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

Monday, July 28, 2008

Teaching at Hogwarts

Well, I don't teach at Hogwarts, of course--my building is neo-Gothic, not medieval--but I have some fun considering Harry and Ron as students in my latest over at Inside Higher Ed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Recent reading

As you can see from the sidebar, I did not complete my assigned reading while on vacation. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy both Out of the Wild* and Little Brother--and I passed the latter on to my brother-in-law, who enjoyed it as well. Part of the pleasure for both of us--more for him, a San Francisco native--was a familiarity with the locations. It's always fun to find a place one knows in fiction. But what I enjoyed even more was the unapologetic political nature of the novel, and the unabashed geekery. I have to confess I couldn't much follow the latter, but I found it compelling anyway--and more than a little paranoid.

The day before we left for France, I field a call from our bank for Mariah. She was out on her scooter, and the bank was concerned that her debit card had been used twice at gas stations in the last hour and a half. That's a pretty typical fraud pattern, they explained, so they just wanted to make sure she really did have the card. I called her and all was well, and we were grateful to the card company for checking. But after reading Little Brother I reflected again on how that information could be used. While I trust our bank (mostly) to keep our data safe, the fact that the information is out there means it could be misused, as it is in the novel. (For those who haven't read it, in the novel government agents use credit card, cell phone, internet, and toll-pass data to track citizens whom they suspect of terrorist involvement.) When do the potential harms outweigh the real benefits of this kind of data gathering? How do we know how our data is being used, and what can we do to protect it? The novel asks these questions in an always-entertaining, fast-paced adventure that explores the role of civil liberties in a civil society.

I can imagine Little Brother as one of the "surprise" YA titles of the sort discussed in Margo Rabb's piece in the New York Times, a book that began life as simply "a novel," that was then picked up and marketed as YA. Or maybe not--I don't know what Doctorow had in mind. But the book seems to me an obvious candidate for crossover, regardless.

Rabb, it seems to me, is saying much more diplomatically what Frank Cottrell Boyce said a month or so ago about YA literature: it's literature, and/but some people find the YA label off-putting. Others don't, of course (read Justine Larbalestier and Little Willow for more on this). But I did find myself defending the book a bit to my brother-in-law before passing it on. Maybe I have to work on my own attitudes...

*More on OOTW in another post. I am still mulling over some of the implications of the series and its attitudes towards fairy tales. I'll come back to it soon, I hope.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I'm off on a trip tomorrow, and I have assembled for my reading pleasure:

and some magazines, not too terribly trashy...

It's all I can do not to start reading now. Can I start in the airport departure lounge, or do I have to wait until I'm on board? Do I start on the first (short) leg, or do I wait until we're really and truly on our way? Ah, decisions, decisions.

Blog hiatus approaching, due to aforesaid travel. Details on my return.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Nick reviews Rapunzel's Revenge

I got an ARC of Rapunzel's Revenge along with HTDYF, and I think that's a pretty good pairing. Both are irreverent takes on fantasy; both are smart and funny; both feature kick-ass heroines. Because Nick is a graphic novel fan, I handed Rapunzel's Revenge over to him as soon as I finished it, and he sat almost motionless on the couch until he was done with it. (He did take a break for lunch and for his afternoon day camp, but I had to nudge him a bit.)

When I asked him what he liked about it, here's what he said.

Well, it helps that I like graphic novels. And I like when they take something everyone knows, and it's all boring, and they say, no, that's wrong, it really happened in this awesome way.

He also suggests a sequel in which Rapunzel and Jack team up again and she dispatches the giant for him. What do you think, Hales? Are you up for it?

Details: Rapunzel's Revenge is by Shannon Hale (author of The Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days, Princess Academy, Austenland, etc.), Dean Hale (her husband), and Nathan Hale, the illustrator, who is no relation to either other Hale. I received an ARC from the publisher; the book is due out in August.

Also: now available--The Explosionist, by Jenny Davidson. Get it while it's hot!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

More brief reviews

It's been a great summer so far for catching up on reading and movie-viewing. I can't remember the last time I've seen so many movies in a week (three!)--probably last summer. I've also been making my way through a pile of ARCs and other books that have turned up in my mailbox, one way and another, and it's been a pleasure to do so. Here are two books to look for:

  • The Proof that Ghosts Exist, by Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman. I know Perry Nodelman as a very fine scholar of children's literature. I use his co-authored (with Mavis Reimer) book, The Pleasures of Children's Literature, to teach my introduction to children's literature course, and it is that rare thing in a textbook, a pleasure to read. So when I read that he had a new novel coming out (he's already published several others), I jumped at the chance to get an ARC. And I'm glad I did. The Proof that Ghosts Exist introduces us to a pair of siblings, Molly and Adam, who are as different as two siblings can be. She's orderly, reasonable, and rational; he's imaginative and a bit off-kilter. (Hmm, Dorothy and William Wordsworth?) The novel begins as they head off to a summer house with their father, whose own father and grandfather both dropped dead the day before their 35th birthdays. And, yes, it is the day before their father's 35th birthday, so they're a little concerned. This is a funny, imaginative excursion into the world of ghost-hunting--highly recommended for middle-grade readers. (Received from the publisher; the book is out in Canada but not yet available in the US, according to Amazon.)
  • The Seems: The Split Second, by John Hulme and Michael Wexler. This is the second "Seems" book--the first, The Glitch in Sleep, came out last year, but somehow I missed it. The Seems is a world behind our world, where The Powers that Be arrange things so that our, sort of. Only sometimes it doesn't, so there are Fixers to try to get things back on track, and Becker Drane, at age 13, is the youngest Fixer. And right now, someone's split a second, time is out of time, and Becker needs to get to work. The novel reminded me a lot of Jasper Fforde's books, with the clever wordplay and antic movement between different levels of reality, but without the reliance on classic literature that might slow down a middle-grade reader. This book isn't due out until the fall, but you can start with the first one--I plan to go back and read it myself. (Received in ARC from the publisher along with How to Ditch Your Fairy and two graphic novels I haven't gotten to yet.)
OK, this one's not a book, and you can read about it anywhere, really, but I just have to put in a plug for Wall-E as well. As you probably already know, one of the triumphs of the movie is how well it conveys emotion with very few (and, for the first few minutes, no) words. In its emphasis on the visual it reminded me a bit of The Arrival, and I was delighted to learn from the smart people on the child_lit listserv that Shaun Tan did some work on it. It's also the bitingest satire I've seen in a while: the movie really doesn't pull its punches in depicting environmental degradation, and the huge corporation (Buy-N-Large) that controls, seemingly, everything, has clear connections to Wal-Mart. The irony of the movie is that it takes two robots to restore people's humanity--and Pixar manages to convey this in a completely believable, almost inevitable, way. You'll walk out of the movie saying "Wall-E" in the robot's creaky little voice, just as you walked out of E.T. saying "phone home." I promise. (You may also find yourself adding Hello, Dolly! to your netflix queue...)