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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
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1. Walking and Talking with . . . M.T. Anderson!

There were many fine and fantastic works of nonfiction for older children and teens in 2015.  One such book won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Award while another won an Honor.  Now those two authors chat about the process of creating narrative nonfiction.  We’ve featured a fair number of Walking and Talking chats on this site, but I think this one is of particular note.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Steve Sheinkin in conversation with M.T. Anderson:

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For those of you curious about Mr. Anderson’s book you can see my interview with him here.

Thanks to Steve for allowing me to showcase his work.  For previous entries in the “Walking and Talking” series, please be sure to check out the following:




3 Comments on Walking and Talking with . . . M.T. Anderson!, last added: 2/4/2016
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2. Cover Reveal: What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine

It’s a cloudy February here in Illinois.  Yesterday the heavens opened up and let loose a downpour.  Today it is wet if not actively raining.  We are in the thick of winter, albeit an oddly warm one.  With all this in mind, I think we need some cheering up.

Now a friend recently pointed out to me that there are a plethora of books coming out this year penned by publishers and agents.  Crazy, right?  If I’d been paying attention I’d have put that in my SLJ trending piece.  In any case, today’s cover reveal is from the man who had the wherewithal to bring us Harry Potter.  Arthur A. Levine has a new picture book out (and it’s hardly his first) and it’s coming to our shelves on August 9th.



Aw. Bring it all home, Katie Kath.

Thanks to Cassie Drumm for the pic.


6 Comments on Cover Reveal: What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine, last added: 2/4/2016
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3. Ten Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About First Second

FirstSecondSo First Second comes to me and says it’s their 10th anniversary. Happy anniversary, sez I. They ask if I want to participate in the celebration by doing so kind of a post. My mind is a bit blank but I give it a think. Then I came up with the idea of the following post. They actually managed to think up ten. No mean feat. As such, I present to you (in the company’s own voice):



for First Second’s 10th Anniversary


  1. Curious about how a graphic novel imprint gets created? :01 Editorial Director Mark Siegel coincidentally met the publisher of Macmillan (our parent company), John Sargent, at a wedding they were both attending . . . and things took off from there!
  1. First Second has an imaginary office pet — though unfortunately not a real one (for allergy reasons).  It is a cat-shaped pillow, and it comes on the road with us to conventions. Probably we should come up with a name for it!
  1. How much time does it typically take from when we acquire a graphic novel to when we publish it?  On average, about three years — partially because graphic novels take a long time to make; partially because we print our books in China and the production process is pretty extensive, too!
  1. We (like Macmillan) have a commitment to being green — our sales reps drive hybrid cars, and we print our books on sustainably sourced paper.
  1. First Second’s longest-running series to date is George O’Connor’s Olympians.  We published the first volume (Zeus: King of the Gods) in 2010; the final volume will be on sale in 2020!
  1. Our list in 2016 will be twenty-four titles — twice the number of graphic novels we published in our first year, 2016.  We’re growing!
  1. Three-quarters of First Second’s staff are women.  We don’t have the typical staff gender breakdown for a comic book publisher!  We currently have four full-time employees.
  1. Our Editorial Director, Mark Siegel, grew up in France.  So if you’re wondering why First Second publishes so many books in translation — he (and his childhood love of the graphic novel) are the reason!
  1. Every book in our first list (of six titles!) was published on the same day!  Ten years later, we try to space out our publishing program a little more evenly throughout the year.
  1. First Second’s offices are based in the flatiron building — New York’s iconic wedge-shaped historic building.  Fictionally, the flatiron building is also home to Peter Parker’s The Daily Bugle.  Unfortunately, we have yet to see his superheroic counterpart swinging by our windows!

Thanks to the folks at :01 for the insider info.


1 Comments on Ten Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About First Second, last added: 2/3/2016
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4. African-American Experience Children’s Literary Reference Guide (2011-2016)

There were a couple things I left undone when I took my leave of NYPL. Of them, the one I probably regret the most is that I didn’t devote more energy towards getting NYPL’s landmark Black Experience in Children’s Literature list up and running.  This historic list, started as early as the 1940s and possibly 30s, would be produced by NYPL every decade or so.  I think there’s been a sixteen year lag at this point (due, in large part, to the seismic shifts in the organization) and I never created a new one in the interim. Last year I decided to take the bull by the horns and produce a list for this blog that would effectively be some of the best books by and about African-Americans produced in the last five years. Now I have updated it.

Again, I would like to stress that this is not everything out there.  It’s limited in large part by what I’ve seen and read myself, after all.  It is, in truth, a compendium of what has been published, and fantastic, since 2011.  If there are books that you think were egregiously forgotten, mention them below (and bear in mind the pub date has to be 2011 or later, the books MUST be currently in print, and the books are for kids between the ages of 0-12).

Picture Books

Don’t Throw It to Mo! by David Adler, illustrated by Sam Ricks, ISBN: 9780606368001

Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ISBN: 9780316209175

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra, ISBN: 9781452125787

Lucky Beans by Becky Birtha, illustrated Nicole Tadgell, ISBN: 9780807547823

Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer by Tonya Bolden illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9781419707926

My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9780670012855

Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by Don Tate, ISBN: 9781570917004

Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780399233425

Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers, ISBN: 9780399166150

Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub, ISBN: 9780525428091

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson, ISBN: 9780399257742

Sunday Shopping by Sally Derby, illustrated by Shadra Strickland, ISBN: 9781600604386

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780399252846

Red, Yellow, Blue (and a Dash of White Too) by C.G. Esperanza, ISBN: 9781629146249

Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9780312603267

Underground by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9781596435384

We March by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9781596435391

The Hula Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781600608469

Bird & Diz by Gary Golio, illustrated by Ed Young, ISBN: 9780763666606

Poems in the Attic by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, ISBN: 9781620140277

My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, ISBN: 9780761458104

Lullaby (For a Black Mother) by Langston Hughes, illustrated Sean Qualls, ISBN: 9780547362656

Sail Away by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Ashley Bryan, ISBN: 9781481430852

Goal! by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by A.G. Ford, ISBN: 9780763658229

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, ISBN: 9780689873768

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781423119548

Hope’s Gift by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated Don Tate, ISBN: 9780399160011

Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, ISBN: 9780399252136

Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter, ISBN: 9780399250033

Every Little Thing: Based on the Song ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley and Cedella Marley, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781452106977

One Love by Cedella Marley, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781452102245

These Hands by Margaret H. Mason, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780547215662

New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9780823425280

H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination by Christopher Myers, ISBN: 9781606842188

My Pen by Christopher Myers, ISBN: 9781423103714

Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, ISBN: 9781467742085

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Bettye Stroud, Bettye, and John Holyfield, ISBN: 9780763640583

Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, a Young Artist in Harlem by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, illustrated by Christopher Myers, ISBN: 9780870709654

Under the Same Sun by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by A.G. Ford, ISBN: 9780545166720

Me and Momma and Big John by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by William Low, ISBN: 9780763643591

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9781600608988

I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9781619631786

As Fast As Words Could Fly by Pamela M. Tuck, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9781600603488

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Sean Qualls, ISBN: 9780060583101

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, ISBN: 9780761339434

Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, ISBN: 9780807576502

A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9781590787120

Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, ISBN: 9781416961239

This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson, Jacqueline, illustrated by James Ransome, ISBN: 9780399239861

Early Chapter Books

Dog Days by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780547970448

Election Madness by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780547850719

Skateboard Party by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780544283060

Substitute Trouble by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780544223882

Halfway to Perfect by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, ISBN: 9780399251788

Keena Ford and the Secret Journal Mix-Up by Melissa Thomson, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780142419373

EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780670784998

EllRay Jakes the Dragon Slayer! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780670784974

EllRay Jakes Walks the Plank! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper, ISBN: 9780670063062

EllRay Jakes Is a Rock Star by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper, ISBN: 9780670011582

EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper, ISBN: 9780670062430

Ellray Jakes Rocks the Holidays! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780451469090

Ellray Jakes Is Magic! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780670785001

Middle Grade Fiction

Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, ISBN: 9781423178705

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, ISBN: 9780544107717

How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen, ISBN: 9780061992728

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass, illustrated by Jerry Craft, ISBN: 9780545132107

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth, ISBN: 9780545224963

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, ISBN: 9780545535649

Riding on Duke’s Train by Mick Carlon, ISBN: 9781935248064

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng, ISBN: 9781600604515

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis, ISBN: 9780545156646

Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger, illustrated by Robert Byrd, ISBN: 9780763650384

Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon Flake, ISBN: 9780545609609

Winter Sky by Patricia Reilly Giff, ISBN: 9780375838927

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes, ISBN: 9781599902845

Words With Wings by Nikki Grimes, ISBN: 9781629792620

The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris, ISBN: 9780547255194

Buddy by M.H. Herlong, ISBN: 9780142425442

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, ISBN: 9780545525527

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana, ISBN: 9781452124568

Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin, ISBN: 9781595145468

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper, ISBN: 9781442494978

True Legend by Mike Lupica, ISBN: 9780399252273

Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon, ISBN: 9781416978053

The Sittin’ Up by Sheila P. Moses, ISBN: 9780399257230

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson, ISBN: 9780763649227

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes, ISBN: 9780316224857

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes, ISBN: 9780316043083

The Other Side of Free by Krista Russell, ISBN: 9781561457106

Animal Rescue Team: Gator on the Loose! by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont, ISBN: 9780375851315

Animal Rescue Team: Special Delivery by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont, ISBN: 978375851322

Animal Rescue Team: Hide and Seek by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont, ISBN: 9780375851339

Animal Rescue Team: Show Time by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont, ISBN: 9780375851346

Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells, illustrated by Marcos Calo, ISBN: 9780544238336

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia, ISBN: 9780061938627

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia, ISBN: 9780062215871

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods, ISBN: 9780399257148

Crow by Barbara Wright, ISBN: 9780375873676


What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld, and Ben Boos, illustrated by A.G. Ford, ISBN: 9780763645649

The Case for Loving by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, ISBN: 9780545478533

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ISBN: 9781419714658

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9781620141557

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don State, ISBN: 9780802853790

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, ISBN: 9780375867125

The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Don Tate, ISBN: 9781580893879

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome, ISBN: 9781481422215

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome, ISBN: 9781416959038

Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Ballerina by Michaela Deprince, Michaela and Elaine Deprince, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780385755153

Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey by Gary Golio, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, ISBN: 9780547239941

I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood, ISBN: 9780802853868

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale, ISBN: 9781419715365

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, ISBN: 9781596435407

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ISBN: 9781442420083

The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield, ISBN: 9781419707964

Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman: Olympic High-Jump Champion by Heather Lang, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9781590788509

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson, ISBN: 9781561456277

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Various, ISBN: 9781452101194

Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9780807580356

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Will Allen, illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin, ISBN: 9780983661535

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
by Kadir Nelson, ISBN: 9780061730740

Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo, ISBN: 9780763669546

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls, ISBN: 9780763664596

Martin & Mahalia: His Words – Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Andrea Davis, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney, ISBN: 9780316070133

Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney, ISBN: 9781423142577

Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney, ISBN: 9781596439733

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson, ISBN: 9781452103143

Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by London Ladd, ISBN: 9781423114383

Jackie Robinson: American Hero by Sharon Robinson, ISBN: 9780545569156

Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige Vs. Rookie Joe Dimaggio by Robert Skead, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780761366195

Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780061920820

28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9781596438200

Stars in the Shadows: The Negro League All-Star Game of 1934
by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780689866388

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickels: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone, ISBN: 9780763651176

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, ISBN: 9781600602603

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate, ISBN: 9781561458257

My Uncle Martin’s Words for America: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Niece Tells How He Made a Difference by Angela Farris Watkins, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9781419700224

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, ISBN: 9781499801033

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph, ISBN: 9780807530177

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, ISBN: 9780763665319

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, ISBN: 9780399252518


17 Comments on African-American Experience Children’s Literary Reference Guide (2011-2016), last added: 2/4/2016
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5. Fashions That Jar: Children’s Book Characters Stuck in the 80s

Boomers, I have a question for you. As a child of the 80s who by that very definition is neither Generation X nor Millennial, I have a very complex relationship with the fashions of my youth. When you grow up in an era where hot pink and black are a desirable color combination and ponytails sprout from the tops of heads like little hirsute fountains . . . well, it leaves a mark.

So my question for the Baby Boomer generation is this: Do you feel the same wave of nausea when you encounter fashions from the 40s, 50s, and 60s in your picture books as I do when I see 80s references?  You don’t, do you?  Sure, there might be gender stereotypes to face but generally speaking the occasional apron is small potatoes compared to legwarmers and turquoise zigzag earrings.

Yet for all I thought I could identify 80s fashions, it turns out I was barking up the wrong tree.  Consider the case of . . .

The Berenstain Bears

Which is to say, the baby.  Here she is.


When new Berenstain books come out, this is what the baby continues to look like.  She started out fine, of course:


But somewhere along the way they popped a sweatband around her noggin and slapped on some stirrup pants.  Seriously.  Stirrup pants.  And this has continued since the 80s . . .

. . . except it hasn’t. No, Honey Bear (as she is known) first appeared in 2000.  And for whatever reason, in keeping with something or other she was given archaic clothing choices.

Another case where a character only looks like they’re from the era of Pocket Rockers?

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go

CarsandTrucksRecently my son has been obsessed with Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry.  It’s a great book, though you do get the impression that Mr. Scarry got a bit tired of having to come up with so many construction vehicles and just sort of made up some names willy nilly.

What I notice every time I read the book is the pig family.  They are our protagonists in this tale.  Now check out mom:


Yep.  Rocking the purple headband, she is.  Clearly circa 1983, right?  Now imagine my shock when I discovered that the book was actually published in 1974.  And here’s the original book jacket to prove it:


So this is ALSO not an 80s image, really. By the way, I totally love that the mom is driving on the cover. Go, mom, go!

Was anything that continues to look 80s actually written then?

One thing comes to mind.  It’s not a picture book, but it has remained steadfast in its embracing of the Pogo Ball era (I can recall toys from my youth all day if called upon to do so). Voila:


That’s right. Babysitter’s Club.  Because you cannot get the later books in the series with new covers.  Nope.  When I worked in the Central Children’s Room of NYPL I discovered the odd but true fact that kids still adore the later (and out-of-print) books in the series.  It doesn’t matter that the fashions cause the corners of your eyes to bleed.  There’s a weird allure to that.  Some of the greatest felons in this regard:



Actually it’s Claudia who keeps being problematic.  Remember, she was the fashionable one.

So fess up.  My 80s examples aren’t really from the 80s, but surely you’ve seen remnants of the era in your picture book fare.  Anything catch you unawares when you read it today?


10 Comments on Fashions That Jar: Children’s Book Characters Stuck in the 80s, last added: 1/31/2016
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6. Slightly More Recent Books on Slavery for Young People

On January 19th, Claire Fallon, a Books and Culture Writer at The Huffington Post, wrote an article called 13 Honest Books About Slavery Young People Should Actually Read. The piece was a response to the news about Scholastic pulling the publication of A Birthday Cake for George Washington and got shared hither and thither and yon (mostly yon).  It’s not a bad list by any means, but looking at it I was struck by how old the titles were.  Nightjohn is from 1993.  The Glory Field from 1994.  Even the most recent title on the list, Never Forgotten by Patricia McKissack, originally dates to 2011.

I love older books, but there’s nothing wrong with including recent titles as well.  With that in mind, here is a companion list of thirteen books about slavery for young people published in the last five years.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch By Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate

JohnRoyLynch1Best dang book about Reconstruction you’ll ever read to a kid. I find that when I try to sell this book to adults their eyes glaze over at the word “Reconstruction”.  Kids don’t know anything about it so they’re a bit less prejudiced in that respect.  A great story about a great man.  As Barton puts it, “It’s the story of a guy who in ten years went from teenage field slave to U.S. Congressman.”

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


Long before she’d win a Newbery Honor for The War That Saved My Life, Ms. Bradley was earning my respect with a book that dared to delve into the lives of Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved children.  It’s an issue complicated enough for adult readers, but Baker managed to make it understandable to a middle grade audience.  I thought she’d get some award recognition for her efforts.  Not that time around, but the awards would certainly get her in the end.

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome


Lesa and James are a husband and wife team that just keep on producing great book after great book to too little fanfare. Their take on Douglass’s life comes after James did meticulous historical research to get the clothing and dress of the time period exactly right.  A very well done bio of a famous figure in his youth.

Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger, illustrated by Robert Byrd


One of those books that should really be better known. You may think you know the story of The Amistad but boy howdy you’d be wrong. Monica’s book follows the true story of Magulu, one of the children taken on the boat, and it is just one of the best pieces of writing and research on the topic you will find. Plus the story is engrossing. That doesn’t hurt.

Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane W. Evans


As you read the story, pay close attention to what’s going on in the art.  Though it’s not obvious, there’s a subplot about one of the pregnant slaves running away and the baby she gives birth to in the middle of her escape.

I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood


Not many books of poetry out there about slavery these days. Make sure you pull out this book not just for Black History Month but in April for Poetry Month as well.

The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale


If you haven’t read this by now then you are seriously missing out.  Absolutely, without a doubt, a nail-biting tale and all true true true.  Again, I thought I knew Harriet Tubman’s life.  I could not have been more wrong.  If you read no other book on this list, read this one.

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis


When I lived in New York I lived in Harlem. Each and every year on Juneteenth there would be a great big street fair in celebration going down 116th Street.  A friend of mine visited one Juneteenth and had never heard of the celebration before. Can you think of a better reason for Johnson and Lewis’s book to gain a little more attention?

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
by Kadir Nelson


Since this book encompasses a great deal of African-American history, not just slavery, I wondered if I should include it here. But then looking back at it and remembering how well Nelson encapsulates everything from the tale of one of George Washington’s slaves to the free men who fought for the Union side during the Civil War . . . well, it would be ridiculous not to include it.

Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney


Again, not including this book on this list would leave a gap a mile wide.  Andrea Davis Pinkey, let us remember, is a killer writer.  This book was released in a rather silent, sly way.  A lot of year end Best Of lists missed it.  Make sure you don’t miss it yourself.  Some of the biographies here are the best you’ll ever find for a young audience.

The Other Side of Free by Krista Russell


Remember, you must never ever judge a book by its cover? It applies here. I described the book in my review this way: “We’ve all heard of how slaves would escape to the North when they wished to escape for good. But travel a bit farther back in time to the early 18th century and the tale is a little different. At that point in history slaves didn’t flee north but south to Spain’s territories. There, the Spanish king promised freedom for those slaves that swore fidelity to the Spanish crown and fought on his behalf against the English. 13-year-old Jem is one of those escaped slaves, but his life at Fort Mose is hardly stimulating. Kept under the yoke of a hard woman named Phaedra, Jem longs to fight for the king and to join in the battles. But when at last the fighting comes to him, it isn’t at all what he thought it would be.”

Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Floyd Cooper


The first book I read for kids that really delved deeply into the fact that the White House was built on the backs of slaves.  Smith and Cooper make for a winning team.

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie


Take a good long look at this 2016 release.  You’re going to be hearing a lot more about it in the months to come.

Seeking out some recent titles about African-Americans, not just slaves, in children’s literature?  Check out last year’s African-American Experience Children’s Literary Reference Guide (2010-2015). I’ll be updating it to be 2011-2016 in February.

And finally, in related news, the Delaware House recently passed an official apology for slavery. Thanks to @debraj112 for the alert.


15 Comments on Slightly More Recent Books on Slavery for Young People, last added: 1/29/2016
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7. I Tumbled, I Tweeted, I Taught: Critical Engagement Through Social Media

CTCBLook at the internet today. Things are happening online right now that would have been inconceivable even five years ago.  With that in mind I have to say I can think of few topics more timely than the ones that will be raised at the upcoming Social Media Institute here in Illinois.

Oh?  What’s that?  You’ve never heard of a Social Media Institute before?  What is it, some kind of institution or something?  Not so much.  Think of a daylong conference where the entire focus is social media.  Here’s how Junko Yokota described it on the institute’s Facebook page:

On February 6th, 2016, The Center for Teaching through Children’s Books, in partnership with SCBWI and Pajeau Foundation, will present a Social Media Institute. We will be featuring keynotes from renowned social media and literacy experts on stimulating topics as well as hosting open discussions and breakout sessions on related topics.

What kinds of “social media and literacy experts”?  Well, for starters you’ll have me, Jules Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Colby Sharp of Nerdy Book Club fame, Mike Lewis the educator extraordinaire, and a panel on Managing Internet Culture featuring William Teale, Laura Beltchenko, Edi Campbell, and Darcy Proctor.  Then you have the breakout sessions which will be held in an unconference format.  Add in a couple fantastic lunchtime speakers who will be Skyping in and you’ve got yourself quite the Saturday.

Details on the event and registration can be found here.  It’s going to be held at the Skokie campus of National Louis University here in Illinois.  Heads up, local Chicagoans!


1 Comments on I Tumbled, I Tweeted, I Taught: Critical Engagement Through Social Media, last added: 1/27/2016
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8. Review of the Day: The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

AirportBook1The Airport Book
By Lisa Brown
A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook, an imprint of Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1-62672-091-6
Ages 4-7
On shelves May 10th.

Look, I don’t wanna brag but I’m what you might call a going-to-the-airport picture book connoisseur. I’ve seen them all. From out-of-date fare like Byron Barton’s Airport to the uniquely clever Flight 1-2-3 by Maria Van Lieshout to the odd but helpful Everything Goes: In the Air by Brian Biggs. Heck, I’ve even examined at length books about the vehicles that drive on the airport tarmac (see: Brian Floca’s Five Trucks). If it helps to give kids a better sense of what flying is like, I’ve seen it, baby. And I will tell you right here and now that not a single one of these books is quite as good at explaining every step of the journey as well as Lisa Brown’s brand new The Airport Book. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s more than just an instructional how-to. Packed with tiny details that make each rereading worthwhile, a plot that sweeps you along, and downright great information, this one here’s a keeper to its core.

“When you go to the airport, you can take a car, a van, a bus, or even a train. Sometimes we take a taxicab.” A family of four prepares for a big trip. Bags are packed with the haste that anyone with small children will recognize. Speed is of the essence. As they arrive at the airport we meet other people and families taking the same flight. There’s airport security to get through (the book mentions the many lines you sometimes have to stand in to get where you’re going), the awesome size of the airport itself, the gate, and then the plane. As we watch the younger sister in the family is having various mild freakouts over her missing (or is it?) stuffed monkey. The monkey in question is always in our view, packed in a suitcase, discovered by a dog during the flight, and finally reuniting with its owner on the luggage carousel. The family meets up with the grandparents and at last the vacation can begin. That is, until they all have to go home again.

AirportBook2The problem with most airport-related picture books is something I like to call the Fly Away Home conundrum. Originally penned by Eve Bunting, Fly Away Home is one of those rare picture books out there that deal with homelessness in a realistic way. The story features a father and son living out of an airport. Since it touches on such an important, and too little covered, topic, the book continues to appear on required reading lists, in spite of the fact that the very premise is now woefully out-of-date. There are few areas of everyday American life that have changed quite so dramatically over such a short amount of time as the average airport experience. That’s why so many things about The Airport Book rang true for me. When Brown covers the facts surrounding departures and goodbyes to family and friends, she doesn’t set the scene inside the building but rather on the sidewalk outside of ticketing, as people are dropped off. Later you see people at their gate plugging in their cell phones willy-nilly (something I’ve never seen in a picture book before). It lends the book a kind of air of authenticity.

The story’s good and the art’s great but what I liked about the book was the language. Brown never tells you precisely what is going to happen, but she does mention the likelihoods. “Sometimes the plane is bouncy, but most of the time it is smooth.” “Sometimes the sidewalks and staircases move by themselves.” “Sometimes there are small beeping cars driving through . . .” As you read, you realize that in a way the narration of the book is being created for us from the perspective of the big brother. He’ll occasionally insert little notes that are probably of more use to him than us. Example: “You have to hold your little sister’s hands tight, or she could get lost.” Mind you, some of the sections have the ring of poetry to them, while staying squarely within a believable child’s voice. I was particularly fond the of the section that says, “Outside there are clouds and clouds and clouds.”

AirportBook3With all the calls for more diverse picture books to be published, it would be noticeable if Ms. Brown’s book didn’t have a variety of families, races, ages, genders, etc. What’s notable to me is that she isn’t just checking boxes here. Her diversity far surpasses those books where they’ll throw in the occasional non-white character in a group shot. Instead, the main family has a dark-skinned father and light-skinned, blond mother. Travels through the airport show adults in wheelchairs, twins, women in headscarves, Sikhs, pregnant ladies, and more. In other words, what you’d actually see in an airport these days.

And then the little details come up. Brown throws into the book a surprising array of tiny look-and-discover elements, suggesting that perhaps this book would be just as much fun in its way as a Where’s Waldo? game for older siblings as it is their younger brethren. Ask them if they can find The Wright Brothers, Hatchet (don’t think too hard about what happens to the plane in that book), the mom’s copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or the person looking for Amelia Earhart (who may not be as difficult to find as you think). There’s also a cast of characters that command your attention like the businesswoman who’s always on her cell phone and the short artist with the mysteriously shaped package.

There’s nothing to say that in five years airports will be just as different to us today as pre-9/11 airports are now. Yet even if our airports start requiring us to hula hoop and dance the Hurly Burly, Brown’s book is still going to end up being the go-to text desperate parents turn to when they need a book that explains to their children what an average airplane flight looks like. It pretty much gets everything right, exceeding expectations. Generally speaking, books that tell kids about what something is like (be it a trip to the dentist or a new babysitter) are pedantic, didactic, dull as dishwater fare. Brown’s book, in contrast, has flare. Has pep. Has a beat and you can dance to it. Like I said, this may be the best dang going-to-the-airport book I can name (though you should certainly check out the others I’m mentioned at the beginning of this review). A treat, it really is. A treat.

On shelves May 10th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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4 Comments on Review of the Day: The Airport Book by Lisa Brown, last added: 1/25/2016
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9. Fusenews: [Space Available for Title Here]

Morning, folks.  Here in the frozen tundra they call the Chicago area (a hot toddy to anyone who can explain to me why the wind blows TO the lake and not from it) we’re huddled in our homes dreaming of spring.  So while you shiver and shake (obviously this does not apply to you tropical climate denizens) warm yourself over some truly goofy links today.

  • Many things changed when I moved from NYC to Evanston.  My commute is shorter.  The air is clearer.  And I’ve actually joined two (count ’em) two online mom groups.  I had sort of heard of them before, but the idea of joining one for NYC moms was too daunting.  With that in mind, this 10 Little Monkeys parody called to me.  It speaks truth.  Thanks to brother-in-law Steve for the link.
  • BookDriveCrop.2e16d0ba.fill-735x490So, uh, what’d you do this week?  Did you start a campaign to collect #1000blackgirlbooks?  A woman by the name of Marley Dias did that.  Marley is also 11.  Marley is clearly going to rule the world someday and I welcome that day when it comes.  In the meantime, those authors and illustrators amongst you that have something to contribute, you might want to learn more.  The address on where to send the books appears at the end of the article. Thanks to mom for the link.
  • There are many places to go if you’re in the mood to see what precisely people are talking about when they discuss A Birthday Cake for George Washington.  I’ve very much enjoyed the comments on Read Roger’s recent post A Bumpy Ride.  Also enjoyable is Mitali Perkins’ blog where she considers what a different biography of Hercules might consist of.  Food for thought.
  • Look what Bob Staake’s next book looks like!! Look familiar?


Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 10.45.54 PMEvery year USBBY (the United States Board on Books for Young People) creates a list of Outstanding International Books.  They recently released their 2016 Outstanding International Books and it’s well worth a gander.  If you feel that your knowledge of international children’s literature is lacking, boy are you in luck! The list is also available in bookmark form and as a Google Map form with annotations and cover art.  Looking at it, you get a real sense of which countries are producing the most interesting children’s book imports. Wouldn’t mind an uptick in the number of African nations and South America is fairing poorly.  I remember from my time visiting the Bologna Book Fair about 5 years ago the lack of South American books.  If I recall, they mostly import and translate titles.

  • They’re turning a YA novel into an opera.  Cool, right?  Let’s just go and see which one it’s gonna beeeeYAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!  THAT one?  They’re turning THAT novel into an opera?  The novel that takes huge bites out of my soul every evening since I read it?  THAT one?


Daily Image:

This is for you teachers and parents out there.  The V&A Museum has come up with this amazing design-your-own-wig feature on their website.  Informative and fun and kind of disgusting all at once.  What’s not to love?  Consider this my ode to Seuss.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 10.41.57 PM

Many thanks to Alison Goodman for the link.


11 Comments on Fusenews: [Space Available for Title Here], last added: 1/25/2016
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10. Jolts of Children’s Literature in Unexpected Places

Okay!  We start out today with a whole range of adult titles, either coming out in the future or newly published, that contain some children’s book reference or inclusion.  And for a beginning let us examine a whole slew of books where the very idea of what a children’s author is serves as the inspiration for some very different stories.  First up:

In the Land of Armadillos: Stories by Helen Maryles Shankman


It’s a collection of short stories set in a German-occupied town in Poland, “where mythic tales of Jewish folklore meet the real-life monsters of the Nazi invasion . . . Blending folklore and fact, Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town: we meet a cold-blooded SS officer dedicated to rescuing the Jewish creator of his son’s favorite picture book, even as he helps exterminate the artist’s friends and family…”

In Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature my co-writers and I tried to pick apart how it is that society views children’s book writers and illustrators.  Compare this first book then to this next one:

Paris Is Always a Good Idea by Nicholas Barreau


And the description from the publisher reads: “Rosalie Laurent is the proud owner of Luna Luna, a little post-card shop in St. Germain, and if it were up to her, far more people would write cards. Her specialty is producing “wishing cards,” but where her own wishes are concerned the quirky graphic artist is far from lucky. Every birthday Rosalie sends a card inscribed with her heart’s desire fluttering down from the Eiffel Tower – but none of her wishes has ever been fulfilled.

Then one day when an elderly gentleman trips up in her shop and knocks over a post-card stand, it seems that her wish cards are working after-all. Rosalie finds out that it is Max Marchais, famed and successful author of children’s books who’s fallen into her life. When he asks her to illustrate his new (and probably last) book, Rosalie is only too glad to accept, and the two – very different – maverick artists become friends.

Rosalie’s wishes seem to be coming true at last, until a clumsy American professor stumbles into her store with accusations of plagiarism. Rosalie is hard pressed to know whether love or trouble is blowing through her door these days, but when in doubt, she knows that Paris is Always a Good Idea when one is looking for the truth and finding love.”

How many people are tripping into her store again?  You see this is very much a view of the children’s book illustrator as an adorable Amélie-like romantic.  Very typical of how people see illustrators in popular culture.

This next one doesn’t follow in that tradition, though.

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts


The Kirkus review tells part of the plot this way, “Two women, both touched by tragedy, find themselves bonding over cocaine, betrayal, loneliness, and cheese. Noor Kahn, never quite recovered from the accident that took her best friend as a child, is stranded in the country with her failing equestrian therapy business and a husband she’s increasingly unsure about. Jaycee, a neighbor raised in a historical theme park and naïve about the world outside, finds herself in possession of an interesting package when she returns from her first act of rebellion, a spontaneous trip to Peru. After the two women become connected through Jaycee’s father, Mr. Emory, a once-famous children’s book author struggling with dementia, a strange fellowship is born, built upon the shared discovery of cocaine and the power it could bring them.”

Really, the only way to get a true sense of what children’s book creators mean in these three novels would be to actually go out and read them.

Next up:

Autism in Young Adult Novels: An Annotated Bibliography by Marilyn Irwin, Annette Y. Goldsmith, and Rachel Applegate


From the publisher we get this description: “In this volume, the authors identify and assess all young adult novels that include autism content—either suggested or stated overtly—beginning with a novel published in 1968.”  I’ll give you a cookie if you can guess the name of that novel.

You Kiss by Th’ Book: New Poems from Shakespeare’s Line by Gary Soto


Actually this doesn’t have any connection to children’s literature aside from its author.  *sigh*  We miss you, Gary.  Come back to us.  Then again, the whole reason he stopped writing for kids was because of the public shaming sphere.  Hmm.  Maybe now is not the best time for a triumphant return.  But we still need you!

Between Memory and Museum: A Dialogue With Folk and Indigenous Artists by Arun Wolf and Gita Wolf


Well, I just mention this one because Gita and Tara Books have done such wonderful work bringing Indian children’s books to American bookstores and libraries.  That and the fact that this book sounds neat. Listen: “In their visual responses, artists reflect on the museum as an institution, and the way it preserves, creates and disseminates knowledge. Do these representations communicate a lived life?  What are the artists’ own ways of remembering and passing on tradition? And finally: who has the power to put whom in a museum?”

Finally, this last one is only being included on this list because of how the publisher chose to describe it.

Calf by Andrea Kleine


Here goes: “Part Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret and part Taxi Driver, this creepy, unsettling, and absolutely addictive novel is at once a penetrating character study, a meditation on the zeitgeist of the ’80s, and an unflinching depiction of violence, both intimate and sensational.”


And that, ladies is gentlemen, is why I read books for 9-year-olds.


3 Comments on Jolts of Children’s Literature in Unexpected Places, last added: 1/21/2016
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11. Review of the Day: Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill

jazzday1Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
By Roxane Orgill
Illustrated by Francis Vallejo
Candlewick Press
ISBN: 9780763669546
Ages 9-12
On shelves March 8th

Some books for kids have a hard road ahead of them. Here’s a secret. If you want a book to sell just oodles and oodles of copies to the general public, all you have to do is avoid writing in one of two specific genres: poetry and nonfiction. Even the best and brightest nonfiction books have a nasty tendency to fade from public memory too soon, and poetry only ever gets any notice during April a.k.a National Poetry Month. I say that, and yet there are some brave souls out there who will sometimes not just write poetry. Not just write nonfiction. They’ll write nonfiction-inspired poetry. It’s crazy! It’s like they care about the quality of the content more than make a bazillion dollars or something. The latest book to fall into this category is Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill. Melding topics like jazz musicians and photography with history, poetry, and some truly keen art, this isn’t really like any other book on your shelves. I’m betting that that’s a good thing too.

It was sort of a crazy idea for a graphic designer / jazz buff to come up with. By 1958 jazz was a well-established, deeply American, musical genre. So why not try to get all the jazz greats, and maybe some up-and-comers, into a single photograph all together? The call went out but Art Kane (who really wasn’t a photographer himself) had no idea who would turn up. After all, they were going to take the picture at ten in the morning. That’s a time most jazz performers are fast asleep. Yet almost miraculously they came. Count Basie and Thelonious Monk. Maxine Sullivan and Dizzy Gillespie. Some of them were tired. Some were having a great time catching up with old friends. And after much cajoling on Kane’s part a photo was made. Fifty-seven musicians (fifty-eight if you count Willie “Lion” Smith just out of frame). Orgill tells the tale in poetry, with artist Francis Vallejo providing the art and life. Extensive backmatter consists of an Author’s Note, Biographies, a page on the photo and homages to it, Source Notes, and a Bibliography that includes Books, Articles, Audiovisual Material, and Websites.

Jazz is often compared to poetry. So giving this book too rigid a structure wouldn’t offer the right feel at all. I’m no poet. I wish I had a better appreciation for the art than I do. Yet even with my limited understanding of the style I found myself stopping when I read the poem “This Moment” written from the point of view of Eddie Locke, a drummer. It’s the kind of poem where it’s composed as a series of quatrains. The second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next. It was fortunate for me that Orgill mentions in the back of the book that the poem is a pantoum. I’d never have come up with that term myself (I thought it was a sestina). Most of the poetry in the book isn’t really that formal. In fact, Orgill confesses that, “I write prose, not poetry. But this story demanded a sense of freedom, an intensity, and a conciseness that prose could not provide.” The result is that most of the poems are free verse, which I much preferred.

jazzday2Did you know that when publishing a book for kids you’re not supposed to turn in your manuscript with an illustrator already attached? True fact. Editors like having the power to pair authors and artists together. To be honest, they have experience in this area and sometimes their intervention is sublime (sometimes it fails miserably too, but that’s a tale for another day). I’m afraid I don’t know what Candlewick editor saw Orgill’s manuscript and thought of Francis Vallejo as a potential illustrator. If I knew I’d kiss them. Detroit born Vallejo is making his debut with this book and you’d never know in a million years that he wasn’t a born and bred Harlemite. His style is perfect for this tale. As adept at comic style panels as he is acrylic and pastel jazz scenes, there’s life in this man’s art. It was born to accompany jazz. It’s also particularly interesting watching what he does with light. The very beginning of the book shows a sunrise coming up on a hot August day. As it rises, shadows make way. This play between light and shadow, between the heat of the photo shoot and the cool jazz clubs that occasionally make an appearance in the text, gives the book its heart. It’s playful and serious all at once so that when you lift the page that reveals the real photograph, that action produces a very real moment of awe.

There’s been a lot of talk in the world of children’s literature lately about the research done on both works of fiction and nonfiction. Anytime you set your book in the past you have a responsibility to get the facts right. Part of what I love so much about Jazz Day is the extent of the research here. Orgill could easily have found a couple articles and books about the day of the photograph and stopped there. Instead, she writes that “Kane was by all accounts a wonderful storyteller, but one who did not always adhere to the facts. With the help of his son Jonathan Kane, I tried to set the story of the photograph straight.” Instructors who are teaching about primary sources in the schools could use this anecdote to show how reaching out to primary sources is something you need to do all the time. The rest of the backmatter (and it really is some of the most extensive I’ve ever seen) would be well worth showing to kids as well.

The question then becomes, whom is this book for? The complexity of the subject matter suggests that it’s meant for older kids. Those kids that might have a sense of some of the history (they might have heard what jazz is or who Duke Ellington was at some point in their travels). But would they read it for pleasure or as a kind of assigned reading? I don’t know. I certainly found it amusing enough, but I’m a 37-year-old woman. Not the target age range exactly. Yet I want to believe that there’s a fair amount of kid-friendly material here. Poems like “So Glad” and “quartet” may be about adults talking from an adult perspective, but Orgill cleverly livens the book up with the perspective of kids every step of the way. From the children sitting bored on the curb to a girl peering down from her window wishing the jazz men and photographer would just go away, kids get to give their two cents constantly. Read it more than once and you’ll begin to recognize some of them. Brothers Alfred and Nelson crop up more than a couple times too. Their mischief is just what the doctor ordered. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to have kids read different poems at different times. Save the more esoteric ones for later.

Jazz is hard to teach to kids. They know it’s important but it’s hard to make it human. There are always exceptions, though. For example, my 20-month-old is so obsessed with the book This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt that he’ll have me read it to him a hundred times over. To my mind, that’s what this book is capable of, if at a much older level. It humanizes the players and can serve as a starting point for discussions, teaching units, you name it. These men and women are hot and tired and laughing and alive, if only at this moment in time. It’s a snapshot in both the literal and figurative sense. It’ll take some work to get it into the right hands, I suspect, but in the end it’s worth it. Jazz isn’t some weird otherworldly language. It’s people. These people. Now the kids in the book, and the kids reading this book, have a chance to get to know them.

On shelves March 8th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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12. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Let’s Have Some Cake

BirthdayCakeWashingtonOr not, as the case may be.

I think it was four or five months ago when I first saw A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON on Edelweiss.  It was pretty much the final edition, though it could have been lacking some of the eventual backmatter.  No matter.  I have to admit my jaw was a bit on the floor.  This was all in the midst of the A FINE DESSERT brouhaha and I couldn’t help but wonder what the heck was going on over at Scholastic.  Particularly since I was a huge fan of the illustrator and editor.

Did I blog about it at the time?  I did not.  I could have but I think I just figured that clearly the book was going to be pulled before publication.  Remember, this was all coming out around the time of the NPR Codeswitch report on A FINE DESSERT.  The likelihood that a different publisher wouldn’t have noticed this parallel debate was slim.  This is also why, in spite of my first name, I am not a betting woman.  My hunches tend to be incorrect.

As it happens the book most certainly was published but the backlash wasn’t instantaneous.  In fact, last Monday I went to the Amazon.com page to see how it was doing.  The answer?  Lots of five star reviews.  Oodles of them.  Very few critical comments.  Goodreads was even odder.  Nobody seemed to have read it there.  I was puzzled.  I mean, this was long after Vicky Smith’s remarkable piece about the title in Kirkus. Now I had to think about whether or not I’d review it myself.  I didn’t particularly want to but by the same token it didn’t appear that the alternative point of view was up and running.  Plus I’d get to begin the review with some kind of statement about how I dislike desserts made with honey rather than sugar because they’re just too sweet.  [<—- It makes more sense if you’ve read the book]

24 hours passed and the difference was night and day.  When I went online again I discovered that suddenly people knew about this book.  And they were NOT pleased.  You can read the Amazon comments all day long if you like.  How many of those reviewers have actually read the book?  See previous statement about not being a betting woman, but I suspect the number is not particularly large.  They were still pissed.  And some had read the Kirkus and SLJ reviews.

BirthdayCakeWashingon2Articles starting coming out about the book left and right too, but one of the best, by far, was in Fusion.  I’m not convinced that the author read the book (it includes a plot description with a pretty glaring flaw) but it’s a rather perfect encapsulation of not just the debate itself but history that I simply didn’t know.  Writer Charles Pulliam-Moore dives deep into the ways in which Washington would “renew” his slaves’ Pennsylvania residencies.  He also closes with a link to George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal by Fritz Hirschfeld that is well worth your time.

On Thursday, Scholastic had produced this statement about the book.  By Saturday, this was the new statement.  The book has been officially pulled from publication.  This was probably due in large part to the news agencies that picked up on the story in the intervening day(s).

What are we to make of all this?  Since I was surprised that it hadn’t been pulled from publication from the start, I was certainly amazed that it was after the fact.  Then I got to thinking.  Has this ever happened before that a picture book was determined by its publisher to give such “a false impression” of a historical event that it was pulled as a result?  Is there a precedent?  At times like these I wish Peter Sieruta was still amongst us.  He would have known.

This much is clear.  As we enter 2016 we’re going to see books like a republished Abraham Lincoln, with changes made to the text and images and other books that touch on similar topics in a picture book format for kids.  Books of this sort may get pulled or delayed prior to publication.  The same goes for nonfiction and fiction titles as well.  There are good lessons to take from the saga of A BIRTHDAY CAKE.  There are bad lessons too.  Let us then hope for books for our kids that know how to handle this subject with dignity, and for publishers that aren’t just automatically scared away from the topic itself for years to come.


20 Comments on Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Let’s Have Some Cake, last added: 1/18/2016
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13. Jolts of Thoughts on the Recent Spate of Awards

I’ve been privy to lots of interesting conversations about our most recent ALA winners this week.  And since it’s Friday and we’re all now able to step back and take into account what all just happened, here is a quick summary of some of the discussions, topics, and random facts surrounding the Youth Media Awards of 2016.  Just so that you’re playing along at home, here is the announcement of who the winners were.  First up . . .


We’ll begin with the most surprising choice.  Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book, won the Newbery.  The question was then whether or not it is the first picture book to win the award.  After all, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn won back in 1982, yes?  And it also won a Caldecott Honor, just like Market Street.  Yet William Blake’s Inn was poetry first, and picture book second.  Market Street is straight up picture book text, context, you name it.  So, in some ways, it is the first award winner, yes.

Next, there was a question as to whether or not Matt de la Pena is the first Latino to win the Newbery Award (not Honor but Award).  And it was Roger Sutton who pointed out that maybe not.  Remember, if you will, Paula Fox.  As he wrote, “from Augusta Baker’s profile of Fox, written for The Horn Book to accompany her Newbery speech in 1974: ‘Paula Fox knew her share of pain as a child. A New Yorker by birth, half-Spanish, half-Irish-English, she was sent at the age of eight to live with her grandmother in Cuba’.”  This is not something I’d heard before.  Thank you, Roger!

Jon Scieszka tweeted this during the week as well:

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 11.36.38 PM

You can read more about that night here, if you like.  My sole regret is that the evening wasn’t taped.  Matt killed in that tux.

Moving on, while Matt may not be the first Latino Award winner of the Newbery, it is certainly true that 2016 was the first time that there was a Latino winner of the Award and a Latino winner of an Honor in the same year.  Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan was an early favorite in 2015.  I remember the book well and I also remember its swag.  Many galleys were sent out with little harmonicas.  In my office, just because of who works there, we received about four of five of these harmonicas.  They were cute but we weren’t entirely certain what to do with them.  Someone should write a middle grade called A Confusion of Harmonicas.


Someone should also tap Norton Juster to play a harmonica at the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet the way he did the year Raschka’s The Hello, Goodbye Window won a Caldecott.

Many were quite thrilled that The War That Saved My Life received recognition, including myself.  You can find my review of it here.  It was particularly gratifying since back in the day I wanted her to win an award for Jefferson’s Sons.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson was a surprise win for many.  If folks thought El Deafo‘s win last year was a fluke, Victoria’s latest Honor drills home that graphic novels are here to stay.  It also means that the push for a separate Graphic Novel award may fall by the wayside.  After all, they can apparently win Newberys now.  For fun, take a trip in the wayback machine to 2009 when Victoria solicited cool children’s literature-related roller derby names on this site.  My favorite remains Jacob Have I Shoved (with special honors going to Winnie-the-Pow!).

And speaking of Winnie . . .


I’m going to level with you.  When I read Finding Winnie I had a lot to say about it.  And though it was being published in October, I reviewed in May. I loved it so.

Sophie appeared at a Spring Little Brown & Company preview in early March of 2015 to talk about the book, as it happens.  While doing so she showed a lot of the research she conducted for the art.  Here are some of the tweets from that time:

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 11.58.16 PM

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 12.00.22 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-14 at 11.59.46 PM

On his post on The Relative Surprise-iness of the 2016 Youth Media Awards, Travis Jonker points out that Trombone Shorty wasn’t one of those books that made it onto a lot Mock Award lists.  Looking at the ALSC blog that collects these Mock Awards, it wasn’t shut out.  The 43rd annual Caldecott Read-In was held on January 9th at the Main Library for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library (Ohio) predicted its Honor.  It was also the Award winner on December 21, 2015, when over 900 students in grades K-5 voted for the Mock Caldecott at Falmouth Elementary School in Falmouth, Maine.  Well done to both!

Far more people were familiar with Voice of Freedom:  Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. Now there’s a book that could have won a Newbery as easily as a Caldecott as well.  The writing is so superb.  I’m happy to report that both this book AND Trombone Shorty appeared on New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing list for the year as well.  Those NYPL librarians.  They’ve got their fingers on the pulse.

As for Waiting by Kevin Henkes, note this screenshot from a Harper Collins preview on December 29, 2014:

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 12.14.35 AM

Nailed It!  Or, to be more precise, Somewhat Nailed It!  I wasn’t entirely off anyway.

Other awards were interesting as well.  For example, the recent Printz Award winner spoke at LENGTH on this site about her soon-to-be-award winning book.  Here, I’ll save you the trouble.  Voila:

On the Coretta Scott King side of things, Rita Williams-Garcia was kind enough to talk about her book here:

For further final fun, do be so good as to read Travis Jonker’s post on  as well as the reaction tweets.  Also consider the Heavy Medal thoughts on the Newbery Award winner and their commenters thoughts on all the winners here.  And Calling Caldecott did the same here.


4 Comments on Jolts of Thoughts on the Recent Spate of Awards, last added: 1/15/2016
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14. Most Classics Are Better With Robots

Last night I had a lot of fun speaking at The Bookstall in Winnetka about the trends of 2015, 2016, and all the 2016 books I was excited about.  Afterwards a bunch of us sat down for dinner and drinks and the conversation turned, as is natural, to robots.  I had mentioned in my talk earlier that as a 9-year-old I had avoided any and all books that were potentially “meaningful” and that I sometimes have to fight that same instinct today.  A little later we started talking about robots.  To be more specific, we were talking about what happens when you replace a word in a book’s title with the word “robot”.  That’s when it suddenly occurred to me that the books I had avoided in the past would have been far more palatable to my young self, had they contained a significant uptick in robots.


  • Julie of the Robots
  • Island of the Blue Robots
  • Robots to Terabithia
  • Robot Tremain
  • Are You There, Robot? It’s Me Margaret

Then I started thinking about adult titles.  Again, robots have a tendency to make everything better.


robot_blog– Moby Robot

– Robots and Prejudice

– Remembrance of Robots Past

– Robot in the Rye


The moral of the story is that I need more robots in my reading fare.  Also, that silly season has officially begun and I need to start doing some more serious posts here.

For the record, I wouldn’t mind hearing some additional serious-books-improved-with-robot suggestions on either the juv or adult side of things.  YA is also acceptable (after all, you cannot tell me Twilight isn’t cooler if the vampires are robots).


15 Comments on Most Classics Are Better With Robots, last added: 1/15/2016
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15. Children’s Literary Salon Video #1: REFORMA, Refugee Children, and Bringing Books to the Border

As you may recall, this past Saturday, January 9th I hosted my first Literary Salon here in Evanston. In spite of the fact that some of my attendees were at ALA while others stayed home to avoid the heavy snowfall, we had a showing of around 40-45 people.  The topic?  Refugee children held at America’s border.  Or, as the description read:

“Bringing Books to the Border: Jeff Garrett and the Refugee Children of the Rio Grande Valley”

When 70,000 children crossed the southern border into the United States it sparked a humanitarian crisis.  And until July of 2014 the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Department was unable accept donations of kids books to these children.  When that changed, local bookstore owner Jeff Garrett of Bookends and Beginnings worked as part of REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Project, to help bring children’s books to the unaccompanied refugee children currently arriving in the Rio Grande Valley.  Speaking about his experiences, Jeff touches on many of the issues surrounding the border today and what we can learn from those who are working with refugee children every day.

For the first time, I was able to livestream the event.  For the most part, it worked.  It was not without its glitches, of course.  The PowerPoint is difficult to make out, I believe, because I was at an angle and not facing it directly.  Also, I should have asked Jeff to repeat some of the questions he received since they were hard to hear on the video.

But all that aside, this is a remarkable talk.  Jeff clears up misconceptions, clarifies points, and really shines a spotlight on the amazing work that REFORMA is doing these days.  For anyone who believes in the importance of getting books into the hands of children, this is essential watching.  Enjoy.


4 Comments on Children’s Literary Salon Video #1: REFORMA, Refugee Children, and Bringing Books to the Border, last added: 1/14/2016
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16. And the Winners Are . . . .

In case you missed it, the ALA Youth Media Award winners (Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, etc.) were announced this morning. Best of all, I was on hand to offer Pre-Game predictions and Post-Game commentary. Here are the results. Please note that there is no heat in the room I was commenting in. So if I’m trembling I have just cause.

Here was the Pre-Game Show which worked okay:

And here’s the Post-Game Show which did NOT. For whatever reason, the camera didn’t work. Ah well. At least there’s audio:

Woohoo!  Now someone go and tell me whether or not a picture books has ever won the award proper before.


12 Comments on And the Winners Are . . . ., last added: 1/12/2016
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17. Review of the Day: Gordon and Tapir by Sebastian Meschenmoser

GordonTapirGordon and Tapir
By Sebastian Meschenmoser
North/South Books
ISBN: 9780735842199
Ages 3-6
On shelves April 1, 2016

There is a perception here in America about the Germans. It is a firm belief that, as a nation, they are devoid of a sense of humor. Americans love to bring this up. I’m not sure what they’re trying to prove necessarily when they say it, but the idea has been repeated so often that few would bother to contest it. Can you name any German stand-up comics? How about funny imported German films? What about funny German picture books? AH HA! There I’ve got you. Because while I cannot pull out of a hat any comics or movies, what I can do is show you without a sliver of a doubt that thanks to picture books like those of Sebastian Meschenmoser, we have absolute proof that Germans have a distinct and ribald sense of humor. With the release of his latest book in the States, Gordon and Tapir, Meschenmoser plumbs the Odd Couple concept with some distinctive twists of his very own. This is some primo German goofball stuff.

The book opens wordlessly. A penguin goes to his restroom with a newspaper. He reaches for the toilet paper. But what is this? Someone’s used it all up. And not just anyone. The penguin, who goes by the name of Gordon, stamps down the hall to his roommate Tapir’s room. Inside he finds the animal reclining in a toilet paper constructed hammock, an elaborate fruit cup in hand and a headdress that would wow Carmen Miranda on his noggin. Immediately Gordon launches into a litany of transgressions Tapir has engaged in. The floor’s sticky with fruit, the dishes are never done, and why exactly has there been a hippo living in the bathtub for the past few days? Tapir isn’t taking this lying down. He has his own complaints, like why does EVERYTHING have to be so neat and tidy? Why does the garbage have to stink of fish all the time? And why can’t Tapir join Gordon’s all-penguin club? Eventually, Gordon moves out and once Tapir discovers this he gives the bird a call. Turns out, it is a fantastic solution. Now Tapir can be dirty, Gordon can be neat, but they can visit each other and be friends again far better than if they lived together. Happy endings for all.

I’ve always carried the torch for Meschenmoser’s art. From his sleepless animals in Waiting for Winter to his previous penguin dip into surrealism in Learning to Fly the man has a strange kinship with the furry and feathery. So much of the character development in these tales comes from their body language. For example, there’s a spread in this book where Gordon lies in bed on his back staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. while Tapir does much the same thing, albeit blearily, in his own room. This is followed by a silent film of sorts where Gordon finds a new place to stay in the paper and takes off as Tapir hears the door open and looks up with just the saddest expression in his eyes. Any picture book that dares to go silent for an extended amount of time in the center of the story is being gutsy. It’s not easy to pull off, and Meschenmoser ups the ante (as it were) by rendering everything during those wee hours of the morning in black and white graphite sketches.

GordonTapir2Then there are the little visual details and gags. The humor is sublime here. Meschenmoser is just as comfortable with silent gags (remember, this is coming from the man who made Charlie Chaplin references in the images of Mr. Squirrel and the Moon) as he is with words. Some of the jokes are there for the parents doing the reading. Did you notice the tapir in a bathing suit that bedecks the inside bathroom door? Or the fact that when Gordon stomps from the bathroom to Tapir’s room the wallpaper goes from a pristine fish pattern to paper that’s torn and peeling in large chunks? Did you see that the little cactus that Tapir gives to Gordon as a housewarming present is sitting on his dresser earlier in the book? And did you know that every single one of Gordon’s penguin friends is based on a famous author? I’ve good money riding on the fact that one of them resembles Sigmund Freud. I loved that Gordon has a goldfish swimming in his party drink (a tasty treat for later?). And so tiny you’d probably miss them but worth it every time I notice them is this: mongooses in teeny tiny colorful party hats. Life is sweeter because they are there.

But for all that, the real reason I loved this book as much as I did was that the lesson I took away from it wasn’t American in the slightest. Imagine if a Yank tried writing the same book. Gordon and Tapir would have their differences. They’d have their fight. They’d both spend a sleepless night. Then the next morning Gordon would make a concession, Tapir would make a concession, and they’d work out their differences. And there is nothing wrong with a book about meeting someone halfway. Yet what I loved so much about this book was the fact that it eschewed every rote picture book plot I’d come to expect and went in an entirely new direction. Because honestly, let’s face it, sometimes friends are NOT meant to live together. Couples grow apart, people change, and there are times when you are much closer to someone if they don’t share the same space that you do 24/7. Meschenmoser makes it crystal clear that Gordon and Tapir’s friendship is stronger when Gordon leaves. Now I’m sure some folks will read this as a “stick with your own kind” narrative (after all, tapirs and penguins don’t even occupy the same temperate zones) but I’d argue that their friendship belies that. It isn’t that they don’t vastly enjoy each other’s company. They just need their own personal space at the end of the day, and that is absolutely 100% a-okay.

GordonTapir1As crazy as it sounds, this actually wouldn’t be the worst picture book to hand to a small child with parents going through a divorce. I think it’s pretty clear from the book that sometimes you have nothing in common with the person you’re living with and that it’s best for all parties if a split is made. I don’t think the book was written with that intention in mind, and that is probably why it would work particularly well. There isn’t any didacticism to plow through. Just good storytelling

There’s a long history of funny German children’s literature that leads directly to Mr. Meschenmoser. Remember that this is the country where Der Struwwelpeter came to light (though its humor is a bit of an acquired taste). And alongside fellow contemporary funny German picture book artists like Torben Kuhlmann and Ole Konnecke he’s in good standing. With any luck we’ll be seeing more of their books coming to U.S. shores in the coming years. So who knows? Maybe if we get enough Gordon and Tapir types of books the humorless perception of the German people will undergo a change. At the very least, we’ll get some magnificent stories out of the deal. This one’s a keeper.

On shelves April 1st.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:


2 Comments on Review of the Day: Gordon and Tapir by Sebastian Meschenmoser, last added: 1/11/2016
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18. Newbery / Caldecott 2016: Final Prediction Edition

See this money?  It’s time to put it where my mouth is.  OPEN UP, MOUTH!

So if you’re playing along at home you might have noticed that I’m a bit . . . ah . . . last minute-ish with my final predictions this year.  Considering that today is Thursday and the Newbery/Caldecott Awards (amongst other Youth Media Awards) will be announced this Monday at 8 a.m. EST (and viewable here), I’m positively late.

Ah well.  Life, it has a way of interrupting your best laid plans.  In any case, I’m ready now.  And before I forget, I should mention that if you’ve any interest in killing time before the ALA Awards on Monday, why not tune in for my Pre-Game Show beforehand?  I’ll be livestreaming my thoughts on the possible winners.  Then you can come back for the Post-Game Show where I kvetch, cheer, and generally make a fool of myself while my 19-month-old son wails outside my office door, wondering why his mommy isn’t sticking to her usual routine that morning.  Or I may pull him into the room to meet you.  I’m not above bribing you to watch.  Alas, my delightful co-host Lori will not be joining me this year, so it’s just l’il ole me. And maybe a baby.

And for those of you interested in what other people around the country are interested in winning, be sure to check out ALSC’s collection of Mock Elections here.

All right.  Enough of that.  Here are my final predictions.  As ever, I’d like to point out that with the possible exception of 2008, I almost never get these predictions right.  I go with my gut but my guts are fickle and can be bribed with donuts.


Caldecott Award


Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena. Illustrated by Christian Robinson


If there’s any theme behind my choices this year, it’s that they’re not very original.  Every other Mock Caldecott in the country has been talking about this book, and well that they should.  To my mind, this book has a very good chance if only because the time is right for it.  Look at the Caldecott Award winners of the past.  Books that speak to the times in which we live win the awards.  Whether intentional or not, the Caldecott committee is going to say something with their choice about what “distinguished” means.  In my recent article about the trends of 2015 and 2016 I mentioned that you cannot look at the debates sweeping the children’s literature landscape without considering the greater picture.  And the greater picture, as I see it, dictates that we need more diversity not just in the racial make-up of our authors, illustrators, and subject matter, but also in economic realities.  This book is beautiful, well-written, and does something I haven’t seen since Ezra Jack Keats: It makes the urban landscape beautiful.  The time for this book is now.  It’s my pick as winner.

Honors: In a Village By the Sea by Muon Van. Illustrated by April Chu


The Beach Boys song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is playing in my head right now.  Because it would be nice if this book got an Honor.  Nice for the author and illustrator.  Nice for the small publisher from which it hails.  Nice to see a wordless book get some love.  It’s a dark horse contender, I think, but I wouldn’t count it out.

Honors: Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez


Rafael Lopez is long overdue for a Caldecott in some kind of form.  This isn’t to say that he’ll necessarily get the Honor he deserves (and heck, he might get an Award proper!) but it makes me think that there’s a chance that someone on the committee will harbor affections for this book in the secret recesses of their heart.

Newbery Award

Since last year the Caldecott had a ton of Honors, I’d like to think that with the strong contenders of written works in 2016, there might be room for a plethora of these instead.


The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz


Though it was considered contentious earlier this year, one cannot help but notice that things are different for The Hired Girl these days.  People came to it in the midst of the debate and discovered that it was beautifully written.  Other folks who might not have picked it up did so and found that they loved it.  Support swelled, it appeared on the New York Times YA bestseller list a week or two ago, and everything culminated in yesterday’s Scott O’Dell Award announcement.  I’ve been watching all of this, and just as I feel that Last Stop on Market Street speaks to our current time and place, so too does The Hired Girl, only it represents a novel’s ability to become a focal point for a debate that extends far beyond itself.  At its heart, The Hired Girl is distinguished.  It could easily take away the award by itself.


The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


The year’s most surprising popular favorite.  Not that I was particularly surprised myself.  I’d been plugging away for Jefferson’s Sons, Ms. Bradley’s previous book, to take away the prize years ago.  This may get bupkiss too (popularity by no means assures success in the award field) but at least a LOT of people read it that might not have otherwise.

Honors: Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin


Surprise!!  First time this one has made any of my prediction lists.  Why the switcheroo?  Um . . . well, I actually sat down and read it.  Boy howdy, is it good.  Tackling, in some ways, a subject far more complex than BOMB (his previous award winner) I could easily see this carrying a bunch of different awards from a bunch of different categories.  And, as with many books mentioned today, it’s hugely timely.

Honors: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan


I’ve gone back and forth on this one for a while.  On the one hand, there’s something about this book that sears into your brain and takes up residency in your frontal lobe.  On the other hand, the connecting fantasy element is entirely superfluous.  At the end of the day, I think the distinguished merit (which it exudes from every pore) outweighs any concerns I might have.  It’s not a given, but it’s a strong contender.

Honors: Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia


As I mentioned in a previous prediction post, this book took a while to percolate in my brain.  It was only after I talked it over with folks and thought long and hard about it that I realized it had a very strong shot at an award of some sort.  It could easily take home the gold medal proper, by the way.  We shall see what we shall see.

Phew!  That’s all from me.  Now go and catch your flights to Boston and tell me how everything is while you’re there.


21 Comments on Newbery / Caldecott 2016: Final Prediction Edition, last added: 1/9/2016
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19. The British to American Translation

PhilosophersStoneThis Christmas I was delighted to find that someone had given me the latest incarnation of Harry Potter, this time in the form of the fully illustrated book by Jim Kay.  Called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, my book was a little different as it was the British Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  My husband, knowing that I read all the original Harry Potter books in their British forms, was kind enough to let my in-laws know that it was my preferred version.

Truly, I’ve always loved the Britishisms of the original HPs.  The hose pipes.  The jumpers.  The chips vs. crisps.  Biscuits galore.  Back in the day it got so that I could listen to the Jim Dale audiobooks and figure out where the American books were different.  As I’m sure you all know, they were “translated”, after a fashion, for the U.S. audience.

The long term effects of this is that every time I read a children’s book that originated in the UK, I feel the American translations very keenly.  For example, every time Lockwood and Company sit down to determine the order in which they should eat the household cookie stash, I just want to cross out the words “cookies” and replace them with “biscuits”.

Yet even more interesting are the times when translating for an American audience does not work.  Two examples come to mind today, and they are both picture books that I have read to my children over and over and over again.  Beloved books.  Wonderful books.  Books that I would buy again in a second, and yet their British to American translations stick out like sore thumbs.

ClapHandsFirst up, the delightful Helen Oxenbury.  Like many parents, I am in proud possession of a batch of four board books she created back in the 1980s.  These include All Fall Down, Say Goodnight, Tickle,Tickle, and Clap Hands.  Clap Hands is the book we’ll be focusing on today because it contains a soft rhyme that doesn’t really bother you until you realize where the change occurred.  At the risk of invoking wrath of the copyright gods, here is the text of the very short book. “Clap hands / dance and sing / open wide /and pop it in. / Blow a trumpet / bang a drum / wave to daddy / wave to mom.”  I’m sorry, I should have specified that this is the American version of the text.  Naturally in the British edition that last rhyme would have read “wave to daddy / wave to mum”.  After all, “mum” rhymes with “drum”.  And I am not suggesting that Simon & Schuster should have kept the original text.  It’s just one of those little things where when you notice it, it grates on you.  Or maybe just me.  Yeah.  Probably me.

GoldilocksVariationsThe next example is a bit more of a ballsy switcheroo.  Indeed, The Goldilocks Variations by Allan Ahlberg with illustrations by Jessica Ahlberg is such a delight that I am well and truly happy that it was brought to the U.S.  The premise is simple.  It tells the original story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears straight.  Then you get the variations.  In one version it’s The Thirty-three Bears.  In another it’s done with aliens.  In yet another, the very furniture of the house rises up to scare her away.  Actually, this version with the furniture is the one that I mean.  The art in this book is meticulous and tiny.  Itty bitty illustrations scratched out in pen and ink and watercolors dot every page.  The result is magical and allows for a very particular change.

Without getting too much into it, Goldilocks comes home to find her plates, knives, forks, spoons, etc. are engaged in a rousing baseball game.  Reading this to my daughter I was a bit surprised.  Baseball?  Why on earth would the Ahlberg’s include baseball, of all things, in their book?  So I peered as closely as I could at that itty-bitty, teeny weeny illustration.  Yes, there was the cutlery.  Yes, they were playing a game.  But the game in question was clearly NOT baseball, though you wouldn’t know it without checking.  The way they were holding their bats and the positions on the field . . . that’s cricket!!  Granted, I know very little about cricket itself, but I am at least aware of what the playing field resembles and that was NOT a cricket game going on.  But would any American necessarily notice?  Nah.  Obviously the publisher decided it would take people out of the story to encounter cricket in the middle of the book.  As a result, it was determined not to be “too British” and we are the beneficiaries.  I mean, look at these adorable tabs.


Who could resist that?

Have you ever noticed a “translation” of this sort?  Or, for that matter (and almost more interestingly) do the British do it on their end?  Do they change our baseball to cricket and our moms to mums?  Somehow, I don’t think so, but I’d be curious to learn either way.


14 Comments on The British to American Translation, last added: 12/30/2015
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20. Fusenews: The bumps on the tongue just add insult to injury

Good morning, campers!  Are we ironing out the last of the holiday season from our socks?  Are we eyeing our decorations with a jaded eye?  Well, wonderful news!  2016 is on the horizon and I bring you news of the peppy variety.  Packed deep in snow, no less, since I appear to be living in ice storm land at the moment.

  • ReadQuarterlyFirst up, I wrote a piece a year or two ago for a periodical and then never had it published.  All that has changed thanks to the delightful online children’s literature publication, The Read Quarterly.  My piece The Last Taboo: What Interactive Print Says About the Digital Revolution is available for your reading, whenever you’d like to give it a gander.
  • Two awards to celebrate today.  First up, you may be aware that over in Britain they did away with their beloved Roald Dahl Funny Book Prize.  Apparently there will be a new Dahl prize in the near future and they didn’t want to confuse it with this other one.  Fortunately, there’s a new funny lit prize and it’s called The Laugh Out Loud Award or, for short, The Lollies.  Michael Rosen is, as ever, involved.  Attention!  Britain?  The representative from Illinois would like to request that America be allowed Lollies of our own.  We could change the name slightly to The ROFLs, but that sounds slightly perverse when you say it out loud.  In any case, funny awards here, please.
  • The other award is the recent unveiling of the latest winners of the 2015 Arab American Book Award (sponsored by the  Arab American National Museum) given in the Children/Young Adult category.  The winner, I’m happy to say, is The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow Press).  Honorable Mention was awarded to The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston and illustrated by Claire Ewart (Wisdom Tales Press).  Well done, one and all!
  • Insufficiently happy by today’s news thus far?  Okay.  Try this.  They’ve turned some of the Bad Kitty books into a play and you Bay Area lucky ducks get to see it.  Playwright Min Kahng, who also did a musical adaptation of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon amongst other things, is interviewed here.  As for Bad Kitty herself, I like her looks:


  • Brightly also came up with 2015’s Biggest Moments in Children’s and YA Literature.  A good list, though I would rewrite the title slightly to say instead that it’s more accurately “2015’s Biggest Controversy-Free Moments in Children’s and YA Literature”.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

BottleCapBoysA Rita Williams-Garcia book has people talking, but it may not be the book you first think of.  How many of you read her new picture book Bottle Cap Boys Dancing on Royal Street?  Well a recent article about the actual boys who dance the streets of New Orleans says that Rita’s book has gotten people to talking.  The subheading “Depicting happy children” sounds familiar in light of the conversations surrounding A Fine Dessert as well, though the context is different.

  • Daily Image:

I saw the new Star Wars movie, loved it, and was listening to a recent episode of the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour when they mentioned the worst Star Wars merchandising in existence.  There are many items that could fit the bill (look up the Slave Leia perfume or the C3PO tape dispenser, if you doubt me) but the unqualified winner was so terrible sounding that I honestly didn’t believe that it existed.  This has nothing to do with children’s literature in any way, shape, or form.  I just wanted to give you a couple new nightmares tonight.  Ladies and gentlemen, the Jar Jar Binks lollipop.  Sharp-eyed spotters may be able to see why it may be considered far and away the worst marketing of all time.



3 Comments on Fusenews: The bumps on the tongue just add insult to injury, last added: 12/31/2015
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21. 100 Magnificent Children’s Books 2015

Happy New Year!!

As with each and every year, I like to make my own little list of 100 children’s book titles.  These are pretty much for my own reference in the future, though you’re more than welcome to critique the choices as you prefer.  Previous lists can be found for 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.  And, as always, you’ll note that this isn’t a “Best Books” list but rather just a listing of books I personally found magnificent.  ONWARD!

100 Magnificent Children’s Books 2015

Board Books (new category!)

If You’re a Robot and You Know It by Musical Robot. Illustrated by David Adler

Picture Books (For Children Ages 2-6)

Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep! by Todd Tarpley. Illustrated by John Rocco

Bernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah E. Harrison

Betty Goes Bananas by Steve Antony

Billy’s Booger by William Joyce

Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) by Josh Schneider

Fire Engine No. 9 by Mike Austin

Float by Daniel Miyares

The Fly by Petr Horacek

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor. Illustrated by Jean Jullien

In a Village By the Sea by Muon Van. Illustrated by April Chu

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena. Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann

The Moon is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Pearle

The Night World by Mordicai Gerstein

Mr. Squirrel and the Moon by Sebastian Meschenmoser

One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Illustrated by Fred Koehler

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon. Illustrated by Mark Siegel

The Potato King by Christoph Niemann

Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

The Red Hat by David Teague. Illustrated by Antoinette Portis

Red, Yellow, Blue (And a Dash of White Too) by C.G. Esperanza

Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin. Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Sidewalk Flowers by Jonarno Lawson. Illustrated by Sydney Smith

Snow White and the Seventy-Seven Dwarfs by Davide Cali. Illustrated by Raphaelle Barbanegre

The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi

Tell Me What to Dream About by Giselle Potter

This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary. Illustrated by Julie Morstad

Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul. Illustrated by Jason Chin

When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Jill McElmurry

The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman. Illustrated by Zachariah OHora

A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel


Folktales and Fairy Tales

The Hare and the Hedgehog by The Brothers Grimm. Illustrated by Jonas Lauströer

Maya’s Blanket: La Manda de Maya by Monica Brown. Illustrated by David Diaz

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World by Vivian French. Illustrated by Angela Barrett

Mousetropolis by R. Gregory Christie

One the Shoulder of a Giant: An Inuit Folktale by Neil Christopher. Illustrated by Jim Nelson


Beastly Verse by Joohee Yoon

A Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young by Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Chris Riddell

Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything by Calef Brown

Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to Love With Your Baby, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrated by Alyssa Nassner

The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis

Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, collected by Elizabeth Hammill

Sail Away by Langston Hughes. Illustrated by Ashley Bryan

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by Ekua Holmes


Stories for Younger Readers

Buckle and Squash: The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld (ill?)

The Day No One Was Angry by Toon Tellegen. Illustrated by Marc Boutavant

Don’t Throw It to Mo! by David Adler. Illustrated by Sam Ricks

Dory and the Real True Friend by Abby Hanlon

The First Case by Ulf Nilsson. Illustrated by Gitte Spee

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems. Illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi


Stories for Older Readers

The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Lawrence Yep

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold. Illustrated by Emily Gravett

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

Lilliput by Sam Gayton. Illustrated by Alice Ratteree

Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Masterminds by Gordon Korman

MiNRS by Kevin Sylvester

My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!) Alison DeCamp

A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

A Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold

The Sign of the Cat by Lynne Jonell

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John. Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins. Illustrated by Jamie Hogan

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Illustrated by Katie Kath

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


 Graphic Books

Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola. Illustrated by Emily Carroll

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks

Lost in NYC by Najda Spiegelman. Illustrated by Sergio Garcia Sanchez

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale

The Only Child by Guojing

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Rutabaga: The Adventure Chef by Eric Colossal

Space Dumplings by Craig Thompson


28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World by Charles R. Smith Jr. Illustrated by Shane Evans

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton. Illustrated by Don Tate

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko. Illustrated by Sean Qualls

Emu by Claire Saxby. Illustrated by Graham Byrne

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by Jamey Christoph

I, Fly by Bridget Heos. Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli


7 Comments on 100 Magnificent Children’s Books 2015, last added: 1/4/2016
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22. Video Sunday: Wind’s in the East . . .

Fun stuff.  Looks a lot like Harry Potter to a certain extent (mood, lighting, music, etc.).  It’s the trailer for Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link!

A bit of an older video here.  In my travels recently I discovered that the entirety of the Oliver Jeffers short film version of his book Lost and Found is apparently online.  Bonus!  I never got to see it.  For your viewing pleasure then (and it’s 24 minutes long, FYI):


Shoot. Christmas is over but only now have I learned about this new collection of Walt Kelly’s Fairy Tales.  Well, there’s always next year, I guess.

Cool. I’d heard that there was a children’s theater adaptation of Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, but didn’t know it had a little trailer too. Eh, voila.

And for the off-topic video, we’re not entirely off-topic.  After all, Mary Poppins was a children’s book originally.  Ipso facto a flash mob for Dick Van Dyke’s 90th birthday is . . . well it works for me.



0 Comments on Video Sunday: Wind’s in the East . . . as of 1/3/2016 1:14:00 AM
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23. RETURN of the Children’s Literary Salon: January Event

It wasn’t too long ago that I was running the Children’s Literary Salon, a monthly gathering of topics presented to children’s literature enthusiasts, in the hallowed halls of NYPL.  Times change, people move, and lo and behold here I am on the outskirts of Chicago (if Evanston can really be designated as “the outskirts”) bringing you a whole new Lit Salon.  Yes!  It’s Children’s Literary Salon 2.0 and we’re doing it Illinois-style.  So if you happen to find yourself in the Midwest this coming Saturday, I’d very much like to interest you in the following program:

The Evanston Public Library presents on Saturday, January 9th at 3:00 p.m.:

“Bringing Books to the Border: Jeff Garrett and the Refugee Children of the Rio Grande Valley”

When 70,000 children crossed the southern border into the United States it sparked a humanitarian crisis.  And until July of 2014 the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Department was unable accept donations of kids books to these children.  When that changed, local bookstore owner Jeff Garrett of Bookends and Beginnings worked as part of REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Project, to help bring children’s books to the unaccompanied refugee children currently arriving in the Rio Grande Valley.  Speaking about his experiences, Jeff touches on many of the issues surrounding the border today and what we can learn from those who are working with refugee children every day.

This event will be held in the Community Room on the first floor.

No reservations necessary.

If you have any questions about this event, please email me at ebird@cityofevanston.org.


3 Comments on RETURN of the Children’s Literary Salon: January Event, last added: 1/5/2016
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24. Comics Squad: Lunch – Now With More Pearl Harbor! A Nathan Hale Interview

I like my comics like I like my men. Chock full of lunch and Pearl Harbor references.

Hm? That didn’t make sense? Maybe not, but if nonsense is pouring out of my mouth then I believe it may have something to do with the excitement I feel about today’s guest. If the term “Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales” means nothing to you then please be so good as to read this and this and then come back to me. As many of you know, he is the one-man genius factory behind some of the best history for kids out there today.

That’s in one corner.  In the other corner is the Comics Squad series put out by Penguin Random House.  The concept is simple.  The books are about the size of your average Babymouse or Lunch Lady comic book.  Inside, a bunch of different comic book creators riff on a theme.  Last time it was recess.  This time, lunch.  And our man, Nathan Hale, did a story for it involving . . . well . . .


So where did that come from?  He was kind enough to answer my questions on the subject.


Betsy Bird: I don’t know about anyone else, but I was pretty psyched when I saw The Hangman standing on the cover of the latest Comics Squad release.  I think the reviewers are already mentioning that yours is a bit more serious than the other fare (Babymouse, kid Lunch Lady, Snoopy, etc.).  How’d the editors approach you for the job?

Nathan Hale: Thanks! It is fun to see the Hangman on the cover. He must have looked a little too monochrome for the cover, because someone turned his gloves blue. He looks like he’s working with industrial chemicals or something.

You’re right about the tone. I hope the readers are cool with it. Reading the stories is like: silly story, funny story, goofy story, haha story, PEARL HARBOR!?! I figure readers will either love my story, or skip it completely.

Jennifer Holm approached me for a story. I loved COMICS SQUAD 1, and of course, I’ve always loved BABYMOUSE (fun fact: BABYMOUSE is the reason the Hazardous Tales books are colored in one color. I even got coloring tips from Matthew Holm early on.)

BB: The tale marks the first time WWII has been mentioned in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series.  Did you already know that lunch-related story, or did you have to hit the books to find it?

NH: I had to hit the books. I started researching for an essay about the different meals soldiers ate through history. While doing that, I stumbled across this WWII potato story, I knew I had to do it.

BB: Did you have a competing lunch story you thought about using, or was this always your #1 choice?

HALEinterview2NH: My first idea was to skip the history, and just do a goofy story about some chips. When I was a kid I didn’t have a TV. And there was a very popular show at the time called C.H.I.P.S.–California Highway/Interstate Patrol Squad. I never saw the show, so I thought I was missing an amazing show about walking talking tortilla chips who fought crime and had adventures. I drew my own version of CHIPS in my childhood notebooks. I was going to reboot that old idea for COMICS SQUAD. I’m really happy with how the WWII story turned out. But don’t count the CHIPS out just yet. They are still in development.

BB: How about yourself?  Do you have a lunch story about yourself that you’d care to tell me?

-baby-pullovers-for-children-girls-sweater-boys-red-blue-yellow-black-white-2015-winter-turtleneckNH: Once, when I was standing in the lunch line of my fifth grade school cafeteria, the cutest girl in the class, who was wearing a black turtle neck, sneezed and shot an unbelievable amount of snot all over herself. It was like she shot two barrels of silly string out of her nose. She was mortified, tried to wipe it all away, but, of course, she was in the black turtle neck, so it wasn’t going anywhere. She ended up just becoming entangled in it, like a Spiderman villain. The kids in line were so impressed by the biological display, that we didn’t even think about laughing until she had run from the cafeteria. It wasn’t “Ha-ha” it was “WOW!” As a kid, I thought, well, that must be a thing that happens to people. Yet, to this day, I’ve never seen it equalled.

Pretty gross. And, no, that was never a story I was tempted to do for COMICS SQUAD. Although, now that I think about it…

BB: Ew!  And . . . kinda awesome.  By the way, I don’t suppose you’d happen to be able to mention what the subject of the next Hazardous Tale will be, by any chance?

NH: Hazardous Tales #6 comes out in three months! It’s about the Alamo!

Right now I’m taking a one-book break from history comics to do a science fiction comic (not the CHIPS), then I’m going straight back into Hazardous Tales #7 and #8. I can hint that book #7 takes place in a VERY similar time to the COMICS SQUAD: LUNCH story.

BB: Fantastic.  Gonna go over to Abrams now and poke ’em, poke ’em, poke ’em until I get my hands on that Alamo comic.  Thanks go Nathan for chatting with me and to Cassie McGinty for setting the whole thing up.  The new Comics Squad issue comes out January 26th, so keep an eye peeled for that one as well.


1 Comments on Comics Squad: Lunch – Now With More Pearl Harbor! A Nathan Hale Interview, last added: 1/5/2016
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25. Cover Reveal: Volcanoes – Fire and Life by Jon Chad!

If you know me then you know I’ve a certain weakness for comics, graphic novels, graphic comics, and comic novels (?).  You draw it, I like it.  And every once in a while, First Second will offer me a little jacket to reveal in some manner.  It seems timely that with the announcement about the first National Ambassador of Young People Literature to work in the comic book field, the time is ripe to promote all things comic-y.

But what, you may ask, is the comic in question?  Well, the one of the newest books out there in the Science Comics series.  Science Comics is described by First Second as, “our marvelous new series for every science geek out there, starting with Dinosaurs, by MK Reed and Joe Flood, and Coral Reefs, by Maris Wicks!  All you ever wanted to know about dinosaurs and coral reefs and were hoping someone would make a comic about!”

Not as much into the ocean or the terrible lizards?  Red-hot magma more your speed?  Then boyo, do I have a cover for you:


Here are the basic stats:

Science Comics: Volcanos
by Jon Chad
On Sale 10/18/16

And First Second sez:

“This volume: in VOLCANOES, we explore these exciting and explosive vents in the Earth’s surface. Along the way readers will learn about lava, tectonic plates, islands and other land masses generated by volcanoes, famous volcanoes, and famous eruptions. Jon Chad’s detailed and quirky story-telling style, as found in the Leo Geo series of books, is perfectly suited to bring volcanoes to life.

Jon Chad was born and raised in Vermont. After completing the BFA Sequential Art program at Savannah College of Art and Design, he moved back to White River Junction, Vermont, where he now works at the Center for Cartoon Studies teaching screen-printing and bookmaking. He is the author of Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth and Leo Geo and the Cosmic Crisis. jonchad.tumblr.com.


2 Comments on Cover Reveal: Volcanoes – Fire and Life by Jon Chad!, last added: 1/7/2016
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