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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. Video Sunday: “Luke, I Am Your Father” (in a manner of speaking)

I’m a chick who loves Star Wars.  I’m not ashamed of the fact.  Feminist icon Princess Leia?  I can get behind that (gold bikini or no).  So when I saw a galley for that AMAZING Star Wars children’s book coming out with art from the original concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, I was blown away.  Here, Tony DiTerlizzi (who did the writing in the book) talks about the film and the art.  Geeks unite!

I love that he mentions that moment with the two suns.  For me, that was undoubtedly the most iconic scene in the original film.  I just loved the realism of it.  I am SO reading this to my kids.  P.S. For a fun time read the rants about the “Luke, I am your father” line.  Or, better yet, don’t.

Now until about a day ago when my niece did it, I didn’t actually know what the Ice Bucket Challenge was.  Dav Pilkey takes it on using Flip-o-Rama.  Good man.

Ball’s in your court now, CeCe.

I think it’s safe to say that I have never seen an author promote a cinematic adaptation of their award winning book as much as I’ve seen Ms. Lois Lowry talk up the latest film of The Giver.  Here she does it again:

How famous is J.K. Rowling?  So famous that when she writes an incidental character, NBC News is willing to report on that character getting her own song.  According to Salon this is an original song written for Pottermore starring Celestina Warbeck, Molly Weasley’s favorite singer:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And speaking of all things Potter, the thing about learning that there’s a documentary out there called Mudbloods is that you can’t believe you hadn’t seen a film of that name before.  It’s an awfully good idea to make a movie about the rise of the real world Quiddich movement.  It’s not the first Harry Potter documentary of course but it’s a cute idea.  Here’s the trailer:

Man.  It would weird to be J.K. Rowling and see this, wouldn’t it?  Here’s some additional info.

A little me stuff.  I conducted a talk with Mara Rockliff and Eliza Wheeler for Bibliocommons in honor of their latest book The Grudge Keeper.  It was recorded, but rather than show our lovely faces the video shows some slides of what we’re discussing.  In case you’ve an interest you can take a gander at it.  A lot of talking about the process of writing picture books can be found here:

As for the off-topic video, this one’s been making the rounds.  It’s one of those videos where you go, “Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Ooooooh!”

Thanks to Steve Bird for the link!

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27. Press Release Fun: Thalia’s Book Club at Symphony Space

Celebrate Reading This Fall with Thalia Kids’ Book Club at Symphony Space

The always popular Thalia Kids’ Book Club includes lively discussions between top children’s book authors and their fans, with special guests and a behind-the-scenes look at how books are written and produced. The interactive series is co-presented with the Bank Street Bookstore.
For more information and tickets, visit http://www.symphonyspace.org/tkbc .

Wednesday, September 10, 7 pm
Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller: Nightmares!
 Tickets: $22 members, non-members $25
Jason Segel (How I Met Your MotherThe Muppets), an actor, writer, and musician, teams up with New York Times bestselling author Kirsten Miller (Kiki Strike) to discuss their hilariously frightening middle-grade novel Nightmares!, the first book in a trilogy about a boy named Charlie and a group of kids who must face their fears to save their town. Ages 8 and up.
Note: The special ticket price includes a copy of Nightmares! (retail priced at $16.99).Ticket holders will get a copy of the book at the door on September 10. Books will not be available for early pickup.


Sunday, September 21 at 1 pm
Pseudonymous Bosch: Bad Magic
Tickets: members $12, non-members $15
The mysterious author of the New York Times-bestselling The Name of This Book is Secret goes behind-the-scenes of his new adventure series Bad Magic. The author will be in conversation with Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm). Ages 9 to 12.


Tuesday, September 23 at 6 pm
An Evening with Patricia Polacco
Patricia Polacco, the beloved author and illustrator of Thank You, Mr. Falker, and dozens of other favorite picture books, discusses her life and award-winning works. The author and illustrator of more than 70 books for children, Polacco has won every award imaginable in children’s literature.  Her latest book is Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, an inspired-by-true-life story about overcoming the fear of speaking in public. Ages 6 & up.


Sunday, October 19 at 1 pm
An Afternoon with Lois Lowry
Tickets: members $12, non-members $15
Reading and conversation with the treasured author of Number the Stars, The Giver, and many other favorite works for kids and teens. Number the Stars, the Newbery Medal-winning novel about the Occupation of Denmark in the Second World War, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Ages 9 and up.


Sunday, November 16 at 5 pm
A Celebration of E. B. White
All Tickets: $25 (ticket sales benefit First Book).
Stars of Broadway and Hollywood celebrate the work of the beloved writer whose humorous and poignant stories and poetry include Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Special guests include White’s granddaughter Martha White. Jarrett J. Krosoczka (The Lunch Lady series) will host the event, and actor David Hyde Pierce will also read from the stories. First Book, a non-profit organization, connects book publishers to community organizations to provide access to new books for children in need. Ages 7 and up.

Symphony Space is located at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street in Manhattan, New York City.  The box office number is (212) 864-5400.
A note to editors: Symphony Space Literary Department presenters are available for interviews. More detailed information about each group and photos are available upon request. Visit http://www.symphonyspace.org/tkbc for updated information.


Media Contacts:
Mary Shimkin, Symphony Space
(212) 864-1414, ext. 224,  mary.shimkin@symphonyspace.org
Beth Blenz-Clucas, Sugar Mountain PR
(503) 293-9498, beth@sugarmountainpr.com

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28. Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece Bell

ElDeafo1 198x300 Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece BellEl Deafo
By Cece Bell
Amulet (an imprint of Abrams)
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1020-9
Ages 9-12
On shelves September 2nd

We appear to exist in a golden age of children’s graphic novel memoirs. Which is to say, there are three of them out this year (El Deafo, Sisters, and The Dumbest Idea Ever). How to account for the sudden tiny boom? If I were to harbor a guess I’d say it has something to do with publishers realizing that the genre can prove a profitable one (hat tip then to Smile). We’re beginning to enter into an era where the bulk of the gatekeepers out there, be they parents or teachers or librarians, are viewing comics not as a corrupting influence but rather as a new literary form with which to teach. Memoirs are particularly interesting and have proven to be a wonderful way to slowly ease kids into the big beautiful world of nonfiction. That said, not everyone’s youth is worthy of a retelling. To tell a memoir well you need to have a narrative arc of some sort. One that doesn’t feel forced. For CeCe Bell, her first foray into graphic novels is also telling the story of her youth. The result, El Deafo, is a remarkable look at a great grand question (What to do when you can no longer hear and feel different from everyone you know?) alongside a smaller one that every kid will relate to (How do you find a good friend?). Bell takes the personal and makes it universal, an act that truly requires superhero skills.

Until the age of four CeCe was pretty much indistinguishable from any other kid. She liked her older siblings. She liked to sing to herself. But a sudden bout with meningitis and something changed for CeCe. All at once her hearing was gone. After some experimentation she was fitted with a Sonic Ear (a device that enabled her to hear her teacher’s voice) and started attending classes with other kids like herself. A family trip to a smaller town, however, meant going to a new school and trying to make new friends. When faced with problems she reverts to her pretend superhero self, El Deafo. With subtlety Bell weaves in knowledge of everything from reading lips and sign language to the difficulties of watching un-captioned television. At the same time the book’s heart lies with a single quest: That of finding the absolute perfect friend.

ElDeafo2 327x500 Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece BellThe rise of the graphic novel memoir of a cartoonist’s youth with a child audience in mind really hit its stride when Raina Telgemeier wrote, Smile. That dire accounting of her at times horrific dental history paved the way for other books in the same vein. So where did my library choose to catalog that graceful memoir? In the biography section? No. In the graphic novel section? Not initially, no. For the first year of its existence it was shelved in nonfiction under the Dewey Decimal number 617.645 T. That’s right. We put it in the dental section. So it was with great trepidation that I looked to see where El Deafo would end up. Would it be in the section on the hearing impaired or would the catalog understand that this book is about so much more than the Sonic Ear? As it happens, the book appears to be primarily cataloged as a memoir more than anything else. Sure the information in there about the deaf community and other aspects of living as someone hearing impaired are nonfiction, but the focus of the story is always squarely on CeCe herself.

The real reason I found the book as compelling as I did was due in large part to the way in which Bell tackles the illogical logic of childhood friendships. So many kids are friends thanks to geographical convenience. You’re my age and live within a certain radius of my home? We’re besties! And Bell’s hearing impaired state is just a part of why she is or is not friends with one person or another. Really, the true arc of the story isn’t necessarily CeCe coming to terms with the Sonic Ear, but rather how she comes to terms with herself and, in doing so, gets the best possible friend. It’s like reading a real life Goldilocks story. This friend is too bossy. This friend is too fixated on Cece’s hearing. But this friend? She’s juuuuuust right.

ElDeafo3 329x500 Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece BellSo why bunnies? Bell could easily have told her story with human beings. And though the characters in this book appear to be anthropomorphized rabbits (reminding me of nothing so much as when guest stars would appear on the children’s television program Arthur) there is no particular reason for this. They never mention a particular love of carrots or restrict their movements to hop hop hopping. They are, however, very easy on the eyes and very enticing. This book was sitting on my To Be Reviewed shelf when my three-year-old waltzed over and plucked it for her own perusal. The bunnies are accessible. In fact, you completely forget that they even are bunnies in the course of reading the book. You also fail to notice after a while how beautifully Bell has laid out her comic panels too. The sequential storytelling is expertly rendered, never losing the reader or throwing you out of the story. One librarian I spoke to also mentioned how nice it was to see that the dream sequences with El Deafo are always clearly delineated as just that. Dream sequences. Fantasy and reality are easily distinguishable in this novel. No mean feat when everyone has a twitchy little nose.

Maybe we’ve peaked. Maybe we’re seeing as many graphic memoirs for kids as we’ll ever see in a given year. But that can’t be, can it? We all have stories to tell, no matter what our upbringing looked like. There’s always some element in our past that’s relatable to a wide audience. It’s the clever author that knows how to spin that element into a storyline worthy of a younger audience. There isn’t a jot of doubt in my mind that CeCe Bell’s book is going to be vastly beloved by nearly every child that picks it up. Engaging and beautifully drawn, to say nothing of its strength and out-and-out facts, El Deafo is going to help set the standard for what a memoir for kids should be. Infinitely clever. Undeniably fun. Don’t miss it.

On shelves September 2nd.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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29. Books to Films – Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

The advantage of having a bookstore in the library is when it has a tendency towards brilliance.  Take this recent list the employees of the Schwarzman Building of NYPL came up with.  I can take no credit for this.  It’s just smart stuff (and very useful for my ordering as well).  With mild tweaks on my part:


READ the book: Alexander and the No Good Horrible Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

AlexanderTerrible1 Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, opening in October

AlexanderPoster Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

READ the book: Here Be Monsters! by Adam Snow

HereBeMonsters Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, called The Boxtrolls, opening in September

Boxtrolls Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

READ the book: A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

paddington Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, called Paddington, opening in December)

paddington bear ver3 xlg Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

READ the book: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

truemeaningsmekday Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, called Home, opening in November

 Home 500x281 Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

Plus, read How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell before the DVD of How to Train Your Dragon 2 hits the shelves in November.

how to train your dragon two ver7 xlg Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!



READ the book: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, called Dracula Untold, opening in October

dracula untold poster 610x965 Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

READ the book: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Hobbit12 Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, called The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, opening in December

the hobbit the battle of the five armies poster Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

READ the book: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner cover Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, opening in September

TheMazeRunnerDaily Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

READ the book: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, opening in November

mockingjay poster Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

Plus, pick up John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, then make plans to catch the DVD when it’s released in mid-September

FaultStarsMovie Books to Films   Coming Soon so Be Prepared!

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30. Video Sunday: Sneaky Peek Edition

Currently I am maxing and relaxing in Stratford, Ontario enjoying a play or two.  Just kidding.  By my calculations what I’m actually doing as you read this is driving hell-for-leather out of Canada back to New York City while seated in a rental car’s back seat next to a 3-year-old and a 13-week-old.  For hours.  And hours.  And hours.

As you digest that pleasant little mental image (fun fact: someone in this car gets carsick regularly and it’s not me) I’m going to do you a solid.  In case you missed it, we’ve been soliciting authors for special behind-the-scenes tidbits and facts about their 2014 books.  These appear one a day on our Wild Things blog (the blog that celebrates Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature).  So enjoy what we’ve posted so far and stay tuned because there’s a LOT more where these came from!

First up, a video so good you’d swear we paid to have it made.  It’s N.D. Wilson talking gators, football, burning sugarcane fields, and there’s a live recitation of Beowulf in here to make the ladies swoon (the Beowulf lovin’ ladies . . . which is to say my friend Lori Ess):

Christian Robinson was up next and he brought some thoughtful consideration to the depiction of nontraditional families:

Bethany Hegedus followed and her talk touched on spelling errors and matchmaking:

When authors and illustrators asked what kind of video to do I always pointed them to this video of Steve Light.  His talk involves runaway primates, which is as awesome as it sounds:

And speaking of primates, Katherine Applegate was a true class act, appearing alongside primate keeper Jody Carrigan to discuss Ivan the gorilla’s more mischievous streak:

How great is Jack Gantos?  We asked the man to plug his book and he plugged ours instead!  Class act, that one:

Greg Neri came by to talk about the five things you might not know about Johnny Cash, Letterman style:

Jon Scieszka put on a fez.  Would that everyone did.  A fez just makes everything good:

Lisa Brown’s art may contain the only time in history this particular piece of furniture has appeared in a picture book:

Aaron Starmer told a magnificent story from his own youth that will honestly make your heart bleed a little:

And today we have Lauren Castillo, featuring an editor beloved to many:

Like I say, there are many more to come.  Perhaps your favorite will be up soon!

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31. Fusenews: “… by her mouth there was a scar”

  • Okay.  So we’re still in the thick of book promotion here.  As such, I’ll be taking a trip to my home state on Saturday.  Yup!  It’s a Michigan appearance at Book Beat, the bookstore beloved of my deceased co-writer Peter Sieruta.  The Oakland Press did a nice little write up of what’s to come and barring floodwaters (a real concern) I shall be there with Jules Skyping in.  Here’s Book Beat’s info on the matter.
  • ReadingTheArt 200x300 Fusenews: ... by her mouth there was a scarEnough me stuff.  Let’s look at some other books for adults about children’s literature.  Now here is a book I can guarantee you have not heard of, but should.  Called Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books (out on September 16th), this is the title I’ve been waiting for for years.  A show of hands – how many of you are a bit intimidated when called upon to critique the art in a picture book?  Mmmhmm.  Yep, me too.  It’s not like we all got fine arts degrees or anything.  So what qualifies us to say that one piece of art is any better than any other?  Authors Gail Nordstrom and Heidi Hammond (a.k.a. my profs in grad school) have written a book that not only explains the process by which the Caldecott Awards are chosen, but that also looks at past award and honor winners and explains why their art is so extraordinary.  This book is INVALUABLE and should be considered must-reading for any Caldecott committee hopefuls, folks participating in Mock Caldecotts, or just about anyone interested in picture book awards.  That’s my plug and I’m standing by it.
  • Mallory Ortberg is a genius.  I don’t use the phrase lightly.  If you haven’t been reading her Children’s Stories Made Horrific on The Toast, you are missing out.  Unless you don’t like horror.  True horror.  I’m still haunted by her version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and I may craft new nightmares out of her Bradbury-worthy version of The Little Prince.  And the Madeleine . . . oh dear god, the Madeleine!!!  I have no plans to sleep for the next decade or so.
  • I think by this point we’re all aware of the brouhaha surrounding the abominable new UK edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for adults, yes?  No?  Well, if you missed it, the BBC summarized the situation here and the cover itself is here:

CharlieLolita Fusenews: ... by her mouth there was a scar

To my mind the real problem isn’t the Lolita-esque little girl, necessarily (though I’m no fan).  I rather dislike it immensely when publishers feel a need to stick a cover on a book that doesn’t reflect diddly squat about the content inside.  Which is to say, this girl is not in the book.  She’s not Veruca Salt, since Veruca came to the factory with her dad and not her mom.  And she’s certainly not one of the other girls, which means the publisher was just going for some kind of campy look.  So ladies and gentlemen if you click on no other link in this round-up today, it is well worth your time and attention to go to the 100 Scope Notes piece Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Was Just the Beginning.  Without question this is undoubtedly the most amazing bit of satire I’ve seen on a children’s literary blog since the days of Peter Sieruta.

  • Let this be a lesson to you, my children.  If you write something for your library system and 50 years pass, your words may well be bandied about and mocked on whatever future version of the internet exists.  Case in point, my library’s staff reviews of children’s books.  They’ve been going online.  I’m just grateful they’ve been archived at all.
  • Daily Image:

Jules Danielson commissioned a cake for our book launch at Parnassus Books.  I am sad I wasn’t able to make the party, and sadder still that I couldn’t eat this guy.

BunnyCake 500x375 Fusenews: ... by her mouth there was a scar

He looks like he knows what’s coming.

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32. Film Review: The Giver

Giver1 Film Review: The Giver[SPOILER ALERT: This whole review pretty gives away every plot point in both the book and film versions of The Giver.  Abandon ship all ye who wish to remain surprised.]

On Sunday night I had an extraordinary experience.  I was sitting in a theater, just about to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, and seeing what had to be the lamest run of movie trailers I have ever experienced.  I’m talking horrible stuff.  The Annie trailer (which ends with a prostitute joke), the Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day trailer (which may rival the Paddington film for Worst Trailer of the Year), and others that made my brain shut down.  However it was the last trailer that was particularly interesting to me.  It was for the film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver.  For the first time in my life, I was watching a trailer in a theater for a film I had already seen.  Since Guardians of the Galaxy is a mighty popular film these days, you may find yourself seeing the same trailer.  Don’t believe it, though.  The movie, believe it or not, is MUCH better than its preview.  Much.

Because I’m currently on maternity leave with a small baby boy I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be able to see an early screening of the film.  Fortunately Walden Media was accommodating and so, a week or two ago, I sat down with two buddies and a 10-week old child to see the onscreen adaptation of Lois Lowry’s Newbery Award winning book.  And let me tell you, if you had to pick a movie to watch while holding a baby, this probably wouldn’t be your first choice.

I had reason to be skeptical, by the way.  When children’s novels make the transition to the big screen they have a tendency to go a bit wonky.  Remember Madeleine L’Engle’s straight to DVD Wrinkle in Time (NOT to be confused with the recently announced version)?  Or what happened to Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising?  And yes, I knew that Ms. Lowry had not only put her stamp of approval on this film but had been actively promoting it, but what did that really mean?  So when I sat down and watched it I noted that one of my compatriots had read the original book as an adult when it published and the other had never read the book at all.  Their insights proved invaluable.

Giver2 202x300 Film Review: The GiverThe thing to remember when you watch The Giver is how long this book has been in the making.  Jeff Bridges wanted to do it so long ago that he cast his father, Lloyd Bridges, in the title role with Bud Cort on narration.  With the book originally publishing in 1993, this was middle grade dystopian long before Hunger Games came around.  As such, a lot of the tropes you’ll find in the film won’t remind you of the current wave of YA dystopias as much as it will dystopias of the past.  I’m talkin’ Planet of the Apes / 1984 / Soylent Green / Zardoz stuff (well . . . maybe not Zardoz). The kind where people aren’t quite certain how to use conjunctions anymore.  I suspect we may see some reviews of this film that say it’s derivative of the current dystopias, but can you really be derivative if you came first?

The film begins with what looks like a slightly cleaner gated community than you’d usually find.  Perfect lawns.  Lots of circles.  The occasional drone.  And zero sexy clothes.  We meet Jonas, our hero, and his two bestest buddies Fiona (ten years ago she would have been played by Kristen Stewart) and Asher (one of my compatriots pointed out that he was essentially Rolfe from The Sound of Music).  They’re all white.  Heck, all the major characters in this film are white.  You might chalk that up to flaws in the dystopia, but I dunno.  Seems like they could have had Jonas’s mom or dad be of color (after all, they’re not his birth parents or anything).

As for the kids, they are all older teens, a fact that was lamented wildly when it was first announced.  However, as much as I’m for films to stay strictly faithful to their books, this change makes a lot of sense.  I never quite understood those books where kids find out their lifelong jobs when they’re 12.  The age appears to be there solely to allow the book to be shelved in the children’s rather than the YA section.  In life, teenagers are more often told to pick their career paths.  Plus the themes of the film fit adolescence so well (example: the desire to be the same as everyone else, even if it removes you from your own identity).  Plus, kids watching the film at this point will certainly be thinking that this is a pretty great place to live.  Teens will be the ones who first see the cracks.

Giver1 202x300 Film Review: The GiverOf course there is no picking in this world.  Jonas is on the cusp of finding out what his job for life will be.  Played by Brenton Thwaites, it’s a thankless role.  A whole lotta yearning, which would try any actor’s patience.  Brenton does a good job of it, though, and there’s a faint creepiness to the sunny happy-go-lucky interactions between him and his friends.  Very Disney Channel-esque, if less risqué (if such a thing were possible).

When Jonas returns home we meet his mother and father, played by Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård.  To have Katie playing a teenager’s mother is, sadly, par for the course with Hollywood.  She’s over 30?  Cast her as a mom.  But in this society you get the distinct feeling that it makes a lot of sense.  If she was handed a baby when she was 18 then sure, she could be Jonas’s mother.  It makes sense within the context of the film.  Holmes, however, is a bit overshadowed in her role by Skarsgård who ends up being one of the finest actors in the movie.  He plays the part of a very earnest, nice guy who would seriously kill you without a second thought if told to do so.  This disconnect could tap nicely into a teen’s hidden fears about their own parents.  You trust them implicitly when you are a child, but as you grow older you begin to see some character defects (some MAJOR character defects in this case).

We get to know the world a bit better when we hear about people being “released”.  That’s where the Soylent Green similarities start to crop up (and if you haven’t seen that film, I assure you that it is MUCH better than one would expect it to be).  Then we witness the ceremony where the kids get assigned their jobs and as each one is named a little montage of them over the years plays on a kind of live feed.  It becomes clear that these images are plucked from the constant surveillance technology that inundates the place, which gives a nice eerie vibe to what would otherwise feel a lot like those videos parents make for their kids’ graduation ceremonies.

Giver3 202x300 Film Review: The GiverWhen Meryl Streep arrives via hologram (there are a lot of Star Wars-esque holograms to be found here, partly because Streep’s schedule didn’t allow her to travel to Australia where much of the movie was filmed) she steps into the role of white-haired-woman-in-charge.  This is a popular role for great, older film actresses.  Heck, the aforementioned Guardians of the Galaxy even had one in the form of Glenn Close.  In Streep’s case, her role is as the Chief Elder, an embodiment of the problematic leaders of this society.  The nice thing about casting Streep is that she’s able to give a bit more nuance to what would otherwise be a two-dimensional part.  The Chief Elder is honestly conflicted by the choices she has to make, but there’s an understanding that society itself wouldn’t have her any other way.  Plus, only Streep could give the line “Thank you for your childhood” the right edge.  Mind you, I would bet you really good money that as I write this Anthony Lane is wracking his brain to come up with an appropriately cutting line to use to describe her bangs.  They didn’t bug me though.

Jonas is assigned to be The Receiver to Jeff Bridges, the titular Giver.  Like Streep, Bridges is fantastic to watch.  Of course, he has an advantage over her in that he’s the only real person in the whole film for quite some time.  A guy who doesn’t waste his time with b.s.  Half the time he’s talking you’re not certain if he believes what he says.  He’s also the kind of guy willing to play with the whole “chosen one” trope for fun (a fact that I appreciated).  He lives in a little house near “the edge” of society itself in a house that’s sort of Dr. Calgari meets M.C. Escher.  As The Giver, Mr. Bridges hands Jonas memories of the past via a kind of Vulcan mind meld.  The first memory is of a sled, effectively making this film Citizen Kane for kids.

Giver6 300x199 Film Review: The GiverAt this point the Garden of Eden references start to crank up big time.  Jonas peers into the mist at the edge where nothing is supposed to exist and sees a tree.  The first thing he officially sees in color is an apple (Fiona’s pretty red hair notwithstanding – though I suppose you could argue that it had some Biblical significance as well).  As Jonas starts to learn more he decides not to take his inoculations, so he puts a bit of blood on a red apple and bypasses the system that way.  And, naturally, he uses this apple to try to convince his friend Fiona to do the same.  One naturally wonders if sex is going to come up since these are teenagers we’re talking about, but the most you get is some very chaste kissing after the two have plunged into a man made waterfall (now entering metaphor city).

Now did I fail to mention that until this point the film has been in black and white?  It has indeed, and that’s fine.  It certainly gives the film a kind of Wizard of Oz feel when Jonas at long last begins to see colors.

I watched with great interest how the film handled the darker elements of this society.  First off, it’s been a while since I read the book so I couldn’t remember what the first memory of cruelty The Giver would give.  In this case it’s a mighty realistic elephant safari.  Can you train an elephant to fall down like that?  You must.  And that was one well trained animal.  As for the shockingly horrible memory Jonas accidentally taps into, they went with Vietnam.  A clever choice since Vietnam is sort of the perfect American nightmare in and of itself.  But as well all know, there is one particular element to the book that causes it to be banned with shocking regularity in schools nationwide.  I wondered if the film would show it or skip it entirely, but it’s so essential to the plot that you really can’t take it out. I am referring of course to the murder of a baby.

Giver4 202x300 Film Review: The GiverThese days you can’t really kill a dog onscreen anymore.  They will never remake Old Yeller for this very reason.  But a baby?  James Kennedy, the man behind the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, once told me that when he gets a submission for The Giver there is usually one thing he can count on.  The film may skip one part of the book or another but kids ALWAYS include the dead baby scene.  They will reenact it with teddy bears or baby dolls or what have you, but it’ll be there.  And fair play to the filmmakers.  There’s Alexander Skarsgård, all soft sweet talk and pretty eyes, and he friggin’ kills a baby onscreen.  If you are in the audience holding a baby at this time it is all the more harrowing.  People are going to freak out about this when they see it, but it is probably the #1 most effective method of showing that this world is awful.  Even kids and teens will understand that much.

I should note that there are the occasional lighter moments, though it would be a stretch to call this film comedic.  You’re so desperate for some lightness, in fact, that the moment when Jonas’s father is telling his daughter that a stuffed elephant is a “mythical hippo”, it works.  Plus Jeff Bridges is himself a great source of humor.

As we near the end we gear up for the big escape of Jonas and baby Gabriel.  Now for the screenwriter there was a very big dramatic problem at the core of the original book.  You want to have an exciting climax to the film where your hero is attempting to do something big.  In this case, it isn’t enough for Jonas to be running to safety with Gabe.  You can only take that so far.  So they’ve added that he must also free everybody’s memories as well, something that can apparently be done by crossing some kind of border.  It’s not really explained but since the whole transference of The Giver’s memories isn’t explained in the book either, you can’t really sweat it.  Mind you, by crossing this border everyone in society will have as many memories of the past as The Giver himself.  And on top of that they alternate Jonas’s flight with the upcoming execution of a friend, which also allows for a dramatic conversation between The Giver and The Elder about knowledge and choices.

Giver5 300x123 Film Review: The GiverThose of us familiar with the original book know that one of the great debates surrounding it for years was the ending.  In fact, you could credit much of The Giver‘s success to the fact that the finish was open ended (sequels that settle the matter and Ms. Lowry’s own protests aside).  Some people would interpret the end to mean that Jonas and Gabe died while others were convinced that they lived.  The question in my mind, upon entering the theater, was whether or not the film would also be open to interpretation in this way.  Final conclusion: Probably not.  For one thing, Jonas is narrating the whole time and he’s speaking in the past tense.  And sure, this might be Ghost Jonas talking, but from what he says you get the feeling that he’s defending himself from people who don’t like how he changed their society.  The ending of the film isn’t really cut and dried, though.  Jonas and Gabe hear the Christmas carols.  They see the sled.  They see the house where the songs are coming from. (Gabe also sports what may well be the most authentically runny nose in cinematic history.)  They approach and the film ends.  But what was the carol they were hearing? “Silent Night”.  And what line in the song was clearer to the audience’s ear than any other?  “Sleep in heavenly peace.”  Hmmmm.  I say, the jury is still out.

I mentioned before the whitey whiteness of the film, which really wasn’t necessary.  The society itself isn’t all-white, just the major characters in this film.  Then there are the women.  Were in not for Fiona and Jonas’s rather charming little sister we’d be drowning in a sea of disapproving shrews (Katie Holmes, Meryl Streep, etc.).  As it stands, it could be better (Fiona’s more a symbol than a person) but it’s not terrible by any means.  As I said before, Streep’s a pro and gives her character a great deal of nuance.  She’s not cackling with malicious glee or anything (ala Jodie Foster in Elysium).   There are also the flashbacks into the past that Jonas witnesses through his sessions with The Giver.  These are sometimes so well done that the last one in particular made me tear up a little.  Sadly, while it shows families and protests and other meaningful elements (Nelson Mandela gets some serious screen time) there were no gay families or alternative families in the mix.  A bit of a missed opportunity there, folks.

Giver71 300x187 Film Review: The GiverWhen we consider the pantheon of book to film adaptations, few are word-for-word carbon copies of the books.  Even the faithful Harry Potter films had to make the occasional change.  Much of what has been done to The Giver is entirely logical.  In the end, the best way to judge a book-to-screen situation is to look at the book’s theme.  Is this a case like The Lorax where the film upsets the very moral of the original source material?  Or will it be more like The Fantastic Mr. Fox and preserve the beauty of the book’s thematic core while clearly establishing itself as its own beast?  The Giver happily falls into the latter category.  It is most faithful to the book in terms of the themes, the morals, and way in which it confronts the problems with conformity.  Over the next few decades millions of children will be shown this Newbery Award adaptation in school.  And I, for one, am grateful.

I considered closing this post by embedding a trailer for the film, then thought better of it.  For the record, the trailers of The Giver are all universally awful.  The initial one made it appear as if the film was in color.  After public outcry the studio rushed to assure people that it had simply been cut to look that way.  Then came the second trailer which acknowledged that parts were in black and white, but at the same time it contained about five different misleading moments.  Rather than watching these trailers I suggest you see the film itself.  Or, in lieu of that, this delightful 90-second version created for James Kennedy’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festival.  Bonus: No dead babies.

Many thanks to Walden Media for allowing me my own little preview!

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33. Review of Day: The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

CategoricalUniverse 241x300 Review of Day: The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry JonsbergThe Categorical Universe of Candice Phee
By Barry Jonsberg
Chronicle Books
ISBN: 978-1-4521-3351-5
Ages 9-12
On shelves September 9th

It often takes a while to figure out when you’re falling in love with a book. A book is a risk. You’re judging it from page one onward, informed by your own personal prejudices and reading history. Then there’s this moment when a shift takes place. It might be a subtle shift or it might be sudden and violent but all of a sudden it’s there. One minute you’re just reading for the heck of it, and the next you are LOVING what you’re reading, hoping it never has to end. Happily, that was my experience with Barry Jonsberg’s The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee. Lots of books promise you that you’ll fall in love with their odd characters. They’ll say something along the lines of “You won’t like her – you’ll love her.” And usually that’s untrue. But in this case, I really do love Candice. How can you not? She wants to turn her fish atheist, for crying out loud. And on that note . . .

In Candice’s own words, her family could not be considered, “front-runners for Australian Happy Family of the Year.” Her baby sister died years ago, her mother is depressed, her father is angry with his brother (sure that the man got rich on one of his ideas), and her Rich Uncle Brian is a lonely cuss. She’s kind of an odd kid in and of herself. The kind that doesn’t have a lot of friends but doesn’t mind the fact. There are other problems, of course. She worries that her fish has set her up as a false god. She worries that her friend Douglas, who seriously believes he’s from another dimension, intends to throw himself into a gorge. But at least she has her pen pal (who has never written back, but that’s no problem) to write to. And as Candice says, “I want to pursue happiness. I want to catch it, grab it by the scruff of the neck, drag it home, and force it to embrace all the people I mentioned above. I’m just not sure how to accomplish this. But I am determined to try.”

The thing you have to admire about Candice is that she’s a remarkably proactive protagonist. When she’s sick and tired of the broken state of her family she sets out to correct their problems (sometimes with odd results). When she thinks there’s a possibility of a friend doing something stupid she will put herself in harm’s way (or at least, annoyance’s way) to help him out. She’s smart as a whip, a fact that no one around her notices. And Candice is also a relentless optimist, but not in an annoying way. She has no interest at all in what you think of her. Early in the book she mentions that she has lots of friends as far as she’s concerned but that, “As far as everyone else was concerned, I didn’t have a friend in the world. Does that make a difference? I’m not sure.” Kids have so many bully books these days that it’s a huge relief to read one where the mean girl teases Candice and the words have absolutely zippo effect on her whatsoever. Like Teflon in a way, is this kid. Bullied kids make for dull reading. Candice is never dull.

She’s also not autistic. I feel like that kind of statement shouldn’t be as revolutionary as it is. Heck, it’s practically self-explanatory. We’re so used to kids on the autism spectrum in our children’s literature these days that we have a hard time remembering the ones that are just plain old weird. But they exist. In fact, Candice self-diagnoses as weird. When she was young she witnessed her beloved baby sister’s death from SIDS and it mucked her up in a couple ways. Not as many ways as her mother and father, but a lot of ways just the same. So there’s a wonderful scene where a friend’s mother makes the assumption that Candice is autistic. When she says that she is not the friend’s mom asks, “Then what are you?” “I’m me.” That could come off as cute. Here, for whatever reason, it does not.

I’ve already heard a couple people compare this book to Holly Goldberg Sloan’s book Counting By 7s which is understandable, if somewhat misleading. There are some major differences at work. First off, there’s the language. There’s a distinct deliciousness to Candice’s speech patterns. When her uncle wins her a stuffed toy at a fair that “might have been a gnu or a camel with severe disabilities” she tells him in no uncertain terms that it is “vile”. And then the descriptions in the book are also out of his world. A forced smile is described as “one of those smiles when someone has pointed a camera at you for half an hour and neglected to press the shutter.” Her friend Douglas is described as, “His eyes crowd toward the middle, as if they are trying to merge together but are prevented from doing so by the barrier of his nose, which is larger than you’d wish if you were designing it from scratch.” Her mother’s bedroom where she spends much of her time when depressed “smelled of something that had spent a long time out of the sunshine.”

Candice’s problems don’t just disappear miraculously in a puff of smoke either. By the end of the book she’s figured out how to mend some of the bigger problems that have been undermining her family’s happiness, but her sister is still dead, her mother still has depression, and her father still resents his brother. Things are significantly better, but there’s a long road to hoe. It is amazing that a book with this many potentially depressing subplots should be as upbeat, cheery, and downright hilarious as this. Jonsberg’s writing gives the book a skewed one-of-a-kind view of the world that is unlike any other you might encounter. You’ll like this book AND love it. And for what it’s worth, kid readers will too.

On shelves September 9th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: My Full Bookshelf

Professional Reviews:


  • Discussion questions for teachers can be found here.
  • Not a fan of the title? Perhaps you’d prefer an alternate.  After all, when it was published in Australia it was known as My Life as an Alphabet.  Here’s the cover:

MyLifeAsAlphabet Review of Day: The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

  • Look inside the book here:

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee By Barry Jonsberg by ChronicleBooks

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34. Video Sunday: “I’m a Reno Sweeney bunny!”

There was a time when I worked in the main branch of NYPL with the big old stone lions out front.  No longer.  These days I work at BookOps, a dual entity that encompasses both NYPL and Brooklyn Public  Library.  And in my workplace there is a great and grand and massively impressive sorting machine.  It’s very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-esque.  I give tours of it all the time.  It sorts and assigns all the holds and returns of the system, so you know it’s gotta be cool.  Now, thanks to drone technology, you get to see not just where I work (visually stunning this part of Long Island City is not) but the kickin’ sorting machine as well.  Feast your eyes!!

Flying Around Book Ops from Nate Bolt on Vimeo.

Speaking of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I kinda like it when Al Roker gets pissed off. Makes for better TV watching. And besides, the man has a point.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thanks to Travis Jonker for the heads up!

In 1996 a bunch of Monty Python guys made The Wind in the Willows.  It gets better.  Steve Coogan was Mole.  Stephen Fry was The Judge.  This is not to be confused with a very similar looking version starring Matt James in 2006, of course.  Still I’m quite shocked I hadn’t seen it until now.  Fortunately there is such a thing as YouTube.  Here’s part one:

WindInWillows 500x289 Video Sunday: Im a Reno Sweeney bunny!

Thanks to Tom Angleberger for the link.

I sort of adore kids.  Allie Bruce at Bank Street was kind enough to show a bunch of them rewriting Battle Bunny / The Birthday Bunny (a book born to be taken and adapted) in their own unique visions.

They do love their poop.

Man.  It’s a bummer when someone popular online has your name.  It’s even more of a bummer when they’ve rabid fan bases.  Meghan McCarthy created a short film to separate her from the other Meghan McCarthys.  Can you blame her?

For the record, the only Betsy Birds I know of out there are an Arizona artist and a Muppet.  The day I beat that Muppet in Google search results was a happy one indeed.

And for our final off-topic video.  This one’s almost on-topic  Remember the film Hook?  With its Peter Pan link?  And the character of Rufio?  Well I can’t say this any better than i09 did, so I’ll just quote them verbatim: “Baby Rufio Cosplay Validates The Entire Concept Of Procreation”.

Rufio 500x279 Video Sunday: Im a Reno Sweeney bunny!


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35. The State of Children’s Literary Blogs Today (Prepare to Update Your Blogroll)

As you may or may not have heard the offices of School Library Journal moved/are moving to a new location here in NYC.  As such, a fair number of folks have been cleaning house.  One such person wrote me an email letting me know that they had extra copies of “my” SLJ issue and they wondered whether or not I wanted them.  I most certainly did (my sole copy was water damaged years ago) but boy, talk about something that makes me feel old.  Remember this?

sljcover The State of Childrens Literary Blogs Today (Prepare to Update Your Blogroll)

Published in November of 2009 it was a piece about the rise of children’s and YA literary blogging (and, for the next 30 seconds, it appears to be the picture on the Wikipedia entry for School Library Journal).  As you can see, it was me alongside Monica Edinger (Educating Alice), Cheryl Klein (Brooklyn Arden), Jennifer Hubert-Swan (Reading Rants), and Liz Burns (A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy).

The cover was not without controversy, by the way.  Some folks objected to the fact that it was a whole bunch o’ white girls, which was a legitimate point to make.  That was my mistake.  At the time we had almost zero bloggers to choose amongst but we were not without options

The much greater objection, however, was to the fact that we were holding alcoholic drinks.  Imagine!  Librarians and teachers and editors who drink!  What kind of message is that sending?  WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!?  Looking back on it (one librarian wrote that she could easily have left this face up on her desk where some poor unsuspecting child would have seen it – apparently dooming said child to a lifetime of alcoholism, one assumes) this may have been the incident that inspired the creation of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature.  After all, that book is all about combating this fluffy bunny mentality surrounding folks who work with kids in some capacity.  Never mind that we were all adults well over the drinking age.  Never mind that what we were actually holding were fake drinks that tasted like nothing so much as used pink bathwater.  We work with or for children and therefore must be fine upstanding citizens at all times.  There is no room for adulthood when you work with kids, it would seem.

All this happened five years ago.  In that time span a lot has occurred not least of which is the state of children’s literary blogs themselves.  If you read the piece you’ll see that I include in it a sampler set of kidlit blogs from which to choose and to read called “Ten Blogs You Can’t Live Without”.  Most of them remain, to this day, go-to pieces.  Others have passed on (Collecting Children’s Books and Editorial Anonymous most notably).  I’ve already done a post on children’s literary blogs that have passed on, so today I’d like to consider where the children’s literature blog of the future is going.

Take, for example, The Kidlitosphere.  Started as a group to organize and celebrate the bloggers out there, it continues to have annual conferences (the next one is in Sacramento on October 10th and 11th) that are well worth the time and energy taken to attend.  The Kidlitosphere has not yet incorporated, but one can hope that it’ll head that way someday.  That group has legs and The Cybils, its annual book award, is only more and more popular every year.  Since 2009 we’ve seen Book Expo express an interest in book bloggers as well with their own little conference.  It is broader than the children’s literary field (and their first conference was exceedingly annoying since they kept repeating over and over that it was the “first” book blogger conference ever in the history of the world, which it most certainly was not) but is well attended.

Then there are the new blogs.  In my prime I was able to keep track of new blogs with shocking alacrity.  These days a blog essentially has to walk over and bop me over the top of my head with a large heavy object for me to notice it.  Still and all, I’ve managed to locate some pretty outstanding blogs over the last five years.  Here are the ones I would let you know about if I were to write another article for SLJ about the state of blogging in 2014.

Great Children’s Literary Blogs : A New Sampler Set

32 Pages – Canadian to the core!  There aren’t as many Canadian bloggers out there as I would like.  It’s absolutely lovely.  For those of you already fans of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, this makes for a nice supplement.

The Book Smugglers – Actually they’ve been blogging since 2007 so technically they don’t belong here.  They were around when I wrote the SLJ article.  That said, I didn’t know about them until relatively recently.  They exhaust me, actually.  Full of spitfire and verve and personality, these folks give blogging a good name.

Bookie Woogie – Created by Aaron Zenz this is without a doubt the smartest, wittiest father & kids blog out there.  Zenz captures the words of his kiddos brilliantly.  Once you’re hooked you just can’t stop reading (and those kids make some EXCELLENT points about the books out there).

Books Around the Table – Author blogs come and go.  They all seem so fleeting (except Blue Rose Girls, which may be the longest running author/illustrator blog since it started in 2006).  This blog has had some serious legs.  As it describes itself, “Books Around The Table is the blog of Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Laura Kvasnosky, Julie Larios, Julie Paschkis and Bonny Becker. We are a critique group of children’s book authors and illustrators who have been meeting monthly since 1994 to talk about books we are working on, books we have read, our art and our lives.”  Read it.  Love it.

Disability in Kidlit - Three YA authors make for most excellent guides into the world of children’s and YA literature where disability is a feature.  Definitely check out their most recent post The Mystical Disability Trope.

The History Girls – Another author blog, this time with a concentration on historical fiction.  It’s a great topic and this blog has been blowing and going since 2011.  No mean feat!  Check out the topic cloud on the side if you’re looking for historical fiction of a particular era or time period.

How To, How Hard, and How Much – Or, put another way, nepotism nepotism nepotism.  Yeah, this is my sister’s blog, but when it comes to crazy original crafts you can’t do much better.  For example, her recent piece on Origami Monster Bookmarks that you can make yourself . . . well some enterprising picture book author with a book about monsters would be WISE to check this out (to say nothing of the children’s librarians out there).  Plus it uses the phrase, “8 minutes per monster” which is just awesome.

Latin@s in Kid Lit – This group blog has five authors and one shared purpose.  They came to prominence in the wake of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and have produced consistently compelling and interesting posts ever since.  If can add only one of these blogs to your blogroll, it should probably be this one.

Lolly’s Classroom – This is the Horn Book blog specifically made with educators in mind.  Lots of great posts.  My current favorite is Using picture books to teach satire.

Nerdy Book Club – The rise of The Nerdy Book Club is probably the most significant change since that 2009 article.  In 2012 (as far as I can tell) a band of bloggers with an educational bent came together to create their own site.  If you want to see your jaw do a drop to the floor, check out their blogroll on the side of the site.  They have big events where they gather together in a kind of un-conference called Nerd Camp (and its kid-spinoff Nerd Camp Junior) and even their own book awards.  Little wonder publishers have picked up on them as a force to be reckoned with.

Nine Kinds of Pie – This is Phil Nel’s blog.  A professor at Kansas State, Phil is amazing.  An academic and a contributing member to the online conversation about children’s books, his site never fails to make me happy every single time I look at it.

Pop Goes the Page – I love my sister’s craft blog but if you want a pure library program focus then this blog from Cotsen Collection librarian Dana Sheridan is awe-inspiring.  Of course there are interviews as well as crafts to be found too.  One of my favorite new blogs out there.

The Show Me Librarian – Sure, I’m a librarian but how often do I do posts that another children’s librarian could really use?  Posts about storytimes and flannel boards and all that good stuff?  If nothing else her recent post on art bots and family forts should convince you to check her out with great regularity.

The Uncommon Core – Though it took a hiatus for a while, the best blog out there to discuss the larger ramification of the Common Core is back in business, baby!  It seems strange to me that in the wake of all this CCSS talk there haven’t been more blogs of this sort.  At least we have this one.

Views from the Tesseract – Without a doubt this would be the #1 science fiction and fantasy middle grade blog out there (though, to be perfectly honest, I work with Stephanie so I might be prone to a bit of bias).  Anytime I want to know how a middle grad work is I hand it to Stephanie and she vets them for me.  Her taste is impeccable.  Without her there are whole swaths of books I might otherwise miss.

Watch. Connect. Read. – Mr. Schu is the arbitrator of this video blog.  Want to see a trailer or filmed conversation about books?  Now you know the place to go.

Looks like it’s time to update the old blogroll, eh?  All of these are extraordinary.  They give me great hope for the future.  Blogging, far from the trend some predicted it to be, continues unabated.  Of course, this is just a small sampling.  If you know of any blogs that cropped up post 11/09 that I should know about, comment here!

By the way, in 2009 when Peter Sieruta caught wind of our controversy he created a faux alternative cover for those disturbed by the presence of lady liquor.  Seen here:

SLJMilkCover The State of Childrens Literary Blogs Today (Prepare to Update Your Blogroll)

God, I miss that man.

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36. Fusenews: This. That. Those. (A Trilogy)

  • NDWilsonVid1 300x167 Fusenews: This. That. Those. (A Trilogy)As per usual there are some Wild Things links I’d love to share today.  Lemme see here . . . Well we got a real stunner of a review over at Chapter 16.  That’s some good and gorgeous stuff going down there. Phil Nel called us “Punchy, lively, and carefully researched.”   The blog The Boy Reader gave us some serious love.  And today on our blog tour we’re at There’s a Book.  And then there’s the video at the Wild Things blog.  N.D. Wilson sent us a vid of the true behind-the-scenes story of Boys of Blur.  It’s kicking off our video series “Wild Things: Sneaky Peeks” where authors reveal the stories behind their books.

Aw heck.  I’ll save you some time.  Here’s the video.  This guy is amazing:

Don’t forget to keep checking back on the site for a new author a day!

  • It’s one thing to notice a trend.  It’s another entirely to pick up on it, catalog the books that represent it, and post accordingly.  I’d noticed in a vague disjointed way that there was a definite uptick in the number of picture books illustrated with photographs this year.  Trust Travis Jonker to systematically go through and find every last livin’ lovin’ one in his The State of Photography Illustration in 2014 post.  In his comment section I’ve added a couple others I’ve seen.  Be sure to do the same!
  • Since I don’t have school age kids yet I’m not in the school loop at the moment.  So it was a BIG shock to me to see the child of a friend of mine having her First Day of Kindergarten picture taken this week.  Really?  In early August?  With that in mind, this may seem a bit late but I care not.  The melodic cadences of Jonathan Auxier can be heard here recommending truly fantastic summer children’s book fare.  The man has fine fabulous taste.
  • In other summer news I was pleased as punch to read about the Y’s Summer Learning Loss Prevention Program.  You know summer slide?  Well it’s good to see someone doing something about it.  Check out the info.  Check out the stats.  Check out the folks trying to combat it.
  • It’s interesting to read the recent PW article Middle Grade and YA: Where to Draw the Line? which takes the issue from a bookseller P.O.V.  Naturally librarians have been struggling with this issue for years.  I even conducted a panel at NYPL a couple years ago called Middle Grade Fiction: Surviving the YA Onslaught in which MG authors Rebecca Stead, N.D. Wilson (he’s everywhere!), Jeanne Birdsall, and Adam Gidwitz discussed the industry’s attempts to brand them as YA (you can hear the full incredibly painful and scratchy audio of the talk here).  It’s a hot topic.
  • This.  This this this this this.  By the way, and completely off-topic, how long until someone writes a YA novel called “This”?  The sequel could be named “That”.  You’re welcome, publishing industry.
  • Harry Potter fan art is near and dear to my heart but in a pinch I’m happy to consider Harry Potter official cover art as well.  They just released the new British covers (and high bloody time, sayeth the masses).  They’re rather fabulous, with the sole flaw of never aging Harry.  What poor kid wants to look the same age at 10 as he does at 17?  Maybe it’s a wizard thing.  Here’s one of the new jackets to chew on:

HalfBloodPrinceBrit Fusenews: This. That. Those. (A Trilogy)

That might be my favorite Dumbledore to date.

  • There are whole generations of children’s librarians that went through graduate school reading and learning about educator Kay E. Vandergrift.  I was one of them, so I was quite sad to read of her recent passing.  The PW obit for her is excellent, particularly the part that reads, “Vandergrift was one of the first professors to establish a significant Web presence, spearheading the use of the Internet as a teaching tool. Her website, a self-declared ‘means of sharing ideas and information with all those interested in literature for children and young adults,’ was considered an important resource for those working with children and linked to more than 500 other sites.”  If you need to know your online children’s literary history, the story isn’t complete without Kay.  I always hoped she’d get around to including a blog section, but what she had was impressive in its own right.  Go take a gander.
  • I don’t consider myself a chump but there are times when even I get so blinded by a seemingly odd fact on the internet that I eschew common sense and believe it to be correct.  Case in point: The Detroit Tigers Dugout Librarian. Oh, how I wanted this to be true.  Born in Kalamazoo, a town equidistant between Detroit and Chicago, my baseball loyalties have always been torn between the Tigers and the Cubs (clearly I love lost causes).  So the idea of the Tigers having their own librarian . . . well, can you blame me for wanting to believe?  I WANNA BEE-LIEVE!
  • I’ve a new pet peeve.  Wanna hear it?  Of course you do!  I just get a bit peeved when popular sites create these lists of children’s books and do absolutely no research whatsoever so that every book mentioned is something they themselves read as children.  That’s why it’s notable when you see something like the remarkable Buzzfeed list 25 Contemporary Picture Books to Help Parents, Teachers, and Kids Talk About Diversity.  They don’t lie!  There are September 2014 releases here as well as a couple things that are at least 10 years old.  It’s a nice mix, really, and a great selection of books.  Thanks to Alexandria LaFaye for the link.
  • So they’re called iPhone wallpapers?  I never knew that.  Neil Gaiman’s made a score of them based on his children’s books.
  • Daily Image:

Maybe it’s just me but after seeing the literary benches cropping up in England I can’t help but think they make a LOT of sense.  More so than painting a statue of a cow or a Peanuts character (can you tell I lived in Minneapolis once?).  Here are two beautiful examples:

Wind the in the Willows

WindWillowsBench Fusenews: This. That. Those. (A Trilogy)

Alice Through the Looking Glass

AliceWonderlandBench Fusenews: This. That. Those. (A Trilogy)

Thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the link!

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37. And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for . . .

WildThings And now, the moment youve all been waiting for . . .And by “you’ve all” I mean “me”.

Yes, today marks the official release of my book co-written with Julie Danielson and Peter Sieruta, Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature!!  To celebrate we’re engaged in a blog tour.  Head on over to 100 Scope Notes for our first post in which we are grilled by the great children’s authors, illustrators, and librarians of the past or, if listening is more your thing, check out my appearance alongside Jules on the Let’s Get Busy podcast (and then look at our full schedule of blog appearance at the bottom of the screen here).

To celebrate, Jules and I are doing something a bit out of the ordinary.  As you may know, on our Wild Things blog we systematically posted a lot of the information that never made it into the final book.  Now that we’re here at the day of the book’s release we’re done with doing that.

HOWEVER!  Does that mean the fun has to stop?  Of course it does NOT!

Starting tomorrow the blog at Wild Things is going to start up again.  Only this time, instead of posting hidden gems about past children’s books we’re posting hidden gems about current ones.  Which is to say, videos.

We solicited a great many authors and illustrators with 2014 book releases to film themselves discussing some behind-the-scenes stories about those books.  Want the skinny on Cece Bell’s El Deafo or N.D. Wilson’s Boys of Blur?  What’s the real scoop on where Jenni Holm got an idea for The Fourteenth Goldfish?  And why, for the love of all that is good and holy, is Jon Scieszka wearing a fez?!?

The answers soon.  Because trust me when I say that if you thought you loved their books before, you’re really gonna love what they have to say now.

To kick it off, please enjoy this faux PBS documentary about a children’s author who never was.  It feels appropriate to include it here.

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38. Review of the Day – Issun Bôshi: The One-Inch Boy by Icinori

IssunBoshi1 265x300 Review of the Day   Issun Bôshi: The One Inch Boy by IcinoriIssun Bôshi: The One-Inch Boy
By Icinori
Little Gestalten
ISBN: 978-3-89955-718-3
Ages 4-8
On shelves now

In the past, determining a bias in the publication of folk and fairytales was a fairly straightforward business. Too many European maids of hair as fair as the silk of corn on your shelves? Bias. But now we’re in the thick of a downturn in the publication of folk and fairytales. We not only need diverse fairy and folktales but we need more fairy and folktales at all! If you can find more than twenty published in a given year, that’s considered a good year. But desperation can lead to poor choices. A librarian might clutch at straws and snap up any such story, just so long as it fulfills a need. In the case of the latest adaptation of the story of Issun Bôshi to the picture book format, however, put your mind at rest. You rarely find such a meticulous combination of stunning art and melodic text as located here. Adapted from a Japanese folktale, Issun Bôshi by Icinori is a stunner. Regardless of whether or not you collect fairy and folktales, you need this on your shelf. Stat.

IssunBoshi4 300x208 Review of the Day   Issun Bôshi: The One Inch Boy by Icinori“We’d like a little boy, any size at all. / We’d like him little, we’d like him small. / We’d love him tiniest of all.” Be careful what you wish for? Not really. When a childless peasant and his wife sing this song on their walk to and from the fields where they toil they are nothing but delighted when the wife gives birth to a kid that would give Stuart Little a run for his money. A clever fellow, Issun Bôshi (for so he is named) grows up and when the time comes he sets off to seek his fortune with just a needle and a rice bowl to his name. Along his travels he is waylaid by a fowl and tricky ogre. Issun Bôshi leaves him and continues further, but when a nobleman’s daughter is taken by that same sneaky demon, it is Issun Bôshi and his incredible size that saves the day once and for all.

Think of all the great fairytales and folktales that involve little people. You’ve your straight fairytales like Thumbelina and Tom Thumb. Your tall tales like Hewitt Anderson s Great Big Life and folktales like Pea Boy. That’s not even mentioning all the tales of elves and dwarfs and what have you. It hardly matters what culture you’re in. Little people, ridiculously little people, are a storytelling staple. I suppose tiny people make for instantaneous identification. Haven’t we all felt insignificant in the face of our great big world at some point in our lives? Wouldn’t we love it if we could overcome our shortcomings (ha ha) and triumph in the end? One of the interesting things about Issun Bôshi is that by the end of the tale he does attain tall status but only as a last resort. When offered height earlier in the tale he shows no interest whatsoever. Sure, he’d like to prove to the nobleman’s daughter that he’s more than a living doll, but as the ending of the book notes, “People say that Issun Bôshi sometimes misses being small.” Read into it whatever you want (missing childhood, missing the simple life when you’ve become “big” in the world, etc.).

IssunBoshi2 300x208 Review of the Day   Issun Bôshi: The One Inch Boy by IcinoriThe art of the picture book translation is such that as an American who essentially speaks just one language, I am in awe. I’ve also read enough stilted, awkwardly translated books for kids to know when a book is particularly well done. All we know about the translation of Issun Bôshi is that the publication page says “Translation of French by Nicholas Grindell & Co. (Berlin & Ryde)”. So who knows whom the genius was who worked on this book! Whoever it was, it was someone who knew that this folktale would have to be read aloud many times, often to large groups. Heck, the very last line of the book is so beautiful and subtle that I’ve gone back to it several times. It reads, “People say that the nobleman’s daughter has taken a different view of Issun Bôshi and that their story is not yet over.” I vastly prefer that to a romantic ending or even the old standard “and they lived happily ever after.” This ending suggests that there could be more adventures to come and that their fate is not as fixed as your standard folktale would assign. Heck, we don’t even know for certain that they become romantically involved.

IssunBoshi3 300x208 Review of the Day   Issun Bôshi: The One Inch Boy by IcinoriText text text. What about the art? Because it seems to me that in this world you’re often only as good as the pictures that accompany your tale. The author/illustrator of this book is listed only as the mysterious one-namer “Icinori”. Naturally I had to learn more and so in the course of my research (research = looking up information about the publisher) I discovered that Icinori actually two artists. On the one hand you have Mayumi Otero, a French illustrator. On the other you have Raphaël Urwiller, a graphic designer and illustrator. No word on who precisely was responsible for the wordplay here. All we really know is that for this book the art appears to consist of beautiful prints. The Japanese artistic influence is clear, though Icinori has come up with a very distinctive look of their own overall. The primary colors in the palette consist of blue, orange, and yellow. Best of all, there’s time for two-page silent spreads of pure unadulterated beauty. For example, once Issun Bôshi has set out to see the world the story slows down enough for you to witness a gorgeous river landscape, the water and sky a pure white while all around vegetation and animals vie for your eye. I love too how Icinori isn’t afraid to shift scenes between a busy city street scene and the tri-colored drama of Issun Bôshi being dropped down an ogre’s gullet.

There is a sense of relief that one feels when a book turns out to sound as good as it looks. Covers can be misleading. A title that looks like a gem on the outside can yield particularly dull or overdone results inside. Issun Bôshi, I am happy to say, never disappoints. It skips, it hops, it dives, it sings. It entertains fully and leaves the reader wanting more. It does not, therefore, ever come across as anything but one of the finest folktale adaptations you’ve ever seen. High praise. Great book. Must buy.

On shelves now.

Source: Sent to library for purchase.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews:

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39. Press Release Fun: James River Writers Conference returning in October


Registration is open for one of Virginia’s most popular events for writers


RICHMOND, Va. – What do New York Times bestselling authors, literary agents and award-winning illustrators have in common? They’re all going to be networking and sharing a wealth of knowledge at the 12th annual James River Writers Conference.

The James River Writers Conference returns to Richmond from Oct. 17-19 with new, hands-on workshops, master classes and one-on-one meetings with some of the top agents and publishers. Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry will mark the triumphant return of Pitchapalooza – aka “American Idol” for books – where volunteers will be randomly selected to pitch their work. The Pitchapalooza winner will receive an introduction to an editor or agent appropriate for his or her work.

Sterry says of The James River Writers Conference, “There’s just a cool vibe here. This is a hidden treasure, as far as I’m concerned, right here in Richmond.”

This year’s conference features more than two dozen experienced guest speakers:

Authors and Illustrators

Kwame Alexander, “The Crossover”

Cece Bell, “Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover”

Iris Bolling, “The Heart”

Susann Cokal, “The Kingdom of Little Wounds,” Printz honor recipient

Tarfia Faizullah, “Seam”

Lamar Giles, “Fake ID”

Hugh Howey, Wool series

Brian Jay Jones, “Jim Henson: The Biography”

Kristen Lippert-Martin, “Tabula Rasa”

Sarah MacLean, “Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake”

Kelly O’Connor McNees, “The Island of Doves”

Meg Medina, “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass,” Pura Belpre award winner

Sheri Reynolds, “The Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. Cribb”

Jon Sealy, “The Whiskey Baron”

Ron Smith, “Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery”

David Henry Sterry, “Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent”

Agents, Publishers & Other Experts

Kaylee Davis, Dee Mura Literary associate agent

Arielle Eckstut, Levine Greenberg agent

Levine Greenberg, agent and author

Jane Friedman, editor, publisher and professor

Katie Grimm, Don Congdon Associates literary agent

Peter Knapp, Park Literary Group rep

Kimiko Nakamura, Dee Mura Literary rep

Jody Rein, head of Jody Rein Books Inc. and Author Planet

Geoff Shandler, Little, Brown & Co. editor

Alison Weiss, Egmont USA editor

Stacy Whitman, Tu Books founder and publisher


Registration for the annual conference is open, and writing sessions are already filling up. Find more details and a full list of programs at JamesRiverWriters.org.

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40. Wikipedia, Amelia Bedelia, and Our Responsibility Regarding Online Sources

AmeliaBedeliaWiki 300x178 Wikipedia, Amelia Bedelia, and Our Responsibility Regarding Online SourcesWhen I was a children’s librarian with NYPL’s Children’s Center at 42nd Street I conducted a lot of class visits with older kids (ages 9-12, usually).  Sometimes these would be groups of kids learning how to do research using the library’s resources.  For them I covered the usual databases and image library stuff, but also a kind of Why Google Is Not God portion where I showed them very convincing fake websites like the good old Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site and All About Explorers.  Using these sites I showed them why you need to take every site you encounter online with a grain of salt because someone might be mucking with you.

That’s Google.  It should be noted, however, that I never did a Wikipedia portion of my talk.  Not intentionally, of course.  It just wasn’t as go-to a resource as it is today.

Librarians have a love/hate relationship with a lot of online resources and Wikipedia is no exception.  We would be lying if we said we didn’t all use it sometimes, though.  I mean, where else are you going to find a fairly accurate listing of the order in which the Rainbow Fairy books are meant to be read?  And we understand that everyone should rely on two sources for information gathered there.  So with all that in mind how are we to interpret the Amelia Bedelia-related Daily Dot piece I Accidentally Started a Wikipedia Hoax?

In the piece one EJ Dickson says that in college, while high during her Sophomore year, she and a friend went around creating false information on Wikipedia for children’s book authors.  “It was the kind of ridiculous, vaguely humorous prank stoned college students pull.”  For Peggy Parish they wrote that Amelia Bedelia was based on a Cameroon maid with a lot of hats.

First off, and before we go any further, I’m not entirely certain that the author understands the meaning of the word “accidentally” as found in the title.  Perhaps it would be accurate if she had been falling asleep one night and in the course of her head falling forward onto the keyboard in an unconscious state it managed to type out a false Wikipedia entry and enter it without her knowledge or consent.  Because the implication as it stands is that everything one does in college is “accidental” and therefore doesn’t count.  Mmmhmm.

Personally I found it an odd little piece, but not overwhelmingly disturbing.  A friend of mine felt very differently and emailed me the following:

 ”As a high college student, she very deliberately sabotaged a hugely-valuable communal resource, and now she finds it strange and hilarious that her lies are still doing damage 5 years later …and she’s blaming everybody but herself for the damage she’s done.  Yes, Wikipedia will publish your lies if you tell them with a straight face.  So will the New York Times, as has been proven over and over. This is why everyone should rely on at least two sources.  This obvious fact doesn’t make it cool or funny or righteous to plant lies in either of these information sources.  Now she’s off on a Oedipus-like righteous crusade to find the watchdog that fell asleep and let her lies go uncorrected.  She might want to look in the mirror.”

That’s a bit stronger than I’d put it, but it’s another way of reading the piece.  She does apologize, I should note, though she also admits to finding the entry funny not much later on.

And in case you were wondering, this magnificently wrong little tidbit about Amelia Bedelia does not appear in Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature.  I’m happy to say that Candlewick had us source and re-source every quote and fact in that book to the hilt.  So no worries there.  I do wonder what you take away from the article, however.  Is the deliberate planting of lies the responsibility of the resource or the person doing the planting?

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41. Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard Michelson

SforSeaGlass1 300x246 Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard MichelsonS is for Sea Glass
By Richard Michelson
Illustrated by Doris Ettlinger
Sleeping Bear Press
ISBN: 978-1585368624
Ages 3-8
On shelves now

Every small publisher needs a staple. Something to keep them going through hard times. Years ago Sleeping Bear Press hit on the notion of writing books with the [letter] is for [word] format and they’ve kept up this abecedarian staple ever since. These are books that are fairly easy to dismiss, sight unseen. You assume you know what to expect. Never mind that they’ve a range of different subjects, authors, and illustrators. For the picture book snob, one glance at the title and you’re immediately dismissive. You think you know what to expect. And of course by “you” I really mean “me”. It was the fact that S is for Sea Glass was written by Richard Michelson that gave me pause. No fly-by-night poet he, I sat down with the book and was happy to find that my expectations weren’t just met but greatly exceeded. Chalk that up to my own personal prejudices then. In this book Michelson and artist Doris Ettlinger gracefully sit back and present to us a most thoughtful, meditative picture book on summer and sea and the relationship between the two. Absolutely lovely and original, this is a summer book of poetry worth remembering and revisiting year after year after year.

“A is for Angel” begins the book. Open it and here you’ll see a girl on her back in the sand. She swings her arms and legs up and down “Like I’m opening and closing a fairy-tale gate” creating sand angels behind her. Welcome to summer. To beaches and tides and those elements of the season a kid can’t wait to experience. Through poetry, Richard Michelson brings to life the little details that make a summer come alive. From doomed sand castles to morally superior seagulls to the child that dreams of someday living in a lighthouse so they’d never have to leave, Michelson places a good, firm finger on the pulse of the warmer months. Artist Doris Ettlinger accompanies him and brings to life not just the obvious moments of summertime but some of the softer more esoteric feelings conjured up by Michelson’s words. The result is a book that will almost smell to you of brine and surf, even in the coldest, frozen depths of the winter.

SforSeaGlass2 300x121 Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard MichelsonWhat is the moment when a book flips that switch in your brain from “like” to “love”? It’s different for everyone. For some it might be a word or a phrase. For others a haunting image or illustration that conjures up a personal memory. In the case of S is for Sea Glass it was the poem “H is for Horizon”. It’s not out-and-out saying you need to contemplate the nature of infinity but it might well be suggesting it. After all, is there any point on the beach so wrought with possibility and promise? As Michelson writes, “If I travel the world or stay here on this beach, / The horizon will always be just beyond reach. / But it’s real as my dreams and it’s always nearby – / That magical line where the sea meets the sky.” Inculcating a kid in poetry that’s fun because the language is fun is as easy as the next Shel Silverstein poem. Inculcating a kid in poetry that’s fun because it expands your horizons (pun intended) and lets your mind wander free is much harder. Michelson manages it here.

The nice thing about the poems is that they aren’t the usual beach fare. Sure you’ll find the standard “O is for Ocean” or “W is for Wave” but Michelson has an impish quality to his selections. “E is for Empty Shells” isn’t just about the shells you find on the beach but also the fact that their innards have been consumed by YOU much of the time. “I is for Ice” isn’t about the cubes in a glass on a hot day but rather the strange and startling beauty of a beach in the blustery depths of winter. Some of the poems will take some practice to read aloud, so parents be ready. “B is for Boardwalk” for example eschews the regular ABAB rhyme scheme for something a little more visually exciting. “D is for Dog” in contrast contains both hard and soft rhymes. There are poems with AABB rhymes and even haikus like the one in “P is for Pail”. Michelson doesn’t distinguish or label the different types of poetry found here, so in terms of curricular ties that feels like a lost opportunity.

It’s always interesting to watch what a kid latches onto in a book like this. My 3-year-old has recently been on a beach books kick. We’d already exhausted Splash, Anna Hibiscus, Ladybug Girl at the Beach, Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach and many others when we came across S is for Sea Glass. My daughter enjoyed the poems, treating each one with equal interest, but the poem she kept going back to and appeared to be haunted by was “Q is for Quiet”. I suspect this may have a lot to do with the image in that book which also appears on the back cover. In it, a girl sleeps, half her hair dark, the other silver white in the moonlight. As she dreams a shoal of fish swim about her across the star strewn sky. Many’s the time we’ve read the book and just come to a dead stop at Q. No need to go further. She gets everything she needs out of this poem alone.

SforSeaGlass3 300x130 Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard MichelsonCredit where credit is due to artist Doris Ettlinger then. I was aware of Ms. Ettlinger’s work thanks to books like The Orange Shoes (it tends to come up when patrons want picture books on class distinctions) and other books in the Sleeping Bear Press series. The sea appears to be particularly inspirational to Ms. Ettlinger, though. A strictly representational illustrator most of the time, here her watercolors find much to enjoy in the roaring pounding surf, the ice choked chill of a wintertime beach jaunt, the infinity of the deepest ocean, and that gray/brown gloomy beauty of a rained out beach. The “R is for Rain” sequence in particular is one of her loveliest. Credit too to “Y is for Year-Rounders” where seaside locals celebrate a town empty of tourists in the fall. In her version, Ettlinger conjures up a small town beach resort street at the end of the day, four family members and their dog just tiny black silhouettes against the blazing yellow of a setting sun.

When the weather warms and the leaves reappear on the trees, then it will be the time for families to pluck S is for Sea Glass from the topmost shelves of their bookcases for multiple reads by the seashore. We all do that, right? Keep our seasonal books apart from one another so that when the right time of year appears we’ve books ah-plenty to refer to? Well, if you haven’t before I recommend you start now with this one. Parents buy summery beach titles for their kids regardless of the quality. All the more reason the care and attention paid to “S is for Sea Glass” impresses. There are books a parent does not wish to read 100 times over to their offspring and there are books they wish they could read even more. This book falls into the latter category. A treat for eye and ear alike.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy given by author for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Misc: A discussion with Michelson about the book on MassLive.

Videos: A peek inside.

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42. Fusenews: Hear the beat, of literary feet.

Hi ho.  Time to round-up what Jules and I have been up to over at our Wild Things blog (book promotion for bloggers means more blogging, you see).  Here’s the long and short of what you may have missed:

Whew!  We’re busy little bees, aren’t we?

  • Tra la!  It’s coming!  The greatest conference of children’s and YA literary bloggers is coming!  And Liz Burns not only has the info but also the reason such an event is cool.  Quoth she: “What I love about KidLitCon is it’s about the bloggers. Full stop. That is the primary purpose and mission of KidLitCon. It’s about what the bloggers care about. Oh, there may be authors and publishers there, presenting, and that can be great and amazing. But it’s not about them. They are there to support the blogging community: they are not there saying, what can the blogging community do for us.”  Amen, sister.  Preach!  By the way, the theme this year is Blogging Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Lit: What’s Next?  Be there or be square.
  • So there’s a new Children’s Book Review Editor at the New York Times and by some strange quirk of fate her name is NOT alliterative (note Julie Just, Pamela Paul, and Sarah Smith).  Her name?  Maria Russo.  Which pretty much means I’ll be tracking her like a bloodhound at the next Eric Carle Honors event.  Trouble is, we don’t wear nametags at that event so I’ll probably be the crazy lady grabbing all the women, staring intently into their eyes.  Wouldn’t be the first time.

LewisTolkien 300x186 Fusenews: Hear the beat, of literary feet. I blame Saving Mr. Banks.  One little children’s writer biopic comes out where the writer isn’t seen as all kittens and sunshine (I still loathe you Miss Potter and Finding Neverland) and all hell breaks loose.  Now we hear that McG is going to do a Shel Silverstein biopic on the one hand and that there are plans to examine the relationship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on the other.  I’m just counting the minutes until someone tackles Margaret Wise Brown or the whole Anne-Carroll-Moore-didn’t-like-Stuart-Little story (which you just KNOW is in the works somewhere).

  • Speaking of films, when I heard that Alan Snow’s delightful Here Be Monsters was being turned into a film called The Boxtrolls I was incredulous.  That book?  The one I couldn’t get kids to even look at until they made a blue paperback version?  I mean I liked it (it came out in a year when sentient cheese was all the rage in children’s literature) but how long was this film in production for crying out loud?  Doesn’t matter because according to iO9 it’s brilliant.  Good to know.
  • So Phil Nel, our ever intrepid professor with a hankering for children’s literature, went to ComicCon.  Best of all, he’s willing to report his findings to us (so that we don’t have to go!).  Read up on Part 1, Part 2 (my favorite for the cameo of Bananaman), Part 3, and Part 4.  Phil was there promoting his Barnaby books (which he co-edited with Eric Reynolds). These include Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (2013) and Barnaby Volume Two: 1944-1945 (2014).
  • Did I know that Amanda Palmer wrote a song about what she owes to Judy Blume?  I do now.
  • This is what separates the true fangirls from the poseurs.  Thanks to the CBC for the link.
  • Two Little Free Libraries have sprung up near my home across the street from the Harlem branch of NYPL.  I couldn’t be more pleased because they mean just one thing to me . . . a place to give away my books!!!  Culling books is terribly enjoyable.  It’s also part of BookRiot’s incredibly useful post 8 Tips for Moving When You Have a Ton of Books.
  • Daily Image:

Two words. Bookish shoes.  My personal favorites include . . .

Little Prince Shoes Fusenews: Hear the beat, of literary feet.

Sherlock Shoes 500x335 Fusenews: Hear the beat, of literary feet.

Book Spine heels Fusenews: Hear the beat, of literary feet.

Remember, by the way, that my sister told you how to make some of these yourself.  Thanks to Mom for the link.

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43. Press Release Fun: A Conference on Censorship and a Call for Proposals


Call for Proposals

Outlawed: The Naked Truth About Censored Literature for Young People
Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature
Henry Madden Library at California State University, Fresno
April 10-12, 2015

While most people are familiar with attempts to censor children’s and young adult literature, the problem of censorship continues to provoke many who believe that children and adolescents benefit from considering diverse viewpoints and cultural experiences. In recent years, many examples of children’s and young adult literature—including The Perks of Being a WallflowerAnd Tango Makes Three, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian—have been challenged in schools and libraries. This conference seeks to explore the ways in which censorship affects young readers whose parents, teachers, and civic leaders attempt to navigate thorny terrains of identity in a world in which information circulates more freely than ever before.

This conference will be hosted by the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, one of North America’s leading resources for the study of children’s and young adult literature. The growing collection of 60,000 books, periodicals, manuscripts, original art, and papers of authors and illustrators has an international and multicultural emphasis. The Center also houses one of the largest collections of LGBT+ literature for children and young adults in the United States.

Scholars, librarians, teachers, writers, and illustrators are invited to submit proposals for formal presentations, roundtable discussions, and workshops. Presentations may highlight creative work, community engagement, pedagogy, or scholarship. Sessions will last 75 minutes (15–20 min. per presenter).Proposals for individual presentations should be 250-300 words, while proposals for entire sessions should be no more than 500 words. Please include two- to three-sentence biographies for each participant and indicate any audio-visual/media needs.

Possible topics for proposals include, but are not limited to:
· Suppressed or silenced histories
· International contexts for censorship
· Technology and/or digital literacies
· Fan fiction as a response to banned young adult texts
· The use of social media to intervene when books are challenged
· History of censorship and banned book lists
· LGBT+ literature
· Bibliotherapy and censorship
· Recent attempts to ban books based on cultural empowerment movements
· Multiculturalism and diversity
· Sex and censorship
· Self-censorship
· Creating curriculum that supports the use of banned books
· “Artivism” and subtext in illustrations
· Graphic novels, novels in verse, and experimentation with form
· Libraries (school/community/archives) and closed reference cases
· Publishing or Pre-Censorship
· Schools (K-12, public/private)
· Religion, spirituality, and mysticism in banned books
· Authorial politics and the reception of young adult literature
· Recommended age ratings for books

Submission deadline for proposals (both individual and panel) is November 26, 2014. Submit electronically to kgodfrey@csufresno.edu, Dr. Kathleen Godfrey, English Department, Fresno State.

For more information please check out the conference’s website at www.outlawed2015.com

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44. Video Sunday: “Leave out that Oxford comma”

I had the pleasure of seeing just the most delightful show the other day.  The Snow Queen’s run is ending, but you can at least enjoy this little number from it.  It’s been caught in my head all week.  I bestow that honor now upon you.

New York News

And the award for best set design in a book trailer goes to . . .

Mildly miffed that this trailer came out in February but that I only found it now, though.

And now the Weird Al video that shall outlive him thanks to English teachers around the world.  They shall play it from now until the internet burns down to a dark, black piece of coal.

Just when you think they’ve done absolutely everything one can do with the physical book, they turn around and come up with something COMPLETELY NEW!  Trust the Japanese to come up with something this lovey.  More information can be found here.


Thanks to Marci for the link.

Finally, I was shocked that some friends of mine had forgotten this old Italian video where a fellow performs fake English.  So here we go.  Fake English for one and all.  Love this.

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45. Cover Reveal: The Whisper by Aaron Starmer

When I originally read The Riverman by Aaron Starmer this year it blew me away. I couldn’t think of anything to really compare it to. Entirely original, wonderful and strange, it has remained quite clear in my memory ever since. Yet I was shocked when I learned that it was just the first in a trilogy. At first I couldn’t reconcile the first book with a second in my brain. Yet as time passed I found myself really and truly wanting to see where it would go. It’s as if my entire interpretation of the first book hinges on the second. Well, I am pleased and honored to present to you today a cover reveal for its sequel.

Ladies and gentlemen . . . The Whisper!

Whisper Cover Reveal: The Whisper by Aaron Starmer

On shelves March 17, 2015.

Many thanks to Mr. Starmer and Macmillan for allowing me to reveal the jacket here today.

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46. Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider

PrincessSparkleHeart Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh SchneiderPrincess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover
By Josh Schneider
Clarion (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
ISBN: 978-0-544-14228-2
Ages 3-7
On shelves now

Sometimes I’ll just sit back and think about how the advent of the internet has affected literary culture. I don’t mean book promotion or reviews or any of that. I’m talking about the very content of books themselves. On the one hand, it accounts for the rise in Steampunk (a desire for tactile, hands-on technology, gears and all). On the other, it has led to a rise in books where characters make things. So why, you may be asking yourself, am I saying all this when ostensibly I’m supposed to be reviewing a picture book with the title Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover? Because, best beloved, Josh Schneider has created a picture book that provides solutions. If something terrible happens to something you love, do you sit on the floor and cry and bemoan your fate? NO! You go out and find the solution, even if it means getting your hands a little dirty. We’re seeing a nice uptick in books where kids make things and fix things on their own. Add in a jealous doggy and a twist ending that NO ONE will see coming and you have a book that could easily have been written in the past but contains a distinctly 21st century flavor through and through.

Amelia just couldn’t be happier. When she gets her new doll, Princess Sparkle-Heart, the two bond instantly. They do tea parties, royal weddings, share secrets, the works. Never mind that Amelia’s pet dog eyes their happiness with an envious glare. The minute the two are separated, it acts. One minute Princess Sparkle-Heart is reading a book to herself. The next, she’s a pile of well-chewed bits and pieces on the floor. At first Amelia is distraught, but when her mother proposes putting the doll back together Amelia provides direction and ideas. This is the all-new Princess Sparkle-Heart, ladies and gentlemen. One that is NOT going to be taken advantage of again.

PrincessSparkle2 300x191 Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh SchneiderI’ll be the first to admit to you that I like a little weird with my children’s literature. The only question is whether or not kids like the same kind of weird that I like. There’s no question that some of them do have a taste for the unusual, after all. It’s adult selectors that grow disturbed by some of this author/illustrator’s choices. In the case of Princess Sparkle-Heart (can I tell you how much I love that her last name is hyphenated?) I’ve already seen a schism between some adults and others. Some adults find this book freakin’ hilarious. They love the odd way in which Schneider chooses to empower his heroine. Others aren’t amused in the least. For my part, I found it a wonderful new girl/doll story. I was particularly fond of the spread where Amelia looks at a wall of fashion magazines and zeroes in on the sole solitary superhero comic found there instead. So if Schneider is telling readers something, he’s being subtle about it.

I’ve also been noticing a rather nice trend recently in books starring young girls. There’s a real movement in the country right now to give girls the impetus to make and create and build. Books like The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires where the heroine not only builds but deals repeatedly with disappointment are really quite fabulous. In Princess Sparkle-Heart Amelia’s unseen mother is the one doing the construction of a new princess, but it’s Amelia who provides the number of parts and the specifications. If the new princess is completely different from her prior incarnation, that’s thanks to Amelia’s contributions. Meanwhile the Frankenstein connection that some have noted (and that I entirely missed the first time around) is clearly intentional. How else to explain the two screws that appear in the “M” of the front cover’s “Makeover”? No doubt Princess Sparkle-Heart’s conversion will strike some as monstrous. For others, it’ll be like your average everyday superhero origin story. Nothing wrong with that!

PrincessSparkle3 300x194 Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh SchneiderI’ve been oddly amused by dog books this year. I am not a dog person. I can take ‘em or leave ‘em. But in 2014 we’ve seen some really spectacular canine picture books. Things like Shoe Dog by Megan McDonald, and I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein, and now this. The dog in this particular book is awfully similar to the one in Bears by Ruth Krauss as re-illustrated by Maurice Sendak, with its jealousy of a beloved toy. Cleverly Schneider has positioned the dog’s growls to serve as a running commentary behind the action. A low-key “GRRRRRRRRRR” runs both on and off the page, bleeding into the folds, falling off the sides. Schneider’s humans never have pupils (and combined with her red hair this gives Amelia a distant L’il Orphan Annie connection) but the dogs and stuffed animals do. As a result, the dog ends up oddly sympathetic in spite of its naughty ways (and indeed there is a happy ending for all characters at the story’s close).

Occasionally folks will ask me for “Princess Book” recommendations. Admittedly I’m far more partial to subversive princess tales (The Paperbag Princess, The Princess and the Pig, etc.) than those that adhere to the norm. Keeping that in mind, this is definitely going into my princess book bag of tricks. With its twist ending, strong female character, and princess that looks like she could take down twenty monsters without a blink, I’m a fan. I wouldn’t necessarily hand it to the kid looking for fluff and fairies and oogly goo, but for children with a wry sense of humor (and they do exist) this book is going to pack a wallop. Funny and surprising and a great read through and through. You ain’t never seen a makeover quite like THIS before.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

  • Dahlia by Barbara McClintock
  • Bears by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Other Blog Reviews: Sal’s Fiction Addiction,

Professional Reviews: A star from Publishers Weekly, A star from Kirkus,

Misc: There is a TON of stuff related to the book on the publisher’s website.  Everything from sewing patterns to a Q&A to early sketches to more more more!

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47. Press Release Fun: Announcing the Ninth Annual Carle Honors

Media Alert

For Thursday, September 18th 2014


Contact: Alexandra Pearson

212.255.8455/ Alexandra@rosengrouppr.com

Ninth Annual Carle Honors

Celebrating Early Literacy and the Art of the Picture Book

2014 gala to fête author/illustrator Jerry Pinkney and other luminaries in the field


On Thursday, September 18, hundreds of children’s book artists, authors and advocates will come together to celebrate The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art’s ninth annual Carle Honors at Guastavino’s in New York City. This benefit gala will honor five individuals who have been instrumental in making children’s books a vibrant art form that supports art appreciation and early literacy.


When:             Thursday, September 18, 2014

5:30 pm Reception with cocktails, dinner fare, and silent auction

7:15 pm Presentation of The Carle Honors

8:00 pm Dessert, coffee, and auction

9:00 pm Auction close

Where:            Guastavino’s

                        409 East 59th Street

                        New York, NY 10022


Who:               Hosted by Eric and Barbara Carle, Museum co-founders

Presented by Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi

                        Charles and Deborah Royce, 2014 co-chairs


2014 Carle Honors honorees include:

·         Artist: Jerry Pinkney – Illustrator of more than 100 books for children and winner of numerous awards, including the 2010 Caldecott Medal for The Lion and the Mouse

·         Angel: Reach Out and Read – Promoters of early literacy and school readiness through programs in pediatric exam rooms nationwide; represented by Brian Gallagher and Dr. Perri Klass

·         Mentor: Henrietta M. Smith – Influential children’s librarian, scholar, and author; advocate for  quality and diversity in children’s literature

·         Bridge: Françoise Mouly – Publisher and editorial director for TOON Books, high-quality comics for young children; art editor of The New Yorker 


Why:               The Carle Honors awards recognize individuals in four distinct forms: Artist, for lifelong innovation in the field; Mentor, for the editors, designers, and educators who champion the art form; Angel, for those whose generous resources make picture book art exhibitions and education programs a reality; and Bridge, for individuals who have found inspired ways to bring the art of the picture book to larger audiences through work in other fields.


For just over a decade, The Eric Carle Museum has been collecting, preserving, presenting and celebrating picture books and their illustrations with the mission to foster a love of art and reading in all ages. The only full-scale museum of its kind in the United States, The Carle was the recipient of the 2013 Commonwealth Award for Creative Learning for its exceptional demonstration of the importance of creativity and innovation to student achievement and success. In addition, The Carle has received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts which help bring nationally acclaimed artists to local schools that normally do not have access to picture books. The Carle Honors is a key fundraiser providing critical support for the Museum’s mission and programs.


Reservations: Individual Tickets: Patron Tickets are $600 per person, and include cocktails, dinner fare, presentation, dessert. Specially priced tickets for educators are available at $100 (includes only presentation and dessert).


Sponsor Tickets: New Individual Sponsor tickets are available for $750; sponsorship packages start at $5,000. New sponsor levels include a personal tour of The Carle’s exhibition, Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans, at the New-York Historical Society.


For more details or to purchase a sponsorship/ticket to the event, please call (413)-658-1118 or visit www.carlemuseum.org/carlehonors2014


For media credentials, additional press information and/or images, please contact Alexandra Pearson at Alexandra@rosengrouppr.com or 646-695-7048.



About The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art:

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


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

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48. Theatrical Reviews: The Snow Queen

SnowQueenMusical 300x300 Theatrical Reviews: The Snow QueenI was trying to remember the last theater review I wrote for this site.  At first I thought it might be the review I did way way back in the day for the staged adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline where the main character was played by a heavyset middle aged woman (it worked quite well, thank you very much).  Then I remembered that I did write up the Matilda musical when Penguin was kind enough to offer tickets to local librarians.  Still, that was over a year ago and my theater going has shriveled in the wake of my increasing brood.  What would it take to get me back in the swing of things?  Good friends from my past, apparently.

The Snow Queen, which I have discussed here briefly before, came to NYC as part of the 2014 Musical Theatre Festival (spellcheck is questioning why I chose to spell it “theatre”, by the way). Having originated in the San Jose Repertory Theater the composer of the show is one Haddon Kime, a friend of mine from long back.  Indeed his wife Katie presided over my wedding and long ago he created the music for my very brief foray into podcasting.  He’s always been ridiculously talented but I confess that I’d never seen a show of his.  Until now.

For those of you unfamiliar with the plot of this Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, here’s the long and short of it. Two kids, Gerta and Kai, are best buddies.  Then one day two shards of a magic mirror enter Kai’s eye and heart, rendering him a cold-hearted bastard (which is to say, a teenager).  Along comes The Snow Queen who takes Kai away to her magic palace up North.  Rather than just mourn her friend, Gerta sets out to rescue him, encountering rivers, witches, crows, royalty, thieves, and more.  When she finds Kai he doesn’t exactly want to leave, so engaged is he in a puzzle The Snow Queen set up for him.  Fortunately love wins out, and the two kiddos go back home.

SnowQueen3 300x200 Theatrical Reviews: The Snow QueenAs the novel stands it is unlike most Andersen tales in that it has a metaphor so clear cut you’d swear it had been ghostwritten by Freud himself.  The shards of glass in Kai’s heart and eye are so clearly a stand-in for the changes adolescence that it’s scary.  Indeed, when Anne Ursu wrote the Snow Queen inspired novel Breadcrumbs, she made explicit what is only implied in the Andersen tale.  With that in mind, I was very curious how a staged production of the show would deal with some of these themes.

Right from the start the show casts Kai and Gerda as adults playing children.  This is a clever way of dealing with adolescence in a theatrical setting.  Years ago the remarkable staged adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials saga cast two adults as Lyra and Will, allowing them to learn and grow throughout the show.  And since Kai spends a fair amount of time in this show begging a grown woman in a white garter belt to kiss him, this was a wise choice.

I suppose you could say they decided to give the show a Steampunk feel.  There were a fair number of corsets and goggles, but it wasn’t overwhelming.  When I saw a Steampunk version of The Pirates of Penzance a couple years ago the effect was overdone.  Here it was subtle, more evident in the clothing than anything else.  Each character was outfitted in a simple but effective manner, none so effective as The Snow Queen herself.  Played to the hilt by the commanding Jane Pfitsch, she’s a photo negative of The Phantom of the Opera, bedecked all in white, luring a boy through a window (as opposed to the Phantom bedecked all in black, luring a girl through a mirror).  Admittedly her very cool costume resembled that of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” outfit from the MTV Music Video Awards, but there’s no crime in that.  Her blond bob stood in stark contrast to the elaborate headwear of Elsa in the Disney Snow Queen adaptation Frozen.  But it was her singing voice and violin playing that gave her true power.  A very strong soprano, you can actually see her right now in the current revival of Cabaret as Rosie.  As for the violin playing, this show followed the current trend of having the performers play instruments on the stage, but her violin contained not a jot of fly-by-night fakery.  This girl could play!  I was impressed.

SnowQueen2 300x200 Theatrical Reviews: The Snow QueenOther strong performances included Eryn Murman as Gerda, Reggie D. White as a Troll, a Hyacinth, a Prince, and a Reindeer respectively, and Jason Hite as an oddly sexy River, Crow, and Italian (for no particular reason) Daisy.  But the strongest actress, aside from The Snow Queen herself, was clearly Lauren Cipoletti.  There is much to be said for performers that have fun with their roles.  Cipoletti, by all appearances, seemed to be having a blast.  First she was a rosebush, and though all she does is preen in a manner best befitting The Rose of The Little Prince, you are entranced.  Later she came on as an adorable nerdgirl princess, pulling off the cheery “Never Give Up” song that might have wilted in a lesser performer’s mouth.  Best, however, was last since her most memorable role was the psychotic Little Robber Girl.  Singing “I Want That”, a ballad worthy of Veruca Salt herself, Cipoletti let her freak flag fly.  She was punk one minute and a cabaret singer the next.  She was Amanda Palmer and Courtney Love and a whole host of other wild women.  You didn’t trust her not to slit your throat while cooing sweet nothings in your ears all the while.  I’ve always loved the Little Robber Girl.  Now I adore her.

The music?  Superb.  Catchy.  Hummable.  I have actually been humming the song “Flying” ever since I saw it online, actually.  See, here’s a taste.

New York News

Neat, right? The show is jam-packed with music, making it almost more operetta than musical.  Haddon mixes up the styles, creating punk rock anthems and Southern bluegrass and Irish ballads depending on what fits best.  Should the show ever get picked up it could, of course, be cut down.  Some songs were lovely but easy to do away with.  In fact the song “Gone” was probably the loveliest of the batch, but superfluous in terms of plot.

SnowQueen1 300x200 Theatrical Reviews: The Snow QueenAs I exited the theater during intermission I saw a small girl wearing a Frozen t-shirt.  Since it was a 9 p.m. performance she was the only one of her kind to do so, but I like to think that there were other kids in the audience in a similar state of mind.  Kids entranced by Frozen who have an interest in the original source material.  My husband has always said that Frozen feels more like a prequel to The Snow Queen than anything else.  A cool thought (no pun intended).  However you look at it,

The show ended its run July 20th and one can only hope and pray that it gets picked up here in the city in some manner.  For another opinion check out the New York Times review A Fairy-Tale That Rocks in which reviewer Anita Gates calls parts of the show “evocatively effective”.  Also check out the TheaterMania review which calls Haddon’s score, “an endlessly listenable pastiche with elements of bluegrass, punk rock, and symphonic metal.”

Interested in reading the original story?  For the best round-up of Snow Queen works, go to the SurLaLune Fairy Tales site containing Modern Interpretations of The Snow Queen.  There you will find a list that is jaw-dropping in its content. It really is a remarkable collection.

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49. Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

MadmanPineyWoods Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul CurtisThe Madman of Piney Woods
By Christopher Paul Curtis
ISBN: 978-0-545-63376-5
Ages 9-12
On shelves September 30th

No author hits it out of the park every time. No matter how talented or clever a writer might be, if their heart isn’t in a project it shows. In the case of Christopher Paul Curtis, when he loves what he’s writing the sheets of paper on which he types practically set on fire. When he doesn’t? It’s like reading mold. There’s life there, but no energy. Now in the case of his Newbery Honor book Elijah of Buxton, Curtis was doing gangbuster work. His blend of history and humor is unparalleled and you need only look to Elijah to see Curtis at his best. With that in mind I approached the companion novel to Elijah titled The Madman of Piney Woods with some trepidation. A good companion book will add to the magic of the original. A poor one, detract. I needn’t have worried. While I wouldn’t quite put Madman on the same level as Elijah, what Curtis does here, with his theme of fear and what it can do to a human soul, is as profound and thought provoking as anything he’s written in the past. There is ample fodder here for young brains. The fact that it’s a hoot to read as well is just the icing on the cake.

Two boys. Two lives. It’s 1901, forty years after the events in Elijah of Buxton and Benji Alston has only one dream: To be the world’s greatest reporter. He even gets an apprenticeship on a real paper, though he finds there’s more to writing stories than he initially thought. Meanwhile Alvin Stockard, nicknamed Red, is determined to be a scientist. That is, when he’s not dodging the blows of his bitter Irish granny, Mother O’Toole. When the two boys meet they have a lot in common, in spite of the fact that Benji’s black and Red’s Irish. They’ve also had separate encounters with the legendary Madman of Piney Woods. Is the man an ex-slave or a convict or part lion? The truth is more complicated than that, and when the Madman is in trouble these two boys come to his aid and learn what it truly means to face fear.

Let’s be plainspoken about what this book really is. Curtis has mastered the art of the Tom Sawyerish novel. Sometimes it feels like books containing mischievous boys have fallen out of favor. Thank goodness for Christopher Paul Curtis then. What we have here is a good old-fashioned 1901 buddy comedy. Two boys getting into and out of scrapes. Wreaking havoc. Revenging themselves on their enemies / siblings (or at least Benji does). It’s downright Mark Twainish (if that’s a term). Much of the charm comes from the fact that Curtis knows from funny. Benji’s a wry-hearted bigheaded, egotistical, lovable imp. He can be canny and completely wrong-headed within the space of just a few sentences. Red, in contrast, is book smart with a more regulation-sized ego but as gullible as they come. Put Red and Benji together and it’s little wonder they’re friends. They compliment one another’s faults. With Elijah of Buxton I felt no need to know more about Elijah and Cooter’s adventures. With Madman I wouldn’t mind following Benji and Red’s exploits for a little bit longer.

One of the characteristics of Curtis’s writing that sets him apart from the historical fiction pack is his humor. Making the past funny is a trick. Pranks help. An egotistical character getting their comeuppance helps too. In fact, at one point Curtis perfectly defines the miracle of funny writing. Benji is pondering words and wordplay and the magic of certain letter combinations. Says he, “How is it possible that one person can use only words to make another person laugh?” How indeed. The remarkable thing isn’t that Curtis is funny, though. Rather, it’s the fact that he knows how to balance tone so well. The book will garner honest belly laughs on one page, then manage to wrench real emotion out of you the next. The best funny authors are adept at this switch. The worst leave you feeling queasy. And Curtis never, not ever, gives a reader a queasy feeling.

Normally I have a problem with books where characters act out-of-step with the times without any outside influence. For example, I once read a Civil War middle grade novel that shall remain nameless where a girl, without anyone in her life offering her any guidance, independently came up with the idea that “corsets restrict the mind”. Ugh. Anachronisms make me itch. With that in mind, I watched Red very carefully in this book. Here you have a boy effectively raised by a racist grandmother who is almost wholly without so much as a racist thought in his little ginger noggin. How do we account for this? Thankfully, Red’s father gives us an “out”, as it were. A good man who struggles with the amount of influence his mother-in-law may or may not have over her redheaded grandchild, Mr. Stockard is the just force in his son’s life that guides his good nature.

The preferred writing style of Christopher Paul Curtis that can be found in most of his novels is also found here. It initially appears deceptively simple. There will be a series of seemingly unrelated stories with familiar characters. Little interstitial moments will resonate with larger themes, but the book won’t feel like it’s going anywhere. Then, in the third act, BLAMMO! Curtis will hit you with everything he’s got. Murder, desperation, the works. He’s done it so often you can set your watch by it, but it still works, man. Now to be fair, when Curtis wrote Elijah of Buxton he sort of peaked. It’s hard to compete with the desperation that filled Elijah’s encounter with an enslaved family near the end. In Madman Curtis doesn’t even attempt to top it. In fact, he comes to his book’s climax from another angle entirely. There is some desperation (and not a little blood) but even so this is a more thoughtful third act. If Elijah asked the reader to feel, Madman asks the reader to think. Nothing wrong with that. It just doesn’t sock you in the gut quite as hard.

For me, it all comes down to the quotable sentences. And fortunately, in this book the writing is just chock full of wonderful lines. Things like, “An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and the same can be said of many an argument.” Or later, when talking about Red’s nickname, “It would be hard for even as good a debater as Spencer or the Holmely boy to disprove that a cardinal and a beet hadn’t been married and given birth to this boy. Then baptized him in a tub of red ink.” And I may have to conjure up this line in terms of discipline and kids: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, but you can sure make him stand there looking at the water for a long time.” Finally, on funerals: “Maybe it’s just me, but I always found it a little hard to celebrate when one of the folks in the room is dead.”

He also creates little moments that stay with you. Kissing a reflection only to have your lips stick to it. A girl’s teeth so rotted that her father has to turn his head when she kisses him to avoid the stench (kisses are treacherous things in Curtis novels). In this book I’ll probably long remember the boy who purposefully gets into fights to give himself a reason for the injuries wrought by his drunken father. And there’s even a moment near the end when the Madman’s identity is clarified that is a great example of Curtis playing with his audience. Before he gives anything away he makes it clear that the Madman could be one of two beloved characters from Elijah of Buxton. It’s agony waiting for him to clarify who exactly is who.

Character is king in the world of Mr. Curtis. A writer who manages to construct fully three-dimensional people out of mere words is one to watch. In this book, Curtis has the difficult task of making complete and whole a character through the eyes of two different-year-old boys. And when you consider that they’re working from the starting point of thinking that the guy’s insane, it’s going to be a tough slog to convince the reader otherwise. That said, once you get into the head of the “Madman” you get a profound sense not of his insanity but of his gentleness. His very existence reminded me of similar loners in literature like Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson or The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, but unlike the men in those books this guy had a heart and a mind and a very distinctive past. And fears. Terrible, awful fears.

It’s that fear that gives Madman its true purpose. Red’s grandmother, Mother O’Toole, shares with the Madman a horrific past. They’re very different horrors (one based in sheer mind-blowing violence and the other in death, betrayal, and disgust) but the effects are the same. Out of these moments both people are suffering a kind of PTSD. This makes them two sides of the same coin. Equally wracked by horrible memories, they chose to handle those memories in different ways. The Madman gives up society but retains his soul. Mother O’Toole, in contrast, retains her sanity but gives up her soul. Yet by the end of the book the supposed Madman has returned to society and reconnected with his friends while the Irishwoman is last seen with her hair down (a classic madwoman trope as old as Shakespeare himself) scrubbing dishes until she bleeds to rid them of any trace of the race she hates so much. They have effectively switched places.

Much of what The Madman of Piney Woods does is ask what fear does to people. The Madman speaks eloquently of all too human monsters and what they can do to a man. Meanwhile Grandmother has suffered as well but it’s made her bitter and angry. When Red asks, “Doesn’t it seem only logical that if a person has been through all of the grief she has, they’d have nothing but compassion for anyone else who’s been through the same?” His father responds that “given enough time, fear is the great killer of the human spirit.” In her case it has taken her spirit and “has so horribly scarred it, condensing and strengthening and dishing out the same hatred that it has experienced.” But for some the opposite is true, hence the Madman. Two humans who have seen the worst of humanity. Two different reactions. And as with Elijah, where Curtis tackled slavery not through a slave but through a slave’s freeborn child, we hear about these things through kids who are “close enough to hear the echoes of the screams in [the adults’] nightmarish memories.” Certainly it rubs off onto the younger characters in different ways. In one chapter Benji wonders why the original settlers of Buxton, all ex-slaves, can’t just relax. Fear has shaped them so distinctly that he figures a town of “nervous old people” has raised him. Adversity can either build or destroy character, Curtis says. This book is the story of precisely that.

Don’t be surprised if, after finishing this book, you find yourself reaching for your copy of Elijah of Buxton so as to remember some of these characters when they were young. Reaching deep, Curtis puts soul into the pages of its companion novel. In my more dreamy-eyed moments I fantasize about Curtis continuing the stories of Buxton every 40 years until he gets to the present day. It could be his equivalent of Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House chronicles. Imagine if we shot forward another 40 years to 1941 and encountered a grown Benji and Red with their own families and fears. I doubt Curtis is planning on going that route, but whether or not this is the end of Buxton’s tales or just the beginning, The Madman of Piney Woods will leave child readers questioning what true trauma can do to a soul, and what they would do if it happened to them. Heady stuff. Funny stuff. Smart stuff. Good stuff. Better get your hands on this stuff.

On shelves September 30th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

First Sentence: “The old soldiers say you never hear the bullet that kills you.”

Like This? Then Try:

Notes on the Cover:  As many of us are aware, in the past historical novels starring African-American boys have often consisted of silhouettes or dull brown sepia-toned tomes.  Christopher Paul Curtis’s books tend to be the exception to the rule, and this is clearly the most lively of his covers so far.  Two boys running in period clothing through the titular “piney woods”?  That kind of thing is rare as a peacock these days.  It’s still a little brown, but maybe I can sell it on the authors name and the fact that the books look like they’re running to/from trouble.  All in all, I like it.

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50. Video Sunday: The Butterknife Thief

Okay . . . soooooooo this.  Look at this, oh ye children’s librarians.  Breathe this.  LIVE this!  Become this.

So naturally I had to find out who she is.  Go to YouTube and she has numerous videos under the moniker OoeyGooeyLady.  Almost all her videos date back two years.  Real name?  Lisa Murphy.  And as you might expect, she has a whole web presence as well.  Certainly those videos, the hand rhymes ones, are invaluable for children’s librarians.  There are other good ones there too.  Here’s a different one of her videos on respecting kids.

Kinda sorta could watch her all day.  Thanks to Alison Morris for the link.

From this blog I complain about so many things you’d think I was some kind of permanent grumpus. For example, you know what really bugs me?  When a TV show or movie can’t be bothered to show a kid reading a real children’s book and instead gets their prop team to make some fake one.  Recently I watched an episode of Louie that did just that (though props to the show for making it clear that a woman who knows her children’s literature is desirable, particularly if she’s played by Parker Posey).  So though I’m loathe to credit commercials, Intel got it right when they decided to hire Bob Staake for a bit rather than just make someone up.  Credit too to Travis Jonker for spotting the Staake.

Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.

At first I thought this animated book trailer for Lizi Boyd’s Flashlight was burying the lead.  Yes the book looks good, but listen to that music.  Then look at the credit at the end.  “Original Music by Eric Wright”.

Turns out I was confusing the fellow’s name with Eric Wight.  An easy mistake to make.

A nice video from Louisville on the importance of reading early:

Pediatrics 500x282 Video Sunday: The Butterknife Thief


It’s a good piece but I was a little perturbed by the accompanying How Many Children’s Books Have You Read? piece.  Apparently this list was created by a National Education Association survey of teachers.  So  . . . Dom DeLuise?  Really?  And Love You Forever?  *sigh*

Two of my favorite guys.  Just talking.  Dishing the dirt.  Signing the books.  You know how it is.  It’s Tom Angleberger and Jonathan Auxier.

Oh.  And this may be useful in the future.  Just in case we ever want to set up an official yo-yo author tour (hey, you never know).

And for our off-topic video, for no particular reason, here is author Steve Almond tearing to teeny tiny shreds the song “Africa” by Toto.

Thanks to Mom for the link!


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