Michael Rosen at Ladygrove Park Primary School in Didcot. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardianvia guardian.co.uk
When I was at school, we rarely had interesting visitors to the classroom: the highlight was probably the local policeman, who popped by once a year to show off his panda car. I'm not that old, but in the 20 years since my days of learning times tables, it's clear this has changed, and for the better.
The book prize that gets the most press in Malaysia is the Popular Book Award. The reason it gets a lot of press is because the coverage tends to be paid for in the form of advertorials.
The award is named after the organiser (Popular Bookstore) and is also descriptive - the award is for popular books, not necessarily good books. But then again, "popular" in this instance isn't based on sales but votes.
You don't have to have read a book to vote for it and I think Malaysians vote for a variety of nonsensical reasons so I don't take the Popular Book Awards at all seriously.
I received an email from one of the nominees this year asking me to vote for his book. I wanted to email back, saying, "Shouldn't you be asking me to read your book instead of just voting for it?" How could he assume that I had read it? Perhaps he didn't really care. Winning is all that matters to some people. They don't give a damn if they've actually done something worthy of a prize.
Anyway, I digress. The finalists for the National Book Award (USA) 2010 for Young People's Literature are:
Paolo Bacigalupi ~ Ship Breaker
Kathryn Erskine ~ Mockingbird
Laura McNeal ~ Dark Water
Walter Dean Myers ~ Lockdown
Rita Williams-Garcia ~ One Crazy Summer.
You'll find the full list of finalists in all the categories here.
So Much To Tell (Viking, page 328 pages, ISBN: 978-1846142000) is the biography of Kaye Webb, Puffin Books' most famous editor.
Her name was what I used to look out for on the title pages of my Puffins and, to me, Kaye Webb meant a good book.
Here's the product description of the biography (by Valerie Grove), taken from Amazon.co.uk:
And this is the title page of my first copy of Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. It was a 12th birthday present from, as you can see, my sister, Christina who, like everyone in my family, encouraged and nurtured my love for reading.
Notice the Students Service Centre Stamp! It was a bookstore in Batu Pahat that sold mostly text books and workbooks but had the odd gem. I also got Anne of Green Gables at this store, as well as The Gardens of Dorr by Paul Biegel - which is the book that showed me that children's literature could be dark and disturbing. (I still have those copies of Anne and Garden of Dorrs.)
Postcards from Penguin: 100 Book Jackets in One Box is one of the best birthday gifts I've ever received as I collect postcards and I really like Penguin Books' classic covers. My favourites are the original orange Penguins and the Penguin Poets series.
The boxed-set of postcards were given to me by Janet, my book-editor friend.
Other birthday books:
From Kit, The Left Bank Gang by Jason. This is a graphic novel in which Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and James Joyce, portrayed as various animals, are graphic novelists in 1920s Paris. And Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz.
I got myself: White is for Withching by Helen Oyeyemi, two Dayan books and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Conch-Bearer.
From Tots to Teens, StarMagMALAYSIA has once again put the cart before the horse by appointing two celebriities as the country's reading ambassadors.
OK, in the first place, it's wrong to base the decision solely on how well-known the candidates are, their good looks, or how many people flock to the cinema when their movies are playing. I think the celebs selected have been chosen because they are popular and recognisable, and glamorous. Michelle Yeoh and Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor have certainly never before been associated with reading -- I certainly would not take into account the latter's books!
According to MPH Online's Malaysia Author Index, when financial analyst/author Wong Ching Hsia "writes to escape the humdrum world of numbers and gruelling MBA studies" and when "not occupied with work or her studies (or when she simply needs a break), she lets her imagination run wild!"
Having read the five books she has written (published by MPH Publishers), I know just how "wild" her imagination does run -- to the extent that it ceases to be consistent and meaningful.
A common mistake made by authors who wish to write for children is that they believe that anything goes and every sort of nonsense is permitted. Books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice's Adventures Underground and Harry Potter lead them to believe that the story needs not to make sense. What they don't see is that while it's true that you can allow your imagination free reign, your story has to make sense within itself. The world an author creates can break all the rules of the real world but it must run by other rules, made up by its creator (the author).
Wong's five books are marketed as concept books: They aim to teach young children about nature (The Miserable Moon); shapes (The Terribly Tall Triangle), colours (The Ugly Green Umbrella), musical instruments (The Xenophobic Xylophone); and animals (The Zany Zebra).
However, the author seems to want to feature several ideas in each book, and it's like she can't decide what to focus on, and goes out of point somewhat.
For example, the title The Xenophobic Xylophone is confusing. It's supposed to be about musical instruments, but the word xenophobic is a pretty strong one to drop into a book withour addressing its meaning.
Here's the thing though - if you read the book, you realise that the only reason why the xylophone is xenophobic is because there aren't many adjectives that begin with the letter X.
The xylophone is named Xavier and is from Xanadu so, naturally (not!) he has to be xenophobic!
The other instruments also have names and nationalities chosen for their alliterative qualities. For example, there's Danny the Drum from Denmark; Vicky the Violin from Vietnam; and Fiona the Flute from France.
The story that's been created to introduce these musical instruments revolves around the fact that Xavier is xenophonic. To show he's xenophobic the other instruments have to be "foreigners". But Xavier's attitude is really just one of an unfriendly little boy. His "intense and/or irrational fear of people from other countries" (the definition given in the book) isn't clearly shown. The foreigness of the other instruments seems merely incidental.
On every other page of this book and the others are "Fun Facts" laid out in cloud-shaped frames. However, there doesn't seem to be any order as to the sort of facts presented. In The Xenophobic Xylophone, most of the facts are about musical instruments, but you also get the aforementioned definition of xenophobia; the geographical location of Xanadu (the city of Shangdu); and the number of muscles used in a frown and a smile!
The other books in this series also suffer from random inclusion of facts. At times, the link to the main concept is tenuous. For example, in The Ugly Umbrella, which is about colours, one of the "Fun Facts" tells the reader that owls are the only birds that can see the colour blue.
In this book the characteristic of being ugly has been chosen (once again) for its alliterative quality since the umbrella's name is Ursula. There is nothing to indicate why it is particularly ugly or uglier than the other umbrellas in the shop though. Could Ursula have a self-esteem problem? This possibility is not addressed.
The other umbrellas have names that "match" their colour - Mr Boring is black; Ronnie is red; Betty is blue; Mrs Perry is pink. Of course. But why is Ursula green? Shouldn't she have been umber? Once again, there is no consistent thought behind the creation of this story.
The same goes for The Terribly Tall Triangle. Is Tina (alliterative names are all the rage with the author but they sound rather twee) tall because she's a triangle or is that just an accident of "birth"? The other shapes reject Tina because her height is inconvenient, but only for the situations the author has chosen to show them in. Tina is too tall to go sunbathing with Rachel Rectangle - Tina blocks the sun - but is sunbathing ALL that Rachel Rectangle does? She's too tall to go to the cinema with Olivia Oval - Tina blocks the screen - but is that ALL she can do with Olivia?
In the end, Tina lives happily ever after in Paris where everyone loves her, presumably because she is shaped like the Eifle Tower. Go figure!
I'm going to leave it at that. These are definitely not some of my favourite locally published books. What was the author thinking! What was the editor doing? Didn't he/she spot the inconsistencies (not to mention the grammatical errors)? It's been said, in the defence of poorly edited local children's books, that there are no editors who specialise in children's literature. Well, in that case, why bother publishing these books at all? Could it be that the publishers and editors aren't concerned about the standard of children's books because they are for children (whom they think won't recognise bad quality)? I hate to think that this might be true, and I wish someone would write to me and explain what's going on
P.S. Actually, an editor need not specialise in children's fiction to notice the faults of the five books mentioned in this post. The books read like they totally skipped being edited at all.
I wrote about this some months ago when Bloomsbury were forced to nix the cover they had chosen for Justine Larbalestier's Liar. You would think the publisher had learnt its lesson but no, early this year, they were "caught" wielding the white-out brush again. This time the book was Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore.The heroine of this book is dark-skinned but the model on the jacket is not. Bloomsbury eventually withdrew the book with its offensive cover and has promised to design a new one. However, if you go to Amazon, you'll still see the book, with its original cover, listed.
Meanwhile, someone's pointed out that a character of colour in The Mysterious Benedict Society series was also being "whited" on the books' covers. What makes this even more outrageous is that the illustrations inside the book show the character with dark skin! In this case, the publisher was Little, Brown.
I asked some people I know to name ...
1. The book they enjoyed reading most in 2009, regardless of when it was published.
2. The book(s) published in 2009 that they most enjoyed.
Those who replied said ...
(On both counts) The Professor and the Housekeeper (English translation) by Yoko Ogawa.
Linda Lingard, publisher
Favourite book read in 2009: Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude
Favourite book published in 2009: 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up
Priya Kulasagaran, reporter and poet
ii) Matanya Teleskop, Hatinya Kapal Dalam Botol Kaca by Sufian Abas - I'm a sucker for stories about cats who fall in love with rainbows, and men who have hamsters instead of hearts.
Andrea Sim, 14-year-old romantic and budding violinist
Favourite book read in 2009: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Favourite book(s) published in 2009: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Favourite book read in 2009: Fudoki by Kij Johnson
This book combines several of my favourite things ... cats, myth and folklore. In this case the myth and folklore of Japan. The story is set in the past when cats had just been introduced to Japan and were a mystery and curiousity even for the the Japanese gods. So they turn a small cat into a woman and watch. The story is well researched and flows like a river.
Favourite book(s) published in 2009: 1) Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I would have loved this book even if gave me only me the Cemetary of Forgotten Books. I dream of being its custodian. But it has so much more. Here is a tale set in old Barcelona about books and reading and the very old art of story-telling.
2) The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
This tale is whimsical and lyrical. Two people are struck by lightning. One becomes icy cold and the other fiery hot. One day, they meet ...
3) If On A Winter's Night a Traveller
I love this one even if it did mess with my head. It's a Chinese Box of a book with stories within stories within more stories. In the end it's all about the relationship between writer and reader. I went out and got copies for friends and recommended it to everyone else. Madness needs company after all.
Chet Chin, freelance editor
Favourite book read in 2009: Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien
Favourite book published in 2009: The Vagrants by YiYun Li
Selina Lee, Manager, Scholastic Press
Favourite book published in 2009: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Dina Zaman, author
Favourite book read in 2009: Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman
Favourite book published in 2009: What Your Teacher Never Told You by Farish Noor
Favourite book read in 2009: Gerontius by James Hamilton-Paterson
a few years ago, this novel is a fictionalised account of Sir Edward
Elgar’s sea voyage from England to the Amazon just after the end of the
First World War. Elgar is in his 60s. He is unable to compose anything
new and he feels his best works are behind him. There is nothing for
him to look forward to. The book has a sad, elegiac air, an adagio unwinding into the caverns of his memories. The novel won the Whitbread Book of the Year and deservedly so.
Favourite book(s) published in 2009:
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selena Hastings
Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes
Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ahnaf Azmi, student
Favourite book read in 2009: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Favourite book read in 2009:Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I've grown particularly obsessed with Wallace lately because he addresses lots of dilemmas that are fundamental to my sense of being, which is how to be a sincere human being in cynical times.
Favourite book published in 2009:The Complete Jack Survives by Jerry Moriarty
A collection of the “Jack Survives” comic strips which ran in RAW accompanied with other paintings and drawings. “Jack” is a stand-in for the author's father, and through a painterly approach he brings him through mundane trials of daily life.
If RAW were the “high brow” counterpart to MAD magazine, Jerry Moriarty would be a poetic Dave Berg (a friend said the strips reminded him of Walt Whitman). Instead of showing the lighter side of middle-class america, Jerry's approach is more personal, closer to 'mental archeology' (to borrow the wording from Chris Ware in the books introduction). What is really beautiful about these comics is how you can see through layers of white paint used to wipe out certain words, people etc... It's like you can see ghostly, pre-existing memories under the surface.
Favourite book read in 2009: The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
Favourite book(s) published in 2009: 1) Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
2) Matanya Teleskop, Hatinya Kapal Dalam Botol Kaca by Sufian Abas
3) The Professor and the Housekeeper (English translation) by Yoko Ogawa
4) After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr