Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Brunch : Kimba Commits Hari-Kari, but Barbie Lives On

Every Sunday morning, as I sit in front of this computer pulling out my hair as I attempt to pull together a blog, my mind wanders back to my childhood when neither blogs nor computers existed. It was a simpler time. Back then Sunday mornings usually meant watching Detroit's main UHF station (does anyone remember UHF these days?) Channel 50. The animated series KIMBA THE WHITE LION aired every week at 11:00 AM, followed at 11:30 AM by SHIRLEY TEMPLE THEATRE, which ran -- week after week -- the same handful of Shirley Temple movies in rotation. We couldn't get enough of Shirley. I probably saw CURLY TOP and BRIGHT EYES a hundred times each...and probably still know 'em by heart. KIMBA is a different story. I very clearly remember the big "build up" to the series -- with Channel 50 running many commercials for the show in the weeks leading up to its premiere. I also remember watching that first episode, which supplied the backstory of how Kimba lost his parents. I want to say it was in the spring of 1966; I know it was a beautiful sunny day because I remember running outside that afternoon with my friends, romping around and pretending we were Kimba. I continued to watch the show for the next four or five years, at least till I got out of grade school and decided "cartoons are for babies" but I can't actually remember any of the storylines other than the one from that intial episode in 1966.

Yet the show must have a strong visceral pull on me, because when I came across this clip of the opening theme on Youtube the other day, I almost hugged my computer monitor:



There's a word I rarely, if ever, use on this blog.

A word which I hate to apply to children's books.

But maybe it's okay to use the word when talking about this cartoon series:

Cute.

Okay, maybe I'm looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, but is there anything, well, cuter than little Kimba bounding through the savanna and then making that flying leap as the perky theme song chants, "Kimba. Kimba! Kimba. Kimba!" And I love the simple innocence of the lyrics as well: "Who believes in doing good and doing right? Kimba the White Lion is the one!"

Before you think I'm old-fashioned and square, let me add that KIMBA was actually very modern for its time. "Cartoons are for babies" indeed! Produced in Japan, this series introduced anime to the United States long before it became hip. It was even based on a manga!

KIMBA was created by Osamu Tezuka who was known as the "godfather of anime." In Japan, Kimba was called "Leo" and his story, JUNGLE TAITEI, originally appeared in Manga Sh┼Źnen magazine between 1950 and 1954. The first KIMBA TV series had only 52 episodes and ran for years on American television. There have also been a couple television and film adaptations since then, including 1997's JUNGLE EMPEROR LEO, which is based on the latter chapters of Osamu Tezuka's manga. I don't think I ever want to see this movie. According to the Wikipedia, the downbeat story concerns an older Leo (Kimba) with a family of his own. After his mate dies and he's separated from his cubs, Leo (Kimba!) assists in an effort to save the world from evil, with the white lion ultimately committing suicide -- throwing himself on a dagger so a human companion can eat his flesh and wear his pelt as he makes a dangerous escape from the bad guys.

Over the years, there have been accusations that THE LION KING "borrowed" some elements from KIMBA. Now that I read about Kimba's sacrifical death, I wonder if Osama Tezuka didn't borrow some elements from C.S. Lewis's CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and its lion character, Aslan, as well.


ANONYMOUSLY YOURS

Suppose someone gave you an advance reading copy (ARC) to read, but neither the title nor the author's name were on the book?

That's what happened to over 3000 bookstore owners and librarians recently, when they received this unusual volume in the mail:


It turns out that the book is called MIDDLE SCHOOL : THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE, and the author is James Patterson, along with Chris Tebbetts.

The book's editor, Megan Tingley, revealed the theory behind the blind mailing to Publishers Weekly: “We wanted to recreate the feeling that many of us had when we first read it. If Jim’s name hadn’t been on the manuscript, we would never have guessed he wrote it. It almost feels like the debut of a whole new author, and that’s how we wanted to treat it. We wanted people to have that same ‘wow!’ moment of surprise.”

Mr. Patterson is known for his bestselling suspense novels for adults, though he has also moved into the YA field in recent years with titles such as MAXIMUM RIDE and DANIEL X. It seems as if every time I walk through a bookstore there's a new Patterson novel on the shelves. I guess that has something to do with all those co-writers lending a hand....

In this book, he's assisted by Chris Tebbetts, probably best known for M OR F?, a YA novel he cowrite with Lisa Papademetriou. (Doesn't anyone write by themselves anymore?)

From a collecting perspective, I think one of those untitled, unattributed ARCs would be a nice "find" for anyone who collects odd or unusual children's book ephemera. I'm also intrigued by the whole concept of reading and responding to a book when one has no idea who the author is. I know that many orchestras have "blind auditions" in which musicians try out behind a curtain, so they are being judged by their WORK and not their NAME. Wouldn't it be something if every manuscript was also submitted blindly to every publisher? I wonder what changes that would lead to in the field of children's books. Last week I talked about editor Jean Karl. When she decided to try her hand at fiction writing, she submitted her first book with a pseudonym on it to make sure that it was accepted on its own merit. And when Katherine Paterson was writing BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, she was so concerned about its quality that she considered submitting it to her regular editor under a pseudonym. In the end she submitted the book under her own name...and it won the Newbery Medal.

But it makes one wonder: have their been any other cases where famous authors have submitted manuscripts under false names, had them rejected, and never told anyone...?


GEARING UP FOR THE BOOK AWARDS

The American Library Association book awards -- the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and all the rest -- are going to be announced extra early in 2011. January 10 is the big day. I'm trying to prepare by catching up on 2010 books, as well as constantly checking for updates on the Heavy Medal blog in which Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt discuss all things Newbery.

However, this week I had some problems with the blog. Nina wrote a spirited piece supporting the novel ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Garcia-Williams. In the blog she proactively addressed a couple questionable elements in the book:

Some have raised the question of the likelihood of a Japanese-American kid being named “Hirohito.” A teacher who had read the book and had Williams-Garcia visit his school emailed me directly with her response to his posing that question:

“The point that she wanted to make with Hirohito was that identity is trickier if one is “two things”, like Japanese and black. She also said that when she was growing up in northern California she went to school with one boy named Hirohito, another named Hiroshima and another named Yamashita!”

I’m good with that. It might have been interesting to have that context fleshed out a little for readers, but I’m not sure it makes the book weaker without it.


Nina also talked about some of geography in the novel and said:

In an exchange with Garcia-William’s editor, I’ve learned that they plan to change the references from “Orchard” street to “Adeline” street in the next printing, which does resolve the street layout issue.

Regarding the hill (there is one in the story, but not in actuality)…Williams-Garcia and her editor considered it, having learned of the “mistake”. But it plays such an important part in Delphine’s character development, about “how big the world looks through a child’s eyes, and how things come more into focus as they mature” that it was impossible to remove, and I recognize and support that. “We’d gain fact accuracy, but would lose a good deal of what the character and reader ultimately gain.” These quotes are from Williams-Garcia, with thanks to her and her editor Rosemary Brosnan for sharing.


Reading these remarks, I thought, "Whoa, doggie! I thought each Newbery candidate had to be evaluated from the text alone. Since when is it okay to get after-the-fact clarification from the author or exchange words with the book's editor?" Granted, Nina is not on the Newbery committee this year, but she is using the author's and editor's comments to justify her recommendation of this book. (And, let's face it, she's publishing it in a blog that this year's committee members are quite likely reading.) So I wrote a note asking if this kind of discussion would be allowed in the actual Newbery panel discussion. Nina responded:

Peter, if I were on the committee this year, I’d first of all beat the bushes to get some outside “expert” opinions on the Hirohito thing, in order to help form my own opinion. (For instance, Japanese-Americans who were the same age at that time. They don’t have to know anything about children’s lit or the award. They’d just have to be willing to read the book and let me know their reaction to it).

I wouldn’t take an author or editor’s words to the table as evidence, but I might use them to inform my own opinion. Extremely circumspectly. The book is what it is, published, and it’s the readers reaction that matters at this point. But I personally found comment from Williams-Garcia to be helpful in thinking about these issues in different ways.

In general, a chair of a Newbery committee will instruct members that all opinions at the table need to be their own. They can use reviews, expert content reviews, and child reader comments to inform themselves…and they *should* do this, in order to remove as much personal bias from the process as necessary [...] but you can’t just quote from them as evidence to justify a book. You could say, “after reading so and so’s comments, I’m convinced that X because of Y….”


This clears it up somewhat (thanks, Nina!) but I'm still slightly confused by the last statement. Does the Heavy Medal blog about ONE CRAZY SUMMER count as an "expert content review" since it does quote directly from the book's creator? If so, COULD a committee member now say, "After reading Rita Garcia-Williams' comments about geography, which appeared on the Heavy Medal blog, I'm convinced that..."?

I hope not.

Though if it's true, I would (and I'm only half-joking here) suggest that any author or illustrator whose work is likely being considered for one of this year's awards get out there and proactively address any questions the committee may raise before it's too late:

Illustrator A: Some readers have questioned the color of the horses in my new book. Horses of this color actually do exist and I'm posting a photo of my equine "models" on my blog so you can see how accurate I was.

Writer B: I understand some readers are questioning my characterization of an elderly grandmother with Alzheimer's in my novel. Just so you know, this character was based directly on my own mother's struggles with Alzheimer's disease. (Not only does this quote clear up any questions of accuracy, it gets the writer some sympathy votes.)

Illustrator C: I have heard some complaints about the last spread in my picture book not being up to the same quality as the previous illustrations. Please know that this picture was painted when I had a broken arm.

Writer D: Some people are speculating on why my nonfiction book does not contain sufficient documentation. The initial plan was to release my book along with a website that contained bibliographical references and supporting documentation. At the last moment, my publisher did not provide funding for the website, but I hope this will not reflect badly on my book and prevent it from winning any awards....



SCARY WINNING TRENDS

The Tea Party won 28 seats in the House of Representatives.

Gretchen won PROJECT RUNWAY on TV.

MOCKINGBIRD just won the National Book Award.

Bristol Palin is poised to win DANCING WITH THE STARS this week.

No wonder I'm worried about what's going to win the Newbery this year!



THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE

Subtitled "A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us," Tanya Lee Stone's latest nonfiction book (after last year's Sibert winner, ALMOST ASTRONAUTS : 13 WOMEN WHO DARED TO DREAM) takes a compelling look at the teenage doll that has become a cultural icon. The book traces Barbie's creation by Ruth Handler who, with her husband and another partner, founded the Mattel company, as well as the doll's evolution over the next fifty years. Beginning as an impossibly shapely figure who wore high fashion and dabbled in traditional careers such as stewardess and nurse, Barbie would later become an achiever and role-model, outfitted as an astronaut, race car driver, and a myriad of other modern choices. Barbie also broke down racial barriers. After Mattel offered up a young black cousin for Barbie named Colored Francie (a shockingly dated name even for 1967) that flopped with consumers, there were soon African American, Puerto Rican, and Asian Barbies. In a copiously-illustrated volume, which includes an insert of glossy color plates, Stone explains through both sociological research and personal anecdotes why Barbie is loved by some, hated by others, and why nearly every kid undresses the doll within seconds of receiving it. Strangely, there are actually more tales about kids who twist off Barbie's head and subject her to bizarre sexual poses than there are stories about what the average girl imagined and dreamed about as she played with Barbie for hours on end. Source notes and bibliography included.



EVERYTHING WE KNOW ABOUT BARBIE WE LEARNED FROM A BOOK

As mentioned above, one thing I found missing from Tanya Lee Stone's book was information about how individual girls played with Barbie. Did they create elaborate stories about her life and adventures? Did they view Barbie as a friend, or did they see her as their own alter-ego? I imagine that Barbie is a kind of Rorschach test on which each human playmate foists her own needs and interests.
The doll itself is pretty much a blank slate otherwise. But I was surprised to learn that much of the Barbie mythology actually came from children's books. Over the years there have been hundreds of books about Barbie, ranging from Golden Books to sticker books to coloring books, but Ms. Stone credits the following novel-length books, published by Random House in the early 1960s, with establishing "who she was, complete with a birth date, parents, and a significant other, Ken":







If it wasn't for these Barbie novels, we'd never know Barbie's full name (Barbara Millicent Roberts), who her parents are (George and Margaret Roberts), where she lives (Willows, Wisconsin), where she attends school (Willows High) and where she hangs out afterward (the Pop Shoppe.)

According to Tanya Lee Stone, "The novels establish Barbie as a modern, independent kind of girl who was not going to be bound by the 1950s sterotypes she felt kept her mother tied to the house."

Because these books are so instrumental in creating the Barbie we know today, I assumed they'd be rare collectors' items. But many can be found for less than $10 today.


BLUE MOON

I started writing this blog early today at the time when KIMBA used to be on TV. Now, after many interruptions and computer problems, I'm finally finishing it by moonlight.

And it's a blue moon.


I always heard that a "blue moon" was the second full moon in a month. Kathi Appelt must have thought the same thing, as she talks about it right there on page two of her highly-regarded new novel KEEPER ("So much had depended on tonight's moon, a blue moon, second full moon of the month.")

But this morning my cousin sent me this link which states that everything I thought about the blue moon is wrong!

It may be called a Blue Moon...

...But it's the first and only full moon in November.

Go figure.

Oh well, I still have a feeling that, somewhere out there tonight, Keeper's guardian Signe is stirring up "onions, garlic bacon...with a mysterious spice called 'file'" as she cooks up her once-in-a-you-know-what Blue Moon Gumbo.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children's Books. Hope you'll come back more than a once in a blue moon!

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Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

Fascinating about the blue moon! I'd always heard it was the second full moon in a single month, too. I can't wait to impress (or possibly just annoy) my friends with this new knowledge. :-)

Laura Canon said...

OK, I'm dying to know what Barbie's Secret is. Judging from that cover, it's that she's a hooker.

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Right now I'm reading Mockingbird and would like to hear your specific comments. I have some negative thoughts, and wonder if yours are the same.

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