Narration and Reading Aloud

Narration

Why not a female narrator?

Men’s voices are scarier. At least they are to me. (Unless we’re talking Kathy Bates inMisery.) Since Baby Grand is a suspense thriller, I wanted its telling to be pretty darn creepy. And I got some pretty creepy samples sent to me too. But, keep in mind, I also needed this male voice to be able to carry those chapters in which Jamie was the narrator, so I needed a male voice to have a pleasing quality, with only a hint of creepiness.

Why I picked a male narrator for the ‘Baby Grand’ Audiobook

It would have been nice to have a female narrating Midnight Feast, since it’s a story about a girl, and also because there are too few female narrators to achieve anything like a gender balance, but when I read the post above I realised it’s okay to have reasons for stuff like this.

The nice thing about storyapps is that they are narrated. This makes them good for a wider variety of age groups. Here’s a short article offering 5 ways to use audiobooks to help struggling readers. Naturally, narrated storybook apps are included in that group called ‘audiobooks’.

 

Reading Aloud

READING ALOUD: WHY IT MATTERS – A GUEST POST BY SPEECH AND LANGUAGE THERAPIST PRIYA DESAI at the Nosy Crow Blog

Lake Bell’s ‘In A World…’ Explores Why Women Aren’t Used To Narrate Trailers

Nudity In Picturebooks

Sam The Eagle On Nudity

This morning Cosmopolitan reports that UK authors are pushing for children’s literature to include sex in fiction for kids. That’s quite a headline grabber. Of course, reading the actual article offers a less sensationalist request:

  • Malorie Blackman says that including sex in fiction for kids will expose them to it in a shame-free, healthy and positive “safe setting”
  • Philip Pullman agrees, and says that  kids can benefit from seeing sex in a “moral context” where “actions have consequences”.

They’re not asking too much, are they? Bear in mind that in the publishing world, ‘children’s literature’ includes the young adult category.

I wish them all the luck in the world and, given the current attitude towards nudity in picture books, I think they’ll need it. Things haven’t changed all that much since Maurice Sendak’s most controversial book In The Night Kitchen was released in 1970. In that book is a picture of a little boy with no clothes on. We can see his penis.

I haven’t seen anything quite like that in picture book since. Maybe illustrated eBooks and self-publishing will offer writers opportunities to push the boundaries a little more? After all, not everyone is on board with the censorship of innocent nudity in picture books, and I count myself among them. However, distribution of our work relies on bigger powers, and here are the developer guidelines from Apple:

 

apple-rating-chart setting-a-rating-apple-guidelines

 

I recently saw a picture from a fellow developer who’d had his 4+  rated app rejected by Apple. The screenshot depicted a very innocent, almost inhuman looking, smooth-bodied creature. The advice from Apple was to ‘put some clothes on it’.

So, regardless of my personal attitude towards censorship, the real decision makers are standing at the gate of that walled garden.

MORE ON CENSORSHIP IN KIDLIT

Censor or suck it up? Racism and children’s books At Misrule

On censorship

Below are some notes from an interview between Australian author Sally Rippin and Kim Hill (Saturday Morning With Kim Hill, Radio New Zealand)

Examples of things which have been taken out of children’s books before publication:

  • children from walking alone (because guardians are legally obliged to accompany children)
  • sharp objects (because children shouldn’t be given sharp objects)
  • a boy climbing a ladder (so as not to encourage the climbing of ladders)
  • ‘Crossover’ fiction gets away with more compared to books marketed as ‘young adult’.
  • Gatekeepers are parents, teachers, librarians. There is a certain amount of self-censorship when writers write.
  • There is pressure on illustrators to create racially ambiguous characters rather than specific to one culture.

Sort of kind of related and also interesting: a post on female sexuality as depicted in young adult fiction, at YA Highway. And here is an article by author E.M. Kokie about how much more difficult it is to write about the sexual experiences of a female character than a male.

The most challenged books of 2012, and why from Book Riot

THE NAKED APPLE

Sales of digital comics have soared in the past three years. Readers love the look of comics on the iPad screen and they also love the convenience of in-app purchasing, which allows consumers to buy and store their comics within a single app. So it’s a big deal when Apple bans a comic—usually because of sexual or mature material or nudity—and it has happened to at least 59 comics this year.

Are Comics Too Hot For Apple?

You may think that creators of picture books for the iPad have less to worry about, but in fact the innocent nudity of bath time and related day-to-day activities is banned equally by Apple. I have seen children’s apps rejected which feature only the vaguest representations of human creatures. If nudity offends you, you’re safe with Apple. If, on the other hand, you think there should be more normalised nudity in children’s media, your bookshelf will need supplementation, because Apple does not distinguish between ‘nudity’ and ‘nakedness’.

Perry Nodelman explains why Apple employees, when working under deadline to accept or reject app submissions, might have trouble with such a distinction in his book Words About Pictures:

In Ways Of Seeing, John Berger suggests that the characteristic poses of nudes in paintings imply the superiority of the viewer, presumably male and dressed, and the subservience of the person they depict — inevitably female, totally exposed, and apparently delighted by her vulnerability in the face of superior power. While the naked human body is not as significant a subject of picture books as it is of conventional painting, its depiction in picture books deserves some discussion. Not only does it reveal much about the kinds of narrative information implied by the depiction of postures and gestures — above all, the communication of attitudes toward characters — but also it suggests how even cultural assumptions we believe we have outlived survive in surprising ways in literature and art.

As Berger defines it, nudity can be distinguished from mere nakedness by means of gestures. Naked people simply have their clothes off; nude people take on certain postures that suggest their availability, their passivity, their willingness to be vulnerable and to put themselves at the disposal of a superior viewer who has the right to survey them. They tend to be supine, relaxed, smiling sensuously with an implied consciousness of a viewer or with their eyes closed. If such poses and gestures represent nudity, then the unclothed children of picture books are, surprisingly often, nude — and not, surely, because artists with to suggest the sexual availability of young children but more likely because the gestures of nudity are so conventional and so interiorized that artists use them unconsciously when they depict naked bodies.

– Code, Symbol, Gesture

Nodelman offers some examples of such nudity in picturebooks:

The Water Babies, illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith

And that, folks, is how we end up with a blanket ban on nudity in the App Store. Meantime, I did wonder if Midnight Feast would be accepted, due to the bath time pages. Fortunately the app has made it through twice so far. Fingers crossed it keeps making it, though I will wonder every time we submit an update if a naked female back may at some stage not pass muster. Nodelman does point out that although female nudity in picture books is rare due to its close connection to sexuality, ‘the rare female nudes in picture books tend to sit in bathtubs or hold towels around themselves or hide behind trees; they almost always take on the traditional gestures of nudity, and they almost always smile out at viewers’.

Isn’t it interesting, that even when clothed, female characters — in picture books, not just in comics — ‘almost always take on the traditional gestures of nudity’.

While I understand the line must be drawn somewhere, I am reminded of a documentary I watched recently about young British naturists, who were joined for afternoon tea by a female friend who felt uncomfortable with complete nakedness, but equally uncomfortable fully clothed, so she thought she’d achieve a happy medium by eating afternoon tea in her underwear. As pointed out by one of the naked young men, her underwear had the uncanny ability to make the young woman appear more naked than if she were wearing nothing at all. Female underwear is highly sexualised; as for nakedness, not necessarily.

Censorship is a murky, muddy, ever-shifting beast, but I do wonder if the emphasis on nakedness in apps for children isn’t completely misplaced when the female characters who do appear in children’s media are so often striking the ‘nude pose’.

Nodelman writes, “In fact, pictures of naked boys almost all show them clearly doing something–moving, active, not posing.”

I would suggest from all this that it’s not the nakedness per se that offends certain censors*, because we get ‘clothed nude’ in spades; it is in fact naked female agency.

*Censorship technically only refers to government restriction. A company who decides not to allow something is technically making a business decision rather than imposing censorship in the truest sense.

 

RELATED

In The Buff from The Smart Set

iBooks and their covers are also subject to Apple’s business decisions. Apple refuses to allow female nipples on the cover of La Femme.

“Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.”

– John Berger, Ways of Seeing

Because so much religious energy is devoted to controlling sexual behaviour, either by disallowing it (or thoughts or representations of it) other than in strictly limited circumstances, or by preventing the amelioration of its consequences once it has happened, we have the spectacle of righteous people writing letters of complaint about televised nudity, while from the factory next door tons of armaments are exported to regions of the world gripped by poverty and civil war.

– A.C. Grayling, The Meaning Of Things

Dicks, Tits and Clits: What Would Equal-Opportunity On-Screen Nudity Look Like? from Jezebel

Why Are There So Few Dongs On TV? from Clementine Ford

The Social and Legal Arguments for Allowing Women to Go Topless in Public from The Atlantic

Thoughts On The Problems With Boys And Picturebooks

no boys allowed

UPDATE: Here is the latest hand-wringing on boys and books, this time from Jonathan Emmett.

 

The New Statesman has published an article by Jonathan Emmett who points out that the picturebook world is dominated by women. I’m simplifying here, but basically he argues that this is one problem with picturebooks today, and the feminisation of picturebooks explains why boys aren’t reading as early as girls are.

I feel very uneasy about this article, but I’m just going to respond in bullet point form, because I haven’t worked up my thoughts into a paragraphably coherent state.

All thirteen judges on this year’s Greenaway and Carnegie Medal panel are women. Last year there was only one man. Although there are plenty of men writing and illustrating picture books, the gatekeepers in the world of picture books are overwhelmingly female.

I agree that this is a problem. I agree with the author’s suggestion further down: fix it with quotas. I also like the idea of gender quotas for the big, important, financially significant book prizes for adults. Perhaps the picturebook world can lead the way. Part of me is glad that this imbalance is being noticed and talked about. Because that, folks, is what it feels like to be under-represented in the literary world.

There is a problem with boys and books — they don’t seem to want to read them as much as girls do. As a result, boys’ average reading abilities are lagging behind that of girls by the equivalent of one year’s schooling.

Is the problem instead that we’re expecting too much of our kids too soon? I hear that in America, what used to be taught in the first year of elementary school is now taught in pre-schooling.

“Kindergarten is now first grade, and first grade is now second grade,” says Anne Stoudt, a kindergarten teacher in suburban New Jersey for 19 years.

Scholastic, What Happened To Kindergarten?

Is it such a problem that boys are lagging behind? The reason this doesn’t concern me too much is because (speaking of large numbers, obviously) boys catch up in their own time. By the time students graduate from university (for instance) men will walk straight into higher paying jobs than their female classmates who did exactly the same degree. Did picturebooks really let those young men down?

One year after college graduation, men and women have much in common. In 2009, most women and men who had earned bachelor’s degrees the year before were young, single, childless, relatively inexperienced in the workplace, and working full time. We might expect to find little or no gender pay gap among this group of workers at the start of their careers. Yet just one year after college graduation, with their newly printed degrees in hand, men already earn more than women do.

Graduating To A Pay Gap, from AAUW

It’s predominately women publishers that select picture books for publication, women teachers that choose which books to read in nurseries and infant classrooms and women customers that purchase picture books for reading at home. Women aren’t keeping men out of these gatekeeper roles, the imbalance is there because relatively few men are interested in occupying them, but as a consequence picture books tend to reflect female tastes more than male ones.

The picturebook world is indeed becoming a pink ghetto. That happens with any industry which women join in great numbers. It happened in the 1980s with teaching, when a great number of men turned away from teaching as a desirable profession after increased awareness and concerns about child protection. Since the picturebook world requires an understanding of children, and since it’s still women who are doing the majority of childcare work, it’s no surprise that picturebook gatekeeping has likewise been left to the women. Julia Donaldson has also pointed out recently that children’s books get very little media coverage in the UK, especially considering how many people are buying children’s books. This surely reflects a general disregard for this form of literature. If men aren’t waving their hands in the air wanting to be picked as gatekeepers of children’s literature, might lack of status have something to do with it? We should fix that.

Even picture books that are intended to appeal primarily to boys reflect the tastes of the mother or grandmother that will usually be buying them as well as the child they’re bought for.

Note to society: stop spreading the message that childcare, including the organisation of birthday parties, preparation of school lunches and buying of presents are women’s work. Note to fathers, uncles and granddads: buy picturebooks. Where money appears, product will follow. (Only one in eight dads take the lead with reading to their children.)

Picture book pirates are less prone to combat than their counterparts in other media, monsters and aliens less frightening, vehicles and machines less technically detailed.

I’ve noticed the same thing and I agree that picturebooks are becoming too tame. Nothing annoys me more than a classic fairytale which has had its ending ameliorated. Those little pigs got et, dammit. But this isn’t actually a boy thing. I’m pretty sure that well-loved little girls are just as capable of processing frightening monsters and aliens as well-loved little boys. I suspect this trend is in response to an increasingly frightening and busy world, in which picturebooks are thought to be a refuge.

Elements with strong boy-appeal such as combat, peril, villainy and technology that are abundant in U certificate films like The Incredibles are rarely found or diluted in picture books.

I don’t want to see The Incredibles held up as a model for picturebook action. In case it’s been a while since you saw that film, here’s one scene, as explained by the F-Word:

Mr Incredible, who believes his wife and children are dead, is hanging sobbing in a torture device. Mirage, who has seen the light, sneaks into the room, turns off the machine and tries to tell him that they are in fact alive. Before she can get the words out, however, he picks her up by the neck, chokes her and starts shouting at her. At this point his miraculously still-alive Elastigirl enters the room and, noticing her, he is so delighted he forgets all about Mirage and drops her in a retching, gasping heap on the floor.

Why does violence have ‘strong boy appeal’? Well, that depends on which side of the nature/nurture debate you subscribe to. But here’s one thing that makes logical sense to me: If we expect that little boys like ‘combat’ (also known as violence and fighting), and put it into picturebooks at every opportunity, little boys are indeed more likely to like combat.

both sexes should be equally represented on the judging panel of the Kate Greenaway Medal

Yes, I agree, but while we’re on the topic of equal representation, I’d like to see as many female characters as male characters in modern picturebooks. I haven’t done a count, but Janet McCabe has, and if you guessed that the ratio is about 2:1 male to female, you’d be right. Here’s the full paper. I’m all for gender equality, but personally, I think that ratio is more in need of urgent correction. On the other hand, if picturebook creators (writers, illustrators and publishers) weren’t consistently being told that there’s a boy problem, we might not see such a gender imbalance. There’s an old chestnut doing the rounds that ‘While girls will read anything, boys won’t read about girls.’ This isn’t actually backed up by evidence. This very article provides the counter evidence: Apparently boys aren’t reading even though picturebooks are heavily populated with male characters. Meantime, girls get annihilated. Not the answer.

if we want books to appeal to boys as much as girls, shouldn’t the UK’s “most prestigious children’s book awards” reflect male tastes as much as female ones?

There’s a few unspecified assumptions here. First, we’re starting with a gender binary. That is never good. Gender is better thought of as existing on a continuum, with the acknowledgement that differences between individuals are far more significant than generalised differences between different genders. We’re assuming that little boys and little girls are different creatures entirely. Maybe. But how? How are they different, exactly? Tell me how they’re inherently different and then we might be able to make a start on fixing this boy problem. Perhaps my own stance on this is starting to become clear. Write good picturebooks and they will come. Boys AND girls. Be aware of your own gender biases, but write first and foremost for ‘children who live in the same diverse and complicated world’, not for ‘boys’ or for ‘girls’, in order to fix some perceived gender problem. We should no more write for boys/girls than for blacks/whites, aboriginals/immigrants, men/women. It seems ridiculous to say of an adult novel, ‘This is for women aged between 25 and 30’, yet this is what marketers seem to expect of picturebook creators.

men from related professions such as teaching could be included [in the judging panel]

I’m not on board with this at all. Being good at one doesn’t make you good at or knowledgeable about the other. If there are indeed plenty of men in picturebook world itself (as pointed out in the article), recruit them.

 

An Interesting Thought: I Can Completely Understand Why Parents Spend More Time Teaching Girls Than Boys, from Mommyish

See also: BEYOND BOY BOOKS AND GIRL BOOKS by Lea Kelley at The Nerdy Book Club

An interesting piece about why men say they prefer non-fiction from TOC Reilly

ALA 2013: Attracting Reluctant Male Readers from The Hub

National Literacy Trust Report on Boys’ Reading at GMP

Boys Now Reading As Well As Girls, Study Suggests, from BBC