Judging a Book by It’s Cover: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

CharlieWhile browsing through Book Riot News the other day, I stumbled across an article about the redesigned cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I could take it or leave it, but it’s one of my sister’s favorite books (and movies). She even named her cat after Charlie himself. (That’s Charlie on the left. I like to call him Charles Wallace.)

So, okay, I thought I would click through. (You’re going to want that kitten picture.)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1998) What on Earth?

According to the article, this is for Penguin’s “Modern Classics” label, and thus not intended for children. Okay, I get that. Bloomsbury, after all, has quite a nice line of “grown-up” Harry Potter covers, the original and recently redesigned versions marketed towards adults without looking, well, adult.

The E! article goes on to add that the creepy looking girl/doll on the front cover is “not meant to represent any of the female characters in [the book], including Veruca Salt,” even though little Veruca has often been depicted in a fur coat and pink tutu like the girl on the cover.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (movie)My library has the familiar Quentin Blake cover, left. Admittedly, that might be a hard sell to the over-12 crowd. (I find the illustrations a little unsettling, but the text is kind of creepy, too.) Roald Dahl’s books spread through my library by word of mouth, or when a teacher reads one to his or her students and they come to me wanting more. I don’t think it’s the covers that are “selling” these books to my students, and maybe they could use a little spiffing up.

I’m not a big fan of book tie-in covers, but I think even this one with Johnny Depp would be an improvement over this weird glassy eyed girl. At least it shows us two of the major characters in the book, instead of an anonymous, sexed up, underage girl.


“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (August 13, 2014)

What are you reading?

The Cambridge Companion to Children's LiteratureI’m not going to graduate school any time soon, limited as I am by finances and geography, but I can’t let that stop me from studying up. So I got my (metaphorical) hands on a(n e-)copy of The Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature, which has the unique honor of making me download a dictionary app to consult while reading on my phone. (I had to look up the word lexeme.)

To accompany that, I’ve been reading my way through the back issues of The Looking Glass literary/academic journal. Issues dating back to 1999 are available online in full text for free.

Speaking of free, Volume 37, Number 1, January 2013 of The Lion and the Unicorn is also available for free online as a sample issue. These are how I’ve been occupying my reading time.

What did you recently finish reading?
Flights of Fancy
I read Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition in two days. I am a v e r y slow reader, so it says a lot about how much I enjoyed this book that I finished it in a single weekend. I’m also not usually big on nonfiction, but I happened across this one on Goodreads and, since I found myself in both a reading and writing rut, I decided to go for something different than my standard fare.

The myths and superstitions about birds were interesting enough. I’m not much of a nature gal, so there were even bird types I never knew existed. (The author is from, and focuses on, Europe. I grew up in the northeastern United States, so some of the birds were the same, but not all of them.)

Flights of Fancy made me consider returning to my scrapped Camp NaNoWriMo July 2014 novel-in-progress, Birdsong. (It needed too much research, and was shelved for something quicker and easier, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo. I wrote Borderlands fanfiction instead.) Ely would have liked this book a lot, too.

What are you going to read next?

The Magician's LandThe Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature will keep me going for awhile yet, along with all of those journal articles. Eventually I’ll get bored of nonfiction again and pick up a novel (and I actually mean “a novel” in the old-fashioned sense).

Honorable mention should go to The Magician’s Land, which was released last week. As a chronic rereader, I (almost) always reread books in a series before reading a new one, especially if it’s been awhile, and especially if it’s the last book in the series.

The thing is, The Magicians and The Magician King were hugely important books to me, circa 2011-2012, and they’re associated with some painful memories of the same period. (I cried myself to sleep with The Magician King on my phone in Osaka. I can still remember the ugly red/orange couch that came with my furnished apartment. I was miserable.) So I’ve set the whole series aside for when I’m ready for those feelings.

Slice of Life: After the End

Slice of Life During summer school, I had two “regulars” come in daily for new books. Both girls are voracious readers, but a little picky. They prefer adventure stories, but nothing to scary, and absolutely no Harry Potter or Narnia. (“I hate them,” MH told me confidently. Ouch.)

The great thing about summer school is a more relaxed pace, a shorter school day, and fewer students, so I had the time to really devote to digging through the shelves for missed or forgotten gems for these two girls. MH dove right into A Series of Unfortunate Events, taking them out two or three at a time, and they made up five of the ten books she was allowed to take home during the week between summer school and back-to-school.

The EndWhen MH picked up The End, she confided in me that she was sad that the series would be over. I told her about my habit as a reader of putting off the last book as long as possible. I told her about The Magician’s Land, and how I was going to reread the other two books in the trilogy first, and about how I owned a copy TSUBASA: RESERvoir CHRoNiCLE, volume 29 for well over a year before I could bring myself to read it.

MH said she was too nervous to find out what happens to the Baudelaire orphans to wait that long. She told me she hoped they had a happy ending.

I read the first few of the series, so I asked her what she thought would be Violet’s happy ending (“a famous inventor”), or Klaus’s (“an author”), or Sunny’s (“I think she’s a werewolf”). I asked her to tell me a bit more about that, and MH explained that because of Sunny’s very sharp and incredibly strong teeth, perhaps she might be a werewolf, which I thought was ridiculously clever.

MH was still disappointed that the series had to end, so I suggested that, should she finish the series before she starts fifth grade next week, she write her own stories about what happens to the Baudelaire orphans. I asked if she would let me read them.

I’m no longer a big fanfic reader or writer, but I do still dabble, and it was one of my favorite things during middle and high school and into university. My roommate and I met when she overheard me discussing Harry Potter fanfiction before HIST210: Japanese Civilization in the first week of freshman year. Fanfic isn’t for everyone, but for some students, it’s a way into writing – and for some readers it’s way to stay connected with their favorite stories and characters after The End.

Judging a Book by its Cover: The Wind Singer

The Wind SingerWhen I posted to Facebook that I was (re)reading William Nicholson’s The Wind Singer, one of my friends flipped. She begged me to tell her where I found an ebook, and it was my great regret to tell her I borrowed it from the high school library where I work.

The Wind SingerThis (on the right) is the cover of the paperback by my bed. I am not a fan. I don’t find it very visually appealing, and I don’t feel like it tells you too much about the story. I grew up on the American edition, with the green border. I guess looking at it, it’s a bit weird, but I think it tells me a lot more about the story. It looks a little younger, too.

The Wind SingerI am just not a fan of this red version. So I went to Goodreads and made sure to set my book to the edition I read in middle school, and I was surprised to find there are so many cool covers in other places. Dare I say it… even cooler than the (my?) original cover?

I’m not sure how I feel about this one. It reminds me of Divergent. I hated Divergentbut maybe the cover is good marketing. This version looks older than the green version I read, but younger than the red version in my library. I think the style will be dated soon, though.

The Wind SingerI think this version (Spanish) is my favorite. I just like the style, but I’m not sure why only Kestral and Bowman are on the cover… Where’s Mumpo?

loved this book as a child. My friend told me she wanted to name her daughter Kestral, after this character. I remember the same fierce love for her when I read it. She stood out to me, as a reader of fantasy, as a girl protagonist. (Up until then, my favorite books were Harry Potter, and Redwall. It would be another few years until I read the Alanna books.)

There’s a lot going on in these books, so maybe I’ll do a looking back/looking forward reread post once I finish the trilogy.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (August 6, 2014)

We just got our big shipment from Titlewave of new books for the year, and I’m a little behind on my Goodreads challenge, so I’ve been reading through the new books before they go up on the display shelf. (The students aren’t officially back to school for another week and a half.)

What are you reading?

GrimI got about halfway through Grim before I lost interest. Maybe I just didn’t like that one story? It’s a collection of fairy tale retellings. I was complaining to a friend that I often found them rather boring, but this one had such a nice cover that I had to pick it up. (I always judge books by their covers.)

Some of the retellings were really cool. I loved Puss in Boots, Bluebeard, and Donkeyskin. I admit that I got bored of all the hetero stories… so far, except for one line in Malinda Lo’s Twelve Dancing Princesses, every story has featured straight protagonists. Really? After all this #WeNeedDiverseBooks, it seems like a good idea to publish an anthology with no queer characters?

Well, I’m only halfway through, so maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised…

What did you recently finish reading?

Eliza Bing is (NOT) a Big Fat QuitterI picked up Eliza Bing is (NOT) a Big Fat Quitter on Monday morning when I needed something to read. I loved it! It really resonated with me, not least because I studied Moo Gong Do for ten years. Eliza counting and learning other Korean words in her class brought back memories. I identified a lot with Eliza, too; I was never diagnosed with ADD, but I was tested several times at the recommendation of my teachers because I found it impossible to pay attention. So I got her. I knew what it was like to be an eleven-year-old girl, navigating the strange limbo of just-before-middle school, feeling like I had no good friends and my interests as varied and changing as Eliza’s. I don’t think I got into cake decorating until I was older, but I liked to paint, and write, and I tried knitting, and of course I loved Pokémon and Harry Potter more than anything, but martial arts gave me the discipline and leadership skills that I needed, just like Eliza.

I purchased Gaijin: American Prisoner of War for my library, but after reading it, I think I might bump it up to secondary for language. SLJ has it listed for Grade 5-8, and I think it would do better with the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders than my 5th graders.

GaijinNow, I’m not giving it to secondary because I don’t like it. It was a powerful story of something my history teachers liked to avoid talking about, the internment of Japanese-American citizens. Koji is half-Japanese, a second generation immigrant on his father’s side. His Japanese father returned home to Japan before the war broke out in the Pacific to care for his aging father, so his (white) American mother accompanies him to the internment camp. Koji struggles to fit in at home, where his Japanese father makes him the “other” (and now, the enemy) and has a hard time finding a place in the internment camp, where his white mother marks him as an “outsider.”

The story ends ambiguously, especially if you know the history of the internment camps, but it’s powerful. It’s a good history lesson, and I think Koji’s struggles will resonate with my students; many of them are half-Japanese.

The Shelf ElfOur PTA library committee president recommended The Shelf Elf to me while I was in the process of designing curriculum for the upcoming school year. I think it will make a fun readaloud, and I’ll try using “shh, you’ll hurt the Shelf Elf’s ears!” if the littlest kids get loud, but I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about the whole shelf elf program. Has anyone used it?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Mary Walker Wears the PantsI have so many options. I’m excited about my new biographies. When I talked to the fourth graders about feminism last year, I started with some statistics: my library collection has about 100 books with the BIO designator on the call tag; 30 or so of them were about women.


Part of my presentation was about how my belief impacts my life choices. I told them I would make a point to balance out the biography collection when I did purchasing this year. I’m especially looking forward to Mary Walker Wears the Pants and Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909, and I still haven’t received my shipment of The Thinking Girls Treasury of Real Princesses and that’s gonna be great.

Slice of Life: Sorting Hat

Slice of LifeHello & welcome to my first Slice of Life post. Inspired by Two Writing Teachers, I’ll be posting a slice-of-life story every Tuesday.

This week, we’re starting with something that happened today during check-out time. A few students, soon to be fourth graders, came by the library during summer school to pick up some leisure reading books. H wanted Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (We also have Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, because it’s an international school.)

H knows I like (love) all things Harry PotterPotteresque nail art. She complimented my nail art when I painted them Gryffindor colors, but some students were shocked – shocked, I tell you! – to hear that I knew about Pottermore.

“You know Pottermore!?” they demanded.

“I’ve been reading Harry Potter since before you were born,” I told them. My oldest students are in fifth grade, so this is not even an exaggeration.

Today, the girls were chatting about their houses. I asked them which house they would be sorted into if they went to Hogwarts. I got three Gryffindors and one very honest Slytherin. I asked them to guess my house.

(Despite the nail art, I’m not a Gryffindor. I just couldn’t find the right colors.)

old timesT, the Slytherin, guessed I would be in the same house as her. I told her it was close.  In the way of fandom, I have s secondary house. I’m a Slyther________. I was sorted into Slytherin when I played Hogwarts is Home, but that’s not the house I identify with.

(Pottermore was completely off base and put me in Hufflepuff. Hufflepuff!)

None of them guessed.

I’m a Ravenclaw.

I told them, “what do Ravenclaws like?” and eventually T got “books!” So I said, “what do I do all day?”

H put it together. “You’re a librarian!”

(This is the only photo I could find of me in my handmade Ravenclaw scarf, taken in my first year of undergrad. A friend of mine knitted it for me in high school because the official merchandise was blue and silver, like the movies, instead of blue and bronze, like the books, and as a Ravenclaw, I just couldn’t stand for that.)

I love having these conversations with my students. I want them to know that their teachers are readers, too. That we read for fun, that we’re passionate about stories and we want to share them out of love – love for our students, love for our favorite stories.