Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Archive for the ‘Books We Love’ Category

Sweet Valley Feminism

Posted by Corey Haydu On October - 22 - 2010

Um, amazing.

After trolling around the internet reading about Sweet Valley High’s triumphant and soap opera sounding return, I found a blog that not only revealed that Elizabeth is sleeping with her boss in the new, decade later novel, but also included pictures of the covers of old books, and a picture of the cover of the new book.

sweetvalley Sweet Valley FeminismThe information about the sexy plot twists was great but these pictures are amazing, and I have spent the rest of my pre-determined internet procrastination time looking at old covers and old plot descriptions, reveling in the big hair, cheesy titles, and awkwardly sexual blurbs.

Now that I think about it…. Maybe I am better acquainted with the younger, more innocent Sweet Valley girls, from their junior high days.

I mean, come on. If this doesn’t define what I  thought being seventeen would be like, I don’t know what did. My image of teenagerhood was so sculpted by the Sweet Valley books (along with Babysitters Club and other like-minded series) that I couldn’t ever reconcile actual high school with the idealized version we would real about and then act out during play dates. (Side note: in my imaginary version of being 17, I was named Marcia and had a perm.)

And though at first I was shocked to think of Elizabeth and Jessica doing adult things in the adult world, I’m now seeing just how advanced they actually were. These were not the sweet, naïve girls in Babysitters Club or on Saved by the Bell. I’ll leave you with my favorite blurb on Amazon.com, describing the book Too Good to be True.

“The Wakefield twins are wild with excitement. Glamorous, sophisticated Susan Devlin is coming to Sweet Valley from New York City. For two weeks, Elizabeth will show her around town while Jessica has the time of her life in New York.

At first, Suzanne seems to be the most perfect girl in the world. She’s beautiful and friendly and not the least bit stuck-up. All the boys of Sweet Valley are absolutely crazy about her. But when Suzanne accuses Mr. Collins of trying to seduce her, Elizabeth knows there’s more to Suzanne than meets the eye.”

I mean, come on. There’s something here bigger than my old innocent “what will being a teenager be like?” fantasies. These are the essential questions of feminist theory, female sexuality and Madonna/whore complexes. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

Upcoming critical thesis on the influence of 1980s teen fiction over pre-adolescent girls’ sexual development and self-image struggles?

Yes, please. I am just that kind of dork, the kind who will suck all the fun out of something smarmy and wonderful and nostalgic like SVH.

But not until after I devour the new book in one sitting over a glass of wine.

The Death of the Picture Book

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On October - 21 - 2010

 The Death of the Picture BookI was alarmed recently to read in the New York Times that picture books are no longer a staple in the U.S. book business.

It is sad to read about the plummeting sales of picture books in some parts of the world. But the real shocker is that some parents think that picture book are ‘dumbing down’ reading for children. In my opinion, picture books can have a lot more to offer, and not just visually, to the reader. Many picture books come alive with beautiful illustration styles and colors and can be an absolute delight.

Take for instance, some of these wonderfully executed picture books:

The Maestro Plays, by Bill Martin and Vladimir Radunsky

Using mischievous fonts that keep changing size and large, colorful illustrations of a clown,  The Maestro, this book rings aloud as we read that the Maestro plays “flowingly, glowingly, knowingly, showingly, goingly” as well as “nippingly, drippingly, zippingly, clippingly, pippingly.”

ABC3D, by Marion Bataille

This award-winning book can be enjoyed by children and adults. Its really incredibly simple, it is a pop-up book with alphabets opening up one after the other. What’s really interesting is the way some alphabets turn into others, along with the use of innovative materials involved in the book’s design.

Anything at all by Robert Sabuda

Robert Sabuda is a pop-up genius. His Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz are timeless treats, with each pop-up chapter folding back just as well as it pops up. He has also done a fantastically dynamic book calledPrehistoric Mega Beasts that could serve as a pop-up encyclopedia on extinct creatures such as pterosaurs and  woolly mammoths.

The London Jungle Book, by Bhajju Shyam

Created by Indian Gond tribal artist, this book serves as a London travelogue through the eyes of someone visiting it for the first time. Shyam illustrates using traditional Gond style his experiences and observations showing a modern city as you’ve never seen it before—the London Underground becomes a giant earthworm, Big Ben merges with a massive rooster, and English people are shown as bats that come out to play at night. An absolute work of art, this book certainly is.

To Market! To Market!, by Anushka Ravishankar and Emanuele Scanziani

Innovative typography, intricate pictures and catchy nonsense verse make this book a treat as we are taken through an interesting Indian market by a little girl. Author Anushka Ravishankar has been involved with some absolutely dynamic books such as Anything But a Grabooberry and Tiger on a Tree, which no child can resist.

The United States may not be the best market for picture books, but it is a relief to know that this beautiful form is far from dying elsewhere in the world. Tara Books, a publishing house, has year after year been putting out books that stress the visual aspect regardless of what market-watchers may say.

Perhaps children are interested in different things all over the world, and for parents who may think that picture books are ‘too lame’ to have their child read them, perhaps videogames better sources of entertainment for their children. After all, everyone has a right to an opinion. But to me, picture books are timeless.

A New Sweet Valley book?! Sign me up!

Posted by Jessica Verdi On October - 20 - 2010

sweet valley 300x225 A New Sweet Valley book?!  Sign me up!Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. These (fictional) girls were dear friends of mine when I was a kid. Apart from Donnie Wahlberg and the oh-so-cool New Kids on the Block, the Sweet Valley twins were my first major obsession. The Sweet Valley book series was like junk food and soap operas rolled into one: addictive and juicy and a constant source of amusement.

The fact that my own name is Jessica and that my best friend at the time’s name was Elizabeth caused us to be that much more obsessed — we felt that Francine Pascal (and her posse of ghost writers, although my ten-year-old self was completely ignorant that ghost writers actually existed) was writing just for us. Even though we had absolutely nothing in common with the Wakefield sisters, we just knew that these books about gorgeous, privileged, blonde twins were, somehow, about us. We were delusional. In turn, the dynamic between Elizabeth’s and my friendship started to mirror the Wakefields: I became the fun, outgoing one who cared about things like makeup and fashion and boys, and Elizabeth became the smart, kind, bookish one. The really odd thing is that neither I nor my friend Elizabeth actually possessed these personalities in our real lives. We went to separate schools and lived separate lives having nothing to do with being particularly outgoing or bookish, and only morphed into these roles when we were together. Somehow, the Sweet Valley series defined us and defined our relationship. It was incredibly bizarre.

I loved the Wakefield twins (and their gaggle of friends, including Todd Wilkins, Enid Rollins, Lila Fowler, Amy Sutton, and Winston Egbert) so much that I played the Sweet Valley board game almost daily and watched the TV show religiously during my middle and early-high school years. (Even after the show was canceled in 1997, I continued to follow the careers of Brittany Daniel, who played Jessica, and Manley Pope, who played Devon Whitelaw and went on to star on Broadway as Roger in Rent.)

The Sweet Valley series is one of the main reasons I want to write for teens. Although YA literature has come a loooong way since the days of the “perfect size six” twins who were born four minutes apart, this series was hugely important to me during my adolescent years, and I’d like to pay it forward.

Today, my birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, and June 13 (the Wakefield twins’ birthday, of course) came early for me. I found out that a new Sweet Valley book, Sweet Valley Confidential, is going to be released in March 2011. We’re going to get to know Jessica and Elizabeth as twenty-six-year-old women. Francine Pascal has said, “I can tell you that what you thought was going to happen to those people doesn’t happen. Different things happen. Ten years, from sixteen to adulthood, has made very different people.”

Eeeeeeek!!! (That’s the sound of me totally geeking out over this news.)  I’m going to go pre-order this sucker on Amazon right now.

Book cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

pixel A New Sweet Valley book?!  Sign me up!

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