Childhood Treasures: The Role of Illustration in Children’s Literature

Sterling Hundley Treasure Island

                                                                   Here’s the announcement for the Boston Book Festival’s forum event!



Harvard professor and folklore expert Maria Tatar and Sterling Hundley, illustrator of The Folio Society’s new edition of Treasure Island, explore the role visual imagery plays in how we read children’s literature. How can illustrations help us navigate the pleasures and perils of literary worlds? What challenges do artists face in reinventing classic stories, and how do they animate other worlds, unsettling readers and surprising them? Johanna Geary, managing editor at The Folio Society, will moderate this discussion. Sponsored by The Folio Society.

Siri and Other Sidekicks


19JPSIRI-blog427Here’s Judith Newman on the friendship that has developed between Siri and her autistic son, Gus.

It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.…

The developers of intelligent assistants recognize their uses to those with speech and communication problems — and some are thinking of new ways the assistants can help. According to the folks at SRI International, the research and development company where Siri began before Apple bought the technology, the next generation of virtual assistants will not just retrieve information — they will also be able to carry on more complex conversations about a person’s area of interest. “Your son will be able to proactively get information about whatever he’s interested in without asking for it, because the assistant will anticipate what he likes,” said William Mark, vice president for information and computing sciences at SRI.

Audacious Kids: Now Even More Audacious

CoFC9781421414577ngratulations to Jerry Griswold on the revised edition of Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Story.  Here’s what the New York Times wrote when it was first published:

“Lucid and persuasively argued.  Indeed he manages that difficult thing in writing about children’s literature.  He manages to provide the reader with an interesting new intellectual angle on these books, without condescending to his material or diminishing its elusive and potent magic.”

The publication of the volume is particularly relevant at a time when we hear howls of despair about the rise of YA literature and register deep anxieties in the media about adults reading books about children or (gasp!) for children.  Here’s an excerpt from Griswold’s new preface:

In the afterword [to Audacious Kids], I considered phenomena appearing in the late 1980s and early 1990s and predicted the rise of a second Golden Age of children’s books akin to the first Golden Age described in this study.  I foresaw the return of times when children’s and adult publishing would merge, when juvenile books would head the bestseller lists, when the interests of kids would take the main stage, and when divisions between old and young would begin to dissolve in shared cultural interests.

Peter Pan Prequel from Warner Brothers


Before either of those films arrives in theaters, Warner’s movie team plans to fill the pipeline with updated perennials like “Tarzan” and “Pan,” about Peter Pan. Directed by Joe Wright, who is known for sophisticated dramas like “Anna Karenina” and “Atonement,” “Pan,” set for next July, is supposed to take viewers where Peter Pan films from Disney, Universal and Sony never went.

Even its Hook, played by Garrett Hedlund, is more intriguing — in theory, at least, as the film has not yet been screened for executives — than almost anything in Warner’s recent summer. “We think of him like a Han Solo,” Ms. Kroll said.

And more from Deadline Hollywood:

Principal photography will begin April 28 on Warner Bros Pictures’ live-action Peter Panfeature from director Joe Wright. A revisionist version of the J.M. Barrie tale, Pan follows the story of an orphan who is spirited away to the magical Neverland. There, he finds both fun and dangers, and ultimately discovers his destiny — to become the hero who will be forever known as Peter Pan.

Amanda Seyfried is the latest to be set to play Mary in the cast, which sees Hugh Jackman star as Blackbeard; Garrett Hedlund is Hook; Rooney Mara is Tiger Lily; Adeel Akhtar is Smee; and newcomer Levi Miller is Peter.In addition Jack Charles plays The Chief/Tiger Lily’s father; Taejoo Na is Kwahu; Nonso Anozie is Bishop; Kathy Burke is Mother Barnabas; Kurt Egyiawan is Murray; Lewis MacDougall is Nibs; and newcomer Leni Zieglmeier is Wendy Darling. Jason Fuchs wrote the script, and Greg Berlanti, Paul Webster and Sarah Schechter are producing, with Tim Lewis serving as executive producer.

Filming will take place at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden. The film is set for a worldwide release on July 17, 2015.

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

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:…

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:…

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.