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    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

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

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    September 16, 2013:
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    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

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    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

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    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

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    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

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    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

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    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

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    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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4 Lessons from a Brave New World

Miscellaneous

Dystopian novels are a guilty pleasure. For a few hundred pages, readers can lose themselves in a bleak landscape where humans have gone virtually extinct, or where a vindictive government regularly tosses children into a gladiatorial arena, or where most folks remain oblivious to the environmental wasteland just outside their protective city-sheltering domes–or why not all three at once? As horrific as these worlds would be to live in, they are fun for readers to explore for a while before returning to a reality that won’t become genuinely dystopian for at least a couple more election cycles.

I recently spent some time with one of the great-granddaddies of modern dystopian novels, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Actually, considering that book was first published eighty years ago, it literally might have been your great-granddaddy’s dystopian novel.

Huxley was playing against the long-established tradition of utopian novels, based in worlds so idealized and theoretical that not even an English professor could find fault in them. (As an aside, I once thought my professor had an inappropriate crush on The Republic, but it turned out to be platonic. Ha!)

Brave New World wasn’t the first novel to show the dark side of a utopia, but it was an early example and has influenced decades of dark futures that have come along ever since. For that reason alone, it’s worth reading and studying.  The more we learn about our past dark futures, the better we will be able to understand our present dark futures and prepare for our future dark futures.

Lesson 1: Coming of Age Is Even Harder in a Dystopia

A typical coming of age story involves a character who learns valuable lessons, changes and evolves, tests social boundaries, experiences inner growth, and finally finds his or her own special place in the world.  In a dystopian coming of age story, there’s an added difficulty. How do you find a special place in a world that’s completely dysfunctional? Would you even want to?

To answer this challenge, authors have come up with a number of alternatives. One popular approach is for the main character to develop so much integrity and inner fortitude that it’s the rest of the world that ends up changing, evolving, and coming of age to accommodate them. The characters are brave, the world is new, so why wouldn’t this “brave new world” outcome appear in a book calling itself Brave New World? I spent the entire book wondering how Huxley would pull off the inevitable downfall and transformation of his dystopia. I kept wondering up until the very last page when–if a book from 1932 gets a spoiler warning, consider yourself warned–our coming of age character kills himself, and the horrific future world of 26th Century London continues unchanged. Unless that part is handled in the sequel, in which case don’t spoil it for me!

Which leads us to…

Lesson 2: Dystopia and Other Genre Tropes Evolve Over Time

This is probably obvious to everyone else, but I lost sight of it for a while. Most dystopian fiction I’ve read lately has been new and modern, so going back toward the root of the tree really helped me to get a better appreciation for the branches and leaves. While reading Brave New World, I was reminded of George Orwell’s 1984 and other books that bridge the gap and form the trend lines between then and now.

I’d studied 1984 in high school and college, like everyone else in the world, but not in the context of genre. Probably because the professors thought it would seem more impressive and literary if we thought the book descended from the clouds directly into Orwell’s brain. It would have been so much more interesting to see how much 1949′s 1984 was inspired by 1932′s Brave New World, which was itself inspired by something else I’ll have to read someday (We by Yevgeny Zamyatin from 1921, if you’re keeping score at home).

Brave New World is a 1930s dystopia that ends with a character escaping into death. 1984 is a 1940s dystopia that ends with the main character staying alive but surrendering his soul to Big Brother, at least for the time being. A 1950s dystopia, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, ends with the character finding a hopeful solution to someday fight back against his society. Finally the “brave new transformative world” ending becomes common in the 1960s, as in the Tripods trilogy by John Christopher and Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Then came decades of further refinement, and the rest is all those branches and leaves I was talking about.

Lesson 3: Dystopias Are Meant for the Ages They Are Written In

Aside from the ending, it was jarring that this proto-dystopia didn’t include some familiar modern anxieties. The 26th Century world of Brave New World suffered no environmental problems, climate change, religious conflict, nuclear war, mutated supergerms, zombies, killer robots, or technological singularities. Instead, Brave New World reflects the anxieties of the early 1930s: the rise of fascism, the spread of mass production, social conditioning, and the eugenics practiced before the discovery of DNA.

One world war later, we have 1984 with its all-powerful combination of propaganda and perpetual global conflict (“We were always at war with Oceania… We were never at war with Eurasia…”). Oh, and television! There hadn’t been any TVs in Huxley’s 1932 book because there hadn’t been any TVs in 1932, but Orwell sure put them to good use. During the Cold War came dystopias set in radioactive post-nuclear hellscapes, and zombies to represent communism. (Including some where survivors gather in a shopping mall that represents capitalism. What, you thought it was just about monsters?)

To have a successful dystopia, you need to tap into the worries of the day, preferably fresh ones that haven’t been tackled before. Recently, Suzanne Collins successfully combined the Patriot Act with reality TV to create The Hunger Games. Looking ahead, there have to be some even fresher fears on the horizon.

And finally…

Lesson 4: Dystopias Can Adjust to Technological Changes

There’s a device described in Brave New World that functions something like a cell phone, except that it’s ridiculously clunky and only journalists seem to use them. The battery is worn on a belt holster, the transmitter is located in an aluminum stovepipe hat, and a microphone pops out of the hat and dangles in front of the user’s face when in use. It sounds exactly like the car phones we had back in the 1980s! Unfortunately, this is for a story set in 2540.

A common problem in science fiction is that technology outpaces speculation. Captain Kirk’s communicator that seemed so far-futuristic in 1967 is like a toy compared to my early-2012-and-already-obsolete smartphone. Three-year-olds are walking around today with beeping, flashing devices that sing songs and play videos. Captain Kirk would have been amazed!

But having a dystopia can actually solve this problem. In Brave New World, science is controlled by the government. Technological innovation and labor-saving devices are withheld, unless they serve to increase the stability of society. R&D is channeled into better human cloning, subconscious conditioning, better drugs, and distracting sports. In a world such as this, we can assume that smartphones have been considered and rejected in favor of stovepipe hats with dangly bits.  Because the technology is chosen by the society to fit the society, the book holds up internally and remains fairly immune to tech changes even after eighty years. My 2007 book with the click-wheel iPod, on the other hand, not so much.

Those are my lessons from this book. Now go forth and create some brave new worlds of your own!

Greg R. Fishbone is the author of the “Galaxy Games” series of midgrade sports and sci-fi from Tu Books at Lee & Low Books. Visit him at http://gfishbone.com.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Cassey Brasseux  •  Nov 14, 2012 @12:21 pm

    This is the best blog for anybody who desires to find out about this topic. You notice so much its nearly onerous to argue with you (not that I truly would want…HaHa). You undoubtedly put a brand new spin on a subject thats been wrote about for years. Nice stuff, simply nice!

  2. Tammy Flanders  •  Nov 14, 2012 @12:51 pm

    Thanks for the great breakdown. I, too, haven’t heard of ‘We’ but will look it up. I particularly like how you place each book into it’s contemporary perspective to explain what the ‘fears’ are based on.
    Thanks again.
    Tammy
    Apples with Many Seeds

  3. tricia  •  Nov 14, 2012 @3:15 pm

    Thanks, too, for the great covers tour! On top of everything else, the book has inspired some terrific illustrations.

  4. D.Lee Sebree  •  Nov 14, 2012 @9:59 pm

    I haven’t read We in a few years, but remember I found it more disturbing than most dystopia – other than 1984 and “Brave”. There’s also the Cold War, Americacentric, subgenre of books like Alas, Babylon and On the Beach. Another classic – A Canticle for Liebowitz. I consumed these in high school; thanks for the post.

  5. Laurie Schneider  •  Nov 17, 2012 @1:21 am

    This a great piece, Greg, and not just because it references one of my favorite forgotten series, the Tripod trilogy. Great to see all of those covers in one place, too.

  6. Greg R. Fishbone  •  Nov 17, 2012 @6:53 am

    Thanks, everyone. I’ll have to do a post sometime about the distinction I’d made between dystopian and and post-apocalyptic novels. There’s a significant overlap, but also some important differences. In a nutshell, a dystopia needs a structured society while most post-apocalyptic worlds are in a period of anarchy. A Canticle for Liebowitz is a historic sweep through an upcoming dark ages as society slowly rebuilds itself; Alas, Babylon is about a town that struggles with the aftermath of nuclear war without contact from the outside world; and On the Beach is about the last gasps of civilization as the lights go out on the human race. The Cold War inspired some very depressing fiction!