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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
Statistics for A Fuse #8 Production
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I don’t do all that many trendwatch posts on this site, if only because it’s impossible to keep track of them all. One minute you’re seeing tons of picture books involving whales. Another minute you’re noticing more than one book about encouraging your pet to become atheist (see this and this). If you do notice such things you are inclined to put your discovery into some sort of context. What do atheist children’s books say about the state of the world today? How do we equate whales with ourselves? That sort of thing.
First off, it was early in the year when I noticed two books with those coincidental similarities you sometimes find in our field. Every year there will be some titles that resemble one another by complete coincidence. At the beginning of this year they were Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin and Bird by Crystal Chan. The similarities weren’t overly obvious but they were there. They both slot into that “A stranger comes to town” plotline. Here’s a plot summary for Loftin’s book:
It doesn’t seem right that a twelve-year-old boy would carry around a guilt as deep and profound as Little John’s. But when you feel personally responsible for the death of your little sister, it’s hard to let go of those feelings. It doesn’t help matters any that John has to spend the summer helping his dad clear brush for the richest man in town, a guy so extravagant, the local residents just call him The Emperor. It’s on one of these jobs that John comes to meet and get to know The Emperor’s next door neighbor, Gayle. About the age of his own sister when she died, Gayle’s a foster kid who prefers sitting in trees in her own self-made nest to any other activity. But as the two become close friends, John notices odd things about the girl. When she sings it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before, and she even appears to possibly have the ability to heal people with her voice. It doesn’t take long before The Emperor becomes aware of the treasure in his midst. He wants Gayle’s one of a kind voice, and he’ll do anything to have it. The question is, what does John think is more important: His family’s livelihood or the full-throated song of one little girl?
And here’s the publisher plot summary for Chan’s:
Jewel never knew her brother Bird, but all her life she has lived in his shadow. Her parents blame Grandpa for the tragedy of their family’s past; they say that Grandpa attracted a malevolent spirit—a duppy—into their home. Grandpa hasn’t spoken a word since. Now Jewel is twelve, and she lives in a house full of secrets and impenetrable silence. Jewel is sure that no one will ever love her like they loved Bird, until the night that she meets a mysterious boy in a tree. Grandpa is convinced that the boy is a duppy, but Jewel knows that he is something more. And that maybe—just maybe—the time has come to break through the stagnant silence of the past.
Both stories involve a dead sibling and a family’s ability (or inability) to cope after the fact. Bird wasn’t quite as reliant as magical realism as far as I could tell, but there was a distinct mystery about it. And, of course, the idea of children as birds, for good or for ill.
Later in the year more bird books started cropping up. When Beyond the Laughing Sky by Michelle Cuevas appeared it has some striking similarities to Nightingale’s Nest as well. The plot summary reads:
Ten-year-old Nashville doesn’t feel like he belongs with his family, in his town, or even in this world. He was hatched from an egg his father found on the sidewalk and has grown into something not quite boy and not quite bird. Despite the support of his loving parents and his adoring sister, Junebug, Nashville wishes more than anything that he could join his fellow birds up in the sky. After all, what’s the point of being part bird if you can’t even touch the clouds?
Far more of a magical realism title, the book takes the idea of a bird-child to the next level. This one has actually hatched from an egg and has a beak.
And none of this even counts books like Nest by Esther Ehrlich which involves birdwatching in some capacity. It’s a very different kind of title, but it fits with this overall theme.
I suppose that in the end birds are perfect little metaphor receptacles. Whatever the case, they yield some pretty darn interesting books.
There comes a time when I have so much news for a Fusenews that it paralyzes me and rather than write one up I just let my files accrue more and more schtoof until the vicious circle ends with a massive deletion. Today some of this stuff will strike you as a bit out of date, but the bulk is pretty darn fun.
Anytime I write a post that involves race in some way I gird my loins and prepare for the worst. The worst did not occur yesterday, however, when I wrote about moments of surprising racism in classic children’s books. Perhaps everyone was distracted by Jonathan Hunt’s post on The Present Tense. Now THAT is a hot and heavy discussion!
Oh, Cotsen Children’s Library. Is there anything you can’t do? Because, to be perfectly frank, I think even the prospect of interviewing Philip Pullman would render me effectively mute. And then there was that AMAZING piece on the woman who makes Harry Potter miniatures. Seriously, this is your required reading of the day.
Because I love Kalamazoo in all its myriad forms, this caught my eye. For you Michiganders out there:
In February 2014, 95 youth librarians, youth library workers, and students gathered at Clinton-Macomb Public Library for a truly excellent day of professional development, idea-sharing, networking, and learning, unconference style. In 2015, we’ll gather April 24th at Kalamazoo Public Library. Hosted by Lisa Mulvenna (Clinton-Macomb PL), Anne Clark (Alice and Jack Wirt PL, Bay City), and Andrea Vernola (Kalamazoo PL), the MI KidLib Unconference will feature relevant and engaging sessions decided on by participants at the conference. And as is typical of an Unconference, it’s FREE to attend. Registration begins in January 2015.
Here are the session notes from last year in case you want to see what we learned together. We hope you’ll join us and spread the word to anyone who’s interested in youth services in libraries!
If you had told me even two years ago that I would be the de facto mathematics librarian, ideal for moderating events like the Science & Mathematics Panel of Jordan Ellenberg, “Science Bob” Pflugfelder, and Benedict Carey at the Penguin Random House Author Event for NYC Educators, I would have been utterly baffled. And yet here we are. Know any teachers in the NYC area? Because the whole kerschmozzle appears to be free.
Things That I Didn’t Know Existed Until Recently: Apparently the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center created a site called BookDragon that seeks to create a site for multicultural children’s literature. And not just of the Asian Pacific nature either. It’s a true multicultural site and a fun one to scroll through. Check it!
This came out a while ago so I’m sure you already saw it, but just in case you didn’t, the Marc Tyler Nobleman Kidlit Mashups are nothing short of inspired.
One of my favorite illustrators, Aaron Zenz, wrote me the following message you would be very wise to read it, oh those amongst ye with an artistic bent. This art gives light and life and meaning to my day:
We play this game on our second blog every three years or so, and I believe you’ve made note of it in the past. So I thought I’d let you know this time around also that we’re letting professional illustrators and artists dip into the 8 year archive at Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty to reimagine Z-Kid art once again:http://www.isaacgracelily.blogspot.com/2014/08/8yearcelebration.html
There have been some great kid lit contributors in the past like Nathan Hale, Charise Harper, Jarrett Krosoczka, Renata Liwska, Adam Rex… And even though the call just went out for this new round, kid lit folks Julie Phillipps and Doug Jones have already hopped on board (both of them have also played all three times!)
My sister wrote me the other day to ask for a recommendation of a great children’s book about a jellyfish. I complied then found out why she wanted to know. I love it when she succeeds in her crazy plans on her blog but truth be told she’s awfully hilarious when she fails. It’s a Jellyfish in a bottle [FAIL].
It’s nice to have friends who know boats. Particularly when they start critiquing classic works of children’s literature. My friend Stefan Driesbach-Williams recently posted this familiar illustration:
Then he wrote, “I’m seeing a cutter with a loose-footed staysail and a boomkin.”
But it was the response from his nautical friends that made my day. One Levi Austin White responded with the following:
“Aye! Captain Max has only got his smallest storm stays’l aloft like a prudent mariner, although his main looks really drafty and dangerously powered up.
He seems to have his main trimmed in all the way, but headed dead downwind. That seems like a disastrous combination considering his mains’l tuning. I don’t see any reef points on his main though, so perhaps he’s outta luck.
Any news on his journey? Did he survive the storm? The way the seafoam is scudding across the wave tops, I’d say that he’s on the lee shore of a low lying island, with 50-70 kts windspeed. Looks properly vicious.
Best of luck, Captain Max. May the seas be forever in your favor.”
I think many of us have done this at some point. You’ve picked up a favorite old children’s book to read to your own kiddos. Everything’s going smoothly and you’re all having a fabulous time. Then, WHAMMO! Surprise! It’s racist!
Have no idea what I’m talking about? Well today we’re talking race and we’re talking classic children’s books. It’s a match made in heaven!
A couple things inspired this post and the first was when I received a copy of the new edition of If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss. Ladies and gentlemen if prior to reading this book you had asked me whether or not Dr. Seuss was ever racist in a picture book I would have laughed you off. WWII political cartoons? Sure. But his books? Not unless you count that theory about The Cat in the Hat and the elevator operator. Then I bring this book home and my husband proceeds to read it to my daughter. It’s all going well for a while . . . then we have some problems.
There are the little African guys, grass skirts and all:
There’s the Arabic fellow where it is suggested that he be collected along with his steed.
And then there’s this:
The text honest-to-goodness uses the term “slant-eyes” at one point.
You see, when it comes to surprising racism, we all sort of expect Native Americans and African-Americans to fare poorly. We tend to forget how AWFUL Asian people had it, and they show up all the friggin’ time. Whether it’s The Cricket in Times Square (see this rather lovely critique of it here) or Cheaper by the Dozen (check out the chapter “Chinese Cooking”) it’s out there. But the most unexpected racism? Voila:
Surprised? Many of us have heard the tale of how the Oompa Loompas were changed from African pygmies to something significantly less offensive in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So why does no one recall that Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator has its own cringe-worthy moment? I suspect because it isn’t accompanied by any art. You see, there’s a moment when the President calls the Prime Minister of China . . . I’ll just leave it at that. Let your imagination fill in the details.
Not that there aren’t surprises in books where Native American and African-Americans fare poorly. We all know the Little House books are racist but we forget the details until we stumble on them. Then there are the fuzzy cases.
I was having dinner with librarian Kyle Lukoff and we were discussing these types of books. Heck, that conversation was the real impetus for this post. We covered the usual suspects (Pippi in the South Seas, Doctor Doolittle, etc.) when Kyle pointed out a book that might not be out-and-out racist but sure is unfortunate. Remember the Mr. Men books? Of course you do. So do any of you guys remember this fellow?
Author/illustrator Richard Hargreaves was an Englishman so one can hope that the term “uppity” perhaps did not have the same connotations in his part of the globe as here. Maybe. It’s just awfully odd that the only brown-skinned Mr. Men character I can think of happened to get that particular moniker. The scan here makes him look possibly purple. It would be better.
For my part, lots of my favorites have one element that drives me crazy: cannibals. Lots of my dearly beloved books from childhood turn out to be just chock full of them. From The Thyme Garden and Magic by the Lake (both Edward Eager) to Bednob and Broomstick and The Phoenix and the Carpet, seen here:
So fess up. What’s your childhood favorite that caught you off guard years later?
It’s the blatant self-promotion game! Starring me! Forgive me, folks, but a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do. Don’t worry. I’ve at least one post lined up for later this week that will involve children’s books that are surprisingly racist (fun!). Until then, I’d be honored if you were so good as to join me this Saturday:
What: A book signing at Bank Street Bookstore (610 W. 112th St., NY, NY) for Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature.
When: Saturday, September 27th at 2:00 p.m.
Why: Because we like you. M-O-U-S-E.
Three creative minds collaborated to write this insider tell-all about the mischievous boys and girls who’ve written some of your favorite contemporary children’s books. Bank Street Bookstore hosts one of them, Betsy Bird, on Saturday, September 27 at 2:00 p.m. to discuss one of the fall season’s widely anticipated releases.
Wild Things, written by leading kids’ lit bloggers Bird, Julie Danielson and Peter Sieruta, goes behind the scenes with anecdotes and backstories highlighting some of the most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators in the post-Harry Potter children’s publishing world. Get the inside story on some of the most controversial children’s authors working today.
Have you ever read a picture book multiple times, enjoying it with each and every read, and then find later that it was wordless . . . and you didn’t even notice? Now THAT is the mark of an effective title. The publisher Enchanted Lion Books prides itself on its “Stories Without Words” series, and deservedly so. They import wordless picture books from abroad, format them into these long, slender books, and subsequently prove to the world that good storytelling is universal. It goes beyond language. The latest in this long line of beauties is, to my mind, the most impressive offering to date. Fox’s Garden by author Princesse Camcam (who edges out Sara Pennypacker, Mary Quattlebaum, and Robert Quackenbush in the Best Children’s Author’s Name contest) is ostensibly a very simple story about kindness and unexpected rewards. Combined with remarkable cut paper scenes that are lit and photographed in an eerie, wonderful way, this is a book that manages to simultaneously convey the joy that comes after a simple act of kindness as well as the feel and look of winter, night and day.
On a cold and windy night, when the snow blows in high drifts, a single fox plunges onward. When a warm, inviting village appears in a valley she makes her way there. However, once there she is summarily rejected by the hostile townspeople, at last taking refuge in a small greenhouse. A small boy spots the fox’s presence and goes to offer her some food. When he finds her, he sees that she is not alone. Newborn kits suckle, so he leaves the edibles at a safe distance and goes inside to bed. In the early morn the fox and her brood prepare to leave but before doing so they leap through the boy’s window, planting flowers in his floor so that he wakes up to a wonder of blossoms of his very own.
The fact of the matter is that I’ve seen cut paper work in picture books before, whether it’s the scale models in books like Cynthia von Buhler’s But Who Will Bell the Cats? or the distinctive Lauren Child style of The Princess and the Pea. But books of that sort are part cut paper and part dollhouse, to a certain extent, since they utilize models. Titles that consist of cut paper and lighting alone are rarities. Even as I write this it sounds like such a technique would be some fancy designer’s dream and not something appealing to kids. Yet what makes Camcam’s style so appealing is that it combines not just technical prowess but also good old-fashioned storytelling. The glow that emanates from behind some of the homes in the snowy winter village looks infinitely appealing. You can practically feel the heat that would strike you as you entered through one of those doorways. Even more impressive to me, however, was the artist’s ability to capture winter daytime cloudy light. You know that light I’m talking about. When snow has blanketed the earth and the white/gray clouds above give off this particular winter gleam. I’m used to complimenting illustrators on how well they portray winter light in paint. I’m less accustomed to praising that same technique in sliced up paper.
The shape of the book itself is an interesting choice as well. The publisher Enchanted Lion specializes in these long thin books, so I wasn’t quite sure if the book originally published (under the name “Une rencontre”) in the same format. To my mind it feels as though it was always intended to look this way. Just watching where the gutter between the two pages falls is an interesting exercise in and of itself. The first two-page spread shows the fox struggling, belly low, through snowdrifts. She’s on the right-hand page, the desolate woods behind her. When she spots the village she is on the left page and the town looks warm and inviting on the opposite side. Distant, because of the nature of the layout, but comforting. Interestingly the only time the two pages show two different scenes is when you see people kicking and yelling at the fox. In contrast to the rest of the book the two different images make everything feel tense and angry. Landscapes are calming. From there on in everything is a two-page spread, sometimes presenting a close-up shot (there is an amazing image of the happy fox in the foreground on the left page, while the boy is in the distant doorway of the greenhouse on the right) and sometimes an image of distance, as with the final shot.
It isn’t just the art that had me fail to recognize that the book was wordless. Camcam’s vixen seems to tell whole stories with just a glance here and there. She’s a proud animal. You understand that even as she’s kicked and cursed she’s retaining her dignity. The boy’s act of kindness may be given because he sees a creature in need, but it seems as though it’s just as likely that he’s helping her because she is worth worshipping anear. And though she and her brood do something particularly un-foxlike near the end she is, for the most part, not anthropomorphized. The storytelling sounds so oddly trite when I summarize the book, but it doesn’t feel trite in the least. You could easily see this book adapted into a ballet or similar wordless format. It’s a naturally beautiful tale.
Let’s examine that word for a second. Beautiful. I don’t use it enough when I’m describing picture books. It’s not the kind of word you should bandy about for no reason. If I called every other book “beautiful” it would diminish the importance of the word and I couldn’t use it when something as truly stunning as this. It’s the kind of book that doesn’t feel like anything else you’ve seen or read. True and lovely and entirely unique. A book to borrow and a book to own.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Howdy, folks. I have news for you. Did you have any idea that a children’s literature online show called KidLit TV was in the works? Nor did I until I stopped by Roxie Munroe’s studio the other day. She informed me that man-about-town Rocco Staino had been by with an honest-to-goodness film crew to talk to her about this new series. Calling itself, “The video resource for the greater kidlit community” it’s launching this fall. Here’s the first video so far:
Okay. I admit it. I’m a sucker for cute kids. Thank goodness they don’t do many lemonade stands in my neighborhood or I’d be without a dime in my pocket. So when I saw this video about the Dr. Seuss Wants You! Indiegogo campaign, I was hooked. These gals are trying to raise funds so that their school library can have its very own librarian. Resist their cuteness if you can!
You know what I love? Shakespeare. You know what I love even more than Shakespeare? Graphic novels. You know what I love even more than Shakespeare and graphic novels? Book trailers. Now all three of the things I love have combined in this trailer for The Stratford Zoo Presents MacBeth. I have read and loved the book (Lady MacBeth as a spotted animal = brilliance). Originally premiering on Watch. Connect. Read., do be so good as to enjoy it.
Many of you have probably seen this but the IKEA BookBook ad is rather charming.
Which, in turn, is not too dissimilar from this faux Amazon Prime Air Launch ad.
Thanks to Michael Stusser for the link.
Ooo. Lisa Von Drasek! Now that she’s moved to Minnesota (I am not even kidding when I say how envious I am) I don’t get to see her around and about anymore. Fortunately somebody out there (U of M, presumably) did this kickin’ recording of her conversation with Kate DiCamillo. For those of you more familiar with Kate, come for the DiCamillo, stay for the Von Drasek.
By the way, this is the first I’ve ever heard of IFLA. Anyone else out there feel as out of it as me?
Good old Ed Spicer. Not only does he come out for every book signing I do in Michigan but he records my blabberings and puts them online. This recent posting went up in conjunction with Wild Things but was filmed several years ago. If you’re interested in me with the talkety talk, enjoy.
As for today’s Off-Topic Video, I am thoroughly indebted to Dan Santat. It’s the final ceremony of Star Wars done without the soundtrack. As my friend Dan McCoy said of it, “Over and above the comedy, this actually let me see Star Wars with new eyes, for the first time in decades, which is amazing.”
What is it about the alphabet that gives artists the license to get weird? Historically, the alphabet book is one of the earliest American children’s book forms. You know. “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” That kind of thing. I’m certain someone has already written, or is in the process of writing, the full-blooded history of American abecedarian outings for the young, so I won’t delve into such matters to any great length.
Now every year we get some wacky alphabet titles in the mix. The usual art books. Coffee table picture books, if you will. I’m used to seeing one of them, two max, in a given year. So you’ll forgive me for being so surprised when I saw not one, not two, but a whopping FIVE esoteric picture books come out in 2014 to varying degrees of artsy fartsyness. They’re also rather hugely enjoyable in their own odd little ways.
With that in mind we’ll begin with the most accessible and work our way out from there.
Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
You may have heard me mention this Jeffers title in my recent Newbery/Caldecott prediction list for the fall. The book creates one short story per letter of the alphabet, making it a devilishly clever creation. Definitely falls into the older kid category of picture bookdom, but I’d argue that the stories and art are so much fun that it won’t have a hard time maintaining a child’s attention.
Take Away the A by Michaël Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
And you thought they couldn’t come up with an original concept for a picture book anymore? Ha! Check this puppy out. In it the book goes through the alphabet, taking away a single letter from each word so as to produce a new one. The text reads:
“Without the A
the BEAST is BEST.
Without the B
the BRIDE goes for a RIDE.
Without the C
the CHAIR has HAIR.”
Back me up on this when I say no one’s ever done this before. They haven’t, right? Just brilliant.
Work: An Occupational Alphabet by Kellen Hatanaka
Now we’re getting a little more design-y. The book is ostensibly a listing of different jobs by letter (though, as my husband pointed out, just try and make a living as an “explorer” or “mountaineer” these days). Hatanaka has this smooth digital style that’s easy on the eyes. I did actually attempt this one with my three-year-old, thinking (for some reason) that the lure of the jobs would hold her attention. It didn’t but that could just mean it’s for older children. Certainly there are a lot of visual gags in here that will appeal primarily to them.
Alphabetics: An Aesthetically Awesome Alliterated Alphabet Anthology
by Patrick and Traci Concepcion, ill. Dawid Ryski
And here we go. Your first clue that kids may or may not be the primary audience for this book? Well, it contains a zombie smoking a cigarette (recall the recent cigar brouhaha with The Scarecrow’s Wedding?), a “sultry seafaring sailor” by the name of Stella, and a “hellacious Harley hog”. On the other hand it had an entry on “Gus the gregarious giant with geek-chic glasses” which definitely appeals to the Portlandia in me. This is sort of an Urban Outfitters alphabet book. Looks nice in a small studio apartment. Children need not necessarily apply.
Alphabetabum: An Album of Rare Photographs and Medium Verses by Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunsky
Apparently these photos are from Radunsky’s personal collection with Raschka providing three line verses per letter. They primarily feature West European, white kids and Kirkus was down on the book because it found it too snarky. Not a problem I particularly had, though again I question whether or not an actual child would want to have anything to do with this book. Rather, I would hand this to teen fans of Edward Gorey that buy old photos in antique stores for fun (which is to say, myself circa age 15).
Any others I may have missed that are in the same vein? Surely there’s another one out there sporting a 2014 publication date. Surely.
When I say the word “mummy” what springs into your mind? Movies starring Brendan Fraser? Egypt and scarabs and rolls of crumbling papyrus? Absolutely. But what if I told you that recently the best-preserved mummy in the world was found? And what if I told you that not only was she a woman, not only was she surrounded by treasure, but she was also Chinese. Now I’ve known about mummies in South America and frozen on mountains. I know about bog bodies and bodies that were dried out naturally in deserts. But I had no idea that there even was such a thing as a Chinese mummy. In At Home in Her Tomb author Christine Liu-Perkins breaks everything down for you, bringing us a story that’s part forensics, part history, part family story, and all interesting.
Same old story. One minute you’re happily munching muskmelons. The next you’re dead and your corpse has been interred with miniature servants, silk paintings, scrolls, and countless other treasures. And the story might stop right there, except that in two thousand or so years nothing changes. Your body does not rot. Your treasures stay complete and unchanging. So when archaeologists excavated the tomb of Lady Dai, they can be forgiven for being completely astonished by what they found. In At Home in Her Tomb author Christine Liu-Perkins takes you not just into the mystery surrounding Lady Dai’s astonishingly well-preserved body, but also into ancient China itself. A more complete and exciting (and I use that word sparingly) glimpse into Qin and early Han Dynasties for children would be difficult to find.
Why do we love mummies as much as we do? I think it might be a mix of different reasons. Maybe we’re so attached to our own bodies that we find a weird bit of hope in the fact that they might last beyond the usual prescribed amount of time allotted to an average dead carcass. My husband, I should note, hasn’t been completely thrilled with the fact that I leave this book lying about as much as I do. As he rightly points out, what we have here is a bloated corpse book. He’s not wrong and it’s not a particularly attractive dead body either. So why the fascination? Why should I care that her joints were still movable when they found her, or that her fingerprints and toe prints were clear? I can’t rightly say, but it’s a curiosity that kids share with adults. We want to know what happens beyond death. The next best thing, it seems, is to find out what happens to our bodies instead.
There was a time when the television show C.S.I. inspired whole waves of kids to dream of jobs in forensics. Naturally the real world applications are a lot less fast-paced and exciting than those on television. At least that’s what I thought before hearing about forensic anthropology. Author Liu-Perkins brings it to vivid, fascinating life. It’s not all that’s alluring about this title though since the layout of the book is rather clever as well. Rather than just stick with a single narrative of the discovery of the body and tomb, the author punctuates the text with little interstitial moments that talk about what everyday life for Lady Dai might have been like. Liu-Perkins allows herself a bit of creative freedom with these sections. Obviously we have no idea if Lady Dai “sigh[ed] in weariness” while tending her silkworms. To eschew accusations of mixing fact and fiction without so much as a by your leave, Liu-Perkins begins the book with an Introduction that sets the stage for the interstitial Lady Dai moments. She writes how the artifacts from the tomb caused her to imagine Lady Dai’s life. From there it seems as though the historical fiction sections are directly tied into this statement, clearly delineated in the text from the longer factual sections. Authors these days struggle with making the past live and breathe for their child readers without having to rely on gross speculation. This technique proves to be one answer to the conundrum.
Admit it. A lot of booksellers and librarians are going to be able to hand sell this book to their customers and patrons by playing up the gross factor. Just show that shot on page 24 of the corpse of Lady Dai and a certain stripe of young reader is going to be instantaneously enthralled. Maybe they’ll take it home for closer examination. Maybe their eyes will then skim over to the text where phrases like “her eyeballs had begun falling out” lead to the factors that explain why the decay in the body stopped. They may then flip to the beginning and start reading front to finish, or they might skim from page to page. Honestly, there’s no wrong way to read a book of this sort. When you’re dealing with a title about the “best preserved body in the world” you’re already in pretty awesome territory. Credit then to Christine Liu-Perkins who gives the subject matter her full attention and presents it in such a way where many children will willingly learn about Chinese history in the process. A beautiful book. A heckuva mummy.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy checked out from library for review.
Now we’re in the thick of it. Do you hear that? That is the clicking ticking sound of the reanimation of the Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott blogs. They’re a little groggy right now, trying to get their bearings, figuring out which foot to try first. But don’t be fooled by their initial speed. Very soon they’ll be acting like well-oiled machines, debating and comparing and contrasting like it’s nobody’s business. But why let them have all the fun? Time for a little predicting on my end as well! I’ve been discussing these books with folks all year and through our debates I’m getting a better sense of the titles that are more likely than others to make it in the end. So, with the inclusion of some fall books, here’s the latest roster of predictions. Please note that as the year goes on I tend to drop books off my list more than I add them. This is also my penultimate list. The final will appear in December.
It’s so satisfying when you like a book and then find that everyone else likes it too. This was the very first book I mentioned in this year’s Spring Prediction Edition of Newbery/Caldecott 2015 and nothing has shaken my firm belief that it is extraordinary. It balances out kid-friendly plotting with literary acumen. It asks big questions while remaining down-to-earth. And yes, it’s dark. 2014 is a dark year. It’ll be compared to Doll Bones, which is not the worst thing in the world. I could see this one making it to the finish line. I really could.
You know what? I’m sticking by this one. Graff’s novel has the ability to create hardcore reader fans, even though it has a very seemingly simple premise. It’s librarian-bait to a certain extent (promoting a kid who likes to read Captain Underpants will do that) but I don’t think it’s really pandering or anything. It’s also not a natural choice for the Newbery, preferring subtlety over literary largess. I’m keeping it in mind for now.
Notable if, for no other reason, the fact that Nina Lindsay and I agree on it and we rarely agree on anything. As it happens, this is a book I’ve been noticing a big backlash against. It sports a complex and unlikeable heroine, which can prove difficult when assessing its merits. She makes hard, often bad, choices. But personally I feel that even if you dislike who she becomes, you still root for her to win. Isn’t that worth something? Other folks find the blending of historical fiction and fantasy unnerving. I find it literary. You be the judge.
The frontrunner. This is Woodson’s year and we’re just living in it. I’m waiting to hear the concentrated objections to this book. Waiting because I’m having a hard time fathoming what they might be. One librarian I spoke too complained it was too long. Can’t agree myself, but I noted her comment. Other than that, nobody disagrees that it’s distinguished. As distinguished as distinguished can be, really. If it doesn’t get the gold (look at all the nice sky-space where you could fit in a medal!) I will go on a small rampage.
Betcha didn’t see that one coming. You were probably expecting a discussion of Revolution or A Snicker of Magic or something, right? Well darling, I’ll confess something to you. I like simple books. Reeeeally simple books. Books so simple that they cross an invisible line and become remarkably complex. I like books that give you something to talk about for long periods of time. That’s where Hanlon’s easy chapter book comes in. What do I find distinguished about this story? I find the emotional resonance and sheer honesty of the enterprise entirely surprising and extraordinary. And speaking of out-there nominations . . .
Face facts. Jeffers is a risky Caldecott bid, even when he’s at his best. The man does do original things (This Moose Belongs to Me was probably his best bet since moving to America, though I’d argue that Stuck was the best overall) but his real strength actually lies in his writing. The man’s brain is twisted in all the right places, so when you see a book as beautifully written as this one you have to forgive yourself for wanting to slap medals all over it, left and right. A picture book winning a Newbery is not unheard of in this day and age, but it requires a committee that thinks in the same way. I don’t know this year’s committee particularly well. I can’t say what they will or will not think. All I do know is that this book deserves recognition.
Let the record show that the ONLY reason I am not including The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos in this list is because it does require a bit of familiarity with the other books in the series. I struggle with that knowledge since it’s long been a dream of mine to see a Joey Pigza book with the Newbery gold and this is our last possible chance to do just that. Likewise, I’m not including The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis only because knowledge of Elijah of Buxton makes for a stronger ending to the tale But both books are true contenders in every other way.
And now for the more difficult discussions (because clearly Newbery is a piece of cake….. hahahahahahahaha!!! <—- maniacal laughter)
I only recently discovered that if you take the jacket off of this book and look at it from left to right you get to see the entire story play out, end to end. What other illustrator goes for true emotion on the bloody blooming jacket of their books? Bean is LONG overdue for Caldecott love. He’s gotten Boston Globe-Horn Book love and Ezra Jack Keats Award love but at this moment in time it’s downright bizarre that he hasn’t a Caldecott or two to his name. Hoping this book will change all that.
I’m sticking with Floyd here. The man’s paid his dues. This book does some truly lovely things. It’s going to have to deal with potentially running into people who just don’t care for his style. It’s a distinctive one and not found anywhere else, but I know a certain stripe of gatekeeper doesn’t care for it. It’s also one of three African-American ballerina books this year (Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer by Michaela and Elaine DePrince, ill. Frank Morrison and Firebird by Misty Copeland, ill. Christopher Myers anyone?) but is undeniably the strongest.
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, photographs by Tim O’Meara
People don’t like it when a book doesn’t fall into their preexisting prescribed notions of what a book should do. Folks look at the cover and title of this book and think “picture book biography”. When they don’t get that, they get mad. I’ve heard complaints about the sparse text and lack of nonfiction elements. Yet for all that, nobody can say a single word against the art. “Stunning” only begins to encompass it. I think that if you can detach your mind from thinking of the book as a story, you do far better with it. Distinguished art? You better believe it, baby.
What can I say that I haven’t said a hundred times before? I’ve heard vague whines from folks who don’t care for this art style. *sigh* It happens. I’ll just turn everything over to the author for her perspective on the story behind the story then.
Okay, try to think of a precedent for this one. Let’s say this book won the Caldecott gold. That would mark the very first time in the HISTORY of the award itself that two unmarried artists got a medal for their work, yes? And yet the book couldn’t exist without the two of them working in tandem. Remy and Lulu is an excellent example of a book that I dismissed on an initial reading, yet found myself returning to again and again and again later. And admit it. The similarities in some ways to Officer Buckle and Gloria can only help it, right?
I don’t think I gave this book adequate attention the first time I read it through.
I heard an artist once criticize the current trend where picture book illustrators follow so closely in the footsteps of Jon Klassen. And you could be forgiven for thinking that animator Kenard Pak is yet another one of these. Yet when you look at this book, this remarkable little piece of nonfiction, you see how the textured watercolors are more than simply Klassen-esque. Pak’s art is delightful and original and downright keen. Can you say as much for many other books?
This is one of those years where the books I’m looking at have NOTHING to do with the books that other folks are looking at. For example, when I look at the list of books being considered at Calling Caldecott, I am puzzled. Seems to me it would make more sense to mention Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes, Go to Sleep, Little Farm by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, or Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg by Debi Gliori (wait . . . she’s Scottish and therefore ineligible?! Doggone the doggity gones . . .).
For additional thoughts, be sure to check out the Goodreads lists of Newbery 2015 and Caldecott 2015 to see what the masses prefer this year.
A message for school librarians: ALA is now accepting applications for the 2015 Sara Jaffarian Award. The award recognizes K-8 schools for exceptional programming in social studies, poetry, drama, art, language arts, culture, or other humanities subjects.
CHICAGO — The American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office is now accepting nominations for the 2015 Sara Jaffarian School Library Program Award for Exemplary Humanities Programming.
School libraries, public or private, that served children in grades K-8 and conducted humanities programs during the 2013-14 school year are eligible. The winning library will receive $5,000.
Applications, award guidelines and a list of previous winners are available at www.ala.org/jaffarianaward. Nominations must be received by Dec. 15, 2014. School librarians are encouraged to self-nominate.
Applicant libraries must have conducted a humanities program or program series during the prior school year (2013-14). The humanities program can be focused in many subject areas, including social studies, poetry, drama, art, music, language arts, foreign language and culture. Programs should focus on broadening perspectives and helping students understand the wider world and their place in it. They should be initiated and coordinated by the school librarian and exemplify the role of the library program in advancing the overall educational goals of the school.
Named after the late Sara Jaffarian, a school librarian and longtime ALA member, ALA’s Jaffarian Award was established in 2006 to recognize and promote excellence in humanities programming in elementary and middle school libraries. It is presented annually by the ALA Public Programs Office in cooperation with the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). The award is selected annually by a committee comprising members of the ALA Public and Cultural Programs Advisory Committee (PCPAC), AASL and the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC).
Funding for the Jaffarian Award is provided by ALA’s Cultural Communities Fund (CCF). In 2003, a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities kick-started a campaign to secure the future of libraries as cultural destinations within the community. Since then, CCF has grown to more than $1.7 million, serving libraries as they serve their communities through the highest quality arts and humanities programs. To contribute to CCF, visit www.ala.org/ccf.
About the ALA Public Programs Office
ALA’s Public Programs Office provides leadership, resources, training and networking opportunities that help thousands of librarians nationwide develop and host cultural programs for adult, young adult and family audiences. The mission of the ALA Public Programs Office is to promote cultural programming as an essential part of library service in all types of libraries. Projects include book and film discussion series, literary and cultural programs featuring authors and artists, professional development opportunities and traveling exhibitions. School, public, academic and special libraries nationwide benefit from the office’s programming initiatives.
About the American Association of School Librarians
The American Association of School Librarians, www.aasl.org, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), empowers leaders to transform teaching and learning.
About the American Library Association
The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 57,000 members in academic, public, school, government and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.
Not too long ago I linked to a letter Amazon had released regarding their spot o’ trouble (to put it mildly) with the publisher Hachette. In my post I encouraged authors to tell me what they thought about it and they did, but not on my blog itself. And why should they? With all the power Amazon wields it would be foolish to draw their ire so directly. As such, I received one email that particularly caught my attention. Together we decided that it was worth publishing, though it would have to remain nameless. Here then is one perspective on the Amazon letter from a writer caught up in the midst of it all.
“Hi, Betsy –
Per your request for opinions from Hachette authors on the Amazon/Hachette ebook pricing fight, here are some thoughts I wish I had time to shape into more concise/coherent form:
As best I can tell, Amazon’s larger strategic purpose in keeping ebook prices as low as possible — and what Hachette emphatically does NOT want — is for ebooks to become so much less expensive than physical books that they kill off bricks-and-mortar bookstores, making Amazon and ebooks pretty much the only game in town.
As a children’s book author without much name recognition, this is bad for me on two levels:
1. The ebook market for kids’ books is much smaller than for adult books.
Children’s books, especially MG, have been much slower to migrate to ebooks than adult titles in general and adult genre titles (romance, mystery, sci-fi) in particular. Since the large, large majority of sales of MG titles are still physical books, the death of real bookstores would likely be disastrous for MG kids’ book sales.
Amazon’s claims of price elasticity — the “we’ll sell x at this price, but 1.74x at the lower price” or whatever — are limited to the Kindle sales channel and don’t take into account the potential loss of sales from sources other than Kindle. If I sell 1.74 times more books on the kindle…but my sales at physical bookstores plummet because the bookstores no longer exist…am I better off? My guess is no.
I’m also skeptical that price elasticity is the same for kids’ books as it is for, say, adult mystery novels — not sure that 1.74 number would be true for a MG title. But again, that’s less important than the fact that Kindle sales represent a very small fraction of the total pie of MG book sales.
For an author like me without a James-Patterson-sized following, discoverability is huge. Fewer physical bookstores mean fewer opportunities for audiences to discover new writers both via hand-selling by booksellers and display space. A world in which Amazon is the primary gatekeeper is one in which the only new authors who break out are the ones Amazon promotes. Having had one of my books end up on Amazon’s “best of the year” list, I know that getting on an Amazon list definitely sells books…and not being on their list (as in the case of other books I’ve written) means you DON’T sell books.
All things being equal, I’d rather not leave the decision about whether my books get wide exposure in the hands of a single bookseller.
Some other observations:
Unless I missed something, none of Amazon’s public arguments in favor of its position have addressed the fundamental problem with lowering ebook prices — that if those prices fall far enough, the business model for physical bookstores will be unsustainable, and they’ll gradually disappear (or suddenly disappear, like Borders did). Amazon keeps bringing up the publishers’ resistance to adopting paperbacks half a century ago, but a hardcover-to-paperback transition didn’t fundamentally threaten the existence of physical bookstores the way books-to-ebooks does.
And while an all-ebook (or primarily ebook) ecosystem might be just fine for adult genre writers, it’ll almost certainly suck for MG writers. Can you think of a single MG kids’ book writer (Amanda Hocking comes to mind, but she’s YA) who’s launched their career or built a significant audience via ebooks? There are a bunch of successful examples in adult genre fiction, but none that I know of in MG. Rick Riordan and R.J. Palacio have both released ebook-only short works that hit the bestseller list, but those were companion pieces to works that had become phenomenally successful as physical books first.
As far as I can tell, kids and their parents just aren’t discovering new MG authors through ebooks. Maybe that’ll change in the near future, but I’m skeptical — based on my experience with both readers and my own kids, even digitally native kids seem to gravitate more toward physical books than ebooks.
On a semi-related note (since what’s at stake in the Amazon fight isn’t just the viability of traditional bookstores, but traditional publishers), I’d like to add that I’ve personally benefited enormously from having been traditionally published, both financially and creatively. My current book has a ton of illustration, which has meant a lot of heavy lifting in the graphic design department. While I could have self-published my more traditional, non-illustrated MG titles without sacrificing much in the way the audience experiences the story, if I’d tried to do the current book without the help of Hachette’s art department, the results would have been ugly.
Given how many kids’ books rely on illustration, I suspect the art and design support that traditional publishers provide is a much bigger deal overall for kids’ books than adult titles.
Moreover, Hachette’s marketing support, even for less prominent titles on their list, is much more substantial than I can accomplish independently, no matter how much I spend out of pocket on publicists, building a social media presence, etc.
Long story short, I’m on Hachette’s side. It may be that physical books and bricks-and-mortar bookstores are doomed over the long run, but as a non-prominent writer of middle grade kids’ books, anything that extends their lifespan — and keeps not just bookstores but traditional publishers healthy — seems to be good for me as an author.
As someone once said (was it a French guy? I can’t remember) — I apologize for not having the time to write you a shorter letter.”
Introducing the all new “Walking and Talking” series by Steve Sheinkin!
I’m always on the lookout for folks I consider double threats. In the children’s and YA book biz that translates to mean people who can both write and draw. Take someone like Kadir Nelson, for example. One day he’s doing his spectacular art, merry as you please, and the next he turns around and shows that he can write books like We Are the Ship. Is that fair? It is not! And now we have a similar situation in the case of National Book Award finalist / Newbery Honoree / even-more-honors author Steve Sheinkin. One moment he’s writing Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, and the next he’s drawing comics.
Comics? Comics! Why? Well, in his own words:
“I love to draw comics, and I meet lots of great writers at various events I go to, so I figured—why not combine the two? The idea is to interview children’s and YA authors and turn the interviews into short comics. Thanks to John Corey Whaley for bravely agreeing to star in this first one.”
Is it any wonder I leapt at the chance to host these? Here then is the first starring Printz winner John Corey Whaley (of Where Things Come Back and Noggin). It marks an entirely different way of interviewing some of the luminaries in the field.
For more info on Steve and his myriad works, head on over to www.stevesheinkin.com. And stayed tuned for more of these comics. This is only the beginning.
COLUMBUS CHILDREN’S BOOK FESTIVAL RETURNS SEPTEMBER 20
Authors, Illustrators and More to be Featured at Free Outdoor Event at the Columbus Public Library
(Columbus, GA) – The long-awaited Second Annual Columbus Children’s Book Festival returns to the grounds of the Columbus Public Library on Macon Road on Saturday, September 20th.
The event is free and open to the public.
The first event, held in 2013, brought thousands to the Library on a rain-soaked day to see authors such as R. L. Stine and Jane O’Connor.
This year’s Festival promises to be even bigger with well-known authors, illustrators and entertainers coming to town for free presentations and autograph sessions that are designed for the whole family. Books will be for sale, as will food, beverages and snacks.
Complete event information, including author and performer schedules can be found on the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries’ website www.cvlga.org. Interested parties may also contact the Library at 706-243-2669.
FEATURED AUTHORS AND ILLUSTRATORS (detailed biographies at the end of this release)
The featured authors and illustrators represent some of the most famous and most highly-regarded talent working in the field of children’s literature and entertainment, including:
· Famed Muppeteer Caroll Spinney who has portrayed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch in over 4,000 episodes of Sesame Street.
· Christopher Paul Curtis, the iconic author of the young adult classic The Watson’s Go To Birmingham – 1963 and other novels.
· Alyssa Satin Capucilli, creator of everybody’s favorite puppy Biscuit and author of over 100 books for children.
· Acclaimed international storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy, author of The Library Dragon and Martina the Beautiful Cockroach.
· Michael P. White, award-winning artist and illustrator of The Library Dragon and Harriet’s Horrible Hair Day.
· Galactic Quest Comic Books featuring Sonic the Hedgehog artist Tracey Yardley and Herocats creators Kyle Puttkammer and Marcus Williams.
MEET AND GREET WITH THOMAS & FRIENDSTM
A very special Meet & Greet will take place when Thomas & Friends™ pull into the station. Bring your friends and family, and don’t miss the opportunity to meet Everyone’s favorite No. 1 blue engine, and get your photo taken! Be sure to bring your camera to capture the special day.
ENTERTAINMENT AND OTHER EVENTS
Joining the Festivities will be entertainers such as Adam the Juggler, All Hands Productions Puppet Theatre, storyteller Mama Koku and Molly the Clown. Jubilee Farms Petting Zoo will be in operation onsite from 10:30am-12:30pm. There will also be character greetings from Biscuit, Where the Wild Things Are Monster, Skippyjon Jones and The Very Hungry Caterpillar throughout the day.
Additional activities during the event include Craft-O-Mania, a series of craft projects for children inspired by the Festival authors, and the Simple Steps Garden, an area of play, reading and crafts for babies, toddlers and the pre-schoolers.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
The Festival will run from 10:00am to 4:00pm on Saturday, September 20th. The event will happen rain or shine.
The Festival kicks off with an opening ceremony at 10:45am awarding area students who participated in the annual Children’s Book Festival Young Writers Contest.
The author’s appearances will be as follows. All authors will appear in the Festival Main Event Tent located on the front lawn of the Library, with autograph sessions immediately following their presentations:
11:00am CAROLL SPINNEY
12noon ALYSSA SATIN CAPUCILLI
1:00pm CHRISTOPHER PAUL CURTIS
2:00pm CARMEN AGRA DEEDY
3:00pm MICHAEL P. WHITE
Thomas and FriendsTM will be greeting fans at 10:30am, 12:30pm and 2:30pm in the Library Auditorium.
Galactic Quest Comics will have their own tent and will be meeting fans throughout the day.
FRIENDS OF LIBRARIES BOOKSTORE
One of the Libraries’ support groups, The Muscogee County Friends of Libraries, will be running the Festival Bookstore during the event. Books from all of the featured authors, plus additional works, will be on sale. This will be a prime opportunity to pick up books to be autographed by your favorite author. The Store will accept cash and Visa, MasterCard and Discover credit cards.
SPONSORS FOR THE EVENT
A wide range of community organizations have agreed to sponsor the event this year, including:
The Muscogee County Library Foundation, Aflac, the Muscogee County Friends of Libraries, Pratt & Whitney, The Housing Authority of Columbus, GA, Publix Supermarket Charities, the Hughston Clinic, Muscogee Moms, WRBL News 3, theColumbus Ledger-Enquirer, Sunny 100, CBS Outdoor, and the Speakeasy and Twelfth Street Deli.
FEATURED AUTHOR BIOGRAPHIES
CAROLL SPINNEY - Named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, Big Bird has captivated children around the world for more than 30 years. A puppeteer since he was eight years old, Caroll Spinney has been the man inside the bird from the beginning. Also playing Oscar the Grouch, his characters have been seen on more than 4,000 shows in 148 countries.
Spinney is the author of The Wisdom of Big Bird (And the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers, an inspirational memoir in which he shares the wisdom that he has gleaned over the years from his work creating and portraying one of the world’s most beloved characters. In an honest and endearing tone, Spinney vividly recalls a life enriched by pursuing and attaining his childhood dream.
Starting with a show in his neighborhood barn, for which he charged two cents admission, Spinney set out to be “a puppeteer on the best kids’ show in the world.” After attending art school in Boston, he launched his television career in Las Vegas, where he created a show titled Rascal Rabbit in 1955. Returning to Boston, he first joined the Judy and Goggle Show as a puppeteer, and then moved over to The Bozo Show where he stayed for ten years.
Since achieving worldwide renown on Sesame Street, Spinney has made guest appearances on many other television shows, always as Big Bird and Oscar. He has performed in specials with Julie Andrews and Bob Hope, starred in his own 90-minute special, Big Bird in China, in 1982 and made appearances in the second and third Night of 100 Stars, Broadway’s televised tribute and fundraiser for fellow thespians. Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird marked Spinney’s motion picture debut in a starring role.
Spinney has earned four Emmy Awards, two Gold Records, and two Grammy Awards. Sesame Street has won numerous awards for its groundbreaking work.
CHRISTOPHER PAUL CURTIS - The second oldest of five siblings, Christopher was born and raised in Flint, Michigan which has been used as a prominent setting in several stories including The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 and Bucking the Sarge. Graduating from Flint Southwestern High School, Christopher immediately did two things: 1) enrolled at Flint’s campus of the University of Michigan and 2) applied for a job at Fisher Body Plant No. 1, a General Motors assembly facility. This was extremely typical for many young adults. Most blue-collar jobs, particularly in the “Jungle” where Christopher worked, were often heavy-duty, hard-working tasks, requiring minimal educational skills at best. The pay and benefits couldn’t be beat, so for high school graduates that wanted a significant income right out of school, General Motors was the ticket.
Of all the various departments one could work, the “Jungle” was easily one of the worst. The Jungle was where the manufacturing process began, various sizes and shapes of metal being welded together at sequential work stations that eventually became the body frame of the automobile.
Once the car’s basic skeletal frame was established, one of the first things to get added were the doors. This was Christopher’s work station. During the 70s, Fisher Body produced three models – the Electra 225 (also known as a “deuce and a quarter”), LaSabre and Riveria. Because the doors were so big and quite heavy, the company set the job up for two men to alternate installing the doors on every other car coming down the assembly line. This went on each night for eight or more hours, about 60 cars per hour.
Christopher and his coworker decided that instead of working every other car, they would work every 30 minutes. This allowed Christopher time to do other things — besides reading novels (one of his great passions), he began writing to overcome the boredom. Some of the writings were letters; others were sketches of stories that, like his character Bud Caldwell (Bud, Not Buddy), began the colorful sojourn which led him to become one of America’s leading authors of children’s literature.
Christopher currently lives in Detroit, Michigan and in his free time still enjoys reading, playing basketball and collecting music.
ALYSSA SATIN CAPUCILLI - Alyssa Satin Capucilli is the imaginative author of books for both pre-schoolers and beginning readers. Her creations include lift-the-flap books for toddlers that feature gentle, lovable characters and easily identifiable objects as well as a series of beginning readers starring Biscuit, a rambunctious golden-haired puppy whose adventures are brought to life by illustrator Pat Schories.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, Capucilli developed an early love of books, and looked forward to weekly trips to the library with her mother and sisters. “I could hardly wait to choose a special book from all of the books that lined the shelves,” she once recalled to Something about the Author (SATA ). “As a matter of fact, my sisters and I would often play library at home! We would take turns pretending to be the librarian, and we would recommend books to each other, check them out, and tell each other to ‘SSSSHHH!’” Among Capucilli’s favorite authors were Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, and Beverly Cleary, whose stories about Henry and his dog, Ribsy, she loved. “The funny thing was, although I loved to imagine myself as different characters in books,” Capucilli added, “I never imagined that the authors who created them were real people!”
Capucilli’s first published book was Peekaboo Bunny, a lift-the-flap book published in 1994. Illustrated by Mary Melcher, the book helps small children navigate in a garden, and it was popular enough to prompt a sequel, Peekaboo Bunny Friends in the Snow.
Capucilli introduced a new character to young readers in Biscuit. A small, soft-eared, lovable puppy the color of freshly baked, golden biscuits, Capucilli’s Biscuit bounds into the life of a young girl, quickly becoming her best friend as she interprets his “Woof, Woof” to mean many things. From wanting a small snack before bedtime to being tucked in snugly under layers of blankets, the activities of Biscuit and his young owner are depicted in “oodles of contextual clues,” easy-to-read sentences, and “repetitive word and phrases,” according to School Library Journal reviewer Gale W. Sherman. “I find that inspiration for stories and characters comes from so many places: our memories, our family, our friends, our pets, our own observations and our own wonderings,” Capucilli explained. “I first got the idea to write about … Biscuit after watching my daughter dog-sit a neighbor’s huge golden retriever! But deep inside, I think that the ‘Biscuit’ stories are really about that puppy I always imagined I would someday have, from when I was a young girl, reading and dreaming.”
The Biscuit books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies in many formats throughout the world. She is also the author of dozens of other books, including the popular Katy Duck series.
CARMEN AGRA DEEDY - Carmen Agra Deedy has been writing for children for over two decades. Born in Havana, Cuba, she came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1964. She grew up in Decatur, Georgia, where she lives today.
Deedy began writing as a young mother and storyteller whose NPR commentaries on All Things Considered were collected and released under the title, Growing Up Cuban In Decatur, Georgia. The pithy collection of twelve stories soon garnered awards, among them a 1995 Publishers Weekly Best Audio (Adult Storytelling) and a 1996 Parents’ Choice Gold Award.
Her children’s books have won numerous awards.
The Library Dragon received various children’s state book awards and has sold near half a million copies. In 2003 the book was her home state’s choice to represent Georgia at the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival.
The Yellow Star was the recipient of the 2001 Jane Addams Peace Association Book Award (Honor), presented to Ms. Deedy at the United Nations by Mrs. Kofi Annan. It also received the 2001 Christopher Award, the 2000 Parent’s Choice Gold Award, the 2001 Bologna Ragazzi Award (for best international children’s book), the 2002 WOW Award (National Literary Association of England), among other notable awards and honors. It has been translated to over a dozen languages.
Martina the Beautiful Cockroach was presented with the 2008 Pura Belpre Honor Award, the 2008 NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Book Award, the 2008 Best Children’s Books of the Year (Bank Street College of Education), the 2008 International Latino Book Award, the Irma Simonton and James H. Black Award (Honor), the 2008 E.B White Award (Nominee), and the 2009 ALA Odyssey Audio Award (Honor), among others.
One of Deedy’s more recent children’s books, 14 Cows for America, is based on an astonishing gift Americans received from a Maasai village in Kenya, following the events of 9/11. The book was released in September of 2009 and is a New York Times Bestseller. The Wall Street Journal described it as a “. . . moving and dramatically illustrated picture book.”
Deedy is now expanding into the world of chapter books with The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale. This is a story of deception, intrigue, and derring-do that reveals the unlikely alliance between a cheese-loving cat and the Cheshire Cheese inn’s mice in Victorian England.
Deedy has spent the past twenty years writing and telling stories. She has been an invited speaker at venues as varied as The American Library Association, Refugees International, The International Reading Association, Columbia University, The Smithsonian Institute, TED, The National Book Festival, and the Kennedy Center.
MICHAEL P. WHITE - Michael was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He received his Associate of Arts degree from The Art Institute of Atlanta. Michael spent many years doing local and regional art festivals before illustrating his first book. His artwork has been featured in many galleries including a show highlighting his book illustrations at the Hudgens Center for the Arts. He has illustrated four children’s books: The Library Dragon (winner of the 1997 Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award, an Honor Book for the 1997-1998 Florida Reading Association Children’s Book Award) and its sequel The Return of the Library Dragon, both by Festival author Carmen Agra Deedy; The Secret of Old Zeb (winner of an Award of Merit from the Southeastern Library Association) with Carmen Agra Deedy; and Harriett’s Horrible Hair Day with Dawn Lesley Stewart.
Michael loves having his dream job — working with students of all ages on how one idea can create a story. Michael lives in Atlanta with his wife, Traci, his daughter, the lovely and talented, Madeline; and five dogs.
You know, it’s not that I’m a big nonfiction reader or advocate in particular. It’s just the nature of children’s librarianship in this day and age. You simply cannot work in the field without encountering nonfiction and, as a result, sometimes you end up with granite hard opinions about the form. Take me, for example. My trajectory in matters of nonfictiony nonfictioness (why yes, I was an English major, why do you ask?) proceeded accordingly:
Fear nonfiction based on the books I recall from my youth which, each and every one, would at some point ask me what the major goods and services of, say, Iowa were.
Read nonfiction as part of my job with great initial reluctance.
Love nonfiction and discover that not only is it fun to read but I can now supplement my tawdry elementary/middle/high school education (to say nothing of college) with facts that at the very least make for good dinner party conversation.
Defend nonfiction against those that do not slot neatly into my understanding of the form since, as in any religion, it is the newest converts that are inevitably the most zealous.
Take myself down a notch.
At the moment I am transitioning between #4 and #5 with feet planted firmly in both spheres. This is exemplified in no better way than in the case of invented dialogue. For lo, when it comes to picture book biographies in which situations and characters are fleshed out through dialogue that has no basis in fact, I am unforgiving and cruel. Beautiful books with art that would make a blind man weep are crushed beneath my toes as I note and distain moments of verbal creativity. In general I stand by my anti-faux dialogue stance but recently I’ve been cajoled into softening, if not abandoning, my position.
You see this Saturday past I hosted a Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL called “Personal Passions and Changes in Nonfiction for Children and Teens: A Conversation with Marc Aronson”. During the course of his talk Mr. Aronson gave a fascinating review of the history of American children’s nonfiction over the decades. It was absolutely engrossing. Afterwards we had a chance to engage in a bit of a Q&A and I got to bring up the subject of invented dialogue. Marc’s answer was to the point. Quote, “We should be honest about saying what we do and do not know.”
Simple, right? And yet it caused me a bit of soul-searching. There is a new crop of picture books out this year that make up dialogue left and right with scant backmatter to boot. I shall not name names. They know who they are. On the flip side, there are the books that are honest about what they do and don’t know. These books are hardly new. Consider a lot of Jonah Winter’s books like The 39 Apartments of Ludwig Van Beethoven or Here Comes the Garbage Barge. But we really don’t have a separate section for them. Heck, we don’t even have a name for them!
Consider the following books that use invented dialogue but are honest about it. These books are all shelved in my library’s Picture Book section and not the Bios or Nonfiction. Is that the best place for them? Impossible to say. Still, they represent an interesting phenomenon in the world of publishing. Mostly they are accurate, but when they are not they confess the fact. To wit:
The Noisy Paintbox: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, ill. Mary GrandPre – I confess that when I first read the book I was incensed at the unnecessary family dialogue in it. That was before I noticed the note in the back that makes plain the fact that Ms. Rosenstock felt obligated to include the section but that it’s made up. That’s honest. Of course if she hadn’t included it I am convinced it would have been a stronger book. As it stands, the GrandPre illustrations do much to elevate it above the pack.
Albie’s First Word: A Tale Inspired by Albert Einstein’s Childhood by Jacqueline Tourville, ill. Wynne Evans – This one’s so honest that the subtitle itself gives away the game. “Inspired by” is a smart way of putting it. You can’t blame Tourville for wanting to tell this story to the best of her ability. If Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was three then what was his first word? That’s the kind of question that could launch a thousand picture books. Thus far, this is the only one I know of.
Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention by Barb Rosenstock, ill. S.D. Schindler – Again with the honest subtitle. This one veers awfully closely to the true story, but Rosenstock (sound familiar? See: The Noisy Paintbox) confesses that there are just some things out there we cannot know. It’s an awfully engaging book too. I should note that the three books I’ve mentioned here thus far all received stars from Kirkus.
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales – This one’s a little different than the other books here since I don’t think Morales sees this as a bio in any way, shape, or form. Frida Kahlo merely serves as the starting point. The real story here is one of inspiration in everyday life. Kirkus called it an homage to Kahlo’s art. Could be. All I know is that it’s awfully interesting but not the sort of thing you usually run across.
By the way, in case you’re curious about attending a Children’s Literary Salon, you can see our upcoming topics here. 2014 is closing out with a bang, I do believe.
And finally, this one’s for all the Dr. Who fans out there. It’s a faux retrospective of all the American Dr. Who’s. Beautiful (though maybe it’s just the presence of Gene Wilder that makes me so happy).
I don’t normally do this, but it is books like this one that make it clear that rules are meant to be broken. We children’s librarians are familiar with books we consider “for professional use”. These are titles that are of use primarily to library students, librarians, and teachers. They tend to have ugly covers. They tend to have dull, dry (if ultimately useful) language. They tend to be unmemorable. Well stop the presses and reign in the horses because I have seen what may be the MOST useful and beautiful professional use title in all my livelong days. Behold Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley. How would one use such a tome? Well, say you have a teacher that needs to do a science unit of some sort. This book recommends some really brilliant nonfiction titles for kids (and some nonfiction/fiction pairings that are rather good in their own right) and then works them into Common Core State Standards lesson plans. There are sample questions and worksheets and pretty much anything a K-2 teacher would need. It is also lovely on the old eyeballs and clearly well researched. I love it. You need it. No one has heard of it. Go get it.
You know, just when I feel like I can coast and rest on my laurels, there goes Travis Jonker raising the bar. Bar raiser!!! I mean who else would have come up with the brilliant idea of a Twitter handle author game, pixelated profile pics and all? I doff my hat.
Speaking of Twitter, all you folks out there with library degrees looking for a job may find the post 14 Twitter Feeds for Job Seekers to Follow of particular use. It does a nice job of including some non-library related job sites as well. Just in case. Thanks to AL Direct for the link.
Hey auction hounds! Those of you with a weakness for original art are in luck. The Carle Honors are fast approaching and that means the old 2014 Carle Honors Art Auction is on the horizon. Not attending the gala? No problemo. You can just bid on the items (or, if you’re like me, drool over them) here. The online portion of the auction will close at noon on September 18th, and leading bidders will be added by proxy bid to the silent auction at The Carle Honors gala in New York City later that same evening. In addition, all of the works will be on display at Books of Wonder (18 West 18th Street, NYC) from September 3 through September 17. All the more reason to visit NYC, yes yes?
Boy, are you guys some kind of lucky bums. Did you not know that the Cybils (the only blogger award for children’s and YA literature) call for judges ends today? You still have time to submit your name for a category. What are you waiting for? Go! Do! Read!
What are the 24 Best Baby Books of All Time? Parents Magazine asked a whole slew of librarians like myself and then published the results. Fact of the matter is, it’s a pretty darn good list. Steve Light and Mary Murphy and Nina Laden and all the other usual suspects. My own contribution might be the most esoteric, but I’ll stand by it till the end.
I was just so pleased to see that Jules Danielson had taken the time to talk to Kekla Magoon in light of her latest book (How It Went Down) and the events in Ferguson. I do hope that folks take time and all read Kekla’s novel. It could not be more timely.
This is one of those BoingBoing links that one prays is a hoax. Surely something this downright evil couldn’t be true, right? I mean . . . this is preposterous if accurate.
Hat tip to Brian A. Klems for his public service announcement / Writers Digest article The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs. Young Adult. It’s not just editors and agents that will thank you, sir. It’s librarians like myself that see the same manuscripts when authors ask us for feedback. We are in your debt.
Wondering what the authors out there thought about Amazon’s recent complaint about big old unreasonable Hachette and its ilk. Aw. Poor little behemoth. But I would love to hear from the Hachette authors and what they thought about the piece.
I’m pleased as punch to be today’s stop on the Ben Hatke Beastiary of Lost Creatures blog tour (and you know I almost never do blog tours so this book has gotta be good. Today Ben’s gonna highlight a creature for us himself and I’m gonna sit back and take it easy.
Ben Hatke’s Houseguest Beast of the Day: Goblins
No two goblins are alike. These wild gregarious beings appear most often as a collection of miscellaneous unwanted parts from other creatures and, indeed, perhaps that’s where goblins come from. They chatter constantly with each other, though to outsiders their language sounds like garbled nonsense. They eat all the time, and conduct themselves as if they are in a never ending circus parade.
Having goblins in your house can be fun at first, but after about ten minutes their presence tips everything toward chaos. You start to wonder where all your food went and why all your furniture has started shuffling around on its own.
Goblins also have the disconcerting ability to hide in impossibly small spaces. A goblin the size of a small child, for instance, could leap suddenly out of a teapot. So you see, goblins are among the least domestic of creatures and, as houseguests, a few goblins go a very long way.
PS: for goodness sake, whatever you do, don’t ever, ever let a goblin borrow your car! Even if they say they are just going to the store.
A Note from Ben: Gotta love goblins. When I was growing up, my dad helped in restoring the house/museum of Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley, who seemed to have an affinity for these odd creatures. See: Little Orphan Annie and Nine Little Goblins. I was pretty small when we visited that house, but you could definitely imagine goblins lurking about.
Which of the following types of children’s books are, in your opinion, the most difficult to write: Board books, picture books, easy books (for emerging readers), early chapter books, or middle grade fiction (older chapter books)? The question is, by its very definition, unfair. They are all incredibly hard to do well. Now me, I have always felt that easy books must be the hardest to write. You have to take into account not just the controlled vocabulary but also the fact that the story is likely not going to exactly be War and Peace (The Cat in the Hat is considered exceptional for a reason, people). And right on the heels of easy books and their level of difficulty is the early chapter book. You have a bit more freedom with that format, but not by much. For a really good one there should be plenty of fun art alongside a story that strikes the reader as one-of-a-kind. It has to talk about something near and dear to the heart of the kid turning the pages, and if you manage to work in a bit of a metaphor along the way? Then you, my dear, have done the near impossible. The last book I saw work this well was the extraordinary Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett, a book that to this day I consider a successor to Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t expect to see another book tread the same path for a while. After all, these kinds of stories are enormously difficult to write (or did I mention that already?). Enter Dory Fantasmagory. Oh. My. Goodness. Pick up my jaw from the floor and lob it my way because this book is AMAZING! Perfection of tone, plot, pacing, art, you name it. Author Abby Hanlon has taken a universal childhood desire (the wish of the younger sibling for the older ones to play with them) and turned it into a magnificent epic fantasy complete with sharp-toothed robbers, bearded fairy godmothers, and what may be the most realistic 6-year-old you’ll ever meet on a page. In a word, fantastico.
She’s six-years-old and the youngest of three. Born Dory, nicknamed Rascal, our heroine enjoys a rich fantasy life that involves seeing monsters everywhere and playing with her best imaginary friend Mary. She has to, you see, because her older siblings Luke and Violet refuse to play with her. One day, incensed by her incessant youth, Violet tells Rascal that if she keeps acting like a baby (her words) she’ll be snatched up by the sharp-toothed robber Mrs. Gobble Gracker (a cousin of Viola Swamp if the pictures are anything to go by). Rather than the intended effect of maturing their youngest sibling, this information causes Rascal to go on the warpath to defeat this new enemy. In the course of her playacting she pretends to be a dog (to escape Mrs. Gobble Gracker’s attention, naturally) and guess what? Luke, her older brother, has always wanted a dog! Suddenly he’s playing with her and Rascal is so ebullient with the attention that she refuses to change back. Now her mom’s upset, her siblings are as distant as ever, Mrs. Gobble Gracker may or may not be real, and things look bad for our hero. Fortunately, one uniquely disgusting act is all it will take to save the day and make things right again.
This is what I like about the world of children’s books: You never know what amazingly talented book is going to come from an author next. Take Abby Hanlon. A former teacher, Ms. Hanlon wrote the totally respectable picture book Ralph Tells a Story. It published with Amazon and got nice reviews. I read it and liked it but I don’t think anyone having seen it would have predicted its follow up to be Dory here. It’s not just the art that swept me away, though it is delightful. The tiny bio that comes with this book says that its creator “taught herself to draw” after she was inspired by her students’ storytelling. Man oh geez, I wish I could teach myself to draw and end up with something half as good as what Hanlon has here. But while I liked the art, the book resonates as beautifully as it does because it hits on these weird little kid truths that adults forget as they grow older. For example, how does Rascal prove herself to her siblings in the end? By being the only one willing to stick her hand in a toilet for a bouncy ball. THAT feels realistic. And I love Rascal’s incessant ridiculous questions. “What is the opposite of a sandwich?” Lewis Carroll and Gollum ain’t got nuthin’ on this girl riddle-wise.
For me, another part of what Dory Fantasmagory does so well is get the emotional beats of this story dead to rights. First off, the premise itself. Rascal’s desperation to play with her older siblings is incredibly realistic. It’s the kind of need that could easily compel a child to act like a dog for whole days at a time if only it meant garnering the attention of her brother. When Rascal’s mother insists that she act like a girl, Rascal’s loyalties are divided. On the one hand, she’ll get in trouble with her mom if she doesn’t act like a kid. On the other hand, she has FINALLY gotten her brother’s attention!! What’s more, Rascal’s the kind of kid who’ll get so wrapped up in imaginings that she’ll misbehave without intending to, really. Parents reading this book will identify so closely to Rascal’s parents that they’ll be surprised how much they still manage to like the kid when all is said and done (there are no truer lines in the world than when her mom says to her dad, “It’s been a looooooooong day”). But even as they roll their eyes and groan and sigh at their youngest’s antics, please note that Rascal’s mom and dad do leave at least two empty chairs at the table for her imaginary companions. That ain’t small potatoes.
It would have been simple for Hanlon to go the usual route with this book and make everything real to Abby without a single moment where she doubts her own imaginings. Lots of children’s books make use of that imaginative blurring between fact and fiction. What really caught by eye about Dory Fantasmagory, however, was the moment when Rascal realizes that in the midst of her storytelling she has lost her sister’s doll. She thinks, “Oh! Where did I put Cherry? I gave her to Mrs. Gobble Gracker, of course. But what did I REALLY ACTUALLY do with her?” This is the moment when the cracks in Rascal’s storytelling become apparent. She has to face facts and just for once see the world for what it is. And why? Because her older sister is upset. Rascal, you now see, would do absolutely anything for her siblings. She’d even destroy her own fantasy world if it meant making them happy.
Beyond the silliness and the jokes (of which there are plenty), Hanlon’s real talent here is how she can balance ridiculousness alongside honest-to-goodness heartwarming moments. If you look at the final picture in this book and don’t feel a wave of happy contentment then you, sir, have no soul. The book is a pure pleasure and bound to be just as amusing to kids as it is to adults. Like older works for children like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Dory Fantasmagory manages to make a personality type that many kids would find annoying in real life (in this case, a younger sibling) into someone not only understandable but likeable and sympathetic. If it encourages only one big brother or sister to play with their younger sibs then it will have justified its existence in the universe. And I think it shall, folks. I think it shall. A true blue winner.
Celebrate Reading This Fall with Thalia Kids’ Book Club at Symphony Space
The always popular Thalia Kids’ Book Club includes lively discussions between top children’s book authors and their fans, with special guests and a behind-the-scenes look at how books are written and produced. The interactive series is co-presented with the Bank Street Bookstore.
For more information and tickets, visit http://www.symphonyspace.org/tkbc .
Wednesday, September 10, 7 pm Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller: Nightmares! Tickets: $22 members, non-members $25 Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother, The Muppets), an actor, writer, and musician, teams up with New York Times bestselling author Kirsten Miller (Kiki Strike) to discuss their hilariously frightening middle-grade novel Nightmares!, the first book in a trilogy about a boy named Charlie and a group of kids who must face their fears to save their town. Ages 8 and up. Note: The special ticket price includes a copy of Nightmares! (retail priced at $16.99).Ticket holders will get a copy of the book at the door on September 10. Books will not be available for early pickup.
Sunday, September 21 at 1 pm Pseudonymous Bosch: Bad Magic Tickets: members $12, non-members $15
The mysterious author of the New York Times-bestselling The Name of This Book is Secret goes behind-the-scenes of his new adventure series Bad Magic. The author will be in conversation with Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm). Ages 9 to 12.
Tuesday, September 23 at 6 pm An Evening with Patricia Polacco Patricia Polacco, the beloved author and illustrator of Thank You, Mr. Falker, and dozens of other favorite picture books, discusses her life and award-winning works. The author and illustrator of more than 70 books for children, Polacco has won every award imaginable in children’s literature. Her latest book is Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, an inspired-by-true-life story about overcoming the fear of speaking in public. Ages 6 & up.
Sunday, October 19 at 1 pm An Afternoon with Lois Lowry Tickets: members $12, non-members $15
Reading and conversation with the treasured author of Number the Stars, The Giver, and many other favorite works for kids and teens. Number the Stars, the Newbery Medal-winning novel about the Occupation of Denmark in the Second World War, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Ages 9 and up.
Sunday, November 16 at 5 pm A Celebration of E. B. White All Tickets: $25 (ticket sales benefit First Book).
Stars of Broadway and Hollywood celebrate the work of the beloved writer whose humorous and poignant stories and poetry include Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Special guests include White’s granddaughter Martha White. Jarrett J. Krosoczka (The Lunch Lady series) will host the event, and actor David Hyde Pierce will also read from the stories. First Book, a non-profit organization, connects book publishers to community organizations to provide access to new books for children in need. Ages 7 and up.
Symphony Space is located at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street in Manhattan, New York City. The box office number is (212) 864-5400. A note to editors: Symphony Space Literary Department presenters are available for interviews. More detailed information about each group and photos are available upon request. Visit http://www.symphonyspace.org/tkbc for updated information.
I’m a chick who loves Star Wars. I’m not ashamed of the fact. Feminist icon Princess Leia? I can get behind that (gold bikini or no). So when I saw a galley for that AMAZING Star Wars children’s book coming out with art from the original concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, I was blown away. Here, Tony DiTerlizzi (who did the writing in the book) talks about the film and the art. Geeks unite!
I love that he mentions that moment with the two suns. For me, that was undoubtedly the most iconic scene in the original film. I just loved the realism of it. I am SO reading this to my kids. P.S. For a fun time read the rants about the “Luke, I am your father” line. Or, better yet, don’t.
Now until about a day ago when my niece did it, I didn’t actually know what the Ice Bucket Challenge was. Dav Pilkey takes it on using Flip-o-Rama. Good man.
Ball’s in your court now, CeCe.
I think it’s safe to say that I have never seen an author promote a cinematic adaptation of their award winning book as much as I’ve seen Ms. Lois Lowry talk up the latest film of The Giver. Here she does it again:
How famous is J.K. Rowling? So famous that when she writes an incidental character, NBC News is willing to report on that character getting her own song. According to Salon this is an original song written for Pottermore starring Celestina Warbeck, Molly Weasley’s favorite singer:
And speaking of all things Potter, the thing about learning that there’s a documentary out there called Mudbloods is that you can’t believe you hadn’t seen a film of that name before. It’s an awfully good idea to make a movie about the rise of the real world Quiddich movement. It’s not the first Harry Potter documentary of course but it’s a cute idea. Here’s the trailer:
Man. It would weird to be J.K. Rowling and see this, wouldn’t it? Here’s some additional info.
A little me stuff. I conducted a talk with Mara Rockliff and Eliza Wheeler for Bibliocommons in honor of their latest book The Grudge Keeper. It was recorded, but rather than show our lovely faces the video shows some slides of what we’re discussing. In case you’ve an interest you can take a gander at it. A lot of talking about the process of writing picture books can be found here:
As for the off-topic video, this one’s been making the rounds. It’s one of those videos where you go, “Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Ooooooh!”
Maybe it’s Common Core. Maybe not. I’m not always quite certain how far to place the blame in these cases. However you look at it, children’s nonfiction bios are getting weird these days. In some ways it’s quite remarkable. I’m the first one to say that nonfiction for kids is better now than it has ever been. I mean, when I was a young ‘un the only nonfiction I ever enjoyed was the Childhood of Famous Americans series. Not that it was actually nonfiction. I mean, it made these interesting suppositions about the youth of various famous people, complete with fake dialogue (I am the strictest anti-fake dialogue person you’ll ever meet). I enjoyed them the way I enjoyed fiction because, for the most part, they were fiction. Boy, you just couldn’t get away with that kind of thing today, right?
Meet three new “nonfiction” series of varying degrees of fictionalization and authenticity that caught my eye recently. I can’t exactly call them a trend. Rather, they’re simply interesting examples of how publishers are struggling to figure out how to tackle the notion of “nonfiction” and “high-interest” for kids. And it’s now our job to determine how successful they’ve become.
First up, let’s go back old Childhood of Famous Americans. They remain beloved, but they’re problematic. So what do you do when you have a product that slots into that category? You rebrand, baby!
Introducing History’s All-Stars from Aladdin (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Observe the following covers:
Look vaguely familiar? Pick up the book and you may find the words “Childhood of Famous American” in there individually, but never strung together in that particular order. The publication page only mentions that the books were previously published as far back as the 1950s (little wonder I’m worried about that Sacagawea title, yes). Yet the design, as you can see, isn’t far off so we had to wonder. Is it just the same series? A side-by-side comparison:
The publisher description calls this “a narrative biography” which is technically the accepted term for this kind of book. But there is no way you could use this for a report. They’re fiction, baby. A kind of fiction that doesn’t really have a designated place in a library collection at this time, though that could change. Which brings us to . . .
Ordinary People Change the World – A series by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
It’s the series bound to wreck havoc with catalogers everywhere! They look like Charles Schulz characters. They read like nonfiction . . . sorta? Kinda? Kirkus said of I Am Rosa Parks that it was, “A barely serviceable introduction with far more child appeal than substance.” Yet they’re bestsellers and visually incredibly appealing. Published by Dial (a Penguin imprint), the books were a risk that appears to have paid off in terms of dollars. In terms of sparking interest in these historical figures it’s also a success. But is it factual? Is it accurate? Does it stand up to scrutiny? Does it matter? Why shouldn’t it matter? You see the conundrum.
Finally, there’s a series coming out from Scholastic that looks like it might be along similar lines to these, but that I haven’t seen firsthand quite yet:
Called the When I Grow Up series, again we’re seeing historical figures as children. But maybe these are entirely accurate in their retellings? They’re Scholastic Readers, made to meet the needs of early readers. It’s the title “When I Grow Up” that raises the red flag for me. Because, you see, they’re written in the first person. And as a librarian who has had to field reference questions from first graders asking for “autobiographies”, this is problematic. If a book is entirely accurate but seems to come from the lips of its biographical subject, what is it worth in the pantheon of nonfiction?
People will always say that worrying along these lines is ridiculous. If the books are good and spark an interest, isn’t that enough? Why do you have to require strict accuracy at all times? My argument would be that when biographies are written for adults, people are meticulous (hopefully) about maintaining authenticity. Why should we hold our kids to different standards?
It’s a debate. These books just crack it open wide.
Along the same lines (WARNING: Shameless plug looming on the horizon!) I’ve gotten out the jumper cables and restarted the old Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL. Babies have been born and it is time to get back in the swing of things. On that note, on Saturday, September 6th I’ll be hosting one of children’s nonfiction all-stars in a conversation that might very well touch on this topic. Behold!
Personal Passions and Changes in Nonfiction for Children and Teens: A Conversation with Marc Aronson
Author, professor, speaker, editor and publisher by turns, Marc Aronson’s love of nonfiction and his conviction that young people can read carefully, examine evidence, and engage with new and challenging ideas informs everything he does. Join us for a conversation about the changing role of nonfiction for youth, and the special challenges and advantages of this one-of-a-kind genre.
Believe it or not, this year marks the 50th Anniversary of Roald Dahl’s beloved CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. This September, Penguin is celebrating with a week long Skype Tour of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre!
On the Skype tour:
• The Roald Dahl Museum’s Education Manager will lead your group around
the Museum virtually
• Kids will get a look inside Roald Dahl’s real Writing Hut, featuring
his famous chair and the unusual objects he kept on his desk
• Experience the world of Dahl and the inspiration behind his wonderful
• Participate in a Q&A with the Education Manager
Skype opportunities are available the week of Monday, September 29 – Friday, October 3, 2014 between 9:30am EST and 3:00pm EST/8:30am CST and 2:00pm CST/7:30am MST and 1:00pm MST/6:30am PST and 12:00pm PST.
I have never, in all my livelong days, been so proud of an illustrator. And Mary Engelbreit at that. For someone as well-established as she is the decision to create and sell a print with all proceeds going to the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund, which supports the family of Michael Brown, the Missouri teenager who was gunned down by police two weeks ago. Here’s what it looks like:
Next thing you know Ms. Engelbreit is being blasted by haters and trolls for this work. You can read about the controversy and her measured, intelligent response here.
While we are on the subject of Ferguson, Phil Nel created a list of links and resources for teachers who are teaching their students about the events. I was happy to see he included the impressive Storify #KidLitForJustice, that was assembled by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.
iNK (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) that group of thirty authors of nonfiction books for children recently came up with an interesting notion. Thinking about how to best reach out to teachers and homeschooling parents they’ve come up with The Nonfiction Minute—a daily posting of intriguing tidbits of nonfiction designed to stimulate curiosity, with a new one published online every weekday. Say they, “Each Nonfiction Minute website entry will include an audio file of the author reading his or her text, so students can actually hear the author’s voice, making the content accessible to less fluent readers. The audio frees us from the constraints of children’s reading vocabulary, which is what makes textbooks and many children’s books designed for the classroom so bland. We can concentrate on creating a sense of excitement about our subject matter for our young listeners, readers, and future readers.” Right now they’re in the the early stages of crowdfunding via IndieGoGo so head on over and give them your support if you can. It’s a neat notion.
I’m not a Dr. Who fan myself but that’s more because I simply haven’t watched the show rather than any particular dislike or anything. So I was very amused by the theory posed recently that Willie Wonka is the final regeneration of The Doctor. And they make a mighty strong case.
And speaking of cool, I almost missed it but it looks as though 3-D printers are creating three dimensional books for blind children these days. The classics are getting an all new look. Fascinating, yes? Thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the link.
This is a bit of a downer. I was always very impressed that Britain had taken the time to establish a funny prize for kids. Now we learn that the Roald Dahl Funny Prize has been put on hold. It’ll be back in 2016 but still. Bummer.
You know, I love The Minnesotan State Fair. I think it’s one of the best State Fairs in the nation. But even I have to admit that when it comes to butter sculptures, Iowa has Minnesota beat. The evidence?
Hard to compete with that. Thanks to Lisa S. Funkenspruherin for the link.
Today I am pleased as punch to premiere the brand spankin’ new book trailer for Dan Yaccarino’s middel grade novel debut Zorgoochi Intergalactic Pizza: Delivery of Doom (say that five times fast – I dare you). The video captures humor, pathos, and angry mushrooms. In other words, everything that makes life worth living.
As a mother who recently spent the better part of twenty hours in a car with a three-year-old and a three-month-old baby, I feel a special kinship with parents who have also engaged in the ultimate endurance sport: travel with children. If you feel no particular sympathy for those engaged in this activity that is because you have not experienced it firsthand yourself. But even when my daughter was projectile vomiting regularly and even when the breast pump tipped to one side spilling milk all over my pants and EVEN WHEN I found myself wedged in the backseat between two car seats trying to change my son’s diaper on my lap while parked, I could still feel grateful because at least it was just a vacation. It wasn’t like we were moving to a new town or anything. Because if I’d had to deal with the abject misery of my three-year-old on top of the vomit/milk/diapers I don’t know how my sanity would have remained intact. And yet, other parents do it all the time. Every day someone somewhere packs up all their worldly possessions, their pets, and their miserable offspring and heads for a whole new life. It’s daunting. You can’t help but admire their guts. And boy, you’d sure like to hand them a book that they could use to show their kids that as scary as a move like that can be, ultimately it’s going to be okay. Enter a book so sparse and spare you’d never believe it capable of the depth of feeling within its pages. Deborah Underwood lends her prodigious talents to Bad Bye, Good Bye while artist Jonathan Bean fills in the gaps. The effect is a book where every syllable is imbued with meaning, yet is as much a beautiful object as it is a useful too.
“Bad day, Bad box” says the book. On the page, a boy wrestles with a moving man for possession of a cardboard box, doomed to be loaded into the nearby moving van. The boy, we see, is in no way happy about this move. He clearly likes his home and his best friend, who has come with her mother to bid him goodbye. On the road he and his little sister pitch seven different kinds of catfits before sinking into a kind of resigned malaise. Time heals all wounds, though, and with the help of a motel swimming pool, diners, and multiple naps, they arrive in their new town in the early evening. As the family and movers pile boxes and other things into the new house, the boy meets another kid who just happens to live next door. Together they collect lightning bugs and star gaze until that “bad bye” at the beginning of the book morphs into a far more comfortable “good bye” when the new friends bid each other goodnight.
This isn’t Underwood’s first time at the rodeo. The art of the restrained use of language is sort of her bread and butter. Anyone who has seen her work her magic in The Quiet Book is aware that she says loads with very little. I sincerely hope someone out there has been bugging her to write an easy book for kids. The talent of synthesizing a story down to its most essential parts is a rare one. In this book there is a total of 57 words (or so). These usually appear in two word pairs and by some extraordinary bit of planning they also rhyme. We begin with all “bads”. It goes “Bad day, Bad box / Bad mop, Bad blocks / Bad truck, Bad guy, Bad wave, Bad bye.” The book then slips into neutral terms as the initial misery wears off. Then, as we near the end the “goods” come out. “Good tree, Good sky / Good friend, Good bye.” Such a nice transition. You could argue that it’s pretty swift considering the depths of misery on display in the early pages, and that’s not too far off, but kids are also pretty resilient. Besides, motel swimming pools do indeed go a long way towards modifying behavior.
Jonathan Bean’s one to watch. Always has been. From the moment he was doing Wendy Orr’s Mokie & Bik books to the nativity animalia title “One Starry Night” to all those other books in his roster, he proved himself a noteworthy artist. Watching his work come out you have the distinct sense that this is the calm before the storm. The last minute before he wins some big award and starts fielding offers from the biggest names in the biz. In this book I wouldn’t necessarily have said the art was by Bean had I not seen his name spelled out on the cover. It’s a slightly different style for him. Not just pencil and watercolors anymore. A style, in fact, that allows him to try and catch a bit of Americana in the story’s pages. When Underwood writes something like “Big hair, White deer” it’s Bean’s prerogative to determine what that means exactly. His solution to that, as well as other sections, is layering. Time and landscapes are layered on top of one another. America, from diners and speed limit signs to windmills and weathervanes, display scenes familiar to traveling families. A great artist gives weight and meaning to the familiar. Jonathan Bean is a great artist.
Now the cover of this book is also well worth noting. I don’t say that about a lot of picture books either. Generally speaking a picture book’s cover advertises the book to the best of its ability but only occasionally warrants close examination. Jonathan Bean, however, isn’t afraid to convey pertinent information through his cover. In fact, if you look at it closely you’ll see that he’s managed to encapsulate the entire story from one flap to another. Begin at the end of the book. Open it up. If you look at the inside back flap the very first thing you’ll see underneath the information about the author and the illustrator is the image of the boy in the story straining against his seatbelt, his face a grimace of pure unadulterated rage. Now follow the jacket to the back cover of the book and you see the boy crying in one shot and then looking miserably back in another. The weather is alternating between a starry night sky and a windy rainy day. Move onto the front cover and the rain is still there but soon it turns to clear skies and the boy’s attitude morphs into something distinctly more pleasant. In fact, by the time you open the book to the front flap he’s lifting his hands in a happy cheer. The attitude adjustment could not be more stark and it was done entirely in the span of a single book jacket. Not the kind of thing everyone would notice, and remarkable for that fact alone.
People are always talking about “the great American novel”, as if that’s an attainable ideal. We don’t ever hear anyone talk about “the great American picture book”. I don’t know that Bad Bye, Good Bye would necessarily fit the bill anyway. This is more the picture book equivalent of On the Road than To Kill a Mockingbird, after all. It’s a road trip book, albeit a safe and familiar one. For children facing the frightening prospect of the unknown (and let’s face it – adults hardly do much better) it’s good to have a book that can offer a bit of comfort. A reassurance that no matter how things change, good can follow bad just as day follows night. They are not alone in this uprooting. Somewhere out there, in another car, with another family, there might be a kid just as miserable as they are and for the exact same reason. And like all humans this knowledge ends up being comforting and necessary. Therefore give all your love to Bad Bye, Good Bye. It has necessary comfort to spare.
On shelves now.
Like This? Then Try:
A New Room for William by Sally Grindley
Herman’s Letter by Tom Percival
The Good-Pie Party by Liz Garton Scanlon
Alexander, Who Is Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst
Tim’s Big Move by Anke Wagner
Misc: And I interviewed Ms. Underwood about the book here.