Thursday, October 28, 2010

Laurie Halse Anderson is too cool.

Laurie Halse Anderson spoke at the Brookline Public Library this evening, and she is one of those writers who are good at speaking. Actually, she's good at a lot of things. Like being open and hilarious, even when she's being serious. Like finding the human truth in history, even if it means walking barefoot in the snow to learn what Valley Forge was really like. Like being angry with conviction, and turning that anger into books that make readers of varying ages and genders hug her when she signs their books.

My writing is in many ways different from LHA's, but I did attack a bottle of hand soap once to see what would happen when a character did it... Seriously, I think one of my major goals in writing is to create characters who, through their flaws and perceived flaws, tell readers, "It's okay that you're who you are." Obviously, LHA manages to do that all the time.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I am woman.

My favorite customer so far this week: a three-ish-year-old girl who, whenever she thought of a type of book she'd like to see, would tell her dad, "I'm gonna ask the woman."

She "asked the woman" for Curious George books.

She "asked the woman" for Spanish books, out of what I'm pretty sure was Dora-inspired curiosity.

She reshelved Leslie Patricelli's Potty in exactly the right spot when she was done with it, further endearing herself to "the woman."

When it was time to go, she paused in the aisle, unsure how to phrase her farewell. Finally, she came up with, "Thank you for the.... woman."

You're welcome, kid.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"A one-year-old will cry twenty times a day."

The new documentary Library of the Early Mind and the panel discussion that followed its screening at Harvard's Askwith forum covered all sorts of ground. That's what happens when you sit a bunch of people down and say, "Talk to me about children's literature." But one idea I kept hearing was that books help children make sense of the world.
As adults or even as older children, we may turn to our old literary favorites for comfort and think they're reminding us of a happier time when we felt safe and cared-for. To some degree, they probably are. But as Lemony Snicket Daniel Handler points out in the film, there's a reason that one-year-olds cry so much. The world is big and doesn't make much sense.

But a book is small and can quickly become familiar. A, age 2, will point out anything she recognizes in an illustration, often with quickly mounting urgency if I don't immediately acknowledge that she's right. "Moon. Moon! MOOOOON!!"

"Yes, that's the moon," I'll say, and then everything's okay. The thing she thought was a moon is in fact a moon. She's on the right track in this figuring-out-the-world thing.

Methinks being a librarian of the early mind (and I mean "librarian" in a broad sense) is a powerful thing,

Monday, October 18, 2010

What's Hot/What's Not, or How to Do the Boston Book Festival Efficiently

Doing the Boston Book Festival efficiently meant spending my available hour or so at a four-author event, the one at which, according to the schedule, Noni Carter, Kathryn Lasky, Francisco Stork, and Kristin Cashore would discuss what's hot and what's not.

I don't envy the speakers their subject. Their selection as participants pretty much implied that their work is hot, and it is. (To be honest, I hadn't been very familiar with NC's work, but I'm very happy to have learned enough to help it on its way to well-deserved "hot" status. I'm also in awe of the nineteen-year-old author's presence.) There wasn't much they were in a position to add. Fictional slave narratives are hot? Series about owl kingdoms are hot? Novels from the point of view of teenagers with unusual cognitive functioning are hot? Fantasies with strong female characters are hot?

There are some yeses there, but the superfluity of the question is really the point. As the authors discussed, each of them wrote stories they considered worth telling--worth spending lots and lots of effort on telling--rather than trying to follow a trend. Their work became "hot" because people saw that it was good, which it probably wouldn't have been if they'd been less invested in the work.

It's good to follow a trend if it fascinates you, and if it will still fascinate you when its popularity declines. But if a fad leaves you cold, it's not worth following.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Not the whole picture

I've been hesitant to join in the raging discussion of this article because any observations I can offer are purely anecdotal. But with that disclaimer, here I am. For those who haven't read it, the article examines the decline in picture book sales and attributes it to a number of factors, but focuses mostly on parents' drive to push their children toward more advanced reading material.

Have I seen parents worry that a book's too easy for their young masterminds? Sure, but I've also seen plenty of parents who know that their kids will get more out of a book that's accessible. I've also seen four- and five-year-olds who love listening to and following along with easy readers and picture books alike. (Okay, so I'm talking about one particular just-turned-five-year-old. I told you my evidence was anecdotal.)

Do I think the economy is a factor? Heck yes. Maybe it's time for a rise in paperback picture books. As long as the hardcovers dominate, though, it's hard to keep the skinny paperbacks from getting lost on the shelves.

Publicity and lack thereof probably also play a role. Picture book releases get some attention, sure, but I can't recall a picture book equivalent of a Deathly Hallows or Mockingjay release. I wouldn't want to staff that midnight party, either.

Whatever the reason, parents, if you're out there, I hope you're letting and/or helping your kids find picture books. Illustrations are a great way to level the literacy playing field. I've had preliterate and semi-literate kids notice visual clues I'd missed. Picture books let kids interact with stories, feel smart, and maybe, just maybe, start believing the crazy notion that reading is fun.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Naked rabbit dreams and other revelations from Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo lives far, far away. Although I've been lucky enough to meet a lot of the children's authors I admire over the past few years, KD remained one I knew only on paper (you know, the kind with really well-told stories written on it). But this weekend, I was part of an all-ages group at the Somerville Theatre that got to meet her, ask her questions, and see the film of Because of Winn-Dixie.

The Q&A was a definite highlight of the event, partly because of the audience members' eager questions and partly because of KD's panache in answering them. Much of that was in the delivery, so I won't try to reproduce it all here. But we learned that Winn-Dixie came about because of how badly she missed her dog, and that The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane started with... well, I must direct you to the title of this post. (Not that most rabbits are fully clothed, but Edward Tulane was by the time we knew him.)

I hadn't seen the Winn-Dixie movie before. It's a really great adaptation and reminded me of all the wonderful, heartwarming things about the book. Then the masses lined up (sort of) for book signing. When I told KD the title I was considering for this blog post, she laughed and said she'd probably have psychiatrists wanting to examine her.

I'm more worried about the hits I'm going to get.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The smallest one and Madeline

When you've just turned two, Madeline is a pretty long book. But A has embraced this tale of a Parisian appendectomy since she was one and a half.

At first, the brightly colored illustrations were the main attraction. "Ssssun," she would point out as she lingered on the endpapers. "SUN!" Meanwhile, I read as much of the rhythmic text as she would let me, hoping she enjoyed whatever she understood.

Last night, the first evidence came that A had some awareness of the plot. We were on the next-to-last page, the one that shows Madeline's eleven roommates crying, "We want to have our appendix out, too!" A zeroed in on Madeline's empty bed. "UH-OH!" she said urgently as she pointed. Like Miss Clavell, she realized that something was not right.

A and those twelve little girls in two straight lines have two skills essential for readers:
1) Smile at the good.
2) Frown at the bad.

Monday, October 4, 2010

When worlds high-five: The Horn Book at Simmons

It's hard to say that worlds collided this weekend, since collision implies some initial distance, at least in connotation. But two institutions to which I feel connected, and which are connected to each other to an almost freakish degree, hung out this weekend and talked about kids' books.

The festivities began with the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, which are always a treat. We heard from some writers and illustrators who were new to this award-winning business and some for whom it's old hat. We heard speeches about things that meant a lot to the speakers, including one who was moved to tears by her subject matter, even after months or years of working with it. It's good to see people care.

The Colloquium's very appropriate theme was collaboration, and the first presentation was on the collaboration between editor and author--in this case, editor Wendy Lamb and author Rebecca Stead. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who found both sides of that story practically informative. Elizabeth Partridge demonstrated how she uses Google Lit Trips to let readers interact with Marching for Freedom. Martha Parravano and Julie Just's breakout session about judging the awards turned into the kind of great discussion of current trends in reading that happens when a lot of very invested people get together.

Good discussions continued into lunchtime; it's wonderful when lines disappear between "hanging out" and "talking shop," between professors and former and current students, between the rock stars of the writing world and their admirers, and everyone just chats.

A panel on Discussing Picturebooks was peopled with great characters. Peter Sis is a funny guy, and editor David Lloyd made a hilarious cameo. In Kelly Hager's breakout session, we discussed, among other things, how hard it is to categorize When You Reach Me; for one thing, it's tough to say what kind of novel something is when one of the major things it's about is a spoiler. Megan Whalen Turner's presentation revealed that some authors, at least, do lurk on their fans' online communities and take their feedback seriously.

That was a major theme throughout the weekend: writers taking their readers seriously, editors taking their writers seriously, speakers taking their listeners seriously.

And seriously, folks, do any of you have a use for some duplicate Horn Book posters? I hate to see my extras go to waste.