For Librarians

Smashing the Single Story Narrative: A New Middle-Grade Series by Kate Messner

Paul Revere’s famous cry “The British are coming!” warned residents of Lexington and Concord of the imminent danger of British invasion. Right?

The Titanic was touted as “unsinkable” before its ill-fated maiden journey. Right?

Well, not exactly. The stories we’ve been told about historical events have been skewed by the fact that most were written from a single perspective. And no event has EVER had only one perspective.  That’s why I’m so excited that author Kate Messner is writing a new series for middle-grade readers called History Smashers.

History Smashers: The Titanic by Kate Messner

Before we talk about the books, though, let’s talk a bit more about this notion of  the “single story narrative.” Last fall, while walking my daily two-mile neighborhood loop, I listened to author Linda Sue Park discuss her book PRAIRIE LOTUS with Matthew Winner on The Children’s Book Podcast. In the podcast, she talked about the “single story narrative” and about how she introduces the idea of a single story to young readers.  The analogy she uses is very clever. You should click the link above and listen to the podcast.

Since then, I’ve thought about how much of our history has been learned from a single perspective, and I’ve pondered the challenges teachers, parents, librarians, and those of us who write, edit, and publish for young readers, face.  Digging deeper, I listened to the TED Talk titled The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that Linda Sue mentions in the podcast. The talk is more than ten years old, but never has it been more important that we ask ourselves “Who else was there?” and “What if we start the story from a different perspective?”

History Smashers: The American Revolution

In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Messner says she wants “to tell stories in a way that’s respectful of kids. Kids can handle more than we think they can. And I feel like being honest with kids is really important. Sometimes our teaching of history has not fared so well in that area, particularly when it comes to our failings as a country, our mistakes. We like to teach little kids nice stories about history. I think we can start to have those conversations earlier.”

Out of that vision, the History Smashers series was born. With five titles complete and more on the way, the reviews are fantastic!

“Critical, respectful, engaging: exemplary history for children.” —Kirkus Reviews, The Mayflower, starred review
”The book’s format may be a good match for those with shorter attention spans, and permits it to be gratifyingly capacious in what it covers.” —New York Times Book Review

“Kate Messner serves up fun, fast history for kids who want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Absolutely smashing!” —Candace Fleming, award-wining author

I also love that these books are fact-packed and visually enticing, with sidebars, graphic panels, and lots of illustration. They’ll be a welcome addition to classroom, public, and home libraries. I have no doubt they’ll be conversation-starters for years to come. Keep the conversations going, friends!

History Smashers: Pearl Harbor.   History Smashers: Women's Right to Vote  History Smashers: The Mayflower

 

 

Indie Spotlight: Ashay ByThe Bay, Black Children’s Bookstore Vallejo CA

Given the challenges of the pandemic, many independent bookstores have turned  increasingly to online sales to survive. Deborah Day, founder and CEO of  “The #1 Black Children’s Bookstore,” Ashay By The Bay, Vallejo, California, made hers an online shop from the beginning in 2000. It survived the recession of 2008 and is still going strong. Fittingly, Ashay is a powerful Yoruba word that means “it shall be so.” It is also Deborah Day’s given name.

So! Day has developed an engaging and user-friendly website (www.ashaybythebay.com) with over 800 titles, from  baby books to picture books to fiction and nonfiction for middle grade and young adult readers. Most have black American and African subjects, themes, and characters.  But since there is a large Latin American community nearby she also has school collections of Spanish and bilingual books for them. More about her school collections in a moment.

It’s exciting to see so many books for kids about black culture, people, and history gathered onto one curated site. I have now added several titles to my staggering must read pile. For instance, though I’m not a fantasy or science fiction fan at all, I can’t wait to read Tomi Adeywmi’s West-African inspired fantasy, Children of Blood and Bone.  Before the week is out I will probably also dip into Nnedi Okarafor’s imaginative and highly praised tale of magic and adventure in Nigeria, Akata Witch. As Day understands, good books for kids are good for everybody!

Before COVID, Day advertised grew her business by going to events, holding book fairs, and helping groups to conduct book fairs. She loved making in-person contacts that way. Now that those events are no longer possible she is relying more on social media ads, and she is hearing from people across the country.

The Pandemic also poses a challenge to her goal of getting children’s books about black subjects and black experience into the schools where they can have more impact on students’ understanding. Few schools are buying books right now and many students are doing distance learning. What an important time to build a home library, Day says. Of course there are many digital book available online, but the students are already screen-weary from school work. Day loves books and believes and holding a book to read is a more satisfying experience.

During shutdown, people can consult the Ashay website for the lists of the book collections, organized by age/grade e level, that Day offers to schools, and find ideas for books to order. These collections include many core curriculum books, but also give a chance for some independent publishers to become better known. Here are just a few of the many titles on her lists for middle graders:

Biographies: The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (Young Readers’ Edition) by Kamala Harris ; Portraits of African- American Heroes, by Tonya Bolden , including figures from dance, law athletics, science, and more. Who Was Jesse Owens? By James Buckley and Gregory Copeland; Brave. Black. First, 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World, by Cheryl Hudson; Hidden Figures, Young Reader’s Edition, byMargot Lee Shetterly; Black Women in Science: A Black History Book for Kids by Kimberly Brown Pellum;

Award-winning Fiction:

P.S. Be Eleven, Rita Williams-Garcia; The Season of Styx Malone, by Kekla Magoon; Harbor Me by Jaqueline Woodson; Ghost and Look Both Ways, by Jayson Reynolds; A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson;Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes; The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

Nonfiction:

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba;28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World by Charles R. Smith; The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love, and Truth, edited by Wade and Cheryl Hudson; Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men who Changed America, by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

The Arts:

Radiant Child: The story of Young Artist Jean Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe; Who is Stevie Wonder? By Jim Gigliotti; The Legends of Hip Hop by Justin Bua; The Rose That Grew from Concrete,by Nikki Giovanni and Tupak Shakur; Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry, edited by Arnold Rampersad and Marcellus Blount; Who is Stevie Wonder? By Jim Gigliotti and Who HQ’; Misty Copeland: Life in Motion.

December 2020:  an ideal time to get to know more about black culture from the excellent books being published for children.   It’s also an ideal time to give beautiful, real books to children who’ve been doing schoolwork online all day. And let’s please bypass the chains when we buy these books (Amazon will survive the economic crisis) and support independent booksellers like Ashay instead. A triple win!

 

 

Interview with Mark Lester, Oliver in the 1968 movie

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We are in for a real treat today!

For those who don’t know, I’m a huge fan of musicals, and perhaps my favorite of all time is Oliver. Even better, my daughter has recently become in love with it as well.

So, I have to say that it was an absolute thrill to get a chance to Zoom with the star of that movie about his experiences filming it. And let me tell you, he couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious. So, please help me welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Mark Lester!

JR: Hi Mark, and thanks for joining us! To start with, I was reading your bio, and saw that you came from a theater family, and got your first roles at the age of six. The movie The Counterfeit Constable and the TV series, The Human Jungle. At any point were you aware of how different that was from what most kids experienced, or did you just think that was what everyone did?

ML: I guess I thought that’s what everyone did. We were always going up for auditions, all the kids for commercials or TV parts, so we thought that was a normal thing. I was in Drama school, so I was okay with the auditions.

JR: I’ve read that there were thousands of kids auditioning for the role of Oliver. Were you nervous or it didn’t really faze you?

ML: I didn’t see thousands of people, I was only in small groups of people. So, I kept getting asked back, asked back, and asked back, and in the end, I obviously won the role.

JR: And I’m certainly glad you did! What was your reaction when you found out that you won the part?

ML: I think I was just like this is great, I’ve got time off school.

JR: That’s funny. Yes, I think that would’ve been my reaction as well. Had you read the book or watched other versions of Oliver Twist prior to filming?

ML: I hadn’t read the book, and I haven’t read it even until today.

JR: Really? That seems almost sacrilegious!

ML: No, I’m not a big Dickens fan. I had seen the previous movie with Alec Guinness. It was quite dark, and it wasn’t a musical. So, I knew the story, but until I got involved, I hadn’t known anything other than the movie.

JR: Now, you were 8 years old when you started filming Oliver, which is amazing to me, considering how incredible your performance was. The cast was perfect. So saying that, how was it for you to come into a production with such seasoned actors such as Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Shani Wallis, Harry Secombe, and Jack Wild who had already done the play on the West End? Were you intimidated at all?

ML: No, not really. Everyone was really supportive. The director, Carol Reed, was very good at getting everyone together. It was quite easy, really. Oliver Reed was a bit frightening. A method actor who got into the role of Bill Sykes, so he was a bit terrifying. Everyone else was pretty amazing to work with.

JR: Let’s go through them a little. What can you tell us about your experiences with Jack Wild the Artful Dodger?

ML: Jack was great. He was about five or six years older than me. So, he kind of took me under his wing. And right until the very end, when sadly, he died very young, we were still in contact with each other quite regularly. It was the same with Ron Moody. Fortunately with Ron and Shani, we did a couple of Comic Con things in the states. We did one, I think it was called the Hollywood Show in Los Angeles, and then we went to Chicago.

JR: Harry Secombe as Mr. Bumble? 

ML: I didn’t really get to know him, even when we worked together afterwards, since I was a kid, and these were adults. I didn’t really get to hang out with anyone other than Jack and a few of the guys from Fagin’s gang, who I still keep in touch with.

JR: Oh, you still keep in touch with them? That’s great. Any anecdotes about Ron Moody as Fagin?

ML: Ron was great. He was very nurturing and very easy to work with. He was a very kind man, very gentle. He gave us a lot of encouragement.

JR: Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes?

ML: He came on the set as Bill Sykes. He held Ron up by his throat. And he dragged me around the rooftops of London.

 

JR: Oh my gosh. Were you scared during that time for real?

ML: No, people ask were you scared, but we were about two or three feet off the ground. I think the highest we got was three feet.

JR: That’s some great movie magic, then. Do you still have contact with Shani Wallis who played Nancy?

ML: Yes, in fact, we do. She emailed me a few weeks ago. She lives in LA. Her husband, sadly, died. Her daughter lives out that way, and looks after her. It was really nice seeing her again at the Oliver reunion. The last one I did must’ve been around a couple of years ago.

JR: Oh, I wish I could’ve seen that. What was your favorite number from the film?       

ML: Who Will Buy.

JR: It’s one of mine as well. I read that Who Will Buy took six weeks to film. It was a stunning sequence. What can you tell us about that particular number?

ML: I liked it because of the way it built up from one rose girl and developed into this huge musical routine. The set was amazing. The whole square was built. The fronts of all the houses were held up by plywood. A lot of people ask me, was that filmed in so and so and so and so? I say, No, it wasn’t. It was filmed in Shepperton Studios on a set. It was an incredible feat to make that, and that was only one of the sets. It took a long time, we filmed over the summer. We were really lucky and had really good weather for it. I was most of the time on a cherry picker, holding me up behind the window.

 

JR: That’s incredible. I never thought it was a set. Any other anecdotes that you can share from the filming?

ML: Harry Seacombe who played Mr. Bumble, they decided to play a joke on him. He has to pull Oliver around by his ear when I asked for More. So, the make up department made me up this little plastic ear to go over my ear. I think it was his birthday or something. So, when Harry got a hold of me, the fake ear came off in his hands. He just didn’t know what to do, and obviously, everyone fell about behind the camera.

JR: I love that. I can imagine his face. How often do you go back and watch the movie? And can you just watch it as a film or are you too invested in it?

ML: I don’t think I’ve actually watched it since maybe ten or fifteen years ago. My youngest daughter, Olivia, watched it when she was about three, and she thought it was actually my childhood.

JR: So funny! A couple of years later you reunited with Jack Wild for Melody. How was that experience to be back together again?

ML: It was great. Jack and I always got on really, really well. That whole movie was fun. It was just a bunch of kids having a good time, having to do a bit of work in between, which wasn’t really that difficult. Lots of guys who I knew from my school were involved in the film. It was great fun.

JR: The last full movie you made in the 70s was the Prince and the Pauper, or Crossed Swords here in the states. You reunited with Oliver Reed, and the film also had more big stars such as Ernest Borgnine, Raquel Welch, and Rex Harrison. Any anecdotes from the making of that?

ML: Oh my God, yeah. I remember cause I was seventeen, but I turned eighteen during the making of the movie, so I had to have a chaperone by law. She was with me when I turned seventeen, but when I turned eighteen, they sent her home. After I turned eighteen, Ollie invited me out for a meal with around a dozen other people. He got really, really drunk, as usual, so we decided to eat the meal in reverse, so they started off with brandy and then, and the dessert was some sort of chocolate pudding. And then someone flicked some around, and someone flicked some back, and it turned into a massive food fight, and we were asked to leave the restaurant in Budapest. And we were all still covered in chocolate. So, we go back to the hotel, and because of the brandy, I couldn’t do very much, and just fell asleep.

The next day, I had to get up early for filming, and later when I came back to the room, I noticed the maids hadn’t made the room up. I asked what was going on, and the maids said, “You’re a disgusting man, you’re a disgusting man.” I asked, “What do you mean?”

They thought I pooed in the bed. So, I explained to them and put my finger in the chocolate, and they started to scream, “No, you can’t do that!”, but eventually, they realized that it was chocolate pudding.

 

JR: That is hysterical! That scene is like something out of a movie. According to your IMDB page, you’re in two upcoming films? Fighting Talk and 1066, is that true?

ML: Fighting Talk was a project to help a mate out. We filmed about three days and it was pretty rubbish. It would’ve gone straight to DVD. So, that never really happened. I can’t even remember where we filmed, it was around three years ago.

There was another movie called 1066, which was on the cards for a bit, but I don’t think they can get the funding for it. It was a good idea and would’ve been quite a bit of fun to make.

JR: Are you open to doing more roles in the future?

ML: Yeah, if the right thing came along. I really enjoy it, it’s fun. I mean, it’s probably a little bit different now than when I was making them. There’s more freedom with using CGI and you can do more things on screen. Like, I just saw that movie Tenet and it was great. There’s no way they could’ve made things like that back then. There’s an awful amount of CGI in that, but it worked. It’s a very clever film, and it’s great. We used it a bit in Prince and the Pauper, but it was new technology. It would be fun to do something if the opportunity arose.

JR: Well, I would love to see you in more roles. We’ll have to get some casting directors on it! You currently have a successful practice, The Carlton Clinic, can you tell us about that, and how you got started doing it?

ML: I’ve been practicing as an osteopath and acupuncturist for about twenty-five, twenty-six years. I got into it through sports injuries. I did a high level of karate. I trained starting back in the late eighties. I used to have a practice in the town where I live, but now since Covid, I built a log cabin on my property, and I’m working from here, and it’s working out pretty well.

CARLTON CLINIC

JR: Other than it being a bad time for it, do you still do conventions and meet the fans?

ML: I’ve done a few in the states, and one in Japan. I do like the American ones, though, because I love your country. It’s a great country.

JR: So, come move!

ML: Well, my girlfriend is from Dallas. We go back and forth a lot. I was in New York, actually, when Covid kicked off. We saw the last Broadway show, before they shut everything down. Tragic.

JR: That’s sad. What’d you see?

ML: We saw the Bob Dylan show, Girl from the North Country. It’s kind of based on his songs. It was a fantastic show, but sadly, the next day they closed everything down, so we saw the last show.

JR: How often do fans reach out to you?

ML: Maybe three or four times a month. Usually sending photographs for me to sign and then I send them back.

 

JR: That’s really nice of you. I need to do that! Since we’re a site devoted to children’s books, what was your favorite book as a child?

ML: I used to read a lot of action books. I loved the author, Alistair Maclean, who wrote The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, those types of books. Where Eagles Dare was one of his popular books, and I loved reading that kind of stuff. And then, comic books.

JR: I grew up reading comics. Who was your favorite?

ML: I used to like the DC stuff. Flash.

JR: That’s my daughter’s favorite.

ML: They had really good stories, as well.

JR: And so many people love Oliver, what was your favorite childhood movie?

ML: Good question. I remember being taken to see The Exorcist when I was like twelve years old.

JR: That was your favorite childhood movie?

ML: Terrifying. I couldn’t sleep for around a week and had to go to bed with the lights on. I also saw The Godfather, which was a fantastic movie.

JR: You liked heavy movies as a child.

ML: I was never into Disney stuff, really, I was more into these.

 

JR: How can people follow you on social media?

ML: I have a Twitter account @MarkaLesterMark, but I’m not really active.

JR: Well, you might be getting some new followers now, so you might need to change that.

Mark, I thank you so much for your time today. It was a real pleasure!

 

That’s it for now, Mixed-Up Filers! Hope you enjoyed reading that as much as I enjoyed doing it. Until next time . . . 

 

Jonathan