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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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26. The British to American Translation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GoldilocksVariations1GoldilocksVariations2

Who could resist that?

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

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27. Review of the Day: The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi

TeaParty1The Tea Party in the Woods
By Akiko Miyakoshi
Kids Can Press
$16.95
ISBN: 978-1771381079
Ages 3-6

There are picture books out there that feel like short films. Some of the time they’re adapted into them (as with The Snowman or The Lost Thing or Lost and Found) and sometimes they’re made in tandem (The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore). And some of the time you know, deep in your heart of hearts, that they will never see the silver screen. That they will remain perfect little evocative pieces that seep deep into the softer linings of a child’s brain, changing them, affecting them, and remaining there for decades in some form. The Tea Party in the Woods is like that. It looks on first glance like what one might characterize to be a “quiet” book. Upon further consideration, however, it is walking the tightrope between fear and comfort. We are in safe hands from the start to the finish but there’s no moment when you relax entirely. In this strangeness we find a magnificent book.

Having snowed all night, Kikko’s father takes off through the woods to shovel out the walk of her grandmother. When he forgets to bring along the pie Kikko’s mother baked for the occasion, Kikko takes off after him. She knows the way but when she spots him in the distance she smashes the pie in her excitement. Catching up, there’s something strange about her father. He enters a house she’s never seen before. Upon closer inspection, the man inside isn’t a man at all but a bear. A sweet lamb soon invites Kikko in, and there she meets a pack of wild animals, all polite as can be and interested in her. When she confesses to having destroyed her grandmother’s cake, they lend her slices of their own, and then march her on her way with full musical accompaniment.

TeaParty2Part of what I like so much about this book is that when a kid reads it they’re probably just taking it at face value. Girl goes into woods, hangs out with clothed furry denizens, and so on, and such. Adults, by contrast, are bringing to the book all sorts of literary, cinematic, and theatrical references of their own. A girl entering the woods with red on her head so as to reach her grandmother’s reeks of Little Red Riding Hood (and I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a wolf at the tea party). The story of a girl wandering into the woods on her own and meeting the wild denizens who live there for a feast makes the book feel like a best case fairy encounter scenario. In this light the line, “You’re never alone in the woods”, so comforting here, takes on an entirely different feel. Some have mentioned comparisons to Alice in Wonderland as well, but the tone is entirely different. This is more akin to the meal with the badgers in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe than anything Lewis Carroll happened to cook up.

Yet it is the art that is, in many ways, the true allure. Kirkus compared the art to both minimalist Japanese prints as well as Dutch still life’s. Miyakoshi does indeed do marvelous things with light, but to my mind it’s the use of color that’s the most impressive. Red and yellow and the occasional hint of orange/peach appear at choice moments. Against a sea of black and white they draw your eye precisely to where it needs to go. That said, I felt it was Miyakoshi’s artistic choices that impressed me most. Nowhere is this more evident than when Kikko TeaParty3enters the party for the first time, every animal in the place staring at her. It’s a magnificent image. The best in the book by far. Somehow, Miyakoshi was able to draw this scene in such a way where the expressions on the animals’ faces are ambiguous. It isn’t just that they are animals. First and foremost, it seems clear that they are caught entirely unguarded in Kikko’s presence. The animals that had been playing music have stopped mid-note. And I, an adult, looked at this scene and (as I mentioned before) applied my own interpretation on how things could go. While it would be conceivable for Kikko to walk away from the party unscathed, in the hands of another writer she could easily have ended up the main course. That is probably why Miyakoshi follows up that two-page spread (which should have been wordless, but that’s neither here nor there) with an immediate scene of friendly, comforting words and images. The animals not only accept Kikko’s presence, they welcome her, are interested in her, and even help her when they discover her plight (smashing her grandmother’s pie). Adults everywhere who have found themselves unaccompanied (and even uninvited) at parties where they knew no one, and will recognize in this a clearly idyllic, unapologetically optimistic situation. In other words, perfect picture book fodder.

Translation is a delicate art. Done well, it creates some of our greatest children’s literature masterpieces. Done poorly and the book just melts away from the publishing world like mist, as if it was never there. Because I do not have a final copy of this book in hand, I don’t know if the translator for this book is ever named. Whoever they are, I think they knew precisely how to tackle it. Originally published in what I believe to be Japan, I marvel even now at how the story opens. The first line reads, “That morning, Kikko had awoken to a winter wonderland.” We are plunged into the story in such as way as to believe that we’ve been reading about Kikko for quite some time. It doesn’t say “One morning”, which is a distinction of vast importance. It says “That morning” and we are left to consider why that choice was made. What happened before “That morning” that led up to the events of this particular day? Whole short stories have been conjured from less. I love it.

If none of the reasons I’ve mentioned do it for you, consider this: On the front inside book flap of this book perches a squirrel in a bright red party dress in the crook of a tree. Tiny squirrel. Tiny red flowing gown. A detail you might easily miss the first ten times you read this book but it is there and just makes the book for me. Add in the tone, the light, the mood, and the writing itself and you have a book that will be remembered long after the name has faded from its readers’ minds. Something about this book will stick with your kids for all time. If you want something that feels classic and safely dangerous, Miyakoshi’s book is a rare piece of comfortable animal noir. No one is alone in the woods and after this book no one would want to be.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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28. Merry Christmas Weirdest Holiday Picture Book of All Time!

This is a reprint of a Christmas related post I did about two years ago.  I cannot tell you how often I think of this book.  Eventually I’m just going to cave and buy it.  In any case, Merry Christmas!


 

In the past I’ve done posts about Weirdo Picture Books and others on Out-of-Print Crimes Against Humanity. Today’s featured book could have fallen into both categories, were it not for the fact that there is justice in the universe. Previously out of print, 1997’s A Small Miracle by Peter Collington is back by popular demand and now available from Knopf in paperback. And well it should be. There’s a reason it was featured in the Publishers Weekly 12th Annual Off-the-Cuff Awards as booksellers’ Book We’re Sorriest to See Go Out of Print.

Here is the plot of the book as described in the SLJ review:

“An old woman, living alone in a trailer, spends her days playing an accordion on the street for money. But times are especially difficult, even in this middle-class town. Desperate, she sells her accordion for cash, only to have it stolen by a masked bandit who then pilfers the poor box from the local church and vandalizes its manger scene. Intercepting the thief, the woman is able to return the money and does her best to set the scene to rights. Then, exhausted and hungry, she collapses in the snow. The manger figures come to life and take her home, where they all pitch in to see that she has her accordion back and that she has food. It’s all part of the miracle that none of the merchants or townspeople are at all surprised at the sight of the small figures making deals at the pawn shop or prowling the aisles at the supermarket.”

I’m glad they mentioned the supermarket because that may have been the point in the book when it totally won me over. Stealing from old ladies can be pretty dark stuff, and the elderly collapsing in the snow is worse, but there’s something so ridiculously charming about the tiny creche figures pushing shopping carts down fluorescent lighted lanes that you can’t help but give in to it.

I wish I could find an image of the shopping scene because it really is worth it. The book is just chock full of these small details that make you want to read and reread the story. There is, for example, the fact that Mary is always holding the Baby Jesus, but that doesn’t get in the way of her helping out. Though obviously she’s not able to remove the old woman from the snow with the other guys, note that she’s holding their Three Kings gifts, crooks, etc. while they take care of things. You know what the book really reminded me of? The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It’s that remarkable combination of humor and affection and an honestly religious tone. This is a straight up Christian Christmas book. Really good ones are out there, but they’re often a bit more difficult to find than you’d think. This is one of the few.

And who is Peter Collington? Well, according to his website he’s an Englishman residing in Dorset. In his picture books he prefers a kind of wordless paneled technique reminiscent of folks like Raymond Briggs. As far as I can ascertain he’s done a lot of other things lately, but not so much in the way of picture books. He seems to have stopped sometime around the late 90s. If anyone knows more about him, I’d love to hear it.

So there you go. Should you feel inclined to locate a weirdly touching little wordless tale for your holiday enjoyment, seek thee this puppy. I guarantee it’s like nothing you’ve read. And should you have other odd holiday books you’d like to give a shout out to, feel free to list them in the comments here.

For the record, someone did turn this book into a short film, but I feel like the weirdness of the book is completely lost in the translation. Still, if you’re curious you can go here.

Thanks to Alison Morris for the introduction to this book!

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29. Press Release Fun: Collecting the Mocks

YMA

In preparation for the SLJ Pre-Game / Post-Game Show each year I try to collect all the Mock elections for Newbery or Caldecott or Printz or Sibert or Coretta Scott King or really anything that’s out there.  It’s mildly exhausting and you’re always bound to miss someone somewhere.  Last year I dutifully collected the Mocks in a post but it still seemed strange that I was the only one compiling them.  Happily this year ALSC is doing the work for me.  The following message was posted on several children’s literature listservs.  If you’ve a Mock Election coming up (or that has already happened) please note the following (and check out the huge amount of winners they’ve already posted!!).


 

Every year, libraries and schools around North America offer Mock Election programs in preparation for the annual Youth Media Awards.  These discussions are a great opportunity for children?s literature aficionados to gather and discuss a topic they love, and to learn more about some of the great, recently published books for kids.

A page is being developed on the ALSC Blog with as many of the results from this year’s Mock Elections as can be found. Check it out here. You can also find this tab on the homepage of the ALSC Blog.

If you are a library, school, bookstore, discussion group, blog, MLIS class, or other group of interested readers, we’d love to include the results of your mock elections of young people’s literature.  Send off the names of your mock winner and honor titles to ALSCblog@gmail.com with other pertinent information you would like to share, including the name of your library, your city/state, a url to your library and/or Mock Election site, the number of participants, and a contact name & email for further information. We look forward to posting a wide variety of results!

Check back often to see what titles are being selecting in Youth Media Award Mock Elections, feel free to share this page widely, and stay tuned to find out the real winners as they are announced at the Midwinter Conference on January 11, 2016 in Boston.

Happy reading!  Happy discussing!

Mary

Mary R. Voors

ALSC Blog manager

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30. Guest Post: Melissa Stewart and Diversity in Thinking

I don’t often do much in the way of guest posts on this site. Aside from the occasional Walking and Talking episode by Steve Sheinkin it’s almost always a one-woman show over here. That said, when someone presents me with something particularly interesting and asks if they can post it on my site, I can’t help but say yes. Author Melissa Stewart is known as the author of more than 150 children’s nonfiction books off possible types and reading levels.  Most recently she was the one behind the magnificent No Monkeys, No Chocolate and the highly praised and well reviewed Feathers: Not Just for Flying, amongst others.  Add in her bachelor’s degree in biology from Union College in Schenectady, NY, and her master’s degree in science journalism from New York University and you’ve got yourself a bonafide nonfiction expert in the field. 

Today Melissa breaks down the nonfiction books winning the awards, whether or not kids read nonfiction, thoughts on what we can do to support high-quality expository nonfiction, and the ten STEM-themed expository nonfiction titles that should be in every elementary book collection. 


eggisquiet

In recent years, narrative nonfiction—books that tell a true story or convey an experience—has been all the rage. Children’s book editors are acquiring it. Reviewers are praising it. Awards committees are honoring it. And educators are buying it.

But what about kids? What do they think? To be sure, some young readers are enthusiastic about narrative nonfiction, but others—not so much. They’d rather read expository nonfiction—titles that describe, explain, or inform.

What accounts for the difference in opinion? How children think. The idea that different students think and interact with the world in different ways isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it has literacy implications that are worth keeping in mind.

Most of the adults who are passionate about children’s literature—editors, book reviewers, librarians, literacy coaches, classroom teachers, award committee judges—are naturally drawn to the Arts, humanities, and social sciences. They’re also drawn to stories and storytelling. So it’s no surprise that most of the nonfiction titles honored by the biggest awards in children’s literature employ a narrative writing style to recount historical events or highlight the accomplishments of influential people.

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 1.46.47 PM

SeeingSymmetryIn looking at the nonfiction winners for the Newbery and Caldecott since 1995 and for the Sibert (which focuses on nonfiction) since its inception in 2001, it’s easy to see that life stories—biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs—are the champs with a total score of 48 (9 medals, 39 honors). History titles come in second with 28 winners overall, while STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) titles trail behind with just 16 winners.

A closer look at the life stories shows that 27 of them focus on key historical figures, while 13 feature visual artists, writers, or musicians. Just 8 highlight the accomplishments of scientists.

Combining all these figures, the totals work out to 55 winning social studies titles and 24 winning STEM books. In other words, social studies titles win these highly-respected awards more than twice as often as science titles. That’s a big difference.

Why is it important to spend some time pondering this discrepancy? Because plenty of children aren’t naturally drawn to the Arts, humanities, and social sciences. Budding scientists, engineers, mathematicians, computer programmers, accountants, electricians, and plumbers don’t necessarily crave an emotional connection with a central figure in a book. Instead, they get excited about data, facts, ideas, information.

These concrete, analytical thinkers enjoy reading engaging expository nonfiction with clear main ideas and supporting details. They’re captivated by books that emphasize patterns, analogies, concepts, comparisons, and calculations. As they read, their goal is to use the information they gather to learn about the world and its possibilities and their place in it. That’s what they want more than anything.

LookUpWe all know that the big awards generate big sales. Award-winning books end up in classrooms and libraries across the country, and that greatly increases the odds that they’ll end up in the hands of the children who need them most.

Because expository STEM books just don’t seem to win the most highly-respected awards as often as other kinds of nonfiction, I worry that young analytical thinkers are being underserved by the children’s book community. We need to honor these children by:

  • purchasing and recommending more high-quality expository nonfiction
  • choosing engaging, richly illustrated expository nonfiction as read alouds
  • using carefully crafted expository nonfiction as mentor texts in writing workshop

Studies show that many primary-grade students who are enthusiastic about science, technology, engineering, and math get turned off to these subjects by the time they reach high school. If we want the United States to remain a global innovation leader, we must foster all the potential STEM talent our country has to offer. We need to fuel the curiosity of young analytical thinkers, and one way to do that is by nurturing and nourishing their minds with books they love.

The good news for us and for young readers is that during the last decade, expository nonfiction has undergone an exciting transformation. Once upon a time, it was boring and stodgy, but many of the expository nonfiction books being published today feature engaging text, captivating art, and dynamic design. As a result, these titles delight as well as inform.

Here are ten STEM-themed expository nonfiction titles that I think should be in every elementary book collection:

  • An Egg is Quiet written by Dianna Hutts Aston 
  • Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine
  • Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge
  • Creature Features by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
  • Frogs by Nic Bishop
  • Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
  • Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell
  • Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci by Gene Barretta
  • Tiny Creatures: The Invisible World of Microbes by Nicola Davies
  • Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy

 


Melissa Stewart is the author of more than 150 science books for children and the co-author (with Nancy Chelsey) of Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 (Stenhouse, 2014). To learn more about Melissa and her work, please visit her website.

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31. Press Release Fun: Shortlist for an Early Literacy Development Award

This is the kind of award librarians should know about and don’t tend to. For anyone searching for good picture book readalouds, this list is invaluable. Read on:

Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy Announces 2016 CLEL Picture Book Awards Shortlists

CLELBellDenver, Colorado, December 15, 2015 – Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL) announces the Shortlist titles for the 2016 CLEL Bell Picture Book Award. The CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards are a national award designed to recognize picture books that provide excellent support of early literacy development in young children.

The Shortlist includes 25 titles- five books in each of the five categories representing an early literacy practices: Read, Write, Sing, Talk and Play. Research shows that engaging children in these practices builds language skills and prepares children to become successful readers.

Winning titles, one from each category, will be announced on February 5, 2016. The shortlists are:

Read:

Books for Me! by Sue Fliess; illustrated by Mike Laughead (Two Lions), The Boy & the Book by David Michael Slater; illustrated by Bob Kolar (Charlesbridge), Where Are My Books? by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Duncan the Story Dragon by Amanda Driscoll (Random House), Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon (Sterling?s Childrens Books)

Write:

Around the World: Follow the Trail by Katie Haworth; illustrated by Craig Shuttlewood (Little Bee Books), By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman (Viking Books for Young Readers), How to Draw a Dragon by Douglas Florian (Beach Lane Books), Inside this Book (are three books) by Barney Saltzberg (Abrams Appleseed), Knit Together by Angela Dominguez (Penguin Group)

Sing:

Hiccupotamus by Steve Smallman; illustrated by Ada Grey (Tiger Tales), Mother Goose’s Pajama Party by Danna Smith; illustrated by Virginia Allyn (Doubleday Books for Young Readers), Nose to Toes, You Are Yummy! by Tim Harrington (Balzer + Bray), Cock-a-Doodle-Doo-Bop! by Michael Ian Black; illustrated by Matt Myers, (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), Music Class Today! by David Weinstone; illustrated by Vin Vogel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR))

Talk:

One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck; illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail (Atheneum Books), A Fish to Feed by Ellen Mayer; illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu (Star Bright Books), Can You Whoo, Too? by Harriet Ziefert; illustrated by Sophie Fatus (Blue Apple Books), BAH! Said the Baby by Jennifer Plecas (Philomel Books), I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty; illustrated by Mike Boldt (Doubleday Books)

Play:

Tickle Monster by Edouard Manceau (Abrams), On the Ball by Brian Pinkney (Disney Hyperion), Bob and Flo by Rebecca Ashdown (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Little Baby Buttercup by Linda Ashman; illustrated by You Byun (Nancy Paulsen Books), Book-O-Hats: A Wearable Book by Donald Lemke; illustrated by Bob Lentz (Capstone Young Readers)

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32. Why This Book? The Conundrum of Virality and A Fine Dessert

FineDessertFriends, Romans, Countrymen. Lend me your ears.  I come to discuss A Fine Dessert, not to praise it or denigrate it.  Not to really talk much about the book itself at all except as a recent phenomenon.  A phenomenon unique to our particular day and age and that remains relatively mysterious, despite (or perhaps because of) the thousands of people who have found themselves wrapped up in the discussions that surround it.  Discussions that, insofar as I can tell, show no signs of coming to a halt.

Now if there’s anything that bugs me online it’s when blogs, Twitter accounts, and Facebook feeds talk about an issue without bringing up to speed those folks who have remained ignorant of the discussion from the start.  So in the event that you get ALL your children’s book news through my particular blog (an act that I do not recommend as my weekly reporting skills are spotty at best), a quick summary that I will call “The Tale of A Fine Dessert”.

Actually, I’m not entirely certain where the A Fine Dessert controversy first began.  Maybe it was on August 4th when a blog called Trybrary wrote a piece that brought up Illinois librarian Elisa’s concerns with how the book chose to depict the slaves in the story.  This, in turn, was mentioned by Calling Caldecott and subsequent Twitter discussions seem to be dated to late October at this point.  What sets the discussion apart from many others about issues in children’s books is that it didn’t stay relegated to the world of librarians, children’s book bloggers, teachers, and author/illustrators.  My first clue that the talks had gone viral occurred when NPR’s Codeswitch picked up on the story on October 30th.  The New York Times followed suit soon thereafter on November 6th, but if you think the discussion would stop there how wrong you are.  Daniel José Older uploaded a video of himself on a panel criticizing the book in early November.  Since then it’s pretty much continued to be mentioned online, the most recent discussion happening when Sam Juliano wrote about it on his site Wonders in the Dark (185 comments and rising as of this post).  And I think it is safe to say that Sam’s will not be the last place the book is discussed this year or next.

So here is my question to you today: Of all the books that are considered controversial or debatable in terms of content and quality, why has the A Fine Dessert debate exploded while others have stayed relatively under the radar?  Lest you harbor the notion that the book is extraordinary in its content, some of the issues surrounding the book were contained in other 2015 picture books depicting slavery and will continue to exist in 2016.  In 2015 alone I’ve heard people debating problematic elements (specifically involving race) in books like Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox, An Invisible Thread, Home, and Over the Hills and Far Away, just to name a small sampling.  Yet nothing has touched a nerve like A Fine Dessert.  Why?

If social scientists could figure out what makes a topic viral online we’d all be living in a very different world.  As it is, this could just be the case of the book coming out at precisely the moment when discussions about slavery have actually been on our newscasts at night.  Recall that it was as recent as late June / early July of this year that debates raged over whether or not the Confederate flag would be removed from the South Carolina House.  But even that doesn’t explain the book discussions’ continual presence online.

Perhaps the perpetual interest isn’t just due to our increased awareness of depictions of all races, genders, religions, and sexuality in our books for youth.  A Fine Dessert is a picture book and traditionally picture books are debated for not just their writing but their images as well.  People who challenge books have known this for years.  You can object to content for some books (like And Tango Makes Three, The Lorax, Where the Wild Things Are, etc.), and to the images in others (The Rabbits’ Wedding, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, In the Night Kitchen, etc.).  If both words and pictures are deemed offensive in some way then the book has more of a chance of offending a wider swath of people.  This is why the Frequently Challenged Books list of ALA always has plenty of slots filled with graphic novels.  Images carry a different power than words.

In the end, the answer may be a simple one.  Perhaps A Fine Dessert is so heavily debated because unlike some of the other 2015 books I’ve mentioned, it has supporters that are as outspoken as its critics.  Sometimes when people discuss a book there will be a sense that one side or another has “won” the debate regarding the quality of the title.  What’s remarkable about this book is that the debate does not feel one-sided.  And just as one side quiets down, the other side speaks right up again.

To be continued?  I think that goes without saying.

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10 Comments on Why This Book? The Conundrum of Virality and A Fine Dessert, last added: 12/20/2015
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33. Review of the Day: A Great Big Cuddle by Michael Rosen

GreatBigCuddle1A Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young
By Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
Candlewick Press
$19.99
ISBN: 978076368116
Ages 0-4
On shelves now.

Did you know that, generally speaking, Europeans have absolutely no interest in the works of Dr. Seuss? It’s true. For years his works have been untranslatable (though great inroads have been made thanks to some recent Spanish editions) and those that remain in the original English have done very poorly in the United Kingdom. Americans by and large tend to be baffled by this. We look at the British lists of Best Picture Books and the like and find them Seuss-free zones. Abandon Seuss, all ye who enter here. I once asked an overseas friend if she’d ever heard of The Lorax. What she’d heard of was the abominable Danny DeVito movie. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Here in the States we rely heavily on Seuss because he was such a genius when it came to writing rhyming verse for the very youngest of readers. Now I hold in my hands a big, beautiful, thick collection of poetry for the very smallest of fry and I have to face an uncomfortable notion. If indeed the English are capable of producing books this good for kids this young, perhaps they don’t need any Seuss. With Rosen and Riddell pairing in this way, they seem perfectly capable of making remarkable, rhythmic, ridiculously catchy titles of their very own.

Thirty-five poems greet you. Thirty-five varying in complexity and content. Just to set the tone, the first rhyme is “Tippy-Tappy” and it contains such a catchy rhythm and happy beat that kids will be bouncing in tandem by the time it is done. Next is “The Button Bop”, limited in word count, high on bops. Accompanied by the vibrant watercolors of artist Chris Riddell, each poem aims to set itself apart from the pack. Some are short, and some slightly longer. Some are anxious or scared while others beat their chests and roar their loudest. It feels like there’s something for everyone in this collection, but the takeaway is how well it holds together. A treasure in a treasury.

Michael Rosen isn’t a household name in United States, but I’d say at least one of his books is. Anyone who has ever sought out or read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury has read his words. We’re just nuts about that book, and we have him to thank for it. Despite that, he’s not an author to relegate himself to just one kind of story. Indeed, I haven’t seen him produce much of anything quite as young as “Bear Hunt” in years (or, at the very least, I haven’t seen works of his brought to U.S. shores this “young” in content). That’s why this book is such a surprise and a delight.

If you have a small child, you grow accustomed to the classic nursery rhymes. They have, after all, withstood the test of time. Still, roundabout the one hundred and fortieth time you’ve read “Bye, Baby Bunting” you long for something a little different. Imagine then the palpable sense of relief such a parent might feel when reading jaunty little poems like “What a Fandango!” starring (what else?) a mango. The thing about Rosen is that so many of his poems feel as if they’ve been in the canon of nursery rhymery for centuries. “Oh Dear” is very much in the same vein as “Hush, Little Baby” all thanks to its regular rhythm and repetition. “Party Time” counts down and brings to mind “This Old Man” in reverse. And should you be under the misbegotten understanding that writing poems of this sort is easy, go on. Write one yourself. Now fill a book with them. I’ll just wait right here and finish my sandwich.

GreatBigCuddle3It is also worth noting that without including any verbal instructions, even the dullest of parental readers will catch on pretty early that many of these poems are interactive. Consider “Finger Story” where your fingers are instructed to do everything from “wake up” and “stretch” to “climb” and “slide”. And just in case they’re still not getting it, Chris Riddell’s art is on hand, showing a pudgy youngster and an orangutan of uncommon sweetness walking their fingers together on the ground.

What is interesting to me here is that in terms of age of the reader, Rosen isn’t limiting himself solely to toddlers. There are a couple poems in here that preschoolers would probably appreciate more than their drooling, babbling brethren. “I Am Hungry”, for example, stars a hungry bear listing everything he could eat at this moment (both the usual fare and unusual selections like “A funny joke” or “The sound of yes”) ending with “Then I’ll eat me” which is just the right level of ridiculousness to amuse the canny four-year-old. And “Don’t Squash” is going to ramp up the silly levels pretty effectively when a splatter happy elephant is instructed not to squash her toes, nose, a bun, the sun, cars, stars, a fly, or the very sky.

Now just the slightest glance of a gander at the back bookflap of this book and you’ll get an eyeful of the sheer talent Rosen has been paired with over the years. His words have been brought to life by folks no less eminent than Helen Oxenbury, Quentin Blake, Bob Graham, and more. Truth be told, I don’t really know if this is his first book with Chris Riddell or not. I will say, though, that when I saw that Riddell was the artist on this title I was surprised. When last seen in the States, Riddell had illustrated that nobly intentioned but ultimately awful Russell Brand Pied Piper of Hamlin. Nothing against Riddell, of course, he did what he could with the material (Clockwork Orange Piper and all). So usually when I see his work I associate it with children’s books a bit more on the hardcore side of the equation. Neil Gaiman and Paul Stewart and the like. Could he do adorable? Could he dial back the disgusting? Yes, yes, and (for good measure) yes again. He has that thing we like to call in the business “talent”. Seems to suit him, it does.

Riddell also seems capable of occasionally re-interpreting Rosen’s rhymes with a particularly child-centric view. The poem “Are You Listening?” felt wildly familiar to me, for example. On the left-hand page sits a guilty dinosaur, slurping a piece of spaghetti, looking mildly nervous. On the right-hand page a toddler is berating a small dinosaur stuffed animal, and it will be very easy indeed for kids looking at the picture to extrapolate the relationship between the realistic dino on the left-hand page, and the one on the right. Sometimes I even got the impression that he was softening the content a tad. The poem “Winter” is one of splinters and blisters, but thanks to the gentle hand of Riddell it turns into a snuggly bear hug with mom. All this and he makes the book multicultural as well. Manifique.

GreatBigCuddle2Is it very British? With an author from London and an artist from Brighton it runs the risk of indulging in a bit of English chicanery. There wasn’t much that struck me as containing a particular sense of humor, though, with the possible exception of the poem “Once”. A thoroughly silly but darker little work, it will probably remind Yankee readers more of Shel Silverstein than the aforementioned Seuss. There is also “Lost”, the story of a small mouse all alone, without any particular happy resolution in sight. Had such a poem appeared in a collection for small children originally in the States, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to think that an American editor would have gently nudged the author away from ending the poem with the somewhat dire, “I don’t know, I don’t know, anything at all. / I’m going to sit still now and just look at the wall.”

The least respected form of children’s literature in existence is poetry. It hasn’t any American Library Association awards it can win. It typically is remembered by teachers in April and then never thought of again. But nursery rhymes fare a bit better. Not every parent remembers to read them to their children, but a fair number try. Getting those same parents to read original works of poetry to their little kids can be trickier, so it helps if you package your book as a big, beautiful, lush and gorgeous gift book. Delightful to read aloud again and again (a good thing since I’m afraid you will have to, if only to please your rabid pint-sized audience) and lovely to the eye, Rosen and Riddell aim for the earliest of ages and end up creating a contemporary classic in the process. It may not be Seuss but you won’t miss him while you read it. A necessary purchase for any new parent. A required selection for libraries and bookstores everywhere. Or, as the book puts it, “Tippy-tappy / Tippy-tappy / Tap, tap, tap.”

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Interviews: Chris and Michael speak on the radio about the book.  Many fine sketches are to be seen as well.

Videos:

The man himself.  Repeatedly.

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7 Comments on Review of the Day: A Great Big Cuddle by Michael Rosen, last added: 12/17/2015
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34. NYPL Releases Their Annual Lists (Plural!)

NYPL100BooksEach year New York Public Library produces what I seriously consider to be the most beautiful Best Books list of them all.  Encompassing 100 books in total, it breaks all children’s books written in different categories to the following: Picture Books, Early Chapter Books, Middle Grade Fiction, Poetry, Folk and Fairytales, Graphic Novels, and Nonfiction.  They print out hundreds of gorgeous lists with lush covers and great interior art from the winners.  The list will now be in its 105th year, and for those of us unable to see the print version (*sniff*) you can get to see the next best thing: An interactive one.

Not to be outdone, the YA list of NYPL has arisen from the dead.  You may not know it but the Books for the Teen Age list started decades and decades ago.  It suffered quite a lot when it was renamed “Stuff for the Teen Age” (cause . . . teens don’t . . . read?) and then was killed outright in the bad old days when NYPL did away with specialties.  Now things are happy and good again, Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 9.41.36 PMso after a trial run last year it’s almost up to full power.  You can see their beauty of a list here.

I was able to give my input to the children’s NYPL list up until my leaving at the end of July.  The YA list pretty much operated outside my sphere.  And I adore these choices.  Do I agree with all of them?  Not even!  Example: No Cuckoo Song on the YA list, and in what universe is Human Body Theater doing there for teens?!?!  I mean, seriously, that’s my 4-year-old’s favorite book.  In any case, they’re still brilliant choices and the lists I spend all year waiting for.  Huzzah!

 

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3 Comments on NYPL Releases Their Annual Lists (Plural!), last added: 12/16/2015
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35. What Is a Social Script?

Oh, the librarian and the teacher should be friends
Yes, the librarian and the teacher should be friends
One job invokes all new terms
The other hears them and they squirm
But that’s no reason why they can’t be friends

Literary folks should stick together
Literary folks should all be buds
Teachers want some Core/STEM topics
Librarians never hand them duds

It’s silly season over at Chez Bird, it would seem.  But I think a lot about the teacher/librarian relationship.  Not just between teachers and their school librarians (if they’re lucky enough to have any) but between teachers and public children’s librarians as well.  It’s a symbiotic relationship at its best, and a passive aggressive one at its worst.  And, occasionally, just a baffling one, particularly when librarians must handle new terms for books that they themselves are unfamiliar with (or, for teachers, vice versa).

One term I myself had not heard of came up on the PUB-YAC listserv recently, and it caught my attention.  Apparently there are librarians out there who face parents asking for “social script” titles.  And what might those be?  Librarian Jennifer Salt explained all.  What follows here is her explanation.  It may either clarify things for a lot of you public librarians out there, or at the very least prepare you for this request in the future.  As she says:

Social scripts basically take an event and break it down into small, explicit, step by step instructions. Any conversation that happens as part of the event is included. (for example: “When I get on the school bus, the bus driver will say ‘Hi John.’ I will say, ‘Hello, Mr. Smith.’ Then I will sit down in an empty seat”)

“Social Scripts” is a term that is widely used–within a fairly small world. They are widely available, but–here’s the rub–I know about these because of experiences related to my own disabilities. I can find them easily because I know they exist–but I can’t figure out how to tell the rest of you to search for them.

“Social scripts”  is evidently not a standard search term. I know for a fact that my library owns several of these books–but since I know that, and also know where they are shelved, I usually just walk the customers over to the right area–I don’t actually do a catalog search. However, I did plug in the term “social scripts” into our online catalog in response to Rachel’s query–and I didn’t get results that actually matched what I was looking for. Then, I tried again using Baker & Taylor and a third time using amazon.com. “Social Scripts” didn’t work as a search term on either of those websites, either. Then, I tried entering one of the titles into our online catalog and checking the subject headings–but that didn’t lead to my discovering any kind of subject heading that zoned in on what I was looking for either. Plugging “social scripts” into google turned up workable definitions–but the suggested books–well, not so good.

In any event, one book describing a “typical day” is likely to be more stressful than helpful. Those of us who need to break down our routines to this extent–we don’t generalize well. For example–I gather that to most people, there’s not much difference between someone greeting you by saying “hi” or someone greeting you by saying “how are you?” In my mind, these are two *completely* different scenarios for which I have *completely* different scripts in my head.  One really helpful thing that social scripts can do is help neurotypicals better understand how we think and give parents\teachers\caregivers tools to help kids who process information differently. And since you guys *can* generalize, so simply telling parents, “We may not have exactly what you’re describing, but I can show you some books that other parents in similar situations have found helpful” actually can help families more often than not. Most parents, once they have a general idea of what a social script is, are quite capable of adapting what does exist and\or creating new scripts to meet their child’s specific needs.

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9 Comments on What Is a Social Script?, last added: 12/14/2015
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36. Review of the Day: The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld

PerilousPrincessBuckle and Squash: The Perilous Princess Plot
By Sarah Courtauld
Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan)
$14.99
ISBN: 978-1-250-05277-3
Ages 7-10
On shelves now.

Considering that I will never but EVER write an early chapter book or, for that matter, an easy book for new readers, it’s funny how often I sit around contemplating their difficulty. More precisely, I want to know which ones are more difficult to write. Easy books sounds like they’d be the hardest, particularly since it is remarkably hard to siphon a book down to its most essential parts while also making it interesting. Then again, those early chapter books are the devil. We see whole bunches of them published every year but how many are the type you’d like to read to your kids at bedtime over and over and over again? Nothing against Magic Treehouse, but would it kill Mary Pope Osborne to include just one tiny giant name Bonnet? Or have her characters fake The Black Death with the aid of turnip soup? I guess that’s what’s so great about Sarah Courtauld’s early chapter book import The Perilous Princess Plot. Not only is it sublime bedtime reading, it’s also perfect for transitioning kids to longer books, AND it’s knock your socks off funny. Goat and gruel, there’s something for everyone here. Unless you hate humor. Then you’re out of luck.

Meet Lavender. Interests include princesses, being a princess someday, handsome princes, and princesses (did I mention that one?). Meet her younger sister, Eliza. Interests include not hearing Lavender mention anything fairy tale related ever ever again (to say nothing of her singing). The two live in the Middle of Nowhere, in the Forgotten Corner of the Kingdom, in the realm of Squerb and their lives are pretty ordinary. Ordinary, that is, until Lavender gets herself kidnapped by the villain Mordmont who is hoping to ransom a pricey princess. Now it’s up to Eliza and her trusty steed/goat Gertrude to rescue Lavender (whether she wants to be rescued or not) and to generally save the day. There just might be a couple odd pit stops to attend to first.

It’s interesting. An author has a lot of ways of making a protagonist sympathetic to the her readership. Often in children’s books an instantaneous way is to make them the recipient of unfair treatment. Nothing captures hearts and minds more swiftly or efficiently than good old-fashioned outrage on behalf of your heroine and that’s certainly how Courtauld begins the book, with Eliza mucking out the goat pen as Lavender tra la las about. However, the real way in which you bond with Eliza is through your mutual annoyance with Lavender. Lavender is sort of what would happen if Fancy Nancy ever got so swallowed up in a princess obsession that she became unrecognizable to her family. Courtauld was quite clever to make Lavender the older sibling too. We’ve all seen the younger-princess-obsessed sibling motif in various books and while I’ve nothing against it, there’s something particularly grating when someone who, by dearth of age alone, should know better yet doesn’t.

In a given day you probably won’t read many early chapter books for kids that feel like the cast of Monty Python meandered out of retirement to write a book for children. Funny? Baby, you don’t know the half of it. Funny is hard. Funny is difficult. Funny is almost impossible to pin down because everyone’s sense of humor is different in some way from everyone else’s. But I simply refuse to believe that there’s a kid out there who could read this book and not crack a smile once. Here, I’ll give you an example. Early in the story the evil villain Mordmont is depressed. As he says, “I’m a man of simple pleasures . . . All I ever wanted was a castle, my own pride of lions, a jeweled crown, a choir of elves singing me awake each morning, sainthood, the power to make gold, the best mustache in Europe, a Jacuzzi, an elephant from the Indies, another one to be its friend, a singing giraffe, the power of invisibility, Magic Cheese Powers, a tiger with the feet of a lamb, the head of a lamb, and the body of a lamb – basically, a lamb – power over the sea, power over the letter C . . .” at which point we’re told that another 4,235 simple pleasures are to be skipped over so that we can fast forward to the final one, “a meringue that speaks Japanese.” It’s the lamb part that really got me. Love that lamb.

So let’s say you’re writing an early chapter book and you have the chance to illustrate it yourself. Do you do so? Particularly if it’s your debut novel? Yep. I’ve checked out her CV and from what I can tell Ms. Courtauld isn’t exactly a trained artist. In this respect she reminds me not a little of Abby Hanlon, another hilarious early chapter book author/self-taught illustrator whose Dory Fantasmagory is largely aided by her seemingly effortless pencilings. In this book too the art is deceptively simple. Just pencil sketches of silly tiny things, really. Yet I tell you right now that if some fancy pants illustrator walked up and said they’d redo the whole thing for free, I’d turn ‘em down flat. Courtauld has this perverse little style (in the best possible way, naturally) that just clicks with her storytelling. Some of it is obvious, like the view of a tearful rhino forced to watch Swan Lake, and some are visual gags so cheap that you just want to physically hug the book itself (like the image of people poking a girl after Mordmont talks about losing at poker). And how many early chapter book British imports can you name that contain images of Kanye West? I rest my case. Check and mate, babies.

According to a number of reputable sources this book has, “won the Sainsbury’s Book Award, and has been shortlisted for the Sheffield Children’s Book Prize and Coventry Inspiration Book Award.” In the U.K. it was also originally released with the title Buckle and Squash and the Monstrous Moat-Dragon. I’m not entirely certain why the U.S. publisher chose to change that one. Perilous plots are nice and all but they can’t really hold a candle to freakin’ moat dragons, now can they? I mean, it’s a dragon! In a moat! Still, a title change is a small price to pay when you get a book as good as this one. Hand it to a boy, hand it to a girl, hand it to a goat, they’ll all enjoy it in their own ways (though the goat may need a bit of a floss afterwards). If there are more Buckle and Squash books on the horizon, let us hope they float our way. I, for one, will look forward to those adventures. After all, the Monty Python guys can’t live forever. Time for someone else to pick up the torch.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: Reading Rumpus

Professional Reviews:

Alternate Covers:

And here’s the book jacket whut wuz in Britain.

MoatDragon

Misc: Read the first chapter here.

 

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37. Jolts of Children’s Literature in Unexpected Places

It’s that time again!  Time for me to bring your attention to a variety of strange and interesting books never meant for children, but that contain some hint of influence (little or big) from the literary world of the youth.  Feast thine peepers on the following:

We Were Brothers by Barry Moser

WeWereBrothers

It’s not that Moser has spent his life only doing children’s books, but a significant portion of his artistic life has been dedicated to them. So when I was perusing my library’s new book section and stumbled on this I was amazed. There’s a Moser memoir out there? Indeed there is. Here’s a description of the book from the publisher:

“Preeminent illustrator Barry Moser and his brother, Tommy, were born of the same parents, were raised in the same small Tennessee community, and were poisoned by their family’s deep racism and anti-Semitism. But as they grew older, their perspectives and their paths grew further and further apart. From attitudes about race, to food, politics, and money, the brothers began to think so differently that they could no longer find common ground, no longer knew how to talk to each other, and for years there was more strife between them than affection.

When Barry was in his late fifties and Tommy in his early sixties, their fragile brotherhood reached a tipping point and blew apart. From that day forward they did not speak. But fortunately, their story does not end there. With the raw emotions that so often surface when we talk of our siblings, Barry recalls why and how they were finally able to traverse that great divide and reconcile their kinship before it was too late.”

It got great reviews as well.

Wonderfully Wordless: The 500 Most Recommended Graphic Novels and Picture Books by William Patrick Martin

WonderfullyWordless

Missed this, did you? I’m not surprised. Published by Rowman & Littlefield it’s not been advertised to those of us in the children’s book world much at all. And here’s the kicker of a description: “… the first comprehensive best book guide to wordless picture books (and nearly wordless picture books).” The only review I’ve found of it was through Library Journal and they were not particularly impressed. That said, I remain curious about it. Wordless gets its day.

The Spring at Moss Hill by Carla Neggers

SpringatMossHill

YESSSS! An actual honest-to-goodness contemporary romance novel. It’s not a straight-to-paperback, but I’ll take what I can get. Why is it on the list? Check out this product description: “A children’s book illustrator finds she has a lot in common with a private investigator who moves to town to keep a friend out of trouble.” Alas, you can’t give it to your favorite illustrator for the holidays. It ain’t out until January 26th.

Spirituality in Young Adult Literature: The Last Taboo by Patty Campbell and Chris Crowe

SpiritualityinYA

And here I always thought abortion was the last taboo. Shows what I know. The description reads, “This book examines the presentation of spiritual issues in young adult fiction. It looks at how religious ideas, and those matters that are defined more broadly as spiritual, are represented. YA novels are selected by the authors, who then explain how these pieces of literature can appear as metaphors or as more direct theological references.” So, naturally, I looked at the Table of Contents. They include “Church and Clergy, Mostly Negative”, “End Times and the Apocalypse”, “Other Faiths and Spiritual Practices: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a Sikh or Two”, and “Mormon Themes in YA Literature”. Admit it. You’re wondering what books are listed inside.

Fairy Tale Baking: More than 50 Enchanting Cakes, Bakes, and Decorations by Ramla Khan

FairyTaleBaking

I know the fairy tale cake on the cover is probably Ice Queen / Frozen based but how cool would it be if it were The Glass Mountain instead? Edible gold paint is one of the ingredients you’ll need to make these complex creations. I didn’t even know they made it. Now I kind of want to cover all my food, no matter the time or day or foodstuff, with gold paint. Mmmmmm. Pricey.

The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End by Katie Roiphe

VioletHour

“From one of our most perceptive and provocative voices comes a deeply researched account of the last days of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, and Maurice Sendak—an arresting and wholly original meditation on mortality.” Sendak! Of course I’m pleased a children’s book writer is considered “Great” by Ms. Roiphe. And you certainly couldn’t have selected a better topic to tie him in with. Sendak was nothing if not eloquent about sweet mortality.

The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders

BrainDeadMegaphone

And finally, a book that isn’t in the least bit new (unlike all these others). I was listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour the other day and Glen Weldon mentioned that he had just read this book. In an almost throwaway line, he also mentions that in this collection of short essays, there is praise for Johnny Tremain. Come again? Sure as shooting, the title of Chapter Three is, “Thank You, Esther Forbes”. I have not read this, but if anyone has I’d love to know what his take on everyone’s favorite ex-silversmith is. According to the Kirkus review it, “details how his childhood reading of that author’s award-winning Johnny Tremain showed him how and why sentences matter.” Saunders says of the book that it was, “my first model of beautiful compression.” Fascinating.

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38. Fusenews: Reader’s Advisory – Not Just for Librarians Anymore

  • readersadvisorycomicIn my current job I’ve become somewhat fascinated with what could easily be considered the key tool in a librarian’s toolbelt: Reader’s Advisory.  Patron asks you to recommend a book based on a set of preferences and you knock it out of the park.  That’s our job and we do it well.  Booksellers do it too, don’t get me wrong, but we have the advantage of an extensive backlist of out-of-print titles at our fingertips.  It’s taken a little while, but recently I noticed that a LOT of folks are getting in on the Reader’s Advisory game.  Companies like Bookish, Zoobean, SelectReads, certainly, and now?  An actual publishing company itself.  The Penguin Hotline is pretty much what it sounds like: A publishing house doing RA.  Says their site, “Tell us as much as you’d like about the reader you’re buying for this holiday season and our expert staffers will find you just the right books. You’ll get personalized recommendations from real Penguins! Every request is handled individually by one of our in-house editors, marketers, designers, salespeople, publicists, and more.”  And they actually do.  What all this says to me is that libraries need to double down on their RA skills.  Take some tips from Multnomah County’s My Librarian site for starters.  That idea is crazy good.  We could all learn a thing or two from it.
  • Monday, January 11th.  It’s almost a month away.  The happiest day of the year.  The day when they announce the Youth Media Awards, better known to the rest of the world as Newbery/Caldecott Day (and by “rest of the world” I mean “my brain”).  In preparation, I was pleased to see Monica Edinger’s thoughtful appraisal of the Newbery itself in the piece Thoughts on Newbery: The Nature of Distinguished.  In it, Monica talks quite a bit about Laura Amy Schlitz’s The Hired Girl, a book which (coincidentally) also showed up on Marjorie Ingall’s fantabulous Best Jewish Books 2015.  Seriously, if you need Hanukkah gifts for any kid of any age, your prayers have been answers.  For the rest of you, her voice is just so good.  Downright sublime, some might say.  Miss it and you’re missing out. (She also has stellar taste)
  • I’m not the first, second, third, or forty-fifth children’s literature enthusiast to link to this, but nonetheless I think the Atlas Obscura article C.S. Lewis’ Greatest Fiction: Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight is dead on.  I grew up thinking it would be akin to sugar powdered squares of chocolatey confectionary delight.  Then I went to London for foreign study and I and each of my classmates individually had to make the discovery that the stuff ain’t worth betraying much of anyone, let alone your blood kin.  Edmund should have held out for fudge.  Thanks to mom for the link.
  • Bookish (mentioned earlier) had a rather delightful encapsulation of fantastic literary-themed Christmas tree ornaments, just in case you’re scrambling to get something for that reader in your life.  My personal favorite (aside from the library lion a.k.a. Patience which I MUST have):

41OAIfcFqCL

  • In other news, Yahoo News recently announced that a Tintin expert was just named as an official “professor of graphic fiction and comic art.”  Wouldn’t mind having one of these stateside as well.  Perhaps an expert in Pogo.  A gal can dream.
  • The resident 4-year-old is on a picture book biography kick right now, so on Saturday we went to the library’s bio section to find some new fare.  We ended up in the Lincoln section and lo and behold her eyes alit on that old d’Aulaire’s Caldecott Award version of the life of Abraham Lincoln.  I steered her clear, knowing its contents very well indeed.  I never thought of it as the d’Aulaires’ best work, and we took home the Judith St. George/Matt Faulkner Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln instead.  The d’Aulaire version had already been on my mind because of a recent PW announcement that a small publisher is bring the book back to the world.  Mind you, “they made minor modifications to the original art and text to reflect contemporary views about race politics and to reflect historical accuracy.”  Guess I’ll have to reserve judgement until I see it for myself.
  • Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: Now with more indelible images that will haunt your nightmares until doomsday!  Don’t try to unsee it.  Don’t even bother.
  • Daily Image: 

This week in our popular series Children’s Books from 1907, we take a look at a little number that just makes me inordinately happy.

BirdsFromFlowers1

BirdsFromFlowers3BirdsFromFlowers2

I think you get the gist.  You may read the book in its entirety here.  Thanks to Mara Rockliff for the link.

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39. Video Sunday: It burns!

You know that recurring nightmare where you have to give a TED talk at TedX Beacon Street in Boston?  The one where they fit you with a teeny tiny hand free mic on your head and then you have to stand in front of a series of two-tone cubes?  To combat this fear of mine I watch other people’s.  Particularly if they are about children’s literature, of which, I can only think of three.  As a wise woman once told me, children’s books are woefully underrepresented on ted.com.  To get on the site, a video needs many many views.  Therefore, it stands to reason that I should promote every last single one of them I see.  Ladies and gentlemen, the great, the only, Linda Sue Park!

Switching gears, when I moved to the Chicago area I had a vague idea of the already existing children’s literature community in place.  What I didn’t know was the degree to which it existed.  The people here . . . they dwarf me with their talents.  Take Toby Rajput for example.  She’s an assistant professor at National Louis University’s reading and language program and a children and youth literature librarian at National Louis University.  Here’s she talks on Good Day Chicago about buying diverse books for kids this gift giving season.  Go, Toby, go go go!

GoodDayChicago

In spite of appearances, I actually don’t get a chance to see that many fan-made videos by kids about their favorite books.  So when Amy Ignatow linked to this video on Twitter the other day, I was grateful.  Particularly to whatever mom it was that allowed her clothes to be paraded about like that.

My sole problem with the Politics & Prose Bookstore in D.C. is that it’s in D.C.  So I live in the impossible hope that at some point they’ll be picking that puppy up and moving it to the Chicago area.  Preferably Evanston.  Tomorrow works for me.  But until this happy day arrives, I get to show you some of their events, particularly when they feature my co-writer Julie Danielson.  This was the store’s third annual picture book panel discussions called “Too Good to Miss—Picture Books for Older Readers.”  Jules was kind enough to recap it over at Kirkus, with videos of the previous two years as well.  Enjoy.

Thanks to Jules Danielson for the link.

And finally, an off-topic video that appeals to me because of the life I rejected.  Coming out of college with a Fine Arts major and a concentration in photography I was accepted to the SALT photography program in Maine.  Ultimately I decided not to attend the program, which I think was the right choice.  Nonetheless, up until that moment photography, particularly portraiture, had been my love.  With that in mind, this:

Thanks to Wendy for the link.

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40. Disaster Distress Resources

In the wake of the recent San Bernardino shooting, it can be difficult to find resources for children. Recently Andrew Roszak of Child Care Aware offered the following resources to people looking for help and links. I include his resources here today:

Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

The helpline is also available in Spanish, by text and by TTY.
http://www.disasterdistress.samhsa.gov/

 

Talking to Children about the Shooting

http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/talking_to_children_about_the_shooting.pdf

 

Tips for Parents on explaining media coverage to children

http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/tips_for_parents_media_final.pdf

 

Restoring a Sense of Safety in the Aftermath of a Mass Shooting: Tips for Parents and Professionals

http://www.cstsonline.org/resources/resource-master-list/restoring-a-sense-of-safety-in-the-aftermath-of-a-mass-shooting-tips-for-parents-and-professionals

 

Psychological First Aid for Schools Field Operations Guide
http://www.nctsn.org/content/psychological-first-aid-schoolspfa

 

Coping with Crisis – Helping Children With Special Needs

http://ubhc.rutgers.edu/tlc/guidelines/educators/CopingwithCrisisHelpingChildrenSpecialNeeds.html

 

Facing Fear: Helping Young People Deal with Terrorism and Tragic Events – for ages 5 to 7.
http://www.redcross.ca/crc/documents/3-7-2_Tools-for-Teachers_Facing-Fear-Module-1-(ages-5-7).pdf

 

Activity Book for African American Families: Helping Children Cope with Crisis

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/cope_with_crisis_book/Pages/index.aspx

 

After a Crisis: Helping Young Children Heal – checklist

http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/helping_young_children_heal_crisis.pdf

 

Parent Tips for Helping Preschool-Age Children after Disasters

http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/appendix_tips_for_parents_with_preschool_children.pdf

 

For the public
**Coping with Disasters
National Library of Medicine
English:   http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/copingwithdisasters.html
Spanish: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spanish/copingwithdisasters.html

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41. Clever Bill and the Death of Script

And now a word in support of listservs.

In an era where serious debates attempt, and fail, to be conducted on such sites as Twitter, a place never meant for serious discussions of any significant length, allow me to sing the praises of an almost old-fashioned web tool that continues to have meaning and currency long after many would have predicted its demise.  Listservs, those mailing lists where people talk to one another via email in a digest form, have survived the rise and fall of Pets.com, Friendster, and I’d warrant that they’ll outlive many of the social networking sites we lean so heavily upon today.  In the world of children’s literature we saw the relatively recent demise of the ccbc-net listserv, but I am happy to report that the child_lit listserv out of Rutgers is alive and well.  If you have not joined it, feel free to do so.  Where else can you hear Philip Pullman in talks with Jane Yolen or see Leonard Marcus wax eloquent?

Sometimes the conversation on child_lit has greater implications as well.  Recently Marilynn Olson wrote the following:

I have learned this week that the reissue of Clever Bill (William Nicholson, 1926) that is in process at Egmont Publishing intends to leave out the handwritten lettering that is an integral part of the pages (see Barbara Baden or Nathalie op de Beeck, or Brian Alderson on this subject) (or Michael or me or Selma Lanes) and replace it with italic printing on the grounds that modern children (toddlers?) and possibly their parents do not know how to read joined-up lettering. Other much more minor editorial changes are also contemplated.

Maurice Sendak was probably Nicholson’s greatest fan in America, and even if you haven’t read Clever Bill, perhaps you have seen his comments. To some of us, the Nicholson picturebooks changed the history of the American picturebook and, indeed, of the kind of picturebooks we think of as ideal. (. . .)  I guess I am trying to determine whether this seems serious to many?

CleverBill1A hot little debate followed, but this choice on the part of the publisher did not particularly surprise me.  I remember working as a children’s librarian in the Central Children’s Room of NYPL and encountering a 10-year-old girl in search of funny books ala Wimpy Kid.  I loaded her down with the usual fare, making sure to slip one of my favorite books, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, into the mix.  She returned to me at the desk with the book in hand.  “I can’t read script.”  It took me a little bit to realize that “script” meant “cursive”.  I knew that kids weren’t being taught to write it anymore (mostly) but did that mean they couldn’t read it either?  Apparently so in this case.  However, what this also proved to me was that an enormously popular series can actually include “script” and pretty much get away with it.  You’ll have some kids who won’t try to decipher it, but you’ll also have a huge swath who will.

In the case of Clever Bill, here are some of the interior images that will give you a better sense of what the book looks like with its cursive handwriting intact:

CleverBill1.5

CleverBill2

The debate is whether or not the book is ruined irreparably if the handwriting here is not cursive any longer.  And while I might argue that to replace it with typewritten words would throw off the whole shebang, if it is carefully done and it still looks like handwriting (and not that computer font that looks like fake handwriting) I personally see no reason why it would hurt the book significantly.  There are many who would disagree, but sadly I would argue that in this particular case the book will only appeal to those prone to nostalgia, collectors, and already existing children’s literature enthusiasts if the handwriting is left intact.  It is the placement of the text that makes all the difference here, I think.

It is interesting to note that my first encounter with Clever Bill came in the NYPL archives.  There we had an edition of Clever Bill filled with pencil notations by author William Nicholson himself.  It seems that he was mighty displeased with the initial print job of the book and set about kvetching in his tiny comments about the book’s poor colors.  Had he but known that it would be the handwriting that caused debate nearly 100 years later, I think he would have laughed in his tea.

For further information about Clever Bill, as well as his far more controversial Pirate Twins, please see the Werewolf piece Classics: The Pirate Twins (1929) by William Nicholson.

And for thoughts on cursive in children’s literature, the 100 Scope Notes piece “What Does This Say?” The Cursive Conundrum in Picture Books is for you.

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42. Favorite Galley of the Week

Even though I have moved to the wilds of Illinois, I still find myself the happy recipient of many fine and fancy advanced reading copies of children’s books.  It’s very nice, and not something I take for granted, but I’ll confess that in a given season sometimes the titles will blur together.  Plots get jumbled in my brain.  Characters become fuzzy.  It really takes something special to wake me up.  And this week, that book was this:

24569593

Skeptical are you?  You’re looking at that cover and thinking to yourself that this looks like a million other middle grade novels with contemporary girl characters out there.  Of course, it has some kind of wacky bent to it.  And if I read you the plot description it would go something along the lines of this:


Though she’s never done it before, twelve-year-old Meghan is determined to make it through lights-out at her best friend’s sleepover. She’s also ready to have The. Best. Night. Ever. and her friends Paige and Anna Marie are happy to bring on the fun. There will be miles of junk food, stacks of crazy-scary horror movies, and hours of karaoke smack-downs! Not even the last-minute addition of Anna Marie’s socially awkward soon-to-be stepsister Veronica can dampen their spirits.

But nothing prepares them for the scene that greets them the next morning. The basement is a disaster, Meghan’s left eyebrow has been shaved off and she somehow has the Class Bad Boy’s hoodie, plus there’s a slew of baby chicks in the bathtub! Worst of all, Anna Marie is missing.

Now the remaining girls have to piece together what happened the night before. There’s just one teeny, tiny problem: None of them can remember anything past the two-bit act by the hypnotist Veronica hired as the party’s entertainer.

Can they find Anna Marie and pull off the ultimate save-face . . . all before parent pick-up time? The clock is ticking, the clues are getting weirder and weirder, and only one thing is certain: last night got a whole lot zanier than games of Truth or Dare.

Ah.  Are you seeing it now?  Are you beginning to understand why I’ve selected this as my favorite galley of the week?  That plot description is sounding oddly familiar, isn’t it?  Wasn’t there a movie out there with a somewhat similar storyline?  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the strangest middle grade-i-zation I’ve seen in a long long time.  Compare and contrast.

24569593

VS

The-Hangover-Movie-Wallpaper

Yup.  This is, insane as it sounds, a 10-year-old girl version of a hugely popular R-rated film.  Pillow hugging and chickens intact.  Still not convinced?  Compare the font of the titles.  See how the “THE” is in the “O” both times?  THAT, my friends, is attention to detail!

Turns out children’s and YA book author Jen Malone is a “a former Hollywood movie executive”.  All I hope is that this book was written on a dare.  Step One: Find a movie completely inappropriate for kids.  Step Two: Middle grade that puppy UP!

Bravo, Ms. Malone.  Them’s some gutsy writing.  Now somebody do a kids’ version of It Follows or The 40-Year-Old Virgin and I’ll know we’ve got an official trend on our hands.

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43. Walking and Talking With . . . Dav Pilkey

Such a treat! So I’m finally reading Steve Sheikin’s latest nonfiction work, Most Dangerous, and then out of the blue he sends me the latest in his “Walking and Talking” series. Dav Pilkey, Mr. Captain Underpants himself, is today’s subject. Fun Pilkey Fact You Never Knew: He has exquisite taste in cakes. True fact!

SheinkinPilkey1SheinkinPilkey2

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

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44. Fusenews: “He’s a person and people don’t eat people”

  • It’s funny how you can start something and never see how that thing might be used in the future.  When I created the Top 100 Picture Books Poll and the Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll back in the day, I figured they could be useful books insofar as they take the pulse of those books that mean the most to readers today.  Bookshare Communications recently alerted me to the fact that in conjunction with SLJ they had adapted the Picture Books list to a format that included image descriptions for the visually impaired.  Why do this?  They explain it this way:

“Imagine for a moment, however, that you can’t see the illustrations, nor can anyone describe them for you. Your reading and listening experience would certainly be incomplete. The Bookshare team decided to remedy this shortfall so young members could visualize the wild rumpus in Where the Wild Things Are and all the food devoured by The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In 2014, we embarked on a special project to create a collection of classic picture books containing original illustrations with complete image descriptions.”

I’m so pleased to have been a part of this, if only in the sense that I helped put together the list from my readers’ responses.  Thanks to Benetech for the heads up.

  • scarrypigsThough it could easily have devolved into a Buzzfeed list, the Dave Gilson thoughts on Richard Scarry’s odd attitudes towards his pig characters and their predilections for bacon and ham is well worth reading.  Says he, “The separate-and-unequal logic is also reflected in the unspoken taboos that surround meat eating in Busytown. People can only eat animals, and only animals can become meat. In other words, the Kenny Bear’s pigs will become bacon, but Mr. Pig will not. He can walk past the butcher’s counter secure in the knowledge that he won’t suddenly be stuffed into an oven with an apple in his mouth. He’s a person, and people don’t eat people.”  Thanks to Phil Nel for the link.
  • The Bologna Book Fair is in New York City?  Nope, but this might be the next best thing.  Publishers Weekly and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair are pairing together for a Global Kids Connect Conference on December 2nd.  From a publishing standpoint, this is very enticing.  Thanks to Deborah Topolski for the link.
  • Credit Travis Jonker.  I think he’s inadvertently the reason this happened at all.  Not too long ago the Kansas City Public Library and the Toronto Public Library got into an all time spine poetry slapdown Twitter feud . . . in a nice way.  You see, apparently The Kansas City Royals were playing The Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series and the libraries started tweeting spine poetry at one another.  Here’s an example:

SpinePoetry

You can read two different articles (and see a LOT of smack downs) here and here.  Thanks to Jill Skwerski for the link.

  • Things That I Know: (1) That there is a Children’s Book Guild of Washington D.C. (and they are lovely folks). (2) That there is an author by the name of Tonya Bolden (and she’s a lovely personage).
  • Things That I Did Not Know:  The Children’s Book Build of Washington D.C. is giving to Tonya Bolden their annual nonfiction award.  They have a nonfiction award?  Annually?  Best news I’ve heard all day.
  • Daily Image:

When I was pregnant with my two children I found myself inexplicably drawn to the films Alien and Aliens (which I suppose beats wanting to watch Rosemary’s Baby, but still…).  With these films fresh in my mind, I cannot help but think that this book (which you really can buy) is going to be the hit of the holiday season.  A picture book we can all get behind.

Alien

Alien1

Alien2

Thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the link!

 

 

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45. Press Release Fun: Picture Book Summit Yields Big Rewards for We Need Diverse Books

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                CONTACT: Emma Walton Hamilton

picturebooksubmissions@gmail.com

 

 

Picture Book Summit 2015 Raises Over $7000 for

We Need Diverse Books

 

Event Featured Mac Barnett, Peter Brown, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Other Top Children’s Authors

 

New York, NY – The first annual Picture Book Summit, an international online conference for children’s picture book authors, raised more than $7000 for the nonprofit group We Need Diverse Books. The announcement was made at New York Media Works, the headquarters of Kidlit.TV – a sponsor of Picture Book Summit.

Picture Book Summit 2015 took place on October 3rd, and featured keynotes from bestselling authors Mac Barnett, Peter Brown and Andrea Davis Pinkney, as well as workshops led by the co-founders and panel discussions with editors and agents. Hundreds of working and aspiring children’s book writers attended the event, logging in from six continents.

“We’re thrilled to be making this contribution,” said children’s book author and Picture Book Summit co-founder Emma Walton Hamilton. “We’d hoped to raise a significant amount, but attendance at the Summit exceeded our expectations – so our contribution was even greater than we’d hoped.

“We selected We Need Diverse Books as this year’s recipient because of the great work they’re doing bringing awareness to this important cause,” added author/illustrator and Picture Book Summit cofounder, Katie Davis.

The five founders of Picture Book Summit – including author Julie Hedlund, and Jon Bard and Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider – are longtime colleagues and friends who joined forces to create a unique event to help working and aspiring picture book authors improve their craft and chances of publication.

In addition to Kidlit.TV, sponsors for Picture Book Summit 2015 included the Institute of Children’s Literature, the 12 X 12 Picture Book Challenge, Just Write Children’s Books, and Children’s Book Insider.

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. The organization recognizes all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. According to WNDB president, Ellen Oh, the Picture Book Summit contribution will be used to support the WNDB in the Classroom program – an initiative that brings diverse authors and their books into Title One schools.

The 2016 Picture Book Summit is scheduled for October 1st, 2016. For more information, visit http://picturebooksummit.com.

PictureBookSummit

Emma Walton Hamilton (r) and Katie Davis (l) of Picture Book Summit present a donation to Ellen Oh (c-r) and Dhonielle Clayton (c-l) of We Need Diverse Books at New York Media Works on November 16. Picture Book Summit, the largest ever one day online picture book-writing conference, raised more than $7000 for the nonprofit.

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46. Review of the Day: Emu by Claire Saxby

emuEmu
By Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Graham Byrne
Candlewick Press
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7479-3
Ages 4-7
On shelves now.

Alas for poor emu. Forever relegated to be consider a second rate ostrich, it encompasses all of the awkwardness and none of the stereotypes. Does anyone ever talk about burying your head in the sand like an emu? They do not. Are schoolchildren routinely called upon to ooh and aah at the size of an emu’s egg? They aren’t. And when you watch Swiss Family Robinson, do you ever find yourself wishing that the kids would try to saddle an emu for the big race? Not even once. Emus are the second largest living bird in terms of height, coming right after the ostrich, and you might be fooled into believing that they are the less interesting of the two. There, you are wrong. Wrongdy wrongdy wrong wrong wrong. I do not wish to start a war of words with the prominent ostrich societies of the world, but after reading Emu by Claire Saxby (illustrated by Graham Byrne) I’m a bit of what you might consider an emu convert. Chock full of interesting information and facts about what a typical emu might experience in its day-to-day life, the book is full of thrills, chills, and a species that gives stay-at-home dads everywhere a true animal mascot.

Meet the emu. Do not be offended if he fails to rise when you approach. At the moment he is safeguarding a precious clutch of eggs from elements and predators. While many of us consider the job of hatching eggs to be something that falls to the female of the species, emus are different. Once they’ve laid their eggs, female emus just take off, and it is the male emu that hatches and rears them. In this particular example, the male emu has a brood of seven or so chicks but though they’re pretty big (ten times bigger than a domestic chicken hatchling) they need their dad for food, shelter, and protection. The chicks find their own food right from the start and within three to four months they’ve already lost their first feathers. They zigzag to escape predators, live with their fathers for about a year, and have a kick like you would not believe. Backmatter of the book provides more information about emus, as well as an index.

Emu2This is not what you might call Saxby and Byrne’s first rodeo show. The Aussie duo previously had paired together on the book Big Red Kangaroo, a book that did just fine for itself. Following a kangaroo called “Red”, the ostensibly nonfiction title was best described by PW as, “An understated but visually arresting portrait of a species.” For my part I had no real objections to the book, but neither did I have anything for it. Kangaroo books are not rare in my children’s rooms, though the book was different in that it was written for a younger reading level. That same reading level is the focus of Emu and here I feel that Saxby and Byrne have started to refine their technique. One of the problems I had with Red was this naming of the titular kangaroo. It felt false in a way. Like the author didn’t trust the readers enough to show them a typical day in the life of an animal without having to personalize it with faux monikers. Byrne’s art too felt flatter to me in that book than it does here. This may have more to do with the subject matter than anything else, though. Emu faces, after all, are inherently more amusing and interesting than kangaroos

In terms of the text, Saxby utilizes a technique that’s proven very popular with teachers as of late. When kids in classrooms are given open reading time there can sometimes be a real range in reading levels. With this in mind, sometimes nonfiction picture books about the natural world will contain two types of text. There will be the more enticing narrative, ideal for reading aloud to a group or one-on-one. Then, for those budding naturalists, there will be a complementary second section that contains the facts. On the first two pages of Emu, for example, one side introduces the open forest with its “honey-pale sunshine” and the emu’s job while the second block of text, written in a small font that brings to mind an expert’s crisp clean handwriting, gives the statistics about emu (whether or not they can fly, their weight, height, etc.). In the back of the book under the Index there’s actually a little note about these sections. It says, “Don’t forget to look at both kinds of words”, and then writes the words “this kind and this kind” in the two different fonts.

Emu3Artist Graham Byrne’s bio says that he’s an electrical engineer, builder, and artist. This is his second picture book and the art is rendered digitally. What it looks like is scratchboard art, with maybe an ink overlay as well. I enjoyed the sense of place and the landscapes but what really made me happy was how Byrne draws an emu. There’s something about that bright yellow eye in the otherwise impassive face that gets me. I say impassive, but there are times when one wonders if Byrne is fighting an instinct to give his emu some expression. There’s a scene of the emu nosing his eggs, his beak appears to be curling up in just the slightest of smiles. Later an eagle threatens his brood and there’s almost a hint of a frown as he runs over to the rescue. It’s not enough to take you out of the story, but such images bear watching.

In comparing the emu to the ostrich I may have omitted certain pertinent details. After all, the emu doesn’t have it quite so bad. It appears on the Australian coat of arms, as well as on their money. There was an Emu War of 1932 where the emus actually won the day. Heck, it’s even not too difficult to find emus on farms in the United States. Still, culturally they’ve a far ways to go if ever they are to catch up with their ostrichy brethren fame-wise. Books like this one will help. I think there must be plenty of teachers out there a little tired of using Eric Carle’s Mister Seahorse as their de facto responsible-dads-in-the-wild motif. Now kids outside of Australia will get a glimpse of this wild, wacky, wonderful and weird creature. Consider it worth meeting.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

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47. The Strangest Pinocchio I Know

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about illustrated books for children (as opposed to picture books) in all their various forms.  And since I’ve a penchant for nostalgia, I often think of my youth and the illustrated novels I read then.  The mid to late 1980s were an odd time for illustration in general.  For whatever reason, fantasy illustrators who worked primarily in the field of adult literature would occasionally show up on the covers of middle grade, or what passed for YA, titles at this time.  And once in a great while they’d even illustrate the interiors.  Hence today’s example.

I first discovered the work of artist Greg Hildebrandt through, of all things, a fully illustrated version of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.  That, in turn, lead me to what I still consider one of the strangest and most interesting books I’ve seen to date.  It was a lushly illustrated version of Pinocchio, and the first time I’d seen anything that wasn’t Disney.  It was odd and original and I’ve never quite forgotten it.  Eventually I’d learn about Hildebrandt’s background in fantasy illustration as well as his work on books like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Wizard of Oz.  But, for me, Pinocchio is still the most memorable.  Some illustrations from the book:

Pinocchio1

Pinocchio2

Pinocchio3

Pinocchio4

Pinocchio5

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48. The Diversity List: Picture, Easy, and Early Chapter Books of 2015

Red-Yellow-Blue1So I’m going to confess something to you.  All year long, from January onward, I’ve been keeping track of any picture book, easy book, or early chapter book I’ve seen containing some kind of diversity.  Have I missed books?  Of course I have!  You cannot make a list like this without missing something.  Books from publishers like Kar-Ben Books and Inhabit Media (amongst others) should be better represented, but I failed to keep proper track early in the year.  There probably isn’t enough Lee & Low or Cinco Punto either.  At the same time, the books that I was able to gather could be potentially useful to folks.  You will find them organized by their publication release dates.

I apologize beforehand that sometimes the notes here do not mention the specific ethnicities of the characters.  Often this is because the book itself has not made it clear.  For these titles, you will need to look at the books individually.

As ever, if you see something missing here please note it in the comments. Also, if you think I’ve included wrong information about a book, let me know so that I can make the change.

Enjoy!

Title                              Author            Pub Date     Age        Subjects                               Type

Families Shelley Rotner & Sheila M. Kelly 1/1/2015 Ages 3-6 family, alternative lifestyles, same sex families Picture Book
3, 2, 1, Go! Emily Arnold McCully 1/1/2015 Ages 4-6 strong girls, science girls, STEM Easy Reader
How to Grow a Friend Sara Gillingham 1/6/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, friendship, nature Picture Book
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich Julia Sarcone-Roach 1/6/2015 Ages 4-6 nature, bears, cities, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
Last Stop on Market Street Matt de la Pena 1/8/2015 Ages 4-6 family, multigenerational, lower income, African-American, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
The Tea Party in the Woods Akiko Miyakoshi 1/8/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Asian, animals, tea parties Picture Book
Ready, Set, Kindergarten! Paula Ayer 1/9/2015 Ages 4-5 Diverse Main Character, starting school, biracial Picture Book
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay Cari Best 1/13/2015 Ages 4-7 Disability, friendship, sports, African-American, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
Freedom’s School Lesa Cline-Ransome 1/13/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, African-American, American history, freedom Picture Book
Juna’s Jar Jane Bank 1/15/2015 Ages 3-6 multi-cultural, moving, Asian-American, friendship, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
Harlem Renaissance Party Faith Ringgold 1/27/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, African-American, American history Picture Book
Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure Jacqueline Jules 2/1/2015 Ages 6-9 family, Latino-American, Diverse Main Character Chapter Book
Sofia Martinez: The Missing Mouse Jacqueline Jules 2/1/2015 Ages 4-6 family, Latino-American, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
A Dozen Cousins Lori Haskins Houran 2/3/2015 Ages 4-6 family, Multi-ethnic Cast, boys, girls Picture Book
The New Small Person Lauren Child 2/10/2015 Ages 4-7 family, new baby, siblings, jealousy, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
I Had a Favorite Hat Boni Ashburn 2/17/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, Clothing, Imagination Picture Book
The Red Bicycle Jude Isabella 3/1/2015 Ages 4-7 multi-cultural, Africa, bicycles, philanthropy, world culture, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
The Sock Thief Ana Crespo 3/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Latin America, soccer, sports, altruism, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
Jessica’s Box Peter Carnavas 3/1/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, Disability, friendship Picture Book
Party Croc! A Folktale from Zimbabwe Margaret Read McDonald 3/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, folktale, promises Picture Book
No, No, Kitten! Shelley Moore Thomas 3/3/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Cats, Pets Picture Book
Stone Angel Jane Yolen 3/3/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Jewish, WWII, Holocaust, hope Picture Book
Red Jan De Kinder 3/9/2015 Ages 4-7 Bullying, Friendship, School Picture Book
Bird & Diz Gary Golio 3/10/2015 Ages 4-7 jazz, African-American, American history, music, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
My Pen Christopher Myers 3/10/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, Imagination, Drawing, Art Picture Book
Red, Yellow, Blue (And a Dash of White Too!) C.G. Esperanza 3/10/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Imagination, Colors, Art, African-American Picture Book
Peace Is an Offering Annette Le Box 3/10/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, peace, friendship Picture Book
15 Things Not To Do With a Baby Margaret McAllister 3/15/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, new baby, siblings Picture Book
Thank You, Jackson Niki Daly 3/15/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, manners, Africa Picture Book
Salsa: Una Poema Para Cocinar / A Cooking Poem Jorge Argueta 3/17/2015 Ages 4-6 cooking, Latino-American, family, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
And What If I Won’t? Maureen Fergus 3/17/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, family, mothers, behavior Picture Book
Drum Dream Girl Margarita Engle 3/24/2015 Ages 5-7 Diverse Main Character, Cuba, music, girls, multi-racial Picture Book
Families, Families, Families! Suzanne Lang 3/24/2015 Ages 4-6 family, alternative lifestyles, same sex families Picture Book
How to Surprise a Dad Jean Reagan 3/24/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, fathers, family Picture Book
The Best Friend Battle Lindsay Eyre 3/31/2015 Ages 6-9 friendship, jealousy, Latino-American, Multi-ethnic Cast Chapter Book
The Five of Us Quentin Blake 3/31/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, ability, self-esteem Picture Book
Finding the Music / En Pos de la Musica Jennifer Torres 4/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Latino-American, music Picture Book
Poems in the Attic Nikki Grimes 4/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, African-American, family Picture Book
The Flying Hand of Marco B. Richard Leiter 4/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, imagination, flying Picture Book
My Family Tree and Me Dusan Petricic 4/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Asian-American, biracial, family tree Picture Book
Never Give Up: A Story About Self-esteem Kathryn Cole 4/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, self-esteem, perseverance Picture Book
I Am Ivan Crocodile Rene Gouichoux 4/1/2015 Ages 5-7 bullying, disability, emotions Picture Book
Grandma in Blue With a Red Hat Scott Menchin 4/14/2015 Ages 4-6 family, multigenerational, art, African-American, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
Hens for Friends Sandy De Lisle 4/14/2015 Ages 5-7 Diverse Main Character, Latino-American, farm life, chickens Picture Book
There’s No Such Thing As Little LeUyen Pham 4/14/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, concepts, perception Picture Book
Little Sleepyhead Elizabeth McPike 4/14/2015 Ages 2-4 Multi-ethnic Cast, bedtime, babies Picture Book
Little Chanclas Jose Lozano 4/15/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Latino-American, clothing Picture Book
Princess Nina Marlise Achterbergh 4/21/2015 Ages 4-6 alternative lifestyles, princesses, strong girls Picture Book
Big News! Ida Siegal 4/28/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, Latino-American, mystery Chapter Book
Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner Gareth Edwards 4/28/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, dinosaurs, bedtime Picture Book
Izzy Barr, Running Star Claudia Mills 4/28/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, sports, friendship, African-American Chapter Book
Race the Wild: Rain Forest Relay Kristin Earhart 4/28/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, nature, adventure, animals Chapter Book
The Nesting Quilt Cathryn Falwell 5/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, new baby, crafts Picture Book
A Day at Grandma’s Mi-ae Lee 5/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Korea, sleepovers, separation, family Picture Book
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story Reem Faruqi 5/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Muslim, holidays, differences Picture Book
Grandma Lives in a Perfume Village Fang Suzhen 5/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Taiwan, death, grandparents Picture Book
Ally-Saurus Richard Torrey 5/5/2015 Ages 4-6 friendship, strong girls, gender stereotypes, dinosaurs Picture Book
Stella Brings the Family Miriam B. Schiffer 5/5/2015 Ages 4-7 family, alternative lifestyles, same sex families Picture Book
Don’t Throw It to Mo! David A. Adler 5/5/2015 Ages 6-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, Diverse Main Character, sports, football, self-esteem Easy Reader
Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split Anica Mrose Rissi 5/5/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, friendship, fighting Chapter Book
Interstellar Cinderella Deborah Underwood 5/5/2015 Ages 3-6 strong girls, science girls, STEM, fractured fairytales Picture Book
Feet Go to Sleep Barbara Bottner 5/12/2015 Ages 4-6 family, bedtime, body parts, Multi-ethnic Cast Picture Book
Bright Sky, Starry City Uma Krishnaswami 5/12/2015 Ages 5-7 science, strong girls, astronomy, urban life Picture Book
With a Friend By Your Side Barbara Kerley 5/12/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, friendship Picture Book
Sunday Shopping Sally Derby 5/15/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, African-American, shopping, money Picture Book
One Family George Shannon 5/26/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, alternative lifestyles, family, multigenerational Picture Book
Battle Bugs: The Lizard War Jack Patton 5/26/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, action, insects, reptiles, adventure Chapter Book
Battle Bugs: The Spider Siege Jack Patton 5/26/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, action, insects, spiders, adventure Chapter Book
In a Village By the Sea Muon Van 6/9/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Vietnam, Cumulative Tale Picture Book
What James Said Liz Rosenberg 6/9/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, friendship, rumors Picture Book
One Word from Sophia Jim Averbeck 6/16/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, Diverse Main Character, manners Picture Book
Vamonos! Let’s Go! Rene Colato Lainez 7/1/2015 Ages 2-4 Multi-ethnic Cast, Latino, nursery rhymes, transportation Picture Book
Rosie Goes to Preschool Karen Katz 7/7/2015 Ages 2-4 Multi-ethnic Cast, starting school, preschool, friendship Picture Book
Freckleface Strawberry: Backpacks Julianne Moore 7/14/2015 Ages 4-6 alternative lifestyles, same sex families, cleaning Easy Reader
We’re Getting a Pet Sue Fliess 7/14/2015 Ages 2-4 Diverse Main Character, new pet, animals Picture Book
Charlotte and the Quiet Place Deborah Sosin 7/21/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, African-American, New York City, peace Picture Book
Bucky and Stu Vs. The Mikanikal Man Cornelius Van Wright 7/28/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, African-American, superheroes, imagination, friendship Picture Book
Double Happiness Nancy Tupper Ling 7/28/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Asian-American, moving, travel Picture Book
Marvelous Cornelius Phil Bildner 7/28/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, hope, hurricanes, African-American Picture Book
Shanghai Sukkah Heidi Smith Hyde 8/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Jewish, China, history, holidays Picture Book
Talia and the Very Yum Kippur Linda Elovitz Marshall 8/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main character, Jewish, holidays Picture Book
Meg Goldberg on Parade Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum 8/1/2015 Ages 4-6 Jewish, parades, New York City Picture Book
The Seeds of Friendship Michael Foreman 8/4/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, immigrants, friendship, Africa Picture Book
The Great and Mighty Nikko! Xavier Garza 8/4/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, bilingual, Latin-American, counting, Mexican wrestling Picture Book
I’m New Here Anne Sibley O’Brien 8/4/2015 Ages 4-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, immigration, immigrants, friendship Picture Book
The Green Musician Mahvash Shahegh 8/7/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Muslim, folktales Picture Book
Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox Danielle Daniel 8/11/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, feelings, animals, Native American Picture Book
In the Canyon Liz Garton Scanlon 8/18/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, nature, animals Picture Book
Pumpkin Day! Candice Ransom 8/25/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, African-American, autumn, seasons Easy Reader
Happy In Our Skin Fran Manushkin 8/25/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, self-esteem, celebrating differences Picture Book
Mango, Abuela, and Me Meg Medina 8/25/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, grandparents, immigration, Latino-American Picture Book
Leo Mac Barnett 8/25/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, ghosts, friendship Picture Book
Elephant in the Dark Mina Javaherbin 8/25/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, Iran, folktale Picture Book
What Does It Mean to be Kind? Rana DiOrio 8/25/2015 Ages 4-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, kindness, life skills Picture Book
My Two Blankets Irena Kobold 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, immigrants, friendship, Africa Picture Book
On the Ball: Unleash Your Imagination Brian Pinkney 9/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, African-American, soccer, persistence Picture Book
In a Cloud of Dust Alma Fullerton 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Africa, bicycles Picture Book
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation Edwidge Danticat 9/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, immigration, separation, Carribean Picture Book
Sail Away Langston Hughes 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, poetry, water Picture Book
Poo in the Zoo Steve Smallman 9/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, zoo, poop, rhyming picture books Picture Book
Sadako’s Cranes Judith Loske 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Japan, WWII, hope, peace Picture Book
Backyard Camp-Out Jerdine Nolen 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, camping, friendship Easy Reader
Block Party Surprise Jerdine Nolen 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, parties, friendship Easy Reader
Monster Trouble! Lane Fredrickson 9/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, monsters, bedtime Picture Book
The Little Kids’ Table Mary Ann McCabe Riehle 9/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, holidays, dinner, manners Picture Book
Lizard From the Park Mark Pett 9/8/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, NYC, dinosaurs, friendship Picture Book
Oskar and the Eight Blessings Richard & Tanya Simon 9/8/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Jewish, NYC, holocaust, Hannukah, Christmas Picture Book
I Am a Bear Jean-Francois Dumont 9/8/2015 Ages 4-7 homelessness, poverty, compassion, bears Picture Book
It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon Jarrett J. Krosoczka 9/8/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, feelings, problem solving Picture Book
Jumping Off Library Shelves: A Book of Poems Lee Bennett Hopkins (ed) 9/8/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, poetry, libraries Picture Book
Flop to the Top Eleanor Davis 9/15/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, friendship, popularity, pets Easy Reader
P’esk’a and the First Salmon Ceremony Scot Ritchie 9/15/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Native Americans, history Picture Book
Oscar Lives Next Door Bonnie Farmer 9/15/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, jazz, music, illness Picture Book
Miracle on 133rd Street Sonia Manzano 9/22/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, NYC, Latino-American, Christmas Picture Book
How the Sun Got to Coco’s House Bob Graham 9/22/2015 Ages 4-6 Multi-ethinic Cast, daytime, the world Picture Book
Roar! Tammi Sauer 9/29/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, dragons, friendship Picture Book
Kamik’s First Sled Matilda Sulurayok 10/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Native voices, dogs Picture Book
Ketzel the Cat Who Composed Leslea Newman 10/6/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Jewish, cats, music Picture Book
Mixed Me! Taye Diggs 10/6/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, biracial, self-esteem Picture Book
Little Shaq Shaquilloe O’Neal 10/6/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, basketball, African-American, self-esteem Chapter Book
Two White Rabbits Jairo Buitrago 10/13/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Mexico, migrants, immigration Picture Book
West Meadow Detectives Liam O’Donnell 10/13/2015 Ages 6-9 Multi-ethnic Cast, autism, detective stories Chapter Book
Me and My Dragon: Christmas Spirit David Biedrzycki 10/13/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, Christmas, dragons, poverty Picture Book
Today is the Day Eric Walters 10/13/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, orphans, Kenya, birthdays Picture Book
Bottle Cap Boys Go Dancing on Royal Street Rita Williams-Garcia 10/15/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, African-American, dance, New Orleans Picture Book
Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein Amanda Peet & Andrea Troyer 10/20/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Jewish, Christmas, Hanukkah Picture Book
Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption Jose Domingo 10/20/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, graphic novels, adventure Chapter Book
Little Red Gliding Hood Tara Lazar 10/27/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, fairy tales, ice skating, fractured fairy tales Picture Book
Strictly No Elephants Lisa Mantchev 10/27/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, friendship, differences, inclusion, pets Picture Book
I Can’t Wait! Amy Schwartz 10/27/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, friendship, emotions Picture Book
Bigfoot Does Not Like Birthday Parties Eric Ode 10/27/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, Bigfoot, birthday parties Picture Book
One Today Richard Blanco 11/3/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, poetry, patriotism Picture Book
Lola Levine is Not Mean! Monica Brown 11/3/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, biracial, Jewish, Latino-American Chapter Book
Specs for Rex Yasmeen Ismail 11/3/2015 Ages 4-7 glasses, self-esteem, first day of school Picture Book
The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk Kabir & Surishtha Sehgal 11/3/2015 Ages 2-4 Multi-ethnic Cast, India, nursery rhymes, transportation Picture Book
Snow Rabbit Camille Garoche 11/3/2015 Ages 4-6 Disability, sisters, nature, rabbits Picture Book
The Little Tree Muon Van 11/10/2015 Ages 4-7 adoption, nature, environment Picture Book
Don’t Feed the Geckos Karen English 12/1/2015 Ages 6-9 Multi-ethnic Cast, soccer, cousins, Latino, family Chapter Book

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19 Comments on The Diversity List: Picture, Easy, and Early Chapter Books of 2015, last added: 11/25/2015
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49. Review of the Day: The Red Hat by David Teague

51xONVs2CGLThe Red Hat
By David Teague
Illustrated by Antoinette Portis
Disney Hyperion (an imprint of Disney Book Group)
$16.99
ISBN: 9781423134114
Ages 4-7
On shelves December 8th

There is a story out there, and I don’t know if it is true, that the great children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore had such a low opinion of children’s books that involved “gimmicks” (read: interactive elements of any sort) that upon encountering them she’d dismiss each and every one with a single word: Truck. If it was seen as below contempt, it was “truck”. Pat the Bunny, for example, was not to her taste, but it did usher in a new era of children’s literature. Books that, to this day, utilize different tricks to engage the interest of child readers. In the best of cases the art and the text of a picture book are supposed to be of the highest possible caliber. To paraphrase Walter de la Mare, only the rarest kind of best is good enough for our kids, yes? That said, not all picture books have to attempt to be works of great, grand literature and artistic merit. There are funny books and silly ones that do just as well. Take it a step even farther, and I’d say that the interactive elements that so horrified Ms. Moore back in the day have great potential to aid in storytelling. Though she would be (rightly) disgusted by books like Rainbow Fish that entice children through methods cheap and deeply unappealing, I fancy The Red Hat would have given her pause. After considering the book seriously, a person can’t dismiss it merely because it tends towards the shiny. Lovingly written and elegantly drawn, Teague and Portis flirt with transparent spot gloss, but it’s their storytelling and artistic choices that will keep their young readers riveted.

With a name like Billy Hightower, it’s little wonder that the boy in question lives “atop the world’s tallest building”. It’s a beautiful view, but a lonely one, so when a construction crew one day builds a tower across the way, the appearance of a girl in a red hat intrigues Billy. Desperate to connect with her, he attempts various methods of communication, only to be stumped by the wind at every turn. Shouting fails. Paper airplanes plummet. A kite dances just out of reach. Then Billy tries the boldest method of reaching the girl possible, only to find that he himself is snatched from her grasp. Fortunately a soft landing and a good old-fashioned elevator trump the wind at last. Curlicues of spot gloss evoke the whirly-twirly wind and all its tricksy ways.

Great Moments of Spot Gloss in Picture Book History: Um . . . hm. That’s a stumper. I’m not saying it’s never happened. I’m just saying that when I myself try to conjure up a book, any book, that’s ever used it to proper effect, I pull up a blank. Now what do I mean exactly when I say this book is using this kind of “gloss”? Well, it’s a subtle layer of shininess. Not glittery, or anything so tawdry as that. From cover to interior spreads, these spirals of gloss evoke the invisible wind. They’re lovely but clearly mischievous, tossing messages and teasing the ties of a hat. Look at the book a couple times and you notice that the only part of the book that does not contain this shiny wind is the final two-page image of our heroes. They’re outdoors but the wind has been defeated in the face of Billy’s persistence. If you feel a peace looking at the two kids eyeing one another, it may have less to do with what you see than what you don’t.

Naturally Antoinette Portis is to be credited here, though I don’t know if the idea of using the spot gloss necessarily originated with her. It is possible that the book’s editor tossed Portis the manuscript with the clear understanding that gloss would be the name of the game. That said, I felt like the illustrator was given a great deal of room to grow with this book. I remember back in the day when her books Not a Box and Not a Stick were the height of 32-page minimalism. She has such a strong sense of design, but even when she was doing books like Wait and the rather gloriously titled Princess Super Kitty her color scheme was standard. In The Red Hat all you have to look at are great swath of blue, the black and white of the characters, an occasional jab of gray, and the moments when red makes an appearance. There is always a little jolt of red (around Billy’s neck, on a street light, from a carpet, etc). It’s the red coupled with that blue that really makes the book pop. By all rights a red, white, and blue cover should strike you on some level as patriotic. Not the case here.

Not that the book is without flaw. For the most part I enjoyed the pacing of the story. I loved the fairytale element of Billy tossed high into the sky by a jealous wind. I loved the color scheme, the gloss, and the characters. What I did not love was a moment near the end of the book where pertinent text is completely obscured by its placement on the art. Billy has flown and landed from the sky. He’s on the ground below, the wind buffeting him like made. He enters the girl’s building and takes the elevator up. The story says, “At the elevator, he punched UP, and he knocked at the first door on the top floor.” We see him extending his hand to the girl, her hat clutched in the other. Then you turn the page and it just says, “The Beginning.” Wait, what? I had to go back and really check before I realized that there was a whole slew of text and dialogue hidden at the bottom of that previous spread. Against a speckled gray and white floor the black text is expertly camouflaged. I know that some designers cringe at the thought of suddenly interjecting a white text box around a selection of writing, but in this particular case I’m afraid it was almost a necessity. Either than or toning down the speckles to the lightest of light grays.

Aside from that, it’s sublime. A sweet story of friendship (possibly leading to more someday) from the top of the world. Do we really believe that Billy lives on the top of the highest building in the world? Billy apparently does, and that’s good enough for us. But even the tallest building can find its match. And even the loneliest of kids can, through sheer pig-headed persistence, make their voices heard. A windy, shiny book without a hint of bluster.

On shelves December 8th.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

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50. Video Sunday: Monsters, Taxidermy, LeVar and Adele (Though Not Necessarily In That Order)

Morning, folks! Not much in the way of videos caught my eye lately, but the following crew struck me as particularly toothsome. First up, LeVar Burton being LeVar Burton.

Next up, libraries that circulate more than books. Things like . . . pelts! Cause where else are you gonna find a beluga vertebrae on such short notice.

Thanks to Kate for the link.

I’m not particularly familiar with illustrator Sydney Smith, so it was rather nice to see this piece on using stencils to illustrate.

Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.

Hard to keep track of all the movies coming out in the future but here’s one that has my interest.  Sort of similar in some ways to what they did to Bridge to Terabithia.

As for today’s off-topic video, if your Thanksgiving is anything like mine then it consists of a bit of “Have you seen this YouTube video?” “No. Have you seen this one?” This was one of the more successful ones I saw. I don’t know if you’re an Adele fan or not. I just find it rather charming.

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