Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In a world where Bridge to Terabithia gives me hope for The Giver...

Remember the ads for the 2007 Bridge to Terabithia movie?

Bridge to Terabithia is not a fantasy. It is not about giant fantasy creatures leaving giant footprints. It is not the kind of story that calls for a power voiceover. It's Bridge to Terabithia, not BRIDGE. TO TERABITHIA.

The thing is, the movie turned out to be a faithful adaptation. The fantasy creatures showed up for about as long as they did in the trailer, and they played the same role that Terabithia played in the book: they we clearly creations of the characters' imaginations. Hollywood made a trailer using the moments it believed would put butts in the seats, but first it made a movie that respected the book and its fans.

Which brings me to this:

The studio has assured us that the movie will begin in black and white, as it should. We know that Hollywood has aged Jonas up and gathered a cast so all-star, it's made a few jaws drop. I'm not expecting a completely faithful adaptation; there's no beaming up in The Giver, but there is in this trailer. Maybe, though, the beaming up is less significant than it looks. Maybe it's a dream sequence.

The source of my renewed optimism is this article. Clearly, there've been some changes to the story (Jonas has a "girlfriend," huh?), but the reporter seems to have viewed a story that's very recognizable as The Giver in both theme and plot. (The Washington Post deserves kudos for its informed writing about YA, here and elsewhere.)

I'm still going into this one warily, and I'm sure I'll find things to rant about, maybe even big things. But maybe, just maybe, the moments chosen to put butts in the seats don't represent the movie's essence. And whatever else Hollywood did, it kept the title, which means more people are going to read the book.

Friday, July 11, 2014

On religion and children's books

There's a scene in More All-of-a-Kind Family, the third book in Sydney Taylor's wonderful series based on her own childhood, when Henny begs her older sister Ella to check the nearly new Anne of Avonlea out of the library. Henny can't do it herself because the book is in the adult section, but that's a subject for another post. Today, what I have on the brain is religion, specifically religion in mainstream children's fiction.

If you've read L.M. Montgomery's work, you know that religion comes up pretty often, usually in a way that's irreverent toward minutiae but respectful overall. Most of her characters are Presbyterian, and characters' hangups over their differences with Methodists are played for comic effect, as are some anxieties about what is or isn't okay to think about on Sunday. But in serious moments, Christianity is taken seriously, and all this is just part of the fabric of life for the ridgepole-walking redhead. It doesn't seem to bother Sabbath-observing, kosher-keeping Henny. Fast-forward about eighty years, and much as I loved seeing my family's religious practices in the All of a Kind Family books, the Anne books felt just as much my own.

These days, there are religious publishers of religious books for religious kids, but there are fewer mainstream books that acknowledge religion. And just like books with characters of a particular ethnicity shouldn't just be for readers of that ethnicity, there's value in giving kids a chance to see what they have in common with kids from other religions. I would guess there's been some hesitation on this front because religion is so personal and sometimes so fractious, and mainstream publishers may be afraid to be seen as endorsing a particular set of beliefs. I wonder if it's actually easier to get a book like Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. or My Basmati Bat Mitzvah published than it is to include a more prevalent religion in a kids' book. (I'm speaking here of American publishers and American demographics.)

This is on my mind now because of two recent reads that I thought did this well: Julie T. Lamana's Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere and Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming (yes, I finally got my hands on an ARC). Upside Down follows a family from the Ninth Ward through Hurricane Katrina. Religion is not a major focus, but the Curtises are devout Christians, and it makes complete sense that in very difficult moments, they automatically take comfort in their faith. I'm pretty sure that if I had read this as a middle-grader (obviously an anachronistic hypothetical), I would've understood the emotions being expressed through religious language. Brown Girl Dreaming does something perhaps even more interesting, and being based on the author's life, it sort of had to. It portrays a variety of religious beliefs within one family - Jacqueline's grandmother is a Jehovah's Witness, and various members of the family embrace or reject her faith and practices to varying degrees, even evolving as time passes. An uncle adopts Islam, and young Jackie prays with him without abandoning her earlier beliefs. There's some push-and-pull over religion in the book, but it's not cataclysmic.

Religious differences don't have to be cataclysmic. That's all I'm saying.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Let fREADom ring.

Happy Fourth! As always, there's been a lot to talk about lately here in the American kidlit/yalit world. Maybe my perspective's a little skewed - after all, this is kind of the primary lens through which I view the world - but the discussions we're having seem like a good reflection of what this country is.

It's a place of incredible diversity, a place where not everyone has always been treated fairly, but where people step up and say what needs to be said for the sake of the future. It's a place where ideas get challenged, but where we can challenge those challenges. It's a place where it's okay to express unpopular opinions and to respond to them, and to read whatever the heck you want. It's a place where we're making progress.

And, especially in this weather, it's a great place to curl up and read.