Archive: January 2011
In Which I Somehow Manage to Be the First to Learn Something…

If my casual google search for “penguin canada, lynne missen” is correct, this news has yet to hit the internets …

UPDATE: a smart reader (read: my mother) observed that the press release is marked “January 20, 2010.” I’m pretty sure that’s a typo, but if not then I’m actually the LAST person to learn this news. Which would be par for the course.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LYNNE MISSEN APPOINTED PUBLISHING DIRECTOR, PENGUIN CANADA YOUNG READERS

Toronto, January 20, 2010 … Nicole Winstanley, Publisher, Penguin Canada, announced today that Lynne Missen will take on the role of Publishing Director, Penguin Canada Young Readers, effective January 31st.

Missen will take responsibility for the publishing strategy and editorial direction of Penguin Canada’s illustrated children’s, middle grade and young adult titles; including brand and licensed properties.

“We are very excited,” said Mike Bryan, Penguin Canada President. “Lynne’s appointment comes at an exciting time, as the growth of commercial middle grade and teen fiction series continues unabated.”

Nicole Winstanley commented, “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Lynne. Her dedication and commitment to publishing the very best in children’s literature is recognized by authors and agents in Canada and throughout the world. Lynne’s industry knowledge and keen judgment have led the authors she works with to great critical and commercial success and I am confident that under her leadership, the children’s program with grow and thrive.”

Lynne Missen said, “I look forward to this new challenge, working with Nicole and the great team at Penguin Canada, and following on the success of Penguin’s international Young Readers divisions.”

Lynne Missen has been editing books for over twenty years, and children’s books for the past thirteen. In 2002, she joined HarperCollins Canada as children’s book editor and was promoted to Executive Editor, Children’s Books, in 2004. Lynne has worked with bestselling and critically acclaimed authors such as Kenneth Oppel, Susan Juby, Eric Walters, Arthur Slade, Kit Pearson, Helen Dunmore, John Marsden, and Lemony Snicket.

The authors on her list have won numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Fiction, the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, the CLA Young Adult Book Award, the Saskatchewan Book Award (young adult), the Arthur Ellis Award (Juvenile Fiction) and many children’s choice awards. She has been nominated for the Libris Editor of the Year Award three times in the past five years.

Missen will oversee the highly anticipated publication of Lesley Livingston’s Once Every Never in July 2010. In the novel, Livingston, the critically acclaimed author of Wondrous Strange, introduces Clarinet Reid, a typical teenager who unknowingly carries a centuries-old Druid Blood Curse in her veins. With a single thoughtless act, what starts off as the Summer Vacation in Dullsville spirals into a deadly race to find a stolen artifact, save a Celtic warrior princess, and right a dreadful wrong that happened centuries before Clare was even born.

She will also shepherd Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Canadian screenwriter Jonathan Auxier (for publication in Fall 2011); Queen of Pyres, an epic series inspired by India’s swayamvara ritual, a sorcerer king and the reincarnation of his seven deadly queens; and The Wildlings, a three book series from Charles de Lint, to Canadian readers.

I should also add that she once edited a fine collection of Canadian ghost stories that included a piece from my favorite adult author, Robertson Davies (among others). Welcome to the Penguin family, Lynne!

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE UGLY TRUTH

BEST THING I READ TODAY:

“Tyson is nice enough, and we like the same video games. But he pulls his pants all the way down when he uses the urinal, and I don’t know if I can ever get past that.”

– Jeff Kinney
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth

Class is in Session: Part One!

My wife  (who is a PhD candidate in English Literature) and I (who am not) are co-teaching a course on children’s literature. Mary has taught this course many times before, but with the pressures of dissertation-writing weighing heavily on her shoulders, she was wary about taking on the extra work. And so she asked the school if I could teach with her1!

We pretty much spend our waking lives reading and discussing children’s books, and now someone is going to pay us to do it!

Mary suggested we take the opportunity to throw out her old syllabus. She wanted to try teaching some new texts, and we were both eager to insert a bit more contemporary work (she specializes in the 18th and 19th centuries). A few of these books are ones I haven’t read before, and I’m very excited to dive into them.

I thought I’d put the first half of our reading list on this site and use the course as a way to talk out some of my ideas on each book. The thesis of the class has to to with creating unique geographies in children’s literature. I also am including the course dates, just in case you want to read along:

The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes
by John Newbery (1765)

That’s right, the John Newbery. The guy who started it all. His Goody Two-Shoes stories are a perfect example of the earliest children’s literature, which functioned primarily as moral instruction. I’ve only read excerpts from this piece back when I was an undergrad, so I’m excited to revisit.
Discussion on: Jan 27

*     *     *

The Coral Island
by R.M. Ballantyne (1857)

After the bombshell that was Robinson Crusoe (1719), there came a wave of “Robinsonades” — knockoff books about people being stranded on islands. A lot of these were written for children (Swiss Family Robinson anyone?). Coral Island was an immensely popular take involving a bunch of schoolboys who land on an island and behave like good English gentlemen. I love adventure stories, but have somehow have failed to read this book.
Discussion on: Feb 10

*     *     *

A Little Princess
by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905)

We’re reading this book to balance out Coral Island. Like many of Burnett’s books, A Little Princess is a wonderful example of a domestic girl’s story. It also provides a nice female perspective on notions of Empire and community (within Sara’s school).It’s been a long time since I’ve read this and I’m excited to revisit!

Discussion on: Feb 17

*     *     *

Peter and Wendy
by J.M. Barrie (1911)

This is without question my favorite book of all time. I have read it a dozen times over and still can’t find a single word that feels out of place. It is also a wonderful synthesis of the two genres preceding it — a combination of boy’s adventure and girl’s domestic tales 2. Can’t wait to talk about this book!

Discuss on: Feb 24

*     *     *

Winnie-the-Pooh
by A.A. Milne (1926)

If Peter and Wendy is an example of an author creating a world that hinges on childlike imagination, Winnie-the-Pooh does one better: it is a meticulous recreation of an actual child’s world. It is also adorable.

Discussing on: March 3

*     *     *

Charlotte’s Web
by E.B. White (1952)

Charlotte’s Web is a step away from the fantasy of Barrie and Milne. It takes readers back to a more grounded world. Yes, the animals can talk, but only to each other … plus they die.

Discussing on: March 10

So that’s it for the first half of the semester. After these books, we’ll be moving on some more contemporary work (including some YA). If you have any desire to read or re-read these books in the coming weeks, do so!

  1. 1. After some “equivalency” rigmarole, the school determined that my MFA in Dramatic Writing would be sufficient
  2. 2. Credit for this distillation goes to Jack Zipes
From Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: “E”

FROM BREWER’S DICTIONARY:

Eyes out on the stalks – Eyes figuratively or even actually protruding through inquisitiveness, amazement, fear, lust or other strong emotion or reaction. The allusion is to the eyes of a snail, which are at the end of retractable stalks and suggest alertness, The phrase dates from the 1930s.

Hop Aboard the Cockeyed Caravan!

Hey readers! Today I wrote a guest post over at Matt Bird’s screenwriting blog, the Cockeyed Caravan. I’ve been a huge fan of Matt’s writing for a while now. He is wise, thoughtful, and occasionally very funny. His site has two main features. First, he writes reviews of overlooked movies (my post is a collection of four underrated favorites). His second feature — and this is the stuff I love — is a series of columns about writing called the “Storyteller’s Rulebook.” I’m not generally a fan of writing advice, but Matt knows how to do it right. He assumes you have figured out the basics and dives into the hard stuff. Some of my favorite posts are his take on the old cliche “show, don’t tell” and his Paul Harvey-style piece about Freud and Jung and Tony and Don.

But before you go check out my list of overlooked movies, I thought I’d make things fun and let you guess as to what they might be. So I made my very own set of MOVIE INVISIBLES! “Invisibles” were a bunch of quizzes that Film Wise1 published to great success back in the old web 1.0 days. Basically, they show you a still from a movie with all the actors’ faces scrubbed out, and you have to guess what it’s from. Piece of cake, right? Without further ado:

If you want to learn the answers, you’ll have to mosey on over to the Cockeyed Caravan.  Let me know how many you got right in the comments!

Speaking of comments — If you’re still looking for something to read, you should check out some of the brilliant observations readers left on Monday’s post about the whole Huck Finn debacle — one of the perks of having  children’s lit scholar friends is that they occasionally post on your blog to tell you why you’re WRONG.

  1. 1. I should point out that official Movie Invisibles look a lot more convincing than what I can do
No, We’re Not Playing Battleship …

More than once Mary and I have found ourselves with a problem: two people, one book.

This is the sort of thing that can destroy a marriage. (We barely survived the Deathly-Hallows-Shortage of ’07.) The problem most recently came up with DM Cornish’s Lamplighter1. And so we came up with a “novel solution”…

This is the first of many scans I will be posting from my journals, which contain all manner of ridiculous pictures, trivia, and insightful quotes (like the one in the marginalia box up on the right). That’s it!

  1. 1. a book about which I have many, many thoughts … more to come
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: “D”

FROM BREWER’S DICTIONARY:

Devil’s picture book, The – Playing cards. A PRESBYTERIAN phrase, used in reproof of of the name King’s Books, applied to a pack of cards, from French Livre des quatre rois (‘book of the four kings’). Also called the Devil’s Bible.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: “C”

FROM BREWER’S DICTIONARY:

Cicisbeo [che-chiz-bee’-o] A dangler about women; the professed gallant of a married woman. Also the knot of silk or ribbon which is attached to the fans, walking sticks, umbrellas, etc. Ciscisbeism, the practice of dangling about women.

HUCKLEBERRY FINN and Literary Alteration

What is it about the New South edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that has so captured the public’s ire? Great works of literature are being altered and transformed everyday — and yet something about this alteration feels different.

I am not interested in commenting directly on the Huck Finn debacle1. What I am interested in is the impulse fueling this controversy — the idea that the work of an author should not be altered to fit the needs or desires of a certain audience.

What does it mean to alter an author’s work? What are the ways that can be done? I’ve been chewing on those questions for the last couple of weeks, and I thought I’d try to work some ideas out on this blog.

So far as I can tell, there seem to be six basic forms of literary alteration. Each of them carries different implications — some good, some bad, some neutral. In the spirit of fairness, I’m going to try talking about each type in terms both positive and negative. Here goes:

1) ABRIDGMENT –  this may well be the most socially-accepted form of alteration in our culture. Books are abridged all the time to make them more accessible or simply shorter. Abridgment is usually most appreciated in long works like Don Quixote. (Take it from the guy who read all 400,000 words: that book could use some trimming.) On the other hand, what could be more mercenary than to alter a text for fear of boredom?2 In a world of shrinking attention spans, is abridgment a necessity, or is it just an example of lowest-common-denominator thinking?

2) APPROPRIATION – appropriation involves taking passages from a previously existing work and re-fashioning them into something new. This form of alteration has been well-covered in the world of pop music (mash-ups, sampling, remixes), but it also happens in books. Literary appropriation usually works best when it functions as homage or satire. The less-appealing version of appropriation might be what I would call “parasite” books — in which authors try to make their own terrible books more palatable by associating them with canonical classics.

3) EXPURGATION – There’s no shortage of stories about books that have been Bowdlerized for the sake of young readers. Famous among them are PL Travers’ late alterations to Mary Poppins, and Roald Dahl’s 1973 revision of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The above examples were changes made at the behest of the authors (or at least with their permission). There are also much more pernicious examples of expurgation performed without the author’s consent — as it was with Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It’s pretty clear that altering a living author’s words against their will is condemnable, but what about after they are dead? Is there any way to know whether a dead author would or wouldn’t want to expunge offensive passages from his or her own work?3

4) ADAPTATION – Like abridgment, adaptation seems to pass in our culture without moral judgment. Instead, people restrain their remarks to whether “the book was better.”  I’m not sure why this is the case, as many times adaptations do not just dramatize or condense — they also make fundamental changes to the meaning of a story. Remember how “The Little Mermaid” is supposed to end? To tie this to the current debate: why was it less offensive to hear Elijah Wood clean up Huck’s language in the 1993 Disney movie? My suspicion is that adaptation gets a free pass because of expectations: people assume there will be changes in an adaptation, and thus feel less outraged when they encounter them.

5) EXPANSION – This type of alteration is different from the ones previous because it does not deal with cutting away parts of the original text. Instead it is a matter of adding story on either end. I would argue that giving Anne Shirley a posthumous prequel or detailing the origins of Neverland changes the original work just as much as any other form of alteration. If a character is the sum of their actions, then adding actions changes the character. This isn’t just a question of modern-day writers revising the canon. Living authors are just as likely to change their own works by adding further installments — sometimes to the detriment of the original. Don’t believe me? I present to you EXHIBIT A.

6) TRANSLATION – this last form of alteration has an added hurdle: many people don’t speak two languages, which means they have no ability to judge the fidelity of a translation. I would add to this the question of whether being faithful-in-word is as important as being faithful-in-spirit. The King James edition of the bible is widely considered to be one of the least accurate translations out there, but it is also the most beautiful. Another justification for translation-alterations might have to do with cultural sensitivity. For example: my upcoming novel will be published in Indonesia, which wikipedia tells me is the most populous Muslim nation in the world.  I do not think Peter Nimble contains anything offensive to Muslim readers, but if I am wrong, I sure hope that translators will catch it and make appropriate changes.

This list is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure there are more categories of alteration (and if you think of any, please let me know in the comments!). Still, it is my attempt to work through some of the issues circulating in the heated debate surrounding The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn.

So what did I learn?

Firstly, I think the reason this topic has divided so many different people is because there is a lack of clarity about which type of alteration is taking place. Certainly Alan Gribben is expurgating Twain’s book, but is he also translating it? After all, the contested word has gained a lot more cultural baggage in the 100+ years since the book was written.

Another question seems to deal with whether this new edition will be presented as complete. When I was working through the six types of alteration above, I noticed that the most condemnable version of each act was tied to secrecy. If you alter a work without informing the reader, you are lying. It seems like much of the objection to the New South edition of Huckleberry Finn assumes that this book will be marketed — and blindly received — as the complete, original text.

One positive outcome from all this media fuss is that it has created awareness about the alterations … whether the publisher wanted it or not 4. Even better, it has brought a wonderful book — and a wonderfully complicated moral puzzle — into the national spotlight.

Now if only we could get Mark Twain invited onto the “Today Show.”

  1. 1. Editor Alan Gribben reacts to the issue in the School Library Journal here
  2. 2. or, even worse, as a way to cut printing costs
  3. 3. for more on this subject, check out Phil Nel’s wonderful post here
  4. 4. After reading the thoughtful introduction to the New South edition, I am inclined to think that the publishers were pretty forthright about the changes they made
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: “B”

From Brewer’s Dictionary:
Beastly drunk
– An ancient notion that men in their cups exhibited seven kinds of drunkards: (1) The Ape-drunk who leaps and sings; (2) The Lion-drunk who is quarrelsome; (3) The Swine-drunk who is sleepy and puking; (4) The Sheep-drunk, wise in his own conceit, but unable to speak; (5) The Martin-drunk who drinks himself sober again; (6) The Goat-drunk who is lascivious; and (7) the Fox-drunk, who is crafty, like a Dutchman in his cups.

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