What Every Kindergartener Needs: A Study Guide for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road?

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Recently, Moppet Books, led by Frederik Colting and Melissa Medina, launched a series of so-called “learning guides” for children based on classic novels for adults. Known as KinderGuides, the books contain illustrations and simplified versions of the original classic plots.

These derivative works would be fine if the classic books were in the public domain, like L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, a source of inspiration for Anusha of Prospect Corner (Modern Middle Grade), and Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the basis for Amelia Elkins Elkins (Contemporary Fiction).

While at least one forthcoming KinderGuide is based on a public domain work–Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice–the majority are based on books that are still under copyright. The first set of KinderGuides includes the following copyrighted works: Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Moppet Books does not have a license to borrow from these novels, prompting the literary estates of Capote, Hemingway, Kerouac, and Clarke, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster to sue them for copyright infringement. The plaintiffs filed the complaint–available here (PDF)–in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on January 19, 2017.

According to the complaint:

Although defendants call their Infringing Works ‘guides,’ the Infringing Works do not purport to be companion reference books or study guides for readers of the novels, such as those commonly used by college students. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a situation in which a 6-year-old child would have the need for a ‘study guide’ to inform his or her understanding of the adult novels.

Yes, it is hard to see a Kindergartener using a “study guide” for these classics, but the derivative works could still be “fair use” (and therefore not copyright infringement) depending on its (1) purpose, (2) nature, (3) the “amount or substantiality of the portion” of the original work used; and (4) the impact of the use on the original work’s market. Copyright Act, 17. U.S.C. § 107.

Without examining the allegedly infringing work against the original novel, I can’t say whether I think these KinderGuides violate copyright law. My gut sense is that it could be copyright infringement if the KinderGuides add little new content to the original works (and thus aren’t sufficiently “transformative”) and use a substantial portion of the original works. We’ll see what happens with the case.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time Moppet’s Frederik Colting has found himself in court facing similar allegations. He is the author (writing under a pen name) of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, the unauthorized sequel to J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. In 2009, Salinger filed suit against Colting, alleging copyright infringement. In the settlement, Colting agreed not to sell his derivative novel in the United States.

Among the “coming titles” in Colting’s KinderGuides series is a children’s version of Catcher in the Rye. I wonder what the Salinger estate thinks about that.

A Review of Anusha of Prospect Corner (Our #Ownvoices Novel Inspired By Anne of Green Gables)!

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Via Sinead at The Huntress of Diverse Books, a book blogger with Sri Lankan roots:

I had such a weird feeling while reading this book, as I was actually able to relate to some of the experiences that Anusha and Pramila had. I’ve never been represented like this before, so it took me a long time to get used to it. People not knowing where Sri Lanka is; people asking where I’m originally from; and the mispronunciation of my name (even though my name is Irish) – these are all things that have actually happened to me.

One of my goals when I was writing Anusha of Prospect Corner with my twins was to create a character with whom they could identify, and it’s wonderful to know that others identify with Anusha too. Sinead is a quarter Sinhalese Malaysian, and Anusha, like my daughters/co-authors, is a quarter Sri Lankan. The experiences Anusha and her mother have come from experiences I and my family members have had as multiracial Americans of Sri Lankan ancestry.

Sinead’s full review of our middle grade novel is available here. I shared her thoughts with my twins, and they were thrilled. Thank you, Sinead, for reading and reviewing our book!

To learn more about Anusha of Prospect Corner, find it on:

Here’s the description:

For Anusha Smyth, four-leaf clovers pop out of the grass like 3D optical illusions, practically begging her to pick them. She hopes they’ll bring her luck. She has big plans for 7th grade, but first she needs to convince her mom to move back to the United States. Unfortunately, a nosy neighbor keeps getting in the way. With Mrs. Lowry on the prowl — and she isn’t the only obstacle — Anusha’s going to need more than luck to make her dreams come true.

PS. Anusha’s “superpower” is something I share. I don’t look for four-leaf clovers. They find me. Over the summer, I even came across a six-leaf clover.

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Eight Years Later… #KidLit

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Eight years ago, my twins and I watched President Barack Obama take the oath of office. My daughters were only a year old. Today, they are nine, and none of us will watch the inauguration of President Obama’s successor.

Instead, when they come home from school, we will re-read President Obama’s children’s book, Of Thee I Sing, and reflect on the personality traits that make someone a great leader.

For more on this book, see Of Thee I Sing: Inspiring Little Girls to be Future Leaders. I hope we will have a female president before my daughters are old enough to run for the position.

Amal Meets Amal (Finally) #DiverseBookBloggers #ReadDiverse2017

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I don’t often come across a character in a book who shares my first name: Amal, which is Arabic in origin and generally means “hope.” Thanks to Amal Clooney,* more people in my part of the world are aware of it now, but when I was a kid, I didn’t come across any other “Amals” in reality or in fiction. The only exception is “Amahl” from the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, and not only is that character’s name spelled differently from mine, but we’re also different genders. His existence encouraged many people to assume I’m male when they see my name on paper, a mistake that used to bother me when I was a kid.

Back then, I would have appreciated a book like Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. This light, young adult novel features an Australian-Muslim-Palestinian teenager named Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim. Like me, she knows what it’s like to look different from everyone else at school, to practice a different religion, and to have a name that people frequently misspell or misstate. As she recounts hearing:

Hey Amal, did you notice the sub teacher called you ‘Anal’ at rollcall this morning?

I’m familiar with that embarrassing typo too. I often receive mail addressed to “Mr. Anal [B.].” Spell check is not my friend.

It was nice to read a book with a character who knows what this feels like. Amal Abdel-Hakim is smart, funny, and brave enough to assert her identity even when she knows it won’t be easy. In the novel, she decides to wear a hijab full-time, including at her snooty private school. Ms. Walsh, the principal, is opposed to Amal’s choice, saying,

Amal… hmmm… I don’t want to- I mean, I want to tread delicately on this… sensitive issue… hmm… Did you speak to anybody about wearing… about abandoning our school uniform?

Ms. Walsh assumes that Amal’s parents are forcing her to wear the headscarf–which is not true–and then tells Amal that she’s violating the school’s “history of tradition” by deviating from the strict uniform policy. It’s an Australian private school, which the novel suggests might be able to get away with prohibiting students from wearing clothing associated with their religion. You’ll have to read the novel to find out what happens.

In my country, the United States, private schools are often able to impose strict dress codes that prohibit religious clothing or symbols because students at private schools don’t have constitutional rights, including the First Amendment’s right to freely exercise religion. Public schools are another matter. As the U.S. Supreme Court said in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), public school students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”** However, courts have upheld many restrictions on student expression, including restrictions that impinge on religious freedom, especially if the restriction is viewpoint- and content-neutral. See, e.g. Jacobs v. Clark County School District, 529 F.3d 419 (2008) (upholding a dress code that prohibited a printed message that reflected a student’s religious beliefs).

These days, whatever the constitution may or may not require, many schools avoid the issue by choosing to have dress codes that include religious exemptions. Here’s one example (PDF): “Head apparel (hats and hoods) are not permitted to be worn inside the school building, with the exception of those worn for medical or religious purposes,” thus permitting hijabs and similar religious clothing.

I wonder, though, as my country becomes increasingly Islamophobic, will these exemptions disappear? If so, will the courts condone it? We shall see.

 

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*Thanks, but no thanks. Virtually everyone I meet for the first time points out that (1) I share my name with George Clooney’s wife, and (2) we’re both lawyers. I’m tired of having this conversation over and over again. [Update: And now that Amal and George are expecting twins, they’ll add that to the list too!]

**Public school teachers don’t “shed their constitutional rights [] at the schoolhouse gate” either. However, at least in my state, they do not have the right to wear religious clothing at school. In Pennsylvania, a state law prohibits public school teachers from “wearing… any dress, mark, emblem or insignia indicating the fact that such teacher is a member or adherent of any religious order, sect, or denomination.” 24 Pa. Cons. St. Ann. § 11-1112; see U.S. v. Bd. of Educ. for Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia, 911 F.2d 882 (3d Cir. 1990) (upholding the statute under an employment discrimination law because “barring religious attire is important to the maintenance of an atmosphere of religious neutrality in the classroom”).

***For another opinion on Does My Head Look Big in This?, see: Huntress of Diverse Books (“Abdel-Fattah took a topic that is discussed in such detail so often (nowadays and at that time) and was able to make me feel like I wasn’t being lectured.”)

Anusha of Prospect Corner: A Sri Lankan-American Anne of Green Gables

Anusha of Prospect Corner is now available! My twins, Maram and Samira, are my co-authors.

Our middle grade novel is a modern, multicultural homage to one of my favorite novels from childhood, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.  Anusha’s family does not fully mirror our family’s ethnic or religious identities — it’s fiction, after all — but Anusha’s family and our family are both Sri Lankan-American (I’m half Sri Lankan).

In the video (above), Samira refers to “Anusha’s Origin,” which is a note at the beginning of the novel about how this project developed. Here it is:

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To learn more about Anusha of Prospect Corner, find it on:

We are excited to share Anusha with you!

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Hope In The Dark: The Joy of Chasing Butterflies #SJBookClub

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It feels wrong to be happy.

As Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark, a thought-provoking book she wrote in 2003-04 to counter the despair so many of us felt during the tumultuous years of the Bush Administration:

[A] part of the Puritan legacy [of the left] is the belief that no one should have joy or abundance until everyone does, a belief that’s austere at one end, in the deprivation it endorses, and fantastical in the other, since it awaits a universal utopia.

But, as she explains, “Joy sneaks in anyway, abundance cascades forth uninvited,” and it sustains us.

Solnit gives us the example of Roger Casement, a human rights activist and Irish nationalist, who took breaks from his investigation of human rights abuses in South America a century ago “to admire handsome local men and to chase brilliantly colored local butterflies.”

Coincidentally, I’m looking forward to chasing brilliantly colored butterflies in a few months (I plead the Fifth on admiring handsome men from afar in the meantime 😉 ). Greeting butterflies in my garden is a dream I’ve had since the bleak days after the 2016 election, when my daughters asked me what they could do in response to Donald Trump’s unconscionable win.

At first, I didn’t know what two third graders and a kindergartener could do. Whatever “political” activity it was had to be tangible, relatively easy to understand, and meaningful to them. It became clearer when they shared their fears about the environment (a fear I didn’t substantiate by saying anything about Trump’s anti-science pick for the Environmental Protection Agency).

So, we’ve decided to plant a butterfly garden. We joined the Monarch Squad at the World Wildlife Fund, we learned about the declining monarch population, we planted milkweed seeds in November (we’ll do another round of milkweed planting in the spring), and we’ve started to research butterfly-friendly plants.

Most of our work in the garden will happen during my daughters’ spring break in a few months, but for now, it’s fun to plan our project and to dream about beautiful butterflies. This project gives us a sense of joy we sorely need during these dark times.

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*I’m reading Hope in the Dark for the Social Justice Book Club (hosted by Kerry @ Entomology of a Bookworm and Janani @ The Shrinkette). I’m 50% finished with it. Solnit wrote the book in 2003-04; however, it has a more recent foreword (2015) and afterward (2014).

**I’m sorry to have found out through Google that Roger Casement met a sad end.

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Not a Monarch, but a beautiful butterfly I found in someone else’s garden. Is it an eastern black swallowtail?