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Posts tagged ‘Children’s books’

They keep trying and failing

I’ll admit it. My brain is filled with edits for the latest WIP (which means yet another rewrite of the opening chapters, but more on that later) as well as still mentally dancing with glee over the ease of conversions using Vellum. Because of that, I had a difficult time figuring out what to blog about today. Unable to figure anything out, I went to one of my favorite places to find ideas — The Passive Voice. It didn’t take long to find a post that had me wanting to beat my head against the desk. One of the stories TPV linked to shows just how far traditional publishing and its supporters will go to twist data and manipulate outcomes in an attempt to stay relevant.

Let’s start with the headline for the article, which TPV recreates for his readers:

Children turn their backs on e-books as ‘screen-fatigue’takes hold and sales of books for youngsters soar.

Now, journalistic training notwithstanding, that headline is wrong on so many different levels. It’s too long. If you go to the original article, you’ll see the headline takes several lines and is then followed by three bullet points. I guess the bullet points are to show how important the information in the headline happens to be. Except there is no real support in the article for anything except the drop in sales for children’s e-books (3%) while printed books increased (16%). Oh, wait, there is no support for those numbers. They cite the sales figures without citing the source, only a secondary source (the Observer) to back it up. It is the same with their contention that “screen-fatigue” is the cause for the change.

But let’s go back to the headline, which basically says everything that’s in the article and with the same amount of primary data. It claims children are turning their backs on e-books. Wow, how do they know? Are they going out and asking children which format they prefer and which ones they buy? No, they aren’t. For one thing, kids don’t take surveys and, for another, most kids aren’t buying their own books. Their parents are.

Then there is the point made in the body of the article that one of the main bookstores/chains in Great Britain is having to put aside more and more shelf space for children’s books. Well, duh. Publishers aren’t completely foolish. They see that children’s books are in demand (Especially when school starts). so they will start publishing more titles in the current “hot” genre. This is nothing new. Does anyone remember the number of Da Vinci Code knock-offs or how about all the Twilight or 50 Shades knockoffs. Heck, When 50 Shades of Grey hit it big, a certain major publisher pulled an entire line in order to “rebrand” the covers so all the books looked like 50 Shades. That went over so well — NOT — that some authors saw their sales tank and their options for other books weren’t picked up. Why? Because all the books looked the same and buyers thought they’d already read the books.

The real problem with articles like this is that they use data without giving the reader access to it. We don’t know where the data came from. We don’t know if they went off of sales figures only and, if so, where those figures came from. We don’t know if they included indie and small press titles in the data (and my bet is they did not). We don’t know if they then polled parents of young readers and, if they did, what questions were asked and what the possible answers to the questions were. Nor do we know who interpreted the data and what their qualifications might be — not to mention their biases regarding publishing.

The Daily Mail, in this instance, is acting as nothing more than a cheerleader for traditional publishing, pushing the trad’s agenda and assuming its readers aren’t smart enough to figure that out.

TPV nails the assertion that “screen-fatigue” is responsible for the quotes sales figures right between the eyes.

PG suggests that screen fatigue is the creation of a marketing manager somewhere, not a psychological or sociological phenomenon. PG doesn’t know if “children are reading more” is a fact, but suspects it may also be the creation of a marketing manager somewhere.

One thing PG does know is that marketing managers don’t really care if screen fatigue or reading children are genuine phenomena, so long as adults continue to purchase children’s books.

As for me, I don’t give a flying flip what format a child reads as long as that child is reading. Isn’t that what we should be worried about?

Now, at the beginning of this post, I noted that I’m about to tear apart the opening of the current WIP again. I’m one of those authors who find writing the opening chapter or two of a book the most difficult part of the process. In Light Magic, I know the basic plot. I know the characters. I’ve had to make a few minor adjustments to keep the book from being too close to something else I’ve written. What I haven’t quite gotten down is how to get the story rolling. Part of that is because my main character is a challenge. She wants to be a “wild child” (she objects to being called a “bad girl”) but she isn’t one, not really. So, in a very real way, she is fighting me. Once the story gets going, we are on the same page. But, day-um, she is giving me headaches on the opening chapters. At least i think I’ve finally figured it out. If not, this book may have to take a back burner for awhile until my subconscious figures it out.

In the meantime, I need to get the new cover for the expanded version of Vengeance from Ashes tweaked just a little and then it will be ready to be sent out to all the major e-book outlets. The print version, sans the cover flat, is ready to upload as well. By the time I finished the rewrite, I added close to 20k words to the original. I’m really happy with the finished product and the beta readers seem to be as well. fingers crossed everyone else is.

Now, because I figure we could all use a laugh, and with a spew warning because I can’t afford to buy everyone new keyboards, I’ll leave you with this:

Good Books for Young Readers

I had a question posed over on my blog yesterday, and I thought that I’d ask for help here (and on social media) in answering it. Here’s the question:

Thanks mainly to Sarah’s blog introducing me to writers like you, I’m on top of SF for my g’daughters, ages 11 and 12, but are you aware of other kinds of fiction that would be age appropriate? Or even any idea where I might start looking? So far almost everything I’ve found appears to be written by and for The Young Radical Feminists Guild, if yaknowhatImean, and the books I read in the 50s and 60s have been “edited” or are just hard/impossible to find in their original form.

*Any* suggestion would be gratefully appreciated. I’ve run out of ideas! The younger g’daughter does not like SF or even fantasy, and we wanted to do a little family book club this summer.

I have compiled a fairly nice curated list of books for young men, but I’ve neglected books for young Ladies in training. With some help, I think we can come up with great reads for them, ones that will inspire them to grow up into loving women who respect men just as they themselves earn respect. Far too many of the current crop of girls books infantilize boys, if not portraying them in more negative lights.

Actually, reading some of the ‘books for boys’ is a great place to start, I know I read a lot of those as a girl. But sometimes a princess wants a story about cats, horses, and that ‘castle ambiance.’

Please put your suggestions in the comments below!

The First Reader and I were talking about this, and he pointed out that as much as we all love the Heinlein juveniles, they don’t work well for most young people these days. The children find it hard to connect with the concept that not everyone has a phone in their pocket and a computer to boot. He’s right – I have coaxed and cajoled mine, and they have turned up their noses at “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”, “Star Beast” and others. On the other hand, my son did start reading Mackey Chandler’s Family Law, and was enjoying it (he stalled out because of the length, but that’s a maturity issue, not the book which wasn’t written for children).

So what I’m looking for are good books that were written more recently than the 50s and 60s. Or perhaps ones that have a timeless setting that kid readers can identify with. Nobody expects an elf to have a cellphone, my First Reader points out. I respond with, wouldn’t that be a fun story to write?

I know from personal experience that young adult books don’t sell terribly well as a small-name Indie author. I also know that my daughters (currently aged 16 and 15) love angst and teenager stuff, so I hold my nose and buy it for them. I just can’t bring myself to write it for them… however. Younger kids – the 10 and 12 yo of the question above – want and need the more hopeful, happy, inspiring tales of courage, love (and not in a romantic sense), and adventure. Pam Uphoff’s Barton Street Gym is a good example of a Indie YA that gives all that – but of course it’s also SF with an artificial intelligence that manifests as a T-Rex. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome is a glimpse into another world, one that offered even young children responsibility, freedom, and wholesome adventure with adults rarely present.

If I ever have time, I’ll write more for kids. Even if the books don’t sell well, it’s important to have good books that focus more on story than pushing formative-stage minds into molds the social issues of the day dictate. That way lies indoctrination and madness.

An Interview with the rising generation

Shopping at our favorite used book store.

Shopping at our favorite used book store.

I’m on vacation in New Hampshire this week, dodging the rain and taking my kids to lots of used book stores! I was originally going to do an open floor, but the younglings agreed to let me interview them around the dinner table tonight. Here is the transcript, with me as Mother-Thing, the 15 yo as Eldest Child, the 14 yo as Redhead, the 12 yo as Junior Mad Scientist (you should hear the evil laugh, it’s the MOST adorable thing ever), and finally, the 9 yo as The Little Man.

I thought it would be interesting to see what they had to say about their reading, what they like and don’t, and how school works with pleasure reading. Hopefully this will make you laugh, and maybe think if you plan to write any young adult books.

The Mother-Thing: So what do you like to read? You’re going to be a sophmore in Highschool this year, are you going to have time to read?

The Eldest Child: I will read very little, I have too many activities, I have band, drama, jazz band, pep band, art club, and homework.

MT: I didn’t know there were that many kinds of bands.

EC: I look for a title, how it looks, like… then I’ll read the back, if that catches me, then I’ll take it. I’ll read basically anything. But I have assigned reading all year, so I’m not going to have time to read unassigned anything.

MT: So, next-eldest daughter, you’re going to be a frosh. What about you?

The Redhead: Yes, I’m going to have time to read. Anything that catches my eye, if it’s suggested to me I’ll try it. Last summer I went through all the teen section shelves at the library.

Junior Mad Scientist: All of them?

R: All of them. I was there five days a week.

MT: What do you not like to see in a book?

R: Fantasy in a real place. Like a past time, like the 1800’s. Seriously, who does that? I read a book in Slovakia in the 1700s with a dragon in the cast.

MT: So, Junior Mad Scientist, you’re going to be in 7th grade. Will you have time to read?

JMS: most likely. I like to read at night.

EC: Dude, she has stayed up until like three in the morning reading.

Little Man asked me to explain this cover, which is why I am Mother-Thing today.

Little Man asked me to explain this cover, which is why I am Mother-Thing today.

JMS: I don’t like non-fiction. I will only read it if it’s suggested highly. Or assigned.

MT: So what kinds of things do you like to read?

JMS: Fantasy, until I run into where I don’t understand what they are talking about and I have to stop the book.

MT: Do you have a favorite author?

R: I know I do.

JMS: Not really, but i like Rick Riordan and Veronica Roth. I highly suggest Divergent, highly.

MT: So, Redhead, what’s your favorite?

R: John Green.

MT: So What is it about John Green you really like?

R: I read Fault in our Stars and it was like, powerful. It’s foreshadowing, and it brought me to the other ones by him.

MT: So, little Man, you will be in fourth grade, how about you?

Little Man: I like realistic fiction. My favorite is the Boxcar Children. I read realistic fiction because it kinda sprouts ideas. I don’t want to be fake. So I read to know what I’m gonna grow up to be.

MT: So, Redhead, what would you recommend for the readers of this blog?

R: I don’t know how well known it is, but An Abundance of Katherines. It’s about this guy who has only had Katherines for girlfriends. He ends up on a road trip, and they meet this girl who has only dated a Colin. She’s going to get with him, obviously.

MT: Junior Mad Scientist, what would you recommend?

JMS: I guess, other than Divergent, Percy Jackson and the Olympus, the second series, Heroes of Olympus, isn’t as good.

MT: How about you, Eldest Child?

We climbed a hill and a fire tower...

We climbed a hill and a fire tower…

EC: Um, the Mortal Instruments series. I just finished it and I really liked it.

JMS: I want to say something else. In the back of Divergent, there is this site called Epic, you might want to check it out.

About then, our together time at the table came to an end… time for chores and maybe a movie tonight. If the rain holds off, we’ll go camping. If not, we have games, and plenty of books to read!

One of my finds so far this week! A Drake I hadn't read.

One of my finds so far this week! A Drake I hadn’t read.


At what age do you stop reading children’s books?

Rowena here. Using my covers because I don't have an image that applies to this post.

Over on the Entertainment Salon Brian McGreevy wrote a piece about Why Teens Should Read Adult Fiction. His point was fair enough. When writing about the teen age person he says:

‘this human being is building an infrastructure for critical reasoning in a frequently bizarre, paradoxical universe where fairly miraculous and fucked-up stuff happens on a regular basis. Of course adolescents have an irresistible attraction to adult themes; perverse and puritanical an instinct as there is in this culture to prolong childhood, there is a far stronger counter-instinct in children to analyze, simulate, and as soon as humanly possible participate in the challenges of adulthood. This is not to suggest that growing up is a process that should be unnaturally accelerated, or that it can be in the first place. …. But we should be counted lucky when this fascination with the adult world manifests in wanting to read more books.’

My eldest son went straight from children’s books to adult (meaning grown up) fantasy books at the age of 12. He wouldn’t read Young Adult books because he felt that the YA category was patronising.

At one point McGreevy’s says: ‘The obverse of the instinct to protect children from the bigger and messier reality of adulthood is the inability of most adults to experience the mere joy of children. (Why adults should read children’s fiction is its own issue.)’ Which made me smile.

I love reading books meant for children. The upper end of primary school books (ages 8 -12) are my favourite. The great strength of these books is that they must have a driving narrative to hold the child reader’s interest. Good books of this age bracket have:

  • A great opening, with …
  • Strong characters that get right into the story that’s …
  • Well paced, with a driving narrative that builds to …
  • A great resolution.

And the very best of them often work on two levels so that the more sophisticated child (and adult reader) can appreciate them in greater depth. Think of the first Shrek movie, this worked for both children and adults.

The other thing about children’s books is that they tell a ‘ripping yarn’ but they will also contain a clear theme. It must not be preached but embedded in the narrative in such a way that all the scenes of the book contribute towards the theme.

I can remember reading the Judy Blume Fudge books to my children and all of us laughing so much we nearly cried. What books did you read to your children when they were between 8 and 12 years of age? What books did you read at that age?

(And the title of this post? It’s a trick question. I don’t think you should ever stop reading children’s books, just as you should never stop learning and never stop trying to make sense of the world).