Archive for the ‘Children’s Literature’ Category

What Katherine Paterson Thinks We Can Learn From Cuba

Holly Beretto writes:

Katherine Paterson evokes fangirl and fanboyism. It’s as simple as that. Her writing takes you immediately back to childhood when you devoured her iconic novels and felt you weren’t the only one who was just a wee bit different, trying to make your way in the world.

Now 85, the two-time National Book Award winner (who also claims a Newbery Medal), just completed her 18th novel, My Brigadista Year, about a young Cuban girl named Lora from Havana, who spends a year in the mountains of her country, teaching families to read. The novel is based on a real initiative devised by Fidel Castro to eradicate illiteracy. Paterson will make a Houston pit stop for a reading of the novel, part of the Cool Brains! Inprint Readings for Young People series, on Sunday, Nov. 12.

Her sophisticated yet approachable style of writing has made Paterson a staple of children’s literature since the publication of her first children’s novel, The Sign of the Chrysanthemum, in 1973. A writer of contemporary and historical fiction, Paterson says she’s never been one for writing sequels, which might be part of why each of her books hits a unique note.

“I think every story has a special way to be told,” she says. “I try to listen to the story and see how that might be. This is Lora’s story, and I’m a little surprised when people tell me, ‘You know just how I’m feeling [when I read what the characters go through.]’ I just turned 85; it’s a miracle I can connect.”

Paterson’s latest work draws from a period she didn’t know very much about. She had traveled to Cuba once and had fallen in love with the landscape and the Cuban friendliness. But when she told her friend Mary Leahy (sister of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy), who had been the director of Central Vermont Adult Basic Education, she learned about Castro’s 1960s campaign to eradicate illiteracy. To do so, an army of volunteers fanned out across the island nation, spending a year teaching reading and writing. In return, they were offered free schooling, both at the high school and university level. The idea captured Paterson’s imagination and her research led her to her latest novel.

“I would lie down and die if I couldn’t read,” she says, so the idea that a nation’s leader would embrace such a high ideal was a thread too good to pass up.

She’s quick to point out that the book, which takes place in 1961, amid the backdrop of the end of the Cuban revolution and the Bay of Pigs fiasco, doesn’t embrace the country’s communist sympathies. Instead, she sees the swirl of history as a natural place for the drama of this coming of age story to unfold.

“We don’t always like to hear good things about our enemies,” she says. “But I think the world would be a better place if we did.”

As for what’s next, she’s not entirely sure she’ll write something else. After all, she was pretty sure she was done writing before this story came along.

“But as I wrote Lora’s story, I realized I’d forgotten how much I love to write, and what a joy it was,” she says. “So, this book was a gift even before it was published.”


Read like a girl: how children’s books of female stories are booming

Alison Flood writes:

Studies in the past have found that children’s books are dominated by male characters, that history books are overrun by male authors writing about male figures, and that literary fiction is less likely to win a prize if it focuses on a female character.

A new wave of books aimed at children might just be doing its small bit to change that. Thousands of little girls – boys as well, but likely mainly girls – will be settling down for bed this evening with a new kind of bedtime story, one in which the heroines are not fictional, but real. From Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls to Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, sales of books about inspirational women have boomed this year – and look set to grow.

Kate Pankhurst – a distant relative of the suffragette Emmeline – has sold more than 52,000 copies of her guide to the Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, according to book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan. Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, meanwhile, didn’t have high expectations when they launched a Kickstarter last year for Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls, which tells the stories of 100 “extraordinary” women, from Malala Yousafzai to Michelle Obama. They wanted to raise $40,000 (£31,000), and to print 1,000 copies. But their Kickstarter became the most-funded publishing campaign on the site, raising more than $1m. The self-published book has since sold more than 500,000 copies around the world.

Children’s Classics TBR/ Video.

Jakob Tanner presents Children’s Classics TBR/ Video.

“North Korean children’s books and cartoons proved to be often entertaining, colourful…”

‘The power of redemptive violence’ … Kim Jong-il’s Boys Wipe Out Bandits

Alison Flood writes:

Researching his PhD, (Christopher) Richardson said he was surprised to discover “that children’s literature was so central to the DPRK’s conception of itself that its leaders had taken the time (even if only with the assistance of ghost writers) to pen treatises to its importance” – Kim Jong-il also wrote about how Children’s Literature Must Be Created in a Way Best Suited to Children’s Psychological Features – “and even to write stories for themselves”.

He was also, he told the Guardian, surprised to find the stories themselves were “quite enjoyable”. “I was astounded that children’s books (purportedly) written by Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung were vastly more readable than one would expect from any political leader in the democratic west, still less a severe authoritarian,” he said. “North Korean children’s books and cartoons proved to be often entertaining, colourful, action-packed, and not so different to children’s books and cartoons anywhere.”

He said that when he has shown his collection of North Korean children’s books to defectors, “their response has usually been to recall that whilst enjoying the more colourful and adventurous tales as children, they were not so interested in overtly militaristic and political stories”.

But “nevertheless, despite the variety of genre and style” in the books, “there always remained that singular unity of intent, reinforcing a consistent political message, fostering revolutionary consciousness, national cohesion, ideological purity, and reverence for Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and now Kim Jong-un,” said Richardson.

So far, Kim Jong-un has not – as far as Richardson can tell – written his own children’s book, but he anticipates it won’t be long until North Korea’s latest leader steps into the children’s literature arena.

The definitive list of the most underrated Harry Potter characters

Anna Leszkiewicz writes:

Yes, we know, you love Neville, and Professor McGonagall and Nymphadora Tonks. But what about the unsung heroes of the Potter series? Here, New Statesman staff make the case for their personal, obscure favourites from the books.