Don Quixote (a Spanish language primer) : Jennifer Adams & Alison Oliver

Don QuixoteDon Quixote by Jennifer Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this. It’s a board book which introduces some of the key words in and around the story of Don Quixote, in both English and Spanish. Each spread deals with one particular moment ‘castle / el castillo’ and delivers a vibrant, chunky drawing underneath it which ties back into the word. The noises are translated as well: ‘baaa’ / ‘beh beh’ for the goat, and ‘zzz’ / ‘sss’ for the snoring in the ‘bed/la cama’ spread. On the back page of the book is a phonetic translation of the words in two columns: one for English speakers and another for Spanish. It’s such a lovely glorious book with images that are chunky and thickly coloured and intensely evocative in their precise, clean nature.

Armor / La Armadura

Armor / La Armadura

One key thing to mention – and I grant that this is such a finicky note on a very good book, but it’s something that is worth mentioning. I’d have welcomed a little more consciousness of the role of the gutter within the book. Some of the double page spreads are beautifully aware of their construction; the ‘armor / la armardura’ one for example sees both figures facing into the middle of the book, mirror images of one and another and thus they tie the language down very specifically to both images. Sometimes the colour notes on each one vary, yellow flowers instead of pink, a brown goat instead of a white one, but the construction of these images do not change. There is an inclusion about these spreads. You know that the ‘goat’ on one page is ‘la cabra’ on the other.

Windmills / Los Molinos De Viento

Windmills / Los Molinos De Viento

Other spreads such as the ‘windmills / los molinos de viento’ see two separate images without this mirror construction; ‘windmills’ has a bigger windmill to the left of it and then one smaller to the right, whilst ‘los molinos de viento’ has a smaller windmill to the left and a bigger one to the right, thereby matching the stylistics of the previous page, but not the mirror images of the other spreads.

It’s a very finicky note in a rather lovely book but things like this matter within a language primer, particularly for this age. Are you telling the children that windmills are image a) or image b) ? (And particularly, with something potentially quite removed from a child’s experience, are you asking them to link the word with the windmill or that windmill, the little one or the big one? And how are you asking them to engage with this page – where do you want your reader to be, even at this age, at this point in the text? How do you want them travelling over the page? Do you want them to start with one method and then shift to another or not? All questions that, I’m sure, are addressed as part of this lovely series, but they’re all questions that strike me as being centred around issues of construction and concern for readership.

Goat / La Cabra

Goat / La Cabra

I mention all of this because this is a book very much on its way to being perfect. I love things like this that deconstruct classics and reconstruct them in accessible, fun and contemporary ways. I have never read Don Quixote. I’ve never had the inclination. But right now, I sort of do, and I think that’s one of the massive powers of a book like this. It opens (and re-opens) doors into texts.

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#kidbkgrp Christmas in Children’s Literature

Last night, #kidbkgrp met to discuss Christmas in children’s literature and came up with what is officially a mahoosive and rather amazing list of Christmas book recommendations. You can catch up on the chat here  and here’s a link to previous chats.

This is usually the bit where I tell you about the next chat, but that’s it for 2014! My thanks to everyone who’s chatted this year, you’re all awesome 🙂 Same again in 2015? 😉




#kidbkgrp recap : Picture Books

Last night #kidbkgrp (and lots of lovely new Tweeters – welcome!) met to chat about picture books. Picture books are one of my great literary loves and so basically I spent the chat going “YES!” at every title suggested. There are a *lot* of lovely books recommended in this chat so it’s definitely worth having a look at it. (And perhaps one day I’ll be able to spell recommendations…).

You can find the storify of the chat here and here’s a link to the previous chats.

The next chat is on December 4th and we talk about Christmas!. See you there 🙂

Awards and children’s literature

Last night #kidbkgrp talked about awards and children’s literature. It was a very brief and quiet chat as there weren’t many people online (my thanks to those who were around!). I therefore decided that the chat as a whole wasn’t worth storifying but, as I do think this is a topic worth pursuing, I decided to blog. Voila! Cogito Ergo Blog!

Photo courtesy of  daverugby83 (Flickr)

Photo courtesy of daverugby83 (Flickr)

A brief check of Wikipedia reveals that there are a minimum of 31 children’s book awards in the UK. Now, as per the nature of WIkipedia, that’s not going to be a complete list. And it isn’t. There’s no UKLA award on there and I expect that’s not the only one. Wikipedia is a brilliant resource but it’s not infallible. (Do I sound like I have my librarian hat on? I surely do. It’s a sombrero btw).

Children’s book awards in the UK range from those voted for solely by children, such as the Red House Children’s Book award, administered by the FCBG, through to those selected by professional bodies such as CILIP who look after the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards. As I’m a member of CILIP, I get to nominate which is exciting and also rather a huge privilege.

So what does this mean? Why do we have awards?

Well, I think one reason is that we’re sort of honouring the presence of literature in our lives. We’re saying to our contemporaries, our peers and those readers yet to come that these books are wondrous. They are life-changing, vivid beasts and they are good and great and should be read. As previous Carnegie winner Philip Pullman says: “Once upon a time lasts forever”. Stories are forever and they should be and we’re memorialising these books by entering them in a sort of joint record (like a societal bibliography, if you will) and we’re trying to give them a sense of longevity. Just looking at the previous winners of the Carnegie is like looking at a distilled vision of perfect, wonderful (and occasionally intensely challenging) British children’s literature. And it’s right to be proud of that, I think. It’s more than right.

Another reason, as mentioned last night, is to give books by new authors a chance of being read. Did you know that over 10,000 books were published last year in the UK? (At least 10,000 books – some reports go way, way higher than that). Proportionally speaking, the number of children’s books that get published in one year is basically tons (technical, I know, but have a look in your bookshop at the number of new titles and you’ll see what I mean). It’s hard to get read out there. And it’s hard to find books. I read a lot (this is a safe space, right?) and so many of my books are found through browsing and happenstance. A good cover. The librarian reshelving it just in time for me to see. There is so much luck about this. And awards help! They do. They give people a chance to catch their breath and go – wait, this is supposed to be good, I heard about this, let’s give it a chance. Awards can do that signposting towards literature and almost ‘remove’ that risk element of reading. Nobody wants to invest time of their own in reading something rubbish. And when we’re talking about children’s literature, with that always tricksy contextual element that it no doubt has, that’s two fold. You don’t want your kids put off by accidentally reading say War and Peace instead of Where’s Wally.

As it’s always good to do things in threes, here’s a third reason why I rather love what awards can do. They can make statements. They can set out and articulate issues that need articulating.  The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award came into being in 2013 with the aim to “to recognise a rich tradition of radical publishing for children in the UK”. Radical is, they say “include[s] books informed by inclusive/anti-discriminatory concerns or those which promote social equality or social justice”. In an increasingly diverse world, they’re making the statement that diverse and brave literature matters for juvenile readers. And that’s brilliant because it is such a statement. It’s proud and it’s lovely and it’s desperately vital. I believe in the right of children to see themselves in literature and awards that celebrate that right are a good and great thing.

So here we are. As you’ll gather, I’m in favour of literary awards. I do acknowledge that they can be problematic beasts at time but as a whole, I think I’m rather proud that we have them. Here’s to us and our continued celebration of children’s literature. Long may it continue.

#kidbkgrp Historical Children’s Literature

Last night, #kidbkgrp met on Twitter and talked about historical children’s literature. It’s a big old topic so I was interested to see what was said! We covered periods of history we wanted more books about (publishers / authors – if you’ve got anything about the Russian Revolution, do stick your hand up now?) and periods of history we were sick of reading about. And a lot of love was expressed for Charlotte Sometimes.

You can find the storify of the chat here and here’s a link to the recaps of the previous chats.

The next chat is on October 2nd, 9-10pm and will cover award winners in children’s literature. Should be good! See you there? 🙂

#kidbkgrp – Boundaries and responsibilities in children’s literature

Last night we talked about boundaries and responsibilities in children’s literature. It’s a bit of a vague topic but one that has a lot of relevance for children’s books and the world of reading / publishing in general. Children’s books are defined by adults for children and very rarely the other way round. Therefore we may have expectations of the genre that may not be actually reflected by the intendees (intendees is not a word and that point’s also a rampant generalisation so please forgive me but I hope you see where I’m going with it.) It’s also a topical issue with things like Roald Dahl front covers receiving less than positive feedback and The Bunker Diary receiving heated reactions post its Carnegie win.

I think talking about this sort of stuff and questioning both it and ourselves is vital (which is why I love blogging and Twitter in general). It’s through talking that we reaffirm ourselves. We understand ourselves. It’s when there’s silence and fear, that’s when understanding starts to become something quite foreign.

You can find the storify of the chat here and here’s a link to the previous chats.

Have you heard of #kidbkgrp ?

Hi! Do we talk on Twitter? If not, we really should (say hi, you know you want to). (But, you know, say it with some context and not just hi, because then I’ll just hi back and that will not be constructive in the whole beginning a conversation thing and now I’m digressing just a tad, so I’ll stop and move on to what I actually wanted to tell you about)

#kidbkgrp is a monthly chat group which meets the first Thursday of every month, 9-10pm on Twitter. We talk about a whole range of issues relating to children’s literature and everyone is welcome. This means you, specifically 😉

All you need to do to take part is tweet during that time frame using the #kidbkgrp hashtag (basically so I and everyone else taking part in the chat sees you). That’s it! You can view the schedule for the remaining chats of the year here and this Thursday (August 7th), we chat about Drama in Children’s Literature (particularly relevant in a post Carnegie climate, no?). We’ll talk about what children’s literature should and should not do and how to achieve this. It should be good – and I’d love to see you there 🙂