NIU Professor"s Claim: Children’s Books Send Message That "To Be White Is To Be Better"

At the risk of sounding like some conservative radical, I have to tell you guys that I am utterly sick of the political correctness that dominates the world in which we all live today.  Everyone is “offended” about something…and everything is bound to offend someone.  It’s a lose-lose situation for all of us.

So what set me off this afternoon?  Only this professor who is on a vendetta to prove that children’s books, taken as a genre, are RACIST.  Melanie Koss has dropped this bombshell on the world all the way from Northern Illinois University where she made her argument this way:

Seventy-five percent of human main characters (in children’s picture books) were white; blacks were protagonists in 15 percent of the books while other cultures combined for less than 6 percent of lead characters.

I’m not disputing her numbers.  What I do find interesting, however, is how closely the percentages she quotes correspond to the overall racial mix in the United States today.  Will this country cease to be “racist” only when minorities are over-represented in every aspect of life to the point that the majority becomes the new minority?  And will even that shut up the professional whiners out there?

And remember this: book publishing is a For Profit industry.  No profit, no books; it’s as simple as that.  Even the NI Newsroom (the NI stands for Northern Illinois) seems to understand that the number of minority oriented books printed will be dependent on how many of them sell and actually make a little money for the publisher:

Because publishers don’t expect big profits from diverse books, few are made available. And because few are for sale, few are sold, creating an endless supply-and-demand conundrum. “If the books aren’t out there, no one can buy them,” Koss says.

 …and Ms. Koss, if no one buys the ones that are out there, why should publishers market them in the numbers that YOU might finally approve.

It’s a PC world, and it’s beginning to remind me of the fable in which the little boy cried “Wolf!” one too many times.  I’m starting to tune out the babble now.

Christopher Walken Reads Where the Wild Things Are

Christopher Walken is one of those actors who consistently fascinate me by their persona, those people who just seem to be so one-of-a-kind that no one quite like them will ever come along again.  I can’t remember ever not enjoying a film of his…and some of them would have been real stinkers without his presence.

Anyway, you have to hear him read Where the Wild Things Are.  Who knew it was so creepy?  Most importantly, it made me laugh…a good thing.

Long Lost Dr. Seuss Book to Be Published in July

I’ve never been much of a fan of Theodor Geisel’s Dr. Seuss books.  The kind of word play and repetitiveness that so much characterize the books just doesn’t appeal to me, I guess.  We did buy Seuss books for our daughters, and later for their children, but every one of them had, at best, a lukewarm reaction to the books…must run in the family.

But this will be big news for lots of Dr. Seuss fans out there, so I want to mention it here in case anyone has missed it…a “brand new” lost manuscript has been “re-discovered” and it will be shared with the world on July 28.  The little book is titled What Pet Should I Get? and it is said to be very much up to the standard Geisel set with his other Seuss books.  As can best be told, the book was written sometime between 1958 and 1962.

I hope it does well, and causes a big stir in the children’s book market.  Good luck, Doc.

Norman Birdwell, Creator of "Clifford The Big Red Dog," Dead at 86

(Photo from Clifford’s Facebook Page)

Norman Birdwell, who created all of those wonderful children’s books  about “Clifford The Big Red Dog,” died last Friday (December 12, 2014) at the age of 86.  Although an official cause of death has not yet been released, the Associated Press reports that Birdwell had been hospitalized for the past several weeks following a bad fall he suffered at his home on Martha’s Vineyard.  He is also known to have been fighting prostate cancer.

The more than forty Big Red Dog books have been translated into thirteen languages, and it is estimated that there are over 126 million copies of them in print.  Clifford, along with his best friend Emily, also starred in two animated television series that remain popular today.  

Too, I still remember the Big Red Dog software program I used in helping to teach my now-15-year-old granddaughter how to read.  And I can only guess at how many hours I spent reading Clifford books to her, her brother, and cousin as they all progressed through their pre-reading years.  


Norman Birdwell

Norman Birdwell’s stories are wonderful, and they always have a good lesson to teach without being too obvious about it all.  Maybe that’s why kids love the books so much – and why they don’t bore the parents and grandparents who are reading them aloud over and over again.

Clifford and Emily always made me smile, and I sincerely thank Mr. Birdwell for his contribution to children’s literature.

Book Trailer of the Week: Goodnight Already!

This book trailer is a bit of a twist for me since it is not related to a book I am likely ever to see, much less read.  It’s a book for young children – and I don’t even have grandchildren who fall into the target audience for this one anymore.

BUT, I love the trailer and wanted to highlight it here on Book Chase for those of you who might be looking for something to give the young readers in your own families this Christmas.  

Take a look:

Sandra Boynton’s Got Frog Trouble

Sandra Boynton is best known as the successful author of a long series of humorous books aimed at very young children such as the ones shown below: 

Boynton, however, has also just produced her fifth album of songs that are aimed at children of all ages – and as its cover indicates, this one is actually for “ages one to older than dirt.”  And, a quick look at the list of recording artists who participated in this project leads me to believe that the claim is a true.  

This is the video that sold me (it doesn’t hurt that it’s the song by one of my favorite “country” singers in the world, Dwight Yoakam):

Frog Trouble, Boynton’s first venture into the country music genre, is scheduled for a September 3 release.

Penguin Offers an iPad App for Your Three-Month-Old

If nothing else, this proves that there is an “app” for everyone.

Penguin (in the U.K.) has just released a book app aimed at babies as young as three-months that can be used to “bring to life the popular Ladybird series of books on the touch screen.”  Babies, I suppose will learn a little about cause and effect as they touch the screen to make new characters appear.  I doubt that I would trust a $600 iPad in the hands of a six-month-old baby, however.

According to The Telegraph:

The app has been specifically designed for and tested on babies as young as three months so they are able to easily interact with the story on a touch screen device. 

Simple taps of the screen make different characters appear, in lots of bold colours with sound effects.


… the target age was from three to 12 months old and that babies as young as six months old would be able to operate the app without their parent’s help. The app also features an auto play tool – which allows parent to play the entire content of the app as a movie.

While this application is being sold based upon its positive effects on babies, I do have to wonder about the wisdom of getting children this young addicted to the same gadgets that already seem permanently attached to their older brothers and sisters.  With all of this electronic instant gratification being peddled, I’m starting to wonder if future generations will even be able to sit still long enough to read a long magazine or newspaper article, much less a whole book that is not embedded with pictures and sound effects.

What do you think?  Is this Penguin application cool, clever, or just disturbing as all get out?

Man Gave Names to All the Animals

There are a handful of record albums that I find myself coming back to year after year. Two of those are Bob Dylan albums, but probably not the ones most would think of first when listing Dylan’s recordings: Nashville Skyline and Slow Train Coming.

With Nashville Skyline, Dylan went country, even going to Nashville to record the album and inviting Johnny Cash to record a song with him (beginning a long friendship between the two men). Slow Train Coming is Dylan’s first Christian album, one of three he recorded after announcing that he had become a born-again Christian. I find the combination of simplicity and heartfelt emotion in these two albums to be particularly appealing for some reason.

Now comes word from Rolling Stone that a new children’s book based on one of the Slow Train Coming songs, “Man Gave Names to All the Animals,” is to be published in September:

“From the first time I heard it, the lyrics created pictures in my mind of a land of primeval beauty,” Arnosky (artist) said in a press release. “I thought this vision would make a dream of a book, and I asked for Bob Dylan’s permission to make this dream come true. Happily, he said yes.”


“[Arnosly] has outdone himself with the lush, detailed illustrations, and we couldn’t be more delighted to have this opportunity to work with Bob Dylan,” said Sterling Children’s Book Senior Editor Meredith Mundy in a press release. Sterling previously released a children’s book dedicated to “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and its success persuaded them to publish another book by a folk legend.

Those unfamiliar with the song lyrics might want to watch the YouTube video I’ve attached, below. Do keep in mind that the illustrations shown in this video have absolutely nothing to do with the new picture book, however. (In fact, I’m not at all sure I understand what these pictures are all about- if anyone gets their point, please do enlighten me.)

William S. and the Great Escape

It is August 1938 and, despite the Great Depression gripping the country, William cannot tell that anything has changed for the Baggett family. His father and stepmother depend on government handouts to feed their large family just like they always have; he still has to avoid attracting the attention of his older half-brothers who delight in tormenting him; and he will never understand how his mother could have ever married “Big Ed,” his father, in the first place.

William, who is twelve years old, has been planning to run away from the Baggetts for a long time and he hopes to save enough money in the next few months to make that happen. His plans change, though, when his younger sister Jancy suffers a loss at the hands of the older Baggetts and convinces William that now is time for the four youngest Baggetts to make their escape. One morning before daybreak, William, his two younger sisters, and four-year-old Buddy sneak away to walk the five miles to town where they hope to catch a bus to their Aunt’s house – some 65 miles up the road.

If it were that easy, of course, William S. and his siblings would not have experienced much of a “great escape.” Even before they make it to town things get shaky, but the young Baggetts are offered temporary shelter by Clarice, a little girl whose dog discovers them walking down the street. William’s biggest problem while hiding out with Clarice’s help is how to keep the two youngest Baggett kids from bouncing off the walls from boredom, a predicament he handles by performing Shakespeare’s The Tempest for them. William and Jancy, despite the odds against them getting there, are determined to make it to their Aunt and, when they do, they find they may have completed only what will be the first leg of a longer journey.

William S. and the Great Escape will, I think, be enjoyed by children from about 10 to 13 years of age. Children of that age are generally already familiar with classic tales about stepchildren being abused or ignored by parents who favor their own older children, so they should be sympathetic to the plight of the youngest Baggetts. They will also thrill to the dangers and close calls the children face as they try to outwit the adult world. The author, though, in her zeal to promote the works of William Shakespeare to her young audience, may have overdone it to such a degree that some of those young readers resort to skimming whole chapters of the book in order to get back to “the good parts.”

I passed William S. and the Great Escape on to my 10-year-old granddaughter yesterday and I look forward to hearing what she thinks of it. I suspect that, since she is part of the book’s target audience, she might see it very differently from the way I did.

Rated at: 3.5

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood

I hesitate to write a third consecutive post about the new Pooh book – but here goes, anyway.

Because of a fluke in my work schedule, I had the opportunity this afternoon to get my hands on a copy of Return to the Hundred Acre Wood. I stopped at my local Barnes & Noble store on the way home and spotted a little display of about a dozen of the books at the entrance to the children’s section.

The book retails for $19.99 but B&N, if I remember right, is offering a 10% discount. I was the only person in the store who seemed at all interested, but a Tuesday afternoon might not be the best time for me to make a judgment regarding any buzz that might be generated by the new book.

Physically, at least, this is a beautiful little book. It is printed on high quality paper and I enjoyed thumbing through the book’s numerous illustrations. I read one of the stories but it has been so long since I read the original Pooh stories it would be unfair of me to compare the two. It will be interesting to read the reviews which should start showing up in the next few days.

"The Same Pooh Bear, but an Otter Has Arrived"

The responses to yesterday’s post on the new Pooh book make me believe that there are a whole lot of people who feel uneasy, if not perturbed, by its release to bookstores today. The New York Times has a good article today on “Return to the Hundred Acre Wood” that hits on some of the same points we discussed:

“Some people said it shouldn’t be done, and there will still be some of that now, this feeling that this is a gleaming jewel in the world of children’s books and don’t mess around with it,” Michael Brown, chairman of the Pooh Properties Trust, said of creating the sequel. “This doesn’t damage the original stories at all, though, and allows us to continue the stories in a world of kindness, cheerfulness, laughter and fun.”

A less sanguine assessment came from Elizabeth Bluemle, a children’s book author, co-owner of the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vt., and president of the Association of Booksellers for Children. Spinoffs and sequels tend to be “thin soup,” she said in an e-mail message, and can keep children away from the original, better-written books.

“It’s just too much to hope that someone who isn’t the original writer will capture the voice, character, setting, pacing (and all the other elements of bookmaking) in the right measure,” Ms. Bluemle added, saying that she was not singling out “Return,” which she has not read.

David Benedictus, author of the new book responds:

“I didn’t want to do parody; I didn’t want to do pastiche,” Mr. Benedictus said of the danger of imitating someone else’s style. “Dorothy Parker thought Pooh was twee beyond words.”

Whether or not Pooh is twee, Mr. Benedictus said he stayed true to the original characters. “I made Eeyore a little more proactive so he wasn’t always the victim, although you can’t turn him into Gary Cooper or something,” he said. “Pooh may have put on an inch or two, but he’s the same old bear.”

And there’s the problem. Mr. Benedict admits to changing the very character and personality of Eeyore and he has added “Lottie the Otter” to the beloved cast of characters created by A.A. Milne. I see red flags popping up everywhere and I’m more uneasy about the book than I was yesterday. This just doesn’t feel right – but it is probably closer to the original than the Disney version, proving again that all things are relative.

Piglet Says Christopher Robin Is Back in the Forest

The buzz in the Forest is that Christopher Robin is back. Owl, Rabbit and Piglet have all heard the same thing and, though no one has seen Christopher yet, the possibility is all they can talk about.

Well, the rumors are true and Christopher returns to the Forest and his old friends tomorrow when Dutton Chrildren’s Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group) releases the first new Winnie-the-Pooh book in 80 years. The finished book was delivered to Dutton in January but its contents have been a carefully guarded secret until now – no review copies were released and the first chapter was made available for preview only last week.

From the official press release comes these details:

Written by David Benedictus and illustrated by Mark Burgess, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood continues the adventures of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore and friends. Egmont Publishing will publish the book simultaneously in the UK. Penguin Audio will publish an audio version of the book read by Grammy Award-winner Jim Dale. The book has an announced first printing of 300,000.


Dutton officially introduced Christopher Robin and his “silly old bear” to the US in 1926 with the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne and illustrated by E.H. Shepard. However Pooh had a significant walk-on role in 1924 with the publication of When We Were Very Young by A.A Milne with illustrations by E.H. Shepard. Milne and Shepard went on to collaborate on two more titles: Now We Are Six in 1927 and The House At Pooh Corner, which introduced Tigger, in 1928. Together, these four books form the basis of the original Pooh books. Newly-designed editions of all four books were published September 3rd.

Link to the book’s beautifully illustrated first chapter

The new book does have the approval of the Trustees of the Pooh Properties but I have mixed emotions about the whole concept. I tend to be a bit of a purist when it comes to this kind of thing and my first reaction is to prefer that well enough be left alone. Messing around with a classic book by having someone other than the original author write a sequel to it is always a bit dangerous because the new author is extremely unlikely to be able to reach the level of the original – and, as a result, both the original and the new become somewhat tainted in the minds of readers. That said, however, this kind of thing probably does work better with children’s books because so much of the story is told with easily mimicked illustrations.

For a more complete look at Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, including a video, go to the official Penguin website.

Children’s Book Author Accused of Trading in Child Pornography

This is one of the more bizarre news items I’ve seen in the last few weeks but, if you really think about it, it may not be all that surprising. In fact, it reminds me of all those stories about Cub Scout pack leaders who turn out to be child molesters.

K.P. Bath is accused in Portland, Oregon, of writing books for the very age group of children for which he also seems to have a perverted sexual interest. This is from the

A federal prosecutor said Bath spent the past few years writing children’s books as he actively traded illegal photos and videos with other accused collectors. In one of his online chats, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Sussman, Bath wrote, “I’m glad there are molesters out there” because they supplied images of children being sexually violated by adults.

In an online chat with another accused child porn collector, Bath wrote, “I wish a 9 yr old was doing that to me,” Sussman told the courtroom. “This,” he added, “from a man who’s writing books for 9-year-olds.”

Bath fell under suspicion of federal agents in recent years when two agencies — the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE — began independent investigations of the author’s alleged trading of child pornography.

Sussman told the courtroom Monday that when ICE agents searched Bath’s home last June, seizing a Compaq Presario computer, portable memory devices and DVDs, they found movie clips of children — some of them bound — crying as they were sexually abused.

Bath has now lost his publishing deal with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and will have to look for a new publisher for the book that the New York publisher has taken off its Fall 2010 schedule.

This kind of thing, if the charges stick, is more than disgusting; it is scary for parents, especially for those who may have taken their children to a book signing of Bath’s or might be wondering if he visited local schools to promote his books. Wow…

Fig Pudding

I have read very little Children’s Lit in recent years but did enjoy reading this one before passing it on to my granddaughter who also enjoyed it.

Fifth-grader Cliff Abernathy has come to realize that being the oldest of six children is not just fun and games. The position comes with responsibilities. His parents expect him to help monitor the behavior of his little brothers and younger sister and he is often in trouble for falling down on the job. He definitely enjoys the perks of being the oldest but sometimes he wonders if they are really a good trade-off for the extra work his parents expect of him.

In Fig Pudding, Cliff shares his memories of everything that happened to him and his family in the past year,twelve months that includes things he wants to remember forever and one or two that he just wishes he could forget. The Abernathy kids have distinct personalities and Ralph Fletcher gives each of the kids a chance to shine in a chapter of his own.

There is Josh, only three years old and the youngest, who has to spend Christmas Eve in the hospital and desperately wants a “yidda yadda” from Santa, a gift request that has the whole family confused. Teddy is the hyperactive second-grader who spends so much time sitting under the kitchen table where his mother can keep an eye on him that he starts to like it under there and considers it to be his special playroom. Cyn, the only girl in the family, decides to “adopt” a new family and spends more time with them than she does at home. Cliff and Nate learn some things about themselves and each other as the result of a couple of fishing trips, and Brad, the most easy going of all the children, surprises everyone, and probably himself, with the Easter prank that he pulls on the whole family.

Fig Pudding is generally aimed at readers age 9-12 but readers of all ages will be touched by the tragic accident that claims the life of one of the boys. Each member of the family has to work through his own grief, anger and confusion in order to come to grips with what has so shaken them all but they finally come to understand that their lost son and brother will be alive forever as they celebrate his memory.

Ralph Fletcher cleverly ends Fig Pudding on a comic note by devoting the last chapter to the way that young Josh accidentally adds a “secret ingredient” to his father’s fig pudding, a dish that the Abernathy family traditionally carries to a large family gathering every year. It has never tasted better than it does this year – even with Josh’s help. This is one of those books that might well have children shedding a few tears as they read one chapter and laughing out loud during the next one, just like life in the real world.

Rated at: 5.0

Originally published at