Friday, June 28, 2013

International Friday: Books With International Focus

This week I decided to stay local, or glocal, as it were. I wanted to see what international treasures I could find at the library. I have seen kids' books in Hindi, Chinese, Turkish, Arabic, and Spanish at the library before, so I thought inspiration for this blog entry would hit me when I got there. Lo and behold, I was smitten not with foreign books, but with (American) English books with a global focus.

I stumbled upon Sitti's Secrets and I am so glad I did. This book was published in 1994, but sadly, it is still relevant today. Sitti's Secerets is about a young girl named Mona from the United States who visits her Sitti (which means "grandmother" in Arabic) living in Palestine. Using gentle, nostalgic language, Shihab Nye showcases the love between a granddaughter and grandmother but manages to delicately weave in the War as a silent, yet persistent character. It's a book that kids and their parents will definitely have to sit down and chat about, but that's a good thing. Because love, not war, is at the center of this book, all kids with loving grandparents will be able to relate to this story. I'm not a kid, and I almost cried at the end! Don't worry, parents, there's no violence or death in this book.

The next gem I found is for the younger set and is the perfect complement to Sitti's Secrets. It's called, appropriately, Little Treasures by Jacqueline K. Ogburn. Little Treasures lists endearments parents all over the world use on their children. While there's no story per se, Chris Raschka's darling illustrations are candy for the eyes--I just wanted to reach into the book and squeeze the pictures THEY WERE THAT CUTE. Ms. Ogburn's message is crystal clear and much-needed in today's world: People might look different and speak different languages, but no matter where they are, they love their children.

What are your favorite books with an international focus? Let me know in the comments section below!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Old-School Middle Grade-- Stonewords: A Ghost Story!!!!


Stonewords. Wow! This book was creepy with a capital "C"!!!! The back of this book (Book Club Edition published in 1992 by Scholastic) says "RL5" or "Reading Level, 5th Grade." There were definitely parts of this book that were very graphic (rotting flesh and the like) that I'm not sure I would expose a ten-year-old to. The campy illustration on the outside and the larger size of the book scream "middle grade" (not sure why middle grade books are wider than regular books. Wider for smaller hands?) but the content and themes are more reminiscent of R.L. Stine's Fear Street series.

The story begins with Zoe retelling the story of how she was abandoned by her mother at age four. Wow! Way to hit the reader in the face with something heavy right at the beginning! Now, as an adult and a mother, my initial reaction was deep, deep sadness and empathy for the character. I wonder how a ten year old would take it? If he/she came from a similar background, this might be comforting and relatable. They might take it as, "Ah! Here's a girl like me! I was abandoned, too." Or, for a kid who's had both parents in his/her life, this might add another layer of scariness. Because what could be more frightening to a child than losing a parent he/she loves? I think it's interesting how Conrad used the character of the mother in this book. To fully understand it, I think I would need to re-read the book. And I'm not going to, because it's JUST THAT CREEPY (of course, this is a good thing for those of you who LOVE this genre, but I don't!)

Over the course of the novel, Zoe meets a ghost with her same name who lived in her house 200 years ago. They can travel to each other's world's using a staircase and...that's all I'm telling you, because you need to experience the creepy goodness for yourself! No, no, I don't get any renumeration from Scholastic, HarperCollins, or the Estate of Pam Conrad (I wish I did!) but I still recommend this book for the scary factor (if you're into that), crazy story (Remember? Middle grade readers still believe in the impossible!) and the poetry. Yes, the poetry! Here's the opening paragraph of Chapter Five:

Honeysuckle has been known to bloom in the snow. It has its own internal time schedule that has nothing to do with wind, weather, or season. It's as if honeysuckle were always daydreaming, coming out of deep thought to say something so off and disconnected that everyone around is confused and thrown off-balance. My mother was like this.

Bottom line: if your ten or eleven year old is used to blood and guts, this book might be okay. The beautiful language and heavy themes do make it a book worth picking up, but I think an older child, 12, or 13, would get more out of it.

Special thanks to Mikki R., for digging this out of her ancient middle grade fiction collection for me to read!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Print Media Monday: What's in a Bookcover?

I remember being in the fourth grade, in a dusty Catholic school library. Our teacher had overheard the conversation of my friends and me (I guess we weren't making any effort to be quiet in the library, lol!) about which books had the nicest covers. I remember my teacher spouting the well-known adage, "Don't judge a book by its cover!" in her stern teacher voice.

Of course we did, and still do. Everyone judges appearances, even if we like to think we are more enlightened than that. In her blog entry for the Huffington Post, YA author Maureen Johnson discusses how women have historically been sidelined in the world of literature, and how an overly "girly" bookcover can affect our perceptions of the "seriousness" of the author, because women are still perceived as not being able to write "serious" books. She started a Twitter campaign, #coverflip, which some of you may have participated in, asking folks to re-imagine gendered book covers (turning the girly masculine and vice versa). The results can be seen here. This blog entry made me think about the books my own daughter reads, which I talked about in last week's entry.

As my own middle-grade manuscript reaches completion, this article has me thinking about what the cover is going to look like, what kind of message it will send. Any writers out there have any interesting experiences with their publisher and book covers? Feel free to share in the comments section below!

Friday, June 21, 2013

International Friday: Pororo the Penguin!

It might be summer here on the East Coast, but in Pororo's village, it's always winter!

Pororo is a computer-animated cartoon from South Korea animated by Iconix. It's been a runaway commercial success, airing in about 100 countries. I'd heard about Pororo a couple of years back from a Korean-American friend of mine, but I never got the chance to actually check the show out for myself. All I can say is WOW! It's a good thing each episode is only five minutes long, because Pororo and his friends are so sweet they could give you cavities!

If you've watched other programs for the preschool set (Miffy and Friends, Teletubbies, Pocoyo) you'll notice how similar in format Pororo is to those shows (in fact, the founder of Iconix used The Teletubbies as inspiration for Pororo, which you can read about here, if you are so inclined). There is Pororo and his friends having all sorts of fun, and the unseen narrator who elaborates the actions (or one of the character's feelings) to the viewers. There's nothing earth-shatteringly great about the show, but there isn't anything earth-shatteringly bad, either. I'm still not certain why this show is so popular, but then again, who can resist a cute, blue, penguin? I know I can't!

Recommended for kids ages 2-5.

You can watch Pororo in English (and Chinese or Korean, for that matter) on his official YouTube channel here.

Picture of Pororo was taken from here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Highlights 67th Anniversary Issue!

Today is Throwback Thursday, and I am pleased to bring to you, a super-throwback, the 67th Anniversary issue of the beloved children's magazine, Highlights!

If you grew up in the United States, it was hard to escape Highlights magazine. From the dentist's office to free sample issues that came in the mail (free stickers, anyone?), Highlights was simply part of childhood.

Now, as a writer for children, it's fun to look at how far Highlights has come through a (lovingly) critical lens.

The issue in question (June, 1946) can be accessed here. (I'm not sure when the folks at Highlights plan to take this down, as this link was posted on their Twitter account a few days ago.)

On to the fun part!

My very first impression of this issue was how simple it was in design. Yellow cover, black and white inside. Lots of text. Then I became aware of two things: children back then (1946) probably had a greater attention span than our iPad-addicted darlings of today. Printing in colored ink was probably costly as well. Still, as a typography junkie, I love love love the cover, and how the "f" of the word "fun" elegantly curves from top to bottom.

The "Editor's Note" by the first Highlights editor, Garry Cleveland Meyers almost made me cry. It was addressed to the readers, the children of America. It's pretty evident he believed in the children of America:

To us who are much older than you are, you seem to grow so fast. We know it won't be long before you are men and women. Soon you will take our places. We believe you will be useful men and women. We believe that other persons will look up to you and speak well of you when you are as old as we are now.
And he went on for a few more heartwarming paragraphs about the children of America growing up to be good citizens, but also having useful fun with the magazine. He also reminded the readers not to forget to read their Bible and attend Sunday school, which surprised me at first. But of course, America was a very different place in in 1946.

There were many stories and activities, but most of them only a couple pages in length. My favorites were: the very first "Hidden Pictures"(pg. 25), "Animals No One Has Seen Before" (pg. 37) which features animals from the readers' imaginations, "A Little Log Cabin to Build on the Ground" (pg. 38) a piece on how to build a log cabin, complete with diagram! There were a couple of pieces that had a Mexican character, "Over the Cliff", and a Native American family, "Plant Trappers"--which surprised me, considering the time period in America. (Of course, the "Plant Trappers" story was a thinly-veiled science story and the father of the family was wearing a headful of feathers--but still, I appreciate the attempt at diversity, considering again, the time period.)

I highly recommend checking out this piece of American history. It's amazing to see how much has changed, but also how much has stayed the same.

Happy Birthday, Highlights! We (still) love having fun with a purpose!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Print Media Monday: What Do You Want To See In A Children's Book?

When I first started working on my manuscript (a middle-grade adventure/fantasy), my only concerns were 1.) Making the dialogue sound true 2.) Making sure the reader wouldn't be bored to tears. As I get deeper and deeper into the manuscript, however, I am beginning to wonder. What does a reader look for in a children's book? What do I, as a parent, look for in a book for my own daughter?

Of course, the answers to these questions are as diverse as the children and parents out there. Here is my own personal wish list. Feel free to add anything you feel is missing in the comments section below. I would love to hear from you!

1.)The book appeals to both genders.

I was browsing a certain online bookseller looking for my daughter's favorite series, Ivy and Bean when I saw a suggestion for a book series called, The Never Girls. I'd never heard of it before, so I clicked on it. Apparently, the premise for this series is that four girls get lost (somehow) in Never Land. Yes, the (Disney-fied version of) Never Land of Tinker Bell and Peter Pan. The front and back covers are very girly (not pink, but pale purple, and maybe sparkly). From the reviews of the book, it seems that all the readers are young girls.

So what's the problem, you ask? I don't have a problem per se. My own daughter reads Ivy and Bean, as I just mentioned, and that is also a series that appeals overwhelmingly to young girls. But she also reads books with gender neutral appeal, like anything by Roald Dahl. And I'll borrow books from the library about race cars and dinosaurs, and other random subject matter, especially if it's subject matter that's not typically thought of as something girls would be interested in.

So what's my point? I don't want to make it seem like I'm attacking fairy books, or Ivy and Bean, or any other books that are (gasp!) marketed toward young girls. But I do feel like we need to present a balanced world to our children. And if our children are lucky enough to have access to books, then a great way to expose them to the world is through books that show both sides, "boys' world" and "girls world." Why not let your son read The Never Girls or your daughter pick up a Ninjago book? Or better yet, why not let them read books that just have a great story, and are not trying to over-market a brand or product? *end rant*

2.) The book shows ethnic, class, personality, and ability diversity, in a genuine, and not token way. (whew!)

Growing up as a minority in the U.S, I always got excited when I saw someone who looked vaguely Asian on television. It was the same way for books. I think the first character I encountered who was Asian American was the Chinese-American girl (whose name I cannot remember) from Zilpha Keatly Snyder's The Egypt Game. That book was great in that it had ethnic diversity, but also family diversity. The main character, April, was living with her grandmother after a divorce at a time when divorce was something almost unheard of.

Of course, diversity doesn't always have to mean something serious. On a lighter note, I love how Ivy and Bean of Ivy and Bean are imperfect in their imperfections. Bean hates to read (which makes me giggle considering she is a character in a book) while Ivy likes to make magic spells. I love that they are both weird and crazy and not obsessed with their test scores and soccer practices.

The world is wide and the kinds of people in it are many. If my child and I can learn something but also empathize with the characters, then I would say the book was a good read!

3.)The author tells a good story.

'Nuff said! Read on, write on!

Friday, June 14, 2013

International Friday: Little Krishna Episode One (English Version)

Little Krishna and his flute.

With all this hype about the new Superman movie, today we're going to talk about the original Superman, Krishna! More specifically, Big Animation's 3D television series Little Krishna.

Little Krishna is the result of seven years of research by the India Heritage Foundation and gorgeous, gorgeous animation by Big Animation. The stories presented in each episode are based on the childhood of Sri Krishna, a very important Hindu god, the 8th incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, to be exact. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) I wasn't really sure what to expect from this tv show. I wasn't raised in the Hindu religion, but still, I was a little nervous about how someone could turn something as weighty as the life of a god into a kids' cartoon.

But the show did not disappoint. I have seen very few things on television that I can describe using the word, "lush." But there is a richness about this show that is difficult to put into words. Perhaps it is the combination of entrancing music, superb voice acting, and eye-popping colors which wove a spell on me. I didn't notice any overt religious preaching. If you are unfamiliar with Hindu texts, you won't have any problems following the story (although a background in the subject matter of course, wouldn't hurt). Kids watching it will love the action and the friendship among the children. The writers did an amazing job of turning a Hindu god into a lovable little boy with superpowers. Who also happens to be blue.

Recommended for kids ages 6 and up. There are a couple of scary scenes here with the sea serpent, but the way Little Krishna handles him is very exciting to watch!

To watch this episode on Big Animation's YouTube channel, click here.

Photo Credits

Today's picture of Little Krishna was taken from here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Print Media Monday: Superman Family Adventures #11

Hey all!

2013 is Superman's 75th anniversary. So in honor of the Man of Steel, the only one who can wear blue tights and red undies and still look good, we're going to review DC Comics' Superman Family Adventures #11!

*Author's Note*I did a bit of internet digging about twenty seconds ago, and found out that Superman Family Adventures has already ended with book #12. Boo! Sorry for being so late, folks! Our local Toys R Us is a bit behind when it comes to stocking comic books!

Back to the review! SFA is the work of creative team Art Baltazar and Franco, set in the Tiny Titans Universe. (Aw, yeah!) The art, like Tiny Titans, is bright and colorful. The villains are scary, but not too scary. In fact, (and I mean this in the best possible way) the illustrations look like they were done by a child, and that is part of its appeal. If you want to introduce your child to the world of super heroes without all the blood, liplock, and too-ample cleavage, this is the perfect series to do it with.

The other part of its appeal, of course, is Baltazar and Franco's whip-smart humor. I haven't picked up an issue since #2, so I had some trouble following the story line. Even then, almost every page got a giggle out of me.

Finally, no offense to the talented team at DC comics for making this comic happen, but the best part about this comic for me? The price! At $2.99, this comic can't be beat. For $2.99 you get a few minutes of quiet while your son or daughter has a few laughs, and some reading practice, too. What more could a parent ask for? :-)

Superman Family Adventures is rated "E" for everyone!

Photo Credits

The picture of the cover of SFA #11 was taken from here.

Thanks again for coming! Don't forget to comment and subscribe!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Blog on hiatus!

Hey Fans and Friends,

Eating Kids Media will be on un-official hiatus for a couple of weeks (meaning, if I post something, great, if not, you know why not).

Real life beckons, and it's pretty gosh darn exciting!

Take care, everyone! Until the next post!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Thundercats are Loose!

Thundercats, HO!

If you were fortunate enough to have been a child for a part of the 1980s, you might remember a gem of a cartoon called Thundercats. (There was a 2011 remake of the cartoon with the same name, but we won't address that in this blog entry). Today we're going to be totally 80s, and talk about what is wrong, and oh so right with Thundercats!

My memory of the cartoon is a little fuzzy, so I wanted to watch one of the beginning episodes. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the first episode. Instead what I found (thanks to YouTube!) was the 1985 Thundercats movie, Thundercats, HO!, which is really more of a mini-series as it was composed of five separate episodes meant be watched on five separate occasions. This means, there was a ton of pointless fights, times where Lion-O ran off alone, got in trouble, was rescued, lather, rinse, repeat, and it happened all over again. The prisoners Lynx-O, Pumyra, and Bengali escaped their captors on three separate occasions, only to be captured again. The plot didn't actually pick up until the last 20 minutes, or what would have been the last episode in the mini-series.

I don't want to talk too much about the absurdity of the plot (the all-powerful and immortal Mumm-Ra sends his goons to do his bidding, but they are always defeated by the Thundercats. If he is so powerful, why does he have to rely on incompetents to do his bidding?) the bad acting, or the sometimes bad animation. I want to talk about the magic of the 1980s that Thundercats embodies.

In the world of the Thundercats, it's perfectly fine to be half-animal, half human. It's even better if you're half cat. It's even better if your name comes from the animal you're supposed to be (Lion-O, Cheetara, Lynx-O). It's even better if you wear leotards. It's even better if you have the technology to go to outer space, but no cell phone. It's even better if you can talk to dead people.

Today for once, I won't talk about plot holes, or political incorrectness. I just want to talk about the freedom to be absurd. The freedom to make up a crazy story, and believe in the plausability of the story, and just have fun with it. There were a couple of times in the story where I felt that if my seven year old daughter had the chance to write for Thundercats, she would absolutely make the same choices. That's how imaginative it was. Pure, creative, craziness, where everyone is invited to join in and lose themselves in this world. Everyone is invited, everyone is welcome--especially cats in leotards!

Parents please be aware, this cartoon is not for small children due to violent images.

Photo Credits

The lovely Thundercats picture was taken from this site.

Monday, June 3, 2013

ABC Family's The Fosters

Tonight I watched the pilot episode of ABC Family's new series, The Fosters. I will be honest with you. I really, really wanted to hate this show. ABC is owned by Disney, and Disney is evil, right? And somehow, after watching the trailers, I felt that the show was trying too hard to be diverse and interesting. It almost seemed like the casting directors had a checklist of races and ethnicities they needed to have in the show. There was Teri Polo playing the blonde police officer, Stef, with the heart of gold. Sheri Saum plays the African-American vice principal of a perfect charter school, and Stef's wife. She also has a heart of gold. Stef has one biological child from her previous marriage with her ex-husband, who happens to be Latino. They adopted a pair of fraternal twins, Mariana and Jesus, played by Cierra Ramirez and Jake T. Austin who used to be their foster kids. And our protagonist, Callie, played by Maia Mitchell rounds out the cast. Before I watched the show I wondered, could they really pull off all the roles without falling into tokenism?

Thankfully, I was pleassantly surprised. If you watch the show, you will see that there are so many layers to the characters that you really begin to feel for them and relate to them as human beings. The acting is superb overall, with each actor adding depth to the characters they portray. By the end of the hour (which flew by) I saw them as a regular family facing struggles like any other. If that is the message the show's creators were trying to send out, I would say they succeeded.

My only complaint would be (and this probably not a problem for anyone else but me) is the lack of chemistry between Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum). I wonder if they did this on purpose?

Please be advised, due to violent scenes, this show is for older children.

Photo Credits

The Fosters logo was taken from here.