Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Thoughts: Updating Beloved Books

Over the past couple of years, word has been trickling out that several beloved children's series will be getting re-released and updated for the 21st century. First to get the treatment was Sweet Valley High, with references updated to include modern fashion, modern cars, and being a perfect size four. At the very end of 2009, word came out that The Baby-Sitter's Club would be the next up. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the fashion would be updated here, too, including Stacey now having "an expensive haircut" rather than her signature perm (please revisit all of the awesome BSC fashion at What Claudia Wore. True fact: in third grade we had a "dress like your favorite book character" day for spirit week, and I went as Claudia, rocking black & white stretch pants, a giant yellow and black button up shirt, and a magenta straw hat). There are even rumors that my beloved Animorphs will be reissued in April 2012 (no word on what sort of updates that could face).

The latest updating news isn't from publishing, but adapting a beloved work for TV: Disney is releasing a made-for-TV movie called Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars.

I'm not sure how I feel about any of these. My gut reaction to the Harriet update is to hate it, but I think it may be because the title reminds me of the atrocious-looking Bride Wars. Anyone else have any thoughts?

11 comments:

Rachel said...

I'm pretty certain that some newer editions of Harriet the Spy already try to update it -- and stink. The original book was kind of old-fashioned in some details. I had no idea it was written in the sixties until looking it up on Wikipedia, because it feels much older, like how the Italian family is treated like the most alien species you can find...

But that's part of its charm! The movie lost that, and it blew; this one will, too. Some of us read books FOR the historical detail, publishers...even at the age of ten.

The word verification for this entry is "lumpoop", which is exactly how I feel about it.

Sami said...

Hum the "perfect size 4" issue would be good if the books took into account that there is not a perfect anything. And took into account that these issues to plauge teens of all sizes. Other then that the "perfect size" anything is just wrong.

Angela Craft said...

Rachel - I had no idea they'd already updated the books! That kind of makes me sad - a lot of these updates do. They seem to imply that kids are too shallow to appreciate the subtleties of earlier eras. Like with the BSC update, do kids *really* not know what perms are these days?

Sami - updating details like what size is considered "perfect" is just fraught with problems - especially since I doubt the update was accompanied by any new commentary on body image issues. I haven't actually read any Sweet Valley books (original or updated) so I can't speak as an authority.

Also, I've had a chance to watch the trailer for the Harriet the Spy movie. It still looks pretty awful. I kind of like the basic idea of Harriet starting a blog - but on the other hand, it feels like they just wanted to attach this original story to a known brand. It looks like they've made Harriet forget all about publicly printing salacious statements (since she's going all papparazzi on some teen heartthrob movie star).

Anna Rhoswen said...

Sweet Valley High was pretty shallow already back in the day. I only read a few - I vaguely recall there were twin sisters who were cheerleaders and Blonde 'N Perfect and I think they solved mysteries...? I only read a few and decided that the Boxcar Children series was way better.

How in the world are they going to update Animorphs? The series isn't that old!

My word verification is also strangely fitting: upcrangh. It sounds like a cry of frustration (or a war cry. I can totally see myself screaming 'UPCRANGH!!' and running into the fray, sword raised... etc, etc.)

Angela Craft said...

Britt - Oh man, BOXCAR CHILDREN. I was all about those books for the longest time. I had the cookbook, and my family still makes corn on the cob the boxcar cookbook way, lol.

Updating Animorphs: nothing is confirmed to be updated yet, except the covers. But think about book 16 - the way chat rooms were set up there was already dated by the time the book came out. But otherwise some references would probably be updated (the JTT clone would probably end up with a different name, since we don't have any three-named stars now. They'd probably want to update Xena, but I don't know if there's an appropriate contemporary allegory, except perhaps Buffy). KAA & Michael Grant are doing a Q&A on an Animorphs forum right now - when I get home I'll send you the link.

Anna Rhoswen said...

You can't take away Xena! Xena's way better than Buffy, in the first place, and Buffy just doesn't have the same punch to it. Any dippy blonde with special powers can be Buffy, but it takes ass-kicking awesomeness to be Xena. Jeez.

Rachel said...

Hm. I'm not sure if I can back up what I said before -- I feel like there are often slight changes to newer editions of books. The only book I can actually swear to this happening is "The Kid Who Ran for President", by Dan Gutman -- it originally came out in 1995-ish about the 2000 election, where a kid ran for President, and was reissued in time for the 2004 election and I believe also for the 2008 with the dates hastily changed. I know that when E.L. Konigsburg's books were reissued recently, they changed the name of "Father's Arcane Daughter", and I think they changed a couple of the older details. But this is a book issue. Which I am totally against, btw.

I know that they changed some of the characters (from an Italian family to a Chinese family) for the 1997 movie. I think that -- the whole point of Harriet the Spy keeping it in notebooks was that it was private. And the book having lots of weird details -- the whole point is that Harriet didn't understand what she was hearing, because she was spying about things she didn't understand...which this movie totally misses the point of.

Basically, all this news about Harriet the Spy today made me want to reread the books. I found a copy! I will be reading now.

Louise Fitzhugh is actually fascinating. I believe, though I'm not sure, that she was in a relationship with M.E. Kerr, aka Marijane Meaker.

Kathy Martin said...

I wonder why books are updated. Is it to make them seem newly written?

I am always worried that books that spotlight trends, brands and product names will seem outdated really quickly. But kids read historical fiction and science fiction, so why should dated fiction be any different.

I don't really get the point of updating a book.

Serpentine Librarian said...

I always wonder about updating books. How publishers decide which ones to update and which ones to leave be. Lots of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books have details that date them, but none of them have been updated. Do you think this is becuase they are seen as classics, while series like SWH, BSC and Animorphs are not?

I loved the BSC when I was in elementary school and was a bit saddened by the news that they will be updated. I have noticed that they don't get borrowed as much at the library, as the Amber Brown books or even The Boxcar Children, so maybe the update will help to introduce them to a new generation. I personally will always remember them the original way.

Jan von Harz said...

None of these titles thrilled me much when they were out the first time around. Not sure I would like any of the new releases either, but then tastes change. Really good post though.

Angela Craft said...

I've spent most of the last two days away from the computer, so here's a massive comment catching up!

Rachel - I've been doing some Googling and haven't found anything about published versions of Harriet being changed. Results might change in a month or two, though, since most searches for Harriet the Spy right now are turning up links to the Disney movie.

Kathy - I think there are a variety of reasons that books might be updated. For one thing, doing a few minor edits and re-releasing a series has to be cheaper than commissioning a new monthly series. Plus if you wait long enough you'll have nostalgic parents buying the new copies for their kids so there's a built in market, too (this is how I got hooked on the Boxcar Children).

There's definitely a fine line between dropping too many names and dating a book and creating so many obvious knockoffs that it becomes obnoxious. I think when lots of specifics are named it comes across as a blatant attempt to be hip and cool - and will definitely be un-cool in a few years.

Serpentine Librarian - At least one Judy Blume book has been updated! I was reading up on Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and apparently newer versions of the book change the sanitary pad belt to adhesive pads. Which is kind of unfortunate - I remember reading about that belt and being absolutely HORRIFIED but thankful that I wasn't going to have to deal with anything more complicated than a sticker (I read the book before I had my period but after I'd had sex ed). But I am sure that in general those books are updated less than these series books because they certainly are seen as more "literary" and, especially with Judy Blume's books, have some sort of lesson to teach.

Jan - None of them were truly great literature (well, I think Animorphs was pretty damn awesome and dealt with issues on a far deeper level than most MG series books did or do even now), but if I can find the updated BSC books in the library I might pick them up just to see what changed.

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