Wednesday, March 26, 2014

London, Anyone?: London Rare Books School 2014: Seminar in Rare Children's Books

When: June 23rd-27th
Where: University of London
Qualifications: Priority seems to go to post-grads, but anyone can apply
Cost: £600

Children's Books, 1470-1980

Course tutor: Jill Shefrin

This course is designed to provide a holistic introduction to the study of early and modern children’s books, examining the book as physical object—both bibliographically and materially—as well as concepts of rarity and collectability, together with the history and practice of children’s book collecting, bookselling and scholarship. Case studies will focus on different historical contexts, printing technologies, book design and cross-cultural influences over 500 years.

Many children’s books are, by nature of their principal readers, scarce: children are hard on their books. Books from earlier periods, books produced for a cheap popular market and, in the twentieth century, books published under wartime conditions may be especially rare. Additionally, until the twentieth century, copyright deposit libraries did not particularly value the acquisition of books published for children.

The critical, historical and bibliographic literature on children’s books is complicated by having been written for varied audiences. Children’s books have traditionally been of interest to children’s librarians and primary schoolteachers on the one hand, and, on the other, to antiquarian collectors, booksellers and librarians of special collections primarily concerned with bibliography and in the history of publishing and illustration. In recent years, bibliographical, critical and historical research have all exploded, supported in part by academic interest in the history of the book and the study of children’s literature. Academics in a range of disciplines—particularly English literature—have entered the field. But collectors and scholars have been studying the history of children’s books since the nineteenth century.

Students will have the opportunity to see and handle early material in some of London’s rare book collections and to understand how bibliography serves as a tool of description and communication between the worlds of collectors, booksellers, curators and scholars. They should acquire a sufficient sense of the current state of bibliographical and historical research in the field to enable them to pursue their own professional or personal interests.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Transhumanism in KidLit, and The Giver Trailer, What Gives?

So I came across an unusual book a few days ago online. In opposition to my recent post on reflections on, acceptance of, and recovering from loss/death, a transhumanist author--Gennady Stolyarov--has penned a children's book titled Death is Wrong. I know this is a niche book, catering to a particular small audience, but it intrigued me nonetheless, and troubled me as well. While the transhumanist movement and goal for singularity can make sense of our increasingly science-fiction world with its rapidly growing technologies, I see problems with articulating the wrongness of death; in a recent Slate article, Joelle Renstrom writes that,
Representing death as wrong gives it greater power, especially when people do die. If death is wrong, are people who die bad, or are they victims of an obsolete paradigm? Either way, making peace with death would be particularly challenging. Kids could grow up not just afraid of death, but also afraid of failing to fix it. Stolyarov makes death a powerful nemesis that could rule their lives—just as it’s ruled his.
The notion of immortality becomes a fact rather than a concept; to present that to a young mind, a nascent consciousness, does not bode well for their development. Before I start spewing all of my thoughts and critiques on the subject, I need to read a little more on this philosophy. But I welcome any thoughts from those more familiar with this. What good can transhumanism offer people, adults, children? I'm constantly reminded of the immortal Peter Pan. *shudders* Has it made entrance into other children's books? Will it? 

On another note, the first movie trailer for The Giver was just released, and my initial reaction was, Color? Seriously? I had some other initial qualms, including the shift from pills to needles (are we afraid to see a reflection of how medicated our youth are? Does having them pop pills on screen as opposed to receiving shots allot them too much agency and make the viewer uncomfortable? Or are needles just scarier?) and the ... entire end shot. As trailers usually go, there is a lot in here meant to confuse us, meant to appear not as it will be in the film, but for a story that is dark, abstract, and searingly poignant, this adaptation looks to be going down the Hunger Games and Divergent track.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry

Seeking submissions of collections of children's and young adult poetry, including anthologies, published in 2013 

This award, now in its 9th year, recognizes excellent poetry written for young people. The author of the winning collection receives a $500.00 check courtesy of Johns Hopkins UP as well as an extended appraisal in our yearly poetry award essay, published in the fall issue of The Lion and the Unicorn. Honor books are similarly recognized in the essay. The previous award essays can be downloaded from this web address, or viewed online: 

We hope you can help us survey the landscape of poetry for young people by making us aware of any 2013 collections of children's and young adult poetry, including anthologies, by or before April 14, 2014. Whether you are a press or just an individual who knows of children's poetry published in 2013, please contact Joseph Thomas at with any suggestion(s) or queries about submission guidelines.

If you need more time than the April 14th deadline allows, please consider submitting anyway. The judges would like the most amount of time possible to consider their choices and need to submit the essay to The Lion and the Unicorn for publication in late June, so you understand how pressing the time frame is... but a submission sent later would not rule them out!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Announcing a New and Exciting Event: Devouring Children's Literature 2014!

Brought to you by SDSU's ChildLit GSA:


What is it?: Devouring Children's Literature is an event that naturally focuses on children’s literature — from picture books to young adult novels — in order to highlight both the playfulness of literature for young people as well as the importance of examining it as literature itself. To that end, we also have a fabulous program planned, including the display and competition of children's lit themed Edible Books, readings from some of our esteemed professors of children’s literature and talks from local children’s book authors. Be prepared to experience childhood texts like never before, and get some insight into the place of children’s literature in San Diego and beyond.

What are Edible Books?: Edible Books are book-themed art pieces made out of food. For a some visuals (and you really do need to see them!) visit Staley Library's Edible Book Pinterest page, or see some of the albums at, website of the International Edible Books Festival. 

Can I make an Edible Book?: Please do! We are looking forward to many participants creating Edible Books to display at the event- and we'll be awarding prizes to crowd favorites! Visit our Registration page for detailed info on entering your Edible Book in the competition (and make sure to register by April 10th). Whether or not you decide to enter an Edible Book, everyone who attends the event will be able to vote on their favorites. 

More info coming: Check the website and return to this blog for detailed info about the program!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ugo Fontana: Illustrating for Children

Dr. Giorgia Grilli, professor at the University of Bologna, has just written and compiled a 200 pg volume on an Italian illustrator for children that worked from the Forties to the Eighties: Ugo Fontana. She worked on this project with Fabian Negrin (an Italian-Argentinian illustrator and candidate for the H.C.Andersen and the ALMA Award). The book is in Italian and English and is companion to an important exhibition that will be hosted in two weeks at Bologna Children's Book Fair.

She shared these details with us:

Fabian Negrin and I have been researching for some years and put together a book in Italian and English on the work of a great Italian illustrator: Ugo Fontana (1921-1985). This book – a 200-page volume richly illustrated – is companion to the exhibition on Ugo Fontana that will be hosted by the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair. This exhibition inaugurates a new section of the fair, called ‘The Lost Treasure,’ which aims at rediscovering and presenting to the world the illustrative work of old masters of illustration that have been forgotten or have disappeared from bookstores, but deserve international attention. Ugo Fontana is the first one of the series and we, as curators, have been working hard to retrace his original artwork from national and private archives, old publishers, the family, friends, etc. We have collected more than 90 tables, which will be visible at the exhibition and which are all reproduced in the book. For our critical essay, we have studied the evolution of his style, the influences of other artists on his work, his own influences on other illustrators, the relationship of Fontana's way of illustrating for children with the children's publishing industry of his days and, more in general, the socio-cultural context in which he worked.

Having shown to some Italian publishers Fontana’s work (part of which they had in their archives or in their old catalogues, but no longer knew or thought about), many of them were so enthusiastic that they each decided to re-publish a book illustrated by him. So there will be three books illustrated by Fontana as ‘new’ releases at Bologna Children's Book Fair 2014.

The book can be bought, with a discount, directly through the publisher’s website ( -- it will be available in a couple of days). Or at the exhibition, in Bologna.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

CFP: Making the City Playable Conference

Making the City Playable Conference – Research Stream
Watershed, Bristol, UK.
September 10-11, 2014
Proposals due April 14, 2014

On September 10th and 11th 2014 the Watershed Media Centre in Bristol will host the first Making the City Playable Conference, convened by University of the West of England Visiting Professors Clare Reddington and Andrew Kelly. This two day international conference will bring together future city experts, urban planners, artists and technologists to explore the theme of the Playable City, and what it might mean in imagining and making the cities of the future.

The Playable City

The “Playable City” is a term that has been coined by Watershed in Bristol as a people-centred counterpoint to the idea of the data-driven “Smart City”. The Playable City is imagined as a city in which hospitality and openness are key, enabling residents and visitors to reconfigure and rewrite city services, places and stories. The Playable City fosters serendipity and gives permission to be playful in public.

The idea of the Playable City has been explored in a range of Watershed projects; a series of cultural exchange rapid project development labs with the British Council working with artists, producers and technologists from the UK and East Asia in 2012 and Brazil in 2014, the inaugural Playable City Award, a major commission for a future-facing artwork, which supported development of Hello Lamp Post in Summer 2013, Biketag Colour Keepers - a street game for Bristol Temple Quarter, and Open City: Guimarães - a series of artistic commissions that explored how openness in city governance might improve the social, cultural, and economic lives of inhabitants of the Portuguese 2012 European Capital of Culture. The Second Playable City Award is now open for submissions. 

The Call for Proposals

The Digital Cultures Research Centre is convening a research stream within the Making the City Playable Conference. We are inviting proposals from a cross-disciplinary gathering of scholars who wish to consider the intersection between play and the contemporary city, bringing diverse research knowledge and perspectives to the concept of the Playable City, considering its conceptual value, potential and limits.
Proposals are invited for 10-15 minute research-based presentations or academic papers. The following are indicative themes: 
  • Smart City vs Playable City – visions of the urban future
  • Playing and Reality – the city as stage for critical re-imaginings
  • The Child and the City – children’s play and independent mobility in urban settings
  • Play & Mobilisation – the social and political impact of playful interventions
  • Parkour and place hacking – playing around the edges of public space
  • Level Playing Fields? – creative interventions and social inequality   
  • Playing Publics – creative practices as citizenship practices

Please submit abstracts of up to 350 words accompanied by a biographical paragraph. These are due by April 14th. Email materials to

It is hoped that these discussions will provide the starting point for future exchanges and research collaborations. 

If you don’t plan to submit an abstract, but would like to attend the Making the City Playable Conference, tickets and further information are available here.

The research stream is convened by Dr Michael Buser (Planning & Architecture, University of the West of England), Dr Kirsten Cater (Computer Science, University of Bristol), Professor Jon Dovey (Screen Media, University of the West of England), Associate Professor Mandy Rose (Digital Cultures, University of the West of England) and Dr Angie Page (Policy Studies, University of Bristol).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reminder: Don't miss Prof. Thomas's Silverstein lecture tonight!

Prof. Thomas's lecture, "The Devils' Pet: Shel Silverstein, An American Iconoclast," will take place at Pomona College at 4:15pm today. See previous blog post for details

Monday, March 10, 2014

'Blackfish' and Environmental Activism in Children's Literature

Many have seen or at least heard about the film Blackfish, an emotional and shocking portrayal of the practice of keeping orcas in captivity. Although the film's director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, claims to have begun the film with the intention of documenting what lead to the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, many are interpreting the film as anti-SeaWorld, animal rights extremist propaganda. The overwhelming response to this film has begun a fascinating phenomenon which the media has dubbed "the Blackfish Effect," in which animal rights activism is making an undocumented impact via the orcas-in-captivity controversy (even politically--California Assemblyman Richard Bloom is proposing legislation that will ban the use of orcas in shows, among other things). The onslaught of media coverage of the Blackfish Effect has spawned my interest in the relationship between children's literature and environmental activism, particularly after stumbling upon a children's book titled "Namu: Making Friends with a Killer Whale" by Ronald M. Fisher published by National Geographic Society Books for Young Explorers.

Since this book was published in 1973 SeaWorld has become a massive company, creating and dominating the market on orcas. In a NYT article printed before the CNN debut of Blackfish, the film's director Gabriela Cowperthwaite is quoted noting that most of what we know about orcas comes from SeaWorld: “'For 40 years, they were the message,' she said, referring to SeaWorld. 'I think it’s O.K. to let an 80-minute movie have its moment." Indeed SeaWorld has had such a strong influence on the way children view the animal- is it even possible to see an orca and not think "Shamu!"? SeaWorld's branding of a species has been going on since way before we started seeing clownfish and exclaiming "It's Nemo!"

However, Namu predates SeaWorld's success and tells the story of the one of the first orcas to be captured and brought into captivity (although as the title indicates, the focus is more on the delightful discovery that orcas are interactive, incredibly intelligent, and trainable). Further, Namu reveals the general sentiment humans had towards the natural world around them.

For example, the book tells of how salmon fishermen caught Namu in their nets by accident:

The next page skips to the sale of Namu to the owner of an aquarium in Washington: the apparent assumption is that if you find something in nature--even a 10-ton sea mammal--you own it. Although the book does mention that even before SeaWorld was displaying orcas there were those protesting orcas in captivity, the book reveals that  most people wouldn't even question that the salmon fishermen who caught Namu automatically deserved ownership of him and had the right to sell him.

SeaWorld might be the biggest message on orcas, but there are others writing about and publishing children's books on orcas. There's even a press called Orca Book Publishers, who proudly declare on their "About" page that they are "long committed to publishing books with an environmental theme." Now that Blackfish has been so successful in presenting another side to the story, perhaps part of the Blackfish Effect will be even more awareness and availability of books like Siwiti: A Whale's Story

While some may protest political messages in texts for children (I remember talking to a parent who was upset that Happy Feet preached about global warming to her 3-year-old), I wonder if it's even possible, or desirable, to publish children's books about the natural world without taking a stance on what our relationship to the natural world should be like...aren't books about the natural world always political?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Prof. Joseph Thomas to deliver lecture on Silverstein at Pomona College

"The Devil's Favorite Pet: Shel Silverstein, An American Iconoclast"

When: Wednesday, March 12th, 4:15 pm (reception at 3:45pm)
Where: Pomona College, Ena Thompson Room, Crookshank Hall Webpage:

Details: The talk will be about an hour, and features Shel's life and work (particularly his cartoons, poetry, and music). In essence, it will be a preview of some of the major themes addressed in Dr. Thomas's forthcoming book by the same name.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Harry Potter and the Struggle with Grief

We are finite beings, no matter how immune we might feel against the trials of the world, and one manner that awakens us to our own mortality is the loss of others. Their absence -- be it sudden, incomprehensible, or expected -- can shake us severely, demanding an acknowledgement of the inevitability of death and requiring us to struggle out of the hollowness by any means possible, or else reside in a gloomy haze indefinitely.

In the last three months I have lost a number of dear people in my life (most recently my talented cousin) in a torrent of aching shocks; I've yet to come to terms with the ways of the universe, but I find myself turning to my books numerous times in order to cope. In the process, I have found that the Harry Potter series supply me with more strength and comfort than I'd have first considered, and not simply because I enjoy the stories so. Within the books exist a collection of guidelines in the many forms, reasons, and stages of grief. I had actually ruminated on this last year (when my grandfather passed away) but in the wake of more tragedies, the depth of the novels' relatability has struck me fully.

So what follows is a brief list of the ways in which Harry Potter and his cohorts have helped me grieve:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

2013 Lion & the Unicorn Poetry Award Essay Available!

Noteworthy news: "Outside the Inside of the Box: the 2013 Lion & the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry" Essay is now available, with the award going to JonArno Lawson's Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box (with illustrations by Alec Dempster). The award recognizes excellent poetry written for young people; this recognition not only honors remarkable poetry, but serves as a great jumping board for those less familiar with children's poetry as well.

The award essay was established in 2005; after nine years, this is the first essay published without any of the founding judges. Additionally, (former and current) NCSCL graduate assistants Jill Coste and Alya Hameed deserve special thanks for helping administrate this year's award. You can go directly to the 2013 essay here, and can of course find all the previous essays via Project Muse or by clicking here.

Looking forward to what 2014 will honor!