Thursday, December 29, 2005

Girl reads 600 books in 2005

If you think you're doing OK if you finish a book every couple months -- this 11-year-old girl managed to read 9 books every two weeks, allowing her to finish her goal of reading 600 books a year by December 20th!

Now, if only all kids could have such dedication: books are an excellent time-waster, far better than TV, and a kid hoping to read even 10% of what Gabrielle's goal was would finish one a week. Get to it, children of the world! Don't let a girl beat you!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sherlock Holmes, At Your Door

Sherlock Holmes can be delivered to your door, in its original serialized form, thanks to the grand people at Stanford University! Actual facsimilies of the Strand Magazine, with illustrations, are available to anyone who signs up.

In this electronic world, where we've all been trained to expect things to be available instantly, this is a refreshing return to the olden days. Soap operas still do this today, as do the better fiction-blogs: leaving the audience hanging with a what happens next? Make them wait, in great anticipation, for the next entry. Doyle was an expert at suspense; I'm certain his works will have much the same effect today as they did a hundred years ago.

The Grinchus

On December 7th, the Bull's Head Bookshop at UNC-Chapel Hill celebrated their annual reading of Grinch in latin. The book, Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit, is read in the favorite dead language of creative translators (I own Ferdinandus Taurus). It seems many children's books end up with Latin versions, enough to give a non-American librarian the idea that need the books for America's extensive courses in Latin taught to gradeschoolers.

But, why Latin? As a dead language, it's not much useful, except maybe to lawyers, doctors, and scientists whose lexicons are full of dead languages...but I doubt many of their textbooks delve into dead languages to describe the anger of a fictional creature on a Christian holiday.

While writing is a creative process, reading -- or being read to -- is also artistic. Along with the pictures in the book, the mind must create images of its own, internally, based on the words cascading from the pages. Artists commonly have 'tricks' for creativity, things like drawing an object without lifting the pencil from the paper, or drawing something upside down. Giving the mind a different way to do things, by preventing it from falling into its regular patterns of activity, forces it to work harder to create. The purpose is not to create something better, but create something from a completely different starting point.

Reading to a child (or anybody, for that matter), in Latin is a creative excercise for their mind. Children have long heard the story of the Grinch, and many can probably recite it from memory, but delivering the familiar story in an unfamiliar way gives their brain a little extra workout. Translating the words directly into thoughts is to let the brain fall into rut, the way reading normally happens. When the brain is allowed to go off-road, leaving the worn tracks of thought behind, new creativity is born.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Censorship And Acceptance In Washington

University Place, WA, schools pulled the book Geography Club from its shelves due to objections by parents -- however, a nearby school embraced it. River Ridge High School has a unique program: a parent-student book club that embraces controversial books and discusses them in a open but controlled environment. During their meeting to discuss the book Geography Club, the parent-student book club also met the author, Brent Hartinger, who participated in the discussion.

This wonderful alternative to book bannings has so many advantages, it's silly to think that anyone would disagree. Parents should understand that discussing difficult topics with their children is much more successful than suppressing them -- as history has shown, parents who let their kids figure out controversial issues entirely on their own, without parental help, end up in a bad way. Second of all, everyone knows the best way to get kids to ignore a book is to assign it as homework, with expectations of notetaking and understanding the book well enough to discuss it. Censorship-minded parents should take note, and do something about it: simply complaining about a book fixes nothing; making it the topic of conversation, with both sides weighing in with their feelings, is the best way to get all minds on the same page.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Little Black Sambo In Japan

Japan gained notorious notoriety earlier this year by re-releasing Little Black Sambo (a story deemed too racist to publish in the US), but one researcher, Kazuo Mori, stopped to look at the reason Japan loves the little racist caricature so much.

Turns out his discoveries show that, when replaced with a non-negro protagonist (such as a black dog), Japanese children loved the story just as much. I suppose, when looking at the bizarre nature of Japanese lore (from American points of view), it should be an easy allowance to make: in a country where raccoon-dogs have magical testicles, a story about an aboriginal child being mugged by tigers for his clothes, and tigers turning into butter because of running so fast, should be accepted so readily by readers without the racial overtones that the US sees in Sambo. However, publishers showed that making money was their motive for re-releasing, despite having once pulled the Sambo story under pressure from America. This puts Americans in a dilemma: we hate PC refixturing of treasured stories, but we also hate Little Black Sambo. It's no wonder Japan is ignoring us on this point: it's a no-win for them.

Mori's full findings are available online, including pictures of the alternate Sambos.