le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Friday, November 30, 2012

a wish: selfishly motivated and certain never to happen

A few days ago, I read Newbery-committee member fairrosa's post about Newbery Award criteria, which is a very smart and insightful post indeed. I scrolled down to the bottom of the post, of course, to read it in its entirety, and I could see the first few lines of the previous post, which begins with: "In the middle of book 112..."

BOOK 112!!!!

I suddenly remembered hearing about/seeing stacks of newbery contenders at committee members' homes. I thought about this same quantity of reading and books for the Printz.

And I had my selfishly motivated, destined to go unfulfilled wish, oddly enough the first time I'd ever even thought about this:

I wish I was on the Newbery committee! Or whoever selects the Printz. Or, OMG, both!

The thought of spending a year, or part of a year, reading dozens and dozens of children's/YA books with a certain goal, or set of criteria, as part of a small group of readers working with the same goals - this sounds like heaven to me.
I have no doubt it becomes tiresome, and stressful, to do one's normal life AND read 112+ books. I have no doubt it's a very, very, very difficult task, whittling down that tremendous list to just a handful of exceptional titles, with one book to rule them all.  
But it sounds like a task I would excel at.

I've been reading middle-grade fiction recently for a personal project, and I have zipped through quite a stack of books - which also includes The Raven Boys, because it's due back at the library - in a very short time. I'm already reading books in insane quantities. And I don't have a small group of similarly-reading comrades with whom to share opinions, lists, quibble and debate with over relative merits. This is the sad/bad part about no longer taking classes - you lose an automatic 'book club,' defined as a set of people reading the same work at the same time and meeting to discuss it.

But I admit I get shivers of excitement at the prospect of having parcels of books delivered to my house, books I have a duty to read in certain careful, specific ways, and that I then have a duty to "grade," to make my case to others, to listen to/read their choices. Being able to have an opinion that actually turns out to be quite important and weighty is just a side bonus (I always have an opinion, and rarely are my opinions called for, or effectual). Newbery winners stay in print, and this is a huge big deal. Writers get a bump in sales, they become temporarily (or permanently!) famous, they get better contracts for future books (I hope). So it is an important task, but it isn't really the importance and opinion of it that gets me.

It's being officially charged with reading all those books that makes me long for committee membership.

Monday, November 12, 2012

how do you say it?

A year or two ago, I discovered one of the best resources ever ever EVER: a directory of children's/YA authors pronouncing their own names (and occasionally explaining a bit about those names). Since I started teaching, I've been both paranoid and vigilant about making sure I know the correct pronunciations of everything, and there are an awful lot of names in the field - actually, just generally in the world - whose pronunciations are not immediately obvious. Scieszka? Stiefvater? Koertge?

Quite a few authors add some tidbit of information about the name's origin, variant pronunciations, etc - and those are strangely delightful to listen to. But I love the site mainly for the totally boring utilitarian value of hearing the authors themselves speaking their names out loud. No messing with pronunciation keys or phonetic alphabets, no fretting over where to lay the stress when you say "Marjane Satrapi."

No excuses now for mispronouncing author names!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Picture It

Sometime in the first year or two of my (apparently endless) PhD program, one of the children's lit professors offered a bit of advice culled from one of her own experiences on the job market. At an interview, she was asked to name three of her favorite current children's books - one picture book, one middle-grade, and one young adult. The advice she was offering was to stay current, or at least keep an eye on current trends.

I do a decent job of staying on top of what's happening in middle-grade and young adult fiction. I have a set of favorite authors who I follow, I discover new titles through the listserv and through a few select blogs (as well as the goodreads pages of some highly respected acquaintances and colleagues). I make a point of visiting the ALA awards pages, and I've been working my way through the Printz and Newbery honor lists, as well as a semi-random selection of other kinds of awards-winners.

But I realized a couple of weeks ago that I have fallen behind on picture books. When I worked at the bookstore, it was easy to keep up; the central display in the children's section was picture books, especially new and/or noteworthy picture books. I find that books, regardless of age or genre, act like breadcrumbs leading me to more books, and the picture book wall was no different: a book would lead me to look for others by that author, or by the illustrator - which in some cases, is even more fruitful, because most illustrators work on a variety of authors' books. I need to find some good picturebook blogs so I know what's happening; my other "idea" is to go wander the picture book section of the library, a section I both love and loathe - it's usually very noisy, and the shorter shelves mean that I end up crawling around the section on my knees to scan the shelves. This crawling - which I don't really mind in itself - attracts Looks from other patrons, though;  I suspect that the fact that I am conspicuously a grownup without a kid, literally on my knees in the children's picture book section, looks at least slightly odd. This makes me feel very sorry for any un-child'd guys who might want to examine the picturebooks - men around children, or children's stuff, is one of the few places where male privilege goes right out the window. [this is a topic for another post, but one I could discuss at length and feel strongly about].

Which leads me in a roundabout manner to the Exciting Discovery, a moment of serendipity, or maybe just coincidence. On my personal twitter account, I follow a variety of people of whom I am a fan; I made the personal account so I could fangirl out without crossing that particular nerdy stream with the bookish/academic nerdy stream. Anyway, Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick have a new christmas CD coming out, and they retweeted a photo of themselves with the CD and the illustrator of the cover.  I was curious, because I'm a fangirl, and clicked through, and discovered.....
Zack Rock!!**

He did the cover art for Coulton & Roderick's christmas album. AND - this is the exciting part - he's a children's book artist. Or intends to be. My opinion: should be, like immediately. Because I was immediately completely enchanted with his work.

Like this one, for instance, a commissioned piece that is cleverly tagged "cultured swine."

Look how warm and wonderful that bookshop is! Like you would walk in and unravel your scarf and pull off mittens in that lovely yellowy light, and it would have that Used Bookstore smell, and you could just daydream your way down the shelves while it got darker and colder outside. Maybe because of the pig, Zack Rock's work reminds me a bit of David Wiesner - that sort of dreamy watercolory look, I guess.

But there's also a not-exactly-surrealist-but-close thing going on with some of his work, which I also love. For instance, this image which combines two of my favorite things - hot-air balloons and windmills:
There's a nice little interview with him on Seven Impossible Things, which will tell you that he has an MA in Children's Book Illustration (a thing which I did not know existed), and that his MA thesis was about the other illustrator whose work Zack Rock's reminds me of: Shaun Tan). It's joyous to come across someone who very intentionally chooses to work in children's book illustration; so many artists seem to come to it by accident (happy accident or otherwise), and some, as with children's authors, still seem to need to distance themselves from being "merely" a children's book artist.

As I've mentioned - or at least implied - I'm not a picturebook specialist. I like them, I love some of them, and it's a genre that I am very happy to claim as one within my field.I have a small but respectable collection of picturebooks (highlights: Chris Van Allsburg, William Joyce, Maurice Sendak; I'm late to the Shaun Tan party but now that I'm there, I am there; I'm working on collecting his books). So while I don't have an arts degree, or even real picturebook expertise, I feel like I have enough knowledge and (I hope) taste to make a claim here and there about a picturebook or picturebook artist. And I will go right ahead and claim that Zack Rock's work is amazing - it's gorgeous and dreamy and evocative and clever and intelligent. It has that wonderful picturebook aesthetic that is as appealing on the page, in the context of a narrative, as it would be in a frame on the wall.

His website - because he is as yet unpublished (why? how? someone needs to change this) - displays an intelligence and wit that I really appreciate. I don't know about most people, but there's a cleverness that is right up my alley in, for instance, this description of Mel Goate and the Purple Velvet Tuxedo: "The tale of a musical young goat who yearns for the world's most sumptuous formalwear." Everything about that sentence delights me. I would read that book in a heartbeat.

Even more appealing to me is Homer Henry Hudson's Curio Museum, "brimming with mysterious artifacts and treasures, but its most curious inhabitant may prove to be its blind canine caretaker."  This painting (above), probably more than any other on his site, really caught and held my attention (and has kept it; I find my mind returning to the image and the idea at odd moments, like when I'm washing the dishes). I love the argyle socks and the plus-fours; I love the curiosities on display in the wall behind him; I love the filmy white eyes of the blind canine himself.  I have an intense curiosity to know what else is in that curio museum; I love a curio museum, fictional or factual, and this one looks especially good. I want this book to be made quite badly, because I want to see the museum.

This is good storytelling, and good art - on the strength of a single sentence and single image, I'm wondering about the rest of the story, and the rest of the pictures.

My incipient fangirling may be just because Zack Rock manages to hit all my aesthetic buttons - animals in clothes, windmills, hot-air balloons, books, Victorian curio museums, the cover of Coulton and Roderick's album - but I don't think so. I've read enough good picture books to feel semi-confident in my critical abilities, and I think Zack Rock's work is just flat-out good. I'm very keen to see what becomes of him and his fabulous art; I am hoping for very great things.

At the very least, he should be rewarded for using and spelling "piques" correctly on his website.

Postscript: Images posted/linked here are, of course, the sole and exclusive property of the artist, Zack Rock. But a few (too few!) prints by him are buyable through etsy. I think the Thoughtful Fox will be coming to my house before too much longer.

**For some reason, I seem unable to use anything but his two names at all times.

UPDATE: November is Picture Book Month!!!! How about that for synchronicity, or serendipity (which always sounds like the name of a sea monster), or coincidence?!  I'm slapping the Picture Book Month "ambassador" icon on the blog, not so much because I have passed the civil service exams and acquired diplomatic immunity, but because the icon is, um, really, really cute.
Now, go read some picture books. There are a ton of good ones out there.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Maurice Sendak was a great man

I've been terribly caught up in any number of things that have seriously cut into my book-reading and thinking time. I have been reading, just not as prodigiously as usual, and my thinking about what I've read has happened mainly in the interstices of busy busy days.

This interview with Maurice Sendak in the Believer is too good to not repost. Like everyone else on earth, I'm a fan of Sendak's work, but I am also a sincere admirer of him as a person, at least insofar as I can tell anything about him from interviews. I love his prickly curmudgeonliness. I love the things he says about children, and childhood, and parents. I love his love for art of many kinds. Along with being incredibly talented as an artist/illustrator and storyteller, Sendak was also a very, very smart person, and that intelligence is apparent in almost every sentence he speaks.

But it's the way he talks about children that gets me, every time; his attitude about and towards children seems very much in line with my own, and that isn't one I come across all that often (even within my own field of study). So to hear someone as important, intelligent, and talented as Maurice Sendak say things like "And now they have a child, and all they do is complain about not having time and having to get a job. Fuck you! Why didn’t you listen to me? We don’t need that baby." It's wonderful.
The best quote of all from this interview (and there are many good ones) makes me want to jump up and down with happiness, then go out and write it EVERYWHERE in the world, because it's true and smart and right.

I refuse to lie to children. I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.
Maurice Sendak: an honest, and great, man.