One-Minute Book Reviews

March 13, 2009

Should One of These Children’s Books Win a Delete Key Award for Bad Writing? Who Deserves It More – Kathi Appelt or Laura Bush and Jenna Bush?

Two children’s books have made the shortlist for the 2009 Delete Key Awards, which recognize authors who don’t use their delete keys enough. Should either win a prize on Monday?

Laura Bush and Jenna Bush are finalists for these lines from Read All About It!, a picture book in which exclamation points run amok:

“I say, ‘The library is a boring place! All I will meet there are stinky pages.’”

and

“Miss Toadskin thinks she can gross us out with her science experiments. But I live for that stuff!”

Kathi Appelt is a finalist for this redundancy from The Underneath, a runner-up for the most recent Newbery Medal and National Book Award for young people’s literature:

“The pain she felt was palpable.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

March 6, 2009

Curtis Sittenfeld’s ‘American Wife’ – Now in Paperback

Filed under: Novels,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:02 am
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For months I looked forward to the unintentionally hilarious sex scenes in American Wife (Random House, 592 pp., $15, paperback) that Sam Anderson had mentioned in his New York magazine review of this novel about a stand-in for Laura Bush. But when my card number came up at the library, I found those passages to be something less than thigh-slappers. (Memo to Curtis Sittenfeld: For an example of how to write unintentionally hilarious sex scenes, see Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, longlisted for the Bad Sex in fiction award from the Literary Review.) I read about a third of American Wife, thinking: Why am I reading this? What I read said little new about Laura Bush or first ladies. So I quit with the sense that the book wasn’t good enough to deserve much of the praise it had received or bad enough to qualify for a Delete Key Award. But lots of people disagree with me on this one. Among them: Joyce Carol Oates, who called it an entertaining “parable of America in the years of the second Bush presidency” in the New York Times Book Review.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 26, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #7– ‘Read All About It!’ by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush

Delete Key Awards Finalist #7 comes from Read All About It (HarperCollins, 32 pp., $17.99, ages 4–6), a picture book by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush, illustrated by Denise Brunkus:

“I say, ‘The library is a boring place! All I will meet there are stinky pages.’”

and

“Miss Toadskin thinks she can gross us out with her science experiments. But I live for that stuff!”

It happens every year! Delete Key Awards finalists try to strengthen weak sentences by adding manic exclamation points! And bad puns! How many 4-year-olds will know that a “page” is someone who reshelves books!

© Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 24, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Is Curtis Sittenfeld Courting a Bad Sex in Fiction Award?

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep held my attention, but the best thing about the novel may have that picture of a pink grosgrain belt on the dust jacket, one of the most effective cover images of the decade. So I was in no rush to read Sittenfeld’s fictionalization of the life of Laura Bush, American Wife.

Then I read this line in Sam Anderson’s review of the book in New York magazine: “While the novel is occasionally funny (and sometimes, in its sex scenes, unintentionally hilarious), it is far from political satire” nymag.com/arts/books/reviews/49930/.

Sounds as though Sittenfeld is courting one of those delightful Bad Sex in Fiction Awards from the Literary Review, doesn’t it? And do I want to miss a contender for one of the few literary prizes that I regard as a true service to humanity? Let’s just say: I put my name on the waiting list at the library.

The editors of the Literary Review www.literaryreview.co.uk will announce the 2008 Bad Sex longlist in November, and if you can’t wait, you can read about the 2007 longlist (which included Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach) here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/23/. You’ll find a link to all the passages that eventually made the shortlist here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

August 29, 2008

Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Campaign for Books in ‘Read All About It!’

The first lady stumps for John McCain at the Republican National Convention next week and for reading in a picture book about a boy who becomes a convert to literature

Read All About It! By Laura Bush and Jenna Bush. Illustrated by Denise Brunkus. HarperCollins, 32 pp., $17.99. Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

The good news is: This book isn’t as bad as Millie’s Book, the bestseller that Barbara Bush wrote entirely in the voice of her pet spaniel. The bad news is: It’s a close call.

Read All About It! is a stump speech posing as a storybook. First lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna lobby hard for reading in this tale of a boy who prefers freeze tag to books. One day Tyrone decides to pay attention instead of clowning around when his teacher, Miss Libro, reads to his class, and — presto! — his view changes. The characters in books become real to him: “During a story about our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin stepped into our classroom, flying a kite.” A dragon appears “as the prince was about to save the princess” in a fairy tale, and a ghost and pig turn up when the teacher reads other books.

But the characters vanish when their stories end. Alarmed, Tyrone and his friends search the school for them, talking with people like Ms. Gravy (a cook in the cafeteria) and Ms. Tonedeaf (the music teacher). The students find the missing characters in the library, and on the last page Tyrone begs with the zeal of the newly baptized, “Miss Libro, let’s read here, in the library!”

The theme of Read All About It! is that if you give books a chance, you may enter magical worlds. And who would disagree that reading can seem magical? But there’s a weird similarity between the Bushes’ just-say-yes-to-reading theme and Nancy Reagan’s just-say-no-to-drugs platform. Whether you’re talking about books or drugs, you don’t usually convert kids with moralizing. Apart from the problems a just-say-yes approach might present for students with ADD or learning disabilities, the plot of Read All About It! is too weak to rescue it from its didacticism.

Roger Sutton, editor-in-chief of the children’s literature journal the Horn Book, wrote in the New York Times Book Review that “kids who don’t like stories won’t be persuaded otherwise” by this one:

“As Tyrone would say, it’s not real. The point is laboriously made, the teachers’ names are dorky, the plot is hectic and the suspense and dialogue are artificial.”

Given that Laura studied to become a librarian and Jenna wrote an earlier book, Sutton wondered: “How could such confirmedly bookish types write an I-love-reading book so fundamentally tone deaf as to why reading can inspire love?”

The tone-deafness goes beyond the dippy names of characters. Princesses still exist in fairy tales – and girls still love to read about them – but in modern stories they are much less likely than in older ones to have a prince “save” them as envisioned in Read All About It!. And in textbooks the phrase “Founding Fathers” is giving way to “founders.” The authors seem to be trying to have it both ways – to appeal to liberals by sometimes using “Ms.” and to conservatives by alluding to princes who “save” princesses and by bringing up those “Founding Fathers.” Apart from any external political considerations that are involved, this approach makes for an internally inconsistent story. And you wonder if it’s a coincidence that Miss Libro is on all levels a more attractive character than the presumptive feminists, Ms. Gravy and Ms. Tonedeaf.

Read All About It! gets what little life it has from its spirited color illustrations by Denise Brunkus, illustrator of the Junie B. Jones series. The book also has six brief reading lists of picture books or early readers, which appear on Miss Libro’s blackboard and which children may find useful. Even those call for caution: More than half of the recommended books come from HarperCollins, publisher of Read All About It!.

But the authors’ reading lists mercifully include E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, a children’s novel that exemplifies the spirit of a comment Sutton made in his review of Read All About It! in the New York Times Book Review: “Children’s librarians could tell you: if you want to convince children of the power of books, don’t tell them stories are good. Tell them a good story.”

So if you want to get children excited about reading, you might skip Tyrone and go straight to Fern, the girl who in Charlotte’s Web saves the scrawny last pig of a litter. White once said, when a critic sent him a scholarly disquisition on that modern classic, “It’s good I did not know what in hell was going on. To have known might well have been catastrophic.” The authors of Read All About It! do know what’s going on, and that’s the problem.

Best line/picture: On the title page a pig nuzzles Tyrone with a Babe-like sweetness that isn’t cloying.

Worst line/picture: No. 1: “Ms. Toadskin thinks she can gross us out with her science experiments. But I live for that stuff!” No. 2: “The library is a boring place! All I will meet there are stinky pages.” No. 3: “And then I had the most brilliant idea EVER. ‘Miss Libro, let’s read here, in the library!’

“’Take it from me, Tyrone! You never know who you are going to meet when you look in a book!’”

Take it from me, everybody! Overusing exclamation points is a sign of weak writing! And italics and boldface, too! The authors don’t get that this is shouting at kids!

Published: May 2008

Consider reading instead: Max’s Words, a far more effective picture book about a boy who discovers the joy of words www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/08/16/.

Futhermore: Read Roger Sutton’s full review here www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/books/review/Sutton-t.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss. Listen to Laura Bush and Jenna Bush talk about how they wrote their book here www.harpercollinschildrens.com/harperchildrens/parents/gamesandcontests/features/readallaboutit/.

Increased library use helps libraries justify requests for increased funding. Please support public libraries by checking out books or using other services regularly.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

August 25, 2008

Is Laura Bush’s Children’s Book as Bad as the New York Times Said? Or Is the Newspaper Biased Against the Bush Administration?

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:58 pm
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Art by Denise Brunkus for Read All About It!

Illustration by Denise Brunkus for 'Read All About It!'

Popular first ladies like Laura Bush tend to get a free pass from newspapers, which generally appreciate that they are doing a difficult job for no pay. But the New York Times Book Review had harsh words for Read All About It! (HarperCollins, $17.99), the new picture book about the joy of reading by Bush and her daughter Jenna.

Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book, wrote that the authors seemed “fundamentally tone deaf” to why children love reading and that they told a story in which “the teachers’ names are dorky, the plot is hectic and the suspense and dialogue are artificial.” Is Read All About It! as bad as the Times said? Or was a liberal newspaper biased against a conservative administration it never liked, anyway?

Find out this weekend when a review of Read All About It! appears on One-Minute Book Reviews, which reviews books for children or teenagers every Saturday. In the meantime you can read Sutton’s review here www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/books/review/Sutton-t.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 15, 2008

How Bad Is Laura and Jenna Bush’s Children’s Book About Reading?

Filed under: Children's Books,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:24 pm
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Did you see Roger Sutton’s evisceration of Laura and Jenna Bush’s children’s book in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review? It was everything reviews in the Times should be but rarely are: bold, witty, interesting, authoritative and utterly persuasive.

In Read All About It! (HarperCollins, $17.99) the first lady and her daughter try to show 4-to-8-year-olds that reading can be a joy. Their vehicle is a student named Tyrone who doesn’t like reading as much as other activities, such as “helping my mom pull the pesky weeds from the front yard.”

The Bushes’ effort cuts no ice with Sutton, editor-in-chief of The Horn Book, the country’s leading children’s literature journal. “The point is laboriously made, the teachers’ names are dorky, the plot is hectic and the suspense and dialogue are artificial,” he writes. “What child today says ‘pesky’?”

Sutton’s comments were such a contrast to most reviews in the Sunday Times – many of which are timid and inflationary – that they threw into relief a central problem of the section: The Times often chooses reviewers who have more expertise in a subject area than experience as reviewers. Sutton has expertise and deep reviewing experience. What a pleasure the NYTBR would be if all of its critics had his skill and courage.

One-Minute Book Reviews reviews books for children every Saturday. Occasional posts on children’s books may appear for cause during the week — the cause in this case being that the Bushes’ book is the No. 1 children’s bestseller in America and links to newspaper reviews may go dead after a week or two.

Read the full Times review here: www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/books/review/Sutton-t.html?_r=2&bl&ex=1210737600&en=949dc013156ba36c&ei=5087%0A&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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