Monday, August 25, 2008

Turning the Little House Books into Classics

I recently came across a research paper by Anita Clair Fellman, on the relationship between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Lane. Fellner paints Laura's childhood in different strokes than Laura herself did, describing it as unstable due to their frequent moves, and filled with demanding responsibilities. As a devoted Little House fan, I must have read Big Woods through Golden Years at least a half dozen times, and never would have used Rose's words, "a hard, narrow, relentless life," to describe the journey.

When Rose, an established writer, convinced her mother to write stories based on her childhood, Laura produced "Pioneer Girl." First-person and written on a more adult level, it languished with publishers. As Rose worked the manuscript, complaining to her diary that her mother wanted, "prestige rather than money," she at last found a publisher interested in seeing one part of the manuscript expanded. This eventually became Little House in the Big Woods, but not without plenty of writer-editor, mother-daughter tension. At one point, Rose wrote to her mother, "you must listen to me…If you don't do what I tell you to, you must at least have good hard reasons for not doing it." Good advice from an editor, but the daughter continues, "Just because I was once three years old, you honestly oughtn't to think that I'm never going to know anything more than a three-year-old."

Fellner notes that through the books, Laura recast her family and her childhood with a "golden glow" that never really existed. Meanwhile, Rose, without whom the books might not have taken shape, never could take credit for work which became more celebrated than anything she produced under her own name.

--cross posted to Under the Covers...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Libraries Boom/Economy Bust

Librarians have seen it before. When the economy sours, free services become a sweet treat for families needing to cut spending. It's hard to beat free books, movies, music and internet service at the local public library.

In Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a new library building opened last year has already recorded a 73-percent increase in library checkouts.

When I was a child I never visited a bookstore once, but Wednesday was Library Day, the one day our public library was open. My sister and I would walk a mile there and back with a stack of books every week. The librarian limited us to six each, but since we since shared we had enough. I can't imagine growing up without a library.

While public libraries are booming, parents and teachers worry school libraries may be an endangered species as school districts suffer funding shortfalls. I posted about this a few days ago and a parent e-mailed me with information on Washington States school library funding drive. They are near reaching ten-thousand signatures urging legislators to define basic education to include school libraries and librarians. Duh! Let me go on record: libraries are even more necessary than schools. Basic education? I think so.
Click here to help with the petition drive.

~~Mary Cronk Farrell

Thursday, August 14, 2008

CRYPTIDS and the value of wonder.

Two years ago, Darby Creek Publishing released TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS, a nonfiction look at the evidence for and the evidence against mysterious animals that may or may not be real. From Bigfoot to the Loch Ness Monster, dozens of urban legends are explored journalistically for kids 9 to 12 years old.

It was a book we all loved. I wrote the lion's share of the text, Rick illustrated and contributed many, many creative ideas, and Roxyanne Young was crucial when it came to constructing the cryptidictionary at the back of the book -- one of the most popular features.

Most good books sell briskly the first year they're available, then settle into a quiet place on the backlist. CRYPTIDS has been different. It hasn't slowed down, not even for a minute. More than 18,000 copies have been sold, it's in its third or fourth reprinting, and publicity has been on the slow but steady rise.

SECRET SATURDAYS, a new Cartoon Network series about a cryptid hunting family that will debut this fall, used the book as one of its research tools. They even interviewed Rick for a promotional trailer that will be in movie theaters across the nation in September. And when two Georgia men claimed they had found a Bigfoot carcuss -- press conference tomorrow, watch for it -- the Atlanta Journal Constitution called Rick for the straight story. The article should be syndicated in Knight-Rider papers all over the country.

Simply put, CRYPTIDS is a book with a life of its own. WHY?

Because we understood something about kids, and even people who used to be kids when we put it together. We understood that all people yearn for moments of wonder. And no subject should be off limits, even animals that might not be real. As long as the approach is honest, and responsible -- journalistic -- even high interest topics can be educationally valuable and FUN.

If I could make one point clear to my partners in crime -- teachers & librarians devoted to reaching out to kids -- it would be that one. Fun and education CAN go hand-in-hand, if we cling to our spirits of curiosity, if we never forget to wonder.

Thanks to all the readers who have made CRYPTIDS such a magical experience. Here's hoping it's follow-up, ALIEN ENCOUNTERS will be just as interesting and fun.

For more about the alleged Bigfoot discovery, follow this link:
For more about SECRET SATURDAYS, click here, and go to "New Shows," then "Secret Saturdays," then "Sizzle Reel":
Kelly Milner Halls

Money for School Libraries

Q: How many people does it take to convince the Washington State Senate to request $12-million for school libraries?
A: Three moms who refused to give up.

In March 2008, the Senate voted 49-to-0 for the $12-million, but it was whittled to $4-million in emergency money to last only one year. Here’s what you can do: take action.

The moms, of course, told me they didn’t turn the light bulb alone. They created a website Fund Our Future to connect supporters, media, legislators and students, registering more than six-thousand signatures in favor of funding a teacher librarian in every public school in Washington State.

It all started when Spokane School District cut back teacher/librarians to solve funding problems. They couldn’t put one over on 7-year-old Isabel. She came home from school and told her mom, “It’s not a library anymore.”

Her mom Lisa Layera Brunkan investigated. “They literally turned out the lights, unplugged the computers and locked the door. The library was dark 2 ½ days a week,” she says. When the librarian was there, she had no time to help Isabel find suitable books.

Lisa joined two other concerned moms and began to speak out. “What were our chances?” says Lisa. “They told us, When pigs fly… We couldn’t wait until then. Our kids would be grown.”

They discovered they had to frame their message right for people to take action. “We know school libraries matter. We know test scores go up in schools with libraries, but saying that wasn’t enough,” says Susan McBurney. “We needed buzz words." What worked? Our kids deserve a 21th century education.

“Compared to some other states, Washington is in the dark ages,” Lisa says.

When they talked about preparing students for a global economy, about providing a relevant education that will keep them competitive, everybody started to listen, politicians, business people and voters alike.

Another talking point: Equity. A student in rural Steven’s county with no computer at home cannot compete with students at a Lake Washington school who take a camera on a field trip, then come back and create a podcast.

Next blog I’ll tell you how these moms set a fire now spreading to other states.

~~Mary Cronk Farrell