The Literary Pursuit Takes A Different Direction

Happy New Year, readers! With new years come new beginnings, and The Literary Pursuit shall do just that.

I started working about 4 months ago, and I’m still adjusting to working life after graduating from college. Due to that, book blogging is going to take a back seat in my priorities. Previously, I publish a post every two days. Now, I shall publish randomly, time-wise. (Actually, I still have some posts lined up every couple of days for this week. Old habits are hard to break. :P ) This doesn’t mean I will have The Literary Pursuit languish into inactivity, as I did a few months ago when I took a break from it. It just means I won’t be posting regularly or as frequently. But I’m on the constant lookout for sweet bookish stuff as always!

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my friends and readers of this blog who have so kindly helped me out by guest posting, because I had a hard time finding content for the blog a few weeks ago with work taking up most of my time. (And reading too, it’s still a priority in my life!)

Gentledove, for her quirky poetry.

Lovelyloey, for her thought-provoking musing about book covers.

MusEditions, for her interesting recommendation on mystery series!

Anyway, I hope you will continue to visit The Literary Pursuit. Take care and cheers to a new 2009! :)

Newbery Books No Fun to Kids

Apparently kids avoid award-winning books because they’re not fun to read most of the time.

Plot Twist: The Newbery May Dampen Kids’ Reading
By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 16, 2008; Page C01

The Newbery Medal has been the gold standard in children’s literature for more than eight decades. On the January day when the annual winner is announced, bookstores nationwide sell out, libraries clamor for copies and teachers add the work to lesson plans.

Now the literary world is debating the Newbery’s value, asking whether the books that have won recently are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading. Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues.

An article in October’s School Library Journal — “Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?” by children’s literary expert Anita Silvey — touched off the debate, now in full bloom on blogs and in e-mails. It is the new flashpoint in the struggle to draw children into the delicious world of books at a time when the National Endowment for the Arts says fewer Americans are choosing to read than they did 20 years ago, risking social and economic consequences.

The organization that awards the Newbery — and several other book prizes, including the Caldecott Medal for best American picture book for children — defends its methods and its record.

“The criterion has never been popularity,” said Pat Scales, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. “It is about literary quality. We don’t expect every child to like every book. How many adults have read all the Pulitzer Prize-winning books and the National Book Award winners and liked every one?”

But Silvey and other critics have said the Newbery committee, which will award the 2009 medal Jan. 26, has a special responsibility because it is so influential.

“I can’t help but believe that thousands, even millions, more children would grow up reading if the Newbery committee aimed to spotlight books that are deep and beautiful and irresistible to kids,” said Lucy Calkins, founding director of the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University’s Teachers College and a professor of children’s literature.

In an interview, Silvey said one example of inaccessibility is the 2008 winner, “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village” by Laura Amy Schlitz — a series of monologues that Deborah Johnson, manager of the extensive book section at Child’s Play in the District, agreed would be difficult for most kids to read on their own.

“Quality and popularity are not mutually exclusive concepts,” said Silvey, editor of several books, including “Children’s Books and Their Creators,” an overview of 20th-century children’s books. “They can be found in the same book. . . . If you don’t think of children at all in the equation, what you get are books that work for adults.”

Yet Johnson said she is reluctant to criticize the quality of recent Newbery winners: “To choose books that people feel are going to stretch a young person’s mind is not a bad thing.”

The Newbery Medal was launched in 1922 — the first children’s literary award in the world — to promote the publishing industry by choosing “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” There are now numerous awards given for young people’s literature by Scales’s organization and others — some even selected by children — but the Newbery remains the most prestigious.

A 15-member committee of librarians and other literary experts is chosen each year to select the Newbery winner and the runner-up “honor” books.

Eligible books — fiction, non-fiction and poetry — must be by an author who is a citizen or resident of the United States and written for “ages up to and including 14.” Librarians have said some parents and teachers mistakenly think the Newbery is aimed for children ages 8 to 12 and give children developmentally inappropriate books.

Some Newbery winners have become classics, including Louis Sachar’s “Holes” in 1999, Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” in 1994 and Ellen Raskin’s “The Westing Game” in 1979. Some runners-up have, too, including “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White in 1953; that year, the medal was given to “Secret of the Andes” by Ann Nolan Clark.

Winning books become instant bestsellers. Many bookstores and libraries have Newbery sections, and popular television shows interview the winners each year. Textbooks given to prospective teachers and librarians includes lists of Newbery winners, and many master’s and doctoral theses are written about them.

A book’s appeal to students is important in literacy acquisition, according to experts — and kids.

“If you force someone to read a book, the less likely you are to like it,” said Elias Feldman, 13, an eighth-grader at private Landon School in Bethesda. Teachers, he said, like to select books ripe for analysis rather than for a gripping narrative. He said he understands that motivation but thinks kids would read more if their assigned books engaged them.

John Beach, associate professor of literacy education at St. John’s University in New York, studied 30 years of book lists chosen by children and adults. He found that less than 5 percent overlap between the Children’s Choice Awards — named every year by the International Reading Association — and the library association’s annual Notable Children’s Books list, which includes many Newbery and Caldecott winners.

Books prized by children had stories and characters “accessible” to their lives, Beach’s report concluded. “The Newbery has probably done far more to turn kids off to reading than any other book award in children’s publishing,” he said.

Richard Allington, an education professor at the University of Tennessee and a literacy expert, wonders why adults seem to identify literature with books that are sad and difficult. So does Temuulen Uranbayar, 11, a fifth-grader at Long Branch Elementary School in Arlington.

He says he loves to read — but not always the books his teachers want him to. “I love funny chapter books, when I get to pick,” said Temuulen, who is part of a project in 12 Arlington schools that anecdotally bears out the contention that kids select different books than adults.

Kristi Jemtegaard, coordinator for youth services for the Arlington Public Library and a former member of a Newbery selection committee, has recruited youngsters at 12 public schools to review books. At Long Branch, about 15 fifth-graders volunteer to skip lunch and recess once a week during the fall to evaluate books that she believes have a chance to win the Caldecott Medal, the picture-book award. They will vote soon — and learn next month whether they agreed with the real Caldecott committee.

Last year, after reviewing about a dozen books, only one of the school committees chose the Caldecott winner: “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick. There was some controversy over that selection, too, with critics noting that it was more a storybook with illustrations than a book driven by pictures.

Jemtegaard said that the Newbery selection process, though “not perfect,” is valuable because it raises the profile of children’s literature — and because “it makes us think harder about what we do.”

I actually am more inclined to try a book if it’s won an award, even when I was younger! I enjoyed books like Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell, 1961 winner), Out of the Dust (Karen Hesse, 1998 winner), Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson, 1978 winner) and Johnny Tremain (Esther Forbes, 1944 winner). It’s sad that awards are a stigma to children who are looking for a good read. While I have to admit some award-winning books are no walk in the park, there are some wonderful, inspiring stories we can not only enjoy but make us reflect on our lives after finishing. I love books that make me think.

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A Poem for the Season

Lovely poem – notice what the first letter of every line spells!

Season’s Greetings

Sing of the holidays that end the year!
Each cause for celebration and reflection.
As darkness rules the earth, sing of good cheer,
Sustained by will and nourished by affection.
Of Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s Eve,
Now sing that you might magnify the light!
Sing, for in your joy you will believe,
Granted grace throughout the bitter night.
Rekindle for these reckonings the fire
Each carries as a favor to the heart,
Eloquent of rapture and desire,
Twin grounds of both sincerity and art.
In quest of fellowship and common feeling,
Needing company, nor care concealing,
Giving and receiving equal measure,
Sing, then, of passion, faith, and simple pleasure!

Nicholas Gordon

Season’s Greetings dear readers! :)

Best of 2008 Lists

  1. Best of 2008
  2. American Library Association: Best Books for Young Adults 2008
  3. American Library Association: The 2008 Teens’ Top Ten
  4. The Best of the Best: Kids’ Books ‘08
  5. Booklist: Top 10 Art Books
  6. New York Times: 100 Notable Books of 2008
  7. NPR: Best Books of 2008
  8. NPR: 10 Best Cookbooks of 2008
  9. Reader’s Advisor Online: Great Romances of 2008
  10. School Library Journal: Best Adult Books For High School Students
  11. School Library Journal: Best Books 2008
  12. Various authors: Best Books We’ve Read This Year

I doubt you’d want to search for more Best of 2008 lists, but there are plenty more here. And you’d think I’m the only obsessed bookworm when it comes to lists. ;)

Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel


Laura Esquivel is the award-winning author of Like Water for Chocolate, which has sold over four and a half million copies around the world in thirty-five languages, and was made into a film with a screenplay by the author. She is also the author of The Law of Love and Swift as Desire. She lives in Mexico City.

The book in one sentence: According to Mexican tradition, Tita as the last daughter in the family cannot marry and has to look after her mother for the rest of her life, but the problem is she has found the love of her life, who in his desperate attempt to stay close to her, agreed to marry Tita’s sister…

Who would you recommend it to: People who like to read recipe books and have good imaginations.

OK bits: I enjoyed how the story begins each chapter with a recipe and the instructions to the recipe is infused with the story. I also liked the fantastical element.

Boring bits: Actually, I didn’t care much for the recipes. I love food but I don’t cook. :P

Random review quote:

“If originality, a compelling tale and an adventure in the kitchen are what you creave, Like Water for Chocolate serves up the full helping” – Carla Matthews, San Francisco Chronicle

Verdict: Very interesting book! (Okay, that doesn’t say much, but I don’t really know how else to describe it… doesn’t sound interesting like that, but it is, believe me!)

Of Mysteries & Detectives

This is a guest post by my wise and erudite friend, MusEditions!

Do you like detective novels? I read them a lot, although I have mixed feelings about this. After all, in almost all of them there is at least one murder! Another name for these is “Murder Mystery”, and they are labeled with a skull and crossbones at my local library! Why do I want to read murder after murder after murder? Most of the stories aren’t very grisly, even if the murder is. I think the reason for that is they’re really about the detective process, rather than the details of the crime. The “murder” is really just a construct to enable a “case” for the detective to solve.

I’ve read some series of this genre. Among my favorites are the Alphabet series by Sue Grafton, and the Mrs. Murphy (she’s a cat!) series by Rita Mae Brown. I can relate, somewhat, to both of the detective/heroines in these series. They are strong women, not too girly, who can take care of themselves. They’re smart, wily, and independent.

Recently, I started reading a new series by Richard Yancey. His hero, Teddy Ruzak, has always wanted to be a detective, so when he acquires a little money, he rents an office and sets up shop. The thing is—that’s all he does! He has no clue about how to be a detective, other than reading Sherlock Holmes novels. He doesn’t know he needs a licence, and he hasn’t had any training. This all seems destined for failure, but the way he works his way into the profession, and takes on his first case, is quite entertaining, and almost believable. Teddy seems somewhat of a cross between Kinsey Millhone (from the Alphabet novels mentioned above) and Adrian Monk, of the television series Monk, but without the skills! If you like a good crime story with more than a little tongue-in-cheek humour, you may become a fan of Teddy Ruzak.

Haha, I love the premise of this Teddy Ruzak story. I’ll try to get this book in my hands! I should venture beyond my favourite Agatha Christie classics. :)

10 Books I Didn’t Finish

1. Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
I will finish this some day, I promise myself!

2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy – JRR Tolkien
I finished the first two books, I recall… I plan to some day have a LOTR project, where I attempt to read the trilogy in one year’s time!

3. Memento Mori – Muriel Spark
Bought the book for the cover and the synopsis sounded promising. Couldn’t get the book at all. I recently finished a book by Spark called The Finishing School, again conned by the cover and blurb. I may have finished it but I didn’t get the point of the book just as I did with her other book. Oh well.

4. Smoke & Mirrors – Neil Gaiman
A collection of short stories. I love Stardust, but the short stories are bizarre and I don’t get it.

5. American Gods – Neil Gaiman

6. High Fidelity – Nick Hornby
I thought About A Boy was awesome, but A Long Way Down is just that for me – I don’t get it at all. Obviously trying with this book didn’t change that.

7. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
Too strange and thick for me!

8. A Fête Worse Than Death – Iain Aitch
A pity I couldn’t finish this because it’s about the English lifestyle and all its quirkiness.

9. There’s No Toilet Paper… on the Road Less Traveled
A compilation of true short stories by noted writers and their travels. Some were good, some went over my head.

10. Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder
A book about the history of philosophy. I still have the book and hope to read it again some day.

What books didn’t you finish?

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