The Hunger Games

Well, I heard Suzanne Collins' newest series was good, and the first book did not disappoint in the least. Katniss is a fierce heroine. When her father died, her mother emotionally abandoned the family to Katniss' care. As the eldest daughter, Katniss took it upon herself to feed the family by poaching in the woods with her friend Gale. All of this experience causes her to radically underestimate her ability to survive. When her younger sister, Primrose, is selected for the Hunger Games, Katniss doesn't hesitate to take her place. The Hunger Games are the ultimate in creepiness, a reality tv show created when "tributes" of children ages 12-18, one girl and one boy from each of the outlying areas, are forced into the wilderness and kill each other off one by one. All for the entertainment of the wealthy people in the Capitol. Katniss is ruthless in defense of her own survival, but she also becomes attached to the young girl Rue and to her fellow competitor Peeta in ways that defy her own understanding.

Personally, I'm just annoyed that the sequel doesn't appear to be available on my brand new Christmas Kindle (thank you Ben!). Because if it were, it's what I'd be reading

Oh, I also read most of The Lacuna by Kingsolver, but left it before the end. It was too obvious how it was going to end. I enjoyed the Mexican setting (having just traveled there for a week) and the international politics, but the long suffering closeted protagonist was more fun in his boyhood, less fun when he semi-retired to Ashville and developed xenophobia. Plus Kingsolver had more and more of the story told in articles and letters, resulting in less emotional involvement with the characters. I loved the lush poetry and aching loneliness of Prodigal Summer, so it's not that I don't love what Kingsolver can do. Certainly the coincidence of a young boy's life spanning encounters with oil magnates in the 20s, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Lev Trotsky in the 30s, and then HUAC in the 40s felt a bit contrived to my reading eye.

Echo, A Great and Terrible Beauty

All my blogging energy was going to writing book reviews for awhile. That may happen again, as the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books periodically needs me to pitch in and write reviews, especially of new fantasy titles. The handful of fantasy titles that I reviewed AND that have stayed with me this year include: Roar by Clayton, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Ryan, and Watersmeet by Abbott. Graceling by Cashore was not one I reviewed, but was splendid (thanks KQ!). I recommend them all.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libby Bray

Historical fiction and fantasy in one? Bray tackles this odd combination and makes it work in a plot that revolves around Gemma, whose mother's unexpected death in India sends her back to a London boarding school. But death is not the end, and Gemma sees her mother again in the "realms," spirit worlds where Gemma must learn to travel. I only read the first of the trilogy, but Bray wraps this installment up neatly while leaving plenty of room for future installments.

Echo by Francesca Lia Block
This seems fragmented at first, but the stories of Echo, Wendy, Eden, and Smoke do converge into yet another dreamlike Block narrative. The pacing is slow, but nobody reads Block for her page-turning prose. Oddly, this reminded me of an epic family narrative by Maeve Binchy, in that there are characters stacked on characters and Echo's family figures in dramatically and symbolically. By that standard, it's quite pithy!

Who does own the story?

Welch, Wendy. "Who Owns the Story?" Storytelling, Self, Society, 5:1-22, 2009.

Welch asks the big question (above) systematically, using both legal and ethnographic arguments. But she doesn't answer it, and ultimately what she provides is a broad exploration of the facets of the question and ways of answering. This is a strong candidate as a text for the storytelling course precisely because it presents a range of answers. At the same time, I admit to a sense of disappointment as a scholar: she touches on individual/personal ownership, cultural ownership, authenticity (and claims to authenticity), the idea of "respect" and its limits, and even sacred stories, but she doesn't ultimately get beyond a postmodern issues of representation. She tackles them in concrete, not critical theory, terms, and that's a big plus, but her conclusion about "thoughtful people of integrity on all sides of this issue" is just shy of relativism. I wished for more serious consideration of power, a la Foucault, rather than a well-researched and well-defined paper that ultimately walks the reader through a smorgasbord of opinions.

The Letter-Box as intermediate space between child/adults/readers/writers

Phillips, Michelle H. "Along the 'Paragraphic Wires': Child-Adult Mediation in St. Nicholas Magazine" in Children's Literature vol. 37, p. 84-109.
Great article for thinking about how a magazine positions child readers, in a top-down way, as active participants. Phillips argues that St. Nicholas readers had much free play in their interactions with the magazine through a series of close readings of the Letter-Box section. Brilliantly conceived and well argued, this is a piece that can substantiate the claim that child readers were granted some specific kinds of agency.
Of special note:
-Phillps argues that children themselves write "with amusement about other children" engaginging in "a process of disidentification with childhood." (p. 105)
-about Dodge.. "...unlike so many of the editors of other children's periodicals, for Dodge the role of an editor is not coincident with that of an author, parent, or other adult authority figure." (p. 90) Instead, "the editor's role is to mediate" in this "space of hybridized adult-child interchange." (p. 87)

my mothers' voices coming out of my mouth

Roger posted about what Zena Sutherland used to quote Ursula Nordstrom as having said about kids loving to be read the phone book if it means they get attention. Which I now realize I learned from Betsy Hearne, who was Zena's protege, and which I know I have repeated. This idea has been handed down to me and, apparently, to Roger, who had the clarity to credit it back and back to its earlier attributions. I just heard it and repeated it, but now I see that my intellectual mothers' voices are emanating from my own lips.

It's odd to discover online evidence that you are actually living what you teach, participating in an oral tradition, part of a lineage of stories...

other holiday reads

Nation by Terry Pratchett
Nation is a surprise. From a fantasy writer come fantasy masquerading as historical fiction. Despite the many clues that this is a made-up world, there's still something real seeming about the set up, so much so that Pratchett added a disclaimer in the back.

The premises are multiple, as is to be expected from any Pratchett romp. But this is a more serious romp than most. The question Pratchett poses is: what if, on the cusp of your initiation into manhood, your entire nation of people, your tribe, were obliterated by a tidal wave? A secondary character is a girl from England who is nearly the only one from a shipwreck to survive. In fact, the ship was washed onto the boy's island, helping to decimate his people's land.

As if that weren't enough spoilers... the boy does eventually reconstitute something of his people's rituals, as refugees from other, smaller islands make their way to his island. The girl helps, and poisons some rogue pirates along the way. Although they are attracted to each other, they do not wind up together, not even for a stolen kiss, which was interesting, refreshing, and disappointing all at once.

Fireweed: A Political Autobiography by Gerda Lerner
Thanks to D.C. for loaning this one to me. This is a powerful book by the woman who, in some ways, founded the study of women's history. I was most taken by the chapters on her childhood, as she struggled to survive in WWII Vienna as a wealthy Jewish child who was often mistaken for an "Aryan" child. Her early attempts to be political are both moving and heartbreaking.

Toward an early history of teacher/librarian interactions, cooperation, and professional tensions

When I'm ready to revise Chpt 3 of the dissertation, these sources will provide the educational history background for that lit review:

-History of Education in America by Pulliam
-The American School, 1642 to 1933 by Spring
-Education in a Free Society by Ripa
-Pillars of the Republic by Kaestle
-How Teachers Taught by Curan

I have a conundrum regarding this article-to-be: who is the audience? Is it vindicating or villifying to write about teacher-librarian conflict in the past? I do think it's a worthy antidote to histories that gloss over such professional tensions over jurisdiction, definition, identity, etc. L&CR seems wrong because it's not about cultural records, it's about professional culture. This makes me think Library History might be the venue, but that raises issues that Boyd raised and I haven't yet addressed: how do these early tensions connect to the broader story of the joint section of the NEA and ALA that emerged in 1896? My data is basically 1882-1898 and from the Reading of the Young reports. So this might require more primary source work as well.

It's certainly not going to be for an audience of children's librarians directly, but rather for folks interested in how reformist and, later, Progressive Era professionals defined their work in relation to children's reading. Who should guide the reading of children, teachers, librarians, parents, or others? That's a question that persists, and it suggests that this might be a worthy article if I can just figure out the appopriate scope and venue.

Histories that give context for understanding evolution in children's literature

Here's a brief list of histories that are useful for possible lit review on this topic:

The Metaphysical Club by Menand

Talks about the influence of Agassiz in America

The Post-Darwinian Controversies by Moore
Details the various controversies, details being the key word. While the exploration of philosophical divergences could be useful, this focuses more on scholarly differences than on the kind of popular reception that would have influenced children's publishing.

Victorian Science in Contect, ed. by Lightman

Excellent collection of essays, among them the intro by Lightman and the chapter by Barbara Gates (who elsewhere wrote about Arabella Buckely's affiliations with Lyell and Darwin).

Wild Things ed by Dobrin and Kidd
On ecocriticism in children's lit. Most promising essay is "'He Made Us Very Much Like the Flowers': Human/Nature in Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Children's Literature" by Maude Hines. Second most promising is "'Foundation-Stones': Natural History for Children in St. Nicholas Magazine" by Kaye Adkins

Charles Darwin and Darwin's Origin of Species, both by Janet Browne

I read the second in total, and appreciated what a smooth writer Browne is. She's also a formidable and respected Darwin scholar.

Before Scopes by Israel
Explores religion in Tennessee from 1870-1925, situating Scopes in historical context.

Disseminating Darwinism ed. by Numbers and Stenhouse
p. 129 Describes how the evolution controversy heated up only when the theory was applied to humankind.

Darwinism Comes to America by Numbers
Another respected Darwin scholar. Chpt 3 covers 1860s to 1920s.

Evolution: The History of an Idea
by Peter J. Bowler
Whew, almost lost this one! I have copies of chpts 6 (reception of Darwin's theory) and 8 (evolution, society, and culture, 1875-1925) but somehow hadn't gotten the title page. All's well now, and time to put this into refworks...

Out with the old, in with the new

Today on my NPR most emailed podcast, I heard of a guy who did all 121 possible merit badges in order to become an Eagle Scout. For comparison's sake, regular Eagle Scouts need 21 or so.

Now that's overachievement. I think back with nausea on the fights in my home-of-origin around my brother's forced march to becoming an Eagle Scout, forced by my father the devout scoutmaster. All my brother wanted was a chance to be a garden variety underachiever, but no such luck in my house. But he had to get those 21 merit badges to satisfy the ego of the father who raised him. Such are fathers and sons around the globe. Not every father and not every son, but enough to create a spiderweb of displaced dreams. I think of the Liz Phair song about flying into Chicago at night. If I were able to look down from a plane on a globe lighted only by the fathers who have pressured their sons to achieve what they did not in their own youth, it would surely be awash with light.

So, out with the old, in with the new. I have blogged less than half of what I've read in the last six months. I have great personal reasons, but reasons can have the ring of excuses almost as soon as they are set into sentences. So out with the old, the overachieving blogger of 2007 and early 2008 who blogged nearly everything she read. In with the new, the blogger who blogs where, how, and if she feels like it. Dear readers, no merit badges will be issued for consistent blogging in 2009.

May you, may I, may all sons and fathers have a new year of ease.