Friday, February 24, 2012

I've moved. Again.

This blog is now closed.  I'll be closing comments here, at Big A little a, as well as the address.  You can always reach me at

I'm taking a new approach to discussing books online. I'll be blogging books in shorter formats at Crossover Books on Tumblr and on Pinterest (Follow Me on Pinterest).  I won't be running either feed through Facebook or Twitter, so it might take me awhile to find everyone.

Finally, I'll still be blogging for the Working Group for the Study of Russian Children's Literature and Culture  and with my students on a variety of course blogs.

See you all soon and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#$%#: Translating Harry Potter in Russia

You know, I'm a mild-mannered person.  Or, rather, I'm a person who expects the best of others and a person who prefers rational evaluation above emotional response.  But, I'll tell you what: Misogyny will set me off at any time and on any day.

In doing some research, I ran across a very recent (2 days ago) interview with the Russian translator of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone on Russia's best cultural website  The Harry Potter translation was rushed and criticized, something the translator admirably addresses in his interview and could have mentioned as an excuse for any failings.

He continues to say, however, the following:

Книга, кстати, достаточно легкая, написана простым языком. Видно было, что какая-то несчастная шотландская разведенная женщина с ребенком или двумя на руках сидела в каком-то кафе и писала явно без особой надежды на успех.

Here is my rough translation: " The book [Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone], by the way, is fairly light, written in a simple language. It was clear, that some unhappy Scottish divorced woman with a child or two(on her lap) sat in a cafe and wrote without any especial hope for success."

First of all, J.K. had only one child.  Second of all, hadn't she the right? Third of all, isn't simple language appropriate for a children's book?

Am I overreacting? What do you think?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Weekend Young Adult (and Crossover) Reviews

Hello Everyone! So this is the most tardy Weekend Reviews post ever.  Not only is it Wednesday, but this post actually covers the weekends of April 16-17 and April 9-10.  April in academia is crazy, so it's catch up time.  Here's what's been reviewed in the major media recently:

Rachel Pepper reviews Malinda Lo's Huntress for the Bay Area Reporter.  ("Lo's lush descriptions of the physical landscapes her characters reside in, and the perils they encounter on their journey, make the pages turn effortlessly. Her ability to populate these worlds with compelling young lesbian characters is an added bonus for LGBT readers.")

Joanna H. Kraus considers Brian Katcher's Almost Perfect in a series of reviews of recent award-winning titles for The Oakland Tribune. (Kraus calls Almost Perfect a "novel about a transgender teen is conversational, compelling and compassionate.")

Pam Norfolk reviews Maggie Stiefvater's Lament for Longridge News (U.K.): "Lament, a beautifully written and haunting story of good and evil, love and hate, the spiritual, the temporal and the power of emotions, is about as good as teen fiction gets."

Susan Carpenter reviews Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor, for the Los Angeles Times. ("The book is similar in theme to many other coming-of-age fantasies, but the details are distinctly African, the language unrushed and elegant. The dresses the girls wear are crafted from traditional raffia ribbon. The sounds of Fela Kuti and other Afrobeat musicians are often playing in the background of the action.") And, Matthew Finch reviews Akata Witch for The Brooklyn Rail.

Looking for books for teens about London? Mary-Liz Shaw has a recommendation or two in The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Mechele R. Dillard reviews Jennifer Laurens's Overprotected in the Atlanta Examiner.

Karen MacPherson reads Gary D. Schmidt's Okay for Now and finds it a "truly remarkable book" for Scripps Howard News Service (here linked to The Detroit News).

Mary Harris Russell also reviews Gary D. Schmidt's Okay for Now in The Chicago Tribune.

Don't Miss Review of the Week/s: MacPherson contributes an excellent audiobook article--complete with YA-title recommendations--this week for Scripps Howard News Service (linked here to The Seattle Times).

John Stephens's The Emerald Atlas is a new Middle Grade fantasy that reviewers think might appeal to teens. Dana Stevens reviews it for The New York Times and Sonja Bolle reviews the title with reference to Diana Wynne Jones and Harry Potter in the Los Angeles Times.

Linda Sue Park reviews Ruta Sepetys Between Shades of Gray for The New York Times.

Phil Ness considers Aiden Chamber's YA short-story collection, The Kissing Game,  for The Guardian. ("Teenage readers will love this nastiness and the dark strangeness of all these stories." Sold!)

Also in The Guardian, Marcus Sedgwick reviews Phil Earle's Being Billy and finds it a "moving debut novel."

Mary Harris Russell reviews the last Alex Rider title for The Chicago Tribune.

Sarah Pereira reads Kelley Armstrong's The Gathering for Guleph Mercury. ("As in all of Armstrong’s books, the characters are endearing people that readers can related to. This is one of the traits that makes her books so addictive. And her young adult books are also great reads for adults.")

Ruel S. De Vera reviews Ally Condie's Matched for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. ("No action hero, Cassia is a far less tortured, far more intellectual protagonist than Hunger Games’ battle hardened Katniss Everdeen.")

Here's a review I missed a couple of weeks ago: Sonja Bolle reviews Maria Padian's Jersey Tomatoes are the Best in the Los Angeles Times.

Weekend Young Adult (and Crossover) Book News

As with this week's review post, this news roundup is a two-week edition and quite tardy.  Better late than never, I suppose, so here's what I've found interesting lately:

Anne Joseph profiles Meg Rosoff for The Jewish Chronicle Online in an article titled "Why Meg Rosoff's best-selling teen fiction is secretly so Jewish."

Brian Truitt writes about the forthcoming graphic novel versions of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy in USAToday. (Sample pages available.)

And here's an ongoing discussion about teens, education, and required reading hosted by Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Atlantic's site.  It's a debate that will never die, but there are many interesting comments to the post about literary analysis and high school reading.

And in a related article, Patrick Ness takes on "unsuitable" books for teens in the Guardian.   (Adult books he recommends for teens, really, including The Catcher in the Rye, The Stand, etc.)

Jennifer Arrow takes on HBO's adaptation of Game of Thrones from the perspective of one who has not read the books for E!Online.

Susan Dominus talks Hunger Games trilogy for The New York Times.

Is it summer reading time already?!? Steven Bennett recommends some reading for middle and high school readers at

Charlie Cooper talks teen dystopian fiction, complete with reading list, in The Independent.

Robin Kirk also discusses dystopian fiction for teens at Open Salon.

Ben Fulton talks to Carol Lynch Williams for The Salt Lake Tribune. William's newest novel is Miles from Ordinary and "takes readers inside the guilt-ridden head of a teenage girl struggling through life with a mentally ill mother."

Marlene Charnizon finds out "What are They [Teens] Reading" at the library for School Library Journal.

The Today Show has an excerpt from Adriana Trigiana's YA novel Viola in Reel Life up on their site.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Weekend Young Adult (and Crossover) Reviews

Geraldine Brennan reviews a number of teen books for The Observer.  Tim Bowler's Buried Thunder sounds especially good: "The suspense and claustrophobia, and the war in Maya's head between reason and paranoia, reminded me of Alan Garner's classic The Owl Service. It was hard to believe that Maya's family could move into their new home, acquire guests and scare them away all within a week, but the story is strong enough to survive a sketchy set-up."

Ibi Kaslik reviews Tim Wynne-Jones' Blink & Caution for The Globe & Mail.  "Despite the gimmicks and occasional heavy-handedness, Blink and Caution captures the alienation of adolescence and the painful process of becoming oneself, in a time fraught with complications and chaos both from within and without."

Pam Norfolk considers Julie Hearn's Wreckers for Fleetwood Weekly News. (U.K.)

Deb Abela reviews Ursula Dubosarsky's The Golden Day for ABC-Canberra. ("A haunting and beautifully written story...")

J.P. Wickwire reviews Lauren DeStefano's Wither for Florida Times-Union.("Written with both maturity and literary merit, it is a poignant and satisfying romance sure to spawn many sequels.")

Susan Carpenter also reviews Wither for the Los Angeles Times "Not Just for Kids" column.  Carpenter writes, "A wonderfully toxic brew of meddling and polygamist gamesmanship, Wither is an exciting and powerfully written addition to the increasingly packed shelves of dystopian YA."

Carpenter also reviews Ruta Sepetys Between Shades of Gray for The Kansas City Star.

Leslie Wright considers Karen McQuestion's Favorite for, picked up by Seattle PI. (" unexpected story set with great characters.")

Lisa Brown discusses Elizabeth Eulberg's Prom and Prejudice and Rick Yancy's The Monstrumologist in The Joplin Globe.

Julia Z. Rosenberg reviews books for kids and teens about sex at ParentDish

Michael Berry reviews three new fantasy novels "set in the British Isles" for the San Francisco Chronicle.  I am sure two of these will crossover to a teen audience.  (The last novel reviewed, Matt Haig's The Radleys, stars "a middle-class, suburban British family trying to cope with the supernatural, in this case their repressed need to drink human blood."  Sounds intriguing, but not particularly appealing for the Young Adult reader.)

Meghan Cox Gurdon takes a look at John Stephens's The Emerald Atlas--a Middle Grade/Young Adult novel aimed at the 9-to-15-year-old reader--in the Wall Street Journal.

The Seattle Times provides capsule reviews of local books for children and teens this week.  (New Deb Caletti and a cyberattack thriller are among them.)

Weekend Young Adult (and Crossover) Book News

It was a slow week in Young Adult (and Crossover) Book News.  (Good thing, since I spent the weekend in Chicago discussing undergraduate research and am still catching up on life.) Here's what I found for the week of March 28-April 3:

Cat Clarke recommends her favorite top 10 books with teens behaving badly for The Guardian. It's a good list and well worth reading.  I especially like Clarke's justifications for her choices, as in this paragraph about Cory Doctorow's Little Brother: "Teen hackers in futuristic San Francisco desperately cling to their civil liberties in a sinister Orwellian society. I fell in love with this book even though I didn't understand half (OK, more than half) of the techno-speak. Apparently you're not supposed to trust anyone over 25, so that's me told."

Anthony Horowitz talks about his family in The Observer.

Amy Pattee takes on the much-discussed Bitch Feminist YA book list for Kirkus Reviews and recommends four books as feminist titles.

Steven Mihailovich profiles Cindy Pon (Fury of the Phoenix) for the La Jolla Light.

Charlie Higson has moved on from Young Bond to "a world in which everyone over the age of 14 is consumed by a plague that turns them into deformed, demented and droolingly bloodthirsty zombies."  Christopher Middleton talks to Higson for The Telegraph.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reading "The Chocolate War" in 2011

I'll admit it: I had not read The Chocolate War (1974) until early 2011 when I was putting together a Young Adult Literature course. I'm not sure why I hadn't read this one in Middle School or in Junior High, but for some reason I didn't.  It's possible the novel's overwhelming maleness turned me off, but I don't know for sure.

I knew a few things about The Chocolate War before reading it this January.  I knew it was, for example, a much-banned book, and I knew that it is read in schools today.  In fact, I polled my YA-course students and many of them had read The Chocolate War as part of a Middle School or Junior High English class.  (One of my students read it in a fourth-grade class!)  The inclusion of The Chocolate War in so many school curricula surprised me as The Chocolate War holds the #4 spot on the ALA's 100 most frequently challenged books list (1990-1999) and is #3 on the 2000-2009 list.

So, what makes The Chocolate War relevant today 35 years since its release?  Is it relevant only because it is controversial?  Is The Chocolate War a good Young Adult novel?

First a brief plot summary with spoilers: Trinity High School serves as the novel's setting--one as grim, and brown and gray as the road featured on the newest edition's cover.  Two forces rule Trinity: 1) the Priests, headed temporarily by the malevolent Brother Leon; 2) the Vigils, a secret gang of Trinity students led by Archie Costello.  The story centers around the school's fundraiser, which this year is selling cut-rate Mother's Day chocolates with the lavender "Mom" ribbon removed.  (The discarding of the lavender ribbons serves as a signal of the lack of color and of women and girls in the novel.)  The novel's protagonist, Jerry Renault, receives an assignment from Archie--he is to refuse to sell the chocolates for 10 days.  Jerry's refusal enrages Brother Leon, a fact that earns Jerry some respect from his classmates, especially those who are not associated with the Vigils.  Brother Leon is worried about the chocolate sale and asks Archie for his assistance in "motivating" the students and in pressuring Jerry to accept some chocolates for sale.  When Jerry's 10 days are up, however, Jerry decides to continue to refuse the chocolates.  Why?  He tells another student he's not quite sure, but wonders "Do I dare disturb the universe?"  Jerry's continuing refusal to participate in the fundraiser leads to bullying from all sides (including from the teachers) and culminates in a fight with a member of the Vigils in which Jerry is brutally beaten.

Several things surprised me about The Chocolate War in 2011:

1. Cormier's sophisticated narration.  Cormier uses a third-person narration, unusual for YA problem novels even in the 1970s.  The point of view shifts from character to character--some of them minor players in the story, some major--as the story unfolds.  In fact, the story opens from the point of view of a very minor character (Obie) and it isn't until several chapters into the novel that we understand that Jerry is the novel's protagonist.  The effect of this strategy is in the foregrounding of the setting; The collective bullying is more important than the individual's suffering;
2. There is no lesson. Jerry doesn't learn anything from resisting his bullies, except that perhaps he should have gone along with the crowd;
3. Cormier's teens (Archie, Emile) are just as corrupt as the adults, and his adults (Brother Eugene) have the potential to be as innocent as some of the teens;
4. The frank description of young male sexuality and, in particular, of masturbation.  The teens' sex lives are as alienating and as futile as Trinity High itself.

The Chocolate War inspired excellent discussion in my YA lit course and resulted in some interesting blog posts, including one on Jerry's identity, one looking at The Chocolate War as an allegory for Nazi Germany, and one questioning the definition of The Chocolate War as a Young Adult novel.  I left my reading of The Chocolate War certain about one thing--The Chocolate War is an ambitious, literary novel.  It is also a novel more adults should read; It's an important crossover work and proof that Young Adult literature can be as significant as "literary fiction."

Crossover potential YA -->Adult: Absolutely.
C. Anita Tarr's 2002 "The Absence of Moral Agency in Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War" (in Children's Literature, vol. 30) changed the way I read The Chocolate War, however.  I will post about these reconsiderations soon.