimpse of Jinnicky the Red Jinn from Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz; the many indignities of Kabumpo the Elegant Elephant in The Purple Prince of Oz; and different magical telescopes in The Yellow Knight of Oz and The Wishing Horse of Oz. Some color plates offer our only glimpses of certain Oz characters.

Thanks to Atticus Gannaway for this alert.

05 June 2006

E. Nesbit: magical realism before its time

In a discussion of "magic(al) realism" on an email list in March and more recently in another on Child_Lit, I opined that all the traits that define that literary style (aside from continental origin) can be found in E. Nesbit's short story "The Deliverers of Their Country", published in 1899. [Actually, I called that story "The Saviours of Their Country," so proud that I'd spelled the second word in the English way. Oh, well.]

On Child_Lit Leda Schubert posted one definition of "magic realism," from Herbert Kohl's From Archetype to Zeitgeist (1992):

Magic realism is the name given to a style of writing that has emerged in fiction written over the past twenty-five years in Central and South America [i.e., since 1967]. The style is characterized by a jarring juxtaposition of magical and strange occurrences described in ordinary and detailed descriptive language. Magic realism does not try to make the strange seem special or mystical, but rather matter-of-fact and part of everyday reality. The Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1928-), one of the leading creators of this style, once said in an interview that attention to the concrete details of the magical event created the belief in magic as ordinary and within the world that is essential to this style. He gave an example of elephants flying through the sky, and said that one wrote that there were twenty-two elephants flying by instead of merely that there were elephants flying by, because that detail infused the magic with enough reality to draw the reader in.
Obviously Nesbit wrote in England about a hundred years ago, and not in Latin America forty years ago. But otherwise, how does her story meet this definition's main criterion of making the strange seem "matter-of-fact and part of everyday reality" through "attention to the concrete details"?
It all began with Effie's getting something in her eye. It hurt very much indeed, and it felt something like a red-hot spark--only it seemed to have legs as well, and wings like a fly. Effie rubbed and cried--not real crying, but the kind your eye does all by itself without your being miserable inside your mind--and then she went to her father to have the thing in her eye taken out. Effie's father was a doctor, so of course he knew how to take things out of eyes; he did it very cleverly with a soft paintbrush dipped in castor-oil. When he had got the thing out, he said:--

"This is very curious." Effie had often got things in her eye before, and her father had always seemed to think it was natural--rather tiresome and naughty perhaps, but still natural. He had never before thought it curious. She stood holding her handkerchief to her eye, and said:--

"I don't believe it's out." People always say this when they have had something in their eyes.

"Oh, yes--it's out," said the doctor--"here it is on the brush. This is very interesting."

Effie had never heard her father say that about anything that she had any share in. She said "What!"

The doctor carried the brush very carefully across the room, and held the point of it under his microscope--then he twisted the brass screws of the microscope, and looked through the top with one eye.

"Dear me," he said. "Dear, dear me! Four well-developed limbs; a long caudal appendage; five toes, unequal in length, almost like one of the Lacertidae, yet there are traces of wings." The creature under his eye wriggled a little in the castor-oil, and he went on: "Yes; a bat-like wing. A new specimen, undoubtedly. Effie, run round to the professor and ask him to be kind enough to step in for a few minutes."

"You might give me sixpence, daddy," said Effie, "because I did bring you the new specimen. I took great care of it inside my eye; and my eye does hurt."
Lots of matter-of-fact, concrete detail about what turns out to be a dragon. Enjoy the rest of the story here, or check out the Lisbeth Zwerger picture book.

04 June 2006

Penrod and the lamp of real literature

For a change of pace, I just listened to Fat Ollie's Book, by Ed McBain, which contains the entirety of a very rough, very short detective novel written by a rather rough, rather broad detective. That put me in mind of the granddaddy of bad writing within novels, the adventure story that Booth Tarkington's Penrod writes in his private moments:

Creation, with Penrod, did not leap, full-armed, from the brain; but finally he began to produce. He wrote very slowly at first, and then with increasing rapidity; faster and faster, gathering momentum and growing more and more fevered as he sped, till at last the true fire came, without which no lamp of real literature may be made to burn.

Mr. Wilson reched for his gun but our hero had him covred and soon said Well I guess you don't come any of that on me my freind.

Well what makes you so sure about it sneered the other bitting his lip so savageley that the blood ran. You are nothing but a common Roadagent any way and I do not propose to be bafled by such, Ramorez laughed at this and kep Mr. Wilson covred by his ottomatick

Soon the two men were struggling together in the death-roes but soon Mr Wilson got him bound and gaged his mouth and went away for awhile leavin our hero, it was dark and he writhd at his bonds writhing on the floor wile the rats came out of their holes and bit him and vernim got all over him from the floor of that helish spot but soon he managed to push the gag out of his mouth with the end of his toungeu and got all his bonds off

Soon Mr Wilson came back to tant him with his helpless condition flowed by his gang of detectives and they said Oh look at Ramorez sneering at his plight and tanted him with his helpless condition because Ramorez had put the bonds back sos he would look the same but could throw them off him when he wanted to Just look at him now sneered they. To hear him talk you would thought he was hot stuff and they said Look at him now, him that was going to do so much, Oh I would not like to be in his fix

Soon Harold got mad at this and jumped up with blasing eyes throwin off his bonds like they were air Ha Ha sneered he I guess you better not talk so much next time. Soon there flowed another awful struggle and siezin his ottomatick back from Mr Wilson he shot two of the detectives through the heart Bing Bing went the ottomatick and two more went to meet their Maker only two detectives left now and so he stabbed one and the scondrel went to meet his Maker for now our hero was fighting for his very life. It was dark in there now for night had falen and a terrible view met the eye Blood was just all over everything and the rats were eatin the dead men.
And just at that moment of utter suspense, I must leave off.

03 June 2006

Han Solo plasticized

Click on this picture for a gallery of photos of one of my generation's most powerful fantasy images--Han Solo in carbonite--as reproduced entirely in LEGO blocks.

I didn't know there was such a thing as a "Certified LEGO® Professional," but ersatz-carbonite sculptor Nathan Sawaya is one. How many other certified pros are there? And are there freelance LEGO® Professionals, working without certification?

I imagine certified guild members, assisted by Danish mercenaries, chasing down the renegades. But the authorities have trouble locking them up because it takes so much time to build a prison out of millions of little plastic bricks.

Low-budget movie deal for Roger S. Baum

Publishers Weekly reports that Alpine Pictures has optioned seven of the latter-day Oz books written by Roger S. Baum, great-grandson of L. Frank Baum. Among the titles mentioned are Dorothy of Oz, The Oz Odyssey, and The Rewolf of Oz.

Yahoo! Finance says Alpine Pictures "concentrates on the domestic and international distribution of low-budget motion pictures, distributing films to theatrical, cable, broadcast, and home video (DVD) markets." IMDB.com offers an Alpine filmography. For these books, Alpine hopes to develop a series of animated features. One Roger S. Baum book was
already made into a movie, Lion of Oz (also known by other titles), in 2000.

I find Roger S. Baum's Oz stories flat and derivative even for pastiches--and I do a lot of work with Oz pastiches. I suspect these books wouldn't be distributed so widely if the author were a matrilineal descendant of Baum instead of a patrilineal one (i.e., one who happens to carry the Baum name). But Roger S. Baum's website offers a different take: "He is considered one of the current top ten best-selling authors of children's books. Some believe that J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series may have been influenced by these adventures in OZ." So he definitely has the character of a humbug down cold.

02 June 2006

S&S to go Foo

Publishers Weekly reports that Simon & Schuster will pick up the paperback rights to Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo, by Obert Skye, and future books in this series. According to the magazine article, the book has sold 60,000 hardcover copies despite its publisher, Shadow Mountain, suffering "distribution glitches."

Shadow Mountain is an imprint of Deseret Books designed to focus on the "values-based, general market." Deseret Books, in turn, is "a wholly owned subsidiary of Deseret Management Corporation, the holding company for business firms owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." All of its books, the company website says, "reflect the values espoused by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." So the Leven Thumps series is at bottom a Mormon answer to the Harry Potter phenomenon. As the Christian Science Monitor review pointed out, "even the typeface looks the same." (Of course, the Monitor is the Christian Science answer to the New York Times, or vice versa.)

The Motley Vision blog discussed this series a year ago, including the assumption that Obert Skye is a pseudonym. Interestingly, a man answering to that name does school visits, at least in Utah. Apparently, pseudonymity doesn't compromise school security if you come to tell children that "Impossible is not a word. You have the potential to do great things."

01 June 2006

Cronus Chronicles website

I haven't read The Shadow Thieves, but I'm very impressed by the Cronus Chronicles website that author Anne Ursu has commissioned. For an author's site (as opposed to one created by a multinational publishing conglomerate after a "property" has proved itself in the marketplace), it's elaborate and heavy with stylish graphics. Much credit due to Jonathan Van Gieson at Fictional Company design.

One detail that caught my eye in this preview is that the books' secondary protagonist, Zee, is a boy from London. From what I can tell, Ursu is rooted in America: Brown University, Portland (Maine, though it could just as well have been Oregon), Minneapolis, and soon back here in New England. But does top-market children's fantasy need a dash of British flavour these days?

In early April, Publishers Weekly reported on upcoming fantasy novels for children and young adults that publishers planned to promote strongly. Of all the titles mentioned, only Jeanne DuPrau’s prequel to City of Ember is written by an American. All the first-time authors (or first-time authors of children’s fantasy) that the magazine highlighted are British.