Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Service of Book Reviews: Is it Fair to Select a Reviewer with an Ax to Grind?

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

Photo: myeducomer.com

Could Bernie Sanders write a fair review of a book about Donald Trump or President George H. W. Bush, known to dislike broccoli, a balanced opinion of a cookbook about that vegetable? I read Joseph Epstein’s review of Richard Aldous’s new book “Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian,” in The Wall Street Journal and learned more about Epstein’s dislikes—Harvard, the Kennedys and Schlesinger’s career choices—than about the book.

He started by sharing his resentment of the importance of Harvard in its heyday as a stepping stone to a successful career no matter how ineffectual a person turned out to be. He gave as an example a friend with a Harvard sheepskin who went higher and higher in job after job, and who “improved none of these institutions in any way I could determine, which did not stop his relentless progress in the world.” Next he criticized the University today for “having committed intellectual hara-kiri through multiculturalism, political correctness and the general surrender to victimology.”

Why Harvard? The university impacted the first half of Schlesinger’s life. Epstein wrote: “Richard Aldous frequently notes the services that a Harvard connection afforded Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.” His father, Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., “was on the Harvard history faculty and, along with being an historian of originality, was a clever academic politician.” He then shared a long list of how Jr. benefited in Cambridge, subsequently landing an interesting job during WWII thanks to connections. Epstein acknowledged Junior’s many talents during this period. Schlesinger, Jr. returned to Harvard after the war but subsequently made a frightful career choice, according to Epstein, who was clear in his disdain for the Kennedy family.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr Photo: anb.org

According to Epstein, “Few young men could have seemed more promising than the younger Schlesinger, until he met a Waterloo named the Kennedys. Once that fatal encounter occurred, Schlesinger went from boundlessly promising brilliant historian—with three volumes of an anticipated five of his never-finished Franklin Delano Roosevelt biography already completed—to a man variously called ‘a servant,’ ‘a stooge,’ a ‘poodle’ and ‘a hagiographer.’”

“During World War II, with its rationing and shortages of gasoline, a popular poster asked, ‘Is This Trip Necessary?’ The same question might be asked of this biography. Is its subject worthy of the full-dress biographical effort Mr. Aldous, a professor of history at Bard College, gives him? No one would claim great-man status for Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.”

Epstein described how ineffectual Schlesinger, Jr. was in influencing President Kennedy: “In taking his White House job, Schlesinger saw it as his duty to steer Kennedy onto a liberal track and keep him there. His success at the task, we learn from Mr. Aldous, was slightly less than minimal.”

Photo: Amazon.com

Epstein disliked the award winning book about President Kennedy, “A Thousand Days,” for his pandering. As for “Robert Kennedy and His Times,” wrote Epstein: “the jig, you might say, was up. Reviewers called it ‘a 916 page promotional pamphlet of exculpation and eulogy.’ …Even Mr. Aldous, who strains to be fair to Schlesinger, reviews his various coverups of Bobby Kennedy’s more egregious behavior and concludes that ‘it is difficult for the reader not to wince.’”

Epstein gave the author credit for keeping his political views out of the book, [which is more than I can say for the reviewer]. And he complimented Aldous for describing the “inner conflicts of presidential politics.”

There is one political commentator on Cable who asks questions of his panelists and doesn’t give them a chance to answer because he then bellows his opinions and talks over them. I felt this review was like that. It reminds me of a restaurant review I read eons ago in which a perfectly good restaurant was trashed by a sainted reviewer because a couple next to her table argued loudly throughout dinner. She interspersed their uncivil conversation in her copy and blamed the owner for not kicking them out and gave the place a bad mark because her neighbors spoiled the meal.

Do you think that a person with an ax to grind should be chosen to write a review even if, like Epstein, he’s a crackerjack writer with sharp wit? Might Epstein be irritated that Schlesinger became the darling of café society and the publishing world as a result of his political connections made after he sold out and dropped the life of academia and a promising career writing serious history?

Photo: youtube.com

Service of No Room for Sentimentality in Business: The Plaza and Eloise

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

The Plaza Hotel is for sale again. It’s natural for things to change yet it still makes me sad to see what’s happened to this landmark which launched a trend to transform legendary NYC hotels into condos. The Chinese owner of the Waldorf Astoria has followed suit: Condo owners, not hotel guests, are the focus of both former hotels.

In an article, “The legendary Plaza Hotel is, once again, up for sale,” on curbed.com, Amy Plitt wrote what she called the short version of the hotel’s ownership history: “Let’s revisit how the hotel got here: It’s had many owners over the years, including the Hilton clan and current president Donald Trump; El-Ad purchased it in 2004, and led the conversion of more than 100 of its hotel rooms into luxury condos. In 2012, Sahara Group purchased a majority stake in the company, valuing it at about $575 million. But things spun out of control quickly for the firm and its president, Subrata Roy; after defaulting on loans, Roy was imprisoned in India, and Sahara was said to be shopping the hotel around to help get him out of jail. (WSJ says he’s been out on parole since 2016.)”

Photo: theplazany.com

A memorable childhood birthday–tea in the Plaza’s Palm Court–and subsequent visits there in its heyday were always a treat for me as were weddings and posh business and personal events in the ballroom.

Fondness for the hotel and for its most famous fictional guest, Eloise, was why I visited–and enjoyed–the “Eloise at the Museum” exhibition at the New York Historical Society [open through October 9, 2017]. It was a charming celebration of the character, books about her as well as author Kay Thompson and illustrator, Hilary Knight.

Ms. Thompson was a piece of work and would have fit well in the self-centered, cutthroat business atmosphere in which some find themselves today. According to Wikipedia, “in 1964 Thompson was burned out on Eloise; she blocked publication and took all but the first book out of print.”

Wikipedia coverage about illustrator Knight—who at 90 writes, draws and lives in Manhattan–shed additional light: “The live CBS television adaptation on Playhouse 90 (1956) with Evelyn Rudie as Eloise received such negative reviews that Kay Thompson vowed never to allow another film or TV adaptation.” She didn’t care about the financial impact on Knight that closing down the book publishing element had. In addition to lost royalties for the Eloise books–he also illustrated Eloise in Paris, at Christmastime and in Moscow–while Thompson was alive he also didn’t see a cent for the illustrations he had created for “Eloise Takes a Bawth,” which was scheduled for publication in 1964. It saw the light of day 38 years later.

Do you have memories of The Plaza Hotel? Did you read the “Eloise” books as a child and/or to children? Is the Eloise appeal to NY children only? Why do some books capture generations of children’s attention–is it the story, the illustrations or a magical combination?

Service of Essential Answers: The Christopher Award Winners Have Some

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

From Left Katie Sullivan, Patti Ann McDonald, Conor McDonald

I’ve asked the question in many posts over the last nine years of this blog: How do people get over feelings of adversity, anger, frustration, helplessness and loss? Some of the answers were peppered throughout the room this Tuesday at the 68th annual Christopher Awards by the authors, writers, producers, directors, illustrators and special award winners honored.

Was it a gloomy occasion? No. Joy, hope, support and love stared pain, disappointment and loss in the face. It truly was a stunning affair.

Nell & Matt Weber with baby Rose

One of the winners for his book “Operating on Faith,” Matt Weber, brought newborn Rose and wife Nell from Boston to celebrate while Patti Ann McDonald, widow of NYPD Detective Steven McDonald who died in January, brought her son Conor. She was given the Christopher Leadership Award. Matt’s book tells with humor how Nell helped him through a life-threatening illness months into their marriage. Conor and his girlfriend Katie Sullivan are supporting Patti Ann who is suffering with the loss of her husband. From the time he was shot and paralyzed in 1986, Detective McDonald credited Patti Ann with giving him the will to live.

Caron Levis’s book for children, “Ida, Always,” helps young ones deal with loss through a story about two polar bears who lived in the Central Park zoo. The HBO documentary “Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing,” provided an intimate look at the lives of those who lost limbs in the Boston terror attack, the physical and emotional battles they faced in the recovery process, and their unyielding efforts to reclaim their lives.

From left authors Joan Bauer, Kobi Yamada, Mike Massimino, Susan Hood, Susan Wern Comport & Caron Levis

Kathy Izard’s book, “The Hundred Story Home,” shares her journey from award-winning graphic designer to soup kitchen volunteer to developer of housing for chronically homeless men and women.

Dr. Chuck Dietzen

Mary Ellen Robinson, The Christophers and Dr. Chuck Dietzen

won two awards: The James Keller Award, named after The Christophers’ founder, recognizes individuals who are positively shaping the lives of children. He also won for his book “Pint Sized Prophets: Inspirational Moments that Taught Me We Are All Born to be Healers.” Dr. Chuck, as he likes to be called, is a pediatric rehabilitation doctor. He founded Timmy Global Health, which enlists students and medical volunteers in its mission to bring healthcare to those in need around the world. “We weren’t all born to be doctors and nurses, but we were all born to be healers,” he said. He arrived at the awards fresh from a trip to China.

This is just a sample. There were 22 winning feature films, TV/Cable programs, and books for adults and young people honored this year.

The ancient Chinese proverb—“It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”— guides The Christophers’ publishing, radio and awards programs. The 72 year old organization has lived through plenty of periods of extraordinary rancor and divisiveness and it never loses hope. Have you read books or seen films or TV/Cable programs that fit this saying?

Marathon HBO producers, writers from Left Jameka Autry, Jake Abraham, a guest, Nancy Abraham and the Christophers’ Tony Rossi

Service of Making the Best

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Photo: news.bbc

Photo: news.bbc

Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out,” is credited to three-time All-American basketball player and coach John Wooden. I’ve chosen three examples to illustrate this great quote.

Patrick Donohue

Patrick Donohue

I first heard it at The Christopher Awards last week. If there is one person who took this quote to heart it’s Patrick Donohue who said it in accepting the James Keller Award, named after the organization’s founder. His daughter’s baby nurse shook the infant so violently that she destroyed 60 percent of the rear cortex of the child’s brain. That was 10 years ago. Since then Donohue founded a research initiative as well as the International Academy of Hope—iHope—the first school for kids with brain injuries like Sarah Jane’s and other brain-based disorders. It’s in NYC and he plans to expand to other US cities. 

Father Jonathan Morris, Carol Graham, Major General Mark Graham [retired]

Father Jonathan Morris, Carol Graham, Major General Mark Graham [retired]

Carol Graham and Major General Mark Graham [retired] accepted Yochi Dreazan’s award. Dreazan was honored with a Christopher for his book, “Invisible Front.” The Grahams also illustrate the Wooden quote. The book is about how the Army treated the deaths of their sons. Jeff was hailed a hero after being killed while serving in Iraq and Kevin’s death, by suicide, was met with silence. Today the Grahams work to change the Army’s treatment of soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], to erase the stigma that surrounds those with mental illness and to remind active duty, National Guard, Reserve, veterans and family members that seeking help is a sign of strength. This summer General Graham and associates plan to convert two call centers into one which will be supported with private funding: Vetss4Warriors.com @ 855-838-8255 and Vet2Vet Talk @ 855-838-7481. The keys to their crisis prevention telephone program: Trained peers counsel and advise callers, provide referrals and follow up with them. 

Murray Liebowitz

Murray Liebowitz

Murray Liebowitz is the third example in this post. A stranger to us, we attended his memorial concert at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College last Sunday. A passionate music lover with a special appreciation for Gustav Mahler, Liebowitz paid for the concert–Mahler’s Symphony No. 9–so that it was free to the mourners as well as to the community. He made the arrangements with Bard president Leon Botstein before he died. Tributes in the program described Liebowitz as “modest,” “kind,” “direct,” “generous,” “loyal,” “disarmingly unpretentious,” “delightful,” and “warm.” But he wasn’t always successful. This Bard board member went bankrupt when his first business failed. His New Jersey egg farm thrived until supermarket chains put him out of business. He earned his fortune in his second career as a Florida real estate developer.

Botstein wrote in the program, “Murray Liebowitz was a true gentleman. He was a man who enjoyed enormous success in business but one who never let success in life go to his head. We live in an age where money and wealth appear to be valued above all other achievements. They stand uncontested as the proper measure of excellence. To be rich, it seems, means that one might actually be superior to others. This corrosive calculus is one in which Murray never believed. He was without arrogance.”

Many face personal tragedy, devastating business reversals—and even overwhelming success—and make the best of the way things work out. Can you share additional examples?

making the best of bad situation 1

Service of Grownup Books for Children

Monday, May 11th, 2015

 

MaddisFridge9781936261291

Eliza bingThe grownup subjects for books written for even the youngest children is a trend I’ve observed since I first wrote about The Christopher Awards and its winning children’s books in 2010. Forgiveness, hunger, ADHD, being an outcast orphan in Africa and dyslexia were topics for youngsters in pre-school, kindergarten and those aged six, eight and 10. These mature topics are moon miles from my beloved Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline series or Dick, Jane and Spot. The Christophers honor these hardbacks for young people along with books for adults, films and TV/cable programs and present the awards to authors, illustrators, writers, producers and directors whose work “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.”

Hope SpringsPersonal experiences inspired the authors to pick their topics whether Henry Winkler–the Fonz—who is dyslexic; Carmella Van Vleet whose daughter suffers from ADHD; Lois Brandt whose childhood friend’s refrigerator was shockingly empty and Eric Walters who founded and runs the Creation of Hope, an organization to care for orphans in Kenya’s Mbooni District. As for Nicole Lataif’s subject–forgiveness–who hasn’t struggled with this?

Are you surprised at the sophistication of these subjects for little ones? Do you think that topics covered in children’s books reflect their era? If this is so, how come some last for generations? What books you read as a child–or to your children–made the biggest impression on you?

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Preschool and up: I Forgive You (Pauline Books and Media) by Nicole Lataif, illustrated by Katy Betz ; Kindergarten and up Maddi’s Fridge (Flashlight Press) by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel; Ages 6 and up Here’s Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too! (Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin) by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver; Ages 8 and up Hope Springs (Tundra Books/Random House) by Eric Walters, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes; Ages 10 and up Eliza Bing Is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter (Holiday House) by CarmellaVan Vleet

9780448479972_large_Bookmarks_Are_People_Too!_#1I forgive you noon

Service of Reviews

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

reviewstars

Father/daughter travel gurus Arthur and Pauline Frommer warned listeners to their weekly radio show several Sundays ago about taking online reviews to heart. So many are written by friends and family of the hotel or bed and breakfast covered, they cautioned and, they claimed, some hire marketing firms to generate positive reviews.

arthurpaulinefrommerThe Frommers [photo, right] admitted that they sounded self-serving in addressing credibility when they advised listeners to read what the media had to say about a place. Pauline said that countless times she’d find a bed and breakfast that was far nicer and cheaper than the ones in an area with all the so-called great online reviews by guests.

I admit to being an article saver and when I visit a place, I’ll give a particularly toothsome sounding restaurant or tempting boutique I’ve read about a try or look-see. I have been led astray plenty by the press. In Spain, we were treated abominably by the restaurant staff in a place that got a rave review and pages of photos in a major food magazine and in Paris I went out of my way several times during different stays to visit totally nondescript, not worth a detour spots in bland neighborhoods that had been touted by a reporter writing for a major newspaper.

As a PR person my disappointment may drive me more nuts than your standard disillusioned reader as it is very difficult to get coverage in these venues for valid businesses and services. I wonder who vetted the dumps I wasted my time and sometimes my money on.

newspaper-reporterYet I agree with the Frommers. You are generally better off depending on media over “other customers” when making a choice of a product, service or place.  I’ve had clients whose businesses thrive on good reviews by tech bloggers. Their products are put through rigorous tests by knowledgeable enthusiasts and reporters. Buyers of apps or gizmos do well to check them out. Some examples: crunchgear.com, engadget.com, geardiary.com, techtrackr.com or tnerd.com.

As for movie reviews, at least you get an idea of what the subject is or if a flick is an abysmal flop even if you don’t always agree with a reviewer’s rave. We saw “Sarah’s Key” the other day with benefit of no reviews but that’s the exception. We liked the film a lot.

I love a well written, informative and entertaining book review.

Businesses have a terrible time when a nut writes an unfair review on a website or blog. It can’t be erased and appears every time potential customers Google the name of the business. I’ve known reputable, responsive business owners who tear out their hair when this happens.

Have you fallen for inaccurate reviews written by other customers or the press? Do you rely on or ignore reviews? Are reviews in some industries better than others?

 moviehouse

Service of College

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

college

To promote the children’s book winners of the 2011 Christopher Awards, I was looking for mommy bloggers who cover books on an electronic database. Of 570 mothers who post about issues relating to children, families and parenting, there were 14 identified with books. This analysis is unscientific. It could mean that bloggers didn’t check off “books” or respond in any way to the list collector’s query for details. Still, there were generous numbers of bloggers associated with new products, arts and crafts and other suitable subjects.

Nevertheless, my mind jumped to two articles I read last week: Caleb Crain’s New York Times book review, “Lost in the Meritocracy,” about Professor X’s “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” and Daniel B. Smith’s New York Magazine article, “The University Has No Clothes.”

Before I continue, I remind you that I am a volunteer director of a mentoring program for graduate students, for years have been a mentor to college and grad students and as a foundation board member I direct development for programs and scholarships for college and grad students in the communications  industry. 

Back to the articles. Crain wrote that report-card-2Professor X makes a range of points but a salient one was “What grade does one give a college student who progresses from a 6th-to a 10th-grade level?” Crain notes: “Professor X can be caustic about the euphemism and somewhat willed optimism that sometimes befog discussion of how to teach unprepared students. To relieve his and his students’ unhappiness, he proposes that employers stop demanding unnecessary degrees: a laudable suggestion, unlikely to be realized until the degree glut has dried up.”

And then there’s the cost. Wrote Crain: “In 1940, there were 1.5 million college students in America; in 2006, there were 20.5 million. In X’s opinion, a glut of degrees has led to a spurious inflation of the credentials required for many jobs. Tuitions are rising, and two-thirds of college graduates now leave school with debt, owing on average about $24,000. A four-year degree is said to increase wages about $450,000 over the course of a lifetime, but X doubts the real value of degrees further down on the hierarchy of prestige.”

In his New York Magazine article, Smith focuses on two college-educated successful men leading what he calls the “anti-college crusade.” According to Smith, James Altucher, father of two girls, a finance writer and venture capitalist thinks “higher education is nothing less than an institutionalized scam-college graduates hire only college graduates, creating a closed system that permits schools to charge exorbitant ­prices and forces students to take on crippling debt.” Smith quotes Altucher:  “‘The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That’s why they keep raising tuition.'”

college-sportsThe second anti-college crusader in Smith’s article, Peter Thiel, was the first Facebook angel and a PayPal founder. Smith wrote that he “contends that American colleges have transformed from rigorous scholarly communities into corporate-minded youth resorts, where some presidents command salaries of more than $1 million and competition centers on outdoing one another in acquiring high-end amenities (duplex-apartment dormitories, $70 million gyms).” Thiel thinks that middle class parents consider a college education as an insurance policy that ensures that their children remain in the middle class.

According to Smith, Altucher said his goal was to reduce demand and therefore tuition cost. Theil’s mission was similar, backed by a fellowship he’s funding in a program he’s calling 20 Under 20. The winners get both $100,000 each and mentorships with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. They must also stay out of college for two years.

Do you think that the pictures painted by Professor X, Altucher and Theil are dire, bleak and wrong or spot-on? Should employers require college degrees for most jobs? Do you see a connection between the exorbitant cost of college, countless students unprepared for university-level work, crippling debt resulting from four years of college and most mommy bloggers covering every topic under the sun but books?

 kids-and-books

Service of Respect of an Artist

Monday, January 10th, 2011

mark-twain

Words and their impact came into sharp focus this weekend after the mass shooting in Arizona. I’d already drafted this post.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t change my opinion in this case.

The agency once had a client who used the J M Byington & Associates, Inc. letterhead and my name as a contact to send out poorly written material. Even if he wrote splendidly this liberty would have infuriated me. That’s my name and my agency and I hadn’t sold either to him.

Together, clients and I massage copy until we are both happy and comfortable with the results. Reporters and editors can change press release copy or use excerpts or be inspired by the subject or an image. We are thrilled when they think enough about an angle, product, service or event to write or speak about it or show it.

But what Alan Gribben, in cahoots with NewSouth Books, did to Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”–changing words without his permission–was different. While legal I think it was wrong.

According to the NewSouth Books website:

“A new edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, forthcoming from NewSouth Books in mid‑February, does more than unite the companion boy books in one volume, as the author had intended. It does more even than restore a passage from the Huckleberry Finn manuscript that first appeared in Twain’s Life on the Mississippi and was subsequently cut from the work upon publication.

“In a bold move compassionately advocated by Twain scholar Dr. Alan Gribben and embraced by NewSouth, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn also replaces two hurtful epithets that appear hundreds of times in the texts with less offensive words, this intended to counter the ‘preemptive censorship’ that Dr. Gribben observes has caused these important works of literature to fall off curriculum lists nationwide.”

The most widely reported word substitution was “slave” in place of “nigger.”

I can think of no valid excuse for this edit. Such edits take place between editor and writer with the writer’s approval. Books that are made into movies are another subject altogether and not relevant to what happened here.

kids-bookToys, games, films and videos often feature age recommendations. If so moved to protect children, NewSouth Books should note on the cover an age at which readers would know or could be expected to be taught to understand that the way we speak, write and think changes over time and make clear to youngsters that although not a history book, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was first published in 1883, not 2011.

Instead of hitting the “find” key on a computer to locate every “n” word, Dr. Gibbon might have better spent his time to write a foreword, point out the usage of other words that change over time, and briefly cover how the Civil War and its aftermath may have affected Mark Twain inspiring his approach in the book.

What does Dr. Gribben think about certain ugly rap lyrics? Wonder what he would do to Anne Frank’s diary? Words are to an author what paint, watercolor, clay or wood are to an artist. Don’t they deserve the same respect?

painting

Service of Full Disclosure

Friday, July 16th, 2010

full-disclosure

In his column, The Ethicist, Randy Cohen wrote recently in The New York Times, “Your wife should err on the side of caution and not take anything of value from a supplier.” The woman supervised travel for a company and she’d won the grand raffle prize of two roundtrip tickets to Japan at an event sponsored by several airlines. There were some 1,000 guests.

matchbookIn my first job out of college I worked at Dun & Bradstreet writing credit reports. We were told that if a company we visited manufactured matchbooks not to take a single match, even to light a cigarette. That has been my guideline ever since.

Yet I think that Cohen is being harsh in this instance. He softens at the end of the column, noting to the husband who sent in the query, “At the least, she must disclose her winnings to her supervisors and get their green light before she packs her bags.” I’m comfortable with that.

Some in the media won’t let a PR person buy them so much as a cup of coffee. Others gather enough loot over years to fill a strip mall. Reporters and editors don’t have a lot of time to schmooze over lunch these days, nevertheless, just as business is done by some on a golf course, I can’t imagine how, for the price of a lunch or a coffee, anyone would sell their soul and run photos of horrible looking, poorly made or faulty goods in a new product column or run positive coverage of a lackluster ad campaign or sleazy business.

bookstarsWhat about a book or movie reviewer who is sent/given a galley or invited to preview the flick? I don’t recall reading in their reviews that they didn’t pay for the book or seat at the theatre and it doesn’t bother me. What about a beauty editor sent samples that aren’t samples but entire bottles and jars? No problem in my mind. Making up samples would cost a fortune and wouldn’t provide the same experience. Packaging–how the beauty product looks and how the dispenser works–is part of the evaluation.

Full disclosure: I send promo codes to reviewers who ask for them so they can try a client’s smartphone application and have given hundreds of yards of fabric and countless rolls of wallpaper and dinnerware and flooring to be used for newspaper or magazine new product pages or to decorate a home that a magazine photographs.

Obviously, if a company pays any of the reviewers for their assessments, they must disclose this relevant piece of information, whether they write for a blog, web site, an online or print newspaper or magazine. Special sections or advertorials are paid for by the participants and are clearly identified by publishers, usually at the top of the page.

Because attitude and service are more than half of the experience, I think that a restaurant, hotel or travel reviewer should be anonymous and pay for all his/her expenses, no exceptions. 

What about stock brokers? Should they tell you that they’ve been told to push an investment by the boss?

Where do you stand on full disclosure? Do you care?

full-disclosure2

Service of Children’s Books

Monday, May 10th, 2010

marykirbymaryellen1

Mary Nethery, [Left], Mary Ellen Robinson,

VP The Christophers & Kirby Larson. Nethery &

Larson co-authored Nubs.

I love buying book gifts, especially for children. But if I don’t have time to read or skim the hard or paperback, I won’t make the purchase. I spent far too much time, one Christmas, rejecting book after book, leaving the store empty-handed and frustrated by not being able to judge a book by its cover.

A failsafe shortcut is to find out if the book has won a Christopher Award. For a full list of this year’s winning books for young people–and the age appropriateness of each–visit the site. 

First presented in 1949, the Christopher Awards were established by Christopher founder Father James Keller to salute media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” According to the Christophers, award winners encourage audiences to see the better side of human nature and motivate artists and the general public to use their best instincts on behalf of others.

I was lucky to promote the Christopher Award winners in both adult and children book categories and took advantage of the opportunity to ask some children book authors questions I’ve had for eons.

Following are the responses:

How do you get into the head of a child or young adult reader and how do you know how to write for a certain age and reading/listening-comprehension level?

Kirby Larson, Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group, Inc.): I don’t! My job is to tell the story at hand as fully and honestly as possible. I find if I keep my focus on that task, I can engage my readers, no matter what their ages.

Mary Nethery, Nubs: With the exception of “early readers” or “hi-low” books [designed for children who are not reading at their level], there really are no age or reading/listening-comprehension level restrictions. Eve Bunting, a renowned author of children’s books, has said there’s no subject that can’t be dealt with for young children if handled in a developmentally appropriate way-she’s explored topics such as death, war, and homelessness.

The one restriction I impose on my own writing is always to offer hope to children. Anything less seems to me to be an abdication of creative and adult responsibility to our community of children.

How do books compete with the electronic gadgets and gizmos, TV and DVD distractions that fascinate children?

Kirby Larson: Until scientists invent time machines and teleporters, electronic gadgets and gizmos don’t stand a chance against books! What other media can fully transport a child to King Arthur’s court, to the moon, to a place where Wild Things rule?

I think adults may be the biggest hindrances to kids’ reading. We have a huge responsibility to let kids catch us reading, and to let them see how much we love and value it ourselves. And just think about the message that gets sent if adults actually read the same books – and chat about them – that the important kids in their lives are reading. Talk about powerful!

Mary Nethery: An even field of competition requires parents to introduce books to children early on, to gift them with that unforgettable pleasure of sitting in a lap as a book, another universe, is unveiled before their very eyes. But first things first: A great story that captures the heart must exist for each and every child and their particular taste. Diversity is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Do you hear from your readers?

Kirby Larson: I’ve heard from hundreds of readers – with my novel, Hattie Big Sky, fan mail has come from places as far away as Qatar and Lebanon, and from readers ranging in age from 11 to 94!

One of the emails that made me really smile was about my book, Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival. A first grade teacher wrote to say that her students were now “playing” the Bobbies at recess: One would be Bobbie Dog, one Bob Cat and one Bobbie’s chain!

An email about Nubs that brought me to tears came from the wife of a military officer. She wrote, “Countless times, my husband stood on the ramp in the cold, dark hours before the sun came up, waiting for a body to be put on an airplane and flown out of the country. When he got home last spring, he couldn’t watch a movie where anyone died. Nubs is more than a dog; he’s hope and life and healing. But you knew that.”

This last email, especially, reminds me of a favorite C.S. Lewis quote: “A children’s book that is only enjoyed by children is not a very good children’s book.”

Mary Nethery: Both Two Bobbies and Nubs sell to boys and girls, men and women. They’re great examples of “cross over” books.

From fans, we receive the most thoughtful, heart-tugging emails about our books, such as this one about Two Bobbies: “I wanted to write and thank you for your wonderful book . . . When my beloved pet dog, Bear, passed away unexpectedly earlier this week, my wife handed me your book and asked me to read it. I was so touched by the story, and by the kindness that those two showed to each other. Your book has helped me greatly through my grief over my pet’s death. I never thought that I-a 30 year old man-would find so much comfort and joy in a children’s book.”

That’s the secret of books for children- they’re not really just for children after all! All books are tasked with needing a plot, great characters, and something that speaks to the human condition.

tonyahegamin1Tonya Hegamin, [Photo, Center] Most Loved in All the World (Houghton Mifflin Company), illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera [left] with Monsignor Peter Flinn. Hegamin:  Yes, I have actually had mixed feedback about the book from parents and caregivers. I had a father tell me that I was wrong to have the mother “abandoning” her child. I explained that the mother is doing the most nurturing thing she can do in her circumstance–she treasures her child’s freedom above all else and is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to give her a chance. I’ve had kids love it and some who get very upset about the story and tell me they don’t want to read it again! I’m happy that it’s sparking all kinds of discussions.

How do you suggest we keep alive a reading tradition for children?

Kirby Larson: I touched on this with an earlier answer, and I second Mary’s comments. It boggles my mind that parents are letting pass away those magic moments of sitting with child-in-lap, paging through a book. Get those 3 year olds off the computer and cuddle up with them and a good book!

Mary Nethery: Ideally, every adult would embrace the concept of childhood and maintain that moment in time for each child, providing books galore at home (if they can) and liberal access to the public library which offers open arms to everyone. What we don’t value dies a natural death.

Tonya Hegamin: With my writing I try to really reach the heart of the reader.  The emotional connection between reader and writer can be very palpable and the page conveys that in a tactile manner.  I continue to write emotion-evoking books because it engages young readers to reach the heart of their other issues.  Reading those types of books keeps kids wanting more. 

What are a few of your favorite children’s books?

Kirby Larson: The book that made me want to write for children was Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, which I discovered as an adult. A Larson family favorite when our kids were small was How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen, by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Mary Nethery: I loved any book with animals that talked-didn’t care that much for reading about other kids, just animals! And, a little later on, I couldn’t get enough of Nancy Drew-I wanted to live her life, have a sports car and be a very important person!

Tonya Hegamin: I’ve always been a romantic.  One of my favorite books as a kid was Julie (Edwards) Andrews’ Mandy.  It’s about an orphan who makes herself a home.  I also loved L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle and her other books, although I never got into Green Gables.  Of course I’ve always been a fan of Virginia Hamilton– really all of her books.  I used to read a lot of Christopher Pike and Edgar Allen Poe, too.  I started reading serious poetry at 12– Rilke mostly.  I also read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in the 6th grade.  Again, anything that evoked strong emotions.

Yumi Heo, Ten Days and Nine Nights: An Adoption Story (Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House): My favorite children’s books are Across Town by Sara, The Bomb and The General by Umberto Eco and Eugenio Carmi, and all the titles by Ezra Jack Keats.

What are your favorite children’s books? Do you have a comment or question for the authors?

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