Electronic Hardback

My theory is that picturebooks will be the last form of literature that is swallowed up by the electronic era.  Nothing can compare to a child getting to flip pages with their small, newly conscious mobile hands and having a book unfold in front of them, sending rich, touchable images across their gaze.  Plus, they can bite it.

Electronics just haven’t got the depth of image yet…but it will not be long.  And for the time being we have books like Press Here by French author and illustrator Hervé Tullet.  This book reverses the whole order of how ‘moving forward’ looks.  Press Here takes our knowledge of technology and places it in a book, creating an interactive experience in the stagnant format of a hardback.  On the cover you are confronted with a simple yellow dot and told to “press here.”  Once you turn the page another yellow dot appears, as if your action created a reaction. The book utilizes the common aspects of a smart phone or iPad…devices I have seen many a toddler play around with on a train..such as flipping the device to make the image turn, shaking it to scramble the images, and, of course, the simple concept of pressing a button to make something happen.  It even takes it beyond the capabilities of our technology, reacting to your blowing on the page and clapping your hands.  What I love it that it is fun and interactive and saying “Look! Look!  I’m a book and I am these things too!”

I’m not saying that this is going to be a classic by any means.  But for this moment…yet another thing it has in common with electronics…it holds greatness.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 12:46 am  Leave a Comment  

The Things We Carry

Today I read this poem with a 6-year-old boy:

Skin Stealer by Shel Silverstein

This evening I unzipped my skin

And carefully unscrewed my head,

Exactly as I always do

When I prepare myself for bed.

And while I slept a coo-coo came

As naked as could be

And put on the skin

And screwed on the head

That once belonged to me.

Now wearing my feet

He runs through the street

In a most disgraceful way,

Doin’ things and sayin’ things

I’d never do or say.

Ticklin’ the children

And kickin’ the men

And dancin’ the ladies away.

So if he makes your bright eyes cry

Or makes your poor head spin,

That scoundrel you see

Is not really me –

He’s the coo-coo

Who’s wearing my skin.

He thought it was the funniest thing in the world.  Meanwhile I am sitting there with my mouth agape.  Did I mention that it is also coupled with this image (forgive the crap image quality).

I uncomfortably hurried on to the next poem in Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic and it wasn’t until my long train ride back into Manhattan that I realized how completely ridiculous I was being.  In fact, I, too, remember thinking this poem was funny when I was kid.  But as an adult I find it uncomfortable, disturbing, and morally problematic.

We are all carrying pasts in our pockets and these pasts inform every single moment of our day.  They inform which brand of toothpaste you trust and buy, how you react to meeting a new person, and, even, how you read a text.  Each of our pasts are different and a child’s past, a much smaller and typically more protected past, is going to inform what they read.  A child reads things differently than, say, me, a 26-year-old adult with a history of lying, deceptive…well…men.  I don’t see the coo coo man as lighthearted and by no means jovial…I see it as an excuse for awful heartbreaking behavior.  But this is all because of my weighty pockets filled with a very specific past.  So I reacted to it.  I turned the page. I asked no questions.  I potentially stifled a kid’s enjoyment.  A kid whose pockets were filled with a completely different past that found joy in the coo coo man and his silly trickster ways.

I have thought about this subject time and time again in a classroom setting and today I realized how incredibly easy it is to get trapped in our adultness; to think that what we find valuable is valuable.  But we know nothing about childhood…no matter how good our memory…and what we should value is the child’s sense of value.  Let them play, let them think, let them laugh, and you just sit there, not turning the page.

Published in: on October 15, 2010 at 1:33 am  Leave a Comment  

How Do You Know?

I have been interviewing for some positions in New York where I would be working with local kids to enhance their love of reading.  Sounds pretty great, right?  Fingers, toes, arms, legs, and eyes crossed.  But my experience running to and from Boston and New York and wandering around Brooklyn for hours has got me thinking a lot about what books I would want to introduce to the kids of these neighborhoods.  Needless to say, most of these kids are getting an academic experience that weakly reflects their own life.  They are reading books about white kids, about economically comfortable worlds, and the books that do represent minorities are usually minorities functioning within majorities, none of which are representations of the neighborhoods I would be working with in New York City.

When thinking about books for early readers with a broader concept of race and class there are two ways to think about it.  1) The idealist position where race and class are constructed as obsolete 2) A representation of race and class differs from the stereotypical representations (white/wealthy).

While I love option number one, we are just not culturally there yet and the selections of books are few and far between.  Vera B. Williams’ “More, More, More, Said the Baby” does a really great job at this, representing multicultural families who act almost exactly the same.

I truly think there would be more on this list if class was taken out of the equation.  Oh-so-many books that represent minorities as the norm are coupled with environments that are full of stuff.  Lots of toys, lots of comfy furniture, lots of space; aka lots of markers of class.  Examples:  Molly Bang’s “Ten, Nine, Eight” and Susan Meyers’ “Everywhere Babies”

This leaves me to mostly work within option number two which, luckily, is full of possibilities.  I immediately turn to my 2009 obsession:  Jacqueline Woodson.  She has written novels and picturebooks that have truly enriched the discussion of race and class in children’s literature.  Her picturebook “Visiting Day” tells the story of a young girl who is cared for by her Grandmother and their visit to her father in jail and “Our Gracie Aunt” deals with two children who are  sent to their Aunt’s home by a social worker since their mother is no longer able to care of them.  Both are lovingly told and openly accept the narratives and the characters as they are.  These are stories that are rarely told but commonly experienced and offer an opportunity for a child to see a true reflection of their life AND if the child does not have those experiences the books offer a position of acceptance, or normality, of such situations.

One issue I do have with “Visiting Day” is the representation of all of the police force outside and inside the jail as white, grimacing men.  It visually creates a line between the races that I think works negatively.  But is this is an honest representation?  I am a white girl from suburbia after all.  Do I have a right to seek this idealistic approach?  Would a child find fallacy in a multiracial police force?

It is empowering to see what kind of work a book can do and I am beginning to feel the pressure of the complexities that arise and the compromises that must be made when you are putting together a book list for 75 children in a school where over 8 nationalities are represented.  It really is all so exciting.

Geez.  And I don’t even have the job yet.

Published in: on August 17, 2010 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Digital Story Time

My job search has sent me in some unique places…lots of gray cubicaled offices filled with the sharp staccato of data entry, homey little non profits functioning in rented out conference rooms, and a situation where a director and co-director posed as disinterested and sleepy children while I attempted to coax them into thinking about story-telling.  But by far, my Skype interview with an Alaskan family at 11pm wins out.

On a whim, I created a profile on greataupair.com and this amazing family from Alaska contacted me.   The best part, besides…oh…ALASKA…the fact that the family is vegetarian/vegan…and they all seem lovely…is that these kids LOVE books.  In my interview with the children they offered me a moment that I have been cherishing ever since;  via Skype, the children read me their newest book.

A)  I was stoked because I had not heard of this book  B) I got even more stoked when they started singing the song embedded within the book and I realized how completely genius Litwin is in constructing Pete The Cat.  The bluesy, catchy language just begs you to reach the next riff of the song and there are guessing games and call backs!  So many ways for a kid to interact with the book!   C) I realized that while technology is seemingly cutting in on the world of books, moments like these, where books are being shared over millions of miles, connecting people, it is doing a great service to books.

I then read them two books I had on hand, Prevert’s and Gerstein’s How To Paint  Portrait of a Bird and Lies’ Bats At the Beach.

Now I just have to decide between an adventurous year in Alaska with a family (little professional development but lots of personal growth and soul warmth) or a job that is perfectly aligned with my professional goals in a city I said I would never live in.  But one thing I will say, it is lovely that options are becoming available and I am so grateful for each and every one.

Published in: on July 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cute Animals Win Every Time

Come on.  I know you are with me on this.

I mean, look at these dudes.

Now that they are side by side I see how publishers are manipulating us cute-baby-bird-lovers.  I think I”m totally down with that.

But besides little puffs of feathered friends, I am also a sucker for cats.  One of my most favorite picture book pals is Ginger.

Look at that


OKOK. A point already.  Ginger has a new book coming out soon and I can not wait to get my grubby little hands on it.  Ginger and the Mystery Visitor continues following Ginger and her new kitten friend as they meet yet another cat.  What is interesting about this is that the book potentially has a similar storyline as the previous book…Ginger dealing with other cats being in her life…but the fact that I have severely bonded with Ginger and her beautiful calico face makes me not care one lick.  I think I am more susceptible to bonding with a picture book character that is less interesting than a novel character purely based on illustration.  That’s pretty dang manipulative tricky stuff Candlewick Press.

I also may be susceptible because of these guys.

Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Poetry On Rewind

This is Mirror Mirror:  A Book of Reversable Verse by Marilyn Singer.  It has been quite a challenge to hunt down.  My library doesn’t have it yet and I am being impatient on waiting for the copy I ordered for the Boston Atheneaum to come in.  So I trotted down to the old book store where people who are not living on nothing in grad school can look at books and actually leave with them.  I, on the other hand, grabbed the one copy, slouched in a corner and took nice little blog notes (including a copied out poem).  I then lost said blog notes.  So improvise it is!  Cause this book deserves to be talked about.

Singer uses a poetic form that she dubs the reverso.  Lets break it down.

1) You got a poem:





2) Then you hit rewind and play it backwards:





(this moment would have been less yoda-like with the lovely little example Singer uses which is lost in the black hole of a bookstore bathroom)

She uses this form to tell different perspectives of fairy tales.  Are you following?  TWO perspectives simply by reversing the poem! She makes it look so easy!  It is fun to try the form out, plus, you will gain an intense appreciation for her brilliance in this book!  Read it.  Do it.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Click, Clack, Pissed

I know, I know.  You have all been in a giant tizzy anticipating my next nugget of brilliance.

I, too, have had my fair share of blog lurking and have many-a-times gone “wtf.  Where is my cupcake recipe?!  Roger, what is going on with that bunny sitting situation?!? …etc.

Therefore, I would like to retract all of my grumbles of disappointment and violent back button clicks because there are lives behind these beautiful internet masks and sometimes, as in my case, you get bed-riddenly sick.

So, I’m feelin a little tuckered out.

But don’t fret.  My brain still works and I will be back to it oh-so soon!

Published in: on February 17, 2010 at 4:02 am  Leave a Comment