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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Carnival Time!

I tend to miss out on the Carnival of Children's Literature. It runs monthly, collecting fabulous links from the children's lit blogosphere. This month, I caught it in time, and there are some terrific posts--go look!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Link Love

I have found--or been sent to--so many fabulous things on the internet lately, I just have to share.

This fabulous commencement address about classroom teaching, by playwright and kindergarten teacher Margaret Edson.

This reminder of why I should get off facebook RIGHT NOW.

This really interesting article about Philip Pullman's father.

A terrific piece by Michael Rosen about how he doesn't hate Harry Potter and what he does think about children's literature.

Links from various, mostly now-forgotten, sources, though I need to include a special thank you to Tricia for the Smith college commencement address. Really, it's so worth watching--do it!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Is Zadie Smith the sharpest critic writing today? I loved her two-part piece on reading (I mentioned it here and here), and now she's got a piece on one of my favorite novels of all time, George Eliot's Middlemarch. She seems to me just the kind of critic George Eliot was: sympathetic and tough at the same time.

A small taste:
The novel is a riot of subjectivity. To Mary Garth, Fred Vincy is the central character in Middlemarch. To Ladislaw it is Dorothea. To Lydgate, it is Rosamund Vincy. To Rosamund, it is herself.

Read the whole essay. And read the book!

(I saw this first on Educating Alice, who must get to her Guardian feeds before I do!)

Mothering at Mid-Career

Another Tuesday, and now I'm blogging about this article: Does Academe Hinder Parenthood? (Hint: the consensus is that it does...). Check it out over at IHE.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lonely Werewolf Girl

Martin Millar's new novel, Lonely Werewolf Girl, is a puzzlement to me. A puzzlement because I kept being annoyed with it, and came close to shutting it and giving up more than once, and yet I keep thinking about it now that I'm done reading it. I got my copy from Colleen Mondor (thanks, Colleen!) at Chasing Ray, whose opinion I trust, and she liked it a lot; Gail Gauthier, over at Original Content, who's also pretty sharp, liked it as well. I'm no expert on werewolf novels, or urban fantasy, and I've never read anything by Millar before, and somehow I felt that maybe if I had that background I'd be in on something that otherwise kept eluding me.

So why did I keep being annoyed with it? Well, for starters, it's a novel that does a whole lot more telling than showing. All kinds of back story--told. All kinds of details about the characters--told. So we hear, for example, that Kalix (our heroine) hates her brothers, and later we even get a few details of a fight she had with one of them, but we see so little of them together that I never felt as if I understood their hatred. (It's true, later they both try to kill her, one way or another, but she hates them long before that.) We hear at least three times in the first hundred pages that Sarapen and Dominil have some sort of history--and later we learn that she wants to kill him--but again, this is all simply told, not shown, so we don't feel fully involved. Or I didn't.

I was also put off by the names, though this may be a genre thing for me. There are way too many female characters with Xs in their names, for example: Thrix, Kalix, Butix, Delix, Talixia--they're just a little too similar, and though I was able to keep the characters straight I still found their names annoying. This seems petty, maybe, but if you're going to spend over 500 pages with a group of characters I think you want to believe in their names, and understand their naming conventions. I never quite did. (The werewolves are Scottish--are there lots of Xs in Scottish names?)

I also found the book badly copyedited, with more typos and repeated or missing words than I like to see in a published book. But if I'd been less annoyed with the foregoing I don't think that would have bothered me as much.

So why did I finish reading it? Because it's hilarious. The lonely werewolf girl herself, Kalix, is a laudanum-swilling, tranquilizer-popping, self-mutilating, bulimic werewolf who is nonetheless irresistible to almost everyone who meets her (outside her own family). OK, maybe that doesn't sound hilarious, but trust me: it is. Her great physical strength combined with her emotional weakness makes her an interesting character, especially when she ensnares two human college students, Daniel and Moonglow, into her troubles. The Fire Queen, Malveria, enters the novel with an over-the-top flourish--"Prepare to die, cursed Enchantress!"--but we find out that she's anguished over her shoes, and she fails to follow through on this threat (or many others). Kalix's older sister is a fashion designer, and one of her brothers wears his girlfriend's blouses. The machinations of the werewolf clan, and particularly the ways in which they interact (or don't) with the human world, make for a great story.

I think what works best about the novel is the way it mixes things up: most of the characters are werewolves, and others have interesting magical powers, but they are all very human in their rivalries, their passions, their weaknesses. Millar mixes up fashion design with ancient myth, low-rent rock bands with high fashion, an obsession with Sabrina the Teenage Witch with battles to the death. The various alliances and allegiances are convoluted but fascinating. And for me, at least, the central trio--Kalix, Daniel, and Moonglow--anchor the book. They're who I cared about, their connection energized the novel, and when they were offstage my attention occasionally flagged.

In the end, I wanted to know what happened to everyone, I just wasn't sure I wanted to read it all--I kept feeling as if I were reading a great treatment for a screenplay rather than a novel. Would I recommend it? To a diehard Buffy fan, maybe, or to a fan of gritty urban fantasy for whom narrative tug is more important than literary technique. But I'm still puzzled about it, so maybe its fans can enlighten me further.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


On Tuesdays you can find me at Inside Higher Ed. This week I'm wondering (again) where the month went...

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Reading" pictures...

Everything is new to the infant. I remember seeing my tiny daughter, only minutes old, lying in her father's arms drinking in the scenery with eyes wide open, and suddenly realizing what an odd world we'd brought her into.

Shaun Tan and Brian Selznick show us that odd world in their remarkable picture books (or are they graphic novels?) for older readers. Read more about The Arrival and The Invention of Hugo Cabret, here...

(cross posted at Midlife Mama)

Friday, May 16, 2008

May Edge of the Forest

The May issue of The Edge of the Forest is up and it looks fabulous, as always. I'm stealing Kelly's preview links here because I haven't had a chance to read it all yet, but I'm going back just as soon as I finish blogging today...

Here's what's in store this month:
The Edge of the Forest will be back in early June.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Happy Birthday, Peter Pan!

Today is the birthday of J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan. Peter Pan has had many lives--he first appeared in a novel for adults, The Little White Bird, then in a stage play, then in a novel of his own--Peter and Wendy--and finally in the Broadway musical and Disney cartoon which ensured his immortality. It is only fitting that he should have so many forms; his genius--but perhaps also his tragedy--is to remain the same while everything around him changes.

I have to confess that I find Peter and Wendy, the novel, which I teach fairly often in my children's literature courses, a bit creepy. It's of course sexist and racist in its depiction of women and "Indians," but even more than that--and that's a lot--it seems to me to celebrate a kind of childhood I don't really believe in. While there's much to admire in the power of imagination that the novel clearly celebrates--the children create Neverland out of their reading and their dreams, after all--the novel also seems to insist that, for boys, adulthood is a falling-away from grace. The post-Neverland lives the Lost Boys lead as adults are dull and boring, while Peter continues to have his adventures without them (and without remembering them). Girls, on the other hand, embrace adulthood for the meager responsibility it gives them, though there is little to celebrate, either, in Wendy's poignant replacement by her daughter, and she by her daughter as well. We can, I suppose, see Barrie as a clear-eyed realist (see last Sunday's New York Times for the latest on how men would rather be boys); still, I teach Peter and Wendy as a tragedy of sorts, a story about loss that seems to me particular, not inevitable at all.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Mothering at Mid-Career

My new weekly blog at Inside Higher Ed is up! So, what do you need? Leave me a comment and give me more to blog about...

While you're there, check out the other blogs, too. The Monday Mama PhD blogger, Megan Pincus Kajitani, is taking your questions. And UD (University Diaries) is about to take a sabbatical.

There are lots of other cool blogs to check out, too.

(again, cross-posted...)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Mama PhD at Inside Higher Ed!

Starting today, seven Mama PhD contributors will be blogging over at InsideHigherEd.

Caroline and Elrena started things off today with an introductory post; from now on the blog will run along this rotation:

Monday: The Career Coach Is In by Megan Kajitani
Tuesday: Mid-Career Mothering by Libby Gruner (hey, that would be me!)
Wednesday: ABCs and PhDs: Biologists at Home, by Dana Campbell, Liz Stockwell, and Susan Bassow
Thursday: Math Mom by Della Fenster
Friday: Drama Mama by Anjalee Nadkarni

Check out my inaugural post tomorrow...

(cross-posted at Midlife Mama)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Six Things

Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays just tagged me for this meme, and since I'm grateful to her for introducing me to her blog, I'm playing.

Here are the meme rules:
1. link to the person who tagged you
2. post the rules
3. write six things about yourself
4. tag six people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
5. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their sites.
6. Let your tagger know when your entry is up.

Okay, so here are six things you wouldn't necessarily know about me from reading this blog.

1. My second toe is much longer than my first. My mother used to tell me it indicated noble birth, but I've always thought of it as a monkey-characteristic. It makes some shoes hard to wear, and probably has something to do with my preference for open-toed shoes.

2. I used to read mysteries a lot, but I can barely get through one anymore. I wrote my senior thesis on Dorothy L. Sayers, whose mystery novels were a kind of comfort food for me for many years. Since I've had children, though, I find myself unable to take pleasure in novels that require a death to get them moving. This is troubling on many levels.

3. I love finishing things--knitting projects, novels (reading them!), writing projects, furniture assembly, etc. This makes it hard for me to start things when I can't see an end in sight--anything from housecleaning to long writing or knitting projects. Short stuff, I'm your girl, any day of the week.

4. If there are truly two kinds of people, puzzle-people and plot-people, as Jeanne suggests, then I have multiple personality disorder. I love puzzles and word games (check my facebook profile if you don't believe me), and I also love heavily-plotted novels, which is why I got a PhD in Victorian literature. This combination of affinities is probably why I used to like mysteries so much (they are plot-and-puzzle books, aren't they?), and why I miss them at times.

5. This summer I'll make my second trip to France and I still will not see Paris. I think I'm saving it for a rainy day.

6. I've always sung alto but lately I find myself trying for the high notes, and even singing an occasional descant. What's up with that?

I'm supposed to tag six people, so here they are:


Becca (do you even do memes, Becca?)



Lilian (because now you have time for this kind of thing, right?)


and anyone else who wants to play, of course!