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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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In terms of folks who share my birthday today, it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand I got Shakespeare. So . . . y’know. That’s nice. By the same token 4/23 was the reported date of the death of Cervantes. On the other hand, I share my birthday with President James Buchanan. Oog. But then I also got Shirley Temple and Vladimir Nabokov. Now THERE is a pairing for you!
So if we’re going to do this correctly we need to have something properly Shakespearean to celebrate today. I suggest that you head on over to this site and read a version of The Hokey Pokey as written by the man in question. It’s worth it alone for the line “Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.”
But wait! There’s more! Unless I much miss my guess tonight also is World Book Night. What is it, you might ask? Well, according to their website it says:
World Book Night is an annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person. Each year on April 23, tens of thousands of people go out into their communities and give half a million free World Book Night paperbacks to light and non-readers.
World Book Night is about giving books and encouraging reading in those who don’t regularly do so. But it is also about more than that: It’s about people, communities and connections, about reaching out to others and touching lives in the simplest of ways—through the sharing of stories.
World Book Night is a nonprofit organization. We exist because of the support of thousands of book givers, booksellers, librarians, and financial supporters who believe in our mission. Successfully launched in the U.K. in 2011, World Book Night was first celebrated in the U.S. in 2012. Thank you to our U.K. friends for such a wonderful idea!
So there you go! If you do nothing else today, just give somebody a book. As the bard might have said, ’tis what it’s all about.
I don’t always blog the auctions I see online, but sometimes the cause is good and the timing is right. Recently the right good honorable LeUyen Pham emailed me about an auction of children’s book art that sounds, in a word, fan-freaking-tastic. Said she:
Fellow illustrator and artist-who’s-work-i-totally-love CARSON ELLIS has put together an online auction of some incredible artists! Please please please go online and make a bid for some of these pieces! The artist list reads like a who’s-who in the world of children’s art, and some of this stuff you’ll never be able to find anywhere. And it’s all for a great cause — Victory Academy, a school for autistic children in Oregon.
List of artist and link follows:
MARLA FRAZEE * JEN CORACE * LEUYEN PHAM * NIKKI MCCLURE * JON KLASSEN * ADAM REX * ELEANOR DAVIS * LAURA PARK * ROMAN MURADOV * HEATHER ROSS * GILBERT FORD * MATT MYERS * SOPHIE BLACKALL * LISA BROWN * MELISSA GUION * DIANA SUDYKA * LANE SMITH * CHRIS TURNHAM * CHUCK GROENINK * CARIN BERGER * MO WILLEMS * GREG PIZZOLI * MARIA VAN LIESHOUT * JOANNA NEBORSKY * CARSON ELLIS
She ain’t wrong. Trouble is, it all ends on Thursday so you’ve very little time to go. Just to give you a taste, here are some of the beauties I’ve seen there:
Why yes. That is original Clementine art by Marla Frazee. Why do you ask?
Interestingly, my kiddo discovered Little Hoot before she discovered Little Pea. So you can imagine how tempting owning the original art might be to me.
I don’t have to tell you that there’s a movie of The True Meaning of Smekday on the very near horizon. But it wouldn’t hurt to own some original art from said book. Just sayin’.
Plus there are a bunch of folks willing to do commissioned pet or people portraits. So go! Scoot! Flee! Get that stuff up and feel virtuous in the process.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza
By James Kochalka
First Second (an imprint of Roaring Brook)
On shelves now
James Kochalka has always had a penchant for the outright silly. If nothing else his Johnny Boo series of books have said as much. He’s not afraid to go for the obvious gag, but at the same time his sheer willingness to get ridiculous sort of becomes his strength. I picked up The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza uncertain if it would be honestly funny or just trying too hard, and you know what? There was more than one time I thought this book was actually, honestly really funny. It’s the kind of funny best appreciated by younger kids too. Your Captain Underpants / Junie B. Jones crowd. Humor is, admittedly, so completely subjective that adults have a hard time remembering what it’s like to be a kid and to find just the most ridiculous thing in a story freakin’ hilarious. But reading about The Glorkian Warrior I couldn’t help but feel like this was one book where Kochalka really put his finger down firmly on the pulse of kid-humor. Nothing against Johnny Boo or any of his other funny books over the years but with The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza I feel like the man has finally hit his stride. His funniest and most ambitious bit of space-based lunacy to date.
It’s a slow day for The Glorkian Warrior. No amazing adventures on the horizon. Nothing much going on. And though his Super Backpack is bugging him to go out and do something heroic, until the Emergency Space Phone rings our hero is out of ideas. Turns out the phone call is from someone ordering a pepperoni pizza and, not one to back down from a challenge, our Warrior sets off to complete this mission. Granted, the only pizza he has in his possession is the partially eaten peanut butter and clam concoction in his fridge. And granted, nothing seems to go according to plan. But between busting up his Supercar, blowing up a little bully (don’t worry, he’s not hurt), acquiring a baby space cat head sucker thing, and encountering a Magic Robot capable of mucking up time itself, it’s all in a day’s work for The Glorkian Warrior and his newfound pals.
I’m not one of those children’s librarians that claims to have the sense of humor of a 9-year-old kid. There are folks out there that can say this in perfect seriousness and though I do understand where they’re coming from, it’s not really my thing. After all, there are some works of children’s literature that just baffle me with their popularity. That said, I found myself grudgingly really liking what Kochalka was doing here. It’s no mean feat to create an honest-to-goodness quest novel that fills itself from tip to toe full of silliness. The tone in this book is also consistent throughout. It has a clear vision, even if the reader does not, and even manages at the last minute to pull a little surprise coup on the reader. So while it will not be to every adult’s taste, I have absolutely zippo problem with the kiddos picking it up. Heck, I’ll be recommending it to them myself. This is for the kid who wants something along the lines of Adventure Time but without the existential philosophy.
Not that there wasn’t at least one element that struck me as particularly fascinating. Put a little time travel into a book and you’ll find folks like myself examining it from every angle, no matter how silly it is, for inconsistencies. I’ll repeat that. I, a 35-year-old woman, read a children’s graphic novel called The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza and when I hit on the time travel aspect I looked for mistakes. Just put that in your pipe and smoke it for a while. For me, the only possible problem I could come up with was the fact that if The Glorkian Warrior called himself to order the pizza, why did he call his own number thinking it was a pizza delivery place? So, yeah. Continuity-wise it’s a bit shaky, but honestly if that’s what you take away from the book you’re probably looking at it from the wrong angle anyway. Besides, I love the philosophical quandary of how The Glorkian Warrior learned about the existence of pepperoni pizza from himself rather than some outside source.
You can’t help but love a book where the Don Quixote of space is accompanied by a Sancho Panza-like talking backpack. And yes, it’ll get its own fair share of objections from various quarters. Not every parent will get it, but it’s awfully hard to find anything to object to here. It hasn’t the scatological warning signs of a Captain Underpants or the “bad” language / “bad” attitude of a Junie B. Jones. Instead it’s just a good-natured tale of a dumbo making a date with destiny. It’s not going to blow you away with its insights into the nature of humanity itself, nor would it want to. It’s just here to make kids laugh. And honestly, we could do with a couple more books along those lines these days.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- Meanwhile by Jason Shiga – Not to give anything away, but Shiga does some pretty similar things with time travel in his book with similarly goofy results. The tone of the two books is also quite similar.
- Fangbone! Third Grade Barbarian by Michael Rex – I’m sort of seeking out the silliest/goofiest of graphic novels, all operating under their own internal logic, to pair with Kochalka’s latest. Fangbone is a much smarter character, but that doesn’t prevent him from running headlong into danger ala our pizza delivery boy here.
- Astronaut Academy by Dave Roman – Because if we’re talking peculiar space-based graphic novels with their perfect little ridiculous worlds, you can’t do any better than this.
Other Blog Reviews:
Other Reviews: Boing Boing
- Read the first three chapters of the book here!
- Check out the alternate sketches for the cover of this book over here at Tor.com. Then you can continue to read the book online here.
Oh. And yes. It has its own app. Makes absolutely perfect sense. Sort of Centipede-ish (a statement that perfectly solidifies where in history my understanding of video games began and ended).
You know when you make a friend who works in a different field than you and then, in time, your mutual interests come together? Years ago my friend Katie married a talented composer by the name of Haddon Kime. Haddon was kind enough to create the opening music of my short lived podcast and then that was that. Now years have passed and the man behind the music and lyrics of the kick arse punk rock version of The Snow Queen (good timing with Frozen and all, eh?) is coming to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Woo-hoo! Couldn’t be happier for everyone involved.
Additional Productions and Readings Announced for 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival
By Michael Gioia
14 Apr 2014
The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) has announced additional productions and readings for its 2014 Festival, which will run July 7-27.
“We were fortunate to have a bumper crop of very high quality shows this year,” said NYMF executive director and producer Dan Markley in a statement. “Whether it’s your first time at the Festival or you’ve been joining us for years, you’re in for a great musical theatre experience in July.”
The 2014 Festival’s productions will be housed at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre and the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street) as well as other venues to be announced.
“NYMF audiences will have a chance to experience a wide range of stories told in fresh and inventive ways for a contemporary audience, from a steam-punk inspired Hans Christian Andersen tale for a family audience, to an R&B infused depiction of the lives of Sally Hemings and Marie Antoinette,” added director of programming Mary Kate Burke.
Memberships for the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival are on sale, and members can book tickets beginning June 2. Single tickets will go on sale June 16. To purchase a membership, visit NYMF.org/Member.
Newly announced productions follow:
The Snow Queen Book by Kirsten Brandt and Rick Lombardo
Music by Haddon Kime, lyrics by Kirsten Brandt, Haddon Kime and Rick Lombardo
Additional music by Rick Lombardo
“Be spirited away by this new musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fantastical coming-of-age adventure. Join Gerda on a dangerous and whimsical quest to save her best friend Kai before he is trapped forever in the Snow Queen’s palace. Dare to enter a world where flowers sing, animals talk, and riddles yearn to be solved. With an original pop rock score, alluring ballads, urban steam punk flair, and the enigmatic Snow Queen, you’ll soon see this is not your average bedtime story.”
You can follow the production on Twitter at @SnowQueenShow. And here’s a video from the production, in case you’re curious:
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- So what’s the talk of the town these days? Well the relative brouhaha came about at the end of last week when ReedPOP announced a panel of “the world’s biggest children’s authors” in the field. That the luminaries in question were all white and male struck a raw nerve with a whole slew of folks. Since that moment there’s been some fancy footwork and a promise to add some additional folks. The solution is ludicrously simple, of course. If the gist of the grouping is to have the top selling authors of books for kids then just grab Rachel Renee Russell and ask her to join. The fact that she isn’t tapped for more panels has always struck me as odd.
- I am not immune to professional jealousy. Wish that I was. Fortunately, most of the time I am able to convert the green eyed monster into genuine fascination and interest (much, I’m sure, to the discomfort of the people I’m suddenly obsessed with). Take this week’s example: One Margaret H. Willison. I was listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour, a podcast I like quite a lot in spite of the fact that they can’t tell YA fiction from MG. Anywho, they have a children’s librarian that they love very very much. Ms. Willison has been a longstanding fan of theirs and Stephen Thompson mentioned that she was on track to be the next Nancy Pearl of children’s books. Oh aye! So I checked her out and she did a NPR piece called 3 Bedtime Picture Books That Won’t Put Parents to Sleep. Excellent choices one and all. She’s one to watch then.
- This news made me inordinately happy recently. The Multnomah County Library System and the Seattle Public Library went head to head in an all out reference battle. The question? Who could answer the most book recommendation queries via Twitter? And I am happy to report that Portland (where the Multnomah system lives) won all the way!! Way to go, you literary denizens you. Thanks to AL Direct for the link.
- Recently a new library opened up at NYU. Called the Georgiou Library and Resource Center for Children and Literature the site will do a lot of outreach to the community as well as operate as a research facility. Its librarian is the multi-talented Kendra Tyson and the collection, “contains several categories of children’s literature, including counting books, fairy tales, poetry, biography, and holiday books. It also houses Mother Goose books geared for African, Chinese and Russian audiences, bi-lingual counting books, and the Metropolitan Museum’s of Art’s Museum ABC (Little Brown, 2002), which portrays a range of world cultures through its collections.” I was lucky enough to attend a small event for the library recently and in the course realized that there are other similar collections out there that I just don’t know well enough. Like the Cotsen Children’s Library, for example. Some of you will nod sagely and murmur “of course” when I mention it but to me I was ashamed to discover that not only are they the Princeton children’s library but they maintain these FABULOUS blogs! The Cotsen Children’s Library blog is updated quite regularly and the Pop Goes the Page is maybe the best arts & crafts for library programs blog I’ve witnessed in a very long time. They’ve also archived a variety of different interviews with children’s authors called The Bibliofiles that are well worth finding too. Man. That would be the life working at either of these libraries, am I right?
- Good old, ShelfTalker. I love it when they list a whole slew of their favorite first lines of 2014. And in the process I discovered at least one book that I hadn’t even heard of until I read its line. Bonus!
- You know what? Fair play to Mackenzie Kruvant. There she is at Buzzfeed, slaving away with such pieces as “Which Sex And The City Guy Is Your Soulmate?” but often she’ll come up with a really good children’s literature piece. Example: 15 Adorable Children’s Books For Your Little Architect . Perhaps she got some help from a librarian somewhere to write it, but if she didn’t then it’s a pretty darn good encapsulation of what’s out there. Well played, madam.
NYPL likes it when I blog on their site from time to time, so I’ll tend to do pieces I wouldn’t normally do here. Case in point, recently I did the post Make ‘Em Laugh: Gut-Busting Picture Books That’ll Have ‘Em Rolling in the Aisles. I really try to give attention to funny picture books when they come out. And though I didn’t mention them in the piece (I only included stuff you could currently check out of the collection) if I were to put that post here I’d be sure to include the 2014 titles Big Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (without a doubt their best work to date) and Monkey Goes Bananas by C. P. Bloom and Peter Raymundo. Both books are danged funny. If I make a funny picture book prize this year, they will both be up for serious contention.
A friend on mine on Facebook mentioned that he had a 12-year-old in his branch who was interested in Socialism and did we have any books to recommend? Naturally my thoughts turned to Little Rebels, but that’s a lot of picture books (many of which are out of print). Fortunately marxists.org (!) has a booklist of its own. Say they, “This is the start of an ongoing broad bibliography of children’s literature for MIA with title first, divided by age range and fiction/non-fiction. Some of these books were written to be expressly radical, and others need a stretch to find political implications. Compiled by Sally Ryan.” Cool.
- Hey, remember when I mentioned that I’d interviewed Deborah Underwood about her amazing Bad Bye, Good Bye? I got a little confused about when it was going to post but now, happily, it is up up up! If you ever wanted to know the ins and outs of writing a rhyming picture book, you are indeed lucky.
- Got a little confused with the headline on this one, but as it happens it has absolutely nothing to do with the bookstore Books of Wonder here in NYC. No, this little article is instead about a cool new collection within the Toronto Public Library. Its full name is “The IBBY Collection of Books for Young People with Disabilities”. Say they: “As its official name indicates, this collection comes from IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People. The IBBY collection features more than 3000 multilingual books in sign language, Braille, Blissymbolics, as well as cloth and tactile books and other formats — all for and about children and teens with disabilities.” I’m downright envious again. Thanks to Deb Pearson for the link.
- In the world of book awards we’ve two to consider today. The Eisner Award nominations came out and I see a lot of familiar faces in the youth category. Meanwhile the Minnesota Book Awards were announced and you might be surprised to discover some of the winners.
- Whenever someone asks adult authors to name the children’s books that inspired them there is a danger of the books being the same old, same old. That’s part of the reason I like this post from World Literature Today. Yes, there are some rote choices, but there are also some really obscure titles. The Summerfolk by Doris Burn? The Three Fat Men by Yuri Olesha? Tim and the Hidden People by Sheila K. McKullagh?!? Wowza. Thanks to Mom for the link.
Good news, poppins. Today you have a chance to buy cool things and be a good person in the process. And just in time for my incipient birthday too! The site Out of Print has been killing it in the library-chic neighborhood. Observe the cool things that there are to buy:
Mom, Kate, I will happily take that iPhone case. Wouldn’t say no to any of those baby onesies, for that matter.
Now, how does buying this stuff make you a good person? Well, it seems the site is THIS WEEK (it is National Library Week after all – my workplace got me a mug and everything) giving money to the following school if you buy stuff. Voila:
P.S. 244 (The Active Learning Elementary School “TALES”) is an early childhood public school (Pre-K to 3rd grade) located in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York. The majority of students do not speak English at home and qualify for subsidized meal plans, yet at TALES they thrive. A model for public schools at both the national and state level, P.S. 244 has been recognized for its focus on health and nutrition and ranks among the healthiest schools in the country. In 2013, P.S. 244 also ranked 11th in the state for test scores and has been heralded for its innovative curriculum and extremely hard working staff.
With all of these strengths, they also have challenges. The school’s current library has no formal checkout system and relies on volunteer staff. The result? The space serves more like a reading room than a true library. Students aren’t able to check out and read these books at home, families miss out on sharing the joy of reading with their kids and the school is unable to implement a summer reading program to enhance student reading skills during off-school periods.
Help us to give this school and its students the library they deserve. During National Library Week (April 13-20), we are donating a portion of our sales to purchase and implement a scanning system for P.S. 244 and to train staff to manage it. We will post updates after the donation and share stories from students and teachers about the impact of this new system.
Many thanks to Ms. Marci for the links!
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.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Boys of Blur
By N.D. Wilson
Random House Books for Young Readers
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:
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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?
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Best Books of 2014
, Reviews 2014
, 2014 picture books
, 2014 reviews
, Arthur A. Levine
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, Shaun Tan
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Rules of Summer
By Shaun Tan
Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic)
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.
As 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.
Even 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:
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:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
I ain’t crafty but that, my friends, is just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Best Books of 2014
, Reviews 2014
, 2014 biographies
, 2014 nonfiction
, 2014 reviews
, 2015 Caldecott contender
, 2015 Sibert contender
, Arun Gandhi
, Bethany Hegedus
, Evan Turk
, nonfiction picture books
, picture book biographies
, Simon and Schuster
, Add a tag
Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
Illustrated by Evan Turk
Atheneum (an imprint of Simon and Schuster)
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.
When 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.
Above 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.
It’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:
- 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
Voices: Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus
Well, 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.
A 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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):
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!
Innovative 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.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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By Gary Blackwood
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
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.
As 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 email@example.com.
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”.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, And to Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street
, Arturo Avina
, Dr. Seuss
, Miss Nelson is Back
, movie trailers
, music videos
, Oliver Jeffers
, The Giver
, Video Sunday
, Add a tag
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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:
(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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Best Books of 2014
, Reviews 2014
, 2014 folk and fairytales
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, Culpeo S. Fox
, folk and fairy tale reviews
, folktale review
, Karadi Tales
, Manasi Subramaniam
, picture book folktales
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The Fox and the Crow
By Manasi Subramaniam
Illustrated by Culpeo S. Fox
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.
It’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
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:
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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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.