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Posts Tagged ‘Children’s literature’

The Color of Dirty Death, and Other News

June 20, 2016 | by

The ugliest color of them all.

  • Start your week off right: take a long, hard look at the world’s ugliest color, Pantone 448C, aka “opaque couché.” Redolent of baby shit and capable of summoning all kinds of grime in the mind’s eye, 448C is powerfully ugly: “The agency GfK Bluemoon had 1,000 smokers select the colors they found most visually repellent. Respondents overwhelmingly associated Pantone 448C with words like dirty, death, and tar. The Australian federal government initially referred to the color as ‘olive green,’ but changed their terminology to ‘drab dark brown’ after the Australian Olive Association expressed concern for the reputation of olives. After the study, Australia made Pantone 448C the predominant color on its mandatory plain packaging for tobacco products … Since 2012, smoking in Australia has, in fact, decreased.”
  • Talking with Sofiane Hadjadj, cofounder of the Algerian publishing house Editions Barzakh, at a bookseller in Algiers: “Young Algerians are eager to write, but most see it ‘as a form of therapy’, Hadjadj said (not unlike their counterparts in Europe and America). There aren’t many who can both describe their daily reality and achieve the necessary distance to transform it into narrative … Arabic literature generally is at an ‘inflection point’, according to Hadjadj. The great leftist writers of the 1960s, such as Elias Khoury and Sonallah Ibrahim, who had a strong vision of society, have been succeeded by a generation with more questions. ‘Should one write about oneself, about the world, about globalization, about jihadism?’ Hadjadj asked. ‘You need a somewhat stable vision of society to write a novel, but it is changing all the time, and we don’t understand it.’ ”
  • Francis Alÿs’s new paintings depict life in Ciudad Juárez, so to look at them is to ask that age-old question: Is art at all useful in helping us come to grips with massive acts of violence and suffering? “It might seem unlikely that an artist like Francis Alÿs would be able to engage in any meaningful way with life in Ciudad Juárez. He is known for a poetic and absurdist mentality, sending a peacock as his representative to the Venice Biennial of 2001, for example, or arranging for a troop of Household Cavalry to march through the center of London in 2004. Yet the sensitive and understated works on display here pack a powerful punch … The centerpiece of the exhibition is a striking film of Mr. Alÿs slowly kicking a flaming football through the dark night of downtown Ciudad Juárez, attracting stares from locals and scaring away stray dogs as police sirens wail in the distance. The vision is haunting, and the details picked up by the camera as it tracks his progress make reference to the city’s many problems: the sex trade, the drug trade, the ambiguous role played by the police. Perhaps the beautiful but oblique film is guilty, as Sartre put it, of reducing cruelty to the abstract. But then so do statistics.”
  • Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire are remembered for their Book of Greek Myths, from 1962—one of the most popular children’s books of all time. But they made a much less well-known book about America, too, and it’s appropriately mythic: “ ‘Virginia was once a wilderness,’ the D’Aulaires write. ‘Wild beasts lived there, and swift Indians ran through grass and swamps’ … Columbus’ story gets treated even more like a fairy tale. ‘There once was a boy / who loved the salty sea,’ it begins … Like any mythological hero, the D’Aulaires’ George Washington has powers beyond those of ordinary men. He’s stronger than other boys and rides his horse more skillfully. He can hurl a rock across the width of the river. He’s shot, but unharmed. Lincoln is also demigod-like, when they tell of how he ‘wrestled with the strongest and toughest of them all, and threw them to the ground.’ ”
  • Today in the ironies of intellectual-property law: a new suit contends that Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” belongs, in fact, to us, just as the land supposedly does. But all the land in America isn’t actually in the public domain, and the song might not be, either. “[The suit] is aimed at liberating a song known to generations of schoolchildren who have raised their voices to sing about a free country belonging to one and all, sprawling ‘from California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters’ … Guthrie wrote the song in 1940 in response to the Irving Berlin song ‘God Bless America,’ which he felt inadequately addressed land and wealth inequality … In 1945, he published the song with a copyright notice that was never renewed … As a result, that copyright would have expired—and the song would have entered the public domain—twenty-eight years later, in 1973.”

Fur

January 28, 2016 | by

Quentin Blake’s illustration for Kitty-in-Boots. Image via Penguin

Earlier this week, many of us were electrified by the announcement that an unpublished Beatrix Potter book, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, would come out this September. The story was discovered in a cache of papers by the editor Jo Hanks. And Penguin has already released a tantalizing teaser: Read More »

I Tried Always to Do My Best

November 30, 2015 | by

Lucy Maud Montgomery. Photo: KindredSpiritMichael

Should you visit Google today, you’ll find that the daily “doodle” commemorates the birthday of Lucy Maud Montgomery, born November 30, 1874. The animation portrays Montgomery’s most famous creation, the red-haired Anne-with-an-e Shirley, turning green as she cuts into a piece of adulterated cake. (Herein lies my acknowledgment of Cyber Monday—and understand it is not intended as an ad.)

Like so much of Montgomery’s writing, this moment in Anne of Green Gables is heartwarming and gently funny, part of the long journey toward love and acceptance by Anne’s strict guardian, Marilla Cuthbert. These early books—before Anne becomes overly ethereal and perfect and beset with dozens of clamoring suitors—are the best loved, and certainly my favorites. But in her day, all Montgomery’s novels sold well, even less-inspired fare like Kilmeny of the Orchard or the mopey Emily series. By the time of her death the author was a bona fide celebrity, and Mark Twain called Anne “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice.” Read More »

Playing Cards with Enid

September 16, 2015 | by

The British Pathé newsreel series Personality is fascinating. Each consists of clips of the “home life” of a British celebrity of the 1940s or 1950s: artists, actors, musicians. We see them romping with dogs or wandering on lawns or, in the case of Daphne du Maurier, looking over the Cornish coast. 

No one could call this hard-hitting stuff. The cheery narration and jolly music give every life a sense of ordered industry. (No domestic strife here!) And yet, I fancy, if you really listen hard, there are dark things stirring below the produced surface. Take, for instance, this clip of Enid Blyton, the children’s writer, from 1946. Read More »

Metaphor Map (from the Makers of Allegory Atlas), and Other News

July 1, 2015 | by

The University of Glasgow’s Metaphor Map.

  • Our Summer issue features illustrations by Jason Novak for the first installment of Chris Bachelder’s new novel, The Throwback Special. Now you can see them here—including a particularly enchanting representation of an oviraptor ...
  • With his suicide, David Foster Wallace set into motion a saccharine revisionism that has now, with the release of the movie The End of the Tour, reached full power. The film is “high-gloss true-story after-school special”; the writer is gone; a weird kind of self-help saint has taken his place. “A writer who courted contradiction and paradox, who could come on as a curmudgeon and a scold, who emerged from an avant-garde tradition and never retreated into conventional realism, he has been reduced to a wisdom-dispensing sage on the one hand and shorthand for the Writer As Tortured Soul on the other … ”
  • Are you lost on the roadside of figurative language? Fumbling in the dark through the land of the simile? Friend, consult the Metaphor Map, “which contains more than 14,000 metaphorical connections sourced from four million pieces of lexical data, some of which date back to 700 AD.”
  • If you’re feeling down, spend a little time with pro-Confederacy children’s books, and you’ll feel no better at all. In fact, you’ll enjoy only a sense of deep inner turmoil. In Debra West Smith’s Young Heroes of the Confederacy, for instance, “readers are told that the children of a particular plantation-owning family were always taught to respect their slaves; on the next page, the patriarch is horse-whipping a cook … In one of the book’s rare direct mentions of slavery, Smith compares slavery to a foreign diet: ‘Whether we grow up eating snails in France, sushi in Japan, or crawfish in Louisiana, the foods we know are what we consider to be “normal.” ’ True so far as it goes, but Smith never quite gets around to saying directly that slave-owners, ‘known from their diaries and letters to be moral people,’ were doing anything worse than eating something icky.”
  • In which two “unbearably sad” newish novels with life in their titles face off: A Little Life versus Preparation for the Next Life. “In A Little Life, the dirt is on the inside, hiding in a shadowy group of monks and suburban pedophiles, and in the psyche if their victim; in Preparation for the Next Life, it’s on the outside—it’s on our streets and our food and our national conscience.”

Civilization Was a Crust

June 22, 2015 | by

Konigsburg Book Cover

From the cover of Frankweiler.

Long before museums were pandering to callow visitors bearing selfie sticks, they were trying to attract young people the old-fashioned way. Any big collection worth its salt has had some sort of children’s guide for decades now: museums encourage kids to look for dogs and cats in Dutch tavern scenes, giving them Bingo-style checklists, colorful maps, and bits of trivia. (Fact: pointillist paintings are made up of lots of little dots.)

The Met has always had an especially good kids’ program, and one indication of this is how enthusiastically—and diplomatically—they embrace the classic E. L. Konigsburg novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. For the uninitiated, though I suspect there are few of you: this book chronicles the exploits of the Kincaid siblings, who run away and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum. There, they sleep in a sixteenth-century bed, bathe (and fish for coins) in a fountain, and, into the bargain, solve an art-world mystery. Read More »