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Obama-mania hits the kids’ shelves January 17, 2009

Whether you were an Obama supporter or not, he is indeed our 44th President-elect. And our children need to know about him. Fortunately, to help our efforts, Barack Obama-bios abound for the juvenile market, from the board books crowd to pretty good  junior biography.

And unlike some cloying titles that appeared at election time — like the puffed up Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope —  more down to earth titles have emerged that offer useful, objective information and good profiles of our new president and even his First Lady to be, Michelle.

Here’s a little tour of some of the better Obama titles now lining the juvenile section shelves:

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

Visit http://www.magicbookshelfonline.com

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Turning Back the Clock: James Thurber’s classic The 13 Clocks Revisited January 10, 2009

 “Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales…”

So begins James Thurber’s classic The 13 Clocks, a fairy tale originally published in January of 1950 and recently reissued in a spiffy new hardcover edition by the New York Review Children’s Collection. Best known as a humorist for The New Yorker, Thurber only penned a few children’s titles. This one, perhaps the best known (though his Many Moons (A Harcourt Brace contemporary classic) won a Caldecott award for Louis Slobodkin’s original illustrations, in 1943), spins the story of a wicked duke who thinks he has stopped time. It has been called “the best children’s book of all time” by more than a few critics… so why did it take so long to revive?
The L.A. Times ran a thoughtful review. And Wikipedia had this to say about Thurber’s style: “The Thirteen Clocks is a fantasy tale written by James Thurber in 1950 in Bermuda, while he was completing one of his other novels. It is written in a unique cadenced style, in which a mysterious prince must complete a seemingly impossible task to free a maiden from the clutches of an evil duke. It invokes many fairy tale motifs.[1]… The story is noted for Thurber’s constant, complex wordplay, and his use of an almost continuous internal meter, with occasional hidden rhymes — akin to blank verse, but with no line breaks to advertise the structure.”
 The new edition features an intro by British author Neil Gaiman, who calls it ”probably the best book in the world.” Clocks is on par with any modern children’s classic. It’s worth handing a child who’s mooning over the end of the Harry Potter series, to show there is life after — as there was before — Potter.

posted by Janie McQueen author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

www.magicbookshelfonline.com

 

Newbery Award stuck in a time warp? January 3, 2009

Filed under: In the News,Issues — jbmcqueen @ 8:25 am

A Brigham Young University study has pointed up a large bias toward white, male characters from two-parent households in the juvenile titles receiving the prestigious Newbery award. It seems even our increasingly diverse — not to mention PC — society hasn’t touched the American Library Association, which has bestowed the Newbery honor on one book per year since 1922.

In thinking about this finding for just a minute, and reflecting on the Newbery titles that instantly spring to mind, I have to pretty quickly acknowledge this claim of bias does seem true. From titles as different as Bridge to Terabithia to the wildly imaginative Holes, yep, the main characters are indeed white, male, and residents of two-parent households. The seeming preference for these types of families may likely be unintentional — I don’t see how anyone could question the superiority of the writing and stories in titles such as those — but it’s there.

Two things. One, I can’t stand it when any institution, whether it be a contest, election or a book award panel, becomes so PC that it’s simple to project who the winner will be due to the mere presence of ethnic characters or daring themes. But I can still see the reason for the recent outcry.

The Contra Costa Times quotes Pat Scales, the president of the Association for Library Service to Children, which runs the Newbery program: “The Newbery is given for literary quality. Ethnicity, gender — nothing of that is necessarily taken into consideration.

“We certainly want children’s books to mirror society… It’s not as magic as whether there is a boy main character or a girl main character or an African-American or Latino or Asian character. We owe kids good stories that reflect their lives and give them a more global view.”

But while the stories may be good, the conventionality of the households from which the characters come definitely is old-fashioned, hardly global.

The second thing — the Newbery panel is famous for NOT really selecting the best title every year. Often, the superior title is the runner-up, such as Newbery Honor books like Hatchet. While it’s true the Newbery titles always stay in print and win the author much prestige, I remember even from my own childhood that often these titles are viewed as “untouchables” by students, perceived as too highbrow (read, boring) to be enjoyable.

We’ll see what happens with the good ol’ Newbery. We’ll hope they find a way to hunt down titles that give young readers broader cultural views while preserving the spirit of the quest for great story.

posted by Janie McQueen author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

www.magicbookshelfonline.com