Friday, June 26, 2009

Little Golden Book Art on Tour

The Little Golden Books were launched in October 1942, soon after America's entry into World War II when publishers like Simon and Schuster needed cheap and quick books that could inspire a devoted following ("develop a brand," we might say today). The series launched with twelve original titles and, as I recall the history, took off immediately. Librarians and arbiters of high culture for children's literature bemoaned the things, but parents and kids ate them up. At 25¢ a title, one could hardly resist them. For anyone really interested in the history of the books, their initial controversy, and subsequent imitators in the publishing industry, I recommend Leonard Marcus's Minders of Make Believe, published last year, which goes into great detail about their creator Georges Duplaix and all of those things (here's a New York Times review). Eventually those cultural gatekeepers had to acquiesce to public opinion and allow the books on their shelves, although often begrudgingly--particularly after Simon and Schuster struck a deal with the Walt Disney Company. (Marketing movies in children's literature? The Philistines had entered the temple!)

But what these folks began to realize and what the children had known all along was that, despite their bargain price, low-quality binding, and rapid publication, the Little Golden Books were really pretty amazing. The stories and the artwork were occasionally ephemeral but quite often top-notch. And soon people realized that some of the age's best authors and illustrators were putting out some of their best work under the label, people like Garth Williams, Elizabeth Orton Jones, Gustaf Tenggren, J. P. Miller, Mel Crawford, Feodor Rojankovsky, Tibor Gergely, Martin Provensen, Eloise Wilkin, Mary Blair, Hilary Knight, and Richard Scarry. These illustrators were putting out stuff that looked like this:

I have no recollection of ever reading this last title, with illustrations by Tibor Gergely. But I firmly recall strong feelings of attachment to this little tugboat; whenever I thought of him I felt incredibly important and belonging, to the point that for years I thought the Mormon children's song "Give, Said the Little Stream" was about him.

Well, the books turned 65 a few years ago, and the good folks at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in Abeline, Texas put together a traveling exhibition of much of the original artwork. It's been touring around the country since then--it's already had its stay at the CMOM here in New York--and may soon be coming near you because it's not just hitting the major cities. In my traditional form, then, here are some links that can give further information:

First of all, the actual web page for the exhibition on the NCCIL website. The site is great for electronic samples of the artwork (not what I have above, but from inside the books) and a brief description of what the exhibit entails, plus a full schedule through January 2012. 

Right now it's housed at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, through September 7. Here's the news release (pdf) from that institution. 

Here, for some more background info, is the Little Golden Books site, in honor of their 2007 anniversary. (They're currently owned by Random House.) There's lots of information as well as a newsletter and games and printables for the youngsters.

There are also many titles for sale there, which reminds me that other websites are resources for serious collectors, like this one and this one

Try to get to the exhibit if it comes near you, and at any rate try revisiting these titles with your kids. We just read The Monster at the End of This Book with Loretta and she loved it. We have about five books on our shelves, but just glancing at the list of titles I realize how many there are that I loved as a child that I'd like to introduce her to. Much of the books' marketing today relies on this nostalgia factor, but I'm aware of it and still think they're worth showing my daughter. A good book, after all, is always golden.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Donnell Library Part 3

Although I'm not the foremost expert and I live as far away in Manhattan as you can, I have been able to write twice in the past year about the saga of the closing of the Donnell Library in midtown. In July I mentioned that the library, which is located right across the street from the Museum of Modern Art (which was recently extensively remodeled), was slated for closure to make way for a new hotel; the majority of its holdings, including the New York Public Library's main film/video and children's collections (with the original Winnie-the-Pooh dolls), would be moving to other branches, while the NYPL would be maintaining a small general collection on the ground floor of the hotel. Specifically for our purposes, the children's material has returned back to its original location in the main library on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue, where it was housed for decades before the Donnell's construction. 

Then this April I gave a quick update: the library closed on schedule, but with the recession gutting the real estate and tourism industries in New York City the NYPL's deal with the hotel fell through and the building is now standing essentially vacant. Many residents were upset when the library was slated for replacement, but now that it's simply been eliminated with no financial restitution for the NYPL or potential for even a small branch on 53rd Street, there are quite a few New Yorkers who are up in arms. 

So here for example we see a protester at the opening of the new Grand Central branch on April 29, even though it was supposed to alleviate some of the displeasure over the Donnell's closing. Now people have begun to coalesce together to advocate city and state officials to refurbish and reopen the Donnell. 

Now I am not an expert by any means--I've been focusing all my "political" spare time advocating for better school zoning and gifted and talented options for District 6 with the NYC Department of Education--but I do have some links and cursory info that can point people in the right direction if they want to get involved, or delve into the library's perspective in all this. This comes from Helen Chirivas, one of the chief organizers--so I'd like to thank her for contacting me and for her work despite my inability to be more involved myself. So here it is:

It's no secret that libraries across the country are in crisis as municipal governments run out of funds. I've written very briefly about what's going on in Philadelphia, for instance, but New York is no different. So the blog/site Save NYPL is written by an anonymous librarian with a brief insider perspective about what's going on inside the library, especially the extreme measures that are taking place to keep the entire system above water. This is the reality with which activists and administrators will have to work. And it puts the Donnell in the larger context of keeping the extant branches open six days a week, etc. (It appears this blog may have had more entries in the past that the poster has since deleted, though I'm not sure about that.)

To complement that, however, here is a pdf of a presentation given about the city's One Library Plan last March (2008). It also shows the overall strategy of the library, at least at the beginning of the recession. (I'm most concerned--and intrigued--by the proposed hub library in northern Manhattan; that sounds like a great idea for us northerners as long as it doesn't come at the expense of any existing branches. The Inwood branch, where I spent about forty minutes today with my daughter, is fantastic and essential for this neighborhood.)

Also from last year is this article from the New York Times blog about the library's closing; given that it's now old news it's mostly interesting for the comments included afterwards showing the range of emotions New Yorkers are having over the closing. 

Bringing us much more up to date is a recent article in Library Journal by Norman Oder. It has good information on the collapsed deal and is also well linked to other sources.

The deal with Orient Express Hotels is not going to go through--they're closing hotels throughout the world just to stay in the black. It makes more sense for the city to request the NYPL to spend a few million dollars to refurbish the Donnell (technically it's a private nonprofit but I'm told it's 92% funded by the city). To do that people need to contact their city council representatives, state representatives (if they ever get back to work), Manhattan borough officials, Mayor's office, and even national congressmen and senators; doing so en masse will carry more weight, and by that I mean individual emails sent by dozens to hundreds of people rather than all of them just attaching their names to a petition. Helen Chirivas' group can help coordinate that, however.  You can look for a website soon, but in the meantime the group can be contacted at 

Librarians and patrons--and lawmakers--should be on the same side on this issue. No one wants to see libraries disappear or diminish services; it's just a matter of figuring out how to best serve the city while functioning with reduced resources. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kids and Junk Food - Part 3

In October I wrote about the symbiosis, if that's the right word, between mascots and children's licensed characters and junk food. The quick version is that although many licensors are insisting their characters be used for healthy food there are quite a few, to say the least, that have their characters promote candy, presweetened items, Happy Meals, and so on and so forth.

So a couple weeks ago I followed that up linking to a story about how more characters are indeed being used for healthy food marketing; I put up a picture of Popeye, he being the pinnacle of cartoon characters and vegetables getting along (in the marketplace as well as on the screen).

So now it's come to this: Burger King is selling apples (Granny Smiths) cut in the shape of French fries. Is it a refreshing example showing how fast food chains are coming of age and offering healthier fare for kids? Or, given the packaging, is it a clever ploy to get kids with health-conscious parents in there so that it's just a quick switch to substitute fried potato for apple? (And just how fresh are they? Remember they're harvested in the fall...)

I don't eat at hamburger chains very often--once or twice a year (more when I live near a Carl's Jr.)--so I was unaware of these, but I became aware of them in a New York Times article yesterday by Tara Parker-Pope in which she tracks some of the recent trends toward healthy food. It's definitely worth a look. I was wondering just how fulfilling those apple fries could be (no skins?), so I found some consumer reviews. But do we have to call them apple fries? They're not fried, they're sliced. Do the marketing folks have too much of an aversion to "apple slices"?

Anyhoo, the entire trend comes in the wake of the largest study ever conducted on the health consequences of red meat. The National Cancer Institute recently studied data from a 1995 AARP survey of meat-eating habits and followed up on the participants' health today, primarily looking at incidents of cancer, of course, and heart disease. The results are pretty impressively stacked against beef: in short, the high meat eaters are at much greater risk for a whole slew of diseases than moderate consumers. This month's Nutrition Action Healthletter has it as the cover story, but it's not online (you can see the table of contents); the accompanying editorial by Michael Jacobson, the man who literally invented the term "junk food," deals with the health and environmental consequences of beef and is online there as a pdf. Back on March 24, however, the Times ran a story you can read about the study's findings, i.e. "Eating Meat May Increase Risk of Early Death." 

To piggyback off of Jacobson, here's a Mother Jones article about cows and global warming. It's "Diet for a Warm Planet" from the Nov./Dec. issue; there are lots of such reports, articles, and books out there.

As a children's advocate of sorts (I suppose) I applaud Congress passing stricter regulations against tobacco this week. Now let's reorganize all the myriad organizations overseeing livestock and agriculture and give the FDA some real teeth to enforce recalls, inspect processing plants, etc., and then do what needs to be done to get beef consumption down in this country. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

KidsFilmFest in New York

We are currently halfway through this year’s KidsFilmFest, so if you like me missed last week’s screening at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema you can still attend this Sunday, with screenings at 2 and 4, at the (new) New Museum in downtown Manhattan at 235 Bowery. It’s $10 at the door for adults and free for kids under 18.

I do wish that festival organizers would stop programming on Sundays, but that’s the way of the world most of the time. For those families for whom Sunday is the Sabbath, check out the First Saturdays program at the New Museum. The first Saturday of every month there are artistic workshops and screenings of past years’ films, which look really fun.

The line-up for this year’s festival looks great. It’s mostly animation, though not all; take a look at the complete program, with some teaser clips included. I haven’t seen any of these films, but my top recommendation has to be the new film by my friend Annie Poon, entitled Puppy’s Super Delicious Valentines Day Biscuits.

Here are some images from some of the other films. I’m thrilled by the apparent variety in medium and content. It looks like a wide-ranging bunch, fit for older kids and most of the younger ones as well.

So if the recession will let you spare ten bucks, come to the New Museum this Sunday or at least one of the upcoming Saturdays. Thanks to the Brooklyn International Film Festival for keeping this tradition alive.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What's Next for Nintendo?

I'm not known as a video game expert. I grew up on Atari and Nintendo and since the mid-90s have only occasionally played Crash Bandicoot on other people's PlayStations. But even though sales are down the gaming industry is weathering the recession well, and it's long made more money than films, for instance. So here are some recent items about the future of the industry, specifically an interview with Nintendo's COO Reggie Fils-Aime. It was conducted by Daniel Terdiman and was published in CNET News last Friday. There's a lot of material of Fils-Aime's predictions for the future of the entire industry, not just Nintendo. 

Also, today the Times (that's the UK one, not the New York Times) ran an interview with CEO Satoru Iwata. 

Fils-Aime's talk of future gaming systems got me thinking about the next generation of PlayStation, so after an admittedly cursory search the best thing I found was a short notice from GamePro saying not to expect it until next year, although that is evidently sooner than some analysts had thought.

Finally, a bit of news about that former Most Recognizable Face of Nintendo (at least to former Nintendo Power readers like myself):

Yes, it's Howard Phillips of "Howard and Nestor" fame. (Yes, that is Nestor's eyeball in the corner--I still think of him every time I can't find my keys. For those who don't recall him, he was the screw-up, his name coming from the Nintendo Entertainment System.) Anyway, in March GameSpot reported that Phillips, who left Nintendo in 1991 (wasn't I still reading Nintendo Power in '91?), has joined Chair Entertainment Group in my own native Utah--103 W. Center St. in Provo, for anyone who's keeping track. They're not entirely new, but this bodes well for their increased presence. 

And the ad on the side of that article reminds me that for a whole year now all the buzz seems to have been about the forthcoming Ghostbusters game...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Toy Story 3 Trailer Available

I'm back!--hopefully with a degree of frequency. For those interested in my own little self, work has been going well; I've published three academic articles on Mormon film and have been working heavily on two kids' shows, one for preschoolers based out of Dublin--for which I received my first bible, meaning the first bible I wrote, today--and one for older kids based in Green Bay. Plus more submissions for Handy Manny and myriad other potential projects, including some new sample scripts up on my website--look for my sample WordGirl (which just got renewed for a third season this week--way to go, Soup2Nuts) up in a few days.

As for Toy Story, it's not a proper trailer, more of a teaser just to get folks back into the mindset of the first two films. Here's a link to it on YouTube. The film's scheduled for release on June 18, 2010, but I guess it's not too soon to whet our appetites. I remember watching Toy Story 2 on Christmas Eve on my honeymoon in 1999, so it's about time to round out the trilogy. The only other film I'd rather see is Babe 3. If George Miller is looking for a writer...