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

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Harold and Max, together (sort of) again...

This is too great: as Roger says, fun with intertextuality. Don't worry, you won't have to get annoyed: part II is right there after part I. No waiting.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I'm just a little bit annoyed with Laurie Halse Anderson. She's one of the most popular authors I teach in my children's/YA lit class; I teach Speak every year and every single time, someone tells me how important it is to her (usually it's a her). I've had students pass it along to their roommates, to younger kids they're mentoring, to groups they're involved with on campus. Students come to my office, close the door, and tell me how grateful they are for the book and our discussion of it.

So why am I annoyed with her? Annoyed might be too strong. Her new book, Chains, is a terrific read--a really engrossing tale of a young slave girl, Isabel, who gets caught up in the Revolutionary War in New York City. Promised her freedom by her mistress, she finds herself instead taken from her home in Rhode Island to a Loyalist stronghold in New York by her mistress's nephew, who won't honor his aunt's wishes. Isabel is a beautifully drawn character--at first relatively ignorant of the political situation, she is disgusted by the hypocrisy of both sides, who are willing to manipulate and even endanger her for their own purposes.

So, again, why am I annoyed? Because the book is the first of a two-volume series, and I didn't know it would leave me hanging. Sometimes a book leaves you hanging and you forget about it, thinking maybe you'll pick up the second one if and when you think of it--but I spent the weekend talking about this one, recommending it and then adding a brief warning. It's how I felt when I finished The Golden Compass--I turned the page and nearly cried out loud at the irresolution of it all.

But, really, I shouldn't be annoyed. I loved the book, and it really does stop in a logical place. And I think it's a terrific book for middle schoolers, especially ones who are interested in historical fiction. I'm passing it on to Nick next--he loved reading about the Revolution two years ago in his social studies class and is eager for more. But I also recommended it to adults I was talking to over the weekend--we had just seen a documentary, Traces of the Trade, about a New England family coming to grips with its own history of slave-trading, and this novel takes us through some of the same scenery, confronting some of the same issues, as the film. The film takes up the modern legacy of slavery; the novel gives us the contemporary reality of it. I recommend both, highly. And I retract my annoyance, though if the next one doesn't come out soon, I may start feeling it again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

More on The Graveyard Book

I've already said that I loved The Graveyard Book; now you can read (or listen to) a brief interview with Neil Gaiman, and check out another review and a brief excerpt. Go, now, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

what I'm reading

I've actually managed to read two novels and a few picture books over the last couple of days--all of them non-required, almost-purely-for-pleasure books. (I say "almost" because when I read kids' and YA literature there's always a chance I'll teach it or write about it--but the initial reading is usually still for pleasure.) I've also bought a few more and am dying to get to them, although the treadmill starts up again tomorrow so I may not have time to get to them for a while.

First up was The Graveyard Book. What is there to say that hasn't already been said? I heard most of the first chapter of this read by the author himself almost a year ago, at the Fantasy Matters conference. It was so chilling, a large auditorium full of people just sat in silence, gasping occasionally, as he read. Since then he's read the entire novel, a chapter at a time, to different audiences on his book tour--and you, too, can listen and watch! I have heard about a chapter and a half so far, and it's absolutely spell-binding. But I can read to myself quicker than I can listen, and I can do it in bed, so I finished the book the old-fashioned way, page by page. I was at war with myself over whether to read faster so as to find out what happened, or more slowly so as to enjoy the experience longer. In the end faster won out, as it always does with me--but as soon as I can, I'll reread it so I can linger over the sentences again. I want to write about it more fully at some point, but for now--read it! (Oh, and apparently like everyone else, yes, I had trouble finding it in the bookstore. I checked YA, Fantasy/Sci Fi, and new YA--but it was in the children's section in a display all on its own.)

I also picked up Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist when I got The Graveyard Book, because I was planning to see the movie and wanted to read the novel first. But then I didn't. So. I enjoyed the movie, which has a great feel to it of one of those semi-aimless evenings where nothing happens but everything does. Then I read the book, which is really even better. Episodes get switched around in the movie, and heightened for dramatic effect--and I can't complain about that, as the drama is enjoyable--but the book, with its chapters alternating between Nick and Norah's voices, really is a compelling read all on its own. Again, others have already said much more than I, but I'm glad I read it (though I did stay up too late last night finishing it. Sigh).

The other books were all picture books dealing with elections, and I'll have more to say about them, I hope, in my next column. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Got any suggestions for me?

One thing I get to do in my job is arrange for a big lecture by a children's or young adult author every other year. The first year of the lecture series, we were able to bring Lois Lowry to give a fabulous talk (March, 2005) to a large crowd. Last fall we had John Green while he was still in the middle of Brotherhood 2.0. Now I'm thinking about next fall. Whom would you ask? Leave me suggestions in the comments--we're looking for name recognition and a terrific speaker. (If you've heard them speak and can vouch for them that way, that's a plus...) We want someone who will speak about their work, the importance of children's literature, etc.--this is not a public reading, in other words, though we will set up a book signing and Q&A afterwards. Aim high--who's on your wish list?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Parenting and Pedagogy

Tedra Osell's recent post on her "Career Coach" blog at Inside Higher Ed's Mama PhD got me thinking: what is the relationship between parenting and pedagogy? How has my pedagogy changed since becoming a parent? It's hard for me to answer the latter question, as I had only been teaching as a grad student for a few years before I became a parent; the two have really always been intertwined for me. But I do know that I don't answer the question the way Tedra does; here's a stab at how I do answer it.

(cross-posted at the other blog...)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Don't forget!

Nominations for the Cybils open today. For those of you who missed them the last two years, the Cybils are the kidlitosphere's own children's book awards. (Cybils, as Little Willow helpfully explains, is a loose acronym for Children's and YA Bloggers's Literary Awards.) Cybils will be given in nine categories this year:

Fiction Picture Books
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Easy Readers
Middle Grade/Young Adult Non-Fiction
Middle Grade Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
Graphic Novels

Last year I served as a Sci-Fi/Fantasy judge, and it was a blast. I didn't volunteer this year because, much as I loved it, I simply couldn't figure out how I'd have time. (I am already on the Children's Literature Assocation's Book Award committee, and I can't do two book awards in one year when I'm not on sabbatical.) This year's panelists and judges look fabulous, and I'm sure they'll have a great time sorting through the wonderful books that have been published this year.

Check out the FAQs for the Cybils here, and then go back to the Cybils blog to nominate books in your favorite categories. Remember, you can only nominate one per category, so choose wisely!