Sunday, September 28, 2008

When books meet film

Librarians still see books as the major media for storytelling to children, but popular books that remain tied solely to the printed page are few and far between these days. Like so many other picture books, Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux is being transformed into a movie but the transformation is not without pain. Unlike a picture book, many of which are still produced by an individual author with a little help from an editor and later partnership with an illustrator, movies are group projects from the beginning. The result may be an exciting movie for viewers, and a money-maker for studios, but it can also be a source of jealousy and dissatisfaction for its creators. The basically simple moral tale of Despereaux has turned into such a complicated dispute that the average librarian will find it impossible to figure out the rights and wrongs. It's just as well, however, to be aware of how complex the arts world is because it affects the quality of the materials we share with children. It will be interesting to see how the legal issues are finally resolved, although at the moment it is perhaps even more interesting to see the picture of how our little hero Despereaux will appear on screen. Take a look.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Good sense or censorship?

Scholastic book fairs are a staple part of many school, supported by parents, teachers and librarians. Recently controversy has arisen over Scholastic's ads for materials based on the Bratz fashion dolls. Some adults argue that these sexualized dolls and books about them are not suitable for middle school children and Scholastic has now agreed to drop references to them in its new book fair materials. Whether this was done because of the complaints or because of dropping sales in the Bratz branded products is not clear. Like most skirmishes in the battle to provide children with the best and most suitable materials while at the same time letting them choose what they prefer, the victory is ambiguous. Commercial publishers and producers of materials for children must seek a profit, so they will continue pushing borderline items that stretch the boundaries of acceptable. And librarians will continue to buy what their patrons want, but remain vigilant to reject materials that would harm children. The battle will never be completely won or completely lost, but it is still worth fighting.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pleasant to contemplate

With all the bad news in the newspapers this morning, it's pleasant to read a N.Y. Times review of the Babar exhibit at the Morgan Library in New York. The story of Babar and the unforgettable pictures of the ungainly elephant linger in the minds of many adults and still bring pleasure to children. Even though the books have been criticized for their simplistic picture of the benefits of bringing civilization to undeveloped societies, there is something charming about the story. Just as Babar has to learn to cope with the rules of society, so do children have to adapt to rules at school and at home. Something is lost as well as gained in the process. It's too bad this exhibit will not travel to other cities, but many libraries will no doubt purchase the catalog and thus allow those of us far from the East Coast to see how Babar came to life.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How do you score?

Children's librarians pride themselves on being able to match children and books. We watch children's choices, listen to their requests and make suggestions about what they might want to try next. Do we usually choose correctly? It's hard to tell. This month The Horn Book presents a Children's Literature Application Test for school librarians (although it's just as applicable to public librarians). On a quiet weekend morning you might do worse than read through the test and try to answer the questions. You may not always agree with the answers, but they will certainly make you think. How much can we actually tell about a child by observing his or her book choices? What does it mean when a child rejects a book you just know she would enjoy? The quiz will give you a lot to think about as you do your weekend shopping.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We missed the party

Maurice Sendak is getting plenty of well-deserved publicity as he celebrates his 80th birthday. Children's librarians, who were among the first to recognize his genius must be happy to see that he is now being hailed by other writers and dramatists, who probably pay little attention to children's literature. We've always known that children's books hold hidden gems that not many adults readers know about. It's nice to see that for once the recognition and acclaim has reached many corners of the literary world.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

More of the same

Book banning has unexpectedly turned into an election issue this year as some people have accused the Republican VP nominee of trying to ban books in her local public library. Every years, it seems, librarians are reminded that books can be an explosive topic. ALA has recently published a new list of challenged titles and most of them are titles that reappear year after year. The top title Tango Makes Three is a recent picture book with a theme of homosexuality among penguins and already it has already attracted a strong band of supporters and attackers and appears to be destined to remain on the list for years. Other books like The Chocolate Wars and Huckleberry Finn are veterans that appear year after year as new readers discover that even children's books can have disturbing content. Phillip Pullman's Golden Compass, which was turned into a movie this year, is somewhat unusual because the only objection to it is its religious viewpoint. As librarians choose materials from the hundreds of titles produced each year, they can't help but wonder how many of them will cause complaints among some community members. It's good to be aware that challenges may come, but also important to remember our professional commitment to offering a wide range of choices rather than choosing to avoid all controversy. A library with no complaints may be a library that is too dull to notice.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New view of Sendak

Maurice Sendak has been a dominant figure in children's literature for more than 50 years. Where the Wild Things Are has been a classic for several generations of children. It's difficult to remember that when it first appeared, some librarians and parents thought it was too scary to read to young children. Children of course knew better and several generations of them have been reading it to tatters. Now Maurice Sendak is preparing for his 80th birthday celebration and in this thought-provoking interview in the N.Y. Times, he looks back at his career and forward to his next book. Sendak is a serious man who has coped with losses and depression in his personal life, but somehow he has transformed his private sorrows into joyful art that reaches the hearts of all children. Librarians are privileged to be able to introduce his books to their intended audience and to see, year after year, the rich experience they provide for children.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Librarians are helping

As librarians gear up for a fall season of increasing children's programs and library use, they must sometimes wonder how much good their hard work accomplishes. As the School Library Journal recently pointed out, research can demonstrate that public library programs and resources help children become readers. Children who attend public library programs and who take out books from the library tend to have higher reading scores than those who don't. The three states highlighted by SLJ as offering effective children's services--Colorado, Minnesota, and Ohio--offer high levels of support for public libraries. This is an article to read, savor, and send on to library and city administrators. It can make a busy day of story reading and finger plays glow with satisfaction.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Media-book tie-ins

As if any more proof were needed, a couple of news stories of the past few days tell of publishing ventures that tie books and authors in with newer media. Rick Riordan, popular author of the Percy Jackson books, is starting a new nonfiction series with tie-ins to the Internet. He has outlined the series, but other authors will be writing some of the books. Librarians will want to watch how kids react. And going back to old favorites, a DVD of the 1930's book Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild has been released. Her books were popular fifty years ago, but I think most libraries have found them shelf-sitters in recent years. Perhaps presenting them in TV format--taken from a BBC series--will bring the books to life again. The publishers are clearly hoping for that.

Monday, September 1, 2008

TV worth watching

Parents, teachers and librarians are always on the lookout for worthwhile TV programs for children and now another one has come along. Martha Speaks, based on the picture book series by Susan Meddaugh, is an animated series coming to a PBS Digital channel. Martha the talking dog introduces fairly long and complicated words to young children while telling an entertaining story. The appeal of the new show to children in Kindergarten and the early grades of school should be high, but unfortunately the show is only available on a digital channel--at least for now. PBS is promising a DVD version in the spring, and episodes are available on i-tunes both of which should be good additions to many children's libraries. Keep your eyes open.