Food in Children's Science Trade Books

Previously, I mentioned that there were some problems even with well-reviewed books for children on food. Here are some examples....

Apples and How They Grow by Laura Driscoll, illus. Tammy Smith
(All Aboard Science Reader, Level 1) [BCCB-Ad, 2003]
On p. 31, the apple is picked as if in an orchard, and eaten by the person who picks it. Lacking is any mention of typical food transport.

The Pumpkin Patch by Elizabeth King
[BCCB-R, 1990]
This also lacks transport information, but reasonably so; the book is the story of visiting a pumpkin patch in the fall. Mechanized farming is clearly in evidence in the early pages of the book, which is a major plus.

Pumpkins by Ken Robbins
[BCCB-R, 2006]
Aesthetically, Robbins' books are very sleek and pleasing. Informationally, they make all the standard omissions. No pesticides, migrant workers, or transport are shown in the making of these pumpkins.

Apples by Ken Robbins
[BCCB-R, 2002]
Again gorgeous pictures, some of which borrow the white background style of DK Inc. (which are in turn reminiscent of Apple commercials, the computer company not the fruit). However, p. 22 shows the only machinery, and that's a 100-year-old apple press. There's a glimpse of the bucket that telephone repair people stand in on the page on pruning, p. 9, which suggests there must be a truck beneath.

Wheat: The Golden Harvest by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
[BCCB-R, 1987]
Does show pictures of mechanized farming, a combine, a grain elevator, and grain silos backlit by a sunset. Mentions transport in the text, but focuses on the loaves of home baked bread in the end. Needless to say, most wheat ends its trip in a factory setting and is make into food products there.

Corn Belt Harvest by Raymond Bial
[BCCB-Ad, 1991]
Describes and shows images of corn transport via train. Bial also ends the corn production with a livestock scene rather than a less typical corn-on-the-cob scene. I appreciate his acknowledgment that most corn in the U.S. does go to feed livestock.

Apples and Oranges

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman

This picture book, with endpapers that show a map of the world, details exactly what level of continental hopping would be required to get all the ingredients for an apple pie if we had to do the traveling ourselves each time we wanted to bake one. It's an eye-opening tour of food origins for the young, and stands out among many books on food production for children that elide or obscure what really goes on. As I've said before, to read children's nonfiction on food, you might think it was all organic, local, and paid good wages to harvesters.

An Orange in January by Dianna Hutts Aston, illus. by Julie Maren

Another rarity in that this book tells the true, if rosy, story of how oranges comes to be available in January, including all the transportation necessary to make it so. The orange does, unfortunately, seem to come from a mythical land of goodness and sunshine. No mention is made of the harvesting laborers, but at least they are shown and do have brown skin, which is closer to accurate than it might be. Despite its shortcomings, this is indeed a much more accurate book than most.

Narrative across media, narrative within folklore

Eight Words for the Study of Expressive Culture by Feintuch (ed.)

The words are: group, art, text, genre, performance, context, tradition, and identity. Of the eight essays, those on Group and Genre seemed most compelling. Group (by Dorothy Noyes) gets into the complexities of defining who is in and out of a group, using the example of an Italian street festival in Philadelphia. Genre (by Rudier Harris-Lopez) touches on the emergence of folk texts in new media and therefore overlaps with my wishes to investigate digital storytelling. It would be good to read with one or both of the below chapters.

Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling by Ryan (ed.)

This is based in literary theory, but has 2 essays of use to thinking about new forms of fantasy media. They're back-to-back in the book, and read very well together.

"Will New Media Produce New Narratives?" by Marie-Laure Ryan offers a typology of narratives in various kinds of media, trying to establish what sorts of stories are told when different constraints operate. She creates a 4-part scheme, cross-classifying "internal/external involvement" and "exploratory/ontological involvement" to get at what interactivity the reader has with the narrative form.

"Quest Games as Post-Narrative Discourse" by Espen Aarseth argues that game theorists are turning to narrative theory only because there's nothing better out there yet. Illustrated liberally with examples from specific games, Aarseth's ultimate argument is that the "quest" is the real motivation in gaming, and that narrative theory should be abandoned and quest theory developed to discover what games mean. This leaves open many interesting questions, including whether good old Vladimir Propp or Joseph Campbell would be of use in understanding game quests or not. Is the major connection between fantasy literature and fantasy gaming the centrality of the quest?

Napoli, Reeve, Eddy, and Cohen

Jacalyn Eddy, Bookwomen
Since I'll be referring to this book for years to come, I'll just note a few most useful and surprising highlights.
--"To accept the traditional narrative that women were merely forced into unwanted careers, however, simplifies a complex phenomenon." (p. 6)
--Gives good overview of first publishing houses to have children's imprints, starting with MacMillan and Doubleday (p. 131)
--Eddy's arguments about the child guidance movement echo Ehrenreich's arguments about "experts" and the masculinization of women's traditional realms of knowledge. (p. 110-111)

Donna Jo Napoli, The Prince of the Pond
Napoli retells the frog prince from the view of a young female frog with whom the frog prince has a family before his eventual transformation back into a human. Napoli is always good at getting to the bones of the tales she retells. The opening has remarkable resemblances to some of the dialogue between Robin and Kermit in Henson's version of the frog prince, but this could be mere coincidence. After all, Henson stayed with the traditional plot for his television short story, while Napoli completely rewrites the tale from a fresh perspective. Verb tense changes from past to present for the first time on p. 270, exemplifying the skillful and purposive use of this technically wrong but here extremely effective switch. Note the changes back and forth from this point to the end, used to draw the reader more completely in to the action.

Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines
Tom only meets Katherine Valentine and her famous father briefly, but that encounter shapes the rest of this tale of survival among a world of cities that are engaged in a Municipal Darwinism struggle to eat or be eaten. Reeve's tale is brilliant in places in that he takes conventions and twists them slightly. This alternative vision of a future in which today's distant past is more distant still is tantalizing, offering great opportunities to speculate about what lasts, what matters.

Amy Cohen, The Late Bloomer's Revolution
This is a funny and somewhat quiet memoir of a woman whose life is not going according to plan. She remains her own wry and self-conscious self throughout, but near the end of the book she shows perspective on her own situation that suggests she's seeing past the stereotypical benchmarks of success as the only way to measure the worth of her life. Probably the most fun part (and also painful) is when she learns to ride a bike for the first time in her life in her mid-30s, to much falling and disheveling of her helmet. Thank goodness she wore one. Although this doesn't plumb the depths of some memoirs (I'm thinking of Wells' Glass Castle), it's a good read about breaking out of neurosis and fears and stepping toward self acceptance.

Fantasy and fantasy graphic novel test-drives

I'm playing around with what I'll teach in fall, which now has changed to include the fantasy class (590VV) on-campus and the youth services class (506LE) via LEEP. Just thought some of you might want to know that I'll have a section of 506. I'm thinking about writing a paper that will draw on the 590VV class, looking at the major awards and what recent trends (Harry Potter etc.) and tensions (religious objections) as well as new awards (Printz) have done to the "population" of fantasy books that inhabit that select and magical land of Newbery winners.

It would also be great to explore how fantasy as a genre is specializing even further into sub-genres in light of the "long tail" phenomenon, or technological changes in the ability to profit from making small numbers of many distinct things available to small number of customers. The idea comes from:
and author Anderson's main argument centers on books. Refreshing!

So what follows are my thoughts on 3 graphic novels and one novel...

Snow, Fire, and Sword by Sophie Masson
First, a novel. This is set in a fictional land, but clearly modeled after Indonesia. Competing religious groups and political purposes have led to a neglect of the magical spirits that once commanded worship, so when a malignant force gathers, the humans have little hope but two children who are unusually poised to save the world. This may sound familiar, but the descriptions, settings, and even some of the fantasy conceptualization in this book are fresh to me and I suspect will be fresh to many of my students as well. One of the unusual elements is that the three elements the children Adi and Dewi must gather--snow, fire, and sword--are not singular people or objects. Instead, different people and things can fulfill these roles, but they are still scarce and the uncertainty of whether the children have found the right elements to bring together keeps the suspense palpable.

A clearly post-9-11 quote that nonetheless blends seamlessly in the book:
"The unknown enemy, striking unpredictably from the shadows, will always strike more terror into human hearts than the declared one, facing you on the battlefield. Those ruthless and clever enough, who care nothing for the honor of the world or for the normal concerns of humanity, will always know how to use not only real weapons but also the paralyzing one of sheer terror." (p. 299)

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley
When a graphic novel has a narrative structure like a novel, with a satisfying resolution at the end, I'm all there. Maus, Maus II, and even the Owly books (more below) I am fully down with. I'm also a big fan of nonfiction graphic novels liek Pedro and Me, Stuck Rubber Baby, Persepolis, etc. Castle Waiting is not structured like a novel, however, despite clear efforts by its publishers and Jane Yolen to market it as such. There's a storyline in the beginning that's a fractured sleeping beauty, but that narrative trails off, and we end up following the stories of a woman who is a nun in the unusual Solicitine order, an order made up of bearded women. The escape from the circus is fun, but that storyline drags when the nuns decide to buy the local mill. The bearded ladies and the utopian feminist undertones are enjoyable but ham-fisted, leaving little to the imagination. I'm glad I read it, but I think it has structural problems as a story that make me wonder about Yolen's prefatory endorsement.

Meridian: Flying Solo by Barbara Kesel et al.

This comic-turned-graphic-novels is feminist in overt story content, but has lots of little oddities that make me wonder about how deeply the creators have thought through the limits of gender stereotyping. The drawings are still of a stereotyped kind of female beauty, and the heroine is given mysterious (and traditionally feminine) powers to restore and heal. While celebrating traditional feminine strengths is a good idea in my book, coupling this with wispy outfits on a supermodel feels jarring to me.

Even now, as I write about it, I feel how torn I am about this one. It's a great example of comics rewritten as graphic novels, and one strength is the authorial commentary throughout that mentions the initial serial publication as well as the new form. But, for me personally, some serial narrative forms just drives me nuts... I never feel like I'm getting enough of the story or the "real" story. I had the same reaction to the Sandman series, and I also feel the same way about other serial fiction like A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Spiderwick Chrnoicles. When I know they story is always going to continue, and then I feel like I'm being sold books, not told a story. All this despite the strong endorsement from no flying no tights. It occurs to me that McCloud's Understanding Comics does a great job of decoding the semiotics of the genre for new readers, but doesn't much address the overall serial narrative structure of comics. He's more interested in what comics can do than what specific iterations actually accomplish, which may explain this somewhat.

The bearded nuns of Castle Waiting seem like my new best friends in comparison to the scantily clad and busty heroine of this story. Fantasy is a tough genre whatever narrative form it takes, because there's so much borrowing and reborrowing from each other and from folklore. Making something enthralling and fresh takes a lot, and there's something about this title that makes me think there were too many cooks in the kitchen and the result is a slightly confused menu.

Owly: Just a Little Blue by Andy Runton
This is a story entirely without words, a tale about Owly's life in the forest with his friend the worm and their friend the butterfly, as they try and try to build a good birdhouse for a family of bluebirds. The poignancy is astonishing given the simplicity of the black-and-white drawings that use a few easily interpreted symbols instead of words. While too complex for little kids, it seems that it might be able to be understood or at least deciphered by people who don't speak English--thanks YLIG folks for leading me to this one and for the idea in this last sentence.