Monday, December 18, 2006

Children's Films in the Days of Yore Yore Yore Yore Yore

Grumble, grumble. Last week on NPR's program Day to Day, Mike Pesca gave a piece about the recent increase in animated children's films. Here's the intro:

Happy Feet is just one of a string of successful feature films aimed at children. Why are so many movies being made for young audiences? Is quality declining as a result?
Basically, Pesca describes how, in the good old days, a Disney full-length animated feature would only be released every one or two years, and it would be a Major Event in the lives of kids everywhere -- something worth "two weeks of good behavior for your parents to take you to it" -- and how every one of the Disney films were of high quality. Nowadays, there's a new CGI children's film in the theatres every month, and most of them are pretty lousy. Kids get taken to all of them, and is this one more way that Childhood is Being Destroyed?

What Pesca has created here is a kind of dangerous sense of nostalgia. I don't know how much he read about the history of children's film for this article, but when Snow White was relased in 1937, it was just one of many, many children's films produced that year. It was a time period when many kids (in fact, the U.S. popluation in general) would frequent movie houses on a weekly, or sometimes daily, basis. For every Dumbo and Pinocchio there was a bevy of Shirley Temple, Tarzan, Buck Rodgers, and what-have-you flicks created at the same time. Plus, one must also take into account that the bulk of animated films made during the "golden years" of Disney were shorts, many of which were also of dubious quality. There was a lot of dreck; I imagine the good-stuff-to-dreck ratio was just about the same then as it is now.

As Lore Sjöberg would say, those who do not study the past are doomed to listen to a dance re-mix of it.

And for those of you who think that every child in America was completely enchanted by Snow White, go out and read Tomie de Paola's 26 Fairmount Avenue. The first-person account of the film's premiere -- and the author's reaction -- is absolutely delicious.

Thank you to A Fuse #8 Production for the link.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Rapunzel á la Lego

Grrr. . . for some reason, I can't post clips from You Tube here using Blogger Beta. Anyone have any hints? But anyhow, here is a darling little version of the folktale we all know and love . . . done entirely with Lego bricks.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Frickin'. Awesome. Children's. Library.

It's called The Trove, and it's the children's department of the White Plains Public Library. It features not one, but two different programming spaces, a pirate ship for lounging, a tiny dome with a flat-screen TV for film presentations, a puppet theater that doubles as a playhouse . . . wowzers.

It also has the Alice Collection -- a non-circulating special collection for the adult research of children's literature.

And if that weren't sweet enough, their web site is profoundly well-organized and easy to navigate. Look and learn, my people. Look and learn.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Red-Hot Ruby in the Smoke

The BBC film version of this fabulous book is in post production. If you haven't read this fabulous victorian thriller, get thee to a library and read away! (And be prepared to stay up all night doing so as well.)

The Ruby in the Smoke is on my list of ten children's books that oughtta be movies. Only nine more to go . . .

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Kolbert Report

The December 4th issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert surveys several picture books published in 2006. Within it, I found the single most cynical statement about children's literature I've seen this year:

If, as Joan Didion famously put it, "we tell ourselves stories in order to live," why do we tell stories to our children? In my experience, mostly it is to get them to shut up. A book read to a toddler who, after running around the house all day, has had to be stuffed, quite literally, into his pajamas, may traffic in imaginative freedom and wonder, but it is still an instrument of control. I will read this to you, and you will go to sleep. End of story.
Whugh! The last thing I need is a heapin' helpin' of guilt loaded onto my family's bedtime reading, but there it is: the whiny little devil on my shoulder during our evening read, whispering, "innnnnstrument of controlllll, innnnstrument of controlllll!" in my ear.

I disagree with her almost reflexively, and yet I can't come up with an argument that counters her strongly enough to satisfy me. What parent, after a particularly trying evening with L'Enfant, can't wait to get those darn stories over and done with to have a little peace? But then again, what parent doens't want to pass along the best moments from his or her own childhood for their kids -- which frequently includes sharing favorite children's books?

The idea of children's literature as an opiate doesn't sit well with me.

Kolbert also describes Good Night, Gorilla thusly:

On the last page, the animals are uncaged and -- I assume -- like more and more kids across America, still fooling around after the adults have conked out.

Whoops. Read it again, Liz.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Reason #45 Why I Wish I Lived Closer to Boston

They've got the Eric Carle Museum.
They've got the Make Way for Ducklings statue.
They've got the Horn Book.

And now they've got this.

Sure, the Remus Lupins were in Pittsburgh this past Tuesday, but it wasn't a full-blown Yule Ball.

Sigh . . .

Thursday, December 07, 2006

O Holy Moly Night

Over at The Sneeze a few days ago, there was a delicious posting that involves possibly the worst recording of "O Holy Night," ever. Bad to the point of reducing its listeners to fits of gut-busting laughter. So bad, that I'm kind of surprised that it wasn't part of the 365 Days Project. But I digress. If you want to hear the song, click here.

Oh, this song brings back a lot of memories of Christmas Concerts Past, mostly involving disastrous performances. Such as the one when my favorite music teacher, Mrs. Benko, performed the song in a cathedral lit by only two candles right in front of her. When she hit the high note in the song, she accidentally blew the candles out.

Or the last Christmas party I attended at my parents' church, which had a musical program that wasn't very well organized, and three different people all performed "O Holy Night"; one of them on the clarinet. Poor people! Poor third performer, who began her piece only to hear a toddler in the audience yell out, "not again!"

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Forgotten Bookshelf: A Necklace of Raindrops

A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Knopf. $5.50.

Oh, is there anything more succulent than a collection of Joan Aiken short stories? I don't think so. This collection, originally published in 1968, is one of the best examples of that most gossamer of genres, the bedside tale. Here Aiken has strung together eight little gems of stories, and each one shines with just the perfect combination of whimsy, humor, and wonder that is the hallmark of the best children's literature. One of the many reasons I became a children's librarian was so I could find out about all the good books I had missed reading as a child, and pass them on to my kids. For me, A Necklace of Raindrops is exactly that kind of book.

Aiken's stories have a timeless, folkloric quality tinged with contemporary motifs. "The Cat Sat on the Mat" concerns a schoolbus-dwelling family who recieve kindness from a fairy; "There's Some Sky in This Pie" is a silly story about people and animals riding a flying pie all over the world, searching for a parking spot. Characters from books spring from their pages to play with lonely children in "The Elves in the Shelves" (a great name for a children's bookstore if ever there was one), and lonely train engineers find happiness where they least expect it in "The Three Travelers." My favorite of the bunch is the title story, which concerns a magical necklace that can control water and rain -- it's just the kind of tale I would have feasted on as a child.

Many of the stories contain bits of poetry or songs that are repeated over and over, in the grand tradition of oral storytelling. This volume would be perfect for reading aloud, although the language is simple and lyrical enough for readers new to the world of chapter books. A shimmering little treat for anyone who wants a good mind-ride at bedtime, breakfast time, anytime.

Knopf brought this book back into print back in 2001, and is still available in paperback (although it's easy to pick up a used hardback online).

Friday, December 01, 2006


Clocking in at 74,855 words . . . my novel-of-a-month! Actually, it's going to be something more like a novel-of-six-weeks. That's right: it's not finished yet. But I did reach the 50,000 mark, and then some. The whole experience is a little anitclimactic.

The Question on Your Mind: does this mean that I'll be posting on the Brookeshelf, or not? Well, that remains to be seen. I was going to post a book review, but my husband had to do homework, and monolpolized the computer all evening.

(Love you, honey.)

And tomorrow I work all day at the library. So, hopefully things will be back in Full Swing soon. Thanks for all of your support during the last month, it's been quite a ride.