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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
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I’ve been thinking a lot about chaos lately.
I don’t know if it’s the state of the world today, the upcoming election, or just the fact that I live in a house with a two-year-old and a five-year-old, but in this atmosphere a woman’s thoughts turn to the power of complete and utter anarchy. That’s been on my mind thanks, in large part, to some classic book rereleases I’ve been enjoying this year. Older picture books. Classic picture books. Picture books that give no outward indication of the fine kerfuffles enclosed within. So today, we pay homage to those titles that most successfully tap into the heart of the proper fiasco in all its wild, untamed, unapologetic glory.
On October 4th, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released the 75th Anniversary edition of The Complete Adventures of Curious George. This isn’t the most groundbreaking bit of news. Five years ago they issued the 70th Anniversary edition, and the odds are good that five years from now we’ll have in our hands the 80th Anniversary edition. Still, I was very pleased to get my hands on a copy. I’d never read ALL the original Rey Georges to my offspring, though I was pretty sure I knew all the elements that wouldn’t fly in a picture book today. Sniffing ether? Check. Smoking pipes? Check. Getting kidnapped out of colonial Africa by an unapologetic white guy in a big hat? Check check and check (makes you really appreciate Furious George Goes Bananas sometimes, don’t it?). Yep, I was pretty sure I knew all the ins and outs. Nothing could surprise me.
Then I read Curious George Gets a Medal.
If you are unfamiliar with this particular George adventure, it reads a lot like an older episode of The Simpsons. The first part of the book is all about wacky hijinks and the second part is more staid and serious. The two storylines also have absolutely nothing to do with one another, and it was this first part of the book that really hooked my attention.
Written in 1957, the book begins with George receiving a letter while The Man With the Yellow Hat takes off for that unnamed job of his. Inspired to write his own missive, the ape locates a fountain pen and attempts to fill it directly with ink using a funnel. It looks something like this:
So far so good . . .
Did I mention the book was written in 1957? There are few pleasures in this life quite as magnificent as watching a 21st century child act superior to George, as if they (or for that matter, their parents) had any idea how to fill a fountain pen themselves. George tries to clean up the ink with a blotter (again, a bit on the dated side there) and when that doesn’t work he goes and gets some soap powder. Soap powder, I tell you! Then he gets a hose and begins the process of slowly drowning his own house. To get the water out he attempts to purloin a local pump belonging to a farm, but in doing so manages to let loose all the farm’s pigs before taking off with a cow as well.
It’s the escalation of a fiasco that is part of its pleasure. George has always traditionally stood in for the young reader, and I’d go so far as to say that this is his most impressive bit of chaos in any of his books. Larceny, vandalism, criminal mischief, and he gets a medal by the book’s end (the title needs a spoiler alert). Reading this book, I began to wonder what the earliest examples might be of picture book authors and illustrators going hog wild on the chaotic front. Interestingly The Cat in the Hat, himself a walking id, was also published in 1957. If you like, you might choose to read something into what was happening in America during that time.
Another collection of picture books, this time released as recently as on September 6th, is Richard Scarry’s Busytown Treasury. Since we Birds run more of a Cars and Truck and Things That Go household over here, I was interested in looking at some of these very different Scarry tales. Happily, I was not ready for Scarry’s own particular brand of chaotic humor. Nothing, and I mean nothing, properly prepared me for A Day at the Fire Station.
Now to properly appreciate this book, it is best to watch how Scarry builds and builds and builds the frenetic energy of the piece. Two little raccoons named Drippy and Sticky enter a fire station. For whatever reason, they start to paint the place with the firetrucks and firefighters still in it. Mild paint splatter ensues. This is topped a few pages later by the scene of an accident that the firefighters must attend. It is, and here you begin to get a glimpse of Scarry really getting into this, a crash between a cement mixer, a honey truck, and a haywagon. BUT WAIT! There’s more. The firefighters return to the station, slip on the paint job (seriously, who paints a floor?), and we get this rather glorious scene.
But do not for one moment THINK we are even close to done. Scarry’s just warming up, folks.
The firefighters immediately get another call, so even though they’ve just potentially wrecked millions of dollars’ worth of equipment they roll their firetrucks out the door AGAIN (which, for the record, are still covered in cement/honey/hay) and go put out a pizza fire. When they return everything seems calm. Like the eye of a storm.
And that’s when the strawberry jam truck gets hit by Roger Rhino’s wrecking crane.
Please enjoy what has to be the most sarcastic sentence in any Richard Scarry book ever:
I will leave you now with the last image. It’s like Carrie‘s prom or something.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you create a fiasco.
There are other, more recent books, that follow in this wacked out tradition, of course. I have a particular fondness for the paint-based insanity to be found in I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont and David Catrow (extra points for the nude full-body painting).
But what are your favorites? What books work as a kind of catharsis in this age of televised insanity? Because as strange as it may sound, we need picture books that tap into our most extreme natures. They tell us that even if the world around you is falling apart at the seams, isn’t it nice to know that after all is said and done, every mess will get cleaned up eventually?
So often a cover reveal is just that. A reveal. Here’s your cover, batta bing, badda boom.
Today is different.
Today, we’re shaking things up a tad. But a little backstory first.
About half a year ago I had the pleasure of speaking at the MD/DE/WV SCBWI Conference in Frederick, Maryland. I like doing SCBWI Conferences. The people there are open and fun and often have these great ideas I don’t see elsewhere. I do about one a year, and this one was particularly lovely. In the course of things I met a woman with a debut middle grade coming out in 2017. She asked if I would do a cover reveal for her, and I said sure thing. Why not? Then she sent me the book jacket.
Friends, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but some people are born with book jacket luck. If you’re an author, you have no control over the jackets your well-meaning publishers plaster on your books. Sometimes you luck out but all too often you just have to grin and bear whatever cover they slap on your baby (and God help you if it’s sepia-toned). But this young woman, Leah Henderson, need not worry. Surely, she was tapped upon the noggin at her christening by some good book jacket fairy because the artist of her cover is none other than John Jay Cabuay, the artist behind this year’s jacket for As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson. Baby, remember her name.
But it doesn’t stop there. Leah was nice enough to also share the full wrap jacket both without the text:
And with the text:
Beautiful. Now here’s the description:
An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father in this captivating debut novel laced with magical realism.
Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined. With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?
One Shadow on the Wall is about love and loss, family and friendship, and creating your own future—even if it’s hard to do.
Now if you know me then you know that I don’t go in for giveaways. I don’t have anything against them. They’re just not a tool in my belt, as it were. But Leah came to me with an interesting proposition. She has a Twitter giveaway going on with this book, and it’s been done with the specific purpose of promoting her cover artist. She’s not giving away her galley (the book comes out June 6, 2017 and they haven’t made the ARCs yet). She has something else in mind. As she puts it,
“I wanted to find a way to give a nod to the illustrator and his work. And since fellow Atheneum author, Jason Reynolds’ MG debut AS BRAVE AS YOU is also by John Jay Cabuay, I thought it might be a perfect way to highlight both of them and my love of MG, since my ARCs won’t be ready.
So I thought:
For a chance to win a signed copy of fellow Atheneum author, Jason Reynolds’ MG debut AS BRAVE AS YOU and a few pieces of ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL swag, simply share this post on Twitter mentioning why you love/read middle grade using the hashtag: #whyMGlit.
I’ll pick my favorite response around noon EST on Nov. 10th.”
That’s a pretty good deal. Reynolds’ book has been getting a lot of Newbery buzz, so you’d be getting a great book of 2016, and a leg up on what may well be the most beautifully jacketed book of 2017.
Some background information on Leah herself:
About the author
Leah has always loved getting lost in stories. When she is not scribbling down her characters’ adventures, she is off on her own, exploring new spaces and places around the world. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University and currently calls Washington D.C. home.
You can find Leah on Twitter at @LeahsMark. And, if interested, can add her book to your Goodreads bookshelf.
Pre-orders are up too:
Indiebound : http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781481462952?aff=simonsayscom
Amazon : https://www.amazon.com/One-Shadow-Wall-Leah-Henderson/dp/1481462954/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1476645842&sr=8-1&keywords=one+shadow+on+the+wall
Barnes and Noble : http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/one-shadow-on-the-wall-leah-henderson/1123862060?ean=9781481462952
Thanks to Leah for the cover reveal, and much luck with your book!
It only comes but once a year. But when it comes, boy howdy is it cool!
The press release below reveals everything you need to know, but I just wanted to add that the new website with its searchable capabilities is awesome. Plus, I just saw this adorable El Deafo video and had to share:
Now make your own!
Contact: James Kennedy
Online PDF for social sharing: http://bit.ly/2dONfEe
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
90-SECOND NEWBERY FILM FESTIVAL OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS
Festival for kid-made films enters its sixth year
CHICAGO, IL—The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival—an annual celebration of kids’ creativity in which young filmmakers create short movies telling the entire stories of Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor books in roughly 90 seconds—is now open for submissions for its sixth year. The deadline for entries is January 7, 2017 (special deadlines for San Antonio, TX (12/2/2016) and Asheville, NC (2/8/2017)).
The film festival was founded by children’s author James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and screens every year to packed houses at libraries and theaters in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Boston, Portland, Minneapolis, San Antonio, and other cities.
Ever since 1922, the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal has been recognized as the most prestigious award in children’s literature. Standout honorees include Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Louis Sachar’s Holes, and Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. But according to Kennedy, “it turns out that any book, no matter how worthy and somber, becomes hilarious when it’s compressed to only 90 seconds.”
The goal, says Kennedy, is not for kids to create mere book trailers or video book reports. The challenge is to compress the entire plot of the book in under two minutes, often with a transformative twist. Past entries include Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Her Father done in the style of a James Bond movie and E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web reimagined as a horror movie. Kids use many other styles as well, including claymation, puppet shows, musicals, silent films, and Minecraft. Filmmakers may adapt any Medal– or Honor–winning book. Participants should be under 21, but help from enthusiastic adults is allowed.
For the past six years, the best 90-Second Newbery movies have been shownat special-event screenings at venues such as the New York Public Library, San Francisco Public Library, Minneapolis Public Library, and elsewhere. These screenings are co-hosted by Kennedy and other children’s authors. This year, James will be joined at many screenings by Keir Graff, whose latest middle-grade novel, The Matchstick Castle, publishes on January 10. Graff, the Executive Editor of Booklist, is a frequent 90-Second Newbery co-host and collaborator.
The Chicago screening will be April 1, 2017 at 3pm at the Vittum Theater (1012 N. Noble).
More details may be found at www.90secondnewbery.com. The website features many of the videos received throughout the last five years, as well as further resources for teachers and filmmakers. To receive more information, or to schedule an interview with James Kennedy, call James Kennedy at 773-351-7452 or email him at email@example.com.
SIXTH ANNUAL 90-SECOND NEWBERY SCREENING DATES
Updates to this schedule will be posted at http://90secondnewbery.com/events
January 21, 2017 – SAN ANTONIO, TX
Hosted by James Kennedy and Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl). At the Charlene McCombs Empire Theatre (224 E. Houston St., San Antonio, TX). 3 pm.
February 11, 2017 – TACOMA, WA
Hosted by James Kennedy, Doug Mackey, and Keir Graff. At the Tacoma Public Library (1102 Tacoma Ave S). 3-5 pm.
February 12, 2017 – PORTLAND, OR
Hosted by James Kennedy, Keir Graff, and Dale Basye (Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go series). At the Hollywood Theatre (4122 NE Sandy Blvd.). Sponsored by Portland Community Media. 4:30 pm.
February 17, 2017 – OAKLAND, CA
Hosted by James Kennedy, Keir Graff, and Marcus Ewert (Mummy Cat). At Rockridge Branch of the Oakland Public Library (5366 College Ave, Oakland, CA). 7 pm.
February 18, 2017 – SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Hosted by James Kennedy, Keir Graff, and Marcus Ewert (Mummy Cat). At the San Francisco Public Library main branch (100 Larkin Street) in the Koret Auditorium. 4-6 pm.
February 25, 2017 – MINNEAPOLIS, MN
Hosted by James Kennedy, Keir Graff, and Kelly Barnhill (The Witch’s Boy). At the Minneapolis Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall) in Pohlad Hall. 3-5 pm.
March 11, 2017 – NEW YORK, NY
Hosted by James Kennedy, Keir Graff, and a co-host TBA. At the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (5th Ave at 42nd St., New York, NY) in the Bartos Forum. 3-5 pm.
March 12, 2017 – BROOKLYN, NY
Hosted by James Kennedy, Keir Graff, and a co-host TBA. At Central Library (10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY) in the Dweck Auditorium. 2-4 pm.
March 19, 2017 – ROCHESTER, NY
Hosted by James Kennedy and Charles Benoit (Snow Job). At the Dryden Theatre at the Eastman Museum (900 East Ave, Rochester, NY). 2-4 pm.
April 1, 2017 – CHICAGO, IL
Hosted by James Kennedy and Keir Graff. At the Vittum Theater (1012 N Noble St.). 3-5 pm.
April 22, 2017 – ASHEVILLE, NC
Hosted by James Kennedy and Alan Gratz (The League of Seven series). At the Pack Memorial Library (67 Haywood St., Asheville, NC). 1-3 pm.
April 30, 2017 – BOSTON AREA
Hosted by James Kennedy and M.T. Anderson (Feed, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing) and Jack Gantos (Dead End in Norvelt, Joey Pigza Loses Control). At the Brookline Public Library (361 Washington Street, Brookline, MA). 2-4 pm.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Reviews 2016
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Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution
By Jonathan Tweet
Illustrated by Karen Lewis
Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan)
On shelves now
Travel back with me through the Earth’s history, back into the farthest reaches of time when the sand we walk today was still rock and the oceans of an entirely salination. Back back back we go to, oh about 13 years ago, I’d say. I was a library grad student, and had just come to the shocking realization that the children’s literature class I’d taken on a lark might actually yield a career of some sort. We were learning the finer points of book reviewing (hat tip to K.T. Horning’s From Cover to Cover there) and to hone our skills each of us was handed a brand new children’s book, ready for review. I was handed Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters, illustrated by Lauren Stringer. It was good, so I came up with some kind of a review. It was, now that I think about it, the very first children’s book review I ever wrote (talk about evolution). And I remember at the time thinking (A) How great it was to read a picture book on the topic and (B) That with my limited knowledge of the field there were probably loads and loads of books out there about evolution for small children. Fun Fact: There aren’t. Actually, in the thirteen years between then and now I’ve not seen a single evolution themed picture book come out since the Peters/Stringer collaboration. Until now. Because apparently two years before I ran across Our Family Tree author Jonathan Tweet was trying to figure out why there were so few books on the subject on the market. It took him a while, but he finally got his thoughts in order and wrote this book. Worth the wait and possibly the only book we may need on the subject. For a while, anyway.
Let’s start with a fish. We’ll call her Grandmother Fish and she lived “a long, long, long, long, long time ago.” She did familiar fishy things like “wiggle” and “chomp”. And then she had ancestors and they turned out to be everything from sharks to ray-finned fish to reptiles. That’s when you meet Grandmother Reptile, who lived “a long, long, long, long time ago.” From reptiles we get to mammals. From mammals to apes. And from apes to humans. And with each successive iteration, they carry with them the traits of their previous forms. Remember how Grandmother Fish could wiggle and chomp? Well, so can every subsequent ancestor, with some additional features as well. The final image in the book shows a wide range of humans and they can do the things mentioned in the book before. Backmatter includes a more complex evolutionary family tree, a note on how to use this book, a portion “Explaining Concepts of Evolution”, a guide “to the Grandmothers, Their Actions, and Their Grandchildren for your own information to help you explain evolution to your child”, and finally a portion on “Correcting Common Errors” (useful for both adults and kids).
What are the forbidden topics of children’s literature? Which is to say, what are the topics that could be rendered appropriate for kids but for one reason or another never see the light of day? I can think of a couple off the top of my head, an evolution might be one of them. To say that it’s controversial in this, the 21st century, is a bit odd, but we live in odd times. No doubt the book’s creators have already received their own fair share of hate mail from folks who believe this content is inappropriate for their children. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that it ended up on ALA’s Most Challenged list of books in the future. Yet, as I mentioned before, finding ANY book on this subject, particularly on the young end of the scale, is near impossible. I am pleased that this book is filling such a huge gap in our library collections. Now if someone would just do something for the 7-12 year olds . . .
When you are simplifying a topic for children, one of the first things you need to figure out from the get-go is how young you want to go. Are you aiming your book at savvy 6-year-olds or bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 3-year-olds? In the case of Grandmother Fish the back-story to the book is that creator Jonathan Tweet was inspired to write it when he couldn’t find a book for his daughter on evolution. We will have to assume that his daughter was on the young end of things since the final product is very clearly geared towards the interactive picture book crowd. Readers are encouraged to wiggle, crawl, breathe, etc. and the words proved capable of interesting both my 2-year-old son and my 5-year-old daughter. One would not know from this book that the author hadn’t penned picture books for kids before. The gentle repetition and clincher of a conclusion suggest otherwise.
One problem with turning evolution into picture book fare is the danger of confusing the kids (of any age, really). If you play it that our ancestors were monkeys, then some folks might take you seriously. That’s where the branching of the tree becomes so interesting. Tweet and Lewis try hard to make it clear that though we might call a critter “grandmother” it’s not literally that kind of a thing. The problem is that because the text is so simple, it really does say that each creature had “many kinds of grandchildren.” Explaining to kids that this is a metaphor and not literal . . . well, good luck with that. You may find yourself leaning heavily on the “Correcting Common Errors” page at the end of the book, which aims to correct common misconceptions. There you will find gentle corrections to false statements like “We started as fish” or “Evolution progresses to the human form” or “We descended from one fish or pair of fish, or one early human or pair of early humans.” Of these Common Errors, my favorite was “Evolution only adds traits” since it was followed by the intriguing corrective, “Evolution also take traits away. Whales can’t crawl even though they’re descended from mammals that could.” Let’s talk about the bone structure of the dolphin’s flipper sometime, shall we? The accompanying “Explaining Concepts of Evolution” does a nice job of helping adults break down ideas like “Natural Selection” and “Artificial Selection” and “Descent with Modification” into concepts for young kids. Backmatter-wise, I’d give the book an A+. In terms of the story itself, however, I’m going with a B. After all, it’s not like every parent and educator that reads this book to kids is even going to get to the backmatter. I understand the decisions that led them to say that each “Grandmother” had “grandchildren” but surely there was another way of phrasing it.
This isn’t the first crowd-sourced picture book I’ve ever seen, but it may be one of the most successful. The reason is partly because of the subject matter, partly because of the writing, and mostly because of the art. Bad art sinks even the most well-intentioned of picture books out there. Now I don’t know the back-story behind why Tweet paired with illustrator Karen Lewis on this book, but I hope he counts his lucky stars every day for her participation. First and foremost, he got an illustrator who had done books for children before (Arturo and the Navidad Birds probably being her best known). Second, her combination of watercolors and digital art really causes the pages to pop. The colors in particular are remarkably vibrant. It’s a pleasure to watch them, whether close up for one-on-one readings, or from a distance for groups. Whether on her own or with Tweet’s collaboration, her clear depictions of the evolutionary “tree” is nice and fun. Plus, it’s nice to see some early humans who aren’t your stereotypical white cavemen with clubs, for once.
I look at this book and I wonder what its future holds. Will a fair number of public school libraries purchase it? They should. Will parents like Mr. Tweet be able to find it when they wander aimlessly into bookstores and libraries? One can hope. And is it any good? It is. But you only have my word on that one. Still, if great grand numbers of perfect strangers can band together to bring a book to life on a topic crying out for representation on our children’s shelves, you’ve gotta figure the author and illustrator are doing something right. A book that meets and then exceeds expectations, tackling a tricky subject, in a divisive era of our history, to the betterment of all. Not too shabby for a fish.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Oh, where to begin.
So the other day, I got to thinking that my kids have had an insufficient dosage of Tomi Ungerer in their daily diets. Ungerer, if you are unfamiliar with him, has always been the enfant terrible of children’s literature. Having dared to publish children’s books for kids at the same time as his wildly erotic adult art for (obviously) adults, he was run out on a rail from the States, though he continued to make his books. The only story of his I’d ever read the children is Crictor, and I was toying with the notion of showing them No Kiss for Mother (which I don’t think I’m emotionally cohesive enough to tackle at this time) or The Beast of Monsieur Racine. In the end I took the easy route out and borrowed The Three Robbers from the library (partially inspired by that Salon post about the kid who only like to read about “bad guys”).
Next thing I know, Phaidon is republishing eight of Tomi’s books in this new, gorgeous, collection called Tomi Ungerer: A Treasury of 8 Books.
But even better than that is what they’re planning for Tomi’s 85th birthday. On November 28th (and they’re announcing this widely so I guess it won’t be a surprise) Phaidon will hand to the man a virtual birthday tribute “filled with drawing and written messages from friends and fans. The birthday greetings will be displayed on a dedicated page on the Phaidon website — www.phaidon.com/CelebrateTomi — and then printed and presented to Tomi for his birthday.”
They’re accepting entries for this right now, librarians, artists, writers, and fans. Do you want to submit? Submit! [looking at you, Sergio Ruzzier] Definitely check out some of the submissions so far. I like the Eric Carle, the Milton Glaser, and the suggestive one from Sarah Illenberger, but the Jean Jullien is my favorite by far.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Arnold Lobel
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Good morning! I’d like to begin today by thanking the good people of Foundation 65 for allowing me to moderate a panel discussion last night with Duncan Tonatiuh, Grace Lin, Matt de la Pena, Janice Harrington, and Steve Sheinkin. Foundation 65 has created this cool program where these authors are visiting every single child in the Evanston, IL public school system this week. I helped kick it off, which was lovely. In this image you’ll see me in a rare moment of not lolling all over the podium (there was no seat high enough for me to sit on, and my heels were killing me).
Travis just offered a fascinating look at the recently released Follett statistics of what children around the country are checking out. It’s simultaneously unsurprising and disheartening. If you’re into that feeling, check the list out here.
Gotta hand it to Bookriot. When they came up with a list of 9 Kids Books That Should Be In Print, they did their due diligence. No mention of Hey, Pizza Man, but otherwise impeccable. I have a copy of Trouble for Trumpets of my very own, so I can attest to its awesomeness, and The Church Mouse should definitely find a new audience. Well written, Danika Ellis.
Two Harold and the Purple Crayon related posts appeared around the same time last week. The first was from The Ugly Volvo (a.k.a. my replacement for The Toast) called Harold’s Mother and the Purple Crayon. The other was Phil Nel’s piece How to Read Harold in which he reveals the possible subject of his next book. There are also some pretty keen links at the end. Go to it!
This one’s neat. Middle school teachers Julie Sternberg and Marcie Colleen have collected short audio clips in which storytellers share memories from their childhood. They write,
“For each memory, we propose writing prompts for students as well as questions for classroom discussion. Topics range from moments when storytellers have experienced bullying or been bullies themselves; to the first time they remember doing something they knew to be wrong; to difficulties in their home lives; to the effects of keeping secrets. We hope each story helps kids think through issues that can be difficult to address but impossible to avoid.”
The site is called Play Me a Memory and contributors include everyone from Sarah Weeks and Kat Yeh to Michael Buckley and Matthew Cordell. If you’re looking for writing prompts to share with kids, this site may prove inspirational.
This is neat:
It’s like fanart for a really recent picture book. Cool stuff, Migy.
I know Dana Sheridan says that artist Aliisa Lee’s illustrations of classic folktale characters are “manga characters”, but I think the adaptations go a bit further. These creations look particularly Pokemon-esque. I could see me capturing one in a public space. Couldn’t you?
Now for a double shot of espresso/adorableness:
Thanks to Marjorie Ingall for the link.
I outsource some of my knowledge of children’s literature to those better suited than I. For example, if you were to ask me what the best Christian books series out there might be, I’d probably hem and haw and then excuse myself to the ladies room where I would attempt to climb out the window. Author/illustrator Aaron Zenz, however, knows his stuff. Recently he said that the best series is Adam Raccoon and that the books are now officially back-in-print. FYI, Christian reader type folks!
Just the loveliest piece was written recently at the Horn Book by Sergio Ruzzier about his time looking at the work of Arnold Lobel and James Marshall at the Kerlan Collection. And though I might take issue with the idea that Marshall’s humans were less charming than his animals, the piece is an utterly fascinating look at the process of the two men.
And for our last image of the day, we turn once again to good old upcoming Halloween:
Reminds me of the time I went to the Dan Quayle Museum and saw the Fabergé Egg that showed him being sworn in as VP (<— all that I just said is true). Thanks to Marci for the link.
I’ve grown a bit fond of the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe lately. Coming to it a bit late (I believe we’re on season 4 now, yes?) it took a Pop Culture Happy Hour episode to explain to me why the series was as groundbreaking and important as it was. This is advantage of having a five-year-old. When something like this comes up you can pretend you’re watching a new series for them when, in fact, you’re just curious for yourself. If you’re unfamiliar with Steven Universe I’ll try to sum it up quickly: In this world there are superhero female characters called “Gems”. Steven, our hero, is half-Gem, half-human, which is unique. The show then proceeds to upset stereotypical notions of gender and love.
If you pay any attention to the New York Times bestseller list, you might have noticed this book on the Children’s Chapter Books list a week or two ago:
It’s a Steven Universe book. There are a couple of them out there, written for kids to wildly varying degrees of competency. This one I intend to read soon. It got me to thinking, when I discovered it. After all, children’s literature and Steven Universe fuel one another in a more direct manner. The world of SU has television shows, movies, and bands that are unique and often very funny. They also have their own literature. For example, a common romance/scifi novel might look like this:
And children’s books are particularly interesting. When Steven is banned from television for 1,000 years he finds that he really likes reading. Two series in particular catch his attention: The No Home Boys and The Spirit Morph Saga. I just want to take a look at these books because I’m always interested in how children’s books are portrayed in works of pop culture.
The No Home Boys series is written by Dustylegs Jefferson. The original series apparently came out in the 1930s and was about two boys on the run, solving mysteries along the way. Sounds a bit like The Boxcar Children meets Hardy Boys. You might throw The Black Stallion in there as well, though, since there was also apparently a “disastrous graphic novel adaptation” of the book as well. One of the characters on the show writes this review of it:
“Some fans turned up their noses at the new adventures of the No Home Boys. The old series was a down to earth travelogue – a gritty portrayal of growing up during the Great Depression. The new series was full of magic demons, talking animals and ninjas. Sure it didn’t have the same campfire charm, but the expanded “Hoboverse” had much more character development and backstory for readers to sink their teeth into.”
To me this sounds like what happened with more recent Black Stallion books, though the graphic novel adaptation throws it squarely into the Hardy Boys camp as well. Whatever the case, I love the thought put into the series.
The Spirit Morph Saga is a bit different. It’s a multi-book series about a girl who discovers that she is a witch, gains a familiar (a talking falcon named Archimicarus), and attempts to rescue her father, who was kidnapped by a one-eyed man. Though some folks online compare the book to His Dark Materials, it bears far more similarities to Harry Potter and, in a strange way, Twilight. An entire episode of Steven Universe is based on the fact that at the end of the series the falcon turns into a man and marries Lisa in a big multi-chapter sequence. Connie, Steven’s best friend, is incensed by this. It’s rather delightful to watch.
Alas, Steven was granted his television rights again (though the set seems to be destroyed on a regular basis) so no new book series beyond these two have come up recently. There was, however, a trip to the local library. It was pretty standard stuff. A librarian was shushing the kids all the time. Computers were minimal. It looks like nothing so much as a library that has failed to get additional funding (which, considering the economy of Beach City, is not unbelievable). Ah well.
Here’s hoping for more faux children’s books series in the future. In the end, they say more about perceptions of children’s literature than anything else. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Naturally you know what tomorrow is.
You don’t? Doggone calendars. You’d think they’d have the wherewithal to remember that October 21st is Ivy & Bean Day. And now here’s the interesting part. You heard it here first, folks, but Ivy & Bean are going to have . . . AN ELEVENTH BOOK!!
Don’t believe me? Hear it from Ms. Annie Barrows herself:
When I finished Ivy and Bean Take the Case, the tenth book in the series, I figured it was time to take a break from my girls. Why? Because ten books are a lot. Ten books are bigger than my head. Ten books are really heavy. Ten books are enough. Besides, I was writing a novel for grownups. I was busy.
When my novel came out and I toured for it, I couldn’t help noticing that grownup audiences are incredibly well-behaved. No one falls out of her chair. No one pulls his neighbor’s hair. No one cries. No one has to go to the bathroom right now. No one asks me how old I am. But also: no one asks me what my favorite color is. No one wants to hear interesting facts about being eaten by squids. No one laughs so hard she has to go to the bathroom right now.
I missed kids.
One day when I was sick of the thing I was supposed to be working on, I wrote a scene about Ivy and Bean and one of those weird dolls that’s supposed to look like a real baby. I laughed and put it away. A little while later, I wrote another scene, about quicksand this time. I laughed some more. Eventually, it occurred to me that
(a) I was having fun
(b) I missed little kids
(c) A lot of readers wanted another Ivy and Bean book
(d) Why didn’t I just go ahead and write one?
So I did.
Sophie Blackall had her own two cents to add.
The number one question I get asked in school visits is, ‘WHEN will there be a new Ivy and Bean???’ For years, I have left behind a trail of frustrated second graders, shaking their collective fists. Finally I’ll be able to hold my head high and say, ‘Soon, my friends. SOON.’ You have no idea what a relief this will be. Plus I get to work with Annie and Victoria again. Which is so much fun it isn’t really work at all.
In the meantime, Ivy and Bean haven’t just been lying around eating candy. They are hard at work advocating for vaccination against measles and will be appearing in a hilarious (and informative) comic book, in association with The American Academy of Pediatrics and The Measles and Rubella Initiative. 375,000 copies of the books, Ivy and Bean vs. The Measles will be distributed to doctors’ offices across the country this Fall in English and Spanish language editions!
This is, insofar as I can tell, big news. I have never, ever seen a publisher with the guts to take on immunization. I mean, check out these posters:
So there you have it folks. A new Ivy & Bean on the horizon and a very worthy cause. Not too shabby for a Friday, eh?
Generally speaking, I tend to go whole weeks without a press release to my name. Then I get a whole slew of them submitted in a single week. So far I’ve one on Tuesday, one today, and probably one tomorrow or Saturday. It’s a full life. If the one on Tuesday was for librarians, the one today is for the up-and-coming children’s authors out there. A little contest that’s part writing challenge, part money in your pocket.
Institute of Children’s Literature Announces Quarterly Contest
Awarding $1,300 in cash prizes and accepting entries through October 31, 2016.
This could be one way of finding a little extra cash for gifts come holiday time. All you have to do is pull out your shamrocks, jack-o-lanterns, or maybe a couple of heart shaped candies, and start writing. Then enter the Institute of Children’s Literature holiday-themed writing contest!
“For me, the most fun is announcing the winners of the $1,300 in cash prizes,” says ICL Director Katie Davis. “And I get to have that fun every quarter, since we have these contests four times a year.” The Institute awards five cash prizes divided into varying levels including $650 for the first place winner, $350 for second place, and $100 for third, fourth and fifth place.
The holiday-themed contest is for any holiday, so we’ve gotten some really fun submissions, says judge Nancy Coffelt, an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. “Every submission is judged on clarity, liveliness, potential in the market, since one of the things we do to help writers is get their work sold.” Nancy is the award-winning author of numerous picture books, including Big, Bigger Biggest, and Dogs in Space.
As part of the $19 reading fee, contestants are invited to join a free online lesson taught by the judge, and hosted by Katie Davis. (Non-entrants may join for a small fee of $7.) This contest’s lesson will be held on December 1, 2016 at 8:00 p.m.ET. That’s when the five winning entrants will be announced and then critiqued, so attendees can see how even a winning submission can be improved upon. Invaluable writing tips and tricks are shared. One attendee, Cynthia, said, “It was exciting to enter my first contest and to learn what is gleaned from the winner’s techniques. Great tips and suggestions!” The webinars also offer participants a sneak peak at the next contest and have a random drawing of a free critique, worth $99.
For more information or to sign up please visit:
About the Institute
Since 1969 the Institute has taught over 470,000 students with a one-on-one customized method of instruction. Our faculty is made up of published authors and committed educators. Our school offers college level courses (and college credits) where students can learn to write. Our graduates include a poet laureate and a Newbery medalists and often our students get published before they even finish their course. And all of this is attainable right from the comfort of your home.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Juana and Lucas
By Juana Medina
On shelves now
Windows. Mirrors. Mirrors. Windows. Windowy mirrors. Mirrory windows. Windows. Mirrors. Sliding doors! Mirrors. Windows.
In the world of 21st century children’s literature, diversity should be the name of the game. We want books for our children that reflect the worlds they know and the worlds they have yet to greet. We want them to see themselves in their books (mirrors), see others unlike themselves (windows), and have a way to get from one place to another (sliding doors). To accomplish this, all you have to do is publish a whole bunch of books about kids of different races, religions, abilities, persuasions, you name it. Great strides have been made over the last few years in the general consciousness of the publishing industry (the publishers, the librarians, the teachers, and even the parents) even as teeny tiny, itty bitty, itsy bitsy tiptoes have been made in terms of what actually is getting published. Much of the credit for spearheading efforts to bring to light more and more books for all children can be given to the We Need Diverse Books movement. That said, our children’s rooms are still filled with monumental gaps. Contemporary Jewish characters are rare. Muslim characters rarer still. And don’t even TALK to me about the state of kids in wheelchairs these days. Interestingly enough, the area where diversity has increased the most is in early chapter books. Whether it’s Anna Hibiscus, Lola Levine, Alvin Ho, or any of the other new and interesting characters out there, there is comfort to be found in those books that transition children from easy readers to full-blown novels. Into this world comes Juana Medina and her semi-autobiographical series Juana & Lucas. Short chapters meet universal headaches (with details only available in Bogota, Colombia) ultimately combining to bring us a gal who will strike you as both remarkably familiar and bracingly original.
You might think that Juana has it pretty good, and for the most part you’d be right. She lives in Bogota, Colombia “the city that’s closest to my heart” with her Mami. She has a good furry best friend (her dog, Lucas) and a good not-so-furry best friend (Juli). And hey, it’s the first day of school! Cool, right? Only nothing goes the way Juana planned. The whole unfortunate day is capped off when one of her teachers informs the class that they will be learning “the English” this year. Could anything be more unfair? Yet as Juana searches for sympathy amongst her friends and relatives, she realizes that everyone seems to think that learning English is a good thing. Are they crazy? It isn’t until an opportunity comes up to visit somewhere fantastic, far away, and English speaking that she finally takes what everyone has told her to heart. In a big way.
I love, first and foremost, the fact that the emotional crux of this book is fixated on Juana’s detestation of learning “the English”. Now already I’ve heard some commenters online complain that Juana’s problem isn’t something that English-speaking children will identify with. Bull. Any child that has ever learned to read will know where Juana is coming from. What English speaker would fail to sympathize when she asks, “Why are read and read written the same way but sound different? How can I know when people are talking about eyes or ice when they sound about the same? And what about left hand and left the room? So many words, so little sense”? Some kids reading this book may have experience learning another language too. For them, Juana’s complaints will ring true and clear. That’s a key aspect of her personality. She’s sympathetic, even when she’s whining.
For all that we’ve seen books like Juana’s, Lola Levine, Zapato Power, Pedro, First Grade Hero, Sophia Martinez, and a handful of others, interestingly this increase in Latino early chapter book is relatively recent. For a long time it was Zapato Power or nothing. The change is great, but it’s significant to note that all the books I’ve mentioned here are set in the United States. American books set in South American countries where the kids just live their daily lives and don’t have to deal with civil wars or invasions or coyotes or drug runners are difficult to find. What makes Juana and Lucas so unique is that it’s about a child living her life, having the kinds of problems that Ramona or Ruby Lu or Dyamonde Daniel could relate to. And like Anna Hibiscus or The Great Cake Mystery I love books for younger children that go through daily life in other present day countries. Windows indeed.
Early chapter books are interesting because publishers see them as far more series-driven than their writers might. An author can crank out title after title after title to feed the needs of their young readers, always assuming the demand is there, and they can do it easier with books under 100 pages than above. Juana could fit the bill in this regard. Her personality is likable, for starters. She’s not rude like Junie B. Jones or willfully headstrong in the same way as Ramona, but she does screw up. She does complain wildly. There are aspects of her personality you can identify with right from the start. I’d be pleased to see more of her in the future, and young readers will undoubtedly feel the same way. Plus, she has one particular feature that puts her heads and tails above a lot of the competition: She’s in color.
Created in ink and watercolor, Medina illustrates as well as writes her books. This art actually puts the book in a coveted place few titles can brag. You might ask if there’s a middle point between easy books and, say, Magic Tree House titles. I’d say this book was it. Containing a multitude of full-color pictures and spreads, it offers kids the comfort of picture books with the sensibility and sophistication of chapter book literature. And since she’s already got the art in place, why not work in some snazzy typography as well? Medina will often integrate individual words into the art. They swoop and soar around the characters, increasing and decreasing in size, according to their wont. Periodically a character will be pulled out and surrounded by fun little descriptor tidbits about their personage in a tiny font. Other times sentences move to imitate what their words say, like when Juana discusses how Escanilberto can kick the ball, “hard enough to send it across the field.” That sentence moves from his foot to a point just above his opponent’s head, the ball just out of reach. I like to think this radical wordplay plays into the early reader’s enjoyment of the book. It’s a lot more fun to read a chapter book when you have no idea what the words are going to pull on you next.
The writing is good, though the conclusion struck me as a bit rushed. Admittedly the solution to Juana’s problems is tied up pretty quickly. She won’t learn, she won’t learn, she won’t learn. She gets to have a prize? She studies and studies and studies. So rather than have her come to an understanding of English’s use on her own, an outside force (in this case, the promise of seeing Astroman) is the true impetus to her change. Sure, at the very end of the book she suddenly hits on the importance of learning other languages and visiting other places around the globe but it’s a bit after the fact. Not a big problem in the book, of course, but it would have been cool to have Juana come to this realization without outside influences.
As nutty as it sounds, Juana and Lucas is a bit short on the “Lucas” side of that equation. Juana’s the true star of the show here, relegating man’s best friend to the sidelines. Fortunately, I have faith in this series. I have faith that it will return for future sequels and that when those sequels arrive they’ll have a storyline for Lucas to carry on his own. With Juana nearby, of course. After all, she belongs to the pantheon of strong female early chapter characters out there, ready to teach kids about life in contemporary Colombia even as she navigates her own trials and successes. And it’s funny. Did I mention it’s funny? You probably got that from context, but it bears saying. “Juana and Lucas” is the kind of book I’d like to see a lot more of. Let’s hope Ms. Medina is ready to spearhead a small revolution of early chapter book international diversity of her very own.
On shelves now.
Like This? Then Try:
This one’s for the school and public librarians. Don’t let the title of this post fool you. For all that this sounds like an award for authors and illustrators, it’s actually a grant so that you can get some into your library. On site. In person. Here’s the text, and it’s fantastic. Maybe one of the smartest memorial awards I’ve ever encountered.
Have you always wanted to have a nationally recognized author/illustrator visit your library?
Then, please, apply for the 2017 Maureen Hayes Author/Illustrator Award
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the Grants Administration Committee are now accepting online applications for the 2017 Maureen Hayes Author/Illustrator Award.
This $4,000 award, made possible by an annual gift from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing in honor of Maureen Hayes, brings together children and nationally recognized authors/illustrators by funding an author/illustrator visit to a library.
Each applicant will be judge on the following:
- Reasons for the application. The applicant seeks to provide a visit
from an author/illustrator who will speak to children who have not had the opportunity to hear a nationally known author/illustrator. Reasons for applying could include: particular contribution; a special celebration, etc.
- Facilities. The appropriateness, both in terms of capacity and
- Administrative support. The organization and administrative
capabilities of the person or group submitting an application evident in the enclosed budget, and partially manifested in the presentation of the application itself.
- Cooperation with other organizations. The applicant must work
cooperatively with other types of libraries (academic, public and school) and bookstores within the local community to provide the author/illustrator visit, thereby also providing a broader audience. The applicant must present the library’s educational goals, as well as evidence of how those goals apply to the local community’s educational goals. The extent to which meaningful cooperation among various local or area groups would suggest an ability to share responsibilities of personnel, time, and money needed to cover local expenses.
- Author/Illustrator visit visibility. Emphasis on the presentation as a
distinctive event publicized to and open to all potential attendees in the area is a priority for each Award.
Applicants must be personal members of ALSC, as well as ALA members to apply.
Deadline for submissions is Nov. 1, 2016.
For more information about the award requirements and submitting the online application please visit the Maureen Hayes Author/Illustrator Award Web page.
ALSC, a division of the ALA, is the world’s largest organization dedicated to the support and enhancement of library service to children. With a network of more than 4,000 children’s and youth librarians, literature experts, publishers and educational faculty, ALSC is committed to creating a better future for children through libraries. To learn more about ALSC, visit ALSC’s website at www.ala.org/alsc.
Jennifer Mae Smith
Chair of the ALSC Grant Administration Committee
Folks ask me to reveal middle grade covers from time to time. Sometimes I say yes. Sometimes I say no. If you ever happen to be interested in my doing so then the following elements should ideally be combined:
- A nun
- A smarmy man with a mustache (handlebar preferred but not required)
- An unnerved woman staring at the smarmy man with the aforementioned mustache
- A pig
Admittedly, it’s only once in a blue moon when I can find such a book jacket to premiere, but when I can . . . magic!!
Aww. Just look at that. All the pieces are in place. And check out this description:
Twelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson’s life turns upside down the day her mother’s boyfriend holds up a convenience store, and her mother is wrongly imprisoned for assisting with the crime. Ruby and her pet pig, Bunny, find their way to her estranged Aunt Eleanor’s home. Aunt Eleanor is a nun who lives on a peach orchard called Paradise, and had turned away from their family long ago. With a little patience, she and Ruby begin to get along―but Eleanor has secrets of her own, secrets that might mean more hard times for Ruby.
Ruby believes that she’s the only one who can find a way to help heal her loved ones, save her mother, and bring her family back together again. But being in a family means that everyone has to work together to support each other, and being home doesn’t always mean going back to where you came from. This is a big-hearted novel about trust, belonging, and the struggles and joys of loving one another.
Never heard of author Corabel Shofner? She’s new! She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English literature and was on Law Review at Vanderbilt University School of Law. Her shorter (adult) work has appeared or is forthcoming in Willow Review, Word Riot, Habersham Review, Hawai’i Review, Sou’wester, South Carolina Review, South Dakota Review, and Xavier Review. And yes indeed, Almost Paradise is her first novel. The book will also be illustrated by Kristin Radwilowicz as well.
Look for it on shelves July 25, 2017.
Many thanks to Chelsea Apple for the reveal.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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I usually begin with a video of myself whenever I’ve a chance, but this week I’m preempting my own face because this video is the coolest thing ever. By the time I left New York Public Library its Rose Reading Room had already been closed for half a year. Now you get to see the room in a time lapse video looking cooler than ever. 52,000 books are shelved here in two minutes. Trust me – you won’t be bored.
This month I hosted one of those fun little interviews I do from time to time on my show Ladybird and Friends. This month the interviewee was Mike Grosso of the new feminist middle grade novel I Am Drums. He’s great. The book’s great. We have fun. But if you really want to skip to the weird part, be sure to also go to about 28:34.
And just to keep it all in the family, my husband’s book The Secrets of Story is out and available for purchase. To prep you a bit, Matt’s been creating short interesting videos to highlight some of the ideas in the book. This one’s about objects. I’m a fan. Check it:
You’ve heard of book trailers, surely, but audiobook trailers? This one for Adam Gidwitz’s magnificent The Inquisitor’s Tale will make you a believer. Let’s see more of these in the future!
Meanwhile, over at 100 Scope Notes, Travis Jonker swore that if he ever heard of a children’s book creator on television, he’d watch. Then he heard that Oliver Jeffers was on an Irish talk show called The Late Late Show. So what does he do? He tracks down the Irish video link. That’s dedication, people. That’s chutzpah. And we are the beneficiaries:
N.D. Wilson. He writes middle grade children’s books. Good ones too. Books that get a lot of critical attention. But apparently that’s not enough for Mr. Wilson. Oh no. He has to go out and actually write and direct a real as real movie. It’s called The River Thief and it has a limited national release and is on VOD. Check out the trailer here if you’re curious:
Fun Fact: The creation of this movie, from concept to end of production, was three weeks. That includes the three days it took to write the script. Here’s a behind the scenes on that, if you’re curious.
Next UP: Not safe for work. Not really. But anything that takes the “sexy librarian” stereotype and turns it on its head/tongue is fine by me.
And for the off-topic video, I warn you. This bad lip-reading will get caught in your head. This is the earworm to rule all earworms.
How does Horn Book not have a “weird stuff” room?
I can’t believe I forgot to tell you that I was a guest on the Horn Book Podcast recently. To be a guest has been a dream of mine ever since I listened to its first episode. Hearing the banter between Roger Sutton and Siân Gaetano fills my heart with gladness. Oddly, in my episode I was there sans Roger. I’m also only half joking when I say my ultimate goal is to supplant him in all things. Many thanks to the excellent Siân who not only is smart, witty, and very good at keeping the conversation moving at a sharp clip, but who is also adept at subtly pointing out when you’ve moved too far from the microphone. Oh, and the topic? Religion. Cause that’s how I roll. Apparently.
This is so cool. A recent online New Yorker article called City of Women discussed the fact that in New York City an overwhelming number of street, subway, and place names are named after men. That’s not particular to NYC, of course. The whole country pretty much acts the same way, but in the five boroughs it feels particularly egregious since everything’s so close together. The article has some nice details, like this:
“A recent essay by Allison Meier notes that there are only five statues of named women in New York City: Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman, the last four added in the past third of a century. Until 1984, there was only one, the medieval Joan in Riverside Park, installed in 1915. Before that, only men were commemorated in the statuary of New York City.”
In response to all this, a subway map with place names of women rather than men was created. I spy with my little eye such children’s literature tributes as Margaret Wise Brown and Edwidge Danticat (I know she’s most adult, but I’m counting her anyway) amongst others.
And in case you missed it, there’s another online New Yorker piece I urge you to seek out. Adam Gidwitz appears to be everywhere these days, thanks in large part to a massive publicity push on the part of Penguin Random House to get The Inquisitor’s Tale some proper monetary and critical attention. This includes The New Yorker where his piece What Makes a Children’s Book Good? will make you think and learn and grow. Plus it mentions Dinotopia which no one EVER mentions anymore. Isn’t that weird? For how popular it was? Note to Self: Write blog post called “The Dinotopia Conspiracy”.
It’s British, but I’m sure it would only take a couple tweaks to make this good for the American market. A market that is very very very hungry for books of this sort. This year alone we’ve seen at least three picture books on the subject. Now it’s time for something a little older and we have NOTHING at this precise moment in time that would suit us as well as this.
Okay, this is an interesting one. You’ve heard of literary children’s periodicals. You’ve heard of films and television shows for kids based on books. Now let us consider the children’s literary podcast. Of an original book, no less! There is one out there, and it’s called “The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian”. A self-described sci-fi podcast for kids, the show is heavily influenced by and referential to children’s literature. For all your budding science fiction fans out there then.
Honestly, I rather adored this next one. Artist Paints Humorous Book Covers Based on Foggy Memories. Every children’s librarian that has ever been faced with an adult patron trying to remember a book from their youth (“There was this kid and he said he feet had brains of their own and they kept making him do stuff, and . . . .”) should read and appreciate this. My personal favorite:
Travis Jonker can do anything. He can scale mighty mountains. He can cross burning desert sands. He can sail into the worst of storms. At least I assume he can since he just about kills it with his blog. Check out one of his latest and coolest pieces: A Geisel Award Infographic. Travis! Teach me your ways!
It is good to remember that even when this crazy world has let you down, #TrumpDrSeuss can spring up and make everything at least a little more ludicrous.
Oh! This is fun. Look what I’m up to later this month:
If you’re interested in watching this panel and you live in the Chicago area, come on by! It’s free to the public and just look at that line-up. Nice, right?
Do you fantasize about the perfect Little Free Library? Have you personally figured out a way to combat all its design problems? Do you think you might hold the key to the world’s most perfect one? Then you might want to submit to Chronicle’s Little Free Library Design Competition. The rules are simple. You just write out a 200-word description of your project and include an image of a sketch, rendering, model, or completed piece with that description. All submissions are due by 11/11, though, so good luck!
Will Elena Ferrante’s New Picture Book Terrify Children? If not then at the very least that Wall Street Journal headline is bound to terrify adults. Thanks to Jules and Travis for the link.
Lee and Low shared eight of their titles that offer alternative viewpoints to historical moments that traditionally have been taught to kids only one way. A very good idea for a post, shared fittingly on Indigenous People’s Day.
In case you’ve been stumped coming up with an original Halloween costume, I saw this one last year and just figured I’d hold onto it until I could share it with you. Voila.
There was a time, oh best beloved, when BookFest (an annual book event with multiple panels, book discussions, speakers, and general camaraderie) was hosted by New York Public Library. Then came the great upheaval of 2008 and its fate was up in the air until Lisa Von Drasek saved it by pulling it uptown to the Bank Street College of Education. One cannot help but think of a ghostly Anne Carroll Moore glaring over at an equally ghostly but far more smug Lucy Sprague Mitchell when that occurred. Ever since then Bank Street has firmly held the BookFest reins. This is all to the good because this year’s fest, held on Saturday, October 22nd, is looking to be a doozy. If you’ve a yen (and a physical proximity to New York City) then here are the details:
Join us for BookFest @ Bank Street 2016 on Saturday, October 22nd!
BookFest @ Bank Street is an event devoted to the celebration, discovery, and discussion of books for children and teens. This event, intended for adults, features luminaries from the children’s literature community. Authors, illustrators, editors, reviewers, and scholars will take part on panel discussions and breakout sessions, which allow participants a closer look at a specific genre or topic in children’s literature.
Tickets: $80.00 ››
9:00am – Arrive, register, and drink coffee
9:30am – Welcome
9:35 – 10:15am – “Reading with Pictures: Visual Literacy Yesterday and Today”
Panelists: Lindsey Wyckoff, Archivist, Bank Street College of Education
Francoise Mouly, Publisher, Toon Books and Art Editor, The New Yorker
Rudy Gutierrez, illustrator, Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey
Raúl Colón, author and illustrator, Draw!
Moderator: Leonard S. Marcus, children’s literature scholar and Honorary Degree holder from Bank Street College of Education
10:15 – 11:10am – “Artists and Illustrators Talk Visual Literacy”
Panelists: Laurent Linn, author and illustrator, Draw the Line
Hervé Tullet, author and illustrator, Let’s Play!
Angela Dominguez, author and illustrator, Mango, Abuela and Me
Jason Chin, author and illustrator, Gravity
Brian Pinkney, author and illustrator, Max Found Two Sticks
Christopher Myers, author and illustrator, My Pen
Moderator: Susannah Richards, Eastern Connecticut State University
11:10 – 11:25am – Break
11:25am – 12:25pm – “The Whole Book Approach: Reading Picture Books with Children”
Presenter: Megan Dowd Lambert
12:25 – 1:25pm – Book Discussions (DISCUSSION GROUP LEADERS AND BOOK LIST)
1:25 – 2:00pm – Lunch and Book Autographing
2:05 – 2:50pm – “Capturing the Action: Graphic Novels and Visual Literacy”
Panelists: Deb Lucke, author and illustrator, The Lunch Witch
Raúl Gonzalez, illustrator, Lowriders in Space
Jorge Aguirre, co-author and illustrator, Dragons Beware!
George O’Connor, author and illustrator, Olympians series
Moderator: Jesse Karp, Pratt Institute School of Information
2:55 – 3:30pm – Closing keynote: Pam Muñoz Ryan, author, Echo
3:30 – 4:00pm – Autographing in the lobby – books for sale from the Bank Street Book Store team
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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What Color Is the Wind?
By Anne Herbauts
Translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick
Enchanted Lion Books
Ages 5 and up
On shelves now
I’m going to have a hard time of it when my kids grow up. When I had them I swore up, down and sideways that I wouldn’t turn into the kind of blogger that declares that a book is good or bad, based solely on the whims of my impertinent offspring. For the most part, I’ve kept that promise. I review picture books outside of their influence, though I’m always interested in their opinions. Indeed, these opinions, and the sharp eyes that inform them, are sometimes not what I’d expect at all. So while I’ve never changed my opinion from liking a book to not liking it just because it didn’t suit my own particular kids’ tastes, I have admittedly found a new appreciation for other books when the children were able to spot things that I did not. What Color Is the Wind? is a pretty good example of this. I read the book at work, liked it fine, and brought it home for a possible review. My daughter then picked it up and proceeded to pretty much school me on what it contained, front to finish. Had I noticed the Braille on the cover? No. Did I see that the main character’s eyes are closed the whole time? No. How about the tactile pages? Did you notice that you can feel almost all of them? No. For a book that may look to some readers as too elegant and sophisticated to count as a favored bedtime story, think again. In this book Anne Herbauts proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that a distinct European style is engaging to American children when their parents give it half a chance. Particularly when tactile elements are involved.
“We can’t see the wind, / we hear what it brings. / We can’t hear the wind, / we see what it brings.” The book begins with a question. A boy, his eyes closed, walks behind the cutout of a house. “What color is the wind? asks the little giant.” As he walks along, various plants, birds, animals, and inanimate objects offer answers. A wolf says the wind’s color is “the dark smell of the forest” while a window disagrees and says it’s “the color of time.” Everything that answers the little giant has a different feel on the page. The stream feels like consecutive ripples emanating from a dropped pebble, the roots of an apple tree like long, thin rivulets. At last the little giant encounters something that he senses is enormous. He asks his question and an enormous giant replies, “It is everything at once. This whole book.” He flips the book’s pages with his thumb so that they fly, and you the reader do the same, feeling the wind the book is capable of producing with its thick, lustrous pages. The color of the wind. The wind of this book.
The Kirkus review journal said that this book was, “ ‘The blind men and the elephant’ reworked into a Zen koan” and then proceeded to recommend it for 9-11 year-olds and adults. I’m fairly certain I disagree with almost every part of that. Now here’s the funny part. I didn’t read this review before I read the book. I also didn’t read the press release that was sent to me with it. When I read a book I like to be surprised by it in some way. This is usually a good thing, but once in a while I can be a bit dense and miss the bigger picture. As I mentioned before, I completely missed the fact that this book was an answer to a blind child who had asked Anne Herbauts the titular question. I just thought it was cool that the book was so much fun to touch. Embossing, debossing, die-cuts, lamination, and all kinds of surfaces give the book the elements that make it really pop. As I read it in the lunchroom at work, my co-workers would peer over my shoulders to coo at what they saw. All well and good, but would a kid be interested too? Kirkus says they’d have to be at least nine to grasp its subtleties.
Obviously my 5-year-old daughter likes the book but she’s just one kid. She is not a representative for her species (so to speak). That said, this book just drills home the advantage that physical books have over their electronic counterparts: the sensation of touch. Play with a screen all day if you like, but you will never be able to move your fingers over these raised dots of rain or the rough bark of a tree’s trunk. As children become more immersed in the electronic, they become more enamored of tactile books. The sensation of paper on skin has yet to be replicated by our smooth as silk screens. And this will prove true with kids on the younger end of the scale. I’ll agree with Kirkus about the adult designation, though. When I worked for New York Public Library there was a group of special needs adults that would come in that were in need of tactile picture books. We would be asked if we had any on hand that we could hand over to them in some way. There were a few, but our holdings were pretty limited (though I do remember a particularly keen tactile version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar that proved to be a big hit). Those kids would have loved this book, but children of all ages, and all abilities, would feel the same way about it. Kids are never too old for tactile picture books. As such, you could use this book with Kindergartners as well as fifth graders. Little kids will like the fun pictures. Older kids may be inspired by the words as well.
“Mom,” said my daughter as we went down the stairs for her post-reading, pre-brushing, nighttime snack. “Mom, you know the wind doesn’t have a color, right?” My child is a bit of a literalist. She’s the kid who knew early on that magic wasn’t real and once told me at the age of three that, “If ‘please’ is a magic word, it doesn’t exist.” So to read an entire book, based on the premise of seeing a color that couldn’t possibly be real, was a stretch for her. Remember, we read this entire book without really catching on that the little giant was blind. I countered that it was poetry, really. Colors were just as much about what they looked like as what they felt like. I asked her what blue made her feel, and red. Then I applied that to the emotions we feel about with the wind, which wasn’t really an analogy that held much water, but she was game to hear me out. “It’s poetry”, I said again. “Words that make you feel something when you read them.” So, as she had her snack, she had me read her some poetry. We’ve been reading poetry with her snack every night since. So for all that the book could be seen to be a straightforward picture book, to me it’s as much an introduction to poetry as anything else.
As for the art, I’ll admit that the combination of the style of art, the image on the cover, and the fact that the book is softcover and not hardcover (a cost-saving measure for what must be a very expensive title for Enchanted Lion Books to publish) did not immediately appeal to me. There’s no note to explain what the medium is and if I were to guess I’d say we were looking at crayons, mixed media, thick paints, colored pencils, ink blots, pen-and-inks, and more. Ironically, I really began to gravitate to the art when the little giant wasn’t stealing my focus. Nothing is intricately detailed, except perhaps the anatomy of honeybees or the raised and bumpy parts of the book. At the same time, for a book that celebrates touch, poetry, and physical sensation, the colors are often bright and lush. Whether it’s the blue watercolors of rain over trees or the hot orange that emanates from the page like a sun, Herbauts is simultaneously rendering illustrations obsolete with the unique format of What Color is the Wind? and celebrating their visual extremes.
I tend to give positive reviews to books that exceed my expectations. That’s just the nature of my occupation. And while I do believe that there are elements to this book that could be clearer or that there must have been a book jacket choice they could have chosen that was more appealing than the one you see here, otherwise I think this little book is a bit of a wonder. Deeply appealing to children of all ages, to say nothing of the adults out there, with so many uses, and so many applications. It reminds me of the old picture books by Bruno Munari that weren’t afraid to try new things with the picture book format. To get a little crazy. I don’t think we’ll suddenly see a big tactile picture book craze sweep the nation or anything, but maybe this book will inspire just one other publisher to try something a little different and to take a risk. Could be worth it. There’s nothing else like this book out there today. More’s the pity.
On shelves now.
Source: Final edition sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Misc: A deeper look at some of the art over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
It seemed such an attainable goal. All I wanted to do was read every single picture book published in America in 2016. Was that too much to ask? I even had a system. I’d create a Google spreadsheet and write down every single title and rate it. That way I’d have an easy way of remembering what I liked and didn’t like later.
But I didn’t count on the patterns. Oh no. No, I did not.
You see, I’ve read a lot picture books this year. Not all of them yet. I still have a long shelf at work that’s creaking under the weight of the books I have yet to read. But since it’s October, the 2016 books have been replaced in the mail by 2017s. That means I could conceivably finish the remaining books soon. But before I do, I want to share with you some of the amusing things I’ve noticed about the titles I’ve read this year. Proof positive that if you do something for too long, the brain rebels by creating hitherto unseen connections.
Enjoy the following lists:
The Most Popular Titular Name of the Year: Lucy
- Lucy by Randy Cecil
- Lucy and Company by Marianne Dubuc
- Lucy and Lila by Alison Fletcher, ill. Christopher Lyles
- Lucy Ladybug by Sharon King-Chai
- Lucy’s Lovey by Betsy Devany, ill. Christopher Denise
- The Three Lucys by Hayan Charara, ill. Sara Kahn
Books With Definite Demands
- Bring Me a Rock by Daniel Miyares
- Choose Your Days by Paula S. Wallace
- Come and Dance, Wicked Witch by Hanna Kraan, ill. Annemarie van Haeringen
- Come Home, Angus by Patrick Downes, ill. Boris Kulikov
- Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved, ill. By Charlotte Pardi
- Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman, ill. Andy Elkerton
- Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, ill. Elizabeth Zunon
- Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh! by Sean Taylor, ill. Kate Hindley
- Don’t Cross the Line! by Bernardo P. Caravalho, ill. Isavel Martins
- Don’t Wake Up the Tiger by Britta Teckentrup
- Follow Me! by Ellie Sandall
- Follow the Moon Home by Philippe Cousteau & Deborah Hopkinson, ill. Meilo So
- Kiss It Better by Smriti Prasadam-Halls, ill. Sarah Massini
- Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol
- Let Me Finish by Minh Le, ill. Isabel Roxas
- Look Up by Jung Jin-Ho
- Never Follow a Dinosaur by Alex Latimer
- Never Insult a Killer Zucchini! by Elana Azone & Brandon Amancio, ill. David Clark
- Open Up, Please! by Silvia Borando, ill. Lorenzo Clerici
- Please Say Please! by Kyle T. Webster
- Push! Dig! Scoop! by Rhonda Gowler Greene, ill. Daniel Kirk
- Quick, Little Monkey! by Sarah L. Thomson, ill. Lita Judge
- Quit Calling Me a Monster! by Jory John, ill. Bob Shea
- Stop Following Me, Moon! by Darren Farrell]
- Wake Up, City! by Erica Silverman, ill. Laure Fournier
- Warning! Do Not Touch by Tim Warnes
(All these demands could have been created by either the Bossier Baby by Marla Frazee or Bossy Flossy by Paulette Bogan)
Good Morning, Good Evening, and Good Night
- Good Morning Yoga by Mariam Gates, ill. Sarah Jane Hinder
- Good Night, Baddies by Deborah Underwood, ill. Juli Kangas
- Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli
- Good Night Tiger by Timothy Knapman, ill. Laura Hughes
- Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak
- Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton
Little By Little
- Little Bo Peep and Her Bad, Bad Sheep by A.L. Wegwerth, ill. Luke Flowers
- Little Bot and Sparrow by Jake Parker
- Little Brother Pumpkin Head by Lucia Panzieri, ill. Samantha Enria
- Little Elliot, Big Fun by Mike Curato
- Little Fox, Lost by Nicole Snitselaar, ill. Alicia Padron
- Little Mouse’s Big Book of Beasts by Emily Gravett
- Little Night Cat by Sonja Danowski
- Little One by Jo Weaver
- Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant, ill. Christian Robinson
- Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith
- The Little Tree That Would Not Share by Nicoletta Costa
- The Littlest Family’s Big Day by Emily Winfield Martin
My Favorite Series: The “Bear Who” books
- The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep by Caroline Nastro, ill. Vanya Nastanlieva
- The Bear Who Wasn’t There by LeUyen Pham
- The Bear Who Wasn’t There and the Fabulous Forest by Oren Lavie, ill. Wolf Erlbruch
Best of the “How To” Books
- How to Be a Hero by Florence Parry Heide, ill. Chuck Groenink
- How to Be Famous by Michal Shalev
- How to Build a Snow Bear by Eric Pinder, ill. Stephanie Graegin
- How to Catch a Leprechaun by Adam Wallace, ill. Andy Elkerton
- How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder
- How to Track a Truck by Jason Carter Eaton, ill. John Rocco
When In Rome
- When a Dragon Moves in Again by Jodi Moore, ill. Howard McWilliam
- When an Elephant Falls in Love by David Cali, ill. Alice Lotti
- When I Am With Dad by Kimball Crossley, ill. Katie Gamb
- When the World Is Dreaming by Rita Gray, ill. Kenard Pak
- When Your Elephant Comes to Play by Ale Barba
As It Turns Out, “I” Have a Lot of Thoughts on the Matter
- I Am a Baby by Kathryn Madeline Allen, photos by Rebecca Gizicki
- I Am a Story by Dan Yaccarino
- I Am the Mountain Mouse by Gianna Marino
- I Have Cerebral Palsy by Mary Beth Springer
- I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!) by Rachel Isadora
- I Heart You by Meg Fleming, ill. Sarah Jane Wright
- I Love Cake by Tammi Sauer, ill. Angie Rozelaar
- I Love Lemonade by Mark and Rowan Sommerset
- I Love You Always by Astrid Desbordes, ill. Pauline Martin
- I Love You Americanly by Lynn Parrish Sutton, ill. Melanie Hope Greenberg
- I Promise by David McPhail
- I See and See by Ted Lewin
- I Wanna Be a Great Big Dinosaur
- I Want a Monster by Elise Grave
- I Will Love You Anyway by Mick and Chloe Inkpen
- I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehrhaupt, ill. Scott Magoon
- I Wonder: Celebrating Daddies Doin’ Work by Doyin Richards
- I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
- I’ll Catch You If You Fall by Mark Sperring, ill. Layn Marlow
- I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail
- I’m Lucky I Found You by Guido van Genechten
Too Many Questions!!!
- Are You Sure, Mother Bear? by Amy Hest, ill. Lauren Tobia
- Can I Eat That? by Joshua David Stein, ill. Julia Rothman
- Can One Balloon Make an Elephant Fly? by Dan Richards, ill. Jeff Newman
- Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
- Have You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow
- Have You Seen My Trumpet? by Michael Escoffier, ill. Kris Di Giacomo
- How Will You Change the World? by Linda Laudone and S. Jane Scheyder, ill. Jacob Scheyder
- Is That Wise Pig? by Jan Thomas
- Playtime? by Jeff Mack
- A Toucan Can, Can You? by Danny Adlerman, ill. Various
- What Can I Be? by Ann Rand, ill. Ingrid Fiksdahl King
- What Color Is the Wind? by Anne Herbauts
- What Could It Be? by Sally Fawcett
- What Do You Love About You? by Karen Lechelt
- What’s a Banana? by Marilyn Singer, ill. Greg Pizzoli
- What’s an Apple? by Marilyn Singer, ill. Greg Pizzoli
- Where Did They Go? A Spotting Book by Emily Bornoff
- Where Do Steam Trains Sleep at Night? by Brianna Caplan Sayres, ill. Christian Slade
- Where Do They Go? by Julia Alvarez, ill. Sabra Field
- Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie’s Chick? by Pat Hutchins
- Where’s the Elephant? by Barroux
- Where’s the Party? by Ruth Chan
- Who Broke the Teapot? by Bill Slavin
- Who Wants a Tortoise? by Dave Keane, ill. K.G. Campbell
- Why? by Nikolai Popov
- Why Do Cats Have Tails? by David Ling, ill. Stephanie Thatcher
- Will You Be My Friend? by Susan Lurie, ill. Murray Head
- Would You Rather Be a Princess or a Dragon? by Barney Saltzberg
And In Conclusion . . .
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Sweet little Friday is upon us. Let us celebrate the rapid approach of the weekend with ridiculousness. And that particular item I have in spades.
First off, I’m so pleased and proud and delighted to inform you that my husband of the Cockeyed Caravan blog has written a book. And what a book! Published by Writer’s Digest, it’s called The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers. I like to call it Save the Cat meets Joseph Campbell. Best of all, we’re going to have a lovely release party for it on Friday, November 4th at 6:30 at the Bookends and Beginnings bookstore in Evanston, IL and YOU ARE ALL INVITED!! I’ll even bake something. Not sure what. Something. All information can be found here.
Now that’s a good title. From Publisher’s Weekly: Trenton Lee Stewart Accidentally Starts a Mystery on Goodreads. Don’t you hate it when that happens? But this is actually a very sweet tale (and not a bad idea for someone to think up). Check it out.
Horn Book has a new parenting blog, did you see? Called Family Reading, they’ve so far had posts on newborns who hate to read, reading on the spectrum (Ferdinand the Bull as on the spectrum makes quite a bit of sense, when you think about it), and crafts inspired by picture books. Beware that last link, though. Its author’s kinda crazy.
The site Atlas Obscura has a new book out, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped updating their site or anything. As proof, you simply have to read their recent post, A Guide to the Real-Life Homes of the Heroes of Children’s Literature. It’s cool. I was worried from the description that it would be all-white-kids, all-the-time, and that’s definitely the bulk of it. But Kindred, Tar Beach, The House on Mango Street, and a couple others make it on there. It also gets a bit loosey goosey with the term “children’s literature”. Holden Caulfield? Maybe not so much. Thanks to Matt for the link.
The Good News: Folio Magazine nominated this blog for an Eddie Digital Award. Woohoo! Yay, team!
The Weird News: I’m nominated in the “Column / Blog – Government / Public Sector / Education” category (not too weird) alongside fellow nominees Everyday EMS of EMS1.com, PoliceOne.com – Be Advised… of PoliceOne.com, and strategy+business specifically the piece “Why China’s Stock Market Crisis Spread” of PwC Strategy& LLC (significantly peculiar).
Hey, folks. Today the film The Great Gilly Hopkins will open in select theaters and on demand. Don’t know if there’s a theater showing it near you? Then here’s a handy dandy chart where you can see if it’s anywhere near you. Behold:
||Plaza Theater 2
||AMC Concord Mills 24 IMAX
||Concord Mills, NC
||AMC Streets of Woodfield 20 IMAX
||Atlas Diamond Centre Cinemas 16
||AMC Mesquite 30 IMAX
||AMC Westminster Promenade 24 IMAX
||Premiere Renaissance 15
||Cinetopia Overland Park 18 & GXL
||Overland Park, KS
||AMC Orange 30 IMAX & ETX
||Laemmle Monica Film Center 6
||Santa Monica, CA
||Mall of America 14
||Carmel Movieplex 8
||AMC Loews 19th Street East 6
||New York, NY
||Cinema Village 3
||New York, NY
||Rialto Theatre 8
||The Villages, FL
||Tristone Cinemas Palm Desert 10
||Palm Desert, CA
||AMC Neshaminy 24 IMAX
||AMC Arizona Center 24
|Salt Lake City
||Megaplex 20 at The District IMAX
||South Jordan, UT
||Varsity 3 Theatres
||AMC Loews Rio Cinemas 18 IMAX
Neat! Travis Jonker discovered this site where you can Brickify (turn into LEGOs) any image. He had a fun post where you could guess his brickified covers. I decided to do my own books out of curiosity. The results:
Is it bad to say that I kinda like some of these more? Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.
Happy Fusenews day to you, guv’nor. In today’s episode we tip our hat to a post last week that is probably my most popular of all time. Who knew knitting needles could be such lightning rods? In any case, on with the newz!
How old is the picture book biography as we know it today? Recently I’ve been thinking long and hard about what its purpose is, as well as its limitations. Jacqueline Davies has thought longer and harder in some ways, though, since her recent post Writers and the Real Estate Market takes a very personal look at the choices she made when she wrote The Boy Who Drew Birds. She makes some remarkably interesting points about content and format.
Boy, it must be hard. Every year, without fail, Marjorie Ingall (Mamaleh Knows Best) scours the publishing world for great Jewish-centric books for kids. The pickings are almost always slim, but once in a while you get some really good biographies. Picture book biographies (I sense a theme to today’s post) no less. The first is of the current Ruth Bader Ginsberg bio in the piece Teaching Kids the Value of Dissent and the other Rich Michelson’s most recent bio in Leonard Nimoy’s Fascinating Life. Great books. Great write-ups.
Librarians. We have one of those professions where it’s pretty clear that whenever we appear in the news, 50% of the time it’s not about something good. Case in point, the recent news about a thrifty library cataloger who donated $4 million to his employer after his death. His employer, however, was a university library. So, naturally, $1 million of that is going to a football scoreboard. Some folks are less than entirely pleased with that development.
I mentioned it last week but I’m mentioning it again today because it’s a darn good cause. If you don’t know about why authors and illustrators alike (as well as celebs like Al Roker and Nicole Kidman) are painting piggy banks for auction, you should fill yourself in here. A good cause and you get art. The bidding just started yesterday, so don’t be left behind. And I know I won’t get it, but this is my own personal favorite piggy:
I already read this four years ago, but with the recent passing of Gene Wilder I saw it included in a Chronicle Books newsletter and just couldn’t resist putting it up again. It’s Gene Wilder’s handwritten notes on the changes he’d prefer to the Willy Wonka costume he was initially given. Ole blue eyes himself.
Maurice Sendak was initially going to design that old movie Return to Oz?!? Apparently it never happened but he did create a publicity poster for the ad campaign. Not that it really looks like any of the characters in the movie (I’m working on a couple theories on who the guy on the far right is) but in terms of the book Ozma of Oz, it’s not terrible.
Many many thanks to J.L. Bell at Oz and Ends for this image. Yet another old post from 2012. I’m having that kind of a day.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Cloud and Wallfish
By Anne Nesbet
On shelves now
Historical fiction is boring. Right? That’s the common wisdom on the matter, certainly. Take two characters (interesting), give them a problem (interesting), and set them in the past (BOOOOOORING!). And to be fair, there are a LOT of dull-as-dishwater works of historical fiction out there. Books where a kid has to wade through knee-deep descriptions, dates, facts, and superfluous details. But there is pushback against this kind of thinking. Laurie Halse Anderson, for example, likes to call her books (Chains, Forge, Ashes, etc.) “historical thrillers”. People are setting their books in unique historical time periods. And finally (and perhaps most importantly) we’re seeing a lot more works of historical fiction that are truly fun to read. Books like The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, or One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, or My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp, or ALL of Louise Erdrich’s titles for kids. Better add Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet to that list as well. Doing what I can only characterize as the impossible, Nesbet somehow manages to bring East Germany in 1989 to full-blown, fascinating life. Maybe you wouldn’t want to live there, but it’s certainly worth a trip.
His name is Noah. Was Noah. It’s like this, one minute you’re just living your life, normal as you please, and the next your parents have informed you that your name is a lie, your birth date is wrong, and you’re moving to East Berlin. The year is 1989 and as Noah (now Jonah)’s father would say, there’s a definite smell of history in the air. His mother has moved the family to this new city as part of her research into education and stuttering (an impediment that Noah shares) for six months. But finding himself unable to attend school in a world so unlike the one he just left, the boy is lonely. That’s why he’s so grateful when the girl below his apartment, Claudia, befriends him. But there are secrets surrounding these new friends. How did Claudia’s parents recently die? Why are Noah’s parents being so mysterious? And what is going on in Germany? With an Iron Curtain shuddering on its foundations, Noah’s not just going to smell that history in the air. He’s going to live it, and he’s going to get a friend out of the bargain as well.
It was a bit of a risk on Nesbet’s part to begin the book by introducing us to Noah’s parents right off the bat as weirdly suspicious people. It may take Noah half a book to create a mental file on his mom, but those of us not related to the woman are starting our own much sooner. Say, from the minute we meet her. It was very interesting to watch his parents upend their son’s world and then win back his trust by dint of their location as well as their charm and evident love. It almost reads like a dare from one author to another. “I bet you can’t make a reader deeply distrust a character’s parents right from the start, then make you trust them again, then leave them sort of lost in a moral sea of gray, but still likable!” Challenge accepted!
Spoiler Alert on This Paragraph (feel free to skip it if you like surprises): Noah’s mom is probably the most interesting parent you’ll encounter in a children’s book in a long time. By the time the book is over you know several things. 1. She definitely loves Noah. 2. She’s also using his disability to further her undercover activities, just as he fears. 3. She incredibly frightening. The kind of person you wouldn’t want to cross. She and her husband are utterly charming but you get the distinct feeling that Noah’s preternatural ability to put the puzzle pieces of his life together is as much nature as it is nurture. Coming to the end of the book you see that Noah has sent Claudia postcards over the years from places all over the world. Never Virginia. One could read that a lot of different ways but I read it as his mother dragging him along with her from country to country. There may never be a “home” for Noah now. But she loves him, right? I foresee a lot of really interesting bookclub discussions about the ending of this book, to say nothing about how we should view his parents.
As I mentioned before, historical fiction that’s actually interesting can be difficult to create. And since 1989 is clear-cut historical fiction (this is the second time a character from the past shared my birth year in a children’s book . . . *shudder*) Nesbet utilizes several expository techniques to keep young readers (and, let’s face it, a lot of adult readers) updated on what precisely is going on. From page ten onward a series of “Secret Files” boxes will pop up within the text to give readers the low-down. These are written in a catchy, engaging style directly to the reader, suggesting that they are from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who knows the past, the future, and the innermost thoughts of the characters. So in addition to the story, which wraps you in lies and half-truths right from the start to get you interested, you have these little boxes of explanation, giving you information the characters often do not have. Some of these Secret Files are more interesting than others, but as with the Moby Dick portions in Louis Sachar’s The Cardturner, readers can choose to skip them if they so desire. They should be wary, though. A lot of pertinent information is sequestered in these little boxes. I wouldn’t cut out one of them for all the wide wide world.
Another way Nesbet keeps everything interesting is with her attention to detail. The author that knows the minutia of their fictional world is an author who can convince readers that it exists. Nesbet does this by including lots of tiny details few Americans have ever known. The pirated version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that was disseminated for years throughout the German Democratic Republic? I had no idea. The listing of television programs available there? Very funny (did I mention the book is funny too?). Even the food you could get in the grocery store and the smell of the coal-choked air feels authentic.
Of course, you can load your book down with cute boxes and details all day and still lose a reader if they don’t relate to the characters. Noah could easily be reduced to one of those blank slate narrators who go through a book without a clear cut personality. I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case here. And I appreciated the Claudia was never a straight victim or one of those characters that appears impervious to the pain in her life. Similarly, Noah is a stutterer but the book never throws the two-dimensional bully in his path. His challenges are all very strange and unique to his location. I was also impressed by how Nesbet dealt with Claudia’s German (she makes up words or comes up with some Noah has never heard of and so Nesbet has the unenviable job of making that clear on the page). By the same token, Noah has a severe stutter, but having read the whole book I’m pretty sure Nesbet only spells the stutter out on the page once. For every other time we’re told about it after the fact or as it is happening.
I’ve said all this without, somehow, mentioning how lovely Nesbet’s writing is. The degree to which she’s willing to go deep into her material, plucking out the elements that will resonate the most with her young readers, is masterful. Consider a section that explains what it feels like to play the role of yourself in your own life. “This is true even for people who aren’t crossing borders or dealing with police. Many people in middle school, for instance, are pretending to be who they actually are. A lot of bad acting is involved.” Descriptions are delicious as well. When Claudia comes over for dinner after hearing about the death of her parents Nesbet writes, “Underneath the bristles, Noah could tell, lurked a squishy heap of misery.”
There’s little room for nuance in Nesbet’s Berlin, that’s for sure. The East Berliners we meet are either frightened, in charge, or actively rebelling. In her Author’s Note, Nesbet writes about her time in the German Democratic Republic in early 1989, noting where a lot of the details of the book came from. She also mentions the wonderful friends she had there at that time. Noah, by the very plot in which he finds himself, would not be able to meet these wonderful people. As such, he has a black-and-white view of life in East Berlin. And it’s interesting to note that when his classmates talk up the wonders of their society, he never wonders if anything they tell him is true. Is everyone employed? At what price? There is good and bad and if there is nuance it is mostly found in the characters like Noah’s mother. Nesbet herself leaves readers with some very wise words in her Author’s Note when she says to child readers, “Truth and fiction are tangled together in everything human beings do and in every story they tell. Whenever a book claims to be telling the truth, it is wise (as Noah’s mother says at one point) to keep asking questions.” I would have liked a little more gray in the story, but I can hardly think of a better lesson to impart to children in our current day and age.
In many way, the book this reminded me of the most was Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. Think about it. A boy desperate for a friend meets an out-of-the-box kind of girl. They invent a fantasyland together that’s across a distinct border (in this book Claudia imagines it’s just beyond the Wall). Paterson’s book was a meditation on friendship, just like Nesbet’s. Yet there is so much more going on here. There are serious thoughts about surveillance (something kids have to think about a lot more today), fear, revolution, loyalty, and more than all this, what you have to do to keep yourself sane in a world where things are going mad. Alice Through the Looking Glass is referenced repeatedly, and not by accident. Noah has found himself in a world where the rules he grew up with have changed. As a result he must cling to what he knows to be true. Fortunately, he has a smart author to help him along the way. Anne Nesbet always calls Noah by his own name, even when her characters don’t. He is always Noah to us and to himself. That he finds himself in one of the most interesting and readable historical novels written for kids is no small thing. Nesbet outdoes herself. Kids are the beneficiaries.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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I love it when a blog title makes me sound old.
Now that my kids have reached the ripe ages of five and two, I’m finding myself more interested in picture books that pick apart the nature of sibling relationships in interesting ways . I don’t mean fighting. I mean that crazy pushmepullyou of loving each other to the extreme mixed with scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs annoyance. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to come up with a variety of picture books that celebrate this tricky balance. Books where it’s not all sweetness and light nor vinegar and . . . uh . . . darkness (note to self: work on metaphors before posting to readership).
Here’s just a quick smattering of some of my favorites at this precise moment in time.
Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan, ill. Sophie Blackall
I am now and forever Team BRL. Back in the day when I reviewed it I mentioned that for me this is a book about grace. Telling kids to forgive other kids is tricky, but telling them to forgive their little annoying siblings? Add in the fact that this is one of the very rare picture books you’ll find about a American Muslim family that isn’t about their faith in some way and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly by Carolyn Parkhurst, ill. Dan Yaccarino
Speak truth to me, but softly. Give me picture books about siblings, but get a little heart in there. Now in some ways, I feel that Parkhurst’s book remains one of the funniest and most honest displays of sibling relationships I’ve ever seen. That moment when the mom says, “Sweetie, she’s two. You don’t have to do what she says,” just squeaks with familiarity. I am that mom. I live that mom’s life. Albeit with the genders of the kids switched.
A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban, ill. Lillian Hoban
I’m in that weird position as a librarian where I know all the “classic” children’s picture books and I know to read them to my kids, but I’m still shocked when I finally discover that some of them are more contemporary, funny, and honest than a lot of the stuff being published today. Take Frances. Now there’s a character I hope we never lose. She has lots of great books but this may be my favorite. Clearly Russell Hoban knew children, because that relationship between Frances and her sister has all the qualities of a real sisterhood.
Baby Says by John Steptoe
Nope. Still not back in print. Still weird. He just got a street named after him, guys. The fact this isn’t even a board book is bizarre. My son loves it, possibly because the baby gets to bean the brother upside the head with a teddy bear and all that brother does is sigh and get the kid out of his crib. But that shot of the messy baby kiss on his brother’s nose . . . I’m not a sentimental soul in the least, but that gets me.
I’m open to any and all suggestions for more titles of this ilk, if you have them.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Good morning, my fine and frisky young denizens of this sphere upon which we make our homes. I’m particularly chipper today as I’ve just returned from a lovely trip to Boston where I attended the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards and managed NOT to lose my glasses in the process. More on that tomorrow, but today I’ve a whole heaping helpful of fun videos for your perusal.
First up, I’m happy to announce that last weekend I conducted a Literary Salon with James Kennedy and Eti Berland on the subject of 90-Second Newbery. The fun doesn’t really get started until the five minute mark, but that’s the wonders of live streaming for you. A million thanks to James for figuring out how to get the new YouTube streaming feature to work on his computer at all. Phew!
Now we’ve a very cool video up next. Do you like John Steptoe? Do you like Sesame Street? Then behold this very early Sesame Street when Gordon-with-hair read Stevie to the viewers. This is something I’d love for current day Sesame Street to pick up again. Wouldn’t it be great if Chris (you can see that I’m hip to the current cast) read Last Stop on Market Street to Telly? It could happen.
In other news, we’ve an election coming up. Or didn’t you know? Well I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Aaron Reynolds for a new little show I’m participating in called LadyBird & Friends. If you want to bypass the whole Betsy talking element to the proceedings, skip to the 18:20 mark where Aaron reads aloud President Squid. It will be the funniest damn thing you see all day. The man is a natural performer.
And speaking of natural performers, how did I miss this promotional video for Robo-Sauce when it first came out? My bad.
Now welcome to New Zealand, where librarians have more fun. Don’t believe me? This synchronized . . . I’m sorry. This synchronised shelving proves it. Thanks to Jean Reagan for the link.
And for our final off-topic video today . . . AUGHHH!!!!!
Does the clownfish remind anyone else of the Goldfish from Mars Evacuees? Anyone? Anyone? No?
Just me then.
Serving on award committees is a time-honored tradition amongst children’s librarians. The award ceremonies that come after? Gravy. This past weekend I was delighted to attend the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Ceremony, the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, and the presentation of the Scott O’Dell Award all in one fell swoop. To do this I had to travel in Boston. For whatever reason they did not pick up these three events and move them to Evanston for my own personal convenience. I shall have a word with the management, I assure you.
But in all seriousness, it was delightful. In particular Katrina Hedeen was delightful, somehow managing to simultaneously put out fires (metaphorical, though I’m sure she could wield an extinguisher with aplomb), calm nerves, and keep everything on schedule. She even typed up a handy little schedule which listed absolutely everything I would need to know during my time in MA.
For my part, I came to the town with two additional goals:
- Meet Laura Amy Schlitz, Sharyn November, and Jeanne Birdsall for lunch. Those of you familiar with all three individuals are probably now wondering if the heavens themselves would split asunder at the conjoining of this magnificent triumvirate. More on that in a second.
- Record an episode of the Horn Book Podcast with the multi-talented Siân Gaetano. In course of said recording, find a way to take over Roger’s job.
So there was an element of timing to this trip. Neither of these things, you see, were on Katrina’s original schedule for me. I would have to be quick, slick, and on time.
Now in any good story, there can sometimes be outside forces which throw your protagonist (notice I didn’t say “hero”) off their chosen path. In this case there was a bit of a baseball game of an important nature happening on Friday when I arrived. It didn’t slow me down much but it did mean that while most of my delightful lunch happened, I just missed Sharyn November by a hair when I had to book it to the podcast. Hence the lack of a killer selfie in this slot:
The podcast was a lot of fun. Julie Danielson, who spoke with Roger and Siân not long ago on her own episode, had advised me to eat the mic. Just devour it. Take large chunks out of it with my teeth. That really is the only way to be properly heard. I thought maybe I’d have some natural mic magnetic abilities that would allow me to draw it to my lips unbidden. This did not seem to be the case but Siân has this incredibly subtle way of drawing attention to the fact that you’re beginning to drift away while you are recording that is commendable. She’s a class act, that one. Our topic was “religion”, which should give you pause right there. I’m an odd candidate to talk about it but we had lots of interesting things to say. I’ll let you know when it’s up. They’ll be discussing VOYA on the podcast next (as is right) so I’ll be the week after that. It’s all good.
Roger, for the record, was not present at the recording since he was running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get everything in place for the ceremony that night. That meant that in addition to taking his place on his podcast (the first step, as I’ve mentioned, in my plan to supplant him on it entirely) I got to creep around his office like . . well . . a creep. And there, on the wall, was the cutest photograph of all time. I got Roger’s permission to post it here. It’s of Roger a number of years ago doing a storytime when he was still a children’s librarian. Check it out:
My plan for attending the ceremony consisted of following people who would know where we were supposed to go. This was a good plan. So I ducked into the ladies restroom to change. After a quick change we headed over, drank champagne, and I got to ogle the prizes that the winners of the Boston Globe-Horn Book receive when they win.
I don’t know if any of you have attended this particular award before. It’s Boston-based so a fair number of New Yorkers were able to travel up with relative ease. Still and all, I’d never been. As it turns out, winners of the awards receive silver bowls with their names engraved on the side. Honor winners get silver plates of much the same thing. And unlike awards like the Newbery and Caldecott, both the authors and the illustrators of each book received their own reward and make their own speeches. Pretty sweet.
As I was to learn, also unlike other professional children’s awards, the judges of the BGHB awards are placed upon the stage upon chairs that look like they hold more professional degrees than anyone whose tuchas they happen to cradle. The judges were placed in the front with Roger in the back.
Imposing, to say the least.
If a chair could disapprove of the state of your attire, this one would.
I was therefore very glad indeed that I’d opted to switch out my ratty, fluff-infested, possibly pungent black tights for my sleeker blue ones. I do not have particularly interesting legs, but at least they could claim to be colorful.
Listening to M.T. Anderson. For the record, if you find yourself on a stage sitting for long amounts of time, I highly recommend turning your legs into an interesting color. Not puce, though. Never puce.
In case you have forgotten, here were this year’s winners:
NONFICTION AWARD WINNER:
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan)
Read The Horn Book’s review.
FICTION AWARD WINNER:
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams)
Read The Horn Book’s review.
PICTURE BOOK AWARD WINNER:
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph written by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo (Candlewick Press)
Read The Horn Book’s review.
NONFICTION HONOR BOOKS:
- Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick Press)
- Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick Press)
Read The Horn Book’s reviews.
FICTION HONOR BOOKS:
- The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick Press)
- Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House)
Read The Horn Book’s reviews.
PICTURE BOOK HONOR BOOKS:
- Thunder Boy Jr. written by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
- One Day, the End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-than-Ever Stories written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Fred Koehler (Boyds Mills Press)
Read The Horn Book’s reviews.
Three of the honorees couldn’t attend the ceremony. Each one sent in a nice little acceptance speech video in lieu of their actual selves. I will now proceed to rank their reasons in order of increasing extremity:
- Sherman Alexie – Unable to attend due to a prior family commitment. Totally understandable.
- Frances Hardinge – Unable to attend because she was officiating a wedding. Totally and completely understandable.
- Yuyi Morales – Unable to attend because she was donating a kidney to a complete unknown stranger simply because it was the right thing to do. This is what we call in the business the greatest, most understandable reason a person could produce for not being able to attend an event.
The speeches, as you might imagine, were lovely. Laura Amy Schlitz, for example, did hers on the floor beside mic and without notes and I could only wish Frances had been there to hear her since I think those two would have gotten along like gangbusters.
Afterwards the judges had been invited to a Candlewick dinner, so we climbed onto what appeared to be a Candlewick Party Bus and made our way to a lovely little restaurant. No idea what the name was, but it was one of those places that try to make classic dishes interesting by throwing in peculiar little touches. For example, I got the chicken and waffles, but the chicken was topped off with guacamole. Not a bad addition by any stretch of the imagination but not something you normally see.
It was that nice, blearily checking in to my hotel room, that I realized I’d left my glasses, my only glasses, in the restroom across the hall from the Horn Book offices. Pfui.
The next day was cloudy, gloomy, and just packed with that kind of nasty misty rain that drifts under your umbrella and somehow manages to soak you in a low-level sheen of wetness anyway. But it could have been blue skies and birds singing sweet songs for me. I was going to meet someone for breakfast that is, to me, quite the celebrity.
I don’t know how many of you listen to the NPR Podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. For me, it is the only way I am able to understand any of the current goings on in the pop culture world. What is Steven Universe? What happened at the Emmys this year? What’s You’re the Worst? They answer all and they occasionally have a librarian on for her expertise. Her name is Margaret H. Willison and in addition to working full-time in a library she also records the podcast Two Bossy Dames. The kicker? She knew who I was and was willing to do breakfast with me! Bonus! I’ve always admired Margaret’s aplomb on PCHH since she is able to keep up with a quick and lively crew on a variety of different topics. Thinking on your feet in this manner is an enviable skill, but she wields her tongue adeptly. And, I am happy to report, she is just as sweet, funny, intelligent, and smart as you would hope her to be.
After this, I had to get my glasses back. Long story short: I did, but Simmons may wish to consider how easy it is to bypass those doors that require cards. Some of them simply aren’t turned on. Hence my recovery of my own glasses.
Meanwhile, back at the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium the theme of the day was “Out of the Box”. Cathryn Mercier, the Director and Professor of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College gave the opening and welcome alongside Roger Sutton. Now if you watched Cathryn throughout the day, you would have seen her writing down a variety of different notes, longhand, on a pad of paper. These notes were then, by the end of the day, transformed into a speech that wrapped up all the pertinent points. It was extraordinary. She didn’t even transfer it all to a laptop and edit it. So well done there.
M.T. Anderson started off the day with a speech called “What’s Actually in a Box”. It may have discussed his intense dislike of Little Women. “Unboxing Nonfiction” was a panel conducted between Roxanne Feldman and Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes. During the course of their talk they spoke about the dire need to break wide open “the canonical boundaries of biography.” Then Steve Sheinkin spoke on the topic of “Get Me Out of the Health Food Aisle!: Rethinking Nonfiction”. LEGOs were involved in some manner. After lunch Roger Sutton moderated “How Jazz and Picture Books Are the Same Exact Thing” with Roxane Orgill and Francis Vallejo and then I got to interview Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Fred Koehler about their book One Day, the End. Turns out, they are a hoot. As a moderator you always worry that your subjects will just give one word answers to your questions. Rebecca and Fred worked like a perfectly tuned engine. You’d think they’d been friends for years, rather than a lucky pairing of author and illustrator by an editor. We were also able to determine once and for all whether or not the girl in the book picks up the ice cream that falls from her cone and places it back on that same cone from the ground or not. Squeamish readers may not like the answer.
“Unboxing Fiction” was a truly fascinating talk conducted by Joanna Long with Laura Amy Schlitz and Rebecca Stead. We found out that both authors were descended from hired girls who married above their stations. We learned what a bundling board is, as well as chaperoned kissing parties. Oh, it was amazing stuff. I can only hope the day was recorded in some way.
Finally Cathryn Mercier gave her (longhand) final speech and this was immediately followed up with by the presentation of the Scott O’Dell Award to Laura. There was champagne and chocolate cupcakes with blue frosting. Everything, in short, that makes life worth living.
My trip to the airport would have been in an overpriced taxi. Instead, winner Francis Vallejo, his girlfriend, his mom, and his dad all drove me to the airport themselves. They not only saved me money but were lively and wonderful companions en route, and I’d be an unappreciative beast if I didn’t thank them here. We got to talk a little Detroit, which always caps off a trip well.
And a thank you to the fine and fabulous folks of the Horn Book for babysitting me, putting me up, and generally allowing me to have a wonderful time. Thank you to Roger for selecting me for this committee. To the winners for your time and speeches. And to the attendees for coming up afterwards to say you read this blog from time to time. That’s awfully nice to hear. So thank you one and all, and if anyone reading this is so inclined, do be so good as to sign up to attend next year’s BGHB Award Ceremony. It’s supposed to be the official 50th anniversary, so you know the cupcakes are gonna be good.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a parent or guardian reads a picture book to a child repeatedly, day in and day out, for weeks or even months on end, something is bound to happen to the child’s brain and that of the adult reader as well. I don’t mean to make this sound dire or anything. The child, as many studies have shown, benefits from the repetition and learns from it. For the adult, however, there can be side effects. And perhaps the most common side effect is Chronic Family Phrase Generation.
Example: You read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury constantly. Even if you have never seen this book performed in a storytime, you are aware that there are natural cadences to the text. You’ve read this so often that you have its natural cadences memorized. You have different voices for each of the sound effects. When the family runs from the bear you thump on the book like their frightened footsteps have come to life. And what is the result of all this hard work? Every time you go outside and the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing and the temperature is somewhere between 73-75 degrees you say aloud, “What a beautiful day.” And then, not five seconds later, “We’re not scared!”
Every. Single. Time.
That, my friends, is Chronic Family Phrase Generation. The upside of this is that everyone in your immediate family knows what you’re talking about when you use these phrases. It’s like a secret family passcode. If they ever kidnap you and replace you with an evil twin, all your family has to do to determine whether it’s you or not is to simply say off-handedly, “What a beautiful day.” If you don’t respond with that Pavlovian “We’re not scared,” then clearly you are the evil twin.
I think it’s actually really interesting to consider the qualities that make a written sentence into a family phrase. What must it consist of? The length? Where the stresses on each one of the words falls?
In my own home we have many such phrases, but only a couple occurred to me while writing this post. They are:
- From Go, Dog, Go: “Up the tree. Up the tree. Up they go to the top of the tree.” These sentences are modified every time I’m trying to get the kids to go up the stairs. Also acceptable, “Go down dogs. Go down, I say.”
- From The Daddy Mountain: “And that could be a catastrophe.” This one comes up randomly, but is very satisfying. I recommend placing the stresses on “that”, “be”, and the “tas” part of “catastrophe”.
I asked my husband if he had any growing up and he let me know that yes indeed, there were some. Both, to the best of his knowledge come from Dr. Seuss. They are:
“If such a thing could be then it certainly would be.”
“An isn’t has no fun at all. No he disn’t.”
This leads to a word of warning to the wise. The danger of all this, of course, is that someday your phrase can potentially remain but the source will have disappeared. In my own family growing up, for example, the phrase, “I swoop. I soar. I fly. Back up, back up!” was acquired somewhere. Possibly from a book, possibly from a film, possibly from a television show. The source has been lost but the phrase remains, only now every time we say it we cringe and feel obligated to follow it up with, “What is that from?”
So in the interests of research that will certainly never go anywhere, what are some of the family phrases in your home that you heard growing up or that you say now to your kids or grandkids, and that can claim picture books as their original sources? I wonder if any of your answers will repeat. Surely I cannot be the only person in the world doomed to say “We’re not scared” every time the day outside is beautiful.
By: Betsy Bird
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Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
Narrative and Translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi
Illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri
Chin Music Press
Ages 5 and up
On shelves now
Recently I was at a conference celebrating the creators of different kinds of children’s books. During one of the panel discussions an author of a picture book biography of Fannie Lou Hamer said that part of the mission of children’s book authors is to break down “the canonical boundaries of biography”. I knew what she meant. A cursory glance at any school library or public library’s children’s room will show that most biographies go to pretty familiar names. It’s easy to forget how much we need biographies of interesting, obscure people who have done great things. Fortunately, at this conference, I had an ace up my sleeve. I knew perfectly well that one such book has just been published here in the States and it’s a game changer. Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko isn’t your typical dry as dust retelling of a life. It crackles with energy, mystery, tragedy, and, ultimately, redemption. This book doesn’t just break down the boundaries of biography. It breaks down the boundaries placed on children’s poetry, art, and translation too. Smarter and more beautiful than it has any right to be, this book challenges a variety of different biography/poetry conventions. The fact that it’s fun to read as well is just gravy.
Part biography, part poetry collection, and part history, Are You an Echo? introduces readers to the life and work of celebrated Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko. One day a man by the name of Setsuo Yazaki stumbled upon a poem called “Big Catch”. The poet’s seemingly effortless ability to empathize with the plight of fish inspired him to look into her other works. The problem? The only known book of her poems out there was caught in the conflagration following the firebombing of Tokyo during World War II. Still, Setsuo was determined and after sixteen years he located the poet’s younger brother who had her diaries, containing 512 of Misuzu’s poems. From this, Setsuo was able to piece together her life. Born in 1902, Misuzu Kaneko grew up in Senzaki in western Japan. She stayed in school at her mother’s insistence and worked in her mother’s bookstore. For fun she submitted some of her poems to a monthly magazine and shockingly every magazine she submitted them to accepted them. Yet all was not well for Misuzu. She had married poorly, contracted a disease from her unfaithful husband that caused her pain, and he had forced her to stop writing as well. Worst of all, when she threatened to leave he told her that their daughter’s custody would fall to him. Unable to see a way out of her problem, she ended her life at twenty-six, leaving her child in the care of her mother. Years passed, and the tsunami of 2011 took place. Misuzu’s poem “Are You an Echo?” was aired alongside public service announcements and it touched millions of people. Suddenly, Misuzu was the most famous children’s poet of Japan, giving people hope when they needed it. She will never be forgotten again. The book is spotted with ten poems throughout Misuzu’s story, and fifteen additional poems at the end.
There’s been a lot of talk in the children’s literature sphere about the role of picture book biographies. More specifically, what’s their purpose? Are they there simply to inform and delight or do they need to actually attempt to encapsulate the great moments in a person’s life, warts and all? If a picture book bio only selects a single moment out of someone’s life as a kind of example, can you still call it a biography? If you make up dialogue and imagine what might have happened in one scene or another, do those fictional elements keep it from the “Biography” section of your library or bookstore, or is there a place out there for fictionalized bios? These questions are new ones, just as the very existence of picture book biographies, in as great a quantity as we’re seeing them, is also new. One of the takeaways I’ve gotten from these conversations is that it is possible to tackle difficult subjects in a picture book bio, but it must be done naturally and for a good reason. So a story like Gary Golio’s Spirit Seeker can discuss John Coltrane’s drug abuse, as long as it serves the story and the character’s growth. On the flip side, Javaka Steptoe’s Radiant Child, a biography of Basquiat, makes the choice of discussing the artist’s mother’s fight with depression and mental illness, but eschews any mention of his own suicide.
Are You An Echo? is an interesting book to mention alongside these two other biographies because the story is partly about Misuzu Kaneko’s life, partly about how she was discovered as a poet, and partly a highlight of her poetry. But what author David Jacobson has opted to do here is tell the full story of her life. As such, this is one of the rare picture book bios I’ve seen to talk about suicide, and probably the only book of its kind I’ve ever seen to make even a passing reference to STDs. Both issues informed Kaneko’s life, depression, feelings of helplessness, and they contribute to her story. The STD is presented obliquely so that parents can choose or not choose to explain it to kids if they like. The suicide is less avoidable, so it’s told in a matter-of-fact manner that I really appreciated. Euphemisms, for the most part, are avoided. The text reads, “She was weak from illness and determined not to let her husband take their child. So she decided to end her life. She was only twenty-six years old.” That’s bleak but it tells you what you need to know and is honest to its subject.
But let’s just back up a second and acknowledge that this isn’t actually a picture book biography in the strictest sense of the term. Truthfully, this book is rife, RIFE, with poetry. As it turns out, it was the editorial decision to couple moments in Misuzu’s life with pertinent poems that gave the book its original feel. I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to come up with a picture book biography of a poet that has done anything similar. I know one must exist out there, but I was hard pressed to think of it. Maybe it’s done so rarely because the publishers are afraid of where the book might end up. Do you catalog this book as poetry or as biography? Heck, you could catalog it in the Japanese history section and still be right on in your assessment. It’s possible that a book that melds so many genres together could only have been published in the 21st century, when the influx of graphic inspired children’s literature has promulgated. Whatever the case, reading this book you’re struck with the strong conviction that the book is as good as it is precisely because of this melding of genres. To give up this aspect of the book would be to weaken it.
Right off the bat I was impressed by the choice of poems. The first one you encounter is called “Big Catch” and it tells about a village that has caught a great number of fish. The poem ends by saying, “On the beach, it’s like a festival / but in the sea they will hold funerals / for the tens of thousands dead.” The researcher Setsuo Yazaki was impressed by the poet’s empathy for the fish, and that empathy is repeated again and again in her poems. “Big Catch” is actually one of her bleaker works. Generally speaking, the poems look at the world through childlike eyes. “Wonder” contemplates small mysteries, in “Beautiful Town” the subject realizes that a memory isn’t from life but from a picture in a borrowed book, and “Snow Pile” contemplates how the snow on the bottom, the snow on the top, and the snow in the middle of a pile must feel when they’re all pressed together. The temptation would be to call Kaneko the Japanese Emily Dickenson, owing to the nature of the discovery of her poems posthumously, but that’s unfair to both Kaneko and Dickenson. Kenko’s poems are remarkable not just because of their original empathy, but also because they are singularly childlike. A kid would get a kick out of reading these poems. That’s no mean feat.
Mind you, we’re dealing with a translation here. And considering how beautifully these poems read, you might want a note from the translators talking about their process. You can imagine, then, how thrilled I was to find a half-page’s worth of a “Translators’ Note” explaining aspects of the work here that never would have occurred to me in a million years. The most interesting problem came down to culture. As Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi write, “In Japanese, girls have a particular way of speaking that is affectionate and endearing . . . However, English is limited in its capacity to convey Misuzu’s subtle feminine sensibility and the elegant nuances of her classical allusions. We therefore had to skillfully work our way through both languages, often producing several versions of a poem by discussing them on Skype and through extensive emails – Michiko from Japan, Sally from China – to arrive at the best possible translations in English.” It makes a reader really sit back and admire the sheer levels of dedication and hard work that go into a book of this sort. If you read this book and find that the poems strike you as singularly interesting and unique, you may now have to credit these dedicated translators as greatly as you do the original subject herself. We owe them a lot.
In the back of the book there is a note from the translators and a note from David Jacobson who wrote the text of the book that didn’t include the poetry. What’s conspicuously missing here is a note from the illustrator. That’s a real pity too since biographical information about artist Toshikado Hajiri is missing. Turns out, Toshikado is originally from Kyoto and now lives in Anan, Tokushima. Just a cursory glance at his art shows a mild manga influence. You can see it in the eyes of the characters and the ways in which Toshikado chooses to draw emotions. That said, this artist is capable of also conveying great and powerful moments of beauty in nature. The sunrise behind a beloved island, the crush of chaos following the tsunami, and a peach/coral/red sunset, with a grandmother and granddaughter silhouetted against its beauty. What Toshikado does here is match Misuzu’s poetry, note for note. The joyous moments she found in the world are conveyed visually, matching, if never exceeding or distracting from, her prowess. The end result is more moving than you might expect, particularly when he includes little human moments like Misuzu reading to her daughter on her lap or bathing her one last time.
Here is what I hope happens. I hope that someday soon, the name “Misuzu Kaneko” will become better known in the United States. I hope that we’ll start seeing collections of her poems here, illustrated by some of our top picture book artists. I hope that the fame that came to Kaneko after the 2011 tsunami will take place in America, without the aid of a national disaster. And I hope that every child that reads, or is read, one of her poems feels that little sense of empathy she conveyed so effortlessly in her life. I hope all of this, and I hope that people find this book. In many ways, this book is an example of what children’s poetry should strive to be. It tells the truth, but not the truth of adults attempting to impart wisdom upon their offspring. This is the truth that the children find on their own, but often do not bother to convey to the adults in their lives. Considering how much of this book concerns itself with being truthful about Misuzu’s own life and struggles, this conceit matches its subject matter to a tee. Beautiful, mesmerizing, necessary reading for one and all.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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Misc: An article in PW about the translation.