A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis Discuss Girrrls at the Movies

07NEWWARRIORS2-articleLarge Characters like Katniss Everdeen are changing girlhood and challenging tired stereotypes by not waiting for some guy to save the day: They’re saving themselves and their worlds, too. Yet Katniss, her screen sisters and the industry have a very long way to go. In one study the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media looked at 5,554 “distinct speaking characters” in 122 family movies rated G, PG or PG-13 that were released between 2006 and 2009. The institute discovered that only 29.2 percent of those roles were female, while a whopping 70.8 percent were male. In other words, there were 2.42 male characters for every female one. Put another way, there was Harry and Ron and then there was Hermione, the smartest girl in the class. Hermione ruled, but not nearly enough.

And now, Brooks Barnes is telling us that women are saving the world too:

Saving the world, and also starting to take parts of it over:

“Sex and the City 2” wilted — no gender expansion, partly because it was a terrible movie — but turnout for the second “Twilight” movie was surprisingly balanced between male and female ticket buyers, and the grosses grew accordingly. The second chapter, “New Moon,” took in $788.3 million, 81 percent more than the first one. Maybe that old theory about men avoiding “girl” movies needed to be retired? Maybe moviegoing was starting to reflect a shifting definition of masculinity? (This was the dawn of the era of “manscaping,” after all.) And what about changing female tastes in entertainment?

I wrote about Girl Tricksters some time ago for the New Yorker:


Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” series have given us female tricksters, women who are quick-witted, fleet-footed, and resolutely brave. Like their male counterparts—Coyote, Anansi, Raven, Rabbit, Hermes, Loki, and all those other mercurial survivors—these women are often famished (bulimic binges are their update on the mythical figure’s ravenous appetite), but also driven by mysterious cravings that make them appealingly enigmatic. Surrounded by predators, they quickly develop survival skills; they cross boundaries, challenge property rights, and outwit all who see them as easy prey. But, unlike their male analogues, they are not just cleverly resourceful and determined to survive. They’re also committed to social causes and political change.


One of the Girls Plays the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up


The Daily News reports on the NBC production of  Peter Pan, starring Allison Williams:

Williams while portraying the iconic Disney character can be seen sitting atop a ship wearing a version of the classic green getup with a modern twist of fishnet sleeves.

And here’s Allison Williams taking a flying lesson:

The Romance of Food in Children’s Books



Sandra Gilbert’s book, The Culinary Imagination:From Myth to Modernity, has been excerpted in Salon.com.  


Children’s books revel in the romance of food—and why not? When the baby is weaned from her first desire, the loss of the breast—with (if all goes well) its apparently ceaseless satisfactions—promotes further aspirations: the endless pleasures of Cockayne, the walls of sugar, the wells of delight, the spouts of syrup. Even before I read about such goodies in the Raggedy Ann and Andy stories—the Deep Deep Woods with its lollipop plants and Cookie Land with its sugar-frosted family and raisin-stuffed cake chickens—my father used to charm me with comparable tales. He was a man who loved the soda fountain at Schrafft’s and often took me there to indulge in Broadway sodas (chocolate syrup, coffee ice cream, vanilla soda, a hint of mint) and big flat cookies that looked almost like the smiley heads of the Raggedies. “Imagine, Sandra,” he’d say, “a land with ice cream mountains and chocolate rivers and candy bushes. . . .”

Gilbert’s writing is like a banquet–rich, colorful, and full of surprises–and she captures both culinary delight and dread of appetite in children’s books.

We imagine children’s books as cosy, and so they often are, yet at the same time their cosiness compels because the strongest tales acknowledge the dread that always shadows comfort. To be sure, quite a few kids’ classics are realistic in the usual sense of the word. From Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Johanna Spyri’s Heidi to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie and Farmer Boy, novelists represent children eating muffins, drinking goat’s milk, gobbling apple turnovers in settings that are grounded in history and society—landscapes far less unlikely than the exotic places inhabited by Charlie, Mickey and the Raggedies. Yet these books too feature dream meals and dwell on the dangers of hunger, one’s own hunger and the hungers of others. Lurking behind their quotidian scenes, as behind the gastronomic scenes in so many contemporary narratives, are both the satisfactions of primordial desires and the perils of the oven from which Hansel and Gretel escape but into which they shove the wicked witch, the deadly stickiness of candy, the grinding teeth of the machines that pulverize cacao beans—along with nasty little boy has-beens—into fudge, the glug-glug of the milk bottle out of which one might or might not rise into a milky way of one’s own. In this fashion, the ambiguity of our first kitchens prepares us for the complex imaginings of the good, bad and weird flavors of kitchens to come in adulthood.



Barbie in the Chocolate Factory?



Margaret Talbot writes about the new cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  

Next month, Penguin U.K. will issue a fiftieth-anniversary edition of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” under its Modern Classics imprint, with a cover design that is strangely but tellingly misbegotten. The image is a photograph, taken from a French fashion shoot, of a glassy-eyed, heavily made-up little girl. Behind her sits a mother figure, stiff and coiffed, casting an ominous shadow. The girl, with her long, perfectly waved platinum-blond hair and her pink feather boa, looks like a pretty and inert doll—one immediate association is with JonBenét Ramsey. As Sarah Kaplannoted in the Washington Post, “much of the literary world was not sold on the rebranding. Why did the cover of a novel about five kids and a wonderful—if admittedly bizarre—candy-maker look like a scene from ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’? Commenters on Penguin’s Facebook page called it ‘creepy,’ ‘sexualized’ and ‘inappropriate garbage.’ ”

Read more at: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultura…

But the really sensational new is that a chapter from an early draft of Dahl’s novel has been published.  Called “The Vanilla Fudge Room,” it contains the classic sadistic touches:

“Now, now,” murmured Mr Willy Wonka soothingly. “Now, now, now. Calm down, everybody, please. If the four parents concerned will kindly go along with this assistant of mine here, they will be taken directly to (the) room where their boys are waiting. You see, we have a large wire strainer in there which is used specially for catching children before they fall into the machine. It always catches them. At least it always has up to now.”

Read the entire chapter at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/au…

And thanks to my former student, the wonderful Laura Hirschberg, here is the link to an essay that captures all the heartache and grief of the years during which Dahl worked on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  

Quentin Blake Charlie girlHere’s an excerpt from Lucy Mangan’s essay.  Great Ormond Street Hospital, by the way,  is the institution to which J.M. Barrie gave the rights to Peter Pan.

But then Theo was almost killed when a cab hit his pram in New York. He survived, but developed hydrocephalus. The shunt put in his head to drain the fluid kept clogging, nearly killing him each time. Dahl mined Theo’s neurosurgeon Kenneth Till for every ounce of his knowledge then took the problem to his friend Stanley Wade who, in a twist you wouldn’t dare write, was an engineer whose hobby was making miniature engines for toy aeroplanes and whose job was running a factory that produced precision hydraulic pumps.

Together, the three men invented the Wade-Dahl-Till valve for Theo and the thousands of other children in his situation. In June 1962, the first one was inserted into the head of a patient in London’s Great Ormond Street hospital. It worked beautifully. Theo was well enough not to need it by then, but over the years it was used to treat thousands of children all over the world.

Dahl went back to his book.


The True Magic of Imagination

motherlode-hermione-articleInline (1)


The study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concludes by noting that the Harry Potter novels may be especially effective at increasing the tolerance of their readers precisely because they concern themselves with made-up categories like Muggles and Mudbloods. More overt attempts to change readers’ views about real-life groups, Mr. Vezzali and his co-authors note, could prompt defensive or resistant reactions. By identifying with the fictional character of Harry Potter, and by drawing connections, conscious or not, between his treatment of people different from him and their own attitudes toward stigmatized groups, readers of these novels work their own kind of wizardry: the magic of the literary imagination.

Is anyone surprised that children’s books, which often feature outsiders, quirky kids, adventurous orphans, and nomadic heroes turn us into more empathetic people in real life?  I remember talking for hours with my older sister about the adult conversations we overheard and wondering how those grown-ups could possibly say the things they said.  It was not that we were young and innocent, and not even that we ourselves had a kind of outsider status as immigrants in a white, middle-class suburb, but that we were both voracious readers, developing an understanding of what it felt like to be marginalized or excluded–yet also brave and true–as we got inside the heads of David Copperfield or Jane Eyre.

Trailer Released for INTO THE WOODS


The first trailer for Disney’s twisted musical, Into The Woods, has been released and gives fans a long-awaited look at the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s hit musical.
The starry live-action film stars Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, James Corden and Johnny Depp and is a far cry from the typical Disney Classic release.
The studio’s first theatrical adaptation of a Broadway musical sees a childless couple set out on a fantastical journey to end a curse placed on them by Streep’s evil Witch.
Directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha), the teaser provides glimpses of all lead actors in action, including Streep herself, who appears to be having the time of her life.
Despite no singing, many of the film’s characters are heard uttering the line ‘I wish’, an oft-repeated lyric from the musical.

New Trailer for “The Giver”


Scroll down to see the new trailer!

And from Comic-Con 2014

Bridges said he had fought to produce the movie for nearly two decades, acquiring the book’s film rights a full 18 years ago. He told the crowd that he wanted to make a film his kids could watch. He originally intended to also direct the book’s adaptation and cast his father Lloyd Bridges in the role of The Giver. “That controversy I think scared some financiers away, but it also inspired me, the energy of this thing.”

The Giver takes place in a future society that was rebuilt “from the ashes” of a devastated planet, one without war, pain or suffering but also one devoid of imagination or free will. When 16-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected by the community to be its Receiver of Memories, his mind is awoken by The Giver (Bridges). Meryl Streep co-stars as the Chief Elder, who also serves as the chief antagonist when Jonas attempts to lead a revolt against this manufactured society.

Lowry doesn’t see the Chief Elder as evil, though, citing parallels between art and life: “It’s actually the same thing that happens when people try to ban the book,” she said. “They’re not evil people. They’re people who care about their children and want to protect their children. I always try to remember that when they write me letters saying, ‘Jesus would be ashamed of you.’


Doc McStuffins and Dolls


Nancy Kanter, general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, which developed “Doc McStuffins” — and who suggested the character be African-American in the first place — said Doc’s wide-ranging fan base could be gleaned from a spreadsheet. “If you look at the numbers on the toy sales, it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t just African-American families buying these toys,” Ms. Kanter said. “It’s the broadest demographics possible.”


Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird

18BOOKMILLS-master180-v2 (1)

Dwight Garner reviews Marja Mills’s The Mockingbird next Door.  At least now why know why Harper Lee never wrote another novel.

Here’s Alison Flood at the Guardian on that same question as well as on  Lee and Capote.

Covering why Lee never wrote another novel after To Kill a Mockingbird – “it was hard to live up to the ‘impossible expectations’ raised by her first, and Nelle hated the publicity and hoopla”, writes McAlpin – Mills also details the friendship between Lee and Truman Capote, and their falling out. “Truman was a psychopath, honey. He thought the rules that apply to everybody else didn’t apply to him,” Lee told Mills, according to the author.

And so much for the theory that The Mockingbird next Door grew out of a friendship: Lee first made her objections to the book clear in 2011, when she issued a statement via the Monroeville law firm Barnett, Bugg, Lee and Carter where Alice works, saying that she had “not willingly participated in any book written or to be written by Marja Mills”. “Neither have I authorised such a book. Any claims otherwise are false,” wrote the Pulitzer prize-winning author at the time. A new statement, released on Monday in the US and published online in full by Entertainment Weekly, saw Lee write that “Miss Mills befriended my elderly sister, Alice. It did not take long to discover Marja’s true mission; another book about Harper Lee. I was hurt, angry and saddened, but not surprised. I immediately cut off all contact with Miss Mills, leaving town whenever she headed this way.”

Kate Bernheimer on Surviving An Adult World In Fairy Tales, And Real Life


Kate Bernheimer reminds us that stories like “Hansel and Gretel” are just as relevant today as they were 200 years ago.  We think of fairy tales as sheer fantasy but they can hit closer to home than we ever imagined.


I live in Tucson, Ariz. National news about thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border — some as young as 2 years old — is local news here. A front-page headline from this week’s Arizona Daily Star reads, “Immigration tension boils over in Oracle.” It’s subtitled “Protesters, supporters, clash; bus carrying children fails to show.”

The article featured a photograph of protesters, adults standing by signs scrawled with red and blue markers. “Remember the Trojan Horse” and “No se Puede” — “it cannot happen.” Protesters and supporters comment on whether the “youths” posed a threat to the community, as the sheriff claimed they did.

“Where did the children go? What will happen to them?” my 9-year-old asked over cereal and juice, which suddenly seems like a luxurious breakfast.

Kate Bernheimer, author of HORSE, FLOWER, BIRD and many other volumes connects this real-world situation with stories like “Hansel and Gretel” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”  I appreciate her recommendation of Grimm Reader, and I’m glad that we now have so many different reliable translations of the stories published by the Brothers Grimm.