Archive for April 15th, 2018


Acclaimed author Jonah Winter discusses the difficulties—and necessities—of introducing picture-book readers to tough topics.

Jonah Winter’s career as a children’s author began with Diego, a 1991 picture-book biography of the famed Mexican painter. Since then, Winter’s penned more than 30 titles, including The Secret World of Hildegard (2007), Jazz Age Josephine (2012), and Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (2015).

There’s no doubt: with his signature style, sometimes spare, sometimes exuberant, Winter has a knack for converting challenging subjects into compulsively readable, eye-opening texts for young readers. We last spoke with Winter following the publication of Peaceful Heroes (2009), a tribute to peace activists around the world. Here Winter offers insight into his more recent works, particularly The Secret Project (2017), as well as the ever-changing landscape of kidlit.

SHEMROSKE:  The Manhattan Project—and the havoc it wreaked—is difficult enough for adults to grapple with. Yet, in   The Secret Project    (2017), you deftly translate the subject for children. Can you talk a bit about your writing process? How do you decide which parts of a story to keep and which to leave out?
 WINTER: Your question gets to the heart of writing picture-book nonfiction. Due to the constraints of the genre, a nonfiction-picture-book author always has to pick and choose what elements to include and what to leave out. With the best subjects, there is an obvious story that is begging to be told.

I will admit that the story I chose to tell in The Secret Project is not what most authors would consider an obvious picture-book story. First of all, it doesn’t have a happy ending. In fact, the ending is about as devastating as anything I can imagine. Second, it’s about what most people consider to be an incredibly complex topic—nuclear physics, and specifically, the invention of the atom bomb commissioned by the U.S. government during WWII.

I happen to believe that children can and do, constantly, handle a lot more than most adults give them credit for. They don’t need everything to be sugar-coated. They don’t need to be lied to. Sometimes they need to be challenged. Sometimes they need books that broach, head-on, their worst fears. They need adults to talk to them and treat them like the smart, brave, curious beings that they are. And so, I wrote a picture book about the atom bomb.

In terms of how I made decisions on what to keep and discard in this complex topic, the age level of my readers helped determine much of that. And the story I wanted to tell, after my visit to the Bradbury Science Museum, in Los Alamos, was essentially a very simple story. In fact, I immediately saw the picture-book format as the perfect format for the story I wanted to tell.

I’m not a nuclear scientist, and I’m not exactly what you would call a huge fan of the American government as reflected in American foreign policy. So: American government takes over boys’ school in an incredibly beautiful, peaceful part of the world—and then they hire some scientists to build, in total secret, the most evil, powerful weapon ever created. Then—kaboom—they blow it up.

“Brought a quick end to the war” is propaganda, and ever since I was a little kid, I never believed it. The “saved lives” argument has always struck me as even more ludicrous. My goal in writing this very simple story about a very complex topic was to remove the story from the usual context in which it is usually safely placed in American history books (one that promotes a positive image of America and presents the bomb as a necessary evil) and put it in the context that I believe is the real context: a beautiful world, full of life, art, peace, Katsina dolls. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

There are two ways to frame The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The first is to categorize it as an extension of sorts to the seven-season Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which it immediately followed.  the other is to count it as a standalone show with many distinct contrasts, including the obvious running time, temperament and general disavowal of the patented twist ending that was common with its celebrated predecessor.  It could be argued that the three season Hour had a more persuasive kinship with Boris Karloff’s Thriller, which ran in 1960-61, even if Gothic horror is only part of the Hitchcock equation in this sadly underrated and under aired television property.  In addition to dual categorization there is a similar disagreement among television fans about the quality of the final product.  Some prefer the taut, economical and more pointed Presents while others see the successor as the opportunity to expand material and develop stories more comprehensively.  While I do appreciate Presents greatly, and consider it one of anthology television’s finest entries, I am with those who find that at its very best Hour eclipses Presents, but there is as there would be with the daunting challenging of maintaining quality every week in a one-hour shows far more duds and shows that simply do not work.  To be sure the scripts are generally more complex, and the production values more elaborate and interesting, not to mention character development obviously a stronger thrust with extended duration.

Yet writers for the most part were partial to Presents.  Says Henry Slesar:  “There was always the possibility of doing what I call ‘gems.’  The half-hours were compact and full of sharp point-making, bringing the audience in at the middle, and then hitting them with the climax.  Very clean.  This got a little difficult to achieve in the hour shows, which  were more like features except that they weren’t, not really.  They were actually more like extended half-hours.  More was told about the same thing.  I think the show suffered because of it, and I think the Hitchcock people felt so too.”  Still there were some that disagreed.  Gilbert Seldes in TV Guide opined “When Alfred Hitchcock decided to extend his show to a full hour, he ended one of the best series in television history and brilliantly began another which is even better.  With more time at his disposal, Hitchcock adds a new dimension to his work.  You may call it depth and you may also say that to the mystery of action, of which he is a great master, he now adds to the mystery of human beings.” (more…)

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