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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. Press Release Fun: Children’s Literary Salon – Podcasting Children’s Books

I’m so pleased with this next Salon that I’m fit to burst.  Somehow I managed to wrangle THREE of our best children’s literary podcasters into one place at one time.  If I were a person prone to the term “squee” I would apply it here, now.

New York Public Library is pleased to announce our next Children’s Literary Salon held this Saturday, April 19th at 2:00 p.m.:

Podcasting Children’s Books: Ins and Outs, Ups and Downs


Join podcasters Katie Davis (Brain Burps About Books), John Sellers (PW KidsCast), and Matthew Winner (Let’s Get Busy) in conversation about the world of children’s literary podcasting and their experiences with the form.

Katie Davis is a children’s author/illustrator with titles ranging from picture books like Little Chicken’s Big Day to her latest, a young adult novel called Dancing With the Devil. She’s a video marketing maven and a “writerpreneur” with the #1 podcast in iTunes in the Children’s Publishing category Brain Burps About Books, and teaches tech-wary writers how to build and strengthen their platforms through video. She also coaches on social media and marketing, or as Katie calls it, “making friends and meeting people.”

John A. Sellers is the children’s reviews editor at Publishers Weekly. He also hosts the magazine’s children’s books podcast,PW KidsCast, and edits its cookbooks e-newsletter, Cooking the Books.

Elementary teacher and librarian Matthew Winner blogs at The Busy Librarian and is the creator of the Let’s Get Busypodcast.  In 2013 he was named one of SLJ’s Movers & Shakers.  Citing “his innovative ideas and boundless enthusiasm for student learning and engagement” SLJ also highlighted that Matthew is Maryland’s 2012 Outstanding User of Technology Educator, is a White House “Champion of Change,” and a published author.
This event will take place in the Stephen A. Schwarzman building (the main branch of New York Public Library) in the South Court Auditorium.

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2. Review of the Day: Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson

BoysBlur Review of the Day: Boys of Blur by N.D. WilsonBoys of Blur
By N.D. Wilson
Random House Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0-449-81673-8
Ages 9-12
On shelves April 8th.

I like a kid’s book with ambition. It’s all well and good to write one about magic candy shops or goofy uncles or simpering unicorns or what have you. The world is big and there’s room for every possible conceivable type of book for our children you can imagine. But then you have the children’s book authors that aim higher. Let’s say one wants to write about zombies. Well, that’s easy enough. Zombies battling kids is pretty straightforward stuff. But imagine the chutzpah it would take to take that seemingly innocuous little element and then to add in, oh I dunno, BEOWULF. N.D. Wilson is one of those guys I’ve been watching for a very long time. The kind of guy who started off his career by combining a contemporary tale of underground survival with The Odyssey (Leepike Ridge). In his latest novel, Boys of Blur Wilson steps everything up a notch. You’ve got your aforementioned zombies as well as a paean to small town football, an economy based on sugar cane harvesting, spousal abuse, and rabbit runs. It sounds like a dare, honestly. “I dare you to combine these seemingly disparate elements into a contemporary classic”. The end result is a book that shoots high, misses on occasion, but ultimately comes across as a smart and action packed tale of redemption.

There is muck, then sugarcane, then swamps, then Taper. The town of Taper, to be precise, where 12-year-old Charlie Reynolds has come with his mother, stepfather, and little sister to witness the burial of the local high school football coach. It’s a town filled with secrets and relatives he never knew he had, like homeschooled Sugar, his distant cousin, with whom he shares an instant bond. Together, the two discover a wild man of the swamps accompanied by two panthers and a sword. The reason for the sword becomes infinitely clear when Charlie becomes aware of The Gren. A zombie-like hoard bent on the town’s obliteration (and then THE WORLD!), it’s up to one young boy to seek out the source of the corruption and take her (yes, her) down.

I had to actually look up my Beowulf after reading this. The reason? The opening. Wilson doesn’t go in for the old rules that state that you should begin your book with some kind of gripping slam-bang action scene. His first page? It reads like an ode. Like a minstrel has stepped out of the wings to give praise to the gods and to set the scene for you. Only in this case it’s just the narrator telling you what’s what. “When the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame.” Read that line aloud for a second. Just taste and savor what it’s saying. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Like you’ve read it somewhere else before (particularly that “look for the” part). Then there’s that last line. “Out here in the flats, when the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, there can be only quick. There’s quick, and there’s dead.” So I looked up the beginning of Beowulf just to see if, by any chance, Wilson had cribbed some of this from his source material. Not as such. The original text is a bit more concerned with great tribal kings past, and all that jazz. That doesn’t make Wilson’s book any less compelling, though. There’s a rhythm to the opening that sucks you in immediately. It’s not afraid to be beautiful. It begs to be heard from a tongue.

And while I’m on the topic of beautiful language, Wilson sure knows how to turn a phrase. If he has any ultimately defining characteristic as a writer it is his complete and utter lack of fear regarding descriptions. He delves into them. Swims deep into them. Can you blame him? Though a resident of Idaho, here he evokes a Florida that puts Carl Hiaasen to shame. Examples of some of his particularly good lines:

“As for the church bell, it crashed through the floorboards and settled into the soft ground below. It’s still down there, under the patched floor, ringing silence in the muck.”

“Charlie looked at the sky, held up by nothing more than the column of smoke he’d noticed during the service.”

“Charlie stopped at the end, beside a boy with a baby face on a body the size and shape of someone’s front door.”

And I’m particularly fond of this line about new siblings: “When Molly had come, she had turned Charlie into a brother, adding deep loves and loyalties to who he was without asking his permission first.”

The book moves at a rapid clip, but not at the expense of the characters. For one thing, it’s nice not to have to read about a passive hero. From early in the book, we know certain things about Charlie that are to serve him well in the future. As the story says, thanks to experiences with his abusive father, “he could bottle fear. He’d been doing it his whole life.” This gives Wilson’s hero a learned skill that will aid him in the rest of the story. And when there are choices to be made, he makes them. He isn’t some child being taken from place to place. He decides what he should and should not do in any given moment and acts. Sometimes it’s the right choice and sometimes it’s wrong, but it is at least HIS choice each time.

The sugarcane fields themselves are explained a bit late in the narrative. On page 64 or so we finally get an explanation about why the boys are running through burning fields to catch rabbits. For a moment I was reminded of Cynthia Kadohata’s attempts to explain threshing in her otherwise scintillating book The Thing About Luck. Wilson has the advantage of having an outsider in his tale, so it’s perfectly all right for Charlie to ask why the only way to successfully harvest cane is to burn it, “Fastest way to strip the leaves . . . Stalks is so wet, they don’t burn.” Mind you, this could have worked a little earlier in the story, since much of the book requires us to take on faith why the rabbit runs occur.

It’s also an unapologetically masculine story as well. All about swords and fighting and football and dangerous runs into burning sugarcane fields. The football is particularly fascinating. In an age when concussions are becoming big news and people are beginning to turn against the nation’s most violent sport, it’s unique, to say the least, to read a middle grade book where small town football is a way of life. Small town football almost NEVER makes it into books for kids, partly because baseball makes for a better narrative by its very definition. Football’s more difficult to explain. Its terms and turns of phrase haven’t made it into the language of the cultural zeitgeist to the same extent. For an author to not only acknowledge its existence but also give it a thumbs up is almost unheard of. Yet Boys of Blur could not exist without football. Charlie’s father went pro, as did his stepfather. The book begins by burying a coach, and there are long seated animosities in the town behind old high school football rivals. For many small towns, life without football would be untenable. And Boys of Blur acknowledges that to a certain extent.

The women that do appear are few and far between, but they are there. One should take care to note that it’s Wilson’s source material that lacking in the ladies (except for the big bad, of course). And he did go out of his way to add a couple additional females to the line-up. It’s not as if Charlie himself doesn’t notice the lack of ladies as well anyway. At one point he ponders the Gren and wonders why there aren’t any girls. The possible explanation he’s given is that much as a selfish man is envious of his sons, so would a selfish woman find her own daughters to be competition. Take that as you may. We veer close to Caliban country here, but Wilson already has one classic text to draw from. Shakespeare can wait.

Charlie’s mother would be one other example of a woman introduced to this story that gets a fair amount of page time. On paper you’d assume she was just a victim, a woman who continues to fear her ex-husband. But in reality, Wilson gives her much more credit. She’s the woman who dared to get out of an untenable situation for the sake of her child. A woman who managed to find another husband who wasn’t a carbon copy of the first and who has done everything in her power to protect her children in the wake of her ex-husband’s threats. And most interesting, Wilson will keep cutting back to her in the narrative. He doesn’t have to. There’s a reason most children’s fantasy novels star orphans. Include the parents and there’s a lot of emotional baggage to attend to. But Wilson’s never liked the notion of orphans much, so when his story cuts back to Natalie Mack and what she’s up to it’s a choice you go along with. In Wilson’s books parents aren’t enemies but allies. It goes against the grain of the usual narratives, wakes you up, and makes for better books.

Where do heroes find their courage and resolve? In previous books Wilson had already gone underground and into deep dark places. In Boys of Blur he explores the dual worlds of cane and swamp alike. Most epic narratives of the children’s fantasy sort are long, bloated affairs. They feel like they can’t tell their tales in anything less than 300 pages, and even then they end up being the first in a series. Wilson’s slick, sleek editing puts the bloat to shame. Clocking in at a handsome 208 pages it’s not going to be understood by every child reader. It doesn’t try for that either. Really, it can only be read by the right reader. The one that’s outgrown Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. The one who isn’t scared off by The Golden Compass and who will inform the librarian that they can’t possibly impress him or her because they’ve read “everything”. This is a book to stretch the muscles in that child’s brains. To make them appreciate the language of a tale as much as the action. And yes, there are big smelly zombies that go about killing people so win-win, right? Some may say the book ends too quickly. Some will wonder why there isn’t a sequel. But many will be impressed by what Wilson’s willing to shoot for here. Like the boys in the cane, this book speeds out of the gate, quick on its feet, willing to skip and hop and jump as fast as possible to get you where you need to go. If you’ve read too much of the same old, same old, this is one children’s book that’s like no other you know out there. Gripping.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from author for review.

Like This? Then Try:

  • Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi – Lots of similarities, actually. Particularly when it comes to beating down zombies in cane fields / corn fields.
  • Beowulf by Gareth Hinds – Undoubtedly the best version of Beowulf for kids out there, this is Hinds’ masterpiece and is not to be missed.
  • The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton – Bear with me here. It makes sense. In both books you’ve mysterious African-American men hiding a secret of the past, scaring the local kids. I draw my connections where I can.

First Line: “When the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame.”

Other Blog Reviews:

Misc: Read some of the book yourself to get a taste.

Remember, if you will, that Wilson both shot and narrated the following book trailer. One of the best of the year, too:

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3. Children’s Literature Online at a Glance: A Look Back at Friends Long Gone

So I was listening to an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour the other day.  If you happen to unfamiliar with the show it’s just your basic pop culture based podcast where they dissect the trends and news of the day so you don’t have to.  In a recent episode called ‘Captain America’ And The Pitiless March Of Time a discussion was made of websites that have simply disappeared over the years.  The folks over at NPR were concerned about the fact that Television Without Pity is now defunct.  They mentioned how we live in this odd world where things we love and sites that once contained just loads of content can disappear in a day.  It got me to thinking.

I started A Fuse #8 Production as a blog on Blogger back in February of 2006.  At that time I had no idea what I was doing, stringing one word next to another, plucking weirdo news items from the ether, and generally reviewing anything I could get my hot little hands on.  I did a book review a day in my prime.  Now I’m lucky if I can get two out in a week!  That was when I caught some attention for starting a series called The Hot Men of Children’s Literature.  All in good fun, it got attention which was my ultimate goal.  Then SLJ picked me up and the rest is history.

So I took a trip back to my little old blog site and checked out the blogroll on the side.  The blogroll was something I maintained meticulously for a while.  There was even a moment when every day I would systematically check each and every blog there for news I could use.  Looking at it now, I see a lot of familiar faces who are still going strong, but they’re alongside folks I wish were still around.  If we pick a random number and say that the Kidlitosphere has been in existence for a decade, then maybe now is the time to tip our hats to those folks we miss.  In no particular order . . .


Collecting Children’s Books

CollectingChildrensBooks 500x104 Childrens Literature Online at a Glance: A Look Back at Friends Long Gone

Well. . . maybe a certain kind of order.  Here’s the thing about that old blogroll of mine.  If you look at it today you’ll see it’s organized in a kind of haphazard method.  That’s because it’s in order of blogs I checked the most to the least (7 years ago . . don’t flog me if you’re low!).  And coming in at #5 was Peter Sieruta and his jaw-dropping Collecting Children’s Books.  I kid you not when I say that for a time Peter was the hardest working man in show business.  His sheer output put me to shame.  I’d mince about with a tiny post here and there and then he’d swoop in with his Sunday Brunch posts and just blow us all away with these insightful, clever, interesting looks into the history of children’s literature.  He was beloved of certain authors like M.E. Kerr, childhood heroes he connected with thanks to the age of the internet.  Peter was so amazing, in fact, that it seemed a bloody frickin’ shame that no one was paying him to do what he did so well.  So I reached out to him and Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and proposed we all write a book together.  Turns out, I couldn’t have picked two better authors in all my livelong days.  Though our writing styles were diverse we were able to synthesize them into a single unified voice.  That book, Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature comes out in August (we had to push back the pub date, which is why you’re not seeing it on your shelves this month) and is dedicated to Peter.  You see, after we had turned in our text, Peter passed away unexpectedly leaving a massive gaping hole in the children’s book blogosphere.  He was a kind and witty friend and from time to time I turn back to his old site just to see if there are any updates.  There never will be, but it does the heart good to check.


Just One More Book

JustOneMoreBook 500x151 Childrens Literature Online at a Glance: A Look Back at Friends Long Gone

On Saturday, April 19th at 2:00 p.m. I’m so pleased to announce that I’ll be hosting the Children’s Literary Salon Podcasting Children’s Books: Ins and Outs, Ups and Downs.  In it, podcasters Katie Davis (Brain Burps About Books), John Sellers (PW KidsCast), and Matthew Winner (Let’s Get Busy) will engage me in conversation about the world of children’s literary podcasting and their experiences with the form.  It’s bound to be a real thrill but it’s also important to remember that before any of these folks started in on the form there was one site that was your automatic go-to kidlit podcast.  Just One More Book was a Canadian creation, the brainchild of Andrea Ross and Mark Blevis.  For a time, it was really the only place to get good podcasting (unless, of course, you were a Harry Potter fan who subscribed to Pottercast).  Then personal problems arose.  Andrea was diagnosed with breast cancer and the site bravely chronicled her fight and recovery.  That was in 2009 and since that time there is the occasional podcast or video but for all intents and purposes the site is no longer updated.  Yet even in its defunct state I was happy to note that the Twitter feed of @JustOneMoreBook rakes in a whopping 6,549 followers.  You can bet I’ll be giving them a shout out at my next Lit Salon.


Big A little a

BigAlittlea 500x104 Childrens Literature Online at a Glance: A Look Back at Friends Long Gone

In an age of countless children’s literary blogs, with more and more cropping up every day, people forget that in the early days there just weren’t a lot of us hanging around.  You had your Tea Cozy and your MotherReader.  Your Educating Alice and your bookshelves of doom.  And then there was Big A little a run by Kelly Herold.  It wasn’t one of those big flashy blogs.  Instead, Kelly just provided really good, steady content for folks who were curious.  She had no problem interviewing Judy Blume one day and Mary Pope Osborne the next.  Sadly the site shuttered in 2009 and though she did try to do an alternate blog for a time it didn’t last.  Fortunately you can follow Kelly on Pinterest if you like, where she maintains four different boards.


The Edge of the Forest

EdgeoftheForest 500x88 Childrens Literature Online at a Glance: A Look Back at Friends Long Gone

Now my memory is a bit foggy on this one so folks who remember and worked on this will have to correct me when I get my facts wrong.  You see, in the early children’s literature days we had no idea what we were doing.  We knew we had to get organized in some way, so the Kidlitosphere Central was created, a wiki of reviews born, and the yearly Children’s Book Blogger Conference Kidlitcon established (not to mention the Cybils!).  On top of that, there was an idea of maintaining an online magazine with contributions from our community.  Called “The Edge of the Forest” it featured reviews of its own as well as articles and interviews.  Sadly it didn’t last and the site itself disappeared completely from the internet.  This is one of the rare cases of something children’s book blog related completely disappearing, reminding us that no matter how much content we may produce, it could all cease and desist tomorrow.  A blogger momento mori, if you will.


Editorial Anonymous

EditorialAnonymous Childrens Literature Online at a Glance: A Look Back at Friends Long Gone

Ah.  One of the great mysteries of the children’s book blog age.  Created in 2007 and continuing until its demise in 2011, no one ever knew who EA, as she/he was affectionately known, really was.  Many theories raged, and undoubtedly a number of editors of children’s books probably had to field questions from folks wondering if they were “the one”.  EA’s disappearance isn’t hard to explain though.  She (it’s probably a pretty safe bet to call EA a she) was snarky in the good sense of the word.  Suffering no fools she had a whip smart tongue and a great style to boot.  Undoubtedly someone somewhere figured out her secret and so she stopped posting entirely one day.  I harbor two fantasies about EA.  One is that someday she’ll write a book of her own (though she may easily have already done so) and that I’ll see it and recognize her style.  The other is that I’ll be in my gray later years, oh say 85 or so, and one day someone will call me up and say to me and me alone: “Editorial Anonymous was [enter name here]“.  It could happen.  A girl just has to have faith.


Uncommon Corps

UncommonCorps 500x178 Childrens Literature Online at a Glance: A Look Back at Friends Long Gone

Sometimes a blog goes away and you feel sad.  And sometimes they stop posting and you get a bit miffed.  When The Uncommon Corps was created in the wake of the early Common Core State Standards rollout I was thrilled.  With an illustrious group of authors at the helm this was slated to be THE #1 most important blog to talk about CCSS out there.  But as time passed it just couldn’t quite post regularly.  It was started in 2012 and continued through 2013 then died on the vine.  I do maintain a hope somewhere that someday it will be revived, but until then we’ll just have to be content with the archives, such as they are.

Of course there are other blogs that have been pertinent to our business over the years that I miss just as much as well.  Children’s Music That Rocks used to be my one and only source of great new children’s album reviews.  Golden Age Comic Book Stories showed as much classic children’s book illustration as it did comic book panels.  There are others too that just slowed down their postings to one or two a year.

So now that I’ve steeped you in my own unique brand of nostalgia, return the favor.  What are some of the sites you find yourself missing from time to time?

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4. Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

RulesofSummer 300x279 Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun TanRules of Summer
By Shaun Tan
Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic)
ISBN: 978-0-545-63912-5
Ages 4 and up
On shelves April 29th

When I was a young teen my favorite book was Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. Steeped in Bradbury’s nostalgia for his youth, I was in the throes of adolescence, probably on some level nostalgic for my own younger days. In this book I reveled in a childhood that was not my own but felt personal just the same. Summer seemed like the perfect time to set such a tale, what with its long days and capacity for equal parts mischief and magic. I loved my summers, even as I failed to know what exactly to do with them. I think of Bradbury’s novel from time to time, though its use for me has long since passed. I found myself going back to it after seeing Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer. Encompassing a full summer season, Tan indulges his capacity for the odd and extreme while also managing to delve deeply into a relationship between two brothers. The family story is this book’s heart and soul meaning that when all is said and done this is a book for big siblings and little siblings. Miraculously both will see themselves reflected in the pages of the text. And both, if they approach it from the right direction, will find something to pore over in here for years and years to come.

“This is what I learned last summer,” says the book. It’s the kind of statement you might expect to find in an essay on How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Instead, what follows is a series of imaginative, wholly original extremes. Two brothers live in a world of fantastical creatures and gizmos. The younger continually breaks the rules as the elder either berates him or tries to save him from himself. A dinner party of well-dressed birds of prey contains the sentence, “Never eat the last olive at a party” as the older brother pulls his younger away from the potentially deadly entrée. “Never leave the back door open overnight” sees them both facing a living room awash in vegetation and giant lizards, the older boy clearly put out and the younger carrying a bucket and shovel. As the book continues you realize that the younger boy is often at odds with the rules his elder is trying to instill in him. The final straw comes after a massive pummeling, after which the elder brother sells his little bro off to a flock of black birds (“Never lose a fight”). Fortunately, a rescue is made and the book subtly shifts from admonitions to positive statements (“Always know the way home”). The final shot shows the two boys sitting on the couch watching TV, the walls of their living room wallpapered with drawings of the out-of-this-world creatures encountered in the rest of the book.

RulesSummer4 300x211 Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun TanAs a general rule I try to avoid reading other reviews of the children’s book in my hand until I’ve read the stories myself and gotten a sense of my own perspective. In the same frame of mind I avoid reading the bookflaps of books since they’ve a nasty tendency to give away the plot. Usually I’ll even avoid looking at them after I’ve read the book in question, but there are exceptions to every rule. After reading Rules of Summer I idly turned the book over and read this one on the back cover: “Never break the rules. Especially if you don’t understand them.” Huh. Oddly insightful comment. Aw, heck. I couldn’t resist. I looked at the bookflap and there, lo and behold, the book started to make more sense. According to the flap the rules are those seemingly arbitrary ones that younger siblings have to face when older siblings come up with them. Slowly a book that before had seemed to have only the slightest semblance of a plot began to make a lot more sense. Had I not read the flap, maybe I would have come up with an entirely different interpretation of the pages. Not sure. Whatever the case, I like where the flap took me, even as I suspect that some kids will have entirely different takes.

Tan’s strength here lies partly in the fact that these brothers command your equal respect. When I read the book through the first time I thought that the younger brother was the hero. A couple more reads and suddenly the older one started to get more and more sympathetic. Consider, for example, that very first shot of the two after the endpapers. The text reads, “Never leave a red sock on the clothesline.” There, hunched against a fence, the two brothers huddle while a scarlet-hued red-eyed rabbit eyes the sock in question. The older brother has one arm protectively around the younger’s back and his other hand gently cupping his mouth. In later images the younger will mess something up and the older won’t bother to hide his frustrations. The lack of parents in this book is the only way to make it work. When kids deal with one another in the absence of adults, they make their own rules. Even when the elder sells his brother to a flock of birds for a dented crown (his least likable moment) you’re almost immediately back on his side when he rescues his little brother with a pair of bolt cutters a couple pages later. And honestly, what older brother and sister hasn’t fantasized at some point about selling off their annoying little brothers and sisters (see: The great Shel Silverstein poem “Brother for Sale”)? Tan is capable of seeing both sides of the sibling equation. Few picture books even dare.

Tan’s always had a bit of a fascination with the surreal world of middle class life. Suburbia is his Twilight Zone, and he hardly has to add any mechanical monsters or sentient birds to make it unusual. In Tales from Outer Suburbia it was language that primarily painted suburban Australia’s canvass. Here, words are secondary to the art. As I paged through I began to take note of some of the mechanics present on a lot of the pages. Water towers, oilrigs, and even the occasional nuclear power plant. Most beautiful and frightening were the extremely large structures holding the power lines. In one picture the younger brother plays a paddle-based game against a robot opponent while his older brother arbitrates. The sky is an overcast slate gray with these unnerving grids of line and metal towering over them in the background. Extra points if you can find the single black bird that makes an appearance on almost every spread until that climatic moment when it no longer appears.

RulesSummer3 300x168 Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun TanEven the endpapers of this book have the power to make you sit and stare for long periods of time. They inspire a feeling that is just impossible to put into words. The endpapers are also the place where Tan makes it clear that he’s going to be playing with light quite a lot in this book. For a fun time, try to figure out where the light source is coming from in each and every one of the book’s pictures. Sometimes it’s evident. Other times, the answer could well be its own little story.

The thickness to Tan’s paints also marks this as significantly different from some of his other books. Nowhere is this more evident than the cover. Look at the Picasso-like grassy field where the older brother scowls at his younger sibling. The midday sun, the paints so thick you feel like the cover would feel textured if you stroked it, and even the pure blue of the noonday sky has a different Tan tone than you’re used to.

I don’t know if Tan has sons of his own. I don’t particularly care. For all I know the inspiration behind this book came from a relationship with his own brother at an early age. Wherever it might have appeared, one cannot help but feel that Tan knows from whence he illustrates. Thanks to films like Frozen we’re seeing an uptick in interest in stories about siblings of the same gender. Brothers have a tendency to tricky to render on the page (see: the aforementioned Dandelion Wine) but it can be done. Tan has perfectly rendered one such relationship with all its frustrations, betrayals, fights, complaints and deep, enduring love. This book sympathizes with those kids, regardless of their birth order. The rules of childhood are built on shifting sands, causing children everywhere to look longingly at the seeming sanity of adulthood. It’s only when they cross over that these kids will find themselves nostalgic for a time of outsized rules and their overblown importance. Without a doubt, the best book about what summer means to child siblings I’ve ever read.

On shelves April 29th.

Source: Galley acquired at ALA Conference for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Other Reviews: Australian Comics Journal

Interviews: Gillo talks to Shaun Tan about the book here.


  • The book is available as an app, with music by the hugely talented Sxip Shirey.
  • Download the Teacher’s Guide for the book here.
  • If you don’t mind knowing as much as Tan himself knows about this book, you can read his commentary about each image here. And yes, he was quite close to his own older brother growing up.  So that solves that mystery.


Seven videos about this book exist on Tan’s website.  Check ‘em out if you’ve half a mind to.

And here’s a sneaky peek at the aforementioned app:

And here’s an interview with him about the book on ABC RN:


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5. Fusenews: All you need is love (and books before the age of 3)


No reason in particular I wrote that word.  I just like to say “Zounds!” from time to time. Onward!

  • I initially misread this post as “Summer Reading Takes a Hit From Online Scanning and Skimming Researchers Say” (which shows you where my mind is these days).  It’s not “Summer” but Serious Reading Takes a Hit From Online Scanning and Skimming Researchers Say.  I am not dead to the irony of linking to such a piece within a post where the entire purpose is to skim and scan.  That said, I’m just grateful that summer reading isn’t taking that hit.  Now THAT would be a catastrophe.  Thanks to Wayne Roylance for the link.
  • I’m about a week behind in all my news, so you probably saw this long ago.  But just in case you didn’t I was amused by this mash-up of Syd Hoff/Richard Scarry and some very adult novels.  Here’s the link and here’s one of the images in question:

TheRoadHoff Fusenews: All you need is love (and books before the age of 3)


  • It wouldn’t be the first time Mac Barnett and Daniel Handler have appeared on the same panel.  Heck, it probably wouldn’t even necessarily be the best time but there’s nothing like an imminent birth to make a person want to attend the 2014 ALSC National Institute. Aside from the great guests, folks get to go to a place called Children’s Fairyland.  I went to see whether or not I’d added the attractions there to my Complete Listing of All Public Children’s Literature Statues in the United States and found that I had not yet.  I think on maternity leave I go back to updating that post.  It’s 75% done.  Just need to keep adding on suggestions (and I see that the Albany Public Library turned it into a Pinterest board, which is rather fascinating in and of itself).
  • I was fascinated by the recent ShelfTalker post To Host or Not to Host?  The gist of it is that local authors will often ask a bookstore to host an event for their book.  No big surprise there, except what do you do when they’ve published through Amazon?  The back and forth in the comments is worth your time and money.
  • Good old Rocco Staino wrote up the recent celebratory 90-Second Newbery hosted at NYPL.  The gist of the article is quite clever too.  I had noticed vaguely, but without putting it together, that this year’s film festival featured a lot of forgotten Newbery book winners.  I mean, does anyone at all remember The Old Tobacco Shop: A True Account of What Befell A Little Boy in Search of Adventure?  And I blush to say it, but I had no idea that Anne Carroll Moore won a Newbery Honor back in the day.  Wowzah.  How is THAT fact not better known?
  • Yay, Tea Cozy!  Liz Burns does a really good and in-depth look at a recent Entertainment Weekly article that discussed the sheer lack of diversity in our child and teen books these days.
  • Bluecrowne 341x500 Fusenews: All you need is love (and books before the age of 3)There are certain authors on this good green globe that make the world a more interesting place by simply being here. Years ago when I read Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, I knew she was one of those few. The fascinating thing about Kate is that she’s always writing. Even when her characters aren’t making it into books published by traditional publishers, they’re living their lives in books funded by Kickstarter. Now Kate’s got a new book on the horizon called Bluecrowne that I’d be dying to read, and at the same time she has a book that’s kinda sorta related coming out in August called The Green Glass House. I really need to read that August title, but I’d love to see her publish the Bluecrowne book as well. So if you’ve some jingle in your jeans and like her work (or even if you’re just simply interested in what she has going on) check out her Kickstarter project here.
  • Thanks to a push in Britain to stop promoting gendered toys for kids, the focus has moved a bit to books for kids as well.  I know I’m not the only person in the world who shudders every time she sees a book spell out on its cover that it’s just “For Boys” or “For Girls”.  Just as I grind my teeth when the toy store tells me the same dang thing.  A not so hotso article in a Philadelphia magazine yielded a pretty darn good conversation in its comments.  The article itself is one of those rabble rouser pieces that throw words like “Orwellian” around higglety pigglety.  The comments from Let Toys Be Toys focus everything and keep the conversation civil.  Thanks to PW Children’s Bookshelf for the link.
  • And speaking of gender . . . Anyone out there familiar with Sheila Hamanaka’s picture book I Look Like a Girl?  I wasn’t and I only knew Ms. Hamanaka’s name because of her All the Colors of the Earth.  Well over at Bank Street College of Education’s school the kids got a little passionate about the messages they get from books sometimes.  Here’s the part one and part two of the kids and their reactions/interpretations.  Wowzah.
  • Some folks know that before I decided to become a children’s librarian I played with the notion of heading into conservation instead.  Now my worlds collide as I present to you a recent NYPL post on what it takes to take care of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends.  Stuffed Animal Husbandry, for the record, is the perfect title.
  • Daily Image:

I’m actually doing very well on Daily Images these days.  Perhaps too well.  I was all set with the image for today but that was before I saw this.  It’s a link that will instruct you on the finer details of creating your very own one-of-a-kind Hobbes doll.

HobbesDoll1 500x365 Fusenews: All you need is love (and books before the age of 3)

HobbesDoll2 Fusenews: All you need is love (and books before the age of 3)

I ain’t crafty but that, my friends, is just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

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6. Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

GrandfatherGandhi 287x300 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusGrandfather Gandhi
Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
Illustrated by Evan Turk
Atheneum (an imprint of Simon and Schuster)
ISBN: 978-1-4424-2365-X
Ages 4-8
On shelves now.

Are you familiar with the concept of booktalking? It’s a technique librarians developed to get people interested in books they might otherwise not pick up. The whole concept is to develop a kind of movie trailer style talk that gives a sense of the book’s allure without giving up the plot. Typically booktalking is done for middle grade and young adult works of fiction, but enterprising souls have had a lot of luck with nonfiction as well. Now with an increased interest in nonfiction in our schools it’s more important than ever to make the books we hawk sound particularly good. It doesn’t hurt matters any when the books actually ARE good, though. Now let’s say I’m standing in front of a room of second and third graders with a copy of Grandfather Gandhi in my hands. How do I sell this book to them? Easy peasy. Some books practically booktalk themselves. Here’s how you sell it:

“Have any of you ever heard of Einstein? Yes? He’s the guy that was a total genius. Now imagine you’re his grandkid and you’re not that smart. Okay now, have any of you heard of the Beatles. Yes? Well imagine you’re one of THEIR grandkids . . . and you’re bad at music. Now here’s the big one. Has anyone heard of Gandhi? He was a great guy. He managed to free his country and stop a lot of oppression and he did it without any violence at all. Martin Luther King Jr. got some of his ideas from Gandhi about nonviolence. All right, well, now let’s image you are Gandhi, the most peaceful man IN THE WORLD’s grandson. What if you get mad? Can you imagine what it would be like to have everyone whispering every time you got a little steamed about something?”

So there you go. Quick. Simple. To the point. I’ve met a fair number of picture book memoirs in my day, but Grandfather Gandhi may well be my favorite. Smartly written with an unusual hook and art that will just knock your socks off, this is one title you are going to have to see firsthand for yourself.

GrandfatherGandhi2 300x258 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusWhen young Arun and his family first arrive in his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi’s village, he’s mighty shy around his incredibly famous relative. Yet right away Grandfather is warm and welcoming to them, and when he praises Arun for walking the distance from the train station the boy swells with pride. Unfortunately, having Gandhi as your grandpa means having to share him with the 350 followers who also live in the village. Arun struggles with his lessons in Gujarati and the fact that there are no movie theaters around, but there are upsides to village life too. He’s pretty good at soccer with the other kids, and occasionally Grandfather will take him for a walk just mano a mano. But then, one fateful day, Arun gets into a skirmish on the soccer field and his anger is overwhelming. Shamed that the grandson of Gandhi himself would react in anger he confesses to his Grandfather immediately, only to find the man isn’t angry or disappointed in him in the least. Anger, Gandhi explains, is like lightning. You can use it to destroy or you can use it to light the world, like a lamp. Which will you choose?

I think it’s fair to say that there have been a fair number of children’s picture books from family and relatives of famous peacemakers. Most notable would be Martin Luther King Jr.’s clan, where it sometimes seems like every son, daughter, niece, and nephew has his or her own spin on their infinitely famous relative. Gandhi’s a bit different. One wouldn’t expect his own descendants to have much in the way of access to the American publishing industry, so biographies of his life in picture book form have concentrated occasionally on his life and occasionally on The Great Salt March. When I saw that this book was co-authored by his fifth grandson I expected the same sort of story. A kind of mix of “this guy was fantastic” with “and I knew him!”. Instead, Hegedus and Gandhi have formulated a much more accessible narrative. Few children can relate to having a famous relative. But what about controlling their anger in the face of injustice? What’s fascinating about this book is that the authors have taken a seemingly complex historical issue and put it into terms so child-friendly that a five-year-old could get the gist of it. That Gandhi’s anger went on to become what spurned him to make lasting, important changes for his people is the key point of the book, but it takes a child’s p.o.v. to drill the issue home.

GrandfatherGandhi3 300x176 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusAbove and beyond all that, this is a book that advocates quite strongly for peace in all its myriad forms. Hardly surprising when you consider the subject matter but just the same I sometimes feel like “peace” is one of those difficult concepts without a proper picture book advocate. I went to a Quaker college where PAGS (Peace and Global Studies) was a popular major, and it was in making Quaker friends that I learned about picture books dedicated to the concepts embraced by that particular religion. Books like The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor, Thy Friend, Obadiah by Brinton Turkle, and more. I’m sure that many is the Quaker household, or really any household that believes that peace is a practical and attainable solution, that will embrace Grandfather Gandhi as one of their own.

It’s been a long time since I ran across a picture book with as long and lengthy a list of materials used in the illustrations as I have here. On the publication page it reads, “The illustrations for this book are rendered in watercolor, paper collage, cotton fabric, cotton, yarn, gouache, pencil, tea, and tin foil. Cotton hand spun on an Indian book charkha by Eileen Hallman.” Phew! You might think that all that “stuff” might yield something clogged up or messy, but that would be doing Mr. Turk a disservice. Observing how well he gives his pictures depth and texture, life and vitality, you might be shocked to learn that Grandfather Gandhi is his first picture book. From the spinning wheel endpapers to montages of sheer explosive anger, Turk makes a point of not only adhering to some of the more metaphorical aspects of the text, but finding new and creative ways to bring them to visual life. To my mind, the materials an artist uses in his or her art must, in the case of mixed media, have a reason for their existence. If you’re going to use “cotton fabric, cotton” and “yarn” then there should be a reason. But Turk clearly did his homework prior to doing the art on this book. He doesn’t just slap the images together. He incorporates the fibers Gandhi knew so well and turns them into an essential aspect of the book’s art. The art doesn’t just support the text here. It weaves itself into the story, becoming impossible to separate from the story.

GrandfatherGandhi4 300x213 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusIt’s Arun’s anger that proved to be the most visually interesting aspect, to me, in the book. Turk deftly contrasts the calm white thread produced by Gandhi’s spinning with the tangled black ones that surround and engulf his grandson whenever his feelings threaten to break free. The scene where he’s tempted to throw a rock at the boy who shoved him down is filled with thread, Arun’s magnificently clenched teeth, and black shadow figures that reach out across the field to the soccer net, dwarfing the three other little figures below. Later you can see the negative space found in cut paper turning from a representation of lightning into a thread of cotton in the hands of Gandhi illuminating a passage about making your anger useful. Yet Turk doesn’t just rely on clever techniques. He’s remarkably skilled at faces too. Arun’s expressions when he gets to see his grandfather alone or makes him proud are just filled with wide-eyed eager hope. And his frustrations and anger pulse off the page from his features alone.

Picture books for kids about dealing with their anger tend towards the fictional. There’s Molly Bang’s When Sophie Gets Angry . . . Really Really Angry and Robie H. Harris’s The Day Leo Said, “I Hate You”. These are two of the good ones. Others veer towards the preachy and paternalistic. Imagine if you started using something like Grandfather Gandhi instead. More than just a memoir, the book offers a broad look at the benefits of channeling your anger. Better still, it’s a true story. Kids respect the true. They’ll also respect young Arun and his uncomfortable position. Fair play to author Bethany Hegedus for hearing him speak more than 13 years ago about this moment in his life, knowing that not only was there a picture book story to be had here, but a lesson kids today can grasp. As she says in her “Note from the Authors” at the end, “We world we live in needs to heal – to heal from the wars that are fought, to the bullying epidemic, to mass killings by lone gunmen, to poverty, to hunger, and to issues that contribute to internal anger being outwardly expressed in violent actions.” Gandhi’s message never grows old. Now we’ve a book that helps to continue his work for the youngest of readers. A necessary purchase then.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:


  • ReaderKidZ speaks with Ms. Hegedus about the book.
  • Meanwhile Kirkus interviewed the two authors and the illustrator here.

Misc: This is a book with a very nicely maintained and updated website of its own.  Some of my favorite posts include this one from Evan Turk on how he got access to the spun cotton fiber featured in the book.  I also light his piece on Light & Shadow and this one on how he chose his art.  Arun even has posts up containing family Gandhi stories that would make an excellent follow up books should the need arise.  Be sure to read the one on pumpkins and eggs when you get a chance.


One of the top best book trailers I’ve seen in a really long time.  Accomplished and it does a brilliant job of highlighting Turk’s art.

llustration & Animation by Evan Turk

Music: “Ambwa” used by permission of artist Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami
Voices: Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus
Sound: Evan Turk, Carrington MacDuffie & The Block House, Justin Yelle & Kaotic Studios, and William Dufris & Mind’s Eye Productions.
Project Management: Curious City

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7. Book Trailer Premiere: The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka

Cosmobiography 272x300 Book Trailer Premiere: The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra by Chris RaschkaWell, I am pleased to announce today’s Book Trailer Premiere, particularly since it is unlike every other book trailer I’ve ever put up.  Credit that to the subject matter, really.  Chris Raschka is one of those rare author/illustrators that can get away with presenting the hard subjects, particularly when it comes to jazz legends.  Didn’t think anyone could do something with Thelonious Monk?  Wrong.  Felt like John Coltrane was bit out of a 5-year-old’s reach?  Think again.  But the subject of today’s video is more ambitious by far.  If, like myself, you were not aware of Sun Ra, prepare to be schooled thoroughly.  It’s The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening and it’s hitting shelves May 13th.  Get just a sliver of a taste here:

As Kirkus called it, “Unequivocally stellar.”  Thanks to the folks at Candlewick for the premiere.

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8. Rhyming Picture Book Month: An Interview with Bad Bye / Good Bye’s Deborah Underwood

BadByeGoodBye Rhyming Picture Book Month: An Interview with Bad Bye / Good Byes Deborah UnderwoodA real post that has nothing to do with videos on a Sunday?  Am I out of my friggin’ gourd?  Maybe so, but today is a special occasion.  You see, today, I am pleased to announce that I wrote something . . . on another person’s blog.  Admittedly I don’t usually do that sort of thing but when Angie Karcher met me at an SCBWI Regional Conference in Indiana last November (my very first keynote!) she convinced me that this was a cool idea.

You see Angie’s been running a Rhyming Picture Book Month series over at her blog and she has some pretty darn big names involved.  Just take a look at the calendar and you can see a lot of familiar faces, as well as some newbies.  When she asked me to contribute something I was initially stumped.  Then an idea hit.  I have read a LOT of picture books in 2014.  Why don’t I just sift through them and find the rhyming picture book I liked best?

Easier said than done.  For all their charms, good rhyming picture books are near impossible to do.  At their worst they sound like Dr. Seuss in a blender.  At their best they shine like bright jewels in a sea of morass.  Fortunately, there is one book out in 2014 that struck me as particularly smart and beautiful.  None other than Deborah Underwood’s Bad Bye / Good Bye.

So I don’t interview folks very often, but Deborah was a doll.  Head on over to Angie’s site where I sit Ms. Underwood down (in the proverbial sense) and ask her the ins and outs of how one goes about writing something that rhymes while telling a complete story at the same time.  Then, when you’re done with that, take a trip to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast where Jules interviews artist Jonathan Bean and shows some truly cool behind-the-scenes sketches of the book in question.  Fun stuff for a pretty Sunday.


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9. Press Release Fun: The 2014 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture!

Yet another reason why we all should live in Minneapolis. I ain’t kidding, actually. Man, I wish I could go to this.

Rejoice the Legacy! 
What: 2014 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture
When: Saturday, May 3, Doors open at 6:30 p.m., lecture at 7:00 p.m. with reception and book signing following
Where: Willey Hall, West Bank, University of Minnesota 225 19th Avenue S
, Minneapolis, MN 55455

Who: Andrea Davis Pinkney

Who is this event for?Parents , Educators and Librarians and children over twelve. Anyone interested in Children’s Literature, Literacy and Education. Groups are welcome.

Tickets: http://www.eventbrite.com/myevent?eid=6654895973

Best-selling author Andrea Davis Pinkney will present the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture at the University of Minnesota on May 3, 7 p.m. This national event is free and open to the public, but advance tickets are required for admission. Get tickets at  . Groups of over 20 are encouraged to make reservations by emailing asc-clrc@umn.edu or calling 612-626-9182. For information about the exhibit Rejoice the Legacy! open through May 10, 2014.

The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture celebrates May Hill Arbuthnot, who served as a strong voice for children’s literature. Each year the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) chooses a lecturer who contributes a significant research paper to the field of children’s literature. The paper is subsequently published in “Children & Libraries,” the journal of the ALSC. ALSC established the lecture series in 1969.

About Andrea Davis Pinkney
Andrea Davis Pinkney is a New York Times best-selling writer of more than 20 books for children and young adults, including picture books, novels, and nonfiction.  During the course of her career, Pinkney has launched many high-profile publishing and entertainment entities, including Hyperion Books for Children/Disney Publishing’s Jump at the Sun imprint, which is the first African American children’s book imprint at a major publishing company.

About the Children’s Literature Research Collections
The Children’s Literature Research Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries was chosen to host the event by the ALSC and its 2014 May Hill Arbuthnot Committee. The CLRC includes the Kerlan Collection — one of the world’s great children’s literature research collections — and includes books, original illustrations, and manuscripts significant in the history of children’s literature, including those of Pinkney.

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10. Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

chronicle 300x300 Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)This is it! We’ve officially begun!  Here is, without a doubt, the very first Librarian Preview of the Fall 2014 season.  I’m so thrilled to be presenting it in its full unaltered glory.  Chronicle Books, that plucky little Californian publisher, has really made a name for itself in the past few years.  And now, with their very first (can you believe it?!) Caldecott Honor, it seems like their star is on the rise.  All the more reason to see what wares they’re hocking.  After all, if Candlewick rules the Beautiful Picture Book World of the East Coast, Chronicle rules the West.

But before we begin, let’s look at a little book they have coming out of their adult division:

Goodnight, Darth Vader by Jeffrey Brown

GoodnightDarthVader 474x500 Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

How do androids go to sleep?  How do wookies?  Ewoks?  Whatever the heck Admiral Ackbar is?  It was bound to occur. With the phenomenal success of Darth Vader and Son (to say nothing of Vader’s Little Princess) it didn’t take long for a play on the old Goodnight Moon trope.  Jeffrey Brown, for the record, is to be commended.  Can anyone else truly say they have two Star Wars related book series out with two different publishers for the trade book set?  Nay.  I’m just sad the adult book division of my library lays claim to these.  I would have bought this one anyway as juv.

Mix It Up by Herve Tullet

MixItUp 500x167 Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

Awwwwwwwww, yeah!!  It’s exactly what you think it is.  The one.  The only.  The SEQUEL TO PRESS HERE!!!!!!!!  Could such a thing be possible?  Could such a thing even work?  It could if said sequel were to go the logical next step.  This book?  It’s all about mixing colors together.  You can kind of tell from the cover that inside it’s huge fun.  Kids can squish pages together to make new colors.  They can tip the pages so that the colors run together into new hues.  It’s the same feel as Press Here but with amazing educational applications.  My kid is really into color mixing right now but all we have for her is Mouse Paint by Ellen Walsh, Blue Goose by Nancy Tafuri, and The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown.  Time to shake things up a little (literally).

The Bear’s Sea Escape by Benjamin Chaud

BearsSeaEscape Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

Remember The Bear’s Song, which was released last year?  It was sort of Where’s Waldo with very French bears.  Well the whole story built to an ending wherein the bear and his cub decide to hibernate after discovering the bee hives on the top of the Paris Opera House.  In the sequel, the Paris Opera House’s roof turns out not to be the most ideal place to sleep.  The bears move into a department store but next thing you know the baby has been mistaken for a toy and the papa has to follow him once more.  The energy in these books makes me feel as though I’d like to see them animated into little French shorts for the enjoyment of the masses.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?  It could happen.

Telephone by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace

Telephone 500x399 Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

A Mac Barnett book at Chronicle?  Well, considering the fact that his girlfriend works there, it just makes good sense.  Mac’s back, baby, and this time he’s been paired with none other than the woman behind the art in those wildly successful Amy Krouse Rosenthal books Little Pea, Little Hoot, and Little Oink.  This is actually a pretty strong year for Ms. Corace.  Her other book I Hatched by Jill Esbaum only goes to show that she is in a SERIOUS bird phase right now.  Barnett’s book is fine and feathered and a play on the old telephone game.  It’s not the first book to go this route (the lovely Pass It On by Marylyn Sadler did it a couple years ago) but Barnett’s has a different tone and, quite frankly, a different gag at the end.  I also like how each bird hears a message that pertains to his or her own interests.  Just consider this whole enterprise a metaphor for hearing what you want to hear.

Planes Go by Steve Light

PlanesGo 500x257 Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

And SPEAKING of illustrators who are having good years, can we talk a bit about Steve Light?  Because here we have a guy producing crazy beautiful books with Candlewick like Have You Seen My Dragon? on the one hand, and then turning around to continue his incredibly popular “Go” series.  If you haven’t seen Trains Go, Trucks Go, or Diggers Go then you don’t know your board books.  The man specializes in readaloud board books, for crying out loud.  And nobody does it better.  When I saw that the next one was a plane book I had to ask if boats were next.  Ask and thou shalt receive.  Boats are on the roster for 2015.

Bonjour, Camille by Felipe Cano, illustrated by Laia Aguilar

BonjourCamille Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

Meet the Spanish Eloise.  That’s the only way I can accurately describe what it is that you’re seeing here.  Written by a Spaniard and illustrated by a Spaniard, the book is a gentle series of absurdities, each and every one logical to the petite young heroine.  Decked out in a top hat, black striped shirt, and black tutu (tell me that isn’t one of the more iconic visions I could conjure up), Camille is what Amelie might have been like as a child.  I’m seeing definite Urban Outfitters potential here.  In fact, it might even make a good graduation book, what with its wacky go-against-the-grain advice and all.

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

FloraPenguin Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

And here it is!  The answer to your prayers.  Prayers you may not even have known you had.  As a sequel to the 2014 Caldecott Honor Book Flora and the Flamingo, Idle’s latest follows up its long and lanky avian from Book #1 with a cheery, squat, dumpling of a little fellow.  And like its predecessor, there are flaps to lift that advance the plot and show off the pair’s dance moves.  It would pair beautifully well with Kristi Valiant’s fellow dancing penguin book Penguin Cha-Cha, come to think of it.  Interestingly, this book is not the only sequel to a 2014 Caldecott Honor out this year.  Also keep an eye peeled for Aaron Becker’s Quest (the sequel to Journey) later in the fall.  Oh, and word on the street has it that the next Flora book might involve a peacock.  Squee!

In This Book by Fani Marceau, illustrated by Joelle Jolivet

InThisBook Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

Librarians get a lot of requests for “concept books”. Trouble is, folks never just come out and call them that.  They as for opposite books or color books or shape books, and that’s fine.  It’s when their requests get a bit more esoteric that you’re in trouble.  Imagine sitting at your reference desk one day and a well meaning soul comes up to you and asks for “books that deal with the concept of in and out”.  Don’t laugh, it’s happened and it’s a devil of a request to meet.  Now, at least, we’ve something we can hand over.  The fabulous French team of Marceau and Jolivet have paired together to create a truly beautiful variety of “in”s.  Now when I saw that illustrator Jolivet was involved I got a tad bit nervous.  Jolivet is best associated, to my mind, with these gorgeous but enormous picture books like Zoo-ology and Almost Everything.  They’re gorgeous but they don’t fit on my shelves.  In This Book, by contrast, will come in at a sweet 9 1/2″ X 11″.  In (ha ha) teresting.

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Flashlight 500x500 Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

I wracked my brain and came up with nothing.  Maybe you’ll fare better.  Can you think of a single solitary book in which a kid walks around with a flashlight seeing the cool things that come out at night?  Boyd was the person behind that lovely little Inside Outside last year (a book that garnered no less than four starred reviews).  I liked it a lot but always felt that it suffered from its color scheme.  The color brown may get the literary credit, but certain types of people avoid it like the plague.  Flashlight suffers no such problem as it follows a boy outside at night with a helpful flashlight aiding him.  Eventually the nighttime creatures want to get a look at him too, so they point the flashlight back in his direction in their curiosity.  Cute concept.  Never seen it done before.

The Memory of an Elephant by Sophie Strady, illustrated by Jean-Francois Martin

MemoryElephant Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

This one may be a bit special.  Nothing wrong with special books.  They keep things interesting and amuse the children of hipsters nationwide.  But you have to keep an open mind sometimes when you read them.  In this tale, a well dressed elephant writes an encyclopedia inspired by his daily life.  The book will, on occasion, show an encyclopedic spread from his book while also explaining what those items are.  For his part, I haven’t seen a pachyderm this dapper since Babar (spats and all).  The clothes on the animals are extraordinary and the modern furniture quite a riot.  Seriously, you have everything from the butterfly stool to the tulip table in the backgrounds here.  It is not, I should note, by any means the first children’s book to take on well-designed furniture (Goldilocks and the Three Bears: A Tale Moderne comes immediately to mind) but it may be the most attractive to the eye.

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third

LowridersSpace Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

You have undoubtedly heard my cries of complaint when it comes to the sheer derth of Latino books for kids on our shelves.  And graphic novels?  Don’t even get me started.  Aside from the Luz books (Luz Sees the Light, etc.) they are few and far between.  All the more reason I’m excited by Lowriders in Space.  I mean, the title says it all.  It’s a GN that happens to include some science and Latino culture all in one fell swoop.  Not exactly the most common of critters.  Looking at the art I was immediately drawn to the fact that though it’s clearly done in a particular style, there is just the faintest hint of Astroboy about it.  I should also note that Raul the Third, the illustrator, will apparently be speaking at SLJ’s Day of Dialog this year.  Don’t miss him!

Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt

RhymeSchemer Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

Yesterday I wrote up a Poetry Month post on different rhyme schemes and poetic forms that you might not have heard of.  While typing it up I was tempted to include some info about this here little middle grade verse novel.  The premise is that a bully, one without any real problems in his life to justify his bullying, uses poetry to bully other kids.  Then the tables are turned and the bullier becomes the bully-ee.  Curious?  So am I.  This one’s moving to the top of my To Be Read Shelf and fast.

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

CategoricalUniverse Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

Pity the Australian import in America.  Unless your name is “Shaun Tan” or “Markus Zusak” you’re unlikely to be particularly well known here in the States.  Even if your book happens to win the Children’s Peace Literature Award, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, and the Golden Inky Award, it may not be a household name here yet.  Naturally Barry Jonsberg’s book won those very things and now he is poised to take America by storm.  In this tale a girl on the autism spectrum sets out to make everyone in her life happy.  Along the way the book utilizes a trope that I enjoy very much.  Paired with a penpal in the States who has never written back to her, Candice merrily writes off letters in the course of the novel to them anyway.  I love that.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Cookbook and Cookie Cutters Kit  by Lara Starr

CaterpillarCookie Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

Okay. Admittedly this isn’t the kind of thing the libraries out there should be looking at.  I mean, it comes with its own cookie cutter.  Hard to top that.  But I just had to mention it, and not just because Lara Starr of Chronicle herself did the recipes.  I just like that something like this helped to inspire a book like this one.  That and the fact that I really want to eat that caterpillar’s head.  A lot.  Nom nom nom.

Creature Baby Animals and Creature Sounds by Andrew Zuckerman

CreatureBabyAnimals Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)CreatureSounds 300x300 Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

Boy, remember when Creature ABC came out all those years ago?  I loved that book so much that I held onto it tightly in the event that I someday had kids of my own.  That was a wise move, but it’s taken a long time for my kid to be ready for that book.  Now two new board books seek to solve that very problem.  They’re eye-catching.  They’re beautiful.  Basically, they’re some of the best animal photography I’ve ever seen.  No mean feat.

The Ultimate Construction Site Book by Anne-Sophie Baumann, illustrated by Didier Balicevic

UltimateConstruction Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

I view the coming of this book with a mixture of longing and fear.  Longing because when Baumann and Balicevic produced their previous book, The Ultimate Book of Vehicles, this past spring my daughter became enamored of its tabs and doors and other movable elements.  Yet to read the whole book cover to cover can take forever, so I sometimes have to put it judiciously in places where she won’t see it before bedtime.  Such is her all encompassing love.  To discover that the next book is nothing but construction . . . well that’s just a treat.

Nocturne by Traer Scott

Nocturne Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

I’m on a real photography kick these days.  And have you noticed that the number of children’s books featuring photographs has increased tenfold over the last few years?  Apparently a lot of this has to do with the fact that thanks to digital photography, costs are down.  Traer Scott was hitherto unknown to me before I saw this book, but now I’m a huge fan.  The concept is great too.  Scott photographs nocturnal animals against these deep rich backgrounds.  They just pop into the foreground.  It’s almost as if their portraits were being taken.  As if you needed another way to make some of these critters even more cute than they were before.

You’re Awesome Journal

YoureAwesome Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall 2014)

This isn’t anything to do with children’s books.  I just needed somewhere to put a note to remind myself to buy this for a family member once it’s been published (not until September. . . arg!!).  So, note to self: Purchase this item (ISBN: 978-1-4521-3660-8) when the time is right.  Because, after all, it made me laugh out loud and few blank journals in this world do that.

A million thanks to the kind and gracious Lara Star for entertaining me.  Looks like a great line-up for the coming year.

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11. New Forms for Poetry Month: Shake Things Up a Bit

Back in 2011 I wrote a post called Poetry Month Ideas: Try Something a Little Different (note the conspicuous disappearance of ALL the images from said post and sigh along with me).  Well, time has passed but my quest to find new and interesting ways to teach poetry, aside from the standard set of haikus and limericks, continues.  Today we update ye olde post with some old and new forms.  If you should find yourself this month in the position of having to instruct some kids in the ways of poetry, consider doing one or more of these exercises with them:

Fibonacci Poems – Good old Fibonacci poetry.  In late 2013 our beloved children’s literary blogger Greg Pincus finally published his very first middle grade work of fiction.  The 14 Fibs of Gregory K dared to combine the uncombineable: math and poetry.  Mr. Pincus, you see, is the creator behind this particular form.  Back in 2006, long before the term “Common Core Aligned” graced this nation’s lips, Motoko Rich even went so far as to write the New York Times article Fibonacci Poems Multiply on the Web After Blog’s Invitation.  As he explained on his blog GottaBook: “I wanted something that required more precision. That led me to a six line, 20 syllable poem with a syllable count by line of 1/1/2/3/5/8 – the classic Fibonacci sequence. In short, start with 0 and 1, add them together to get your next number, then keep adding the last two numbers together for your next one.”  And call me crazy but doesn’t this just sound like the most CCSS thing you ever did read?  Time for someone to hand Greg another book deal.  A POETRY book deal.

Newspaper Blackout Poems – I’ve enjoyed this form for years, but it wasn’t until I tried it out on a couple different groups of kids that I saw how effective and interesting it can be.  Consider it a forced found poem.  The poet’s job is to find a newspaper article or horoscope and to blackout everything except the words in the poem.  Intrigued?  Read a whole swath of them here.  Kids, as it turns out, are preternaturally gifted in this area.  Some glom onto the form instantly.  Others need some help.  Whatever the case, just be sure you have enough black markers on hand when you try this.  Here’s a rather erudite example:

BlackoutPoem New Forms for Poetry Month: Shake Things Up a Bit

Reverso – Best illustrated by children’s book poet Marilyn Singer.  She perfected the form in books like Mirror Mirror and Follow Follow (though I harbor a very great love for her Nixon reverso in Rutherford B.: Who Was He?).  The poet writes broken lines down and then uses the same lines but reverses them to tell the other side of the story.  Example A:

ReversoPoem New Forms for Poetry Month: Shake Things Up a Bit

Single Word Poetry – I call it this because insofar as I can tell Bob Raczka made up this kind of poetry and I can’t find it in existence anywhere but his book Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed From a Single Word.  Basically you take a word and then turn the letters in that word into a poem.  To read it, your eye has to follow the letters down the page in a very specific order or the poem won’t make any sense.  See, here’s an example:

OneWordPoetry New Forms for Poetry Month: Shake Things Up a Bit

Can you see it saying “A silent lion tells an ancient tale”?  Because that’s the poem and it’s a darn clever one too.  Try this with your kids if you want to, y’know, watch their heads explode or something.  It’s poetry as codebreaking as far as I can tell.

Snowball Poetry – According to BoingBoing, “A ‘Snowball’ is a poem ‘in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer’.”  In other words, not too different from a Fibonacci poem in that math is involved in some way.

snowball New Forms for Poetry Month: Shake Things Up a Bit

Spine Poetry - Though he didn’t originate the form (I don’t think) I still consider Travis Jonker the king of the Spine Poem.  If nothing else his post yesterday should prove that.  Spine Poems, as you may know, are poems that come out of the judicious placement of one book on top of another.  My favorite recent example (by Travis):

spinepoetry New Forms for Poetry Month: Shake Things Up a Bit

But seriously, go to his site to see what he’s done.  It’s breathtaking.

Any other peculiar forms of poetry come to mind?  Let me know about ‘em!

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12. Press Release Fun: Author Morph App from TeachingBooks.net

TeachingBooks Press Release Fun: Author Morph App from TeachingBooks.netInnovative apps are difficult constructs to come up with, particularly when you feel like everything’s already been done.  That’s why I was so intrigued by the Author Morph app.  Now we have one that combines the convenience of an immediate learning experience with what can only be described as an author/illustrator’s worst freakin’ nightmare.

Here’s the official press release:

TeachingBooks.net has just announced its new Author Morph app.  Here’s the company video demonstrating the app, where you can tap your mobile device and miraculously be transported into a children’s book illustrators’ studio.

And naturally it’s Common Core compliant.

Happy April 1st, folks.  Here’s another great post for the day in question: No Joke: Strange but Real Books We Love.

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13. Review of the Day: Curiosity by Gary Blackwood

Curiosity Review of the Day: Curiosity by Gary BlackwoodCuriosity
By Gary Blackwood
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3924-6
Ages 9-12
On shelves April 10th

Blackwood’s back, baby! And not a minute too soon. Back in 1998, the author released The Shakespeare Stealer which would soon thereafter become his best-known work. A clever blending of historical fiction and adventure, the book allowed teachers the chance to hone Shakespeare down to a kid-friendly level. Since its publication Mr. Blackwood has kept busy, writing speculative fiction and, most recently, works of nonfiction for kids. Then there was a bit of a lull in his writing and the foolish amongst us (myself included) forgot about him. There will be no forgetting Mr. Blackwood anytime now though. Not after you read his latest work Curiosity. Throwing in everything from P.T. Barnum and phrenology to hunchbacks, Edgar Allan Poe, automatons, chess prodigies, murder, terrible fires, and legless men, Blackwood produces a tour de force to be reckoned with. In the press materials for this book, Penguin calls it “Gary Blackwood’s triumphant return to middle grade fiction.” They’re not wrong. The man’s about to acquire a whole new generation of fans and enthusiasts.

Fear for the children of novels that describe their childhoods as pampered or coddled. No good can come of that. Born weak with a slight deformity of the spine, Rufus lives a lovely life with his father, a well-respected Methodist minister in early 19th century Philadelphia. That’s all before his father writes a kind of predecessor to The Origin of the Species and through a series of misadventures is thrown into debtor’s prison. Fortunately (perhaps) Rufus is a bit of a chess prodigy and his talents get him a job with a man by the name of Johann Nepomuk Maelzel. Maelzel owns an automaton called The Turk that is supposed to be able to play chess against anyone and win. With Rufus safely ensconced inside, The Turk is poised to become a massive moneymaker. But forces are at work to reveal The Turk’s secrets and if that information gets out, Rufus’s life might not be worth that of the pawns he plays.

Making the past seem relevant and accessible is hard enough when you’re writing a book for adults. Imagine the additional difficulty children’s authors find themselves in. Your word count is limited else you lose your audience. That means you need to engage in some serious (not to mention judicious and meticulous) wordplay. Blackwood’s a pro, though. His 1835 world is capable of capturing you with its life and vitality without boring you in the process. At one point Rufus describes seeing Richmond, VA for the first time and you are THERE, man. From the Flying Gigs to the mockingbirds to the James River itself. I was also relieved to find that Blackwood does make mention of the African-Americans living in Richmond and Philly at the time this novel takes place. Many are the works of historical fiction by white people about white people that conveniently forget this little fact.

Add onto that the difficulty that comes with making the past interesting and accurate and relevant all at once. I read more historical fiction for kids than a human being should, and while it’s all often very well meaning, interesting? Not usually an option. I’m certain folks will look at how Blackwood piles on the crazy elements here (see: previous statement about the book containing everything from phrenology to P.T. Barnum) and will assume that this is just a cheap play for thrills. Not so. It’s the man’s writing that actually holds your focus. I mean, look at that first line: “Out of all the books in the world, I wonder what made you choose this one.” Heck, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Check out these little gems:

“If my cosseted childhood hadn’t taught me how to relate to other people, neither had it taught em to fear them.”

“I was like some perverse species of prisoner who felt free only when he was locked inside a tiny cell.”

“Maelzel was not the sort of creator imagined by the Deists, who fashions a sort of clockwork universe and winds it up, then sits back and watches it go and never interferes. He was more like my father’s idea of the creator: constantly tinkering with his creations, looking for ways to make them run more smoothly and perform more cleverly – the kind who makes it possible for new species to develop.”

As for the writing of the story itself, Blackwood keeps the reader guessing and then fills the tale with loads of historical details. The historical accuracy is such that Blackwood even allows himself little throwaway references, confident that confused kids will look them up themselves. For example, at one point Rufus compares himself to “Varney the Vampire climbing into his coffin.” This would be a penny dreadful that circulated roundabout this time (is there any more terrifying name than “Varney” after all?). In another instance a blazing fire is met with two “rival hose” companies battling one another “for the right to hook up to the nearest fireplug.” There is a feeling that for a book to be literary it has to be dull. Blackwood dispels the notion, and one has to stand amazed when they realize that somehow he managed to make a story about a kid trapped in a small dark space for hours at a time riveting.

Another one of the more remarkable accomplishments of the book is that it honestly makes you want to learn more about the game of chess. A good author can get a kid interested in any subject, of course. I think back on The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, which dared to talk up the game of Bridge. And honestly, chess isn’t a hard sell. The #1 nonfiction request I get from my fellow children’s librarians (and the request I simply cannot fulfill fast enough) is for more chess books for kids. At least in the big cities, chess is a way of life for some children. One hopes that we’ll be able to extend their interest beyond the immediate game itself and onto a book where a kid like themselves has all the markings of true genius.

It isn’t perfect, of course. In terms of characterization, of all the people in this book Rufus is perhaps the least interesting. You willingly follow him, of course. Just because he doesn’t sparkle on the page like some of the other characters doesn’t mean you don’t respond to the little guy. One such example might be when his first crush doesn’t go as planned. But he’s a touchstone for the other characters around him. Then there’s the other problem of Rufus being continually rescued by the same person in the same manner (I won’t go into the details) more than once. It makes for a weird repeated beat. The shock of the first incident is actually watered down by the non-surprise of the second. Rufus becomes oddly passive in his own life, rarely doing anything to change the course of his fate (he falls unconscious and wakes up rescued more than once,) a fact that may contribute to the fact that he’s so unmemorable on the page.

But that aside, it’s hard not to be entranced by what Blackwood has come up with here. Automatons sort of came to the public’s attention when Brian Selznick wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Blackwood takes it all a step further merging man and machine, questioning what we owe to one another and, to a certain extent, where the power really lies. Rufus finds his sense of self and bravery by becoming invisible. At the same time, he’s so innocent to the ways of the world that becoming visible comes with the danger of having your heart broken in a multitude of different ways. In an era where kids spend untold gobs of time in front of the screens of computers, finding themselves through a newer technology, Blackwood’s story has never been timelier. Smart and interesting, fun and strange, this is one piece of little known history worthy of your attention. Check and mate.

On shelves April 10th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

First Line: “Out of all the books in the world, I wonder what made you choose this one.”

Notes on the Cover: And now let us praise fabulous cover artists. Particularly those creating covers that make more sense after you’ve finished the book. The glimpse of Rufus’s eye in the “O” of the title didn’t do much more than vaguely remind me of the spine of the The Invention of Hugo Cabret at first (an apt comparison in more than one way). After closer examination, however, I realized that it was Rufus in the cabinet below. The unnerving view of The Turk and the shadowy Mr. Hyde-ish man in the far back all combine to give this book a look of both historical fervor and intrigue. And look how that single red (red?) pawn is lit. It’s probably not actually a red pawn but a white one, but something about the image looks reddish. Blood red, if you will. Boy, that’s a good jacket.

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus


  • Care to read Edgar Allan Poe’s actual article for The Messenger about The Turk?  Do so here.
  • A fun BBC piece on the implication of The Turk then, now, and for our children.  It appears to have been written by one “Adam Gopnik”.  We’ll just assume it’s a different Adam than the one behind A Tale Dark & Grimm.

Videos: Want to see the real Turk in action?  This video makes for fascinating watching.

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14. Video Sunday: Football players, grateful artists, and tambourine players galore

Time to up the bar. Years ago N.D. Wilson made what has to be the most ambitious book trailer created by an author I ever did see (it was for The Ashtown Burials and if you missed it you can watch it here and see what I mean). Now, after copious Florida research trips where he shot this footage, Wilson returns. Think the narrator on this is Morgan Freeman? Think again. It’s Wilson himself and this is a beautiful glimpse of the book. Tell me you don’t want to read it right now now now.

Boys of Blur | Official Trailer from Gorilla Poet Productions on Vimeo.

Thanks to Heather Wilson for the heads up.

In other book trailer news, Dan Santat released his picture book trailer for Beekle.  It’s sort of Santat by way of Shaun Tan.

I regret that I don’t remember where I was first alerted to this.  It’s just the cast members of the Harry Potter films talking about their favorite lines, but boy it’s fun.

In other news, I am shocked an appalled that I didn’t know about this Aaron Becker Caldecott thank you film until I was alerted to it by 100 Scope Notes.  This is brilliant!  But then, would you expect anything less?

Thanks to Travis Jonker for the link.

This next video is on the serious side of things.  There was a recent benefit at NYPL for something called an Ideas Box.  The concept is relatively simple.  Librarians Without Borders paired with UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) to create these little boxes that adapt into furniture and contain internet hook-ups, tablets, books, and more. Two videos give you a sense of what I’m talking about.  The first shows how you put them together.

The second shows their practical use:

And here’s the official explanation:

Since 2012, Libraries without Borders has partnered with UNHCR and creator Philippe Starck to create an innovate device that will deliver access to information for people emerging from humanitarian crises. Refugees have immediate pressing needs for food, shelter, health care and clothing. Once these priorities have been met, they need a way to forge social ties, rebuild an informed civil society, and develop resilience for the struggles that lay ahead. Too often, the tools needed for this vital work are lacking.  The Ideas Box fills this void, giving people who have been thrown into chaos the means to read, write, create and communicate. By providing access to the Internet, books, educational resources, theatre, and films, the Ideas Box empowers individuals and communities to begin to reconstruct what has been lost.


Finally, the off-topic video was going to be that Christopher Walken supercut of him dancing in all his films.  Unfortunately it looks like it’s been removed.  So instead, I’ll just give you a video that will lead you to waste your ENTIRE DAY.  Do you know Postmodern Jukebox?  If not, do NOT click on that link or you’ll be listening to clever recuts of popular songs all the ding dang day long.  Fitting that I show their video of 2013′s hits then:

Just sorta makes me happy.  I’m working on a theory that the tambourine players is a being from another world.


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15. iPad Use and Babies: Throwing a Wrench in the Works

I think we all uttered a collective scream as one when news of this particular Fisher Price toy came to our attention this holiday season past:

ipadchair 500x250 iPad Use and Babies: Throwing a Wrench in the Works

It’s called the Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat and out of curiosity I wondered if it was still on the market.  Indeed it is, and the comments on Amazon make for a day’s worth of reading right there.  Naturally the notion of strapping your child into a device and forcing them to look at a screen ala Clockwork Orange (admittedly a baby in a bowler would be ADORABLE!) isn’t the most soothing thought in the world.

What reminded me of the existence of this terribly toy-related miscalculation?  Nothing more than the recent slate of articles discussing small children and screen time.  Parents these days have to take a stand on what they believe is an appropriate amount of screen time with any kiddo.  The facts aren’t entirely in on the matter, but that’s not stopping anyone from voicing an opinion.

Undoubtedly the most trustworthy is probably going to be the American Academy of Pediatrics, in large part because they haven’t an agenda in mind.  Their piece on Media and Children states without equivocation, “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”  Seems pretty cut and dried.

But then there goes the Today Show throwing a wrench in the works.  Surprise: Doc who devised screen time limits says iPads may be okay for babies.  Come again?  According to Today the statement comes from Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, who co-authored the American Academy of Pediatrics 2011 guidelines that frown on media use by kids younger than 2.  His defense?  He wrote the guidelines before iPads got big.  He argues that iPads, because they are interactive (unlike television) are a far better use of a baby’s time than TV or other passive activities.  All well and good, but the piece does also mention that we don’t actually know how they affect developing brains at this time.

What I don’t quite get is what Dr. Christakis is attempting to do here.  Let’s look at it logically.  If he is right, and babies can benefit from iPads, does that outweigh the danger of giving some parents all clear so that they can ignore their kiddos for long swaths of time?  At one point in the piece he says, “This is not just to allow their child to play willy-nilly for hours and hours.”  So the best case scenario is that everyone with a baby and an iPad follows his advice, the babies play with iPads and get marginally (and there is zippo evidence of this, I might note) smarter, and everyone’s happy.  The worst case scenario?  That people strap their babies into these devices for hours at a time, it has no benefits, and is indeed detrimental to the developing brains.  Basically, I just want to know if he thinks this is worth the risk.  Honestly, is it the worst thing in the world to advise parents not to let their kids do iPads before the age of two?  What problem is Dr. Christakis solving here?

Back in August the Washington Post wrote about the fact that toy companies looking to promote the educational benefits of apps found themselves up a tree without any evidence on hand.  So who do you trust in these cases?

Simply thinking aloud.

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16. Review of the Day: The Fox and the Crow by Manasi Subramaniam

FoxCrow1 300x274 Review of the Day: The Fox and the Crow by Manasi SubramaniamThe Fox and the Crow
By Manasi Subramaniam
Illustrated by Culpeo S. Fox
Karadi Tales
ISBN: 978-81-8190-303-7
Ages 4 and up
On shelves now

In the classic Aesop fable of The Fox and the Crow where do your loyalties lie? You remember the tale, don’t you? Long story short (or, rather, short story shorter) a prideful crow is tricked into dropping its bread into the hungry mouth of a fox when it is flattered into singing. Naturally your sympathies fall with the fox to a certain extent. Pride goeth before the bread’s fall and all that jazz. Now there are about a thousand different things that are interesting about The Fox and the Crow, a collaboration between Manasi Subramaniam and Culpeo S. Fox. Yet the thing that I took away from it was how my sympathies fell, in the end, to the prideful crow victim. His is a miserable existence, owed in part due to his own self-regard and also to not seizing the moment when it presents itself. Delayed gratification sometimes just turns into no gratification. Lofty thoughts for a book intended for four-year-olds, eh? But that’s what you get when something as lovely, dark, and strange as this particular The Fox and the Crow hits the market. Gorgeous to eye and ear alike, the story’s possibilities are mined beautifully and the reader is left reeling in the wake. If you’d like a folktale that’s bound to wake you up, this beauty has your number.

A murder of crows gathers on the telephone wires. Says the text “When dusk falls, they arrive, raucous, clamping their feet on the wires in a many-pronged attack.” One amongst them, however, cannot help but notice a fresh loaf of new bread at the local bakery. Without another thought it dives, steals the bread, and leaves the baker angrily yelling in its wake. Delighted with its prize the crow takes to a tree branch to wait. “Bread is best eaten by twilight.” Below, a hungry fox observes the haughty crow and desires the tasty morsel. She sings up to the crow. “A song is an invitation. Crow must sing back.” He does and, in doing so, loses his prize to the vixen’s maw. The last line? “A new day breaks. An old hunger aches.”

Turning Aesop fables into full picture books is a bit of an art. If you read one you’ll find that it’s remarkably short on the page. It requires a bit of padding on the author’s part. Either that or some true creativity. Look, for example, at some of the best Aesop adaptations out there. Some artists choose to go wordless (The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney). Others get remarkably loquacious (Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes by Margie Palatini). In the case of Subramaniam, she makes the interesting choice of simplifying the text with long, luscious words while expanding the story. The result is lines like “Crow’s stomach burns with swallowed song” or “Oh, she’s a temptress, that one.” No dialogue is necessary in this book. Subramaniam shoulders all the work and though she doesn’t spell out what’s happening as simply as some might prefer (you have to know what is meant by “Crow’s pride sets his hunger ablaze” to get to the classic Aesopian moral of the tale) it’s nice to see a new take on a story that’s been done to death in a variety of different spheres.

Artist Culpeo S. Fox is new to me. From Germany (for some reason everything made a lot more sense when I learned that fact) the man sort of specializes in foxes. For this book the art takes on a brown and speckled hue. Early scenes look as though the very dirt of the ground was whipped into the air alongside the crows’ wings. Yet in the midst of all this darkness (both from the story and from the art) there’s something incredibly relatable and kid-friendly in these creatures’ eyes. The crow in particular is rendered an infinitely relatable fellow. From his first over-the-shoulder glance at the bread cooling on the windowsill to the look of pure eagerness when he alights on a private branch. It’s telling that the one moment the eye is made most unrelatable (pure white) is when he’s overcome with fury at having basically handed his loaf to the fox’s maw. Fury can be frightening.

FoxCrow3 500x228 Review of the Day: The Fox and the Crow by Manasi SubramaniamIt’s also Fox’s inclination to change from a horizontal to a vertical format over and over again that makes the book unique in some way. It’s probably the element that will turn the most people off, but it’s never done without reason. To my mind, if a book is going to go vertical, it needs to have a reason. Caldecott Honor book Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens, for example, knew exactly how to make use of the form. Parrots Over Puerto Rico in contrast seemed to do it on a lark rather than for any particular reason. In The Fox and the Crow each vertical shift is calculated. The very first encounter between the fox and the crow is a vertical shot. Most interesting is the next two-page spread. You find yourself not entirely certain what the best way to hold book might be. Horizontal? Vertical? Upside down? Only after a couple readings did I realize that the curve of the crow’s inquiry-laden neck echoes the fox’s very same neck curve (albeit with 75% more guile).

It’s not just the art and the story. The very size of the book itself is unique. It’s roughly 11 X 12 inches, essentially a rather large square. Work with enough picture books and you get a feel for the normal dimensions. But normal dimensions, you sense, wouldn’t quite encompass was Fox is trying to accomplish here. You need size to adequately tell this story. The darkness and beauty of it all demand it.

I am consumed with professional jealousy after reading the Kirkus review of this book. Their takeaway line? “Aesop noir”. It’s rather perfect, particularly when you consider that one reading of this book would fall under that classic noir storyline of a seedy soul done in by the wiles of a woman. Or vixen, rather. I don’t know that any younger kids would necessarily take to heart the moral message of the original story, but slightly older readers will jive to what Subramaniam is getting at. We need folktales in our collections that shake things up a bit. That aren’t afraid to get original with the source material. That aren’t afraid to get, quite frankly, beautiful on us. The pairing of Subramaniam and Fox is inspired and the book a lush treat. An Aesop necessity. Aesop done right.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

  • Fables by Aesop, illustrated by Jean-Francois Martin

Professional Reviews:

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17. Press Release Fun: Voting Now Open for the 7th Annual Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards!

ChildrensChoiceBookAwards Press Release Fun: Voting Now Open for the 7th Annual Childrens and Teen Choice Book Awards!So I don’t know if you’ve been following but there’s been quite a sane, collected, interesting discussion going on in my last Press Release about the CBC’s Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards.  Long story short, Rush Limbaugh’s book was nominated and folks are debating the merits or demerits of its inclusion.  I feel like I may be cursing the entire enterprise by even mentioning it, but it’s so civilized that I highly recommend you take a gander.

As for today’s post, the actual voting for said Book Awards is up and running at ccbookawards.com.  So get out your kids.  Teach them about the voting process.  Get them in there voting for their favorites.  Nuff said.



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18. Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

SimonSchuster Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)Foof!  It’s been a while!  At least it feels like it has.  For whatever reason I haven’t posted a good Simon & Schuster Preview since . . . um . . . since their Spring 2011 list was premiered.  Whoopsie!  Let’s make up for lost time then.

First off, Simon & Schuster does their librarian previews much, I suspect, as they do their marketing proposals to bookstores or in-house.  They hand out these gorgeous full-color handouts of all the titles they’ll be talking about.  They also begin the day with the special guest star.  Little Brown and Penguin prefer to leave the guests to the last, but not these guys.  Best that you be on time, then.

Our guest?  The friendly and fantastic James Howe.  As you may know the fella wrote The Misfits lo these many years ago.  Since its publication it has been showing up on TONS of New York City summer reading lists (I cannot attest to the state of the rest of the country in this respect) and so it stood to reason he’d continue the series.  Since The Misfits followed four kids, a book for each kid seemed par for the course.  Totally Joe is probably the best known of the four simply by dint of the fact that it was the one with a gay character and Addie on the Inside was released relatively recently.  Also Known as Elvis rounds out the quartet and follows Skeezie Tookis (the author still isn’t sure where that name came from) and his relationship with a dog.  James gave us a little background on his process.  In the case of this particular book, he nailed Skeezie’s personality down by conducting faux “interviews” with the character.  Howe also talked a bit about his own youth and his dog Lily, who turned out to be the model for the dog on the cover of the book.

AlsoKnownElvis Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Then we were off!  I’ll just highlight a couple titles here and there that particularly caught my eye.  Consider this just a random smattering of what’s to come.


Mogie1 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

It’s funny to think about, but there’s never really been a Ronald McDonald House picture book before.  I suppose much of that has to do with the fact that it’s a mighty tricky topic to write about.  To get it down right you’d need someone like Kathi Appelt at the helm.  Well, with the release of Mogie: Heart of the House (illustrated by Marc Rosenthal) done and done.  The book is based on a real dog who just couldn’t cut it as a service dog.  By some bit of miraculous intervention, however, the dog found its true calling as a kind of de facto therapy dog in a Ronald McDonald House.  Appelt, as we all well know, has the unique ability to write for almost every age (and if you haven’t read her Bubba & Bo series then you, sir, are missing out).  It’s a nice, heartfelt story that never slides sideways into schmaltz.  No mean feat.

Numberlys Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Next up, a book that’s been baffling me for a while.  When S&S started talking about The Numberlys by William Joyce and Christina Ellis I was scratching my head.  It looked really well done, a kind of Metropolis meets The Wizard of Oz.  Still and all, when I went to search for images of it online I found a baffling array.  What gives?  I was finally able to determine that Mr. Joyce has completely and utterly embraced the worlds of print and film and apps all at the same time.  Little wonder from the fellow who created The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (winning an Oscar for the same).  In the case of The Numberlys, it appears to have been released as an app back in 2012.  I even discovered a whole host of videos about the making of the app on his website here, all skillfully produced.  In the case of the picture book, it’s only now seeing the light of day.  It has some cool details, though.  A transparent cover can turn the book from black and white into color with its removal.  Oh, and the story?  A bunch of little workers get tired of just making numbers every day and determine to try something different for a change.  There’s no real villain in the piece other than the nature of conformity itself.

Here’s a video that serves equally as a trailer for the app and the book:

AshleyPuppets1 500x498 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

I’m still kicking myself over the fact that I didn’t review Ashley Bryan’s Can’t Scare Me last year.  I mean talk about a fantastic readaloud!  The rhythm of that piece alone could have you kicking your feet and dancing a tune.  Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Anytime someone wants to create a Church of Ashley Bryan, they’ll find themselves with a million instant converts.  He’s the current reigning patron saint of children’s literature, as far as I’m concerned.  And coming up this season is the book Ashley Bryan’s Puppets by Ashley Bryan, with photographs edited by Rich Entel.  It seems that Ashley has a habit of collecting found objects on the beach to turn into puppets.  Everything they’re made of is washed up from the sea.  Little wonder from the guy who has stained glass windows made entirely out of sea glass.  In this book each puppet is accompanied by a poem discussing what they’re made of and what they might be.  Everything has a use is the moral of the story here.  I was almost reminded of the Look-Alikes series by Joan Steiner when seeing these.  Or Pura Belpre’s old puppets.  Mr. Bryan, by the way, will be 91 in four or so months now.  As of this preview he was in his Kenyan library.  If you’d like to get the sense of visiting him yourself, check out Alison Morris’s old ShelfTalker post Visiting Ashley Bryan.  It’ll make you want to take the trek yourself.

Gaston Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Dog books.  I can take ‘em or leave ‘em.  Preferably, leave ‘em.  It’s kind of nice.  I don’t feel susceptible to a book just because it features an adorable panting canine on the cover.  Or, in the case of Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson, an adorable well-behaved, charming canine.  However, in this particular case I was charmed.  This is one of those being-different-is-okay books, but don’t be put off by the message.  DiPucchio works very hard to keep Gaston as far from didacticism as humanly possible. The book follows a little pup who looks nothing like his siblings.  When his mother finds a fellow dog with a strange pup of her own, the two decide to make a switch.  However, just because you look like someone, that doesn’t mean you have anything in common with them.  It’s got a good strong ending and one cannot help but notice that artist Christian Robinson is having a banner year.  This, Sugar Hill AND Josephine all at the same time?  Well done, man!  Tis the year of the Robinson.

FoundThings Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Some books suggest quite a bit with their covers.  More than they give away, certainly.  Found Things by Marilyn Hilton won the SCBWI award for best novel in progress a year or so ago.  In this tale, a girl wakes up speaking oddly, discovers that her older brother has disappeared, and when she sleeps she dreams of an oddly familiar house.  It isn’t long thereafter that she’s met another girl, started sending wishes down the stream, and finds that her mother is acting strangely.  That description doesn’t give away much, and indeed I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m sufficiently intrigued to give it a shot.  “Lyrical and strange” S&S calls it.  Well sold.

HitchFairmont Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

So back in the day I loved the old Three Investigators series.  Ostensibly rip-offs of The Hardy Boys, the books had their own particular flavor and swing.  And in the early novels each one ended with the boys meeting with Alfred Hitchcock to explain how they solved the crime.  Why Hitchcock?  Absolutely no idea.  I guess his estate had some hand in the books or something.  Whatever the case, when I was a kid I always felt like Hitchcock was this understandable and utterly relatable guy.  Now kids in the 21st century will have a chance to relive that aspect of my youth with Jim Averbeck’s debut novel A Hitch at the Fairmont, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi.  You know Jim from his picture books like In a Blue Room and Except If (amongst others).  In this book, a madcap mix of graphic novel and prose, a boy lives with is evil Aunt Edith and her chinchilla.  When that same aunt disappears and a ransom note appears, written in chocolate, there’s a clear mystery to solve.  Each chapter opens with a storyboard (the hat tip to Hitchcok) and the book is chock full of references to the man’s films.  It has a good cover and you’ll recognize Bertozzi’s work from stuff like Houdini: The Handcuff King and Lewis & Clark.

FiveTrucksBook Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

The nice thing about Simon & Schuster is that sometimes they’ll send out their galleys and F&Gs awfully early.  Such was the case with Five Trucks by Brian Floca.  When my family took a plane ride to Atlanta this past Christmas there was more than one occasional where I was kicking myself for not bringing the book along to amuse my kiddo in the airport.  Originally released in 1999 and now returning thanks to the man’s recent Caldecott win for Locomotive, the book follows five different trucks you might see on the tarmac of an airport.  With a multicultural cast (to say nothing of multi-gender) it’s simple and elegant.  Really gets to the point.  I’m sorry I missed it the first time around, but very happy that I’ll have a chance to get it for my library system now.

The recent Walter Dean Myers piece in The New York Times probably was a godsend to publicists everywhere.  I complain that there are few African-American boys on middle grade covers, but what about YA novels?  There are hardly any you can name.  And so while I almost never mention YA fare in my librarian preview round-ups, I couldn’t resist showing you the cover to Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley.  Check it out.

CallMeByMyName Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Author Chris Lynch, by the way, says that it’s the best football book he’s ever read.  Considering that I just read a great middle grade football book (Boys of Blur, but more on that later) that’s interesting to me.  It’s set in historical Louisiana.  Says Justin Chandra, “Teen boys will read this book.”  Hope so.

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

PardonMe Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Grumpy Bird is in for some competition.  Aviary born with short fuses aren’t really a trope but if more books like Pardon Me! by Daniel Miyares come out then they may inadvertently spawn their own subgenre.  Though I would have pegged him as an animator thanks to the style, that does not seem to be a part of the Miyares oeuvre.  In this book an easily ruffled little yellow bird finds himself put upon as more and more animals deign to join his perch.  Part manners book, part cautionary tale (perches just ain’t what they used to be) it’ll be interesting to watch the reception to this.  From my own experience, New York readers have a hard time with the circle of life (so to speak) in books for kids.  You’ll see what I mean when you read it for yourself.

FlightsChimes Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

The thing about steampunk as a genre is that since it never really spawned any kind of massive hit, it can continue to exist unabated without wearing out its welcome.  It’s not like sparkly vampires or dystopian futures.  The market was never glutted with steampunk, thereby allowing books like Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne to continue unabated.  Set in an alternate world of Londonia, replete with gears and fairies galore, a bored 10-year-old from our world accidentally crosses over.  It seems the Queen is in need of a real boy and our lad fits the bill precisely.

AllDifferentNow 500x385 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Name the last good Juneteenth children’s book you encountered.  Because if we’re going to face facts, Juneteenth is sort of falling the way of Kwanzaa when it comes to children’s books.  The number of titles that speak to the holiday are slim at best.  With that in mind, All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis fills a very specific need.  Based ostensibly on Ms. Johnson’s own ancestors, the book is a work of historical fiction be dint of lack of information.  In it, a Texan slave girl wakes up to what seems like a normal day, only to find it’s the most important day in her life.  The Kirkus star it just earned bodes well.

Margaret K. McElderry

Mouseheart Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Simon & Schuster hadn’t been chintzy with the galleys of Mouseheart by Lisa Fielder, illustrated by Vivienne To.  Mind you, I never know if that’s going to be a good thing or a bad thing.  Publicists and librarians don’t always see eye-to-eye on the books that must receive the most information.  But I’ve shopped this one around with some librarians of my acquaintance and the responses have been positive.  Basically what we’re looking at here are battling rat tribes in Brooklyn.  Said one of my test case librarians, “I think both boys and girls will enjoy this new series and New Yorkers will perhaps enjoy waiting for the train more if they believe that nasty rat is actually Zucker fighting for his little rodent colony…maybe.”  Comparisons to Redwall and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH were made.  Not a bad pedigree by half.

ofmetalandwishes Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Aw, pfui. I’m not going to remember now.  You see, at the time that I heard about the YA novel Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine I realized that it was part of a funny little 2014 trend.  This year there are two books that are roughly based on Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.  Unfortunately I can’t remember what the other one is (50 points for anyone who knows).  Fine’s novel is a bit more oblique in its references, but sounds mighty interesting just the same.  Recommended for fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the book follows a girl whose wishes are granted by a ghost.  Sometimes brutally.  Lovely cover, no?

ThroughWoods 423x500 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

You know I’ve a real love and appreciation for graphic novels of any sort.  So when I saw Through the Woods by Emily Carroll I had high hopes that it would fall into my range.  Nope.  Not by half.  Straight up YA, this book sports five short stories, one of which was already published on the web.  The stories may indeed be good, but it’s the art that really sucks you in.  As Buzzfeed put it, it’s “The most inventively claustrophobic comic online.”  The interior images they included in our PowerPoint packet were enticing but honestly this was the one that sold the book to me right there.  I may have to crib from this line in the future.  Beautifully put:

ThroughWoods2 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Little Simon

BigBug Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

(Switching gears entirely) simple picture books with simple words that are actually well put together, interesting, and visually stimulating are as rare as figs in December.  Enter Big Bug by Henry Cole.  If nothing else this book is probably going to be a true contender for the ALA Geisel Award for simple text.  The book telegraphs backwards from a bug onward.  It starts out saying “Big bug” and it’s not wrong.  This ladybug looks huge.  But then we pan back and the text says “Little bug / Big leaf”.  Another turn of the page and it’s “Little leaf / Big flower.”  This continues in this fashion until we’ve zoomed out enough to zoom back in.  And, along the way, a kind of story is being told.  So basically this is a tale to teach perspective to the very young.  Do you now how hard that is to do?  Give this book a closer look.  It’s simplicity is just the tip of the iceberg.

RahRahRadishes Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

In other news, Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre is coming out as a board book.  And the people rejoiced en masse.

Beach Lane Books

IWishIHadaPet Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

It was just my bad luck that I had to take a phone call for the bulk of the Beach Lane Books presentation.  Doggone modern technology.  A real pity too since there were at least two books here that had certainly caught my eye.  The first was I Wish I Had a Pet by Maggie Rudy.  Rudy, I later had to learn, is an artist who has created these elaborate little mouse-related dioramas over the years (which you can see here).  Really, it was only a matter of time before someone offered her a book contract.  I recently did a Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL on the increase of photography in children’s books, and at one point there was some discussion made of artists who create models and photograph them.  Following in the near footsteps of Rebecca Dudley and her much lauded Hank Finds an Egg, Rudy gives the notion of pet ownership a very realistic feel, particularly when you consider the various pets that mice would have access to.  It’s a rather clever little piece.  Unique, to say the least.

DreamBoxes Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Another book I had really wanted to know more about was the latest from Jeanette Winter, Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes.  It just looks so cool.  Taking its cues from the life of Queens, NY resident Joseph Cornell, it’s a fun look at a self-taught artist who used found objects in his works.  This book focuses in particular on an exhibition he held in 1972 for the neighborhood children of his works.  It’s very simple, but a nice look at how everyday objects can become art.  A rather good complement to her previous book Henri’s Scissors, actually.  And it made me really hungry for some good brownies.


ExplosiveDiary Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

I’ve spoken at length about how 2014 has been doing somewhat better in the realm of getting kids of color on the covers of books.  Another trend I’ve noticed?  A distinct increase in math and science loving girls.  There’s Ruby Goldberg’s Bright Idea on the one hand and Annika Riz, Math Whiz, as well as a couple others that I’m not thinking of right now.  Eliza Boom: My Explosive Diary by Emily Gale, illustrated by Joelle Dreidemy follows in the same path.  You know what’s also interesting?  All these books are on the lower reading level of chapter books.  Very interesting indeed, eh?

Then we get to the very interesting rereleases.  When they presented Christopher Pike’s middle grade series Spooksville, I just assumed it was something new.  Thank goodness for the internet, eh?  Instead, I find that this is a delightful case of a publisher really and seriously giving some book jackets a serious upgrade.  Behold the befores and the afters.


SpooksvilleHowling1 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)


SpooksvilleHowling2 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)


SpooksvilleSecret1 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)


SpooksvilleSecret2 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Clearly the old series had a thing for floating female heads.

Then, in some very happy news, I can report to you that the White Mountains series by John Christopher is also getting a book jacket update.  Best of all, they’ve renamed the series entirely.  I know it was originally called “The White Mountains series” but all anyone ever calls it is “The Tripods series” anyway.  Here are some of the new covers:

Tripods1 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

WhiteMountains Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

PoolFire Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Tripods3 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

And for those of you in the ordering books business, the ISBNs are 9781481414821, 9781481414784, 9781481414807, and 9781481414760 (in that order).

Back in the day, the May Bird trilogy was critically acclaimed but never got sufficient attention from the kiddos.  Happily S&S is giving it a new lease on life with some lovely little book re-covers.  Like so:

MayBird2 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

MayBird1 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

MayBird3 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

I suspect Katniss Everdeen may have had something to do with cover #3 (not that the original skimped on the bow and arrow aspects at all).  ISBNs 9781442495777, 9781442495791, and 9780689869259 for those of you playing at home.

Finally, we come to Bruce Coville’s delightful My Teacher Is an Alien series.  I will spare those amongst you a great deal of pain by not mentioning how long ago the original series came out.  Indeed, the original covers speak for themselves:

MyTeacherAlien1 Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

That’s the old cover that got me to read the series when I was a kid.  No lie.  Now, once again, it’s seeing an update:

MyTeacherAlien Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

MyTeacherFried Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

Those are the only ones I could find online so far.  Presumably the other two in the series (My Teacher Glows in the Dark and My Teacher Flunked the Planet) are just a half step away.

Simon Pulse

Magnolia by Kristi Cook has many things to recommend it, I am certain.  I don’t pay too much attention to YA, I’ll admit.  But one thing I did pay attention to was this:

Magnolia Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

This hereby marks the very first time that a dress in my possession has appeared on a book jacket.  That red dress?  Yeah, I bought that about 8 years ago at H&M.  Only one piece of proof exists that I know of and it’s this teeny tiny picture of me, Jen Robinson, Jay Asher (before he was big), and Gregory K. at a blogger meet-up at ALA in Anahein years and years and years ago.  It’s tiny, but as you can see . . . same dress.

TinyProof Librarian Preview: Simon & Schuster (Summer 2014)

And on that name droppy note, that would be that.  Should you wish to peruse the Simon & Schuster catalog for those items I have failed to mention here, you may do so at this link:  http://catalog.simonandschuster.com/?cid=10868

Many thanks to S&S for inviting me. Happy reading!

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19. Press Release Fun: Eric Carle Museum Seeks Public Submissions

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Seeks Public Submissions for its

What’s Your Favorite Animal? Exhibition


(Amherst, MA—March 10, 2014) The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is creating a special exhibition to celebrate the new book, What’s Your Favorite Animal? by Eric Carle and Friends. The Museum will showcase the original work of the 14 published artists as well as a digital exhibition from friends from around the world.

The Museum is inviting people of all ages to submit a digital image of an original work of art depicting your own favorite animal. Submissions will be available on a digital screen in the gallery from April 8-August 31 and will be included in an online exhibition that will live on our museum’s blog. Those interested in sharing their favorite animals should submit high-resolution JPG images acceptable for viewing online. Submissions will be accepted from now until August 1, 2014.

“We are thrilled to welcome people’s favorite animal drawings,” says Alexandra Kennedy, executive director. “Since we have posted the project to our website, we have heard from people as far away as Italy. We look forward to welcoming people’s artwork and being able to showcase it with our friends around the world.”

All royalties from What’s Your Favorite Animal?, published by Holt and Company, benefit The Carle and its educational programs.

Submission Information

For submission instructions and guidelines, see www.carlemuseum.org (or for a direct link, go to http://carlemuseum.org/content/whats-your-favorite-animal-project).

About the Book

Published by Henry Holt and Company and released on January 21, 2014, What’s Your Favorite Animal? features distinctive illustration and imaginative answers to the classic question posed by its title. Contributors are Nick Bruel, Eric Carle, Lucy Cousins, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellogg, Jon Klassen, Tom Lichtenheld, Peter McCarty, Chris Raschka, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Erin Stead, Rosemary Wells, and Mo Willems. All royalties from the book will benefit The Carle and its educational programs.

The book has already gained acclaim from children’s book critics, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly. A review in Kirkus concludes: “This menagerie offers picture-book lovers of all ages a glimpse into each creator’s style, personality and brand of humor.” Stories range from the sentimental, like Rosemary Wells’ ode to her pet terrier, to the whimsical, such as Tom Lichtenheld’s poem about what to do when meeting a giraffe, to the downright absurd—Nick Bruel’s description of an octopus is rudely interrupted by his recurring character Bad Kitty.

“To see how each contributor answers the question in his or her own unique way is delightful and surprising and will surely inspire young readers to answer the question for themselves!” says Laura Godwin, vice president and publisher for Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. The “What’s Your Favorite Animal?” Project will surely reveal many colorful, creative, and wide-ranging answers from around the world.

            About the Museum

The mission of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a non-profit organization in Amherst, MA, is to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books. The only full-scale museum of its kind in the United States, The Carle collects, preserves, presents, and celebrates picture books and picture book illustrations from around the world. In addition to underscoring the cultural, historical, and artistic significance of picture books and their art form, The Carle offers educational programs that provide a foundation for arts integration and literacy. 

Eric and Barbara Carle founded the Museum in November 2002. Eric Carle is the renowned author and illustrator of more than 70 books, including the 1969 classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Since opening, the 40,000-square foot facility has served more than half a million visitors, including 30,000 schoolchildren. Its extensive resources include a collection of more than 10,000 picture book illustrations, three art galleries, an art studio, a theater, picture book and scholarly libraries, and educational programs for families, scholars, educators, and schoolchildren. Educational offerings include professional training for educators around the country. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 12 noon to 5 p.m. Open Mondays in July and August and during MA school vacation weeks. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for children under 18, and $22.50 for a family of four. For further information and directions, call 413-658-1100 or visit the Museum’s website at www.carlemuseum.org.

IMAGES ARE AVAILABLE FOR REPRODUCTION    For additional press information and/or images, please contact Sandy Soderberg, Marketing Manager (413) 658–1105 / sandys@carlemuseum.org


Sandy Soderberg

Marketing Manager


The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

125 West Bay Road

Amherst, MA  01002

t (413) 658-1105

f (413) 658-1139



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20. Always Bridesmaids, Never Brides: Caldecott Almosts

There is a phenomenon that I have detected in the wide world of Caldecott Awards.  A phenomenon to which one cannot ascribe blame, but rather occurs in a bubble outside of any logic or comprehension.  It’s something I’ve noticed for a little while but have never put a name to.

Inspiration for this post came when I was reading a recent PW report on the second gathering of Children’s Books Boston.  In the piece (called Why Did That Book Win?: A Children’s Books Boston Discussion) Vicky Smith said something about the newly minted Caldecott winner Brian Floca that I have been turning over in my mind ever since.  Quoth Smith: “He seemed to be a permanent bridesmaid.”  Which is to say, the kind of fellow who might win a Sibert once in a while, but that might, for whatever reason, never be granted the universe’s favor in terms of a shiny gold Caldecott.  When my heart was broken after Moonshot‘s failure to launch (so to speak) I confess I began to feel as Vicky did.  That no matter how brilliant the book, Floca might never attain the title of Caldecott Award winning illustrator.

Is it such a big deal to bemoan?  Consider, if you will the other “bridesmaids” who have never won a Caldecott proper and yet remain some of the brightest lights in the field. Our cannon of children’s books is full of folks who never were properly appreciated in their lifetime (James Marshall, anyone?).  Still, one cannot help but wonder why some of today’s folks, for all that we acknowledge their marvelous talents, never win.  Consider this post then an off-kilter combination of keening lament and high-stepping praise, declaring far and wide that the following folks are brilliant and if there were any justice in the universe (fun fact: there is not) they would each and every one of them be Caldecott Award winners in their own right.  To wit:

Jonathan Bean – He’s still relatively new in his career and he has lots of luscious time before we can truly write him off.  Building Our House was beloved of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards and his other books have certainly collected accolades.  I think we have not yet seen the last of Mr. Bean and his beautiful books.

Carin Berger – This one baffles me.  How is it that she hasn’t gotten any lovin’ from ALSC?  Consider, if you will, the splendor of her cut paper works.  The joyful beauty of Stardines Swim High Across the Sky.  If ever a cut paper / collage artist deserved it, she would.

Sophie Blackall – One wonders if Caldecott committees tend towards the element of surprise.  Consider recent winners and awards that went to debut artists.  It makes me wonder if, when an artist has a distinctive and easily identifiable style that doesn’t change, if that works against their favor.  Ms. Blackall did get creative with last year’s The Mighty Lalouche.  Ah well.

Bagram Ibatoulline – The mystery of Bagram Ibatoulline is perhaps the starkest case of bafflement I have.  There is not a soul alive who can look at his books and say that the man isn’t rife with talent.  Sometimes it isn’t a question of talent, though, but rather the artist finding the right project to match their prodigious skill (see: Kadir Nelson).  In the case of Mr. Ibatoulline, I thought that requirement had been met when he produced last year’s The Matchbox Diary with Paul Fleischman.  Consider the pedigree!  A Newbery Award winning author and an illustrator that can only be compared to someone like Robert Ingpen in terms of true skill.  Yet the 2014 Awards came and went and for Mr. Ibatoulline there were to be no shiny stickers or glorious 6 a.m. wake up calls.  Boggles the mind, it does.

Barbara McClintock – Another bafflement.  I adore her work.  My kiddo adores her work (truly that Gingerbread Man was a work of art).  She’s akin to Charles Vess or someone similar in terms of true skill.  So why does she never get any medals?  What about Adele and Simon?

Yuyi Morales – I’m not giving up on this one.  She’s brilliant and creative and her style changes all the friggin’ time.  Compare the soft focus of Little Night to the models in My Abuelita to the truly eclectic eye-popping poster style of Nino Wrestles the World.  This woman is a rip-roaring talent and at some point she’s going to get more than just a Pura Belpre Award or Honor (not that I don’t love those awards too, but how cool would it be if she won in both categories?).

Kadir Nelson – When they speak of artists that never win, they are usually referring to Kadir Nelson.  Fortunately the man is incredibly young and has plenty of time to get something shiny before his time on this earth fades to gray.  I truly and honestly believe that he just hasn’t found the right book for his art yet.  Time after time his art arrests the viewer’s eye but the text isn’t quite there.  His latest book Baby Bear aims to change all that.  We shall see.

LeUyen Pham – Still a bit peeved that her art on The Boy Who Loved Math didn’t get proper acclaim.  One would think that the mere fact that she managed to seamlessly incorporate math into the images would have garnered great love and shiny medals alone!  No such luck.  That’s okay.  She’ll get something at some point here.  I feel it in my bones.

Gennady Spirin – In case you were wondering, he lives in Princeton.  He, like Ibatoulline, is a case of me wondering if he’s just too good.  Too talented to ever get the award.  I mean, what would he have to do?  The art is so fascinating and beautiful that it practically screams to be recognized.

Who are your own favorite bridesmaids?  With any luck, by the time a year passes we’ll be able to knock a couple of these folks off the list, easy peasy.

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21. Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction Edition

newbery caldecott logos Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction EditionHappy St. Patrick’s Day!  Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again.  Just when you had a spare moment to catch your breath after all that award craziness, I come in with my wheelbarrow of 2015 predictions ready to dump them on your proverbial lap whether you want them or not.  And on a holiday that has NOTHING to do with children’s books at that!  How’s that for gall?  If I were to take a guess I’d say you weren’t crazy about the prospect of having to consider what is and is not “distinguished” so early in the year.  Well, I feel your pain but I just can’t restrain myself.  For evidence of my inability to restrain myself in other years see my lamentable predictions including:

2008 spring predictions: I get one Caldecott right (How I Learned Geography)

2009 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The (Mostly) True Adventures of Homer P Figg)

2010 spring predictions: I get one Newbery right (One Crazy Summer)

2011 spring predictions: I get one Newbery right (Inside Out and Back Again)

2012 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (The One and Only Ivan and Splendors and Glooms), and one Caldecott right (Green).  I’m getting better in my old age!  Woot!

2013 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (Doll Bones and One Came Home) and one Caldecott right (Mr. Wuffles).  That ties me with my previous year of three successes.  As you can see, I’m better on Newberys than Caldecotts.

And I know I say this every year, but this year is REALLY strong in terms of Newbery contenders.  I swear I haven’t seen this many potential Newbery books this early in the season in quite a while.  The Caldecott, in contrast, is a little more up in the air.  I have no idea where it’s going.  In any case, here’s what I suggest you might want to read sometime soon:

2015 Newbery Predictions

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

NightGardener Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction Edition

If Doll Bones taught us anything it’s that horror has a real shot at a major award when it’s paired with a larger, all-encompassing theme.  In this case, the relationship between lies and stories and how people use both as crutches with dealing with their own personal traumas.  Heavy stuff?  Not under Auxier’s hand.  I expect a fair amount of buzz to surround Auxier’s second title, and serious discussion at that.  There’s a lot to pick apart here.


Curiosity by Gary L. Blackwood

Curiosity Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction Edition

Back in 1998, Blackwood captured hearts and minds with The Shakespeare Stealer.  To this day it remains his best known work, and the title that has proved to have enough legs to keep it on countless summer reading lists every single year.  It’s been a long time, but I think we’ve finally found a Blackwood book that surpasses Shakespeare in quality and excitement.  Throwing everything and the kitchen sink into his narrative (phrenology, P.T. Barnum, automatons, Edgar Allan Poe, and a kid hunchback, just for starters) this is a fabulous historical fiction read that will keep readers turning page after page after page.  Definitely one to keep a very sharp eye on.


Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana

UpsideDownNowhere Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction Edition

A debut author, no less!  This may just be optimism on my part, but I recently finished Lamana’s book and I was quite taken with it.  I’ve read a LOT of Hurricane Katrina middle grade novels.  Almost all of them (though not the I Survived series title set there).  With the sole exception of Ninth Ward, almost all of them involve a boy and a dog.  Seriously.  Look at Zane and the Hurricane, Buddy, and Saint Louis Armstrong Beach if you don’t believe me.  So it was with great relief that I read one where the doggie presence was mercifully brief.  Lamana tackles the Hurricane from the perspective of a kid with a large family and the result is a book that slices you from throat to sternum, removes your heart, and throws it out the nearest 251th floor window.  Let’s just say my fellow subway riders weren’t quite prepared for the crazy pregnant woman sobbing (repeatedly) over this.  It’s not flawless, but I think it’ll make for some grand conversations.


The Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

NightingalesNest Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction Edition

We are definitely going to have a conversation about this book.  Maybe multiple conversations.  Maybe multiple conversations over the course of several months whereupon we pick apart, dissect, and generally go to town on what Loftin has accomplished here.  It’s a tough book but an interesting one, particularly when you take into consideration its magical realism elements.  I’m going to watch how others feel about it with great interest.  Honestly, it’s like nothing else I’ve seen in quite a while.


Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson

BoysBlur Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction Edition

Beowulf for kids.  Do I have your attention?  Because I should probably clarify that while what I just said is 100% accurate, this is just as clearly a zombie novel set in a Floridian swamp.  Wilson has always flirted with big subjects and his remarkable Leepike Ridge went inexplicably unnoticed for all that it was Odysseus modernized.  Boys of Blur is a tidbit more obvious with its references (it actually comes out and talks about Beowulf from time to time) but also unafraid to tie big ideas into exciting premises.  There’s as much internal strife in our young hero as he deals with his abusive father’s hometown as there are flesh-eating Grens.  Your eyes should be closely trained on this one.


2015 Caldecott Predictions

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth

HiKoo Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction Edition

Muth is back and he went all adorable on us when we weren’t looking.  Sometimes the safest way to try and predict something as elusive as the Caldecott Award is to look at previous winners.  Certainly Muth did well back in the day with his 2006 Caldecott Honor winner Zen Shorts.  In this book he puts a clever twist on the only haiku format, favoring feeling over form (with understandable reasons behind both).  I could easily see this one getting an Honor this time around.


Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

ThreeBearsBoat Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction Edition

My own personal favorite, I confess.  For all the hundreds of picture books I’ve already read this year (lunch time is picture book reading time where I work) few take my breath away.  This is one of the few.  Soman’s ability to hone water to his liking will leave you dumbstruck.  A good story and killer art make this one of my top picks.


Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk

GrandfatherGandhi 478x500 Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction Edition

You know what I was chanting to myself as I looked up the information about this one?  I believe it was something along the lines of “Please let Evan Turk live in America.  Please please please let him live in America.”  This is because I desperately wanted him to be eligible for the award.  And guess what?  Not only does he live in the U.S. but he’s a local!  A New York City resident (more info here, in case you’re curious).  We’re already seeing some marvelous picture book biographies and works of nonfiction this year, Turk’s art elevates what was already a pretty cool story.  It’s not just the fact that it’s hugely accomplished.  Turk manages to weave in materials and elements that bring to mind books like When Sophie Gets Angry . . . Really Really Angry (not something you’d usually say about a nonfiction text).  Hugely rewarding to read, this one’s a keeper.  Bear it in mind.


Firefly July and Other Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

FireflyJuly Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Spring Prediction Edition

If the Caldecott Honor win of Red Sings From Treetops is any indication, Caldecott committees love them their seasonal poetry.  Add in the artistry of Melissa Sweet and you’ve got yourself a winner.  Sweet made a surprise Caldecott Honor win a couple years ago when she illustrated the William Carlos Williams book A River of Words for Eerdmans.  Since that time she’s been snatched up by all the big publishers, but her books (while always beautiful and well done) haven’t quite had the oomph to push her back into Caldecott territory.  Perhaps it’s poetry that makes for her finest fits.  Whatever the case, if you want to see Sweet at her best, this is the book to watch.

So cough it up.  You may have some favorites of your own, this early in the game.  Anything I should be reading that I haven’t gotten to yet?

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22. Review of the Day – Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko

FireflyJuly 257x300 Review of the Day   Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. JaneczkoFirefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Candlewick Press
ISBN: 978-0-7636-4842-8
Ages 4-8
On shelves now

Is reviewing works of poetry essentially a ridiculous thing to attempt? I’m not trying to be facetious or anything, I honestly want to know. It took me a long time to appreciate poetry on any level, but when I did I was able to come to it understanding that its closest relative in the arts world is music. Music that a person enjoys is a deeply personal experience. Only you can replicate the feelings and emotions that certain combinations of notes inspire. By the same token, poetry should be purely a one-on-one experience. And part of the job of books of collected poems for kids is to get each child reader to find that one poem that speaks to them. Maybe if they find one, just one, that hits home then that person will seek out other poems. Maybe it’ll expand their little minds, lead them to modes of thought they might not have reached otherwise. If the ultimate goal of children’s poetry is simply to inspire in kids a love of words and wordplay, then critiquing books that seek to do that is a uniquely difficult proposition. I mean, how can you judge something that’s so subjective? The best that you can do is simply determine if the poems in a collection are good, put together in a logical way, and worthwhile reading. And in the case of Firefly July the answer to all three of those queries is yes and yes and you betcha.

Four seasons yield 36 poems. Selected by children’s poet Paul B. Janeczko, Firefly July slowly introduces each time of year with gentle, short verses that lure you in. Each poem highlights a different element of the season, whether it’s a cat stalking through the daisies in the summer or winter wind “tearing itself to shreds / On bared-wire fences.” A pleasing mix of canon poets (Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, etc.) and canon children’s poets (Charlotte Zolotow, J. Patrick Lewis, James Stevenson, etc.) the book touches lightly on those elements that make a season memorable. With illustrator Melissa Sweet’s interpretations of each poem in tow, this collection proves to be the kind of book of poetry no library or poetry-minded household can seriously be without.

FireflyJuly2 258x300 Review of the Day   Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. JaneczkoLike I said before, so much of critiquing poetry is subjective. So on an entirely personal level, I can at least tell you that I didn’t really begin to warm up to these poems (no pun intended) until we hit the Summer section. Nothing against the Spring, mind you. It’s there that you’ll find a lot of the old standards like the William Carlos Williams poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”. But Summer proved a lovely surprise. Langston Hughes waxing eloquent on “Subway Rush Hour” followed by Joyce Sidman’s lovely “A Happy Meeting” (which conjures up memories of the e.e. cummings poem “in Just”) and then the titular “Firefly July” by J. Patrick Lewis (which really does deserve to have its name appropriated for the title of this book) combine to give one a true, rounded sense of the season. Teachers and parents would do well to read this book to kids and then ask them what their favorite season is. Mine now appears to be summer. Who knew?

The real advantage to this book is in the subtitle. “A Year of Very Short Poems”. Though I struggle in vain to find the right way to sell my poetry collection in months other than April, I can’t help but think that maybe size does matter. Books containing long and lengthy poems (like the delightful A Pond Full of Ink by Annie M.G. Schmidt) will be ideal for the already indoctrinated, but if you’re trying to lure in the poetry shy, short is the way to go. Short and sweet. And brother, it hardly gets any sweeter than this.

Melissa Sweet’s art was an interesting choice as illustrator. It makes sense when you think about it. After all, her Caldecott Honor was bestowed upon the picture book biography of poet William Carlos Williams A River of Words. In this book she is the sole artist interpreting these various works. There are no head scratching moments. No times when you feel as though she’s taking advantage of her position as the illustrator. She switches vantage points and views consistently as well, keeping the viewer awake and interested. Of all the pages, my favorite Sweet was the two-page spread accompanying Carl Sandburg’s poem “Window”. There, panel after panel after panel show scenes from a railway car looking at the countryside. Later, Ted Kooser’s “Snow Fence” contains the striking image of crows perched on a simple red fence set against the pure white drifts. One might argue that Sweet takes few risks with this book but if I’m going to trade in beauty for risk, I figure that’s a pretty fair deal.

FireflyJuly3 257x300 Review of the Day   Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. JaneczkoAs I am a librarian and not a teacher I don’t usually think up classroom applications for books when I read them. Firefly July proves to be the exception to the rule. Reading this book I could imagine all sort of interesting uses. For example, teachers might want to actually revive an old school standard and have the kids in their classroom memorize one of these poems for recitation type purposes. We’ve seen some books collect poems for this very specific purpose (see: Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart, selected by Mary Ann Hoberman) but in this particular case I think the quality of the selections recommend it highly. There is, after all, no better way to learn a poem heart, body, and soul than to incessantly read it over and over and over again.

With its pedigree in place it’s little wonder that Firefly July entranced me as much as it did. I don’t consider myself a poetry connoisseur so it takes something special to break through to me as much as this book did. I still maintain that reading poems of any sort is a personal business and that what suits the goose will never do for the gander. That said, for a work of introductory poems specially selected so as to calm and comfort the reluctant poetry reader, Firefly July ain’t a bad way to go. Lulling and lovely, there’s something for everyone inside. All you have to do is just give it a chance.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Misc: Jules Danielson considers the book at her Kirkus blog.

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23. Press Release Fun: The CBC and the 2014 Children’s Choice Book Awards

CBC Press Release Fun: The CBC and the 2014 Childrens Choice Book AwardsAs some of you may have heard, the Children’s Book Council has recently been answering a lot of questions about their Children’s Choice Book Awards recently.  More specifically, the fact that their Author of the Year category includes one Rush Limbaugh.  I’d first heard about this on the child_lit listserv where questions and concerns were raised.  In the end, it appears that the CBC’s hands are somewhat tied by their own rules.  They have to consider the top selling authors for this award, regardless of whether or not that author’s sales are boosted in some way.  All this has lead the children’s literature community, for the most part, coming to the conclusion that next year these rules should be examined very closely and perhaps amended.  Whatever the case, they have responded publicly to the concerns, and created this press release to clear up any confusion.  I am including it here now for your perusal.

Dear children’s literature community –

We at the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader sincerely appreciate your concerns about this year’s Children’s Choice Book Awards, and wanted to take a moment to clear up some confusion.

First, our finalist selection process for the past 7 years of the program, always posted here on bookweekonline.com, has been exactly the same. The Children’s Choice Book Awards comprises 6 categories: Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year, Third to Fourth Grade Book of the Year, Fifth to Sixth Grade Book of the Year, Teen Book of the Year, Author of the Year, and Illustrator of the Year.

The finalists for the K-2, 3-4, and 5-6 Book of the Year categories are all selected by kids through the IRA-CBC Children’s Choices Program.

Teen Book of the Year finalists are chosen by teens through voting on Teenreads.com.

The Author of the Year and Illustrator of the Year finalists are determined solely based on titles’ performances on the bestseller lists – all titles in those categories are listed as a result of this protocol. Some of you have voiced concerns over the selection of finalists from bestseller lists, which you feel are potentially-manipulable indications of the success of a title. We can take this into consideration going forward, but cannot change our procedure for selecting finalists after the fact.

Ultimately, kids and teens (over one million of them if as many vote this year as did last year) will decide who wins in all 6 Children’s Choice Book Awards categories on May 14, so encourage them to vote starting March 25 at ccbookawards.com. We have procedures in place to eliminate duplicate, fake, and adult votes during the voting period as much as possible.

This program has never been about CBC or ECAR endorsing finalists. It has always been about CBC and ECAR endorsing young readers and giving them a choice and a voice on a national scale.

If you have further questions or concerns about the program, we are happy to discuss them with you. Please contact us directly at cbc.info@cbcbooks.org.

All best,

The CBC and Every Child a Reader



The Children’s Book Council (CBC) is the national nonprofit trade association of children’s book publishers, dedicated to supporting and informing the industry and fostering literacy. The CBC offers children’s publishers the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the industry at large, including educational programming, literacy advocacy, and collaborations with other national organizations. The CBC is the anchor sponsor of Children’s Book Week.

Every Child a Reader (ECAR) is a 501(c)(3) literacy organization dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of reading in children. ECAR creates and supports programs that: strive to make the reading and enjoyment of children’s books an essential part of America’s educational and social aims; enhance public perception of the importance of reading. ECAR’s national programs include Children’s Book Week, a nationwide celebration of books and reading, and the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country; the Children’s Choice Book Awards, the only national book awards program where the winning titles are selected by kids and teens of all ages; and the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Program, the country’s “Children’s Literature Laureate”.

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24. Fusenews: Abundant Smart Cookies

Oh, what fun we shall have now that the weather is better.  Here in New York spring sprang yesterday and all the New Yorkers, as one, exhaled in relief.  We are perfectly aware that it can’t last (can anything?) but we’re enjoying it while we can.  So sit back and glue your eyes to a computer screen instead of enjoying the respite.  Unless you have outdoor wi-fi, of course.  Then go wild.

  • MyersTimes 300x292 Fusenews: Abundant Smart CookiesI don’t think I can go any further without bringing up the dual Myers pieces in the Times this past Sunday.  As Walter Dean Myers says in his article Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?, “There is work to be done”.  That may be so, and certainly we’re hardly at a reasonable level, but I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve seen in 2014.  As I mentioned in an earlier post this year, I’m already seeing an uptick in the number of African-American kids not just in books but on the covers as well.  Then I looked at Scholastic’s fall list and saw five different middle grade novels with black kids front and center.  Five is nice, but that hardly means we’re out of the woods.  Note that Walter Dean Myers wrote a somewhat similar piece for the Times in 1986 called I Actually Thought We Would Revolutionize the Industry (thanks to Debbie Reese for the heads up).  In it he basically says that there were only 450 books on the black industry in the mid-80s.  One shudders to think what the number is at this precise moment in time.  Oh wait.  According to the CCBC it’s 93.  Now go read The Apartheid of Children’s Literature by Chris Myers and think upon that a bit.
  • I don’t like to pick favorites, but if I had to select my favorite blog post from the last few days, the vote would have to go wholeheartedly to the 100 Scope Notes piece The 33%: 2014 Books from Newbery Winners.  The premise is simple.  After doing the math Travis determined that a full 33% of Newbery winners go on to win again.  He then goes the logical next step and collects all the middle grade novels out this year by previous winners.  There was stuff I had no idea about in there (a new Christopher Paul Curtis?!?!).  Required reading of the day then.
  • New list time!  So it would seem that the National Science Teachers Association has come up with their list called Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12: 2014 (Books published in 2013).  Not a common topic but a necessary one.  I was happy to see a lot of favorites on there.  Well done, winners!  Now go ye, my pretties, and spread this info to every science teacher struggling with Common Core that you know.  Thanks to Amie Wright for the link.
  • Speaking of lists, the site List Challenges came up with their 50 Best Books for Kids.  I was all set to pooh-pooh it when I saw they’d included Anna Hibiscus AND The Arrival.  Shoot.  They did their homework really well.  I’ve read all but two (and it won’t be the two you think).  How did you do?
  • Meanwhile, it’s an interesting list and well worth looking at.  They’ve released the contenders for the 2014 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award.  Lots of good books there, but you probably know who I’ll be supporting.  It’s a tough call but I’m Team Unicorn.  Go team!

TreatiesTrenches 224x300 Fusenews: Abundant Smart CookiesThis has absolutely nothing to do with anything else, aside from the fact that everyone’s clamoring for children’s books on WWI this year thanks to the 100 year anniversary.  With that in mind, here’s a sense of what it would have looked like If WWI Was a Bar Fight.  Or you can just do what I’m doing and wait for the latest Nathan Hale book Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood.  Can’t wait to see that one!

Utterly fascinating piece in Arcade this week equating the changes happening at the main branch of NYPL with the movie Ghostbusters.  It’s not as nutty as it sounds.  Check out Para-Library Science at the NYPL if you don’t believe me.

  • Then, to wash the academe from your gray cells, you can read eharmony’s 15 Reasons to Date a Librarian.  It’s a rather optimistic view of our profession (while I would love to believe that we ALL have predictable hours . . .) but still cute.  Thanks to Amie for the link.
  • Man, that Marjorie Ingall’s one smart cookie.  She watches that new Neil DeGrasse Tyson show Cosmos and what does she do?  She comes up with a complimentary reading list for kids.  That is how you DO IT, people!
  • Daily Image:

If you haven’t seen this already then I’d like you to guess as to the identity of this children’s book author dressed up as his favorite children’s book character.

GaimanBadger 500x500 Fusenews: Abundant Smart Cookies

A hint: The character is Badger from The Wind in the Willows. And no. This isn’t Alice Cooper.  *pictures what an Alice Cooper children’s book might consist of* The answer is here.

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25. Video Sunday: And to think . . .

And here I thought that Dr. Seuss films began with The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T and those short animated specials and ended with stuff like the CGI fests we’re seeing in theaters practically every year.  Not so!  Good old stop-animation also has had a hand in Seuss’s silver screen career.  Interestingly, this is the only film version (that I know of) of And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street.

And To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street by CarlStallingEnthusiast

Fun Fact: Beatrix Potter was a fan of the book.  Thanks so much to Phil Nel for the link!

So the official trailer for The Giver movie came out.  Like so:

Two words: Ruh-roh.  Or is that one word?  Hm.  By the way, 100 points to the first person who makes a mock version of this video with the title “The Giver Tree”.  I will honestly and truly send you a cookie if you make that thing.  Scout’s honor.

So a couple weeks ago we were watching the Oscars and I was happy to find that all the nominated songs were interesting and good.  But I’ll confess to you that the one that interested me the least was the U2 song.  I’m just not a U2 girl.  Joshua Tree lovers, pelt me with your stones at will.  But wait!  Hold fast your flying rocks because I just discovered a fascinating fact.  Actually someone that I’ve now forgotten (someone at a dinner, I suspect) shared this with me very recently.  If you watch the music video for the U2 song “Ordinary Love” you will find that all the writing in it (and there’s a lot) looks a bit familiar.  Know why?  Bloody blooming Oliver Jeffers did it!  I kid you not!  Wowie-zowie.  An honest-to-goodness kidlit connection.

This man may have the most famous handwriting in the business today.

Now I’m about to go all adorable on you.  Or rather, these kindergartners are.  You may recall that a year or so ago I presented a video created by Arturo Avina and his kindergarten class from LAUSD’s Olympic Primary Center.  They had adapted Miss Nelson Is Missing and it was a great look at how you can combine digital technology, reading skills, and literature into a project.  Well, Arturo wrote me recently to let me know the sequel was out.  You betcha.  It’s Miss Nelson Is Back.  Check it out:

Says Arturo, “At first, I was skeptical about how this class would tackle it because they did not come in as high academically as last year’s class.  However, a beautiful thing happened.  When my students saw what last year’s class did, they wanted to do the same, and as a result, they stepped up to the plate and succeeded…in spades.  I am particularly proud of this class because they did not start off in third base like last year’s class.  They started off at home plate and hit a home run.The reaction to our movie has been enthusiastically positive by all who have watched it so far. At this point, several parents and teachers have contacted me to let me know that their kids absolutely LOVE it!   It is still my hope that teachers, parents, and kids are entertained by our efforts and hopefully encouraged to blend more dramatic arts into literacy activities. We also hope that this can be used a resource in the classroom.  We poured an incredible about of work and love into our project, and it is with great joy and pride that we present it to the world.”

Thank you for sharing this with us, Arturo!  You have some seriously amazing actors on your hands.  Hollywood, take note.

And since we were already talking about the Oscar nominated songs earlier, might as well play this.  It’s the fun little video all your 10-year-old daughters have already seen featuring Idina Menzel, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots.  Just cuz.

By the way, is it fair to say that Idina Menzel has spent most of her working career the idol of 12-year-old girls?  Other folks too, but to go from Rent to Wicked to Frozen . . . well, it’s impressive.


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