Popular children’s author Joanna Cole dies aged 75

Joanna Cole, the author of the Magic School Bus series of children’s books has sadly passed away at the age of 75. The cause of death was announced as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

“Joanna Cole had the perfect touch for blending science and story,” Dick Robinson, the Scholastic chairman and CEO said in a statement released on Wednesday. “Joanna’s books, packed with equal parts humor and information, made science both easy to understand and fun for the hundreds of millions of children around the world who read her books and watched the award-winning television series”.

The idea for Magic School Bus came in the mid-1980’s as teachers across America continued to request that Scholastic publish more books that explored the topic of science through the medium of storytelling. Cole was brought on board to pen the stories and the rest, as they say, is history.

Magic School Bus has taken tens of millions of children from the far reaches of space to the dark depths of our ocean. But it wasn’t just on the page that children got to fall in love with Ms Frizzle and her gang of students, there is also a popular TV show and a Netflix series based on Cole’s creation. It will even be arriving on the big screen in the future with Elizabeth Banks set to play the inspiring Ms Frizzle.

“I think for Joanna the excitement was always in the idea. What? Why? How?” The series’ illustrator Bruce Degen said in a statement. “And with The Magic School Bus it was how to explain it so that it is accurate and in a form that a kid can understand and use. And you can actually joke around while you are learning. She had a rare sense of what could be humorous.”

Cole and Degen only just recently completed The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution which is scheduled to come out next spring.

Cole was a lifelong fan of science and worked as a librarian and magazine editor before finding her true calling with The Magic School Bus.

The world of children’s literature is a little sadder today.

Philip Pullman will release a His Dark Materials novella in October

The Novella was written in 2004 and auctioned for charity and introduces us to an adult Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon

A never before seen story from His Dark Materials series will be published this autumn. The story, written by series creator Philip Pullman, was created over a decade ago and was never intended to be published.

Serpentine follows the adventures of Lyra Silvertongue as she returns to Trollesund, the remote town where she first met the iconic armoured Bear Iorek Brynison and aeronaut Lee Scoresby back in Northern Lights, the first book in the trilogy.

Serpentine is a novella set after the end of the trilogy His Dark Materials but before the events of his recent book, The Secret Commonwealth.

In this new tale we will see Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon “older and a little wiser, and in search of an answer to a shocking, secret condition – their ability to separate – from the witch-consul, Dr Lanselius”, revealed the publisher, Penguin Random House Children’s.

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The story was originally written by Pullman for a charity auction back in 2004 at the request of the National Theatre when the company was in the middle of a production of His Dark Materials. The manuscript was acquired for a “substantial sum” and all proceeds went to charity.

“Why are we publishing this story now?” said Pullman. “Because with the development of The Book of Dust, especially after the events described in The Secret Commonwealth, we can see a change in the way Lyra understands herself, and her relationship with Pantalaimon, which is prefigured in this little Arctic episode.

“When I wrote Serpentine, I had no idea that I was going on to write another trilogy, showing Lyra as an adult, but she and her world wouldn’t leave me alone. When it comes to human affairs, a billion invisible filaments connect us to our own pasts, as well as to the most remote things we can imagine; and I hope that, above all, these books are about being alive and being human.”

The publisher has said that the story is “tender”, “revelatory” and “foreshadows Lyra’s future struggles as a young woman”. The actor Olivia Colman has been brought on board to narrate the audio-book edition and the artist Tom Duxbury is tasked with the illustrations.

Gender gap in children’s reading has grown in the UK during lockdown

A new study has suggested that during the UK’s lockdown boys have fallen even further behind girls when it comes to reading regularly and enjoying it.

A new study has suggested that during the UK’s lockdown boys have fallen even further behind girls when it comes to reading regularly and enjoying it.

This finding has prompted fresh fears that young boys could be at risk at losing out academically as a direct result of the coronovirus pandemic.

The report from the National Literacy Trust (NLT) says that greater access to audio-books at school and at home may help to re-engage boys with literacy as those were the most popular methods of consumption with those studied.

Fiona Evans, the director of schools programmes at the NLT, has called for more schools to create what she calls “audio libraries,” and for more fathers and grandfathers to take an active role in encouraging more reading amongst young boys.

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The research, based on surveys of children aged eight to 18 in the UK before and during lockdown, has found that more girls and boys have been reading daily and have said they enjoy reading while at home, but that the gap between the two has increased five fold.

Three in five girls (60.2%) have said that they enjoy reading during lockdown, compared with 48.9% beforehand, while only 48.7% of boys said they enjoyed reading amid the pandemic, compared with 46.6% before the lockdown.

More girls than boys said that they read in their free time pre-lockdown and this trend appears to have continued, with the gap widening in recent months

“It remains to be seen whether these changes are sustained or whether a return to school and a degree of known normality will help boys catch up,” the report concludes.

While reading appears to be the favourite of girls slightly more boys (around 25% to 22.4%) have said they had listened to audio-books during lockdown with more than half of those boys saying audio-books had given them more interest in reading in general.

Audio-books may be a way to encourage more boys to read

Audio-books may have a “cool factor” that encouraged the boys to use them, Evans said, as they are able to listen to them on their phone with headphones so as not share what they have chosen to read.

Perhaps the fact that many audio-books are voiced by well known actors may have encourage boys to try them out, she added

A total of 58,346 children aged nine to 18 in the UK were surveyed between January and mid-March 2020; and 4,141 children aged eight to 18 were surveyed between May and early June 2020.

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The Last Terry Pratchett Stories will be Published in September

Many of the stories in The Time-travelling Caveman have never been published in a book

The last ever stories from the mind of Terry Pratchett will eventually be published in September. While they’ll be our final gift from the late great author these stories were written early in his career while he was just a young reporter. Many of these stories have never been released in book form before and range from a steam-powered rocket’s flight to Mars to a Welsh shepherd’s discovery of the resting place of King Arthur. Some of the stories did see the light of day when they appeared in appeared in the Bucks Free Press and Western Daily Press way back in the 60s and early 70s.

Pratchett worked at the Bucks Free Press during this time where he would write a weekly Children’s Circle story column. He published his first novel, The Carpet People, in 1971, when he was only 23. Original copies of the newspapers containing these Pratchett stories can sell for hundreds of pounds online.

Discworld is arguably Pratchett’s most famous series

When the editors of Pratchett’s children’s books, Ruth Knowles and Tom Rawlinson, learnt there were more early stories not yet in book form they jumped at the opportunity to share them with the world.

“After reading them, we knew we had to create one final book. It is very fitting that some of the first stories he wrote will be in the last collection by him to be published,” said Knowles and Rawlinson in a joint statement. “There is so much in these stories that shows you the germ of an idea, which would go on to become a fully fledged Terry Pratchett novel, and so much hilarity that we know kids will love. That is what makes the stories so special – they are for kids and adults, and kids who want to be adults, and adults who are still really kids. Which is exactly who a Terry Pratchett book should be for.”

The stories in book, titled The Time-travelling Caveman, see him exercising his trademark dry wit. In The Tropnecian Invasion of Great Britain, he writes: “That was how things were done in history. As soon as you saw a place, you had to conquer it, and usually the English Channel was full of ships queuing up to come and have a good conquer.”

“When it comes to Terry, there is always going to be an embarrassment of riches. His incredible talent and imagination knew no bounds,” said Rob Wilkins, the author’s and manager of his estate. “With more tales of everything that would go on to make Terry Pratchett books the phenomenon they became – humour, satire, adventure and fantastical excellence – we just couldn’t deny readers these gems, and the chance to read a Terry story for the first time, one last time. It will mean so much to fans.”

Pratchett sadly passed away in 2015 but not before leaving us a plethora of brilliant novels to enjoy. From Discworld to Good Omens Pratchett left an everlasting mark on the literary world, a mark that will only get stronger this September.

Rowling joins Rushdie and Atwood to warn against ‘intolerance’

JK Rowling has joined Salman Rushdie has signed a controversial open letter condemning “an intolerance of imposing views.”

JK Rowling, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie are just a few of the well known signatories to a controversial open letter warning against the spread of “censoriousness” which they say is leading to “an intolerance of opposing views” and “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism”.

Rowling, whose article detailing her personal beliefs on transgender rights has recently seen large numbers of Harry Potter fans distance themselves from her, said she was “proud to sign this letter in defence of a foundational principle of a liberal society: open debate and freedom of thought and speech”.

Rowling has faced pressure from Trans activists recently over her controversial comments

The letter is signed by more than 150 writers, academics and artists, including other such notable figures as Gloria Steinem, Steven Pinker and Malcolm Gladwell.

The letter acknowledges that “powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society”, before it goes on to attack what it describes as “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favour of ideological conformity”.

The writer Thomas Chatterton Williams is the hand behind the letter and has used it to hit out at how a “panicked damage control” is able to lead to the delivery of “hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms.”

He also critiques how “editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged in-authenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organisations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes”.

“Donald Trump is the Canceler in Chief,” Williams told the NYT. “But the correction of Trump’s abuses cannot become an over-correction that stifles the principles we believe in.”

The letter concludes with all signatories asserting that “the way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away”.

Of course the letter has faced its fair share of criticism online. “As is usually the case for people who manifest in favor of free and open debate and against repression, several of the people on this @Harpers Open Letter have behavior in their past that reflects the censorious mentality they’re condemning here,” tweeted the author Glenn Greenwald.

Harry Potter fan sites cut ties with JK Rowling over transgender rights

Two of the largest Harry Potter fan sites have made moves to distance themselves from the characters creator JK Rowling.

Two of the largest Harry Potter fan sites have made moves to distance themselves from the characters creator JK Rowling due to the recent remarks she made about transgender rights. The sites have said her personal views are at odds with the messages of empowerment found in her best-selling novels.

The two websites, the Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet said on Thursday that their sites would no longer provide links to the author’s personal websites, use photos of her or talk about any achievements she makes outside of the wizarding world.

The joint statement by the fan sites also said that Rowling’s airing of “harmful and disproven beliefs about what it means to be a transgender person” during Pride Month and her views on “marginalised people [are] out of step with the message of acceptance and empowerment we find in her books and celebrated by the Harry Potter [fan] community”.

This backlash follows a lengthy personal essay released by Rowling last month within which she discussed her beliefs on transgender rights, including examples of where she thought demands by transgender activists were actually dangerous to women.

Trans activists have condemned the authors essay. Photograph: John Phillips/Getty Images

After publishing the essay it didn’t take long for many stars of the Harry Potter universe to speak out. Daniel Radcliffe, who of course played the titular character, and Eddie Redmayne, who starsin the Fantastic Beasts spin-off series, spoke out against the author.

Four authors have also quit Rowling’s literary agency after accusing the company of refusing to issue a statement publicly supporting transgender rights.

The fan sites said members have found it difficult to speak out against Rowling because they have admired her work for so long, but said “it would be wrong not to use our platforms to counteract the harm she has caused.”

“Our stance is firm: transgender women are women,” the statement read. “Transgender men are men. Non-binary people are non-binary. Intersex people exist and should not be forced to live in the binary. We stand with Harry Potter fans in these communities.

“While we don’t condone the mistreatment [Rowling] has received for airing her opinions about transgender people, we must reject her beliefs.”

Rowling has yet to respond to this statement.

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