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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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Contrary to appearances I am not accustomed to international travel. I have no frequent flyer miles set up. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if someone asked me to convert a Euro. Yet in spite of all this, I seem to be on a plane today bound for bright and sunny Spain. Some of you may recall how, two years ago, I combined my trip to the Bologna Book Fair with an additional trip to Barcelona. Well now family reasons compel me to return, this time with a 2-year-old in tow.
How does one prepare one’s offspring for flight and foreign countries? Well, if you’re me, you go to the books.
Step One: Get child comfortable with the notion of flight.
Not too difficult since she flew to the Midwest last Christmastime, but flights overseas are longer, duller, and more confining. Best to make the whole process familiar in some way. So! On to the airport books. The kiddo likes these the most right now:
Everything Goes: In the Air by Brian Biggs – Her #1 favorite, no question. The love of Biggs runs strong in the sprog. Whether it’s his illustrations on Cynthia Rylant’s “Brownie and Pearl” series or the work he’s done here (whether the books or the board books), Biggs knows how to give vehicles of every stripe and flavor their due. In In the Air Biggs walks you through the airline process. My kiddo, naturally, is most intoxicated by the shuttle bus at the beginning and the missing babies you’re encouraged to locate throughout the rest of the story. Still, she understands a lot of the airline process thanks to Mr. Biggs and also thanks to . . .
Flight 1, 2, 3 by Maria van Lieshout – This book is not only recent (note the 2013 publication date) but it has a unique take. On the outside it might look like it’s just a walk through the airport process using numbers along the way (counting books are very big in the Bird household right now too). On closer inspection, Ms. van Lieshout tips her hat to the airport and in-flight signs that have become universal symbols. In this book she writes, “Without these signs – mostly designed by AIGA artists Seymour Chwast, Roger Cook, and Don Shanosky – we wouldn’t arrive on time or at the right destination.” Didn’t Seymour Chwast write a picture book or two of his own? Small world. In any case, the book is itself is lovely and quite up-to-date when it comes to airport screenings and all that jazz.
Airport by Byron Barton – Circa 1982, no less. You might think that most older airport books are about as dated as Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting. And to a certain extent you’d be right. Certainly anytime we whip out a Richard Scarry book it’s an exercise in what no longer exists. But the Barton book is super simple and there’s much to be said for that. It’s hard to top Barton, anyway.
Step Two: Introduce the concept of Spain.
This is a bit more difficult. Spain makes as much sense to a toddler as the moon. Less, actually, since they can see the moon and if you told them they’d be taking a trip there they’d completely buy it. But Spain? Here is the kiddo’s #1 association with that country.
My First Songs by Tomie dePaola – Specifically “Rain Rain, Go Away”. If you’ll recall there is a line in there called “Rain rain, go to Spain / Never show your face again”. Admittedly, if we were more superstitious people we might question the wisdom of sending inclement weather to our vacation destination. As it stands, we’ll risk it.
As for Barcelona itself, there really aren’t that many children’s books that include it. However, if you think a bit outside the box, there are always options. So it was that I remembered:
Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi by Rachel Rodriguez, illustrated by Julie Paschkis – A too little remembered but really quite good picture book biography of the man responsible for a great number of buildings in Barcelona. The illustrations of Ms. Paschkis are luminous and do a darned good job at bringing the man’s work to life. I had the vague notion of bringing the book along with me to Spain (my 6-year-old niece will be joining us, and I figured she might get a kick out of it), but my hold didn’t arrive on time. Alas for me, but useful for anyone else who might be traveling to that neck of the world.
And so I go. Fear not, I’ll be posting interim posts during my absence. Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe I have a plane to catch.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Allison Bruce
, Bank Street College of Education
, Daniel Handler
, Hydrox cookies
, Jenny Brown
, Jon Klassen
, Jon Scieszka
, Lemony Snicket
, Lisa Von Drasek
, Neil Gaiman
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There are some days when you are so utterly floored by delight that all you can do is throw up your hands and say to the universe, “I’m out!” That was yesterday. I’m out, folks. I hit the top. It’s all downhill from here. And I’m so young! It’s sad when you peak at 34.
The source of this joy/woe is Allie Bruce at the Bank Street School for Children’s library. As you may know, if you attended my Children’s Literary Salon on Alternative Children’s Librarians, Allie is Bank Street’s children’s librarian and a more talented young ‘un you could not hope to find. She asked me if I could come in one day to speak to some of her sixth graders about book jackets. And since that is a topic I could talk about all day and night, I readily agreed.
Oh. And while I was there, Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler and Jon Klassen would stop by to do their very first dual presentation of their new book The Dark.
But wait. There’s more.
Neil Gaiman would also be stopping by. And Mr. Handler’s wife Lisa Brown. And Jon Scieszka might come along. As well as Kerlan Collection guru Lisa Von Drasek (newly appointed as a National Book Award committee judge).
So . . . there was that.
That morning I headed on over with my handy dandy FlashDrive, forgetting to bring my camera. Luckily everything in my purse is a camera these days. My phone is a camera. My iPod is a camera. My lipstick, extra shoes, and hairbrush may all well have cameras in them, for all I know.
My presentation seemed to go all right. Allie was nice about it anyway, and though I was mildly unnerved when Lisa Von Drasek appeared, taking a picture with an iPad (it is hard to stay calm in the face of a large flat surface aimed at your head) I didn’t panic once. For the record, the kids assured me that none of them liked the old cover of Okay for Now and did prefer the new paperback jacket. They also agreed with me that the British cover of Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos is heads and tails more interesting than the American one. Duh.
When I was done I got to flit about. In my flitting I saw that the Bank Street library’s children’s librarian’s office contains an ancient Jon Scieszka mask of yore. The kind of mask that reminds you of Eraserhead more than anything else. The mask is Lisa Von Drasek’s by right, and she had a fascinating story about when it was made and its original purpose. Apparently when it first came out it was handed to a roomful of librarians. Jon knew nothing about it and he walked in to see his own visage staring back at him from hundreds of faces. “It was like Being John Malkovich“, he said. Allie assured me that the kids who see it are fascinated. Sometimes they commune with it on a near spiritual level.
Jon Klassen and Daniel Handler were slated to start signing a bunch of copies of their book but until they did we figured we’d hang out in The Quiet Room (which proved to be a bit of a misnomer). I don’t own a clutch. Not really. So in lieu of one I tend to carry around a book. Thus it was that the galley of Merrie Haskell’s Handbook for Dragon Slayers got lugged, poor thing, hither and thither, as I stuffed an interesting assortment of business cards, flyers, and Starbucks napkins into its pages. Apparently I was worried that I’d have nothing to do and would need some entertainment. Oh, the wrongness of little me.
Jon, Daniel, the remarkable Lisa Brown, her thoroughly enjoyable offspring (who had written one helluva graphic novel illustrated by his mom), Victoria Stapleton in shoes I should have caught on film, and a whole host of other folks flooded in. Before long it was lunch. Picture, if you will, what it is like to eat lunch across from Scieszka and Handler with Lisa Brown at your side and Lisa Von Drasek heading the table. I am not particularly good at socializing when overwhelmed. I tend to get giggly. And loud. And I make strange little jokes that feed off of references that make sense only in my own head. So while I was not particularly interesting at this gathering, the rest of the folks were superb. In the future I’m taking my little audio recorder with me to capture this kind of situation on tape for the benefit of future generations. See if I don’t.
So then Neil Gaiman comes in. That was nice. He’s a bit beardy right now. Much with the stubble, which has a pleasant graying sheen to it. Shocker: He wore black. I’m not shy around famous folks, but Gaiman is a tricky one. He’s a very kind famous person. If you introduce yourself to him he’ll look you dead square in the eye, shake your hand, and seem interested in whatever babble proceeds to emanate from your mouth. But famous people on his level are a bit difficult to converse with casually, and because they are at a distinct disadvantage to you (you know who they are, but they meet hundreds of people every day and can’t remember you as well) you can’t rely on them remembering any past conversations you might have had. So I just skipped the whole meet Gaiman part of the day and chatted with Jon Klassen instead. And Jon is a true doll. The kind of guy you’d try to weasel yourself into sitting next to at a dinner party. I’m trying to pin down exactly what his personality reminds me of, but it’s hard. In any case, I lamented with him that he’d used such great material on his Boston Horn Book Globe Award speech now that he had to write a Caldecott one (he’s almost done with it, Roger, don’t worry!).
Then it was time for the presentation! We proceeded to the Bank Street auditorium, which was apparently built on the side of a mountain. It’s one of those auditoriums where you get the distinct feeling that if you tripped and fell down the stairs they’d have to pluck your various limbs out of the four corners of the room post-landing. We sat up top, the kiddos sitting beneath us, closer to the stage. And what lively kiddos they were too! I suspect they were fresh off of lunch and had had their fill of pudding pops or whatever it is kids eat today (Note to Self: Check and see if pudding pops still exist . . . ditto Hydrox cookies). They were bouncy. Very bouncy. Tres bouncy. Handler played some background music for them which, interestingly, did not seem to affect them one way or another. And so the fun began.
Now Daniel and Jon had never presented together. Their PowerPoint presentation had not even been finished as of the night before. And here they were, with Gaiman, ready to wow a room on a brand new book for the very first time.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us discuss the nature of comedic chemistry. Think of all the great pairings of the past. Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Now think of the great comedic children’s book pairings out there. Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. Mac Barnett and Adam Rex. Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld (they get extra points for playing ping pong while they present). But on this day we witnessed something new. Something unique. We witnessed, ladies and gentlemen, the greatest comic picture book pairing the world has ever seen. I mean this honestly.
For you see, Mr. Handler had noticed something about Mr. Klassen. He is a world class straight man. A good straight man is exceedingly difficult to find. You need someone who enjoys the spotlight but hasn’t the kind of ego that demands that they grab it away from their partner. They need to be willing to be made a fool of, but the wit and cunning to turn it all around on their partner by the end. In short, you need a Jon Klassen.
The entire schtick hinged on the idea that Mr. Handler (who proclaimed repeatedly that he was not Lemony Snicket to the pained cries of the delighted audience members) had zero respect for Mr. Klassen’s work on their book together. In the course of their talk he disparaged Mr. Klassen’s clothes and talent. Klassen, for his part, played along beautifully. They alternated seemingly random slides of varying importance. It was fairly clear that the slides were a combination of Handler’s old standbys (he’s in an old photograph phase right now that’s doing very well by him) with Klassen’s (in which he shows various important pieces of art from his youth, including a shot of Frog & Toad, and repeats how frightened he was of them when he was a child).
When Mr. Snicket starts to read the book with Mr. Klassen illustrating alongside him, the tension escalates. Handler denies Mr. Klassen the shiny red apple he’d really like to eat. He blindfolds him and makes him draw sans eyes. He brings on Gaiman and claims he’s now going to read the book in his best Neil Gaiman imitation (Klassen makes fun of the “imitation” continually). And then, when everything is reaching a crescendo . . . Klassen turns everything on its head and Handler runs off screaming. I won’t give away why. Bank Street recorded the whole thing and I’ll post it here when I can.
The kids, for the record, ate this thing up like it was a (perhaps nonexistent) pudding pop. They laughed. They screamed. Mostly they screamed. I’m not entirely certain if Handler and Klassen (and Gaiman for that matter) were ready for the level of identification the kids made with poor Mr. Klassen. Handler told his blindfolded illustrator that both of them would blindfold themselves and then read and draw without their eyes. This was, of course, a lie and the kids could not help but scream to Mr. Klassen that Mr. Handler was welching on his half of the deal. There was an interesting level of desperation to their cries. Handler’s an old hand in dealing with child panic and outrage, but Klassen dealt with it beautifully as well. It was very satisfying to watch. You should have heard les enfants terrible when Handler started eating Jon’s apple.
When the video is up and running I will let you know. It’ll make your day. Meantime, a big thank you to the folks at Little, Brown for bringing these heavyweights together and to Bank Street for hosting them. And thanks, of course, to Allie Jane Bruce for inviting me and allowing me to report on what, without a doubt, was the highlight of the year. Methinks I’ll go off and relive it a couple times just for kicks.
Jenny Brown living the dream with Allie Bruce close by.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, alternative children's libraries
, April Fool's Day
, book murals
, Children's Literary Salon
, Cockeyed Caravan
, Collecting Children's Books
, Common Core
, Eric Carle Museum
, Me stuff
, Neal Layton
, Rachel Renee Russell
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Oh me, oh my, where does the time go? Here we are, it’s Monday yet again, and I’m running about like a chicken with my head cut off. This Friday I head off to Barcelona for a full week (weep for me), then back I come to promote my picture book (Giant Dance Party, or haven’t I mentioned it before?), but not before I’ve finished the promotional videos and my very first website. *pant pant pant*
With that in mind, let’s get through these mighty quick. Not that they don’t all deserve time and attention. And tender loving care. Mwah! Big kisses all around! And yes, I did consider doing an April Fool’s post today but thought better of it. If you’d like to see some of the greatest April Fool’s posts of the children’s literary world, however, please be so good as to head over to Collecting Children’s Books and read the ones that Peter Sieruta came up with. There was 2012′s post (“Selznick syndrome” is just shy of brilliant), 2011′s Charlie Sheen Lands Children’s Book Deal (still feels real), 2009′s Graveyard Book to Be Stripped of Newbery, and his 2008 Ramona piece de resistance. This is the first year he won’t have one up. Miss you, Peter.
- So I had a crazy idea for a Children’s Literary Salon panel at NYPL. Heck, I didn’t even know if anyone would show up, but I invited four different children’s librarians from four very different alternative children’s libraries. Don’t know what an alternative children’s library is? Then read this SLJ write-up NYPL Panelists Explore Alternatives to Traditional Librarianship. The happy ending is that lots of people attended and the conversation was scintillating. And timely. A nice combination.
- Did your stomach lurch a little when you found out that Amazon bought Goodreads? Well, how much should you care? Dan Blank has some answers. In Short: Don’t you worry ’bout nothing (he says it nicer than that).
- A contact recently mentioned that they would like to give a little attention to the children’s book art auction at Book Expo, a yearly event that actually isn’t particularly well known. Said they (take note!):
The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression is an organization that fights book censorship. We mostly work with booksellers, however, in Our Kids Right To Read Project, we advocate for kids when people try to ban books in libraries or classrooms. Our position is that parents have the right to decide what their own children read but they do not have the right to decide for others. Proceeds from the auction will go to our programming. Our website is www.abffe.org and for the auction we have set up a separate page where people can buy tickets and artists can donate art. It is: http://abffesilentauction.wordpress.com/.
- More me stuff. Over at Tor.com I answer the great ponderable facing the world of children’s literature today: Why are dinosaurs so darn popular? The answer may surprise you. Okay . . . that’s a lie. You know why. But at the very least I’m able to draw some conclusions you may not have necessarily come up with before. It all comes down to Freud, baby.
- I’ve a friend who passes along Common Core oddities she picks up on in the news. This week it was a tough call. Which was better? The article that said, “Alabama cannot retain its education sovereignty under Common Core” or Glenn Beck’s even nuttier-than-usual screed against CCS saying that they’ll result in 1984-type changes to the educational system? Honestly, do we even have to choose?
On the flipside, how cool is this? The Eric Carle Museum has a simply lovely exhibit up right now called Latino Folk Tales: Cuentos Populares-Art by Latino Artists. As if you needed an excuse to visit. But just in case you did . . .
I haven’t gotten much from Cynopsis Kids lately for the old blog, but there was this little tidbit I almost missed the other day: “Montreal-based Sardine Productions will develop a children’s television show based on The Mammoth Academy, a book series by British author and illustrator Neal Layton, with TVOKids, a division of Ontario’s public educational media organization TVO.”
Meanwhile, from PW Children’s Bookshelf, this little nugget of very cool news: “Anne Hoppe at Clarion Books has acquired North American rights to a nonfiction picture book by Katherine Applegate about Ivan the gorilla, the subject of her Newbery Medal-winning The One and Only Ivan. Elena Mechlin at Pippin Properties represented Applegate. In a separate deal, Mechlin sold North American rights to two middle-grade novels by Applegate, to Jean Feiwel and Liz Szabla at Feiwel and Friends.” Well that’s 12 kinds of brilliant. And how clever of Hoppe to get Applegate for Clarion. She’ll do well there. Nonfiction always does.
I don’t know about you but I was thrilled to see The New York Times write a piece on Rachel Renee Russell. When we talk about bestselling children’s books it seems odd to me that no one ever points out that the top series in children’s literature (rather than YA) right now that is written by a woman is also written by an African-American woman. Now I just want to know who the famous author was that discouraged her from writing when she was in college!
Excluding the very rare exceptions here and there, it’s fairly safe to say that when picture books are adapted into big screen movie sensations they are inevitably packed to the gills full of unnecessary awfulness. Consider the fate of The Cat in the Hat if you doubt me at all. Now there are exceptions to every rule, but for every Where the Wild Things Are there are twenty or so live action How the Grinch Stole Christmases to take their place (Seuss books are particularly egregious offenders in this way).
My philosophy is, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And as the mother of an almost two-year-old with an irrepressible appetite for picture book and easy book fare (not that there are any attempts at repressing being made) I’ve found that if a parent reads a book over and over enough that parent will start to construct elaborate subplots and backstories for the characters. Here then are some backstories you could easily turn into full-length feature films. If you had to, anyway.
My Aunt Came Back by Pat Cummings – I see Will Smith producing this one, and I’m not even joking about this. The plot, if you’re familiar with it, consists of a young girl’s recitation of the different things her aunt has given her after her worldwide trips. Example: “My aunt came back from Timbuktu / She brought me back a wooden shoe.” Read the book enough times, though, and one fact is crystal clear. The aunt is an international spy. Of course she is! She’s going to Pakistan one day and Beijing the next and then leaving clues and pieces of evidence with her unsuspecting niece. This interpretation gives a whole different feeling to the end of the book where the girl says gleefully, “But this time she’s taking me too”. As a alibi, undoubtedly. Clever aunt. By the way, who’s a person gotta kill around here to get this board book back in print? Seriously, the fact that I can’t order new copies of this for my library system is a crime against man.
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman – Full credit to my brother-in-law for pointing out what this book is really about. Have you guys noticed that dystopian and post-apocalyptic tales are everywhere? Well, meet the original post-apocalyptic hellscape that serves as the backdrop to this tale. A baby bird searches a scorched earth for his mother, encountering various still living reminders of a world that once was. About the point you get to the abandoned (some might say burned out) car you get suspicious. The only signs of human existence are a distant boat at the bottom of a cliff and the scary snort that never reveals itself to be anything but sentient metal. In fact, that’s how I see the book. The machines rebelled against man and war broke out. The humans were all put down and now the world is ruled by diggers and cars and various forms of transportation. They leave the animals in peace, but that’s because none of them have ever shown signs of intelligence. That is . . . until the birth of a singular baby bird! Bum bum BUMMMMM.
Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman – If you can sit through futuristic P.D. Eastman then you can certainly sit through a glimpse into the world of Go, Dog, Go! that I would have missed had it not been (again) thanks to my brother-in-law. The book consists of many dogs doing many things and they all appear, for the most part, to be male. The exception lies in two dogs that have this strange little exchange throughout the book. One will ask if her friend likes her hat. He’ll bluntly say no and they’ll move on. And this continues four or five times until, at last, at a wild party he tells her he likes her hat and she drives away in his car. Not the greatest moral, but you begin to wonder what the nature of their relationship really is. I see them as kind of the When Harry Met Sally of the easy book world. But if she has any guts she’ll leave him cold and soon. That boy’s no good, honey. Worse, he has terrible taste in hats.
Ready, Steady, Go, Mr. Croc! by Jo Lodge – I don’t mind telling you that this British import with its enormously clever paper constructions was derailed for me (slightly) when my husband pointed that that Mr. Croc’s wolf friend Wilf had a name that sounded suspiciously similar to Wolf I’d Like to F***. Wilf. Yeah, ask me if I’m even capable of saying the poor guy’s name now without giggling. And that’s before I noticed the sheer number of relationships going on in these books. The Mr. Croc titles are probably where you can pinpoint my descent into madness. Several of his books involve his friends, and I’ve started to construct these intricate relationship notes between characters. Clearly Lulu the cheetah and Wilf have a thing for one another, but Lulu’s rich (she owns a plane and excels at tennis) and Wilf still works on a farm. Can their love survive? As for Elsie the elephant, I suspect that she’s been pining for Zebedee the zebra, but it’s all for naught at this point. Moving on . . .
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss – Any Dr. Seuss book lends itself to interpretation. That’s why we’ve such terrible movies of them out there. Hop on Pop rivals Go, Dog, Go! in random chicanery, but there is one storyline in there that I’m particularly interested in. That would be the saga of Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Mr. Brown appears to be happily married to Mrs. Brown until one day in a chance accident involving a see-saw he’s flung out of town. When he comes back he’s suddenly quite close to a mysterious Mr. Black. Are they in love? Is Mr. Black just his rabbi? Pup’s not talking but Mrs. Brown is nowhere in sight. What is going on here?
The entire Bizzy Bear series by Benji Davies – Like the Mr. Croc series, Bizzy Bear is a British import that lends itself to WAY too many thoughts in my head. Bizzy participates on a construction crew in one book and takes a vacation in another. Nothing mind boggling. I read quite a few of his books before I realized something. Bizzy’s got a thing for pretty lady dogs. In his pirate adventure, his firefighting outing, and his vacation Bizzy ends up in the company of a pretty dog, though it never appears to be the same dog twice. The man knows what he likes, I’ll give him that much.
Now I’m off to go read some A.S. Byatt, because much more of this and you’ll start to see me mouthing off about the hidden meanings found in Knuffle Bunny. Trust me when I say you do NOT want to be around for that.
There are certain words and phrases that are instantly hilarious. Kalamazoo is one of them. Platypus is another. All the more reason to combine the two. That’s my logic. When I heard that Jarrett Krosoczka (he of the Lunch Lady GN series as well as a stunner of a TED talk, amongst other accomplishments), had a buddy cop middle grade coming out called Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked, I had to have it. And as luck would have it, it’s great. Why no one has ever thought to do a buddy copy chapter book (if you can name me one other you earn yourself a cookie) I do not know. Clearly it’s meant to be.
Folks at Walden Media got wind that I liked the book (review forthcoming) and asked if I’d like to premier some of the art. The book’s not slated for shelves until May 7th so here’s a bit of a peek into some of the pieces I’m particularly fond of and why.
So first off, the book is set in Kalamazoo City, which is not to be confused with Kalamazoo, Michigan (my beloved hometown). Here’s a bit of a glimpse into some of the lower income parts of the city. From what I can tell, Kalamazoo City sports a pretty large population. One of our heroes in the book lives here.
I refer to the book as in the “buddy cop” style, but as you can see, Krosoczka isn’t averse to dropping a bit of noir in as well.
Then there’s the standard getting-dressed-down-by-the-chief scene. Of which this book had in abundance. I like this shot.
Should I read too much into the fact that the librarian in this book is a bird? A bird with a thing for young handsome platypuses, no less. She clearly has good taste. I’m going to lay claim to her in any case.
It’s like me mudda always used to say: Never trust a koala. Particularly a koala sporting elastic on his upper arms..
This just a small smattering, but it gives you a taste for the book in its entirety. Thanks to Walden Media for letting me show you the goods. It’s a grand little book. No fooling.
Brick by Brick
By Charles R. Smith Jr.
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
On shelves now
Sometimes I feel like the older I get the more interesting history becomes. Not that history, real history, wasn’t always fascinating. It’s just that when I was a kid you couldn’t have named a subject duller. And why not? Insofar as I knew, the history taught in my schools gave me the distinct impression that America was a country forged by white people and that folks of any other race would crop up occasionally in the textbooks to be slaves or to appear in internment camps or to suffer Jim Crow. If anything came up about post-Revolutionary War America it was a pretty dry recitation of more white people doing whatever it was that they did. So for me the recent bumper crop of children’s books seeking to undo some of this damage is positively heady. Whether it’s works of historical fiction based in fact like Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson and Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, or fascinating works of nonfiction like Master George’s People by Marfe Ferguson Delano, we live in an era where kids can get a fuller, if not entirely complete, look at what has typically been a whitewashed era in their history books. For the younger sorts we have, Brick by Brick, a book that shines a light on something that I’m not even sure my own second grade teacher even knew, back in the day. Doesn’t hurt matters any that it’s gorgeous to boot.
“Under a hazy, / hot summer sun, / many hands work / together as one.” The time has come for the President of the United States of America to have a home to live in. So it is that white workers and free black workers are joined by slave labor to get the job done. In highlighting their work, poet and author Charles R. Smith Jr. focuses squarely on the hands of the laborers. Gentle rhyming text tells the tale, pulling in facts along the way. For example, we see that some of the more skilled laborers earned shillings that went towards buying their freedom. The house is built and the people look forward to a day when they won’t have to be slaves any long. Some factual backmatter appears at the end.
Last year we actually saw a book that was relatively similar to this one. Called The House That George Built it was by Suzanne Slade and raised hackles on my hackles when I read it. I was fresh off having watched the HBO John Adams series and it seemed to me an utter waste that Slade would write a whole book about the construction of the White House without giving additional attention to the sheer irony inherent in the fact that its very creation rested in large part on the backs of slaves. To be fair, Slade did mention the slave workers and her book had a broader scope in mind. Still, I read it and wanted it to be something else. And the something else I wanted, as it turned out, was Brick by Brick. I just didn’t know it yet.
Smith’s poetry sometimes stands second to his writing, if that makes any sense. He’s a great writer. Knows precisely what to highlight and how to highlight it. But I think it was the Booklist review of this title that mentioned that the rhythm sometimes feels “clunky, and the slant rhyme feels unintentional”. This is not untrue., though to be honest I had no trouble with the rhythm myeslf. But there are times when you’re not quite sure what Smith is going after. For example, there are two lists of names in the book. The first time you read the list, the slant rhyme works (“Len” and “Jim”). The second time you can’t help but wonder if it was supposed to rhyme at all (“Moses” and “Thomas”). That said, let’s get back to that writing, eh? Listen to this section:
and transporting stone,
slave hands ache,
dark skin to white bone.”
Now that is down and out beautiful. It really is. Dark skin to white bone. And the book is just chock full of little lines like that. This is what sets “Brick by Brick” apart from a lot of nonfiction fare for younger kids. Why can’t children get their facts wrapped up in beautiful packaging? Why can’t something be both accurate and poetic? As a work of nonfiction, there is sadly little backmatter to be had. Smith doesn’t offer much more than a well-put answer to the question “Why Were Slaves Used to Build the White House?” He makes it clear that the house they built burned down in 1814, but that the contribution remains memorable. And he includes three Selected Resources, though sadly they all appear to be intended for adults. It would be nice if there had been something there specifically for children. Still, you go with what you’ve got.
And though it sounds odd, I cannot help but praise the author for not ending the book with Barack Obama. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly happy with most nonfiction works for children bringing the man up. But as I neared the book’s end I had to swallow my sense of dread. A shot of the White House today with Obama and his family would feel forced and obvious if it were just stuck in there. Sure, it would drill home the point of the book on a certain level but (A) the White House that Barack lives in is not the same as the White House built by the slaves and (B) do you really want an author to just shoehorn in someone contemporary when the entire focus until that point was squarely on the past? More to the point, Smith is not inclined to hammer home points above and beyond the facts. He doesn’t go on at length about what the White House would have symbolized (or not) to the slave laborers. He lets the facts stand on their own merit, and if there are connections to be drawn that is up to the teachers and the kid readers themselves.
Floyd Cooper likes the color brown. He’s quite partial to it. If you yourself are not a fan of the color brown, I suspect that perhaps Cooper’s style may not be to your liking. But for those of us that consider his work a step above mere sepia, Cooper gives readers a chance to feel as though they are peering at actual historical scenes through the foggy lens of history. I’ve always enjoyed the sheer beauty of a Cooper book but with Brick by Brick I found myself admiring his faces more than usual. If Smith’s text gives life to the long dead, Cooper gives those same dead their humanity. In him the faceless acquire faces. There’s a spread early on where the workers look at the reader dead on with mixed expressions. Front and center is a boy, not much older than the kids who would be reading this book, wearing a white shirt that with a little choice hemming would not be out of place today. This kid is there to give the child reader a chance to look and maybe realize that history is a bit closer than they may think.
As for the faces themselves, Cooper gives fellow illustrators like Kadir Nelson a run for their money. These are people who have worked their entire lives. One wonders where he pulled these faces from. They’re not the folks you would necessarily pass on the street. There’s toil in the lines of their foreheads. There’s something in their eyes. It’s unique. In terms of accuracy, I cannot say whether or not the image of the White House that appears here (that looks very much like today’s White House) is an accurate depiction of the building that burned. All I can say is that Cooper’s work on this book looks great. It’s brown, but you won’t mind. Not a jot.
It’s baffling to think that a book on this topic hasn’t really been written for children before. There’s the aforementioned Slade title but a book that considers the contributions of slaves to the most famous house in America should unquestionably be everywhere. How to account for Smith’s as the first? You can’t. All you can do is be grateful that the book is as good as it is. With a plain purpose and no folderols or frippery to muck up the history, Smith and Cooper have crafted a work of nonfiction that might actually be interesting to those small fry forced to sit through a recitation of late 18th-century highlights. Beautiful in every which way, it’s a gross understatement to call this book long overdue. Call it necessary reading instead. For every library, everywhere.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Other Blog Reviews:
- It’s Nonfiction Monday! Check out Booktalking for the round-up.
- Browse inside the book here,
Mr. Smith does a bit of booktalking on his own title. Can he booktalk everyone else too? He’s darn good at it.
- If you’ve received your latest edition of Horn Book Magazine then you may see that Roger and Co. had the clever notion to ask a bunch of folks what their favorite weirdo children’s books were. And as luck would have it, I was asked too. You can see my choice here if you like. If you missed your daily dose of Freud today, this wouldn’t be a shabby place to start. Failing that, I wrote a little write-up of my recent trip to the DC Entertainment offices, all thanks to the Women’s National Book Association. Which is to say, I got into the headquarters of MAD Magazine. Bucket List Objective #324: Check!
- Speaking of Horn Book (she said, backtracking wildly) Roger’s playing with delicious fire these days. I’m sure I don’t have to tell any of you that the Battle of the Kids’ Books is raging wildly over at my sister blog. I’m sort of with Kid Commenter in terms of my disappointment that so many YA books were paired in the first round with children’s titles and beating them soundly into pulp. That frustration is amended somewhat by the fact that Roger has been critiquing the critiques. The one for Appelt v. Caletti contains the single best sentence I’ve heard in the last 24 hours: “And I wish I never knew AND NOW I CAN’T UNLEARN IT that Laurie Halse Anderson called John Green ‘a holy man’.” Purrrr. Gidwitz v. Billingsley is similarly fascinating.
- Laws. Only the New York Post would get on its crazy horse and start turning Jeanette Winter into a controversial figure. Have you heard the latest? New York approves war-oriented reading textbooks for third-grade classrooms. The culprit? The Librarian of Basra. I kid you not. One can only imagine what they’d do if they stumbled across Mark Alan Stamaty’s Alia’s Mission. Of far more interest to me is this interesting censoring pushback against books recommended with the Common Core in mind. If the Post article does anything of interest, it draws connections between these objections and the recent attempts by Chicago schools to ban Persepolis from 7th graders. These are good books and I think we could argue that they are being recommended for the right age groups because they are done exceedingly well. How many more similar objections are going to be raised because suddenly our kids aren’t all reading the same Johnny Tremain titles they’ve been assigned for the last fifty years? I think anyone who reads the books, and not just the sensationalized parts, would find them appropriate for the ages. But I suppose sometimes it’s easier to just get all Helen Lovejoy-ish. “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” Thanks to AL Direct for the link.
- Along similar lines, SLJ is getting reading for its handy dandy webcast The Common Core and the Public Librarian. And normally I might not remember to mention such a thing (it’s happening Tuesday, April 9, 2013 – 3:00 PM ET) but that Olga Nesi, our local New York City Department of Education doyenne is going to talk about it alongside Nina Lindsay. Thing is, I have seen Olga speak about Common Core twice and I would see her do it a hundred times more. If she took her show on the road I would follow her around like a Dead Head, selling t-shirts that say things like “State Standards 4-EVAH” and the like. Ogla is THE number one person to listen to about this stuff and the fact that she’s going national, so to speak, is good for YOU. She makes this stuff not only make sense but she gets you excited about it. They should pump her into theaters like they do those Metropolitan Opera productions. She could fill stadiums. See her. Do. You can register here.
- Anne Carroll Moore may have carried about a little wooden doll and hated Stuart Little (something I admit to being totally on board with), but the lady nailed children’s literature. That new little picture book about her, Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, is out soon and author Jeanne Walker Harvey reviews it here with copious mentions of my (former) children’s room/Ms. Moore’s old room.
You know what I love? The Scottish. Which is a fairly all-encompassing statement so I’ll see what I can’t do about narrowing it down. Let’s try instead, you know what I love? The 2012 Scottish Children’s Book Awards
which have JUST been given out. Or, as I like to call them, the upcoming Spring 2015 releases here in the States. Thanks to AL Direct
for the link.From PW Children’s Bookshelf
, my early Christmas present:
“Two Lions, the picture book imprint of Amazon Children’s Publishing, has signed with Michael Hague to reissue 25 of his books in uniform editions as the Michael Hague Signature Classics Series. The books will be published in all formats: Kindle, enhanced Kindle, and hardcover and paperback print editions. The titles include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Mother Goose, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, The Little Mermaid, The Secret Garden, Beauty and the Beast, Numbears, and many others.”
A good start. I grew up with Hague’s books. And for the record, I consider his The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to be a superior product to all other illustrated versions of the tale (take THAT Denslow, you walrus-mustached, foghorn-voiced, island hopper). And then there’s his The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Somebody PLEASE bring that back to print. If it’s Amazon who does it, so be it. Just get me one for my branches and stat. Ditto The Wind in the Willows.
And finally, the perfect gift for that kid who likes to read in bed but doesn’t like sitting up to do it. Or adult for that matter. LAZYGLAS.
Like little periscopes for your sight balls. Thanks to Mike Lewis for the link.
THE CHILDREN’S BOOK COUNCIL AND EVERY CHILD A READER OPEN VOTING FOR THE CHILDREN’S
AND TEEN CHOICE BOOK AWARDS AT BOOKWEEKONLINE.COM
THE ONLY NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS PROGRAM WHERE THE WINNERS ARE
SELECTED BY YOUNG READERS OF ALL AGES
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York, NY — March 19, 2013 – The Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader have opened voting for the 6th annual Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards, the only national book awards program where the winning titles are selected by young readers of all ages, at www.bookweekonline.com. 30 finalists have been announced in six categories, representing kids’ and teens’ favorite books, authors, and illustrators of the year. Last year, almost 1,000,000 votes were cast, more than doubling votes from the previous year. Young readers can vote at www.bookweekonline.com or their votes may be tallied and entered by booksellers, librarians, and teachers into the group ballot at www.bookweekonline.com until May 9, 2013.
For the first time this year, the CBC has partnered with DOGObooks (www.dogobooks.com) to create free, embeddable voting widgets, expanding online voting opportunities for young readers everywhere. The widgets are available for publishers, librarians, teachers, and kid lit lovers at www.bookweekonline.com/widgets. DOGObooks will also promote the voting to millions of students and teachers through its award winning news site www.dogonews.com and through its partnerships with leading education platforms including Google Education, Edmodo and Edublogs.
The Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards winners will be announced live at the 6th annual Children’s Choice Book Awards Gala on May 13 at the Liberty Theater in New York City. The gala is a charity event to benefit Every Child a Reader, and a hallmark event of Children’s Book Week (May 13-19, 2013), the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. The awards presentation will be videotaped and available for viewing by book lovers of all ages after the event at www.bookweekonline.com.
The Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards finalists are:
KINDERGARTEN TO SECOND GRADE BOOK OF THE YEAR
Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Candlewick)
The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems (Hyperion Books/Disney)
I’ll Save You Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean (HarperCollins)
Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta, illustrated by Ed Young (Little, Brown)
THIRD GRADE TO FOURTH GRADE BOOK OF THE YEAR
Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel (Roaring Brook/Macmillan)
Get the Scoop on Animal Poop! by Dawn Cusick (Imagine/Charlesbridge)
Homer by Shelley Rotner, illustrated by Diane deGroat (Scholastic)
Just Joking by National Geographic Kids (National Geographic Children’s Books)
Pluto Visits Earth! by Steve Metzger, illustrated by Jared Lee (Scholastic)
FIFTH GRADE TO SIXTH GRADE BOOK OF THE YEAR
Dork Diaries 4: Tales from a Not-So-Graceful Ice Princess by Rachel Renée Russell (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House)
Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School by Kim Baker, illustrated by Tim Probert (Roaring Brook/Macmillan)
Rebel McKenzie by Candice Ransom (Hyperion Books/Disney)
Stickman Odyssey, Book 2: The Wrath of Zozimos by Christopher Ford (Philomel/Penguin)
TEEN BOOK OF THE YEAR
Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, Book 1) by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan)
City of Lost Souls (Mortal Instruments) by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster)
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton/Penguin)
Insurgent by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins)
Rapture: A Fallen Novel by Lauren Kate (Delacorte/Random House)
AUTHOR OF THE YEAR
John Green for The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton/Penguin)
Jeff Kinney for Diary of a Wimpy Kid 7: The Third Wheel (Amulet Books/Abrams)
R. J. Palacio for Wonder (Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House)
Rick Riordan for The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, Book 3) (Hyperion Books/Disney)
Veronica Roth for Insurgent (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins)
ILLUSTRATOR OF THE YEAR
James Dean for Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons (HarperCollins)
Anna Dewdney for Llama Llama Time to Share (Viking/Penguin)
Ian Falconer for Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)
Robin Preiss Glasser for Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet (HarperCollins)
Mo Willems for The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? (Hyperion Books/Disney)
About the Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards Program (CCBAs)
Launched in 2008 by the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader, The Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards program was created to provide young readers with an opportunity to voice their opinions about the books being written for them and to help develop a reading list that will motivate children to read more and cultivate a love of reading. More at www.bookweekonline.com/about-CCBAs.
About Children’s Book Week (CBW)
Established in 1919, CBW is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Each year, official and local commemorative events are held nationwide at schools, libraries, bookstores, homes — wherever young readers and books connect. In 2013, official events will be held in 50 cities nationwide. Learn more at www.bookweekonline.com.
About Every Child a Reader (ECAR)
Every Child a Reader is a 501(c)(3) literacy organization dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of reading in children. Every Child a Reader creates and supports programs that: strive to make the reading and enjoyment of children’s books an essential part of America’s educational and social aims; enhance public perception of the importance of reading. ECAR’s programs include Children’s Book Week, a nationwide celebration of books and reading, and the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country; The Children’s Choice Book Awards, the only national book awards program where the winning titles are selected by kids and teens of all ages; and The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Program, the country’s “Children’s Literature Laureate”. Please visit www.ecarfoundation.org for more information.
About the Children’s Book Council (CBC)
The Children’s Book Council is the national nonprofit trade association for children’s book publishers. The CBC offers children’s publishers the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the industry at large, including educational programming, literacy advocacy, and collaborations with other national organizations. Our members span the spectrum from large international houses to smaller independent presses. Membership in the CBC is open to U.S. publishers of children’s trade books, as well as in some cases to industry-affiliated companies. The CBC is proud to partner with other national organizations on co-sponsored reading lists, educational programming, and literacy initiatives. Please visit www.cbcbooks.org for more information.
DOGObooks is a part of a next-generation online network empowering kids to engage with digital media in a fun, safe and social environment. The network includes: www.dogonews.com – the leading online resource for current events/Common Core content for use in the classroom; www.dogobooks.com – the largest website for children to discover and review books; and www.dogomovies.com a fun place for kids to enjoy G to PG-13 movie trailers and rate and review the movies they love. Through partnerships with Google, Edmodo, Edublogs and more, DOGO websites are used by over 500,000 students and teachers each month.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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The Water Castle
By Megan Frazer Blakemore
Illustrated by Jim Kay
Walker Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Bloomsbury)
On shelves now
Where does fantasy stop and science fiction begin? Is it possible to ever draw a distinct line in the sand between the two? A book with a name like The Water Castle (mistakenly read by my library’s security guard as “White Castle”) could fall on either side of the equation, though castles generally are the stuff of fantastical fare. In this particular case, however, what we have here is a smart little bit of middle grade chapter book science fiction, complete with arson, obsession, genetic mutation, and a house any kid would kill to live in. Smarter than your average bear, this is one book that rewards its curious readers. It’s a pleasure through and through.
Welcome to Crystal Springs, Maine where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. That last part seems to be true, anyway. When Ephraim Appledore, his two siblings, his mom, and his father (suffering from the after effects of a stroke) move to town he’s shocked to find that not only does everyone seem to know more about his family history than he does, they’re all geniuses to boot. The Appledores have taken over the old Water Castle built by their ancestors and harboring untold secrets. When he’s not exploring it with his siblings Ephraim finds two unlikely friends in fellow outcast Mallory Green and would-be family feuder Will Wylie. Together they discover that the regional obsession with the fountain of youth may have some basis in reality. A reality that the three of them are having trouble facing, for individual reasons.
When one encounters an old dusty castle hiding trapdoors and secret passageways around every corner, that usually means your feet are planted firm in fantasy soil. All the elements are in place with Ephraim akin to Edwin in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and a dusty old wardrobe even making a cheeky cameo at one point. What surprised me particularly was the book’s grounding instead in science fiction. That said, how far away from fantasy is science fiction in children’s literature? In both cases the fantastical is toyed with. In this particular case, eternal life finds its basis in discussions of mutant genes, electricity, radiation, and any number of other science-based theories. Interestingly, it’s actually hard to come up with many children’s books that even dwell on the fountain of youth. There’s Tuck Everlasting of course, but that’s about as far as it goes. One gets the impression that Babbitt did such a good job with the idea that no one’s had the guts to take it any farther since. Kudos to Blakemore then for rising to the challenge.
I’m very partial to children’s books that are magical if you want them to be and realistic if that’s what you’d prefer. This year’s Doll Bones by Holly Black, for example, could be an uber-creepy horror story or it could just be a tale of letting your imagination run away with you. Similarly The Water Castle could be about the true ramifications of eternal life, or it could be explained with logic and reason every step of the way. I was also rather interested in how Ms. Blakemore tackled that age-old question of how to allow your child heroes the freedom to come and go as they please without a droplet of parental supervision. In this case her solution (father with a stroke and a mother as his sole caretaker) not only worked effectively but also tied in swimmingly into our hero’s personal motivations.
In the midst of a review like this I sometimes have a bad habit of failing to praise the writing of a book. That would be a particular pity in this case since Ms. Blakemore sucked me in fairly early on. When Ephraim and his family drive into town for the first time we get some beautiful descriptions of the small town itself. “They rolled past the Wylie Five and Dime, which was advertising a sale on gourds, Ouija boards, and pumpkin-pie filling.” She also has a fine ear for antiquated formal speech, though the physical appearances of various characters are not of particular importance to her (example: we don’t learn that Ephraim’s little sister Brynn is blond until page 183).
An interesting aspect of the writing is its tackling of race, racism, and historical figures done wrong by their times. I was happy from the get-go that Ms. Blakemore chose to make her cast a multi-cultural one. Mallory is African-American, one of the few in town, and is constantly being offered subjects like Matthew Henson for class reports because . . . y’know. Henson himself plays nicely into a little subplot in the book. Deftly Ms. Blakemore draws some similarities between his work with Robert Peary and Tesla’s attitude towards Edison. Nothing too direct. Just enough information where kids can connect the dots themselves. For all this, I was a bit disappointed that when we read some flashbacks into the past there doesn’t seem to be ANY racism in sight. We follow the day-to-day activities of an African-American girl and the various rich white people she encounters and yet only ONE mention is made of their different races in a vague reference to the fact that our heroine’s family has never been slaves. This seemed well-intentioned but hugely misleading. Strange to discuss Henson and Peary in one breath and then ignore everyday realities on the other.
If the book has any other problems there is the fact that the author leaves the essential question about the mysterious water everyone searches for in this story just that. Mysterious. There are also some pretty heady clues dropped about Mallory’s own parents that remain unanswered by the tale’s end. Personally, I am of the opinion that Ms. Blakemore did this on purpose for the more intelligent of her child readers. I can already envision children’s bookgroups discussing this title at length, getting into arguments about what exactly it means that Mallory’s mom had that key around her neck.
In the end, The Water Castle is less about the search for eternal life and youth than it is about letting go of childhood and stories. Age can come when you put those things away. As Ephraim ponders late in the game, “No one back in Cambridge would believe that he’d been crawling around in dark tunnels, or climbing up steps with no destination. Maybe, he decided, growing up meant letting go of the stories, letting go in general, letting yourself fall just to see if you could catch yourself. And he had.” Whether or not Ms. Blakemore chooses to continue this book with the further adventures of Ephraim, Mallory and Will, she’s come up with a heckuva smart little creation. Equally pleasing to science fiction and fantasy fans alike, there’s enough meat in this puppy for any smart child reader or bored kid bookgroup. I hope whole droves of them find it on their own. And I hope they enjoy it thoroughly. A book that deserves love.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Notes on the Cover: Is that or is that not a fantasy cover? The ivy strangled stone gargoyles and castle in the background all hint at it. I wasn’t overly in love with this jacket at first, but in time I’ve discovered that kids are actually quite drawn to it. Whether or not they find it misleading, time will tell. Not having read the bookflap description of this title, I spent an embarrassingly long amount of time trying to turn the kids on the cover into Ephraim and his siblings. It was quite a while before I realized my mistake.
Other Blog Reviews: Cracking the Cover
Interviews: Portland Press Herald
Misc: Check out the Teacher’s Guide for this book.
Man, isn’t it nice when the award season has died down and we don’t have to deal with any more crazed speculations about who’s “Newbery worthy” or “Caldecott worthy” or any of that nuttiness? We can just sit back and enjoy some books and not . . . not worry about . . . *gulp* . . . ah . . . . grk . . . .
I CANTS TAKES IT NO MORE!!!!
It’s March. Heck, it’s spring. Practically. And so here we have loads of books, TONS of the things, out there and circulating and taking up brain space and all of them just begging to be speculated upon. If it is too early in the season for this, I more than understand. Skip this post. Have some cocoa. Come back in the fall. But if you, like me, just can’t get enough of this stuff, enjoy.
First up, we are visited by the Ghost of Spring Predictions of the Newbery/Caldecott Past. This is always fun. Check it out:
2008 spring predictions: I get one Caldecott right (How I Learned Geography)
2009 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The (Mostly) True Adventures of Homer P Figg)
2010 spring predictions: I get one Newbery right (One Crazy Summer)
2011 spring predictions: I get one Newbery right (Inside Out and Back Again)
2012 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (The One and Only Ivan and Splendors and Glooms), and one Caldecott right (Green). I’m getting better in my old age! Woot!
We could speculate about what this means about the publishing industry and when they choose to release books, but I’d rather get to the meat of the matter. And I should warn you, I’m finding 2014 to be a VERY strong year in contenders. Newbery anyway.
2014 Newbery Predictions
Doll Bones by Holly Black – I am reminded of the year that Silence of the Lambs won an Oscar. That’s the only equivalent I can come up with if this book took home Newbery gold. The writing is superlative, but also creepy as all get out. More so than the relatively recent Newbery winner The Graveyard Book, anyway. But if Gaiman can win . . .
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore – It looks for all the world like a fantasy novel when you see the cover, but what you’ll find inside is just the nicest little science fiction novel. I can’t tell if it’s the first in a series or a standalone book that trusts the reader to pick up on certain clever clues. Whatever the case, it’s a brilliant companion to Tuck Everlasting (which, admittedly, never won a Newbery).
The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale – If you’re anything like me then you’re sick to death of bully related books. All the more reason to admire Gale’s for having the guts to take a tired, worn subject and inject some much needed life into it. Gale’s topic pales in the face of his delivery. It reads more like a mystery novel than anything else (with a bit of noir on the side) so expect it to take home an Edgar award at the end of the year at the very least.
Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli – Already one of two thoroughly divisive Newbery contenders. I was enthralled by it but stepping back I’m interested in the child responses. Will the “Ulysses of children’s literature” be too much for them? Is the writing distinguished regardless? Yes to the latter, not sure on the former. At the very least, everyone’s going to have to read this one.
Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tonya Lee Stone – She sort of specializes in crushed dreams but in this particular book I think Stone has outdone herself. The sheer subtlety of the writing has to be worth something. Jonathan Hunt brought up a question of whether or not the book sets you up to expect action. I think that’s rather the point.
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake – A book I continually want to call “One Came Back”, for some reason. My brain is weird. If you think Hokey Pokey‘s a divisive topic then you haven’t sat in on some of the Timberlake talks I’ve witnessed. It’s full of life and vitality, and like Gale’s book could also find itself nominated for an Edgar this year. It’s the kind of historical fiction I like to read. The question is whether or not it’ll be the kind of historical fiction the committee likes to read. No clue on that one.
The Center of Everything by Linda Urban – My frontrunner. Maybe. I go back and forth but there’s no denying that Urban gets better and better with each book and that this one is, if you’ll forgive a tired phrase, a gem. Or maybe I was just enthralled by the short page count. Whatever the case, it’s smart and to the point and just lovely from start to finish. ADORE.
2014 Caldecott Predictions
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown – Ladies and gentlemen of the jury I submit to you the following evidence here and here. Now that the man has won a Caldecott Honor we know that he is capable of even more. There’s a distinct Rousseau-like quality to this book. Peter Brown, like Linda Urban, gets better with each passing book. Remember this one when it comes out in the fall.
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham – In an era of Common Core Standards and increased attention on nonfiction, why can’t a book on math and a mathematician win the highest Honor in the land? Sometimes I fear that there are certain talented artists that are passed over by the award committees each and every year without fail for no reason other than the fact that they’ve been passed over before. And if anyone deserves a medal it’s Ms. Pham. She’s a delight. So is her art. So is this book.
Stardines Swim High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger – Just a second. I’m trying to envision how Mr. Prelutsky would react upon learning that one of his books had won a Caldecott this late in the game. Wouldn’t that be rad (mentioning a poet from my youth apparently causes me to break out the late 1980s jargon)? Berger, for her part, went above and beyond the call of duty when she created the art for this book. Models do NOT fare well in Caldecott races, but certainly an exception can be made once in a while, yes yes?
Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea – But only if there were any justice in the universe. Which, last time I checked, there is not.
The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen – Like Peter Brown, Jon “I just won an Honor and an Award in the same year” Klassen is now considered verifiable Caldecott bait. Admittedly this book is subtler than his previous fare and there’s a lot of black space. I think a forward thinking committee, however, could have a lot of fun parsing where exactly he chose to put one shadow or another. Worthy of discussion, at the very least.
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner – I’m just going to imagine for a moment what it would be like to hear lofty librarians parsing the merits of something with a name like “Mr. Wuffles” amongst themselves. It’s a return to form for Wiesner, as weird and wacky and funny as they come. However, he may have handicapped himself by making the book in a comic book style complete with speech balloons. A certain breed of adult reader would have some definite problems with the layouts and action. That said, you have GOT to see this puppy. Nothing else out there is like it.
And that’s the long and short of it. Something for your What To Read Next lists in any case. And as ever, be sure to check out Jonathan Hunt’s 2014 reading list, when you’ve a chance.
I See What You Say:
Visual Stories and Narrative Art
Cartoon Art Museum Exhibition: March 16 – July 7, 2013
Reception Sunday, April 28, 2013; details TBA
San Francisco, CA: There are many ways to tell a story. It doesn’t need “Once upon a time” or “happily ever after.” It doesn’t need any words at all. A story doesn’t need a beginning, middle, or end, but it might need a collection of pages, a series of visuals, or just one perfect image.
I See What You Say: Visual Stories and Narrative Art explores narrative as expressed through a wide range of illustrative media — in picture books, comics, editorial art, and beyond. The participants are not just artists, but storytellers, joining their artistic practices with their own narrative styles. Every approach is different. Every technique is different. Every story is something to see.
Contributors include some of the most wonderfully versatile visual storytellers at work today. Artists include:
Lilli Carré, an artist and illustrator working in the forms of experimental animation, comics, and print. Her newest collection of visual short stories is Heads or Tails.
Eleanor Davis, a cartoonist and editorial illustrator. Her books include the childrens’ comic, Stinky and contributions to Fantagraphics’ MOME.
Vanessa Davis, an illustrator and cartoonist known for her autobiographical comics. She is a contributing editor at TabletMagazine, and her newest book is Make Me a Woman.
Carson Ellis, whose work can be seen illustrating The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket, Dilweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide, and the Wildwood series by her husband, Colin Meloy.
Jon Klassen, a writer and illustrator of picture books including This Is Not My Hat, which received the Caldecott Medal for illustration in 2013, and Caldecott Honor book Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett.
Roman Muradov, a comic and editorial artist, whose clients include The New Yorker and The New York Times. His first graphic novel, (In A Sense) Lost & Found, will be out this fall.
Aaron Renier, a cartoonist and illustrator known for his children’s graphic novels Spiral Bound and The Unsinkable Walker Bean.
Christian Robinson, a picture book illustrator, animator, and art teacher. His latest book is Harlem’s Little Blackbird, by Renee Watson.
Craig Thompson, a graphic novelist whose books include Good-bye, Chunky Rice, Carnet de Voyage, Blankets, andHabibi.
Dasha Tolstikova, a graduate of the School of Visual Arts MFA program in illustration. Clients include Enchanted Lion Books and Ladybug Magazine.
Sara Varon, a printmaker, graphic novelist, and picture book author. Her books include Sweater Weather, Chicken and Cat, and Odd Duck, with Cecil Castellucci.
Angie Wang, an illustrator and cartoonist. Her clients include The New Yorker, Taschen, and Wired Magazine. She works for the Cartoon Network.
The exhibition opens on March 16, 2013 and runs through July 7, 2013 at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum. A public reception will be held on Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 5 pm, and will include appearances by guest contributors Jon Klassen, Roman Muradov, and Christian Robinson, among others. Christian will be signing his new book, Rain! by Linda Ashman, and Jon will be joined by local author Lemony Snicket to sign their new picture book, The Dark.
Cartoon Art Museum * 655 Mission Street – San Francisco, CA 94105 – 415-CAR-TOON – www.cartoonart.org
Hours: Tues. Sun. 11:00 – 5:00, Closed Monday
General Admission: $7.00 – Student/Senior:$5.00 – Children 6-12:$3.00 – Members & Children under 6: Free
The Cartoon Art Museum is a tax-exempt, non-profit, educational organization dedicated to the collection, preservation,
study and exhibition of original cartoon art in all forms.
I See What You Say illustration was created by Christian Robinson for this exhibition.
By: Betsy Bird
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Morning, folks. Bird here. Seems this book I’ve written with fellow bloggers Peter Sieruta of Collecting Children’s Books and Jules Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is in the last stages of completion. Fun With Copyedits is the name of the game this week, which means that my blogging may suffer a tad here and there. Mea culpa. I give you a bright and shiny blog posts to make it up to you. Eat it in good health.
- First off, April’s only here and that can only mean one thing. There’s a call for new spine poetry. Do you have what it takes to stack books in a coherent and literary manner? Well, do you? Punk?
- I love Cracked online but honestly sometimes their headlines tip a little too far into the realm of the hyperbole. Consider the following: 5 literary classics that put x-rated movies to shame. It’s actually not inaccurate to say that of numbers one through three, but by the time you get to number five (Where’s Waldo) it’s stretching it a tad. Then again, the naked clown on the pogo stick isn’t exactly normal . . .
- In case you missed it, Marjorie Ingall alerted me to the children’s literature reference name dropped by Bob Balaban on a recent episode of Girls. Sorry I missed this one. I’ve been too busy catching up on episodes of Once Upon a Time which is admittedly corny, but weirdly similar to LOST before the show went haywire. Hence the fix.
- And what will YOU be doing on April 2nd of this year? Celebrating International Children’s Book Day, I certainly hope. Seriously, are you going to let this Ashley Bryan poster go to waste? For shame!
- Speaking of worldwide travels, care to attend an Irish children’s literary conference? Would I kid? Observe:
“We are delighted to announce that the CBI 2013 Conference Rebels and Rulebreakers is now open for booking! We’re really looking forward to a weekend with some of the most exciting names in writing, illustration, publishing and criticism in the fabulous surroundings of Lighthouse cinema on May 18th and 19th. Click here for the booking form or call CBI on 01 8727475 to secure your place. Remember the conference is open to everyone with an interest in children’s books so tell your friends! We’ve started counting down to the conference weekend with blog features on Sarah Ardizzone, Sarah Crossan and Colmán Ó Raghallaigh.”
- Though she was by no means the first children’s librarian in the country, NYPL’s own Anne Carroll Moore was a force to be reckoned with, back in the day. Now there’s a picture book bio of her coming out called Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough. A Women’s History Month series celebrates the book and Ms. Pinborough discusses why she wrote it in the first place. Thanks to Lisa Taylor for the link.
As my recent review of the Matilda musical will attest, I’m a sucker for stage adaptations of children’s books. So how completely and utterly delightful does this version of Owl Moon look to you? Picture book adaptations are always difficult, whether it’s to the stage or the screen. Dance is honestly the only way to go sometimes. Consider this post your required reading of the day.
Hey! In all the flutter and kerfuffle surrounding the ALA Youth Media Awards it’s mighty easy to forget about the 2013 Notable Children’s Books list that was announced at the end of February. Nice to see my beloved Zombie Makers getting some love.
Oh good. Something new to desire. I was running low. It seems that a certain Charlotte Olympia has taken it upon herself to create a fairytale line of shoes.
If you happen to purchase that $985 froggy pump for me, I honestly won’t be embarrassed by the largess of your generosity. Scout’s honor. You know where to reach me. Many many thanks to Marjorie Ingall for the link.
New York Public Library’s Children’s Literary Salon is pleased to announce our next event on Saturday, March 23rd at 12:00 p.m. in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building’s South Court Auditorium:
The Alternative Children’s Library
Join a panel discussion highlighting librarians who work in alternative children’s library spaces. Features Public Services Librarian Leah High of The Nolen and Watson Libraries of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Librarian Jennifer K. Hanley-Leonard of The New York Society Library, Children’s Librarian Allie Bruce of the Bank Street College of Education, and Events and Library Coordinator Ayanna Coleman of the Children’s Book Council Library.
This event will be held in the main branch of New York Public Library. Further information may be found here.
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By Lemony Snicket
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Little Brown & Co.
On shelves April 2nd
You do not know the temptation I am fighting right now to begin this review with some grandiose statement equating a fear of the dark with a fear of death itself. You have my full permission to slap me upside the head if I start off my children’s books reviews with something that bigheaded. The whole reason I was going to do it at all is that after reading a book like Lemony Snicket’s The Dark I find myself wondering about kids and their fears. Most childhood fears tap into the weird id (see, here I go) part of our brains where the unknown takes on greater and grander evils than could possibly occur in the real world. So we get fears of dogs, the color mauve, certain dead-eyed paintings, fruit, and water going down the drain (or so Mr. Rogers claimed, though I’ve never met a kid that went that route), etc. In the light of those others, a healthy fear of the dark makes perfect sense. The dark is where you cannot see and what you cannot see cannot possibly do you any good. That said, there are surprisingly few picture books out there that tackle this very specific fear. Picture books love to tackle a fear of monsters, but the idea of handling something as ephemeral as a fear of the dark is much much harder. It takes a certain kind of writer and a certain kind of illustrator to grasp this fear by the throat and throttle it good and sound. Behold the pairing of Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. You’ll ne’er see the like again (unless they do another picture book together, in which case, scratch that).
“You might be afraid of the dark, but the dark is not afraid of you.” Laszlo is afraid but there’s not much he can do about it. Seems as though the dark is everywhere you look sometimes. Generally speaking it lives in the basement, and every morning Laszlo would open the door and say, “Hi . . . Hi, dark.” He wouldn’t get a reply. Then, one night, the dark does something unprecedented. It comes into Laszlo’s room and though he has a flashlight, it seems to be everywhere. It says it wants to show him something. Something in the basement. Something in the bottom drawer of an old dresser. Something that helps Laszlo just when he needs it. The dark still visits Laszlo now. It just doesn’t bother him.
There is nothing normal about Lemony Snicket. When he writes a picture book he doesn’t go about it the usual route. Past efforts have included The Composer Is Dead which effectively replaced ye olde stand-by Peter and the Wolf in terms of instrument instruction in many a fine school district. Then there was 13 Words which played out like a bit of experimental theater for the picture book set. I say that, but 16 copies of the book are currently checked out of my own library system. Besides, how can you not love a book that contains the following tags on its record: “cake, depression, friendship, haberdashery, happiness”? Take all that under consideration and The Dark is without a doubt the most normal picture book the man has attempted yet. It has, on paper anyway, a purpose: address children’s fear of the dark. In practice, it’s more complicated than that. More complicated and better.
Snicket does not address a fear of the absence of light by offering up the usual platitudes. He doesn’t delve into the monsters or other beasties that may lurk in its corners. The dark, in Snicket’s universe, acts almost as an attentive guardian. When we look up at the night sky, it is looking back at us. In Laszlo’s own experience, the dark only seeks to help. We don’t quite understand its motivations. The takeaway, rather, is that it is a benign force. Remove the threat and what you’re left with is something that exists alongside you. Interestingly it almost works on a religious level. I would not be the least bit surprised if Sunday school classes started using it as a religious parable for death. Not its original purpose but on the horizon just the same.
It is also a pleasure to read this book aloud. Mr. Snicket’s words require a bit of rereading to fully appreciate them, but appreciate you will. First off, there’s the fact that our hero’s name is Laszlo. A cursory search of children’s books yields many a Laszlo author or illustrator but nary a Laszloian subject. So that’s nice. Then there’s the repetition you don’t necessarily notice at the time (terms like “creaky roof” “smooth, cold windows”) but that sink in with repeated readings. The voice of the dark is particularly interesting. Snicket writes it in such a way as to allow the reader the choice of purring the words, whispering them, putting a bit of creak into the vocal chords, or hissing them. The parent is granted the choice of making the dark threatening in its initial lures or comforting. Long story short, adults would do well to attempt a couple solo readings on their own before attempting with a kiddo. At least figure out what take you’re going for. It demands no less.
The most Snicketish verbal choice, unfortunately, turns out to be the book’s Achilles heel. You’re reading along, merry as you please, when you come to a page that creates a kind of verbal record scratch to the whole proceeding. Laszlo has approached the dark at last. He is nearing something that may turn out to be very scary. And then, just as he grows near, the next page FILLS . . . . with text. Text that is very nice and very well written and perhaps places childhood fears in context better than anything I’ve seen before. All that. By the same token it stops the reading cold. I imagine there must have been a couple editorial consultations about this page. Someone somewhere along the process of publication would have questioned its necessity. Perhaps there was a sterling defense of it that swayed all parties involved and in it remained. Or maybe everyone at Little, Brown loved it the first time they read it. Not quite sure. What I do know is that if you are reading this book to a large group, you will skip this page. And if you are reading one-on-one to your own sprog? Depends on the sprog, of course. Thoughtful sprogs will be able to take it. They may be few and far between, however. The last thing you want when you are watching a horror film and the hero is reaching for the doorknob of the basement is to have the moment interrupted by a five-minute talk on the roots of fear. It might contain a brilliant thesis. You just don’t want to hear it at this particular moment in time.
Canadians have a special relationship to the dark that Americans can’t quite appreciate. I was first alerted to this fact when I read Caroline Woodward’s Singing Away the Dark. That book was about a little girl’s mile long trek through the dark to the stop for her school bus. The book was illustrated by Julie Morstad, whose work reminds me, not a little, of Klassen’s. They share a similar deadpan serenity. If Morstad was an American citizen you can bet she’d get as much attention as Mr. Klassen has acquired in the last few years. In this particular outing, Mr. Klassen works almost in the negative. Much of this book has to be black. Pure black. The kind that has a palpable weight to it. Laszlo and his house fill in the spaces where the dark has yet to penetrate. It was with great pleasure that I watched what the man did with light as well. The colors of a home when lit by a flashlight are different from the colors seen in the slow setting of the evening sun. A toy car that Laszlo abandons in his efforts to escape the dark appears as a dark umber at first, then later pure black in the flashlight’s glow. We only see the early morning light once, and in that case Klassen makes it a lovely cool blue. These are subtle details, but they’re enough to convince the reader that they’re viewing accurate portrayals of each time of day.
The dark is not visually anthropomorphized. It is verbally, of course, with references to it hiding, sitting, or even gazing. One has to sit and shudder for a while when you imagine what this book might have been like with an author that turned the dark into a black blob with facial expressions. It’s not exaggerating to say that such a move would defeat the very purpose of the book itself. The whole reason the book works on a visual level is because Klassen adheres strictly and entirely to the real world. An enterprising soul could take this book, replicate it scene by scene in a live action YouTube video, and not have to dip into the film budget for a single solitary special effect. This is enormously important to children who may actually be afraid of the dark. This book gives a face to a fear that is both nameable and not nameable without giving a literal face to a specific fear. It’s accessible because it is realistic.
When dealing with picture books that seek to exorcise fears, one has to be very careful that you don’t instill a fear where there wasn’t one before. So a child that might never have considered the fact that nighttime can be a scary time might enter into a whole new kind of knowledge with the simple application of this book. That said, those sorts of things are very much on a case-by-case basis. Certainly The Dark will be a boon to some and simply a well-wrought story for others. Pairing Klassen with Snicket feels good when you say it aloud. No surprise then that the result of such a pairing isn’t just good. It’s great. A powerhouse of a comfort book.
On shelves April 2nd.
Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- And yes, the rumors are true. Neil Gaiman is reading the audiobook.
I do more than books from time to time.
On Tuesday night I had a bit of a treat. Something I’d been looking forward to for years and years was finally within my grasp. You see, a couple years ago my opera singer friend Meredith went to a performance of a musical in Stratford-on-Avon and came back to the States saying it was the best darn thing she’d ever seen. And she sees a LOT of theater. Not long after that Monica Edinger attended a performance of the same show in London and reported that she was thoroughly amused. The musical was, of course, Matilda based on the novel by Roald Dahl and performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Then, not long ago, the Penguin Young Readers offered some lucky schmucks in New York City a chance to see the show’s second night in previews. And one of those schmucks? This guy.
First off, we lucked out weather wise. You might feel good and virtuous freezing your tuchis when there’s a show to be seen, but you can’t really enjoy it. Fortunately the weather was mild and it was easy to find my crew. Stacy Dillon from Welcome to My Tweendom was there as well as Roxanne Feldman from fairrosa, Monica Edinger from Educating Alice, Jenny Brown from Shelf Awareness, and a whole host of other folks. Penguin gave us each a ticket as well as a copy of their new paperback edition of Matilda. I didn’t notice at the time, but if you flip to the back of the book (which sports the musical’s poster as its cover) there are written sections by playwright Dennis Kelly and composer Tim Minchin that are great and really put the book and the show in context.
Inside we found our seats and faced a stage that looked like nothing so much as what you would get if you force fed a Scrabble game LSD. Imagine squares of letters exploding in a kind of mini Big Bang with the stage at the center of the explosion. There was little time to take it in before the director walked on. That’s usually a bad sign. Directors don’t tend to walk on stages. They lurk in the shadows like that guy in A Chorus Line. But this one, a Mr. Matthew Warchus it was, came on like it was the most natural thing in the world. He reminded us that this was just the second preview and because of the complexity of the mechanics in the stage, things could go a bit wonky from time to time. When that happened they would simply fix the problem and then continue with the show. As it happens, his warning was completely unnecessary, but at the time it was good foresight.
Now admittedly I hadn’t re-read the book in the last five years or so. I joked with folks before the show that I might have a hard time following out the plot now, but honestly I just wanted to have something to compare to what I was seeing. I never saw the Mara Wilson movie version either, to be honest, though I’m aware it’s a cult favorite.
Right off the bat you are plunged into the show bodily. The world’s most acutely trained cast of child actors, with believable British accents firmly in place (now that the Broadway musical of Mary Poppins is closing it’s good to see that children’s speaking like Brits will continue to take up theater space unabated) proceeded to perform a tightly constructed and perfectly choreographed opening number called “Miracle”. It’s a helicopter parent song and bridged Dahl’s 1988 text to the modern day. It also allows Matilda to come on a sing a single line that breaks your heart and makes her sympathetic right from the get-go.
I should mention that when Mr. Warchus, the Director, gave his little pre-curtain speech he declared that he was under the distinct impression that his show contained the youngest actress to ever headline a Broadway show in the history of Broadway itself. As such, the role is played by a different girl, one of four, each night. We were getting Ms. Sophia Gennusa in what must have been her Broadway debut performance. Sophia had never been on a Broadway stage prior to that night, and her only theatrical background was Purchase College’s Conservatory of Dance’s production of The Nutcracker. You never would have known, though. She blew the roof off the house and was good from start to finish. Not one flub. Not one mistake. A pro to her bones.
Let’s break this review up with a couple clips. Here’s the American TV spot for the show:
As the show went on I found that all the performers were actually quite amazing. It didn’t hurt matters any that the woman playing Miss Honey and the man playing Miss Trunchbull (a role that won him an Olivier Award) were from the London performances (and Trunchbull had actually created the role back in Stratford-on-Avon!). The fellow playing Mr. Wormwood was particularly excellent as well. He had a distinctly Dick Van Dyke quality to him, and the costume designers seemed to take extra care to highlight is extraordinarily long and agile legs. Mrs. Wormwood felt like nothing so much as an escapee from The Real Housewives of Brixton.
It was when I noticed Mr. Wormwood’s costume, and how closely it adhered to the one in the Quentin Blake illustrations to Matilda, that I did a bit of comparing and contrasting. Mrs. Trunchbull too may as well have walked off the pages of the book, though Bertie Carvell (the actor) gave her this extraordinary combination of barely restrained (or not restrained at all) insanity and tiny girlish quirks. If they ever turn the Harry Potter books into a musical I nominate him to play Dolores Umbridge. That was sort of what he was going with here, only with a LOT more scenery chewing. The silliness combined with the true frights meant that Carvell could terrorize the kids in the audience as much as the ones on stage and get away with it.
Honestly, if I had seen the show at seven it would have frightened me to death. I was the kid that couldn’t take it when Violet Beauregard turned into a blueberry in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. So imagine how I would have reacted to descriptions of Trunchbull’s “The Chokey” (which, for some bizarre reason, poor Bruce Bogtrotter got sent to after his triumphant sequence), or the (briefly) scary upper classmen. No, this is a show for the 9 and up crowd, I think. They’ll be the ones that get the most out of it. Particularly the special effects.
Because you see, dear readers, I didn’t really expect the show would allow Trunchbull to grab a girl by the pigtails and whirl her into the air. Oh me of little faith. Lord knows what harness was attached to that little girl’s hair. Whatever it might be it is a wonder of mechanics, and the moment was complete with a fake dummy worth of Monty Python plummeting back down to earth. Other special effects wow just as much (there’s one at the end that caused the audience to burst into sporadic applause), giving the whole evening a rather joyous feel.
Here are some clips from the Brits, but it looks the same as what I saw:
And then there’s the music itself. Very clever lyrics with honestly catchy songs. As I was leaving the theater I think I may have made some off-handed comment about the fact that the songs were great but the only one I left humming was the one that they sang during the bows. That was before I woke up the next morning to find myself singing two others. You can’t help but love songs with double meanings like the oh-so appropriately named “Revolting Children” sung by the children themselves. One of my favorites, as it turned out, was a song Miss Trunchbull sings in the second act called “The Smell of Rebellion”. It begins normally enough and then at one point turns into a Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds-esque vault into true wacked out weirdness, complete with references to a dwarf and a multi-colored light show. And any show the dares to get strange and goofy has my utmost confidence.
Here’s one of the songs, actually. It’s the song that comes right before Matilda discovers her powers:
The musical is officially going to premier at the Schubert Theatre in April of this year, if you’re at all interested. And you can read Monica’s write-up of the night here.
There are actually loads of cool videos out there, most of them of the British version of the show (which seems to be quite similar to the American).
There’s this preview trailer:
This look at one of the dance sequences in rehearsal (the music playing sounds like a muzak version of the actual song):
And an interview with playwright Dennis Kelly and composer Tim Minchin.
Here’s the song “Naughty” (the one you’ll be hearing in auditions across the country instead of “Tomorrow” from Annie or “Castle on a Cloud” from Les Miserables):
And here are various New Yorkers talking about it alongside the show’s creators, in terms of the book itself:
A big kiss and thank you to Penguin Young Readers for giving me this glimpse into what is clearly going to be an epic little show here in the States. And to Monica too for the photo of myself with the book and ticket which I stole off of her site.
By: Betsy Bird
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Tra la! It’s May! The lusty month of May! The time that . . . . what?
Seriously? Forget it then. I’m going back in my hidey-hole. Call me when it’s May. But before I go, here’s a swath of delicious Fusenews. Good for what ails ye.
First off, a gem. I got the following email from buddy and Top 100 Polls guru Eric Carpenter: “So this weekend while working on a project on Weston Woods for one of my school library media courses (yes, I’m getting a library degree!!!) I came across Gene Deitch’s blog/website. http://genedeitchcredits.com. Not sure if you’d seen this but if not take a look, just understand it might be a long, long look.”
Eric couldn’t have been more right. Gene’s a fascinating fellow and he’s quick to recount his Weston Woods days working with Maurice Sendak, with Morton Schindel, with Jules Feiffer, or with E.B. White! And that’s not even counting all the good stuff you’ll find if you go here. Eric, buddy, I owe you yet again.
- So I told myself that I wouldn’t read any reviews of my own book Giant Dance Party (due out 4/23). I figured that was a pretty safe promise to keep. I mean, I review books myself. Why invite trouble by reading other folks? And that noble intention lasted me all of *checks watch* 45 seconds before I caved. Not much is out yet, but I can say with certainty that 8-year-old Jacob at City Book Review liked the book. He is a man of fine and discriminating taste. Well played, young Jacob.
- In other Me Stuff, this past Saturday I hosted a Children’s Literary Salon in the main branch of NYPL. The topic was Diversity and the State of the Children’s Book and featured panelists Zetta Elliott, Connie Hsu, and Sofia Quintero. It was also, to put it precisely, a hit. We’ll have the audio up soon, I hope, but in the meantime Lucine Kasbarian has reported over at We Love Children’s Books. Thanks, Lucine!
- One of the many advantages of joining The Niblings (four numerical children’s literary blogs joined in bringing you only the best in children’s literary news and entertainment) is that I now have a way of actually keeping up with my fellow bloggers. Trust me when I say that I’m ashamed of how rarely I read the best folks out there. But now, thanks to the handy dandy Facebok page, I got to see the 100 Scope Notes Newbery Medal Infographic. I dare say I’m a better person for it too.
- To be frank, I probably would have also have missed the recent 2013 Ezra Jack Keats Award winners too! Back in the day these awards were given in New York Public Library. Now they’ve moved to south where the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi makes the announcements. And the winners?
The 2013 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Winner Is:
Julie Fogliano for And Then It’s Spring
And Then It’s Spring is illustrated by Erin E. Stead.
The 2013 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award Winner Is:
Hyewon Yum for Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten!
VERY excellent choices.
- And the Acme Powder Company strikes again. This may be your favorite link of the day, I’ll wager. Recently Robin Rosenthal of Pen & Oink took a trip to what may well be the world’s most adorable shared studio of children’s book illustrators. Good looking too, if we’re going to be honest about it. Hear them in their own words and get a glimpse into what an artist’s studio space ACTUALLY looks like. Hint: Lots o’ creepy Victorian photographs. Once you’ve finished with that you can then head on over to Sergio Ruzzier’s new and updated website.
- Aw, what the heck. You know I don’t usually like to do anything with YA stuff, but a friend of mine asked me to mention this and I don’t see the harm. There’s a rather sweet little Delirium Fandom offer going on right now. Prove you’ve pre-ordered Lauren Oliver’s Requiem and you can get a nifty little signed bookplate. Aww.
- Did you know that there was a conference out there dedicated SOLELY to children’s nonfiction? Learn something new every day, eh? Here’s the deets:
It’s a time of re-invention, re-education, and revolution in children’s publishing. There are important developments that teachers, students, writers, and illustrators want to know about. A faculty of publishers, authors, illustrators, digital designers, and educators will inform and inspire at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference at the State University of New York at New Paltz on June 14-16.
Topics will range from “Nonfiction and the Common Core Standards” to “Creating E-books and Apps.” The weekend will offer intensives, workshops, one-to one consultations and critiques, an illustrators’ showcase, book fair, meals, and a reception at SUNY’s beautiful Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art. Full details are at www.childrensNFconference.com.
And last but not least, utterly ridiculous bookshelf wallpaper!
Thanks to BB-Blog for the link.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, 90 Second Newbery
, Bob Shea
, book trailers
, Downton Abbey
, Frog and Toad
, Harlem Shake
, illustrator videos
, Jesse Klausmeier
, library videos
, Suzy Lee
, trends I was totally unaware of
, Video Sunday
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Our good buddy James Kennedy alerted me to the fact that after his magnificent 90-Second Newbery show left New York City for other library systems in other states he received additional, incredibly funny and insane submissions that are worth seeing. What we have here is a Tacoma-based Frog and Toad Together take on the story “The List”. As James describes it it’s “done in the style of a French ye-ye music video or Wes Anderson movie.”
If you’d like to see the story that was based on you can see five stories from this book animated in five different ways. I’m particularly fond of the one with the seeds. There’s also a wholly fascinating take on The Story of Mankind that sort of has to be seen to be believed.
All right. We’re gonna present this day by cheering you up, breaking your heart, and then piecing it back together a bit at a time. That’s the kind of Sunday I’m dealing with here. Now I don’t know if you read the recent SLJ article Kid Lit Authors, Illustrators Visit Sandy Hook Elementary School but you should. And as it happens our roving reporter in the field Rocco Staino took some videos of the aforementioned authors and illustrators. This one is of Bob Shea. The very normality of it destroys me. Utterly.
Now let’s do something nice. In lieu of Kid President (which, correct me if I’m wrong, a whole great big swath of us have already seen) here’s “Obvious to you. Amazing to others,” coming at you via The Styling Librarian.
I’m not going to read too much into the fact that I live in Harlem and yet, until I heard from a Ms. Nicole Roohi this week, I had totally missed this whole “Harlem Shake” craze, as it were. Fun Fact: Not from Harlem. In any case, turns out there are a BUNCH of videos of this thing filmed in libraries across our fair nation. You can find some here and here and here and here and here. The one I will feature today, however, is from Goldenview Middle School in Anchorage, Alaska.
As Ms. Roohi told me, “The video production class filmed it, and the security guards starred in it (well, along with my assistant and myself). The principal, teachers, students and even a bus driver joined in.” Thanks for the link, Nicole!
In keeping with the peppy music today, if I lived in a world where every person had their own theme song that followed them around throughout the day, the tune that is featured in this trailer for Jesse Klausmeier & Suzy Lee’s Open This Little Book would be mine. Granted, it would bug people, but I’d only turn it on when I was marching down the street. Marching, I say.
Thanks to Mr. Schu for the link!
And finally, since we seem to be all trendy trendy today, let’s just end with something Downton Abbey-ish. The fact no one else has done this yet is amazing to me.
Though I would take issue with that Lady Crawley line near the end. Doesn’t he mean she loves ‘em?
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Best Books of 2013
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, Emmanuel Guibert
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, Marc Boutavant
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Ariol: Just a Donkey Like You and Me
By Emmanuel Guibert
Illustrated by Marc Boutavant
Translated by Joe Johnson
On shelves now.
The French are different from you and me. They have better comics for their kids. Sure, America’s been doing passably well in the last few years, but take a look at the graphic novel shelves of your local library or bookstore and you won’t be able to help but notice how many of the names there sound distinctly French. Joann Sfar. Guillaume Dorison. Goscinny. The list goes on. While we’ve been frittering away our time with discussions of “New Adult” fads, the French have come very close to perfecting the middle grade graphic novel, and Ariol: Just a Donkey Like You and Me typifies that near perfection to a tee. School stories wrapped in the guise of animal characters, Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant have managed to create yet another GN that will be cluttering up our American shelves with its presence. And if we’re going to be honest about it, you’ll welcome Ariol with open arms. If the French keep producing books as good as this one, let ‘em. There’s always room for more.
Split into twelve short stories, Ariol follows the day-to-day life and small adventures of an average blue donkey, his best friend (a pig), his crush (a cow), and his friends. As we watch he and his best friend Ramono go to school, survive gym class, and participate in a disgusting but fun game. On his own Ariol contends with his parents, longs for Petunia (the aforementioned sow), pretends to be his favorite superhero Thunderhorse, and plays pranks. Nothing too big. Nothing too epic. Just everyday school stories from a donkey you’ll love in spite of yourself.
It’s interesting to me how very everyday and down-to-earth Guibert’s stories are. In spite of the barnyard cast (complete with a talking teacher’s pet who also happens to be a fly) there’s nothing magical or out of this world to be found here. Ariol is sympathetic if flawed. His best friend’s a bit of a jerk, but for some reason you don’t hate him. His parents are well meaning without being pushy and his teacher’s put upon. In its review of this book Kirkus said it was “less vicious with the satire” than a lot of the Wimpy Kid type novels out that the moment. I’d agree, but that doesn’t meant the book doesn’t have bite. True it dares to get a little introspective from time to time (Ariol contemplating whether or not donkeys really are as stupid as the prejudiced say) but for every thoughtful contemplation there are at least two instances of characters sneaking fake vomit into their classmates’ changing rooms or nicking movie theater standees behind the backs of their grandmas. Let’s just say there will be plenty of stuff for uptight parents to object to if they really want to do so.
Author Emmanuel Guibert I knew from various graphic novels over the years like Sardine in Outer Space and The Professor’s Daughter amongst many others. Turns out, it’s Marc Boutavant who’s the surprise here. Not that I didn’t already know his work. It’s just that when you see a Marc Boutavant children’s book in America it inevitably stars big headed, wide-eyed children that seem this close to bursting out into a chorus of “It’s a Small World After All”. He’s . . . . cute. He does cute little books with cute little themes. There is nothing to indicate in All Kinds of Families or For Just One Day that the man is capable of giving life to a sardonic aquamarine donkey with superhero aspirations. Yet give life to Ariol he does. The art here is sublime. The style is just straight up panels. No messing with the essential design of the book or anything. Within these panels you can get one story from the text and another from the art. For example in the story “Moo-Moo” I got the distinct sense that the mother of the girl Ariol’s been crushing on was more than a bit aware of the boy’s feelings for her daughter. Little interstitial details make the whole thing fun too. I loved the tiny art at the beginning of each chapter. Some of it tells crazy stories, and others tell the story before the story (if you know what I mean).
The tales found here are universal in the best sense of the word. Yet like the Nicholas series by Goscinny (the series to which Ariol bears the closest resemblance) there is something overwhelmingly French about this book. I didn’t notice it at first. Not when the first story in the collection (“Match Point”) was essentially a one-donkey show of Ariol pretending to win a tennis match and become a rock star too while he’s at it. Not when the second story (“Rise and Shine”) compared the act of getting up to go to school with a person’s birth. Not when the furniture in Ariol’s living room looked more like something out of a doctor’s waiting room than a home. No, it wasn’t until we got to the chapter “Operation ATM” that it clicked. In that chapter Ariol engages in a raucous game of pretend in the backseat of the car as his dad drives. He leaps, he dances, he hides, he throws himself bodily all about and if you’re an American parent like me then you spend the better part of the chapter gripping your seat so hard that stuffing is coming out in clumps between your fingers as you growl through gritted teeth, “Where. Is. His. Seatbelt?!?” Kids won’t care a jot, but expect the parents to lift an eyebrow or two here and there.
Oh. And can I just give a special shout out to Joe Johnson for the translation here? Over the years I’ve come to recognize when a translator goes above and beyond the call of duty. I don’t think there’s a kid alive who will read this book and think the language is stilted or funky. Instead it reads like it was written in English in the first place. There’s only the most occasional slip-up and it goes by so fast that no one will ever notice.
In the end, a school set Animal Farm this is not. It’s just regular everyday stories with the slightest French lilt. American kids will gobble it up right quick and then hunger for more. New middle grade graphic novels are rarer in America than they should be considering their popularity. Here’s hoping funny imports like Guibert and Boutavant’s continue to make up for the lack we feel on our shelves every day.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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It was the shock of my lifetime to discover that kids really do dig nursery rhymes. To be a bit more specific about it, my kid in particular. Here she was, not even a year and a half old, and suddenly she could not get enough of those collections by Tomie dePaola and Arnold Lobel. And it all started with a lamb. A little one at that.
I’d received the Tomie dePaola board book of Mary Had a Little Lamb in the great Molly donation of 2011. It’s signed by Mr. dePaola himself and if I were a practical woman I’d probably mount it and hang it in some fashion on my wall. Instead, I allowed my grubby, grimy, adorable spawn to paw through it. No gnawing. I drew the line there. But if she wanted to read it (and she seemed to) all power to her.
After I sang the book to her the first time she was enthralled. Seriously, nothing like this book had ever enraptured her. I’d sort of assumed that the 19th century setting and subtle palette would not appeal to her baby brain. So wrong was I. I then started to experiment. I brought home other Mary Had a Little Lamb titles. Each time I did the kiddo delighted. She’d compare pictures, their similarities and differences. She got her own little white lamb stuffed animal and would carry it with her when the books were read. This all culminated to the point where when we visited a downtown Kalamazoo city creche this past Christmastime, it was the plaster lambs that were the hit of the day. She’s sheep crazy, this kid.
So it all got me to thinking: Whence Mary? Whence that little lamb? And how do different picture books of the duo stack up in the long run?
First stop, I picked up my copy of Albert Jack’s Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes. Truth be told, I’ve grown wary of this resource. It sometimes seems to come up with more theories than facts, but on the subject of Mary it was loquacious. There was admittedly some speculation as to whether or not the poem was written as a kind of Christian homily. You know. Mary. The lamb. The true origins of the poem come from one Sarah Josepha Hale who, depending on whom you ask, submitted the poem to Dr. Lowell Mason when he asked writers to contribute songs and rhymes for the Boston school system. It was a big time hit from the start. Some speculation arose as to whether or not the poem was written by Hale or by a John Roulstone instead and whether or not there really was a Mary and a lamb. Whatever the case, it was fun to learn that in Sterling, Mass. there’s a statue of the lamb in the town center.
Back to the book that started this all. I found that Tomie dePaola wrote an extensive piece online about this book, as well as why he chose it, and the fact that he found he added fuel to the fire when he credited the poem to Sarah Josepha Hale and not Mr. Roulstone. Reading Mr. dePaola’s funny and well-researched piece I realized all too late who Sarah was.
Do these titles ring any bells?
Yup! Sarah was the same Sarah who we credit today with the holiday of Thanksgiving. Geez oh marie, the woman was busy.
Then I started looking at other picture book editions of the poem. Granted, I was limited to in print versions available through my library system. Still, my library system is NYPL, and that ain’t small bananas.
First up, my favorite version, and an import at that:
Mary Had a Little Lamb by Kate Willis-Crowley
This is a British import so you won’t find that many copies floating around the States at the moment. If you do find some, they’re worth discovering. First off, it’s the only multicultural Mary I could find. Second, she’s very adventuresome. Usually when you get the “everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go” line Mary is sleeping or walking benignly somewhere. In this book Mary has just become a modern day Alice, following a rabbit burrow up top again, while the poor lamb muddles through the dark tunnel after her. The book is shorter in its verses than most, cutting out the part where the lamb rests its head on Mary’s arm or kids are instructed to bind animals gently, but it’s still fun. Particularly when you take into account how harrowed that poor teacher is. She truly does look to be at her wits end. There’s a rather bizarre Silence of the Lambs moment at the end where we see Mary wearing a paper plate lamb face that looks just eerie, but beyond that the story is keen from start to finish.
Next, a book that isn’t afraid to go full-text.
Mary Had a Little Lamb, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
Like dePaola, she credits Hale as the author. Unlike him she includes a note at the end discussing the poem’s origins. This pairs very well with the Willis-Crowley version and is actually one of the more playful Marys out there. The lamb is the only one I’ve seen where, ejected from the school, he “lingers near” by sitting, morose, on a swing set, eyeing the doors of the school. The most colorful version of the story I know.
Mary Had a Little Lamb by Sara Varon as found in Nursery Rhyme Comics
Varon’s style and storytelling are on full display with this one. The colors are a bit more muted than I’d like but you can’t help but love the fact that this is the only lamb who actually follows Mary to school with the hopes of getting its own education (note the jaunty backpack and the fact that it snaps up a seat in class).
None of these are to be confused with
Mary and Her Little Lamb by Will Moses
Subtitled “The True Story Behind the Nursery Rhyme” Moses goes where few authors have dared and not only brings the “real” story to live but credits Roulstone as the author! And the debate rages and rages on. The kiddo liked this one mostly because she adores the Will Moses nursery rhymes book and also because this one included a lot of barns. She likes barns right now.
Any others you’d think were worth mentioning? Lay ‘em on me. I’d love to add to her repertoire.
Hank Finds an Egg
By Rebecca Dudley
Peter Pauper Press, Inc.
On shelves May 1st
Photography in children’s literature holds a real fascination for me. No work of pure photography has ever won a Caldecott Award or Honor and, when it comes right down to it, there are only two ways to even make a picture book for children with photos. Either you set up animals or people in tableaus and write stories/poems around them (Photoshop has aided in this process, though not significantly improved upon it) or you use models. If you go the model route you then have to be artistically talented in not one but two areas of expertise. You see where this is going. Most great artists who make models for picture books eschew using photography’s strengths, relying entirely on their art. And most photographers who make picture books care more about their shots than the artwork or the characters they’re shooting on an aesthetic level. The perfect medium only comes when you either have a fantastic model artist and a fantastic photographer working in tandem or, rarest of all, a fantastic model artist who doubles as a fantastic photographer. All this is just a roundabout way of saying that this is why a book like Hanks Finds an Egg works as well as it does. Calling herself “a builder, creator, photographer, and artist”, newcomer Rebecca Dudley tells a fine tale without a single solitary word.
The first shot in this book is precisely what you’ll see on the cover. A little bear (I think he’s a bear, though his tail is admittedly a bit long) finds an abandoned egg sitting in the middle of the path. A quick scan of the surrounding area reveals the corresponding nest, though it is very high above the ground. Hank attempts several methods at returning the egg but each time he tries he finds he’s just too short. Bowed but not beaten (and with the mama bird nowhere in sight) he takes the egg to his campsite and keeps it warm throughout the night. The next morning he returns to the scene of the crime to find a mama hummingbird there and anxious for her baby’s return. Fortunately a spot of inspiration hits Hank and the next thing you know he’s come up with the perfect plan for getting that little egg back into its nest once and for all.
Hank Finds an Egg began its life as a self-published title called “Hank Finds an Egg and Makes Several Friends”. Peter Pauper Press wisely made the decision to pare the title down to its essentials, and was in the unique position of not having to heavily edit the text as well. If Hank Finds an Egg works it is because it doesn’t have a single word to its name. Would that more self-published authors went this very wise route. By letting the pictures alone tell the story, Rebecca Dudley gives her reading audience some very much needed credit. The joy of wordless books has always been the fact that no matter what the child’s reading level, with purely graphic storytelling they are able to finally “read” a book on their own without feeling dumb. I’ve heard of teachers using wordless picture books with new immigrants who do not yet speak the language, and with kids who love books but struggle with reading disabilities. Hank has an allure not simply because Dudley has a keen eye for panels and storytelling, but because the images she includes also happen to be beautiful from start to finish.
One cannot speak of photographed models and, more to the point, bears, without invoking the most infamous picture book of them all: The Lonely Doll. Created by photographer Dare Wright, the Lonely Doll books are sometimes remembered today for their dated reliance on spanking as a method of control (the poor doll’s frilly underpants not helping matters any). While it’s easy to scoff at the questionable morals of the books, let us not forget that there was one area in which they excelled. Photographer Dare Wright was able to create a truly memorable series through the strength not just of the bear and doll models but also her own photography. The Lonely Doll is at times breathtakingly beautiful. There is a shot, for example, of the doll and bear standing at the end of the Brooklyn Bridge, no human in sight, that would be worthy of framing and placing on your wall, if you were so inclined to do so.
Wright was either hampered or helped by her reliance on black and white photography. Dudley isn’t restricted in this way, but she’s clever enough not to go bold and brassy with her color palette. Since this is a woodland tale the primary tones are browns and greens. Against this dull backdrop the white of the egg stands out brilliantly. Later the ruby throats of the hummingbirds are, with the exception of the pink flowers that brighten up Hank’s campsite, the only spots of reddish hue to be found in the book’s pages. As you go through the book, take time to notice when Dudley keep the focus on an object near the camera or far away. Like a graphic novelist, she takes great care to switch camera angles from one moment to the next. The book doesn’t have the static a + b + c narrative that would bog down a lesser artist. There’s tension in how she sets up her shots, and a flow to the gentle, never saccharine, storytelling.
As for the models themselves, Dudley has a tendency to create vast dioramas made out of what I can only assume to be felt. Hank, for his part, is so clearly constructed that you can make out the very stitches holding him together. Then there are the visual tricks that give the tale its pep. A campfire a little later skillfully recreates the feeling of fire partly by somehow bouncing light from the campsite into Hank’s face. And then there’s the clever way in which Dudley gives the impression of movement with the hummingbird’s moving wings. Blurred fibers (even examining the pictures again and again I’m not sure how she did this) make it look as though parts of the hummingbird are moving at a speed that cannot be captured by the eye. If it’s a gimmick it’s a clever one, and (more to the point) one that serves the story well.
One should probably note that it would be wise to explain to kids that what Hank does in this book is not par for the course. If a child should find that an egg has fallen from a nest, the best thing would NOT be to try to return it on their own. On the visual side of things, there is a somewhat odd moment when the newly hatched hummingbirds sit in their nest and appear to glare down at Hank. Clearly that is not the story’s intent, and yet I’m sure there will be more than a few kids who ask why the baby hummingbirds are so angry and their savior. And I’m sure someone somewhere will find it dubious that hummingbird eggs could be as large as the ones featured here. That point doesn’t really bother me all that much.
Weigh the strengths against the weaknesses and you still come to find that Hank Finds an Egg is an honestly touching story told with a unique format that resembles few picture books being churned out today. Because here’s the crazy fact that no one ever considers: kids love photographs. They do. And they love picture books made up of photographs. The fact that we see so few of these in a given year may have as much to do with the range of artistic skills that need to be employed as it does big publishers’ reluctance to take a chance on a medium that doesn’t tend to win awards. Sometimes you have to leave the creativity to the little guys. And few little guys are quite as appealing to old Hank here. It’s something special, no question.
On shelves May 1st.
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- Publishers Weekly discusses the book as well as the publisher and their new forays into the realm of children’s books.
- For further steps into Hank’s world, do check out Ms. Dudley’s blog Storywoods.
And on a related note, here is a short film trailer for the aforementioned Storywoods:
Think of it like Voltron. Or, better yet, don’t.
If you are a clever daily blog reader and you have already seen the posts at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Nine Kinds of Pie, and 100 Scope Notes then what I’m about to tell you will come as no surprise. To wit:
The Niblings is a new blog consortium, over at Facbeook and Twitter, representing Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Jules Danielson), A Fuse #8 Production (this guy), Nine Kinds of Pie (Philip Nel), and 100 Scope Notes (Travis Jonker).
We considered calling this page “100 Notes on Why 7 8 9,” but it sounded too much like a math page. And when Philip Nel suggested “The Niblings,” we all fell hard for it.
Our goal with this group is to share — in one convenient location — links from our blogs, as well as other interesting links related to the field of children’s literature. Instead of us sharing links to our respective blogs on four separate pages, consider this (the Facebook page or Twitter feed) a one-stop resource center for information on children’s literature. This was initially Jules’ very smart idea and she clearly couldn’t pass up the fun numerology in these four blog titles. Can you blame her? So in short:
Whence the name? Well, “The Niblings” comes from Tove Jansson’s Moomin series:
“Do you like educational games?” Hodgkins asked cautiously.
“I love them!” said the Nibling.
I sat down and didn’t know what to say.
— Tove Jannson, final chapter of Moominpappa’s Memoirs (1968, revision of The Exploits of Moominpappa, 1950), translated by Thomas Warburton, p. 147
Why this name for our group?
- Tove Jansson’s Niblings love educational games and are, of course, often hungry. And we four children’s-lit bloggers have a comparably rapacious curiosity.
- It is the nature of blogs to take small bites of things. Niblings like to gnaw on things, too. (Niblings also chew off noses they think are too long. We vow not to do this.)
- “Niblings” is a term for nieces or nephews and thus offers an additional link to young readers.
- The word evokes other literary groups, such as the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, et al), as well as Fanny Burney’s 1779 play The Witlings (which satirizes the literary world).
- It’s slightly absurd, rather like Monty Python, Moxy Fruvous, Boing Boing (the blog), or, let’s face it, A Fuse #8 Production (which, if we’re going to get technical about it, was named after a car part).
We hope you enjoy our consortium over there in Facebook Land, should you be a Facebook-user.
The Niblings art here was created by the great Megan Montague Cash and is © 2013 The Niblings (Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, Travis Jonker, Philip Nel).
Not sure how long I’ll get to keep calling my little news items “Fusenews” since the Fuse network, hitherto not a problem in my sphere, has just decided to call their news program, you guessed it, Fuse News. But really, who am I to complain? It’s a kicky little term.
- So! The 2012 Cybils Awards were handed out just the other day and the winners are sublime. Kudos particularly to Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartness (winner of the Early Chapter Book category), Giants Beware by Jorge Aguirre (winner of the Middle Grade Graphic Novel category), The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (winner of the Middle Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction category), Wonder by R.J. Palacio (winner of the Middle Grade Chapter Book category), and Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks (winner of the Young Adult Graphic Novel category and Best Book I Didn’t Review in 2012).
- Marjorie Ingall’s on the ball, reviewing a rare picture book with a Jewish theme AND gay parents. As she says, “it’s about time”. Sometimes it seems to me that it’s particularly hard for a book for kids to be two things at once. Jewish AND gay. Black AND dealing with a dead pet. Korean AND deaf. It’s like children’s literature requires one category and if you double or triple it then no one knows how to define you. The Purim Superhero is obviously not the first picture book with Jewish gay parents but the rarity is undeniable.
- Here in town there’s a l’il ole theater called the New Victory. And from time to time they’ve a habit of putting on theatrical productions for children. Actually it’s all the time, and they’re a HUGE theater in the center of Times Square. In any case, the nice folks in that neck of the woods often like me to come up with reading lists as companions for their shows. Right now they’re presenting a character famous in picture books in Australia but not particularly well known here. As a result I created some Grug (that’s his name) readalikes. Love that stuff, I do!
- I like this next one because rather than do a long write-up I can just lift the helpful little JPG o’ info:
This would be the Facebook Page referenced above: https://www.facebook.com/byjanbrett. Right now Bloomsburg, PA is in the lead. You gonna take that sitting down, o rest of the country?
- In movie news, John Rocco’s Caldecott Honor winning picture book Blackout was just optioned film rights-wise and may be a live action feature film. They’re actually having script meetings n’ all. Well done, John!
- All right. The title of today’s Fusenews is a response to this piece. This is the post I’ve been waiting for all along. Mainly, an independent bookseller’s response to the news that Barnes & Noble will be closing some of their locations. At long last Josie Leavitt of the ShelfTalker blog tackles the thorny issue. Josie’s post, as you will see, has gotten a couple fiery responses, but far fewer than I expected.
- In other news, there are three things I like about the TeachingBooks.net site right now. First off, there’s the fact that they’re now presenting a range of audio interviews conducted with the most recent winners of the ALA Youth Media Awards. That’s cool. Then there’s the fact that they have provided up-to-date photos of each of those winners. Suddenly I’m fascinated. So THAT is what Ethan Long looks like! You actually cannot find this kind of information much of anywhere. And third, I love that they’re including the winners of the Canadian awards as well as the American ones. International love!
Isn’t the world just a slightly happier place now that you know that winged keys really do exist?
Thanks to Crooked House for the image.
Last year the idea was simple if a bit odd. I called upon my artist readers out there to consider in all that ample free time they have (why, oh why, is there no sarcasm font?) taking a classic Dr. Seuss book and drawing some aspect of it in the style of another children’s illustrator. Result was the remarkably fun, if wacky, Re-Seussification Project. The results, as I’m sure you have seen, were beyond splendid.
Now we find ourselves in 2013 and without our north star. Maurice Sendak passed away on May 8, 2012. This season his picture book My Brother’s Book has hit bookstore and library shelves nationwide. To honor the man, his life, his books, and his characters, let us do so in the strangest way possible. Ladies and gentlemen, I call upon you to Re-Sendakify Sendak.
The rules are simple. Reinterpret a famous scene from any Maurice Sendak book in the style of another famous children’s picture book artist. Perhaps you’d like to do Pierre ala Ezra Jack Keats or Outside Over There in the style of Marcia Brown. All power to you. Whatever you prefer, if you think this is a fun notion send me a scan of your idea and I’ll cull together a post filled with some of the different submissions and post the results on the anniversary of the publication of Where the Wild Things Are (October sumthin’ sumthin’). And if you want to do it in the style of someone living (Mo Willems, Kevin Henkes, etc.) it could be fun but let it be on your head. Admittedly, last time Dan Santat did a Jon Klassen that was absolute perfection.
All submissions must be received at Fusenumber8@gmail.com by April 30st.
By Holly Black
Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
McElderry Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
On shelves May 7th
I don’t watch much horror in general. I’m what you might call a chicken. When I do see it, though, I’m not particularly disturbed by random splattering and gore. The psychological stuff is far more of a lure for me. If I’m going to be honest, though, one of the scariest things I ever saw was on the cheesiest of television shows. It was this insider look into the world of ghosts and on the show we heard about a haunted home. It was a well-lit suburban house and we watched as a woman took off her shoes, walked over to the couch, and took a nap. When she woke up, the shoes were next to her. And that right there is what scares me half to death. Which is probably why a book like Doll Bones by Holly Black works for me on a horror level. Yet for all its creepy packaging, Black’s latest hides at its heart a remarkable, thoughtful take on what it means to grow up and pass from childhood into adolescence. Dark enough to attract fans of Goosebumps and the like yet able to make them actually think a bit about their own lives on a deeper level, Black strikes the perfect balance between the sensational and the smart.
By and large middle schoolers do not play with dolls. But Zach, Poppy and Alice have been playing “the game” for years and it’s only gotten better with time. Using dolls of every type they spin wild tales and live out personalities different from their own. That is, until Zach’s dad throws out his toys in an effort to stop the game. Ashamed, Zach lies to his friends that he no longer wants to play. This act leads to unforeseen consequences when, in desperation, Poppy releases a bone china doll from her mother’s cabinet, only to find herself haunted by the ghost of a long dead girl. Inside the doll are ashes and if any of the three is to get any peace they will have to bury the doll in a specific grave. If they succeed they’ll have fulfilled their quest. If they fail? They may suffer worse than a ghost’s wrath. They might be . . . ordinary.
Essentially what you’re dealing with here is what would happen if R.L. Stine every wrote a Newbery quality horror book for kids. And though it may not sound like it, this is high praise. I’ve always been fascinated with the nature of horror in books for children. Kids adore being scared. I recall well the adorable three-year-old who would return to my reference desk over and over again asking for “scary books” (I’d just hand him some very tame vampire or ghost fare and he’d be happy as a clam). The fascination fades for some, but for others it taps into the same instincts that drive adults to watch loads of horror films. The trick to writing really good horror literature for kids is to strike the right balance between the creepy and the safe. Go too far in one direction and you’re no longer writing for children but for teens. Go too far in the other direction and you’re not creepy enough, the kids tossing you aside the minute you bore them. Do not be mistaken. Doll Bones isn’t a chill-a-minute festival of screams. It’s smart and thoughtful and just happens to be about a doll constructed out of human marrow and stuffed to the brim with a little girl’s ashes.
To my mind Doll Bones fits neatly into two distinct trends I’ve picked up on in 2013. On the one hand, it’s a book that doesn’t give up its mystery readily. You can read this book for a long time before figuring out whether or not the book really is a horror fantasy or if it’s just an elaborate con by one of our heroes. A book that is similar in its reluctance to give up the goods too soon is the remarkable science fiction/mystery The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore. These authors appear to be inclined to believe that their readers will stick with their novels partly for the good writing and partly to see if the book lives up to the promises of its dust jacket and cover. They aren’t wrong.
The second trend in chapter books for the kiddos I’ve notices is a prevalence of titles where characters must say goodbye to childish things. The aforementioned Water Castle does this, and the new Jerry Spinelli Hokey Pokey does little else. In Doll Bones, Black separates this book from being yet another average ghostly tale by giving it a tragic edge. The tragedy is partly the characters’, sometimes admittedly inane, inability to talk to one another honestly about what’s going on in their lives. It’s also the tragedy of getting older and realizing that the friends you had as a kid may not be the friends you’ll have as a teen. What once you had in common with other people fades away in the face of looming adolescence (a theme of the Frances O’Roark Dowell book The Kind of Friends We Used to Be albeit with less sentient dolls).
All this talk of letting go of your youth and babyhood is told in the context of dolls. The kids play with dolls and the storytelling relies on their physical presence. So is storytelling itself childish to kids? Playing pretend is, and Black has to provide her child readers with the question of whether creating stories is an act of adulthood or childhood. Certainly Zach is good at it. You can hear him standing in for millions of writers all over the world when it says, “He liked the way the story unfolded as he wrote, liked the way the answers came to him sometimes, out of the blue, like they were true things just waiting to be discovered by him.” Transitioning from pretend to some kind of a creative output is often so difficult people will just abandon the act when they become teens. You can feel Doll Bones fighting against this tendency.
In telling this tale Black holds herself back in a number of ways. She never shows too much of her hand when recounting multiple creepy moments throughout the quest. By the same token, she could easily have turned the kids’ fantasies with their dolls into separate narrative moments. You could have begun the book with a rip-roaring delve into the adventures of William the Blade and the hearty crew of the Neptune’s Pearl and then revealed that it was all the fantasy of three tweens. Instead, Black chooses to remain entirely in the real world. The gift of this book is that it feels like it could happen to the kid reading it. No one walks through a magic door into a strange land or encounters mystical creatures. These three kids have to get, on their own, to a graveyard far away and they have to deal with some VERY realistic problems like weird strangers on buses, bus tickets in general, suspicious adults, and cell phones (Black is to be commended for not ignoring their existence and instead weaving them skillfully into the plot). This grounding in reality is what makes the horror that much more engaging.
It is interesting to note that as of this review Ms. Holly Black is not a particularly well-known name amongst the younger set of readers. Years ago she helped Tony DiTerlizzi create the Spiderwick Chronicles and all the books in that series. Kids these days don’t remember Spiderwick all that well, though. So while Ms. Black continues to impress on the YA side of things, she hasn’t connected with children in a while. Happily, this solo outing does her proud. She indulges in smart wordplay and strong good writing for much of the book. I enjoyed lines like, “Before Lady Jaye, Alice’s favorite character had been a Barbie named Aurora who had been raised by a herd of carnivorous horses.” And the little details delight, like the fact that Zach’s cat’s name is The Party, or the fact that Poppy refers to her rear as her “buttular region”, or even the donut shop that has every possible donut flavor, from wasabi or acorn flour to Pop Rocks or spelt.
If the book has problems it probably has something to do with the suspension of disbelief. The entire story tips on the fact that Zach refuses to tell either Alice or Poppy why he won’t play the game any more. So why exactly does he make everything so monumentally worse by not telling them what his father did to him? For a long time this fact plays out as a convenient plot point and not a believable fact. It isn’t until you’re at the tail end of the book that Zach’s confession “ripped away the fog of numbness and made him grieve.” Until that moment he claims he doesn’t want to play the game because it’s easier than admitting he never can again. I buy it, but I didn’t buy it for a very long time before that explanation. Also unclear is the ghost/doll. It’s hard to root for folks to help something malicious. Was the doll evil and ghost good? Were they one and the same or different? All unclear.
It all comes down to something Poppy says near the end of the book. She’s upset that her friends are growing up and possibly apart from her. So she gives voice to a fear that so many children feel but are unable to verbalize on their own. “I hate that you’re going to leave me behind. I hate that everyone calls it growing up, but it seems like dying. It feels like each of you is being possessed and I’m next.” Pair that line with one earlier concerning Zach. “He wondered whether growing up was learning that most stories turned out to be lies.” Doll Bones positions itself to look like a simple ghost tale about a creepy doll, then sneaks in an engaging, thoughtful look at the ramifications of adolescence and storytelling. Consider this the thinking child’s horror novel. A devilishly clever read from an author too long gone from the children’s book genre.
On shelves May 7th.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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Other Blog Reviews:
- Meticulous to the last, read Holly Black’s How I Wrote Doll Bones. It shows the lot of the author bound to a word count a day. And, as a native Kalamazoo girl, it makes me wonder what was so thrilling about Southwest Michigan in November!
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