5.25.2012

A Little Bit More Shameless Self-Promotion...

HEY EVERYBODY!!!!
My Letter to the Editor in the Sunday, May 27th edition of the New York Times Book Review went live online today. Just in case the link doesn't work for you, I have printed it (the edited version) below. Also, my review of The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy posted today as well. While I wrote my letter to the editor in the heat of the moment, outraged at the unfair, dismissive treatment the books received, never expecting it to make to print, I have been heartened by the comments of other authors and reviewers in the world of kid's books who shared my feelings about the review. While I greatly value the New York Times and link to their reviews and articles often, I think it is so unfortunate that the the infrequent and invaluable print space they devote to children's books, not to mention their reach and influence, was wasted in this manner. 

To the Editor:
Thank you for one of the most comprehensive, relevant children’s book features I have seen in a long while.
That said, I was frustrated by Adam Gopnik’s review of “The False Prince,” by Jennifer A. Nielsen, and “The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom,” by Christopher Healy (May 13). Gopnik’s first mistake is to discuss these books alongside “Eragon,” “The Hunger Games” and the works of Tolkien, which he mentions several times. The books being reviewed are middle-grade novels, while the books Gopnik compares them with are for young adults and adults. He thus misses the chance to explore some of the more interesting things going on in the world of middle-grade fantasy. Specifically, the two books reviewed are standouts because they tell the story of princes in a time of literary princess worship that started in 1997 with Gail Carson Levine’s “Ella Enchanted.” Gopnik even quotes the lines from “The Hero’s Guide” that could have been the central and more interesting theme of his review: “What can I say, the people love princesses. Something about the fancy dresses, I think.”
Next, Gopnik reduces the whole genre of middle-grade fantasy novels to the categories of “spooky” and “jokey.” While I have my own criticisms of “The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom,” it is one of the few funny books published for kids each year, not to mention the distinction of being the rare humorous work within the fantasy genre.
TANYA TUREK
Escondido, Calif.
The writer, a children’s bookseller, blogs at books4yourkids.com.
Ok - Here's my unedited letter. I have no idea why any of you would want to read it unless you are intrigued by the editing process itself, but it feels like a cool artifact to include in this scrapbook moment of my life... 
Actually, I sound much more clever in this letter, so go ahead and read it.
To The Editor - 

I would like to thank you for today's Book Review which included one of the most comprehensive, relevant children's book features I have seen in a long while. As a children's bookseller (seventeen years) and children's book reviewer (four years) I am always thrilled to read reviews of books I have not heard of in your pages but am sometimes frustrated by the worthy new books that I see on the shelves at the bookstore and on my review desk that do not get your attention.

That said, I was very frustrated by Adam Gopnik's review of "The False Prince," by Jennifer Neilsen and "The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom," by Christopher Healy. I have only read one of the two books reviewed and value the few paragraphs in which Gopnik actually discusses the books directly. However, I take issue with Gopnick's irrelevant, overly long generalizations about children's books that make up the body of "Fractured Fairy Tales," which comes off as a lazy retooling of his article for the New Yorker from December of last year, "The Dragon's Egg." 

Gopnik's first mistake is to discuss "The False Prince" and "The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom" alongside "Eragon," "The Hunger Games" and the works of Tolkein, which he mentions several times. The books being reviewed are squarely middle grade novels while the books Gopnik is comparing them to are Young Adult and adult books. By conflating the books, he misses the chance to discuss some of the more interesting things going on in the world of middle grade fantasy. Specifically, the two books reviewed are standouts because they tell the story of princes in a time of literary princess worship that started in 1997 with Gail Carson Levine's "Ella Enchanted." Gopnik even quotes a line from "The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom" that could have been the central and more interesting theme of his review, "What can I say, the people love princesses? Something about the fancy dresses, I think." 

Next, Gopnik reduces the whole genre of middle-grade fantasy novels to the categories of "spooky" and "jokey." While I have my own criticisms of "The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom," it does stand out as being one of the few funny books published for kids every year, not to mention the distinction of being the rare humorous work within the fantasy genre. Gopnik's use of the word "spooky," as quoted by his twelve-year-old daughter and his use of the haunting dystopian setting of "The Hunger Games," a Young Adult science fiction novel, to exemplify this quality also miss the mark. "Dark" or "malevolent" might have been better descriptors for the tone of Neilsen's book, while "spooky" calls to mind ghosts and other paranormal beings. Gopnik then goes on to reference Mitt Romney, AA Milne and, for a second time in three paragraphs, Tolkein. Yes, Tolkien did much to establish the realms of fantasy that we are so familiar with today, but his place in this review is superficial and overused. 

While I appreciate a reviewer telling me why a book is not worth reading, I at least expect him to put it in context and criticize it fairly by comparing it to actual competitors. I am sad that one of the rare pages of the Book Review dedicated to children's books, and my favorite genre of middle-grade fantasy specifically, was misused in this way.

Thank you for your time - 

1 comment:

Heather aka Proud Mama said...

Very nice and well put. Thank you again for your reviews and literary insight.