Monday, September 17, 2007

Deal-Breakers in Children's Books

In Adrienne's post about Crocket Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon books, she writes, "Not Reviewed: Harold’s Circus (1959)...I don’t read books about the circus." I started to think about what elements of books I would automatically avoid. I wrote in Adrienne's comments section that dragons in children's books were dealbreakers for me. I didn't count dragons in childrens books that I'd already enjoyed, i.e. the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, The Discovery of Dragons, by Graeme Base, and My Father's Dragon by Ruth Gannett. I used to like dragons. However, books about dragons written past a certain point bcame too much for me to enjoy. Really, I think it was the cover of Eragon that sent me over the top. After Eragon, the glut of dragons in young adult fantasy was so overwhelming that I asked School Library Journal to stop sending me fantasy novels and have me review only Readers (a la the Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant) and easy non-fiction.

I have a couple more dealbreakers in children's books. Here they are:

1) Any book illustrated by Stephen Kellogg

Mr. Kellogg, if you happen to read this, do not think I am casting aspersions upon your character. A quick look at your biography page makes me think you're probably a pretty pleasant guy. However, I don't care for the bubbly aspects of your drawing style, and I think another illustrator would have been a better match for Diane Redfield Massie's The Baby Beebee Bird.

2) Children's books penned by celebrity authors

If a book happens to be good, I'll read it regardless. Unfortunately, celebrity author children's books tend to be written as poorly as most vanity-press publications (not to be confused with print-on-demand titles). Celebrity authors remind me of a particular patron who asked me to steer him toward the current edition of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. He said, "I've decided to write a children's book. How hard can it be, right?" I smiled my professional smile and wished him luck.

What are deal-breakers in books for you (children's books or not)?

Seven pm update: I've got some lovely posts in store for this week, but I'm not publishing them until I hear from you, my friends. What do you think? How do you feel about circuses in books? I'm holding my breath until I hear from you, and I'm turning a peculiar shade of blue from the effort. Frankly, I don't know how Superman does it (flying in outer-space without oxygen).

9/18/07: Thanks to Lone Star Ma and Sam Riddleburger, I can finally stop holding my breath.


Lone Star Ma said...

I'm good with dragons and Kellogg and haven't noticed too many circuses in anything I've read. I don't know that I have any hard and fast deal breakers, but I tend to not want to read books about animals (excepting always Charlotte's Web, and I was also cool with NIMH and The Cricket In Times Square) I've not done the whole Redwall thing. In terms of adult books, I didn't want to ever read anything by Jodi Picoult again after what she DID in Sister's Keeper, but my sister has me reading a book of hers again, so I guess I have no real deal breakers...haven't really been interested in the "brave young girl" subgenre of fantasy a la Tamora Pierce much, but I did like those Dragon's Milk books by someone or other, which would certainly be that sort. Oh, wait. I don't do Berenstein Bears - there we go.

SamRiddleburger said...

Oh, man, don't rag on the Bere. Bears! How can you beat "Inside Outside Upside Down" or whatnot?

And Bears Out at night is THE great spine-tingling easy reader story.

Dealbreakers for me: Books aimed directly at boys or directly at girls. i.e. Roundin' Third or The Lip Gloss Club.
(I made those up. I hope they aren't real books.)

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Sam-- Inside Outside Upside Down and Bears on Wheels are classic and have dramatic tension mixed with humor. Those didactic "Berenstain Bear" books, on the other hand, tend to be a bit heavy-handed for the little ones, i.e. "Berenstain Bears and the Drug-Free Zone."

LSM-- I decided to read the book plot summary to see what you would have disliked so much about Sister's Keeper, and yeah, I'd be pretty peeved too!

adrienne said...

I don't like books with clowns, either, which is kind of an extension of the circus.

I also distrust any book that sparkles.

abcgirl said...

hmmm.... i LOVE steven kellogg, but i am right there with you on celebrity authors. the only exceptions might be jamie lee curtis or john lithgow. maybe.

deal breakers for me are the nickelodeon logo on the front of the book or any other "based on the tv series" sort of phrases.

i also have a hard time convincing myself to read historical fiction from the pilgrim era up until, say, the little house books.

jules said...

I also distrust the sparkling. I distruct the Disney-fied fairy tales with the distrustful anorexic princesses.

Dude, I've missed so many great posts at your blog in all my busy-ness.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Jules-- I'm glad you're back! Yes, the Disneyfied fairytales are irksome, if for no other reason that they take out the appropriate violence that's already there and inject it with cartoon violence. Cinderalla's sisters should have totally got what was coming to them, and the Wicked Queen in Snow White should have had to dance in red hot iron shoes (offstage, of course).

Lone Star Ma said...

What I really don't like about the B. Bears is that the dad is an idiot. Competence may not totally be what the y-chromosome is known for, but really, if I can respect dads more than that, anyone can.

Noodle said...

I tend to avoid books that are written in present tense. Oooh, and I won't do those teen series things like It Girl and Gossip Girl.

For the younger crowd, I stay away from books based on television shows or movies: Dora, Barbie, and any number of Disney stories.

roseann said...

Deal breakers for me in children's books and TV shows are anything where the lead characters (or too many of the characters in general) are more negative than positive. Even as a kid I couldn't stomach Judy Blume books.

diana said...

I agree with almost everyone here! The Berenstein Bears are drawn too weird. That's why I don't like them.

Disneyfied stories are the worst.ever. and books based on a television series or movie --not LOTR or Indian in the Cupboard or Holes or anything like that but a book with, say, the characters of Toy Story.