The Colonel July 29, 2014 The Colonel Peter Watts The hives are sleeping giants. <em>To Eternity</em> July 24, 2014 To Eternity Wesley Allsbrook and Barrie Potter If all things were normal, Stuart would be considered quite a catch. Brisk Money July 23, 2014 Brisk Money Adam Christopher It's hard out there for a robotic detective. A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon A Star July 20, 2014 A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon A Star Kathleen Ann Goonan A rocket story.
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Showing posts tagged: children's books click to see more stuff tagged with children's books
Jan 24 2012 12:00pm

The Newbery Medal and Speculative Fiction

Another Newbery Medal ceremony has come and gone, leaving the usual mixture of cheering, grumbling, and perplexed head-scratching in its wake. Strictly speaking, you could say that about any award ceremony, but the Newbery—informally known as “the Oscars of children’s literature,” and mandated to choose works based on distinguished literary quality rather than popularity—is notorious for picking dark horses, and this year’s medal winner, Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos, is no exception. (Here’s the complete list of ALA award winners and honor titles announced yesterday morning.)

[Read more]

Nov 13 2011 11:00am

First Words: What Was the First Book You Bought With Your Hard-Earned Dollars?

Devouring any book you can get your hands on is a common shared train among fans of any genre, but we tend to think science fiction and fantasy fans have an edge.’s patron saint of prolific reading skills has to be Jo Walton, who is on a life-long quest to read every single science fiction book every published. And from our Indie and B&N Bookseller Picks, to Genre in the Mainstream, we’re always trying to find you new books to read. But how did this all begin? What was the first book you bought with your own money?

We asked our Facebook and Twitter peeps and we got some fantastic answers!

[Read more]

Sep 9 2011 6:00pm

Musical Space Books for Kids

You love space music. You love children’s books. So yeah, here are two book projects worthy of your attention.

First up is a little project you may have heard about: Canadian illustrator Andrew Klob’s visual adaptation of David Bowie’s classic Space Oddity. You remember the song right? Our hero travels to orbit, loses contact, loses control and drifts away into the void — perhaps to die, perhaps to become one with the cosmos. Hey, it was the late 60s. Either way, it’s not a song that instantly screams for adaptation into children’s literature.

[Read more]

Sep 8 2011 12:00pm

Time Traveling for Wishes: The Story of the Amulet

Looking for fairies in London pet shopsThe wage-system of modern England is a little difficult to explain in three words even if you understand it—which the children didn’t.

The Story of the Amulet opens on an unexpected note, with Edith Nesbit cheerfully informing readers that the first book of this series, Five Children and It, had ended in a “most tiresome” way. (The perhaps unexpected long term result of this was that it took me years to read Five Children and It, since I encountered The Story of the Amulet first and took Nesbit at her word. I note this as a caution to authors planning on inserting derogatory comments about their earlier works into any later novel.) To correct this error, Nesbit has the four children meet the Psammead, that magical, wish-granting creature, in a pet shop, quite by accident for a second time. The Psammead, apparently deciding that even they can’t be as bad as the pet shop, begs the children to buy him.

And although the Psammead still can’t grant their wishes, it can and does urge the children to buy an amulet with magical powers. The amulet does have one tiny, teensy problem: it’s broken. To fix it, the four children are going to have to do a bit of traveling in time and space, and also try chatting with the upstairs neighbor, an antiquities expert.

[And learn how future societies still worship the name of H.G. Wells]

Sep 1 2011 11:12am

Safer Wishes: The Phoenix and the Carpet

The cats did not seem to have been at all properly brought up.
— The Phoenix and the Carpet

Five Children and It proved so successful that Nesbit decided to return with a sequel two years later. Like the first novel, The Phoenix and the Carpet tells a light hearted story of disastrous if well intentioned wishes. Unlike the first novel, it has almost two entire chapters devoted to Persian cats, which means I am compelled to love it, no matter what its possible flaws.

And flawed this book certainly is. But we’ll get to that.

[Read more]

Aug 25 2011 12:00pm

Mining Tired Characters for Money: The New Treasure Seekers

The New Treasure Seekers (available from Gutenberg at the link) is not exactly a novel. Rather, it contains some additional stories of the Bastable children, narrated, as always, by the pompous and not-particularly self-aware Oswald. The stories follow no particular chronological order, and take place at various times: before the first book, between the first two books, and after the second book. And the stories follow no particular theme, other than “The Bastables misinterpret matters/are misinterpreted yet again,” familiar to readers of the first two books.

Which in turn leads to a a deadening sense of repetition, and several bits where Nesbit, perhaps in desperation, changes her all too probable children and adventures to considerably less probable ones. Which in turn makes The New Treasure Seekers by far the least satisfactory book of the series — which, after all, found much of its fun in showcasing realistic endings to unrealistic expectations.

[Which doesn’t imply that Nesbit has lost all of her brilliance here]

Aug 11 2011 11:54am

The Perils of Wishing: Five Children and It

Illustration of the five children meeting the PsammeadBefore becoming a novelist, Edith Nesbit had penned several fantasy and horror stories for both children and adults. Even her more realistic Bastable novels displayed a strong familiarity with fairy tale motifs. So it was perhaps not surprising that, having done as much with the Bastables as she could, Nesbit next turned to a novel that combined her love for fairy tales with her realistic depictions of a family of quarrelsome, thoughtless children: the charming, hilarious Five Children and It.

As the story begins, the children — Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane and the Lamb (a toddler frequently dumped on his older siblings) have been left by their parents with a couple of servants at a country house about three miles away from a railway station, which prevents all sorts of opportunities for fun and mischief. Perhaps reflecting Nesbit’s own hands-off approach to child rearing, the children seem just fine without either parent—well, just fine, if you ignore their problems with a very bad tempered fairy creature, but to be fair to their parents, bad tempered fairies are just one of those things that can’t be planned for.

[The negative consequences of flying, on the other hand....]

Jul 28 2011 10:56am

Fighting Capitalism Through Children: The Story of the Treasure-Seekers

“Being editors is not the best way to wealth. We all feel this now, and highwaymen are not respected the way they used to be.” - The Story of the Treasure-Seekers (1899)

The late Victorian and Edwardian Era children’s novelist Edith Nesbit was a committed socialist who defied Victorian social conventions by not marrying her lover, Hubert Bland, until she was seven months pregnant. She then lived in an open marriage, welcoming Alice Hoatson, one of her husband’s many mistresses, into her home and adopting her children, while conducting various affairs of her own, including one with (allegedly) the playwright George Bernard Shaw. Nesbit and Alice Hoatson wrote passionate love poetry to each other, and Hoatson worked as Nesbit’s trusted secretary, housekeeper and assistant, staying with her for some years after their husband/lover died. It is possible that Hoatson and Nesbit were also physically intimate, especially since Nesbit had strongly emotional, romantic attachments to other women, and Nesbit most definitely did not welcome some of her husband’s other mistresses into her home, but no one can be sure.

But Nesbit’s life was not all sexual scandal: she had a successful career as a writer, researcher and lecturer on economics (the latter sometimes on her own or with her husband), and helped found the Fabian Group, a precursor to Britain’s current Labour Party.

[Skewering the British capitalist system through the doomed efforts of children]

Jul 21 2011 10:19am

Traveling Through Death Dreams: Seaward

Years after writing her The Dark Is Rising sequence, Susan Cooper once again drew upon Welsh mythology to create a new fantasy novel saturated with heavy language and images, Seaward. Unlike her earlier series, Seaward is most definitely a standalone novel. But I am not certain that this is the best place to start reading Cooper, even as I will immediately contradict myself and note that in Seaward, Cooper counters some (not all) of the criticisms of The Dark Is Rising series, and readers with quibbles or problems may well prefer this book.


Let me explain.

[Selkies, talking insect things, and other oddities. Spoilers]

Jul 14 2011 11:03am

The loss of magic and memory: The Silver on the Tree

The Silver on the Tree, the last book of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series, begins on several ominous notes, as Will begins to see people and images from the past, removes his oldest brother’s memories and then almost immediately witnesses a despicable racist act.

This is the first time racism of any type has made an appearance in the series, and Will and his siblings are all horrified. It also adds to the general sense that evil is growing in the real world, not just in the hidden magic behind that: first sheep killing, now racism and outright cruelty to kids. Not surprisingly, the racists turn out to be oblivious agents of the Dark, which uses racism to seep into people’s minds and turn them into tools for evil. Chilling.

[As is the Light’s general attitude towards normal humans.]

Mar 24 2011 12:07pm

Finding Your Place Through Logic: The Girl With the Silver Eyes

The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis RobertsI’m going to take a little detour here, since this book is related to something will be running in a bit. Luckily, this is a fun little detour: Willo Davis Roberts’s The Girl With the Silver Eyes.

Written in the 1970s, when fears about genetic mutation were on the rise (you might have read a comic or two about this), The Girl With the Silver Eyes tells the story of ten year old Katie Welker, a girl with—natch, silver eyes. No, not grey, but silver. She has never seen any other eyes like hers; they immediately set her apart and mark her as different. And she also has a few paranormal powers, which, along with her eyes, have kept her from making friends and made her an object of fear in her community.

[Saving yourself with your mind, not your powers]

Mar 23 2011 4:48pm

Is Whoville located on a Who-Planet? How the Worlds of Dr. Seuss Indoctrinate Us with Science Fiction and Fantasy

Green Eggs and Ham

While famous for his staggering universe of wonderful children’s picture books, Theodor Seuss Geisel was also a serious visual artist and political commentator. As anyone with half a brain will notice, most Dr. Seuss children’s stories contain some sort of political allegory; from the obvious Berlin Wall references in The Better Butter Battle to cries of ecological responsibility in The Lorax. But in terms of subliminal messages in these iconic books, the ways in which Dr. Seuss totally turns kids on to science fictional and fantasy concepts is also extremely prevalent too!

[What kind of alien creature eats Green Eggs anyway?]

Nov 4 2010 2:54pm

Fairylands in the Sky: Sky Island

Sky Island by L. Frank BaumEven disappointing sales of the first Trot and Cap’n Bill book, The Sea Fairies, could not keep L. Frank Baum from writing a second, in the desperate (and ultimately unfulfilled) hope that Trot and Cap’n Bill’s adventures might prove lucrative enough to free him ever having to write another Oz book again. In his desperation, he created some of his loveliest images yet, blended with some of his sharpest political satire—and even threw in a couple of cameo appearances by minor characters from the Oz books. The end result, Sky Island, may not have saved him from Oz—but it would be one of his best and most underappreciated books.

[Solving your political problems by slicing your enemy in half, or leaving your leaders in poverty]

Oct 19 2010 10:03am

Rabbit realism and folklore: Richard Adams’s Watership Down

Watership Down by Richard AdamsWatership Down (1972) is a very clever book. It’s fantasy, certainly, but what Adams does is takes the realistic details of the lives of rabbits and then writes about them as if they were sapient. They talk and tell stories and prophecy (which is what makes the book fantasy rather than science fiction) but they are still and always rabbits and you can’t forget that for an instant. The plot is straight from Livy—it’s the story of the founding of Rome—but the story is so essentially steeped in the natural history of the downland and the rabbits that the allegory never becomes intrusive. This is the story of Hazel and Fiver, not Romulus and Remus, and stealing the does from Efrafa, not the rape of the Sabine women. Or rather it’s both, and the classical resonances give weight and shape to the story of the rabbits. It’s one of those things where you wonder how anybody could have thought of it.

[Read more: surely everyone has read it?]

Sep 28 2010 3:06pm

The Suck Fairy

I believe I’ve mentioned the Suck Fairy a few times here but without ever discussing her in depth. I first heard of her in a panel on re-reading at Anticipation, when Naomi Libicki explained her to the rest of us. Naomi has since said she heard of her from her friend Camwyn. Wherever she came from she’s a very useful concept. This post is directly related to that panel, and also one at Boskone this year.

The Suck Fairy is an artefact of re-reading. If you read a book for the first time and it sucks, it’s nothing to do with her. It just sucks. Some books do. The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading—well, it sucks. You can say that you have changed, you can hit your forehead dramatically and ask yourself how you could possibly have missed the suckiness the first time—or you can say that the Suck Fairy has been through while the book was sitting on the shelf and inserted the suck. The longer the book has been on the shelf unread, the more time she’s had to get into it. The advantage of this is exactly the same as the advantage of thinking of one’s once-beloved ex as having been eaten by a zombie, who is now shambling around using the name and body of the former person. It lets one keep one’s original love clear of the later betrayals.

[Read more: The anatomy of the Suck Fairy]

Sep 21 2010 5:34pm

A merrier world: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

The Hobbit isn’t as good a book as The Lord of the Rings. It’s a children’s book, for one thing, and it talks down to the reader. It’s not quite set in Middle Earth—or if it is, then it isn’t quite set in the Third Age. It isn’t pegged down to history and geography the way The Lord of the Rings is. Most of all, it’s a first work by an immature writer; journeyman work and not the masterpiece he would later produce. But it’s still an excellent book. After all, it’s not much of a complaint to say that something isn’t as good as the best book in the world.

If you are fortunate enough to share a house with a bright six year old, or a seven or eight year old who still likes bedtime stories, I strongly recommend reading them a chapter of The Hobbit aloud every night before bed. It reads aloud brilliantly, and when you do this it’s quite clear that Tolkien intended it that way. I’ve read not only The Hobbit but The Lord of the Rings aloud twice, and had it read to me once. The sentences form the rhythms of speech, the pauses are in the right place, they fall well on the ear. This isn’t the case with a lot of books, even books I like. Many books were made to be read silently and fast. The other advantage of reading it aloud is that it allows you to read it even after you have it memorised and normal reading is difficult. It will also have the advantage that the child will encounter this early, so they won’t get the pap first and think that’s normal.

[Read more: I’m assuming you’ve read it]

Feb 5 2010 11:38am

On Re-Reading William Steig's Book Shrek!

While most people, children and adults, have seen the three Shrek films, very few have read the marvelous picture book, which William Steig published with an exclamation mark—Shrek!—in 1990. In keeping with the postmodern spirit of the last twenty-five years, Steig modestly produced one of the best examples of how the fairy tale has been fractured and continually transformed, indicating its radical potential in our digital age, especially with the production and success of the twenty-first century digitally animated films. Since very few reviewers of the film have paid attention to the book Shrek!—not to mention book reviewers—I would like to summarize the plot briefly and comment on the great wry morality and humanity of the tale.

Steig’s Shrek! is very different in tone and style from the film. The title is based on a Yiddish expression that means “horror” or “terror,” not “fear” as some reviewers have said. Schrecken in German and Yiddish means to scare, terrify, or horrify, and the ogre Shrek on the cover of Steig’s book is a scary figure. He has a green face with protruding ears and a bald head with a pointed top. His face is spotted with black stubbles; his eyes are red; his nose large and round; and his teeth, sharp and crooked. He is tall and barrel chested. His fingernails on his green hands are long. He wears a multi-colored violet tunic with a belt around his midriff and striped pants. The color combinations change at times throughout the book, but not his features and character:

His mother was ugly and his father was ugly, but Shrek was uglier than the two of them put together. By the time he toddled, Shrek could spit a flame of full ninety-nine yards and vent smoke from either ear. With just a look he cowed the reptiles in the swamp. Any snake dumb enough to bite him instantly got convulsions and died.

[More below the fold]

Jan 5 2010 1:06pm

Read Like A Child

Children's BooksSo, here we are again. That time of year when we're supposed to make resolutions for the coming twelve-months. Newspapers and magazine shows love it—it gives them an excuse to run stories on weight-loss programs and basket-weaving classes, the kind of stuff that doesn't require...well, anything in the way of actual reporting. I've always sort of wondered who these people are, the ones who make solemn promises about the year to come, but now I have joined their ranks. Not to lose weight, or improve myself in some unattainable way, but recapture something that I lost somewhere along the road from then to now.

[Read more...]

Nov 24 2009 5:31pm

Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants--a stocking stuffer for young readers

A few months ago, for his short novel, The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Medal, presented each year to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children by the Association for Library Service to Children . This wasn’t the first time one of Neil’s books for young readers took home an award. Coraline, later to become a motion picture, copped the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2003 for Best Novella.

The previous year Gaiman took home the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel for his American Gods, a lengthy adult tome that celebrates his fascination with Norse mythology. This fall the versatile and prolific Gaiman combines his talent for storytelling to young audiences and his preoccupation with Scandinavian legends in Odd and the Frost Giants, a dandy little book with terrific illustrations by Brett Helquist.

[An introduction to Odd and his story follows...]

Nov 11 2009 3:39pm

Letters from Abroad: The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children Giveaway

Where has the time gone? This is the last letter from abroad (Vienna, Austria, to be exact). I didn’t really get a chance to talk about my book, but you can read about it on my website. [Hint: the first line is I love children. Eating them, that is.] I leave you with a small anecdote: I once asked my high school physics class in South Central Los Angeles, for extra credit, what they thought Einstein meant by his famous quote: Imagination is more important than knowledge.

And one student, Maria Reyes, wrote: A child has a lot of imagination but very little knowledge, so maybe Einstein meant that the way a child thinks is very important. Maria always was brilliant and she convinced me right there of her point. One way to rephrase Einstein’s quote is: Think like a child.

It’s time for The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children giveaway! Maybe it will bring out the child in you, or perhaps copies will end wrapped up for kids themselves (so they know what to do if they ever meet the witch who eats children!). Whatever path each may take, one thing I’m sure of is it will be an unexpected one.

Signing off from abroad... Sincerely, Keith McGowan

[Postscript:  To win, simply comment (once—duplicates won’t count) on this post before noon EST, Sunday, November 15th. Five winners will be be selected at random. Please check your email on Monday! If we don’t hear back from you by noon on Tuesday, a new winner be selected in your place.]

Keith McGowan is the debut author of The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children, which was named an “inspired recommendation for children” by independent bookstores nationwide, and well reviewed by the New Yorker Books Department online which called it a “literary treat” offering “humor that will delight and challenge the inquisitive youngster.”