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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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By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- Morning, folks. I’ve been looking to expand my knowledge beyond just children’s literature, so I figured a good podcast would be the best way to go. After reading Bustle’s 11 literary podcasts to get your bookish fix throughout the day I settled on Books on the Nightstand as the closest thing out there to a Pop Culture Happy Hour of books alone. Yet even at that moment I couldn’t escape the world of kidlit. The aforementioned Bustle piece also recommended a podcast called Dear Mr. Potter, described as “an extremely close read of J. K. Rowling’s series, starting with book number one. Host Alistair invites comments and thoughts from readers as he dissects each chapter, (there are live YouTube and Twitter chats before the audio is archived for the podcast) and is able to do some bang-up accents of beloved characters like Professor McGonagall and Hagrid.” Well, shoot. That sounds good too.
- Speaking of podcasts, you heard about The Yarn, right? That would be the podcast started by Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp that follows a single book through its creators and helpers. Having finished Season One, our intrepid heroes had a Kickstarter, met their goal, and are now soliciting ideas for Season Two. Might want to toss in your two cents or so. Such an opportunity may not arise again.
- So I say “Proust Questionnaire: Kidlit Edition“, and you say, “Come again?” And I repeat, “Proust Questionnaire: Kidlit Edition”, and you say, “I’m sorry, but you’re just putting a bunch of random words and names together higglety-pigglety.” At which point I direct you to Marc Tyler Nobleman and his interview series. The questions are not too dissimilar from the 7-Impossible Things interview questions, which in turn were cribbed from Inside the Actor’s Studio, (though I forget where they got them before that). For my part, I read the ones up so far and I am now entranced by Jonathan Auxier’s use of the word, “anagnorisis”. Proust would approve.
- The Bloggess likes us, we the librarians. We could have guessed that but it’s nice to have your suspicions confirmed from time to time.
- Kidlit TV: It’s not just videos! Case in point, a recent interview with my beloved co-author Jules Danielson in which she says very kind things about myself and my fellow Niblings. She is a bit too kind when she says that, “Betsy never whines or feels sorry for herself.” This is the advantage, dear children, of co-writing a book with someone in another state. They will not see you whine or kvetch in person, thereby leading them to believe that you are better than you are. Learn from my example.
- As ever, Pop Goes the Page takes the concept of activities in a children’s library (or, in some cases, a museum) to an entirely new level. Good for getting the creative juices flowing.
- And now it’s time for another edition of Cool Stuff on the Internet You Didn’t Know and Weren’t Likely to Find By Browsing. Today, the Kerlan Collection! You may have heard of it. It’s that enormously cool children’s book collection hosted by the University of Minnesota. Cool, right? You may even have known that the doyenne of the collection is Lisa Von Drasek, who cut her teeth at the Bank Street College of Education’s children’s library for years n’ years. Now she’s given us a pretty dang cool online exhibit series tie-in and if you happen to know a teacher in need of, oh say, primary sources and picture book nonfiction titles, direct them to the Balloons Over Broadway site. Explore the links on the left-hand side of the page. You won’t regret the decision.
- Here in Evanston, October will bring The First Annual Storytelling Festival. A too little lauded art that can be sublime or painful beyond belief, the festival will be quite a bit of the former, and very little of the latter. If you’re in the area, come by!
- We all know from Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle that it’s the daddy seahorses that shoulders the bulk of the parenting responsibilities in the wild. Now travel with me over to Portland, Oregon where the husband of a buddy of mine just started Seahorses, “Portland’s first dad and baby store.” I helped them come up with some of the good daddy/kid picture books they’re selling there. If you’re an author in the area with a daddy/child title to your name, consider contacting them. They’re good people.
- Lucky, Baltimorians. You get to host Kidlitcon this year. I would go but my October is pure insanity, travel-wise. You go and write it up for me, so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I don’t mind. Really.
And finally, this is precisely what you think it is.
Yep. Goodnight Goodnight, Construction Site PJs. Awesome? You betcha.
First things first. Look at that book jacket.
Gaze upon it. Feast thine peeper upon its delightful creepy factor. That’s a cover, my friends. And it takes a good book to live up to it. Fortunately, A Curious Tale of the In-Between hasn’t exactly been lacking for the stellar reviews. As Kirkus put it, “DeStefano artfully concocts a moving and multilayered tale that is an effective mix of genres and tones, at times contemplative and philosophical yet also macabre and psychologically sophisticated. Love, loss, and hope are at the heart of this exciting read.”
You’ll understand then why I was intrigued when Bloomsbury offered unto me Ms. Lauren DeStafano herself for an interview. And actually, I saw her speak in person years ago. Remember the YA Chemical Garden trilogy? That was her! So saying, she agreed to my probing queries:
Betsy Bird: Hello! Thank you so much for acquiescing to a rousing series of questions. First things first, though. What we have here appears to be a book by the name of A CURIOUS TALE OF THE IN-BETWEEN. Can you give us a run down of what it’s about?
Lauren DeStefano: I like to describe it as a love story between a living girl, a living boy, and a ghost.
BB: Well, how did you come to write it? Which is to say, why did you make it a middle grade book (for ages 9-12) and not YA. You are, after all, the author of two New York Times bestselling YA series. Why the switch into younger territory?
LD: When I wrote this story, I wasn’t conscious of the idea that it would get published, so things like MG and YA weren’t in my head. I had an idea about a girl who had a peculiar condition that caused her to conspire with ghosts, and I began to write it. After dinner one night, my cousin, who I think was 8 or so at the time, asked me to tell her a story. I told her about this one, though it was only half finished at the time. Her interest and questions really surprised me, and I began to wonder if Pram did have something to offer to younger readers.
BB: I know that writing books on the younger end requires an entirely different set of muscles than writing for the YA crowd. How was writing this book for you? Did anything surprise you along the way?
LD: Writing for younger readers was nothing but a joyous experience from start to finish. I had little of the fears and insecurities I have when tackling some of my other endeavors. All I had to do was believe in magic and let that carry me to the end.
BB: Great. Now when an author gets a particularly good cover on their newest title I like to say they’ve made small animal sacrifices to the book jacket gods. You fall into that category perfectly. How do you like it?
LD: I LOVE it. I wish I could claim credit, but that all goes to my designers.
BB: This book has already been compared to Coraline, which is sort of the de facto thing reviewers say when dealing with gothic middle grade literature. What are some of the books for kids you’d equate it with? Related (or maybe not) what did you like to read when you were a kid?
LD: That is an incredibly flattering and humbling comparison, and I’m honored to hear that. I don’t know if, plot-wise or voice-wise, I could compare it to any particular work off the top of my head. When I was a young reader, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was my most treasured book and I obsessed over it for months. It reached me on some cosmic level that made me feel understood. I would just hope this story could do that for someone else.
BB: And finally, what are you working on next?
LD: A tangled web of secrets and intrigue.
Many thanks to Ms. DeStefano for submitting herself to questions that, I am sure, she has answered many times before and will answer many times again. And thanks too to Bloomsbury for offering her up to me in the first place.
Not too long ago The Guardian had a piece out called Picture books that draw the line against pink stereotypes of girls. I was keen on it, particularly since in the midst of all these children’s books about breaking down stereotypes, I’ve seen awfully few “tomboy” titles. Books about girls who won’t wear dresses or care two bits about makeup and pink sparkles. They exist, but they’re not often commented on, so I liked the piece.
In the midst of all its books mentioned, I was particularly intrigued by a Yasmeen Ismail title that I’d not seen before. Called I’m A Girl!, it was described as, “a challenge to every instant playground assumption that a blue-clad, rambunctious speed demon must be a boy.” It looks awfully neat, and it got me to thinking about a little commented upon children’s book character: The female who doesn’t sport eyelashes, bows, or pink. In other words, books where girls are just as sordid and snarling or wild and wacky as their male counterparts. An ode to my four favorites:
Sasspants from Guinea PIG, Pet Shop Private Eye
She made her debut just before the current wave of children’s graphic novel love sweeping our fair nation. She was a guinea pig, dour and more interested in reading than interacting socially. She solved crimes. Her name was Sasspants. Honestly, is there anything else that need be said? Her series was fantastic, but might have been hampered by the fact that sizewise it looked like a picture book. Still, you can’t help but adore any series where the fish make obscure MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH jokes.
Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
There are many reasons to love Bad Kitty. She has more chutzpah than Garfield, more charm than Heathcliff, and more of an appetite than Grumpy Cat. She uses the word “Feh” with flair and I would argue that she is a feminist icon since her driven self-interest makes her a wonderfully flawed character. At no point does she fall in love or bat her eyelashes or do anything but act like a very inwardly focused cat.
Piggie from the Elephant and Piggie series
Honestly, it wasn’t until Mo wrote I Am Invited to a Party that I realized that Piggie was a girl at all. When it comes to animal characters, so many illustrators think it necessary to deck their girls out in bows and eyelashes and the like. Mo figured out that if you say a character’s a girl then by golly it’s gonna be a girl. And though at first you might worry that she’s the manic pixie dream pig to Gerald the elephant’s Eeyore-like persona, we know that at times she is just as prone to dour thoughts as her pachyderm pal.
Bink from Bink and Gollie
Of all the characters I’ve mentioned today, it is Bink that throws my four-year-old for a loop. She refers to Bink as “he” constantly, though I point out repeatedly that Bink wears a skirt (unlike, say, any of the girls previously mentioned). The skirt may throw her out of contention, but clearly it doesn’t register with her readership, so I’m keep her on this list. Truth be told, Bink may also be my favorite gal here. She has only three books but one can hope that the Bink & Gollie train has not entirely left the station. Three is a perfect little number, sure . . . but four? Four would be superb. Four then, please!
Feel free to mention your own lovely ladies that don’t rely on frills and furbelows.
MFA in Creative Writing and Literature
CONTACT: Emma Walton Hamilton
Stony Brook Southampton firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2016 Children’s Literature Fellows Program
Now Accepting Applications from Aspiring Children’s Authors Worldwide
August, 2015. Southampton, NY. The Children’s Literature Fellows, a one-year graduate level certificate program sponsored by Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature, is now accepting applications for 2016.
The year-long course of instruction—accomplished mostly in distance learning format—was developed by author and Children’s Literature Conference Director Emma Walton Hamilton, MFA in Creative Writing Director Julie Sheehan and YA author/faculty member Patricia McCormick to offer aspiring children’s and young adult authors a more affordable and flexible option than matriculation in a two- or three-year MFA program.
Because not all writers who want to complete projects have the time or the funds to complete a full degree program, the Children’s Literature Fellows do their work within a framework tailored to their needs. The program bears 16 graduate level credits, and is customized, affordable, comprehensive, and professionally useful. Twelve Fellows are accepted into the program per year. The Fellows work independently with award-winning, best-selling authors who serve as faculty mentors—such as Christopher Barton, Samantha Berger, Rachel Cohn, Donna Freitas, Cindy Kane, Megan McCafferty, Patricia McCormick, Margaret McMullan, Trica Rayburn, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Tor Seidler, Amy Sklansky, Emma Walton Hamilton, Ann Whitford Paul and Maryrose Wood—in a highly individualized curriculum that is primarily accomplished from home.
Twice a year, the Fellows come together as a cohort: once in July during the annual Southampton Arts Writers Conference and a second time in January for a special Publishing and Editing Conference, during which they study with visiting faculty such as Libba Bray, Peter Lerangis, Grace Lin and Dan Yaccarino – and meet with editors, agents and other members of the publishing industry.
During their year, each Fellow completes either one publishable YA or middle grade manuscript, or, for chapter and picture book writers, three to four separate manuscripts.
“There are very few programs like this out there for aspiring children’s literature authors,” says Walton Hamilton. “But children’s literature and YA are among the strongest and fastest growing sectors of the publishing industry right now, so this is valuable for writers on a number of levels. And thanks to the program’s distance learning format, aspiring authors from all over the world are able to take advantage of what it offers. We have participants in California, Arizona, Texas, Philadelphia, Florida—even Australia.”
She adds that the few places where graduate level programs like this are offered tend to be remote, while Stony Brook Southampton, with its satellite campus in Manhattan, is near to the heart of the publishing industry in New York City, and therefore offers more opportunities than most. In addition, the publishing industry tends to be closed to writers not represented by agents. The Editing and Publishing Conference and the access it provides are a key part of the program.
Picture book author Julie Gribble, a 2013 Children’s Lit Fellow, says, “Being a Children’s Lit Fellow is like having a guided tour of a city you’d always wanted to explore—you learn so much more than you could traveling about on your own!”
“The Children’s Literature Fellowship was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself,” says Florida-based middle grade novelist Janas Byrd. “It is a one-on-one mentorship with award winning authors who are also brilliant teachers. As a middle school teacher and mother of two, time is a hot commodity. This fellowship allowed me the flexibility to write when it was most convenient for me. I finished and polished my novel in nine months, a feat that would not have been possible to accomplish on my own.”
Admission to the Children’s Lit Fellows program is highly selective, and the application process is now open and underway. The application deadline for 2016 is December 1, 2015.
For more information about the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Fellows program and the application process, go to http://childrenslitfellows.org or visit http://www.stonybrook.edu/mfa and click on Children’s Lit Fellows.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Best Books of 2015
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By Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
On shelves October 6th
Oh, how I love middle grade horror. It’s a very specific breed of book, you know. Most people on the street might think of the Goosebumps books or similar ilk when they think of horror stories for the 10-year-old set, but that’s just a small portion of what turns out to be a much greater, grander set of stories. Children’s book horror takes on so many different forms. You have your post-apocalyptic, claustrophobic horrors, like Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien. You have your everyday-playthings-turned-evil tales like Doll Bones by Holly Black. You have your close family members turned evil stories ala Coraline by Neil Gaiman and Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. And then there are the horror stories that shoot for the moon. The ones that aren’t afraid (no pun intended) to push the envelope a little. To lure you into a false sense of security before they unleash some true psychological scares. And the best ones are the ones that tie that horror into something larger than themselves. In Kenneth Oppel’s The Nest, the author approaches us with a very simple idea. What if your desire to make everything better, everyone happier, released an unimaginable horror? What do you do?
New babies are often cause for true celebration, but once in a while there are problems. Problems that render parents exhausted and helpless. Problems with the baby that go deep below the surface and touch every part of your life. For Steve, it feels like it’s been a long time since his family was happy. So when the angels appear in his dream offering to help with the baby, he welcomes them. True, they don’t say much specifically about what they can do. Not at the beginning, but why look a gift horse in the mouth? Anyway, there are other problems in Steve’s life as well. He may have to go back into therapy, and then there are these wasps building a nest on his house when he’s severely allergic to them. A fixed baby could be the answer to his prayers. Only, the creatures visiting him don’t appear to be angels anymore. And when it comes to “fixing” the baby . . . well, they may have other ideas entirely . . .
First and foremost, I don’t think I can actually talk about this book without dusting off the old “spoiler alert” sign. For me, the very fact that Oppel’s book is so beautifully succinct and restrained, renders it impossible not to talk about its various (and variegated) twists and turns. So I’m going to give pretty much everything away in this review. It’s a no holds barred approach, when you get right down to it. Starting with the angels of course. They’re wasps. And it only gets better from there.
It comes to this. I’ve no evidence to support this theory of mine as to one of the inspirations for the book. I’ve read no interviews with Oppel about where he gets his ideas. No articles on his thought processes. But part of the reason I like the man so much probably has to do with the fact that at some point in his life he must have been walking down the street, or the path, or the trail, and saw a wasp’s nest. And this man must have looked up at it, in all its paper-thin malice, and found himself with the following inescapable thought: “I bet you could fit a baby in there.” And I say unto you, it takes a mind like that to write a book like this.
Wasps are perhaps nature’s most impressive bullies. They seem to have been given such horrid advantages. Not only do they have terrible tempers and nasty dispositions, not only do they swarm, but unlike the comparatively sweet honeybee they can sting you multiple times and never die. It’s little wonder that they’re magnificent baddies in The Nest. The only question I have is why no one has until now realized how fabulous a foe they can be. Klassen’s queen is particularly perfect. It would have been all too easy for him to imbue her with a kind of White Witch austerity. Queens come built-in with sneers, after all. This queen, however, derives her power by being the ultimate confident. She’s sympathetic. She’s patient. She’s a mother who hears your concerns and allays them. Trouble is, you can’t trust her an inch and underneath that friendliness is a cold cruel agenda. She is, in short, my favorite baddie of the year. I didn’t like wasps to begin with. Now I abhor them with a deep inner dread usually reserved for childhood fears.
I mentioned earlier that the horror in this book comes from the idea that Steve’s attempts to make everything better, and his parents happier, instead cause him to consider committing an atrocity. In a moment of stress Steve gives his approval to the unthinkable and when he tries to rescind it he’s told that the matter is out of his hands. Kids screw up all the time and if they’re unlucky they screw up in such a way that their actions have consequences too big for their small lives. The guilt and horror they sometimes swallow can mark them for life. The queen of this story offers something we all can understand. A chance to “fix” everything and make the world perfect. Never mind that perfect doesn’t really exist. Never mind that the price she exacts is too high. If she came calling on you, offering to fix that one truly terrible thing in your life, wouldn’t you say yes? On the surface, child readers will probably react most strongly to the more obvious horror elements to this story. The toy telephone with the scratchy voice that sounds like “a piece of metal being held against a grindstone.” The perfect baby ready to be “born” The attic . . . *shudder* Oh, the attic. But it’s the deeper themes that will make their mark on them. And on anyone reading to them as well.
There are books where the child protagonist’s physical or mental challenges are named and identified and there are books where it’s left up to the reader to determine the degree to which the child is or is not on such a spectrum. A book like Wonder by R.J. Palacio or Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper will name the disability. A book like Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis or Counting by 7s by Holly Sloan won’t. There’s no right or wrong way to write such books, and in The Nest Klassen finds himself far more in the latter rather than former camp. Steve has had therapy in the past, and exhibits what could be construed to be obsessive compulsive behavior. What’s remarkable is that Klassen then weaves Steve’s actions into the book’s greater narrative. It becomes our hero’s driving force, this fight against impotence. All kids strive to have more control over their own lives, after all. Steve’s O.C.D. (though it is never defined in that way) is part of his helpless attempt to make things better, even if it’s just through the recitation of lists and names. At one point he repeats the word “congenital” and feels better, “As if knowing the names of things meant I had some power over them.”
When I was a young adult (not a teen) I was quite enamored of A.S. Byatt’s book Angels and Insects. It still remains one of my favorites and though I seem to have transferred my love of Byatt’s prose to the works of Laura Amy Schlitz (her juvenile contemporary and, I would argue, equivalent) there are elements of Byatt’s book in what Klassen has done here. His inclusion of religion isn’t a real touchstone of the novel, but it’s just a bit too prevalent to ignore. There is, for example, the opening line: “The first time I saw them, I thought they were angels.” Followed not too long after by a section where Steve reads off every night the list of people he wants to keep safe. “I didn’t really know who I was asking. Maybe it was God, but I didn’t really believe in God, so this wasn’t praying exactly.” He doesn’t question the angels of his dreams or their desire to help (at least initially). And God makes no personal appearance in the novel, directly or otherwise. Really, when all was said and done, my overall impression was that the book reminded me of David Almond’s Skellig with its angel/not angel, sick baby, and boy looking for answers where there are few to find. The difference being, of course, the fact that in Skellig the baby gets better and here the baby is saved but it is clear as crystal to even the most optimistic reader that it will never ever been the perfect baby every parent wishes for.
It’s funny that I can say so much without mentioning the language, but there you go. Oppel’s been wowing folks with his prose for years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a cunning turn of phrase when you encounter it. Consider some of his lines. The knife guy is described like “He looked like his bones were meant for an even bigger body.” A description of a liquid trap for wasps is said to be akin to a, “soggy mass grave, the few survivors clambering over the dead bodies, trying in vain to climb out. It was like a vision of hell from that old painting I’d seen in the art gallery and never forgotten.” Or what may well be my favorite in the book, “… and they were regurgitating matter from their mouths and sculpting it into baby flesh.” And then there are the little elements the drive the story. We don’t learn the baby’s name until page 112. Or the very title itself. When Vanessa, Steve’s babysitter, is discussing nests she points out that humans make them as well. “Our houses are just big nests, really. A place where you can sleep and be safe – and grow.”
The choice of Jon Klassen as illustrator is fascinating to me. When I think of horror illustrations for kids the usual suspects are your Stephen Gammells or Gris Grimleys or Dave McKeans. Klassen’s different. When you hire him, you’re not asking him to ratchet up the fear factor, but rather to echo it and then take it down a notch to a place where a child reader can be safe. Take, for example, his work on Lemony Snicket’s The Dark A book where the very shadows speak, it wasn’t that Klassen was denying the creepier elements of the tale. But he tamed them somehow. And now that same taming sense is at work here. His pictures are rife with shadows and faceless adults, turned away or hidden from the viewer (and the viewer is clearly Steve/you). And his pictures do convey the tone of the book well. A curved knife on a porch is still a curved knife on a porch. Spend a little time flipping between the front and back endpapers, while you’re at it. Klassen so subtle with these. The moon moves. A single light is out in a house. But there’s a feeling of peace to the last picture, and a feeling of foreboding in the first. They’re practically identical so I don’t know how he managed that, but there it is. Honestly, you couldn’t have picked a better illustrator.
Suffice to say, this book would probably be the greatest class readaloud for fourth, fifth, or sixth graders the world has ever seen. When I was in fourth grade my teacher read us The Wicked Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden by Mary Chase and I was never quite the same again. Thus do I bless some poor beleaguered child with the magnificent nightmares that will come with this book. Added Bonus for Teachers: You’ll never have to worry about school attendance ever again. There’s not a chapter here a kid would want to miss.
If I have a bone to pick with the author it is this: He’s Canadian. Normally, this is a good thing. Canadians are awesome. They give us a big old chunk of great literature every year. But Oppel as a Canadian is terribly awkward because if he were not and lived in, say, Savannah or something, then he could win some major American children’s literary awards with this book. And now he can’t. There are remarkably few awards the U.S. can grant this tale of flying creepy crawlies. Certainly he should (if there is any justice in the universe) be a shoo-in for Canada’s Governor General’s Award in the youth category and I’m pulling for him in the E.B. White Readaloud Award category as well, but otherwise I’m out to sea. Would that he had a home in Pasadena. Alas.
Children’s books come with lessons pre-installed for their young readers. Since we’re dealing with people who are coming up in the world and need some guidance, the messages tend towards the innocuous. Be yourself. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Friendship is important. Etc. The message behind The Nest could be debated ad nauseam for quite some time, but I think the thing to truly remember here is something Steve says near the end. “And there’s no such thing as normal anyways.” The belief in normality and perfection may be the truest villain in The Nest when you come right down to it. And Klassen has Steve try to figure out why it’s good to try to be normal if there is no true normal in the end. It’s a lesson adults have yet to master ourselves. Little wonder that The Nest ends up being what may be the most fascinating horror story written for kids you’ve yet to encounter. Smart as a whip with an edge to the terror you’re bound to appreciate, this is a truly great, truly scary, truly wonderful novel.
On shelves October 6th.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus,
Because life is too short not to know about cool children’s book festivals. Heads up, Orange County!
Warwick Children’s Book Festival
September 26, 2015
11am-4pm, rain or shine
Free Admission; open to the general public
Railroad Avenue, Warwick (Orange County)
Children, readers and book lovers of all ages are cordially invited to the Warwick Children’s Book Festival on Railroad Avenue in Warwick on Saturday, September 26, 11am-4pm. Fifty prominent and distinguished authors and illustrators of books for children (pre-K-12th grade) will be on hand to meet children, talk about their work, autograph and sell their books. Enjoy a free concert for children by The Uncle Brothers at 1pm on Railroad Green. There will also be a craft activity for children coordinated by library volunteers. Railroad Avenue is surrounded by charming gift shops, cafés, bakeries and candy shops. The street will be closed to car traffic for the day to enable children and families to enjoy a leisurely and safe afternoon.
The festival is presented biennially by the Albert Wisner Public Library Foundation and sponsors Glenn P. and Susan D. Dickes, longtime benefactors of the Library. Generous support has also been provided by library patrons Herbert and Stephanie Neuman, as well as by the Village of Warwick, the Warwick Farmers’ Market and ShopRite. Student artists from Warwick Valley Middle School, under the direction of art teacher Mrs. Nicole Heller, also designed and created models of the heads of beloved characters from children’s books, like Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar and many others. These will be on display at the festival.
The bookseller for the event is Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe, a beloved Warwick institution and valued Library partner. A portion of the Festival’s proceeds will benefit Albert Wisner Public Library. Further details are at warwickchildrensbookfestival.org.
By Torben Kuhlmann
North/South Books, Inc.
On shelves October 1st
Cautionary tales for kids who can’t do a darn thing about the original problem. It’s sort of a subgenre of its very own. As I hold this lovely little book, Moletown, in my hands I am transported back in time to the moment I first encountered The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. A child of the 80s, my youth was a time when scaring kids straight was an accepted educational technique utilized in everything from environmental protection to saying no to drugs. The film version of The Lorax bore this out and gave me some nice little bite-sized psychological scars for years to come. These days we don’t usually go in for the whole learning-through-fear technique. Even picture books that sport a message are more prone to be mildly sad than anything else. What makes Moletown so very interesting then is its inclination to tap into popular tropes in our own history, then turn them ever so gently on their heads. The end result is a book where you might easily lose sight of the bigger picture, until that final moment when everything becomes horribly clear.
“The story of Moletown began many years ago.” A single solitary mole moves beneath a meadow to live. Not long thereafter he’s joined by other moles “And over time, life underground changed…” Before our eyes we see it. We see the vast construction projects taking place to make Moletown a livable community. We see the population explosion, the increased technological advances, and different transportation models. Life becomes busier for the moles, while outside in the meadow nature is taking a severe hit. The green is close to disappearing altogether, but turn to the last pages in the book and there we see evidence not just of change, but of the moles as a whole taking on the responsibility of their newly green again meadowlands.
Kuhlmann initially burst upon the American picture book scene with the highly detailed Lindbergh, a story of a mouse with a yen for flight. A little bit The Arrival, a little bit An American Tale and a little bit steampunk via Beatrix Potter, it was his hyper realistic animals placed in extraordinary circumstances that stayed with young readers. In Moletown that level of detail and attention is there, but the moles have a far more cartoonish feel to them. This is not to say that they don’t look like moles, every inch of them. Yet Kuhlmann has simplified his hyper-realistic renderings of animals and traded that attention in for set designs and landscapes. Here he plays with perspective, plunging us down into the heart of the moles’ mining operation, the scaffolding twisting around and around, down and down. Sharp eyed spotters will note other spreads where the stop signs are shaped like mole claws and the trains go vertically as well as horizontally. The details are there to an elegant degree, but the feel is different from Lindbergh certainly (as is the length of the piece).
One of the most amazing aspects of the book is the sense of time passing. In the early days of Moletown you see the immigrants arriving, looking very much like the European immigrants of the late 19th century. As time passes you see moles in Wright Brothers era caps, trench coats and fedoras of the 40s, a possible homage to the MTV image of the 80s (complete with Nintendo video game remotes), and finally the iPods and wind farms of the current age.
Many European artists find it difficult to break into the American market due to the fact that their art contains a distinctly “foreign” feel. Kuhlmann’s advantage here is that while it is easy enough to believe that the images in this story originated in Germany, there is nothing distinctly “other” about the book . . . at first. It’s only with multiple readings that you begin to notice the elements that probably could not have begun here in the States. For example, in more than one instance you’ll see a mole smoking. This is by no means the focus of the book, and you would have to look somewhat hard to find such moments, but I have seen American parents go ballistic over far lesser crimes in picture book illustration, so I’ve no doubt the occasional library patron will become incensed over what they believe to be the promotion of cigarettes. Other hints that the book is German? Well, I could be wrong but this may well be the only picture book you’ll find on the market today containing a two-page spread dedicated to accountancy.
One interesting thing about the book is the fact that the ending that we so deeply desire is embedded not in the book itself but in its endpapers. The final text in the book reads, “Many generations later, the moles’ green meadow had completely disappeared. Almost.” Turn the page and rather than provide a verbal explanation, the book gives us a glimpse of a series of photographs alongside an article from The Moletown Times which reads, “Agreement on Green”. The pictures show steps taken to preserve the environment and restore the meadow. I didn’t mind this method of summing up the steps taken to correct the past. Yet more interesting to me, by far, was how the book lets the reader reach their own slow realization that the seemingly inevitable trudge of technological advances and population increases are, in fact, detrimental. That picture at the beginning of the book of the immigrants arriving in Moletown, to an American reader, strikes you as a symbol of freedom from oppression and hardship. And because Kuhlmann keeps the book almost entirely wordless from start to finish, the glimpses of the meadow in its downward slide towards decay are shown without commentary. It’s up to the reader to realize that something has gone very wrong. How many will actually make that leap will be interesting to see.
Finding books to compare this one to can be difficult. The overall feeling I got was like the one in The Rabbits by John Marsden. But where that was a story of a culture being systematically destroyed, this has a sweeter if no less destructive feel. The Lorax hits the same environmental notes, but Moletown is the subtler of the two since it makes the reader implicit in the enjoyment one derives from Moletown’s culture (and from the fact that it’s a world that feels very much like our own). The best way to describe the story is to say that it’s a combination of the two, with a hopeful endnote all its own. Like all imports, it runs its greatest risk in becomes a forgotten piece since it can’t win many of our American children’s book awards. That said, I have faith that teachers, parents, and students will find in it a new approach to tackling the tricky subject of mass consumption vs. environmental action. Explicit in its message. Subtle in its presentation. In short, a beaut.
On shelves October 1st.
Like This? Then Try:
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The Rabbits by John Marsden, illustrated by Shaun Tan
The Promise by Nicola Davies
After a brief hiatus I’m back with my regular interview series, Fuse #8 TV. By complete coincidence (fortune favors the busy) I didn’t have an interview slated when I was in the thick of my move to Evanston. Now that I’m safely ensconced in Illinois (albeit with oddly empty bookshelves) I’m fully ready and prepared for this month’s interview. And what an interview it is! Here is a bit of what you’ll find in this one:
Not necessarily in that order. Or, odder still, all at the same time. You see, this week we’re interviewing the hugely amusing Kevin Sherry, author of THE YETI FILES, an early chapter book series one and all should know. And in the course of our talk he not only removes (temporarily) articles of clothing but we also get to learn about his magnificent puppetry.
On top of all that, I continue my “Reading (Too Much Into) Picture Books” series in which I tackle the true villains of the Where’s Waldo series. If you watch it with the sound off, you can have fun with my facial expressions. So please, enjoy! I sure did.
All other Fuse #8 TV episodes are archived here.
Once more, thanks to Scholastic for being my sponsor and helping to put this together.
Once in a while an artist comes along who does work so beautifully that you cannot help but gawp. Particularly gawpable (a word? Tis now) is Lizi Boyd. And today, I’m pleased as punch to premiere the book trailer for her latest. It’s a simple concept book . . . at first. Probe a little deeper, however, and you’ll find it’s so much more.
Reading through the most recent issue of The New Yorker, you may encounter the short story “Little Man” by Michael Cunningham. It’s a rather cunning retelling of Rumplestiltskin that veers oddly close to the original tale. Granted Cunningham has no idea how spinning wheels work (see: Paul. O. Zelinsky who actually put in the research with his version) but otherwise I loved what he did with it.
Reading the piece got me to thinking about my current job. These days I’m not really purchasing all that many children’s books. I still keep up, but as the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system I’m now deeply submerged in the world of adult literature and nonfiction. One thing I’ve found with my new job purchasing such titles is that my eyes are now being opened up to a wide and wonderful world I’d never really experienced in full before: Adult books on kidlit topics. Sure I’d seen a lot of the academic titles and books by folks like Leonard Marcus, Phil Nel, etc. but consider the following books. Each one contains something interesting to our business.
Here are some of the titles I’ve encountered in the course of a single week:
The description from the publisher reads:
“The First World War laid waste to a continent and permanently altered the political and religious landscape of the West. For a generation of men and women, it brought the end of innocence and the end of faith. Yet for J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, the Great War deepened their spiritual quest. Both men served as soldiers on the Western Front, survived the trenches, and used the experience of that conflict to ignite their Christian imagination. Had there been no Great War, there would have been no Hobbit, no Lord of the Rings, no Narnia, and perhaps no conversion to Christianity by C. S. Lewis.
Unlike a generation of young writers who lost faith in the God of the Bible, Tolkien and Lewis produced epic stories infused with the themes of guilt and grace, sorrow and consolation. Giving an unabashedly Christian vision of hope in a world tortured by doubt and disillusionment, the two writers created works that changed the course of literature and shaped the faith of millions. This is the first book to explore their work in light of the spiritual crisis sparked by the conflict.”
And while we’re on the topic of Tolkien:
The publisher writes of it:
“From superstar linguist David J. Peterson comes a creative guide to language construction for sci-fi and fantasy fans, writers, game creators, and language lovers. Peterson begins with a brief history of constructed languages, from Tolkien’s creations to Klingon to today’s thriving global conlang community. Then, using examples from his own languages alongside helpful comparisons to real ones, Peterson offers a captivating and lucid overview of language creation, providing a basic foundation of essential linguistic tools for inventing and evolving one’s own lexicon. Along the way, behind-the-scenes stories lift the curtain on how he built the languages for television series and movies such as SyFy’s Dominion and Thor: The Dark World, and an included phrase book will start fans speaking Peterson’s constructed languages. An inside look at a fascinating culture and a perfect entry point into an art form as old as civilization,The Art of Language Invention is a wild linguistic adventure that will have readers ready to rub shoulders with horse lords and dark elves.”
For a second I misread that last sentence to read “house elves”. If only.
This one I would never have suspected, had I not read the Kirkus review. As they say, “Perhaps the best of these stand-alone selections is ‘The Love that Dare Not Squeak Its Name,’ originally from Salon, in which Rakoff’s interpretation of E.B. White’s Stuart Little as a seminal gay icon will make it difficult for readers to see the mouse-child in any other light.” You can read the piece in question here if you’re curious.
All you need to do is to look at the cover. Nuff said.
I find this particular description a bit of the baffling side (what precisely does “violently anti-Wilder” mean?). Still, it falls under the same umbrella. Fingers crossed that there’s a Bloody Benders reference in the book somewhere. From the publisher:
“Two sisters take a road trip that will change their lives. Chloe Ellefson, a collections curator at Old World Wisconsin, is a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, so she’s thrilled when her elderly neighbor Miss Lila brings her a quilt that may have been owned or even made by Wilder. Miss Lila wants Chloe to decide which of the many museums devoted to Wilder should get the quilt, but then she’s killed in a break-in before Chloe can gather much information from her. Although Chloe’s not very close to her sister, Kari, who’s married to a dairy farmer and has two children, they both have happy childhood memories of the Little House books and the times they pretended to be Laura and her sister Mary. So she asks Kari to go with her to visit all the museum candidates. At their first stop, they’re unable to prevent a young man from dying of anaphylaxis. Then Chloe finds herself interfering in a fight between a Wilder-obsessed wife and her controlling husband. The woman leaves her husband behind and joins the group on Alta Allerbee’s Laura Land Tours bus. Chloe’s dream trip keeps getting worse as she realizes Kari’s hiding a secret and at least two of the people tagging along on the tour are violently anti-Wilder. Her struggles to uncover several secrets reveal some surprising things about her heroine. This sixth adventure for Chloe (Tradition of Deceit, 2014, etc.) is a real treat for Little House fans, a fine mystery supplemented by fascinating information on the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder.”
From the publisher:
“Some of your favorite New York Times bestselling authors present five all-new stories told through the looking glass including a new Eve Dallas novella!
You’re late for a very important date…Enter a wonderland of mesmerizing tales. It’s a place that’s neither here nor there, where things are never quite as they seem. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s whimsical masterpiece, ranging from the impossible to the mad to the curiouser, these stories will have you absolutely off your head.
Don’t be afraid to follow them DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE“
On the flip side there are also authors that I’ve only ever encountered through their children’s books without any knowledge of their adult literature. Hannah McKinnon, Mal Peet (which I pretty much knew, but still…), etc. These are folks that are giving me a new appreciation for the variety they are capable of producing. In the meantime, I’m enjoying these other books and their references. Fascinating how childhood memories affect our literature on every level.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Been a while, hasn’t it? Well, better late than never. And you probably get a better level of quality videos if there’s a month’s gap, eh?
Today we begin with the video of the week. The Wall Street Journal released this article about Brian Selznick’s puppeteering work on his own book trailer. For me, it’s the waves that are the most impressive.
When I was sent a copy of Diva and Flea, written by Mo Willems and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, I almost immediately found myself reading it to my kiddo. For me, child of the 80s, it had a bit of an Aristocats vibe to it. For my daughter, it highlighted Paris (a city she already knew through her Madeline and other kidlit texts) and was an interesting tale of miscommunications (her interpretation). Consequently, Disney upped the ante with its video for the book. Here’s Mo sporting some Raschka locks in a kind of Dinner with Andre for children’s literary fans. Be sure you stay for the drawn image at the end. I think Tony’s version of Mo is the best thing ever.
Did I ever tell you about that time I went to a Scholastic event and there were a bunch of authors standing about talking, and I got into a discussion with Barbara McClintock and this guy who was all in black? Yeah, we had a good talk and the guy (who was NOT wearing a nametag) wanders off and I turn to Barbara and say, “Who was that?” And she says, “Jeff Smith”. Yeah. So basically I met the guy and wasn’t able to say anything pertinent to him at all. I’m pretty sure we discussed skunks. I don’t know why. That’s just how it came out (which, technically, is right up there with the only conversation I ever had in person with Judy Blume and it was about black and white cookies). Anywho, I missed this video when it came out in May, but I assure you that the folks in it are just as cute now as they were then.
My beautiful beautiful first library. Is it not gorgeous? Wouldn’t you love to go there? Do. Plus the video shows a mysterious glass box in a tower that I’ve never seen before. I would love a closer look!
Thanks to Marci Morimoto for the link
Here’s how long it’s been since I last did a Video Sunday. I never posted this faux teaser trailer for the Series of Unfortunate Events video series. Crazy, right? It’s so beautifully done, particularly the choice of Amanda Palmer song (and she is a friend of Daniel Handler’s in turn . . .).
Do I really have to mention that Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club for Kids video isn’t, ah, appropriate for kids? I don’t do I? I mean, it’s Chuck Palahniuk, for crying out loud.
One video I’d love to show you and that I just don’t have on hand comes from a recent Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL that I help set-up but could never see. There is footage out there, and I have seen it, of Rita Williams-Garcia, Jeanne Birdsall, and my former co-worker Christopher Lassen dancing like The Jackson 5. I am not making this up. I thought I might have a Facebook link but no go. So if I find it, I will post it, but in the meantime please believe me that you live in a world where such things really do happen.
And for our off-topic video of the day, it’s a little old but there’s no reason not to do the Johnny Depp dressed as Jack Sparrow visiting sick kids in Australia video, right? I do wonder . . . what did he smell like? And do authors ever get asked to do this, visit sick kids? Or write to kids as their own characters?
Because you didn’t truly think The Grolier Club would let the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland pass without a word, did you?
Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece
A Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Grolier Club
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a world-wide phenomenon! Published in 1865, it is one of the most quoted works of fiction in the world, one of the most translated, and has never been out of print. The Grolier Club is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its publication with this groundbreaking exhibition Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece devoted to the myriad translations of Alice. There are 7,609 editions (and counting) that have been translated in 174 languages.
On view from September 16 to November 15, 2015, the exhibition represents the most extensive analysis ever done of one English-language novel rendered into so many languages. The presentation of 140 translations is based on a three- volume book of the same title and is drawn from the collection of Jon A. Lindseth, who is the exhibition curator, with loans from co-curator Alan Tannenbaum as well as the Fales Library at New York University, Princeton University Library, and The Morgan Library & Museum.
The book is famously difficult to translate because of its wordplay, nonsense, homophones, and cultural references. When Lewis Carroll was considering having Alice translated into French or German or both, he wrote on October 24, 1866 to his publisher, Macmillan, saying: “Friends here [in Oxford] seem to think that the book is untranslatable into either French or German: the puns and songs being the chief obstacle.”
This exhibition gives evidence that Carroll’s friends were wrong and to date there are 562 editions in German and 451 in French. On view are the seven languages translated during Lewis Carroll’s lifetime: from the first German and French editions in 1869, through Swedish in 1870, Italian in 1872, Danish and Dutch in 1875, Russian in 1879, to shorthand, published by Cambridge University Press in 1889.
The exhibition begins with background about the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodson, alias Lewis Carroll and and his child muse Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, where Dodgson graduated and then stayed on to spend the rest of his life teaching. Lewis Carroll was a letter writer, photographer, mathematician, teacher, book collector, and of course, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On view are selections from his life and works, his circles, the first use of the pseudonym Lewis Carroll in the magazine “The Train,” when he was 24 years old, through to his funeral keepsake and estate sale catalogue. Also on display are the first edition of Rhymes for the Nursery (1806), with “The Star,” a poem Carroll parodied, and translations of Carroll’s books from the collection of Alice Hargreaves, the real Alice. In addition, there are Carroll’s nonsense poem “The Hunting of the Snark” and Edward Lear’s copy of Alice, the two people being the greatest nonsense writers of the Victorian period.
This is followed by works that discuss the concepts and difficulties of translation including Vladimir Nabokov’s New Republic article of 1941, “The Sins of Translations.” The sins he cites are made by many translators of Alice. In his book Experiences in Translation, Umberto Eco writes: “Every sensible and rigorous theory of language shows that a perfect translation is an impossible dream.”
The other cases are devoted to translations in the languages and dialects of Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, the Pacific, Far East and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Brazil, as well as Esperanto, Braille and shorthand, Disney material, a Pop-up Book, and Comic Books. A world map shows the location of each spoken language into which Alice has been translated.
A brief overview of the translations on view:
Languages of Great Britain & Ireland, Extinct Languages, English in Other Alphabets
All six Celtic languages are represented, as are dialects of Scots. Others include Jèrriais, a Norman language from the Channel Island of Jersey; the Scouse dialect of Liverpool; Sussex dialect of East Sussex County; and Cockney of London. Extinct languages include Middle English and Gothic. Alice transcribed into other alphabets (some experimental) and codes include Carroll’s own Nyctographic alphabet, for writing in the dark. The precursor to Braille, Boston Line Type, is here.
Spain, the Baltic, and the Nordic Languages
The six languages of Spain are represented; there are more editions in Spanish than in any other language, since Alice is also published in many countries of the Americas. Editions in four languages of the Baltic region and five Scandinavian languages are shown.
The Balkans and Other European Countries
The Balkans are represented by editions in ten languages, and there are eight editions in other European languages, including West Frisian, translated by Tiny Mulder, who is featured here along with the King’s Medal for Courage awarded her by the British Government for rescuing seventy-two downed Allied airmen.
The Chinese and Japanese languages comprise large numbers of published editions. Important early editions are shown, along with eight other languages of the Far East, including Uyghur, Korean, Mongolian, Lao, Malay, Vietnamese, and Thai. The Central Asian languages Tajiki and Kazakh are displayed.
The Indian Subcontinent
Represented are editions in fourteen languages of India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Nonsense writing first appeared in India long before Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear.
The Pacific Region and Africa
Six Alice translation languages in the region from Hawaii to Australia are presented, including two illustrated editions of Pitjantjatjara, an aboriginal language of Australia. Four African languages are shown.
A Selection of Other Languages
Translations from North and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and the Near East, including Jewish languages.
A selection of translations from Irish publisher Evertype is included. They have published Alice in more than fifty languages.
Awards for the best Alice translation books
The Grand Prize goes to the Slovak edition of 2010, and the Award of Excellence to the Neapolitan edition of 2002.
On October 7 and 8, 2015 a translation conference is scheduled. Speakers are from China, India, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and Hawaii. The conference is open to the public but tickets are required.
The illustrated book Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece, Jon A. Lindseth, General Editor and Alan Tannenbaum, Technical Editor, is in three volumes. Volume One includes the essays and appendices; Volume Two, the back-translations into English so that readers can see how all translators handled the same difficult portion of Chapter VII: A Mad Tea-Party; and Volume Three, the 174 checklists of editions, with more than 7,600 entries. The book is available from Oak Knoll Press, email address email@example.com.
VISITING THE GROLIER CLUB
47 East 60th Street
New York, NY 10022
More exhibition information can be found at AliceInAWorldOfWonderlands.com
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm
Admission: Exhibitions are open to the public free of charge
The Grolier Club Collects II
December 9, 2015 – February 6, 2016
For press information and jpegs please contact:
Public Relations Consultant to the Grolier Club
212-838-6690 x 2
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- Here’s your SAT question for the day: “Making fun of The Giving Tree in a parody is to shooting fish in a barrel as . . .” You may put your response in the comments below. I’ve lived long enough to feel that I’ve seen every possible Giving Tree parody man or woman could imagine. The Taking Tree, the video with Sassy Gay Friend, that other video where it shows the boy growing up. Been there, done that. That’s why I really kind of respected The Toast’s take. At first it sounds like it’s going to be more of the same old, same old: If the Boy From the Giving Tree Was Your Boyfriend. But like most pieces on The Toast, it’s much smarter and cleverer than its initial concept. Well played, Meghann Gordon. Well played indeed. Thanks to Cheryl Klein for the link.
- Me stuff. If you find that you haven’t heard enough talkety talk from me, Mr. Tim Podell was recently kind enough to speak to interview me for his remarkable, and longstanding, Good Conversations Radio Podcast. Seven years ago he walked into my library and we talked about where to take his show. Now he has a successful podcast and I my same blog. Seems like only yesterday, eh, Tim?
- This one just sort of sells itself. The headline read, “British Library releases children’s book illustrations into public domain.”
- I don’t know as many literary apps for kids as I might. Pretty much everything on my phone is of the Endless series. Endless Reader. Endless Alphabet. Now I hear they’ve a Spanish one as well: Endless Spanish/Infinito Español. This is a great day for kinderappkind.
- Who doesn’t like a good bookface (as the kids are calling it these days)? Lots of children’s literature was on display in this recent Guardian article about NYPL’s call for pictures ala #bookfacefriday.
I think the Libba Bray one is particularly inspired too.
- With the sheer number of picture books out there, sometimes you want to see a recommendation list that isn’t the same old, same old. So if you want something fun and entirely up-t0-date, step this way and take in the Pink Me post Super Summer Picture Books 2015. Good for what ails ya.
- I missed a lot of Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf issues while I was moving to Evanston, so perhaps this piece has already been discussed ad nauseum without me. Just in case it hasn’t, though, The Guardian post Picture Books That Draw the Line Against Pink Stereotypes of Girls is very interesting to me. I should do an American version as a post soon. In any case, many of these I recognize but I don’t think we’ve seen I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail yet. Eh, Bloomsbury? Eh? Eh eh? *bats eyelashes* Eh? Thanks to Kate for the link.
- With his customary verve and panache, Travis Jonker accurately (insofar as I am concerned) pinpoints the books that will probably get some New York Times Best Illustrated love this year. The sole book he neglects to mention, insofar as I am concerned, is my beloved Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann and possibly Mr. Squirrel and the Moon by Sebastian Meschenmoser. Let’s show our German compatriots a little affection!
- One might argue that launching a literary periodical with a concentration on children’s literature in this day and age is as fraught with peril as launching a children’s bookstore (if not more so). Yet I find much to celebrate in this recent announcement about The Read Quarterly and what it hopes to accomplish. You know what? What the heck. I’ll subscribe. Could be good for the little gray cells.
This . . . this looks like a lot of work. Whooboy. A lot of work. But super cool, you bet. Super cool. It’s kids made out of books:
I think I’m getting the hang of this whole living-in-Evanston thing. All moves take adjustment, but you know the one thing that makes a transition smoother? Finding a great new bookstore. I was wondering the streets of downtown Evanston when I saw this sign advertising a bookstore down an alley. And while alley walking isn’t my usual way to go, having living in NYC for eleven years (a land, admittedly, without much in the way of ANY alleys) I was curious. The sign advertised a bookstore called Bookends and Beginnings. So I walked to it and discovered a marvelous little shop. First and foremost it had a great Alice in Wonderland display, celebrating 150 years, and showing off some very cool foreign editions. Then I took note of the fact that children’s books were meticulously scattered throughout the store. Salsa by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh was in the poetry section. Migrant by Jose Manuel Mateo was in the current affairs. But best, by far, was the children’s section. There, tucked away in the back of the store, was the greatest collection of contemporary children’s book imports, translations, and foreign children’s books I’d ever seen sold to the public. It was awe-inspiring. Truly a work of a specialist. Indeed, as I later learned, Ms. Nina Barrett was the one responsible for the translations while her husband Jeff Garrett specialized in the foreign children’s fare. Seriously, check out their staff recommendations.
As I walked about in a daze I stumbled across an interesting item sitting at the front desk. It wasn’t a title I’d run across on my librarian rounds, possibly because it could never work in a circulating collection. Some of you may know my opinion of Peter Pan. Which is to say, I don’t much care for it. I like aspects of it, but the book itself contains one too many twee moments for this average gal. Nonetheless, after spending less than 30 seconds in the presence of Peter Pan by Minalima I was enthralled. The book takes the Peter Pan story and inserts little interactive elements along the way. Reports and a fairy believer’s clap chart, maps and more (you can see some prints from the book here). It was like the Griffin & Sabine of children’s literature. And I wanted it.
It also got me to thinking. Few of us have unending shelf space. So when we go in for certain works of children’s literature we usually get just one version to suit our needs. Sometimes we may have more than one, but at least one has to be there. With that in mind, what is your perfect Quintessential Edition Collection? If you could have only one version of any classic work of children’s literature, what would it be? The question is a tricky one. Not long ago when I sat and watched the speakers at the remarkable Where the Wild Books Are conference created by Etienne Delessert I watched an Italian scholar describe in detail a variety of different takes on Pinocchio by decade. It was the kind of presentation that made clear to me that no matter what your favorite book, you’ll never be aware of all the various permutations out there.
Here is my own personal list. Very personal, since the books listed here are an interesting mix of desire for the unqualified “best” illustrations, titles from my own childhood that made a lifelong impression, and books that I would like to use with my own kiddos.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.
The first thing you’re going to notice about my choices here today is that they tend towards the heavily illustrated, “and what is the use of a book . . . without pictures or conversations?“, a wiser woman than I once asked. Few children’s books are illustrated and re-illustrated quite as often than Alice. We all have our favorites, and this is mine. I am aware of the “GAP Alice” moniker the Oxenbury version attained when it first was published, but I remain steadfast and true to it. Few books are as perfect in child-friendliness than this (and yes, the text was never meant for the youngest of readers, but why quibble?). By the way – this past summer in NYC I noticed that Alice was on a number of summer reading lists. I decided to buy some extra copies of the book for the system. I was then baffled to discover that it was remarkably difficult to buy a simple Alice book in large quantities. Indeed, this edition that I love so much is out-of-print. All the more reason to get it while you can.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by Michael Hague
Now I assume that there simply must be more than one fully illustrated version of this book out there. That said, this is the only one I’ve ever seen. It’s also the version I grew up with as a child. For a while there, Hague was the only game in town when it came to gorgeous, storytime ready, fully illustrated books for kids. He did them all (and you may see his name appear on this list at least once or twice again) and wasn’t afraid to summon the ghost of Arthur Rackham to aid him in his endeavors. This book in particular really solidified the story in my brain. That shot of the statues in the White Witch’s garden? *shudder*
Pinocchio, retold by Kate McMullen. Illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre
Translation is a funny fickle fellow. I don’t know that many Americans read their Pinocchio with an eye towards preserving Collodi’s cadences. Instead, it’s his story, his weird weird weird weird story, that pulls us in. Now I’ll be the first to admit that when this version of the tale came out I was skeptical. It seems to combine an odd cartoonish style with an early chapter book format of a classic title. How does THAT work, exactly? But when I read it to my daughter, magic. This was the first chapter book she had the patience to listen to front to finish. It’s not hard to see why. Originally serialized in newspapers, the story is episodic and odd. The plot hops at a breakneck pace. Characters die and come back to life without much rhyme or reason, and you simply accept it. Add in LeMaitre’s illustrations, which give the story both its mischievousness and a kind of innocence as well, along with McMullen’s fun telling, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Illustrated by Lauren Child
Sort of a no-brainer, this one. It’s big and beautiful (though they came out with a very workable paperback edition not too long ago). Child’s art works so well with the storyline that you suspect she was very influenced by this book when she herself was a child.
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. Illustrated by P.J. Lynch
No one said I couldn’t include versions of relatively recent children’s book illustrated in other countries to this list, of course. Few Americans are familiar with this British edition of the beloved Newbery winner and more’s the pity. I’m pretty much just going to refer you to the cover and leave it at that.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Illustrated by Inga Moore
The other day I found myself describing the plot of A Secret Garden to my daughter. She asked so many questions about it that at last I asked her if she wanted to see it for herself. She did, so I was finally able to pull this version down off the shelf for her. It’s my favorite, probably because it gives ample weight and attention to the garden itself. Also, her sickly Colin is SUPER sickly. That’s a kid who’s never felt sunshine on his skin, you betcha.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Michael Hague
Even more Rackham-esque than his Lion, Witch and Wardrobe. When I was a child my mother had many of the more evocative pictures from this book framed and placed around our house. If I’m not too much mistaken there may be one or two still hanging up around there somewhere. I should note for purists that when she would read the book to me she would also show me the version penned by Winnie-the-Pooh artist Ernest Shepard, and I liked them fine. They just weren’t as lush and amazing as Hague’s. I mean, that Pan beats all other Pans out there (sorry, 1913 Paul Bransom edition). This is a name dropping sidenote, but once I was in conversation with the late, great Brian Jacques and he mentioned he was doing the audiobook of The Wind in the Willows. I asked if it was unabridged and would include “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” section. A lifelong Willows fan, he answered strongly in the affirmative. Of course it would! Of course! How could I even doubt it?
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Illustrated by Michael Hague
Fans will note that for some odd reason Elizabeth Zwerger, Robert Ingpen, and some of the other bright lights of illustration have not been included here. But when you select only one version of anything, that’s the price you pay (though I’m rather intrigued by the Ingpen version of this book, so if someone would like to, ah, send me a copy I might be willing to reconsider). And yes, this is Hague’s third appearance on this list. Like I said, a lot of these have to do with childhood affection. That said, I really truly and honestly have never encountered a Wizard of Oz book to compare to this. The full color map of Oz on the endpapers was killer, as was his interpretation of so many scenes. It was Hague who showed me that the Wicked Witch of the West is never mentioned as having green skin at any time (and so his doesn’t). I’m sure there are folks out there who love Denslow’s original art, but if L. Frank Baum’s wife was allowed to dislike it then so am I.
That’s all I can think of off the to of my head. If you’ve versions of any of these that you’d like to defend, lay ’em on me.
By the way, should you be so inclined, my book Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (co-authored with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta) mentions one particular incident when a Caldecott winning author/illustrator had a chance to illustrate J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit but due to a miscommunication with Tolkien himself was told not to do so. Can you name the artist?
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything
By Calef Brown
Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt (an imprint of Macmillan)
For ages 9-12
Why do I do this to myself? Let me tell you something about how I review. Board books? Pshaw. I can take one and write a nine-paragraph review parsing precisely why it is that Bizzy Bear’s preferred companions are dogs and bunnies. Nonfiction? Lay it on me. I’ll take infinite pleasure in discussing the difference between informational texts when I was a child (long story short, they sucked) and our current golden age. But there is one book genre that lays me flat. Stops me short. Makes it exceedingly difficult for me to get my head in order. Truly, children’s poetry books are the hardest to review. I don’t know exactly why this is. They are the most unloved of the books for kids. No American Library Association accredited awards are made specifically for them. They get checked out of libraries one month a year (April = National Poetry Month) and then lie forgotten. Yet so many of them are bite-sized wallops of greatness. Hypnotize a Tiger by Calef Brown is one of these chosen few. Not many poetry books for kids sport blurbs from Daniel Pinkwater (who found a soul mate in Brown’s art) to Jack Gantos to The Book of Life director Jorge R. Gutierrez. And few author/illustrators are allowed to go as positively wacky and wild as Brown does here. From tomato ultimatums and loofah tortes to velocipede odes and dodgebull (rather than dodgeball) you honestly never know where the book is going next. And you’re grateful for it.
So if it’s so great (and it is) why is reviewing a book of this sort the devil to do? There are any number of reasons. When reviewing a book with, say, a plot, it’s awfully easy for me to merely recap the plot, dish on the characters, bring up some single strange or scintillating point, then close it all down with a conclusion. Easy peasy. But poetry’s not really like that. There’s no plot to Hypnotize a Tiger. There’s not even a running gag that keeps cropping up throughout the pages. Each poem is its own little world. As a result, I’m stuck generalizing about the poems as a whole. And because we are dealing with 84-85 (depending on how you count) of them in total, I’m probably going to end up saying something about how some of the poems work and others don’t. This is kind of a cheat when you’re reviewing a collection of this sort because almost no children’s poetry book is absolutely perfect (Example A: The fact that Shel Silverstein wrote “Hug-a-War” . . . I rest my case). They will always consist of some verses that work and others that do not. In the end, the best I can hope for when reviewing poetry is to try to find something that makes it different from all the other poetry books published in a given year. Fortunately for me, Mr. Brown is consistently interesting. As Pinkwater said in his blurb, “He is a bulwark against mediocrity.”
I’m very interested in the question of how to get kids around to reading poetry. My own daughter is four at this time and we’ve found that Shel Silverstein’s poetry books make for good bedtime reading (though she’s still thrown off by the occasional grotesquerie). For many children, Silverstein is the gateway drug. But Calef Brown, though he swims in Shel’s surrealism soaked seas, is a different breed entirely from his predecessor. Where Shel went for the easy silly ideas, Brown layers his ridiculousness with a bit of sophistication. Anyone could write a poem about waking up to find a beehive attached to the underside of their chin. It takes a Calef Brown to go one step further and have the unfortunate soul consider the monetary implications. Or to consider the verbal capabilities of Hoboken-based gnomes. So Hypnotize a Tiger becomes a book meant for the kid with a bit of prior poetry knowledge under their belt. You wouldn’t hand this title to a reluctant reader. You’d give it to the kid who’d already devoured all the Silverstein and Prelutsky and came to you asking, “What else you got?” That kid might be ready.
It is useful to note that you need to read this book aloud as well. There should be a warning sticker on the cover that says as much. Not that Brown makes it easy for you. Take the poem “Hugh”, for example. Short and simple it reads, “Meet my Belgian friend / He lives near Bruges, on a farm. / His name is Hugh Jarm.” Then at the bottom one of the tiny interstitial poems reads, “I once had a dream I was visiting Bruges – / snacking on chocolates while riding a luge.” Now the correct pronunciation of “Bruges” isn’t really necessary in the first poem, though it helps. The little tiny poem, however, is interesting because while it works especially well when you pronounce it correctly, you could probably mangle the wordplay easy peasy and still end up with a successful poem. SLJ probably said it best when they mentioned in their review of the book that, “Though there is more than one line that does not roll easily off the tongue and awkward rhymes abound, it is easy to see this clumsiness as part of the spirit of the collection.”
The subtitle of the collection is “Poems About Just About Everything” and that’s a fairly accurate representation. It does not mean, however, that there isn’t an internal logic to what’s being included here. There’s a chapter of animal poems, of people, insects, vehicles, schools, food, and then more esoteric descriptions like “Facts Poetic”, “Word Crashes”, and “Miscellaneous Silliness.” No poem directly applies to another, but they still manage to work together in tandem fairly well.
I don’t think it’s a serious criticism of a book to say that it’s not for all audiences. Calef Brown is an acquired taste. A taste best suited to the cleverest of the youngsters, absolutely, but acquired just the same. Not everyone is drawn to his style, and more fool they. To my mind, there is room enough in this world for any Calef Brown collection you can name. This book doesn’t have the widely popular feel of, say, a We Go Together but nor is the author writing poems simply to hear himself speak. Hypnotize a Tiger is a book built to please fans of creative curated silliness. Don’t know if you’ll like it? There’s only one way to find out. Pick this puppy up and read it to a kid. The book may surprise you (and so might the kid!).
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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- I think this may honestly constitute the greatest class visit of all time.
This week I received the following piece of info:
“Mighty Media Press is hosting and moderating a Twitter chat on August 18th, with six middle grade authors to discuss how middle grade fiction can teach readers about creativity and imagination; and how it helps them confront and solve real-life struggles and conflicts.
Our hope is to bring greater attention to this reading level of fiction, and to create a discussion among the broader community. We welcome anyone and everyone to participate and contribute answers. Mighty Media Press (@Mighty Press) will be moderating and posing the questions.”
And here’s the poster:
Moving house, home, and family does something to a woman’s brain. If that woman is me, it makes her ponder great intricacies of life, to say nothing of ballsy marketing plans. And today it all began with this book:
I suspect that we Americans are generally more familiar with The Secret Garden as our preferred Frances Hodgson Burnett classic than this little number. Still, it shows up on the occasional Summer Reading List and occasionally gets adapted into films, for good or for ill. As long as you can bust through the child reader’s expectation that the book is going to be about an actual princess, you’re generally in the clear.
Still and all, it got me to thinking. Originally published in 1905 the book is technically in the public domain. And so I wondered what an enterprising soul might do with it if they wanted to hock it to the masses. How could you sell it to 21st century child readers in the most blatant, shameless manner possible? The answer? Kooky taglines, my friend.
With that in mind, here is a crazy conglomeration of famous children’s books with brassy, ridiculous taglines, possibly more likely to cause perturbation amongst the adult masses than interest with child readers. It’s the B-movieazation of classic children’s literature. And I love it. Here they are, along with some of the odder images I’ve found over the years of these books.
A Little Princess: One orphan has the power to conjure up magic in an attic. But is any of her spellcasting true?
The Little Prince: In the desert, no one can draw you a sheep.
Holes: Treasure, blood, revenge and more.
Half Magic: Be careful what you wish AND WISH for.
When You Reach Me: Sometimes the life you save is your own.
One Crazy Summer: Fight the power.
A Wrinkle in Time: Science, God, Magic and one crazy pulsating brain.
The Secret Garden: You only THINK you’re alone.
Harriet the Spy: You only THINK you’re alone.
Charlotte’s Web: You only THINK . . . oh, fine fine. The idea’s played itself out.
Any you’d care to come up with as well?
Bram Stoker had this to say about Chicago: It, “neither fears the devil nor troubles its head about him and all his works.” So in light of my recent move, and in celebration of this (my first day), I offer the following to you:
(With profuse apologies to Margaret Wise Brown, who would find it hilarious that a NYPL children’s materials specialist was referencing one of her books)
Goodbye, branches 89
Goodbye, pretty Lego lions
Goodbye, Winnie. Goodbye, Pooh
Camera- Leaf Aptus22/ Hasselblad H1
Goodbye, toys (still missing Roo)
Goodbye, Mary Poppins umbrella
Goodbye to this striking fella
Goodbye, Plaza and Eloise
Goodbye, statue no one sees
Goodbye, Children’s Lit Salon
Goodbye, tourists from Milan
Goodbye, Peter. Goodbye, Willie.
Goodbye, Kid Lit Drink Nights (really!)
Goodbye, overpriced Bemelmans Bar
Goodbye, not having to own a car
Goodbye, Times Square ads uncouth
Goodbye, Fortitude (on right)
Goodbye, Patience and goodnight
Goodbye, city. This Bird is gone
Hello, gorgeous Evanston!
Look, I know how hard you work. You’re busy. And when it comes to your pleasure reading you don’t always have time to dip into the latest 450 page history or novel. Who does these days?
Now there’s a timesaver that will solve all your woes. Introducing the Kidlit Swap Method. All you need to do is to take a work for adults and then locate its children’s literary equivalent. You’ll get all the meaning, with none of the hassle. Some examples!
Instead of This – My Struggle: Books 1-6 by Karl Ove Knausgård
As an adult selector I work with put it, these books are deeply moving, but not a whole heckuva lot happens. Each one is autobiographical and, as The Times put it, “the books combine a micro-focus on the granular detail of daily life (child care, groceries, quarrels with friends) with earnest meditations on art, death, music and ambition.” The first book alone, however, is 448 pages long.
Try This – Hippu by
Granted, it’s Finnish and not Norwegian but if Knausgård wants to peer unblinkingly at the minutia of daily life, he’s got nothing on this book of a mouse that invites a dog into its life. As the publisher says, “Hippu and Heppu—and some friendly mice—shop, eat, go for a walk, take baths, and go for a ride in the car!” Take away that exclamation point and we might as well be talking about The Struggle directly. What’s more, it originally came out in 1967, so for all we know it was an influence on Knausgård at some point. The man does have four children, after all. Even the covers bear some small similarity to one another.
Instead of This – The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
Nordic noir is all the rage these days, and you can thank a certain girl with her dragon tattoo (based, as it turns out, on a grown-up Pippi Longstocking) for the rise. Scandinavian thrillers are particularly hot and Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series is wildly popular. When he’s not writing middle grade novels about fart powder (no comment), Nesbo’s Inspector Harry Hole is tracking down Nazis and uncovering dire plots hatched in the trenches of WWII.
Try This – Detective Gordon: The First Case by Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee
This Swedish import has it all. A single good detective working in a world where thieves pilfer acorns without a second thought. His partner, a very young and unskilled but wildly enthusiastic mouse, learns all too quickly that when it comes to solving crime, Detective Gordon is always there. No Nazis that I can tell, nor any trenches, but if you want Nordic noir done young, this book’s your best bet.
Instead of This – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
In an era where witchhunts are practically becoming the norm, Ronson’s book is a bracing alternative to a society gone hate bait crazy.
Try This – Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead
The out-of-control nature of a sexy selfie forwarded to an entire school is one of the many momentous elements to this novel. No other middle grade, or middle school, book for kids has really considered the depths to which slut shaming can go.
Instead of This – Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Like a lot of library systems, we saw a huge upsurge in hold requests on this book when the Jurassic World movie came out. And why not? I remember reading it in middle school and just loving it. Which is why the logical companion novel is . . .
Try This – Bizzy Bear: Dinosaur Safari by Benji Davies
I’m a big time Bizzy Bear fan. As the mother of two small children, I have followed Bizzy’s adventures from the start. I would not be surprised to learn that this is the last Bizzy Bear book, though. In it, as in Jurassic Park, Bizzy and an unnamed Rabbit companion (we’ll call him “Lunch”) drive through a little Jurassic Park of their own. All the while they are stalked by a rather conspicuous T-Rex and the final shot of the dino, just moments before it has itself a Bear sandwich, is terrifying. A thrill ride of a board book.
Other suggestions, as per usual, are welcome too.
Many thanks to Wayne Roylance for the idea for this post.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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By Sophia McDougall
I’ve a nasty habit of finishing every children’s book I start, no matter how dull or dire it might be. I am sort of alone in this habit, which you could rightly call unhealthy. After all, most librarians understand that their time on this globe is limited and that if they want to read the greatest number of excellent books in a given year, they need to hold off on spending too much time devouring schlock and just skip to the good stuff. So it is that with my weird predilection for completion I am enormously picky when it comes to what I read. If I’m going to spend time with a book, I want to feel like I’m accomplishing something, not slogging through it. My reasoning is that not all books are good from the get-go. Some take a little time to get going, you know? It might take 50 pages before you’re fully on board, so I always give the book the benefit of the doubt. Some books, however, have the quintessential strong first page. They are books that are so smart and good and worthy that you feel that you are maximizing your time on this globe by merely being in their presence. Such is the case with Mars Evacuees. A sci-fi middle grade novel that encompasses everything from gigantic talking floating goldfish to PG discussions of alien sex, this is one of those books you might easily miss out on. Stellar from the first sentence on.
At first it seemed like a good thing that the aliens had come. When you’ve got a planet nearly decimated by global warming, it doesn’t sound like such a bad deal when aliens start telling you they’ve got a way to cool down the planet. The trouble is, they didn’t STOP cooling it down. Turns out the Morrors are looking for a new home and if it doesn’t quite suit their needs they’ll adapt it until it does. Earth has fought back, of course, and so now we’re all trapped in a huge space battle of epic proportions. Alice Dare’s mother is the high flying hero Captain Dare, killer of aliens everywhere. But all Alice knows is that she’s being shipped off with a load of other kids to Mars. The idea is that they’ll be safe there and will be able to finish their education in space until they’re old enough to become soldiers. And everything seems to be going fine and dandy . . . until the adults all disappear. Now Alice and her friends are in the company of a cheery robot goldfish and must solve a couple mysteries along the way. Things like, where are the adults? What are those space locust-like creatures they’ve found on Mars? And most important of all, what happens when you encounter the enemy and it’s not at all like you thought it would be?
The first sentence of any book is a tricky proposition. You want to intrigue but not give too much away. Too brash and the book can’t live up to it. Too mild and people are snoring before you even get to the period. Here’s what McDougall writes: “When the polar ice advanced as far as Nottingham, my school was closed and I was evacuated to Mars.” I could not help but be reminded of the first line of M.T. Anderson’s Feed when I read that (“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck”). But it’s not just her first sentence that’s admirable. In a scant nine pages the entire premise of the book is laid out for us. Aliens came. People are fighting them. And now the kids are being evacuated to Mars. Badda bing, badda boom. What I didn’t realize when I was first reading the book, though, was that this chapter is very much indicative of the entire novel. There is a kind of series bloat going on in children’s middle grade novels these days. Books with wild premises and high stakes are naturally assumed to be the first in a series. There’s a bit of a whiff of Ender’s Game and The White Mountains about this book when you look at the plot alone, and so you assume that like so many similar titles it’ll either end on a cliffhanger, or it’ll solve the immediate problem, but save the bigger issue for later on. It was only as I got closer and closer to the end that I realized that McDougall was doing something I almost never encounter in science fiction books these days: She was tying up loose ends. It got to the point where I reached the end of the book and found myself in the rare position of realizing that this was, of all things, a standalone science fiction novel. Do they even make those anymore? I’m not saying you couldn’t write a sequel to this book if you didn’t want to. When McDougall becomes a household name you can bet there will be a push for more adventures of Alice, Carl, Josephine and Thsaaa. But it works all by itself with a neat little beginning, middle, and an end. How novel!
For all that, McDougall cuts through the treacle with her storytelling, I was very admiring of the fact that she never sacrifices character in the process of doing so. Carl, for example, should by all rights be two-dimensional. He’s the wacky kid who doesn’t play by the rules! The trickster with a heart of gold. But in this book McDougall also makes him a big brother. He’s got his bones to pick, just as Josephine (filling in the brainy Hermione-type role with aplomb) has personal issues with the aliens that go beyond the usual you-froze-my-planet grudge. Even the Goldfish, perky robot that he is, seems to have limits on his patience. He’s also American for some reason, a fact I shall choose not to read too much into, except maybe to say that if I were casting this as a film (which considering the success of Home, the adaptation of Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday, isn’t as farfetched as you might think) I’d like to hear him voiced by Patton Oswalt. But I digress.
When tallying up the total number of books written for kids between the ages of 9-12 that discuss the intricacies of alien sex, I admit that I stop pretty much at one. This one. And normally that wouldn’t fly in a book for kids but McDougall is so enormously careful and funny that you really couldn’t care less. Her aliens are fantastic, in part because, like humans, there’s a lot of variety amongst them. This is an author who cares about world building but also doesn’t luxuriate in it for long periods of time. She’s not trying to be the Tolkien of space here. She’s trying to tell a good story cleanly and succinctly.
The fact that it’s funny to boot is the real reason it stands out, though. And I don’t mean it’s “funny” in that it’s mildly droll and knows how to make a pun. I mean there are moments when I actually laughed out loud on a New York subway train. How could I not? This is a book that can actually get away with lines like “If you didn’t want me to build flamethrowers you shouldn’t have taught me the basic principles when I was six.” Or “It was a good time in Earth’s history to be a polar bear. Unless the rumors were true about the Morrors eating them.” Or “Luckily I don’t throw up very easily, but it made me feel as if I was being hit lightly but persistently all over with tablespoons.” That’s the kind of writing I enjoy. Silly and with purpose.
So it’s one part Lord of the Flies in space (please explain to me right now why no one has ever written a book called “Space Lord of the Flies”), one part Smekday, and a lot like those 1940s novels where the kids get evacuated during WWII and find a kind of hope and freedom they never would have encountered at home. It’s also the most fun you’ll encounter in a long time. That isn’t to say there isn’t the occasional dark or dreary patch. But once this book starts rolling it’s impossible not to enjoy the ride. For fans of the funny, fans of science fiction, and fans of books that are just darn good to the last drop.
On shelves now.
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Misc: And since this book is British (did I fail to mention that part?) here’s the cover they came up with over there.
I think I may like ours more, though both passed up the fact to display the goldfish, which I think was a mistake. Fortunately, the Brits at least have corrected the mistake (though I’m mildly disappointed to see that there is a sequel after all).
Mm. Double quick time Fusenews today, I should think. All the goodness. Less of the commentary. As such . . .
- What is the scariest children’s film of all time? If you mentioned a particular film that involved decapitated heads and Wheelers, this link’s for you.
- I’m not a teacher so I had no idea what the Best Websites and Apps for teaching and learning really were. Now I do. Thanks to Travis and Mr. Schu for the link.
- This one’s for any high school students you might know. They’re looking for kids who know how to write funny stuff. Since this is very much my wheelhouse, I’m going to ask you to think particularly of any funny girls you know. Let’s make sure this puppy is well represented in both genders, shall we? Due date: August 3rd so get cracking!
- The Kirkus/7-Imp piece on Private Readers is absolutely fantastic. It isn’t just what we read but how we chose to read it (and keep it to ourselves).
So did this, actually.
- Question: Which hugely famous (and still alive) children’s book illustrator used to paint naked geishas for the troops during WWII? The answer may surprise you. Or not. After all, have you ever checked out the bodies in A Circus is Coming? Va-va-voom! Extra sidenote: Is that clown with the glasses a barely disguised Kay Thompson? Discuss.
- How sad that one of my former co-workers won’t be around to bid me goodbye as I leave NYC. I mean, I understand why. He’s got places to go. People to see. But still, bidding goodbye to the talking parrot head just isn’t going to have the same oomph.
- This note is just for my sister. Kate, we need to do this. Call me.
Okay. So this is pretty much just about the coolest float I’ve ever seen. As I am moving to Evanston, IL, it seems only fitting to know how they celebrate the 4th of July. Recently, this float (in a photo taken by Junko Yokata) was on the route. I have never, in all my livelong days, seen a Newbery float before. Absolutely remarkable.
Thanks to Junko for the image.
Maybe one of the more enjoyable press releases I’ve released.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Authors and Illustrators Reveal the Origins and Pronunciations of Their Names
– See more at: http://forum.teachingbooks.net/2015/07/teachingbooks-net-author-name-pronunciation-guide-reaches-2000-audio-clips/#sthash.oAjVyX6K.dpuf
MADISON, Wis. (July 16, 2015) – Ever wondered how to pronounce a favorite author’s name? Since 2007, almost half-a-million readers have visited www.TeachingBooks.net/Hello to hear authors and illustrators say their names and recount brief stories about them.
Jon Scieszka: Poster child for this collection.
On July 16, 2015, the Author Name Pronunciation Guide—an original online digital resource created by TeachingBooks.net as a way to personalize and connect readers to authors— surpassed 2,000 recordings by prominent children’s and young adult book creators. The 2,000th recording added to the collection is famed and beloved author/illustrator Tomie dePaola – a name often mis-pronounced. Listen to Tomie say it correctly at http://TeachingBooks.net/Tomie.
Maya Angelou: Is it Angel-ooo or Angel-aaa?
Hearing book creators introduce themselves offers unique insight into their personality and background. Through the Author Name Pronunciation Guide, students can hear 2015 Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander rhyme his name with salami (and pastrami); learn what the R and L stand for in Goosebumps creator R.L. Stine’s name; and be confident in pronouncing authors whose legacy lives on in their books, like Maya Angelou and Elie Weisel.
Yuyi Morales: Often mispronounced.
The Author Name Pronunciation Guide, listened to thousands of times each week, is a powerful way to virtually meet favorite authors and illustrators. “Once a reader has an opportunity to connect with an author or illustrator, their impression of the book is forever changed,” said Nick Glass, Founder & Executive Director of TeachingBooks.net. “We created this digital collection of name pronunciations to give readers a glimpse of the person who wrote the book, while facilitating a human connection that we hope further inspires student interest in reading. It is a joyful, beautiful association.”
Lois Ehlert: The inaugural recording.
Launched in 2003, TeachingBooks.net has been licensed in more than 37,000 schools across the United States and Canada. The Author Name Pronunciation Guide is one facet of this online, multimedia literacy service that strives to bring reading to life for all students.
For more information about TeachingBooks.net, or to sign up for a free 14-day trial, visit www.TeachingBooks.net or phone (800) 596-0710.
– See more at: http://forum.teachingbooks.net/2015/07/teachingbooks-net-author-name-pronunciation-guide-reaches-2000-audio-clips/#sthash.oAjVyX6K.dpuf
Like the rest of America I have watched, enthralled, the debate going on at the child_lit listserv as to whether or not folks should/are choosing to eschew reading Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.
I’m sorry, what that?
I’m being informed that despite my opinions on the matter, America does not collectively read child_lit. I find this version of the facts suspicious and will look into it further, later.
In any case, here at NYPL, Gwen Glazer came up with an interesting idea. She wrote, “we’re thinking about other authors we wish would suddenly come out (some posthumously) with another novel many years after their first—and only— full-length works of fiction.” Of course, considering the backlash against Lee’s book, one wonders if such sequels would be as desired by the masses as they might once have been. Glazer’s list is fun, so I wondered about what children’s novels we might want to see sequels to. Some already have perfectly good, if not particularly well known sequels, of course. Harriet the Spy, for example. But others might do well. I’m going to try to eschew those books that have had posthumous novels already written by others (Peter Pan’s, Pooh’s, Wind in the Willow’s, A Little Princess’s, etc.) and stick with some that have worlds I’d like to return to. Books like . . .
The Secret Garden
Purging from our brains the lamentable Hallmark version of The Secret Garden which took it upon itself to stage the book as a flashback (the WWI present day bring to mind rejected sequences from Downton Abbey and included such terrible ideas as a Mary/Colin romance and a dead soldier Dickon) I’m not saying that a sequel to this book would be a good idea. Just an interesting one. I mean, you have a house with a hundred empty rooms. Forget the garden, I wanna know the house’s history. But maybe that’s just me.
Yeah yeah yeah. Look, you can tell me all day long that Small Steps was the sequel, but it wasn’t. It was a companion novel and what I want is more Yelnats. Gimme more of that guy. I liked that guy. I want to know where that guy’s going.
The Phantom Tollbooth
Admit it. It writes itself.
People always put down Anne Carroll Moore for not loving this little mouse. Well I can attest that in 3rd grade I became appalled by the ending of this book. Stuart sets off in his canoe to find his delightful bird friend and . . . the end. Open ended finales were never for me. I was just so mad when I found out that there wasn’t a sequel. So I’m in the Moore camp. Stuart’s not my favorite but maybe that’s just because I needed more of him. And while we’re at it.
Sacrilege! Horrors! It would be the worst idea of all time. But . . . come on. I wanna know about those three spider sisters that stay with Wilbur. Forget the rest of the farm, what adventures do they get into? Oh, fine. Bad idea. But I’m still curious.
Any bad ideas/impossible to resist curiosities to share?
Recently I was admiring two different but certainly related articles online. The first was Mike Lewis’s Non-Required Summer Reading List, which is just the loveliest little PDF of fun summery read titles. A great list in and of itself.
The second piece was the infinitely useful article How Teachers Can Create a Summer Reading List That Won’t Make Librarians Die or Children Cry: Unsolicited Advice from a Public Librarian. That public librarian is Miss Ingrid Abrams, and when she talks about summer readings lists I know from whence she speaks. You see, here in NYC, there is no over arching summer reading list. Each individual teacher can come up with their own individual lists. Sometimes, they’re brilliant lists of titles. Well researched, fun, smart pairings of fiction and nonfiction. But oftentimes you get something like this:
This year THIS list is the bane of my existence. This is one page of several from this school, and of those lists this is the good one. The fact that Ms. Hesse’s Brooklyn Bridge is in the nonfiction section isn’t a surprise to me because it was in the nonfiction section last year and the year before that. Yes. I’ve seen this same list for three years in a row. I don’t mind the fiction on this one, but the nonfiction titles slay me.
Or, as Ms. Ingrid puts it:
“Often, parents hand me lists so outlandish I’ve considered whether I was being featured on a really bad hidden-video reality show. They’re either really poorly organized or they contain titles that I know just by looking at them that we just don’t have. I’ve tried contacting schools and teachers, either by phone, email, or in person, and have had absolutely no luck. We have pre-written form letters that we send home with the parents (we call them “Dear Teacher” letters: Dear Teacher, Name of Child was unable to obtain this book due to 1) lack of copies 2) high demand 3) plague of locusts 4) flood of librarian tears, etc.) so that their children won’t get in trouble for not being able to access the books on the list. The letter has our contact info on the bottom, so the teachers and librarians can talk before the next summer comes around.”
We’ve tried our own strategies for combating problem before the summer hits, all to no avail. Every year we see the same out-of-print books over and over again. Birdland by Tracy Mack is unavailable people!!
After reading Ms. Ingrid’s post, though, I got curious. Is this just a New York thing or do other public librarians around the country also find themselves in the weird position of having to check and see how many copies of The Well by Mildred Taylor are in the warehouse at Ingram?
So I put it to you, public librarians. What are the most annoying titles to show up on a summer reading list? Here’s a list of some of my own favorites that I’ve seen pretty darn recently:
Birdland by Tracy Mack
Back in 2005 I could have gotten you any number of copies! Today? Not so much.
The Acorn Eaters by Els Pelgrom
It came out in 1997. It disappeared. And then suddenly folks decided they just couldn’t get enough of it.
Sultans of Swat: The Four Great Sluggers of the New York Yankees
by The New York Times
Nope. Can’t get it. Just cannot.
Maxx Comedy by Gordon Korman
Surely Korman himself would admit that he has published books just as amusing, if not better, than this one. Surely.
Those are my top four at the moment. Any of your own bugging you?
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Do funny books get short shrift when award season comes ah-knockin’? It’s not a ridiculous notion. After all, the Oscars are notorious for consistently promoting and lauding saddy sad performances and films over their funnier contemporaries. So I took a gander at some of the recent winners of the Newbery Award (and Honors) and determined that while humor isn’t the most lauded quality in “distinguished” works of children’s literature, neither is it a true detriment. Some funny winners that come immediately to mind might include:
- El Deafo by Cece Bell
- Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
- The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
- Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
- Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
- One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
- The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
- Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie B. Tolan
- Everything On a Waffle by Polly Horvath
- Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos
- A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
- The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
- Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
- Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
- Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
Naturally there are more out there that I’m not thinking of. There’s also the fact that humor is naturally subjective. While one person might find Catherine Called Birdy a hoot, another might prefer the works of Jack Gantos. Whatever the case, I’m happy to see such a strong showing and hope to high heaven we get a little more of this in the future.
Note: If someone wants to ascribe dates to these books, we could try to work up some kind of algorithm that determines whether humor has been lauded more within one particular time span or another.