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    July 11, 2014: Apply for a Thurber House residency!

    Thurber House has a Children’s Writer-in-Residence program for middle-grade authors each year and  guidelines and application form for the 2015 residency were just released.

    This unique residency has been in existence since 2001, offering  an opportunity for authors to have time to work on their writing in a fully furnished apartment, in the historic boyhood home of author and humorist, James Thurber. Deadline is October 31, 2014. For details, go to READ MORE

    July 10, 2014:

    Spread MG books in unexpected places 7/19
    Drop a copy of your own book or of another middle-grade favorite in a public place on July 19 -- and some lucky reader will stumble upon it.
    Ginger Lee Malacko is spearheading this Middle Grade Bookbomb (use the hashtag #mgbookbomb in social media) -- much in the spirit of Operation Teen Book Drop.  Read more ...

June 16, 2014:
Fizz, Boom, Read: Summer reading 2014

Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. are celebrating reading this summer with  the theme Fizz, Boom, Read! Find out more about this year's collaborative summer reading program and check out suggested booklists and activities. Read more ...
 

April 30, 2014:
Join the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and help change the world

The conversation on diversity in children's books has grown beyond book creators and gate keepers to readers and book buyers. What can you do? Take part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign May 1 though 3 on Tumblr and Twitter and in whatever creative ways you can help spread the word to take action. Read more ….

April 11, 2014:
Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

April 9, 2014:
How many Newbery winners have you read?
You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

March 28, 2014:
Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

February 14, 2014:
Cybils Awards announced
Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

November 12, 2013:
Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

November 9, 2013:
Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

October 14, 2013:
Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
Read more ...

September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

September 16, 2013:
National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

August 21, 2013:
Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

August 19, 2013:
S&S and BN reach a deal
Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

August 6, 2013:
NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

 
July 2, 2013:
Penguin & Random House Merger

The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

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  • Amending the Classics

    Uncategorized

    Many of my colleagues have been discussing book censorship this month. The American Library Association, along with other organizations devoted to books and publishing, sponsors Banned Books Week every year around this time, to focus attention on challenged texts that have been removed, or are in danger of being removed, from schools, public libraries and bookstores.

    In addition to outright banning, however, published books are frequently edited, abridged and amended for a variety of reason—some more benign than others. Since a printed book cannot be amended except by re-printing, only the most popular books and books considered “classics” undergo this kind of altering: our most beloved and iconic texts are the ones most at risk. And books for middle-grade readers, sometimes defined as “all the books you remember loving as a child,” represent a huge portion of this group.

    Amendments and alterations generally fall into one of four categories:

    Changes made to correct racial or gender stereotyping

    We cringe today at references to non-Caucasian, non-Western cultures and individuals in books written before the middle of the last century. Such middle-grade favorites as Little House on the Prairie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (which won the Newbery Award in 1923), all have undergone edits to amend or remove offensive depictions of Native Americans and indigenous African tribespeople.

    Those types of alterations are easy to defend, but there is growing support for the realization that, however deplorable the attitudes expressed are, they exist within a context that deserves to be examined. The tide of opinion currently seems to favor not making such revisions to previously published work, provided young readers are made aware of the controversy and have the opportunity to engage in a discussion about  the historical impact of racial and gender prejudice.

    Changes made to update “contemporary” text

    Details of contemporary life change so quickly that some books find themselves outdated long before their popularity wanes—or perhaps something comes along (such as a movie contract) that renews interest in a book written for a previous generation. This was the case recently with Lois Duncan’s Hotel for Dogs. The book was published in 1971, and was subsequently reissued as a companion to the 2009 film based (very loosely) on the original story.

    On the first page of the new edition, a character refers to something looking as if it “comes from Home Depot.” Since Home Depot stores did not exist until 1979, this is surely a revision. It’s not the mild anachronism that makes this kind of edit troubling (the text makes no mention of a particular time period), and it seems clear that the author herself made the changes—or at least approved them—so who am I to question her decision?

    Because as a reader, I would have been happier if the book had been reissued as it was. It’s a lovely story, very much rooted in a 70s sensibility, but still quite relevant to readers today in its exploration of personal responsibility, friendship and compassion. And because casual edits like this betray a greater interest in the name recognition, or the “brand” of the novel, rather than in the work itself.

    Abridging for length, or to make an adult story more accessible to a younger audience

    As someone brought up during the heyday of the Classics Illustrated comic book, I freely admit there are some books that even as an English major I would have managed to avoid were it not for abridged editions (Lorna Doone comes to mind). I would rather a young reader pick up an abridged version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer than to ignore it altogether. Scenes such as the one where Tom finagles his friends into whitewashing the fence are so much a part of our cultural vocabulary that they’re worth absorbing in any way you can.

    But even the most respectful condensed versions must necessarily focus on plot, at the expense of the power and flow of the language—the essence of what makes these classics “classic.” And at the other end of the scale are abridged versions that retain little more than the title of the original.

    How about a compromise? Rely on abridged versions of works intended for adults (if your child is ready to be introduced to Shakespeare, Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare is an excellent place to start); but choose vintage editions of works that were originally meant for younger audiences: Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, for example, and Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, by Mary Mapes Dodge. You may be surprised at how easily your middle-grade reader adjusts to exploring universal themes at a more sedate pace. It’s worth the effort to catch a first-hand glimpse of life as our forebears thought it should be.

    Which brings us to the fourth, and, to my mind, the most deplorable type of alteration:

    Changes to make works more palatable for “modern readers”

    Think of all the ways a young reader is cheated by smoothing out “quaint” language, replacing outmoded expressions, or removing archaic references. These echoes of another era are part of our common intellectual history, they ground us in an appreciation of common concerns across generations . . . and they’re just plain interesting.

    My daughters were fond of asking me what it was like in the “olden days.” (Kids actually enjoy talking about what went before.) So, once I got through explaining that I grew up in a boring suburban split-level with most of the usual conveniences, should I have avoided mentioning my Betsy Wetsy doll? After all, my daughters had never seen a Betsy Wetsy (and, frankly, the concept—hey, a doll that tinkles!—seems a little weird to me now, too). Should I have pretended I owned a Cabbage Patch doll instead, so they could relate? That’s exactly what misguided “modern” editions do.

    I expect I was a particularly nerdy child, but I thought it was kind of cool to come across, in one of the books inherited from my mother, reference to a ’bus—because when I asked about the random apostrophe, I found out they used to be called “omnibuses.” It was like learning a secret language!

    And why, for heaven’s sake, change Nancy Drew’s blue roadster to a “blue convertible”? If the text has her driving her “little blue roadster,” a kid’s going to assume that it’s either some sort of car or a strangely-hued farm animal. Why deprive them of the fun of figuring out which?

    When my girls were younger, it was hard to find a copy of Little Women that hadn’t been “abridged for modern readers.” What . . . miss out on the cherry-bounce*?!? I think I drove my mother-in-law crazy insisting that if she intended to buy her granddaughters a copy, it had better be the original. Bless her heart, she eventually found one.

    Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the ALA, the American Booksellers Association and others, authors, parents and educators are aware of the dangers to intellectual freedom posed by book-banning. As we celebrate children’s literature in general and middle-grade books in particular, it is our obligation also to consider less radical threats to the integrity of the books we cherish.

    The good news is that beautiful editions of unabridged classics are readily available. I wish they weren’t so often relegated to the back corner of the bookstore, but one mustn’t quibble. These collections are usually on sale—seek them out. Bring some old favorites down from the attic, too. Read them together; talk about the difficult parts. Share a bit of cultural heritage. And once you’ve provided your children with this wonderfully solid literary context, send them back out to explore the wealth of work being written today especially for those newly expanded minds of theirs.

    *One character’s mispronunciation of “char-à-banc,” a type of horse-drawn carriage with bench seats, mentioned in Little Women.

     

    Bonnie Adamson is working on a middle-grade novel set in the really, truly olden days before split-level houses and Betsy Wetsy dolls.

    19 Comments

    19 Comments

    1. Karen Scott  •  Oct 18, 2010 @7:20 am

      Thanks for the great summary of these types of changes. I do think it is a shame when the originals are “modified” because someone, somewhere thinks they should be. I remember reading Little House to my daughter for the first time, and we ended up having our first conversation about racism. A little hefty for a 6 year old, but also a fantastic lesson. And it didn’t hurt her love for the story at all. Kids can understand how language was used differently — and people thought differently — long ago. I think it is a valuable lesson.

    2. Rosemary Marotta  •  Oct 18, 2010 @8:41 am

      I have always been against any kind of censorship or amending of books. I understand that older titles might not have been politically correct but if this is how the world was viewed when the book was written then we are changing history. My biggest concern was always when a picture book was shortened to make a board book. Which also means I don’t really like abridgments either. I always think we are “dumbing” down a book for a child. Children need to be challenged too. The quaint phrases of classics shouldn’t make it harder for a child to understand, they should foster discussion and learning. What happens when these children grow up and read the originals….we need to stop treating children like they can’t understand anything….they are smarter than we think.

    3. Danette  •  Oct 18, 2010 @8:44 am

      I was shocked when I read one of my daughter’s Nancy Drew books and came across a scene in which Nancy’s father admonishes the housekeeper in a way I found humiliating, especially for a housekeeper who is part of the family. But even though I was surprised, I realized this was a reflection of the times, that we could treat other people like that. These kinds of bits are like historic documentation.

    4. JennyM  •  Oct 18, 2010 @8:49 am

      Bonnie’s (older) daughter here:

      I still have that unabridged copy of Little Women, a little battered and worse for wear, but still beloved. In fact, I re-read it over the summer. Each time I have read it, as I’ve grown up, I have taken something different away from it — but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion. In any event, part of the charm and allure of classic children’s literature is not only the oppurtunity to relate to the characters on a personal level, but the oppurtunity to lose oneself in another time and place, warts and all.

      I don’t know if it’s actually a middle-grade novel or not, but this discussion reminded me of two other beloved books from my childhood that are overflowing with historical “oddities” and sometimes troubling characterizations: Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles On Their Toes by the Gilbreth children. These stories were also recently “updated” for modern movie treatment, and the movies, while vaguely amusing, are not nearly as interesting and charming as the original books.

      Anyway, thanks, Mom — for always insisting on The Real Thing.

    5. Sherrie Petersen  •  Oct 18, 2010 @9:27 am

      I didn’t realize such broad changes were made in reissued books. This has been a very fascinating article. I remember reading my son an abridged version of The Hunchback of Notre Dam when he was in first grade and he still talks about that story now that he’s in sixth grade so I absolutely love that I was able to introduce that book to him in a children’s version. But “updating” the language of classic books for a modern audience is kind of disappointing. I’ll have to keep that in mind as I buy books now.

    6. Stephanie  •  Oct 18, 2010 @10:27 am

      Bonnie’s (younger) daughter here! Heartfelt thanks to mom for being a champion of the unabridged. I like to think I have a better vocabulary for it. Speaking of roadsters, I remember giggling over the word ‘jalopy’ when I was young–another Nancy Drew-ism. That was handy when, in a high school improv class, the scene “from a hat” involved a mechanic and a “broken-down jalopy.” You never know. Thanks, Nancy Drew, and thanks, Mom.

      Nancy Drew is an interesting example–I had access to both a library of the classic volumes, as well as a couple of the newer, “written to appeal to me” variety–where Nancy has more boyfriends (sorry, Ned) and “adult problems.” I read ‘em all, but I liked the old ones better. I don’t buy the “I have to be able to relate to everything I read” argument–I think I preferred reading about a world I wasn’t already familiar with. For the most part, I still do!

    7. BonnieAdamson  •  Oct 18, 2010 @10:54 am

      See? This is why we have children: so they’ll grow up and say nice things about us someday. :-)

      You’re a couple of sweeties–your comments were unexpected and HUGELY appreciated!

      Love,
      Mom

    8. Laura Marcella  •  Oct 18, 2010 @11:12 am

      My mom had a Betsy Wetsy doll when she was little! I remember her telling me about when she got the doll for Christmas and us laughing together at how strange it seems now. Those are the moments censorship takes away from us!

      I dislike it when books are updated for modern readers. Like in “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” she had to wear those old pads that were belted around the waist. Now it’s updated to the adhesive products. And in the “Fudge” books, the Christmas presents have been changed from records to CDs. Not cool!

    9. Amie Borst  •  Oct 18, 2010 @1:34 pm

      You know, I never even thought of this topic before. It’s important that we’re sensitive to others, but at the same token these books in their original format are a type of history. It let’s use see where we were then and how far we’ve come.

    10. Wendy S  •  Oct 18, 2010 @3:21 pm

      I read a while back that Judy Blume had updated Are You There God to reflect more modern…feminine conveniences, shall we say? That is the kind of change I agree with since (1) the author made it and (2) keeps an important part of the story relevant to today’s readers. But changing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s references to Native Americans, I think, is a mistake – it is more powerful in its historical/sociological context and provides a teachable moment.

    11. Wendy Martin  •  Oct 18, 2010 @3:45 pm

      One of my favorite childhood books was one my mother had when she was a child. The book was called “The Patchwork Quilt.” I loved it. I also never tired of hearing the story of how this book came to be in my mother’s possession since it had a stamp on it proclaiming it property of Freehold Library. When my mother had borrowed this book from the library, her younger brother had come down with small pox. When my mother’s family was finally released from quarantine, the library refused to take the book back because of the small pox.

      I remember children being quarantined with chicken pox and measles as a child, but this is something my daughter has never experienced.

      I found the coincidence that the main character of the book was recovering from measles herself absolutely amazing.

      If this book was republished today, would the quarantine be removed from the story? If it were, I believe half the charm and the part of the book that captured my attention would also be lost.

      Thanks for a great post, Bonnie.

    12. Laurie Schneider  •  Oct 18, 2010 @3:53 pm

      As a writer and reader I expect stories to be true to the worlds in which and about they’re written. On the other hand, I recently reread Are You There, God and didn’t mind the belted pads being changed to adhesive ones. I assumed Judy Blume had approved the change because it makes the text more helpful to today’s girls. Now that I think about it, though, maybe it would be just as helpful (and enlightening) to have let the reference stand so girls can see how much things have changed. Those pads and belts made a girl feel as if she were stepping into her grandmother’s girdle!

    13. Joanne Johnson  •  Oct 18, 2010 @4:45 pm

      Great topic Bonnie. I think it’s a bit ironic that writers of historical fiction search widely for mundane details in order to make the book seem authentic to the time period. Then in books actually written in other time periods, we remove details to make them more relevant to modern readers. Is this a result of the current trend away from historical fiction? Whatever the reason, Bonnie brings up some great points.

    14. BonnieAdamson  •  Oct 18, 2010 @4:50 pm

      Thank you all for your comments!

      If you’re interested in exploring the issue of edits made to address offensive racial, cultural and gender stereotyping, there’s an excellent ongoing discussion at author Mitali Perkins’ blog. The latest post to deal specifically with this subject was on September 20: http://www.mitaliblog.com/2010/09/reprise-should-we-bowdlerize-classic.html. (My apologies to Mitali, by the way–when looking up the link to this post, I realized I had inadvertently appropriated her title from a similar post last year!)

      Unfortunately, I don’t see much debate out there on the “incidental” edits, such as updating the feminine products in Judy Blume’s book. I agree with Laurie’s conclusion though, on letting the originals stand as enlightenment over how far we’ve come–how quickly we forget the way things used to be!

      I’m reminded of a casual conversation I had recently with a fellow who was trying to make a point about personal responsibility. He said, “When have you ever seen a cigarette pack that didn’t have ‘SMOKING IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH’ printed in big letters on the side?” He was serious.

      I had to laugh. I remember a time when not only were there no Surgeon General’s warnings, but the cigarette vending machine was located right next to the snack machine–ready to dispense a pack to anyone, child or adult, with 50 cents in change.

      Things are different today because someone made the effort to change them–if we re-write even the smallest details, it seems to me we’re negating those efforts.

      Thanks again to all, for sharing your personal experiences and insights.

      p.s. Joanne, I tend to think it has much more to do with marketing and repackaging (new and improved!)than it does with readers’ appetites for historical fiction . . . I hope.

    15. sheelachari  •  Oct 18, 2010 @5:28 pm

      Fascinating post, Bonnie. I had no idea so many different types of post-publication editing went on. I did become alerted to the issue of abriding when I was researching an earlier post for our site. I came across Melissa Wiley’s Little House by Boston Bay, which her publisher decided to abridge halfway through the series. This decision led her to discontinue her series, because she was unhappy with the results – she discussed this at length on her blog. Often times, even the author has little say in these abridgement decisions.

      Incidentally – and this is in no way supporting the abridgement of classics – I do remember reading Little Women first as an abridged version. I was maybe 8 or 9. I think my parents might have bought it for me through the book club. I liked it so much, I was so excited when I discovered later there was a LONGER version. I felt like I had found an unexpected treasure ( kind of like the “outtakes” at the end of the DVD movie!). So, sometimes an abridged book can lead a child to reader the orginal version later. As long, of course, as the abridged version never replaces the original.

      Thanks for such an informative post!

    16. Constance Lombardo  •  Oct 18, 2010 @8:23 pm

      Interesting post, Bonnie! Certainly something to think about.

    17. Amber Keyser  •  Oct 18, 2010 @11:59 pm

      I am eternally grateful to the English teacher at my Catholic high school who pulled me aside at the beginning of the Chaucer unit and told me to run to Powell’s and buy the unexpurgated version! Kids can handle the books we throw at them!

    18. Laurie J. Edwards  •  Oct 19, 2010 @11:18 pm

      What a great topic, Bonnie. And your research is terrific. I think we need to let kids think for themselves rather than deciding what’s right for them.

    19. Julie Hedlund  •  Oct 21, 2010 @2:28 pm

      Very important post and beautifully written. I would want to keep classics as “pure” to the original as possible. All of the situations you describe above can be explained when we talk to our kids about the books – which, hopefully, we all do (or someone does).