Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yup, still talking about gender and reading.

I've done some ranting and railing about books and other products that peg themselves as "for girls" or "for boys." But I've also done some raving about Jon Scieszka's Guys Read initiative and the short story collections collections it produces "for guys." As my eyes fell on my staff rec for Guys Read: Funny Business at the store yesterday, I found myself wondering if this was a double standard. Am I a hypocrite who gives a free pass for sexism to the author of The Stinky Cheese Man?

After a few minutes on the Guys Read website, I felt a lot better. "These are books that guys have told us they like," says the intro text. The books on the site aren't chosen based on assumptions; someone asks actual, current boys. The site explains its purpose using statistics, makes moderate claims (oh, what a difference "many" makes in the phrase "many boys"), and admits repeatedly that its creators don't have a complete understanding of the achievement gap between boys and girls in reading.

While admissions are being made, I'll admit that I haven't checked any of the offending "stories/stickers/activities for little boys/girls" books for front or back matter that explain their methodologies. If such annotation exists, I'll be happy to look at it with an open mind. Until then, you're likely to find me around S on the Intermediate Fiction shelf, recommending Guys Read books to all sorts of customers. (Come on, if you were a young female reader and saw this lineup, wouldn't you at least kind of  want the book?)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Literary Love: Ella Enchanted

or Cinderella At My Daughter, But Only Because Someone Told Her To

What a cool premise: Ella of Frell (I know, Farscape fans, I know!) is under a spell that forces her to obey any order she receives. Sounds simple, but when you think about all the ways people use imperatives, it turns into the kind of mind-bender that I loved as a kid. Think about all the times you've told someone, "Try this!" It's fascinating to observe the spell's impact, and even more so to see how feisty, intelligent Ella gets around it.

There are wicked stepsisters and a ball and all that Cinderella jazz, but author Gail Carson Levine puts so much into her original part of the story that it could stand alone. The chance to match up bits of this story with the story most of us already know feels like icing on the cake.*

This is one of those books that came out after my own middle-grade years but before I came to children's literature professionally; I'm catching up on some of those lately now that the current awards wave has died down. Crazy as it is to have waited so long on this one, getting to read it for the first time kind of rocked.

*Image courtesy of CakeWrecks' Sunday Sweets.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bookselling Ladies Who Lunch

I had lunch today with a friend who's a bookseller at another store. She and I were friends for years before we got into this business, so we have plenty of other things in common, but guess what the vast majority of our conversation was about?

Have you read Delirium yet and what audience is Gregor the Overlander best for and how do you pronounce "Scieszka" and how do you manage without shrink-wrapping your picturebooks and do you adore Mo Willems as much as I do and what did you think of the ALA awards and Silverlicious and Matched?

We exchanged belated holiday-and-in-her-case-birthday gifts. I tore the David Shannon-themed paper from Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book (thanks!); she unwrapped Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom and The Missing Golden Ticket and Other Splendiferous Secrets.

She had some time to kill before her train. So we walked around the library.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Celebrating Milestones

1) Happy Cheap Chocolate Day!

2) As of today, I've been a bookseller for a year. That means I've learned a lot. It also means I've chatted at the register about pretty much every kind of New England weather.

3) Registration opened today for Celebrating Milestones, this year's Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) New England conference. The milestone inspiring the theme is the region's 25th annual conference, and it looks like the theme's been well applied to many of the workshops, like "Milestones in an Exciting Plot," which I expect to find helpful. Milestone or not, I'm also particularly excited about the two-part intensive, "12¾ Ways to Tickle Young Readers’ Funny Bones."

Will I see you there?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mind status: open

Guys, I just read Infinite Days. It's about Lenah, who used to be a... well, she has to fit into a modern boarding school when she's been asleep for a century because of an ancient ritual to make her stop being a....


Is there cheesiness? Oh, there's cheesiness. But as I've said before, I'm a sucker for stories that do anything weird with time, and this Rip Van Winkle Used to Be Immortal But Now Goes to High School tale definitely counts, and I had fun with it, even if I sped through the mercifully brief vampire-centric parts.

So I can be convinced to choose a novel that has something to do with vampires (and isn't even a Fat Vampire-style spoof). Moving on now to Empire State, a graphic novel, which is a genre I do read but should read more often.

I don't know, guys. Those frequent page-turns can get pretty strenuous.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The view from Team Cheetos

The Superbowl is on. I'm updating my children's lit blog.

But you don't have to be "into" sports to enjoy seeing how much fun people have with this event and others like it. Everyone's talking about a common story tonight. Facebook is full of much-liked posts about chips, salsa, and National Anthem lyrics. Art museums are putting paintings up for loan in a friendly wager.

It's the same spirit that led a co-worker, a customer, and me to chat about Glee at the register today. The same spirit that had us all sharing predictions when Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay came out, that sets off excited chatter when one Betsy-Tacy fan meets another, that had Dickens' American readers imploring his English ones, "Is Little Nell dead?"

No matter how heated the Team Gale/Team Peeta or Team Dickens/Team Why-Did-They-Pay-Him-By-the-Word rhetoric gets, it feels like jump-started friendliness. (I'm not talking about riots here. If literary riots ever become a thing, I will think they are as dumb as sports-related violence is.)

So people are going to talk obsessively about this game for a day or two? I believe the correct phrase is bring it on.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Bitchin' List

Okay, now that the bad word in the title has inspired you to click on this post... what do you think of this list of feminist YA novels?

My favorite thing about it is its variety. The inspiring teens are not all from the same race or place; they don't all speak the same language; they don't deal with the same issues. They don't all live in the same decade, century, or even universe. Some are wealthy and some are poor, some have mostly lighthearted stories and some have very serious ones, and the former quality doesn't necessarily determine the latter. Though some books on the list are largely about what it means to be female (and what it doesn't mean), many focus on other parts of its characters' experiences, and those characters just happen to deal with the experiences in ways that make us proud of them.

Hmmm, sounds a heck of a lot like real girls and women. (Other than that whole other-universes thing. As far as I know.)

Addendum: I'm aware of the controversy surrounding this list, centering on the inclusion and then removal of several novels that many felt might be triggering for victims of rape. I don't feel qualified to comment on that controversy, since a) I've not yet read those novels and b) I have neither academic nor the personal background to give me any authority on what is likely to trigger difficult memories. (I suspect it's different for every individual, much like anything, but that's all I've got.) However, easy as it is to get caught up with a few items on a list, I still stand by the other 97.