Monday, May 26, 2008

Same ol' same ol'... and I DO mean ol'!!

So I'm surfing blogs on my holiday weekend, seeing who's writing what about children's books, and I encounter a list that rankles me. It's posted by an blogger under the heading "Recommended Authors and Illustrators." The final sentence of the recommendation says, "You will also find the names of some new authors and illustrators that I hope to see creating children's books for years to come."

Really! Let's see this list to spot those exciting new authors and illustrators... Okay, here's the list, as presented by this expert:

* Dr. Seuss
* Maurice Sendak
* Berenstain Bears and Their Creators
* Beverly Cleary
* Jerry Pinkney
* Ezra Jack Keats
* Mem Fox
* Bill Peet
* Cynthia Rylant

Hmmm. So, I'm guessing the expert must be referring to "newbie" Cynthia Rylant, who in her mid-50s, is a mere babe on this list of senior citizens, many of whom are no longer with us. Let's look at that list again:

* Dr. Seuss DEAD
* Maurice Sendak -- EIGHTY YEARS OLD
* Berenstain Bears and Their Creators-- DEAD and DEAD
* Beverly Cleary -- NINETY YEARS OLD
* Jerry Pinkney -- nearing 70
* Ezra Jack Keats -- DEAD
* Mem Fox -- 60s, first book published 25 years ago
* Bill Peet DEAD
* Cynthia Rylant -- a mere child at 54 or so; first book published MORE than 25 years ago; longer ago than Mem Fox's first book.

So, no, I take that back. With her first book having gone to press more than a quarter century ago, I'd hardly call Cynthia Rylant an authorial spring chicken, either, although she is decades younger than some of the other authors & illustrators on this list.

Look, I just turned 50 myself, so I CERTAINLY wish all of these folks many more fruitful and creative years. And no doubt their work, these days, is of consistently high quality precisely BECAUSE they are so seasoned.

But sheesh. Where are the new talents on this list? It was published by a popular blog/website which comes up high in any search for info about children's books. Why can't we see some fresh names? Does Maurice Sendak REALLY need the publicity? Is Beverly Cleary even producing new work? (Loved LOVED her books as a child and enjoyed re-reading them to my kids 30 years later, but other good stuff has been written in those intervening decades. Many events in her then-contemporary books now make them period pieces.)

Sour grapes? Probably, a little. But I've got lots of friends who are producing brilliant new work, and I'd like to see THEIR names on the list, too.

On the upside, having passed the 50-year mark only days ago, I'm now feeling positively nubile. Or maybe that should be spelled "newbile."


Anonymous said...

Another problem is that list you cite is biased toward fiction. As a teller of true tales, I always wonder why my storytelling skill is less valuable just because I choose to share things that actually happened--or in the case of my more speculative work, such as Astrobiology, things that plausibly might happen or might be true.

Maybe what we need instead of "experts" are book critics like me to compile those lists.

In my high school/college level history of Physics in the 20th century, I needed to include further reading for each decade as well as for the century as a whole.

Fortunately, I have been getting many of the newest titles in physics for the educated layperson. My further reading list is full of current titles because I am exposed to them. I even had a few galleys that were going to press at about the same time as my book. So my list included the classics, my own reference sources, and a wide variety of excellent, up-to-date sources.

Perhaps my own career path, which brought me to full-time writing at age 52, has taught me that being an expert requires you to keep current. Expertise requires a certain amount of experience, but also an enormous amount of work to stay abreast of the field.

Thanks for raising this issue, Kim!

Scientifically yours,
"Dr. Fred"

Kim Bookwriter said...

You tell, 'em, Fred! And I'm sure glad you got into the biz full-time as a 52-yr-old baby.

Another frustrating thing about this list is that there are so few opportunities to see one's book promoted if you're not one of the icons or your book isn't brand new. There are plenty of lists of this year's hot and even not-so-hot titles, but once the next catalog comes out -- boom -- you're history.


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry about it. I found the blog about which you are talking (put your quoted sentence into Google), and she doesn't seem like a big opinion-maker. Rather, she seems like she's a bit timid about recommending anything that hasn't already been recommended a thousand times before. I clicked on her summer reading recommendations and only found a bunch of other people's summer reading recommendations, for example. There are plenty of people out there who do read new authors.

Kim Bookwriter said...

And thank goodness for that! Thanks, Alexandra.


Joy Louise said...

I agree whole heartedly with you Kim. There are many of us out there creating great new classics.

Joy aka Zebee or is it the other way around.