Thursday, February 25, 2010

Despite all meteorological indications . . .

.. baseball season is upon us. It’s not even ten degrees here and, with two feet of snow on the ground, I don’t think I’ll be shelving my skis anytime soon, but nonetheless, it’s definitely baseball season. The shadow of the new Minnesota Twins ballpark looms just beyond the view from my office window, ready, despite common sense, to bring outdoor major league baseball back to Minnesota. In Florida and Arizona, pitchers and catcher have been in spring training for a week, and now the position players are reporting. A certain aging shortstop from near my hometown and young catcher from my current city are both in need of new contracts. If all that isn’t enough to make you crave peanuts and crackerjacks, then I have this for you:

Dino-Baseball is the third installment in Lisa Wheeler and Barry Gott’s dino-sports franchise, and, though I’m not really impartial, I think it’s hilarious.

When I was working with Barry on spec’ing out the illustrations, I had a lot of fun looking at various YouTube highlights so that we could make sure die-hard baseball geeks would recognize a few iconic moments and gestures. As much as I wanted to, we didn’t have enough space for a detailed illustration of the infield fly rule (really, you can’t learn it early enough), but there’s a lot of good baseball stuff here. For example, the raptor shortstop ought to bear some resemblance to a certain SS from Kalamazoo, Michigan. The managerial freak-out owes a lot to the best manager tantrum ever captured on film. And finally, anyone who’s ever worshipped in the pews of the cathedral at 1060 West Addison ought to recognize this scene:


(Free copy of the book to the first commenter to explain what’s going on here and why it’s heartbreaking.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day Cheer Inspired by Books

(Reposted from the Lerner Blog)

As an author of children's books, I feel very lucky. I get to spend every day doing what I love most . . . writing books for kids and connecting with readers. But some days as an author are extra special, and for me, Valentine's Day was one of those days. It's all because of a big-hearted 5 year-old girl named Carly Glomstad who lives in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

Carly's story started last year when she read a book I wrote called Love, Ruby Valentine, the story of a young girl who decides that Valentine's Day isn't the only day to show others what they mean to you. The heroine in the book loves Valentine's Day and spends so much time getting ready for it, that she sleeps right through it. Rather than letting her gifts and goodies go to waste, she delivers them to the townspeople the following day. Of course, everyone loves her special delivery and Ruby realizes that every day is a good day to show people how special they are to you.

Inspired by the book, Carly decided to raise money and put together gifts and goody bags for people in need in her community. Carly's deliveries were such a hit last year that she did it again this year.

Five-year-old Carly raised $1,000. She donated some of the money to a child care center and local nursery and used the rest to deliver treats and gifts. Though I live far away from Minnesota, and wasn't able to see first-hand what I know must have been lots of big smiles when Carly showed up, she warmed my heart from afar. As an author, nothing could make me feel any better than knowing that my book made an impact and inspired someone so young to do something so beautiful.

Thank you Carly for the best Valentine's gift ever!

To read Carly's story click here.

To visit Carly's website and learn more about her "Carly Valentine" projectclick here.

by Laurie Friedman

(Author of the Mallory series; I'm Not Afraid of This Haunted House; Love, Ruby Valentine; and Thanksgiving Rules)

The Stakes: Nonfiction Monday

Apparently the recent outbreak of unusually snowy weather in the south and east of the U.S. has been fodder for climate change skeptics. An NPR piece on this subject leads this way: “With snow blanketing much of the country, the topic of global warming has become the butt of jokes.” Jokes? Okay, I’ll admit to laughing on the odd negative-20F Minnesota morning when some wit quips, “so, how about that Global Warming, eh?” You know what, though? It’s less funny all the time.

The igloo below (photo courtesy of Senator Inhofe on various web sites), erected in DC last week, is a “joke” courtesy of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. The signs on it read “AL GORE’S NEW HOME!” and “HONK IF YOU (LOVE) GLOBAL WARMING.” I’m not laughing.

Wherever you happen to fall politically and whatever your position on the climate change debate (to the extent that there is one), this should terrify you. Inhofe is a member of the legislative body with arguably more power to influence the direction of global climate policy than any other on the planet, and this joke is the intellectual equivalent of seeing an airplane overhead and concluding the theory of gravity is bunk. It’s not just unfunny, it’s dangerously stupid.

The difference between “weather” and “climate,” between a single data point and trend are among the many, many things the next generation is going to need to understand in order to navigate a new century of challenges. I firmly believe this. If our elected officials and our news media are content to allow or even advance a false equivalency between scientific observation and political posture, then the people writing nonfiction for young people must equip their audience with the tools to separate the scientific wheat from the political chaff, the photo ops from the data charts. It's a high calling for high stakes.

Chart courtesy National Climatic Data Center.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The evolving role of the author bio


“Blythe Woolston doesn’t remember learning how to read, but she suspects someone taught her as ploy to keep her out of trouble in a slightly dangerous world full of bears and chainsaws and swift rivers. Today she reads books and writes the indexes that appear  on their final pages. She lives in a wonder cupboard: One drawer is full of peppercorns, another holds the skull of a hoplitomeryx, another collects lint that might be useful in making bandages if it comes to that. The Freak Observer is her first novel. Follow her  blog at”

Has the role of the author bio changed? With authors on social networks and with web sites an absolute requirement, has the biographic role of the author bio been replaced by the need to be more demonstrative of the author’s personality? Put it another way: do author bios need to have a voice more than they need facts? I tend to think so. I think author bios are now more enticements to further interaction than statements of useful fact. Contradictory opinions?

(Yes, Blythe Woolston’s The Freak Observer has a photograph of a brain on the back. Wait until you see the front.)


Friday, February 5, 2010

Curved or flat?

Simon looked down at the pavement and tightened
the brim of his hat. He has quite a few tells; play him in
poker and you won’t regret it, I suspect. “Yeah?”

“Hi, Mr. Freeman.” I tugged at the brim of my hat,
tightening the curve and blocking my eyes, which must
have been pretty red and swollen. He just would have
thought I was high or something.

Steve Brezenoff’s The Absolute Value of –1 has loads of beautiful details. Steve’s eye for the meaning in a gesture or an object is one of the things that drew me to his writing, and I think his handling of the potentially explosive issue of baseball cap brims is a master class in how not to fall into the trap of a superficial interpretation of teen culture. As you see from the excerpts above, Steve’s character Simon wears his Yankees cap with a brim with a pronounced curve. This is viscerally pleasing to me because getting a good curve into a cap brim was a preoccupation of my own ball-cap-centric adolescence. At the left, Steve is modeling what I still consider near-optimal brim curvature. What made me think of Steve’s cap observations was a kid I saw on the bus. HE was wearing a cap with a brim that was absolutely flat. And it was clearly kept flat with all the love with which I kept mine curved. This is probably not shocking. If you’ve been anywhere around teenagers recently, you have noticed that, for a certain look, a completely flat brim is de rigueur.

So, Steve’s book is dated and will mean nothing to teens, the verisimilitude gang howls! Nonsense. I saw a flat cap and thought of my curved caps, and of Simon’s. I didn’t think, wow, that’s completely different and utterly alien. I thought, that looks completely different, but the meaning behind it is remarkably similar. The thing that matters in observing and reflecting any detail of teen culture is not the specifics of a gesture or an object. What matters is acknowledging and portraying that such things have meaning. Teens aren’t stupid. They understand that a signifier changes while the signified remains timeless.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pew Social Networking Survey

The Pew Center has a very interesting study out now on Internet and social media use and it has lots of data on young people. It’s well worth reading in the original or in one of the many summaries from news outlets.

I suspect a couple of findings will be subject to some chin scratching. Here are my takes on these findings, from a kidlit perspective where possible:

First, the survey reveals “a decline in blogging among teens and young adults and a modest rise among adults 30 and older.” I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend applies to young adults who read YA fiction with some regularity, but I don’t take this as a sign of the decline of blogs for the future (and over 30s are blogging more, according to the survey). Rather, I see this as the novelty of blogging wearing off. That doesn’t mean the utility and value of blogging has worn off. Here’s the statistic that I think is more important (quoting The Guardian summary): “86% of social networking teens post comments to a friend's page or wall on a social network site and 83% post comments on friends' photos posted to an online social network.” I have said innumerable times that it’s not the posts but the comments that create a vibrant social network. Teens clearly get that better than anyone (adults comment at less than a third this rate). Authors, what can you do to make your blogging comment-attractive?

Tweet, tweet!Next, apparently Twitter is not popular with teens. I can’t really articulate why, but I’m not surprised by this finding. Twitter just feels adult to me. Maybe it’s the way it can facilitate geography-defying, topic-focused conversations (# tags, etc.), which isn’t something I think resonates with the largely inward facing, small-community adolescent experience (Facebook is better in this regard, and teens love it). Regardless, I agree with David Carr: Twitter is plumbing. It’s not going away; just don’t expect it do things it’s not good at. I think many authors get that Twitter is for networking with colleagues and for news.

Finally, “Cell phone ownership is nearly ubiquitous among teens.” Is this the screen, now? Forget the TV or computer, is this the place for reading and for engagement with authors? I don’t know. It feels like it might also be reasonable to argue that reading on a cell phone screen—even a nice one—will very quickly drive you into the welcoming embrace of paper books. I don’t want to contemplate a third option.

The darker side of this I fear is a socio-economic gap built into cell phones in this country. There’s a big conceptual and experiential difference between the so-called dumb phone you get for free or for low cost with a contract (or the phones available on no-contract plans) and a high-end “app phone” like an iPhone, an Android phone, or a Blackberry, all which are expensive  and require very expensive plans. I have never seen anyone comment on this divide, but it feels like it might be important. If fluency with mobile operating systems becomes a modern skill as fluency with desktop operating systems has, have we created two lanes? In some ways, I fear cell phones might be distinctly less democratic than computers. A cheap  $299 netbook can still give you the experience of Windows. You’re going to need ten times that to get the experience of iPhone OS. At any rate, all are certainly less democratic than books.

iPhone photo:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

More on Salinger and YA.

The New Yorker is in full Salinger mode, and there’s some excellent stuff, particularly this exchange between Richard Brody and Wes Anderson, which touches on the “enduring importance of art made by grown-ups about young people.” Amen.