Posts tagged ‘childrens books’

Fanciful Mr. Fox

One truth about children’s and YA literature is that it’s often enjoyed as much by adults as much as by young readers. Grown-ups love the whimsy, earnestness, and humor that kids love as well. But while we like the same stories, kids and adults often like different things, visually. Kids like bright color and shapes. Adults like subtlety and aesthetics. This creates an interesting dilemma for designers. How do you market a book that people will want to buy both for their children and for themselves? How do you design a book that will catch the eye of childless adults and preteens equally?

Often, this leads to really amazing, creative design.

Hugo Cabret

Sometimes, its leads to terrifying Frankendesigns.

Oh God! Mutant nerd! Don't let it near me!! Ahh!

Oh God! Mutant nerd! Don't let it near me!! Ahh!

The same dilemma happens with kid’s movie marketing, especially when it’s based on a book.

The many book-based movies coming out now are showcasing their varied successes and failures.

Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are” has hit the bullseye with design. The posters are interesting, the trailer’s gorgeous, and even this pop-up shop/marketing scheme in Space 15 Twenty is dazzling. Check out the whole shop at KitsuneNoir.

wtwta store1

The new posters for “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, on the other hand… well, they seem to fall victim to that same problem of kidlit design: To design for kids or for adults?

Take a look (more are over at Gordon and the Whale)

Fantastic Mr Fox

But I haven’t lost hope. I love everything Wes Anderson’s done, and I’m sure this won’t be an exception. How do I know?

September 22, 2009 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

Happy holiday!

Or at least happy Children’s Book Week!

Yes, it may be a marketing ploy, but hey, I’m all for corporate conspiracies with the ultimate goal of getting people to read kids books.

Celebrate by marking whatever you’re currently reading with the official bookmark, found here.

Incidently, what are you reading? I just finished Talking to Dragons of Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles for about the 10,247th time last night, and I’ve got Heaney’s Electric Light in my bag right now.

May 11, 2009 at 5:38 pm Leave a comment

Cows on boats

secret-island1 After my Boxcar rant, it seems odd to kick off what is now looking like it will be Roughing It Month* with a book that could be The Boxcar Children‘s British twin — Annie to Warner’s Hallie. But while Napa-bred Hallie was the bolder and more adventuresome of that pair, in this case the English provenance means vibrancy rather than insipidity.

Blyton’s story of four kids who run from the scary adults in their life in order to survive on their own in the wilderness shares some of the weaknesses of Wilder’s. Both authors have a tendency to make their children characters into idealized little automatons, free of the heavy burden of personality. The protagonists of The Secret Island, siblings Mike, Peggy, and Nora and their picaresque friend Jack, are often shining beacons of well-bred English children (Just look at their rosy-cheeked faces on that book cover) who fall into the same stereotypical roles as Warner’s kids. But then they break out of them.

The story begins when the kids decide to run away from the abusive uncle and aunt who are taking care of them since their parents went missing in a plane crash. The abuse in the book is in some case physical, but largely based around gender roles. The girls are expected to do ‘feminine’ tasks like cooking and cleaning and are beaten when they do it poorly —  Nora gets slapped when she washes the curtains incorrectly. Mike’s burden is in the fields, where he’s expected to pull the same weight as his uncle. The strict division of these tasks wouldn’t be so remarkable in children’s literature of the era (1930’s), were it not or the children’s ambition to escape it. The most remarkable change in the children on the island is not in their self-sufficiency, but in their self-generated erosion of those gender roles.

Don’t get me wrong, once the children escape, they still maintain plenty of the division expected in a story from the 1930s. Peggy and Nora, for example, have the responsibility of preparing the food and comfortable adorning their greenwillow house while Mike and Jack are the providers who steal eggs and perform any required carpentry. But they all work together to fish and the girls plunge gleefully into caves. The boys? Well, I suppose they stick to proper boy tasks, but you can’t have everything.

The Secret Island makes use of the same “playing house” trope that The Boxcar Children does, but here the pretending is an effective escape from a dark world and a learning experience that informs the children’s future outside of the fiction. While it’s still a product of its time, Blyton’s book sure does the best it can with what its got, and that’s at least a good start.

PS. While I’m sure its not entirely legal, you can apparently read the whole book here.

*Due to field trips and stomach flu outbreaks, two things that should never fall in the same week

May 10, 2009 at 6:46 pm Leave a comment

Excuses, excuses

Unfortunately, some fairly urgent things have come up this week, so Roughing It Week will have to become Roughing It Fortnight. But no worries, camping is even more fun when it’s for two whole weeks!

To make up for my absence, here’s the International Children’s Digital Library where you can read fantastic kids books from now or a hundred years ago online (to be clear, they were not online a hundred years ago, at least from what I can tell). May I recommend you spend some time browsing through the alphabets? Not alphabetically, but through the alphabet books; you’ll find kitschy surprises like this Apple Pie alphabet from 1900. Its like “Antiques Roadshow” for Internet-addicted bibliophiles!

April 29, 2009 at 10:56 pm Leave a comment

Pitch your tents, bring your iodine tablets!

boxcar_childrenI cannot stand the Boxcar Children. This wasn’t always the case; my addiction to reading can be traced back to the first Boxcar Children book, handed to me in first grade. For two years I pulled Boxcar Children books off the shelf, devoured them, then replaced them in order – one through about 120 – and pulled the next one down. But even childhood nostalgia can’t save these books in my mind. They’re dragged inexorably downward by insipid, flat characters who seem to think childhood is nothing more than ignorant vulnerability.

“Wait!” you Boxcar defenders may say. “They live alone in a forest! They shell peas! Benny has to drink from a cracked pink cup! Poor child!”

While I agree that the first book’s best feature is life in the great outdoors, if you think that drinking from a cracked cup is roughing it for a 6-year-old, you clearly 1. Have never gone camping, and 2. Have never met a 6-year-old.

The author of the first 18 (and best) books of the series, Gertude Chandler Warner, once told her fans that the first book “raised a storm of protest from librarians who thought the children were having too good a time without any parental control! That is exactly why children like it!” What she doesn’t mention is that parental – or grand-parental – supervision is exactly what the books praise. In an ultimate dismissal of children’s resourcefulness and adventurousness, the kid’s boxcar is dragged into their grandfather’s backyard, where it stands, not as a reminder of the adventures they’ve had and the challenges they overcame, but as a statement that they’ll never ever have to do those terrible things again, because now they have an adult to do all the difficult thinking for them.

To be clear, I’m all for kids having adult supervision and am against children running off into the wilderness to live all alone – I’ve read Lord of the Flies. But fiction lets us be adventuresome, and there’s no better way in kids lit to celebrate resourcefulness, quick thinking, and problem-solving than with an adventurous outdoors tale.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of treacherous expeditions and dangerous nights under the stars in the world of kids lit.Those are the escapades we’ll face this week, in Roughing It Week. So pack up your knapsack, grab a hatchet, read up on your falconry and edible mushrooms, cause we’ll be traveling light.

April 25, 2009 at 10:25 am 2 comments

“Noxious nest of nattering nincompoopery”

odd_fish_comp_loHave you read James Kennedy’s The Order of Odd-Fish yet? You should.

Now, I don’t really like to do reviews of new-ish books here on this blog. That’s something I leave to the reviewers. What I do, however, do, is put up links to blogs and things I find entertaining in the world of kids and YA lit. And James Kennedy’s blog is super-entertaining.

His writing, both in the book and the blog, is lively and creative. So many of my biggest complaints about children’s literature is that it’s used as an asylum for poor prose. Great ideas, creative plots, complex characters, but mediocre prose. James Kennedy proves that this doesn’t have to be the case.

He’s also created a novel stuffed with symbolism and intriguing themes. Are there any academics out there looking for a kids book to write about? Choose this one. I can’t wait to read the articles that come out of The Order of Odd Fish.

No matter what, it’s a fun read, with fantastic artwork. Delacorte should be proud.

April 19, 2009 at 11:17 am 1 comment

And we’re back

Hello once again! I’ve returned from a relaxing and educational trip to Athens and Crete, and I’m now slowly making my way into real life again. To ease my transition and to give me time to finish the lesson planning that I didn’t do during the week, I’m going to be lazy and shower you with links from the big pile of posts waiting on my blogroll when I got back. Enjoy!

Woah, look! Its a Hungry Caterpillar cake! hungry-caterpillarOn Monday, I ate 1 delicious cupcake. On Tuesday, I ate 2 delicious cupcakes. On Wednesday, I ate 3 delicious cupcakes…Well, may I should leave the writing to Eric Carle, and I’ll definitely leave the cake-making to Lyndsay at Coco Cupcakes. This hasn’t yet appeared as a Sunday Sweet on Cakewrecks, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

Caustic Cover Critic has a post about the new Vintage Classics cover for Wind in the Willows.windwillowsIt was the winning artwork from a Vintage contest and was done by a 12-year-old. Yes, a highly talented 12-year-old that can paint much better than I can. And, jealous as I am of this prodigy, I quite like the idea of kids doing the artwork for children’s classics, and I love this cover.

Eisha at 7Imp had this link in her Kicks yesterday. Sur la Lune Fairy Tales publishes annotated fairytales online as well as fairytale-themed books for young readers. And they have a CafePress store filled with fairytale stuff and of course, lots of Arthur Rackham-inspired notebooks, coffee mugs, even shoes! As a research assistant I once got the wonderful assignment of finding Rackham artwork online, and since then I can’t keep myself away from sites like this.

From the pile marked “Happy!” (and from FindingWonderland) comes this fantastic video of the Sound of Music in the Antwerp train station.

Why am I never around when things like this happen?

April 13, 2009 at 9:53 am 3 comments

Links to hold you over

…while I vacation in Greece. Yep. Enjoy the links anyway!

Cooper-Hewitt at the Smithsonian has an exhibit on wallpaper inspired by children’s books and comics. This one, for example, is super fun. I’d use it!


And, from Farida at Saints and Sinners: a contest! Got a fun idea for an unnecessary children’s book sequel? Submit it here! I’ve been thinking about “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Bath” or “Organic, Locally Grown, Antioxidant-rich Blueberries for Sal”. Clearly, my ideas need work.

Ms. Bird over at Fuse #8 has a list of the best 100 picture books of all time going. Take a look at 100-91 and see if you agree.

Have a wonderful, book-filled week. See your smiling virtual faces come Friday.

April 2, 2009 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment

Things are Getting “Wild”

The trailer for Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are came out last week, and boy are people chatty about it.  I particularly like this post from Richard Brody at the New Yorker.

All that I’m going to add to this discussion is that the movie looks beautiful, but I’m still fairly certain it will ruin the book. I mean, c’mon, 2-hour movie from a 30-page book? There’s got to be some ruin added in there somewhere. But a 2-minute trailer of the same book? Overwrought gold.

Here’s it is:

Also, the shot at 0:38 reminds me a lot of Ray Cruz’s illustrations for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.


Maybe it’s the colors?

In other kids-book-to-movie news, here’s the recently released poster for the upcoming Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs adaptation.


Some kids books turn out wonderful when they’re adapted (e.g. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), but I have a feeling this one’s going the route of Horton Hears a Who — not terrible, but just wrong enough to make you wish it hadn’t been made.

March 30, 2009 at 9:24 pm Leave a comment

Trolley Car Family

trolleycarfamilyThe Trolley Car Family, Eleanor Clymer (1947, out of print)

This story is unique in that it transplants a city family to the countryside for a summer to live in the conductor father’s retired trolley car. Here the joys of quintessential simple country life are seen through the wide eyes of city children. In one episode, a daughter buys a dummy egg used to encourage chickens to lay because she thinks it’s a toy. The book is charming and engaging for young readers (I certainly read it enough to make the cover fall off), and the unique perspective of the city family enchanted with country life fleshes out that idea of American childhood we’ve been seeing.

March 20, 2009 at 6:58 pm 2 comments

Older Posts

Read the Printed Word!
he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.