ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
Oh no! However did I survive childhood? Apparently reading fantasy as a child leads to mental illness! It is shocking that such harmful and addictive books can be bought without a licence! So says a headteacher, anyway. I wonder if I should sue my parents for being so irresponsible as to read me The Hobbit when I was 8. I had never realised it until this wise headteacher spoke, but clearly this ruined my life!
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I've posted before about how children's non-fiction publishing is almost entirely based around the school curriculum. "Leisure interest" books such as Scary Animals With Teeth!, HUGE trucks, Ahhh!they'resocuuuuuteandfurries and football are exempt, but history and science books, in particular, are published entirely with the curriculum in mind. Tudors are done in year 4, where they do Henry VIII and Rich & Poor in Tudor England, so there are no books on Tudors for 5 year olds or 12 year olds, and nothing for anyone at all on Elizabeth I.

Obviously, this is all very unfortunate for the 6 year old child who conceives a mad, burning enthusiasm for Tudors. It is also very unfortunate for schools and libraries when the curriculum goes and changes, and you find yourself staring at 450 books on Tudors for 9 year olds, when Tudors Aren't Done now, and all everyone wants is books on the Stone Age for 6 year olds.

Yes, the Stone Age. Primary School children now start history at the Stone Age, and work through the Bronze Age and the Iron Age until they finally reach Vikings by 11 - although they do depart from this chronology to do certain other themes and projects along the way. Unfortunately, the Stone Age hasn't been done in school for years, and there are literally NO BOOKS on it. Despite the fact that the new curriculum was announced a good while back, and went live in September, there are still NO BOOKS on it. This is causing considerable angst and despair in all quarters.

Personally, I can't really see what They were thinking to start the children off on the Stone Age. The previous curriculum started them off gently by introducing the concept of the past, and the fact that Things Were Sometimes Different Then, focusing on things like toys, houses, clothes etc.

But now children have to launch straight in to what is, in my opinion, a very hard period to understand. I still remember the shock of going from 19th century history for A-level (which is not at all my favourite, but it's what I was landed with, since apparently only Bad Boys did my preferred choice of the Renaissance) to the Anglo-Saxon invasions in my first term at Oxford. It was so hard to go from a period where documentary evidence abounds, to a period when we know so very little, and have to piece it together from archaeological finds and dubious documentary sources. Each new archaeological find could potentially overturn everything we thought we knew. How on earth do you teach this to 5 year olds?


Jan. 28th, 2014 11:09 am
ladyofastolat: (scribe)
And while I'm on the subject of posts prompted by children's books...

There's a series of children's history books called "The Gruesome Truth About..." ("the Middle Ages," "The Romans," and so on.) They're fun, they're popular, and I don't have a problem with them. However, I just noticed that the blurb on the back says that this series will tell readers "the bits of history no-one ever tells you about" - i.e. the yucky, gory bits.

No-one ever tells you about? Really? What about Horrible Histories? And they are only the start. There's "The short and bloody history of..." series. There's a series called "Danger Zone": "entertaining and amusing books which explore the more grisly aspects of life during various historical periods." (Titles in this series always start "How to avoid..." which makes a certain amount of sense in some titles - "How to avoid being an Aztec sacrifice" - but are plain silly in others - "How to avoid being Leonardo Da Vinci.")

There's a series with titles along the lines of "Top 10 worst things about Ancient Egypt you wouldn't like to know." Tony Robinson has a history series called "Weird World of Wonders," which promises to focus on the "strange and disgusting." There are "Horribly Famous" historial biographies - "100% horrible!" reads the blood-red seal on the cover - and a "Weird True Facts" series.

In fact, if you believe children's history books aimed at the leisure market (as opposed to school books), history is one long, unrelieved cesspit of gore and poo, in which weird, wacky people doing weird, wacky things. I do like seeing children inspired by history, but I do wish it wasn't quite so universally dominated by one exaggerated aspect. In particular, I wish each series wouldn't make out that they're daring and unique, when really they're all just the same.
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I've just been reading about a new series of children's books from Scholastic, called Spirit Animals. It is, according to the publisher, "part engrossing book series and part role-playing game." When the children buy the books, they are able to unlock new elements of an online game in which they create a character and go on quests alongside the book characters.

The librarian in me immediately thinks, "Using games to encourage children to read! Great!"

The role-player in me immediately thinks, "Using books to encourage children to play roleplaying games! Great!"

The cynic in me, rather belatedly, thinks, "Money-grabbing marketing ploy. Grump!"

I am, in short, Conflicted and Confused.
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
I've been buying books today, wading through endless Space Penguins and Pirate Dinosaurs and Magic Kittens. It has inspired me to create a random children's book title generator. Children's book title generator )
ladyofastolat: (Hear me roar)
According to two separate literacy/reading newsletters I received today, Education Minister Michael Gove has said that all children should have read Great Expectations by the age of 11. Dickens' biographer has lamented that today's children are sadly incapable of carrying out this duty, because they do not possess the necessary attention span, due to being allowed to watch "horrid television programmes."

I have ranted quite a bit on this today, in the expected predictable fashion. So this is me, ranting predictably about it here, too - but I'll spare you the actual content of the rant, since I've said it all before.
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
I've been trying to come up with the ultimate children's book series - the series that is guaranteed to appeal to all children. All little girls like cute animals and pink fairies, or so publishers seem to think. For a few years, the fairies and the cute animals co-existed, before people got the bright idea of combining these two things into a sort of super girly book. Now we've got series about magical kittens, fairy bears, magical bunnies, magical puppies, unicorn ponies ridden by fairy princesses etc. Covers are usually pink, purple or pastel, with lots of sparkles.

At the same time, we've got the books for primary school boys, which are dominated by farts and bogeys, since publishers know for a fact that little boys are interested in nothing else. There's a series called "Yuck!", a series called "The Slime Files," and a series with titles along the lines of "The biggest bogey in the world." Covers are usually in bright primary colours with drippy bits of green.

All I need to do is work out how to combine all of these elements, and all other children's authors can retire. I'm thinking something along the lines of farting fairy hamsters. What could possibly go wrong with this approach?
ladyofastolat: (Default)
The updated Famous Five books appeared on my approvals list last week. Apparently, audience research showed that modern children were put off by the old-fashioned language, so they've gone through the series updating the language, but keeping the plot untouched. (Actually, the press release says that the old-fashioned language was preventing some parents from buying the books for their children, so it's possible that the children themselves were entirely unbothered.) "Mother and father" becomes "mum and dad," "school tunic" becomes "uniform," "house mistress" becomes "teacher," and, "She must be jolly lonely all by herself," now reads, "She must get lonely all by herself." Apparently "no modern slang has been used to replaced the outdated expressions; rather, the goal is to make the books 'timeless.'"

However, they're not timeless. One of the bits I read showed the children being happily waved off on a solo caravan tour. When suspicious people are spotted, no mobile phones are in evidence. There is no internet. Roads are all country lanes with little traffic. The old-fashioned language helps show that this is set in a different age when the rules were different. I actually found it more jarring to have all these things happening in a modern-sounding voice.

When I was 8, I was completely obsessed with the Swallows and Amazons books. Those children wore knickerbockers and spoke in old-fashioned language, but I don't ever remember getting confused. I don't remember if I realised early on that this was written and set in the 30s, or if I just accepted it as a slightly different storybook world, but I certainly didn't need the language updated to love the books. The books weren't for everyone - my best friend never liked them - and perhaps the language was one of the things that put them off, but I still don't see that as a reason to update it.

Books go out of fashion. One decade's must-read book can sink without a trace. I'm in favour of just accepting this. After all, there are thousands of new books around that are written for today's audience, so I just don't see the point in doing a cosmetic updating of some fairly run-of-the-mill adventures from decades ago. I've never been happy with simple retellings of classic stories, either - but I've got to go to work now, so you're spared my rant on that. :-)
ladyofastolat: (Default)
I was thinking today, as I was reading stories to the scant few children who weren't on the beach, that I hardly ever encounter images of wild animals outside the world of children's books. I seldom watch wildlife documentaries, since things tend to get eaten bloodily, so my main image of animals comes from books written for the under fives.

And what a strange image it is! Wild animals, from lions to parrots to wombats, live in a vague generic Jungle, in a happy collective where no-one ever eats anyone else. I'm not entirely sure what they do eat. They do sometimes pick fruit, but since they generally learn that fruit is far more tasty and satisfying when cut into tiny morsels and shared out amongst a crowd of friends than when you eat an entire banana all by yourself, this can't be enough to keep them alive. Sometimes the animals wear clothes and eat pizza, but this is more likely to happen with bunnies than with giraffes. Rabbits seem to be unusually prone to wearing jackets and eating off plates. I suppose they've been taking notes for years from their hutches.

A few animals do occasionally try to eat other animals, but this is Bad, and they do it because they are Evil. Wolves and foxes are morally suspect because they try to eat other animals. Crocodiles are almost always excluded from the happy animal collective, and lurk in rivers, trying to lure animals to their doom. Other carnivores occasionally arrive as strangers, and cause a brief moment of terror, but usually reveal that they Only Want To Be Friends. Bears and dinosaurs are particularly likely to do this.

Flies have bad PR. Flies can happily get eaten, without the eater being castigated as evil for doing so. And nobody ever worries about plankton. They probably should.
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
(Oh! I can use LJ Scrapbook for the first time in years! It never works at home, but it works just fine at work. This very much supports my conclusion that the LJ login manager I use at home is to blame for everything. Or everything relevant to LJ logins, anyway; I don't think I'll try to blame it for the world economic crisis or the Chile earthquake.)

Anyway, I'll put the behind a cut, since you've all heard me ranting about his before. I just like collecting particularly vexing examples.

That old thing about sexism in children's books )
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
I know I've gone on before about ultra-easy versions of fairy tales, but I don't think I've posted before about ultra-easy versions of classics. (If I have, just ignore me, and move on.) I just came across a picture book that consisted of five different children's classics, retold for pre-schoolers with loads of pictures. I haven't seen the book itself, but the double-page spread shown on my library suppliers website shows that each page contains about 30-40 words, and the contents page reveals that each book has about 25 pages. So we have The Railway Children, The Secret Garden, The Wizard of Oz, The Wind in the Willows and Heidi, each retold in around 1000 words.

Why? However good the story, and however much it has stood the test of time, can a novel reduced to 1000 words be as satisfying and child-pleasing a story as a story written especially for that age group, with its words carefully chosen? Are some stories so special that we need to go to any means necessary to introduce them to tiny children, well before they are ready to read the original? At least these books are children's classics, but even adult's books - some of the works of Dickens, for example - are coming out in super-short editions for 5 or 6 year olds. (You know, this does sound familiar. I suspect I have posted about this before. Oh well...)

However, the whole thing does make me want to sit down and rewrite adult classics for 3 year olds. Something along the lines of: "Look! Here's Mr Darcy! Isn't he proud? Let's pretend to be Mr Darcy. Ooh, yes, Freddy, that's really good proud strutting. Flare your nostrils a bit more, Ellie. And here comes Elizabeth Bennett. Elizabeth doesn't like Mr Darcy. This is because she feels prejudice. Prejudice is a long word, which means the sort of thing your mummy feels when she won't let you play with the boy next door because his mummy's skirts are too short and has lots of man friends around at night. Prejudice is bad, and you should tell your mummy so."
ladyofastolat: (Fantasy)
I've just been struggling to put together some collections of books for teachers who wanted short and easy stories set in imaginary worlds, and have come to some conclusions. Firstly, magical worlds appear in many stories for the under 5s, without being commented on: they're just stories about princesses and dragons and talking unicorns and the like, little different from stories about talking animals and rabbits in trousers. However, once you get to chapter books and novels for children between about 7 and 11, magic mostly appears in our world. Wizards are encountered in supermarkets, teachers turn out to be mythical beings, ordinary items are enchanted, but all of this is encountered by modern-day children who remain throughout in our world. It's surprisingly hard to find stories for 8 year olds set entirely in magical worlds. The main exceptions are girlie fairy/mermaid/pink glittery unicorn stories - though even those usually involve a modern-day girl getting involved in the magic - or reworkings of fairy tales.

However, once you get to the 500 page epics aimed at young teenagers, the setting is almost always made-up worlds. Sometimes someone from our world find their way into this world in the first chapter, but most of them are set entirely in an imaginary world. They're much closer to the traditions of adult fantasy, where imaginary worlds still rule - no, not exclusively, I know, but scan the fantasy shelves of a book shop, and most are set entirely in made-up worlds.

I wonder why this is. I also wonder why there are so few children's books set in space, and why (stories about knights, dragons or pirates aside) historical novels barely exist at all for the under 9s, except in worthy series of stories written to tie in with National Curriculum topics.
ladyofastolat: (Default)
Oh dear. Now I know for sure that I'm out of touch. Well, to be honest, I was never really in touch, even when I was the correct age for such things, but, still...

From the blurb of a book that came up on this week's approvals list: "Few celebrities have climbed the rungs of the entertainment industry as quickly as Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez. Their rise to stardom has been so brisk that some might describe them as overnight successes-twin Cinderella stories."

Research doesn't help, either; I haven't even heard of the things they've been in. I feel old.

In other news, the rainbow fairies have now reached the dizzy heights of such things as the snow cap fairy and the coral reef fairy. I remember when I used to amuse myself making up Animal Ark titles, when that was the current Big Thing. Animal Ark books all had titles along the lines of "Kitten in the Kitchen," "Puppy in the Parlour" etc., so I had fun inventing Animal Ark Books They Will Never Write. (Can't remember any of them now, except that sewage was involved.)

Rainbow Magic books, the big thing of a few years ago, and now numbering over 80 titles, come in sub-groups of seven. We started with seven books about fairies associated with the seven colours of the rainbow, and have since moved through seven weather fairies, seven sport fairies, seven pet fairies, seven musical instrument fairies etc. Rainbow Magic Books They Will Never Make amused me for a while, but I'm beginning to think that absolutely nothing in existence cannot have a fairy attached to it.
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
Dear people who publish children's books,

Please would you entertain the possibility that there are already quite enough fairy books in the world. There are, in fact, about 953 different books in which good little girls team up with the glittery Knuckleduster Fairy and her pet kitten Tinkle in order to rescue the Sparkle-Sausage of Pinkness from the naughty goblins, who want to plunge the world into something that isn't very doomy at all, since that would be scary, but into something like the eternal absence of pink. The young readers' sections in libraries across the country have already been overtaken by the creeping advance of pink, with all other colours fading and dying in the face of its advance, and little boys realising for a fact that books aren't for them. Please stop. Please, please stop. There are already enough books out there to keep even the most fairy-mad girl busy until she discovers boys and moves on to something new and original and exciting the 953 slightly thicker pink and glittery books that dominate the section next door. We do not need any more.

ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
I read a story in a preschool today in which the background to all the pictures had lots of assorted animals and minibeasts (this being the recognised term for them; I've not worked out quite what maxibeasts are, though, though I'll have to find out soon since someone's asked for a box of books on them), so I paused the story on every page to talk about them.

"That's a frog," one child declared. "A girl frog." Everyone nodded in agreement. Now, I only ever see picture books upside-down (it's quite a revelation on the rare times I see one the right way up) but I couldn't really see it myself. Perhaps it was something to do with the big eyes and the fact that the wide mouth was drawn in red.

We moved on. The next page contained a "girl snail." (Its eyes were rimmed with black, perhaps looking a bit like eyelashes? Real Men Don't Have Eyelashes, it seems.) We had a "boy mud pie" ("My grandad's got a book on birds and knows all about mudpies," I was told sternly when I suggested that it might actually be a magpie.) We had a whole host of "boy drag flies" (sic. But I don't think they were.) We even had a "girl lawn mower." (It was slightly anthropomorphised, with sharp pointy teeth. It was also pink.)

I often notice with some guilt that I always default to "he" when talking about animals in stories. ("When little monkey is happy, he claps his hands!" "Oh no! The purple dinosaur is hiding the pineapple now. I wonder why he's doing that?") I do make a conscious effort to refer to half of them as "she", but now they've started telling me off: "It can't be a girl because it's blue", or once, bizarrely, "It can't be a boy because it's smiling."

I do find it strange that even very small children have learnt that the entire world can be divided into "boys" and "girls" and that this division assumes such importance to them. What do they actually understand by it, I wonder? This is, of course, the point at which I should launch into a long, insightful essay on gender and identity in small children, but I think… er… is that the microwave beeping with my soup? Lunch time, I think.

(But it would have been a very insightful essay - positively dazzling - had lunch not intervened.)

Book Weeks

Mar. 6th, 2009 01:07 pm
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
While reading stories this week at various schools' Book Weeks, I've been trying to keep a tally of the most popular costume choice for when children are told to come as a book character. My probably very unreliable impression is that top characters are:

1. Generic princess. (Of course, each princess might be a very specific one from a book, but they looked pretty generic.)
2. Generic pirate, some of which were definitely Captain Hook
3. Harry Potter (especially popular in Reception, despite the fact that books is aimed at rather older children.)
4. Horrid Henry
5. Disney's Snow White
6. Spiderman
7. Generic skeleton (maybe one of the Funnybones?)
8. Robin Hood
9. Generic knight
10. Little Red Riding Hood

I've been reading a story in which nursery rhyme characters write to an agony aunt to solve their problems, and I've been getting children to guess what the answer might be. This was what came up in today's group of mixed year 3 and 4s (aged 7 to 9)How do you solve a problem like...? )


Feb. 25th, 2009 09:39 am
ladyofastolat: (Boo)
This year's summer reading challenge is called Quest Seekers. Am I the only one who thinks that this is a stupid name? To me, it has shades of Pendle Hill (aka Hillhill Hill) in that "to quest" and "to seek" mean the same thing. It's supposed to convey excitement and adventure and daring, but to me it conveys a sense of aimlessness, in which the ultimate goal isn't snatching treasure from fiery dragons, but is just to find something you can start to search for. It's less finding the Holy Grail, and more wandering plaintively around the house trying to find your shopping list.

I will grant you, though, that "I'm seeking a quest" does make sense in the world of role-playing games, especially those computer-based ones, when you charge around a town, bumping into walls, tripping over prostitutes and getting trapped behind large cows, as you exchange inanities with various examples of local colour in the desperate hope that one of them will turn out to have a terrible infestation of three rather small beetles in his cellar, which, for some reason, require a group of heavily armed war machines and a mage of unfathomable power to remove.
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
Dear publishers,

It is possible to have a story for children aged 6 or 7 that is not about fairies. Yes, yes, I know this is a shocking thing for me to say. I know you are sitting here in your pink fluffy towers, with fairy books strewn around you up to your ears. I know you probably speak in hushed tones of that employee who once suggested publishing a story about a boy, and the terrible fate that befell him. However, if you look back into the past, can you not remember that, once upon a time, stories about boys and adventures and spirited heroines and monsters and suchlike actually existed? Can you not remember a time when the "five to eight" section in bookshops and libraries wasn't a sea a pink?

All I can assume is that a fairy queen has taken over your organisations and has sprinkled you with fairy dust so that you cannot envisage anything other than fairies. Band together, I urge you, and overthrow her influence! The reading futures of millions of children depend on you!


ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
A hot debate in the world of children's books at the moment is about putting age labels on them. Some authors have come out as hugely in favour, and others as violently against.

Age labels on children's books )
ladyofastolat: (Default)
A fairly common theme of children's books is that you can be anything you want to be, as long as you want it badly enough. It's more common in American books, I think, and more explicitly stated, but it's there in quite a few British ones, too, where dogs learn to fly, elephants become famous ballet dancers etc.

So is this:

1. A wonderful message to give to children. It will encourage them to aim high, to have aspirations, to work hard. It will encourage them to take that quirky dream that everyone else laughs at and go with it. It will give them hope that they will achieve, even if they are currently in difficult circumstances.

2. A false message to give to children, since life isn't like that. No matter how much a dog wants to fly, it won't. It's a message that sets children up for disappointment, or inspires them go onto reality TV shows as a ticket to fame. Further, it gives the message that if you fail to achieve something, it's all your fault - you didn't want it badly enough, or try hard enough.
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
Quote of the day on the BBC news magazine:

"I am a member of Appledore library" - Devon teenager asked by New York social workers what street gang she was in.

I think this opens up a whole new world of possibilities in library marketing to teenagers...

EDIT: The above post was made before reading the story behind the quote.
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
This is a predictable rant, because I know I've ranted about similar things before. In fact, I can probably leave half the words blank, and you'd all be able to fill them in. (Now, there's an idea for an LJ post…)

On reading for pleasure etc. )
ladyofastolat: (Default)
I was having a discussion with someone the other day about the storage of knowledge. He'd been reading something about the huge British Library warehouses required to house "stuff no-one will ever want to read". He said he could accept that some books ought to be kept, but the line needed to be drawn somewhere – celebrity memoirs, or "magazines about stupid interests like the ones they laugh at on Have I Got News For You." There is no way on earth that these things are worth keeping, he said. More )
ladyofastolat: (Boo)
I read today that some booksellers have put "not suitable for younger readers" stickers on Jacqueline Wilson's latest book, in response to complaints from outraged parents that it featured a gay kiss.

Now, Jacqueline Wilson's books are adored by girls aged 8 and over, but some of her books are specifically aimed at older girls – 14, or so – and are full of issues that most parents would consider unsuitable for 8 year olds. The trouble is, the cover design is no different from her younger books, and of course all her fans are eager to read all her books. I'm sure that a lot of parents buy her teenage books for their 8 year olds, not realising the content. I have no objection to a sticker alerting readers and their parents to the fact that these few titles are aimed at a different audience from her usual books.

It's the "because of a gay kiss" element that bothers me. The book – and, yes, I've read it – is about a 13 year old girl who has been best friends with the boy next door for her whole life. She has lately started having romantic feelings for him, but he seems rather more interested in a boy at his new school. Later on, he seems very distressed, and it turns out that – off-camera - he tried to kiss this boy, who reacted with disgust. The girl, although upset on her own account, supports him as a friend, as does his family, although the other boys at school are less understanding. His family also point out him that same-sex crushes are a not-uncommon feature of adolescence, and that his feelings might change, but also make entirely clear that they'll support him and love him whatever happens.

However, in another plot strand, the girl is befriended by a wild and precocious girl at school. This girl lives with little sign of parental presence, and has wild parties in which all the 13 and 14 year olds drink spirits. She sends her boyfriend a topless photo of herself, and talks about having sex – or almost having sex. But no mention of this in the report of the "outraged parents." One sensitively-handled off-camera attempted gay kiss: shocking! Underage drinking and 13 year olds (possibly) having sex: no problem!
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
Well, Harry Potter has given me a lovely bruise on the inside of my arm. Quite violent, he was. And intransigent. He was in the form of a large display unit thingy that really didn't want to get into my car and then refused point blank to let itself be erected. It's all pointless, anyway. What's the point of having a dump bin that can hold multiple copies of a book that was snatched out of my hands the moment I entered the library, and we now have no copies of? "You're too late! Ha-ha!" it should read. We just don't have the money to justify buying 50 copies per library, since they'd all be sitting unloved on the shelves after a few weeks. It would be fun if we could. Everyone was talking yesterday about how Morrisons over the road was selling it for 4.99. We could stand in its carpark with placards saying, "Why pay 4.99? You can get it for free over the road" and steal all their customers. Actually, though, I'd rather do a display full of lovely books by Diana Wynne Jones and the like, labelled "Finished HP? A gaping hole in your life? Read these instead!"

No evil sorcerers descended to strike me down, so I guess my security arrangements passed muster.

I personally enrolled some 70 or 80 children in the Big Wild Read yesterday, each child requiring several minutes of happy, enthusiastic explanation. I was shattered by the end of the day. This led to wine. This led to a late night. This means that I think I am going to go back to bed now.

As for the book, I'm not a huge fan of the series, but I still like to read each book as soon as it comes out, so I can join in conversations. I like the books enough to read them eagerly, but not to reread them. No comments here, since this is a spoiler-free post, so all I will say is that I have now finished.
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
To all you page 3 girls, faded pop stars and former soap actors currently writing children's books... Please stop it. Publishers, please stop publishing them. Public, please stop buying them. Please get your horrid cult of celebrity out of the world of children's books. Grrr!!!!!

Oh, and while I'm here: Overheard in the office: "Have you got the wire cutters?" "We need one of those sharp sticky things." "And baby wipes!" "Have you dealt with the police?"
ladyofastolat: (Default)
A lot of people seem to assume that fantasy is only for children, and that adults who read it are somehow inferior - escaping reality, refusing to grow up etc. I've complained about this before. However, yesterday, when I was once again struggling to classify some new children's fiction, I started thinking a bit more about the fantasy genre, and, in particular, the different way fantasy is treated in children's and adult books.

How fantasy is treated in children's and adult books )
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
The discussion on gender stereotypes in pre-school books has reminded me of these musings on morals in children's books, started a few weeks ago, and then left lurking, despondent and neglected, on my work computer. I have now added a bit more, and included a digression on the differences between American and British children's books, because I was asked about this yesterday.

Morals in children's books, now with added digression on the differences between American and British children's books. Rather long, all in all - rather like this lj cut text - and lacking in conclusions )
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
One effect of the National Curriculum seems to be that it is next to impossible to get children's non-fiction on curriculum topics that aren't aimed at schools. You can still get children's non-fiction on non-curriculum topics, like football, but subjects like history or science are purely aimed at curriculum use. This was illustrated very clearly today when a teacher asked for a box of books on medieval life, aimed at children between 5 and 9. There were no books at all suitable for this age group, because, in the curriculum, the Middle Ages are "done" by much older children. Conversely, there were hardly any books on Plague and Fire (or "The Great Plaque of London", as the teacher accidentally typed on their request) suitable for 13 year olds, since that's done in year 2 (6 - 7 year olds).

I can understand why publishers do this. They have to make money, after all, and a book that is clearly relevant to the curriculum will get bought by schools and school library services. But it does seem a shame. I remember getting mad keen on Romans when I was 6, and I was seriously obsessed with the English Civil War when I was 10. Whenever I go to a castle, I see dozens of little boys waving swords around, fired up with enthusiasm about knights and castles, but where are the books that will build on their interest? Even if there are books aimed at the right age group, they're written in a schooly way, focusing on some aspects of a period ("Why did Henry VIII marry six times?", for example), and totally neglecting others.

Just about the only non-curriculum history books out there are the Horrible History books. Children do like these, which is great, and they're funny and do contain some good history, but they focus entirely on the "people in the past were weird and quirky and disgusting" theme, to the exclusion of all else. I certainly don't think they would have satisfied my historical enthusiasms when I was young.


Feb. 19th, 2007 06:17 pm
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
I still feel distinctly ill and floppy, but struggled through a day at work, mostly spending it online, ordering books. The publicity for one book started thus: "Every few decades a book is published that changes the lives of its readers for ever. [This] is such a book." My initial reaction was to think, "What? Every few decades? More like every day."

Books change lives )

The Rights of the Reader )
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
From a website of children's work done in libraries:

What will librarians be like in 2150?
- Dead
- They will all be really old and not able to walk
- Robots (this is a very popular answer)
- There will be a hotel next to the library. The librarians will do the night-time entertainment for people in the hotel
- They will wear purple skirts and peach blouses
- They will all be skating around on rollerblades
- They will be like giant jelly babies. When they get hungry, they will eat each other, but they will grow back later
- They will have 7 arms (to carry the books)
- Big, hairy and scary

Well, lunch time is almost over, so back to my training course (which, as you can guess, is on how to use this subscription-only website for children's book reviews and creative writing.)

EDIT (and irrelevant): GRRM fans who aren't members of the relevant GRRM communities might be interested to see this. No, it is not news of the new book, so don't get your hopes up...
ladyofastolat: (Default)
It's project time at the moment, and I'm busy putting together several hundred boxes of project boxes for teachers for next term. I was just doing a box of traditional tales for 4-5 year olds, when a new book arrived. Here is its retelling of Rapunzel.

Rapunzel retold )

Thoughts on very simple retellings of stories )
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
I read reading a children's book magazine today, and the editorial was talking about the large ongoing debate about "the death of childhood" (which was kicked off in part by this book,Toxic Childhood, which I have to admit I haven't read.) Towards the end of the editorial, it said something along the lines of "perhaps a too-rushed-through childhood is responsible for the irritating sight of adults in their twenties reading children's books."

Excuse me? Irritating? )
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
So here is a question for the absolutely and completely unrepresentative group of people who read my journal: Should fiction in libraries and bookshops be arranged entirely A-Z by author, or divided into genre categories?

Arguments on both sides. Well, actually, arguments mostly on one side )
ladyofastolat: (Happy Hocky)
My first round of storytimes is over. I now have two days to prepare the next event, before starting my next grand island tour on Thursday. I'm working on Saturday this week, so I'm destined for a six day week, unless I can prepare my storytime in record time today, and then have tomorrow off.

The storytimes are aimed at children aged around 4 to 9. I start with some stories on the relevant theme. This can be a bit stressful sometimes. I blithly decide I'll do a storytime called "Rumble in the jungle," for example, and put up all the posters. Then, two days before the storytime, I start looking for stories, and find that all the jungle stories are boring. I then have to be creative, which can lead to arguments with children. "That's not about jungles," they complain, as I pick up my next book. "It's set at the North Pole." "I know," I tell them firmly, "but a monkey appears very briefly on page 95, on holiday from the rainforest, so it still counts." Most, though, get stunned into silence. Maybe they just assume that as I'm a grown-up, I know best. Or maybe, like me, they realise that it's better having an excellent story that doesn't suit the theme, rather than a "boring" one that does.

We then have a game. The game has to be one I can play with 70 children in a large library, or with 2 children in a tiny one. It can't single out individuals, because some of them cry. This is where the conning comes in. I just endlessly recycle the same 3 games - and no-one has ever noticed. They just see the accessories, and don't see the mechanics underneath. Last time, they played a game in which they had to build a silly alien from parts. This time, they're playing a game in which they have to blow up each other's pirate ships. They don't notice that both games are actually just a beetle drive.

And then a craft, which is also challenging, since I need to come up with something that can be done by 70 or 2. It needs to accommodate different ages, and have no more than about 30 seconds of adult intervention required. It really is quite limiting. As with the game, I tend to recycle variants of the same craft, and no-one notices.

Then I need something to give to those children who scribble wildly with a crayon for 2 minutes, then announce "I'm finished. What shall I do now?" half an hour before the end of the storytime. And then it's over. Children go home. I tidy up, breathe a huge sigh of relief... and go on to the next library to do it all over again.
ladyofastolat: (scribe)
That book extract meme yesterday reminded me of an activity I do with children, designed to teach them about the alphabetical arrangement of fiction. I have six lovely big shields, each one marked up with a book title, and I ask the children who wants to hold them. Invariably all hands go up, so I tell them they have to win their shields. I then produce six books, each one wrapped up and disguised. I will read an extract, and the first child to identify the book will get to hold the relevant shield.

So, the big question is: are the people on my Friends list better at identifying books than a class of 8 year olds? Let the competition begin. )
ladyofastolat: (Default)
Today is the start of the summer holidays. Today, too, is the start of The Reading Mission, this year's summer reading challenge in libraries. "Can you read six books during the summer holidays?" children are challenged. "If you do, you will get a medal."

The books can be any six books the children like. They can be fiction or non-fiction, easy or hard. No-one will complain if children decide to relax over the holidays by reading easy, non-challenging books. Because children can have totally free choice of books (well, as long as they are borrowed from the library, that is) they see the summer reading as fun. All too easily, reading can become a chore at school, and that can put children off. This way, even the least able reader can get a medal for their reading. For some, it is the first time ever that someone has praised them for an academic subject, and it can change their life.

(I bet you can't tell that I've spent the last few weeks writing press releases on this, writing to heads about this, and generally selling it to anyone I meet ;-) )

Anyway, every year, more and more children on the island take part. Every year, more and more of them rush in on the first day of the holidays to join. As a result, I'm spending all of today in the biggest library, helping to join people. Last year, I joined up 150 children on the first day alone. Each child needs several minutes of attention, because there are quite a few goodies to give to them when they sign up, as well as instructions. Central to the summer reading challenge ethos is that children get the chance to talk to library staff about books, and get listened to, so there's a whole lot of talking going on. I expect to return home tonight utterly exhausted, and with no voice.

But it's worth it. Children love it, and it's good for them, too. If anyone knows any children between 4 and 12, please tell them all about it. (If you know children under 4, they might be able to do it, too. I allow them to join in, on the grounds that you can still love books even if you can't read them, and getting a medal "for books" at 3 could make all the difference to a child's attitude to reading when they start school. However, not all library authorities let under 4s join in. Chances are, they'll have the Bookstart Book Crawl for 0-4s, though, which is similar in principle. It gives a lovely certificate every five library visits.)
ladyofastolat: (Hear me roar)
I have just got home from another day of heaving huge boxes of books, demolishing shelves, carrying ginormous metal shelf uprights around, building shelves again, moving more boxes of books etc. etc. I am hot, filthy and exhausted. I can hardly stand. I can't walk without groaning. I can't bend down. I have blisters on my hands and feet, and scratches and bruises everywhere.

And they say that being a librarian is quiet and boring )
ladyofastolat: (Default)
While rooting around in a cupboard at work today (only two and half weeks to go until The Big Move - eek!) I found copies of a Rhyme Time leaflet I produced, but was never allowed to distribute, since a certain group complained. The reason they complained? Because the rhyme "Jelly on a plate" failed to promote healthy eating, and the horsey knee-bouncing rhyme might lead someone to bounce their baby too hard and break it.

I have spent the journey home trying to come up with nursery rhymes that do satisfy all these government initiatives for children's work, and that would meet today's stringent health and safety laws. Of course it goes without saying that they would all be non-sexist, non-racist, multicultural etc. etc.

Sadly, government targets are not compatible with a rhyme scheme or a metre (jargon and management speech being far more important than clarity of expression and poetry), but here goes. Nursery rhymes for the modern age )


ladyofastolat: (Default)

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