Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

even better than the visual DNA

meet my daemon, Olin:

(Now go get your own)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

Outside Reading

The girl is entranced by books. One of the first places we see her is in a bookshop, where she slides a ladder around to find and borrow a book she can't afford to buy, a book she wants to reread. The astonished proprietor ("but you've read it twice!") gives her the book and she leaves, rereading the book as she walks, singing happily.

"Oh, isn't this amazing/It's my favorite part, because, you see/Here's where she meets Prince Charming/But she won't discover that it's him, 'til Chapter Three!" She sits by a fountain and settles in to enjoy the book, sheep crowding her at every side, water falling behind her.

I'd never seen myself in a cartoon character before, but watching Belle on the big screen transported me back almost twenty years, to a summer of rereading. Staying at my grandparents' house in Connecticut, we had only the books left behind by my mother and her sisters. Like the movie's Belle, I carried my books outside. Grandpop had planted a Christmas tree grove and the trees formed lanes and little rooms, circles carpeted with pine needles and hidden by thick branches. I would carry a book into the cool shade of one of these pine chambers and read, inhaling the musty fragrance of old books along with the sap-infused air of the grove.

read the rest here...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thinking Bloggers

(cross-posted at the other blog)

One of my favorite bloggers has awarded me a Thinking Blogger award--thanks, Caroline!

So now I get to pass it on. And there are lots of blogs that make me think, but many of them have already participated (some twice!). So here are some I haven't seen yet:

  • Becca's posts at Not Quite Sure are about mothering, baking, reading, the Red Sox, music, and whatever else she feels like, but they all make me think.
  • Tricia, of The Miss Rumphius Effect, focuses mostly on children's literature and teaching future teachers. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of books useful in classrooms, and always thinks about interesting things to do with them.
  • Julius Lester's Commonplace Book is a wonderful blog, filled with his original photos, his thoughts about reading, writing, and living, and--right now--a lot of terrific guest posts about books changing lives. I am still working on my response to that one.
  • I read the Yarn Harlot whenever she updates, and it's never often enough. Even if you don't knit, you'll love Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's way with words (and, occasionally, with Mr. Washie. Check it out.)
  • Writing as Jo(e) has great pictures and wonderful stories about teaching and raising kids.

(And if I can add a nepotistic sixth, I'll suggest you check out Dad's blog, too! Beowulf, writing, gardening, libraries, words, he's got it all.)

So, now, here are the rules to keep this thing going:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Nick was sick last week, which meant I watched a bunch of not-so-great kid movies (you can skip the new Charlotte's Web, for example, and also Madagascar) and, once he felt a little better, I read a lot as well. (We did manage a trip to the library.)

I read, in quick succession, Diana Wynne Jones' The Pinhoe Egg (another Chrestomanci book, and maybe the best); Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (one of last year's Printz Honor Books); The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron (last year's Newbery Award winner: the famous "scrotum" book); and, in a reprise of my early teen years, Judy Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

I expect I'll have more to say about the Patron and Blume books in a column at some point, and I'm going to write about Diana Wynne Jones in my academic book on children's fantasy and theology. But I want to try to say something about The Book Thief, which is a terrific book. It took me a while to get into it, I have to say. Death is the narrator, after all, and he's, well, not the most inviting guy. This is a risk, but worth taking. My favorite part of the book is an inserted picture book, written by one character for another, partway through: it's just lovely in itself, and also a wonderful meditation on the power of words to both harm and heal.

All four books, somewhat to my surprise, turn out to be not only about religion but are, I believe, religious books. All take up questions of belief--Margaret the most obviously, but Lucky runs it a close second. In those two, the main characters are trying to find something to believe in, looking for a "higher power" to take control. (Spoiler alert: it doesn't really work, but things turn out ok.) In both The Pinhoe Egg and The Book Thief--books that might not normally be discussed together, but it's my blog so I can do what I want--the great danger is unexamined belief, and it can only be combated by those too foolish to know it can't really be combated at all. The Book Thief, a Holocaust novel, is surprisingly funny in places (and beautiful throughout), while The Pinhoe Egg, a humorous fantasy, is surprisingly solemn in places (and funny throughout).

I still have four books on my stack, but with the last two weeks of classes coming up I may not get to them quickly. But I made a good start.

Friday, April 13, 2007

In which we find out things about John Green that weren't on Brotherhood 2.0

Is that the longest blog post title ever? Never mind; it's worth it. Read the interview with John Green here, and have fun with Brotherhood 2.0, too.

(And then come hear him speak at the University of Richmond next fall; details to follow.)

So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut was one of those writers I discovered as a teenager without knowing others had discovered him, too. I haven't read one of his books in years, but they made a big impression. Time to go back and read him again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Neil Gaiman on God, sort of

The Independent has a nice piece about Neil Gaiman, whose blog seems to be getting as much attention as his books. Here's a brief bit:

On the process of writing, meanwhile, he is clear, inclusive and infinitely courteous. "I remember when I was about seven," he says, "reading C S Lewis's Narnia books and discovering the concept of the parenthetical aside to the reader from the omniscient author. And going, I want to do that. I thought, wow - look, you can chat directly to the reader! You're God!"

This fascinates me, of course. How does speaking to the reader make you God? After all, God doesn't speak to folks much, nowadays, at least according to what I read and hear. Being the creator of a new world, now, that makes you God. Inventing, and letting things go. But talking to the reader? Anyone can do that!

(Still, I like the way he thinks...)

Friday, April 06, 2007


I'm a little early with this, but this is my Easter post, courtesy of Julius Lester. This is a paragraph of a speech he gave recently at the University of Massachusetts. Read the whole thing, maybe a couple of times. It's lovely. This is just a taste.

All we have to offer each other is the quality of who we are as human beings. Literature is the place where what it is to be human is presented in stories told in language that goes from the heart of the writer to the heart of the reader.

As promised

So, finally: Knitting. What I like about it is that it's about female friendship, and even female friendship at or after midlife. A rare topic, it seems to me. Sometimes I imagine rewriting novels like Middlemarch by emphasizing female friendship: could Dorothea have befriended Rosamund? (I'm afraid not, but what if?) Maybe Mary Garth could have linked the two, given them all common cause. Something I like in YA novels lately is the recognition of the importance of friendship, of peer relationships that aren't romantic or familial but nonetheless formative. But I don't think we really know the narrative arc of friendship. Unlike romance, it doesn't have quite the same tension, potential conflict, resolution. Unlike a parent-child relationship, it doesn't have a trajectory of separation and individuation. So a friendship novel may be one in which "nothing happens." It seems to me appropriate that a novel about a "women's craft" is also one about women's friendship; one thing I'm learning as I cruise the knit-blogosphere is how tightly connected many crafting communities are. Just read a few entries over at Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's blog if you don't believe me.