Stories from the Magdalene Laundries: Philomena’s Lost Child

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Originally, I had no intention of going to see the movie Philomena. My dad wanted to see it, and I had heard that Judy Dench was in it, but I decided that I would much rather see The Book Thief than a movie about an old woman. But then I watched the trailer and decided that maybe I should give it a chance after all. I mean it had Judy Dench and it was set in Ireland, so it had a promising start. Not long after the lights dimmed in the theatre, I realized what the movie was really about: Magdalene Laundries.

Mention those words to most Irish people, and they cringe with both horror and resentment in some cases. Through studying Irish women poets, as well as having lived in Ireland for a semester and taking an Irish literature course, I had learned quite a deal about this dark stain on Irish history. Run by the Catholic Church in Ireland, Magdalene laundries were usually convents where girls and women were sent when their families believed that they either had, or were in danger of committing sexual acts. Some of these women were pregnant at the time of their incarceration (and it was, since they were not allowed to leave), and their babies were almost always taken away from them after their birth.

Obviously many reviewers have accused the filmmakers of being intolerant of the Catholic Church. The real life Philomena has said in response to these accusations that the movie is instead about, “…the undying bond that’s exists between mothers and their children…It is a testament to the willingness to never give up on keeping that bond alive, even if all odds are pointing you against it…” These ideas of the relationship between mother and child alone are complex and intimate experiences, which are only heightened when something, or someone, complicates that relationship. The movie takes it’s source material from the book by Martin Sixsmith, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee based on the real life struggle for a mother to find out what happened to the son that was taken from her without her consent. Throughout her journey to discover her son, Philomena continually questions whether or not she wants her story to be told not only by a journalist, but at all.

The experience of reading, for many, is an intimate experience with the author, especially if they are telling their own story. Although Philomena herself did not pen the story that defined her life, the act of reading such a traumatic and heart-rending story is easy neither for the author, nor the reader. And yet memoirs and books about women’s experiences in and surrounding Magdalene laundries are on the rise, with Philomena’s being only one of them. It’s understandable why so many people are interested in these women’s stories. Not only was this an overlooked part of Irish culture, but these women’s suffering went largely unrecognized until the last twenty or so years.

The old adage goes that we have to look to the past to prevent atrocities from happening in the present. But where do we draw the line between getting the story out there, and informing the public of the reality of these women, and making these stories into a fad? Perhaps it is simply a wave following the exposure of these places. It’s not to say that these women shouldn’t be allowed to have their story told if they desire to; it is more a question of profiting from another’s misfortune. Writing something down can often make it real to a person. Memories fade, and psyches can override painful memories to protect ourselves from what we wish to forget. But writing. Concrete words on paper solidify memories as well. They no longer can overlook what has happened, but must confront it head on, along with their readers. This often makes for extraordinary writing, and fascinating pieces of literature, but at what price?

Obviously there have been innumerable memoirs written about difficult circumstances, and how people have endured and overcome overwhelmingly difficult experiences all over the world. Maybe my often intense feelings about the subject is based on my own life experiences, living in Ireland for a semester, and possibly talking to women with similar histories without ever knowing it. And of course this is my culture. Although I’m an American by birth, my ancestors came to America to make a better life for their future generations.

I’m grateful to Philomena, and women like her, as well as poets such as Evan Boland, who tackle such difficult topics in their writing. They are able to reach out to their readers and invite them not only to learn, but to forgive. As Philomena herself says, forgiveness is never easy, but it’s better than carrying around a hateful heart. The popularity of such pieces perhaps cannot be helped, and the necessity of having their story told perhaps makes the monetary gain a kind of retribution for the wrong committed against them.

During a particularly beautiful scene in Ireland, after Philomena learns everything she needs to know both about her son and her church, and about herself as well, my friend elbows me. “Is seeing this difficult for you?” she whispers. I know that she was asking about whether seeing the rolling hills made me miss Ireland. My response, “Yeah, it is,” was about much more than the hills.

–Lauren Jaenecke

Social Media and Book Publishing

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It is not surprising to find out how important social media is for publishers.  Thousands of books are published every year and you have to get noticed some how.  Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Websites, and even Pinterest are harnessed to gain readers interest and keep it.  These sites are used to not only publicize a book, but also to keep conversations going between author and reader.  Authors answer questions while publishers hold giveaways and contests.  Soon the business side is buried under promotional items and know what an authors favorite ice cream flavor is.  You begin to forget it’s a product they’re selling.

This can be negatively viewed as trickery to get readers sucked into the experience of buying book after book.  You feel closer to the author with these kinds of conversations and twitter take overs.  But this is also a smart move and can be positive.  Social media lets readers under the curtain of the industry.  Readers learn about Advanced Reader’s Copies and how to write book reviews through twitter and blogs. Publishing is expanding to be more personnal.  I would argue that as others exclaim the death of literature and brick and mortar book stores, I see social media giving the industry hope.  You are no longer just an observer.

The industry is no longer a closed circuit ending with the reader.  Readers can influence and be involved in the process by getting the word out about different books such as book review blogs.  These blogs have gained wide readership by posting their own honest reviews, giveaways, and author blog tours.  These review blogs create little communities where readers with like interests can meet even if they don’t live anywhere near each other.  There is a whole blogging culture now influencing publishers.  One example is the novel Shadow and Bone which has a page thanking the bloggers that helped spread the word for her book.

So, what are you waiting for?  You can become a participant who can change the publishing industry with your own voice.  Will you choose to try and use this influence?

–Megan Kaufenberg

Listing Lists

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What’s the deal with lists? As someone who’s never been particularly drawn to list-making as a form of organization or maintaining sanity and as a victim of severe indecisiveness, I’ve never seen the appeal. I understand their value in organization, especially when one is faced with a large amount of requests, jobs, chores, and assignments. But why does everything need to be sorted into a list of some sort? From books to movies to plays to music to cities: anything and everything you can think of has, at some point, been categorized and placed into a numbered slot. The internet is filled with these lists of the “Top Ten Best *blank*” and “Top Ten Worst *blank*” and “Top 50 Most *blank*.”

Who decides these superlatives? In some cases, the public does; the popular internet site BuzzFeed consists of thousands of lists created by users. In others, a panel of well-read intellectuals in that particular field notate the rank of whatever it is they’re sorting. Publisher’s Weekly, for example, releases lists of their top picks for books, which are decided by some unknown panel of experts. There are no rules surrounding who can and cannot formulate a list. Some will be taken more seriously than others, of course, but the ability to list is not limited to only those who are the most immersed and knowledgeable in the field.

But the very foundation of list-making is subjectivity. They are meant for you to rank what you believe is the most important. They’re personal, individual, a way of sorting one’s own taste or priorities. It seems peculiar that we would present these lists in public forums as if they are the be-all and end-all to whatever subject is up for consideration. Comparing lists, now that’s different: comparing your list with someone else’s creates conversation. Are your tastes similar or different?  Why do you think The Phantom Menace is the worst Star Wars movie ever made? We can discuss, we can argue, we can gush over similar top choices. And, in the end, we will probably agree to disagree on particular selections. But when a list is brought into the light and is presented as THE Top 50 Books for Children of 2013, it cuts off the ability to converse. It removes to subjective nature of list-making and forces it into an ill-fitting objective frame. Listing is no longer personal.

Instead, it becomes judgmental. Listing is transformed into a way of forming a hierarchy of objects and people. By creating universal lists of “must-read books”, it implies that everyone should read these books, enjoy them, and those who don’t are outcasts. It removes the choice we should have in determining our own lists of the top books or top movies. Look at, say, the lists of classics taught in secondary schools. Books are selected from a set list of novels determined to be “the best”. And if a student doesn’t like, say, Moby Dick (which is probably not that uncommon of a book to loath as a teenager), then there must be something wrong with them and their inability to appreciate great literature. We judge others for not conforming to this “standard” list of top however-many whatevers. We critique them. And it’s no longer a critique just for the sake of discussion or friendly banter, but it is criticism that brings into question their intellect.

Lists are meant to be personal and subjective, and this culture of creating master lists—made by professionals of the field—is killing the nature of list-making. That sounds incredibly harsh, but keep that in mind next time you judge someone because they don’t enjoy one of those top ten movies or books. Are you judging them because their tastes are different than yours, or are you judging them because they fail to conform to the created standard of what’s good or bad?

–Sarah Holland

What is a Writer?

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I am a writer. What sorts of things do I write, you wonder? Essays, mostly, but poetry, the occasional short story or blog post, fantasy and fanfiction are in the mix as well. Yes, I did indeed put fanfiction in that mix. “How unoriginal,” you might think, putting your nose up in the air. You might think this makes me a fraud, a pretend-writer, someone with nothing new to offer the world of literature.

You would be wrong. True, the basis of a fanfiction is that it is based on someone else’s work, usually using their setting, characters and even their timeline of events. That is why the original writer is given credit at the beginning of each and every post. But, in every fanfiction story I have ever read (and there have been many), the writer has offered something new, or at least different, from what the original writer presented. The characters may have the same name, but the writer behind them always makes them new. So yes, those of us who write online fanfiction can also bear the name “writer.” But is writing the only thing that makes us writers?

The internet has changed many things recently, the publishing world and the world of writing in general among those many things. Self-publishing, for example, goes far beyond just getting tired of having your manuscript rejected as some (Pat Walsh for example) might think; it goes into what it means to be a writer. With self-publishing and fanfiction, arguably a type of self-publishing, anyone can be a writer. Anyone can sit down at their computer screen, slap on a tweed jacket, play a bit of jazz music and play writer for a few moments of internet glory. So the new question, then, is what makes a good writer?

Good writing comes from a good writer, so the answer must be hiding in there somewhere. Granted, there is much subjectivity when it comes to what good writing is, but there are a few staples. Following the rules of syntax and grammar are generally grounds for whether or not the writing is good. If it is a novel or short story (fanfictions included), does it have a plot? Round characters? Proper usage of symbolism and imagery? If it is a poem, does it have intent? How well does it read? If it is an essay, is there a clear thesis? Does it get the message across? All of these are subject to debate, and they are often debated heavily when published online. The comments section of any website is usually full of “Oh, you are just so right!” alongside “You’re an idiot, that’s not how this works.” Either way, there is a discussion going on. So is good writing based on how discussion-worthy a piece is? If so, then a good writer is someone who knows how to ask just the right question in just the right way to just the right audience. That’s a lot to get right at once.

Yet millions of people on the internet think they can do that every single day. Some of them can. As much as some old-school writers might like to think that self-publishing or, God forbid, fanfiction, is not “real” writing, it is. The internet has allowed it to happen. Those who are determined enough to write are probably determined enough to get their words out there, even if “out there” only requires a click of a button. How many books that we find in stores today took their first steps on a fanficiton website? How many famous writers found their humble beginnings online in order to flesh out their prose and experiment in a public realm? The number undoubtedly rises every day, the only question that remains is, are they any good?

–Laura Micali

The English and the Creative Writing Major

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There are – let’s face it – stereotypes of the typical English or writing student. Think: tweed jackets, purposefully distressed pocket-sized Moleskines, a penchant for analyzing sestinas through the lens of Freud, a caffeine addiction that is only soothed through steamed spiced Chai lattes, and a knack for discussing literature to its very last hidden bit of symbolism. To the mainstream (or rather to the non-literary-related major), myself – a creative writing undergraduate – and my peers are sometimes categorized as sensitive and a bit… different.

We recognize this difference; we sometimes even celebrate it. We create memes of it through social networking (such as the ever popular Tumblr site, F*ck Yeah English Major Armadillo) and we poke fun at this difference ourselves. (Here at Susquehanna University, we do in fact hold tightly to our Norton Anthologies, dear Armadillo.) At the end of the day this difference, we think, sets us apart in a positive light rather than a negative one. This difference is good, it may seem.

However, as a creative writing undergraduate, I believe the mainstream  does not distinguish between the English and creative writing major. There is a distinction – sometimes relatively small, sometimes overwhelming. While we may have parallel attributes similar to the overall stereotype, the minutiae of our dialogues and our learning can vary drastically.

In the English class for this blog, Book Reviewing, I have a noticed a sharp contrast in the literary canons for the two areas of study. There are, I believe, three creative writing majors in a class of ten or so – the rest are English majors. While discussing a review of Raymond Carver’s short story collection Cathedral, many of the English undergrads stated that they had never heard of Carver before, let alone read his work. A writing major across the conference table and I exchanged a glance of incredulity. Carver, I thought, was a staple for understanding and learning about contemporary writers. This was also the case for many other writers that were brought up in class – Don DeLillo, Elizabeth Bishop, John Cheever, even John Updike and Ernest Hemingway. (But in fairness, the others had heard of Hemingway, they just had not read his short fiction.)

One of our own faculty members here at Susquehanna University, Dr. Tom Bailey, compiled and edited a book about the craft of short fiction, On Writing Short Stories, (used here at Susquehanna and other institutions) that includes these authors. Creative writing majors abuse the spine of this book, cracking it open to study forms, syntax, and imagery. This book and these authors can be found in other syllabi, too. A simple Google search of “creative writing, English literature, undergraduate, syllabus, edu” yields literally millions of results, displaying curricula from schools such as New York University and Columbia. Carver, Hemingway, and Updike are taught at all of them.

Nevertheless this book and these writers do not often find their way into English classes. One day I asked an English major what exactly they read in English courses. “A lot of comparative stuff,” she said. “Analytical things, essays, dialogues – stuff like that.” When I asked her if she read creative work, she said, “Yes, but it’s usually novels – classic novels, mostly. We do read some contemporary things, but it’s mostly pieces from the classic canon.”

My brief conversation with her led me to question what the canon actually is. I think, fundamentally, there is just a simple difference in what we consider a canon. It’s subjective. The difference in our canons, I want to believe, rests with what we are trying to learn from the literature we read. In general, and in a possibly stereotypical view, creative writers read the canon like writers, using it as medium to understand the inner workings of craft and analyzing the work like a manual about that craft. Short stories are, in fact, short and easy to navigate, making the investigation of things like narrative arc and characterization simpler.  English literature students read the canon like critics, not to appraise but to evaluate. Novels and essays are works that have a lot in them to sift through and to interpret.

To the non-literary student, these ways of reading may seem similar. But, if I can be so bold, these elements are very distinct from each other. This divide does, indeed, cause confusion and stymies discussion. When I say Carver’s work is an example of dirty realism I am met with the counterclaim that Charles Dickens is a better example. Both writers are solid examples, but they are… different, and doing different things.

Literary curricula are, and must be, strategic. The syllabi of English and creative writing departments at the undergraduate level are, in essence, advertisements for further discussion in and out of the classroom. English and creative writing programs have a responsibility to literature and the comprehension of it. Think: like any good essay, there are contrasts. However, there are also comparisons. This dichotomy allows for credibility and believability. Creating divides and having a lack of cohesion in the canon creates a shaky ground for thoughtful conversation when the two sides of literary study are put together.

-Sarah Reynolds

Do you want popcorn with your book?

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Publishers are always on the lookout for ways to advertise their products.  Now they have come up with a new marketing ploy, one which has met with some resistance. Meet the book trailer.  Stealing from the film industry, companies like Random House and HarperCollins now have entire YouTube channels devoted to short video clips advertising their upcoming releases.

Take this trailer for Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam as an example.

When this trailer was recently shown in one of my classes, it was almost universally derided.  Students felt “embarrassed for Margaret Atwood,” and appalled that someone would stoop so low as to market a book like it is a cheesy teen television show. They have a certain point.  This trailer is not well done.  The production quality is cheap; and I can’t deny that it is campy. But that does not mean book trailers themselves are hopeless.  If more time and effort were put into increasing their quality they could be useful tools for helping books to reach a wider audience.

The debate about book trailers really comes down to the question of who watches them.  Because these trailers are nothing but another form of advertisement.  They do not intend to review the book in question.  Their purpose is not to create an image for the author.  That has to be done through the writing itself.  The publisher’s job is to sell.  Too many people get caught up in treating the book as a sacred object that must be held high above all other forms of entertainment.  I suspect that many of the same people who sneer in disgust at book trailers also disapprove of any form of advertising for books, including newspaper ads.  In the minds of many literati, you have to “discover” a new book either through word of mouth or knowledge about the world of literature.

But most of society does not exist in this world.  There are more people who watch endless internet videos than peruse literary websites like The Millions or even Publisher’s Weekly.  Does that mean they should be denied knowledge of the latest books?  And I do not make a distinction between books which are considered more “literary” and the latest crime or romance novel.  If someone with no knowledge of Margaret Atwood sees a book trailer and is intrigued he might buy the book and enjoy it.  The idea of the book as a sacred object is intrinsically linked to the idea that only certain people can have access to “literary” books.

A YouTube channel reaches out to people who might not otherwise hear of a novel.  It is a form of advertising, so the only debate surrounding it should be whether or not it works.  As far as I know, there is no data on how many people purchase a book after watching the book trailer.  But the MaddAddam trailer above has 8,710 views as of this writing.  That’s not a bad number of eyes to attract.  And this was a reposting of the video.  On Knopf Doubleday’s channel the view count is 7,290.  That’s more than might hear of the book through word of mouth.  Who knows how many of those eyes are web surfers who had never heard of Margaret Atwood before?

So yes, book trailers do need some improvement to their production quality.  But as a form of advertising and a way to spread information they should not be discounted.  Really, it’s just another form of bookshelf browsing.  Have you heard of this book?  Interested?  I am.

–Amanda Chase

Genre Fiction vs Literary Fiction

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When I tell someone that my major is Creative Writing, I usually get judged. Sometimes, it’s positive curiosity about how long I will wait before trying to publish my first novel. But a lot of the time, it’s negative. In my experience, a large part of this negative attention comes from how the major as a whole is viewed; a lot of people judge us because they don’t know what we write. But what are these judgments that are being made, you may be asking yourself. Quite simply, these family members, friends, or co-workers think we are writing something called “genre fiction.” If you just heard the soundtrack from the climax of a horror movie, don’t worry, that’s supposed to be there.

At this point, you, the reader might have a few questions. What is “genre fiction”? Why haven’t I heard of it before? If Creative Writing majors don’t write “genre fiction”, what do they write? Don’t worry, I have answers to all of these questions, but I want to answer the second before the first. If you have never heard of “genre fiction” that is okay. How about “formula stories”? “Popular fiction”? “Category fiction”? All of these terms connect to one idea. They are all fiction intended to appeal to audiences for certain kinds of novels (taken from writersonlineworkshops.com fiction definitions). If you’re still confused, let me make this even simpler. Genre fiction is any story that can be labeled as fantasy, romance, mystery, adventure, or science fiction. There are many different terms for this idea because there are disagreements on what should be included in this group. The term for what I write as a Creative Writing major is “literary fiction” or “mainstream fiction”. Writers Online Workshop defines “mainstream fiction” as fiction that transcends popular narrative categories.
The moment after I explain the situation to whoever I was talking to is where the conversation seems to change a bit. I have even had some people puzzled as to why our major leans towards literary fiction over genre fiction. Why should we only focus on some parts of literature? Why does out major lean towards literary fiction over genre fiction? The answer to this question is because literary fiction poses fewer issues and is easier to review. It’s also easier to gauge where everyone is in the class when they are all writing within certain parameters, which makes sense.

On the other hand, this only makes sense when we are strictly kept within the parameters of literary fiction. If you keep your eyes open during workshop there will sometimes be a piece that would fall under genre fiction, though I can only think of three examples from all three fiction classes I have taken. Two of these were not reviewed so well, while in the other story the narrator awoke from his dream at the end. Do Creative Writing majors have to steer clear of genre fiction this much? For my novel class I tried to write a mystery novel. It was not a very good idea from the start. The majority of the story focused around a guy who was trying to find out more about his ex-girlfriend’s disappearance. It did include way too many elements of the mystery genre, but what if I had deleted most of those. Would it have been reviewed better? I don’t think so. One of the main reasons why workshops for it did not go so well was because people wanted to know whether she was dead or alive. I was even asked if I knew the answer during workshop. Even though the novel itself didn’t do so well, I noticed a lot of the elements that were being critiqued were the elements that connected back to the idea of genre fiction as a whole.

But what is wrong with genre fiction? Yes, it can be overly formulaic, but in the end some genre novels sell very well. Why? Because it is what some people want to read. If there are lots of people who want to read novels like these shouldn’t there be ways to help us work on our skills by writing genre fiction every so often and have it treated like literary fiction? Genre fiction and literary fiction have become so separated in some writing departments that I have seen graduate schools where you can focus on “writing popular fiction”. Why should they be separated?

When I found out about this aspect of the writing department I was a little bit sad at first. But I have learned to write better stories by focusing on literary fiction. Apparently, the beginning of the major is where the “don’t write genre fiction” rule comes into play. But what about in the later stages of the major? When we are taking the middle or later classes, should we have larger literary boundaries? I’m not trying to change the major, but the idea of having an option to write genre fiction is an interesting one, especially if other college experiences are like my own.

–Will Rowen

Preservation and Exploration of Oral Literature: A Global Endeavor

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Did you know that languages die? That’s right, a language—that which a person uses to express themselves in numerous ways—can simply vanish from the earth. When we think of dead languages we might think of Latin or ancient Greek, or perhaps Middle English, languages that have been replaced with newer and more efficient modes of speaking. But the dying languages I speak of are not simply a dot in the annals history. These are languages spoken in today’s world, often in remote locations in every corner of the globe. Now you make think to yourself, why should I care if these languages cease to exist, why are they even significant? The answer can be found in one simple word: stories.

When learning and exploring the roots of literature, the literary tradition begins with word of mouth, transmitting a story from one person to another. From ancient Indian stories, such as those later written in the Vedas, to European troubadours roaming from town to town, and to the stories that you were told at bedtime as a kid, there is a long history of what can be dubbed “oral literature”. And yes, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, literature implies something written down, while oral traditions are not…what?” That’s the same reaction I had until I stumbled across the website for the World Oral Literature Project sponsored by both Yale University and the University of Cambridge.

Started in Cambridge in 2009, and joined by Yale in 2011, the World Oral Literature Project has been extending grants to fieldworkers who are dedicated to rooting out and preserving oral literature around the world, especially in Asia, the Pacific, and in areas of cultural disturbance. They define oral literature as “any form of verbal art which is transmitted orally or delivered by word of mouth,” including but not limited to “ritual texts, curative chants, epic poems, musical genres, folk tales, creation tales, songs, myths, spells, legends, proverbs, riddles, tongue-twisters, word games, recitations, life histories or historical narratives.” As they state on their website, they believe that “local languages act as vehicles for the transmission of unique cultural knowledge, but the oral traditions encoded within these languages become threatened when elders die and livelihoods are disrupted.”

Not only have they given over 30 grants to different projects, they have also made each of these studies available to the general public. By creating an interactive map of the different places in which the studies were conducted, they have created a user friendly interface in which any one with an interest can listen to the cultures of Zanzibar, Mongolia, and even Greenland. You don’t have to know the language to be able to understand the significance of capturing that which can so easily be lost.

Many believe that given the technology that we have at our fingertips today, such things as oral literature have fallen by the wayside; tradition is thrown out or changed when faced with such advancements. This project is the perfect example of how we can use the technology available to us not to leave behind the old ways, but to document them for both the people of that region and people like me half way around the world who want to learn about these traditions. And that is a truly wonderful concept; that people from all walks of life can connect to each others’ histories and pasts, and look into their culture if only for a brief moment. That is what the World Oral Literature Project achieves.

–Laren Jaenecke

Children’s Books- How to Make Them Successful

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   Recently, I read and reviewed the children’s book How Roland Rolls. Written by famous actor Jim Carrey, the book is whimsical and holds a significant meaning. But what makes a good children’s book in today’s modern world? Not only do children’s book create fun stories through words, the illustrations help bring the stories to life. After researching and reading some of the latest children’s books, I have created an equation for how to create the best ones. Authors should combine a fun and exciting story with spectacular illustrations, either self-made or by an illustrator, and top it off with a life lesson that is easy to comprehend.

   Obviously the plot and story line are major factors in children’s books; these two things matter for all types of literature! But what is unique about these particular books is the audience they aim for. The genre may be titled “Children’s Books,” but any age group can read them. Most of the time, especially in books made for younger children (ages 3-5), parents/guardians are the ones doing the actual reading. These authors must have a particular type of craft because they are aiming at an audience with many different types of people. The story line not only has to be fun and exciting for any child, but the author should also want to intrigue adults as well. By doing so, adults can read these stories with enthusiasm and do not have to act like they are having fun.

   What makes children’s stories stand out from other forms of literature are the illustrations. In most novels and short stories, readers must create their own images in their mind from the words on the page. In children’s books the images are right there for the reader. These illustrations assist the words on the page and make the story come to life. If the illustrations are outstanding, it can cause young readers to scream, “Wow! Look at that!” and allow them to become completely engulfed in the story. The image below is taken from Jim Carrey’s How Roland Rolls. Carrey teamed up with an incredible illustrator, Rob Nason. This illustration gives readers an awesome ocean scene with a surfer, waves, and dolphins. It also has the title written in cool graphics. Throughout the book Nason makes certain words stand out to the readers. All illustrators create vivid scenes that allow readers to engage in the story.

  Finally, children’s books should have a particular life lesson. Some stories may have deeper meanings than others, which is normal—I think some authors are just better at touching on deeper subjects. These lessons can be small, for example, always say please and thank you! The lessons can also convey something larger, such as the lesson in How Roland Rolls. Carrey helps us see that although children may think they are of small significance in the world, they are more important than they think. His book makes children know their significance and that they shouldn’t feel like a small wave in a giant ocean.

  I wrote a children’s book about three years ago. I wrote it just for fun and it was based on one of my childhood memories. After reading some of today’s children’s books, I believe that I could potentially publish it. It posseses the formula that I have discussed, but I would have to find a very talented illustrator! That being said, children’s books should deserve be looked at and evaluated. Maybe in a couple years my book, The Umbrella Fort, will be on book shelves ready to be read by everyone

–Katelyn Brower

And The Next Harry Potter Series Is…

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This summer, the website BookRiot published an article titled, “The Grisha Trilogy is the Successor to the Harry Potter Throne.”  The article focuses on the Grisha Trilogy, but Harry Potter is definitely the hook.  It’s a very bold statement, and got my attention.

In the time of 2013 A.P. (After Potter), there has been a clamor in the Young Adult community for a series that is as enthralling and magical as Harry Potter was.  Different publishing houses and reviewers will insist, “Twilight is the new Harry Potter,” or proclaim “Hunger Games to be the next Harry Potter.”  The battle to have the fame and fortune that Harry Potter brought Scholastic Press and JK Rowling is understandable.  Who wouldn’t want young readers nipping at your heels for the books to come out faster?  The Harry Potter series set a new bar for the YA world.  It was (and still is) a series that could bring in an adult audience as well as children in a whirlwind of who can finish the novel first?  It will always be interesting to compare books, though each new novel is supposed to be unique.

For this generation of YA readers, saying a book is like Harry Potter deems the book powerful, a book you need to run to the store and buy now!  Harry Potter has become more than a book, it is the standard.  YA readers are constantly trying to find books they can fall in love with, books that can create a community of thought.  This also falls in line with a need for serial novels.  After Potter, a bust of YA series came out trying to mimic the impact.  There is a connection readers make to the characters in a series, because the reader gets extra background on the characters and multiple adventures with which to learn more about who these characters are.  There was a flip from creating a story to creating a world.  Every year the reader gets the anticipation of waiting for a new chapter in the lives of their favorite characters.  It’s like a TV show—once started it’s hard not to finish.

Thousands of YA titles published every year hope for this kind of reader following.  Many receive no acclaim, but every once in a while a novel is released that takes readers on a ride.  And that’s why we read in the first place.  The best part of reading is being sucked into a world that is different than your own.  Even in adult literary fiction there is a kind of magic that seeps through the written word and into a reader’s imagination.  This is what everyone in the publishing world strives for, the book that will have an audience.  The hardest part is sifting through those manuscripts and finding the ones that have something new to bring to the table.

UK’s The Guardian wrote about JK Rowling in 1997 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was first released and was just getting on its feet.  Even then, people knew something big was about to happen after her first novel was sold to a publisher for 100,000 pounds.  There is a lot of money to be made in exerting this kind of influence, but this is not something readers think about.  They are in it for the experience.  The comparisons to Harry Potter might seem repetitive and questionable because who wants to read the same book?  But it is not about that; it is about the experience of reading.  What readers should be asking is, will this book be an experience that will stay with me when I close the book?  If originality is what made Harry Potter a best seller, shouldn’t we, as readers, learn to let books stand by themselves?

–Megan Kaufenberg

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