Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Future is Now

On a flight to the east coast a few months ago, I became the person I hate: I talked nonstop to the stranger in the seat next to me. I was on my way to a conference and typing away at the paper I was finishing at the last minute, and the man next to me asked me about my topic. And, well, if you're anything like me, you know how easy it is to start talking about your work with the exuberant enthusiasm of the Comic Book Guy at a Star Trek convention. I was writing about postmodernism and dystopian young adult fiction, and my description of dystopias led to a long conversation about science fiction in general. My seat neighbor, Frank, eloquently explained his own fascination with sci-fi:
"Our technology has grown exponentially since the Industrial Revolution, making strides faster than any other era in history. If we can go from giant computers to handheld computers in just 50 years, imagine what will happen in the next 50. Doesn't that intrigue you?"

Yes, Frank. Yes, it does.

And while we all know that innovators are frequently churning out new ways to use technology, there are a few inventions that stand out for their, well, creepy sci-fi factor. And when I read about one of these things on the internet, inevitably someone in the comments section remarks that "this is like something out of a dystopian novel!"

Here are four of the weirdest and most dystopian-esque inventions/scenarios I've come across and the YA books that, in my mind, correspond with them. Care to add to the list?

1. Internet glasses: The prototype for Google's "Smart Glasses" was unveiled last year, but the Economist recently highlighted them as something that could become more mainstream in 2013. And yeah! They're going to look as good on you as they do on the model. Promise.

YA Correlation: In Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky, characters live in domes, protected from the noxious environment outside. They spend their days hanging out in the "realms," a virtual reality universe that they access through their SmartEye -- a flexible and fleshly spectacle permanently attached to one eye.

2. The anti-feeding tube: called this a "terrifying bulimia machine," and tongue-in-cheek epithet aside, this invention is indeed quite unsettling. Called the AspireAssist Aspiration Therapy System (that name alone -- come on! Euphemism, much?), this contraption is essentially a reverse-feeding tube, as it is inserted into one's stomach via a "skin flap," wherein it sucks out undigested food. Eat what you want and slim down! Just remember that you'll have a permanent skin flap, not unlike these poor cows.

YA Correlation: Not a direct correlation, but consider this scene in Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire: the rich residents of the luxurious and futuristic Capital attend parties where they gorge on delicious food, then drink a concoction that makes them throw up so they can continue to gorge.

3. Flawless plastic surgery: Apparently in South Korea it is not unusual for young people to get plastic surgery to drastically alter their appearance. Surgical procedures include eyelid surgery and jaw chiseling. This American Life did a story on it, and this Tumblr features before and after pictures.

YA Correlation: Scott Westerfield's Uglies envisions a dystopian future in which everyone gets a surgery that makes them conventionally beautiful at age 16. The downside? They get lobotomized, too. Yikes.

4. Fake meat: Is there anyone who didn't say "Eeeewwwwww" when they first heard about petri-dish hamburger? Using stem cells to grow beef in a lab is just...well, it's straight out of a science fiction novel, is what it is.

YA Correlation: In M.T. Anderson's Feed, the main characters spend a day in "the country," which is a meat farm of genetically engineered beef. So romantic! 

Bonus: I would be remiss if I didn't mention cyborgs. This is good one, with an altruistic purpose, too. It is complex and intricate, and it's mind-blowing to consider the time, skill, and effort scientists and engineers put into creating it. it walk on the treadmill. And then imagine it chasing after you because in the future your currently unborn son will helm an uprising against its dominance. That's why it's on a treadmill, you know. To practice.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

ALA Youth Media Awards Results

In case you missed it, yesterday, the American Library Association held their Youth Media Awards in Seattle, WA to honor the outstanding books and other media for children to young adults. Yesterday's awards did no less then honor some of the most rewarding, creative, and engaging books and writers of the past year. Probably the most recognizable achievements include the Caldecott Medal (of course), in its 75th year of recognizing the most distinguished illustrator of picture, and the Newbery Award, going to the most acclaimed author of a children's book.

This year's Caldecott Award went to This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. Amazingly, he also won one of the five Caldecott honors for his work on Extra Yarn. That's pretty awesome, I think.

The Newbery went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I've not read it, but when you read a tweet that a whole class of 5th graders hugged, screamed and raved in celebration over it, then you know it must be special.

I was personally very thrilled that Katherine Paterson won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for an author or illustrator whose books have made a lasting contribution to children's literature. Just hearing her name flipped me back to my far-too-long-ago grade school years and the whimsical imaginings of my very own Terabithia, and for that instant memory alone I was far from surprised that she would be honored with such an award.

To read the full list of awards, visit the ALA website here. It might help contribute to your GoodReads "Want to read" list. At the same time, it leads me to wonder what classifies these as the most distinguished of a year's worth of publications. How innovative is too innovative for example? I haven't reviewed enough YMA recipient lists to glean any possibility of trends but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Links for a Friday

Here's what I've been enjoying on the ol' internet lately...

Three YA series that should not be made into films: has posted an article explaining why Veronica Roth's Divergent, Laini Taylor's The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book might be better off remaining in book form only. I enjoy the content of this piece, but I've gotta say, the best part is the Twilight gif.

And speaking of books-to-film, here is a list of Publisher's Weekly's 10 Most Anticipated Literary Film Adaptations: Ender's Game! Gah! (And if you're wondering where Gatsby is, see the note at the top of the page.)

A chastisement of the guy who created highly sexualized female versions of your favorite Avengers dudes: Also on, the writer takes to task JoshWMC, the artist behind "Lady Avengers" fan art. While I appreicate the graphic skills it took to create such characters, I too am disappointed by the standard sexy representation. Even Black Widow didn't bare her midriff.

The Cairo International Book Fair: What's the trajectory for this long-running book fair in the wake of Arab Spring?

A Literary Tour of Historical YA: Check out The Atlantic Wire's handy list of YA books set in historical eras.

Architectural art made out of books: Amazing, if you can get past the pain of seeing books sliced apart.

Conspiracy theories about classic literary characters: This is fun. What do you think? I'm going to pretend I didn't see the Harry Potter one.

Children are awesome: Just to make you smile.

CFP: Journal of Graduate Research in Young People's Materials and Culture

Call For Papers
Journal of Graduate Research in Young People’s Materials and Culture (JGR)

Based at the University of British Columbia the Journal of Graduate Research in Young People’s Materials and Culture (JGR) is a peer-reviewed open-access e-journal publishing graduate student research in the areas of children’s and young adult literature, childhood studies, and cultural studies related to children and young people.

We are currently selecting manuscripts for our winter 2013 issue. Papers on any children’s or young adult genres are welcome as are papers that discuss other children’s materials such as film, virtual texts, or graphic novels. Possible paper topics could include but are not limited to:
  • The child or young adult as explorer/explored, navigator/navigated
  • Navigating (or negotiating) identity, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or religion as a child or young adult in an adult world
  • Literary trends such as the history/future of children’s texts
  • Pathways of adaptation such as literary translations of texts to film, games, merchandise, graphic novels, or online spaces
  • Exploring place and spaces of childhood or adolescence
  • Cultural, physical, psychological, ideological, or literary restrictions and barriers to exploration and imagination
  • Childhood and adolescent development as it pertains to literature, new materials, other modalities
  • Children, young adults, and cross-cultural exposure
JGR accepts article submissions by current and recent graduate students relevant to the field of children’s and young adult literature and materials. All submissions will be peer reviewed. To ensure an objective peer review process please submit personally identifying content (such as your biographical sketch and contact information) as a separate document attached to your submission.

Submissions must be completed original manuscripts not submitted elsewhere, written in English, 5,000 – 8,000 words (including Endnotes and Works Cited), and should conform to the MLA Handbook, 7th edition. Please submit essays electronically along with a 150-word abstract and 50-word biographical sketch via Word attachments to or online through the OJS system at

Deadline for submissions is 15 February 2013. Publication is scheduled for late 2013.

For more information, visit the journal’s website at
You may also contact the editors Karen Taylor or Robert Bittner

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Multicultural Perspectives: Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah

I stumbled upon Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah, by Omar Khawaja, entirely at random (oh the glories of the internet and its mysterious ways). Immediately I was taken in by two things: the title and the duck. I haven't seen many American Muslim picture books, least of all an open and unobtrusively thoughtful one with "Allah" in the title (which means "God" in Arabic, for the unawares), so I wanted to see how this presented itself. And upon reading it, I admit I immediately loved the little sidekick Duck. Ilyas of course is an adorable inquisitive little boy with such profound thoughts but the absurd antics caught in the illustrations of Duck must surely tickle many a funny bone. So overall, the book was a win for me—accessible characters breaching a complex issue with the honesty and curiosity only a child can demonstrate with a touch of humor. Khawaja introduces readers to an Islamic perspective that demonstrates the universality of beliefs in a colorful and educational adventure.

I had the chance to ask Khawaja a few questions about his book, its purpose, and so forth, and am happy to share that exchange here.

Share a little bit about your book. What are the key themes and issues?

Ilyas & Duck Search for Allah
is about a boy's quest to find God. Ilyas is a typical 5 year old boy with an insatiable appetite for questioning the world around him. Duck is fun-loving, goofy and quick to help Ilyas satisfy his many curiosities. Because kids often think in literal terms, the story too begins with Ilyas thinking that he is able to find God in His physical form. This leads the two characters on an exciting adventure to various parts of the world to find Him. Along the way they meet interesting characters who ultimately help Ilyas and Duck understand the concept of God. The clear challenge in the story was to transform kids' literal interpretation of God into a more abstract and philosophical view that is both simple enough for kids to comprehend and consistent with the Islamic faith. 

What was the inspiration and/or motivation behind it?

Young kids ask the most simple yet profound questions about the world around them. Asking about God then is a natural part of this innocent wonder especially if God is referenced in the home over the course of a typical day. My three young kids are no different and ask more questions than I am equipped to effectively answer. So when my kids presented me with the question about God, I initially struggled to deliver an adequate response.  But as I thought about it I realized that a response to a profound question like this could only be meaningful to young minds if it was delivered in a way that they can relate to. I couldn't think of a better way to do that than through a storybook. So I can safely say that my own kids inspired me to write the book.

As part of my Multicultural Perspectives series, do you feel that Ilyas and Duck addresses or attempts to transcend cultural boundaries? In what ways?

In writing the story my goal was simply to help young kids understand the somewhat abstract concept of God.  And being a Muslim parent, I used "Allah" to refer to God because I was mainly directing the story to other Muslim parents. By using "Allah" in the story however, my intention was not to distance the Islamic view of God from that of other faiths. Rather I believe that given the universally applicable idea around the existence of our "creator" across all monotheistic religions, Ilyas and Duck do cross cultural boundaries by showing that we all believe in the same God regardless of how we refer to Him.  In that sense, my hope is that people will realize that if they simply replace "Allah" with "God" or "Hashem" for that matter, that the message in the story about the existence of God remains consistent with their own belief.

What audience do you hope to reach? Why is a book like this important for the greater American and worldwide audience? What does it contribute?

I think there is such a huge gap in the market for quality books for young kids that communicate Islamic themes and values that I hope Ilyas and Duck will help fill this void and be appreciated by the tremendous global Muslim population. Beyond books though, I believe Ilyas and Duck has the [global] potential... This is especially true considering the vast majority of cartoons that dominate television networks in the Middle East and other Muslim countries today originate mainly from the US, Europe and Japan. There is nothing wrong with that but I think there is room and demand nonetheless for characters that appeal more directly to the local cultures in these markets.
I have had conversations with people that clearly have very little understanding about the Islamic faith. Some believe that Muslims pray to a different God than do Christians and Jews. So to the extent that the use of "Allah" in the story sparks conversations that help dispel some of these misconceptions I think contributes in a positive way to a wider American and global audience.

Did you do any kind of research for the development of the story? 

I had to make sure that the core message in the story was appropriate and widely acceptable to my target audience. I started with my own simple understanding of what I thought Islam said about God. I summarized this in a rhyme within the story the ends with "But you can't see Allah like you can see me." The idea was to position the story through the understanding that you can't see God like you can see others but rather we see God through his amazing creations, and through them we believe Him to be true...  However, it wasn't enough to just have a good message if the delivery of that message was weak. This is where the many nights I spent reading wonderful storybooks to my kids played a role. Over time I had come to appreciate the finer points that made children's books effective for both children and parents and tried to apply this understanding when developing and writing this story.

Will Ilyas and Duck have other adventures?

I currently have two more stories in the works in the Ilyas and Duck series. I also am translating the current book into an interactive storybook app that I'm really excited about which should be available sometime in 2013.

Monday, January 21, 2013

ChildLit GSA Forum on Jan 28th: "Talking Tolkien"

Next Week: First ChildLit GSA Forum of Spring 2013 

When: Monday, January 28 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Where: Living Room Cafe @ 5900 El Cajon Blvd 
Topic of the Night: "Talking Tolkien"

The GSA Discussion Forums reconvene for the new semester, hoping to bring energetic peers together for lively and fun-filled discussion on the epic J.R.R Tolkien.

The GSA Forums are a chance to engage with like-minded folks on all realms and levels of Children's Lit. This month we want to delve into the fascinating life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien. We will converse about everything circling around the man and his universe: the books, the movies, his development of languages, influences on and from history, fan fiction, the cult followings, and really anything else you can think of. Feel free to bring anything to share, whether on or off topic--the forum is meant to be a welcoming and casual gathering. But don't worry! The GSA officers are coming prepared with topics too, as well as a treasury of fun activities... and who knows, maybe another prize cupcake or more.

This Forum is open to all folks interested. That means faculty, grad students, undergrads, and you! So whether you have tons to discuss or you just feel like listening in, please drop by! It also provides an excellent opportunity to meet like-minded peers and scholars of the field.

We'll be holding the event at The Living Room Cafe from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

Looking forward to meeting up, hanging out, and Talking Tolkien

For more Information about the ChildLit GSA, please visit us at:
The GSA Website:
On Twitter: @SDSUChildLitGSA

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mark Your Calendar: Prof. Kenneth Kidd to give talk on April 11

We enjoyed a fantastic virtual visit with the University of Florida's Kenneth Kidd back in October, and come April, we'll get to see him in person! Kenneth Kidd will be visiting SDSU's Center for the Study of Children's Literature on Thursday, April 11, to give a talk called "Philosophy for Children." It'll be amazing. Guaranteed.

The talk will begin at 5 p.m. Stay tuned for details on the location.

Professor Kidd works primarily in children’s literature studies, but his research interests span nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, psychoanalysis, queer theory, and cultural studies. He is the author of two books: Making American Boys: Boyology and the Feral Tale (University of Minnesota, 2004), and Freud in Oz: At the Intersections of Psychoanalysis and Children's Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

With Sidney I. Dobrin he coedited the anthology Wild Things: Children’s Culture and Ecocriticism (Wayne State University Press, 2004), and with Michelle Ann Abate he coedited Over the Rainbow: Queer Children's and Young Adult Literature (University of Michigan Press, 2011).

Professor Kidd has published in a number of children’s literature journals as well as American Imago and PMLA. Since 2004 he has served as Associate Editor of Children’s Literature Association Quarterly. He is current at work on a new book about the children’s literary classic. Learn more about him here and here, and mark your calendars for April 11!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

CFP: Special Edition of The Lion and the Unicorn

Call for Submissions

Tove Jansson: A Centennial Celebration 
Special Issue of The Lion and the Unicorn 

This special issue of The Lion and the Unicorn invites submissions on the various aspects of the works by the Finno-Swedish author Tove Jansson (pronounced TOO-vee YAA-nsson; 1914-2001). Among other topics, essays could focus on:

• Tove Jansson as a crosswriter: works for children and work for adults
• Tove Jansson as a multimedial author: word and image in her novels, picturebooks and comics; her illustrations to other children’s books
• Tove Jansson and the concept of canonicity
• Place and space in Tove Jansson’s works
• Echoes of war and trauma
• Queer palimpsests
• Intertextuality and metafiction
• Ecocritical and posthumanist approaches
• Transcultural reception
• Moomin characters as cultural icons
• Epitexts, including transmediations, web sites, social media, games, merchandise, and theme parks

Essays should be 15–20 pages (4,500–6,000 words). Please email your essay as a Word attachment to Professor Maria Nikolajeva at by July 1, 2013. Accepted essays will appear in the April 2014 issue, to mark Tove Jansson’s centenary on August 9. Or, if you prefer, you can mail a hard copy to Maria Nikolajeva, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, 184 Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 8PQ, UK.