Posts tagged ‘children’s literature’

September 9, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

OK, so I know this has been out for a few years and it’s already hugely popular. But I totally missed out on this phenomenon until recently. When I went to see the last Harry Potter movie, I saw a preview for Hugo, the movie based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. I wasn’t super impressed by the trailer and I didn’t think much about it. I’d come across the book earlier this summer when I was researching popular graphic novels, but I didn’t look into it because my library puts Hugo Cabret in children’s. (This is kind of arbitrary and some other libraries keep it in teen, or copies in both sections.)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

But then it was assigned reading for my Children’s Lit class, and I read it and was utterly captivated. It’s a completely one-of-a-kind book, part novel, part comics, part silent movie. It’s not a traditional graphic novel, but it’s more than just a novel with illustrations. Every so often the text gives way and the story is completely told through wordless images. Striking, soft, black and white images.

Hugo Cabret

It won the Caldecott Medal in 2008, and apparently it was a very controversial choice in the library world. No one (really) disagrees that it’s a wonderful book, but the Caldecott Medal is for picture books, and not everyone agrees that Hugo Cabret is a picture book. I don’t even know if I agree that it’s a picture book, but I’m not on the Caldecott committee and I don’t care whether or not it’s a picture book. Whatever it is, it’s a work of art and you should absolutely read it, whatever section of the library might be lucky enough to house it.

The book tells the story of a young boy who lives in a train station alone. He’s a skilled clockmaker, having learned from his late father, and he’s trying to reconstruct an automaton. (Which I looked up on Wikipedia after reading the book and could not believe that they are real! They are basically extremely complicated clockwork robots!) It’s part mystery, part… historical techno-thriller, part coming of age story, part thrilling chase scene… it has everything!

Having read and loved the book, I’m a little hesitant about the movie. Part of what made me enjoy the book so much was how astonishing the experience of reading the book was, and how cleverly Selznick made the book mimic a movie. I think that will be lost when it actually is a movie. Anyone can make a movie mimic a movie, after all.


I rate the Invention of Hugo Cabret five automata out of a possible five.

August 25, 2011

Little House Fever (Way Better than Scarlet Fever)

So, my new semester of library school is up and running! I’m taking Children’s Literature, which I’m obviously stoked about. Our professor is really enthusiastic and awesome, and on the first day of class she excitedly told us about one of our assignments. It’s called, “I Never Got Around To…” and we are supposed to pick a classic children’s book that we never read as children and report back on it. She offhandedly said, “I do this assignment too. Last year I did Little House on the Prairie for the first time and hated it. I mean, the way she talks about Native Americans… it’s so dated! Why is this still on shelves?!” And I almost had a rage fit, even though she’s right.

I grew up with the Little House books. (Not the show. I’ve actually never seen the show. And I never will.) A family friend gave me a box set of the books, and they looked so grown-up and special on my shelf. I was a little afraid they’d be boring, since they were set in the past, but I was instantly hooked. To this day I have very clear memories of scenes like Laura and Mary roasting the pig’s tail, or Laura and Mary making designs on the frost on the window with Ma’s thimble.

Little House on the Prairie AudiobookSo, I decided to revisit a few of the Little House books on the way to De Smet, South Dakota. From the library, I got Little House on the Prairie and Little Town on the Prairie (that’s #2 and #7 in the Little House series, if you were wondering). On the trip, I learned that my traveling companion Anna had never read the Little House books!! Only watched the show!! It was like I didn’t even know her. Luckily, she was quickly captivated by the books, and so our friendship survived. First, I have to say that Cherry Jones is a great narrator for these books. She sounds both funny and wise. And Paul Woodiel’s fiddle playing is an excellent touch. Pa Ingalls would undoubtedly approve.

Anyway, the books themselves? As a reasonably well-educated adult, yes, they are a little troubling. The way Laura talks about Indians and their “glittering black eyes,” for example. Or her desire to kidnap a papoose. Weird, Laura.  So here’s the thing. If you, as an adult, read this book with a child–talk to that child about Native Americans, and the way they were treated by white settlers. Have a conversation about it.  I don’t hold Laura Ingalls Wilder accountable for the era she grew up in.

What makes these books racially problematic is also what makes them great: the honest, revealing tone. Laura Ingalls Wilder is incredibly frank about her perceived shortcomings, her secret petty desires, and her sheer delight in tiny pleasures. This is what makes her books timeless. These books will also make you feel like a big spoiled baby. When you hear how excited Laura gets about one piece of candy, or how Ma carries on even after getting a huge log dropped on her leg while helping build their cabin. These people are tough mother-effers. Your 12 hour trip from Illinois to South Dakota, from the comfort of a compact SUV with a huge bag full of snacks, will make you feel like the laziest people ever. You will think twice about purchasing a souvenir T-shirt when you hear Ma fretting about the price of calico. (It didn’t stop me from buying a $14 souvenir bonnet, however.)

Anyway, I took a ton of photos on this trip, which you are officially invited to view in this Flickr set. Here are a few highlights:

Can you imagine living in this with four other people?!

The tires make for a much more comfortable ride than wooden wheels.

I look good in a bonnet if I do say so myself.

View of the whole Ingalls Homestead.