The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

11. toomey cover

GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER – 1995

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

text by Susan Wojciechowski

illustrations by P. J. Lynch

Candlewick Press: 1995

34 pp.

Age: 5+

Interests: Christmas, art, wood carving, Christian religion

Also by this illustrator: When Jessie Came Across the Sea

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Farmer Boy

9780064400039

Farmer Boy

by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Harper & Row: 1933

372 pp. – 29 chapters

Age: 6 + (read to); 7+ (independent reading)

Interests: pioneer life, farming, horses, country life, American history

Also by this author: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake

Next: Caddie Woodlawn, Sarah Plain and Talland picture books – Abraham Lincoln, Ox-Cart Man

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Why Must Grownups Take Over Children’s Stories?

Adulthood is the ever-shrinking period between childhood and old age. It is
the apparent aim of modern industrial societies to reduce this period to a
minimum.  – Thomas Szasz, author, professor of psychiatry (1920-2012)

There is a trend of epic proportions out there – more like a tsunami, really – in which every square inch of children’s culture (books, shows, characters, merchandise) is being invaded by adult consumers… resulting in the products being warped and twisted to serve this new demographic.

How did this come about? Is it because grownups just won’t grow up? Is it a sign of total freedom that adults are able to remain child-like their entire lives, or a sign of arrested development?

A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to
be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that
there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks
humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in
this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and
charity.    -Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat and writer (1884-1962)

At the same time “age creep” is noted in the young (ie. kids always want to consume media that is aimed at kids older than themselves), there is a definite “age creep” going in the opposite direction. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem – there’s nothing wrong with adults reading kids books for entertainment – except for the fact that the content creators respond by altering their content to pursue this mature audience, thus rendering the material less fit for the young, the intended audience in the first place.

I’ve often heard the advice that the best children’s stories should also entertain their parents. Now if by that you mean that the story should be crafted well enough to stand up to the scrutiny of a grownup, fine. However too often it’s used as a rather lame excuse to cram every children’s movie full of cultural in-jokes, sly sexual innuendo and ramped up thrills and violence, just to keep the parents fully entertained. Who are you trying to entertain here, and at whose expense?

It’s natural that people retain a fondness for the characters and stories of their youth. But just because there are a lot of grown men out there who have always been Spiderman fans, that doesn’t mean that Spiderman movies should now be made only for adult audiences – too violent, dark and frightening by far for the 6- or 7-year-olds of today.

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The 6 and 7 year olds of yesteryear had mild Spiderman comic books and that abysmal Saturday morning cartoon (when a 7-year-old notices that backgrounds are endlessly recycled you know you are cutting too many corners). Today’s 6- and 7-year-olds have had all their superheroes snatched out of their grasp – unless they can grit their teeth and sit through the hair-raising, gruesome, cynical and sexed up superhero movies of today.

Even the mildest preschool fare is being co-opted by adults with, apparently, way too much time on their hands. Witness the phenomena of “bronies”, or grownups (mostly male) who are rabid fans of the My Little Pony franchise. Sounds like a satirical story from the Onion, but it is absolutely true.

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I just ran into another enclave of adult fans of kid-culture when I was searching for images of the Disney princesses. I was interested in body image, and how the designs of the princesses have changed over the years (bust-waist-hip proportions shifting from modest Snow White to buxom Ariel). In the process I came across the Wikia site for Disney Princesses and scrolled in disbelief through the text and subsequent discussion. Included are discussions on the rules for becoming an official Disney Princess – should Mulan and Pocahontas really be included? Isn’t Belle technically more of a queen than a princess? What are the ages of each princess? Does Mulan’s new dress totally not suit her? What do you think of the Princesses’ new sparkly dresses? Which facial characteristics does each princess inherit from their mothers vs. fathers? When will Merida be included in the official lineup? And more importantly, what will she be wearing??!!

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What kind of world do we live in when news that Anna and Elsa (from an as-yet-unreleased movie) will soon ‘become’ Disney Princesses elicits the following comment from someone older than, say, 8 years old:

OMG !!!!!! SO AWESOME THANKS!!! NOW IM EXCITED TO DEATH!!!

There is a lot of talk these days about how huge the market for children’s products is. This is usually seen as proof that kids today are catered to like little emperors, and have enormous spending power. It’s true that kids acquire more ‘stuff’ than they did in past generations – don’t we all? – but I think the sales figures are skewed by the amount of ostensibly child-oriented merchandise actually being aimed at teens and young adults.

Hello Kitty anyone? What looks like a franchise for 3-year-old girls is actually churning out products like cell phone covers, makeup cases, computer/iPhone/iPad accessories, car accessories, etc for kitsch-savvy teens and adults. So postmodern!

And while grown women are squealing over their new Hello Kitty toaster or bronies are debating the colours of their My Little Pony action figures, the superhero franchises are becoming ever more disturbing and violent.

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Why the constant push to be “edgier”? Why is the roll-out of a “darker” Batman a development to be cheered? Because that’s what grownups want to see. And grownups don’t seem to have much interest in letting kids keep their childhood heroes to themselves.

Black Ships Before Troy

GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER -1993

Black Ships Before Troy

Rosemary Sutcliff, text

Alan Lee, illustrations

Frances Lincoln Limited: 1993

125 pages, 19 chapters

Age: 8+ (read to) ; 10+ (independent reading)

Interests: Greek history and mythology, war, romance, ethical dilemmas

Next: Sutcliffe’s The Wanderings of Odysseus, D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

Also by this author: many historical fiction novels for young people, including The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles (3 books about the Romans in Britain, including Carnegie winner The Lantern Bearers), Warrior Scarlet (about life in the Bronze Age), Tristan and Iseult, The Shining Company (medieval Britain)

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The Jolly Christmas Postman

 

Cover of "The Jolly Christmas Postman"

GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER – 1991

The Jolly Christmas Postman

text by Allan Ahlberg

illustrations by Janet Ahlberg

Little, Brown and Company: 1991

32 pages

Age: 4+

Interests: mail, Christmas, nursery rhymes

Also by these author/illustrators: The Jolly Postman (or Other People’s Letters), The Jolly Pocket Postman, Each Peach Pear Plum, Burglar Bill

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Top App Pick: DIY for Infectious Creativity

Mind-numbing time-waster games may seem to rule the world of apps, but we’ve been discovering other more productive things to do with our beloved devices…

DIY

DIY : Build. Make. Hack. Grow.

Number one with a bullet! We just love DIY. It’s an app but you don’t have to have an iPhone or iPad because they also have a fully functional website as well. Your child registers and fulfills projects (uploading photos of their work) to earn virtual skills badges. You can also watch tutorial videos, or just browse and look at other kids’ projects. Privacy is protected, kids are not supposed to use their real names or upload photos of themselves – they can pick their own animal avatar for their account (see below). As a parent, you register as well, so every time they upload you get a notification via email.

DIY-app

The Skill Badges are varied and intriguing. Animator, Astronomer, Baker, Beekeeper, Bike Mechanic, Biologist are just the first few on the lengthy list. The projects under each topic are well thought out – there are things that kids as young as 5 or 6 can do, but also more complex ones that should challenge teenagers.

DIY-Skill-Badges

DIY is entirely free*, and is mediated by some really great people. They post videos of their work too, the animation and special effects ones I’ve watched are amazing. They also leave encouraging comments from time to time on the kids’ projects, which was really exciting for my daughter.

(Another aspect I really liked was that the kids comment on each other’s work, and their comments are always complimentary and sweet. I don’t know whether the comments are heavily moderated or kids are just much nicer than grownups, but it’s a nice change from the awful trolling that so-called adults engage in.)

“Social networks today are about what you like, not what you do,” said Isaiah Saxon, a DIY founder and its Chief Creative Officer. “We want to create an experience for children that’s about what you make, and in turn makes these skills heroic.” (from New York Times article by Nick Bilton)

And just when I thought I couldn’t love them any more, they post a new project on how to build a Solar Theremin! These people are way too cool.

There’s something to interest everyone at DIY. My daughter’s been coming back to it again and again over the last three months: from snow forts to sewing to stop-motion animation to making stew. DIY has become my #1 suggestion for what to do on rainy days – I can’t recommend it highly enough!

* DIY is currently free, but in the New York Times interview the founders say they might start charging a small fee to join in the future


Holes (2003)

Holes

Holes

released: 2003

rated: PG for violence, mild language and some thematic elements

length: 117 min.

age: 10+

scary factor: suspenseful scenes with rattlesnake, deadly lizards – nothing a 10 yr old couldn’t handle

violence: two boys fight; one boy whacks a provoking guard in the head with his shovel, knocking him out; in flashback a man is shot (in extreme wide shot – no closeups); Kate then shoots the sheriff in revenge; guards in work camp have guns, but only a lizard is actually shot

language: authentic but rather mild, for teenage boys: damn, hell, crap, Oh, my God… that kind of thing. (According to imdb.com there is one “jackass” but I didn’t even notice it.)

other: flashbacks depict scenes of racial hatred (burning down the school) and vague threat of sexual violence (drunken sheriff tries to force Kate to kiss him)

interests: mystery, desert, prison work camps, bad luck, family history, curses, cowboys, crime and punishment, buried treasure

next: read the book if you haven’t! Holes by Louis Sachar

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The Little White Horse

little-white-horse-elizabeth-goudge-paperback-cover-art

WINNER OF THE CARNEGIE MEDAL – 1946

The Little White Horse

by Elizabeth Goudge

University of London Press: 1946

238 pages – 12 chapters

Age: 7 (read to); 9 (independent reading)

Interests: magic, mystery, animals, castles, princesses, England, aristocracy, religion, family history, romance

NB: This book was adapted into a 1994 BBC series entitled Moonacre and a 2009 movie The Secret of Moonacre.

Next: The Secret Garden or A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Also by this author: Island Magic

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.