Friday, July 31, 2009

Comics bigger than ever

The recent Comics-Com international conference in San Diego was attended by a crowd of eager fans with a strong representation of publishers, and children's books were a major topic. According to Publishers Weekly the biggest news for children's books was the announcement by Scholastic that they will be publishing new books and stories by Jeff Smith based on Bone, Smith’s bestselling epic fantasy adventure series. There's no questions about the popularity of comics and graphic novels for childen and teens and as librarians, teachers and parents embrace these formats, there will soon be no question about their critical acceptance either. History minded librarians may wonder what Anne Carroll Moore and Frances Clark Sayers might say about this trend.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Do you remember....?

How long do children's books linger in the memories of their readers? Well, clearly there are no statistics on that, but it's still a good question. As librarians, parents, or teachers we often wonder whether the books we provide for our children really do influence them. A recent series of essays on books read by thousands of girls during the 1960s and 1970s sheds some light on how many women still recall Harriet the Spy, Judy Blume's Margaret, and other heroines of the time. Whether we imitated the characters in books or turned our backs on them, it seems that many of us paid attention and remember them. Perhaps we should take a look at today's books and try to figure out what kids will remember from them in 2030 or 2040.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Can covers be liars?

The fall publication of a YA novel called Liar by Justine Larbalestier is causing a stir in the publishing world because, as shown in this PW story, the cover depicts a white girl with long hair, while the book is about an African-American girl who describes herself as having "short, nappy hair". Obviously the publisher thinks the book will sell better if a white girl is shown on the cover rather than a minority girl. Is this a fair representation of the book? Is that even a fair question? Will the readers feel betrayed if they buy a book in which they don't recognize the heroine they expected to find? In the PW story, several bookstore buyers comment on the cover and their reactions to it, we'll have to wait to find out what librarians--and more importantly potential readers--think. The controversy certainly raises questions worth thinking about.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Another view of e-textbooks

California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has announced a policy of offering electronic textbooks to students. He suggested that this would save the state millions of dollars because the books would be free, although it's not clear how the content would be produced unless people were paid to write it. Pilot programs in various states have tried to study how students react to e-textbooks and the results, according to the Wall Street Journal, are mixed. Cost for commercially produced e-books are approximately the same as the costs for print versions, and publishers would like to keep it this way. Some students don't like reading on a screen and some complain they are unable to take notes or skip around to find specific content. Apparently the choice of how to read, as well as what to read, is very personal and schools and libraries will be experimenting for years to find a way of serving the greatest number of students. In this time of budget woes, it may not be easy to change a system even one that is as expensive as our current textbook market is.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Nancy Drew one more time

The reputation of Nancy Drew has been growing for the last 50 years as women who read books in the early series move into positions of power and prestige. Perhaps her greatest recent fame has come from the hearings of Sonia Sotomayor, the latest candidate for the Supreme Court. Now the N.Y. Times us about some of the other women who have declared they were fans of the girl-sleuth while they were growing up. Even though libraries often did not purchase these series books during the 1940s and 1950s, many American girls found them on their own, traded them with friends, and were strongly influenced by them. What was the appeal? Probably the independence and cleverness of Nancy who refuted all the images of dumb, timid girls that other media of the time presented. Nancy was a thousand times stronger than all the little sisters who tagged after the heroes of boys adventure books favored by schools and libraries. While Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn had adventures, girls were supposed to sit back and wait to be rescued. Nancy inspired all the fervent readers who longed to have adventures of their own. And see where she has led--to presidential candidates, Supreme Court justices, and Secretaries of State. Let's keep today's Nancy Drews in our libraries to inspire other young readers.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Provocative view of e-books

Like the recording industry in the early 2000's, the publishing industry today is struggling with the question of what to do about electronic content. In the view of one Slate columnist, they are leaving themselves open to the same Napster battles the recording industry went through. with its Kindle reader has inspired many people to download the electronic version of a book they want to read rather than buy a print copy. The price of most of the books for Kindle is $9.99, considerably less than even a trade paperback much less a hardcover. Of course it is not only the price that attracts users; the convenience and small size of the Kindle is also a benefit, but the price is certainly a factor. Now publishers are trying to force and other booksellers to charge more for e-books so the electronic/print difference will not be so great. Is this a good idea? Slate writer Jack Shafer thinks not. He says publishers should learn a lesson from the recording industry and give consumers what they want. Librarians who also wonder whether the provision of e-books is going to become an integral part of their services will do well to watch the outcome of this battle. It's hard to believe that e-books won't triumph in the end, but we can all hope that publishers adjust to the new situations and not try to go back to the past.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Websites for coping

The American Library Association has been meeting in Chicago and so librarians, teachers, publishers, and parents have had a chance to learn more about the books and other media being produced for children. One of the useful lists unveiled this week has been the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) list of great websites for teaching and learning. Although the professional media are filled with praise for how technology is helping children to learn, people on the ground who spend their time interacting with real live children often find it difficult to manage the flood of new materials and messages being sent. It was hard enough in the old days to try to match children with the perfect books to fill their needs, but now the task is overwhelming. Fortunately, the new tools allow youngsters, as they grow, to find and manage more of their own material. Education is becoming more of a collaboration rather than a teacher dominated experience. Check out some of these websites and think about some of the ways children's learning experiences can be expanded and strengthened.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Everything old is new again

One of the perennial habits of children's book publishers is recycling old favorites for a new audience, sometimes for a new generation of children and sometimes for adults. This season two annotated versions of Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows aimed clearly at adults have appeared. Grahame's fantasy of life in Edwardian England has a lasting appeal for many adults who grew up with tales of the forest animals that take off on an unplanned trip to see a new world. Children will accept almost any story that celebrates freedom from the constraints of daily life, but when adults re-examine the stories they see all sorts of themes that were invisible to their child-eyes. What does the story "really" mean? Does it matter? Every reader takes something different from a story, which is why many classics have continuing appeal. Perhaps the best thing for librarians to do is to make the stories available and let children--and adults--take what they will from them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What's a publisher to do?

Librarians and teachers often complain about the range of books from which they make their choices, but it's not often we see someone directly address the publisher about what's wrong with their products. The July School Library Journal has a straightforward article listing ten strong suggestions for publishers. These run from the practical perennial plea for stronger bindings on books to a more novel complaint about the emphasis on books about World War II. It's odd how authors and publishers in recent years have focused on the ten year period of that war, neglecting both earlier and later wars fought by the United States and other countries. We urge our children to think globally, but rarely supply them with exciting stories about the lives and history of Asian, African and South American countries. Unlike the world they live in, most children's libraries are heavily slanted toward books about Europe and North America. It's time for a change.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fast selling YA series

As a follow-up to the NY Times story of last week, the paper wrote today that James Frey and a co-writer have had their YA series picked up by Harper Collins. The movie rights have already been sold, and this sale within a week of its first offer, is an indication of how much faith publishers are putting in name brand authors. Mr Frey, it appears, had the idea of the books, but much of the text will be written by his young associate, Jobie Hughes. It's a great opportunity for a recent graduate from Columbia University's creative writing program. It will be interesting to see how well the collaboration works.