Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Banning Knowledge

You've all heard about this thing where a school has pulled the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary from its shelves, pending review, right?

This is ridiculous on so many counts, and I'm glad the school board members are speaking up and wondering where their voice is in this, but in a way this is hitting me more personally than some of the other book challenges and removals that have been publicized lately.

I DEPENDED on the dictionary when I was a kid. I grew up in a very modest kind of family where even the mildest of "bad" words were never heard and children didn't watch R-rated movies--usually even PG-13. To be honest, I liked it that way. My home seemed peaceful compared to many other homes I visited, and I wasn't forced to have embarrassing conversations with my parents.

But I did hear about things sometimes, in books, on TV, in school. Sometimes kids would be amused if I didn't know what something meant. Then it would turn out they didn't REALLY know, either.

I remember reading a children's book about the Salem witch trials; it mentioned that Abigail Williams grew up to be a prostitute. I could tell from context clues that this was something shocking, but I had no idea what it was. It sounded kind of like a lawyer (I knew the word "prosecute"). Maybe it was something that was considered a man's job in those times, like being a lawyer was. I remember innocently asking Laurie "What's a prostitute?".

Dead silence from the bottom bunk. "I think the dictionary could explain it better than I could," she said. And she reached for our paperback dictionary and read the definition aloud. I got the picture, although I had never heard of such a thing. We both continued reading. Embarrassing conversation smartly averted.

After that, I remember turning to the dictionary again whenever I needed to. My friend's sister called her a "lesbian". Those two were always having shouting matches and namecalling was a daily occurrence, but neither of us knew what this meant. Over the telephone, when my friend asked me if I knew, I looked it up in the dictionary. "A female homosexual," I said. Then I looked up "homosexual". We both thought this was a strange word to use as an insult against a ten-year-old girl, but at least we knew what it meant.

I looked up "condom" when I heard it used on the show Head of the Class (the first dictionary I checked, a children's dictionary, had only "condominium"; this was very confusing). And I looked up "oral sex" when I heard kids making jokes about it on the bus.

Why, why, why would people want to keep kids away from information? I can't understand it for a second. Usually I can at least see a smidgen of the other side's view. But it isn't like kids are going to be looking up "oral sex" if they haven't already heard of it. It isn't like the dictionary says something controversial. If a parent's relationship with a kid is such that they think the kid would (and should) come to them with a question about what oral sex is, that conversation isn't going to be derailed by the dictionary definition (for the record: "oral stimulation of the genitals").

"It's hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we'll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature," Cadmus [a district spokesperson] said.

Anyone else have "saved by dictionary" tales?

The 100 Best Kids' Books EVAR

Blogger Betsy Bird is running a poll: What are the top 100 middle grade novels of all time?

Readers are invited to submit their top ten, ranked. There are some limitations and suggestions for determining age level; read the post, vote.

I've been working on my list all month. Well, not really. On the first day I brainstormed titles; on the second day I ranked and revised. I haven't looked at my list in weeks, and am amused to see how my list that I thought was totally objective was influenced by what I was reading and what people were talking about on Goodreads. I made some last minute changes.

My biggest problem was in sorting out what was young adult and what was middle grade. My standards for this are stricter than Betsy's, but I'm going to go by them, anyway. I went back and forth on The Witch of Blackbird Pond--then glanced at the comments just now and saw that others have the same question. Ultimately, I decided it was a young adult book and didn't include it. I disagree with a commenter who says it's not YA just because the characters are older and it really has a middle grade treatment; that's probably the kind of person who thinks there wasn't any YA until the 1970s. Or the 1990s.

I'm not going to tell you my list, but I'll tell you the following things:

1. One author is male, and nine are female.
2. All of the authors are white, which is sad, but reflects my childhood reading (that will come in a new post soon)
3. Two of the authors are Jewish; the rest are Protestants.
4. Bizarrely, eight of the ten are part of a series. I wonder what this says about me and my reading? I selected the books individually, not as "I love this series and I'm going to pick a book to represent it".
5. The oldest book was published in 1940. (Actually, two of them were.)
6. The newest book was published in 1978. Despite all the great books published during my lifetime, I believe in this list and would like to think nostalgia is only a small part of it. That was a Golden Age.
7. Three of the books won the Newbery Medal.
8. Eight of them should have. (Two of my choices I acknowledge as being not quite right for the Newbery.)
9. One of the books won a Newbery Honor.
10. The one book that is possibly, POSSIBLY a pure nostalgia pick is All-of-a-Kind Family.

Now, submit your own lists! Or just tell me in the comments what a couple of your choices would have been. Or both. Or speculate on what my list includes. (I think the clues above could make it pretty easy to figure out at least six, if you were dedicated.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reactions As They Happen

6:43 Ignoring everyone on twitter except @ALAYMA for the mo--don’t want to miss anything, plus don’t want to affect my own thoughts.
6:45 Alex--have heard of more of these books this year; I wonder why?
6:47 Everyone cheers because they know what’s COMING…
6:50 Schneider, no surprises there… I read one person who detested the way Marcelo “portrayed the disability experience”, but only one. Congrats, Cheryl Klein!
6:54 CSK! I’m going to read all of these this year.
6:58 Curious how many illustrator awards have been for photography.
7:00 Isn’t that a surprise for the author award? Can’t remember hearing about that. Sounds interesting, though.
7:01 Sigh. Laurie sleeping through the YALSA awards. It’s 5:01 in Seattle AND it’s a holiday, why aren’t you AWAAAAKE?
7:02 Ooh, nonfiction author for Margaret Edwards, that should please a lot of people (I like his books too)
7:05 Flash Burnout, the one that takes place in Portland, right? Will definitely be reading.
7:08 Charles and Emma! Fascinating. Not on my Cybils shortlist. Enjoyed very much.
7:09 Printzy printzy printzy!
7:10 Charles and Emma again! A surprise, for me…
7:11 YEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAH! I was fairly crazy about Going Bovine. Already mourning Lips Touch and surprised about Marcelo, BUT.
7:12 (Laurie awake, yay)
7:15 Pura Belpre--will be reading all of these, too… Return to Sender, maybe? Though I didn’t like it much.
7:16 am a big Yuyi Morales fan, but who isn’t?
7:20 Two Diego books, nice (for me, I mean)
7:20 Return to Sender, yup yup
7:26 Um, Laurie says the publisher of the Newbery book just tweeted it. What up with that?
7:26 I have A Faraway Island in my TBR…
7:27 stupid social media, ruining everything.
7:28 Moonshot, one of my favorite books of the year!
7:28 if Claudette Colvin got an honor, then…
7:34 Knowing that Laurie knows who won the Newbery is SPOILING EVERYTHING. How many people in the audience are following twitter and already know?
7:35 Last year I had read more than three picture books. But I’ve heard of some…
7:36 at least one thing isn’t a surprise… clearly a VERY popular choice! Think that was the biggest cheer of the evening.
7:39 Hmm. Have read everything but Homer P. Figg. How is it I did better this year than last year? Last year I’d read, like, 40+ possibilities… maybe everyone did better at predicting this year.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Demand Diversity at Midwinter

"Hi, I'm a middle school librarian, and I'm especially looking for fiction with multi-ethnic characters to share with my students."

Really, it wasn't a trick question. I wasn't a plant. Actually I was thrilled, beyond measure, to be at ALA Annual for the first time. I was over the moon as I walked around the exhibit floor, brushing past famous authors at every turn (Sarah Dessen! Sherman Alexie! Jacqueline Woodson! Laurie Halse Anderson! For a book lover, it was like being at the Academy Awards). And I wanted to bring something back to the 1000+ students in my diverse urban public school, so when I stopped at publisher booths I asked, "Could you please show me some books with multi-ethnic characters to share with my students?"

My request was greeted with polite puzzlement. Mildly frantic hunting around the booth. Offers of good middle-school titles about white main characters. The answer I remember most clearly came from the Penguin employee who thought hard for a moment, then said brightly, "What about NONfiction!" and presented me with an advance copy of Marching for Freedom.

I was pleased to have an ARC for Marching for Freedom. I purchased Marching for Freedom for my school library. But oh, what a disappointing response to my question.

Colleen Mondor's post Demand Diversity in Publishing is very timely, as ALA Midwinter begins this weekend. I hope ALA members and visitors will read my post, and hers, and start conversations on the exhibit floor. Every publisher will have at least one book to offer. Ask for more.

Look for some of the new books like Eighth-Grade Superzero (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic) and One Crazy Summer (Amistad/HarperCollins). Then demand MORE.

At ALA Annual I went to a YALSA session called Strengthen Your YA Collection with Small Press/Diverse Publishers. I also looked for diverse publishers on the exhibit floor. Since Annual I've gotten some great book recommendations and resources from the e-newsletters, websites, and Twitter posts of these publishers. Take a look.

Pinata Books/Arte Publico Press (@artepublico)
Brown Barn Books
Cinco Puntos Press
Curbstone Press
Just Us Books
Lee & Low Books (@leeandlow)
Rolling Hills Press

Harlequin is not a small publisher, but I want to mention that they highlighted diverse books for teens at Annual with the Kimani TRU imprint.

Updating to add more publishers:
Charlesbridge Publishing
Groundwood Books
First Second Books (guess they're not a small publisher, but a photo on Fuse #8 from Midwinter reminded me how great they are and that they publish ethnically diverse graphic novels)
Tu Publishing (new, first books coming in 2010)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bookstore Birthday

University Book Store is where I learned to work in the world of children's books. As a parttime children's bookseller twelve years ago I learned, under the tutelage of professionals like Tonyia Vining and Duane Wilkins, about the world of books beyond just What I Like to Read--the world I live in now, as a middle school librarian.

University Book Store is where I buy my books. It's where I buy birthday presents, wedding presents, and new-baby gifts (wonderful board books, like Peek-a-Who by Nina Laden and Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn).

University Book Store, which was already my favorite bookstore in Seattle, won my heart with its booksellers' devotion to recommending my husband's first book, Hungry Monkey, when it was published in 2009.

University Book Store is celebrating its 110th birthday. If you're in Seattle, the party is Sunday, January 10 (that's today, as I type) during store hours (12-5).

To celebrate UBS has published 110 stories, each 110 words long, by 110 local authors. A lot of great young adult and children's authors--Peg Kehret, Lensey Namioka, Deb Caletti, Chris Crutcher, Karen Cushman, Carl Deuker, and Justina Chen--contributed stories.When you buy a book by one of these authors (in store or online), you will receive your own copy of 110/110. Take a look online, or get your own copy of this unique collection. It's part of 110 years of encouraging, celebrating, and selling books by local authors and illustrators.

Great post from Bookstore People about University Book Store

Friday, January 8, 2010

HalfPintIngalls for a Shorty!

It's no secret that we at Six Boxes of Books love @HalfPintIngalls from Twitter. Wendy has already interviewed Half Pint (and the interview was even linked on the Christian Science Monitor). And I've been plugging her over on Twitter itself ever since I discovered her. After all, who can resist gems like these?

"You really should follow @clothesline if you don't want to get lost out on the prairie in this blizzard. #FollowFriday"
"Just walked 160 acres for this stupid piece of candy. 160 acres until the next one. HATE trick-or-treating on the prairie."

And don't miss her Christmas wishing-list from Mr. Amazon's Mercantile.

Anyway, if you like @HalfPintIngalls too, here's something you can do: help nominate her for a Shorty Award!

No, it's not an award for short people (although our Half Pint would certainly qualify). The Shorty Awards honor "the best producers of short, real-time content" on Twitter. There are 27 official categories, such as Celebrity, Customer Service, Education, Food, Government, etc.

@HalfPintIngalls has been nominated for the Humor category, but she needs more nominations! This is how it works: Twitter users send nominations via Twitter. Sometime in February, the Shorty Awards people will determine the top five nomination-getters in each category, and these will be the finalists. The winners will then be chosen by a combination of popular vote and the choices of the Real-Time Academy of Short Form Arts and Sciences. Yes, there is such an academy. I did not make that up.

So, if you are a Twitter user and would like to nominate @HalfPintIngalls, just visit her Shorty Awards page. You can either tweet your nomination directly from that page, or copy and paste the text to your own Twitter client or web page. Be sure to include a reason after the "because..."; otherwise, your nomination won't count.

The competition is stiff, but as Half Pint herself said, "Out of all the folks up for 'Shorty Awards,' only ONE is as small as a half-pint of cider half-drunk up. I'M JUST SAYING."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Buzz Begets Buzz

We were talking on Heavy Medal about which books might be getting overshadowed in the award discussions for one reason or another. Nina mentioned The Book of the Maidservant, which she hadn't heard talk about much of anywhere.

I first heard about this book in July at ALA, at the wonderful Random House presentation of books coming for fall. I seized a review copy eagerly afterward; I couldn't wait to read it. But it's been sitting in my to-be-read pile ever since. Why?

I'm sorry to say, folks, it's in large part because I put a lot of effort toward reading the books everyone else is talking about (or the books I think everyone might be talking about soon). I want to join in the conversation. And when I review a buzzed-about book, people respond more here. There's nothing wrong with that, in theory. But I think most bloggers do it... and what happens then? Books with buzz get more buzz. Books without buzz get left on the to-be-read pile. Even when I read a book that isn't getting a whole lot of attention--even if I LIKE it--sometimes I don't bother reviewing it, especially here (I review some books on Goodreads and not here).

What if I put that effort in another direction? There's still a dearth of books being published by and about people of color, and even more of a dearth of buzz about those books. As things stand, I'm missing a lot of those books.

It's going to be a struggle, but I'm going to try to do something different this year. Instead of making it my priority to read the books I hear about the most, I'm going to put the same amount of effort into reading books by authors who are people of color. I know I won't actually make a change in my reading unless I sacrifice something else for the sake of these books; I know it's unrealistic to think I'm going to read more and can just add those books to what I'm already reading. It wouldn't happen. So what you're going to see is a conscious effort (I hope and plan) to rechannel my energy into "books I really want to read, and books by authors of color"--instead of the current "books I really want to read, and the books everyone else is talking about" focus.

I've been debating for a while having a post-tag that links to my/our posts reviewing or discussing books with protagonists or authors who are people of color, but I've never done it because I wasn't sure how it would appear to others--I thought it might seem insensitive, or white-guilt induced. And I couldn't think of the right tag. But I think it will be necessary for this plan to have maximum effect. Should it just be "authors-of-color"? or "POC", and then include books I might read by white authors about people of color? Suggestions/comments needed.

I hope those of you who read our posts and then go put the books we review on hold, or on to-read on Goodreads (you've no idea how exciting it is to see that happen!), will be just as open to the books I review in the future. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and I'm looking forward to this new year.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cybils Shortlists: I Am Grumpy

I can't help it, I'm grumpy about the number of my favorite books that didn't make the Cybils shortlists. I'm anticipatorily grumpy about the favorites that won't make the Newbery and Printz lists. It makes me want to make up my own thing where I choose my favorite books in each genre and tell you why they're so good...

...oh, right. That's my blog.

So while I'm very excited about starting the process of Cybils judging (I'm a judge for middle-grade/YA non-fiction, which is why you won't hear a word about that category here), I'm going to go ahead and write one-sentence reviews for the nominated books that I really, really wish had been in some of the categories.

Middle Grade Science Fiction/Fantasy
When You Reach Me, a time-travel-involving novel set beautifully in the New York of 1978-1979 that is probably one of the best books I've read in years.

Any Which Wall, a delightfully playful book about old-fashioned magic--what do YOU picture when I say someone is "the worst pirate in the world"?

The Magician's Elephant, a slight and fascinating dream-like novel that made me feel like I was back in Paris; "I intended only lilies" is one of my favorite lines of the year.

Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy
Shadowed Summer, which I would not have called SF/F at all because I pretty much believe in ghosts, and is a must-read for people who know middle-schoolers.

Fiction Picture Books
I don't really know the field that well this year, but I'm saddened by the absence of

Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated), which is an impeccably written and illustrated funny fairy tale, even if it isn't quite right for either Newbery or Caldecott.

Middle-Grade Fiction
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, a satisfyingly rich school story.

Young Adult Fiction
Going Bovine: trying to make sense of this entertaining road-trip story made me feel smarter than I am.

What I Saw and How I Lied: this absolutely splendid noir coming-of-age book was one of my favorites of "last" year, and I would recommend it unhesitatingly to everyone from my mom to my hipster friends.

I really, really pared that list down, and didn't include books that I thought were really good if I could maybe see how they didn't quite make the cut. And especially in the YA Fiction category, there were many books that I'm pretty sure I would have included in this list if I'd actually, you know, gotten around to reading them yet.

I never know quite what I want the Cybils books to be. I mean, on the one hand, I look to them to maybe recognize some books that aren't going to win the Newbery for one reason or another but "what they do, they do perfectly". On the other hand, if they DON'T include what is clearly... to me... the best book of the year, even if it probably WILL get other recognition--well, I wonder.

Now, I don't mean to criticize the first-round Cybils judges, even when I don't quite understand, but in the spirit of We Love Books, let's recognize the ones that aren't there. What books were you hoping to see on the list? What is, perhaps, a surprise omission--even if it isn't your favorite?