Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Her Mixed-Up Covers

I just blogged about the 1968 Newbery winner, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg, over at The Newbery Project. It's a book that I actually remember reading as a child, and it was still great some thirty-plus years later. My copy (a 1977 edition, recently picked up for a quarter at the Saline District Library's monthly used book sales), had this cover:

Not terrible. The image of the kids in their pajamas hiding in the museum gives you the gist of the story.

But when I looked around for cover images, I saw the cover that I remembered from my childhood:

This cover has original artwork by the author on it - which fits well with all the wonderful illustrations in the book (until my recent re-read, I didn't realize that E.L. Konigsburg did the illustrations as well as the story. Damn, she's talented). It also doesn't have that plasticky seventies look to it, which I first noticed with the creepy mannequin-like people in the cover for Tales from Silver Lands.

Now why did the publishers go and change a perfectly good, classic cover? Did they think that one on top was better because it was more colorful? I was happy to see that the most recent edition retains more of the flavor of the original. Although I like the title font and placement better, I'm not sure that the image is really a great improvement, though:

I'm going to have to buy this edition, though, because my 70's paperback is crappy acidic paper that probably won't last the few more years until my daughter's old enough to read it, and I have to see the 2002 afterword from Mrs. E.L. Konigsburg.
It really is a great story.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On My Nightstand and the Floor and the Coffee Table

...are all the books I'm currently reading. I haven't done an "On My Nightstand" post (modeled on these by Mental Multivitamin) for a long time. Today I'm just blogging about why I'm reading it (do you also find yourself using "blog" as a verb in your daily life? Scary, isn't it?), and then turning to a random page and taking a quote from the book.


The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread
, by Kate DiCamillo. This is part of a very enjoyable group read and blog about the Newbery medal winners from 1924 to today (see my review of The Tale here). It's been wonderful re-discovering children's literature with my kids, and The Tale of Despereaux is something that shouldn't be missed by adults who love fairy tales.

"Reader, do you recall the word "perfidy"? As our story progresses, "perfidy" becomes an ever more appropriate word, doesn't it?" (p. 69)

The Last Chinese Chef, by Nicole Mones - I haven't started this one yet, but it's by the author of Lost in Translation, and it's about food. And it has an absolutely gorgeous cover. How bad could it be?

"This past year his topic had been a single phrase: xia guanzi, to eat out, to go down to a restaurant. In an elegant sixty-minute loop he conjured all of xia guanzi's meanings over the last eighty years. At first it meant something positive and exciting - pleasure and company, good food." (p. 85)

The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? by Leslie Bennetts. This is a book that's been in the news a lot lately, and a topic of much discussion in my Mothers & More group, a national advocacy and support group for mothers.

"To many observers, the most heartbreaking thing is that they're choosing such vulnerability voluntarily. "Women's impoverishment is nothing new, but in the past, women didn't have other options," observes sociologist Kathleen Gerson. "Now they do." " (p. 103)

House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest, by Craig Childs, is filled beautiful names (and places): Chaco Canyon, Hovenweep, Kinishba, Homol'ovi, Grasshopper Pueblo, Mesa Verde. It also has enough great feasts, rituals, "roads", awe-inspiring architecture, drought, migration, warfare, cannibalism, corn, prehistoric ecology and land management, and ground water to satisfy me (as well as a very good index). This would be a wonderful book to read before visiting late prehistoric sites in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico, which were familiar to me but I'm afraid not so well-known to most Americans. Childs does a very good job of explaining a lot of the things that southwestern archaeologists spend their time pondering with a minimum of jargon.

"The word roads is probably a misnomer. Although many are wide enough to handle multiple lanes of car traffic and they are outlined into the distance by curbs of rock and broken pottery, they seem too large for mere transportation. Instead they were likely formal processions, long public spaces akin to the National Mall in Washington, D.C." (p. 57)

Quit It, by Marcia Byalick - another book about Tourette's Syndrome. Last month I reviewed I Can't Stop! by Holly L. Niner (aimed at younger kids) rather critically, and I was happy that Byalick's book avoided so many of the things that I found lacking in Niner's book. Some of this is undoubtedly because Quit It is aimed at older kids - the main character, Carrie, is starting 7th grade. Carrie's life is complicated, and TS is only one of her problems. Humorous, engaging, and not overly preachy, I think this is an excellent book for kids aged 11 and up.

"You could almost smell that the end of the school year was approaching. Maybe it was the brightness of the sunlight, or the fact there were no more awful multiple-choice tests, or simply that everyone except Clyde wore shorts to school." (p. 93)

Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America, by Elliot Jaspin - a grab from the new release shelf, this is turning out to be a very compelling and heartbreaking collection of fine-grained histories of several different communities where African-Americans were driven out by vicious mobs. Most of the events covered took place in the early 1900's, but unlike the lynchings and race riots in this period, the (slightly) less deadly but very far-reaching "racial cleansing" that took place in many places (including Indiana, Missouri, Texas, and Kentucky) is not as commonly known.

"Within minutes the gunfire died away. The mob had used up all its ammunition. Uncertain of what to do next, the rioters fell back to Commercial Street. As the mob milled about, a few men trotted up Walnut Street to the state armory next door to the city jail and sized the rifles and ammunition - by one estimate a thousand rounds - that had been loaned to the posses the day before." (p. 75, on Pierce City, Missouri).

Friday, May 11, 2007

Native Americans and Indians in Children's Literature

First all, I've got a review of Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O'Dell's 1961 Newbery Medal winner up here over at The Newbery Project. It's historic fiction for older kids, based on the story of an Indian woman who lived alone on one of the Channel Islands (off the coast of California) from 1835-1853. I'm still not a big fan of the book, thirty years after I read it for the first time.

A couple of my fellow Newbery Project bloggers posted their reviews of Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink (1963 winner), and Debbie Reese commented there and linked to her posts about the book at her blog, American Indians in Children's Literature, in two posts: Reflections on Caddie Woodlawn: Teaching about Stereotypes using Literature (which is especially poignant because it involves Reese's third grade daughter's response to the book), and The 'Scalp Belt" in Caddie Woodlawn.

Reese's blog (which includes book reviews from several other authors) is a wonderful resource for reading about children's books on different Native American peoples, First Nation groups, or American Indians, along with Oyate (which I linked to when writing about Nature books for Kids).

It's interesting how often Native peoples are invoked when writing about nature for kids. I know there are several academic papers out there linking American stereotypes about "Indians" as a whole with our ideas about nature. The idea of "people living in harmony with nature" is a powerful one that certainly transcends the notion that different Native peoples in different places and times had many different types of relationships with the environment (both natural, and that resulting from thousands of years of human modification) around them.

Anyway, I would venture to say that Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins was mainly a convenient person to hang O'Dell's descriptions of Channel Island ecology upon.

Interestingly, this site (which ranks Newbery winners according to how well a bunch of librarians and teachers in Indiana liked them) says this about Island of the Blue Dolphins (56th out of 85):

An OK story, we had some questions about authenticity and character voice.

Although I violently disagreed with some of the comments from the Allen County Public Library librarians and teachers group (see my comments here), I did wonder about authenticity in Island of the Blue Dolphins, too. O'Dell seems to get the Native technology and the environmental surroundings of the island of San Nicholas right, but when it came to Karana's feelings - let alone her spiritual and cultural values - I really think there's a big hole in the book.