JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans. Join now (it's free).
Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.
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!"
Statistics for A Fuse #8 Production
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 265
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!!
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:
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”.
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?
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
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
“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.).
The 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.
Text 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.
JAMES RIVER WRITERS CONFERENCE RETURNING FOR 12TH YEAR WITH IMPRESSIVE LINEUP OF SPEAKERS, WORKSHOPS
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.
When 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?
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.
What 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.
Credit 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.
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.
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).
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.
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 Wallflower, And 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
· 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, Dr. Kathleen Godfrey, English Department, Fresno State.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
I 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.
As 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.
Other 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.
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.
As 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.
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!
On shelves March 17, 2015.
Many thanks to Mr. Starmer and Macmillan for allowing me to reveal the jacket here today.
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.
I’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!
I’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.
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.
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.
Howdy do. As per usual I’m going to direct you this morning to that lovely little Wild Things website where Jules Danielson and I have been posting the stories that got cut from our upcoming book Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. If you haven’t already seen them you might like to read some amusing stories about:
The New York Public Library’s pathetic summer reading list for kids. Come again? That would be The New York Post taking issue with a list that includes books kids would have fun reading as well as dreaded diversity. Apparently if a book contains a non-white kid it can’t possibly be any good and must have appeared on a summer reading list to appease some kind of demographic. Full disclosure, I’m one of the folks that made the list (which wasn’t just for NYPL but for Brooklyn and Queens library systems as well) so all I’ll do is gently point you to Rita Meade’s incredibly restrained response.
And how did you spend your evening last night. For my part, I saw The Snow Queen. The composer of the show is my buddy Haddon who, years ago, did the intro music for a podcast I posted for a while (the podcast is no longer up so his good work has been lost to the wilds of time). Now the show is here for a limited run in NYC, before the inevitable Frozen musical steals its thunder. Of Snow Queen musicals there can apparently be only one. Here’s a New York Timesarticle about the show, if’n you’re interested.
Where do you even get a Where’s Waldo costume, I wonder. Everyone’s favorite stripey hero is key to this very clever children’s bookstore promotion thingy thing. In Kalamazoo the fabulous bookstore Bookbug is hiding Waldo in 26 of the local businesses on sort of a scavenger hunt. Other small town bookstores take note. It’s good for the store and good for the other businesses. I love a clever campaign. Thanks to Colby Sharp for the link.
If you have ever taken the Leonard Marcus walking tour of children’s literature here in NYC then you’ve probably seen Margaret Wise Brown’s house in Greenwich Village. Good thing you did since the poor little structure is slated to be razed. Has someone alerted Leonard? I think we’d better start sounding the alarm on this one.
Don’t have enough conferences in your life? Well The Nerdy Book Club was kind enough to feature this post on the upcoming Kidlitcon. The only conference out there for children’s and YA literature bloggers, it’s happening in October in beautiful Sacramento, CA. Would that I could go! If you’re able, I highly recommend a trip.
Not a shabby idea. Over in Britain they recently had a Great children’s books author bake off for all those novels and picture books featuring baked goods. I am hungry. Therefore someone should do this over on our side of the pond. And then invite me. Nom nom nom nom.
We’re getting into the thick of summer now. Both the BEA and ALA conferences have come and gone. Folks are beginning to get a grip on the fall season. So before we go any further I’m going to provide you with a bit of a sneaky peek at Harper Collins and what all they have ah-brewing for the future. It’s a rather lovely line-up. When this preview took place I was at my pregnant-ist. Muy pregnant. Back pain, gargantuan girth, the works. I think I may have given birth two days later, so take that into account if the occasional note here sounds a bit wonky.
The room was lovely and the desserts plentiful. It was also a very full room so each switch to a table played like a game of musical chairs. But once we got ourselves in some kind of a working order fun was to be had.
First up, a table sporting the irrepressible Balzer & Bray. Our little sheets also suggested that editor Jordan Brown would be there but alas twas not the case.
Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light
We dove right into this one. HC is quite charmed by debut author/illustrator Kelly Light. You could be forgiven for thinking, at a mere glance, that this was illustrated by Tony Fucile. A fellow former animator, Light was inspired to write this book when her daughter’s art classes at school got cut. In this book Louise and her little brother Art attempt to create art (lowercase) together. Louise is fixated on creating a new masterpiece while Art is fixated on impressing his big sister. And he does get her attention . . . just not in the way she’d prefer. The cat was my personal favorite in this book. Wouldn’t mind seeing it star in a book of its own. Just sayin’. Look for Louise and Art to crop up in a whole series of I Can Read books in the future, by the way.
Tap to Play by Salina Yoon
After years of wondering at last I have my answer. Author/illustrator Salina Yoon, who has probably graced more baby and toddler homes than there are stars in the sky, lives in San Diego. I always wondered where she was! This book is a marked change of pace for the woman. It’s sort of Yoon meet Tullet. Hoping to appeal to a whole generation of young parents that grew up with Q*bert (guilty here), the book follows a little noseless hero by the name of Blip that needs the aid of the reader. You help him win the game by bouncing, tapping, tickling, etc. It’ll be paper over board, much like Press Here. Alongside Richard Byrne’s This Book Just Ate My Dog (seen at a recent Macmillan preview) we’re seeing an uptick in creatively interactive picture books this fall. I wonder what accounts for that.
Lion, Lion by Miriam Busch, ill. Larry Day
Now this is interesting. Here you have a book that reminds me not a little of Jerry Pinkney and Julius Lester’s Sam and the Tigers. In this book a small boy yells for a lion. Then things take a distinctly Pierre-like turn (consider this foreshadowing for something that comes later in this preview). It is rather nice to see a small African-American boy on a picture book. Rare enough, anyway, that it’s notable which, when you think of it, is a problem right there.
I’m Brave by Kate McMullan, ill. Jim McMullan
Alternate Title: How the Heck Have the McMullans Not Written This Yet? At least that was my first thought when I saw this book. Considering they’ve covered trains and garbage trucks and even dinos over the years, it took quite a surprising bit of time before firetrucks made their appearance. Interestingly, this book spends a great deal of time concentrating on some extensively research tools used by firefighters. Cool!
Creature Keepers and the Hijacked Hydro-Hide by Peter Nelson, ill. Rohitash Rao
They’re baaaaack! Remember Nelson and Rao? These two charmers (and they are, if you ever meet them) were behind the lovely but too little lauded Herbert and the Wormhole series a couple years back. I’m pleased to see that Harper Collins believes in them, though. In this particular book a boy moves to Florida for the summer. There, in the swamp behind his grandpa’s house, he finds a group of kids determined to protect some rare creatures like the swamp ape, the Jersey Devil, etc. Then Nessie goes missing. It reminded me a bit of the Suzanne Selfors Imaginary Veterinary series. Sounds like they’d pair well together.
The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale
For half a second there I got confused and thought that this was part of the Brian Chick Secret Zoo series (same publisher, after all). But this is entirely different and by the same guy who did that awesome Bully Book last year. In this story our hero is the son of a famous explorer turned curator of a zoo at the edge of the world. The boy suffers from a severe stutter so no one really knows him except his dad and the animals in the zoo. When it turns out that there’s a jaguar in the zoo that the boy can communicate with, things get interesting. I was reminded of a nonfiction picture book out this year called A Boy and A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, ill. Catia Chien that also concerns a kid with a stutter and a jaguar. I love funny connections like that.
Guys Read: True Stories, edited by Jon Scieszka
I love any cover done by Brian Floca, but if I had to change this one I’d probably turn old George Washington there into a grinning Jon Scieszka. Am I crazy? Of all the Guys Read books out there I confess that this is the one I want to read the most. There are a number of reasons for this. First off, this 5th book in the series is entirely nonfiction. Second, the content is from folks like Steve Sheinkin, Candace Fleming and Nathan Hale. Nathan Hale!!! Want want want.
Meet the Dullards by Sara Pennypacker, ill. Daniel Salmieri
There are about five or six books hidden in this preview that are coming out, not in the fall of 2014 at all, but early 2015!!! This is the first. Slated for release around April 2015 (wowzah!) I was surprised to see that Daniel Salmieri is creating books now with folks other than Adam Rubin. This book was described as “The Stupids with boring people” which may be my favorite catchline of the day. The book, without saying too much too early, shows the subversive ways in which the kids in this family declare that being boring is not for them. Best line: “Please. No exclamation marks in front of the children.”
With a ring-a-ding-ding we move on to our next table. And here we find the stylings of Rosemary Brosnan (not there that day, alas), Karen Chaplin, Margaret Anastas, and Nancy Inteli. Onward!
The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volumes 1 & 2 by Neil Gaiman, ill. P. Craig Russell and others
Yea verily do I salivate over these. I was intrigued to see them split the original book in twain. Guess they didn’t want too high a page count in the end. In any case, the first GN covers chapters 1-5 and the second covers the rest. #1 is slated to release in the summer and #2 in the fall. Now it looks at first like P. Craig Russell, the guy who illustrated the Coraline graphic novel, has done this one as well. In truth, however, each chapter in these books is illustrated by a different artist. This solves the problem of many a book-to-comic adaptation (Wrinkle in Time, City of Ember, the aforementioned Coraline, etc.) where the art fails to capture any real originality beyond the source material. Want to see this, I do I do!
Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine
Years ago, best beloved, Gail Carson Levine wrote a little book called Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly. It came out around 2006 or so and was purchased by systems in need of writing advice from Newbery Honor winners. Now she’s back, baby, and her latest book is a writer how-to. Filled with exercises and advice, some of it culled from her blog, its publication will come out at the same time as the newly repackaged (and aforementioned) Writing Magic. Apparently Writer to Writer is slated for early 2015 so don’t go digging about for it quite yet. Special Note: Gail is currently working on her MFA in poetry which, for those of us who were fans of her Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems is good news.
Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni
Ah HA! One I’ve actually read! Not sure if this one was out yet when they presented it but it certainly is now. I think when I initially saw this book I assumed that it was science fiction. It certainly presents itself that way at the start, but soon you get clear on where it’s truly headed. A sort of Percy Jackson meets King Arthur tale, in this story a boy discovers that for some people, when they reach the right age, there’s an extra day wedged in between Wednesday and Thursday. Salerni has taught 5th grade for over twenty years so she knows how to keep a kid’s interest. With it’s Arthurian roots it reminded me a bit of that Adam Rex series (Breakfast of Champions is the most recent). Though it stands entirely on its own, another one is slated to be released next year. FYI!
Goodnight, Already! by Jory John, ill. Benji Davies
That Benji Davies, man. He’s having a bit of a banner year. First we learn at the Macmillan preview that he has the lovely The Storm Whale coming out, and then this. You’re not in Bizzy Bear territory anymore, man (though we haven’t strayed too far since he’s still doing bears, it seems). This book lets Davies stretch his style a little alongside the author of the book All My Friends Are Dead. Remember that book? Here it is in a viral photo that’s been making the rounds lately:
Get it? Anyway, this book is a bit different. In it an overzealous duck annoys to no end an exasperated bear who just wants to tuck in for a good night’s rest. The cover alone will sell it wherever it goes. I was reminded too of A Splendid Friend Indeed by Suzanne Bloom. Granted, in that case it’s a white goose rather than a white duck, but the similarities remain.
Aw, Nuts! by Rob McClurkan
Well I’ll be hornswaggled! Looks like Connie Hsu was right when she said at the recent Little Brown preview that “Nuts are the new legume.” Granted she was talking about The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin, illustrated by Scott Magoon, but the odds were good that there’d be at least one other nut related book this season and here it is! Bringing to mind that little squirrelly character in the Ice Age movies (albeit with better footwear), this is an interactive picture book. The “Aw, Nuts!” refrain is meant to be yelled by the audience. And yes, by looking at the art you’d be correct in assuming that Mr. McClurkan is yet another refugee from the animation world. This book also marks, to my mind, another trend for 2015. Squirrels! Clearly Flora and Ulysses is to be credited (I joke, but barely).
Our Solar System by Seymour Simon
The initial excitement of the television show Cosmos has worn off a tad, but that doesn’t mean its popularity has ebbed and waned. What better time then to update this Simon classic? Goodbye, Pluto! Consider yourself excised from the record. And happily, we learn that this will be the first in Mr. Simon’s reprinted series plus we’ll be seeing four all new titles as well. Woot!
Harlem Renaissance Party by Faith Ringgold
Remember when I did that post the other day on authors and illustrators who walk away from making any more children’s books? Well if I hadn’t already known about this book I might have included Faith Ringgold on that list. Her Tar Beach is a NYC classic as far as we’re concerned, and if you go to The ABC of It exhibit at NYPL (still going on!) you’ll see that a whole wall has been dedicated to her. Now we learn that in February of 2015 we’re going to get a picture book glimpse at the Harlem Renaissance. Good news for me! I purchase for Harlem libraries! The hero of the book is Lonnie, a kid who has appeared in other Ringgold titles as well. In this book he goes back in time to meet some luminaries like the usual suspects as well as Marcus Garvey (and where is HIS picture book bio, I might ask?). There’s a glossary and a bibliography as well as a further reading section. Backmatter! Love it!
Lemme see, lemme see. Now we’re at a table of Jen Klonsky, Alyson Day, and Kristen Pettit. A very YA table, which is a genre I don’t tend to write up, but that isn’t to say there weren’t a couple that caught my eye. For example . . .
Positive by Paige Rawl
I think I’ve had this vague sense that ever since they invented the HIV cocktail all the prejudice surrounding AIDS just magically dissipated into the ether. Not exactly. This YA memoir is the story of Paige, a kid who was born HIV positive but who, thanks to the aforementioned cocktail, has never been sick. So really it wasn’t an issue until, at a middle school lock-in, she tried to comfort a friend by confiding her own illness. Big mistake. Next thing she knew she was being called “PAIDS” and each and every adult around her failed to stop the bullying. At one point she took fifteen sleeping pills and when she survived she found a new sense of purpose. Paige lobbied her state congress to make school administrators track bullying and make a plan when it happens. Written in a very close first person p.o.v. Paige has since gone on things like The Today Show to talk about what happened. There is also a Resources section in the back for kids going through similar struggles.
This next little guy might look familiar . . .
Why mention him again (I brought him up when discussing Lion, Lion earlier)? Because I was very pleased to discover that all the books in The Nutshell Library, from Alligators All Around to Chicken Soup With Rice to One Was Johnny and, of course, Pierre will be rereleased as board books this month! Too long overdue, this move. In celebration I present a video in which the animated Pierre is set to Amanda Palmer’s rendition of the song:
Watch Out Hollywood! by Maria T. Lennon
Here’s a fun fact you might not know: Author Maria T. Lennon lives across the street from the Houdini mansion in L.A. If that were me or you it might do something seriously wacky to our brains. In her case, she simply worked it into the plot of her latest Middle Child book. In this book our heroine Charlie Cooper is back. Her father is working on the Houdini house and when Charlie saves a friend from the house’s tunnels she inadvertently becomes famous. No surprise, it goes to her head.
The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly by Ted Sanders
Love that cover. Ain’t it a beauty? Well, what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is the first in a four book series. It stars an average boy who one day spots a very strange sign. Which is to say, it has his name on it. Literally. Soon he meets a secret society and gets sucked into the world of Keepers vs. Makers. All the magic in this book is based on real physics so that it’s all potentially possible. You know what that means, don’t you? Common Core!! I ain’t kidding.
Now we come to my publishing imprint (remember?). Greenwillow Books and seated here are Virginia Duncan and Martha Mihalick. And to begin . . .
Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief and Sinister ill. Alexander Jansson
Ah yes! So I see a lot of middle grade fantasy in a given year and sometimes it’s a good idea to leave that stuff up to the professionals. And by professionals I mean librarian Stephanie Whelan who has a very keen sense of what fantasy is good, what is bad, and what is particularly noteworthy. I always trust Stephanie’s opinions in these matters (and so can you if you visit her blog Views from the Tesseract which recently had a great post about the 1982 book Clone Catcher) and she’s read this book and deems it great. So I’m in. You should be too. Coming out simultaneously in both hardcover and paperback, the four authors Stefan Bachmann Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, and Emma Trevayne, met online and started a blog together. They would then write short stories on different themes (love, cake, fairies, etc.) while their editors edited their longer stuff. Calling themselves The Curators of Curiosities, this is their collaboration.
Circle, Square, Moose by Kelly Bingham, ill. Paul O. Zelinksy
Interestingly enough this was the only picture book being discussed on the Greenwillow fall list. A sequel to Z is for Moose, it returns to the dynamic duo of moose and zebra and covers shapes for the first time. One interesting question that came out of all of this: Are there any squares in nature? Your answers are appreciated. There was some talk of there being another book trailer for this book, but I haven’t been able to find it. In lieu of that, here’s that AMAZING trailer for the previous book Z is for Moose. Because of this trailer I now cannot read these books without the voice of Brian Floca standing in for the zebra.
The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye
Remember Ms. Nye? In terms of her novels for kids she was last seen writing the excellent Habibi. That was published in the last century, however. The time has clearly come for a new book. With that in mind, here is the story of a boy who is slated to move from Muscat, Oman to Ann Arbor, MI (yay, Michigan!). The catch? He does NOT want to go. In a form of protest he refuses to pack his suitcase, so the book focuses on his mother attempting to persuade him to do so. It’s all about the suitcase, baby. I like a lot of things about this book, but mostly I really like that the experience of moving is universal. No kid wants to do it, doesn’t matter where you live.
Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins
“Incredible Journey with squirrels.” Need I say more? That was how the latest Perkins title was described to me. With art on every spread, this definitely struck me as yet another Flora and Ulysses companion novel. It has has some darkness. When a squirrel is picked up by a hawk his companions see this and think they see him get away. With that in mind they set out to find him. Said Greenwillow, it’s a book about storytelling and stories . . . and trees.
A New Darkness by Joseph Delaney
It’s not just a new darkness for Delaney. It’s a new cover look altogether. Fans of Delaney’s Spook’s Apprentice series will be pleased to see that in this book Tom Ward is now 17 and his own spook. The tale is told with two perspectives, his own and that of a 15-year-old 7th daughter of a 7th daughter who wants to be his apprentice. The book stands on its own so you need not have read the previous books in the series to understand it. It’s also part of a three book arc. Naturally I wanted to know when the movie of the first Tom Ward book was coming out. The date? February 6, 2015. Woohoo!
Poisoned Apples by Christine Happermann
I saw this at a Greenwillow event about half a year ago and I was very struck by its loveliness. I then promptly forgot its title and for months afterwards was at events involving photography in children’s literature trying as hard as I could to recall it. So, in a way, it’s a massive relief to see it finally coming out. A book of poetry, this is punctuated with eerie photographs very much in the vein of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. However, while I thought originally it had a single photographer, apparently it instead has photos from a range of up and coming artists. Like the Graveyard Book graphic novels, it’s not afraid to include more than one creative person within its pages.
Red by Michael Hall
Okay. I know this is coming out in February 2015. My head is aware of this fact, but my heart wants it now now now now now!! On the surface it may look like it was inspired by The Day the Crayons Quit. Not by half. If anything, this is a story about how appearances can be deceiving. A blue crayon is accidentally packaged in a red wrapper. So everyone insists that it draw red things, and yet it just can’t, not even after Scarlet tries to give it a pep talk. They say it’s a tale about coming to terms with you really are, and it is. But in another way this is the first picture book I’ve seen that would be perfect to hand to anyone who has come out as transgender. The metaphor is effortless. And there’s a final line in this book that’ll knock your socks off. Cannot WAIT for this to be released!
Table 5, and it’s great to be alive. Here we find ourselves in the company of Erica Sussman, Alex Arnold, and Katie Ginell with Tara Weikum now relocated to Hawaii. Nice work if you can get it, Tara! Additionally we saw Anica Rissi and Katie Bignell of Katherine Tegen Books.
Endgame: The Calling by James Frey
Not the kind of book I usually cover in these round-ups but this Frey/Johnson-Shelton collaboration has an odd little twist. Remember Masquerade by Kit Williams? No? Hmmm.. Well how about The Clock Without a Face by Mac Barnett? In both cases these were books with real world treasure hunts attached. Moves of this sort are awfully gutsy on the author/publisher’s part. The understanding is that the riddle of the book is so difficult that only a very small segment of the population is going to have the willingness (and brains) to solve all the clues. And though adults tend to be the ones solving the puzzles, the books are almost always published for children. Now, for the first time that I know of, someone is doing the same thing on the YA side. In each book in the Endgame series there is a different puzzle to be solved and a different prize to be found. Don’t ask me to clarify since that’s all I really know. That and the fact that the final puzzles will only appear in the final copies of these books and NOT in the galleys. Clever ducks.
The Scavengers by Michael Perry
Tara Weikum, the editor who I may have mentioned is now all about Hawaii, grew up in a very small town. As an adult she read author Michael Perry’s Visiting Tom (I think) about that very thing. So when Perry reached out to her about writing for kids, she was game. In this dystopian middle grade we’re hearing folks compare it to City of Ember. The environment has been destroyed and most people are living inside giant bubbles. Not our heroine Maggie (who has renamed herself Ford Falcon). She and her family live outside the bubble. Then things take a distinctly Mad Max turn. Blurbs are in from Wendy Mass, Leslie Connor, and Katherine Applegate. Oh, and my librarians really like it. I’m hearing it may be one of the best science fiction books for kids for the year. FYI.
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
Before I say anything else about this book I should reiterate that the cover art shown here is by no means final. Just FYI. Now it is mighty exciting to see that Ms. Lai, last seen winning a Newbery Honor for Inside Out and Back Again, has a second novel on the horizon. Slated to release in March 2015, this book is written in prose and set in Orange County. There, a girl lives with her Vietnamese parents and grandmother. When she finds out that she’s stuck visiting Vietnam with said family she’s less than thrilled. Apparently her grandfather was lost in the Vietnam War years ago and her grandma is determined to go back and find him. So basically we have a contemporary Vietnamese middle grade. Score!
TodHunter Moon, Book One: Pathfinder by Angie Sage
Behold! It’s a spinoff series to Sage’s Septimus Heap books. Set seven years after the original, this trilogy is meant to please old fans and new. Alice TodHunter Moon is a fisher who discovers her own magic when she goes to the castle. Folks who know the series will know what that means. And yes. Septimus is in the book.
The Swap by Megan Shull
I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Mary Rodgers, author of that classic work of children’s fiction (and multiple Disney adaptation) Freaky Friday. Mary sort of pioneered the switching bodies genre in children’s books, so hat tip to her. Her influence continues long and strong with books like this one here. In it, a mean girl switches bodies with the most popular boy in school. Wowzah! You don’t usually get to see boy/girl swap books. Scieszka himself provides the cover blurb here, as you can see. That says something.
Balance Keepers #1: The Fires of Calderon by Lindsay Cummings
An epic fantasy middle grade trilogy with a cover that bring back happy memories of my mother’s old 1970s/80s fantasy novel paperbacks? Don’t mind if I do! Selling this one as “Journey to the Center of the Earth for the Percy Jackson generation”, the book is by YA author Lindsay Cummings of The Murder Complex n’ such. In this book a boy follows a map into the forest and then under the forest. His job? To keep the balance between the below and the above. If he fails fires will destroy New York City. So, y’know. No pressure. And lest you think this book is YA as well, it’s meant to hit squarely into the 8-12 age range.
Clariel by Garth Nix
Oh man. This brings me back. When I was in library school I decided I needed to read all the important YA novels as well as children’s (this was before I decided to specialize solely in the kiddo area). On my list of must reads? Sabriel by Garth Nix. A great book, and one that has its fans, most certainly. The Abhorsen trilogy is well regarded but we haven’t seen a book in the series in a long long time. Now Nix is back (he never really went away) with a prequel to Sabriel. He’s about to make some librarians out there very very happy.
And that’s all she wrote, folks. Except we simply cannot forget about the “meets” as I call them. In some ways, they’re the best part of any preview. Here are the ones I caught this time around!
“The Breakfast Club with a body count” – Get Even by Gretchen McNeil (shouldn’t that be The Breakfast Club meets Heathers then?)
“Graceling meets The Selection” – The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
“The Great Gatsby meets Looking for Alaska” – Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot
“Downton Abbey meets Cassandra Clare” – Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White (the book sounds like Rose for the YA set)
“The Breakfast Club set in a grocery store” – Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas (or, alternatively, maybe The Breakfast Club meets Empire Records)
Many thanks to Patty Rosati and & Co. for the invite, the tasty treats, and the books!
In the stage musical of Matilda, lyricist Tim Minchin begins the show with the following lines about the state of children today: “Specialness is de rigueur. / Above average is average. Go fig-ueur! / Is it some modern miracle of calculus / That such frequent miracles don’t render each one un-miraculous?” This song ran on a bit of a loop through my cranium as I read Lisa Graff latest middle grade novel Absolutely Almost. For parents, how well your child does reflects right back on you. Your child is a genius? Congratulations! You must be a genius for raising a genius. Your child is above average? Kudos to you. Wait, your child is average? Uh-oh. For some parents nothing in the world could be more embarrassing. We all want our kids to do well in school, but where do you distinguish between their happiness and how hard you’re allowed to push them to do their best? Do you take kindness into account when you’re adding up all their other sterling qualities? Maybe the wonder of Absolutely Almost is that it’s willing to give us an almost unheard of hero. Albie is not extraordinary in any possible way and he would like you to be okay with that. The question then is whether or not child readers will let him.
Things aren’t easy for Albie. He’s not what you’d call much of a natural at anything. Reading and writing is tough. Math’s a headache. He’s not the world’s greatest artist and he’s not going to win any awards for his wit. That said, Albie’s a great kid. If you want someone kind and compassionate, he’s your man. When he finds himself with a new babysitter, a girl named Calista who loves art, he’s initially skeptical. She soon wins him over, though, and good thing too since there are a lot of confusing things going on in his life. One day he’s popular and another he’s not. He’s been kicked out of his old school thanks to his grades. Then there’s the fact that his best friend is part of a reality show . . . well, things aren’t easy for Albie. But sometimes, when you’re not the best at anything, you can make it up to people by simply being the best kind of person.
Average people are tough. They don’t naturally lend themselves to great works of literature generally unless they’re a villain or the butt of a joke. Lots of heroes are billed as “average heroes” but how average are they really? Put another way, would they ever miscalculate a tip? Our fantasy books are full to overflowing of average kids finding out that they’re extraordinary (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Meg Murry, etc.). Now imagine that the book kept them ordinary. Where do you go from there? Credit where credit is due to Lisa Graff then. The literary challenge of retaining a protagonist’s everyday humdrum status is intimidating. Graff wrestles with the idea and works it to her advantage. For example, the big momentous moment in this book is when it turns out that Albie doesn’t have dyslexia and just isn’t good at reading. I’ve never seen that in a book for kids before, and it was welcome. It made it clear what kind of book we’re dealing with.
As a librarian who has read a LOT of children’s books starring “average” kids, I kept waiting for that moment when Albie discovered he had a ridiculously strong talent for, say, ukulele or poker or something. It never came. It never came and I was left realizing that it was possible that it never would. Kids are told all the time that someday they’ll find that thing that’ll make them unique. Well what if they don’t? What happens then? Absolutely Almost is willing to tell them the truth. There’s a wonderful passage where Calista and Albie are discussing the fact that he may never find something he’s good at. Calista advises, “Find something you’d want to keep doing forever… even if you stink at it. And then, if you’re lucky, with lots of practice, then one day you won’t stink so much.” Albie points out, correctly, that he might still stink at it and what then? Says Calista, “Then won’t you be glad you found something you love?”
Mind you, average heroes run a big risk. Absolutely Almost places the reader in a difficult position. More than one kid is going to find themselves angry with Albie for being dense. But the whole point of the book is that he’s just not the sharpest pencil in the box. Does that make the reader sympathetic then to his plight or a bully by proxy? It’s the age-old problem of handing the reader the same information as the hero but allowing them to understand more than that hero. If you’re smarter than the person you’re reading about, does that make you angry or understanding? I suppose it depends on the reader and the extent to which they can relate to Albie’s problem. Still, I would love to sit in on a kid book discussion group as they talked about Albie. Seems to me there will be a couple children who find their frustration with his averageness infuriating. The phrase “Choose Kind” has been used to encourage kids not to bully kids that look different than you. I’d be interested in a campaign that gave as much credence to encouraging kids not to bully those other children that aren’t as smart as they are.
I’ve followed the literary career of Lisa Graff for years and have always enjoyed her books. But with Absolutely Almost I really feel like she’s done her best work. The book does an excellent job of showing without telling. For example, Albie discusses at one point how good he is at noticing things then relates a teacher’s comment that, “if you had any skill at language, you might’ve made a very fine writer.” Graff then simply has Albie follow up that statement with a simple “That’s what she said.” You’re left wondering if he picked up on the inherent insult (or was it just a truth?) in that. Almost in direct contrast, in a rare moment of insight, his dad says something about Albie that’s surprising in its accuracy. “I think the hard thing for you, Albie… is not going to be getting what you want in life, but figuring out what that is.” I love a book that has the wherewithal to present these different sides of a single person. Such writing belies the idea that what Graff is doing here is simple.
Reading the book as a parent, I could see how my experience with Absolutely Almost was different from that of a kid reader. Take the character of Calista, for example. She’s a very sympathetic babysitter for Albie who does a lot of good for him, offering support when no one else understands. Yet she’s also just a college kid with a poorly defined sense of when to make the right and wrong choice. Spoiler Alert on the rest of this paragraph. When Albie’s suffering terribly she takes him out of school to go to the zoo and then fails to tell his parents about this executive decision on her part. A couple chapters later Albie’s mom finds out about the outing and Calista’s gone from their lives. The mom concludes that she can’t have a babysitter who lies to her and that is 100% correct. A kid reader is going to be angry with the mom, but parents, teachers, and librarians are going to be aware that this is one of those unpopular but necessary moves a parent has to face all the time. It’s part of being an adult. Sorry, kids. Calista was great, but she was also way too close to being a manic pixie dream babysitter. And trust me when I say you don’t want to have a manic pixie dream babysitter watching your children.
Remember the picture book Leo the Late Bloomer where a little tiger cub is no good at anything and then one day, somewhat magically, he’s good at EVERYTHING? Absolutely Almost is the anti-Leo the Late Bloomer. In a sense, the point of Graff’s novel is that oftentimes kindness outweighs intelligence. I remember a friend of mine in college once commenting that he would much rather that people be kind than witty. At the time this struck me as an incredible idea. I’d always gravitated towards people with a quick wit, so the idea of preferring kindness seemed revolutionary. I’m older now, but the idea hasn’t gone away. Nor is it unique to adulthood. Albie’s journey doesn’t reach some neat and tidy little conclusion by this story’s end, but it does reach a satisfying finish. Life is not going to be easy for Albie, but thanks to the lessons learned here, you’re confident that he’s gonna make it through. Let’s hope other average kids out there at least take heart from that. A hard book to write. An easy book to read.
Folks, I talk a fair amount about my upcoming book with Candlewick but I’d be lying to you if I said it was the only book I worked on that’s out this year. For lo, I helped write the introduction for another book that will be coming out this month on the 15th and it is awesome. Behold:
So I figured, why not interview the author himself? If only to give you just a taste of what the book has in store. Because you know me. I don’t write introductions for no junk. Jason kind submitting to my grilling.
Howdy, Jason. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
When I was a toddler, my mom took me to the Lyons Township District Library in the village of Lyons, Michigan (population 789). I kept reading and writing for the rest of my childhood, and I ended up studying English at the University of Michigan. After college, I spent two years working with youth groups in Peace Corps Guatemala.
In 2003, I studied journalism at New York University and I have worked as a writer ever since. Most recently, I spent five years as the publishing editor at Mediabistro, where I led the GalleyCat and AppNewser blogs.
There’s no lack of parenting books on the market these days, but your book appears to be doing something we don’t see that often. Can you give me the gist of the project and where it came from?
When my daughter Olive was born in 2010, I wanted her to love books as much as I do.
But it had been more than 25 years since I had read a kid’s book—so I needed some help. I consulted with child development experts to find out the best way to read to my daughter. Then I interviewed librarians, teachers and app creators to find the books, eBooks and apps to share with my child.
Through this research, I discovered the art of “interactive reading” or “dialogic reading.” Child development experts crafted these reading techniques 25 years ago. These simple and easy reading tricks will literally make your child smarter.
And had you written a book before? How did you hit on the best outline and format for the content?
I had written a book before, but this experience was unique. I was literally living the book with my daughter and my wife.
Over the course of writing Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age, I watched Olive change from a mute newborn into a voracious and opinionated young reader. The form flowed naturally from that growing experience. I dedicated a chapter to each year of a young reader’s life, incorporating all the books, eBooks and apps we read together during the writing process.
Whenever I learned something new from my team of amazing experts, I would immediately share it with Olive and my wife. We all grew up as the book evolved.
I could not help but notice that in the book you don’t just talk to reading specialists and educators but also teachers, librarians, and children’s authors themselves. All told, do you have a rough number of who you spoke to? How did you decide whom to speak to in the end?
I spoke with more than 50 different experts during my writing process. I asked all the questions that I had as a parent or that I had heard from other parents.
For instance, when local parents debated how much screen-time was appropriate for toddlers, I contacted child development experts and neuroscientists to get an expert opinion. It was so amazing to have these experts to guide me every step of the way.
Once Olive could voice her own opinions, I let her interests shape the book as well. When she developed a love of comic books, I reached out to the wonderful folks at TOON Books to find out how to nurture that interest. When Olive got into cooking, we shared the Julia Child cooking app with her. When she obsessed over Disney’s Frozen, I created a whole bundle of new stories to share with her: http://www.born-reading.com/born-reading-bundle-for-disneys-frozen/
One of the things I really liked about the book was the amount of attention given to screen time, particularly when it comes to the youngest children. In our day and age it seems like the wild west in terms of shiny rectangles (as my brother-in-law calls them). Did you initially expect this to take up as much time in your book as it did?
Oddly enough, I first envisioned my book as focused entirely on digital reading and the shift to a new kind of reading. My own reading and writing is mostly digital now, and I imagined my daughter would spend lots of time with these new devices. My wife totally disagreed and wanted to be more cautious.
Once I started exploring the research (and lack of research) into the benefits of digital materials for kids, I realized that I had to caution parents as well as share new kinds of reading. Thanks to the experts I interviewed, I learned how to moderate my daughter’s time on devices and how to make sure she has the best experience with the tablets and smartphones in our house.
These devices can be very seductive, but my wife and I worked together to create a more healthy relationship with technology.
In the course of your research, did you hit on anything that surprised you?
The art of interactive reading was by far my best “discovery.” Many librarians and teachers are trained in these awesome interactive techniques, and they are more than willing to share them with parents.
I was shocked that nobody ever told me about these techniques as we prepared for Olive’s birth. These interactive reading techniques should be taught to parents as they leave the hospital with a newborn. Reading can truly change a child’s life.
First and foremost, hello. How are you? Are you having a nice day? So nice to see you here, but before we go any further I must tell you that you very much need to leave me. Just for a little while. As you may have heard, my book with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta, Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, is coming out August 5th. To prepare, Jules and I have created a blog that posts a story a day that got cut from our final book. Here’s what you may have missed so far:
All the world is ah-buzz with the information that J.K. Rowling just released on Pottermore. Rita Skeeter is still reporting (so no, there is no justice in the universe) and she has the scoop on 34-year-old Harry today, as well as his buddies. For my part, I’m just socked that I’m only two years older than Harry. Makes my crush on Snape that much more creepy, I guess.
One of my favorite blogs, Pop Goes the Page by the Cotsen Children’s Library, is turning one! Best of all, if you send them your artistic birthday well-wishes, the selected winner will receive a $150 online shopping spree at Discount School Supply. Not half bad! Go do that thing.
Credit Martha Parravano for creating a quite incisive interpretation of the Caldecott winners and near misses of 2013. Lots to chew on, even if you don’t always agree.
There were many reasons to attend this last ALA Conference in Vegas. But three in particular are standing out for me today. Reason #1: I could have seen Mo Willems and Daniel Handler sharing a stage at the same time. THAT would be an event well worth witnessing. Can I get a witness who was there?. Reason #2: Starr LaTronica’s Shoes.
Anywho, I wasn’t able to attend that conference because of my pregnancy. I also wasn’t able to attend this conference: The Second Annual 21st Century Nonfiction Conference. Doggone it. Held in lovely New Paltz, NY, I was pleased at least to see that my co-worker Amie Wright kicked butt and took names. You can read a great write-up of the event here.
I know you have a lot going on today, but if you enjoyed watching Faerie Tale Theater with Shelley Duvall back in the day then maybe you’ll appreciate this catchy little ditty made out of all the times the charming host said, “Hello, I’m Shelley Duvall.” I don’t do ringtones but if I had to choose one . . .
I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Way back in 1992 I listened to a librarian read Sukey and the Mermaid by Robert D. San Souci (illustrated by Brian Pinkney) to a group of kids. It was remarkable at the time, not just because it featured a black mermaid, but because it featured a mermaid at all. I don’t know if you read my recent review of The Mermaid and the Shoe, but mermaid picture books aren’t exactly prevalent. Well over at Latin@s in Kid Lit, Cindy L. Rodriguez has written the post Diversity Needed Under the Sea: Not All Mermaids Have Blond Hair and Blue Eyes. Their focus is mostly YA, but it’s interesting to note that aside from Sukey, picture book mermaids of color are few and far between. Fairies of color have it even worse.
Get out your fightin’ gloves. SLJ has just launched the Up for Debate series. Them’s fighting words (literally).
Trying to figure out how we could pull this off in the States. Over in Britain the Story Museum hired a photographer for its 26 Characters exhibition. His mission? To photograph famous authors as their favorite literary characters. The image of Neil Gaiman as Badger from Wind in the Willows circulated a couple months ago. Now more pics have been revealed and they are lovely. Here are two . .
Philip Pullman as Long John Silver
Michael Morpurgo as Magwitch from Great Expectations
Naturally I’m trying to figure out how we could do this here. The Eric Carle Museum could host the images (we’d have a brief debate over whether or not photography is technically “illustration” and then decide ultimately that it was). Or maybe the Rich Michelson Gallery could do it. Then it’s a question of finding a photographer and picking the authors. As for the costumes and make-up, Britain utilized The Royal Shakespeare Company. Can’t really top that but it would be nice to get professionals involved. Pondering, pondering, pondering . . .
Occasionally I’ll premiere a book trailer here or there. Particularly when it’s from a children’s author whose work I admire. If the name “Elizabeth Rusch” is ringing some bells, there may be a reason for that. Back in the day I was a huge fan of her The Mighty Mars Rovers as well as that gorgeous Volcano Rising and For the Love of Music : the remarkable story of Maria Anna Mozart. Now she’s debuting her middle-grade graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek August 5 with Andrews McMeel/AMP for Kids. Her tech savvy 13-year-old son made her book trailer, which is sweet.
If I blame my childhood education for anything I suppose it would be for instilling in me the belief that the history worth learning consisted of a set of universally understood facts. One event would be more worthy of coverage than another. One person better positioned for a biography than another. It was only in adulthood that I started to understand that the history we know is more a set of decisions made decades and decades ago by educators than anything else. Why were weeks and weeks of my childhood spent learning about The American Revolution but only a day on the Vietnam War? Why did we all read biographies of Thomas Edison but never about Nicolas Tesla? And why did it take me 36 years before someone mentioned the name of Sylvia Mendez to me? Here we have a girl with a story practically tailor made for a work of children’s nonfiction. Her tale has everything. Villains and heroes (her own heroic parents, no less). Huge historical significance (there’d be no Brown v. Board of Education without Sylvia). And it stars Latino-Americans. With the possible exception of Cesar Chavez, my education was pretty much lacking in any and all experience with Latino heroes in America. I’m therefore pleased as punch that we’ve something quite as amazing as Separate is Never Equal to fill in not just my gaps but the gaps of kids all over our nation.
Sylvia is going home in tears. Faced with teasing at her new school she tells her mother she doesn’t want to go back. Gently, her mother reminds her that teasing or no, this is exactly what the family fought so hard for for three long years. In 1944 the Mendez family had moved to Westminster, California. When the first day of school approached their Aunt drove five of the kids to the nearby public school. Yet when they arrived she was told that her children, with their light skin and brown hair could attend but that Sylvia and her brothers would have to go to “the Mexican school”. Faced with hugely inferior conditions, the Mendez family decides to fight back. They are inspired by a lawsuit to integrate the public pools and so they hire the same lawyer to take on their case. In court they hear firsthand the prejudices that the superintendent of their district holds dear, but ultimately they win. When that decision is appealed they take it to the state court, and win once more. Remembering all this, Sylvia returns to school where, in time, she makes friends from a variety of different backgrounds. Backmatter consists of an extensive Author’s Note, a Glossary, a Bibliography, additional information About the Text, and an Index.
When I say that Sylvia’s story adapts perfectly to the nonfiction picture book form, I don’t want to downplay what Tonatiuh has done here. To tell Sylvia’s story accurately he didn’t have a single source to draw upon. Instead the book uses multiple sources, from court transcripts and films to books, websites, articles, and reports. Culling from all of this and then transferring it into something appropriate and interesting (that is key) for young readers is a worthy challenge. That Tonatiuh pulls it off is great, but I wonder if he could have done it if he hadn’t interviewed Sylvia Mendez herself in October 2012 and April 2013. Those who know me know that I’m a stickler for non-invented dialogue in my children’s works of nonfiction. If you can’t tell a real story without making up dialogue from real people then your book isn’t worth a lick. At first, it appears that Tonatiuh falls into the same trap, with Sylvia wondering some things and her family members saying other. Look at the backmatter, however, and you’ll see a note “About the Text”. It says that while the trial dialogue comes from court transcripts, the rest of the book came from conversations with Sylvia herself. So if she says her parents said one thing or she thought/pondered another, who are we to doubt her? Well played then.
Librarians like myself spend so much time gushing over content and format that often we forget one essential element of any book: child-friendliness. It’s all well and good to put great information on picture book sized pages, but will any kid willingly read what you have? In this light, framing this book as a flashback was a clever move. Right from the start Tonatiuh places his story within the context of a child’s experience with mean kids. It’s a position a great many children can identify with, so immediately he’s established sympathy for the main character. She’s just like kids today . . . except a hero. At the end of the book we have photographs of the real participants, both then and now. As for the text itself, it’s very readable, keeping to the facts but, aided by the design and the art, eclectic enough to maintain interest.
When we talk about Tonatiuh’s art it’s important to understand why he’s chosen the style that he has. In interviews the artist has discussed how his art is heavily influenced by ancient Mexican styles. As he said in an interview on the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, “My artwork is very much inspired by Pre-Columbian art, especially by Mixtec codices from the 14th century. That is why my art is very geometric, my characters are always in profile, and their ears look a bit like the number three. My intention is to celebrate that ancient art and keep it alive.” Heads of participants are always shown from the side. This is combined with the decision to digitally insert real hair, of a variety of shades and hues and colors, onto the heads of the characters. The end result looks like nothing else out there. There are mild problems with it, since the neutral expression of the faces can resemble dislike or distaste. This comes up when Sylvia’s cousins are accepted into the nearest public school and she is not. Their faces are neutral but read the wrong way you might think they were coolly unimpressed with their darker skinned cousin. Still, once you’ve grown used to the style it’s hardly an impediment to enjoying the story.
I think it’s important to stress for our children that when we talk about “integration”, we’re not just talking about African-American kids in the 1950s and 60s. Segregation includes Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and more. At one point in this book the Mendez family receives support from the NAACP, the Japanese American Citizens League, and the American Jewish Congress amongst others. Sylvia’s mother says, “When you fight for justice, others will follow”. For children to understand that freedom is never a done deal and that increased rights today means increased rights in the future is important. Books like Separate is Never Equal help drill the point home. There is absolutely nothing like this book on our shelves today. Pick it up when you want to hand a kid a book about Latino-American history that doesn’t involve Chavez for once. Required reading.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
When you grow up with a mother who is a knitter, there are certain facts in life that you simply have to accept. Knitting all the time, everywhere, is the norm. A bookshelf full of different kinds of yarn is not weird. Fiber Fests are de rigeur and knowing the difference between a gossip wheel and a walking wheel (when talking spinning wheels) is par for the course. Don’t even get me started on drop spindles and dying wool with Kool-Aid. Not that I ever took to the craft myself. Maybe it was just so prevalent in my home that I never felt the necessity to learn. Also, why learn to knit when my children are amply provided for, not just by my always knitting mama, but by her friends and my knit-worthy co-workers as well (Alison Hendon shout out!)?
My mom, as it happens, is heavily involved in the knitting blogger community as a commenter. I have honest-to-gosh had people say to me, “I saw that someone called Rams commented on your blog. Is that the same Rams as the one on Ravelry?” Mom be famous. And like all knitters, she pays attention to how they are portrayed in children’s literature.
In a recent Harper Collins post the comment section suddenly got very interested in the subject of books in which knitting is accurately represented. The talk started bring up book after book, so that I suddenly had the idea for this post. You see, the portrayal of knitting by illustrators is very touch and go. Artists are not particularly thrilled by the notion of the ends of knitting needles going down, in spite of the fact that that’s how one actually knits. So as often as not you’ll see an image like this with the ends up:
Note the knitting needles to the right.
Rather than this:
Not sure what their fingers are supposed to be doing here, but at least the needles are down.
Here then, are a couple of our favorite artists, answering the “Does the illustrator care how to hold knitting needles?” question. The answers may surprise you.
DOES THE ILLUSTRATOR CARE HOW ONE HOLDS KNITTING NEEDLES?
Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon – YES!
You’ll find that for some of these books I don’t have images of the knitters knitting, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. A penguin is naturally going to have some difficulty knitting since it is without phalanges, but in spite of this impediment Yoon’s flightless waterfowl still knows the proper way to hold its needles.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, ill. Jon Klassen – NO
When the Caldecott committee sat down and considered Barnett and Klassen’s fabulous book for an Honor, did the fact that its heroine didn’t know how to hold knitting needles ever come up? Was there a knitter on the committee? Or did they feel that in light of the lovely art and great storytelling that this wasn’t an issue? It’s surprising, certainly, to find that for all his talent and charms, Mr. Barnett is unaware of how one knits. However, knowing knitters I suspect he has been informed of this misdeed more than once, and shall continue to be told for years to come.
Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs, ill. Paul O. Zelinsky – YES!
Interesting, is it not, that I can find images of people knitting incorrectly but never correctly? What does that say, I wonder, about the state of knitting today? If you know Zelinsky then you know he is meticulous in his research. If someone is, say, spinning straw into gold as in his Rumpelstiltskin, then doggone it he’s going to create the world’s most accurate spinning wheel. And if Swamp Angel is going to knit something gigantic using (as I recall) trees for needles then you can BET Paul will make that image as correct as he can. Other award winning artists take note.
The Hueys in the New Sweater by Oliver Jeffers -NO
Nope. Not even close. Repeated several times over in the same book, too.
Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo – YES!
This one’s not out yet, but when it is you’ll have a chance to see some truly keen knitting on the part of Nana here. Castillo, one suspects, actually knows from whence she draws. Well done!
A rare graphic novel where knitting is not only important but the climax of the book hinges on it. And you can BET that when it came to knitting, Barry studied precisely where the fingers are supposed to go.
This begs the question: Is it possible to knit with the ends of the needles pointed high to the sky? I leave that to the knitters to answer. In the meantime, what are some of your favorite knitting books for the kiddos? How did those needles fare? High to the sky or low and proud?