The Return of Weekend Wonderings

I’m not sure where I came across this link – probably in the Publisher’s Weekly newsletter.

Slate.com asks “…do you really want the Hulk teaching your kid to read?”

There’s more text in the accompanying slide show than in the page itself; the page sounds rather alarmist but the slideshow is far more reasonable.

What is your answer to their question?

I do want the Hulk teaching my kid to read, though I’d rather have a child with great affection for Spiderman or the X-Men, as those are my heroes of choice.  (In fact, considering my choice of a lifemate, I’d say the kid will be genetically predisposed to like Spiderman and the X-Men.)  I want anyone my kid will enjoy reading about to teach my kid to read.  A kid who is reading anything is, in my opinion, better than a kid who is reading nothing.  Bring on the reductio ad absurdum, three year olds learning to read from bodice-rippers or somesuch.  I’ll stand by my feelings.

The slideshow raises a good point though: the easy readers based on some of the films aren’t actually very friendly to early readers, lacking in clear visual cues in the illustrations, and containing obscure vocabulary (gamma radiation, anyone?) that kids might not recognize right away.  The solution, in my mind, isn’t to banish comic book and movie characters from our children’s books.  It’s for concerned parties to find a way to coach the writers of these movie tie-ins in the things a good easy reader requires.  Familiar vocabulary.  Words that can be sounded out.  Simple illustrations that clearly indicate what’s going on, while at the same time provide a jumping-off point for readers to create their own stories.

Is all literature created equal?  I know that in terms of quality, some writing is stronger than others.  But does it have any inherent moral value, wherein a child reading comic books is somehow less good than a child reading classics?  I don’t think so.  

What do you think?

The Return of Weekend Wonderings

Here on Sunday night I revive my Weekend Wonderings. (I meant to do this yesterday morning but I was away from my computer.)

Over at Tea Cozy, Liz B. provides this quote from Ken Tucker’s review of the Beowulf DVD:

“Zemeckis says in a making-of that this film has ‘nothing to do with the Beowulf you were forced to read in junior high – it’s all about eating, drinking, killing, and fornicating.’ To which I can only respond, Oh, you poor, deluded baby boomer: Bob, do you think young people in 2008 have an Old English epic poem on the syllabus? American literacy is lucky if junior high schoolers get a stray Hemingway short story into their diet of crappy young-adult novels.”

This led me to a couple questions, which I shall catalogue for you now.

1. Where do the uninitiated get their ideas about what kids are reading, in or out of school? It’s true that I haven’t been in middle school for about 14 years, but when I was, we read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I’m fairly certain the curriculum hasn’t changed much. We read Beowulf in high school – not in its entirety, but in excerpts in World Literature. I think students who had British Literature in 12th Grade (instead of AP Literature, which is what I had) might have read it more. I know that my current students are still reading classics – Hamlet in 12th Grade, and others. (The North Carolina English Language Arts Curriculum Resources suggest texts like Romeo and Juliet, The Canterbury Tales, and the Scottish play.)

2. What is the relationship between a child’s desire to read and the amount of freedom she has to choose her reading material? In my 7th Grade year, our Language Arts teacher allowed us to read anything we wanted, so long as we were reading and then writing about our reading. Thus, my 7th Grade literature consisted of Piers Anthony, Michael Crichton, and Tanith Lee. If students are fed a steady diet of books that, while classic and worth reading, are old and seem irrelevant to them, is it any wonder that they don’t want to read more? I think a more sensible approach would be to alternate required texts with choice – but still requiring students to provide responses to their reading. I am glad to have read Hard Times, but I wouldn’t want to read Dickens exclusively.

Answers, anyone?

Weekend Wonderings

This week’s question is rather light, and ties into my recent reading of Wildwood Dancing and The Various, and my less recent reading of Tithe and Love in Shadow.

(Have I mentioned that I provided Latin names for some of the sprites in Arthur Spiderwick’s Care and Feeding of Sprites?  Occasionally, knowing a dead language leads to awesome things.  If Little Willow is your friend, anyway.)

What’s the deal with fairies?
Why do these creatures captivate our imaginations so?  I don’t know that I’ve had a day I felt more pleased with myself than at the most recent Ren Faire when little girls kept whispering to their parents “It’s a fairy!” when I walked by.  Why did that make me feel so special?  Why are fairy stories written and rewritten in so many different ways?  What makes them so much more present in the collective consciousness than other fantastical creatures?

Last Week’s Question:
In what ways do children’s and young adult novels shape readers’ notions of gender roles?  How can and do they present more options, especially to girl readers, for how to spend a life?

See the original post and Becky’s Book Reviews for answers.  It’s especially exciting that we received answers from YA authors Lorie Ann Grover and Janet Lee Carey.

Weekend Wonderings

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about gender and societal expectations.  It started with Vivian’s post, “Girl Power, At What Price?” at HipWriterMama.  In that post, Vivian wonders how the pressure to have, do, and be everything is affecting girls today.  It continued as I tried to sum up the first several chapters of Celia Rees’s Pirates! for my roommate, and I mused about how common it is to have a story where a wealthy girl loves a man below her station, but it rarely seems to go the other way.  It continued when I read Becky’s review of At the Sign of the Star.  Meg Moore, the main character in the book, dreams of a life where she can do more than just wifely tasks like sewing and mending.

All of this came to a head in my mind this morning, when I started thinking about what it means to be a woman, and especially what it means to be a strong woman.  I know I’m saying nothing new here, but it saddens me to think that roles that have been traditionally assigned to women are often rejected as “not enough.”  I don’t mean to say that people should settle for something in life that doesn’t satisfy them.  What I find disconcerting is that when women seek to take on traditionally male roles, they often explicitly devalue traditionally feminine roles in their speech and actions.  When some women suggest that managing households is an inferior task to being out in the world, I feel as though they aren’t really helping “the cause.”  I’m having trouble expressing myself well here.  I suppose what I’m getting at is that I feel women should choose the work that fulfills them most and that they find most valuable.

This brings me to this week’s question:
In what ways do children’s and young adult novels shape readers’ notions of gender roles?  How can and do they present more options, especially to girl readers, for how to spend a life?

I’m looking here for titles, trends, and examples of literature where girls get to choose who they are going to be, or that explore when and why they don’t get to choose who they are going to be.  We have resources like Jen Robinson’s 200 Cool Girls of Children’s Literature and readergirlz.  What else is out there?  What has shaped the women we are now, and what will shape the girls of the future?  What role does children’s and young adult literature play in affecting boys’ and men’s views of women?  How can we show girls the myriad of possibilities open to them without coloring their view of which possibilities are best?

What do you think?

Hello there, plus, Weekend Wonderings

Hi there, remember me?

I’ve been neglectful of this here reading blog.  I’ve been ill and overworked, mostly, and so I have been reading more and saying less.  I am still here, still excited to be part of this whole world of lit(especially kidlit)blogging, and am looking forward to renewing my dedication to it in the weeks to come.  I’ve been reading books a good bit, skimming and scanning blogs, and have my very first issue of The Horn Book waiting to be opened.

After a week-long hiatus, I have a new question for you!

How much and in what ways might readers benefit from or be hurt by contracts like the new boilerplate at Simon & Schuster, wherein a book effectively never goes out of print, but is always available via Print-On-Demand?

This may look like an easy question to answer, but don’t be deceived.  First, you may want to head over to Bookseller Chick and acquaint yourself with what I’m talking about.

In brief: In most contracts, when a book’s sales fall below a certain number, it goes out-of-print and the rights revert to the author.  The author is then free to sell the book to another publishing house.  In the new contract at Simon & Schuster, the minimum sales number would be removed, effectively allowing Simon & Schuster to keep rights to a book until it became public domain.

I’ve often been frustrated by finding a book I want to be out of print; I could see how having print-on-demand as an option would be good for readers.  On the other hand, it’s safe to assume that if a book has been relegated to Print-on-Demand only status, the publisher is not out there trying to get the book into the hands of new readers.  If the author owns the rights to the book and successfully sells the book to a different publisher, that publisher might make a bigger push for sales, thus bringing the book to a wider audience, thus benefitting new readers who might not have been looking for the book.

I’m not asking about author vs. publisher here, just potential reader benefits on each side.  If I’m a person looking for a specific book, it’d be nice to print it up.  If I’m a person who encounters a book I wouldn’t have looked for, but I do find it thanks to publisher action, then the out of print option is preferable.

What do you think?

The Previous Question:
How do readers benefit from author interviews?

Read answers at the original post.

Weekend Wonderings

In June, I’ll be participating in the Summer Blog Blast Tour, organized by Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray.  As I do my research on my assigned authors and prepare their questions, I think a lot about why we’re doing this.  Thus this week’s question:

How do readers benefit from author interviews?

Little Willow is a prolific author interviewer.  I always enjoy reading her interviews.  I also love the interviews at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  But I’m having trouble finding a way to explain exactly what I get out of these interviews.  Insight, of course, into the author’s process, but these interviews are always unique, asking new questions.  Everyone asks “Where do you get your ideas?” or “What advice do you have for aspiring authors?”  Little Willow asks questions like “As a reader, what is your favorite section of the bookstore?” while the ladies of 7-Imp ask “If you could have three (living) authors over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?”  These questions show me the author as reader, which makes the author a person to me.

So what do you think?  What do you get out of author interviews?

Weekend Wonderings

This week’s question is brought to you by yesterday’s Free Comic Book Day, my pleasure in watching “Spiderman 3,” and my boyfriend’s birthday weekend.  Also my recent reading of Flight volumes 1 and 2, and my upcoming reading of Flight volume 3 and Kazu Kibuishi’s Daisy Kutter.

How can graphic novels bring unwilling readers into the literary world?

What I’m looking for here is a discussion of what makes graphic novels unique, what makes them literature, and what we can do to get reluctant readers to pick up a graphic novel.  For a long time, graphic novels and comics have been pooh-poohed as not “real books.”  This is a sentiment that advocates of kids and YA lit understand keenly, since children’s literature is also treated this way.  Graphic novels and comics are considered “kid stuff” by the uninitiated, and while those of us who are fans of graphic novels and comic books have fought against that for a long time, perhaps it’s time to embrace it a little and say “Okay.  These are for kids.  Let’s get them in the hands of kids!”  That’s not to say adult stories can’t be told in the graphic novel/comic book medium, but just that instead of kicking and screaming, “It’s not just for kids!” we should say, “It’s not just for kids, but it is an excellent way to draw kids into reading.”

What do you think?

Last Week’s Question:
What is the purpose of a book review?

You can find answers at the original post and MotherReader.

Weekend Wondering

There has been much debate recently about blog reviews and their trustworthiness.  Becky has an excellent summary of the whole affair over at Becky’s Book Reviews.  This week’s question is inspired by this debate.

This week’s question:

What is the purpose of a book review?

Is it to make an audience aware of a book they might have overlooked?  Is it to steer an audience away from a book that may waste their time?  Is it bad to only write one kind of review: positive or negative?  Is it good to think about who might like a book, even if the reviewer finds it unsatisfying?

I’ve been pondering all of these sub-questions myself.  I haven’t weighed in on the great blog review debate, because I feel like I’m so new to the whole litosphere that I can’t make a well-educated statement.  For my book reviews, I will say this: I won’t review a book I didn’t finish, and I won’t finish a book I don’t like.  It follows, then, that I will only review books I like.  There is a great range, however, in my depth of appreciation for a book.  Some books (Millicent Min, anyone?) I adore.  Others I like but don’t love (The Last Dragon).  I don’t write traditional reviews.  When I write a review, I start with a quick summary.  I then try and get to the larger themes of the book, what the book means on a universal level.  Lastly, I recommend the book for certain reader groups.  I am not looking to be unbiased or provide critical analysis; that’s just not what I do here.  This is a personal reading journal, and so my reviews are personal reviews.  If you are looking for objective reviews, you should probably go someplace else.

Last week’s question:
How much can we know about the author herself based on the content of the book?

This question provoked a lot of discussion.  You can find answers at the original post, Tea Cozy, Cats and Jammers Studio, And if I come to ledges… , Andrew Karre’s Flux Blog, Finding Wonderland, and Bri Meets Books.

Weekend Wonderings

I haven’t been able to write a good introduction to this week’s question, so I will skip straight to the question itself:

How much can we know about the author herself based on the content of the book?

People often make assumptions based on a book’s content about what the book’s author is like.  I once read a magazine article where a journalist was devastated when she went to interview an author and found out his book was not at all what she’d thought it was about when she read it.  She had thought it was an argument against child abuse; he hadn’t intended there to be any message about child abuse in it at all.  Other times, people think that if an artist or writer creates disturbing work, she must be disturbed herself.  What is it safe to assume about an author based on her work?  Does the book tell us nothing about the author?  Does an author’s personality shine through in the book?

Last Week’s Question
What is the recipe for good historical fiction?

You can read answers at Tea Cozy, Becky’s Book Reviews, Bri Meets Books, and Charlotte’s Library.  Thanks as always to those of you who linked the question.  If I’ve missed your answer, please let me know!

Special thanks this week to Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader for dedicating her lovely poem GIRAFFE to me!

Weekend Wonderings

Yesterday, my family friend Sarah (

) and I went to the North Carolina Renaissance Faire.  Sarah was the prettiest peasant anyone has ever seen.  I was dressed as a fairy.  I had a crown, and there was some debate as to whether I was a princess or a queen.  I’d always rather be queen, but I didn’t argue when anyone called me a princess.  My picture was taken a couple of times.  My favorite part of the day, aside from Sir John Wenchworthy, Earl of Hangover and purveyor of Princessories (aka The Hot Pirate Guy, aka half of The Hot Pirate Couple) singing every time I walked past his booth (and I did walk past his booth many times), was all the small children pointing at me and whispering to their parents in awe “It’s a fairy!”  At one point a little girl asked me if I had any fairy stones.  I told her no; later I heard her ask her dad if she could approach another fairy and ask her for fairy stones.  Her dad told her no, and I got the sense that she was frustrated with the lack of fairy stones and her dad was tired of his daughter harassing poor unsuspecting fairies.  I knew they sold such stones at Princessories, 10 for a dollar, so I went back there and bought some.  I then returned to the stage where the little fairy was watching a show, tapped her on the shoulder, and gave her a fairy stone.  Her dad thanked me, but I think I sensed a note of “Great, now she will expect every fairy to give her a stone” in his thanks.  The third highlight of the day was talking to Animal X of Dreamweaver Productions.  Her work influenced my costume so heavily that I was mistaken for an employee.  She’s auditioned for Project Runway, so keep an eye out for her.

Being in the midst of all this 16th century fun, and having recently read The Royal Diaries: Elizabeth I, Red Rose of the House of Tudor, I found this week’s question:

What is the recipe for good historical fiction?

There are a lot of demands on historical fiction.  It’s got to be true to its period, while still telling an interesting story.  That is, I imagine, a difficult balance for an author.  How can an author achieve that balance successfully?  Who are some authors that have done so?  Is one period more suited to historical fiction than others?  Leave your answer in the comments here or post it at your own blog.  If you post it at your own blog, be sure to leave a link here!

Last Week’s Question
What does it mean to have a “thorough knowledge of children’s literature”?

Thanks to all who answered!  You can read the answers at the original post, Tea Cozy, and Bri Meets Books.  Thanks also to all who linked the question from your own blogs.