Monday, November 30, 2009

More talk about tech

Sometimes it seems that tech innovations get all the media attention, while librarians who push books and help kids learn how to use them get very little attention. This year's conference of the National Conference of Teachers of English (NCTE) had some good sessions on bringing electronics and print together. It's good to be reminded that print and e-books aren't locked in some kind of combat; they are complementary formats to help children connect with books. Twitter, Facebook and hand-held computers can all be used in teaching and learning. School libraries are often ahead of public libraries in seeing the value of tech tools for young people. It's well worth looking over the fence to see what the schools are doing instead of focusing too closely on keeping up with other public libraries. Our audience is the same, we ought to work together to serve all children in all libraries.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is everything O.K. if it's in a book?

The Twilight series of books is hard to escape these days, and the recent movie will no doubt increase their sales. Some librarians are questioning the messages being sent in the series, but there's no way of keeping them out of girls' hands. A recent post on the YALSA blog gives an excellent critique of the way abusive behavior is glorified in the series. The poster notes that one way for skeptical adults to influence the teenagers' reactions to Edward and Bella's relationship is to educate girls about what stalking is and what an abusive relationship can be like. There are materials available for teens on healthy relationships and how to avoid falling into an unhealthy one. Why shouldn't a librarian organize educational sessions of this topic? We know that teens are struggling with how to relate to others; the more we can help them to tell the difference between good and bad relationships the better. Sounds like a no-brainer for an alert librarian.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New business model for publishing?

Romance writing is a distinct genre and may be seen as quite separate from writing children's books, but the business models are similar. Both of these branches of writing have a well-defined audience and a stable group of authors producing most of the best-selling books. Perhaps less noticed is the fact that both genres also have a huge number of would-be authors hammering at their publishing portals. Harlequin Publishers, which dominates the romance field, has lately taken a highly-debated step into letting their wannabes work under the Harlequin label. The newly-launched imprint Harlequin Horizons (which is being pressured to change its name) allows authors to buy a publishing packet that enables them to publish their own book under a quasi-Harlequin imprint. The publisher would collect the up-front money, but authors will get royalties for the sale of the books, which they must publicize for themselves. Sounds like an ordinary vanity press, doesn't it? That's what the Romance Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America think and they are demanding that Harlequin remove itself from the self-publishing business if it wants to keep its reputation as a respectable publisher. But all publishers of print materials are hard-pressed these days to keep profits high. Will other groups, even perhaps children's book publishers, consider launching similar initiatives? No one publisher dominates children's publishing the way Harlequin does for romance, but a firm like Scholastic is so big it could surely encompass one more arm and make a little extra money from all the slush pile contributors who beg to get in. There's no indication this is happening, but librarians should keep an eye on all branches of publishing. The future may be upon us sooner than we think.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Comics, comics and more comics

With science-fiction and other genre fiction as popular as it is, librarians who serve teens are frequently looking for a way to build on this interest. Once again School Library Journal has helped by providing a listing of genre comics with wide audience appeal. The sites listed here are available online, which is where many teens prefer to get their entertainment. One site will often lead to another, so fans can find hours of enjoyment whether their genre is science-fiction, romance, or gamer comics. The article might even provide a focus for a teen comics club devoted to sharing sites possibly even developing comic of their own. Every library has its share of teen patrons with talent for illustration and writing and comics offer a good outlet because of the flexibility of length and format. The possibilities are worth exploring.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In defense of scaring kids

Parents may fret over whether children will be scared by books, movies or TV shows, but Sam Leith in the Guardian staunchly defends scaring children. Scaring children is the point of children's books, he proclaims, and being scared is a natural prerogative of children. As I search my memory for scary stories I read as a child, I find it hard to think of any. It was the fairy godmothers and the princesses that pleased me, and the scenes of reconciliation when the Beast or the frog turned into a handsome prince that made me sigh with joy. I wonder if Sam Leith is talking about boys when he extols the virtues of frightening encounters with monsters and dragons. Perhaps girls develop earlier a sense that all is going to turn out right and therefore don't linger so much on the dark side. Or perhaps girls are taught that some prince will rescue them so they don't have to worry. It's when girls become mothers and are expected to get up three or four times in the night to comfort a frightened child that they develop a respect for the scariness of children's media. Someone ought to do a the meantime, read the article.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Little Critters calling

News about children's books being offered in varied formats appears almost every day. Publisher's Weekly has just announced that Mercer Mayer's Little Critters books are now appearing as i-phone aps. The touch screen allows children to touch various hot spots on the screen and to listen to the story or to see animations. The book Just Me and My Dad allows plenty of scope for action and sound and Mayer is planning on bringing many of his books to the small screen. Some of them have already been available for PCs, but the touch screen of the i-pod makes it easier for children to handle. Mobile phones are also, of course, much more portable than PCs, so parents can look forward to hours of driving pleasure while the kids in the back seat huddle over their i-phones absorbing literature.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Judging the covers

People who love picture books--both children and adults--almost always judge a book by its cover. But who judges the covers? Well, read this blog "Jacket Knack" to find out about some of the best covers now appearing. Once you get starting looking at them it's hard to break away. How many children's picture books have no words at all on the cover? That's not a question I've ever thought about but it's fascinating to see the examples given in this blog. Anyone who cares about children's picture books will enjoy reading the posts about their covers.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Season of Awards is starting

As winter comes, librarians scan the journals, newspapers, and websites for lists of Best Books of the Year. One of the first contenders in this contest of lists is the N.Y. Times list of the Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2009.
No one interested in picture books should miss the thumbnail pictures of the book covers, each linked to its review in the paper. Most of the styles of illustration now popular for children are represented--except for the growing group of graphic novel formats. One of the chosen books is an unconventional retelling of familiar folktales with stark, bold illustrations, another is an elaborate pop-up book that would never survive a child's handling. Some of these books will be more popular with adults than with children, but each of them represents an aspect of children's book culture today. Komako Sakai's The Snow Day brings memories of Ezra Jack Keat's classic Snowy Day, but this time instead of a recognizable child, the leading character is a bunny who lives like a human. Is this perhaps a move into abstraction so critics cannot raise issues of race or stereotyping? All of these books, although beautiful and worthy of a child's attention, seem curiously remote from the world our children live in. They exist perhaps to serve the needs of artists and other adults more than the needs of children. This is a trend worth thinking about.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hardcovers gone forever?

An article in the Huffington Post today by a book-publishing insider suggests that while the Kindle and other e-book readers may not kill off all books, they are likely to kill off the hardcover format. Anyone who has been observing the growth of the Kindle market may have noticed the type of people using Kindles. Aside from young people who are encouraged to use them by some schools, Kindle users are often teachers, librarians, publishers, writers and other avid readers. For years many booklovers (and almost all young people) have preferred paperback to hardcover formats because of the convenience and size difference. The Kindle has taken the paperback to a new level of convenience--it is light and portable. Many, if not most, books are read in places other than home. They are read in airports and on airplanes, in hotels, on commuter trains. Their transportability is important, but conventional hardcover books don't recognize that. Paperback books in recent years have been growing bigger and heavier, more like hardcovers, but that's a move in the wrong direction. In a world that prizes portability and convenience, hardcovers may well have lost their place. Publishers beware!