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August 2005
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October 2005

"A Little History of the World"

A 70-year-old primer of world history for children sees  print in English for the first time this fall when Yale University Press publishes  E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World. The book has a fascinating history of its own, which Kristin Hohenadel details in tomorrow's New York Times Book Review.

Leonie Gombrich talks briefly to BBC Radio 4's "Open Book" program about her grandfather's life and books. A Vienna native who fled to England during the Nazi era, Sir Ernst was renowned for a later work, The Story of Art, which is still in print.  A Little History was originally written in German.

The U.K.'s Financial Times turns a piercing gaze at Gombrich's "new" work, becoming rather indignant in the end.

An otherwise delightful, informative, well-written book intended for children, it sadly suffers from one gross and utterly inexcusable flaw that means that it ought to be kept well away from schools.

Readers wanting to know more about said flaw, click  here.


Byatt on Pratchett; MacIntyre on Banned Books

Over at the Times, A.S. Byatt reviews Terry Pratchett's Thud! and finds much to her liking, even going so far as to recommend his novels to all children because they teach the reader to think.

Ben MacIntyre comments on American Banned Books Week in the same edition.

Some of the recent attempts at censorship would be hilarious if they were not so chilling. Eureka, Illinois, removed Chaucer from its high school literature course on the grounds of sexual content. Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach was removed from some classrooms in Virginia because it promoted disobedience towards authority figures. Delightfully, Twelfth Night fell foul of the school board in Merrimack, New Hampshire, where the Bard stood accused of promoting an “alternative lifestyle”, with all that disgusting cross-dressing. But perhaps the most remarkable act of censorious foolishness came a few years ago when four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the rejection of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl on the basis that it was “a real downer”.

It's a good thing that Byatt didn't write about banned books as she is not a fan of Harry Potter, to put it mildly. (Rowling's series turns up frequently on the American Library Association's lists of most-challenged books.)  Byatt wrote what some term a "scathing" piece for The New York Times a couple of years ago, which is available online for a fee only.  If you don't want to pony up the cash, the BBC summed up Byatt's words thusly:

Her comments... said the books were for people whose interests are confined to the "worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip".


Author Readings

Pearl Abraham, the author of such novels as  The Romance Reader and The Seventh Beggar, ends her guest-editing stint at the literary site Beatrice with this wish:

Up there at the B&N podium, looking out at an audience of, largely, friends and family who already know the book, I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed by it all and wondered why I, why any of us writers, do this. And though I am very grateful for friends who do show up, especially friends who have attended more than one reading, still, if I could look into the future, that is, if I were psychic, I’d hope to see that bookstore readings, meetings with the author, staged Q&A’s, or whatever variation these public events come in, will become a thing of the ridiculous past, and that books not authors will make their way to individual readers who will once again read in privacy and solitude, without the author's spoken voice in their ears.

Half of me thinks, "Yikes," while the other half says, "Amen." Words to ponder, at any rate.

By the way, I recommend The Romance Reader, about a rebellious Hasidic teenager in upstate New York.


Martha Stewart: Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum

Who cares what her catchphrase is? Which fairy tale won out on the first episode of "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart"?

I've already given away the answer in the heading: it's "Jack and the Beanstalk."

I missed the show last night. No, I was not sitting around reading Joseph Conrad and feeling above it all. I thought the program started at 9 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. It did not. It began at 8. I even missed the closing credits. Luckily, there are at least 101 articles online for catching up, including these two,  on MSNBC and Yahoo.


Surely You Know Shojo

Regarding Sunday's  New York Times piece on manga for girls (a.k.a. shojo), I found  balanced and smart  commentary by TangognaT, who writes on her blog, "Overall, I thought it was a good article, and my quibbles center around the titles the author chose to emphasize."  Go read the whole thing; she does think that as more parents clue into the content of some of the racier  manga, there are going to be more objections at libraries and such.


Caves: Mysteries Beneath Our Feet

Not only did the Chicken Spaghetti family visit our first caverns last summer, but we also discovered David L. Harrison's picture book  Caves: Mysteries Beneath Our Feet  at the library. Hurrah for spelunking, and for science in easy-to-understand terms.

Harrison starts Caves with a little detective work: a farmer's cows linger in the bright sun in one particular place in the pasture. It turns out that there's cool air coming from a little hole in the ground, providing cow air-conditioning. But what lies beneath? A cave! But how did it get there?

"The answer involves raindrops," Harrison writes. His prose carries a sense of forward momentum, and the Caves vocabulary connotes both action and playfulness in explaining the formation of caves: the drops of water splash, splatter, plop, and plink. Harrison is also a poet and obviously skilled at choosing  just the right words. The reader finds out about animal life in and near caves, too.

Cheryl Nathan's cheerful pictures convey the fun of learning about caves. Vivid and distinctive color enhances a reader's understanding, as well, and the illustrations work in harmony with the text. You will not wonder about the difference between stalagmites and stalactites after reading the book!

Nathan creates the "textures" of her work by hand and then scans them onto a Macinotsh computer. She then paints the pictures using Adobe Photoshop.

Caves: Mysteries Beneath Our Feet is a wonderful book for the early elementary grades, and a preschool 4's class would likely be intrigued, too. If your school library does not own this book, encourage the librarian to order it. Otherwise, children are missing out.

Harrison and Nathan have collaborated on a number of other  Boyds Mills books in the Earthworks series (Rivers, Oceans, Volcanoes);  I will look for the rest. Harrison also wrote the funny picture book When Cows Come Home, among some 70 other works.

Harrison's hometown newspaper recently featured an interview with the author, who has been interested in caves since he was a boy.
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Caves: Mysteries Beneath Our Feet, by David L. Harrison. Illustrated by Cheryl Nathan. Boyds Mills Press, 2001.


Australian Drum Roll, Please

The Victorian Premier Literary Awards'  short list for the 2005 Prize for Young Adult Fiction was announced recently.  (I'm referring to Victoria, the state in Australia.)

The judges also cited Rosanne Hawke's Soraya the Storyteller and Judith Clarke's Kalpana's Dream, although they didn't make the final roster.


Martha Stewart Fairy Tales?

You have probably heard this by now, but anyway... One task of the competitors on the television program "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" is to create a new kids' book based on a fairy tale. One team works on " Jack and the Beanstalk," the other on "Hansel and Gretel."  Random House will publish the final product. Contrary to the TV show's title, Martha Stewart is not the program's  apprentice.

The Book Standard has the scoop.

So does Adweek, which labels its article  succinctly, "Random House, Stewart in Placement Pact." Why no mention of literature?

Random House, a unit of Bertelsmann AG, is sponsoring the first full-episode product integration for NBC's highly anticipated new reality show, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, which debuts Sept. 21.

Later in the Adweek article, we read this,

The idea is to update the tales (and illustrations) for the contemporary generation of youngsters.

The horror! The horror!


Michael Chabon's Sense of Humor

Here is a morning chuckle for y'all. The author Michael Chabon posts on his site  pull-quotes from reviews of his novels. Negative pull-quotes.  One would-be reviewer even sent  an unsolicited  negative  blurb for a novel that hasn't yet been released.

Chabon's upcoming novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, is due out next year. Most of Chabon's work is for adults, but Summerland was his first novel for younger readers.

Thank you to Moorish Girl for the directions to the Chabon site.