Books and movies

Indiana Jones HandbookI’m a big fan of the Indiana Jones movies (I have the first three on DVD), and I was waiting for the new one, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While waiting, I received a copy of a new book that came out alongside the film, The Indiana Jones Handbook by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnese, from Quirk Books (distributed by Chronicle Books), and I wanted to recommend it for YA collections. (ISBN: 978-1594742217)

The Indiana Jones Handbook is, basically, a manual of how to be like Indiana Jones, the adventurous archaeologist. Want to learn how to deal with a tarantula bite? (Remember the tarantulas at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark?) Care to know how to avoid being poisoned? (Recall when Dr. Jones gets poisoned at the beginning of Temple of Doom and has to get that antidote?) Want to know the best way to get across a rope bridge? This guide tells you, with its tongue edging into its teeth, how to deal with these situations and lots more.

The Handbook also has several color photos from the first three films (but none from the new one, unfortunately), which I’ll bet that plenty of your fifth-through-twelfth-graders have seen on a small screen. There are lots of step-by-step diagrams, too. And I have a feeling that the teens and preteens you serve will get a big kick from reading about how to deal with motorcycle sidecars, or with quicksand (which plays a critical role in a scene in the new film).

Did you see the new film, by the way? I really enjoyed it. It’s not quite as good as the first and third Indy films, but it was still lots of fun. And when it comes out on DVD, I’ll get a copy, too.

Children and TechnologyTwo links passed me by recently that I must pass on to you. The first one takes us back to this past fall, when I was waiting anxiously for the movie adaptation of The Golden Compass to arrive in theaters. Now that TGC‘s been released on DVD, it appears as the lead in a slide show on the Entertainment Weekly site called “Read the Book! 23 Disappointing Movie Adaptations.”

I ended up going to the movies twice (one a free preview, one I paid for) to see The Golden Compass, and in the end I had to admit that although there were a lot of things I liked about the film version (I thought the cast did an excellent job with the abbreviated script), it was still too chopped up and jumbled that to be easy to follow. Plus it had been cut so short that if you hadn’t read the book, there was a lot about Lyra’s alternate world that would be hard to grasp. Its worst sin, as the caption says, was that the film version “diluted its more sinister, religion-defying Magisterium elements into family-friendly pop soda.”

The other link may gross you out, particularly when you look over at all those public access PCs that all those kids and teens are typing and mousing upon. This Yahoo News article is called “Computer keyboards can be dirtier than a toilet: study.” Here’s a quote that sums up a study done by a UK computer magazine, Which? Computing:

“Most people don’t give much thought to the grime that builds up on their PC, but if you don’t clean your computer, you might as well eat your lunch off the toilet,” said Sarah Kidner, editor of “Which? Computing” in a statement.

Does your library clean the keyboards and mice of its public PCs? If not, all I can say is “eww.” Get those latex gloves out…

Iron Man, a typical protagonist of guys\' fictionHere’s a great Philadelphia Inquirer story I found through – it’s called “Men – in general – are not ones for the books.” The female author, Jen A. Miller, bemoans the fact that the most of the guys she’s known just aren’t book readers, and wonders why that is. She writes:

According to Publishers Weekly, 68 percent of book purchases are made by women (and we suspect they are buying for themselves, not the men in their lives).

And the National Center for Education Studies reported that 71 percent of women, vs. 57 percent of men, have read a book in the last six months.

“If I had to make a huge, sweeping, overgeneralized statement, guys probably read less – and less fiction – than women,” says Jeff Garigliano, a senior editor at Portfolio magazine and the author of Dogface, a “guy” book about a punishing summer camp for kids who’ve been bad.

Well, duh, Jeff. Those of us who make our living trying to get kids (which include boys) and books together have known this for, well, decades maybe?

Garigliano has an interesting – and totally wrong – notion of why guys don’t read as much fiction as girls. He speculates that males “think they should have outgrown the notion of make-believe, so they can’t find as much enjoyment in fiction.”

Large percentages of the boys and men I know love guy fiction, which is almost entirely make-believe. It’s just that very little guy fiction is in novel-style books. It’s in TV shows, movies, and comics. It’s Star Wars, Sandman, Batman, Lost, the Terminator and Predator films, and all the other stuff guys (and more than a few girls, too) look at for fun. How many guys will be going to see the new comics flick Iron Man, and then the new Indiana Jones movie, between now and Memorial Day? You betcha; see you there.

But it is true, as we all know, that guys prefer their books to be nonfiction. And Miller quotes – guess who? – our pal Jon Scieszka, who it’s great to see popping up in so many of these Net and newspaper stories. He tells the truth, so I give him a cheer.

Spiderwick Chronicles posterI’ve been at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia over the weekend, and had a chance a few hours ago to see a preview showing of the upcoming movie version of The Spiderwick Chronicles. There aren’t any really big stars in the movie; Freddie Highmore plays the twin brothers Jared and Simon Grace and Sarah Bolger their teen sister Mallory, and David Straithairn plays Arthur Spiderwick.

If you know about the five primary books in the Spiderwick series by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (I must confess that I’ve never read them all the way through, but I’ve read bits and chunks of a couple of them), you know that Jared, Simon, and Mallory are brought to the old Spiderwick estate by their mother when their parents split up. Jared discovers a book written by Arthur Spiderwick, one of his ancestors, that tells lots of amazing facts about fairies, brownies, and mythical creatures that live in the forest surrounding the house. These creatures include a tribe of goblins, led by the evil ogre Mulgarath.

As soon as Jared reads the book, Mulgarath and the goblins appear to become instantly aware of it, and begin to chase the Grace kids. The computer-generated goblins and fairies are kind of cheesy but fun – have you seen that big blobby Mucus Man (or whatever his name is) in those Mucinex TV commercials? They’re a lot like that. The movie races away at a breakneck speed, barely taking a breath, and when it does pause, it does so that Jared can shout and stew melodramatically over his beloved father leaving the family.

In the end, it’s no masterpiece, but it is enjoyable, with some great slapstick (Seth Rogen and Martin Short do a great job as the voices of Hogsqueal the hobgoblin and Thimbletack the brownie). While I cringed at the family melodrama, I talked to several of the other librarians after the showing, and they all said that the movie as a whole was a lot of fun. One told me that it was good to see the whole sequence of books – that she felt went on, and on, without much plot development – all put together into one movie with a real resolution. It opens in theaters all over on February 15.

Books & weedingReading the New York Times this morning, I chuckled as I learned that Scholastic has designed its own series of books that its executives hope will become the successor to the Harry Potter series. It’ll be called The 39 Clues, and they’ve hired Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson Greek-mythology-based books The Lightning Thief and Sea of Monsters, to lay down its basic design and characters.

Evidently the Scholastic executives were not happy when J.K. Rowling kept all the rights to the Harry Potter series, and Scholastic missed out on the cash from the movie, computer game, and product rights to the massive worldwide sales of everything HP. So this time Scholastic has big hopes for a big cash windfall into its pockets. From Motoko Rich’s Times article:

Called “The 39 Clues,” this series will feature 10 books — the first of which is to go on sale next September — as well as related Web-based games, collectors’ cards and cash prizes. The project demonstrates Scholastic’s acknowledgment that as much as the publisher heralded the renewed interest in reading represented by the Harry Potter books, many children are now as transfixed by Internet and video games as they are by reading.

“We want to go where the kids are and really be part of their complete world, rather than going to one aspect of their world,” said David Levithan, an executive editorial director at Scholastic. He added, “We talk of it as being subversively educational.”

With Riordan as the author of Volume 1 of the series, Gordon Korman is under contract to write volume 2, and other authors (see the article) will write the rest.

Well, we’ll all wait and see what happens. I’m a big fan of Riordan’s work, and I suppose it’s possible to create a big demand for a children’s series if your publicity budget bulks large enough, but I think it’ll be difficult indeed to create “another” Harry Potter series. Publishers have spent the last 10 years working hard to duplicate the series’ sway over kids (and adults), and haven’t even come close yet.

AlethiometerNo, I haven’t turned this blog into a Golden Compass fan club blog. But with the movie debuting on Friday, there’s a lot of stuff in the news about Philip Pullman, atheism, and the His Dark Materials series.

And yes, sorry, I admit it; I am a fan.

First of all, there are some good quotes from author/children’s book editor Anita Silvey, as well as Mary Landrum of the McConnell Center for the Study of Youth Literature at the University of Kentucky, in this Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader article, “Young readers likely to miss book’s references to religion.” Silvey says the controversy demonstrates why we rarely see religion playing a central role in mainstream children’s literature, particularly if an author has a “message”:

If a person’s vision of God isn’t your version of God, it begins to get books pulled from libraries,” Silvey says.

But in the case of The Golden Compass, she says most young readers aren’t really paying attention to the issues that have many adults in such a bother.

Landrum says that unless a reader is aware of Pullman’s religious philosophy, it’s easy for readers to miss the religious message until it becomes more overt in The Amber Spyglass, the third book in the series.

And then we have the American Humanist Association, which is preparing to present Pullman with the International Humanist Award at their 2008 Annual Conference, to be held in June. They seem excited that religious skepticism is getting some attention in the media, courtesy of Pullman’s work. In their press release, Fred Edwords of the AHA says:

Humanists support a free exchange of ideas, and we haven’t come out against films with subtle religious messages, such as ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.’ So we expect that humanist movies should be afforded the same opportunity to be seen, free from such shameless stunts, even if people don’t agree with the message.”

After seeing the movie, I thought it was frankly pretty tough to see any real relationship in it between the Magisterium – who come off as a cultlike conspiracy of generic movie bad guys – and religion. If the film of The Amber Spyglass is ever made, things may become interesting – if you remember, near the end of that book, Lyra and Will cause the “death” of the Authority, who is the false God (Pullman makes it clear that the Authority is not the Creator) worshiped by the Church.

But I think the biggest danger to young people from The Golden Compass film is the violence (which except for one scene, which I won’t spoil, isn’t even all that bad).

Golden Compass imageI got hold of a pass to see a sneak preview showing of The Golden Compass at a Manhattan theatre last night, and I definitely recommend that you see it when it opens on Friday the 7th.

The only caution is that you might want to see it twice. It goes by really fast.

Perhaps because all three of the Lord of the Rings movies were three hours long, which meant that a theater held fewer showings and thus took in less money, it looks as if the studio, New Line (the same studio that put out the LOTR) told Chris Weitz, the Golden Compass director, to keep things moving at a good clip.

And so he did. The movie clocks in at slightly less than two hours; it whips by. The story has been edited so tightly that no sooner do you meet Lord Asriel than his scenes are over; no sooner do you meet the Gyptians than they’ve sailed on. But what you do see has been beautifully conceived; the steampunk trappings of Lyra’s world, with the retro zeppelins and anabaric carriages, made me smile hugely.

Those who, like myself, have read the trilogy more than once will be surprised by the film. The order of some of the scenes has been rearranged; the characters who perform certain actions (notice I’m not giving you any spoilers here) are not the ones you would expect if you’ve read the book. But somehow it all works, and the actors do a great job. Philip Pullman, the man himself, says he approves. The computer-generated imagery of the daemons ranges from super-cool to kind of cheesy, but the armored bear Iorek Byrnison (helped along by a perfect and sepulchral voice performance from Ian McKellen) bulks wonderfully; you really feel his size and weight.

Even though I saw this for free, I’m going back to buy a ticket and see it again. I’m already waiting for the movie of The Subtle Knife.

Lyra from the Golden Compass movieThe first review of the Golden Compass movie has gone up on the UK’s Telegraph Web site, written by the paper’s John Hiscock – and it’s neither especially good nor especially bad. The essence of the review, for me, is pretty much contained in one quote tinged with a little disappointment: “…it is the computer-generated animals and rodents which are the real stars – rarely has so much human talent been so overshadowed by digital effects.”

Sigh. I was afraid of this happening. Anyone who has seen as many fantasy and action pictures filled with computer-generated imagery as I have knows that CGI can’t carry the picture – it’s the story and the emotional involvement it brings with it that make the film a success or a yawn. I can only hope that when I see it, I won’t be unhappy because Pullman’s wonderful story has evaporated into pixels.

Golden Compass book coverAnd now the challenges begin. With all the accusations astir in blogs and chain e-mails that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series has been teaching children to be atheists, some religious schools are deciding to pull copies of the series from their library shelves, or trying to discourage families from reading the book as the release date of the Golden Compass film, December 7, approaches.

In Austin, TX, the local Catholic bishop has asked that the series be removed from the diocese’s school libraries, for example. In fact, the request soon turned into all of Pullman’s books:

Last week, Austin Bishop Greg­ory Aymond, concerned with the book’s portrayal of the church as hierarchical and authoritarian, ordered all copies of Pullman’s trilogy, titled His Dark Materials, banned from Catholic schools in the diocese. Aymond said in a written statement: “Pullman’s books attempt to devalue religion, especially Christianity. Our children deserve better reading material than what is in these books.” According to Aymond’s office, Catholic school Superintendent Ned Vanders told an assembly of principals Wednesday that the bishop had “requested” all of Pullman’s books be removed, and by Thursday the books were off library shelves.

Some Protestant religious schools, the story says, are also calling for boycotts of the book, and even a public middle school is discouraging children from reading the books in an afterschool book club.

Will Lyra Belacqua become the next Harry Potter in the eyes of conservative religious protesters? Stay tuned.

The Golden Monkey from Golden CompassYou’ve got to check out two pages, especially if you’re as big a fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books as I am, and especially if you’re waiting excitedly for the Golden Compass movie, which opens Dec. 7, as I also am. The famous toy store F.A.O. Schwarz has a “Golden Compass Boutique” on its Web site. Do you ever wish you had a daemon of your own to cuddle? Well, now you can buy stuffed figures of the daemons of the major characters in the upcoming movie. (Or even a figure of the armored polar bear Iorek, or action figures of Lyra, Mrs. Coulter, and Lord Asriel.) Ain’t marketing great? Shown is the golden monkey, Mrs. Coulter’s daemon.

I’ve been exploring the main fanboy (and -girl) site for the movie,, which has some interesting articles and discussions about the upcoming movie as well as the series. If you’re a fan, pay a visit. I learned, for example, that the film will not include the last three chapters of the book, using them instead as the beginning of the second movie, The Subtle Knife. (This, of course, supposes that Golden Compass will be a huge box office hit and there will be a movie of The Subtle Knife.) But Pullman says that he approves of the change:

Every film has to make changes to the story that the original book tells – not to change the outcome, but to make it fit the dimensions and the medium of film. I’m very happy with the work the filmmakers have done…”

Which, given all the controversy over the theology of the books, and the rumors of the “watering-down” of the movie, is a relief to read.

LATER: Oh no! Look at this – I just found, on, a new press release from Corgi toys, announcing a much more complete set of Golden Compass action figures and a toy alethiometer. The alethiometer contains a “digi-daemon” of your own. Check them out!


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