HallwaysKirsten
HallwaysKirsten
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June 7th, 8:40am 1 note

Little Bird has his very own little book trailer thanks to illustrator extraordinaire Sabina Gibson & her equally awesome animator husband Ryan. It’s so much fun to see him alive!

Little Bird, Be Quiet had such a great response at BEA that Blue Apple Books has already up’d its first print run, before the book has even hit the market. Here’s wishing big things for a little bird!

May 23rd, 10:47am 5 notes

I hope you’ll enjoy the trailer for my upcoming picture book!

Illustrated by supertalented artist Dasha Tolstikova

Published by indie rockstar Enchanted Lion Books

Available this fall!

PS The idea for this book was born out of a chat with my 5-year-old son. 💗

Trailer by Sarah Christensen Fu

May 13th, 11:56am 2 notes

Making Books WITH Kids!

This entry is about a little pet project that wrapped yesterday…

A few months ago, I was chatting with my Kindergartener’s (awesome) teacher, Michelle, about what I’m seeing in kidlit as a rise in beautifully-illustrated nonfiction titles for kids. When she said she was about to begin an informational text unit with the class, we realized it might be fun to work together to help the students make their own nonfiction books. I was super excited to spend some time making books WITH kids—and not just for them!

I brought in and read to the kids from my current favorite nonfiction picture book, Jumping Penguins. I explained to them what makes that book so successful in my eyes: the coupling of minimal but fascinating text with lush art. We agreed to use Jumping Penguins as our model, and off we leaped!

Here are the kids with their blank books, which I purchased at McNally Jackson in Soho…

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And thus began several MONTHS of working on understanding the parts of books, while making their own! The class learned about title pages, dedications, copyright, indexes, glossaries, and pagination. They selected reference titles from crates of books we borrowed from the library and read about all sorts of animals before choosing the facts that struck them personally as most “amazing.” They wrote their facts by hand onto index cards before working on ipads and laptops to keyboard their sentences. Next came printing their text boxes, which they cut and pasted into their books. Meanwhile, they were busy sketching illustrations and transferring their final artwork into their books alongside their text. Imagine how much work this feels like to a Kindergartener? Many times along the way, I’d overhear an exasperated “Making books is HARD!” (Too true, kids!)

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At last! They got to make their covers! image

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During yesterday’s publishing party, each author did an excellent job reading his/her favorite fact to parents, teachers, administrators, and fellow students…

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Here are the proud authors posing for their ‘About the Author’ photos…

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Last but certainly not least, enjoy a peek at some of these kids’ outstanding facts and illustrations! These kids (and Michelle) are…impressive beyond words.

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April 30th, 9:59pm 3 notes

The Story Behind My New Story: Be Quiet, Little Bird!

Last night I was approached by the marketing department at Blue Apple Books, asking me to tell them the back story behind my upcoming picture book on their list. (Publication date: March 2015)

The back story behind Be Quiet, Little Bird…what could I say?

Well, I had the idea one day about a year ago…because…

As a little girl I WAS LITTLE BIRD! I talked and talked, and I never knew when to stop talking.

My Kindergarten teacher at the United Nations School here in NYC had a clever method of dealing with me. At the start of each class, I was sat in the seat farthest across the room from her. Each time I talked out of turn, I was moved one chair closer to her. By the time I was one chair away from my teacher, I would be sent to the principal’s office. But the bell between classes always seemed to save me. I was never actually sent.

My mother worked in children’s books as an Editor, and then Editorial Director, and then ultimately Publisher (at different houses) while I was growing up. I vividly remember when she did a treasury of short stories and dedicated the short story about a turtle who wouldn’t stop talking to me. (Luckily, today we don’t let chatterboxes plummet to their deaths in kidlit to make a point. But that story did. Eek! Scary!)

Now I’m a mom myself! I’m constantly telling my kids to be quiet. I wish I would or could stop everything I’m doing when they feel they have something important to tell me. But I’m not perfect, and I’m a busy mommy. Still, I know I miss a lot by shushing them. And I have regrets about it. Big ones. Often.

And so I wrote Be Quiet, Little Bird! Because of who I was as a kid. And because of who I am as a mom. And because of my endlessly interesting sons, who have so many important things to say, not all of which are given the chance to be heard.

I knew the story needed a strong but fresh visual style. I looked and looked. I looked some more. And then I somehow stumbled upon Sabina Gibson on Etsy. I don’t know how. I basically consider it a gigantic stroke of luck.

I approached Sabina and inquired if she’d be interested in making a kids’ book with me—and she was!

When she sent me her sample pieces I was BLOWN AWAY. I knew she was not only an illustrator I’d found, but also my partner in anything to do with Little Bird going forward, forevermore.

It’s a happy ending for Little Bird, isn’t it? Although, in many ways, his story is just beginning…

Here is a little look at Little Bird. His first book’s cover will be revealed in Blue Apple’s catalog in two weeks.

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PS: My hope is that chatterbox kids & busy parents alike will identify with Little Bird’s debut story—and maybe be reminded of something important. Fingers & soft, tiny wings crossed, anyway!
xo Kirsten

March 12th, 9:12am 15 notes

The Perfect Portfolio & More

Last night I attended the SCBWI’s ‘Putting Your Best Portfolio Forward’ event. Having represented illustrators and shopped portfolios for the past four years, I know a fair amount about what makes the “perfect portfolio.” But the roster of agents on the panel (Brooks Sherman of The Bent Agency; Elena Giovinazzo of Pippin Properties; and Justin Rucker of Shannon Associates) looked mightily impressive, and I was eager to hear what THEY might say about what artists should and shouldn’t show.

Below are the points made throughout the evening I found truest and most useful:

  • Right now agents seem to be seeking more humor than sentimentality.
  • Somewhere in his or her portfolio an artist must show ability to tell a story through art. A portfolio must include at least two sequential pieces.
  • Show a variety of facial expressions. And in those expressions, show emotion.
  • Limit what you show to kidlit agents and publishers to what’s appropriate for the children’s market.
  • Go for action frames. Not an action shot per se, but an indication that something’s going down—causing the viewer to want to know what will happen next.
  • If you can’t draw people, don’t draw people! They’re hard to draw, and the sad reality is that many artists can’t do them well. Try anthropomorphized animals instead. Know your strengths and play to them—and only them.
  • It’s important to have an online presence. Don’t worry about expensive sites. Get a blog like Tumblr. Spend your money instead on post cards and nice printouts of your work.
  • If you don’t know what to say in your tweets or posts, don’t say anything! It’s enough to just share your recent work.
  • You’re only as good as the worst part of the worst piece in your portfolio. Do fewer, great pieces.
  • In your range of work, include multiple characters, settings, and perspectives. Show the extent of what you can do.
  • All three agents were in agreement that artist Charles Santoso is great at showing his work and range of styles: http://www.charlessantoso.com/wp/
  • Agents and publishers really like to see sketches in portfolios—the “bones” of one’s work. It’s fun to see artists when they’re at their “loosest.”
  • An ideal dummy includes a couple of completely polished pages with the rest still in progress. Show the editor the pencil marks and give him or her the sense that you don’t consider your work finished. A completely finished dummy might give an editor the feeling that you’re not receptive to feedback.
  • By including a dummy in one’s portfolio, an artist is suddenly looked at as a “creator of things,”and not just an illustrator. This furthers a publisher’s interest in investing in that person. It makes it more exciting for them to take on that artist.
  • Don’t place text over an image unless it’s really designed well and the text works with the art. It has to enhance the image. Otherwise it obstructs.
  • When shopping a portfolio, really think about who you’re reaching out to. Agents and editors get a ton of queries every day. The generic ones get deleted quickly. Alternatively, don’t pretend to personalize but not back it up in substance. A funny quote from Brooks on this point: “I don’t like to think you’re trying to trick me from the start of our business relationship.” Show you understand who the agent/client is and what they do. Don’t fake it.
  • Show work and projects that STAND OUT! Pitch materials that wouldn’t fade into book shelves. Deliver a voice and artwork that would clearly stay with your audience after they put down your work. That would make them want to see more from you.
  • The work isn’t done once you get an offer of representation or publisher commitment. There is a lot longer of a road to go down before that book shows up on a shelf.
  • There are more books than ever being printed today, and everyone involved in a project (including the author/illustrator) has to be ready to do their part to make a book stand out. You have to be part of the team, and do all you can to get that book out there.

January 28th, 1:09pm 4 notes
KIDLIT ART NOTES - THEN & NOW
One of the reasons I love kidlit as much as I do is because I grew up in it!
While I was busy doing homework and photocopying my face on xerox machines after school in her offices, my mother was escalating from Senior Editor at Grosset & Dunlap, to Executive Editor at Platt & Munk, to VP and Head of New Product Development at Macmillan, before ultimately becoming Vice President & Publisher at Simon & Schuster for Little Simon.
Among all of the things she has taught me about making books for kids, she has also given me some of the original art she acquired during that time. Like this awesome George Carlson painting of Uncle Wiggly at a barbershop.
Last night, I noticed it was sliding in its frame, so I took it down, removed its back, and made an awesome discovery.
Art notes all over the margins! This is how AD’s inputted on art. They hand wrote their feedback, in pencil, in the margins!
It’s probably hard to read from the photo what the comments were, so here they are:
Make all shading blend. Do not make spotty like this is.
Keep top smooth. Do not put any black in top as we have to lock up the title with the black plate.
Do not follow these color schemes as literally. They are only to indicate colors and plates should be worked up more.
Remove border.
Reduce to 7” without border.
Make negative and return drawing to be colored.
Anyway, I just thought this was such a fun discovery. And I thought kidlit artists would enjoy it too. My, how times have changed.
xo Kirsten

KIDLIT ART NOTES - THEN & NOW

One of the reasons I love kidlit as much as I do is because I grew up in it!

While I was busy doing homework and photocopying my face on xerox machines after school in her offices, my mother was escalating from Senior Editor at Grosset & Dunlap, to Executive Editor at Platt & Munk, to VP and Head of New Product Development at Macmillan, before ultimately becoming Vice President & Publisher at Simon & Schuster for Little Simon.

Among all of the things she has taught me about making books for kids, she has also given me some of the original art she acquired during that time. Like this awesome George Carlson painting of Uncle Wiggly at a barbershop.

Last night, I noticed it was sliding in its frame, so I took it down, removed its back, and made an awesome discovery.

Art notes all over the margins! This is how AD’s inputted on art. They hand wrote their feedback, in pencil, in the margins!

It’s probably hard to read from the photo what the comments were, so here they are:

  • Make all shading blend. Do not make spotty like this is.
  • Keep top smooth. Do not put any black in top as we have to lock up the title with the black plate.
  • Do not follow these color schemes as literally. They are only to indicate colors and plates should be worked up more.
  • Remove border.
  • Reduce to 7” without border.
  • Make negative and return drawing to be colored.

Anyway, I just thought this was such a fun discovery. And I thought kidlit artists would enjoy it too. My, how times have changed.

xo Kirsten

July 25th, 10:21am 50 notes

THE ABC OF IT: WHY CHILDREN’S BOOKS MATTER

DISCLAIMER:

In reviewing my pictures and thoughts, I realized: this is going to be by far my longest & most photo-heavy blog post ever!

Feel free to exit now if you intend to go see this show—as I’m about to spoil it all for you. If you live faraway or are just plain busy, I hope you’ll enjoy this virtual experience.

I loved every moment at this exhibit, and am just not sure of where to edit…

So, for the record, I knowwww this is too long. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t help myself!

:) Kirsten

 

Last night I trained up to the New York Public Library to learn my ABC’S. (Or, rather, more about why children’s books matter.)

Quickly: for those of you who have not yet had the good fortune of visiting the NYPL, here it is from the outside. Awesome, right?

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And here is the entrance signage for the exhibition:

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Exhibition curator (and historian) Leonard Marcus has drawn masterfully from collections library-wide, inviting visitors to look twice at the complexity of children’s literature—an industry that is all too often overlooked as simple or elementary.

The first thing I encountered upon entry was The New-England Primer—which was (for a hundred years) the most widely known juvenile book in North America, and which asserted that children were sinful at birth.

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Mere steps away was another centuries-old title, William Blake’s Songs of Innocence, with an entirely opposing viewpoint: children were not sinful, but rather wonderstruck.

Immediately, I could see that Marcus intended to present juxtaposed opinions and an entirely dimensional representation of kidlit in this exhibit. Marcus’s illustrative debate had begun.

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Moving on…

Many of the books on display reflected cultural self-exploration, self-representation, and consequence of intercultural relations.

  • Antonio Frasconi’s See and Say: A Picture Book in Four Languages neatly illustrates the sentiments of a son of bridged cultures. Born to Italian immigrant parents, raised in Uruguay, and then ultimately settling in New York City, it’s no wonder Frasconi felt the need to show the many ways there are within one world to say the very same thing.

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  • Occupation-era Japanese school children were introduced to Western cultural ideals through paperback comics like these.

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  • Native Americans gained cultural understanding and appreciation courtesy of educator Ann Nolan Clark’s children’s stories, such as In My Mother’s House, in which she shed light on Native American symbolism and cultural priorities, including Corn Dancers, life-giving rain, and flourishing crops.

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Some of the titles showed children’s books as a means by which cultures encouraged their youth, arguably prematurely, into political loyalty.

  • T’sirt, written by Samuil Marshak and illustrated by Vladimir Lebedev, promoted power and aimed overtly to nurture revolutionary sentiments in young readers.

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  • Vladmiri Mayakovsky’s Detiam (For Children) delved even deeper with its revolutionary nudging, encouraging ‘Young Pioneers’ to dig within themselves in an effort to ultimately do what was expected of them as members of a nation.

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Some books were born out of a need to establish new culture.

  • During the civil war, America’s Confederate States aggressively originated an entirely new world of children’s literature for their young, publishing more than 150 juvenile texts with messages specifically designed to bolster the Confederate cause.

Still other cultures made manifestos for proper manners out of their children’s books.

  • Chao yang hua duo (Morning Sunflower), written by Zhang Shipei and illustrated by Ling Jingqing, depicts a young girl who successfully demonstrates “good citizenship,” and whose exemplary behavior at school makes her a role model for her peers.

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I could see how kidlit titles showcased changes in technology and transportation.

  • Le taxi-brousse de Pape Diap (Papa Dio’s Taxi) by Christian Epanya illustrates the impact of taxis (a mode of transport previously restricted to the “developed world”) on places more remote, such as Senegal.

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There were books born from educational missions.

  • Who knew ‘early readers’ such as Dick and Jane were read by 85% of American public school-children!

And I also learned that not everyone agreed with the Dick and Jane approach as the ideal path to literacy.

  • Author/illustrator Dr Seuss reacted negatively to rote learning readers such as Dick and Jane, putting out instead supplementary readers he hoped would be such fun that first graders simply wouldn’t be able to put them down.

20th century philosophers and child psychologists were up next, proving influential in kidlit with their strong child development-centered opinions and ideologies.

  • Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon was born out of a desire to create confident, “self-starting” children, as opposed to mere creatures of conformism.

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  • Edward Steichen believed that children were “little empiricists,” and his boldly-titled The First Picture Book was inspired by a visit to the classroom of his two-year-old daughter (Mary; actually credited on the book as his co-author). Steichen maintained that young children lived primarily “in the world of their immediate surroundings” and that their books should reflect such worlds.

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  • Margaret Wise Brown, a child-development student at Bank Street, sought to evoke “safe places” in her work, being mindful of a child’s need for comfort. (Here I am inside her Goodnight Moon. Feeling very comfy I might add!)

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I saw books that paved the way for today’s more playful authors and illustrators (such as Mo Willems and Herve Tullet), with stories designed to encourage interactivity between pages and readers.

  • Margaret Wise Brown’s game-like narrative style in The Noisy Book invited call-and-response fun—reflecting her belief that children should be fully involved in their own learning and play.

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It must be said, Marcus outdid himself with the architectural and technological designs he so playfully orchestrated throughout the exhibit. 

  • In the Alice in Wonderland room, there’s a tiny doorway through which I spied full-sized adults crawling with delight. And an Alice whose head independently and repeatedly cranked up to the ceiling before retracting back down to its original position.

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  • There’s a Where the Wild Things Are-inspired, fur-lined wall, to be felt and/or passed through.

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  • A tablet secured to a wall offers the chance to create one’s own fairytale, Mad Libs-style.

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  • A copy of Charlotte’s Web is actually trapped within a web on another wall.

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  • Gift books, such as this original Little Golden Book, are encased in giant, ribboned boxes.

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  • Inside another case you can see up close and personal the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals, and a photograph of an intimate moment between author A.A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, for whom the WtP stories were written.

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  • In a section devoted entirely to the kinds of books kids read on their own volition (and often in privacy), a display case has been fashioned out of a bed turned on its side, beneath which lights turn hurriedly on and off—suggesting secrecy during dark, nighttime reading.

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Towards the end of the exhibit is a tiny, dark room devoted to historically-censored kidlit titles—the kinds of books which affronted society at the time of their releases—all accompanied by examples of the critical outrage with which they were met.

  • Of Pippi Longstocking, in 1946, educator John Landquist actually asserted “No normal child will eat an entire cake at a tea party or go barefoot on granulated sugar…The two actions suggest a deranged fantasy or a delusional personality. If these thick-headed antics have any influence over young readers, it would be to coax into consciousness these tendencies to embrace crazy ideas and the misdirected obsessions which lie dormant in most.”

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  • Huckleberry Finn was described as “the most grotesque example of racist trash ever written” in Virginia in 1985!
  • Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was claimed to have been “built around two themes: sex and anti-Christian behavior.” To get their hands on this book, most kids had to buy it with their own money. Which, as evidenced in its best-selling status, they clearly did. (I also learned that Judy Blume actually had more of her books banned than any other American author.)

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It makes sense that just around the corner from the censored room is a section devoted to comic books (and accompanying action figures)—more of the kind of reading kids have historically paid out of their own pockets in order to experience, and which might not have not been as easily facilitated by parents as other genres.

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The last few rooms of the exhibit explore still a few more ways in which children’s books have shaped our world (or been shaped by our world).

Wildly successful children’s books such as Mary Poppins, which went on to become both a movie and broadway hit, and Harry Potter, have their own special alcove.

In this area, one can listen to the scene in which Mary sings ‘Just a Spoonful of Sugar’ on audio, as well as delight in an original Mary Poppins doll and umbrella.

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Another audio station offers the chance to listen to kidlit master Eric Carle, long championed for the artistry of his work.

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Which segues beautifully into the final area of the exhibit. Here, Marcus contends that the future of kidlit lies in its maturation. “Experimentation with media, formatting, typography, paper, and a highly-distilled approach to writing” (such as evidenced in the works of Carle, as well as other featured, innovative masters including Bruno Munari, Randolph Caldecott, David Eisen, and Dieter Roth) will give birth to the kinds of books able to hold their own against the advancement of digital reading.

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One of the last books I laid my eyes on was Shaun Tan’s The Arrival—a book that took four years to create and whose sophisticated aesthetic is a perfect reflection of kidlit taste today. 

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Back on the subway, it wasn’t lost on me how appropriate it was that the guy standing right next to me was reading a graphic novel himself.

So why do children’s books matter? Because they reflect our world. Then, now, and later. Because we still need them. Not just children. But adults. And because, fortunately, they’re all around us.

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And that’s my XYZ.

 

 

June 26th, 8:55am 3 notes

STILL GOLDEN!

Yesterday I had a lunch date with four awesome editorial directors from Random House. We looked at art, talked stories, and all the usual great stuff. But one of the highlights of our time together had nothing at all to do with what we could be doing together.

Instead, it was discovering that RH is still actively working with artists who are well into their silver years. In fact, one artist they’re working with (Sheilah Beckett) is about to turn 100!  During an online search, Editorial Director Diane Muldrow came across the author/illustrator’s Facebook page, reached out, and Shelagh has just completed a brand new Little Golden Book!

I’m head over heels for her artwork…

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Here she is celebrating her 99th birthday.

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You can read about Sheilah here. And you can even like her on Facebook here! SO COOL.

Another older artist who continues to work with RH, even at age 87, is Caldecott award-winner Peter Spier. As you’ll see, his style is both delicate and detail-packed. Spier began his career as a commercial artist working for advertising agencies, and then moved into kidlit. How cool is it that his first work was published in 1961 and in 2013 he is still at it?

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To learn more about Peter Spier and his books (and to watch a video), click here. 

In an industry where a tremendous focus in terms of what’s hot is on what’s new, I’m just delighted to discover that people who have contributed to the kidlit industry for many, many decades are still on the field. And even more than that, that they are the celebrated topic of lunch dates among their publishers. 

June 13th, 7:06am 1 note

THE ABC OF IT: A Sneak Peek

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Last night I had the honor of attending Leonard Marcus’s ‘Curator’s Talk’ at the Center for Book Arts. It was a sneak preview of The ABC of It, his upcoming New York Public Library exhibition. The show, set to span nine months, will serve as a deep exploration of children’s books—what they teach children, as well as (and possibly even more interestingly, at least to me) what they reveal about the societies that produced them. Journalist Elizabeth Howard was the discussion’s charming moderator.

Leonard Marcus is a new discovery for me—and one I desperately wish I had been dialed into sooner. An esteemed historian and critic of children’s literature, Marcus is a veritable fountain of knowledge when it comes to kids’ books. And he has spent a remarkable two years preparing for this one exhibition, commencing in just a couple of weeks.

The opening of the show will juxtapose opposing views: William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ against the oldest known copy of The New England Primer—a first reading primer textbook designed for the American colonies. Which was more believable at the time: were children born with sin—or divine inspiration?

Inside the exhibition, which is divided into many parts, will be areas featuring: gift books (as in the kinds of books given to kids, and by which adults control the reading and thinking of the next generation of readers); books obtainable at libraries; a ‘secret readers’ section (the sorts of books kids read in secret when parents aren’t looking, including comics); and kids’ books that have a meaningful impact on larger cultures (inspiring plays, movies, and more).

Within the ‘censored books’ collection are works by authors considered to have “gone too far.” (Judy Blume’s exposure to sexuality for pre-teens; Huckleberry Finn’s vulgar language and advanced views on racial equality; Maurice Sendak’s naked boy in Night Kitchen and uncontrollable tantrum in Where the Wild Things Are.) These books, explained Marcus, were radical in that they pressed boundaries and helped redefine what constitutes kidlit today.

In planning the exhibition, Leonard looked to defy the expected relationships people have with children’s literature. He was less interested in personal relationships with kids’ books—love for a title because someone grew up with it, taught it, or read it to his or her own children. Instead, he looked beyond the personal. Where do kids books fit in terms of a larger culture? Taking full advantage of the New York Library’s various collections, Marcus sought to bridge children’s books with theater, film, photography, and even African studies.

Visitors should expect more than just a “greatest hits” show. Objects certain to delight include a carved ivory figurine of Tweedle Tum and Tweedle Dee, a parasol ornament made for and gifted to Alice herself when she was in her 30’s, and representative of the kind of “tenacious, gonzo” research Marcus describes in preparing for this show. They will also “meet” several visionaries, such as Bruno Munari (a great inventors of flaps in kids’ books) and Randolph Caldectott (a pioneer in the exploration of a book’s physical form). And of course no kidlit exhibit would be complete without a giant fur wall (Where the Wild Things Are) or an Alice in Wonderland neck that can grow mechanically all the way to the top of Gottesman Hall.

We were cautioned that the show will be busy from its opening moment. Based on Marcus’s preview, I don’t doubt it. And if life is to mirror art, I suspect the show will have its own ripple effect on today’s culture, reshaping peoples’ understanding of kid lit and how it fits into—or, rather, is growing—our world.

 

 

May 19th, 9:34am 6 notes

What Kids REALLY Want to Read

My sons go to an awesome school. And at their awesome school happens to be a particularly awesome teacher named Gary. 

I recently asked Gary: What do the kids read in your classroom? As in, given entirely their own druthers, completely sans grown-up agenda, what books do they seek for their own pleasure? Here’s his response, which I received yesterday. In short, they seek familiarity, new information, and butts.

AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL’S TEACHER POV ON KIDS & READING: 

   In Kid Lit there are three topics that never fail to get a child’s attention: bodily functions, underwear, and bare butts.

   Even the most reluctant readers in my kindergarten class will seek out Alona Frankel’s Once Upon a Potty, Robert Munsch's I Have To Go! or The Underwear Book by Todd Parr.

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   And Maurice Sendak’s illustrations for In the Night Kitchen remain a popular choice because "the main character loses his pajamas and is fully naked in some parts of the story".

   But once the giggle-inducing pictures hook them, it isn’t long before they want someone to read the words. Once that happens the door to literacy swings wide open.

 Throughout the day children constantly approach me with a book in hand asking, “Can you read this to me?” Sometimes they even want to read a favorite book to me.

   Over the years I have taken notice of the books the children so tenderly shoved in my direction, and aside from the subjects listed above I have noticed some similarities in their selections.

   The books children self-select can be categorized into funny, familiar, and/or informative.

 

FUNNY BOOKS

   The most popular books in this arena are without a doubt the Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems.  We have many of these titles in our author book bin, and they are continually in heavy circulation. And for good reason. The books are a riot, so much DRAMA!  The text is also repetitive and simple enough to support young children in becoming more independent and confident readers.

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   Author/Illustrator Todd Parr strikes a funny bone with his OTTO books, particularly Otto Has a Birthday Party! What child can resist an exploding cake made with a cootie bug and covered in mud frosting?

   Combining funny with a bit of superhero adventure is always a recipe for success.  Author and illustrator George O’Connor has riveted the five-year-old set over the years with the saga of an imaginative boy with a towel cape known (in his mind) as American Eagle.  The books Kapow! and Ker-Splash! are well loved.

 

FAMILIAR BOOKS

   Sometimes the books we want the kids to read are not always the books they choose to read, but sometimes they are.

   Or at least they become the books they choose to read after repeated exposure. I have a deep affection for Curious George and my affinity for this little monkey has certainly rubbed off on my students. George is a popular choice during free reading and at the listening center.

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   It’s the same with fairy tales. Boys and girls alike gravitate towards these books, which for many have been part of their bedtime ritual for years. Authors Paul O. Zelinsky and Steven Kellogg do an amazing job of presenting the more traditional versions. Fun twists on the classics can be found in the work of James Marshall and Jon Scieszka.

   I suppose there is some comfort to be found in the pages of a familiar book or character.  We have a superhero book bin filled with the adventures of Spider-Man, Batman, etc. and the frayed edges and torn covers speak to the love poured out in their direction.

   Oh, and of course princess books and pirate stories have mass appeal—if they are well illustrated. Illustrations are key! To read more on the connection between pictures and words click here.

 

INFORMATIVE BOOKS

    The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) stress an equal balance of fiction and nonfiction texts in elementary classrooms.

   There is a prevailing feeling that narratives in the early grades have overshadowed nonfiction books. Although there is some truth to that, I can attest to the fact that nonfiction books have always been an important part of the literate lives of my students.

   Nonfiction books are topic driven according to student interest but sure fire bets can be placed on animals and insects. Photographs range from the gruesome (close-up of a snake eating a rat) to the sublime (baby polar bears!).  Nonfiction books are a great way to promote discussion and increase interaction with books.

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   On the flip side let me highlight some gimmicks to approach with caution. I certainly love me my children’s books, but unfortunately sometimes I come across one that’ll make me furrow my brow.

   Rhyming books can be hit or miss. Dr. Seuss does it well because his books carry powerful messages and play with language in a free spirited manner.  However, most rhyming books I have come across lack spark because the author seems to be constrained by the convention rather than relishing the creativity it can bring.

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   Kids also lose interest quickly with books that rework The Night Before Christmas into The Night Before…fill in the holiday blank.

 

   Remember, all children love listening to a story. But not all children love to read. We can help children find the motivation for reading by providing them with books that are interesting to them. If you kidwatch you’ll discover those books soon enough.  

 Happy Reading!

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