The Golden Hour by Maiya Williams

The Golden Hour was a great page-turner. I started it one night and was halfway through by about 2/3am. I really like time travel and, while the French Revolution isn’t an era of history that I love exploring, Maiya Williams made me able to enjoy it. There was something a bit old school in the style of adventure, very Edward Eager, whose Magic series books I read as a child, involving magic and time.

In the book, Rowan Popplewell and his sister visit their great aunts in a small (fictional) town in Maine. Their mother died a year ago and it’s been rough going. Nina, the sister, doesn’t speak and no longer plays the piano. While there, they meet up with twins, Xavier and Xanthe, who are black (!!!) and the four of them adventure to the local creepy hotel, where Xavier swears he saw ghosts. The aunts, the mysterious characters they are—with their shining new “antiques”—slyly encourage Rowan to visit the hotel, despite his reservations. The hotel turns out to be a portal. Otto, the concierge, doesn’t book stays, he books trips to anywhere in the past, as long as it’s the same day you’re traveling. But you can only travel twice a day, at Golden Hour, the time when the sun is setting and everything is cloaked in golden light, or the sunrise equivalent, Silver Hour. What fun! Rowan is hesitant to go, but Nina, missing her mother and finally breaking out of her shell of depression a little bit, skips off to the hotel in the middle of the night. Rowan thinks he knows where she went, the Enlightenment. Except he got the years wrong and he and Xanthe and Xavier head off to The French Revolution!

They meet a whole host of fictional and historical characters, including Marie Antoinette and Louse XVI. They search all over Paris looking for Nina, getting involved in the Revolution along the way. They realize she’s not even there, but not before making lots of very important people very angry. They skip a few years in the future (too many people trying to visit the French Revolution causes a ripple in time) to their execution. The aunts come to save the day, allowing Rowan, Xanthe and Xavier to escape and land back in the present, only for Rowan to realize where in the past Nina went. NYC 1990. Right before Rowan was born and her parents were happy and alive. She intended to stay with them, to get an extra 14 years with her mother, but Rowan convinces her that it’s not good to live in the past. Together, they can overcome their grief and live in the future.

It’s a sweet story with fun time travel antics. I am, of course, glad that there are two black sidekicks (though I must admit, when I first started the story, I knew there were black characters, but didn’t know they were sidekicks and so I thought Rowan and Nina were black. But slowly the description told me otherwise. And then we met the twins and I realized what was happening). They’re super smart, charismatic and funny, and Rowan has a crush on Xanthe.

Cover of

Cover of The Hour of the Cobra

In the preview for the next book, The Hour of the Cobra, it seems to follow Xanthe’s POV. This makes me happy, as it doesn’t just assume that Rowan is the hero and the twins are his sidekicks. They each get a chance at being the hero. The next book looks like it’s going to ancient Egypt, which is a period I enjoy learning about.

I immediately looked up Maiya Williams and saw that she not only writes children’s books, but also wrote for television! So basically she has my career. I emailed her and she sent me a brief response back that same night, which is really nice of her. One day, maybe I’ll email her again with more specific questions. But I mean, seriously? How crazy is it that she’s a black woman who writes TV and MG SFF books, when that’s what I’m thinking I want to do? Very serendipitous and cool.

This book was great and I am looking forward to borrowing the sequel. I do have a few questions or comments about the book.

  • How do the aunts get stuff back from the past? I thought Otto said that things weren’t allowed to be brought forward, or did he just mean people? The next book seems like it will cover more about the aunts Curio business.
  • I wish Nina had more of slow turn around. She went from not having spoken in a year, to speaking and playing the piano all in one night. I wish we’d gotten more steps before that. It seems like she’s not quite herself still in Rowan’s eyes, but it’s still a bit fast for me.
  • Are the aunts coming to save the day a bit deus ex machina? There are pieces of their involvement mentioned throughout the story, but they suddenly come in to pull the cart leading the kids to their execution away at the very last moment. But I suppose Rowan does do some of the work in saving himself.
Welcome to my first book post! I hope to do more!

The Definitive Ranking Of All Roald Dahl’s Books | Buzzfeed

Cover of "MATILDA"

Cover of MATILDA

I love Roald Dahl. He’s one of my favorite authors, he’s got some really great quotes that I love. I read his autobiography (Boy, I didn’t finish Going Solo), which is written and illustrated in the same style as his other books, which I thought was cool.

Here are some Dahl quotes to brighten your day.

“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” 

“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” 

“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.” 

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.” 

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” 

“A little magic can take you a long way.” 

And here’s Buzzfeed’s ranking of the top 15 Dahl stories. (Though I’m not sure why “believability” is a factor in a children’s fantasy novelist’s work…)

The Definitive Ranking Of All Roald Dahl’s Books.

My favorites are: Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remembered reading Danny Champion of the World, without having read the BFG, and I was confused? Because it’s sort of a companion/sequel?

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10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know

10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know via Lee and Low book blog

All of these books are presented as children’s books and they look fun and fantastic. Two I’d love to check out are

10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know

Pura Belpré, The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos – New York City’s first Latina librarian

and

10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know

Zora Neale Hurston, Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree – renowned African American writer

You know, when I finally finish the 4 books I’m reading now and the 2 others I have from the libraries. #raremomentofoveracheiving

Also check out: 25 Empowering Books for Little Black Girls.

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Comic book superheroes save reading, storytelling – WTOP.com

Comic book superheroes save reading, storytelling – WTOP.com.

I was never a big comic book reader, but I’ve always appreciated them for their stories (like how I don’t really like to read epic poems like The Odyssey, but I enjoy the stories that they tell). We always want to look at children’s literature as developing from picture books to middle grade to YA to “adult” novels (with classics taught in school), but when a kid doesn’t want to read, what do you do? This article discusses one way a parent, and a campaign, are looking into fostering a desire to read. Comic books. Some parents look down on comics as a waste of time from other things, but they are reading. They are looking at story and analyzing and enjoying characters and aching to read more.

While one [daughter] is a born bookworm, the other prefers cartoons and anime. Henry didn’t know what to do, so she picked up her old comics and offered them to her daughter. She started with “Archie” and then eventually the 8-year-old graduated to more sophisticated stories like “Zita the Spacegirl” by Hatke.

Children who love television and cartoons (which often gets a bad rap, but as a TV lover as well, I can’t fight against enjoying stories in my favorite form) could transition to reading more if they had more comics. It applies reading with what they clearly enjoy about cartoons: humor and animation, but also talking about, as the article says, a lot of social issues under the guise of myths and superheroes. Comic book children also often become interested in art and illustration. And there are classic stories told in all forms: while a child could watch The Wizard of Oz the movie instead of reading the book, they could also find a cool comic drawn edition of the story and enjoy it that way.

We have to find creative ways to engage kids in reading and enjoying stories. Every child isn’t alike. I know some kids who were reading well below their grade level (while I was reading above mine) who probably could have used their interest in television and sports and given them comics on the subject to help them reach up to their grade reading level. It’s a great idea.

Link: Clarissa Explains It All, The Legend of Korra, and Doc McStuffins show that boys will watch girl shows.

Instead, we need to start looking for guidelines: What makes boys watch girls’ shows? I asked several children’s TV executives what their own research has shown, and they pointed to a few common themes:

Find the themes here: Clarissa Explains It All, The Legend of Korra, and Doc McStuffins show that boys will watch girl shows.

This can be applied to Children’s Lit as well. We all remember JK Rowling telling us that she was told not to go by Jo or Joanne but her initials (of which she made up the middle one after grandmother), because publishers thought boys wouldn’t buy a book written by a woman. A lot of media aimed at young people feature a trio, two boys and one girl (usually with a triangle in there at some point).

It works for all media, even adult media: once we realize that, for the most part, men and women enjoy a lot of the same stories, we can get past gender bias in media, which cater to “male” dominated stories as universal, but “female” dominated stories as niche.

Cate Blanchett said it this weekend, women’s stories make money too. “The world is round people!” When we get rid of the deep trenches of the gender bias earlier on, people will make more money and, as the article says, those “kids might just be open to watching whatever happens to interest them.”

Related:

Study finds huge gender imbalance in children’s literature [The Guardian]

 

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“A False Conception of Growth” – CS Lewis

Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

[…] They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things? […] I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two. […] I think my growth is just as apparent when I now read the fairy tales as when I read the novelists, for I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood: being now able to put more in, of course I get more out. But I do not here stress that point. Even if it were merely a taste for grown-up literature added to an unchanged taste for children’s literature, addition would still be entitled to the name ‘growth’, and the process of merely dropping one parcel when you pick up another would not.

― C.S. Lewis

A lot of the above are some of the themes of this blog. We focus so very much on the very adult and important things in life that we forget that our inner child is important too. We need to frolic and have fun and enjoy life and one way to do that is to read. Children’s literature gives us a child’s perspective on life, which gives us a renewed sense of joy and wonder in the world. So let’s read more children’s books and feed our inner child.

via Goodreads | Quote by C. S. Lewis: Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval….

 

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Diversity in Children’s Education and Literature

The Intersection of Public Education and Blerd Culture – Blerd Media

Continuing the Conversation on Blerd Culture and Public Education

Blerd Media Group and Culture of Color began a sort of conversation on diversity and representation in children’s literature that made me think a lot, especially in terms of starting this blog. Jovan at Blerd Media points out that children’s education materials are a form of media; perhaps not traditionally considered so but they are objects of mass consumption with a message to a recipient. Children’s books and textbooks and information packets are all materials aimed at children with a specific message that informs or helps them grow and we need to be careful or at least cognizant of the messages (or lack of messages) that they are putting across. Culture of Color expanded on the dialogue by discussing Black History Month and both the aspects of 1. cramming all of black history into one month and 2. choosing the narratives given by the school board and not reaching out to alternatives that teach more varied versions of black history.

This made me think about my own experiences with literature in school. I went to a couple of public schools in Washington Heights, and one actually taught us “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” so we had a good beginners grasp on Black History, but I don’t really remember much of it and I’m sure a lot of it faded in the intervening years where it was less of a focus.

Thinking about the books we read in middle/high school, it feels like they squeezed in one book by an author of color per year. I can even list them. In middle school I remember reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (the latter, I belatedly realized, being one of the only science fiction books featuring black characters I encountered as a child–incidentally, it is written by a white woman).

In high school (in order from 7th through 12th), we read Things Fall Apart, Black Boy, The Invisible Man, Song of Solomon, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Color Purple. Other books by racial minorities included The House on Mango Street, The Joy Luck Club,and 100 Years of Solitude. Not to say I’m not forgetting any, and there’s certainly only so much time in the school year to fit in all the major works of literature, but it’s just interesting to think about our schools as a form of media and what messages they are bringing across.

Even tests are a form of media. I remember taking the SATs and one of the passages we had to write about was from Zora Neale Hurston‘s essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” I’d remembered liking Hurston’s work from reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, but I also felt a connection to the piece, being a black student and all. I took the title and author down and looked it up later when I got home from the test. When we, as children, come across something we enjoy, we often want to know more about it. If we get to encounter more works by authors of color in school, or learn more black/African/Asian/Hispanic/Native history in school (outside of their Western/Colonial contexts), we might be more inspired to learn about those different cultures outside of school. School is certainly a form of media we need to pay attention to in order to assess what messages we are giving our children throughout their education.

Part of the point/theme of this blog is to read or revisit books from childhood that have authors/characters of color and maybe explore how accessible they are to children/YA audiences. (Remember, still a blog in progress. =))