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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
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1. The Rabbit Hole or “It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it can’t suck.”

Rabbit Hole 2This is big. Maybe the biggest idea in the realm of children’s literature I’ve seen in years.  Possibly my entire career.  I don’t like using the term “gamechanger” but I can’t think of a better word in this particular case.

Okay.  So imagine, if you will, a new children’s book museum.  But where that term would usually invoke images of adult-centric locations, The Rabbit Hole is going to be immersive.  They’re bandying about the term “Explorastorium” which gets you a bit closer to what they’re doing.  Think of a children’s museum or an exploratorium, but instead of water tables and those blue bendy foam construction pieces you have kids bouncing in and out of their favorite books.  Imagine you literally walk into what appears to be scenes from the book itself.  You might have seen similar ideas done when museums do exhibits on famous authors of the past.  When NYPL did its “The ABC of It” exhibit you found yourself in The Great Green Room of Goodnight Moon.  And when there was a William Steig exhibit at the Jewish Museum of New York, you walked into a room where everything looked like it had been drawn by his hand.

But think bigger than that.

To get the full flavor, you need to sit down and read this article from The Kansas City Star: Rabbit Hole aims to make KC world capital of children’s books, top U.S. publishers sign on. From it you’ll get an inkling of what this space will be (watch the video there as well).  Otherwise how else are you going to hear about how this fall the folks behind the project are going to transform a city bus into the bus from “Last Stop on Market Street.”

Rabbit Hole 1An ambitious project set for the fall is the so-called Mobile Storybook. In cooperation with the KCATA, The Rabbit Hole crew would transform a city bus into the bus from “Last Stop on Market Street,” a 2015 Newbery and Caldecott winner by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. The unveiling would coincide with the national conference of the Urban Libraries Council, giving The Rabbit Hole more exposure. The story would unfold along the route with digital animations on LED window glass, audio landscapes, and sculptures of characters inside the bus. As riders board the bus, they can pick up copies of the book to read along. They can also “check out” the books and return them at any public library. Cowdin hopes the magic bus will run on both a regular route and customized tours.

And I thought the Crossover float in Evanston’s 4th of July parade last year was impressive.  Sheesh!

Rabbit Hole 3Even as I read about the hopes and dreams going into this campaign (“permanent features such as, perhaps, a giant version of Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel, Mary Anne, rising out of a hole, or the forest from ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ where children can swing on branches with Max”) I am filled with an odd mixture of complete joy and incredible seething envy and jealousy.  It’s a good kind of seething envy and jealousy.  The kind where you suddenly want to be a part of this project so badly that you’ll do anything to make that happen.  Including giving money.

To make this space happen, an Indiegogo campaign is in the works.  Go to their site and you’ll see video after video after video about this space.  The one with the authors (Jon Scieszka, Brian Selznick, Kate DiCamillo, and more!) is particularly good.

Additionally, in this fundraiser you can purchase lots of fun things donated by many writers and illustrators, though any donation would be appreciated.

Guys, I don’t give money to anything.  But I’m going to give to this.  And I don’t usually tell you to give your hard earned cash to anything, but I think that this is important.

For more information, check out this interview Pete conducted with The Groove Juice Special Radio Hour For Children & Other Brave Souls.

Also be sure to check out the YouTube channel for The Rabbit Hole.  Great stuff there.

Rabbit Hole Map

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2. Review of the Day: One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom

OneDayOne Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree
By Daniel Bernstrom
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of Harper Collins)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-06-235485-3
Ages 3-6
On shelves May 3rd

Like any children’s librarian, I like to assess each picture book that crosses by my eyeballs for readaloud potential. While every picture book (even the wordless ones) can be read aloud to a large group of children, only a select few thrive in that environment. It takes a certain magical combination of art and text to render a story readaloud-perfect. Books you can sing have a leg up. Ditto books with flaps or pull-tabs. But the nice thing about Bernstrom’s book One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree is that it doesn’t need to rely on those extra features to enrapture an audience. The book’s lilting rhymes, when practiced beforehand, have the potential to render an audience entranced. Add in the art of Brendan Wenzel, and how well it reads across a room, and you’ve got yourself the makings of what might possibly be the best readaloud picture book of the year.

A boy and his whirly-twirly toy are just the first things to disappear down the gullet of a hungry yellow snake. But rather than bemoan his fate, the boy gets to work in his new role as the snake’s inner id. Commenting on the sheer amount of room and space in the belly, the boy cajoles the snake into eating more and more and more. From birds and worms, to mossy sloths, to a single apple bearing a tiny fly, the creatures slide down the snake’s rapidly expanding throat. A final meal proves too much for the voracious viper and next thing you know boy, toy, and a host of other animals are upchucked back into the world from whence they came. A sly illustration at the end suggests that history may repeat itself soon.

OneDay1It’s not as if Mr. Bernstrom is the first person to find the word “eucalyptus” so exceedingly delicious to both tongue and ear, but he certainly seems to have been the most prominent in recent memory. As I read the book the language of the reading triggered something in my brain. Something long forgot. And though his name evokes strong feelings in every possible direction, it was Rudyard Kipling I thought of as I read this tale. Specifically the tale of “How the Elephant Got His Trunk”. Though that story does not realize how superb the word “eucalyptus” is when repeated, Kipling got a great deal of mileage out of illustrating thoughts with words. Terms like “great grey greasy Limpopo river”, “Kolokolo Bird”, and “the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake” make those of us reading the stories aloud sound good. Bernstrom is writing for a younger audience so he doesn’t flex his muscles quite as far as Kipling did, but at the same time you recognize that he has the potential to do so. One hopes his future publishing plans may include longer stories just meant for sharing aloud. Lord knows we need more authors like that these days.

The story itself sounds familiar when you read it, but that may have to do more with familiar tropes than a tale we’ve actually seen done. The book also taps into a very popular method of extracting eaten creatures from predators’ bellies: burping. Vomiting works too, though the word sounds more disgusting, so usually in cases like this book the critters are released in a big old burp. In this case, we’re basically seeing a nature-based version of that Monty Python skit where the diner is persuaded to eat one final item (“It’s wafer-thin”). It’s odd to enjoy so much a book where a kid tricks the animal it is within to throw up, but there you go. The storytelling itself is top notch too, though I had a moment of confusion when the snake ate the beehive. Seems to me that that moment is where the boy’s plan potentially takes a turn south. Being stuck in a snake’s belly is one thing. Being stuck in a snake’s belly with flying, stinging insects? Thanks but no.

OneDay2Illustrator Brendan Wenzel burst onto the children’s picture book illustration scene in 2014 but his rise in prominence since that time has been slow. The artist first caught everyone’s eye when he illustrated Angela DiTerlizzi’s Some Bugs but it was the cover art of Ellen Jackson’s Beastly Babies the following year that was the most eye-catching. That cover sold that book. An ardent conservationist, it makes a lot of sense to turn to Wenzel when you’ve a story chock full of sloths, snakes, and bees. With Bernstrom’s tale, Wenzel must render this tale in the style of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Which is to say, he needs to balance horror with humor. Books where the protagonist gets eaten are common. Books where the protagonist gets eaten and then continues to comment on the action are rare. Wenzel’s snake falls into that category of villains that must be vicious enough to serve as a legitimate threat, but tame enough that a four-year-old won’t fear them on sight. To do this, Wenzel’s art takes on a distinctly jovial tone that treads towards the cartoonish without ever falling in completely. The colors are bright but not overwhelming, just as the action is consistent without horrifying the audience. Most of the creatures handle being eaten with gentle good grace (though the sloth looks more than a little put out about the whole thing).

The idea of being eaten whole is as old as “Little Red Riding Hood”. Heck, it’s even older than that. Look at the Greek myths of Cronus devouring his children whole. Look at any myth or legend that talks of children springing unharmed or fully formed from within nasty beasties. Together, Bernstrom and Wenzel take this ancient idea and turn it into a trickster tale. Usually it’s the eater doing the tricking, and not the eaten, but One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree isn’t afraid to shake things up (or, for that matter, swallow them down). An oddly peppy little tale of surviving through another’s hubris, this is bound to become one of those readaloud picture books that teachers and librarians lean heavily on for decades to come. Look out, Bernstrom and Wenzel. You guys just went and created for yourselves a masterpiece.

On shelves May 3rd.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

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3. Fusenews: I wouldn’t waste my time riding a bike

Hokey dokey.  Too much stuff here to cover very well, but try we shall.  Hold on to your hats, folks!  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.


 

saltFirst off, you know how I was talking the other day about constructing the ideal educator website of children’s literature resources?  Well, this might have to be one of said resources I’d include.  Called Uncover the Past, the site is dedicated to “helping library and education professionals teach history through children’s literature!”  The booklists are particularly interesting.
Thanks to Rebecca Redinger for the link.


 

Next up, one for the “how cute is this?” files.  I don’t know why the idea of Mary Blair tableware isn’t commonplace, but so far this is the first place I’ve seen it done properly.  Blair, as you may recall, worked as a Disney animator for years before becoming a children’s book illustrator.Take the survey and you might win a set of your very own.


 

Mmm.  Process.  Sweet, delicious process.  What’s better than watching an Art Director explain how they came up with a YA cover?  Watching an Art Director explain how they came up with a YA cover after considering LOADS of alternatives.  Chad Beckerman shows us how The Haters came to be.  I don’t usually do YA, but in this special case I am making an exception.  You bet I am.


 

auctionOo.  Auction. Now normally one wouldn’t have the money for such a thing, but this one’s special.  What we’re talking about here is a Refugee Benefit Auction, created by authors Shannon Hale and Mette Ivie Harrison.  100% of the proceeds go to Lifting Hands International, a charity that gets life-saving supplies directly to refugee camps.  As for the things you could get, they’re pretty fantastic.  My personal favorite?  A pole dance (or fan dance, they’re easy) performed by Shannon Hale and Daniel Handler.  “Negligible nudity assured”.  Oddly, this item has yet to secure an initial bid.  Would someone like to lend me $10,000?


 

The Fictional Book Characters Who Sparked Our Sexual Awakenings. Meh. None of these ranked in my book, but it’s interesting to see the fellers other gals were into.  And, happily, it reminded me of one of my favorite Toast pieces of all time: Things I’ve Learned About Heterosexual Female Desire From Decades Of Reading.


 

I think I’m the last one to link to the Alexander London piece Our Stories Are As Unlimited As Our Selves or Why I Came Out as a Gay Children’s Book Author.  A great piece and one that ties in nicely with the GLBTQ chapter of Wild Things.  Should we ever update that book, this is going in.


 

UndergroundAbductorOo!  Eisner Award nominees.  Love that stuff, I do.  And check it out!  Not only is Nathan Hale nominated in the Best Publication for Kids category (for The Underground Abductor, naturally) but he’s also in the Best Writer / Artist category as well.  He is the ONLY children’s book creator in that category, by the way.  Regardless of whether or not he wins, that is significant.


 

Travis Jonker. He comes up with so many good ideas.  Have you seen his Endangered Series, uh, series?  Well, it’s a great idea.  Series that once were strong but now are waning are given a close examination.  Cam Jansen was the latest to fall under scrutiny.  I suspect The Kids of the Polk Street School already hit the dust, but if not then this would be an ideal candidate for a future post.


 

Wow.  Two thumbs up to the ALSC board for voting to cancel the National Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina.  American Libraries Magazine has the scoop.  Thanks to Jules Danielson for the link.


 

How on this good green earth did I miss Rick Riordan’s letter to kids who are faced with the dire prospect of being shown one of the Percy Jackson movies in school?  I’ve seen authors dislike their books’ adaptations before, but nothing quite matches this.  Thanks to Monica Edinger for the link.


 

“With such a huge international variety of books and illustrators on display in Bologna, are there differences in illustration styles among individual countries?” Yep. Moving on.  Oh, wait . . . no, let’s dwell on this idea a bit longer.  Four German children’s book publishers were asked this question and they gave their responses.  The thing is, here in the States we’re seeing some remarkably high quality German children’s book fare on a regular basis and it’s GREAT!  I’d love this question to be regularly posed with folks from other countries as well.


 

The site Brightly has had a couple good articles up lately.  I liked 8 Surprising Facts About Your Local Librarian not the least because I knew the librarians quoted.  NYC pride!


 

Daily Image:

I almost never do images of books here for the Daily Image since it’s sort of a case of bringing coals to Newcastle.  But then I saw that one of my greatest picture readalouds, one of my core books, a title I’ve loved for years, is getting a sequel.  At long long last I have an answer for those kids who have been asking me, “Is there a sequel with the tractor?”

DuckTractor

Yes, children.  Yes there is.  And life is good.

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4. Surprising Jolts of Children’s Literature in Unexpected Places

It’s back!  I’ve been doing my thing, buying lovely adult titles for my library system, and time and again I’ve run across ideas or names that fall squarely in the children’s book realm.  Here then are some real beauties. Things you just might not know about otherwise.

Falling

I know and like Elisha Cooper but I’m ashamed to say that before this book was announced I was unaware of his previous memoir A Father’s First Year which was released in 2006.  Since that time, Cooper’s daughter was diagnosed at the age of four with pediatric kidney cancer.  This book examines her treatment, recovery, and what this all did to Elisha himself.  On my To Be Read Shelf.

SupposedProtect

Thus continuing my series of books about people I know or have met, and yet never had any idea about when it comes to their personal lives.  In this upcoming August memoir, Nadja (who penned Lost in NYC amongst other things) opens up about herself, her mother, and even her grandmother.  It’s a deeply personal work about someone I’m desperately fond of (Francoise Mouly, Nadja’s mother, is the founder of TOON Books, as well as serving as the Art Director of The New Yorker, and she is delight incarnate).  Also on the To Be Read Shelf.

InvisibleLife

This inclusion is a bit of a stretch.  I really only put it here because in the Library Journal review of the book it said, “Soviet-style medical ethics or lack thereof frame an intimate story that the publicist calls One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest crossed with The Fault Is in Our Stars.”  So there’s that.

Another Brooklyn

Jackie writes something for adults and people get very excited.  Book Expo America hasn’t even happened yet, but I’ve already been seeing this title showing up on lists of Best Books of the Summer and what have you.  I foresee some libraries have problems cataloging this title (the cover looks awfully similar to her YA novels and will be easily confused) but for all that, I suspect it’s going to be a book club hit and a New York Times bestseller.  Just you wait, just you wait . . .

Warlock Holmes

No further comments, your honor.

Noise of Time

For those of us floored by M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead last year, here is a new biography of its star, Dmitri Shostakovich.  And it’s a novel.  It’s out May 10th.  Look for it.

Garth Williams

A Garth Williams biography!  Whodathunkit? Seems pretty specialized and for a veeeery small market, but there you are.  I know the estate of Williams doesn’t exactly bend over backwards to allow folks to use his art (even his obscure art) in any context. They must have approved of this book from the start.  Heck, I’ll read it.

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5. Video Sunday: The Other Man in Purple

So many good videos to choose from today!  First and foremost, I begin with a very special message from Jon Scieszka.  It seems you still have two days to vote in the Children’s Book Choice Awards and . . . well . . . Jon would really like your kids to do so.  Seriously.

I own that suit!

I also enjoyed this video from Storycorps.  In it, a woman reflects on the bookmobile that changed her life:

Bookmobile

In other news, it’s been a good book trailer season. When I went to Zootopia the other day (and how cool was its Emmett Otter reference?) I got a couple before the show. In this first video I spent the bulk of it trying to figure out if it was an adaptation of the Mac Barnett / Jory John Terrible Two series. It is based on a book, but we just aren’t that lucky:

On the plus side, the new BFG trailer looks pretty darn good:

And there’s a new trailer for A Monster Calls that I really enjoyed.

Finally, for the off-topic video, I actually think you could make a case for this being on-topic.  I mean, have you ever seen a truer to life version of Are You My Mother?

It comes with its own Snort!

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6. Children’s Literary Salon: On Beyond Narnia

Today a co-worker pulled me aside and asked about our next Children’s Literary Salon.  She wanted to know how I was getting such fabulous stars, particularly since the next Salon (a week from this Saturday) will be featuring not just Penderwicks scribe Jeanne Birdsall but author N.D. Wilson to boot.  Add in the topic (a little non-Christian Humanism with your kidlit, anyone?) and you’ve got yourself a slam bang killer talk.  I told her that authors are generous people and Jeanne and Nate particularly so.  As ever, there will be a live feed of the discussion here and this time I’ll try using my own personal laptop so that we don’t have to worry as much about the sound quality.

Here’s more information:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 9.42.27 PM

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7. Review of the Day: Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner

SamuraiRisingSamurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune
By Pamela S. Turner
Illustrated by Gareth Hinds
Charlesbridge
$16.95
ISBN: 9781580895842
Ages 10 and up
On shelves now

When you read enough children’s books published in a single year, folks tend to believe that you’ve an ability to spot trends in the general literature. Trend-spotting is easy enough when you’re dealing with picture books (hot in 2016: Bears rampaging through picnics and blobfish!) but books written for older readers are trickier. I think I’ve hit on at least one incredibly popular trend for the current year, however: Overwhelming depression and sadness. Whether it’s baby foxes are getting their legs blown off in landmines, dads being deadbeat, or girls falling down wells, 2016 is officially The Year of the Hankie. So you can imagine the glee with which I devoured Samurai Rising. “A samurai fights for honor and survival in a real-life Game of Thrones,” reads the blurb for the book (minus the torture and nudity, of course). In producing a fantastic look at the true story behind Japan’s most famous samurai, Turner doesn’t just cheer up an otherwise depressed literary year. She highlights a figure too long ignored in America. Say goodbye to boredom. Say hello to crazy-eyed heroics and an anti-hero for the young masses.

On the book’s title page is written a small alert. “WARNING: Very few people in this story die of natural causes.” No lie, just fact. This is the story of Minamoto Yoshitsune. A boy who “could not yet walk when his father left him a lost war, a shattered family, and a bitter enemy.” Yoshitsune’s father (not the brightest samurai of all time) throws away his family’s comfortable existence protecting Japan’s Retired Emperor when he decides to kidnap the guy instead. Swiftly defeated by his rival Taira Kiyomori, the man’s son, little Yoshitsune, is spared but eventually sent to train as a monk. Determined to win back his family’s honor, the boy runs away and with the help of a friendly lord becomes a full fledged samurai. Not a moment too soon either. Forces are brewing and Yoshitsune’s older brother Yoritomo needs his brother’s help to revolt against Kiyomori’s reign. Through it all, Yoshitsune doesn’t just show the heart of a warrior. He shows he has the guts and brains to carry out even the craziest campaign. But with trouble brewing at home, it may be his own family that proves the deadliest enemy of all. Author’s Notes, Time Lines, a Glossary, Chapter Notes, and a Bibliography appear as well.

I was at a conference recently where the terms “creative nonfiction” and “narrative nonfiction” got tossed about like so many ping-pong balls. These terms are generally produced when someone writes a work of nonfiction that reads like a novel. In order to do this and yet still retain even a modicum of historical accuracy, the author in question must bend over backwards to get everything right. Fifty-whopping-two pages, or so, at the back of the book are dedicated to Turner’s chapter notes alone. Here you’ll find every quotation and historical detail cited (Turner also writes an intro to these notes, marking this as the first time I’ve ever seen an author sell the reader on reading them, since who could resist trying to figure out, “why Yoritomo didn’t use ninjas”?). As for Turner’s writing, you forget almost instantly that this is a work of nonfiction. This is both a good and bad thing. Good, because it proves to young readers that there’s more to nonfiction than what you’ll find in a textbook. Bad because life, unlike fiction, doesn’t always adhere to our understanding of narrative rise and fall. When Minamoto’s enemy Kiyomori died without ever having confronted Yoshitsune, I was momentarily baffled. Of course Turner, skillful as she is, is able to naturally call upon Yoshitsune’s older brother as the new enemy, and it’s done with slow, exquisite care.

When you’re watching a musical, the songs have to serve the story. You can’t just have characters burst into a melody without a reason. Likewise, a nonfiction book can be laden with facts, but only if they serve the narrative to its best advantage. Turner has all kinds of tricks up her sleeves, and integrating facts into the story is one of her greater strengths. She can move from the story of Yoshitsune learning how to be a samurai to a description of the brilliant work of engineering that is a samurai’s armor or sword with aplomb.

Even with all this, Turner’s working at a natural disadvantage. Her story is set in the 12th century. Source material from that time? Not exactly copious. So she relies upon informed speculation, i.e. what a character may have seen or may have considered in one scene or another. A number of years ago I read a book called Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron which was a true history of a child who lived in the wild and was brought back to “civilization” near the end of the French Revolution. The author leaned heavily on a plethora of “probablys” which is no crime. Honestly, it informs the reader as to what they do or do not know. Still, it can prove distracting if too many are clustered in one spot. The only time I found myself irked in a similar way here was around the beginning of the book when Minamoto and a gold merchant were avoiding the samurai. From “the homey smell of wood smoke probably drew the weary travelers to wayside inns” to “The teenage runaway probably watched, mouth agape, as entertainers performed the popular tales of his time”, I found my willingness to go along with Turner’s speculations stretched, if never quite broken. Fortunately it’s the only time in the book I found Turner’s reliance on probability too overt. For the most part, she does a fine job of keeping everything copacetic.

I was also taken with the humor of the book. Judicious use of it in any nonfiction title is a delicate art. Here, the author has the advantage of time (no one’s going to read about the beheadings of the 1100s and think “Too soon!”). So when she pulls out lines like “News of severed heads travels fast,” you can’t but help but admire the wordplay’s moxie. Ditto, “If things went badly, Kiso had the usual samurai backup plan: kidnap the Retired Emperor” (this line works better after you see how many times the poor guy gets kidnapped in the course of his life – a calming retirement it is not).

The inclusion of Gareth Hinds’ art in the book was good planning on someone’s part (mostly likely Art Director Susan Sherman, according to Turner’s Acknowledgements). Though he’s illustrated the occasional title for other authors (Gifts from the Gods) generally Gareth sticks to his own graphic novel adaptations of classics like The Odyssey or Beowulf or King Lear. A meticulous hand, Hinds’ interstitial art keeps the narrative moving without distracting from it. And while it did have the odd personal problem of making me really want a Minamoto Yoshitsune graphic novel (ahem ahem!), for the most part I think it’ll be of greatest use to those students that need a little visual stimulation with their descriptive texts.

Here’s a pretty basic question for the book: Is Minamoto a hero? The comparison to Game of Thrones on the book’s blurb isn’t all that wrong. Things get pretty ethically dicey in the midst of power plays and wars. Honestly, coming out of this book I had particular sympathy for two people in particular and neither one of them was Minamoto. Minamoto’s heroism in terms of bravery cannot be called into question, but if we’re trying to figure out why he comes across as sympathetic, a lot of that can be attributed to our innate sense of fairness, or lack thereof. He starts off clawing his way up, already at a disadvantage thanks to dear old dad, and then just when everything seems to be working out for him his own brother stabs him in the back (figuratively and nearly literally). He deals decently at times, establishing law and order at critical moments. Then again, he’s not against lighting the occasional peasant village on fire like some insane 12th century version of streetlights. And so I say to teachers and the leaders of bookgroups, if you are doing this book with a group of kids and you need a topic of discussion, just ask this: What is a hero? You’re bound to get some pretty interesting answers after the kids read this book.

As I write this review, the hottest musical on Broadway right now is Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It seems to me that we’re seeing a lot of narratives right now that discuss scrappy youngsters, eager to make their mark on the world, no matter the cost to themselves or others. So hey, if you need an idea for a new musical, have I got a book for you! Bringing to the attention of American kids new historical heroes from cultures they may not have any familiarity with is a difficult proposition. Turner and Hinds tackle the challenge with a kind of manic glee. The end result is infinitely readable and downright fun. So pile on the other tear-drenched novels for the kiddos. As long as I have a plucky samurai kid not throwing away his shot I’ll be satisfied. More fun than it deserves to be and a great read.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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8. Never Gonna Sequel

It’s happened to us all.  You hear that one of your favorite books for kids or teens is being adapted to the silver screen and you are struck with a simultaneous feeling of hope and fear.  You go to see it and it’s even worse than you imagined.  Then you leave the theater and realize that this was based on the first book in a series. Are they honestly going to keep going, even if this is a flop?

Thankfully, the answer is usually no. But what happens is that you’re left with a lot of series just ah-blowing in the wind.  Here then is a tribute to those book series that are just not going to see any more sequels.  Unless, of course, they get a reboot.  Which, in at least one case, may happen.

The Seeker a.k.a. The Dark Is Rising

Seeker

 

Remember this?  Or has your brain done you a favor and allowed you to forget?  One of the more egregious adaptations out there.  In the midst of the Harry Potter films, studios were looking to recreate that same magic for themselves.  And lo and behold, here is a fantasy series starring a special boy who learns he has the power to defeat a dark and ancient evil! Perfect! So what did the studios do?  First, they made it American (one can only imagine the conversations that took place to make this happen – “I bet Harry Potter would have been MUCH more successful if he’d been from Jersey!”). Then they mucked with the plot so much as to render the film unrecognizable from the book.  No Under Sea, Under Stone for you, kids! Which, technically, should have been first anyway . . .

The Black Cauldron

Black Cauldron

Not that when Disney animated it they were really prepared to make any sequels.  Many consider this film the moment Disney animation hit rock bottom.  They also combined two of Lloyd Alexander’s books together to make it in the first place.  I heard a rumor the other day that a new version of The Book of Three is in the works somewhere, but was unable to find any proof of it online.

The Seventh Son

Seventh Son

Apparently this was years and years in the works, much good it did it in the end. A real pity since the book was so great.  What could have been a really good creepy film was instead yet another big budget war against an evil blahfest.  Ah well.

A Wrinkle in Time

Wrinkle-in-Time-A-poster

Oh yeah.  It was straight to television, so hopes couldn’t have been all that high anyway.  In a 2004 interview with Newsweek Madeleine L’Engle was asked if the film met her expectations.  She said it had.  She was pretty cheery about it.  “I expected it to be bad, and it was.”  Rumor has it that another is currently in the works.  I dunno, folks.  Mixing religion and science and fantasy into a single book is hard enough.  Short of animating it, I don’t know how a film could even come close to doing it right.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Dawn Treader

This one is unlike the others mentioned here for a number of reasons.  First off, these movies aren’t all that bad.  They seem fairly aware of the books that they’re based upon, for one thing.  And admittedly they managed to get through three books in the Narnia series, and even then only by the skin of their teeth.  Amazing that they got that far!  It’s too late to keep ’em coming at this point, so the series is pretty officially dead (sorry, Silver Chair, fans).

The Last Airbender

The-Last-Airbender-movie-poster

I’m cheating by including this since it’s not based on a book originally but a television series (Avatar: The Last Airbender). That said, the graphic novel sequels (penned in part by our current National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang) are fantastic and deserve mention.  The movie adaptation of the first season was problematic not the least because all the villains were people of color and all the people of color who were heroes were played by white actors. [My husband points out that if you look at the voice actors for the original TV show it’s not much different, but that’s only if you think Iroh and Zuko are villains, and anyway the true baddies were Mark Hammil and Jason Isaacs who are the whitest white guys to ever white a white].

By the way, notice how all these series star white kids, usually of a male persuasion, and are fantasies or science fiction. So while I’d love to see the One Crazy Summer books adapted, my hopes are not currently very high.

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9. An Authorial Bookstore

Books and BooksYou may have seen the piece in Publishers Weekly. Judy Blume, Bookseller, it was called.  When I saw the title I just assumed it was just about one of those events when authors go into bookstores and take over for the employees for a day.  Instead, what I found was that Ms. Blume opened up an independent bookstore with her husband as recently as two months ago and she helps run it regularly.*

Ms. Blume is hardly the first author to go into the bookstore business.  Just off the top of my head I can come up with bookstores owned or started by Louise Erdrich, Ann Patchett, and Jeff Kinney.  In fact, I was at an author dinner a little less than a year ago and the booksellers there were talking about Kinney’s store.  Some had applied to work there, but hadn’t gotten the job.  It was apparently the place to be.

It’s interesting to look at the state of the independent bookstore today.  For the first time in years they’re doing well.  In 2015 alone, 61 ABA (American Bookseller Association) stores opened up with 16 sold to new owners.  Used bookstores are making a comeback.  Even evil Amazon is trying to open up physical locations, in the wake of the death of Borders.

That said, there is room for more.  There is ALWAYS room for more.  So it gets me to thinking.  What if every ridiculously successful author opened a bookstore too?  James Patterson, I would argue, already does a great deal of literary good.  Still, shouldn’t he have a bookstore?  Where is Carl Hiaasen’s in Florida?  Sherman Alexie’s in Seattle?  Why doesn’t J.K. Rowling have one in Scotland or Stephanie Meyer in Forks, Washington?

IBD logoThe world needs more independent bookstores.  Obviously these authors (some of them anyway) want to be writing.  Well, who’s to say you can’t delegate?  So come on, ridiculously successful writers!  Take that cash you made and pour it back into the community.  And carry good scones.  I love a good scone.

By the way, don’t forget that Saturday, April 30th is Independent Bookstore Day.  Let’s all go out there and give these folks great gobs of money, hand over fist.

*If you read the piece in PW, please identify the book she is hand-selling for two points.

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10. Review of the Day: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

RaymieNightingaleRaymie Nightingale
By Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-7636-8117-3
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

My relationship to Kate DiCamillo’s books is one built entirely on meaning. Which is to say, the less emotional and meaningful they are, the better I like ‘em. Spaghetti loving horses and girls that live in tree houses? Right up my alley! China rabbits and mice with excessive earlobes? Not my cup of tea. It’s good as a reviewer to know your own shortcomings and I just sort of figured that I’d avoid DiCamillo books when they looked deep and insightful. And when the cover for Raymie Nightingale was released it was easily summarized in one word: Meaningful. A girl, seen from behind, stands ankle-deep in water holding a single baton. Still, I’ve had a good run of luck with DiCamillo as of late and I was willing to push it. I polled my friends who had read the book. The poor souls had to answer the impossible question, “Will I like it?” but they shouldered the burden bravely. Yes, they said. I would like it. I read it. And you know what? I do like it! It is, without a doubt, one of the saddest books I’ve ever read, but I like it a lot. I like the wordplay, the characters, and the setting. I like what the book has to say about friendship and being honest with yourself and others. I like the ending very very much indeed (it has a killer climax that I feel like I should have seen coming, but didn’t). I do think it’s a different kind of DiCamillo book than folks are used to. It’s her style, no bones about it, but coming from a deeper place than her books have in the past. In any case, it’s a keeper. Meaning plus pep.

Maybe it isn’t much of a plan, but don’t tell Raymie that. So far she thinks she has it all figured out. Since her father skipped town with that dental hygienist, things haven’t been right in Raymie’s world. The best thing to do would be to get her father back, so she comes up with what surely must be a sure-fire plan. She’ll just learn how to throw a baton, enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, win, and when her father sees her picture in the paper he’ll come on home and all will be well. Trouble (or deliverance) comes in the form of Louisiana and Beverly, the two other girls who are taking this class with Ida Nee (the baton-twirling instructor). Unexpectedly, the three girls become friends and set about to solve one another’s problems. Whether it’s retrieving library books from scary nursing home rooms, saving cats, or even lives, these three rancheros have each other’s backs just when they need them most.

DiCamillo has grown as an author over the years. So much so that when she begins Raymie Nightingale she dives right into the story. She’s trusting her child readers to not only stick with what she’s putting down, but to decipher it as well. As a result, some of them are going to experience some confusion right at the tale’s beginning. A strange girl seemingly faints, moaning about betrayal in front of a high-strung baton instructor. Our heroine stands impressed and almost envious. Then we learn about Raymie’s father and the whole enterprise takes a little while to coalesce. It’s a gutsy choice. I suspect that debut authors in general would eschew beginning their books in this way. A pity, since it grabs your attention by an act of simple befuddlement.

Initial befuddlement isn’t enough to keep you going, though. You need a hook to sustain you. And in a book like this, you find that the characters are what stay with you the longest. Raymie in particular. It isn’t just about identification. The kid reading this book is going to impress on Raymie like baby birds impress on sock puppet mamas. She’s like Fone Bone in Jeff Smith’s series. She’s simultaneously a mere outline of a character and a fully fleshed out human being. Still, she’s an avatar for readers. We see things through her rather than with her. And sure, her name is also the title, but names are almost always titles for Kate DiCamillo (exceptions being The Magician’s Elephant, The Tiger Rising, and that Christmas picture book, of course). If you’re anything like me, you’re willing to follow the characters into absurdity and back. When Beverly says of her mother that, “Now she’s just someone who works in the Belknap Tower gift shop selling canned sunshine and rubber alligators” you go with it. You don’t even blink. The setting is almost a character as well. I suspect DiCamillo’s been away from Florida too long. Not in her travels, but in her books. Children’s authors that willingly choose to set their books in the Sunshine State do so for very personal reasons. DiCamillo’s Florida is vastly different from that of Carl Hiaasen’s, for example. It’s a Florida where class exists and is something that permeates everything. Few authors dare to consider lower or lower middle classes, but it’s one of the things I’ve always respected about DiCamillo in general.

Whenever I write a review for a book I play around with the different paragraphs. Should I mention that the book is sad at the beginning of the review or at the end? Where do I put my theory about historical fiction? Should character development be after the plot description paragraph or further in? But when it comes to those written lines I really liked in a book, that kind of stuff shouldn’t have to wait. For example, I adore the lines, “There was something scary about watching an adult sleep. It was as if no one at all were in charge of the world.” DiCamillo excels in the most peculiar of details. One particular favorite was the small paper cups with red riddles on their sides. The Elephantes got them for free because they were misprinted without answers. It’s my secret hope that when DiCamillo does school visits for this book she’ll ask the kids in the audience what the answer to the riddle, “What has three legs, no arms, and reads the paper all day long?” might be. It’s her version of “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Now let us discuss a genre: Historical fiction. One question. Why? Not “Why does it exist?” but rather “Why should any novel for kids be historical?” The easy answer is that when you write historical fiction you have built in, legitimate drama. The waters rise during Hurricane Katrina or San Francisco’s on fire. But this idea doesn’t apply to small, quiet novels like Raymie Nightingale. Set in the summer of 1975, there are only the barest of nods to the time period. Sometimes authors do this when the book is semi-autobiographical, as with Jenni Holm’s Sunny Side Up. Since this novel is set in Central Florida and DiCamillo grew up there, there’s a chance that she’s using the setting to draw inspiration for the tale. The third reason authors sometimes set books in the past is that it frees them up from the restrictions of the internet and cell phone (a.k.a. guaranteed plot killers). Yet nothing that happens in Raymie Nightingale requires that cell phones remain a thing of the past. The internet is different. Would that all novels could do away with it. Still, in the end I’m not sure that this book necessarily had to be historical. It’s perfectly fine. A decent time period to exist in. Just not particularly required one way or another.

Obviously the book this feels like at first is Because of Winn-Dixie. Girl from a single parent home finds friendship and (later rather than sooner, in the case of Raymie Nightingale) an incredibly ugly dog. But what surprised me about Raymie was that this really felt more like Winn-Dixie drenched in sadness. Sadness is important to DiCamillo. As an author, she’s best able to draw out her characters and their wants if there’s something lost inside of them that needs to be found. In this case, it’s Raymie’s father, the schmuck who took off with his dental hygienist. Of course all the characters are sad in different ways here. About the time you run across the sinkhole (the saddest of all watery bodies) on page 235 you’re used to it.

Sure, there are parts of the book I could live without. The parts about Raymie’s soul are superfluous. The storyline of Isabelle and the nursing home isn’t really resolved. On the flip side, there are lots of other elements within these pages that strike me as fascinating, like for example why the only men in the book are Raymie’s absent father, an absent swimming coach, a librarian, and a janitor. Now when I was a child I avoided sad children’s books like the plague. You know what won the Newbery in the year that I was born? Bridge to Terabithia. And to this day I eschew them at all costs. But though this book is awash in personal tragedies, it’s not a downer. It’s tightly written and full of droll lines and, yes I admit it. It’s meaningful. But the meaning you cull from this book is going to be different for every single reader. Whip smart and infinitely readable, this is DiCamillo at her best. Time to give it a go, folks.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Song to Listen to With This Book: King of the Road
Alternative Song: I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Like This? Then Try:

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11. Fusenews: In my next life I’m coming back as a “Rotraut”

A lot to say and so little time to say it.  Let’s get started!


 

LittlePrincessToday, if you are at all feeling blue, I suggest you read The Toast piece Jaya Catches Up: A Little Princess which is a killer breakdown of what is inarguably a problematic book.  The Marie Antoinette portions are particularly choice.


 

Next, the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Award Winners were announced. What does that mean for you? It means you should be boning up on your international children’s book knowledge, of course.  Commit the names “Rotraut Susanne Berner of Germany” (who won for Illustration) and Cao Wenxuan of China (who won for Writing)” to memory. For more info on the books and the winners, go here.


 

If you were speaking to the man on the street (or woman, or child, or what have you) and they said, “Boy, those children’s books took the hardest left turn a series ever took”, what series would you assume the person was speaking about?  Here is your answer and it’s a heckuva amusing post to boot.


 

Seven Impossible Things features Gareth Hinds.  And all is right with the universe.


 

Lonely_Doll_CoverOh. In a weird way this makes sense.  They’re turning The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, the biography of Dare Wright, creator of the Lonely Doll book series, in to a film with Naomi Watts and Jessica Lange.  You know what that means, don’t you?  Lonely Doll fever is poised to sweep the nation.  Be wary. Be warned.  And buy stock in frilly underwear.


 

Remember when J.K Rowling said she had this “political fairytale” that was going to be her next non-Harry Potter children’s book?  Looks like it’s kaputski.  Which is to say, about 30 years after Ms. Rowling’s death someone will pull it out of that drawer and publish it anyway.  So it goes.


 

This next one’s roundabout three years old but I only just found it.  The mom from the Cat in the Hat finally speaks.  Quite frankly, I always found that polka-dotted dress of hers rather fetching (to say nothing of her keen shoes) but that may just be me.


 

If you had the great good fortune to see the NYPL exhibit The ABC of It then you would have noticed one section was dedicated to a fascinating array of Soviet children’s art.  I remember helping curator Leonard Marcus locate these books (of which NYPL owns a goodly number) and he picked and chose the best amongst them.  But where did they originate?  Having recently finished M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead, I took the little bit of context I’d acquired and applied it to this fabulous piece on tygertale called Revolutionary Russian Children’s Books. Now I’m just beginning to understand. Thanks to Phil Nel (I’m pretty sure) for the link.


 

Growing up my mom had a machine in the attic that could type out braille.  I don’t know why we owned it but I liked it a lot. Braille children’s books available in a mass market context have always been difficult to obtain, though.  With this in mind, I’m very pleased to see DK is now releasing a braille board book series.  Wow.  Way to go, DK!


 

All right.  My four-year-old is upstairs asleep and in her room are all my Harry Potter books.  Otherwise I would check this myself.  You see, they just released the first look of the new Jim Kay illustrated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  And I am staring and staring at this cover and I need your help.  Look at the cover right here:

HPChamber

Am I crazy or is that car chock full of Weaselys?  And doesn’t Harry drive to Hogwarts with just Ron?  At least that’s what the old British cover told me:

HPChamber3

So . . . huh?  [Note: Interestingly the Buzzfeed article has plenty of comments but no one is pointing this out so I may just be completely and utterly wrong about everything]


 

In other news, the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy longlist was just released.  Frances Hardinge made the cut!!!  Wooty woot woot woot!!

Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)
Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)


 

Oh, I absolutely love this. Children’s art.  Not art for children, mind you, but art by children and its ramifications when studying history.  Again, I think I have Phil Nel to thank for this one.  He finds all the good stuff.


Daily Image:

The Make Way for Ducklings statues are nothing new (nor are they the only ducklings as my old post on all the public children’s literature statues in America attests).  Nor is it new to put hats on them.  That said, this recent yarnbombing goes above and beyond the call of duty.  That’s some seriously good knitting!

DucklingsYarnBomb

Read more about them here.

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12 Comments on Fusenews: In my next life I’m coming back as a “Rotraut”, last added: 4/14/2016
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12. Video Sunday: Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

Today we begin with something depressing (happy Sunday, everybody!). On April 4th, all of five days ago, the lovely blog Geekmom (which appears to be an offshoot of Geekdad) premiered the new Adam Rex / Mac Barnett book trailer for their upcoming picture book How This Book Was Made. When you see this trailer you will think to yourself, “Dang. I wish I could make book trailers like this.” Then you’ll look at how many views it’s gotten so far and it’s a mere (as of this post) 567. Citizens of the world, this will not do. This is a good trailer. It deserves our love. Let’s see those numbers pump up a little. And ah-one, and ah-two, and ah- . . .

Let’s see, let’s see. I always collect the links for a week or two and try and figure out if they’re actually any good. Most of them I dump. Lots o’ talking heads fall by the wayside but amongst them you’ll find something good. Example A:

This next one’s a bit random. I moved to Chicago and then decided that maybe my kids would actually be able to see the odd play now and then. But before I came, one slipped out of town before I could do anything about it. I aspire to someday see it personally with kids in tow. They may be in their 30s before it happens, but it’s doggone happening, YOU JUST WAIT!

In other news, Tim Federle, children’s book author and now the man behind Tuck Everlasting on Broadway, poses the ultimate question to Times Square tourists.

That first one drawn out a bit more . . .

Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link!

Recently I’ve been reading some YA and one of the better novels to cross my path is this nice Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit. Book trailers are all well and good but it’s nice to try something new. Not that talking to Times Square tourists is all that new (see: above Tim Federle videos) but it beats the usual iMovie schtick.

And for our off-topic video, this is pretty much my favorite thing right now. If you took my sense of humor, distilled it down to a fine liquid, dehydrated that liquid into a powder, and then sneezed it into the face of a clown, that might come close to approximating what this video means to me. Best. Thing. Ever.

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3 Comments on Video Sunday: Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend, last added: 4/12/2016
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13. Trailer Premiere: The Ugly Dumpling by Stephanie Campisi

Let play a game.  I’ll write out a bit of a professional review from here at School Library Journal and you guess the book.  Here goes:

“A unique take on the classic tale ‘The Ugly Duckling,’ this is a humorous story of friendship and self-acceptance, set in a dim sum restaurant. … This narrative moves quickly, and the cheerful visuals do as much to tell the story as the text does. An amusing and fun addition for most collections.”

It’s about this point that you say to me, “Uh, Betsy? You just said in the title of your post that you were showing the book trailer for THE UGLY DUMPLING. Would that be the book?”  And then I’d glance up, see that you were correct, and say something like, “Right you are, fellow citizen!”

Yes, today we’re premiering the book trailer (the second this week) for THE UGLY DUMPLING by Stephanie Campisi, illustrated by Shahar Kober.  Just another average, everyday dumpling/cockroach friendship tale.

Enjoy!

Feel free to go here for more info on the book and some coloring sheets as well.  And many thanks to Mighty Media Press for the scoop.

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14. Fan Art: From Sheinkin to Wicks

Here’s an idea for a series on this blog: Authors and illustrators paying tribute to other authors and illustrators in the form of fan art.  Oh, it could work.  Why do I think it could work?  Because that’s what we’re doing today, folks.

Consider the author Steve Sheinkin.  You may know him from his award winning nonfiction books (with the occasional Newbery Honor tossed in for spice) or you may know him from his Walking and Talking series here on the blog.  What you may NOT know is that he is capable of fan art.  Particularly in the case of Maris Wicks and Human Body Theater.  But I’ll let him do the explaining:

Maris Wicks is an absolute master at the tricky art of combining information and entertainment. I’m a big believer that nonfiction books should not get extra credit for being healthy, and that’s the genius of her work – she doesn’t need it. My son David (age 6) and I are such huge fans of Human Body Theater, we were inspired to collaborate on this fan art, based on one of the drawings from that incredible book!

Since I’ve a four-year-old daughter who also went gaga for the book, I concur.  Here is the art:

Wicks1

Thank you to Steve and David as well as Gina Gagliano for setting this whole thing up.  And, of course, a big thank you to Maris Wicks for her delightful graphic novel.  If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out.

HumanBodyTheater

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15. Book Trailer Premiere: Fluffy Strikes Back by Ashley Spires

My daughter is four going on five at the moment.  And though she still reads her fair share of picture books, recently she has become enamored of graphic novels.  Particularly those with “bad guys” in them.  For this reason, I give great good thanks for Ashley Spires.  Granted, in her Binky the Space Cat series the “bad guys” my daughter seeks are bugs . . . but what bugs they are!  Now a new addition comes to the Binky canon.  And it is fluffy.  Ladies and gentlemen, our book trailer reveal of the day:

Not enough for you?  Well there’s a website as well, you lucky ducks.  A tip of the old hat to Kids Can Press for the lovely reveal.  Anything involving the decimation of insects has my love and admiration.  A great little book for those seeking “bad guys” or just a plain good story.

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16. Eight Recent Children’s & YA Books Collectors Should Grab

The other day I had lunch with a lovely collector of children’s books.  Children’s book collectors have always struck me as a the last great unknowable group of people with an active interest in children’s literature out there.  Where educators or librarians or even scholars have blogs and annual meetings and newsletters, collectors remain mysterious and unknowable.  There are just so many things I want to learn about them.  What makes a children’s book valuable in some way?  How do you determine which books are more worthy than others?  And most importantly, what contemporary books are collectors looking at right now?

When I asked some of these questions to my lunch companion, the collector suggested that I write a blog post with my top guesses as to which books will be worth the most in the coming decades.

Now let me be clear.  I have absolutely zip, zero, zilch idea of how this all works.  I have this vague sense that there’s this unknowable individual out there who carries with them the secrets of the universe and that THEY actually know this stuff.  There must be an art to it.  You want things that will accrue in value, but accrue for a variety of different reasons.  I know what is new.  I know what is popular.  And I know what could, based on what I know, be valuable.  That doesn’t mean these books will be.  Still, my nickname is “Bets” so . . .

Bearing in mind that uncut manuscripts are probably the best way to go anyway, here’s the gist of what I’m thinking should be on any good collector’s list.

Twilight

  • Signed galley of TWILIGHT

True story.  Before Twilight was released, it was included in a Little, Brown librarian preview.  This was before my time, so I’m getting this secondhand.  Still, what I’ve been told is that Stephenie Meyer was the super secret guest at that preview.  Remember, the book had not yet come out so no one knew who she was yet.  She signed copies of the Twilight galleys at this event.  Many of the librarians who received them gave them away to their TAG (Teen Advisory Group) readers.  So somewhere out there are signed galleys of Twilight.  Rare indeed.

Moon Over Manifest

  • A galley of MOON OVER MANIFEST

Unexpected Newbery or Caldecott winners always make for excellent collecting fare.  The rumor about this book is that when the ALA Youth Media Awards announcement was made that it had won the Newbery, Barnes & Noble had to recall all the copies they’d been preparing to pulp that very day.  It was such an unexpected winner that I suspect you’d be able to find that its ARC is of particular note.

DiaryofaWimpyKid

  • A first edition DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. Galley preferred.

Most series aren’t super hits the minute they get on the market.  For Jeff Kinney’s, it took about 2-3 books before the child reading public realized how great the titles really were.  That means that there are undoubtedly signed galleys of the first book that could have potentially been lost to the sands of time.  If you have one, hold onto it.

FineDessert

  • An F&G of A FINE DESSERT

The usual folded and gathered picture book galley is ephemeral.  It’s not meant to be held on to.  I’ve seen them turned into birdhouses and buttons and all manner of interesting things.  Now initially A FINE DESSERT had positive reviews, so it’s possible a lot of people held onto its F&G.  I doubt it, though.  Though some might have held onto it because they thought the book had Caldecott changes, I bet it was tossed more often than not.

My Name Is Jason

Jason Reynolds is poised.  Poised to break like the star he is, man.  Smart, funny, and a helluva good writer.  If you haven’t heard of him by now, brace yourself.  Yet when he was first starting out, this was his debut.  It was an unassuming little YA in 2009 and now it’s out-of-print.  The fact that new, never read copies are starting at $65.40 online is significant.  This book is a collectable, pure and simple.

BirthdayCakeWashington

  • A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON signed by author or editor or illustrator

What is unclear to me at this time is whether or not there was ever an F&G (folded & gathered) version of the book for reviewers.  I certainly didn’t receive one, and I usually get the bulk of the Scholastic titles.  This leads me to think they trucked entirely in final copies.  Even so, before the book was pulled from publication there’s a chance that copies might have been available at the ALA Conference in January.  Any copy is going to be worth money but prices have dropped since the book was initially pulled, going for as low as $59.90 on Amazon.  This leads me to suspect that while the book will be worth something in the future, signed copies will be worth a lot more.

angelgirl

Do not think for a moment that Birthday Cake is the sole picture book that has ever been pulled from publication.  In 2008 Lerner pulled this Holocaust title.  The reason?  It had initially been sold as a true story.  When the facts came out that it was a myth, Lerner acted accordingly.  You can buy the book easily enough on Amazon (to the tune of $48) but considering its limited run and shaky history, I’d say it’s a good bet.

BigRedLollipop

With the dawn of Salaam Reads at Simon & Schuster (their Muslim children’s book imprint) there’s a marked increase of interest in Muslim-American books for kids.  One of the best is Rukhsana Khan’s.  It was included in NYPL’s 100 Great Books for Kids list and is a truly lovely title.  I’m thinking it may be one to watch, particularly first editions.

That’s all I’ve got, based on next to nothing at all.  I’d love to hear what else you think has a chance at monetary value in the future.  Always with the understanding that this is all just conjecture and speculation.

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17. Review of the Day: Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Don'tCallDon’t Call Me Grandma
By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Carolrhoda Books (a division of Lerner)
$19.99
ISBN: 978-1-4677-4208-5
Ages 4-7
On shelves now.

In 2016 a picture book won a Newbery Award. Which is to say, a picture book was declared the best-written work for children between the ages of 0-14. After its win there was a fair amount of speculation about what precisely the Newbery committee was trying to say with their award. For that matter, there was a fair amount of speculation about what it meant for children’s literature in general. Are we, as a people, less tolerant of loquacious books? Considering the fact that a book with 592 pages was a runner-up, I think we’re doing just fine in terms of wordy titles. Just the same, I hope that if anything comes out of this surprise award it’s a newfound appreciation for the picture book’s art of restraint. A good picture book shows but doesn’t tell. Don’t believe me? Read the original manuscript of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are where he spells everything out for the reader. All these thoughts were in my head recently when I read the remarkable Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Tackling the almost nonexistent subcategory of grouchy great-grandparents, Ms. Nelson deftly encapsulates a woman’s personality and lifetime of experiences in a scant 32 pages.

“Great-grandmother Nell is scary.” You got that right, kid. She also does not hug, or kiss, or chase her great-grandchild for fun. Instead she sips an intoxicating beverage from a glass bedecked with a spider. She serves up fish for breakfast, buggy eyes and all. But she also has a vanity full of mysterious perfumes, lipstick as red as rubies, and memories as sharp and painful as the day they were made. And when her great-granddaughter sneaks a kiss, Nell is still scary. But that’s okay. “…I like her that way.”

Don'tCall2First and foremost, this is not a fuzzy grandparent (or great-grandparent) book. There are plenty of fuzzy books out there, filled to brimming with warm snuggly feelings. If that is the kind of book you require then grab yourself the nearest Nancy Tillman and content yourself accordingly. What we have here instead is a kind of character study. Whatever expectations you carry into this book, they will be upended by the text. Nell is an amazing character, one that I’ve never seen in book of this sort. Her prickly nature may well hide that “broken heart” she mentions obliquely, but it could just as easily hide more prickles. We get three distinct memories of her past, but it’s a single wordless two-page spread that probably says more about her than anything else. As an adult, I found myself speculating about her life. How perhaps she had dreams of dancing professionally but that she put those dreams aside when she had her children at a very young age. No kid is going to read into Nell what I have. That’s what makes reading this book so dynamic. Come for the prickly relative. Stay for the enticing, unknowable back story.

What I would really like to praise in this review, if nothing else, is just how deftly author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson parses words into sentences that swell with meaning. Take, for example, the moment when our heroine enters Great-Grandmother Nell’s bedroom. She considers playing with the cloth ballerina on the best but abstains, saying, “her expression makes me think she might tell.” Later she kisses her great-grandmother in her sleep. “Even asleep, Great-Grandmother Nell is scary. But I like her that way.” The very last line? “She won’t know”. It would be fascinating to see Nelson’s original manuscript. Was it just this sparse and spare? Or was it much longer and cut down to the bone in the editing process? Whichever it was, it works.

Don'tCall3The child in this book is much like the child who will be reading it with an adult. Both she and they sense that there is more at work here than meets the eye. And it is the art by Elizabeth Zunon that backs that feeling up. Elizabeth Zunon has been a force to reckon with for years. I first noticed her when she illustrated William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, though I unknowingly had already been a fan of hers when she illustrated Jeanne Harvey’s My Hands Sing the Blues. In Don’t Call Me Grandma she begins with a straightforward contemporary story. Even then, her endpapers start telling the tale long before the words do (not counting the title). She fills these early pages with strings of pearls. Fat pearls, small pearls, pink and gray and white pearls. Note that in the text there is just one mention of those pearls, and it’s in the context of a lot of other things on Nell’s dressing table. But Zunon is getting a grip on her personality in her own way. Because of her we get a distinct sense of Great-Grandmother’s style, poise, and dignity. There are fun little details too, like the family peering out through the window as Nell gives a singing bird what for and how to. Zunon also lends Nell a humanity on the sidelines. When her great-granddaughter looks around her room we see Nell observing affectionately from the sides (though she’d be the first to deny it if you accosted her with the evidence). Then there are the memories. Depicted as splotchy watercolors, Zunon subtly changes her style to indicate how some memories are crystal clear even as they blur and go soft around the edges. The two-page spread of objects representing other memories (everything from photographs of Civil Rights marchers to tickets to an Alvin Ailey ballet) will require giving child readers some context. Nothing wrong with that. Sit them down and explain each thing you see. Don’t recognize something? Look it up!

A woman of my acquaintance used to make a big show of objecting to any and all picture books that depicted grandmothers as white-haired, doddering old women, tottering on the very edge of the grave. To her mind, there should be at least as many books that show those women as resourceful, spry, and full of energy. Great-Grandmothers probably have few books where they’re wrecking havoc with the universe. Generally speaking they just dodder and die. There will be no doddering and certainly no dying in Don’t Call Me Grandma, though. Nell isn’t just a character. She comes off the page like a full-blown human being, warts and all (just an expression – Nell would take me to the cleaners if she heard me indicating she has any warts). Sharp and smart, this is one of those picture books I’d like to see more of. Which is to say, stories I’ve never seen before.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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18. Ethics in Nonfiction for Kids

I’m not quite sure what it says about me that whenever I need to have a go-to Children’s Literary Salon I inevitably make it about ethics in nonfiction for kids. I think, technically, I’ve done this topic three times and each time it just gets more and more interesting. Case in point, this past Saturday’s Children’s Literary Salon in beautiful Evanston, IL. I hosted Barbara Rosenstock, Sally M. Walker, Candace Fleming, and Judith Fradin. And baby, we covered everything. Faux dialogue, what happens when the illustrations are inaccurate but the text is dead on, the world of nonfiction after A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON, the works!

Now I recorded the whole thing but I recorded it as a Google Hangout. That means the audio is a bit more digitized than I’d like. You can make it out, but it’s tricky. So, y’know. If anyone wants to make a transcript you shall earn my undying love and quite possibly a chocolate chip cookie to boot.

In the meantime, enjoy:

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19. Spotted! Author Visits

When I moved to Evanston from New York City I guess I thought my life would calm down a bit.  New York City’s all about the publisher previews, the author events, the crazy dinners for big name authors and illustrators, and it is clearly party central.  And for the most part Evanston is calm.  Quiet.  There’s a gigantic lake big enough to drown whole states just down the block from my library and bloodthirsty peregrine falcons tearing pigeons to shreds outside my window, but otherwise the action is slow.  At least that’s what I thought before I realized that Chicago (which sits just below Evanston) is basically another party central.  Author dinners?  We got ’em.  Gigantic book festivals like Book Expo?  Check and check, mate.  Add in all the booksellers, the fact that the American Library Association is based here, the active SCBWI networks and the existence of groups like the Center for Teaching Through Children’s Books and . . . . no.  No, I am not any less busy.  In fact, I seem to be busier.

Last week a couple authors came to town.  Good ones too.  One traveled from Britain and three from parts not-Chicago.  One came to Chicago and three came to my library.  So in tribute I give you . . .

DavidWalliams

This would be David Walliams posing while I do my best possible Stephen Colbert imitation.  Walliams is one of those celebrities-turned-children’s-book-writers but because he’s British and can walk down the street (in America) without getting mugged by fans, it’s cool.  If you are a fan of Little Britain then he will be familiar to you as he was one of the stars.  On this occasion he was in the States promoting his latest book Demon Dentist.  Of course I like him because of the first book of his I read years ago.  Do you remember The Boy in the Dress?  It came out in the States in 2008 and while it had a somewhat pat ending it was an interesting novel discussing cross-dressing (not transgender issues, which have only recently been addressed in middle grade fiction) in ways that I’d not seen in a book for kids before.

Not long after I was at my desk when I got a message from author Greg Neri.  He was in town and wanted to know if I was available to meet with him and some other authors?  But of course!

Neri&Friends

From left to right that’s Elana K. Arnold (THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES), Beth Fantasky (ISABEL FEENEY, STAR REPORTER), some librarian, and Greg Neri (TRU AND NELLI).  Apparently they were in town doing a tour of Evanston schools.  Random and delightful!  I was so pleased they came by to say howdy and now I’ll be reading all their latest books.  And stealing Elana’s coat.  Possibly not in that order.

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20. Video Sunday: “A man sits . . . in a setting . . .”

You know that nightmare you have where you’re up on a stage and you suddenly realize you have to give a TED talk but you have absolutely no idea what the subject is and you’re pretty sure you don’t have the little remote that’ll allow you to flip between slides anyway?  That one?  You don’t have that one?  I sure do.  I have that one all the time.  Which is weird because public speaking is a large portion of what I do for a living. Nevertheless there is something about the TED Talk format that utterly terrifies me. Whether it’s the  sheer size of the audience or the bright lights or the headset (it’s probably the headset) my innards freeze into tightly compacted fro-guts when I think about what a TED Talk would consist of.  That’s why I must doff my proverbial hat to the three authors recently featured in SLJ’s spotlight on writers doing TED Talks.  I’ll just post Mac’s here (which has . . . um . . . 123,740 hits as of this post) but be sure to check out Linda Sue Park and Jarrett Krosoczka as well:

One video you will not find on that post is this very recent one posted as of two days ago, starring Grace Lin.  She has that format down, man.  Down.

Thanks to Jarrett Krosoczka for the link.

I got this next one from Travis Jonker. Did I ever tell you about my childhood crush on Gene Wilder?  Seriously those eyes. Blue. So very blue. You can moderate all the debates you want, Willy Wonka.  I won’t mind.

Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.

I think I want to steal this idea.  Last minute book reports is a grand idea.  And, bonus points, it has a theme song. I think they should do a children’s book edition on particularly long or dense titles.  But this will do in the interim.

So they say that Seth Rogan is making a Where’s Waldo film.

Of course, it’s already been done.

And for our off-topic video, I coulda done without the fainting but the tiny octopus is cute.

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21. Press Release Fun: Matt Bird and The Secrets of Story

WritersDigest

Reprinting PW deal announcements is not what I tend to do.  Today, however, we’ve a rather extraordinary occurrence.  Some of you may know that my husband Matt Bird is a bit of a blogger and screenwriter in his own right.  Add the term “published author” to that description now.  Publishers Weekly has just announced Matt’s latest book deal.  In short:

Bird Shares the ‘Story’ With WD

Matt Bird sold world English rights to The Secrets of Story to Phil Sexton at Writers Digest. Bird, who has an M.F.A. in screenwriting from Columbia, runs the popular writing blog Cockeyed Caravan, which offers tips and instruction on narrative craft. Stephen Barbara at Inkwell Management represented Bird, and the book, which is subtitled Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers, is set for fall 2016. Barbara compared Secrets to such iconic screenwriting guides as Robert McKee’s Story and Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, calling it the “21st-century answer” to those titles.

Lest you feel this is simply pure nepotism, I will point out that Matt’s book has much to say to you children’s and YA authors out there.  He speaks regularly on the podcast of editor Cheryl Klein and James Monohan (The Narrative Breakdown) and his advice on The Ultimate Story Checklist has been of particular use to those who write books for kids and teens (note that the link I just included starts with an image of Harriet the Spy).

For more information, see Matt’s post here.

Hurray!

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22. Fusenews: “Rich. Famous. That’s all I’ve got”

  • We’re diving right in today.  Check out this killer poster:

Censorship

Now if you’re one of the lucky ducks living in NYC, or will be there on the date of 4/16, you now have your marching orders.  This is an event held at Bank Street College of Education and in wracking my brains I can’t think of anything more timely.  You can see the full listing of the events here.  Wish I were there.  Go in my stead, won’t you?


 

  • New Podcast Alert: This one sports a catchy moniker that will strike some of you as familiar.  Kidlit Drink Night (which would also make a good name for a band, a blog, or a dog) is the official podcast of one Amy Kurtz Skelding.  There’s a bit of YA cluttering up the works, but enough children’s stuff is present to make it worth your pretty while.  Do be so good as to check it out.

  • Hey!  Hey hey!  The Eric Carle Honorees were named, did you see?  And did you notice that amongst them Lee & Low Books was named an Angel?  Such fantastic news.  A strong year of nominees.

 

  • So Phil Nel shared something recently that I’d like you to note. There is apparently a Tumblr out there called Setup Wizard which consists of the, “Daily Accounts of a Muggle I.T. Guy working at Hogwarts.” Phil suggests reading them in order. I concur. Thanks to Phil for the link.

 


  • I have lots of favorite blogs, but Pop Goes the Page clearly belongs in the upper echelon.  Two posts by Dana Sheridan (the Education & Outreach Coordinator of the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University) caught my eye recently.  Dana, as you will recall, is responsible for my little toilet paper tube profile picture on Twitter.  Well now she’s used her knowledge of all things cardboard to create the world’s most adorable subway system complete with Broadway posters.  In a different post Dana, in partnership with The Met Museum’s Nolen Library (the one for the kids), shows a killer display on taking care of your books.  It doesn’t necessarily sound interesting, until you see how they magnified a book eating buggy.

  • So the other day I’m talking up Evan Turk and his new book The Storyteller, as per usual, and I mention to a librarian that the guy not too long ago did some killer sketches of Chicago blues musicians.  Naturally she wanted to see what I was talking about.  After all, I practically live in Chicago these days, so if there’s a talented illustrator going about making Chi-town art, it’s well worth promoting.  I took her to Evan’s blog and there, beautiful as all get out, is the art.  Then I thought I might share it with you as well.  This is just a tiny smidgen of what he has up so go to his blog to see more. The sheer talent of it all floors me.

Blues1

Blues2

Blues3


 

  • Do you know who is awesome?  Sharyn November, former Viking editor, is awesome.  So awesome, in fact, that she has her own brand of tea.  You can buy this tea, if you like.  I’ll put its description right here:

“sdn tea was created specifically for the punk goddess of children’s publishing, Sharyn November. This deity, who is all sharp angles, quick wit, and extraordinary fashion, is a fiery force of nature–literally and figuratively. She already has her own time zone, so it’s high time she has her own tea. This blend is strong and highly caffeinated. Almost impossibly fruity on the nose, it tastes of warm spice and goes extremely well with a piece of chocolate and a cigarette.”


 

  • Do school librarians yield higher test scores?  You may have always suspected that was the case but a recent study out of South Carolina now has some facts so that you can put your money where your mouth is.  Are you a school librarian in need of justifying your existence to your employer?  You can’t afford not to read this SLJ piece.

 

  • I dunno.  I get Neil Patrick Harris playing Count Olaf in the new Netflix series of A Series of Unfortunate Events.  That makes sense to me.  It’s Dr. Horrible without the songs.  Sure.  But Patrick Warburton as Snicket?  Last time we had Jude Law, and I’m pretty sure that was the right move to make.  Puddy as Lemony Snicket seems to lack the right panache.

 

  • In America we have our Newbery and Caldecott Medals.  In England it’s all about the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards.  And unlike the States, they create shortlists.  Those shortlists have just been released for 2016 and (also unlike the States) they nominate books outside their nation.  So Canadians like Jon Klassen and Sydney Smith have a fighting chance.  I agree with Travis Jonker, though.  The alternate title for Sidewalk Flowers was a surprise.

 

  • On the old To Do list: Meet Jan Susina, the Illinois State English Professor who also happens to be an expert on children’s literature.  In a recent interview he produced this marvelous mention of Beatrix Potter: “Potter once said, ‘Although nature is not consciously wicked, it is always ruthless.’ Peter Rabbit is a survival story, not a cute bunny story.”  How perfectly that quote could have worked in Wild Things.  Ah well.  The entire interview is well worth your time, particularly his answer to the question, “What is the greatest secret in children’s literature?”  The answer will surprise you.  Thanks to Phil Nel for the link.

 

  • This Saturday I’ve a Children’s Literary Salon at 2:00.  Yet a couple months ago I hosted Jeff Garrett who spoke about his work with the Reforma Children in Crisis Project.  You can imagine how pleased I was to hear that ALSC will be donating $5,000 to the project as well.  Fantastic news.

 

  • Daily Image:

I was dumpster diving in the donation bin this week when an old book caught my eye.  Hate to say it, but this thing seriously disturbs me.  They just don’t make ’em like this anymore (phew!).

YourWonderfulBody

Run, girl, run!!  Or rather . . . skate, girl, skate!

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23. Review of the Day: When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano

WhenGreen1When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons
By Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
A Neal Porter Book / Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan)
$18.99
ISBN: 9781596438521
Ages 6 and up
On shelves now.

I don’t think I can adequately stress to you the degree to which I did not want to review this book. Not because it isn’t a magnificent title. And not because it isn’t pleasing to both eye and ear alike. No, it probably had more to do with the fact that it’s a work of poetry. I make a point of reviewing poetry regularly, though I’d be the first to say that it wasn’t my first language (if you know what I mean). I respect it but can occasionally find it tough going. I was determined to give this book its due, though. And the only way I could make myself physically sit down and review it was to read it cover to cover again. As I did so I was struck over and over, time and again, by just how melodious the language is here. Look, I’ll level with you. Seasonal poetry books are a dime a dozen. But what Fogliano and Morstad have created together is a lot more than just a book of poems for the changes of the year. This book manages to operate on a level that presents the very act of the seasonal cycle as positively philosophical, yet without distancing itself from its readership. It’s tricky territory, but together Fogliano and Morstad get the job done.

“from a snow-covered tree / one bird singing / each tweet poking / a tiny hole / through the edge of winter”. In the very first poem in When Green Becomes Tomatoes (a poem called “march 20”) the child reader is alerted to a change in the air. The snow is still present and the weather still gloomy, but there is hope on the horizon. Yet rather than turn the book into a paean to warmer weather, poet Julie Fogliano takes time to both celebrate and criticize the passing seasons. By the end of spring you look forward to summer and the end of summer leads to the relief of autumn, and so on and such. Accompanying these thoughts are small poems in lowercase and illustrations carrying the weight and expectations these seasons evoke in us. The end result can only be described in a single word: beautiful.

WhenGreen2Like I said, I’ve read a lot of poetry books for kids about the seasons in my day. The good ones have some kind of a hook. Like Joyce Sidman tackling it with colors in Red Sings from Treetops or Jon J. Muth writing the poems entirely as haikus as in Hi, Koo! A Year in Seasons. But Fogliano doesn’t really have a hook, and so I approached the title with trepidation. No hook? You mean it was just going to be . . . poems?! It takes the courage of your convictions to do a poetry book for kids straight these days. And it’s not true that Fogliano didn’t have one ace up her sleeve. A lot of works of poetry start in January (when the year itself technically begins). Using a technique of highlighting random dates, this poet begins the book on March 20th, the first day of spring. A small hook, sure, but at least it’s something.

As for the poems themselves, I was impressed not just with the writing, but with Ms. Fogliano’s grasp of what each season actually entails. There are a LOT of cloudy days, rainy days, and generally blah days in this book. They don’t weigh down the narrative or really make it all that gloomy. You just end up experiencing precisely the same feeling you have when you’re living those days. This is the rare book that acknowledges that spring doesn’t immediately mean sunshine and 55-degree temperatures. There’s a lot of snow and some mud and a whole ton of rain. Listen to how she puts it, though: “today / the sky was too busy sulking to rain / and the sun was exhausted from trying / and everyone / it seemed / had decided / to wear their sadness / on the outside / and even the birds / and all their singing / sounded brokenhearted / inside of all that gray.” It really isn’t until June that things even out, and I respect that. All the seasons are like that. It’s great to watch.

As you might have noted, the poetry found in this book straddles a line between being child-friendly and introspective (the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but neither are they always natural pairs). I found myself noting line after line after line that I wanted to quote. Here’s a small taste for each season.

On Spring: “shivering and huddled close / the forever rushing daffodils / wished they had waited.”

On Summer: “if you ever stopped / to taste a blueberry / you would know / that it’s not really about the blue, at all.”

On Fall: “october please / get back in bed / your hands are cold / your nose is red / october please / go back to bed / your sneezing woke december.”

On Winter: “a gust of wind / blew by my nose / i think i will be frozen soon / this living room / (all cozy chairs and fireplace) / has some real explaining to do.”

Some books of children’s poetry lean heavily on the works of other poets. I won’t presume to name her influences but if the July 12th poem is any indication then William Carlos Williams might have had some influence here. And maybe e.e. cummings too (with all that mudlicious mud).

WhenGreen3When she was much younger it’s clear that author Julie Fogliano made some kind of a blood sacrifice to the God of Perfect Illustrator Pairings. How else to explain how she has managed to work alongside such artists as Erin E. Stead and now Julie Morstad? Morstad is no newbie to the field, of course. I’ve been a big fan of her for years, starting with her art for The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson. Morstad’s great talent lies not necessarily in her waiflike black-eyed children, but rather in how she creates tone. Though there are plenty of sequences in this book of kids playing together or sharing food and soup, for the most part her characters go it alone. These poems are the contemplations of a young person with time and space and nature in spades. I don’t know that if I read Ms. Fogliano’s poetry without the art I would have picked up on that myself. Note too how cyclical the book is. The first poem is the last, sure as shooting, but so too is the person seen at both the beginning and the end. It’s the same kid wearing the same clothes, which makes a subtle implication that though a whole year has gone by, time is simply doubling back on itself. Not sure what to make of that one, frankly.

With poetry, we have to play the game of answering what ages we think the poems are appropriate for. This book poses a bit of a challenge on that front. Some are younger, some definitely older. This mix will allow kids of all ages to take part in the fun, even as the book asks questions like whether or not there is a space between where things begin and things end “or just a slow and gentle fading”. Enticing to the eye but, more importantly almost, alluring to the brain as kids parse what Fogliano is trying to say, this is a book that has the potential (with the right teacher or parent) to convert the formerly unconvertible to the wonders of poetry itself. The truth of the matter is this: Fogliano and Morstad will make poets of us all.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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24. Politics and Mainstream Children’s Literature in 2016

You may have seen the Guardian article the other day ‘Oh, what a big gun you have': NRA rewrites fairytales to include firearms.  The title pretty much is the whole story, except that these are tales posted on the NRA’s website and not (at this time) actual published books.  I was looking at the post and the books themselves and for whatever reason it made me think about the current crop of picture books for kids today about the candidate for president.  Candidate singular, you see, because of the people running, only one has several picture book biographies to her name.

Flashback: The year is 2008 and I’m attending a Simon & Schuster publisher preview.  Here is my write-up from the time.  What you will not find in the write-up was what happened when the John McCain picture book biography was shown to the librarians in attendance.  They were . . . let us say less than pleased as a whole, though obviously I cannot speak for everyone.  The editor, incensed, stood and suddenly made a passionate speech about having to show both sides of every story.  That we owe it to our young readers to have picture book biographies of the candidates of both parties.

Fast Forward to 2016: Now I cannot say what the future holds in political publishing.  All I can say is that at this moment in time, there are at least three picture book biographies out about Hillary Clinton and only Hillary Clinton.  They are:

hillary-rodham-clinton-9781481451130_hr

HILLARY-jacket-final

I confess that it was a co-worker who pointed out to me the red, white, and blue streaks in her hair. Totally missed that on a first read.

Hillary hc c

I’ll not comment on these individually (though I do a fantastic one-woman show reenacting the opening of one of these three books – see if you can guess which one).  What I will say is that in the children’s book publishing industry few find themselves surprised when only one candidate gets a book.  I’m no psychic, but I think it’s safe to say that we probably won’t be seeing a Trump or Cruz picture book bio from a mainstream publisher in the next year.  Now I could be wrong, but the difference between McCain and these two potential candidates is immense.  Quite frankly, McCain was better suited to the format.

So what does this say about the publishing industry of 2016 and is it the same or different from 2008?  No idea.  One thing is certain, though.  No matter who secures the Republican nomination, picture book bios of that person will appear.  They’ll just be coming from smaller, conservative presses.

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25. What Was the First YA Novel?

Telemaque2Things are ah-brewing and ah-hopping on the child_lit listserv this week!  And though my blog is primarily a conduit through which one learns about children’s book news, I couldn’t help but get utterly fascinated by a discussion of origin.  Particularly, the origin of the YA novel.

Fun with semantics!  So what do we mean when we say that something is a YA novel?  Couldn’t you say that any novel read voraciously by teens (during the dawn of a book’s publication) is YA?  So wouldn’t that mean that classics like Robinson Crusoe or Pamela or what have you would count?  Maybe, but for the purposes of today’s post let’s say the key is authorial/publisher intent.  If an author writes a book specifically with teen readers in mind, it is YA.

All this is a bit tricky when you consider that even defining teens as a separate group is fairly new to history.  Still, if you take all these considerations into account, it was Jenny Schwartzberg of the Newberry Library who passed along this fascinating information:

“. . . the first novel for adolescents or YA novel in our terms is Francois de Fenelon’s Les Aventures de Telemaque (1699) . . .”

Never heard of it?  Nor had I.  Fortunately in a separate posting Jenny explained further:

Telemaque1Les Aventures de Telemaque was specifically written for an adolescent prince, the Dauphin of France.  Fenelon was his tutor.  I believe he was 14 at that time but I would have to check.  After it was published it was promoted Europe-wide as appropriate reading for adolescents.  It continued to be published in many languages and read by young students into the 19th century before falling out of favor.  It was also popular with adults and is still regarded as a French classic.

YA is a slippery term even today, and people certainly didn’t think in terms of separate literature for children and adults as we do today, but when books are specifically promoted in the contemporary reviews and critical literature as appropriate for certain ages, I’d certainly accept them as such.”

The more you know.  Thanks, Jenny!

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