deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
Four days ago, I read the Kirkus review of Lara Avery's The Memory Book after seeing it linked on the Kirkus Best YA of 2016 list. I promptly placed a library hold.

One day ago, my hold came in at the library and I read this novel from the point of view of a teenager diagnosed with Neimann-Pick type C, a rare lysosomal storage disease which causes physical and cognitive degenerative symptoms.

Two years and two days ago, my sister died of Late Onset Tay-Sachs disease, a rare, adolescent-onset lysosomal storage disease which causes physical and cognitive degenerative symptoms.

So. That happened.


Some spoilers behind cut, warned for. )

In conclusion: Fuck Tay-Sachs. And Neimann-Pick, and Gaucher, and this whole shitty family, and all the rest of the rare diseases.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I spent two and a half hours yesterday in the ophthalmologist's waiting room with dilated eyes, like you do, so I ended up listening to several podcasts. And by pure serendipity, I had queued up two consecutive literature episodes, each with a children'sand YA lit focus, of non-literature podcasts.

First came the "Why Are Samosas In Every Single Book?" episode of the BuzzFeed podcast, See Something Say Something. (Accompanying recommended book list for See Something Say Something.)

Youth Lit authors Hena Khan and Sara Farizan talk about writing young Pakistani and Iranian characters, and wonder why every single book set in South Asia includes samosas. Plus, they give Ahmed some writing advice and read from their own work. Hena shares an excerpt from her forthcoming novel "Amina's Voice," and Sara reads from "Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel".

Then, by sheer coincidence, my phone decided to entertain me in the eyewatering, glaring boredom of the doctor's office with another BuzzFeed podcast: Another Round. The episode, "All Stars: Lit is Lit," isn't explicitly a children's lit episode. But it does feature Jacqueline Woodson, Marley Dias of #1000BlackGirlBooks, and asked a slew of adults when they first saw themselves in books, which led to a very children's and YA lit-centric conversation. (Accompanying recommended book list for Another Round.)

This week, you’ll hear from past guests - prolific writers & avid readers - answering questions ranging from, “When was the first time you saw yourself represented in literature?” to “Why are so many books about white boys and their dogs?" You'll hear from Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chirlane McCray, Jacqueline Woodson, Saeed Jones, Jeff Chang, and more. #protip: this is a great episode to suggest to a friend who's new to the show!
Both these episodes were fabulous: interesting, funny, and informative. They also gave me thinky thoughts about representation which I'll put in a second post because they got lengthy.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Those of you who subscribe to the childlit mailing list will understand why this clip has been looping endlessly through my head for the last day.


(Transcript)

Those of you who don't can extrapolate.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
I've updated the online reading list for my Fantasy and Science Fiction class at the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College.

Some random statistics might be interesting. I kept track of them for my own purposes, and then I had too much fun with pivot tables, so I'm sharing some of my results. Keep in mind these are often guesses on my part, because I only needed rough numbers, and I could be wrong.Many stats! )
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
first she had on her own checkered cap, then a bunch of gray caps, then a bunch of brown caps, then a bunch of blue caps, and on the very top a bunch of red caps.

Apologies to Esphyr Slobodkina


(For those more in the loop of
  1. obscure fairy lore or
  2. Dungeons & Dragons baddies based on obscure fairy lore than on
  3. 76 year old picture books
the allusion was to me being a person who chooses to wear many hats. Any implication of being beleaguered by monkeys is purely coincidental.)

After several happy years at Safari Books Online working with Python, I'm moving on to other projects. For now, I'm moving on to a variety of open source projects. I hope to have the chance to talk about the bigger ones soon. As for the smaller ones, well. Expect pull requests from me soon!

Seriously, though. I'm trying to talk myself out of adding (imagine Allie Brosh-style self-insert here) Fix All the Accessibility Bugs! to my todo list. That seems like a Poor Life Choice.

Much love to all my Safari Co-Workers who've been mentors in my journey into Python Infested Waters. I'm sure I'll see most of you in my new spaces as well. Liza will be sad that I'm looking forward to having time for Perl projects again -- though probably happy to know that I'm a convert to the Python culture 100%, if only partially to Python-as-language. (You'll pry regexes out of my cold dead fingers, Liza. Well, pretty easily; you've seen my fingers. But out of my metaphorical fingers.)

W3C work isn't going away, especially not since my W3C colleagues have been making noises about increasing their demands on my time, you know who you are. And there's likely to be more children's and YA lit in my life soon, as well! More details will be forthcoming if that happens.


Further up and further in!
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
One hugely important outgrowths of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement has been the understanding the diversity in books requires diversity in authors and illustrators, in the publishing industry, and yes, among reviewers. Malinda Lo compiled her four-part Tumblr essay into "Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews" (February 18, 2015), and Jason Lee of Lee & Low Books assembled "The Diversity Baseline Survey" for publishing houses and review journals. A few months ago, School Library Journal released their numbers for race (though oddly not disability or sexuality and gender identity) with Kathy Ishizuka's "Survey Reveals Demographic of SLJ Reviewers (April 27, 2015). Now my editor, Vicky Smith, has released the numbers for Kirkus Reviews.

I know Vicky was working on diversifying the KR review pool for a while before Malinda made her much needed call, which might be part of why KR's numbers, pathetic though they may be as representative of the industry, are less bad than one might expect. I will say that Vicky has never shut me down or edited me out when I've critiqued a text on social justice grounds: race or gender, queerness or disability, fatphobia or class. She asks me to provide page references and source quotations, and occasionally asks me if changes she's learned will appear in the final version of the book (rather than the advanced review copy) will change my assessment. The only person who second-guesses my race or gender analysis is me; years after a review I will sometimes wonder if I've been too harsh (oy, that one book still haunts me) or if I didn't shine enough of a spotlight on something that needed the right attention.

If you want to know why it's legit for a trade reviewer to comment on ideological grounds, ask and I'll make that post. There's a long answer, but the short version is readers want to know. In the case of children's and YA books, teachers and librarians especially want to know.

Anyway, here are a couple of pieces by Vicky:From the latter:
We asked our 110 reviewers to answer four questions: What race do you identify as? What gender? What sexual orientation? Do you have a disability? In just three days, I received 79 responses, and I can't say I'm terribly surprised by the overall results. We are mostly white: 77 percent. We are mostly straight: 76 percent. We are mostly able-bodied and -minded: 81 percent. And—only in children's books, folks—we are overwhelmingly female: 86 percent.


I'm in some of those groups and not others (white, cis, female; queer, disabled). And I fully support the goal to continue diversifying KR, reviewing, and the entire field.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
Let me talk briefly about one of the many reasons I love Kirkus Reviews and my editor.

I've reviewed for many journals over the years, but Kirkus is the only one I've stuck with. Kirkus is also one of the only two major review journals with anonymous reviews. Kirkus claims to have an editorial voice, which is why the unsigned reviews, but while the Children's and YA Editor, Vicky Smith regularly grooms my words, she almost never modifies the thurst of the content without discussing it with me first. Sometimes she asks me for a clarification, a polish, or -- if I've crossed the line from the necessary honesty of which Kirkus reviewers are proud, to the brutality of which we're sometimes accused -- textual support to justify a surfeit of negativity. Sometimes she gives me context I didn't have (such as a publisher's indication they've changed some wording) and asks me to rewrite. Maybe once or twice in my years at Kirkus, at most, she's simply disagreed with me and rewritten in that light.

All of which is far more than she need do, because I am a writer-for-hire both legally and artistically, and while I craft reviews of which I'm proud, my job is to create reviews in the Kirkus editorial voice.

Years ago, I reviewed for another source which did have the reviewers sign the reviews. Each of those reviews was signed with my name. And every one of those reviews was edited extensively. Those edits were comprehensive in word, tone, and thrust, sometimes completely changing my judgement and analysis. As one point I wrote to the journal asking for more feedback about what they wanted me to be writing in the first place, explaining that I felt uncomfortable having my name on "work which has been so greatly modified from my original as to be scarcely recognizable," which was putting it mildly. They misunderstood, explaining they were grateful to get the sense of the reviewers' opinions, even on reviews they just then rewrote.

I began to get very uncomfortable when I realized how often they were mellowing out my negative reviews (or flat out making them positive), which happened most frequently when I complained about racial stereotypes in books. Tonight, I happened across one such review from many years ago. It was one of the only reviews I ever wrote where they kept the word "stereotype," though they made the assessment of the book much more positive than I did. I assume they kept the word because I provided textual support: six quotations, including awful representation of Native Americans, East Asians, and indigenous South Americans. One of those quotations was a massive othering of the protagonist of color starting from the book's opening pages, while several others were repulsive depictions of a non-Western country's everyday elements as being nasty, superstious, and like unto gothic horror.

Eventually I realized that I was simply unwilling to have my name on the reviews as they were rewritten. Honestly, there was a part of my brain that said "if Debbie Reese critiques something said under my name, am I willing to stand behind it?" [1]

So here's why I love Kirkus:
  • If I can provide textual support for an assessment, my editor has my back.
  • Vicky has never once suggested I'm too sensitive to representation issues in fiction; she's only asked me for textual support.
  • If the judgement is changed in a review, she usually tells me why and I trust her decisions.
  • She's asked me for a second opinion when she wanted a confirmation on a review that mentions a group I'm a part of, and I assume she does it with reviews I write as well, which adds to my confidence.
  • My name's not on the reviews anyway, woohoo


In short, Kirkus++.




[1] I second-guess my reviews all the time. I still regret reviews in which I was, in retrospect, overly concerned with a social justice analysis which was inappropriate for the length of the review and the depth of the problem. I also regret reviews in which I let deeply problematic elements of a book slide. It's a perennial balancing act. To anyone who thinks reviewers shouldn't address social justice concerns in their reviews, I obviously think you're profoundly mistaken, and I can write about that later if anyone wants, but that's another story for another post.

I also second-guess my reviews for other reasons. Was I too kind to a bland waste of paper? Was I overly influenced by an author's fame? Did I conflate my taste with quality (in either direction)? Did I ignore the value a book would serve to its readers despite all its problems? Do I need to stop reviewing when I'm battling migraine aura? That's why I recommend trusting more than one professional review source, especially if you're buying on a budget for a collection (eg librarians, teachers). Personally I recommend Kirkus and PW, but YMMV.

[back]
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
It's really quite impressive how many conversations between Kirkus reviewers about books end with one of us asking, Why is everyone so racist? :(
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
This is enough of a paper topic that someone's probably already done the research, but here's a hypothesis:

One of the reasons I so often have to hold myself back from describing YA realism novels as "modernist" or even "existentialist," is that some of the core elements of both -- subjectivity, disorientation, confusion, and chaos in a seemingly absurd world, all as the ultimate, horrifying breakage which must be solved by the central character -- provide a very sensible thematic structure for the way the West defines adolescence.

Man, modernism as an adolescent worldview. Of course I would think that; I'm a post-modernist at heart.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Free Government Infomation's Best. Titles. Ever. is back! It's now a tumblr, it's hilarious as ever, and it's managed by the amazing Aimee. Come for the lulz, stay for the muskrat meat. Thanks, GPO and Pueblo, Colarado.

This mab of the London Tube is rendered entirely in CSS! It's hasn't taken advantage of that for accessibility, but it'd be easy: a positioned off-screen header before each line, some text to announce junctions of two lines.

In response to "Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people":

Christopher Myers: "The Apartheid of Children’s Literature" in the NYT.

The mission statements of major publishers are littered with intentions, with their commitments to diversity, to imagination, to multiculturalism, ostensibly to create opportunities for children to learn about and understand their importance in their respective worlds. During my years of making children’s books, I’ve heard editors and publishers bemoan the dismal statistics, and promote this or that program that demonstrates their company’s “commitment to diversity.” With so much reassurance, it is hard to point fingers, but there are numbers and truths that stand in stark contrast to the reassurances.


And père. Walter Dean Myers: Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?

Simple racism, I thought. On reflection, though, I understood that I was wrong. It was racism, but not simple racism. My white co-worker had simply never encountered a black chemist before. Or a black engineer. Or a black doctor. I realized that we hired people not so much on their résumés, but rather on our preconceived notions of what the successful candidate should be like. And where was my boss going to get the notion that a chemist should be black?



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