Ponderings on feminisms in children’s (and young adult) literature

Everyone loves the Paperbag Princess… except we kind of didn’t.  We know we’re probably alone in that.

#2 did have a recording of the author reading it that she listed to a lot as a child and liked.  #1 didn’t read it until she was older and felt too deeply about it.  Like, why is she even giving this jerk the time of day?  Poor dragon, stuff like that.  #1 thinks perhaps she wasn’t getting the messages it was trying to give, but the ones it wasn’t trying to give.  Like, women are supposed to be subordinate to men.  That thought would not have crossed my mind, and yet, it is presented as the default option in the Paperbag Princess.  Sort of like educational television that makes kids behave worse because seeing the bad behavior that gets resolved at the end is more striking than the eventual resolution.

We like the books that don’t present it as a conflict, but instead present the ideal as status quo.  And we really only know one book like that.

Boy meets boy

We LOVED Boy Meets Boy.  It takes place at a school where there’s no question about whether it’s ok to be gay.  It’s like 2/3 of the book in where the author addresses how weird that it’s not like that in other towns. Boy Meets Boy is a splendid book and people should read it!

Of course, we also know that ignoring -isms doesn’t make them go away.  They do need to be brought to light and discussed.  But maybe subtlety isn’t the best way in children’s books.

Should literature present the ideal or present the reality, and when?

Librarians are dangerous

They work in silence!


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What are we reading with pleasure and happiness?

Patty in the city: had to interlibrary loan this one. A fun confection.

Discount Armageddon :  Excellent.  My favorites are the mice.

Also excellent is the sequel, Midnight Blue Light Special. Again, mice! (read it.)

Finally got my hands on Gunnerkrigg Court Vol 2.  Well worth it!  And it’s awesome to read through again knowing what I know now… adds new depth and meaning to some of the scenes.  These are such handsome books.  It seems like the first printing had some flaws and wasn’t as nice quality as Vol 1 or Vol 3, but the current batch is lovely (and seems only to be available from amazon).  Aaaannnnd Volume 4, just out now! The art keeps being great.

Reread Daddy Long Legs, caught some of the political commentary hidden in there this time around.

Reread Dear Enemy, picked up all the eugenics I’d missed the first time around… (must not have looked very hard, or have been very young…)

Tempest Rising.  It was ok. (#2 really likes this series)

Nice Girls Don’t [do stuff] vampire books — Enjoyable popcorn!

All Spell Breaks Loose, by Lisa Shearin– finally a conclusion to the series!  As a whole, I think the series should have had a book or two fewer, but the end book went a bit quickly.  A satisfying read.

Gave Candice Hern a second chance (with $2.99 kindle books).  She’s no Georgette Heyer, but I enjoyed  A Proper Companion and A Change of Heart.

#2′s been reading up a storm lately.  Particularly recommended:

The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley. If you like Stross’s Laundry Files books, you’ll like this, and vice versa.

The Killing Moon, by N. K. Jemisin.  Really, really good.  Can’t wait to read the next one. (Update: It was good too!)

ZOMG N. K. Jemisin is such an amazing writer. Read her!

I am Not a Serial Killer by (Dan Wells)

The Battle of Blood and Ink

What have you been reading lately?

Why, Sir Terry, WHY???

I’m having a problem with Terry Pratchett’s Dodger.  And I say this as a huge fan of his.

Does Dodger HAVE to run into EVERY famous person ever?

#2:  he does NOT run into Jack the Ripper

#1:  Charles Dickens, Sweeney Todd, Disraeli…. it takes me right out of the story.  It would be more believable if the names were made-up.  Let’s just name-drop Babbage and Lovelace while we’re at it, no reason at all, they don’t even have lines, we’ll just put them in this scene because Look How Much I Know!

#2:  The little professor has a couple of posts on this

#1:  (wow, I didn’t know that)  is there ever anyone who DOESN’T run into charles dickens?

#2:  I’m just proud of him for not running into Jack the Ripper

#1:  did Dickens seriously know every single person in London?  It’s just…. it’s cheap.  Were Dickens and Disraeli really friends?  I mean, really?  It’s cheap.

it’s like it’s saying, ha ha, in the book.

The things Disraeli does… the whole thing would be more believable if it were someone made-up.  And Dickens is always stopping to make a note of some turn of phrase that is the title of one of his books…. STUPID!

#2:  Yes, he could have had thinly disguised nods to famous people like he does in his Discworld series; however, I thought of Dodger more as a YA fiction, and those often have famous people in them.  Pretend the book is for 12 year olds.

#1:  I thought about that, but then there’s [SPOILER ALERT] domestic violence and miscarriage and baby-killing….

#2:  but not graphic or overt
it’s even discussed in a YA sort of fashion

#1:  but does a 12-year-old know who Disraeli is?  Like, there’s no REASON to have him in there.  If you’re old enough to know who he is, you’re old enough to think it’s disingenuous to have him in there.

#2: The 12 year old learns about Disraeli from books like that.

#1:  I dunno.  I’m just not… I don’t feel very forgiving about this book.  I feel like he’s written much better things.

#2:  He has.  It’s called Discworld.

#1:  he could do Dodger in Discworld though, and it would be better, with all the same themes.  I mean, Good Omens was fantastic.

#2:  Oh, yes.

#2: he’s not as good at children’s fiction, except when he’s not aiming it at children (see:  Tiffany Aching).  Diggers is terrible, and Johnny and the bomb is totally mediocre.

#1:  Dodger is just… cheap.  It’s like he’s saying, look how clever.

the Tiffany Aching books are amazing!  Why didn’t he just keep doing that.
Nudge, nudge, wink wink, can you tell that Karl Marx is in here, nudge nudge.
I don’t want to be nudged. Just make up some damn characters!  You’re a writer!
and I know: he is not my bitch.  But yet…
[Disclaimer:  #2 liked Dodger just fine and would totally recommend it to any middle schooler and up.  Not her favorite Terry Pratchett, but better than many non-Terry Pratchetts.  Her partner thought it was ok, but didn't think it was great.]

Readers, what makes you mad?

Book recommendations for new faculty

Wanna get your friend/family/colleague/buddy/department/library a gift?  Here’s what we found useful:

Anything by Robert Boice is good. Try these:

Teach like a Champion by Doug Lemov:  Our posts here.

Crucial conversations (our review coming soon!)

Your money or your life: Everyone needs this.

Women Don’t Ask: useful for both genders.

Ms. Mentor solves all…

PhD comics if you don’t have them from grad school!

On Course by James M. Lang if you don’t have teaching experience (or not much)

Aaaannnnd…. Academic murder mysteries! So many fun ones to choose from.

What else?

Telepathy in fiction

We read a lot of fantasy and speculative fiction around here.  The other day I was reflecting on how the use of telepathy in fiction is HILARIOUS.

Telepathy is SUCH a convenient plot device for a writer.  Want another character to know something?  They’re telepathic!  Want them to NOT know something?  The other person is telepathically shielding!  It’s the greatest dodge ever.

The device is so cheesy, and yet so useful (thinking as a writer).  Broadcast a mental distress call!  Or suddenly get cut off from contact!  Aliens are telepathic.  Or they’re the only ones who aren’t.  They have a hive-mind.  A stranger lands in a strange society.  How to deal with being mind-blind… or being the only one who isn’t.  What is the nature of individuality, of community, of self?  Are there special pair-bonds that let you hear each other?  Is there one-way or two-way or multi-way communication?  Feelings only (telempathy), thoughts only, or both?  Two or more humans?  A human and a magical animal?  So!  Many! Plots!

Sometimes I think it would be fun to be telepathically projecting for a while, but then I realize that would only stir the pot and people would come out with pitchforks.

Readers, we rely on you for amusement and chuckles.  Have you seen this done really well?  What should we read?  Or, have you seen it done ludicrously badly?  Spill!

Ask the grumpies: econ book recommendations for a gifted 9 year old

Monica asks:

Can you recommend a good intro book? I’m thinking about The Cartoon Introduction to Economics; the kid in question has a high level of comprehension and adores the graphic novel format.

We meander into lots of random conversations that touch on economics–I’m not the one who starts them! I don’t have a solid handle on the subject myself, so would most likely read the book too.  So far we’ve discussed supply and demand, inflation, opportunity cost, auctions, externalities…

The kid is almost 9 but a bit of an outlier. Middle school reading level is probably the sweet spot, I’m guessing…ze reads Smithsonian but not the New Yorker? I’m not so great at describing the level. Not up to algebra yet but probably will be in another year.

I have to admit that this question stumped me, and also any of my colleagues whom I’ve asked since getting it.  We’ve never really thought about econ and kids.  That’s not to say that people don’t– I know children of famous economists whose parents liked to do “studies” and play “games”, setting up elaborate exchanges at Christmas time involving trading unwrapped presents from Santa, for example.  Oddly, those children all became physicists.

We usually think of introducing economics sometime after algebra.  For adults I generally recommend Bob Frank’s Microeconomics and Behavior and Jon Gruber’s Public Finance and Public Policy.  These are both “reality-based” texts– Frank focuses on the difference between how people *should* act given economic theory and how they actually *do* act.  I feel like Gruber’s should be required reading because it explains that yes, there is a (limited) role for government and when and why and how and what are the consequences.  They’re both pretty good reads, IMO.

Age here is important because a lot of light economics reading tends to talk about sex.  I don’t know if we’re an over-sexed profession or we’re just not used to kids or what.  So Freakanomics (which I don’t like anyway) is definitely out.  The Worldly Philosophers, another popular read, discusses economist infidelities, such as Marx impregnating his housekeeper when his wife was sick.

Now, if you were just interested in “popular” economics like the stock market or the affordable care act, there’s probably more out there on those topics that’s safe and doesn’t require higher-level math.  My father used to have us track Exxon and we learned about things like stock splits and so on.  Jon Gruber has a comic book on the ACA that’s a good read.  But you’re actually interested in hard-core economics, and kudos for that.

So basically, our answer:  We have no idea– but that Cartoon Introduction looks pretty awesome!  Let us know how it worked out.

Do you all have any better recommendations for Monica?

What the Most Successful People do at Work: A Book Review

Laura Vanderkam sent us her new e-book, “What the most successful people do at work.”

As with all of Ms. Vanderkam’s writing, this was a very easy read.  She’s got the Malcolm Gladwell thing down.  (Well, maybe not Malcolm Gladwell… there’s not quite as much suspense, but she has breezy edutainment down cold.)

The book touches upon a number of topics about productivity.  Unfortunately, it just touches upon them, giving a vivid example from a single case study for each idea, and maybe another from her own life, but in most cases not going into any depth about how universal each of these ideas is.  And it turns out there’s a lot of research out there on psychology.

Early on, she talks about getting in the zone.  There’s been books written on how to get there and what it means to get there, only instead of calling it “in the zone,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term, “flow.”  Laura V. is a far better writer than Mihaly C., and we’d love to see her do his material justice.

(#2 thinks C. is a fine writer!  #1 had a hard time with one of them– the other was easier, but not what one would call fun.  V. books are actually fun.)

Understanding sunk costs is a basic concept of productivity from economics– don’t throw good money (or time!) after bad.  Understanding them can also help productivity by keeping you from lingering emotionally.

The idea of a planning period also has research and randomized controlled trials to back it up.  Our favorite productivity researcher, Robert Boice, talks about the importance of planning and schedules and routines or habits.  And, of course, there’s the new best-selling book on The Power of Habit out there.  Something that should be noted that isn’t included in the research… whenever you’re working with other people, they will often drop the ball.  So it’s important to have secondary plans.

One chapter that’s completely missing from this ebook is the research on creativity:  the need for regular breaks to allow your subconscious to puzzle things out.  The breaks may be mentioned, but there’s hard science and reasons why, and not just about Willpower (another recent best seller) or energy levels.

The chapter on meetings had good ideas, but was a little disorganized.

I am reminded that I should do more networking.

The book’s discussion of progress on a goal brought to mind Virginia Valian’s solving a work problem.  (And, of course, there’s a huge dry psychology literature on goal setting, that we bet Laura Vanderkam could sex up.)

The book ends suddenly– a page or even a paragraph summing things up would make it seem longer!

Overall, I felt like this book was only the article portion of something that could be a real book.  It felt a lot like the book prospectuses I occasionally review for publishers.  It left me wanting Ms. Vanderkam to write a real book on productivity.  Something that ties all the research out there together into one magnum opus, but an opus no longer or more difficult to read than say, NurtureShock, with a chapter dedicated to each idea.

Such a book will require research.  And there’s a lot of research on productivity out there.  Best-selling recent books on Habit and Willpower are only the tip of the iceberg.

As she says, it’s priced at ebook novelette price, not full book price.  But I think she’s got a $24.95  (or $13.95 if you buy from Amazon) book in there that isn’t just a “What the most successful people” compilation.  So, yes, it’s well worth $3.99 (Buy it!), but it will leave you wanting something more substantial.   And I do think she’s the right person to give us that more substantial best-selling book on productivity.

Would you buy an in-depth book on productivity by Laura Vanderkam?  One that translates the academic research into real action items you can use?

Our fantasy library

So, some day when one of us becomes extremely wealthy… you know, when #2′s partner’s long-lost great-uncle dies and leaves him his hundreds of millions… we’re going to buy a three story flat in San Francisco.  #2 and company will live on the top floor, my family will live on the bottom floor where the running of small feet won’t bother anybody, and the middle floor will be our joint library.  (Yes, we know it would be smarter to have the library on the bottom floor, but #2 will be rich enough that they can reinforce it or something.)

While I was viewing the shots of #2′s bookcases, I realized something horrific.  “Oh man, I don’t think we could ever consolidate libraries though,” I typed.  “I’m itching to go through your shelves and sort by author alphabetically.”

Fortunately, that turned out not to be a problem.  “You could curate my books for me. You could even add yours in. I would keep them in order once they were in order,” she replied.  Apparently she doesn’t have her own strange filing system that I just wasn’t understanding.  They’re just not… in order.  *twitch*  You know that episode of Big Bang Theory where Sheldon goes to a party and organizes his hosts’ closet and begs to be allowed to take the button box home to organize in the car?  That’s totally me.  Though mostly with bookcases and spice racks.  I’m not a clean person, but I love my alphabetizing.

Well, it’s not quite fair to say that they’re not in order.  She does have them in “an order.” “For example,” she says, “there is one case that is all my best-loved and most-personal books.”  Which totally makes sense to me.  I’ve often had my most beloved books on the shelf closest to my bed in my life.  Or I’ll have a separate shelf for not-yet-read books.  But the former are generally organized by genre and then by author’s last name, while the latter are organized either by order I should read, alphabetically, or if there are a lot of them, in a manner than will help keep the towers from toppling (largest on the bottom).

“I would let you alphabetize them,” she said.  “I might even help. I just wouldn’t do it all myself.”  This is a good thing, because I might have a nervous break-down if I had to continually see Dave Barry coming right after Diana Wynne Jones.  My mind would not be able to handle it.  In no world does that make sense unless you have very few books by other authors and that just happens to be where you break between fiction and non-fiction/humor.

#2 also has another odd need– she wants authors who coauthor books to have the coauthored book in between the other two authors.  “Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett wrote a book together, so Good Omens is filed in between the two authors, who are next to each other.  I believe that Patricia Wrede and Carolyn Stevermer belong together.”  However, that problem is easily solved, “How about two copies of good omens, one housed with each author?”  “That will work.”

Series order is also important– we are agreed that the Discworld books should be in publication order.  After all, many of the characters show up in other folks’ series.  Especially the Librarian.

Some more discussion decides that hardbacks and paperbacks should be put together in the same shelves.  We are not facing space constraints in our fantasy library, and nothing has to be in a fancy display shelf.  If you don’t think old paperbacks are beautiful, you don’t belong in our library, even if you might be invited to our living rooms.

Then we move on to the more difficult discussion of how to group fiction vs. non-fiction and different genres.  I favor separation of fiction and non-fiction at the very least (though humor like Dave Barry could go in either or in a separate category), and have a slight favor towards subdividing fiction.  She prefers putting everything together.  She wants Malcolm Gladwell in with her fiction.  I don’t.  We throw the question to our partners.  Mine wants everything to be completely subdivided by genre.  Hers says that we should totally separate fiction from non-, and that his books have to go in, too, so, she reluctantly agrees, “I guess separation it is.”  As a concession I allow her to include the graphic novels, manga, and comics with the fiction by author.  She notes that we should put their gaming/RPG books in a separate section as well.

We agree on comfy brown leather chairs with ottomans.  And a divan or two.  And a window seat.  Also, comfy couches, cushions and blankets for the windowseat, curtains, and a fireplace.  Some super-fluffy rug so we can sprawl on our tummies on the floor in front of the fire.  Lighting will somehow be perfect.  And, of course a cat, though we’re not sure whether it should be our already existing felines or a new one specific to the library.  Possibly a marmalade tabby.  And some kitty-specific furniture that allows them to avoid other kitties.

X-rated stuff goes on high high shelves, or goes in individual bedrooms.  #2 must have a lot of pr0n.
We decide on a separate area with low bookcases for books for 0-4 year olds, but chapter books will be shelved with the adult ones.  I add some children’s puzzles and a little desk with little chairs.  Like at the library.  #2 adds a beanbag.  And step-stools.

Finally, we make sure the wifi covers that room too so we can get to LibraryThing.

Now we just have to wait for someone’s unknown rich relative to die and leave us lots of money.

What does your fantasy library look like?

Book Review: The Zebra Said Shhh…

The Easter Bunny brought DC2 a paperback copy of Wandering Scientist’s The Zebra Said Shhh.  I figured I’d review it here.

The quality of the book itself is quite good.  The paper is thick and better suited to destructive little hands and mouths than most non-boardbook children’s books.  Well worth $11.25 (or $9 if it’s on sale).

The pictures are quite nice and are similar to several of our other children’s books.  I think this style that looks like cutouts was popularized by Eric Carle, though these are not as sparse and come with full backgrounds.   I especially like the parrot.  Lots of bold bright colors.

As for the story, it has a pleasant repetition and simple concepts for its target audience.  It holds the same wish fulfillment for adults that Go the F**k to Sleep does, only without the profanity.  If only saying “Shhh” worked on small human children.  There’s always the hope that books like these will build that connection.

After the excitement of breaking open plastic Easter eggs and scattering their contents (raisins) over the floor waned, DC2 was immediately drawn to the book.  Ze opened it, folded over the cover, chewed on the inside a bit (another note:  the book itself was not made in China), and generally seemed to enjoy it.  Miraculously, the book is still in really good shape.

When DC1 (age 6) woke up and started going through DC2′s loot, hir attention was arrested by the book and ze immediately read through it.  Later I noticed hir reading it out loud to DC2.  So that passed some sort of test.

In any case, I recommend purchasing this book.  It’s a good solid children’s book in every respect.  And we own a lot of children’s books.  Hat-tip to both Wandering Scientist and to X-ist publishing.


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